11 a.m., ET
Mr. Hammer: Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for having me back at the Foreign Press Center. It’s nice to see some of the friendly faces that we see at the White House Briefing Room right here in the front row. I also want to thank Neil, your new director here at the Foreign Press Center. He’s a good person to have. I can say that because we shared two postings in common, having both served in Oslo and Reykjavík.
With that, let me just start with some brief remarks. I was invited over to talk about the administration’s first year. I can do that and perhaps look forward a little bit as well into 2010 and then, of course, take as many of your questions as we have and make sure you get out of here before dinner or brunch tomorrow. Does that sound fine? Great.
I would like to just say that a year ago, President Obama starting in office laid out a very ambitious foreign policy and national security agenda, beginning with the executive orders that he signed immediately in terms of trying to reestablish and restore American leadership and standing in the world. He called for the closure of Guantanamo as well as the banning of torture. Starting with that he began what ended up being perhaps the most active engagement internationally that any president has done in his first year in office, including 10 trips abroad to 21 countries.
And, as part of that of course, he was able to go to Mexico and the Caribbean, in fact to the Trinidad Summit, the Summit of the Americas. We had multiple trips to Europe. We had a trip of course at the end of the year to Asia. In between he also managed to go to Africa and to visit Ghana, and, of course, remember the visit to the Middle East and that very important speech he gave in Cairo. As part his engagement with the world, the President at Cairo laid out his vision for a new beginning with the Muslim world. He also participated in an exchange with students as you may recall in Turkey during that visit there, making sure that people understood that the values that the United States stands for and, of course, our willingness to engage with countries around the globe to confront the common challenges that we face together.
These challenges start with issues of course of terrorism and go to issues of the economy and we saw the President’s involvement at the London Summit and in Pittsburgh and tremendous work that was done collectively to ensure that the global economy would start on a path to recovery. We’ve seen very productive results as a result of that. You’ve seen the efforts in climate change, culminating with Copenhagen where important agreements were reached.
You’ve seen efforts of course relating to eradication of poverty and efforts at development. Very robust food security initiative that the President launched, and we have of course the very recent humanitarian disaster that we’ve seen in Haiti, which only serves to highlight the President’ determination that when there is a crisis that affects us all, this, as he talked about, the common humanity that the United States do everything it can, of course, in coordination and cooperation with other countries, the United Nations, and of course the host county – in this case, Haiti – to help those people in need. I think the mobilization that you saw in the early morning hours of the U.S. government, the whole of government approach that put Dr. Shah of the Agency for International Development in the lead, in cooperation of course with our military and many agencies across the government, whether it’s the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, a number of other important agencies to of course provide immediate relief efforts to rescue the survivors and of course to provide over the coming weeks and months, and likely years what is necessary in coordination with international community to help rebuild Haiti.
So, with that, I would just foreshadow a little bit in terms of what we might see in 2010. The President is determined to work every day to advance American National Security interest. And, in doing so, he will see coming up here in April in Washington April 11 and 12 a nuclear security summit which is a follow on to what he started as you may remember in April in Prague a year ago with the effort to very aggressively push forward in a counter-proliferation agenda to ensure the security of nuclear weapons, to prevent any potential for nuclear terrorism, of course that relates and brings to question issues relating to North Korea and Iran, which certainly tied up a fair amount of the President’s time and attention in this first year and we fully anticipate that there will be more of that. And, in fact, you may have some questions related to that when we get to the question and answer period.
Beyond that, we certainly anticipate of course the summits in Canada and later in Korea relating to economic issues. And, while I don’t have a travel schedule for you, this year certainly the President will also have an opportunity not only to travel abroad and but to continue the very engaged period for this year on foreign policy and national security issues. I did not mention of course that the President received countless leaders at the White House last year, and he fully anticipates this coming year to also get into discussing many important bilateral relationships, whether it is further strengthening the NATO alliance and our cooperation with them in Afghanistan, whether it is talking about the situation in Pakistan, Yemen of course as it relates to Al-Qaida and the Arabian peninsula, cooperation in dealing with the issues of Somalia and pirates, the situation in Sudan. You can go across the board.
We just celebrated the 50th
anniversary of the U.S.-Japanese alliance – a very important hallmark in that relationship. And, we know from the President’s trip to Asia, how keen the President is to demonstrate to the region, to Asia, that the United States has returned and will be very engaged in the future of that relationship.
And, certainly, we will continue to build on the President’s efforts with regards to promoting a stronger bilateral cooperation with countries like India, Brazil, China, South Africa. I’m sure I’ve missed a country or two, but that’s not to say that we aren’t working on those issues. But with that, let me just turn it over to questions, and address whatever is on your mind.
Andrei cheered for me the last time we were here, so I am partial and perhaps we could turn to him for the first question. Question
(from Andrei Sitov of ITAR-TASS):
Thank you, Mike. Thank you for coming and doing this again. (Inaudible.) Thanks to our friends at the FPC for arranging this, and, last but definitely not least, thanks to President Obama for conducting the foreign policy that you just described. I think most of the world if not all of the world welcomes this attitude of instructive engagement. I’m sure they do in Russia. My question obviously is about Russia. I was hoping you might provide us with some update on the START negotiations, how soon they may resume after this current visit of General Jones and Admiral Mullen to Moscow. And, generally what are your expectations for the new year in U.S.-Russia relations?Mr. Hammer:
Thank you very much, Andrei. Figuring that you might be here, I was lucky enough to just talk to our team in Moscow before coming down here and got a read-out of General Jones’ visit to Moscow in conjunction with Admiral Mullen. I’m pleased to report that substantial progress was made, that they very productive discussions, that Gen. Jones had an opportunity to meet with President Medvedev, and not only talk about START, but also important security issues of concern, whether that is Afghanistan, Iran, missile defense. I think what you will see in the coming weeks is our negotiating teams coming together to finalize details. But, we are certainly optimistic that the START agreement is within reach and we will certainly do what needs to be done in conjunction of course with our Russian partners to get a good agreement for both sides. Just in general, in terms of course of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the President put high priority during his first year to reset that relationship. I think what you have seen in terms of the President’s visit to Moscow is a very good progress in terms of developing a much better understanding with the Russian Federation on a full range of important issue to both our countries and improve cooperation. We want to continue to build on that.
I think what you have seen also is that we will raise issues even when we disagree. There have been concerns about some human rights issues and I think you have heard from the White House speak to those concerns when dissidents were arrested and so forth. We have made clear our views and the President even spoke to groups in Moscow during our visit. And, so as the President has said, we will have as productive relationships as possible with countries around the globe. But, when we disagree we are also prepared to talk about those disagreements, of course respectfully, making sure that our views and our principles are understood by the world community. Laura? Question (from Laura Haim, Canal+):
The world has been quite impressed by what has been happening in Haiti this moment with the Americans going there very quickly. How long in your opinion does the United States plan to be there? Mr. Hammer:
Thank you Laura for your question. It is good to see you here. I would say that as the President has said, our commitment to the Haitian people is a long term commitment. We have been involved in Haiti historically. We are very keen to try to help Haiti rebound from this tremendous crisis and devastation. I think what you have seen in the first nine days is a concerted effort, not only by the United States, but obviously by the U.N. -- in terms of bouncing back after terrific loses that they suffered, and the international community; to do everything possible to help Haiti not only in these first few days in terms of assuring survival and a good distribution of supplies and providers of medical treatment, but also going forward. As you know, Secretary Clinton is going to go to Montreal this coming Monday for a first meeting to start talking about coordinating of assistance. And, the President has spoken with President Sarkozy about other possibilities. So, you can be certain that President Obama is committed to working with the Haitian government in terms of addressing their needs and the people of Haiti’s needs coming forward not only for weeks, months, but I expect for years to come. Years, absolutely. The U.S. commitment to Haiti is a historical one – it’s one of friendship, it’s one of shared partnership, and I think what you will see is that the United States will continue to be in Haiti. I am not referring to a military deployment that is long term, that is to be determined of course with the Haitian government in terms of what is needed there. Our military effort is humanitarian in nature – that is the focus of our mission. That is what we are doing, and of course if there are any issues relating to security, then that is for the U.N. mission to determine how best to tackle any issues of security. And, then we would be in a support role to the U.N. mission there. So, really what I am talking about is long term development assistance and reconstruction.Question:
This is Markus Ziener, German newspaper Handelsblatt. Hi, Mike. I have a question related to what you said earlier about the agenda of President Obama. You said that he had a very ambitious agenda when he took over the office one year ago. With the hindsight of one year and what we know now, especially after this week, do you think he was over ambitious, do you think he had too many things at one time? So, this was just backfiring to some extent. Thank you.Mr. Hammer:
Not at all. I think the President would tell you if he were here that he wants as an ambitious agenda as possible because he believes that it is important to try to advance all of these issues. If you don’t try, you can’t possibly move forward. He has recently obviously in an interview with Time magazine noted that perhaps our ambitions and hopes for advance in the Middle East peace process raised expectations somewhat. And in looking back, perhaps it was unrealistic to think that we could make more progress. That said, the President is fully determined to continue to support efforts at getting parties in the Middle East together to advance the peace process. I think what you will see is a President that has tremendous energy and determination to keep moving forward on the whole slew of issues that I raised before, whether it is promoting peace around the globe, confronting terrorism where it needs to be confronted, whether it’s promoting prosperity and economic issues of development, combating disease, addressing climate change. We’re not backing off in any way. We need to and the President believes that in the good tradition of American leadership, and in full cooperation with the international community, true progress can be made on all of these issues. We will continue to work them hard every day. Question:
Nickolay Zimin, Itogi, Russian weekly magazine. Sir, besides better understanding between the leaders of the two countries, what else can you present as a result of recent U.S.-Russia relations? And, in general, what major obstacles did not allow tosign the START treaty before the end of the year? Thank you.Mr. Hammer:
Well, as you are probably aware, we have been engaged, both President Obama directly with President Medvedev, on trying to finalize a START agreement. I think it is important for both countries to get an agreement that is a good agreement for both. We are not going to rush through this. We did set an ambitious timeline, and of course, we had a deadline in terms of expiration of the treaty on December 5th
of last year. But, both parties agreed to basically to keep continuing on in the negotiations. We are in a different world, a post-Cold War world where the issues of concern are not the same. That said, I think we have made good progress. In fact this week, as I just mentioned, with General Jones and Admiral Mullen’s visit to Moscow. We remain confident that an agreement will be reached in fairly short order as our negotiating teams work through the remaining details. In terms of other broader accomplishments in the U.S.-Russia relationship, I would note that we were very pleased with the transit agreement that was reached with regards to Afghanistan. It is clear that the United States and Russia have a better dialogue and understanding of what we are doing in Afghanistan to try to stabilize Afghanistan and to eliminate the Al Qaeda threat. Of course, we have counterterrorism cooperation. We have worked on a number of important issues together. And, I think that is important for the world community. I will also make reference to Iran. Through the P5+1, and through the discussions President Obama has had with President Medvedev, whether it was in London, in Moscow, in Pittsburgh, or ASEAN, our most recent exchange between the two leaders, or in their phone calls. I think there is a common interest in developing a common approach. We are on track in terms of our duo-track approach to Iran. And, I think what you are seeing is important for the world community to understand that Russia and the United States have moved beyond some historical issues are working today as they should be to address the common challenges we face. And, of course, if there are disagreements, we can voice those openly and without hesitation. Question (from New York):
Fucik Zdenek, Czech News Agency. One of the things we have seen last year was the significant reshaping of missile defense, among other things to more engage NATO allies. I would like to ask how far are these negotiations and what can we except this year in this respect? Mr. Hammer:
Thank you for your question from New York. What you have seen is the President ask his team to look at missile defense to see what was the most appropriate way to move forward. So we made an announcement on a more robust missile defense program going forward. I think that has been received very well among our NATO allies, including Poland and the Czech Republic. The moving forward in terms of the implementation of that missile defense to address the merging threat as we see it from countries like Iran is ongoing. I do not have anything to announce today in terms of how we are going to proceed and get ahead of myself. But, there is a plan in place that is being worked with our NATO allies. We are confident that Europe, the United States, and in fact, the world, will be more secure with this new missile defense system than it was prior. Question (from New York):
This is Philippe Boulet-Gercourt. I am the US Bureau Chief for the Nouvel Observateur, the New Observer, which is France’s largest news weekly with over two million readers. My question, I’m sorry to ask you that question in that setting, but I have no other choice is: How do you intend to treat the Foreign Press in year two of the Obama presidency. Because last year all my emails and phone calls to you and Chris Hensman, Natalie Wosniac and Gabriel and other people haven’t even been returned which is not only incredibly rude, but a bit counter-productive. So my question is: do you intend to do a little bit better this year?Mr. Hammer:
Talking to you now, so I’m glad we are connecting. Fear not, we do intend to answer every email and every phone call. You’ll see there is a full room of reporters here today, you can’t imagine the volume. You just mentioned most of my staff; I’m just offended you didn’t mention Ben Chang. Perhaps if you would have sent it to him he would have answered.
But, in all seriousness, of course the Obama Administration is fully committed to communicate not only with the American people but with the world. And that’s in fact why I am here today. I do recognize that I would like to come here more often, I do have other pressing business, but I do talk to a number of you. I hope that you will attest to that and perhaps as you ask me a question you can say, “Oh yes Mike and as we talked last week,” so that there is full realization that we in fact are engaged with the foreign press. But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that I think PJ Crowley does briefings just about every day that address Foreign Press questions.
So, it’s not only just the United States White House that is engaging, but of course we have the State Department, the Pentagon and others that take questions from the foreign press. But thank you for reminding us of our duties.Question:
Thank you Mike. It’s Vincent Chang with the United Daily News in Taiwan. Can you talk about how the White house addressed the issue of arm sales to Taiwan? Are you going to make any announcement of any new arm sales to Taiwan?Mr. Hammer:
Yeah, thank you for your question. I don’t have any announcements to make. I think you are very well aware that our policy towards Taiwan is dictated by our Taiwan Relations Act and the three Joint Communiqués. I don’t think that I have anything further to elaborate on that. So I guess my answer is rather brief on that issue.Question (from Naoufal Enhari):
Morocco’s News Agency. I would like to know the agenda of the US Administration in order to combat Al Qaida, especially Al Qaida in the Maghreb region, which has been stated by the State Department as a terrorist organization. Thank you.Mr. Hammer:
Thank you for your question. There is no doubt, as you have seen in this first year in office, that President Obama understands fully his solemn responsibility to the American people to defend the homeland, to defend American interests.
As part of that effort, he believes that international cooperation is critical as we move forward in eliminating the threats of Al Qaida, of Al Qaida Arabian Peninsula, wherever it might surface. And I think, what you have seen is of course, a stepping up in an effort in Afghanistan with the deployment of additional troops and working with the Afghan Government to confront Al Qaida and it’s extremist allies in that region. I think what you have seen in Pakistan as well in the past year is a deepening of that partnership. Secretary Gates was just in Pakistan talking to the Pakistani Government about those issues, in terms of how to go after extremists that threaten Pakistan as well as the United States. You’ve seen actions taken in conjunction with the Government of Yemen.
Of course, you see that it is important for the United States, working with all these other countries, to go after aggressively those that want to do us harm. Do not only the United States harm, but of course the countries where these entities, these terrorists operate.
We are aware and concerned about the situation Somalia. But also, as you point out whether it’s the Maghreb or the Sahel region in Northern Africa, that the – these terrorist elements are always looking to adapt, given that they’re under pressure in the area that is their potentially - you would refer to as their headquarters in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. I think that the more pressure we put on them there, the more that they will look elsewhere to try and establish themselves. And that is why we believe it is very important that we be cooperating with countries all around the globe, but particularly in the areas that I’ve just mentioned, to prevent their ability to establish themselves in those countries. And that is something we don’t want to work on and I think that we have a very open and robust ally with a number of countries in North Africa precisely on this issue.Question:
Ah yes Mike. My name is Joyce Karam. I am with Al-Hayat Newspaper. I wanted to ask you since you have been here during the Clinton years, what is your perspective given the increasing domestic problems you’re having at home, how will this impact the foreign policy agenda? There is an increasing sense in the Middle East that this will tie the President’s hands, especially on the peace process – you know, that the Administration is in a weaker position, less momentum than when you guys started. I mean, can you give us some perspective on this?Mr. Hammer:
Yeah, I think that there is no question that the President, that President Obama, is determined that we’ll continue to be very engaged, promoting U.S. national interest, national security interest and foreign policy interest. His commitment is not driven at all by the politics of our country. But rather by what he believes are – is important in terms of advancing security for the American people and working to address the global challenges. So I can assure you here today, that you will see no difference in terms of the President’s engagement and the determination to move forward on some of these issues.
You addressed the question of trying to advance Middle East Peace. It is still a very high priority and will continue to be. Senator Mitchell is in the region as we speak.
So I think that really what we have seen is perhaps frustration that more couldn’t be done, but that is not going to deter us from trying to advance these issues. I think that the world community will see through the course of this year, when I come back, if I’m invited back, later this year, I think we will talk about everything that has happened to advance all these items on the agenda. So, don’t be distracted by domestic politics, the President certainly isn’t when it comes to national security.Question:
Thank you so much. Good morning, my name is Nike Nai-chih Ching with the Voice of America, China Branch. Happy Chinese New Year of the Tiger to you.Mr. Hammer:
Thank you very much.Question:
I don’t know if my son is a rat or something.Question:
Oh, that’s a good sign!Mike Hammer:
Oh, excellent! (laughter)Question:
Right, a very good sign (laughter). My question is regarding China, of course. I just wondered, do you have any comment on recent reports that NSC has directed the agencies to lower – downgrade China from Priority 1 to Priority 2 in terms of intelligence collection. And could you please confirm that or do you have any comment on that? And if not, what would be the future policy priorities in terms of measures to counter the Chinese hack – the internet hacker? Thank you.Mr. Hammer:
Well, as you all will appreciate, it is a well established US policy not to comment on intelligence matters.
As refers to your latter part of the question in terms of the freedom issue and the recent incident with Google; I would say first of all, you heard President Obama speak clearly in Shanghai at a town hall about the American commitment and urgency of promoting internet freedom as a universal right. So that people can freely access knowledge and information.
You’ve heard Secretary Clinton speak to this very issue just yesterday. We of course support the actions Google has taken in terms of removing censorship from its China Google site. And we have asked the Chinese government for an explanation regarding this incident and are awaiting a response.Question:
Did you ask why they are taking VOA from the Internet? Mr. Hammer:
I’m not familiar exactly with the VOA issue. But certainly we have raised the concerns that regarding cyber issues directly with the Chinese government and we will continue to do so.
You’re most welcome.Question:
Hi, good morning, this is Lalit Jha from PTI Press (Press Trust of India).Mr. Hammer:
I know you, remember you’re supposed to say, “We talked about last week” for the French guy in New York? (laughter)Question:
Yes, we talked yesterday (laughter)Mr. Hammer:
There we go! (laughter)Question:
Following on the question on China. The Chinese foreign ministry has that Secretary Clinton’s remarks today is harming the US-China relations. What is your comment on that? And is it the anyway affecting the US-China relations if the Google thing. And secondly, what is the policy on Tibet? Is the President Obama willing to meet the Dalai Lama the coming this year?Mr. Hammer:
Yeah, let’s answer the second question first. Most certainly, the President has made clear to the Chinese government that we intend to meet with the Dalai Lama, it has been his every intention.
Secondly I would just note that when we were in Beijing, the President has made very clear in talking to the Chinese leadership, that we want to strengthen the relationship, it’s multidimensional, there are many facets to the U.S.-china relationship many areas where we can cooperate but there are going to be areas where we disagree and frankly we will speak to those issues. I think that’s what you’ve seen regarding this, concerns about this, Google incident. I think that’s what you’re going to see when it comes to issues of human rights and that is something that’s going to be part of the relationship. I think that as we move forward the Chinese – U.S. relationship can certainly grow and strengthen. But on occasion we’re going to have issues that we don’t agree on and that is just the reality that we accept but we can still continue to move forward on the other wide range of other issues. Thanks – for your question, we’ll talk again. (Laughter)Moderator:
Over here, way in the back.Question:
Hisham Bourar from Al Hurra television. Thank you Mike for doing this.Mr. Hammer:
We talked before, right?Questioner:
We did.Mr. Hammer:
Just checking. (Laughter)Question:
With reference to what you mentioned about, with the interview with Time Magazine
and the admission by President Obama, that he underestimated the difficulties in getting the two sides to sit down for talks. How does the president exactly hold responsible for the failure to push these talks last year, in his first year. And second, it has been several months since his speech in Cairo, is the president satisfied with the response and what he called for as good will gestures or good will acts from the Middle East from Arab countries to encourage Israel to be more engaged in peace talks. Is he satisfied with the steps he’s seen so far? Mr. Hammer:
Thank you for your question. I think, what, this is not an issue of assigning blame to either of the parties. We have to put things in context. When the president came into office there was a war going on in Gaza. That, obviously, was a difficult situation that was brought to an end. Then you had a new Israeli government so, from the get go it was going to be a challenge to move forward on of course trying to establish talks between the parties and there have been, there have been some progress and we are pleased with that progress but obviously that has not been enough. And so we will continue to work this through Senator Mitchell and of course the president will engage when it is necessary. But, it is understandable that after 60 years of not making this possible that it is going to be difficult, it is going to be hard. But that doesn’t discourage us. We just hope that the parties themselves come to the realization that their security interests, the security interests of Israel, the security interests of the Palestinian people, are best served if they engage in these talks and achieve peace and I think the entire Middle East needs to understand and cooperate. I appreciate your question, coming on the wake of the Cairo speech there was tremendous goodwill, and we see that. And we need to continue to work with Arab partners in the region to try and encourage the process along. So, we do think that we have laid the foundation for progress. That said, we need to continue to work on it, and we will, and we are doing so.Moderator:
We have time for a few more questions, over here. Question:
Emel Bayrak, Turk Radio & TV, nice to see you again.Mr. Hammer:
Nice to see you as well.Question:
Yes, we talked before. Could you tell us…. Mr. Hammer:
Could you tell us the current relationship with Turkey and U.S. administration… countries… after Obama administration?Mr. Hammer:
Well, I think what you saw in terms of the bilateral relationship with Turkey is the president’s recognition that its important strategic partnership, is not only Turkey a NATO ally but is an important country with linkages into the Muslim world. And that was a primary reason why as part of our first trip to Europe we stopped in Turkey and we have been working with the Turkish government to advance that relationship and to work on a number of issues of common interest. Here again, it is our interest to further deepen that strategic partnership and we hope that, you know, in the coming year we will continue to see even more progress. On occasion, again we will talk about some issues where there are some differences of opinion but I think overall that the relationship is absolutely excellent. The president has enjoyed meeting both President Gul and Prime Minister Erdo?an and I fully anticipate that they will continue to have contact.Question:
Excuse me. Hold on for the microphone?Question:
Which issues, which you don’t have an agreement?Mr. Hammer:
It’s not a question of issues that we don’t have agreement. I mean, sometimes human rights issues will come to the floor. We, in fact, there are many issues, more issues that we agree on than we disagree on. One that I would highlight where we are working together obviously on is Turkish/Armenian reconciliation and the efforts that are being put forward there and we want to be supportive of that. I did not mean to imply in any way that there is tension. It is just that, with a number of countries, depending on what country you come from, there is always going to be some issue that perhaps we don’t see eye to eye or where there is a bit of friction. And the United States, you know, in accordance with our values and our principles will raise those issues. Moderator:
Right here. Yes. There you go.Question:
Hi, how are you sir? This is Xavier Villa, Spanish Public Radio Station, I’m sure you’ve seen…Mr. Hammer:
Buenos dias. How are you? I’m sure you’ve seen today’s story in the Post about Guantanamo. I’d like to get a reaction on that, what is the take of the administration on these 50 people that according to the story should be held indefinitely in the island?Mr. Hammer:
Right. Well, thank you for your question. I did see the Washington Post, my local newspaper this morning. In terms of Guantanamo, first I would say the president is committed to closing Guantanamo. Clearly, we didn’t make the deadline, the ambitious deadline, that we had hoped to meet by today. Going forward, there are some difficult issues that need to be addressed but this administration has done more than, had been done previously. Not only to transfer detainees, the number of 43 detainees, but to try to bring to justice those that should be brought to justice who are in detention. So we continue to work through these issues and the first thing we did was do a rigorous accounting of every single case of the individuals on the island to determine whether they should be released, to determine whether they should be returned to their country of origin, to make arrangements with other, European and other countries. In terms of having them transferred out of Guantanamo. And then of course, we have made provisions, with the prison in Thompson, Illinois to move eventually the detainees that need to be there for trial in courts or through revised military commissions or ultimately, possible long term detention. The president spoke to this in the National Archives speech, last year, and I don’t really have any new news for you even if the Washington
Post tried to make news this morning. Decisions are still, need to be made with regards to the individuals that remain at Guantanamo.Moderator:
OK. Sorry. Wait for the mike.Question:
You cannot confirm the story then. I mean, does the administration back indefinite detention of these 50 people? Mr. Hammer:
The president has talked about the potential need that that may happen. He’s referred to that. We are trying to do everything we can to again process through every single one of these cases so that they are treated in a just and proper way. Thank you.Moderator:
We’ll go to New York for the next question.Question:
Yes, thank you. My name is Olaolu Akande. I write for Nigerian The Guardian. On Wednesday, Senator Leahy on the judiciary committee, it said that having a handful of countries to the terror watch list is not necessarily an effective counterterrorism, he said that it might actually alienate the United States from some of its allies. Now I have a question regarding Nigeria, which was added to the list because of the Christmas Day terror bombing, and to say, you know, like a lot of Nigerians that say, why was it necessary to add Nigeria because of the sins of quote one man, after the fact that the father actually took the unusual step of altering the U.S. authorities. And also compared to the fact that when, the shoe bomber, that is from Britain, that never made, the U.S. to add Britain or other countries to the list. So how do you convince the Nigerians and Africans that this is not just a purely political list or something that is just for Nigerians?Mr. Hammer:
Thank you very much for your question. You asked that, I’ll make three points. One, after the December 25th
incident it was clear that we needed to take measures that protect aviation. Protecting aviation serves the entire world as we of course have citizens from the entire world who are flying back and forth whether it is to the United States and elsewhere. The listing, in no way, is meant to be discriminating against any individual or nationality. What is important here to realize is that we needed to take some measures, but already, Secretary Napolitano has said, of the Department of Homeland Security, has said that she will personally review each of the countries listed and this is an evolving process. So I understand the issues that you raise, and that Senator Leahy has raised, we are very aware of the concerns, but it is a balance here that we need to take the necessary steps to protect aviation and all other measures that we need to take in cooperation with countries around the world.Question:
This is Min Xiong of 21st
Century Business Herald, of China, and my question is about internet freedoms and the speech of Secretary Clinton yesterday. This is speech has drawn a strong statement from the Chinese government. They say that this is an unjustified accusation against China on internet freedom. I would like to try again to see if you have something to say about this. And right after the speech, in the cyber world, there is speculation that the US is declaring another cold war on information. You may have seen this and want to clarify, or say something? And since we are coming here at the beginning of this year, I wondering if you can you tell us more about the internet diplomacy, strategy of the Clinton Administration?Mr. Hammer:
I will take your second question first, since I thought that I had covered most of your early questions before. In terms of internet freedom and access as a vehicle for communicating with people, what I think you have seen from the Obama Administration is unprecedented in terms of its outreach through the internet, putting things on the White House internet site, sending out message so the entire international community and those who might be interested would know more about the United States, know more about US policies, and certainly, feed in opinions to us as well. So I think that there is not much more that I can add on this issue. I would point out, however, that what we have asked of the Chinese government is for an explanation and for them to look into this incident. It is not a question of accusations, it is more of a question of trying to ascertain what has happened and we will be awaiting a reply. But, it is an important issue for the United States. It is an issue that the President has spoken out about very clearly. In fact, he did so in Shanghai, at the town hall. And Secretary Clinton addressed it yesterday, rather fully, and I don’t think that there is much more that I can expand upon on that issue.
Do you want me to take a couple more questions, or are you tired? There’s a poor guy in the back that is looking for a question.Question:
Hi Mike. This poor guy back here is Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabia. Mr. Hammer:
Yes, hi. I know who you are and I just want people to know that I know you….Question:
Could you give us a progress report on the Obama Administration’s policies towards Iran and Syria, two countries that were shunned by the previous administration? Obviously, with Iran, they have passed the deadline that the Administration imposed last year. Obviously the Administration and its allies are not satisfied with the Iranian response to the P5+1. So where are we know in terms of the sanctions? In terms with the contacts between the allies? Can you give us a progress report? Also, on Syria, American officials have said that the progress has been limited with Damascus. And six months after the announcement that the Administration would send an Ambassador to Damascus, where are we now? Is there an Ambassador awaiting an official announcement? Mr. Hammer:
Well on Syria, I’m sure that you are well informed that I do not have any news for you yet with respect to an Ambassador. I would have to say that it has been challenging in terms of trying to overcome many years of mistrust; it’s difficult, obviously, to start afresh. And we have serious issues with regard to Syria and its potential support of terrorism that we need to work through. But we are doing that and we’ll see if we can make a little more progress on that.
Turning to Iran, I think that you are all aware that we had a P5+1 meeting in New York, just last Saturday. And in fact, as I mentioned, General Jones met with President Medvedev only yesterday to discuss the Iran issue. I think what you have seen in the first year of this Administration was a willingness on the part of President Obama to try to start a dialogue with the leadership in Iran relating to trying to tackle this issue of their nuclear program, which is a concern to the entire international community. The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency has put a proposal on the table that is a very fair one. I’m talking about the Tehran research reactor. I heard their spokesman [IAEA] just this week has once again communicated to Tehran, that its proposal remains on the table – Iran would have about 70% of its uranium removed, and reprocessed overseas, and then returned, to facilitate the operation of their reactor, to provide the medical isotopes that are needed for the Iranian people. This is a fair and just proposal, and it would give confidence to the international community, with regards to Iran’s stated intent to use its nuclear program for only peaceful purposes.
That said, as the President has said in conjunction with our P5+1 partners, we have a dual track approach. We have looked until the end of the year to try and see if the engagement process would yield the desired results in terms of Iran cooperating with the international community and meeting its international obligations. It has not done so. We are in a number of discussions with key partners – P5+1 – but beyond that in terms of the pressure track. As we pursue the pressure track, the door remains open for Iran to walk through and engage in an appropriate way to allay the concerns of the international community. But should it not, we are now proceeding down the pressure track. I am not going to anticipate what action will take place at the Security Council in terms of a new resolution. Secretary Clinton spoke to that just yesterday with Foreign Minister Miliband, so I think our policy and approach is very well known.
And I think the international community is frustrated that Iran has not done what it needs to do, again, to address the concerns that we all have about the intentions of their nuclear program. As so, we have now moved to focus on the pressure track.Question:
It is not a question of a deadline. We are now working to advance along the pressure track. So that is in fact taking place and we just had a meeting recently to make sure it moves forward.
Maybe one more question.Question:
Kim Keunsam from Voice of America. I want to ask you about North Korea. I want you to elaborate upon the US government’s effort to make progress in North Korea on the nuclear issue, and results of these efforts. I also want to ask your opinion about whether we are in a better situation, or worse, after one year of the Obama government, on terms of the North Korea nuclear threat?Mr. Hammer:
I think what we saw in the first year of the Obama Administration is exactly the kind of action that can take place within the international community when it comes together on an issue of utmost importance, like the question of North Korea. You may remember North Korea’s provocations, in fact by testing a nuclear weapon, and the response was the toughest UN Security Council resolution that we have ever seen for North Korea - 1874. And the follow-on, which is critically important, was not only the toughest sanctions ever imposed, but it has been implemented. We have seen a number of countries, and I will not outline all the events that have taken place, that have put a stop to North Korea’s efforts to proliferate. I think that as a result that, North Korea’s mind is very much focused and hopefully they will understand that the only way to avoid isolation is to return to the six party talks.
So the message has been clear, we don’t know yet if they are ready to go down that path, they sometimes say things that are encouraging, and then only to say other things that seem to indicate that they are not prepared to do so. Our focus, with our partners, in the six party talks, is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Once that happens, we can start looking at other things. They signed on to the agreed framework of 2005. North Korea knows what it needs to do, and we are expecting that they will follow through on its previous pledges in their returning to the six party talks.
Yeah, I do this at my own peril.Question:
Good morning, Mr. Hammer (Yonhap News Agency). Mr. Hammer:
Good morning. It’s almost afternoon, isn’t it? It is afternoon. I promised not to keep you until dinner.Question:
I’ve been waiting almost 40 minutes to raise questions on North Korean issue. Contrary to your remarks, given the fact that North Korea has conducted nuclear test and launched numerous short-range missiles as well as long range missiles, some experts have argued that maybe President Obama’s North Korean policy is nothing better than that of President Bush. They further argue that maybe President Obama maybe doesn’t have any clear blueprint on how to deal with North Korea. How would you argue about that?Mr. Hammer:
I think that it is quite clear that I would disagree. That said, there are many opinions obviously in this town and around the world. But, you can be certain President Obama has, working with our international partners, and our people at the United Nations through the leadership of our Ambassador Susan Rice, we have gotten again a very tough sanctions regime in place that is serving to control any efforts by North Korea to proliferate. And, this is a difficult issue. Like all issues, we need to have international sustained cooperation and that’s what we are looking to do. And, so we do have a blueprint and we do know what we are doing in terms of addressing this. But we also understand it takes time to alter, help, encourage another country to change its behavior. But, working in partnership with the others in the six-party talks, whether it is the Chinese, Japanese, Russians or, of course, the South Koreans, we are determined again to stand up to these provocations and aggressions and make it very clear to North Korea that its only path really out of isolation is to comply with its international obligations.
Thank you. With that, I think we will call it quits. And I do promise to come back again. Thanks a lot.