Tonight, the sitting Secretaries of Defense and State, Gates and Clinton, sat down with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour along with Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor and now Director of George Washington’s School of Media and Public Affairs. The discussion is a special edition of the new show “Amanpour” which will air tomorrow on CNN/U.S at 3pmET and simulcast on CNN International. The interviews took place at GW.
On the issue of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Gates says, “We are not leaving Afghanistan. There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership…with the Pakistanis.” Asked about the situation in Honduras, Clinton said, “We’re working very hard to reach a conclusion in Honduras that will permit the elections to go forward…to get Honduras back on the path to a more sustainable democracy…to get to where they were before there was the disruption and the exiling of President Zelaya.”
Is this a first? Does anyone know if sitting Secretaries of State and Defense have participated in a joint TV interview?
• The full transcript after the jump…
FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me welcome you both to the George
Washington University. Thank you for being here. There will be no
quizzes or exams after this, but we’ll try to have this as intriguing a
conversation as we can.
And I – as I mentioned, Christiane – excuse me – Christiane’s got her
program, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing it there and
around the world. I should also mention that America Abroad Media is
turning this into an hour-long special. It will be distributed both
domestically and international – internationally as an hour-long special
on public radio and available to all other media, many of whom are here.
HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST OF CNN’S ‘AMANPOUR': Welcome.
Welcome to you both.
We’ve been sort of searching back in the annals of recent history and we
can’t really find an example such as this, where two sitting Secretaries
of State, in charge of some of the most important briefs at the moment,
sitting on stage in an interview such as this.
So, we just wanted to start by asking you, how often do you speak
together? What is it like working together? Do you pick up the phone
and call each other whenever you like? How does it work?
CLINTON: Well, we actually spend a lot of time together, and it is
mostly at the White House, in the Situation Room, which is this room
that is especially set up for secure conversations, a windowless domain
that we spend a lot of time in, and we also talk outside of those formal
But it’s been a real pleasure for me to work with Bob over the last nine
months. And a lot of the decisions and the reasons we end up in the
Situation Room are, you know, pretty are, you know, pretty serious and
challenging ones to tackle and try to come up with our best advice to
the president. But, you know, Bob has a – a lot of experience, which I
certainly appreciate, and also a good sense of humor, which makes
everything a little bit better.
ROBERT GATES, US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE : You know, most of my career,
the Secretary of the State and Defense weren’t speaking to one another
and – and it could get pretty ugly, actually. And so –
I mean, it’s terrific to – to have the kind of relationship where we can
talk together, because the truth of the matter is if the bureaucracies
realize that the principles get along and work together and are on the
same page, it radiates downward. And when people discover it’s not
career-enhancing to try and set your principal’s hair in fire because
the other person is doing something horrible, it makes a huge difference
and not just at this level, but all through the bureaucracy and the
SESNO: So what is it that — by doing this and by sending the signal
from the top — that you are trying to change? You’ve both talked a lot
about taking the country in new directions and — for the 21st century.
But what are you trying to prove by this in terms of actual
GATES: Well, I don’t — I don’t think we’re trying to prove anything.
It’s just we get along. We work together well. I think it starts
with, frankly based on my experience as secretary of defense, being
willing to acknowledge that the secretary of state is the principal
spokes person for United States foreign policy. And once you get over
that hurdle, the rest of it kind of falls into place.
And I think it’s really just a matter of “this is the way we work
together”. As I say, we’re not trying to prove anything. It’s just
this is what works. And this is how government ought to work.
CLINTON: You know, Frank, I think that, you know, when Secretary Gates
was given this responsibility in the last administration, he immediately
began making clear that we had to have a coherent and unified foreign
policy. The instruments of American power in defense, diplomacy and
development needed to be working together.
And before he was a part of the Obama administration, he had gone on
record several times talking about the need for us to work more closely
together between our civilian capacity and our military force. So when
President Obama asked Bob to stay on, I knew that he understood the kind
of “whole of government” approach and was really dedicated to try to
make sure that we were doing the best we could for our country.
His years — his decades of service to America give him a perspective
that is very useful. And I mentioned this before, but Henry Kissinger,
following up on what Bob had said, said that it was the first time
that he found that the, you know, State Department, the White House, and
the Defense Department mostly through Bob and me and — and General
Jones, were all saying the same thing.
Now that doesn’t mean we don’t have differences of opinion or see
issues from slightly different perspectives, but we have an enormous
amount of respect for each other, we listen to each other, and we work
through, give our best advice to the president and then support the
AMANPOUR: So given that you’re involved in a very difficult situation
right now, the war in Afghanistan, the place where I’ve spent a long
time — I want to start by asking you, do you think you can win there?
Both of you — I’d like to know whether you think you can win?
CLINTON: Well, I think, Christiane, what we’re looking at, as we meet
to advise the president, is what do we need to do in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, because we see the region as the area of concern that will,
you know, promote American interests and values, protect our country as
well as the allies and other interests that we have around the world.
So I think it’s a — it’s a — a very thoughtful analysis about what is
it we need to do. And — and we’re, you know, we’re trying to look at
it from ground up and make sure that we’re examining every assumption,
because what’s important is is that at the end of the day, the president
makes a decision that he believes in, that he thinks is going to further
our core objectives of, you know, protecting our country, preventing
attacks on us, trying to protect our interests and our allies. And
that’s what we’re — we’re attempting to do.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Gates, the majority of the American people believe
that America can win in Afghanistan.
Do you think America can win in Afghanistan?
GATES: Well, from the time I’ve took this
job, I have tried, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, to avoid terms like
“winning” and “losing,” because they become very loaded in our domestic
debate, but they also become loaded around the world.
I think the key thing is to establish what our objectives are and can
we achieve our objectives?
And the answer to that question is absolutely.
SESNO: Well, let me ask you about our
objectives, because back in March, President Obama said several things.
He said “our clear and focused goal” — that was his term — was to
disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda. He said, for the American
people, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the most dangerous place in
the world; that Afghanistan was an international security issue of the
highest order; and that if the Afghan government were to fall to the
Taliban, the country will — and I’m quoting him here — “be again be a
base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they
Has any of that changed from them until now and this review?
GATES: I don’t think so.
SESNO: So staying the course and — and having this government survive
and not fall to the Taliban and disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda is
the objective — is the goal of this review that you’re going through?
CLINTON: Well, Frank, the — the goal remains, as the president said
last spring — what we are — I think rightfully — doing is examining
the strategies and tactics to achieve our goal. And I happen to think
that’s a good thing. You know, it — it is difficult enough to deal
with the challenges emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan and the
continuing threats from al Qaeda. But to do it when there is so much
pressure to make a snap decision, never to ask the hard questions, is
And I admire the president for saying, as he did last spring, you know,
we’re going to reassess this. He appointed a new commander. That new
commander was asked to assess it. He has a special representative based
in the State Department with a whole government team constantly being
asked, are we making progress?
So I think what we’re going through in asking ourselves OK, we know
what the goal is, is what we’re doing most likely to achieve that goal,
is what a very decisive and intelligent, you know, commander-in-chief
So we’re going to come up with what we think is the best approach, but
the goal remains the same.
GATES: I think it’s important to remember that, as Secretary Clinton
said, that the president indicated very explicitly in — at the end of
March that we would revisit the strategy after the election in
Afghanistan. Now, at least a couple of things have happened. One is
the new commander has done an assessment and found the situation that —
in Afghanistan, that is more serious than we anticipated when the
decisions were made on March. So that’s one thing to take into account.
The other is clearly a flawed election in Afghanistan that has
complicated the picture for us.
And so, it seems to me, under these circumstances, and particularly —
I mean let’s be honest, the president is being asked to make a very
significant decision. And the notion of being willing to pause,
reassess basic assumptions, reassess the analysis and then make those
decisions seems to me, given the importance of these decisions, which
I’ve said are probably among the most important he will make in his
entire presidency, seems entirely appropriate.
AMANPOUR: So you’ve both spoken just now very highly of General
McChrystal. You’ve talked about the new commander, his important
reassessment and changes on the ground.
There are obviously two basic choices that you have, either to go all
in or to scale back. Some who are talking about scaling back talk about
less nation-building, talk about more Predator strikes, perhaps more
focus on — on Pakistan rather than in Afghanistan.
In a public speech in London to military personnel, General McChrystal,
when asked about that, flatly stated that it wouldn’t work. Can we just
show you what he said?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL
SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, AFGHANISTAN: No. And the first —
the first reason is, I believe, you have to navigate from where you are, not from where you
wish you were. We are in Afghanistan. We’ve established relationships,
expectations both with the Afghan people, the Afghan government, in the
region, and I believe Afghanistan has its own value. It’s stability now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So do you believe that by scaling back over the next 12 to
18 months you can win in Afghanistan?
GATES: Well, first of all, I think, as you know, we are not going to
talk about where the president ought to go or the options in front of
him. I mean, I think I just gave a speech this morning in which I said
that the president deserves the candid advice of his senior advisers,
both civilian and military, but that advice should be private.
All I will say is, first of all, I think Stan McChrystal is exactly the
right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now. He was my
recommendation to the president to lead this effort. And I have every
confidence that no matter what decision the president makes, Stan
McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.
AMANPOUR: Could I ask you about the nature of private advice? You
have said it; others have said it; General Jones said it this weekend.
You know that, during the lead-up to the gulf — to the second Iraq war
in 2003, many of the one-star, two-star, other generals and military
officials didn’t stand up and challenge the premise that only a certain
amount of troops were necessary, and that was deemed to have been a big
mistake and deemed to have wasted a lot of time, for instance, in Iraq.
Do you not think that General McChrystal must give his honest
assessment in public, because of what happens when that honest
assessment was not given?
GATES: I think the important thing is for the president to hear the
advice of his commanders and to have the advantage of hearing that
advice in private. In all the decisions that were made during the surge
in Iraq, the president — I structured a process where the commander in
the field, General Petraeus, the then-commander of Central Command, and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff each had an opportunity to present their views
privately to the president on what ought to be done.
I think that’s the way the process ought to work. I think the
president — this president has made it clear he is prepared to spend
whatever time is needed in person, not only with the Joint Chiefs and
the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but with General McChrystal,
to make sure they have had plenty of time to present their views
directly to him. That’s a commitment he has made to me directly, and I
intend to make sure that it’s exercised.
AMANPOUR: Could I just ask, Secretary Clinton, what you think about
the nature of the debate over the advice? Is — are not the American
people entitled — is this not the premise of American democracy, that
the American people are entitled to hear the same advice and that
members of the U.S. Congress, who are going to have to weigh in on this,
as well, should hear this advice?
CLINTON: Well, I think that there’s a timing to all of this. And I
agree completely with Bob that, in the process of trying to tee up these
decisions for the president, it is very important that he get the most
thoughtful, candid advice from everyone. And, remember, he’s getting
advice about what will work not just from the military, but from the
civilian side, as well. And I think that that is the way to begin any
kind of decision-making process.
Now, there’s no doubt that, as decisions get made, they will be, you
know, fully available for the public and for the Hill. Consultations
are going on with the Hill all the time.
But I — I think it’s important to put this into perhaps some historic
perspective. You know, it is unusual for all advice about military
matters to be in public for a president. Now, there is a lot of
second-guessing that might go on and historical perspective, but this
process that President Obama has put together is, I think, one of the
most open, most thorough that I’ve read about. And it is very much an
invitation for everybody to come to the table, and that’s what we’re doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To advance security,
opportunity and justice, not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in
the provinces. We need agricultural specialists and educators,
engineers and lawyers. That’s how we can help the Afghan government
serve its people and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit
And that’s why I’m ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on
the ground. That’s also why we must seek civilian support from our
partners and allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: Secretary Clinton, you’ve heard that, President Obama speaking
in March about the need to increase the number of civilians — the
civilian surge it’s called — but the civilian task has been — or the
civilian personnel has been way under-tasked. When you came into office,
300-some-odd civilians. You’re trying to move to 1,000 by the end of
the year or just under it.
SESNO: That’s a big increase.
SESNO: But compares to the tens of thousands of the military, it’s
just a drop in the bucket. Is that really going to change the dynamic?
What should the balance be in a conflict zone like Afghanistan if
you’re going to accomplish the goals that you’re out to accomplish?
CLINTON: Well, Frank, I think what we are attempting to achieve is
remarkable in a short period of time. As you say, back when the
president made those remarks in March, we had about 300 civilians,
Americans, in Afghanistan. We will have close to 1,000 by the end of
But it is a kind of a chicken-and-an-egg issue. We want to focus on
development, particularly agriculture, rule of law, good governance,
economic development, women’s employment, those kinds of issues. But in
order to operate in many of the places in Afghanistan, you have to have
a level of security.
So there has to be a commitment to make an area as secure as possible.
But, remember, when an American goes in, that person will always be
accompanied by, you know, NGOs, Afghans. So the numbers are much bigger
than just the direct American hires, because there are a lot of
Americans working in Afghanistan who work for charities or
But our assessment was that, you know, we needed to focus on how to
help the people of Afghanistan lift themselves up, have their own
opportunities, and it goes hand in hand with our military effort.
SESNO: Secretary Gates, you in many ways launched this conversation a
couple of years ago with a speech where you talk — and you said that we
will not kill or capture our way to victory in these places. What
should our civilian diplomats be doing that the military is now doing?
GATES: Well, they are — there are a lot of civilians out there and
SESNO: But not enough, right?
GATES: Well, let’s — let’s step back, first of all, to that point two
years ago when I said — when I sort of gave my “man bites dog” speech
of the secretary of defense, saying there wasn’t enough money going to
the Department of State.
The reality is, the Department of State and the Agency for
International Development were starved for resources for decades. Now,
just — just let me give you an example. Working for me are 2 million
men and women in uniform. Secretary Clinton has I think somewhere south
of 7,000 foreign service officers. If you took all the foreign service
officers in the world, they would barely crew one aircraft carrier. So,
you know, just to keep things in perspective.
Well, and we have partnered. And the reality is that — that
the civilians who do end up in Iraq and Afghanistan in the provincial
reconstruction teams and in the other activities, rule of law,
agriculture and so on have a disproportionate impact to their numbers.
And I talked to brigade commanders and — and one or two civilians,
working with them, have an enormous impact. And these are the colonels
who are the brigade commanders who talk about this.
So, you know, do we want more civilians? Absolutely. We will take all
the civilians that we can get out there.
SESNO: But — but my — my question was, what are the things that the
military is now doing that should be handled and are better handled by
CLINTON: Well, Frank, let — let me just answer that, because a lot of
what happens when our military — and they’ve been doing an incredible
job against a really ferocious enemy in Afghanistan, particularly along
the south and along the border — without civilians, it’s very hard to
make the transition from, you know, the soldier or the Marine holding
the automatic weapon who has been trying to route out the Taliban to
going and trying to help a farmer get enough yield out of his wheat crop
so that he doesn’t want to grow poppies.
I mean, that’s — that’s, you know, an issue that is very difficult for
the military to take on a sustained basis. But in the last several
years, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was young lieutenants, captains,
majors, they were doing that.
They were trying to do both jobs. And at a certain point, we
need to support them. And I appreciate what Bob said about how it
affects — trained civilians are force multipliers. They can begin to
do the civilian interaction with, you know, tribal elders and others
that will help to make the environment more secure that our Marines and
soldiers have helped to create.
AMANPOUR: And — and part of what’s happening is that the Afghan
people are not getting as much economic development, therefore, not as
much help and hope as — as one might have brought forward when
So the question I have for you, sir — both of you, actually — is that
there had been some talk over the weekend about how the United States
believes that perhaps al Qaeda has been diminished, the threat from the
Taliban is not as great as one might have thought.
So I want to know what you think about the momentum of the Taliban,
their long-term prospects, given the fact that today, 80 percent of
Afghanistan has a permanent Taliban presence, compared to 72 percent a
year ago and 54 percent the year before that. They seem to be winning
territory rather than losing.
GATES: I — I can’t improve on — on General McChrystal’s assessment
that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and deteriorating. And,
you know, there are a lot of reasons for it. You have to go back to
2003, 2004, in terms of the Taliban beginning to reconstitute themselves
in Pakistan and so on. I mean that’s a historian’s debate. We are
where we are.
And — and this — it kind of goes back to General McChrystal’s quote
that you aired. You — you have to start with where you are, not where
you wish you were. And — and the reality is that because of our
inability and the inability, frankly, of our allies, to put enough
troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it
AMANPOUR: And do you believe that should — not next week or next
month — but should Afghanistan fall to the Taliban again, that it would
again become a base for al Qaeda to have its operations there?
GATES: I think — I think the thing to remember about Afghanistan is
that that — that country, and particularly the Afghan-Pakistan border,
is — is the modern epicenter of jihad. It is where the Mujahedeen
defeated the other superpower. And their view is, in my opinion, that
they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which, more
than anything, would empower their message and the opportunity to
recruit, to fundraise and to plan operations.
So I think you have to see this area in a historical context in terms
of what happened in the 1980s and the meaning of the victory over the
Soviet Union in order to understand the importance of this symbiotic
relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban and — and the other
AMANPOUR: So you think they would come back if Afghanistan fell?
GATES: I don’t know whether the — whether al Qaeda would sort of move
their headquarters from the Fatah to — back into Afghanistan, but
there’s no question in my mind that if the Taliban took large — took
control of significant portions of Afghanistan, that that would be added
space for al Qaeda to strengthen itself and — and more recruitment and
But what’s more important than that, in my view, is the message that it
sends that empowers al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, in many respects, is an
ideology. And the notion that they have come back from this defeat —
come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States, but NATO
— 42 nations and so on — is a hugely empowering message, should they
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We’re going to continue our conversation
with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
We were just talking about Afghanistan and the Pakistan area — part of
your joint solution, hopefully, to this regional — regional problems
that exist there.
The prime minister, the president, the foreign minister of Pakistan
have all said and have all been very worried about short-termism,
from the United States. They’re concerned that if you
pull back, then they will have to bank not on the U.C. Again, but on,
perhaps, the Taliban, like they did before 9/11.
What do you say to — to the Pakistani leaders, who are now doing
precisely what you asked them to do — going after the Taliban, after
various militants and terrorists in their own — in their own country?
CLINTON: Well, what we say is that we want to be supportive and
provide assistance. And we want to ramp that up. Just this — this
last week, a very important piece of legislation, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman
bill, that made a commitment to additional aid for Pakistan’s civilian
government and to deliver services to the people of Pakistan was passed
unanimously, on its way to the president to be signed.
And you’re right, when we started this review, one of the innovative
conclusions we reached was we had to look at both Afghanistan and
Pakistan together. Obviously, we had a great commitment in Afghanistan
and there had been military assistance and counter-terrorism training
provided to Pakistan, but there hadn’t yet been a commitment by the
Pakistani military and the civilian government, like we’re seeing now,
to go after the extremists that are threatening them, as well as beyond
So we are telling them that we think that this is an important
commitment that they’ve made. But, again, I would just ask to you put
this in some historic perspective. You know, we — we live, in the
United States, on such a fast pace, that sometimes, you know, a month
ago seems like a really long time ago. In lots of the rest of the
world, people remember.
And as Bob said, when we partnered with Pakistan to supply the
Mujahedeen with the weapons and training that they needed to defeat the
Soviet Union in Afghanistan, once that was accomplished, we left. And
Pakistan feels like we left them holding the bag, because all of a
sudden they were awash in weapons, they were awash in drugs. They had
all of these, you know, jihadists who had been trained up in conjunction
with us. And, you know, we know what happened. We saw that occurring
So I think it’s rightful of the Pakistanis to say, “Well, how long will
your commitment be? How much will you be by our side as we take on
these threats to us and, by the way, also to you?”
SESNO: Well, how long is the commitment? Are you prepared to say this
evening that the commitment of this country and two of you here to
Pakistan is an open-ended commitment, that despite this policy review
that’s ongoing, that the commitment to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region
is not going to be thwarted by short-timerism, or whatever you want to
call it, and we’re there to say — the United States of America is there
CLINTON: Well, what we’re doing is defining our objectives, and we’re
then trying to set forth the strategy and the tactics to achieve those
SESNO: I mean, the foreign — if I may — the foreign minister of
Pakistan said the fact that this is being debated — meaning this whole
policy review — whether to stay or not to stay, what sort of signal is
that sending, he said. Isn’t this undermining the very Pakistanis whom
you have pressured to lean on their own extremists in the Taliban and
fight this fight?
GATES: Well, first of all, I think that there is absolutely no reason
for the president not to consider very carefully the next steps in
Afghanistan. I had lunch with the Pakistani ambassador last week, and I
made absolutely clear to him: We are not leaving Afghanistan.
This discussion is about next steps forward. And the president has
some momentous decisions to make. And while there may be some
short-term uncertainty on the part of our allies, in terms of those next
steps, there should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to
remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of
partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That’s long term. That’s a
strategic objective of the United States for — for a number of reasons
that Pakistan is a strategically important country.
So I — you know, if — if it makes them nervous that we’re talking
about this for a couple of weeks, frankly, I think that’s a transitory
SESNO: I just want to button one thing up. You were talking earlier
about your advice and your comments, your public comments, to keep the
advice to the president private and candid. Are you trying to muzzle
GATES: Absolutely not. I will tell…
SESNO: Will we be hearing — will — will we be hearing him speak
GATES: You know, I was going to — I was actually — I was actually
going to pile on to Hillary’s comments earlier before we went to the
break. Look, when we did the surge in Iraq, there was no public
discussion during that surge by the people involved in that debate. The
president made his decisions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
and I then went to the Hill to testify. And General Petraeus then
That is exactly what is going to happen in this instance. There will
— I — I have told people on Capitol Hill, the minute the president
makes his decisions, we will get General McChrystal back here as quickly
as possible and up onto the Hill, because I will tell you, there is no
one more knowledgeable and more persuasive on these issues than Stan
But it would put — I believe it would put General McChrystal in an
impossible situation to go up in a hyper-partisan environment to the
Hill before the president made his decisions and put the general on the
spot. I just think that’s wrong. I think it’s wrong for General
McChrystal, and I think it’s wrong for the president. And as far as I’m
concerned, in this job, I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that
until the president has made his decisions.
AMANPOUR: I want to know if you can tell us, what precisely was agreed between
the U.S., Iran, and the other powers sitting at that table in Geneva?
Did they actually agree to ship out their low-enriched uranium?
CLINTON: Well, there were — there were three agreements: one, that
there would be inspections, and those inspections are going forward, and
they’re going forward quickly of the undisclosed sites that the
president and Prime Minister Brown and President Sarkozy announced a
little over a week ago in Pittsburgh.
They agreed that, in principle, the Iranians would ship out their LEU
for reprocessing to be returned for their research reactor. There will
be a team of experts meeting to determine exactly how that will be
carried out within 10 days.
And they agreed that there will be another meeting, which means that
this process doesn’t just drag on without any, you know, continuity.
So we think that, on those three big issues, this was a worthwhile
meeting. But as the president has said and I and others have also made
clear, this is not by any means a stopping point. There is much more to
be done. We expect much more.
We know that the Iranians need to understand that they have run a
nuclear program that has violated international rules and Security
Council resolutions, which they have to bring, you know, into
compliance, making it more transparent and accountable. So we have —
we have work ahead of us, but I think that, on balance, what came out of
the meeting in Geneva was positive.
AMANPOUR: Just to follow up on the low-enriched uranium, you know, one
Iranian diplomat told the press that actually, no, there wasn’t that
agreement, and I’m asking you whether there is some miscommunication.
Are they just agreeing to buy enriched — further enriched uranium and
not ship theirs out? Or do you understand that they are going to ship
the bulk of theirs out?
CLINTON: Well, nothing is finished until it’s finished. And there’s a
meeting of technical experts — I believe it’s October 18th — to see
how to put into action what we certainly believed was an agreement in
principle. But there’s a lot to be done before that actually happens.
SESNO: Do you think the Iranians actually want to resolve this?
CLINTON: We don’t know yet. We don’t know.
SESNO: Think this is credible?
GATES: I agree with Hillary. I think — I think the jury’s out. And
— and what we have to do is keep them to tighten up deadlines and
specific enough requirements that we have some indication of whether
they’re serious or not.
SESNO: I mean, there’s already — there’s already some substantial
criticism of this, that — that from — from — from some who are saying
that this is another way for the Iranians to play for time and that, in
effect, they’re being rewarded for having flouted U.N. resolutions all
these years if they can take the uranium that they shouldn’t have
enriched to begin with, get it sent out, and have it brought back,
enhanced, and be able to use in a power plant?
CLINTON: Well, but — but think about what we’re — what we’re seeing
here, and that is that the uranium that they have enriched would be used
for a research reactor, which everybody knows they’ve been running,
which they are entitled to run, but it would not be used for other purposes.
So, yes, does it buy time? It buys time. It buys time for us to
consider carefully their response, the sincerity of their actions, and,
you know, we’re moving simultaneously on the dual track. I mean, we
always said we had a track of engagement, and we have begun that with
this process, but we also said we would be working with likeminded
nations and convincing others to stand ready with tougher sanctions were
we not successful.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, Secretary Gates, has your opinion, your
intelligence, has anything changed regarding your assessment of whether
they’re trying to make a nuclear weapon?
GATES: My personal belief all along has been that they have the
intention of — of developing nuclear weapons. Whether they have
actually begun that program or not is — is hard to say, whether they’re
begun a weaponization program.
But I think, you know, the question is, can we over time or can we in a
limited period of time bring the Iranians to a conclusion that — that
Iran is better off without nuclear weapons than with them, and not just
in the security sense, but economically and in terms of their isolation
in the international community, and so on.
And because — I mean, my view is, the only long-term solution to this
problem, at the end of the day, is the Iranians themselves deciding
having nuclear weapons is not in their interest. And if we can’t
convince them of that, then an array of other options are open.
But our hope, my hope for ever since I took this job has been that —
that we could, through — through both carrots and sticks, persuade them
of a smarter direction for Iran.
AMANPOUR: Isn’t the — the — I mean, there are basically, I think,
three policy options, Iran with some kind of nuclear capability, a
nuclear program, but with very strict verification, sanctions to try to
get them not to enrich, which so far has not — have not worked, plenty
of holes, plenty of black market, or the military option, which you
yourself have cast doubts upon its efficacy. Isn’t the — the real nub
of the debate right now to figure out some kind of way of verifying and
inspecting and being able to know if they plan to do something else with
their uranium, other than for peaceful purposes, as they claim?
CLINTON: Well, that is, of course, part of the change in calculation
that Bob was referring to. We have a very clear objective of trying to
persuade the Iranians that their calculation of their security interest
and their economic interest should take into account the consequences of
sanctions, for example, of increased defensive measures taken in Europe
and in the gulf region. You know, we just worked through this missile
defense decision, and, you know, clearly, our new adaptive approach
toward missile defense is aimed at protecting our NATO allies and most
of Europe from a short- or medium-range Iranian missile.
We have begun to talk with a lot of our other friends and allies about,
you know, what they need to feel that they would be adequately protected.
Now, this is not in any way to concede what Iran should do going
forward, because some people say when we talk defensive, that means that
we’re conceding that they are going to end up with a weapon.
No, not at all. We are trying to influence the calculation and the
decision as to whether or not they should move toward weaponization.
GATES: Some people have said, in so many words, that I’m kind of
wooly-headed in believing that the — that the Iranians would see not
having nuclear weapons as more in their security interests than not.
But the question is, would the Iranians look at that that way if there
were proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, if some of
their neighbors in the Middle East, beyond those that now have them
would develop nuclear weapons?
Is that in their interests?
Do they think that enhances their national security?
I — I think that’s an argument to be made.
AMANPOUR: We were talking about Iran and some way of figuring out the way forward
about Iran’s nuclear program.
So just a quick one before Frank wants to ask you about smart power.
I just want to know, is it good enough to have a strict verification
protocol — for instance, the additional protocol under the NPT, or,
indeed, you know, to have shipping out of the NEU?
Is that good enough, even if it’s not perfect?
CLINTON: Well, this is — this is a question we’re not ready to answer
because we don’t know what the options in front of us are. We don’t
know what Iran would agree to. We don’t know what kind of pressure
could be brought to bear in case they don’t agree.
So, you know, our goal is, as it always has been, to try to prevent
Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which we think would be very
destabilizing in the region and beyond. And that’s what we’re aimed at
achieving through this engagement.
GATES: And I want to (INAUDIBLE) what nuclear sites might they be
prepared to be transparent about that have not been declared at this point.
SESNO: I want to ask you about — both — one last question about
Iran. And that relates to what the message is to the people of Iran who
have been in the streets; who have opposed Ahmadinejad; who spoke out;
in some cases, have been arrested, wounded or worse, standing up to what
they see as a stolen election.
The United States has a long history of standing on the side of human
rights and democratic reforms and it speaks up for those who have been
Are you concerned — because some are — if there’s so much effort to
negotiate with the government in Iran right now and resolve, or at least
make progress on this — progress on this nuclear issue, that those in
Iran who want real political change are going to be somehow forgotten or
abandoned or will not be the focus of American comment and — and action?
CLINTON: No, because I think we’ve been very clear in supporting the
legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people and in speaking out
forcefully against the irregularities of their electoral process.
But what we’ve concluded is if you look at our dealings the former
Soviet Union, for example, during the cold war, we always pressed them
on human rights and we always talked with them about reducing our
nuclear arsenals or trying to have some arms control.
These are not either/or. Human rights is at the core of who we are as
Americans. We, you know, hope for all people the rights that we enjoy
here. But at the same time, you know, just as no American president
walked away summits with the Russian presidents, working to try to
achieve the goals that you could possibly find common ground on, that’s
what we’re doing with the Iranians.
AMANPOUR: So that’s just what I was trying to press with you, in terms
of the verification, just as with the USSR, when there was a
verification system in place where you could know whether there was any
dirty dealing or cheating going on in time to respond…
CLINTON: But they (INAUDIBLE)…
AMANPOUR: You seem to be going that way.
CLINTON: But they — they got a weapon. I mean they got a weapon and
then they were a nuclear…
AMANPOUR: You’re talking about…
CLINTON: The Soviet Union, yes. They got a weapon. They were a
nuclear weapons power. And then we did deterrence and containment and a
lot of negotiation.
What we’re trying to do in today’s world, where the information about
nuclear technology is much more widely known, certainly than it was in
the late ’40s and early ’50s, we’re trying to convince Iran that this is
not in their interests to do. And that is — you know, that is — that
is a different perspective than finding out — waking up and finding out
the Soviet Union, you know, had the A bomb and we had to deal with it.
SESNO: Let’s talk about 21st century diplomacy and how it’s changed
and — and what you’re doing, because you both addressed this, different
terminology that’s often used.
In one particular area, information, I want to talk a little bit for a
moment here. You call it strategic communication, you call it public
diplomacy, but it’s connecting with the rest of the world. It’s
learning back from what others are saying. It’s influencing leaders and
persuading publics and knocking down myths or propaganda and maybe, in
some cases, propagandizing ourselves.
A lot of this is now done by the military. There is no one person in
charge of this.
How should this very important information battle be waged and who
should be in command?
CLINTON: Well, let me give you two quick examples.
SESNO: The State Department?
CLINTON: Yes. You know, a — a battlefield conflict zone requires the
military to respond to, you know, rumors, attacks. They have to have a
strategic communications effort. But it must be part of a broader
national public diplomacy outreach effort.
I’ll give you two quick examples. We were just talking about Iran. We
learned that during the height of the demonstrations about the election
that Twitter was a major force of information for people who were
CLINTON: And we — and we felt that was a good vehicle, but we were
told that Twitter just was going to have to shut down for 48 hours to do
some upgrades to the software. So we called and said, “Please don’t
shut down, because this is a major communications loop for people on the
In Afghanistan, what we’ve learned since we got in there — and these
great young civilians who work for me in the State Department working
with these great young military leaders working in the — in our armed
forces, they realized that we didn’t have a secure environment for cell
phones to operate.
So we began looking for places we could put up cell towers. We began
looking for how we would incentivize businesses in Afghanistan to spread
their cell phone coverage. Why? Because the Taliban and their allies
use cell phones to intimidate people. We found out that they were
running FM — illegal FM stations literally off the back of motorcycles.
And they were telling people, “We’re going to behead this person,
we’re going to do that.”
So we are competing in that space. And, you know, obviously, we have
to work together, but we have the lead on it, because it needs to stand
for more than just our military might. It needs to represent all of our
national interests and values.
SESNO: One of the concerns in the strategic communications field is
that, in the conflict situation, in too many cases, it’s the man or the
woman in the uniform with the gun who is the — in a sense, the
frontline communicator and also the diplomat at times. So though you
say you want her and State and the diplomats, the civilians to be in
command of that, of necessity, our military, our men and women in
uniform, are placed in — in that — in that role. What should change?
GATES: Well, I think, in the battlefield — on the battlefield, not
much can change. And I think one of the most extraordinary things that
we have seen both in Iraq and Afghanistan is the extraordinary
innovativeness and sophistication of NCOs and junior officers in terms
of interacting with the populations and in terms of trying to build
trust. I don’t think it can be any other way on the battlefield.
Once — once security is established, then I think that’s the place
where the civilians come in and — and — and take the lead in this. But
— but I think one of the things Americans can be incredibly proud of is
— is how well young men and women who are not professionals in the
communications world and — and, frankly, who in many cases don’t have
the language and — and haven’t studied the culture and so on
established personal relationships in these — in these countries that
matter a lot and that create a tremendous foundation on which we can build.
We’re doing a lot in the department in terms of language training, in
terms of cultural education and so on, for troops that are going out, so
that they’re sensitive to the different cultures that they’re dealing
with, but in terms of the first-line operators, they’re quite
SESNO: You’ve both talked — yes, in a few. I just want to — I just
want to button this up, because we are going to move to your questions
in a moment, to the audience questions in a moment, but you’ve talked a
lot, as well, about the under-resourcing of our nation’s diplomats. We
heard you talk about that a moment ago, but also the need to re-tool how
these — how this toolbox of — of diplomacy and information and
military and economics are all brought to bear to have power and
persuasion and influence in the world.
You’ve taken that on, sometimes unpopularly and controversially in your
own institution, which you believe needs to change in fundamental ways,
whether it’s weapon systems, the F-22. You’ve spoken about how you have
to take on retired generals and the military contractors and
So what advice would you have to her if — if — if the tools of
diplomacy and another bureaucracy called the State Department is to move
to the 21st century? So go ahead and have a little moment here.
GATES: Well, first of all, my — my view is the American toolbox
should contain something other than hammers, OK?
And — and I — my view is that the challenge that Secretary Clinton
faces is not so much within the Department of State, but rather the
willingness of the Congress to give her the resources that are needed to
conduct these activities. And — and the truth of the matter is — and
I’m really on thin ice here…
SESNO: Oh, but keep going.
GATES: … the Congress is structured in such a way that our
committees of jurisdiction tend to look at things in stovepipes. So
Hillary’s committees look at foreign policy in terms of diplomacy and so
on and AID. Ours look at it in terms of the military. The intelligence
folks have their committees.
And — and so, except maybe at the very top level of the Congress, I
think there are not people who have the same integrated view of the
challenges facing our country and the opportunities we have to deal with
them that we do sitting in the Situation Room.
And the question is, how do you — how do you build a constituency in
the Congress over a period of time not only to grow the civilian
national security part of our government, meaning the non-DOD part, but
to provide the tools that are necessary and that take years to build, in
terms of talent and — and capacity, to be able to conduct America’s
relationships abroad? And I — I think that’s a challenge.
SESNO: Do you have an answer to that?
CLINTON: No, go ahead.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was just struck by what the Secretary said about I
think there should be parts left of the hammer. And I want to go back
to Afghanistan, because…
GATES: Well, I’m all for hammers. I just want something other than
AMANPOUR: In a…
GATES: …or in addition to.
AMANPOUR: In Afghanistan, the notion of bombing from the air and going
after militants from the air has caused a lot of civilian casualties and
a huge drop-off for American public support amongst the people there.
Do you think that it’s possible to continue using that as a primary
weapon against — against militants, just in terms of its effectiveness?
And do you think that it’s moral to use that as a primary attack
against the militants?
GATES: Well, I think one of the principal changes that General
McChrystal has — has brought — and I will give General McKiernan
credit, his predecessor, for beginning to move away from the use of
airpower, and particularly in offensive operations. And I think General
McChrystal has underscored this. And a central element of his strategy
in Afghanistan is to get away from the use of air power and the
potential for mistakes that create civilian casualties and that every
civilian casualty is a strategic defeat for — for the countries trying
to help the Afghan government and people.
And I would just say this. We will continue to use air power to defend
our own troops. If they are in trouble, we will use air power to defend
Where — where I think General McChrystal has drawn a line is in using
air power in offensive operations.
SESNO: So let us go now to your questions from the floor. We’re going
to ask you to keep your questions as — to identify yourself. We have
two levels of pupils — students from the School of Media and Public
Affairs and from The Elliott School. Give us your name, your school and
a brief response — a brief answer, a brief response. We’ll get in as
many as we can.
KATELYN DOWNS: OK. Hi. My name is Katelyn Downs and I’m a
senior here in the School of Media and Public Affairs. I’m from
My question is for Secretary Clinton.
On your first two foreign trips as secretary of State to the Middle
East and Asia, you embedded local bloggers in your traveling press corps
from each country that you visited. You also participated in Web casts
where you answered viewers’ questions. You were cast in Beijing and
over 10 million viewers, where you discussed climate change. We were
just discussing Twitter.
My question to you is, how do you see new media in the future of public
And what types of strategies do you think would be most effective in
the future that use new media?
CLINTON: Well, that’s a great question because I think that new media
is the reality. And part of what we’re trying to do is to bring that
into public diplomacy and make it one of those tools in the toolbox, to
try to not just have government to government contacts and official
sorts of communication, but really try to reach out to the people in
countries to have a better idea of who we are and what we stand for.
I think there has been a tremendous opportunity because of President
Obama, where people really have opened up to America again. And we’re
trying to fill that with content. We’re trying to make it as
interactive as possible, give people around the world the idea that we
really care what they think about. I mean we may not always agree, but
we’re back to listening. We’re back to engaging.
Because in today’s world, there’s too many sources of information
coming at people and we need to be part of every possible approach that
can be taken.
So I think it’s — it’s critical and we’ve got some great young people
at the State Department who are designing this for us. And I feel very
good about the — the start that we’ve made. But we have a long way to go.
SESNO: And you — and you’re hiring?
CLINTON: We’re hiring. That’s right. We are actually hiring. We’re
increasing — all things hopefully coming through in our budget — we’re
increasing the numbers of foreign service and civil service personnel,
because the — the need is so great.
SESNO: We have some very qualified people here.
Next question, please?
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Carlos. I am from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I’m
also in the Elliott School. My question is for Secretary Clinton.
Madam Secretary, what do you think the political crisis in Honduras at
the moment right now and the apparently intensifying battle between left
and right politics in Latin America, what does that mean for democracy
in general in Latin America and also for U.S. relations with Latin
America? And do you think the current situation in Honduras could
foreshadow similar events in other countries, specifically those led by
leftist presidents in Latin America?
CLINTON: Well, I’m glad you asked that, because very often we don’t
talk enough about our — our nearest neighbors in this hemisphere. And
we’ve spent a lot of time with this new administration working with our
friends and allies, because you’re right. There has been a pulling away
from democracy, from human rights, from the kind of partnership that we
would want with our — our neighbors.
So in Honduras, we’re standing for the principle of democratic and
constitutional order. And we have done that, I think, much to the
amazement of many of the very leaders you’re talking about who have
become increasingly anti-American in their actions and their messages.
So I think it’s important that the United States do everything we can
to prevent either the hijacking of democracy by people who get elected
once and then decide there never should be a real election again or by
the return to military coups, where people are elected and, even if you
disagree with them, they should finish out their term in an — an
So we’re — we’re working very hard to reach a conclusion in Honduras
that will permit the elections to go forward, that will follow what
President Arias of Costa Rica did in the San Jose Accords to try to get
Honduras back on the path to a — a more sustainable democracy.
The people in Honduras deserve that. They really have struggled hard
to get to where they were before there was the disruption and the
exiling of President Zelaya. And we hope that we can help them get back
on the right path.
SESNO: We have time for one last question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Seth Himan. I am a junior in
the Elliott School of International Affairs. I’m from Bay Ridge,
My question tonight is to you, Secretary Gates. You both mentioned how
you were pleased with the Pakistani government and how they were
combating the Taliban in Afghanistan. That being said, it is — it is a
known fact that the Pakistanis are always worried about the Indians and
their — their presence, especially being a nuclear power.
I was wondering if you could talk about — if you believe that the ISI
and other members of the Pakistani military apparatus, if they are still
supporting the Taliban as a counterweight to India?
GATES: Well, you know, I first started dealing with the ISI when we
were partnered working against the Soviets and supporting the Mujahedeen
in the early 1980s. And Pakistanis, obviously, established very close
relationships with a variety of the Mujahedeen groups, Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar and — and — and a number of others.
There obviously is the question of whether they have sustained those
relationships and — and what the nature of those relationships might
be. We talked to them about this, and I think that the clear — the
clear path forward is — is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that
we — we are not going to turn our backs on them as we did in 1989 and 1990.
We turned our backs on Afghanistan. We turned our backs on Pakistan.
They were left to deal with the situation in Afghanistan on their own.
Their worry is what happens in the future. Will we be there? Will we
be a constant presence? Will we be supportive of them over the long term?
I think, in terms of the way they look at Afghanistan, the way they
look at the region, it depends on the degree of confidence that they
have in us that we will be a reliable partner of theirs going forward.
I think that shapes the view of the Pakistani government, and that
includes the ISI.
AMANPOUR: There’s so much more to talk about, but thank you both very, very much for joining us.
Thank you, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Thank you, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Thank you to Frank Sesno and to all of George Washington University.