Clinton Previews Obama’s Agenda for the U.N.

Created: September 18, 2009 10:39 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

I’m at the Brookings Institution, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is presenting the Obama administration’s agenda for next week’s United Nation’s General Assembly session, the administration’s first. How will the administration handle Iranian “President” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Manhattan, and his agreement to move ahead with nuclear diplomacy? How to handle Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who, like President Obama, is delivering a speech to the assembly next Thursday? What about Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab-Israeli crisis, the global economic crisis?

Luckily, the secretary of state is in the building. Here’s the highlight reel of Clinton’s remarks, done liveblog style.

Boldface names in the audience include Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser who was sworn in yesterday despite being repeatedly slandered by conservatives; Anne-Marie Slaughter, State’s director of policy planning; Slaughter deputy Derek Chollet; and Martin Indyk, Brookings’ new foreign-policy director and top State Department Mideast official in the Clinton administration. I would boldface these names, but this is not Politico. Speaking of, Politico’s Laura Rozen is here.

OK, the main event.

First, a word about missile defense. Thanks to a “lengthy, in-depth” review, the Obama administration’s missile defense program isn’t “shelving” missile defense, but deploying a “stronger and smarter” program. “We are not, quote, shelving missile defense. We are deploying missile defense faster than the Bush administration.”

In Clinton’s office is a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt working on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. “We have to have effective global institutions. That is not a choice, that is an imperative. It is up to us to determine how to make them effective.”

Nuclear proliferation “will be a main topic of discussion next week and beyond.” Giving Obama’s Prague speech “template” some practical application, “moving to a world of zero nuclear weapons… a generational commitment, it might not happen in our lifetimes.” Next week Obama will chair a meeting at the Security Council on nonproliferation and disarmament, which will play a “critical role” in enforcing compliance. Clinton will lead a meeting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. “Strengthening the non-proliferation regime means bringing other nations into compliance.” Like North Korea and Iran.

Iran. What’s “really at issue”: Iran has “refused for years to address the international community’s deep concerns about its nuclear program.” Iran’s” continued failure to live up to its obligations carries profound consequences for the security of the United States.”  The concern is not “Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy,” but ensuring the program is for peaceful purposes. “This is not hard to do.” Iran faces a “choice.” It can have partnership in education and science and cooperation with the international community. Or “isolation and economic pressure, less progress for the people of Iran.” Dialogue alone “doesn’t guarantee any outcome, let alone success,” but refusal to engage “yielded no progress on the nuclear issue.” Iran “must now decide whether to join us in this effort,” but Iran has “engaged in a campaign of politically motivated arrests, show trials and suppression” and “stands in the way of the justice it seeks.” But Obama remains “ready to engage… to address the concerns we and our partners have.” But “we have no appetite for talks without action.”

Iraq, Afghanistan/Pakistan, development and women are also on the UNGA agenda.

Iraq: Clinton hails January’s parliamentary election, and pledges to “work with Iraqis and the international community… to make these elections a success.” Civilian agencies’ role increases as U.S. troops depart. Sees a “stable, sovereign Iraq.” A “new, sustained and more mature partnership that will serve both of our countries far into the future.”

Afghanistn and Pakistan. Core goal “to disrupt dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies,” the basis of the “original U.N. resolutions authorizing military action after 9/11 and creating ISAF, the NATO troop mission. “To effectively squeeze extremists fighting to destabilize both countries” is how Clinton describes the method. Calls on “all parties to respect” the Afghan electoral recount. Will step up “expectation of that new government to strengthen governance at all levels” after a winner of the presidential election is determined.

Clinton will continue to discuss Burma with allies.

Opportunities at UNGA: “So too are we pursuing a positive agenda so more people in more places can live up to their dreams.” Clinton will focus on development and women. “Critically important… to human security, national security, international security” which rests on “development and the rights of women.” Next week, she says, she’ll lay out a development-plus-diplomacy approach, away from “top down assistance that too often fails to meet the goals” and instead “focus on those root causes” and “transform the environment in which people are making these decisions and governments are held to a higher degree of performance and transparency.”  She’ll participate in an event with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on food security.

The U.S. delegation will host events to focus on women’s rights. Will chair a session of the Security Council in favor of an adoption of a resolution on “women, peace and security,” addressing sexual and gender-based violence as a tactic of war. Inspired by her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s brutal war.

An “ambitious agenda,” and “we will remain vigilant and pro-active,” she says. It’s time to “take stock and reassess the values and ideals that move us forward” and produce “solutions to the problems that we all confront.”

OK, so now it’s question time. Martin Indyk asks the first question. Think it’ll be on Iran? Yup! Asks about Ahmadinjad’s continued Holocaust denial and his obstinence on nuclear questions. “As I said there are no guarantees of results, let alone success,” Clinton says. “But we do believe the opportunity presents itself for face-to-face discussions at the P5 plus 1.” The Iranians have a “lot of issues we want to discuss… I am not going to pre-judge this. We are on a dual track, engagement… and the other [track is] the consequences.” Not going to speculate what comes next. “We are not in this just for the sake of talking… not going to keep talking forever.” Wants to see “some movement by the end of this year, and I’m well aware of all the problems you have just briefly alluded to,” and will look at Iranian behavior for judging the next step.

Andrea Mitchell asks about the consequences for Iran that Clinton mentioned. “There has been a much more concerted outreach to the Iranian leadership and the Iranian people under President Obama than we have seen in thirty years,” she replies. “We, as you know, did not participate fully as a member of the P5 plus 1 until very recently… We were on the sidelines, pacing up and down the sidelines extremely agitated… and look where we are today. We are really nowhere.” The U.S. has spent “an enormous time listening to and working with our partners… and looking for ways to broaden that sense of cooperation, and looking for a sense of how our views can be better communicated… Think we have proceeded in a very thoughtful way, no guarantee of any particular outcome, but we’re determined to persevere.”

What about corruption in Afghanistan? “Corruption is as big a national-security threat as I can imagine,” she says. “It’s not only corruption in Afghanistan” but “corruption almost as an epidemic, undermining governance, undermining capacity of governments to make progress in ways that could grow a middle class… eaten away at the fabric of so many countries.” On Afghanistan “we have to take some of the responsibility… we aided and abetted [corruption] in implicit ways in not demanding more, and not demanding more earlier.” It’s not a good-government concern. It’s “absolutely essential.”

A questioner asks about Israeli-Arab peace and continued Israeli settlements. “Emotions in Arab and Islamic world are getting really very high,” the questioner notes. Asks about George Mitchell, the administration’s Mideast envoy, and his hopes for progress. Clinton: “I understand the emotion.” Obama “started on the very first day with a commitment to pursue a comprehensive peace agreement premised on the two-state solution” about which the administration “is very patient and very determined.” References a history of failure on peace processing, but says, voice rising, the Obama administration will “never give up” and “expect both sides, not just one, to be ready to pursue this comprehensive peace agreement.” Will do “all we can to persuade, cajole, do all we can… to make that agreement… It is up to the Palestinians and the Israelis.” Expects “both sides” to be “actively engaged and willing to work toward that resolution.” Mitchell’s work is “very valuable in sorting through a lot of the concerns,” because previously the parties were “encouraged to work themselves toward a resolution, the United States was not actively engaged in it.” But backsliding “is not going to discourage us.”

Strobe Talbott asks a final question about health care and cap and trade. Asks about the connection between Obama’s domestic and foreign agendas. “I don’t accept the premise of the question,” Clinton replies. The 1994 failure on health care didn’t undercut President Clinton’s foreign policy or even the rest of his domestic agenda. “But I don’t think we’re gonna face that because I think we’re gonna be successful” on health care. And we’re out.

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