Interview With Riz Khan of Al Jazeera TV English

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 10, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: My pleasure, Riz.

QUESTION: Now, everyone in the Administration is currently very focused on Afghanistan. And there’s a sense perhaps that that is overshadowing some of the other serious concerns, like Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And I’m wondering, to what extent has the Afghanistan campaign overstretched America’s resources, perhaps even the resolve to deal with the others?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think on either resources or resolve we lack a commitment to the other serious challenges in the world today. Obviously, we feel a responsibility to deal with all of these issues. Sometimes one will be in the headlines, sometimes there’ll be a flurry of activity with regard to a policy. But I know from where I sit here at the State Department, we are constantly engaged on Iraq, on the Middle East, on Iran, on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so much else.

QUESTION: Now, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has noted that about 39 million – no, $39 billion of civilian and military aid has been dispensed since 2001 into Afghanistan. But there’s been a strong push into sort of militarization of that aid, and there’s a big worry about this. What danger is there that that blurring of the civil-military line could hurt the U.S.’s credibility, could certainly hurt the U.S. – the credibility of NGOs operating there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Riz, what we’ve tried to do in the little less than a year that I’ve been in the State Department – and, of course, President Obama has been in office – is to make much clearer our civilian commitment, because that’s who we are. That’s what we feel. We want an integrated civilian-military strategy.

We know that the military effort is essential to providing security, but long-term stability, peace and prosperity can only come through political reconciliation, through development, through the enhancement of the capacity of Afghan institutions, expanding the education system – the kind of nuts and bolts that really build and sustain society. So I’m working very hard, and I have a team, as you know, committed to the civilian side of what we do in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: How can you ensure transparency to make sure that some of the disillusionment that occurred through the use of contractors has in some of their roles, the way the money has been used, also a lot of it has been reportedly wasted – how can you ensure the transparency will make sure that it goes in the right way?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m doing everything that I can because I share the disillusionment and the disappointment. I think that we need to be building from the ground up. And so I’m pleased that we’re seeing some progress. When I was just recently in Kabul, I got a good briefing about some of the progress in education, in the finance ministry, in the agricultural ministry.

When President Karzai took office, there were about a million children in school, and they were, I think, all boys. And now there are about 7 million, and 40 percent are girls. We still have between 5 and 6 million to try to get into school, and give them a chance to have the life of whatever their dreams might be. But that’s significant progress. And certainly, we’re working very hard to focus on agriculture, which is the principal way that most people in Afghanistan make their living, support themselves.

So I think it’s fair to say that we’ve tried to shift the focus. We’ve tried to deepen our involvement. We’ve listened more to people who actually know what they want, namely the people of Afghanistan themselves. So we’ll do all we can to try to avoid the pitfalls that you mentioned.

QUESTION: Another issue is there’s a huge demand for bolstering the Afghan forces to take over the role. Twenty four hours ago, I spoke with General Stanley McChrystal on this issue, and there was a strong sense that as much as it’s an issue being avoided, there is a huge shortfall in the number of Afghan forces. But with the Afghan military being paid less than NGOs are paying them – and even the Taliban apparently pays its people more – how can you make sure that you could get the kind of mass needed for Afghanistan to be able to take care of itself in the military sense?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’re absolutely right that – I don’t see why anybody would be surprised that you would be paid so little to undertake such a dangerous mission and you might lack enthusiasm. But in the last week, the Afghan Government has increased dramatically the pay. And guess what? The number of recruits went up. I think it’s a combination of better training, more esprit de corps and discipline, which is essential to any kind of security force, but also recognizing that these young men deserve to be paid a decent wage to support themselves and their families.

QUESTION: Now, the new Administration has come in admirably, looking at winning hearts and minds. But after eight years of seeing what’s happened and little progress, and in some cases, things slipping back, how are you going to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to try to be as transparent and as open as we can. I have spoken numerous times in this last year about the mistakes that the United States made. I’m not proud of them. I regret them. But I think it’s important that we have a relationship where we can be honest with one another, and when we have shortcomings, acknowledge them, and when we see shortcomings among the Afghan leadership, be able to discuss those.

I think it’s also very important that as we move forward, we’re doing it together. We consulted broadly. We have a new commander on the ground who moved immediately to try to limit civilian casualties. War is unfortunate in the way that there will be inevitable unintended consequences. But General McChrystal is very well aware of that.

I believe that we’ve made a very good-faith start, but I admit that we had a lot of ground to make up. I don’t believe that the last eight years can be erased in just 10 months. But I think if people give us credit for our efforts, the kind of commitment that President Obama has set forth, not just to a, quote, “military victory,” but to really undoing the damage that the people of Afghanistan have had to endure for 30 years. They’ve been subjected to such horrible oppression by first the Soviets, and then the warlords, and then the Taliban. They deserve better, and we want to be their partner.

QUESTION: In President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan and the boosting of the troop deployment to Afghanistan, Pakistan seemed to slip from the equation somewhat. Now, I know your last trip to Pakistan was a pretty tough one all around. You scolded the Pakistani Government for its inaction on al-Qaida, and in return, you got an earful for the U.S. drones taking action over Afghanistan.

I wonder, how much of a gap is there between the two governments, between the U.S. and Pakistan, based on this mutual lack of trust?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we are building up more understanding on each side. We see Afghanistan and Pakistan as interconnected. How could you not? That porous, open, very tough terrain that is the boundary between the two countries is very much on everyone’s minds. But we’ve admired the way Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them. And I think that the people of Pakistan are so unified now in support of this military action.

I mean, when you have the TTP and other extremist groups with the support of al-Qaida – that is, beyond doubt, what is happening – going into mosques, going into marketplaces, killing indiscriminately, that’s just so unbelievable, and I think the people of Pakistan are saying, wait a minute, we can’t tolerate that anymore. So I think we are supporting, in a very new and vigorous way on both the military and the civilian side, in any way that we can, that the Pakistanis request.

QUESTION: Interestingly, you’re reaching out, especially more recently, to the American Pakistani community and also the Pakistani diaspora around. In trying to improve their situation in Pakistan, or at least the people back home in Pakistan, what specifically do you expect them to do? What sort of role would you expect them to play?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have been so impressed by my many Pakistani American friends who are so successful. They’re professionals of all kinds, they’re very successful in business. They’re academics. It’s an extraordinarily impressive community. And I know that many of them, from my personal acquaintance, still have deep ties in Pakistan. They often go back to see their relatives, to visit their family home. They send money to support people back in Pakistan.

And in talking with many of them, I suggested that it might be appropriate for them to think hard about forming a Pakistan American foundation that would represent the diaspora here in our country, similarly to what the Irish have done. The American Ireland Fund has been a nongovernmental effort which has, over the years, really made a difference in focusing on projects and providing scholarships to young people. And I was pleased that there was such an immediate response, and thank you for agreeing to be the master of ceremonies at the inaugural event.

But I think that having the experience and expertise, the commitment, the resources of the American Pakistani community be focused on trying to make a difference in conveying a message to the people of Pakistan about what the future could be is a very critical development.

QUESTION: While I have a couple of minutes, Madame Secretary, the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – everything seems to have stalled since January just before President Obama came into office. And now, there’s the added complication of the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, providing benefits for settlers and the issue of complication, isn’t it? There doesn’t seem to be any movement forward. What would you propose in terms of kick-starting the process there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are consulting with a lot of our friends in the region to solicit ideas about the best way to try to create conditions for a re-launch of the negotiations. Ultimately, it is between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I have been committed to a two-state solution, a Palestinian state for more than 10 years. I was the first person associated with any American administration who said that the Palestinians deserved and should be given their own state. So I am very committed to both the Palestinian state to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and security for the Israelis so that they would be given the guarantee of their own future.

I still believe that this is in the best interests of both people, and Senator Mitchell is working very hard. There’s not a day that goes by which he is not. We continue to make progress on the economy and security in the West Bank. But we know we have a lot of work to do, and I think this is the kind of work that you cannot be deterred from. I regretted that there was a lull in it after my husband left office because we were poised to make such progress, and if we had been able to get it over the goal line, there would have been a Palestinian state for nearly a decade now. But you can’t look backwards; you have to look forwards, and we’re going to work as hard as we can.

QUESTION: The European Union, with a prompt from Sweden, has put forward a plan for East Jerusalem to be a capital for a Palestinian state. Obviously, it’s met resistance from Israel. Will you back the European initiative or do you have to back Israel?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no, what I do is back the parties, that all of the final status issues have to be decided by the parties. I mean, any of us on the outside can have our opinions, can look like we’re agreeing with one or the other. But at the end of the day, representatives of these two people must sit at the same table and make the agreement. Certainly, Jerusalem is on the table. It needs to be on the table. Back when my husband was negotiating, it was front and center. And I think that all these final status issues have to be, once and for all, decided by the parties, with the rest of us around the edge saying, okay, if you take that risk for peace, we’re going to help you, and if you take that risk for peace, we’re going to help you. But if they don’t reach an agreement, it doesn’t matter what anybody else says.

QUESTION: So it’s very complicated that Israel has not refused to rule out the idea of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities if provoked in any way. Now, where would the U.S. stand if Israel does decide to go after Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what we have tried to do is engage in diplomacy in a very vigorous way in order to reassure the international community, including all states, that Iran’s nuclear program was for peaceful purposes. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the kind of response we were hoping for from the Iranians. As you know well, President Obama made it absolutely clear with lots of political opposition that if he reached out his hand and if Iran reciprocated, we could talk about anything and everything. Then came the election, then came the crackdown on peaceful dissent, then came demonstrations, and the turmoil inside Iran is continuing until today.

We very much supported the return to the P-5+1. We – the United States had not been a full participant, but we are now. And we supported the International Atomic Energy Agency’s proposal to Iran that their highly enriched uranium be shipped out and then returned to refuel the Tehran research reactor. They had first agreed in principle, and then I think because of internal disputes, they backed off from that, raising a lot of questions about what their true intentions are. Obviously, the secret facility at Qom was revealed. They now say they want 10 or 20 new nuclear power plants.

It’s not confidence building, let us say. And I think the international community really still wants to engage with Iran, but people are going to now turn to other routes like more pressure, like sanctions to try to change their mind and their behavior.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. being forced to act less unilaterally, having to turn to its NATO partners because of, for example, the shortfall in troops in Afghanistan, because of the need to act together on more of these issues you’ve discussed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but that’s part of our diplomatic philosophy. We want to work with others. There are – there’s not a problem in the world that the United States can solve alone, but I would quickly add there is not a problem in the world that can be solved without the United States. So we want to create coalitions. We want to find common ground with people. There are many things we could go off and do unilaterally, as the prior administration certainly demonstrated. That’s not our chosen path. We would prefer to take some more time, to be more patient, to bring people together to make the case.

For example, at the Board of Governors at the IAEA, the vote that was accumulated condemning Iran, calling for Iran to act, was shocking to some people because it was so unified. It wasn’t just the United States. It was Russia, it was China and many other countries. That’s because we have spent time listening and working hard to create this common ground and these common interests, and we’ve done it out of a sense of mutual respect. We respect and admire so many other cultures and societies. I think the President’s made that clear time and time again.

But we do feel like at a certain point, the international community must speak with one voice, and we think that time has come with respect to Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Riz. Good to talk to you.

PRN: 2009/1263