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The Race for Iran

Secretary Clinton in Russia Discusses the P5+1 Negotiations

BBC’s Kim Ghattas scored an excellent interview with Secretary Clinton in Russia that focuses on the P5+1 negotiations and Russia’s position. The entire interview is worth reading and below the fold.

One question I would have liked Secretary Clinton to approach differently. When asked why it is not in Iran’s interests to have a nuclear weapon, Clinton focused on the prospects of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and the risks that could pose for Iran.

I’d prefer for Secretary Clinton to focus on the benefits that Iran could reap from improved relations with the United States and other important stakeholders in the international community.

The full interview is posted below.

Secretary Clinton’s Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Kazan, Russia

October 14, 2009

QUESTION: Secretary Hillary Clinton, thank you very much for joining us here on the BBC in a rather unusual location, Kazan –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Indeed, Kazan.

QUESTION: — the capital of Tatarstan, the Russian Federation. It’s the end of a five-day trip for you, very hectic schedule. And I wanted to start by asking you about your last stop, which was Moscow. Now it does appear as though Russia now does see Iran as a threat, just like you, and we did hear from President Dmitriy Medvedev who said that sanctions were sometimes inevitable.

But you don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to a sustained, continued, public pressure on Iran. We heard yesterday the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say that counter – that pressure would be counterproductive at this stage. This is not the united front you were looking for.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, I think it is, but I believe that the Russians have certainly agreed with us that we have to have a two-track approach – the first track, which we are pursuing, on diplomacy, the P-5+1 meeting in Geneva, the agreements that Iran has made to open its previously undisclosed site to international inspections and to ship out its low-enriched uranium for reprocessing outside of Iran. We are in total agreement on all of that. And we are also in agreement that if our diplomatic engagement is not successful, then we have to look at other measures to take, including sanctions, to try to pressure the Iranians.

The Russians believe that they are being more effective working in private, working behind the scenes. They have joined our public statements, the P-5+1 statement, and of course, the action at Geneva. We continue to believe that we do need to keep the public pressure on, but there’s no difference in approach or ultimate objective.

QUESTION: So do you feel that Russia’s position is closer to yours than ever before on Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I do. I believe that in the last six months, we have seen that. Our two presidents have discussed this on several occasions. I was with President Obama when he met with President Medvedev in New York. In my conversations with Minister Lavrov and our meetings with other interested parties, I think that there has been a tremendous move on the part of the Russians to recognize this threat, because that’s where it starts.

And in my conversations, I know that they have done an assessment. They’ve looked at the same evidence we have seen. And they’re looking for the same outcome; they just want to be sure that what we’re doing in their view is going to achieve it.

QUESTION: But are they ready to discuss the specific of sanctions – when those sanctions will be needed? Because the next test of Iran’s intentions comes very soon; in fact, over the next few weeks. So have you been able to get any specifics from them?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, yes. Indeed, if the Iranians do not carry through on their agreement in principle to ship out their low-enriched uranium, the Russians have made it very clear that that will call for action. So I don’t want to get ahead of myself and I don’t want to answer a hypothetical. I think it’s important that we stay together, we keep moving together, and we stay committed to the same goal, which is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons pile.

QUESTION: Are you at all worried that the Russians are maybe stringing you along? Because they can play nice, they can hold out hope to you that they’re going to go along with you on sanctions. But they know that the Chinese will do all the stalling that is needed for them on the sanctions when it comes to action at the Security Council.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I believe that this is a difficult process for both the Chinese and the Russians. Until relatively recently within the last months, I don’t think they saw the threat the way that we and others saw it. We’ve been intensifying our cooperation, our sharing of information, our analysis of what could come more broadly were Iran to be successful.

And so I certainly see the Russians moving. Now, the Russians are more immediately affected. They are on –
QUESTION: And so they’re more careful?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think they are also more careful, but also perhaps more aware of the threats that we see coming from Iran because they’re in proximity. China’s a long way away. China’s relationship with Iran is primarily commercial. But we’re continuing to work and share information, and I think the fact that all of our P-5+1 partners have signed off on some very strong statements would not have happened without this kind of effort.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that they’re playing nice in the hope to have warmer relations with you and have, perhaps, concessions on certain issues? I’m not saying that the missile defense shield position was a concession, but it is something that they welcomed very, very much. So they’re putting you in a position where you’re more amenable to their demands.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t see it that way, Kim. I think that – like, take missile defense. We made an assessment that the Iranian threat was different than what the Bush Administration thought it was. The Bush Administration’s plan was really aimed at long-range missiles – ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles. Our assessment is that the Iranians have moved much faster on the short and medium-range missiles. So when we came up with what we call the phased, adaptive approach, it was really in response to how we see the threat.

So it was clear, as we explained it to the Russians, that this was something we did in our national security based on what we think is a better analysis. But I think the Russians see that if Iran poses a threat to the greater European region, to our forward-based troops in NATO, it’s next door. So all of a sudden, it becomes more in their national security interest to cooperate with us and to really make their own assessments, which they’re doing.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Iranians bought themselves some time in Geneva when they agreed in principle to, for example, allow the inspectors to enter the Qom site?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that they did buy some time, but they also made some commitments. And any wavering from those commitments would be another reason for the international community to speed up its timetable. So this is what diplomacy is. The slow boring of hard boards, I think, is one expression. Well, the Iranians made commitments and they’re going to be expected by the Russians and the Chinese to fulfill those commitments.

QUESTION: How do you think that you can convince the Iranian leadership that it is better for them to give up their nuclear ambitions, that they would be safer if they didn’t have this nuclear arsenal? Because after all, for the Iranians, it’s about power, it’s about regional clout, and it’s – they do that for the same reason that they have ties with Hezbollah and Hamas. So why would they give that up?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, because as you say, their fundamental assumption has to be that pursuing nuclear weapons enhances their power and prestige in the region. But if, by pursuing nuclear weapons, they spark a nuclear arms race, and countries that are opposed to their ambitions and have deep differences with Iran similarly obtain nuclear weapons, then are they safer? And –

QUESTION: They may be more powerful.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Or less powerful. I mean, you are probably more powerful if you are the only one in the group that has a certain asset. But if you are just one of several, and your enemies are as well armed with as great a capacity for destruction and the possibility for mistakes, miscalculations increases geometrically, I don’t know that that’s the best decision for you to make.

QUESTION: I’d like to move on to Afghanistan. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is planning to send 500 extra troops to Helmand. Did you ask him for this, and do you think it’s enough to help out American troops in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, when I met with Prime Minister Brown at Chequers over the weekend, he told me that he would be making this announcement, and I welcomed it. It is another very tangible sign of the understanding that the British Government has of the threat that is posed emanating from that part of the world.

So it is a welcome addition to the capacity of the troops we have. In the midst of our intensive review, we are looking at where troops are best positioned. The British have been extraordinarily brave. They have suffered grievous losses in their troops in Afghanistan. But they are an absolutely critical partner in our efforts.

QUESTION: Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has yet to announce what it plans to do in terms of troop numbers in Afghanistan. I understand that you’re taking your time because you want to get it right, but it does appear to signal some indecisiveness about what to do with what is a very difficult situation.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m sorry if it does, because I think, in fact, it is a demonstration of a mature, deliberative process, which may not exactly fit the news cycle, but which I think does reflect the thoughtful approach that we’re trying to assume. I think about what it would be like to make these terrible decisions in any point in history, but certainly it’s harder today, because there’s so much attention and so much focus on the day to day, in fact, like, the minute to minute.

But I think this process should give Americans and friends and allies around the world HHha lot of comfort that the President and his top national security team are questioning every assumption. We’re looking as hard as we can at how to implement the strategy. The strategy hasn’t changed, but how do we best implement the strategy is critical.

QUESTION: And are you closer to making a decision about what is best?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, we are. We are.

QUESTION: Any timeline that you can give us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. That wouldn’t be appropriate.

QUESTION: Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the results from the Afghan election. It’s been, I think, more than a month now. Do you think that there should be an interim unity government to help heal this – the wounds from this, you know, very difficult period? Perhaps Abdullah Abdullah should be part of this; this would help fill the vacuum? Do you think there should be such a unity government?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s really up to the Afghans. The most important matter right now is to get the election finalized one way or the other; does there have to be a second round or not. I agree with you that the length of this process, the efforts to try to get it right are really far beyond what we see in most other developing countries.

A country like Afghanistan that holds an election in the middle of a conflict where the Taliban tries to prevent people from actually voting, where there are irregularities, we know and accept that. But the effort to try to actually determine how it came out is much more thorough than anything I’ve seen in many countries.

QUESTION: Would you like to see a unity government once the elections are announced, the election results are announced?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, that’s up to the Afghans. I want to see a capable government. I want to see an effective government that can deliver services to the people. I want to see a government that inspires trust and loyalty of the people. How that’s made up, who is in it, that’s up to the Afghans to decide.

QUESTION: Because it would be difficult for British and American troops to be fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a government that Western countries have accused of corruption in the past. President Hamid Karzai, if he is again at the helm of the country, you know, British and American troops need to believe in their mission. There is a lack of support, a growing lack of support in countries like the U.S. and Britain for their mission there.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course, we would not be sending our young men and women to fight for the Afghan Government. We’re sending them there to defend our interests and to prevent us from being attacked again, and I’m sure that’s the way the British Government feels as well.

There’s no doubt that a strong, effective government makes our job easier, and we expect that and we’re going to demand that. We expect to see this new government, however it is constituted, go after corruption, be more transparent. Frankly, their first allegiance is to their own people, but they do owe the international community their best efforts and a sense of responsibility and accountability that we can look to.

QUESTION: I’d like to draw attention to something that you often draw attention to, which is the civilian aspect of this strategy. There is a lot of focus on troop numbers and how many boots on the ground there are. But the civilian aspect of the strategy is very (inaudible) important and it does appear that the civilian structure that is in place at the moment in Afghanistan is inadequate in terms of what is needed. Are you worried that this is going to undermine the overall strategy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, but I am committed to improving our civilian efforts. Since I became Secretary of State, we’re on the path to more than triple the number of civilians we have, and that’s really a force multiplier because, of course, many Afghans are involved. We’re trying to more carefully focus our efforts on agriculture, on rule of law, on economic development, some very specific tasks. But it is difficult in a conflict zone to do this kind of development work, and it is difficult –

QUESTION: And it’s not getting any easier.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it’s not getting any easier, but we now have civilians who are embedded with our troops so that when our marines go forward into an area that they’re trying to clear and hold, they are accompanied with civilians. And we have put in civilians with what we think are the right skills; as opposed to just being willing, they are also able. But we know that this is a challenge, and it’s not any easier because of the dragged-out election, but I think we have a lot of people who are committed to seeing it through.

QUESTION: Very briefly, I’d like to move on to the Middle East. We heard from President Barack Obama last month that he expected you to report back in mid-October on any progress in getting this process off the ground in the Middle East. Do you have any good news for him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the report is due on Friday, and I think I’ll save it for him. But you know, because you know that region so well, this is extremely difficult. And we are determined; that’s why we started early. It’s not going to get any easier if we wait, but we never believed that it would yield to just our constant efforts, that we would have to keep working with the parties. They’re the only ones who can make peace between themselves.

QUESTION: Absolutely, and, you know, the parties don’t seem to be very willing to take part in this process. We just heard from Hamas – sorry, excuse me, from Fatah leaders, the party of President Mahmoud Abbas, who say they’ve lost hope in your ability and the ability of the Obama Administration to make this process move forward. So you’re now dealing with two reluctant parties.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we can’t want it more than the parties, but it has been my belief for many years that the Israelis deserve to have the security that they can count on, and the Palestinians deserve to have a state that can fulfill their aspirations. We stand ready, willing to help, we – to help.

QUESTION: But will you stand back if they don’t move forward?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we will assess where we are. And a lot of what is said in public doesn’t match what is said in private, and we’re aware of that.

QUESTION: I’d like to end on a lighter note. You’ve been a high-profile personality for so many years. You’ve given hundreds of interviews, I’m sure. Tell us something we don’t know about you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I’ve never been to Kazan before.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think there’s anything people don’t know about me, Kim. I think that being in the public eye for so long, it has been probably impossible to escape all kinds of things. I just hope we can someday add up the things that are true and the things that are untrue. So I think the balance is a little bit on the wrong side right now.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for joining us here on the BBC. Thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good to talk to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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