Interview With Kim Ghattas of the BBC

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
BBC Interview
July 16, 2012

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for joining the BBC. I’d like to start with Syria, where we have seen over the last few days a growing momentum in the number of defections, high-ranking security officials, ambassadors defecting from Assad’s – President Assad’s government. What is your assessment of the current situation? We’re also seeing a lot of fighting – increasing fighting in Damascus. What is your assessment? Does it look like it’s coming to a head?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly the violence is increasing. The conflict is, as you say, increasingly in Damascus and the suburbs. The number of both military and civilian defections seems to be also on the rise. And I think that all of us have said it was a matter of time. And it’s unfortunate that there has not been the ability of the international community to come together at the Security Council to speak with one voice, but Syrians themselves are fighting for their freedom and for a better future.

I’d like to see the fighting end, the violence cease, and what we agreed to in Geneva take place, which is a transitional government. But that requires, first and foremost, that the Assad government agree to do so. So I do think, Kim, that it’s only a matter of time.

QUESTION: Are you hoping that this implodes from within? Because regardless of how much China and Russia are obstructing international action, it’s not as though the international community has any desire to act forcefully. So you’re kind of waiting to see how this plays out.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s not completely an accurate assessment or description. I don’t want to see it implode because imploding would suggest a civil war that would cost so many innocent lives, with untold damage to Syria, the institutions of the state. And yet, we also don’t want to see the violence spread across the border. So what we have tried to do is to contain it as best we could.

QUESTION: But you’re waiting for the Syrian rebels to basically do this on their own.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no. We’re working very hard – we have worked extremely hard to try to have a managed transition. We talk about the Yemeni model, for example, where there was a transition of power. It took over a year, but it was eventually accomplished. But that took a leader who was finally willing to say: My continued presence is causing the deaths of people and I’m not going to allow that to continue. The Assad regime has not reached that conclusion.

Also, remember there has always been the condition that anything that anyone did should be rooted in legitimacy at the Security Council. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to get even a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution, although we are working on it as we speak in New York. And there is also the great danger that as bad and terrible as things are now, many people inside Syria do not want to see further militarization and increased violence in the name of stopping violence. So this is a very tragic and difficult situation, but we’re all working very hard to try to bring the violence to an end.

QUESTION: But do you think it’s too late to talk about a political transition in Syria? The Red Cross is worrying that this is a civil war now. Is it still possible to follow a Yemen scenario?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I definitely think it is. But there has to be willingness, first and foremost by the government and then by the opposition, to plan a way forward for the country, and we haven’t yet seen that happen.

QUESTION: You’ve criticized the Chinese and specifically the Russians a lot for the positions that they’ve taken. You say that they are blocking progress in Syria. But is it really them that are blocking this progress or is it the fact that, like I’ve said, the international community isn’t really ready to do anything forceful? Certainly the United States isn’t going to do anything before a U.S. election.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, again, I think that is an unfair characterization. The international community has been more than ready to impose all kinds of pressure on the Assad regime. And let’s not --

QUESTION: But it doesn’t tip the balance.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we don’t know because we haven’t been able to do it. We’ve imposed unilateral sanctions, the United States and the Europeans and some of the Arab countries, but a Chapter 7 resolution under the Security Council that would really have the weight of authority of the international community speaking with one voice, that would include tough sanctions on individuals, on institutions, would be extremely powerful in giving the leverage to Kofi Annan, the Special Envoy for both the UN and the Arab League.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that. And part of it is because the Russians are very clear; they don’t want to give any opening for force that could be used. And we’ve said look, let’s take this one step at a time. We’re not – let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s see if we can’t bring the full weight of the Security Council and the international community to bear so that we can find how much that moves the ball forward.

Kofi Annan is in Moscow today and tomorrow. I spoke with him yesterday. He certainly has called for consequences. He’s called for Security Council action. I hope he’s able to persuade the Russians that there’s a way forward that they should sign on to.

QUESTION: We’ll watch that, I think, for a few weeks probably at least, perhaps a few months.

I want to move to your visit to Egypt. You have held talks there with the newly-elected President. How much did you hear from him that reassured you enough about how he sees the future of his country, that you could come to Israel and reassure the Israelis about how the relationship between Egypt and Israel is going to go forward?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in my private meeting, President Morsi said to me what he has said publicly, that with respect to Egypt and its future, he has said that he wants to respect the rights of all Egyptians, that he wants to have an inclusive government. We will certainly be watching closely to see how he and any new government acts on those statements. He’s also said that he will continue the peace treaty with Israel, which is very much in Egypt’s interests as well as in Israel’s. Again, we will watch.

But this is very early going. There’s not yet a government formed. There is not yet a clear path forward on the parliament. There’s not yet a constitution. But he has said many things that have been received positively. But actions speak louder than words and we’ll have to wait until we see him taking such actions.

QUESTION: Just a final question, briefly. This is a new exercise for the United States in the region, engaging with Islamist prime ministers, Islamist presidents. Are you to some extent wary about how this relationship’s going to develop? And are you perhaps taking comfort from the fact that even though you are calling for a full return to civilian power in Egypt, the army is there keeping any eye on things?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, our view has been that we want to see a democracy in Egypt. We’ve been very clear about that and consistent. I’ve engaged extensively with the Islamist-led government in Morocco, with the Islamist-led government in Tunisia. We’ve had a very good dialogue thus far. There’s no government yet in Egypt. There’s a president but there’s no government. And we have to wait to learn more about the people that will be in those positions, what the platform of the government will be. But we’re ready to engage, as we have already in other parts of the region.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for your time.


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