SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real pleasure for me to welcome Foreign Minister McCully to the State Department and to return, in some small measure, the wonderful hospitality that I and my team enjoyed when we visited New Zealand late last year. And I know that President Obama is looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Key to the Oval Office later this summer.
Today our two nations are united by shared history, common values, and strong bonds of mutual interest and respect. We’ve made remarkable progress in a short period of time in strengthening our relationship, one that I think it’s fair to say was frozen for about 25 years – (laughter) – and we’ve moved beyond the old challenges and are looking to work together on the many issues that unite us. So I always look forward to meeting with Murray to go over where we are and where we are headed together.
There are so many important areas where we are cooperating. We’re both deeply committed to building a more peaceful and prosperous future for the Asia Pacific. We covered a wide range of matters today in the spirit of cooperation and of the Wellington Declaration that we signed. And I just glanced over there, and I think we are signing it there.
We reviewed where we are in Afghanistan. New Zealand has done an exemplary job in leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan and has also contributed so much elsewhere in Afghanistan. And we greatly appreciate the service and sacrifice of our Kiwi friends. This is going to be especially important since Bamiyan will be one of the first provinces to undergo transition. And we’re going to look to New Zealand to give us a lot of insight as to how that is proceeding.
We discussed developments in the Middle East. The courage of people in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere to stand up for their universal rights has inspired Americans and Kiwis alike. And we’re working together to support these emerging democracies. And I welcome New Zealand’s decision to contribute to the International Federation of the Red Cross to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people.
We looked ahead to the East Asia summit where President Obama will participate for the first time, and the United States will send our largest, most senior delegation ever to the Pacific Island Forum in New Zealand later this year. We talked about developments in Fiji, and both New Zealand and the United States agree that the military junta must take steps to return Fiji to democracy. And we agree on the importance of pursuing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will provide a free trade agreement for nine countries across the region, including both of ours. We’re making steady progress on this. We hope to be able to have the negotiations complete by the time we all meet in Hawaii for APEC toward the end of this year.
So on these and so many other fronts, from curbing climate change to combating nuclear proliferation, we are really joined in common goals and their pursuit. We feel a deep kinship and a very strong friendship.
And that is why we responded in solidarity when New Zealand faced the devastation of the Christchurch earthquake this last February. I saw firsthand the beauty of Christchurch when I was there in November during my visit, and it was heartbreaking to see the pictures of destruction. We also had a team there led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell and distinguished Americans who were in the middle of a meeting to really deepen and broaden our cooperation with our friends. The United States sent a search and rescue team. They worked side by side. I think there is a photo up there with their Kiwi counterparts in very difficult conditions. And the American public has responded very generously.
The American Friends of Christchurch, some of whom are here today, organized a relief effort to assist with earthquake recovery. We have representatives from the United States business community, the foreign policy community, as well as many private citizens. This is chaired by Dr. Peter Watson and Senator Evan Bayh, along with Assistant Secretary Campbell and our ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner. We have many people across our country who love New Zealand, who have personal experience with your country, Minister, and want to stand side by side in solidarity with you as you do what is necessary to recover that beautiful city and make sure that the people there know that they are not alone. So thank you very much for being here and being such a wonderful colleague in our work together.
FOREIGN MINISTER MCCULLY: Well, Secretary Clinton, can I say thank you, first of all, for your warm welcome and for the very positive talks that we have had this afternoon. First, can I say that our thoughts go out to the families that have suffered loss recently in Alabama in the tornado and with those who currently confront the prospect of being flooded to save that situation happening to others. New Zealanders have been watching this on their television screens, and their hearts go out to them.
I take this opportunity to pass on record our grateful thanks – thanks of the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand people for the outpouring of sympathy, solidarity, and generosity from the American people in the wake of the tragic earthquake in Christchurch. In particular, I want to thank Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell for their leadership for the American Friends of Christchurch Initiative, which has been by far the most substantial international donor to the fundraising effort that has been taking place to support those who are in serious need in Christchurch today. I also want to place on record our great appreciation of the urban search and rescue team and the other expert advice that was so freely given at a time when we desperately needed it.
In the course of Secretary Clinton’s highly successful visit to New Zealand last November, we signed the Wellington Declaration, which provides a framework for the sort of cooperative relationship we want our two countries to have going forward. The fact that our societies are based on common values – the rule of law, democracy, respect for human rights – means that we bring similar perspectives to many of the world’s problems.
Today, Secretary Clinton has updated me on U.S. perspectives on recent events and current challenges in the Middle East and North Africa. New Zealand has been a vocal supporter of the work that’s being done to achieve the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya and to foster regional leadership through both the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League in dealing with the evolving situation in that part of the world. We both share some frustration. I think that the inseparable challenges of the Middle East peace process and the issues around Iran continue to resist resolution.
I’ve taken the opportunity today to update Secretary Clinton on our perspective on Afghanistan, where as she said, Bamiyan Province, in which we lead the provincial reconstruction team, is one of the areas about to commence formal transition in July. We’re very conscious that as the – one of the first provinces to undergo this transition, progress in Bamiyan is going to be watched very closely, indeed. I was there myself a few weeks ago and took the opportunity to brief Secretary Clinton on our plans for transition involving major development initiatives in relation to agriculture, electricity supply and transport, and I want to thank her for the excellent cooperation which I saw between our people on the ground in that province.
I also took the opportunity to pass – brief in passing the Secretary on my meetings with President Karzai, General Petraeus, Transition Leader Ashraf Ghani, and other senior players in Kabul. We are obviously closely interested in their work and keen to work off the same page as the U.S. Administration approaching this important phase in Afghanistan.
The second part of the Wellington Declaration was about enhancing the already strong partnership we have in relation to the Asia Pacific region. We have strongly supported the U.S. decision to join the East Asia Summit. We see this body as a natural forum in which we can deal with political, security, and economic issues within the region, and over the coming months, we’re going to be working together to give good shape to U.S. participation in this body. So it’s been very helpful for us today to be updated on U.S. perspectives on the U.S. engagement in the EAS process.
I told Secretary Clinton that we are very much looking forward to our participation in the APEC meeting which will take place in Honolulu later this year. Of course, this is the target date by which we are hoping our officials will have been able to agree on fundamental elements for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the agreement that we see as being critical to economic integration within our region. These discussions will obviously have significant implications for all of those countries currently at the table and, of course, some that are not currently there.
I previously welcomed the decision of the U.S. Administration to commit more attention to the Pacific, a large expanse of ocean containing many smaller states with more than their share of challenges. Our country, of course, is deeply immersed in the affairs of the Pacific region. We’ve had the opportunity today to bring Secretary Clinton and her colleagues up to do date with our current thinking and outlined some of the current challenges we confront. In September of this year, we’ll be hosting the annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Heads of Government. This will be the 40th anniversary of the forum. And while it will be possible to look back on a significant contribution to regional unity and purpose over 40 years, I hope we will also squarely face up to the fact that there are still very substantial challenges within the region, particularly in relation to economic and environmental sustainability.
So we look forward to welcoming the U.S. delegation to New Zealand and we welcome the strong sense of partnership that’s emerging between our two countries in a region that is our immediate neighborhood. Thank you very much.
MR. TONER: We have time for just two questions. First goes to Kirit Radia of ABC News.
QUESTION: Hi, Madam Secretary and Mr. Minister. Madam Secretary, I’d like to get your assessment on the state of relations with Pakistan, especially following Senator Kerry’s trip. He spoke about a reset in relations with Islamabad. Have we turned the corner in that relationship since the bin Ladin raid? Senator Kerry spoke about a number of steps that he said that Pakistan has pledged to make before you make a trip there. Can you enlighten us into what those are? Just today we’ve seen good and bad steps taken. They’ve pledged to return the helicopter tail, they’ve arrested this al-Qaida leader in Karachi, but at the same time there was this exchange of gunfire on the border. To what extent are those events indicative of the state of relations, and what can you tell us about them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I’ve been in close touch with Senator Kerry before his trip, during his trip, throughout the entire period, and I appreciate very much his delivering to the Pakistanis, in his capacity as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a clear perspective on the concerns of the United States Congress. We are working very hard to have an understanding with our counterparts in Pakistan about the best way forward. Just in the past few days, I have spoken to senior Pakistani leaders, including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gillani, Army Chief of Staff General Kayani. Special Representative Marc Grossman will be in Pakistan later to continue more detailed consultations. And obviously, there are important concerns and many questions that have to be addressed and worked through.
But I would just remind us all that in recent years our cooperation between our governments, our militaries, our law enforcement agencies, has increased pressure on al-Qaida and the Taliban, and we want that progress to continue. Going forward, the United States is committed to supporting the people and the Government of Pakistan as they defend their own democracy from the constant attacks by violent extremists.
I’m not going to comment on any specific issue that Senator Kerry referred to in any of his public remarks, but we’re going to be working very hard in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that we have a path forward that continues the progress and answers a lot of the concerns that both sides have at this point.
MR. TONER: Second question goes to Tim Wilson of TV New Zealand.
QUESTION: Moving to the South Pacific, the – and this is for both of you – the tension between Fiji and Tonga — how concerned are you and what do you make of the possibility that New Zealand may admit the disputed fugitive?
FOREIGN MINISTER MCCULLY: Well – (laughter) – can I say that the developments in the last week have been significant from a number of points of view. To see what was effectively the number three man for the Commodore desert and go to Tonga under those circumstances shows that there are forces at work inside Fiji that we need to understand. Certainly, it’s a sign that the grip on power of the Commodore has weakened somewhat. Colonel Mara is after all the brother-in-law of the president, the son of the first prime minister, and has other connections that are significant. The fact that Tonga has engaged in the way that it has also creates the opportunity for some tension to occur within the region.
We are not getting involved in that process at the moment. We regard this as a bilateral dispute. We are heartened by the fact that there are legal processes currently in play rather than anything less constructive. The fact that there’s an arrest warrant for extradition proceedings and a legal process underway I think has this dispute in this most constructive space that we could expect at the moment. We’ll keep a close watching brief. I was in Tonga myself a few days ago. We’re keeping very close to developments. But it’s just another sign that there are real tensions in play within the regions, real tensions in play inside Fiji.
As to the last part of your question, I think our prime minister yesterday simply signaled that in relation to Colonel Mara, we had not made any decisions about any possibility that he might be given access to New Zealand. We simply think that with a dynamic situation of this sort to rule in or out any options at this stage would be unwise, but it doesn’t indicate that there’s anything in particular on the table.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I couldn’t say it better myself. (Laughter.) And I would only underscore the point that we both made in our discussions: We want to see Fiji return to democracy. There’s been so much progress in the Pacific, and New Zealand’s played a major role in that. New Zealand has provided all kinds of support and assistance over the last years, and we really applaud that. And in fact, we want to work even more closely with New Zealand in order to demonstrate our shared commitment to the kind of opportunities we think should be available to Pacific Islanders.
Thank you all very much.