QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, the U.S. commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, wanted upwards of 15,000 troops in Iraq next year. The White House talked about three to five thousand. So why is President Obama pulling all our troops out?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Chris, I think we should put this into the appropriate historical context. First of all, President Obama said that combat troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year, but before he ever said that, the Bush Administration also committed to withdrawing all troops by the end of this year. So you have a bipartisan commitment to withdraw combat troops, and that was viewed as appropriate, given the development of the Iraqi security forces.
But we always made clear we were open to discussions with the Iraqis if they wanted some kind of continuing presence, and what we’ve agreed to is a support-and-training mission similar to what we have in countries from Jordan to Colombia, and we will be working with the Iraqis. We will also have a very robust diplomatic presence, and we will fulfill what are the requests that the Iraqis have made to us.
QUESTION: But it was the general order of business, why was your State Department negotiating with the Maliki government until a few weeks ago to keep thousands of troops there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: This was an ongoing discussion. It started several years ago, it kept going, and at the end of the day, as in many discussions and negotiations, an agreement was reached that met the needs of both sides. The President has fulfilled the commitment he made to the American people. We have also, under the President’s leadership, fulfilled the commitment requested by the Iraqis. Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation with whom we have very good relations, and we expect to have a continuing strong security relationship for many years to come.
QUESTION: A wide range of foreign policy experts though say that Iraq is not yet ready to have the possibility of sectarian violence or interference from Iran. Former Governor Mitt Romney said this after the announcement of the pullout: “President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won though the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.” Secretary, how do you respond to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we are all very moved by and grateful for the sacrifices of our men and women, those who lost their lives, those who were grievously injured. They will never be forgotten, and what they did should be honored in our country’s history forever.
The point of our involvement in Iraq, stated over and over again by people on both sides of the aisle, was to create the opportunity for the Iraqis to have their own future without the oppression of a dictator like Saddam Hussein. Now you can’t, on the one hand, say you’re all for democracy and sovereignty and independence, where people get to make their own choices, and on the other hand say that when a choice is made that is foreseen by our own government, going back to the Bush Administration and validated by the Obama Administration and the current government in Iraq, that that somehow is not appropriate. Because that is what we were there for – to give the Iraqi people the chance to make their own decisions.
So we have a security presence with a support-and-training mission in Iraq. We have bases in the region with other countries. That’s what you do when you’re dealing with independent, sovereign nations that have a will and a decision of their own.
QUESTION: Secretary, let’s turn if we can to Libya. The UN and human rights groups are calling for an investigation, saying that if, as it appears from the videotape, that Qadhafi was executed, it was a war crime. And you’re also coming under fire for what you said:
SECRETARY CLINTON: We came, we saw, he died.
QUESTION: Question. Do you regret what you said, Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
QUESTION: And if I may, do you regret what you said, and do you feel Qadhafi was wronged or that he got what was coming to him?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let’s have an investigation. I fully support the United Nations investigation, and I fully support the Transitional National Council’s own call for an independent investigation. I support it on the merits because it’s important to find the facts, and I support it as part of what will be a challenging transition process.
The Transitional National Council today is going to declare the liberation of Libya. They are then going to announce a new government. They need to make it clear that it will be a government to unify the country, to seek reconciliation, to make everyone who supported the former regime – as long as they don’t have blood on their hands – feel safe and included in a new Libya. And so from my perspective, I think such an investigation would be very important to establish accountability, rule of law, and pave the way for the inclusive democratic future that the Libyans tell me they want.
QUESTION: Secretary, do you regret what you said?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to comment on that. We didn’t even know what was happening at that time because it was an unconfirmed report.
QUESTION: I have to also ask you about the man who was convicted for Pan Am 103, Megrahi. You talk about the rule of law. Would you like to see him returned to a Scottish prison?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I never thought he should have been released in the first place. And I have raised with the highest leadership of the Transitional National Council, and I will raise again, as soon as they have a government, the United States' very strong feelings that this man should be returned to prison. That is the only appropriate outcome of what was, in my view, a miscarriage of justice when he was released.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, we have a couple of minutes left, and I’d like to do a lightening round: quick questions, quick answers. You were just in Pakistan, and while you were there, you confirmed the fact that U.S. officials met with the Haqqani Terror Network in August. Do we want to kill them, or do we want to talk with them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Actually, we’re pursuing both, Chris. We have a policy of fight, talk, and build. We had a meeting at the request of the Pakistanis to gauge whether there was any basis for further talking. Certainly, the attack on our Embassy, the truck bomb attack on one of our border outposts in Afghanistan, gave a strong answer to the contrary. But you don’t make peace with your friends; we know that from long experience.
So what we’re trying to do is gauge who among these groups would be sincere and serious about pursuing an Afghan-led peace process, and it’s very absolutely understood that in order for any process to have a chance to succeed, the United States and Pakistan have to work with Afghanistan. So we responded to a Pakistani request. We’re testing out a lot of different approaches. But we’re going to keep fighting the guys who are fighting and killing Afghans, Americans, and others.
QUESTION: Finally, the President has deployed a hundred special forces to central Africa to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has killed and displaced so many over the last couple of decades. The question I have is: Why intervene in Uganda and Libya, but not in Syria? What’s the foreign policy principle at work there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say, Chris, that what we’ve seen from President Obama over the last two and a half years, and I think remarkably, with the events of the last six months, is that his kind of smart leadership in a complex world is paying off. He was the one who brought bin Ladin finally down. He was the one who put together a coalition that eventually removed Qadhafi. So I think it’s important that in this very complex, dangerous world, we have somebody in the White House who understands that America has to lead. Our leadership is essential. But we have to look at every situation and make the right decision.
So the two that you mentioned – one, we are not fighting in Uganda. We are sending support, advising intelligence resources to try to rid Africa of this scourge of the Lord’s Resistance Army. It was welcomed by the Ugandans and others. In Syria, we are strongly supporting the change from Asad and also an opposition that only engages in peaceful demonstrations. And you do not have from that opposition, as you had in Libya, a call for any kind of outside intervention.
So I think that what the President has demonstrated in quite uncertain and challenging times is the kind of leadership that not only America, but the world is looking for.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, we’re going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for talking with us, and safe travels.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Chris. Good to talk to you from Uzbekistan.