SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. I am very pleased to be here with Vice President Garzon of Colombia on his first visit to Washington as vice president. Before discussing the important matters that were part of our meeting, I would like to say something about the unfolding events in Egypt.
We continue to monitor the situation very closely. We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors, and we call on the Egyptian Government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protestors should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.
As we have repeatedly said, we support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of expression, of association and of assembly. We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications. These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian Government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away.
As President Obama said yesterday, reform is absolutely critical to the well being of Egypt. Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a range of regional issues. As a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian Government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political, and social reforms. We continue to raise with the Egyptian Government, as we do with other governments in the region, the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation to provide a better future for all. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their government to realize their aspirations to live in a democratic society that respects basic human rights.
When I was recently in the region, I met with a wide range of civil society groups and I heard from them about ideas they have that would improve their countries. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives. As I said in Doha, leaders need to respond to these aspirations and to help build that better future for all. They need to view civil society as their partner, not as a threat.
Now there is a great deal of concern also in our government, Mr. Vice President, about the mining disaster that killed 21 miners in Colombia. And we will have our translator translate these remarks about Colombia as we go along.
I know that President Santos cut short his stay at the World Economic Forum to join the families of these victims. And I would like the people of Colombia to know they are in the thoughts and prayers of all Americans not just for the mining tragedy, but for the terrible flooding that in the past two months has claimed more than 300 lives, affected more than 2 million people and incurred billions of dollars in reconstruction and clean-up costs.
The Vice President and I had a very productive, wide-ranging discussion on many important issues, and we reaffirmed the resilient, enduring partnership and friendship between our peoples. We share common values and a respect for democratic governance, the rule of law, and self-determination. And the United States has stood with Colombia for more than a decade as they take on security challenges. We’ve made considerable progress together, but we have more work to do on security and other issues. That is why we are hosting the second round of the U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue in March, where we will cover so many of these issues. We are committed to a very broad discussion of issues, from sustainable energy to human rights. And as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we are committed to a successful conclusion and ratification of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement. And I look forward to working with the vice president and members of the Colombian Government to bring that result about.
I also commended the vice president and the Santos administration for the progress that is being made on resolving long-term disputes having to do with displaced people in the country and reaching out to civil society to add their voices to a national conversation about human rights and labor rights. And I want to thank Colombia for their assistance to other countries in the fight against drug traffickers and criminal organizations, their assistance to the people of Haiti and of Afghanistan and in so many ways the leadership that Colombia is showing in helping to solve difficult issues.
We look forward to continuing and close cooperation, Mr. Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT GARZON: (Via interpreter) Thank you so much Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States. I want to say on behalf of the Government of Colombia and very especially on behalf of President Santos, I would like to express our thanks to you, Mrs. Clinton, and to President Obama for the solidarity of your government and your people to the people of Colombia on the occasion of the recent floods and in particular the recent mining tragedy, which has cost 21 lives, has left several injured in the area of Santander in our country.
And in our broad-ranging discussions today, we have agreed, among other things, to work together to defend fundamental rights of humankind, the human rights that affect all of us, in particular, labor groups, indigenous groups, women’s groups, and others. And we have also agreed to continue to work and cooperate with all countries to combat organized crime, in particular, transnational crime, which includes drug trafficking, which is – which attacks our democracies.
In our dialogue, we have expressed our gratefulness for the political will of the United States Government and, in particular, President Obama and Secretary Clinton to find all paths necessary to achieve ratification of the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. It is an agreement that helps the people and the Government of Colombia, and it also helps the people and Government of the United States. And we also greatly appreciate the willingness of the U.S. Government and the U.S. Congress to extend the Andean Trade Preferences Act, not just to the region, but to Colombia in particular, this is a sign of great solidarity at a time when we are busy with the reconstruction of our country after the devastating floods.
And we also agreed to redouble our joint efforts along with Secretary Clinton and President Santos Calderon regarding Haiti, to support the people of Haiti in their quest to elect, freely and fairly, their own leaders. And we will consolidate our high-level dialogue, a dialogue that we began last year between the United States and Colombia. This has been headed by Secretary Clinton.
We will be strengthening our programs, our – to discuss issues ranging from all kinds of progress in democracy, human rights, new technologies, energy, and also one that we have added after our dialogue today – the environment. And on behalf of the Government of Colombia, President Santos, and the people of Colombia, I want to thank you very much for recognizing the progress that Colombia has made as a developing country to consolidate itself as a modern state in combating corruption, violence and impunity, and upholding human rights.
MR. CROWLEY: First question, the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Yes, Madam Secretary. Excuse me, I have two rather direct questions to ask you about Egypt.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The first: Is President Mubarak finished? The second: Are you at this point condemning the violent crackdown against protestors?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have been answering those concerns for quite some time. And as President Obama said yesterday very clearly, and as I said in Doha, it is absolutely vital for Egypt to embrace reform, to ensure not just its long-term stability, but also the progress and prosperity that its people richly deserve.
Now, Egypt has been a strong partner of the United States on a range of regional and strategic interests. And as a partner, we believe strongly, and have expressed this consistently, that the Egyptian Government needs to engage with the Egyptian people in implementing needed political, economic, and social reforms. We have consistently raised this with the Egyptian Government over many years. We also have raised it with other governments in the region. And there is a constant concern about the need for greater openness, greater participation on the part of the people, particularly young people, which is something I was very clear about in Doha. And we want to continue to partner with the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people.
Now, what will eventually happen in Egypt is up to Egyptians. But it is important for us to make very clear that as a partner of Egypt, we are urging that there be a restraint on the part of the security forces, there not be a rush to impose very strict measures that would be violent, and that there be a dialogue between the government and the people of Egypt. At the same time, we also would urge the protestors to engage in peaceful protests, which they have every right to do, and the deep grievances that they are raising deserve to be addressed.
But the real question we’re focused on is: How can we support a better future for the people of Egypt that responds to their aspirations? And as I’ve said before and as the President has also said, the Egyptian Government has a real opportunity in the face of this very clear demonstration of opposition to begin a process that will truly respond to the aspirations of the people of Egypt. We think that moment needs to be seized, and we are hoping that it is.
MR. CROWLEY: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, two points. The first one is: (inaudible) Vice President Garzon asked two days ago the Obama Administration to send this year to Congress the Free Trade Agreement. With all due respect, is the – you – Obama Administration going to do that, yes or no?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: This year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: When we have an agreement. There are still negotiations[i] that are taking place. And as the vice president and I discussed, when we have an agreed-upon text, we will, as quickly as possible, send it to the Congress.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) time (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is not yet in the form of agreement that we have been discussing with our Colombian counterparts. They know what we need to do in order to get a successful outcome. We don’t want to send an agreement just for the sake of sending an agreement. We want to send an agreement and get it passed.
QUESTION: What –
QUESTION: So you want to change the agreement? I mean, to –
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are discussing about some clarifications and some concerns that we know will have to be addressed in the Congress. I mean, I’m just being very clear with you. We want to pass the agreement. In order to pass the agreement, we have to be able to make the case to the Congress, and that is what I am intent upon doing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excuse me, this gentleman has the microphone.
QUESTION: No, I have a second question. In Colombia, a sector of the public opinion –
(Pause during interpretation.)
VICE PRESIDENT GARZON: (Via interpreter) I want to stress what’s really important and basic here. I want to point out the great political will of President Obama, the Secretary of State, and of the U.S. Government and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to move as soon as possible to achieve ratification of this agreement. I think that’s the most important thing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And we agree, and that’s why we want to proceed as quickly and effectively to guarantee success as possible.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.