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Security more important than rights: Clinton

Democratic White House front-runner Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned US national security should trump the key foreign policy goal of promoting human rights, in a critical campaign debate.

world Updated: Nov 16, 2007 11:09 IST

Democratic White House front-runner Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned US national security should trump the key foreign policy goal of promoting human rights, in a critical campaign debate.

Her top rival for the Democratic nomination Barack Obama argued meanwhile that the two concepts were not mutually exclusive, in a heated debate segment sparked by a question on Pakistan's political crisis.

Clinton was asked whether she agreed US national security was more important than promoting human rights abroad.

"I agree with that completely. The first obligation of the president of the United States is to protect and defend the United States of America," she said. "That doesn't mean that it is to the exclusion of other interests."

The debate sparked fresh speculation as to the direction of President George W. Bush's democracy agenda once he leaves office, and the weight placed by US foreign policy on the balance between political reform abroad and US security.

Illinois senator Barack Obama, who Clinton has argued is too inexperienced in the realm of foreign policy to be president, offered a more nuanced answer.

"The concepts are not contradictory. They are complimentary," Obama said, but did not directly answer the question.

"I think Pakistan is a great example, look we paid 10 billion dollars over the last seven years, we had two goals: deal with terrorism and restore democracy.

"We've gotten neither. Pakistan's democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists."

"If we simply prop up anti-democratic practices, that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks."

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was asked by the moderator in the debate televised by CNN, if at times human rights were more important than national security.

"Yes," he answered. "Because I believe we need to find ways to say to the world that, you know, it's not just about what (oil-drilling firm) Halliburton wants in Iraq. It's also about our values of freedom, equality."

Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, warned that he would threaten to halt US military aid to Pakistan if General Pervez Musharraf did not give up his military role, and hold free and fair elections by the middle of January.

"What we should do is move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy," Biden said.

Another veteran Democratic senator, Chris Dodd, agreed with Clinton.

"Obviously national security, keeping the country safe. The security of the country is number one, obviously."