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Interview With John Roberts of CNN

Interview With John Roberts of CNN

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
December 4, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, it’s great to see you. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and talk with us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, John. It’s good to talk to you.

QUESTION: The big news here at NATO is going to be how many troops will the NATO member countries commit to the new, quote/unquote, “surge strategy” in Afghanistan. What’s your understanding of the numbers as they are now and where they may get to?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as of right now, we have more than 5,000 committed. These include decisions by governments to keep troops that they were about to remove that they had sent only for the elections, plus new additional commitments. For example, today we heard from the Italians and the Poles and the Slovakians, and I’m probably forgetting some others, but we had some really positive new commitments.

QUESTION: Because you wanted to get 7,000 troops – do you think that you’ll get to that number? Might you get beyond it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what we’ve already said – what we’ve always said is between five and seven, because that’s what we assessed. But we’re obviously looking for more commitments. We think more will be coming in in the weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Now, you’ve asked France – or at least there are reports that you asked France for 1,500 troops. First, can you confirm that? And where are they on additional troop commitments?

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SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know what the exact number might have been discussed, because what we have been working with in terms of France or other countries is what they feel that they are capable of giving us right now for this joint effort, because it is a collective effort. I think the conversations are still going on with France.

QUESTION: Right. Now, in terms of this timeline that has been talked about quite a bit this week, the President mentioned July of 2011 as the time when perhaps you could begin to transition to Afghan control in certain regions and begin to draw down forces. The point was made at the Senate Armed Services Committee, which you sat in front of for a number of hours – well, wait a second here, you said it will be predicated on conditions on the ground, now there’s a date certain when it will begin. Which is it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s both. And I think that it is not at all contradictory to say that we’re showing the resolve by putting in significant new troops, as President Obama explained, but we want a sense of urgency at the same time. And yesterday, I was very pleased that President Karzai gave an interview – I think to the Associated Press – where he said he saw the July 2011 date as a real impetus for them to work even harder and accelerate their efforts to get their security forces trained.

Today, I heard from a number of foreign ministers at the NATO meeting here in Brussels about how they think it’s exactly the right approach, that we want, on the one hand, to reverse the momentum of the Taliban; we do not want there to be any misunderstanding that we’re working toward the Afghan people themselves defending themselves in the future.

And we’re looking at this July 2011 date as – exactly as you described it. It is the beginning of a transition that will be responsibly done based on conditions. So in some parts of the country by then, we will be able to remove combat troops and give total control to the Afghan security force. In other parts, not yet, but that’s the kind of evaluation that will go on.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates said yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there are areas in Afghanistan where you might be able to transition control to Afghan forces at present. So extrapolating from that, it would seem that the first areas of transition will be the ones where there is the least amount of conflict. And those are areas predominantly where NATO troops are in control. So when you begin this transition, will it actually allow American forces to come home?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, of course, but again, we are going to be looking at all 34 provinces. Some are, as you say, ready to be transitioned, in our opinion, now. Others, there is heavy combat going on – Americans, our NATO allies, other parts of the ISAF troop-contributing countries are actually in the fight. But what we want to see is a gradual transition which may require the redeployment of troops within Afghanistan, but we’re confident that there’s also going to be the room, if we do this right, to start bringing home our troops too.

QUESTION: This is being described as a transition, not an exit strategy. Ambassador Holbrooke made that point when I mentioned the words “exit strategy” to him yesterday. Today, in an op-ed piece, Secretary General Rasmussen of NATO said it’s a transition, not an exit strategy.


QUESTION: How is it not an exit strategy? How is this not the beginning of a plan to leave Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, because there are really three different elements of our approach. There are combat troops, people who are there fighting the Taliban, reversing their momentum. There are trainers of both the security forces, including the army and the police. We imagine that their mission will continue. And then there are all the civilian efforts which we intend to make a long-term commitment to continuing.

We’ve left Afghanistan and Pakistan before, much to our detriment. I think during the last two days of testimony, Secretary Gates – who was in the administration in the 1980s, was one of the people pushing to arm and train the Mujaheddin to defeat the Soviet Union – made it very clear that we then left, and we left at our peril. So we want to underscore our commitment to the people of Afghanistan and of Pakistan. Our civilian assistance, our support in a training and logistical support manner for their security forces will continue if they so request. But our combat troops, we will be bringing them out and transitioning to greater Afghan security presence.

QUESTION: So this will not be, as some people have suggested, the U.S. cutting and running from Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely not, and John, I want to really stress that. Because our analysis of what happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan very clearly demonstrates that not only the United States, but the international community sort of just said, “Okay, job is done, Soviet Union is gone,” and we walked away, leaving a very difficult and increasingly dangerous presence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, a drug trade that flourished during that time period. There were many problems that we had to take some responsibility for, but we did not.

So I want to make clear to the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan that we’re looking for a long-term partnership.

QUESTION: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview yesterday that he is willing to hold talks with Mullah Mohammed Omar to see if he can bring him around and perhaps involve the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future. The United States has resisted that notion up until now. Would you support talks between Hamid Karzai and Mullah Mohammed Omar?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s the right of the president of a sovereign nation to talk with whomever he chooses to talk with. But we would be quite skeptical of the results of any such talks. We think that there needs to be a distinction between the potential reintegration of a lot of the people who are part of the Taliban but are not the hard core, committed ideological fighters who don’t have allegiance with al-Qaida.

With respect to reintegrating people off the battlefield, we would want them to renounce al-Qaida and renounce violence, and be willing to participate peacefully in their society. We think that holds great promise. With the prospect of reconciling with the leadership of the Taliban, we are quite skeptical. But it is worth exploring, because you don’t make peace with your friends, you --

QUESTION: So you would support talks between Karzai and Omar?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think if they choose to speak – we have no evidence that Mullah Omar is interested in speaking to President Karzai or anybody else – if they were willing to speak, that would denote a dramatic, 180-degree change from where they have been.

Remember the United States Government asked Mullah Omar to give up the bin Laden-Zawahiri leadership of al-Qaida after we were attacked on 9/11. If they had done so, we would not be in Afghanistan today. They chose not to, and consistently over the last eight years, that alliance between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida has only grown closer. So I do not have much confidence that any such talks would produce much in the way of positive outcomes.

QUESTION: In his speech on Tuesday, the President used language like successful conclusion, responsible transition when looking at the eventualities in Afghanistan. Nowhere did he use the word “winning.” And has the United States given up on this idea of winning in Afghanistan? Will there simply be a transition of responsibility?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We’re looking for success, and I think success is broader than a military victory.

QUESTION: So what is success? How do you define success?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, success is a stable, secure and peaceful Afghanistan able to defend itself and provide a democratic, positive future for their people. Now --

QUESTION: Now, you asked them the same questions about Iraq – how do you define that, how do you know what your achievement --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think in Iraq, we’ve seen a transition which is ongoing, which has an end date attached to it of the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi security forces from our military forces.

QUESTION: But I guess what I’m saying, is can it --

SECRETARY CLINTON: But we’ve also seen politics --

QUESTION: Would it give --

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ve also seen politics take hold in Iraq. You have a lot of people who were killing each other who are now sitting in the parliament. I think, to go back to your prior question, that’s somewhat what President Karzai has in mind. But of course, it requires that you disarm, that there only be one legitimate source of military power, and that’s a long way from being possible in Afghanistan. But those are the kinds of goals that we’re working toward.

QUESTION: When it comes to Afghanistan’s next-door neighbor, Pakistan – and this was a big topic of discussion at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday – Senator John Kerry said, quote, “What happens in Pakistan will do more to determine the outcome in Afghanistan than any increase in troops or shift in strategy.” How does this plan for Afghanistan that the President unveiled on Tuesday and you are now bringing to NATO address what’s going on in Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it addresses it both directly and indirectly. I mean, one of the problems that both Pakistan and Afghanistan shares is a very porous border, where terrorists go back and forth, they seek safe haven wherever they can find it on either side of the border. By emphasizing in our approach now that we are going to put in enough troops so that we can reverse the momentum, we will be working closely with Pakistan as they try to combat the terrorists who threaten them.

We also know that there is this syndicate of terror. We can’t let Afghanistan become a failed state because then Pakistan would be under even greater pressure than it is today from insurgents within its own borders. And we want to work with Pakistan to be able to root out, capture, and kill the al-Qaida leadership and their allies. So this really is a regional strategy. It is integrated to be more effective than what we’ve seen before.

QUESTION: And you have, on your recent trip to Pakistan, been critical of Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants. You even went so far as to say someone in the government must know the location of al-Qaida leaders like bin Ladin. Pakistan has been very good at leveraging militant groups for its own policy goals. And I’m wondering, Madame Secretary, this morning how – what do you say to the American people as to why we should be dumping billions of dollars into a country that has given safe harbor to militants who are actively trying to engage and kill our troops in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we know that in the past the Pakistani power structure has seen militant groups as being perhaps useful, but I think those days are waning. I believe that what has happened in this last year with the Pakistan military going into Swat, going into South Waziristan, is the beginning, not the end, of an ongoing effort to take on those militants who no longer can be separated, if you will, into who’s for us and who’s against us.

The new kind of syndicate that exists with al-Qaida at its head poses a danger to Pakistan’s future.

QUESTION: And yet at the same time, Mullah Mohammed Omar seems to enjoy safe haven in the area around Quetta, Usama bin Ladin is still somewhere in the North-West Provinces.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And we’re taking that very seriously. And we’ve had eight years. I mean, they never should have gotten out of Afghanistan in the first place, as we now know from an important report done by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But if I could dial the clock back, I think everyone would see different decisions made.

But where we are today is an Afghan-Pakistan awareness that these militants are threatening both. And we’re going to see more action, I believe, from the Pakistanis to confront that.

QUESTION: Now, the United States is conducting a secret war in Pakistan with these drone attacks. The New York Times carries a story today that that program has not only been reauthorized but expanded. And I know that U.S. officials are very reluctant to talk about this, but that program – is it enough to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in those frontier provinces in Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if there is such a secret program, of course, I’m not going to talk about it. But I think what is important to note is the increasingly close cooperation between our two countries, Pakistan and the United States, against a common threat and a common enemy. And that wasn’t – that did not exist when President Obama took office. We had a very different attitude coming from Pakistan. But reality has really intruded in a very dangerous way. The people of Pakistan are united in this effort against these militant terrorists, and I think we’re seeing real progress.

QUESTION: Can you fight a counterterror war in an area like that by remote control?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there are many elements to a war against terrorists. There is, as we’re doing now in Afghanistan, a very direct confrontation. As we see in Pakistan, there is support which the United States and others are providing to the Pakistani military and government. So there’s many different tools in the toolbox.

QUESTION: Ambassador Richard Holbrooke the other day said that a large part of the funding from the Taliban both in Afghanistan and Pakistan comes not from the drug trade, but comes from people in the Persian Gulf region. And I’m wondering where exactly is that funding coming from, and what is the United States doing about it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there does continue to be funding, as there has been for a number of years, of militancy from private sources in the Gulf. And we’ve taken some very positive steps to try to rein that in. There is much more attention being paid to it. The countries are cooperating with us to try to shut down any pipelines of funding. So --

QUESTION: And yet the money continues to flow.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, yes, but not in the amount that it did flow. We have really good evidence that we’ve begun to cut off the funding sources. But look, money is fungible. Money doesn't necessarily go into a bank and then get cashed – get carried in bundles of cash by couriers to al-Qaida in their safe haven. So we know that this is an area that needs more help, but we’ve gotten some good progress there too.

QUESTION: This troop surge in Afghanistan is figured to cost about $30 billion in the first year. People have talked about (inaudible) talked about tax increases. Has there been any thought to, as in the 1991 Gulf War, because you have said that Afghanistan security is a matter of regional concern, of going to nations like Saudi Arabia, other nations in the Persian Gulf region, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, to fund the war in Afghanistan the same way they funded the 1991 Gulf War?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re actually receiving quite a bit of financial assistance for a lot of the important functions in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But not to the same degree, though. We came out of the 1991 war with no war debt.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that war was because a country in the Gulf was attacked. This war is because we were attacked. So I think we’ve gotten a lot of support both militarily and financially for a much more difficult, challenging undertaking that this war has turned out to be.

QUESTION: You’re here at NATO looking for more troops, but on a personal level there’s been some big news to celebrate as well. Your daughter and Mark Mezvinsky are engaged to be married. The wedding is set for sometime next summer. You must be the proud parent.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am. I am officially an MOTB, a mother of the bride. I’m very excited about it.

QUESTION: How does it feel for – I mean, Chelsea has obviously flown the nest to some degree, but to be out there and --

SECRETARY CLINTON: You have a daughter.


SECRETARY CLINTON: I mean, you know that --

QUESTION: And I’m hoping that she waits quite a while before she gets married.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if she follows my daughter’s example, she will. And I think that’s all to the good, depending upon each individual’s decision. But no, we’re very happy, very excited. It’s, for me particularly, an extraordinary moment to see how happy my daughter is and to have such a wonderful young man who will become my son-in-law. But it’s daunting to be trying to plan a wedding. Madeleine Albright called me the other night and she said, well, when I was Secretary of State and had not a minute to myself, I had to plan a wedding, so if you need any advice, just call me. And I said I’ll be calling.

QUESTION: So is this going to be the wedding of weddings, or will it be a small affair?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s going to be a – well, we don’t know. We’re working on it. But it’ll be a private affair. It’ll be for her close friends, and that’s the way it should be.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, it’s great to catch up with, as always. It’s been a while. I hope to do it more frequently in the future.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I would like that, John. I’ve always enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks for seeing us.


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