QUESTION: On December 5, 2009 the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired, but negotiations regarding a new one between Russia and the United States have so far failed. What are the major obstacles for the new treaty?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to complete this agreement soon. It’s a technically very complex treaty to accomplish. We share an interest in making real reductions in our strategic arsenals, and that is the most important point. To do that in a way that is verifiable, but which is less costly and less operationally complex than the previous START agreement is the key challenge, and we are working through it together.
QUESTION: Given that the Cold War is long gone, why it is imperative to have this treaty signed? What may happen if it does not go through?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in Prague, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. While the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. As more nations seek to acquire these weapons, the United States and Russia, as nuclear powers, have a special responsibility to lead in efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons. By taking concrete steps such as the new START Treaty, we can reduce our own stockpiles and encourage others to do the same. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have both recognized the importance of having a quality agreement that meets the needs and interests of both sides and I am confident that we will be able to get there together.
QUESTION: It seems that two presidents, the Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, and the U.S. President Barack Obama were quite optimistic about the new treaty throughout their meeting and telephone conversations last year. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 29th expressed certain concerns about U.S. «aggressiveness» and disruption of the nuclear balance. He suggested linking the U.S. missile defense system in Europe to the treaty in question. What would be your response to Vladimir Putin’s concerns?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As both Presidents agreed in Moscow, the subject of the new START treaty will be strategic offensive arms. We are more than willing to discuss missile defense and other defensive systems with our Russian partners, but we feel that the best way forward is to give each issue the full and separate attention it deserves. We are discussing missile defense cooperation with the Russian Government, and we hope to cooperate on missile defense with Russia to address a range of threats from around the world. Russia and the United States have unique missile defense assets which if used together in a cooperative manner could enhance the security of both countries.
QUESTION: A year ago, you, Madam Secretary, proclaimed a «reset» in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Has this «reset» materialized?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The reset is now well-established, but the true test of its success is how we expand our cooperation in areas of shared interest. We are working closely together in addressing the issues revolving around Iran’s challenge to the international community on nuclear non-proliferation. We are making progress on the new START Treaty. We’ve also made progress in our common efforts in Afghanistan, in trying to build stability there and in dealing with the threat posed by Al-Qaida and violent extremists. We have also been working closely on North Korea and Middle East peace negotiations, together with other members of the international community to tackle these challenging issues which affect the entire world. And finally, with the Bilateral Presidential Commission, we are broadening contacts through expanded cultural and educational exchanges, law enforcement cooperation, joint projects in health and the environment, and other activities which will improve the lives of average Americans and Russians.
QUESTION: Iran is already the hottest political issue of 2010. Given that Iran failed to satisfy requests from the United States and other members of the International Commission involved, what are the odds that the United States will use military force over economic sanctions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The U.S. has always been committed to try to resolve the problem of Iran’s nuclear program through peaceful means. We have worked very closely with our international partners in pursuing engagement with Tehran, including by working with Russia, France and the IAEA to find a creative way to provide fuel for Iran’s medical research reactor in spite of its continuing violation of UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. But Iran has repeatedly refused these opportunities. Now Iran has announced it will accelerate its enrichment activities in defiance of the Security Council’s decisions. We believe Iran’s dangerous steps must have consequences, so we will be working further with Russian and our other partners in applying pressure on Iran to persuade it to reconsider its continuing resistance to engagement on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during President Carter’s administration, in an interview (with The Daily Beast website) in late September 2009, said that the United States will attack Israeli jets if they fly over Iraq on their way to attack Iran. To which extent does this view of the former national security adviser, known to be close to President Obama’s administration, reflect the official point of view of Washington? Do you, Madam Secretary, exclude the possibility that Israel may attack Iran on its own? What will be the consequences?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I hold Mr. Brzezinski in high esteem, but he is of course speaking as a private citizen. We remain focused on trying to convince Iran to work with the rest of the world in a constructive manner. Only by doing so can Tehran have a more productive relationship with its neighbors and the international community at large, a relationship the Iranian people deserve.
QUESTION: The United States is about to deploy more troops in Afghanistan. What goals does your government hope to accomplish there, where others, including the USSR, failed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in his announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy, our ultimate goal is to defeat Al-Qaida and prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan. To that end, we have devoted new resources to disrupting terrorist networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, promoting a more effective Afghan national government that can eventually lead the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist fight, and working with our partners and organizations, such as the UN, to reinforce the stability of the constitutional government in Pakistan. By taking this multi-layered approach, we believe we will be able to help bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region as a whole.
QUESTION: World media has written time and again about the threats coming from Pakistan. There are allegations that Pakistan gives shelter to terrorists and that some members of the Pakistani secret service are helping Afghan Taliban. What is your view of the situation in Pakistan, given that this country has nuclear weapons? Aren’t you afraid that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal may end up in the hands of extremists?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Clearly, you cannot expect to bring stability to Afghanistan without also assisting the Pakistani government in combating terrorism in the region as well. That is why the President’s new strategy looks to assist Pakistan in ensuring stability and constitutional civilian rule. We are increasing and broadening our economic assistance to Pakistan with a focus on creating economic opportunity as a means of thwarting extremism. In addition, we are working with Islamabad to strengthen its governmental capacity to ensure that the country as a whole can fight off the terrorist threat from the Taliban and Al-Qaida. We understand that there are no simple solutions to the problems in the region. By adopting an approach that looks to reinforce the economic and governmental capacity of Pakistan and Afghanistan, we will be able to secure our own future security as well as that of the region.
QUESTION: Returning back to U.S.-Russian relations: There have been ongoing discussions both in Washington and in Moscow between the adherents of the so-called “realpolitik” approach, and those who believe that the Russian government should be held accountable for the violation of human rights. President Clinton’s administration was a huge supporter of the Russian democratic development. President G.W. Bush’s administration was inclined to a different approach, in which pragmatism prevailed over human rights issues. What is your approach?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As I said when I visited Moscow, I believe that the Russian people yearn for their rights just as much as Americans or anyone else does. The reset of relations between Russia and the U.S. is not merely on a government to government level but also about bringing our two peoples closer together. And it is on the strong foundation of accountable governance and the rule of law that we can strengthen the many ties between our two nations.
QUESTION: There are plenty of people in Washington who believe that Russia is not ‘grown-up’ enough for democracy, and the United States will be better off supporting authoritarian regime in my country. What will be your argument in support of the first or the second approach?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We reject the idea that some countries are not ready for democracy. We believe that human rights are universal and that all people, regardless of where they live, thrive in an open society where ideas are exchanged freely. This competition of ideas leads to more accountable governance and a more innovative, prosperous economy, which form a solid foundation for the kind of relationship that we are looking for with Russia and Russians. The discussions I had with students and non-governmental activists when I visited Moscow last October reinforced my conviction that Russians share these same basic aspirations.
QUESTION: Previous US administration was fairly aggressive in its rejection of the Russian government’s claims that the former republics of the Soviet Union are “its zone of special privilege interests”, countries like Ukraine and Georgia first and foremost. What is your view on that? Would you consider Ukraine and Georgian membership in NATO any time soon?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The United States stands by the principle that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions to chart their own foreign poliices and to choose their own alliances. We reject the notion of zones of influence as 19th century ideas. We fully support the decisions of NATO and its ‘open door” policy toward membership for both Georgia and Ukraine.
QUESTION: Vice-President Joe Biden, while on his visit to the Caucasus last year expressed a very harsh opinion regarding Moscow’s politics towards the post-Soviet countries. Is it to say, that you and Biden have a different approach to the issue?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Both Vice President Biden and I support the President’s vision and policies. We all want to seek a fruitful working relationship with Russia. At the same time, we recognize that there will be differences. The United States continues to fully support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. We, like the overwhelming majority of countries in the international community, consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be integral parts of Georgia.
QUESTION: Research has been done that problems with obtaining visa to European Union and the United States contribute to the negative view Russian people hold of the West. Would you consider free entry anytime soon between our countries?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Our visa policies are based on U.S. law and the concept of reciprocity. While visa-free entry into the U.S. is a long way off, we can do more to ease travel for our citizens in the short run. We are actively working with the Russian government through the Presidential Bilateral Commission to make it easier for both Russians and Americans to visit each other’s countries and see for themselves just how much we have in common.
QUESTION: One, personal question, if you don’t mind. It has been announced that Chelsea has got engaged (Congratulations!). Does your current job leave any time to be involved in her wedding plans?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Like any mother of a bride to be, I am excited and happy for my daughter.
QUESTION: There has been lots of discussion regarding harsher sanctions towards Iran. However, many believe that these sanctions would most likely be ineffective at this point. How does the United States plan to deal with these new developments? Does the West have any concrete ideas and means to stop Ahmadinejad?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sanctions, when imposed by the UNSC and enforced by all countries can be very effective. Years of sanctions against Libya, which was pursuing a nuclear weapons research program, ultimately contributed to Tripoli’s decision to drop that idea. We have no illusions in the case of Iran that Tehran will be easily persuaded. We are concerned that steps toward uranium enrichment and testing of missile systems pose a increasingly greater threat to the international community. It would be irresponsible of us not to do all we can to address that threat.
QUESTION: More than 60 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in December protesting the appointment of Mr. Surkov, the first deputy chairman of the Russian presidential administration, as the co-chair of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. The legislators called him “one of the masterminds behind Russia’s authoritarian course” and urged President Obama to boycott these meetings until he was replaced. What would be your response to the congressmen’s letter?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The Civil Society Working Group under the Bilateral Presidential Commission met for the first time January 27 in Washington. We believe the meeting was a success, having launched a process of dialogue on key issues, including the fight against corruption. The final session of that day brought U.S. and Russian governments and NGO representatives together to share experiences and consider how together they can work to address common problems. Our goal is to have government launch this dialogue and work on various themes between NGOs and other representatives of civil society in both countries, but we hope that we can step back as these contacts and relationships flourish on their own. As for who leads the Russian government delegation to the Civil Society Working Groups, that is a decision for President Medvedev.
QUESTION: We just read that President Clinton had a heart surgery. How is his health? The New Times would like to pass our warmest wishes to President Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for the kind words about Bill, I will be sure to share with him. He is doing very well. . As you know he has plunged back into work on assistance to Haiti, which both President Obama and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asked him to help with. His energy and commitment to helping others in need drive his efforts.