OTR Interviews

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: The exit interview 'On the Record'

Secretary of state reflects on accountability for the Benghazi tragedy, whether the US will return to the region and Egypt's controversial president


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 29, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Madam Secretary, nice to see you.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Great to see you, Greta. Thank you.


CLINTON: I'm good!

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you...

CLINTON: I'm absolutely great. I'm, you know, in the final stages of my secretary of state term, and I'm trying to get everything possibly done that I can.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did it go fast?

CLINTON: It went really fast. It's hard to imagine how quickly the time passed. There was so much going on that it was just, you know, one thing after another, day after day.

VAN SUSTEREN: The world is still quite turbulent.


VAN SUSTEREN: And there's news today about Egypt. And I'm curious, with all the chaos that's breaking out there, I -- your thoughts on what's going to happen? What should we do, if anything? And what does it mean for the region?

CLINTON: Well, those are three really important questions. And I think that post the Arab revolutions that took place in Egypt and Libya and Tunisia, and you know, bursts of them elsewhere in the region, there was always going to be a period of adjustment.

And what we have to work for, along with the international community, as well as people inside Egypt, is not to see these revolutions hijacked by extremists, not to see the return of dictatorial rule, the absence of the rule of law.

And it's hard. It's hard going from decades under one party or one man rule, as somebody said, waking up from a political coma and understanding democracy.

So we have a lot at stake in trying to keep moving these transformations in the right direction.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is President Morsi, though -- is he sort of with the program with us or not? Because he's said some horrible things about Israelis two years ago, and there's some things printed today from one of his senior aides about, that the Holocaust didn't exist. And so there's sort of very sort of suspicious things that he's saying. And with all this turmoil, I'm wondering if his -- you know, is he with us or against us?

CLINTON: Well, we were quite concerned about those statements, and the Egyptian presidency repudiated them and reaffirmed a commitment to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which is, of course, absolutely core to everything that we hope to see happen in the Middle East.

But you have to, I think, take a step back and look at the fact that the people now in power in these countries have never been in government, never had a chance to really learn how to run agencies or to make decisions.

So we don't, certainly, condone or in any way approve of what a lot of these leaders are doing, or failing to do. But we also know how important it is that we try to avoid even more extreme elements, which are active across the region, taking control of territory, even threatening a regime, where the people are often American-educated, have some ongoing commitment to, you know, make tough decisions.

When I negotiated the ceasefire in Gaza with President Morsi, he was, you know, very involved. I'd obviously gone to Israel first. Then I went to Egypt, and we got it done. It's still holding.

So we have to, you know, keep pushing forward, and yet call it like we see it when we think something is not appropriate, as we did with those statements.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you met him, did you have a sense that he was a good partner, someone that we can deal with, or do we have to, you know, sort of, you know, be very cautious with him?

CLINTON: I think he has a lot of the right intentions. You know, certainly in my long conversations with him, the many reports of meetings that I've received of other American officials, a recent congressional delegation, you do get the impression that he and the team around him are trying to deal with the economy that is in very bad shape in Egypt, the loss of foreign currency and investment and the tourism trade, the political reforms that are necessary.

But the -- you know, the jury is out, Greta. You know, I've been around long enough to, so it's not what somebody says, it's what they do. And some of what he's done, we have approved of and supported. And some of what he's done, like abrogating a lot of power unto himself personally, reinstating emergency law provisions that had been a hallmark of the Mubarak regime, are very troubling.

And, you know, we have a balancing act to do, as do the Egyptian people as to how this is going to turn out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I'm very suspicious of him because he had invited President Bashir of Sudan and essentially gave him a state visit to Egypt a couple of months ago when he should have, at least in my view, he's under indictment at the International Criminal Court. He should have been arrested. So I mean, anyone who's sort of lending a hand to President Bashir and not arresting him, um, made me suspicious of him, in light of the fact that Iran is up to their eyeballs with Sudan.

CLINTON: Well, unfortunately, uh, that's not an uncommon story across the African continent. And we have reached out numerous times to countries that have given Bashir a welcome, uh, allowed him to come to meetings, because he is under indictment. And he does need to be held accountable for what happened on his watch as president.

On the other hand, though, this is a long border with Egypt. One of the biggest problems that Egypt is faces is the lack of border security, the importation of weapons on their way to Gaza, for example coming out of Sudan.

So we have a lot of very, uh, intense discussions, uh, with our Egyptian counterparts, including him, as to, you know, let's prioritize. We need to stop extremism, uh, in Egypt. We need to stop weapons coming across your border. We need to reassert order in the Sinai. It's in Egypt's interests. It's in Israel's interests. We need to try to stop Hamas from its constant attacks on Israel, something that also redounds to the detriment of Egypt over the long run, because it could become uncontrollable. We have a long list of important issues that we're raising with them. And obviously their borders with Libya and Sudan are critical.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your predecessor, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, said the other night that Iran -- if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that it is a turning point in history. And everybody lives in fear of it, whether it's President Obama has said things. You've said things, your predecessors, Prime Minister Netanyahu, no one wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. But as we all sort of say that, they're marching forward in time. What's going to happen there?

CLINTON: Well, as you know, our policy is prevention, not containment. And we have through the hard work we've undertaken with the international community, uh, imposed the toughest set of sanctions, international and bilateral on any country. We know it's having an effect. We have a great deal of evidence about the economic impact that the sanctions are having on the Iranian economy, and, therefore, on the political and clerical leadership.

Now, part of what we have to continue to do is keep them isolated, keep all the countries, including Russia and China, on board, as they have been up to now. So we've said from the very beginning, uh, we're open to diplomacy. We are doing so in the so-called P5-plus-1 format.

But this is an unacceptable, uh, path that they must, uh, stop or, uh, action will have to be taken. At this point, uh, we are continuing to keep the pressure on them in the pressure track and making it clear that, you know, there's not going to be any alternative but to deny them a nuclear weapons program.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not suggesting we have military action against them. I'm only sort of looking at it from afar. And I see a country that first of all you have some sanctions on it, but we do give waivers to some countries. I mean some countries get to do business with them a little bit. So it's not a completely hermetically sealed country. They do get some relief.

But the other thing is that they're behind -- they're behind the problems in Syria, they're behind the problem with Hezbollah, with Hamas, I mean Iran -- and they're destabilizing to Israel, say hateful things to Israel. We're busy trying to contain them but we may be on a different time track than their nuclear weapons program. And we -- you know, they may -- it may be a faster program. I don't know if this is.

So, you know, there is going to come a time when, you know, we're going to have to -- we might have to make a different decision.

CLINTON: Well, we've always said all options are on the table. The president has been very clear about that.

And I'm glad you raised the terrorism aspect of Iran's behavior, because there's so much attention on the effort to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon that we sometimes overlook the very active efforts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, their proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah and others, who have engaged in assassinations, bombings, destabilizing countries. That has been a very challenging, ongoing threat.

And for a while, I have to tell you, when I came into office, there were too many countries that were turning a blind eye to it.

We have worked very hard to get the international community, particularly the region, Europe and elsewhere, to say wait a minute, these guys need to be stopped on the terrorism front. They cannot be permitted to go forward.

You know, when we found out about the plot to kill the, uh, ambassador from Saudi Arabia --

VAN SUSTEREN: Here in Washington.

CLINTON: -- here in Washington, you know, there was disbelief on the part of a lot of countries. And we produced evidence. This man pled guilty. No one should have any doubt that in addition to the nuclear threat, which I agree with Dr. Kissinger, is a potential turning point in history, not only because of what it would mean to Iran's attempts to intimidate their neighbors, but the arms race that it would instigate. But we have to also keep an eye on stopping them from their terrorism.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did they get the money to do this? If we have sanctions on them and if they're behind supplying weapons or as the Yemen boat that was picked up the other day and behind Hezbollah and Hamas, where are they getting the money? Is it from Russia or does it help to fund these terrorists?

CLINTON: Well, they are a rich country. They have a lot of economic wealth and strength that has been built up over many years. These sanctions are truly biting, but there are outlier countries that still, uh, try to evade the efforts that we all have made to make it as difficult as possible to do business with them.

And we've shut down a lot of financial institutions. We have changed the behaviors of a lot of governments and others who thought they could get away with it. You know, but there are still, you know, rogue nations. There are still countries that are totally dependent upon Iranian, uh, resources.

So I think we've done a very, uh, credible job of toughening and tightening the sanctions. But there's more to come. We'll be issuing more sanctions, identifying more people.

But ultimately, what we want to see is Iran come to the negotiating table and the P5-plus-1 format and basically say they're, you know, going to have the most open, uh, inspections, they're not pursuing nuclear weapons. They claim that they're not. You know, they keep referring to the religious fatwa that, uh, the supreme leader issued, that they're not pursuing nuclear weapons --

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't believe that.

CLINTON: Well, you know, I'm from the trust-but-verify camp when it comes to Iran. You know, this is what they say. They continue to say it. But we have a body of evidence that points in the other direction. I mean if that is true, then why are they developing a missile program that has intercontinental ballistic capacity? You know, why are they adding centrifuges and more enrich uranium as a result?

So, you know, they owe the international community, not just the United States, they owe the Security Council of the United Nations, they owe the International Atomic Energy Agency, they own the -- owe the EU and many others an explanation as to what it they're doing if they claim they're not pursuing nuclear weapons.


VAN SUSTEREN: And we have much more with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Coming up, the deadly 9/11 terror attack at our Benghazi consulate. Should Americans now be worried about security at all our embassies overseas and consulates, or is something being done now to address the real and present dangers? Secretary Clinton answers that question.


VAN SUSTEREN: Now more with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right, a two part question on Benghazi. Number one is in light of what's happened, can Americans now feel safe or satisfied that we are moving to secure all our consulates and embassies for our diplomats overseas? That's the first thing. The second thing is, so do we go back to Benghazi?

CLINTON: Well, as to the first question, you know, the accountability review board made a set of recommendations. We are embracing and implementing all of them, and making sure that we apply them.

Now, it's not all a question of money. I am the first to say that. You know, you have to have the right people and the right job, making the right decisions. But money is a factor. And ever since the Bush administration, our requests for security monies from Congress have not been met. So you've had to make priority decisions. And it's been difficult.

So I am determined to leave the State Department safer and stronger when I walk out the door. And I know that John Kerry will just pick up the ball and run with it.

With respect to do we go back, you know, let me explain why we're there. This was the heart of the Libyan revolution. We knew that there were dangerous people, uh, in and around Benghazi. We also knew that there were a lot of loose weapons. And part of what we were doing there was trying to get leads on recovering those loose weapons. And we knew that there were smuggling routes that could go into Egypt, into Sinai, threaten Israel.

So there were very important reasons why we were there, not just the State Department, but other government agencies. Whether or when we go back will depend upon the security situation, and what kind of, you know, security support diplomats would have.

But I hasten to add, Greta, that, you know, I -- I have dangerous posts all over the world. We have people in incredibly, uh, high threat environments.

VAN SUSTEREN: I've seen some of them.

CLINTON: You have seen some of them. And they're there because we believe there being there is in America's national interests, particularly our security interests.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the women of Afghanistan? What can they expect as we leave?

CLINTON: Well, they're going to, uh, have to be given, uh, support from their own government and people, as well as the international community.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's grim for them.

CLINTON: For a lot of women, life is much better. Girls are in school who never were before. Women are able to practice their professions and pursue their businesses. So for an increasing group of Afghan women, life is better. Still, there are all kinds of discrimination and difficulties. But for a large group of rural women, life has not changed very much.

And what I worry about is that the security situation will keep a total lid on the aspirations and education of the rural women and begin to, uh, intimidate and drive out of the public space, uh, women who have seen their lives improve.

And I think it's incumbent upon us and all the nations that have been in Afghanistan to do everything we can to, uh, prevent that from happening.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm getting a time signal, but I'm going to go over and probably get in trouble with your staff. But --


VAN SUSTEREN: -- you know, we always see a secretary of state, we've seen your very public role. And I know the last four years has been a real high. And Chelsea Clinton got married during the last four years, but also your biggest supporter, your biggest fan, Dorothy Rodham, your mother, who was a big role model to you, and all of us in Washington who knew her, she was a real character, she died during these four years.


VAN SUSTEREN: So there's highs and lows.

CLINTON: There are. And, you know, my mother really enjoyed the company of you and your husband. And she was, at the age of, you know, 90 plus, so vital, so interested in people. She taught me so many lessons and I miss her every day, because I was fortunate that she was living with us here in Washington. So I got to see her, you know, every night I could come home or when I came back from a trip. And she was always so interested in what we were doing and what I had seen. I was lucky to have her for so long.

VAN SUSTEREN: She was a character.

CLINTON: I know. She was a character who overcame so many hurdles in her own life and, you know, just shared her love and her intelligence and her curiosity, not only with us, her children, but everybody she met.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. Anyway, Madam Secretary, thanks very much. Nice to see you.

CLINTON: Good to see you, Greta. Thank you.