US ready to engage Iran but time limited: Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday renewed a limited US offer to talk with Iran despite its post-election crackdown and defended the principle of engaging anti-American regimes.

In a policy speech marking nearly six months on the job, Clinton rejected critics who say engagement is a sign of weakness and warned Washington would not hesitate to use military force to defend itself or its allies.

But she said President Barack Obama's administration preferred to focus on diplomacy and development to advance US interests, which include fighting terror and promoting Middle East peace as well as boosting the global economy and curbing climate change.

She repeated previous calls to "lead with diplomacy, even in the cases of adversaries or nations with whom we disagree."

The Obama administration has taken steps toward engaging not just Iran but other US foes like Syria, Cuba and Venezuela, but its hopes to engage North Korea have stumbled amid a showdown over Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC.

She rejected critics who suggest that engagement is "a sign of naivete or acquiescence to these countries' repression of their own people."

Engagement, on the other hand, can provide insight into the calculations of a hostile regime and open up opportunities for change, no matter how remote, she said.

Clinton recalled the Iranian leadership's crackdown on those protesting the June 12 presidential election when she conceded that neither she nor Obama held "any illusions" that direct talks with Iran "will guarantee success."

She said the Shiite Muslim fundamentalist leadership must be presented with a choice between further international isolation and the benefits of international integration.

On another burning issue, Clinton urged Arab states to make immediate gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel in a bid to promote prospects for Arab-Israeli peace.

However, she stopped short of reiterating previous calls for Israel to freeze all settlements, saying Washington wanted Israeli action on settlements but understood it faced political challenges.

The softer tone comes after a public clash between the Obama administration and the right-leaning Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the calls for such a freeze.

She said other key US priorities include reversing the spread of nuclear weapons as well as defeating terrorists while reaching out to Muslims worldwide.

Clinton also pushed for global economic recovery and economic development in poor countries, expanding free and fair trade, and boosting investment to create good jobs.

She vowed to combat climate change and increase energy security.

But Clinton warned that the new administration's stress on diplomacy and development should not be misread by foes.

"We will not hesitate to defend our friends, our interests, and above all, our people vigorously and when necessary with the world's strongest military," Clinton said.

"This is not an option we seek nor is it a threat; it is a promise to all Americans," she said.

Clinton's speech and her plans to travel to India and Thailand over the weekend and the next week mark her return to the world stage after she was sidelined for weeks by a broken elbow.

She also announced plans to travel to Russia and Pakistan.

source AFP

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