As India prepares for PM Narendra Modi's first meeting with Barack Obama, endorsements have come in from the man who is still voted the most popular and admired living President in the United States. Speaking exclusively to NDTV in Jaipur, where Bill Clinton is promoting the initiatives of the Clinton Foundation, the former President said he had followed PM Modi's career since Mr Modi was chief minister of Gujarat and was very impressed with his economic policies.
Saying that the visa controversy and the debate around the 2002 riots now belonged to the past after the vote of the Indian people, Mr Clinton added that Mr Modi's decision to invite Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony may have also been a signal to Muslims in India as well that he wants to govern for all. Mr Clinton also spoke of what he called his "most ferocious encounter in politics - bar none" with Nawaz Sharif during the Kargil war, and whether he wants Hillary Clinton to run for President of the United States.
Following is the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Opinion polls and routine surveys show that he is still the most admired and popular living president of the United States of America. While his personal popularity remains intact at home, his influence abroad continues to grow. President Bill Clinton has spent his post- presidency years building up the Clinton Foundation, that is leaving its imprint all across the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, a region that the Foundation has focused on, especially in areas of global health, climate change, economic inequity, and several development and humanitarian programmes. He is an old friend of India and he is here, back in India, with a Clinton Foundation project here, in Jaipur. It's a great pleasure to have you on the programme President Clinton and welcome back to India.
Bill Clinton: Thank you, I am glad to be back. I love it here.
NDTV: You know we see you in this country as a friend returning home. But the work that has brought you here to Jaipur today, to Lucknow tomorrow, is not anything to do with politics, or diplomacy, or the issues that routinely gather the front-page headlines. This is personal for you. You spent the morning today at a big Jaipur kitchen, that actually provides mid-day meals to more than a lakh of children here, poor children and it's essential that they give them this meal so that they keep them in school. You personally served the kids. Why is something like this so important to one of the most powerful men in the world?
Bill Clinton: Because I think that one of the great challenges of the 21st century everywhere is to prove that we can create an inclusive democracy; and that's not just political inclusion, but also economic inclusion, social inclusion and just take this issue. India has, in some ways, the most impressive entrepreneurial engine in the world. And you also have the largest number of really poor kids. More than 60 million of them are enrolled in schools, but don't get a mid-day meal. The programme that we visited today is one that's been a big part of my Clinton Global Initiative. We try to raise more and more money for it. The extra funding was sparked by Desh Deshpande, who is an Indian-American living in Massachusetts, and for only $30 a year you can feed these children a nutritious meal, under very hygienic circumstances, to avoid any of the other problems that often happen with school feeding problems all over the world for low-income kids. It's important. I think these kinds of human programmes are very often overlooked by the political system, and that they have the greatest potential to do good if you can figure out how to do them faster, more efficiently, at lower costs. And so, this programme, today, does a great thing. The Indian government provides half the money. So, the private sector and the NGO sector just have to come up with, in effect, $15 a year a student. That's not a great deal of money in the context of all the money that's floating around in the world. So if I can help to galvanize this kind of action, it'll actually save lives and create a whole set of different futures for these children.
NDTV: You spoke of a more inclusive society and that is such an interesting phrase because in India, as I'm sure now in the United States of America, especially after you know, what happened on the Wall Street, there is a growing debate over what economics to pursue to create this inclusive society. Is capitalism suddenly a bad word? I'm wondering how the Clinton Foundation approaches this question, because when you address equity, or issues of inequity, somewhere you also have to have an economic philosophy.
Bill Clinton: Well, I don't think capitalism is a bad word, it's still the best mechanism ever devised to promote aggregate economic growth and to generate wealth for re-investment in people and in production of goods and services. But, like all systems, it feeds on itself, and can tend to its own destruction and it has limits. So, for example the financial crash in the world was started with the collapse of finance firms in New York that exceeded their limits. It was too much leverage, too much risk, and too much money basically just being spent on, well in effect, gambling transactions instead of investments. If you risk money on an investment, and the investment fails, well, that's normal. You go and invest in something else. But, if you tie all this money together, and concentrate it at the top, and it's just about transactions, it can have a huge impact throughout the system. But I still think nobody has come up with anything close to the potential of capitalism in sparking growth. We've had more people lifted out of poverty, extreme poverty, in the last 30 years just in China than in any time in history. But you see it in India. You see it everywhere else. India has the reverse problem of America. That is, the reach of capitalism has been limited in India.
NDTV: To a handful...
Bill Clinton: ...to the, basically your prosperity centers, about 35% of the people. And you have now had two government changes, sweeping changes. First when Congress went in after Mr Vajpayee left office, with whom I worked, and now with Mr Modi coming in. Ironically both governments won their position because the Indian people wanted to see more inclusive capitalism. They wanted to have a government that could aggregate and target capital to have a national infrastructure, have national quality opportunities to education, the economy and, it's very exciting for the rest of us watching it, because I've always felt that India could rival and perhaps even surpass China in economic growth, because of its entrepreneurism. And how at home it is with technology and its applications, if you could develop a national economic infrastructure and overcome the barriers you have. So it's exciting. But no, I think the bigger problem we have today is seen by these countries backing up on democracy, but want to keep on kind of state-run capitalism, kind of an authoritarian capitalistic model.
NDTV: Would China be that model?
Bill Clinton: Well China certainly. China's yes, but China's growing more democratic I think. They're just trying to do it at their own pace for their own reasons. But Venezuela for example, under the late President Chavez, became less democratic and stayed in control of more aspects of capitalism. Russia under President Putin has become less democratic. President Assad in Syria essentially made this argument that he was the only person who could take care of all the various factions of minorities in Syria and that no democracy would do that, because you can have an election, but democracy is also minority rights, individual rights and the rule of law. So, I think the debate is over now, would be over authoritarian capitalism versus democratic capitalism. And can democracies produce shared opportunities, shared prosperity.
NDTV: That's so interesting and you mention Mr Modi, and coming back to when India has a brand new Prime Minister, there has been a considerable strain between the two countries in the past over the visa issue vis-a-vis Mr Modi. Every American diplomat I have since spoken to, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, "that's in the past, let's not rake up those issues, it's time to look forward". How do you see Mr Modi taking charge of India, how do you think America is looking at it?
Bill Clinton: Well first of all, I have followed his career as a chief minister in Gujarat very closely, because his predecessor as the BJP Prime Minister, Mr Vajpayee, asked me to help mobilise Indian Americans to help after the terrible earthquake in Gujarat, which occurred shortly after I left office. And so I spent time in Gujarat for the next two-three years working on what we were asked to do in the villages, housing and education and healthcare, and I helped to organise the America India Foundation, which still works in this country. It's good for the Indian Americans and it's good for India. So I was impressed with his economic policies and with his determination to have opportunities spread throughout the state and I agree that I think we have to leave the other stuff in the past. That was terrible, what happened, the violence in Gujarat, there were a lot of charges back and forth about who is responsible. I think the Pakistan Prime Minister at the inauguration, all that's evidence that everybody wants India to succeed. Everybody believes that he has the potential to make a big difference based on his economic work as chief minister. We all are excited. We want this to work. I think the fact that he wanted Mr Sharif at his inauguration maybe a signal to Muslims who are Indians that he wants to govern for everybody. He is willing to take it, take an open-minded view, be fair to everybody and again that's part of inclusive capitalism. In Myanmar, since we're in Asia, my Foundation has been asked to work there as well. We are going to do an agriculture project now. We know about the Rohingya more than ever before and the bad treatment, because Myanmar's opening up. We know more about the details and I think it's important to condemn abuses that still occur. But it's important not to forget that when the military government first gave way to this transition to a democratic government, they had armed insurrection from something like 17 different groups, and they have settled all but that one. The thing that has been amazing to me about India, with the exceptions that we know about including what happened in Gujarat, is that even in very poor areas you have been able to preserve more inclusive democracies in many places. When this financial crisis occurred in 2008, one of the things I was really worried about everywhere, was that people would grow frustrated at the time it takes to get over financial crisis and the politics of negative identity would take over. It's not just majority rule, its minority rights and individual rights. So we'll see, but I'm hopeful.
NDTV: Do you think the US should have engaged much earlier with Mr Modi? Most of the world had opened up communication channels even when he was chief minister, do you think looking back it was a mistake for America to not have done the same?
Bill Clinton: Well that was a policy that ran through two different administrations, and it's over. Everybody wants to succeed now and I think we shall be looking, not interfering, trying to be helpful wherever we can.
NDTV: Let's turn the focus a little bit to the region, and I want to come back towards the end and talk about the Foundation work, but since you mentioned Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif I just wanted to point out to you a kind of historic irony. This is that month 15 years ago when you...
Bill Clinton: This month..
NDTV: This month, the 4th of July...
Bill Clinton: I spent my Independence Day with the Pakistani Government.
NDTV: That is right, Nawaz Sharif then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif today Prime Minister. 15 years later, the Kargil War, the end of the Kargil War is being commemorated here in India. You have since said in interviews, in conversations with Taylor Brunch, that that conversation with Nawaz Sharif, on the 4th of July 1999 was the most ferocious encounter you've had with any politician bar none. That's what we've read. You know, India remembers that time. You persuaded or you prevailed, on Pakistan to withdraw its troops from Kargil. What do you remember about that conversation?
Bill Clinton: Well, he wanted to come to Washington and we didn't have any choice about what the day was, it was an emergency. And I desperately wanted Pakistan and India to have a better relationship. You have two nuclear powers sharing the same piece of land with enormous potential, their diaspora doing well around the world. America has about 180 racial and ethnic groups and in every survey for the last 25 years, Indians and Pakistanis have both ranked in the top 10 in per capita education and income. It was obvious to me that the entire subcontinent was being held back by these conflicts over identity politics, which were at least controlled by the Shimla Accord and of the 1971 Line of Control. And because of the disparities in the sizes of population, on the ground military capacity, and because of the historical record; what happened in the way Kashmir Jammu were divided, and the Pakistanis, who were very close allies of ours during the cold war, always wanted America to intervene and I kept trying to explain to the then prime minister, and now president of Pakistan, that America can't intervene through peace. America has to be invited to try to broker peace. That's what I did in Ireland, what I did in Bosnia, what I tried for years to do in the Middle East. Both sides have to want you. You don't just show up and tell them you want to do it. It doesn't work that way. And I think what happened was that, I've never been sure, that the then Prime Minister Sharif actually was aggressive and ordered all the policies that led to the violation of the Line of Control. I think he wanted to get out of the crisis. He did not want war. He certainly did not want a resort, on either side, to dangerous weapons. But he didn't want to just lose face and wind up losing his job either. Can't blame him for that. I knew that any chance I ever would have to use the new-found warmth with our relationship with India, something we recovered, that had been drifting away since 1960s, any chance I had to pin it on the Indians and the Pakistanis trusting the US to be fair and to try to work something out that would be in both countries' interest; using a crisis to intervene was a guaranteed loser. I wasn't about to do it. It couldn't be done. So, I spent my 4th of July trying to talk him into moving the Pakistani forces back across the Line of Control. I thought it was the only chance we had to make progress and it was very difficult. But the stakes were high and in the end, I give credit to him, if he had played short-term politics, defying me and going home it would have probably made him wildly popular in the moment back home in Pakistan.
NDTV: And it was a crisis you made a successful intervention in to de-escalate the crisis. There is another crisis in the world today that some would say needs the intervention of somebody like you. What's happening between Israel and the Palestinian people today, and I have to ask you and I know the world, not just India, is interested in what you have to say on this. 200 people dead on the Palestinian side in Gaza, almost 80% of them are children and women; one Israeli dead by comparison. Yet the statement we've seen from the White House, many people believe, continues to be partial to the Israeli perspective. Where do you come in on this? How can this crisis be resolved? Do you believe Israel has been fair?
Bill Clinton: Well, first of all Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets in Israel. They fired a thousand of them. And they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them. Now, I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu could and should make a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. I believe if he did it, and he did it with either President Abbas or with his coalition, if in return for Hamas' renunciation of terror and recognition of Israel's right to exist, I believe 60% of the people of Israel would support it.
NDTV: So what's holding him up?
Bill Clinton: Well, his coalition wouldn't support it, so he'd have to go to a national unity government to pass it. But I think that you'd find that more than 60% Israelis support trying to defend themselves if they get 1000 rockets shot at them. They have a defence system against such missile attacks, the so-called Iron Dome and they haven't died in great numbers yet, although they certainly could have. It's a miracle to me that they fired 1000 rockets in there and more people weren't killed. So they know when Hamas attacks them that Hamas has set up a situation, which politically can't lose, because they can say well, if I attack them back, they always hide behind civilians, and I'll kill civilians; and if I don't, we'll look like fools letting somebody shoot a 1000 rockets at us and not responding. What this proves is that there ought to be serious peace talks, serious ones, and I think the whole existence of this national unity government between the Fatah government on the West Bank and Hamas is the direct result of the lack of progress.
NDTV: Do you blame Prime Minister Netanyahu at least partially for not moving fast enough on the possibility of peace?
Bill Clinton: I think they are partly responsible, but I also think, you know for example, when Hillary was Secretary of State, she helped secure an agreement, the only time Israel ever agreed to freeze settlements as a part of talks, they never had before. So they agreed to a nine-month freeze, and during the whole time the Palestinians didn't want to talk to them. And three weeks before the freeze expires, they say give us another nine months and we'll talk to you. That was a big mistake. So there are mistakes on both sides. But the main thing is they share this little piece of land and this big stretch of history. They know each other so well. They know how many children they have; they know how many grandchildren they have. They know what those grandchildren are doing. It's ridiculous. You talk to them in private you can swear they're all in a big family reunion and they're either going to share their future on positive terms, or share their future on negative terms, and that's the larger truth here and they have to figure out what it is. Over the long run it's not good for Israel to keep isolating itself from moral opinion because of the absence of a viable peace process. But in the short and medium term, Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage on Israel by forcing it to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas. But it's a crass strategy that takes all of our eyes off the real objective, which is a peace that gets Israel security and recognition, and a peace that gets the Palestinians their state.
NDTV: A couple of years ago John McCain suggested that you would be the ideal person to be a Middle East peace envoy. Do you see that as a role you would take on? Would want to take on? Could take on?
Bill Clinton: I called Senator McCain and accused him of trying to get me into trouble.
NDTV: But seriously...
Bill Clinton: He's a friend, we are all friends and even when we fight Hillary and I are good friends with John McCain. But, I think again, that's not, first, it won't happen and secondly, it probably shouldn't. You know, you can't re-create the conditions that existed when I put together a proposal that Israel accepted and that Arafat didn't accept. But I do think it's worth remembering that at some point after the late Prime Minister Sharon became Prime Minister, at some point after that, Arafat said he would accept it and we needed to fill in the blanks. Then, after that, when Mr Abbas became the president of the Palestinians he said that he would accept it. By then the internal politics of Israel had changed quite a bit. So, I don't think I am the person to do this unless they both came up and asked me to do it and the American government asked me to do it, and I think the chances of that are about as close to zero as you can imagine. But I think that the framework that we had is the framework they should begin negotiations with. Everybody knows if you are going to have a Two-State solution, what it has to be like, but it will be much harder today. We'd have to move more people out of, to give what we had before, 80% of the Israeli settlers could have been put on 3-4% land adjacent to West Bank, requires more land today. This means Israel will have to give up more. Then the number of settlers in West Bank is so much greater, far greater than the settlers, which had to be moved out of Gaza when Prime Minister Sharon, having changed his position on the peace process, unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. So, we all need to have a little respect for how difficult this would be. But the framework has not changed. That's more important than the people and it's the leaders there that matter. They can almost do this without any help. Except to provide some cover.
NDTV: It's a sitting duck situation...
Bill Clinton: It's heart-warming how they know each other, and how in private they understand each other's problems, each other's positions. I mean they are neighbours. It's a little piece of land. And I still think if that were resolved, it would take a great deal of the sting out of terrorist actions all over the world including on this subcontinent.
NDTV: In the end, we've only briefly spoken about Secretary Clinton, everybody asks you this wherever you go. You obviously want her to run for president, isn't that correct?
Bill Clinton: No.
NDTV: That's not correct? You wouldn't want her to run for president?
Bill Clinton: I have made it clear to her that I love our life now and if she decides not to run, I'll be very happy. We'll try to be good grandparents and we'll build this Foundation, try to save as many lives as we can for as long as we're healthy enough to work, and have a good time doing it. I love my life now and it's not me trying to make the decision to go back into politics. I don't have that option and I'm happy. If she decides that she wants to run, I think she's the ablest person I've ever known in public life. That's what I believe. And you could say, they're married he has to say that, that's not true. I could say a lot of things about her and support her without saying that, but that's what I have always believed and so if that's what she wants, then I will support that, but this is a completely personal decision. And when you, the great thing about being our age is that we're still lucky to be healthy and vigorous, but we've lived enough to know that our lives have been quite wonderful in so many ways, and so she'll just have to make the decision. If she wants to run I'm for it; if she doesn't want to run, I'm for that too. I literally am not going to put my thumb on the scales either way.
NDTV: You're not going to advise her? I'm sure she seeks your counsel.
Bill Clinton: Yes, but she doesn't. I will advise her, but I will answer the questions she asks, and you know this is, it is a very interesting thing, we talked about everything, but less about this than you might imagine. Because I told her in the beginning, I said, you have to decide, it will be a difficult campaign. Everybody will, you know, they can make it difficult, and it should be difficult to be the leader of the country, it should be hard. So if you want to do it I am for it, if you don't want to do it, I am for it and we're going to have a good life either way.
NDTV: It wouldn't be strange for you to return to the White House in a different role?
Bill Clinton: No. No. I'd like to keep my foundation alive and well and do what I can. I love that, but I will do whatever she wants and whatever it takes to support her I will do. I may, when she was elected to the Senate and I was leaving the White House I thought that, now she helped me every sense from 1974, that's 26 years. So I will help her for 26 years and if we're still alive, then we will have an argument about what to do next. So I am only about, I am a little more than half way through the 26 years obligation.
NDTV: So big an argument is still pending.
Bill Clinton: So we're at least 12 years away from having the big argument about what to do next. Meanwhile I am just in her camp, whatever she wants to do is fine with me.
NDTV: Well, I think whatever she does and whatever you do, will always make news around the world. President Clinton, it's been a pleasure talking to you this afternoon.
Bill Clinton: Thanks.