2:30 P.M., EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much, Belinda and Neil, for hosting me once again here at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. And to our colleagues who are in New York, just in advance, we have a full room here, and I very much appreciate it knowing that today is quite a busy day in Washington. We have the arrival of Vice President Xi of China, we have the Secretary now currently meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey Davutoglu, we’ve got briefings that we’ve done on our budget by Deputy Secretary Nides and also the USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and we’ve even made an announcement about an upcoming trip that Glyn Davies is going to be taking to Beijing for a continuation of talks on North Korea.
I say that realizing that this room is probably full not because I’m briefing but because of the reception that’s happening afterwards. But hopefully this will also be worth your while. I will be making some brief remarks and then turn to your questions. I will focus really in the room because we have well over a hundred journalists here, and while I think we only have about six in New York, let me only just take one question from New York just in advance. I’m not ignoring you, New York. I’ll go up there and brief at some point, but today I think my attention is duly focused here.
What I thought I’d do is just spend a couple minutes just – it’s my first briefing here this year – to sort of review the agenda for 2012 to give you a sense of the tremendous scope of our foreign policy efforts led by the President and Secretary Clinton and the rest of the team and the State Department, what we’re doing to reinvigorate and continue reinvigorating U.S. leadership around the world, which is an ongoing effort. As I mentioned, we have a very busy day today, but it’s indicative of the work that we’re doing around the globe continually.
Just as you are probably aware, in the coming months, we have a number of important summits that continue to push forward on our foreign and international security policy agenda, including the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in March, where a big focus will be obviously on securing nuclear materials. You’ll have the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia in April, which is an opportunity for the democratically elected leaders of the hemisphere to get together and work through the issues that are of importance to the citizens of the hemisphere. In May you will have the summit in Chicago that the President will host with NATO, a key strategic alliance and partner, followed together with a G-8 summit. And then as we go forward, you will have a summit in Mexico for the G-20. And that shows just the scope and focus also on economic and financial matters.
What’s important here is that the United States is determined to continue our great partnerships and work with our alliances, whether that’s NATO or partnerships and alliance with Japan and Korea. At the same time, we’re looking to have constructive relationships with established powers. I think the Xi visit today reflects that with China. We’re working obviously with Russia. And we also recognize the emerging powers that we’re increasingly dealing with as we look to tackle the 21st century challenges that we commonly face. And those countries include Brazil, Indonesia, India, Turkey, as we see with today’s visit, Mexico, South Africa.
So we have a broad range of countries that we continue to reach out to, to try to address some of the common challenges in the best way that is possible. The Secretary has really urged us to be very forward-thinking in using 21st century statecraft and innovation as we try to advance American foreign policy around the world. And you may have seen that in this past month we had 21st Century Statecraft Month at the Department of State in which we’re using all types of platforms to communicate our foreign policies, whether it’s through our Twitter feeds – and we recently launched our 11th Twitter feed, Turkish Twitter feed – and we had these Twitter briefings that our spokesperson did in the month of January. I’m also involved now in Facebook. I will do a Facebook session tomorrow. So we’re actively using Facebook and YouTube and all possible platforms to make sure that we’re pushing forward and communicating our message.
A big piece of agenda obviously for the coming year is managing the challenges of the Arab Spring and also seizing the opportunities as people throughout the Middle East look to meet and achieve their political, economic opportunities and universal human rights and their aspirations. And we’ve seen the situations obviously over the last year evolve in Tunisia, Libya. We’re dealing with some issues with Egypt at the moment. We have elections coming up in Yemen that should mark a political transition. And then obviously we – a big topic of conversation today. I’m sure there may be a question or two on the situation in Syria.
Moving on, the Secretary has asked that we in the State Department put a very strong focus and effort on economic statecraft, so I think you’ve seen a stepped-up effort. And in the coming days, you’ll hear more about the Secretary’s global business conference that she’s hosting and promoting in terms of how the United States can do better business abroad.
And finally, we also are working on issues relating to women’s empowerment, and I think you’ll have later this week Melanne Verveer, our special envoy on women’s issues, will be coming here to speak to you at the Foreign Press Center on Wednesday, so I hope that you will find that also to be a productive opportunity to talk about those key issues.
And we have – as you probably heard a bit because of our budget presentation today, even though the State Department is only 1 percent of the federal budget, we are very keen on making the best use of those funds to advance diplomacy and transform the way we do development. So we’ve had through the Secretary’s initiative on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, we’ve had recent rollouts or introductions of new bureaus to do the work on key issues, like the Energy Bureau and the Conflict and Stabilization Operations Bureau and our Counterterrorism Bureau. So you see us at the State Department being extremely active on a number of issues, putting more muscle to diplomacy and hoping that that will help advance not only our interests but also, as I’ve mentioned, address some of the global challenges that we face.
So with that, let me just take some questions. Maybe we’ll start with Sonia up here up front – somebody that I recognize at least – and then we’ll move around the room. Is that okay?
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Thank you, Mr. Hammer. Sonia Schott with Globovision Venezuela. I was wondering if you have any reactions on the primary elections in Venezuela on Sunday. And the second one regarding the Summit of the Americas – who is going to be there from the U.S. and if there is any plan to have any bilateral with any of – any member of the Government of Venezuela? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Okay. Well, we certainly followed the primary this past weekend. What’s important here is that the Venezuelan people have an opportunity to participate in the democratic life of Venezuela and to express their views through free and fair elections. And this is just one piece of that process, and we’ll hope to see that going forward that there are opportunities for the Venezuelan people to express themselves and to be able to select their leaders.
With regards to the Summit of the Americas, we have a very robust agenda that will be dealing with a number of baskets that I think are important to the people of the hemisphere, including issues of energy security and issues relating to the security of people regarding the concerns of narco-trafficking and crime. We’re looking obviously to promote economic prosperity, and we’ll also be talking about issues of institution building and progressing with democratic efforts.
Now, as far as any specifics on bilaterals, it’s a bit premature to get into that. President Obama has said he’s going. I fully expect that Secretary Clinton will be able to go, and I imagine we’ll have a fairly robust delegation that will travel to Cartagena, because this is a very important summit and part of our ongoing commitment of partnership with the hemisphere to try to address common challenges. And so I can’t break any news today on potential bilateral – whether it’s with Venezuela or any other country, but we certainly look forward to what I am sure will be quite a productive summit.
All right. Let me take one question here.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. My question is I would like to hear your expectation to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit today from this podium. And also do you think the significance of this visit is going to set the tone for China-U.S. relationship in the next 10 years? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, as you mentioned, this is a very important visit. I believe my colleagues at the White House previewed it in a conference call on Friday just to give you a very good sense of the effort that’s being put into this important visit. We want to have very close contacts with the Chinese leadership at the most senior levels, and we’re seeing that as part of this Vice President Xi visit. As you may know, the Secretary and Vice President Biden are hosting a lunch for him tomorrow. He’s got a very full program, will see the President, and then he’s going to be travelling domestically in the United States. And it’s part of our ongoing effort to have a constructive relationship with China. We see this as a part of that ongoing dialogue where we will obviously be talking about a full range of issues – security, economic – but also raising issues where perhaps we don’t see eye to eye, or if we have issues relating to human rights, we’ll also be raising those as well.
So this is definitely an important visit. It’s hard to project where it will fit in terms of setting the agenda going forward for the next 10 years, but this is something that the United States is working very closely and directly with the Chinese leadership to try to ensure that we identify areas where we can work together. And when we can, we would welcome the opportunity to do so. And then when we disagree, we’ll just voice our disagreements.
So if we go – from the back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming here, Secretary.
MR. HAMMER: Sure.
QUESTION: My name is Chi Dong Lee from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Let me ask you two questions on Korea – North Korea, actually. I want to ask you about the timing of your announcement on the second – another round of talks with the North Korea. The announcement came hours before Vice Premier Xi’s trip to here – Xi’s trip here. So is that coincidence or a deliberate – I mean, did you consider his trip in making the decision on the timing of the announcement? This my first question.
The second question is that you keep saying – you kept saying that you’re waiting for productive signal from Pyongyang, North Korea. So since you made an announce – since you made a decision on the next talks, can I say that you received this productive signal from North Korea?
MR. HAMMER: Well, let me sort of address the first question. Obviously, today we announced Glyn Davies’s trip to Beijing for those meetings on the 23rd. These – setting forward with these types of talks, as you can probably imagine, is a fairly complicated, intricate process that requires, obviously, consultation on our part with our Six-Party partners, including the Government of the Republic of Korea. And so I wouldn’t read much into the specific timing. We are able to then make the announcement once an agreement is reached. Obviously, it’s quite complicated usually to reach these discussions. So once we have come to terms with the North Koreans and it’s decided that we’ll meet in Beijing, then we come forward and make the announcement.
The fact that we’re going to meet with them is an opportunity, obviously, for us to continue the prior meetings that we’ve had with North Korea both in July of last year in New York, and then more recently in October of last year in Geneva, to see if they’re serious and prepared to fulfill their commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of Six-Party Talks and as well as their commitments under the UN Security Council resolutions in meeting their international obligations, and finally, obviously, to start taking concrete steps to denuclearize the peninsula.
It’s certainly something that we want to look to see whether there’s a seriousness of purpose on the part of North Korea in agreeing to these talks. It’s important to have these talks. And again, in our consultations, our partners all felt it’s worth exploring to see if in fact North Korea’s prepared to take some of these steps. So it’s not a question of really trying to gauge some level of optimism, but rather realism. We’re trying to test the proposition, as we have, as to whether North Korea is willing to, one, go back to actually following through with its commitments and embark in a better path that allows for there to be perhaps potentially some Six-Party talks and move forward with this important agenda.
QUESTION: Just one quick follow. Is the issue of food aid for North Korea on agenda this time?
MR. HAMMER: Right. As you probably noticed from our announcement, our Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King is not going to be part of this delegation. It’s not a primary focus of these talks. Clearly, our Special Envoy Glyn Davies is prepared to listen and sort of engage on the issue were it to come up. But that’s definitely not the primary focus.
The one is – I’ll say is that because we’re so many, we’ll try to limit the amount of follow-ups, because otherwise we won’t be giving enough people sort of an opportunity. But I took that one so that’s okay, so I won’t say I won’t take any others.
Yeah. Maybe over here. Yes.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Hammer. My name is Adam Ouologuem. I’m from Mali and work for the African Sun Times. You know we are in the Black History Month, and Mali’s story has been teaching in the schools in DC, Virginia, and also in Maryland. And today our country’s under attacked. Even though we’re focus on the organization of the forthcoming election, presidential election on the 29th of April. What is your take of that? Is it possible to be in war and be a democratic country at the same time? Because we thought that we were a democratic country but you are attacked from people are asking to separate the north from the south. Even though in Mali, anyone can be president or anything we wants in Mali so far, we call ourselves democrat. What is your in take on the war in Mali?
MR. HAMMER: Well, we work with a number of countries, obviously, to try to strengthen democratic institutions, and obviously, to try to carry out free and fair elections that reflect the will of the people. Yes, Mali faces some critical challenges. We’re obviously prepared to assist if that’s in the interests of Mali and have to sort of review the amount of work we do together. But really, it’s something we recognize in a number of countries that, certainly when there is conflict, that puts a real – how should I say – pressure on any potential for democratic evolution. So it’s quite critical that – again, that you build the institutions in the justice system and the appropriate efforts are made to ensure that people can live in peace and therefore are better able to express themselves through elections and for a democracy, and obviously economic opportunity, to prosper.
Let me go over here. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m Mounzer Sleiman, Al Mayadeen network from Beirut, Lebanon. What’s the position of the United States regarding peacekeeping forces that the Arab League is calling for? And at the same time, is that topic was discussed with the Secretary with also Turkish foreign minister? And what’s your expectation for the upcoming conference for Friends of Syria that’s going to be held in Tunisia on the 24th?
MR. HAMMER: Well, first, I believe the Secretary is still meeting with Foreign Minister Davutoglu and she’ll have a press availability where I’m sure she will talk to the issues that were discussed. But I have no doubt that, obviously, the latest proposals put forth by the Arab League were highest on the agenda. I’d like to just say that on our part, we obviously applaud the Arab League’s continued leadership and efforts to end the Assad regime’s campaign of violence, and we strongly agree with the Arab League’s demand that these horrific acts end immediately and that there’s a full stop to the violence against the Syrian people and civilians, and call on the Syrian military to stop the siege of towns that really put people at risk.
We share the same goal. We want to end the violence and want that to end immediately. We are in the process of consulting with the Arab League regarding their ideas for this peacekeeping force, but recognize that there are going to be some serious challenges, including whether – given the double veto that occurred with the prior UN Security Resolution of Russia and China – whether such an effort could get through the Security Council.
So we’ll be, obviously, conducting future and further discussions with the Arab League in terms of getting a better understanding. But we have, in terms of our approach to Syria, basic sort of policy imperatives that we’re looking to advance. I mean, first we’re looking to increase the pressure on Assad and tighten the noose around his regime by working with other countries to strengthen sanctions and to put him at further diplomatic isolation. And you’ve seen a number of other countries expel Syrian diplomats. And it’s something that I think the people around Assad have to begin to wonder what their future will be once Assad goes.
Secondly, we will have a continuing outreach towards the Syrian opposition to try to work with them as they try to chart a vision for a better future for Syria, one in which they can move beyond the horrific recent past of seeing a regime turn against its own people – against the Syrian people.
Thirdly, we’re looking to see what’s possible on the humanitarian track. And I know that that’s one of the key topics that will be – is probably being discussed currently with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, because we are very keen to see what the international community can do in terms of humanitarian assistance to try to then move forward and help all those people who are in pretty desperate straits currently inside Syria.
And lastly, we’re obviously looking to support the Arab League’s efforts to start a process – a political process that expedites a transition to a freer and democratic Syria that doesn’t have Assad at its head. So these are issues that are being worked out very aggressively, and I’m sure will be discussed in Tunisia at this Friends of Syria group meeting that we expect on the 24th. We see an international community pretty united and determined to stand by the Syrian people. That’s the U.S. approach, and we’ll be seeing obviously, more of this effort in the coming days, including – I’m sure later when we hear from the Secretary, she’ll have more to say on it.
All right. Over there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is David Alandete with El Pais from Spain. I wanted to ask you to evaluate for us this coming year where the negotiations with other countries regarding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees may be, and if – are there any contacts – can you confirm that there are any contacts with the Taliban on – at least releasing or transferring five of them? Their names have been going around American media, so I wanted to know if you can confirm any of that. Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Buenas tardes. We have, obviously, looked to – and the President has worked to – try to close Guantanamo, and we still are working through issues relating to that. Specifically on the transfer of detainees, I think you’ve seen press reporting where we’ve made clear that this is not in the works at the moment. We are looking to work through reconciliation talks with the Taliban. We are interested in testing the proposition as to whether they’re prepared to seriously move forward in accepting the Afghan constitution and to renounce violence and al-Qaida and work to see if peace is achievable. But I think at this point, we continue to sort of focus on this effort knowing that in order to resolve this conflict not only do we have to continue – as Secretary says – to fight, but we also talk at the same time and build. And there’s an ongoing effort diplomatically by Ambassador Grossman and his team to see what might be possible, but I don’t have any news to make on that here today.
Yes? In the orange?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Hammer. I’m Gregory Ho from Radio Free Asia. This is concerning Chinese VP Xi Jinping’s visit. Since Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is pretty concerned about the – that U.S. is turning away a high-level Chinese diplomat, the police chief from Chongqing, for seeking political asylum last week in our consulate general’s office. The Congressman said this is will harm American’s intel-collecting abilities. So I want to know more about what happened during the 24 hours of intensive negotiations between the U.S. and China, question one. The second question is: Under what kinds of political and intel-calculation that the U.S. turn away Mr. Wang Lijun’s political asylum seeking for the – in the U.S.? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. I think we’ve addressed this issue from the podium at the State Department, but essentially, my understanding is that Mr. Wang decided to leave on his own volition. We understand, and I’ve heard Representative Rohrabacher’s concerns, and I’m sure we’ll answer his questions. So this really is something that has been dealt with, and I don’t have anything further to what we’ve said to add to this.
Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Jenny Ilustre with the Malaya Philippine English Daily. I’d like to ask about the official visit of Philippine President Aquino. We’re told it’s going to be in May or June, but what’s the real score on that and what are the possibilities it might not push through at all? And second question is what will be the main issues on the agenda? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, I’m not in a position to announce a visit at this time. I mean, clearly we’ve had very good discussions with the Philippine Government and we’re enjoying a very fruitful and productive relationship that we want to continue to build on. And when we meet any Philippine officials obviously we have a broad range of issues that we discuss in terms of economic issues, obviously issues of defense cooperation, issues that pertain to our bilateral relationship.
But also in the region, one of the key efforts that this Administration has made that you’ve, I’m sure, read a lot about, particularly with summit at APEC that the President hosted in Honolulu, is our pivot to Asia. And the Secretary’s first trip, as you all well know, began in Asia, reflecting our effort to reestablish ourselves and our presence as a Pacific power, and I think that’s something that’s been very welcome, including by the Philippines. So we’re going to be continuing these contacts and continue to have an intense diplomatic effort to ensure that as this 21st century gets underway and realizing all the tremendous economic opportunities that lie in Asia, that we are a part of that. And I think that’s what you’ll see.
Let me try to take one from New York, if there is somebody there. Looks like there may not be, so we’ll stay here. All right. We’ll go here. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Hammer. Maria Luisa Rossel, RPP Noticias, from Peru. I would like to know what’s the State Department’s reaction on the capture of Peru’s Shining Path’s Artemio and what does that mean for the Peruvian-U.S. efforts to fight our narco-terrorism in the Andean region? And last, what would happen with this $5 million that, at some point last year, the U.S. officially announced as a prize to whoever captured Artemio? It’s not clear in Lima how this money will be distributed, if it’s among the police or the military in general terms, or if it’s specifically to the team that captured Artemio in the Hullaga (ph). Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Well, first, we congratulate the Peruvian forces for their effort and for this remarkable achievement in capturing Artemio. And this is something that obviously we applaud and it’s welcome news for Peru as it tries to put behind the sad history of the Shining Path *. And we, the United States, continue to want to work with Peru in addressing issues of counterterrorism and this, I think, reflects really tremendous effort that was carried out to achieve this.
With regards to the specifics, I will confess I do not know exactly how these awards are then distributed. I’m sure in due time, if there was something that contributed to this capture then that these awards will then be sent forward to the appropriate individuals. We do have a reward program globally and any time that – sometimes this happens. It has to be worked through to then determine whether any monies are given to those that may have contributed to the effort. So thank you.
And let me just go in the back over there. Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: You were just talking about Chicago summit and the reconciliation effort with Taliban. What are your expectations from Pakistan, that is just in the neighborhood last year has been one of the most troubled years in their relationship? And what are your expectations as you – we have heard that the United States are awaiting recommendations of the parliamentary review. But what are the realistic expectations that you would be able to salvage something out of the relationship after those recommendations are forwarded? Because some of the critical issues on the war against terror in Pakistani tribal areas, on the drone attacks, on the militancy inside Pakistan, those remain there. Even today, the Pakistani parliament has passed a resolution saying that United States is meddling in Pakistan’s affairs, asking for drone attacks to be closed down. So what is your take on that?
MR. HAMMER: All right. Well, thank you for your question. I mean, clearly we have had a very challenging and difficult period in our relationship with Pakistan. But I think both capitols and both peoples and both governments realize that we need to get through this difficult period and continue to work together. The extremist threat is a threat that is a threat for Pakistan as well as to the United States, and Pakistan has put tremendous efforts forward and lost a lot of lives in fighting the extremists who want to do harm to Pakistanis as well as to Americans and our allies.
And so we wait for the determination of the Pakistani parliament in terms of what they find, but continue to reach out to the authorities in Pakistan, because we feel that we need to work together to address these challenges in order to try to bring some peace for the people in these areas and to try and eliminate the threat of terrorism against our people, both Pakistanis, Americans, and other allies. So I will not venture to forecast where we’ll head in terms of the bilateral relationship, but I think, again, because there is a willingness on both sides to continue to work together, I think we’ll navigate through these difficult or troubled waters and find a common ground, because I think that’s what ultimately serves both countries’ interest. So we’ll continue to work at it. We continue to have discussions – productive ones, on some issues, even while there are other challenges, and we’ll just have to see what the days and weeks ahead have in store. But from the part of the United States, clearly we are interested in a positive relationship that benefits both countries.
Maybe right over here, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Silvia Youseff from the German Press Agency. Question on Central America. President – the new President of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina is pushing for a new plan for Central America regarding the anti-drug effort, which would imply kind of liberalization or de-penalization of drug trafficking. I understand that the U.S. Embassy has already sent out a message saying they’re not very happy. I was wondering if you could comment a bit more on that. And if this plan goes forward, if the U.S. would revise their heads (ph) in the (inaudible) program.
And if I may, I have a quick follow-up on the America Summit. Colombia has said they might send an invitation to Cuba. If this invitation was issued for Raul Castro to go, would the U.S. rethink their assistance to the summit? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Okay. Thanks. First, I did see press reports about President Molina’s comments. I think our position is pretty clear. We oppose the legalization of drugs and that’s very self-evident in terms of our policy. We do understand the frustration of our partners in Central America who are dealing with the criminality and the violence that comes from those drug traffickers and are looking to try to find ways to address it effectively. We believe that the best way is to work through partnerships like what we’ve seen with SICA and assisting the Central American countries come together to develop better ways to counter the drug violence, to counter drug trafficking and the ills that come of it. And so that’s the focus of our efforts, to continue to work with those governments, to find ways to strengthen judicial institutions, strengthening policing, and to make sure that we have the systems in place to address the scourge of drugs.
Pivoting to your other question on the summit, it’s pretty clear that through the OAS and what was decided in Quebec in 2001 that only the democratically elected leaders of the hemisphere are those that are invited to participate at the Summit of the Americas. So there is a process, in fact, that has been laid out, were Cuba to wish to participate, that the OAS has presented, but to this date there’s been no effort, as I understand it, from the part of the Cuban Government to engage in that process or to meet some of the concerns that would make it eligible to participate. So really the message is to Havana that if it wishes to participate it should engage through the OAS process and address some of the concerns that go to basic freedoms which are denied to the Cuban people and go to basic issues of free speech and concerns about political dissidents and the lack of democracy which currently exists in Cuba.
Yeah. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Nicolae Melinescu. I’m from the National Television of Romania. First of all, I must confess that I’m here for the briefing and not for the party. (Laughter.)
MR. HAMMER: Oh, thank you.
QUESTION: And one of the reasons is that the leader of the Romanian opposition is visiting Washington starting this afternoon. It’s very likely that he will have meetings with State Department people. So my question is: How could the opposition help the development of the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Romania? Thank you very much.
MR. HAMMER: Yeah. Well, I’m sure everyone actually here is in fact for the briefing, because the reception – look, several people are leaving already. The reception starts in five minutes. I think that’s my cue to end this pretty soon.
But with regards to your question, I don't know the specifics of the visit that you’re talking about, but we routinely speak with different opposition folks from countries around the world. We like to not only have an ongoing dialogue with the governments in power but also to continue to have the connections to oppositions to hear their concerns and to also see what the best way forward is on a number of issues. On this, I would just have to wait until in fact these meetings – if in fact they do occur, for them – us to be able to talk about them. But again, it’s our – always our intention in democratic countries to be talking not only to the ruling elite but also to the opposition. And also in countries obviously where democracy is also not thriving, it’s very important and even more important to talk to the opposition and make sure that we are hearing what the circumstances are, the political, economic environment that they’re in and the situation with regards to human rights.
Maybe I’ll take a couple more questions. Yes, sir. Then I’ll come over to this side.
QUESTION: Jose Lopez, Notimex. Your budget request for Mexico clearly focuses on several issues, but especially – specifically on the fact that you would like to continue the fight against drug trafficking, strengthen the rule of law, and work with the (inaudible) Government of Mexico. Have you sought or received any assurances from the three main parties that this will be the case? And secondly, what’s the main focus of Secretary Clinton’s upcoming trip to Mexico?
MR. HAMMER: Well, first, I would say that we’ve had a terrific and close relationship and partnership with President Calderon on the issues that you outline in terms of our joint efforts at combating narco-trafficking, both on our end accepting our responsibility to try to address issues of demand and obviously working with the Mexican Government to strengthen their ability to talk on the cartels.
Really our request – you know our budgetary process is very forward looking. It looks to 2013. We’re just now beginning 2012, so we have to project in terms of what we anticipate will be continued close cooperation with whoever leads Mexico after the upcoming elections. And we’re not in the process right now of talking to any other candidates about that but rather are basing our projected request on the fact that we have enjoyed close cooperation with Mexico with different parties and we look to continue that, given that both countries have a common interest in obviously tempering the risk that comes from these cartels and to combating them effectively so that they’re not a risk for Mexican citizens or Americans. And so we need to continue to work together.
You mentioned an upcoming trip by the Secretary. When it’s announced, I’m sure we’ll have more of an opportunity to discuss it. Thank you.
Maybe – oh, Laura’s here. I have to call on her just for old time’s sake. She sat the way in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mike.
MR. HAMMER: Hi.
QUESTION: And as usual, I think it’s important for you to speak often to the Foreign Press here in Washington.
MR. HAMMER: We hear you loud and clear.
QUESTION: Regarding the Iranian situation, what’s your assessment about the Israeli threat to attack Iran with or without a U.S. agreement?
MR. HAMMER: Right. I mean, well clearly the President has spoken to this issue. We are very much focused on a diplomatic effort at the moment to try to encourage Iran to live up to its international obligations. They are facing the most challenging and difficult sanctions they have ever faced, given the cooperation of the international community, both our unilateral sanctions but also those of the EU and partner countries around the world. So these sanctions are biting. We continue to hope that it will make the Iranian leadership realize that the best way forward is to engage in a dialogue. As we’ve said, the door to diplomacy remains open. There’s an open invitation from the P-5+1, based on Lady Ashton’s letter, which has yet to be responded to. So that is really the focus of our efforts. While we will not take any options off the table, we still think that there’s time for this to be resolved diplomatically, and that’s precisely the type of effort that we’re engaged in every day.
I think probably one or two more questions. I said I’d come over to this side. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Tomas Paggini with Swiss Radio RSI. On Friday, a federal district judge in New York declared the Swiss Bank Wegelin fugitive, and the bank didn’t show up at the hearing. It was indicted for conspiracy and tax fraud. And the judge suggested to the prosecution to seek the involvement of the State Department in order to somehow secure the bank. I was wondering if you had something on that and if you could say something on the global talks going on with Switzerland on that issue.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Unfortunately, I do not. We’ll have to see if perhaps in the coming days there’s a request for us to become involved on these issues. I haven’t heard that we have been, so we’ll have to get back to you in the coming days.
One more last question. Yes, sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Uros Piper for Tanjung News Agency from Serbia. I’m interested – what do you think about Serbian President Tadic’s plan on Kosovo? And do you think that Serbia in this moment deserves to get EU candidacy status in March? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. I have to acknowledge that I’m not prepared to answer that question. It’s always the last ones that get you, and I was doing all right till then, so I guess since I was starting to think about this reception coming up. So I don’t – I can’t get to the specifics on the plan. I mean, obviously we are always looking to see that countries like Serbia become better integrated into the rest of Europe. That’s a decision obviously for the European Union to take up. These countries like Serbia have been through very difficult times, and as it becomes better integrated into the rest of Europe, that can be for the benefit of all, so we’ll have to wait on that.
Before I conclude, I just wanted to sort of recognize a couple of people that have been here at the Foreign Press Center and are moving on, although one of them is coming back. You may know Mike Kiel, who is – yeah – anyway. (Applause.) Oh, there’s clapping even. I don't know if Mike’s around, but – oh, there he – he’s coming. So it’s good always to embarrass folks. But he actually is going to be away for a year, and we’ll try to manage without him. He’s volunteered to do a tour in Islamabad, so we wish him safe travels, and we will try to keep things afloat while he’s here. Martin Oppus is actually – I don't know if he’s here, but he will try to fill in for Mike while he’s away. So you will continue to be well served here by OBS.
I also wanted to mention Jonathan Turner. I don't know if he’s here. He’s a Franklin fellow, and these are folks that volunteer their time and work with us, and we very much appreciate the efforts that he’s made.
This is Martin Oppus, by the way, so you’ll be seeing --
MR. KIEL: He has my phone number. You all have it so (inaudible) as much as you want (inaudible.)
MR. HAMMER: Right. And so with – so welcome to Martin to the Bureau of Public Affairs. And then with the case of Jonathan, wish him the best of luck as he moves on. He’s a New Yorker, so I suspect that either way he was quite thrilled with the Giants victory or with the fact that the Giants beat one of the Jets archenemies in New England. So are you coming up here? Are you a Giants or a Jets fan? Neither? Giants. There we go. Well, as a Redskin fan, I hate to say it, but congratulations.
And so with that, I would also just recognize that we have great folks here supporting you at the Foreign Press Center, the staff. We also now have our sort of Rapid Response Unit that works here. Hopefully you’ll find your interactions with them helpful, and of course the OBS team. So I hope we continue to serve you and the foreign press well. We’ll try to make these briefings a little more regular as we go into 2012. I can’t promise receptions each and every time, but hopefully a little bit of entertainment. So thank you very much and enjoy the reception.
* For information on the Narcotics Rewards Program, please go to http://www.state.gov/j/inl/narc/rewards/index.htm
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