QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for doing this. I want to start with the sanctions, with the pressure. If you look at all of this pressure, something doesn’t seem to be working because Assad is still there, and notably, you don’t have any major defections from the key top leadership, the people who are close to him. Why is that? Could one of the factors be that the United States and others are saying “we don’t want military action, and that could be emboldening him?”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I think the sanctions are beginning to have an effect, but we have to do more to implement them, and that’s why we formed a sanctions committee today. And the United States will be working with the Arab countries, the European countries, North African, and others to have them understand the most effective way to implement sanctions. Because, as one of them said to me, “The Americans have a lot of experience in doing sanctions. We don’t.” So we’re making progress.
Also the individual sanctions – the travel bans, the visa bans, the kinds of direct personal sanctions – are beginning to really wake people up. They’re looking around thinking for the rest of my life, I’m only going to be able maybe to go to Iran; that doesn’t sound like a great idea. So we hear a lot from the inside that these sanctions are happening in a timely way. Also, the reserves of the country are being drawn down, marketplaces are not as full of goods as they once were. So this does take time. We’re well aware that time is going by, people are being killed, it just is absolutely horrific what’s happening. But the Istanbul meeting today was quite consequential in terms of the outcomes, and really increasing the enforcement of sanctions was one of the best.
QUESTION: Let’s look at the opposition. A number of them are expats, people who have lived out of the country for years and years. Why should anybody who’s inside Syria right now trust them? And do they actually know the real situation on the ground?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what’s happening is that the Syrian National Council is expanding. I just met with four representatives, including a young woman who just escaped from Homs. I mean, she is someone who is bearing witness to the horrors of what the Assad regime did to the neighborhoods of her city. And she had very poignant stories of close friends who were tortured and are in hospital, and if they’re discovered as having been in the opposition, will be killed. I mean, it’s a terrible human tragedy, but she is a witness.
So I think, along with the people who started the Syrian National Council, who are in a position to do so – because they had been driven out by the Assads, father and son, over the course of many years – they’re now being joined and, frankly, their credibility is being enhanced by both civilian and military defections. And we think that’s significant.
QUESTION: If you stand back and look at this, you have right now – you talked about those broken promises, the broken promises – if you stand back and look at it, there’s kind of a pattern emerging. And you could say Syria, broken promises by President Assad, you would assert. You have broken promises, you also would assert, from Iran on the nuclear program. And you have North Korea, which also has broken promises.
So in this pattern, what explains that pattern? It’s similar to what I was asking first off, which is: Is there something that this Administration is doing, which is kind of standing back, not being as aggressive as some people might want you to be, that is emboldening them, allowing them to say we’ll just play out the clock?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t think so. I think if you look at what this Administration did, we put together an international coalition – a consensus, really, against both Iran and North Korea that had not existed before with UN Security Council resolutions, very tough sanctions enforcements. But you’re dealing with two regimes that are very difficult to reign in because they have no regard for even their own promises and obligations. With North Korea, that goes back decades. It’s been a constant challenge, and it’s been a process of really trying to prevent them from going too far with their provocative actions that could cause another war in the Korean Peninsula, which – you go to the memorial in Washington and you know what that cost the United States and our allies.
With Iran, we are very carefully building on and then acting on the pressure that we have put in place. We will begin to know, with the resumption of the P-5+1 talks, whether or not there is a deal to be had here. This is something that has to be explored. I think one of the reasons that the Iranians are even coming back to talk is because of the sanctions. But as President Obama has said, all options are on the table. Our policy is not containment with Iran. It is prevention of their getting a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But there is that “All options are on the table” that continues to be the mantra, but nothing happens.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but Jill, I don’t think you want to rush to some of the options that are on the table. I think it’s very important and it’s a requirement of responsible leadership that you exhaust every diplomatic pathway. That is what we are doing. We are very clear about that. We want to have a peaceful resolution. We want Iran to begin to reenter the international community, to stop threatening their neighbors. As you know, I was in Riyadh yesterday. They’re not only worried about the nuclear program; they’re worried about Iran destabilizing countries, they’re worried about it exporting terrorism. And we’re going to test all of that just as hard as we can. I can’t, sitting here today, exactly predict to you what the outcome will be, except I know that we have to keep trying the diplomatic route, knowing that our policy is clear about no nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: And speaking of Iran, are you nervous that Israel will, on its own, take some action, but leave it to the United States to finish that action?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think Israel understands why we think it’s important to pursue the diplomatic route as far as we possibly can in a timely way. We’re not going to enter into endless talks that never see any kind of outcome. But we do want, with the full backing of the international community – because remember the P-5+1 include China and Russia. And they are on record publicly as saying they don’t want to see Iran with a nuclear weapon. So I think Israel understands that there is a necessity for us to pursue the P-5+1, and we have certainly made it clear that – to them that all options are on the table, and we would be pursuing the diplomatic option.
QUESTION: I want to turn the corner to Russia. I was just there covering the election, in fact. And you have these interesting comments coming out from a candidate for president, Mr. Romney, who says that Russia is the biggest – the worst geopolitical foe the United States has. I don’t – let’s – I know you don’t like to talk politics.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But what do you think of that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, without getting into the political campaign, because that’s for others to comment on, I think if you take a look at the world today, we have a lot of problems that are not leftovers from the past, but are of the moment. We’ve just been talking about one, namely Iran. And in many of the areas where we are working to solve problems, Russia has been an ally. They’re in the P-5+1 talks with us, they have worked with us in Afghanistan and have been very helpful in the Northern Distribution Network and in other ways. So I think it’s somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don’t agree, but looking for ways to bridge the disagreements and then to maximize the cooperation.
QUESTION: Mr. Putin, soon to be President Putin again, accused you personally of sending some type of signal to the Russians to bring them out onto the streets.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And now, you have the United States – this Administration – pushing to release, I think, it is $50 million in democracy support funds, which is guaranteed, of course, not to go over well in Moscow. Why shouldn’t they look at this money and say that the United States – that maybe Hillary Clinton wants to send another signal? In other words, you’re stirring up trouble.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to say I was a little perplexed that I would be imputed such power that a mere signal, a mere word, would cause thousands of people to turn out. In fact, I think the demonstrators in the street got it right. They laughed at that. I mean, they knew why there were there. They want democracy, they want freedom, they want a voice in their affairs, and we all support that. And we hope that in the years to come, there will be greater openness in Russia. The Russian people are so smart. You lived there. You know what incredibly talented people, well educated, the ability to really help shape the 21st century – stop the brain drain. Create an environment in which Russians are made to feel that they can build their own country, make a real stake in the future there. And that has nothing to do with us. It has to do everything with the Russian people themselves.
And we in the United States believe that every country would be better off if there were greater freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, because I think we represent that. We have had a great run, and I want it always to continue. I want the United States always to represent these values and to live them. And therefore, we’re going to continue to promote them around the world.
QUESTION: Quick question on Pakistan. The United States apparently is agreeing to a different way of using drones, a very controversial issue. When that happens, could that be to the detriment of the national security of the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I’m not going to comment on any intelligence matter. That would not be appropriate. But I can assure you that the Obama Administration will not enter into any agreement that would be to the detriment of the national security of our country. I think this President has demonstrated conclusively that he’s ready to take the tough decisions when America’s security is at stake.
QUESTION: One last question. You were just in Burma not too long ago, historic elections. What are your thoughts as you look at that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m very hopeful for the people. The early reports are mostly positive. We want to see these elections conducted in a free, fair manner that is validated by the international community, and we want to see continuing progress. I was very touched by the visit that I made and the commitments that I received from members of the government who were quite sincere in their desire to move their country forward.
I know how difficult it is. I know that there are some who don’t agree with it, who will try to undermine it. That seems to be human nature everywhere in the world. But if this election goes as well as it is reported to have from the early reports, that will be a significant step. And I promised, when I was there meeting with leaders in Nay Pyi Taw, that the United States would match action for action. And we will do that.
QUESTION: Well, thank you very much Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.