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Hillary Clinton, after weeks on sidelines, retakes center stage with warning to Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, coming back from a fractured elbow, answers questions at a State Department town hall on July 10, 2009  

She's back.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- hobbled by a fractured elbow that forced her to cancel two overseas trips during the last month, eclipsed by a globe-trotting President Obama who seemed to do just fine without her in Russia and Italy -- reemerged today.

As part of her comeback tour, Clinton is about to deliver a speech today to the Council on Foreign Relations. Tomorrow she heads off on a trip to India and Thailand, the first since she broke her elbow in a fall on her way to the White House. And just in time, according to policy wonks.

"She is seen as glamorous and in many countries as a valuable symbol of the United States, but it is not at all clear that she has an in-depth influence on foreign policy," said Reginald Dale of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an interview with the Associated Press. "She needs to decide if she wants to be the administration's mascot or have an impact on actual policy." 

Mindful that she and Obama had harsh words over how to approach Iran as opponents during the presidential campaign, Clinton has been faithful to the White House script that was enunciated by Obama during his inaugural address: "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us."

But with Washington increasingly concerned about Tehran's crackdown against protesters in the streets and about the regime's nuclear ambitions, Clinton uses today's speech to deliver a warning.

"Neither the president nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success," Clinton says, according to excerpts released by the State Department. "But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran and offering its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation."

Then she adds, "We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely."

Watch her upcoming travels for further signs of Clinton's comeback strategy.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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