Full Transcript: Hillary Clinton to NDTV on Iraq, PM Modi and Plans for 2016

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet US President Obama in September on his first trip to the US. It is a relationship that has seen friction in the past after the US denied Mr Modi a visa in 2005 under the Bush administration.

Speaking exclusively to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, President Obama's former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the visa controversy is now a thing of the past. Asked whether the US made a mistake singling out Mr Modi for the denial of a visa especially by a President as controversial as George Bush, Ms Clinton said President Obama and PM Modi would soon have a chance to sit together and end any lingering concerns. She added that she was impressed by PM Modi's decision to invite Nawaz Sharif for the swearing in. She also said this could be a period of consequence for India.

Here's the full text of the interview:

NDTV: Hello and welcome, it is our pleasure to have, back with us, on this programme, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Somebody whose memoirs, 'Hard Choices' is fast becoming the most debated, discussed and analysed book, not just in the United States of America, but across the world. Of course, in the United States, Hillary Clinton continues to be under intense media scrutiny, public attention, because of the big question: 'will she run for president in 2016?', 'will she finally crack that big, high glass ceiling?'. It's a question that the book does not give a categorical answer to. But it tells us a lot more. And it's definitely worth a read for a ringside view of somebody who has, in a sense, found her role, as Secretary of State, becoming a transformative one, not just here for domestic politics, but across the globe. It is an immense pleasure to have you back with us, Madam Secretary, on this programme. Good to see you here, instead of the other end of a crackling satellite line.

Hillary Clinton: Thank you so much, and it's wonderful to be with you. I've enjoyed our previous times together, and looking forward to talking with you now, and I hope many times in the future.

NDTV: Absolutely. And there's so much to talk about after reading this book, but I have to start with, I think, what's at the top of the world's attention. And it's something you talk about in your book, and that's of course what's happening in Iraq. Now you have been, as it were, haunted, by the question of whether you did the right thing when you first supported the Bush regime's decision to go into Iraq. And for the first time in this book, you actually do concede that it is a regret you live with. It was in good faith, a decision in good faith, but it turned out to be horrifically wrong. Now you see what's happening there today. Does it give you an awful sense of deja vu? Does it reinforce that sense of regret about your backing that decision?

Hillary Clinton: Well, it was a mistake and I say that very plainly and clearly in the book. What's happening now in Iraq is the result of a number of issues. Certainly I think it's fair to say that the way that the decision that President Bush made was implemented, created some of the conditions that led to this current crisis, including disbanding the army and going out and purging people, who were experienced in governing, from being able to participate in the political life of a new Iraq. But also, unfortunately, what we have seen is that Prime Minister Maliki has been very sectarian. He himself has not created the framework for an inclusive government. And in today's world, people are not going to be left out. They have to feel that they have some channel for their concerns to be heard, to be respected. And unfortunately the Maliki government has been extremely unwilling to share authority with the Sunni population. And then of course, the spillover from Syria with the formation of extremist groups that are unbound by any humanity or decency are trying to take over a large segments of Iraq to form a new state. So there are many factors, but as you rightly point out, I certainly regret and believe the authority for President Bush to go into Iraq was wrong.

NDTV: Given the question marks as you yourself have detailed over the role of PM Maliki, do you believe it would be wise for the United States to intervene in any way? We've seen the latest statement from President Obama. He's going to be sending 300 military advisers in; he's not ruling out air strikes, the use of drones at a later stage. He's only saying no to, you know, to feet on the ground. But should, should the United States be getting involved at all?

Hillary Clinton: Well, this is one of these classic hard choices that I write about in my book. I have said categorically I would not support our troops going in. What we say, 'No boots on the ground'. I have said that with respect to air power or even advisers there has to be some agreement from Maliki to begin to change his political posture. And I assume that the Obama administration has been engaged in intensive discussions with Maliki. So the announcement that President Obama has made, that 300 military advisers will go to Iraq is premised on a belief that Maliki will take the advice, will begin to include other voices, will try to reach out to the more establishment Sunni powers. And if that doesn't happen, then I don't think it is appropriate or useful for us to be involved, but I know enough about the way President Obama makes decisions, that I'm sure he believes that there is a base on which to build the kind of political environment that would unite Iraqis against these extremists.

NDTV: If you were in the administration today, what would you have advised President Obama to do in Iraq?

Hillary Clinton: I would have advised him to do exactly as I believe he is now doing. To tell Maliki there will not be any American involvement whatsoever unless you take the following steps, and that we would begin, through our channels, to reach out to the Sunni tribal chiefs that we had worked with to turn back Al-Qaeda in Iraq. And I don't have the kind of access to the top-secret negotiations any longer, but that's what I believe is happening. Because when you think about how we were able to stop the spread of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was by partnering Shiite with Sunni with American support. I think that's the only way you're going to be able to get rid of this so-called ISIS group too. So, that's what I would be looking for and I believe that's probably what the President has put under his list of things that have to be accomplished.

NDTV: You know, but reading the book and also following your statements as Secretary of State, you were in favour of American troops staying on for longer than they did. Do you believe, given what we're seeing happening in Iraq, it turned out to be a mistake, that troop pullout? And that becomes a very important question because of what's about to happen in Afghanistan. And we'll talk about that in just a moment. But there's this perception building up, especially with people who are angry with America, who'll say that the United States starts wars, that it doesn't know how to end them, and then it pulls its military before there is actual peace on the ground.

Hillary Clinton: Well, with respect to Iraq, I did favour the continuity of American forces to work with the new Maliki government. They had enormous needs for intelligence, for training on everything from airplanes to more sophisticated ground equipment and the like. At the end of the day, Maliki wouldn't agree with that, and so then the debate within our administration was settled by our offer to him as to what we thought would be in his interest, and yet we required an agreement in order to protect our soldiers, which is what we have all over the world, and Maliki basically said no. So that left us no choice.

NDTV: Should you have pushed harder?

Hillary Clinton: I don't know that we could have pushed harder because he was quite arrogant at the time, to be very blunt. I believe he had a view that he could handle whatever might come his way. And I think he probably wanted the Americans gone because we were always looking over his shoulder saying 'Don't do that. What about this? Be more inclusive, talk to these Sunni leaders and the like'. So I think he was perfectly happy to see us go. All he wanted from us then was to sell him sophisticated military equipment. And when we sell equipment we send in teams to teach people how to use them, but they are often, you know, civilian, they aren't necessarily military. So we left. And instead of following through on what he told me toward the end of my time at the State Department, that he fully intended to try to have a unified Iraq. We were no sooner gone, than he began to renege on that. And he purged Sunni leaders from the military, he claimed there were criminal actions going on by Sunni political leaders. As a result, everyone lost confidence in him. The neighbours in the region, who are other than Iran, predominately Sunni Muslim, really began to sound alarms about Maliki. And I think that those alarms were unfortunately right to sound, because what we've seen is a leader who is only a sectarian leader for a small slice of the Iraqi population.

NDTV: Would it be then fair to say that this is not a leader who's worth intervening on behalf of?

Hillary Clinton: Well I think you have to break that down. It's a very fair question. Everyone can change. He is now under tremendous pressure to change. Also the Iraqis around him, who are asking for help, are often people we have prior relationships with. And certainly the Iraqi people don't deserve to have this happen to them. The brutal assassination of now I guess thousands of people, the imposition of the most extreme form of Sharia law, the Iraqi people don't deserve that. So, whether he himself merits our help or the help of anyone else, at this point he should be held accountable and should be pressured to change. But there are other stakes on the ground with respect to what happens to Iraq.

NDTV: Is this a time for or an opportunity for Iran and Washington to recast their relationship? And I ask this because there is this section in your book where you talk about how you came to India you had a tough task convincing the Indian government to make an announcement that we would diversify where we got our oil from. And you know basically what you wanted was for us to cut down on the oil we were getting from Iran. Now is there an irony in the past friction between Iran and the United States, which of course hasn't gone away, but today you're on the same side in Iraq. Is this a historic opportunity or should we not mix the two?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I think we should always hope there is a historic opportunity. And we have to separate the nuclear issue. Their support of nuclear weapons against all the international consensus. against that from what is going on in Iraq. And if they are willing to work for a more inclusive government in Iraq, if they are willing to let the Iraqi leaders themselves perhaps think of either changes, including changes in the PM, or different approaches in dealing with extremism. But what we've seen in Syria doesn't give me a lot confidence. Iran has basically propped up Assad, who has waged an absolute war of horror against the Syrian people. And he has done anything he could to stay in power with the full support of the Iranians and including Iranian troops and Hezbollah from Lebanon, which are an Iranian proxy. So I do think that we have to explore this, but I am not ready to embrace it or support it. I think that much more needs to be done about what their real objectives are. And when we say we are in agreement, we are certainly in agreement that we don't want a terrorist group, that by all accounts is worse than Al-Qaeda, to be terrorizing part of Iraq and part of Syria. But are we of the same mind when it comes to the role that Sunnis should have in society, of the same mind when we try to support the Kurds, who have done the best job in Iraq in building a more successful area. So there are a lot of unanswered questions. 

NDTV: But you know, as I was saying, there is this narrative that could build around Iraq and Afghanistan in combination, where Washington would to have to confront really messy situations, invasions it probably has to regret at some level. You write extensively on what came to be known as AFPAC; with Richard Holbrook arguing that you couldn't separate the regions, you have to see Afghanistan and Pakistan together. We're at a point where the Americans are going to pullout or have begun the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan as well. Your book gives a fascinating account of the back channel talks that were opened with the Taliban, but how they eventually didn't lead anywhere. This character called A-Rod and so on who is in these back channel talks. Did it make you uncomfortable especially, as someone who is very vocal on what you felt about the Taliban's treatment of women, to negotiate with the Taliban? 

Hillary Clinton: It was a very uncomfortable experience. I sent the negotiators, I didn't do it myself, but I was responsible for picking the team and sending them off.

NDTV: Did you have to think about it before?

Hillary Clinton: Oh I thought about it a lot Barkha. I thought very deeply about it. You don't make peace with your friends. That's the bottom line. You end conflicts by trying to find some political resolution. And very often there are legitimate grievances on both sides. But in my experience you've got to try to sort that through and find some common ground if you expect to have a negotiated peace. With the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, as apart from the Pakistani Taliban, which I think is an important distinction, important certainly to India. There were openings made to us that were authorized by Mullah Omar and it would have been irresponsible for us not to pursue them, so we did so. But I always believed that it should not be the United States making some agreement with the Taliban, no we should not...

NDTV: I was just going to ask you that the US position is that "we don't negotiate with terrorists," so what were these back channel talks, as detailed in your book, with the Taliban?

Hillary Clinton: It was to set up an opportunity for the Afghan government to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban. We were the facilitator. As I write in the book, President Karzai was eager to have a negotiation that he hoped would resolve the outstanding threats. And he tried it with a number of people and in fact created the High Peace Council and, very tragically, the former President, Rubani who was heading it was murdered by someone who pretended to be an envoy. So the Afghans themselves were searching for ways. Now for their own reasons that Taliban didn't want to negotiate with the Afghan government which they said was illegitimate. Our position was that's the only party for you to negotiate with because that's whom you have to make peace with. They were perfectly happy to negotiate with us. We shared this information with the Afghan government, and we tried to see how serious they were about sitting down across from fellow Afghans and it didn't get to where we wanted it to; we had hoped when I left that there could be an office opened in Doha and that the Afghans would go to Doha, the Taliban would be in Doha and they would begin these peace talks. We all know that peace talks can take a very long time. They have to start somewhere. But the conditions that were imposed on the Taliban, included that they could not claim that they were a government in exile....

NDTV: And that's exactly what they did...

Hillary Clinton: And then they went off and did it. And so that immediately had to be shut down. So this has been a very long process to try to test out the intentions.

NDTV: But you don't regret having opened or made that attempt open them up?

Hillary Clinton: Not at all, no, I think any country, and India has made a lot of openings and opportunities, you try and see whether you can resolve long-standing conflicts, internally or across your borders. If you don't try you never know whether it might be successful. That doesn't mean that you in any way validate the...

NDTV: What they stand for?

Hillary Clinton: Yes, what they stand for. I know when my husband was deeply involved in starting the peace process in Northern Ireland the people sitting on the opposite sides of the table didn't talk to each other for more than a year. They talked through the American envoy. And that was the only envoy they would accept because one side didn't trust the British, the other side didn't trust the Irish. So that's what the Clinton administration did. But you have to keep testing and probing to see how you can get people to a point where they get tired of fighting and dying, where they see that there's a better future. I'm hoping that the outcome of the election in Afghanistan will lead to a new president who signs a bilateral security agreement with the United States, who accepts an ongoing presence from the US and from NATO. Because I believe, although President Obama has said we will change our position there, if you have one of the two remaining candidates working to try to both resolve the conflict, if possible, but continue to build up the Afghan security forces to protect Afghanistan, were to come to the United States in 2016 or so, and say we need continuing help, there would be an openness to that. But you can't have a blank cheque. The Afghan government, just like the Iraqi government there needs to be a point where you say, "Here are the conditions under which we can stay, are you ready to meet those? They say yes or no"

NDTV: What emerges in your book very clearly is President Karzai also seeing Pakistan as the key problem. Now, there's a separate chapter in the book on Pakistan, and I know a number of people in my part of the world would be very interested in hearing you speak a little bit about that. You speak about going to Pakistan and having to deal with some very hostile questions, and then you say in a moment of absolute candor and bluntness that A, elements of the ISI, the intelligence services, are linked to the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and B, you speak about how someone in the Pakistani security establishment has to be in on the knowledge of safe havens for these terrorists. Do you believe that the United States failed in a sense to get Pakistan to clean up its act?

Hillary Clinton: I do hope a lot of thoughtful people in India will read my book and particularly read these chapters about the region that we are talking about because it is a view that I adopted. Here's where I end up. I think that the civilian government, the Zardari government, which was the first civilian government to be elected that ever got to complete its term, which was for Pakistan an accomplishment in their democratic evolution, did not know what the connections were between elements within the military and the ISI and various extremist and even terrorist groups. I think that the elements within the ISI and the military, both past and present at the time I was dealing with it, were under the mistaken view that having these kinds of proxies vis-a-vis India, vis-a-vis Afghanistan were in Pakistan's interests, not just the military's interest, but in their sovereign interest. As I say in the book, it's like keeping poisonous snakes in your backyard expecting they will only bite your neighbour. And what we're seeing now is the continuing threat to the state of Pakistan by these very same elements. And my argument to my Pakistani counterparts from the very beginning of my term, was that they had to take very seriously this treat, and they had to do everything they could to end the relationships that existed between the military and the intelligence services with these groups and they had to try to end their dangerous behaviour, both inside of Pakistan, across the border in Afghanistan, and obviously from my perspective, vis-a-vis India. I also write how when I was in India after the attack in Mumbai I was very struck how the then government said it was very difficult to exercise restraint.

NDTV: That if this happened again, that's what you say in the beginning, that if this happened again, all bets were off.

Hillary Clinton: I don't think any government could say anything differently.

NDTV: How did you respond when Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh conveyed this to you?

Hillary Clinton: That I understood it. I thank them for the restraint that they did show because as I said, I believe this is an element within the military intelligence institutional base, but that the civilian government was not involved. And I thought it was important to show restraint because Zardari's wife had been killed, Benazir Bhutto had been killed by parts of this conspiracy or coalition. But I think that no country can turn away from that kind of attack continuously, so I did understand and that's why I put it in the book because I totally see why. But with Pakistan, you know, for me Pakistan is a conundrum because among the people I dealt with, the educated members of the civilian government, even those at the top of the military and intelligence establishment, they express so many of the same views that I hear in India, for example - you both stare at each other across that border and are rightfully, because of your histories, are concerned - but you go a little bit deeper and you find all kinds of groups that are thriving either because of support from the military intelligence side or indifference. And by that I mean that a lot of the attacks, until fairly recently, were in parts of the country that were not of direct concern to Pakistan itself, to neither the political, military or business elite. That happened somewhere up by the Afghan border. And then all of a sudden you start to see those groups moving closer into the SWAT valley, we've just seen the attacks in Karachi. And I don't see how Pakistan can ignore this much longer. Their idea, that they have these groups to provide strategic depth, as they like to say, vis-a-vis Afghanistan, or vis-a-vis India, I think if that were ever true, which I doubt, but if that were ever true, it no longer is. And whether Pakistan can make a decision that includes all the various power sources inside the state to once and for all go after extremists, shut down their training camps, their safe havens, their, you know, madrasas that are inculcating suicide bombing behaviour, and begin to have a different view of themselves in the future, that's the question they face.

NDTV: You know when we met last, when you were in India, you spoke about how you had actually announced this 10 million dollar bounty for information leading to the arrest of one of the architects of 26/11, Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba, he's still out there. He's still out there, he holds rallies, nobody can touch him. Why do you think that someone as powerful as yourself was not able to do more about a group, like the Lakshar-e-Taiba?

Hillary Clinton: Because I think the very strong conviction in the military and the intelligence and other elements within the society is that they're not a threat to us, namely Pakistan, they're a threat to India. And by doing what they're doing to turn away from LeT and others, they continue to cause India to have to take them seriously or have to worry about Pakistan. Those days should be over. I mean, that's ancient history. Part of what I see as I go around the world are people who are imprisoned by the past and people who are moving toward the future, facing the problems that they have whether it is poverty, or disease or conflict, whatever it is. And Pakistan has not made its decision to do that yet.

NDTV: Who's accountable for that? You said elements in the military intelligence establishment. Is it the Pakistan army at the very top; is it something that's happening at the middle rung? Where does the buck stop?

Hillary Clinton: Well, we certainly never had any evidence that it went to the very top, but that may or may not be true. But we did have evidence, which we did present on several occasions, that there were both retired and present active duty military and intelligence officers, whose job it was, or at least as they defined their job, to tend to, to keep an eye on certainly, but to in effect protect the extremist groups. The Haqqani Network, one of the most vicious extremist groups around, they operate openly. Now Mullah Omar is in Pakistan. You go down a long list of terrorists who threaten Afghanistan and threaten India and by extension threaten the United States and our forces and the forces of our allies in Afghanistan. But I believe that oftentimes the attitude taken at the very top, is don't tell me give me deniability. If President Zardari calls me and says, "Who do you think killed my wife?", I have to be able to say, "Sir, I don't know, I have no idea." Or if you get called in by another civilian official, who is saying that the Americans say there is a training camp, and they are going to take action if we don't take action. "Well, we'll look into that." Well, it's...

NDTV: ...it's creating plausible deniability.

Hillary Clinton: ...it's creating plausible deniability. That is my view. And you know, I personally deeply regret, I'm distressed by what I see happening inside Pakistan. Because there's no doubt that they've lost tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers in attacks. I mean the last count when I left office was more than 30,000 and I'm sure it will continue to climb.

NDTV: In a sense of existential almost apart from Pakistan, I have to ask you, because so many people in India are going to pick up this book and read it, we have a new government, this is an interesting crossroad for India and the USA. And India knows you, admires you, likes you, Secretary Clinton. And therefore the question is this: is this a long shadow hanging over this relationship because our current Prime Minister is somebody who was denied a visa by the USA?

Hillary Clinton: In the prior administration...

NDTV: ...by the Bush administration

Hillary Clinton: Yes, by the Bush administration. Here's how I see it Barkha. I am very hopeful that the new government with its very large majority will be able to take actions that will improve the economy, strengthen the foundations of economic growth and prosperity broadly based for the Indian people; that they will be able to address corruption so that the average person doesn't feel that others are profiting and they are not. So, from what I know about the new Prime Minister, from what I have seen since he was elected and what he has said, he seems to be very committed to that kind of path. He also impressed me when he invited Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony as well as other regional leaders. If he leads an inclusive government, and there isn't any country in the world that is more diverse than India, but if people regardless of their religion, their caste, their geography feel that this is a Prime Minister for all India, and if he explores potential opportunities in the region, both I would argue looking West and looking East, I think it could be a quite consequential period for India, and I as a person who considers myself a strong friend of India, I would love to see that.

NDTV: Was it a mistake, you think, for the United States to have denied him the visa? Because the argument was that it happened at a time when George Bush himself was so contentious, and then you singled out this one politician and denied him a visa, something that it's not as if the Obama administration reversed or made efforts to address.

Hillary Clinton: Well I think that's in the past. I know that President Obama called Prime Minister Modi. I hope that they will have an opportunity in the near future to actually meet and sit down and end any lingering questions about that past incident. But of course what we all hope for is that the Prime Minister, by his actions, demonstrates unequivocally that he is the Prime Minister for all of India, every single group inside India. I think that's his intention, and then that ends whatever lingering concerns anyone had.

NDTV: And are there still lingering concerns, is that what I'm hearing?

Hillary Clinton: Well I think not now, but at least not in our government, not now. And I don't think there should be based on what kind of campaign he ran and what he has promised to do.

NDTV: Okay, in the end I have to ask you, the book is called 'Hard Choices', what has been your hardest choice or is that choice still a work in progress, whether or not to run in 2016?

Hillary Clinton: Well that's a certainly the next hard choice that I face, and as I write in the book, I think the questions that anyone who runs for a high office - whether in our country it's President or in the case of India Prime Minister - is really not "will you run and can you win?" Those are political questions we all know that everybody talks about them. But the real questions are: "what is your vision for the country and can you lead us there?" I think what your new Prime Minister did was to paint a vision for India of trying to cut through red tape, cut against corruption, create more jobs, and give people all over the country a feeling of hope that they and their children will have a better future. Well, we're at a stage in our country where we have a lot of political disagreeability, a lot of gridlock that is unfortunately paralysing our system. And I think we have to get back to asking ourselves, "What is the vision for the United States in the 21st Century?"

NDTV: But that doesn't tell me why you would not run. Why would you not run?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I will do the weighing process. It's a hard choice.

NDTV: It won't be an instinctive call in the end?

Hillary Clinton: In the end, it will be, but I will also go through what I would like to happen in our country, how I think it could be done. But I am also very committed to the work I do at the Clinton Foundation with my husband and my daughter. I am very committed to becoming a grandmother and seeing what that experience is like and frankly not being on the political high wire right now, so that I get to spend more time with my friends and my family. That sounds very simple, but those are simple joys that I have been missing for too long.

NDTV: Well, I have to say that as a woman I hope you run. I mean somebody has to crack the glass ceiling that you brought so many cracks into the last time.

Hillary Clinton: Thank you, Thank you.

WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW ON SUNDAY AT 8 PM



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