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US Secretary of State Clinton on Iran, 31 March 2009

Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State March 31, 2009.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you did not personally meet with the Iranian diplomat here. Ambassador Holbrooke did. That seemed to be a choreographed message. Your reaction is that their intervention was positive, what they said here was positive, but you still have some issues.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that the fact that they came was a good sign and their intervention was positive. They talked about some of the common concerns that they have, which all of us share - the drug trafficking coming out of Afghanistan. It goes right through Iran. It causes them internal problems, some of the border security issues. And we're looking forward to working with them in these groups of nations that are committed to Afghanistan.
And our Special Representative, Ambassador Holbrooke, had a very brief exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation. They agreed to stay in touch, and Ambassador Holbrooke will be following up.
QUESTION: What do you think that they can do to be helpful? What areas do you want to work with?
SECRETARY CLINTON: In the very beginning, as you remember, Andrea, right after we went into Afghanistan - there were regular meetings between our ambassador and their ambassador in Kabul. We looked for areas of agreement and there were quite a few, surprisingly. The Iranians saw the Taliban and al-Qaida as a threat to them, and there were a number of very productive discussions.
Similarly in Iraq over the last several years, our Ambassador to Baghdad has been meeting with their ambassador to Baghdad. Sometimes, it's just the day-to-day problems that arise, trying to make sure that nobody is sending an unintended message that really something happened that neither country knew about or planned, and some of it is to try to work through problems. Some of it is to send warnings - we don't appreciate your doing that and we wish you would stop.
So it's the whole range of interactions that have occurred on an ambassadorial level, and we think there is room for more direct engagement with Iran and going forward.
QUESTION: In the category of things you want them to work on you've also delivered a letter about Robert Levinson and two other Americans who have been in Iran. You want information. What would you like the Iranians to do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would like them to release the two women that have been held and not permitted to travel. And I would like them to respond on a human level to let Robert Levinson's family know what happened to him. There's been no word. And his family, his grandchildren are just totally in the dark about what happened to Robert Levinson.
These are really humanitarian gestures. There's no great geopolitical or strategic involvement. It's just person-to-person. This young woman, Roxana Saberi, from North Dakota was working in Iran. She, from what I'm told, loved Iranian culture. Her father is an Iranian American. All of a sudden, she gets arrested and is not able to give her parents or anyone information about when she will be let go or even why she's being held. And we need to clear out those kinds of problems between us.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about Russia. President Medvedev has written an op-ed in The Washington Post. He did a very forward-leaning interview with the BBC. I understand that a message was sent and that as a result, a diplomat from the NSC came here to try to work on a broader agenda with the Russians, which might lead to something between President Obama and President Medvedev in London.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, I think you're talking about Mike McFall, who was with me in Geneva. He was part of our negotiating team along with our State Department experts. And he is going to be in London tomorrow. We wanted him to come here to The Hague for the meeting. This is my second meeting with Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Did you discuss more issues than the initial response in Geneva, which was rather limited to START? Now it seems like a whole range of issues between the U.S. and Russia are on the table.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that there will be a really good response to the meeting between our presidents tomorrow. We will be looking to put out some statements that are quite substantive about the areas that we have discussed. We have been working with the Russians on an action plan to do follow-up to the meeting between our presidents. There's an enormous amount of work that has been undertaken by the State Department and the White House since my meeting with Sergey Lavrov.
QUESTION: Is there some flexibility on missile defense? If other areas - if there's less of a threat, would we not need the deployment?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We've made it clear from the beginning that the idea behind missile defense was to deter and prevent an attack coming from Iran or another rogue network that would have these kinds of missiles with deliverable weapons, whether they be nuclear, chemical, biological or very serious conventional forces. So we believe that this is an opportunity for the Russians and the Americans to work together, and we've been discussing that with the Russians.
QUESTION: And the presidents may have something more to say about it tomorrow.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think they'll have a lot more to say. I think both presidents are looking forward to the meeting. I agree with you. I thought the interview that President Medvedev did on BBC was very forward-leaning. A lot of what he said, our President would say. And so trying to find those areas of agreement and working to show leadership and trying to narrow the areas of disagreement and standing our ground when we can't do that, I think that's the approach we're going to take.

Source: US Department of State, www.state.gov.

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