Transcript: Hillary Clinton's Final Television Interview as Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton in her final television interview as Secretary of State.

ByABC News
January 29, 2013, 8:04 PM

Jan. 29, 2013— -- The following is a transcript of "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden's interview with Hillary Clinton in her final television interview as Secretary of State. This interview will air on "Nightline" on Jan. 29, 2013.

"Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden: Thank you for letting us come and talk to you.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Of course, I'm so happy to see you again.

McFadden: This is your last TV interview as Secretary of State.

Clinton: Hard to believe, Cynthia, it feels like the time has just flown by.

McFadden: In Moscow, three years ago, you told me, 'I have absolutely no interest in running for president, none.' Two years ago you said the exact same thing in Australia. And yet, in the past few days, a PAC called "Ready for Hillary" has been launched. Can you still say with a straight face there is no way you would consider running for president?

Clinton: Sitting here right now, that is certainly what I believe and I am still the Secretary of State so I am not in politics. I am going to be focusing on my philanthropies, my charities, my writing and speaking so I am looking forward to having something resembling kind of a normal life again.

McFadden: And yet, are we up to "maybe?"

Clinton: (laughing) yes, that's very good, Cynthia, of course, of course. I am flattered and honored, I didn't even know about some of these things that are happening now, but I am really not focused on that at all. I have no plans or intentions, I don't know how else to say it but I am going to get back into my life again, see how it feels not having a schedule, waking up and going back to sleep if I choose for a while. I have been working or attending school full time since I was 13. This is going to be new for me. I don't know how I'm going to react to it to be honest.

McFadden: When you conceded defeat in the primary, you made a famous speech in which you said, "there are 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling."

Clinton: Right.

McFadden: If in the course of the next couple of years it appears as it does appear right now that you might be the person who could actually break through that glass ceiling and become the first female president of this country, would you feel a certain obligation to seize that mantle?

Clinton: Well I'm very conscious of how important it is for us to shatter that glass ceiling in my country. A country that has done so much for so many women and really has set the standard for women's rights and responsibilities, and I do want to see that glass ceiling shattered. I don't think it has to be any particular person, it just has to be a convergence of the right candidate and historical forces so I don't think one person is the only way to do that. I think there are a lot of people that are in the pipeline and moving to a position where they might be able to as well.

McFadden: But there's never been a woman who's had a credible chance and it looks as if you might just be that person, and I know how serious you take commitment and obligation and how serious the women's issue is to you.

Clinton: Right, but I'm not making any commitments or obligations because I do take them seriously and I did an interview with President Obama the other night and obviously I know how important this is to the press, to journalists like yourself, but it's not what I'm thinking about. It's not anything that I'm planning or giving the okay to others to plan. I have so many things I'm interested in doing and that's what I am focused on right now.

McFadden: It is good to see you looking so healthy.

Clinton: Thank you.

McFadden: It really was a serious health scare?

Clinton: Well, it was a big surprise to me because I've been so healthy my entire life. I've been in the hospital once when I had my daughter, and, oh, when I broke my elbow, but other than that, I've been very fortunate. So when I got sick and fainted and hit my head I was so surprised and I thought I would just get up and go to work and thankfully I had very good medical care and doctors who said, 'no we had better do an MRI,' we'd better do this, we'd better do that. I feel very lucky, Cynthia, because I know now how a split second of being beset by a virus and dehydrated what it can do to you. I'm getting fully recovered and I will be getting back to full speed but I am grateful for the excellent care that I got.

McFadden: So as one woman who wears glasses to another. I'll tell you what happens if I take mine off, I can't see my questions.

Clinton: Right.

McFadden: If you take yours off right now--

Clinton: Well that would have been true even before I had a concussion, if I take mine off, I've been near-sighted since I was 9, but I've worn contacts for so many years except for at night when I take my glasses off, but I'll be fine.

McFadden: But this whole seeing double thing, is that true?

Clinton: Well I have some lingering effects from the concussions but they will dissipate and I will be back to my old myopic self.

McFadden: Senator [John] Kerry has just been confirmed [as the new Secretary of State].

Clinton: Yes, I'm thrilled by that.

McFadden: Does that feel, do you start to feel--

Clinton: I do, I do, because obviously we have been working with him and his team for him to come into the State department. My last day will be Friday afternoon after I finish all of my obligations. I think that he will pick right up where I have ended and continue to represent us extremely well around the world.

McFadden: What do you wish you'd known four years ago that you could pass on to him?

Clinton: I've tried to pass on everything I've learned. I think there are a couple of big takeaways. One, I don't see how you do this job without travelling a lot. Condi Rice travelled a million miles and I travelled nearly that and went to more countries than anybody has gone to and why do we do that? Because we're gluttons for punishment? No, because the United States has to show up.

Particularly now when, ironically, people can turn on the news and get online or follow us through some other social media, but nothing substitutes for demonstrating that the United States of America cares enough to be there, to be at that meeting, to represent our values, to go to that event. I did not realize how critically important it was going to be and the fact that there's hardly any part of the world now that can be relegated to second tier, because something can happen anywhere and we'll know about it instantaneously and it can have, as we've seen in Mali, consequences for us and our allies security.

McFadden: I just want to ask you one other question about your health. I know there's no other plans for future public service, but if there were to be, would you feel comfortable making a pledge that you would release to whatever records--

Clinton: Oh of course, that doesn't bother me. I mean, that's just something that goes with the territory.

McFadden: Let's talk for a moment about Benghazi it seemed as though you lost your temper at the hearing momentarily the other day.

Clinton: Well, I believe that we should, in public life, whether you're in the administration or the congress, de-politicize crisis and work together to figure out what happened, what we can do to prevent it and then put into place both the institutional changes and the budgetary changes that are necessary. And the majority of the panelists in both the House and the Senate, I thought, were very constructive, asked sensible questions that deserved answers, but when someone tries to put it into a partisan lens, when they focus, not on the fact that we had such a terrible event happening with four dead Americans but instead what did somebody say on a Sunday morning talk show, that to me is not in keeping with the seriousness of the issue and the obligation we all have as public servants.

McFadden: Do you regret "what difference at this point does it make?" It has been so analyzed in the moment since you said it.

Clinton: No, because I think asking questions about talking points for a Sunday morning talk show is really missing the point. The accountability review board, chaired by Ambassador [Thomas] Pickering and Admiral [Michael] Mullen didn't pay any attention to that. They looked at what we could have done, what we have to do in order to prevent this in the future and remember, there have only been two of these accountability review boards for the time since 1988 ever made public. All the others have been made classified. I believe in transparency. I said, "let the chips fall where they may, put it all out there," and I don't want that to be politicized. I want it to serve as a framework for working together between the administration and the congress to keep our people safe.

McFadden: So you stand by what you said?

Clinton: Absolutely.

McFadden: You've repeatedly said that [Syrian] President [Bashar] Assad needs to go.

Clinton: Right.

McFadden: Starting two years ago--

Clinton: Right.

McFadden: And yet 60,000 Syrians are dead and he is still in office. What does it take for America to intervene?

Clinton: Well, I think we have been very actively involved. Until recently there was no credible opposition coalition and I can't stress strongly enough how important that is. You cannot even attempt a political solution if you don't have a recognized force to counter the Assad regime. It took them off the hook. It gave the Russians and others who are still either supporting them or on the fence, the ability to say, "well there's no opposition." We worked very hard to help stand up such an opposition.

McFadden: But is there a red line, Secretary Clinton--

Clinton: Well, the use of chemical weapons, as President Obama said, is a red line, but I think if you look at the administration's effort on the political front, on the U.N. front where we still believe we need to get Security Council action on the humanitarian front, the president just announced a hundred million more on the humanitarian front. We have been very productive players in trying to deal with an extremely complex problem.

McFadden: Secretary [Leon] Panetta recently told my colleague Martha Raddatz that Assad had chemical weapons ready to go, locked and loaded, ready to go. The red line used to be when he moved those chemical weapons. Would the U.S. actually permit him to use them?

Clinton: No, no and President Obama has been very clear about that. And I think it's also important to look at this conflict which, yes, has horrifically developed and cost the lives of so many thousands of Syrians, but in all of my discussions with many of the countries in the region and beyond, everyone is facing the same dilemma. It is very hard to train and equip opposition fighters. It is very hard to know who is going to emerge from this and making the wrong bet could have very severe consequences. So there are certain positions and actions we've taken and we've also laid down the red line on chemical weapons because that could have far reaching effects beyond even the street to street fighting that is so terrible to watch and it could also affect other countries.

McFadden: The administration has been criticized by some as having what has been referred to as an 'ad hoc' foreign policy, a sort of whack a mole foreign policy. What is the Obama doctrine as you understand it as regards to foreign policy?

Clinton: Re-assert American leadership politically and economically in the face of a very severe crisis that we inherited and which called into question American leadership. Look for every way you can to bring together coalitions so that yes, America will and must lead, it is the indispensible nation, but other countries have to step up and start taking responsibility and they are starting to do that. We saw that certainly in Libya, we're seeing it in other places, in Africa and beyond. Make it clear that while we have to deal with the crisis, we have to take steps back and figure out more clearly what the consequences of actions that we and others are taking.

We've been subject over the last 30 or 40 years to a lot of actions taken by the United States from the Vietnam War to the War in Iraq that have had unintended consequences that have threatened us. We want to be more thoughtful and careful about the interventions we make. And finally, don't lose the trend lines. While we are focused on the immediate crisis and the longer term challenges, there are a lot of forces at work in the world, whether it is the changes in technology which has such profound effect on how we exercise all forms of our power. Whether it is women and girls, the roles and rights that they have, and the fact that where they do have equality and dignity, you're likely to have more stable societies and more prosperous economies.

Clinton: Look at climate change, don't put your head in the sand, understand that it is going to have profound effects on our resources and so much else. So I believe that what we've done is to pioneer the new diplomacy, taking the best and continuing the traditions of yes, government to government negotiations, whether it's a trade treaty or a peace treaty but also expanding our apertures, so that we understand, the United States must tell its story better, must connect with young people better, must stand for our values more strongly and I think by doing that, we've positioned ourselves for leadership in the 21st century.

McFadden: So there is no daylight between the Obama doctrine and the Hillary Clinton doctrine?

Clinton: Well, I have been a major part of helping to shape it and to implement it and I think it will stand the test of time. That doesn't mean like any administration you don't struggle with these difficult issues, you talked about Syria, it is a really wicked problem as people say. But we have to take a very large view and put everything into context.

McFadden: Saturday morning.

Clinton: Yes.

McFadden: What happens?

Clinton: (laughs) I hope I get to sleep in (laughing). I know I am thinking about that. You know it will be the first time in many years when I've have no office to go to, no schedule to keep, no work to do, that will probably last a few days and then I will be up and going with my new projects.

McFadden: Madeline Albright famously said that reading the newspaper became a different kind of enterprise when she was no longer Secretary of State.

Clinton: I am sure that is true, Cynthia. Any kind of news coverage I feel a sense of responsibility all the time, I'm always referring pieces to my staff, "what are we going to do about this-how did this happen, what do you know about this," and now I wouldn't be doing that but I will still be thinking it.

McFadden: I know how close you were to your mother. What do you think she would be most proud of?

Clinton: One of the great things about my mother is she really valued people's character more than what they did. She was proud of me, proud of my husband, certainly, but she kept herself engaged in part by really relating to people, all kinds of people, and I would like to think she would think I have done a good job but that I have also kept trying to be a good person. That was her real standard for us and for people that she knew and cared about.

McFadden: North Korea has nuclear weapons. Iran is moving quickly in that direction. How concerned should American be and how effective has the Obama administration been in stopping it?

Clinton: Well, I think Americans should be concerned and I think the Obama administration has made real strides -- number one in bringing together the international community. I faced real skepticism when I started talking to a lot countries about what we needed to do to try and sanction the Iranian regime in order to get the message across to them that they had to give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We were able to overcome those hurdles, we have toughest sanctions they are making an effect.

Clinton: Similarly with North Korea we have just brought together the international community, including China, in a new set of sanctions concerning the missile program. Nobody is satisfied with what these two countries are attempting to do. But we have to keep a coalition of concerned countries together in the gulf and the broader region around Iran which are the ones most at risk if this pursuit continues and succeeds, and in Northeast Asia.

Our policy with Iran is prevention. The president has made that really clear. We've taken no option off the table, and we are pursuing diplomatic efforts but there's a time table to this. You can't do it just for the sake of doing it. And with respect to North Korea, we've made it very clear to the North Koreans, and to everybody in the region, that if North Korea pursues their missile and nuclear weapon program, we would consider that a threat to the United States and would have to take very tough action.

McFadden: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for talking to us.

Clinton: Thank you Cynthia, good to talk to you.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events