4:00 P.M., EST
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I’m Alyson Grunder, the director of the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re so pleased to see so many of you here today for our briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary Mike Hammer. I want it to be noted that he is a man who keeps his promises. When he briefed at the Washington Foreign Press Center in February, he promised he would come up here too, and he has met that commitment. So we thank you. And I’ll give you the podium right away.
MR. HAMMER: Terrific. Thank you very much, Alyson. And I see that we’ve got the right formula. When I briefed last at the Washington Press Center, it was a packed room, and there happened to be a reception afterwards. And today, I see we have a packed room and we have a reception afterwards. So we’ll make sure not to make this go too long, so that we can in fact enjoy the annual reception. But I want to first thank Alyson, our new director here at the Foreign Press Center. I trust you all have gotten to meet her and her wonderful staff: Mark Thorn and Melissa Waheibi, Jonathon Wyett, and Ariel Howard. Ariel used to work with me down in Washington, so you know that we only send the very, very best up here to support you when I let her come here to New York, a wonderful city and a wonderful place to work.
I thought that first I’d just give a little retrospective. You all probably remember UNGA, or have tried to forget it, but the UN General Assembly is obviously the time of the year where there’s a lot of activity here at the New York Foreign Press Center. We supported nine special briefings, and included a wide variety of topics, whether it was food security, the global health initiative, global counterterrorism. And I even came down and briefed at that time, so, it’s going to happen again, I’m sure, in September. But as part of Alyson’s mandate and part of the work that we’re doing, we hope to provide even more opportunities to interact with you.
And in that regard, you may have heard that the Secretary very recently has been putting quite a strong focus on economic statecraft, which is important work for the Department of State, which I think relates very well to some of the interests, particularly here in New York, the financial – if I may – capital of the world.
And with that, I know that Alyson and her team have put together a really terrific program that many of you signed up for with our Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environmental Affairs Robert Hormats, who’s going to be coming here to brief on March 29th. And associated with that, there’s a Wall Street – Main Street reporting tour, which I understand is oversubscribed, but Alyson’s already promised me that, given the level of interest, they will venture to do more of these. And she will, I’m sure, appreciate your feedback as far as the kinds of activities that you find useful so that we can better serve your interests.
Beyond that, we might also be able to have our new chief economist at the State Department brief here. You may have read that Heidi Crebo-Rediker has now joined us, and that’s another person who’s going to be focusing on these issues that Secretary Clinton feels are very important in terms of the efforts that we’re doing to harness economic resources to advance our foreign policy, but also to employ the tools of foreign policy to shore up our economic strength. And the focus is very much to create a level playing field, which I think serves the interests of all our respective countries in ensuring transparency, combating corruption, promoting an attractive investment climate.
And this affects all regions of the world, and it’s something that obviously we’ve seen in the great cooperation that’s taking place at the highest levels of our government with European countries in terms of the most recent Eurozone crisis, but also starting with the G-20 and using that forum to really advance some of our key global economic interests, working together to avert a financial crisis.
As part of the economic statecraft and in recognition of the importance of economics in the future as well as for our benefit, you have probably heard a lot about the pivot to Asia that we have been very heavily engaged in, first with Secretary Clinton taking her first trip as Secretary of State to Asia, and then culminating most recently with the APEC summit that the President hosted in Honolulu. But it’s a recognition that the United States is a Pacific power and we have important interests in Asia and we want to continue to foster strong economic cooperation.
And you’ve probably read a bit about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is important as a regional organization, but also as it includes a couple countries in Latin America, including Peru and Chile, and the possibilities of others who want to join. And that also ties in with the economic and integration efforts that we’re looking at in our own hemisphere. In the Western Hemisphere, you have a very important summit coming up in April, the Summit of the Americas, the theme being Connecting the Americas, Partners for Prosperity, where we’re again looking to see how we can together be working to advance the basic rights of our people, but also advance economic prosperity by trying to ensure energy availability, greater social inclusion, private-public partnerships, and working to create greater opportunities. We’ve seen passage of important trade agreements over the past year with Colombia, Panama, and of course the Korea Free Trade Agreement. And so we’re looking to see how we can continue to partner with countries in the hemisphere to advance those interests.
Moving on, as part of recognition of the importance of Africa in terms of potential markets there, we are very focused on trying to encourage and foster the development of a middle class.
And as part of all these efforts, you’ve probably heard Secretary Clinton talk quite a bit about the importance of empowering women and girls, who not only are 50 percent, obviously, of the world’s population, but increasing their participation in the economy is important to enhancing efficiency and productivity, and bringing, in fact, greater stability. I would just note that The Economist found in one of their articles that over the last decade, women’s increased participation in the labor market in the developed world accounted for a greater share of global growth than China, which is fairly remarkable. So this is an issue that obviously we work very hard on at the State Department, but I think that serves all our interests.
And before concluding, and focusing on your questions, I wanted to say a word about the work that we do in the Public Affairs Bureau at the State Department. The Secretary has challenged us to make sure that we’re using 21st century statecraft and innovation. And as part of that effort to better communicate U.S. policies to the world, as you’ve probably heard, we have launched 10 foreign language Twitter feeds. The most recent one we launched in January, which was Turkish, and that adds to the others – Farsi, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, and Chinese. So we have really made an effort to try to reach out to broader audiences to communicate our policies, and we think that’s very important as we try to explain what we’re doing around the globe.
And further to that, we’re obviously using Youtube and Facebook. I did a Facebook chat not too long ago. Even Twitter briefings -- we are doing them in different languages. I’ve done one in Spanish. And we very recently launched our first Spanish briefing at the State Department. Again, this is part of our ongoing effort to communicate more and better with the world in terms of our policies.
We have a very busy agenda coming up in the next few months in terms of our foreign policy and our global efforts. You have this coming weekend the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul that President Obama will be going to, followed then in April, as I mentioned, by the Summit of the Americas in Catagena, Colombia. Then you have in May two summits back to back. You’ll have a G-8 summit at Camp David in Washington, followed by a NATO summit in Chicago. And then later on in Mexico, you will have the G-20. So we have a steady level of diplomatic activity that brings a lot of our leaders together, and obviously the Secretary will be doing her own travel and engagement with many parts of the world surely represented here.
So with that, let me just move on and take your questions. I think, we’ll see.
Maybe Janine? You want to take a crack? Yeah, sure. Thanks.
QUESTION: Well first of all, thanks for your time Assistant Secretary Hammer. The DPRK had announced that it will launch a satellite in mid-April. I just wanted to know how is the U.S. viewing this announcement in light of recent – their recent agreement reached by the nations? And if in fact there’s a launch, will it affect the promised food aid to the DPRK?
MR. HAMMER: Yeah. Thanks, Janine. That is a question and a matter of concern, the announcement. A North Korean missile launch would be highly provocative. As you’re probably well aware, we’ve spoken to this issue. In fact, most of our Six-Party partners have come out and spoken to this issue with a level of concern, including China, because these would be in violation of UN Security Council’s Resolutions 1718 and 1874, and these resolutions make clear that North Korea needs to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program. So we’ve expressed these views.
With regards to, as you mentioned, food assistance, our decisions on food assistance are not tied to other issues. We are concerned, obviously, about the welfare of the North Korean people. But that said, if they go forward with this launch, it calls into question not only their international obligations but also their obligations to the United States through the so-called leap year agreement and would really make us wonder about other commitments, and it’s hard to see how that could go forward.
So I hope that addresses your question.
MODERATOR: Before we go to the next question, can I just have everybody turn off their Blackberries off so we don’t get any feedback.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. And if you also wouldn’t mind identifying who you are, so I’m able to start to get to know you a little bit better.
QUESTION: Hi, Assistant Secretary. Thank you very much. This is Kahraman Haliscelik with Turkish Radio and Television. On Syria today, the UN Security Council had a Presidential Statement endorsing Kofi Annan’s mission. Does the U.S. see any solution with President Assad in power? And if not, how are you going to convince the Russians and the Chinese to have a peaceful political settlement in Syria?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, as you probably heard Secretary Clinton say today, this presidential statement at the UN Security Council underscores the unified support for Joint Special Envoy Annan and his mission and his proposal to the Syrian regime. We view it as a strong and positive step. We obviously are looking – and the Security Council now has spoken clearly and with a single voice that Assad must stop the violence, stop the human rights violations, and admit humanitarian assistance. And there’s a six-point plan that Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan has presented to the Syrian regime, and we’re looking to see – and expect a quick response and positive response.
In terms of the future of Syria, I think we’ve been very clear in stating that Assad must step down. Of course, we’ll have to see how this plays out. I think the mounting international pressure that we’ve seen in today’s statement reflects even a further international consensus in terms of the need, obviously, to move forward and to support Kofi Annan’s mission. So we will continue to be pressing on this front. And we shouldn’t lose sight of the tremendous tragedy that is occurring in Syria and how urgent it is for the international community to continue to press for an end to violence and obviously to find a political way forward.
QUESTION: My name is Erol Avdovic. I represent Dnevni Avaz Daily, the biggest daily from Bosnia and Herzegovina, based in Sarajevo. I’m here in New York. My question is: We know that as much as we know for the NATO summit in Chicago, we know that it’s not going to be about the enlargement, if I’m not frank. But anyhow, how would you assess the changes of Macedonia at that NATO summit to be discussed in a way to be accepted as a member to the membership, and also Bosnia and Herzegovina in the MAP, Membership Action Plan? And if I may add only, what is the position of United States regarding the candidacy of Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić for the 67th upcoming General Assembly president, bearing in mind that Lithuania already announced its candidacy with its representative eight years ago? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: All right. Thank you for that question. We certainly are very focused on the NATO summit in Chicago as a really important follow-on to the Lisbon summit. Not only will we be discussing, as everybody well knows, the future mission of the ISAF-NATO mission in Afghanistan, which will be a core discussion for our allies and ourselves, but from the U.S. perspective, we want to ensure that this transatlantic alliance remains the premier and preeminent defense and security alliance in the world. And we want to strengthen the capabilities and to clearly be talking about a number of issues in terms of what, over the past years, including the NATO mission and the contributions of others in Libya and the successes that were achieved there.
But in terms of your specific questions relating to, whether it’s Macedonia or Bosnia, I won’t be able to get into the specifics on enlargement as it relates to this particular summit. But I understand that, in fact, Bosnia is working to meet NATO’s full participation requirements in terms of the Membership Action Plan and that they’re working to make progress towards that. And in fact, the formation of the government there finally does help in terms of moving forward with that.
With regards to the candidacy question that you asked, I will admit I’m not up to date on the particulars. And even if I were, I probably wouldn’t be commenting on any particular individual aspirations in terms of the position.
QUESTION: Stephane Bussard, Le Temps newspaper in Switzerland. I have a question about the nuclear issue. In 2010, President Obama committed himself to substantially participating in a nuclear-free Middle East conference. I was wondering if you could update us on that, how far have we been there, because we haven’t heard of – about that anymore.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, first, let me just start with the President and this Administration’s very strong commitment to nonproliferation issues. As you may recall in the President’s speech in Prague, he laid out a very visionary view of how important it is to eventually get to a world without nuclear weapons. And in fact, we have acted on our own commitments by achieving a very important arms control treaty, the New START Treaty with Russia, which has reduced our own nuclear arsenals. And the President, in fact, is going this coming weekend to Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit, which is a follow-on to the summit that we had in 2010 in Washington. And that’s focused on securing and locking down nuclear materials so they can’t fall into the hands of terrorists, which would be a tremendous threat to any of our countries.
I would have to say that on the specific question of the participation or what happens next in terms of the Middle East, I’m not up to date on that particular element. From the United States perspective, we are working very hard on these issues because proliferation issues are critically important. We are, as you all well know, concerned about North Korea’s program. On Iran, we have made very clear that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons, and we’re working together with the international community to try to get Iran to meet its international obligations.
So these are top priority issues that we’re working on every day and that, of course, will be featured and highlighted in the very near future in terms of the meetings that will happen in Seoul.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Buenos tardes. Andres Correa, El Universal, Venezuela. I have two questions for you. The number one is: At this point, the U.S. has no ambassadors in two South American countries. Don’t you consider that unusual, especially for a Democrat administration?
And the second one: Considering the rumors of the health of the President Chavez and also the upcoming elections in Venezuela, do you think – how do you see that could affect the relations between the U.S. and Latin America and also the presence of Iran in the western hemisphere in the last years? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah. There are a lot of questions tied up in that one. First, let me just say with regards to President Chavez and his health, we wish him well. We don’t have any details in terms of his recovery, but he’s now back in Venezuela. And as we transition and look to the question of the elections, what the United States wants to see is a process that allows the Venezuelan people to freely elect their future leader.
You mentioned a couple other issues, one being Iran’s activities in the region. If I may, it’s something that we at the State Department follow very closely. When Ahmadinejad went on his most recent tour, it seemed very much out of desperation, looking for friends, and it’s something that we don’t see him getting much traction on. And what we appeal to those countries where he does visit is that they send and deliver a strong message that when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, that they should listen to the world community and meet its international obligations.
Relating to the fact that we don’t have ambassadors in two countries – three, well, one we have nominated an ambassador, but we’re waiting for – in the case of Ecuador, Ambassador Namm, we’re waiting for his confirmation, which is a question of process relating to the U.S. Senate. And we hope he and others who are hoping to be confirmed are confirmed soon so that we can have them in place, because it’s important to advancing our bilateral ties.
In terms of the other two countries, Bolivia and Venezuela, we are interested in trying to see if we can resume having an ambassadorial presence in those countries. Of course, these are issues that need to be worked out by both parties. We believe that having an ambassador on the ground in any country really does serve the American interest of trying to engage in a dialogue that we see as based on mutual respect, where we can try to work on issues of mutual interest, and it does help advance our policies.
So we’re working on that. I don’t have any news to make with regards to those two countries. But again, just a reminder it does take both countries to come to an agreement before we can have diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level.
QUESTION: Hello? Yeah.
MR. HAMMER: Yeah. Hi, Alf. I hear you’re from Norway.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m from Norway.
MR. HAMMER: I served there, so --
QUESTION: I know. I know. We have you on WikiLeaks. Back to the NATO summit in May, this is a tumultuous time for NATO, and from your perspective, what should be the outcome of that meeting that you could call it a success?
MR. HAMMER: Well, not to get ahead of ourselves, but I think we are very high on NATO and with our European partners, we see a transatlantic bond that is effective and works to secure our national interests, and then when it’s called upon to act, as it did in the case of Libya, is extremely effective. And as we’re doing in Afghanistan, working together, we’ve made progress.
The biggest agenda item is, in fact, the situation in Afghanistan and continuing on on what was decided in Lisbon, the evolution of the mission, as has been described, to transition to an Afghan lead in 2013. And it’s important that we continue to work with the Afghan National Security Forces to ensure that they have the capability and then we move forward to a support role by the end of 2014.
But these are issues that will be discussed at the leader level. They will come to an agreement. As you’ve heard said many times before, we’ve come in, we went into Afghanistan together as an alliance and we want to leave together as an alliance. And we work extremely well to address some of the key critical components.
And we will also be discussing issues of missile defense, which are rather topical and important, again, to ensuring the security of the United States and Europe. And we will also be talking about military capabilities and the broad range of contributions that each country can bring to bear in an era of difficult economic times. But it’s important to maintain a certain level of defense. And also it will be, of course, having broad discussions with partner nations.
So it’s not a question of what will it take to make it a success. I think the discussions in and of themselves and having that kind of exchange at the leader level is useful to advancing the common defense and security interests that we share with our European partners.
I also don’t know if there’s anybody in Washington. No, you guys can continue to have your hands up, but if somebody does show up, I’ll be focused here, as when I brief there I’m focused there.
QUESTION: Mr. Hammer, Ying Guo from NTD Television. So my question is about China. The U.S. Congress is starting out an investigation of the Wang Lijun case. And Wang has been accused for his direct association with organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China. And some experts estimate that Wang’s – the documents that Wang submitted to the U.S. Consul reveals some details of the crime. So if it is true, how will the American Government deal with this high credential but appealing documents? And a further question: How will this Wang Lijun case impact the U.S. and China relationship in the future? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Right. Well, I will just say that really this case is an internal matter for China and we don’t have any views with regards to how that plays out. We will follow, of course, whatever our Congress decides in terms of pursuing information that they are interested in pursuing, but I really don’t have very much to add because, again, this is an internal matter for China.
QUESTION: Yes, this is Azim Mian from Geo TV and Daily Jang of Pakistan. Secretary Hammer, we are trying to pull out of Afghanistan in 2013 and onward, but right now I think the U.S. relationship with both the governments are going down the drain. They are having a lot of problems. Both governments – civilian governments – are corrupt, massively corrupt and misuse of American aid is already there. It is highlighted. It’s spotted. It’s audited. And it looks like Obama Administration has no concern about the aftermath of corruption as well as whatever is going on the ground on both side of the border of these two countries, because in Pakistan the government is also accused of having corruption, and because of corruption there is instability, there is no law and order over there. How do you react to this? Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: I react by disagreeing with you. We do care very much about questions of corruption, whether it’s in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any country that we have bilateral relations with. Obviously because it serves the best interests of those people in the countries affected, and it’s also, we think, in the U.S. interest that as we’re working with other countries that we try to root out the questions of corruption.
But taking the issue broader, and whether it relates to Afghanistan or in the case of Pakistan, we are interested in a strong bilateral relationship because we face common challenges, whether it’s the security challenge – and Pakistan has sacrificed considerably in terms of its own efforts to confront extremism. And it’s something that obviously we have partnered with together, but we’re also interested in the economic development of Pakistan so that Pakistanis can benefit from greater economic opportunity and development.
And there’s a broad range of issues that we’re wanting to and are cooperating with Pakistan that get beyond the counterterrorism issue that dominates the news. And at least by you asking the question, it does provide me at least an opportunity to highlight that, in fact, we do a lot of work with Pakistan in other areas that is important, and whether it’s to try to help with strengthening democratic institutions, whether it’s in the judicial sector, whether it’s in terms of economic efforts. And that’s something that is important to the people of Pakistan – promoting educational exchanges and so forth. In Afghanistan similarly, there are many, many programs, development programs that we are pushing forward that are for the benefit of the Afghan people.
And so yes, we recognize there are corruption problems and these need to be addressed, and we have very frank and open discussions about these issues and trying to promote greater transparency, to ensure that there’s greater accountability. And our effort is, in fact, meant to, over time, try to address these problems. But these relationships are important to the United States. We work on them every day. We have senior-level contacts constantly with both governments.
And again, I think that when you also talk about broader issues, we have this proposal of a New Silk Road which hopefully will be bringing together greater regional integration. There was a briefing here at the Foreign Press Center that we did precisely on this topic back in September. And perhaps we need to have somebody come up and talk a little bit more about it, but I’m sure it’ll be also featured at the NATO summit.
Because again, as you’re trying to bring greater cooperation and economic integration, you’re then better able to provide opportunity for the citizens. And most citizens, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for an ability to live in democracies that provide for them an economic opportunity.
I see there’s one person in Washington. Maybe we can go to her and then we’ll come back to you here.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for the opportunity, and I hope everyone has opportunity to come to Washington to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Absolutely. They are gorgeous, but you’d better hurry. They peaked early this year.
I’m sorry. I interrupted you.
QUESTION: My question to Assistant Secretary Hammer is: Do you have anything on the Hong Kong election which will take place on this Sunday? I mean, although it’s not a direct election, at least it provides some sort of legitimacy and some degree of openness to political reform, and that leads to my following question. Do you – what is the U.S. assessment in terms of will there be more discussion with the Chinese leaders of political reform, especially after the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said economic reform alone is not enough to maintain the social stability, more political reform is needed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, I prefer to actually talk about the cherry blossoms than – (laughter) – the upcoming election, so you’ll excuse that. I do encourage all of you to go down to Washington very soon and see the cherry blossoms.
No, these issues that you’re asking about in terms of reforms in China are for the Chinese Government to decide. What we do have is a constructive dialogue, and we are looking forward to the next Strategic and Economic Dialogue with our Chinese counterparts. And in fact, President Obama will be seeing President Hu just this coming weekend in Seoul. So it’s a constant effort that we have to discuss a number of issues of mutual and global concern with China, but on some of the issues that you asked about, I’m going to have to pass.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Gulveda Lama, Haberturk, Turkish news channel. I have a couple of questions. I’ll try to keep it short. While Turkey depends on crude oil exports from Iran, and yesterday the Secretary announced that the countries that – announced countries that will be exempt from sanctions that the Congress adopted last year for three months and mentioned that 12 countries that export oil from Iran will face sanctions. What kind of sanctions are you talking about? And will Turkey be considered among those 12 countries, given the fact that Turkey is heavily dependent on Iran?
And about the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea, yesterday White House officials said that Obama’s first bilateral meeting will be with the Turkish prime minister, and they’re expected to discuss Iran and Syria. Is there any meeting planned for the Secretary of State with her counterpart, Davutoglu? And what would be the focus of their meeting? In other words, what does the Administration expect from Turkey to do when it comes to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program?
And lastly, after last week --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: I should’ve been taking notes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: No. That’s --
QUESTION: After the last week’s unfortunate incident in Afghanistan, where 12 Turkish soldiers were killed, Turkey now is considering the future of its mission in Afghanistan, with possible withdrawal from Afghanistan. Any reaction to that from the State Department?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Let me see if I can work backwards and, hopefully, address your questions. First, of course, we express our condolences to the Turkish people on the loss of their forces there in Afghanistan. There’s been incredible sacrifice on the part of many nations who have been working together to try to ensure, one, that al-Qaida never reestablishes itself in Afghanistan and provides a threat or the type of attack that we saw very tragically here in this city on 9/11. And secondly, we’ve also all been working together to improve the security, but also provide for a better future for the Afghan people. So that effort is something that’s greatly appreciated by the United States. As we talked about in the earlier question, the leaders of NATO will be talking about, and ISAF will be talking about, what the future deployments are going to be in Afghanistan as we look to transition to an Afghan lead. So that’s what I would comment on that question.
With regards to the nuclear security summit, yes, the White House announced that President Obama will meet with Prime Minister Erdogan. It’s part of their ongoing excellent relationship and dialogue in terms of working together on key issues – in this case, most salient, as you pointed out, the situation in Syria, and also with respect to Iran.
Secretary Clinton is not traveling to Seoul, so I don’t know when her next meeting will be with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, but she is in very frequent contact, if not seeing him at the various ministerials that she attends where he’s at, and in particular with the Friends of Syria group meetings, but also he and she speak on the phone rather frequently because we value Turkey’s views and efforts in a number of these areas where we have common interests, and we’re trying to find the best way forward to address some of these vexing problems.
Lastly, to address questions relating to the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), I have reflected that, in fact, yesterday we made an announcement with regards to the 11 countries that we found have been meeting the requirement in terms of making significant strides towards reducing their dependence on Iranian crude in the European nations plus Japan.
With regards to those that might also be affected by the sanctions, there is an ongoing effort at talks to encourage those other countries that have significant oil trade with Iran to reduce it. And we see the actions taken by these other 11 countries as a very good indicator for others to look at the kind of actions that one would like to see the international community take, as particularly those countries, obviously, that are important trade partners of Iran.
And we must not lose sight of the purpose for this is to clearly send a message to the Iranian regime that it’s on the wrong course in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, that it needs to engage diplomatically, and we’re in the process now of trying to find a date and place for the next possible meeting of the P-5+1 with Iran. There was a meeting in Brussels yesterday, a preparatory meeting by the P-5+1. And so we’re ready to enter into discussions with Iran to see if it is serious about meeting some of the concerns that the international community has been voicing for quite some time and which, in fact, the international community has acted on through sanctions, which we believe are biting and are having an effect and which we intend to continue to pursue robustly, again to change the calculus in Tehran so that they will desist from attempting to acquire a nuclear weapon, and then there can be a discussion about their rightful use of nuclear civilian power which they could carry out. But so far, they have not met their international obligations, nor have they proven their true intent.
QUESTION: Andrey Bekrenev, TASS news agency of Russia. So how do you see Russian-American relations in the near future, especially after election cycle in Russia? And to what are the most urgent issues you think U.S. and Russia should take first of all?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, first I would say that we believe that the reset, as it’s become known, has been very useful for both the United States and Russia. We have managed to cooperate on very key and important issues to both countries. Not only were we able to achieve the New START Treaty, which has brought about a significant reduction in nuclear arsenals, but there was an agreement in terms of the transit of our troops and materiel through Russia to support our mission in Afghanistan. We have worked very well together on North Korea but also on Iran with regards to the efforts that have been made there on nonproliferation and the concerns that we share about those two countries’ nuclear programs. And most recently, we’ve seen Russia’s efforts in terms of accession to the WTO.
President Obama, in Seoul, will have his last meeting, we anticipate, with President Medvedev, and they will continue to talk about and build on that partnership where both countries have benefited, but we also look forward to Prime Minister and then to-be-president Putin coming to the G-8 summit in Washington, where President Obama will have an opportunity to work with him to continue some of the positive areas where we have been able to cooperate together.
So we are certainly interested in the kind of relationship with Russia that advances both countries’ interests, realizing full well that on occasion we may well disagree, and we’re prepared to voice those disagreements when those situations come up. But we have every intention to try to continue to build on what we have achieved so far and to look to find even additional areas of cooperation.
QUESTION: Thank you, Assistant Secretary, for the briefing. I’m a reporter with China Daily, and my question is about something happened yesterday when the Commerce Department announced a new decision on imposing duties on the Chinese – imported Chinese solars and – solar panels and cells. And some experts are saying that the move that is seen as the Obama Administration getting tougher on China because Republicans have been accusing him of being soft on China. So is that the case that we’re saying?
And also, the Commerce Department says that there will be other steps on this issue in May and in June. And also, you earlier mentioned President Hu and President Obama are going to meet this weekend, so what issues are we expecting they are going to discuss following this recent announcement from the Commerce Department? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. On most of those questions, you won’t be surprised that I’ll refer you back to the Commerce Department in terms of the decision-making in these measures that have been announced. We’ve been very clear, the Administration has been, that we’re looking for an even playing field and making sure that all countries abide by the internationally recognized trade order and ensuring that no particular industries are disadvantages.
Just to pivot to the meeting that the President will have with President Hu, I do expect a very robust agenda, but I would imagine – and again, having served in the White House, I know well that I should defer to them to comment on their agenda. But having seen sort of the progression in terms of those discussions, the many meetings that the two leaders have had, I would expect that in this coming weekend you will have important issues like Iran and Syria and North Korea will be foremost on their minds. And of course, there will be a range of economic issues that I would expect the leaders will also be discussing.
QUESTION: Oh, hello?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah, hi.
QUESTION: I’m Idoya Noain from El Periodico from Spain. And I wanted to ask you about France. The soldier that is suspected of the recent killings and attacks, he has linked himself to al-Qaida. And I just wanted to know if the U.S. has any intelligence on his supposedly training with al-Qaida. And how are you working with the French Government, if you are working to share this intelligence? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah. First, I will express our deepest condolences to the families of those who were tragically lost in this horrific incident. I haven’t seen the latest press reports. I understand that the individual has been surrounded, so maybe there’s more news as to whether he has been apprehended and, in fact, is the one responsible.
Obviously, I would not comment from this podium in terms of a specific intelligence we may or may not have on him or anybody else, but you can rest assured that we will be cooperating with the French authorities in sharing whatever information might be relevant. Again, it’s a really horrible act to have seen happen, affecting innocent children. And again, our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost loved ones, and also, if in fact it’s the same individual, to those French military personnel that were killed earlier.
MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Masood Haider. I represent Dawn of Pakistan. I just wanted to ask you a question about this Iran-Pakistan-India – this pipeline which Pakistan is very eager to have, and the United States is discouraging it for various reasons. Now, does the United States still believe that it is not in the best interests of Pakistan to have this pipeline? Because Pakistan thinks so. Also, there is no visible or viable proof that there is a connection between al-Qaida and Iranians because they just as much hate al-Qaida. So where do we stand as far as that pipeline is concerned?
ASSSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. I mean, yes, in fact we do continue to believe it’s not a good idea to go forward with it. The focus here is clearly we are trying to pressure Iran, and it really relates to the nuclear issue – trying to pressure Iran economically to come to make a decision which the international community wants to see, that in fact its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes. And Iran has completely failed to demonstrate that’s the case, has not really allowed the IAEA inspectors to do their job. And it’s not something that would be terribly difficult for Iran to do, were it wanting to.
And so with regards to the specifics of this pipeline, we have had discussions with the Government of Pakistan, made clear our view that we do not think it’s a good idea to go forward.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Iran building a nuclear weapon is contrary to the religion that they espouse, and they have strictly said that they will never pursue a weapon of mass destruction or atomic weapon. But you don’t take them on their word at all? Is that (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, we’ve seen those statements, and that’s why you would think it would be pretty – not to say easy, but they should be able to demonstrate their true intentions. And they were signatories to the IAEA safeguards agreement, and so there are ways in which they could very well show the international community what their true intent is. And so that’s mystifying. If in fact that is their true intention, if in fact, as you reflect, that they themselves say that it’s contrary to their religious beliefs, then live by those words and show the world your true intentions. It’s not difficult, at the end of the day, and yet all we’ve seen is resistance, obfuscation, and just an unwillingness to really come clean about their nuclear program.
All right. Well, thank you very much. I hope this was useful to you. And if so, then we’ll try to do it again. And of course, you’re all welcome to the reception to follow.
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