Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC TV

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Moscow, Russia
March 19, 2010

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for speaking to the BBC here in Moscow. I wanted to start by asking you about proximity talks. It’s on everybody’s lips. And I’m trying to clarify whether you consider that they’ve started, or whether that they are going to start soon, when Senator Mitchell goes to the region at the weekend. And will he be discussing core, substantive issues, or is it going to be more talk about talking?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, we hope that we can re-launch negotiations through proximity talks in the very near future. We think this is not an end in itself; it is a means to building confidence, beginning the conversation about substantive matters on the core issues that divide the Israelis and the Palestinians, that will, we hope and expect, lead to direct talks.

The atmospherics for the resumption of these negotiations needs to be a positive and constructive one. Neither party should engage in any activity on a unilateral basis that is provocative and disruptive of this effort. And we anticipate that we will be able to get those launched with Senator Mitchell’s good offices, and then eventually move into the direct talks.

QUESTION: But initially, the proximity talks will be about the process, about the framework, and not about substantive issues?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, they will also include substantive issues.

QUESTION: Do you believe that you have a partner for peace in the leadership of the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with the kind of coalition that he has?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I do. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to the two-state solution, as he himself has stated. I believe that he understands that the resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests, as it’s not being done for anyone other than his own people and their future. So, I anticipate that we will have a very active and engaged partner. Similarly, with the Palestinians, as difficult as it is for them, they too want to build a state. They want to have the opportunity to chart their own future.

Now, that doesn’t say that it will be easy, because it won’t be. There are just many issues, a very deep division between the two parties. But I think both sides see where they want to end up. It’s just how we get them to that point.

QUESTION: And the U.S. can’t really afford to blink any more, in the face of Israeli stubbornness on East Jerusalem, because the United States lost a lot of credibility last year on the issue of settlements.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think so. I think that the United States pushed very hard for the Israeli Government to take certain actions. And when the Netanyahu Government adopted a moratorium, that was the first time that it ever happened. I think, actually, it’s like many negotiations. You push for your maximalist position, knowing you may or may not get there, and then you pull the other side toward you and you reach a decision. And I think that’s a fair assessment of what happened last year.

Certainly, for the Israelis, the 10-month moratorium in the West Bank was something that no government before theirs had ever agreed to. So they saw it as a very big concession. Now, it’s not anywhere near what the Palestinians want to see, but that’s what negotiations are about. You know, sides start very far apart and try to narrow differences and get as close as they possibly can.

QUESTION: On the other hand, you did take a bit of a risk, perhaps, when you escalated the tone with Israel last week. I understand that the relationship is one that is committed and solid, but the tone changed a little bit. And the Israelis could have said, “Well, we never promised restraint on settlements in East Jerusalem.” Do you think that risk is paying off?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’re going to see the resumption of the negotiation track, and that means that it is paying off, because that’s our goal. Let’s get the parties into a discussion, let’s get the principal issues on the table, and let’s begin to explore ways that we can resolve the differences.

QUESTION: Is the pressure on the Israeli prime minister meant to be a moment of clarity? Either he shows his commitment to peace with actions, or his right-wing coalition falls.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are not taking any position, and have no particular stake in who the Israeli people choose to govern them. That is – they’re a democracy. They get to make those choices. I think that sometimes government – different parts of governments make actions or make statements that are not in the best interest of the government, as a whole.

And I think what the prime minister has said repeatedly is his government, and he personally, are committed to pursuing these negotiations. And he just has to make sure that he brings along everyone else. That’s his responsibility. It’s not something the United States can or is interested in doing.

QUESTION: Staying in the Middle East but moving on a little bit, do you share the assessment made by General David Petraeus that the dangers of the unresolved Middle East conflict pose a threat to U.S. interests and soldiers?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will let General Petraeus speak for himself. I think that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians certainly has ramifications beyond the region. It affects the attitudes of people around the world. It often times is an excuse not to do other things that are not directly related, but are assumed to have some connection.

So, there are many reasons why resolving this conflict is not just in the Israeli-Palestinian interest, it’s in the interest of the region, it’s in the interest of countries that care about what happens in the Middle East, and it certainly is in the interest of the United States, and particularly President Obama, who wants to see a more constructive relationship in the Middle East that would lead to improving the lives of the people who live there. So for us, it’s a very high priority.

QUESTION: But do you think that the conflict in the Middle East is a threat to American security?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know that’s what has been characterized as something that General Petraeus said. I would have to see what he said exactly, to respond.

QUESTION: The former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has just told the BBC that he started secret talks with Taliban leaders about a year ago. And he said that the recent arrests of Taliban leaders like Mullah Baradar have had a negative impact on that political process. What do you think of such talks? And do you agree with his assessment, that the arrests are a setback?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that everyone who was at the London conference agrees that there has to be a political track in the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan. And there are two aspects to that: reintegration and reconciliation. The United States supports both. President Karzai is the person who has to lead the reconciliation track. It really can’t be done from the outside. It has to be done internally among Afghans themselves. We support President Karzai’s efforts, as do many other countries.

So, I don’t want to comment on whether the arrest of one Taliban or another has dire effects, because I think it’s much bigger than just one person. I think it has to be viewed in a very large political context. And that is the way that I believe President Karzai is pursuing it.

QUESTION: I would like to move on to Iran. Your calendar on Iran sanctions is slipping somewhat. There had been talk of a December deadline. Now it looks like it’s going to take at least another month or two to get sanctions at the UN. It doesn’t really add up to a lot of pressure on Iran with all these delays.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t agree with that. I think that we are on schedule. We are proceeding to garner support and engage in the complex process of drafting a resolution. And I think we’re making progress on convincing other countries to join.

But like so much else, you take it a day at a time. And I am very clear that we are going to have a vote in the Security Council, and we are going to do everything we can to make this resolution as strong as possible.

QUESTION: Is it time to shift gears on Iran, and focus on human rights issues? European capitals are considering sanctioning Iran on human rights. Would you do the same?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, and we have spoken out repeatedly about the actions that we see, which are oppressing the people of Iran and escalating the violence against peaceful demonstrators. So we are going to continue to speak out.

In fact, I think that many countries are coming to the realization that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is more troubling because of their attitude on human rights. I mean we think both are equally troubling. And certainly their pursuit of nuclear weapons is something that we were concerned about before these latest crackdowns following the elections of last June. But when you take both together, it paints a very sobering picture.

So, many countries are saying, “Well, we have to do something, because we have a country like Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons, and the way they treat their people is a real indicator of how they might behave if they had nuclear weapons.”

QUESTION: I would just like to end with a question about foreign policy achievements of the Obama Administration so far, particularly when it comes to engagement. Iran hasn’t really engaged. Syria has almost personally insulted you. Burma hasn’t budged. China is not quite being as helpful as you would want. I know that it’s not exactly the same as Iran and Syria and other countries. But it’s not really going very well for the Obama Administration at this stage.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I couldn’t disagree more. On the one hand, you have to have strategic patience when you engage in diplomacy. I don’t think anyone expects countries to change overnight. It’s hard for individuals to change overnight.

But if you look at how far we have moved our relationship with Russia, it was at a very low level of trust and partnership when the – this Administration came in, and we are working together on many issues now. With respect to the Middle East, I think President Obama’s speech in Cairo is still resonating, and people who are in the Arab world, and the broader Islamic world, see the United States reaching out, looking for ways to find mutual interests to build on a better relationship and a better future. I think our work with China to establish a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship is going forward.

I mean there is something to remember here, and it’s not just from the vantage point of the United States. Countries, like people, have their own interests. I can’t come and tell you how to live your life. I can come and say, “Maybe together we can do some things,” but your core interests and my core interests are not likely to be ever completely the same. So there shouldn’t be any surprise in diplomatic engagement when you work with a country on A, B, and C, but they still have a different point of view on X, Y, and Z. But that doesn’t mean you stop working on A, B, and C.

I think one of the problems in the past administration was, “Well, if you aren’t with me, you’re against me.” That is much too simplistic a view of the complexity of the world in which we live. If we can make progress on any of these important matters together, we should pursue it, and we should continue to speak out about our differences and look for ways to narrow those, as well.

QUESTION: But it’s taking a lot more effort for the United States to get results, even when it’s working with allies. It requires a lot more heavy lifting, whether you are trying to get Brazil on board for sanctions on Iran, or whether you’re trying to get the Israelis to be a little bit more flexible. It requires a lot more heavy lifting these days.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I don’t think that should be surprising. I mean, first of all, diplomacy always has, it just hasn’t been played out in public. I mean there was always an enormous amount of activity that was going on, but people might not be sitting down and giving interviews, they might just be shuttling back and forth constantly.

Well, in today’s world, with 24/7 news coverage and all kinds of electronics to keep track of people, you don’t have – it was inconceivable that you would have a Henry Kissinger going back and forth, back and forth to open China without that becoming a story. And once something becomes a public story, then there are exogenous matters that begin to enter in. Because when you’re doing diplomacy both in private and in public, it is much more complicated than it used to be.

So, I think we ought to be very, I think, fair in assessing the complexities of the world in which we find ourselves, and the challenges that are posed to engagement and diplomacy, and celebrate the positive milestones along the way.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.


QUESTION: Thank you for your time.


PRN: 2010/T25-4