Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reemerged as the Obama administration's diplomatic heavyweight with a hard-hitting policy speech that condemned Iran and gave stern warnings to its government.
Clinton called the Iranian government's response to the violent uprising in Tehran "deplorable and unacceptable" and vowed the country would face sanctions if it didn't strike a deal with the U.S on disarming nukes.
"Neither the President nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success," Clinton said. "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."
Clinton's speech at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington was the first time she took center stage after four frustrating, low-profile weeks during which a fractured elbow forced her to cancel two overseas trips.
Her diminishing presence abroad and at home, followed by her startling public criticism of the White House this week for delaying a key appointment, has prompted a flurry of speculation about whether her influence is waning inside President Barack Obama's Cabinet.
Though they deny any rivalries within the administration's foreign policy team and reject suggestions she has been forced into a backseat role, Clinton aides say she is eager to get back to what had been a busy pace of travel and events.
They note that she has had frequent and regular meetings at the White House with the president, pointing to private sessions with both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office scheduled for just an hour after her speech on Wednesday.
But they acknowledge that she has chafed under the limitations imposed by her injury, which notably caused her to miss important multilateral conferences in Europe in late June and to be unable to accompany Obama to Russia last week.
Still the impression persists that she lost clout in her absence, as Obama traveled frequently in an elevated foreign policy role that some observers have described as "diplomat in chief." At the same time, Biden has also assumed an increasingly public role in diplomacy in Iraq and has waded into both the delicate Mideast peace process and into American relations with Iran. And national security adviser James Jones has shaped his own high-profile presence, while a group of globe-trotting special envoys have pursued shuttle diplomacy from Jerusalem to Kabul.
Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said it is still too early, six months into the administration, to assess Clinton's influence.
But he noted she has yet to take on a specific significant project or projects to distinguish herself as the nation's chief diplomat.
"Every president always overshadows every secretary of state, that's just the nature of the beast," he said. "But a secretary of state carves out a niche by picking out an issue, or two or three, and taking it as his or her own. She hasn't yet done that, at least not yet."
Clinton's departure Thursday for India and Thailand will mark her first trip abroad since a one-day visit to Niagara Falls, Canada, on June 13, and only in recent days has she begun to resume a more robust schedule in talks with visiting foreign officials and "town hall" meetings with employees.
"Her name hasn't been up there in lights," Dale said.
In the address, Clinton planned to highlight the importance of dealing with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the threat posed by Iran and North Korea, the need for compromise to forge Middle East peace and an initiative on international food security, aides said.