Meridor slams Clinton for offering 'defense umbrella'

'We must deal with preventing such a nuclear Iran, not coming to terms with it,' minister says.

Clinton in Thailand 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
Clinton in Thailand 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor on Wednesday criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning to Teheran that the US has a plan on how to safeguard the region with a "defensive umbrella" should the Islamic republic go nuclear. It seemed the US had accepted the inevitability of a nuclear Iran, Meridor said. In an interview with Army Radio, he said: "I heard the comments. It was as if they were saying that they have come to terms with such a possibility - and this is a mistake. Right now, we must deal with preventing such an eventuality, not coming to terms with it." Speaking on a Thai TV talk show earlier Wednesday, Clinton raised eyebrows by suggesting the United States would extend a "defense umbrella" over its allies in the Persian Gulf to prevent Teheran from dominating that region "once they have a nuclear weapon." "We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment: that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to develop the military capacity of those [allies] in the Gulf, it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer." "We will still hold the door open [for talks with Iran], but we also have made it clear that we'll take actions, as I've said time and time again, crippling action, working to upgrade the defense of our partners in the region," Reuters quoted Clinton as saying. She was in Thailand to take part in the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual gathering of 27 Asian, US and European ministers, to discuss North Korea, Myanmar and a range of other regional security issues. Last week, in remarks prepared for a major foreign policy address, Clinton said the time for Teheran to respond to the US overture was now. "The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely," she said. Should Iran not accept the offer of direct diplomatic engagement proposed by President Barack Obama within a limited time, it would be faced with a new round of severe sanctions aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions, she said. Clinton also accused Iran of using "deplorable and unacceptable" measures to put down recent post-election protests. She said that neither she nor Obama had illusions about the regime but that direct talks were the best way to get Iranian officials to change their policies. Hours after Meridor spoke, Clinton told a Phuket news conference that she was "not suggesting any new policy" on the Islamic republic. "In fact, we all believe Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and I've said that many times," she said, although she had not said that during her interview in Bangkok. "I was simply pointing out that Iran needs to understand that its pursuit of nuclear weapons will not enhance its security or achieve its goal of enhancing its power both regionally and globally." She said Iran with a nuclear weapon could trigger an arms race in the Middle East. "That should affect the calculation of what Iran intends to do and what it believes is in its national security interest, because it may render Iran less secure, not more secure." She added that in the US view, Teheran had a right to a peaceful nuclear program that was used for civilian purposes. Clinton also told reporters in Phuket that North Korea must completely and irreversibly end its nuclear weapons program, or face further isolation and "the unrelenting pressure" of international sanctions. After consulting at the Thai seaside resort with her counterparts from China, Russia, Japan and South Korea on a strategy for enforcing the latest UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, Clinton said there was a more positive way ahead if the North chooses. "We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization that the United States, as well as our partners, will move forward on a package of incentive and opportunities - including normalizing relations - that will give the people of North Korea a better future," she told a news conference. Clinton said China, Japan, Russia and South Korea agreed with Washington on the core goal of irreversibly ending North Korea's nuclear program, and the international community was in a "strong position" in its push to change North Korean policy. Asked by a reporter what specific steps North Korea must take, Clinton indicated they included dismantling its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and surrendering its plutonium stockpile. The particular details of required actions were to be determined by technical experts, she added. "We do not want to be in another negotiation that doesn't move us toward the goal of denuclearization," she said. "So we want verifiable, irreversible steps taken."