Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Meetings with Senior State Department Officials on Secretary Clinton's Meetings with Peruvian Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo, Qatari Amir Hamid bin Khalifa Al Thani, and Tunisian Foreign Minister Naima Kefi

Special Briefing
Senior Department Official
Senior Official
Senior Department of State Officials
New York City, New York
September 22, 2011

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon, everybody. For your records, we have [Senior State Department Official Two]. He’ll be Senior Official Number – Senior State Department Official Number Two today. We are here to background on the Secretary’s three bilateral meetings this morning – the first one with Peruvian Foreign Minister Roncagliolo, the second with the Amir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the third with the Tunisian Foreign Minister Kefi. And then Senior State Department Official Number Two will give you a wider view of how things look at UNGA week in his region.

So first off, the Secretary’s meeting this morning with the Peruvian Foreign Minister was very cordial, about a half hour long, and built on the positive momentum from President-elect Humala’s earlier visit to Washington and Deputy Secretary Burns’ recent trip to Peru. The Secretary expressed support for the new Peruvian Government’s focus on social and economic inclusion, and both of them agreed to do more to advance this effort. They also talked about counternarcotics and had a good exchange on our cooperation, and both sides pledged to continue to work to address this challenge.

The Secretary also welcomed Peru’s condemnation of Syrian President Asad’s brutality against the Syrian people. And they discussed the situation in Libya, including the need to support the TNC in its efforts to promote a democratic future for the Libyan people. The Secretary noted that countries in South America, like Peru, that have transitioned successfully to democracy are a positive model for countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

And now, on to the other two bilateral meetings.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The Secretary met this morning with the Amir of Qatar. This is the third year in a row that she’s had the opportunity to meet with the Amir of Qatar on the margins of the UN General Assembly. Of course, much of the discussion was about Libya because Qatar has shown real leadership, along with the UAE, in the Gulf Cooperation Council and in the Arab League, and with the NATO-led coalition regarding Libya.

The Secretary and the Amir talked about the need now to transition to a new phase of support for the Libyans because, while the fight isn’t quite over yet – Qadhafi hasn’t been found – now it’s important for the international community to pull together and support unified central authorities and make sure that these authorities are strong enough to withstand – to push back against any extremism and to withstand any differences between us. So there was a lot of discussion about Libya and how to maintain that international support, that regional support, for Libya that’s been so important so far, but under the leadership of the Libyan authorities themselves.

Given that Qatar has had a long relationship with Syria, the Secretary also raised our concerns with Syria with the Amir, because the Amir is able to talk to Syria in a different way than we’re able to talk to the Syrians. And they compared notes on how the region and the international community can, again, work together to push back against the type of killing and atrocities you see taking place in Syria, and to show support for the struggle of the Syrian people for dignity, freedom, and to participate in how they’re governed.

Qatar, as you may know, is the chair in the Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative Follow-Up Committee, so it’s natural that they also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian issue. There was also a discussion on Egypt, where the Secretary talked again about the need for the region and the international community to support Egypt’s democratic transitions, to help the people of Egypt meet their own aspirations. And in this regard, the Secretary noted the importance of making sure that Egypt’s transition includes support for minorities, role for women, and – so that Egypt becomes a force for – remains a force for moderation going forward.

The second meeting that the Secretary had regarding the Near East, North Africa was with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kefi. And this was really an important meeting, given that Tunisia is facing constituent assembly elections on October 23rd. Tunisia, of course was where the Arab Awaking first began, and Tunisia will have the first electoral process of the Arab countries currently in transition.

So the Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed the developments leading up to the constituent assembly election. The Secretary very much welcomed Tunisia’s invitation to international observers to watch the elections, but most importantly, they signed a document that is a joint political and economic partnership that we initiated today between Tunisia and the United States to work together to support Tunisia’s transition both politically and economically. And I’ll tell you, this really symbolizes a new type of relationship that the government of Tunisia, the people of Tunisia, and the people and the Government of the United States are committed to building with each other because while we had a – you could say a correct relationship with Tunisia before, it was a rather cold and sterile relationship. And now we’re looking for ways to bring our business communities together to be able to support the democratic aspirations of the Tunisian people, to really work together in a warm partnership.

And of course, we also discussed with the Tunisians the region, given the fact that Tunisia is next door to Libya and was the first country in North Africa to recognize the Libyan Transitional National Council, and has does so much to host Libyan refugees since February.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m conscious that we don’t have a lot of time and I want to make sure we have time for questions. So maybe the way to go forward would be to make clear that [Senior State Department Official Two] is available to talk about – take questions on other parts of the region except Middle East peace, where, as you know, the Secretary was just on the record and the Quartet meeting is ongoing. So I think we won’t have more to say on that before this evening.


QUESTION: Well, what do you mean by cold and sterile?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What I mean is that it was – we weren’t living up to the potential --

QUESTION: Well, was that because it wasn’t --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The United States and Tunisia have a 200-year-old friendship, more than 200-year-old friendship. Tunisia recognized United States independence very early on. And as the Foreign Minister said so eloquently upstairs, the Tunisians now hope that they can emulate our Constitution, the ‘We the People’ language, as they look to their new constituent assembly. But it wasn’t a relationship that in recent years lived up to its potential. Yes, we worked together on a lot of important issues, counterterrorism, et cetera, but there was a – we had real issues with the human rights situation inside Tunisia, and the Ben Ali government had real suspicions about what were our motives in expressing concern about the democracy and human rights relationships. So it wasn’t – there just wasn’t much warmth in the relationship in the – in recent years, nor were we really building up the potential that we now see as possible, given the changes in Tunisia. I mean, there’s real enthusiasm now on both sides to develop, strengthen, expand the ties between our two countries that weren’t there before.

QUESTION: Is that is that primarily a function of him not being there anymore, Ben and his family gone?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s absolutely, directly related to the change that’s happened in Tunisia.

QUESTION: So, right. He’s gone --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think [Senior State Department Official Two] answered the question.

QUESTION: Right. No, but I’m – the point I’m making is that it is, in fact, about personalities.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s about an entire change in how Tunisia is being governed, that the – that you have a – you have governing structures that are moving toward constituent elections to build a constitution that’s responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Tunisian people. Ben Ali was not being responsive to certainly the political aspirations of his population.


QUESTION: I note, without asking you to comment on what’s currently happening with the Arab-Israeli – or the Palestinian-Israeli issue, you mentioned in both of those bilats there was discussion of the Palestinian issue. Could you just, keeping it to that, tell us what was discussed in the bilat? What did Tunisia and Qatar say to us their position is and the effect it’s going to have on our relationship with them, our opposition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, the – Tunisia and Qatar, like the United States, have been strong advocates of a two-state solution and have in their own ways played important roles in trying to promote a two-state solution and an independent, viable Palestinian State. And they remain committed to the goal. The Secretary, for her part, assured them that that is, in fact, our goal, that we do want to see an independent, viable Palestinian State emerge to live side by side in peace and security with Israel and that we are looking for the best ways to get the parties back to the types of negotiations that could lead to that solution.

QUESTION: Have they – did they say anything about consequences for the U.S. standing in the region from our opposition to this, which the Arab world is obviously (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think both of them sought reassurance that we’re going to keep working to get these parties back to the table, and that was reassurance that the Secretary absolutely was able to give them today, and they want to be helpful as well.


QUESTION: To follow up on the discussion on Egypt that the Secretary had with the Amir, two things: One, you began to say – you talked about the importance of Egypt becoming, and then you said remaining, a force for moderation and tolerance and so on. Why is it that it would be necessary to convey that message in a way to the Amir of Qatar? Why isn’t that a message that you just give directly to the Egyptians? Do you feel it’s not getting through, or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Arshad, it’s a principle. Our approach to Egypt – Egypt is a country where – it has a sizeable Christian population. It’s important, going forward, that that Christian population, like the rest of the Egyptian people, feel that they are participating in the decisions affecting Egypt’s future. It’s part of our policy. And the Secretary is very vocal on the role of women, for example. You cannot realize the potential – the country can’t realize its potential if 50 percent of that country is not able to reach the potential themselves. And it’s – there’s nothing unusual or extraordinary about these interventions. It was restating, as we do all the time, our belief that it’s important to keep these principles in mind.

QUESTION: Right. What I don’t get, though, is why one would be making that point about the Egyptians to the Qatarese. That is my question.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We were discussing the – basically sharing analysis of what’s happening in Egypt, as two friends, Qatar and the United States, two observers. Qatar’s in the region. Qatar’s an Arab country, so it covers – Qatar has certain insights into Egypt and we have been a long, longstanding partner of Egypt, and we were simply comparing notes about how we see the situation today and what we would like to see emerging as the Egyptian people continue through their transition. It’s sort of Egypt that we’re supporting.

QUESTION: So last thing, it’s not as if you believe the Qatarese have any particular influence in this instance, the way you were suggesting they might have with the Syrians. It’s not like you – it was just shared analysis, not, hey, can you help (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think Qatar has – Qatar has a strong interest in Egypt’s stability and Egypt having a successful transition. I think Qatar has – and then – and Qatar has – Qatar, like other Arab countries, like other friends of Egypt around the world, has a role to play.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think, unfortunately, we need to step out and prepare for our next. What we can do, those of you who may not be leaving after this next briefing, if you have more questions for [Senior State Department Official Two], we can come back to him after the GCC briefing, if that makes sense. Okay? Give us three minutes and we’ll be right back.

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PRN: 2011/1575