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


QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for talking to the BBC. It’s a pleasure to be with you on this trip and to be here in Phuket, despite the rain.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: I’d like to start by asking you about North Korea. You have talked about your willingness to offer an incentives package to the North Koreans, even though you’re not there yet. I was wondering whether this was your way of keeping your partners in the region on board for the tough part when it comes to North Korea by showing that you’re also willing to extend your hand if necessary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, we’ve seen in the last six months the greatest unanimity among those of us who are working in the Six-Party Talk framework and the international community united against North Korea’s provocative actions and their continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Security Council Resolution 1874 has very specific consequences for North Korea. We’re going to be implementing those. And I’ve been quite pleased at the positive actions taken by China, Russia, and others in order to fulfill the letter of the resolution.

But we have consistently said, from the beginning of the Obama Administration, that we would be willing to pursue another path if North Korea evidenced a commitment to the irreversible denuclearization that has been the demand that they have agreed to in the past, which they now have reneged on.

And obviously, when you are making demands that you know are difficult for the other party, it makes sense to say, “And here’s what you will get if you truly follow this choice.” So we are going to keep repeating it, as will our partners, and we’ll see what comes of that.

QUESTION: But the North Koreans don’t seem to be responding to that hand that you’re giving them, and there’s – the escalation continues. And you could reach dangerous territory where there’s a lot of tension, mistakes happen or war starts. At some point, somebody’s going to have to back down, and I’m assuming that it’ll have to be the responsible adult rather than the adolescent who’s having a tantrum.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there really isn’t any way to resolve the danger if North Korea is given a pass to continue its nuclear program. We’ve been down this road before. We’ve made agreements which they have broken. We thought that we were going to realize denuclearization. We made some progress, disabled a plant, took away material. And they decided not to follow through.

So we do have to keep the pressure on, and the sanctions are designed to do that. I’ve been quite amazed, actually, at the extent to which other countries are willing to go to help us enforce these sanctions, which says to me that they are now equally concerned about the possible implications, not only of North Korea having deliverable nuclear weapons, which we are determined to prevent, but of the arms race that it will provoke in the region which will destabilize Northeast Asia. And it’s, I think, the principal reason why China is so committed to doing all that it can with us to try to remove that danger.

QUESTION: Onto Burma. About six months ago when you were in the region, you announced that you were going to review Washington’s policy towards Burma. Very little has moved when it comes to what is happening inside Burma. And you said that very little can change in your relationship with the country unless the Burmese authorities release Aung San Suu Kyi. Have you tied your hands in a way? Because the Burmese authorities can now simply delay and delay Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think so. Because it was very encouraging to me that in our ASEAN Regional Forum meeting today, it wasn’t just the United States that was saying that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released unconditionally. Country after country lined up to say the same thing. From Malaysia to Indonesia, people were of one voice, that this has been going on too long. The Burmese Government says that they intend to have elections next year. There’s no way they could have credible elections while they are imprisoning her and other political prisoners. So we think this is an opportune time to try to make that clear again not just from us, but from the entire region.

QUESTION: So they’ve delayed the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, they’re not releasing her, but they have sent you a real signal by endorsing Resolution 1874 --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on North Korea. Do you see it as a signal?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We --

QUESTION: Are they trying to reach out?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think so. We do take it as a positive sign on the part of the Burmese authorities. There have also been volunteers from amongst the neighboring nations to say that we want to go and explain to the Burmese how they could make this transition. The Indonesians are particularly keen to do that because they’re ten years out of a military government. And I think there’s a willingness on the part of many neighbors and those who do business with Burma to try to up the contact and the pressure to help them see a way forward.

I mean, part of the challenge – and this is very clear; two foreign ministers mentioned it to me – the people currently running Burma are worried that if they give up power, they move toward a democracy, they could end up in the International Criminal Court. I mean, that’s just one of the many consequences that they are worried about.

So a lot of the neighbors in the region are actually thinking of taking a more proactive approach through ASEAN’s regional forum to try to begin to think of deals that could be brokered. Now, we’re not involved in that. We don’t have relations with Burma. But that’s the kind of activity that’s going on, which I do find hopeful.

QUESTION: What would it take for you to have improved relations with Burma, specifically? At some point, you said they would have to release Aung San Suu Kyi, but then you said they’d have to do much more, also – release political prisoners, treat minorities better, and so on. Is it enough if they just release Aung San Suu Kyi? That would be a good development?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It would be an excellent development, and we have told them that – that the unconditional result – the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi would send exactly the signal we’re looking for. And it --

QUESTION: What would you do in response?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve – that’s part of our strategic review. We have come up with a list of steps that we would take in response to something as significant as that.

QUESTION: I’d like to move to Iran now. It’s always in the headlines. You’ve made very clear that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. But in Bangkok yesterday, you also said that you are working – and you used the present tense – you said you are working to increase the mission capability of your allies in the Gulf region, and you made reference to a defense umbrella. What does that mean, exactly?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a restatement of policy that basically is rooted in our bilateral relationships with many of the countries in the region. You know we do a lot of military business and sell a lot of weapons system to a number of countries in the Middle East and the Gulf. It also is a signal to Iran that, as they are engaged in their calculation about whether it’s in their interest to continue moving toward a nuclear weapon, one element we want them to factor in is it may not make them any more secure. If they think it’s going to give them a significant advantage over their neighbors and others in the region, that – we don’t think that’s the case.

QUESTION: But what is that defense umbrella? The missile shield, a nuclear umbrella?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. It’s nothing specific like that. It is a sort of general term that is used to describe our commitment to making sure that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, to undermine their confidence that this is the right path to take, and to continue doing what we’re doing, which is to beef up the defensive capabilities of countries that are very worried about Iran.

QUESTION: Staying with Iran, you’ve said that you’re still ready to engage with Iran. And I was wondering, engage with who? President Ahmadinejad? The Ayatollah? The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei? If you do that, you would demoralize millions of Iranians who have gone to the streets to say they don’t consider these men their legitimate leaders. Why not, at this moment, say a full-on engagement is on hold while you sort out your internal issues, but we will still talk to you about the nuclear issue and only the nuclear issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, that is pretty much what’s happening. The internal debates going on within Iran have made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to pursue any diplomatic engagement – not just with us, but with the P-5+1. There’s so much that is being put on hold.

But we don’t have an unlimited window of opportunity here. The nuclear clock is ticking, and we know that we’ve got to press Iran to begin a serious discussion about its intentions concerning nuclear power. And I think our saying that we’re willing to engage with Iran doesn’t necessarily mean we’re deciding who we would engage with. We’re looking at Iran as an entity, as a country that is on this path toward nuclear weapons. And it’s one that we would like to see them choose a different way.

QUESTION: But if suddenly President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “Okay, I’m ready to talk,” would you talk to him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, because that hasn’t happened, and I’ve never thought that he was the decision maker in Iran. I didn’t think it before the election. I don’t think it today. So I don’t know that even if that were to occur that would be sufficient.

QUESTION: But so in a way, your offer for full-on engagement is on hold.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we haven’t had any response. So we’ve certainly reached out. We’ve made it clear that that’s what we would be willing to do even now, despite our absolute condemnation of what they’ve done in the election and since. But I don’t think that they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now.

QUESTION: Two more questions, one about Afghanistan. Afghanistan is heading towards elections, and the current president, U.S. ally Hamid Karzai, is building a coalition of warlords. Are you disappointed? Is this the kind of change that American troops are dying for in Afghanistan? What do you expect out of those elections?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we expect elections that are free, fair, credible, transparent, and we’re working hard to make sure that there are the conditions for such elections, as many others are. The EU is sending observers. We’re all committed to that kind of electoral process.

Obviously, we’ve expressed our views not only to one candidate but to numerous candidates. Our hope is that whoever emerges from this election will have a very specific set of objectives that they wish to achieve on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, and we will work with the elected government.

But certainly there are some people that we really do not believe belong in government, given past behavior. So the election hasn’t been held, nobody’s been inaugurated, and no government has been set up. So we’re going to stay very much active in offering our views and working to try to make this process successful.

QUESTION: And a final question, Madame Secretary. I understand that you are personally going to take charge of the Northern Ireland peace process at the State Department. And I was wondering whether that was true and whether you were going to do it as a permanent special envoy.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in the last administration, a State Department under secretary was given that portfolio. And after thinking about it, it seemed to make sense that we would keep it inside the State Department. This is not the 1990s. George Mitchell did his job and did it very well. The problems that the continuing efforts toward finalizing the agreements in the Good Friday Accord are really up to the parties themselves, and certainly in consultation with the British Government and, to a lesser extent, the Irish Government.

So I don’t see the need for someone fulltime. But obviously, I’ve spent many years in this – on this issue. I care deeply about the outcome. I know the players. I stayed closely in touch with them when I was in the Senate, so I’ve made it clear that I and my team are on call to help in any way we can as the continuing decisions have to be made to realize the full benefits of a Northern Ireland at peace and moving toward the kind of prosperity they’re looking for.

QUESTION: So a part-time special envoy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s part of the responsibilities that we’re taking on that, just like I supervise the special envoys for the Middle East and for Afghanistan and Pakistan and climate change and everything else as well as running the dialogues with India, Russia, China, and so much, this is one that we’re going to really keep a close eye on. I’ve been in consultations with representatives of the Irish Government, the British Government, the Northern Ireland leadership, and we’re going to be as helpful as we can.

QUESTION: You have a lot on your plate. I mean, that’s extra responsibility.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Why is it a priority? I mean, there are a lot of other big files, big issues happening around the world.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there are so many priorities. I mean, I’m deeply involved in what’s going on in Latin America. I’ll be going to Africa in about ten days. And I think that this one issue has had so much work already done that having a specific person outside of government assigned to it didn’t make, to me, as much sense as me and my team, people who work on European affairs who have the responsibility for Ireland and the UK who are involved in a day-to-day way with furthering our goals in Europe and myself -- that we’d be the ones to take stewardship over this.

QUESTION: Good luck.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for talking to us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s my pleasure. Thanks, Kim.

QUESTION: It’s an honor. Thank you very much.

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PRN: 2009/T19-20

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC]