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Clinton: Only so much the U.S. can do in Mideast

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
JERUSALEM (Press Release)– The U.S. State Department released the following transcript of an interview of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Christiane Amanpour of ABC Television Network.  It was conducted on September 16.

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?



QUESTION: What has he said about the state of Palestinian security on the West Bank, for instance?

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.

QUESTION: You’ve said several times, including in a speech recently, that this is probably the last chance. You even said they might never have this chance again. Why do you say that since we’ve been here so many times before?

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.

QUESTION: When will the next meeting be?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the negotiating teams for each will be meeting to prepare the next set of meetings.
QUESTION: And the actual moratorium, for all practical purposes, is until the 30th of September; correct?
SECRETARY CLINTON: There is this debate about the wording of it – somewhere between the 26th and the 30th.
QUESTION: Will there be room for another face-to-face meeting between the two leaders before that expires?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s what the negotiators are working on.
QUESTION: Do you think that would be a good thing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think meetings are good things. I think the more that they can meet and really get into the difficult issues – and they sure did that last night in two hours at the prime minister’s residence.
QUESTION: The just – the settlers – settlement – the settlers organizations – the settlers say they have something like 13,000 units ready to go and ready to be built. Do you think that’s going to happen? Do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu will allow that amount of building to happen no matter what he says about the moratorium?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, all I know is that the moratorium, for the last 10 months, has been an extraordinary commitment by this prime minister and his government. And I think that we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. I’m not going to comment on any hypothetical.
QUESTION: All right. Well, can we move on to Iran?
QUESTION: The UN General Assembly is coming up. The president of Iran again will be in New York. He’s already starting his campaign of reaching out to the press and putting his point across. Can I first ask you, what is your reaction to the release of Sarah Shourd?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great relief. I was so, so pleased that this young woman was able to come home. I want the other two young Americans, Josh and Shane, to come home as well. But as a mother – I’ve met with their mothers – and I just can’t even imagine how painful the experience that they themselves have had inside prison, but then, of course, the pain that their families feel. So thankfully, she’ll be given a chance to be reunited with them.
QUESTION: Do you believe that half a million dollar bail was paid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That was privately arranged.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about whether it was paid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know nothing about it. I just know that whatever the arrangements were, they were privately arranged.
QUESTION: And what do you – are you in any contact with the Iranian Government by your interlocutors about the other two who are still there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I mean, we and I personally have reached out to countless leaders around the world to take the case for a humanitarian release to the Iranian authorities. And we are grateful for the very helpful actions of the Swiss and the Omanis in communicating directly with the Iranians.
QUESTION: Do you think – will there be any further talks at any time soon on the nuclear issue? Is there any date, any agreement from the Iranians to meet at a P-5+1?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we thought that they were open to that. There was some communication with Cathy Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for foreign policy. She is the appropriate interlocutor for the so-called P-5+1 and we certainly had indicated our readiness to meet. Now, at the United Nations next week, I will be meeting with my counterparts of the P-5+1 to discuss where matters stand. But as we’re speaking right now, I know of no meetings that the Iranians have agreed to attend.
QUESTION: What do you – how do you assess this new so-called secret site that’s been identified by Iranian exiles and dissidents?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we get reports like that all the time. And of course, the intelligence community in our country and other countries will be analyzing it. So I have nothing to add to the fact that such a report was made.
QUESTION: I was told by some officials they don’t – some U.S. officials they don’t believe it’s a nuclear site; it could be something for conventional missiles. Does that square with what you know?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the intelligence community has to analyze all the data that it has. And it was an intelligence effort that led to the discovery of the Qom facility and then the disclosure of that, which I think sent a strong message that the international community is watching what goes on inside Iran, because it’s not just the United States, it’s all of us who are concerned.
QUESTION: On the one hand, you say that you’re grateful that Iran released Sarah Shourd as a humanitarian gesture. You need to do diplomacy through the P-5+1 on the nuclear issue. On the other hand, in your speech and in your comments at the Council on Foreign Relations, you said that it’s a country morphing into a military dictatorship. Explain that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Christiane, I’m concerned about what I see going on. And I am, of course, grateful and appreciative that Sarah was released, and want to see not only her two compatriots, but other Americans who are held without cause released as well. And we are concerned about the nuclear program.
But what we also see happening is increasing power exercised by the military, by the Revolutionary Guard, and by other militia and military entities. And I know that that’s a concern of people inside Iran as we read reports coming out of Iran. And it is something that would be even more distressing for the Iranian people. I have grave disagreements with the Iranian Revolution, but the early advocates of it said this would be a republic – it would be an Islamic republic, but it would be a republic.
Then we saw a very flawed election and we’ve seen the elected officials turn to the military to enforce their power. And a lot of Iranians, even those who stayed, even those who were originally sympathetic, are starting to say this is not what we signed up for. And I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran by responsible civil and religious leaders to take hold of the apparatus of the state.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you what the United States can do, as you say, to support the people of Iran. During the Cold War, as you know so well, the Helsinki Accords —
QUESTION: — were the framework — 
QUESTION: — by which the United States pressed the Soviet Union on human rights while still negotiating on arms control.
QUESTION: Why is it the United States today does not have a framework or any sustained intention of pressing Iran on human rights while still trying to figure out the nuclear situation? We keep hearing that officials don’t want to upset the diplomatic applecart.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I don’t think that’s it at all. I mean, we have spoken out on human rights. We have done the best we could to support those inside through trying to open up access to telecommunications. So we are very much in favor of and speaking out on behalf of individual cases, and more generally, the human/political/civil rights of Iranians.
And remember, when President Obama came into office, he extended his hand, I mean, very clearly and quite unprecedentedly, to the Iranian leadership and said we would be willing to have a diplomatic engagement with you because – remember, the Helsinki Accords were negotiated. The United States didn’t impose them from the outside. There was a negotiation between the Soviet Union and the United States that led to the Helsinki Accords. There were regular meetings during the Cold War summits at the highest and mid and lower levels. There’s nothing like that going on with the Iranians despite President Obama’s openness to try to begin to pull the Iranians into the international order.
QUESTION: And yet they are signed up to the International Declaration of Human Rights and —

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?

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.

Sanctions are a tool. They’re not an end in themselves. And we would very much like to see Iran return to the P-5+1 forum where they were last present a year ago October to talk about their nuclear program. We would like to see them once again permit full IAEA inspections. We would like to see them taking the offer that has been made by us and others to talk about a broad range of issues, like their support for terrorism, Hamas, Hezbollah, et cetera.
So we stand ready to engage with Iran, and that’s really the message that I would like to send to the Iranians, is that there’s a way out of the sanctions, there’s a way out of increasing opprobrium from the international community, and there should be a way out of this takeover of their political system and a threat to their dual system of elected and clerical leadership, because when you empower a military as much as they have to rely on them to put down legitimate protests and demonstrations, you create a momentum and unleash forces that you do not know where they will end up. And so we think that now is the time for the Iranian leadership to engage seriously.
QUESTION: Thank you. And over at 25. Can I ask a couple of domestic questions? Do you have some time?
STAFF: (Off-mike.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is more for the Good Morning America crowd.
Regarding the primaries that have just happened in the United States, your husband, former President Clinton, said that some of these people who have been elected make President Bush look like a moderate or even a liberal. What do you think of that comment?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, my husband is a great communicator, but I’m out of politics, so I don’t communicate on anything concerning domestic politics.
QUESTION: And in terms of how it might affect where you are, which is in the foreign policy sphere – top diplomat – if all of these individuals come into office, how will that affect funding, foreign aid, all the things of soft power that you and the President want to use as U.S. tools?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Christiane, I think there’s a bipartisan support for national security, and what we have learned is that national security is defense, diplomacy, and development, that they are linked. Secretary Gates makes this case very eloquently and strongly. So I would anticipate, no matter who is elected, making the same case that what we’re doing in the State Department and at USAID is just as critical to America’s security and national interest as what is being done at the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Okay. And –
STAFF: (Inaudible) Tea Party (inaudible).
QUESTION: Do you want (inaudible) Tea Party?
QUESTION: Is the Tea Party complementary or is it possible to have the President’s foreign policy agenda furthered even if a lot of Tea Party candidates do end up being the candidates?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve seen a lot of people run for office and say a lot of things, and then when they have the burden of holding office and the responsibility that goes with it, I’ve seen them become very sobered very quickly about the challenges that we face domestically and internationally. Nobody said it better than Mario Cuomo when he said, “You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose.” And sometimes the poetry can get kind of hot and a little over the top, but the prose brings you down to earth. And no matter who’s elected, we will make the case that what we’re doing is in furtherance of America’s interests. And as I said, that has been a bipartisan position, thankfully, throughout American history, and I expect it to continue.
QUESTION: And of all the things you’ve undertaken over the last several months, was your daughter’s wedding – where did that fit in and how hard, difficult?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, if you don’t tell anybody, it was at the top. It was the most wonderful experience, but as I confessed leading up to it, it was stressful. I think being a mother of the bride is stressful under any circumstances. Doing it long distance, jetlagged, on a plane, in the midst of diplomatic negotiations made it a little more so.
But everything about the wedding was perfect, and it was so wonderful to see my daughter and her now husband so happy, surrounded by family and friends, people who have known them and loved them their entire lives. So I will keep that perfect image in my mind for the rest of my life. And I have to confess, every once in a while I’m sitting in a tough meeting and people are really going at each other, and I’m thinking, like, that was a beautiful day – (laughter) – right there, on the Hudson River in upstate New York.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for joining us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department

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