Working Toward Change in Perceptions of U.S. Engagement Around the World

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State, Secretary of State
Roundtable With Traveling Press
Seoul, South Korea
February 20, 2009

MR. WOOD: Madame Secretary, I'll turn it over to you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, thank you, Robert. Well, what is there left to say? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : I have a question.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I feel like we've been living together for days and days.


QUESTION: : I have a question about what you've learned about the role of Secretary of State on this trip, and what you see your role is. Because you've hired a lot of envoys taking over a lot of big portfolios, including North Korea now.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, having been on the job now for a month, I think there's a tremendous opportunity to reintroduce America to the world and to bring a message consistent with President Obama's vision about how we're going to work with people to find common ground to solve a lot of these big global challenges. And I came into it with the very clear idea that we had so much work to do that I wanted to be able to deploy some of the best diplomats and representatives that I could find.

So from the very beginning of my conversations with the President-elect, I said I believe in envoys. I tried to get the Bush Administration to appoint a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan back in 2007. Because I think that given the range of issues that we have to deal with, it is not possible for the Secretary of State to manage and handle all of these problems without having a lot of strong people working with her. So I came into it looking to have the authority to appoint envoys, and I'm very pleased that the President agreed with me. And we worked it through, even before the inauguration so that as soon as he was inaugurated and I was sworn in, we could get to work.

I mean, look what we've accomplished in the last month. I mean, we've made it clear we're reengaged in the Middle East because we have a consistent presence with George Mitchell. We are in the midst of an in-depth review of our Afghanistan and Pakistan policy with the leadership of Ambassador Holbrooke. We now will have an experienced diplomat who knows both North and South Korea, handling the North Korea policy on an ongoing basis, which means that I can work with and oversee and be responsible for, but come to Asia and then go to Cairo and then go to Europe, as I will next week.

So to me, this is how I like to operate. And I think it enhances my ability to actually be effective globally. I don't think that one person in today's world, given the complexity and intensity of the challenges we face, could possibly handle all these portfolios without doing injustice to them.

QUESTION: : Can you just expand on that a little bit?

MR. WOOD: Let's go – let's do one with Nick, please.

QUESTION: : Okay. We'll go with – I wanted to --

QUESTION: : Sorry, are you changing the topic? Because I just wanted to follow up.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let Martha do a follow-up. Yeah, we'll get back to you, Nick.


QUESTION: : Just a little bit more on the special representatives and envoy. So they take this portfolio, they do this. How do you view what you do then? I mean, I know we're going to the Middle East, but do you come in when there's progress, do you come in as – describe how you --

SECRETARY CLINTON: But Martha, I don't think there is one-size-fits-all. I think that I've tried to hire the best people that I can get in the Department, and I've tried to recruit the best people that I could convince to take on some of these especially complex portfolios. They work for me and for the President. They report to me and to the President. And we're in constant contact about what they're doing, where they're going, what options they see. So ultimately, I'm accountable because these are my choices and I have chosen to organize the work we face in this way.

But it's going to be different depending upon the situation. And so I don't think there's any way to say, well, this is how it's going to work because it's more like jazz; you've got to improvise, you've got to have people who are both great individual and ensemble players. Both – all of our envoys and special representatives work with the ambassadors in the region, they work with the State Department, they work with the White House. I've been around long enough that I don't need to feel that I have to handle every single aspect of these difficult problems. I couldn't possibly do that. You can have a lot of motion with no movement, and I expect the people that I entrusted with these jobs to get out there and to be focused on making something happen, or at least to put their best efforts into trying to do that.

So when I'm in Cairo, George Mitchell will be there, too. I'll be speaking for the United States Government, but he will get in the region and will have a lot of information to report. So it's just – it's a constant back and forth trying to figure out how we're going to push this ball forward.

QUESTION: : And in the context of that, do you see these envoys as exploring a regional dynamic and finding the natural grain and then just sort of kind of guiding things along that serve American interests? I mean, has this been done before, and is that a very new approach?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that's a wonderful way of putting it. I think that in some respects it's been done. What George Mitchell did in Northern Ireland was an ongoing commitment by the United States Government to work with the British and Irish governments, and we didn't have a lot at stake directly, but indirectly it was a matter of great concern to a lot of people that the troubles be paid attention to. I think what you'll see with George Mitchell is similar. He has a tremendous amount of persistence and patience in dealing with thorny problems.

I mean, our goal is to try to reignite the willingness on the part of the parties to move toward a two-state solution. And it's a lot harder now than it was. I think the disengagement by the United States for the first part of the Bush Administration was unfortunate, because we weren't there on an ongoing basis to try to look for those opportunities, to see what could happen if we were working with those who were actually committed to a peaceful and secure outcome.

So we may – I may have some more envoys. I mean, I believe in this. I mean, I'll just quickly tell you, when I got back from Afghanistan and Pakistan in January of 2007, I called the White House and I spoke with the National Security Advisor, Mr. Hadley. And I said: Steve there's just – this is just not working. You have Musharraf totally negative about Karzai, Karzai negative about Musharraf. There's not a cooperative relationship. These two places are linked, and we have no way to keep them working on the same page. I really urge you to appoint somebody who can move back and forth between the two countries. And I said I don't have a name. I mean, if you want a name, I can give you some names to consider. But please, you've got to lift this up. The Embassy in Kabul is focused on Afghanistan. The Embassy in Islamabad is focused on Pakistan. We have to take a more regional approach.

And I was obviously unsuccessful, but I believed then, as I believe now, that this will help us figure out how best we can move forward. So that's why we're doing it.

QUESTION: : (Inaudible) next stop? Actually (inaudible).

QUESTION: : I actually wanted to move to (inaudible).

QUESTION: : If we can go – we can get something on China, because we're halfway through, that would be (inaudible).


QUESTION: : Could I just ask you quickly on Bosworth, who you just announced today. And because you talked about succession, and there were questions today – he was just in North Korea. And I understand he actually brought you and your colleagues and his friends a grim picture of what is happening in North Korea in terms of leadership, in terms of who's in charge, who's determining policy, who's trying to prove himself more Catholic than the Pope, because it's that time; it's a period of transition, perhaps.

Did that affect your thinking when you talked about the succession crisis? How is that going to affect your policy making when you get to it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to confess that I'm somewhat fascinated by the concern that several of you have evidenced about succession, which to me is like the most obvious issue. It's been in the news for months. And I don't think that it's a forbidden subject to talk about succession in the hermit kingdom. In fact, it seems to me it's got to be factored into any policy review that one is undertaking. It's a fact. When you have a government like that that is so personality-centric, you deal with the hand you're dealt, which is the government that is there and the leader that is in charge, but you have to be thinking down the road about when and where. So obviously it's a factor, but I don't see that as news. I think it would be irresponsible for it not to be factored into what you were thinking about. It doesn't change the fact that you deal with Kim Jong-il now and for as long as he's the man who is calling the shots, and that's what we're doing. And I think Ambassador Bosworth is incredibly well suited for the work that lies ahead.

QUESTION: : Do you think he's calling the shots?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have no idea.

QUESTION: : Can I just --

QUESTION: : (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: : -- can I just follow up on that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I mean, we have to assume that he is because that's who we deal with.

QUESTION: : Why do you think it was interpreted by some as something that isn't said. Because it's so sensitive that it might offend the Chinese? Because it might have reverberations? Is that something that you, not being a “professional diplomat,” that you are more likely to say what you think, what you think is obvious, and not worry about (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that to worry about something which is so self-evident is an impediment to clear thinking. And I don't think it should be viewed as particularly extraordinary that someone in my position would say what's obvious. I said it the other day about Burma. Sanctions aren't working and others in the world who have tried to deal with the Burmese regime can't figure out how to engage them, so we're going to have a policy review about Burma. Maybe this is unusual because you're supposed to be so careful that you spend hours avoiding stating the obvious, but that's just not productive, in my view. So I think that it's worth being perhaps more straightforward and trying to engage other countries on the basis of the reality that exists in a number of these settings to try to encourage more thoughtful deliberation about where we're going and how we're going to get there. And so that's how I see it, and that's how I intend to operate.

QUESTION: : Can we just go to China (inaudible)?


QUESTION: : (Inaudible) something to write on the plane (inaudible) when we get there.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I thought you were going to have a party on the plane.

QUESTION: : No, no, (inaudible). (Laughter.)



SECRETARY CLINTON: And the middle seat people get extra rounds. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : Thank you.

QUESTION: : I'll have to move to a middle seat then. (Laughter.) I think Arshad will (inaudible). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : China.


QUESTION: : What do you see as the biggest challenge here, and why is it that there is an impression out there that human rights groups, not just people like us who are (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that everything is part of the agenda for this first visit. We have an opportunity, we hope, to engage with the Chinese on a range of issues. Let me just mention three of them. One is economic crisis. China and the United States are intertwined when it comes to our recovery. We both have undertaken stimulus packages. We both face difficult domestic challenges. And I think there is a lot of room for cooperation, which we are going to be seeking.

Secondly, global climate change. It's one of the reasons why I asked Todd Stern, another envoy that we have appointed, to come on this trip, because so many of the opportunities for clean energy, technology and the like are going to come out of this region of the world. I mean, Japan, South Korea, China are uniquely situated to be part of the answer to the problem of global climate change. How we engage them, particularly China, is going to be an incredibly important part of our diplomatic (inaudible).

And finally, a range of security issues. What will China be willing to do with respect to the Six-Party Talks and their bilateral relationship with North Korea? What's their perspective on Afghanistan and Pakistan where they have not only historical interests, but current commercial and security interests as well? There's a very broad security agenda to discuss with them.

Now, that doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan and Tibet and human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese are not part of the agenda either. But we pretty much know what they're going to say. We know that we're going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom, and autonomy for the Tibetans and some kind of recognition or acknowledgment of the Dalai Lama.

And we know what they're going to say, because I've had those conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders. And we know what they're going to say about Taiwan and military sales, and they know what we're going to say.

QUESTION: : So can't you just stipulate that at the beginning?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean Matt, there's a certain – I mean, look, there's a certain logic to that. I mean no – I don't mean to in any way to say that we know everything that's going to happen. But successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these issues, and we have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis. We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those.

So I think it's fair to say that I come with a full agenda. But it's also, I think, fair to say we know, kind of, what the dialogue is on these others. We don't know yet how we're going to engage on the global economic crisis and the global climate change crisis and these security issues. So if we talk more about those, it's in large measure because that's where the opportunity for engagement is. And that doesn't mean that we have any lesser concern about the need for China to be more willing to recognize and protect the human rights of people, from free speech and freedom of religion to everything else.

QUESTION: : What do you expect on North Korea?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look, yeah, I think we should let --

QUESTION: : The – I notice that you're going to go visit a church on Sunday.


QUESTION: : And when Madeleine Albright visited – Rice visited a church, but when Madeleine Albright visited a church, she actually came out and made a statement calling for religious freedom in China. Are you planning to do anything like that, or is it just going to be, kind of, just a basic church visit?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I thought I would just go to church. (Laughter.) That's kind of what I was planning to do. I've gone to church in China before. And I'm going to be there on a Sunday morning, so I thought I would go to church. I think that, first, says volumes.

QUESTION: : Right. Why don't – probably the church – I looked it up on the web, but I don't remember now. But it was one of these officially state-sanctioned churches, right? You're not –you can't really go to one of the underground churches. I mean, does that give you pause --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, without endangering people.

QUESTION: : Right, right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's the dilemma, yeah.

QUESTION: : So I think that's why Albright said something about it when she went there, because she didn't want to necessarily bless the state-sanctioned church while going to church.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me – let me think about that. I mean, my intention was just to go to church. That was what I was planning.

QUESTION: : Now, you've ruined it. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Now I'll make sure to go. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : Well, we figured --

QUESTION: : Can I – Madame, I just wanted --


QUESTION: : I wondered if I could circle back for a moment to what you started off with and how you're, sort of, defining job. I think we all had a moment in the last couple of days, watching you either on a TV show or at the women's university, when you thought this was not your ordinary Secretary of State. You have a – sort of a personal celebrity and notoriety that almost guarantees people will – the encounters you'll have will be different. They'll be sort of more personal in some ways. And I wonder whether you thought through how you use that celebrity to get a message across. And are there limits to that in places where you don't want to go, where it would become, in your view, inappropriate or that – as the nation's chief diplomat, you also can't be a rock star.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, really? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : Well, you could have sung. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: : That would have guaranteed she wouldn't be around. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a good question, Mark. I think that I see our job right now, given where we are in the world and what we've inherited, as repairing relations not only with governments, but with people. And I think President Obama has an extraordinary capacity to do that because of the really positive feeling that he personally engenders. To a lesser degree, I have some of the same capacity, which I think is useful, because we are in a time where public opinion influences governmental decisions more so than historically has been the case, even in autocratic or authoritarian regimes. And having the ability to kind of get down into the population in a way that creates receptivity toward American policy is a significant advantage.

Now, will it lead to changes in government policy? I certainly don't claim that. But I do believe that it is an asset that the President has in an extraordinary intensity, and which, I have to some extent as well. I think it's also important to send the message that, as I've said repeatedly, I'm not just interested in talking to governments. I do believe that when a person can be connected to the rest of the world with a flick of a mouse, what someone like me says and I what I do as I represent our country has the potential for influencing attitudes and even behaviors.

I don't want to oversell this, because there are some very intractable, difficult problems. But I think it is – I think it is part of our toolbox for so-called smart power to be reaching out to people in a way that is not traditional and not confined by the ministerial meeting and the staged handshake photo and – that's important. That's part of the job. But going into universities where the next generation is going to be thinking about their role and how they see the world and what they think of America, or walking in a neighborhood in Jakarta and talking about bringing clean water and healthcare thanks to the American people, that is part of the message we're trying to convey.

QUESTION: : Can I just ask a thematic question?


QUESTION: : So much of what you've been saying across the region is openness, dialogue, and soft power. But it seems like wherever we go, whether it's North Korea, Myanmar, and now even on China to some extent, that there just might not be a willingness on some of these regimes to talk to us. I mean, even Iran is – there's a real question. So looking ahead, how are you going to balance both your call for engagement, while at the same time facing the things that in the end might not want to engage on any level and could pose a real security threat?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great question. I mean, first of all, I think we change the presumption. The President and I, as he eloquently said, are willing to extend a hand if you unclench your fist. Not everybody will unclench their fist. But the message of our extended hand has impact. And so to, in effect, reverse the presumption that the United States won't talk to you because we consider you X, Y or Z, as opposed to United States will consider talking to you in return for you taking certain actions that can lead to some kind of meaningful (inaudible).

So when regimes decide that they don't want to unclench their fist, I think that puts us in a stronger position internationally. I used to say during the campaign that engaging with Iran in an appropriate way had three benefits. Number one, we might actually learn something, because there is a certain opaqueness to the decision-making within the Iranian regime. So actually being in some way involved with them could inform our own understanding of how best to continue whatever policy toward them we chose.

Secondly, something positive might actually happen. You never know. But if you stand at opposite sides of the room and refuse to engage, it's guaranteed nothing will happen. So is it worth trying? Well, I think that is certainly possible. But thirdly, it's important to be seen as the United States who carries a greater moral burden than most other countries because of who we are and what we stand for, that we are willing to reach out. So that if we do face these security threats, we have a more understanding international community that'll say, well the Obama Administration was at least trying, unlike others who said no, we're never going to talk to these people.

And I think all of that added together can change the environment. Now, does it change it a little or does it change it a lot? We don't know. We're just beginning. I think that it is also clear that some of our willingness to even talk like this has upended the calculation of some of these regimes. A lot of international diplomacy is a head game. And part of what we're trying to do is to say okay, let's figure out how we can have some kind of engagement. All of a sudden, you see this panic on the faces of some of these regimes, like oh my gosh, we can't afford to do that. Look, they might actually score points with our public, or they might in some way divide the united front that we have put out.

So this is – this is a work in progress, but I think it's a more effective approach than adopting this kind of hands-off, name-calling, under-no-circumstances attitude. We talked to the Soviet Union during the entire Cold War. I mean, I was of the generation where I was doing duck-and-cover drills to protect myself from a nuclear attack. And yet we always kept talking to them. I mean, they threatened to bury us, they insulted our leaders, they took shoes off and hit desks. We never stopped talking to them. And I don't think that was a sign of weakness. I think that was a sign of strength. And it was also a signal to likeminded people that we were not afraid of the threat that they posed.

MR. WOOD: Last question. Paul --


MR. WOOD: Last question. We have to go.

QUESTION: : I wonder if I can go back to those stubborn issues with Chinese, Taiwan and Tibet human rights. You say that there has been this situation for many years where we speak our piece, they speak their piece, maybe there's not too much progress. Do you have any ideas about how we might budge that dialogue should some of these questions be linked to economic issues where they want us to do things?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Paul, it's hard to answer that in the abstract. If we were to believe that such a linkage would result in changes in behavior, we would certainly pursue that. It matters deeply to me. Remember I made a speech about women's rights and human rights and the Chinese Government cut the broadcast. So, I mean, I've had firsthand experience with some of the reactions.

So I think we are open and we are really speaking strategies that can make a difference. But I also think it's important that we continue on the track with these other issues where we do believe and have reason to believe that there is an openness to engaging. But I think it's going to be a continuing evaluation as we go forward. I'm very outcomes-oriented. I mean, what are we going to do that can possibly create changed conditions, and how do we build on whatever incremental progress we make? And it's a constant equation about one step forward and one step to the side, how do you continue to move the agenda. And that's what we're going to try to do.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thanks, guys. We've got to go. Thank you.

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PRN: 2009/T1-22