Remarks by Secretary of State Clinton With European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton After Their Meeting

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 17, 2012. 

SECRETARY CLINTON:Well, good morning everyone. It’s always a pleasure to welcome my friend and colleague, the high representative of the European Union, here to Washington. We always have a lot to discuss and we are always relying on each other, because, as I said in Munich a few weeks ago, Europe remains America’s partner of first resort on all of the global challenges we are confronting together.

I know that Cathy understands the significance of our cooperation, because she and I have had the opportunity to meet on many occasions in the last several years, and we, again today, had a very comprehensive discussion. Let me just quickly run over a few of the issues.

I will turn first to Iran. We’re very grateful to Lady Ashton for her leadership on the P-5+1. The international community has been looking to Iran to demonstrate it is prepared to come to the table in a serious and constructive way. We have been reviewing Iran’s proposal to resume talks on its nuclear activities and consulting closely between us and with our other P-5+1 partners. This response from the Iranian Government is one we’ve been waiting for, and if we do proceed, it will have to be a sustained effort that can produce results.

Turning to Syria, I know that the high representative joins me in, once again, condemning in the strongest possible terms the ongoing violence against the Syrian people perpetrated by the Assad regime. I also want to extend on behalf of myself and our government our sympathies to the family of Anthony Shadid and to the New York Times for his untimely death. He was somebody I always turned to and read very carefully, and if I didn’t have the time when I got to the press reporting, I would put it aside and read it because he had his pulse on what was happening.

Yesterday’s UN General Assembly vote demonstrated an overwhelming international consensus that the bloody assaults must end. In the face of this global condemnation, the regime in Damascus, however, appears to be escalating its assaults on civilians, and those who are suffering cannot get access to the humanitarian assistance they need and deserve. So we will keep working to pressure and isolate the regime, to support the opposition, and to provide relief to the people of Syria. I will be attending the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia next week, where a number of nations will work to intensify pressure on the regime and to mobilize the humanitarian relief that is needed. We also hope to coordinate efforts to enable a Syrian-led transition before the regime’s actions tear the country apart. We’re looking for an inclusive democratic process.

Ultimately, our shared values between the U.S. and the EU are the bedrock of our cooperation, and we are promoting those values together. We also discussed the situation in the Balkans. We share the view that the future of both Serbia and Kosovo lies with the European Union, and the United States strongly supports the dialogue that the EU is leading to try to advance Euro-integration for both Serbia and Kosovo. Deputy Secretary Burns is encouraging both sides to remain flexible and open to compromise.

We have a – we have a very long list of what we discussed, but I’ll just end it there and turn it over to Lady Ashton with my appreciation for her leadership and the great partnership we have.

MS. ASHTON: Well first of all, can I say what a pleasure it is to be back here and to be meeting and working as closely as I do with you. It is extremely significant that we’re meeting today, because we meet on the back of having received a letter from Dr. Jalili from Iran in response to my letter from October. As you said, we are consulting colleagues and analyzing closely what this letter would mean. Let me say that I think it’s good to see that the letter has arrived and that there is a potential possibility that Iran may be ready to start talks. We’ll continue to discuss and make sure that what we’re looking at is substantive, but I’m cautious and I’m optimistic at the same time for this. It also demonstrates the importance of the twin-track approach, that the pressure that we have put on together, the sanctions that have been put there because that’s the responsibility of the international community, I believe, they’re having an effect. But we, of course, want to resolve this through talks.

And as you’ve said, Hillary, the situation in Syria is a cause for enormous concern, and we feel extremely worried about the level of violence and terror that is happening within that country. We’ve been very clear that President Assad should stand aside and should enable a process that would bring the people of Syria together, all of them. An inclusive process that can take the country forward. I want to commend the work of Nabil Elaraby, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, who has shown great leadership in bringing together the Arab community, but in coordination, working closely with the international community, to demonstrate that inclusivity and to demonstrate the leadership on the ground. I hope that the meeting next week will give us a chance to consider how we can support humanitarian efforts especially. And I will be working with the UN, the OIC, and the Arab League, as we did through the situation in Libya, on the humanitarian side of the challenges that we face. I hope it will also show, too, the international consensus to try and see the situation in Syria end.

As you said, there are hundreds of things on our agendas at all times, and we keep in constant touch, so we can deal with only some of them at every meeting. The situation in Serbia-Kosovo, of course, is very important to the European Union because we do believe, as you rightly say, the future for both lies within the European Union. The team that we’ve got there at the moment are working closely together to try and support both into their future. I hope that both will be able to work on the plan that we’ve put to them that will enable Serbia to become a candidate, will enable Kosovo to move forward with visas, with trade, with economic support, and eventually to see its future as well with the European Union. Thank you.

MS. NULAND: We have time for two today. We’ll start with The New York Times, Steve Myers.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Lady Ashton, thank you. The Iranian letter refers to a readiness for dialogue, talks at the earliest possibility, and also, significantly, no preconditions in it for those talks. And yet you seem somewhat hesitant to embrace this. Is that that you think the letter is not sincere? And what more do you need to see before you could begin, or what next steps could you see for those talks to begin? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, as I think we both have said, we are evaluating the response. And our unity within the P-5+1 has been absolutely critical in dealing with Iran in the past. It remains so going forward. It takes time to consult and to do so in a thorough manner. So we need to give time to our partners in the P-5+1 process to do their own evaluation.

But we’ve been clear about two things that I want to stress. First, as outlined in Cathy’s October letter to Iran, any conversation with Iran has to begin with a discussion of its nuclear program. And Iran’s response to Cathy’s letter does appear to acknowledge and accept that. And second, we must be assured that if we make a decision to go forward, we see a sustained effort by Iran to come to the table, to work until we have reached an outcome that has Iran coming back into compliance with their international obligations.

So we’re evaluating all of these factors. But I think it’s fair to say – and of course, I’ll let Cathy speak for herself – that we think this is an important step, and we welcome the letter.

MS. ASHTON: Yeah. I mean, exactly. We see the things that you’ve seen in the letter – no preconditions and a recognition of what we’ll be talking about. The next question, really, is to look at then where we left off in Istanbul. And you’ll recall that we put out in Istanbul a series of options for confidence-building measures, things that Iran could do that would help us move forward with the talks, things that the inspectors would be allowed to do, for example. We also said at that time they could come forward with their own ideas about what they wanted to do, so that this was a genuine open process.

So for us, the evaluation now is also about thinking through okay, where did we leave off, where do we need to go next? If we start the talks, we want to sustain them. Therefore, we need to set in train the process whereby we can be clear what it is we mean to achieve and what we’re expecting from the Iranians. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.

QUESTION: Is the TRR still on the table?

MS. ASHTON: Well, when we were talking in Istanbul, there were two sets of issues: one, the confidence-building measures I’ve described; the other was support for the TRR and for, of course, a civil nuclear program. And that’s been – as I’ve acknowledged to the Iranians recently, that’s always been part of what we were offering, was to support them on civil nuclear power.

MS. NULAND: And last question, ITN (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yeah. Robert Moore with the British network ITN. Good morning. A question to you both, if I may. I wonder what your message is today to the embattled residents of Homs and other Syrian cities. Would it not be more honest and therefore more honorable to say you’re on your own, the UN Security Council is paralyzed, there are no good Western diplomatic options, don’t expect our help?

MS. ASHTON: I’m not sure that would be an honest response. I think the honest response is to say this: We are absolutely clear that President Assad should stand aside; you cannot kill your own people, you cannot be a leader, and call this leadership. Secondly, that we want to try and work as close as we can with everyone who’s willing to engage in support of the humanitarian needs of people. And we’ve supported the Arab League in its quest to try and put people on the ground to try and monitor the situation. And as you know, there are discussions going on between the UN and the Arab League about how to take that forward in the future. The honest response is we need to do everything that we possibly can to help.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s absolutely right. We have marshaled the great weight of international opinion against the Assad regime. The vote yesterday in the General Assembly was overwhelming. So I do want the people of Syria to understand and believe that there are tens of millions of people around the world who are seized with the terrible situation they find themselves in.

And we have not been deterred by the vetoes in the Security Council. We are moving forward with the Friends of Syria. They are not being abandoned. We are doing all we can to determine ways forward to strengthen the opposition, to help them convey to the entire Syrian population that they are seeking an inclusive, peaceful, democratic transition, and that those who are fearful of the future, which is understandable, whether they be Alawites, Sunni, Christian, Druze, Kurd or any Syrian, have to come together to establish a credible opposition that can then serve as their voice in dealing with the regime and dealing with the outside.

So, I think we have to be humble. I mean, this takes a large dose of humility to say we don’t have all the answers and we cannot even imagine the terrible experiences that people are going through with their children and their grandparents under such assault, but we’re doing whatever we can to try to help pave the way toward a better future for Syria.

Thank you all very much. Have a good weekend.