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Clinton Outlines Five Steps Needed To Address Pakistan in Wake of Bhutto Assassination

In an interview today with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Hillary Clinton outlined five steps she believes must be taken to address Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Clinton called for an independent, international investigation, reiterated the need for free and fair elections, proposed the appointment of a special envoy, discussed revamping U.S. foreign aid, and a renewed commitment to a stabilized India-Pakistan relationship.

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PR NewsChannel) / December 28, 2007 / Iowa - In an interview today with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Hillary Clinton outlined five steps she believes must be taken to address Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Clinton called for an independent, international investigation, reiterated the need for free and fair elections, proposed the appointment of a special envoy, discussed revamping U.S. foreign aid, and a renewed commitment to a stabilized India-Pakistan relationship.

The following is a full transcript of Hillary Clinton’s interview:

Wolf Blitzer: There are conflicting reports coming in from the Pakistani government right now about the cause of death, who may have been responsible; perhaps al Qaeda, maybe not. The bottom line: do you trust the Pakistani government right now to conduct a fair and full investigation so that all of us around the world will know who killed this woman and how she was killed?

Hillary Clinton: I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all. They have disbanded an independent judiciary, they have oppressed a free press. Therefore, I’m calling for a full, independent, international investigation, perhaps along the lines of what the United Nations has been doing with respect to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon. I think it is critically important that we get answers and really those are due first and foremost to the people of Pakistan, not only those who were supportive of Benazir Bhutto and her party, but every Pakistani because we cannot expect to move toward stability without some reckoning as to who was responsible for this assassination.

Therefore, I call on President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to realize that this is in the interests of Pakistan to understand whether or not it was al Qaeda or some other offshoot extremist group that is attempting to further destabilize and even overthrow the Pakistani government, or whether it came from within, either explicitly or implicitly, the security forces or the military in Pakistan. The thing I’ve not been able to understand, Wolf - I have met with President Musharraf, I obviously knew Benazir Bhutto and admired her leadership – is that President Musharraf, in every meeting I have had with him, the elites in Pakistan who still wield tremendous power plus the leadership of the military act as though they can destabilize Pakistan and retain their positions; their positions of privilege, their positions of authority. That is not the way it will work. I am really calling on them to recognize that the world deserves the answer; the Bhutto family deserves the answer, but this is in the best interest of the Pakistani people and the state of Pakistan.

Blitzer: Senator, just to be precise; you want a United Nations international tribunal, or commission of inquiry, whatever you want to call it, along the lines of the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri?

HRC: There are other institutions that are international that have credibility, like INTERPOL and others. It doesn’t have to be the exact model of the Hariri investigation but it needs to be international, it needs to be independent, it needs to have credibility and nothing that would happen inside of Pakistan would. I’m reluctant to say it should be an American investigation where we send our law enforcement personnel, because I’m not sure that would have credibility for a different reason. So that’s why I’m calling for an independent international investigation.

Blitzer: This is a damning indictment of President Pervez Musharraf. Some are calling on him to step down, do you believe he should step down?

Clinton: What I believe is that he should meet certain conditions and quickly. We should immediately move to free and fair elections. Obviously, it’s going to take some time for Benazir Bhutto’s party to choose a successor. Nawaz Sharif has said that he won’t participate at this time. I believe again some kind of international support for free and fair elections in a timely manner would be incredibly important. If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow. We also want to see a resumption of the move toward an independent judiciary. I think that was a terrible mistake. This is an odd situation, Wolf. The people in the streets are wearing suits and ties, they are lawyers, they are professionals, they are the middle class of Pakistan, which really offers the very best hope for a stable, democratic country and that is in America’s interest, but more importantly, it is in the interest of the Pakistani people.

Blitzer: I think I understood what you were implying when you said a U.S. investigation probably wouldn’t have credibility for different reasons but explain to our viewers out there why you’re suggesting a U.S. investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto probably wouldn’t have credibility either.

Clinton: I think it would politicize it at a time when what we want to do is, as much as possible, support the continuing move toward democracy. We need, frankly, an international tribunal to look into this where there can be a broad base of experts who are not aligned with any one country. Obviously I would certainly offer our expertise through the FBI and others to assist that tribunal. But I think it would be much better for it to be independent and impartial and be seen as that. Part of what our challenge here is, is to convince the Pakistani people themselves and particularly the business elite, the feudal elite, the military elite that they are going down a very dangerous path. That this path leads to their losing their positions, their authority, their obvious leadership now. Therefore we need to help them understand what is in their interest and that of course includes President Musharraf.

Blitzer: Over the years, since 9/11, the United States has provided the Pakistani military with some $10 billion. Will you as a United States Senator continue to vote for funding of these billions of dollars going to the Pakistani military?

Clinton: No, and I’m very pleased that finally the Congress began to put some conditions on the aid. I do not think that we should be giving the Musharraf government a blank check and that’s exactly what the Bush Administration has done. Even after Musharraf cracked down on the judiciary and the press and the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan, President Bush was saying he was a reliable ally. Well, I don’t think he’s a reliable ally when he undermines democracy and when he has failed to reign in the Al Qaeda Islamist elements in his own country.

So I think we do need to condition aid. I would do it differently. I would say, look, we want to know very specifically what accountability you’re going to offer to us for the military aid that we believe should be going in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Department of Defense is equally unaccountable with the money that passes through them.

I’d like to see more of our aid shifted toward building civil society. I’ve been calling for this. I have legislation that is bi-partisan, Education for All that is particularly aimed -- I’ve talked to President Musharraf about the necessity for us to raise the literacy rate, to reach out with health care and education that would help the Pakistani people to really concentrate on civil society.

We should be working with these rather heroic lawyers and others who are in the streets demanding democracy instead of giving the Bush blank check to President Musharraf and the military.

Blitzer: But aren’t you afraid, Senator, that as imperfect and as flawed as President Musharraf is, there’s a possibility whoever comes to replace him in this large Muslim country with a nuclear arsenal already, heavy al Qaeda presence, a resurgent Taliban - that the alternative could be even worse from the U.S. perspective?

Clinton: Of course. We all fear that and that’s why we need to take remedial action immediately. When I came back from my last meeting with President Musharraf in January of this year, I called the White House, I asked that they appoint an American envoy, a presidential envoy. I suggested that a retired military leader who could relate to President Musharraf on a one-to-one basis and could shuttle back and forth between President Musharraf and President Karzai because there were a lot of tensions.

And also perhaps serve as a kind of support to President Musharraf, military man to military man, about what it takes to really move toward democracy that President Musharraf in every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given lip-service to. But I don’t think the Bush Administration has frankly asked enough of President Musharraf, has provided the right kind of assistance, has given the support needed.

We have this difficult problem in the military. We have a lot of the senior leadership that we have relationships with, we don’t have those relationships for a lot of reasons with the junior leadership. I just think we have given a blank check under President Bush to President Musharraf and the results are frankly not in the interests of the United States, they are not in the interest of Pakistan and they are certainly not in the interest of the region. We should begin to try to have an ongoing process that includes India and Afghanistan. A lot of what you see happening in Pakistan is driven by the very strong concern coming out of the Pakistani government toward Afghanistan, toward India.

We have really had a hands-off approach. We have said, okay, fine, you be our partner in going after Al Qaeda, we’ll turn a blind eye to everything else. That has undermined our position. I believe Pakistan is in a weaker position to combat terrorism today then they were after 9/11, in large measure because of the failed policies of George Bush.

Blitzer: I interviewed your rival, Barack Obama, for Democratic presidential nomination last night and he had some implied criticism of you saying some of your past decisions do not necessarily warrant your stepping up and becoming the next president of the United States. Listen to this:

Obama: I think it’s important for the American people to look at the judgments they’ve made in the past. The experienced hands in Washington have not made particularly good judgments when it comes to dealing with these problems. That’s part of the reason we are now in this circumstance.

Blitzer: Now I think he was referring to your vote giving the President authority to go to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and your more recent vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. In effect, he says that gave a blank check to the President to go to war against Iran. You want to respond to Senator Obama?

Clinton: First, Wolf, I really regret that anybody would try to politicize this tragedy. I personally knew Benazir Bhutto. She was Prime Minister when I visited Pakistan on behalf of our government. I stayed in touch with her over the years. I don’t think politics should be playing a role in how our country responds, both on the personal level to the tragedy of this assassination.

But furthermore, Pakistan has been unstable for a long time. Benazir Bhutto’s father was deposed and killed. Obviously, we know that President Musharraf came to power in a military coup. So the instability in Pakistan has long pre-dated any of the recent events. Therefore, I think you need to have an historic understanding. You need to look at Pakistan as a country that still today - the best information that we have - wants to have a better standard of living, wants to have a democracy and the United States should be doing more to promote that. I regret that President Bush’s policies have failed to create that kind of environment. I hope it’s not too late. I really do. And that’s why I’m calling on the President now to begin to make some of the changes. If he has a good relationship with President Musharraf, which he claims to have, then let’s have an envoy. Let’s have this international investigation. Let’s do what we know will work to try to stabilize Pakistan at this time.

Blitzer: What about the specific criticism of your foreign policy judgment that we heard from Senator Obama, we heard earlier in the day from his chief strategist, David Axelrod. What about that, that implied criticism that some of your decisions on these national security, foreign policy issues raise questions about whether or not you should be president?

Clinton: I just regret that both of them would be politicizing this tragedy and especially at a time when do we need to figure out a way forward. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m focused on extending my sympathy to Benazir Bhutto’s family. I’m focused on doing everything I can as a Senator, as someone with a platform running for president, to try to be both positive and effective in helping to set a course. We have a year to go with President Bush as our president. A year is a long time. We know the threats that could be posed with a nuclear armed country like Pakistan becoming more and more unstable.

I have found that President Musharraf is someone that needs, in my opinion, to have a very consistent message and then frankly the help that would come with helping him and those who are in leadership positions understanding that this is not just about the United States - obviously, we have a very important national security interest. This is about what happens to Pakistan. President Musharraf could become as important to the future of Pakistan if he changed course and began to act in a way that would create more confidence to have these free and fair elections, to restore an independent judiciary, to take the shackles off the press, to say that he trusted the Pakistani people. That’s what I’m hoping will happen over the next weeks.

Blitzer: We’ve got to leave it there. We’re out of time, Senator. Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us.

Clinton: Good to talk to you, Wolf.



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