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Transcript: Interview with Hillary Clinton

Read the full transcript of Ann Curry's exclusive interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ann Curry: Your response to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Madam Secretary, who said, "The real question Americans are asking is what has President Obama actually accomplished to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?" Hillary Clinton: Oh, Ann. I think that — every American should be
/ Source: TODAY

Read the full transcript of Ann Curry's exclusive interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Ann Curry: Your response to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Madam Secretary, who said, "The real question Americans are asking is what has President Obama actually accomplished to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?"

Hillary Clinton: Oh, Ann. I think that — every American should be proud. What President Obama said yesterday, that he was deeply humbled, and surprised. But that this was a call to action. And I thought his remarks really put it into context. He would be the first to say. And I would be the second to say. That we have an enormous number of challenges. But we are working so hard to change the, you know, the attitude in the world. To get people to understand that we face these common challenges from, you know, global warming to inadequate food supplies. And increasing, you know, conflict in many places of the world.

And I think the tone that has been set. The extraordinary outreach to, not just the Islamic world. Which the President did in a couple of speeches. Most notable Cairo. But-- the work that we're all doing to make it clear that-- we wanna have a different relationship. We're willing to listen. And work with people. But we think everyone, in addition to the rights that countries and people have, has responsibilities. And I think that's the right message. And I'm very pleased that the Nobel committee recognized that.

Ann Curry: The tenor of that question, however, seems to not only be—sounded by the Republican National Committee. The President is joining the ranks of Martin Luther King. Of Mother Teresa. Of Nelson Mandela. Does he deserve to be in those ranks? What has he—

Hillary Clinton: Well

Ann Curry: —done, specifically, to promote peace?

Hillary Clinton: you know, I—I think what he said. And I—I couldn't say it any better. What he said yesterday at The White House. Upon, you know, getting this news. Which was totally— out of the blue for him and his family. Is that—he recognizes that we have a lot of work to do. This is not going to be something that happens, you know, just overnight. That there's an enormous amount of hard work ahead.

But the fact that the Nobel committee, and I can't read their minds. None of us can. But the fact that they recognized that his attitude toward America's role in the world. His willingness to challenge everyone to kind of step up and take responsibility. Really restores a— an image. And an appreciation of our country. That many thought was lacking.

And that doesn't mean it's gonna be any easier to deal with the Middle East. Or Iran. Or Afghanistan. Or Pakistan. But I have noticed, in my travels as Secretary of State, that people are relieved. And very welcoming as what they see as a transformational attitude in American foreign policy.

Ann Curry: If it is a call to action. And a statement that—an event that basically talks about what more there is to be done. Will winning Nobel Peace Prize, in your view, influence the President's decision on whether or not to send more U.S. troops to war in Afghanistan.

Hillary Clinton: Ann, I think that the President makes each decision on the merits. And I think he struck exactly the right tone in his remarks at the White House upon hearing of this news. That—of course, he's honored. And humbled. And surprised. But the work goes on. I mean, it is, after all, you know, n— not gonna stop the—Taliban or Al-Qaeda. It's not going to influence—some of these tough decisions that he has to make. And I think he is very well aware of the multiple responsibilities he bears.

Ann Curry: So you're saying that you don't think it's going to influence his decision. Well--

Hillary Clinton: Because I think he makes the decisions based on the facts. I mean, we've been going through an extraordinarily-- thought-provoking-- deep discussion about what our goals should be. How best to protect our country. Advance our interests. Provide support for our allies in the ongoing struggle against-- fundamentalism, extremism, violence, and Jihadism. And I think the President is well aware of his responsibilities. In fact, I know. I see it every day.

Ann Curry: On that point, the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, just said, quote, "We're probably several weeks away from the President's decision on whether to send more troops the Afghanistan." Well, given the top commander's assessment that the situation is deteriorating in Afghanistan. And in the weeks the President has already taken at least ten U.S. troops have died. With all due respect to the administration, what is taking so long?

Hillary Clinton: Well, first of all, every one of those deaths, and all of the injuries of any of our men and women in uniform weighs heavily on all of us who are sitting around the table in the situation room. I don't think, you know, a minute goes by in our deliberations that we aren't thinking between those who put their lives on the line.

And what is-- is going on in this-- analysis is the kind of deep, stripped down investigation of assumptions. That I think wasn't engaged in in the prior eight years. And the President said when he made his decisions last March that we would conduct a review. And that is what we're doing.

I think everyone's aware that we never, in the prior administration, as a country, gave sufficient attention to Afghanistan. I remember the first time I went there, as a Senator from New York-- to see what we were doing in Afghanistan. And a-- an American soldier met me by saying, "Welcome to the forgotten front lines of the war against terrorism."

So-- we can't turn the clock back. We can't recover those eight years. But during these eight months, we've learned-- that we've got to be right about our commitments. And our expectations. Our military leaders are participating in these discussions. You know, one is at the table. One is on the video screen. Our ambassadors for example Islamabad and Kabul are participating.

So I think that this process has certainly clarified-- I'll speak just for myself. Clarified for me-- some of what we're up against. Kind of cleared away some of the-- mythology. And-- the-- presumptions. Because when we make this decision-- and when we recommend to the President what we believe he should do-- we're gonna be all in. And we're gonna do everything we can to be successful.

Ann Curry: You're talking-- you just spoke to this intense review that's now under way. Back in March, the President said that with great fanfare, he was revealing the-- a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan. And now the President is saying he is reviewing the strategy to make sure that he gets it right. Is this to say that the last seven month in Afghanistan, the U.S. has gotten it wrong?

Hillary Clinton: No. What it is to say is the strategy remains the same. We are-- we are focused on going after Al Qaeda. Their extremist allies. Preventing them from having safe haven. To be able to launch attacks against us. To turn Afghanistan back into a free for all for Jihadi terrorists.

This-- the-- the goal remains the same. The strategy of engaging, in both Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and the larger region, of having a combined civilian and military approach. Not just military on one side. Civilian over here. We're integrating them. We've dramatically changed our policy toward how we deal with the poppy trade. We think we're making progress on counter narcotics as a result. There-- the strategy is the same. It's the implementation.

It's, you know-- I wanna climb Kilimanjaro. Well, how do I train for it? What's the best way to get ready for it? What's the best route to take? Who is the best guide to go with? I mean, I think the strategy is the same. But we're being very honest with ourselves. And saying, "What's working? And what's not working? How many troops do you need to achieve the goals that we have set out? What is our focus on what they call counterterrorism, which is going after the bad guys, compared to, you know, protecting the population. So that they can be our allies in going after the bad guys?"

We also, honestly, got kind of a bad break. This election has gone on and on. I mean, when the President, in March, said, "Here's our strategy. We're gonna review how it's being implemented after the election." Well, the election is not over yet. So we can't wait for the election. We're hopefully going to see a result coming soon. But in the meantime, you know, we wanna scrub this down. So that we can be as clear as possible about the means we are using the achieve the goals that are in the best interest of the United States.

Ann Curry: Interesting. I'm surprised that you say the strategy is the same, given that the reporting that we're understand, for example, in The Washington Post on Friday, is that now the administration is looking at not getting rid of the Taliban. But, rather, sort of weakening the Taliban. That seems like a fundamental change in strategy, if that report is true.

Hillary Clinton: Well, I'm not gonna comment specifically about anybody reports. But if you look at the goals. Which are to give us the results we want, in terms of dismantling, and disrupting. And eventually defeating Al Qaeda. There has been a lot of talk, also, about, "Well, how do we really assess who's in the Taliban for ideological reasons? Who's in it because they get paid more to make a living for their family than they could otherwise? Who's in it because they want to protect their own village, or their own sub-tribe? Who's in it because they're actually protecting Al Qaeda?"

So I think what we're doing is really getting below the surface-- in a way that enables us to understand clearly, "Okay. What would be-- a reintegration, or reconciliation approach, if any, to the Taliban?" Remember what finally happened in Iraq. We-- we had a strategy. Which was to stabilize Iraq. But it wasn't working very well. We had gone in without thinking through how best to achieve that.

So there had to be an adjustment. And one of the ways we were able to end up as successfully as we have in Iraq is that local people began to trust the United States more than they trusted Al Qaeda in Iraq and their extremist allies. And they began to see that we don't have any designs on their territory. We're not going to be staying there. Well, it's the same in Afghanistan. Who is in it for Al Qaeda? And who is in it for other reasons? So I think those are important questions that we're asking ourselves.

ANN CURRY: While the administration asks these questions, and deals with trying to make a decision on the (unintel) Afghanistan, can you understand why U.S. troops on the front lines feel like sitting ducks?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I think that some-- would be understandably following this debate. But I believe we have the best fighting force. The greatest, you know, warriors-- ever. And I think they-- are-- they're a learning organism. You know, they're out there saying, "Wait a minute. Why are we in this outpost, when maybe we should be over here?"

Part of what General McChrystal is presenting comes from our troops. It is, like, "Wait a minute. We have a better idea." Or, "You know, these guys we were faced off against the other day, you know, they're not really Taliban. They just have an idea about what we should be doing in their-- in their village, or in their valley. So, actually, the voices of our men and women on the front lines are very much front and center in this analysis.

Ann Curry: Do you think that, if the President-- if the President decides not to send more troops to Afghanistan, morally, can he still keep 68,000 U.S. troops there? Given what we're hearing from-- from the commander, the top commander?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I think-- we don't know yet what the d-- the President's going to decide. But I-- I wanna not only guarantee you, but guarantee all of your listeners that this process will result in a very well thought out approach. And the number of troops will reflect how we are going to implement the strategy.

And I think that should be comforting to the American people. Now, I know there are many Americans who say, "Get out of Afghanistan. Bring 'em all home." And there are others who say, "Put in hundreds of thousands of more." But I think-- neither extreme is really focused on the situation as we are.

What are the optimum number of troops to deliver on our strategic goals, not to, in any way, be counter productive in achieving those goals. What is the optimum number of troops that can partner with an Afghan security force that we all know has to be built up? Because we have to be able to transfer authority over population areas over the next several years to the Afghan security force. Just as we have in Iraq. Now, in order to train up Afghan army and police, you have to have a lot of trainers.

So, when we talk about additional troops, some will, yes, be protecting population. Going after the bad guys. We know that. But some are going to be investing in the training and the-- partnering with the Afghan forces. Because you have to work hard at giving them the tools, and the ability to be able to do this for themselves. So, there are many different functions we're looking at here for American troops. And that's part of the-- discussion we're having.

Ann Curry: There are those who say that just because a surge worked in Iraq is not to say that it will work in Afghanistan. The two countries are very different, in terms of their leadership. And the ability to sort of train up. As you're pointing out, train up-- security forces. In many places, Afghanistan, one could argue, in most place of Afghanistan, you're really talking about a lawless nation. A place where people are just-- not really controlled by, really, any sort of government. So what do you say to those who-- who make this argument?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I say, first of all, we're well aware that Iraq is not Afghanistan. The levels of violence-- in Afghanistan have not, at-- as of now, reached the levels of violence that we saw in Iraq. Yet we know that there are many layers of government. And in-- both countries.

So that, for example-- when we began to partner with local tribal Sheiks who controlled Anbar Province in Iraq. It was a decision to go right into where people lived, as opposed to sitting in Baghdad tryin' to figure out what would happen if we push that or-- or this lever.

In Afghanistan, we're looking at not only trying to have a different set of expectations-- from the government in Kabul. But looking to get into the local level the way that we believe reflects the-- authority structure-- from family. And clan. And tribe. And sub-tribe. And-- and the like.

So-- we-- we have-- gone into great depth in looking at this. And-- and let's not forget, too, that -- we have-- concerns in Pakistan. So one of the changes from our review back in March was to begin looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together. That was an abrupt change. I mean, there were a lot of-- consequences that flowed from that.

So working with Pakistan. Working-- with Afghanistan. And with the neighbors. So that w- we have a greater base of international understanding as to what going after Al Qaeda, and their extremist allies is not just in the interest of the United States. Or, now, not just interest in Pakistan. But in India. And China. And Iran. And other countries in the region that don't want to see the spillover that would come from Afghanistan reverting to what it was before.

Ann Curry: I have to ask you about Iran. Because you just mentioned, it's a very important issue. Just recently, the U.S. had its first really big sit-down talks with the-- with Iran in-- in 30 years. Essentially, what is the U.S. assessment of Iran's intentions? And is the United States running out of time to prevent Israel from bombing Iran because if its nuclear ambitions?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I think that-- the recent meeting in Geneva-- was-- a positive step. It was by no means conclusive of anything, either intentions or actions. But it resulted in three important-- agreements. Number one, the inspections of the site at Qum that we disclosed-- a few weeks ago.

Number two-- technical discussions that will occur next week about moving out the low-enriched uranium that-- Iran has processed to be reprocessed elsewhere for return to their research reactor. And thirdly, agreement to meet again. Which may sound kind of self-evident. But wasn't at all guaranteed.

And we are going into this eyes wide open. No-- illusions about what-- is it stake. We remain committed to the goal of preventing-- Iran from-- acquiring nuclear weapons. But we also are looking for ways to-- make that-- a reality. So, yes, engagement is part of our-- approach. As are ongoing discussions about what consequences Iran should take, were they-- to choose-- to ignore the international community.

Ann Curry: Okay. You have said that you are the President's chief foreign policy advisor-- the country's chief diplomat. And yet, at this very important moment in history, The Washington Post writes about you, quote, "She is largely invisible on the big issues that dominate the foreign policy agenda. Including Afghanistan and Iran." Why are you not more out in front on these very important issues of our time?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I you know, honestly don't have any reaction to something like that. Which is so at variance with what I do every day. You know, my view is that we have a big world out there. With both a lot of challenges, and a lot of opportunities.

You know, we're speaking here in Zurich. Where I've come to continue to support the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. Why is that important? It's an important part of the world. Turkey is a major ally. But I just came from spending hours and hours on our Afghanistan/Pakistan policy.

Ann Curry: Well, what do you say to the people who are concerned that you have been marginalized? That you-- that the highest ranking woman in the United States is like every woman who's in the working world. Having to fight against being marginalized.

Hillary Clinton: I just-- you know, Ann, I-- I find it absurd. I mean--

Ann Curry: So you're not?

Hillary Clinton: I find it-- I find it beyond any realistic assessment of what I'm doing every day.

Ann Curry: Well, why haven't you gone to Afghanistan as Secretary of State? Or Pakistan?

Hillary Clinton: Because, number one, we had an election in Afghanistan. And we did not want to send any signals whatsoever that the United States had taken sides. But I think there is such-- you know, maybe there is some misunderstanding, which needs to be clarified. You know, I-- I run a department that has more than 60,000 employees worldwide.

I believe in delegating power. You know, I'm not one of these-- people who feels like I have to have my face in the, you know, front of the newspaper. Or on the TV. In every moment of the day. I don't believe that that's particularly-- useful or necessary. So we agreed, the President and I, it was my idea. I brought it to him. That we would assign very highly qualified people to do the day to day work on some of these important issues.

There's no other way to do it. I would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say, "Oh, no. Everything must come to me." Now, maybe that is a woman's thing. Maybe I'm totally secure. And feel absolutely no need to go running around-- in order for people to see what I'm doing. It's just the way I am. My goal is to beautiful a very positive force to implement the kind of changes that the President and I believe are in the best interest of our country.

But that doesn't mean that it all has to be me, me, me all the time. I-- I like lifting people up. I like saying, "Look, you know, we've got a great diplomat here." Like, in Bill Burns, who went to Geneva. Who's handling our-- discussions on Iran, and their nuclear ambitions. You know, I think that some the way you run a modern organization. And don't try to keep everything close to the vest that, you know, only you are the person who can do it.

Ann Curry: I-- I hear what you're saying, "it's not about me, me, me." And you're being a great team player. But I can't help but think nine months into this administration, having campaigned so fiercely to be President yourself, that there can't be moments for you where you wish you could make the decisions yourself.

Hillary Clinton: I have to tell you, it never crosses my mind. In--

Ann Curry: Never?

Hillary Clinton: No. Not at all. My-- I am part of the team that makes the decisions. And that is the way it should be. You know, usually, in the past, not always, the Secretary of State was in constant battles with the White House. Or with the defense department. And some of it, to be very honest, was nothing but ego. It was, "No. This is me. I'm supposed to be the important person here."

I find that absurd. And ridiculous. And totally out of keeping with dealing with the multiple of challenges that we have to face every single day. You know, I get up early in the morning. I meet with people all day long. To try to set policy to hold ourselves and others accountable. And I-- I think that's the way it should be done. So people can say, well, why why don't I do this all myself? But I think that is a grave, and, you know, possibly counterproductive assessment of how to do foreign policy in the world that we fact today.

Ann Curry: Will you ever run for President again? Yes or no?

Hillary Clinton: (LAUGHS) No.

Ann Curry: No?

Hillary Clinton: No. No. I mean, this is—this is—a great job. It is a 24/7 job. And-- I'm looking forward to retirement at some point.

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