Interview With Whit Johnson of CBS
Secretary of State
Please attribute the following content to an interview with CBS News
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for granting this interview. We have some breaking news happening right now. Several reports coming out of Tripoli that Qadhafi has either been captured or killed; can you confirm any of this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Whit, I can’t confirm it. I know that this was a subject of a lot of conversation when I was in Tripoli, but I will wait to comment on it until we know whether it’s true and which is true, if either.
QUESTION: Could you at least comment on what that would mean for the NTC for something like this to happen?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. I think it would mean a lot to them. They were fighting so hard to get Sirte, which is Qadhafi’s hometown, and to try to end the fighting phase of their revolution and begin the building phase. And they knew that if Qadhafi remains at large, he will continue to buy mercenaries, to cause problems for them, and if they know that he is no longer a threat to them, I think that will actually ease the transition process into a new government.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the end of Qadhafi would mean the end of fighting altogether? And do you think there could be some pockets of resistance?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do, and they do too. They know that there will be. I mean, the fighters who streamed out of Sirte, the families of the fighters, there is going to be a population of people – a small one, but nevertheless one that has to be contended with – who believe they were better off because of Qadhafi.
If you were from Sirte, where he just put money everywhere he could to make his hometown feel better, you’re going to be more concerned about a non-Qadhafi regime than if you are from Bengazi, which he totally neglected and really did everything he could to break. So yes, there will be some, but I think it will be limited if Qadhafi is not active. I think a lot of people will find a reason to reconcile and move forward in a new Libya.
There’s also a concern as to how we disarm – or how the Libyans disarm everybody who has weapons, because most of the people who were doing the fighting had never even fired a gun before. They were doctors and businesspeople and dentists and lawyers and students. And so they’re now awash with weapons in Libya, and a lot of the warehouses of all the weapons that Qadhafi had stocked have either gone missing or are in hands of those who need to be disarmed.
So that’s a big concern. It’s a big concern for the United States, it’s a big concern for the Libyans.
QUESTION: I want to shift gears a little bit. We’re here in Afghanistan 10 years after the war began. Once again, you’re promoting this idea of a political solution, peace negotiations between the Afghans, the Pakistanis and the Taliban. President Karzai recently has been resistant to this idea. The Pakistanis, the Taliban seem uninterested. What is it about now, the timing right now, the developments on the ground that leads you to believe that this could actually happen?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think with – this is probably the first time in 10 years that it’s realistic, and I think in large measure because of the decision of President Obama made to surge forces into Afghanistan that was matched to an extent by our international partners so that the momentum of the Taliban was reversed. And they are very much at a disadvantage now in many parts of Afghanistan. Now they can still pull off the suicide mission; unfortunately that’s all too common in many places in the world today. But they don’t control territory the way they once did. The Afghan security forces have much improved.
So it seems to us that now is the time to say, “Okay, we can keep fighting you and we intend to, because if you’re going to fight us, we’re not going to give you an inch, but we’re ready to talk if you’re ready to talk.” And you’re right that President Karzai was deeply distressed by the murder of Professor Rabbani, but I think he too believes that there is no military solution. We can keep fighting, we can keep killing them, they can kill a few Afghans and unfortunately Americans and others, but if we’re really going to try to resolve this, then we should at least explore whether talking is possible, and that’s what we intend to do.
QUESTION: How do you get the Pakistanis on board, though? They’ve said that they’re not interested. They deny their connections to some of these militant groups and their safe havens in Pakistan. How do you bring them into the fold after 10 years and convince them, especially with some of the mixed messages that have been coming from Washington, that now is the time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s what we’re going to be discussing tonight. I think it is in their interests to make it clear that they want to see a peace process. I don’t know that they would ever say that they have any control over or even any knowledge of the activities of these Taliban groups and the Haqqani Network. But if they publicly say it’s time for there to be a peace process, that sends a really powerful message to the Pakistani establishment and to the Taliban that there is a change coming, that there needs to be a concerted effort to explore this.
QUESTION: Do you think you can get them to publicly say that on this trip?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t know. I don’t – well, probably not on this trip, because they wouldn’t want to look like they were, but I think that this has got to be something they consider, because what are their alternatives? There is going to be an Afghan security force, there’s going to be an enduring American presence, there’s going to be an enduring NATO presence. Even as we draw down our combat troops, there will still be troops in Afghanistan to support Afghan security.
I mean, what is their alternative? Do they want to keep this up or would they like to turn their attention to developing their own countries, to dealing with their economic problems which are so immense? So, I mean, this is a turning point for them to make some serious choices.
QUESTION: I want to talk more about those safe havens. President Obama ordered U.S. troops on the ground in Pakistan kill Usama bin Ladin because he killed thousands of Americans. We know that these safe havens are producing fighters who are killing Americans as well. I mean, how far is the U.S. willing to go in crushing those safe havens? And could that include someday putting American troops on the ground in Pakistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Whit, let me put it this way. The Pakistanis were very helpful to us in our pursuit of al-Qaida in Pakistan. They too had sought safe haven in Pakistan. And our goal, our primary goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan was to dismantle and defeat al-Qaida. And we could not have done it without the support of the Pakistanis. Until recently, these other groups – in particular, the Haqqani Network – were not targeting Americans. We were certainly in the line of fire because we were fighting alongside the Afghans and we were taking the fight to the Afghan Taliban.
But something has changed. The Haqqani Network is now targeting Americans. They attacked this embassy that we’re sitting in today. That changes our calculation. And the Pakistanis need to understand that – that what was acceptable before may no longer be acceptable. Now how we work together, how we create new modes of cooperation, that’s what we have to discuss, and we will, starting tonight.
QUESTION: I have to get your response on Admiral Mullen’s statements that the Haqqani Network is a veritable arm of the Pakistanis’ – Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Is that something that you agree with or disagree with? There have been some mixed messages, so to speak. Some people in the Administration have kind of walked that back. We, CBS News, interviewed Leon Panetta recently and he said that he stands behind Admiral Mullen. What’s your message when you go to Pakistan tomorrow?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think what we do know is that there are elements within the Pakistani military and the ISI who support the militants. We have known that for a long time. My first trip to Pakistan, I said publicly that I found it hard to believe that there were not people in the Pakistani Government who did not know where Usama bin Ladin was.
And I think the same goes for the Haqqani Network; they know where they are, they know their address, they know their activities. Now whether that is a leadership decision, a policy decision or down the ranks, we cannot with any certainty say that, which is why sometimes you hear people say, “Well, we’re not so sure,” because the exact facts we cannot verify.
But the point that Admiral Mullen was making is the right point, that there are connections between the military and ISI and the Haqqani Network. Those connections may not have been as much of a concern in the past because they were, frankly, not as focused on Americans in the past. They are now.
QUESTION: So to a degree, you agree with those statements?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, but again, I want to be careful in saying that we try to get as much evidence as possible. We are comfortable saying there are connections; whether we can characterize it further, that’s not so clear. But the connections are provable.
QUESTION: How would you characterize our relationship with Pakistan after those statements?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s complicated. I mean, look, there are people in the Pakistani Government who can, with an absolute clear conscience, deny that. They do not believe it. And they do not think we are being fair to them when we say it. There are others who know something, but for a combination of reasons are not about to share that with us. And there are others who are complicitous.
So it runs the gamut, and probably the best way of describing it is that the Pakistanis look at us and they say, “Come on. Give me a break. You’re the one who introduced the idea of organized Jihadi groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan when you used them to defeat the Soviet Union. You came to us, you said, ‘Use these groups, we will help fund you, we will help train them’ and we did. And then you left us when the Soviet Union fell and we had to cope with it. And we’re not as strong a nation as the United States is, and so did we hedge? Yeah, we hedged. Did we make some alliances for our own benefit? Yeah, we did. Okay, so now you’re here saying, ‘Forget the past. Help us defeat these guys.’”
So it’s not a totally one-sided story, and I always like to remind our American colleagues of that. The Pakistanis have an argument that they make as well. So my hope is we can say, “Look, each of us bear responsibility for where we are today. But now let’s figure out and be smart enough to chart a new way forward.”
QUESTION: Okay. They cut me off. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Nice to talk to you. Good luck to you.
QUESTION: Nice to talk to you. Thank you very much.
PRN: 2011/ T54-16