Clinton: Only so much the U.S. can do in Mideast
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for being here in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: How are the talks going? Are you done beyond the sort of photo ops stage? Are you into core issues?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We really are, Christiane, and I have to say it’s been impressive to see the two leaders engaged so seriously, so early, on what are the core issues. Now, these two men know each other, they have actually negotiated before. But as Senator Mitchell has said, usually when you get into direct talks, it takes a while. There is a lot of trying to position oneself and take the measure of the other person. But these talks are already into very sensitive and important areas.
QUESTION: What’s the first issue? Is it security, is it borders? What’s actually being discussed right now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can’t go into that, but there is an obvious lineup of issues. For Israel, security is paramount. I mean, they would be not fulfilling their responsibility as leaders if they didn’t put security first. For the Palestinians, a sovereign independent viable state is their paramount desire. So obviously, there are many other issues that have to be worked out. But in trying to derive at an agreement, if these two issues can’t be addressed and determined, it would be difficult.
QUESTION: So let me ask you – you spoke to Defense Minister Barak?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I did.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that all the Israeli leaders have been impressed with what the Palestinian security forces are doing. At the same time, they are very concerned about the increasing threats. I mean, we’re now living in an age where Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and funds Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s borders.
We’re living in a time when technology is going so quickly that short-, medium-, and long-range missiles are more and more available, not just to states that are antagonistic toward Israel, but even to these networks of terrorist groups. So I think that there is a very important focus on security in the 21st century. If we were talking 20, 30 years ago, it would be a different set of concerns.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian side, you talked about a viable, contiguous state. Obviously, that’s all about settlements. There is this moratorium that’s looming on the horizon. Are the talks going in a constructive way?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I would say they’re in a constructive channel, and that has been very reassuring to us.
QUESTION: President Obama has said that given the talks going in a constructive way, there should be – Israel should continue the moratorium on settlements. Do you believe that that will happen?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that certainly is our hope. Now, we have also said that we’ll support an agreement that is reached between the parties. It took a lot of political capital for Prime Minister Netanyahu to achieve this moratorium. It has never been done before. And I, frankly, I think, gave him credit for it about a year ago here in Jerusalem.
At the same time, it’s been in effect for the time that it was set for, and the talks are just starting. So we are working hard to make sure there remains a conducive atmosphere to constructive talks.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu said over the weekend that Israel cannot extend the freeze on settlement building. President Abbas has said that if forced to make any concessions, he’ll pack his bag and leave. Do you believe that will be their final positions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what I believe is that these negotiations need to continue, and that it is in the best interests of both Israelis and Palestinians for them to do so, and we are hoping that that will be accomplished.
QUESTION: Do you believe – is there any flexibility you can see, any creative diplomacy, as everybody’s talking about, to get through this hurdle?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s a lot of talking going on, but my bottom line is the parties have started to talk; they need to keep talking. And each party, both Israelis and Palestinians, need to figure out a way to make that happen.
QUESTION: And if they collapse, what does that say to President Obama, who has stayed so much on this? It’s the first big issue of his Administration that he wanted to tackle.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that that’s not quite fair. I think he’s tackled all the big issues that he inherited. It was quite a menu of challenges when we came into office. I think that in any negotiation, whether it’s the United States or the EU or the UN or whoever it might be, you can lead the parties to the negotiating table; you cannot make anyone agree to anything they’re not ready to agree to.
So I think what we believe is that diplomacy matters, that we should be pushing parties to intractable, difficult conflicts and problems, to search for a solution. But this is really up to them, and we did expend a lot of effort to get them to be face to face. I think they’re off to a very constructive start. At the end of the day, the U.S. can only do so much, and I think this President has said we are committed, we will stay with you, we will do everything we can to facilitate that. At the end of the day, this has to be an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: Are you, the United States, putting any proposal forth? Are you putting any bridging proposals? Is there anything that you’re putting down for them to work with?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We think that they know the issues and they know them very well. Listening to the two of them talk is a very impressive experience because they know – and President Abbas comes with a history of negotiations, as does Prime Minister Netanyahu – they have to figure out how to bridge the differences that exist.
QUESTION: Who do you think is making the biggest psychological leap, the biggest leap of heart?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think both are. I think this is – it’s one of the reasons why it took a long time to get into the negotiations, because there have been so many disappointments and there have been so many changed circumstances. Israel today is under tremendous security pressure, and they can look over the horizon and see even more when you’ve got a country like Iran standing by saying, “We want to wipe you from the face of the earth and annihilate you.” I mean, that does concentrate your mind.
President Abbas was the first Palestinian leader to come out for the two-state solution. He has worked and negotiated and tried to achieve it. So there’s a natural human tendency on the one part to say, “Well, we have so much at stake when it comes to security here in Israel. We cannot make a mistake. We have no margin for that.” And on the Palestinian side, “We’ve been down this road. We’re trying to build our own institutions of a new state. Can we really afford to not do it? So why do we try?”
I mean, you can see psychologically how challenging this is, and that’s why I admire both of these men. I’ve known them both for a long time and I really think that they are providing extraordinary leadership to their people.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, I always am an optimist, so I hope that this works and I hope that despite how hard it is, everybody perseveres at it and makes a real commitment to creating the atmosphere for it to work.
But I also think that you have a situation where there are so many external pressures, and there are so many spoilers. You have spoilers all over this region. I mean, yesterday, a rocket attack, a mortar attack coming from Hamas and Gaza. It’s really hard to negotiate when you’re under a constant barrage. On the Palestinian side, so many naysayers – “Oh, don’t – you — ” and people who have always said, “Oh, we want a Palestinian state,” who do very little to help bring it about. So you really have a situation now with two experienced leaders who know what their respective peoples want. Whether they can reconcile it, that’s what negotiations are about.
QUESTION: Are you going to – is it the U.S. position to press President Abbas to accept to continue – is it the U.S. position to press President Abbas to stay even if the moratorium is lifted?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We don’t want either party to leave these negotiations or to do anything that causes the other to leave the negotiations.
QUESTION: But are you urging President Abbas to stay?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are having very clear conversations with each, and I will be, after this interview, going to see President Abbas. And I will certainly urge him to continue in the negotiations, just as I’ve urged Prime Minister Netanyahu, and as President Obama has said, to continue the moratorium.
QUESTION: Do you believe you’ve convinced some of the skeptics – for instance, the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who you also spoke to – have you convinced him that this two-state solution, this process, is the right one?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t claim to convince someone whose views are very different from that position. I think that he and many Israelis are quite skeptical, just as many Palestinians are quite skeptical. But I’d ask them, what’s the alternative; I mean, what is the alternative? You need, if you are worried about Israel’s future and security, to be living peacefully with a neighbor who has the same aspirations for normal life.
I’ve been very impressed with what the Palestinian Authority has done in the West Bank over the last several years. If that can continue, that should give Israelis from all political – the spectrum of beliefs some confidence. And if you’re a Palestinian, just because there are naysayers who don’t ever think you can achieve it, why would you listen to those? I’m a big believer in effort, continued effort. And I understand the skeptics, I’ve addressed them and their doubts, but what’s the alternative?
QUESTION: Some of the Arab leaders have said that Americans must be in the room at all time. Are American officials going to be in the room when the two negotiate at all times?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have been, but we believe that in negotiation, the leaders have the right to speak to each other one on one. That has happened. And then George Mitchell and I have been with them as they have spoken to each other with us merely observing, occasionally interjecting. What’s important is for both to feel the other’s commitment and willingness to listen and respond in a constructive way. And these issues are really hard; if they were not hard, they would have been resolved already.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, they’re signed up to the Arab Peace Initiative to recognize Israel if there’s a peace agreement. They’re signed up to a lot of things. They’re signed up to the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners. Unfortunately, we don’t see much loyalty to fulfilling those.
QUESTION: And why does the United States not use, for instance, the UN Human Rights Council to push through —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, we did. We have. First of all, until —
QUESTION: But there’s no formal pushing through of a human rights resolution on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but before the Obama Administration, as you know, we – our country disengaged from all these forums. And we decided to join the Human Rights Council and, in fact, we had a confrontation with Iran about human rights in the Human Rights Council this past year. And so we are pushing the envelope. Now I think the sanctions that have been endorsed and now are being implemented by the international community demonstrates our engagement, because we’ve said to the Iranians all along we have two tracks. We have the pressure track and we have the engagement/diplomatic track. And we still remain open to that diplomacy. But it’s been very clear that the Iranians don’t want to engage with us.
And the final point I would make is we are trying to be effective as we help those inside Iran. We get – and I meet with Iranian experts, and we get different advice. We get some who say full speed ahead, don’t worry about it, just say whatever you have to say. Others say don’t do that, this is a very delicate balance. So we try to walk that line.
QUESTION: Does it concern you that so many Iranians after the elections – so many of the protestors really weren’t sure whether the Obama Administration was on their side and to this day remain unsure – Iranians inside Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know how that could be, because we made it very clear that we supported the legitimate efforts of the Iranian people to protest and demonstrate against a flawed election. We made it very clear to the Iranians that we thought that they had not only conducted an illegitimate election, but counter to their own stated and professed laws and constitution. So we made it very clear.
But we also knew that the worst thing for those protesting was for them to be seen as stooges of the United States. So again, what we’re trying to do is to stand up for the human rights of every person, most particularly those brave Iranians – lawyers and activists and others – who are standing up and saying to the regime no, you have to fulfill the promises you yourselves have made about what we should expect without undermining their efforts. Now, it’s very delicate, and some days we get it right and some days maybe we could do better. But our bottom line is we think the Iranian people deserve so much more than what they are now being given, and we are worried about the direction we see Iran headed.
QUESTION: The sanctions. I know the Administration feels that the sanctions are really working. President Ahmadinejad has said the sanctions are, quote, “pathetic, worse than a used handkerchief.” Do you think they have any possibility of actually affecting their nuclear behavior?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I think they have and will continue to affect their behavior. In fact, former President Rafsanjani said just the other day these are serious, they need to be taken seriously. He was, in effect, criticizing his government because of comments like that, that yes, they’re biting, and we hear that from many in the region and beyond. And in fact, the information we’re getting is that the Iranian regime is quite worried about the impact on their banking system, on their economic growth, because they’ve already encountered some tough economic times and this is making it more costly.
Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department