WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Iranian and Palestinian leaders, and didn’t spare Israel, either, in her address at the Saban Forum, continuing her trend of increased frankness as her time in the Obama administration winds down.
Clinton gave the 30-minute keynote address , focusing on the Middle East and Israel, but it was during the question and answer period when the secretary was most animated, and blunt. Clinton named Iran as “the hardest of the hard boards because of the dangers its behavior already poses and the geometrically greater danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose.”
“It is an issue that has consumed a significant part of my time as secretary of state,” Clinton told the audience of diplomats and lawmakers at the annual U.S.-Israeli forum.
Speaking with clear exasperation, Clinton said the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — commonly known as p5-plus-1 — were preparing a way to communicate with Iran about the country’s nuclear ambitions while letting Tehran know “we’re running out of time.”
“We have from the very beginning made it clear to the Iranians: We are open to a bilateral discussion and we have tried,” Clinton said. “So far there has not yet been any meeting of the minds on that, but we remain open and you know we certainly try quite hard in the p-5-plus-1 context to have a bilateral discussion, and they have not been willing to do so.
“We understand that it may take pushing through that obstacle to really get them fully responsive to whatever the p-5-plus-1 offer might be,” she said.
Clinton described the lack of an international response to Iran’s recent history of extremism as “totally unacceptable.”
“It is an incredibly dangerous aggressive behavior that is going on every single day,” Clinton said. “They are relentless in their desire to exercise influence and to build a very intimidating, even hegemonic presence in the Gulf, and then you get to what they’re doing internally with the oppression of the Iranian people, and then you’ve got the nuclear program.
“It’s a never-ending requirement of extraordinary vigilance,” she said.
Clinton also spoke frankly about the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
She condemned the UN resolution passed Friday recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, saying that for President Abbas it was “a step in the wrong direction … to say the least.” Without veiling her meaning, Clinton blamed the Palestinian leaders for passing up numerous attempts at peace, starting from her time as first lady, to when she was in the Senate, to the current day.
But she did not let Israel off scot-free.
“We opposed his resolution. But we also need to see that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance. At a time when religious extremists claim to offer rewards in the hereafter, Israel needs to help those committed to peace to deliver for their people in the here and now,” Clinton said during her speech.
She revisited that theme in the question and answer session, encouraging Israelis to continue the “good faith effort” she recognized in the last 20 years.
“I really believe this with all my heart: I think that even if you cannot reach a complete agreement that resolves all these incredibly hard issues, it is in Israel’s interest to be trying. It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy. That’s what I want Israel to occupy — the moral high ground,” Clinton said, to loud applause.
Foreign policy leaders from around the globe paid a tribute that felt something like a farewell to the secretary of state at the forum.
In her prepared remarks, Clinton reflected on her own future, and said she looked forward to stepping down and visiting Israel as a private citizen, on a commercial airline, with her future grandchildren.
“It’s no state secret that I hope to become a grandmother someday,” she said to a laughing crowd.
The Saban Center Founder Haim Saban introduced Clinton by showing a video highlighting her many accomplishments since she entered the Obama administration.
Officials from Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to Sen. John McCain, and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, offered kind words for the outgoing American diplomat.
The video ended with a message from President Obama thanking the audience “for the chance to honor one of America’s greatest public servants.”
The president went on to extol Clinton’s virtues and reflect on their relationship.
“I’m so grateful for your grace, your humor, your friendship and what an incredible message that has sent to Americans and the world about the power of our democracy, about how people can come together and work together on behalf of the country they love,” Obama said.
“Tonight just know how much you mean to all of us and how honored we are and I am to call you a partner and a friend.”
The evening was fraught with jokes and insinuations that the world has yet to see the last of Clinton. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the end of her tribute video, perhaps “the best is yet to come.”