Interview With Mark Mardell of BBC

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
March 6, 2009

QUESTION: I’ve been asked to start off with the meeting. So what did you – what – I mean, I could say it’s good PR. Do you get anything from this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I get a lot. The meetings that I’ve had here in Brussels starting with a wonderful dinner hosted by the Belgians of both NATO and EU members was a freewheeling discussion. I was thrilled that it covered a broad range of global issues. People expressed opinions. There was a variety of views around the table.

I thought the NATO ministerial yesterday resulted in two very important outcomes: the NATO-Russia Council being put back into use for a forum that we can, I hope, take advantage of in our many discussions with Russia about where we disagree and agree, and coming up with a big tent approach to Afghanistan that many of the Europeans have been very supportive of.

It was a thrill to be talking to the next generation of young Europeans because after all that’s what we all should be thinking about when we do this work. What is it going to mean for the future of these young people who have so much promise and potential? Are we going to make it better for them or are we going to mess it up? I’m going to try to do my part to make it better.

QUESTION: And one striking example of the open hand policy is asking Iran to a conference on Afghanistan. Have you had a reply?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No because we just floated the idea, which was well-received yesterday at NATO. We don’t yet have a time or a place. We’re just beginning to put that together. But we are reaching out to nations that are not just in NATO or in ISAF, which is the expanded contributors to the military effort in Afghanistan, but countries that have regional, strategic, transit interests – international donor countries. There are so many other countries who have a stake in Afghanistan being stable. Iran borders Afghanistan. Iran --

QUESTION: Do you expect them to help?

SECRETARY CLINTON: They were helpful early on in our efforts in Afghanistan. There were almost daily contacts, a little known fact, between our Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan. They literally met practically every day to talk through what they could do together. Remember that the Taliban was viewed as one of Iran’s adversaries. We sometimes lose track of the complex relationships that exist. So we will invite them. Whether they come is up to them.

QUESTION: Now you’re meeting your Russian counterpart later today. Is this the beginning of a new relationship with Russia? Because things have been pretty sticky recently haven’t they?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to press the reset button, as Vice President Biden famously said at the Munich conference. I will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We have a long list on both sides of matters that we’re going to try to seek some areas of cooperation – our efforts against terrorism, our efforts on behalf of arms control and nonproliferation, discuss areas where we think that we’ve got to understand each other better and try to eliminate the friction – energy security, climate change, things like that.

But there are areas where we just flat out disagree, and we’re not going to paper those over. We will not recognize the breakaway areas of Georgia. We do not recognize any sphere of influence on the part of Russia and their having some kind of veto power over who can join the EU or who can join NATO.

Yes, we run the gamut of areas where we believe we have the same interests, areas where we are diametrically opposed. We want to move as many of the areas of agreement into action items. We want to try to better understand whether there are ways to deal with the disagreements.

QUESTION: But what about the idea of putting missiles on Czech and Polish soil? That’s obviously a very big source of disagreement. How can you persuade the Russians of your argument that they are not aimed at them? I mean, missiles don’t have labels on them saying “Do not deliver to Russia.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are defensive weapons. That’s part of what missile defense is all about. And the Russians actually offered to work with the United States on a joint production of missile defense capacity. We feel very strongly that the threat comes toward Europe not from Russia in terms of missiles, but from Iran and maybe networks of terrorists. We’re going to make that argument and I think there is a growing receptivity on the part of the Russians because it is clear in what we have been saying and doing that we want to open up this process to them.

We would love for them to be partners with us in trying to create a 21st century deterrent that would include Russia vis-à-vis the threat of longer-range missiles.

QUESTION: I’m not sure where your open hand policy leads. Clearly, listening impresses people, people like being consulted, but does it lead to a different sort of American foreign policy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it already has. I think that the reaction that I have received here in Europe is wiping away a lot of the both misunderstandings and very difficult discussions that we had with our European friends.

QUESTION: There’s already a different relationship.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Very different. There’s an openness. Nobody’s editing their words or worrying about the impact that saying, “Well, I don’t agree with that” might have. I have invited that kind of debate. I don’t think that you get the best out of friends and partners by trying to direct the debate and saying this is what we believe and you’d better believe it. That’s not going to work.

QUESTION: But the aim of American foreign policy remains the same, doesn’t it? You’re talking about different methods rather than --

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I don’t think so. Take what we were just speaking about. I think there was a rather confrontational approach toward Russia in the prior administration. How much that contributed to Russian behavior, I think, is a legitimate question to ask.

Now we don’t expect because we’re consulting, we’re listening, we’re putting forth a new approach on engaging with difficult problems like Iran, that everybody is going to agree with us.

But we think we maximize the chance of reaching positions that are mutually in our interests.

Foreign policy is not about being nice and expecting people to agree with you. It is about making common cause, making the arguments, enlisting the positions of friend and foe alike, and then trying to find that common ground.

I think you’ll see us doing more and more of that.

QUESTION: Finally, there’s always a discussion in Europe about whether America wants, as Kissinger famously put it, one phone number that it can ring up to get Europe’s views, or whether you’d rather deal with the leaders of other various countries. I mean, are you – do you support the idea of a Lisbon Treaty, that there should be a single person in charge of the council, maybe Tony Blair, to talk about foreign affairs?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Our view is that we’re going to do both. We’re going to deal with Europe however Europe decides to organize itself. That’s up to the Europeans, of course. We’re going to deal bilaterally because there are specific issues that we might have with one member nation that we wouldn’t have with everyone else. I see no contradiction. Obviously it’s more complex, it’s more time-consuming – but I don’t shy away from that.

I think that it’s part of our responsibility to be as engaged as we can in dealing with both individual countries and multilateral institutions that have formed themselves into a voice, because we don’t pick that. That’s not our choice. That is your choice.

It is clear that whether we’re talking – let’s take energy security. To me, a common European energy security policy is in the interest of European nations. We would like to promote that. What Europe decides to do is up to Europe. You’ve been farther ahead on climate change. Some of your member nations have been less willing to go along. Our country hasn’t, up until now, gone along at all. We learn from everybody’s experience as I think it’s a fruitful and productive constant back and forth that will lead to the best conclusions.

QUESTION: Can Tony Blair make a good Mr. Europe?

SECRETARY CLINTON: He’s a dear friend of mine and I have been working closely with him in his current position of the Quartet representative to the Middle East. He’s got his hands full there so I’ll let the future unfold however it does.

QUESTION: Secretary of State, thank you very much indeed.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. My pleasure.

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PRN: 2009/T2-13