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Transcript of VOA Interview with Secretary of State Clinton

The following is a transcript of an interview VOA State Department Correspondent David Gollust had with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Paris 29 Jan 2010. In the interview, Clinton discussed developments in Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Burma and China.

GOLLUST: Madam Secretary, I have a question left over from the London conference on Afghanistan. Before your news conference, several of us reporters talked to the women's rights advocates from Afghanistan. They expressed some real concern that the reconciliation process contemplated by [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai might mean that their interest would be sacrificed in the interest of some accommodation with Taliban people. I know the United States won't be involved in the reconciliation, but is there any kind of assurance you can offer them that their interests might be protected?

CLINTON: Well, David, I share that concern, which is why I have not only spoken with a number of Afghan women and listened to their concerns but also to President Karzai and others about them. There is certainly no intention for that to happen. But, we have to be really vigilant to make sure it doesn't. The idea behind the standards that would be used for reintegration and reconciliation is that people would enter society in a way that required them to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, and which provide for equal treatment of women. I do think we should put this in the larger context, which is that, unfortunately, discrimination against women exists even without the Taliban in many parts of Afghanistan. So, I don't want to sound any alarms yet, because we are just watching the beginning of this process. But, I do want to assure your listeners that the United States is committed to protecting the rights of all people and we pay particular attention to vulnerable populations, like girls and women in Afghanistan.

GOLLUST: Let me switch now to the address you gave in Paris on European security. You suggested that the expansion of NATO has in effect improved the security of Russia itself, even though it has been quite an opponent of NATO expansion. But, what about the argument that Russia itself has perhaps become more defensive, less democratic, because of NATO expansion?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think that the facts support that. I think, making it possible for Central and Eastern European states to feel secure, to join NATO if that is their choice, creates a compact of nations that are working together to enhance security. NATO has no offensive interest in taking action against any peaceful neighbor. In fact, NATO has a great interest in working more closely with Russia. Because, we believe that, in the 21st Century, the challenges are not between states so much as they are between states that are committed to peace and prosperity and non-state actors and rogue states, and Russia's confronted a lot of insecurity internally on its own border. And, I think it has helped Russia not to have to worry about its neighbors to the West. Russia has to decide how it interprets developments like the expansion of NATO, but I would like to see a very close relationship between NATO and Russia that I think would continue to benefit all the parties.

GOLLUST: What's your level of concern about the state of democratic freedoms in Russia? Many people think it's deteriorated since the Yeltsin years.

CLINTON: I think there are some unfortunate trends in both democracy and human rights and also in development. Russia's life span is going down. This is a great country with an extraordinary history and very intelligent population, well-educated. So, I think that Russia has some work to do at home, which I believe President Medvedev recognizes. He has spoken about, he's written about it. And, I think, in the long run, it is in Russia's interest to be more open and more tolerant of dissent, and to continue working to expand its free market and join the world trade organization and all of the other aspects of modernization, which really should help Russians.

You spoke in your address about the elections in Ukraine coming up being part of a process that will bring Ukraine closer to the European mainstream. On the other hand, if you look at polls, a candidate who basically opposes NATO membership, might win the election. If that happens, is that a setback?

CLINTON: No, because it's a decision for a country to make. Nobody is forced to join NATO; it's only if a country wishes to apply for membership, and if there's a change in political leadership, in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people decide that they, at this time, would prefer not to pursue NATO membership, that's their choice.

GOLLUST: You also mentioned in the address the continuing United States concern about Abkhazia-South Ossetia. Doesn't, in fact, the fact that Russia practically, or physically occupies these areas really preclude the possibility of NATO membership for Georgia?

CLINTON: No. Georgia is in a process to see if it can meet the standards for membership. There's certainly not a recognition in Europe or the United States, or among NATO members of the legitimacy of the secession South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We would hope for improvement in the relationship between Russia and Georgia, and a cooling of any tensions and a refraining from provocation. But, this is one of the areas that we're working on.

GOLLUST: One of the more moving events, I thought, at the State Department a week ago, was your meeting with the prime minster of Moldova. His comments about how grateful he was to become an MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation] member and how proud he was about democratic reform. Is there something that the United States and/or other allies do about the territorial issue in Moldova that really has been an impediment to that country's progress?

CLINTON: I discussed this at length with the prime minister. Moldova is struggling to consolidate democracy to improve its economy, it is eligible for Millennium Challenge compact because it is still a poor country in need of a lot of help. Certainly the border disputes with Romania, the continuance of Russian troops on Moldovan territory are matters of concern. But we want to assist Moldova in improving the lives of its people and hopefully over time the problems that it faces can be addressed.

GOLLUST: Another subject you alluded to in the speech was international response to disasters as underlined by the Haiti experience of a couple weeks ago. Are there lessons to be learned from the Haiti example about how the international community should respond to a disaster?

CLINTON: I think there are and we need to be looking at the tsunami, the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and figuring out what are the best ways for the international community to respond. I've started discussing this with Catherine Ashton, the new High Representative for the European Union: how do we prepare to take responsibility for different parts of the world, how do we stockpile goods, how do we assign different responsibilities among different nations? I think this is a ripe area for more international cooperation and we should not just respond, we should learn and do it better the next time.

Still another issue raised at the forum in Paris, U.S. relations with China, the controversy over the Google website. You mentioned that the president will be meeting the Dalai Lama. The issue of Taiwan arms sales is out there. Do you think we are in for, you might say, a patch of rough sledding in relations with China because of the convergence of such issues?

CLINTON: Well I hope not. But there shouldn't be any surprises on either issue. The United States has supplied defensive arms to Taiwan for many years. We do it within the context of our Taiwan Relations Act and the Joint Communiqué and our commitment to a one China policy. We think it is appropriate and in fact we believe that providing defensive equipment has actually enabled Taiwan to feel more comfortable in drawing closer to China in commercial interactions. And the last three, maybe four presidents have met with the Dalai Lama, so again there shouldn't be any surprise. We certainly don't recognize any claim that the Dalai Lama makes to territory inside China. We view him primarily as a religious leader. So again this is something that previous presidents have done and President Obama is committed to doing.

GOLLUST: Another issue out in that region involves Burma. The military government there is talking about an election process that would conceivably be followed by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi when her latest term of detention expires. Is that sequence of events something that would be acceptable both for the United States and other international players?

CLINTON: Well what we want to see are free fair and legitimate elections that give the people of Burma the chance to express their preference for their own leaders. We want to see Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners released as soon as possible. We want to develop a better bilateral relationship with Burma and we have offered the potential of that but of course we really hope to see the kind of progress that would demonstrate that Burma is ready to emerge from a period of authoritarian rule and some level of isolation and violation of human rights and the United States stands ready to work toward better relations with Burma and assistance but we have to see some evidence first.

GOLLUST: Madam secretary I appreciate very much you giving your time today.

CLINTON: Thank You.