Press Availability after NATO Meeting

Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
March 5, 2009

Date: 03/05/2009 Description: Press Availability by Secretary Clinton after NATO Meeting in Brussels. © NATO Photo
Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is for me to be back here in Brussels again and on my first visit to NATO as Secretary of State. I came here to deliver a clear message: The United States is firmly committed to NATO, and the Obama Administration will work vigorously to renew a real dialogue within this alliance. We look forward to listening, to consulting, and to working in concert to devise and deliver smart solutions to our shared challenges.

As I said to my colleagues, this is not only of great importance to my country and President Obama; it is of great personal importance to me as well. When NATO expanded in the 1990s, I was privileged to visit many new NATO nations as well as longstanding ones. I witnessed firsthand the strength of this alliance, and we in the United States were honored to host the 50th anniversary of NATO.

We’ve had a very productive set of sessions today. Last night at a wonderful dinner hosted by the Belgian foreign minister, I reported to both NATO and EU foreign ministers on my visits to Sharm el-Sheikh, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, and we engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on a number of issues.

Today, we made real progress on key items of our agenda. First, we expressed a unity of purpose with respect to Afghanistan, NATO’s most important ongoing operation. In Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan, we face a common threat, we have a common challenge, and we share a common responsibility.

The United States is working to complete our strategic review of the way forward, and today we found broad agreement on some of the basic elements of a new strategy: first, a regional approach that looks at Afghanistan and Pakistan together; second, increased and integrated civilian and military commitments; third, a strong partnership with the people of Afghanistan to provide security for safe and fair elections in August; next, intensive development efforts to strengthen governance and promote economic opportunities; and finally, a closer relationship working with the people and Government of Pakistan.

Date: 03/05/2009 Description: Press Availability by Secretary Clinton after NATO Meeting in Brussels. © NATO PhotoNow, today was not a pledging conference, but all of the participants recognized the need for increased resources and manpower to meet the challenges we face in the region. Our consultations will continue when Vice President Biden comes here next week to consult with NATO about not only how our strategic review is moving, but to solicit last-minute opinions from all who wish to participate, and to also seek initial responses with respect to individual countries as well as NATO’s future contributions.

We also today had a vigorous discussion about Russia. I thought it was absolutely invigorating to have the kind of true debate that exists among friends and allies over such an important issue. We emerged with greater unity of purpose about how to build a constructive relationship with Russia and a stronger consensus about our relations with the emerging nations of Europe’s east.

While the alliance won’t agree and indeed need not agree on every issue relating to Russia, we can and do agree that we must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest. We also agree we must find ways to manage our differences with Russia where they persist, and stand firm where our principles or our vital interests are at stake.

NATO today agreed to restart the NATO-Russia Council as a mechanism for dialogue on issues both where we disagree, such as in Georgia, as the Secretary General noted, and a platform for cooperation that is in our interest, like transit to Afghanistan or nonproliferation. Tomorrow in Geneva, I will be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to discuss a wide range of critical matters where we can cooperate and those where we have differences.

Thirdly, today we laid the groundwork for concluding a declaration of alliance security at the NATO summit and for launching a longer-term effort to review NATO’s strategic concept. Our discussions were based on the premise that we can only succeed in dealing with old problems and new threats if we are flexible and pragmatic, but united around our common purpose and principles.

Next month’s summit on the occasion of NATO’s 60th anniversary provides that opportunity not only to reaffirm the values of the North Atlantic Treaty that brought us together, but to ensure that the alliance is equipped to meet the different and diverse challenges of this 21st century.

Let me close by conveying a message from our President. President and Mrs. Obama will visit the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic between March 31st and April 5th. The President will attend the G-20 summit in London, participate in bilateral programs with French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel, attend the NATO summit events in Strasbourg and Kehl, travel to Prague where the Czech Government will host leaders of EU member-states and the European Commission president for a special U.S.-EU summit.

President Obama is committed, as I am, to strengthening the transatlantic alliance, to supporting a strong Europe that is a strong partner to the United States, and to energizing our partnerships to confront the common challenges of our time.

Thank you very much and I’d be happy to take some of your questions.

MR. WOOD: The first question will go to Michele Kelemen of National Public Radio.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. NPR and ABC News today are appealing to Iran to release information about this freelancer, Roxana Saberi, who has been imprisoned in Evin prison. I’m wondering what you’ve learned through Swiss intermediaries about this. And you know, what can the State Department really do, given that you have to work through intermediaries in dealing with Iran?

And on a side issue, do you foresee Iran as being part of that conference on Afghanistan that you’re suggesting for later this month?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am very concerned about this young woman. She is an Iranian-American. She has been living in Iran. She has worked as a journalist, including for NPR. And she has been in prison in Tehran, or elsewhere in Iran, for the last month. We have been working through our intermediaries, the Swiss Government, to request information from the Iranian Government concerning her well-being, her whereabouts, and the charges that are being used to confine her. We have pressed very hard. We will continue to do so.

We believe there is only one outcome to this matter, and that is for her to be released as soon as possible to return home to her family in North Dakota. And we hope and expect that we will receive an affirmative response along those lines from the Iranian Government.

It is frustrating since we do not have any direct contacts with Iran that we must work through intermediaries, but I want to thank the Swiss for the assistance that they have provided us in this and other matters.

I want to extend my deepest concern to her family and her friends, and hope that this matter will be resolved quickly.

With respect to the meeting that we discussed today at the ministerial, we presented the idea of what is being called a big tent meeting with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan. That would obviously include NATO members, ISAF members – many of whom are not NATO members – donors, nations that have regional, strategic, and transit positions vis-à-vis Afghanistan, international organizations.

And we have presented this idea, which is being discussed – nothing has been decided – as a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together. If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, to – about this conference about Afghanistan, I know that you make a link between Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaking of the same problem. Are you afraid that somehow both are going to have the same kind of problems? And the other question is: Why so close visits to NATO – you, and next week, the Vice President? Are you going to express different points of view or --

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We take this very, very seriously, and it shows our intense commitment not only to NATO and our partnership with NATO, but to our shared commitment with respect to Afghanistan.

Today’s ministerial was an important opportunity for me to represent the United States and express the direction that we are headed in our policy review about Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there wasn’t time, and we knew there wouldn’t be time, for one-on-one meetings with very many of the countries that are here. In fact, we hardly had time to catch a breath today.

We wanted the Vice President to come immediately after my visit to both continue the conversations, which are ongoing, but also to be able to meet in a bilateral way with members, as well as with the NATO leadership, to explore in depth some of the ideas, some of the questions – the potential contributions –that could be put on the table leading up to the summit in April.

I think that the whole question about Afghanistan and Pakistan is one that we’ve given a great deal of thought to. It is clear that the border areas between the two countries are the real locus of a lot of the extremist activity. It’s becoming obvious that Pakistan faces very serious internal threats, and that Afghanistan faces continuing external threats that emanate out of Pakistan.

Last week I met, along with a number of members of our Administration, with delegations from both countries in the first of what will be a continuing trilateral engagement. I believe that both countries recognize that they share common threats, and even common adversaries. The tragic events the other day in Lahore with the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team, which was a very eerie replica of the attack in Mumbai, demonstrate the ongoing threats that Pakistan faces.

Of course, we know what Afghanistan confronts, so it made sense to us in our country to look at both nations’ concerns together. Because we think that there has to be more cooperation between them, as well as with NATO and others in order to hopefully tackle successfully – on both a military and a civilian strategic basis – the threats that they face that spill over to other countries in a very dangerous way.

MR. WOOD: Next question to Nicholas Kralev of The Washington Times.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, as you know, some of the new NATO members have interpreted your recent overtures to Russia as potentially the U.S. making deals behind their back. I wonder – I know that you’ve been emphasizing that you’ll be consulting before any decisions are made anywhere – in Asia, in Middle East and Europe, everywhere you go. But what did you do today to give assurances to those allies that you will not indeed make any deals over their heads, whether it be with the Lithuanians, the Czechs or the Poles? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think I reiterated that as members of this alliance, we share a common defense commitment – an Article 5 requirement – that we take very seriously. We intend to work with and support all of our NATO allies. We are well aware of the particular concerns that a number of nations in Europe’s east, who have long experience with Russia, have voiced about any kind of dialogue with Russia, whether it be NATO-Russia, the United States-Russia, or any kind of discussion.

I certainly have emphasized, not only today but repeatedly, as have the President, the Vice President, and others that we support the rights of sovereign nations to make their own decisions. As Vice President Biden said in his well-received speech in Munich, the United States will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence over any other nation.

I reiterated again today – in our meetings with Ukraine and Georgia – the United States’ firm commitment to each of those nations moving toward NATO membership and our equally strong commitment to work with them along with NATO to make clear that they should not be the subject of Russian intimidation or aggression.

But I think – as we decided today after lengthy, thoughtful debate – there are benefits to reenergizing the NATO-Russia Council, just as there are potential benefits for the discussion that I will begin with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow in Geneva. We have areas where we believe we not only can, but must cooperate with Russia – nonproliferation, arms control, antiterrorism, anti-piracy efforts. There are a number of important matters that should be discussed between us and Russia.

There are equally serious matters that we need to not stop talking to Russia about. I don’t think you punish Russia by stopping conversations with them about matters, whether it be the misuse of energy supplies or the failure to comply with the requirements set forth by the OSCE and others concerning their actions in Georgia.

I think that what we have to be is willing to vigorously press the differences that we have while seeking common ground wherever possible. That’s what we intend to do. I believe that our allies understand that. They are well aware that the United States supports them and their national aspirations.

We think that this kind of dialogue with Russia has the potential of easing tensions and solving problems and we pursue it with our eyes wide open. We are certainly not in any way speaking for any other nation whose sovereignty and territorial integrity we respect. We also intend to stand firmly behind our values and principles. That’s our position and that’s how we will proceed.

MR. WOOD: We’ll take the last question right here. Sir, could you identify yourself? Just wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Yes, Pravo daily newspaper, the Czech Republic. To the missile defense, there were some controversies over the letter President Obama sent to President Medvedev. Will you have any clarification tomorrow with – dealing with Secretary Lavrov on this issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me clarify, as I have said before, what has been a constant theme both by myself and the President and other members of our Administration. We applaud the decisions by the people of the Czech Republic and their government – as well as the people and Government of Poland – for proceeding with missile defense on their soil. And the reason for that is it has always been the American position that missile defense is primarily aimed at a nation like Iran or networks of terrorists that could obtain deliverable nuclear or conventional or biological or chemical weapons, and the missiles to use that.

Our discussion about missile defense is aimed at determining its feasibility economically, technologically, and we will continue to explore it with our allies. We’ve made the case to Russia time and again, and I will make it once more tomorrow in Geneva, that Europe has a right to defend itself from the new threats of the 21st century. We happen to believe in the United States that those threats in the future are more likely to come from regimes and terrorist networks than from nation-states in the immediate vicinity.

Therefore, we want to help Europe be prepared and that’s why what Poland and the Czech Republic have done sets the stage for what will be strategic decisions going forward. I know that there’s an ongoing debate about what the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons production capacity is, but I don’t think there is a credible debate about their intention. Our task is to dissuade them, deter them, prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which given the range of the missiles they currently have access to threatens Europe and Arab neighbors in the Gulf, not the United States.

We will also raise with Russia their continuing discussions with Iran about selling longer-range missiles, which we think are a threat to Russia as well as to Europe and neighbors in the region. We see this in a broader perspective than it’s usually described, and we have long offered Russia the opportunity to work with us on missile defense. We actually think that missile defense is a very important tool in our defensive arsenal for the future, because there is unfortunately a great deal of proliferation of weapons of all kinds. We pick up the newspaper and read of a nation testing a chemical weapon. We pick up another paper and read about the continuing desire of terrorist groups to obtain such weapons.

Just as we had a defensive posture against the old Soviet Union in the 20th century, we must now have a defensive posture against the new threats of the 21st century. Therefore, the Czech Republic and Poland –in our view –have been very visionary in looking over the horizon about what we have to be prepared for if we’re not successful in preventing the acquisition and proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction.

On that happy note, let me again express my appreciation to NATO for organizing this meeting, my pleasure to representing my country and our new Administration in attending it, and my anticipation looking toward the summit and the work that lies ahead.

Thank you all very much.

MR. WOOD: Thank you all.

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PRN: 2009/T2-12