Interview With David Gollust of Voice of America

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Dar Al Hekma College
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
February 16, 2010

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thanks for giving us some time as you complete a visit to the Gulf. You’ve spoken on this trip about an accumulation of power by the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran following the election last June. And I’m wondering if you could discuss what you think the implications of this are for (1), the people of Iran, and (b), the effort to persuade Iran to be transparent about its nuclear program.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, I don’t think it’s good news either for the people of Iran or for the international community. Our observation is that increasingly, the Revolutionary Guard is assuming greater responsibility not only for the security apparatus that exists in Iran, but also for political and economic decision making. They control the militia that is often used to route and harass and heat and otherwise go after peaceful protestors. So it appears as though the space for decision making for the clerical and political leadership is shrinking, and that for the Revolutionary Guard seems to be growing.

Partly as a result of our analysis of this, we are focusing our sanctions to be targeted at the Revolutionary Guard. They are deeply involved in the commercial and business and investment activities of Iran. They own major institutions like the airport, for example. So there’s a lot that they’re doing which is very troubling. And I think it’s clear that as they gain in power, repression of the people of Iran increases, kind of belligerence and negativity is even more prevalent.

And therefore, as we move towards sanctions, we want to send a clear message that it’s not about the Iranian people; this is about the Revolutionary Guard.

QUESTION: Are you also, in a way, daring the clerical and political authorities there to retake some of the ground that has been taken?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m making an observation that it appears that they have ceded that responsibility. When President Obama began his process of engagement toward Iran, many experts – and you may have covered some of them – said that they thought there would be a response, that after 30 years, it was time for Iran and the United States to begin talking and try to resolve some of our outstanding differences. And despite the President’s best efforts privately and publicly, there has not been a response.

And I think that the failure to respond in an open way – “Let’s start talking, here’s a channel we can use, yes you want to talk about the nuclear program, but we want to talk about the other 10 things” – I mean, you know how that would go. Maybe it was caused by the intervention of the election which has caused such internal turmoil within Iran, which has given even more impetus for the Revolutionary Guard assuming major responsibility. I can’t describe what the reasons might be fully since obviously, I don’t have all the information. But you can observe the trend.

QUESTION: Would you say outreach dialogue is at a dead end with Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re never going to close the door. We’re not going to remove the outstretched hand. But as President Obama said, you have to unclench your fist in order to shake that hand. We’ve always had a two-track strategy and we’ve always talked about pressure and sanctions, going back from the very beginning of our engagement in the so-called P-5+1 process.

And back in September at the United Nations General Assembly, the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States – we all signed an agreement which clearly referred to the dual track, the track of pressure and sanctions. So now, we think that time has arrived and we’re going to the Security Council.

QUESTION: In your Doha speech, you spoke without qualification that Iran is in a pursuit of nuclear weapons. Does that reflect a higher degree of confidence within the United States that that is indeed their intention?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it reflects maybe my years of living and common sense. Why would you hide a facility at Qom? Why would you refuse the offer of engagement on the Tehran research reactor? Why would you order, in defiance of the international community, the enrichment of uranium? I mean, there’s just so many questions that have no satisfactory answers.

QUESTION: And just one more. You’ve also spoken on this trip about your hopes or the possibility of a breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian track. What gives you optimism about that given the record of the last few years?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s imperative to remain optimistic about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because so much rides on it – the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own, the legitimate desire of the Israelis for security, the end of the conflict which would create a different relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I mean, there’s so much that the world looks to when it hopes for an end to this conflict. And I think that the parties know that. I have dealt with numerous Israeli prime ministers and Palestinian leaders over the last two decades. And no matter how conservative the Israeli prime minister starts out, eventually, as we saw years ago with Begin or with Sharon or with Olmert, they move toward realizing that it is in Israel’s interest to achieve the two-state solution.

And I think for the Palestinians, they realize that leaving a vacuum invites violence. And they’re the party that is willing to negotiate for the two-state solution. They are opposed by those who will not negotiate. So the failure to negotiate doesn’t make them stronger, but leaves open the door to other forces. So both parties have so much in their own interests at stake, and that’s why I think that we’ll move back toward negotiations.

QUESTION: Thanks very much for your time.

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

QUESTION: Likewise.

PRN: 2010/T22-11