Remarks En Route Brussels, Belgium

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
En Route Brussels, Belgium
March 5, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: I just wanted to make a couple of points as we head to Europe. I think that the message out of the last three days is that the United States is fully engaged and committed to play a vital role in an effort to achieve a comprehensive peace and two states, Israel and the Palestinians, living side by side in peace and security. We accomplished what we set out to achieve. We went to Sharm el-Sheikh and pledged over $900 million in humanitarian aid for both Gaza and the West Bank. We also consulted widely with Arab, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders on the way forward. We very strongly supported the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate government for the Palestinians and the only partner for any negotiations. We also laid the groundwork for the comprehensive peace settlement that we’ll be working toward by sending two representatives to Syria.

And importantly for me, we tried to highlight why we’re doing all of this. The meeting with the women entrepreneurs in Israel, the meeting today with the young Palestinian students really illustrate both what we think is the real hope for the future, but also the necessity of the role that the United States intends to play. This is obviously my first trip back as Secretary of State, but I will be back often, and our special envoy will be back as soon as there is an Israeli government.

Looking ahead to Europe, this will be my first meeting with the NATO Council, and I’m looking to demonstrate that the United States intends to be an active participant within NATO and with our NATO partners. I will certainly be raising issues that are important to the United States such as our plan going forward for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the NATO-Russia relationship, some of the old problems and the new threats that we are going to confront together. I will end the week with a meeting in Geneva with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and then going on to Turkey for consultations with the leadership there.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m not only very committed but eager to see that work take off in a meaningful way. I think we laid the groundwork over the last three days.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you were understandably circumspect about your hopes for Syria a couple of days ago. I’m wondering now whether you might give us a little bit more of a sense of the role that you could foresee Syria playing in this comprehensive solution. There’s a lot of talk about how it can be – it can have an influence on both the Palestinian issue, on Iran, and on Israel and Syria itself. Just maybe hear your thinking a bit on that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that I don’t have too much more to add to what I’ve already said. We believe that there is an opportunity for Syria to play a constructive role if it chooses to do so. We are going to explore the range of issues that we have concerns about, both on a bilateral basis and then about the role that Syria plays with respect to other nations and peoples in the region.

I really have nothing to contribute other than our willingness to send Jeff Feltman and Dan Shapiro to see whether or not there’s a basis for us to expect any constructive contributions from the Syrians.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, President Abbas made some very strong comments on Iran today, standing beside you. And I wonder what’s your – what do you think of those comments and what’s your assessment of the role that Iran has been playing in efforts to form a unity government in the Palestinian territories?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think President Abbas responded appropriately to what were comments made at the highest levels of the Iranian Government today, which were a clear interference in the internal affairs of the Palestinian people continuing effort on the part of the Iranians to undermine the Palestinian Authority. I’m not going to add to what President Abbas said. I think he spoke forcefully on behalf of his government and the Palestinian people.

MR. WOOD: Bob Burns.

QUESTION: Bob Burns from AP. You mentioned Afghanistan and the discussions you’ll have in Brussels. I’m wondering whether you think there’s a prospect for engaging Iran in being helpful in Afghanistan. Is that one element of your engagement strategy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Bob, we are in the final stages of our policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan and I don’t want to preview that or try to summarize where we are in the process until we are ready to unveil it. But Iran borders Afghanistan. In the early days of the military efforts by the United States and our allies to go after the Taliban and al-Qaida, Iran was consulting with our ambassador on a daily basis. Where it is appropriate and useful for the United States and others to see whether Iran can be constructive, that will be considered.

I’ve said it and many of you have heard me say it over and over again: there is a great deal of concern about Iran from the entire region. I heard it over and over and over again in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Israel, in Ramallah. It is clear that Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it’s Hezbollah or Hamas or other proxies. So we have said consistently that we are ready to engage, but we want to make sure it’s constructive, and that goes for Afghanistan and it goes for all the rest of the region.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, could you talk a little bit, please, about Russia and the conversation that’s going on at NATO whether to fully – whether to bring Russia back into the fold, particularly after the conflict in Georgia?

And then, if I may, would you mind responding to the ICC warrant for Bashir in Sudan, and whether you’re concerned about – this will result in a lot more violence?

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to Russia, the relationship between NATO and Russia is going to be on the agenda of our discussions in Brussels. I think, just as with the conversation that I will begin with Minister Lavrov on Friday, there’s an interest in exploring with Russia what kind of cooperation is possible – both with NATO, with the United States – on a range of issues, and that’s going to be teed up. I think in some areas we’re going to find there’s a great potential for cooperation. In others, we’re going to have differences and we will stand our ground and they will stand theirs and we’ll hope to find some accommodation if possible.

But there are some actions that Russia has taken recently, as you know, over the last several years that are very troubling. Yet on the other hand, Russia just signed on to our P-5+1 statement, calling on the IAEA to vigorously enforce the Security Council resolutions regarding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. I think there’s a really active dialogue going on, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with Minister Lavrov to explore what the limits of it are.

QUESTION: And on the ICC?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable. The ICC has issued an indictment based on a very long investigation, and it is now in a judicial system, properly so. We are going to hope that there is not any increased violence on the part of the government in Khartoum. In the face of this indictment, President Bashir would have a chance to have his day in court. If he believes that the indictment is wrongly charged, he can certainly contest it. But I certainly hope that it does not lead to any additional actions of violence or punishment on the part of the Bashir government.

MR. WOOD: Paul, and then Viola.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, a question about your philosophy of peacemaking in the Middle East. I wonder if you believe that the proper U.S. role is to be a coordinator in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, or whether you think that, as in your husband’s administration, the U.S. should take a position on some issues and promote them.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Paul, we’re going to start off in a coordinating and facilitating role, because it’s important to get the effort going again. It would be preferable to have the parties be able to conduct these negotiations and advance an agenda that would produce real results in a timely manner. But certainly, the United States has been involved in this effort for a number of years, as have other parties who have opinions. I’m sure that as it goes forward many of us will be expressing those opinions and presenting positions for the parties to consider.

But at the end of the day, as I said earlier, no one can make a decision on whether or not there will be two states or a comprehensive peace settlement except those who are directly involved. I believe that starting so early as we have – the fact that as soon as President Obama asked me to take this job, I began to put together recommendations that I thought would advance our positions on a number of issues, including the extensive use of special envoys, which I am 100 percent committed to, as you have probably surmised, because I think it gives you extra capacity to deal with particularly challenging issues.

Senator Mitchell was appointed on day two of the Obama Administration, day one of my tenure as Secretary of State. It sent exactly the message we intended it to send: that we weren’t waiting, we weren’t delaying, we weren’t sitting on the sidelines, we were going to be actively involved.

Now, are there risks to being actively involved? Yes. There are risks in getting up in the morning and pursuing whatever your particular interest might be. I am absolutely committed to this. The President is absolutely committed. Senator Mitchell has made this a full-time endeavor. We’re going to give it everything we have. We can’t promise any outcomes, but we can promise the very best efforts of the United States.

MR. WOOD: Last one, Viola.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Russia and their position in relation to NATO, we understand that the U.S. is sort of thinking that the NATO-Russia Council has not really been as useful as it should have been, and that some sort of upgrade of that relationship is necessary. What might that look like?

And on the Syria question, how much coordination and what kind of coordination did you do with the congressional delegations that went to Damascus in recent weeks and months?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are exploring ways, as I said, to create more cooperation between Russia and NATO. I think the NATO-Russia Council is one vehicle, but there may be other ways that we can design. But it’s not the vehicle so much as the substance. We want to have a more robust and meaningful dialogue with Russia going forward on a range of issues. We believe that there are a number of areas that should be explored to determine exactly what possible overlapping areas of responsibility could be developed.

For example, you heard and saw that we think that there is some useful discussion that can be had about missile defense with the Russians. I don’t think that should surprise anybody. The Russians and the United States have sort of had an on-and-off discussion for a number of years about whether they can cooperate, whether we can cooperate together.

Let’s put it on a serious track and not talk to each other through the press, with all due respect, but actually talk to each other about what’s possible. It is important to make the case, as I and others have been making it, that we think Iran poses a threat to Europe and Russia. How do we cooperate on that? But first, how do we make the case for that shared mutual interest? I think this is a very rich area for exploration, and that’s what we’re going to do.

With respect to Syria, I personally spoke with two of the congressional delegations that have gone to Syria, got a full readout from them as to their assessments. I think that certainly based on those assessments plus our own, we’re taking this step of sending our two representatives to Damascus. We’re not staking out ground and saying what we are or are not going to do. We’re exploring. We don’t know what’s possible. We don’t know what’s going to be developed out of this. We’re testing whether or not there is a sincere interest in resolving a number of the issues that are contentious between us.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, what about (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, Sylvie Lanteaume from AFP. During your talks with your European colleagues, are you going to speak about the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo? And are you satisfied so far with the level of cooperation you got from them?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m very encouraged by what I’ve heard, as you may know, because I’ve done a number of these bilateral meetings over the last weeks. I have met with many European foreign ministers as well as foreign ministers from other parts of the world. In the vast majority of cases, I have raised this as something that we may well come back to them about once we finish our own internal work on this issue.

I think we have been quite encouraged at the positive, receptive responses we’ve been getting. But we’re not ready to go yet and actually make specific requests. But I am encouraged that this will be an area where we’ll have a good working partnership.

MR. WOOD: Thank you, everybody.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, poor Glenn, now you look so sad.

MR. WOOD: He had a question. He had a question.


QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. You know, there’s – with some of the discussion in the press about the letter to the Russians and missile defense, there have been –

Yes. There have been concerns raised in Poland and the Czech Republic about whether or not they’re being left in the lurch. And I was wondering if you were planning to address that in any way, when you see your counterparts.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually I’ve discussed it already with Foreign Minister Sikorski and Foreign Minister Schwartzenberg, and I see it very differently. My view is that the people and governments of the Czech Republic and Poland showed great courage and leadership in agreeing to have the missile defense systems deployed on their soil. Why? Because they recognize there is a real potential future threat. They didn’t hide their heads in the sand. They said, you know what, we see it as you see it, that missiles not only with a nuclear warhead, but a conventional warhead, or some other chemical, biological weapon, could very well be in the hands of a regime like Iran’s, which we know will use whatever advantage they have to intimidate as far as they think their voice can reach, and which – who are actively pursuing a missile development program.

Certainly the constant threat that we worry about – of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups –suggest strongly that Europe, which is much closer in range to a country like Iran or a potential launching ground of a terrorist network, needs to be prepared.

I think that both the Czech Republic and Poland have shown a visionary understanding of what is at stake. And as I said with both of them, and I think in the meeting with – the press avail with Minister Schwartzenberg, as I remember, I not only publicly thanked the people and Government of the Czech Republic, but said that their willingness to do this assists us dramatically in trying to figure out how we are going to have a mutual defense.

We’ve made the point to Russia, and we will make it again – and I think that they’re beginning to really believe it – that this is not about Russia. We have real potential threats and obviously Iran is the name we put to them.

But it is a kind of stand-in for the range of threats that we foresee. Just as we had to build a mutual defense with Europe in the 20th century, we have to build it in the 21st century. It is my hope, Glenn, that we will persuade Russia to be part of that defense. We don’t look at Russia and see a missile threat from Russia. We have other problems on energy and their sphere of influence. You know the list. But this is a very real part of our planning for future defense cooperation. I think that because of what Poland and the Czech Republic did, we are further along than we would have been.

Also, I’m going to be looking at potential mutual defense pacts in other parts of the world as well. Because what keeps us awake at night is the potential of a nuclear weapon or another weapon of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands, and either being launched in an intentional way, despite the consequences, because as you know, deterrence is more difficult to use against a non-state actor. It’s a different mindset about how you retaliate against a non-state actor; or in an unintentional, inadvertent, negligent way in the wrong hands.

This is a big piece of business. I hope that all of our allies and partners around the world begin to think with us about what 21st century deterrence looks like.

MR. WOOD: Thank you, Madame Secretary.

PRN: 2009/T2-11