SPIEGEL Interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 'Our Goal Is to Defeat Al-Qaida and Its Extremist Allies'

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to SPIEGEL about her hopes for Afghanistan, her fears about al-Qaida's safe haven in Pakistan and her finite patience with Iran.
Thumbs up from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Thumbs up from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Foto: NOEL CELIS/ AFP

SPIEGEL: Madam Secretary, your government is considering sending more troops into Afghanistan. What for? Is it your goal to build a Western-style civil society there? Or is it just to prevent the establishment of new bases of terrorism?

Hillary Rodham Clinton : President Obama has not made any final decision. He has conducted a very deliberative process which has explored every assumption underlying every action. I think that this process alone has been quite productive. But I think it is fair to say that in the course of our examination, our goal is to defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies.

SPIEGEL: And what does this mean for the Afghan population, for their daily life?

Clinton : We are hopeful for the future of the people of Afghanistan to have a better life, to have political, social, economic development. But we are in Afghanistan because we cannot permit the return of a staging platform for terrorists. We think that al-Qaida and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaida still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper and director of a lot what goes on. Two months ago we have arrested a gentleman who was plotting, it's alleged, against the subway system in New York who went to a training camp of al-Qaida.

SPIEGEL: There are terrorist attacks in Afghanistan on a daily basis. Therefore a lot of people in Germany ask: Do we really have to defend our freedom there? Should our troops die for a corrupt government?

Clinton : I don't think they are fighting and sacrificing for the Afghan government -- they do this for all of us. The soldiers in the Afghan army are willing to fight as well and they are often dying alongside our soldiers. It is very clear that the people in Afghanistan do not want the Taliban back. In every single survey that we have ever seen, they reject the extremism that they lived with from the Taliban. In order to accomplish the goal we set of having a country that is able to stand up and defend itself, there has to be an effort for more accountability; the rule of law; security. Our chances of success in this struggle are enhanced by a government in Afghanistan that can be a partner that can help to train and deploy a bigger and more effective security force. We have to try to better organize our efforts and try to demand more from the Afghan government itself.

SPIEGEL: After the election fraud in favor of President Hamid Karzai -- shouldn't you insist on a government of national unity, including his challenger Abdullah Abdullah?

Clinton : Well, I think that what we are interested in is an effective government. Who the personalities are is not as big a concern as having competent, effective, honest members of the government. But we are not only looking at the government in Kabul, we are also looking at the government throughout the country. Because very often, it is local governance, as it has historically been in Afghanistan, that delivers services, that provides security. So we think more has to be done with the local government structures.

SPIEGEL: Do we understand you correctly: The US government is thinking about naming local governors or at least influencing their nomination?

Clinton : I think that a number of us -- not just the United States but a number of NATO members, too -- agree with what Prime Minister Brown said last week: That there has to be more accountability. We do see this as in our national security interest, but part of being successful and protecting our interest is having a better partner in Afghanistan. And we will be making our views known and we will have certain measurements of accountability that we expect.

SPIEGEL: President Karzai has already made clear that he refuses to tolerate interference.

Clinton : We do not think that is interference. The most common kind of formulation that I and others have learned from the Afghans themselves is: We need your help to get us in a position where we can defend ourselves against the threats of the Taliban and al-Qaida-terrorists - and then we need you to go. Well, that pretty much summarizes what we want to do as well. We have no intention of staying or occupying territory. But we want to leave a stable enough situation behind that the Afghans can defend themselves.

'Is Hamid Karzai the Right Partner?'

SPIEGEL: Do you still consider Hamid Karzai as the right partner in this process?

Clinton : Well, he is the elected president. And I think once he decided to stand for the second round...

SPIEGEL: ...which became necessary after no candidate could reach the necessary 50 percent margin in the first round...

Clinton : ...he legitimized the outcome of the election. Dr. Abdullah decided not to pursue, which has happened in other places. It's happened in my own country when somebody looks at a run-off election and doesn't think he has much of a winning chance. So there is no doubt that he is the duly elected president of Afghanistan. But it should not be that he just holds the title in name only. He has to perform for his people and he has to demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of the people in Afghanistan. I'm not underestimating the dangers he faces and the threats, as we saw with the terrible attack on the UN headquarters. But he has to show the leadership that we should expect from him.

SPIEGEL: Instead, in the words of British Prime Minister Brown "sadly, the government of Afghanistan has become a byword for corruption." He added that, if Karzai doesn't improve his administration of office, he will "have forfeited its right to international support." And you are obviously not happy with the way Karzai is fighting corruption either.

Clinton : Well, I think there are several aspects to this. One, we need a formalized mechanism to be investigating corruption inside Afghanistan that is independent of the existing power structure. Two, we also have to be more careful about what the West, NATO, other donors do, because a lot of the corruption is fueled by the amount of money we put in and don't have appropriate measures of accountability ourselves. We have to be tougher. But at the end of the day, what we need to do is measure results on the ground. We need to set standards about where money should be going and what the results should be. And monitor those and hold the people accountable.

SPIEGEL: The situation in Pakistan is at least as dangerous as the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan owns nuclear weapons...

Clinton : ... the nuclear arsenal that Pakistan has, I believe is secure. I think the government and the military have taken adequate steps to protect that...

SPIEGEL: ... and on top of that Pakistan gives shelter to terrorists, and possibly they are protected by elements within the government in Islamabad. During your recent visit to the country you were quoted as saying: "It is hard to believe that members of the Pakistani government did not know the hiding places of al-Qaida and could not get at them if they really wanted to." What exactly did you mean by that?

Clinton : The safe haven that al-Qaida has found in Pakistan is very troubling. These terrorists are still actively engaged with the elements of the Pakistani Taliban that are threatening the state of Pakistan. And it was only recently that Pakistan, through its civilian leadership and its military leadership, actually made the decision that this was a threat to them. They are committed to going after those who have attacked their army headquarters, administration buildings, universities, mosques -- so many targets that really exemplify the authority of the state and the culture of society. My point really was to say: It is a very high priority for my government to capture or kill the al-Qaida leadership. And we need more help from you in order to be able to achieve that.

SPIEGEL: It is well known that Mullah Omar, the top-terrorist and leader of the Afghan Taliban, has his headquarters near the Pakistani town Quetta close to the border. Do you believe that leading members of the Pakistani secret service are still helping the extremists?

Clinton : Not at the highest levels. I am convinced that at the highest levels, we have a good working relationship. But we have tens of thousands of people in our government in sensitive positions. Every so often, we uncover somebody who is a traitor giving away classified information. So I know that it takes constant vigilance to try to root out those who might not share the values of a society. I would like to see a real effort made on the part of the top leadership to make sure that no one down the ranks is giving any kind of support to the Qaida leadership.

SPIEGEL: In the conflict with Iran there is hardly any progress to be seen. The government in Teheran seems determined not to accept the recent offer of negotiations as based on a proposal of the American president.

Clinton : Well, we don't have a formal response from Iran yet.

'We Know There Is a Lot of Turmoil in the Iranian Political System'

SPIEGEL: The reason for that is probably that the Iranians would like to renegotiate the deal using their well-known delaying tactics. Is your patience endless?

Clinton : We do not intend to renegotiate. We have been willing to give them more time to work through their internal political debate, because we know there is a lot of turmoil in the Iranian political system. But our patience is not unlimited. We continue to urge them to show good faith, as they had said they would adopt this agreement "in principle." It would provide an opening for us to discuss not just the nuclear program, but other matters as well. We are still hopeful.

SPIEGEL: Iranian politicians keep on saying that they have not seen any real sign of willingness to compromise by the new US government. Why don't you take the military option off the table, the threat of bombing Iranian nuclear installations? Nobody believes that this is a realistic option anyway.

Clinton : We do not take any options off the table. I don't think that strategically it is smart to begin cutting your options when the other side does not move at all. Let's see some good faith from Iran; let's see some action on their part. President Obama has reached out to them, both publicly and privately. But that's not a one-way street, we have to see some reciprocity coming back from Iran.

SPIEGEL: In the Arab world you are accused of having "betrayed" the Palestinians during your recent visit to Israel. Indeed you seemed to have given up previous US positions in Jerusalem. Why did you capitulate in front of the hard line government of Benjamin Netanyahu, even calling his willingness to make small concessions "unprecedented"?

Clinton : It has to be seen in the context. In negotiations you often ask for a maximalist position. We are very much in favor of ending settlement activity of all kinds by the Israelis -- our position is that settlement activity is not legitimate. But the Israeli government made a fair point, which is that in their legal system they have already permitted the start of construction on certain units. But they were willing to do something no Israeli government had ever done, which was to say no new settlement activity, period. This was a positive step. I have praised it as I have praised the Palestinians for positive steps they have taken on security. Steps by the way, the Israelis did not think were enough.

SPIEGEL: US President Obama was talking about a "total freeze," which undoubtedly includes the so-called natural growth of the settlements, the building of the new units the Israelis decided upon. It was not only in the Arab world thate your words were understood as a change in American policy.

Clinton : It was absolutely not a change in policy. From the Israeli perspective, they thought it was a big concession. From the Palestinian perspective it is not sufficient. We don't think it's enough. It doesn't correspond with what we want to see eventually. But I think it is only fair to say that the Israelis went further than anyone has before.

SPIEGEL: And you think that should be good enough for the Palestinians to start a new round of peace negotiations?

Clinton : Well, the parties have to get into the negotiation, we are only the facilitator. It is important, so that we can discuss what the borders of a new state would be -- and that would moot all of this discussion of settlements.

SPIEGEL: You are really optimistic about Middle East peace talks?

Clinton : Well, at least I was very pleased when I was in Egypt last week -- that the Egyptians said they would be more than happy to host the Israelis and the Palestinians.

SPIEGEL: Madam Secretary, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Mathias Müller von Blumencron and Erich Follath
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