Interview With Kim Ghattas of British Broadcasting Corporation

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Geneva, Switzerland
February 28, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I want to start by asking you about the steps you’ve taken towards Libya. You have imposed sanctions, both you and the EU and the UN. You’ve placed an arms embargo on the Libyan leadership. But this doesn’t really stop the violence quickly. How do you protect the Libyan people?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I think that the unanimous international decision at the Security Council is a step toward ending the violence, because what it does is to send a clear message, not just to Qadhafi, who may or may not be listening, but to the people around him, people who may want to live longer, people who may no want to be pariahs, people who have a stake in ending the violence. So I think that the message of what we are doing is part of an overall international effort to end the violence.

In addition, there will be other steps taken to freeze the assets, to prevent access to those assets, so that Qadhafi can’t use them to perpetuate and escalate the violence, which is something we’re worried about.

QUESTION: So do you think this could take weeks and months?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Unclear what we’re looking at. We know that the situation for Qadhafi is worsening, that he is in control of a smaller part of the country, really now probably only a part of Tripoli. But he still has allies who are not yet turning against him, and we are trying to send very clear messages that that needs to happen.

And I think as I said earlier, we are looking at all forms of action. Nothing is off the table. We want to be prepared in the event that some other steps is necessary.

QUESTION: At what point does military force become necessary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a very difficult decision to make for many reasons. First of all, none of the countries with whom I’ve consulted today put that at the top of the list because it’s always fraught with uncertainty. And in a country like Libya, where we don’t have enough information to know exactly what is happening on the ground, it would be particularly difficult.

At the same time, we know that this violence must end. And if we can take action that would expedite its end, we have to consider that.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the Libyan leadership says there were no aerial bombardments and the deaths that we’re seeing in Libya are a result of fierce fighting between loyalists and rebels, if this is how we want to call them, that it’s 50/50. You’ve spoken about war crimes and the possibility of aerial bombardments. Do you have the evidence?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a very good question, Kim, and that’s why I’m cautious in how we talk about this. We do believe that, according to pilots who chose to disobey orders they were given that certainly the Qadhafi regime tried to direct certain actions from the air against targets on the land. We also have heard of additional accountings concerning limited but unmistakable efforts using helicopters and the like.

But it is unclear at this time, and we don’t want to make any decisions based on anecdotes. What we do know is that most of the violence is on the ground. And frankly, that’s one of the drawbacks of a no-fly zone is, as we learned in Iraq when we ran a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, sometimes absolutely horrible regimes decide that that means it’s open fire on the ground. So this is a much more complicated decision matrix than it might at first appear.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to squeeze in a question and answer in 30 seconds or less from you. Madam Secretary, you’ve said again and again this isn’t about the United States, this is about Arab people rising against their leaders. But it is about the U.S. also. It is about the access you have to oil, to trade routes. It’s going to have an impact on your policy towards Iran. It is about the United States and your national security interests.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s about the international community and our national security and global security interests. The United States gets hardly any of its oil or gas from Libya. Europe does. And so that is a bigger --

QUESTION: I was speaking about the wider Arab world.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the entire Arab region is an area of immense importance, but it’s also one of great potential which has not been realized. And part of what we see happening now is an effort by people themselves in these countries to gain access to the opportunities that the 21st century should offer. We are wholeheartedly in favor of that.

At the same time, we know there are many ways that these revolutions of expectation can be hijacked. They can be killed at birth, so to speak. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong. So we are in favor of orderly, peaceful, irreversible transitions that can give people a truly positive democratic outcome. But we’re working to make sure that happens, as opposed to having it go off in a direction that will lead to more autocracy, to ideological extremists, and all of the things that would betray the aspirations of the young people we’ve heard.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. Thank you for your time.

PRN: 2011/T41-06