Remarks at the Top of the Daily Press Briefing
But I wanted to come down because, obviously, there’s a lot going on, and there are a number of important issues to address today. But I want to start with yesterday’s unfortunate events in Honduras, which were a test of the inter-American system’s ability to support and defend democracy and constitutional order in our hemisphere.
The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country.
Today, foreign ministers of the Rio Group will be attending a previously scheduled meeting of Central American leaders in Managua, Nicaragua to address the issue of Honduras. And tomorrow, the OAS will hold an Extraordinary General Assembly.
As we move forward, all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events in a way that enhances democracy and the rule of law in Honduras. To that end, we will continue working with the OAS and other partners to construct a process of dialogue and engagement that will promote the restoration of democratic order, address the serious problems of political polarization in Honduras, restore confidence in their institutions of government, and ensure that Honduras moves successfully towards its scheduled presidential elections in November of this year.
At the OAS General Assembly earlier this month in San Pedro Sula – some of you were with me there – the United States insisted that the larger debate on Cuba be framed within the OAS’s commitment to democracy and human rights. Along with key partners, we won a reaffirmation of the principles of democracy and constitutional order that define the Organization of American States. Now, the wisdom of our approach, I think, was evident yesterday when the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter were used as a basis for our response to the coup that occurred.
Let me also say a word about the detention of five British Embassy staff in Tehran. We are following this situation with great concern. We have noted the statement from the European Union. We find that the harassment of Embassy staff is deplorable, and we will continue to support the United Kingdom in calling for their release.
Finally, on Iraq. Tomorrow, June 30th, marks the end of U.S. troop presence in Iraqi cities and localities. This is a significant milestone in the responsible withdrawal of our forces from Iraq and in Iraq’s journey to become a stable, sovereign, self-reliant state.
This morning, I held a secure videoconference with Ambassador Hill and some of his senior team in Baghdad. The ambassador provided updates on the security, political, and economic situation in Iraq, and we discussed a number of the challenges and opportunities that we are facing.
As you remember, this withdrawal is occurring under the so-called SOFA agreement, the Status of Forces Agreement, and it is occurring in concert with the Iraqis. There is another document that we will now be turning our attention to with even greater concern; that is, the Strategic Framework Agreement which sets forth the way forward for the relationship between the United States and Iraq.
So there is a lot going on, and I wanted to come down and talk about some of what we are doing. And I’d be happy to take some of your questions.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, do you --
MR. KELLY: Arshad, yes.
QUESTION: Do you believe – you used the words “detention” and “expulsion.” Do you believe that a military coup d’état has taken place in Honduras, or are you studying a legal – formal legal determination that a coup d’état has taken place and that would therefore trigger the appropriations – (inaudible) appropriations aid cutoff that is required under U.S. law?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we do think that this has evolved into a coup. The president, as you know, has been expelled. Another person has been substituted for the president. But we think that this is a fast-moving situation that requires constant attention, which we are certainly providing to it, along with our bilateral partners and through the OAS as our multilateral vehicle. We are encouraging that there be a delegation going to Honduras following the Extraordinary General Assembly tomorrow to begin working with the parties to try to restore constitutional order. So we are withholding any formal legal determination. But I think the reality is that having expelled the president, we have a lot of work to do to try to help the Hondurans get back on the democratic path they’ve been on for a number of years now.
QUESTION: You’re not thinking about (inaudible) aid?
MR. KELLY: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Jill.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, isn’t the U.S. in an uncomfortable position nonetheless, because you’re invoking democratic norms to restore a president who some would argue was taking illegal steps to stay in office?
SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Jill, I think it’s important that we stand for the rule of law and democracy and constitutional order. And when I talk about supporting the work that’s being done in the OAS, and certainly a distinguished delegation to work with the parties in Honduras, I think that all parties involved have to take a step back and look at how the institutions within their democracy are supposed to be working. So there are certain concerns about orders by independent judicial officials that should be followed and the like, but the extraordinary step taken of arresting and expelling the president is our first and foremost concern right now.
Then we do want to work with the parties, as I said, to try to return to a rule of law, and that means for everybody. Everybody needs to kind of take a step back here and take a deep breath. And so, look, we have a lot at stake in maintaining our democracy and not going backwards, and we would expect all parties to play a responsible role in doing that.
MR. KELLY: Okay, Bob, AP.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you mentioned Iraq. I’m wondering if there are ways in which you think the Iraqis are still vulnerable to letting the security situation slip back to where it was. Are you fully confident?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, I spoke to Ambassador Hill today. I’ve spoken to him a number of times in the last couple of weeks. And both he and General Odierno have reiterated their belief that the Iraqi forces are up to the job that currently confronts them. Now, the United States remains prepared to assist if necessary, but there is a great deal of confidence in the fundamental ability of the Iraqis to begin to protect their citizens.
Having said that, we’ve seen what’s happened the last few weeks. We’ve had some horrific bombings and the loss of hundreds of lives. But our assessment is that the Iraqis are ready, willing, and able to step up to this. And as I’ve said, we will continue our presence there; we’re not pulling wholesale out. We will continue our presence there as we fulfill the requirements under the SOFA, and we stand ready to assist them if necessary.
MR. KELLY: Okay, last question to James Rosen.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I can take a couple more.
MR. KELLY: You want to take two more?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: I’ll ask all the last questions. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Why am I not surprised. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I hope you’re feeling well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. I’m engaged in a different form of arms control, I think. (Laughter.) Quite challenging.
QUESTION: On Iran, the sense we’ve been getting from your aides that we’ve been talking to is that the U.S. policy of engagement obviously is somewhat in abeyance right now as we wait to see this fluid situation on the ground in Tehran and throughout the country evolve. But I wonder what you would say to the argument that any prospect for meaningful engagement by the U.S. and the P-5+1, of which the UK is obviously a member, are drastically set back by what we’ve seen; in fact, that you’ve gotten your answer to all of your attempts at engaging this regime, that you’ve seen an authoritarian regime unmask itself, and that, in essence, they’re never going to strike any grand bargain with you on the nuclear question or terrorism or anything else.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there certainly is reason for us to be cautious in our dealings with Iran. There is not yet a final outcome of the process that they’re engaged in internally to demonstrate to their own people the credibility of the electoral process that has just been completed. So I am well aware of the daunting challenges ahead of us or any group that tries to deal with the Iranian regime.
Having said that, I think the President has made clear in several statements in the last week that we’re going to watch this unfold and we’re going to act in America’s national interest. That’s what this has always been about. It’s never been about Iran as much as it’s been about the values, goals, and the interests of the United States of America. And we remain committed to doing all we can to try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power.
So we’re going to watch this and we’re going to gauge our actions accordingly.
QUESTION: But there’s no sense you get in which these events might have somehow enhanced the prospects for engagement, have they?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to make a value judgment on what they may or may not have done. I’m just going to reiterate that everything we intend to do is in light of how we view America’s long-term interests and security, as well as those of friends and allies, not just in the region but around the world.
MR. KELLY: Mary Beth Sheridan.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, sorry, if I could just return for a second to Honduras, just to clarify Arshad’s point – so, I mean, the U.S. provides aid both under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Millennium challenge. So even though there are triggers in those; that countries have to behave – not have coups, you’re not going to cut off that aid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mary Beth, we’re assessing what the final outcome of these actions will be. This has been a fast-moving set of circumstances over the last several days, and we’re looking at that question now. Much of our assistance is conditioned on the integrity of the democratic system. But if we were able to get to a status quo that returned to the rule of law and constitutional order within a relatively short period of time, I think that would be a good outcome.
So we’re looking at all of this. We’re considering the implications of it. But our priority is to try to work with our partners in restoring the constitutional order in Honduras.
QUESTION: And does that mean returning Zelaya himself? You would insist on that in order to –
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working with our partners. The OAS will have this Extraordinary General Assembly tomorrow. We haven’t laid out any demands that we are insisting on, because we’re working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives, which are shared broadly. So we think that the arrest and expulsion of a president is certainly cause for concern that has to be addressed. And it’s not just with respect to whether our aid continues, but whether democracy in Honduras continues.
MR. KELLY: Okay.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay?
QUESTION: One more.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, back to Iran. The Guardian Council has just announced that it – just after a limited recount, that they consider the vote valid. Is this enough for the international community? Do you plan on recognizing the government of President Ahmadinejad? I mean, we’ve seen this crisis over the last few weeks illustrate a real division in the regime. Do you think that this is the beginning of the end of the Iranian regime?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what happens with their internal regime. Obviously, they have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process. And I don’t think that’s going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots.
But clearly, these internal matters are for Iranians themselves to address and we hope that they will be given the opportunity to do so in a peaceful way that respects the right of expression. And it has been my position and that of our Administration that we support the fundamental values of people’s voices being heard, their votes being counted. And we’ll have to see how this unfolds. You know, it’s – this is a historic moment for Iran and for the Iranian people. And I don’t want to speculate on how it’s going to turn out.
QUESTION: Well, will you recognize President Ahmadinejad as the democratically elected president?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to take this a day at a time. We’re going to watch and carefully assess what we see happening.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.