Interview With Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg
Secretary of State
QUESTION: All right. We’re here on February 16th in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for making the time to speak with us today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Indira.
QUESTION: So here in the Persian Gulf, you have issued your harshest critique yet of Iran, referring to it as being on the road to a, quote, “military dictatorship.” Does that risk angering Iran and making the government less likely to rein in its nuclear program? Why use such strong language?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s descriptive. It is reflective of our analysis of what seems to be going on inside Iran. We are working with the international community to prepare sanctions that will be targeted at the Revolutionary Guard. And the reason for that is because they have assumed greater and greater responsibility – not just in the security sector and not just for the nuclear program, but in the economic and political arenas as well.
And I think it’s important for countries that are still evaluating what to do about Iran, who still may have in their mind that it’s a democracy, but for a flawed election, and that the human rights abuses which are going on against peaceful demonstrations are a passing phenomenon, that we see the ground shifting. And increasingly, the Revolutionary Guard seems to be filling the space that should be held under the Iranian system by either the clerical or the political leadership.
QUESTION: So is it also a message to people inside Iran in one way?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think if they’re able to hear it, it might help them to know that others of us on the outside see what they’re experiencing – the increasing use of the militia, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guard, the very harsh judgments, the passage of a law which makes it criminal and subject to the death penalty to, quote, “wage war against God,” which basically gives total discretion to the security people to arrest, detain, and even execute anyone. I mean, these are all very disturbing trends and --
QUESTION: Some of your message seemed to almost be directed at the clerical or political leadership itself though, the way you phrased it, saying that whether sanctions will have effect will, in a way, depend on whether they’re willing to reassert control. So in a way, you’re sending a message to them.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if – again, if they’re open to it, I don’t know whether they would be, but from our perspective and talking to many experts on Iran, people who have been in the country recently, people who have even been detained, people who are outside but have followed Iran closely, the general conclusion is that there is something happening so that the political and the clerical leadership don’t seem to be able to make the decisions.
I mean, one of the explanations you could offer for the failure of Iran to respond positively to President Obama’s offer of engagement, which many experts believe, and I’m sure you wrote about it and covered it, would be responded to in some way – the failure of response may very well be because the decision makers are now predominantly coming from the Revolutionary Guard.
QUESTION: So you’re not concerned that your strong language is going to backfire?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Indira, we have to say what we believe. We believed more than a year ago that it was in America’s interest and it was a very important potential to test that the President’s very public and private overtures to the leadership in Iran would be reciprocated. And despite the President’s best efforts and our willingness to engage and our desire to come up with ways of handling the nuclear program with our Tehran research reactor proposal and so much else, has, as you know, not been reciprocated.
QUESTION: So the sanctions are the effort right now. Now, China, which is Iran’s biggest trading partner, can veto any UN sanctions. And you’ve said the Chinese are coming along on their view on sanctions. What evidence do you have that they’re willing to cooperate, especially when tensions with the U.S are high over the Dalai Lama visit, Google, Taiwan arms sales?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have a very comprehensive relationship with China, and it encompasses many different issues. We will continue to have disagreements. That’s the way it is between any two countries, particularly two with such complex global interests and relationships as we have. But I think that the Chinese are being made aware by many countries, not just the United States, of the real threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would present to this region. And it is this region from which China derives most of its oil. And it is very dependent for its energy on the countries of the Gulf.
If this region is destabilized, if the anxieties that countries feel about Iran’s intensions spill over into some kind of conflict, if there’s an arms race that would be uncontrollable, that’s not good for China. So I think that the broader view that is being considered is one that is causing China to ask some questions.
QUESTION: I’d like to get in one last question. Since your last speech last month about internet freedom, there have been some further crackdowns. Iran blocked the internet ahead of protests last week, and it said that it would be blocking access to Google Mail in Iran. Have you talked to Google about this? And what do you think U.S. companies should be doing in cases like this? Also, the United States Government is funding efforts to help people get around web censorship and web firewalls.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, we are.
QUESTION: Are there risks to that? Tell us a bit about that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we believe strongly that internet freedom is freedom of expression in the 21st century. It is a principal way by which people communicate, and you can see the importance of it by the fact that many governments are trying to prevent their citizens from expressing themselves or obtaining information that would be critical of the government.
So we’re doing all we can to stand for the principle of internet freedom, to make it part of our foreign policy agenda. And many American companies are working very hard to provide continuous service to subscribers in whatever country they might be, despite government efforts to block. And I think it is important for us to keep those lines of communication open. It’s the only way people can get information out so that those of us on the outside can know what’s happening inside Iran, for example. So we’re going to continue to do what we can, and we’re going to hope that the private sector is a very strong partner in those efforts.
QUESTION: And funding the efforts that the U.S. Government is doing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have – for several years, we have tried to think of ways that we could support innovation on the internet, coming up with new ideas. I announced in my speech on internet freedom a fund for innovation and new technology that could be utilized. I mean, some of the best ideas are coming not just from the big companies, which are always in the forefront, but the small garage-type companies where people are coming up with ways to circumvent obstacles on the internet. And we want to encourage that.
Look, I mean, nobody is happy with everything that’s on the internet. (Laughter.) That goes without saying. I mean, goodness, if our country looked at everything that was said about us and took it seriously, we’d probably be a little concerned ourselves. But we know the give and take of the public forum, whether it’s a soapbox that somebody stands on or a letter that somebody writes or an internet blog, people have the right to express their views. And government should be proving people wrong or should be providing competing information into the marketplace of ideas.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for your time today, Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Good to talk to you.