Special Briefing: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Upcoming Travel to the Middle East and Europe

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 27, 2009

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs

Jeffrey Feltman, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
George Laudato, USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East
Gordon Duguid, Acting Department Deputy Spokesman

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. A brief word on the ground rules, please, before we start. We have first with us Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried, who is our head for European and Eurasian affairs. He will make two to three minutes of remarks on the record.


He will then take a few questions on background as a Senior State Department Official. He then has to leave for another meeting, and then our other two guests will come to the podium.


QUESTION: Can I please ask you why the questions are on background? That seems a little unusual that you make your statement and then you’re not prepared to put your name to the questions that are asked.


MR. DUGUID: It is not unusual. We do this regularly, particularly with scene-setter backgrounds, which is what we have. Thank you. Ambassador Fried.


AMBASSADOR FRIED: I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.


Morning, everybody. And the Secretary will be making her first trip to Europe as Secretary next week following the Middle East portions of her trip. And so I can walk through this starting with her arrival in Brussels. She will be arriving the previous day, and she will have an informal dinner that night of the so-called – the transatlantic dinner, which is an informal meeting which brings together the NATO, EU foreign ministers all together, plus the Swiss. That will be a good way to informally exchange views in a very relaxed atmosphere before the next day. The next day will feature NATO – the NATO ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters.


QUESTION: Ambassador, what day are we on?


AMBASSADOR FRIED: That would – yes, that’s Thursday, so arrives Wednesday, Wednesday night is the transatlantic informal dinner discussion. The next day is the NATO ministerial, her first ministerial as Secretary. She will also be meeting with EU officials, the so-called troika of Solana, Ferrero-Waldner, Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg, and I believe the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, because they’re the incoming presidency.


From Brussels, she will go to Geneva, where she will have a bilateral meeting with Sergey Lavrov, and I believe also a – I believe a bilateral meeting with the Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey.


QUESTION: That’s on Friday?


AMBASSADOR FRIED: Yes. And then on Saturday, she will go – I think Friday after that, and Saturday, she will be meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara, I believe meeting with the president and prime minister as well as the foreign minister. So that’s an overview of the trip.


In terms of the substance, there are really three – there is an overwhelming – overarching theme to the trip to Brussels, which is the reconnection of the United States with Europe and really a sense of consolidating some of this enormous political goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic, harnessing it to a common agenda – not an American agenda, but a common transatlantic agenda.


We have started this – the new administration has started this process with Vice President Biden’s trip to Munich for the Munich Security Conference, and this will – and Secretary Gates’s defense – NATO defense ministerial in Kracow last week. This is a chance to make this political reconnection more operational. The Secretary wants to channel this energy into – this tremendous positive political energy – into action on a common agenda. Now at NATO, there will be several themes, but two of them are worth mentioning here.


One of them is Afghanistan, where, as you know, we are in the process of both reviewing our strategy and intense consultations with allies and countries in the region about the strategy, so it is very much an iterative process. I honestly cannot speak too much to the details. Ambassador Holbrooke is, of course, the lead in this building.


Another issue is relations with – NATO’s relations with Russia, and of course, in Geneva, it’ll be U.S.-Russia relations. Much has been written about the phrase the Vice President used and President has used of pressing the reset button. That is obviously a colorful and, therefore, effective metaphor for using the opportunity of a new American administration to capitalize on the many areas where the United States and Russia have common interests and can work in a common fashion, particularly in arms control. START is one area that certainly deserves attention.


The Vice President’s speech in Munich, though, not only used the reset button, also used – included some important cautionary notes which I will recall for you, since they didn’t seem to get as much attention as some of us on the trip thought they should. One of them was that the United States will not recognize a Russian sphere of influence. At – another related is that the United States will not recognize the independence of those breakaway Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A third that the Vice President mentioned is that each European country has a right to seek membership in alliances, to choose its own way forward, which is a reference to NATO enlargement.


And it is important that the balance in the Vice President’s speech was not there by accident and it was not casual. It reflects the thinking of the new administration, both those of us who do Europe, those of us who do Russia, those of us who do both, about the most productive way to move forward with Russia, and the most productive ways to do so building on areas where we have common interests, but also mindful of our differences, not shying away from them nor abandoning our values and our friends. That makes for a complicated relationship with Russia, but we believe we can – it is right to emphasize the positive. Our initial work with the Russians so far has been positive.


And to segue into Geneva, we’re all looking forward to the meeting between Secretary Clinton and Minister Lavrov. There have been letters between the leaders, between the foreign ministers, outlining a way forward and a positive agenda, and it is on that that we want to build, but with our eyes open about some of the differences we have.


Then we will be going on to Turkey. There is a very rich agenda with our Turkish friends and allies. Turkey is a major player in the region, has relations with all sides in the Middle East. It has – it is an important player in the South Caucasus, very much a friend of the United States both generally and then specifically, as we try to work to support Georgia, and as we work to advance peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia’s settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh.


There’s a tremendously rich agenda with Turkey. And Turkey itself has been going through a very important evolution at home, moving in a democratic direction, but also with a lot of strains as Turkey addresses issues of its democracy in its – under its secular – its secular system. So we have – we of course, had tremendous differences with the Turks in the previous administration about Iraq. These are largely passed. There was tremendous frustration in Turkey, I will be honest, about attacks on Turks and on Turkey by the terrorist PKK organization. And there was a great improvement in U.S.-Turkish relations, starting after November 2007 when the United States leaned forward and started cooperating very actively with Turkey against the PKK terrorist organization.


So this is – so the bilateral relationship with Turkey has improved. Now we have an opportunity with the new administration to build on that and build a genuine, close strategic partnership with Turkey, encouraging them all the while to continue their democratic reforms under their secular system. So that’s a survey, giving you a sense of the themes. And I am obedient to the rules, so – and you know what they are.


QUESTION: Can I ask for clarification? Are – all of you are speaking on the record?




QUESTION: On the record clarification of one point you made. This –


AMBASSADOR FRIED: Yes, of course.


QUESTION: You referred to tensions with Turkey over Iraq in the past. Were you also referring to the disagreements about using Turkish territory to begin the invasion of Iraq? Were you referring strictly to the Kurdish issue?


AMBASSADOR FRIED: No, I was actually – the tensions I was referring to – it is a fair question. The tensions I was referring to were over Iraq in 2003 --




AMBASSADOR FRIED: -- where the Turkish parliament – the Turkish Government in the end supported the transit of U.S. troops. The Turkish parliament by, I think two or three votes, did not approve it. It was a difficult period, now thankfully belonging to the past.


MR. DUGUID: I’d now like to introduce our Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Asian Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and the USAID’s Acting Assistant Director for the Middle East Greg Laudato[1]. Their opening remarks, again, will be on the record, questions on background.


ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: I think all of you know that the Secretary is traveling, leaving tomorrow night for her first trip to the Middle East. She will be participating in the Gaza donor conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Monday. She’ll also have the opportunity while in Sharm el-Sheikh to meet many of her Arab and European counterparts who will be gathered for the Sharm el-Sheikh conference. She also will have a bilateral meeting, of course, with Egyptian President Mubarak.


From Sharm el-Sheikh, she will travel on to Jerusalem and Ramallah. She’ll have a series of meetings with Israeli officials, both her counterparts now, as well as Prime Minister Olmert and President Peres, as well as have a chance for consultations with – Benjamin Netanyahu, of course, has been asked to form the next Israeli government. She will also go to Ramallah and have meetings there with Palestinian officials.


QUESTION: That’s all on –


ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: It’s Tuesday and Wednesday. She’ll be in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday and Wednesday.


The Sharm el-Sheikh conference has gathered a lot of international leaders to try to address the immediate humanitarian concerns in the Gaza Strip. The United States and others will be showing leadership in stepping forth with new forms of assistance to reach the people in need in the Gaza Strip. It’s also worth keeping this in context, because not only do we want to address the needs – the very real needs in the Gaza Strip, but we also want to move forward toward that comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that President Obama talked about here in the State Department a few weeks ago when the announcement was made about the appointment of Senator Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace.


Part of this, of course, is a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and the Secretary will use this trip to talk to Palestinian leaders, Arab leaders, Israelis, about how to move forward toward the two-state solution. But it’s also about a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of Israel’s Arab neighbors.


In Israel, she’ll also have a chance, of course, to see a lot of friends. She’s had – Senator Clinton is a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, and she will be able to compare notes on a variety of issues that concern both Israel and the United States about the region, including topics such as Iran. And I think I’ll let George – yeah, sorry.


MR. DUGUID: I must correct the record. Mr. George Laudato.


MR. LAUDATO: Thank you. USAID’s Acting Administrator Alonzo Fulgham will travel with the Secretary to the region to participate in the conference. We expect that the U.S. – while the U.S. pledge is still being finalized, we expect that it will be a – it will be announced at the – at Sharm. And we expect that the portion of that pledge that USAID will manage will be generous and probably large – somewhat larger than what we are currently doing in the region, in Gaza.


We expect also that any activities that flow from that pledge will look very similar to the types of activities that we are currently working on in Gaza. Since late December, we’ve committed and – we’ve committed over $10 million to the relief effort in Gaza, have moved a significant amount of that assistance into Gaza, and we operate through eight major NGOs that have operational entities on the ground in Gaza and allow them to reach out and move assistance directly to the people in the towns and villages of Gaza. That has consisted of food and food supplies, medical supplies, plastic sheeting, blankets – the kinds of things one would associate with a – with the immediate needs of a – well, a situation like we find ourselves in, in Gaza.


We’ve also moved a considerable amount of assistance through the World Food Program, food aid, and they have set up feeding programs that reach about 160,000 people. We’ve done a limited amount of humanitarian-related reconstruction, and we’ve done this over the years. I mean, we just, for example, recently in the fall, worked on some major sewage activities in Gaza because of the very immediate impact it was having on the lives of the local people. And we expect that there will be more of this kind of activity at a higher level when the – when we operationalize the pledges that will be made in Gaza – in Sharm.


And we could just continue to – we look forward to continuing to work with the people. We’ve found it – it’s been a very effective program to date, and we hope to continue.


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[1] USAID’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East George Laudato

PRN: 2009/173