BBC interview challenges US Secretary of State Clinton on WikiLeaks and Afghanistan
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
3 December 2010
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you for speaking to the BBC. There’s a lot of anger in the UK today because since 2001 345 British troops have died there, and yet it appears as though the United States doesn’t think very highly of the efforts made by British troops in Afghanistan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, first let me say that is absolutely untrue. I cannot speak for every opinion ever uttered by anyone connected with the American Government for the last nine years, but I can speak for the vast majority of Americans and certainly for the Obama Administration.
We not only value but we mourn the sacrifice of those brave young soldiers and civilians who have worked to try to stabilize Afghanistan to deal with the threat of terrorism that confronts us all. And I personally want to convey to the government and the people of the United Kingdom both our deep respect and admiration for the extraordinary efforts and our regret if anything that was said by anyone suggests to the contrary.
QUESTION: Those diplomatic cables that everybody is talking about seem to suggest that some Americans believe British troops are not up to the task. Do you think they’re up to the task?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I certainly do. I think – look, we all have to be evaluated constantly. The Americans have changed strategy and tactics over the last nine years, first in Iraq then in Afghanistan. That’s what our whole evaluation that President Obama ordered upon taking office led to, that we had to change what we were doing. So I can only speak for our own government and our own military in saying that we greatly appreciate the British commitment.
We work side by side from the highest levels of the military command to the trenches in Afghanistan. And I think we all have learned; we’ve all made adjustments. That’s not directed at anyone. If anyone were to ask who has probably made the most adjustments it’s the United States. Our military has tried to learn lessons, and I’m sure others around the world, as part of our 49 nation international force in Afghanistan, has as well.
QUESTION: How can any world leader, whether in Bahrain or from Pakistan ever speak openly again to you or your diplomats after what happened with those – the revelations of those diplomatic cables?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think everyone knows that if we cannot speak openly and candidly with one another, we cannot understand each other and we cannot make policy that will benefit each other. I have found in my many conversations in the last week that there is certainly an understanding of what diplomacy means. And as one of my counterparts jokingly said to me, "Don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you." Diplomatic cables are not policy. They are meant to inform. They are not always accurate.
They are passing on information for whatever it’s worth. And I think most leaders understand that, and I have found no hesitancy. In fact, I’ve had intense and very detailed conversations in the four stops that I’ve made on this trip.
QUESTION: But the revelations are embarrassing for some leaders. How can you guarantee to them that their words aren’t going to be splashed on the front lines – on the front pages of newspapers again?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, it’s not their words. It’s what somebody said somebody said about them. And oftentimes it’s not secondhand; it’s third and fourth-hand. And I have personally expressed my regret to individual leaders as well as publically to anyone who has been offended or affected. But this is a tough business we’re in, and it’s a challenging world and most leaders get it. They may not appreciate it, because who wants to be – have something that some person somewhere said about you put in the public domain.
But they know that the United States -- the policy of this Administration is very clearly made in Washington by the President, by myself, by the rest of the high-level Administration officials. And that’s who they exchange views with and cooperate with on an ongoing basis.
QUESTION: Did you ever think this could happen? Did you know your cables were read so widely and could be made public like that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, unfortunately, this theft of this confidential information by the young private was done under the authority of the military, obviously the Defense Department, which had a legitimate reason for wanting more access to information. But it wasn’t handled appropriately. I think that is clear. I’ve called for a full investigation. As soon as we had any word that there was any leakage going on, we immediately stopped participating.
The Defense Department has made significant changes so that this can never happen again. But we’re rethinking how we share information. It’s kind of a constant balancing act. On the one hand, you want information to be in the hands of people who are literally fighting and dying for what we’re seeking. On other hand, you don’t want it to get into the wrong hands.
But I think we’re going to have to ratchet back on who can have access to confidential information.
QUESTION: A follow-up question about Iran. On Monday in Geneva, Washington and its partners in the P-5+1 will hold talks with Iran about its nuclear program. You’ve tried this before. You thought it would work last time. Why do you think it will be different now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Because I think that Iran has realized since the last meeting, which was in October 2009, that they’re not going to escape pressure from the international community. They were quite surprised to have the entire world decide to impose sanctions. They didn’t think that would happen to them.
They’ve been surprised that the United States, European Union, Japan, and others have imposed additional sanctions, and that the vast majority of the nations in the world are honoring those sanctions. We know that they’re having an effect inside Iran. So I think Iran comes to the table with a much more sober assessment of what isolation means, what the impact on their economy has been, and we hope that will cause them to have the kind of serious negotiation we’re seeking.
QUESTION: But a quick follow-up, if I may. Why not cut to the chase and tell Iran that it can enrich its own uranium on its own territory, since everybody knows that this what is probably the end result.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we told them that they are entitled to the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy. But they haven’t yet restored the confidence of the international community, to the extent where the international community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich, which is why with the Bushehr plant that Russia has helped build, Russia is not letting them enrich. Russia is taking the spent fuel out and reprocessing.
Iran has to come to the table recognizing that they have lost the confidence of even longtime supporters and allies or those who believed them, took them at face value. They can do this, and then they can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: For your time.