While on an official State Department trip to India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the time to sit down with prominent Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, the group editor of the television network NDTV. Clinton appeared on Dutt’s “We the People” talk show, and took questions from an audience made up of students from La Martiniere School for Girls—where the interview took place—and La Martiniere School for Boys in Kolkata, India.
A number of questions focused on sanctions leveled on Iran by the United States and its allies, and why the U.S. is encouraging India to join in those efforts. One audience member asked Clinton why the U.S. is pressuring Iran to forgo efforts to create a nuclear weapon, while Israel has not yet signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In response, Clinton noted that Israel has been working towards peace for decades, whereas the Iranian regime has a clear history of aggression and of sponsoring terrorist organizations. Clinton said:
Obviously, the United States believes that whatever differences one might have with the situation in the Middle East, Israel has been defending itself now for 60 years, and has made numerous overtures to try to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation, and it has thus far been unsuccessful in doing so. We continue to try to press for a resolution, particularly on the Palestinian issues, which the United States also cares deeply about.
So we think that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the biggest problems facing the world, and it’s not only one country that we worry about. We worry about nuclear weapons proliferating in other countries, a nuclear arms race that would be very damaging. Even though we look at this on primarily what states are doing, our biggest fear is that nuclear material could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
So we believe that at this moment in time, the principal threat is a nuclear-armed Iran, because Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. There was a recent incident here in India with Iran-supported state terrorism. They work through proxies like Hezbollah. We broke up a plot where the Iranian Government was trying to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States by hiring a drug trafficker hitman. So the problems with Iran go far beyond even this region. They recently were engaged in bomb building in Thailand. They bombed a facility in Argentina some years back.
So I just want everybody in India to understand we have nothing against the Iranian people. President Obama reached out to the Iranian people from the moment he came into office. He said we want a different relationship. He has reached out to the Iranian leadership asking if there can’t be a different relationship. So far, we have had no reciprocity. And what we hear from the region around Iran is a great deal of anxiety because they’re not worried about the possibility of something happening in the future; they’re dealing in the here and now with what Iran does to destabilize them, to support terrorism, and they believe a nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to world peace.
So we can point fingers at other countries, but that doesn’t in any way undermine the focus that needs to be put on the dangers posed by Iran. Look at the fact that we have unity. Russia and China are just as concerned as the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. So this is - this may be, in India, a problem that you think of as being kind of far off, that you don’t think Iran would have any reason to cause you trouble, but then why did they send their terrorist agents to your country to try to kill Israeli diplomats and other civilians?
This is a regime that has a history of aggressive behavior, and I don’t think you deal with aggressors by giving into them. So part of our goal is to resolve this peacefully and diplomatically, and that’s why we need India to be part of the international effort.
When asked about her feelings toward a potential military crisis between Israel and Iran, Clinton said:
I am apprehensive. We’re on public record. I’m not saying anything that has not been in our press. I mean, if you put yourself in Israel’s position and you have leaders of a country saying they want to wipe you off the map, they want to destroy you, they want to end the presence of the Jewish people, it would make you a little worried, I think. And certainly, India knows from your own experience that you have to pay attention to threats, and you have to be prepared for them in your own neighborhood.
So I think that Israel is very worried that if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, there might be a decision by some future leader to actually use it, and that would be devastating. So yes, of course they’re worried, and they are supporting our efforts to try to resolve this peacefully and convince Iran that they do not - they could - they have a right to civil nuclear power. They have that right, and they are a member of the NPT and that comes with being a member.
So we would like to see them join the international consensus for the peaceful use of nuclear power, but give up irrevocably their right to weapons, and that’s what we’re hoping that they would eventually do.
In response to an audience member asking why India should reduce Iranian oil imports when India is unable to produce any oil reserves of their own, Clinton responded:
Very good question, and let me give you a little context for that question. When President Obama took office in 2009, we knew that Iran’s continuing development of a nuclear weapons program would be very destabilizing in the region because there would be an arms race with the nations in the region who had pre-existing enmity between themselves and Iran, and that it would also cause a great threat to Israel.
And our goal was to try to persuade Iran to change its policy, because it was already under international sanctions and violating international obligations to the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Association, because it was a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and it had not complied with all of the obligations that it had assumed.
So we began putting together an international coalition. We passed very strong sanctions in the Security Council. And the entire world understood that if we could pressure Iran to change its behavior, that would avoid perhaps a serious disruption of the oil production and supply coming out of the Gulf.
So fast forward to today. We have international consensus. The pressure has brought Iran back to the negotiating table. The first meeting was in Istanbul. The second meeting will be in a few weeks in Baghdad. And there is unanimity among the permanent members of the Security Council and the European Union and Germany to negotiate a resolution to the Iranian nuclear weapons threat.
We do not believe that Iran would have come to the table if there had not been sanctions and pressure. We do not believe that Iran will peacefully resolve this unless the pressure continues. So the reason why India, China, Japan, European countries who are the primary purchasers of Iran oil being asked to lower their supply is to keep the pressure on Iran. Japan, which went through a devastating earthquake, tsunami, shutdown of their nuclear programs, has worked very hard to do just that. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other suppliers are putting more oil into the market, so there is oil available for India and others.
So we think India, as a country that understands the importance of trying to use diplomacy to resolve these difficult threats, is certainly working toward lowering their purchase of Iranian oil. And we commend the steps that they have taken thus far. We hope that they will do even more, and we believe there is an adequate supply in the marketplace. So we think that this is part of India’s role in the international community. It’s not just what the United States is doing or asking; it’s what the international community is doing and asking.
Click here to read the entire transcript from Secretary Clinton’s “townterview.”
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