Interview With Elise Labott of CNN
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. Let’s start with your trip to Egypt. It wasn’t a very warm welcome by a lot of Egyptians. There were very nasty protests, protesters throwing shoes. In your meetings with Christian leaders, a lot of uncertainty about U.S. policy, it doesn’t seem very popular. They feel that you’re siding with the Muslim Brotherhood.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in Egypt right now. They’re doing something they’ve never done in 5,000-plus years of history. They have had elections. They’ve elected a president, but they still don’t have a government. They don’t know what the platform is going to be. They’re not sure of the legal standing of some of their new institutions. And there are understandable concerns by many, many Egyptians. I don’t think that’s at all unusual.
But what I was looking for was a chance to hear directly from people, and I knew very well there’d be a lot of passion and conviction expressed, which I think demonstrates how invested Egyptians are in trying to make sure their democratic transition works out for the benefit of all the Egyptians – men and women, Muslim and Christian, everybody.
QUESTION: Are you prepared to use U.S. influence like aid to make sure the military lets that transition happen?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve been talking with everybody in Egypt about what we can do to try to help their economic situation, which is quite serious. But until there’s a government in place, until there’s a finance minister and a prime minister, people with whom we can actually talk specifics, we won’t be able to know exactly what we can offer, what we can expect, and then what kind of accountability to seek.
QUESTION: The Israelis are really walking on eggshells now about this issue on the Sinai. It’s become a virtual no-man’s land, like a pre-Afghanistan situation where you have the safe haven on terrorists. What assurances are you bringing to the Israelis? Have you discussed in your meetings with the Israeli leaders? What assurances from President Morsi are you bringing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I discussed at length the situation in the Sinai in Egypt and then again today in Israel. We share the concern. We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and for Israel. It’s also dangerous for Americans. We have Americans as part of the multinational force that observes the continuation of the Camp David Accords. We have Americans in the Sinai. We’ve had a few concerns about their safety. So this is not only about Egypt and Israel, it’s also about the United States and other members of that multinational force. So it’s in everyone’s interest that we work together to make sure that security is in place in Sinai.
Because it’s not only the lawlessness that took place after the Egyptian revolution, it is the import of weapons from outside Egypt and the Sinai; it is the potential of jihadists and terrorists taking up an operational base in Sinai. So we spent a lot of time talking about what more needed to be done to get some more attention paid to the Sinai.
QUESTION: And you think President Morsi will do that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think he is concerned about any part of the country that might cause problems for Egyptians and for others beyond his border. And certainly in my meeting with Field Marshal Tantawi, he is very focused on that as well.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Iran. There have been a steady stream of officials coming, in addition to Bill Burns, for the national dialogue – yourself, National Security Advisor Donilon, and Defense Secretary Panetta. Some people are dubbing this the please don’t bomb Iran tour, I mean, but in all seriousness, how much of this – how concerned are you that the Israelis are looking to make a strike against Iran? Those Iran talks are not going well. And how much of this is an effort to say to the Israelis, “Don’t do it. We have this under control”?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Elise, we have upped our intensive dialogues and consultations with the Israelis over the last three years to an unprecedented level. It’s not at all unusual to have a constant flow of senior officials, and of course Iran is on our agenda with Israel. It’s on our agenda with so many countries around the world, as you know, but that’s not the only issue that we discuss.
We discuss how we can try to keep moving toward some peace process outcome that will bring about a two-state solution. We talk about what’s happening in the region in Syria, for example. We have broad-based consultations.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Syria. A year ago when you were in Lithuania, you said that time was running out for the Assad regime. There were 1,000 people dead. When you were in Tokyo, you said the sands are coming out of the hour glass. Now there are 10,000 people dead. What is the threshold, Madam Secretary, that these don’t become empty words and there will be some type of intervention to get rid of President Assad?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are trying to intervene. We’re trying to intervene in a way that brings about an end to the violence and a transition to a democratic future that doesn’t require adding to the violence, further militarizing the conflict, perhaps killing more people and pushing them across the borders. I think that everyone is very wary, for good reason, of that kind of intervention. But certainly what we’ve tried to do to get nations that have been skeptical on board with us, most particularly the Russians and the Chinese, what we’ve done to try to help reassure and provide humanitarian assistance to the neighboring countries that are absorbing the refugees.
But Elise, everybody is as outraged as I am, and I think for very good reason, at what we see happening. It’s horrific what’s happening. But you have to look at all the consequences of any action that the outside could take. And there are many instances that I could point to where you could make things worse. You could add to the violence through some kind of military intervention, which is why you see the region itself, which is living with this terrible regime and what it’s doing to its people, being especially careful.
So yeah, the time is running out. I can’t put a definite hour and minute on it, but the Assad regime is not going to survive. I just wish it would end sooner instead of later.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you keep saying that the Russians need to pay a price. You’re urging the world to show Russia there’s a price. What price is the U.S. prepared to make Russia pay?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, our commitment is to try to get Russia to cooperate with us. So we want the rest of the world to put pressure on Russia in the Security Council so that they will support a Chapter 7 resolution, where we can impose very hard sanctions on people and institutions that support the regime. That would be the best signal we could send to Assad that his days are numbered. As long as he has Iran in his corner, which he does, and as long as he has Russia uncertain about whether or not to side against him in any more dramatic way than it already has, he feels like he can keep going. And that’s the message we want to reverse.
QUESTION: You’ve been talking about the peace process here. Even though you have these letters, there’s this sense of some momentum. A lot of – some of the parties are saying we’re just running out the clock ‘til there’s an election in the U.S. and hoping that President Obama will get re-elected, and you’ll be able to do something meaningful. What do you say to that argument?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I say that you should not waste a day in trying to achieve a resolution to the ongoing conflict and dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is so much in the interest of Israel. It is so much in the interest of the Palestinians. And now the way the region is in turmoil, it would be a great signal of stability and a positive view of what the future can be. So I don’t want anybody to wait for anything because I think that’s wasted time.
QUESTION: But you’ve had a front seat to this conflict for 20 years, from Oslo, first with your husband, as a Senator, as a Secretary of State. Is this every going to get solved?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I’m an optimist. I believe that eventually it will, because I think it must. I think there’s just so much at stake. But ultimately it’s not up to the United States. We are deeply committed to a peaceful outcome that secures Israel’s border and Israel’s future as a democratic Jewish state. We are committed to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state, but ultimately it comes down to the two of them. I had firsthand experience in Northern Ireland. They had to decide they were finally ready to stop fighting and killing before there could be any process, and then the process took years.
So I know that, again, these are intractable problems – they – in the eyes of many. But I think part of my job and part of what the United States does is just not to give up, to be persistent, to keep raising the issues and demonstrating how important it is to move forward.
QUESTION: It’s been a very long trip. Twenty-seven thousand miles you clocked.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Is that all? It felt like a million. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There was a sense that you feel that the clock is running out and you need to pack as much in; you might have some unfinished business. I mean, what is this massive pace all about?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I had work to do. I had to be in Paris for the Friends of Syria, then I had to go to Tokyo two days later for the International Donor Conference on Afghanistan, and then I had to end up in Cambodia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and – I mean so a lot of my schedule is predetermined. It’s places, it’s meetings, it’s events where the United States must be represented and it’s my job to represent us. And I could go home, I suppose, between these meetings, but it seems to me it makes more sense, it is more efficient to go to places, to engage in serious discussions, to look for ways to advance America’s interest, security, and values, and that’s what I’ve done from the first day I became Secretary. It’s what I intend to do until the last day that I leave the office.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, last question: I know you don’t like to talk about politics right now, but Mitt Romney is using you in a negative ad against President Obama, using a clip of you talking in the campaign. How does that make you feel?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am out of politics and I haven’t seen any of the ads that you’re talking about, but I have to say I think it’s a waste of money. I mean, everybody knows I ran against President Obama in 2008. That’s hardly news. Everybody knows we ran a hard-fought campaign and he won, and I have been honored to serve as his Secretary of State, working with him to advance America’s interests, values, and security. So I don’t understand why they’re wasting their money, but that’s their decision.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, go back to the United States and get some rest, and we’ll see you on the next trip. Thank you very much for joining us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Elise. Good to talk to you.