Interview With Reena Ninan of ABC News

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Lima, Peru
October 15, 2012

QUESTION: When I first met Chris Stevens, it was in a Benghazi elevator of a hotel. He really knew that area well. There was – there are some reports that he was concerned about the rise of al-Qaida. When did the U.S. become aware of transnational extremists operating in Eastern Libya, and what was the U.S. policy to deal with it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have long known that extremists have come out of Libya, and certainly after the fall of Qadhafi we understood that there would be an effort to try to reestablish a presence of extremist bases and operations. But we also knew that aside from those individuals and groups, there were so many militias that had formed in the wake of the revolution, there were so many weapons in the country. So it was something that we were very focused on and working on.

QUESTION: If there is that solid evidence of who killed Chris Stevens – and obviously these guys aren’t coming in in handcuffs – would this Administration be willing to strike them before a U.S. election?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say this. I think there are three points that are very important to me. First, we will get to the bottom of what happened. Secondly, we will learn whatever lessons can be gleaned in order to protect our people. And third, we will track down whoever did this and hold them accountable, bring them to justice.

QUESTION: Any closer to finding suspects?

SECRETARY CLINTON: There’s a lot of work going on. There’s an intense effort in our government. And I think our track record is pretty good that eventually we will find you.

QUESTION: Vice President Biden last week said, I’m quoting here, “We’re leaving in 2014, period,” referring to Afghanistan. Was he wrong?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is the plan. In 2014, according to the decisions that were made by NATO – and that, of course, includes the United States – we would end major combat operations in 2014, the end of the year. There would be --

QUESTION: Do you believe there’s evidence to stay beyond 2014?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there is an enduring commitment that a number of countries have already made to the Afghans, including the United States, but also the UK, France, and others have said we don’t want Afghanistan to end up the way it did after the Soviet Union left and those countries that had been funding the fight against the Soviet Union retreated. So no one wants that to happen. No one wants Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists again. But what that will look like, who will be involved – all of that is still to be considered.

QUESTION: So he hasn’t torpedoed, has he, security talks with – last week with the Afghan Foreign Minister on staying beyond 2014?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think he – what he meant was that major combat operations will end. There’s never been any discussion of continuing that. What has been discussed is how to train and support and provide specific forms of assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces.

QUESTION: We’re seeing al-Qaida strengthen in some parts – in Mali, in Syria, in Iraq. What’s the real status of al-Qaida, and are they strengthening?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s absolutely fair to say that the major leadership of al-Qaida, including bin Ladin, has been decimated. There has been an effort to have other al-Qaida affiliate-like organizations – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – to try to take up the mantle of al-Qaida, but the core of al-Qaida has been severely damaged.

But we know that there will be terrorists, if they call themselves that or they call themselves something else, who will continue to terrorize people in the countries where they are based and continue to threaten the United States and our friends and allies. So we have never taken at all our eye off the ball of how we have to keep going after those extremists who pose a threat.

QUESTION: President Assad has started using his air force in Syria. The casualties have risen significantly. When the U.S. decided to go into Libya, it was because of on the grounds of an impending emergency humanitarian situation. The situation in Syria is far worse. Why not set up a no-fly zone there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Obviously, this has been under discussion among allies in many conversations, and I think that the planning that has been taking place is important. There has been no decision made. But everyone knows that what the Assad regime is doing is just a brutal assault on the Syrian people. And what we need is a very clear commitment of support to the opposition inside of Syria and outside --

QUESTION: Would you be willing to talk to the military opposition?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there are conversations going on with those who are in the military – in fact, I know there are – by many different likeminded countries.

QUESTION: The debates are tomorrow. Is it do or die for President Obama? What advice would you have for him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I think he’ll do find. I have no doubt about that. And I’m racing back from Peru, where we are talking, in order to be able to see all of it.

QUESTION: What would you tell him? What advice would you give him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually just to go out and be himself and talk about what he’s done – he has a great record – and what he wants to do. I mean, this is a very consequential election for our country, and I’m out of politics but I am an American and I care deeply about what happens to our country and our people. And I think he’ll do fine.

QUESTION: When they look back and examine this election cycle, what will they say about the impact your husband, President Clinton, has had in helping him (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will leave that to historians. But I was very proud of the speech that Bill gave at the convention, because I think it made the case very strongly for the policies that President Obama has pursued and why they’re the right policies for our country.

QUESTION: When you leave your position as Secretary of State, what unfinished business will you regret leaving behind the most?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will miss the extraordinary people. I have more than 60,000 people around the world who are working hard every single day to promote peace and prosperity and who want to advance America’s interests and values and keep us safe here at home. So I will miss the people and I will miss a lot of the extraordinarily important work. But it’s work that never ends. I mean, we’re living at a time when the world is so complex, so many challenges and threats going on simultaneously. So I will be there cheering on whoever my successor is.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

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PRN: 2012/T71-07