Tallinn, Estonia—(ENEWSPF)—April 22, 2010.
FOREIGN MINISTER PAET: (In Estonian.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, and I am delighted to be back in Tallinn. I want to thank the foreign minister for his hospitality and his warm welcome. It was certainly a touch-and-go decision as we watched with great concern from the other side of the Atlantic the disruption caused by the volcanic ash clouds. And we know that thousands of people here in Europe are still stranded, including many Americans, and trying to get home. Families have been separated, businesses have suffered significant losses, and I really commend everyone in Europe who has been working to get the stranded travelers home as quickly and efficiently as possible – including, I understand, your own president, who was traveling for days – to get back for this important meeting.
When I visited Estonia in 1994, this nation was emerging from Soviet occupation and just beginning to build the economic institutions and the civil society needed for a functioning, vibrant democracy. When I came back in 2004, only 10 years later, Estonia was a proud new member of NATO and of the EU. And today, Estonia is not only a trusted and valued ally to the United States, but it is a model for countries, particularly new democracies, the world over.
I want to thank the Estonian Government for hosting this meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, as well as our non-NATO partners. And to the Estonian people, thank you once again for putting up with thousands of visitors who have descended here on Tallinn. Some came by every mode of transportation, so we’re all happy to be with you.
Today, the foreign minister, as he said, discussed the importance with me of our partnership, both bilaterally and through NATO. We continue working together on many areas of common concern and shared responsibility. We especially appreciate Estonia’s role in Afghanistan. And we also commend Estonia for working through humanitarian assistance, not only in Afghanistan but in other countries such as Georgia and Moldova.
And thank you again, foreign minister, for your support for disaster relief in Haiti and the outpouring of private donations from the Estonian people is evidence of this country’s generous spirit and commitment to helping others in need.
We discussed our very deep concern about security in Europe, and I feel strongly that we are allies in NATO and the principal purpose of NATO is collective security as embodied in Article 5. Estonia has contributed to global security and peacekeeping operations, and the idea of mutual security really will be at the heart of our discussions over the next two days. But let me be clear. Our commitment to Estonia and our other allies is a bedrock principle for the United States and we will never waver from it.
We believe that there continues to be the importance of the open door for NATO to welcome new members because Estonia’s experience is a testament to the value that new members bring to NATO.
I also want to commend Estonia for being known in many circles as E-stonia, the most connected nation in the world, and thank you for providing valuable technology training from Mongolia to Afghanistan. We think that there’s a lot that Estonia can do to help other countries realize the benefits of technology.
So again, thank you for this warm welcome. And I look forward to our discussions and I appreciate greatly the opportunity to be back in Tallinn and wish that I could have kept my original schedule, which included meeting with many Estonians, including young people. But I hope I’ll have another excuse to do that in the future.
FOREIGN MINISTER PAET: Thank you very much. And by the way, there are some young Estonians also in this audience. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Including the foreign minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER PAET: Thank you.
MODERATOR: (In Estonian.) Please just say your question from these microphones.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Minister. Good morning, Madam Secretary. Madam Secretary, a question to you about recent allegations that Syria is looking to supply long-range missiles, SCUD missiles, to Hezbollah. In the past, as you know, Iran has supplied this kind of technology to Syria, and I’m wondering whether the United States has any evidence or reason to believe that Iran might be again playing a role of transferring missile technology, SCUD technology, to Syria.
And the second question is: In light of this pattern of provocative behavior by Syria – you know, there are some critics who are saying that it calls into question our policy of engagement with Damascus. A congressman yesterday on the Hill said that the Syrians, quote, spit right into our faces. So I wonder, in light of the events of the last couple of weeks, these reports, whether you believe that engagement policy still makes sense and why. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say we have expressed directly to the Syrian Government, including calling in the representative of their embassy in Washington to express in the strongest possible terms, our concerns about these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Lebanon.
I think that the larger question as to what the United States will do with respect to Syria is one we’ve spent a lot of time considering and debating inside the Administration. Where we are as of today is that we believe it is important to continue the process to return an ambassador. This is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions that they take, which are deeply disturbing not only to the United States and not just to Israel but to others in the region and beyond. But it’s a tool. It’s a tool that we believe can give us extra leverage, added insight, analysis, information with respect to Syria’s actions and intentions.
We would like to have a more balanced and positive relationship with Syria, as do other of its neighbors from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. We would like to see Syria play a more constructive role and engage in an effort to resolve its outstanding conflict with Israel. We would like to see Syria refrain from interfering in and potentially destabilizing the Government of Lebanon. So we have a long list of areas that we have discussed with the Syrians, and we intend to continue pushing our concerns. And we think having an ambassador there adds to the ability to convey that message strongly, and hopefully influence behavior in Syria.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is to the National Broadcasting (inaudible).
QUESTION: Question to you. Are you concerned about Russia’s growing influence in its near border, suggestions about the future of Manas Air Base (inaudible)? Yesterday, we had heard about the deal between Ukraine and Russia about the Sevastopol marine base?
And also, will you try to pressure France not to (inaudible) Russia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: First with respect to the bases, we have been given assurance by the new leadership in Kyrgyzstan that the United States will retain access to the Manas Air Base. We’ve also discussed this with the Russians because, as you may know, the Russians have agreed to permit us to transport assistance and troops across their air space and across their territory for Afghanistan. And the immediate destination of a lot of this material is the Manas Air Base so it would not make sense that they would give us the go-ahead to cross their territory and not support the continued use by the United States of the Manas Air Base. So as of today, we see no problem with our continuing access to and utilization of that base in Kyrgyzstan.
With respect to the Ukrainian decision, I think it’s clear – and the foreign minister and I discussed this upstairs – that Ukraine is trying to have a balanced approach to its foreign policy. It’s first – the president – the new president’s first visit was to Brussels, evidencing a real interest in moving toward Europe and even EU membership eventually. The president has told President Obama that he very much wants to improve and deepen relations with the United States. But at the same time, he has made it clear that he’s going to continue to work with Russia. I think, given Ukraine’s history and Ukraine’s geographic position, that balancing act is a hard one but it makes sense to us that’s what he’s trying to do and to keep a foot, if you will, in both sides of his country.
I think your underlying question is our view about Russia’s actions toward its neighbors. And we’ve been very clear that we believe that there is no sphere of influence, that there is no veto power that Russia or any country has over any country in Europe or in this region concerning membership in organizations like NATO or the EU. I’m heartened to see Europe moving more to take steps that will empower it in its dealings with Russia, including moving toward more energy security, another issue that the foreign minister and I discussed.
Look, this is a balancing act. And even as young as the foreign minister is with his recent birthday, he’s old enough to remember Soviet occupation. This is a very live sense of the historical reality in the hearts and minds of the people of Estonia, so we are very conscious of that and we recognize the need to build up our relationships and support actions of independence such as moving toward energy security as a way of sending a very clear message that we want to live in a peaceful, stable world with our Russian friends but we’re going to be committed to the defense of our NATO allies.
FOREIGN MINISER PAET: (In Estonian.)
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Washington Post next please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Secretary Clinton, sorry, could I just first clarify one tiny point on Mark’s question when you mention the transfer of weapons into Syria, the SCUDS. Was that from Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I just said that we have expressed our concern about that.
QUESTION: Okay. I – the recent Nuclear Posture Review singled out Iran and North Korea as countries of concern because of proliferation. On Iran, the NPR tried to encourage Iran to comply with its obligations by saying that countries that were in compliance wouldn’t be facing a nuclear attack from the U.S., but today the leader, Khamenei, lashed out at the NPR and talked about this being an atomic threat against the Iranian people. So I’m just wondering, did the NPR sort of backfire in what it was attempting to do vis-à-vis Iran.
And on North Korea, second question, could you confirm reports that a torpedo from a North Korean submarine sank that South Korean navy ship? And if so, what fears do you have of any possible conflict?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Mary Beth, as for the first point on Iran, the NPR is a statement of American nuclear policy. And our nuclear policy as set forth in the NPR makes very clear that we will maintain our nuclear deterrent. We are interested in pursuing the three pillars of cooperation and commitment set forth in the Nonproliferation Treaty, including disarmament – as evidenced by our recent agreement with Russia over the mutual reduction of our nuclear stockpiles; of nonproliferation, which we take very seriously, particularly the threat of nuclear proliferation from rogue regimes and terrorist networks; and the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy.
And it is very clear that any country which is actually complying with its nonproliferation obligations under the NPT would not be building secret concealed facilities, would not be enriching uranium above a certain level, would not have refused a good-faith offer by Russia, France, and the United States to assist in the use of enriched uranium for their Tehran research reactor.
So the actions of Iran speak louder than the words, and the recent statements are of a theme that we hear frequently from Iranian leaders. There’s a very simple way out of this. Iran needs to fully comply with its obligations under the NPT. Iran needs to respond to the frequent concerns articulated by the IAEA, by the United Nations Security Council. Iran needs to become what it professes to be, a country interested only in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. And there are just too many questions that have unsatisfactory answers for us to conclude that it is. So we will certainly continue to raise concerns about Iran’s nuclear program because we think those concerns are well-founded.
With respect to North Korea, I have no comment on the question that you asked. We remain concerned about North Korean actions and provocations. We want to see a return to the Six-Party Talks that we think should lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
But both North Korea and Iran, as mentioned in our Nuclear Posture Review, raise concerns for the United States, for our NATO allies, and for other countries who see the dangers of proliferation.