Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Bangkok, Thailand
July 22, 2009

QUESTION: So, you’re here in Thailand. You have a couple of pretty intractable problems on your agenda: getting North Korea to disarm, promoting change in Myanmar.

First, on North Korea, how do you think the – you and your partners can draw North Korea back to the negotiating table?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Michele, first, let me say that I am here to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ regional forum, which I think is a very important stop for me and for our Administration, because we want to make it clear that America is very much focused on Asia.

There was a feeling in the region over the last several years that the focus went elsewhere, and – to South Asia, to the Middle East, et cetera. So we want to begin to really rebuild and strengthen all of those relations. And we will be talking about a range of issues that are important.

Now, clearly, the two that you mentioned – the denuclearization of North Korea and a different approach, and, hopefully, response concerning human rights and democracy in Burma – is very high on the agenda, but so are the relations with all the other nations in the region. And we will be meeting and talking at length over the next day and a half, with respect specifically to North Korea.

We are very pleased that there is a united front by the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, all of us believing that the recent behavior and provocative actions of the North Koreans are ones that have to be put into the agenda that we’re going to deal with to get the North Koreans back to discussions and actions that will lead to the denuclearization of the entire peninsula.

And similarly, with Burma, we’re going to be exploring with our partners here in the region what can be done to try to influence that regime.

QUESTION: This summer there were suspicions that North Korea was sending a ship loaded potentially with arms to Myanmar, Burma. There was – there are now pictures of these tunnels that North Korea is building. What’s going on here?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we think that North Korea is opportunistic in trying to find markets to sell the only thing it produces. It can’t feed its people, and it doesn’t have any industrial base to speak of. So they have really poured a lot of the limited resources of the country into weapons, including nuclear weapons.

But if you look at the example of the ship, that actually turned out to be a positive story. I worked with my counterparts in China and India and Russia, and we made it clear to the Burmese government that they were expected to comply also with the United Nations Security Council resolution that was carefully crafted to try to prevent the export of technology.

So, we are looking at this very closely. I will be exploring with my counterparts what they know and how we are going to try to make sure that there is no proliferation from North Korea to Burma.

QUESTION: Are you worried? I mean, are there any indications that there is nuclear cooperation going on, given North Korea’s history in Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you have to assume that North Korea would sell anything to anybody, if they could find the market for it. And the Burmese military junta is very closed and, unfortunately, impervious to the best efforts of the United Nations, and the European Union, and their neighbors in the region, and the United States. So I think we just have to be very cautious and try to figure out what’s going on.

QUESTION: And it has money, gems and –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it has money. It has, again, money that goes only to a select few of the leadership and pretty much leaves the country behind.

QUESTION: The U.S. policy review on Myanmar is on hold, awaiting this trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, an opposition figure. I wonder if you are worried that, you know, people in the region are looking to the U.S. to lead on this. So what message do you come with on that issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, most of our allies in the region are equally concerned about Aung San Suu Kyi and the relentless persecution that she has faced over so many years. This latest incident which, unfortunately, was blown all out of proportion by the Burmese government, is putting her freedom at risk even more. So, I think it’s understandable that the United States and others would say, “No, wait. We can’t change anything with respect to your country unless you release Aung San Suu Kyi.”

I was very frustrated when the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, actually made a trip with the purpose of seeing her and reporting to the rest of the world about her condition, and they wouldn’t let him do it. And he’s not representing any one country; he was representing the international community.

So there is a great deal of concern. And I personally am very committed to doing whatever I can do to help her gain her freedom, which she so richly deserves.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t tie your hands to have that one issue dominating, and the Burmese Government, the Myanmar Government, can string along this trial for as long as it wants.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they have always been trying to figure out what to do. That’s not stringing on anything having to do with us, so much as trying to determine internally what they are finally going to decide about her. And we want it made very clear that there is an opportunity for them, but it really hinges on what they do with Aung San Suu Kyi.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about something earlier in this trip, because you were in India, you launched this strategic dialogue. And I want to ask you something sort of specific. Did you manage to persuade India that it’s time to get tough on Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think India shares our concerns about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. India has shared a lot of information with us. And we are going to continue to deepen our intelligence cooperation.

I think that India understands the threat of nuclear proliferation to and by both countries and non-state actors like al-Qaida and others. So I am very much looking forward to, in the course of this strategic partnership that we announced when I was there, really delving into depth with India about their ideas about how to try to dissuade Iran.

QUESTION: But does it – would it consider cutting off business ties?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are in a process of reviewing all of that. And I don’t think I want to speak for the Indian Government, but I think we are going to be sharing a lot of information and seeking good ideas, not just from India, but other countries, about how to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

QUESTION: And, of course, it might not want to do much because China is invested there. Is that going to be an issue when you have your strategic dialogue with the Chinese Government next week?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, it is, because we clearly see the threat that Iran poses, not only on its own and its attitude towards neighbors as well as, unfortunately, its own people, but the possibility – I would say probability – that Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state would kick off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. That would so further destabilize the world. It would also destabilize the oil market.

So, I think that in our discussions with China, as with any of our counterparts when we talk about these important issues, we’re going to look at the strategic implications of all of these decisions.

QUESTION: You have definitely shown a personal interest, both in India and also on China policy. You’re leading this strategic dialogue next week in Washington. I wonder if you see those as sort of emerging as your signature issues as Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know, I think my signature issue is being the Secretary of State, and that means being involved in the whole range of everything that is going on. So I am not into a frame where I’m going to take something and leave others to do other things. I like to put really good people to work on very hard problems.

And I am going to be leading the dialogue with Russia, the dialogue with India, the dialogue with China. There is no doubt that these three countries are absolutely critical to the kind of 21st century we want to see emerge. And I will be bringing in other cabinet members, and certainly utilizing the expertise of the State Department, USAID, and others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t continue to worry about Honduras and what we’re doing in Africa and everything else.

So it’s just not the way I think about it. I think we have a very full plate, and I am responsible for making sure that the dinner is served and eaten well, and that people think we’ve advanced America’s interests.

QUESTION: And you’ve said one of the surprises of this – the first six months has been how much time you spend at the White House.


QUESTION: Is this team of rivals cabinet working?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that doesn’t even describe it. I mean, it’s a team of colleagues. It’s a very strong team that works well together. I do spend a lot of time at the White House. We have all kinds of national security meetings, both in the National Security Council, and then I have a weekly meeting with General Jones and Secretary Gates, and I see the President and the Vice President at least weekly, often times more.

So it’s a constant consultation and decision-making process that I feel very good about. I mean, the problems are difficult. There is no getting around the fact that we face an array of very big challenges, but also opportunities. So this has been an immersion for all of us the last six months in working together and also trying to come up with solutions to the various problems we face.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you so much for spending time with us today.


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PRN: 2009/T19-18