Interview With Jim Sciutto of ABC

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Islamabad, Pakistan
October 30, 2009

QUESTION: Okay. So first off, the reaction in Pakistan to your comments yesterday – a little bit of shock, some anger. Though we know this has been the opinion of the U.S. intelligence community for some time, these are blunt things for America’s top diplomat to say. Was this an intentional message to the Pakistani Government to take on al-Qaida more directly, or was this the result of frustration after what you’ve heard here these last few days?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it really was neither. It was part of the larger context of what my trip is about. I knew before I came, because I’ve been following this closely, that there was a lot of mistrust of the United States, of our intentions and our actions, coming out of the last eight years that had not been erased overnight because we elected a new president, even one who’s as popular as President Obama is here in Pakistan.

Yet I also believe that the relationship between our two countries is so critical – it’s critical for each of our security, it’s critical for our long-term strategic possibilities. And therefore, I wanted to spend three days, and I wanted to put myself in as many different settings as possible. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve answered all kinds of questions from the Pakistani press and the Pakistani public about their concerns, their fears about what we are up to.

But I wanted it to be clear that trust is a two-way street. There is a trust deficit. And when we arrested somebody, like we did recently, Zazi, who was trained in Pakistan at a training camp by al-Qaida, it’s not just our intelligence service or our government. The American people say, “Well, wait a minute, what’s going on here?”

But in the context of what’s happening now in Pakistan, I think it is an appropriate time to say, we applaud your resolve; you’re going after the Pakistan Taliban; you’ve gone after them in Swat successfully; you’re now going after them in South Waziristan. This is an incredibly important campaign, and the military sacrifice and the democratic government support is making a big difference.

But let’s remember that the Pakistan Taliban is part of a terrorist syndicate that is directed, funded, inspired by al-Qaida. And it will not be sufficient to achieve the level of security the Pakistanis deserve if we don’t go after those who are still threatening not only Pakistan, but Afghanistan and the rest of the world. And we wanted to put that on the table, and I think it was important that we did.

QUESTION: So it sounds like this was an intentional message.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s part of this relationship that I want to see develop where we have built up – we build up more trust because we don’t paper over the questions. They’re free to ask me about the Kerry-Lugar legislation, why it said the things it said, and I do my best to respond. But I want to have the kind of relationship where we really are talking honestly about everything between us, because there’s just too much at stake.

QUESTION: Do you believe the Pakistani Government is, in effect, harboring terrorists? Or is your message that they’re not being aggressive enough in seeking them out?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think that they are. I think that they have gone after the enemies who most directly threaten them, and I understand that priority. I mean, I think any country would do the same. But I think it would be a missed opportunity and a lack of recognition of the full extent of the threat if they did not realize that any safe haven anywhere for terrorists threatens them, threatens us, and has to be addressed. Let’s do what needs to be done – first at hand, go after those who are most directly threatening the state institutions and killing innocent people, like just happened in Peshawar. But then let’s turn around and together go after those who are still behind this terrorist syndicate.

QUESTION: You’ve heard animosity here. You’ve heard real doubts about America’s intentions. You’ve heard conspiracy theories. These are familiar points of view in this part of the world. Is this a result of the mountain America still has to climb in terms of its public image that existed already, or are you – is the U.S. having a fundamental problem getting its message out?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that we haven’t done as good a job as I wish we had in the past, having the kind of public diplomacy, people-to-people connection, and the sensitivity that comes with listening and consulting with people as opposed to just stating our opinion and kind of saying take it or leave it. I don’t think that’s always the best way to communicate.

But in the 21st century, it’s a losing proposition. We’re not living in a time where you just talk government to government and expect everything to be taken care of. We’re living in a time where people have access to mountains of information, and if we don’t take that into account in our diplomacy and in our interactions with other countries and people, we’re not going to be as effective in communicating as I would like to see us.

So inheriting what we inherited, which you know very well was a lot of unfortunate feelings and attitudes that had been built up in people toward our country, we’re going at it sort of one by one. And part of the way I define my job is not just being confined to the government offices, but getting out into countries, listening to people. Again, I’m not going to satisfy every question that they have right off the bat; there’s just too much baggage that we’re carrying. But I’m going to keep trying, and I want, at least, people to go away saying, “Well, no American official has ever come and listened to us like this. They haven’t been willing to entertain that we had some concerns.”

And I have acknowledged that we’ve made mistakes, and I have no problem acknowledging that. I think it’s only fair. But I want to move beyond that. I don’t think we can have the kind of civilian and military, development and security relationship that we want to have unless we clear the air.

QUESTION: I want to talk about Afghanistan. I’ve just come here from there. And you’re aware this has been a very bad week.


QUESTION: And each of those attacks symbolic of wider challenges here – the danger of IEDs, the vulnerability of the capital, Kabul. In your view, does the U.S. need a significant infusion of troops and a change in counterterrorist strategy, counterinsurgency strategy, in Afghanistan to stop from losing this war?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to preempt the President’s decision. He has to make the decision about troop levels and the like. But let me just say this: No one should doubt our resolve. We are committed to going after the Taliban, and we are committed to working with the Afghan people and their government, both nationally and locally, to help them develop the capacity to protect themselves from this threat. Because we know – talking about public opinion – the people of Afghanistan do not want the Taliban back, but they do want security and they do want services that give them a chance to have a better and different future. And so we have to have an integrated civilian-military strategy, which is what the President announced back in March.

But at the time, he said, “We will reevaluate how we’re doing and where we’re going once the Afghan election is over.” And as you know, it’s not yet over, but hopefully soon will be, because our resolve is just as firm as ever. But let’s be honest, we have to take a hard look at how we are operationalizing our strategy on both the civilian and the military front. We’ve made some very important changes looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, integrating the civilian and military, appointing a special representative for both – Ambassador Holbrooke. We’ve sent a message that it’s not going to be just a repeat of the same old approach. We’re trying some different things, and when the President makes his decision, I think that will be evident.

QUESTION: In a word, is the U.S. losing the war in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I don’t think so. But I do think that, as not only General McChrystal, but others have said, the Taliban has some momentum because it is easy to blow up things. Unfortunately, as we have seen in too many places over the last years, a very few people who are willing to die can do a lot of damage and take lives and property with them. And so what we have here is a dedicated band of people who are committed to trying to reverse the gains that the people of Afghanistan have made. I mean, you’ve seen it – I mean, more people going to school, particularly girls, more opportunities for people. There’s a lot of good things that have happened in the last eight years.

But we have to have a commitment from the international community matched by a commitment from the government and people of Afghanistan in order to turn the tables on the Taliban, to make sure that the people of Afghanistan are not intimidated into accepting their reign of terror.

QUESTION: Briefly on Iran, Iran it looks like, has now gone back on an agreement that its negotiators made in Geneva. Is that nuclear fuel transfer deal dead, in your view? And what does it mean? Does it mean a reassessment is necessary for the Administration’s reengagement policy with Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jim, it’s not dead yet, because we have a solid, unified international community. And working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, we’re trying to clarify exactly what Iran will or will not do. I think the important story is that there’s absolute unity among all of us – the United Kingdom, obviously France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States, European Union – and we’re putting Iran to the test. They said they would agree in principle; let’s see if they will deliver.

QUESTION: Changing topic for a moment, David Plouffe’s book mentions a story about your potential selection as Obama’s vice president. Do you believe, as he says in his book, that your husband lost you that job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I have no idea. But I really am satisfied and happy to be doing what I’m doing, and I think Joe Biden’s doing a great job as Vice President. I’m not somebody who looks backwards; I look forward, and I’m very proud to be representing both President Obama and my country.

QUESTION: I want to ask you personally about your trip here. You mentioned in recent days how your daughter studied Islamic history.


QUESTION: Your own – you’re no newcomer to this part of this world. You have an appreciation for the culture, for the food, and you’re here on a listening tour, in effect. Are you frustrated with the level of animosity you’ve heard here, even in the context of sending billions of dollars this way, and the message that you’re trying to send here about long-term commitment and a change to the relationship, to be not just a counter-terror relationship? Are you personally frustrated at that – to hear that level of animosity wherever you go?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I’m not. I’m challenged by it, because I think we have our work cut out for us, which is why I’m here and why I’m engaging with so many different aspects of Pakistani society.

But I also think it’s important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of other people. And we can’t just reject out of hand the concerns that people have and expect them then to feel like they have a partner in us. And I think we could do a better job. We can be more sensitive and aware of some of the attitudes and expectations in this part of the world or any part of the world.

It’s so – I think that we are still coming to grips in our country with the new environment in which we operate. I’ll be going in a short time to Berlin for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. And we had a pretty clear idea of what our job was as a nation in the Cold War. And in the last 20 years, we’ve seen different approaches tried. And I think we’ve made some progress in having a clearer vision about how to deal in a multi-polar world as opposed to a bipolar world.

But the change in communication, the access to information that is at the fingertips of so many millions of people today, particularly young people, means that we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard of outreach and understanding as we go forward with what we think is in the American interest as well as what we hope is in the international interest.

So it matters now what students in a college in Lahore think, because they have access to being heard by their country. It matters what I hear from the business community or from others in civil society. And we’re just really coming to grips with what public diplomacy means in the 21st century.

We did a good job during the Cold War in communicating behind the old Iron Curtain. We kept hope alive, so to speak. We gave people information they couldn’t get. And then we kind of got out of that business. We thought, “Oh, thank goodness, democracy won.” We had commentators that said, “It’s the end of history. It’s clear sailing.” And we didn’t really take into account the rise of the reactions to modernity, to the reversion to ideological and tribalistic and ethnic and other kinds of familiarity.

So we have our work cut out for us. So I’m challenged by it. But I think it’s important that we accept that we have to do a better job if we’re going to have the influence that I believe we should have because of what our country represents.

QUESTION: Did you believe that a year after – almost a year after coming into office, that the U.S. image would be in better shape than it was today, considering all the hope that Obama and you, your appointment, brought in this part of the world?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, but I think it is. I mean, I think that there are very few places where we haven’t made significant improvement in how we’re perceived. And that was a big part of the job in the beginning, to kind of clear the decks and the underbrush and get people to believe that we were well motivated, that we cared what they were thinking and doing. And now we have to work hard on the agenda that we’re putting forth.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m overtime, so I really enjoyed it.


QUESTION: So good to meet you.


QUESTION: And I look forward to seeing you again, and I’ll --


QUESTION: -- see you on the plane.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Thanks a lot, Jim.

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PRN: 2009/T14-23