Interview With Randa Aboul Azem of Al Arabiya

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
March 2, 2009

QUESTION: Welcome with us in Al Arabiya television.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be with you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Of course, it’s been a very long day and a hectic day, but on the Gaza reconstruction conference, it is ironic that the whole world is trying to fix what Israel has been – has destroyed, actually - without blaming Israel and without getting guarantees that this will not be happening again. So what kind of guarantees are you having, or can you pursue any efforts or pressure on Israel in order to stop this vicious circle?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a very difficult question, because, of course, the rocket attacks haven’t stopped. And that is something which any nation must respond to. The rocket attacks, we thought, would end, and Egypt has worked so hard to create a durable ceasefire. But in the last several days, there have been 15, 18 more rocket attacks. And I think about what I would do in my country if rockets were coming across and threatening and scaring the people of my town or my state or my country. And you can’t, as a nation, let that go unanswered. It is our hope that the rocket attacks will stop, because clearly Israel will have to respond if they don’t stop.

And enough with the suffering. The Palestinian people deserve better than that. We call today on Hamas to work to try to help build up the Palestinian people instead of firing the rockets at Israel.

QUESTION: But Prime Minister Olmert backed down on his agreement with a truce just hours before it was supposed to take place. So, I mean, it’s the Israelis’ role as well here.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that there were negotiations going on about the truce, and certainly, it is very important to the Israelis that their soldier be returned. The talking can continue, and to try to resolve it. And I have certainly said that we need to provide humanitarian relief, and that’s something that we will be talking to the Israelis about. But it’s very difficult to do this while the rockets continue, because it is something that, as a necessity of national defense, you cannot let go unanswered.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. position toward settlements?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The U.S. position has been consistent over a number of presidencies that settlement activity is not helpful, that there needs to be an evaluation of that on the part of the Israelis.

QUESTION: Okay. There is a new interim government – a Palestinian interim government that’s supposed to take place, or to – I mean, to be formulated. If Hamas is part of this government, will the U.S. be dealing with it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s really up to Hamas, because as we heard today, there are several principles that have been adopted. The Quartet - which consists of the United Nations, the European Union, the Russians, and the United States - the Arab League, which, of course, Egypt is a member of, have adopted the same principles that Hamas should renounce violence, recognize Israel, and comply with all previous PLO agreements. If Hamas does that, then there is a united Palestinian government that everyone will be able to deal with.

QUESTION: Okay. A new Israeli cabinet also is taking place, or a new government, and it has been described here as (inaudible) government, and we know that Avidgor Lieberman is part of it. He has made statements before wanting to bomb the High Dam using the nuclear bomb. So what is your position?

It is viewed that there is a double standard in dealing in nuclear weapons with Israel and with the rest of the Middle East.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The nuclear weapon issue is such a serious issue that I don’t think intemperate remarks of any kind from anybody should detract from the importance of us dealing with the very real threat that nuclear weapons poses. The United States will work with friends and allies - like Egypt, other Gulf States, Jordan - to try to figure out how to control the kind of threat that nuclear weapons poses.

QUESTION: Okay. What if Israel attacks Iran? What will the United States position be?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What we have said is that we are willing to engage with Iran. In his inaugural address, President Obama said that we will extend a hand if you unclench your fist. And so the United States, after consulting with our friends and allies like Egypt, is willing to discuss with Iran areas of disagreement.

But Iran has to be willing to recognize that the nations in the area, not the United States – we don’t live in this neighborhood, we’re trying to be a good partner – but Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and so many other Arab countries, are very worried about the conduct of Iran. And so what we’re trying to do is - in consultation with our friends and allies - create a situation where perhaps we could deal with some of these challenges that Iran poses.

QUESTION: On another issue, the State Department issued a report about criticizing the human rights record of Egypt. And what kind of – in order for Egypt to enhance its record, what do you recommend or ask Egypt to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We issue these reports on every country. We consider Egypt to be a friend and we engage in very forthright conversations with our friends. And so we hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered, that we all have room for improvement. The United States, as you have seen under our new President, is moving to remedy some of the problems that we have had. We view human rights as very important. It’s central to our value system and to our foreign policy, and so we want to enlist others to make progress.

QUESTION: Is this file, by any chance, connected to the invitation – extended invitation – for President Mubarak to visit the United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. It’s an annual report. It is not in any way connected. We look forward to President Mubarak coming as soon as his schedule would permit. I had a wonderful time with him this morning. I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.

QUESTION: How do you view the presidency in Egypt, the future of the presidency in Egypt?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s for the people of Egypt to decide. That is a very important issue that really is up to Egyptians.

QUESTION: My last question is about Iraq. And President Obama has announced that there is a withdrawal – a partial withdrawal of the U.S. troops by the year 2010. There is fear that Iran will fill that gap. Do you share the same fear?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t, and here’s why. I think the Iraqi people are very committed to their nation. We have seen the leaders of Iraq stand up for their own elections, stand up for their own rights as a nation. And so we are very supportive of Iraq being for Iraqis. Now, other countries will certainly interact with the Iraqis. We will. Others will in the region. But I see a very strong sense of national identity in Iraq. And as we withdraw our troops, we will work with the Iraqi army so that they will be able to defend their country, and we will work with the Iraqi Government on a range of issues that they wish to have help from us on.

QUESTION: You don’t fear any Iranian interference?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, do I think that they will try to interfere? Of course. I think that is part of the historical record. But I think that the Iraqis have demonstrated over the last couple of years that they’re going to stand up for Iraq; that they are proud of their new democracy.
These elections that were just held were very contested, and a lot of the religious parties and the Iranian-backed parties did not do well. People are anxious to have results. They don’t want to hear a lecture; they want to have the electricity. They’re not interested in ideology; they want a job. So I think that as the Iraqi people demand from their government these kinds of results, they will be more interested in defending Iraq than in being influenced by anyone else.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, we’re running out of time, but I’d like to thank you very much, Madame Secretary. And I will do that in Arabic. (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

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PRN: 2009/T2-3