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Clinton: 'We've Got to Save Every Life We Can'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 13, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former president Bill Clinton joins us by phone. President Clinton is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti. Nice to talk to you, Mr. President.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (Via telephone): Thank you, Greta. Thank you for your interest in this. I've been seeing your program. It's good.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, thank you for that. And Mr. President, back when you were president, you worked very hard to end a violent military dictatorship in Haiti. Your work was cut out for you then. Now you've got a lot more on your plate. What is your plan, sir?

CLINTON: Well, before this happened, we were making real progress in Haiti because we had a government committed to building a modern future and we had hundreds and hundreds of investors interested in going in there, and all of the Latin American and Caribbean neighbors were interested in helping.

But I have to tell you that I've been overwhelmed by the response. We've got terrible problems there. The government was crippled with the damage to the presidential palace, some of the cabinet members still missing, the legislative chamber damaged, some of them still missing. And the most tragic thing for me personally is that a lot of our U.N. people were killed and our whole headquarters collapsed.

Watch Greta's interview with former President Clinton

But in spite of all that, the international community is coming on. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has done a very good job of mobilizing the U.N. resources. President Obama and Hillary and the USAID people, they're working hard with the military in America to help. And we've just got to get through this next 10 days. We can't even think about rebuilding until we get through that rubble, save every life we can and treat the dead respectfully and try to preserve them long enough for their nearest of kin to come get them so they can give them a decent burial.

And right now, what we need more than anything else is not for everybody to go down there, unless you're a rescue worker or you've got a medical team. What we really need for the next week or 10 days is four simple things. We need food, water, shelter and first aid supplies. We got two doctors at the airport this afternoon that didn't even have aspirin. So the best thing anyone can give in the next two weeks is money, even if it's just $5 or $10.

And my U.N. office has a Web site, Clintonfoundation.org/Haitiearthquake, or you can text on the telephone Haiti 20222. If you do that, it'll transfer 10 bucks. And every $5 or $10 -- we're getting, like, 4,000 contribution an hour now coming in, and that money will be immediately moved to buy basic medical supplies, clean water and try to get the provisions in order so we can put people up at night and just take of them and care for the wounded until we can put this together.

But the most important thing now is to -- you show it on the picture there. We've got to get people out from under this rubble. And the United States is giving helicopters. Russia's sending in two helicopters. China had a terrible earthquake. They're now sending in a search-and-rescue team. Mexico, Brazil, all these countries are helping.

But the American people can help just by giving us what we need down there to keep people alive and treat their basic injuries while we're going through this rubble. Then within about two weeks, we can start thinking about the long-term rebuilding. But right now, we've just got to save every life we can. We can still -- for three or four more days, we can still find people alive under this rubble, but we've got to be able to care for them once we pull them out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, such a heartbreak, looking at these pictures and seeing what these people have endured, and of course, the loss of life that we're going to learn more and more about every single day. But this country has been so poor for so long. I mean, the structures are poorly constructed, which contributes to some -- you know, some -- maybe increased destruction here. Why has this country been so poor? What has been the problem there?

CLINTON: Well, 200 years ago, Haiti was the richest place in the Caribbean. But when it became a free black country, the first successful slave revolt, there were -- first they spent years waiting for the French to invade again. Second, there were people in America that didn't want to recognize them because they felt threatened. They felt slavery threatened in America. And then the abuses that they got from outside began to be repeated inside by the Haitian leaders themselves. And over time, between inside and outside abuse and neglect, the country just never recovered its footing.

But I will say this. They've been making steps toward democracy for nearly 20 years now. Democracy has been interrupted twice and restored, once when I was president and then again with the restoration of President Preval, who is about to finish his term and we're going to have a genuine democratic transfer of power when his election -- his period of service is up.

But the important thing for the American people to know is that -- I've been going down there since December of 1975, when Hillary and I took a delayed wedding trip there. And in my lifetime, this is the best chance the Haitians have ever had to build a modern, successful state. We had an investment conference there, 600 people came from Latin America, the Caribbean, the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia. We've got a strong government there, committed to modernizing the country.

We've just to get through this. We have got to save as many lives as possible and manage this crisis after a terrible body blow to the government and a terrible body blow to the United Nations. I cannot thank President Obama and the American government enough for what they're doing, and all these other people around the world. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is doing a good job.

But I'm telling you, all this abuse and neglect and self- destructiveness, and all this -- we were poised to wipe it away before this. And what we have to do now is just get in there and prove that we can work with them and competently save as many lives as possible, reconstitute the U.N. operation, which I think we'll be able to do. Edmond Mulet, who was there before the current head of the U.N. mission, is now a deputy secretary general of the U.N. He's going down to take over again while we try dig our own wounded and dead out of the U.N. headquarters there.

And then -- we were going to go back to trying to escape history. I'm telling you that -- that -- you talk to any member of the Haitian diaspora. They do well in America. They do well in Canada. They do well in France. And they believe we can bring the country back. That's what makes this so sad. But it also means that we've got to save as many lives as possible so we can get back to the business of rebuilding the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we put the lower third of the screen, the number so that people can make a donation to try to help do this. Mr. President, thank you very much. And good luck because it's clear you got a lot more work on your plate with this one. Thank you, sir.

CLINTON: Thank you, Greta. Bye-bye.

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