Secretary Clinton’s trip was initially intended to shore up American credentials in Pakistan, but a Middle Eastern leg was added to her tour and ended up becoming the focus of her week overseas. I spoke with her shortly before she was to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Madame Secretary, thank you very much for taking the time.SECRETARY CLINTON:
You’re here in Cairo and about to meet with President Mubarak. Even though you started in Pakistan, most of your nine-day trip has been spent focusing on the Middle East. Now, as you’re about to head back home, do you feel that you have made any progress in that area? Do you feel that you’ve been able to nudge the Israelis and the Palestinians a little bit closer to the negotiating table?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, Jackie, I think that I had always intended to end in Morocco for the Forum for the Future and meet with my Middle Eastern and Arab counterparts. And it was, I think, a good opportunity, since I was in the region, to visit in depth with both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, as well as others who have been involved in this effort from around the region.
I think it’s important to just put this in a broader perspective. The President always knew that this would be hard, and is committed and is absolutely determined that the United States will stay very involved and working to bring the parties together. Our goal is to re-launch negotiations as soon as practical. And on the way to that, we’re going to keep talking and listening and encouraging and prodding, because I’ve been around this issue in a very close and personal way for, gosh, 16 years now. And I know that when the United States leaves the field and basically says, “Well, the parties have to work this out themselves,” we don’t get the kind of forward movement that we think is necessary.QUESTION:
Great, thank you. If you were able to convince both sides to at least take a couple steps forward and sit at that table and restart the peace negotiations, wouldn’t Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas look weaker than ever?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, I don’t think so, but of course, what matters is not what I think, but what he thinks. And there’s been a sequence of actions which have complicated the effort for him. I, however, believe that getting into negotiations, having his negotiators discuss with the Israeli negotiators what are called the final status issues, which President Obama listed in his United Nations speech in September in New York – everything from borders to Jerusalem to refugees – has to be resolved between the parties.
So I think his getting into negotiations would actually change the dynamic and give him a very strong platform. But for all kinds of reasons, most particularly his willingness to work with the Israeli Government to postpone the so-called Goldstone report, has made it very difficult for him to go forward at this time.QUESTION:
Okay. Just to switch gears a bit, you spent a lot of time explaining to Arab states and others over the past few days what you meant in Jerusalem when you were talking about the Israeli West Bank settlements. And your comments were viewed by quite a number of people as praising Israel’s proposal to slow rather than halt the construction. And yesterday, you acknowledged that perhaps you should have been a bit more clear when you were explaining President Obama’s policies on that.
How much of a problem did your comments in Jerusalem create?SECRETARY CLINTON:
I don’t think it created a long-term problem, but it certainly created a lot of questions. And the reason is because President Obama has tried to do something which no previous American president, including my husband, tried to do, which was to make absolutely clear what has been American policy for 40 years – namely that we view Israeli settlement activity as not legitimate. We think that their changing the facts on the ground, so to speak, is something that should be ended.
So when President Obama said look, we want to see an end to settlement activity, that was unprecedented. And then when the Israeli Government, under this prime minister, said we will agree to end all new settlement activity, that was really unprecedented as well.
I have taken the position that when the Israelis or when the Palestinians make a positive step, they should be encouraged, so that – I have said to the Israelis, I’ve said publicly and privately that the Palestinians have made real progress on security, something which people did not expect, and to this day, a lot of people don’t give enough credit to. So I think my job is to try to keep people focused on what is actually both possible and positive. And the Israeli offer was not at all what we would prefer. It did not go far enough, but it went further than anybody has before.QUESTION:
Were you surprised at the – how big a stir that created, though?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, no, I’m not surprised by anything – (laughter) – because this is the tightrope of all tightropes, and I’m well aware of that. But I also think it’s important to make the case. Settlements have never been a precondition by anyone – Palestinian or Arab or the United States – to getting into negotiations, because what is so clear is that once borders are decided, the settlement issue goes away. The Israelis build whatever they want in their territory, the Palestinians build whatever they want in theirs.
But what President Obama tried to do was to say look, this is such an irritant, it is such a terribly – it’s a terrible flashpoint for people in the region. And I was surprised that the Israelis went as far as they did. The Arabs and the Palestinians said it wasn’t far enough. I understand both sides.QUESTION:
Just a couple more questions if you don’t mind, if we could just switch over to Pakistan. And again, you spent time earlier on this trip explaining comments that you made in Pakistan as well, that al-Qaida had been in there since 2002, and that you found it hard to believe that no one in the government there knew where al-Qaida leaders were, and also – al-Qaida leaders were and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.
Can I ask you, was that just – were those just spontaneous remarks or was that --SECRETARY CLINTON:
No, not at all, no. I mean, as you saw, the whole purpose of my trip was to try to clear the air with the Pakistani people and government, to reassert our support for Pakistan, particularly in this very difficult conflict they’re engaged in with the Taliban, and to listen and absorb all the criticisms they have. They had this sort of pent-up frustration with the United States. And as you know and as you saw, I listened and under – and tried to convey understanding of all of their questions about our policy, going back years.
But at the same time, I wanted to stress that we’re looking for a partnership, and they have to listen to our concerns as well as we listen to their concerns. I feel strongly that as we move forward in these very complex areas that pose real concerns to our national security, concerns to partners like Pakistan’s security, that it is important to make clear to the people – not just the leaders – that we have to speak openly with each other.
And the reaction that I got in Pakistan was overwhelmingly positive – and I’ve been reading a lot of the blogging and the reaction on the press – in part because they’re not used to anyone from the United States Government coming and opening herself to their concerns. They’re just used to saying – to having somebody say, take it or leave it, with us or against us, go forward or not. And so I think we’re building a stronger base for our relationship. QUESTION:
I have just one last question. We’ve seen Hamid Karzai be declared the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential elections while you were on this trip. There have long been concerns about his credibility and whether he can be counted upon as an ally of the U.S. And now that he has been reelected, is the Obama Administration more confident now that it can depend on him as a reliable ally, or is this sort of a wait-and-see situation?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, I spoke with President Karzai after the election results were announced. And I told him that we now had a lot of work to do, and there were expectations on both sides. But certainly, from the American perspective, we believed it was important for him to establish a compact with the people of Afghanistan that would commit him and his new government to an anti-corruption campaign, to more accountability and transparency, to a recognition that there has to be more cooperation with local officials, that they have to work with us to build an adequate Afghan security force to protect and defend their country.
So we are laying out very clear expectations. We’re willing to offer our assistance, but we’re going to hold the Government of Afghanistan accountable for what they claim they want, which is the United States and the international community’s assistance in providing security for their people and in producing results for them as well.QUESTION:
Does he appear to be on board with all these initiatives that the --SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, he certainly – he and I have a long relationship, and I have met with him many times over the last eight years, both in Afghanistan, in Washington, even in New York when he came to visit Fort Drum in upstate New York, where a lot of the soldiers who were part of the first wave of the invasion against the Taliban and al-Qaida in 2001 were based.
So he and I know each other. I have been waiting for the election, frankly, to finally be over. It has caused a delay in our policy, because how do you decide on important matters that are going to depend upon whatever agreements you make with the government until you finally get a result? So that is, thankfully, over. And our people, both Ambassador Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry and the people working with them, are working to implement what we see as the necessary assurances we require from him.QUESTION:
Secretary of State Clinton, thank you very much.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you, Jackie. Good to talk with you.