Interview With Reena Ninan of ABC

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Istanbul, Turkey
April 1, 2012

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, does the U.S. approval for Kofi Annan’s plan mean that it’s okay for President Assad to remain in power?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Not at all. We think Assad must go, the sooner, the better for everyone concerned. But we also know that we require a multipronged approach to this problem. Kofi Annan and his efforts to try to broker some kind of ceasefire and then a political process is part of it, but there has to be a timeline. It can’t go on indefinitely. And we’re not standing still, as you saw coming out of the meeting here in Istanbul. We are moving forward on sanctions, we’re moving forward on accountability by documenting a lot of the atrocities, we’re moving forward on humanitarian aid, and we’re moving forward on direct assistance to the Syrian National Council.

QUESTION: What are the red lines when military action in Syria becomes a necessity?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think, Reena, what we’re looking at is trying to help support both the civilian presence outside and inside Iraq – in Syria, and part of the challenge is different people have different ideas of what might work. So the United States, I can only speak for myself. Others will have to speak for them. We’re going to providing technical assistance in the form of such things as communication capacity because we heard directly from the Syrian National Council representatives today they can’t communicate inside of Syria. They certainly can’t communicate from inside to outside as well as they need. So there are certain assets we have that can be provided in the form of technical, logistical support.

QUESTION: With the talks on Iran known as the P5+1 to begin next month, what are the benchmarks for diplomacy, and when do you know if suddenly Iran starts to seem like they’re just running out the clock? When do you walk away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, I think we have to make it clear from the very beginning that we’re not entering into these talks for the sake of talks. We are entering into them because we really believe in giving diplomacy a chance, perhaps a last chance to demonstrate a way forward that can satisfy the international community’s concerns and have Iran come forward and accept limitations on what they are able to do. They are entitled to civilian nuclear power. They are not entitled to a nuclear weapons program. If they will work with the international community to separate those two out and to have verifiable, enforceable inspections that really do make it clear they’re not pursuing nuclear weapons, then I think there is a path forward.

QUESTION: How successful has the U.S. been in getting and preventing Israel from taking unilateral action against Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well we’ve worked very hard with Israel on all levels from the military, intelligence, strategic, diplomatic level to make sure we were sharing information, that we knew what each other was assessing. And it’s our very strong belief, as President Obama conveyed to the Israelis, that it is not in anyone’s interest for them to take unilateral action. It is in everyone’s interest for us to seriously pursue at this time the diplomatic path.

QUESTION: There were some leaked reports this week that Israel has now received approval to fly into Kazakhstan air force base if they want to take military action against Iran. Is that something that’s definite that they've received?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have no direct information on that and would not comment even if I did. I think that that is something that you'd have to ask the Israelis.

QUESTION: And on the P5+1 talks, if the P5+1 talks fail, what’s plan B at that point?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t want to think about it that way, because I want to give this the very best effort we can. So I don’t want to go into it with the attitude of, well, it’s going to fail, and I don’t want the Iranians to go into it with the attitude of that we can just keep it open and never have to come to any outcome. I want us to come together in Istanbul in a few weeks and really talk honestly about what we need to do to remove the cloud of the Iranian nuclear program and remove all of the suspicion that could possibly lead to confrontation from the international community.

QUESTION: You look at U.S. intervention in the Middle East just over the decades, and so much has over the years gone wrong. For people who don’t at home understand what it’s like to be involved in the diplomatic efforts, why is it so difficult when foreign intervention happens in the Middle East to try and get it right even if your intentions are so good?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think I would take issue with the premise of the question, because certainly from the United States’ perspective, we just finished an international effort in Libya and saw the Libyan people rise up against a dictator who had taken American lives and the lives of other innocent people inside and outside of Libya. We’re working very hard to make sure that Iraq because a democratic, effective country. The Arab League just held their summit there. So it’s been a difficult 10 years, there’s no doubt about that, but we are committed to working with the Iraqis and giving them a chance at the future they deserve.

It is a complicated area. There’s no doubt about that. But I think most people really want the U.S. involved. We have to be careful about how we define that involvement. We don’t want to raise expectations that would be unmet. On the other hand, we don’t want to walk away from opportunities and responsibilities. We believe in freedom. We believe in democracy. Therefore, we are looked to by people all over the world to give them not only encouragement but tangible support. And certainly when it comes to Syria, what we're trying to do is very carefully calibrate what the U.S. role would be. Others have different roles to play, and we are certainly supportive of that. But what can the U.S. bring that is unique in terms of the assets that we have.

But it would be quite hard for us to say, well, the Syrian people are fighting against a dictator who has had a lot to do with the deaths of Americans in Iraq, who’s had a lot to do with destabilizing Lebanon and causing other problems in the region, who’s becoming more and more of a proxy for Iran. So we do have a stake in what happens in Syria. We just have to be thoughtful about how we pursue our role.

QUESTION: You see intelligence reports. You talk to these diplomats and foreign ministers behind closed doors. Of all the situations throughout the world, what worries you the most?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I worry about weapons of mass destruction. I worry about nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states or terrorists, because then we’re not talking about a hundred people dying a day in Syria, which is the case now; we’re talking about possibly tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people dying. So we are very focused on that. President Obama just attended the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea, which is aimed at securing nuclear material. That’s why this Iranian challenge is so important. It is not just about Iran. It is about the suspicions and the concerns that Iran or any country defying the international community, defying Security Council resolutions, defying the obligations they undertook under the Nuclear Proliferation – Nonproliferation Treaty. So it raises suspicions, and then it gets us back into the terrible dilemma of trying to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: There has been talk within Syria about the growing reach of al-Qaida. President Obama has worked very hard to stamp that out with the killing of Osama bin Ladin. Can you tell us about what we’re seeing as far as rogue elements, terrorism within Syria that doesn’t come from Assad’s forces?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have start from the premise that Assad is the one who turned peaceful protests into instances of armed resistance. And that’s deeply unfortunate. He likes to blame everything on terrorists and foreigners, but in fact, these are Syrians trying to exercise the rights that others in the Arab Spring are exercising. So the vast majority of the people who are standing up against the horrific assaults of the military machine in Syria are ordinary citizens defending themselves and their homes.

Now, are there opportunists? Well, there are in any conflict. We know that. There are people who see, oh, there’s a conflict; what can I get out of it? Or maybe I can try to convince people to come over to my point of view. But that is such a minority. We don’t want it to grow. One of the reasons why we want to send a very clear message to the people inside Syria, particularly those who are fighting to protect themselves and their families, is that the international community stands with you, and we want to see an inclusive, democratic Syria where members of every ethnic group, every religion, are given a chance to be full citizens.

QUESTION: What are the chances in 2013 we see Hillary Clinton go from Secretary of State to grandma?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, that’s really not up to me, but I would like to have that title. I will certainly tell you that’s a title I would be proud to have.

QUESTION: I think this might be your best role yet. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think I’d be pretty good, but I won’t know till I try.

QUESTION: From chasing after world leaders, getting them all on the same page, to diaper duty? Is that --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my goodness. Well, you’re making it seem like there are certain characteristics – (laughter) – in common with both enterprises, but I am looking forward to a return to private life.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And good luck to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I'll need it. Two in 18 months. I don’t know what I’m doing. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it looks like you can handle it.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

PRN: 2012/T61-05