SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Sovndal for our first meeting here in Washington in his new role. And it is also clear that for me, even in this age of video conferencing and, obviously, telephone calls, and email, that there’s nothing to replace face-to-face meetings and diplomacy. And so I thank you very much for coming, Minister.
Our friendship between our two countries dates back more than two centuries and we share a common bond that is our fundamental commitment to democracy and human rights. We are working in a number of areas throughout the world to advance our common interests and we will continue to do so. And in fact, we are going to be discussing ways we can even build on our already deep and important work. Let me just mention a few of the issues we discussed.
First, the transition in Afghanistan: I expressed my admiration and appreciation for all that the Danish people have done to support the people of Afghanistan. Danish troops are deployed throughout the country serving shoulder-to-shoulder with American and other allied forces. I know that Danish forces have suffered terrible losses, but I want to express our gratitude for their sacrifice, which is helping to create conditions for a safe and orderly transition to Afghan security lead in Helmand province.
We discussed a number of the issues that are necessary to fulfill the potential of a transition that will help Afghanistan as well as the transformation that needs to continue well beyond 2014. We will be discussing these issues in the lead up to the NATO summit in Chicago next May, and I look forward to working with our Danish partners to shape the agenda for that meeting, as well as other NATO efforts.
I know we can count on Denmark’s continued leadership, especially when it comes to committing long term funding beyond 2014 for Afghanistan. International cooperation has been key to the successes we’ve seen so far, and as we all agreed in Bonn, we need to continue that up through 2014 and beyond.
Now more broadly, stabilizing fragile states is an area where we have an opportunity to expand our work together. Denmark has made its commitment clear by strengthening its stabilization and security departments, and by increasing its support in 2012 for peace and stabilization efforts not only in Afghanistan, but also the Middle East and throughout Africa. At a time when every budget is stretched thin, Minister, that sends an important message. And the State Department recently created a Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and we look forward to working with you and pursuing an agenda to enhance global security and development.
Foreign Minister and I also discussed Denmark’s role as president of the European Union in 2012. We both recognize the need to maintain and intensify our close cooperation on the full range of U.S.-EU issues, including security and development. Naturally, we discussed decisions regarding Europe’s debt crisis. We all have a stake in a speedy resolution. The United States supports efforts to enact pro-growth reforms, and we will continue to support the work being done by our European partners.
And finally, I thanked the foreign minister for Denmark’s effective leadership on Arctic issues. As climate change progresses, the matter of preserving freedom of navigation and other issues in the Arctic will only grow more pressing. Earlier this year, Denmark’s leadership on the Arctic Council resulted in the conclusion of an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first legally binding agreement among the eight Arctic states and observers. This was an important early step and I look forward to collaborating with our Danish colleagues on more issues related to this vital region.
So, Foreign Minister, let me conclude by thanking you and the people of Denmark once more for your invaluable partnership and your leadership on so many issues from counterterrorism to Green Growth. I look forward to many other fruitful discussions and I appreciate your coming at such a busy time to begin that conversation.
FOREIGN MINISTER SOVNDAL: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for your warm welcome, thank you very much for your hospitality. Denmark’s relationship with the EU is of great importance, I think, for both of us. We – it’s very important also for us, first, to have a friendly and also an honest dialogue about two close allies as our countries. We appreciate very much the multilateral approach you have to the global questions. We cooperate in a lot of different areas, as you mentioned. I think it’s very important these years to build up international relation on promoting human rights. There is a fight in a lot of places in the world about that, about democratic values, and rule of law.
As you mentioned, we are going to take the EU presidency. It’s not in the most easy time we have to do that. We’ll do what we can to make a successful presidency. We know that the economic question, the debt crisis of Europe, is playing a big role. Europe is taking steps to try to make answers to the economic challenges we face. One of the important things for the new Danish Government is to increase what we call Green Growth. We think that’s one of the common ways out of this crisis, to be better at green technology.
As mentioned, we also discussed the Arab Spring, its situation with a lot of hope and some concern about the changes taking place. We are very much encouraged by what’s happened in Libya. We’re very much encouraged about the elections taking place in Tunisia. We looked at some concern about Egypt, but we’ll stay there. And I think the important thing is if we are most to hope or most to concern that we stay there not to take over the developments they’re going to make, but to be at their side and help.
We also confirmed today our common work to be done in Afghanistan. We’re going to stay there also after 2014, not in the hard combat mission, but with assistant aid, and we’re also helping financing the Afghan national forces. As you mentioned also, I think we can also help each other trying to stabilize some of the fragile countries. We have a very big interest in doing that when – if we can secure these states.
And just to finish off, we have a common agenda about disarmament. We have a dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. We’d like to work also on that agenda together.
And finally about Arctic, it’s a very – it’s a region which is getting more and more important. And we think it’s a good example also how states with difficult – different interests are able to work together in a way where its international law, its international rules, deciding the way we’re going to handle also difficult questions in the region. So you could say from Arctic to the Arab Spring, it’s a very broad agenda. It’s because we are in a world with a lot of big agendas just now. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: We have time for four today. We will start with ABC, Kirit Radia.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary and Mr. Minister. Two questions, Madam Secretary. The first today being a milestone day in Iraq with the casing of the colors, do you have anything to say about that and some of the concerns that have been raised about the ability of diplomats to get out of the Embassy given these – lack of immunity for contractors?
And the second question I have, Russia has tabled a resolution at the UN today on Syria. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it yet, but there – it does contain some language about how the government has not enacted enough reforms, but it also says that it blames extremist groups in the country for some of the violence. Do you have any comment on that? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with regard to Iraq, as you all know very well, the end of our military mission was recognized yesterday with Secretary Panetta’s visit. Prime Minister Maliki was here in Washington meeting with the President and many others to discuss the way forward. We have renewed our commitment under the Strategic Framework Agreement to work closely with the Iraqis to help them realize their own ambitions for a free and sovereign Iraq. We will continue to support them, and obviously the lead role in that now falls, as it does in our relations with countries all over the world, to the State Department.
We think we are well positioned for the 2012 transition to a civilian-led presence. We have a very robust presence that will demonstrate our commitment across the board in every area under the Strategic Framework Agreement with diplomats, business and development experts, security assistance staff, police trainers, law enforcement officers, and many others from across many civilian agencies within our own government. And we’ve made clear that we will have to be working closely with the Iraqis to ensure the security of our civilians. And we have had very strong commitments from the Iraqis that whatever assistance we need will be forthcoming. I think it’s understood that this is one of the most challenging missions that the State Department has ever led. But we’ve had a great deal of thought given to what needs to be accomplished, and the team, both here in Washington and, even more importantly in Baghdad, Erbil, Kirkuk, and Basra, is very well prepared. So we’re moving forward.
With respect to the point you just made about a Russian draft, I have not seen the draft. I’ve had it just briefly described to me, and there are some issues in it that we would not be able to support. There is, unfortunately, a seeming parity between the government and peaceful protestors and then other Syrians who are trying to defend themselves, but we’re going to study the draft carefully. It will have to be shared with the Arab League, which has taken the lead on the response to what’s going on in Syria. And hopefully, we can work with the Russians, who – for the first time, at least – are recognizing that this is a matter that needs to go to the Security Council. It’s just that we have differences in how they are approaching it. But we hope to be able to work with them.
MS. NULAND: Next question, Stefan Graham, Danish Broadcasting.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, your NATO ambassador recently said that with under investment in NATO over the coming years NATO would be unable to launch any new actions similar to the one we’ve just experienced in Libya. To what extent does under investment in NATO threaten NATO?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, Denmark is planning substantial cuts in defense. How are you able to convince critical allies that we are going to pay our fair share for the future of NATO and to sustain NATO capabilities?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Do you want to start, Minister?
FOREIGN MINISTER SOVNDAL: Shall I start? I think we are in the position like all the European countries are, like U.S. also are, that we don’t have the money we had once, also not the military spending. The former government and the present government is (inaudible) the same goal as how much could be taken out of the military spending and still remain a strong military. We have some structural reforms we can make on Danish military. They have not been published yet.
But I’m sure – to answer your question – that Denmark will be able to do the kind of missions we did like the one in Libya. And if there might be someplace else in the future we have to participate, we are going to participate also on the (inaudible) side of the military mission. That’s one side. The other side of Danish defense policy is to build up fragile states, to be able also to prevent conflicts which might – if not intervening be developing into something where we have to react, military may be too late. So you could say we are trying to walk both on the one leg and also on the other leg. And I think that’s a good way of walking actually. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: We agree. I think you’ve heard not only from our NATO ambassador but also from defense secretaries and others that we do have a concern about the sustainability of our NATO forces and deterrent. It’s something that we have discussed very openly in NATO. We will continue to do so.
We believe that the alliance that has stood the test of time since the end of the Second World War is the premier military alliance in all of history. And there is no indication that it will be less needed in the future. There will be new challenges and threats, but the environment is certainly not one yet that we would like to see, where the collective defense that we’ve all pledged to under NATO will never be needed again.
In addition, the role that NATO has played in Libya most recently, in Afghanistan, has been instrumental to a lot of the values that we share. Denmark alone flew nearly 600 missions and was highly regarded in the professionalism of your military in doing so.
So we will follow closely developments in Europe. The minister is right, that we also have our own budgetary challenges. So we have to get smarter. I mean, let’s be – let’s pursue smart defense. And smart defense, which is a part of smart power, requires us to be looking for ways that we can cooperate more, where we can come up with new approaches to meeting our strategic and tactical requirements. So this will be a subject of a lot of conversation in the upcoming year.
MS. NULAND: Next question, Matt Lee, AP.
QUESTION: Hello. Hi, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello.
QUESTION: I hope I don’t shock you too much, but I actually only have one question.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I can’t believe it.
QUESTION: It’s got two parts, but it’s only – (laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Then I’m not at all shocked. I’m actually reassured.
QUESTION: As you are no doubt aware, Bradley Manning’s trial begins tomorrow. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that, but more broadly what your thoughts are about the impact the WikiLeaks incident, if we can call it that, had and is having, if it is still having any effect or deleterious effect on U.S. diplomacy in a way that foreign policy is conducted.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Matt, I cannot comment on an ongoing legal proceeding, and as you rightly point out, the trial is beginning, and we will, obviously, save any comment while that proceeding is ongoing.
I’ve said numerous times from this podium and in other locations that it was a very unfortunate and damaging actions – action – that were taken that put at risk individuals and relationships to an extent that we took it very seriously and launched a vigorous diplomatic effort to try to counter.
I think that in an age when so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information – which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships – deserves to be protected. And we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.
MS. NULAND: Last question, Jorgen Ullerup, Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, with Denmark’s new socialist government, you found a colleague who has traditionally been very critical of American policies. How do you look at that? And are you the least bit worried that you – America might lose a close ally in the long term?
And to the Danish foreign minister, the United States have stepped up its killing of insurgents with armed drones. Do you think that’s a breach of international law? And if yes, have you brought that up in the conversation today?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that we believe that our relationship with Denmark is strong and enduring, and we respect the right of the people of Denmark to choose their leaders. But we do not believe that that in any way interrupts or undermines the strength of our partnership, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
And I really don’t recognize the gentleman that you’ve just described, because my interactions with the minister have been not only cordial but very constructive. And we each bring to these official positions that we hold our own views. That kind of goes with the territory, having come up through politics in a democracy and having many occasions in the past to express those various opinions. But I think that our meeting today set a very strong base on which we will build, and we’ll look to find ways to work together even beyond what we are already doing.
So it is always, I think, important to, first, recognize that nations’ interests and relationships are of much more historic depth than individuals, perhaps. But I am very much looking forward to working closely with the minister on a range of matters that concern us both.
FOREIGN MINISTER SOVNDAL: And the same from my side. I look very much forward to working with the U.S. Administration. I think you mentioned an American I cannot recognize. That – I mean, I’m not un-Danish when I criticize a government that was before me. It’s, you could say, politics. I am a great (inaudible) of American culture. I think some of us listened in our young days to the same music, all the same films, have been reading the same books, have been a lot of interaction. Some of us have family here. So there’s a lot of relationships. They will continue. They will continue.
And of course, among good friends, you’re always in a situation where there are questions you judge differently. That’s also the case between our governments. But on the very important heavy agendas – Libya, Afghanistan – we work together and we act together. We work very well together, and I assure you that will continue.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. And thank you, Minister. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.
FOREIGN MINISTER SOVNDAL: Thank you very much. And the same to you.