Interview With Norah O'Donnell of CBS News

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

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for doing this. The President has made a big announcement about your trip to Myanmar. Also on this trip, the President announced that there will be new troops in Australia. A lot of this looks like an effort to curb China. What kind of message are you trying to send to China?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are not trying to curb China or anyone else. What we’re trying to do is, number one, to make it absolutely clear, if there were any doubt, that the United States is a Pacific power, and that we have historically been one. We will be for this century as well, and that means we’re going to be active economically, diplomatically, politically, in every way you can imagine. And we also believe strongly that the United States has an important role to play because of our preexisting relations. We have five treaty allies. We have many more friends with whom we have lots of close relationships.

So I think that if one takes a step back and a deep breath, you could see that there was some doubt at the beginning of the Obama Administration whether the United States would remain active in the Asia Pacific region. As we are winding down the war in Iraq, transitioning from Afghanistan, we are now focused on the opportunities. And there are so many, and particularly economically, with the big announcements that the President made today about our ability to sell things here in this region – Boeing, Sikorsky, GE, more than 120,000 jobs affected. So there’s just a lot of reasons why it’s in our interest to be as active as we are.

QUESTION: But are there some actions that China has taken that have concerned you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think every nation has parts of their policies that we are in favor of and some that are raising questions, but in general, we have worked quite well with China on a range of issues. Just today, in the International Atomic Energy Agency, China will join in the consensus to make it clear to Iran that they have to be held accountable for their nuclear program.

QUESTION: What are they doing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re going to have a resolution at the Board of Governors of the IAEA in response to the report that the director general issued that reiterated in one place what we know about the nuclear weapons program of Iran. And both Russia and China will join in the consensus that says Iran has questions to answer, and we expect answers.

QUESTION: That’s a step forward. Iran and – excuse me. That’s a step forward. China and Russia have been reluctant to do that in the past.

SECRETARY CLINTON: They have, Norah. And they joined with us early on, and we created out of what’s called the P-5+1 – which are UK, France, Germany, United States, Russia, and China – a unified front against Iran. But recently, there has been some hesitancy on the part of both Russia and China, in large measure because they have their own ideas about how we should be trying to deter Iran from having a nuclear weapon. But in the face of this report, they have come back and said, “No, we need unity,” and so we will have that resolution passed later today.

QUESTION: But that does not mean that they’re going to join the United States and other countries in further sanctions?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Not clear. Probably at this point, not. But we think that we have enough sanction power with the United States and Europe to impose even more pressure. Remember, we’ve always had two tracks. We’ve always said we’re open to engagement and we will continue with pressure. And from our perspective, we keep adding pressure and we keep making it clear to the Iranians that their pursuit of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.

QUESTION: While we’re on Iran, I do want to get you to respond. Mitt Romney has called Iran President Obama’s biggest foreign policy failure. Do you disagree with that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to say I’m not paying a lot of attention to what the Republican candidates are saying, because I think that they have such a difficult electorate to appeal to that they’re going to say a lot of things that don’t particularly stand the test of time or accuracy.

But I think that overall, the policy that President Obama has championed with Iran has kept the international consensus together, which has meant that these sanctions have really bitten. Iran has had some difficult economic problems because of the sanctions. We know that. We know that, and to some extent, it has affected their political cohesion. There are all kinds of problems within Iran. So we see changes within Iran that we think demonstrate the effectiveness of the Obama policy.

QUESTION: I do want to talk about Syria. There has been some movement on that front – the Arab League, King Abdullah calling for Asad to step down. Are we at a tipping point, and how much longer do you think Asad can survive?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a great question. I certainly think with the statements and actions by leaders in the region, including the Arab League and its members, Turkey, certainly with European pressure, because there’s a lot more trade between Europe and Syria than there is between us and Syria – I think that there is an unmistakable message. If they ever didn’t hear it, or they doubted that it was directed at them from their own neighborhood, there’s no way they can escape that reality.

Look, Asad’s going to be gone; it’s just a question of time. What we hope is that they avoid a civil war, that they avoid greater bloodshed, that they make the changes that they should have been making all along. And we think the Arab League pressure is probably the most effective pressure.

QUESTION: How much longer?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I can’t sit here and predict it, but we think the pressure is building.

QUESTION: I do want to return and talk about Syria and Ambassador Ford. Is he returning by Thanksgiving?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re looking at a timing for his return, but obviously we have to make sure that he and our Embassy will be protected, which is part of the responsibility of the Syrian Government. And they have said he would be, and we’re going to wait and see how we evaluate it over the next days.

QUESTION: But – so you’re saying that Ambassador Ford may not return to Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, right now, the plan is for him to.

QUESTION: But as you know, there are other countries that are actually considering withdrawing their ambassadors.


QUESTION: There has been some violence against some other embassies.


QUESTION: Does the violence concern you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, it does. It always does. But we are carefully evaluating all of the factors, pro and con, and we think that Ambassador Ford has been a great representative of American values and interests, and we would like to see a return if that’s possible.

QUESTION: Your first trip as Secretary of State was to Asia.


QUESTION: You have made this part of the world a priority. President Obama, during the APEC conference, was speaking with some business leaders, and he said that the U.S. has gotten a little bit lazy in trying to attract foreign business. Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the point is that we have to get out there and compete. It used to be that we didn’t have that much competition. I mean, I’m old enough to remember when we were the dominant economic as well as political, military, and every other kind of power. Well, countries have caught up, and we think that’s great. We want people to be successful as long as they do it in a peaceful, appropriate way.

So I think everybody in our country just needs to say, “Hey, we got a great opportunity here,” because we’re better than anybody when we put our minds to it. Let’s get out there and compete. And the announcements today – look at the big jobs announcements for Boeing and Sikorsky and General Electric. Because we do things really well, and I think we just have to recognize that maybe it’s going to be a bigger challenge, but we can rise to that challenge.

QUESTION: Finally, on politics, you ran for president. You talked about the importance of having foreign policy experience, the 3:00 a.m. phone call. Herman Cain did not know that China was a nuclear power. He had difficulty in an interview articulating what the United States is doing in Libya. Should that concern voters?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s up to the Republican voters in the Republican primary.

QUESTION: How important is having foreign policy experience and knowledge for being president?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that if you look at history, you never know what’s going to be on your watch. I mean, part of being president is you wake up every day, no day is the same. And that’s why I think we’re so lucky to have President Obama, because he has a steady hand and he understands what’s at stake. He knows that, yes, we have to deal with the problems of today, but we will be disadvantaging ourselves if we’re not looking out over the horizon and trying to position America, which is one of the reasons why we are on this long trip to the Asia Pacific region, because we don’t want there to be any doubt that the United States is a resident power right here in the Pacific, and we’re here to stay.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t concern you when you hear about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich talking about military action against Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the American people will have a chance to weigh all of that, and to really understand whether that’s just rhetoric or whether that’s a real position. And until we get that sorted out, I’m not going to comment on it.

QUESTION: Will you run for president again?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. I had a great run. I was very grateful that I could do that. I felt just really good about the experience, but that was then and this is now, and I’m looking forward.

QUESTION: All right. Secretary Clinton, thank you.

PRN: 2011/ T55-17