Secretary Clinton spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr this afternoon to convey our deep concern about the violence that occurred over the weekend. She expressed condolences for all those who were killed and injured as a result of the violence.
The Secretary conveyed U.S. support for the Egyptian Cabinet’s decision to launch a transparent and credible investigation into the violence and stressed the importance of the investigation beginning immediately and holding accountable all responsible parties with full due process of law.
Secretary Clinton reiterated the need for the Egyptian government to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Egyptians are respected, including the rights of religious freedom, peaceful assembly, and the end of military trials for civilians, and that efforts be made to address sectarian tensions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. It is a great pleasure to welcome the foreign minister here to the State Department for our first official bilateral meeting. We’ve spoken on the phone several times during these last few months, we’ve seen each other at large multilateral meetings, but there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. So I am very pleased we had the opportunity to discuss a range of issues, and I expressed our very strong support for Egypt’s ongoing democratic transition.
It is clear that Egypt’s leadership in the Arab world and in the region and beyond is key to regional progress. And I was very pleased that Egypt has recognized the Transitional National Council in Libya. I think there is a lot of opportunity for cross-border cooperation. I was also very pleased that the minister has reiterated Egypt’s support for the Camp David Accords, which is essential for stability and, of course, essential for Egypt’s growth, prosperity, and peaceful transition.
We discussed a number of our joint priorities, and I’d like to recognize the work of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been an institution of stability and continuity. The Egyptian people look to the Supreme Council to support the transition and to ensure that the elections go in a very positive way that provides transparency, freedom, and fairness.
And we fully support the Egyptian people in their journey. We are looking forward to the parliamentary elections this fall, the upper house in parliament, the presidential elections to follow. But we’re well aware, having been working at our own democracy for over 230 years, that this takes time. This takes persistence and patience, and it’s often hard to have the latter in a time when there’s so much pent-up demand and hope for a better future. So we look to being a strong partner for the Egyptian people.
We are also looking to implement, through the Congress, the $1 billion debt swap that President Obama announced in May. Rather than making interest payments on a debt, the Egyptian people can invest that money into new projects that create jobs and give them a better standard of living.
We’re also working on launching a network of community colleges in Egypt that would provide training for Egyptians to be able to take advantage of the investment opportunities that we hope will come to Egypt. Egypt has the largest market and the largest workforce in the Arab world. In fact, Citibank released a study earlier this year suggesting that with smart investment in its people and its political and economic systems, Egypt could become one of the top ten economies in the world. And I believe that, Minister. I really do. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but it is absolutely possible.
So we’re going to be focused on trade, investment, on the new Middle East Trade and Investment Partnership, to help Egypt gain even greater access to global markets. The Enterprise Fund that we are seeking to establish, the ongoing work of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, are all intended to provide support for what Egyptians themselves are doing.
And it is going to be a very important couple of months for the people of Egypt. I will be giving an interview tomorrow to an Egyptian radio host and taking this message and sending it out to millions of Egyptians that the United States stands with you and supports you and wants to see a prosperous, peaceful, exciting future for not only Egypt but the entire region.
Thank you, Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER AMR: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. As you said, we’ve been on the phone many times before, but this is the first time we have such an extended, face-to-face meeting, and it really was a pleasure.
I am pleased to be here today representing Egypt post 25th January revolution. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to have this round of talks with you. Egypt and the United States have enjoyed a longtime friendship and partnership. The United States assisted Egypt in many ways in its development and it continues do so, and we are sure that our cooperation and our friendship will only strengthen in the future. Both our countries have worked in the past for peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond, and we will continue to do that.
As you know, Egypt now is in the middle of a transitional period. During this period, we look forward to the solidarity and goodwill of all our partners. It is our expectation that our friends in the United States will demonstrate their commitment, as usual, to this partnership, and I am pleased to say that I have heard from the Secretary such a commitment explicitly today.
I have discussed with the Secretary a number of issues of mutual interest. Of course, bilateral issues were paramount in our discussion, but we also touched upon regional issues. Of course, the Palestinian issue came up, and I think we believe that negotiations should resume as soon as possible between Israelis and Palestinians with clear terms of reference and with a clearly defined timeline. Israeli illegal settlement activities continue to be an impediment in the road for peace, and we would like to see them stop. Our region is going through deep change and delicate times. Egypt and the United States will need to continue to work hand in hand in order to ensure that our peoples benefit from the opportunities that these changes bring.
Again, I’d like to thank you, Madam Secretary, for your warm reception, kind words, and frank and useful exchange of view. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER AMR: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: My pleasure.
MS. NULAND: We have time for two questions from each side today. The first question is from Reuters, Arshad Mohammed.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, a week ago today, the Egyptian army said that the emergency law would remain in force until the end of June 2012. That’s exactly the timeline that was outlined when President Mubarak was in power. Is its extension for another nine months acceptable to the United States?
And Mr. Minister, can you explain to us how it was that that Egyptian security forces were not able to protect the Israeli Embassy when it was attacked some weeks ago?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Arshad, we have encouraged and continued to encourage the government to lift the state of emergency. The Supreme Council has said that it will be in a position to do so in 2012. We hope to see the law lifted sooner than that, because we think that is an important step on the way to the rule of law, to the kind of system of checks and balances that are important in protecting the rights of the Egyptian people, to create the context for free and democratic elections, and we want to see this as soon as possible. We have discussed this repeatedly, and we will continue to raise it.
And I know you asked the minister to comment on the attack on September 9th against the Israeli Embassy, but I want personally to thank the minister and thank the high officials of the Egyptian Government who were very responsive to our outreach. I reached the minister at 2:30 in the morning. He was on an airplane before that, and I certainly can attest to the fact that the officials in Egypt moved to remedy the problems that existed.
FOREIGN MINISTER AMR: Yes. That attack on the – or the incident with the – involving the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was quite unfortunate, and I think it was condemned by all responsible parties in Egypt at the time. We made it very clear that Egypt respects its commitment under the Vienna 1961 Treaty on diplomatic relations. We made it clear that we are committed to protect any mission on our soil and the personnel working in them. If you remember, actually, we – that the army was very careful to see that all the personnel that wanted to leave left in – I mean, under the guard of the army. No one was hurt; we made sure that everyone was safe, and I think we were very clear in just reiterating our commitments to the protection of any mission and personnel.
MS. NULAND: Next question from (inaudible).
QUESTION: I have two questions, one about Egypt and one about the Palestinian and Israeli issue. About Egypt, I wonder if there is some more on light on the performance of the transition in Egypt and how the military council is responding. How do you assess this? Because it is very difficult conditions prevailing Egypt and anybody else or any authority will suffer a lot to govern this.
For the Palestinian issue, I want to – negotiation is the best way to – this is the United States stance. And this is very good, but there must be terms of reference, as the foreign minister said, and something to be abiding – they have to abide by – there must be a certain time they have to come to a conclusion over this term. Is there a possibly for arbitration as the end of the road, the last thing to hope. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent questions. Let me start with the first one and say that we are very supportive of the steps that have been taken in Egypt to establish a timetable for elections, to create the conditions that permit the elections to proceed, the formation of political parties, for example, a lot of free and diverse opinion being expressed. The invitation to international witnesses we think is a very important step. So we have a lot of experience around the world in helping countries that are moving to democracy, most recently after the fall of the Berlin Wall in parts – other parts of the world as well.
And I know that people in Egypt are very anxious, because this is a right they wish to exercise. But I think if one takes a step back and looks at how rapidly this has moved, it’s quite remarkable. And the elections that are upcoming in the next several months should produce an outcome that will set the stage for a new constitution, for the presidential elections. And we think that’s an appropriate timetable. We want to do all we can to support those who are trying to make sure these elections are viewed as free and fair and legitimate.
I also know that the economic challenges in Egypt are significant, and we are urging our Congress to work with us to move the aid that President Obama announced as quickly as possible, and we are urging other donors who have made commitments to Egypt to also move. Because the revolution that occurred, which was so important, did disrupt economic activity. And I was pleased when the minister told me tourism is returning, investment is returning, but there’s more to be done to create jobs and more prosperity. So I think on both the political and the economic tracks, progress is being made, but it’s never fast enough and it needs to keep moving, but be done right, not to be detoured or diverted.
With respect to your question about the negotiations, the Quartet statement that came out last week referenced President Obama’s speech of May, where he clearly said there needs to be negotiations about territory that he said had to be reflective of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps; there had to be negotiations on security so that there could be an agreement about how you could transition security.
I mean, one of the most important parts of the Camp David Accords was an agreement on security. And it’s one that has, I think, served both Egypt and Israel well to protect your sovereignty, your borders, avoid conflicts. And it was very regrettable about the loss of life of the Egyptian soldiers, which I have expressed to the minister, which is why the security cooperation has to continue. But there has to be similar agreements about security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
So I think that the most important terms of reference are there. If there were an agreement on borders, then there would be no more controversy about settlements, because everybody would know what side of the border is for Palestine and what side is for Israel.
So I think that there’s no shortcut to this. We have to urge the parties to put aside their reluctance or their distrust and begin the hard work of negotiating. And Egypt, the United States, the Quartet, everyone will stand prepared to put pressure on both sides to try to move toward a settlement of the outstanding issues.
MS. NULAND: The next question, CNN, Jill Dougherty.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, hello.
SECRETARY CLINTON: How are you?
QUESTION: Good to see you again. This week, Admiral Mullen called the Haqqani Network a veritable arm of Pakistan’s ISI. Do you share that assessment? And of course, Pakistanis are very angry about this. How are you dealing with the blowback on that?
And just a very quick thing on – you’re in the process of deciding whether or not to list the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. How far are you down that path?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, first, as you may know, I had a very long meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, a week ago Sunday. And we discussed the urgency in the wake of the attack on our Embassy in Kabul and on the NATO-ISAF Headquarters for us to confront the threat posed by the Haqqani Network. It was certainly a threat to the United States, but it was also a threat to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and to anyone who stands against terrorism.
And I think that you will see a lot of work taking place as we try to determine how best to confront this mutual threat. And it’s important to realize that while it’s not always easy, the United States and Pakistan have vital strategic interests that converge in the fight against terrorism. And Pakistan faces a very real threat. They have suffered far more casualties, civilians and military alike. It is their mosques and markets and police stations and homes that have been bombed and attacked.
And so we are committed to working with Pakistan to confront this threat, and we’ve had a lot of tangible results from our cooperation. I mean, most recently the Pakistanis helped to roll up al-Qaida’s number two. They have been helping us continue to dismantle the al-Qaida network that is inside Pakistan. So I have no argument with anyone who says this is a very difficult and complex relationship, because it is. But I also believe strongly that we have to work together despite those difficulties.
And with respect to the Haqqani Network, we are in the final formal review that has to be undertaken to make a government-wide decision to designate the network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. But remember, we’ve already designated the key leaders. We have already – I did that some time ago to make it clear that the leaders of this organization fell under the Foreign Terrorist designation. So we’re going to continue to struggle against terrorism, and in particular against those who have taken up safe havens inside Pakistan. And we’re going to continue to work with our Pakistani counterparts to try to root them out and prevent them from attacking Pakistanis, Americans, Afghans, or anyone else.
MS. NULAND: Last question, Al-Ahram (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Al-Ahram newspaper. My question to Secretary Clinton: There is a discussion in Congress now about the U.S. aid to Egypt, and some people, especially now in the Senate, are trying to impose some conditionality on the aid. What’s your – the State Department position on this issue?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are against conditionality, and I conveyed our position to the minister. We will be working very hard with the Congress to convince the Congress that that is not the best approach to take. We believe that the longstanding relationship between the United States and Egypt is of paramount importance to both of us. We support the democratic transition, and we don’t want to do anything that in any way draws into question our relationship or our support.
We also believe that the army has played a very stabilizing, important role during this period, and you can see what happens when you either don’t have an institution like the institutions that Egypt has, including an army, and you’ve seen what happens when the army is not on the side of the people. Well, Egypt’s strong institutions, longstanding respect for the army, and the role the army played was absolutely critical for the revolution.
So we’re going to make that case very strongly, and I want to be sure that Egyptians know that the Obama Administration opposes conditionality and do not believe that’s in the best interest of our relationship.