Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Phuket, Thailand
July 23, 2009


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you for this honor, as always.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Godd to talk to you.

QUESTION: I hope you think -- it's been a very long trip, a lot of busy things --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that, in representing the country overseas, I have accomplished some important things.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there were some very close calls, James.

QUESTION:Mmm.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But thanks to great work on behalf of our embassies, we saved you from diplomatic faux pas that might have taken years to unwind.

QUESTION:Catastrophes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know.

QUESTION: Let’s start with North Korea since we’re here.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: Has there been any suggestion that the U.S. Government has received, in any form, that the North Koreans expect or desire that the United States Government should, in any form, pay ransom for the release of those two journalists?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no.

QUESTION: Are you of any different belief on the question of whether or not North Korea maintains an HEU program than when we last discussed this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in fact, they have now announced they’re going to be starting an HEU program. So in addition to what they’ve been doing on plutonium reprocessing, among the provocative actions and statements they’ve made in the last six months, this one is right up at the top.

QUESTION: And Treasury issued a designation recently that seemed to acknowledge the existence of an HEU program.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that as you and I have spoken before, the evidence about whether they have started one or only claimed to start one was somewhat mixed. Now they have a stated intention, which they have never admitted to previously, that they intend to do so. So we’ll watch that carefully. Obviously, both their plutonium reprocessing, their weapons production, and now the proposed HEU program are very bothersome and troubling to us.

QUESTION: You testified back in April that it was – quoting your words – implausible, if not impossible, that the North Koreans would return to the Six-Party Talks. Since April 30th, a lot has happened that only underscores the validity of that testimony. Here today, they once again said they are never going to return to the North – to the Six-Party Talks. And yet you keep saying they have no place else to go and that’s the framework. So how do you move us past that stalemate?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, James, I think that their stated positions are only one aspect of our attempt to deal with the North Koreans. The commitment and positive actions that we’ve seen out of China and Russia over the last six months is in part due to our continuing commitment to the Six-Party Talks. It’s very important to them. That is the framework that they would like to see pursued. I’ve just been around long enough to know that what the North Koreans might say today may not be what they are doing in 30 days.
So our focus right now is enforcing the Security Council Resolution 1874. It was a real landmark international commitment to enforce sanctions against North Korea, and we’ve pushed it further than any such effort has ever gone before.

QUESTION: Your visit to this region came in the wake of the Jakarta bombings. You described those attacks and the work of terrorist organizations in general during this trip as nihilistic. Elsewhere on this trip, you have, a number of times, referred to terrorist organizations – I think you specified al-Qaida and the Taliban – as criminal syndicates. And I wonder if this doesn’t bespeak some confusion about the aims of terrorists, because nihilists don’t do the work of criminal syndicates.
So what is the aim of al-Qaida and the Taliban, in your view? Is it senseless wanton destruction, nihilism? Or is it criminal syndication, enlargement of markets?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s both. Clearly, there are some who are motivated by an obsession with turning the clock back on modernity, with imposing their view of reality on the rest of the world, and there are some who are seeking advantage; commercial, financial, political, ideological advantage. In fact, the poppy crop sales -- which goes contrary to what a lot of the these very same people claim to be, their ideological and even religious beliefs – is playing right into criminal activity. We often see terrorist groups engaging in criminal activity, like kidnapping and holding people for ransom, in order to get the funds that they believe they need to carry out their violence in furtherance of their stated aims.
So it’s – there’s not a contradiction. It – unfortunately, we see that reinforcing each other.

QUESTION: You’ve said also on this trip that the biggest national security threat to the United States is – and President Bush used to say this, too – is the prospect that a terrorist organization might obtain a nuclear weapon. How close has that ever come to happening, to your knowledge?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s what all of us fear. Certainly, that’s a bipartisan fear. President Obama has said the same thing. We have reports of nuclear material going missing, being –

QUESTION: Where?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to go into it. Its matters that are part of the intelligence-gathering. But there are periodic reports in the published press that you and others have seen. But we’re constantly worried about it. The emphasis behind President Obama’s goal of a nuclear-free world is, in part, to motivate and organize the world to be better stewards of the nuclear material that we currently have. That’s something that goes back to the ‘90s with the Clinton Administration. It’s what Senator Lugar and former Senator Nunn have devoted themselves to, getting nuclear weapons material and other radioactive material out of hands that are not able to care for it sufficiently, responsibly.
So it’s a constant concern that we worry about.

QUESTION: But not necessarily an imminent danger?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Not that I’m aware of. But I want to say it’s a danger that works in the back of our minds all the time.

QUESTION: I want to ask about the controversy involving Speaker Pelosi and CIA. You were a member of the U.S. Senate, you were on the Senate Armed Services Committee. No doubt you have received CIA briefings. Without asking you to address the specifics of that particular controversy or its many levels, just speaking from your own experience, do you find it conceivable or plausible that the Central Intelligence Agency would ever mislead the Speaker of the House or any other high-ranking member of Congress?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to comment on that. That’s something that I’ll leave to the Congress to sort out. But certainly –

QUESTION: Did they ever mislead you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly from the perspective of someone who was in the Senate, the intelligence was, unfortunately, very compartmentalized. Serving on the Armed Services Committee did not give you access to the material presented to the Intelligence Committee in every instance, and being on the Intelligence Committee didn’t give you access to the Gang of Eight.
So it’s often difficult for someone who wasn’t directly involved in whatever these concerns might be to comment on them.

QUESTION: Do you think CIA would ever mislead the Congress is what I’m asking.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But you know I’m not going to speculate or enter into hypotheticals.

QUESTION: So you --

SECRETARY CLINTON: There will be, apparently, some kind of inquiry and analysis, and we’ll see where that leads.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t CIA be in the business of assassinating terrorists overseas?

SECRETARY CLINTON: There are rules in our laws over that, and I think I’ll leave it to the CIA to interpret them. Obviously, Director Panetta was very concerned about a program that came to his attention. And I’ve got my hands full over at the State Department; I think I’ll let him run the CIA.

QUESTION: Do you think that concerns that are raised from time to time, most recently in a controversial book by two respected academics, about the supposedly undue influence of the Israel lobby are overstated? What do you think – make of that whole argument about the Israel lobby?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t buy that. My experience has been that every group in America, whether it’s a group with a particular ethnic, religious, racial, national ancestry connection, or a group that supports some issue like healthcare or whatever it might be, has the right and, indeed, the God-given American responsibility to make their views known. That’s part of our political process. And I don’t see anything untoward or unexpected about people doing so.
It’s up to the United States Government to try to balance whatever claims are made by any group. And I think that’s what we’re certainly doing.

QUESTION: Our outreach to Syria; where does that stand?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve decided to continue our engagement with Syria. As you know, we’ve had a number of high-level officials, including Senator Mitchell, go to Damascus. There have been a number of requests made to the Syrians for information that we think could be helpful to us in Iraq and elsewhere. They’ve been consulted about the Middle East peace process and --

QUESTION: Are they reciprocating as you’d like to see?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we’re beginning to see some cooperation on their part. And there’s been a decision to return an ambassador to Damascus, which will give us more on-the-ground information that might be useful.

QUESTION: I imagine I’m running out of time. Is that the verdict? Am I close to my – the end of my time? Okay.
Last question, then: Why do you find it so difficult to just answer yes or no when you are asked, as you have been repeatedly on this trip, whether you have a future in elected politics?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have tried to be very clear that I do not see such a future for myself, and that is the fact. I’m very occupied with the job that I have now, serving my country, working for the President, putting together what I think of as a great team, taking on every problem that comes across our desk in an organized, hopefully results-oriented way. So it just seems – it’s just not on my radar screen.
I mean, when I was asked the other day, it seemed like of another life. It just didn’t have any direct relevance to what I’m doing today.

QUESTION: And so you can assure President Obama, and use me as the vehicle --

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) that you would never mount, say, a primary challenge against him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have no interest or inclination. And he’s going to be reelected overwhelmingly because of the great job he’s doing.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you, as always.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.



PRN: 2009/T9-19

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With James Rosen of Fox News]