While in Egypt earlier this week, Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton was interviewed by Lamis el Hadidi of Egyptian TV.
The first question was about US foreign relations and unfortunately started off from the point of the well-worn media mantra that Bush policies caused massive damage to all US relationships with the rest of the world. This has now been uttered so many times that it is folklore and nobody can really tell if it was true or not.
El Hadidi asked Secretary Clinton if a “more balanced” America and new foreign policies could be expected.
It should be obvious that with a new government, there will be new policies, but the real question should have been what will the real and perceived differences be.
In answering, Secretary Clinton first reiterated that this is a new president and the differences include reaching out to the rest of the world, consulting and listening to friends and allies like Egypt and working together “wherever possible” to resolve conflicts and bridge divides.
Using the phrase “wherever possible” gives an exit point and subtly lowers expectations.
Also reiterated was the “opening the clenched fist” message and the aim to be deeply engaged, to confront difficult problems, with the rider “consistent with American values and ideals”.
Showing that the Middle East region is important to the US, the Secretary noted the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace was one of the very first announcements, to demonstrate this was the highest priority. She also made it clear that “I cleared my schedule so that I could personally be here along with our Special Envoy, because there is a lot of work to be done to build our relationships, to be a good listener as well as actor, and we’re tackling these problems from the very beginning of the Obama Administration.”
When el Hadidi asked about the Egyptian-American relationship, Secretary Clinton said “We are friends, but even friends don’t agree on everything.” She also noted that she had met with with President Mubarak, the prime minister, foreign minister and other ministers of the Egyptian government. This consultation in itself is a signal of change, that may have been too subtle for many.
Asked about Israel, Secretary Clinton correctly avoided the question because Israel is in the midst of forming a new government. Instead, she referred to the children of Gaza and the West Bank. [ Secretary Clinton Outlines New Approach to Israel-Palestine Peace ]
On the question of a relationship with Syria, she touched on the “unproductive” role played by Syria over the past few years, which had them helping Iran and facilitating al-Qaida and Hezbolah. “We’re just beginning to have that conversation. I don’t know where it will lead. But we want the Syrians to know that we are willing to talk and to listen and to see whether there are ways that we can solve some of the problems between us.”
Regarding Iran, Secretary Clinton made it clear the US will not act unilaterally, but neither will they have open discussions with Iran, a different message to the one put forward during the Presidential campaign. The difference is that any interaction with Iran will be tempered by consultations with other governments in the region, that are friendly to the US.
She also brought up the concerns about Iranian behavior due to the pursuit of nuclear weapons, intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, and support of terrorism, including Hamas.
This should quiet some of the voices that keep rising about Iran not pursuing nuclear weapons, not interfering in other countries and not supporting Hamas.
“We are talking with our friends and our allies who have concerns, deep concerns about Iranian behavior and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, its support of terrorism, frankly, including Hamas.”
Once more lowering expectations for interaction/dialogue with the Iranians, she said
“And we want to make it clear to the Iranians that again unclench your fist, come to the table in good faith. We will consult with our friends and allies. And if there is a way that we can work toward some resolution of these problems that bother us, Egypt, and others, we would welcome that.”