WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday warned that the United States may erect a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if Iran continues its nuclear program, a sign that the Obama administration is preparing for the reality of an Iranian bomb.
Clinton, appearing at a regional meeting in Phuket, Thailand, also laid down a tough line on North Korea, declaring that the United States and North Korea’s neighbors will offer no new incentives for the regime to return to nuclear disarmament talks.
“We do not intend to reward North Korea just for returning to the table, nor do we intend to reward them for actions they have already committed to then reneged on,” Clinton said, after conferring with officials from China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
In raising the possibility of a “defense umbrella,” Clinton insisted she is not abandoning the current U.S. policy, which involves a combination of diplomatic outreach and sanctions. Even so, her words suggested that U.S. officials are looking ahead in case the current approach, which faces formidable obstacles, proves unsuccessful.
Although President Barack Obama has pushed hard to draw the Islamic republic to the negotiating table, some U.S. officials and many outside experts have doubts that outreach will succeed.
And the likely next step, an effort to organize tougher international economic sanctions, faces strong resistance from the Russians, Chinese and Indians.
Some senior figures in the Obama administration have suggested that the United States might have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.