Video and Text: Secretary Clinton’s Remarks of Nuclear NonproliferationApril 11, 2010 # 12:12 pm # Armed Conflict, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, International Law, International Organizations # No Comment
Remarks on Nuclear Nonproliferation at the University of Louisville as Part of the McConnell Center’s Spring Lecture Series
Secretary of State
I, of course, want to thank Gary Gregg, who has been a real joy for my staff to work with in planning this. I think we gave Gary a bit of a scare when we had to tell him I had to go to Prague on my way to Louisville – (laughter) – and it all worked out fine, so he’s breathing a little easier. And to the university president and provost, thank you for having me here on this absolutely wonderful day at this exciting venue to talk about issues that are important to our citizens.
I see a lot of familiar faces in the audience, and I am delighted to be back here in Kentucky with all of you. (Applause.) I had a lot of fun two years ago – (laughter) – covered a lot of ground. This is a long state. (Laughter.) I learned that firsthand, and made many friends. And although my travel takes me all over the world today rather than across a great commonwealth like this, I have many, many wonderful memories and just am so pleased to be back here with all of you.
I’m out of politics now. That’s what I say all the time to everybody who asks me an opinion about anything, except foreign policy things. And I am excited to be part of this Administration at this point in history.
And I want to thank my former colleague, Senator McConnell, for inviting me here and for that very kind introduction. During the eight years that I served in the Senate with Mitch, I was fortunate to find common cause and work with him on a number of foreign policy issues: human rights in Burma; legislation to support small businesses and micro-credit lending in Kosovo; promoting women and civil society leaders in Afghanistan; strengthening the rule of law in parts of the Islamic world. And I’ve appreciated working with him in my new capacity upon becoming Secretary of State.
I think this McConnell Center really demonstrates Mitch’s deep appreciation not only for the political process of which he’s been a part for years – I didn’t know until he was introduced that he is the longest serving senator in Kentucky history – but also to the importance of education and the role that education plays in the life of our country. And it is a real tribute to him that this idea which he put forth so many years ago has created the McConnell Center, and certainly these young people who are here studying as part of the center.
Now, I have to say that for some of you McConnell Scholars, graduation is approaching quickly. And I want you to know that we are hiring at the State Department. (Laughter.) We are looking forward to filling our ranks with the best and brightest of young Americans to do the work that needs to be done on behalf of diplomacy and development, two of the three legs of the stool that represents American foreign policy; the other, of course, being defense. And we’ve been fortunate to have bipartisan support of which Senator McConnell was a part, to make sure that we had the personnel that we needed to be able to tackle all of the challenges we face.
I always knew the world was big, but it just seems to have gotten bigger and bigger since I’ve been Secretary of State, and that there isn’t any place – it’s not like being in a big house where you say, “Well, I think we’ll just shut off that third floor so that we don’t have to heat it. Because sure enough, you try to do that, you’re going to have a fire and then you’re in trouble. So you have to paying attention all the time. And we need young people with patriotism, a sense of civic responsibility, a keen awareness of their citizenship and patriotic duty to serve in the State Department and USAID on behalf of the United States.
Back in Washington these days, our policy discussions can get pretty lively. We can both vouch for that, both Senator McConnell and I, because anybody who’s turned TV during the last few months will remember some of the heated exchanges. But in foreign policy, we have a long tradition of coming together across party lines to face America’s toughest national security challenges. That commitment to cooperation helped protect our nation through two World Wars and the Cold War. And Senator McConnell and I were part of that legacy in our cooperation when I was in the Senate. And appreciate the work he’s done and the leadership he has demonstrated encouraging Republicans and Democrats to work together as we deal with the extremely complex situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Well, today, I want to speak about another challenge that is bigger than any one Administration or any political party – it’s protecting our families, our neighbors, our nation, and our allies from nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Now, for generations, Republican and Democratic Administrations have recognized the magnitude of this challenge. And they have worked together in partnership with the Congress to reduce the danger posed by nuclear weapons and to maintain a safe, secure, and effective deterrent to protect the United States and our allies across the world.
President Reagan had these goals in mind in 1987 when he negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear armed missiles. And that agreement was ratified in the Senate by a vote of 93-5.
President George H.W. Bush presided over ratification of the START I treaty, which was approved 93-6. And President George W. Bush’s Moscow Treaty passed 95-0. And two years ago this week, President George W. Bush issued a joint statement with the Russians in support of negotiating a successor to the START agreement.
This issue has united national security experts from both political parties. And four of the strongest advocates for action like this are former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn – two Republicans and two Democrats. Faced with what they said is “a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands,” they have come together repeatedly to demand a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their spread, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world.
And so the Obama Administration is committed to building on the work of the last four administrations, and we’ve worked on these issues hand-in-hand with Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Just this past Tuesday, we released the latest Nuclear Posture Review. That review provides the strategic framework for our nuclear weapons policy and represents the culmination of months of work by the Department of Defense under Secretary Gates’ leadership, and the Departments of State and Energy.
Yesterday, I was in Prague in the Czech Republic with both President Obama and President Medvedev to witness the signing of an historic new START agreement between the United States and Russia that will reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by both countries to 1,550 on each side, a level not seen since the 1950s – the first full decade of the nuclear age.
Now next week, leaders from around the world – 47 nations will gather in Washington for a major summit meeting on securing nuclear materials from terrorists. And next month in May, we will come together with partners in the United Nations in New York to review global efforts on nonproliferation.
Now, this is a lot of activity. But it’s fair to ask whether it matters to people in New York or in Los Angeles or Louisville or, frankly, anywhere else beyond Washington, D.C. Discussions of nuclear issues are often conducted in a language of acronyms – NPR, NPT, SALT, SORT, START. At the White House two weeks ago, a reporter asked me why everyone’s eyes glaze over when we talk about arms control. Now, I’m sure that won’t happen in this audience today.
Because it is easy to conclude that this is a subject that doesn’t have much impact on our daily lives or that this issue is a relic of the Cold War. I’m old enough to remember, even though I wasn’t around in 1933 – (laughter) – I am old enough to remember when I was in elementary school having those duck-and-cover drills. You remember those, Mitch. I bet there are a lot of heads – there’s a lot of heads nodding out there. I mean, why in the world our teachers and our parents thought we should take cover under our desks in the case of – (laughter) – of a nuclear attack is beyond me. But every month, we practices. And we’d get up and we’d get under our desks and we’d put our hands over our heads and we’d crouch up. We lived with the Cold War. We lived with the threat of nuclear weapons.
And it seems so long ago now, but it was so real in our daily lives. It wasn’t something left to presidents and senators and secretaries of state, it was something you talked about around the dinner table. And it made the threat of nuclear war something that nobody could escape. So today, it seems like a good time ago. And it would be easy to think, well, that’s a relic of the past. But that is not the case.
The nature of the threat has changed. We no longer live in constant fear of a global nuclear war where we’re in a standoff against the Russians with all of our nuclear arsenal on the ready, on a haired-trigger alert. But, as President Obama has said, the risk of a nuclear attack has actually increased. And the potential consequences of mishandling this challenge are deadly.
So, I want to speak about why nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and nuclear security matter to each of us, and how the initiatives and the acronyms that make up our bipartisan work on these issues are coming together to make our nation safer.
There is a reason that presidents and foreign policy leaders in both parties are determined to address this danger. A nuclear attack anywhere could destroy the foundations of global order. While the United States and old Soviet Union are no longer locked in a nuclear standoff, nuclear proliferation is a leading source of insecurity in our world today.
And the United States benefits when the world is stable: our troops can spend more time at home, our companies can make better long-term investments, our allies are free to work with us to address long-term challenges like poverty and disease. But nuclear proliferation, including the nuclear programs being pursued by North Korea and Iran, are in exact opposition to those goals. Proliferation endangers our forces, our allies, and our broader global interests. And to the extent it pushes other countries to develop nuclear weapons in response, it can threaten the entire international order.
Nuclear terrorism presents a different challenge, but the consequences would still be devastating. A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb detonated in Times Square in New York City could kill a million people. Many more would suffer from the hemorrhaging and weakness that comes from radiation sickness. And beyond the human cost, a nuclear terrorist attack would also touch off a tsunami of social and economic consequences across our country.
We all remember the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Air travel in the United States was suspended. Here in Louisville, for example, that meant planes couldn’t get in or out of UPS’s WorldPort where, I understand, three-quarters of the employees are local students. Those attacks ended up costing UPS – a company based far away from ground zero and from the Pentagon – over $130 million. That’s a lot of work-study jobs. And if you multiply those losses across our economy, you can imagine the consequences we would face in the event of a nuclear terrorist attack. In our interconnected world, an attack or disruption anywhere can inflict political and economic damage everywhere. That’s why nuclear security does matter to us all, and why we’re determined to meet this challenge.
There are three main elements of our strategy to safeguard our country and allies against nuclear attack. First, we begin with our support for the basic framework of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The global nuclear nonproliferation regime is based on a three-sided bargain: countries without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them; countries with nuclear weapons work toward disarmament; and every nation is afforded the right to access peaceful nuclear energy under appropriate safeguards.
Unfortunately, this bargain has been under assault. North Korea began developing nuclear weapons as an NPT party before announcing its withdrawal from the treaty. And Iran is flouting the rules, seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a peaceful enrichment program. We have an urgent interest in bolstering the world’s nuclear nonproliferation framework and enforcement and verification mechanism. And the new START treaty signed yesterday by President Obama and President Medvedev in Prague helps us advance that goal.
The United States and Russia still today have over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, and the new START treaty will mean lower, verifiable limits on the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed in our countries. Ratification of the treaty will also allow us to continue establishing a more constructive partnership with Russia. And that’s important in its own right, but also because Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and our cooperation is a prerequisite for moving forward with tough, internationally binding sanctions on Iran.
The diplomatic benefits of ratifying the new START treaty could also extend to our cooperation with other countries. In agreeing to abide by the new START treaty, we would demonstrate that the United States is living up to our obligations under the NPT. This boosts our credibility as we ask other countries to help shore up the nonproliferation regime. It’s becoming increasingly fragile, and we need a stronger hand as we push for action against nuclear proliferators.
Now, I’m not suggesting that a move by the United States and Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpiles will convince Iran or North Korea to change their behavior. But ask yourselves, can our efforts help to bring not only the new START treaty into force, but by doing so help persuade other nations to support serious sanctions against Iran? I believe they could. And since I’m on the phone or in meetings constantly with heads of state or government, foreign ministers and others, making the case that they must join us in these strong sanctions against Iran, I know from firsthand experience that this START treaty has left little room for some nations to hide. They are finding it more and more difficult to make the case that they don’t have their own responsibilities.
I believe the new START treaty does put us in a better position to strengthen the nonproliferation regime when parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty meet together in May. Now, we’ll need support to oppose – to impose tougher penalties on violators and create new, 21st century tools to disrupt these proliferation networks.
The foundation provided by our military planners in our Nuclear Posture Review has also strengthened our hand. It contains our newly announced assurance that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. We believe states that shun nuclear weapons and abide by their commitments under the NPT should not have to fear a nuclear attack. For states not covered by this assurance, there is a range of options in which our nuclear weapons will play a role in deterring a conventional, chemical, or biological attack against us, our allies or partners.
Now, the second major element of our strategy is a global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material and enhance nuclear security. This, unfortunately, is not a theoretical issue. When the United States first started working to secure nuclear materials overseas – principally in the former Soviet Union – our teams of experts found highly radioactive materials stored in open fields without any security. They discovered fissile materials – the ingredients for nuclear bombs – warehoused in facilities without electricity, telephones, or armed guards. The International Atomic Energy Agency has released the details of 15 cases of smuggling involving weapons-grade nuclear materials since 1993. But we have no idea how many other smuggling operations have gone undetected. Nuclear terrorism has been called the world’s most preventable catastrophe. But to prevent it, the world needs to act.
And the importance of this issue demands American leadership. So next Tuesday, the President will convene a meeting in Washington as part of an unprecedented summit intent on keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. To put it in context, this summit hosted by the United States is the largest conference since the one that came together around the founding of the United Nations in 1945.
Many of the countries who will be there have already taken concrete steps to strengthen nuclear security. And we expect announcements of further progress on this issue during our talks. But we will also hear from other countries that are helping us keep a very close watch on anyone we think could be part of a network that could lead to the sale of or transfer of nuclear material to al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations. We are trying to make this Summit the beginning of sustained international effort to lock down the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials within four years and reduce the possibility that these materials will find their way into the hands of terrorists.
Two Senators – Republican Richard Lugar and former Senator – Democratic Sam Nunn – have worked together to champion this issue since the Cold War ended. Their bipartisan cooperation and the threat reduction legislation that bears their names – now Lugar legislation – has helped to make securing nuclear materials a priority for both Republican and Democratic administrations. And I think their work has made the world safer.
A lot of times that Senator McConnell and I believe in and that I was privileged to do for eight years in the Senate and that he does every day in the Senate today that we think is the most important, doesn’t get the headlines. Getting rid of nuclear material is not something that is going to get people excited on cable TV. And yet that work is among the most important that any senators have done in the last 20 years. And it moves toward a vision of a world, a world in which nuclear materials are not easily available in all states – adopt responsible stewardship of all nuclear materials as part of their basic obligations.
Finally, the third component of our strategy must be to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent ourselves. For generations, our nuclear forces have helped prevent proliferation by providing our non-nuclear allies in NATO, the Pacific, and elsewhere with reassurance and security. An ally or a partner that has confidence that the United States and our arsenal will be there to defend them in the event of an attack is a country that is less likely to develop its own nuclear deterrent. And we are committed to continuing that stabilizing role for us as long as nuclear weapons exist.
Our latest budget request asks for significant resources to modernize our nuclear complex and maintain our nuclear arsenal. Our budget devotes $7 billion for maintaining our nuclear weapons stockpile and complex. This commitment is $600 million more than Congress approved last year. And over the next five years we intend to boost funding for these important activities by more than $5 billion dollars. We are committed to reducing the role and number of our nuclear weapons. But at the same time, we are investing to ensure that the weapons we retain in our stockpile are safe, secure, and effective.
The fact that we are maintaining this arsenal does not mean that we intend to use it. We are determined to see that nuclear weapons are never used again. But the new START treaty will enable us to retain a strong, flexible deterrent. And our military will continue to deploy every leg of what’s called our nuclear triad – land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, and bombers.
The treaty will enable us to maintain this arsenal, and also provide strong verification provisions. We think it will enable us to develop greater understanding maybe even allow trust between Russian and American forces, while eliminating potential opportunities for mistakes and miscalculation.
Now, one aspect of our deterrent that we specifically did not limit in this treaty is missile defense. The agreement has no restrictions on our ability to develop and deploy our planned missile defense systems or long-range conventional strike weapons now or in the future. The Pentagon’s recent Quadrennial Defense Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review both emphasize that improving our missile defense and conventional capabilities will help strengthen our deterrence. And in the future, we feel that regional missile defense will be an important source of protection for allies as well. Used wisely, missile defense could further reduce our dependence on nuclear weapons.
So these three elements of our strategy – strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime, combating the threat of nuclear terrorism, and maintaining a safe nuclear deterrent – are not new. And they’re not controversial. Leaders in both parties have been pursuing these goals together for years.
In the course of our work at the State Department and when I was in the Senate, sometimes when you face really tough challenges, it’s hard to sort through all of the different course of actions available to you. And there are times when people of good will and great intellect have diverging views on how to deal with complex issues. But I don’t think this is one of those times.
The new START agreement is the latest chapter in the history of American nuclear responsibility. It’s a chapter that’s been co-authored by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and even further back and overwhelming majorities in the U.S. Congress. Now, we believe strongly that is in our nation’s best interest and I’m confident that once senators have a chance to study this new treaty, we will have same high levels of bipartisan support as the agreements that this one builds upon.
But underlining it all is that we are trying to maneuver through a period when our enemies are not just other states who we think of as rational actors, even if we profoundly disagree with them. They are these terrorist networks. And we have to think simultaneously, both about building confidence among other nations, including Russia and other nuclear armed nations, so that they make common cause with us against rogue states and terrorist networks, and sending a message that no state is better off if it pursues nuclear weapons, and any state that gives safe haven to any terrorist network that pursues nuclear weapons is at risk. By ratifying this treaty, the United States won’t give up anything of strategic importance. But in return, we will receive significant, tangible benefits.
Protecting the United States of America from nuclear attack is an issue that should be important to every single American. It’s been an issue where our two political parties have always found common ground – with good reason. And advancing these efforts is critical to 21st century national security. These issues will be with us a long time. But if we are true to the legacy of cooperation we have inherited from our predecessors, then I am convinced we can deliver a safer world to the next generation and, indeed, Mitch, to the next generation of policy leaders and decision makers.
And I expect some of you in this audience to be sitting in these chairs and making these speeches in the future. And I want you to know that we did our very best to pass on to you a world that was safer and one in which the threat of nuclear attack was diminished and where we found common cause internationally to isolate those who would pursue nuclear weapons from any place in the world.
I’m convinced that the United States is once again in the lead, as we always have been, and that leadership position is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we can make our country safer, our world safer, and chart a new and better future.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
MR. GREGG: I suppose that applause was for Secretary Clinton. But I thank her for a very substantive address and honoring us with that this morning. She has agreed to take a few questions. So think quickly. We have three people with microphones in the audience. Identify yourselves, hold your microphones up high. Please wait till the microphone gets to you and speak in it in a manner that’s a question and not a statement pretending to be a question.
We’re going to go straight right here to the first hand that I see.
QUESTION: Senator, could you comment on the fact that Israel may not attend the summit that you’ve discussed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, Israel will attend. The prime minister cannot attend, but the deputy prime minister will be there. And I think it’s especially important that Israel will be at this conference because Israel shares with us a deep concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and also about the threat of nuclear terrorism.
MR. GREGG: Let’s go right in the middle, then we’ll come over to this side. Right behind you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us today, Secretary Clinton. We are immensely proud to have you here at the McConnell Center with us today. Will this treaty be able to strengthen the effectiveness of economic sanctions against rogue states like North Korea and Iran without Chinese involvement?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a very good question. You must be one of those McConnell scholars. (Laughter.) Actually, I think the answer is a yes, and here’s why. We have noticed in the last several weeks that the Chinese have become more willing to engage with us on Iran. They have been deeply engaged with us on North Korea. And the fact that the United States and Russia reached agreement on this treaty, and in the Nuclear Posture Review we point out that we’re aware that China is modernizing its military forces and we would seek to have the same kind of strategic dialogue with China that we have historically had with Russia going back to presidents in the 19 – late ‘40s and ‘50s sends a very clear message that this issue of nuclear proliferation is a matter that Russia is concerned with as well as the United States, and that increasingly, China is hearing from a lot of other countries, countries in the Gulf, countries that believe that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons will destabilize the Gulf region, that would potentially lead to instability in the oil markets, and China is very dependent upon the Gulf – Iran, Saudi Arabia, et cetera – for oil and gas.
So I think that the cooperation between the United States and Russia has been very beneficial in getting Chinese participation so that the Chinese have begun engaging with us at the United Nations in the drafting of this resolution that we are putting together for Security Council consideration. And I think that the Chinese have become convinced over the last months of what we are definitely convinced of, and that is that Iran is pursuing a program that is hard to explain in terms of the peaceful use of nuclear weapons, and therefore China does not want to look as though it doesn’t care about something that has such grave consequences for the world.
With respect to North Korea, our mechanism for dealing with North Korea is one that we inherited from the Bush Administration that we actually think makes a lot of sense. It’s called the Six-Party Talks. So China and Russia, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea are the parties to it. And China has been very strong in pushing North Korea to get back to the talks.
Now, both countries, for different reasons, in the last year have experienced a lot of turmoil, turbulence, instability in their own regimes. In North Korea, the leadership – what do they call him, the Dear Leader – has had some health problems. Kim Jong-il has had some difficulties with some of the economic policies that he’s put forward that has engendered real popular protest on the part of North Koreans. So it’s been difficult to get this regime to move back into the Six-Party Talks, but our alliance with China, Russia, and South Korea and Japan is very strong, and I believe we will eventually get there.
In Iran, because of the elections and the protests and the opposition and the way that the leadership, both the clerical leadership and the elected leadership, have treated the protestors, it’s difficult to get decisions made out of Iran of any real consequence. So this has been a turbulent time to press these two countries, but I feel very encouraged by the unity that we’ve had in both instances. And so as we move forward this month in the Security Council, we’re going to get as strong a resolution as we possibly can. And then we also know that countries like the United States, like the European Union countries, are ready to impose more sanctions. And people say to me, “Well, Iran’s been sanctioned before. What difference is it going to make?”
But if you look at what we were able to accomplish last year in the toughest sanctions against North Korea, Resolution 1874, we have had international support for interdicting North Korean arms shipments. Countries from Thailand to even Burma, South Africa, the UAE, others have all worked together under the aegis of the Security Council resolution. And if we can get something in that ballpark on Iran, that will give us an international mechanism to really put some pressure on Iran, unlike what we’ve had available before. And I personally think it is only after we show international unity that the Iranians will – that there will be any chance that the Iranians will actually negotiate with the international community.
So people – a lot of my counterparts around the world say, “Well, we don’t – want to try to solve this diplomatically.” Well, sanctions, using the United Nations Security Council, is diplomacy and it’s international diplomacy. And we need that kind of international front against Iran, and that’s what we’re attempting to put together in the Security Council.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator, Secretary Clinton. It’s an honor to see you. But you said in the treaty countries will be asked to not pursue a nuclear program. The U.S. is, like you said, spending more money on nuclear program. What other countries will be allowed to spend on nuclear defenses?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a good question also, because when the Nonproliferation Treaty came into effect, there was a basic bargain to the treaty. And countries that didn’t have nuclear weapons – and there were some that already had acknowledged nuclear weapons – were supposed to move toward disarmament. And actually, the United States, the former Soviet Union, now the United States and Russia, kept their part of the bargain. We did move toward, as I read to you some of the different treaties that have been signed between our two countries cutting certain classes of weapons and certain kinds of delivery systems.
And so there are three pillars to the Nonproliferation Treaty. One is disarmament, one is nonproliferation, and one is the peaceful use of nuclear weapon – nuclear energy, the peaceful use of nuclear energy for civil nuclear purposes. So the United States will continue to demonstrate its willingness, in concert with Russia, because we have so many more weapons than any of the other countries by a very, very big margin. And other countries that have pursued nuclear weapons, like India and Pakistan, for example, have done so in a way that has upset the balance of nuclear deterrent, and that’s why we’re working with both countries very hard to try to make sure that their nuclear stockpiles are well tended to and that they participate with us in trying to limit the number of nuclear weapons. And both of them will be in Washington this next week.
But I’m a realist. And as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, the United States will have nuclear weapons. We will not unilaterally disarm. We will maintain our nuclear deterrent. We will invest, not in new weapons, but in ensuring that the weapons we have are as effective as they would need to be in order for our deterrent to be credible. And the countries that we know that have actively pursued nuclear weapons that are still doing so today – North Korea, which we know has somewhere between one and six nuclear weapons, and Iran – and that’s why we’re emphasizing so much international efforts against both of them to try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons in the first place.
MR. GREGG: The young lady dying for an answer right back here.
QUESTION: Thanks for being here, Secretary Clinton. With respect to Iran’s noncompliance, how is the U.S. practically, socially, and financially prepared for a potential war with Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have been very clear that our preference and what we’re working toward is international action that would isolate Iran and change the calculus of the Iranian leadership. Let me explain what I mean by that.
The only way we think we’re going to convince the Iranians to give up nuclear weapons is if they conclude they will be less safe with them than without them, and that they – their economy and their society will suffer sufficiently that the tradeoff is no longer worth it to them. And there, I think, are a number of different ways that that kind of calculus could change in the Iranian mindset. For example, if the Iranians believe that by having nuclear weapons they will be able to intimidate their neighbors in the Gulf, they’re mistaken, because those neighbors will either pursue nuclear weapons for themselves, further destabilizing the region, or they will be provided support from us to defend themselves against a nuclear-armed Iran.
So if you’re sitting in Iran and you see the absolute commitment of the international community to prevent this from happening and actions are taken to interfere with your financing and banking system, to go after groups and individuals who play a role in the nuclear program, to figure out ways to try to impinge on your energy sector or your arms flow, it begins to – you begin to pay a cost. And I don’t think Iran wants to be North Korea. They consider themselves a great culture and society going back to Persian times. They see themselves in a leadership role in the world.
So what we believe is likely to happen is a real debate within Iran if we can get to the kind of international isolation that such sanctions would bring. Now, we’ve always said – and Secretary Gates and I did a number of interviews and press events around these – the Nuclear Posture Review and the START treaty in the last week, and we’ve always said that, look, all options are on the table. But clearly, our preference is to create conditions that will lead to changes in the policy of the Iranian Government toward the pursuit of nuclear weapons, which, by the way, is their stated policy. Their leadership says all the time we have no intention of obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s just difficult to put all the facts together and square that with their stated intentions, so we’re going to put them to the test.
MR. GREGG: Let’s go back to this side for one more. Is there one on this side? Straight back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Clinton. Given the fact that probably the Cuban missile crisis may be the greatest example of a deterrent, that’s been almost 50 years ago. Is there any talk within the Department of maybe normalizing relationships with Cuba?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a really – that’s a topic of conversation a lot. I don’t think that there is any question that, at some point, the people of Cuba should have democratically elected leaders and should have a chance to chart their own future. But unfortunately, I don’t see that happening while the Castros are still in charge. And so what President Obama has done is to create more space, more family travel, more business opportunities to sell our farm products or for our telecom companies to compete dealing with common issues that we have with Cuba like migration or drug trafficking. In fact, during the height of the terrible catastrophe in Haiti because of the earthquake, we actually helped some of the Cuban doctors get medical supplies who were already operating there.
So there are ways in which we’re trying to enhance our cooperation. But it is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years. And I find that very sad, because there should be an opportunity for a transition to a full democracy in Cuba. And it’s going to happen at some point, but it may not happen anytime soon.
And just – if you look at any opening to Cuba, you can almost chart how the Castro regime does something to try to stymie it. So back when my husband was president and he was willing to make overtures to Cuba and they were beginning to open some doors, Castro ordered the – his military to shoot down these two little unarmed planes that were dropping pamphlets on Cuba that came from Miami. And just recently, the Cubans arrested an American who was passing out information and helping elderly Cubans communicate through the internet, and they’ve thrown him in jail. And they recently let a Cuban prisoner die from a hunger strike. So it’s a dilemma.
And I think for the first time, because we came in and said, look, we’re willing to talk and we’re willing to open up, and we saw the way the Cubans responded. For the first time, a lot of countries that have done nothing but berate the United States for our failure to be more open to Cuba have now started criticizing Cuba because they’re letting people die. They’re letting these hunger strikers die. They’ve got 200 political prisoners who are there for trivial reasons. And so I think that many in the world are starting to see what we have seen a long time, which is a very intransigent, entrenched regime that has stifled opportunity for the Cuban people, and I hope will begin to change and we’re open to changing with them, but I don’t know that that will happen before some more time goes by (Applause.)
MR. GREGG: Madam Secretary, George Schultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and today, Secretary Hillary Clinton, thank you for your service to the United States, thank you for being at the University of Louisville.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. (Applause.)