LiveAtState: U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century - Priorities, Goals, and Accomplishments
Director of Policy Planning
MS. JENSEN: Hello. And welcome to LiveAtState. I would like to wish everybody a happy New Year, and thank you all for joining us today. This is an exciting time for us. We have a new set, and our most popular guest is joining us today in the studio, Director of Policy and Planning, Jake Sullivan. And today he is going to take questions on U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century: The Priorities, Goals, and Accomplishments of the Administration.
I’d like to welcome all of our journalists joining us from around the world, and I’d like to give a special shout-out to those of you joining us from our watch party in Sao Paulo. We are delighted that you could join us today.
Before I turn it over to Jake, I just want to make a couple of quick housekeeping notes. You can start to ask your questions now in the lower left-hand portion of your screen in the box titled Questions for State Department Official. And if at any time you lose connection, you can email your questions directly to us at Live@State.gov, and we will add your question to the queue. And with that, we’re going to start relatively quickly, because we do not want to take any more time up, and we’ll get to as many of your questions as we can in the 45 minutes we have.
So with that, I’m going to start with the first question, and it’s from Dahono Fitrianto from Indonesia: Will there be any significant changes on the policy toward Asia Pacific region during the second term of President Barack Obama’s Administration? And if yes, what are they?
MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you for that question. I think in the main, the United States’ policy and the Obama Administration’s policy towards the Asia Pacific will be reinforcing and extending the work that we did over the first four years. Right from the beginning, the President and Secretary of State recognized that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Asia Pacific. It’s a dynamic engine of economic growth. It’s an important area for American engagement on security, and there are exciting developments in the area of democratic development and the expansion of universal values in places like Burma and elsewhere. So much of what the second term will be about will be locking in the intensified engagement on the security front, the economic front, and the values front that we saw through the hard work of American diplomats, development experts, and ordinary citizens over the course of the first four years.
Of course, there will be difficult situations that arise that require specific types of American engagement. And we will look for new initiatives in areas like energy and in pursuing our heightened economic engagement with ASEAN. But in the main, the fundamental pillars of the Administration’s Asia Pacific policy will remain consistent through the second term, and if anything, I think will only grow broader and deeper as the policy we’ve had towards the region picks up steam.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Weihua Chen from China Daily USA: There are conflicting messages from the Obama Administration officials explaining the pivot or rebalance to Asia. Some say it’s not aimed at China, but others point to potential threats from China. Is there a consistent message from the Administration regarding this, or should we expect different ones from the State Department and Pentagon?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think here the answer is very simple: The United States has no interest in and no policy to contain China. We welcome China’s rise as a peaceful and prosperous power within a broader rules-based order for the Asia Pacific. In fact, over the last four decades and longer, it has been mostly the hard work and ingenuity of the Chinese people themselves that has driven China’s rise. But there has also been a contribution from other countries like the United States that have helped create the conditions for all of the countries, including China, to develop economically, to operate in a context of relative peace and security.
So the United States doesn’t just say that we welcome China’s rise; we’ve shown that over the course of our policies for the last many decades. What we would like to see is a relationship between the United States and China that is positive, cooperative, and comprehensive, that looks to expand the areas where we can work together to take on the great challenges of our time. And where we have differences and where there is lingering mistrust, we should work to narrow those differences and overcome that mistrust. That’s been the consistent message from the State Department, from the Pentagon, and from the White House. And any person who says otherwise doesn’t represent the views of this Administration.
Now, I would also add that the United States feels very strongly about its principles and its view of what is required to create the kind of rules-based order for the 21st century that allows all countries to thrive. And on that, we will continue to speak out assertively and to act in defense of our allies and in support of our partners. But we believe that we can do that in a way that furthers and does not undermine a cooperative partnership with China.
MS. JENSEN: Ariel Kahana from Makor Rishon newspaper wants to know: Will the process between Israel and the Palestinians be one of the top priorities of the next administration? Or has the situation in the region changed it?
MR. SULLIVAN: The ongoing effort to find a long-term objective of a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors remains a central objective of U.S. foreign policy. We are in a difficult period; there is no doubt. We don’t have an ongoing negotiating process at the moment. The Palestinian Authority has faced some challenges on the governance and financing side. The Israeli Government is coming up on a very important election in a few days time.
So this is a moment where all of the parties who are both directly involved and who seek to play a role in supporting a positive outcome need to take a step back and refocus on the fundamentals, which is that the basic principle of a two-state solution and the basic need for compromise and dialogue on both sides and the basic need for greater understanding between the parties is going to require intensive investment, starting with the parties themselves but also from all of the supporters of the process. And the United States will continue to play its historic role as a country that has deep relationships with Israel and with the Palestinians in an effort to try to find a solution over the coming years.
MS. JENSEN: If you would like to get the latest information, you can follow us on Twitter using the handle @StateDept, or you can get the latest information going to 2009-2017.state.gov.
Our next question comes from Rasidah Haji Abu Bakar from the Brunei Times: There seems to be a status quo when it comes to justice, freedom, and security. It seems America only accepts its own versions and definitions and not others. Such one-track close-mindedness is rather worrying, especially for small countries and those without nuclear or defensive weapons. Despite extolling the value of diversity and freedom of expression, the stench of hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy is strong. Why is that?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I just have to reject the premise. I think what the Obama Administration has tried to do over the past four years is to promote a set of universal values, values related to every person having a voice in the affairs of their community and country, and having the right to live up to their God-given potential, to pursue the types of jobs and economic opportunity that can provide a good life for themselves and their family. These aren’t American values or Western values; these are universal values. And the Obama Administration doesn’t just speak to them, but tries to pursue policies that expand the circle of opportunity to people in Brunei and the Asia Pacific and beyond.
And on the question of security and economic rules of the road, I think what the Obama Administration has done from the start, and Secretary Clinton has spoken to this often, is seek to build what I’ve said in a previous answer is a rules-based order, an order where the rules apply to all countries equally, whether they’re large or small, whether they’re developed or developing. So that all countries need to take steps with respect to climate change to reduce emissions, all countries with respect to proliferation need to work to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons present to the world. And the United States has taken a number of steps in this regard and looked to other countries to do the same. That all countries respect freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce, and that all countries where there are conflicts look to settle them according to principles of international law.
These are the kinds of rules of the road that the United States is working hard to implement and enforce, but is also working hard to follow itself, because it is fair to say that, as President Clinton once said, the power of our example is ultimately a much more potent force than the example of our power.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Fatima Abdullah from Al-Awsat newspaper in Bahrain: It is said that no matter what the U.S. Administration says about supporting human rights and democracy in the Gulf region, the priority will always be for security. What are your thoughts?
MR. SULLIVAN: The United States has to think about an all-of-the-above approach. It can’t just be that security is the only thing that matters to us. Security matters, absolutely, and we have a number of fundamental interests in the Gulf region, not just for ourselves but in support of our partners in the region. But economic growth and development matters so that people can get the kinds of jobs and opportunity they deserve. Values matter. Democratic reform matters.
So we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. That’s an old American expression. We have to be able to pursue our interests and our values. And if we are totally honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that sometimes our interests and values don’t perfectly align, but we work over time to align them.
So in the case of Bahrain, we have consistently supported our security partnership over the course of many decades, but we have also supported a process of reform, reconciliation, and dialogue, and we have called both publicly and privately on the Bahraini Government to respect the fundamental rights of all of its citizens, whatever their background, whatever their faith. And we will continue to press for the kinds of developments and reforms in Bahrain that can create a better and more open society for all of its citizens while at the same time looking to deepen a security partnership that we believe can benefit all of the citizens of the region and push back against the kinds of negative forces and influences that will undermine security and be a threat to peace.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Olga Golovanova from Gazeta.ru: Mr. Sullivan, I’m a journalist from Moscow based on my media Gazeta.ru. We were following the latest developments of the Russian-American relationship after the approval of the Magnitsky Act by the President Barack Obama. The Russians have responded with a law that bans American parents from a right to adopt Russian orphans and also restricts any activities of the U.S.-based HGOs or even Russian NGOs financed from the USA. In 2012, USAID, IRI, and NDI decided to stop their activities in Russia. How will these matters affect the relations between Russia and the United States and particularly the reset policy that was once announced by Obama? Is this the end of the reset?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want to use a particular label in answering that question, but what I will say is that we have been dismayed by some of the developments over the course of the past few months. This adoptions bill in particular seems to have an unfortunate and deep impact on the lives of children and families who want nothing more than to provide loving homes for kids who otherwise are going to stay in orphanages. And it is hard to understand – and I can say this speaking both personally and on behalf of the Administration – why a policy would be pursued that would leave children in this very difficult circumstance.
That doesn’t mean that there are not fundamental areas where the United States and Russia can’t work together. I believe that we can. But we have to acknowledge the fact that the recent difficulties have created more space, more divergence, at a time when both countries should be working together on a series of common interests, whether it’s proliferation by Iran or it’s the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan or it’s economic interactions arising out of Russia’s accession to the WTO.
So the United States’ position on this is quite simple. We are going to stick by our principles. We are going to make clear what it is that we see as being the best way forward. And at the same time, we’re going to look to try to narrow the areas of difference with Russia and expand the areas of cooperation. And it just strikes me that on something like the adoptions ban there are more practical, pragmatic, level-headed ways to deal with this issue. And I hope that as we move forward, we will be able to find those together and be able to deliver at least to some of the families and children that are waiting for our two countries to come up with a solution.
MS. JENSEN: Nizar Abdul Baqi from Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia asks: Some say that the U.S. foresees Arab Spring but failed to adapt herself to its effect. Is this true?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think the issue with the developments that have taken place, the extraordinary developments over the course of the past almost two years now in – across the Middle East and North Africa have been – have created all kinds of surprises for the whole world. The United States in the years leading up to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere obviously saw, as everybody saw, the changing dynamics on the ground, the repression, the lack of economic opportunity, the desire for citizens to have a greater voice. And the Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton, went to Doha in early January before the Egyptian revolution and said that on their current trajectory, many of these countries’ institutions were sinking into the sand. But the pace, the speed, the scope of the changes that have taken place have certainly been a surprise to many people.
And as far as the United States’ policy has been concerned, right from the start we have been consistent about the touchstones of our policy in response: first, that we would support the peaceful democratic aspirations of the citizens of the region; second, that we would oppose any kind of violence that might be visited upon people trying to exercise their peaceful rights and trying to bring about democratic change in their countries; and third, that we would look to support real democracy – open, transparent institutions, respect for minority rights, respect for women’s rights, free and fair elections that aren’t just one election one time but lead to a process whereby leaders are held accountable. And we have consistently voiced these principles even as we deal individually with each of the situations because they’re different.
So I don’t think that this has been an area where the United States has either missed what’s happened or taken the wrong approach. I think we have made it very clear where we stand. We have indicated where we see the warning signs and where we see difficulties and challenges ahead. We have pushed back when we thought that the revolutions were being hijacked or were being steered in the wrong kind of direction. And we have consistently stood up and voiced a set of principles that we will stand by as fundamental not just to the United States but as universal principles that we believe apply in each of these situations.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Ukraine. Andril Lavreniuk wants to know: Mr. Sullivan, what are the priorities of the U.S. foreign policy on Ukraine in 2013 and how do you assess the current political situation in this country? Are there any prospects that President Obama will visit Ukraine or Ukrainian President or that the Ukrainian President would pay a visit to the United States?
MR. SULLIVAN: It’s no secret that we’re very concerned about the political situation in Ukraine. We believe that many steps need to be taken to produce a more transparent, open, and accountable government and set of institutions, that some kind of process needs to be created and carried through to deal with the opposition and to deal with former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, who we think is not being treated entirely fairly. So we have a set of real concerns and we have voiced those concerns publicly. Secretary Clinton has voiced them through letters to the leadership in Ukraine, and we have made clear that we are prepared to support real moves towards the deepening of democracy in Ukraine, and as long as that doesn’t come, that we are going to stand up and speak out and push back. So we’ve been very transparent and consistent in our policy on this regard.
Now, there are other dimensions of our policy with respect to Ukraine. Ukraine obviously occupies an important place in Europe. And whether you’re talking about energy or you’re talking about nuclear proliferation or a set of other issues on which we have an important agenda, we continue to work to try to advance those issues in a way that is consistent with the common interests between the United States and Ukraine, but ultimately fundamental to the future of Ukraine, and this is only up to the Ukrainian people themselves to decide and Ukraine’s leaders to step up and carry out is to actually embrace the fundamental precepts of a democratic society and to carry out actions consistent with that.
MS. JENSEN: Tahir Khan from BBC Pashto in Islamabad would like to know: Is the U.S. serious in the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan?
MR. SULLIVAN: What the President said – President Obama – when President Karzai was here is that we are in active consultations with the Afghan Government, and the President is in active consultations with his commanders, his military experts, about what a post-2014 presence might look like in Afghanistan. He’s also been clear about the kinds of missions that the United States is committed to working through with Afghanistan in terms of carrying out training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces and continuing to go after the remnants of al-Qaida that try to call Afghanistan their home – al-Qaida, the group that attacked the United States on 9/11 and was the reason that we went into Afghanistan in the first place.
So no decisions have been made on this, but the President has been absolutely clear that he wants to work closely with the Government of Afghanistan and listen carefully to his commanders about what the shape and scope of an enduring presence beyond 2014 would look like.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Richard Thomas from Muscat Daily: Has the U.S. policy to the GCC changed in approach since 2000? Is more attention now placed on what the role the nations can play in enhancing regional stability such as Oman acting as an interlocutor for U.S.-Iran talks, or Qatar and its increasing presence as a global player, re Libya and Syria?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think our relationship with the GCC has changed over the course of the last four years, and I think it’s become broader and deeper not just on our security partnerships, which are crucial, but also on other dimensions of the relationship.
Well, let me give you just one very important example. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta have worked closely with their counterparts in the Gulf to launch what’s called the U.S. GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum. This is an effort to take the combined capacities of the United States and the six GCC countries on a set of issues related to ballistic missile defense and maritime security and piracy and other security challenges that Gulf nations face and that the United States has an interest in helping them with, to build an institution where we can all work effectively together both as individual countries and working with the GCC as a whole, as a growing and strengthening institution in its own right. So steps like that, concrete steps where the United States is seeking to cultivate deeper ties with the GCC and with individual Gulf countries are going to be a very important part of the region’s security architecture as we go forward.
And in the second term, I think the goal on both sides should be to broaden and deepen that set of dynamics and relationships. And you just need look no further than the steady line of senior American officials that go to Gulf countries for consultations on the whole range of issues to see what an important dimension this plays in American policy across a number of issues and how the U.S.-GCC partnership and the direction it has will say a lot about the direction of Gulf security but also Gulf development more generally.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Arnaout Raouf from Al-Ayyam from the Palestinian Authority: Do you think that the two-state solution can continue with the continuation of the settlement activities and the fact that there is no peace process?
MR. SULLIVAN: The United States has obviously been consistent in its position with respect to settlement activity. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We say to both sides how important it is not to take unilateral or provocative actions that can set back the cause of peace. Fundamentally, our view at the moment is that the status quo is unsustainable. It’s unsustainable for Israel, which faces growing threats and a changing demographic balance. It’s unsustainable for the Palestinians who need to continue to work to develop the institutions of a future state and need to work through a set of principles that the Quartet laid down so that Hamas comes into line with what the Palestinian Authority has already agreed to and embraced, and that unsustainability is something that should propel both parties to get back to the table in a long-term, durable way to arrive at a solution.
I don’t believe that the two-state solution, the prospects for it have disappeared, but they will continue to dim if the parties don’t take the steps necessary, and that begins with the publics on both sides being invested in and committed to a peace process. So we are at an important moment, and there is a certain level of urgency that applies to the parties and to everyone who supports the process. But the central objective remains clear. It remains achievable through hard work and good faith, and I think it’s imperative that everybody take a very hard, long look at their positions and their postures and try to find a way to bridge the gaps that have made that peace elusive for as long as we’ve kind of been working at this problem.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to go to Europe now, or back to Europe. Lukasz Pawlowski wants to know: Before 2008 elections, President Obama came to Europe and was welcomed enthusiastically. After the 2012 elections, President Obama chose Southeast Asia for his first foreign destination. Are the ties between Europe and the USA becoming weaker? And what can be done to reverse this trend?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, let me say this: As somebody who accompanied Secretary Clinton on 40 – count them – 40 trips to Europe over the course of her four years, I don’t believe the ties to – between Europe and the United States are getting weaker. I believe they are getting stronger. And as we say here in the United States, the proof is in the pudding. Europe is a partner of first resort with the United States on a whole range of issues: on dealing with the threat posed by Iran; on responding to the brutality of Assad in Syria; on supporting effective progress, even if relatively limited, on the Middle East peace process; on development; on Libya; on supporting democratic transitions in places like Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere. You can go down the list of global challenges and see that the United States and Europe are working more closely together, more effectively together than they ever have before.
The cooperation between the United States and the major European and transatlantic institutions – NATO, the EU, the OSCE – you look at the points on the board in each of those areas over the course of the past four years, and it is hard to argue anything other than a stronger U.S.-Europe transatlantic relationship at the end of 2012 than we had at the end of 2008.
That doesn’t mean that other areas of the world aren’t crucially important. And we’ve emphasized the importance of the Asia Pacific. But we don’t see ourselves pivoting away from Europe to Asia. We see ourselves pivoting with Europe to Asia because we share a set of interests and values in that region and a stake in its future which suggests that we should be working even more closely together to help shape that future.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Kareem Emam Mustafa. With the bad humanitarian situation in Syria, what are the most important developments with regard to U.S. policy towards the current situation in Syria?
MR. SULLIVAN: We just had Deputy Secretary Burns in Geneva a couple of days ago meeting with his Russian counterpart and with the Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to talk about what’s possible and the way of a negotiated solution. Every day that passes, we see increasing brutality by the Assad regime against its own citizens. Over the weekend, attacks in the Damascus suburbs that took the lives of so many, including many children. And I think our view is that it is time now for those who continue to support the regime, the soldiers and politicians and citizens who are standing behind Assad, to look deep into themselves and say, “Is this the kind of country, is the kind of leadership that we want?” That has to be the starting point.
But the United States has consistently pursued a policy in Syria that has a few key dimensions. The first is that we will continue to support the opposition. And we played a significant role in helping the new opposition coalition coalesce and begin to speak with a unified voice on behalf of the Syrian people. We have recognized it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We have increased our assistance for all sorts of activities related to helping opposition activists on the ground deliver services to citizens, to be able to communicate with one another, to be able to evade detection by the Syrian regime. We have provided a substantial amount of funding for humanitarian assistance to help the Syrian people cope with the terrible tragedy that has been visited upon them by the Syrian regime. And we have worked hard with the international community and with the Joint Special Envoy to see if there is a narrow path forward on the political front to bring an end to the fighting and an end to the Assad regime through a transitional government with full powers that is arrived at through mutual consent, as laid out in the Geneva documents.
So if you look at the features of our policy, from putting pressure on the Assad regime to supporting the opposition, to providing humanitarian assistance, to trying to bring about a peaceful resolution to what has been a bloody and tragic and violent conflict, you can see a kind of deep American commitment to a future Syria that is inclusive, that is free, and that reflects the legitimate aspirations of Syrian people.
But that’s not to say that we aren’t deeply frustrated. We are. We haven’t seen the kind of progress that we’d like to see. Our pressure has not resulted, so far, in the end of the Assad regime. And we will continue to look for ways to increase that pressure, to increase our support for the opposition, and to work with our partners and with Syrians themselves to come up with a solution that we all know should be the ultimate outcome on behalf of the Syrian people. And in the meantime, we will continue to stand up and speak out and provide the kind of support that we feel is imperative to back the Syrian people in their struggle.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Audrey Lijiajia with Southern TV China. Last year the National Congress of the CPC was held in China, and the new leaders took office. What do you think about the Sino-U.S. relationship in the new period, or in this new period?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think – something Secretary Clinton said a few months ago and sort of very much stuck with me, and that is that the mark of a stable and mature relationship between two important countries like the United States and China is whether that relationship can effectively be about something more than the individual leaders that steward it. And that, I think, is going to be the important mark for the coming period. As the Chinese go through their leadership, the fundamentals of our relationships shouldn’t really change at all. The same kind of logic that underpinned our relationship before the leadership transition should underpin it after the leadership transition. And that is a view that the United States and China should be working together to expand the areas where we can cooperate on the major global challenges of our time, on proliferation, on climate change, on the global economy, and on so much else; address our areas of difference on issues like human rights and other types of places where we simply have a different way of seeing the issue and where the United States will stand up firmly behind its own principles; and of trying to address the issue of building strategic trust.
So that basic construct for our relationship, where, as Secretary Clinton has put it, we try to write a new answer to the old question of what happens when an established and an emerging power meet, should not be dramatically affected by a leadership transition. But of course, we can’t be naïve. Leadership transitions produce new questions. They produce politics of various kinds, whether that happens in China or in the United States. And so we have to be very careful, and we have to be focused on the fundamentals of the relationship so that nothing gets knocked off track over the course of the next few months.
MS. JENSEN: I would just like to remind everybody, if you would like the latest information from the State Department, you can follow us on Twitter using the handle @StateDept, or you can always log on to 2009-2017.state.gov.
Our next question comes from Hera Khaerani from Media Indonesia. On a controversial policy about using drones to attack to targets in other countries, what has President Obama decided for in his second term? Will there be an increase in the use of drones, noting the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, as you know, we don’t speak, and certainly I wouldn’t speak, about anything pertaining to intelligence matters. What I would say is that the Obama Administration’s counterterrorism policy in the first term made the world safer. Our work, from all of the elements of our government, to target and to take out so many of the important actors in the senior echelons of al-Qaida, to push back on those who would represent a threat, not just to the United States but to so many other countries around the world who have been visited by terrorist attacks, our work to try on the non-security dimension to reduce the pull of violent extremism, to increase the messaging around non-violent methods of expressing concern or opposition to policy – the collection of these things has really helped put al-Qaida in a less effective spot today than it was four years ago.
However, the threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates, as we see acutely in Mali today, as we see in Yemen, as we see in other parts of North Africa, and still see in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is real and it needs to continue to be confronted, not just by the United States but by the entire international community. And one of the things that Secretary Clinton did in her time was to help start up, along with Turkey and other countries, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which is a collection of countries from across the world that are working together to try to reduce the threat of terrorism and violent extremism through a whole host of tools and technologies, not just any type of military action, but also through diplomacy, through capacity building, through messaging, through outreach, and through economic development.
So we will continue to seek a strategic approach to counterterrorism that uses all of the tools at our disposal and that works with all of our partners to continue to try to confront a very real and persistent threat to the entire world.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to move to Africa now. Christina Haguma, freelance journalist out of Belgium, would like to know: What are the U.S. priorities on Africa, especially on the regions in conflict, such as the Great Lakes region or Mali?
MR. SULLIVAN: Several months ago, the President released his national strategy with respect to U.S. policy towards Africa, and it had four basic pillars to it: security and increasing security across the continent; promoting opportunity and development; promoting economic growth and engagement, economic engagement between the United States and Africa; and strengthening democratic institutions and governance. And in particular, he wanted to elevate the institutions and government and the economic engagement piece so that we had a proper balance across the baskets in the portfolio of our Africa policy. But security remains the touchstone for everything, because without security it is difficult to have development or growth or strong institutions.
So the United States is deeply invested in promoting security from Somalia to Sudan to the Eastern Congo to Mali. We have seen, in recent days, an increasing threat from Islamic extremists in Mali. We’ve seen a French response that we have welcomed and supported. We are dealing with the French right now on specific requests that they have of us and will remain in consultations there.
With respect to the Great Lakes region, we have strongly supported efforts to work out a diplomatically negotiated solution, while at the same time strengthening the UN mission on the ground there, MONUSCO, so that it can carry out its civilian protection mission most effectively. And what we believe is that, ultimately, responsible leaders in the region need to step up and come to terms with the fundamental questions that have fueled the conflict for so long. That is going to require diplomacy. It’s going to require restraint. And it’s going to require a type of leadership that has too often been lacking in that region. And the United States will continue to use all of our diplomatic efforts, along with the international community, to push that to happen, while at the same time looking to strengthen UN forces on the ground so that civilians are not constantly terrorized and overrun by warring parties that cut across the territory of the eastern Congo.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Jana Sehnalkova: Despite toning down recently the tensions in South China Sea, seems to have toned down, what are the U.S. priorities with respect to this area, and how can the U.S. motivate China to be a responsible stakeholder in the area, if this term is still valid? Thank you.
MR. SULLIVAN: The United States’ position with respect to the South China Sea has been clear and consistent since the Secretary laid it out back in Hanoi in 2010. We want to see the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea consistent with fundamental principles of international law. We want to see a code of conduct between ASEAN and China that governs activities in the South China Sea to reduce the prospect for conflict or discord between the parties and increases the chances that there can be cooperation around economic development, freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the like.
The United States has a fundamental interest in seeing these things happen. Nearly half the world’s merchant tonnage flows through the South China Sea. And from an economic perspective and a security prospective, this is very much in our national interest, so we are going to speak out on the issue and we are going to engage all of the parties on the issue.
But ultimately it is about supporting a process between ASEAN and China, a serious process, that produces that code of conduct. And we would like to see that happen in the near term, because the risk of conflict, the risk of coercion, the risk of force in the area remains real. And the best way to deal with it is through effective diplomacy combined with a commitment by every party in the region, including China, to commit to international law principles and to take their claims and hold them up against those principles so that the whole world can see what it is that is behind the claim that any country is making to a particular piece of territory.
That’s how the United States approaches the issue in the South China Sea. We take no position on sovereignty or on the territorial claims that are being made, but we very much take a position on the principles that I’ve just outlined, on freedom of navigation, on the rules of international law, and on the need for this issue to be effectively dealt with so that all of the countries can have greater confidence in the peace, security, and stability of the South China Sea region.
MS. JENSEN: Next question comes from the Millennium Post in New Delhi. Is Turkey the most important entrepot for a western engagement with the Taliban?
MR. SULLIVAN: We – just to take a step back in terms of engagement with the Taliban – what the United States supports is an Afghan-led process that has Afghans sitting down with Afghans, the Government of Afghanistan sitting down with the insurgent Taliban through the High Peace Council to chart a way forward that arrives at certain necessary outcomes, including that the Taliban renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, and agree to abide by the Afghan constitutional framework. So that is what – that is the overall approach of U.S. policy towards peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Now, when President Karzai was here last week, he and President Obama issued a joint statement where they spoke to the issue of initiating the kind of process that I’ve just described where the High Peace Council can sit down with armed insurgents, with the Taliban, to try to arrive at a solution based on those necessary outcomes. And they spoke to the potential for opening an office in Doha, in Qatar, that would designed specifically for this purpose. That was the call that was made in the joint statement by President Obama and President Karzai, and the ball, to a large extent, is now in the Taliban’s court about whether they’re prepared to step up and engage in good faith in a serious way to reach the kind of resolution to this conflict that we have called for, that the President of Afghanistan has called for, and that the Afghan people deserve.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Alex Spillius from The Daily Telegraph. What organization, country, or trend is the greatest threat to U.S. interests at present, and how could that change over the next 10 years?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think it’s always hard to answer a question about one thing being the most anything, because in a complicated world like the one we live in today, there are a whole lot of threats and a whole lot of challenges that we have to constantly be attending to. But to pin me down on one, I think that the President and Secretary and the entire national security team have been very focused on the prospect of nuclear proliferation and the potential for nuclear terrorism. That is a fundamental and enormous threat to the American people and to people everywhere.
And so over the course of the first four years, the President has made this a real priority. He has launched a nuclear security summit process. He hosted the first nuclear security summit in Washington several years ago, and then attended the second one in Seoul, Korea. He has worked to try to secure loose nuclear materials around the world and has made great strides in doing so. He’s worked with a number of other countries on the Proliferation Security Initiative to try to stop the movement of sensitive nuclear technologies and materials and a range of other things. And a lot of that has been enforced, executed, negotiated by experts here at the State Department under the leadership of Secretary Clinton. So that threat is an acute threat. But it is certainly not the only one. The threat from al-Qaida, the threat from climate change, the threat from so many other challenges that we face as a country and that the world faces together need to be dealt with, and no one of them can be put on the back burner, because all of them demand the constant and vigilant attention of the American President and his entire national security team.
MS. JENSEN: We have time for two more questions. The next one comes from Peter Winkler. What leeway does the Secretary of State have to form foreign policy? In other words, how much do you expect the changing of the guards from Ms. Clinton to Mr. Kerry will change U.S. foreign policy? Is it a matter of style rather than content, or are there things the Secretary can really change?
MR. SULLIVAN: Secretary of State has the opportunity to put a very significant stamp on U.S. foreign policy, and Senator Kerry, as he thinks about the transition into the job, is thinking about those areas where he really wants to focus. Secretary Clinton obviously had a number of areas where she helped to reorient U.S. foreign policy, both how we conduct it and how we think about it: making women more central to all the work of U.S. foreign policy and our foreign policy goals, bringing economics to the center of the work that we do through diplomacy in her economic statecraft agenda, harnessing the role of new tools and new technologies through 21st century statecraft on both the diplomatic side and the development side, reaching out beyond government to engage with new networks of actors, whether in civil society or religious organizations or the private sector, elevating development so that it is an equal pillar alongside diplomacy and defense in the American national security pantheon.
These are just some of the areas in which the Secretary has played a central role in updating America’s practice of foreign policy, bringing it into the 21st century, responding to the kinds of trends in the landscape that we see. And I think many of these things Secretary-designate Kerry will carry on. He will also have his own marks to leave. And ultimately, the sorts of things that I’ve been describing will be measured not in years, but in decades and in generations, because they are the kinds of investments in long-term American leadership that will pay off down the road as well as having some immediate dividends today.
So Secretary Clinton leaves extremely proud of the activity she’s been able to carry on as Secretary of State and the types of changes she’s been able to make. And I think Secretary-designate Kerry is eager to come in, to pick up the mantle, and to leave his own mark.
MS. JENSEN: So this last question is basically a follow-on to everything you just said, and it comes from Shar Adams from The Epoch Times: In what way has the U.S. State Department changed during Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State, and how have those changes influenced U.S. foreign policy?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, basically I’ve just laid down, I think, what are some of the main changes that have taken place in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in the way that U.S. foreign policy is felt and experienced around the world. One of the things that the Secretary often says – she went to 112 countries, more than any other Secretary of State – is that in a world in which we can connect to each other more virtually, there is an even greater need to show up actually, in person, to be present.
And I think what she calls forward-deployed diplomacy, being out there, not just herself but all of her senior diplomats and development experts, in every corner and every capital around the world, has been an important hallmark for the type of robust American engagement that is matched to the times we live in. Because the Secretary ultimately believes that the central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy in this time is to secure and sustain America’s global leadership, to mobilize coalitions of countries and actors to solve global problems that no one country or no one group can solve on its own, all of the big challenges that we face across the board, and that requires a different way of doing business.
And more than anything else, I think it has been that, the changes she has made to the way that the State Department and U.S. foreign policy does business, that is going to leave a lasting mark on this place, on issues ranging from development to counterterrorism to energy to the global economy and basically everything – and conflict resolution – and everything in between. And as I also said in my last answer, the ultimate metric for whether those changes have borne fruit or not is going to be over a considerable period of time, because she was trying to make adjustments to this place not just for the next year or four years, but for the long term.
MS. JENSEN: All right. Well, that’s all the time we have today. I would like to thank you personally for joining us today. This has been the biggest grouping of journalists we’ve ever had, and you have made this a complete success. For all of you out there, there will be a complete audio and video transcript available for your use directly after this, in about an hour 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 using the handle @StateDept, or visit 2009-2017.state.gov. We look forward to doing this again with you in the near future.