Statement by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on the Report of the Syria Commission of Inquiry
The United States welcomes the report of the independent international commission of inquiry on Syria, which documents the Asad regime’s ruthless, depraved campaign against its own people. The details are appalling. Among the commission’s findings are evidence of systemic government support for the rape and torture of children. The world can now clearly see what boundaries the Asad regime is willing to cross to retain its grip on power.
The Arab League has condemned Syria’s government by seeking to impose powerful consequences for its actions. The United States welcomes these efforts and applauds all international organizations who are working towards an end to the violence. In particular, we salute the bravery of the Syrians who took great risks to contribute to the commission’s report, shedding light on this most urgent challenge to peace and human dignity.
We welcome today’s report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which provides a thorough and independent assessment of events in Bahrain since protests first erupted in February. King Hamad’s decision to establish the Commission was a courageous one, and we commend him for it. We commend the chairman of the Commission, Cherif Bassiouni and the other commissioners for their thorough and painstaking efforts over nearly 5 months. The report identifies a number of disturbing human rights abuses that took place during this period, and it is now incumbent upon the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and put in place institutional changes to ensure that such abuses do not happen again.
We welcome King Hamad’s commitment to carry out the report’s recommendations and will closely follow the implementation process. More broadly, we believe the Commission’s report and subsequent steps taken to implement its recommendations can serve as a foundation for advancing reconciliation and reform. Bahrain is a long-standing partner of the United States, and we urge the government and all parties to take steps that lead to respect for universal human rights and to meaningful reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.
U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Syria, 12th Session
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Syrian government’s gross violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people and its continued violent and deadly repression of peaceful protests.
The Syrian national report touts its human rights record and states that its people enjoy fundamental rights and legal protections, but for over four decades, Syrian security forces have operated with impunity, directed by unaccountable dictators, immunized by unjust laws and protected by a politicized judiciary. The Syrian people remain unable to achieve their aspirations or enjoy universal human rights despite more recently announced reforms that have no purpose except to provide cover for the government’s continued atrocities.
The Syrian government responded to peaceful protests by killing over 2,900 civilians in the past seven months in military and security operations, using tanks and heavy weapons. The Syrian national report states that freedom is a sacred right guaranteed by the constitution but even as we speak, the Syrian people continue to suffer mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and targeted killing of civilians. A government that fails to respect the will of its people, denies the fundamental rights of its citizens, and chooses to rule through terror and intimidation, cannot be considered legitimate and must step aside immediately.
Bearing this in mind, the United States has the following recommendations:
1. Immediately end violations of international human rights law, including violent reprisals against peaceful protestors, political activists and their families;
2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience;
3. Expeditiously permit international humanitarian missions, human rights observers and media unrestricted access within Syria, including the HRC Commission of Inquiry; and
4. Allow a Syrian-led transition to take place that will initiate change in laws and lead to the formation of an inclusive and representative government that adheres to the rule of law and upholds the rights of members of religious and ethnic minorities.
Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Ackerman, Distinguished Members of the Committee: thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to discuss the Iranian and Syrian governments’ continuing and worsening abuses against their own people.
As people across the region are taking stock of their governments, we see in the Syrian and Iranian regimes a parallel failure to respond to or respect the will of their citizens. Our concerns about these countries’ horrendous human rights abuses are longstanding, but never has their repression been more flagrantly at odds with the realities of the region – the irrepressible demands for democracy and fundamental human rights that have already swept two leaders from power. The United States has played an essential leading role in demanding an end to this repression, enlisting the international community’s support for fundamental human rights in the region, and leveraging our resources to support the peoples’ demands for justice, freedom and dignity. We have used new authorities to single out and sanction those most responsible for these abuses and have encouraged other countries to do join us in this effort. Going forward, the United States will expand our efforts to answer the call of Syrian and Iranian citizens that their governments be held accountable for their actions.
As a prime example of its contempt for dissent, the Iranian regime has held the de facto leaders of the Green Movement, former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest without charges since February. Many from the second-tier leadership of the Green Movement-affiliated entities remain imprisoned or have fled Iran, and their family members have been intimidated, attacked, and detained. This has left the Green Movement beleaguered and scattered. Although demonstrations are rarer, government intimidation didn’t stop the Green Movement last February from demonstrating in solidarity of their kindred spirits protesting government oppression across the Arab world.
In Syria, a committed, peaceful grassroots opposition movement has rapidly emerged in response to the Asad regime’s brutality. Last March, security forces fired upon demonstrators calling for the release of children held for weeks for simply writing political graffiti. That brutal act sparked the collective outrage of the long-oppressed Syrian people. The growing momentum for change, which has drawn people from across Syria to participate in peaceful demonstrations, is now well into its fourth month.
President Asad and his regime have responded with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and abuse. Human rights organizations report that more than 1,800 Syrians have been killed and over ten thousand jailed, while security forces hold the Syrian people hostage to a widening crackdown. Through high-level intervention, Ambassador Ford and Embassy Damascus have secured the release of ten Americans who had been detained on security grounds since January.
Amnesty International has reported killings and torture by security forces in the town of Tell Kalakh near the Lebanese border in May. Residents reported seeing scores of males including some elderly and under18 being rounded up. Detainees described brutal torture, including beatings, prolonged use of stress positions and the use of electric shock to the genitals. Human Rights Watch interviewed 50 witnesses to the weeks of violence in Daraa, and reported that member of various branches of the mukhabarat security forces and snipers on rooftops deliberately targeted protestors and that victims had lethal head, neck and chest wounds.
But in spite of this intense repression, the Syrian people have lost their fear. They have not backed down. They are continuing to take to the streets to demand freedom, respect for their basic rights, and a transition to democracy. Beyond demonstrations, we have also seen the opposition organize itself and begin to articulate an agenda for Syria’s future, recognizing that the strongest Syria is one in which all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity, are equal participants. And for our part, the Obama Administration has articulated clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing invested in the Bashar al-Asad regime, which has clearly lost legitimacy, most importantly in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have taken to the streets. A peaceful and democratic transition would be a positive step for Syria, the region, and the world.
It is up to the Syrian people to determine what the next chapter holds for Syria, as the pages turn toward a new future for this country. President Asad can delay or obstruct it but he cannot, however, stop it. As Syrians chart their own future, we hope to see the participation of and respect for all of Syria’s ethnic and religious groups. The United States, and the international community, want to see a Syria that is unified, where tolerance, respect for human rights, and equality are the norm. This is the message that Ambassador Ford is delivering to the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people.
Even as the Syrian military and security forces have besieged communities, conducted mass arrests, targeted emergency medical responders, tortured children, shot peaceful protestors with impunity, cut off water, internet and telephone services, and barred an independent media, people have found ways to get their word out, through reports, images and videos taken by brave demonstrators and smuggled out.
In bearing witness to these terrible abuses, the United States has and will continue to play a crucial role. Demonstrators have peacefully protested for over a month in Hama, where over 10,000 Syrians were killed in 1982 by President Asad’s father Hafez Asad. The people of Hama kept their peace despite their tragic history and the provocation of the government forces besieging the city. We know this precisely because our representative to the Syrian people, Ambassador Ford, toured Hama and reported seeing no protestors carrying weapons, nor damage to government buildings. We also know through Ambassador Ford’s reports that, contrary to the promises from President Asad to end the emergency law and follow proper judicial procedures, the government has carried out sweeps and arrested dozens of peaceful demonstrators in Hama, and reports of torture in custody are well documented. Our diplomatic presence and watchfulness is an important way for us to gain independent knowledge of the facts, to show support for Syrians’ rights, and to speak directly and plainly to the Syrian government about the need to change course.
Returning to Iran, more than two years since that country’s disputed presidential election, Iranian authorities persist in harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and imprisonment of their citizens, as well as some of ours. Targets include those who demand accountability from their government and who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens; ethnic and religious minorities; journalists, women’s rights activists, bloggers and students.
Unfortunately, the situation has only further deteriorated in 2011. Protestors were killed in Tehran in February and in ethnically-Arab areas in April; political prisoners are held in deplorable conditions with convicted murderers in former stockyards; those released from prison are forced to pay exorbitant bail sums or often released with conditions such as long bans on travel or work in their field; additional sentences were levied on those already in prison merely for sending letters to family members; mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families’ knowledge; at least 190 people have been executed this year, more than in any other country in the world except China; restrictions on speech have intensified; journalists and bloggers continue to be targeted by the regime for daring to write the truth; teachers and other workers are harassed and incarcerated when they seek freedom of association and payment of wages owed; trade union leaders remain imprisoned on questionable charges; politically-active students have been banned from universities; entire university faculties deemed un-Islamic face threat of closure; and, recently, female journalists and artists have been arrested for merely practicing their profession.
Particularly troubling is the deepening persecution of religious minorities. On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of “acting against national security.” This month, Iranian courts ruled that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani must recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy. In March, over 200 Gonabadi Sufis were summoned to courts around the country to answer allegations that they were insulting Iranian authorities. In April, eight other Sufis were re-arrested on charges of disrupting public order – charges for which they had been punished with flogging and imprisonment. The Iranian government also continues to arrest and harass members of the Baha’i faith.
As the Iranian and Syrian regimes have expanded their repressive tactics, we have expanded the scope of our efforts to challenge these governments’ deplorable human rights violations. We have designated 11 Iranian officials and three government entities for serious human rights abuses in accordance with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act and, as the act requires, we are actively seeking more information on possible targets. Separately, on July 8, the United States and the United Kingdom imposed visa restrictions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals who have participated in human rights abuses in Iran. Iranian officials subject to this visa ban include government ministers, military and law enforcement officers, and judiciary and prison officials.
Responding to the atrocities in Syria, President Obama signed two executive orders. The first, E.O. 13572, signed on April 29, targets those responsible for human rights abuses and the repression of the Syrian people. The second, E.O. 13573, signed on May 18, targets senior officials of the Syrian government because of the ongoing crackdown and refusal to implement political reform. These two authorities were used to impose sanctions against President Asad and senior Syrian officials responsible for human rights abuses. In addition to President Asad, the sanctions so far have designated the Vice President, Prime Minister, ministers of interior and defense, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and director of the political security directorate. Other U.S. sanctions target President Asad’s brother and two cousins, the Syrian military and civilian intelligence services, its national security bureau and the air force intelligence, as well as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qods Force and senior Qods force officers that have assisted the Asad regime in suppressing Syrian civilians.
It is no coincidence both Iran and Syria have responded to their citizens with similar contempt and brutal tactics. As the latter designation shows, we know that the Syrians have employed Iranian help in curbing dissent. This has exposed a strident hypocrisy on the part of the Iranian regime, which has tried unsuccessfully to take credit for democratic movements in Egypt and elsewhere and laud protesters when it suited its strategic interests, but has materially helped the Syrian government crush its own protestors in order to preserve their ally. The Iranian regime’s false narrative is further exposed even as the regime continues to smother its own domestic opposition.. Nevertheless, hundreds of brave Iranian citizens continue to engage in the most basic but critical of human rights work, documenting and reporting on abuses, with the hope that one day Iranian government officials will be held accountable for crimes they have committed against their fellow citizens.
In the case of Syria, we have seen the regime play a cruel double game designed to divert attention away from people’s demands and justify the regime’s monopoly on power. Asad is exploiting fears of sectarianism and factionalism by surreptitiously fomenting violence of an intentionally sectarian nature, while at the same time cautioning Syrians not to rock his carefully guided boat. As a consequence, deadly violence has at times taken a purportedly sectarian shade. This has only left more blood on Asad’s hands.
We view these incidents as further evidence that President Assad’s government continues to be the real source of instability within Syria. He has promised reforms but delivered no meaningful changes. He talks about dialogue, but continues to engage in violence that proves his rhetoric hollow. Assad has made clear that he is determined to maintain power regardless of the cost. And the human toll is mounting.
Nevertheless, the Syrian people will not be distracted – they have shown they will not cease their demands for dignity and a future free from intimidation and fear, and they are countering the regime’s propaganda falsely accusing them of seeking that division and ethnic strife. Asad has made occasional conciliatory gestures, but to date these starts have not been credible, sustained, or made in good faith. The regime’s promises of reform have been shown to be false by the continued arrests and shootings of peaceful demonstrators.
The European Union and other nations have joined the United States in enacting sanctions on key regime figures in Iran and Syria to hold their leaders accountable for the violence. We continue to urge more nations to join our call, in bilateral and multilateral settings, to shine a spotlight on these countries’ gross violations of human rights. We also urge other countries to press Iran on its abuses in their bilateral diplomacy. An international consensus is forming to mobilize greater diplomatic pressure on these regimes. We successfully prevented both governments from joining the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) after they had announced their candidacies and have appropriately used this forum to draw the world’s attention to their offenses. And in the U.N. General Assembly last year, we helped win passage of a Canadian-led resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses by the largest margin in eight years. At the March session of the HRC, we led a successful effort to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran, the first country-specific human rights rapporteur created since the Council came into being, and last month, the Council confirmed former Foreign Minister for the Maldives Ahmed Shaheed at that position. This historic action sent an unmistakable signal to Iran’s leaders that the world will not stand passive in front of their systematic abuse of their own citizens’ human rights. More importantly, the Special Rapporteur serves as a critical voice for those Iranians whose own voice is repressed because of their political, religious, and ethnic affiliations.
In a Special Session in April, the HRC also condemned the ongoing violations by the Syrian authorities. The Council called on Syrian authorities to release prisoners of conscience and those arbitrarily detained, and to end restrictions on Internet access and journalists. It also established an international investigation led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, though President Asad refuses to allow the monitors mandated by the Council to enter Syria. In the June HRC session, the United States joined Canada and more than 50 other countries in a forceful joint statement that again condemned violations committed by the Syrian authorities and called for credible, independent, and transparent investigations into these abuses, accountability for those who perpetrated such abuses, and unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner’s mission to investigate the many allegations of human rights abuses. The High Commissioner will present a report on the human rights situation in Syria in the September session.
We have been working assiduously with other members on the UN Security Council to obtain a resolution condemning the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Asad regime. We are aware that some key Council members oppose such a resolution, but we are moving to forge consensus and will press for a vote.
Our efforts to support the Iranian and Syrian people as they seek to exercise their rights have been consistent and sustained. Just as we do throughout the region, we work with civil society organizations to support their efforts to defend human rights and to advocate for change. We help them expand political space and hold their government accountable. We provide training and tools to civil society activists in Iran and Syria, and throughout the world, to enable citizens to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies. In cases like Iran and Syria, where governments have good reason to fear the spotlight on their activities, access to technological tools allows the people to tell their story to the world. Despite both government’s ramped up activities to try to suppress information flows, the days are gone when governments could brutalize their people without the world knowing.
As Secretary Clinton has said, “we stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. …This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic.” Our Internet freedom programming is aimed at making sure that voices for peaceful democratic reform across the region can be heard. Countering such regimes’ increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. State Department grants will support more advanced counter-censorship technologies, including circumvention tools in Farsi and Arabic, secure mobile communications, and technologies to enable activists to post their own content online and protect against cyber attacks. We also have trained 5,000 activists worldwide, including many from the Middle East, in cyber-self defense. And we plan to expand these efforts to teach democratic activists, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and others how to protect their online privacy and their data – so that they in turn can train others. Given the evolving state of technology, no single tool will overcome the efforts of Internet-repressive regimes, and that is why we have invested in incubating a diverse portfolio of technologies and digital safety training. This way, even if one particular tool is blocked, other tools will still be available. Likewise, we work to prevent all repressive governments from acquiring sensitive technology to repress its citizens.
A strong, representative government can be responsive to popular demands; an autocratic one is threatened by empowered publics. But these crackdowns also indicate a basic lack of understanding that free speech – whether it’s supportive speech or subversive speech – is harder than ever to suppress in the Digital Age. The young people who have taken to the streets across the Arab world this year understand what their governments are suppressing. It’s not just the Internet, it is people – it’s their demands for dignity and a say in the political and economic future of their countries.
The United States will continue to stand with those who struggle to assert their fundamental humanity. It is essential that these brave people know that the international community supports them, just as it is essential that human rights abusers in Damascus and Tehran know that we are watching them. Until such time as they are held accountable by domestic authorities, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable at the international level.
Similarly, we hope that today’s hearing will serve as further evidence that the American people and our government in Washington stand united in our admiration and support for those across the region who have boldly assumed the duty and made the sacrifices to advance their rights. For this opportunity, we wish to thank the Committee again, and welcome your questions.
The United States strongly condemns the use of force by Malawian authorities on July 20 to prevent peaceful demonstrations, as well as the ban imposed on all private radio stations reporting on the demonstrations. We also are disturbed by reports of violence targeting individuals based on their political or social affiliations. The government’s attempt to prohibit its citizens from marching, and the Communications Regulatory Authority’s ban on independent media coverage undermine democracy and the rule of law that Malawians cherish.
We recall President Mutharika’s remarks at the April 7 Millennium Challenge Corporation signing ceremony in Lilongwe that he will continue to adhere to and uphold democracy and good governance, freedom of expression, freedom of association. In light of continued rioting and rumors of retaliation, we urge restraint from both sides. We call on the people and the Government of Malawi to remain committed to the principles of democracy and to express disagreements through peaceful means.
Readout of the President’s Meeting With His Highness Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain
The President met today and had a productive discussion with His Highness Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, following the Crown Prince’s meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. The President reaffirmed the strong commitment of the United States to Bahrain. He welcomed King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s decision to end the State of National Safety early and the announcement that the national dialogue on reform would begin in July. He also expressed strong support for the Crown Prince’s ongoing efforts to initiate the national dialogue and said that both the opposition and the government must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. To create the conditions for a successful dialogue, the President emphasized the importance of following through on the government’s commitment to ensuring that those responsible for human rights abuses will be held accountable. The President noted that, as a long-standing partner of Bahrain, the United States believes that the stability of Bahrain depends upon respect for the universal rights of the people of Bahrain, including the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, and a process of meaningful reform that is responsive to the aspirations of all.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms the senseless acts of violence today in Yemen, including the attack against the Presidential Palace compound in Sana’a as well as other attacks in Sana’a and throughout the country. We call on all sides to cease hostilities immediately and to pursue an orderly and peaceful process of transferring political power as called for in the GCC-brokered agreement. Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today’s events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting. We urge all sides to heed the wishes of the Yemeni people, whose aspirations include peace, reform, and prosperity.
In meetings held June 1-3 in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan and his Saudi and Emirati counterparts expressed deep concern at the deteriorating situation throughout Yemen. Mr. Brennan said that the United States would continue to coordinate closely with both governments on developments in Yemen in an effort to help bring an end to the violence.
Friday will mark twenty-two years since the violent suppression of protests in and around Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989. The United States joins others in the international community in urging China to release all those still serving sentences for participating in the peaceful protests. We ask the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, and to cease the ongoing harassment of those who participated in the demonstrations and the families of the victims.
We encourage China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens, including those who peacefully express political views. We also renew our call for the release of all those detained, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest in recent months as China has taken actions that are inconsistent with universally recognized rights. As Secretary Clinton has said, “when China lives up to [its] obligations of respecting and protecting universal human rights, it will not only benefit more than one billion people, it will also benefit the long-term peace, stability, and prosperity of China.”
“So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
President Barack Obama
May 19, 2011 Washington, DC
Today, recognizing the irreversible changes that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, President Obama announced a new approach to promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region.
Aligning Our Interests and Our Values: The President reaffirmed his commitment to a set of core principles that have guided the U.S. response to events in the Middle East and North Africa for the past six months. First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is a top priority and central to the pursuit of other interests in the region. The U.S. will marshal all our diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools to support these principles. The status quo is not fair, nor stable. And it can no longer secure the core interests of the United States. Ultimately, our values and our interests will be better advanced by a region that is more democratic and prosperous.
Promoting Democratic Reform: It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy. Real and durable democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt could have a transformative effect on the region and beyond. We will support free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, basic rights to speak your mind and access information, and strong democratic institutions in both nations. We will empower women as drivers of peace and prosperity, supporting their right to run for office and meaningfully participate in decision-making because, around the world, history shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are more empowered. And we will deliver an economic program that reinforces our strong support for the transitions that are now underway.
The United States will also stand up for human rights and democracy in those countries where transitions have yet to take place. We will make the case to our partners that reform is in our shared interest. We will be a strong voice for democratic reform – a message we will deliver consistently, at high-levels, and across the U.S. government. We will strengthen and protect advocates for reform. Our message to governments in the region will be simple and clear: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the support and partnership of the United States.
A New Chapter of American Diplomacy: As the U.S. continues to work with governments, we will broaden and elevate our engagement with the people of the region. Building on our efforts since Cairo, our engagement will reach beyond elites and extend beyond capitals, cultivating reformist voices both inside and outside government. We will engage with and listen to those that will shape the future, particularly young people and women. Across the region, we will provide assistance to legitimate and independent groups, including some not officially recognized by governments. And we will expand and deepen our ties with entrepreneurs, and our cooperation on science and technology. We will engage, too, with all groups that reject violence, support democratic practices, and respect the rights of minorities, even if we don’t agree with them. Using the same connective technologies that helped power the protests, we will connect and listen to the people of the region and factor the concerns of all these individuals and groups into our policy choices.
Making this strategic shift in our own approach will not always be easy. It demands that we renew and reshape our partnerships with governments in the region, and forge a deeper connection to a new generation that is desperate for a new beginning. President Obama will issue a Presidential Directive in the coming weeks to direct his Cabinet and national security team to put this new approach into action.
The United States is already putting this approach into practice across the region:
Bahrain: The United States is committed to Bahrain’s security. However, we believe that reform is the only path to enduring stability in Bahrain and that both sides must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
Egypt: The United States supports an orderly, peaceful, and legitimate transition to a representative and responsive government committed to democratic principles in Egypt. It is important to empower positive models, and Egypt is critical as the largest Arab country and an enduring partner of the United States. We are encouraged by some of the steps that the interim government has taken on the political front, and we support a fully transparent and inclusive process moving forward. The U.S. is working with the international community to identify ways to stabilize Egypt’s economy in the short-term and promote economic policies for the medium and long-term that will help ensure economic prosperity accompanies the transition.
Jordan: The United States is committed to our long-standing partnership with Jordan – a regional leader on political and economic reform. We recognize the government’s efforts to respond to the legitimate demands of citizens through the National Dialogue Committee, and urge Jordan’s leadership to seize this opportunity to advance meaningful reforms. U.S economic assistance supports Jordan’s economic growth and development and promotes political, economic, and social reforms though programs in judicial reform, education, public health, job creation, and youth empowerment. We are also working with non-governmental partners is Jordan to cultivate a vibrant civil society. The United States also remains committed to Jordan’s security and continues to provide security assistance aimed at, among other things, modernizing the Jordanian military and enhancing border security.
Libya: The United States led an international effort to intervene in Libya to stop a massacre – joining with with our allies at the UN Security Council to pass a historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people. At the start of the air campaign, the President pledged to the American people that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead. The President has made good on that pledge. Now that we have transitioned to a NATO lead, we will continue to play an important role in the international community’s effort to put pressure on Col. Qaddafi and to protect innocent civilians that his regime continues to attack. The President has made clear, Qaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and he must go. At the same time, the United States is engaging and assisting the Transitional National Council, a legitimate and credible interlocutor, which is committed to an inclusive, democratic political transition in Libya. We are also working to address humanitarian needs in Libya and along its borders.
Morocco: The United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms. We recognize the Moroccan government’s efforts to respond the demands of its citizens and we urge the government to implement these crucial reforms. We are working with the people and the government of Morocco to support their efforts to consolidate the rule of law, protect human rights, improve governance, empower youth, and works towards meaningful constitutional reform. This includes a robust dialogue on human rights and political freedom.
Syria: The United States condemns the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its people. We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people who have shown their courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.
Tunisia: The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people as they build the stronger democratic foundations needed for long-term stability and broad-based economic growth. We welcome the significant steps that have been taken to advance the democratic transition, and will support Tunisians inside and outside of government as they hold democratic elections, craft a new constitution, and implement a broad-based reform agenda. We will support a new partnership between Tunisian civil society groups and technology companies in order to get more information, communications capacity available broadly throughout society.
Yemen: The United States supports the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a more stable, unified, and prosperous nation, and we are committed to assisting them in this courageous pursuit. We are also committed to assisting Yemen to eradicate the security threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. We support a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that begins immediately.
Supporting Economic Development: To ensure that democratic change is reinforced by increasing economic opportunity, the President laid out a new economic vision for the region to support nations that commit to transition to democracy. We will also focus on rooting out corruption and other barriers to progress. Our efforts will create incentives for nations to pursue a path to democracy and modern economies and will also help tap the enormous potential of the region’s young people. Our approach is based around four key pillars – support for economic policy formulation, support for economic stability, support for economic modernization, and the development of a framework for trade integration and investment.
Support for Better Economic Management: We will offer concrete support to foster improved economic policy formulation and management alongside our democratization efforts. We will focus not only on promoting economic fundamentals, but also transparency and the prevention of corruption. We will use our bilateral programs to support economic reform preparations, including outreach and technical assistance from our governments, universities, and think tanks to regional governments that have embraced reform, individuals, and NGOs. We will mobilize the knowledge and expertise of international financial institutions to support home grown reforms that increase accountability.
Support for Economic Stability: Egypt and Tunisia have begun their transitions. Their economic outlooks were positive before recent events, but they are now facing a series of economic dislocations.
Galvanizing Financial Support: We are galvanizing financial support from international financial institutions and Egypt and Tunisia’s regional partners to help meet near term financial needs.
Turning the Debts of the Past Into Investments in the Future: The United States will relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt by designing a debt swap arrangement, and swap it in a way that allows Egypt to invest these resources in creating jobs and fostering entrepreneurship.
Support for Economic Modernization: We realize that the modernization of the economies in Middle East and North Africa will require a stronger private sector. To address that, we are committed to working with our international counterparts to support a reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the region. The Bank played a crucial role in supporting democratization and economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and can make a great contribution in Middle East and North Africa as well. We also seek to establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment, to promote projects and procedures that support competitive markets, and to encourage public/private partnerships. And as Secretary Clinton announced in Cairo, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will provide up to $2 billion dollars in financial support for private sectors throughout the MENA region.
Develop a Framework for Trade Integration and Investment: The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. We will work with the European Union as we launch step-by-step initiatives that will facilitate more robust trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.
(For more detail, see the Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/18/factsheet-economic-support-middle-east-and-north-africa)
Promoting Peace and Security: Even as we change our policy approach in response to political and economic changes in region, the United States maintains its commitment to pursue peace and stability in the region. We remain committed to our non-proliferation agenda in the region and worldwide and continue to demand that Iran meets its international obligation to halt its nuclear weapons program. Our counterterrorism agenda is as robust as ever, as evidenced by the recent takedown of Osama bin Laden. We will continue to take the fight to al Qa`ida and its affiliates wherever they are.
The Broad Outlines of Middle East Peace: The President seeks to shape an environment in which negotiations can restart when the parties are ready. He intends to do this laying out principles on territorial borders and security.
On territory, the boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. On security the Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces would be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; stop the infiltration of weapons; and provide effective border security. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and may vary for different areas like borders. But it must be sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness and credibility of security arrangements. Once Palestinians can be confident in the outlines of their state, and Israelis are confident that the new Palestinian state will not imperil its security, the parties will be in a position to grapple with the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Ending the Combat Mission in Iraq, Building a Strategic Partnership: President Obama kept his commitment to responsibly end our combat mission in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 troops and transitioning to a full Iraqi lead for security in the country. Consistent with the 2008 Security Agreement, the United States intends to withdraw our remaining troops by the end of the year, while our civilians strengthen an enduring partnership with the Iraqi people and government in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security fields.
Surged in Afghanistan: The strategy in Afghanistan is working. With the addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, nearly 10,000 coalition forces, and almost 1000 civilians, the surge is achieving its intended effect. We have arrested the Taliban’s momentum and placed the insurgency under significant military pressure. Increasingly, our collective efforts are focused intensely on providing trainers and funding for Afghan National Security Forces to support their assuming lead security responsibility, significantly growing the Afghan Security Forces to nearly 300,000. Even as we begin to reduce our U.S. combat forces this July, and increasingly focus on advising and assisting the Afghan security forces, we are working toward completion of a renewed partnership agreement with the Afghans that will affirm our enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan. Finally, we are equally committed to an Afghan-led political process toward a peaceful resolution.
Focused on Al Qa`ida: We have applied unprecedented pressure to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qa`ida and its adherents. We have disrupted plots at home, and increased military, intelligence, and diplomatic support to expand the capacity of our partners from Pakistan to Yemen; from Southeast Asia to Somalia. Over half of Al Qa`ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including, most recently, Al Qa`ida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. As the President noted in announcing Bin Laden’s death to the American people, his demise does not mark the end of our effort, as al-Qa`ida remains intent on and capable of striking the United States and our partners.
Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa: The United States has demonstrated with its response to the political change in the Middle East and North Africa that promoting representative, responsive governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our counterterrorism goals. Governments that place the will of their people first and encourage peaceful change through their policies, systems, and actions directly contradict the al-Qa`ida ideology, which at its core advocates for violent change and dismisses the right of the people to choose how they will be governed. Effective governance reduces the traction and space for al-Qa`ida, limiting its resonance and contributing to what it most fears—irrelevance.
Standing Up for Universal Rights in Iran: The Administration has strongly condemned Iran’s violent repression at home and will continue to call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble and communicate. Just as we hold Iran accountable for its defiance of its international obligations on the nuclear program, we will continue to take actions to hold the Iranian government accountable for its gross human rights violations, including by designating Iranian officials and entities engaged in such violations. We will continue to provide capacity building training and new media tools to help Iranian citizens and civil society make their voices heard in calling for greater freedoms, transparency, and rule of law from their government.
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Welcome to all of you. Before we take on the Arctic agenda this afternoon, we’ve just had the opportunity to briefly touch base on some of the other international issues that preoccupy us both and where we believe that we have a very valuable cooperation.
On Libya, we agreed that now is not the time to waver, that we have to sustain. The international community must maintain and increase the pressure on Qadhafi and his regime. And we are strongly committed to and actively engaged in the work of the Libya Contact Group, and of course, the efforts to assure a political solution for Libya.
We also agreed that the operation against Usama bin Ladin has created a new boost to international counterterrorism efforts, and we must build on this to further galvanize the broad international cooperation. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me begin by saying how delighted I am to be here in Nuuk at this Arctic Council meeting, the first time that the United States has been represented by the Secretary of State. And I am very grateful to Minister Espersen for her leadership and for the strong partnership that exists between the United States and Denmark.
Before I talk about the meeting we just had and today’s working session of the Arctic Council, I want to say a few words about the situation in Syria. Despite overwhelming international condemnation, the Syrian Government continues to exact brutal reprisals against its own citizens, including, tragically, the deaths of hundreds of Syrians since March. They engage in unlawful detention and torture and the denial of medical care to wounded persons. Now, there may be some who think that this is a sign of strength, but treating one’s own people in this way is, in fact, a sign of remarkable weakness.
President Obama and I have condemned these actions in no uncertain terms, and I do so again today. The recent events in Syria make clear that the country cannot return to the way it was before. Tanks and bullets and clubs will not solve Syria’s political and economic challenges. And relying on Iran as your best friend and your only strategic ally is not a viable way forward. Syria’s future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of all of the people and protects their welfare. President Asad faces increasing isolation, and we will continue to work with our international partners in the EU and elsewhere on additional steps to hold Syria responsible for its gross human rights abuses.
It is such a pleasure for me, in contrast to what we see happening in a place like Syria, to be celebrating the alliance, partnership, and friendship between the United States and Denmark, rooted in our shared democratic values and aspirations. And that is the underpinning of the partnership we have here in the Arctic Council, and our determination to work together on a range of global challenges.
Today, Lene and I had the opportunity on the boat to discuss at length many of the issues that we are working on in this fast-moving world, including in North Africa and Afghanistan. And I thanked the minister for Denmark’s strong support throughout the Maghreb region. In Libya, Denmark was one of the first countries to fly air-to-ground missions, and may I say it is absolutely exemplary in every way, in all of the actions it has undertaken. It is also making substantial contributions in Egypt and Tunisia through its support for vulnerable groups such as young people and women, and its support for political reform, fair elections, rule of law, social dialogue, and civil society.
In Afghanistan, we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we work to ensure the smooth transition of security responsibility that was agreed upon at the Lisbon summit. Denmark’s general – generous development assistance is crucial to this effort, and I commended Foreign Minister Espersen for her initiative to improve women’s access to justice in Helmand province.
Now of course, we are here because of our shared concern and commitment to the Arctic. This region faces so many challenges, especially with the harmful effects of climate change on its ecology, natural resources, and the livelihoods of millions of people who are used to living off the land and the seas. And we will be discussing many important matters in our meeting to start just shortly, from mitigating the effects of black carbon, to cooperating on possible oil spills, to search-and-rescue operations. And in all of these discussions, we have benefitted enormously from the wisdom and engagement of the Council’s permanent participants.
Now the challenges in the region are not just environmental. There are other issues at stake. The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing, and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.
So for more than 15 years, the Arctic Council has established itself as the region’s preeminent intergovernmental body, and the United States is committed to this forum. The search-and-rescue agreement, which we co-chaired with Russia and which we will be signing today, is an example of how the Council can work collectively to effect positive change. The United States is an Arctic nation. This region matters greatly to us. That’s why I was delighted to be joined by Senator Lisa Murkowski, who represents Alaska. We know that the decisions we make now are going to have long-lasting ramifications, and we want to make the right decisions.
So again, I thank the minister and I thank Denmark for hosting this very important meeting.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Inaudible) from (inaudible) TV.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, a question about Syria: Do you think al-Asad has lost his legitimacy as the leader of Syria?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that we have watched with great consternation and concern as events have unfolded under his leadership in Syria, and we are working with our international partners to make as strong a case as possible to sanction those who are leading and implementing the policies that are coming from the government.
I think it is – I think it’s fair to say that we’re going to hold the Syrian Government accountable. Now how that happens and what the timeline in – is, is something that we are working on as we speak. But I wanted to make very clear at the outset of this press conference that the United States, along with Denmark and our other colleagues, are going to be looking for ways to increase the pressure.
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Yeah, and I think that we completely agree. We’ve been amongst the countries in the European Union calling for sanctions, and now we’re calling for the Syrian leadership to actually deliver on the promises that they’ve made also on TV about political reforms and national dialogue. And I will say if the Syrian leadership does not deliver on reform, we are prepared to tighten the sanctions against the Syrian regime.
MODERATOR: Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you both for speaking with us. Madam Secretary, just a question: One of your goals in coming here is to call attention to important environmental issues, including climate change, but it’s been difficult for U.S. administrations to follow through on some of these ambitions and commitments on things from Law of the Sea to climate. I’m just wondering what assurances you can give the international community now that the U.S. is prepared to go forward and take some concrete action.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Joby, you’re right that it’s been challenging in our political system to take the kinds of actions that we know are dictated by the science and by what we see in front of our eyes. Many of the indigenous people who are here at the Arctic Council meeting can give you very dramatic descriptions of how their land and the sea has changed in their lifetimes. So there is no doubt, except among those who are into denying the facts before their eyes, that climate change is occurring, and it is contributed to by human actions at every level.
I don’t think the Obama Administration, certainly not the President, has given up on continuing to make the case for what the United States can and should do. We were not successful in getting the Senate to pass a comprehensive bill, but as you know, the Administration has increased its attention to regulatory actions that can be taken to improve everything from the gas mileage of cars to the regulation of utility emissions. And we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to use every single available option that can demonstrate clearly to our own people, first and foremost, and then to the international community that the United States is taking action and will be doing everything we can to make our contribution.
QUESTION: Yes. To both of you, since you’re both cooperating on Libya, we’ve seen an intensification of the bombing raids, particularly against Tripoli. Is there a parallel effort, diplomatic effort, to push Qadhafi out, and how long would that take? Do you have an assessment of how long he might remain in power?
FOREIGN MINISTER ESPERSEN: Well, I think what is the most important thing is actually that when both Secretary Clinton and I were in Rome last week, we decided to have a much better international coordination and actually putting pressure on finding a political solution. One of the things that Colonel Qadhafi has been quite smart at doing has actually been sending all kinds of messengers out, negotiating ceasefires and things like that, only with one purpose, I think, and that is just to prolong everything and to try to make the international society start a quarrel whether we’re doing the right thing or not.
And what’s very important is that the Libya Contact Group and the international society remains committed to stay in until the job has been done, protecting the civilians and, of course, making sure that the UN special envoy Al-Khatib is supported a hundred percent in his very important job, trying to negotiate a political solution and a ceasefire. And I think that’s actually the best we can do, not having different countries negotiating with Qadhafi but having one person coordinating and negotiating, so that he knows that now the pressure is on him.
And I think that’s the most important thing, and I’ve spent any opportunity I have to say, because the Danish airplanes are doing a lot at the moment, to say that we are living up a hundred percent to the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We are there to protect the civilians. And if it takes us to bomb military buildings and other things, we will continue to do that in order to protect the civilians. So we’re very committed on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can only echo what the minister said, because she was very eloquent in describing what is the international consensus. And I think out of our meeting in Rome, we were even more determined to keep the military pressure on and to intensify our diplomatic and political efforts. They are proceeding as we can with a lot of consultation. The UN has a major role to play, but there are also other contacts that will be undertaken to make clear to Qadhafi and those around him that we’re persistent and we’re patient and we’re determined.
And I would just end by once again thanking and applauding the efforts of Denmark. Denmark is just an extraordinary country in every way, and its commitment to its international obligations, as evidenced not only in this operation under the UN Security Council but in its generosity of foreign assistance and in so many other areas it sets a very high standard.
MODERATOR: We have time to do one final question from T2.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, would you please give advice to your Danish colleague, being a woman in a man’s world as a foreign minister? (Laughter) Is it an advantage sometimes, actually?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think she doesn’t need any advice from me. She’s been a minister twice before in interior and justice where she, by every measure, was a great success. And now she is handling the foreign ministry obligations at a time when Denmark, like the United States, is facing a very fast-changing world. And I am a great fan of Lene’s. I think that she represents Denmark exceptionally well, and I also know that, like many young women – and I can say this because I’m not and she is – (laughter) – she has family responsibilities, she has two young children, and like so many women in Denmark and the United States and elsewhere, she is a highly responsible person in balancing both her family responsibilities and her obligations to her country. So I don’t think she needs any advice from me. I think she’s doing very well.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Let’s end here.