Interview With Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 14, 2011

QUESTION: Okay. Madam Secretary, I really appreciate this opportunity.


QUESTION: We have very little time. Let me start. There was conflicting messages coming from the White House and the State Department. The White House initially said (inaudible) now – and now means yesterday – then in the second week, (inaudible) said that change may take time, then try to – Frank Wisner (inaudible) policy. Surely, your audiences in this country and abroad were kind of confused. Why the disconnect?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I don’t think there was a disconnect. I think there was a consistent message that, from beginning to end, was very clear. Number one, we were against violence, and we said that to everyone. We sent that message very directly to the Government of Egypt and to the military. Number two, that we respected the universal human rights and the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and thought that they needed to be responded to and recognized by their own government. And number three, that we were supporting political change.

Now, I think that it is clear that as we went through the week – the weeks leading up to the rather dramatic departure of President Mubarak, the United States – no outside power or influence was determining what happened inside Egypt. This was all about the Egyptian people, and I think the Egyptian people themselves made it clear that they wanted no violence, they wanted their human rights respected, and they wanted a transition to democracy, which is pretty much in line with what we’ve been advocating.

So now, we are at a point where we see this historic, heroic effort by the Egyptian people, which we are very much in support of.

QUESTION: Okay. Some people are wondering that – kind of particular messages that (inaudible), that this was in part maybe a function of what you’ve been hearing, the anxiety that you heard from your friends in the region, the Arabs and Israelis who would caution you not to hasten the departure of Mubarak. To what extent did the views of your friends and allies in the region – were a factor in your decisions?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have been saying for some time, and the President said it in his speech in Cairo in 2009, I said it many times, most recently in Doha --


SECRETARY CLINTON: -- that there had to be change in the Arab world, that the foundations were not stable, that they were sinking. And therefore, we wanted to urge our friends and partners to respond to the economic and political demands of their people. I don’t think anybody could have predicted we’d be sitting here talking about the end of the Mubarak presidency at the time that this all started.

But because we tried very hard to be a friend and partner to the Egyptian people during this, we told our many other friends in the region that change was inevitable. It was a question as to whether it would be positive change that would lead to a better outcome for the people, or negative, where these aspirations would be denied and the process would be hijacked. So we did our best to try to explain to our friends that there had to be some commitment to reform.

QUESTION: Our time is running out. Quickly, in (inaudible), you expressed concern that some groups within the Egyptian society may (inaudible) it’s taking place, insert their own parochial agenda. This was understood as a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Is the Brotherhood welcome at the table as President Obama hinted last week?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is up to the Egyptian people. They have to decide how they’re going to organize themselves. And I wasn’t just talking about internal --


SECRETARY CLINTON: -- challenges, but external challenges as well. We’ve seen this ironic hypocrisy coming from the Iranian regime that was trumpeting what was going on in Egypt and is now oppressing their own people. So it was an expression of what we’ve heard from – within Egypt and around the region, that – don’t let this process be hijacked by anyone. This must be in response to the Egyptian people’s desires.

QUESTION: The Egyptian military said now that they are lifting the emergency laws (inaudible) parliament free elections in a period of time. What guarantees do you have that they will deliver on their promises, given the track record of other militaries it should not (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, this is going to be left to the Egyptian people. We have offered whatever aid and assistance we can provide, any that is appropriate and requested. But this is an ongoing effort and there have been some good steps taken so far. But as you point out, the end of the road is what matters – where will this lead. And clearly, we hope and we are encouraging that the commitment to move toward a democratic transition with free and fair elections is not wavered from.

QUESTION: You are challenging the Iranian Government to allow the people to demonstrate and express themselves like the Egyptians. Would this be (inaudible) position of the American Government now, to allow – I mean, if you say the same thing, whether those who are demonstrating are Algerians or (inaudible) or Jordanians asking for their freedom or, for that matter, the Palestinians demonstrating and asking for their own (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we believe in peaceful demonstrations. We believe that politics should be influenced by nonviolence, and what we saw in Egypt proves that point, the extraordinary reaction of the young people in the streets. And so we are for basic human rights – freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.

At the same time, we do not want to see any interference with the rights of people to be able to express themselves. And we had said to our friends, you must respond to the needs of people. We are all connected up now. Young people are communicating across every boundary one can imagine. We’ve saw that in real time in Egypt, and we think that many of our friends are responding to these calls for reform, and we support that.

QUESTION: In your speech in Doha, you said that if there’s no reform, (inaudible) said that the foundation (inaudible) sinking in the sand. (Inaudible) the Algerians and the Yemenis and the Jordanians (inaudible). Those governments are under pressure now from (inaudible) public opinion. And a lot of people say that they don’t get it. What do you say?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that a lot of the leaders are trying to get it and trying to understand how to move forward on an economic and political reform agenda, and we support that. Change is always challenging. It doesn’t matter where it occurs. I mean, we have it in our own country where advocating for change and then translating it into reality takes time, and it can be a frustrating process. But in a democratic political system or in a reforming system, one has to be focused on the outcome, and stay with nonviolence, stay with the political process, be a partner in getting the reform agenda put into place. And that’s what we’re encouraging.

QUESTION: Okay. One final question. Lebanon received the (inaudible), essentially on nonpolitical, non-state actors, certainly (inaudible) support (inaudible). What would you say to that? What would your (inaudible) send a message to the (inaudible) on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri? What would you say?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that there are many ways that a democracy can be hijacked. And having armed militias within a democratic state should not be permitted. And this has been a consistent American position that the state should be the guarantor of the integrity and authority of the state, and should have a monopoly on military power. So the situation unfortunately in Lebanon has developed so that there is this counterforce for the state in Hezbollah.

And it’s a great concern to us because the Lebanese people deserve better. They are such a vibrant, incredibly dynamic society, and they deserve to have their democracy respected and their voices heard, and not have one element of their society using the threat of force and the potential of violence to try to achieve political ends. And we strongly support the continuing investigation into the murder of Prime Minister Hariri and 22 others. We want to see the murderers brought to justice. There should be no impunity; there should be accountability and transparency. And we know that there is great pressure against that, which raises questions about what people have to fear. I mean, if you’re going to participate in a democracy, then you should want to enforce the law. So we will continue to strongly support the tribunal.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, our time is up. Secretary Clinton, I really appreciate it. Thanks again.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Always good to talk to you, thank you.

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PRN: 2011/208