Interview With Harry Smith of Face the Nation

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
New York, NY
September 25, 2009

MR. SMITH: Madame Secretary, thank you so much.


MR. SMITH: The President said, about this secret facility that's been uncovered in Iran, that it is inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program. What does the United States think this secret facility is for?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we believe that it is a covert facility designed for the Iranian enrichment. It has not been disclosed, and therefore, it raises additional suspicions about the Iranian intent regarding their nuclear program and this week we had several very important developments. First, we had, in this room, a bilateral meeting with President Medvedev and President Obama. And in a very small setting where -- I was there -- the President talked with great specificity with President Medvedev about the dual track that we are on regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and the upcoming meeting on October 1st and opened the discussion about the information that we had concerning this facility.

MR. SMITH: So he told President Medvedev?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, yes. And what we -- also saw happen later that day was an agreement by all the members of the so-called P5 + 1: the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China, all in agreement, saying that we expected answers from Iran in the October 1st meeting, and that we are working on what's called a dual track.

We are pursuing the answers. We have made it clear to Iran that they have a right to peaceful nuclear energy for civilian purposes under appropriate safeguards and monitoring, but not to a nuclear weapons program. And if we don't get the answers that we are expecting, and the changes in behavior that we are looking for, then we will work with our partners to move for sanctions.

MR. SMITH: You talked this summer about if -- if diplomacy failed, you called the sanctions "crippling sanctions” would be in order. What would those be?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Harry, we're exploring how you broaden and deepen sanctions. Now, sanctions are already in place. But, like many sanction regimes, they're leaky. But in the last eight months since we’ve been dealing with North Korea on a similar set of issues, we have forged an international consensus around very tough sanctions and that’s given us some additional information about how to proceed on the Iranian front.

But this is a very serious matter. The Russians have come out with a strong statement, saying that the burden has now shifted. It has shifted to Iran. They have to come to this meeting on October 1st and present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program. We don't believe that they can present convincing evidence that it's only for peaceful purposes. But we are going to put them to the test on October 1st.

MR. SMITH: They have managed to hide a nuclear weapons development system for almost 20 years. Do you suspect that this is for other peaceful purposes because they have insisted for the last half dozen years or so that the only reason that they are interested in enriching uranium is for nuclear power, for electricity?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it certainly is hard to accept that at face value. This latest incident concerning the facility at Qum, it would have been disclosed were it for peaceful purposes. There would have already been IAEA inspections.

We have been following this for several years, in cooperation with some of our international partners, watching and assessing what the Iranians were doing. And then, when this became known -- actually, through the Iranians, beginning to provide some information about it -- we disclosed the fact and gave the information we had to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So, I guess one has to ask, if it's for peaceful purposes, why was it not public? Why was the fact of it not generally known, instead of through our working with partners to discover it --

MR. SMITH: Because the IAEA guidelines basically dictate that if you’re even going to do anything like this you have to send us your plans --

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's right. That is exactly right. And of course, as you point out rightly, there have been many other actions along the way that raise similar doubts.

Now, the Iranians keep insisting, "No, no, this is just for peaceful purposes." Well, I think. as the Russians said in their statement, and as we believe, and what this meeting on October 1st is to test is "Fine. Prove it. Don't assert it, prove it." And we are looking to see what they have to say.

MR. SMITH: You keep talking about the Russians, and it's interesting, because President Medvedev almost did cartwheels once the President announced that the radar shields were not to be constructed in the Czech Republic and the missile systems weren’t to be constructed in Poland.

Do you really have -- is Russia really in tune with the United States on this? Because they have made verbal statements in the past, and then when it comes time to have the rubber meet the road, so to speak, they haven't been there. Will they really be there this time?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think Russia has begun to see many more indications that Iran is engaging in threatening behavior. Certainly these last incidents seem to confirm that. And, finally, the Russians were very supportive of our sanctions against North Korea. President Medvedev said in this room that sanctions may not be preferable, but they may be inevitable.

So, I think this is what diplomacy and engagement is about. We are doing what we think is right for the United States. The missile defense decision, the Iranian process, this is in the interest of our people, our security, our safety, and our friends’ and allies'. But we also believe that, in working closely with Russia, sharing information, that they have been quite helpful this past week.

MR. SMITH: Is there anything the Iranians can do in this meeting on October 1st to dissuade you from what you believe they're up to? What can they say in this meeting to say, "All we're trying to do is make electricity."

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they can't say anything, because they've said that for years. But they can open up their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for.

MR. SMITH: Is that the only thing the U.S. and the other nations that will be there, is that the only thing that you’ll be satisfied with? If they completely open the doors?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have to be satisfied. And there may be other approaches short of that. But, you know, I think it's really essential that we satisfy ourselves and the international community, which has passed numerous resolutions against Iran's program, pointing out that they are violating UN and IAEA obligations and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So words are not enough. They are going to have to come and demonstrate clearly to the international community what they're up to.

MR. SMITH: Finally, in a region, in a nation that has known some instability over the last couple of months, what do you think this means in light of that as a backdrop?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Harry, that's a really important question, because we know that there has been instability. It’s not just what we see on the television screen but what is reported to us. But we are dealing with the government that is there. We encourage the free expression of ideas and political choices, but this nuclear program really is the core of our concern right now. And we are very urgently pursuing the engagement strategy that the President talked about while simultaneously working to get the kind of very tough sanctions that may well have to be imposed.

MR. SMITH: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a couple of minutes. General McChrystal made his report to President Obama. One of the things he says is there is a year window in which the United States has to act in order to ensure that the insurgency doesn’t basically take over the country. Do you agree with that assesment?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me just put General McChrystal’s report into a broader context, because it doesn't stand alone. It is part of a process. And let's look at what we have done during the last nine months under President Obama's leadership.

We inherited a situation. We didn't reject it out of hand, we didn't accept it out of hand. We engaged in a very thorough review. We reached some critical decisions, including looking at both Afghanistan and Pakistan together because, of course, the threat goes back and forth, across the borders.

We also reaffirmed our commitment to going after al-Qaeda to dismantling, defeating them. We believe -- and we have seen this, just this week here in New York -- we believe that al-Qaeda poses a direct threat to the United States, to friends and allies throughout the world. So, we are very clear about our mission. Our mission is to protect the United States and to protect our friends and allies, and to go after the scourge of al-Qaeda and related extremist groups.

Now, the decision that was made to add troops in the Spring has not even been fully implemented yet. You know, you don't get up and just deploy the 82nd airborne, and they get there the next day. We are only now reaching the deployment cycle.

We also know that going hand to hand with our military strategy was our civilian strategy, a much more focused effort, a much more accountable one, dealing with the government of Afghanistan. So we not only saw the change of commanders in the military, we saw a change in our ambassador, and a beefing up of the embassy in Kabul.

At the same time, Afghanistan is going through an election. And this is not like an election in Western Europe or in the United States. To carry out an election in these circumstances was going to be difficult under any conditions. It's not over yet. We have to wait until it is resolved -- hopefully very soon -- then make a new commitment about how we're going to meet our strategic goals. And it’s going to be up to the President to determine how best to achieve that.
So, General McChrystal, the new commander was asked for his assessment, there is other input that is coming throughout the government that the President will take on board. But I think we ought to look at it in context.

MR. SMITH: There is growing discontent about sending more troops into Afghanistan. And one of the issues is the Karzai government, which is corrupt at least, and may, in fact, have tried to steal this most recent election. Is it worth American blood to help support a regime like that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with all respect, we're doing this for the United States. We are doing this because we think that a return to a safe haven in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda, with Taliban elements associated with al-Qaeda for the same purpose, to basically run a syndicate of terror out of either Afghanistan or the border regime is something we cannot tolerate. And you know, we have to recognize that this was always going to be a challenge.

Now, having said that, does the Karzai government, or whoever is the next president, have to do more to fulfill the needs of the Afghan people, to understand what is expected for the rule of law, transparency, accountability? Absolutely.

But, again, we inherited a situation with a set of expectations and behaviors that we have gone about attempting to influence and change. And one of my highest priorities is, once this election is finalized, to work with our entire civilian team, with Special Representative Holbrooke, with Ambassador Eikenberry, and everyone else, to really impress upon the new government what is expected of them.

But let's not forget, Harry, this is about us, sitting right here in New York. This is about making sure that we've got the intelligence and the capacity to interrupt potential attacks, that we try to continue our efforts to destroy al-Qaeda that are, unfortunately, still to this day, attempting to kill and destroy Americans and others

MR. SMITH: Najibullah Zazi went to Pakistan to the border areas in order to get bomb training. Is Pakistan doing enough to clean up its own house?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look at, again, what has happened in the last nine months. Pakistan has increased its commitment in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda --

MR. SMITH: They were successful in the Swat valley.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely successful. A lot of people thought that would never happen. I believed that if we engaged very intensively with our Pakistani friends -- and we did, through meetings in Washington and in Islamabad -- if we shared information, we listened to each other, that there would be a decision by the civilian and military leadership that the threat was directed at them, that it could undermine their government. In fact, it will lead to very dangerous consequences, in terms of the survivability of the state in many parts of the country.

So, yes, have they taken action? Absolutely.

MR. SMITH: Have they done enough is the question?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know, we are always working for more. As I just finished saying, we are not satisfied with anything. This is not a check box kind of experience where "We're done with that, we're done with that."

But look at what has been accomplished, and I think that we will continue to see a very close coordination. But it is important for Americans to understand that focusing on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who are largely -- but not exclusively -- now in Pakistan, cannot be done if we allow them to return to a safe haven in Afghanistan. So, this has to be viewed as part of the overall strategy.

MR. SMITH: Madame Secretary, well thank you so much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, Harry. It’s always good to talk to you.

PRN: 2009/T12-31