Interview With Shirin Wheeler of BBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Hello, and welcome to a special edition of the The Record Europe. It’s hard to think of two people who are more influential when it comes to shaping world affairs than the women with me here in this studio today. The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the middle of a European tour which has taken her to the Balkans and here to Brussels as well. We also have Cathy Ashton who is the EU’s High Representative for foreign and security policy. And of course, you took up that post last year. Thanks both of you for joining me. And Secretary of State, have you now found in Catherine Ashton that person that you can call on the phone and say, “What’s Europe thinking today?”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. Well, I’ve found someone who has just gotten into this job with extraordinary energy and I know it’s a huge job that she’s undertaken on behalf of the European Union. But is very helpful, that with the Lisbon Treaty, to have someone like Cathy in the position to take those phone calls. And I think it’s going to improve our coordination as it already has on so many issues. And it’s also fun. I mean, I love working with her and spending time with her and admire greatly her grasp of the very complex issues that we both face.
QUESTION: Do you – Catherine Ashton, do you actually talk together more than just on the fringes of these sort of meetings?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: We do. I mean, we consult each other pretty regularly on the phone. When we’re in -- many occasions, across the world, we find ourselves together. And of course, our teams talk every day. I think it’s important that people understand that this is a continuous dialogue of all different levels. But every day there will be traffic between the EU and the U.S. talking with each other about issues of concern.
QUESTION: Does the fact that you’re both women have a relation to how you relate to each other actually, do you think?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course, I think it does. I think that we both have been involved in politics and policy for a long time on behalf of our respective countries. Cathy is now in a very important position representing all of the EU. But it is also, for me, a real pleasure to be able to not just talk about the serious matters, but about our children, about shopping, if you don’t tell anybody. (Laughter.) There’s just –
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: You have to tell everybody. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: The work we do – foreign policy and security are so intense. They are truly life and death issues for the people we represent. And you have to blow off a little steam. And when I see Cathy, I know that I’ll be able to take a deep breath and say, “Oh, my gosh, can you believe that,” or, “Did you see what happened there,” and get a response.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Absolutely right. It’s absolutely right. It’s also because we share together elements of having been a woman coming through public life and the challenges that that creates, which are inevitably different to those faced by men. I don’t say more or less; they’re just different. And we have that ability to be able to talk with each other. It also means that we can sometimes focus on the issues that affect women.
For me, one of the most memorable meetings will be meeting with Hillary in Afghanistan. We met the women of Afghanistan. Huge admirers of everything that you have done, Hillary. But a real opportunity see these incredible women in very challenges circumstances with great humor talking about some of the issues, whether it was micro-financing, politics, the economic recovery of their country, the future. We talked as women as well, and that was really important for me and a great opportunity to share that.
QUESTION: The Secretary of State is investing. You’re investing your confidence in this post. But there is, isn’t there still, a disconnect between that attitude and what you, Catherine Ashton, encounter here in Brussels? You are still struggling to get the backing of the EU capitals of the institutions in this job.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, it doesn’t feel like that to me. I mean, I read it in the press and it’s all very interesting and exciting to read and it’s, what we call here, the “Brussels bubble.” (Laughter.) But actually, the experience I have is not like that. I get a huge amount of support from capitals. I get –
QUESTION: The French minister – foreign minister criticized you the other day for not being at the re-launch of the Middle East peace talks. There’s a lot of sniping, isn’t there?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, Bernard Kouchner made a comment about whether he thought the EU should be represented. But of course, Bernard now knows that that decision was taken in full cooperation with George Mitchell, who I spoke to for many occasions through that time. But actually, the challenge for me, as it turned out, was to be in China where I was leading our negotiations as opposed to being at what would have been a very interesting occasion, but where actually the U.S. was in the lead. And one of the challenges we face is you can’t be everywhere. You have to make choices every day about where you go. And for some people, the choice you make is perhaps not the one they would have made, but you make the choice.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I want to underscore that, Shirin, because you would think in the world we’re living in with instantaneous communications and mobility by jet plane travel that we wouldn’t have to travel so much. But in fact, what I find, is that the European Union and the United States have to show up in so many different places. So I think what Cathy and I are trying to pioneer is something of a cooperative approach and even a division of labor, because I know exactly what she’s talking about. I mean, each of us could literally work around the clock 24 hours a day and not meet all of the expectations, obligations, requests that we each receive. So we have to prioritize. And we just came from a press conference where I thanked Cathy for leading an important meeting, the Friends of Pakistan, tomorrow. I’m not going to be there, but I have full confidence that Cathy’s going to be leading it and moving it in the right direction.
So it is a little frustrating from time to time, because clearly these are all important events. They are ones that each of us would love to be at if we could virtually transport ourselves. But the fact is we have to prioritize and having now a post-Lisbon EU with this position filled actually gives us more reach than we would have had individually.
QUESTION: It also presents a challenge, doesn’t it, to the European Union, perhaps, to be clearer about what it can offer to that partnership if that partnership is, as your President has said, a real – one of strong partners, not the U.S. being a patron. So I wonder – I mean, there is the impression that this administration is less sentimental about the relationship with Europe than perhaps in the past, that Europe really has to be clearer about what it can offer. Do you think that’s true?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, I don’t want to start being sentimental. I think my experience is there is as strong a relationship as ever between the EU and the United States. We work together as we’ve described. Sometimes, though, people think that has to translate into, if you like, the photo opportunity. Whereas, I think it’s about what I described, about the constant traffic between our people on the phone, visits, and so on, collaboration that underpins those moments when you, in a sense, above the radar say, “Here we are in this great partnership.” And I – my experience is it’s very strong. So for me I don’t recognize the stories I read.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about concrete things. You’ve just come back from the Balkans, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Now, is that an area where you can see any evidence of the EU delivering with these new arrangements in place?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. In fact, Cathy and I were just talking about my trip to the Balkans. The aspirations in the Balkans to be part of Europe is a historic movement that now can be addressed because we have these new structures in place more easily than it could have been before. I mean, I personally think the European Union is one of the most extraordinary historical achievements that have occurred bringing Europe together, Europe whole, free, united, stable, peaceful, prosperous. And the fact that countries which have been considered in conflict with all kinds of grievances and difficulties have come out of a period of great strife and are now looking toward Europe, looking toward Brussels, looking toward the Euro-Atlantic community is a great tribute. If the European Union weren’t something that delivered for people, that not just fulfilled their expectations and hopes, but on the ground made a difference, people wouldn’t be yearning to be considered a candidate for membership. So I think the fact that Cathy is now in this position helping to organize the foreign policy and security policy makes an even stronger case for bringing Europe together and we are fully in support of that.
QUESTION: I mean, one area where you’ve galvanized the 27 obviously recently is in – on Iran, isn’t it? And yet, if the possibility that the U.S. might need to move closer to a military strike were to occur, where would the unity of the EU go?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: I don’t think we’re anywhere, anywhere in that discussion. What we’re doing with the United States and with – what’s called E-3+3, but the countries we work closely with – is now moving towards trying to get into a serious dialogue with Iran. We have a twin track approach – the pressure – the sanctions are there in order to facilitate Iran at the table and every day we do something towards trying to make that a reality working extremely closely with colleagues in the U.S. and, of course, it will be me that will, on behalf of those group of countries, lead the negotiations. And we’re ready to do that. That’s the way we want to go with this. We’re in complete agreement that we should do that. We’re equally clear we have a responsibility to make sure that we get those negotiations and that we keep the pressure up to achieve the results we need.
QUESTION: Do you see an importance here for the EU in this particular area, Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. In fact, the leadership from the EU that Cathy has demonstrated made it possible for the international community to come together. It wasn’t just the United States asking; it was the United States, the European Union, other members of the E-3+3, Russia, China. And it made a very important statement that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable to the international community. And now with the potential for negotiations beginning because of Iran’s reaching out to Cathy, Cathy will be leading the international community in those negotiations, which is one of the most important security and foreign policy issues the world faces.
QUESTION: You say that, but there still is, if you look at public opinion particularly in countries like France, this idea that the EU’s role is still too much focused on bolstering U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, for example, as well. How do you counter that?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, I think it’s also about the work we need to do in Europe, frankly, and explaining to people what we’re doing in foreign policy. I mean, foreign policy touches everybody’s life, but most people don’t realize it does. How we keep people safe, secure, the trades that we have with other nations, the ability that people have to live, work, study, travel across the world is all part of foreign policy. And there is a big communication message that we have to get across. So I think part of why people feel the way they do is because what they look at in the world implies to them a different answer to the question.
In terms of the Middle East, we have different roles. And the point about this relationship is we don’t necessarily do the same things. We do things differently. The Americans under George Mitchell, who I admire enormously, are leading absolutely in supporting the Palestinians and Israelis to negotiation. We know the difficulties at the present time. But he has done an incredible amount of work. What we’ve been doing is supporting those efforts both directly – my visits to the Middle East – and through the Quartet with Russia and the UN, U.S., EU. Also in the work we do to help the Palestinian Authority get ready for the day that they will be a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: You mention that, but the EU is the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinian Authority and some people do say given that it ought really to be able to deliver more, to be exercising more influence than it does.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s a misperception that the EU is not exercising influence. I think that, as Cathy pointed out, there’s so much work to be done in all of these complex foreign policy challenges – bolstering the Palestinian Authority, having the relationships that the EU has within the Arab world, making the case as to why the two-state solution is in the best interest of the Palestinian people is a huge part of the negotiating context. The United States, in our efforts to bring the parties together, is playing a different role. We obviously support the Palestinian Authority and we’ll be even doing more because we think they have earned even greater support, but I think that the zero sum analysis of foreign policy roles is really outdated. We don’t have these linear problems that are easily decided. I maybe yearn for the past, talking about sentiment. But during the Cold War, it was very clear what side we were on and how we worked together and saw the fall of communism and all that Europe and the United States stood for really taking the forefront for the 21st century.
We live in a much more complicated environment now. And it’s not that our problems are worse. I mean, two world wars and a cold war was just about as bad as you can get. But they’re different. And they require a different use of both hard power and soft power. When I became Secretary of State, I said the United States was going to start using smart power, which was a combination of these tools and get away from this kind of linear all or nothing analysis and reaction. And I think this partnership between the EU and the U.S., it will take some adjusting and in member states we all still have our individual roles to play, of course. But this kind of cooperation is a uniquely 21st century response to the complexity that we confront.
QUESTION: Let’s just move onto NATO, because that’s one of the reasons you’re here in Brussels. You’re meeting with foreign and defense ministers. Now, the talk is all about defense cuts at the moment. Particularly in a country like Britain, we’re expecting some pretty spectacular announcements in the next few days. Does that worry the Administration in Washington?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It does, and the reason it does is because I think we do have to have an alliance where there’s a commitment to the common defense. NATO has been the most successful alliance for defensive purposes in the history of the world, I guess, but it has to be maintained. Now, each country has to be able to make its appropriate contributions, but we’re also seeing a great effort by Secretary General Rasmussen to modernize and reform NATO, to make it more cost-effective and efficient so that taxpayers in member nations in both Europe and North America can believe that we’re getting the best dollar response for our investment.
So there’s a lot of work to be done here, but we face new and different threats. Of course, there are cuts that we’re making. Secretary Gates has been very outspoken about that. But then there are new responsibilities like cyber security or missile defense that we’re going to have to assume. But I have great confidence in the commitment to NATO by member nations, and I believe that despite the budgetary pressures that we all feel, we will continue to be committed to our mutual efforts.
QUESTION: I mean, given – Catherine Ashton, given that you have the potential to maybe plug some of those gaps through the EU and – are you being consulted about this? Have you been consulted about the defense cuts --
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: I have --
QUESTION: -- by the British Government?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: I wouldn’t expect to be consulted by individual member states on what they decide to do in their domestic agenda. That’s for them, and let’s be clear; there was a distinction. What I think we can contribute in a European context, and post-Lisbon is only a few months ago, is looking at, for example, what the European Defense Agency can do – the capacity to use economies of scale, R&D facilities, research and development across the member states to enhance their capabilities by working collaboratively together.
Now, there are lots of bilateral relations that go on as well within the European Union. My role is not to get in the way of any of that. It’s to find things where perhaps we can do additional work. So I’ve challenged the European Defense Agency with – it was in its mandate to now look carefully at what it can do to try and support, in this economic climate, countries being able to keep up their defense capabilities.
QUESTION: And Secretary of State, you mentioned soft power earlier, and of course, arguably, that is the biggest card in the EU’s pack. And yet, it does seem from things that have been said that the U.S. doesn’t always think the EU uses that power as effectively as it might, particularly in the case of Turkey.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, I don’t see that. I see a very continuous engagement. Cathy has been especially active in working with Turkey, as I have. So I believe that we are both committed to enhancing our engagement with Turkey. You probably know that the United States strongly supports Turkey’s membership in the European Union. That’s not for us to decide; it’s obviously for the union itself.
QUESTION: But there was criticism, wasn’t there, by the president of a reluctance among certain EU governments as far as that membership bid is concerned?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we have our opinion, which we express, as friends do to one another. But this is an area where we don’t have a vote; the member states do. But we are very committed to working with Turkey. They’re a very involved ally in NATO. We have a great deal of bilateral business that we conduct with Turkey.
And Turkey is becoming a much greater regional and global presence. Their economy is growing dramatically. They reach out to countries and try to influence behavior and policy on their own as well as in concert with us. So I think there’s a lot that is still to be done, but we’re deeply committed to that.
QUESTION: The challenge for you, though, surely, High Representative, is to get all of the EU singing from the same hymn sheet on this one.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, as Hillary says, Turkey’s position for me is a very important one. They are a partner, in many cases, as we work together to look at some of the challenges we face regionally and internationally. And so from the perspective of looking at external relations, when I look at the countries with whom I need to have a strong relationship, Turkey is clearly one for the reasons that Hillary has well expressed.
In terms of what then for the member states need to do is to move forward. I mean, Turkey is a candidate country. Until somebody tells me differently, Turkey is a candidate country. And I work on that basis and so do they. It’s a long-term and challenging route to get to EU membership in any event.
QUESTION: Well, talking about long term, talking about the future, it’s all going to be about China, isn’t it? But do the EU and the U.S. see this challenge in the same terms? Is there more of a coming together that’s needed, really, to face this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we do have a similar view: We want to see China become a responsible, reliable partner in the international community. The United States is very committed to a comprehensive, positive, cooperative relationship with China. I lead, along with the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, an in-depth Strategic and Economic Dialogue that has brought our two governments much closer together, working on common purposes.
But we also know that there will be differences between the United States and China. We have raised concerns about some of the foreign policy actions of China. We have obviously raised concerns about their currency policy. But we want to do that within the context of a positive engagement. There may be areas where we disagree, and there certainly will be between the United States and China, but the overall relationship is heading in the right direction.
And we are supporting China in taking more positive steps in their work in Africa, for example, so that they’re more supportive of development, not just commercial enterprises. China joined the international community in our struggle against piracy off the coast of Africa. China has been involved in what we call the Six-Party Talks in figuring out how to deal with North Korea and end its provocative behavior.
So we have constant discussions with China on a full range of issues. As with any country or as with any association of countries, the United States will have many areas of agreement and some areas of disagreement, but we will work those out together.
QUESTION: Briefly, though, I mean, it’s widely said that the EU’s problem here, just to go back to where we started, is the lack of common position on China.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Well, you know we launched a strategic partnership discussion at European Council. One of the advantages of the post-Lisbon world is continuity of people, frankly, which means that you can think more strategically. The rotating presidency, important though that is, meant that leaders across the world would meet a different president of Europe every six months. And the ability post-Lisbon to have that longer-term view is how I think we can develop the relationships with everyone, and of course, with China.
QUESTION: Well, look, we have another U.S.-EU summit next month in Lisbon. If I talk to officials here in Brussels, what really marks their attitude is the lack of expectation of it, actually. Now, President Obama didn’t make the last one in Madrid. Do you think there will be a day when the EU-U.S. summit becomes an un-missable date?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Yeah, next month in Lisbon. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. We’ll be together. (Laughter.)
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Absolutely. I mean, I don’t know who you talk to. I worry about who you talk to. (Laughter.) Because we talked about – when I was in Washington, Hillary and I talked about the summit and our high expectations for the dialogue that we will have. I always believe that these are real key opportunities to reestablish, reassert the values we hold, the work we do. But as I’ve always said, let’s not get hooked on the photo opportunity; let’s look at the real work that goes on on a day-to-day basis and the things we can do together.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I want to echo that. I mean, President Obama speaks to his counterparts in Europe on a regular basis, as do I, and we are engaged at the working level constantly. And I underscore what Cathy said. We think the importance of summits has a role to play in our relationship, but if that’s all that was happening, that would be a disappointing reality. In fact, the summits are just one aspect of what we do every single day to further our common agenda. And it is wonderful for the public to see all of our leaders together, and I enjoy that and I’m looking forward to Lisbon next month.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But I really wish that there could be a better understanding of what goes on minute by minute, because we consult on that basis between ourselves on everything.
QUESTION: On that note, Secretary of State, High Representative, thank you both so much for joining us. And that’s all from me and this special edition of The Record Europe. I’ll be back again next week as usual. Hope you join me then. Bye for now.