Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
En route from Carlton Gardens to Chequers, London, United Kingdom
October 11, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello, Mr. Humphrys, this is Hillary Clinton.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Oh, Madame Secretary, hello. Thank you very much for doing this in these slightly unusual circumstances.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I apologize that we couldn't do it in person. My visit is much too short. But I appreciate your being understanding.

MR. HUMPHRYS: On the contrary, it's very good of you. Right. Let's -- I think we are all in a recording mode, are we? Yes, we are. Good.

Secretary of State, President Obama assured Senator McCain that what is happening in Afghanistan cannot be a leisurely process. Is that what it's become, in truth?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the President has made it clear that he is committed to pursuing our goals in Afghanistan, goals which we share, not only with your government and people, but with many across the world who understand the ongoing threat from extremism and Jihadi violence emanating from that region.

And what the President is engaged in now is a very thorough scrubbing of the implementation plans for achieving our goals. I actually believe that the in-depth discussions we're having, where we are testing our assumptions, where we are looking at how better to integrate our civilian and military components, and our very clear understanding that Pakistan and the larger region must be addressed as well, is leading to some welcome clarity and the kind of commitment that is needed.

Now, I know that sometimes when people in leadership positions, as the President is, you know, ask questions, ask questions of our military, of our allies, of ourselves, people wonder, "Well, what does that mean?" I think what it means is that, you know, we are going to have a very clear, unambiguous commitment to achieving our goals, and for the United States to demonstrate leadership, along with our friends and allies, because we hold to the conviction that this is in our national interest.

MR. HUMPHRYS: But you seem now to be testing your assumptions to the extent that you are changing the strategy. You are now emphasizing the campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan don't actually pose a direct threat to the United States. Is that the case?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, Mr. Humphrys, it isn't. I know that's been some of the press coverage, and I appreciate this opportunity to clarify.

We are not changing our strategy. Our strategy remains to achieve the goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, and denying them safe haven, and the capacity to strike us here in London, or New York, or anywhere else.

It is fair to say that we are doing a much more careful analysis of who actually is allied with al-Qaeda. Not everyone who calls himself a Taliban is necessarily a threat to the UK or to the United States. And I think there has been, to some extent, inherited from our prior involvement in Afghanistan, a lack of clarity. Because there well may be a number of people who currently are considered Taliban who are there because, frankly, they get paid to fight, or because they see no alternative.

Similarly, in Iraq, when we began to more carefully parse out who was really with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and who had been coerced or intimidated, we began to make real progress on the ground in developing partnerships that led to a decrease in the violence, and a glide path that we are all on to turning over the security to the people of Iraq.

So, I think that it is important to note that what we are doing is bringing to bear information and evidence that needs to be part of our thinking, as we implement in the most effective manner.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Does this explain why you seem reluctant to give General McChrystal the extra 30,000 or 40,000 troops that he wants in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don't think we can characterize the President's approach to that request, because it is one of several factors that he is taking into account: the current political situation, the election outcome, the role civilians must play, and so much else.

But General McChrystal is present through video conference at his command center, and the chairman of the (inaudible), General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen are at the table with us in the situation room, along with, of course, Secretary of Defense Gates.

So, we are putting into context the request for troops, the request for additional civilian assets, the request that we both expect more and see more coming out of all levels of the government of Afghanistan, that we do more to train up and deploy an operational force of Afghans themselves. So these are all the factors that have to go into the analysis that will lead to the President making his decision.

MR. HUMPHRYS: But the longer you leave this decision, the more it looks like a leisurely process, doesn't it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but we also don't want to continue doing what we inherited.

At the time of the President's remarks in March, announcing that he would send more troops -- which was a request of the prior commander -- that we would try to better integrate our civilian and our military efforts, and that we would see Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and particularly their border area -- as the real theater that we are focused on here, I think he made clear that we would reassess after the Afghan elections.

Well, the elections have come and gone, but the results are not yet known. So the President has proceeded to do what I think is responsible. When the commanders were changed -- a quite unusual action, as I am sure you are aware -- the President asked General McChrystal to give him his best estimate as part of the review that was going to take place.

So, this is all in the course of what we think is a responsible approach. You know, one should never doubt our commitment of our leadership. We intend to pursue the goal. We will not rest until we do defeat al-Qaeda. But we want to be smart about how we are proceeding. Now, the lives that our young men and women, both American and British, have put at risk and lost, are very much on our minds. And, you know, we intend to get this as right as it's humanly possible.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Given that --

MODERATOR: Mr. Humphrys, this will have to be the last question. Sorry.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Given the sacrifice that there has been, and given the effort that has been put into it, are you and the President proud to be standing alongside Mr. Karzai, as president of Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mr. Karzai has been very helpful on many fronts. I think we often overlook the progress that has been made in Afghanistan because of the serious challenges that still exist.

But we are very clear that if this election results in his being re-elected, there must be a new relationship between him and the people of Afghanistan, and between his government and governments like yours and mine, which are supporting the efforts in Afghanistan to stabilize and secure the country.

MR. HUMPHRYS: But you --

SECRETARY CLINTON: So it is a more complex picture than sometimes emerges from snapshot views. But, clearly, we expect more. We are going to be working toward more. And we are anxiously awaiting the final outcome of the election.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Final question, if I may, about Iran. At what stage do you move to the next set of sanctions?

You want what you have described as "crippling sanctions" against Iran if they don't do what is being asked of them in regard to their nuclear program. At what stage do you move to those sanctions? And would they include an embargo on gasoline, on petrol?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, we have a two-track process. The one track, on diplomatic engagement that we saw in evidence in Geneva with the P5 Plus 1 meeting, has borne some fruit. It was constructive, but not conclusive for Iran to open itself up to inspections of the facility at Qom. And it was also important for them to agree, in principle, to export out their low enriched uranium, and to agree to a next set of meetings.

But we have never stopped working with like-minded nations, most particularly Great Britain, in ensuring that we stand ready to act in a united way if these diplomatic endeavors are not successful. So I can't give you a time line or a date certain, but we are meeting all of the time, and working with others around the world, so that if we conclude at whatever time in the next weeks that this is not proceeding as we believe it should, then we can move to the other track.

MR. HUMPHRYS: All right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The President has said that we want to see action from Iran by the end of this year, and I think that is a pretty good benchmark.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Can you give us a commitment that America will not sanction military action against Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, we are very clear that our goal is to prevent Iran from becoming a nation with nuclear weapons. We have never put on the table or taken off the table any options. But we have certainly demonstrated that we intend to follow the two tracks that I just outlined to you.

MR. HUMPHRYS: So, military action --

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Humphrys. I think that has to be all for today.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Certainly.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Nice to talk with you.

MR. HUMPHRYS: Hillary Clinton, many thanks. Thank you very much, indeed.

PRN: T13-X3

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With John Humphrys, BBC Radio]