Hillary Clinton photo

Remarks and a Question and Answer Session at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC

September 09, 2015

CLINTON: Thank you so much, Strobe. Thank you so much. [applause]

Well let me thank you, Strobe. It's great to be back at Brookings and there are a lot of long-time friends and colleagues who perch here at Brookings. Obviously, including Strobe and Martin, who I'll speak to in a minute. Also Bob Einhorn and Tammy Wittes.

This institution has hosted many important conversation over the years and I appreciate Strobe's reference to the event last night and the continuing dialogue about urgent issues facing our nation and the world. That's what brings me here today, back to Brookings, to talk about the question we're all grappling with: how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and more broadly, how to protect ourselves and our allies from the full range of threats that Iran poses.

The stakes are high and there are no simple of perfectly satisfying solutions. So these questions, and in particular the merits of the nuclear deal recently reached with Iran, have divided people of good will and raised hard issues on both sides.

Here is how I see it. Either we move forward on the path of diplomacy and seize this chance to block Iran's path to a nuclear weapon or, we turn down a more dangerous path, leading to a far-less certain and riskier future. That's why I support this deal. I support it as part of a larger strategy toward Iran.

By now, the outcome in Congress is no longer in much doubt. So we've got to start looking made to what comes next, enforcing the deal, deterring Iran and its proxies and strengthening our allies. These will be my goals as president and today I want to talk about how I would achieve them.

Let me start by saying I understand the skepticism so many feel about Iran. I too am deeply concerned about Iranian aggression and the need to confront it. It's a ruthless, brutal regime that has the blood of Americans, many others and including its own people on its hands.

Its political rallies resound with cries of, "Death to America." Its leaders talk about wiping Israel off the face of the map, most recently just yesterday, and foment terror against it. There is absolutely no reason to trust Iran.

Now, Vice President Cheney may hope that the American people will simply forget, but the truth is, by the time President Obama took office and I became secretary of State, Iran was racing toward a nuclear capability.

They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, meaning that they had the material, scientists and technical know how to create material for nuclear weapons. They had produced and installed thousands of centrifuges, expanded their secret facilities, established a robust uranium enrichment program and defied their international obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And they haven't suffered many consequences.

I voted for sanctions again and again as a senator from New York. But they weren't having much effect. Most of the world still did business with Iran. We needed to step up our game.

So President Obama and I pursued a two-prong strategy: pressure and engagement. We made it clear that the door to diplomacy was open if Iran answered the concerns of the international community in a serious and credible way.

We simultaneously launched a comprehensive campaign to significantly raise the cost of Iranian defiance. We systematically increased our military capabilities in the region, deepening our cooperation with partners and sending more fire power, an additional aircraft carrier, battleship, strike aircraft and the most advanced radar and missile defense systems available.

Meanwhile, I traveled the world capital by capital, leader by leader, twisting arms to help build the global coalition that produced some of the most effective sanctions in history.

With President Obama's leadership, we worked with Congress and the European Union to cut Iran off from the world's economic and financial system. And one by one, we persuaded energy-hungry consumers of Iranian oil, like India and South Korea, to cut back.

Soon, Iran's tankers sat rusting in port. Its economy was collapsing.

These new measures were effective because we made them global. American sanctions provided the foundation, but Iran didn't really feel the heat until we turned this into an international campaign so biting that Iran had no choice but to negotiate. They could no longer play off one country against another; they had no place to hide.

So they started looking for a way out. I first visited Oman to speak with the sultan of Oman in January of 2011, went back later that year. The sultan helped set up a secret back channel. I sent one of my closest aids as part of a small team to begin talks with the Iranians in secret.

Negotiations began in earnest after the Iranian election in 2013. First, the bilateral talks led by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan that led to the interim agreement, then the multilateral talks led by Secretary John Kerry, Secretary Ernie Moniz and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman.

Now there's a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Is it perfect? Well, of course not. No agreement like this ever is.

But is a strong agreement? Yes, it is. And we absolutely should not turn it down.

The merits of the deal have been well-argued, so I won't go through them in great detail here. The bottom line is that it accomplishes the major goals we set out to achieve. It blocks every pathway for Iran to get a bomb, and it gives us better tools for verification and inspection and to compel rigorous compliance.  Without a deal, Iran's breakout time, how long they need to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon, would shrink to a couple of months. With a deal, that breakout time stretches to a year, which means that if Iran cheats, we'll know it, and we'll have time to respond decisively.

Without a deal, we would have no credible inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities. With a deal, we'll have unprecedented access; we'll be able to monitor every aspect of their nuclear program.

Now, some have expressed concern that certain nuclear restrictions expire after 15 years. And we need to be vigilant about that, which I'll talk more about in a moment. But other parts are permanent, including Iran's obligations under the Non-proliferation Treaty and their commitment to enhanced inspections under the additional protocol.

Others have expressed concern that it could take up to 24 days to gain access to some of Iran's facilities when we suspect cheating. I'd be the first to say that this part of the deal is not perfect. Although the deal does allow for daily access to enrichment facilities and monitoring of the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

It's important to focus on that, because being able to monitor the supply chain is critical to what we will find out and how we will be able to respond. But our experts tell us that even with delayed access to some places, this deal does the job. Microscopic nuclear particles remain for years and years. They are impossible to hide. That's why Secretary Moniz, a nuclear physicist, has confidence in this plan.

And some are suggested we just go back to the negotiating table and get a better, unspecified deal. I can certainly understand why that may sound appealing, but as someone who started these talks in the first place, and built our global coalition piece by piece, I can assure you it is not realistic. Plus, if we walk away now, our capacity to sustain and enforce sanctions will be severely diminished.

We will be blamed, not the Iranians.

So if we were to reject this agreement, Iran would be poised to get nearly everything it wants without giving up a thing. No restrictions on their nuclear program. No real warning if Tehran suddenly rushes toward a bomb. And the International Sanctions regime would fall apart, so no more economic consequences for Iran, either. Those of use who have been out there on the diplomatic front lines know that diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection; it's the balancing of risk.

And on balance, the far riskier course right now would be to walk away. Great powers can't just junk agreements and expect the rest of the world to go along with us. We need to be reasonable and consistent, and keep our word, especially when we are trying to lead a coalition.

That is how we will make this and future deals work. But it is not enough to say, "yes," to the deal. Of course it isn't.We have to say, yes, and—yes, and we will enforce it with vigor and vigilance. Yes, and we will embed it in a broader strategy to confront Iran's bad behavior in the region. Yes, and we will begin from day one to set the conditions, so Iran knows it will never get a nuclear weapon, not during the term of the agreement, not after, not ever. We need to be clear. And I think we have to make that very clear to Iran about what we expect from them. This is not the start of some larger diplomatic opening and we shouldn't accept that this deal will lead to broader changes in their behavior.

That shouldn't be a promise for proceeding, instead we need to be prepared for three scenarios. First, Iran tries to cheat, something it's been quite willing to do in the past. Second, Iran tries to wait us out, perhaps it waits to move for 15 years when some, but not all restrictions expire. And third, Iran ramps up the dangerous behavior in the region, including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

I believe the success of this deal has a lot to do with how the next president grapples with these challenges. So let me tell you what I would do. My starting point will be one of distrust.

You remember President Reagan's line about the Soviets: Trust but verify? My approach will be distrust and verify. We should anticipate that Iran will test the next president, they'll want to see how far they can bend the rules. That won't work if I'm in the white house.

I will hold the line against Iranian noncompliance, that means penalties even for small violations, keeping our allies on board, but being willing to snapback sanctions into place unilaterally if we have to, working with congress to close any gaps in the sanctions. Right now members of congress are offering proposals to that affect and I think the current administration should work with them to see whether there are additional steps that could be taken.

Finally it means insuring that the IAEA has the resources it needs from finances to personnel to equipment to hold Iran's feet to the fire. The most important thing we can do to keep Iran from cheating or trying to wait us out is to shaped Iranian expectations right from the start. The Iranians and the world need to understand that we will act decisively if we need to.

So here is my message to Iran's leaders, The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon. As president, I will take whatever action is necessary to protect the united states and our allies, I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon, and I will set up my successor to be able to credibly make the same pledge. We will make clear to Iran that our commitment to prevention will not waver depending on who is in office, it's permanent.

Should it become necessary in the future having exhausted peaceful alternatives to turn to military force, we will have preserved and in some cases enhanced our capacity to act. And because we have proven our commitment to diplomacy first, the world will more likely join us.

Then there is the broader issue of countering Iran's bad behavior across the region. Taking nuclear-weapons out of the equation is crucial because an Iran with nuclear weapons is so much more dangerous, than an Iran without them.

But even without nuclear weapons, we still see Iran's fingerprints on nearly every conflict across the Middle East. They support bad actors from Syria, to Lebanon, to Yemen. They vow to destroy Israel. And that's worth saying again. They vow to destroy Israel. We can not ever take that lightly, particularly when Iran ships and advanced missiles to Hezbollah and the ayatollah outlines an actual strategy for eliminating Israel, or talks about how Israel won't exist in 25 years just like he did today.

And in addition to the malicious activity they already underwrite, we have got to anticipate that Iran could use some of the economic relief they get from this deal to pay for even more. So as President I will raise the costs for their actions and confront them across the board. My strategy will be based on five strong pillars.

First, I will deepen America's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, including our long standing tradition of guaranteeing Israel's qualitative military edge. I'll increase support for Israeli rocket and missile defenses and for intelligence sharing. I'll sell Israel the most sophisticated fire aircraft ever developed. The F-35. We'll work together to develop and implement better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping as well as the strongest possible missile defense system for Northern Israel, which has been subjected to Hezbollah's attacks for years.

Second, I will reaffirm that the Persian Gulf is a region of vital interest to the United States. We do not want any of Iran's neighbors to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon's program either. So we want them to feel and be secure. I will sustain a robust military presence in the region, especially our air and naval forces. We'll keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We'll increase security cooperation with our Gulf allies, including intelligence sharing, military support and missile defense to ensure they can defend against Iranian aggression. Even if that takes the form of cyberattacks or other non-traditional threats.

Iran should understand that the United States and I as President, will not stand by as our Gulf allies and partners are threatened. We will act. Third, I will be a coalition to counter Iran's proxies, particularly Hezbollah. That means enforcing and strengthening the rules prohibiting the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. Looking at new ways to choke off their funding and pressing our partners to treat Hezbollah as the terrorist organization that it is.

It's time to eliminate the false distinction that some still make between the supposed political and military wings. If you're part of Hezbollah, you're part of a terrorist organization, plain and simple. Beyond Hezbollah, I'll crack down on the shipment of weapons to Hamas. And push Turkey and Qatar to end their financial support. I'll press our partners in the region to prevent aircrafts and ships owned by companies linked to Iran's revolutionary guard from entering their territories, and urge our partners to block Iranian plans from entering their airspace on their way to Yemen and Syria.

Across the board, I will vigorously enforce and strengthen, if necessary, other American sanctions on Iran and its revolutionary guard for its sponsorship of terrorism, its ballistic missile program and other destabilizing activities.  I'll enforce and strengthen, if necessary, our restrictions on sending arms to Iran and from Iran to bad actors like Syria, and I'll impose these sanctions on everyone involved in these activities, whether they're in Iran or overseas. This will be a special imperative, as some of the U.N. sanctions lapse, so the U.S. and our partners have to step up.

Fourth, I'll stand, as I always have, against Iran's abuses at home, from its detention of political prisoners, to its crack down on freedom of expression, including online. Its inhumane policies hold back talented and spirited people. Our quarrel is not and never has been that the Iranian people. They'd have a bright future, hopeful future if they weren't held back by their leaders.

As I've said before, I think we were too restrained in our support of the protests in June 2009 and in our condemnation of the government crack down that followed. That won't happen again. We will enforce, and if need be, broaden our human rights sanction and I will not rest until every single American detained or missing in Iran is home.

Fifth, just to the nuclear agreement needs to be embedded in a broader Iran policy. Our broader Iran policy needs to be embedded in a comprehensive regional strategy that promotes stability and counters extremism.

Iran, like ISIS, benefits from chaos and strife. It exploits other countries' weaknesses and the best defense against Iran are the countries and governments being strong, that they can provide security and economic opportunity to their own people and they must have the tools to push back on radicalization and extremism.

Helping countries get there will take time and strategic discipline, but it's crucial that the United States leads this effort. I will push for renewed diplomacy to solve the destructive regional conflicts that Iran fuels. We have to bring sufficient pressure on Assad to force a political solution in Syria, including a meaningful increase in our efforts to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition, something I called for early in the conflict, and the United States must lead in assisting those who have been uprooted by conflict, especially the millions of Syrian refugees now beseeching the world to help them.

As Pope Francis reminded us, this is an international problem that demands an international response, and the United States must help lead that response. That's who we are, and that's what we do.

So our strategy needs to cover all these bases, Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, its hatred of Israel and its cruelty towards its citizens, its military resources and its economic strengths and weaknesses. We need to be creative, committed and vigilant, and on every front, we need to keep working closely with our friends and partners.

On that note, let me just spend a minute speaking about the serious concerns that Israel's leaders have about this deal. Israel has every reason to be alarmed by a regime that both denies its existence and seeks its destruction.  I would not support this agreement for one second if I thought it put Israel in greater danger. I believe in my core that Israel and America must stand side by side, and I—I will always stand by Israel's right to defend itself, as I always have.  I believe this deal and a joint strategy for enforcing it makes Israel safer.

I say that with humility. I'm not Israeli. I don't know what it's like to live under constant threat from your neighbors in a country where the margin for error is so thin. I know that my saying this deal makes you safer won't alleviate the very real fears of the Israeli people.

But I have stood for Israeli security for a very long time. It was one of my bedrock principles as secretary of state. It's why I supported stronger defense systems, like the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, which proved so effective in protecting Israeli lives during the conflicts of 2012 and last summer, that's why I've worked closely with Israel to advance the two-state vision of a Jewish and Democratic Israel with secure and recognized borders, and it's why I believe we should expedite negotiations of a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel.

Let's not wait until 2017 when the current deal expires; let's get it done this year.

I would invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House during my first month in office to talk about all of these issues and to set us on a course of close, frequent consultation right from the start, because we both rely on each other for support as partners, allies and friends.

This isn't just about policy for me; it is personal. As president, I'm committed to shoring up and strengthening the relationship between our countries.

We have had honest disagreements about this deal. Now is the time to come together. Now is the time to remember what unites us and build upon it.

And so I know well that the same forces that threaten Israel threaten the United States. And to the people of Israel, let me say, you'll never have to question whether we're with you. The United States will always be with you. There have also been honest disagreements about the nuclear deal here at home. Smart, serious people can see issues like these differently, like my friend, Chuck Schumer, who's going to be an excellent leader in the Senate. I respect the skepticism that he and others feel, and I respect differences of opinion and people who advocate vigorously for their beliefs.

But I have a harder time respecting those who approach an issue as serious as this with unserious talk, especially anyone running to be president of the United States.

Several Republican candidates boast they'll tear up this agreement in 2017, more than a year after it's been implemented. That's not leadership; that's recklessness. It would set us right down the very dangerous path we have worked so hard to avoid.

I'm looking forward to a—a robust debate about foreign policy in this campaign. Where we have disagreements, we should lay them out, like if American ground forces in Iraq should engage in direct combat, as Scott Walker wants, or if we should keep Cuba closed, as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush want. Let's debate these issues.  But let's debate them on the basis of facts, not fear. Let's resist denigrating the patriotism or loyalty of those who disagree with us, and let's avoid at all costs undermining America's credibility abroad. That only makes us weaker, and I am going to call it out whenever I see it.

I spent four years representing America abroad as America—secretary of state was one of the greatest privileges of my life, and knowing my fellow Americans were counting on the and rooting for me, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans, meant to great deal.

We are all one team, the American team and that doesn't change, no matter how much we may disagree. I can tell you from personal experience we are stronger overseas, when we are united at home. So we simply have to find a way to work together better than we have been doing. There is a lot Democrats and Republicans can and should agree on.

The United States should lead in the Middle East, we can agree on that. We should stand by our friends against Iranian aggression, we can agree on that, too. I believe the plan I have laid out today is one that all Americans could endorse, and I hope they will.

The next president will face threats from many quarters, from those we see today like terrorism from ISIS, aggressiveness from Putin, pandemics like Ebola, to all those we can't predict yet.

We need a leader who has a strong vision for the future, and the skill and determination to get us there. We can't stop the world from changing, but we can help to shape those changes, and we can do that by beating with strength, smarts and unyielding commitment to our values. You know, I saw that when I was first lady, senator, secretary of state, that when America leads with principal and purpose, other people and governments are eager to join us.

No country comes close to matching our advantages, the strength of our economy, the skill of our work force, tradition of innovation, our unmatched network of alliances and partnership. So, we are poised to remain that world's most admired and powerful nation for of long time, if we make this smart choices and practice smart leadership. That is what I will try to do as your president, and I believe as strongly as ever that our best days are ahead of us, and that America's greatest contributions to the world are yet to come.

Thank you all very much. [applause]

INDYK: Well, thank you, very much, Madam Secretary.

I was wondering what we could call this speech, and it occurred to me at the end it would be, "From Hard Choices to Smart Choices." Right? Or the "Yes, And" speech.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this second part of the event with Secretary Clinton, which is little a conversation that I will have with her, and then we'll take questions from the audience.

I wanted to start by saying, number one, it's a very clear and very strong speech. And if I had to summarize the basic elements of it, the message to Iran is, we will enforce, we will confront you when you try to destabilize the region, and we will deter you if you try to go for a nuclear weapon some time down the line.  And I wonder how you navigate what is a certain, unspoken tension between the fact that you're going to be taking a hard line against some of the—some of the destabilizing and nefarious activities of the Iranians, and at the same time, this agreement puts the United States into a partnership with Iran in terms of implementing it.

So how do you deal with that—that tension, the Iranians may feel, "Hey, we're giving up all these things to do with our nuclear program and this is what we're going to get in return," is—is very tough American response?

CLINTON: Well, I don't see Iran as our partner in implementing the agreement. I believe that Iran is the subject of the agreement, that it now faces obligations that frankly, in many instances, it faced before the agreement and that they have a—signed an agreement where they are committing themselves to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

The agreement will be enforced not by Iran, the agreement will be enforced by the rest of the negotiators, the other countries plus the IAEA, and it will be and is intended to be quite burdensome and intrusive into Iran.

Now, maybe they believe that having signed the agreement, they can somehow avoid the consequences of the inspections and the other requirements, but I think they understand very well they're at the starting line, there are these demands that they are supposed to fulfill, there is a sequencing of you know, lifting of sanctions and other kinds of benefits that they receive in return for they're having taken the action required.

And I think they are, if anything, probably counting on the world led by the United States being distracted, being diverted, getting tired, not having the staying power to consistently enforce the agreement and hold Iran accountable, and I for one, want to make clear to them that that is not going to happen, that we will take seriously every aspect of this agreement and we will expect them to comply and there will be consequences if they do not.

INDYK: When you called for a—a regional strategy and outlined the—the elements of that, it really seems to come down to when you say this in the speech, Syria and what happens in Syria where Iran is very invested in the Assad regime. Does a regional strategy on your watch mean taking down the Assad regime?

CLINTON: Well, you know, Martin, it's not only Iran that is invested, we're—obviously it's now becoming public, we are learning much more about Russian investment, Russian troops on the ground. It may very well be opening the door to greater Russian involvement. There is no doubt that Russian has—Russia has been a principal funder and supplier throughout this entire terrible episode.

So we are facing the collapse of Syria, the survival thus far of the Assad regime, although it clearly has much less to govern than it did when this started, the open ungoverned areas that are hosting terrorist groups and the continuing commitment from Iran and Russia to propping up Assad.

So I—you know, I was the principal negotiator on the Geneva 2012 agreement, which Russia signed onto, which laid out a pathway to a political solution. It wasn't very long until Russia reneged on what they had signed. But I think it still provides a very credible framework threat from the terrorist groups and that the chaos in Syria can destabilize the region in ways that are bad for Iran. And therefore the higher the pressure is for some kind of reaction to what is going on inside Syria, and certainly the efforts that ISIS is making to take even more and hold territory in Iraq directly against what Iran sees as its interest, the continuing destabilization along the Lebanese border, there's all kinds of reasons why Iran is going to have to confront this instability.

So I think we—my view on this is we have to be talking, and pushing on, and raising the cost for Iran and for Russia all the time. Now, if Putin were sitting here—which is hard to imagine, but if he were—I should ask Strobe—Strobe is the expert. He would say, "We're fighting terrorism, that's what we are doing. There may be a way to begin to join those efforts."

INDYK: So—the—I remember well a speech that you gave when you were secretary of state, in which you warned the Gulf leaders about policies that were based on sand. President Obama in talking about the concerns of Iran's destabilizing activity in the region said, "Look, we can help protect our Gulf Arab allies from external threats. the problem is how to protect them from internal threats." And you have been clear again that you will do that in terms of protecting against those threats, but I wanted—I wonder how you deal with that continuing challenge?

CLINTON: Well, you know very well it is a difficult one. I apologize for my voice I'm suffering under massive allergy assault. Yes, Republican histamines are everywhere. [laughter]

So—you know, Martin, this is one of the biggest problems we face, nobody can deny that much of the extremism in the world today is the direct result of policies and funding undertaken by the Saudi government and individuals. We would be foolish not to recognize that, I think increasingly they would be mistaken not to recognize that.

You can never be more extreme than the next extremist and I think they face some very serious internal problems, as do the other regimes. I am not sure they are convinced of that. I am not sure they believe that they have to figure out different ways of dealing with their own population and cooperating with each other, and cutting off funding, and exporting troublesome imams to elsewhere. But I think you have to be constantly beating that drum with them, and maybe now, given the rise of ISIS and the very clear threat they feel from, you know, Iranian activities in the Gulf that maybe there's an openness there. I know that the king was here last week, had a chance to, you know, meet with the president.

So perhaps there's more of an opportunity for a candid dialogue than we've had in the past. However, having said that, I still think we have to do what we need to do to defend them because the alternatives are hardly more promising.

INDYK: Israel. You—you've made a very clear effort in your speech to say that, "It's time for healing, it's time to come together." And when you're President that you would have the Prime Minister there in your first month. And that's very consistent I think as you said in your speech with your approach which has always been as I know, to put your arm around Prime Minister Netanyahu or rather...

CLINTON: Or any Prime Minister.

INDYK: Thank you from the Gurney Press. [laughter]

And—and, as you know that's a policy I support too. But some of my friends in Israel recently have said, "That's not the way to deal with us, we need tough love." Which is the alternative you know? Instead of rewarding bad behavior which you should be really speaking tough—more toughly to us. Well, how do you respond to that?

CLINTON: Well I think there's a lot of room for tough love, particularly in private and behind you know, closed doors. As I write in my book, you know, certainly Prime Minister Netanyahu and I have had very rigorous conversations that have gone on in person and over the phone.

But I—I just don't think it's a particularly productive approach for the United States to take because in large measure, it opens the door to everybody else to delegitimize Israel to, you know, pile on in ways that are not good for the—the strength and stability, not just of Israel obviously but of the region. And so, in the absence of you know, some kind of greater goal that we were trying to achieve by doing that I just don't think that is the smartest approach.

INDYK: All right. Let's go to your questions. I would ask you please to identify yourself and make sure that there's a question mark at the—at the end of your question.

Robin Wright ?

CLINTON: Hi, Robin.

QUESTION: Thank you. Robin Wright , U.S. Institute of Peace and former Brookings scholar.

Madam Secretary, you talked about how you would use American muscle to contain Iran. Can you tell us how you might use the new diplomatic channel to engage Iran on issues whether it's support for extremist groups or specifically dealing with the crisis in Syria. Would you be willing to use that diplomatic channel to engage Iran?

CLINTON: Yes, I would, Robin. And I—and I would because I think that we have to attempt to do that, you know?  When I first went to Oman in January of 2011, we didn't know whether any effort at some kind of secret channel would pay off. We still had the P5-plus-1 that was going on and we knew that eventually whatever the United States did would have to merge into the international approach.

But we had to begin to explore it. And we did. And we explored it over that summer. That's when we had the first, you know, visit to discuss anything could be possible. It takes awhile, as you know so well, being such an expert in this region, to figure out who's at the table, what the conversation's about, how seriously it will be taken, who's backing you up. And so, then when the—the talks actually started, just in the Iranian-American channel with Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan and Bob Einhorn was also involved.

It was—it was exploratory and it laid down some of the—the ground rules that we were looking for, and then eventually it was merged into the larger P5-plus-1 once there was a change in government in Iran and there was some real seriousness of effort.

So with respect to the other issues, I—I—I have very clearly, in the public arena, seen the Iranians at the highest levels reject any such discussion. They don't want to talk about Yemen, they don't want to talk about anything other than the nuclear agreement. Now that was a strategic decision we made back then.

You know, number one, it appeared to us in the early discussions with them, trying to figure out how to proceed. They wanted to talk about everything as a way to get some items on the table to trade off for the nuclear agreement, so that they would not have to make, perhaps, as many concessions as we were expecting them to make. That's why we kept very focused on just the nuclear program.

We also had the continuing challenge, and it would be even in this instance, of our friends in the Gulf not wanting us to talk about anything that affected them in a bilateral channel with the Iranians, and you can understand why. I mean, they—you know, if they weren't going to be at the table, they didn't want the United States talking about Yemen or talking about anything else of interest, of vital interest in their views to them.

So if there were a way to construct such a—a channel, I would be open to it, but I'm just laying out some of the difficulties of us being able to do that on this suite of other issues that are complex that touch many of the—the region's vital interests. And—and I think when it comes to Syria, we have historically not wanted to talk to Iran about Syria because we knew Iran was basically the principal supporter, propper up if you will, of Assad and we wanted to get the rest of the international community in harness to have a set of expectations and demands before we brought Iran in.

So we have to—you know, we have to readjust this all the time. Just as I said, diplomacy is the balancing of risk, it's also the—the constant evaluation of where the opportunities are, where the openings are, what possibly could happen now that didn't happen before. So I'm open but I am very sober about how it would have to be constructed and what it would actually cover and who would have to be either at the table or you know, in the—in the first chair behind, so that they didn't feel that they were being left out or negotiated over.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

CLINTON: Here comes your microphone.

QUESTION: Thanks for the microphone.

QUESTION: [off-mike]

CLINTON: So I think that's a very—it's an important questions. I don't know if you could hear the question. But it was—it was aimed at, what could you do to up the cost on Russia, for example, to be a more productive partner in seeking a solution? And how would we do more to—as I understood what you said, you know, work with our European partners on these securities issues that are challenging Europe? And we see that everyday with the refugees because it's humanitarian but it's also a security challenge as well?

Well, you know, I—I have been—I remain convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia, and in particular on Putin. I think we have not done enough. I am in the category of people who wanted us to do more in response to the annexation of Crimea and the continuing destabilization of Ukraine. I understand the hesitation, not only in our country but most importantly, in Europe.

The sanctions came out of the all discussions and you know, maybe to some extent they have had you know, some impact. I think the falling oil price has had more impact and we've got to figure out how we you know, combine both in looking at ways to put more—to up the costs, to put more pressure on Putin. I think it's one of the long term security challenges that United States, Europe, and especially NATO face. And I don't think we can dance around it very much longer.

I mean, we all wish it wasn't the case. We all wish it would go away. We all wish that Putin would choose to modernize his country and move toward the west, instead of you know, sinking himself deeper into you know, historical roots of czar-like behavior and intimidation along borders, and projecting Russian power in places like Syria and elsewhere.

But I think the jury is in, I think that he intends to continue to do what he is doing and go as far as he can get away with. And I believe that we've got to regroup—we've got to regroup quickly, because I worry very much about what's happening in Syria right now.

Troops on the ground to allegedly protect military supplies. What is Russia's real objective? You know, the stated objective, the public objective, to fight terrorism, has always been their rationale. Why did they support Assad? Because after Assad there would be terrorism. Now, obviously if we had a different approach from the beginning working together we might've avoided this. We might've actually help to midwife a political transition. So I think we've got to spend a lot more time.

All the—you know, all the Russian experts that you know, that thought that their work was done after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I hope that they will be dusting off their materials and I'm looking right at Strobe Talbott, and you know, get back in the game with us. Because, I think Russia's objectives are to stymie and to confront and to undermine American power whenever and wherever they can. I don't think there's much—you know, I don't think there's much to be surprised about that.So where we can work with them? You know, that's one of the—you know, one of the criticisms that sometimes comes from the right, the Republicans. You know, "What did the reset ever accomplish?" Well, Medvedev was president actually quite a lot. We did the New START agreement. We got cooperation on Iran because when we got the Security Council to pass the sanctions that we had been working so hard on, that was under Medvedev in June of 2010. We got support to ship lethal material and equipment across to Russia to resupply our troops. We got a lot.

Now, that all changed once you know, Putin announced he was going to be president again now. There's—I don't admire very much about Mr. Putin, but the idea you can stand and say, "I will be your next president." That does have a certain, you know, attraction to it. [laughter]

So, you know, I think we've got—we've really—we are not spending the—the time. We're not thinking, we're not digging deep into what are we going to do. So, to answer the question of the—of the woman who asked, we have to do more to get back talking about how we try to confine, contain, deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond. And try to figure out what are the best tools for doing that and don't lose sight of the architect because we're going to have a lot of issues up there well.

So, I—I—I was always of that opinion. Expressed it vocally within the administration. And nothing that has happened since has in anyway persuaded me other wise.

QUESTION: And I'll just do a quick follow up on that which is more generally, you know. You—you've got to take on the Russians and Putin. You've got to deal with a very comprehensive strategy for a very complicated part of the world called the Middle East. How do you do the rebalancing to Asia on top of all of this?

CLINTON: Well, I—I do think we're capable of doing more than one thing although sometimes it appears difficult. And—and I think we've got to be much more global in our thinking and globally present. The rebalancing to Asia, otherwise known as the pivot, was in response to the very real sense of abandonment that Asian leaders expressed to me. My phone calls to them before I ever went to the region in February of 2009, you know, they—they believed that because we were focused in Afghanistan and we were so focused in Iraq, and obviously had to be given all that we had invested there, that we were just not paying attention to the developments in Asia. I think we've come along in some ways in trying to rebalance but we have a long to go.

And there's much at stake in how we deal with all the players in Asia. I'm hoping that the upcoming trip I have with President Xi Jinping produces some positive outcomes. I thought the climate agreement was quite consequential having been in Copenhagen in '09 with the President when we literally had to break into a meeting where the Chinese were consolidating India, South Africa and Brazil against any kind of movement toward the non advanced economies taking responsibility. So I think we've got some good stakes in the ground but we don't have a—a strategy yet that is going to be consistent.

And the final thing I'll say about this, Martin, and I alluded to it in my remarks, I think one of our—one of our real problems right now is we don't have a consistent foreign policy that is bipartisan, let alone non-partisan. And I think that's a problem.

I mean, I was appalled when those Republican senators wrote to the ayatollah. I thought it was incredibly, you know, short-sighted and you know, wrong-headed. And I don't think—I don't know what we rebuild a consistent foreign policy from administration to administration, regardless of Republican or Democrat. You know, it was a lot easier in a bipolar world, us versus the Soviet Union, I understand that, but I think we really have to work at it. And we can't work at it if we don't have a set of strategic pillars and organizing principles that we can present to our own people and present to the Congress and present to the world.

So I think we have work to do.

INDYK: Andrea?

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, when you talk about the policies with Syria and Putin, was it, in retrospect, a mistake for the administration after you left office to pull back on Labor Day, a couple of years ago, make the deal with Russia on the chemical weapons? Yes, the weapons were disposed of, but that created a different partnership, if you will, on diplomacy.

And secondly, with reference to our colleague from Germany, what should America do to step up to the crisis of migration? Even if it's not on our front door, it is a moral issue, is it not, for the world? Thank you.

CLINTON: As to the first one, you know, it's always difficult in hindsight to say what could have happened if something different had been done. IF we remember back to that time, prime minister Cameron had lost the vote in the parliament. He wanted to show support for the president's policy of taking some limited military action in light of Syria's use of chemical weapons.

So it became clear that there was going to be a difficult vote in the Congress, not clear at all that it would successful, which would have left the president with authority, certainly, with executive authority to act. But since it had become a public debate, it would have been a much more difficult decision for him to make.

I do think that not being able to follow through on it cost us. I am certain of that. That still comes back in conversations that people have with me, both here at home and—and people from other countries, but I do think it was a net positive to get as much of the chemical weapons out as we could, and there was no way we could have done that without Russian cooperation. I think there was hope after that kind of cooperation produced positive results that then, we could go back to talking more broadly with the Russians about what needed to be done in Syria and what needed to be done with Assad. They did not reciprocate on that. So you know, I think it's like much in—in international relations, it's a—it's a mixed picture, some positive, you know, some—some negative.

With respect to the refugees, I have said I think that you know, we're coming up on the U.N. General Assembly. I think there should be an emergency global gathering where the U.N. literally tries to get commitments. You know, we did that with Haiti. After the Haiti earthquake, we had a huge gathering at the U.N. where literally it was like a pledging conference, where we said, "What are you going to do?" What—you know, "What can you contribute?"

And little countries to big countries all stepped up and it was a great show of support in the face of a terrible natural disaster. We need to do something similar, and I've—I've publicly called on the U.N. to convene such a gathering. I do it again today in front of all of you.

The United States has to be at the table, has to be leading it. We were in a strong position to do that on Haiti. I think, even though it's not on our doorstep, we have a real interest in working not just with our European friends, I think this is a global responsibility. And if you're too far away or for whatever reason you don't think you can take refugees then you have to contribute money.

You should be supporting not only those refugees fleeing, but the incredible work that Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey have been doing, and they have not gotten the financial support they need. In fact, the last I checked, the U.N. appeal had only reached 37 percent, so there is both financial work and contributions that need to be forthcoming and countries need to be more open and willing to take refugees.

I obviously want the United States to do our part but I also want this to be a global response. So I hope that with all these leaders gathered, with Pope Francis addressing the United Nations General Assembly in just about two weeks, we can see something like that very visible with people literally making their commitments nation by nation, or in the case of the EU or other organizations as well.

INDYK: I think we're going to have to close it out, but I see two hands going up. Do you mind taking two together? First is Ivan and then Joe.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I also want to add my thanks for a very forceful, unequivocal, and clear speech bringing a position that sounds eminently defensible. One of the silver linings potentially of the Iran deal is an alignment of interest in the region between Israel and the moderate Arab countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, et cetera—the gulf states. If you agree with that, how would you see capitalizing on those shared interests, those concerns about Iran going forward? How would you promote the shared interests as a way of bridging more peace to the region?

INDYK: Joe, quick question?

QUESTION: Joe (Santioni), the pleasure is mine. Thank you for your measured and fact based approach to this. Let me bring you to the politics of the issue. What explains that we don't have a single Republic senator in support of this? Is this is ideological divide between the parties? Or raw partisan politics?

CLINTON: Well I'll restrain myself and answer the first questions first. I think there is an opportunity here to succeed, I really do. I don't think it's easy. But let's just go back a few years.

Not so long ago, Israel and Turkey were working very closely together on a number of issues. Then came the flotilla and then came the response by the Israeli military, then came many years of you know, real hard feelings that got harder and harder and we lost what was a—not just a - a working relationship but a real bridge.

Similarly, there have been a number of instances where in the past, Israel has worked in common concert with a number of the gulf countries. Israel is now back in a very productive relationship with Egypt, obviously with Jordan. So there are the pieces of national and regional interests here that I think very diligently and probably frustratingly could be pulled back together.

 I don't—I don't know that it's something the United States can lead, but it's certainly something that we can try to catalyze and encourage. And I think there is potential there because as I said in my speech, I will do everything I can to convince Turkey and (Qatar) that supporting Hamas is not in their interest. It's not in the region's interest. It's certainly not in Egypt's interest. They both care deeply about, you know, what happens in Egypt for somewhat different reasons than others, but they care.

And so I think we have to build the case and I think American diplomats could help build that case. And then look for ways—I mean, I spent, you know, literally years trying to get the Israelis to finally apologize to the Turks on the flotilla. And there was a memorable day during one of my vacations where I was literally, you know, talking to the Israelis. I was talking to Henry Kissinger. I was talking to everybody I could find to make the strategic argument which we all believed, that the sooner Israel did that, the sooner they could get back to some kind of discussion perhaps.

Finally that happened when President Obama went to Israel. And I was very happy that, you know, now we have a different Turkey with a different kind of, set of challenges, but interests remain the same. Turkey's interest for stability are not so different than they were, even though some of the leadership attitudes seem to have altered. So I would like to see us do everything we can. I would make a high priority of that.

I hope that this administration in the last, you know, year-and-a-half or so of it, term, will be similarly doing that because, let's start seeing what we can do. It kind of goes back to Robin's question. You know, you don't know what you can achieve until you try to put the pieces together. And I think the more we can try to put those pieces together, the more we'll know whether or not something can come up.

With respect to the lack of support for the agreement, honestly, I think it's—it's—it's in some instances genuine. Just as I said in my remarks, there are people who I deeply respect on the Democratic side certainly and I would respect them on the Republican side as well, who just have concerns that they don't feel have been answered. But I think the driving force behind it is, you know, to close ranks against the president, against this kind of diplomacy, but without offering an alternative.

And that's what I find, I mean I don't mind debating alternatives. I mean, when we did the New Start Treaty, it was really hard to get the votes for that. I remember, you know, going up and making the case, but we got some Republican votes. But we're living in a very partisan atmosphere right now. And I do think we have to do more. Just as we, and I'll end with this by saying, just as we have to in diplomacy, reach out to people constantly, if not to persuade them to join with us, to eliminate an argument that they have, that they won't join, because they have been consulted. They have been brought along, they have been briefed. We have to do that with the Congress as well. And it's not—it's not easy if they don't even have open minds.

But we still have to do it so we can be in the position of saying, you know, "We told you this, we offered you this, we briefed you this, we gave you this information and you haven't come forth with any kind of, you know, rational, or rationale to oppose us.  You're just opposing us. So it's—it's—it's very political, after discounting those who I think are—are genuinely skeptical.

INDYK: Madame Secretary Hillary, thank you very much for—for a very powerful series and—and clear-headed explication of your position on Iran, Middle East and even broader. This is precisely what we expect from you and precisely what we at Brookings want to try to promote in this presidential debate, so we are very grateful to you.

Please join me in thanking Hillary. [applause]

Hillary Clinton, Remarks and a Question and Answer Session at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/312768

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