SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, welcome, everyone, and Happy New Year. And it’s especially appropriate that I would start this new year with a meeting between myself and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar. It’s always a great pleasure and an important opportunity for us to get together to discuss the issues that are affecting both of us, and I am delighted that we had this chance to do so.
Qatar is and remains a very valuable American partner. As we look back on the year just finished, I’m not sure there was any one like it. It was an extraordinary time, and during it, our partnership evolved to address new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities, including the unprecedented joint operations with NATO over the skies of Libya.
Today, Sheikh Hamad and I had a productive and wide-ranging discussion about the path forward. We spoke about the importance of helping Libya complete its transition from an armed revolution to a peaceful, unified, and orderly democracy under the rule of law. We discussed Yemen, where Qatar is working as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council to ensure that all parties honor their commitment to take part in a peaceful transition to democracy. We also spoke about the importance of responding to people’s economic needs. So many of these revolutions and uprisings that we have seen were rooted in the economic grievances that people had – not enough jobs, not jobs that paid an adequate wage for a family, too much corruption, and so much else. And we are working together to assist countries to provide more economic change for their people.
And of course, we spoke at length about the troubling events unfolding in Syria. I want to commend Qatar and the prime minister particularly for his personal commitment and leadership to rally the Arab world to end Assad’s assault on his own people. Two weeks ago, Arab League monitors arrived in Syria to judge whether the regime was keeping its promise to end the killings, withdraw its troops, release political prisoners, and follow through on the commitments that it had made.
So far, the regime has not done so. It claims to have released some prisoners, but thousands more are still not free. Dozens more are arrested every day. We’ve seen the Syrian army paint its assault vehicles blue to disguise military forces as police to hide from the world the full extent of its crackdown. Just two days ago, 11 of the international monitors were attacked – two were injured – when their convoy came under assault.
But instead of taking responsibility, what we hear from President Assad in his chillingly cynical speech yesterday was only making excuses, blaming foreign countries, conspiracies so vast that now it includes the Syrian opposition, the international community, all international media outlets, the Arab League itself. And I want to commend the Arab League for showing real leadership. I think that it’s clear to both the prime minister and myself that the monitoring mission should not continue indefinitely. We cannot permit President Assad and his regime to have impunity. Syrians deserve a peaceful transition. We are looking to work with the Arab League when the current monitoring mission expires on January 19th. And we look again to the prime minister for his leadership.
So we talked about many things. Those are some of the highlights. But it’s, again, a pleasure to meet with you and to have this chance to exchange views, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. First of all, Happy New Year to you and to the ladies and gentlemen here. It’s my pleasure to be here again and I think the talks between us is reflecting the relationship, the strength of, and the depth of the relationship between Qatar and United States. Actually, last year was a hard year, and it seems to me this year will be a hard year in our region. As you know, there is a lot of conflicts in our region and a lot of challenges, and that need that we work as an Arab, and I am happy and glad that the Arab League have taken the lead in how to try to find a solution – not always easy, not always successful, but this is – in the history of the Arab League, this is the first time that we are sending a monitor (inaudible) people.
I could not see, up till now, a successful mission, frankly speaking. I hope it will be successful, but 19th, there will be a report, and this report will be very important for us to make the right judgment. We cannot accept to let the situation as it is in Syria and the people killed by their own governments. I think it’s the Arab responsibility, but also it’s an international responsibility in the end. We hope we solve it in – as we say, in the house of the Arabs, but right now the government not helping us. The Syrian Government’s not helping us. The killing still is – daily killing going on.
Of course, there is the Yemen challenge, which we hope that it finish as been planned. And we have the election next month in the 21st of next month. Of course, the situation and the tension in the Gulf is very important, and we’ve been discussing how we can reduce the tension in the Gulf, and respect each country’s and each jurisdiction for each of us in the region.
The other problem, of course, which it’s – also need an attention from all of us is the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. And I think this is a very important issue, which we should find a way, especially this year. We are happy that there is kind of start between the Quartet and the Palestinian and the Israelis, but it have to have a result and the Israeli have to stop the settlements so they can allow these talks take their chances to succeed.
But I really thank you very much, Madam Secretary, for this opportunity, and I think this talk is very important for us and for the region.
MS. NULAND: We have time for two questions today. First one from CNN, Elise Labott.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sheikh Hamad. First, on the Taliban, the Taliban has announced their willingness to open an office in Qatar. Can you talk about the next steps?
And, Madam Secretary, is the U.S. ready to release these Guantanamo detainees in exchange for talks with the Taliban?
And on Iran, we’ve seen a series of provocative moves, including a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. How would you respond to that? Are you discussing alternative oil supplies to countries who rely on Iran?
And Madam Secretary, today Iran accused the United States and Israel of killing one of its nuclear scientists. How do you respond to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me start with the Taliban office, because I want to put this in context of our larger strategy to support a peaceful, stable, increasingly prosperous and democratic Afghanistan. These are goals that both the United States and Qatar share. As I said when I was in the region last fall, our strategy includes three elements: we have to continue fighting against those who take up arms against Afghans, against NATO-ISAF; we have to talk with those willing to talk to seek a peaceful resolution; and we have to continue to try to build Afghanistan for the future.
With respect to the fight, we have supported the Government of Afghanistan now for more than 10 years. And as we move toward full Afghan transition to security, we are standing with the government and the people of Afghanistan to battle those who continue to use violent means against innocent people. And we are absolutely resolved to defend the interests of Afghanistan and the international community.
Now with respect to talking to the Taliban, the reality is we never have the luxury of negotiating for peace with our friends. If you’re sitting across a table discussing a peaceful resolution to a conflict, you are sitting across from people who, by definition, you don’t agree with and who you may previously have been across a battlefield from. So we are prepared to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, and we will participate in that in support of the Afghans if we believe it holds promise for an end to the conflict.
So we have worked to help establish a reconciliation process and real negotiations, and we have been very grateful for the assistance that the Government of Qatar has provided. I think the positive statements last week from both President Karzai and the Taliban demonstrate that there is support for such discussions for the political office to open in Qatar. And – now nothing has been concluded. We are still in the preliminary stages of testing whether this can be successful. And we remain committed to the red lines that we have consistently laid out, namely that both the Afghan Government and the international community must see the insurgents renounce violence, break with al-Qaida, and support the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including protecting the rights of women and minorities.
I have made it clear to President Karzai that we will work with him under his leadership. I’ve asked our Special Representative, Ambassador Marc Grossman, to go to Afghanistan next week to continue our consultations with the Afghans, and also to go to Qatar to continue our consultations with our partners in Qatar.
And I think it’s also important to remember, at the same time we’re doing this, we’re trying to continue to build a better future for the Afghans. That’s the idea behind the vision of a New Silk Road. And we’re looking for a lot of regional partners to assist us in doing that. And we have not made any decisions about releasing any Taliban from Guantanamo.
Let me just continue and then turn it over to Sheikh Hamad, who may have to excuse himself because he’s expected at the White House.
I think it’s important to recognize very clearly that the provocative rhetoric coming out of Iran in the last week has been quite concerning. It has caused us and many of our partners in the region and around the world to reach out to the Iranians to impress upon them the provocative and dangerous nature of the threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. This is an international waterway. The United States and others are committed to keeping it open. It’s part of the lifeline that keeps oil and gas moving around the world. And it’s also important to speak as clearly as we can to the Iranians about the dangers of this kind of provocation.
Having said that, I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran. We believe that there has to be an understanding between Iran, its neighbors, and the international community that finds a way forward for it to end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons, and rejoin the international community and be a productive member of it.
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Well, Iran – I will start from Iran where the Secretary end. Iran is a very important country, very close to us and the border, and we believe that we have to find a way to live together in peaceful way. And for that, I believe that a dialogue is – and political dialogue – is very important to try to sort the problem between Iran and other international communities. But it have to be a serious talk from both sides. It have to be a productive talk with an object how to find a way to get out of this dilemma of the negotiation. But for us, it’s very important that we don’t trigger any tension, military tension, in the region. We are against any military tension. We think that the only best way is, as I mentioned, is to find a serious dialogue, not a dialogue just for a dialogue but a serious dialogue between the parties.
About the office of Taliban, as you know, Qatar is trying to be peaceful messengers or peaceful ambassadors, and we are trying to do this with all our capacity. And that’s part of our policy how to defuse the tension in our region. And Afghanistan is not far from our region, and any opportunity we can help our friends to try to find a mutual ground to start a negotiation and dialogue, we think this is the best opportunity to solve the tension in our region.
As you know, the region passed through a lot of difficulties, a lot of wars. It’s time to find a way to try to solve it. And we really thank Madam Secretary. She is very wise, doing a great job. And I’m not saying this for complimentary, but I think she – we could feel that there is a lot of problem could be solved with his – with her wise policy in the region.
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Sheikh Hamad. And I think —
QUESTION: Time for one more?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have one more, and then I’m going to have let the sheikh go.
MS. NULAND: Last question to Nadia Charters, MBC.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, you talked about the Arab League monitors report. Many expect it to be damning to the Syrian regime. Is the next step the UN Security Council? Will you be able to get a resolution that has teeth more than just rhetoric?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m going to let Sheikh Hamad answer that after it’s translated, because we are certainly supportive of the Arab League leadership.
INTERPRETER: The question in Arabic was: Assad has launched accusations against the Arab League that it is receiving orders and taking directions from foreign parties and outside parties. So how can you answer these attacks or these verbal attacks?
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Shall I answer in Arabic or in English? In Arabic.
That’s – I should say it in English. Yes, you can.
INTERPRETER: Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
INTERPRETER: The foreign minister said in Arabic the following: It is important now not to look at who is launching accusations towards whom. It is important now for President Assad to cooperate with the Arab League mission and to cooperate with the Arab thoughts and ideas in order to find a resolution to this issue. He has said that the Arab League has been a six decades of failure, and there are those who also say that the regime in Syria has been four decades of stuff. Therefore, and this is something that the people of Syria and the Arab people will be judging or will judge, whether the successes and the failures.
What is most important now, it’s to stop the killing, to remove all armed presence from the streets, to release all detainees and prisoners, and to provide security for the media. And until now, we have not seen that this has been fulfilled and implemented according to the protocol that was put in place for that. We will have a meeting with the mission, with the Arab League mission, of the observers mission, on the 19th or the 20th of this month, and we will look into the assessment and assessment report that this mission will bring. And we will see whether there will be ways or venues for cooperation and how we will deal forward with that problem. However, what is now obvious today is that attacks are still ongoing and it seems that the Government of Syria is still not ready to change its course.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Thank you very much.