Assistant Secretary Posner:
Good afternoon. I want to thank you all for coming here so late in the day. It’s good to be back in Beijing. This is my third visit here in the last year since the Strategic and Economic Dialogue last May.
There’s a lot of commentary these days about the relationship between the U.S. and China in the 21st Century. It’s a vitally important but also very complex relationship. There are a range of issues on which we now coordinate, interact on an ongoing basis.
I’m here this week to lead a U.S. delegation for the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue. We see this Dialogue very much within the broader context of the U.S.-China relationship.
As President Obama, Secretary Clinton and many others from our government have made clear, we welcome and want a strong partnership with a strong and stable and prosperous China.
We believe that societies that respect human rights and address the aspirations of their people are more prosperous, successful and stable.
We also recognize China’s extraordinary achievement in economic reform over the past three decades, and it’s lifting literally hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. At the same time we believe that political reforms in China have not matched these economic advances.
It’s important to be clear about what our Human Rights Dialogue is and what it isn’t. It is a chance for us to engage in depth and in detail on a number of issues and specific cases. It isn’t a negotiation. It is a forum in which we engage frankly and candidly.
In fact in recent months we’ve seen a serious back-sliding on human rights and a discussion of these negative trends dominated the Human Rights Dialogue these past two days. We have been and are very concerned over recent months by reports that dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists like Ai Weiwei and others have been arrested, detained or in some cases disappeared with no regard to legal measures.
A particular concern is what seems to be a range of interferences with the work of lawyers who are often courageously working to defend others from charges or to help citizens register their concerns. Lawyers like Teng Biao who has been missing since February; Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who with his wife Yuan Weijing is under house arrest since his release from prison last year.
Our discussions these last two days focused on these lawyers, but also bloggers, artists, NGO activists, journalists, representatives of minority religious communities and others who were asserting their rights and calling for reform.
Here and elsewhere we believe strongly that change occurs from within a society, so discussions about human rights are not about us, but about how Chinese citizens determine their own political future. Societies need to give their own people an opportunity to voice and pursue their aspirations.
I’m glad to take your questions.
Question: As you were saying, we’ve seen a wave of extra judicial detentions and disappearances recently. We’ve also seen that in spite of pleas from even Barack Obama himself, from President Obama himself, China has made no concessions on the case of Xue Feng. I was wondering first of all if you can tell us if that particular case came up. And secondly, what does it tell you about China’s leverage on these issues when China doesn’t seem to be willing to make any moves on any of these issues. Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Posner: First on the case, I did raise it with Ambassador Huntsman yesterday morning, and we will continue to raise that important case.
More broadly, I think our view is that we engage with the government of China on a range of levels in a range of different fora and we will continue to express our concerns privately, and as I’m doing here today, in public. We are mindful of the difficulty of this conversation. We had a tough set of discussions, raised a number of specific cases. We don’t see that as a beginning or an end of the process. This is obviously a difficult issue and one where our disagreements are profound. But I’ve worked in the human rights business for 30-some years and I know well that persistence is critical and I know how much those who are challenging governments by raising their voices, by bringing lawsuits, benefit from the engagement by governments like ours in pursuing their claims for justice.
Question: I have two short questions for you.
Number one, talking about the Libya and Syria situations, the human rights situations there. It’s very serious. Do you think the United States will take some humanitarian intervention to protect the human rights there?
Also talking about the Dialogue. Did you see any developments from China and the United States to promote women’s for human rights cooperation? Thanks.
Assistant Secretary Posner: I’m sorry, what was the second? Just say that again.
Question: The second question is, have you seen any developments for China to promote women’s human rights?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Thanks.
On the issue of Libya, we have, as you know and as Secretary Clinton and the President articulated, pursued two tracks of a policy. One was the decision by the Security Council in Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone at a moment when Benghazi was under siege as a humanitarian measure and to protect lives. We know that’s not a solution, but it’s a piece of it.
The other piece which we continue to engage in quite actively with the Arab League, with our European allies and others, is to encourage a diplomatic, political resolution. We have said time and again and will continue to say that it’s well past time for Colonel Gadhafi to go. It’s a desperate situation now. We’re obviously very concerned about the humanitarian issues you raised, and we’re doing all that we can both as part of that multinational coalition, but also working with private organizations to try to mitigate the humanitarian damage that’s now occurring.
On the issue of treatment of women, we are very engaged in that issue in a range of ways. It’s an issue that Secretary Clinton has worked on as an activist, as the First Lady, as a Senator, and now as Secretary of State. She raises the issue and has raised the profile of those issues in a wonderful way with Melanne Verveer who is the Ambassador for Women’s Issues.
We look for partners, including the Chinese government, to help us advance that agenda. I can’t say that it was a central feature of our discussion, but it’s the sort of issue where I think there is the potential for us to work together.
Question: I have a question about the criticism that having separate U.S.-China human rights talks actually serves to marginalize the issue. I wondered if you had any comment on that.
Then I also wanted to ask, the Chinese keep saying they want to hold the Dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect. I just wondered what does that mean to the U.S. side? Do you feel that request was met this time? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Posner: I don’t view the discussions we had in the last several days as marginalizing the discussion. Precisely because this is not the only place the issues are going to be raised, or have been raised. The discussion of human rights will be part of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that comes up in Washington in a week’s time or two weeks’ time. It is an issue that’s raised by the President as it was in his meetings with President Hu Jintao in Washington in January. It is an issue that Secretary Clinton raises as she did also in January in a speech at the State Department.
This is an opportunity, more than those occasions, for us to have an in-depth discussion. A detailed discussion about journalists, about bloggers, about religious issues, about what’s happening in Tibet, what’s happening with the Uighurs. We went into great detail, both talking about patterns that we see of concern, but also raising cases as illustrative of the broader patterns.
You don’t have a chance to do that in a speech and you don’t have a chance to do it in a meeting where you have multiple issues on the table.
So I view this as a starting point or a feature. It’s an element of what we do. This does not constitute our human rights policy.
On the issue of mutual respect, my style is not to beat my shoe on the table and scream, but I know how to be direct. Again, outside of government for many years, and now a year and a half in the government, I am well able to raise tough issues in a straightforward manner. We did that and we’ll continue to do that.
Again, I think it’s perfectly in line with the notion of respect, exchange of views, but identifying our differences clearly and in a way that leaves no doubt about what our concerns are and will be in the future.
Question: Could you go into more specifics on, for example, just to pick a case, Ai Weiwei’s case? When you say why did this person disappear, what is the due process under Chinese law, what responses do you get specifically on these cases? Were there any answers provided? And can you say who you met with on the Chinese side?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Let me answer the second thing first. The Director General Chen Xu from the Foreign Ministry was the leader of the delegation, but I think there were seven or eight other ministries — Public Security, someone from the Supreme Court, Labor, Religious, et cetera. Justice. So one of the things that I think is useful about the Dialogue is that it is a place where we’re talking to a range of Chinese government institutions or offices.
I’m not going to characterize every one of the discussions. What I will say is, with regard to Ai Weiwei, we raised concerns both about the fact that he was arrested on April 3rd; the fact that his family still has not had contact with him; and great concern about the notion that someone who is a peaceful critic of the government seems to be endangered in terms of their ability to speak out. Ai Weiwei is a global figure, a prominent artist, and there has been, one of the things we expressed, which is just a simple fact, is that the arts community, the Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Museum and others, have all of a sudden focused on the deterioration of the human rights situation in China because of Ai Weiwei’s global prominence.
I think in terms of what the government said to us, I’d encourage you to go ask them.
Question: They don’t say much to us, so I’d really like to know what they said to you if you can tell us.
Assistant Secretary Posner: What I would say is, on that case, we certainly did not get an answer that satisfies. There was no sense of comfort from the response or the lack of response.
Question: A couple of questions.
Would you say anything concrete came out of this meeting in terms of any sort of an agreement or anything that moved the Dialogue forward? And also, do you feel that it’s worth continuing with this Dialogue instead of folding it into the Strategic Dialogue?
And finally, from your own understanding, from the perspective of your own understanding of what’s going on here and why, are you coming away with a clearer understanding of why there’s been this tightening up over the last couple of months?
Assistant Secretary Posner: On the question of concrete outcomes, I view this as, as I said earlier, part of a broader process. I think one concrete outcome is that we had extensive discussions about the range of issues that I outlined — religious freedom and Tibet and the Uighurs and issues relating to arrests of lawyers and journalists and so forth. We had more time to go into more detail and express our concerns.
When I talk to human rights activists in countries they always say two things. They say it’s helpful for governments to raise these issues and not do it superficially. Go into detail, press the case that these are universal human rights and that there are standards that have been violated. We did that.
The second thing they say is that it’s helpful if those conversations, those private conversations, are also reinforced by public comment. That’s what I’m doing here. This is not the beginning of the process and it’s not the end of the process.
I defer judgment on what’s next, other than to say we need to, and will continue to, raise these issues in a range of fora. It will not just be me raising these issues. The most senior government officials of the United States are deeply concerned about the deterioration of human rights in China over the last several months. They will continue to express that. It will be part of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and we’re going to then take it one step at a time.
There was an agreement in January between the Presidents — Hu Jintao and Barack Obama — to have a Legal Experts Dialogue which we’ve now agreed we will do sometime in June. That’s another piece of the puzzle here. I think some useful things may come out of that.
So from my perspective, we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket, but this is a piece of the larger picture in terms of registering our views and expressing our concerns and also gathering information about what’s really going on.
As to why things have changed here, there are multiple theories. I’m not really a political scientist. I only know what I see and the facts are that things have worsened and we’re going to continue to pursue our expressions of concern about that.
Question: And on the usefulness of the dialogue?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Again, I think we are at point now where we need to go one step at a time. We’ve just completed a two-day discussion. We’re going to have another set of discussions in the context of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. We’re going to see what happens with the Legal Experts Dialogue. Then we’ll make judgments depending on how things develop.
Question: Can I ask, you said just now that you were not satisfied with the response in the case of Ai Weiwei. Were you satisfied with the response in any case? And if so, which one or ones?
A second question, on the issue of forced disappearances and extrajudicial detentions, what exactly are you saying to the Chinese broadly on that issue, and are they giving any reasons for that?
The final question is, with the situation in North Africa and the Middle East we’ve seen many countries, there have been many people out on the streets demanding political rights. Do you think there are implications for China from that?
Assistant Secretary Posner: On the question of satisfaction, that’s a relative term. There are a couple of lawyers who disappeared several weeks ago and who were released last week. I welcome the fact that they are now, they’ve been released. I don’t welcome the fact that they were detained in the first place.
On the issue of disappearance, what we’ve said is that universal human rights start with the integrity of the person. All governments, including our own, have an obligation not to torture people, to make them disappear, to detain them arbitrarily without due process. And so the starting point for us is that this is not an interference in their affairs, but something we do in every country in the world where we see these violations of what we regard as fundamental, universal human rights.
On the Middle East, every country has its own history, trajectory. We did not spend time and I’m not going to here theorize on how one thing relates to the other. I’m very focused on what I said in my opening statement which is that this is about people in this society who have a range of concerns about public issues, public policy, having the ability to debate and advocate on behalf of their differences with the government. And a healthy rights-respecting society finds the space for people to speak out, to write blogs. They find space for lawyers to litigate cases against the government on issues that are sensitive. It finds a place for international journalists to walk around without being threatened. All of those things matter. All of those things are the subject of our discussions the last several days.
Question: Just as a follow-up, was there any sort of explanation or even acknowledgement that the situation had sort of worsened on the Chinese side? Was there any sort of explanation to you that yes, things are getting tighter for one reason or another?
And finally, given some of the tensions in the relationship, how would you characterize the tone of the talks? The atmosphere?
Assistant Secretary Posner: I don’t think anybody stood up and said “oh yeah, things have gotten worse,” except me. But there were certainly a sense that – and I did this Dialogue last year in Washington with the Director General Chen Xu – there is no question that the atmosphere is different because the facts are different. So I think there was – on both sides, by all of us -a recognition that there is, as we speak there are people who in the last two or three months have been detained and disappeared and are having all kinds of human rights problems. Those are the things we talked about. There was a sense of the immediacy and a sense of seriousness.
Again, respectful in tone. It was not a discussion where there were voices raised. But it was a discussion that was very much based on the facts, and the facts are not good.
Question: You mentioned that the Ministry of Public Security was involved. I wonder whether they’ve been involved in these sorts of dialogues before, or is that something new?
And was the Ministry of State Security also involved in this set of talks?
Assistant Secretary Posner: It was the Ministry of State Security that was involved, and they were involved last year.
Question: You mentioned the case of lawyers and in particular of Teng Biao. In the case of Ai Weiwei, for example, the government has said that they understand he’s being investigated for economic crimes. In the case of Teng Biao and other lawyers there seems to have been simply silence. I wondered what response you had from the Chinese side when you raised those issues.
Assistant Secretary Posner: Teng Biao’s case is one that I’m particularly concerned about because he has been missing for the last several weeks. He’s a prominent professor and human rights lawyer. He’s exactly the sort of person who a society wants and needs to be available to represent clients who are on the margin.
I’m also very concerned about Gao Zhisheng’s case, a case that I raised last year; Secretary Clinton has raised; I’ve raised several times. His disappearance, or whereabouts unknown, since April of 2010, so we’re now a year. It isn’t to say that there aren’t concerns about people who are going through the legal process, but it’s most unsettling and disturbing obviously to the families, but to all of us, when people simply disappear. It’s a fundamental human right to have a legal personality, and if a government wants to take someone in custody they need to bring them before a court and subject them to a legal proceeding.
Let me just correct myself. It was the Ministry of Public Security that was there. They’ve been involved I think multiple times. They were certainly there last year.
Question: Sorry, could I clarify? Did the Chinese officials acknowledge that Teng Biao was detained in any way? Did they give you any substantive answer when you raised his case?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Again, I would simply say — I don’t want to get into the details of every one of the conversations, but I continue to have real concerns about that case in particular.
Question: Two questions. One, I have not heard you mention the case of Liu Xiaobo yet, and I presume that came up. I know you don’t want to get into details, but that seems to be a rather prominent case. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about that.
Secondly, some of the newspapers here running up to these talks have published broad sheets about supposed human rights violations in the United States. This being a dialogue, I presume they also raised these problems with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your response?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Sure. We did indeed talk about Liu Xiaobo and it’s also a case that Secretary Clinton and the President have raised multiple times. His 11 year sentence for publishing the Charter 08 Document is to us unacceptable and a violation of a basic right to free speech.
We actually spent probably more time talking about the status of Liu Xia his wife, who is, again, in an odd way, outside of any kind of clear legal process. We would be very eager to meet with her, to have communication, make sure she has communication with others, and there is some real concern on our part that she’s in a kind of legal limbo at this point. It’s not clear what her status is. We raised that quite often, in several different ways.
With respect to the role of the United States, they did raise several issues. I would say honestly it was not a very big feature of the Dialogue. We spoke about our participation in the Universal Periodic Review which is a UN procedure, relatively new, which calls on every government to prepare a report and then go to the UN Human Rights Council, which I did last November. My colleague, Dan Baer, who’s here, did in March with our Legal Advisor, Harold Koh. We felt very good about the way in which we undertook that review because we allowed lots of our own civil society activists to weigh in with their concerns.
But I’m very proud of what the United States does in this area. Not because we don’t ever have challenges or problems, but because we are an open society that has lots of public interest advocates, human rights advocates, raising every issue that anybody else would raise and then some. We have lawyers who represent every kind of cause imaginable across the political spectrum. And there are journalists and bloggers who are out there all the time analyzing what we do and voicing criticism. Those people are not at risk. There is a sense that because we are an open society we allow those things, and frankly, it makes us stronger.
Question: You’ve been really clear about your level of dissatisfaction with the human rights situation and the step backwards, as you described it, that China has taken. Do you use in any way, how will this affect the overall relations, the step back that China has taken, the overall bilateral relations between the U.S. and China? Thanks.
Assistant Secretary Posner: I think it’s, again, it goes back to something I said at the outset. These human rights issues, promotion of human rights and democracy, is a central element of U.S. policy in the world in the Obama administration. Principled engagement means that we deal with countries around the world in multiple ways. We have strategic interests, we have economic interests, we have other political interests. But human rights is an essential feature of what we do.
So to the extent that there are serious human rights problems, those problems become an impediment to the relationship and they make the other aspects of the relationship more difficult. It doesn’t mean we’re going to stop engaging. It doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the importance of the relationship. But inevitably when there’s a deterioration as there has been here, it makes the relationship that much harder.
Question: My question is about Liu Xia. I’m wondering, during your conversation with the Chinese side, have you asked information like how is her or his health? And are you going to visit her for some other relevant information? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Posner: As I said earlier, we raised her case, raised concerns about her well-being and her situation and we have, and I think our embassy officials here on several occasions have made efforts to see her, to meet with her. So there is, I would say, an outstanding request on our part to be able to talk to her and to meet with her. We will continue to pursue that.
Question: Is there any arrangement to visit Liu Xia yet?
Assistant Secretary Posner: Not presently. The request is in.
Question: The Chinese government always criticizes that the States and other Western countries are using the human rights issue to interfere the internal policy of the Chinese government. So what is your comment about this saying? Thanks.
Assistant Secretary Posner: I disagree with that. This is not about us. It’s about the Chinese people and their relationship to their government. We do believe, and again having worked in this field for a long time, I know that change comes from within a society and it comes when people have the ability peacefully to express their views and to debate and advance their aspirations with their own governments.
The issues we’re describing are based on universal human rights standards which do not have boundaries. Every human being, on the basis of their humanity, is entitled to be treated with dignity, to have fairness, to have justice, and our raising these issues are not because of the United States or the West. It’s because people inside China are asking, demanding that there be an opening up of the process so that their basic human rights can be respected. We’re simply reinforcing what many Chinese people themselves are asking.
Question: Do you feel from your talks this time that in the longer term, do you feel China’s becoming increasingly less receptive to U.S. criticism or suggestions? If that’s the case, why do you think that might be?
Assistant Secretary Posner: With due respect, I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the real question is, is there in the long term the prospect for China to become a more open society, where there is the possibility for the kind of political discourse and engagement that I talked about. On that front, I am optimistic. I’ve been, again, working in this field a long time. I always feel the glass is half full. But this is a dynamic society; there are a lot of people here with extraordinary energy. They’ve demonstrated it in the way there’s been economic development and progress. It’s also a society where we were told 450 million people are netizens. So the combination of people’s ambition, aspiration, the increasing openness of global communication and travel, all of those things to me suggest that over the long term there is going to be positive change here.
Our role is not to be at the center of that, but simply to reinforce and encourage this government to allow more open space for those kinds of discussions to begin to take place in a more orderly way.
Share this article using:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,
I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, hereby expand the scope of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13399 of April 25, 2006, and in Executive Order 13460 of February 13, 2008, finding that the Government of Syria’s human rights abuses, including those related to the repression of the people of Syria, manifested most recently by the use of violence and torture against, and arbitrary arrests and detentions of, peaceful protestors by police, security forces, and other entities that have engaged in human rights abuses, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and I hereby order:
Section 1. All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, including any overseas branch, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:
(a) the persons listed in the Annex to this order; and
(b) any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:
(i) to be responsible for or complicit in, or responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, or to have participated in, the commission of human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to repression;
(ii) to be a senior official of an entity whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order;
(iii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the activities described in subsection (b)(i) of this section or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13338, Executive Order 13460, or this order; or
(iv) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13460 or this order.
Sec. 2. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to section 1 of this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 and expanded in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.
Sec. 3. The prohibitions in section 1 of this order include but are not limited to:
(a) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; and
(b) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Sec. 4. The prohibitions in section 1 of this order apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the effective date of this order.
Sec. 5. (a) Any transaction by a United States person or within the United States that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, causes a violation of, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
(b) Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
Sec. 6. For the purposes of this order:
(a) the term “person” means an individual or entity;
(b) the term “entity” means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization;
(c) the term “United States person” means any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States; and
(d) the term “Government of Syria” means the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, its agencies, instrumentalities, and controlled entities.
Sec. 7. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render those measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 and expanded in this order, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1 of this order.
Sec. 8. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order. The Secretary of the Treasury may redelegate any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government consistent with applicable law. All agencies of the United States Government are hereby directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order.
Sec. 9. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to determine that circumstances no longer warrant the blocking of the property and interests in property of a person listed in the Annex to this order, and to take necessary action to give effect to that determination.
Sec. 10. This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
Sec. 11. This order is effective at 1:00 p.m. eastern daylight time on April 29, 2011.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
April 29, 2011.
1. Mahir AL-ASAD [Brigade Commander in the Syrian Army’s Fourth Armored Division, born 1968]
2. Ali MAMLUK [director of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, born 1947]
3. Atif NAJIB [former head of the Syrian Political Security Directorate for Dar’a Province]
1. Syrian General Intelligence Directorate
2. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force
WASHINGTON – In his weekly address, President Obama told the American people that the military mission in Libya is succeeding even as responsibility is transferred to our NATO allies and partners. Qaddafi’s air defenses have been taken out, his forces are no longer advancing across the country, and in places like Benghazi, his forces have been pushed back. Every American can be proud of the lives we have saved and of the service of our men and women in uniform who once again have stood up for our interests and our ideals.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
March 26, 2011
Last week, when I ordered our armed forces to help protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Moammar Qaddafi, I pledged to keep the American people fully informed. Since then, I’ve spoken about the limited scope and specific purpose of this mission. Today, I can report that thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we’ve made important progress.
As Commander in Chief, I face no greater decision than sending our military men and women into harm’s way. And the United States should not—and cannot—intervene every time there’s a crisis somewhere in the world.
But I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Qaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives—then it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.
Our military mission in Libya is clear and focused. Along with our allies and partners, we’re enforcing the mandate of the United Nations Security Council. We’re protecting the Libyan people from Qaddafi’s forces. And we’ve put in place a no fly zone and other measures to prevent further atrocities.
We’re succeeding in our mission. We’ve taken out Libya’s air defenses. Qaddafi’s forces are no longer advancing across Libya. In places like Benghazi, a city of some 700,000 that Qaddafi threatened to show “no mercy,” his forces have been pushed back. So make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians—innocent men, women and children—have been saved.
As I pledged at the outset, the role of American forces has been limited. We are not putting any ground forces into Libya. Our military has provided unique capabilities at the beginning, but this is now a broad, international effort. Our allies and partners are enforcing the no fly zone over Libya and the arms embargo at sea. Key Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have committed aircraft. And as agreed this week, responsibility for this operation is being transferred from the United States to our NATO allies and partners.
This is how the international community should work—more nations, not just the United States, bearing the responsibility and cost of upholding peace and security.
This military effort is part of our larger strategy to support the Libyan people and hold the Qaddafi regime accountable. Together with the international community, we’re delivering urgent humanitarian assistance. We’re offering support to the Libyan opposition. We’ve frozen tens of billions of dollars of Qaddafi’s assets that can help meet the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people. And every day, the pressure on Qaddafi and his regime is increasing.
Our message is clear and unwavering. Qaddafi’s attacks against civilians must stop. His forces must pull back. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach those in need. Those responsible for violence must be held accountable. Moammar Qaddafi has lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule, and the aspirations of the Libyan people must be realized.
In recent days, we’ve heard the voices of Libyans expressing their gratitude for this mission. “You saved our lives,” said one Libyan. Said another, “Today, there is hope.”
Every American can be proud of the lives we’ve saved in Libya and of the service of our men and women in uniform who once again have stood up for our interests and our ideals. And people in Libya and around the world are seeing that the United States of America stands with those who hope for a future where they can determine their own destiny.
MR. CROWLEY: (In progress) one of our regional assistant secretaries here at least once. There’s been many things that you’ve seen in terms of the work this week on Africa. Certainly the high-level meeting that’s happening on Sudan is an example of that, and also the Secretary’s bilateral today with President Museveni. But there are a lot of things that you haven’t seen in terms of engagement by others, including Deputy Secretary Steinberg yesterday on Somalia, Assistant Secretary Carson on a wide range of issues from Zimbabwe to the Congo to others, so we thought we’d try to have Johnnie for about 20 minutes just to kind of give you a broad sweep and then answer your specific questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: P.J., thank you very much, and thank you all for coming this afternoon. It’s a pleasure to see a number of the Washington faces also migrating up to New York with us at the UNGA.
As P.J. says, this has been an important UN session for us because of the Administration’s focus on Africa. Two things that are happening this week that are critically important: One is our engagement on Somalia, which occurred yesterday; and the engagement on Sudan, which will happen this afternoon.
But over the course of the last several days, Secretary Clinton has, in fact, had a number of important bilateral meetings, including a very long and productive meeting yesterday with the South African Foreign Minister Mashabane, who is one of the most impressive foreign ministers on the continent. She also had a brief meeting with the president of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan. And this morning she had a very productive hour-long meeting with President Museveni. Let me say a little bit about that meeting, if I could.
President Museveni is probably one of the most important leaders in East Africa, and certainly in the continent. And he has, through his military, provided the backbone of the AMISOM peacekeeping forces in Somalia. He has probably in excess of 5,000 of the nearly 8,000 troops on the ground helping to defend the TFG government and carrying out both a UN and a AU mandate. The Secretary expressed her deep appreciation to President Museveni for what he is doing in Somalia on behalf of the AU and also on behalf of the international community.
The Secretary also took the opportunity to indicate to President Museveni that the U.S. will continue to work with him and his government as he seeks to end the repressive activities of Joseph Kony and the LRA. As you know, the LRA has been one of the most ruthless rebel groups in all of Africa, having started its rampage of terror in Uganda, taking it to Uganda, and taking it from Uganda to Congo and into the Central Africa Republic. We will continue to work with the Ugandans as they try to eliminate the scourge of the LRA, and we will certainly continue to provide them support and assistance.
One of the other big things that we’ve been working on here is on Somalia and our Somalia policy. Yesterday afternoon, there was a major meeting on Somalia chaired by the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. There were approximately four or five heads of state there, including the prime minister of Ethiopia, the president of Uganda – President Museveni, and a number of the foreign ministers, including the foreign minister of France Kouchner, the foreign minister of Italy Frattini, the foreign minister of Great Britain, Mr. Hague, and we were represented at that meeting by our Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.
Mr. Steinberg pointed out to those there that we see the problem in Somalia as a national problem, a regional problem, and also a global problem. It is a problem that has metastasized over the last two decades, which has led to a situation where we now have international piracy, foreign fighters going into Somalia, and some groups in Somalia supporting remnants of the al-Qaida East Africa cell that was responsible for the destruction of our embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August of 1998.
It’s a regional problem because of the large number of refugees that flow out of Somalia into neighboring Kenya, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 move out every year from that country into Kenya, but refugees going into Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, and Djibouti as well; large amounts of illegal arms flowing, large amounts of illegal commerce. Somalia is a collapsed state with a weak government unable to project either power or stability or to provide services to its people.
The African Union has stepped up and has put troops on the ground, but it does need additional support in terms of more troop contributing – troop contributors, more material support, and more monetary support. The U.S. Government has been working very hard alongside of African governments to gain more men, more materiel, and more money for this force. At the last African Union meeting approximately six weeks ago in Kampala, I met with some 13 states and organizations to try to marshal greater support for our initiatives in Somalia, and we have followed up in Washington with a meeting of the same groups to try to increase support for any AMISOM effort.
We also outlined yesterday in a statement made by Deputy Steinberg what, in fact, is a two-track policy. We will pursue one track, which is the familiar track of supporting the Djibouti peace process, the TFG, and the government of Sheik Sharif, trying to help it become more effective, to make it more inclusive, and to give it the ability to provide services to its people. And we will also continue to work to strengthen AMISOM. That is the first track. That’s the track that most people are familiar with.
But we will also be pursuing a second track, which we think is also increasingly important, and that is we will work to engage more actively with the governments of Puntland and Somaliland. We hope to be able to have more American diplomats and aid workers going into those countries on an ad hoc basis to meet with government officials to see how we can help them improve their capacity to provide services to their people, seeing whether there are development assistance projects that we can work with them on. We think that both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability, and we think they will, in fact, be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the south.
Equally as a part of the second-track strategy, we are going to reach out to groups in south central Somalia, groups in local governments, clans, and sub-clans that are opposed to Al-Shabaab, the radical extremist group in the south, but are not allied formally or directly with the TFG. And we will look for opportunities to work with these groups to see if we can identify them, find ways of supporting their development initiatives and activities.
Let me stop right there and probably take your questions, which are probably more central to your thinking than what I’m saying to you.
QUESTION: Well, actually, what you said about Somaliland and Puntland, at one point you referred to them as countries. Are you contemplating some kind of a diplomatic recognition?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: No, we are not. We believe that we should follow the African Union position on this. We still recognized only a single Somali state. This is the position of the Africa Union, which is the most important and largest continental regional body. We do not contemplate and we are not about to recognize either of these entities or areas as independent states.
QUESTION: So what does the greater engagement –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: The greater engagement can be defined as meeting on a periodic basis with government officials from these two political entities, talking to them about development issues, including a range of health, education, agriculture, water projects that they might want to develop, looking for ways to strengthen their capacity both to govern and to deliver services to their people. In the past, we have not engaged these areas and political entities aggressively. We will now start to do so.
QUESTION: Is that decision – I mean, how does that decision reflect on your assessment of the TFG’s ability to have them get up and running? It sounds like you’re getting sort of a couple of backups ready because you don’t think the TFG is really going to pull it together.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: We will continue to pursue the first track because it is an important track. The TFG is the recognized political government of Somalia. It is recognized by IGAD, which is the subregional organization. It’s recognized by the AU and it’s recognized by the UN. Sheik Sharif and the TFG government senior representatives are here participating in the UNGA.
The TFG faces enormous challenges because governing Somalia has been an enormous challenge over the last two decades. It faces a security challenge from a radical extremist group called Al-Shabaab. It faces the challenges of living in a very harsh climate in which rainfall is frequently unpredictable. It is a challenge because of its location, its history, and its environment.
We will continue to work with the TFG and its leadership, and we will work with other moderate forces and elements in the south who share many of the same values and principles of the TFG even though they may not be directly allied with it.
QUESTION: I mean, do you anticipate setting up some kind of permanent offices in Somaliland, Puntland, or Hargeisa, or wherever?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: No, we do not anticipate setting up any new diplomatic facilities in all of those – in any of those areas. But I must say that we were very pleased with the announcement yesterday at the meeting on Somalia that the UN is going to begin to staff on a regular basis its offices in Mogadishu. We think that’s a positive development to have UN staff there (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Somaliland or Puntland in terms of specific projects, money that –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: No, but we did have both embassy and AID officers in Hargeisa approximately four weeks ago. They had some very useful and exploratory meetings with the government there. We hope that we will be able to have, on a regular basis, opportunities to exchange views with government officials and to look for areas where we can provide development assistance and to help them stabilize and improve the economic and social conditions in their country.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to – this is run out of Nairobi?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: This is run out of Nairobi. Our operations for Somalia, all of Somalia, are based in Nairobi.
QUESTION: One more about AMISOM. The Ugandans were quoted again and the military chief of staff was quoted recently as saying that they’re ready to send up to 10,000 additional troops but they’re awaiting U.S. funding to get that going. Given the troop deficit you’ve frequently mentioned, is the U.S. to fund this? Is that a plan, and when is that money going to happen?
And secondly, on AMISOM, there’s a discussion about whether or not they should – the forces there should be going on a more – taking a more aggressive stance and actually going after the rebels. What’s the U.S. position on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: First of all, the U.S. Government has been one of the largest supporters of the AMISOM peacekeeping effort. We support the AMISOM peacekeeping effort because it grows out of an African desire to support the Djibouti process, the TFG, and the current TFG leadership. We also endorse and support the efforts of the IGAD and the AU to expand the number of AMISOM peacekeepers. The United States will continue to make contributions to the AMISOM force based on our ability to win the appropriate congressional support for funding of that operation. We will not take responsibility for paying for all of the additional troops that go in there. We think that obligation should be shared broadly by the international community. As I said earlier, we believe that the problem in Somalia is both a regional and a global problem and, in fact, should be shared globally.
Let me just point out again the fact that over the last three years, we have seen an enormous upsurge in the hijacking of ships passing through the Red Sea and the upper northwestern corner of the Indian Ocean. When that happens, it has an impact not just on the states in the region, but it has an impact on the global community as a whole.
Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with my counterpart in the Japanese Government, and we talked about how the situation in Somalia directly impacts Japan. Any products that are moving from Japan or from Asia to Europe, or vice versa, from Europe, Germany or England and the Netherlands around to Asia, comes out and around through the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal, down to the Red Sea, and around.
When ships are subject to hijacking, it has three or four negative global impacts. First, it raises substantially the cost of international insurance. Second, it can, if the countries believe it too dangerous to go through the Suez Canal and down to the Red Sea, extend the journey, the movement of products from Europe to Asia, or Asia to Europe, by as much as a week after they go around the Cape of Good Hope. And thirdly, it increases the cost of not only insurance and potentially time, but it also costs those countries that are contributing naval forces to prevent piracy – it costs them enormous amounts to fund the naval operations out here. So the impact is global.
We are encouraging countries not only in Europe and Africa, but the Middle East and Asia, to recognize the negative impact that Somalia has on the global community as much as it has on Africa. African countries take a disproportionate burden for handling of the Somali pirates.
I also would point out that the – still the second largest source of income for a country like Egypt is the use of the Suez Canal. When traffic is diverted because of problems in the Red Sea, it costs them money as well. So it’s a major problem, not just a problem for Africa.
MODERATOR: This has to be the last one, because I’m getting the staff scared that Johnnie is paying for our lunch.
QUESTION: In the context of your meeting with your Japanese counterpart, did you discuss any possible joint projects or new solutions to this problem?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I certainly encouraged the Japanese Government to think about financial contributions to help defer the cost of countries in the region to handling pirates. States like Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, the Seychelles incur an enormous amount when they take pirates, have to prosecute them and jail them. Assisting them financially in doing that was one of the issues I discussed.
I also encouraged them to think about making monetary contributions that can be used and directed towards AMISOM and directed towards supporting the TFG in its ability to deliver services. I also asked them to think about and consider providing the military equipment that could be used by AMISOM. This is something that we are encouraging a number of states in Europe, the Middle East, and in Asia to look at. It’s important that countries in – who are part of the Arab League participate in this as well. We’ve seen the hijacking of some supertankers from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia could be of great assistance in this. It is a close neighbor to Somalia and it is impacted by what happens in Somalia. They too could make substantial financial and material contributions to this.
So when President Museveni says Africa and Uganda are prepared to put in troops, that’s their part of this international contribution. It is important that European, Middle Eastern, and Asian states find a way to make a contribution as well through material support or through monetary support. That’s what I think President Museveni was saying, and it’s a point that we believe is important to stress as well. Africans are prepared to play their role; it’s important for others to do so as well.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
QUESTION: P.J., what’s the latest on the settlements?
MR. CROWLEY: I have nothing to add to what I said last night. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Okay, take care.
MR. CROWLEY: Thanks, Johnnie.
QUESTION: P.J., EAP in Washington is telling us to ask you for any statement on the release of the Chinese captain by the Japanese. They keep deferring us back up here to you. They say, “P.J. will have something to say on it.”
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we had stated yesterday, we were concerned that this was an issue that had the potential to escalate. I think Jeff Bader yesterday talked about the strong nationalist fervor that had been generated both on the Chinese side and the Japanese side, so we are gratified that the situation has been resolved. It was something that the Japanese Government assured us that would be done within accordance of their legal process and international law. This was a Japanese decision to make, and we’re just hopeful that with the release of the ship captain, tensions will recede and the countries in the region will get back to normal business.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just one Japanese question. Is this – I mean, maybe that Prime Minister Kan’s – his new cabinet is criticized by the other side, opposite side of the party – I mean the – this compromise means that Japan lost diplomatic – diplomatically with the Chinese – I mean this kind of chicken game, people (inaudible) chicken game. Don’t you think that this kind of criticizing (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as we – we think this is a proper outcome. And we had discussed this with the Japanese. It came up, as we said, in the meeting that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Maehara yesterday. We had some low-level – lower-level conversations with the Chinese as well, and we sensed that there was a desire on both sides to resolve this soon. We think this is the right decision. It’s how mature states resolve these things through diplomacy . And we think this is in the interest of the two countries and the interest of the region. Obviously, there are some underlying issues that have been triggered by this episode. The United States continues to support freedom of navigation in the region, and we will continue to emphasize that. Obviously, we have an important meeting that’ll be going on today involving the ASEAN countries and you’ll be seeing a communiqué that comes out of that meeting.
QUESTION: Regarding to the Clinton and Maehara discussion, was there any indication from the Japanese side of this possibility to release him?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a decision for – that Japan has made, and I’ll defer to the Japanese Government to explain its reasoning. But obviously, we believe that this will significantly reduce the existing tension. We think it was a proper decision for Japan to make.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
 an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 move out every month from that country into Kenya