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Colombian and US Governments join efforts to help Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Professionals

The closing ceremony for the Second Seminar-Workshop on Leadership Training for Afrodescendants and Indigenous Fellows offered by the Fulbright Commission Colombia to a group of 20 afrodescendants and indigenous fellows in Bogota, will take place on Friday, January 29, 2010. The seminar, developed by the Phelp Stokes Foundation, seeks to train these fellows so they may become future leaders of their respective communities, and pass on their newly acquired knowledge as graduate students to their respective communities. The press is invited to the closing ceremony that will take place on January 29 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the AR Convention Center located on Calle 113 No. 7-80, 2nd floor. The event will be led by USAID Director Ken Yamashita; the director for the Promotion of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education María Victoria Angulo and Fulbright Director Ann Mason.

Fifteen of the twenty participants are afrodescendants and indigenous fellows from the Afrodescendants Leaders Program, the Cultural Studies Program and other such programs financed by the Fulbright Commission, in alliance with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. This group of professional Fulbright fellows, that will earn Masters and PhD degrees in the United States, come from Quibdo, Bogota, Cali, Tunja, Barranquilla and San Andres and one indigenous professional from the Guajira Department.

Five Martin Luther King Fellows will also participate in the seminar. The MLK Program, funded by the U.S. Embassy, offers English scholarships and leadership training to outstanding university students from Quibdo, Cali, Medellin and Bogota.


Interview with Yevgenia Albats, The New Times

QUESTION: On December 5, 2009 the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired, but negotiations regarding a new one between Russia and the United States have so far failed. What are the major obstacles for the new treaty?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to complete this agreement soon. It’s a technically very complex treaty to accomplish. We share an interest in making real reductions in our strategic arsenals, and that is the most important point. To do that in a way that is verifiable, but which is less costly and less operationally complex than the previous START agreement is the key challenge, and we are working through it together.

QUESTION: Given that the Cold War is long gone, why it is imperative to have this treaty signed? What may happen if it does not go through?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in Prague, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. While the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. As more nations seek to acquire these weapons, the United States and Russia, as nuclear powers, have a special responsibility to lead in efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons. By taking concrete steps such as the new START Treaty, we can reduce our own stockpiles and encourage others to do the same. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have both recognized the importance of having a quality agreement that meets the needs and interests of both sides and I am confident that we will be able to get there together.

QUESTION: It seems that two presidents, the Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, and the U.S. President Barack Obama were quite optimistic about the new treaty throughout their meeting and telephone conversations last year. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 29th expressed certain concerns about U.S. «aggressiveness» and disruption of the nuclear balance. He suggested linking the U.S. missile defense system in Europe to the treaty in question. What would be your response to Vladimir Putin’s concerns?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As both Presidents agreed in Moscow, the subject of the new START treaty will be strategic offensive arms. We are more than willing to discuss missile defense and other defensive systems with our Russian partners, but we feel that the best way forward is to give each issue the full and separate attention it deserves. We are discussing missile defense cooperation with the Russian Government, and we hope to cooperate on missile defense with Russia to address a range of threats from around the world. Russia and the United States have unique missile defense assets which if used together in a cooperative manner could enhance the security of both countries.

QUESTION: A year ago, you, Madam Secretary, proclaimed a «reset» in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Has this «reset» materialized?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The reset is now well-established, but the true test of its success is how we expand our cooperation in areas of shared interest. We are working closely together in addressing the issues revolving around Iran’s challenge to the international community on nuclear non-proliferation. We are making progress on the new START Treaty. We’ve also made progress in our common efforts in Afghanistan, in trying to build stability there and in dealing with the threat posed by Al-Qaida and violent extremists. We have also been working closely on North Korea and Middle East peace negotiations, together with other members of the international community to tackle these challenging issues which affect the entire world. And finally, with the Bilateral Presidential Commission, we are broadening contacts through expanded cultural and educational exchanges, law enforcement cooperation, joint projects in health and the environment, and other activities which will improve the lives of average Americans and Russians.

QUESTION: Iran is already the hottest political issue of 2010. Given that Iran failed to satisfy requests from the United States and other members of the International Commission involved, what are the odds that the United States will use military force over economic sanctions?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The U.S. has always been committed to try to resolve the problem of Iran’s nuclear program through peaceful means. We have worked very closely with our international partners in pursuing engagement with Tehran, including by working with Russia, France and the IAEA to find a creative way to provide fuel for Iran’s medical research reactor in spite of its continuing violation of UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. But Iran has repeatedly refused these opportunities. Now Iran has announced it will accelerate its enrichment activities in defiance of the Security Council’s decisions. We believe Iran’s dangerous steps must have consequences, so we will be working further with Russian and our other partners in applying pressure on Iran to persuade it to reconsider its continuing resistance to engagement on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during President Carter’s administration, in an interview (with The Daily Beast website) in late September 2009, said that the United States will attack Israeli jets if they fly over Iraq on their way to attack Iran. To which extent does this view of the former national security adviser, known to be close to President Obama’s administration, reflect the official point of view of Washington? Do you, Madam Secretary, exclude the possibility that Israel may attack Iran on its own? What will be the consequences?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I hold Mr. Brzezinski in high esteem, but he is of course speaking as a private citizen. We remain focused on trying to convince Iran to work with the rest of the world in a constructive manner. Only by doing so can Tehran have a more productive relationship with its neighbors and the international community at large, a relationship the Iranian people deserve.

QUESTION: The United States is about to deploy more troops in Afghanistan. What goals does your government hope to accomplish there, where others, including the USSR, failed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in his announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy, our ultimate goal is to defeat Al-Qaida and prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan. To that end, we have devoted new resources to disrupting terrorist networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, promoting a more effective Afghan national government that can eventually lead the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist fight, and working with our partners and organizations, such as the UN, to reinforce the stability of the constitutional government in Pakistan. By taking this multi-layered approach, we believe we will be able to help bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region as a whole.

QUESTION: World media has written time and again about the threats coming from Pakistan. There are allegations that Pakistan gives shelter to terrorists and that some members of the Pakistani secret service are helping Afghan Taliban. What is your view of the situation in Pakistan, given that this country has nuclear weapons? Aren’t you afraid that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal may end up in the hands of extremists?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Clearly, you cannot expect to bring stability to Afghanistan without also assisting the Pakistani government in combating terrorism in the region as well. That is why the President’s new strategy looks to assist Pakistan in ensuring stability and constitutional civilian rule. We are increasing and broadening our economic assistance to Pakistan with a focus on creating economic opportunity as a means of thwarting extremism. In addition, we are working with Islamabad to strengthen its governmental capacity to ensure that the country as a whole can fight off the terrorist threat from the Taliban and Al-Qaida. We understand that there are no simple solutions to the problems in the region. By adopting an approach that looks to reinforce the economic and governmental capacity of Pakistan and Afghanistan, we will be able to secure our own future security as well as that of the region.

QUESTION: Returning back to U.S.-Russian relations: There have been ongoing discussions both in Washington and in Moscow between the adherents of the so-called “realpolitik” approach, and those who believe that the Russian government should be held accountable for the violation of human rights. President Clinton’s administration was a huge supporter of the Russian democratic development. President G.W. Bush’s administration was inclined to a different approach, in which pragmatism prevailed over human rights issues. What is your approach?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As I said when I visited Moscow, I believe that the Russian people yearn for their rights just as much as Americans or anyone else does. The reset of relations between Russia and the U.S. is not merely on a government to government level but also about bringing our two peoples closer together. And it is on the strong foundation of accountable governance and the rule of law that we can strengthen the many ties between our two nations.

QUESTION: There are plenty of people in Washington who believe that Russia is not ‘grown-up’ enough for democracy, and the United States will be better off supporting authoritarian regime in my country. What will be your argument in support of the first or the second approach?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We reject the idea that some countries are not ready for democracy. We believe that human rights are universal and that all people, regardless of where they live, thrive in an open society where ideas are exchanged freely. This competition of ideas leads to more accountable governance and a more innovative, prosperous economy, which form a solid foundation for the kind of relationship that we are looking for with Russia and Russians. The discussions I had with students and non-governmental activists when I visited Moscow last October reinforced my conviction that Russians share these same basic aspirations.

QUESTION: Previous US administration was fairly aggressive in its rejection of the Russian government’s claims that the former republics of the Soviet Union are “its zone of special privilege interests”, countries like Ukraine and Georgia first and foremost. What is your view on that? Would you consider Ukraine and Georgian membership in NATO any time soon?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The United States stands by the principle that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions to chart their own foreign poliices and to choose their own alliances. We reject the notion of zones of influence as 19th century ideas. We fully support the decisions of NATO and its ‘open door” policy toward membership for both Georgia and Ukraine.

QUESTION: Vice-President Joe Biden, while on his visit to the Caucasus last year expressed a very harsh opinion regarding Moscow’s politics towards the post-Soviet countries. Is it to say, that you and Biden have a different approach to the issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Both Vice President Biden and I support the President’s vision and policies. We all want to seek a fruitful working relationship with Russia. At the same time, we recognize that there will be differences. The United States continues to fully support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. We, like the overwhelming majority of countries in the international community, consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be integral parts of Georgia.

QUESTION: Research has been done that problems with obtaining visa to European Union and the United States contribute to the negative view Russian people hold of the West. Would you consider free entry anytime soon between our countries?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Our visa policies are based on U.S. law and the concept of reciprocity. While visa-free entry into the U.S. is a long way off, we can do more to ease travel for our citizens in the short run. We are actively working with the Russian government through the Presidential Bilateral Commission to make it easier for both Russians and Americans to visit each other’s countries and see for themselves just how much we have in common.

QUESTION: One, personal question, if you don’t mind. It has been announced that Chelsea has got engaged (Congratulations!). Does your current job leave any time to be involved in her wedding plans?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Like any mother of a bride to be, I am excited and happy for my daughter.

QUESTION: There has been lots of discussion regarding harsher sanctions towards Iran. However, many believe that these sanctions would most likely be ineffective at this point. How does the United States plan to deal with these new developments? Does the West have any concrete ideas and means to stop Ahmadinejad?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Sanctions, when imposed by the UNSC and enforced by all countries can be very effective. Years of sanctions against Libya, which was pursuing a nuclear weapons research program, ultimately contributed to Tripoli’s decision to drop that idea. We have no illusions in the case of Iran that Tehran will be easily persuaded. We are concerned that steps toward uranium enrichment and testing of missile systems pose a increasingly greater threat to the international community. It would be irresponsible of us not to do all we can to address that threat.

QUESTION: More than 60 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in December protesting the appointment of Mr. Surkov, the first deputy chairman of the Russian presidential administration, as the co-chair of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. The legislators called him “one of the masterminds behind Russia’s authoritarian course” and urged President Obama to boycott these meetings until he was replaced. What would be your response to the congressmen’s letter?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The Civil Society Working Group under the Bilateral Presidential Commission met for the first time January 27 in Washington. We believe the meeting was a success, having launched a process of dialogue on key issues, including the fight against corruption. The final session of that day brought U.S. and Russian governments and NGO representatives together to share experiences and consider how together they can work to address common problems. Our goal is to have government launch this dialogue and work on various themes between NGOs and other representatives of civil society in both countries, but we hope that we can step back as these contacts and relationships flourish on their own. As for who leads the Russian government delegation to the Civil Society Working Groups, that is a decision for President Medvedev.

QUESTION: We just read that President Clinton had a heart surgery. How is his health? The New Times would like to pass our warmest wishes to President Clinton.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for the kind words about Bill, I will be sure to share with him. He is doing very well. . As you know he has plunged back into work on assistance to Haiti, which both President Obama and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asked him to help with. His energy and commitment to helping others in need drive his efforts.


Statement by National Security Council Spokesman Mike Hammer on the kidnapping and murder of Russian Human Rights Activist Natalya Estemirova

We are deeply disturbed  and saddened by the abduction and murder of respected human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, abducted from Chechnya and found in Ingushetiya today.  This brutal slaying  is especially shocking coming one week after President Obama met with civil society activists in Moscow, including those from Natalya’s organization  – Memorial.  Such a heinous crime sends a chilling signal to Russian civil society and the international community and illustrates the tragic deterioration of security  and the rule of law in the North Caucasus over the last several months.

We call upon the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for this outrageous crime and demonstrate that lawlessness and impunity will not be tolerated.


Remarks by the President at Parallel Civil Society Summit

5:38 P.M. (Local) THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, good afternoon. Dobryy Den’. I apologize that I think I’m running late and I’m leaving early. (Laughter.) This is a good reason why civil society is so important — because you can’t always count on politicians. (Laughter.) It is a great pleasure to be with all of you. Through the work that you do, you underscore what I believe is a fundamental truth in the 21st century: that strong, vibrant nations include strong, vibrant civil societies. This was also a key message of the speech this morning at the New Economic School. We not only need a “reset” button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies — more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges. For history teaches us that real progress — whether it’s economic or social or political — doesn’t come from the top-down, it typically comes from the bottom-up. It comes from people, it comes from the grassroots — it comes from you. The best ideas and solutions come from ordinary citizens who become involved in their communities and in their countries. And by mobilizing and organizing and changing people’s hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape. And oftentimes politicians get the credit for changing laws, but in fact you’ve created the environment in which those new laws can occur. I learned this myself when I worked as a community organizer in Chicago. I’m glad to see my friend here from Chicago, Calvin Holmes, who — we used to work together on a range of civic issues. I was working in communities that were devastated by steel plant closings, and so I went door to door, I worked with churches, trying to learn what people needed. And we had a lot of setbacks — in fact, we had more failures than successes. But we kept on listening to the people, we learned from them, we got them involved. And over time they chose projects to work on — whether it was building a new play lot or improving a neighborhood park or improving the local school or improving housing in the community — and slowly, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, you started to see change happen: more jobs, better housing, more opportunities for young people. And I learned a lesson — that if you want to bring change, it’s not enough just to be an advocate; it’s not enough to just wait for the government to act. You have to step up and deliver results, real impact on people’s lives. And that is something that I think is lost sometimes when we discuss civil society. There’s a tendency sometimes for this to be a very abstract conversation — with very lofty goals. And since I am a former law professor, I love abstractions and lofty goals. But your neighbor, your friend, your coworker, they’re struggling with very immediate things right now: Can they pay the rent? Can their child go to a school that is going to teach them so that they can succeed in the future? Those are the day-to-day struggles that they’re wrestling with. And if they can’t see a connection between what you are doing and their lives getting better in the short term as well as the long term, then it’s very hard to get any traction over time. Now, no community is the same and every country will follow its own path. So let me be very clear: Russia’s future is up to the Russian people. Not every choice that’s good for the United States is going to be good for Russia. Not every model of organization or development or democracy may be easily transplantable from one country to the next. But let me also say that we can learn from each other — and I do think there’s some universal principles. So I commend you for this summit, designed not to lecture, but to listen, as was already pointed out; not teach or impose solutions, but to learn from each other, from the bottom up. As today’s speakers explained, there are so many opportunities for new partnerships: developing strong, prosperous communities; expanding education and exchanges that open young minds to each other’s countries; promoting healthy lifestyles that help people live longer, more productive lives; discovering the clean energy technologies we need to protect our environment and confront climate change. These are the challenges that we can meet together. And meeting these challenges, in turn, requires what many of you have dedicated your lives to sustaining — a vibrant civil society; the freedom of people to live as they choose, to speak their minds, to organize peacefully and to have a say in how they are governed; a free press to report the truth; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; a government that’s accountable and transparent. And we honor all of you for the passion and perseverance that you bring to these causes. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think these are American ideals and I don’t think they are the monopoly of one country. They’re universal values. They’re human rights. And that’s why the United States of America will support them everywhere. That is our commitment. And that is our promise. And in supporting these ideals, it’s also important that we uphold them ourselves. And that’s why I take the last speaker’s admonition as a useful reminder — that what we do matters, in part because although we know that sometimes we’ll fall short of our ideals, when we do — they can be an excuse for others. Our journey to perfect our union goes on to this day. And that’s why I did order the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and I did ban torture — without equivocation and without exception. Here in Russia, I welcome the steps that President Medvedev has taken so that civil society groups can play a more active role on behalf of the Russian people. And I want to acknowledge that we are joined today by representatives of two important organizations: the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Presidential Commission on Human Rights and Civil Society. Make no mistake: Civil society — civil groups hold their governments to high standards. And I know — because this audience includes Americans who’ve been critical of me for not moving fast enough on issues that are of great importance. They’ve said it to my face. In the Oval Office. While I was President. (Laughter.) They told me I was wrong. And in some cases they changed my mind; in some cases they didn’t. And that’s okay, because we’re not going to agree on everything — but I know this: Their voices and their views and their criticism ultimately will make my decisions better, they will make me ask tougher questions and ask my staff tougher questions. And we’ll find out: Are there ways of doing what we need to do that conform to our deepest held values and our ideals, and that are sustainable over the long term? That makes our country stronger in the long term, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. So this summit reminds us: The fresh starts have to be between more than just two Presidents. They have to be between our two peoples, our two societies. They have to be more than just common security — the Cold War weapons we dismantle. It must be about our common opportunity — the future of progress and prosperity that we build together. And I think that the leadership here in Russia, both civil and governmental, understand this. I had lunch with President Medvedev this afternoon, and we started talking about health issues and the continuing high mortality rate among Russian men in particular. And we talked about alcoholism and we talked about smoking. And we talked about the fact that government programs can be initiated, but to the extent that there’s been success in the United States around reducing smoking levels, it’s not only a matter of changing laws — it’s also been changing attitudes, so that people feel that they need to change. And they internalize these different attitudes. That’s something that civic society can do in a way that government never can. I then met the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, and he talked about how, you know, government exchanges are useful, but religious organizations, they can help melt away the suspicions and mistrust that have built between people over time. So just in those two conversations in the span of 15 minutes, essentially what I heard was a call for action from you. Confidence that what you are doing matters, even when sometimes it seems hard and it seems as if nobody is listening. That’s what our work here on Earth must be about, what Tolstoy called the “sole meaning of life” — “to serve humanity.” Thank you for making that cause the meaning of your lives. And good luck to all of you. Spasibo. (Applause.) END
5:50 P.M. (Local)


Statement at Round Table I: Article 19-Living Independently and Being Included in the Community

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The United States is extremely pleased to attend this Third Conference of States Parties and extends appreciation to the Bureau, UN-DESA, panel members, and all who worked to plan the Conference. We are also pleased that a session of this Conference is devoted to the important topic of living independently and being included in the community, which is embodied in Article 19. This is a basic right that is central to the Convention and we appreciate the opportunity to participate with others in this Round Table to discuss best practices to effectuate this right.

The United States has a strong commitment to the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community. This commitment arose from the groundbreaking advocacy of persons with disabilities and their organizations, and resulted in the establishment of community based Independent Living Centers (ILCs), which provide supports for people to live independently in their communities, and work on policy reform, self-advocacy, and the empowerment of persons with disabilities. We now see such centers across the United States, and increasingly in other countries across the globe.

In the landmark 1999 Olmstead v. L.C decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the right of persons with disabilities to live in the most appropriate integrated setting. Recognizing that the Olmstead ruling was a critical step for our nation because it acknowledged that the choice to live independently is one of the most fundamental rights of Americans with disabilities, President Obama launched a Community Living Initiative on the tenth anniversary of the Olmstead decision.

By establishing a Community Living Initiative as a priority throughout government, the President has signaled the importance of living independently and being included in the community and federal and state agencies are working together to achieve the goals of Olmstead. Our Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development have a strong collaboration to provide funding and technical assistance to states to help them develop and expand the full array of community services, from housing and health care to transportation and employment. Our Department of Education provides financial support for more than 450 ILCs throughout the United States, which continue to provide independent living skills training, information and referral services, peer counseling, and individual and systems advocacy. Under both the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, additional funding and supports are available to states for innovative programs to strengthen community services for individuals with disabilities.

Our Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and our Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, along with a network of federally funded Protection and Advocacy agencies in every state, have strong enforcement programs to ensure compliance with the right to community living. These actions have helped to ensure protection of the right of institutionalized persons to live in the community. They also have helped to ensure that persons at risk of institutionalization receive necessary supports so that they can continue to live in their communities and avoid institutionalization.

The United States is happy to engage in informal discussions with States Parties throughout this conference to provide additional information about our laws and programs related to living independently and being included in the community. In turn, we look forward to learning about and learning from the active efforts that other States Parties and Signatories are taking.


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