- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stood fast Sunday behind the administration’s readiness to engage with foes such as Iran and North Korea and heaped praise on China in advance of two days of critical talks aimed at easing the global economic downturn.

Insisting Washington remained open to dialogue with Tehran, Mrs. Clinton declined to reveal any specifics of a possible defense umbrella she recently mentioned as a means of protecting Mideast allies against Iran’s nuclear program.

Mrs. Clinton also implicitly urged Israel to set aside any plans it might have for a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites and to give U.S. policy time to work.

On North Korean belligerence, Mrs. Clinton said the regime there was isolated as never before and that China had been enormously helpful in pressuring Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.

The secretary of state, recently returned from a tour of Asia, credited China with being “extremely positive and productive.” Her positive words will not be lost on the Chinese as they sit down Monday and Tuesday with Mrs. Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner for talks on easing strains on the global economy despite tensions over currencies, the U.S. budget deficit and the huge U.S. trade gap with China.

The hard-line regime in North Korea has abandoned promises to dismantle its nuclear program and recently conducted a number of missile tests and an underground nuclear explosion in defiance of U.N. resolutions and international agreements.

“They don’t have any friends left,” she said of the Pyongyang regime.

As President Obama struggles with a deep economic recession at home and tries to wind down the war in Iraq while stepping up the offensive against Taliban forces in Afghanistan, nuclear programs in both North Korea and Iran remain major foreign-policy challenges.

Iran says it is merely trying to develop nuclear reactors for domestic power generation. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world think the Islamic regime is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Mrs. Clinton said she saw no conflict of interest in attempts to negotiate with the Iranian regime despite turmoil inside the country that has seen a major and violent crackdown on supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi. He claims fraud and ballot-rigging cost him his bid to unseat incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The secretary of state set off a major debate last week when she said in a television interview in Thailand: “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment: that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region … it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.”

She subsequently backpedaled, especially in the face of Israeli concerns that she was acknowledging the inevitability of Iran gaining a nuclear arsenal.