- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PHUKET, Thailand (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows by suggesting the United States would extend a “defense umbrella” over its allies in the Persian Gulf to prevent Iran from dominating that region “once they have a nuclear weapon,” she said Wednesday during a Thai TV interview.

“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 defenses of our partners in the region,” she said, referring to the Middle East, and in particular the Persian Gulf area where the United States has maintained economic, political and security interests for many decades. Clinton was in Phuket to meet with her counterparts in the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

“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 because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.”

Her words appeared aimed mainly at guiding Iranian leaders to the conclusion that proceeding to develop nuclear weapons will not be in their own interests because the United States will stand firm with its longstanding allies in the Gulf to counterbalance Iran.

In Jerusalem, though, Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, told Army Radio: “I was not thrilled to hear the American statement from yesterday that they will protect their allies with a nuclear umbrella, as if they have already come to terms with a nuclear Iran. I think that’s a mistake.”

Some hours after Meridor spoke, Clinton told her Phuket news conference that she was “not suggesting any new policy” on Iran.

“In fact, we all believe Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and I’ve said that many times,” she said, although in fact she did not make that statement 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 U.S. view, Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear program that is used for civilian purposes. That is exactly what the Iranian government says is the intent of its program. It says it has no intention of building a nuclear bomb.

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