Interview With Wyatt Andrews of CBS

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Rangoon, Burma
December 2, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thanks for your time this afternoon.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Wyatt.

QUESTION: You have said several times you’ve come here to test the Burmese leadership on whether they’re serious about reform. So the question is: Did they pass the test?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s incomplete at this moment, because we saw some positive changes, we've heard some encouraging commitments, but there's still so much to be done, starting with the unconditional complete release of all the political prisoners, that were are still in an engaging mode. We want to follow closely what they actually do, and as I’ve said, when they start to take actions that further the momentum for reform and democratization, we will, too.

QUESTION: When you were sitting in these meetings with them, though, did you have the sense that they meant it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know what? I'm going to judge their actions. They certainly said a lot of the right things that we found promising. But we also are aware, as with any of these transitions, there will be those who want to hurry reform, and there will be those who want to stymie it, and then there will be a lot of people in the middle who will be kind of fence-sitting until they see how it turns out.

And one of the reasons for my coming was to send a very clear signal that the United States would welcome this reform process, deepening, continuing, and taking on the hard issues – the political prisoners, the elections, their free, fair, credible nature, the difficult work of trying to end these conflicts in ethnic areas that have gone on for 60 years in some cases, but without which being resolved, the country cannot be unified, cannot be secure and at peace, and there will always be then an excuse for the military to have to assert itself on security grounds.

So there are some very promising steps, and it wasn't for me to jump to any conclusions based on this one trip, but to come away having delivered a set of clear messages, having heard what I did, and then being in a position back in Washington to continue supporting the reformers.

QUESTION: You are dealing, though, with a military, an entrenched military establishment here. They're intertwined still in the government, they're intertwined in big business, industry, every aspect of society. Is it even possible that an entrenched military like this would give up power, support free elections? Is that possible?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It is possible, and it's happened in other places in this region. We have the history in Korea, where over the years after the Korean War it was a rocky road to democracy and prosperity, and there were a lot of bumps and detours on the way with coups and assassinations and military authoritarianism, but they stayed with it. In Indonesia we have a democracy run by a former general who took off the uniform that is now 11, 12 years old, but looks like it's really settling in and sustainable. We have examples from Latin America, from Africa, and elsewhere.

So we know it can be done. It's a question of whether the leadership and the rank and file will accept that there is an important, essential role in any society for a military under civilian rule. And if that can be inculcated by some of the civilian leadership that were formerly leaders of the military, then there's a fighting chance that the attitudes will change and the appropriate delegation of responsibility between a military within a democracy and the democratic leadership can begin to take hold.

QUESTION: When you were in the capital the other day, I'll bet you asked yourself this question. And the question is: Why is this happening, and why is it happening now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. I've talked to a lot of experts, both inside the country and outside, and there are a number of explanations. There was a growing sense among the military leaders and some of their allies in the private sector that Burma was increasingly isolated. They looked around and watched the rising standard of living in East Asia and Southeast Asia in particular. They're a member of ASEAN. They see the progress that is being made in their neighboring countries, and they started to say, "Well, what's happening to us? Why aren't we also progressing?"

And they, I think, concluded that they might miss out on the economic prosperity and the growth that is possible, and having seen that because they were traveling – there was an increase in the opportunities for a lot of the military leaders to get out and see what was happening elsewhere – they said, "Well, what are the ingredients as to what we need to do?" And I know that the Indonesians, because I have talked to President Yudhoyono about this, had reached out to the military leadership and talked about the transition from military to civilian government. So I think there are a lot of trends, sort of economic, strategic trends, and personal experiences that together has created the impetus for these changes.

QUESTION: Tell me a little bit about Aung San Suu Kyi, your impressions of her. And do you think this would be happening without her?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I doubt that very much. I mean, I can't look back on history and say, "What if? What if?" But her steadfastness, her determination, her dignity in representing a better future, a democratic future for the people of this country, has inspired so many of her fellow citizens. And the fact that she has been generous in sharing her thoughts and her hopes on an ongoing basis with several generations now of her fellow citizens has created a broad-based expectation. I met with a number of civil society activists, democracy activists, human rights activists, ethnic minority representatives, and the vast majority mentioned what she meant to them.

QUESTION: Did her 20 years of resistance to this regime lead to this moment?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it contributed to it. I have no doubt about that. I think it was one of a number of important factors. But what is so remarkable about her witness, because really that's what it was over all those years, is that no matter how oppressive the regime became, no matter how violent, she continued to embody that quiet, peaceful strength that says to any authoritarian or dictator, "I'm still here. I'm still as committed as I ever was, because what I'm standing for is more eternal than what you are standing for." And that's a powerful message, particularly in this society.

QUESTION: There are a lot of people back home who say you should not be here, that by being here you're rewarding a horrible regime that hasn't really proven itself on the world stage.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course I know there are those who are skeptical. So am I. I want to be shown what they’re going to do. But it was remarkable to me, Wyatt, how everyone that I met with in the opposition inside society, starting with Aung San Suu Kyi, thanked me for coming, expressed great appreciation for America's engagement. They think is exactly the right time for me to be here, for me to be saying what I'm saying both privately and publicly.

And with all due respect, I think the people who have been imprisoned, who have watched their loved ones and their colleagues be beaten or even killed, who have suffered so much are better judges about what's possible than any of us who are so far away, who are certainly hoping for a good outcome but have no stake in it. And therefore, I'm going to be guided by the advice I received from Aung San Suu Kyi and others. And as she said publicly today, we have closely coordinated with her every step that we have taken, and she has been fully supportive.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you.


PRN: 2011/T56-13