Interview With Mathias Müller von Blumencron and Dr. Erich Follath of Der Spiegel

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Hotel Adlon
Berlin, Germany
November 9, 2009

QUESTION: So you’re just about to send more troops into Afghanistan. Why? For what? Is it to establish democracy, the western civil society, or is it just to prevent the establishment of new bases of terrorism?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, President Obama has not made any final decision. He has conducted a very deliberative process which has explored every assumption underlying every action, and I think it has been quite productive. But I think it’s fair to say that in the course of our examination, our goal is to defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies, and that is a very clear goal. We’re hopeful for the future of the people of Afghanistan to have a better life, to have political, social, economic development.

But we are in Afghanistan because we believe that we cannot permit the return of a safe haven or a staging platform for terrorists. We think that al-Qaida and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaida still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper, director of a lot of what goes on. In the last two months, we have arrested a gentleman who was plotting, it’s alleged, against the subway system in New York who went to an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan. The porous nature of that border is one that we consider to be very dangerous. The government and military of Pakistan are now moving against some of these extremist allies. But we think that we have to prevent the return of a – I think an extremist state in Afghanistan in order to be able to control this threat.

QUESTION: Our soldiers are dying, almost daily. On the other hand, the Afghan Government, in specifically the last election, were clearly based on fraud. How can we justify towards our people here in the West that we still send troops and have people there dying for a corrupt government?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I don’t think they are fighting and sacrificing for the Afghan Government. They’re there, in the case of American troops, for the American people and the American Government. We recognize, however, that our chances of success in this struggle are enhanced by a government in Afghanistan that can be a partner, that can help to train and deploy a bigger and more effective security force. The soldiers who are in the Afghan army are also sacrificing. They are willing to fight. They are often dying alongside our soldiers.

And so the expectations that we have for President Karzai and his new government are very clear and high, that in order to accomplish the goal we set of having a country that is able to stand up and defend itself, there has to be an effort against corruption; more accountability, the rule of law, the kind of basic expectations that a government should produce. It’s very clear that the people of Afghanistan do not want the Taliban back. In every single survey that we’ve ever seen, they reject the extremism that they lived with from the Taliban.

But they also want a government that gives them some security, that doesn’t leave them at the mercy of the Taliban. So we’re going to try to better organize our efforts and try to demand more from the Afghan Government itself.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t you demand a government of unity, including Abdullah Abdullah, after these elections?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that what we’re interested in is an effective government that can deliver for the people. And we believe that there do have to be a number of people in the government. Who the personalities are is not as big a concern as having competent, effective, honest members of the government.

But we’re not only looking at the government in Kabul. We’re also looking at the government throughout the country. Because very often, it is local governance, as it has historically been in Afghanistan, that delivers services, that provides security. So we think more has to be done with the local governance structures, not just keeping all the attention on Kabul.

QUESTION: Would that mean that America would get much more involved with the local governments and also with the appointments of the local governments? Does it mean you put more pressure on the central government to point the right people in the local areas?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that a number of us – not just the United States, but a number of NATO members as well as allies in the international forces – agree with what Prime Minister Brown said last week, that there has to be more accountability. I mean, we do see this as in our national security interest, but part of being successful and protecting our interest is having a better partner in Afghanistan.

And we will be making our views known. We will have certain measurements of accountability that we expect. And we don’t think that’s interference. We don’t think that is out of bounds since we are committed to helping the people of Afghanistan themselves be able to withstand the threat from the Taliban. The most common kind of formulation that I and others have heard from the Afghans themselves is we need your help to get us in a position where we can defend ourselves against these threats, and then we need you to go.

Well, that pretty much summarizes what we want to do as well. (Laughter.) So we want to be more effective, but we have no intention of staying or holding territory or occupying. That is not any objective of ours. We want to leave a stable enough situation behind that the Afghans themselves can be the front lines against the Taliban and the al-Qaida extremists.

QUESTION: For these purposes, do you have to support President Karzai?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, he is the elected president, and I think once he decided to stand for the second round, he legitimized the outcome of the election. Dr. Abdullah decided not to pursue, which has happened in other places. It’s happened in my own country, when somebody looks at a runoff election and doesn’t think they have much of a chance and don’t feel like it’s worth going through it.

So there’s no doubt that he is the duly elected president of Afghanistan. But it shouldn’t be that he just holds the title in name only. He has to perform for his people. And he has to demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of the people of Afghanistan. I’m not underestimating the dangers he faces and the threats, as we saw with the terrible attack on the UN headquarters. This is a very difficult situation. But he has to show the leadership that we should expect from him.

QUESTION: You’re clearly unhappy with his efforts to fight corruption. How do you want to put more pressure on that, and how do you want to force him to be more tough on this? He probably has to fight against his own brother?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there are several aspects to this. One, we need a formalized mechanism to be investigating corruption inside Afghanistan that is an independent entity that is independent of the existing power structure. We also have to be more careful about what we – namely the West, NATO, other donors – do, because a lot of the corruption is fueled by the amount of money we put in and don’t have appropriate measures of accountability ourselves. And we have to be tougher.

But at the end of the day, what we need to do is measure results on the ground. We need to set some standards about where money should be going and what the results should be, and monitor those and hold the people in government accountable.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, your real concern – the real concern for Western security is not Afghanistan alone anymore, but a nuclear-armed Pakistan, as you very well know. And you yourself recently voiced doubts. You said you – in your recent in Pakistan, it’s hard to believe, and I quote you, that members of the Pakistani Government did not know the hiding places of al-Qaida and could not get at them if they really wanted to. What did you mean by that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there are two issues here. On the one hand, the nuclear arsenal that Pakistan has, I believe is secure. I think that the government and the military have taken adequate steps to protect that. On the other hand, the safe haven that al-Qaida has found in Pakistan is very troubling. They are still actively engaged with the elements of the Pakistani Taliban that are threatening the state of Pakistan.

And it was only recently that Pakistan, through its civilian leadership and its military leadership, actually made the decision that this was a threat to them. We had been saying it was. Others had been telling them the same. But they are now committed to going after those who have attacked their army headquarters, intelligence, the Islamic University in Islamabad, so many targets that really exemplify the authority of the state and the culture of society.

So I think that my point really was to say, look, you have concerns about what we do – we, the United States, and the West. Well, we have concerns about what you do. And it is a very high priority for my government to capture or kill the al-Qaida leadership, and we need more help from you in order to be able to achieve that.

QUESTION: You’re referring to the intelligence people in Pakistan when you make this claim that they should know when everybody knows that in Qatar, Mullah Omar is having his headquarters, or at least there are some people around him who – was that – are you still – do you still fear that intelligence services in Pakistan are not reliable?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Not at the highest levels. I am convinced that at the highest levels, we have a good working relationship. But we have tens of thousands of people in our government in sensitive positions. Every so often, we uncover somebody who’s a traitor. We uncover somebody who is selling classified information or giving it to an agency of another country. So I know how governments work, and I know that it takes constant vigilance to try to root out those who might not share the values or the program of the government. And there are thousands of people in that government, and I would like to see a real effort made on the part of the top leadership to make sure that no one down the ranks is doing anything to give any kind of support or cover-up to the al-Qaida leadership.

QUESTION: Tehran is obviously not willing to accept the newest proposals. How long, how – when is your patience ending for (inaudible) Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we don’t have a formal response from Iran yet. Our --

QUESTION: They’re trying to renegotiate again, again.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And we – yeah, we don’t intend to do that. I mean, we’ve been willing to give them more time to work through their internal political debate, because we know there is a lot of turmoil in the Iranian political system coming after the election. But our patience is not unlimited. We continue to urge them to show good faith, as they had said they would adopt this agreement in principle. It would provide an opening for us to discuss not just the nuclear program, but other matters as well, and we still are hopeful that they will decide to accept it.

QUESTION: Why don’t you take the military option off the table? Nobody is believing in it anymore anyway.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Because we don’t take any options off the table. I don’t think that strategically, it is smart to begin cutting your options when the other side doesn’t move at all. Let’s see some good faith from Iran, let’s see some action on their part. President Obama has reached out to them, both publicly and privately. We have tried to change the discussion so that they could participate with us, we could have a diplomatic engagement. But that’s not a one-way street, and we have to see some reciprocity coming back from Iran.

QUESTION: Israel, one question I have to ask about Israel: Are you capitulating in front of the hardliners? Some people said Obama, your president, was asking for a total freeze. When you were in Israel, you were praising the Netanyahu government for much less.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it has to be seen in context. There’s never been a settlement freeze prior to any negotiations conducted by anyone – any Israeli government, any Palestinian government, facilitated by any American government. In negotiations, you often ask for a maximalist position, which is what we would prefer. We are very much in favor of ending settlement activity of all kinds.

The Israeli Government made a fair point, which is that in their legal system, they’ve already permitted the start of construction on certain units, but they were willing to do something no Israeli government had ever done, which was to say no new settlement activity, period. Now, ultimately, this can all be taken care of once a state’s borders are determined. Then Israel does whatever it wants to do on its side of the border, and the Palestinians do whatever they want to do. But it was a positive step, and I have praised the Palestinians for positive steps they’ve taken on security, which the Israelis did not think was enough.

So in a situation like this, I think it’s important to make clear your position. Our position is settlement activity is not legitimate. But to go ahead and say it’s a positive step to end new settlement activity, something that has never been done, and to then get into negotiations so that we can discuss what the borders of a new state would be – and that would moot all of this discussion of settlements.

QUESTION: So this was not a change in policy, but in tone?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It was absolutely not a change in policy. There was no change in policy at all. And it is something, of course, that is disappointing to the Arabs and the Palestinians because they would like to see a total end. But it would be very difficult to go and use the Israeli army, or the legal process of Israel, to go around to people who have already been given this permit, short of a final settlement on borders, and tell them to stop construction.

So from the Israeli perspective, they thought it was a big concession. From the Palestinian perspective, it was not enough. We don’t think it’s enough. It doesn’t correspond with what we want to see eventually. But I think it’s only fair to say that it went further than anyone has before.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s enough for starting negotiations?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we think it is, but we’re the facilitator. The parties have to get into the negotiation. And I was very pleased when I was in Egypt last week that the Egyptians said they would be more than happy to host the Israelis and the Palestinians. But of course now, there are a lot of other issues that are at work. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. Perfect, perfect.


PRN: 2009/T15-7