Deputy Spokesperson Toner on the Interim Report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran
We welcome the first interim report by the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, and take note of his assessment regarding the Iranian government’s “pattern of systemic violation” of its citizens’ rights. The UN Secretary General’s report on Iran’s human rights situation also described an “intensified” campaign of abuses.
Under international law and its own constitution, Iran has committed to protect and defend the rights of its people, but officials continue to stifle all forms of dissent, persecute religious and ethnic minorities, harass and intimidate human rights defenders, and engage in the torture of detainees.
Iran’s brutal repression continues unabated despite repeated international condemnation and increasing isolation: opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, now entering their ninth month under house arrest without charges, are being held virtually incommunicado, while journalists and student activists are targeted for their “anti-regime” activities. Dr. Shaheed and the Secretary General both expressed alarm over the growing use of the death penalty for minor crimes, against minors and without due process.
We are particularly concerned that Iran has ignored its UN obligations and refused to cooperate with Dr. Shaheed. We call upon Iran’s government to allow the Special Rapporteur immediate access to the country.
We note that Iran has refused entry for any UN Special Rapporteur since 2005 in a blatant attempt to prevent the world from bearing witness to the abuses against its own people.
The United States stands by the Iranian people, who wish nothing more than to make their voices heard and hold their government accountable for its actions. We call upon the international community to use the occasion of these reports to redouble its condemnation of Iran’s disgraceful abuse of the human rights of all its citizens and demand a change.
Undersecretary Sherman on Addressing Potential Threats from Iran: Administration Perspectives on Implementing New Economic Sanctions One Year Later
Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Senator Shelby, Distinguished Members of the Committee: thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss the Obama Administration’s strategy to address the continued threat posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, its support for international terrorism, its destabilizing activities in the region, and its human rights abuses at home.
I would like to begin by dedicating this testimony to Philo Dibble, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, who passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago. Philo was an exceptionally well-respected career member of the Foreign Service who devoted most of his career to the Middle East. For the past year, he dedicated his deep regional expertise and knowledge to advancing our policy on Iran. The loss of his wisdom and leadership is a profound one for the Department and for our country.
The world today is unified to an unprecedented degree in its concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would undermine the stability of the Gulf region, the broader Middle East, and the global economy. In defiance of U.N. Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, Iran has continued to expand its sensitive nuclear activities, and refuses to cooperate with the IAEA, raising strong, legitimate concerns about the purpose of the nuclear program. Beyond the nuclear issue, Iran continues its longstanding support to terrorist organizations such as Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), as well as by its support to newer proxy militia groups in Iraq.
But, these efforts belie a regime that is actually far more vulnerable and weakened than it would like to project. 2011 has been a harsh wake-up for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran’s government has failed in its efforts to co-opt uprisings in the Arab world and claim its 1979 revolution as inspiration. No popular movement in the region has looked to Iran as a model for change; the only entity that turned to Iran was another autocratic regime in Syria trying desperately to hang on to power. Iran has further undermined its standing among Muslims and further strained its bilateral relations in the region by helping the failing regime of Bashar al-Asad to brutally crack down against Syrian citizens. Misreading the stark warning message from the Arab Awakening, Iran’s government continues to arrest, imprison, and persecute Iranians who dare to ask for accountability and transparency from their government, as well as just and fair treatment for ethnic and religious minorities.
To address the multifaceted challenges posed by Iran’s regime – its flouting of its nuclear obligations, its nuclear weapons ambitions, its support for terrorism, its destabilizing activities in the region, and its human rights abuses at home – the U.S. has led a sustained and broad international campaign to exact steep costs for the regime and to complicate its ability to pursue these policies. Iran today faces tough economic sanctions and broad diplomatic pressure, and though it aspires to regional and even global leadership, its current policies have made it an outcast among nations.
American policy regarding Iran remains unambiguous. First and foremost, we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Its illicit nuclear activity is one of the greatest global concerns we face, and we will continue to increase the pressure until the Iranian regime engages the international community with seriousness and sincerity and resolves its concerns. But pressure is not an end unto itself. It may provide the impetus to Iranian action, but does not prescribe the measures that are necessary to build international confidence in Iranian nuclear intent. To that end, we have offered to meet with Iran and have proposed confidence-building and transparency arrangements that offered practical incentives. Unfortunately, Iran has failed time and again to reciprocate and to take advantage of these opportunities. As a consequence, more than ever, world pressure is mounting on Iran. Last year, the United States led a successful effort in the UN Security Council to adopt Resolution 1929, which led to the toughest multilateral sanctions regime Iran has ever faced. The resolution strengthened previous UN resolutions and provided a platform upon which the European Union, Norway, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Switzerland, and Japan implemented strict domestic measures to bolster the measures of UNSCR 1929.
The efforts made by the Congress, by all of you, have also effectively sharpened American sanctions, particularly against Iran’s energy sector and the regime’s human rights abuses. When President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA, which amended the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996) in early July, 2010, the Administration and the Congress sent an unmistakable signal of American resolve and purpose, expanding significantly the scope of our domestic sanctions and maximizing the impact of new multilateral measures. Since then, the Administration has imposed sanctions on a growing list of individuals and entities responsible for Iran’s expanding scope of unauthorized activities, and these sanctions are raising the cost, time, and energy required for Iran to pursue its current policies.
In September 2010, Secretary Clinton imposed the first sanctions any administration had ever imposed under the Iran Sanctions Act. To date, the State Department has sanctioned 10 foreign companies for doing business with Iran’s energy sector. Further, CISADA’s “special rule” has worked exactly as intended: it gave us the flexibility and leverage to persuade multinational energy firms Shell, Statoil, ENI, Total and INPEX to withdraw from all significant activity in Iran. The companies also provided clear assurances that they would not undertake any sanctionable activities in Iran’s energy sector in the future, and in doing so, forfeited billions of dollars of investments. In addition, Repsol abandoned negotiations over several phases of the South Pars gas field.
Other successes under CISADA include the fact that major energy traders like Russia’s Lukoil, India’s Reliance, Switzerland’s Vitol, Glencore, and Trafigura, Kuwait’s Independent Petroleum Group (IPG), Turkey’s Tupras, France’s Total, and Royal Dutch Shell have stopped sales of refined petroleum products to Iran. Iran has had to redirect production facilities from valuable petrochemical export production in order to manufacture refined petroleum for domestic sale. Furthermore, Reliance, India’s largest private refiner, announced in 2010 it would not import Iranian crude.
Investment in Iran’s upstream oil and gas sector has dropped dramatically, forcing Iran to abandon liquefied natural gas projects for lack of foreign investment and technical expertise, after Germany’s Linde, the only supplier of gas liquefaction technology to Iran, stopped all business with it. South Korea’s GS Engineering and Construction cancelled a $1.2 billion gas processing project in Iran. Outside of Iran, British Petroleum chose to shut down production from a North Sea platform co-owned with the Iranian Oil Company, to ensure compliance with EU sanctions. Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) partners announced that the pipeline, once constructed, would not be used to transport gas from Iran.
Iran’s national airline, Iran Air, is also paying the price for having its aircraft misused for proliferation purposes, and providing services to the IRGC. Most major fuel providers have terminated some or all of their Iran Air contracts, including British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, OMV, and Q8. Iran Air is finding it difficult to find sources to replace these suppliers, not to mention places to land.
Iran is increasingly isolated from the international financial system, as Under Secretary of Treasury Cohen’s testimony describes in detail. Virtually all of the world’s first-tier banks have concluded that the Iranian market is not worth the reputational risk posed by deceptive Iranian practices. They understand the consequences of both willfully and inadvertently facilitating an illicit transaction, and have severely curtailed their interactions with Iranian banks. The Administration is looking very closely at further measures that will drive home the message that any bank doing business with banks that do business with terrorists puts its own reputation at risk of international sanction and condemnation.
Iran’s shipping is also under international pressure. Large shipping companies such as Hong Kong-based NYK are withdrawing from the Iranian market, and reputable insurers and reinsurers such as Lloyd’s of London, no longer insure Iranian shipping. Iran’s shipping line IRISL, has been exposed for its complicity in the shipment of goods in violation of Security Council resolutions, as noted by the UN’s Iran Sanctions Committee. IRISL has been sanctioned by the United States, the EU, Japan, South Korea, and others. Difficulty in repaying loans and maintaining insurance coverage has led to the detention of at least seven IRISL ships. Major shipbuilding companies are refusing to build ships for IRISL. As a direct result of the international pressure we helped build, IRISL ships have a harder time finding ports of call, particularly in Europe.
Other major companies have voluntarily opted out of the Iranian market, including automotive firms Daimler (German), Toyota (Japanese), and Kia (South Korea), as well as Germany’s ThyssenKrupp. Caterpillar prohibited its non-U.S. subsidiaries from exporting to Iran. Switzerland’s ABB Ltd., Ingersoll-Rand Plc, and Huntsman Corp. have ended business with Iran.
The result of our strategy is an Iran that is isolated economically and finding dwindling options for doing business internationally. But, importantly, Iran is facing these problems because of targeted sanctions and the voluntary decision by international firms to exit the Iranian market. Our sanctions approach continues to seek to undermine Iran’s ability to engage in illicit conduct, with measures against Iran’s energy sector removing an invaluable source of funding that Iran could apply to that conduct. In spite of the high price of Iranian crude on world markets, Iran’s aggregate economy also seems to be weakening. These effects will increase as sanctions implementation continues to improve, especially if the recent decline in the price of crude oil continues.
These efforts are directed toward achieving our goals of persuading Iran to comply with its international obligations to prove the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program and to engage constructively with the P5+1. On September 21, I participated in a meeting of the P5+1 countries in New York, where we and our partners, including Russia and China, reiterated longstanding and grave concerns about Iran’s installation of centrifuges at the formerly-covert enrichment plant at Qom, about its stepped up production of 20% enriched uranium, and about the possible military dimension of Iran’s program (a concern notably shared by the IAEA). We also reconfirmed the dual-track strategy of engagement and pressure. It was a strong and unified statement. It concluded that the P5+1 would be willing to hold another meeting with Iran, but only “if Iran is prepared to engage more seriously in concrete discussions aimed at resolving international concerns about its nuclear program.” If, however, Iran simply seeks to buy time to make further progress in its nuclear program, it will face ever-stronger pressures and ever-increasing international isolation.
We will continue to work with Congress as we implement both tracks of the dual-track policy. We believe that, in the short term, further improvements in international implementation, based on our current authorities, offer the best way to increase pressure on Iran. As Congress considers additional authorities, we would like to work with you to ensure that any additional steps we take will strengthen the international consensus and global pressure against Iran’s nuclear program. The most effective sanctions are those taken by a large portion of the international community, which requires close coordination with friends and allies, as well as a targeted approach. Convincing them to take action will require us to carefully calibrate our outreach to the individual circumstances of specific countries and sectors. It will also require flexibility to find creative and proactive tools to convince Iran that it cannot continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions.
Sanctions are doing more than raising the cost of continuing illicit nuclear activity; they are finally shining a spotlight on some of the individuals and entities perpetrating egregious human rights abuses against Iranian citizens. Using CISADA, we have designated 11 individuals and three entities for human rights violations, and we continue to compile more information and evidence that will allow us to identify more murderers, torturers, and religious persecutors. We have taken a firm stand on the Iranian regime’s violations of human rights, including the repression of religious minorities as exemplified by the death sentence that might have been imposed on Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani simply for following his own chosen religion had it not been for the immediate condemnation from world leaders, religious groups, and NGOs. At the same time, we are offering capacity-building training programs, media access, and exchanges to help Iranian civil society strengthen their calls for accountability, transparency, and rule of law. The Iranian opposition’s desire to operate without financial or other support from the United States is clear. We are committed to using available and effective diplomatic tools to assist those who want our assistance in speaking out and defending fundamental rights and freedoms. The United States will always support the Iranian people’s efforts to stop government-sanctioned harassment, detention, torture, imprisonment, and execution of anyone who dares express ideological, religious, or political differences from the regime’s repressive, totalitarian vision.
We engage regularly with like-minded countries to develop shared approaches to increase the pressure for a change in the Iranian government’s behavior. In July, the United States and United Kingdom, with the support of Canada, imposed visa restrictions on Iranian government officials and other individuals who were responsible for or participated in human rights abuses, including government ministers, military and law enforcement officers, and judiciary and prison officials. We welcome the European Union’s announcement this week of more than two dozen additional travel bans. There is absolutely no cause for allowing petty tyrants to trot around the globe while suffering and repression continues unabated inside Iran. International pressure and condemnation on this point is growing: We worked with Canada to pass a UN General Assembly resolution last year condemning Iran’s human rights abuses. This condemnation attracted a larger margin than any similar resolution in the past eight years. It may seem small, but every pro-regime vote we strip away on resolutions like this is one fewer fig leaf for the Iranian regime to hide behind as they murder and torture their own people, and we will continue to press measures large and small at every opportunity.
We were leaders in an effort in the UN Human Rights Council in March to create a Special Rapporteur on Iran, the first country-specific human rights rapporteur since the Council’s creation. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives and respected human rights advocate, will serve as an independent and credible voice to highlight human rights violations by the government of Iran. All of these multilateral efforts reinforce our strong domestic actions that prove that Iran’s attempts to undermine universal rights and deceive the world only further isolate it from the global community.
In my new role as Under Secretary for Political Affairs, I look forward to working closely and transparently with members of Congress to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, curtail its support for terrorism, make it more difficult for Iran to interfere in the region, and deter the regime from committing human rights abuses against its own people.
Despite assurances from the Government of Kazakhstan that the new law on religion would be in keeping with its OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments regarding freedom of religion, the United States wishes to express its serious concern that the new law appears to fall short of those measures.
The new law, passed by the Kazakhstani Parliament on September 29, requires that existing religious organizations submit re-registration documents within one year via a procedure that subjects them to an examination of their religious literature. The United States is concerned that this process could be used to restrict the activities of religious groups thereby negatively impacting religious freedom in Kazakhstan.
The new tiered registration system appears to prohibit the registration of religious groups with fewer than 50 members in each location. Other provisions appear to allow strict oversight of missionary activity, government reviews of religious literature and texts, and restrictions on the location of places of worship.
When governments unduly restrict religious freedom and freedom of expression, or when societies fail to take steps to promote tolerance and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they risk alienating religious believers and emboldening extremists.
We urge the government of Kazakhstan to work with ODIHR to address these concerns in order to ensure that this law does not improperly restrict freedom of religion or belief in any way that is inconsistent with the country’s OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. We express our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and we stand with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time.
Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities—including Copts—must be respected. All people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.
We also note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation and his appeal to all parties to refrain from violence. We echo these calls and stress the importance that the investigation be a transparent and credible process beginning immediately and holding accountable all responsible parties with full due process of law. To further protect religious freedom, we also support the Egyptian government’s decision to consider a Unified Places of Worship Law governing church construction and an anti-discrimination law within two weeks.
The tragic violence that has marred Egypt’s transition should not stand in the way of timely elections and the country’s continued transition to democracy.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
QUESTION: Thanks very much for doing this.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m happy to do it – glad this worked out.
QUESTION: We should have tea more often. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. Exactly. Well, when I invited you, I wanted to talk about these two speeches that I’m giving this week. And obviously, there are a lot of other things going on in the world. But just so that I fulfill my obligation here, tomorrow I’ll be at CAP, the Center for American Progress, talking about American leadership and sort of linking it to the work we have to do at home, and obviously, the challenges we face around the world, because I know that there is this kind of maybe unspoken theme that, oh, we’re – we have all these problems at home with our economy, with political gridlock, et cetera. And we’ve seen this movie before, and the United States has enduring values and strengths that I just want to remind all of us of.
And then on Friday, I’ll be in New York at the New York Economic Club talking about economic statecraft because I want to also explain why what the work we do here at the State Department is part of our overall effort to increase economic opportunity for Americans. And I’ve been working with the Jobs Council. I think you were – somebody was at the Jobs Council meeting.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) last week, yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Because if we do better on exports, if we do better on foreign direct investment, we put Americans to work. And it’s not a connection that a lot of people make. They probably don’t think of the State Department as being part of the economic agenda. So I want to be very explicit about that and kind of make the case for it. So with that –
QUESTION: Good. Well, thank you. We’ll now turn – (laughter) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Inaudible) Pull up, Toria. Yes, don’t try to balance your tea –
QUESTION: To go to one news of the day –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, was there some news today? Oh, what do you know?
QUESTION: You knew it was coming –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: – for three or four months now, but Attorney General Holder said that the State Department would be taking actions to hold Iran responsible for this. What are you going to do? What actions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say the obvious, that this was a terrific achievement of our law enforcement and intel communities. Disrupting, preventing this plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington took really creative, smart work. And obviously, the Attorney General and the FBI director and the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, along with the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York laid out a lot of what has been done, and the complaint has more detail. And then I believe that Treasury should have issued its additional designations of sanctions against named individuals that I think you’ll find of interest this afternoon.
So we’re doing several things, and have been integrated into this effort, as you say, for many months now. What the Iranians were plotting violates the convention, the international convention, on the prevention and punishment of crime against internationally protected persons, of whom, obviously, an ambassador is one. It violates international norms in a way that cannot be denied by the Iranians, despite their best efforts. And we believe that through concerted outreach, which we are undertaking and have begun, both in New York at the UN and in capitals around the world, we will create a chorus of states that are condemning this kind of behavior, looking at their own countries to determine whether the Iranians are engaging in potentially threatening or disruptive activities within their countries. In addition to our sanctions that were designated by the Treasury today, we will be seeking other countries to do the same against named individuals and against entities within Iran.
We think the facts of this case, which include the outreach by the Iranian authorities to a Mexican drug cartel seeking a murder-for-hire assassin, will be quite disturbing to officials in countries that have even in the past given Iran a pass. So I think, Arshad, that this will be an opportunity to further isolate Iran. And if you believe, as I do, that their internal debates and power struggles that are going on in plain sight, combined with the impact of the sanctions, combined with the suspicion that they have already created in many countries in the region and beyond, with this very strong case that we have presented today, it will give us extra leverage in dealing with Iran. And I think that you may not see skywriting in the sky announcing it, but you’ll see a more reluctant stance by many countries toward dealing with Iran, toward doing Iran’s bidding, and I think that is all to our interests.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I could follow up on that, obviously for the Saudis in particular, this is a worrisome development.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Indeed.
QUESTION: And we know that the Saudis themselves have no love lost for Iran. Are you worried that this is going to really fuel tensions that already exist in the Gulf in a dangerous way? And do you have any counsel that you might make public that you would give to the Saudis about how they should respond to this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andy, you’re right. I mean, I talked with the Saudi foreign minister earlier today. They’ve obviously been brought in because of the target for quite some time and have been a great partner with us as we have tried to track down and unravel this very deadly plot. I think that it will certainly confirm the worst fears by the Saudis, but it will also perhaps strengthen their hand in dealing with the region about the threats posed by the Iranians.
Everybody knows that there is no love lost; that’s obvious. But this is such a blatant violation of the international norms that countries which have tried to hedge to some extent are going to find more pressure on them. We’ve spoken for some time about increasing our security cooperation not just with individual states in the Gulf but between and among them, which I think this will probably hasten. So I think there’s a lot of moving parts.
Now, you’ve probably noticed in the last week, even before this plot was revealed, Iran really vociferously attacking Turkey. Attacking Turkey because of the NATO missile radar that Turkey agreed with us to position to protect NATO from missile attacks. Attacking Turkey for advocating secular states that recognized and appreciated Islam but were more in line with what Turkey has achieved over the last many years. Really a full frontal assault on Turkey.
And I thought it was incredibly important because Turkey has tried to be a good neighbor. They share a long border, they’ve tried to get along with the Iranians, and what everyone is learning is that nobody is safe from the Iranians. They have their own logic, their own way of thinking about the world and their place in it. And they’re vying with everybody for influence. They’re vying with the Saudis, they’re vying with the Turks, they’re just in a constant state of agitation about their position. And this case will, I think, reinforce the well-grounded suspicions of many countries about what they’re up to.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s going to make it easier for you whenever you should seek additional UN Security Council sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program? Do you think this is going to make it easier? Does that accelerate the timetable?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t know, because I think that the likelihood of our seeking additional sanctions – I mean, they’re pretty well sanctioned. I mean, we’re now going after individuals, we’re going after entities. We’ve got a few more arrows in our quiver, but they’re pretty well sanctioned. But will it give us extra arguments when we go to a country and we said we told you these were bad guys, so don’t let that shipment go through like you have turned blind eyes to before. Enforcing the sanctions, I think, becomes more likely because of this.
QUESTION: Who are you thinking of? I mean, Turkey was the first country that I thought of in terms of hedging.
QUESTION: Malaysia’s been a problem in terms of (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: A number of countries, Warren, they’ve been cooperative, and I think we surprised Iran and the world at how effectively we’ve enforced these sanctions, because one of the things that I said after we got them through the UN was, okay, fine, we got them through, but now we need a designated group that will go after the Iranians every single day, will track down every single lead we have no matter where it goes about financing, shipment, whatever. So I think we’ve done a better job than people expected, but I want to do even more – close every loophole, make every country go the extra mile to enforce these sanctions. And I think this helps us on that.
QUESTION: Let me turn to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Toria today told us that the Department is very hopeful that the Israelis and the Palestinians will agree to this preliminary meeting in Jordan on the 23rd.
MS. NULAND: Did I say very hopeful? I don’t think I said very hopeful.
QUESTION: Indeed. Two tape recorders and a transcript. (Laughter.) Why are you very hopeful?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) signals or –
SECRETARY CLINTON: – let me put it in context. When we got the Quartet statement finalized at the UN, one of the most important reasons why I wanted to get it out is because of the suggested timetable. Now, some people say, well, so what does that mean? Well, already we’ve had the meeting of the Quartet envoys over the weekend. We have a really intensive effort going on by nearly anybody you can imagine on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to get them back into negotiations. And we had said, coming out of the Quartet meeting, that we hope to have a meeting, or we hope to have a preparatory meeting between the parties by the end of this month. Some have said one date, some have said other dates, but the important thing is that the meeting happened, because part of the problem with the schedule was that we had some – we lost a number of days to the Jewish holidays, which – you couldn’t deal with the Israeli Government because, for obvious reasons, they were not available.
So I think that we are hopeful. We are always hopeful, Arshad. Hope springs eternal. It must, for any of us who deal with the Middle East. Otherwise, it’s too depressing to contemplate. So what I see happening is the Israelis have accepted without preconditions a return to negotiations. The Palestinians, as you know well, are reluctant because of the settlement freeze issue. But there are many people now who are interacting with and talking to the Palestinians who are making what I think is the right case, which is, look, you’ve lodged your letter of request for consideration at the Security Council. It’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. And even if it were, you’re not going to get a state through the UN. It’s not going to happen. So you’ve done what you needed to do to signal your seriousness of purpose. Now get back into negotiations where you can actually start talking about borders. What’s the best way to end the dispute about settlements? Start talking about borders. You know as well as we, some areas that the Israelis have built in are going to be in a new Israel and some areas are not. The sooner you start really negotiating over what’s in and what’s out, the better off you will be.
So that argument is now being made intensely by people other than us. I mean, one of my goals with the Quartet statement was to get international buy-in to get everybody back to negotiations. Nobody standing on the sidelines crossing their arms and saying one thing to one party and another thing to another party, which is just human nature, but to get everybody on the same page. The spotlight that is being put on these negotiations has a lot of additional actors under it, which I think is all to the good.
So, for example, last night I spoke to President Santos of Colombia. President Abbas is in Colombia. President Santos is going to see him. President Santos knows that part of the reason President Abbas is coming to see him is Colombia’s on the Security Council. Colombia has said they’re not going to support statehood in the Security Council, but they would strongly support and stand up for the Palestinians’ right to have a full, open negotiation. So President Santos wanted to convey that that’s what he was going to tell President Abbas.
So now, this is not – I’m not saying that there’s going to be some immediate positive response, but hearing this from so many different places really makes a difference. So I’m hoping that by the end of the month we will see a meeting between them.
QUESTION: Can I ask you two really short ones on this topic? Have you figured out – have the lawyers made a determination yet on whether you’re going to have to cut off funding to UNESCO if they, as it seems likely, accept the Palestinians as a member? And then secondly, what do you – do you think you’re going to be able to maintain the flow of American economic assistance to the PA, given the stance taken by — generally Granger? I mean, it just seems like, on the Hill, you really have a very hard case to make.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’re right, we do. And with respect to the first question about UNESCO, we are legally prohibited from continuing to fund organizations that accept the Palestinians as members or observers or in any way participants in the organization in a formal respect. We have made that clear to UNESCO. They know that our funding, which constitutes 22 percent of UNESCO’s funding, is in jeopardy. And it’s regrettable. I wish that it were not happening. I don’t really understand exactly why there’s a big push on in these ancillary organizations when the UN hasn’t acted, but there’s obviously pent-up desire to do something, and it’s being done.
Now, there are those on the Hill and elsewhere who say, well, UNESCO deals with cultural stuff; what’s the difference? Well, I think there are some significant problems if this begins to cascade. What happens with the International Atomic Energy Agency? What happens with the World Health Organization? What happens with the Food and Agriculture Organization? Not only do we provide 20 to 25 percent of all the funding that these organizations get, but our membership in them is in our self interest. I mean, it’s not anything to do with supporting the Palestinians or supporting the Israelis; it’s supporting the health of Americans, stopping pandemics, getting food into the Horn of Africa, holding Iran’s nuclear program accountable. So I am strongly making the case to Members of Congress that at some point we need some flexibility because pretty soon, if we don’t pay into these organizations, we lose our right to participate and influence their actions. So this is a difficult problem.
Now, with respect to the Palestinian Authority, so far, we and the Israelis have made the case that continuing to fund the Palestinians, particularly during this period of uncertainty around their statehood and the state of negotiations, makes sense. A couple of weeks ago, you might remember I was able to get freed up the remaining $50 million from the – it was the last tranche of funding. And I made the case to the Palestinians, to the Israelis, to the Congress, to everybody that this was in everyone’s interest. Certainly it was in the Palestinians’, but it was also in Israel’s interest to make sure that the Palestinians could keep their state running, pay their public officials, their security forces, et cetera. We have other funding that is up on the Hill that is being discussed right now, some of which goes directly to the security forces, and I strongly am advocating that that money be released. Now, the Israelis have been releasing the funds that they collect for the Palestinians. So they also see this as something in their interest. So again, we’re kind of taking it on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. We’ve got to keep on jumping.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s okay.
QUESTION: There’s so much we now have to talk to you about. Just next door, quickly, on Egypt, obviously, events over the weekend were very disturbing and –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: – we saw the statements out of this building and also out of the White House condemning the clashes. But I’d be curious to know if you get a sense now about the Egyptian military leadership; are they beginning to lose control? You have the Israeli Embassy situation, you have their handling of this problem. Do you get a sense that things are getting out of hand for them and want to bring it back into line if we want to go forward with this plan for elections?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, here’s how I see it. I spoke with the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Amr, earlier today, and I asked him what was happening. And he’s been a very reliable interlocutor for me. I got him up and out at, like, 2 o’clock in the morning when the mob was attacking the Israeli Embassy. And he’s been very straightforward. He said, “Look, we are investigating it. We really don’t know what happened exactly.” And I said, “Well, I hope it’s going to be a thorough investigation, but in any event, you have to do more to protect all the people of Egypt, most particularly minorities – ” although the Copts are a pretty big minority, what, I guess 10 million or so – “and they have to be – they have to – the right to assemble peacefully needs to be protected, their right to worship needs to be protected, the two piece of legislation you have on – pending on building mosques and churches, ending discrimination against Copts, I mean, that would send a real positive signal I hope you’ll consider.”
And the problem is that the police force was disbanded, as you know. And the army doesn’t want to be a police force, so it’s always trying to balance what it’s supposed to be doing and what it’s not supposed to be doing, and they just have to figure out how to create a police force again that will restore law and order while protecting people’s rights. And that’s a big piece of business. So they are working on it, but it’s new territory for them.
So they are proceeding with the schedule that they have set out. We are strongly supporting that they do so. But it’s a fragile situation. I mean, it’s not at all clear to me how they balance all of these conflicting considerations, but we’re doing the best we can. Our Ambassador is very active. We’re all reaching out. We’re trying to send support, messages that kind of help them move through this. But it’s going to be a complicated process for the foreseeable future.
QUESTION: Well, one just quick follow-up, and then we’ll (inaudible). When you met the Egyptian foreign minister here a couple weeks ago, I mean, (inaudible) – I mean, emergency law –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: – and that still seems to be a hang-up.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Does that concern you, I mean, that this seems to be a key demand that they’re just not willing to move on?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, it does concern me, and I’ve made that very clear to them. But I mean, look – and this is not in any way to make any rationalization – but I just try to think through in my own head, everybody in a position of authority in the military came up with the emergency law. They don’t have a police force, and they’re trying to figure out how to keep just everyday criminals off the street, because it’s not just these terrible instances like we saw over the weekend, but they don’t have law and order. They don’t have control over a lot of their neighborhoods and cities. They have a real problem. So they’re trying to figure out how to do that. But in effect, they’re kind of being asked to do something which nobody has ever done before. And so the emergency law, which they were going to take off, they then decided not to take off yet because they don’t know how to do this.
QUESTION: Go about it, yeah.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Go about it. So we keep saying, “You’ve got to do several things all at once. You got to move on the reconstitution of the police force, but they have to be trained so that they respect people’s rights. You’ve got to get the emergency law lifted, but you got to pass other laws so that you’re able to do it in an appropriate way.” Lots of moving pieces here.
QUESTION: You want to go to Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. Maybe just another quick one since we’re going to have to sort of – on the question of Iraq, Reuters had an exclusive interview, we can say, on Sunday with al-Maliki in which he was talking about the possibility of U.S. trainers staying in Iraq beyond the 2011 drawdown. And he was mentioning that this could happen, he could see it, that they could stay without an explicit grant of immunity from the Iraqi parliament, but somehow they’d be attached to NATO or the existing U.S. mission there, and that would be sufficient.
Is that an idea that would fly here, do you think? Or do you think that we – they’d still need – if this were to happen, you would still need to have a parliamentary bill pass that would grant them a specific immunity?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is something that we’re very focused on because we are meeting the terms of the agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration for our troops to leave. President Obama is very committed to that. We obviously have been willing to hear from the Iraqis what they might need, what kind of missions they would want our help from.
But we’ve made it clear from the beginning that we can’t leave any military forces in Iraq or even rotating through Iraq without protection for them. And if we can’t get a SOFA that is endorsed by the core, we would have to be absolutely convinced – and this is more of a DOD question – that what was being discussed would have the same effect. And this is something that – our Ambassador, our commander on the ground are in intense negotiations with the Maliki government, but – we’ll wait and see how that develops, but we’re leaving. If they want us to stay, we have relationships with many countries in the region – Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE. So certainly we would entertain it, but we would have to get the same kinds of protections that we get elsewhere.
QUESTION: I’d like to switch gears a little bit. Secretary Clinton, we are entering a U.S. election year, and we’re hearing voters voicing concerns about an apparent decline in the U.S. influence in the world. And we see as the U.S. struggles with a weak economy, there’s defense cuts, foreign assistance cuts, that there are nations stepping forward, like China, and people out in the heartland see that. I wanted to know, are you concerned that if present trends continue, the U.S. could lose some of its preeminence in global politics and economics, and what could be done to forestall that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s exactly why I’m giving these two speeches this week, because I hear the same things, I read it in what you all write, and it concerns me because I don’t think it squares with the reality that I see. I think America’s leadership is not only still paramount, but it is desired and respected everywhere in the world, and that people may choose to criticize us, but when times get tough, they expect us to kind of step forward and solve problems and manage difficult situations. And I think Americans, understandably because of our own economic pressures and very difficult problems for so many Americans when it comes to jobs and income and security and their homes and all of the terrible dilemmas that people are facing across our country, are very focused on that because, first and foremost, how do you put food on the table, send your kids to school, save for your retirement, all the things that everybody has to answer. But I do believe that our leadership is critical to our economic revival and to our security and safety in the world. So it’s something that I’m going to try to explain and connect to what people are going through right now.
If you, for example, look at China, which has developed economically, they’re still, by any standard, a poor country. And yes, there are great pockets of wealth and success, but that isn’t reflected in the overall standard of living, and our national wealth is so much greater, many times over, than China’s. So let’s put this into some perspective about what’s actually real and what is feared or a source of anxiety. Yet that doesn’t mean that we can just slap ourselves on the back and say, “Aren’t we the greatest?” and not do anything to maintain our leadership. I mean, leadership has to be earned. It has to be earned over and over again.
I mean, as an aside, it’s one of the reasons why I went to Asia first on my first trip and why I’ve just had published this long article in Foreign Policy, because it appeared to Asians – both our allies, like Japan and the Philippines or Australia and others – that we were ceding the Asia Pacific region because we were so preoccupied in the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I wanted to send a very clear signal, no, we are a global power. We are an Atlantic power and a Pacific power, and we are a power to be reckoned with in the Asia Pacific. And you almost could see countries in the region going, oh, okay, yeah, okay. So when we say, “Hey, come on. We have to keep the South China Sea open and free for navigation and maritime activities,” everybody else is going, “Yeah, that’s right. We do.”
And so we are –we stand up for international norms, we stand up for universal human rights, we stand up for a free and open economic system, and we are the guarantor, in many respects, of all of those critically important global values. So I want to make that case, and I’m going to make that case in these two speeches, and I hope that people will understand that while we have to fix our problems at home, we cannot abdicate our leadership without it eventually boomeranging on us.
QUESTION: While we’re in Asia and talking about Asian power politics, obviously, that brings us to China, and there is the Senate version of the currency bill that’s likely to pass today. Is that something that you think the Administration would veto because it’s so potentially destabilizing to U.S.-China relations? And looking ahead, in your contacts with the Chinese and ahead of President Obama’s meeting with President Hu, how is – how are you going to convey to the Chinese the real sense of frustration, particularly in Congress, over this issue and that this isn’t something that can just be kicked down the road sort of for a –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have certainly conveyed that. We’ve conveyed it in a very clear, unequivocal manner to our Chinese counterparts. I don’t know whether this bill that, in the form that is passing the Senate, will ever end up as a piece of legislation coming from the Congress. I’m not going to speculate on that. But it does reflect a great deal of frustration on the part of the American people. And there are many reasons for that frustration, and I have already outlined some. I will be speaking to more on Friday in the – before the New York Economic Club. We believe in free and open economic structures. We believe that there ought to be reciprocity, not on a case-by-case basis but as a universal principle. And there is a lot of concern on the part of Americans and American businesses that we don’t see that coming from our counterparts in China.
So everybody needs to take a hard look at how we rebalance the economy, and the Chinese have more to do to stimulate internal demand, not to be artificially inflating their exports by depreciating their currency, and all anybody’s asking for is a fair field for competition. And if we can’t win on a fair field, that’s fine. But when you’re fighting with two hands tied behind your back because of all kinds of advantages for state-owned enterprises, for currency pegging, for not protecting intellectual property rights, I mean, there’s a long list of concerns that Americans have brought to me and that I have shared with the Chinese.
So we don’t want to spark any kind of retaliatory trade war that will disadvantage the global economy, the U.S. economy. We want to move toward a framework of rules that will be followed by everybody. And artificially deflating your currency is not a rule that is really in the best interest of the global economic system.
PARTICIPANT: No more questions? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We’re trying to decide which ones (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m just admiring these books that you two have.
QUESTION: I can get you one.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my gosh. Those are good looking. Really? They are nice. Wow.
QUESTION: They are nice.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And you’ve got a different kind.
QUESTION: Do I have a different kind?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I mean, you can –
QUESTION: She’s got the big boss kind. I’ve got the –
QUESTION: I’ve got the Reuters stamp at the top.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, fancy dance. Okay.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I have a number of questions on, I guess, what you’d call the counterterrorism file. You and the Administration have labeled the Haqqani Network or fingered them as being behind a number of plots, including the plot to attack the U.S. – your Embassy in Kabul. Yet at the same time, officials over the years – U.S. officials have met with members of the Haqqani Network, representatives, and if the report’s correct, quite recently. And I’m wondering, do you see at least elements of the Haqqani Network as reconcilable? And as a follow-up, is that debate sort of part of the whole debate of whether or not to list them as an FTO, a foreign terrorist organization?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Warren, we have laid out what we view as the guidelines for reconciliation with those who are fighting in Afghanistan. And we’ve made it clear that it has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. And after the Rabbani assassination, there was certainly a great deal of anguish in the Afghan Government and people about whether it was worth pursuing any kind of reconciliation or peace negotiations with any of these groups. But having thought about it for a while, the Afghans have said, “Look, we have to continue to try to find a way to resolve the ongoing conflict.” And we support that, and we want to work with them.
Now, it is also true that we’re still trying to kill and capture and neutralize them, and they’re still trying to kill as many Americans, Afghans, and coalition members as they possibly can. So as in many instances where there is an ongoing conflict, you’re fighting and looking to talk, and then eventually maybe you’re fighting and talking, and then maybe you’ve got a ceasefire, and then maybe you’re just talking. But where we are right now is that we view the Haqqanis and other of their ilk as being adversaries and being very dangerous to Americans, Afghans, and coalition members inside Afghanistan. But we’re not shutting the door on trying to determine whether there is some path forward. It’s too soon to tell whether any of these groups or any individuals within them are serious. I mean, the Afghans don’t know that. They were very shocked by the Rabbani assassination. In fact, President Karzai urged Rabbani to meet with this guy, thought he was a bona fide representative of the Taliban. But there’s – it’s always difficult in this stage of a conflict, as you think through what is the resolution you’re seeking and how do you best obtain it, to really know where you’ll be in two months, four months, six months. But we’re going to support the Afghans and they want to continue to see whether there’s any way forward or whether you can see some of the groups or their leaders willing to break with others. We don’t know that either, so that’s kind of the state of play.
QUESTION: Stranger things have happened, I guess, in terms of –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Stranger things have happened, exactly. And the old saying, “You don’t make peace with your friends,” these people have a long history of real antipathy toward each other; strangely enough, not so much for us. It’s like you go to Vietnam now, it’s like was never about you – (laughter) – yeah, I mean, tens of thousands of deaths later.
It really is – I mean, I know it sounds odd to say and it kind of goes to the question about American leadership, but I cannot tell you how many people say things to me like, “Well, we don’t always agree with what the Americans do, but we don’t think you have ill motives or ill intent. We think sometimes you don’t do the right thing.” And it’s funny because there’s that overarching impression that we’re not out to build an empire, we’re not out to take over these countries, we’re not out to enslave them, we’re not out to do X, Y, and Z to them. So I think we’ll find out as we move forward here whether the Afghans themselves can reach a resolution between them, and we’ve made it clear that we’re going to support that.
QUESTION: And a real quick one on Awlaki?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I don’t want to – we could spend all afternoon debating the legalities and so forth of his killing, but what I wanted to ask you was whether there’s been any diplomatic blowback, whether you’ve gotten any angry or concerned calls from foreign ministers, letters from the European Human Rights Council, any of that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Not that’s been brought to my attention.
QUESTION: I’m sure it would have been.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know. Mike, have you seen anything?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the U.S. press, I would say.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah. No, not at all.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Do you want to ask about –
QUESTION: We’re going to get in trouble if we don’t ask about Myanmar.
QUESTION: Well, let’s ask about Keystone too, so –
QUESTION: Okay. So, Keystone XL pipeline. So given the environmental impact report in August that Keystone XL would not do significant damage to the environment, are you leaning toward approval of the pipeline? And when do you expect to make a decision?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not leaning any way, I’m – because I don’t have any recommendation at all from the professionals and experts who have carried out the requirements that we’re mandated to follow. So I’m not going to comment. I’m going to wait and see what recommendation comes forth.
QUESTION: So you have until the end of the year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have said we’d like to make a decision by the end of the year, yeah. If you look at it, I mean, it has certainly engendered strong emotions, both for and against. People are very, very intent upon expressing their opinion, and we have heard from thousands of people by this point expressing diametrically opposed opinions, but that’s all part of the process. We solicited that. We had six public meetings in order to try to make sure that people had a chance to be heard in addition to every other way we’ve tried to reach out. And at the end of the day, we’ll make a recommendation.
QUESTION: Can I ask you one about Burma? I mean, as you know, there are these reports that the authorities are on the verge of releasing a bunch of prisoners. I’m well aware that they do this periodically and that it’s unclear how many political prisoners will actually be in any group that they may release, but the question I have is: What is it going to take from the regime for the Administration to consider, if not removing sanctions, but sort of smaller steps? And there are things you could do. You could seek waivers, for example, that would allow assistance for things like training midwives. I mean, there are sort of useful things that you could do, (inaudible) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a good idea, training midwives. Write that down. I like that, Arshad. I’m big on training midwives.
QUESTION: Yeah. I think you’re – somewhere, somebody is actually (inaudible) about that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I tried to convince the Bush Administration to train midwives in Afghanistan, so –
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a hard sell. Anyway, here’s – so are you thinking about smaller steps that you could do? And what’s it going to take for you to take some of those steps?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say we’re encouraged by the steps we see the government taking. As you know, we have the first-ever appointed Special Representative to Burma, Ambassador Derek Mitchell. He made a fact-finding trip there just last month and came back with a very comprehensive report of what he had heard from meeting across the political spectrum. We’ve had a very active diplomatic effort underway led by Kurt Campbell for several years now to try to encourage the democratic process there. And we’re going to take it – we’re going to take them at their word, but we want to see actions. And if they are going to release political prisoners, that would be a very positive sign.
So I think it’s a little premature for us to announce what we might or might not do, but I will say we’re encouraged by what we believe to be their efforts to try to do some internal reforms, continue the dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, listen to the voice of their own people as they recently did regarding the dam. So there are some promising signals.
QUESTION: Do you think that they’ve made a strategic decision or do you think these are just sort of tactical moves?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t know the answer to that, but that’s why we want to watch and evaluate what they actually do.
QUESTION: I’ve got to ask you about North Korea. We’re – it’s almost two years since Ambassador Bosworth’s trip to Pyongyang. The North Koreans, as far as I can tell, have shown no interest in meeting the American preconditions – freezing Yongbyon, letting international or some inspectors back in.
So, two questions: Do you see any signs that the North Korean – that I’m missing that the North Koreans might be willing to do some of the things that the Administration has been very clear it wants them to do before resuming denuclearization talks? If you don’t, are you open to, are you considering, the possibility of entering into a more serious dialogue with them even absent – or continuing a dialogue with them since you’ve already had a couple – some meetings – absent those preconditions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, we have the Korean state visit starting tomorrow and Thursday and Friday. And we have been closely consulting with and coordinating with the South Koreans to an unprecedented degree. I think that the relationship is very strong. And we will remain quite committed to moving forward together. So we will be, during this visit, discussing what next steps might occur. We have been willing to remain engaged with the North Koreans on a range of issues that they are following up on.
But again, I may know more in the next few weeks about what is possible, but it’s very important that we stay closely allied with the South Koreans, because it is not just about us and the North Koreans; it’s very much about our treaty ally, the South, and therefore, we want to be sure that we are working on the – as we have been, working on the same process moving forward.
QUESTION: From the way I see it, the South is more open to dialogue. I mean, there’s been a series of –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but there’s been – but they have also asked some hard questions, explored some options. And I don’t want to jump the gun, I don’t want to preempt what they are willing to do, but I think we are in a very strong position to consider what our next steps – if any – what our next steps might be.
QUESTION: And do you think Bosworth is likely to go, or to have a meeting later this month with the North, or is that something –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s something that, if that is confirmed, we will certainly announce.
QUESTION: So anything else? Are we –
QUESTION: Can I ask one personal question?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, I think this may be the last one.
QUESTION: So you’ve said that you’ll be a one-term Secretary of State, and 15 months doesn’t sound – for someone who’s in their job five and a half weeks –
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: – 15 months doesn’t sound like a whole heck of a lot of time. What would – what are going to be your priorities between now and January 2013? And what have you not accomplished that you’d really like to?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this could really be part of an exit interview which we should do in January 2013, but –
QUESTION: We accept. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. But I am assuming and believe that President Obama is going to be reelected, and therefore, a lot of what I’m doing now will continue into the next term. And it’s both the headlines that we’ve been talking about – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Middle East, China, the economy, et cetera – it’s all through the trend lines; I mean, our continuing work on everything from nonproliferation to women’s empowerment, which we see as a key national security goal, to ensuring that we have a safe and secure energy supply.
And that’s why out of the process that I initiated, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the so-called QDDR, we set forth a number of priorities that we wanted to pursue. And we’re steadily achieving them. So we’re standing up our energy bureau, and to me, that’s a major step forward in how we think of ourselves here in the State Department. We are rationalizing and streamlining procedures between State Department and USAID so that we have a – we save money, we save taxpayer dollars, but we deliver more for what we spend. We are engaged in a very challenging budget discussion with the Congress, which will, to some extent, determine where our priorities are in what we do.
We are responding to the Arab Spring. We have a designated team led by Ambassador Bill Taylor to push the economic and political reform agenda across the region while we, of course, deal on a national basis with our embassies. We are looking at strengthening our strategic dialogues with key countries like Brazil, like Colombia, like Mexico, like Nigeria, South Africa, each of whom has specific benefits. We’re investing a lot of time in Nigeria. That’s not going to get in the headlines unless something really bad happens. A major oil provider of ours; we worked closely with them so that they would have free, fair elections, so that they had a leadership that had legitimacy; now we’re supporting what they’re trying to do. We obviously are deeply engaged in India and continuing to build that relationship. The reset in Russia; I mean, there’s just – there’s so much that we are working on.
And I don’t know any way that we can say, okay, we’re only going to work on this set of issues and we’re not going to work on that, because the way the world works today, there are so many emerging actors who can influence events in ways that either advantage or disadvantage us nationally, or promote or undermine the values that we stand for. And so we really have to have a broad, comprehensive, global presence at the very time when we’re having the money cut.
And it’s especially difficult given this Arab awakening because we look at the individual countries; they each pose specific challenges. Take Tunisia; they’re really doing a lot of what they need to do right, they’re very anxious to have economic help from us, we’re cobbling together what we can to help them start businesses, have an enterprise fund, inspire entrepreneurship, provide technical assistance on their election. And you multiply that many times over – Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, the other Gulf countries. So we have to be a lot more creative with the dollars that we have in order to get the impact that we’re seeking.
And I know that in the Congress, there are some who – they think foreign aid is 20 percent of the budget, and so if we just cut it out, we’d be able to balance the budget. And so we’ve been doing a lot of educating with our colleagues on the Hill to make the case: Look, this is a historic moment with so much that is happening. And we’re – we have to be present, whether it’s helping Central America with their security against drug cartels. I mean, hello, today, if people didn’t know why we were worried about that, maybe they do now. We have to be opening markets, creating more investment. There’s just a big agenda out there.
So I see the headlines and the trend lines, and I try to kind of keep an eye on both of them, so –
QUESTION: The budget thing must be somewhat frustrating to you. I mean, you’ve – if nothing else, you have a made a case for foreign assistance over the years –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: – and Congress seems to be cutting some of it anyway.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’re right, Warren. I mean, part of our – part of what we’re trying to do – and I worked very closely with Bob Gates on this for two and a half years – was to make the case that the State Department, USAID were part of national security, that we weren’t some afterthought stuck out over in the corner here. So that implied several courses of action. One was to argue for an overseas contingency account, which the Defense Department always had. They would separate out sort of the war-fighting money from their base budget.
And when we started getting into this budget discussion, I realized that if we didn’t move quickly on that front, it was going to be very difficult because the Congress was basically saying, “Okay, we want you to do what you have to do in Iraq and we want you to do what you have to do in Afghanistan and, oh, yeah, take care of what you need to do in Yemen or Somalia or somewhere else, and we’ll just cut your budget.” And so we made the case, “Look, you treat the Defense Department this way. We’re part of national security; you should give us an OCO account – overseas contingency operations account – for what we do in these conflict zones.”
And you know what? They agreed. So now, we’ve got the money that we have to have to fund what we’re doing, this enormous undertaking in Iraq and elsewhere, which the State Department has never done before, and it’s incredibly challenging. And we are not having a total tradeoff with are we going to keep issuing visas for Chinese business leaders to come to United States, or are we going to be so far behind in our Consular Affairs budget that people are going to have to wait a year or two?
So we’re trying to make the case. The Senate has been quite understanding, and we’re making, I think, some progress in the House. But now, we are in this bucket – national security bucket – with DHS, with DOD. I don’t know – remember who else is in there, maybe VA.
QUESTION: DOE maybe?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Is – I think maybe some of the nuclear stuff is. I think; I don’t know. I don’t remember right now. So yeah, I mean, a lot of people say, “Oh my gosh, there’s so many members who are going to stand up for the Defense Department, so you’re going to be really disadvantaged,” but we just have to keep making the case, so –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Always good to see you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, originally when I set this up, I had wanted to do this for a while and I thought the – let me make sure everybody’s got their mikes here – I thought that the fact that I’m giving two speeches this week, one tomorrow at the Center for American Progress on American leadership and to talk about a lot of the sort of durable values and interests that shape our policies today and I think are helping us navigate through and even manage a lot of new and very difficult challenges.
And then on Friday, I’ll be speaking before the New York Economic Club on economic statecraft, how we sort of use what we do here in the State Department to promote economic progress here at home. And it’s an issue that I care deeply about and have been working on for the last two and a half years, but it seems particularly timely because of the Jobs Council – the event we had last week – but also because of the great anxiety in our country about our economic prospects, and to try to once again give Americans reasons to understand why we have to be focused outward, why we have to look at ways we can promote business – which is something we do a lot of in the State Department and that I do a lot personally. So we’re really trying to go into an arena in a very public way that we’ve been in for a long time, but where Americans themselves are thinking today.
And of course, this is to some extent related to the budget challenges that we’re having on the Hill, because there are a lot of people who don’t really understand what the State Department does or what USAID does and why it’s important not only for our peace and security, but also for our prosperity and opportunity in this very difficult global economic environment.
So those are two pieces of business that I feel strongly about, kind of laying down and making sure our part of the debate going forward within the Congress, obviously, the press and the public.
And I’m sure you’ve seen some of the news that we’ve had in the last few minutes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I know that Donna wants to talk to you about the budget a little bit. Can we just start with that breaking news? Because that’s the reason I’m not wearing a tie right now and – (laughter) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. Oh, is that the reason Matt? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We’ll talk to you about that afterward. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And that is – presumably you are up to speed, you’re aware of this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, aware –
QUESTION: And I know that it’s a Justice Department thing and that –
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is.
QUESTION: But what does it say about – I mean, about Iran and any attempt to try and get them to be reasonable?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me start with what it says about our whole-of-government efforts. I mean, this was a really important achievement by our law enforcement and our intel community to disrupt this plot. And you’ll be able to get the – you all were up here, but the news conference that the Attorney General and the FBI director and the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District and the Assistant AG for National Security just finished giving made it very clear that this was conceived by and directed by elements within the Iranian Government. The complaint has more detail than that. It’s something that we’ve been aware of and working on, led by the Justice Department and the FBI and the DEA.
So I think that the fact that the plot was disrupted and that, thankfully, the worst consequences that might have resulted from this kind of state-sponsored act of terror against a diplomat who, under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, is a breach of international norms, and Iran happens to be a signatory to that convention, I think creates a potential for international reaction that will further isolate Iran, that will raise questions about what they’re up to, not only inside the United States or Mexico, but elsewhere in the world. More details will, of course, come out in the course of the case being processed.
But as you may know, Matt, there are two named defendants, one the holder of American and Iranian passports and one who is in Iran who was involved. And I’m going to let the details kind of be up to the Justice Department because it’s really within their bailiwick. But it will not, I think, surprise you to know that we are actively engaged in a very concerted diplomatic outreach to many capitals, to the UN in New York, to not only explain what happened so that we try to preempt any efforts by Iran to be successful in what will be their denial and their efforts to try to deflect responsibility, but that we also enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat by Iran within many nations.
This is about us today, but it’s not the only place where Iran is seeking to influence and use elements of its security apparatus, most particularly the Qods Force and departments within the Qods Force, to be an arm of Iranian policy in ways that violate international norms and violate the sovereignty of nations. So we are on a concerted effort to try to make that case and have a lot of voices in the chorus.
QUESTION: Is there an immediate impact to – I don’t know what more you can do to Iran. Is there anything that happens immediately to –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the Treasury Department will be, if they haven’t already, be issuing additional designations of some named people which I think you’ll find of interest. We will clearly be speaking with our counterparts in the Gulf, in Europe, and beyond about what actions they might take – additional personal designations of sanctions. I mean, it’s been my experience over the last two and a half years that when we have designated individuals, as we did for systematic human rights abusers inside Iran, that drew a real response.
So I just finished talking to the Saudi foreign minister, and I will, the President will, be making a number of additional calls. I’ve already spoken in the past week with the Mexican foreign minister. So we have a lot of outreach going on, because this really, in the minds of many diplomats, government officials, crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you said it was –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the region? I mean, obviously the U.S.’s Gulf allies and Iran have already been pretty unhappy with each other and there’s been a lot of allegations in the region of Iranian meddling –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, right.
QUESTION: — in Bahrain, in Saudi. Does that give you any – I mean, does this prove that there’s any more proof to those accusations, do you think? Or –
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that it does strengthen the case that a number of nations have made, but without the solid base of evidence that we have put together on this one. There is a great deal of anxiety about Iran anyway, and we often in our discussions with other nations, particularly in the Gulf, are trying to make sure that they’re not overcharging, because everything that happens is not necessarily caused by Iran.
So what we want is to make it clear that, yes, is there a real threat from the way Iran is behaving, most particularly in its region but clearly now beyond ? The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder for hire to kill the Saudi ambassador? I mean, that even – nobody can make that up, right? And so that does give a lot of credibility to the concerns, but we also have to be careful – and we’ve tried to be very careful in this instance to – what you’ll see in the complaint is what we know, what we can prove. But now we want to reassure our friends that the complaints against Iran are well-founded, so we have to be careful about how we go after them now and how we make it in common cause with a lot of these other countries, some of whom have not been willing to point the finger at Iran, but now may be.
QUESTION: Is this supposed to go on in (inaudible) talks or is it –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean – you know what? I mean, we said just a few weeks ago when Ahmadinejad came to New York and he said, “Look, I’m willing to talk. All I want is my 20 percent enrichment for the Tehran Research Reactor. We had Cathy Ashton on behalf of the P-5+1 basically say, “Look, if you have a real proposal, you know where we are. Come talk to us.” And they haven’t. So, no, I mean, the door is not closed, but there has to be some seriousness of intent before we’re going to walk through that door again.
QUESTION: Is there evidence of – from – well, from this case of Iranian plotting in other countries against others?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Michael, we have had evidence going back a number – well, running back a number of years. I mean –
SECRETARY CLINTON: — we have reason to believe that in many different countries, Iran or proxies of Iran have been active. But we do – that was mostly in other countries. And most of those other countries have not put together criminal cases. They might have kicked out a diplomat or they might have protested to the Iranians. So it was all handled kind of below the radar screen, if you will.
This case, we are pushing into the sunlight with evidence and accusations which we hope will give some support to those who know this is going on in or near them so that they too can be more forthright. Yeah.
QUESTION: But nothing specific in this case that they were hiring these drug cartel guys for this –
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
QUESTION: — they were hiring them for something else too?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, but in this case, look at (inaudible) worked for them. Who knows, right? (Laughter.) I mean, that’s what’s so scary about their overaggressive outreach here.
QUESTION: I just want to get to two other kind of – one other issue of the day and then I’ll be quiet and let all my colleagues talk, and that is – one other issue of the day, and Toria talked about this in the briefing, is Egypt and how concerned you are about what appears to be a really significant deterioration of things like sectarian violence. And then the second thing would be the Quartet offering the 23rd (inaudible) exactly 30 days from the last 23rd, what did you – is there any hope that they’re going to accept?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first on Egypt, Matt, I share the concerns that have been expressed about the outbreak of violence and particularly what appeared to be the sectarian nature of it. I’ve spoken with the foreign minister, who has assured me that there is an investigation going on, that they understand very well in the Egyptian Government, as expressed by the prime minister in his remarks last night, that they have to, number one, find out what happened, and number two, take steps to prevent it from happening again.
I also pressed on a couple of laws that they’ve been considering that would give certain rights to the Coptic Christian minority, to be able to build churches, more of an evenhanded approach, ending discrimination against the Copts. These, as I say, are laws that they’ve considered but they haven’t yet passed.
I have to tell you, the foreign minister, with whom I have spoken on numerous occasions, memorably in the middle of the night during the mob attack on the Israeli Embassy, has been very responsive, and I have found him to be very forthright, so that he hasn’t, again, told me what I wanted to hear. He has been very straight with me, and I felt like, again today, he was sort of describing the process that they’re going through. They don’t yet have the information that they are seeking about how this all happened and got out of control.
And I also pressed him on the role that the official state media played in kind of fanning the flames. And it’s our information that the official media was saying things like go out and protect the military and doing things that was not helpful. And he said he was aware of that and they were also addressing it.
So we just have to keep in a constant channel of communication with our counterparts in Egypt because this is all new territory for them. And it’s quick to jump to conclusions about what they really intend, but it’s also, I think, fair to say sometimes they don’t know what is going to happen next because this is something that they didn’t sign up for. And so we have to try to keep our voice in the mix, along with others, about when we talk about a democracy, when we talk about elections, when we talk about building a democratic government, it’s not just holding an election. They’re protecting minorities, independent judiciary, all of the pieces, freedom of press, et cetera. So I did – I told him that we hope that they would get back to protecting peaceful assembly, freedom of worship, the kind of basic rights that make up a democratic society.
With respect to the Middle East, the Quartet has been very active since we came out with the statement. They held a meeting, as you know, in Brussels – I think it was Sunday, over the weekend – as the preparatory meeting that they had promised to do among the Quartet. And then they’re aiming for a preparatory meeting by the end of this month. The exact date, that’s still in negotiation because where, when, how, that’s a detail.
But I personally have been encouraged by the seriousness that the Quartet has brought to this and the responses of the Israelis and the Palestinians. President Abbas, as you know, is on a road tour, so to speak, and has been in a number of countries seeking support for his UN position. But we have made clear that he’s lodged his request in the UN; there is no route whatsoever for a state being formed through the UN; it can only be formed through negotiations. And we are urging him, and now there are many voices in the Quartet and beyond who are urging him. So it’s not just the United States; it’s everybody saying you have to return to negotiations and there has to be a way to work out your demand for a settlement freeze and the Israeli demand for no preconditions if you really want to make progress toward a Palestinian state. So I think everybody’s on the same page, and that’s important, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to see some movement.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, just following up on that, there is this month-long deadline that was in the Quartet statement. If negotiations don’t resume then, what do you see happening, particularly since, in the interim, we’ve seen new settlement building by the Israelis and really no sign that there’s going to be any significant progress to settle this? Doesn’t this really feed into the Palestinians saying, well, look, we’ve waited so long and look what happened right after we made this bid?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Edith, I think that the situation has changed from a total paralysis or stagnation between the parties, because you do have the Israelis saying that they’re willing, ready, and able to go into negotiations; you do have President Abbas knowing that he cannot get a state through the United Nations even though he was able to express the aspirations of the Palestinian people by lodging his request at the Security Council.
So I really think that this is hard under any circumstances, as we all know so well. And it always seems, historically, when one is ready to move, the other isn’t. And we’ve been down this road now for 20-plus years. But I actually believe that the spotlight that is now shining on this process has the potential for moving both sides in a way that we haven’t experienced for quite some time, maybe not since the Camp David efforts at the end of the ’90s.
And I am of the opinion that having the Quartet playing this leading role – because remember, everybody on the Quartet had to come together to set this timetable for us. So everybody now has a stake in it, which is one of the reasons we worked so hard to get it nailed down and just sort of made it under the wire at the UN to be able to get it public. Because what happens in most of these situations is one side or the other calls somebody and says you’ve got to listen to me, we can’t really do this, I can’t go forward, I’m not getting what I need, and now there is a common response: Go back to negotiations. We’ve all signed up to that.
And you’re right that the announcement of additional housing was counterproductive, unhelpful. All of the people on the Quartet said that. Certainly, our government said it. But as I’ve told the Palestinians, and as I think the Quartet is now telling the Palestinians, what’s the best way to end settlement development? Negotiate borders. Come up with a process where what is yours is yours, what is theirs is theirs, and then it becomes moot. The Israelis, if they were sitting on this side of the table, would say to you everybody knows Gilo is going to be in whatever we negotiate. Everybody knows that. So what’s the big fuss? It’s not like we’re building in Ramallah; we’re building in Gilo. And there’s a certain logic to that because, in fact, I don’t know any map that doesn’t have Gilo in it. There are other places that are more controversial, but Gilo is pretty much assumed.
So I actually think there’s an enormous amount of energy behind this now. And people who have never been involved at all – like I spoke last evening to President Santos in Colombia. Colombia sits on the Security Council. Colombia has made it clear that they are not going to vote for statehood because they think that it would be disruptive and not lead to a state. But President Abbas is in Colombia, so President Santos is going to speak with him. And so it’s not just the Americans, it’s not just the Europeans. The whole world is saying now is the moment. What better moment could there be? It’s kind of the argument that Olmert made in his op-ed of a few weeks ago. Whatever the reasons were for doing this before, it’s even more imperative now to try to resolve this conflict and have a safe and secure Israel with borders that are recognized by everyone, and have a Palestinian state.
So if you hang around the Middle East peace process, you either hang your head and give up, or you keep looking for any ray of light that you possibly can see. (Laughter.) And I have found every scintilla of light.
QUESTION: Although –
QUESTION: There’s an upside to the UN.
QUESTION: That’s diplomatic (inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That very argument, though, that now is the time, it’s not – things are only going to get worse from here, is one that Ariel Sharon made five years ago. And now we’re five years down the road and, arguably, things are worse. I mean, are you worried that this just keeps getting moved along in some sort of weird middle-muddle and it never gets fixed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Anne, I think that’s a possibility. And who knows? Look, who knows what would’ve happened if Rabin hadn’t been assassinated? Who knows what would’ve happened if Sharon hadn’t had a stroke? I mean, who knows what would’ve happened – it’s like after my husband left office, Arafat calls him up some months later and says I’m ready to take the deal now. I mean, so – (laughter) – there’s always something that is happening which makes it incredibly painful and excruciating to move forward.
But it’s by no means a coincidence that you had a succession of Israeli prime ministers, no matter where they started from, who have all ended in the same place, that we need to do this. You had Netanyahu, who doesn’t – who often it’s not written about this way – who embraced the two-state solution, which had not been something he had done before. And as I remind the Palestinians, Bibi Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze. I dragged you all to Jerusalem and stood on the stage with him and said look, this is a big deal, never been done before. There was never a settlement freeze when Rabin was there, Barak was there, Sharon was there. Ten months, and then for a confluence of events, the Palestinians didn’t come to the negotiating table until the ninth month, one week.
So you’re right that who knows what will happen, but I think it’s the kind of difficult problem that does not get better by ignoring it or trying to put it on a shelf somewhere or taking half measures toward it. So therefore, we have to keep trying. And I think we are building a good, strong case for international support for negotiations. We just have to convince the parties of that.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about another area of things that may not improve by being ignored, and that’s the Taliban and the prospect of a peace process. Do you feel any closer to that goal than when you laid out your terms for it, I believe, in February? I mean, just sort of looking at the landscape, I mean, you’ve got President Karzai saying there’s really no use in talking and the Pakistanis have to do it. You have the assassination of the head of the – the leader of the outreach there, and if reports are to be believed, the stagnation of the U.S.’s own unilateral outreach. Where do you assess U.S. outreach to the Taliban, and how confident are you that that’s a deal you can get done before you leave?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think if you carefully analyze what President Karzai said – and of course, in the immediate aftermath of the Rabbani assassination, the emotions were intense, and for all the right reasons there was a sense of great loss. I think where we stand right now is that President Karzai understands that there has to be outreach to see whether or not there is an opportunity for a resolution with some parts of the Taliban or with all of the Taliban.
And Ambassador Marc Grossman, who has been working around the clock on this, has been in the region for the last week and believes that the parties understand – meaning Karzai and all of the elements within his government – that as difficult as it is to pursue a peace process and potential agreement with the Taliban, it has to be done.
So we believe that this has to be an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, which we support. And therefore, their conclusion after a lot of soul-searching, after deciding that probably the best person to succeed Rabbani was his son, that there will be a continuation of outreach.
Now, there are a lot of moving parts here, and what we have tried to do is to put whatever efforts the Afghans, with our support, with the support of others – because there are a number of countries who have inroads into or contacts from the Taliban that are being pursued – that if you put this into the context of where we are today, we’re going to continue to try to kill, capture, or neutralize as many of their fighters as we possibly can, whether they are Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, Haqqani Network, whomever they might be. And we are going to press the Pakistanis even harder about being a positive player in this process.
And we are, at the same time, aiming toward two significant meetings – the meeting in Istanbul November 2nd, which is a meeting of the region, including us, to talk about what are the peace dividends, if you will; how can everybody make more money if you quit fighting with each other, to put not too fine a point on it. So we have this program that we’ve developed called the New Silk Road vision, which I unveiled with the Germans and the Afghans in New York, which people are really excited about. Because when you look at sort of South Central Asia, it is remarkably underdeveloped economically because there is so much suspicion between and among them; they don’t trade, they don’t have open borders, Pakistan – you got to go through Pakistan in most instances to get into India, and that’s not moving as quickly as we would hope. So there’s a lot of other elements here that we’re going to be pressing forward on. And of course, in December, we have the 10th anniversary of the Bonn conference.
So there’s a lot going on, a lot of diplomatic activity, a lot of outreach. But the bottom line for us is it has to be Afghan-led and owned. And if the Afghans tomorrow say, “We don’t want anything to do with this, we don’t ever think it can happen,” we can’t act in their stead. We can only act in support of them. It is their country, it’s their future, but I think they have concluded, after being quite shaken by the vicious, duplicitous murder of Rabbani, that they still need to be pursuing these threats.
QUESTION: Do you expect to have a strategic partnership dialogue document concluded and ready to sign at that Bonn conference? What’s the holdup there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re certainly working hard on it. We’ve resolved a lot of the outstanding issues. There are a couple more that we’re still negotiating. We’ve put the lead on it now in Kabul with Ryan Crocker and John Allen. I had a SVTC with them last week and we got updated on the progress. So yeah, I think that that’s our goal. Our goal is to try to get it resolved.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you mentioned the budget, and it’s under assault on the Hill –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: — with both Republicans and Democrats –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: — even on the Senate bill. What are you saying to members up there and what is your outreach to members to try to hold the line against deeper cuts? And also, you’re in an odd position now because in everyone’s wisdom up there, they threw you all into this national security pie, so you’re up against the Defense budget.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: So there are a lot of members who don’t want to trim Defense either. So what’s your word to them and who are you reaching out to to make the case?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Donna, we are intensely reaching out to both Houses, both sides of the aisle, on a daily basis. Tom Nides, who is our deputy for management and resources, kind of runs a team of policy and legislative experts here so that we’re constantly assessing where we are and where we’re headed. The idea of having a national security budget was something Bob Gates and I proposed, and I still think it’s the right idea. And I’m fully aware of the much greater presence of the Defense Department on the Hill – (laughter) – and also the very strong allegiance that many members have to every weapons system that ever was proposed. So we are certainly cognizant of the challenges we face.
However, we have strong support in the Congress, particularly in the Senate, which understands what Bob Gates and I have been preaching together for the last couple of years, which is that if you talk to the military in Afghanistan or now coming out of Iraq, there’s just a real division of labor that State Department and USAID cannot be expected to do if we don’t get support.
Now, one of the innovations that I’ve pushed very hard for, which I believe is going to be embraced by the Congress, is the overseas contingency operations. Because as you know so well, for a long time – well, as long as anybody can remember – Defense has put all of their war-fighting costs off their budget so that they were part of what is called the OCO account. And we were competing against ourselves when this – when the new House came in and changes in the Senate and people were looking at how – while they wanted us to keep doing what we’re expected to do in Iraq and what we were doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, “Oh, by the way, what you’re doing in Yemen and what you’re trying to do in Somalia and what you’re trying to do in Sudan,” et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, “Oh, okay, but that – but we don’t want to give you as much money, so you just keep doing that.” Well, then, okay, so who’s going to process visas, right? And when you go on your CODEL to Paris, who’s going to be there to meet you?
And so we began to make the case that we needed to replicate the Defense Department’s approach, which was an overseas contingency operation so that the funding didn’t go into the base. And I think that the Congress really understood that. So it looks like we will get an OCO account, which will release some of the pressure that we face. But to go back to the economic speech on Friday, I mean, the biggest concern that I hear from everybody from Jeff Immelt to the business guy I run into on the street in New York is “You got to process more visas. I want to do business with a Chinese supplier. He’s been waiting six months to get his interview to get the visa.” Well, we are processing – we have increased the numbers, we are open six days a week, we have more people doing it. The demand is just enormous. And so if we’re going to keep up on the economic side, there are certain functions we have to be able to perform. So that’s just one example.
Similarly, on the foreign aid side, we struggle against this unfortunate perception that 20 percent of the American budget goes to foreign aid. And it’s a burden for us to keep making the case, “No, no, no.” But then I’ll get called by a conservative member of Congress who says, “Why aren’t we doing more in the Horn of Africa? Those people are starving.” And so we have to keep making the case, and we are, and we have a lot of allies. We have religious groups who are our allies on foreign aid. We have the military and the intelligence community much more aware of what we help them do in areas of conflict. So we’ve created a much broader set of advocates.
Having said all that, it’s still going to be hard because people, when it comes down to it, especially if this super committee kicks in, it’s going to be hard for both the Defense Department and State. I’d rather have their problems than my problems, but we’re just going to do the best we can to make the case and to get the resources we need.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, could I follow up on that? What about the efforts in Congress to defund the United Nations and other international organizations? What’s that going to do to America’s international standing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, Edith, there’s already laws on the books that predate this Administration that require the end of funding to any international organization that recognizes the Palestinians as a state, gives them observer status, in any way kind of validates their claims. And we’re seeing this played out at UNESCO. I think – I can’t remember exactly, but we provide a healthy percentage of the budget to UNESCO.
SECRETARY CLINTON: How much?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Twenty-two percent. And we have made it very clear it’s not our choice to cut off funding, but we are legally required to cut off funding. And there are those who up on the Hill say, “Well, UNESCO, that’s education, that’s cultural,” but what about the International Atomic Energy Agency or what about the World Health Organization or what about the Food and Agriculture Organization?
You go down the alphabet soup of all of the international organizations and it would be very much against America’s interests. Here we are at the IAEA pushing to find out everything we can find out about Iran or North Korea, and we’re no longer at the table? That is not in our interests. So we are looking for ways to comply, of course, with the law, but perhaps to inject some understanding into it that doesn’t end up undermining America’s interests in these organizations. So that’s where we are right now, and it’s challenging.
QUESTION: And how do you see the fight over aid to the Palestinians (inaudible) out in this funding?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we were successful a few months ago in convincing the Israelis to support my releasing the last tranche of money – I think it was $50 million – to the Palestinian Authority. And we made the case – this was money that had been appropriated in the, I think, 2010 cycle – we made the case that we needed to keep the Palestinian Authority functioning, we need to pay salaries, that it was very much in their interest but also equally if not more in Israel’s interest so that there was not outbreaks of violence, that there wasn’t a collapse of their state structure, that the security forces were paid. And the Israelis have also been continuing to provide the fees that they collect for the Palestinians, the kind of customs revenue fees, so they recognize that.
So we’re taking this on a case-by-case basis. For example, we have money up there now as part of our continuing funding of the training of the security forces. And we’re in discussions with the Hill, with the Palestinians, with the Israelis about wanting to keep that flowing, because if you go back and look at the last several years, when Tahrir Square broke out, Syria breaks out, everything is going on around them, the Palestinian security force has been reliable, stable, a very good partner with the Israelis in trying to keep peace, trying to prevent Hamas infiltration into the West Bank. So we’re making the case.
QUESTION: And you’re asking the Israelis to help make the case with –
SECRETARY CLINTON: We do on a case-by-case basis, yeah.
QUESTION: I need to get a quick one in on Keystone (inaudible). So there are environmentalists –
QUESTION: Time’s up. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I was waiting for that (inaudible). You’re slow off to start (inaudible).
QUESTION: Too bad. He started talking. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, right. Okay.
QUESTION: There’s been a lot of allegations from environmentalists that there’s a conflict of interest, that this TransCanada guy who worked in the campaign has somehow gotten sort of a cozy relationship with the Department then. So the question is, one, I mean, is there – was there a conflict? Do you see any conflict of interest, any problem here? Do you still expect a decision to be made sooner than the end of the year? Will make it yourself? Will you delegate it to someone? How does all that work?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Matt, first, I think that the Department, both here in Washington and in Ottawa, has been very much in listen-and-outreach mode, and they have met with, talked with, received information from a very large group of interested parties – some for, some against, as you know. They recently concluded six public sessions that were held gave a forum for people, and you just can’t – this is a very emotional decision. You have people who feel very strongly on both sides, as has been evident. You have states that are welcoming it, states that are rejecting it, all of whom, I think, are governed by Republicans. Or maybe one isn’t but – (laughter) – it’s quite – this is a very local – this is an issue that raises very local concerns. So I have been just having our team go forward and do what they’re supposed to do, so I have nothing more to say at this time because until a recommendation comes up the chain and – originally, two and a half years ago, this had been delegated to the deputy. This was not something that the Secretary was going to decide. But there is no recommendation, and when there is a recommendation, there’ll be a decision, but it’ll be very much rooted in all the work that has been done. And I think people have tried to be extremely careful and thoughtful, and it’s a process that I am trying to respect until it reaches its conclusion.
QUESTION: But you don’t see any merit to this conflict of interest (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. I mean, I haven’t – I have no reason to believe that.
QUESTION: Can I ask one question about you? You said you’re leaving these lovely rooms at the end of next year, and I know a lot of people will be interested in your plans. Is elective office done?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have said that before; I will say it again. I really am looking forward to returning to private life. And I’ve told everyone that I assume and believe that the President will be re-elected. I will, obviously, wait until he has a chance to make whatever transition he wants to make, but then I am looking forward to being out of public life, whether it’s high-level appointments like this or elective office. I have no interest in or no plans of any sort to pursue that anymore.
STAFF: From that, I like to say her next appointment is waiting out there.
QUESTION: Bradley –
SECRETARY CLINTON: He wore this good-looking –
QUESTION: I know. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: — ascot thing. I can’t let him go without a question.
QUESTION: I figured that the ascot plus no tie equals a regular tie.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. I think you’re right. (Laughter.) Okay, so Bradley gets the last question.
QUESTION: Just to go back to the Middle East, we skipped over a couple countries in – near civil war –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: On Syria, you’ve done various piecemeal sanctions, but how do you see this situation being resolved beyond the call that it would be great if Asad stepped down from power and the transition occurs? And how is this going to – how can this be brought about?
And then on Yemen, it’s such a difficult situation because you’re getting some cooperation against al-Qaida on the one hand but the same – some of the same officials who are helping in that way are creating this huge power crisis, which is kind of creating the conditions in which al-Qaida can grow and operate there. So how do you deal with that situation, and what can we look forward to?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first with respect to Syria, I think that what we have been strongly advocating for and what Ambassador Ford has been really putting himself out on a limb for is the right of the Syrian people to demonstrate, to organize, to demand change on their terms. And when this all started, there really wasn’t anything resembling an organized opposition. Now there is. There’s a coalescing opposition. We strongly believe it is their interest to maintain their nonviolent approach to this. We do – we think it’s right because they are not organized or able to even imagine some kind of armed action, and they don’t – they have the moral high ground right now. And one of the techniques of the Asad regime is to try to claim that it’s a armed gang, it’s thugs, it’s terrorists. So we really are focused on keeping the nonviolent aspect of this.
And I think that has done a couple of things. It has certainly attracted a lot of European support, a lot of European sanctions, because people believe that the opposition and the Syrian people deserve that. But it’s also, I think, put China and Russia on the wrong side of history. People have asked me, well, were you upset about the vetoes by China and Russia? And I say, well, first of all, I obviously expected them. But secondly, it’s China and Russia who have to explain what they’re doing about the Arab Spring and what they’re doing about the Syrian people and why they’re continuing in, at least according to available information, supporting a regime that is using weapons that Russia has sold them in the past against their own people.
So I think this is an evolving situation, and it’s not – it cannot be accelerated from the outside. The single message that comes through loudly and clearly from everyone associated with the opposition is they do not want foreign intervention, unlike the Libyans. The Libyans were asking for it. They went to the Arab League, they went to the GCC, they went to the UN. Syrians reject it. They do not want anybody coming in, and I respect that because they’re – they have a lot of work to do internally because there is not yet an acceptance by many groups within Syria that their life would be better without Asad than with Asad. There are a lot of minority groups that are very concerned.
Now, I think the killing by the Syrian authorities of the Kurdish leader seems to have been just a spark to the tinder because that goes right at one of the groups that up until now have been kind of on the sidelines. You didn’t hear a lot from the Kurds, the Druze, the Christians, obviously the Alawites, the business leaders in Damascus, Aleppo. But as this goes on, I really believe there will be more support for change. And I know we get impatient, and you guys have to write all the time so you’re especially impatient, but sometimes you just have to let – you have to let circumstances unfold. And the act that – the steps that Turkey has taken, which have drawn a fierce attack from Iran, I mean, this is all, I think, kind of moving in the right direction.
So how long, when, I cannot predict to you. But first there has to be something more of a Syrian opposition, and that opposition has to be more reassuring to all the constituent groups inside Syria in order for there to be some agreement, consensus reached to go try to bring down the government in whatever way they think they can.
Yemen is an entirely different case. I mean, Yemen – we signed on to the GCC plan because, frankly, the GCC had a better chance of influencing the Yemenis than anybody else, particularly Saleh and his family. I think that it also is a very complex situation inside Yemen. Our ambassador has been terrific in marshalling support, keeping the European and Arabs together in trying to force Saleh to actually leave. But it is also going to take some time. He’s clearly not ready to go, and the demonstrators are not ready to leave, and al-Qaida is trying to take advantage of it. And you have a lot of discontent across the country, pro-, anti-government. So it’s a lot of very complex actors who we are trying to all put in the same frame of saying, look, regardless of where you’re from or who you are, you need a fresh start and you need a new leader, and then you need a fair process for choosing the next leader. And we can help you do all of that, but you’re going to have continuing conflict and cries of – accusations of illegitimacy and the like if – unless you really come to grips with this.
QUESTION: Is this a civil war?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s a – no, not yet. No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think it’s – I mean, there are certain – people have chosen up sides, but not completely. And that’s why we’re trying to keep everybody focused on what the GCC plan was, because at least is a coherent plan, and there’s a process attached to it, and that’s the way I think we should proceed.
QUESTION: Coherent plan without a coherence.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, without a decision by Saleh, who just doesn’t want to leave. (Laughter.) What can I tell you? He doesn’t want to leave. And he is hanging on by –
SECRETARY CLINTON: — whatever he can hang on to. And remember, he’s the only guy who ever unified Yemen. So he is a guy who understands the country as well as anybody else, and he’s trying to play every possible angle on this. But we’ve remained consistent. The GCC – everybody’s remained consistent, but we’ll have to see how it unfolds still.
Well, thank you all.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: My pleasure. My pleasure.
Secretary Clinton spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr this afternoon to convey our deep concern about the violence that occurred over the weekend. She expressed condolences for all those who were killed and injured as a result of the violence.
The Secretary conveyed U.S. support for the Egyptian Cabinet’s decision to launch a transparent and credible investigation into the violence and stressed the importance of the investigation beginning immediately and holding accountable all responsible parties with full due process of law.
Secretary Clinton reiterated the need for the Egyptian government to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Egyptians are respected, including the rights of religious freedom, peaceful assembly, and the end of military trials for civilians, and that efforts be made to address sectarian tensions.
The President is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. The United States expresses our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and stands with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time. Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom. We also note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation and appeal to all parties to refrain from violence. These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive.
(Remarks as prepared)
Thank you for that warm introduction, and thank you, Reverend Ogle and Bishop Christopher, for inviting me to speak today and for putting me in such good company on such an important set of topics. Bishop Christopher, the assembled crowd here today, and the people you’ve met with all across the United States, clearly recognize the importance of your work at home in Uganda. So thanks especially to you.
I want to begin today by sharing a bit about how I see protecting the human rights of LGBT people as fitting into a broader foreign policy context, and telling you a bit about what we’ve been working on at the State Department, and where we’re headed. And then I want to take a little time to zero in on some of the key challenges and opportunities that lie at the intersection of promoting human rights for LGBT people and engaging with religious leaders and communities of faith.
The Obama administration has forged a strong record of vocal and active support for the human rights of LGBT people as part of our overall foreign policy approach of principled engagement. In this and other areas we start from a commitment to universal standards that apply to everyone, including ourselves, and we are motivated by the belief that, as President Obama put it in his Nobel lecture, the only lasting peace will be one founded on respect for the inherent dignity of each person.
About 80 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Hate crimes against LGBT people continue to plague many more countries than that, including our own. Hatred of, discrimination against and marginalization of LGBT people hampers economic development, public health, and social cohesion wherever it occurs. And, like all forms of intolerance, the desire to stamp out or subjugate or ostracize certain individuals because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love stands as an obstacle for all members of society. Intolerance prevents the achievement of a rights respecting society that preserves the dignity of each person—and it is that sort of society in which both reason and morality dictate that we ought to want to live. The burden of intolerance is surely borne most severely by the victims, but like all forms of hatred, the active perpetrators and passive bystanders—who are by no means moral bystanders—also pay a price.
Intolerance is a moral, a political, and a social ill. But it is also a solvable one. It is not an immutable phenomenon. Unlike the aspects of identity for which people are hated, hatred itself can be left behind. And for that reason, the scourge of intolerance demands not only our analysis and attention, it demands our action. It’s not easy work, but it is urgent work.
Looking back over American history, the story of our nation’s progress toward a “more perfect union” is at its most inspiring when it is told through the series of chapters in which we have confronted intolerance and hate, both domestically and in our engagement with the world. At the same time, the most regretful chapters are those when we have failed to act. And as we look to the future, we know that the story is not over, the work continues. Our future progress will continue to be defined in part by our success at continuing to address false assertions of inequality and remove their manifestations in our laws and practice. And our progress in building the kind of peaceful, stable, and prosperous world in which we want to live will depend on our encouraging and promoting those around the world who are simultaneously working to make their own societies more inclusive and rights-respecting.
It is against this backdrop that this administration sees the work to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It is part of a broader effort, and it follows from our commitment to universal standards and our interest in being a positive force behind the efforts of many around the world to, as Secretary Clinton has put it, “make human rights a human reality.”
At the State Department we’re working hard every day to put that principled policy commitment into action, and we’re making real progress because we have strong support from the White House and steadfast leadership from the Secretary of State. The problems facing LGBT people are not new, but never before in American foreign policy have the human rights of LGBT people been an open, unambiguous, and clear policy priority. From her first days in office, and building on a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of those who have been left out or pushed aside, Secretary Clinton has made clear that, as she said in June 2010, echoing her famous words in Beijing fifteen years earlier, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
And Secretary Clinton’s leadership is changing the way that our diplomats and development professionals do business around the world. The Secretary has sent instructions to every single ambassador directing them to engage in support of the human rights of LGBT people with foreign governments and civil society actors as part of our comprehensive human rights policy. And in foreign ministries around the world, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with partners to collaborate on enhancing rights protections for all people, including LGBT people.
Here in New York and also at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United States has been leading within the UN system to make clear that human rights apply to everyone, without exception. About this time last year, a semi-annual resolution on extra-judicial killings at the UN General Assembly came up and an amendment was offered and passed that removed sexual orientation from the list of examples of reasons why people ought not be killed. Working with our partners, and by reaching out in capitals around the world, we built a coalition to reverse that amendment and successfully reinstated the deleted language. A few words in a resolution can seem like a small matter, especially to those who don’t follow the nitty gritty of the UN system, but reinstating that language sent a clear message that no, the international community would not countenance a spiteful step backward in the fight against violations of human rights. Earlier this year in Geneva, we were part of a cross regional group of countries that gathered 85 country signatories to a joint statement rejecting violence against LGBT people and criminalization of LGBT status or behavior.
And then—in a step that even the most hopeful among us thought unlikely even months earlier, on June 17 history was made when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing support for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I was on the floor of the Council that day, and there was an electrifying buzz in the room as the winning vote tally came in. It was a close vote—23 to 19—but everyone in the room recognized that it was a watershed moment.
We’re not just working with governments. Because we know that sustainable change is most likely to come from within societies, we’re redoubling our efforts to engage with local civil society groups who are working to defend LGBT people from human rights abuses, and who advocate for legal protections and accountability for abuses. As you might expect, these groups are often themselves marginalized and left out, even by other human rights NGOs, so our engagement can be a lifeline of moral support. We’re also working to help them build their own capacity and skills, and to connect them to each other so that they can become more effective advocates. And because we know that like all human rights defenders, those who call out wrongs and push for change often find themselves targets for intimidation or worse, we have created a special fund that can offer emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people so that when there’s no one else to turn to, we can help them stay safe and continue their work.
We have human rights officers in every embassy around the world, and while the United States has a long history of advocating for human rights abroad, we recognize that ramping up engagement on the human rights of LGBT people entails making contact with new actors and organizations at our posts. It entails knowing how to broach what is often a “sensitive” topic and being able to prioritize among a menu of options for action in a way that enhances the chances of our making a difference on the ground. For these reasons, in the coming months, we’ll be road-testing and rolling out a toolkit that can be used by our embassies to help guide their work.
And because effective advocacy depends on facts that make the case for change, we’ve beefed up our reporting in the human rights reports that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor publishes every year. We’re also supporting local civil society groups in this fact-finding and reporting effort, providing state-of-the art software and training that will help them document incidents in their communities, so that they can direct their own efforts and focus the attention of others on the realities that people are confronting day-by-day.
For my own part, I feel immensely grateful and fortunate to be a part of a team of professionals at the State Department and at posts around the world that has taken Secretary Clinton’s encouragement and leadership and translated it into action, and that is working every day to make a difference. Having a President and Secretary who are committed to defending the human rights of all people has put American leadership and hard work on the side of vulnerable people around the world.
My portfolio includes Africa and Asia, and as I travel the world, one of the sets of questions that I hear most often revolves around the role of the religious community in securing human rights for all people, how the religious community can help, and how it can, whether intentionally or not, undermine efforts to build a more humane and rights respecting world that includes protections for the rights that each person deserves by virtue of her or his humanity.
I am sure you can guess the kinds of questions I hear: “Aren’t we exporting hate?” people ask about the alleged role of American religious leaders in encouraging the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda, for example. “What are you doing to stop missionaries from pushing for criminalization?” Or “isn’t it true that the Islamic world will never accept the human rights of gay people?”
Conversations about the human rights of LGBT people are still difficult and awkward in many contexts—the legacy of stigma still burdens even well-intentioned actors. And throw religion into the mix and the conversations certainly don’t get any easier. But these conversations—conversations like the ones that this conference is fostering and making space for—are important. Misunderstandings and differences of opinion or belief don’t solve or resolve themselves. We’re talking about the intersection of some of the most important, and therefore justifiably sensitive, aspects of individual fulfillment and meaning in life. And when the subject matter is deep, skating on the surface doesn’t suffice—the only way to make progress is to wade right in. So I want to try to do that in the time that remains for me today. I guess I should stop here and say “pray for me.”
I won’t pretend I have answers, but I want to say three things about my own approach, and about why I don’t just see the effort to find common ground as imperative, but am also optimistic about the possibility of doing so.
The first point is that there are as many religious actors as there are religious people. Religious people are not a monolithic group, and there is diversity in views within religious communities as well as across them. So while, yes, there are examples of religious leaders preaching intolerance, not just of gays but of people of other religious groups or nationalities or of women, there are of course also numerous examples of those for whom religious values are the foundation for a commitment to compassion, tolerance, and human dignity. We should not forget the role of religious people and religious leaders in our own national struggles for social justice—many abolitionists understood their cause as God’s work, a number of northern Jews went south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement, and Reverend King was a man of cloth as well as of change. Last year, I spoke at an event in Geneva where Desmond Tutu delivered a message of tolerance. It’s worth pausing to quote his message briefly. “Sexual orientation, like skin color,” he said, “is a feature of our diversity. How sad it is that when God’s children are facing such massive problems – poverty, disease, corruption, conflict—we are so often obsessed with human sexuality. Is there not already too much hate in this world, without seeking to persecute those who love?”
Religious leaders have a positive role to play in fostering tolerance and respect for the dignity of all. If we start by assuming that there are only challenges, we lose perspective at the outset, and we aren’t poised to seize opportunities.
The second point has three layers—bear with me—philosophical, moral, and practical. So we’re going to have 2A, 2B, and 2C. (I know, that’s cheating.) But the overall point 2 is simple: that we can and should seek to engage those whose religious beliefs and teachings seem to be at odds with advancing human rights for all people. We can have the conversation, we should have the conversation, and we must have the conversation if we’re to make progress at all.
The philosophical part of this point—2A— is essentially to reject the contention put forward by some that religious thought and human rights doctrine are divided by an impenetrable epistemological barrier. The argument here is something along the lines that those who are concerned with understanding and obeying God’s law are necessarily operating, essentially, in a different conceptual universe from “secular” human rights standards. In other words, we can’t talk to each other because we’re using a different language. But such arguments are as thin philosophically as they are easy to disprove empirically. For in fact we can talk to each other, and we can use the ideas of religious thought to make sense of the moral demands of human rights, and vice versa. As I have already noted, in many cases religious and human rights leaders aren’t from separate epistemic communities at all; in fact some people are both religious leaders and human rights leaders, and they use the lexicon of each sphere of thought without any apparent philosophical dissonance. Religious people played a part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And our country’s own Declaration of Independence—in which the constituent concepts of human rights are salient—also grounds these rights in the idea that we are each endowed with them by our Creator. There is no legitimate philosophical excuse for not engaging.
The moral part of the point—2B— is that engaging those with whom we disagree in dialogue and debate, holding them responsible—in the literal sense of answering for their claims—is part of treating them with respect. The act of engaging and holding responsible is properly respectful, it indicates a preliminary assumption that that person is worthy of taking seriously; and similarly dismissing out of hand and refusing to engage someone who disagrees demonstrates a lack of respect. Engaging is the right thing, the respectful thing to do.
And the practical part of this point—2C—is that neither ignoring nor suppressing ideas has ever solved the problem of resolving apparent gaps or disagreements on how to build good lives or good societies. There are many who believe that we should limit speech that is offensive or hateful. But our position has been to avoid censorship, which is almost never perfectly executed, and which is in a sense, denying the problem instead of dealing with it. When people say hateful things we shouldn’t hide the hate, we should confront it, reject the premises on which it is founded, and attempt to refute it through force of argument. If we’re to make progress at identifying a common ground and forging a way forward, we have to engage. We don’t make progress by attempting to shut down or do battle, we make progress when both sides come together—shall we say “in good faith?”—and attempt to identify and correct misunderstandings and make the case.
So we need to take the tough conversations on. Obviously there are some people on both sides who aren’t prepared to come to the table—I know that—but there are plenty of others who are. And we need to make arguments that are aimed at finding common ground and forging a way forward. It may be that I will never find agreement with those who make religiously based moral arguments that homosexuality is wrong—though I certainly don’t start from the premise that that is impossible. But, even if we ultimately disagree about what constitutes a life well lived in the fullest sense, we might nevertheless agree that we ought to be unambiguously committed to defending the potential that is bound up with each human life. We might agree that in order to get to the conversation about what a good life looks like, one must start with protecting that life. And further that concern for life might lead us to be particularly careful to avoid unintended consequences of things we say or write into law.
And this leads me to my third point, which is that as difficult as the intersection of faith and sexuality is, I am hopeful and optimistic about the road ahead. This is partly because I don’t think we really have a choice: No serious person can think plausible a world without human spirituality or a world without human sexuality. Finding a way to transcend intolerance is not just what a commitment to human dignity dictates, it’s what any appreciation for the realities of human experience suggests as the only real lasting option for building a peaceful future together.
But I’m also hopeful because I think there is common ground to be found and that concepts that are familiar in nearly every religious tradition and in secular moral thought can help us get there—a sincere embrace of dignity, of generosity, of compassion, of patience can help us to uncover and appreciate what we have in common.
For many many people, religious belief and practice is a source of meaning, fundamental to their own flourishing and to making sense of the world around them and their relationships with others. Universal standards of human rights protect the freedom of each person to choose and practice her or his religion, and those protections create a space in which individuals around the world seek and find fulfillment.
Similarly, for most people, the bonds we share and the commitments we make to others, and particularly to those whom we consider family, are both crucial to our own identities and understanding of our place in the world as well as expressions of a uniquely human capacity. To deprive someone of a loving relationship entered freely is to deprive him or her of a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human, and to cut off a source of meaning and fulfillment.
The use of religion to advocate for limitations on the lives, rights, and freedoms of others, whether those of other faiths, as it often is, or those whose lives reflect other aspects of human diversity, is a manipulation of faith that tragically disregards the same goodness that religion itself can bring to human existence. There is no true love of God that can justify hatred of man.
I am optimistic because I believe that even if it is not apparent at the outset, a common purpose will reveal itself. And I am confident that a commitment to the universal human rights of all people, grounded in a respect for human dignity and made real through equal and real protections for all, will underpin the world in which each person can flourish.
I want to close with a final thought and personal reflection.
One of the virtues that is central to many religious traditions and to the aspirations of many religious people is that of forgiveness. And that virtue, in particular, is I think important for all participants in difficult discussions to keep in mind. 9 years ago I was visiting my father in the hospital as he was dying, and a young man, a nurse’s aide, was working around his hospital bed, checking the machines and such. He had gotten to know my dad during his long hospital visit, and my dad, enjoying the visit with one of his own sons, asked the guy about his father. The young man said that his dad had left his mom and siblings when he was young, and had offered neither financial nor emotional support throughout his growing up. “I used to really hate the guy,” he said “but in the last few years, he reached out, he’s made an effort, and we’ve actually become really close.” My father—who was a deeply religious man—immediately remarked “how kind of you to be able to forgive him, to give him permission to change.”
It’s a lesson that still rings true to me years later, and something I had never thought of before that moment, the empowering effect of forgiveness. As we engage in tough conversations about right and wrong, about the societies we want to make, and the beliefs we hold most dear, it’s something that I keep close at hand. We’re in this together, and we need to be prepared to forgive each other, we need to be prepared to give each other permission to change, in order to build together a stronger, more humane and holy world.
Thank you very much again for having me.
The United States strongly condemns the dangerous and provocative attacks on a mosque in the northern Israeli town of Tuba-Zangariyye, which took place on October 3. Such hateful sectarian actions are never justified. We note that the Israeli Government also strongly condemned the attacks, and we endorse stepped-up efforts by law enforcement authorities to act vigorously to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act and similar attacks that have taken place in the West Bank.