Secretary Clinton Phone Interview with NYT
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello?
QUESTION: Hi, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, hello, David. Hello, Mark.
QUESTION: How are you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: How are you?
QUESTION: You’ve got the whole crowd.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent.
QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists. He said, “It’s important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” And then he went on to say something like they need to know what we’ll say yes to.
Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” And I’m not entirely sure they did know what they had to do, but maybe they did.
So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, first, I think that we have been clear and consistent about what we expect. From the very first day that the Obama Administration took office, we have implemented a diplomatic strategy that has clarified the choice that is facing Iran and built international support for our efforts. And I think it’s important to put what we did with Iran and these sanctions into a broader context, because I personally believe that many different strands of activity contributed to obtaining the sanctions and creating the international support for sending a very strong message to Iran. When we decided to work to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, through the President’s speech in Prague and through the Security Council and through the negotiation of START and the Nuclear Security Summit, as well as our efforts to strengthen the NPT, we were sending a message about what we did expect in a very comprehensive way.
And then we also worked to reinvigorate our traditional alliances as well as resetting our relations with Russia and working in a more cooperative fashion on issues of mutual interest with China. And all of this – in pursuing diplomatic engagement through the P-5+1, through the IAEA, through the UN – more generally – has been meant to give Iran the opportunity to change its strategic calculus in order to pursue a different course.
But when Iran did not seize the opportunity that we offered, we backed up our words on the other track of our engagement strategy with the sanctions. And the sanctions are meant to be one tool among several intended to impact Iranian behavior regarding its nuclear program.
And I was very encouraged by the broad base of support that we were able to obtain with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1929. But that was part of a broader set of actions when the IAEA Board of Governors issued a resolution last November censoring Iran. That was the first, in several years, and it had a really galvanizing effect, and when the General Assembly passed an Iran human rights measure at the end of last year, when Iran was forced to withdraw its candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council. I mean, we really believed that once we got to the UN Security Council debate on 1929 and then adopted the comprehensive Iran sanctions, we’d laid a very strong foundation, which was then built upon by robust EU sanctions, and then the follow-up action from Canada, Australia, Japan.
And I guess would suggest that these sanctions surprised Iran by the scope and reach of what the international community was prepared to do on the pressure front. And we are hearing from many different sources around the world that this is having an impact on Iran’s thinking, and they’ve undertaken dramatic diplomatic and commercial maneuvers to try to prevent the sanctions from being levied on them or being implemented against them, and are falling short – much, I believe, to their surprise – and so their increasing isolation is a very important context for us to look at what Iran knows is expected and what they are doing in order to meet the obligations of the international community.
QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? You know, let’s take at face value what you and the President and Stuart Levey and others tell us about how surprised they are, and they certainly are having trouble getting insurance for gasoline shipments and banking issues and so forth. But have you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well –
QUESTION: Or – has that been transmitted through the Swiss, through any other way? Have you been direct?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I mean, look, it’s been made clear consistently through resolutions, requirements, obligations, that they have to convince the international community that their use of nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes. We are looking forward to the resumption of P-5+1 discussions in late September or early October. We remain committed to engagement on this issue of Iran’s nuclear program and resolving our differences diplomatically through multilateral engagement. We’re realistic that there’s not one single action that will change Iran’s ultimate decision making on its nuclear program, but that the costs for their refusal to offer that reassurance about their intentions and their actions to the international community is beginning to bite.
And the bottom line is that it’s Iran’s leadership that holds the keys as to a successful engagement. And if they begin to show signs that they’re willing to comply with the obligations that they already undertook, we’re going to be responsive. But we’re committed to sharpening their choices and putting them in a position where they feel the consequences of not changing their policies, know that they cannot escape this isolation unless they do alter their behavior and have held open the possibility of engagement through the P-5+1 in order to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent —
QUESTION: Done it in the past, yeah.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have certainly sent very clear messages that are being conveyed in the discussions going on between the Iranians and the EU with Cathy Ashton’s office. There are many people, when I was in Kabul, who reported conversations to me that they were having with the Iranians. And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.
QUESTION: And that still means permanent suspension of all enrichment? It means ending the 20 percent enrichment, it means allowing the IAEA to interview (inaudible) and his associates. That’s all on your list?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there is a preexisting framework that the Security Council has set forth and IAEA has set forth and we support those obligations, which are not just American requests but international ones.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, it’s Mark here. I just wondered on the question of the vigor that partners and allies are showing in imposing sanctions, whether you could address the issue of the Chinese. There’s been some talk that there’s worry that they’re, in effect, back-filling on sanctions and that there have been very high-level contacts between the U.S. and China to sort of reaffirm the necessity of following through on implementation. Is that the case?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mark, obviously, follow-up on implementation is critical with the entire international community. We’ve done a lot of work the last year and a half to get to this point, and now we intend to follow through. I created a special unit for implementing the sanctions that Bob Einhorn leads. He’s working with Stuart Levey and others in the government to make the case. Russia and China have been good partners during the entire P-5+1 effort. And we’ve been working very closely with them, up until now. We will continue to work closely with them to ensure that our dual-track strategy is working and has the full meaning that we intend it to have.
QUESTION: But are you satisfied that the Chinese are following through on implementation adequately up till now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that Bob Einhorn and Stuart Levey and others are working closely with their Chinese counterparts. And we know that there are issues that will be raised. We raise some. They raise some. Others raise them. But there’s not any reason for us not to feel confident that they’re going to follow through as they said they would.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, let me ask you briefly about the Israelis on this. In my conversation earlier this week at the White House a point was made to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu in his most recent visit, didn’t really have Iran in his top two or three or five items. Whereas at the previous meetings that he had with all of you when he has come here, it has been the number one, two, and three issue. Do you sense that they are calmer about this? Do you simply sense that they are letting the sanctions play out for a while? Certainly in their military briefings to us, they make it clear that if anything they are accelerating their contingency plans.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, I don’t want to characterize their feelings and certainly not any conversations that I or the President had with them during that trip or any time. But, we have kept the Israelis very closely informed. We consult with them on a regular ongoing basis. We obviously share not only Israel’s concern but the concern of all of our friends and partners in the Gulf that unites us in our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and destabilizing the region and intimidating and threatening the countries in the area, including Israel.
QUESTION: I know you can’t speak to the specific intelligence, but if you go back to the period of time since you came to office – and I think you and I when I came to visit you one time earlier in your time you were still trying to get an understanding of where the Bush Administration had left you on this – do you feel now, compared to when you first came to office, that the date of potential breakout for the Iranians has been somewhat delayed by their own troubles in getting enrichment going and so forth, and therefore, you have a little more time than say a year ago you believed you would?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, again, I’m not going to comment on any intelligence —
QUESTION: I’m asking for you assessment on the (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that would be based on intelligence assessments so I’m not going there.
QUESTION: But it’s also based on your conversations with allies who are —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me just – let me say that based on my conversations with allies, it’s not so much the timing as to when if – when or how the Iranians might pursue the nuclear weapons, it’s whether they do so. And so whether it would take six months, a year, or five years, it’s that deep concern about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons that is the preoccupation of our friends and partners. And we would be pursuing the path we’re pursuing regardless of any issue of timing because we think it’s got the best potential for changing Iranian behavior.
QUESTION: One of your colleagues made the observation a few weeks ago that if, in fact, the Iranians don’t respond to the sanctions, don’t come back in a serious way in the September, October period, that the time may come for you or the President or others to speak – to use that phrase, “All options on the table,” more vigorously than you have. And I noticed that the President did use it briefly with the columnists the other day. Is there a sort of a conscious decision underway here to reinforce to the Iranians that you’re giving this limited time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Inaudible) I think we’ve always said that we were looking at all kinds of approaches to resolving this very threatening situation. So I don’t want to characterize what we’re doing now other than to say we’ve always pursued a two-track approach of pressure and engagement and we continue to do so, and I don’t think the President or any of us want to be issuing public red lines at this point. The President’s been very clear that Iran should understand that he is leaving all options on the table and that they should take him at his word, but I don’t think it benefits our efforts to go much further than that.
QUESTION: Why is a red line a bad thing to say? I mean, one of the critiques many had and I think you shared this when you were in the Senate when we talked about North Korea, was that the Bush Administration had not set red lines there, and of course, the North Koreans walked all over every one of them.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, North Korea has a much longer history, as you know, and that is something that I don’t want to confuse with what we’re trying to do here with Iran. But I think what we’ve accomplished here is putting before the Iranians a very clear set of steps that they can pursue in order to demonstrate that they are not attempting to obtain nuclear weapons. And they’ve got that pathway, they know what is expected of them from the international community, and we are proving that we can pursue a diplomatic track and a very strong pressured track through sanctions in a vigorous way. And these things have to take some time to work through the system. Nobody ever thought that there would be an immediate change in the approach just because we had accomplished what we set out to do. This takes time. And I think we’re seeing some actions that have sharpened the choice facing the Iranians and strengthened our hand and the hand of the international community in dealing with them.
MODERATOR: David, Mark, I’m sorry. I’ve got to – speaking of red lines, she’s got to go.
QUESTION: Her red lines (inaudible). We understand.
QUESTION: Well, can we — Madam Secretary, one quick thing just very quickly.
MODERATOR: Very quick, Mark.
QUESTION: We understand that you had a conversation with President Karzai in recent days on the anticorruption commission. Is – are we on the verge of another difficult period with him or do you think we can get through this issue with the corruption authority and what he’s asking for?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I think we’re working it through, Mark. I think that we a lot of communication – not just from the United States but from other countries as well – and I think we are approaching this in a very consultative fashion, and I hope that we’ll be able to reassure everyone, including the Afghans, that what we’re doing is in the best interest of the country. And we’re doing it in a way that respects the law and the constitution of Afghanistan, which is really the main point that President Karzai’s been making.
MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary.
QUESTION: Thanks. Have a great summer if we don’t speak to you before – come September.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay, take care.
QUESTION: All right, bye bye.
It’s interesting that the media never asks U.S. leaders about the possible consequences of a military strike against Iran and how that factors into our foreign policy. Just like they never thought to ask that visa vi Iraq prior to the Iraq War. I understand why U.S. officials might want to use the phrase “all options are on the table” – perhaps in an effort to not show the Iranian regime all our cards and to perhaps provide an incentive for diplomacy, but most military and foreign policy watchers (see here, here, here and here) believe a U.S. or Israeli attack would strengthen Ahmadinejad, kill the Green Movement, put our moderate Arab allies in an awkward position, result in attacks of retribution against U.S. and Israeli targets, energize groups like Hezbollah and only temporarily delay any alleged nuclear weapons program. All that said, it can’t be helpful to Secretary Clinton’s diplomatic efforts to have the drumbeat for war with Iran getting louder every day (and then there is this House Resolution endorsing an Israeli attack on Iran). Some clearly want the White House’s diplomatic efforts to fail.