Bill Clinton: Foundation saving the lives of orphans with HIV

Bill Clinton on Hillary and Asia tour

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Bill Clinton on Hillary and Asia tour 08:30

Story highlights

  • CNN's Anna Coren interviews former U.S. President Bill Clinton during his Southeast Asia trip
  • Clinton visits children at an AIDS orphanage in Vietnam
  • He learns some MH17 victims were due to attend an AIDS conference at which he'll speak
  • Coren asks Clinton about the Gaza conflict, the rise of China and America's isolationist policy

I've been tasked with the assignment of following President Clinton on two legs of his Southeast Asia trip for his charity the Clinton Foundation. We join him and his large entourage in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he's visiting an AIDS orphanage about an hour's drive outside the city.

Despite the heat and humidity, the president walks around the facility, speaking to local staff through a translator, commending them on their tireless work.

His foundation provides tuberculosis medicine for the children infected with HIV/AIDS and it's saving lives.

The children perform a dance for their distinguished visitor -- and the president can't wipe the smile off his face.

"I was watching them dancing and they gave me a little poster where each of them wrote what their dreams are for the future," explains Clinton, who is clearly moved by what he has just witnessed.

"When we came here first in 2006 every one of the children was HIV positive. They would have eventually died from AIDS. They had no future, so to see them now healthy and alive it's just amazing."

Clinton says he decided at a very early age that he wanted to dedicate his life to public service.

Meeting President John F. Kennedy at the White House as a student in 1963 and listening to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech the same year was a life changing experience that he says firmly placed him on his path.

I ask if his charity gives him a sense a purpose. "Oh yeah," he says in his folksy southern drawl.

Former Pres. Bill Clinton and CNN's Anna Coren in Vietnam.

"I like it because it's personal flesh and blood. You're not just talking in abstract policy terms. You are actually seeing the lives of people change and it's one of the great things about the life I have now.

"I loved my life in politics -- I loved it. But the difference now is I can see the personal human implications of the decisions we are making."

"And then you see results -- there they are. Those kids dancing -- I wouldn't take the world for that. I'm going to have a film of that and I'm going to have that all my life now."

MH17, Gaza, and the rise of China

He speaks with emotion and it's more than just being at the orphanage. He just found out that some of the people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 when it went down over Ukraine were due to attend the AIDS conference he will soon be speaking at in Melbourne, Australia.

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"It's awful. I mean those people are really in a way martyrs to the cause. We need to wait to make any definitive statements until we know exactly what happened but it was sickening -- thinking about those people being knocked out of the sky. It's pretty tough."

We discuss world issues such as the Gaza offensive and the ongoing Middle East conflict -- a conflict he tried to resolve while in the White House. He believes it's up to Israel to clinch a peace deal with the Palestinians, but I ask him if that's realistic considering the current state of war.

"Well I think it's possible partly because you get tired of doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result -- it's crazy. I hope that this will lead to a little soul searching and trying to get back to the baseline issue of a peace agreement."

Our conversation moves on to the isolationist policy now being adopted by the U.S. after its long wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I ask if America is still the world's policeman and he replies: "I don't think we have been the world's policeman since the end of the Vietnam War."

Clinton visits a mosque in Banda Aceh, Indonesia during his Southeast Asia tour.

"But I do think we have been more active and less active over time. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were highly costly to us. They cost us a lot in lives and wounds and national treasure. We have a lot of work to do within the U.S. to rebuild our economic strength. But I think we have been and should be active in the world."

On the issue of a rising China that is becoming more assertive in its foreign policy, especially in the South China Sea, he says he is "concerned."

"The Chinese obviously have a legitimate interest in and right to try to develop a natural capacity to have enough natural resources to continue to grow their economy. But I think it's a big mistake for them to be seen as big footing the whole region.

"Historically that's not been their role and wherever they have done it they have wound up paying a price bigger than the benefit they got. This whole thing is still playing out so this where we ought to be working for the best and preparing for the worst."

Hillary 2016?

Towards the end of the interview I ask the question on everyone's lips -- will Hillary run for President in 2016. He laughs. It's a question he's been asked a thousand times and will continue to be asked until his wife makes an official announcement.

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"I don't know," he explains. "I think she really needs some time to think this through. We reached a point in our life when we think you shouldn't run for office if you don't have a clear idea of what you can do and a unique contribution you can make you can outline that.

"So much of politics is background noise and we don't need the background noise anymore. I am proud of her and whatever she does is fine with me. I'll support what she does."

I get the feeling he wants his wife -- who he met in the spring of 1971 in a library at Yale Law School -- to run.

It would be history in the making -- America's first female president and the first husband and wife to ever be leaders of the free world.

"It's a decision that only she can make and I'm not going to try and jump the gun, and if she decides not to do it I'll be happy too," he says.

"We have a lot of good years left I hope regardless. So we will do whatever happens."

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