Interview With of Andrea Mitchell of NBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I wanted to talk first about Japan. The scale of this catastrophe is so enormous, and it’s inevitably going to affect nuclear policy. It already is. Germany is shutting down plants. What does this mean for the future of the world in terms of nuclear energy, nuclear power, and increasing reliance on oil?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andrea, that’s one of the questions that is obviously going to have to be examined. And right now we are focused on trying to deal with the immediate disaster – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear reactor problems. We’re doing everything we can to support Japan, and we’re doing everything we can to assist American citizens because their health and safety is obviously our highest concern. And we’re following this very fast-moving dynamic situation literally minute by minute.
So in the immediate short term, we have a lot that we have to handle. And in the longer term, you’re right. This raises questions that everybody in the world will have to answer. But for us right now, just trying to stay very connected with our Japanese friends. We have Nuclear Regulatory Commission experts, Department of Energy experts, others who are on the ground in Japan working with their counterparts to try to mitigate the effects of this particular disaster.
QUESTION: Some people have suggested that the Japanese were reluctant to take advice, nuclear advice, initially, and waited too long.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I can’t comment on that because I’m not a nuclear expert. I know that our experts were immediately in communication with their Japanese counterparts. But the scale of this crisis was so immense and so unprecedented to have the earthquake followed by the tsunami, followed by the problems in the nuclear reactors, that our goal now is just to do everything we can to assist the Japanese to do the humanitarian work.
We have search and rescue teams on the ground from Los Angeles, from Fairfax, Virginia. Our naval assets, our brave Navy men and women, are doing a lot in the humanitarian relief delivery. So we’re just so busy trying to assist in every way possible, and so is the rest of the world. Because Japan is historically such a generous country, everyone is rushing to try to reciprocate.
And I know how hard it is to make decisions in the midst of fast-moving disastrous events. But we’re doing everything we can to help the Japanese as they struggle with these tough calls they’re making.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns about nuclear power in the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have concerns about a lot of our energy issues because clearly we’re talking here in Cairo, in the Middle East, in a region that supplies a lot of oil. We have oil dependence problems. We have nuclear power safety issues and waste disposal problems. We have the difficulties of getting a lot of the renewables like wind and solar and others up to scale. And we have a really hard challenge convincing people that energy efficiency is actually the most effective way to try to lower our energy costs and usage.
We need an energy policy. That’s something that President Obama has said repeatedly. And we need it to be yesterday, and it’s got to be comprehensive. I think what’s happening in Japan raises questions about the costs and the risks associated with nuclear power, but we have to answer those. We get 20 percent of our energy right now in the United States from nuclear power. So we’ve got to really get serious about an energy policy that is going to meet our needs in the future.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Libya, because Qadhafi’s son says that within 48 hours it’s going to be over. The Libyan opposition asked for help, they asked for military help. You’re resisting that. You want Arab League leadership, you want a UN vote. It might be too late to save them. Do you have concerns about that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, I’ve consulted with our European and Arab partners in the last two days. I’ve also met with the leader of the Libyan opposition. We are working very hard in New York with members of the Security Council and others because we believe that we have to take steps to try to protect innocent civilians, and we cannot do it without international authority.
The Arab countries, with their statement through the Arab League last Saturday, made it very clear that they wanted to see action, so we need Arab leadership and Arab participation in whatever the UN decides to do. So we’re working as we speak to try to get international support, which is very important, because unilateral action would not be the best approach. It would have all kinds of unintended consequences. International action with Arab leadership and participation, we think, is the way to go.
QUESTION: Your husband, the former president, last week said, “We’ve got the planes. We should do it.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we do think that among the actions that have to be considered by the United Nations, the no-fly zone is one of them, but it’s not the only one. There are other actions that need to be also evaluated. And we are putting everything on the table. Our UN team is working very closely with other members of the Security Council, and we hope to be able to move forward in a way that does respond to some of the requests by the Libyan opposition.
QUESTION: What if it’s too late?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andrea, we’re very aware of the actions of the Qadhafi regime. We deeply regret his callous disregard of human life, his absolute willingness to slaughter his own people. But we think that there is a lot that can be done if we can reach international agreement on what should be done.
QUESTION: There are more casualties in Bahrain. The Saudis intervened. The other – the UAE and others moved in, even after you had appealed for calm and expressed your deep concern. What does this say about the U.S.-Saudi relationship? Defense Secretary Gates was in Bahrain only last Friday and had no heads-up that this was going to happen.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know. I think it’s fair to say from everything we are seeing that the situation in Bahrain is alarming. We are in touch with the highest levels of the Bahraini Government today, as we have been for the last – a period of time. And our message is consistent and strong: There is no way to resolve the concerns of the Bahraini people through the use of excessive force or security crackdowns. There have to be political negotiations that lead to a political resolution. We have urged all the parties, including the Gulf countries, to pursue a political resolution. That is what we are pushing, along with others who are concerned by what they see happening. We would remind the Bahraini Government of their obligation to protect medical facilities and to facilitate the treatment of those who might be injured in any of the demonstrations and to exercise the greatest restraint. Get to the negotiating table and resolve the differences in Bahrain peacefully, politically.
QUESTION: They’re ignoring us so far. Is there anything more that you can do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are very concerned and have reached out to a lot of different partners. There’s a lot of the same messages coming in from across Europe and the region to the Bahraini Government. And in fact, one of our assistant secretaries for the region is actually there working on a – literally hour-by-hour basis. We do not think this is in the best interest of Bahrain. We consider Bahrain a partner. We have worked with them. We think they’re on the wrong track, and we think that the wrong track is going to really affect adversely the ability of the Bahraini Government to bring about the political reform that everyone says is needed.
QUESTION: And you went to Tahrir Square.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: An emotional experience to walk in that square. At the same time, women have been kept out of the new government, and there are some concerns that they are moving too quickly here in Egypt to create a new constitution without developing political parties and being more thoughtful about what it requires to create a democracy.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, going to Tahrir Square was exhilarating. It was a tremendous personal experience to be there and to see Egyptians with smiles on their faces saying hello, welcoming me to the new Egypt. That was an extraordinary uplifting experience.
I know and the Egyptian people know – because I’ve been talking with a broad cross-section of Egyptians – that translating the enthusiasm and the energy of Tahrir Square into the political and economic reforms necessary to establish a strong, functioning democracy, more jobs for people, a real sense of a positive future, is going to be challenging. But they’re up for that challenge. I feel very good about what the Egyptians are doing. It is an Egyptian project, an Egyptian story. They are making their own history. The United States stands ready to assist in any way that is appropriate. But this is being molded by Egyptians themselves, as is only proper. I told them that they have a 7,000 year old civilization; we’re a young country, but we’re the oldest democracy, so we stand ready to help them as they navigate into this very exciting period of their long and storied history.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.