Remarks With Gabonese President Ali Bongo After Their Meeting

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
March 8, 2010

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is a very great opportunity to welcome President Bongo to the State Department. Gabon is a valued partner of the United States, and this visit gave us an opportunity to discuss a wide range of common concerns.

Before I comment on our meeting, though, I wish to express our concern for the tragic loss of life in Nigeria. We continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint and seek constructive means for addressing the cycle of violence in Plateau State. The Nigerian Government should ensure that the perpetrators of acts of violence are brought to justice under the rule of law and that human rights are respected as order is restored.

I thanked President Bongo for his and Gabon’s efforts on behalf of regional stability in Central Africa and for its leadership on the world stage, particularly at the United Nations. This month, Gabon holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, and we look forward to working together on a number of shared global challenges and goals.

Among these is the grave threat posed by the possible spread of nuclear weapons. In our discussion today, I expressed our serious questions about Iran’s continued refusal to live up to its international obligations. We do believe that engagement and negotiation is preferable. And to that end, the United States has made an unprecedented effort to engage constructively with Iran and resolve the international community’s issues over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Unfortunately, Iran has not reciprocated that outreach, and its leaders have left the international community with little choice but to demonstrate to Iran that there are consequences for its decisions. We are now working actively with our partners to prepare and implement new measures to pressure Iran to change its course. The best way to send Iran a clear and unified message is for the international community to speak with one voice and respond with additional measures through a new Security Council resolution. President Bongo and I discussed this issue, and I look forward to continuing that conversation in the weeks ahead.

We also explored ways to strengthen the ties between our two nations, including broader economic cooperation. We are very supportive of Gabon’s efforts to diversify its economy, widen the circle of prosperity, and create new opportunities for its people. And we know, as the president knows, that economic progress depends on responsible governance that rejects corruption, enforces the rule of law, provides good stewardship of natural resources, and delivers results that help to change people’s lives for the better.

So I want to recognize President Bongo’s efforts to improve government efficiency, eliminate waste, and fight corruption. Gabon is participating in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and taking other steps that will give confidence both to international investors but, more importantly, to the people of the country. We stand ready to support Gabon as it further strengthens its democratic institutions and processes.

And I also want to applaud the leadership that Gabon has shown in combating human trafficking. We have forged new partnerships with the Justice Department, and Gabon is moving toward ratifying the UN protocol. This is one more example of the reform-minded leadership that President Bongo is bringing to his country.

So Mr. President, I want to reiterate what I told you in private. President Obama and I are committed to broadening and strengthening our partnership and our friendship based on mutual respect and mutual interest. We have much to learn from one another, and I look forward to your leadership in the years ahead. Thank you so much for your visit and your friendship.

PRESIDENT BONGO: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to thank President Obama and Madam Clinton for welcoming us to Washington. We are coming from Africa, where it’s at the time very warm, hot, and we appreciate efforts made to welcome us in the city. Because the last time we looked on television, we were afraid. (Laughter.) I remember in Copenhagen, President Obama telling us that he had to head back home because there was a snowstorm coming. (Laughter). So we went with that, and we were a bit worried when we got the invitation to come to Washington.

But we would like to really take this opportunity to thank the Administration, first for having been there with us, and last year was a very difficult year for us. And that’s those times when you see that you have friends. We’ve come a long way, we’ve gone through a democratic process, and now we are moving forward. As Madam Clinton said, our message is very clear. We want to take Gabon further. We want Gabon to become an emerging country, and we will take all the necessary steps to do that. Good governance, fight against corruption, diversity our economic – our economy and our partners. This is what we’re doing.

But we also know that we have responsibilities because we also are an elected member of the Security Council, and we know, as such, we have responsibilities. And we are going to work very closely with the United States and all the permanent members of the Security Council to make sure that the world is a better place. We fully agree with what Madam Secretary just said regarding the situation in Iran and other countries. We feel that it’s for the authorities in Iran to demonstrate that they’re willing and to go along with what the international community demands.

It’s not for us to reassure. It’s for them to reassure all of us, especially the neighbors of Iran. The neighbors of Iran have a right to live peacefully. And the people of Iran also have a right to live peacefully. So we are going to work closely because our aim is not just to punish. Our aim is to help assist, and we want to do that. But it has to be the same will on both sides, if I may say so.

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir.

MR. CROWLEY: Jill Dougherty from CNN.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you. On Iran, a couple of things. One is have you heard anything about the Chinese coming – in their meeting, coming from Deputy Secretary Steinberg? And then also on these – the easing of sanctions with the internet, the internet side of it, how will that actually work? What’s the practical use to that? Because after all, if the government of Iran wanted to stop that, couldn’t they just stop it as they have before? Couldn’t it be perceived by them as very – let’s see – provocative, an attempt to bring down that government?

And if I could, very quick question on Pakistan, there’s conflicting information about an American al-Qaida being picked up. We’re still not clear about what the case is. Can you tell us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to comment on the third question, Jill, but let me take the first two.

We are having very constructive and comprehensive conversations with many countries, including China, and it’s not only the United States but other nations and their leaders reaching out to China as well. And I think that there is a growing awareness of the need, as President Bongo said, for Iran to reassure the world because of the consequences that could, unfortunately, come to pass if Iran pursues a nuclear weapons program and other nations feel compelled to respond. So any nation that is concerned, as China is, about oil supply, stability in the Gulf has to look very carefully at that.

With respect to internet freedom, you’re right, we are supporting the right of free expression and have granted licenses, or in the process of granting licenses, to companies that wish to provide internet tools to citizens of Iran so that they can communicate, so that they can have other sources of information about what is going on inside their country. We believe that Iran calls itself a democracy – it should act like one, and that means respecting the right to free expression and assembly of its own people. And in the 21st century, expression and assembly are carried out on the internet as well as in person. So we’re going to continue to support those Iranians who wish to circumvent and be able to communicate without being blocked by their own government.

MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (In French.)

PRESIDENT BONGO: (Via interpreter.) Madam Secretary, the question was from a gentleman from the Gabonese press concerning the exchange of views between President Bongo and yourself, especially regarding whether there was any views that you give to the president concerning the Iran question. And President Bongo’s answer was, of course, that he is hoping that Iran would of course assure its population and its neighbors as well. And President Bongo is hoping that Gabon and the United States are going to work hand in hand within the Security Council. And then regarding also, on the other members of the Security Council (inaudible) on this issue.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. President. Thank you all.

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PRN: 2010/275