Interview With CNN's Candy Crowley for State of the Union
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Candy, first of all, congratulations on your new show. I really wish you well. You have a lot to contribute to Sunday morning television.
I think what’s 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’ve 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 Ladin 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’s happening, and we just have to do everything we can to keep America safe.
QUESTION: Can you give me a feel for is the risk higher, is al-Qaida stronger now than a year ago?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s very difficult to make that kind of assessment because they’ve 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. 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.
QUESTION: If they’re more agile and more clever, are there more of them? And doesn't that sort of add up to more risk?
SECRETARY 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.
QUESTION: While we’re 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?
SECRETARY 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’ll always do what he wants or he will always do what we want, but we do expect to see a level of competency and capacity.
QUESTION: Have you seen it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, actually, 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, the finance minster – people who are really producing results for Afghanistan.
I’ve 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 roadmap there. He is trying to follow that roadmap. 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 I deal with around the world. And I think we have developed a much stronger understanding and partnership in the last year going forward.
QUESTION: So no doubts that Karzai is the man to pull this together?
SECRETARY 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’re not always going to get 100 percent agreement, but you work with the leaders and you work with the people. We’re not yet turning the corner, but we are sort of inching our way forward to being able to do so. So I think, on balance, we are in this with people and countries who are committed to the same outcome.
QUESTION: Shall we leave the Karzai doubt question on the table?
SECRETARY 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 --
QUESTION: I just think that’s a little different from are you a little worried that he’s 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.
SECRETARY 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’s in the best interest of America? What’s 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 are doing it day by day and I think we are making progress.
QUESTION: I wanted to bring your attention to something that President Obama said in his inaugural a little more than a year ago: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Has Iran unclenched its fist?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
QUESTION: How about North Korea?
SECRETARY 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’ll 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 onto and Russia signed onto and right now is being enforced around the world.
QUESTION: Did the extended hand of the U.S. help in any way that you can point to?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It did. Because we extended it, a neighbor like China knew we were going the extra mile and all of a sudden said you’re not just standing there hurling insults at them, you’ve said all right, fine, we’re willing to work with them. They haven’t responded, so we’re 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 didn’t respond on the engagement front.
QUESTION: I want to turn to Haiti for a minute. We’re in there with a lot of people. They’re doing a lot of talking, and what they’re 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’s wrong with that idea?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Candy, I’m 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 --
QUESTION: A really weak government.
SECRETARY 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 had spent a lot of time on that. In fact, what’s so tragically ironic is that, literally, the night before the earthquake, on PBS there was a – the NewsHour had a long segment about the progress that was being made in Haiti under this very same government. Unfortunately, all of that was upended by the earthquake.
What we’re 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’s 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’m confident we’re going to come up with a system.
QUESTION: UN envoy to Haiti, you may know, is Bill Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do know.
QUESTION: I’m just curious how that works exactly. Does he give you reports? Does he call up and say, “Hello, Secretary of State?” (Laughter.) And really, who’s the boss here?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, 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’s 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 – it’s not me. It’s Raj Shah and Cheryl Mills and all the other teams.
QUESTION: He doesn't say, “Give me the big Kahuna here?” (Laughter.)
SECRETARY 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’ve gotten over their history. And I think Bill is committed, as I am, to doing everything we can.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Candy, in terms of a country, obviously, a nuclear-armed country like North Korea or Iran pose both a real or a potential threat.
QUESTION: And you’re convinced Iran has nuclear --
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, no. But we believe that their behavior certainly is evidence of their intentions. And how close they are may be the subject of some debate, but the failure to disclose the facility at Qom, the failure 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 – it’s like an old saying that if you see a turtle on a fencepost in the middle of the woods, he didn’t get there by accident, right? Somebody put him there. 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-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaida 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 the biggest nightmare that any of us have is that one of these terrorist 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.
QUESTION: 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’ve talked about Iran and North Korea and others. Where is there success of specifically engagement?
SECRETARY CLINTON: 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 interest, has really created a much more open, receptive atmosphere. We are working in many difficult situations in every continent, but I think we’re being received in a positive way, which gives us a better chance to find common ground.
Now, I am fairly realistic about foreign policy, and countries don’t just give up what they view as their interests in order to make nice with you. 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 toward a new 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’m 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 on areas of mutual interest 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 year, 2010, has to be a year of implementing and building on the positive foundation that we’ve built.
QUESTION: A quick question on healthcare, which seems to be stalled, which – and that’s probably the best we can say about it. Are you getting a little déjà vu watching this? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY 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 haven’t given up yet and I know the White House hasn’t given up and I don’t think a lot of the members of Congress have given up, so I’m not sure that this last chapter has been written.
QUESTION: Have you called 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?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, when I’m asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it’s not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I’ve 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.
QUESTION: So I want to do a quick lightning round with you. First of all, Colts or the Saints?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, 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.
QUESTION: In between talking about Haiti, he doesn't say I need you to root for --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no, because neither of them are our teams. I mean, there’s not a New York team. I mean, so we’re just interested observers.
QUESTION: Who are watching the game with or are you on the phone with foreign leaders?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if they call me, I’m on the phone with them. Otherwise, it’ll be my family.
QUESTION: And finally, just as the mother – recently the mother of a groom, as the mother of the bride, have you found that dress yet?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if you don’t tell anybody, Candy, we’re still looking. Yeah, and it’s a new status for me being an MOTB, but I’m very proud to have that status.
QUESTION: Good luck on the search. That’s all I have to say. As you know, it’s --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. But your son – you didn’t have to go buy a dress, so that’s good. That was not part of --
QUESTION: Exactly. So no Chelsea dress either.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t have a dress yet, no, and Chelsea doesn't either. But we’re working on it.
QUESTION: Well, good luck. And do you think it’s – which is harder, Middle East peace or negotiating this wedding? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’d probably call it a draw about now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, good luck with both, actually.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: I really appreciate your being here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And good luck to you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: You’re welcome.