Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the North American Foreign Ministers Meeting in Quebec
Among the topics discussed at the ministerial was the ongoing political fall-out from the Haitian elections and of course the ongoing humanitarian crisis there:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the foreign minister of Canada on Monday urged Haiti’s government to work harder on their country’s daunting problems.
Their comments came following a disputed presidential election late last month, which was held following a devastating earthquake and cholera epidemic.
“We understand that the government itself was badly damaged, individuals were traumatized, but there has to be a greater effort and there has to be a more focused approach toward problem solving,” Clinton said in a news conference.
But Haiti appeared to dominate the discussion Monday. Thousands were unable to vote in the Nov. 28 election, which was widely criticized. Both the U.N. and the Organization of American States confirmed reports of electoral violence, voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing – although both organizations said the vote was still valid.
Clinton said Haiti’s leaders should heed the warning of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who oversees aid appropriations for the Carribean nation. Last week Leahy called a suspension of aid for Haiti’s government and visas for officials and their families until the crisis is resolved.
“Senator Leahy, who is a strong supporter of American foreign aid and humanitarian relief assistance, is expressing a growing frustration that you will find not only in our Congress but in our government and the American people that as we are approaching the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake there hasn’t been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that’s called for,” Clinton said.
“This is a very strong signal that we expect more and we are looking for more.”
Clinton said the Obama administration is still trying to resolve many of the questions raised by the election but added it doesn’t want to punish the people of Haiti because of a flawed vote.
She said all the challenges in Haiti are quite serious and taken together are “almost overwhelming.”
Cannon said Haitian leaders must fulfill their obligations to democracy and show respect for the electoral process. He said Haiti remains a “grave concern.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much Lawrence. It’s a real pleasure for me to join Foreign Minister Cannon and Foreign Secretary Espinosa for the 2010 North American Foreign Ministers Meeting. I want to thank Foreign Minister Cannon and his staff for hosting us here in Quebec and also for the excellent collaboration that we have had over the course of our respective positions working together.
I also want to commend Foreign Secretary Espinosa for the excellent leadership that she and Mexico provided for the recently concluded Cancun Climate Conference. This was a very significant outcome, and it will be important going forward to build on the work and agreement that was reached in Cancun, and it validates the international approach towards solving these very significant global problems. So I really want to express my admiration and gratitude to her.
As Minister Cannon just summarized, the three of us had a very productive discussion today across a wide range of issues, and I want to say first and foremost that the partnership between Canada, Mexico, and the United States is of critical importance. To each of our countries, it goes without saying: We’re not only neighbors, but we bear leadership responsibilities and we care deeply about our neighbors and the global community as a whole.
The work we do together every day – whether it is to drive economic progress, or strengthen our security, or address urgent problems such as climate change or violent extremism in places like Afghanistan, or narco-traffickers or pandemic disease – has a profound impact on every level: locally, regionally, and globally. No partnership means more to the United States or to the hundreds of millions of North American citizens whose lives and futures are increasingly intertwined.
So I appreciate once again this opportunity to affirm and deepen our ties. We have a very robust, comprehensive agenda that we’re working on together that we will be following up on, and I look forward to continue working closely with my North American counterparts to achieve a safer, more secure, and more prosperous North America region and world.
Thank you very much, Lawrence.
FOREIGN SECRETARY ESPINOSA: Thank you. (Via interpreter) I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to the Government of Canada and to Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon for his hospitality here in Wakefield. Along with my colleagues Hillary Clinton and Lawrence Cannon, we have had a very forthcoming discussion on the main issues of common interest for the three countries in North America. We are working to ensure that the North American Leaders Summit which will take place at the beginning of next year here in Canada will be very successful and generate greater cooperation and concrete benefits for the inhabitants of our three countries.
Today, we agreed in recognizing the very strong ties that bind Canada, the United States, and Mexico. We talked about the complementary nature of our economies and the need to increase cooperation from a trilateral perspective in order to ensure both competitiveness and security in our region.
As the other two have noted, we looked over a number of global and hemispheric issues and we also spoke of the results of COP-16 which recently took place in Cancun, Mexico. And I would like to thank them for their generous words of recognition toward Mexico and the Mexican president.
I would also like to particularly recognize the active participation, which is also very constructive, on the part of the Canadian and the United States delegation in the work of COP-16 that led to the achievements of that meeting in Cancun. It was important to reach the agreements that make it possible to move forward in implementing many aspects of the convention that had not been previously implemented. It will particularly benefit developing countries, the most vulnerable countries, small island countries, and the least fortunate countries.
It was important to create the proper environment to ensure that negotiations could be held in the best possible climate. It’s also important to highlight the inclusive nature of these conferences and the presence of many representatives of civil society that were able to express themselves freely. Their presence and their words were at no moment violent or at all a source of preoccupation.
I would also like to thank the Canadian and American participants who were not part of the delegations, but there were many Canadians and Americans who attended as part of the NGO group and representatives of civil society. There were representatives of local governments. They participated constructively in that very important event for Mexico and for multilateralism.
And now we have the opportunity to develop a relevant agenda with regard to the environment, energy, and in creating a common basis to fight climate change among all of our countries. I would like to highlight the importance of strengthening North America’s competitiveness to consolidate our economic recovery. I would also like to highlight our interest in working with the economic cabinets of our respective countries and support for small and medium enterprises, as well as greater cooperation with regard to regulatory issues. We discussed issues – related issues such as security from a perspective of regional integration, and we touched on ways of building cooperation with Central American and Caribbean countries, recognizing that they face huge challenges.
The transnational nature of organized crime also makes it necessary for us to cooperate based on the principle of joint responsibility involving agents that are beyond our borders. We also spoke of the importance of continuing to strengthen our mechanisms for cooperation in regard to health, and the great example of cooperation between Mexico, the United States, and Canada that took place during the H1N1 flu crisis.
I am convinced that we are on the right path to consolidate a leaders summit that will lead to tangible results that will have a great impact for Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians, and that our region will become more and more competitive on the international scene.
I would like to once again thank Foreign Minister Cannon for his hospitality and for having taken this initiative to bring us together. And I would also like to repeat that we are willing to continue working to consolidate the agreements that will no doubt be presented at the leaders summit.
Thank you very much.
(In English) Thank you very much, Mr. Cannon. Thank you, Madam Clinton.
MODERATOR: Well, I’ll just ask you to be seated. Right after the Q&A, we’ll take one – keep it to one question. (In French.) We’ll start with Emmanuelle, Radio Canada.
QUESTION: Emmanuelle Latraverse from Radio Canada. (Via interpreter) Minister Cannon, I’d like to ask you with regards to the situation in Haiti, the dramatic lack of confidence that we see between the population and the institutions in that country, you have called out to the people on the ground there and you’ve said that they have to be able to stand tall and support their responsibility towards the country. You talked about a joint electoral commission.
Given that things might degenerate, isn’t the time come to put more further pressure and do what has been suggested by the senators in the U.S., that is to say to threaten to suspend direct aid to the Haitian Government? Have we come to that point?
(In English) Mrs. Clinton, do you need me to translate or did you get this, because I’d like to hear from you also on this, whether it’s not time in Haiti to ask – to threaten, essentially, to cut direct aid funding to the government, as Senator Leahy has suggested.
FOREIGN MINISTER CANNON: (Via interpreter) Well, if that’s all right, I will answer first. I think the international community cannot do everything in Haiti. It’s extremely important that the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti assume their responsibilities and ensure that democracy in Haiti continue. And in particular, the electoral process – it has to continue with respect and calm.
We talked about this matter this morning and we concluded that this was the most important thing to do for the people of Haiti, but also through the OAS, CARICOM, and the United States – or the United Nations, we are willing to consider what’s going on. But at the same time, it’s important for the people of Haiti to assume their responsibility, because I repeat this: There will not be any economic progress if there is no government stability. And what is essential is to get the stability of the government.
SECRETARY CLINTON: What we’re facing in Haiti is a set of challenges that individually are quite serious and, taken together, almost overwhelming in their importance of addressing. We have a continuing humanitarian challenge that is being met, but still there is much to be done. We have a public health challenge with the epidemic of cholera, and the international community is responding. But again, there’s much to be done. We have an economic challenge because we have to figure out ways to put Haitians back to work to begin rebuilding economic growth and giving people a decent standard of living. We have a governmental capacity challenge, which we’ve been dealing with even before the earthquake, but most acutely since, to try to create conditions in which the Government of Haiti has the capacity to work toward meeting the needs of the Haitian people, and that we are in respect of their sovereignty. And we now have an electoral challenge that is acute.
We discussed this at length in our trilateral, and I think we all agree that we have got to address all of these. But certainly the electoral challenge, the instability in the government, the lack of clear way forward as to who will be assuming leadership responsibilities, requires the international community to act and provide technical assistance, provide support for unraveling the complexities and questions surrounding the election.
So all of these are important. It’s hard to pick one out and say, okay, let’s concentrate on this, which is why this is such an intensely complex situation. But I want to commend my colleagues because both Canada and Mexico have been deeply involved and committed. Canada, as you know, took the lead after the earthquake. I remember being here within days to try to chart a way forward. So it’s important that we respond to the needs that exist and try to begin to address each and every one of these challenges to try to create better conditions for the Haitian people.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Lachlan Carmichael, AFP.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, hello.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi.
QUESTION: You don’t seem ready to take up Senator Leahy on his recommendation that you suspend aid to the government and also impose visas on the leadership. Why not at this point? And then, two, would the United States like Canada being willing to be represented on the international committee to supervise the election review? And then final question: We want to know, of course, how Ambassador Holbrooke is doing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Lachlan. I think Senator Leahy, who is a strong supporter of American foreign aid and humanitarian relief assistance, is expressing a growing frustration that you will find not only in Congress, but in our government and the American people, that as we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake there hasn’t been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the Government of Haiti that is called for. We understand that the government itself was badly damaged, individuals were traumatized. But there has to be a greater effort and there has to be a more focused approach toward problem solving.
So I think that Senator Leahy, who is a very significant member of the Senate and heads the subcommittee that determines where our foreign aid goes in the United States Government, should be heeded by the leaders of Haiti, that this is a very strong signal that we expect more and we’re looking for more.
From the Administration’s perspective, we are still working to try to resolve many of the questions raised by the election and will continue to do so. But at the same time, we don’t want to punish the people of Haiti because of the flaws that were alleged to have occurred in the election. People still need to have their shelter, their education, their clean water, their health, their economic opportunities addressed.
So we are trying to push forward in a difficult environment, and we want to see progress on the ground. And we have supported the international approach toward sending technical experts. We think that’s more important than political leaders. We need to find technical experts who can delve into what happened in the election and try to create a transparent understanding that can not only win the support of the international community, but most importantly the Haitian people.
The United States stands ready to provide whatever support is appropriate, but other countries also have a lot to contribute. And so we are working across the international community to devise the best possible answer to the issues that have been raised.
And finally with respect to Ambassador Holbrooke, as many of you know who have followed American foreign policy, he has given nearly 50 years of his life to serving the United States, starting as a very young Foreign Service officer in Vietnam, now serving as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had a very serious medical emergency on Friday. He’s had excellent care, including many hours of surgery in the last three days. He is stable but still in very critical condition. And we appreciate the outpouring of support and concern that has been evidenced from around the world. Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, very experienced diplomats have been calling and expressing their best wishes. And I know how much the family appreciate that, but so do all of his colleagues.
MODERATOR: Let’s keep it to one question. Terry Milewski, CBC.
QUESTION: Thank you. My question is to Secretary Clinton and Minister Cannon and it concerns something which received scant mention in your prepared statement: the ongoing discussion of perimeter security. It’s nine years now since the SMART Border Agreement was signed, producing in the intervening period a border that seems to get ever thicker. It’s very frustrating for Canadian travelers and for business, time-consuming, and expensive. Is the relative silence on this topic in your statement, does it suggest that this is on the back burner, just not ready, too complex, what? And second of all, more specifically, can you give us any assurances that this – that if there is ever an agreement on this topic that it will produce not a thicker border but a thinner one?
FOREIGN MINISTER CANNON: Let me, Terry, first address that. The challenge, of course, that exists is the following: On the one hand, to be able to maintain the level of trade and our commercial relationship with our largest trading partner in the world, to maintain that and to see it progress over the course of the next several months, indeed, over the course of the next several years, both in Canada and in the United States. Just so that we get a general idea of what this means, it’s $1.6 billion of trade on a daily basis. It’s roughly both in Canada and in the United States a number of direct and indirect jobs. So that on the one hand constitutes a challenge.
The other challenge, of course, is to make sure that our countries stay safe from the threat of terrorism. And so indeed, what is at task here is to be able to continually look at ways that we can put in motion so that those two issues be addressed and that we are able to continue to sustain the economic recovery, albeit extremely fragile, but the economic recovery that’s underway. And so that is the perspective that Canada brings to this issue.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would only add that this is a bilateral issue on which we meet and discuss regularly with our Canadian colleagues, so it’s not surprising that it wouldn’t be on the agenda of a trilateral meeting such as this. We are very conscious of the stakes because, as Lawrence said, we want this to enhance not just security, but trade and commercial activity, business connections, people-to-people travel, recreation, tourism.
For eight years I represented New York, which has a long and very friendly border with Canada, and I am very acutely aware of the importance of this most significant relationship along our long and peaceful border. So we are, I think, committed to discussing and arriving at conclusions about how best to deal with the environment in which we find ourselves today to try to create a border that, yes, protects Canadians and Americans but also enables the kind of ongoing interactions that are critical to both nations.
MODERATOR: Last question from Indira Lakshmanan, Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Clinton. The American press has one question that’s off the trilateral, outside of the trilateral agenda. We would love to get your interpretation of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s firing of your counterpart Mr. Mottaki today and what you think that says about the political situation in Iran and whether – how you think it’s going to affect U.S.-Iranian relations. And is it because he snubbed you the other day? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have no idea, Indira. Really, I think our relationship toward Iran is not toward any individual. It is toward the country, the government, which is complex and challenging to deal with because it is not just one channel; there are several different channels because of the way their government is established. So I don’t really have any insight or comment on the report that I also learned of today.
But I would add that the recent meeting in Geneva of the P-5+1 was a good start. It was just that. It wasn’t more than that, but it was a good start to a return to a serious negotiations between Iran and the international community. And they agreed on a second meeting in January. We remain committed to pursuing every diplomatic avenue available to us and our international partners to persuade Iran to forgo a nuclear weapons program, and we remain convinced that that is not only in the interest of peace and stability in the Gulf and indeed in the wider region and world, but it’s also in the best interest of Iran.
So whether one person or another is foreign minister is not as important as to what the policy of the Iranian Government is in dealing with the international community on this very important matter.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. If you could stay seated for a few minutes while the ministers make their way out.
And this just came in my inbox a few minutes ago, regarding Senator Mitchell’s meeting with Bibi Netanyahu:
United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell’s Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
As we begin a new way forward, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Special Envoy Mitchell explored, in a long and positive discussion, the best way to approach the substantive core issues and advance toward our goal of peace.
That’s it! Substantive, huh? I’ve noticed that as I read the State Department’s daily press briefings lately, the media are starting to get frustrated with the administration’s talking points (for lack of a better word) at this stage. I haven’t read today’s DPB yet but I’ve noticed that there has been a slight change in tone of late- the press doesn’t seem to be totally accepting of the administration’s framing of the current status of the negotiations. I guess we’ll stay tuned…