Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Foreign Policy Speech at the Council on Foreign Relations

Special Briefing
Bureau of Public Affairs
Background Briefing by Two Senior Administration Officials
Washington, DC
July 15, 2009

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much. I’ll be very, very brief. We have kind of a background call here. For your information, not for your reporting purposes, we have [Senior State Department Official Two], but for the purposes of this call, [Senior State Department Official Two] will be a Senior State Department Official, but just to give you kind of a bit of a background about how we got to the speech and the strategic framework that the Secretary outlined today.


So with that, I’ll turn it over to a Senior State Department Official.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hi, everybody. So I wanted to just talk a little bit about the process leading up to the speech and then I’m looking forward to your questions.


This is a speech that really had its inception in the thinking we did following on the hundred-day mark. So after the first hundred days, we came together and started thinking about the agenda going forward and thinking about particularly what is the larger strategic framework that connects our responses to crises and our positive initiatives around the world looking at the various things we were doing and the various things we were planning to do, and then asking ourselves about the assumptions underlying them and the ways America wants to lead and to use our power.


So we’ve been working these ideas. The Secretary’s been very actively engaged, really, since early May. We’ve consulted both within the building and then also outside the building. The Secretary hosted a lunch of top foreign policy thinkers. She’s been reaching out to individuals. And we’ve obviously also worked with special envoys, the White House, the bureaus to develop a framework that does, I think, guide our policy and our priorities going forward, and that identifies a set of specific policies that we are already, I think, making hallmarks of our foreign policy that support the overall goal of a new architecture of cooperation, of partnerships with states, any states that are willing to take responsibility, both major powers and smaller powers, and also reaching beyond states to individuals and non-state actors.


So with that background on the process, I look forward to taking your questions.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Let’s proceed to questions.


QUESTION: Thanks very much. [Senior State Department Official Two], hi. I’m wondering about the Iran part of the speech. How strong a signal are you intending to send about the deadline? And with whom do you contemplate engaging in Iran? You know, what is the status of the regime? She said the complexion has changed. How has it changed?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think the Secretary was intending to reinforce messages that we’ve already been sending, and making the overall position that I think the President has articulated clear. She said the complexion had changed after the elections in the same way the President said obviously after watching the treatment of the Iranian people by the government. We are hopeful that we can still engage, but the process may be slower, and we are waiting, as she said, for the Iranian Government really to decide what choice it’s going to make.


QUESTION: So who is the – who are the decision makers? Is it, you know, is it the clerical? Or what role does Ahmadinejad have? Do we have any more clarity or transparency on who is in charge?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think – so that’s up to the government to – the Iranian Government to decide. We’re not going to decide on our interlocutors. But her overall point was to talk about engagement, why we believe that it’s worth continuing to engage, even while we’ve been very vocal about our reactions to what we’ve seen in the streets, even though we disagree strongly with those incidents, we want to engage because we think, in the end, that only by offering to engage and offering a set of choices are we going to get anywhere.


QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: Hello, [Senior State Department Official Two]. Basically, I wanted to ask you about the comments that Secretary Clinton made about this welcome to Taliban elements who are willing to lay down arms. So what does she mean by the word “welcome”?






SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So, again, I think she was reinforcing messages and she was making clear that not all Taliban support al-Qaida, and that if there are Taliban who are willing to renounce violence, to disavow al-Qaida and to participate in the Afghan Government, based on the Afghan constitution, then we are ready to engage with them. I think her point there highlights another dimension of engagement, which is it’s only by engaging that we can find out more about the motivations and the intentions of the folks on the other side, that what you may see as a monolith may not be a monolith. And there may be parties who have very different motivations, and it’s only by being willing to talk and to engage that you can figure that out. And then, as she said, there’s a process of negotiation, and that then puts you on a path.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up? This presumably will be in anticipation of the Afghan elections. Those are only about a month away. Are you confident that you can get some kind of concrete assurance from these – I hate to have to use the word “moderate,” but these Taliban elements that would be ready to lay down arms? How on earth could that happen in practical terms in such a short period of time?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t think the Secretary was laying out laying out any timeframe. At the moment, the elections are up to the Afghan people, as she said. And once there’s a government, it will be up to that government to engage more specifically. We’re making clear, working with the Afghans, that, again, if there are members of the Taliban who are willing to abide by the conditions she stipulated, the pathway is open for their negotiation with the Karzai government and with us perhaps in specific context.




QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. I was interested by this mention you made about this architectural cooperation. But how do you articulate that with the UN and the UN system? You know, at the G-8, the President addressed that question. He said that he’d been talking to Ban Ki-moon about this. Do you expect some initiative in the Fall?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you for the question. The architectural cooperation the Secretary laid out certainly starts with existing regional and international institutions. And as the Secretary said, they need to be transformed and reformed. And that follows on the President’s comments where there – if we’re going to work through those institutions, and we really want to work through those institutions, then those institutions have to work.


But a large part of what she was also saying is the central problem we face in the world are obstacles to cooperation where we have common interests – many key nations have those common interests – but we can’t get from where we are now to a win-win solution because we don’t have the ability to get past those obstacles. And the UN and other institutions are an important forum for negotiation, but we need more. We need partnerships. We need diplomatic – very close relationships with our partners to be able to move the ball with big powers, but also small powers, and again, moving even beyond states to working with nongovernmental organizations, with citizens to really – to change the context for a lot of these decisions.


QUESTION: Like how different is that from the coalition of the willing in the Bush Administration?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m glad you asked that question because it’s very different. This is not a temporary coalition to essentially work with the United States on something the United States has already decided to do. What we’re talking about is investing in long-term partnerships where, as the Secretary said, there’s going to be a lot of give as well as take, as she offered the example of working with China and Russia and other members of the P5 on North Korea, where it’s a lot of negotiation, it’s a lot of compromise, it’s a lot of relationship-building.


And what we’re saying is (a), we do want to work through regional and international institutions. These are not alternatives to those institutions. These are complements to those institutions. They’re ways of helping those institutions work better, and where we’re not working within an institution, working with a group of nations to get past what are obstacles to cooperation, collective action problems.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, just to add in to that, these partnerships are dynamic in the sense that some of them will take the form of said alliances, some of them will --




SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- take the form, different compositions of groups based on the issue that – the global issue that is being addressed. And I think you start to see that in what she talked about with respect to the upcoming trip to India, that you’re expanding the agenda and then looking to a country like India to begin to play a more (inaudible) role and leadership role in a broader range of issues than they have in the past.




QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official Two], it’s Janine here from Bloomberg.




QUESTION: How are you? I’m just back from leave, and two quick things: One, she only mentioned Africa once. I know it wasn’t probably meant to be a sweeping around the world. She didn’t mention Sudan, and the sense I’m getting is that the policy on Sudan has not been worked out yet. I’m wondering if that’s what I should read from the speech, the fact that she didn’t mention it.


And also, I was just kind of curious, to use this opportunity to ask you and [Senior State Department Official One], I’ve noticed since I got back that she’s heading over to the NSC a lot for meeting. I don’t remember Condi doing that on such a regular basis. Was she coordinating the speech? Is she working on some other kind of thing that requires her to physically go to the NSC like every other day? Thanks.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On the first question, on Africa, it was a very long speech and she talked about many different parts of the world. She emphasized her determination to make development an equal pillar with diplomacy, and much of that will involve our relations with Africa, although also with Asian and in Latin American countries.


And she talked about – in talking about regional organizations and wanting to strengthen them, if she had had time to elaborate, she would have talked about working with the African Union, strengthening the African Union precisely in those areas where the African Union is willing to really take responsibility to address regional problems. If you look at AMISOM in Somalia and in Sudan, that’s a core part of our approach, but she didn’t have time to address the specifics of policy issues in every nation.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Just to add to that, I would call your attention to probably the transcripts of the White House press briefing this afternoon. Judith McHale is over there as we speak and talking about some of the outreach that we’ve done at the Department of State using – through embassies on – and to supporting the White House and the outreach based on the President’s speech in Ghana on Saturday. The Secretary, right on the heels of her trip to India, will also be traveling in early August to Africa, so --


QUESTION: Right, right.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- she will have more to say about that. I think on her regular trips to the White House, [Senior State Department Official Two] has done some of those, Jim Steinberg is over there on a regular basis. I actually think that’s part of a resumption of a very vigorous interagency process that clearly was something that perhaps was lacking over the past few years, that this – as the Secretary said at the beginning of the speech, this is a full plate, probably an overflowing plate.


There’s lots going on, but through interagency meetings, the deputies, the principals, we are in fact vigorously outlining – not only addressing the challenges individually, whether it’s North Korea or Iran or the Middle East peace process or Sudan, but you’re just seeing, in essence, the building blocks of what she was talking about in terms of saying a whole-of-government approach to both planning and execution of foreign policy. And you see that in her regular trips to consult.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And I would just say it’s a very close senior foreign policy team.


QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official Two]. I just noticed that the Secretary made no explicit call for a settlement freeze, and she also showed understanding that action on settlements is politically challenging for Israel. So I wanted to ask, does that mean you’re backing down – the Obama Administration is backing down from its call for a complete freeze? Or does it mean that you think that a narrative gesture towards normalization with Israel would make a freeze more palatable within the Israeli political system?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll start with that one. I think one of the more compelling aspects of the speech, in my mind, was her very explicit call to Arab countries to step up. I think there’s kind of a curious situation where the issue over settlements has gotten a lot of the media play, understandably so, but we are pressuring all of the parties involved. We’ve made explicit what the Israelis have to do. We have made explicit what the Palestinians have to do. We’ve made explicit what we expect the neighborhood to do in terms of supporting the process as we try to create the conditions for negotiation to resume.


I think she was just reinforcing that yes, in fact, we are talking to the Israelis about settlements. And in fact, the Israelis have done some very meaningful things in the last couple of weeks in terms of changes in the way it approaches the Palestinian security forces and easing some of the checkpoints in the West Bank, trying to help change the dynamic on the West Bank. But at the very same time, we are definitely pressing the Palestinians in terms of what they have to do on security, stopping incitement, and we’re looking for Arab countries to step up to make the kind of gestures, as she said in the speech, that will demonstrate that they recognize that Israel is going to be a critical component of the Middle East in the future.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And if I can just link that to one of the larger themes of the speech, I don’t think – she didn’t change the position on settlements at all. As [Senior State Department Official One] said, she was just outlining the responsibilities of others in the process as well, and one of the big themes of the speech was the link between partnership and taking responsibility. I mean, she started by saying, look, we take responsibility as the most powerful nation in the world to do everything we can to solve global problems, but we expect other nations to as well. And that’s part of being a partner; we expect nations to step up and to use their power and their resources to help solve common problems and advance common interests rather than just advancing their own national interests.


QUESTION: Can I follow up there?




QUESTION: I mean, it’s clear that – I mean, publicly, both the U.S. and Israel disagreed on a settlement freeze. So [Senior State Department Official One] brought up the point that the Secretary emphasized a – what the Arabs should do. But to follow up on that point, she also referred to steps taken by Anwar Sadat and things they were saying years ago, that she said changed or helped the politics in Israel. And that was a clear reference to maybe that makes it easier to make peace if the Arabs take the first step. There’s a question of sequencing here and it looked like she was much – the emphasis was much more on the Arabs to take the first step because you seemed to be running into trouble with Israel over the settlement.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think our position on that is unchanged. We want all of the parties in the process to take steps. As George Mitchell has said many times, we’re looking for all of the parties to take actions that create the conditions for a negotiating process to resume, and we’re just looking at what are the steps that get a process restarted. It’s not about one, then the other, then the other.


In fact, I think both the Secretary and George have rejected the idea that somebody has to move first and then somebody follows and somebody follows. If you follow that logic, then any one party can become a spoiler. It is about all of them taking steps, all of them investing in the process, all of them creating the conditions that allow a negotiating process to begin, and then supporting that process writ large.


QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: Thanks. [Senior State Department Official Two] and maybe [Senior State Department Official One] would want to engage on this as well. I’m just curious what your reaction is to the commentary that’s been going around Washington the last week or two? It’s almost risen to the level of conventional wisdom that Secretary Clinton has been somewhat slow to put her own personal imprint on American foreign policy, particularly in relation to other power centers in town, including the White House.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well – hi, Warren. I think Secretary Clinton would say the point is to have a common imprint on foreign policy, not the President’s imprint and the Secretary’s imprint.


But a large part of what this speech was about was, again, something she’s been thinking about for several months now, which is how not only to do the day-to-day business of diplomacy, which she’s been very actively engaged in – if you just think about the last week from Honduras to North Korea to the efforts she’s been making on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review – not only doing the day-to-day business of diplomacy, but really putting it together in a larger strategic framework that allows us to identify our priorities and connect with specific policies that we’re pursuing to those priorities in a way that is understandable to the American people and also to our allies and that helps guide us as we go forward with longer-term initiatives. And that’s a central part of what the Secretary of State ought to be doing together with the White House. It’s not an alternative. It’s a complement to what the White House is doing. It’s our job to put that in a larger strategic framework.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Just to add to that, I mean, we’ve all been around Washington long enough and these stories come and go – who’s up, who’s down. I think what’s crucially important is when you look at the broad vision that the President’s laid out, this is a vision that is supported by the Secretary and supported by Secretary Gates. I think everyone sees the challenges in a very similar way. On any given day, you might have a disagreement over how do we interpret this set of facts or that set of facts, and that’s what you pay the President’s advisors to do. We’ve seen the impact of groupthink in the recent past.


What the Secretary is focused on is from the broader vision that the President lays up, the priorities that the Administration has identified, then how do we create the framework, as [Senior State Department Official Two] was just talking about, and then execute and implement and follow up. [Senior State Department Official Two] is leading a process here on how do we follow up on the President’s Cairo speech and what he laid out there in terms of engagement with Muslims around the world.


Somehow, in one of these stories recently, the Secretary felt – as she said in the speech today, felt very strongly about having particular envoys that will attack significant challenges every single day, starting from the outset of the Administration, whether you’ve got Richard Holbrooke on Afghanistan and Pakistan, you’ve got George Mitchell on the Middle East peace process, you’ve got Todd Stern on climate change, you’ve got Scott Gration on Sudan.


But the fact that we have these envoys working here at the State Department somehow eclipses the role of the Secretary of State, I mean, as she said, there is a compelling agenda here. There is significant work that needs to be done. And at the State Department, you not only – you’ve got this strategic framework that the Secretary feels strongly, the President identifies with it, and now we’re in the hard process of execution even as we have these challenges, whether it’s North Korea here or Iran there that are very dynamic, very fluid. And add Honduras to that list.


But you can also see in those challenges the framework through which we’re going to respond to them. Are governments and sub-state – or sub-state groups willing to step up, take responsibility? Are we able to develop capacity within the world, strengthen institutions, so that we can identify problems and, working through a variety of means, work on strategies that can solve these problems both in the near and far term?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And, Warren, if I can give you a one-sentence example I think that makes the point, when the – in the President’s Cairo speech, he talked at the end about how we were going to engage the Muslim world through partnership, which was laying out a vision of how he sees our relations. What the Secretary was doing today is explaining how partnership really gets us to where we want to go. That’s the strategy part, and that’s the implementation part, as [Senior State Department Official One] said.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And just adding to that again, you could look at a great example is what’s happening in this hemisphere. I mean, it was Secretary Clinton that went to the OAS meeting and fought for the principles that framed under what conditions would Cuba, if it chose – it hasn’t chosen to and has no indication it plans to – come back to the OAS, but what would be the principles that would guide a return to the OAS. But it’s those same principles that are currently guiding our support for the Arias process to restore democratic and constitutional order to Honduras. But the foundation for what we’re doing in the context of Honduras as laid by the Secretary and the debate within the OAS over what to do about Cuba.


QUESTION: Yes, hi. I wanted to ask you about what the Secretary mentioned on Iran that the opportunity for dialogue would not remain open indefinitely. Can you tell us when this opportunity will close? And if Iran does not respond in the time limit that you’re looking for, will we see action at the UN, sanctions or anything like that?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think she was making clear exactly what she said, that she’s not putting a time limit on it, but she’s saying very clearly it is not indefinite, it is not open forever. There will be a time period, without specifying precisely what that is.


QUESTION: But again, if the dialogue doesn't start, I mean, is the sanctions at the UN tied to the engagement? Or when will you – when will the U.S. seek more sanctions at the UN on Iran?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just say you’re talking about how long we will be willing to engage in a process that has yet to start. I mean, that’s actually – she put that in very specific terms in her speech that we’re waiting to see what the capacity is and what the interest is in Iran following the path that we’ve laid out. The actions that they’ve taken both historically and in recent weeks put them on the wrong path, in our view.


We have outlined for them opportunities to engage in the full range of issues based on the concerns that we have and the international community has about their nuclear concerns, their support of terrorism, and their role in the region. And we’re waiting to see after they find a way to address the concerns of their people who continue to express to them about the elections and the aftermath what they’re prepared to do, and then based on that, we’ll reach a judgment at an appropriate time as to whether they’re willing to engage, if so, how seriously. And then if you have that engagement, after a period of time, we’ll have a sense of what their intentions are.


As she said, engagement is driven by both trying to learn what – how they see issues, what they’re willing to do. You learn things, very important things, through this engagement process. It’s not an end in itself. It’s a means so that we have a better understanding of what they’re willing to do, what they’re able to do, and we’ll draw our own conclusions based on our own interests.


Well, again, thank you very, very much for participating. But feel free to call us if you want to follow up on any other aspect of the speech. But for your reporting purposes, please, this is a background briefing and attributable to Senior State Department Officials. But thank you for joining us, and we look forward to talking to you about this speech and the framework in the future.


Thanks very much.

PRN: 2009/740