Monday, August 3, 2009

Hillary's Asian Remarks Get "Clarified"

Hillary Clinton is starting to get a reputation for ad-libbing during her foreign visits, as Nicholas Kralev reports in the Washington Times, Clinton goes off-script, 'clarifications' follow:

Compared with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former first lady and senator from New York has committed only minor diplomatic gaffes. Still, twice during her trip to Asia last month, Mrs. Clinton made comments in which the accuracy was questioned by specialists and later had to be "clarified" by the State Department.

At a press conference in New Delhi on July 20, she was asked by an Indian reporter whether the United States opposed the transfer of sensitive reprocessing and enrichment nuclear technology from India to other countries.

"Well, clearly, we don't," she said. "We have just completed a civil nuclear deal with India. So if it's done within the appropriate channels and carefully safeguarded, as it is in the case of India, then that is appropriate."

-- snip --

A diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi immediately noticed the discrepancy and alerted the State Department, which speedily compiled "press guidance," anticipating questions from reporters about the secretary's remark.

"U.S. policy on restricting transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology, equipment and facilities has not changed," the guidance said. "Efforts… to restrict transfers of [such] technology are not aimed at India, or any other country, but reflect our global nonproliferation efforts."

The department tried to explain the confusion by saying that Mrs. Clinton "was referring to the fact that the United States has granted India advance consent to reprocess U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel."

-- snip --

Later that week, during a visit to Thailand, Mrs. Clinton said in a BBC interview that the United States has "no relations" with Myanmar, a longtime U.S. adversary also known as Burma. She was describing efforts by U.S. allies in Southeast Asia to get the country's ruling military regime to allow at least some political openness.

"We are not involved in it — we don't have relations with Burma — but that's the kind of activity that's going on," she said.

In fact, unlike the situation with Iran and North Korea, there is a U.S. Embassy in Myanmar. Despite the strained relations between the two countries, they have maintained formal diplomatic ties. State Department officials said Mrs. Clinton meant they do not have "full" diplomatic relations, meaning that the embassy is headed not by an ambassador, but a lower ranking charge d'affaires.

Former Ambassador Pickering has a theory about why she departs from the script:

Thomas R. Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration and a retired career diplomat, said that the desire described by Mrs. Clinton's aides [to provide full answers to questions, rather than sticking to her talking points] sometimes clashes with her limited diplomatic experience in previous jobs.

"Her talking points might have assumed she knew more than she did, and she added on to buttress her credentials," Mr. Pickering said.

In other words, Hillary is still in politician mode when she addresses foreign audiences as the SecState, and she can't resist the temptation to embroider a bit. OK. At least she isn't in the same league with the gaffetastic Joe Biden, which is good, since one of him is enough.

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