Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Department of Defense
Washington, DC
April 9, 2010


QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, I'd like to start with you. This has been a big week for talking about deterrents. Especially deterrents against Iran. And yet we learned that Iran is announcing the third generation of centrifuges. Six times faster than the previous generation. Is Iran not saying to the United States, "We are not deterred"?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, it has been a very positive week for American foreign policy, and particularly with respect to our nuclear posture. When it comes to Iran, we take everything they say with more than a grain of salt, because we know that they have a -- a tendency to say things that may or may not be carried out. May or may not be accurate. But in fact their belligerence is helping to make our case every single day.

Countries that might have had doubts about Iranian intentions, who might have even questioned whether Iran was seeking nuclear weapons, are having those doubts dispelled as much by the evidence we present as by what comes out of the leadership of Iran.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates, just a year and a half ago you had a different boss but you had the same job. And you were expressing support for the idea that nuclear weapons can be an effective deterrent against chemical and biological weapons:

GATES (from October 28, 2008): "In the first Gulf War, we made it very clear that if Saddam used chemical or biological weapons, then the United States would keep all options on the table. We later learned that this veiled threat had the intended deterrent effect as Iraq considered its options."

QUESTION: It's a refrain that a lot of Republicans have talked about that the United States is taking things off the table that would deter other countries.

Did you change your mind?

SECRETARY GATES: Well I think what's happened is the situation has changed. We have more robust deterrents today, because we've added to the nuclear deterrent missile defense. And -- and with the phased adaptive approach that the president has approved, we will have significantly greater capability to deter the Iranians, because we will have a significantly greater missile defense.

We're also developing this conventional prompt global strike, which really hadn't gone anywhere in the -- in the Bush administration, but has been embraced by the new administration. That allows us to use long range missiles with conventional warheads. So we have -- we have more tools if you will in the deterrents kit bag than -- than we used to.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, the United States according to the nuclear posture review -- the United States will not be developing new nuclear weapons. China will. Russia will. You said, when you were running for president in 2007:

CLINTON (from August 2, 2007): "Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents since the cold war have used nuclear deterrents to keep the peace. I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons."

QUESTION: Did you change your mind?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, Jake. Because I think if you actually read the nuclear posture review, you would make three conclusions. First -- we intend to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent. Let no one be mistaken. The United States will defend ourselves, and defend our partners and allies. We intend to sustain that nuclear deterrent by modernizing the existing stockpile. In fact, we have $5 billion in this year's budget going into that very purpose.

We believe, and this is a collective judgment from this government that is certainly shared by the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of energy, and the others along with the State Department who worked on this nuclear posture review, that we can have the kind of deterrent that we need by modernizing our stockpile, but not necessarily having to replace and build new nuclear weapons.

But if there is a conclusion down the road that there does have to be consideration for some kind of replacement, that decision will go to the president. We don't think that we'll get there. We think that we have more than an adequate nuclear deterrent.

And with this emphasis on our nuclear stockpile, and the stewardship program that we are engaged in, that we'll be, you know, stronger than anybody in the world as we always have been with more nuclear weapons than are needed many times over. And so we do not see this as in any way a diminishment of what we are able to do.

SECRETARY GATES: Let me -- let me just chime in, in this respect. The reliable replacement warhead program that existed in the past was really a means to an end. It was a means to modernizing the nuclear stockpile as Secretary Clinton says. Making it more reliable, safer, and -- and more secure. It -- that -- the policy of the Bush administration was also not to -- to -- not to add new nuclear capabilities. This was about how do you make the stockpile safer and more reliable.

The approach that we now have is -- is intended to do exactly that. It offers us a path forward, as Secretary Clinton says, in terms of reuse, refurbishment, and -- and if necessary, replacement of components. Not an entire warhead necessarily. So the chiefs, and I and -- and the directors of the nuclear labs are all very comfortable that -- that this puts us in a position to modernize the stockpile and -- and the $5 billion dollars that Hillary has referred to is actually just what's in our budget to -- for this program.

There is another big chunk of money in the Department of Energy budget for this infrastructure and modernization program as well. So we think this is a pretty robust approach to -- to sustaining and modernizing the stockpile.

QUESTION: Let's turn to the nuclear security summit that's about to start. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has said he's -- he's not going to come amidst concerns that some of the Arab and Muslim countries -- Egypt and Turkey in particular -- were going to raise the worst kept secret in the world that Israel has nuclear weapons and the fact that Israel is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty.

Don't they have a point?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well part of the goal of the nuclear security summit is to focus on the threat from nuclear terrorism. And we don't believe the threat from nuclear terrorism comes from states. Our biggest concern is that terrorists will get nuclear material. We fear North Korea and Iran, because their behavior as -- the first case, North Korea being -- already having nuclear weapons, and Iran seeking them -- is that they are unpredictable. They have an attitude toward countries like Israel, like their other neighbors in the Gulf that makes them a danger.

So we are focusing on the two states, but we are also very concerned about nuclear material falling into terrorists' hands. And that's a concern that we all share. So part of the challenge is to bring the world together as President Obama is doing in the nuclear security summit. To have everyone sign off on an agreed upon work plan that will enable us to begin to try to tie up these loose nukes, and these loose nuclear materials. To make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands.

And Israel will be represented by the deputy prime minister. And will be at the table as we begin to try to figure out how to deal with this particular problem.

QUESTION: Is that a good thing, because it would have made the summit into a -- a side show?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well that's a decision for every government to make as to who comes and who doesn't come.

So the point is that countries will be represented. And the overall goal of this nuclear security summit is to make progress. I have to say, Jake, you know this is something that Secretary Gates and I have said repeatedly. You know, the threat of nuclear war -- nuclear attack as we grew up with in the Cold War has diminished. The threat of nuclear terrorism has increased. And we want to get the world's attention focused where we think it needs to be with these continuing efforts by Al Qaeda and others to get just enough nuclear material to cause terrible havoc, destruction, and loss of life somewhere in the world.

QUESTION: President Obama officials say he's contemplating presenting a peace plan to help jump start the process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What advice do you give President Obama when it comes to whether or not he should offer a peace plan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well I never share advice that I give directly to any president.

QUESTION: Well then, hypothetically?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well -- and I don't answer hypotheticals. But I will say this. That this administration from the very first day has made it clear we are committed to pursuing a path of peace in the Middle East. And to get the two parties to get to a point where they can engage in negotiations again to deal with these very difficult final status issues.

Our goal remains the resumption -- the relaunch of negotiations. Both indirect -- eventually leading to direct, and that's our focus.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates, turning to Afghanistan, when you hear President Karzai refer to the 87,000 troops under your command when you -- as occupiers, and suggest that he could envision joining the Taliban, how does that affect you? Does it make your blood boil?

SECRETARY GATES: Well I think, you know, this is a -- a man who's first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the -- the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that -- that it be clear who -- who is the president of Afghanistan.

And -- and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that -- I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with -- I can only speak for General McChrystal's side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And -- and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he's willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway.

So I think that the -- that the day to day working relationship, certainly on the military side, and -- and between General McChrystal and President Karzai is -- is working well. And I think -- I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates, WikiLeaks recently released a video that showed U.S. troops killing some civilians in Iraq. I understand the fog of war, and I understand that -- that this was a very difficult situation. Does the release of that video, and the fact that that happened damage the image of the U.S. in the world?

SECRETARY GATES: I don't think so. They're -- they're in a combat situation. The video doesn't show the broader picture of the -- of the firing that was going on at American troops. It's obviously a hard thing to see. It's painful to see, especially when you learn after the fact what was going on. But you -- you talked about the fog of war. These people were operating in split second situations.

And, you know, we -- we've investigated it very thoroughly. And it's -- it's unfortunate. It's clearly not helpful. But by the same token, I think -- think it should not have any lasting consequences.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton. I -- I do want to ask you a couple of domestic questions.

First of all, there was a Supreme Court opening. What advice would you give President Obama?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well I think President Obama is fully aware of this great responsibility and opportunity that Justice Stevens' retirement presents him. And as a former law professor, I know he is devoted to the Constitution. And understands the critical role that the court plays in so many areas of our -- our lives as Americans.

And I'm confident that he's going nominate a highly qualified person. And I hope that there will be a smooth confirmation, because whoever the president nominates will be qualified to sit on the court. And I think it would be really reassuring for the country to see Republicans and Democrats working together to confirm a nominee as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And lastly, healthcare reform. When you look at President Obama's success that he was able to get this done. Do you think, "Oh, that's how you do it?" Or do you think that the only way he was able to do it was because you and your husband stormed the castle first. And even if it didn't work, you laid the ground work for President Obama to help to be able to succeed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jake, I don't think either of those things. I think thank goodness. Finally the United States is going to have a system that will begin to meet the needs of all of our people, reform our insurance industry which is long overdue. Begin to control costs, which is absolutely critical. And, you know, it's been a long time coming. It goes back many decades. And I think it's an extraordinary historical achievement. And I'm delighted to, you know, have -- have seen it come to pass.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, thanks so much for joining us.

SECRETARY GATES: Pleasure.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.



PRN: 2010/423

[This is a mobile copy of Interview Jake Tapper of ABC's "This Week"]