Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Bilateral Meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi
MODERATOR: All right, everybody. As you know, the Secretary had a meeting this evening with President Morsi of Egypt. Here to give you a sense of that meeting is [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hello. So the meeting took place in the President’s suite. It was principals plus three on each side: on his side, the Foreign Minister, the Ambassador, members of his finance team, and another aide; on our side, Deputy Secretary Nides, myself and Beth Jones. It was a very relaxed and warm meeting – serious and very professional, but there were moments of good humor as well.
It began with the Secretary thanking the President for the security that was provided to our Embassy. We all understand that in the first hours, as the Egyptians themselves have said, it may have been a little slow, but indeed quite quickly Egypt provided to our Embassy and has continued to provide to our Embassy quite professional and quite effective security.
I’m not going to get into what the President said in detail except for one point, and that is – because I know it’s so important to the American people, and he understands that. And that is that they affirmed that Embassy security is their duty, it’s their responsibility, and they take it quite seriously.
They had a very good discussion about how to address these issues in the future, including some of the triggers that set off the protest at our Embassy and the violence that occurred in other countries. And they discussed both what was necessary on the security side as well as the dialogue that we all need to have about tolerance. And the Secretary referred to the General Assembly resolution – sorry, not the General Assembly – the Human Rights Council resolution of April 12, 2011 which I’d commend to all of you, which was called Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief, and the efforts that have to be ongoing in that regard in the world and in an internet society how to get ahead of these kinds of issues.
They went on to discuss Sinai security in some detail and the channels that have been opened with their neighbors to ensure that that security can be maintained and improved. They discussed counterterrorism not only in Sinai but also in the region, on other countries, and ways that Egypt might help its neighbors since Egypt has institutions and has capabilities that some of the other countries in the region do not have.
We also – discussions about how to improve the day-to-day lives of Egyptians, which is very much on the mind of the President in Sinai and in – and throughout the entire country. That was, of course, the reason that the change took place in Egypt.
There was, of course, discussion about the IMF, about budget reform, around American assistance and the commitment that the President and Secretary have made to Egypt, and the continued commitment we have to provide the assistance that we’ve discussed, because we believe that a secure and democratic Egypt is important for U.S. national security and will provide for a more secure region as well, which is important for American national security.
The Egyptians have a lot of tough road in front of them to take the budget reforms that will be necessary and to do it in a way that helps them to move their democratic process forward.
We discussed the neighborhood and all the changes that have gone on in countries around Egypt, and that included everything from Libya and Tunisia to Syria as well as Iran.
It was a very fulsome discussion. It went for about 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t remember the exact time myself. But it was a very straightforward discussion and I think speaks to the developing relationship between our two countries and the interests that we do share for security and prosperity of a democratic Egypt.
MODERATOR: Just to remind, this is the second meeting the Secretary’s had with him in less than three months, the last time being when we saw him in Cairo in July.
QUESTION: Did they speak specifically about the video and if – about the question of free speech versus blasphemy and where the limit should lie?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What they spoke about is how words, how acts, can become a reason that people take to act. It wasn’t so much an either/or conversation. The Secretary has been quite clear that there is absolutely no justification for such violence. So that is not – that is without doubt our position.
At the same time, we understand that there are sensitivities which the President has spoken about publicly, and I think we all are reflecting on the kind of dialogue we need to ensure tolerance for all religious beliefs and all religious sensitivities. But again, with the Secretary always clear that there is no basis. I think it’s very clear to everyone where she stands. So it wasn’t – this wasn’t that kind of – they’ve had conversations. As you know, the President has spoken with President Morsi, so we’re sort of on to the next chapter in many ways.
QUESTION: Have they discussed Camp David (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They discussed the important relationships that they have with their neighbors, discussed the Sinai, discussed the importance of channels of relationship, and the positive steps that have been taken in that regard. I think that it is well understood that all international obligations are being adhered to.
QUESTION: I’d just like to ask about the Egyptian initiative that President Morsi has been pushing on Syria. This four member group with Saudis, Turkey, Iran and Egypt. Did they discuss this initiative and does the U.S. think that this could actually bear some fruit?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I – that subject did come up, and I think that the Egyptians themselves would say that it’s a new initiative, and I think no one’s sure whether it’s going to head towards an endpoint or not. We always have concerns when Iran is engaged, but this was a small part of the conversation. It did come up.
MODERATOR: And you know, we’ve been quite clearly publicly about our skepticism with regard to any grouping that Iran is involved in because of Syria --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I certainly personally have very deep skepticism.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Clinton or – say that she think it’s unhelpful what Egypt is trying to do? Has she expressed that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There wasn’t – Margaret, there wasn’t a long discussion about this subject. I’ve given you a very long list. This was a maybe 45-minute meeting, back and forth. So that’s covering a lot of ground, so you don’t get into deep, deep discussion on any one issue. But I think that her position, the U.S. Government’s position on all these issues, are quite clear and quite well known to President Morsi.
QUESTION: Since a lot of it covered things that are already well known, what would you define as kind of the advance of this meeting? What was gained today by having them sit down and talk face to face?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think what was gained is building a relationship which is going to be essential to cover the range of subjects that took place. I think to make sure that we are moving forward on all of the issues of concern that we have, whether it is embassy security, security in the region, ensuring that there are good channels of communication with Israel, to follow through on the commitments that Egypt itself has made, to talk about how they can move forward on their economic situation, because in fact they won’t be able to deliver for their people as a government unless, in fact, the economy starts moving forward. I think that President Morsi wanted to give us a sense of what they’re doing to try to move that forward. And that’s very important, because all of these pieces have to fit together as a package for them to, in fact, have the effect that we all hope to have to ensure a democratic Egypt.
MODERATOR: And you remember when the Secretary was there in July, she pledged that we would – after the IMF was there, we would have the Hormats team come talk about the package, and then we would have business delegations. So she was able, with this meeting, I assume, to get – take his temperature after all of that going forward. Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Absolutely. He was very pleased with the business delegation. He understood, of course, that unfortunately two days later we had a very unfortunate, difficult bump to say the least. But I think that Secretary Nides felt that the businesspeople that were there were very pleased with that visit and that things would continue to move forward.
MODERATOR: Andy and then Jill.
QUESTION: Just a related question. On the question of U.S. assistance particularly, was there any sense that the Secretary was sort of reassuring President Morsi that this will continue, despite the bump that you’ve described? And was she able to tell him that politically, they think that that’s – they’ve got the – sort of road smoothed to keep this going?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think what he heard from the Secretary was that she is committed to following through on what she has said we will do and that, of course, we understand that there may be members who have questions, but that there is strong bipartisan support for Egypt being a democratic success, because it’s in our national security interest that that occur.
QUESTION: Could I ask a slightly broader question, because it’s come up a bit? Why exactly is the Secretary meeting with world leaders and not President Obama? I know there have been some explanations, but it really is notable that he’s not meeting with anyone on --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’d steer you to the White House more than to us. But I – Jill, he has very limited time here, and I think that he has to make choices. I think that the choices have been fine. The Secretary has met with a wide range of world leaders, and I think we’re doing just fine.
MODERATOR: These are also relationships that she has helped him to maintain all the way through. I mean, as we said, it’s her second meeting with him --
QUESTION: But the White House did a few months – a few weeks ago say that he was going to meet with Morsi, so I wonder if Morsi raised that at all today?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He’s – I think that President Morsi well understands that the President had real limits and everyone has seen that he has not met with any leader.
QUESTION: Andy asked my question.
MODERATOR: Oh, there were go. All right. Margaret.
QUESTION: Follow-up on the conversations in regard to Libya. Given the shared border, what were the concerns raised by President Morsi about --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to go into the specifics of what President Morsi raised. I don’t think that’s appropriate for me to do. But what I can say is that the Secretary and the President discussed the situation in Libya, the challenges that the Libyans are facing, the way that neighbors might be able to be helpful to Libya and the shared interest in Libya’s security.
QUESTION: Did they talk – discuss about the alliance? Because President Obama mentioned that Egypt is not an ally.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think we’ve moved past that and I think the President’s own words have moved past that.
QUESTION: Has been what?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the – I think we’ve moved past that.
QUESTION: On Israel, you spoke about – you said that they spoke about the importance of good communications with Israel. Are there any efforts or was anything outlined today in order to improve the dialogue between Egypt and Israel, which, as you know, is significantly less than it would have been a couple years ago?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, this is a brand new government. And so they are just getting themselves set up, moving forward. They have enormous challenges in front of them. I think they have created channels of communication. I think they have grown stronger over the last weeks, as they should. And I’m sure they will improve over time.
QUESTION: On the Secretary’s meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister yesterday (inaudible) yesterday that (inaudible) has proposed a new (inaudible) on the West Bank. Have they discussed (inaudible) yesterday?
MODERATOR: Are you talking about the meeting with Barak yesterday?
MODERATOR: We don’t have anything to offer from that. That was a one-on-one meeting.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question about President Obama (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Can you speak up a little bit? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: I think that there was a tension between two countries when President Obama made a comment.
MODERATOR: I think [Senior State Department Official] has already responded to that one. Anything else?
MODERATOR: I think she’s already responded to that one.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We've moved passed that.
MODERATOR: Anything else? Okay, guys. Thank you very much. We’ll see you tomorrow. And thanks to you, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Thank you.