World and Nation

Clinton Sees Possible Progress On Iran and North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Tuesday that Iran had a “clear opportunity” to engage with the international community, amplifying the conciliatory tone struck a day earlier by President Barack Obama toward Iran and the rest of the Muslim world.

Sketching out an ambitious diplomatic agenda, Clinton also suggested that there could be some form of direct communication between the United States and North Korea. And she said relations with China had been excessively influenced by economic issues during the Bush administration.

Clinton, in her first remarks to reporters since becoming the nation’s chief diplomat, said, “There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community.”

Speaking Monday to an Arabic-language news channel, Al Arabiya, Obama reiterated his determination that the United States explore ways to engage directly with Iran, even as he said Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon and support for terrorist groups was destabilizing.

Less than a week into her job, Clinton seemed energized. She traveled to the White House on Monday to help send off the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, George J. Mitchell, and she has racked up a list of calls to nearly 40 foreign leaders or foreign ministers.

The world, Clinton asserted, was yearning for a new American foreign policy.

“There is a great exhalation of breath going on around the world,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of damage to repair.”

Clinton did not disclose the options under consideration for reaching out to Iran, beyond mentioning the existing multilateral talks involving Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. But she indicated that she and Obama were thinking broadly.

The multilateral group is scheduled to meet next week in Germany, and European diplomats said they hoped that the meeting would provide the first clues about the administration’s strategy.

The administration is expected to name Dennis B. Ross, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, to a senior post handling Iran, according to State Department officials. That Ross was not at the same meeting as Mitchell surprised some people who follow Iranian issues, given how long his appointment had been rumored. But officials said Ross was at the State Department on Monday.

Analysts said the timing for an American overture to Iran was better now than it had been for a long time.

“The Iranian regime is in a truly desperate situation,” said Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “The regime is in a much more amenable mood, because the economy is in a shambles. They’re also dealing with someone whose name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

As for North Korea, Clinton said the administration was committed to existing multilateral talks over its nuclear program. But she noted that in the past, there have been bilateral talks within the current six-party arrangement.