Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Very good. Well, I do want to talk. We have so much to talk about and not much time, I know. But I want to begin with Benghazi. You’ve talked about Benghazi as one of your lasting regrets. Your review board outlined systemic failures of the State Department, but I wonder whether you also see it as an intelligence failure. I mean, the U.S. was really taken by surprise by this attack, even though, as we now know, there was a large CIA presence in Benghazi at this annex that was – that took mortar fire.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the Accountability Review Board addressed that. Certainly, there was no specific intelligence-based threat that was conveyed to us, but there was an evaluation of the threat environment that we were trying to deal with by helping the Libyans build up their own security. But ultimately, I think we all have to do a better job. The threats have evolved. We’ve seen different kinds of threats affect our military, affect our intelligence community and affect our diplomats. So I think we’ll do our part here in the State Department to try to implement all of the recommendations, and we’ll work with our partners in the government to just make sure that we’re not missing anything going forward.
QUESTION: And in addition to Benghazi, we’ve seen this extremist takeover in northern Mali, this deadly hostage raid in Algeria. There seem to be connections among all of these groups that were involved. So what more does the U.S. have to do to get a handle on this really regional threat?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Well, Michele, I think that it’s going to take some time to sort out what these governments are able to do to secure their own borders and protect their own people. The Arab revolutions and the new efforts to build democracies are not well established yet. So we have a multitude of challenges that we’re meeting simultaneously. We’re trying to work with the governments, and some are willing but not capable; some are capable but sometimes less than willing. We have extremist groups that have been driven out of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the safe havens in Pakistan in large measure because of our relentless efforts against them. They have taken up arms again in North Africa and they pose a new threat. And the takeover of the gas facility in Algeria is an example of that.
We have faced all kinds of threats over many years, obviously. It takes a while to calibrate exactly how we’re going to put together the package that we need to respond, but we’re in the midst of doing that with likeminded nations in the region and beyond.
QUESTION: I’d like to turn to Syria because your critics describe Syria as this Administration’s Rwanda. And I wonder how it weighs on you and what more the U.S. could have done to prevent the deaths of now 60,000 people.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s not a historically accurate analogy. Rwanda was particularly dreadful because it was largely unarmed people being slaughtered in huge numbers in a very short period of time, despite the presence of a UN mission in Rwanda. Syria is much more complex, much more riven by geographic and other differences among the population. You have a well-equipped military going after what started out to be largely unarmed, peaceful protestors, now pockets of armed resistance all over the country.
I think the United States has done a great deal. We are responsible for driving through sanctions against Assad that have really limited his capacity to replenish his coffers and to provide funding needed to keep his military machine going. We have helped to stand up an opposition that was notably absent in the beginning of this conflict. It wasn’t like other places where there were preexisting, well-organized entities that stepped into the breach. We’ve had to work on that. We’ve become the biggest provider of humanitarian assistance.
And I think there is a lot of concern, not just by the United States but by other countries as well. I mean, we are certainly not alone in being cautious about what more we can do without causing more death and more destruction, and the unintended consequences of helping to foment an even more deadly civil war. No one is in any way satisfied with what the United States or the entire world community has done, which is why we keep pressing for UN action and keep being disappointed and blocked by the Russians.
QUESTION: The Russians do continue to block meaningful action. Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy, talked about how Syria is breaking up before everyone’s eyes. Is there a diplomatic solution, or is this going to be resolved by guys with guns and more radicalized?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I had hope there was. I hammered out an agreement in Geneva last summer, largely negotiating with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. I thought it was pretty clear what our next steps would be. And certainly from my perspective, the Russians were unwilling to go forward. We had made it our position that we would not open the door to military action, but we wanted to take political action, economic action through the Security Council. I had reason to believe that we would be going to the Security Council to do that; and unfortunately, once again, the Russians sided with Assad, who knew that if we were able to implement the Geneva agreement that we had negotiated, that that would send a very clear signal that Assad was being isolated even further – a signal to those around him, a signal to his troops, a signal to the region. And I think the Russians decided that they would still support him much to the great loss of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: You spent a lot of your time trying to reset that relationship with Russia. There were some early successes, but now we’re at the point where the Russians won’t even let American families adopt Russian children. How do you – what do you say to John Kerry, your successor, about how to deal with this Russian Government and how to deal with this anti-American mood in Moscow?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we did have some very positive achievements in the first term. The New START Treaty was something that we worked very hard on; working with the Russians to get a Northern Distribution Network route to assist us in Afghanistan; finding common cause on the Iranian sanctions and the North Korean sanctions. That was quite an accomplishment, particularly with respect to Iran, because it wasn’t at all clear when I took office that the Russians would ever join in tough sanctions against Iran.
And on a number of other hotspot and long-term issues, we had made progress. I think we just have to wait and see what the real objectives of the new Russian leadership are. We thought it was self-defeating for them to take the actions they did throwing out USAID, which had been working on everything from preventing tuberculosis to setting up the first mortgage companies in Russia. That really hurts the Russian people. We can take our aid money and go elsewhere and help people who welcome us. I thought it was tragic that they stopped adoptions, especially those that were already in train, particularly for children that will never have the opportunity for a family. They will live in orphanages until they’re adults. We know how challenging and tragic that has been.
So I think we have to make it clear that there are certain actions and policies that the United States will pursue because they are in our interest. And we don’t expect Russia to agree with us on everything, but we need to once again be making common cause. For example, we worked well together in the Arctic Council. We helped to come up with the first policy on search-and-rescue. We worked on an oil spill policy. The Arctic is going to be an area of intense interest. Russia has the longest coastline in the world with the Arctic. We can work together there. President Putin is very interested in wildlife conservation, something that I have elevated because we’re seeing organized crime get into wildlife trafficking. So there are issues we will keep working on, but we’ll also draw lines where we disagree and speak out when we must.
QUESTION: I have a couple more questions and I’m getting a one-minute warning, so let me get through a couple more. We’re sitting in this room surrounded by history. There’s Thomas Jefferson’s desk, the Treaty of Paris. And I wonder how, as you sit here, do you think about your place in history and what you hope will be your lasting legacy in this building?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think like that. I really get up every day and try to deal with the problems that are in front of me and I don’t really worry about history. That will work itself out over time. I think the last four years have been ultimately quite important for the United States to demonstrate that we were going to once again assume a leadership position that was in concert with our values. That was not how America was viewed when I took this office. I think we have set the table for a lot of the difficult issues to be dealt with. There is nothing fast or easy about diplomacy. I have no illusions about that.
And we have brought to the forefront longer-term issues, whether it’s the implications of technology and the role of the internet, cybersecurity, women’s rights, climate change. I’ve worked on all of these because I wanted to be sure that the United States was at the table looking for a way of structuring the legal international frameworks that are going to have to be put into place.
QUESTION: Now, you say you’re not retiring. You say you need to catch up on 20 years of sleep deprivation --
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s true. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- before you make any decisions on your future. But I wonder, what questions do you need to answer for yourself as you decide whether or not to run again for president?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not even posing those questions. I am really looking forward to stepping off the fast track that I’ve been on. I’ve been out of politics as Secretary of State. I don’t see myself getting back into politics. I want to be involved in philanthropy, advocacy, working on issues like women and girls that I care deeply about. I want to write and speak. I want to work with my husband and my daughter on our mutual foundation interests. So I’m going to have my hands full. I don’t quite know how I’m going to adjust to not having a schedule and a lot of work that is in front of me that is expecting me to respond to minute by minute. But I’m looking forward to that and I have no other plans besides that.
QUESTION: And you look great. How’s your health?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s terrific. I mean, I’m getting very good treatment and getting better, and I’m recovering. It was quite a surprise to me. I’ve been so healthy my entire life. But falling on your head is not something that I hope ever happens to any of your listeners. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Great. Well, thank you so much for your time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Good to talk with you, Michele.