MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have National Security Council Spokesman Mike Hammer. He will be speaking to the Administration’s foreign policy priorities for 2011. He’ll start out with some opening comments and then take your questions. Thanks.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you, Doris, and thanks again for organizing a great program and thanks to Neil for inviting me to come over once again. I’m starting to get a little worried that somebody’s sending a message; the last time I was to brief in New York, there was a big snowstorm. I barely made it. Something happened last night which I’m sure we all felt in Washington, but I see we have a very full room so I commend you for your professionalism and effort to come and listen to me today. So thank you very much.
Let me just begin making some remarks following on on the President’s State of the Union Address, which hopefully most of you saw on Tuesday that focused quite obviously on the United States and the interests and concerns of the American people, but also had important foreign policy and national security dimensions which he touched on and which I hope to elaborate on today, as well as to talk a little bit about sort of the agenda that the President has on the foreign policy front this coming 2011, which we expect, again, to be a very fulsome, active diplomatic engagement by the United States.
As you all know and you’ve heard me say, from the outset President Obama placed a high priority in terms of trying to reestablish and reassert American leadership and standing around the globe. And I think in the last two years you have certainly seen that come about, and we continue to work on that. We have made every effort to strengthen our alliances in Europe with NATO, clearly in Asia with our Japanese and Korean allies. We have begun to develop new partnerships to, as the President says, address the global challenges that we all face and common interests that we share. This has been highlighted by the efforts that the President and other world leaders have made within the G-8 and then into the G-20, which I think has proven quite effective in addressing the international financial crisis, which is a key concern not only to the American people in terms of the economy, but also globally. And I think that that’s key in terms of one of the major accomplishments in terms of where we are today.
We have put a great emphasis on getting the power relationships on the right course. By that, I’m referring to our relationship with Russia, where you’ve seen a reset take place, which most recently produced a very important agreement on the New START Treaty which was ratified this week by the Russian Duma. And I think it shows, going back to the President’s speech in Prague of 2009, our commitment to nonproliferation, our commitment to the NPT, and to a world that one day will hopefully be without nuclear weapons, and important nuclear weapons reductions as they’re a part of the – as part of the New START Treaty. It’s also an agreement that I think increases the security not only of the American and Russian people, but people around the globe.
Tied to those nonproliferation concerns, obviously, we continue to work the issues of Iran and North Korea. We also are looking to develop that relationship with China. You saw how the visit went here just a couple weeks ago with the state visit by President Hu, where we’re developing and have a positive, comprehensive relationship that I think serves both the Chinese and the American people, but also globally is important in terms of promoting stability, and again, to address the global challenges that we face.
These relationships are all based on mutual respect, so as you’ve heard me say and others, including the President, that we will voice our disagreements respectfully when we have them. And, for example, on issues of human rights, I think you saw the President being quite forceful with regard to some of the concerns we have in China, but also with other countries when that issue comes up.
We have worked very hard to recognize emerging powers around the globe, and to that specifically, I’m referring to India. You’ve seen the President’s trip last fall, which was, we thought, very important in developing that strategic partnership. It’s something we will continue to build on. There are other countries like Brazil, and you saw the President announce at his State Of The Union that he’ll be traveling in March to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador as part of our engagement with our own hemisphere, but also in recognition of Brazil’s important international status and contributions. You will see that we continue to work with countries, emerging powers like Indonesia, where we visited last year, South Africa, and of course, there are other countries closer to us that we are deeply engaged in, whether it’s Mexico or Colombia.
As we head into 2011, I could perhaps touch on some of the upcoming trips that you’ll see. I did mention now the trip to Latin America that we just announced. You can expect that we’ll be engaging, obviously, on the global economic issues with the G-8 and G-20. You know that the President will also be traveling to Indonesia for the East Asia leaders summit, continuing on on our very thorough and close engagement with Asia, a rising economic, certainly, influence in the world that we recognize and where the United States feels it needs to partner with and be present.
You also have the President hosting the APEC summit in Hawaii later this fall, an event that obviously he will be very pleased to host in his home state of Hawaii. So you’ll see that – I think a very robust international engagement. We’re clearly, today and in the coming days, dealing with a number of pressing issues.
The President remains firmly committed to try to advance the peace process in the Middle East, and that’s something we’re working on every day, even if the headlines aren’t what we’d like to see. You have obviously recent developments in Tunisia, in Lebanon, in Egypt, and we’re going to continue to follow those situations closely. We’re working with our ECOWAS partners on the situation in Ivory Coast. You saw a quite successful referendum take place in Sudan, and that’s another key area of interest.
And I’m sure the list goes on. So I would – just final points to make are that the President also felt it important to rebalance our military presence around the world, and you heard him speak to bringing an end to the war in Iraq. And we’re on track to do that, as you saw the successful withdrawal of troops down to 50,000 last August, and the expected withdrawal on track for the end of this year. And also, our firm commitment to protecting the American people and the – and our allies in going after al-Qaida and terrorists who want to do us harm in a very aggressive way, and working with our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure the – as best as possible, our security.
With that, I think I’ll just turn it over to your questions. I don't know if – nobody is up in New York, so if that’s the case, then we can just focus on you here, as you have ventured through the snow.
MODERATOR: And just a reminder, please wait for the microphone on either side and wait until you’re called on. Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: All right. I’ll go with some of the familiar faces maybe here in the front row. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mike, and thanks for coming to the FPC as well. In 1989 and also later in the ‘90s, we had freedom movements in Central and Eastern Europe and later in Ukraine, Georgia, earlier in the Philippines. And at that time, as far as I remember, the U.S. was very proud to stand of the – at the side of the – on the side of this freedom movement. Some even said that U.S. had an active hand in organizing these movements.
Now we see an – freedom movement in Arab countries, at least movement for a free speech and the free right to assemble. And somehow, this time, it seems to me that the U.S. stands is not as clear as it was at that time. I’m just coming from the White House briefing and Robert Gibbs said that this is not about taking sides. Why? Why wouldn’t the U.S. say that it stands on the side of the freedom movement?
MR. HAMMER: Well --
QUESTION: What is different in comparison?
MR. HAMMER: Yeah. Let me just address your question, a very excellent question, of course. In trying to assert that everything is co-related, I think that one needs to see the situations in the various countries, I think, that you’re referring to as separate and distinct in some ways.
In the case of Tunisia, what you’ve seen is a clear expression of the aspirations of the people that the United States supports. We had – our Assistant Secretary Feltman was just there, again, as a clear expression of that support. And we’re prepared to assist the interim government as it moves forward to take important steps which we welcome with regards to releasing political prisoners, provide for greater freedoms, address some of the economic concerns. And it’s something that we very much are engaged in.
I think one way to address this before I move on to other countries is to remember what President Obama said in his Cairo speech, because I think that gives you a really good perspective of our approach and what we’re thinking about as these situations emerge. The President said in Cairo that we have an unyielding belief that – and I quote from him – “All people yearn for certain things – the ability to speak your mind and to have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and an equal administration of justice, a government that is transparent and free of corruption, and the freedom to live as you choose. These are human rights and we support them everywhere.”
So the United States supports universal human rights. We work to achieve that. We work with governments to try to promote that. And the President, on January 14th, in talking about the evolving situation in Tunisia, talked about our respect for those universal rights, and that governments that support their people’s aspirations will be stronger and more successful than those that don’t.
With regards to the situation in Egypt, I think what Robert Gibbs talked about is we’re not faced here about making a choice between President Mubarak and the people of Egypt, but rather we are asking both sides to calmly and peacefully address some of the concerns that are legitimate, that we, the United States, have supported, and, in fact, encouraged President Mubarak to take on in terms of promoting political, economic, and social reforms. The President met with President Mubarak here in the Oval Office in September and relayed those concerns, as we have in the past, and also has spoken to – and recently, actually, relating to the situation in Tunisia.
So it’s not a question of where does the United States stand; I think it’s very clear. We do want to see that universal rights are respected. We do want to see governments, wherever they might be, take the actions necessary to respond to the needs and aspirations of their people. So I think our position is pretty clear, in fact.
Yeah, go ahead.
MODERATOR: Can you make sure you say your name and your media organization?
QUESTION: Sure, Muna Shikaki with Al Arabiya Television. I’m just wondering, during the State Of The Union, President Obama described the previous Tunisian leader as a dictator. I was wondering if the Administration thinks that Mubarak is a dictator as well.
MR. HAMMER: Again, it’s – everybody becomes fixated in labels. The important point here is, as we’re looking to the future, whether it’s in Egypt, in Tunisia, in other countries, that governments need to recognize that they need to listen to the aspirations and the hopes of their people. That’s what democracy is all about. That’s something the United States supports around the world. And when they do, they are better able to provide for their people. They are better able to chart a path that allows for them to achieve the kind of prosperity that they want. That’s the American model. That’s something that’s – perhaps is not transferable to all nations in the same way, and the President has spoken to this. We’re not saying in terms of how exactly you chart that path. But you need to engage with the people and allow that freedom of expression, that freedom of assembly, that freedom of choice that they are able to express through free and fair elections. So that’s all I have to say on that.
Let’s try to go a little bit to the back. I see somebody over there to the right. Yeah. Either – or further back, yeah. We’ll just move it around the room a little bit.
QUESTION: Hi, Mike. Xavier Vila, Spanish public radio. Just one short question: Does this Administration support Hosni Mubarak or not?
MR. HAMMER: Hosni Mubarak and President Mubarak is a valued partner and ally of the United States. We have been engaging with him and encouraging reform in his country, and it’s something that we will continue to encourage. We have seen, I think, some press reports today about some measures and dialogue that he may be advancing, and that’s something that we will continue to support in those efforts.
All right. Could I go somewhere else? Macarena.
MODERATOR: Can you say your name and media organization?
QUESTION: Yeah. Marcarena Vidal from EFE News. On the Latin American trip of the President, do you have any – the specific dates? I know it’s going to be in March, but do you have the specific dates?
And also, he mentioned that he wanted to pursue some Alliances for Progress. I wonder what he had in mind when he mentioned that, when he refers specifically to Alliances for Progress.
And about the agenda, he’s going to meet, obviously, with the authorities of the three countries, but is he going to interact with the peoples of the countries? Is he going to give a speech? What he’s going to do?
MR. HAMMER: Thank you. Since we just announced the trip, and in fact we did not provide the dates, I can only hint to you that it will be in the latter part of March and that we’re working, again, with those governments to finalize details in terms of, obviously, the program and the level of engagement and activities that the President will undertake when he visits Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.
As far as the agenda and your question regarding – referring to sort of the Alliance for Progress, I mean, the President has a vision for the hemisphere in which he wants to strengthen the ongoing partnerships. And I think it builds on the themes of his first summit, multilateral summit that he attended in Trinidad and Tobago in the first year in office in the spring of 2009. And he wants to continue to work on the issues that are of concern to the hemisphere, whether that’s economic security, looking to build on the possibilities for greater trade relationships with the hemisphere, to strengthen democratic institutions, to provide for issues that relate to criminal security that we see in some countries, like in Central America.
So what you’ll see is the President will clearly have bilateral meetings, as you point out, with the new president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and we feel that’s an important relationship that we want to develop and grow. Brazil is an important partner on clean energy issues, that we deal with Brazil in a very cooperative way in trying to help the Haitian people. There are economic issues that obviously will be on the agenda.
As we move into Chile, you’ll see also some of the similar themes as Chile is a very fine economic model and has really demonstrated how you can achieve growth. And so we will have an important meeting there with President Pinera, but also discussing other situations in the region as well as with regards to Haiti, where Chile has an important role that it’s playing.
And finally, in El Salvador, he’ll have – the President will have an opportunity to meet with President Funes. And there it’s a recognition of sort of the difficult historical challenges that El Salvador has endured and lived through, and the recognition that you can, through peaceful democratic means, achieve a way forward. And it sends a very powerful message to those who previously took arms to try to advance their political agenda that, in fact, you can do it through peaceful means.
So I think what you’ll see is a very important trip, a manifestation of the President’s strong interest in engagement and cooperative relationships with our fellow partners throughout the hemisphere. And in the spirit – I think that’s what the President was referring to – of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, that’s what we’re looking at, to build on the common themes that are of concern for the peoples of the Americas.
So let’s go here and then we’ll go back to that side somewhere. Yeah. This gentleman, I believe. Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Luis Alonso with the AP. I just would like to know what is the timeline the Administration has in regard to the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, and whether or not the Administration is open to present one of the two – either of two free trade agreements before the other, either Colombia first and Panama later or Panama first and – we know already that South Korea is ahead.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, you started my answer by saying that we are focused on, as the President said in the State of the Union, in, obviously, getting the free trade agreement with Korea done. It was something that was a major accomplishment and very important to the U.S. and Korean economies, something that we built on from last fall. And now it’s a question of, obviously, working through to try to get the other agreements done as well with regards to Panama and Colombia. But I, unfortunately, do not have any news for you in terms of sequencing, but rather just to reiterate our commitment that the President is keen to get these done.
QUESTION: No dates (inaudible)?
MR. HAMMER: No dates, no.
Maybe go back there? Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hwang from Yonhap News Agency. Thank you, Mike, for doing this. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama urged Congress to approve the Korea FTA as soon as possible, but he has not yet submitted the deal to Congress. So when do you expect him to do that?
And my – another question is: South Korea said North Korea’s apology for the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of the South Korean island at Yeonpyeong is not a precondition for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. So do you support their position? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. I don’t have a precise date on when we’ll submit the agreement to Congress, but it is certainly a top priority for the Administration. We will be working with our colleagues in Congress to try to work as expeditiously as possible to get it done.
On the second question, I would certainly remind everyone, as we’ve said, that we stand firmly side by side with our South Korean ally in that we see that it is important and continue to call on the North Korean Government to address the real grievances that the South Korean Government has over the incidents, in fact, that you mentioned. We see that there is an effort underway for direct talks between the two.
Right now, as you may know, we have our Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and our senior director for Asia from the National Security staff Jeff Bader traveling in the region consulting with our partners in the Six-Party Talks. And what is clear is that – and we’ll continue to reiterate this – is that North Korea needs to and must abide by its international obligations, UN Security Council resolutions, and its own commitments.
And so we are going to be continuing to work, again, with our partners, to try to find the best way forward to achieve a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to encourage and finally get the North Korean regime to undertake steps that are irreversible and that are concrete to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.
So we are engaged in that. We will continue, obviously, a close cooperation. We will continue to call on North Korea to stop its provocative actions. And it’s something that I am sure we’ll be talking about time and time again as I come back, in future dates hopefully.
QUESTION: Kambiz Fattahi, BBC Persian. On Iran, you haven’t made much progress in the past two years. The talks in Istanbul didn’t produce any result. How do you plan to deal with Iran this year?
MR. HAMMER: Well, I was in Istanbul last week for those talks, and it was disappointing. We have given Iran multiple opportunities to make the right choice here. We have, as we made clear, a dual-track policy, one of diplomacy – the door is open and remains open – or one of pressure. And what you’ve seen is the international community come together in passing the toughest sanctions on record against Iran to encourage it to live by its international obligations. And what we have seen so far is a failure to do so or any serious commitment to address those legitimate international concerns. So the pressure will continue to mount. We do believe Iran is further isolated today and will continue to be isolated. We do believe that sanctions are biting and having an effect and that they’re having difficulties with their nuclear program.
So we will continue on this dual-track approach, hoping that Iran changes its calculus and realizes that the best path forward is, in fact, to engage in diplomacy and to take up some of the suggestions that the P-5+1 presented to Iran there in the talks in Istanbul.
You still have a question? I like the green so I have to call on you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Kate Brower with Bloomberg News. Mohamed ElBaradei said, quote, “America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world isn’t radicalization through its support of Mubarak.” What’s your reaction to that comment?
MR. HAMMER: Again, I think I’ve addressed the question initially in terms of what the United States stands for in terms of universal rights and standing by the people who want to express themselves in a peaceful way to try to see and create a better future for themselves. So I’m not going to specifically engage in answering certain things that others may have said about this.
Let’s go a little bit to the back. Maybe there in the middle, straight in the back.
QUESTION: Aprille Muscara with Inter Press Service. During the President’s State of the Union, he said that he would suspend domestic discretionary funding for five years. Does that mean that he’ll protect the international affairs budget, and how will he do that, given that House Republicans have committed to cutting foreign aid and State Department budgets?
And also, is there any discussion with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and what is the Administration’s position on their role? Are they seen as helpful, as an ally, or not?
MR. HAMMER: Right. On the first question, I’m going to have to sort of guide you more towards the State Department. I mean, we’re obviously looking at the budget being put together. I mean, the way the President presented obviously is the guidance for all departments, and so our budgets going forward will reflect that we clearly are very keen to preserve our foreign affairs funding in order to be best able to advance U.S. interests. And that’s really what the U.S. taxpayer dollars are meant for and that’s what – whether it’s the State Department or USAID or other government agencies like the Department of Defense do in executing their mission, and that is putting the dollars to good work to advance American interests around the world.
With regards to your second question with the Muslim Brotherhood, we have contacts with all kinds of groups in Egypt. We look to, again, encourage whatever reforms are necessary to advance, again, a better, more democratic vision for Egypt. And we’ll be, obviously, working and encouraging the Government of Egypt to take those necessary steps.
Perhaps over here? Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mike. It’s Tejinder from TVTN and AHN (ph). Are you worried about destabilization and volatile situation that is developing with the protests today spreading to Yemen in your fight against terror in that region?
MR. HAMMER: Well, Secretary Clinton was in Yemen recently, obviously trying to advance our important cooperation to counter terrorism. But also, we have seen that it is important to support Yemen as far as trying to provide for a better economic opportunity for its people. And so these are, again, issues that are addressed when we have conversations with these foreign governments. We are very focused, as you mentioned, on the fight against those that want to do us harm and terrorists that are plotting every day to harm Americans and our allies.
And so this is something that we will continue to do every day. But as we do that, we also work and encourage governments to, again, provide better opportunities for their people and, again, sort of move in the direction that I think all of us want to see.
Let me move over here maybe. Okay, go ahead.
MR. HAMMER: Sure. Why not? He’s being shy. Then we can come back to him. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR. HAMMER: And there is a gentleman, I think, in New York we probably have to – since he must have braved the snow up there as well, we’ll go to him in a little bit.
QUESTION: Thank you. Gloria de la Torre from Caracol Noticias from Colombia. I have two questions, sir, regarding the Plan Colombia. What the Colombian Government can expect from the budget that President Obama is going to ask for this year? Do you think there is going to be a significant reduce in the budget for the Plan Colombia?
And second, I will like to know about the FTI. What is specifically is happening in the White House that has stopped the President to present it to the Congress or moving on the Congress? Is it because of political – regional political – for the U.S. political situation, internal political thing, or pressure from the unions? Like what needs the Colombian Government from the – to make the White House move this FTI in the Congress?
MR. HAMMER: Right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry for the confusion.
MR. HAMMER: No, it’s all right. FTA is what we call it. So anyway, but – in any case, just I don’t have any specific details on sort of the budget for Plan Colombia. But one thing that I was struck by is that when President Obama met with President Santos in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly this past fall – I had the privilege to participate in that meeting – was that there was quite a bit of chemistry between the two and obviously a real willingness to continue to build on a very strong Colombian-American partnership that began years ago starting with President Pastrana and Plan Colombia and continuing on with President Uribe and now with President Santos.
So I think what you have seen and will continue to see is very strong American support for Colombian efforts to rid itself of narcotrafficking and narcoterrorism. And that’s something that we want to continue. But obviously, the relationship is evolving. As the Colombian Government has been effective in countering the FARC insurgency in creating more security and stability for the Colombian people, we are looking at a broader relationship which obviously encompasses trade, economic issues, energy, and others.
And so moving on to your FTA question, these are difficult agreements to realize. They’re difficult agreements, ultimately, to approve. All I can say is that we are committed to continue to work on it and with the hopes of, obviously, getting it done.
Let’s go to New York for a moment. Let’s go to New York, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m Hideo Miyawaki from Kyodo News Japan. Since I’m based in New York and just standing just across the United Nations Headquarters, I am interested in the Obama Administration’s position on the United Nations. First of all, I would like to know how important multilateral diplomacy is to the Obama Administration, and in this regard what kind of reform would you look to see in the United Nations Security Council? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you for your question. I think that you see how serious President Obama is about multilateral diplomacy in the UN by the quality and talent of the individual we sent in Ambassador Susan Rice to represent us. From the very first days of this Administration, we have been working to – with our UN counterparts, with Ban Ki-moon and with others, and obviously in the different councils – to advance global interests because we see a real commonality of interests.
And so the Obama Administration is most certainly committed to a strong multilateral partnership as we move forward. And the President, in fact, has taken a real keen interest, and as you’ve seen, he was the first one to chair a UN Security Council session on nonproliferation. That’s something that was quite important, I think, to the world. We have passed important UN Security Council resolutions with regards to sanctions referring to Iran and North Korea, also for women’s security. There’s a real active U.S. diplomatic engagement at the United Nations.
And what I have experienced in both trips – in fact, Ben Chang was a UN veteran and has gone up as well when we were at the UN, both in 2009 and this past fall in 2010 – is great receptivity by all countries pretty much represented at the United Nations of wanting to work with the United States, again, to address these global challenges. That’s something that the President is keen on. We recognize the United States cannot go at it alone, that the questions and issues that confront citizens around the world, whether it’s poverty, development, and we’ve got, obviously the UN Millennium Development Goals, are things that need to be addressed by the global community. And therefore, that is something we will continue to very much work on and work with with our UN partners.
Let me go --
QUESTION: I have a follow-up.
MR. HAMMER: You do? Okay.
MODERATOR: Can you wait for the microphone?
QUESTION: Sorry. My name is Yashwant. There was a question from New York and the second question was on UN Security Council reforms, which went unanswered, I think, Mike.
MR. HAMMER: Well, clearly, on the UN – I don’t know if he was – yeah. I mean, we are looking to have UN Security Council reform. We have – as it was made clear, the President announced in our visit in India our support for India in the UN Security Council. But we also recognize that these reforms take considerable effort and time. And that’s something that, obviously, Ambassador Rice will be working on very diligently and forcefully over the coming months. And we need to just give it time to realize that the world has evolved. It no longer reflects – in some ways, the UN no longer reflects some of the realities of today. And therefore, we’ll continue to work on that.
Here in the front.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mike. Min Lee with Phoenix TV, Hong Kong. On China, my question is: Both the U.S. and China agree that President Hu had a good visit here last week. And how did the visit actually enhance the relationship of China and the U.S.? And looking forward, how are the two sides going to work on the differences, such as the Chinese currency issue?
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, I think what you saw is that – and I’ll start with the end of your question. We are working to address those differences. When we have concerns, whether it’s on currency or human rights or other issues, we raise them very directly, frankly. And I think we’ll continue to see movement. That’s important for the bilateral relationship; that’s important for the world. And I think that much is said about potential conflict, but I think both countries are interested, again, in the kind of positive, constructive, and comprehensive relationship that all in the world would probably benefit from.
I think that the state visit was an expression of this relationship. I think you saw very important trade deals, which are good for American workers to have, again, the kind of relationship that allows for freer trade, for a more level playing field for U.S. business in China. So we’ll continue to work on that relationship. We are very thoroughly engaged in addressing some difficult issues. We’ve had excellent cooperation with China on Iran. We have had excellent cooperation on North Korea. You have seen some important steps come as a result of that visit here by President Hu with regards to that situation.
And so, again, we are looking for ways that we can cooperate together around the globe, and we have done so. And I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention also some helpful steps being taken in Sudan. So again, there’s a great opportunity here to expand the depth of the relationship and our cooperative efforts.
Can we go over there? Yeah. Gregorio, I would be remiss if I didn’t call on you.
MR. HAMMER: No. Right behind you. Unless your name is Gregorio, then – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Mike, well, first of all, I would like to know – Secretary Clinton had mentioned in Mexico that the White House is supporting Mexico with $500 million for the war on drugs. Can you explain where this coming – where this money is going to come from, if you can tell us? And in the other hand, there is a congressional report saying that the violence of the Mexican drug cartels is highly organized, exceptionally brutal, and qualitatively different that make these cartels more similar to terrorist groups. Do you share with these points of view?
MR. HAMMER: Right. I think on the first question, I’ll have to defer you to the State Department in terms of how they’re going to do their budget and addressing this commitment that Secretary Clinton spoke of.
With regards to the second, I mean, it – again, people are looking at trying to assign certain labels. The reality is that, as you described, the drug cartels in Mexico are brutal, violent, despicable, and a real threat to Mexican security, and it’s something that the United States wants and is partnering with Mexico to address. These are criminal gangs that are trying to make profit out of illegal activities, and we need to use the measures of justice and, obviously, cooperation to try to address and combat this very dangerous and lethal problem.
And we really do recognize the tremendous efforts by President Calderon and his administration to take this challenge on. We realize the great challenge that it is. But what you – I think you’ve seen over the last two years is a very close partnership and growing partnership with the United States to address this problem. And so I think going forward, that’s what you’re going to see, again, a real willingness on the part of the United States to work with Mexico on this very difficult but important drug cartel issue.
Let’s go maybe over here. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, yes. My name is Sina Alinejad from BBC Persian. Following up on my colleague’s question --
MR. HAMMER: Oh, that’s not fair, guys. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. My question is that – what was exactly offered to Iran this Saturday?
MR. HAMMER: That’s an easy question, because I’m not going to get into it. But --
QUESTION: Any hint? (Laughter.) What about accepting somehow Iran continue to enrich uranium?
MR. HAMMER: What is clear is that Iran came unwilling to engage. They set certain preconditions which were unacceptable. And what they saw in Istanbul is a P-5+1 that is unified and made very clear that it is Iran that needs to take the necessary steps to address the concerns of the international community. It is Iran that needs to demonstrate the peaceful purposes of its nuclear energy program, something it has been unable to do. And it is Iran that is the only country that’s an NPT signatory that it seems unable to cooperate with the IAEA and live by its international obligations. So the onus is on Iran.
I did mention, and we have said, that we have presented some proposals that would allow Iran to start building some confidence. It has not chosen, thus far, to engage on them. You are familiar with the previous Tehran research reactor proposal. Obviously, that would need to be updated to reflect the current realities that Iran has continued to enrich. But without, again, getting into the details, it is fair to say that we in the P-5+1 have been willing to put forward ideas, which, if Iran is prepared to undertake, I think can lead to a path forward that addresses the international community’s concerns.
Here, why don’t we come over here.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mike, for doing this. Kazuhiro Kimura with Kyodo News. My question is about the U.S.-China relationship, especially on the nuclear front.
President Obama said in Seoul, I think last November, that U.S. and China share the special obligation to deal with the nuclear proliferation issue. And we all know that United States is engaging China on North Korea and Iran issue on both the bilateral and multilateral stage. But is the Administration willing to engage China on nuclear arms reduction issue or the cooperation in the nuclear security issue in the near future, or you’d rather leave it on the later stage?
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, we did have what we thought was a very successful Nuclear Security Summit here in April of last year, in which President Hu came. And we had discussions, frankly, on the nuclear security issues, how to safeguard nuclear materials. There’s a real need to ensure that the international community, all countries with nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programs, work together to ensure that these materials are not – or do not fall into the wrong hands and present an opportunity for a terrorist group to do us all tremendous harm. So it is a very high priority of the Administration.
So I would just say that, in fact, we do have these kinds of conversations not only with our Chinese counterparts, but the President had these kind of discussions with over 40 leaders in what I would remind you was the largest summit ever held in Washington, and one which I think produced very tangible and meaningful results. And then of course, we’ll look to Korea in 2011, where the next summit will be to continue on in the work that we’ve launched from that other summit here in Washington.
MR. HAMMER: Again, we’ll have to see how that fits in. Clearly, we are and have taken important steps with Russia on the arms reduction piece; that’s a very high priority. It was for the President, it’s an agreement that has been reached with the Russian Federation and President Medvedev. And we are also going to look to see if we can go further. I think the President has a very ambitious agenda and we’ll continue to work on these issues.
I have time maybe for a couple more questions. Now I’ll go back to you. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, me?
MR. HAMMER: Yeah, absolutely. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Sure.
QUESTION: Sonia Schott, Globovision, Venezuela. Mr. Hammer, regarding the international institution, what about the OAS? What will be the U.S. role in the OAS trying to reform the institution? For some, this institution fell short in dealing with the democracy challenge, like in Venezuela.
And talking about Venezuela, are the U.S.-Venezuelan relations in a freeze mode? And what need to be happen to de-freeze or to overcome this diplomatic impasse? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Well, clearly, we have wanted to have a better relationship with Venezuela, and unfortunately, it has not realized. We are concerned about the domestic situation and issues of political freedom and freedom of expression in the media in Venezuela.
Relating to the OAS, I mean, we would like to see an effective and strong OAS that goes forward with the important democratic charter that was signed in Lima, Peru and set certain standards and criteria for the hemisphere. It is important to recognize that it does good work, and what it needs is the support of its fellow members to even be more effective. We cannot forget that in these multilateral institutions, it’s not only, sort of, we talk about it as an institution, but the institution can only be as strong as the sum of its parts – in other words, having everybody share the same common vision and objectives that allow people to realize their potential. So we’ll continue to work within that international forum as well as others to try to, again, advance U.S. interests, which we think marry up very well with the interests of others around the world.
And so I don’t have a clear answer on the freeze question. Really, it’s up to both parties to improve that relationship. We have certainly tried to make clear to President Chavez that we want to find areas of common purpose, where we can work together, and so hopefully, we’ll get there at some point.
Yes, one last question. We’ll come over here.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Nicolae Melinescu from Romanian Television. I have a question related to the New START agreement. How will this influence the relations between the U.S. and Romania, and the area of the Black Sea within the framework of the new agreement, considering the fact that Romania is the most Eastern NATO member and it is also a part – is going to be part of the missile defense? Thank you, sir.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, I think the short answer is Romania should feel more secure by the fact that U.S.-Russian relations have improved by the fact that we have reached this important agreement which reduces nuclear weapons. It’s – Romania should also feel more secure just from seeing the results of the NATO summit in Lisbon, whereby you saw Russia’s willingness to have discussions on missile defense.
And Romania is an important partner, in fact, as you pointed out, in the future vision of the missile defense system that we are planning to implement, that will defend the whole of Europe and the United States. And what you have seen, I think, on the part of the Obama Administration, is a concerted effort to improve security for not only the American people, but in this case, Europe and the rest of the world. And we’ve done that by building these partnerships, as I mentioned at the outset, with the key great powers and also recognizing emerging powers.
So with that, I think we’ve taken up a fair amount of your time. We don’t want the weather to go bad and prevent us from going home. I just wanted to say a couple parting words as I’m heading back to the State Department, as is my colleague, Ben Chang. You’ll find us at our new State addresses. It’s been a real privilege to come here to the Foreign Press Center and engage with you on occasion, and also to take your phone calls and emails at the White House.
You should now be turning your attention to my successor, Tommy Vietor, from the White House who knows these issues quite well, and the other colleagues that we have in that office, which include Bob Jensen and Shawn Turner. And of course you all will still have Natalie Wozniak, who is always helpful and a true institution in the NSC press office. So with that, thank you very much, and perhaps if you invite me to come again as a State Department official, perhaps I might be able to do that. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
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