Foreign Policy Address at the Council on Foreign Relations - Question-and-Answer Session

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 15, 2009

MR. HAASS: Well, thank you for delivering a truly comprehensive talk that was broad and deep. So really, thank you for that, and for doing it here.

I’m going to go straight to our membership and let them ask some questions. I ask them only to wait for a microphone, and to keep their questions as brief as they can be, so we can get as many in as possible. And just let us know your name and your affiliation when we do call on you.

I see zillions of – this is the part of the meeting where I alienate 70 percent of our membership. I may let you call on people before –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, no, no. That’s your job, Richard. (Laughter.)

MR. HAASS: Odeh Aberdene.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in 1999, I saw you in Gaza with President Clinton altering the PLO charter. There was a great deal of hope. Do you think by 2010 – by the end of 2010, we will have a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? And can you say something about Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I well remember that occasion in Gaza and the hope that was generated. And I still carry that hope very much with me, both personally and on behalf of the position I now hold. And it’s one of the reasons why I urged the President to appoint a skilled negotiator as a special envoy, and George Mitchell gratefully accepted. And we have been working literally non-stop to set up the conditions for such negotiations.

But as I said in my speech, we don’t think it is just the responsibility of the Israelis, nor even just of the Palestinians. We expect the entire region, particularly the Arab states, to assist us by stepping up and making clear that they are truly going to support the two-state solution.

We intend to pursue our efforts as vigorously as we possibly can. I’m not going to make any predictions, but I can only tell you that our commitment is deep and durable. And I don’t get easily discouraged, and I don’t want anybody else to, because this is a very difficult undertaking, especially because of the ten years between where we were in Gaza in ’99 and where we are today in 2009. But I have actually been heartened by what I’ve seen in the last six months.

With respect to Syria, we have made it very clear to the Syrians, including with the offer to return an ambassador, that we do want an engagement, but we expect it to be reciprocal, and there are certain actions that we would like to see the Syrians take as we begin to explore this with them. I think Syria is a critical player in whatever we do in the Middle East. I’m hoping that the Syrian calculation of where they should be positionally with respect to their relationship with Iran and their support for extremist and terrorist activities will be changing so that we can pursue a two-way engagement that will benefit both us and the larger region.

MR. HAASS: You mentioned in your speech the potential role of the Palestinian Authority in that context. You did not mention specifically Hamas. Do you see any conceivable situation in which Hamas could play a role in the peace process?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, right now, we are firmly committed to the Quartet principles. And we have made it clear, both publicly and privately, through all kinds of pronouncements, that we would expect Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence and agree to abide by prior agreements. And we’ve been very pleased that the Quartet members – the EU, Russia, the UN – have stood very firm with us on that.

And in the efforts to try to work out a unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has also stood firmly because, of course, they are committed to a two-state solution, something that Hamas has not yet committed to. So at this stage, what we want to do is to get the negotiations going between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

And as I said with respect to the Taliban, those who are willing to lay down arms, renounce al-Qaida, be willing to participate in a society that is free and open, they are welcome. And I think that’s true for people in other organizations who may realize that rejectionism and resistance hasn’t really given them or their children the kind of future that they would hope for. And so I’m very committed to working to encourage as many people as possible to be part of the two-state solution, but there are certain entry requirements that have to be paid.

MR. HAASS: Trudy.

QUESTION: Trudy Rubin, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

SECRETARY CLINTON: How are you, Trudy?

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I wonder if you could elaborate a little on the Administration’s willingness to engage with Iran at this point?

First, could you tell us has there been any response from Ayatollah Khamenei or the Iranian Government to the letter that was sent in May? And if the Iranians should show interest in engagement, what if they stonewall? How long could this go on if there was absolutely no give? And finally, could you clarify, after Vice President’s Biden’s remarks, has there been any green, yellow, or red light given to Israel about an attack on Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are three easy questions, Trudy. (Laughter.)

With respect to Iran, I’m going to stay within the boundaries of what I said in my speech. We are well aware that the situation after the election puts a different complexion on both the Iranian Government – we really don’t know what their intentions might be at this point in time. We’re very troubled by the repressive actions that they took in the aftermath of their elections, as well as what are most likely a certain amount of electoral irregularities.

But as I said, we have no path that has opened up right now. But we have made it clear that there is a choice for the Iranian Government to make. And we will wait to see how they decide, whether that choice is worth pursuing. If they were to choose to pursue it, we’ve made it very clear that this is not an open-ended engagement. This is not a door that stays open no matter what happens. And I think that until there is some decision on their part, we really won’t know what to expect.

With respect to the Vice President’s remarks, I think that the President and the White House clarified those the next day.

MR. HAASS: We’ve now had a two-part question and a three-part question. Can we please limit future questions to one part? (Laughter.)

Ambassador Schaffer?

QUESTION: Thank you, and it’s nice to see you, Madame Secretary.


QUESTION: I last saw you in Colombo when you were First Lady.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I remember that.

QUESTION: You’re about to go to India, and I wanted to ask you about what you expect to get out of the trip. Presumably, a lot of it will be on the bilateral side. But I wanted to ask if you could focus a little bit on the foreign policy and global part of your agenda. Are there issues where you see a real prospect of working together with India? Are there others that are tougher? And what do you see as the entry point there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Ambassador, we are delighted that our two countries will be engaging in a very broad, comprehensive dialogue. It’s the most wide-ranging that I think has ever been put on the table between India and the United States. It has six pillars to it, one of which, of course, is foreign policy, strategic challenges, along with other matters, like health and education and agriculture and the economy.

So I don’t want to prejudge, but it is clear that everything is on the table to discuss. We believe India has a tremendous opportunity and a growing responsibility, which they acknowledge, to play not just a regional role, but a global one as well. How they choose to define that, we will explore in depth during the course of our discussions. But obviously, there are a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership and involvement that are difficult.

There’s nothing easy about nonproliferation. Anybody who ever read Strobe Talbott’s book, Engaging India, knows that it’s a very difficult issue. But we want to look at new ways for global and regional regimes on weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear. We’re very interested in the role that India sees for itself in the immediate area. You mentioned Sri Lanka. What are the military and particularly naval implications of decisions that India is making going forward? The economic actions that India is taking – they weathered the beginning of the recession better than many places – what are they going to do keep generating growth, lifting people out of poverty? The Congress party made a number of important campaign promises to their poor, particularly the rural poor.

When I’m there, I will visit the first LEED certified building in India to talk about climate change and clean energy. We know that India and China have understandable questions about what role they should be expected to play in any kind of new global climate change regime. Our Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern will be with me. And it is our hope that we can, through dialogue, come up with some win-win approaches. And this LEED-certified building is a perfect example of what India would be capable of doing.

I will also be visiting an agricultural facility because India is really hoping to continue to expand agricultural productivity, but then they have to create an infrastructure so that the crops get to a market. We have to have farm-to-market roads. You have to have storage and refrigeration facilities. So I think that this is an extremely rich area. I’ve just touched the surface of it. So I’m excited. I’m very much looking forward to my meetings with the prime minister and certainly with Minister Krishna and others in India, and we’re going to do everything we can to broaden and deepen our engagement.

MR. HAASS: You mentioned Ambassador – Senator Mitchell and Todd Stern. I want to make sure that – are there any members of your staff who want to ask a question here?

SECRETARY CLINTON: They’d better not.


MR. HAASS: I don’t want to deny them – in case the morning staff meeting wasn’t sufficiently long. I wanted to – let’s – in the back, all the way – I see in the third to last row or so, but I can’t see that far who it is. I see one or two hands up there.

QUESTION: Jonathan Broder from Congressional Quarterly. Madame Secretary, there have been reports that in the discussions between George Mitchell and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, that a certain number of settlements – or houses in the settlements that have already begun, the construction has begun on them already, that there has – was some agreement to allow the construction on these houses to go forward. Can you confirm that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m certainly not going to step on the negotiations in any way. I think that any decisions that are made will be announced officially. And it’s only fair to the Israeli Government, as well as to our own, that we wait until decisions have been made.

MR. HAASS: Hattie Babbitt.


QUESTION: Hi. I wanted to ask you to talk a little bit more about the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. It’s – I understand from your speech on Saturday – modeled in – a little bit after the Defense QDR, but in many ways more complicated because of the numbers of departments and agencies that have a stake or are stakeholders in the process. And could you talk more about how you envision that happening?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, Hattie. I served on the Armed Services Committee for six years. And the Quadrennial Defense Review, it seemed to me, was a very important discipline and tool for the Defense Department. It forced the Defense Department to take a hard look at itself, put forward priorities and the means to achieve them. And I thought it was one of the many reasons why Defense had increasingly taken a paramount position in our foreign policy. So among the many steps we’re taking, I decided we would do the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, because I think it requires us to think hard about what it is we’re trying to achieve, to be as specific as possible, to match our mission with the resources we need, to justify what we believe we are doing and to demonstrate results.

Especially in a global economic downturn, I feel a real responsibility to be able to explain to people who are not currently employed or hanging on by their fingernails, why am I asking for more money for something called diplomacy and development? I’m not asking for the money to build tanks or airplanes. I’m asking to send people to represent the United States, to engage in important negotiations, to be early warning signals. I’m asking to send experts into the field who can work with other nations, achieve sustainable results for the investment we make, lift the standard of living, which we believe then helps to sow the seeds of stability and, hopefully, democracy. And we have to make that case.

So we have embarked upon this. I think it is extremely complicated. I have no illusions about that. It is also, as Hattie said, something where we have to coordinate with a number of other agencies. Defense does work that you could call diplomacy and development. Treasury and the multilateral financial institutions are certainly engaged, at least in development. You’ve got USDA. You’ve got the U.S. Trade Rep. You can go down the list. And we want to try to explain the whole-of-government approach. And so in addition to what we will be doing internally, we will be working with the White House to bring together all the other stakeholders in diplomacy and development.

Now, it won’t surprise you to learn that I am also deep into discussions both with the Pentagon and with the Congress about bringing back some of the authorities and some of the money that went with them that has been used by the military for diplomacy and development. And the migration of those authorities and those resources is one of the many reasons why the State Department and USAID have had a challenging – a more challenging time than usual in the last years.

So this is both a policy tool as well as an attempt to explain and justify what it is we believe we can accomplish. And I want it institutionalized. I think Howard Berman may put it into legislation, so it’s not just a one-shot deal, it’s not just because I’m Secretary of State, but it will require the same level of rigor and analysis every four years by State and USAID.

MR. HAASS: I’m going to do serious – all the way in the back there. I can’t see who it is. The gentleman – yes, sir.

QUESTION: This is Stephen Flanagan from CSIS.

MR. HAASS: Oh, Stephen.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I had a question about your – the question of the dividends that are being – receiving – the Administration is receiving from its recommitment to alliances and alliance relationships. Many of our NATO allies definitely welcomed the shift in strategy and the recommitment to alliance relationships generally that the Administration put forward, but frankly, the response at Strasbourg-Kehl was little bit tepid, both on the military and the civil side. Now, President Obama characterized that as a down payment and that there would be more forthcoming, but yet we also still hear some allies hiding behind the complaint that, well, we haven’t yet seen the full development of the civil side of the Administration’s strategy.

So I wanted to ask you: Where do you see – do you see the second and third payments coming from our allies? And also, if you could give us a brief sense of where you are. You mentioned the recommitment of additional personnel to Afghanistan, civil personnel on the U.S. side. What about some of our allies and other partners in the world?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I agree that it was a down payment. And I guess I was more impressed by what we got than perhaps some were, because I know how difficult it was to make the convincing case to allies who felt like they had been either shut out of the process or had a feeling that their contributions were not adequately appreciated. So we had a lot of catch-up work to do, and it was part of our overall strategic review. Richard Holbrooke is here, and he has put together an interagency team as well as an international team. We have intense ongoing discussions with our ISAF allies and with others who want to play a part in promoting the strategy that the President put forth.

Now, it’s challenging because of the global economic crisis that everybody faces. It’s also difficult, as it is in our own country, to understand – well, wait a minute, you’ve been there for nearly eight years and now you’re adding more troops and you’re asking for more funding and you’re going to send more civilians? So, I mean, we have to answer these questions in our own country. And you saw where Prime Minister Brown in Great Britain – they lost eight soldiers. And the government went out and began talking about why it was important to stand with the United States and others in Afghanistan, and got, from what I could glean, a more positive response than people anticipated. Because you have to be willing to try to assuage the fears and anxieties and paint a picture of where you’re going.

Now, on the civilian side, this has been one of the areas that Jack Lew, my Deputy for Resources and Management, working with Ambassador Holbrooke and his team and USAID and everybody involved – we’ve actually been heartened by the numbers of people who have volunteered to go. But we’ve limited the areas that the United States is going to focus on. For example, you heard me say agriculture. Seventy percent of the people of Afghanistan live in rural areas. Afghanistan used to be, in some descriptions, a garden of Central Asia and South Asia. And because of the Soviet invasion and the resistance to that and then the warlords, I mean, now it is so eroded and dry and – the whole agricultural base has to be reinvigorated. So we’re really focused on that. We’re not promising to be all things to all people. And in fact, we’re working with our allies so that they will focus on areas that we are not able to any longer.

So look, this is very complicated. And the whole idea is to be able to clear and hold, which is what our Marines are doing in the south right now, and to provide security for people and to begin to see life return to markets and other means of common activity, and then to go in and work with local people: on their police force, which we will be focusing on; on agriculture; and obviously, since I’m Secretary of State, on women and women’s roles and opportunities.

And I’m not here to say, we know exactly everything to do and every one of our allies is going to come through, but I am encouraged by those who feel the political pressure or the economic pressure to shift from military resources to civilian and development resources. And I think we’ve put together something which has a direct relationship to the strategy that we’re now following.

MR. HAASS: Professor Lieber.

QUESTION: Bob Lieber, Georgetown. After the easy questions, let me ask you one a tad more challenging. The previous presidents, from Jimmy Carter through Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton, have sought to reach out to Iran and been rebuffed. Frankly, every president has had that experience. Iran, for 20 years, has been cheating on its obligations under various treaties. If Iran fails to respond positively to these initiatives, and if our friends and allies and others, including Russia and China, are unprepared to countenance really significant sanctions, what happens then? President Obama, either during the campaign or shortly after, said that the U.S. would not be willing to see Iran with a nuclear weapon. And therefore, I have to ask the question: If these other efforts don’t work, is the Administration prepared to live with a nuclear Iran or not?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as I said in my speech, as you rightly quoted the president, we have consistently stated that we do not accept a nuclear-armed Iran. We think it is a great threat to the region and beyond.

But as you might guess, I’m not going to negotiate with Iran sitting here. And in most negotiations I’ve ever been a part of, either as a lawyer or as a senator or in any other capacity, I think if you have a clear set of objectives and you begin the process, you have a better idea of what might or might not be possible. We have no illusions about this. I believe, though, that the absence of the United States for much of the last eight years in these negotiations was a mistake. I think we outsourced our policy to Iran and, frankly, it didn’t work very well. That’s how I see it. I want to be in the middle of it, to be able to make our own judgments, to figure out what we know and don’t know, and then to be in a stronger position with respect to other nations.

I think part of the attractiveness of engagement, direct engagement, is not only to make our own judgments, but also to demonstrate to others that we’ve done so, and to make clear what kind of reaction we’ve gotten, which I think lays the groundwork for concerted action. And certainly, in just the last six months in our efforts in talking with other partners, I’ve noticed a turn in attitude by some, a recognition that it’s not just the United States that should be concerned about what Iran is doing, but that there are implications for others who are much closer than we are to Iran.

So I think that, as I said in the speech, our policy is one that we believe makes the most sense for our interests, and we intend to pursue it but we obviously have exits along the way depending upon the consequences of the discussions.

MR. HAASS: We probably have time for about one last question. Stan Roth.


QUESTION: Hi, good to see you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good to see you.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you to expand on –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, here comes the microphone.

QUESTION: Stanley Roth with The Boeing Company. I wanted to ask you to expand on one of the points you made towards the end of your speech, the State Department’s whole-of-government approach to economic issues. Particularly as you work on the economic recovery of the U.S., the role for trade, beyond just the reference you made to free trade agreements, where would you like to see us end up on the trade side? But also, exports obviously are going to be part of the recovery plan. What role do you see for yourself and the State Department in terms of commercial advocacy? It’s sometimes tough, the environment faced by American business overseas.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, commercial advocacy is part of our list of responsibilities, as you know, and it’s one that I take very seriously. But I’d like to just take a step back and look at the broader picture of the State Department’s role in economic aspects of foreign policy.

From my perspective, trade is a foreign policy tool as well as an economic one. And we’re in the midst of looking hard at our trade policy, trying to determine how we can be more effective in making the case to the Congress and the American people about trade, but also making it clear to the rest of the world that we’re a trading nation and we want to be.

But we’re at a point where the economic implications of foreign policy are now very heavily seen as part of the intersection of nations. I mean, the G-20 is assuming greater and greater importance. I mean, you remember it started in 1998 as a result of the Asian financial crisis, and it has stayed as a player because it serves a very useful purpose. You have people at the table who, before, were not welcome or were not even thought of in the same breath as the United States or Great Britain or someone else.

So I think that the role of the economic agenda of the State Department needs to be strengthened. We work closely with Treasury. We work closely with the National Economic Council. But I’ll give you a quick example: David Lipton, who works with Larry Summers in the White House, just went to Pakistan for us to do an assessment of Pakistan’s capacity to meet the IMF requirements and what it needed and how it was doing. Well, was that an economic analysis? Was that a strategic, security, political – ? I would argue it’s all of that. So why would we say, oh, well, no, we’re not going to be part of the economic mix, when it’s critical as to how we’re dealing with other countries? Part of the reason that I worked to have our dialogue with China be inclusive and comprehensive is because strategic and economic concerns cannot be divorced.

So on all of these issues, the State Department has to play a role on the economic front. And we’re working very collegially with everybody. I mean, obviously, you have different perspectives, different jurisdiction. We know all of that. But there is a recognition inside this Administration that it’s an all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government time. Everybody’s being required to get up and do your part and redefine what it is and expand it so that you can be the most effective player possible. So I think this is just part of our responsibility now.

QUESTION: So after six months, what has most struck you about this? Here you are; what’s surprised you the most?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m really impressed by the quality of the people I work with at both the State Department and USAID, just the level of passion and intense commitment, the willingness to work long and all hours; you know that from your own experience. The excitement of being part of the new Administration, which has meant so much to so many people around the world and has certainly caused people to rethink who we are as Americans and maybe give us a break, cut us some slack as we get organized and get going.

I still think it’s hard to justify not having our full government in place six months after we started. That’s something that we’ve got to do something about, I think. (Applause.) I mean, we are trying to get our political leaders in place to work with our very dedicated Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, but we’re still not there yet. And I had no idea when I was in the Senate asking a million questions of every nominee – (laughter) – how really shortsighted that was. (Laughter.)

It’s amazing; the other thing I didn’t realize is that when all else failed, if there was a problem that had a foreign policy implication, write a letter when you’re in the Congress – Ellen Tauscher, who is our new Under Secretary for Arms Control and Nonproliferation – so I probably, in my eight years, wrote hundreds of letters, and now I have to read them. (Laughter.) And it just depends upon which side of the table you’re sitting.

But it’s been a real privilege and an honor, and I think we’re making a difference, and obviously, we’re going to work as hard as we can to translate that into the results that the American people deserve.

MR. HAASS: Everybody here wishes you a successful and safe trip, as you know, to India and Thailand, and it’s been a privilege and an honor, to quote your words back at you, for us to have you here today. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Richard. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/734