WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed caution Tuesday about the United States working with Iran to combat fast-moving Islamic insurgents in Iraq, saying the U.S. needs to understand "what we're getting ourselves into."
The U.S. and Iran have held an initial discussion about how the longtime foes might cooperate to address the threat from the al Qaeda-linked militants that have swept through Iraq. The former secretary of state said at a CNN town hall meeting that any partnerships with third parties such as Iran would need to be "carefully thought through."
"I am not prepared to say that we go in with Iran right now, until we have a better idea what we're getting ourselves into," said the former secretary of state.
Clinton spoke during an hourlong forum to promote her new book, "Hard Choices," about her four years as President Barack Obama's secretary of state. Clinton is the leading Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 if she decides to run for president again.
The wide-ranging interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour and town hall participants focused on foreign policy but delved into Clinton's political future and her views on immigration, marijuana and gay marriage.
During an interview later in the day with Fox News Channel, Clinton faced tough questions about the deadly attack on U.S. posts in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, died during the attacks.
Republicans have been relentless in their criticism of Obama and Clinton for the attacks, suggesting both were disengaged during the incidents and later misled voters about the causes of the attacks in the midst of the presidential election.
"We had a lot going on," Clinton said of the fast-moving developments as the attacks were happening on Sept. 11, 2012.
Looking for updates, Clinton said she phoned the White House looking for the national security adviser. She said she was told Tom Donilon was not available because he was in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama. That revelation undercuts some of critics' views that Obama was not monitoring the attacks.
Her two appearances came hours after the Obama administration announced the capture of a Libyan militant suspected in the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton said the capture showed the U.S. has an "an unwavering commitment to bring to justice" those who commit acts of terror against the U.S.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorate, U.S. and Iranian officials have both raised concerns about the swift advance of radical Islamist forces in Iraq and officials from the two countries met here briefly Monday. The White House, however, has ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq. Clinton said during the Fox interview with Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren that she did not support the U.S. entering into formal negotiations with Iran regarding the Iraq unrest.
Clinton has maintained strong ties to Jewish Americans and has raised skepticism that Iran would agree to a comprehensive deal to remove its nuclear weapon capabilities, stressing that any deal would need to maintain U.S. and Israeli national security.
Clinton said in the CNN forum that Iran could prop up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government the same way Iran helped Syrian President Bashar Assad's hold onto power when rebels challenged his government. She also criticized Maliki's decision to purge "the military we helped train" and forced out "the most able commanders."
In the Fox interview, Clinton addressed privacy concerns that have been triggered by the disclosures of secret intelligence gathering methods by the National Security Agency. She said the U.S. needs to balance protecting Americans with their constitutional liberties. But she was blunt in her opposition to the far-reaching spy on foreign leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel.
"That was absolutely uncalled for," Clinton said.
The CNN forum also touched on several topics, including:
- Immigration: Clinton said the nation should provide emergency care to address the influx of Central American immigrant children and teenagers. Clinton said many of the children should be sent back once they can be reunited with family members, cautioning against sending "a message that is contrary to our laws or we'll encourage more children to make that dangerous journey."
- Pot: Clinton took a wait-and-see attitude on medical marijuana and the legalization of the recreational use of pot in Washington state and Colorado. Asked whether she would partake, Clinton laughed, "I didn't do it when I was young. I'm not going to start now."
- Gay marriage: Clinton was asked about her lack of support for gay marriage in the past, which was raised during a National Public Radio interview. The former first lady said she had "evolved over time" and was proud to support same-sex marriage.