Interview With Kambiz Hosseini of Voice of America's Parazit
Secretary of State
QUESTION: So, Madam Secretary, thank you for taking time to answer our audience’s questions. We were supposed to do this way earlier. We assume you were too busy taking down dictators. Since you were gone, I think four or five dictators are gone too.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Isn’t that good news for the people that they have oppressed for so many years?
QUESTION: I love that. I love that. But I have many questions from our audience. And I’m going to ask my questions -- my question first and then we’ll go to --
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s only fair to do that.
QUESTION: And then we go to our audience questions. Do you believe the Islamic Republic of Iran is a dictatorship?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do. I believe the regime is a dictatorship and I think it’s becoming even more of one. In fact, I think it is moving toward being a military dictatorship. I heard recently the idea that there wouldn’t be an elected president, that the system will be changed.
There is a great deal of sadness on my part when I look at the strength and resilience of the Iranian people, the creativity, the intellect, the history and culture, and see the very narrow-minded and, unfortunately, oppressive regime that is trying to control what Iranians can do.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question for myself?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sure.
QUESTION: And then I go to audience.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry that I have to – I’m going to apologize to the audience, but I have to ask this question. President Obama called Libya a recipe for success. At what point will – do you think that we’re going to cook something for Syria or some other countries?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but look at the ingredients in Libya. You had an uprising of people that was brave, some might have even said foolish when it started, because they were up against a government with a leader who called them rats and dogs and threatened to kill them and go house to house to do that. And there was just such a desire, that it was organic. It came from within.
We then had requests from the people themselves in Libya for outside help. You then had appeals for help from the region, the Arab League, the Gulf Coordinating Council. You then had the United Nations recognizing the importance of responding to the people. In Syria, you don’t have that, at least not yet. The opposition is very clear they don’t want outside interference; they don’t want any kind of military activity on their behalf. They don’t really want Iran supporting the government, and they don’t want others coming in from the outside.
So I think that what President Obama was referring to was the way the people of Libya themselves, just as in a different approach the people of Egypt, the people of Tunisia, have liberated themselves. Some required more help than others, but it was an action by the people.
QUESTION: Do you think Iranian people need help in that regard?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I remember back in 2009, at that time the Green Movement and the people that were communicating with our government said we don’t want your help, we don’t want you to be identified with our struggles, this has to be just by us. And we respected that.
So we’re not seeking a conflict with the regime in Iran. We’re seeking to support the people of Iran, and by doing so on the outside through our assertions that their aspirations for freedom are legitimate, by providing tools to circumvent the electronic curtain that the regime has tried to impose on Iran. So we are also trying to open up through more student exchanges. I gave an announcement a few months ago we want to see more students coming back to the United States to study, so we are trying to streamline the visa process. We hope by the end of the year we will have a website, so we’ll have a virtual Embassy Tehran that people will be able to go to, to get information online. We try to provide educational advice and other support for the Iranian people.
So my goal in speaking with you today is to clearly communicate to the people of Iran, particularly the very large population of young people, that the United States has no argument with you; we want to support your aspirations. We would be thrilled if tomorrow the regime in Iran had a change of mind and said, “Why are we suppressing the brilliance of our young people? Let’s let the future of Iran flourish.” And so we will try to help in whatever way we can and that we are requested to do.
QUESTION: Ali from Mashkat asked on issue of sanctions. One group believes that sanctions puts pressure on people, such as sanctions on airplane parts because airplane parts are very sensational in Iran. People have a lot of questions about that. And also, he says another group believes that the only sanctions – that only sanctioning oil and the central bank will alter the Islamic Republic’s actions. What is your opinion?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I know that sanctions are sometimes controversial because, of course, they are a tool of diplomacy, coercive diplomacy, as opposed to conflict. No one, certainly speaking for our government, wants a conflict. But we do want to influence and hopefully change the behavior of the regime.
And I want to remind us that the strongest sanctions were adopted by the United Nations when it became abundantly clear that the regime is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Everyone believes that the covert actions, the covert facilities, the misleading information, is part of an attempt by the regime to acquire nuclear weapons, which would be very destabilizing. And in the face of that kind of evidence, the entire international community, including traditional partners of Iran, have said we have to do something.
So the sanctions are necessary, and we do want to do them in a way that doesn’t impose suffering on the people of the country. But we are trying – as President Obama said he would – to follow a two-track approach. We have tried to negotiate. We have tried to engage. We’ve made it very clear that Iran is entitled to civilian nuclear energy power but not nuclear weapons. And so we’ve tried to engage and have not yet been successful, and we’ve tried to do sanctions to create conditions that would bring the Iranian regime to engagement and diplomatic efforts.
QUESTION: Fatima from Tehran asks: What kind of new sanctions can we expect to see?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you mentioned some that people are talking about, the central bank, for example. We also have seen a disturbing trend of the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard Corps becoming more and more involved in the economy of the country, the Qods Force and other elements of the security establishment taking financial stakes or taking over certain economic enterprises. That’s part of what I mean about our seeing that there seems to be a moving toward a more military takeover, in effect, inside Iran.
So we’re looking at different sanctions, but we also continue to invite the regime to negotiate. And recently, President Ahmadinejad had a statement where they would be willing to negotiate on behalf of the so-called P-5+1, which are the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany; the High Representative of the European Union Cathy Ashton responded. Now, we’ve not gotten anything yet back from the regime.
QUESTION: Cameron from London asks: What’s the Obama Administration doing to confront human rights violations in Iran right now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re doing several things. We’re speaking out whenever we possibly can, and we’re also designating individuals who we get enough evidence on as human rights abusers because we want to call them out by name, and we want to prevent them from traveling out of the country and try to shine a bright light on them. We are providing a lot of support to dissidents who are out of the country and try to communicate back into the country to support a human rights agenda. We are trying to remind people that it was Cyrus the Great who had one of the first human rights declarations in the history of the world, and what a far cry that Persian leader was from what we have from this current regime.
And we are trying to provide support to circumvent the electronic curtain so that there can be freedom of speech, there can be communication, there can be the opportunity for people to get together to discuss their concerns about the abuses of human rights that we see on a frequent basis.
QUESTION: You’re talking about this electronic curtain. What exactly is the plan to bring information and bring down this curtain? Is there any plan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we should start by saying it’s our opinion that the regime has the most effective ongoing efforts to both disrupt the internet online communication and more traditional forms of communication, obviously, as well like the telephone, cell phones, and they also have a relentless campaign going to follow up on anybody they find who’s expressing themselves in any way, which is sometimes hard to understand what they consider subversive.
So what we’re doing is providing certain kinds of equipment, certain kinds of programs, certain kinds of training so that people, both virtually and in person, can get the skills needed and the equipment required to try to subvert and circumvent the electronic curtain, and I probably shouldn’t go much further than that.
QUESTION: Okay. Kareem from Birjan asked: Many people in Iran express doubt regarding the Saudi terror plot. Is there any new information regarding the case you could share with us today?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I understand people questioning it because it was such a shocking plot. It was shocking to us when we uncovered it. But we have very strong evidence, and some of that is already publicly available, and we have evidence both from the defendant, the Iranian American who was picked up by our law enforcement, who provided a lot of information that verified what we knew about the plot. We have it from the informant, the Mexican drug gang member that he tried to hire – the Iranian American tried to hire to be the hit man. There are a lot of telephone communications and other information. We have corroborative evidence, such as a hundred thousand dollars that was wired in at the request of the defendant to pay the down payment to the hit man.
So we have a lot of information that is very strong. It’s a strong criminal case. And again, we were concerned about it because certainly we don’t want the ambassador of any country targeted on our property for assassination. But it also violates rules that Iran agreed to in the international convention for the protection of diplomats against crimes. And we would like Iran to conduct and participate in a UN investigation, we would like Iran to get to the bottom of this, we would like Iran’s government to turn over the second defendant who is a member of the Qods Force.
I also would remind people that this is not the first time we know that elements within the regime have committed actions outside the country. You know personally, those of you who are living inside Iran, what the instruments of the state’s security system are capable of doing to Iranian citizens, but they’ve also taken action in other countries as well. So it shouldn’t be that big a surprise, and the evidence is very strong.
QUESTION: My last question is about MEK. Can you – this is actually a problem with Kurdistan in Iraq. Can you give us an update on the status of the MEK?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the assessment is still going on. I’m sure he knows that the European Union came back with a very thorough assessment and concluded there was no recent evidence. And under the laws of placing groups or individuals on terrorist lists, there has to be a continuing assessment; is there current evidence? And the European Union concluded that there was not, so they removed MEK from the list. We’re still assessing the evidence here in the United States.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for joining us here today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It went by so quickly.
QUESTION: Yeah. It was very quickly. But as is customary for our show, at the end of the interview, we give our guests some time to talk directly to our audience. That is your camera, and you can directly talk to our fans and our audience in Iran.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to thank all of you both for tuning in and for sending in thousands of questions. I hope I’ll be able to do this again, because I want to create an ongoing dialogue with the people of Iran.
We believe strongly that Iran has such a future of potential, and the Iranian people have proven themselves over the course of history to be such an extraordinary people that we want to unleash the potential that exists within you. We would like to see your regime change. We would like to see your government begin to support, first and foremost, the human rights and aspirations of yourselves. And we would very much like to improve relations, to move away from the past. We think that there are reasons for regret on both sides as to what has happened in the past 50 years, but we would like to forge a new relationship.
President Obama was very committed to doing that. So far, he hasn’t received a particularly positive response. So what we’re going to do, despite the fact we do not have diplomatic relations, is I’m going to announce the opening of a virtual embassy in Tehran; the website will be up and going at the end of the year. We’re going to continue to reach out, particularly to students, and encourage that you come back and study in the United States, and we’re going to look for other people-to-people exchanges that will try to develop the relationships that I think are so important between the American people and the Iranian people for the 21st century.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Great to talk to you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: I appreciate that. Thank you.
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