Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
December 4, 2009


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks for doing this.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Margaret.

QUESTION: Was this a hard sell to get the NATO allies to pony up more troops?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It wasn’t a hard sell, once the hard part was over; namely, getting the strategy, feeling that we had done everything we needed to do to make the very best assessment, to give the President our best advice, and the decision that he then announced on Tuesday night. Once he announced that decision, it was extraordinary the kind of support that we were getting from our friends and allies around the world.

QUESTION: Now, you said yesterday on the plane that you acknowledged there’d been some misunderstanding about what the July 2011 date really meant. Did you – on the Hill, I mean. Did you find the same misunderstanding here?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I really didn’t. Maybe it’s because it all got explained over the last 48 hours, and the President’s point in the speech that we needed a responsible withdrawal based on conditions, that we weren’t talking about jumping off a cliff, but to having a transition. By the time I got here, and the reports that I had heard from others, is people understood what we were talking about and actually appreciate it because they thought it helped to focus everybody’s mind and attention. I think it helped in some of the countries that we were asking for additional help, because they could go in and say, look, we have a new strategy, the United States is committed to this strategy, we think we’ll be able to start making transitions in 2011. I think it all added up to a strong argument for being part of it.

QUESTION: So it was reassuring to some of these partners that President Obama was saying this isn’t just an endless open-end commitment?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, it was very reassuring. And when President Karzai said yesterday in an interview that he saw it as an impetus, that’s exactly what we were hoping for, that it was the opportunity for us to show both resolve and urgency. And I think we’ve succeeded in doing that.

QUESTION: Now, I have to ask you about the 7,000 additional troops, which the Secretary General announced this morning to us, and everyone put on their websites. But how many of those are really new troops versus troops that, say, came in for the election and now are going to stay on?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Margaret, they are all new, in the sense that they will all be in Afghanistan in 2010. The troops that came in for the election were expected to have left by the end of this year. They have decided, pursuant to the new strategy, that they’re going to be staying. And we have thousands of new commitments from countries that have made a real stretch, like small countries like Georgia and Slovakia, big countries like Italy and Poland and the United Kingdom, and others who will be making their announcements over the next days and weeks.

This was actually not supposed to be a pledging conference. This was supposed to be a rallying conference in the sense of people getting behind the policy with public statements, and then there’ll be a force determination conference next week. But I was thrilled that we got these kind of commitments out there today.

QUESTION: Let’s take the British, for example. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister Brown, announced 500 new troops; that’s what the convention wisdom has been. But the Brits are saying, oh no, you count our level from back before the election, we’re 1,200 troops.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And that’s true. I mean, we all put in more troops for the election, and that was the rationale. It was not part of the new strategy. It was just to try to provide enough security so that we could get people to the polls. But it was very clear from many of our friends, they said, okay, fine, we’re gonna do this, but our people are against this, our governments are not happy with this, so you have to understand, we’re putting them in, we’re taking them out. And now they’re saying, hey, wait a minute, we’ve reconsidered, we’re going to stay.

QUESTION: Now, what about the French? President Sarkozy said no additional French troops. Is he saying anything differently privately?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m with the Secretary General, who was at an event with me earlier today and was asked exactly that question. And he smiled and he said, well, actually I think there’s a little potential room here for some additional help.

I don’t know that other than to look to the strong verbal support that the French have given us, both the foreign minister to me, the president to President Obama. And they do have significant numbers there now, but we hope that they’ll come forward.

QUESTION: Now, the other significant – the other major contributor currently, the number three contributor, is the Germans. Are you perfectly comfortable with them saying they’re not going to make any decision until after the late January Afghan conference?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am, and for this reason. First, they have just stood up a new government. This is an entirely different coalition. And I know when it’s like when you’re all in one party – (laughter) – and all of a sudden you’re in a new government. You have to figure out who’s on first and then who’s calling the shots. So it doesn’t at all concern me. They have to be sure that they know what they’re doing going forward.

And the conference at the end of January is very important to Chancellor Merkel. I believe that we’re going to be seeing more assistance from Germany, but they want to do it in accordance to their own political schedule.

QUESTION: Let me finally ask you about the response in the region. The stories today were that it was really not met – this Obama speech – with great enthusiasm in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Let me ask you about Pakistan first. There, there was just a lot of talk about the United States was getting ready to walk out on Pakistan once again. Are you surprised by this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, not after the three days I just spent in Pakistan. I think that there is just a reflex of skepticism and anxiety about American intentions, and it goes back into the history of this quite young country. It’s about the same age I am. They look to these historical milestones and say, well, America wasn’t with us then and America left us after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. So as I said repeatedly when we were there, we have to rebuild trust.

But I think if you read those stories closely, and certainly the personal conversations I’ve had with Pakistani leaders in the last couple of days, there’s a sigh of relief. There’s a feeling that, okay, so the United States is committed not only to Afghanistan in the fight against the Afghan Taliban, but you’re committed to this partnership you keep talking about. We have set up a strategic dialogue between the United States and Pakistan. It’s very important to them. And we’re going to continue to forge ahead. And I think we’re making a little progress. I actually thought the press accounts were better than I would have anticipated. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Starting from a very low base. And finally, in Afghanistan and President Karzai, he gave an inaugural speech, he talked about improving governance. Have you seen evidence that he’s making good on those pledges, particularly in the area of tamping down corruption?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ve seen some promising signs. It’s probably too early to draw some overall conclusions, but I am encouraged. I think he has said a lot of the right things, not only in his speech, but in some of his comments since then. There seems to be a real appreciation of the new strategy and the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States and our allies, and particularly the way that General McChrystal is going about implementing the strategy. So I am really reassured that we may be on a new path.

QUESTION: But would you say he has quite a ways to go to create a record that, when this Afghan conference is held at the end of January, the Europeans are going to look and say he is stepping up?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we all have a ways to go. This is not just a one-way street. I think that some of the decisions we all have made have contributed to the very problems that we now wish to solve. So everybody is going to have to up their game. They’re all – we’re all going to have to learn the lessons of the past. We’re going to have to be better prepared to deal with the realities we confront in Afghanistan. I think they’re making an effort, and we’re certainly redoubling ours. And so I think we’ll see progress.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

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PRN: 2009/T16-4

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Margaret Warner of PBS]