WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday that Iran was
aggressively trying to take advantage of the domestic upheavals across the Arab
world, and warned that the United States needed to maintain robust aid and
involvement in the region to keep Tehran from succeeding.
described Iran as working “every single day with as many assets as they can
muster, trying to take hold of this legitimate movement for democracy,” in
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doubt in my mind if we are not present, and present in resources, not just in
rhetoric, not just saying what we’re for but being able to deliver on that,
others will fill that vacuum,” cautioned Clinton.
“We are in a
competition. I just stress over and over again, we’ve got to be
there. We’ve got to fight back.”
Clinton was appearing before
Congress to defend the $47 billion in foreign aid and operations funding the
Obama administration has requested for 2012, a budget Republicans would like to
Clinton also indicated that the US was trying to take the
initiative in ensuring that the implementation of more democratic governments
would not be exploited by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in
“We are trying to suggest certain guidelines that should be used
for determining whether a political party or any organization should be included in elections, included in government,” she
noted, adding that when it came to whether the Muslim Brotherhood could abide by
democratic institutions, “the jury is out.”
In addition, Clinton
indicated that the US would be taking a tougher tone on Iran and its human
rights abuses against domestic opponents of the current regime.
to go chapter and verse about everything that Iran is doing that abuses the
rights of their own people and exposes their hypocrisy as they try to somehow
identify with the legitimate aspirations for democracy and human rights in this
region,” she stressed, noting that in the past, the administration had
“modulated” its message because Iran would “basically paint anybody who opposed
them as American stooges.”
Given the recent developments, she said, that
point would appear to be moot.
Clinton also underscored that the US
remained committed to ratcheting up the pressure of sanctions against Iran,
“constantly looking to improve them, to strengthen them, to tighten
Yet members of Congress chastised the administration for not doing
enough to impose sanctions on foreign companies, as was enabled by legislation
passed last summer.
“We have not yet sanctioned any non- Iranian bank or
energy company, even though we know several are engaged in sanctionable
activities,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman told
Clinton. “Companies need to know that there are consequences for these types of
activities. So far, no company has any reason to think there are such
Berman also asked whether the US would be able to continue
its efforts to press for peace between Israelis and Palestinians despite the
uncertainty in the region, and Clinton answered that it remained a
“Our work continues,” she said, adding that in the changed
landscape, “we believe that there’s an opportunity for Israel.”
referred to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent acknowledgement of the
isolation Israel faces.
“That’s not good for Israel,” she said. “I know
that the prime minister recognizes that we have some very tough choices
She said that when it came to Israel’s choice of whether to
pursue a peace process with Syria, “we would support anything that Israel would
decide is in Israel’s best interests when dealing with Syria.”
also weighed in on the notion of a national unity government between Fatah and
Hamas, saying that if the latter “does not renounce violence, does not recognize
Israel’s right to exist, does not agree to support previous agreements that have
been entered into, we could not support any government it was a part [of] or any
rapprochement that took place.”
Challenged on whether it made sense for
the US to give so much money to the Palestinian Authority after moves it had
made that the US opposed – such as going to the UN Security Council for a
resolution condemning Israeli settlements that the US ultimately vetoed –
Clinton gave an impassioned defense of the American investment
“The Palestinian Authority, which has control over the West Bank,
is demonstrating that it can control extremists, that it can cooperate to
protect Israel, that it can give a better economic life to their people. It
stands in stark contrast to Hamas,” she said.
“From our perspective, when
you look at the region right now, where are the secular regimes, where are the
regimes that are actually producing benefits for their people?” she asked. “The
Palestinian Authority is doing that.”
She described both Israelis and
Palestinians as having valid perspectives on frustration with negotiations,
saying that the Palestinians believed they’d almost had a deal with former prime
minister Ehud Olmert.
“Israeli politics changes, just like our politics
changes, a new administration comes in, a new prime minister, a new coalition
and they have to start all over again. So they get a little put out,” she said.
“But the Israelis rightly say, ‘Look, we’re a new government, we want to start
differently.’” At the same time that Clinton was testifying, hundreds of J
Street activists were lobbying Capitol Hill to maintain its funding of Israel
and the Palestinian Authority.
Despite the gaping US deficit, the Obama
administration has held the foreign operations budget roughly constant from
2011. Next year’s proposal, as it now stands, includes the same funding
for the PA at some $400 million, and for Egypt with $1.3b. in military funding
and $250m. in economic aid.
The aid for Israel is set to increase
slightly, to $3.1b. in military aid, in keeping with a 10-year memorandum of
understanding signed between the two countries.