Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Andrea, he was so relieved and so happy to be bringing these young women home. I think it’s in a way even more personal since we have a daughter of approximately the same age. And he told me it was a very moving experience. He can’t wait to get them reunited with their families. So on the basis of the humanitarian mission, we feel very good.
But I want to be sure people don’t confuse what Bill did, which was a private humanitarian mission to bring these young women home, with our policy, which continues to be one that gives choices to North Korea. They can continue on the path they are on, or perhaps they will now be willing to start talking to us within the context of the Six-party talks about the international desire to see them denuclearized.
QUESTION: Do you think this could be a breakthrough? Your husband spent more than three hours with Kim Jong-il. He’s the highest ranking person to visit North Korea in more than a decade. Is that maybe a possible breakthrough?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we won’t know. I mean, that wasn’t the purpose of it, and it certainly is not anything we’re counting on because the Obama Administration has to deal with North Korea going forward. But I hope that North Korea makes the right choice. I hope they realize that we’re sincere in our offer to have a different relationship with them if they are willing to move toward full and verifiable denuclearization. And I think the entire world would welcome that change on their part.
QUESTION: It is very clear from all of the reporting, from briefings we’ve had from other senior officials, that there was an understanding that if President Clinton went, these women would likely be released. So there were talks between the United States and North Korea. That’s a step.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we do have some channels to talk with North Korea. And as the background briefing you received from high Administration officials made clear overnight, when the message came to us from the young women themselves to their families, to former Vice President Gore, and then to the Administration, that sending my husband would be the best way to ensure their release, of course, we took that very seriously and discussed it. The White House reached out, as they said, to my husband to ask him if he would be willing to do that. There were briefings about it.
But in order to manage the logistics of it, it did require communication with channels representing the North Korean Government. That’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that something like that happened. But we would like to see our conversations back in a broader context where we can be exploring ways to end North Korea’s isolation by denuclearizing the peninsula and providing assistance, and then steps toward normalization.
QUESTION: Clearly, you and Bill Clinton, your husband, had conversations. You have been very successful in the first six months keeping your role very separate from his despite all of the suggestions beforehand that there would be mixed messages and signals. What about the fact that he was taking on this role? Did you have any doubts there’d be a downside, that it would either confuse the Secretary of State and the former President, or send too important a signal of respect to North Korea at a time when they have been behaving very badly?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Ever since the two young women were arrested and especially since their trial – which ended in sentences of 12 years in labor camps – I, President Obama, our entire team, have been committed to doing what we could to try to get them home. And when the word came that this would get that done, I was very much in favor of it because I wanted to see Euna and Laura returned.
Again, I’m sure that I was thinking about it in part as the mother of a daughter, an adventurous daughter who goes around the world and goes places I never went at her age. And I think the fact that my husband was willing to do it and made it very clear it was a private humanitarian mission shouldn’t confuse anyone. Our policy remains the same. We’ve made it clear as to what the options are to North Korea, and it’s up to them, after their consideration, what they intend to do.
QUESTION: You speak of yourself as a mother. You referred not too long ago to the mother in you that reminds you of small children and unruly teenagers demanding attention – this in reference to the way North Korea has been behaving. They in response said, “We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady, as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Those are mixed metaphors. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s a big change from Bill Clinton being greeted by a schoolchild with flowers at Pyongyang airport and having a long dinner with Kim Jong-il.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But I think it illustrates that our position in the Obama Administration is very clear. We obviously are concerned by these provocative actions that North Korea engaged in. We were very pleased that we obtained unanimous support for the toughest consequences and sanctions to be imposed on North Korea.
So our diplomacy, our engagement with our partners in the Six-Party Talks and with the UN are where we are putting our energy. At the same time, we were deeply concerned about the future of these two young women, and I’m very pleased that we finally can see them coming home safely. But our policy is in no way affected by this humanitarian mission.
QUESTION: You have three Americans, including journalists, now in Iran, with the possibility of very serious charges there, and it’s not (inaudible) coming from the Iranian regime. Is there a possibility of a high-level envoy, even possibly Bill Clinton, to try to get them out?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s premature. Remember that the message from the young women to their families and Vice President Gore and then to my husband and to the White House and me was a request, in effect. Right, now, we’re just trying to find out the status of our three missing Americans.
QUESTION: What do you mean --?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we don’t know much. We didn’t even know until recently that they were in official custody. I had called for the Iranians to let us know. I mean, young people being held by some nongovernmental or disaffected or totally unrelated group or the government. And now we know that they’re in the custody of the Iranian Government.
So we are looking to our friends, the Swiss, to try to find out for us. I think I also want to thank the Swedish ambassador and his team in Pyongyang. They were our contacts. They were the ones that got to see Laura and Euna. But I also want to emphasize, Andrea, please, please don’t go near borders of hostile countries. This is something that countries are looking for. And you don’t have to get very far away from some of these borders to be picked up by their border patrols and their security forces. It’s regrettable that this has happened again, and I really want – I mean, go hiking, have a great time, do journalism, but stay away from those borders. Do not put yourself in these positions where you can end up in prison in a country like Iran or North Korea.
QUESTION: President Ahmadinejad has taken office today, with very hostile remarks for the West, people (inaudible) crackdown (inaudible). (Inaudible) work with now? Does the United States have to deal with Ahmadinejad? He is the leader. And despite the protests (inaudible) the regime, (inaudible) the only (inaudible) town, he and the clerical supporters that he still has?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s no doubt that he took office today and was inaugurated again as president. But there’s also no doubt that there continues to be a lot of foment and ferment within Iran itself, many people who are very bravely pursuing a reform agenda. We want to make it clear that the Iranians who are seeking their rights deserve to be heard and responded to by their government.
There are certain issues, however, as you well know where the United States and other countries have to deal with the government that is there. So it certainly is unfortunate that there was such a crackdown on legitimate protest and questions about the irregularity of the election. But now we do find ourselves having to deal with the government that has taken office.
QUESTION: But there are time limits, and we need a response from Iran by September, October, by this fall, or else will lead to sanctions as tough as sanctions on gasoline and refined products that they really desperately need?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The President has said that we want some sign by the fall, September, as to whether or not there is going to be any bilateral engagement between us and Iran, and that we would not have an open-ended opportunity awaiting the Iranian Government. They would have to decide whether they want to pursue the possibility, and they’d have to be willing to do it on an expedited basis. Simultaneously, we have begun exploring with our allies what kind of additional action, including tougher sanctions, would be available. Because it would be better if we’re going to try to send a message to Iran that the actions be as broad as possible, as they now are with North Korea., but I’m not going to preview or comment on anything that might be in such a sanctions package.
But also remember, too, that there are incentives for Iran. Iran deciding that it will abide by obligations they’ve already agreed to, that it will not pursue a nuclear weapons program, that it will agree to international safeguards and inspections concerning a peaceful civil nuclear program, carries with it some benefits. So it’s not just the sanctions side. I want to make it clear that we are prepared, if we are entering into a serious negotiation with the Iranians, talk about what’s in it for them. Obviously, we care deeply about the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran poses, not only to the region but beyond, and an arms race that it would definitely trigger, but it is also in Iran’s interest to (inaudible) closer (inaudible) to international acceptability.
QUESTION: What do you say to critics who think the Administration has not been (inaudible) enough, not tough enough on the regime and its crackdown on demonstrators, and that we really let these people down?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t see it that way. I think that it was very important that we not look like we were too eager then to be involved in any way. This was an internal matter. It took the world by surprise to see the uprising of discontent and demands coming from the Iranian people. We didn’t want the government to be able to (inaudible) and say, oh, well, this is all because of the United States, look at what they’re saying.
At the same time, we wanted to be very clear – and I think both the President and I were – that we thought the actions by the Iranian authorities cracking down on dissent, imprisoning people, distinguished people – clerics, political and business leaders, deporting journalists, the kind of crackdown on information technology was absolutely appalling. We made that clear. We said it repeatedly.
And I think that the people inside Iran know that we were trying to walk a delicate line for them, that this story is about them, it’s not about us and our rhetorical flourishes; it was about the courage of the people in the streets in Iran, it’s about the continuing fight that the reformists are waging, it’s about a hundred people standing trial in a show trial in Tehran. Those are the people who need to be given attention and support.
QUESTION: Here on this trip, you’re going to be commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Embassy bombing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: And there are reports that there is an increasing al-Qaida presence in the Horn of Africa. How great a concern is there (inaudible) is anything more United States can do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, terrorism remains our number one security threat and concern. I had very long discussion today with the president, prime minister, vice president, other ministers in the Kenyan Government about Somalia, about the threat posed by the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The Horn in Africa is a strategic location, important to Africa, important as we’ve seen in the piracy challenge to global trade. We remain vigilant and we remain focused on what we can do to assist other countries in dealing with the threat of terrorism.
I think that there is no doubt that the terrorists, particularly al-Qaida, have suffered some setbacks. Their financing is not what it once was. They don’t have the freedom of movement. And as we just saw a few weeks ago in Jakarta, they are part of a syndicate of terror. And they, unfortunately, have people on every continent who are prepared to commit violence.
But I’m in Africa, in large measure, to emphasize the President’s message in Ghana, a message of responsibility, a message that good governance, transparency, accountability are essential ingredients for economic growth and prosperity, and to visit (inaudible) here in Kenya that hold both promise and problems, and to look for ways that the United States can be a more effective partner.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the message about the problem of corruption and how it feeds into poverty and keeps people in a terrible situation.
SECRETARY CLINTON: You can’t (inaudible), Andrea, because it’s tragic. Corruption makes doing business more expensive. It deprives people of their (inaudible) democracy, where they believe their voice counts and they are equal to anyone else in the society. It is an impediment to African development. Some good steps are being taken in some parts of Africa, but so much more needs to be done. And we want to both deliver a strong message about that, but also offer help and assistance.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Madame Secretary. Good to talk to you.