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Clinton: we help protesters.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that Washington did a lot "behind the scenes" to support the protesters in Tehran, in effect accepting Iranian criticism that Washington help promote anti-regime disturbances.

In the same interview, Clinton also repeated that she does not assume and has not assumed that the Islamic Republic would ever join in diplomatic negotiations with the United States.

Clinton said that once before, shortly after her appointment in January, but few commentators ever noticed the comment. Republican critics have often asserted that the Obama Administration is too enamored of talks. But Clinton's comments telegraph what a number of officials have said off the record--that the Obama Administration knows it must first make every effort to start talks with Iran because there is no chance of support for strong sanctions until the rest of the world is convinced Iran is just stalling for time.

Clinton told CNN Sunday, "We are under no illusions. We were under no illusions before their elections that we can get the kind of engagement we are seeking."

She added: "The president has also said, look, we need to take stock of this in September. If there is a response, it needs to be on a fast track. We're not going to keep the window open forever."


Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, echoed Clinton, saying that after the September reassessment Washington would "consider appropriate next steps in light of the Iranians' response or non-response."

On the issue of the post-election protests, Clinton insisted that Washington helped "empower" the protesters. She said:

"We did not want to get between the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the Iranian people [on the one hand] and the leadership [on the other]. And we knew that, if we stepped in too soon, too hard, ... the leadership would try to use us to unify the country against the protesters.... Now, behind the scenes, we were doing a lot.... We were doing a lot to empower the protesters without getting in the way. And we're continuing to speak out and support the opposition."

That was a curious statement. Actually, the Administration has carefully avoided supporting any criticism of the election outcome. What it has done is criticize the Iranian government for suppressing free speech. But it has never said that the core point of the protests--that the election was fraudulent-is correct.

As to what the United States was doing "behind the scenes" to "empower" the protesters, Clinton gave only one example. She cited the fact that the State Department asked not to shut down an hour for technical maintenance until it was the middle of the night in Tehran.

A few days earlier, White House spokesma, Robert Gibbs acknowledged he had misspoken when he said President Ahmadi-nejad had been re-elected, implying the United States accepted the election as fair. "Let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday," Gibbs told reporters. "I denoted that Mr. Ahmadi-nejad was the 'elected' leader of Iran. I would say that is not for me to pass judgment on."
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Aug 14, 2009
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