Interview with Secretary Clinton

Interview with Secretary Clinton

By State of the Union - February 7, 2010

CROWLEY: We begin with the world around us. In the year since the Obama era opened, has Al Qaida gotten stronger? Is Iran any less of a threat? Can the Afghan president pull his country together so U.S. troops can come home? And who will save Haiti? This and more in a wide-ranging interview with the woman at the center of U.S. diplomatic efforts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We sat down at the State Department and began with terrorism and the Al Qaida threat.


CROWLEY: First of all, thank you so much. It's an honor to have you on this first show.

So I wanted to talk to you first about the past month. We have seen a would-be terrorist frighten a lot of people on a plane over Detroit, we have gotten an Osama bin Laden tape, and we have now been warned by the U.S. government that it is certain that there will be an attempted attack on the U.S. or on America the next one to six months.

Is there a reason Americans should not look at that and think, the risk factor is up?

CLINTON: Well, Candy, first of all, congratulations on your new show.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

CLINTON: I really wish you well. You have a lot to contribute to Sunday morning television.

I think what is fair for Americans to think is that we have had a continuing threat from Al Qaida and related terrorist organizations over many years now. It hasn't gone away. We have contained it. We have worked very hard to do so. But over the last six months, we have seen attacks foiled, people arrested and charged. So that you have to be constantly vigilant. And that's what everybody working in this government at all levels attempts to do.

In the last month, because of the high-profile attempt on the airplane, people's attention became very focused. But a bin Laden tape is nothing new. It comes and goes depending upon when he decides to do it.

But I think it's really important for people to just go along with their daily lives. I mean, you can't be deterred or discouraged or fearful about what is happening. And we just have to do everything we can to keep America safe.

CROWLEY: Can you give me a feel for it? Is the risk higher? Is Al Qaida stronger now than a year ago?

CLINTON: It's very difficult to make that kind of assessment, because they have always been plotting against us. I was a senator from New York on 9/11. I was honored to serve the people of New York until I took this job. I thought about it every day. I got intelligence every day. Somebody was thinking about that, or we picked up information about a plot there.

So to me, who has followed this very closely since 9/11, I don't see them as stronger, but I see that they are more creative, more flexible, more agile. They evolve. You know, they are, unfortunately, a very committed, clever, diabolical group of terrorists who are always looking for weaknesses and openings. And we just have to stay alert.

CROWLEY: If they are more agile and more clever, are there more of them? And doesn't that sort of add up to more risk?

CLINTON: I don't know if there are more of them. We have certainly degraded their capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know that. As the president said the other night, we have killed and captured a significant number of Al Qaida's top leadership, as well as people in the Taliban organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan who cooperate with them.

We see some new areas of threat emanating from Somalia and Yemen, but whether that's now in the cumulative greater or whether because the numbers in Afghanistan and Pakistan have decreased, it's about the same, but with the unfortunate fact that they are committed to killing and destroying innocent people in their own countries, as well as around the world, including the United States.

CROWLEY: While we are in that region, let me ask you about Afghanistan. U.S. troops cannot get out of there unless there is a stable Afghan government. Hamid Karzai as of this point does not have a full cabinet. They are now trying to bring in not just foot soldiers, bring them back into the fold, not just Taliban foot soldiers, but some higher-ups. Do you have any doubt in your mind that Hamid Karzai can get his act together and put together a stable government?

CLINTON: I think that the strategy that the United States and more than 44 countries are pursuing in Afghanistan obviously requires that we have a good partner in President Karzai and the Afghan government.

That doesn't mean that we will always do what he wants or we will do what he want, but we do expect to see a level of competency and capacity.

CROWLEY: Have you seen it?

CLINTON: Yes, actually there are -- there are areas of very positive cooperation. He may not have a full cabinet, but the cabinet members he has are people who many of us view as honest and effective, productive. We work with them on a daily basis. The defense minister or the finance minister, people who are really producing results for Afghanistan.

I spent a lot of time with President Karzai, most recently about a 90-minute, one-on-one conversation in London. I think he has really stepped up since his second inaugural address. He laid out a road map there. He is trying to follow that road map.

But I always remind myself that what, five or six years into a new nation that has no history of democracy, let's be realistic about the kind of support that this new government and the president needs. So I think we have to put this into a more balanced perspective. It's neither as bad or as good, just like most of life and most of the situations that I deal with around the world, and I think we have developed a much stronger understanding and partnership in the last year going forward.

CROWLEY: So no doubts that Karzai is the man to pull this together?

CLINTON: Well, he is the president of the country, and I very much respect the authority that he has. He has asked for help, most recently at the London conference, but he also has his own ideas, as do the Afghan people. So in any relationship with any country -- think of some of our oldest allies like France or England -- you are not always going to get 100 percent agreement. But you work with the leaders and you work with the people. We are not yet turning the corner, but we are, you know, sort of inching our way forward to being able to do so.

So I think on balance, we are in this with, you know, people and countries who are committed to the same outcome.

CROWLEY: Shall we leave the Karzai doubt question on the table?

CLINTON: Well, I mean, I don't agree with any other single leader in the world. I mean, I don't -- I mean, obviously we have a lot...

CROWLEY: I just think that's a little different from -- are you a little worried that he is not going to be able to pull this off? And I pursue it only because that's the only way U.S. troops are going to get pulled out.

CLINTON: Well, but, see, I think that we have looked at President Karzai through a lens that is not rooted in reality. I mean, we do business with leaders all the time, some of whom are great American allies, that have a lot of questions raised about them. But we do an assessment, what is in the best interest of America? What is in our national security? What advances our interests and our values? What keeps Americans safe? And so, why should we take one leader out and put him apart from all the other leaders we deal with and raise all those doubts, instead of saying, look, we've got work to do and we're doing it. We're doing it day by day, and I think we're making progress.


CROWLEY: Next, Secretary Clinton talks about the uphill effort to engage a nuclear Iran and North Korea.

Plus, they honeymooned in Haiti, and now she is secretary of state and he is the United Nations envoy to Haiti. The Clintons, her role and his.


CROWLEY: Now, part two of my interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


CROWLEY: I want to bring your attention to something that President Obama said in his inaugural, a little more than a year ago.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will extend our hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


CROWLEY: Has Iran unclenched its fist?

CLINTON: No. CROWLEY: How about North Korea?

CLINTON: No, not to the extent we would like to see them. But I think that's -- that is not all to the story. Engagement has brought us a lot in the last year.

Let's take North Korea first and then we will go to Iran. In North Korea, when we said that we were willing to work with North Korea if they were serious about returning to the six-party talks and about denuclearizing in an irreversible way, they basically did not respond in the first instance. But because we were willing to engage, we ended up getting a very strong sanctions regime against North Korea that China signed on to and Russia signed on to, and right now is being enforced around the world.

CROWLEY: Did the extended hand of the U.S. help in any way that you can point to?

CLINTON: It did, because -- because we extended it, a neighbor like China knew we were going the extra mile. And all of a sudden said, you know, you are not just standing there hurling insults at them. You've said, all right, fine, we're willing to work with them. They have not responded, so we are going to sign on to these very tough measures.

Similarly in Iran. I don't know what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn't made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive, but the fact is, because we engaged, the rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it.

When we started last year talking about the threats that Iran's nuclear program posed, Russia and other countries said, well, we don't see it that way. But through very slow and steady diplomacy, plus the fact that we had a two-track process -- yes, we reached out on engagement to Iran, but we always had the second track, which is that we would have to try to get the world community to take stronger measures if they did not respond on the engagement front.

CROWLEY: I want to turn to Haiti for a minute. We are in there with a lot of people. They are doing a lot of talking, and what they are finding is Haitians saying we wish the American government would come in here and take over, because they don't think their government is capable in the post-rescue period of rebuilding Haiti. What is wrong with that idea?

CLINTON: Candy, I am very proud of what not only our country has done, both our military and particularly our civilians and our new USAID administrator, Raj Shah. Everybody has just stepped up and performed admirably. So have other countries. This has been a global response.

But the fact is, there is a legitimate government with authority in Haiti, despite the fact...

CROWLEY: A really weak government. CLINTON: Well, the fact is that we were working with them before the earthquake. One of my goals as secretary of state, which the president agreed with, was for us to work with that government and try to help them implement a national development plan. And we have spent a lot of time on that.

In fact, what is so tragically ironic, is that literally the night before the earthquake, on PBS there was -- "The Newshour" had a segment about the progress that was being made in Haiti, under this very same government. Unfortunately, all of that was, you know, upended by the earthquake.

What we are doing, along with our international partners, is to work with the Haitian government so that there is a mechanism for coordination. They have to be part of it because they have the legal authorities. Unless a government or a bunch of governments is going to occupy Haiti, which would have all kinds of very unfortunate implications, we have to help support the Haitian people and their government.

There is a lot of talk going on, a lot of conference calls flying back and forth. The trip that I made to Montreal for the conference. And I am confident we are going to come up with a system.

CROWLEY: U.N. envoy to Haiti, whom you may know...

CLINTON: I do know him.


CROWLEY: I am just curious how that works exactly? Does he give you reports? Does he call up and say, hello, Secretary of State? And really, who is the boss here?

CLINTON: Well, you know, he was appointed, again, months and months ago, and was working on the private sector. He had brought hundreds of business people from around the world to sign contracts to employ people in Haiti. And now he has been asked by Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon to continue and enhance his role because of the earthquake.

He talks to the people who I work with. He doesn't, you know, it's not me. It's Raj Shah and Cheryl Mills and the other teams...

CROWLEY: He doesn't say, give me the big kahuna here?


CLINTON: No. I mean, he talks to people who are really working on this 24 hours a day. Obviously, we talk about it, too. We have a special place in our heart for Haiti, having gone there during our honeymoon many years ago, and it's a place that is captivating. The people are so resilient, and they deserve so much better than what they have gotten over their history. And I think Bill is committed, as I am, to doing everything we can. CROWLEY: If you were to say to the American people, this country is the most dangerous to Americans and to the U.S., where is that country?

CLINTON: You know, Candy, in terms of a country, obviously a nuclear-armed country like North Korea or Iran pose both a real or a potential threat.

CROWLEY: And you're convinced Iran has nuclear...

CLINTON: No, no, but we believe that their behavior certainly is evidence of their intentions, and how close they are may be subject to some debate, but the failure to disclose the facility at Qom, the facility to accept what was a very reasonable offer by Russia, France and the U.S. through the IAEA to take their uranium, their low- enriched uranium and return it for their research reactor -- I mean, there's just a -- it's like an old saying that if you see a turtle on the fence post in the middle of the woods, he didn't get there by accident, right? Somebody put him there.

CLINTON: And so you draw conclusions from what you see Iran doing. But I think that most of us believe the greater threats are the transnational non-state networks, primarily the extremists -- the fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are connected, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, I mean, the kind of connectivity that exists.

And they continue to try to increase the sophistication of their capacity, the attacks that they're going to make. And you know, the biggest nightmare that any of us have is that one of these terrorists member organizations within this syndicate of terror will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. So that's really the most threatening prospect we see.


CROWLEY: Up next, Secretary Clinton on the Obama administration's policy of engagement, where it has and has not worked. Also personal reflections after a year as the nation's top diplomat.


CROWLEY: We continue with my interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


CROWLEY: When you look at the biggest success in the past year for the open hand, where is your -- I mean, the Middle East is still pretty much a mess despite some really bright minds over there trying to work it out. We talk about Iran and North Korea and others. Where is there success of specifically engagement?

CLINTON: You know, again, I would say that this has been a very successful year for the following reasons. First, it's almost hard to remember how poorly much of the world viewed the United States when President Obama came into office. And both his election and his persona combined with the approach we took of seeking to find the basis for engagement on mutual respect and mutual interests, has really created a much more open, receptive atmosphere.

We are working in many difficult situations in every continent, but I think we are being received in a positive way, which gives us a better chance to find common ground. Now, I am, you know, fairly realistic about foreign policy, and, you know, countries don't just give up what they view as their interests in order to make nice with you. You know, it takes a lot of effort.

But I really feel that the engagement was the first stage. We had to change the mindset of not just leaders, but of their populations. We are moving towards a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, something that has been a high priority with us. We have reset our relationship. The Russians have been very positive in discussions about sanctions on Iran, and on many other important matters.

I am not sure that would have been predicted a year ago. We do have a very comprehensive engagement with India, with China, with other big countries from South Africa to Turkey to Brazil, and we are working together in areas of mutual interests or where the United States can be a facilitator.

So I think that when I look back on this past year, I see a lot of positive trends. Now this has -- this year, 2010, has to be a year of implementing and building on the positive foundation that we have built.

CROWLEY: A quick question on health care, which seems to be stalled, which -- and that's probably the best we can say about it. Are you getting deja vu watching this?


CLINTON: Well, it's really hard. It is a complex issue that touches everybody about which both people and interests have really strong feelings. But I have not given up yet. And I know the White House has not given up. And I don't think a lot of the members of Congress have given up. So I am not sure that this last chapter has been written.

CROWLEY: Call anybody on the Hill, or have you talked to the White House, are you dispensing the wisdom of your time trying to figure this out?

CLINTON: Well, when I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it's not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role. And I, like I think many Americans, hope that there can be a positive outcome.

CROWLEY: So I want to do a quick lightning round with you. First of all, Colts or the Saints? CLINTON: Oh, you know, I don't answer football questions, because to be honest, I don't follow it. Now if my husband were sitting here, he would give you a very long exegesis as to why one team was better than the other. But I'll just leave it to see what happens at the Super Bowl.

CROWLEY: In between talking about Haiti, he doesn't say, I need you to root for...

CLINTON: Not -- well, no, because neither of them are our teams. I mean, there is not a New York team, I mean, we're -- you know, so, we are just interested observers.

CROWLEY: Who are you watching the game with? Or are you on the phone with foreign leaders?

CLINTON: Well, if they call me, I'm on the phone with them, otherwise it will be, you know, my family.

CROWLEY: And finally, just as the mother -- recently the mother of a groom has -- as the mother of a bride, have you found that dress yet?

CLINTON: Well, if you don't tell anybody, Candy, we are still looking. Yes, and it's a new status for me being an MOTB. But I am very proud to have that status.

CROWLEY: Good luck on the search, that's all I have to say...

CLINTON: Thank you, but your...

CROWLEY: ... as you know, it's...

CLINTON: You know, your son, you didn't have to go buy a dress, so that's good.


CROWLEY: Exactly.

CLINTON: That was not part of the...


CROWLEY: So no Chelsea dress either?

CLINTON: Well, I don't have a dress yet, no, and Chelsea doesn't either. But you know, we're working on it.

CROWLEY: Oh, my goodness. Well, good luck. And is it -- do you think it's -- which is harder, Middle East peace or negotiating this wedding?


CLINTON: Well, I'd probably call it a draw about now. (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Well, good luck with both, actually. I really appreciate your being with us.

CLINTON: And good luck to you.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CLINTON: You're welcome.


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