Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Munich, Germany
February 6, 2011

QUESTION: So, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.


QUESTION: Do you think the Egyptian people can trust a transition process that is essentially in the hands of the military and former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections. That's what the United States has consistently supported. We are putting a lot of effort into making sure that the dialogue process that has begun is meaningful and transparent, and leads to concrete actions.

Now, the people themselves, and the leaders of various groups within Egyptian society, will ultimately determine whether it is or is not meeting their needs. Today we learned that the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to participate, which suggests that they, at least, are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged.

We are going to wait and see how this develops. But we have been very clear about what we expect.

QUESTION: But some people on the street are saying, you know, "Suleiman looks like Mubarak II," keeping a lot of the old structures in place. Is he reassuring you that he is really doing things differently?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Look, we have had numerous conversations with him and others, both the Vice President and I have spoken with him in the last several days. We hear that they are committed to this, and when we press on concrete steps and timelines, we are given assurance that that will happen.

But ultimately, we are not the arbiters. It's the people of Egypt who are the arbiters. And a number of voices that are now being heard recognize there has to be some process. And there is a desire to test this, to see how it unfolds, and we support that.

QUESTION: What about Hosni Mubarak, though? I mean is the U.S. encouraging him to leave the scene, or has the U.S. given up on that track?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, again, this is up to the Egyptian people. I want to make very clear that we have set forth the principles that we support. We are adamant about no violence, and have consistently reached out to the army and the government to reinforce that message. We want to see peaceful protests that are -- so far, anyway -- embodying the aspirations that are, in our view, very legitimate. And we want to see an orderly, expeditious transition.

But I think it's important for us to recognize that American or any outside interest or nation has an obligation, in my view, to make absolutely clear what we want to see happen. But ultimately, the Egyptian people are going to have to make these decisions for themselves.

QUESTION: But the Obama Administration did send a former ambassador, Frank Wisner, to Cairo to quietly tell Mubarak that it's time. Wisner was just -- told this Munich security conference last night that Mubarak's role was utterly critical in this transition process. So it sounds like the U.S. has at least accepted the fact that Mubarak is not leaving the scene any time soon.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we deeply respect the many years of service that Frank Wisner has provided to our country. And he was asked to go and assess the positions of President Mubarak and those around him, having known them all for many years. But he does not speak for the American Government, he does not reflect our policies. And we have been very clear, from the beginning, that we wanted to see an orderly transition.

There is a debate within Egypt itself, and not just in the government, but among the people of Egypt, as to how best to ensure that. For example, under the constitution, the argument has been made by many who are in opposition, as well as in support of the government, that there would be a 60-day period to prepare for elections if he were to resign -- I am not an expert on the Egyptian constitution, I am not offering any opinion on it -- and that that doesn't give anybody enough time. I saw an interview reported this morning, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying it's going to take time to prepare.

So, again, I want to stress our basic point, that we have set forth our expectations: no violence; peaceful protest; orderly transition; process that is transparent, expeditious, leading to free and fair elections. And yet we know that, ultimately, these decisions lie in the hands of the people of Egypt, themselves.

QUESTION: How are other Arab rulers viewing this situation? Are they coming to you and asking you, "Do you still support us?"

SECRETARY CLINTON: They are concerned, like everyone is, about what comes next. And we have said the same things to them that we are saying to you, that we think that this has to be viewed in light of the principles that we have set forth. Some are more concerned than others.

But, as you know, I gave a speech in Doha last month where I said, "The foundations are sinking into the sand. These governments, these leaders, have to recognize that they must respond to the legitimate needs for economic and political reform that the people have, particularly young people, who represent one-half to two-thirds of the population in many of these countries."

QUESTION: And here in Munich you called it a Perfect Storm.


QUESTION: So I wonder what sort of advice you give to Arab rulers to weather this storm.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we give the same advice we have given for years through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We believe that democracies are more stable than authoritarian regimes. We believe that economic reform that spreads prosperity broadly among the population, that builds a middle class, that doesn't just enrich the elite -- we believe measures against corruption are necessary to avoid destroying trust between leaders and their citizens. We have a very consistent American view of this, in part based on our own history, but also in observing what has happened in other parts of the world. So our message, publicly and privately, has been the same.

Some leaders listen better than other leaders. But all leaders have to recognize now that the failure to reform, the failure to open up their economies and their political systems, is just not an option any longer.

QUESTION: But over the years the U.S. has relied on autocratic governments in the Middle East to support U.S. policies that are very unpopular in the region. So I wonder. You know, a lot of analysts are telling me now, regardless of how any of this plays out, you're going to have Middle Eastern leaders that have to listen to their publics more. And that might be problematic for the U.S. on all sorts of policies. And I wonder if you are ready for that sort of new Middle East.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Michele, I think the forces that are at work, particularly because of the advances in communications technology, are not reversible. And the United States understands that. And we want to play a constructive role in helping countries move in the direction of more openness and more democracy and participation and market access, and the things that we stand for.

But it is the case that some countries will move at different paces. And we have historically had relations with a lot of countries whose governments we did not approve of. That is the case still today. There is no easy answer to how we pursue what's in America's interests. Because, ultimately, my job, the President's job, is to protect the security and the interests of the United States.

And do we do business with, do we have relations with, do we support governments over the past 50 years that we do not always see eye to eye with? Of course. I mean that's the world in which we live. But our messages are consistent about what we think is in the best interest of the United States, which is to have more democracy, more openness, more participation. And that is a consistent principle, and we then have to deal with what comes of that.

QUESTION: We are going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time, especially on a trip -- I understand you've just broken a record of most traveled Secretary of State in your first two years.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that's what I'm told. And many days I feel it. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking time.

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PRN: 2011/T40-5