Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Remarks With Reporters in the Correspondents' Room
Washington, DC
January 27, 2009

MR. WOOD: Before we get started, it’s obviously on the record, but we’re going to keep this to 15 minutes, about. The Secretary has another appointment she has to get to. So why don’t you guys go ahead and start, whoever wants to ask the first question.

QUESTION: You know, what I think everybody is intrigued by is how this is all going to work, because you have a lot of very powerful personalities dealing with foreign policy, with diplomacy, et cetera – Biden, Gates, Jones and you, and the President.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And the President, of course.

QUESTION: Not to forget him. So how is it going to work? Some are saying tug of war –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, no, no. I think we have already established a collegial, effective working relationship. Maybe it’s because the people you’ve just named – the Vice President, National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, and I are committed to the same goal, and that is to ensure that the President’s policies are effectively carried out.

It is a tremendous honor to be the Secretary of State. But it is a great personal privilege to be the Secretary of State in this Administration, because the goals that have been set and the approach to the world is one that we know is in the best interests of our country going forward. And I’ve had that reinforced time and again with all of the phone calls that I’ve been making. There’s a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that’s being set and the team that’s put together by the President to carry out our foreign policy goals.

And as I said when I came here last week, you know, we view defense, diplomacy, and development as the three pillars of American foreign policy. That’s not rhetoric. That is our commitment. That’s how we are proceeding. It was significant that the President and the Vice President came on my first day and their second day in office to reinforce that message. I had breakfast this morning with the Vice President, who is an old and dear friend. I was with the President yesterday at the White House, with Senator Mitchell as we had our, you know, pre-departure meeting. I don’t think that you can really conclude anything other than, this is a united effort. We have a lot of damage to repair, Jill.

QUESTION: Do you – when you talk about this great exhalation of breath –


QUESTION: Is that pretty much universal or do you get – are you hearing it from – more from certain quarters than you are from others in the – when you make your calls? And why is there this exhalation of breath? Are people –


QUESTION: Were people really that fed up with the previous administration?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s a recognition on two counts: one, that where continuity is appropriate, we are committed to doing that. I just got off the phone with the President and Foreign Minister in Iraq to reinforce our commitment to a democratic and sovereign Iraq, and the importance of their provincial elections. In areas of the world that have felt either overlooked or not receiving appropriate attention for the problems that they are experiencing, there’s a welcoming of the engagement that we are promising. So it’s not any kind of repudiation or indictment of the past eight years so much as an excitement and an acceptance of how we’re going to be doing business.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, speaking of Iran, UN Ambassador Susan Rice talked about – yesterday said, we look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran. Is that the policy that’s been arrived at? The President has spoken about coming up with a comprehensive policy toward Iran. How do you see it unfolding, and will there be someone delegated, such as a Dennis Ross or some other person, to take charge of Iran, in particular?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think Ambassador Rice was reiterating the President’s position, which has been very clear that he reserves the right to engage in whatever way he deems best, at whatever time he chooses to further American interests. And clearly, that is not limited to any one country. It is a broad statement of our approach. We are engaged ourselves in a vigorous policy analysis of a number of problems and challenges that we face around the world. And we will be, you know, rolling out ideas and plans as we go forward.

The President and I thought it was important that we, as quickly as possible, set forth our policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan, because we knew we wanted to reengage vigorously from the very beginning in the Middle East. And, you know, we chose as an envoy someone who – we have great confidence in his ability to do that. And to carry the message from the President, from myself, from our government that, you know, we’re going to be working on a series of short-term objectives with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but that we remain committed to the long-term objective of a comprehensive peace that provides security in the context of a two-state solution for the Palestinians.

With Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been an ongoing review that was begun under the former administration that has put a lot of actions in motion. And we are engaged very vigorously in trying to assess what has been done before and what we are going to be doing. And we thought it imperative that we had a high-level representative – and in this case, Richard Holbrooke – to be guiding that process with us.

There will be other decisions made as we go forward. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised by our willingness to engage, to be active in existing forums, to look for other ways of reaching out on behalf of this new Administration.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Iran, could you –

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I follow up on Pakistan? Can we follow on Pakistan just to –

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ve got one, two – okay.

QUESTION: One of the things in this building – and I know you can’t talk about intelligence or these strikes in Pakistan, but one of the things in the building was that people were concerned that that was a great tactical move, getting rid of people along the border, high-value targets, but strategically, because civilians were often hit and it angered some of the Pakistanis, that that was a bad move.

It is clear to people here or people in Pakistan that there were strikes after President Obama was sworn in. Can you just tell us generally how you view something like that? And I know he said – he talked about striking high-value targets if they were there. But is that something you may re-look at because of diplomatic problems with that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think your preface to your question was the right one. I am not prepared to talk about that. I think that, as I mentioned, we are looking very broadly and comprehensively at the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and along our borders. I have personally expressed to both President Karzai and President Zardari our concern about civilian casualties. That is an area that, you know, we are following closely. And it will be as we move forward, certainly, a part of our assessment. But there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan are a source of instability for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, and far beyond the borders of those two countries. So there will be more to report about our views as to how we’re going to proceed in the future.

QUESTION: Can you give sort of a general view about –

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, on – you talked about looking for other ways to engage. On North Korea, in your testimony, you described the Six-Party process as a vehicle, implying that there were others. Are you looking at possibly a more intensive, direct U.S.-North Korean negotiation as a way to try to move forward?

And on Iran, President Obama in his interview with Al Arabiya last night, according to the transcript, said – you know, he echoed the clenched fist, open hand. But he said specifically, you know, as Iran opens its – unclenches its fist, it will find an open hand. That sounded almost as if the ball was in their court. And I wonder if you can give us any sense of how you will judge whether Iran is willing to engage in some kind of a negotiation with the United States. Do you want to do that informally? Do you want to do that through third parties? Do you want to do that through non-officials like Mr. Pickering, for example, who has contacts with the Iranians to some degree? Or do you actually think it’s – you’re going to have to have an official gauge that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you have raised a number of questions that we are in the process of assessing ourselves. With respect to North Korea, I think the Six-Party Talks are essential. They’ve not only been a useful forum for the participants to deal with the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear program and the other issues that are part of the North Korean agenda, but within the Six-Party Talks there have been bilateral meetings. And we are going to pursue steps that we think are effective. And I think I’ll leave it at that. But it is important that I underscore what we see as the significance of the Six-Party Talks. They’ve been useful not only vis-à-vis North Korea, but among the participating nations on related matters in the region.

With respect to Iran, there is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the President expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community. Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them. But as we look at the opportunities available to us, we’re going to have a very broad survey of what we think we can do. The P-5+1 talks, which will reconvene next week, I believe, are an already existing vehicle that we will again monitor. And there’s just a lot that we are considering that I’m not prepared to discuss.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can you tell us –

MR. WOOD: The last two questions – one to Elise and Mark, the last two questions. Be very brief.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in your confirmation hearings, you signaled that you plan to engage Syria, and you were talking about being in touch with the chargé d'affaires on the ground there to see about engaging. Do you see talking to Syria as an initial, kind of, step that, possibly within the context of George Mitchell’s mission, can you start bringing Syria in on an Israel-Palestinian front and possibly start engaging that way?

And also, both you and the President in the wake of the Israeli-Hamas conflict have talked a lot about the plight of Palestinians while recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense, but you’ve put a lot of emphasis on the Palestinian plight. And I was wondering if you think that the Israeli campaign, given the fact that Hamas is still in control of Gaza and still on the ground and not completely decapitated, do you think that that was a counterproductive mission?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, I think we’ve said all we’re going to say about the Israeli-Palestinian situation as we send our envoy out. I think we want to give him the opportunity to listen and bring back his impressions and information. And we are at this moment focused only on the Israel-Palestinian track. And I think it’s important to put the emphasis where it rightly belongs. We have, as I said, some short-term objectives such as a durable ceasefire, which as you know has receded somewhat today because of the offensive action against the IDF along the border.

But of course, we’re concerned about the humanitarian suffering. We’re concerned any time innocent civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, are attacked. That’s why we support Israel’s right to self-defense. The rocket barrages, which are getting closer and closer to populated areas, cannot go unanswered. And it’s, you know, regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.

We are supporting the efforts by the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to try to support the humanitarian efforts. We will participate with our own contributions. The United States is currently the single largest contributor to Palestinian aid, and we will be adding even more because we believe that it’s important to help those who have been damaged and suffering.

But again, this is one of those situations that we’re going to await the report of our envoy. I mean, that’s why we chose Senator Mitchell. We have a lot of confidence in his knowledge of the area and his political ear, so you not only hear what people say but what the meaning behind the words might be. So we’re going to wait and let him report back to us about the way forward.

MR. WOOD: Mark, last question. Please make it brief.

QUESTION: And Syria –

MR. WOOD: Mark’s last question.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, your colleague – now your colleague, Tim Geithner, raised some eyebrows with comments he made about China in his written testimony to the Senate. And I know that you are interested in the State Department having a robust role in economics as well as diplomacy. My question is about China. Should we read anything broader into what he said? Could we expect the Administration to have a slightly more vigorous diplomacy toward China? And also, what role do you see for the State Department in that relationship? Would you like to see State be the central player? I know under Mr. Paulson, he sort of consolidated a lot of that at the Treasury Department.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mark, we need a comprehensive dialogue with China. The Strategic Dialogue that was begun in the Bush Administration turned into an economic dialogue, and that’s a very important aspect of our relationship with China, but it is not the only aspect of our relationship.

So we’re going to be working together in the government across our agencies to design a more comprehensive approach that we think will be more in keeping with the important role that China is playing and will be playing as both a regional and international player on so many important issues.

So I look forward to working with my colleagues in government, in the White House, Treasury Department, and elsewhere, in forging such an approach. And I look very much forward to working with my counterparts in the Chinese Government, because I think there is – there are many opportunities for us to cooperate going forward.

And given the current global economic crisis, you know, we have to work our way through that with the minimum amount of damage to global capacity to restart the economy. You know, obviously, our economic problems here at home mean that people are being laid off not only here in America, but also in China. And so the economy will always be a centerpiece of our relationship, but we want it to be part of a broader agenda, and that’s what we’re working to achieve.

MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you all very much.


MR. WOOD: Madame Secretary, thank you.

QUESTION: How about travel?


QUESTION: How about the first trip?

MR. WOOD: We’ll have plenty of time to talk to the Secretary –

QUESTION: Where will you go for the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ll let you know as soon as we get it organized. I’m looking forward to it. Thanks, everybody. Take care.

PRN: 081