Interview With Jill Dougherty of CNN

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The Hague, Netherlands
March 31, 2009

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QUESTION: President Obama just last week was talking about the Taliban and al-Qaida. He said that they are regenerating and they’re a threat to the United States and to its allies. And just today we had the head of the Pakistan Taliban making a threat against directly the United States, in fact, Washington, D.C. – Baitullah Mehsud saying he’s planning a terrorist attack that would “amaze the world.” What can you tell us about that? Do you know how serious it is and could the Taliban actually mount such a threat?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, remember that leaders of the Taliban are in a syndicate relationship with al-Qaida. They are allies, they depend upon one another. Al-Qaida provides planning, logistical, financial support. The Taliban provides a safe haven. So it’s a totally interconnected relationship. So what we respond to something like that is to make clear that threats like that will be dealt with. We will be obviously vigilant and prepared. But it illustrates exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Anybody who thinks we can walk away from Afghanistan and Pakistan and the border area is forgetting it happened on September 11th, 2001. I was a Senator from New York. I don’t forget. I know what these people are capable of doing. And we’ve kept them at bay and we’re going to dismantle them, disrupt and defeat them.

And I believe strongly that this new strategic review that the President ordered, which he rolled out on Friday, has garnered very broad support across the world. More and more countries, whether they’re our friends or not or whether they are on the sidelines or not, realize that the instability and the potential for terrorist action emanating out of this border area can affect the entire world. And therefore, I was pleased by the conference today because it was a strong commitment on the part of 80 nations and international organizations to the plan we’ve put forth.

QUESTION: On the Iranians, you said this afternoon the speech by the Iranian deputy foreign minister was promising. What exactly was promising specifically in that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think the emphasis on drug trafficking, which is a big concern inside Afghanistan, the way that the drug traffickers are in league with the Taliban and al-Qaida and therefore siphon off money to fund their insurgency and their terrorism. And the recognition
and the public acknowledgment by the Iranian delegation that it’s a problem for them too. A lot of those illegal drugs go right through Iran. Iran has a serious and growing problem of drug addiction. So I think the recognition and the discussion of that, in particular, is what I was referring to as promising.

QUESTION: Now, you’re talking about more civilians going to Afghanistan. How will they be protected?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are looking for the kind of cooperative relationships between our military and our civilian assets that will provide adequate physical protection for civilians. We also are talking to a number of the other countries that want to make a contribution and participate as to their ability to provide police and police trainers.

I mean, ultimately our goal is to stand up a strong, disciplined Afghan National Army and a well-functioning national police force. But until we can begin to make those transitions in some parts of the country, and it’ll be one province at a time, we will have to provide external protection through the U.S. and other means for our civilian workers.

QUESTION: And on this reconciliation, bringing members of the Taliban or al-Qaida --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Only the Taliban, we never said al-Qaida. We never said al-Qaida. We have no interest in any kind of reconciliation or any rapprochement by anyone with al-Qaida.

QUESTION: I’m glad you clarified that. On this reconciliation with the Taliban, it sounds like the Awakening Councils in Iraq. I mean, you just mentioned there’s a similarity there. The U.S. paid for that. Will the same situation apply? Would the U.S. be paying for these reconciled (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we’re not sure what the universe is. This is an area that the Afghan Government is particularly concerned about because they believe, and there is evidence that is credible, suggesting that a lot of the members of the Taliban are not hardcore convicted extremists. They’re young men who have no education, no employment prospects, nothing to do. And they get paid – the Taliban actually pays a higher rate to a young man who joins the Taliban than a young man who joins the police force.

The Japanese have just agreed to pay 80,000 police officers in Afghanistan for, I think, six months. So different countries are going to help us build up this police force. And it will be one of the ways that we will attract young men away from the Taliban. Because people think - well, they must be there for religious or nationalistic reasons. And they’re there because it’s how they put food on the table. They get paid. And therefore, we have to provide alternatives.