Interview With Brianna Keilar of CNN

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

QUESTION: You’ll be going to Burma next month. How committed do you think the government is to reform? And also, do you think that there are sort of actual concerns, or do you give much merit to the concerns of some activists who say this is too premature for you to visit?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, one of the reasons that I’m going is to test what the true intentions are and whether there is a commitment to both economic and political reform. We have followed the situation very closely. We had the first-ever special envoy to Burma, created by the Congress, appointed by the Administration, over the last several months, has been there several times. I’ve talked to Aung San Suu Kyi; the President has. We’ve had many interactions with her through top officials, along with others. And there certainly does seem to be an opening.

Now how real it is, how far it goes, we’re going to have to make sure we have a better understanding than we do right now. But at least there has been some forward movement. And in this part of the world, we have examples of countries that did finally get on a democratic path after authoritarian regimes, military dictatorships, all of the problems that have been around for a long time. So we’re hoping, most certainly for the people of Burma, that this is real. But if it is, the United States will support and encourage it.

QUESTION: Turning now to Iraq, if the country cannot maintain security once U.S. troops leave at the end of the year, does the U.S. have a responsibility to step in and help? And if so, is there really an ability for the U.S. to provide assistance without U.S. troops there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, the assessment by the military experts is that the Iraqi security forces are capable and that they have performed professionally in the last several years. We’re hoping that there is not a breakdown in law and order. But they are now a sovereign country. Under the agreement entered into by President George W. Bush prior to this Administration, a decision was made that unless there was an intervening agreement, U.S. troops would be out by the end of this year. And, in fact, that is what’s going to happen. We stand ready to work with the Iraqi Government and people. We’re going to have a very robust diplomatic presence there. It will include Defense attaches, other military personnel, as we do in so many of our embassies around the world.

But I think that this is going to be an ongoing challenge because we are very committed to supporting this new democracy, but they’re going to have to demonstrate themselves what they’re willing to do to solve their own problems internally.

QUESTION: The special inspector general for Iraq says your Department has been stonewalling on vital information about security contractors, the contractors who will be providing security for State Department officials and other civilians who will be working in Iraq. Why hasn’t State provided that information?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we’ve provided an enormous amount of information. And we continue to provide information that is in response to the specific questions and the authorities of the inspector general, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: This – there are major concerns that the State Department doesn’t stand ready to essentially manage a large private army. Is the State Department ready for that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you, it’s never been done before. That is something that is a historical change. The State Department has been given an enormous responsibility because we are well aware that our personnel are going to remain in danger from dissident groups within Iraq. All kinds of militias or terrorist kinds of actors. So we have to protect our people. How do we protect our people? A diplomat, an aid worker doesn’t carry a weapon. That’s not in their job descriptions. The military’s gone, as I said. That agreement, dating from 2008, has been implemented. The only way we can defend our people, protect them, is through private contractors.

QUESTION: Why not allow the SIG that audit that it wants to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, I think that there has been a great deal of information provided, and I have no reason to doubt that the State Department has been responsive. Now, people may want more information and think they’re entitled to more information, but I’m sure we’ve met the legal requirements.

QUESTION: And then on Syria, obviously a number of civilian deaths. The numbers are growing, embassies are being attacked. Are you concerned that the country is spiraling out of control, and if so, what is the next step for the U.S?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We have expressed that concern for weeks. We have warned the Asad government that their failure to protect demonstrators, to enter into a genuine dialogue, not a sham one, to make the reforms that they have promised repeatedly but failed to make, would not cause the problems that people were talking about and demonstrating over to go away. That in fact, they might lead to what we’re now seeing, which is very disturbing. And that is a peaceful opposition morphing into at least partially well-armed and prepared to take action against the Syrian Government. Obviously, the United States is on record of saying that it’s way past time for Asad to go, but perhaps more importantly for influencing what actually happens, the Arab League’s recent actions, statements by Turkey, Jordan, other officials of countries in the region, is sending the same message loudly and clearly that the Syrian Government has to change. And they need to change now, or we all fear what the consequences will be.

QUESTION: We saw the announcement over the last couple of days about the – there will be a new presence of U.S. Marines in Northern Australia. The Chinese were quick to respond, the U.S. responded right after that, and now the involvement with Burma – obviously the economic interests of the U.S. being very much emphasized through the President’s trip and through your travels – what is the risk that China sees this as a hostile presence in its backyard?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it should not. We very much support the integration of the region economically, politically, security-wise – that’s why we’re here in Indonesia attending the meeting of the ASEAN nations, plus the East Asia Summit. Because we think that there have to be – there has to be a concerted effort to create an atmosphere where international norms, rules, values, are implemented and followed. So we have no interest in any hostile action. What we are looking toward is the role that the United States can rightly play. We’re a Pacific power, we always have been. And we, over many years, because we’re also an Atlantic power, built up a transatlantic architecture of alliances and relationships, and we’re working to do the same. And we really welcome everyone to be part of that.

QUESTION: All right, Madam Secretary. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good to talk to you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Very nice to meet you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Nice to meet you. Good luck to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

PRN: 2011/T55-18