Transcript: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 'This Week'

Clinton's first Sunday show interview since leaving 2008 presidential race.

ByABC News
June 7, 2009, 5:58 AM

June 7, 2009 — -- STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."


STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): In her first Sunday interview, the secretary of state.

(on-screen): So is there any room for compromise?

Blunt talk...

CLINTON: There would be retaliation.

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): ... that 3 a.m. call.

(on-screen): Has the president answered it for you?

(voice-over): ... and how Obama convinced her to join his team.

CLINTON: I thought it was absurd.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hillary Clinton, her first Sunday interview as secretary, only on "This Week."


OBAMA: There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Cairo speech. How was it heard? Will words be followed by deeds? That and the rest of the week's politics on our roundtable with George Will, Claire Shipman, Matthew Dowd, and Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And, as always, the Sunday funnies.

(UNKNOWN): It was a very busy day for President Obama, because he's over in the Middle East. Now, don't worry: Joe Biden's running the country.



ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, "This Week" with ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. We begin with our exclusive headliner, Hillary Clinton.


CLINTON: I, Hillary Rodham Clinton...

STEPHANOPOULOS: One year ago today, her fierce campaign against Barack Obama had a classy finish.

CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: She hasn't been seen on Sunday morning since.

CLINTON: Hello, everybody.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So there was a lot to catch up on when I sat down with Clinton after the president's speech in Cairo.

OBAMA: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Iran, North Korea, Israel. And after all those battles with Obama, did she ever imagine herself in Egypt as his secretary of state?

CLINTON: Never. Never crossed my mind. And what an extraordinary honor to be here, especially for this speech today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president has a very high-powered team: Vice President Biden, General Jones, Secretary Gates. You've got envoys for Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea. How do you fit in?


CLINTON: Well, I...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your role, exactly?

CLINTON: Well, my role is as the chief diplomat for the United States of America. And, you know, when I agreed to do this job, I made it very clear to the president that I would be able to run the State Department and USAID and that we would have to forge a team that I think we've done very well, and that I wanted special envoys, because we were inheriting so many hotspot problems that I knew you could never have one person possibly address all of that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It also gives you the ability to get out of the crisis management and carve out areas where you're really going to take initiative. What are those?

CLINTON: Well, I'm having to do both. I mean, I spend a lot of my time on the problems that you would imagine: Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East, Iran. But I'm also working to create a strategic set of priorities that will guide our efforts.

So, for example, there are specific regional and country-based endeavors that we are teeing up. We are going to work really hard on our relationships with, for example, Indonesia, and Turkey, and India.

We have a strategic and economic dialogue that will start the last week in July with China that Secretary Geithner and I are going to co-lead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So there's plenty of work to go around?

CLINTON: There's plenty of work to go around, but then there are the transnational problems. I mean, the president asked me to lead the effort on food security. The president also wants us to focus on Haiti. And, ironically, the United Nations...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... President Clinton...

CLINTON: ... secretary general asked Bill to be the special envoy. So we're really going to have a united effort by our government and by the international community. Those are just some of the, you know, very specific and more general challenges that we are taking on and managing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're also developing a reputation for blunt talk as secretary. You talked about Pakistan abdicating its responsibilities, about the idea that (inaudible) negotiation with North Korea is implausible.

And especially on this issue of settlements with -- with Israel, you were very strong last week; so was the president.


CLINTON: He wants to see a stop to settlements, not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if you've seen the headlines in Israel, headlines talking about the American threat. Publicly, the prime minister is saying that this is just unreasonable, these demands from the United States, and privately he was reported to have said -- and this is a quote -- "What the hell do they want from me?"

CLINTON: Well, George, I think it's very clear, as you heard in the speech from the president here in Cairo, that he wants to focus from the very beginning of his term in office on doing everything he can to try to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together. You know, we were very close in 2000. And it's heartbreaking to see where we are today. And we can't just stand by and expect time to work its magic.

So that means, as the president said in his speech...


OBAMA: This bond is unbreakable.

CLINTON: ... and as he has said on several other occasions prior to it, that we have to do our very best to reassure Israel, to demonstrate our commitment to Israel's security, that the bonds we have are unshakeable and durable.

But we do have a view about Israel's security. We see historical, demographic, political, technological trends that are very troubling as to Israel's future. At the same time, there is a legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people that needs to be addressed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is there any room for compromise on the settlement issue?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think we want to pre-judge the effort. I think that, if you look back, certainly from my perspective, every Israeli leader that I have personally known and others who I have looked at through an historical lens has come to the same conclusion.

Who would have predicted that Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert would have reached the conclusions they reached about what was in Israel's best interest? Who would have predicted that even Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his earlier term during the 1990s, would have made some of the decisions he made?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But his team says now that, if you continue to push this, it's going to bring down his government.

CLINTON: We are setting forth our views. Obviously, decisions about how to go forward are up to the Israelis and the Palestinians. But I think it is an appropriate role for the United States -- and, certainly, it is what the president has decided -- to make clear some of the obstacles he sees.

Now, remember, the Israelis made a commitment in the road map in the prior administration.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they say that includes an understanding for natural growth inside the settlements.

CLINTON: Well, that was an understanding that was entered into, so far as we are told, orally. That was never made a part of the official record of the negotiations as it was passed on to our administration. No one in the Bush administration said to anyone that we can find in our administration...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not Elliot Abrams? He wrote about that.

CLINTON: Nobody in a position of authority at the time that the Obama administration came into office said anything about it. And, in fact, there's also a record that President Bush contradicted even that oral agreement.

But the fact is that the road map, which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government, said something very clear about settlements.

So I think that what the president is doing is saying, Look, everybody should comply with the obligations you've already committed to. And for the Palestinians, let's not forget: They must end incitement against Israel. They must demonstrate an ability to provide security.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what I wanted to ask you about.


OBAMA: It is a great pleasure to welcome President Abbas...


STEPHANOPOULOS: Abbas was in Washington last week. He had an interview in the Washington Post where he sure seemed to suggest that he doesn't have to do anything right now.

CLINTON: Well, I think you're seeing public positions taken, which is understandable in a process like this. But we've made it very clear to President Abbas what we expect from him, as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Iran? You were quoted in the papers back in March when you met with the foreign minister of the UAE that you were skeptical of the possibility that diplomacy would work to stall or stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. Are you still that doubtful?

CLINTON: Well, I am someone who's going to wait and see. I mean, I -- I want to see what the president's engagement will bring. We have a team of people who we have tasked to work on this. I think there's an enormous amount of potential for change, if the Iranians are willing to pursue that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what do you think they want, deep down? You know, you read some of the public declarations by their supreme leader and others saying that they consider nuclear weapons un-Islamic, and yet they continue to pursue the nuclear program.

CLINTON: But, George, one of the values of -- of engagement is, we need to have better information, and maybe about each other, not just about a one-way street of information.

The idea that we could have a diplomatic process with Iran means that, for the first time, we would actually be sitting at a table across from Iranians authorized by the supreme leader to talk with us about a whole range of issues. That gives us information and insight that we don't have.

Of course there's contradiction, because we don't have any really clear sense as to what it is they are seeking. Now, one of the things that you heard the president say is, we understand the legitimate right of nations...


OBAMA: ... any nation, including Iran...


CLINTON: ... to have access to peaceful nuclear energy. If that is at the core of what they want, there are ways of accommodating that that do not lead to a nuclear weapon.

But we have to -- have to test that, and we have to be willing to sit and listen and evaluate without giving up what we view as a primary objective of the engagement, which is to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your own envoy, Dennis Ross, has said one way to strengthen the position of the United States going into these negotiations is to make it very clear that, if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel or any U.S. ally, that would be met as an attack on the United States, full response. Now, that was your position during the campaign, as well.


CLINTON: I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it U.S. policy now?

CLINTON: I think it is U.S. policy to the extent that we have alliances and understandings with a number of nations. They may not be formal, as it is with NATO, but I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that, were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: By the United States?

CLINTON: Well, I think there would be retaliation. And I think part of what is clear is, we want to avoid a -- a Middle East arms race which leads to nuclear weapons being in the possession of other countries in the Middle East, and we want to make clear that there are consequences and costs.