Secretary of State Clinton Press Availability in Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia–(ENEWSPF)–April 23, 2010.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. This has been a productive conference and I am pleased that NATO and all of the participants persevere in the face of some unusual logistical challenges. And I once again want to thank the government and people of Estonia for being such gracious hosts. I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the foreign minister. I’m looking forward, after this, to be able to pay a courtesy call on both the president and the prime minister. And the only regret I have is that I had to spend all my time in meetings instead of enjoying Tallinn once again.

During this ministerial, both the NATO ministerial and the NATO ISAF meeting, we covered a wide range of issues, from our refocused mission in Afghanistan to the future of the alliance. And I thought the discussions were open, candid, and constructive. On Afghanistan, which is our alliance’s top operational priority, we were able to review our progress with both NATO allies and our other partners in ISAF. And much of our discussion focused on the importance of training and strengthening the Afghan national security forces.

And I was once again very impressed by the leadership of this effort – certainly, the secretary general of NATO, our commanding general on the ground, his civilian counterpart, the UN’s new leadership, Stefan di Mistura, the EU representative who represented a continuity of commitment, and of course, all of the other nations around the table. And I appreciate greatly the commitment that was once again very clearly made by everyone to this mission, and I am grateful for the service and sacrifice of the men and women working every day, both in our international teams and, of course, our Afghan friends as well.

We had the opportunity also to discuss the next steps on a new strategic concept, which will be the first in NATO’s efforts in over a decade. Secretary General Rasmussen explained the process that we’ll be going through in the lead-up to Lisbon. He will receive the Group of Experts final report soon. That group was chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And then he will present a new strategic concept in advance of the Lisbon summit in November.

The Group of Experts did an outstanding job, and certainly, my friend and predecessor Madeleine Albright showed great leadership and vision. We now have an opportunity to build on their work and construct a more effective, efficient, and flexible NATO better prepared and ready to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century.

As part of this strategic concept review, we began a discussion last evening about NATO’s nuclear posture. As you know, the United States is taking concrete steps to make good on President Obama’s pledge to make America and the world safer by reducing the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism. The President has made clear, however, that as long as nuclear weapons exist, we, the United States, will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal to deter any adversary. And we will continue to guarantee the security of our NATO allies. That’s a commitment enshrined in NATO’s Article 5 and a bedrock principle of American foreign policy.

We also discussed the way forward in NATO’s relations with Russia. Following the restart of the NATO-Russia Council last December and the recent signing of the new START treaty, there is considerable momentum within the alliance for moving ahead with Russia on areas of common concern and shared responsibility. We are exploring how best to work within the NATO-Russia Council itself and we are committed to obtaining greater transparency and practical cooperation on issues like missile defense and counternarcotics. We hope to continue these efforts not only through the NATO-Russia Council, but also through OSCE and a renewed engagement on conventional arms control.

Now, as we look to NATO’s future, partnerships with nations and institutions outside our alliance will be crucial. We already see the benefits of partnership in exercises, consultations, and work on the ground in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere. The United States continues to support NATO enlargement and the efforts of nations that aspire to meet the standards for membership. The experience and contributions of Estonia, for example, a relatively new member, demonstrates that NATO’s open door strengthens our alliance and advances our shared goals.

And on that topic, I would like to say a few words about Bosnia. NATO has agreed to grant Bosnia’s request for a membership action plan, or MAP. We took this step with the expectation it will serve as a catalyst for important reforms that will help strengthen Bosnian institutions and allow it to function more effectively as a state. And we will be working with and looking to Bosnia’s leaders to deliver further progress. And we made very clear that we are inviting Bosnia into membership, but they have to take certain steps in order to proceed in the MAP process.

So on all these fronts, we’ve made progress and laid the foundation for a successful Lisbon summit in November. And I am very pleased at the great sense of collegiality and collaboration around the table as we meet and discuss these important issues, and again, I thank the Estonian Government and people for welcoming us here. And I’ll be happy to take some questions.

MODERATOR: We have time for a few questions. We’re going to have to start with Evelyn Kaldoja from Postimees.

QUESTION: Two weeks ago, at the Brussels forum, I heard an Afghan member of parliament – she was a female member – expressing concern that Karzai’s government might seek reconciliation with the insurgents, they might compromise on the expanse of women’s rights. How satisfied are the United States as the main supporter of Karzai’s government with the progress they have made on the field of women’s laws? And how real do you think is the threat that they might compromise on women’s rights? Because we’ve seen controversial laws before.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a matter of great concern to me personally and to my government. I raised this at the London conference about Afghanistan and made very clear that the United States could not and would not support any process that disenfranchised women, denied them their rights under the laws and constitution of Afghanistan. And I’m heartened by the steps that we’ve seen President Karzai and his government take since then.

In his report to the NATO ISAF ministerial, Stefan di Mistura, the secretary general of the UN’s special representative to Afghanistan, reported that in the negotiations over the rules to govern the parliamentary elections, that there was a decision made that certain seats will be held for women and will be filled by women. Even if a woman is elected and, for whatever reason, decides not to serve, she must be succeeded by a woman. And we’re making very slow but persistent progress.

But it is an issue that I am highly focused on, because clearly, it’s a matter of a lifelong commitment of my own, but it’s also something that I think would not be in the best interests of Afghanistan. And any kind of stable, secure future, you cannot disenfranchise 51 percent of the population.

MODERATOR: The next question is from Lachlan Carmichael of Agence France Presse.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Given the fact that the United States is sending 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan, why is it so hard to get your NATO allies to come up with, say, several hundred police trainers?

And if I may, switching to the Middle East, is there any merit to a reported proposal from Prime Minister Netanyahu to have a Palestinian state that has temporary borders but skirts the issue of Jerusalem?

And if I may again, get a third question in, in North Korea, there is increasing talk of war. The North Koreans are talking about being on the brink of war, following this incident of the sunk navy ship. And they’ve even seized or sealed some buildings at a South Korean-owned mountain resort in North Korea.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let’s start in Afghanistan. We’ve actually been heartened by the response from all of our allies and partners. We started off with a significant gap and we have narrowed it considerably. The combined new commitments from our NATO ISAF allies is about 10,000 in troops and trainers and mentors. And so we have a very relatively small gap that we’re still working to fill. So I’m very convinced we will get that filled and we will have met all of the numerical requirements in our efforts.

But I have to add that I think, as today’s meeting demonstrated, this is not just a question of numbers. This is a question of commitment – the quality of commitment, the understanding of the mission. We’ve made dramatic changes in Afghanistan in the last year and a half under President Obama’s leadership.

And the fact is that we have new leadership on the ground here in NATO. We have a new level of understanding and commitment from our international partners. And I’m very encouraged by the close cooperation among countries and their forces, their military troops, their civilian experts. And I see every day the results of this much better coordinated approach. So I think that for me, the glass is way more than half full in terms of what we asked for, what we need, and what we have received.

Regarding the Middle East, Senator Mitchell is in the region right now. He is continuing discussions with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our goal in these conversations is to advance negotiations over final status issues, borders obviously being one of them. And there can’t be a unilateral action or a unilateral proposal that will advance those negotiations. There has to be the painstaking work that is going on right now to try to move both parties in a direction that will enable them to start making some of these very difficult decisions. So there’s a lot of ideas that have been floated around, but at the end of the day it’s only the Israelis and the Palestinians who can make these decisions for themselves.

And finally, with regard to North Korea, our position is very clear. We have said time and time again that the North Koreans should not engage in provocative actions and that they should return to the Six-Party Talks, where we and our partners in those talks are prepared to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and then other matters that may be of concern to any one of the parties, including North Korea.

But I hope that there is no talk of war, there is no action or miscalculation that could provoke a response that might lead to conflict. That’s not in anyone’s interest. The way to resolve the outstanding differences among not only the North and South Koreans but the neighbors, including ourselves, is to return to the Six-Party Talk framework as soon as possible.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more question from Kim Sengupta of The Independent.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. (Inaudible) about its nuclear (inaudible). And (inaudible) Afghanistan with the (inaudible) handing over areas to the Afghan Government, what happens if things go wrong, the Taliban try and exploit the situation (inaudible)? And also, what happens, for example, if Afghan control is accompanied by Afghan corruption?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the first question, I haven’t followed it closely, but I know that that issue is a matter being discussed and debated in the current British elections, and I think I’ll stay out of it. I’m more than happy to talk about the American Nuclear Posture Review, the American position regarding the START treaty, the President’s recently and successfully concluded Nuclear Security Summit, but I think I’ll let the British people and their government make the decisions about their own nuclear deterrent.

Regarding Afghanistan, we believe that with sufficient attention, training, and mentoring the Afghans themselves are perfectly capable of defending themselves against insurgents. Now, does that mean that it will be smooth sailing? I don’t think so. Look at Iraq. The Iraq military is certainly proving itself to be a capable force inside Iraq. Yet it is, unfortunately, too easy for cowardly terrorists to set off bombs, and especially if they can convince people to become a bomb themselves, as they do with the so-called suicide bombers.

So there will be threats to the Afghan peace and security for years to come if the insurgents do not finally, once and for all, give up their commitment to terrorism. But that’s a problem in many countries with extremely competent military forces that have to be vigilant and on the lookout all the time. I mean, look at what’s going on in Pakistan, where the military has engaged in significant combat actions against the Taliban, and yet all too often there are these terrible terrorist attacks.

So I don’t think we should expect the Afghans to meet an impossible standard. But what we can expect and what we are working toward achieving is an Afghan national security force, military and police, that is able to protect the people and create a sense of confidence in their capacity.

With regard to the Government of Afghanistan, I’ve said before and I will repeat, I think President Karzai has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, balancing the internal forces inside Afghanistan, balancing the neighborhood and all of the regional powers that surround Afghanistan, working to try to integrate the international forces into the fabric of his society. This is a very difficult undertaking, and I think that the successes of the Karzai Administration and the Afghan Government are rarely talked about. There is a tremendous set of achievements, whether it’s the number of people going to school or getting health care or farmers producing a bumper wheat crop last year. There are just so many positive developments that rarely get much attention because, of course, it’s controversy and conflict that, understandably, grab the headlines.

And I think on the issue of corruption, we are going to continue to raise that issue. We’re going to continue to work with the government and the people of Afghanistan to try to diminish and even eliminate, where possible. But speaking for the United States, we have relationships with every country around the world. And they are on varying levels of good government and rule of law and the like. And I would caution us not to sort of single out Afghanistan, a new country, a new democracy, a country trying to fight an insurgency, stand up a government, deal with all of the challenges that it confronts, including corruption. But that’s not the only prism through which one should see what’s going on in Afghanistan.

And I’m personally looking forward to welcoming President Karzai and his ministers to Washington for a several-day visit that will include a meeting with the President and a very clear discussion about how far the government’s come and what more help they need. But I’ve met with a number of the ministers of the current government, and they’re very impressive. I mean, I would invite attention to the accomplishments of a number of them who have revolutionized the way business is done. And it’s not everybody, but there are enough good news stories there that we can see it in a more balanced way, perhaps.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.