DCSIMG

News Archives






Pakistan Gender Equity Program

After the bilateral Strategic Dialogue meeting in Islamabad today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new five-year, $40 million Gender Equity Program to be funded by USAID aimed at advancing women’s rights and empowerment in Pakistan by:

Expanding women’s access to justice

Helping women exercise their rights in the workplace, community, and home

Combating gender-based violence

Strengthening the capacity of Pakistani organizations that advocate for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the elimination of gender-based violence.

The U.S. has already committed $12.5 million for this program and nationwide grant-making is expected to begin in August. Grantees will include non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, policy think tanks, academic research and training institutions, professional and business associations, media, civic advocacy organizations, civil society coalitions, as well as partnerships with relevant government or quasi-government entities addressing women’s equality and empowerment.

 


Fact Sheet: Advancing Democracy and Human Rights

As the President made clear in his speech to the General Assembly today, the promotion of human rights and democracy is central to his vision of the world we are trying to build. Freedom, justice, and peace in the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings.

Over the past year, the Administration has helped to advance this vision in the following ways:

Engaging Multilaterally to Advance Universal Values

Taking advantage of our membership, we have used the U.N. Human Rights Council to:

Extend international mandates to monitor and address human rights situations in several countries, including Burma, Burundi, North Korea, and Cambodia.

Lead an effort with 55 other countries to criticize the human rights situation in Iran and express solidarity with victims and human rights defenders on the first anniversary of the contested election.

Champion new resolutions on Guinea and Kyrgyzstan calling for accountability and heightened commitment to human rights protection and promotion in the wake of human rights crises in both countries.

Press for stronger engagement by the Council and other U.N. human rights mechanisms in Haiti, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and partnered with Afghanistan to build international support for a resolution on preventing attacks on Afghan school children, especially girls.

Speak out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.

Protest politicized efforts of some members to target Israel while ignoring problems in their own countries.

Committing Significant Assistance in Support of Democracy and Human Rights

With our substantial commitments of foreign assistance, we have:

Created unprecedented transparency in the extractive industries by passing a new law that requires all oil, gas, and mining companies that raise capital in the United States to publish information about the payments they make to governments.

Urged the G-20 to make corruption a core part of its agenda going forward, with a focus on critical areas including foreign bribery, transparency in the global financial system, visa denial, asset recovery, whistleblower protection, and public-private cooperation.

Embraced a commitment to Internet Freedom and launched a State Department task force to develop concerted strategies for advancing it in particular countries.

Pursuing Democracy and Human Rights in Our Bilateral Engagement

China. In May 2010, the Obama administration held its first bilateral human rights dialogue with China. During the two-day meeting, the U.S. exchanged views with Chinese officials on key issues of concern and laid the groundwork for regular experts’ dialogues on legal, labor, and religious freedom issues.

Colombia. In September 2010, President Obama and incoming Colombian President Santos announced the “U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue,” which includes a robust agenda on human rights.

Egypt. The Administration criticized the government’s extension of the emergency law in May. Nevertheless, as promised, the government’s narrower application of that law resulted in the release of thousands of individuals detained under that law, including many political activists and journalists.

Guinea. Working alongside key stakeholders in Guinea as well as international partners, the United States supported Guinea’s first ever successful democratic elections, which will soon culminate in a second round that will transition the country from military to civilian rule.

Honduras. We assisted the Honduran people and the Organization of American States (OAS) to negotiate a Honduran solution to the restoration of democratic and constitutional order following the June 2009 coup, and have since supported President Lobo in the prevention, response and investigation of politically motivated violence against journalists and other citizens active in civil society.

Haiti. We have supported efforts by the Government of Haiti and the UN Mission to Haiti to establish security systems in the camps of displaced persons to defeat violent crime, exploitation and trafficking of orphans/children, and prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based crimes. We are currently assisting the Government of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Commission, the OAS and CARICOM to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake, with the goal of ensuring a government with a legitimate mandate to govern and reconstruct.

Iran. The Administration has spoken out on numerous occasions against human rights abuses in Iran, and successfully undertaken actions in the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly to formally condemn the regime’s actions on human rights. The Administration also played a seminal role in forcing Iran to withdraw its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Iraq. The U.S. played a key role in support of Iraq’s successful national parliamentary election held on March 7, 2010. International and independent Iraqi observers expressed confidence in the integrity of the election. The U.S. continues to provide the majority of support to address the needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, and resettled over 17,000 Iraqis to the United States refugees this past year.

Kenya. Working alongside the international community, the United States supported Kenya’s recovery from the devastating post-2007 election crisis. Through robust high-level engagement, including by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Clinton, and programming focused on conflict mitigation and capacity-building for democratic institutions and civil society, the United States has stood by the people of Kenya as they move to implement the ambitious reform agenda brokered by Kofi Annan in the wake of the violence, culminating in a peaceful and credible August referendum in which Kenyans adopted a new constitution, the centerpiece of the agenda.

Kosovo. We supported the holding of successful municipal elections in November 2009, marking a significant milestone for Kosovo in building a multi-ethnic, democratic society. The elections enjoyed increased voter participation by all ethnic groups and international observers generally praised the organization and conduct of the election.

Kyrgyzstan. The United States responded immediately to the appeal of President Otunbayeva for assistance in the aftermath of the April 7 uprising, re-targeting a significant portion of our existing $53 million in assistance to address new priorities, and provided an additional $58 million in assistance following the violence in June. The U.S. has also worked closely with the international community to support efforts to restore stability, and establish inter-ethnic harmony, democracy, the rule of law, economic security and prosperity.

Russia. President Obama and Secretary Clinton participated in parallel, peer-to-peer civil society summits that were held during the period of our government summits in July 2009, and June 2010. The President and high-level Administration officials also gave interviews to independent Russian media, met with Russia’s political opposition and civil society organizers, and have promoted the rule-of-law and freedom of speech, press, and assembly as essential elements of Russia’s economic modernization.

Somalia. Following an extensive policy review, the Obama Administration reoriented U.S. policy on Somalia, which resulted in the provision of capacity-building support and democracy and governance training to Somalia’s Somaliland government in advance of its June elections. Hundreds of thousands of Somalilanders turned out to vote in their fourth election, which international observers deemed free and fair.

Invested more than $2 billion in 2009 alone to strengthen democratic institutions, civil society, the rule of law, and free and independent media, including more than $263 million in support of democratic institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our investments in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow to over $310 million in 2010.

Provided targeted legal and relocation assistance to 170 human rights defenders around the world, through the Human Rights Defenders Fund, providing a lifeline of protection for raising sensitive issues and voicing dissent. Our efforts help to amplify the voices of activists and advocates working on human rights issues by shining a spotlight on their progress.

Invested in the capacity of local organizations to promote participatory, pluralistic, and prosperous societies in the Middle East and North Africa through the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

 


Secretary Clinton’s Remarks at the Launch of the Asia Society’s Series of Richard C. Holbrooke Memorial Addresses

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, it is wonderful to be back here at the Asia Society, and I thank Vishakha for that introduction and for her strong leadership. I also want to thank Jack Wadsworth and all the board members and supporters who are here doing what I think is very important work: continuing to build ties between people across regions and continents and looking for opportunities to find those points of common concern and common cause.

It is always a pleasure to be back here. I tell Vishakha that it’s mostly because of the gift shop – (laughter) – that I’m always coming back. I gave my first major speech, as she said, as Secretary of State, here. And I am so pleased to be back here today to really celebrate you and all you do, to strengthen relationships and understanding.

And I also want to say a special word of greeting and acknowledge to Kati Marton, the wonderful partner in the life of Richard Holbrooke and a dear friend and colleague to so many of us who are here.

Now, if there were ever any fear that I might somehow forget about the Asia Society, that could not happen with Richard Holbrooke being sure to remind me at every single turn. He never stopped serving as a champion and promoter for this organization that he loved so much.

And in the days after we lost Richard, I heard so many stories, many of which made me smile in memory of similar experiences that I and others had had with Richard along the way. And one story in particular about the mark that he left on this organization involves his time as chairman of the Society, and he was trying to recruit Orville Schell, who is out there somewhere in the audience, to run the new, very exciting China Center – Orville, who had a really nice life in northern California. He was reluctant. Now, if any of you ever tried holding out on Richard, you know what a losing proposition that turns out to be. And Richard would have none of Orville’s reservations. And in the midst of one intense recruiting session Richard picked up the phone and ordered a private helicopter to whisk himself and Orville off to Easthampton for an impromptu meeting with a key donor. Now, Orville, you have to admit it, you were really impressed and ended up taking the job, and we were all the better for it. (Laughter.)

But that was just Richard being Richard. He had a flair for the dramatic, to be sure. But it was farmore than theatrics. He understood in every cell of his body that bold action and big ideas can and will change history. After all, he did it himself, again and again.

And that was how Richard approached his final mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He called it his toughest assignment. And certainly, the challenges were almost beyond description. And Richard was always the first to enumerate them. But he understood the importance of this mission to our national security and to the future of such a critical region of the world.

We’ve made progress, but the tribal areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain the epicenter of violent extremism that threatens Americans and peace-loving people everywhere.

Here in New York, Richard’s hometown, we need no reminder of the stakes. Nearly 10 years ago, al-Qaida launched a terrorist attack planned and prepared in the safe haven of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. And it took, tragically, the lives of thousands not only of our fellow citizens, but individuals from across the world.

Since then, al-Qaida and its followers have killed innocent people and encouraged the killing, whether it was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Madrid, London, Bali, or Istanbul. These attacks have served only to steel our resolve. As President Obama said at West Point, we did not ask for this fight, but we will surely finish it.

Since that terrible day in 2001, two successive administrations from different points on the political spectrum have made an enormous commitment of American lives and treasure to pursue the terrorists who attacked us and those who harbor them. And after all that, many Americans understandably want to know how we plan to achieve the goals we have set forth.

For their part, people in the region – not just in Kabul or Islamabad, but in Beijing and Moscow, Delhi and Tehran – wonder about America’s long-term intentions and objectives. They want to know if we will walk away again, as we did in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.

Today, I want to answer some of those questions and talk in more detail about a new phase of our diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan. I will be clear right at the start about a few key elements: our adversary, our goal, and our strategy.

First, our adversary. Despite heavy losses, the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 retain dangerous capabilities. They continue to plot large-scale, catastrophic international attacks and to support and inspire regional affiliates. The United States and our allies remain their principal targets. Before 2001, al-Qaida was protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban, along with various associated groups, still maintain an alliance, based largely in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Taliban continue to wage a brutal insurgency against the government in Kabul in an effort to regain control of the country. The Taliban and al-Qaida are distinct groups with distinct aims, but they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken.

After he took office, President Obama launched a thorough review of our policy and set out a clear goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, and prevent it from threatening America and our allies in the future. Al-Qaida cannot be allowed to maintain its safe haven, protected by the Taliban, and to continue plotting attacks while destabilizing nations that have known far too much war. From the Tigris to the Indus, the region will never live up to its full potential until it is free of al-Qaida and its creed of violence and hatred. That is an aspiration that should unite every nation.

In pursuit of this goal, we are following a strategy with three mutually reinforcing tracks – three surges, if you will: a military offensive against al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban insurgents; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments, economies, and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to undercut the pull of the insurgency; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region.

The first two surges set the table for the success of the third, which aims to support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al-Qaida and reconcile those who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution with an increasingly stable Afghan Government. That would leave al-Qaida alone and on the run.

In 2001, after 9/11, I would remind us all, the Taliban chose to defy the international community and protect al-Qaida. That was the wrong choice, and they have paid a heavy price. Today, the escalating pressure of our military campaign is sharpening a similar decision for the Taliban: Break ties with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution, and you can rejoin Afghan society; refuse and you will continue to face the consequences of being tied to al-Qaida as an enemy of the international community.

They cannot wait us out. They cannot defeat us. And they cannot escape this choice.

All three surges are part of the vision for transition in Afghanistan that President Obama reaffirmed in his December policy review and that NATO endorsed in Lisbon at the most recent summit. Ultimately, Afghans must take responsibility for their own future – for providing security, for strengthening governance, and for reaching a political solution to the conflict.

That transition will be formally launched next month, with troop reductions starting in July and continuing based on conditions on the ground. It will be completed by the end of 2014. As transition proceeds and Afghan leadership strengthens across the country, a process of political reconciliation will become increasingly viable.

In turn, successful reconciliation will reduce the threat to the Afghan Government, making transition more sustainable. Crucially, the enduring commitment of the United States, our allies, and our partners will continue to support the stability of the Afghan Government and the durability of a responsible political settlement. That is the vision of transition – one that is shared by the Afghan Government – that we are pursuing.

So we have a big challenge with many moving parts. Let me go through each surge – military, civilian, and diplomatic – and explain how they fit together to advance our larger goals.

First the military surge, which sent thousands of additional American and allied troops to Afghanistan to deny safe haven for al-Qaida and to break the Taliban’s momentum. More and better-trained Afghan security forces are also in the field, working side-by-side with our troops. And we honor the service and sacrifice of all the women and men, from every nation, as well as their civilian colleagues, who have put their lives at risk and, all too tragically, for too many, paid with those lives. They are engaged in a very tough fight. But we are in it together. Thanks to their efforts, the rapidly deteriorating security situation the Obama Administration inherited in January 2009 has begun to stabilize. Expanded local security measures at the village level have helped protect vulnerable populations. Security has improved in Kabul and in key provinces like Helmand and Kandahar. The momentum of the Taliban insurgents has been blunted, and in some places even reversed.

Now, from the beginning, we have recognized the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremists’ safe havens and enablers in Pakistan. It is no secret that we have not always seen eye-to-eye with Pakistan on how to deal with these threats or on the future of Afghanistan. But as a result of growing cooperation between our governments, militaries, and law enforcement agencies, and determined action by the Pakistani army, we have been able to dramatically expand our counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.

Pressure is increasing on both sides of the border. As a result, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are under threat like never before. Al-Qaida’s leadership is weakened, its safe havens in the border regions are smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been significantly degraded. But make no mistake, al-Qaida remains a serious threat, but it is finding it tougher to raise money, train recruits and plan attacks outside the region. Just as importantly, we have given its Taliban allies and sympathizers reason to question the wisdom of their loyalty.

Now let me turn to the second track. I know there are some on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who question whether we need anything more than guns, bombs, and troops to achieve our goals in Afghanistan. As our commanders on the ground would be the first to say, however, that is a short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating view. We will never kill enough insurgents to end this war outright. The military campaign must proceed hand-in-hand with a robust civilian effort that helps the Afghan Government build credibility with its own people, offer alternatives to the insurgency, and provide incentives for all Afghans to renounce violence and work together toward a better future. That is how insurgencies end.

And that is why we have matched our military surge with a civilian surge that tripled the number of diplomats, development experts, and other specialists on the ground. These efforts are mutually reinforcing and both support the transition process. We now have more than 1,100 civilian experts from nine federal agencies working in Afghanistan on everything from improving agriculture, to expanding infrastructure, to stemming the drug trade, and training Afghan civil servants.

We have also expanded our civilian efforts in Pakistan, including through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman assistance program, which is funding projects to address Pakistan’s urgent energy and economic needs.

After the devastating floods, we stepped up with aid and relief, and our Strategic Dialogue is building habits of cooperation between our governments at every level. Now, of course, there are still significant challenges to overcome in our relationship. Distrust lingers on both sides. And we need to work together carefully to prevent misunderstandings and disagreements from derailing the progress we have made in the past two years.

So in both nations, the decision to deploy additional civilian resources is paying dividends, even as we remain determined to work smarter and better at how we deploy these resources.

The budget that President Obama announced on Monday provides the resources our diplomats and development experts need to be effective partners to the military to get the job done. Retreating from the civilian side of the mission – as some funding proposals currently before Congress would do – would be a grave mistake.

Now, I certainly appreciate the tight budget environment we find ourselves in. But the fact is that these civilian operations are crucial to our national security.

Consider the long-term price we have paid as a result of disengaging from Afghanistan after 1989. As Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee just yesterday, we cannot afford to make that mistake again. Or consider Iraq, where the transition to a civilian-led mission is helping the Pentagon save $45 billion, and the State Department and USAID require an increase of only $4 billion to make sure that we are robustly engaged with the government and people of Iraq. That is a good deal by any standard. So we are working with Congress to ensure that the civilian surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan receives the support it requires now and in years to come.

Now, I will not sugarcoat the fact that the Afghan Government has, from time to time, disagreed with our policies. And there is no denying the challenges our civilian efforts face in Afghanistan. Corruption remains a major problem. Fighting fraud and waste is one of our highest priorities. A major focus of the civilian surge has been expanding our presence in the field, getting more experts out to provide hands-on leadership of our development projects. We have partnered with the military to put in place stronger controls on contractors. And we are working with Afghan institutions that we fund directly to help them improve auditing and accountability.

So as the military surge weakens the insurgents and pressures them to consider alternatives to armed resistance, the civilian surge creates economic and social incentives for participating in a peaceful society. Together, the two efforts prepare the ground for a political process, which history and experience tell us is the most effective way to end an insurgency.

And that brings us to the third track. President Obama’s December policy review emphasized, and I quote, that “our civilian and military efforts must support a durable and favorable political resolution of the conflict. In 2011, we will intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

As promised, we are launching a diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome that shatters the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaida, ends the insurgency, and helps to produce not only a more stable Afghanistan but a more stable region.

Now, of course, we had always envisioned Richard Holbrooke leading this effort. He was an architect of our integrated military-civilian-diplomatic strategy, and we feel his loss so keenly.

But Richard left us a solid foundation. Over the past two years, he built an exceptional team and a strong working relationships with our allies and regional partners.

And today, I am pleased to announce that the President and I have called back to service Ambassador Marc Grossman, a veteran diplomat and one of Richard’s most esteemed colleagues, as our new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassador Grossman’s first tour in the Foreign Service was in Pakistan. He knows our allies and understands how to mobilize common action to meet shared challenges. He played a crucial role in the Dayton talks, and Richard described him in a memorable book that Richard wrote as “one of the most outstanding career diplomats.” Ambassador Grossman has followed in Richard’s shoes before when he served as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in the ‘90s, and I am absolutely confident in his ability to hit the ground running.

Now, Ambassador Grossman and the rest of his interagency team will marshal the full range of our policy resources to support responsible, Afghan-led reconciliation that brings the conflict to a peaceful conclusion, and to actively engage with states in the region and the international community to advance that process.

As I said, important groundwork has already been laid, both by Richard and his team, and by the Afghans themselves.

Many low-level fighters entered the insurgency not because of deep ideological commitment, but because they were following the promise of a paycheck. So in London last year, the international community pledged financial support for the Afghan Government’s comprehensive program to draw them off the battlefield and back into society.

As military pressure escalates, more insurgents may begin looking for alternatives to violence. And not just low-level fighters. Both we and the Afghans believe that the security and governance gains produced by the military and civilian surges have created an opportunity to get serious about a responsible reconciliation process, led by Afghans and supported by intense regional diplomacy and strong U.S.-backing.

Such a process would have to be accepted by all of Afghanistan’s major ethnic and political blocs. For this to work, everyone has to feel they have a stake in the outcome and a responsibility for achieving it.

President Karzai made a good start by convening a broad-based Peace Jirga in June that set out a framework for national reconciliation. He then formed a High Peace Council that includes representatives from across Afghanistan. Council leaders are holding meetings in key provinces throughout the country with tribal leaders, civil society, women, and villagers to hear their hopes and concerns for a reconciliation process. They are working to form local councils to begin engaging the insurgents and the broader community.

The United States supports this Afghan effort. Over the past two years, we have laid out our unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: They must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan. Those are necessary outcomes of any negotiation. This is the price for reaching a political resolution and bringing an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks.

If former militants are willing to meet these red lines, they would then be able to participate in the political life of the country under their constitution.

Now, I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face-to-face with Milosevic and ended a war.

It won’t be easy. Old adversaries will need to see that their own self-interest lies in setting aside their grievances. Taliban militants will have to decide that they are better off working within the Afghan political system rather than fighting a losing struggle alongside al-Qaida in bombed-out caves. The Afghan Government must be prepared to be more inclusive and more accountable. All parties will have to commit to a pluralistic political system that respects the human rights of every Afghan.

The United States is committed to helping Afghans defend those rights. We will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.

The Afghan Government needs to safeguard the rights of all Afghans, especially women and minorities. I know firsthand from what happened in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and other places recovering from conflict that the participation of women and civil society groups will be essential to building a just and lasting peace.

The United States supports the participation of women at all levels of the reconciliation process, because we believe the potential for sustainable peace will be subverted if women are silenced or marginalized. Afghan women made significant contributions to the Peace Jirga, they must continue to be a part of the High Peace Council, and they have an important role to play at the provincial and local levels if genuine reconciliation is going to take root.

Reconciliation – achieving it and maintaining it – will depend on the participation and support of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including and most importantly Pakistan. Let me be blunt: We all need to be on the same page for this to work. Whether we live in Kabul or Islamabad or Washington, we need to share a common vision for the future. A vision of a stable, independent Afghanistan rid of insurgency and proxy conflicts fought by neighboring states. A vision of a region free from al-Qaida.

As we have underscored from the beginning, Pakistan plays a pivotal role. It is a nuclear-armed nation of nearly 170 million people with deep ties and strong interests in Afghanistan. It was with Pakistan that the United States and other countries supported the Afghan people in their fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. And Pakistan continues to host thousands of refugees from the current conflict. Unfortunately, the historic distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains a major cause of regional instability and does not serve the long-term interests of the people of either country.

Pakistan has legitimate concerns that should be understood and addressed by the Afghan Government under any reconciliation process, with steps that provide transparency and reassurance. But Pakistan also has responsibilities of its own, including taking decisive steps to ensure that the Afghan Taliban cannot continue to conduct the insurgency from Pakistani territory. Pressure from the Pakistani side will help push the Taliban toward the negotiating table and away from al-Qaida.

For reconciliation to succeed, Pakistan will have to be part of the process. It will have to respect Afghan sovereignty and work with Afghanistan to improve regional stability. We know cooperation is possible. Just last month, Afghanistan and Pakistan took a huge step forward with formal ratification of a long-awaited Transit Trade Agreement, which will boost economic opportunity on both sides of the border by opening new markets and trade routes for Afghan and Pakistani goods. This was one of Richard’s proudest accomplishments, because it had been in negotiation since the early 1960s.

Expanding this cooperation to security issues, including reconciliation, is in the interests of both nations and will be a focus of our diplomatic efforts going forward.

Beyond Pakistan, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors – India and Iran, Russia and China, the Central Asian states – stand to benefit from a responsible political settlement in Afghanistan and also an end to al-Qaida’s safe havens in the border areas and the exporting of extremism into their countries. That would reduce the terrorist and narcotics threat to their own citizens, create new opportunities for commerce, and ease the free flow of energy and resources throughout the region. It could also help move other regional conflicts toward peaceful resolution.

Indeed, we are encouraged by news that India and Pakistan are re-launching a dialogue aimed at building trust, and we encourage them to work in that same spirit to support a political process in Afghanistan. We look to them – and all of Afghanistan’s neighbors – to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, which means agreeing not to play out their rivalries within its borders, and to support reconciliation and efforts to ensure that al-Qaida and the syndicate of terrorism is denied safe haven everywhere. Afghanistan, in turn, must not allow its territory to be used against others.

The United States will intensify our efforts to build broad international support for Afghan reconciliation.

In early March, we will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with our partners in the International Contact Group, hosted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Contact Group, which Richard worked so hard to build, brings together more than 40 countries and international organizations, including a growing number of Muslim-majority nations. The Afghan leaders of the High Peace Council will join us and review efforts toward reconciliation.

NATO ministers will convene in Paris a few days later to review transition planning. We are also preparing for a conference in Germany later this year for the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference, which we hope will be an important milestone in the political process.

As this work proceeds, the United States will relentlessly pursue al-Qaida and those Taliban who refuse to renounce violence, while working to improve security, development, and governance on the ground. Again, the Afghan Taliban have a clear choice: Be part of Afghanistan’s future or face unrelenting assault.

For reconciliation to take hold – for it to be irreversible – Afghanistan’s government will need to provide security to all its people. So the United States and our allies will continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces.

We are working with President Karzai to implement a responsible transition to Afghan security leadership, which will begin in the coming weeks. And in July, we will begin to reduce the number of our troops based on conditions on the ground. Transition to Afghan leadership will be complete by the end of 2014. We think this provides the Afghan Government the time and space it needs to further build up the security forces, ministries, and institutions that will make reconciliation durable and sustainable.

Just as importantly, a political process that takes insurgents off the battlefield will make it easier for our troops to hand over responsibility to Afghan security forces and for transition to proceed.

We have been clear that this transition does not mark the end of our commitment to the people of the region. NATO has pledged an enduring military and financial commitment to Afghanistan that will extend beyond the completion of transition in 2014.

And at the request of the Afghan Government, the United States will launch negotiations on a new Strategic Partnership Declaration. It will provide a long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation in the areas of security, economic and social development, and institution building.

This new partnership will complement our ongoing Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan. The development of these relationships, along with our deepening engagement with key neighbors, is crucial to providing stability and confidence in the region.

The United States will always maintain the capability to protect our people and our interests. But in no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people. We respect Afghans’ proud history of resistance to foreign occupation, and we do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country or a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan’s neighbors.

The United States is not walking away from the region. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our commitment is real and it is enduring.

But for all that America is ready to do, and for all the work of the international community, the people and leaders of the region are ultimately responsible for their own futures.

Pakistanis are tired of terror and turmoil. Afghans have suffered through three decades of war. But the leaders of both nations, in and out of government, have not done enough to chart a different course.

Despite steps by the government over the past two years, Pakistan’s public finances remain in disarray. Energy shortages are hampering economic growth, and causing political and social instability.

Routine suicide bombings – including last week’s tragic murders of 31 innocents by a so-called “school boy” suicide bomber – underscore the continued threat of violent extremism. And shocking, unjustified anti-Americanism will not resolve these problems.

America stands ready to assist Pakistan’s leaders in addressing these challenges. They have already enacted some reforms aimed at stabilizing the economy. The test will be in how they are implemented, supported and expanded. Pakistan’s leaders still have a lot to do to reduce corruption, to rebuild from last summer’s floods, and to keep making progress in eliminating extremists and their sanctuaries.

The Afghan people also expect their government to present a positive vision for the future. President Karzai’s stated commitment to enhance transparency, improve basic services, and reduce corruption is a start. But his people will look for deeds to match the words. They will look for strong and independent democratic institutions, like the courts and electoral bodies, to ensure their rights. And most of all, they will look for results that make a difference in their lives.

Leaders in both nations will have to decide what kind of future they want for their children and grandchildren to inherit.

What that future looks like will depend, to no small degree, on the success of the political and diplomatic process I have described today. So long as leaders in Kabul and Islamabad eye each other with distrust, so long as the Taliban have safe havens from which to wage war, so long as al-Qaida operates anywhere in the region, the prospects for progress are slim.

Last month in Doha – actually, now two months ago, in December – just before the protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, I warned that the region’s foundations were sinking into the sand. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflict is blasting the foundations apart, brick by brick. Reconciliation and reform offer another way.

South Asia is home to nearly 1.5 billion people. They are talented and hard-working, rich in culture, and blessed with entrepreneurial spirit. If the countries of the region can move beyond their historic conflicts and cooperate to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, there are no limits as to what they can achieve.

Our friend Richard Holbrooke believed a better future is possible for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, and the wider region. He once observed, and I quote, “In every war of this sort, there is always a window for people who want to come in from the cold… If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in… there has to be a place for them.”

Those were his words. And that is the policy of the United States. It may not produce peace tomorrow or the next day, but it does offer our best chance. And it offers especially the best chance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who so richly deserve a different future. The United States will be there as a partner to help them achieve that, if that is the path they choose.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

 


Readout of the Vice President Joe Biden’s Call with Egyptian Vice President Omar Soliman

The Vice President today spoke by phone with Egyptian Vice President Omar Soliman, reiterating President Obama’s condemnation of the recent violence in Egypt and calling for restraint by all sides. He also restated the President’s support for universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech. Vice President Biden urged that credible, inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government that addresses the aspirations of the Egyptian people. He stressed that the Egyptian government is responsible for ensuring that peaceful demonstrations don’t lead to violence and intimidation and for allowing journalists and human rights advocates to conduct their important work, including immediately releasing those who have been detained.

 


Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

MR. GIBBS: Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Q Can you comment on the conclusions of the financial crisis investigatory commission? And do you agree with the finding that the crisis was preventable and that current members of the administration were partly to blame? Geithner, for example?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let me say this. I would — I think Treasury has a statement on this. We certainly applaud the efforts of the commission to explore the causes for the financial crisis that occurred in 2008. Our biggest task in assuming office as it related to the financial crisis was getting our economy back on track and taking the necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that it never happened again. That’s why the President put so much effort into Wall Street reform to ensure, again, that what happened leading up to and during that crisis never repeats itself. And we are obviously focused on taking all the necessary steps to implement that legislation to ensure that that is the case.

One member of the commission, though, on that point said today that the financial system is “not really very different” today from prior to passage of the Wall Street reform bill, if anything else, that they’re more concentrated. What would you say to that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there are a whole host of authorities, resolution authority being one of them, that is markedly different.

We saw in the crisis, taking AIG as an example, a fairly successful insurance company that somebody put a hedge fund on top of. And instead of being able to break the company apart, the hedge fund caused government officials to have to put quite a bit of resources into the overall company rather than just dealing with some of the root causes of the downfall.

So we now have the ability to break those things apart and deal with them very separately. I would point out in my example that AIG’s money has been paid back to the government as a result of some of the steps — management steps that have been taken since the President came into office.

Q On one different topic, could you comment on the White House’s use of social media, which seems to be increasing? What’s the thinking behind that? Is Plouffe behind that? And is that something we’ll see continuing into the election?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I — look, obviously David is a big believer in social media. Are you talking about around the State of the Union, about some of the interactive stuff around the State of the Union?

Q Yes, and the YouTube thing today.

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously YouTube is a reprisal of I think something we did back in 2009. I think the President looks at something like YouTube as sort of an online town hall meeting.

Obviously a number of us use different types of social media like Twitter to communicate what the government is doing to the people in this country. I think it is a — I think it’s just another way of bringing people a little closer to the decisions that get made here and why. And I think the President, and the entire team, will continue to look for avenues and opportunities to expand the use of those entities, again, whether that be Twitter, whether that be YouTube or other aspects of social media.

Yes, sir.

Q Two questions, one financial and one foreign. The IMF today singled out the U.S., as well as Japan, as heavily indebted, advanced economies that need to lay out clear deficit reduction plans before the market sentiment turns against them. What’s the — how concerned is the administration that investors will in fact lose patience with the U.S. over its deficit handling?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President demonstrated the seriousness in the issue of deficit reduction that must be taken, as you heard the President say, to win the future on Tuesday during the State of the Union. The President understands that we have to take steps to reduce the level of government spending. He outlined very specific steps, as an opening bid of sorts in the State of the Union, to freeze non-defense discretionary spending over the course of five years, saving $400 billion and bringing non-defense discretionary spending, as a portion of our economy, to its lowest level since President Eisenhower was in this building.

So we certainly understand, and the President certainly understands, that this is an issue that has to and will be addressed.

Q Do you think the IMF’s concern is legitimate, then?

MR. GIBBS: I have not focused on the IMF report because I think the President believed it was legitimate several years ago. Again, we didn’t get into — as you heard the President say, we didn’t get into this — we’re not dealing with a $14 or $15 trillion debt because of the last two plus years. This is a problem many years in the making and will take a concerted effort by Democrats and Republicans working together to find a solution to it.

Q And in Egypt, street protests are continuing. Former IAEA chief ElBaradei has returned to the country and is calling for Mubarak to step down. How would the — does the administration see ElBaradei as a viable alternative to Mubarak?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s broaden the discussion and have a little bit of a discussion about some of the events in Egypt. First and foremost — and I said this yesterday, but I want to reiterate it — that there’s an obligation by the government not to engage in violence. There’s an obligation by those that are protesting not to engage in violence by burning government buildings. So, first and foremost, this is a process that should be conducted peacefully, and that is one of our primary concerns.

I’m not going to get into different personalities except to say that we believe that this represents an opportunity for President Mubarak and for the government of Egypt to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people and to devise a way to broaden the discussion and take some necessary actions on political reform. Those are issues that the President talks with President Mubarak about every time they meet, and I doubt that there is a high-level meeting that happens between the two countries in a bilateral nature where those issues aren’t brought up.

Q And how concerned is the administration that the unrest, the upheaval in the Middle East, is now spreading to Yemen, which is a key base for al Qaeda?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it is important not to — because every country is different and every country is at a different stage in its political development — to not generalize across the platform. So I think you heard the President talk about the people of Tunisia, and I think myself and the Secretary of State have said quite a bit on Egypt. Again, I hate to generalize across a whole series of countries at different stages in their political development and their history.

Dan.

Q Just to follow on Egypt, does the White House believe that the Egyptian government is stable?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q So Hosni Mubarak has the full support of the President?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Dan, I think it’s important to — this isn’t a choice between the government and the people of Egypt. Egypt, we know — and President Mubarak has for several decades been a close and important partner with our country. And every time the President meets with President Mubarak — and I would point you to the speech in Cairo in 2009 where the President also specifically addresses this, as well as the readout that we put out on the September meeting that the President had with President Mubarak as part of the Middle East peace process — that we consistently have advocated for the universal rights of assembly, of free speech, of political reform. All of those are important and we have at every turn encouraged President Mubarak to find a way to engender that political discourse in a positive way. And we will continue to do that.

Q And on the YouTube and other uses of social media, in addition to this being a chance for the President to reach out and promote jobs or the economy, is this also an effort by the President to engage younger voters ahead of the 2012 election?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think this is just an opportunity to go to — it’s not a demographical slice and dice. It’s an opportunity simply to go and, again, talk with people directly about the decisions that the President is making and that the government is making. I think CNN hosted the YouTube debate back in 2007.

Again, I just think it’s a perfect opportunity to be able to discuss these things much like you would at a town hall, but bring people inside of that. And at 39 and being on Twitter and Facebook, I don’t consider myself necessarily a younger voter. (Laughter.)

Q Well — true. One final question — and I know you’ve been bugged about this quite a bit — are we any closer to naming a successor to you?

MR. GIBBS: As soon as the President and the team have announcements to make on the job of press secretary and others as part of the reorganization, they’ll be made. I don’t know when that will be. It could be later today, it could be tomorrow.

Q Has he made up his mind?

MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to my previous answer.

Yes, sir — oh, I’m sorry.

Q Robert, on the new color-coded terror alert system, is the President confident that the new system will be able to communicate to Americans appropriately and effectively?

MR. GIBBS: It’s designed to try to take some of the uncertainty and confusion out of — and you’ve seen this from both Democrats and Republicans agree that while there might have — while there was some utility to this at the beginning, it has caused some confusion. And the Secretary — Secretary Napolitano is going to speak on this very shortly at George Washington, and I would point you to that.

Q On the jobs front, the CBO projected this week that the unemployment rate at the fourth quarter of 2012 will still be 8.2 percent. Obviously with the reelection campaign coming soon, does the President feel like the message of “it could have been worse” will resonate with voters?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I can assure you that what the President is — the President is not focused on what — is not focused today on what the unemployment rate will be in the fourth quarter of 2012. He’s focused on what the unemployment rate is in the first quarter of 2011. And I think that’s what animated his decisions in the tax agreement in December, again, a payroll tax cut which analysts have said will increase economic growth and job creation, tax incentives — and we saw some of this yesterday in Manitowoc — that allow companies to accelerate the expensing of investments, which we and others believe will help businesses expand and we hope hire more people.

So I don’t think people here are flipping through to the fourth quarter. We’re focused on today and tomorrow.

Q One other — Nelson Mandela is in the hospital. Has the President been briefed on his condition and reached out to anyone in the family?

MR. GIBBS: The President, to my knowledge, has not spoken with anybody. We’ve seen the reports that he’s in the hospital. Obviously the President and the First Lady, their thoughts are with Nelson Mandela. And we will try to keep up to date on his prognosis.

Yes, sir.

Q On Egypt, Mubarak has been the leader of Egypt and the United States has worked with him for a very long time. By not vocally supporting him but simply saying we support the people of Egypt, is that sending a message to the people who are out there protesting against him that they should just go full-bore and is that going to inflame the situation? And is that what the President is trying to do?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I –

Q It sounds like he’s being tossed aside to a lot of people.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, it’s what I said to Dan, Chip. This isn’t — our government and this administration and I presume previous administrations aren’t here to pick the leaders of countries over the people of those countries. We stand for the universal rights that are enshrined in our Constitution and what led our country to be created more than two centuries ago. We think that and believe strongly that those rights are held by those throughout the world.

Just recently when President Hu was here, the President discussed universal rights. We do not see this as a choice between one or the other, and I don’t believe it should be. We think that — again, he is a close and important partner.

Q He is?

MR. GIBBS: He is. And every time the two meet the President talks about the steps that he believes that President Mubarak should be taking to have that fuller conversation and to make some important reforms as it relates to political freedoms, we believe — and they’ll have an opportunity to do this later this year — to have free and fair elections. We believe that the emergency law that’s been largely in place since 1981 should be lifted, and spoke out in a statement by me that its extension was not a good thing. It gives the government obviously extra judicial powers, which we don’t find to be necessary.

So all of these things we will continue to push and prod President Mubarak on in order, again, to create a situation peacefully — peacefully — and I think that needs to be underscored, both the government and the protesters — to get into a place where a political dialogue can take place.

Q Since he has been so heavy-handed for so many years and you are saying that the most important thing here is adherence to international human rights or the international rights of the people of Egypt, would it be a good thing if he were overthrown?

MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into picking the leaders of Egypt and that’s not what the government of this country does. Again, I think that what is important is we can — President Mubarak and those that seek greater freedom of expression, greater freedom to assemble, should be able to work out a process for that happening in a peaceful way.

Q The perception by many on the ground in Egypt is the United States is taking sides here — not with Mubarak, but with the people out there protesting. Is that accurate?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I’ll say this for the third time. This is not about taking sides. This is not about choosing –

Q But I’m saying the perception there is that you’re taking sides.

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me try it a fourth time. This is not about taking sides. So I hope you’ll perceive to them that, again –

Q We don’t perceive — they perceive from you, not us.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I hope you’ll play each of the four times in which I said it’s not a choice that you make.

Q And one other question on this –

MR. GIBBS: Because, again, let me just — when President Mubarak was in the Oval Office in September, these were issues that were brought up. When the President spoke with President Mubarak around the events that were taking place in Tunisia — again, go to the readout that we put out about that. It’s very explicit that the President talked about the political reforms that have for quite some time needed to take place in Egypt.

So this is a sustained and important message that we want to deliver to President Mubarak, to the government of Egypt, and we think they have an important role to play.

Q There are some analysts who believe the President is expressing that message much more forcefully now than, for example, he did during the Iran uprising; that he was a bit slow and cautious then in supporting the people out in the streets but he’s not now.

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think our response has been quite similar in speaking out in support of universal rights. The President I know spoke with you all in the Rose Garden prior to the Iranian elections. And, again, as I said earlier, I hate to — political conditions and development in different countries are different, and I would hate to generalize.

Mike.

Q Robert, I’m curious what the President’s thoughts are on this metropolitan area’s response to the snowstorm last night? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Honestly, Mike, I have not talked to him about it.

Q How long did it take you guys to get in from the motorcade?

MR. GIBBS: It took a little while to get in. I think –

Q No, it took more than a little while.

MR. GIBBS: I think if you were — anybody here that was in the in-town pool? Yes, I think you could — Jackie can appropriately report that based on the conditions on the Suitland Parkway, it was somewhat evident that we don’t get a lot of special treatment as it relates to that. (Laughter.)

I think it took a — it was interesting, last night it seemed like everybody was on the room and this morning it seemed like nobody was on the road. So obviously we hope — and you see a lot of stranded cars. I know some of — even some of our staff coming from Andrews found the conditions to be too hard to travel through and parked their car in a parking lot and took the metro. So I certainly hope that everybody is safe and accounted for in an arduous natural disaster of sorts.

Q Does the White House believe the financial crisis commission was a good use of time and resources?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we applaud their efforts to look into what caused and — what caused the crisis and what steps might be taken to ensure that it never happens again. That’s — again, that’s why the President spent so much time over the course of the previous two years trying to ensure that the steps that we took in Wall Street reform ensured that we don’t need a commission like that ever again.

Q Following up on something Sunlen asked, Doug Elmendorf said that the natural and sustainable unemployment rate of 5.3 percent probably won’t be back until 2016. Does the White House agree with that or –

MR. GIBBS: I would have to look at what estimates folks have. I know there’s an economic report that we have coming out. Look, I think what we saw was in many ways a perfect storm. And we’ve seen it with the financial sector, we saw it — it continues — we see the continuing effect of the downturn in the housing market.

And I should have it — I should always have it, the graph that, again, just shows the level of job loss. Again, they’re not quite apples to — red apples to red apples comparisons because obviously the size of the economy is marginally different. But if you look at the job loss in the recession in the early ‘80s, the recession in the early ‘90s, and the recession in the earlier part of the previous decade — 2001, 2002, 2003 — all of those dips added together don’t equal the amount of job loss that we saw — more than 8 million jobs — as a result of this calamity.

So it’s going to take some time. The key, though, is very much the path the President outlined in the State of the Union. And that is, we have to take steps as manufacturing jobs have left or as companies find it more profitable to set up shop in some other place, to provide incentives through research and development and manufacturing and exports right here.

That’s what the President focused on in the State of the Union: How do we out-educate, out-innovate and out-build countries? How do we reform our budget and our government in order to lay that foundation so that the jobs that we need today and tomorrow are created here; that companies are expanding and doing business not just in different parts of this country but in different parts of the world as we see emerging markets take place? And I think that will animate almost all of what the President does this year.

Q Part of the State of the Union, the President was talking about green energy. Some of the more traditional energy producers say if you want the economy to do better, maybe take some of the regulations off in terms of making it easier to drill or to gather coal until you can develop those green energies.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what’s important is — and I think is embodied in the promise that the President — or in the proposal the President made and the promise to increase the amount of electricity produced through clean energy sources, to double from 40 to 80 percent through 2035, is not to take an either/or approach. If drilling were just the answer, if nuclear was just the answer, if solar was just the answer, if wind was just the answer, my guess is the problem would have been figured out long ago.

But instead of picking this, this, this and this, you see in the standard that the President put forward is, yes, let’s do all of that. Let’s do wind, let’s do nuclear, let’s do solar, let’s do clean coal technology. We have an energy problem because too much of our energy — we’re dependent for too much of our energy on other places in the world. And the creation of the jobs around the newer forms of energy we can’t lose out to a place like China, as you heard the President talk about yesterday.

So let’s not pick just wind or just solar. Let’s pick a whole — let’s pick everything. And that’s what’s embodied in what the President laid out on Tuesday. And I think it’s — I think that’s, quite honestly, why Democrats and Republicans can all find something to like about that. And the question is, are we going to have the courage to take the steps to do something like that, to continue to make those investments?

And the last stop yesterday in Manitowoc, at Tower Tech, watching the manufacturing process of creating a wind turbine that might sit 100 meters upright and harness and create electricity, harness energy through wind, that’s putting people to work right there — creating the steel in some place, moving it in, manufacturing those towers, shipping those towers out, putting those towers up. We’re going to have to decide whether we’re going to import that type of technology from China or India or someplace else, or whether we’re going to put Americans to work, back to work, creating those energy sources right here. I think that very much embodies what the President was discussing on the State of the Union.

Q Robert, would it be easier to be on the side of the protestors in Egypt if the Egyptian government weren’t such an important ally to both us and Israel?

MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I think, Chuck, that we very much recognize the right that those in Egypt want more freely to assemble and to speak, and to be involved in political reform. That’s a bedrock American value. And I think the government of Egypt and the President of Egypt need to find a way to ensure that this is — this type of dialogue and these types of reforms can happen.

Q You say, though — you say that the President has spoken to President Mubarak about this in the past, and all these words, but financially we don’t speak that way. I mean, this is the — in the top four of foreign aid, Egypt is. And so, if — why — I mean, why not use a carrot and stick approach if we were so concerned about the democratic — the lack of democratic reform in Egypt?

MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck, this is just as the President talked about with China. We have a whole host of bilateral concerns in relationships. But that does not change our desire to see in Egypt free and fair elections, the ability to assemble, the ability to speak more freely, to be involved in a healthy democracy.

Q Is that our policy for Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as well?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t want to — we certainly support — it is our policy to support the universal rights which I’ve spoken of and which you’ve heard the President speak of. Again, I hate generalizing across different platforms, but when you say that — you said you know that the President brings this up, again — and I’ll be happy to circulate some of these because I know sometimes when we put out a readout of a call or a meeting and it’s not on the front page of the newspaper or in the first five minutes of newscasts, it’s understandable that you might not immediately focus on some of the things that are in those readouts.

But, again, whether it was the President’s meeting with President Mubarak in September, the statements around the extension of the emergency law, or even the readout that we did just recently on the call to President Mubarak about the tensions in Tunisia, these are things that are brought up on each and every one of those calls.

Q A couple other issues. One is the Republicans are trying to get rid of the matching funds, the tax check-off, to use it to basically save some money for the government. How committed is the President in supporting this? Would he veto any sort of bill that had this in it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me recirculate the statement of administration –

Q I understand what his position is, but is it a — is this one of these he will veto this if it shows up in any appropriations bill?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s getting through.

Q You think it will die in the Senate?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s getting through.

Laura.

Q With the government reorganization project and housing development that you’re entering on, do you expect it will result in –

(Cell phone rings.)

MR. GIBBS: Was that me squeaking or was that one of you? You don’t have your ringer on, do you? (Laughter.)

Q Got a new one, too.

MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.

Q Play it. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.

Q I could make this question into a ring tone — it would be very popular. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: You should do that one.

Q That’s a good idea, next time record it. “My question is right here.”

MR. GIBBS: Right, and you just play it.

Q Do you expect it will result in savings to government outlays — saving government money in the end?

MR. GIBBS: I think the hope would be to see some savings, yes. But I think what’s primarily most important in a reorganization like this is that we — and I think you probably would see some savings as a result of the duplicative nature of many departments or departments and agencies and what have you, all having certain equities in the same basket of issues or ideas. But, first and foremost, I think as the President talked about, it’s reform for the creation of a government that hasn’t been reorganized in decades and needs to be more fully tilted toward the challenges that we have now and that we face tomorrow. I think those are the President’s objectives.

Q But when we’re talking about the debate that happens in Washington over the size of government and how much we should be spending each year — and that obviously is a very active debate — is this something that should be part of that, that is part of the administration’s thinking about this?

MR. GIBBS: I think so. But, again, I think it’s important to understand, as the President outlined in his State of the Union, domestic discretionary spending — if you did away with it all, you’d still have I think what most people would consider to be a deficit number that we don’t want to live with. So, again, I think there’s — I don’t think people think that we’re going to balance the budget based on a reorganization.

Q Sure, but this is part of the administration’s response to that conversation?

MR. GIBBS: I think that it is. Again, I think from the viewpoint of the President and the team here, it is to align — it is more so to align the priorities of our government with a structure that is able to more efficiently and adequately address those problems.

Q Why is the President not going to Colombia or Panama on this upcoming trip, given that we have trade deals pending with those countries?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’m not entirely sure how each country was picked. I know that the President seeks to expand our alliances in a very important region of the world. And my guess is you could spend — there’s reasons to go and see virtually — or most countries down there. We are, as we talked about in the briefing that we did around the State of the Union, hopeful that first and foremost, we can get the Korea Free Trade Agreement through Congress as soon as possible, and that the USTR and others can continue work on Panama and Colombia.

Mark.

Q Robert, when the President is ready to announce your successor, will he do it in person?

MR. GIBBS: I doubt it.

Q Really? Could be paper?

MR. GIBBS: Or trumpets.

Q Or trumpets?

Q Ring tone, maybe?

MR. GIBBS: Ring tone?

Q On Twitter?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think it will be on Twitter. But I assume it will likely be on paper.

Q And on yesterday’s snow gridlock, does it raise questions that if there were an emergency and the President needed to get back to the White House or get to Andrews in a situation where there is no Marine One available, does it not raise national security concerns?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I talked to some of the detail leaders when we got back to the White House. And based on the resources that it would take in this instance to get enough equipment, manpower or what have you to fully block off that route while we were having this emergency, they did not necessarily think made sense at that time given, again, how many people were also trying to get home.

That having been said, obviously if there was — if we were coming in a weather emergency like yesterday and needed to have that happen, I have no doubt that that could easily happen because, again, it just was a matter of the resources that you move out there and then ultimately how quickly those resources you might need to get back.

Q And does it raise questions about what might happen were D.C. to be evacuated because of a national emergency?

MR. GIBBS: I’m probably not the right person in terms of an emergency management official to render something like that, but I can see if there might be an appropriate agency to address that.
[In the event that a mass evacuation of the National Capitol Region becomes necessary due to an emergency, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police, in close coordination with other federal and local law enforcement partners would activate the emergency evacuation plan which would facilitate the safe movement of evacuees from the District.]

Yes, ma’am.

Q Tomorrow morning the President is going to be speaking at the health care Families U.S.A. Health Action Conference. Can you give us a sense of the kind of message he’ll be delivering?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President will take the opportunity to largely reiterate a lot of what was in the State of the Union, to talk about the economic challenges that we face, what we have to do. And I expect that he’ll also reiterate what was said in the State of the Union around health care, the progress that we’ve seen in getting benefits to the American people as a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. And no doubt, as we talk about the fiscal impacts of decisions the government makes, what would repeal look like to the fiscal situation. And we know that the CBO says that the immediate impact is a couple hundred billion dollars.

Q Also, on corporate tax reform, when the President addressed it in the State of the Union it was in the context of the corporate tax rate in the U.S. being higher than anywhere else in the world and it really hampering businesses to compete. Is addressing the corporate tax rate an area that Jeff Immelt and his new — the competitiveness and jobs panel would advise the President on? Would there be a recommendation coming from that panel on it?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if that’s the primary policy — let me get a little bit better answer on that. I don’t think this would be the primary policy driver, but at the same time I think the President would certainly want to hear from members of that group and other members in business and — economists, academia, that want to weigh in on that. I think this is a process where the President and the team will engage stakeholders in a process that typically takes quite some time.

Q Would GE, the global reach of that company and Jeff Immelt, is he somebody that the President would counsel on corporate tax matters?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President — I think whether it’s Mr. Immelt or a whole host of those with direct experience, he’s certainly eager to hear their opinions.

Q Can you talk about your successor, the process of picking your successor at all, about what kind of things the President has looked for in the person — what the process has been? Can you discuss it at all?

MR. GIBBS: I’m sure we’ll have occasion to do that. I wouldn’t do that today.

Yes, ma’am.

Q I’m going to follow up on Julianna. When the President was deciding what to do or how to proceed on tax reform, and there had been talk for weeks that it was going to be limited to corporate tax reform, he did say in his speech — he left open the possibility he’d do individual as well. Ben Bernanke, when he testified recently before the Senate, said that he thought tax reform should be done in a comprehensive way, individual and corporate together. That’s how it was done, of course, the last time the code was overhauled. Could you tell us a little bit what went into the President’s decision-making that he’s sort of singling out the corporate side of the tax code?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, I mean, look, I think each of these are going to be longer-term projects. Obviously — and that may indicate sort of a bit of a reason for the bifurcation because I think the complexity on the individual side and obviously discussions that are had as it relates to the fiscal side are going to be important and probably, again, take some time, even as we — as we did tax reform in the mid-‘80s, or I should say, started in the early ‘80s and ended in the mid-‘80s, we know that it is a process that takes quite a bit of time to do.

I know the President is eager to address corporate tax reform as we need to take the steps to make our country more competitive and create those jobs — create jobs here rather than create those jobs overseas.

Q When you say each of these is going to be a longer-term project, does that indicate he’s not far along on the specifics on the corporate side, won’t have any, perhaps, in the –

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jackie, I think — and we talked a little bit about this yesterday — I think this is — I think the President wants to have and wants to hear from stakeholders, Democrats and Republicans, about what they want to see as part of corporate tax reform. I don’t think this is the President has a take-it-or-leave-it plan and you take it or leave it. I think the President wants to engender a discussion on the size, the scope, what all that may look at. And I think we’re certainly eager to have that conversation.

Q Now that the House Oversight Committee has had its first hearing, do you have any thoughts about the tone and content and what it bodes for the future in terms of oversight?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t have a — I traveled yesterday and didn’t see a ton of the hearing. Again, I think our posture hasn’t changed from even before Congress was sworn in. There is an obvious and necessary role for needed oversight. There is — and there has to be vigilance that it does not become and get into political witch hunts where we try to dredge up or fight the battles of many, many years ago. And we’re certainly — we will certainly cooperate on ensuring oversight and efficiency.

Yes, ma’am.

Q On the storm yesterday, is the President satisfied that the welfare of federal workers, the way they were released yesterday, many of them stuck in hours and hours of traffic home — that’s under the Executive Office of the President, isn’t it?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, Ann, I’ve not had an occasion to speak with him on this this morning. Let me see if I can get some further guidance from OPM on that, which may honestly be the best place. I mean, look, you have a fairly large city that has few ways home, to be quite —

Q Why weren’t they given more time to get out?

MR. GIBBS: Let me see if OPM can address that.

Q And would the President sign a continuing resolution if it has any earmarks in it?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President was clear about — I think the President was pretty clear about earmarks in the State of the Union. And I also –

Q Even if it meant the government had no money to continue after –

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President would tell leaders in Congress before the bill got here not to send it up here because he’s going to send it back.

Q And he’ll tell Senator Reid that?

MR. GIBBS: There’s 535 people that he told that on Tuesday, and he’s happy to reiterate it. I mean, I think that — I also think we’re entering into a period — I mean, I think there’s a reason why the piece of legislation that was contemplated at the end of last year never made it, because I think the days of those types of things have passed us by.

Q Robert, Senator Reid doesn’t seem to have gotten that memo, though. I mean, he said the President needs to back off. He said that the earmarks are coming back because he plans on being around for a long time. I mean, that’s a serious area of disagreement between the President and the leader of his party on the Hill.

MR. GIBBS: It is.

Q So, I mean, has the President talked to Senator Reid about that or is there –

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q — is there going to be a “come to Jesus” meeting or is it going to end in a veto?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know who would be Jesus. (Laughter.) No, I don’t — again, I –

Q You must be getting at the end of your reign here. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: No, I just — no, no, I mean, again, I think –

Q First Jesus reference. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think the — again, not to be flippant or funny but to go back to the original answer. Again, the President was clear on this. We can’t — we’re going to make some very, very tough decisions, as the President talked about in his budget. We’re going to make some decisions that cut programs that Democrats and Republicans alike would both say are important. But we’re doing that because we know right now the government spends far, far more than it takes in and that that can’t continue.

So I don’t know why or how you could ask different agencies and different places to undertake an exercise that those on Capitol Hill are unwilling to take themselves. That’s what’s animated the President’s decision to include not just an end for earmarks but a specific pledge that if they show up in that legislation he will veto it and he will send it back. And he said that after the election in an interview with 60 Minutes and I take him at his word.

Q Thanks, Robert. Can you talk a bit about the President’s domestic travel schedule this year? Do you think he’ll be traveling more domestically than he did in the first two years? And also, he went to Wisconsin, an important swing state. Might there be a special focus and concentration on swing states that are part of the 2012 map?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we picked yesterday because, again, I think you saw three fairly dynamic companies. They’re adding jobs, they’re innovating, they’re meeting many of the challenges of tomorrow. And it was — they were good examples.

That’s why Manitowoc was picked. I can assure you, several days after the Bears lost, we wouldn’t have so closely targeted a suburb basically of Green Bay to — but I think that — I do think you’ll see the President travel more, and I think you’ll see the President — I think the President always feels better when he gets out of — I don’t mean out of the city, but out of — you live and you work in the same place, it’s nice to get out, it’s nice to see and talk to those that — like yesterday — that are innovating, that are building. We’ll take trips to schools to see decisions that are being made at a local or a state level to better educate children. And I think you — for those that are in the pool, I think he goes on these tours with a genuine amount of curiosity as to why they’re doing certain things, what they’re building. And I think to be able to get out and talk directly with those that are putting those projects together, they’re fun trips.

Yes, ma’am.

Q Just a quick clarification about what you said regarding a press secretary announcement. You said it could be either today or tomorrow. Do you mean that it will come either today or tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: It could. (Laughter.) It could.

Q Might it come later?

Q It’s either going to be today or tomorrow? One or the other?

MR. GIBBS: Or — what I said was — I think the beginning of the answer was the announcement will come when the President and all his –

Q How about before midnight Saturday?

MR. GIBBS: I was going to make an odds joke and that will just get me in trouble. Again, I think the decision will be announced when all the decisions have been made.

Q On the question about the jobs and competitiveness council, when will the President make a decision about those members? And a related question about — is anything going to change about how the President interacts with that council, compared to the previous one, in terms of it doing its new mission?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t have a timeline for some of those appointments, but let me check and see if there is anything updated on that. Look, I think the structure of setting up PERAB and — took some time and that probably got it off to, in terms of presidential meetings, a bit slower than the President and I think members of the PERAB would have liked. This I think — I do think the President will have the occasion to meet with this group on a more regular basis. And let me find some guidance on timing of that.

Bill.

Q Robert, two quick ones. First, back on the press secretary. If it could come today or tomorrow, does that — that means a decision has been made, just not announced, correct?

MR. GIBBS: I have not been told that, no.

Q And the other thing is unrelated. Do you have any idea what Governor Palin — former — meant when she said that the President’s remark about –

MR. GIBBS: Governor Palin’s –

Q Remark.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, okay, I’m sorry.

Q When she said that the President’s comment about Sputnik in the State of the Union was a WTF moment?

MR. GIBBS: Are you asking –

Q I know what it means but do you know what she meant?

MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, we should talk (whispers.) (Laughter.) I’m sorry, what –

Q What’s she trying to say — a WTF –

MR. GIBBS: I’m sure all the answers are on her Twitter account. I probably –

Q World trade –

MR. GIBBS: Do you think it means world trade? What is — what would –

Q Winning the future.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, winning the future. Oh, wow, that is — you’re hired. (Laughter.)

Mark.

Q Robert, just to go back to Egypt for once more, for 30 years presidents have been saying to President Mubarak exactly what you say President Obama has been saying to President Mubarak with no effect. What additional leverage does President Obama have and can you blame the Egyptian people for seeing just the presidential pro forma statement of, well, you’ve got to do more on human rights to be more than pro forma after 30 of this –

MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to — I don’t know the level that — I don’t know the level of seriousness or exactly how each of those conversations transpired prior to when we got here. I can only speak for our time here and that is this has — as I said, this has been an important part of not just President Obama’s dialogue with President Mubarak but, as I said, in talking to those here that are involved in senior meetings around government with — that would interact on a bilateral basis with the government of Egypt, these are topics that we push on each and every one of those times.

I think what makes maybe this unique is — and I’d refer you back to the statements on this where we say this is an opportunity for President Mubarak to seize in order to address the decades-long concern and — concern that the people of Egypt have for their lack of rights. And I think our hope is that in a peaceful way we can all witness the government of Egypt, President Mubarak, and the people of Egypt come together in an important dialogue and a forum where these rights and these universal values can and will be addressed.

And, again, I think it’s important to reiterate one more time that as these discussions and as these protests happen, that first and foremost we want to caution both the government and the protesters to do so in a way that is peaceful and respects the very rights that we’re having a discussion about.

Thanks, guys.

Q Hey, Robert, AfPak, did you go, any news?

MR. GIBBS: I did go for about three-quarters of it. The President — and you guys have a roster of who was there — the President got an update on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, both from a counterterrorism perspective as well as the security situation in Afghanistan. The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing our goals for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011, goals and objectives and how we’re going to meet those. That was the bulk of what the team went through this morning with the President.

And, look, I think the assessment of where we are security-wise is not a lot different than when you heard the President in here during the AfPak review, that we’ve — while we’ve seen progress, we understand that that progress is — can be reversed if we don’t continue to take the steps to ensure that as we clear, that we hold, that we build, and that ultimately the goal, as enumerated in Lisbon, begin to transfer those security operations back to the Afghan government, the Afghan people, and we see an increase in the training and their security forces.

Q And is Joe Biden right that it will be more than a token withdrawal of troops in July?

MR. GIBBS: I would point you back to, again, what the President has said repeatedly and reiterated in the State of the Union just on Tuesday.

Thanks, guys.

 


Secretary of Defense Robert Gates After Meeting with President Mubarak

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It was good to be in Egypt again. I’d like to start by thanking President Mubarak, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian people for their gracious hospitality during this visit.

This morning I have very productive meetings with both President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago, and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to continue that dialog today.

We discussed a number of security issues including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, next steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among the nations of the Middle East.

It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case. For some time I have considered Egypt to be one of America’s most important partners. The United States has longstanding military-to-military relationships and other activities with the Egyptian military, to include the Bright Star exercises.

Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises. In these and other security matters, I look forward to further cooperation between our two countries in the future.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike) — Al Jazeera English. You mentioned before coming here that your country assured both Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the new approach towards Iran and also to be realistic. By ‘realistic’ did you mean that what the United States did before, confrontation and sanctions, or that the new approach of — (inaudible) — and things like that? There is only one goal is to solve the Iranian nuclear program, and that means reassuring the region that this won’t be used against them?

SEC. GATES: Our goal really is two-fold. Obviously we want to try and stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but we also are interested in stopping Iran’s destabilizing efforts throughout the region. And I think that there is very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities. And our goal is to continue to working with our friends in the region but at the same time see if there is an opportunity to begin trying to influence Iran to change its activities, its behavior, in the area.

Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimizes or changes the strong security relationship and strong political relationship that the United States has with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and our other long-term friends in the region.

If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly. But we think, the President believes that it is important for us to at least reach out to Iran and provide an opportunity to begin a dialog. But the focus of that dialog is on Iran’s behavior, and uppermost in our minds is taking measures necessary with our partners in the region to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities.

Q The U.S. military relationship with Egypt — (inaudible) — the U.S. military declaration — (inaudible) — U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.

Q (Inaudible) — the U.S. eager to do everything concerned with — (inaudible) — in the future and the fear of Israel — (inaudible) — Middle East free from mass destruction weapons? Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think the President has been very clear in his speech when he was in Europe about his desire for the entire to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. He hasn’t broken that down by region. Clearly that is our long-term objective.

Q Mr. Secretary, given the rising concern over instability in Pakistan, what are your expectations for a high-level meeting in Washington this week regarding the way that Saudi Arabia could play a greater role? What specifically could the Saudis do in helping to ease the problems in Pakistan, and are you going to make any request of them in Riyadh?

SEC. GATES: Well, as I said the other day, I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 kilometers of Islamabad perhaps served as a wake-up call if you will to many in Pakistan that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan and other extremist groups have become a real danger to the Pakistani government. I think their response in sending the Army into Bernair and beginning to deal with that situation is really a recognition of that threat.

And so my hope is that during the talks in Washington next week that their role during the next few days is that there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together and with the United States to try, and our partners, to try and deal with that threat.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region. They have a long-standing close relationship with Pakistan. And I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis along with other countries can play a constructive role in that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. GATES: I’m not sure I understood the question.

Q (Off mike) — critical. Next month is the election of Iran — (inaudible) — so if not, do you support Israel if — (inaudible) — attack Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think those are completely different questions. I would say that I do not expect this dialog to–first of all, there is no dialog yet. There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialog yet between the United States and Iran. And I expect it to develop, if it develops at all, will develop over a period of time. The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open. There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, and they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the President expressed it, if we extend an open hand that perhaps we will get something similar in response.

But I don’t expect this to develop in a way that would have any impact whatsoever on the Iranian election. I don’t think it will develop that quickly. And I’m not sure that even as it develops it would have any impact on that.

I continue to believe that we need to address our concerns with Iran. While all options are available of course, I believe that it is important to try and address our concerns about their nuclear weapons program through diplomatic and economic pressures, through trying to isolate Iran, toward building up the security capabilities of our friends in the region, and through cooperation with the Europeans, the Russians, and others to try and show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all of the countries in the world.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned on the plane on the way over that you felt some concerns in this region about the U.S. outreach to Iran were the result of an exaggerated sense of what might be possible. Can you expand on that? What in your view is a realistic expectation of what might be possible for an improved relationship with Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what might be possible. I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before and with no result. The question is whether circumstances in Iran have changed in such a way that with the new administration offering an opportunity for contact, whether the Iranians are willing to take advantage of that opportunity.

I think that there’s, as I say I think it’s a dialog that if it happens at all will probably develop slowly. And I think what is important for friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised.

I think one of the areas where I think there has been some exaggerated concern has been some notion here in the region that there might be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them. And I would say that I believe that kind of prospect is very remote.

I think it’s highly unlikely, and we will just have to see how the Iranians respond to this offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging in terms of statements coming out of Tehran.

We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic, and I would say are not going to happen. And what is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process.

 


Secretary Clinton: Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World

Thank you all very much and good afternoon. It is a pleasure, once again, to be back on the campus of the George Washington University, a place that I have spent quite a bit of time in all different settings over the last now nearly 20 years. I’d like especially to thank President Knapp and Provost Lerman, because this is a great opportunity for me to address such a significant issue, and one which deserves the attention of citizens, governments, and I know is drawing that attention. And perhaps today in my remarks, we can begin a much more vigorous debate that will respond to the needs that we have been watching in real time on our television sets.

A few minutes after midnight on January 28th, the internet went dark across Egypt. During the previous four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had marched to demand a new government. And the world, on TVs, laptops, cell phones, and smart phones, had followed every single step. Pictures and videos from Egypt flooded the web. On Facebook and Twitter, journalists posted on-the-spot reports. Protestors coordinated their next moves. And citizens of all stripes shared their hopes and fears about this pivotal moment in the history of their country.

Millions worldwide answered in real time, “You are not alone and we are with you.” Then the government pulled the plug. Cell phone service was cut off, TV satellite signals were jammed, and internet access was blocked for nearly the entire population. The government did not want the people to communicate with each other and it did not want the press to communicate with the public. It certainly did not want the world to watch.

The events in Egypt recalled another protest movement 18 months earlier in Iran, when thousands marched after disputed elections. Their protestors also used websites to organize. A video taken by cell phone showed a young woman named Neda killed by a member of the paramilitary forces, and within hours, that video was being watched by people everywhere.

The Iranian authorities used technology as well. The Revolutionary Guard stalked members of the Green Movement by tracking their online profiles. And like Egypt, for a time, the government shut down the internet and mobile networks altogether. After the authorities raided homes, attacked university dorms, made mass arrests, tortured and fired shots into crowds, the protests ended.

In Egypt, however, the story ended differently. The protests continued despite the internet shutdown. People organized marches through flyers and word of mouth and used dial-up modems and fax machines to communicate with the world. After five days, the government relented and Egypt came back online. The authorities then sought to use the internet to control the protests by ordering mobile companies to send out pro-government text messages, and by arresting bloggers and those who organized the protests online. But 18 days after the protests began, the government failed and the president resigned.

What happened in Egypt and what happened in Iran, which this week is once again using violence against protestors seeking basic freedoms, was about a great deal more than the internet. In each case, people protested because of deep frustrations with the political and economic conditions of their lives. They stood and marched and chanted and the authorities tracked and blocked and arrested them. The internet did not do any of those things; people did. In both of these countries, the ways that citizens and the authorities used the internet reflected the power of connection technologies on the one hand as an accelerant of political, social, and economic change, and on the other hand as a means to stifle or extinguish that change.

There is a debate currently underway in some circles about whether the internet is a force for liberation or repression. But I think that debate is largely beside the point. Egypt isn’t inspiring people because they communicated using Twitter. It is inspiring because people came together and persisted in demanding a better future. Iran isn’t awful because the authorities used Facebook to shadow and capture members of the opposition. Iran is awful because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its people.

So it is our values that cause these actions to inspire or outrage us, our sense of human dignity, the rights that flow from it, and the principles that ground it. And it is these values that ought to drive us to think about the road ahead. Two billion people are now online, nearly a third of humankind. We hail from every corner of the world, live under every form of government, and subscribe to every system of beliefs. And increasingly, we are turning to the internet to conduct important aspects of our lives.

The internet has become the public space of the 21st century – the world’s town square, classroom, marketplace, coffeehouse, and nightclub. We all shape and are shaped by what happens there, all 2 billion of us and counting. And that presents a challenge. To maintain an internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what rules exist and should not exist and why, what behaviors should be encouraged or discouraged and how.

The goal is not to tell people how to use the internet any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public square, whether it’s Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their vegetables, to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform, and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.

One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision by calling for a global commitment to internet freedom, to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs – these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.

Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I’ve called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same. Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom. We also support expanding the number of people who have access to the internet. And because the internet must work evenly and reliably for it to have value, we support the multi-stakeholder system that governs the internet today, which has consistently kept it up and running through all manner of interruptions across networks, borders, and regions.

In the year since my speech, people worldwide have continued to use the internet to solve shared problems and expose public corruption, from the people in Russia who tracked wildfires online and organized a volunteer firefighting squad, to the children in Syria who used Facebook to reveal abuse by their teachers, to the internet campaign in China that helps parents find their missing children.

At the same time, the internet continues to be restrained in a myriad of ways. In China, the government censors content and redirects search requests to error pages. In Burma, independent news sites have been taken down with distributed denial of service attacks. In Cuba, the government is trying to create a national intranet, while not allowing their citizens to access the global internet. In Vietnam, bloggers who criticize the government are arrested and abused. In Iran, the authorities block opposition and media websites, target social media, and steal identifying information about their own people in order to hunt them down.

These actions reflect a landscape that is complex and combustible, and sure to become more so in the coming years as billions of more people connect to the internet. The choices we make today will determine what the internet looks like in the future. Businesses have to choose whether and how to enter markets where internet freedom is limited. People have to choose how to act online, what information to share and with whom, which ideas to voice and how to voice them. Governments have to choose to live up to their commitments to protect free expression, assembly, and association.

For the United States, the choice is clear. On the spectrum of internet freedom, we place ourselves on the side of openness. Now, we recognize that an open internet comes with challenges. It calls for ground rules to protect against wrongdoing and harm. And internet freedom raises tensions, like all freedoms do. But we believe the benefits far exceed the costs.

And today, I’d like to discuss several of the challenges we must confront as we seek to protect and defend a free and open internet. Now, I’m the first to say that neither I nor the United States Government has all the answers. We’re not sure we have all the questions. But we are committed to asking the questions, to helping lead a conversation, and to defending not just universal principles but the interests of our people and our partners.

The first challenge is achieving both liberty and security. Liberty and security are often presented as equal and opposite; the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. In fact, I believe they make it each other possible. Without security, liberty is fragile. Without liberty, security is oppressive. The challenge is finding the proper measure: enough security to enable our freedoms, but not so much or so little as to endanger them.

Finding this proper measure for the internet is critical because the qualities that make the internet a force for unprecedented progress – its openness, its leveling effect, its reach and speed – also enable wrongdoing on an unprecedented scale. Terrorists and extremist groups use the internet to recruit members, and plot and carry out attacks. Human traffickers use the internet to find and lure new victims into modern-day slavery. Child pornographers use the internet to exploit children. Hackers break into financial institutions, cell phone networks, and personal email accounts.

So we need successful strategies for combating these threats and more without constricting the openness that is the internet’s greatest attribute. The United States is aggressively tracking and deterring criminals and terrorists online. We are investing in our nation’s cyber-security, both to prevent cyber-incidents and to lessen their impact. We are cooperating with other countries to fight transnational crime in cyber-space. The United States Government invests in helping other nations build their own law enforcement capacity. We have also ratified the Budapest Cybercrime Convention, which sets out the steps countries must take to ensure that the internet is not misused by criminals and terrorists while still protecting the liberties of our own citizens.

In our vigorous effort to prevent attacks or apprehend criminals, we retain a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States is determined to stop terrorism and criminal activity online and offline, and in both spheres we are committed to pursuing these goals in accordance with our laws and values.

Now, others have taken a different approach. Security is often invoked as a justification for harsh crackdowns on freedom. Now, this tactic is not new to the digital age, but it has new resonance as the internet has given governments new capacities for tracking and punishing human rights advocates and political dissidents. Governments that arrest bloggers, pry into the peaceful activities of their citizens, and limit their access to the internet may claim to be seeking security. In fact, they may even mean it as they define it. But they are taking the wrong path. Those who clamp down on internet freedom may be able to hold back the full expression of their people’s yearnings for a while, but not forever.

The second challenge is protecting both transparency and confidentiality. The internet’s strong culture of transparency derives from its power to make information of all kinds available instantly. But in addition to being a public space, the internet is also a channel for private communications. And for that to continue, there must be protection for confidential communication online. Think of all the ways in which people and organizations rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. Businesses hold confidential conversations when they’re developing new products to stay ahead of their competitors. Journalists keep the details of some sources confidential to protect them from exposure or retribution. And governments also rely on confidential communication online as well as offline. The existence of connection technologies may make it harder to maintain confidentiality, but it does not alter the need for it.

Now, I know that government confidentiality has been a topic of debate during the past few months because of WikiLeaks, but it’s been a false debate in many ways. Fundamentally, the WikiLeaks incident began with an act of theft. Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase. Some have suggested that this theft was justified because governments have a responsibility to conduct all of our work out in the open in the full view of our citizens. I respectfully disagree. The United States could neither provide for our citizens’ security nor promote the cause of human rights and democracy around the world if we had to make public every step of our efforts. Confidential communication gives our government the opportunity to do work that could not be done otherwise.

Consider our work with former Soviet states to secure loose nuclear material. By keeping the details confidential, we make it less likely that terrorists or criminals will find the nuclear material and steal it for their own purposes. Or consider the content of the documents that WikiLeaks made public. Without commenting on the authenticity of any particular documents, we can observe that many of the cables released by WikiLeaks relate to human rights work carried on around the world. Our diplomats closely collaborate with activists, journalists, and citizens to challenge the misdeeds of oppressive governments. It is dangerous work. By publishing diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks exposed people to even greater risk.

For operations like these, confidentiality is essential, especially in the internet age when dangerous information can be sent around the world with the click of a keystroke. But of course, governments also have a duty to be transparent. We govern with the consent of the people, and that consent must be informed to be meaningful. So we must be judicious about when we close off our work to the public, and we must review our standards frequently to make sure they are rigorous. In the United States, we have laws designed to ensure that the government makes its work open to the people, and the Obama Administration has also launched an unprecedented initiative to put government data online, to encourage citizen participation, and to generally increase the openness of government.

The U.S. Government’s ability to protect America, to secure the liberties of our people, and to support the rights and freedoms of others around the world depends on maintaining a balance between what’s public and what should and must remain out of the public domain. The scale should and will always be tipped in favor of openness, but tipping the scale over completely serves no one’s interests. Let me be clear. I said that the WikiLeaks incident began with a theft, just as if it had been executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase. The fact that WikiLeaks used the internet is not the reason we criticized its actions. WikiLeaks does not challenge our commitment to internet freedom.

And one final word on this matter: There were reports in the days following these leaks that the United States Government intervened to coerce private companies to deny service to WikiLeaks. That is not the case. Now, some politicians and pundits publicly called for companies to disassociate from WikiLeaks, while others criticized them for doing so. Public officials are part of our country’s public debates, but there is a line between expressing views and coercing conduct. Business decisions that private companies may have taken to enforce their own values or policies regarding WikiLeaks were not at the direction of the Obama Administration.

A third challenge is protecting free expression while fostering tolerance and civility. I don’t need to tell this audience that the internet is home to every kind of speech – false, offensive, incendiary, innovative, truthful, and beautiful.

The multitude of opinions and ideas that crowd the internet is both a result of its openness and a reflection of our human diversity. Online, everyone has a voice. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the freedom of expression for all. But what we say has consequences. Hateful or defamatory words can inflame hostilities, deepen divisions, and provoke violence. On the internet, this power is heightened. Intolerant speech is often amplified and impossible to retract. Of course, the internet also provides a unique space for people to bridge their differences and build trust and understanding.

Some take the view that, to encourage tolerance, some hateful ideas must be silenced by governments. We believe that efforts to curb the content of speech rarely succeed and often become an excuse to violate freedom of expression. Instead, as it has historically been proven time and time again, the better answer to offensive speech is more speech. People can and should speak out against intolerance and hatred. By exposing ideas to debate, those with merit tend to be strengthened, while weak and false ideas tend to fade away; perhaps not instantly, but eventually.

Now, this approach does not immediately discredit every hateful idea or convince every bigot to reverse his thinking. But we have determined as a society that it is far more effective than any other alternative approach. Deleting writing, blocking content, arresting speakers – these actions suppress words, but they do not touch the underlying ideas. They simply drive people with those ideas to the fringes, where their convictions can deepen, unchallenged.

Last summer, Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, made a trip to Dachau and Auschwitz with a delegation of American imams and Muslim leaders. Many of them had previously denied the Holocaust, and none of them had ever denounced Holocaust denial. But by visiting the concentration camps, they displayed a willingness to consider a different view. And the trip had a real impact. They prayed together, and they signed messages of peace, and many of those messages in the visitors books were written in Arabic. At the end of the trip, they read a statement that they wrote and signed together condemning without reservation Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.

The marketplace of ideas worked. Now, these leaders had not been arrested for their previous stance or ordered to remain silent. Their mosques were not shut down. The state did not compel them with force. Others appealed to them with facts. And their speech was dealt with through the speech of others.

The United States does restrict certain kinds of speech in accordance with the rule of law and our international obligations. We have rules about libel and slander, defamation, and speech that incites imminent violence. But we enforce these rules transparently, and citizens have the right to appeal how they are applied. And we don’t restrict speech even if the majority of people find it offensive. History, after all, is full of examples of ideas that were banned for reasons that we now see as wrong. People were punished for denying the divine right of kings, or suggesting that people should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, or religion. These restrictions might have reflected the dominant view at the time, and variations on these restrictions are still in force in places around the world.

But when it comes to online speech, the United States has chosen not to depart from our time-tested principles. We urge our people to speak with civility, to recognize the power and reach that their words can have online. We’ve seen in our own country tragic examples of how online bullying can have terrible consequences. Those of us in government should lead by example, in the tone we set and the ideas we champion. But leadership also means empowering people to make their own choices, rather than intervening and taking those choices away. We protect free speech with the force of law, and we appeal to the force of reason to win out over hate.

Now, these three large principles are not always easy to advance at once. They raise tensions, and they pose challenges. But we do not have to choose among them. Liberty and security, transparency and confidentiality, freedom of expression and tolerance – these all make up the foundation of a free, open, and secure society as well as a free, open, and secure internet where universal human rights are respected, and which provides a space for greater progress and prosperity over the long run.

Now, some countries are trying a different approach, abridging rights online and working to erect permanent walls between different activities – economic exchanges, political discussions, religious expressions, and social interactions. They want to keep what they like and suppress what they don’t. But this is no easy task. Search engines connect businesses to new customers, and they also attract users because they deliver and organize news and information. Social networking sites aren’t only places where friends share photos; they also share political views and build support for social causes or reach out to professional contacts to collaborate on new business opportunities.

Walls that divide the internet, that block political content, or ban broad categories of expression, or allow certain forms of peaceful assembly but prohibit others, or intimidate people from expressing their ideas are far easier to erect than to maintain. Not just because people using human ingenuity find ways around them and through them but because there isn’t an economic internet and a social internet and a political internet; there’s just the internet. And maintaining barriers that attempt to change this reality entails a variety of costs – moral, political, and economic. Countries may be able to absorb these costs for a time, but we believe they are unsustainable in the long run. There are opportunity costs for trying to be open for business but closed for free expression – costs to a nation’s education system, its political stability, its social mobility, and its economic potential.

When countries curtail internet freedom, they place limits on their economic future. Their young people don’t have full access to the conversations and debates happening in the world or exposure to the kind of free inquiry that spurs people to question old ways of doing and invent new ones. And barring criticism of officials makes governments more susceptible to corruption, which create economic distortions with long-term effects. Freedom of thought and the level playing field made possible by the rule of law are part of what fuels innovation economies.

So it’s not surprising that the European-American Business Council, a group of more than 70 companies, made a strong public support statement last week for internet freedom. If you invest in countries with aggressive censorship and surveillance policies, your website could be shut down without warning, your servers hacked by the government, your designs stolen, or your staff threatened with arrest or expulsion for failing to comply with a politically motivated order. The risks to your bottom line and to your integrity will at some point outweigh the potential rewards, especially if there are market opportunities elsewhere.

Now, some have pointed to a few countries, particularly China, that appears to stand out as an exception, a place where internet censorship is high and economic growth is strong. Clearly, many businesses are willing to endure restrictive internet policies to gain access to those markets, and in the short term, even perhaps in the medium term, those governments may succeed in maintaining a segmented internet. But those restrictions will have long-term costs that threaten one day to become a noose that restrains growth and development.

There are political costs as well. Consider Tunisia, where online economic activity was an important part of the country’s ties with Europe while online censorship was on par with China and Iran, the effort to divide the economic internet from the “everything else” internet in Tunisia could not be sustained. People, especially young people, found ways to use connection technologies to organize and share grievances, which, as we know, helped fuel a movement that led to revolutionary change. In Syria, too, the government is trying to negotiate a non-negotiable contradiction. Just last week, it lifted a ban on Facebook and YouTube for the first time in three years, and yesterday they convicted a teenage girl of espionage and sentenced her to five years in prison for the political opinions she expressed on her blog.

This, too, is unsustainable. The demand for access to platforms of expression cannot be satisfied when using them lands you in prison. We believe that governments who have erected barriers to internet freedom, whether they’re technical filters or censorship regimes or attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly online, will eventually find themselves boxed in. They will face a dictator’s dilemma and will have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing, which means both doubling down on a losing hand by resorting to greater oppression and enduring the escalating opportunity cost of missing out on the ideas that have been blocked and people who have been disappeared.

I urge countries everywhere instead to join us in the bet we have made, a bet that an open internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries. At its core, it’s an extension of the bet that the United States has been making for more than 200 years, that open societies give rise to the most lasting progress, that the rule of law is the firmest foundation for justice and peace, and that innovation thrives where ideas of all kinds are aired and explored. This is not a bet on computers or mobile phones. It’s a bet on people. We’re confident that together with those partners in government and people around the world who are making the same bet by hewing to universal rights that underpin open societies, we’ll preserve the internet as an open space for all. And that will pay long-term gains for our shared progress and prosperity. The United States will continue to promote an internet where people’s rights are protected and that it is open to innovation, interoperable all over the world, secure enough to hold people’s trust, and reliable enough to support their work.

In the past year, we have welcomed the emergence of a global coalition of countries, businesses, civil society groups, and digital activists seeking to advance these goals. We have found strong partners in several governments worldwide, and we’ve been encouraged by the work of the Global Network Initiative, which brings together companies, academics, and NGOs to work together to solve the challenges we are facing, like how to handle government requests for censorship or how to decide whether to sell technologies that could be used to violate rights or how to handle privacy issues in the context of cloud computing. We need strong corporate partners that have made principled, meaningful commitments to internet freedom as we work together to advance this common cause.

We realize that in order to be meaningful, online freedoms must carry over into real-world activism. That’s why we are working through our Civil Society 2.0 initiative to connect NGOs and advocates with technology and training that will magnify their impact. We are also committed to continuing our conversation with people everywhere around the world. Last week, you may have heard, we launched Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi, adding to the ones we already have in French and Spanish. We’ll start similar ones in Chinese, Russian, and Hindi. This is enabling us to have real-time, two-way conversations with people wherever there is a connection that governments do not block.

Our commitment to internet freedom is a commitment to the rights of people, and we are matching that with our actions. Monitoring and responding to threats to internet freedom has become part of the daily work of our diplomats and development experts. They are working to advance internet freedom on the ground at our embassies and missions around the world. The United States continues to help people in oppressive internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online.

While the rights we seek to protect and support are clear, the various ways that these rights are violated are increasingly complex. I know some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology, but we believe there is no silver bullet in the struggle against internet repression. There’s no app for that. (Laughter.) Start working, those of you out there. (Laughter.) And accordingly, we are taking a comprehensive and innovative approach, one that matches our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines.

In the last three years, we have awarded more than $20 million in competitive grants through an open process, including interagency evaluation by technical and policy experts to support a burgeoning group of technologists and activists working at the cutting edge of the fight against internet repression. This year, we will award more than $25 million in additional funding. We are taking a venture capital-style approach, supporting a portfolio of technologies, tools, and training, and adapting as more users shift to mobile devices. We have our ear to the ground, talking to digital activists about where they need help, and our diversified approach means we’re able to adapt the range of threats that they face. We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are available. And we invest in the cutting edge because we know that repressive governments are constantly innovating their methods of oppression and we intend to stay ahead of them.

Likewise, we are leading the push to strengthen cyber security and online innovation, building capacity in developing countries, championing open and interoperable standards and enhancing international cooperation to respond to cyber threats. Deputy Secretary of Defense Lynn gave a speech on this issue just yesterday. All these efforts build on a decade of work to sustain an internet that is open, secure, and reliable. And in the coming year, the Administration will complete an international strategy for cyberspace, charting the course to continue this work into the future.

This is a foreign policy priority for us, one that will only increase in importance in the coming years. That’s why I’ve created the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, to enhance our work on cyber security and other issues and facilitate cooperation across the State Department and with other government agencies. I’ve named Christopher Painter, formerly senior director for cyber security at the National Security Council and a leader in the field for 20 years, to head this new office.

The dramatic increase in internet users during the past 10 years has been remarkable to witness. But that was just the opening act. In the next 20 years, nearly 5 billion people will join the network. It is those users who will decide the future.

So we are playing for the long game. Unlike much of what happens online, progress on this front will be measured in years, not seconds. The course we chart today will determine whether those who follow us will get the chance to experience the freedom, security, and prosperity of an open internet.

As we look ahead, let us remember that internet freedom isn’t about any one particular activity online. It’s about ensuring that the internet remains a space where activities of all kinds can take place, from grand, ground-breaking, historic campaigns to the small, ordinary acts that people engage in every day.

We want to keep the internet open for the protestor using social media to organize a march in Egypt; the college student emailing her family photos of her semester abroad; the lawyer in Vietnam blogging to expose corruption; the teenager in the United States who is bullied and finds words of support online; for the small business owner in Kenya using mobile banking to manage her profits; the philosopher in China reading academic journals for her dissertation; the scientist in Brazil sharing data in real time with colleagues overseas; and the billions and billions of interactions with the internet every single day as people communicate with loved ones, follow the news, do their jobs, and participate in the debates shaping their world.

Internet freedom is about defending the space in which all these things occur so that it remains not just for the students here today, but your successors and all who come after you. This is one of the grand challenges of our time. We are engaged in a vigorous effort against those who we have always stood against, who wish to stifle and repress, to come forward with their version of reality and to accept none other. We enlist your help on behalf of this struggle. It’s a struggle for human rights, it’s a struggle for human freedom, and it’s a struggle for human dignity.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

 


Remarks With Visiting Egyptian Democracy Activists Before Their Meeting

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am so honored to receive this group here at the State Department. This is a group of young men and women from Egypt who are committed to improving the lives of the Egyptian people, providing more economic opportunity, greater growth in democracy, respect for human rights. They come from a variety of backgrounds. Each of them brings a special experience, an expertise to their interests and their efforts.

I am excited about going to Egypt next week with President Obama for his speech. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities that I have had to work with my Egyptian counterparts on how we’re going to deepen and broaden our relationship between our two countries. But the most important part of that relationship is between the American and Egyptian people. And I think that a number of our visitors have made their first trip to the United States with this trip. So it’s wonderful to have you here and to be part of this.

I’m going to take a question or two, and then we’ll go this way and have a chance to talk. Okay?

QUESTION: Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: What progress has Egypt made toward democracy and human rights? Is it the main stumbling block, this emergency law that’s been enforced for decades? And finally, how much of an issue will it be on your trip and the President’s trip next week?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we always raise democracy and human rights. It is a core pillar of American foreign policy. And I think that there is a great awareness on the part of the Egyptian Government that with young people like this and with enhanced communications, it is in Egypt’s interest to move more toward democracy and to exhibit more respect for human rights. And so we’re going to continue to engage in that dialogue.

Under Secretary Bill Burns will be going to Egypt soon to put in place a framework for a comprehensive discussion between our two countries on the whole range of issues. We’re very appreciative of the strong role that Egypt is playing in looking for a way to bring Palestinians together. We appreciate what Egypt has done to try to support counterterrorism efforts which threaten Egypt and threaten many other countries.

And we are very committed to doing what we can to promote economic opportunity inside Egypt. We consider that a key part of our providing assistance to Egypt. We’ve spent, as you know, many billions of dollars over the last years promoting NGOs, promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law. And I want to stress economic opportunity because out of economic opportunity comes confidence, comes a recognition that people can chart their own future. So this is all part of what we will be discussing.

QUESTION: You had some very strong words yesterday about settlements and that the Israelis are going to have to play their part in this. Could you please tell us how your dinner was last night with President Abbas? Do you feel that you’re making progress? And what are your expectations sort of in the near term of how to push the process forward? How are you going to get the Israelis to do what they need to do, plus the Palestinians?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We had a very productive dinner last night with President Abbas and other officials from the Palestinian Authority. We discussed a full range of concerns. Senator Mitchell reported on his recent discussions with Israeli officials as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit.

We believe strongly in the two-state solution, and we are committed to doing all that we can to work with Israelis and Palestinians and others, like Egypt, to try to push that forward. We have laid out some ideas that we’ve shared with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And as you know, President Abbas will be meeting with President Obama this afternoon in the Oval Office.

This is a difficult, complex undertaking. But we are committed to it, and we think it’s in the best interest of both Palestinians and Israelis. We think this effort to obtain a two-state solution is the best way for Israel to have the peace and security that they are seeking and deserve, and we think it is the best way for Palestinians to have a sense of empowerment and authority over their own lives and to give them the chance to raise their families and to have the kind of future that the children of the Palestinians deserve. So we see this as very much in not only our interests and the interests of the region, but of Israel and the Palestinians as well.

Thank you all very much.

 


Press Availability With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit

Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
May 27, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. We just had a very good working lunch with the foreign minister, General Suleiman, and the delegation from Egypt. I had the opportunity to thank them for their commitment to working with us and strengthening and deepening our bilateral relationship, and for the leadership that Egypt is showing on both regional and global matters.

I asked them to extend our thanks to President Mubarak and others in the Egyptian Government who are working to resolve conflicts and bridge divides. And I assured them that President Obama and I are fully committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, to a two-state solution, and that we regard Egypt as an essential partner in helping us to realize that vision.

We appreciate the leadership that Egypt has shown in recent months, including convening the convention in Sharm el-Sheikh that I attended, as well as undertaking sensitive mediation among various parties in the region. I know that the President is looking forward to his trip to Cairo next week and the opportunity to speak about America’s relationships, not only in the Middle East and not just in the Islamic world but to people everywhere about what our common concerns are and how to seek common ground and realize our common objectives. And I look forward to continuing to work with the foreign minister and others in the Egyptian Government to address the full range of bilateral and mutual concerns. So, Foreign Minister Gheit, thank you so much for being here.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much, Secretary. As you have rightly stated, it was a very fruitful discussion today. And in all honesty, it has been also a very fruitful discussion over the last two days. We have met American officials on the highest level, and we feel encouraged on the insistence and the determination of this Administration to push forward for a peace effort that ultimately we would hope will allow the Palestinians to have their state.

The message we were carrying to you is that the Middle East is looking forward for a determined action on your part to bring the idea on the two state to fruition, that the core of the problems in this part of the world is the Palestinian problem. And we have to keep working together, and we promise that we will be doing our part of the job, and hopefully soon we would have a job well done. That is an aspect.

The second aspect that we touched over the last two days is we are full of expectations for the President’s visit to Cairo on the 4th of June, and we are determined also to keep building up Egyptian-American relations as well as our cooperation with you on all levels of activity in relation to bilateral as well as problems tormenting this region. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: We’ll take a few questions. First, Elise from CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, Mr. Foreign Minister. Madame Secretary, on North Korea, Pyongyang is threatening to go to war with South Korea over joining the PSI. Do you take those threats seriously? And how will the U.S. protect your ally, South Korea? There are also reports that North Korea is restarting its reprocessing facility. Would that be a violation of the U.S. agreement through the Six-Party Talks, and what should the consequences be?

Mr. Foreign Minister, the Bush Administration was very rhetorical and very critical on issues about human rights and democracy, particularly with Egypt. Have you noticed a difference in the way the Obama Administration approaches these issues? And how has the conversation been different here in Washington?

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Do you want to start?

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. They are no more rhetorical. They are discussing issues, showing their concerns, but they also listen. And that is very important to listen and to understand where you come from and what are the reason and the reasoning behind this or that action. I think they are very much different than the Bush Administration. I wouldn’t characterize by that as good or bad, but there are differences, in attitude at least.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as the foreign minister said, we raised issues pertaining to democracy and human rights, as we have consistently in our bilateral discussions. And we will continue to do so. We are interested in working constructively with the Egyptian Government, and I think that there is a great opportunity to not only work together but listen to each other and figure out the best way forward to achieve common objectives. With respect to North Korea – North Korea has made a choice. It has chosen to violate the specific language of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. It has ignored the international community. It has abrogated the obligations it entered into through the Six-Party Talks. And it continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors.

There are consequences to such actions. In the United Nations, as we speak, discussions are going on to add to the consequences that North Korea will face coming out of the latest behavior, with the intent to try to rein in the North Koreans and get them back into a framework where they are once again fulfilling their obligations and moving toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But they have chosen the path they’re on, and I’m very pleased that we have a unified international community, including China and Russia, in setting forth a very specific condemnation of North Korea and then working with us for a firm resolution going forward. I want to underscore the commitments that the United States has and intends always to honor for the defense of South Korea and Japan. That is part of our alliance obligation, which we take very seriously. So we hope that there will be an opportunity for North Korea to come back into a framework of discussion within the Six-Party process, and that we can begin once again to see results from working with the North Koreans toward denuclearization that will benefit, we believe, the people of North Korea, the region, and the world.

QUESTION: The reprocessing plant, Madame Secretary (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re working on bringing together the international community to determine our steps forward.

MR. KELLY: All right. Next question is (inaudible).

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, with your appreciated new efforts on the peace process, do you consider the previous commitment from the administration of Mr. Bush to the foreign – to the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Sharon, concerning the ‘49 lines and the situation on the ground? Is it – do you consider it invalid now, especially that the Palestinians had refused it then?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working very hard. And certainly, Senator Mitchell is leading our efforts to create a context for the negotiations to resume and go forward. Each of the parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, have in the past committed themselves to certain undertakings that we expect them to be responsible for honoring. And we will be working together with partners like Egypt to bring about a comprehensive approach that can lead to a two-state solution that will give the Israelis and the Palestinians the chance to have a peaceful and secure future. But we’re just at the beginning of that process. And obviously, there is much work to be done before we have any results we can point to.

QUESTION: Well, what is the status of the previous commitment, the previous –

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are looking at all of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Next question, Kirit from ABC.

QUESTION: A question, Madame Secretary, about settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he is going to freeze settlement expansion – new settlement expansion, excuse me – but he’s not made any commitment towards freezing existing settlement growth. Do you think that’s enough?

And then a question on Egypt, if I may. In the case of Janet Greer, a mother whose daughter was abducted by his – her abusive father and brought to Egypt 12 years ago. Mr. Minister, successive court rulings (inaudible) the daughter should be with the mother. Can you tell us why those court rulings have not been enforced?

And Madame Secretary, can you tell us whether you plan to raise such things, this case in specific, with the Egyptian Government?

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. I am – I investigated that issue. And it seems that there is still a court appeal from the father. So a decision, I think, will be made in the next few days. If it will be finally judged that the child would be returned to the mother, I’m sure that the Egyptian Government would abide by the court ruling. But it is not yet – up till now, is not yet a final decision.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I would only add that the State Department and Consular Affairs, particularly the Children’s Bureau, has been working with the family, particularly the mother, on this case for many years. It has gone through the Egyptian judicial system. My understanding is that the mother has won.

But as the foreign minister said, there’s one more step to go through. We’re hoping that this is resolved. I mean, as a mother, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter for 12 years is extremely painful to me just to think about. So we are very hopeful that this will be resolved and, as the foreign minister said, we’re confident that the Egyptian Government will react appropriately once it is.

With respect to settlements, the President was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: And the last question to Sanaa Youssef.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you expressed your appreciations of the partnership and the experience of Egypt in bringing – in helping the peace process. And you did mention the principle of a peace process, you know, how it should be done. But isn’t it time to bring up a plan of action with a timetable and to move it ahead so really, the people in Egypt and in the whole Arab world would be appreciative of the work?

And for the minister of foreign affairs, did you discuss at all the Iranian folio with the Secretary?

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: I have been responding all the time. Respond first and then I will come back to you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are going to be putting forward very specific proposals to the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s what Senator Mitchell has been doing over the last several days. I will be meeting with President Abbas and his delegation tonight. We’ve also been reaching out to governments of Arab nations asking what they could be expected to do as we move forward to build confidence and to create a good atmosphere for decisions to be made.

But I’m not going to negotiate in public. We are making a very concerted effort. We have a well thought-out approach that we are pursuing. We have a lot of support from countries such as Egypt. But ultimately, this is up to the two parties. Israel and the Palestinians have to decide that they will take a commitment toward a resolution of their outstanding concerns. And the international community, led by the United States, will be very supportive of that.

So we are working to get the Israelis and the Palestinians into a negotiation where we can see the positive steps that you’re referring to take place.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. I think all issues related to the Middle East have been discussed today and over the last two days, including the so-called Iranian nuclear file and the position of Iran in relation to the region. We have been also stressing the need for an American measure – action to expedite the process, or expedite the action itself – the efforts.

The – what is needed today is not only to allow the parties to renegotiate, but what is needed is to allow the parties as they negotiate – we, all of us, the Quartet, the international community, the Arab countries – to show support, understanding, and to push them together, allowing them to negotiate in direct negotiations that are – we are hopeful that would lead to the emergence of the Palestinian state as soon as possible. In the absence of such negotiations and the success of the negotiations and seeing the emergence of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, then I think the situation will worsen in this part of the world, and we will be – all of us, not only people in the region or countries in the region, but also the United States and the Western world as well as the world at large – we will be all witnessing a very difficult situation.

So there is an opportunity, a window of opportunity, and let’s act and act decisively now, not tomorrow or the day after.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much.

 


Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at Cairo, Egypt

Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at Cairo, Egypt

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It was good to be in Egypt again. I’d like to start by thanking President Mubarak, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian people for their gracious hospitality during this visit.

This morning I have very productive meetings with both President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago, and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to continue that dialog today.

We discussed a number of security issues including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, next steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among the nations of the Middle East.

It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case. For some time I have considered Egypt to be one of America’s most important partners. The United States has longstanding military-to-military relationships and other activities with the Egyptian military, to include the Bright Star exercises.

Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises. In these and other security matters, I look forward to further cooperation between our two countries in the future.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike) — Al Jazeera English. You mentioned before coming here that your country assured both Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the new approach towards Iran and also to be realistic. By ‘realistic’ did you mean that what the United States did before, confrontation and sanctions, or that the new approach of — (inaudible) — and things like that? There is only one goal is to solve the Iranian nuclear program, and that means reassuring the region that this won’t be used against them?

SEC. GATES: Our goal really is two-fold. Obviously we want to try and stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but we also are interested in stopping Iran’s destabilizing efforts throughout the region. And I think that there is very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities. And our goal is to continue working with our friends in the region but at the same time see if there is an opportunity to begin trying to influence Iran to change its activities, its behavior, in the area.

Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimizes or changes the strong security relationship and strong political relationship that the United States has with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and our other long-term friends in the region.

If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly. But we think, the President believes that it is important for us to at least reach out to Iran and provide an opportunity to begin a dialog. But the focus of that dialog is on Iran’s behavior, and uppermost in our minds is taking measures necessary with our partners in the region to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities.

Q The U.S. military relationship with Egypt — (inaudible) — the U.S. military declaration — (inaudible) — U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.

Q (Inaudible) — the U.S. eager to do everything concerned with — (inaudible) — in the future and the fear of Israel — (inaudible) — Middle East free from mass destruction weapons? Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think the President has been very clear in his speech when he was in Europe about his desire to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. He hasn’t broken that down by region. Clearly that is our long-term objective.

Q Mr. Secretary, given the rising concern over instability in Pakistan, what are your expectations for a high-level meeting in Washington this week regarding the way that Saudi Arabia could play a greater role? What specifically could the Saudis do in helping to ease the problems in Pakistan, and are you going to make any request of them in that regard?

SEC. GATES: Well, as I said the other day, I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 kilometers of Islamabad perhaps served as a wake-up call, if you will, to many in Pakistan that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan and other extremist groups have become a real danger to the Pakistani government. I think their response in sending the Army into Buner and beginning to deal with that situation is really a recognition of that threat.

And so my hope is that during the talks in Washington next week that their role during the next few days is that there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together and with the United States to try, and our partners, to try and deal with that threat.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region. They have a long-standing close relationship with Pakistan. And I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis along with other countries can play a constructive role in that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. GATES: I’m not sure I understood the question.

Q (Off mike) — critical. Next month is the election of Iran — (inaudible) — so if not, do you support Israel if they have to attack Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think those are completely different questions. I would say that I do not expect this dialog to—first of all, there is no dialog yet. There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialog yet between the United States and Iran. And I expect it to develop, if it develops at all, will develop over a period of time. The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open. There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, and they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the President expressed it, if we extend an open hand that perhaps we will get something similar in response.

But I don’t expect this to develop in a way that would have any impact whatsoever on the Iranian election. I don’t think it will develop that quickly. And I’m not sure that even as it develops it would have any impact on that.

I continue to believe that we need to address our concerns with Iran. While all options are available of course, I believe that it is important to try and address our concerns about their nuclear weapons program through diplomatic and economic pressures, through trying to isolate Iran, toward building up the security capabilities of our friends in the region, and through cooperation with the Europeans, the Russians, and others to try and show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all of the countries in the world.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned on the plane on the way over that you felt some concerns in this region about the U.S. outreach to Iran were the result of an exaggerated sense of what might be possible. Can you expand on that? What in your view is a realistic expectation of what might be possible for an improved relationship with Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what might be possible. I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before and with no result. The question is whether circumstances in Iran have changed in such a way that with the new administration offering an opportunity for contact, whether the Iranians are willing to take advantage of that opportunity.

I think that there’s, as I say I think it’s a dialog that if it happens at all will probably develop slowly. And I think what is important for friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised.

I think one of the areas where I think there has been some exaggerated concern has been some notion here in the region that there might be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them. And I would say that I believe that kind of prospect is very remote.

I think it’s highly unlikely, and we will just have to see how the Iranians respond to this offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging in terms of statements coming out of Tehran.

We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic, and I would say are not going to happen. And what is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process.

 
 

Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.