LiveAtState: U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities and UNGA Highlights

Michael A. Hammer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
October 4, 2012

This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

MS. JENSEN: Hi. Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department's interactive web chat platform for engaging international journalists. We are delighted to welcome those of you joining us from around the world today. Today in our studio, we have Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, who will be speaking to you on the wrap-up of the UN General Assembly and U.S. foreign policy priorities.

Before I turn it over to Mike, I just want to let you know that you can start to ask your questions now in the lower left-hand portion of your screen titled "Questions for State Department Official." If at any time you have technical difficulties, you can email your questions directly to us at the email address, and we will add them to the queue.

We will get to as many of your questions as we can in the 30 minutes we have. If you would like to continue this conversation, you can follow us on Twitter by using the State Department's handle, @StateDept.

And thank you, and with that, I'll turn it over to you. Welcome.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you very much, Holly. It's a real pleasure to be with you and to have an opportunity to talk about the very robust diplomatic activity that took place at the UN General Assembly in New York last week. As you will have seen, we had a very important speech by President Obama, and Secretary Clinton was extremely engaged on issues of concern all around the globe in all regions of the world. She held over 25 bilateral meetings with foreign leaders and foreign ministers; she participated in several meetings by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in trying to, again, address the challenges that we face.

The United States puts a premium and it is extremely important for us to be working with other countries multilaterally to address the common challenges that we face, and that can be - whether it's the concerns about the security situation in the Sahel, whether we're talking about security and other issues in Central America, whether it's talking about how to generate prosperity, how to address disease like AIDS, how to feed the future.

And so what you saw, I think, is a real attempt and a continuing attempt by the United States to lead the world in addressing, again, these challenges that we face in all regions of the world. So with that, hopefully you have lots of questions, and I look forward to having a dialogue with you.

MS. JENSEN: Our first question comes from Bryan McManus from AFP Brussels: The current situation in Syria is blocked in the UN due to the vetoes of Russia and China. Do you think that the recent developments between Syria and Turkey might change the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you, AFP, for that question. It's very topical, given the tragic bombing yesterday across the border into Turkey from Syria. The Secretary yesterday condemned that bombing, expressed our condolences and our heartfelt sadness to the families affected by this tragedy, and spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu and expressed the United States support for our Turkish ally, for its territorial integrity and sovereignty. And we will stand by Turkey both within NATO as an ally and also at the UN as we look to condemn this action and certainly look to ensure that Syria doesn't do these provocative actions and these activities.

Now with regards to Syria and your question specifically, we have been trying to work with Russia and China at the UN, as you point out, to try to get the kind of message and resolution that is necessary to bring about consequences to the Assad regime if they don't follow through with the agreements that were reached in Geneva, the important elements of the Assad plan - some of the Annan plan, which - some of which are now being incorporated and worked with Special Envoy Brahimi.

The point here is that Syria and President Assad - his time has come to go. Violence must stop. And we, the United States, are working with the international community, with neighbors, with our partners to ensure that we work towards a political transition, that we work with the opposition. You may have seen that the Secretary announced last Friday 15 million additional dollars to the Syrian opposition, bringing the total that we've provided to $45 million. And we're also deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation, and she announced an additional $30 million to assist those Syrian refugees in countries like Turkey, Jordan, and perhaps others, including Iraq, who are giving refuge to these individuals. So our total now is $130 million.

So in short, yes, we want there to be action at the United Nations. But even if we're unable to, because Russia may continue to block action there, we will continue to make the case that the international community, and working with others, that this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed. And we hope that, yes, our Russian colleagues will see that it is in the best interests of the international community to hold Assad accountable and to take some serious measures here to move forward with a political transition, which is, in fact, what the Syrian people aspire to, what they want to see. They want to live in democracy, they want to live in peace, and they want this violence to end.

MS. JENSEN: The next question is a bit of a follow-on: It seems like Iran and Syria were the focus of the UN General Assembly. Which other regions and issues were a priority, and what were some of the other themes that the Secretary focused on at UNGA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, clearly, the situation in Syria is an urgent problem, as I just mentioned. The situation in Iran, with regard to its pursuit of nuclear weapons, also needed to be dealt with, and we had a P-5+1 ministerial in which we addressed that as well. But as I pointed out at the top, the Secretary was involved in a whole range of other meetings, whether it's with the ASEAN, talking about how we're becoming increasingly engaged in Asia, because it's important for the economic future of our country, for our interests.

We talked about how - we talked with our Central American counterparts in important developments to see how we might ensure the security of people in Central America, of the United States in countering the drug-related violence. We talked about the Sahel, an important region in Africa, where we're concerned about the inability of the Mali Government to control its territory in northern Mali and the potential terrorist elements that could be operating there. We talked about the Congo.

So again, we were looking to advance a very broad foreign policy agenda that's not only focused on issues that are very pertinent, obviously, in Syria and Iran, but also to talk about a whole range of things. And of course, we also had a very important transatlantic grouping, a gathering at a dinner, where we met with EU and NATO foreign ministers and talked about the issues that are of very much relevance to Europe and to how we can work together to advance, again, common objectives.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Majid Joneidi from BBC Persia: The U.S. has always insisted that the sanctions implemented against Iran are targeted, aimed at putting pressure on the Iranian Government and its sources of revenue. In the past week, the Iranian rial has plunged, and this has put a lot of strain on the middle class. You have been blaming the Iranian Government for the hardship of the people. However, do you still believe these sanctions are smart? And aren't the sanctions violating human rights of the Iranian people?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, I certainly appreciate that question from BBC Persian. The Secretary made clear yesterday that we, the United States, have nothing against the Iranian people. The sanctions are intended to convince the Iranian Government that it must abide by its international obligations, and in fact, they can get sanctions relief if they just engage seriously and comprehensively with the proposal that the P-5+1 has put on the table, a reasonable proposal that would allow Iran, clearly, to have civilian nuclear energy. In fact, we could even provide some assistance with that. But only if it can demonstrate to the international community, which it has failed to do, that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. And it could do so quite easily working with the IAEA and the international community.

I should also stress that the economic problems that the Iranian people are seeing are, in good measure, due to the mismanagement of the Iranian Government, their choices in terms of their economic policies. And that's hurting the Iranian people. But yes, our sanctions are focused in trying to get the Iranian Government to do the right thing, which is abide by its international obligations. This is not a difficult thing to do. We want them to come to the table and seriously negotiate with the P-5+1. We want a diplomatic solution. We believe there's still time, but time is not limitless.

And so from the U.S. perspective, working with the international community, we want a better future for the Iranian people, but the way to get there is by the Iranian Government demonstrating clearly that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

MS. JENSEN: [Jacques] Hubert-Rodier wants to know: Is there any change in the U.S. policy for nation building? And are you ready to contribute to the reconstruction, for instance, of Syria if the regime of Bashar al-Assad falls, or in Egypt of President Morsi?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, certainly, we are working with partners around the world to try to promote development, prosperity, democracy. And in the case of Syria, we are very focused on the day after Assad departs the scene. We want to work with a opposition, with a opportunity to develop a political transition that will give us the ability to - working together with the international community - to provide the Syrian people a better future, one in which they can enjoy freedoms, one in which they can enjoy economic opportunity.

And so in short, we are very keen to have that day come about immediately so that we can, working with the international community, work with the new Syrian Government to provide for that better future.

In the case of Egypt, as you're probably very well aware, we believe that we have a important strategic partnership that we want to advance with President Morsi. The economic component is critical. We want to be supportive of that. Because again, the Egyptian people want to have economic opportunity. They want to have the freedoms that they've fought for through their revolution. And the United States wants to support those aspirations, and we are very prepared to work with President Morsi and his government to advance those common goals.

And we are quite encouraged that, in fact, President Morsi's made important statements abiding by the peace treaty with Israel and understanding that we need to preserve stability in the region and work together to advance common objectives, and even in countries like Syria, which are critical and very important to the welfare and well-being of the entire Middle East.

MS. JENSEN: We're going to move on to Ukraine. Iryna Somer from the news agency Interfax-Ukraine wants to know: How can upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine influence the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine? And how does the result of the upcoming presidential elections in the United States change the relationship between Ukraine and the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you very much for that question on Ukraine. As I referenced at the opening, we had an important meeting of the transatlantic ministers of the EU and NATO to discuss European issues, of which Ukraine was featured, as well as Georgia. And in terms of the Ukrainian election October 28th, we have been working with our European partners, urging transparency, urging that they be free, transparent, and allowing the Ukrainian people to choose their future leaders. And we will continue to do that. We are pressing for there to be monitors and are prepared to support that monitoring effort. We are providing funding to assist with that monitoring effort.

And so one should take a look at what just happened in Georgia, very encouraging to see the type of election that allows the Georgian people to pick their leadership. And Ukraine should be looking to see what its neighbors are doing in terms of allowing for that. And we have to note that we remain concerned that former Prime Minister Tymoshekno remains jailed. She should be freed. These are the kinds of things that don't lead to a conducive and positive environment for elections. So this is an issue that is very primary to U.S. interests, to European interests. We're working together, and we will be moving forward to try to, again, work to ensure that those elections take place in the manner in which the Ukrainian people deserve.

MS. JENSEN: We're going to stay on Ukraine. Andrii Lavreniuk wants to know: Mr. Hammer, what are the U.S. foreign policy priorities concerning Ukraine, taking into account a resolution passed last week by the U.S. Senate demanding the immediate release of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Tymoshenko and calling for sanctions against officials responsible for her imprisonment? How is the U.S. State Department considered this resolution in order to implement its recommendations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: All right. Well, thank you very much for your question, a follow-up on the situation in Ukraine. We have a constant dialogue with our colleagues and partners in Congress in terms of how we can advance our mutual interests in terms of what's important for U.S. foreign policy and certainly what's important for Ukraine. And as I said, we are very focused on trying to encourage transparent, free, and fair elections in Ukraine on October 28th. And we have repeatedly called for the release of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and an end to selective persecutions of individuals in Ukraine.

So this is an issue that is very much a focus of our attention and working with members of Congress. We will be monitoring, obviously, what takes place during those elections. And again, it's a concerted effort by the European partners, by the United States to try to do what we can to convince the Ukrainian authorities that they do conduct these elections in a free and transparent manner.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Camille-Cerise Gessant from Agence Europe: How are your relationships with the EEAS and how are you working with Madam Ashton on common interest subjects such as Syria and Iran?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, again, thank you for the question. We work extremely well with the European Union and with Lady Ashton in particular. You're probably well aware that she participated with the P-5+1 in an important meeting at New York on the issue of Iran, and she's our lead negotiator, talking with all of us, with the Iranian negotiator, to see how we might be able to advance this common cause, which is to get Iran to meet its international obligations.

Now, we also talk about the situation in Syria. We are very much in sync. So we do look to partner with our European friends - the EU, the EEAS - to advance common objectives. In fact, there's probably no issue in the world where we don't work with our European partners, whether it's the situation in Burma, whether it's concerns about human rights in any particular region of the world, whether it's a question of partnering where we can advance development. And so we have an extremely rich relationship with our European partners. We share common values. And that's what you see reflected. In every meeting that we have with a European official, we have a very broad agenda, and we talk about how best to advance our common interests. And that's certainly been a U.S. policy.

MS. JENSEN: Thank you for all of your great questions so far. Please make sure that if you have a question you type it in at the lower left-hand portion of your screen titled, "Questions for State Department Official."

Mr. Hammer, the Department has talked a lot about the pivot to Asia. But how can you be focused on this region with all of the events erupting in the Middle East?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you for that question. I mean, it's very important for us, we felt in this Administration, to recognize that our future is very much tied to what happens in Asia. We have been a Pacific power, and we wanted to make sure that our diplomatic presence was felt, that countries there in the region recognize that we want to work with them on issues of mutual concern. And I think it's been very much appreciated.

The United States is looking to see how we advance economic interests, so we have the Trans-Pacific Partnership that we're trying to advance in terms of creating more markets and greater opportunity to participate actively in ASEAN. We participate actively in the East Asia Summit. And so what you've seen with Secretary Clinton - her first trip, in fact, as Secretary of State was to Asia, and you've seen how President Obama has led our effort in terms of our focus on Asia with hosting the APEC summit in Honolulu last year.

So we are working very hard to be engaged and advance, again, interests. And you see some very important results. We've seen what has happened with our engagement with Burma. We're very encouraged by it. We had the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi here to the United States, which is very important, but also President Thein. And we see that the reform is taking place. We're taking measures in response to that and lifting some economic sanctions.

So there are opportunities to move forward, and we talk about issues that are key problems, like the question of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, so we talk with our partners about the Six-Party Talks, as we saw in the trilateral meeting with Korea and Japan. So we are constantly looking to see how we can advance these critical issues which are important to our citizens and how we can better link up our economies and how we can best benefit from, again, shared values.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Jacques Hubert-Rodier from Les Echos, France: What is your assessment on the situation in Iraq? And does the U.S. think that institutions - police, judiciary - are strong enough after the departure of U.S. troops?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you for that question. Secretary Clinton met with the Vice President of Iraq last week, and we talked quite a bit about Iraq's ability and wanting to and doing, asserting its own sovereignty. And we want to be very supportive of it. And I think Iraq is doing quite well. They are having their own security forces taking over and have taken over their own security situation. And the United States wants to partner in ensuring, again, a free and prosperous, sovereign Iraq. That's the focus of our relationship. We want to have an opportunity to work with them on issues of regional concern. You probably are well aware that we have raised our concerns about Iranian military shipments, overflights through Iraqi airspace. We've seen that the Iraqis are taking some positive steps. They did a spot inspection of an Iranian aircraft.

And so again, we have a very positive, constructive relationship with Iraq. It's one - a relationship based as partners on mutual respect. We want to build on that. And again, we think that Iraq is working and doing what it needs to be doing, again, to ensure its own security. But we are very much willing to work with them as this goes forward in, again, a respectful manner in addressing the problems that we commonly see.

MS. JENSEN: Zoran Jovanovski wants to know: Is there any change in the U.S. foreign policy regarding the current differences between the Republic of Macedonia and the Hellenic Republic? And how soon can we see Macedonia as a new NATO and EU member?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, thank you very much for that question. That's an issue that we have worked to try to resolve. We know it's important for the relationship between Macedonia and Greece. And so that is an issue that comes up repeatedly when we meet with Greek or Macedonian officials. So it's something that we have been working hard to try to resolve, and which we remain committed to trying to resolve because it's important to the future of Europe to have Macedonia and Greece resolve this issue.

MS. JENSEN: Can you tell us what role will the U.S. play in the Colombian peace talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you for that. We first send a message of well wishes to President Santos, who I understand had surgery, and we want him to have a speedy recovery. Our thoughts are with him, and we hope that he's doing well.

With regards to the negotiations, we support President Santos's efforts to try to bring a final peace to Colombia. The Colombian people are deserving of that. And we hope that the FARC will take this opportunity, finally lay down their arms, and allow the Colombian people to live in peace, to abandon their narco-trafficking ties, and to become integrated into Colombian political society.

But that's up to the Colombians. It is their negotiating initiative. It is something that they will carry out. The United States has and will support Colombia, as we have now through three administrations, starting with President Clinton through the President Bush Administration, now President Obama's Administration, working with presidents from President Pastrana to President Uribe to now President Santos.

So we are committed to a strong partnership with Colombia. This initiative could bring a peace that all of us would like to see. And again, it's up to the Colombian Government in terms of how it wants to conduct this, and we certainly thank also the Norwegian Government for its facilitating role and for trying to, again, encourage an end to this tragic, long-lasting, decades-long conflict in Colombia.

MS. JENSEN: I'd like to thank you all for all of your amazing questions today. That's all the time we have. There will be a full video and audio transcript available for your use and download shortly after the conclusion of today's program. If you'd like to get the latest information from the State Department, you can follow us on Twitter by using the handle @StateDept.

Thank you, and we look forward to doing this with you again soon.