Interview With Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Television

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Marrakech, Morocco
November 3, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome to Al Jazeera in Marrakech. A lot has been said about the change that a lot of people think has taken place in the U.S. position on the issue of settlements. Today, the Arab press is saying that yet again your position has changed during your meetings in Marrakech. I want to hear in your own words what the U.S. position on the settlement issue is, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you not only for the question but for the opportunity to talk with you here on Al Jazeera in Marrakech. And let me start from the position of the United States Government and the Obama Administration. As President Obama said in his very important speech at the United Nations General Assembly, the United States believes that settlements are not legitimate. That has been the policy of our government for 40 years. That is the policy of President Obama today and going forward.

We believe that all settlement activity should cease. It should not be pursued because it could prejudice the final outcome of negotiations to achieve a two-state solution. And I think as you know, President Obama clearly said he wanted to see an end to settlement activity. Now, that had never been requested prior to any negotiation entered into by any representative of either the Palestinians or the Israelis, so it was a new element that was introduced by President Obama. And of course, the immediate reaction was from the Palestinians and many in the Arab world, great, we would love to see that. And the immediate reaction from the Israelis is never, no, we’re not going to do that.

Now, in a negotiation, you stake out positions and then you work very hard, because let’s remember what the ultimate objective is. It is the two-state answer to the suffering of the Palestinian people, to the security needs of the Israeli people. So when this government in Israel came forward and said we’ve already permitted a certain number of units of housing to go forward, we can’t legally undo that, but we will put an end to all new settlement activity, no new permits, no new approvals, no expropriation in the West Bank, I said, and believe it today as I believed it yesterday, that was a positive step, just as when the Palestinians took real risks and put in place a very effective security force. I said that was a positive step. And it is not what we would want. It is nowhere near enough. But I think when you keep your eye on what we want to achieve, it is a better place to be than the alternative, which is unrestrained.

And therefore I think we should be trying to keep moving the parties to re-launch negotiation. Just as in the past, settlement activity will be solved when the borders of a new state are determined. That should be our real objective, and that’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION: When President Obama first started talking about the issue of settlements, he was understood to be saying that he wanted a halt to settlements, period. That’s the way a lot of people in the Arab and Muslim world understood it. Are you saying that the Arabs misunderstood, or are you saying that President Obama did not explain his position as clearly as he could have done?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think President Obama was absolutely clear; he wanted a halt to all settlement activity. And perhaps those of us who work with him and for him could have been clearer in communicating that that is his policy, that is what we are committed to doing, and it is what we hope to see when there is eventually a Palestinian state, and obviously, there will be no settlement activity.

But I think it’s important to recognize that in a negotiation, you oftentimes don’t get everything you want. That doesn't mean you change your objective. It means that you keep working to achieve it. And the alternative to stopping all new settlement construction is that it continues, that there is no halting, it continues on. And we, the United States, does not want to see that, and I know that the Palestinian people don’t want to see a set of construction activity that will further prejudge or prejudice the outcome.

So we believe that halting new construction is a positive step on the way to the two-state solution. And I have to say I feel very personally committed to this. I was the first American associated with any administration to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And when I first did it more than 10 years ago, a lot of people thought that was very radical. Now there is consensus we must get to a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

And I, of course, can’t help but reflect back that when my husband was working so hard on the Camp David accords, it got very close. If it had gotten to an agreement, we would not be sitting here talking about settlement activity because there would be a Palestinian state, it would have a capital in East Jerusalem, it would be working to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people, there would be shared supervision and protection of the holy sites – I mean, everything that was part of the Camp David negotiations. I want to see President Obama achieve this goal of a two-state final resolution for the benefit of the Israeli people and their security, and for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met President Barack Obama at the White House a few months ago, after their meeting President Barack Obama clearly said that he wanted the focus to be on the Palestinian issue. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at that time said that the focus should be on Iran. There are people now in the Arab world saying that there was a quid pro quo, if you will, whereby Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepted to sort of step back on the issue of Iran if President Obama could change his position on the issue of settlements. Any truth to that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that President Obama has not changed his position on the settlements. And I want to say that over and over again because I do not want any of your viewers to misunderstand. President Obama believes that settlements are not legitimate. He would like to see an end to the settlements. What is the best way to end all settlements forever? It is a Palestinian state where the borders are clear and delineated.

And with respect to the offer that the Israeli Government has made, no one has to accept it. I mean, the fact is that this offer was made to put an end to new settlement activity. If people don’t want it, then settlement activity continues. I come from a school of thought which says the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good, that we can be paralyzed if we just say we can’t get everything we want the first time out so we will do nothing. I think that’s what happened in 2000. That’s what my personal belief is.

So I think that to reiterate, President Obama and I and the Obama Administration, the United States Government, has not changed its position at all. But we are trying to get into a negotiation where the issue will finally be put to rest, because there will be a Palestinian state in control of its own territory.

Now, with respect to Iran, I think that it’s important to add that several events have transpired, one being the agreement of Iran to come and meet with the countries that are members of the P5+1 – the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The agreement by Iran to accept in principle the proposal put forth by Russia, the United States, and France for Iran to ship out its low-enriched uranium to be reprocessed outside and then to be sent back to fuel its research reactor which does work in medical, cancer and other work.

I think it’s also important to recognize that the Iranians had a secret facility disclosed to the world, something which I know concerned many of the viewers of Al Jazeera when the Iranians had concealed their facility at Qom for years. So that also changed the dynamic, and now there are inspectors at that facility.

So I think the world – not just one country, but the world – wants to see what Iran does going forward. Will they agree to ship out their low-enriched uranium? Will they agree to the kind of inspections that are expected under international law? Will they agree to absolutely decide for the world to see that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons? So everyone’s waiting. We’re all trying to get to the point where Iran lives up to the responsibilities that it has already been asked to by the international community.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, if you’ll allow me before I ask you a follow-up question to the issue of Iran, just quickly, you met Arab foreign ministers here in Marrakech. You explained to them the intricacies, if you will, of the U.S. position on the issue of settlements. Did you gain any traction in terms of narrowing the gap, if you will, between your position and any positions they may have regarding the issue of settlements as you articulated it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have the same position on settlements. The United States wants to see an end to settlements, and obviously the Arab foreign ministers want to see an end to settlements. The big gap in the proposal that was put forth by the Israelis is that it doesn't include Jerusalem. That’s totally unacceptable. Everybody knows that. And we discussed how you narrow that gap.

But the overwhelming message that I received from my counterparts was that we have to get into negotiations, that we have to bring the parties to the table. So they are working to persuade President Abbas and the Palestinians. We are working to persuade both Israelis and Palestinians. Because what is the ultimate answer? What is the goal we are seeking? It is a two-state solution. And we know that has to include borders, refugees, Jerusalem, the issues that are deeply emotional for everyone. But we can’t talk about those and we can’t even try to make progress toward that achievement of a two-state solution if people are not negotiating. So that is the overall message is let’s get this – let’s quit talking about talking, and let’s start talking about the content of the negotiations and all of the final status issues that have to be resolved.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, there’s, as you know, a sense in the Arab world that the United States would have less of a hard time with the issue of Middle East peace if it had been as forceful with the Israelis over their nuclear weapons as it is forceful with the Iranians over theirs. What do you say to that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what I hear from so many people in the Arab world is a great concern about Iran having nuclear weapons. That is the paramount concern as I travel the region, as people meet with me, over and over again. Everyone in the region worries about the destabilizing effect of Iran getting nuclear weapons, about the impact that would have on the other nations. That’s what people talk to me about. And that is, in part, what really motivates President Obama to put the pressure on Iran. Iran has already been the subject of numerous Security Council resolutions. Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but has violated it. Iran has concealed its ambitions. It has engaged in behavior that causes a great deal of worry and anxiety among its neighbors. So I think that it is fair to say that what most people in the Arab world and in the larger Middle East region talk to me about is the Iranian threat that nuclear weapons would pose.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, my time has run out. I don’t want people in this part of the Arab world to feel that they’re excluded. With your permission, I’d like to ask you a quick question on North Africa and the United States, if that’s okay.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there’s a special relationship between some countries of the Maghreb and the United States. The situation in the Maghreb is plagued by the issue of Western Sahara. How does the Obama Administration view the prospects, future prospects of relations within the Maghreb?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a great question. We do cooperate with the countries of the Maghreb on counterterrorism, on law enforcement, on our joint efforts against trafficking in drugs and human beings. We have quite a positive program going on where we try to help the countries of the Maghreb deal with these threats to their security.

And we are also well aware of the growing threat posed by al-Qaida in the Maghreb. Every country in the Maghreb has raised this with us. And we have offered any additional assistance that the countries would seek in order to be effective against the potential threat of al-Qaida.

With respect specifically to the Western Sahara, the Obama Administration has not changed the policy of the United States Government which originated in the Clinton Administration. It was ratified in the Bush Administration and it continues to be United States policy under the Obama Administration. We do support the United Nations effort because we would like to see a peaceful political resolution of a lot of the concerns that have been expressed.

But on the larger question, we think the Maghreb presents such a potential for development, and if there were more regional cooperation, the economic potential of the Maghreb would be unlimited. It would be such a bridge between the north and the south. And I know that there are some difficulties among and between some of the countries, but we would like to encourage the resolution of those difficulties because we think it would have a very positive impact on the countries and the people of the Maghreb.

Thank you very much. Good to talk to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.


PRN: 2009/T14-40