Transcript – Secy of State Hillary Clinton on ABC’s ‘This Week’ – Obama Meets the 3 a.m. Test

June 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Politics 

(Source: ABC News This Week with George Stephanopolous)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Madam Secretary, thanks very much for doing this.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I’m glad to see you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we were just talking about Cairo, did you ever imagine you’d be here as secretary of state?

CLINTON: Never. (LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Never crossed my mind. And what an extraordinary honor to be here, especially for this speech today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president has a very high-powered team, Vice President Biden, General Jones, Secretary Gates. You’ve got envoys for Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea. How do you fit in?

(LAUGHTER) CLINTON: Well, I&

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your role, exactly?

CLINTON: Well, my role is as the chief diplomat for the United States of America. And, you know, when I agreed to do this job, I made it very clear to the president that I would be able to run the State Department and USAID, and that we would have to forge a team that I think we’ve done very well. And that I wanted special envoys, because we were inheriting so many hotspot problems that I knew you could never have one person possibly address all of that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It also gives you the ability to get out of the crisis management and carve out areas where you’re really going to take initiative. What are those?

CLINTON: Well, I’m having to do both. I mean, I spend a lot of my time on the problems that you would imagine, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East, Iran. But I’m also working to create a strategic set of priorities that will guide our efforts.

So for example, there are specific regional and country-based endeavors that we are teeing up. We are going to work really hard on our relationships with, for example, Indonesia and Turkey and India.

We have a strategic and economic dialogue that will start the last week in July with China that Secretary Geithner and I are going to co-lead. I mean, we& (CROSSTALK) STEPHANOPOULOS: Plenty of work to go around.

CLINTON: There is plenty of work to go around. But then there are transnational problems. I mean, the president asked me to lead the effort on food security. The president also wants us to focus on Haiti. And ironically the United Nations&

STEPHANOPOULOS: The — you know, President Clinton&

CLINTON: & secretary-general asked Bill to be the special envoy. So we’re really going to have a united effort by our government and by the international community. Those are just some of the, you know, very specific and more general challenges that we are taking on and managing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re also developing a reputation for blunt talk as secretary. You talked about Pakistan abdicating its responsibilities, about the idea that we get into negotiation with North Korea is implausible. And especially on this issue of settlements with Israel, you were very strong last week, so was the president. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the headlines in Israel, headlines talking about the American threat. Publicly the prime minister is saying that this is just unreasonable, these demands from the United States. And privately he was reported to have said, and this is a quote: “What the hell do they want from me?”

CLINTON: Well, George, I think it’s very clear, as you heard in the speech from the president here in Cairo, that he wants to focus from the very beginning of his term in office on doing everything he can to try to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together. We were very close in 2000. And it’s heartbreaking to see where we are today. And we can’t just stand by and expect time to work its magic. So that means, as the president said in his speech, and as he has said on several other occasions prior to it, that we have to do our very best to reassure Israel, to demonstrate our commitment to Israel’s security, that the bonds we have are unshakeable and durable. But we do have a view about Israel’s security. We see historical, demographic, political, technological trends that are very troubling as to Israel’s future. At the same time, there is a legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people that needs to be addressed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is there any room for compromise on the settlements issue?

CLINTON: Well, I don’t think we want to pre-judge the effort. I think that if you look back, certainly from my perspective, every Israeli leader that I have personally known and others who I have looked at through an historical lens, has come to the same conclusion. Who would have predicted the Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert would have reached the conclusion they reached about what was in Israel’s best interest. Who would have predicted that even Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his earlier term, during the 1990s, would have made some of the decisions he made.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But his team says now that if you continue to push this, it’s going to bring down his government.

CLINTON: We are setting forth our views. Obviously decisions about how to go forward are up to the Israelis and the Palestinians. But I think it is an appropriate role for the United States, and certainly it is what the president has decided, to make clear some of the obstacles he sees. Now remember, the Israelis made a commitment in the road map in the prior administration –

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they say that includes an understanding for natural growth inside the settlement.

CLINTON: Well, that was an understanding that was entered into so far as we are told, orally. That was never made a part of the official record of the negotiations, as it was passed on to our administration. No one in the Bush administration said to anyone that we can find in our administration –

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not only Elliot Abrams? You wrote about that.

CLINTON: Nobody in a position of authority at the time that the Obama administration came into office said anything about it. And in fact, there is also a record that President Bush contradicted even that oral agreement.

But, the fact is that the road map which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government said something very clear about settlements.

So, I think that what the president is doing is saying, look, everybody should comply with the obligations you’ve already committed to. And for the Palestinians, let’s not forget. They must end incitement against Israel. They must demonstrate an ability to provide security.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s what I wanted to ask you about. Abbas was in Washington, last week, He had an interview in the “Washington Post” where he sure seemed to suggest that he doesn’t have to do anything right now.

CLINTON: Well, I think you’re seeing public positions taken, which is understandable in a process like this. But, we’ve made it very clear to President Abbas, what we expect from him, as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Iran? You reported in the papers back in March, when you met with the Foreign Minister of the UAE that you were skeptical of the possibility that diplomacy would work to stall or stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Are you still that doubtful?

CLINTON: Well, I am someone who’s going to wait and see. I mean, I want to see what the president’s engagement will bring. We have a team of people who we have tasked to work on this. I think there’s an enormous amount of potential for change if the Iranians are willing to pursue that –

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what do you think they want deep down? You know, you read some of their public declarations by their supreme leader and others saying that they consider nuclear weapons un-Islamic. Yet, they continue to pursue the nuclear program.

CLINTON: But George, one of the values of engagement is we need to have better information, and maybe about each other. Not just about a one-way street of information. The idea that we could have a diplomatic process with Iran means that for the first time, we would actually be sitting at a table across from Iranians authorized by the supreme leader to talk with us about a whole range of issues. That gives us information and insight that we don’t have. Of course there’s a contradiction because we don’t have any really clear sense as to what it is they are seeking.

Now, one of the things that you heard the president say is, you know, we understand the legitimate right of nations to have access to peaceful, nuclear energy. If that is at the core of what they want, there are ways of accommodating that do not lead to a nuclear weapon. But, we have to test that and we have to be willing to sit and listen and evaluate without giving up what we view as a primary objective of the engagement, which is to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your own envoy Dennis Ross has said one way to strengthen the position the United States going into these negotiations is to make it very clear that if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel or any U.S. ally, that would be met as an attack on the United States — full response. Now, that was your position during the campaign, as well.

Is it U.S. policy now?

CLINTON: I think it is U.S. policy to the extent that we have alliances and understandings with a number of nations. They may not be formal as it is with NATO, but, I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: By the United States?

CLINTON: Well, I think there would be retaliation. And I think part of what is clear is we want to avoid a Middle East arms race which leads to nuclear weapons being in the possession of other countries in the Middle East. And we want to make clear that there are consequences and costs. Now, let me just put it this way. If Iran is seeking security, if they believe — and you know, you have to put yourself into the shoes of the other party when you negotiate — if they believe that the United States might attack them the way that we did attack Iraq, for example –

STEPHANOPOULOS: Before they attack, as a first strike.

CLINTON: That’s right, as a first strike. Or, they might have some other enemies that would do that to them. Part of what we have to make clear to the Iranians is that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will actually trigger greater insecurity because right now, many of the nations in the neighborhood, as you know very well –

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because Israel will strike before they can finish.

CLINTON: Well, but not only that. I mean, other countries — other Arab countries are deeply concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons. So, does Iran want to face a battery of nuclear weapons countries — (CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you get those other Arab nations to say that publically? That was part of the president’s theme today. CLINTON: Well, you know, we’ve been there a little over four months. And clearly a lot of what we’re doing is teeing up our framework for decision making. We are aggressively pursuing diplomacy, not as an end in itself, but as a means to try to resolve some of these outstanding and very difficult problems. We are trying to make clear that the United States is of course going to pursue our interests in values. But, frankly, we believe there are ways that we can make them consonant with the issues and values that are important to others, as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, when I saw President Ahmadinejad last month, he said the U.S. wasn’t really walking the block here and he cited the idea that President Obama never responded to his initial letter of congratulations. Why not?

CLINTON: Well, I think that President Obama has made very clear that he is going to put forth an open hand. But not as part of an electoral ploy or propaganda.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have to let the elections play out.

CLINTON: I think just like in every country. There is a process that takes place during an election. That will be over soon. And then we’re going to hope to get a positive process going.

STEPHANOPOULOS: With North Korea it seems like nothing has worked. Engagement doesn’t work, isolation doesn’t work. They keep on pursuing their nuclear ambitions. And the problem with North Korea is that they’ve tried to sell every single weapon they’ve ever made.

CLINTON: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what does that mean? How do we stop them now and what happens if they try to sell nuclear material?

CLINTON: One of the positive developments, George, in the face of what has been very provocative and belligerent behavior by the North Koreans is that it has actually brought the members of — six-party process — Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, the United States, much closer together in how we view –

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that process isn’t going anywhere, is there?

CLINTON: Well, but I think what is going somewhere is additional sanctions in the United Nations. Arms embargo, other measures taken against North Korea with the full support of China and Russia.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Including enforcing past resolutions which gives the U.N. the ability to board North Korean ships?

CLINTON: Well, we are working very hard to create a mechanism where we can interdict North Korean shipments. Obviously some countries — not just the ones I named — but others have some legitimate concerns about setting precedent and alike. But, we are working very hard. I’ve personally talked with all the foreign ministers. Some of them many more times than just a couple. We’ve been in very close communication. Obviously we’re working closely with our team in New York. We think we’re going to come out of this with a very strong resolution with teeth that will have consequences for the North Korean regime.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what are the consequences if they try to ship nuclear material elsewhere?

CLINTON: We will do everything we can to both interdict it and prevent it and shut off their flow of money. If we do not take significant and effective action against the North Koreans now, we’ll spark an arms race in Northeast Asia. I don’t think anybody wants to see that. And so part of what we’re doing is again, sharing with other countries our calculus of the risks and the dangers that would lie ahead if we don’t take very strong action.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Several senators wrote the president a letter just the other day that North Korea should go back on list of the states who sponsor terrorism. Will you do that?

CLINTON: Well, we’re going to look at it. There’s a process for it. Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any?

CLINTON: Well, we’re just beginning to look at it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because the senators say they never stopped with these actions.

CLINTON: Well, we — you know, we take it very seriously. I mean, obviously they were taken off of the list for a purpose and that purpose is being thwarted by their actions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One other issue on North Korea. The trial has begun for the American journalists.

CLINTON: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the families of the journalists have come out very clearly and said, the only way this is going to be solved is if the United States government gets involved directly. Have you been involved directly in any way?

CLINTON: I have been. I have been involved directly in working with our team as they have made approaches and requests for information through the channels we use with North Korea. The Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang is taking care of our interests there. He has visited both young women I think, now three times, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve met with the families. We have made it clear through statements, both public and private that we view this as a humanitarian issue –

STEPHANOPOULOS: We were told that you sent a letter saying that the girls didn’t mean — the women didn’t mean to go into North Korea, and asking for their release.

CLINTON: I have taken every action that we thought would produce the result we’re looking for. We think that the charges against these young women are absolutely without merit or foundation. We hope the trial ends quickly, it’s resolved and they’re sent home.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you gotten any hopeful signs back?

CLINTON: We have gotten some responses but we’re not sure exactly who’s going to be making this decision and what the reasons for the eventual decision are. So, we’ve been very careful in what we’ve said because clearly we don’t want this pulled into the political issues that we have with North Korea, or the concerns that are being expressed in the United Nations Security Council. This is separate. It is a humanitarian issue and the girls should be let go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s an interesting point: you don’t know who is going to make this decision. Do you believe these reports that Kim Jong-il has tapped his youngest son as his successor? CLINTON: We obviously are following this very closely. We don’t yet know what the outcome of that decision& (CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: What would that mean?

CLINTON: We don’t know. I mean, we would have to wait and evaluate it, the time of it, who might be essentially, you know, put in place to supervise him, if he were the choice. We have to evaluate all of that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This week is also the anniversary of — the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. And you put out a very strong statement on that anniversary. Yet when you went to China earlier this year, you basically said the Chinese know what we think about human rights.

And I guess what I’m trying to get at is, how do you approach that issue? When do public statements make a difference? When should diplomacy be conducted privately? And who is your real audience with these statements?

CLINTON: You know, George, it’s such a great question. And there is no one easy answer, because I think so much of it depends upon what our objectives are. We have made very clear time and time again our concerns about religious freedom in China, treatment of Tibet, Tibetan culture. So that is — we’re on the record with that. We’ve had these, you know, very strong statements that we’ve made historically, going back years, and so of course we want everyone to know that we still feel very strongly about it. But we also would like to see if there is some way we could actually chip away at Chinese resistance to providing some more, at least cultural and religious autonomy for Tibetans. So we — it’s a constant weighing process. You know, I think a lot of times the public statements can turn out to be counterproductive. They can harden positions. Yet at the same time, the public statements can hearten those who are the dissidents. So trying to keep that in balance so that we don’t ever turn our backs on those who are struggling for the very rights that we believe in so strongly and that we think are universal rights, and yet looking for ways that we can actually get results, not just score debating points or, you know, have somebody say, good for you, you made a strong statement.

So what we’re trying to do, and I think you hear it from what the president and I have been saying over the last four months is to really focus in on where we can make progress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A year ago, you bowed out of the presidential campaign, very graceful speech. It was a bitter campaign. And I’m just wondering, how did president Obama convince you to come on his team?

(LAUGHTER) CLINTON: Well, you know, George, I never had any — any dream, let alone inkling that I would end up in President Obama’s cabinet. When I left the presidential race after getting some sleep and taking some deep breaths, I immediately went to work for him in the general election. I, you know, traveled the country. I worked hard on my supporters. I made the case, which I believed strongly in making sure that we elected him our president. And I was looking forward to going back to the Senate and, frankly, going back to my life and representing New York, which I love. And I had no idea that he had a different plan in mind. So when&

STEPHANOPOULOS: Since the primaries.

CLINTON: Well, but I had — I mean, that was certainly never expected. And after the election, I started seeing little, you know, tidbits in the press, I thought it was absurd. I thought, you know, this is the kind of silly stuff that ends up in the press. And then when he called and asked me to come see him, and we had our first conversation, I said, you know, I really don’t think I’m the person to do this, I want to go back to my life. I really feel like I owe it to the people of New York. And I gave him a bunch of other names of people who I thought would be great secretaries of state. But he was quite persistent and very persuasive. And, you know, ultimately it came down to my feeling that, number one, when your president asks you to do something for your country, you really need a good reason not to do it. Number two, if I had won and I had asked him to please help me serve our country, I would have hoped he would say yes. And finally, I looked around our world and I thought, you know, we are in just so many deep holes that everybody had better grab a shovel and start digging out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question. The Economist magazine said this week that the question you raised in that famous “3 a.m.” ad is right back in the center of American politics.

Has the president answered it for you?

CLINTON: Absolutely. And, you know, the president in his public actions and demeanor, and certainly in private with me and with the national security team, has been strong, thoughtful, decisive, I think he is doing a terrific job. And it’s an honor to serve with him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Madam Secretary, thank you very much.

CLINTON: Thanks. Good to talk to you.

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