SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I am delighted to welcome a friend and a colleague. Minister Fassi Fihri and I have had a chance to work and consult together over the last several years, and his visit here today represents another occasion to salute a very special bilateral relationship between Morocco and the United States. We have a long history of friendship and partnership on almost every level, from economics to educational exchanges, from trade to development, and security.
But before I begin with comments on this important relationship, I want to just briefly address a few other issues of global and regional importance. I visited the Embassy of Japan yesterday to pay my respects to the people of Japan, who have endured so much in recent weeks. This morning, I spoke with the Japanese foreign minister to express my condolences and my admiration for the remarkable resilience of the Japanese people. The United States has joined in the international outpouring of support for Japan at this time of need. And in the spirit of the enduring friendship, partnership, and alliance between Japan and the United States, we stand ready to help in every way that we possibly can.
Also this morning, I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the bombing in Jerusalem today that took at least one life and injured innocent civilians. Terrorism and the targeting of civilians are never justified. And Israel, like all nations, of course, has to respond when this occurs. The United States is committed to Israel’s security and we strongly condemn this violence and extend our deepest sympathies to all those affected.
We also strongly condemn recent rocket attacks from Gaza against innocent Israeli civilians and hold fully responsible the militants perpetrating these attacks. And I join President Obama in extending our sincere condolences to the friends and families of the Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza yesterday and appreciate that Israel has expressed regret.
We stress the importance of calm and we urge all concerned to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties among both Israelis and Palestinians. Violence only erodes hope for a lasting and meaningful peace and the final realization of two states for two peoples.
In our meeting today, I thanked the foreign minister for Morocco’s leadership at the summit in Paris last week and for Morocco’s important role in the Arab League’s decision to call for the protection of Libyan civilians. We also discussed the international community’s ongoing efforts to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 in Libya.
It is still early, but we have made significant progress. This week, Qadhafi’s troops were poised to enter Benghazi over the weekend, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians in that city of 700,000 at great risk. Today, those troops have been pushed back and those civilians are safer as a result. Coalition efforts have downgraded Qadhafi’s air defense capabilities and set the conditions for an effective no-fly zone.
I know that the nightly news cannot cover a humanitarian crisis that thankfully did not happen, but it is important to remember that many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action.
Now, of course, challenges remain so long as Qadhafi continues to direct his forces to attack his own people. So the United States will continue to support this mission as we transfer command and control to NATO.
Moving beyond Libya, this is a crucial moment in time for Morocco, the Maghreb, and the Middle East. I saw this vividly when I visited Egypt and Tunisia last week. And it was very inspiring to meet with the young people and the activists from civil society who are expressing such a strong desire to have a democracy of their own, to have some say in the decisions affecting their lives.
Morocco is well-positioned to lead in this area because it is on the road to achieving democratic change. His Majesty King Mohammed VI’s government has consistently allowed its citizens to express themselves openly and peacefully, and it has been frank and forthcoming about the challenges ahead.
The King has long demonstrated his commitment to reform. And earlier this month, in an important address that captured widespread attention, he promised comprehensive reforms that would guarantee free parliamentary elections, including the election of a prime minister, create an independent judiciary, and assure human rights for all of Morocco’s stakeholders, including the Amazigh community.
These ideas build on the King’s earlier reforms that included increased rights for women and children, and universal access to a free education. We recognize the critical importance of the aspirations that His Majesty has described and we urge a continuing and rapid implementation of his vision.
We also look forward with great optimism to further deepening our strong and strategic partnership in working with Morocco on so many issues. Let me close with an issue that I know is of great importance to Morocco and its neighbors, the Western Sahara. U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained constant from administration to administration. We want to see a peaceful resolution. Starting with the Clinton Administration and continuing through the Bush Administration and up to the present in the Obama Administration, we have stated our belief that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible – a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity. The United States strongly supports the role of Ambassador Christopher Ross and the United Nations in resolving this issue.
So again, Minister, I thank you very much for all of the work we are doing together and all of the important work that lies ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER FASSI FIHRI: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. Thank you. Let me say first that I’m very pleased to be here in Washington once again and to have this excellent meeting, fruitful meeting, with my friend, Madam Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At this occasion, once again we talk about the longstanding ties between Morocco and USA. But we decide, as the Madam Secretary just said now, to have a roadmap for future with some action-oriented vision and concrete result for the benefits of two people. We not only talk about the importance of the bilateral relations, but also in connection with the – what’s happened in the Arab world. And naturally, Morocco welcomes all these legitimate aspiration for people to have – to live in freedom with democracy. There is no Arab exception for the universal principle of dignity and freedom.
Naturally, we encourage – and we have maybe to encourage more – in the current approach and complementary approach to see a success in the transition in Tunisia, in Egypt, and to have also to work together to avoid and to fight against some risk, because what it shows is that the Arab spring start. We are not totally sure that the summer – Arab summer would follow the spring – Arab springs, and maybe here or there we will go directly to a dark winter.
That’s why the discussions I have today with my colleague are very fruitful for us. As Madam Secretary of State said, Morocco participated in the last summit in Paris, and Morocco said very clearly that the Resolution 1973 is binding to all countries, and each country have the right to participate for the implementation and full implementation of this resolution. Morocco, naturally because of the strong relation between people of Morocco and people of Libya, members both of the Maghreb Arab Union, will continue to humbly contribute for this implementation of this resolution, saying and repeating that it’s not an occupation, that no one wants to see Libya divided in two or three parts. It’s not a question of partition, but it’s question to protect the civilians. And for that, there is the military aspect and there is, which is very important also, the humanitarian aspect. Morocco decided to send in an important medical team five weeks ago in the borders of between Tunisia and Libya, and we will continue to think in total coordination with our friend and to see how we can contribute more on this specific issue.
We talk about the Maghreb and it’s important also to resolve the dispute about Sahara. And let me just remind you that Morocco put an initiative on the table, and thanks to this initiative a new cycle of negotiation start in 2007 and now we are – we progress and we hope that we can resolve this issue, because the Maghreb is a necessity for the five people of the region, but it’s also a necessity for the security in a specific region where al-Qaida work. Al-Qaida is here and try to create problem for – not only for the Maghrebs country but for many, many citizens and countries.
This is some of the points we raise today. But I want to be, once again, very frank. Morocco is satisfied by this dialogue, fruitful dialogue, by the cooperation with USA. And we are very encouraged by what we heard this afternoon and before, the many statements as encouragement and the response to what His Majesty asked for and present to its people in this continual process of democratization of Morocco, and we will work hard. The process start, the dialogue with all political parties, NGOs, and trade unions start, and we hope and we are sure that in some couple of month Morocco will jump once again with – in this balancing approach: economic development, human development, and political progress.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Minister, thank you so much.
FOREIGN MINISTER FIHRI: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Just a couple questions. The first to Elise Labott, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I’m sure you’ll beg our indulgence, because we have one question and a lot going on. I’d like you to clarify your comments, if you would, please, yesterday about Libya and members of Qadhafi’s inner circle that are reaching out to you and the Arabs. Do you think that they’re reaching out to save themselves, to defect, or do you think that president – Colonel Qadhafi is looking for a way out?
And then if you could talk about the Arab support, participation, and leadership that you asked for. I know that we’ve talked about humanitarian contributions, but you said that you were looking for a robust Arab support for the military operation. Are you getting that? Right now, it’s only Qatar that’s participating.
Mr. Minister, why do you think the Arabs are not participating more on the military side? Are you uncomfortable with the mission?
And then lastly, on Yemen, President Salih has presented a plan to the opposition with a lot of significant points. However, the opposition is really – the only thing they’re calling for is for him to step down immediately. We have a decisive day Friday. Are you concerned, given that what the minister said about al-Qaida in the region, if President Salih were to go, what that would mean for security in the region? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, Elise, we’ve been hearing a lot of things from many different sources. But what is very clear is that Qadhafi has lost his legitimacy to govern and the confidence of his people. And that is the main reason why he should leave power, because he cannot continue to govern and to refuse to meet the legitimate aspirations of his own people.
Now, over the last several weeks, as you know very well, the international community has taken a number of steps through sanctions, through freezing of accounts, through other accountability measures to put pressure on Qadhafi and the people around him. And added to that is now the military action which is adding even greater pressure. So Qadhafi has a decision to make, and the people around him each have decisions to make. The quickest way for him to end this is to actually serve the Libyan people by leaving.
QUESTION: Do you think — (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we think that there is a lot of discussion going on about what the outcome of this strong international support for enforcing 1973 will actually lead to. Now, I want to be clear that that was not the purpose or the aim of the use of force. Our military action was taken in response to the obvious humanitarian crisis. And we have begun to see the easing in different parts of the country of that crisis. So the UN Security Council resolution’s goal is to protect the Libyan people. And our military action is, therefore, focused on the goal of protecting civilians, enabling the no-fly zone, enforcing the arms embargo and all that goes with it. It will be up to Qadhafi and his insiders to determine what their next steps are, but we would certainly encourage that they would make the right decision and not only institute a real comprehensive ceasefire, but withdraw from the cities and the military actions and prepare for a transition that does not include Colonel Qadhafi.
Now, we are very satisfied by the Arab participation, and there will be more announcements in the days ahead. But this is a comprehensive effort, and I think that it’s very clear that as the minister said, each nation is contributing what it is capable of doing, and providing support for one or more of the various missions called for under 1973.
And finally, with respect to Yemen, we’re not going to make predictions about what will happen in Yemen other than to say that the people of Yemen have the same rights as people anywhere, and we support dialogue as a path to a peaceful solution to Yemen’s current political situation that includes genuine participation by all sides. And we are certainly making our views known on a regular and consistent basis both publicly and privately.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, have you discussed with your Moroccan counterparts the reforms – constitutional reforms that were announced by the King recently as well as decision of a month ago of a national human rights body? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, we discussed at some length. I expressed to the minister our appreciation for the King’s actions. We think that the reforms that he is outlining hold great promise first and foremost for the Moroccan people themselves, but also as a model for others in the region. Because as the minister said, what His Majesty King Mohammed VI is doing is economic reform, social reform, political reform, and some countries are only going one direction. And there needs to be a comprehensive approach, which is exactly what has been proposed in Morocco.
Perhaps you’d like to add something, Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER FASSI FIHRI: Just to confirm that we discussed about this matter – (laughter) – and that we have the same position. (Laughter.) I talk about two legs to walk. Now, maybe it’s three legs. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: But the reason that I would just add that we’re so encouraged is because the King has been making reforms over the last several years. And so we’re already seeing the result of those reforms and these additional announcements that he has made will add to that. So we’re seeing exactly what the King has said he will do being enacted.
QUESTION: How about the (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the human rights council that has been announced, I think, is an excellent idea. We obviously want to see it come into effect, we want to see it in action, but it fits very well with the full range of reforms that have been announced, and we think it will serve a very important purpose. Thank you all.
FOREIGN MINISTER FASSI FIHRI: Thank you. Goodbye.