Remarks by Secretary of State Clinton to the Press on Libya, April 15, 2011

BERLIN–(ENEWSPF)–April 15, 2011.  

SECRETARY CLINTON: Goodness. First, let me thank you for being patient with my schedule and giving us a chance to postpone this so that I could talk to you.

First, I want to thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle for hosting us here in Berlin. It was excellent accommodations, and everyone felt extremely well taken care of. And I want to commend Secretary General Rasmussen for running his usual tight ship and producing a very productive ministerial.

Over the last two days, we have tackled a full and formidable agenda. On Libya, we built on the momentum created by Wednesday’s Contact Group meeting in Doha. We put out a strong statement that clarified the military aims of our mission and carried forward the unified message of Doha. Our European and Arab allies and partners all agree: Attacks on and threats of attacks against the Libyan people must stop; Qadhafi’s forces must withdraw from the cities they have forcibly entered and occupied; humanitarian supplies must be allowed to reach civilians, especially those in cities under siege.

The statement also reinforced our agreement on a set of political and diplomatic objectives. It strongly endorsed the Contact Group’s call that Qadhafi must leave power and a democratic transition must take place that reflects the will of the Libyan people.

I think the bottom line is that here at NATO we achieved a solid and sustainable consensus on our objectives and what it will take to achieve them. I spoke at length with many of my counterparts about the practical steps we all have to take to pressure and isolate Qadhafi and advance our efforts to protect the Libyan people.

On Afghanistan, I took the opportunity to consult with my colleagues on our three surges – the military, civilian, and diplomatic surge – all of which reinforce the transition process that is now underway. To do this once, we have to do it right. We need to underscore that we are transitioning, not leaving, and that we are building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that will last well beyond 2014.

I also had a very productive bilateral meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul on the Strategic Partnership Declaration and Afghan-led reconciliation.

Our missions in Libya and Afghanistan show that NATO plays a vital role in protecting our security and interests around the world. We are seeing that new challenges will often drive us to develop new capabilities and work with partners outside the alliance when shared interests and values are at stake.

One of NATO’s most important partners is Russia. Last year at Lisbon, we made historic progress together. Today, we worked to translate the promise of that moment into practical steps that strengthen our collective security. We also discussed NATO’s partnerships with Ukraine and Georgia, and we looked for more effective ways for NATO to reach beyond the confines of the alliance and work effectively with all of our partners. Those nations willing to sacrifice for our common goals deserve a greater voice in decision making.

We also launched a NATO Defense and Deterrence Posture Review process to determine what mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces NATO will need going forward. I outlined the core principles that will guide the U.S. approach to this process, and completing this review will be a priority when the United States hosts next year’s NATO summit in 2012.

On the margins of the ministerial, I had the chance to consult with a number of my counterparts on a wide range of regional and global issues, including developments in the Middle East, missile defense, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. So needless to say, this was another very full set of meetings, because we do have a full plate of issues. I am pleased with the progress that we have made this week and certainly ready for the work ahead.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Steve Myers, New York Times.

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Cough.) Excuse me.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Yesterday, you described a desire to see increased support for the opposition in Libya. And I wondered if you could tell us, have you developed a clearer sense of who exactly the opposition is and what exactly they need, including the question of arms? And related to that, are you aware that Libyan forces, in Misrata at least, are using heavy weapons that include cluster munitions that were made in Spain as recently as 2007?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Steven, I wasn’t aware of the last point. I’d have to say I’m not surprised at anything that Colonel Qadhafi and his forces do, but that is worrying information and it’s one of the reasons why the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas, and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.

With respect to the opposition, we are learning more all the time. We are pooling our information. There are a number of countries that have significant ties to members of the opposition, who have a presence in Benghazi that enables them to collect information. Our envoy is still in Benghazi and meeting with a broad cross-section of people. The opposition needs a lot of assistance on the civilian organizational side, on the humanitarian side, and on the military side. There have been a number of discussions about how best to provide that assistance, who is willing to do what.

We’re also searching for ways to provide funding to the opposition so that they can take care of some of these needs themselves. In addition to looking at how we can free up assets that could be used by the opposition, we’re also looking at how the opposition could sell oil from sites that are under their control.

So there is a full comprehensive assessment occurring, and one of the decisions that we made in talking to a lot of our partners was that we need, in effect, a clearinghouse for such information. We need to have a way of conveying necessary information to NATO that they can use in the ongoing military efforts. And we need to share this information so that we can best determine how the international community can respond to them.

MODERATOR: The next question is from Earl Deckendorf of ARD.

QUESTION: After these two days you are in Berlin, there’s a (inaudible) case on all the hardest test for the NATO alliance is a long time for itself?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think each situation is different. Certainly, NATO has faced a lot of challenges. The ongoing challenge in Afghanistan is among the most difficult and has certainly exacted the biggest toll in the loss of life and the cost to all of us. We remain committed there because we believe it is in our interests and is absolutely tied to our security.

The Libyan military commitment by NATO is a very important one, but it is in response to a United Nations Security Council resolution asking that nations work to protect civilians, impose an arms embargo, provide humanitarian assistance, establish a no-fly zone. And so NATO is not acting alone. We are, as you’re aware, acting with others who are not in the NATO alliance but who are willing to work with us to meet the UN’s request.

So I think at this juncture, certainly we’re very aware that we have not lost any lives of participating NATO nations. We are working to try to protect the Libyan people who are the ones who are really facing a tough time. And as I said yesterday in my statement, I think we all need to be a little patient. These are complex situations. We recognize as such. We’re still in the process of trying to identify, target, attack, and destroy key elements of Qadhafi’s arsenal, his air defense system, his command and control.

But as Secretary General Rasmussen said in our meeting and said again in his press conference, we’re making progress. So I, for one, feel very positive about what we have accomplished so far.

MODERATOR: And Michel Ghandour, Al Hurra.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. The Human Rights Watch has said that Syrian security and intelligence agencies have detained and tortured hundreds of protestors during a march (inaudible) demonstration. How do you view that? And how Iran is helping Syria crack down on protestors?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, Michel, as President Obama stated on Friday, we call upon the Syrian authorities once again to refrain from any further violence against their own people. The arbitrary arrests, the detentions, the reports of torture of prisoners must end now. The free flow of information must be permitted once again. We have to allow journalists and human rights monitors the opportunity to enter Syria, to be free to report, to independently verify what’s happening on the ground, because, as you know, it’s very difficult to get accurate information as to what is going on.

And to this point, the Syrian Government has not addressed the legitimate demands of the Syrian people, and it is time for the Syrian Government to stop repressing their citizens and start responding to their aspirations. There is an opportunity for meaningful political and economic reform, and it needs to start now.

We are watching very closely what Iran is doing in the region. We hear Iran praising the uprisings in the Middle East and in North Africa, except it doesn’t praise what happens inside Iran and it doesn’t praise what is happening in Syria. It is a further example of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime. It is attempting to, through propaganda, through information campaigns, to ally itself with the aspirations of the Arab awakening, but we do not see any evidence yet that Iran instigated such protests.

But we do see activities by Iran to try to take advantage of these uprisings. They are trying to exploit unrest. They are trying to advance their agenda in neighboring countries. They continue to try to undermine peace and stability to provoke further conflict.

And we want people in the region to understand that the Iranian Government’s motive here is to destabilize countries, not to assist them in their democratic transitions; because after all, their 1979 revolution was derailed and it has unfortunately evolved into a totalitarian state where the government is trying to control the thoughts, the speech, the actions of the citizens on every front.

So we’re very watchful. We invite Iran to change its tactics, including its treatment of its own citizens, to act on its rhetoric about what it is seeking, to play a constructive role, to cease exacerbating sectarian tensions, which it is attempting to do. And I think that everyone is aware of their efforts to exploit and even hijack what are legitimate protests. But certainly, in an era of instant communication, we hope that people will not be fooled by their tactics.

MODERATOR: Thank you all.