Commentary Magazine


Annals of Smart Diplomacy

President Obama told a group of columnists last week that it is “important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” What, one wonders, would those steps be?

On Friday, two New York Times reporters interviewed Hillary Clinton and had a certain amount of difficulty getting her to answer that question:

QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists [quotes Obama’s statement]. Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” …

So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [529-word answer about getting Iran’s attention with sanctions].

QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? … [H]ave you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [204-word answer about being committed to engagement].

QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent … very clear messages … And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.

What a refreshing difference from the Bush administration, which “simply said, you know, ‘They know what they have to do.’” The Obama administration says it’s important to tell them what they have to do, but when asked to sort of talk us through it, it responds that they “know what they have to do.”