Remarks With Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen After their Meeting
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Welcome to all of you. Before we take on the Arctic agenda this afternoon, we’ve just had the opportunity to briefly touch base on some of the other international issues that preoccupy us both and where we believe that we have a very valuable cooperation.
On Libya, we agreed that now is not the time to waver, that we have to sustain. The international community must maintain and increase the pressure on Qadhafi and his regime. And we are strongly committed to and actively engaged in the work of the Libya Contact Group, and of course, the efforts to assure a political solution for Libya.
We also agreed that the operation against Usama bin Ladin has created a new boost to international counterterrorism efforts, and we must build on this to further galvanize the broad international cooperation. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me begin by saying how delighted I am to be here in Nuuk at this Arctic Council meeting, the first time that the United States has been represented by the Secretary of State. And I am very grateful to Minister Espersen for her leadership and for the strong partnership that exists between the United States and Denmark.
Before I talk about the meeting we just had and today’s working session of the Arctic Council, I want to say a few words about the situation in Syria. Despite overwhelming international condemnation, the Syrian Government continues to exact brutal reprisals against its own citizens, including, tragically, the deaths of hundreds of Syrians since March. They engage in unlawful detention and torture and the denial of medical care to wounded persons. Now, there may be some who think that this is a sign of strength, but treating one’s own people in this way is, in fact, a sign of remarkable weakness.
President Obama and I have condemned these actions in no uncertain terms, and I do so again today. The recent events in Syria make clear that the country cannot return to the way it was before. Tanks and bullets and clubs will not solve Syria’s political and economic challenges. And relying on Iran as your best friend and your only strategic ally is not a viable way forward. Syria’s future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of all of the people and protects their welfare. President Asad faces increasing isolation, and we will continue to work with our international partners in the EU and elsewhere on additional steps to hold Syria responsible for its gross human rights abuses.
It is such a pleasure for me, in contrast to what we see happening in a place like Syria, to be celebrating the alliance, partnership, and friendship between the United States and Denmark, rooted in our shared democratic values and aspirations. And that is the underpinning of the partnership we have here in the Arctic Council, and our determination to work together on a range of global challenges.
Today, Lene and I had the opportunity on the boat to discuss at length many of the issues that we are working on in this fast-moving world, including in North Africa and Afghanistan. And I thanked the minister for Denmark’s strong support throughout the Maghreb region. In Libya, Denmark was one of the first countries to fly air-to-ground missions, and may I say it is absolutely exemplary in every way, in all of the actions it has undertaken. It is also making substantial contributions in Egypt and Tunisia through its support for vulnerable groups such as young people and women, and its support for political reform, fair elections, rule of law, social dialogue, and civil society.
In Afghanistan, we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we work to ensure the smooth transition of security responsibility that was agreed upon at the Lisbon summit. Denmark’s general – generous development assistance is crucial to this effort, and I commended Foreign Minister Espersen for her initiative to improve women’s access to justice in Helmand province.
Now of course, we are here because of our shared concern and commitment to the Arctic. This region faces so many challenges, especially with the harmful effects of climate change on its ecology, natural resources, and the livelihoods of millions of people who are used to living off the land and the seas. And we will be discussing many important matters in our meeting to start just shortly, from mitigating the effects of black carbon, to cooperating on possible oil spills, to search-and-rescue operations. And in all of these discussions, we have benefitted enormously from the wisdom and engagement of the Council’s permanent participants.
Now the challenges in the region are not just environmental. There are other issues at stake. The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing, and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.
So for more than 15 years, the Arctic Council has established itself as the region’s preeminent intergovernmental body, and the United States is committed to this forum. The search-and-rescue agreement, which we co-chaired with Russia and which we will be signing today, is an example of how the Council can work collectively to effect positive change. The United States is an Arctic nation. This region matters greatly to us. That’s why I was delighted to be joined by Senator Lisa Murkowski, who represents Alaska. We know that the decisions we make now are going to have long-lasting ramifications, and we want to make the right decisions.
So again, I thank the minister and I thank Denmark for hosting this very important meeting.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Inaudible) from (inaudible) TV.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, a question about Syria: Do you think al-Asad has lost his legitimacy as the leader of Syria?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that we have watched with great consternation and concern as events have unfolded under his leadership in Syria, and we are working with our international partners to make as strong a case as possible to sanction those who are leading and implementing the policies that are coming from the government.
I think it is – I think it’s fair to say that we’re going to hold the Syrian Government accountable. Now how that happens and what the timeline in – is, is something that we are working on as we speak. But I wanted to make very clear at the outset of this press conference that the United States, along with Denmark and our other colleagues, are going to be looking for ways to increase the pressure.
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Yeah, and I think that we completely agree. We’ve been amongst the countries in the European Union calling for sanctions, and now we’re calling for the Syrian leadership to actually deliver on the promises that they’ve made also on TV about political reforms and national dialogue. And I will say if the Syrian leadership does not deliver on reform, we are prepared to tighten the sanctions against the Syrian regime.
MODERATOR: Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you both for speaking with us. Madam Secretary, just a question: One of your goals in coming here is to call attention to important environmental issues, including climate change, but it’s been difficult for U.S. administrations to follow through on some of these ambitions and commitments on things from Law of the Sea to climate. I’m just wondering what assurances you can give the international community now that the U.S. is prepared to go forward and take some concrete action.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Joby, you’re right that it’s been challenging in our political system to take the kinds of actions that we know are dictated by the science and by what we see in front of our eyes. Many of the indigenous people who are here at the Arctic Council meeting can give you very dramatic descriptions of how their land and the sea has changed in their lifetimes. So there is no doubt, except among those who are into denying the facts before their eyes, that climate change is occurring, and it is contributed to by human actions at every level.
I don’t think the Obama Administration, certainly not the President, has given up on continuing to make the case for what the United States can and should do. We were not successful in getting the Senate to pass a comprehensive bill, but as you know, the Administration has increased its attention to regulatory actions that can be taken to improve everything from the gas mileage of cars to the regulation of utility emissions. And we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to use every single available option that can demonstrate clearly to our own people, first and foremost, and then to the international community that the United States is taking action and will be doing everything we can to make our contribution.
QUESTION: Yes. To both of you, since you’re both cooperating on Libya, we’ve seen an intensification of the bombing raids, particularly against Tripoli. Is there a parallel effort, diplomatic effort, to push Qadhafi out, and how long would that take? Do you have an assessment of how long he might remain in power?
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Well, I think what is the most important thing is actually that when both Secretary Clinton and I were in Rome last week, we decided to have a much better international coordination and actually putting pressure on finding a political solution. One of the things that Colonel Qadhafi has been quite smart at doing has actually been sending all kinds of messengers out, negotiating ceasefires and things like that, only with one purpose, I think, and that is just to prolong everything and to try to make the international society start a quarrel whether we’re doing the right thing or not.
And what’s very important is that the Libya Contact Group and the international society remains committed to stay in until the job has been done, protecting the civilians and, of course, making sure that the UN special envoy Al-Khatib is supported a hundred percent in his very important job, trying to negotiate a political solution and a ceasefire. And I think that’s actually the best we can do, not having different countries negotiating with Qadhafi but having one person coordinating and negotiating, so that he knows that now the pressure is on him.
And I think that’s the most important thing, and I’ve spent any opportunity I have to say, because the Danish airplanes are doing a lot at the moment, to say that we are living up a hundred percent to the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We are there to protect the civilians. And if it takes us to bomb military buildings and other things, we will continue to do that in order to protect the civilians. So we’re very committed on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can only echo what the minister said, because she was very eloquent in describing what is the international consensus. And I think out of our meeting in Rome, we were even more determined to keep the military pressure on and to intensify our diplomatic and political efforts. They are proceeding as we can with a lot of consultation. The UN has a major role to play, but there are also other contacts that will be undertaken to make clear to Qadhafi and those around him that we’re persistent and we’re patient and we’re determined.
And I would just end by once again thanking and applauding the efforts of Denmark. Denmark is just an extraordinary country in every way, and its commitment to its international obligations, as evidenced not only in this operation under the UN Security Council but in its generosity of foreign assistance and in so many other areas it sets a very high standard.
MODERATOR: We have time to do one final question from T2.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, would you please give advice to your Danish colleague, being a woman in a man’s world as a foreign minister? (Laughter) Is it an advantage sometimes, actually?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think she doesn’t need any advice from me. She’s been a minister twice before in interior and justice where she, by every measure, was a great success. And now she is handling the foreign ministry obligations at a time when Denmark, like the United States, is facing a very fast-changing world. And I am a great fan of Lene’s. I think that she represents Denmark exceptionally well, and I also know that, like many young women – and I can say this because I’m not and she is – (laughter) – she has family responsibilities, she has two young children, and like so many women in Denmark and the United States and elsewhere, she is a highly responsible person in balancing both her family responsibilities and her obligations to her country. So I don’t think she needs any advice from me. I think she’s doing very well.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Let’s end here.