Interview With Meredith Vieira of NBC's Today Show
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, good morning to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, good morning, Meredith. It’s great to talk to you again.
QUESTION: Great to talk to you as well. You have described the relationship between our countries as being at a critical juncture. What do you mean, Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Meredith, obviously the United States and China, as the first and second largest economies in the world, as two of the biggest participants in what’s going on globally about economic recovery, and in so many other ways, are forging a relationship for the future. And in the last two years we have worked very hard to make it clear we want a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship that doesn’t paper over the differences, because indeed we have them, but tries to put the relationship on a very steady foundation that will enable us to work together on regional and global issues as well as to build a solid working relationship between the two of us.
QUESTION: The Administration has been accused in the past of bullying the Chinese, and critics have said that’s the wrong approach to take. Are we changing our strategy when it comes to how we deal with the Chinese Government?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve read commentaries who say that we’re too hard, we’re too soft, and in part I think it reflects how challenging it is to make sure that we stand up for our values, stand up for our interests, yet look for common ground wherever we can find it with China, because this will be one of the most consequential relationships of the 21st century.
And I think on so many of the strategic and economic issues, the last two years really are a good news story. Can you imagine how we would have navigated through the economic crisis if President Obama had not been very forward-leaning in working with the Chinese both bilaterally and through the G-20 to try to chart a very steady course. We are recovering. We’re making progress. We have a ways to go, but the world economy, thankfully, did not fall in to the deeper recession and even depression that so many people were worried about.
On strategic issues, we worked very hard to find a way forward with the Chinese to impose sanctions on Iran and to impose sanctions on North Korea. That wasn’t easy for them in either case because they get a lot of their energy in the past from Iran and they sit on the border with North Korea. But we spent a lot of time working through the challenges that we faced, and we appreciate the leadership that China showed.
Similarly on climate change, in both Copenhagen and Cancun, despite the fact that we are at different levels of development, we were able to begin to put together a framework agreement for us to deal with the challenge posed by climate change.
Now, we have a long way to go. We’ve got to work harder to make sure that China’s market is open to our American businesses, that our intellectual property is protected, that their currency is valued appropriately --
QUESTION: Well, how do you do that, because they’re not inclined to go along with those things?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I think it’s partly putting yourself in a position to see what their needs are. I mean, this is a country of, what, 1.3 billion people. In the last 30 years of our normalized relations, they have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. They’re trying to increase the standard of living and bring development to the entire rural area of this big country. They have their own view of history and of the future they’re trying to chart.
So we have to be at least open to hearing from them about what their concerns are, and in return we expect them to be open to us. So we created in the Obama Administration what we call the Strategic and Economic Dialogue which brought together discussions that had been occurring at different parts of our government into one overall dialogue, so that it’s not just leaders talking to each other every six or eight months, but it works through the entire government so that we begin to build some understanding, some trust, some cooperation.
And I think that that’s a really important commitment that we’re making, because we think it’s in America’s interest to work on this relationship and to try to make it as positive as possible.
QUESTION: Two things. What needs to be accomplished – needs to be accomplished – over the next couple of days? And if we don’t get it right in terms of our policy vis-à-vis China, could we be headed toward another cold war, which is what some people are predicting could happen?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we hope to avoid that, because we don’t think that’s in America’s interests. We want to have an open trading system. We want to have a lot of interchanges between our two countries. We’ll be announcing additional people-to-people measures, because it’s not just between governments. We want to see more cooperation on the economic front. We want to see more cooperation dealing with the very thorny problem of North Korea, its nuclear ambitions, its provocative behavior that is destabilizing Northeast Asia. And we want to continue to build those ties of understanding and trust, because we’re going to disagree on Tibet, on Taiwan, on human rights. We know that. They know that. And they’re going to disagree with us because they’re going to say you need to do more on your own economy, on your own competitiveness, in order to be able to raise your own standard of living.
So we do have differences of opinion that we bring to this meeting with President Hu Jintao, but overall I think we’re making steady progress. It may not be as fast as some people want, but I think we have to chart a steady course and stay on it and never forget that we stand for American interests and American values. They stand for Chinese interests and Chinese values. We don’t want a zero-sum relationship. We want to look for as many win-win opportunities as we can, because this relationship is going to, in many ways, determine the peace and stability and prosperity of the 21st century.
QUESTION: You mentioned human rights, Madam Secretary. Back in 2009, you warned that human rights concerns would not be allowed to interfere – I believe is the word you used – with U.S.-Chinese relations. You were criticized for that. You fast-forward to last Friday and you urged China to free several dissidents, including the most recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient. So has your position changed? Will human rights take top priority when it comes to relations with China?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I mean, human rights is at the heart of American diplomacy, but it is not the only issue that we discuss with the Chinese. My position hasn’t changed at all. It will always be in the dialogue that we have. It will be raised privately. It will be raised publicly. But we also have many other issues. Think back to 2009 when the world was tottering on the brink of either a deeper recession or maybe even a depression; we had to right our economic ship and we had to get the world to work together in order to achieve that. So of course, in my very first meeting with the Chinese, I raised human rights issues. But we focused on economic issues. We focused on strategic issues as well, because those were pressing and had to be dealt with.
So I think it’s important to look at what we’re trying to establish: a positive relationship, a cooperative one and a comprehensive one. And we will always raise human rights. That’s who we are as a nation. That’s what we stand for. But we’re not going to only talk about these issues, as important as they are, because we have many, many concerns that can only be dealt with through an open, ongoing dialogue with the Chinese.
QUESTION: I want to move on to Iran and nuclear weapons. There are reports from Israeli officials that Iran could have the ability to deploy nuclear weapons within the next four years. Now, you say that sanctions have worked in terms of delaying Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but nobody is talking about stopping them from doing it. So is a nuclear Iran an inevitability?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, not at all. And I think it was very important what the Israelis said a few days ago that because of the international efforts, which the United States has been leading, we have delayed the nuclear program of Iran, which gives us more of a breathing space to try to work to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, to change their strategic calculation. In fact, at the end of this week, there will be another meeting of the so-called P-5+1, which are the major permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and the European Union, with representatives of Iran to continue the conversation that we have had with them.
It’s very clear that the international community, including China, Russia, the Middle East, the Arab nations, are all united in our commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And that will continue to be our priority.
QUESTION: I want to move on to something that Vice President Cheney – former Vice President Cheney said on our program yesterday in an interview. He was asked about President Obama and Obama’s political future. This is a little bit of what he had to say: “His overall approach to expanding the size of government, expanding the deficit – those are all weaknesses, as I look at Barack Obama. And I think he’ll be a one-term president.”
Beyond the laughter, what is your response do that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am pleased that former Vice President Cheney is healthy and resuming public activities, but I could not disagree with him more. I don’t think that’ll surprise anyone who is watching your program, Meredith. We inherited an enormous deficit. Let’s put a little bit of reality into this conversation.
When my husband left office, we had a balanced budget, we had a surplus, we were on the path to even eliminating the federal debt had we stayed on that path. Unfortunately, the Bush-Cheney Administration chose a different fiscal approach which left an enormous budget deficit and an increased debt for President Obama. I think President Obama has been playing the hand that he was dealt by the Bush-Cheney Administration very well indeed, rescuing not just the American economy but the global economy, beginning to deal with a lot of our long-term competitive challenges.
So clearly, it’s a diametrically opposed view, but I think both history and reality are on the side of the description I just gave you.
QUESTION: Well, will you be a one-term Secretary of State?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I am very pleased to be working in this position now, but I have said on many different occasions I am looking forward to returning to private life, something that I haven’t had the experience of for a long time now. And I am proud to serve this President. I think we’ve made a real difference in restoring American leadership and credibility around the world. But I do look forward to having a little more spare time and a few more hours just to take a deep breath, which seems kind of hard to have in this job.
QUESTION: Do we expect that anytime soon you might announce that you’re planning to retire, like Defense Secretary Gates?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I have committed to President Obama that I will stay with him this first term, and I intend to do so.
QUESTION: How about the second term?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is not something I’m in any way committing to or even thinking about. And by the way, if Secretary Gates is watching, I sure hope he’ll stay and stay as long as he possibly can. He’s a great colleague and a great leader and has served our country very well. And we’ve got some turbulent waters to navigate through, and it would be great to have him still at the helm of the Defense Department.
QUESTION: Well, right now he says he plans to retire this year. So if you were offered his job and you were the first female Defense Secretary, would you take it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first I’m doing my very best, as I just shamelessly did on this program, to convince him not to retire and to stay --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) not going to work.
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- to stay at least until the very end of 2011.
QUESTION: All righty. Well, on that note, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I thank you for your time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great to talk to you, Meredith. Thank you.
QUESTION: You, too. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Bye.