Interview With Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg TV
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, the conversation was a very positive one, and I don’t want to, by answering the question, let anyone presume what the nature of our conversation was last Friday night. We discussed how we can get the proximity talks going, what the right atmosphere for those talks to be constructive should be. He responded to the points that I had made last Friday and we’re continuing our consultations with him and his government.
QUESTION: Is freezing either the settlement that was announced or any further settlements in East Jerusalem something that the Israeli Government is willing to do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s not about any one particular action. It is about the overall atmosphere that is necessary to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally the commitment to the negotiations and the outcome of a two-state resolution. We believe strongly that such a path is in both the Palestinians’ and the Israelis’ best interests, and neither should be taking any actions unilaterally that in any way undermine the potential for the talks to begin and to be resolved successfully.
QUESTION: A joint statement was put out today by the Quartet, which is made up of the U.S., the UN, Russia, and the European Union, which are all dedicated to promoting Middle East peace. And that joint statement really emphasized a lot the importance of the issue of Jerusalem as a final status issue. Now, the U.S. is understood to want these indirect talks that are supposed to start soon in the Middle East to tackle substantive issues such as the final status of Jerusalem.
Is that, again, something that Netanyahu is willing or even able to do, given that his coalition government includes members who don’t want to talk about Jerusalem at all, want it to be indivisible, and for the Jewish state?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jerusalem has always been one of the final status issues. President Obama made that very clear in his speech to the United Nations last September. I have made it clear in every one of my public statements and in any private discussions that I’ve had with any of the interested parties. And of course it has to be resolved. And in these indirect talks, which we hope to get started soon, all of the issues have to be discussed, including Jerusalem.
Now, ultimately, it will take direct talks and understandings between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves in order for any decision to be reached. But we think that the proximity talks would be the first step on the path to doing that.
QUESTION: On Iran, I want to ask you, would you think the Iranians are closer to a nuclear weapons capability today than they were when the Obama Administration took office?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s difficult to place timetables or milestones. We believed that their pursuit of nuclear power included a program that was aimed at producing the potential for nuclear weapons. We still believe that.
But it’s not just the United States. The International Atomic Energy Agency, in the most recent report by Director General Amano, raised the same kinds of questions: If their pursuit of nuclear power is only for peaceful purposes, why were they building a secret facility at Qom? If their pursuit is only for peaceful purposes, why would they not accept the joint Russian-French-American proposal to assist them in getting the nuclear fuel they’re entitled to for their research reactor that produces medical isotopes?
There is a series of questions like that. It’s very difficult saying how far were they a year ago, two years ago, three years ago; were they further ahead seven years ago, then they backed off – because they’re such a closed and secret society. But the bottom line is we believe that their actions raised serious questions about their intent. And that intent to pursue nuclear weapons is what the international community is responding to.
QUESTION: Well, I think one of the keys about timing is the fact that we seem to be at a tipping point at this point over the pressure track and the effort to build up some strong sanctions to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons capability. Now, General Petraeus was up on the Hill this week testifying, saying that an Iranian nuclear weapon was not inevitable. So if it’s not inevitable, how do you get China, Turkey, perhaps even Russia, some countries that have been hesitant about backing strong sanctions – how do you get them to cross the finish line if they don’t see it as an imminent threat?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we’re making progress. I think that the constant efforts that not only the United States, but our other partners have undertaken to make the case about the impact that a nuclear-weaponized Iran would have in the region and beyond is getting a receptive audience. It certainly is here in Russia, and I think increasingly, these questions are becoming important for the Chinese to also confront.
We’re in the process in the United Nations of trying to design the appropriate mix of pressure on this second track that you referred to, and I think we’re making progress, because there is no one who disagrees with our goal. The goal is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons because of the consequences that that would present to the region and the world.
The discussion is: What is the best way? There are some who still believe that Iran can be dissuaded; that they’ll never admit that they stopped their program, but they could be convinced to stop their program, which would have the same effect that we’re seeking through sanctions. Others of us believe that the diplomatic efforts that we engaged in have not produced sufficient evidence of a change in behavior by the Iranians, and therefore, we need to put more pressure on them. But everyone shares the same goal. No one believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is in the world’s interests.
QUESTION: I guess the question is about how urgent that it seemed to be if Iran does not seem to be advancing down the track of actually getting that capability. But tied to your question – your issue about the negotiation track versus the pressure track, President Obama dedicated so much last year to reaching out to Iran. Is he going to be issuing another Nowruz New Year’s message to the Iranians this year as he did last?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would think so, because it is an effort to reach out to the Iranian people, especially those brave Iranians who are standing up against the oppression and brutality of the government.
But there’s something broader at stake here. When President Obama came into office, the fact that the United States had not pursued diplomacy meant that many countries, even our closest allies, were reluctant to take any actions against Iran, because everyone kept saying, “Well, you haven’t exhausted the diplomatic approach yet.”
President Obama and I agreed that we should demonstrate our willingness to engage in diplomacy. And in that remark he made in his inaugural address – he would reach out his hand, but the other side would have to unclench their fist – was a very strong message to Iran and to other nations as well.
So a year later, we have participated in the P-5+1 as a full member, which hadn’t happened until this Administration. We have reached out directly and indirectly to the Iranian leadership and the Iranian people. And we have seen many other countries taking note of the fact that we were willing to pursue the diplomatic track. I think that strengthens our position when it comes to the pressure track.
QUESTION: Let me ask you – you have elevated internet freedom to be a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy. And as this relates to Iran, I’m wondering if the U.S. is willing to do anything to help the Iranians access information on the internet; perhaps creating some sort of satellite networking from outside of Iran that would allow people inside the country to have faster access to the internet. And how would you deal with the Iranian Government’s response to the U.S. trying to get in there and help the internet access?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, we are working on that. We are working to try to help information continue to flow freely into and out of Iran as well as within Iran. We have issued a license to a company with technology that would enable that to occur.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re doing a lot. Let me just put it at that. We’re doing a lot because we think it’s in the interests of American values and American strategic concerns to be sure that people have a chance to know what’s going on outside of Iran. I’m sure that the Iranian authorities will do what they can to block any move we make. And so it’s like a chess game. We’ll go back and make another move because we think we owe it to the Iranians, particularly during this period when there is so much at stake and the people who are standing up against the increasingly autocratic dictatorial regime need the support of those of us on the outside.
QUESTION: Related to that on internet freedom, this all came to the fore a couple of months ago with the China/Google issue. And there’s a possibility that China – that Google’s license in China might expire at the end of this month just as part of a routine thing, and I know Google is getting closer to thinking about closing down its China operation. You haven’t spoken out about it since January.
What has the Chinese Government told you about their investigation? What kind of pressure are you putting on the Chinese Government? And what more is the State Department doing to try to encourage internet freedom in China after these events in the last couple of months?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, specifically, with respect to Google, this is really between Google and China. We have spoken out forcefully and clearly in favor of internet freedom. We are not going to be telling Google what to do. They have to make the decision that they believe is in the best interests of their company. But we are, similarly with China, working to support freedom of expression and internet openness so that there are not successful efforts to shut it down, to prevent it, to deny the people of China access to information. And similarly, the State Department has a series of programs that are being utilized to further that goal.
QUESTION: One last question: Since we’re in Russia, and one of the main things you’ve been talking to Russian partners about is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, do you have an agreement with the Russians about whether or not missile defense, which they are very concerned about – U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe – whether that has to be part of the START treaty or not?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re nearly finished with the START treaty. I mean, as we are speaking today in Moscow, our negotiators in Geneva are wrapping-up the final elements of the START treaty and we hope to have a signing ceremony between President Medvedev and President Obama in early April. But we don’t have anything to say specifically about it until it is all completed. Missile defense is an issue that we are committed to. We think it’s in the interests of our NATO allies, our other partners and allies around the world, and we believe that there is an opportunity for cooperation between Russia and the United States on missile defense against the threats coming from rogue regimes and extremist networks.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton, for your time today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: My pleasure. Thank you.