Remarks With Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin
Secretary of State
It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the United States and Ireland have a close historic, cultural, familial relationship. Millions of Americans trace their ancestry back to Ireland and are very proud to do so, not just on St. Patrick’s Day but all year long. And because our two nations are linked by common values and aspirations for the peaceful, prosperous future that we want to see for our people, I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Ireland many times, including last Fall as Secretary of State. And I think Ambassador Rooney, our excellent ambassador, is here and entertained me very well when I was with him.
And I’ll actually spend, we hope, about an hour in Shannon tomorrow night celebrating St. Patrick’s Day en route to Moscow. That’s our goal. I believe that may be a first for me, which I will proudly claim.
But this year’s commemoration and celebration comes at a particularly auspicious time. On March 9th, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to complete the process of devolution, an important step toward realizing the promise of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement, and achieving a full and lasting peace for the people of Northern Ireland. Foreign Minister Martin and his government played a vital role in helping the parties come together to take this step. I know for a fact that he was there for long days and sleepless nights during the Hillsborough negotiations because I spoke to him during the two-to-three-hour a.m. period during one of those nights.
And I know that he and the Taoiseach and not only the government but the people of Ireland will continue to support the leaders of Northern Ireland as they shoulder these new responsibilities. So I thank you, Minister, for your leadership and persistence, and we will be discussing the way forward, as we just have in our meeting, during today and tomorrow, as well as a range of other issues of common concern.
I am particularly looking forward to the upcoming Millennium Development Goals summit in September around the time of the United Nations General Assembly. The United States and Ireland have agreed to co-host a sidelines event highlighting global hunger, food security, and nutrition. I want to commend Ireland for its commitment to devoting 20 percent of its assistance budget to meet the urgent challenge of global hunger. This is a priority for both of our governments, but it’s a historical passion and cause for Ireland.
Ireland is already helping to increase food security in Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and other places. They are targeting maternal and infant malnutrition. Ireland’s great famine looms large in the history of both of our countries, and we understand what a destabilizing and destructive force hunger still is in too many places around our globe. And I appreciate, particularly during these very difficult economic times, the commitment and generosity of the Irish people.
On this and so many other fronts, Ireland is a valued partner. Ireland was among the first nations to accept and resettle detainees from Guantanamo Bay, which was an important step and vote of confidence in President Obama’s policy to close Guantanamo. We continue to honor the service of Irish troops in Afghanistan and the very considerable role that Ireland has played in helping move our policy there forward. We stand side-by-side against extremists who threaten peace-loving people everywhere.
So again, Minister Martin, thank you for all that you personally are doing, thank you for your friendship, and thank you for representing the close relationship between our two countries.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: Well, Secretary Clinton, it’s a great privilege and pleasure for me to meet with you again this St. Patrick’s week and to say how much we appreciate the time that you have made available for us to discuss a whole range of issues. And 12 months ago, I think we met here and the key issue on that occasion was prospects for the completion of devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. And we spent some time discussing the North at that meeting.
I want to thank you for the constant personal engagement of yourself and your Administration to that issue. I think you have injected leadership and momentum to the process, and particularly during critical times. And getting that call at 3:00 a.m. in the morning was a very welcome one, may I say. And – but nonetheless, I think the – as I said earlier, it is important that American dimension has been consistent, it has added value to the peace process in Northern Ireland. And in the context of the Hillsborough Agreement, it added significant value to facilitate a resolution of the issues between the parties in Northern Ireland.
So we thank you very much for that, to President Obama and his predecessors as well, for their contribution to peace in Ireland. We also work well, and as I said during our meeting, we appreciated the appointment of Declan Kelly, your economic envoy to Northern Ireland, and the work he has engaged in with the many private sector interests and business interests on the island of Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland, with a view to advancing the economic dimension.
As I said during the meeting, reconciliation between communities remains a key priority of ours, between the communities in Northern Ireland. And in particular, I think it’s fair to say we still have some way to go to make sure that we can bring the benefits of peace to hard-to-reach communities. I’m talking about areas where the health indices are not what they should be, where school completion rates may not be what they should be.
And I think we’ve discussed the prospect of the International Fund for Ireland being remanded, if you like, with a view to new terms of reference and new focus on that issue, so that on the ground in communities, that we can ensure the dividend of peace reaches them and that we can take efforts to try and support economic opportunity for young people in such communities. And so that’s a key issue for us going forward.
The Secretary said, and I also spoke, of course, about the issue of comprehensive immigration reform and the operation of the working holiday visa agreement, which is a very important bilateral agreement in terms of maintaining engagement and linkage between young people in the U.S. and in Ireland, and I think we’ve both agreed to work on that particular agreement with a view to enhancing opportunities, again, for young people from the U.S. to go to Ireland and young students in Ireland to come to the U.S.
We’re very pleased to be co-hosting that meeting in New York next September on hunger and nutrition, and we again appreciate the opportunity to do that with you. And I know our officials who work on that in the coming weeks to put flesh on that and to ensure a substantive meeting that can add value to the countries that we are assisting, particularly in terms of food, crop production, and enhancing the lot of small landholders in Africa who do need our assistance and indeed our help.
We reviewed a number of areas from Afghanistan to the Middle East, and I took the opportunity to share my recent experience in Gaza with the Secretary of State. And I think we also took the opportunity – I took the opportunity again, to again put on record our appreciation for the priority that you have given to the Middle Eastern question – challenging, complex, difficult, but your commitment and prioritization of the issue has been constant and consistent. And of course, we do know that your (inaudible) Senator George Mitchell, of course, who played such a valuable role in Northern Ireland, has applied himself diligently with great attention to detail. We know his patience, his legendary patience in situations like this.
And as we have said at many international fora, we in Ireland have great confidence in his capacity and your capacity to see this through. And we appreciate the strong and active U.S. leadership on this issue that you’re giving. I look forward to joining Taoiseach to his meeting with President Obama at the White House tomorrow to mark St. Patrick’s Day. We’re honored again by your facilitation of that and by the U.S. Administration. And may I say, I could not think of a better place to have St. Patrick’s Day than in Ireland prior to an engagement with your Russian colleagues afterwards. (Laughter.) So maybe an Irish coffee can warm the situation --
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s true. That’s true.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: -- as you move to Russia later tomorrow. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Micheal.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll begin with Jill Dougherty from CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, we – on the Mideast, which you both have spoken about, we know that you’re expecting some type of response from Israel, Mr. Netanyahu. Can you tell us how and when that might happen? Could it be Mr. Mitchell who might go to the region to get that response or is it you personally? And then also, what does Israel need to do to restore confidence in their devotion to the peace process and also to the U.S. relationship?
And Mr. Minister, if I could ask you, you have just been to the region. Your own Irish peace process is coming to the end. Mr. Mitchell was very instrumental in that, and he is now in the Mideast. What is your assessment? You’re just back from Gaza. What’s your assessment of the prospects for peace negotiations right now under these difficult circumstances? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, we are engaged in a very active consultation with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to this process. And it’s been a very important effort on our part as well as theirs, because we know how hard this is. This is a very difficult, complex matter, as the foreign minister just said.
But the Obama Administration is committed to a two-state solution. We are committed to the resumption of negotiations between the parties. We think that George Mitchell’s legendary patience will win the day as the process gets started again, because there’s just too much at stake for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. But when we have something to say, we will, of course, share it with you. But our goal now is to make sure that we have the full commitment from both our Israeli and our Palestinian partners to this effort.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: I would simply say, as well, that our own lessons from Northern Ireland would indicate that where there’s a political will on behalf of all parties to a conflict or to a dispute, there can be resolution, and the prospects can – for resolution can be good. And it seems to me, having come back from the region, that we – that the initiative on the proximity talks is the correct pathway. It’s one that we have supported.
And we do believe that the proximity talks should commence as quickly as possible, and then, that if confidence-building measures can follow quickly in relation to that, and – our view along the way is that the voices of moderation should be supported at all times and that conditions on the ground should be such as to enhance those who want the path of peace. And I think we’ve made those points at international fora and so on. So one can never despair about any particular conflict situation. We know, ourselves, that the Northern Ireland peace process wasn’t built in a day. It’s a long, long process taking, I think, 20 odd years –
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: -- before we’ve arrived at where we’ve arrived at. And it still needs a lot of attention, focus, and application.
MYLES GEIRAN: (Inaudible.) Senan Molony – Irish Daily Mail
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, the plight of the undocumented Irish is still a hot issue at home, and I was wondering whether you could cast any light on the progress toward general immigration reform. And secondly, I was also wondering if, in light of your own tremendous reception in Ireland and that of your husband to which you have alluded, you have been maybe bending the ear of President Obama about a visit to Ireland.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, first, the issue of the undocumented is one that President Obama is very committed to addressing. Just this past week, even in the midst of all of his work on the healthcare reform legislation, he held, I think, two meetings about immigration reform and he is committed to moving forward with legislation. He knows that people have to be willing to get out there and defend, what is to us, a very sensible approach of resolving these ongoing immigration challenges.
As you know, I served as a senator from New York for eight years and have spent a lot of time on immigration issues and a particular – with a particular emphasis to the Irish undocumented, many of whom, as you know, live in New York. I don’t think I’m telling the immigration people anything they don’t know. (Laughter.) And I miss going to those rallies and hearing Joe Crowley sing and Niall O’Dowd hold forth and your ambassador come.
So we’re – I’m out of politics, domestic politics. So I can only say that President Obama is committed and understands, very much, the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. And I can also, without fear of contradiction, tell you he would love to come to Ireland. It’s just a question of trying to manage all of these important challenges at once. He has a very full domestic policy agenda which he is chipping away at and making progress on, but believe me, Ireland is near the top of the list. Dan Rooney wouldn’t have it any other way. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: The only think I can say is that we have many challenges at home as well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, I’ve heard.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: But a presidential visit is one we could accommodate. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will mention that to him.
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.) Lee Ross from Fox.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, there has been great concern expressed from Capitol Hill about the reaction from you and the Administration towards the situation in Israel. Some are calling it spats, family feud. One even said that the reaction from the Administration was irresponsible and the concern that that reaction is doing more harm than good moving forward on the peace process, and not just towards Israel; the concern that this family feud is presenting a bad portrait towards Iran seeing a disunified front.
And then also, if I could ask if you could give some reaction to the suggestion that the U.S.-Israeli relations are the worst that they’ve been in 35 years.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t buy that. I’ve been around not that long, but a long time. We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American Israeli people. We share common values and a commitment to a democratic future for the world and we are both committed to a two-state solution. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree. We don’t agree with any of our international partners on everything.
And with respect to the announcement that occurred when the Vice President was there, we’ve expressed our dismay and disappointment. And we have, as I have said earlier, engaged in consultations with our partners in the peace effort, the Israelis and the Palestinians, about the way forward, because we are very committed to achieving the two-state outcome that is the goal. But I think we’ll see what the next days hold and we’re looking forward to Senator Mitchell returning to the region and beginning the proximity talks.
MYLES GEIRAN: (Inaudible) Lara Malone – Irish Times.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you – Minister Martin said he discussed his visit to Gaza with you. A few days ago in an interview with the Irish Times, Minister Martin compared Sinn Fein with Hamas and said that sooner or later, there will have to be engagement. He also said that what he called the inhumane and unacceptable siege of the Gaza Strip must end. Is Minister Martin right? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we discussed Gaza because the United States has expressed on numerous occasions our concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And we have made it clear in international settings as well as in our bilateral engagements with not only
Israel but the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and others, that we seek to help alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza.
At the same time, we have made clear – and it’s not only the United States making clear but the international community through the Quartet, which consists of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States, and Russia – what the conditions would be for Hamas to enter a political process. If Hamas renounces violence, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, pursues a responsible political path, they would certainly be recognized as having a role to play. But in the absence of that, you cannot have an armed resistance group that continues to call for the elimination of Israel as part of a peace process. It’s a contradiction. But they know what they must do, and we have certainly made that clear on numerous occasions.
I don’t think there’s any disagreement between the minister and myself. We want to alleviate the suffering in Gaza and we want to see a political solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the Palestinian Authority made the decision to deal with Israel, to move forward on a path to peace some years ago, and we would welcome Hamas making the same decision.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: Just to add to that, I mean, we’ve been very clear and it’s interesting you’ve raised the situation with Sinn Fein. I mean, the fundamental trigger for the engagement back a long time ago was the renunciation of violence, the ceasefire that the IRA declared to facilitate engagement and participation in the overall process. And I made that clear and we’ve consistently made it clear publicly that there has to be a renunciation of violence and there has to be a recognition of Israel. Now, of course, in terms of the Northern peace process is a useful template to look at in terms of how you bring people into a process that ultimately leads to a resolution.
And secondly, I’ve made the point very clearly that, from our perspective, when I mentioned earlier about ensuring that the voice of moderation is enhanced and given strength, it seems to me from my visit to Gaza, as for that, the voice of extremism, to a certain extent, is enhanced and strengthened by the blockade and by the siege. And I think there are other issues in terms of the release of Gilad Shalit, which is very important and should happen as well, which would help to unlock the situation in Gaza. And all parties are working towards that end. But it was clear to me that the voices of moderation are being undermined now, at the moment, within Gaza, and that’s something we need to be very conscious of.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: Thank you.