SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. It is certainly a great pleasure for me to welcome Foreign Minister Carr here to Washington. It is always an incredibly important discussion between ourselves and our Australian friends and allies, and we’ve had a chance to cover a broad range of issues that we have a continuing consultation over. Before I mention those, however, I want to say a few words about Syria and the events of the past few days.
On Saturday, as you know, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to increase tenfold the number of monitors sent to Syria under Kofi Annan’s plan. The onus is now on the regime to meet all of its commitments under that plan, including allowing the UN monitors to fully deploy and move throughout the country without restrictions. Unfortunately, the Assad regime has broken its commitments time and again, so even as we work to help deploy the monitors, we are preparing additional steps in case the violence continues or the monitors are prevented from doing their work.
Yesterday, President Obama announced a powerful new class of sanctions on individuals and companies in Syria, as well as in Iran, that use communications technologies to commit human rights abuses. Both of these steps send a clear signal that the international community will continue to pressure Assad and his regime as long as they insist on slaughtering their own people and denying a political transition.
With respect to today’s meeting with Minister Carr and myself, it represents what is one of the world’s strongest and most productive alliances. For more than 60 years, our relationship has been and remains vital, not only in the Asia-Pacific region but around the world. So it is fitting that we discussed a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. We discussed the steps we are taking together to strengthen our military alliance, which helps underwrite security and stability in the Asia- Pacific.
As Prime Minister Obama and – as President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard announced last year, U.S. Marines will begin rotating through Darwin for joint training and exercises. In fact, the first contingent of 200 Marines arrived earlier this month, and I thanked the minister for the very warm welcome they received. We expect that these exercises will eventually expand to include other friends and partners in the region, which will strengthen our efforts to fight piracy and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through the Asia-Pacific.
We also discussed the ongoing transition in Afghanistan. Australian troops have fought bravely alongside NATO and Afghan forces. Thirty-two Australian soldiers have lost their lives, and on the eve of Anzac Day we honor their memory.
Now while none of us are blind to the real challenges that remain before us, we know we are making tangible progress. Al-Qaida’s leadership is decimated. We have opened the door for Afghan reconciliation, the Afghan people are taking responsibility for their own security, and we continue to meet our milestones for this transition agreed to by our leaders in Lisbon two years ago. But NATO and its partners cannot and will not abandon Afghanistan after 2014. Our ongoing support will be essential to preserving and building on the gains we’ve made thus far.
So to that end, representatives from the United States and Afghanistan have initialed a draft Strategic Partnership Agreement moving us closer to the completion of this process. While there is still some work to be done before our presidents will be able to sign the agreement – including consultations with the Congress – there should be no doubt that the United States will remain a steadfast, long-term partner to the Afghan people as they continue rebuilding their country and fighting violent extremism.
As I said to the foreign minister today, we are hoping that by the NATO summit in Chicago, other partners will also be making their commitments to the future of Afghanistan. The Afghan National Security Force will need some $1.3 billion from the international community to sustain their efforts over the coming year that will be added to the $500 million committed by the Afghans and the commitment that the United States is making.
I welcomed Prime Minister Gillard’s statement last week committing to support the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014, and I look forward to working with Australia and other partners on ways to make sure that any funds are spent transparently and with full accountability.
Finally, we discussed a number of regional issues, including North Korea’s recent missile launch, the encouraging political and economic reforms taking place in Burma. We are both working to try to assist the reform process in Burma. We also discussed ways to better coordinate our engagement in the Pacific Islands as well as upcoming efforts at the ASEAN regional forum in Cambodia.
So Foreign Minister, thank you for making us a stop on your whirlwind global tour, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with you.
FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: Thank you, Secretary of State. And it’s been a great honor for me to visit in this capacity. I’ve long been an admirer of yours and your contribution to public life. I was honored to welcome you to Sydney in 1996 and show you a bit of Sydney Harbour and give a speech of welcome to you and President Clinton. It’s nice to be here in another capacity, nice to be with you in another capacity.
Our relationship – the relationship between us and the United States rests on a broad and enduring community of common values and shared interests. It’s a relationship between two of the oldest democracies in the world. On the Gettysburg battlefield on Sunday with Ambassador Beazley, I was reminded of the soaring words of Lincoln: “Government of the people,” and that’s what unites us. This nation, the United States, conceived a constitution in the 1790s to give effect for that notion of government by the people, and Australians have adhered to democratic values ever since we won self-government in the middle of the 19th century. And that, on the bottom line, is what makes us respond to one another and find one another such comfortable allies.
It was a great pleasure to talk through all these matters of common interest with the Secretary of State today, and she and I would invite your questions.
MS. NULAND: We’ll start today with CNN, Jill Dougherty.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, you mentioned Syria and just before we came up here, the – Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesperson for Kofi Annan, said that they have credible reports that when the monitors go into places and then leave, that the people, the civilians who have approached them, talked with them, or met with them, are having very serious problems, that they’re being harassed, arrested, and possibly even killed. Do you have any indication from U.S. sources that this is the case? If this is the case, what can be done? Because you said, “next steps,” but I think everybody feels at this point, when is enough enough?
And then just another intractable issue that seems to be coming at this – at the same time is Sudan and South Sudan. And you have the steps today, we were talking at the briefing, South Sudan pulls out of Heglig – I think I’m pronouncing it correct, Heglig – and Sudan takes advantage of that. This is another question that begs that when is enough. Or in this case, when – how can you pull these two countries together?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well Jill, first, with respect to Syria, before coming out here I saw the reports from Kofi Annan’s spokesperson, and it is absolutely deplorable if there is this kind of intimidation, harassment, and possible violence against those Syrians who have every right to meet with and discuss the situation with the monitors. That’s what the monitors are there for.
And as I said, Syria is at a crossroads. We supported Kofi Annan’s plan. No one stands to gain if the plan fails. In fact, the only sources – or the only potential gainers would be the enemies of peace and change. So the bulk of the responsibility rests with Assad and with his supporters and his military to demonstrate a commitment to the Annan plan by silencing the guns, making sure that they’re on a path toward the six points that Kofi Annan has set forth, which the Syrians claim they agree with, including a political transition.
So we have continued consulting closely with our friends and allies in the region and beyond about what additional steps could be taken, but we would like to see Kofi Annan’s plan succeed. It clearly cannot succeed unless all Syrians are permitted to take advantage of the presence of the UN monitors as they begin their mission.
So I strongly condemn the reports that we heard earlier today and want to be kept totally informed about what is happening inside Syria, because the entire world is watching. The Syrian Government made a commitment to not only permit the UN monitoring mission to go forward but to work on the Kofi Annan plan, and we expect them to comply.
Regarding Sudan and South Sudan, we are very concerned about what is happening in the region, particularly along the border. We also have spoken out strongly against the bombing of civilians being carried out by the Government of Sudan in South Sudan beyond the border area, most recently in Bentiu. They are – those are provocative and unacceptable actions. South Sudan did withdraw from Heglig. It presented an opportunity for Khartoum to resume negotiations and to make real progress between North and South, and we urge both parties to undertake that as soon as possible.
So what are the next steps? The next steps are a ceasefire, a withdrawal of armed groups from both sides, and a resumption of talks. That’s the message that we, the African Union, and the international community are all conveying to the parties. We have been reaching out continuously to the South. Others have been reaching out to the North. And we understand how difficult the unresolved issues are between Khartoum and Juba. But no matter how difficult the negotiation ahead may be, it is far preferable to war, and we are adamant in calling on both sides to immediately engage in a ceasefire and withdrawal, as the South did from Heglig, and restart those talks.
MS. NULAND: Last one today, Brad Norington from The Australian.*
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, can you tell us your thoughts when you found that your Australian counterpart was suddenly, perhaps inexplicably, no longer Kevin Rudd and someone you had got to know reasonably well, but now, Bob Carr, a former state premier of New South Wales, who had retired from politics?
And Senator Carr, it made headlines internationally and in Australia last week when the Gillard government announced troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2013, a year earlier than previously intended. There are now considerable efforts by the Australian Government to say there’s no change. Could you tell us, what is it? And how did you explain it to Secretary Clinton?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say I am delighted to work with Minister Carr. I very much appreciated the good working relationship that I had with Kevin Rudd. We tackled a number of difficult issues. I’m picking up with Bob Carr right where we left off with Kevin Rudd. The relationship between our two countries is broad and deep and enduring, and each government determines who will fill what position. But it’s not about any individual; it’s about the character of our alliance and the strength of our partnership, and frankly, the friendship that we enjoy with one another.
And as Minister Carr said, I have very fond memories of his welcoming me to Sydney. I have also very great appreciation for his kindness to my daughter when she attended the Olympics. I am partial to political people, and I think those who are retired certainly have a lot still to do in their lives. (Laughter.) And so I would only express the greatest appreciation for the opportunity to continue working closely with my Australian counterpart.
FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: The message I’ve had since I took over as Australian foreign minister barely six weeks ago is one of continuity. I’m continuing the work of Kevin Rudd, and there’s continuity that runs through where years of Australian foreign policy and what we’re about here, working on the Australian-American partnership, is bipartisan consensus in Australia. I’m emphasizing continuity here.
I didn’t have to explain what Prime Minister Gillard said. I’ve got her speech here. And in Brussels last week, as soon as I walked into General Allen’s office, he said, “I’ve read the prime minister’s speech. It was an excellent speech,” and the same with Admiral Stavridis in Brussels. And the Secretary of State was familiar with what the prime minister said. I won’t detain you by reading out the two key pages, but made it very, very clear there is no premature Australian withdrawal, there is a commitment to a process of transition in line with what was agreed on in Lisbon. And that was made perfectly clear by the prime minister. There was confusion in some sections of the media between the notion of transition and withdrawal. The same thing happened to Defense Secretary Panetta earlier this year. But I had no explanation I have to give the Secretary of State because she was familiar with the prime minister’s speech, and understood it perfectly as had everyone else in the U.S. Administration with whom I’ve spoken.
MS. NULAND: Thanks, guys.
FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: Thank you, thank you.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.