Bilateral Watch: SOS Hillary Clinton & Lithuanian FM
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SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning.
FOREIGN MINISTER AZUBALIS: Good morning.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s wonderful to have my counterpart, the foreign minister of Lithuania, here today. And I am delighted for many reasons, including the fact that Lithuania and the United States are close partners working together on a number of important and mutual interests, ranging from our shared defense to economic growth.
It’s hard to believe that has been just 20 years – it seems like just a short period of time that Lithuania has been fully and completely independent. But in that relatively short historic period, the people of Lithuania have made impressive progress. Lithuania has become a real leader in Euro-Atlantic institutions, has developed a vibrant democracy with open markets, free press, and the other attributes of a true democracy, and in the last two years has made difficult but important decisions necessary to put its economy back on track. And through it all, Lithuania has pursued an active presence on the world stage through vigorous diplomacy, international development, and relief efforts.
So today, the Foreign Minister and I had a very productive discussion covering many areas of engagement. As allies in NATO, we are committed to the principle of collective security. That is absolute and unwavering. Lithuanian and American troops serve side by side in Afghanistan every day, supporting the ISAF mission to help Afghans secure their own country’s future. In fact, Lithuania is leading one of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and it recently sent its first team of trainers to help prepare the Afghan National Police to provide security at home.
The foreign minister and I discussed the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon at the end of this week, and we will continue to look for ways to further strengthen our critical alliance.
We also discussed our mutual commitment to pursuing energy security, which is imperative for continued growth and for the development of the larger Baltic-Euro region. The United States supports Lithuania’s new Energy Independence Strategy as a balanced, systemic approach. Our Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy, Ambassador Richard Morningstar, was recently in Lithuania to learn more about the plans that Lithuania has to pursue energy independence, increase investment in the energy sector, promote competition, and introduce a more sustainable mix of energy resources, including renewables. So we look forward to continuing our work together on this issue, both bilaterally, multilaterally, and through organizations like the EU and OSCE.
And I also want to commend Lithuania for the fine job it has done as Chair of the Community of Democracies. It has helped establish and co-chair an important new working group on Gender Equality and Women’s Rights, and worked to emphasize the connection between alleviating poverty, and promoting a culture of democracy and sustainable development. Lithuania has also helped focus the Community of Democracy’s efforts on supporting transitional democracies and civil society groups. And we look forward to Lithuania bringing this same leadership to the meeting that will be held this summer, as it continues the work of the Community of Democracies in Lithuania and as Lithuania assumes the Chair of the OSCE for 2011.
Now, there’s much to do, and it’s not only government to government, but people to people that we are focused on. So we’re excited about a new set of opportunities that has just begun.
Our Embassy in Vilnius is sponsoring a high school exchange program for Lithuanian students to come to the United States. We look forward to expanding it to send American students to begin studying and living with Lithuanian families soon. We hope that these connections will not only develop into lifelong friendships for the students involved but deepen and broaden the connections between our two countries.
So again, thank you, Foreign Minister, for joining me today, for the steadfast friendship between our countries, and for the very strong partnership that we have between us and as a part of so many organizations to help chart the future. Thank you, sir.
FOREIGN MINISTER AZUBALIS: Thank you, Madam Secretary. From our side, what I’ve got here during the meeting with you, the full confirmation of our strategic partnership, full understanding of our needs in energy security, which we very value. And I just want to thank you and your special envoy ambassador and because your attention to this region’s security programs, including energy security, helps us a lot and giving some kind, I would say, assurances for those investors who would like to come and build important energy sites in Lithuania. Thank you once again.
Also we’ve discussed about OSCE priorities, and I am happy that I got full support for our main priorities, among one I would like to mention here, because I’m talking to the press, because it will be the freedom of media and safety of journalists. And as a former journalist, I am happy to promote these very and very important questions during our OSCE chairmanship.
The second thing which also discussed it’s about NATO future, and here we also found a common ground. Because we are – Lithuania think that the nuclear presence in Europe is a crucial, and we always agreeing for that and I think that we will find the right balance between the conventional and nuclear arms in Europe.
The second thing I just expressed also to Madam Secretary for our admiration how smoothly went to that time – the new concept, new NATO concept. There are some disagreements, but we see this document as a very balanced, short, but with deep, deep meaning.
That’s it what I would like to say. Thank you for your kind attention.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir.
MODERATOR: We’ll begin with (inaudible).
QUESTION: Two quick questions for the Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, President Karzai called for the U.S. to – quote – reduce military operations, particularly in southern Afghanistan where most of the fighting is happening. The Washington Post reported General Petraeus said these statements undermine the war effort. Is Karzai – President Karzai undermining the war effort or do you see it as him playing more to his base? And could this disrupt efforts in Lisbon to sell the 2014 withdraw strategy?
And on Mideast peace —
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — sorry, just one quick one. Is a one-time 90-day moratorium on settlements too narrow a window to achieve success in the peace process? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: You’re welcome. First, on President Karzai’s concerns, we share these concerns. We’ve discussed them on a number of occasions. But we believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component of our comprehensive civilian-military operations. And these operations are conducted in full partnership with the Government of Afghanistan. They include Afghan forces on each operation. There is no question that they are having a significant impact on the insurgent leadership and the networks that they operate.
And we remain very sensitive to the concerns, so there have been revisions in the tactical directives that recognize the sensitivity of conducting night operations. But we believe that these operations are in the best interest of the Afghan people, the Afghan Government, and the ISAF troops who are working with their Afghan counterparts to secure the country.
We do not believe that there is any concern or issue that will be disruptive at all at the Lisbon summit. We think that based on conditions on the ground, we support President Karzai’s stated goal of transitioning responsibility for all security to an Afghan lead by the end of 2014. The pace of transition of security and responsibility obviously depends on the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan National Police Forces to be able to take charge. That’s why it’s a conditions-based, gradual transition process, not some one-time event. And we are working closely with our Afghan counterparts and with partners like Lithuania, which not only, as I said, runs a PRT but is helping to train the Afghan police forces.
With respect to the Middle East, this is a very promising development and a serious effort by Prime Minister Netanyahu. I don’t want to go into the details today, but I will say that we’re in very close touch with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, working intensively to create the conditions for the resumption of negotiations that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace in the region. Over the past week, I personally have been involved on a number of tracks. I had a good discussion with Prime Minister Fayyad about building the institutions of a future Palestinian state. The United States supports the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to do so. I met with senior officials from Egypt to discuss our shared commitment to the peace process and how to move forward and Prime Minister Netanyahu and I had a very productive and quite extensive set of discussions on Thursday in New York.
So we’re going to keep working every single day to bring about the swift resumption of negotiations on all the final status issues and we believe that it is only through negotiations that the final status issues can be resolved, that the conflict can be ended, that all claims can be addressed and ended, and the status quo is unacceptable. So we’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can to get the parties to begin the kind of serious end-game negotiations that are necessary.
MODERATOR: (Off mike.)
QUESTION: Good morning, Secretary. The United States has been trying to reset the relationships with Russia for a while now. Do you think Lithuania should reset them, too? And how might the new NATO’s Baltic defense plan affect that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first we have been working to – quote – reset our relations. We think it is in everyone’s interests, including our friends in the Baltics to have a more constructive, cooperative relationship with Russia. And I think we’ve seen a number of positive steps. The New START Treaty is clearly one such step and we’re working very hard to get it ratified by the United States Senate. It sends a strong message not only to Russia, but to countries that live right next to Russia who want to see the continuing reduction of strategic arms. And I’m particularly grateful to the foreign minister and the Government of Lithuania for their strong support of the New START Treaty. We’ve seen enhanced cooperation with NATO ISAF troops in Afghanistan, including transit and other support for our efforts. We work with Russia and the foreign minister and I discussed this, on counternarcotics and we’re increasing what we think of as useful efforts there. We think the resumption of the U.S. or with the NATO-Russia Council that will be meeting in Lisbon is a good sign. So there are a number of other steps that we think are positive.
At the same time, we stick to our principles. We continue to raise concerns about territorial integrity of a country like Georgia. We continue to work toward energy security so that there are more sources of energy and more competition in the energy market and other areas as well. But on balance, we think that the relationship between the U.S., between NATO, and between Europe and Russia today is on a stronger foundation, which we think is in everyone’s best interest.
FOREIGN MINISTER AZUBALIS: Just one word more: Of course, we value very much Russia’s cooperation in such issues which is a burning issue for the world, like Iran, Afghanistan, but I’m very happy that we agreed with Madam Secretary. That there are certain issues which we couldn’t sacrifice for any, any help — this is a democracy, human rights, territorial integrity. I think this is a crucial for any democratic state. And I think that we would have – in the middle of the next summer, we will have Community of Democracies Summit in Vilnius where we will discuss these issues and I’m happy that Madam Secretary accepted the invitation. And we hope to see her in Vilnius.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all very much.