Ambassador Johnson’s remarks at the Closing Plenary of the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Other Business at the Closing of the Plenary Session)
The United States for several years has used this agenda item to follow up on the recommendations made by the fact-finding mission resulting from the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism. In April, the Moscow Mechanism was invoked concerning Belarus. Fourteen participating States took this unusual step due to the crackdown by the Lukashenka government following the election in Belarus on December 19, 2010.
We regret the Belarusian authorities’ refusal to comply with that country’s commitments by placing obstacles to implementation of the Moscow Mechanism. Notwithstanding this unwillingness to cooperate, sole rapporteur Professor Decaux, who ultimately constituted the OSCE’s fact-finding mission, was able to meet formally and informally with OSCE institutions and numerous diplomats and members of civil society, including representatives of NGOs from Belarus. His comprehensive report illustrates the seriousness, duration and scale of gross and systematic human rights violations that have taken place since December 19, 2010.
In particular, the report documents the non-compliance of the Lukashenka government—from the December 19 elections until early May—with Belarus’s OSCE commitments in the following areas: the conduct of the December 19th elections; harassment of candidates and their relatives since the election; restrictions on freedom of association, including registration requirements for political parties, NGOs and trade unions; restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including arrests and detentions of those exercising their right to freedom of opinion as well as harassment, arrests and detention of journalists as well as searches of their homes and offices; restrictions on the freedom of movement, right to peaceful assembly, and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, including torture and ill treatment, and the right to a fair trial and the independence of lawyers. The government of Belarus must address the serious concerns raised in Professor Decaux’s report, and we urge the authorities to implement the recommendations.
We continue to be concerned about the situation in Turkmenistan. It has shown little progress since the Moscow Mechanism was invoked in 2003. Basic human rights and fundamental freedoms remain severely restricted. Turkmenistan remains the only OSCE participating State that officially has a one-party political system. There is virtually no space for civil society to operate. All media is tightly controlled by the government, and the Internet is censored and monitored. According to Reporters without Borders, journalists often were “summoned for questioning, threatened with prosecution, and fired from their jobs, while relatives are also exposed to the possibility of reprisals.”
We have commended Turkmenistan’s registration of the Catholic Church in 2010. However, there continue to be significant restrictions on freedom of religion. Several religious groups remain unable to register, and the government has placed restrictions on registered groups’ ability to own property and print or import religious materials. Current law prohibits foreign missionary activity and foreign religious organizations, and the private publication of religious literature. Freedom of movement also continues to be restricted.
We remain concerned about the lack of access to persons in prison, including political prisoners. Last fall, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly released its opinion that the arrest and continued detention of journalists Annakurban Amanklichev and Sapardurdy Hajiyev violates international law, and that they should be released immediately. We have received no information about former civil activist Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, who was arrested in June 2008 after returning to the country from Norway, where he had received asylum. One very concrete step Turkmenistan could take that would be a clear signal of the government’s intention to move forward with reform would be to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other independent observers’ access to prisons. Finally, as we have for the past seven years, we again request information about, and access to our former OSCE colleague, Batyr Berdiev. I last saw him in Vienna when the Austrian Foreign Minister honored him before his return to Ashgabat to take up his post as Foreign Minister in Turkmenistan. Many of us who have sat at this table have called him a friend. This organization bears a special burden to press for information about him, and access to him, since not so long ago, he was one of us.
The invocation of the Moscow mechanism remains an extraordinary measure, the use of which demonstrates extraordinary concern by a group of participating States for the situation in one of our countries. Belarus and Turkmenistan should follow-up on the recommendations made through this mechanism, and demonstrate their respect for their OSCE commitments, and, indeed, the OSCE process.
Remarks delivered under Item 4: Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Report on Belarus
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States thanks High Commissioner Pillay for her oral report on the grave human rights situation in Belarus. We are deeply disappointed the Government of Belarus has failed to take steps to meet its human rights obligations since the Council’s last session. The government continues to routinely suppress freedoms of expression and of assembly and association. It has ignored the resolution this Council adopted in June, just as it has ignored similar resolutions by other international bodies including the Council of Europe.
The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated sharply since the December 2010 elections, which failed to meet international standards. The government initiated a wide-ranging crackdown against the political opposition, civil society activists, independent unions and media during the post-election period. Security forces detained hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. Authorities harassed and raided the offices of dozens of nongovernmental groups, seizing documents and equipment. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, politically motivated trials, and long prison sentences for many of the country’s most prominent opposition figures and civil society leaders became the norm. These abuses have continued unabated ever since.
To protest this turn of events, some Belarusian citizens decided to stand silently – to say nothing publicly; others decided to stand in parks and clap their hands. These citizens have also been arrested. In Belarus, citizens are arrested and deprived of their liberty for standing silently or clapping their hands.
The United States considers those arrested on politically motivated charges during and after the December 2010 crackdown to be political prisoners; we call for their immediate and unconditional release. We further call upon the Belarusian government to stop harassing civil society, independent media and the political opposition, and to open space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, and greater media freedom.
The United States is firmly committed to supporting the democratic aspirations and universal human rights of the Belarusian people. We urge the Government of Belarus to end its self-imposed isolation and to respect, protect, and uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this important subject, Madame President.
В ответ на выражения озабоченности со стороны моих белорусских коллег в связи с конкретными решениями о санкциях, объявленными моим правительством нынешним летом, следует отметить, что Соединенные Штаты в своих отношениях с Беларусью неуклонно проводят ясную и последовательную политику. Повышенное уважение к демократии и правам человека является главным условием улучшения двусторонних отношений. Мы, так же, как многие другие, надеялись, что президентские выборы в Беларуси в декабре 2010 года будут соответствовать международным стандартам.
К сожалению, как было отмечено в докладе БДИПЧ, выборы не были проведены на уровне международных стандартов. Немедленно вслед за этими выборами, прошедшими с нарушениями, правительство Беларуси развязало широкую кампанию репрессий с арестами, судебными процессами и тюремными приговорами в отношении участников мирных акций протеста, состоявшихся после выборов. Как Соединенные Штаты, так и Европейский союз считают арестованных политическими заключенными.
Мне также хотелось бы процитировать доклад, подготовленный докладчиком ОБСЕ по Беларуси, который независимым образом установил, что события, развернувшиеся после декабрьских выборов, указывают на “серьезность, длительность и масштаб грубых и систематических нарушений прав человека… Под некоторыми юридическими завесами нет ни независимого правосудия, ни законности”.
По следам этих событий Соединенные Штаты и Европейский союз ввели в январе ограничения на поездки, заморозили активы и наложили санкции на белорусских должностных лиц и организаций. Продолжающиеся репрессии и лишение свободы политических заключенных побудили Соединенные Штаты в августе ввести дополнительные санкции, как отметили мои белорусские коллеги.
Политика Соединенных Штатов по сей день остается незыблемой: мы возобновляем наш призыв к немедленному и безусловному освобождению всех политических заключенных. 1 декабря белорусское правительство признало в Астане, что повышенное уважение к демократии и правам человека является залогом прогресса страны и ее граждан.
Мои белорусские коллеги сослались на ряд международных документов, в том числе на Хельсинкский Заключительный акт и его отношение к реализации государствами своих суверенных прав. Хочу напомнить всем присутствующим, что наши лидеры в Астане категорически и безоговорочно подтвердили обязательства всех государств-участников в области человеческого измерения, которые требуют от них проявления прямой и законной озабоченности в отношении всех вопросов, не входящих в сферу их внутренних дел.
Мы призываем правительство Беларуси выйти из добровольной изоляции и соблюдать права человека и основные свободы всех своих граждан.
Благодарю вас, господин председатель.
In response to the concerns raised by my Belarusian colleague in connection with the specific sanctions decisions my government announced over the summer, the United States has consistently maintained a clear and consistent policy in our relationship with Belarus. Enhanced respect for democracy and human rights are central to improving bilateral relations. We, along with many others, had hoped that the December 2010 presidential elections in Belarus would meet international standards.
Unfortunately, as ODIHR noted in its report, the elections failed to meet international standards. Immediately following the flawed elections, the Government of Belarus conducted a large-scale crackdown that included arrests, trials and prison sentences for individuals who participated in peaceful post-election protests. Both the United States and the European Union consider those arrested to be political prisoners.
I would also cite the report of the OSCE Rapporteur on Belarus, who independently found that the events since the December elections indicate the “seriousness, duration and scale of gross and systematic human rights violations… Beneath some legal niceties, there is neither independent justice, nor rule of law in Belarus.”
Those events led to the imposition in January of U.S. and European Union travel restrictions, asset freezes and sanctions against Belarusian officials and entities. The continuing crackdown and incarceration of political prisoners led the United States to impose additional sanctions in August as my Belarusian colleague has pointed out.
U.S. policy remains firm today: we reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. On December 1st in Astana, the Government of Belarus acknowledged that enhanced respect for democracy and human rights are essential to the progress of the country and its citizens.
My Belarusian colleague made reference to a number of international instruments including the Helsinki Final Act and its relationship to the exercise of sovereign rights of states. I remind all of us here that our leaders in Astana “categorically and irrevocably reaffirmed” that the Human Dimension commitments “are of direct and legitimate concern of all participating States and do not belong to the internal affairs to the State concerned.”
We urge the Government of Belarus to end its self-imposed isolation and uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Today, the United States imposed additional, new economic sanctions against four major Belarusian state-owned enterprises: the Belshina tire factory; Grodno Azot, which manufactures fertilizer; Grodno Khimvolokno, a fiber manufacturer; and Naftan, a major oil refinery. These four entities have been determined to be owned or controlled by the Belneftekhim conglomerate, an entity already designated under Executive Order 13405. The intent to levy additional sanctions was announced by President Obama on May 27 to respond to the continued incarceration of political prisoners and crackdown on political activists, journalists and civil society representatives. The new sanctions augment the travel restrictions, asset freezes and sanctions announced on January 31. These measures target those responsible for the repression in Belarus following the December 19 presidential elections.
The United States, in concert with our European partners, will continue to monitor developments in Belarus and to take measures to hold accountable those responsible for the repression of fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. These U.S. actions are not directed at the people of Belarus. An integral component of U.S. policy has been to increase support for the people of Belarus as they seek to build a modern, democratic and prosperous society. We reiterate our call on the Government of Belarus to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners.
The notification of these sanctions by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is located at: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20110811.aspx.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In addition to subscribing fully to the statement read on behalf of the 14 invoking states, I would like to add the following:
We join in welcoming Professor Decaux to the Permanent Council as the OSCE Rapporteur for the Moscow Mechanism. We thank him for his comprehensive report documenting his fact-finding mission.
Like others at this table, the United States remains deeply concerned by the events that have taken place in Belarus since December 19, 2010.
The Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur’s report contains a number of constructive recommendations that can help Belarus better fulfill its OSCE commitments.
The OSCE and the international community should focus on the concerns raised in the report. To do so requires that we all remain engaged with the people of Belarus.
Mr. Chairman, the United States would be pleased to see closer cooperation between Belarus and the OSCE on a wide range of issues.
The government of Belarus has, on repeated occasions, declared its willingness to cooperate with the OSCE. The Belarus delegation here has repeatedly promised to present a proposed program of cooperation.
Yet, the mandate for the OSCE Office in Minsk was not extended. The Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, has not been allowed to visit Belarus since the events of December 19. Likewise, a fact-finding mission by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Working Group on Belarus was rejected and the Chair of the OSCE PA Working Group was denied a visa to observe the trials of the political prisoners. While the presence of a limited ODIHR trial monitoring team is welcomed, we believe a more meaningful OSCE presence in Belarus is needed.
Furthermore, human rights defenders from Russia and Ukraine attempting to monitor, report, and advise the Government of Belarus on the human rights situation have been targeted for expulsion or banned from reentering Belarus. Mr. Lukashenka has called for the expulsion of foreign media from Belarus, and at least one journalist from Russia has been expelled.
U.S. policy remains clear. We urge the Government of Belarus to study closely the Rapporteur’s recommendations. The OSCE, its institutions, and the international community at large are standing by to help the people of Belarus. As the Rapporteur’s report recommends, Belarus should fully implement its international commitments. Special attention should be paid to its commitments to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including media freedom, prohibiting torture, and upholding the rule of law.
Likewise, Belarus should cooperate with the OSCE on legal and judicial review. This should include review of the trials related to the events of December 19, which my government has consistently condemned. As we have said, their results should be reversed and the government should develop a judicial system based on international standards of due process.
Mr. Chairman, we once again call on the Government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and cease continuing human rights violations against critics of the government, who remain at risk of harassment and arbitrary arrest.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO THE ACTIONS AND POLICIES OF CERTAIN MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS AND OTHER PERSONS TO UNDERMINE BELARUS DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES OR INSTITUTIONS
On June 16, 2006, by Executive Order 13405, the President declared a national emergency and ordered related measures blocking the property of certain persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Belarus, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706). The President took this action to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus democratic processes or institutions; to commit human rights abuses related to political repression, including detentions and disappearances; and to engage in public corruption, including by diverting or misusing Belarusian public assets or by misusing public authority.
The flawed December 2010 Presidential election in Belarus and its aftermath — the harsh violence against peaceful demonstrators; the continuing detention, prosecution, and imprisonment of opposition Presidential candidates and others; and the continuing repression of independent media and civil society activists — all show that the Government of Belarus has taken steps backward in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights.
The actions and policies of the Government of Belarus and other persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Accordingly, the national emergency declared on June 16, 2006, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond June 16, 2011. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13405.
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 14, 2011.
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency and related measures blocking the property of certain persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Belarus are to continue in effect beyond June 16, 2011.
The flawed December 2010 Presidential election in Belarus and its aftermath — the harsh violence against peaceful demonstrators; the continuing detention, prosecution, and imprisonment of opposition Presidential candidates and others; and the continuing repression of independent media and civil society activists — all show that the Government of Belarus has taken steps backward in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights. The actions and policies of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus democratic processes or institutions, to commit human rights abuses related to political repression, and to engage in public corruption pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared to deal with this threat and the related measures blocking the property of certain persons.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 14, 2011.
I would like to call the attention of participating States to the statement made by President Obama on May 27 condemning the conviction and sentencing of opposition presidential candidates Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, Andrey Sannikau, Vital Rymasheuski, Mikalay Statkevich, and Dzmitry Us in Belarus. The statement was distributed as SEC.DEL/209/11 on May 31.
The United States considers these candidates and the other courageous activists and candidates arrested and charged in conjunction with the crackdown on December 19 as political prisoners. In a major step backward for democracy in Belarus, their trials were clearly politically motivated and failed to meet even the most minimal standards required of a fair and independent judiciary. We welcome the broad international consensus condemning the actions of Aleksandr Lukashenka and the Government of Belarus in this matter.
Consistent with our values and principles, the U.S. Government will pursue new sanctions against select Belarusian state-owned enterprises, in addition to the sanctions, travel restrictions, and asset freezes announced on January 31. These measures are targeted against those responsible for the repression, particularly Mr. Lukashenka, and are not directed against the people of Belarus. We are coordinating with other concerned governments to ensure that through the implementation of a flexible international sanctions regime we hold accountable those Belarusian officials responsible for these repressive actions. We have also increased our assistance in support of democratic reform in Belarus. We join the European Union and our other allies and partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic and prosperous society within Europe.
We once again call on the Government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and cease continuing human rights violations against critics of the government, who remain at risk of harassment and arbitrary arrest.
Thank you, Chair.
Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Tusk of Poland in Joint Press Conference in Warsaw, Poland
PRIME MINISTER TUSK: (As translated.) Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, before the visit of President Barack Obama, I learned that Ralph Waldo Emerson was your favorite American thinker. And certainly at the time I tried to search for some association, some quotations, some connections. And out of all these ideas, the one that talks about enthusiasm — that nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm — it seems to be especially fit for our way of understanding the world.
When I was thinking about our understanding of the world, I’m thinking about both of us as people, but first of all, about our nations and about our states. I want to tell you that Poland today is the place where we have lots of enthusiasm. We have gone through the previous years, the difficult, critical years, also in the global dimension, with a faith in our own power, our strength. And it’s faith and enthusiasm that allow us to overcome the difficulties. It is also the effect of our cooperation.
You Americans have invested in Poland. But you have invested also in the whole region and with lots of your enthusiasm. Some money, too, some other types of assistance habitually works. But just as enthusiasm was needed to create the great Solidarity movement in Poland, it was also needed when, except for enthusiasm and freedom, we had nothing else in 1989. But people with enthusiasm and freedom are enough when you have friends. You have invested in the region and it works.
We talked, amongst others, about Enterprise Fund that was so good for jobs in Poland. But that investment was actually the investment in freedom and the related prosperity for 100 million people — because today we are speaking about Eastern partnership, we are speaking about our cooperation that could help those nations and those people in the region that are waiting for their chance, their opportunity and their freedom.
Mr. President, I want to say what we say in Poland quite often: It works. When friends are ready to help, when people have enthusiasm, and when there is freedom, then it really works.
And the fact that Poles today can speak with so much pride about ourselves on the eve of the presidency in the European Union, that we were also able to show to Europe how to manage — how to operate also under the conditions of the financial crisis, it was possible, amongst others, thanks to the fact that we together have invested in our future with so much of American and Polish enthusiasm.
I want to tell you — and this is what we declared during our conversation — that our experience, the certainty that it worked, can be translated and we can translate this, and we do this when we think about those nations whose leaders you met yesterday — but also those who are waiting for freedom and democracy for even longer. I am speaking here about the region of North Africa and some of the countries of the Middle East.
So I’m really very happy that together we were able to accept this ambitious project so that the experience resulting from Enterprise Fund and other experiences that Poles and Americans could implement together give to those who are waiting for such assistance.
I also would like to thank you very much for understanding and your kind approach to the idea of another stage of this cooperation, which is an innovation fund. And this is the idea which came into being during our conversation. Both of us think that there will be the follow-up of this innovation fund, which here in Poland will also result in the form of modernity, new technologies and human intellectual capital.
We have been already operating in this area. We have been spending dozens of millions of zloty for education of the most skillful managers at American universities, people of technical skills, engineers. And I think that it will also bring results for the future.
We have confirmed our solidarity also in the context of our joint operations in the most difficult places of the world. We spoke about Afghanistan. For Polish security, that’s important that the memorandum on the presence of the American air detachment in Poland systematically, gradually is becoming a fact of life. And I would like to thank you very much for your readiness to finalize the project.
And shale gas — well, for obvious reason, it was a subject of important talks — and nuclear power. We agreed with President Obama that these undertakings are really an excellent area for Polish-American cooperation. And I am sure that it will bring good results. To the Polish people, American people, it will be both joint business and joint common energy security. And it will also be of use to a united Europe, this cooperation that will also give to Europe more stability in terms of energy.
I would like to thank you once again, Mr. President, for your visit is another help because your enthusiasm and your ability in the future is proverbial in the world, and we feel in Poland that you are one of us, thanks to the fact that we believe very strongly in our own strength and our future.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Once again, I just want to thank you and the people of Poland for the extraordinary welcome that I’ve received since I arrived. And I have to tell you that my wife Michelle and the girls very much want to come back, because I’ve told them on the phone what a extraordinary country this is.
And you’re right, in some ways I am part of Poland because I come from Chicago, and if you live in Chicago and you haven’t become a little bit Polish, then something’s wrong with you.
You know, Poland is one of our strongest and closest allies in the world — and is a leader in a Europe. And I believe that Poland’s story demonstrates how a proud and determined and enthusiastic people can overcome extraordinary challenges and build a democracy that represents the great strength and character of this nation, while now serving as an example for Europe and the world.
During our conversations, we reaffirmed the strength of our alliance. Our alliance is rooted in shared history, shared values, deep ties among our people. Our alliance is cemented through NATO and the ironclad commitment that Article 5 of NATO represents.
Of course, our alliance is also rooted in shared interests, and we, during our lunch, reviewed a wide range of issues. I want to congratulate Poland on behalf of the United States for reaching the incredible milestone of assuming the presidency of the European Union. This is Poland’s first opportunity to take on this leadership role since joining the EU. And it speaks to the incredible progress that Poland has made both politically and economically during this period of time. And we look forward to working closely with Poland as it assumes these new responsibilities.
Along those lines, we are interested and excited about Poland’s plans for the Eastern partnership as a priority of its EU presidency. And I understand that it will host a summit this fall to raise awareness and support for Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. And the dinner that I had yesterday was an indication of Poland’s leadership in helping to shape a vision for the region that continues down a path that offers more opportunity and more prosperity to people. And obviously one of the important roles that Poland can play is not just as a promoter of ideas but as a living example of what is possible when countries take reform seriously.
We’re also aiming to expand our bilateral economic relationship with Poland, as the Prime Minister mentioned. Poland’s economy was the only economy in the EU not to fall into recession during the economic crisis, and has enormous potential for economic growth. So far, as a consequence, this fall we will hold a high-level U.S.-Poland business roundtable, which brings together private and public sector leaders to identify and promote new opportunities to boost economic growth. And the idea that was raised by the Prime Minister about a potential innovation fund that is a part of this fall summit I think is an excellent idea, and so we’re going to pursue that actively.
We also discussed the potential for us to cooperate on a wide range of clean energy initiatives, including how we can, in an environmentally sound way, develop natural gas in both the United States and Poland and how we can cooperate on the technology and science around that.
The United States is also fully committed to supporting safe nuclear power generation in Poland, and we’re prepared to offer our expertise of the largest and safest nuclear power industry in the world.
And finally we discussed the issue of how jointly we can promote democracy. The session that I had this morning with democracy promotion experts, including many of the founders of Solidarity, who recently traveled to Tunisia to share their advice and assistance, is just a symbol of why Poland is so important. It has gone through what many countries want to now go through, and has done so successfully. And so the United States wants to work with Poland, and we welcome their leadership in reaching out to North Africa and the Middle East.
At the same time, as Prime Minister Tusk mentioned, here in this neighborhood we still have challenges. We discussed in particular the unacceptable situation in Belarus. President Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law, and the human rights of his own people. And his brutal crackdown included the conviction and sentencing of presidential candidates who challenged him in the presidential election, and the repression and imprisonment of members of the free press, including one of the Polish press.
So since this crackdown has begun, Poland and the United States have coordinated closely on Belarus, both bilaterally and through the EU. We appreciate Poland’s leadership on this issue, including the strong support of Belarusian civil society and the generosity to its people. We are looking forward to strong cooperation on this front.
Last point I guess I would make, we discussed our respective relationships with Russia. And I am a strong believer that the reset between the United States and Russia has benefitted this region, as well as the United States and Russia, because it’s reduced tensions and has, I think, facilitated genuine dialogue about how each country can move forward.
We very much appreciate Poland’s pragmatic approach to their relationship with Russia. I applaud the Prime Minister for his determination to continue these efforts, even if it is not always the most politically popular thing to do.
We both believe that we cannot compromise on our most cherished principles and ideals, but we should also seek to cooperate where we can — for example, in areas like counterterrorism, counternarcotics, the spread of nuclear weapons and materials, and the support of our joint operations in Afghanistan.
So this has been an excellent visit. It’s fitting that I conclude my trip here in Poland. At each stop I’ve affirmed the fact that America’s transatlantic alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the world. It’s indispensable to the peace and prosperity of the world. It helps to uphold the principles of rule of law and individual liberty around the world. And I think that Poland is a leader on all these issues.
So, congratulations, Mr. Prime Minister, for your outstanding leadership. And to the Polish people, thank you so much for your incredible hospitality.
PRIME MINISTER TUSK: Thank you very much.
And now I would like to ask — get a question from the Polish Press Agency.
Q Good afternoon. We know that the American administration plans to liberalize the visa system for the Polish people. What are the ideas? When can they come into force? In other words, when will the people of Poland will be able to do shopping at Fifth Avenue in New York?
And my second question is how do you see the cooperation in the area of energy security between Poland and America, and between America and the European Union? And my third, last question is did you talk about political repressions in Belarus, and as far as the arrest of journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza, Andrezej Poczobut?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I’m going to try to remember all those questions. (Laughter.)
With respect to the visa issue, this is a topic that was brought up by your President when he visited the White House. And I promised at that time that we would begin to try to find a solution.
The problem has to do with the existing law that had a very specific criteria for who gets the waiver visa system, and that criteria was based on the rejection rate of visas. Poland didn’t qualify under that law and I could not simply waive the law. But what I’ve now done is put my support behind legislation in Congress that would change the criteria so that we’re looking at the overstay rate of visas, and our expectation is, is that by this change in the law, we can be in a position to resolve this issue in a way that is satisfactory to Poland, but also meets the security concerns of the United States.
We very much want you to shop on Fifth Avenue and anywhere else in the United States. (Laughter.)
With respect to — see, I’ve already forgotten the other questions. (Laughter.) It was Belarus, energy –
Q Yes –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: As I mentioned earlier, we had an extensive discussion about both shale gas and nuclear power. I think Prime Minister Tusk and I both believe that it is important for us to diversify our energy sources. The United States doesn’t want to be energy-independent [sic] on anybody. And Poland doesn’t want to be energy-dependent on anybody. And what that means is that there has to be a broad set of energy approaches.
Shale gas is an opportunity; it has to be developed in an environmentally secure and sensitive way. We believe that there is the capacity technologically to extract that gas in a way that is entirely safe, and what we want to do is to be able to share our expertise and technology with Poland in a fully transparent and accountable way — because we think that consumers, environmentalists, everybody should be able to look at the data and say this is something that can actually work.
With respect to nuclear power, similarly, we have to do it in a way that is safe and secure. Obviously, all of us are mindful of what happened in Japan. And we have a great track record and enormous expertise in the United States of developing nuclear power in a way that is safe and secure. And we are happy to consult with the Polish government, and have our companies consult with the Polish government, in terms of how to approach that.
That does not eliminate the need for us in both countries and all around the world to continue to develop other clean energy sources like solar, like wind, biomass. And we are putting a lot of basic research dollars into this clean energy space because we think it’s going to be important not only for our individual countries but for dealing with greenhouse gases and climate change.
And the final point, with respect to Belarus, we had, as I indicated, a very extensive conversation. I am familiar with the case of the journalist that you just mentioned, and we agreed that we have to apply as much pressure as we can on Belarus to change its practices. And that’s going to require close coordination between the United States and Poland, but also between the United States and all of Europe. And I think Poland is uniquely situated during its presidency to be able to show extraordinary leadership on this issue.
PRIME MINISTER TUSK: One sentence only for me to refer to the three issues raised by you. As far as the last one is concerned, I stated with satisfaction that our views we are one hundred percent aligned. There is no future for such dictatorships as the one which is represented today by Lukashenko in Belarus.
Both the United States and Poland will be ambitiously setting forth — the conduct for the international community so that the Belarusian people do not have to pay too high a price and for too long a period. I also informed President Obama about our interpretation of the events in the Belarusian economy.
Talking about the arrests of the regime, including our journalists — whether your journalists or our journalists — and your colleague, Mr. Poczobuta — already President Komorowski and myself, too, both informed President Obama about this particularly Polish problem.
Talking about the visa waiver and Fifth Avenue, what is, and what should be important in Poland is that more and more Polish people make enough money to be able to afford shopping on Fifth Avenue. And that means that it is in the interest of the United States to make sure that as many Polish people as possible could get to not just the shops on Fifth Avenue, but all over the United States, in the easiest possible way. Because this is bad business for both parties.
I want to already say, Mr. President, that there are many other places in the world where you can buy things and where you can spend your money, so I’m really very glad that there are very clear signs and your personal engagement, Mr. President, in this will most probably also let American people to make more money on Polish tourists and Polish buyers.
Talking about national security, this is a breakthrough moment. And I’m not talking about our conversation here, but it is simply that reconfirmation of the fact that we are approaching, or that we are participants of the energetic breakthrough. It’s literally joking anymore, or kidding — we are speaking about technological cooperation. We are talking about joint investments. And we are talking about political cooperation of the two nations, out of which one is an absolute leader in the area of technology, and the other one, Poland, turned out to be one of the leaders in terms of deposits, resources.
That is why it was with a great satisfaction that I received the words of the United States that in the United States, people think very seriously about cooperation. We want to combine our ideas about innovative cooperation and technological cooperation with the sectors that will be cooperating in real terms with each other. It’s mainly about power sector.
And we also want to reconfirm the full will of the Polish party to be fully open in the area of nuclear power. American people will be a very valuable partner to us as a country, which is really experienced and with goodwill.
MR. CARNEY: For the American press corps, Scott Horsley of National Public Radio.
Q Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell me if Poland today feels reassured about the U.S. commitment to Poland’s security, and if coming into this meeting you felt that reassurance was required?
And, Mr. President, you’ve talked a lot this week about inspiration — inspiration in Northern Ireland for the Middle East peace process; inspiration in Eastern Europe for the Arab Spring. I wonder if you take home with you also some cautionary lessons about the challenges in the experience here and in Northern Ireland, and what you can do as President to maintain that Emersonian enthusiasm at a time of fiscal austerity in the U.S. and Europe?
PRIME MINISTER TUSK: Well, these were my first words during the meeting with President Obama. I spoke about the security of Poland. The security of Poland has different dimensions. People every day feel safer and more secure if they do not have to pay too high prices. This dimension of security will be achieved by us when we have energy independence and when both of us act effectively for stability and peace in different regions of the world.
Risk, danger, high living costs — they are born or conflicts are born, while speculation feeds on unrest and war. And that’s why this dimension of security of both Poland and the United States requires our cooperation so that we could stabilize the situation in the world, especially in the regions which are really very much suffering from the conflicts.
Talking about the direct security of Poland, I have to tell you that it is a very important sign for us to reach an agreement which will be finalized by the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the memorandum that in the future will mean the presence of American troops on the Polish soil. The order of magnitude is not really large, but the gesture is very significant.
Secondly, we spoke about the future of the installation, the so-called missile defense. (Inaudible) — informed also public opinion in — well, in Poland long time ago. And I want to stress very strongly that the words that I heard from him today give us the sense that together we work also for the sake — for the purpose of Polish security. These words, that NATO is to defend NATO, these words are very much binding, binding for all the members of NATO. And I also wanted to thank for these words.
Definitely after this meeting, with absolutely pure conscience I can tell you that our cooperation with the United States, both bilaterally and within NATO, leads to the fact that every year Poland becomes a country which is more and more secure. And our political cooperation, as was mentioned by President Obama, leads to the point when perhaps never in the future we will have to use arms in this part of Europe.
Both of us focused very much on political methods of conflict resolution and solving threats, and I believe that this is the best way to guarantee security to Poland. But, you know, you have to be cautious and you have to be ensured. That is why we always speak also about the military aspects of security.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Just a point about security. As I said, Poland is one of our closest and strongest allies. That’s been demonstrated time and again. Really what we did here today was simply to reconfirm what Prime Minister Tusk and I have discussed before, which is that NATO is the strongest alliance in history, primarily because it has a very simple principle, and that is we defend each other. That’s what Article 5 is all about.
And when I came into office I indicated to all the NATO members that there’s no such thing as a new NATO member or an old NATO member; there are just NATO members. And everybody is the same and everybody has the same rights and the same responsibilities. And as a consequence, one of the things that I initiated was making sure that we have actual contingency plans for each country, including those in Eastern Europe and Central Europe that obviously are coming out of a fairly recent and difficult history of security issues.
Now, as the Prime Minister mentioned, that evolution of our security relationship continues to evolve. The aviation detachment that is being finalized will be significant, and we’re proud that we’ve gotten that completed. Our missile defense plans that we have laid out that involve Poland will allow us to deal with shared threats. And what we want to do is to create an environment in this region in which peace and security are a given. That’s not just good for this region; it is good for the United States of America. And we will always be there for Poland.
Now, I wasn’t sure, because it was such a clever question, what exactly cautionary notes you wanted me to address. Were you referring to cautionary notes about what’s happening around the world? Were you talking about cautionary notes and any reflections I have about what’s taking place back home? So I want to make sure I answer your question.
Q The endpoint in Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe is a happy endpoint, but in terms of the process, the length of time, the obstacles, the challenges, the patience that was required — if there’s something you learned on this trip that you take home that maybe gives you some thoughts about how you will approach that as President, and maintain the interest in a country where our attention spans are short and our resources are limited.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it’s an excellent question, and this has been something that I’ve been reflecting on throughout this trip.
Keep in mind what the purpose of this trip was, from my perspective. In addition to reestablishing a wonderful conversation with strong friends and allies, I wanted to make sure that everybody in our country, but everybody around the world, understands that the transatlantic alliance remains a cornerstone, a foundation stone for American security.
We share ideals. We share values. And we have taken on consistently leadership on some of the toughest challenges that face the world. And part of that leadership has always been the promotion of freedom and democracy in different regions.
I was struck by something that the president of the Senate or the head of the Senate here in Poland mentioned during our democracy forum, that he had lived through three waves of revolutionary transformation in his lifetime. He saw the shift from military rule to democracy in Latin America. He saw those changes then take place with incredible speed when the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was pulled asunder. And now he’s seeing what’s happening in North Africa the Middle East.
And in each of these cases, what you have is a process that’s not always smooth. There are going to be twists and turns. There are going to be occasions where you take one step forward and two steps back — sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back.
What’s required I think is, number one, understanding that you have to institutionalize this transformation. It’s not enough just to have the energy — the initial thrust of those young people in Tahrir Square, or the initial enthusiasm of the Solidarity movement. That, then, has to be institutionalized and the habits of countries have to change.
It’s not sufficient just to have elections. You then also have to have a process to establish rule of law and the respect of the rights of minorities, and a constant vigilance when it comes to do with freedom of the press and freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And you have to, then, broker a whole set of potential ethnic conflicts that may arise. And sometimes those may flair into violence.
So part of the lesson is that you have to institutionalize change. And that is a hard process, and it’s a long process.
Number two is that countries on the outside cannot impose this change, but we can really help. We can facilitate. We can make a difference. And the testimony of I think the people that I’ve spoken to here in Poland — as is true when I had conversations about the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict — was that American participation, American facilitation of dialogue, our investment in civil society, our willingness to do business, our openness to ultimate membership in international institutions like NATO — all those things made a difference. It solidifies, it fortifies people’s impulse that change is possible.
And so to the American people, even at a time when we have fiscal constraints, even at a time where I spend most of my day thinking about our economy and how to put folks back to work and how to make sure that we’re reducing gas prices and how we stabilize the housing market and how we innovate and adapt and change so that we are fully competitive in the 21st century and maintain our economic leadership, I want the American people to understand we’ve got to leave room for us to continue our tradition of providing leadership when it comes to freedom, democracy, human rights.
And in the dinner last night, I thought something very interesting was said — these are Central European leaders and presidents from all across the region. One of them said, there were those who said we could not handle democracy, that our cultures were too different. But America had faith in us. And so now we want to join with America and have faith in those in the Middle East and in North Africa. Even if some don’t think that they can handle democracy, or that their cultures are too different, our experience tells us something different.
And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. And I think that Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have traveled so far, so rapidly, over the last 25 years.
We’re looking forward to being a strong partner with them because when we work together, that’s a force multiplier. The more we have strong leaders like Poland working alongside us, the more successful we can be in dealing with North Africa and the Middle East, and encouraging the best impulses in that region. And that’s going to be good for all of our security.
Thank you very much.