Remarks With French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (In French.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much, and it is a personal pleasure for me to be here in Paris and to have the opportunity to meet with Bernard, who has become not just a valuable partner but a trusted friend. We have worked closely together during this past year. In fact, I think the foreign minister was one of the very first visitors that I had at the State Department. I always know that I can pick up the phone; we can consult as frequently as we need to, and it’s often because of the array of issues that we’re confronting.
In addition to what the foreign minister said, we also discussed the results of the London meetings on Yemen and Afghanistan. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We appreciate greatly the support that France has given in developing a European police force mission to support NATO in its effort to train police. There was an enormous amount of concern, as you might guess, about the way forward on the issues that Bernard has mentioned, but we have tried to work carefully and seriously toward the kind of approach of working agendas that make a difference.
The work on Iran is (inaudible) greater intensity and France’s leadership is especially important. The international community is united in its resolve regarding Iran’s nuclear program and in its condemnation of the serious escalating assault on human rights. The recent executions that have taken place in Iran of demonstrators, the creation of new crimes to try to imprison and execute protestors and opposition leaders is deplorable.
With respect to Haiti, we so appreciate the work that France is doing, and both President Obama and I particularly appreciated President Sarkozy’s kind words about the United States’ efforts in Haiti. And like so much of the rest of the world and certainly among my colleagues, we look to Foreign Minister Kouchner because of his experience as a humanitarian. He’s now a diplomat with a doctor’s compassion and a humanitarian with a statesman’s vision. And so we ask him often, well, what would you do and how would it work? And he brings not only a passionate commitment, but a practical understanding of the difficulties that we’re facing as we attempt to try to help the people of Haiti.
We will be consulting even more closely. Our work in Africa is particularly important. I applaud France for resuming diplomatic relations with Rwanda, and I also appreciate greatly the work that Bernard and the government here is doing in Guinea and in other African countries.
On a personal note, it was very meaningful in the immediate aftermath of the Haitian earthquake to see French and American search-and-rescue teams working furiously to find survivors at the Hotel Montana. So many were lost there, including a number of young Americans who were on a university mission trip to Haiti. On the second night after the quake, French rescuers freed seven American citizens from the rubble. And as the evening wore on, an American team from Virginia found another survivor, who happened to be French, who was scared but thankfully alive.
The father of an American student who died at the Montana called these international search-and-rescue workers “angels on earth” after coming down to see for himself where his daughter died on her birthday.
We’ve seen wonderful work because the international community came together. As the Haitian people persevere through this calamity, they are demonstrating resilience, ingenuity, and resolve. And we need to match that. So Bernard and I are very committed personally as well as on behalf of our presidents and our governments. This will not be, by any means, a perfect endeavor. The challenges are enormous. But I think we will pledge our best efforts to cut through the bureaucracy to create the circumstances that will enable Haiti to have a better chance for the future. And I look forward once again to working with you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (In French.)
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: Sorry. Yes, Tom.
QUESTION: Tom Junod with Esquire magazine in the States. Mr. Foreign Minister, in her speech today, Secretary Clinton spoke of the need for better coordination on relief efforts in the face of natural disasters. As co-founder of MSF, how do you think that the relief efforts in the case of Haiti could have been better coordinated? And has there been any discussion of a coordinated response to relieve some of the misery of the Haitian refugee camps by admitting some of the refugees to either France or the United States? And if not, why not?
Madam Secretary, the second part of the question: All week long, I’ve seen you try to muster an international response to the question of Iran sanctions. Last night, the Senate passed an Iran sanctions bill that gives you, the Administration, power to start proceeding unilaterally in some ways. Can you comment on that?
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: Well, yes, of course, we are always dreaming to a better access to the victims, to a sort of faster intervention. But it is always, unfortunately, the case in natural disaster this is impossible because it has not been prepared because, of course, it was not able to prepare. We are coordinating as much as possible, I mean, in the European terms, altogether the 27 nation. We are and we were facing such kind of drama. But believe me, it was the, let’s say, most tragic natural disaster I ever met in terms of victims and destruction. Port-au-Prince has been completely devastated.
So was it possible? Yes, it was possible. But unfortunately, we are always looking to the criticism and not to this huge international efforts – very efficient certainly, but not in the good moment, because to be efficient in an earthquake it should have been possible, but not impossible, but were impossible to imagine to be at this good moment, that is to say in the first hour, impossible. So we sent teams altogether the first day, Wednesday, then Tuesday. But after some two, three, four days, yesterday – another time, after 15 days – was rescued one little girl of 16. But this is a miracle.
So yes, I do regret that we were unable to coordinate, but it was impossible to coordinate. First, it is impossible to coordinate the NGOs. Impossible. We have to give them the opportunity of being complementary together.
Second, is it possible to coordinate at the level of nations, all the nations – South American, North American, the Americas? My dear, sorry, but we did our best, honestly. And I don’t want to tell you that next catastrophe we’ll be better prepared, but this is unfortunately always the case, always the case. This is – I’m so sorry for the victims because the number of the victims, this is a mountain of victims we had – we are supposed to rescue. We did our best. We were efficient. The Americans – and I really thank our American friends because they were close. So by thousand of them they came. And you know there is always some misunderstanding, always; the minimum was there too, as in misunderstanding. But the efficiency and the devotion to the people, I mean, we did our best. Sorry.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I agree. And I think that as we move forward in our work in Haiti, we will have the time to better think through how to deal with the devastation that the earthquake caused, which is something that Bernard and I are committed to doing. And perhaps we can also, as I said in my speech, think through how to divide some responsibilities internationally.
It is important to try to mitigate disasters. One of the things I hope we’re able to do in Haiti is to help them build back in a stronger way. The American Embassy was not harmed because it was built to withstand earthquakes. It’s like what we learned after the San Francisco earthquake in the early ‘90s. A lot of buildings fell that were rebuilt stronger, so next time we hope they don’t fall. But in Haiti, it was that cement concrete construction and it just collapsed. So there are lessons to be learned, and we will learn and try to do better as we go forward.
On Iran, the Congress is very concerned about Iranian behavior, both with respect to its nuclear program and its abuse and repression of its own people. We are working with the Congress because we understand their deep concern and we are going to do what we can to try to direct their legislation in a way that supplements our efforts internationally.
But I have said all along that we’re going to work as hard as we can to get the strongest possible resolution out of the Security Council. Then countries that feel strongly, like France and the United States feel, may wish to do more. So this is not in any way contradictory to our international efforts. If anything, it may well be complementary.
QUESTION: Is there any chance of the door opening to any Haitian refugees in either country?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly speaking for the United States, we have opened the doors to children awaiting adoption who did not have the papers to get in yet. We have opened the door to people needing medical treatment. And we have provided protection for Haitians who are in the United States without legal papers.
We will continue to look at this. I know that a number of commentators have said that countries that can should try to relieve the burden on the Haitian people by trying to reunite families and take some other steps. We will look at all of that. But obviously, we have not made any decisions.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: The same thing for us. We opened the door to the orphans and receive their legal documents, but of course (inaudible) would be also welcome to step up (inaudible).
QUESTION: Hello, Mrs. Secretary. I’m – my name is Natalie Nougayrede. I work for Le Monde. France is the only big European country that in the run-up the London conference on Afghanistan did not announce an increase in its level of military – its military figures on the ground. Are you slightly disappointed with that, and does that reflect a possible discrepancy in the way France sees the pertinence or the need for a surge in Afghanistan at this point?
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: First (inaudible), it’s up to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: First let me start by saying how much we appreciate the French contribution in Afghanistan. French soldiers have been courageous. They have partnered with the United States and others on the battlefield. I don’t need to remind a French audience that some have paid the ultimate price and lost their lives or have been grievously injured. So I start by expressing the deep appreciation that the United States feels for the service of our French counterparts on the battlefield and commend the young men and women who serve your country.
Secondly, we are very grateful for the civilian support that France has provided to Afghanistan. There are many examples of it; one will suffice. The hospital that France built in Kabul has become a remarkable center not only for treating patients but training Afghan doctors and nurses. And France does so much else. We are very confident that the work that France has done and the commitment that France has made is extremely valuable and supportive of our overall international efforts.
Now, only France can make a decision as to what is appropriate in terms of the contribution. There are certainly discussions about police training, the kinds of things that France is particularly good at which are ongoing. But I expressed the same appreciation to President Sarkozy. I think that we are grateful for the decision that France made last year to rejoin the integrated command in NATO. So they are fully involved in what we are attempting to do in Afghanistan and we are appreciative of those commitments.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (In French.)
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, one question if I may, please. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for taking this question. I know that you’ve had a really long day and I’m sure you want to hit the sack probably.
In your speech today, you mentioned Iran, you mentioned Afghanistan, you mentioned terrorism. Do you think that all of these problems would be much, much easier to deal with if a permanent solution could be found for the crisis in the Middle East? That’s the easy one.
And the more difficult one is: Do you think that Israel is now so powerfully politically, so well funded, that it can actually afford to ignore you, President Obama, President Sarkozy, Foreign Minister Kouchner, and completely go its own way? And if that is the case, at what point do you think sanctions should be raised against Israel?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me start by saying that we had a very thorough discussion of the Middle East. We are committed to a two-state solution, Israel having the security it deserves to have as a democracy in the Middle East and the Palestinians have the state they deserve that will provide opportunity and peace and prosperity for them. That is the commitment that we are working toward and it is a commitment that has been endorsed by not just the Palestinians but the Israelis as well. These are difficult issues to resolve. Obviously, everyone knows that. But we are going to not only redouble our efforts in working with the parties, but try to make it clear to everyone that that is the answer that we all have to be committed to.
So I don’t think it is useful to talk about any other actions because our goal now is to re-launch negotiation and reach settlement on the issues that are outstanding between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We are committed to it. Unfortunately, there are other voices that are not committed that are often quite loud and even provocative, but the fact is that patient diplomacy is what is called for. And so that is what we are pursuing and we are, as President Obama has said, committed to following through every day after, frankly, a period where the United States was not as engaged as we would have liked. We have changed that policy.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: Thank you very much.
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