Interview With Jake Tapper of ABC News

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Grand Hyatt
Bali, Indonesia
November 18, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thanks so much for doing this.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Glad to do it, Jake.

QUESTION: So much of this trip is about China and making sure that the U.S. is asserting itself in the Pacific. Is it too late for us to counter the power that China has already asserted in this region?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jake, it’s not about countering anybody else’s power. It’s about asserting our own position as a Pacific power. We always have been, we were dominant for many years, but I think it is fair to say that over the last eight or 10 years, our attention was elsewhere. Now that we are winding down a war in Iraq and transitioning out of Afghanistan, we have the chance to turn back and look at the opportunities that the Asia Pacific offers us economically in terms of our security and strategic interest to promote democracy, human rights, freedom, things we stand for.

So I think it’s just time, and I felt that from the very beginning of my tenure as Secretary of State that there was a sense in the Asia Pacific that the United States was absent – understandably, maybe – but I just thought we needed to reverse that.

QUESTION: But China feels a little bit put on the defensive, obviously, from remarks they’ve made about wanting to join this trade treaty about the fact that the U.S. is putting Marines in Australia. Even if it’s not meant as a counter, they seem to be taking it that way.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve worked very hard to have a positive, cooperative relationship with China. And I think we have been successful. I think the president’s visit last January, President Hu coming to Washington, was a really good signal that the United States and China are working hard to make sure where we can cooperate, we will.

But as between any two nations of whatever size, we’re not going to agree on everything. We have disagreements about their political system. They have questions about our motives. We understand that’s all part of the give and take. But for us, what’s most important is that we act in a way that promotes our interests and our values. So take the Marines in Australia. We’ve had Marines and other military forces in and out of Australia for many, many decades.

We have some very particular needs. At the top of the list is rapid response to disasters. The United States is a generous nation. We have treaty alliances with countries like Australia, Japan, Thailand. They’ve had some terrible natural disasters. We want to be in a position to respond, to train with them. Well, if we’re not there, it takes a lot longer and it costs a lot more. So there’s a lot of reasons why we are making it clear that we’re back, and we’re back to stay.

QUESTION: The foreign policy of the Obama Administration was under fire a few days ago when the Republicans had a debate, particularly the Iran policy, which so far has not yet convinced the Iranian leadership to stop pursuing a nuclear weapon. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, said that if he was president, he would be more aggressive about asserting the fact that the military option is on the table. He would be reaching out more and supporting more what he called the insurgency in Iran. And he said under a Romney administration, Iran would not get a nuclear weapon.

Can the Obama Administration make such a guarantee?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on the political give-and-take of the Republican primary. That’s something that I’m really not paying a lot of attention to.

QUESTION: Sure, but the issue itself --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but the issue itself – I think that what has actually happened over the last three years is that President Obama has forged a consensus in the international community, including China and Russia, to a much greater extent than was ever done before. You get no argument now from anybody that we want to work together to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And I think we’ve made progress. The sanctions are really having an impact, and there will be more to come if necessary.

And what we are looking at is what’s going on inside Iran. There’s a lot of discontent, a lot of political upheaval, and some of that is due to the pressure that is being brought to bear from the outside. So I understand politics. I’ve spent a lot of my life in it. But I think looking at the facts, we are on a steady course that combines our dual tracks of pressure and engagement, and it is the policy of this Administration that Iran cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon, and no option has ever been taken off the table.

QUESTION: Syria was just kicked out of the Arab League. What’s next for the U.S. to change the situation and change the leadership? What can actually be done without taking steps along the lines of what was done in Libya?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, what’s so important about this – and I think our diplomacy has had something to do with it – is we recognized early on that we were not the voice most likely to be heeded by the Syrians. We had very few, if any, connections with them, very little trade with them. We had just returned an ambassador after an absence of a number of years.

And so what we’ve encouraged, in addition to our statements, is a growing chorus that now consists of the Arab League and Turkey that cannot be ignored by Syria. And I think you’re seeing the results. It’s tragic in lots of ways. We’ve urged Syria, along with everyone else, to truly negotiate, to protect peaceful protestors. They’ve ignored all of us.

QUESTION: You at one point seemed to have optimism that Asad was a reformer.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we had hoped so, because there was a lot at stake. We wanted to see an agreement, for example, between Syria and Israel. That was something that people have been working on for 30 years. We heard what Asad said about what he wanted to do for reform. But when it came to it in the Arab Spring, and his people actually demanded some freedom and their rights, he responded as we have seen – very violently.

But he’s not going to be able to sustain what is an unfortunately growing, armed opposition, apparently fueled and maybe led by defectors from his army. It’s probably too late for him to change course, but there needs to be a change at the top of that government, and there needs to be an effort to engage in genuine dialogue and start on the path of reform.

QUESTION: We’re getting a limit here. I’m only going to ask two more questions. One is, just as somebody who has been an activist for children for decades, you must be personally upset to see what’s coming out of Penn State. And I’m wondering, what are your thoughts not only when you see about this alleged cover-up, but when you see students rioting on behalf of a football program as opposed to on behalf of the victims of this horrible, horrible thing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am just sick at heart about it. I have done a lot of work on behalf of abused and neglected children over the course of my entire adult life. And my heart goes out to any child who is victimized. And without commenting on the allegations, they are disturbing to a great extent.

I’m also the daughter and the sister of two men who went to Penn State and were on the football team, so we have a long tradition of supporting Penn State academically and athletically. And I can understand, in the passion and emotion of the moments and before people really have a chance to actually think about what these allegations mean and what it says about values and priorities, that people perhaps were not as calm or considerate in their response.

But now, it seems, across the board, everyone is focused on what we should be focused on, which are the children who allegedly have been victimized, and making sure that they’re taken care of, that they’re protected, that their families are given the support that they deserve, and that justice is done, whatever the facts and the law might lead to.

QUESTION: And lastly, on a lighter note, if you’ll permit me, what was going through your head the other day when that gentleman without any clothes showed up in that photograph?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I thought it was hilarious. I mean, it happened so quickly, and when I turned my head, I just saw this very big man with a – holding a torch with a blue loincloth running by. I think he was late for his role at the luau. I think that’s what it was. But it was a moment of levity in a very serious set of meetings.

QUESTION: All right. Well, Secretary Clinton, thanks so much for doing this.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, Jake. Good to talk to you.

QUESTION: Nice talking to you.

PRN: 2011/ T55-16