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Interview With Diane Sawyer of ABC News


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 22, 2011

QUESTION: Thank you again, Madam Secretary, and we hear repeatedly it will be days, not weeks, before the U.S. turns over the lead; it will be one week on Saturday. Will it happen by Saturday?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it will be days. Whether it’s by Saturday or not depends upon the evaluation made by our military commanders along with our allies and partners. But the President was very clear that the United States had unique capabilities that we would bring to bear in the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolution, and that is exactly what we’re doing.

QUESTION: So it might go into next week?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’re making real progress, so I think that it will be days, and the days, I hope, will be sooner instead of later.

QUESTION: Sounds as if you don’t think it will be next week. You might even think this weekend?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s moving well. From our assessment – and we do a call every day to check in, plus during the day getting updates – the work that the United States and our allies have been doing to take out the air defense systems; to clear the field to enable a no-fly zone to be effectively implemented; to help level the playing field, because there have also been strikes on some of the other assets that the Qadhafi forces have, will enable the United States to do what we said we would do, which is to fulfill this initial phase and then to transition to the no-fly zone and the work that will be led by our partners.

QUESTION: Will it be NATO?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is still being worked out, I mean, because we do have a broad international participation. And as we speak in NATO headquarters in Brussels, they’re working on the planning for the no-fly zone, for the arms embargo because everyone believes that having NATO assets and coordinating mechanisms behind what we’re doing makes a lot of sense.

QUESTION: So it might be something outside NATO but with NATO assets and coordination?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is also being looked at, but NATO will be definitely involved, because we do have a lot of NATO members who are committed to this process, and they want to see command and control that is organized, but we also are integrating others from outside of NATO. But I’m very relaxed about it, Diane. I think it is – it’s proceeding, it’s moving forward in the right direction, and we will have what we need in the next few days.

QUESTION: Muammar Qadhafi – will this intervention be a success if he’s still in power?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have to separate the two sides of the equation, if you will. The United Nations Security Council resolution was very broad but explicit about what was legally authorized by the international community. And we are a hundred percent committed to enforcing it and helping others enforce it. There is nothing in there about getting rid of anybody. It is about protecting civilians, providing humanitarian assistance, but also enabling nations to use whatever means necessary in order to bring that about.

There are many aspects to what the international community is doing to put a lot of pressure on Qadhafi and those around him. So it does —

QUESTION: Are you saying you’re confident the end result will be that he’s out, whether it’s under the NATO —

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it’s – no, I don’t want to make any predictions because we’re taking this one step at time. I mean, I don’t want to jump beyond where we are right now. We are implementing the UN Security Council resolution. We are establishing the no-fly zone, which everybody was calling for, from the United States Senate to the Arab League – please do a no-fly zone, get UN Security Council support to do it. And that is what we are doing.

Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is.

QUESTION: But at this moment, he is pummeling Misrata, the rebels in Misrata. Are we going to go the extra step if air power alone – if prevention of air power alone is not enough, are we going the extra step? Are we going to let him go ahead?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States has been clear from the beginning – President Obama has stated numerous times we’re going to do what we said we would do. We’re not telling others what they can or cannot do, but we have a limited, discrete mission that we are going to fulfill. And that includes making sure that all of our partners, both European, Canadian, Arab, the Turks, everybody is involved in making sure that we meet the obligations of the Security Council.

QUESTION: So the answer is yes, we will let him go ahead? Because that’s not under the Security Council charter.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I think that’s too – not simplistic, maybe, too black or white. I mean, we have seen in the last days ever since the effort to create the conditions for the no-fly zone begin late on Saturday night, that our allied international forces have gone after tanks, have gone after other assets of the Qadhafi forces, and it made it very clear there is a price to pay.

But we’re also trying to create the opportunity for there to be a more level playing field. If there is a true opposition in Libya that is trying to assert itself, we’re going to give them a much better chance than they had before the Security Council acted.

QUESTION: There is a report that two of Qadhafi’s sons – at least one but maybe two have been killed. Can you confirm this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can’t confirm it, but we’ve heard it, and we’ve heard a lot.

QUESTION: Credibly?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we hear it from many different sources, and I – that’s why I can’t confirm it. I can’t give any confirmation because the evidence is not sufficient. But we’ve heard that, we’ve heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world – Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, beyond saying, “What do we do? How do we get out of this? What happens next?”

QUESTION: Including him? Do you know where he is?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not aware that he personally has reached out, but I do know that people allegedly on his behalf have been reaching out. So that’s why I say this is a very dynamic situation, and I often wonder how, in the past, anybody could engage in these kinds of actions and then have to basically answer every tweet or every posting from anyone, because these are fast-moving, evolving situations.

We are sending a clear message by our actions in the international community that we would like to see Qadhafi leave power and transition to a different future for the Libyan people.

QUESTION: But are you indicating that there’s someone close to him on his behalf reaching out to say, “How do we get out? How does he get out?”

SECRETARY CLINTON: This is what we hear from so many sources, Diane. It is a constant —


SECRETARY CLINTON: Today, yesterday, the day before. Some of it, I’ll be very – it’s my personal opinion – some of it is theater, some of it is kind of, shall we say, game-playing, to try to do one message to one group, another message to somebody else. Because as you recall, after the Security Council acted, Qadhafi said, “Well, we’re going to do a ceasefire,” and then immediately urged his forces to move even more quickly toward Benghazi.

So a lot of it is just the way he behaves. It’s somewhat unpredictable. But some of it, we think, is exploring – what are my options, where could I go, what could I do. And we would encourage that.

QUESTION: If his sons were killed, were they killed by the United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, uh-uh, uh-uh, no.

QUESTION: Do we know who?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We hear many different things, but we know it’s not us.

QUESTION: A couple of quick questions about the operation itself. We keep hearing that someone likened it to pick up – a pickup game of basketball, and that the French are going in, we’re not sure what they’re going to target, the British go in and actually launch an attack on the compound, but the Norwegians won’t go in because they don’t know who’s in charge, and the Italians say unless NATO’s in charge, they don’t want their bases to be used.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is preliminary. That is, like, the prelude to any kind of organizational effort. That is not at all surprising. We have a very significant number of nations who have pledged assets. Those who are members of NATO want to see a role for NATO, and that is what is being worked on right now, and is taking shape, and will be available for command and control going forward. But we also want to integrate our other partners. We don’t want those who are not in NATO to feel that they’re on the outside looking in.

QUESTION: But is the – does the dynamic in this sense mean confusing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it does not mean confusing. I mean, the way that the action has already taken place has been disciplined and focused. And people have been doing different parts of what is an overall mission. The United States and the UK, following on the French, who sent a very clear signal that the international community was serious, have done a lot of the targeting of the defense systems. But others are also up in the air. They are working to try to contribute.

Once there’s a no-fly zone – because there’s a preliminary period that we’re finishing up now. We couldn’t have a no-fly zone until we took out the air defense, the radar, and the other threats to the aircraft of all of our international partners. And people are anxious to get going. They want to be part of that no-fly zone. They want to, if they see the Qadhafi forces moving on innocent civilians, to take action against them. But there had to be a little bit of time to get the theater prepared, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re nearly complete with that.

QUESTION: We have read repeatedly that you were decisive in this. Did you persuade President Obama? Was yours the voice that turned around the opponents?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is absolutely, I think, part of a storyline that needs to be corrected soon and decisively. There was a broad debate and discussion within the Administration, and that’s one of the —

QUESTION: Secretary Gates opposed, we were told.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t – I’m not going to characterize anybody’s opinion, because what happened indeed was that the facts evolved in a way that made the President and the Administration convinced that we had to support UN action against Qadhafi and his forces. And I think it was a very thoughtful process. And I don’t believe that there would have been the level of commitment had there not been a series of actions culminating with the Arab League statement Saturday before last, which was so unprecedented and which called on the United Nations Security Council to take this action.

And the United States, of course, is going to support the kind of coalition that was coalescing around the goal of protecting the people on the ground from this onslaught from the air and even prepared from the sea as well as the ground against civilians.

QUESTION: So you’re not going to characterize yourself in the hierarchy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I’m not going to characterize anyone because it was a decision that was made, and the decision speaks for itself.

QUESTION: A quick question if I can about the rebels, because we did read that John Brennan – counterterrorism head John Brennan had expressed concern that maybe there were al-Qaida elements inside the rebel community. Are you concerned? Are you sure there are not?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course not. We are well aware that there are many different forces of opposition against Qadhafi. But let’s put this in context. There was a grave humanitarian crisis unfolding. There was a clear message coming from Qadhafi that he would show no mercy, that he would go, as he said, from house to house dragging people out. We had already seen examples of the kind of brutality that he was prepared to inflict on his own people. This is a man who has been unpredictable and dangerous over many years to many people, including the United States, who, as we learn more, we could not know what he might do next.

So there were many reasons why the international community expressed such concern about what was unfolding, and people across the political spectrum began to speak out. It was March 1st that the Senate passed a resolution, a bipartisan resolution, calling for action. So as we carefully evaluated what our options were, it was clear that if the international community was willing to act and if the Arab League was willing to support that action, then the United States would be willing to enforce it.

QUESTION: A quick and final personal question: You have indicated that should the President be reelected, that you will not be Secretary of State any longer.


QUESTION: Will you stay until the election?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I will stay until the beginning of the next term because I know it takes a while for people to get appointed and confirmed. I mean, obviously, there needs to be a seamless transition with whomever President Obama decides to appoint after he is reelected, which I am confident he will be.

QUESTION: And one last question, I promise.


QUESTION: I’m afraid – but so many people have expressed what we see on the cover of Newsweek, that you wake up every day – tsunami, earthquakes, nuclear meltdown, global economic crisis —


QUESTION: — revolution country after country. Do you ever wake up and say, “What has happened to this world? What is going on?”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I do wake up and feel increasingly that we are living in a historic turning point on so many fronts, and that our country and the world has some hard thinking to do that needs to lead to transformational action. I don’t think the old answers are good enough.

I think we have to ask hard across the board what are the values that we want to see moving into the rest of the 21st century; how are we going to organize ourselves; how do we get the benefits of integration and stand against the forces of disintegration; how do protect this planet, which I don’t mean to sound like it’s a touchy-feely question, but as we’re looking at everything that’s going on – and I just came on International Water Day from an event over at the World Bank – because water is going to become one of the most precious resources we have – that’s not only what’s in the headlines that keep me awake. It’s what’s in the trend lines. It’s where we’re headed.

And I just want to see the United States assume the role that we have historically assumed, which is that we are the people of the future, we are the ones who are innovating our ways and building our ways into a much better, more prosperous, peaceful future. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and our political system and the political systems of so many other countries have to be prepared to make some tough decisions.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.



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