SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Good morning, everybody. Sorry for the delay. We have two background briefs this morning. The first is to read out the Secretary’s meeting with the EU – with her EU counterparts from the transatlantic dinner last night, and then when [Senior State Department Official One] arrives, we will preview the Somalia-Horn of Africa meeting later today. We’re just flipping the order because [Senior State Department Official One] is running a little bit late.
So with regard to the U.S.-EU ministerial last night, the Secretary met with EU High Representative Ashton and the 27 member states of the European Union. You won’t be surprised that meeting focused on the Middle East. They discussed the Arab Spring and the need for the U.S. and the EU to work together to support transitions in the Middle East. The Secretary also underlined that unity of the U.S. and the EU against the continuing brutality of the Syrian regime has been very important in tightening the noose on Asad, and she thanked the EU for its seventh round of sanctions a couple of weeks ago.
The Secretary and EU foreign ministers also discussed the way ahead on Israeli-Palestinian issues, and they all agreed that a negotiated settlement is the only way to a durable peace. As you know, Quartet envoys are meeting again this morning to see how we can help the parties back to the negotiating table.
The Secretary then went into the traditional annual dinner of transatlantic allies and partners. This brings together the foreign ministers of all of the NATO and EU countries. It’s informal and very small. She used that opportunity, obviously, to reinforce the importance of close cooperation on all the pressing security challenges of the day. She and her counterparts took stock in particular of where we are in Libya and reaffirmed their commitment to protecting civilians and continuing to support the TNC as Libya goes through its transition. They also noted that NATO has an indispensible role in supporting the Libyan people and must continue to stay engaged.
The Secretary expressed our view that the integration of the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic institutions remains unfinished business. The ministers stressed their commitment to supporting their efforts towards reform and further dialogue to achieve regional security and stability. As you know, the Secretary meets later today with the Serbian foreign minister. She met earlier this week with the Kosovo leadership.
And finally, the Secretary noted that the United States is pleased to be hosting the next NATO summit, which will be May 20 to 21, 2012 in Chicago.
QUESTION: Is the Quartet meeting – that’s envoys, when does it start, or has it actually begun?
MODERATOR: Quartet envoys are meeting this morning. I believe they started at 9 o’clock, continuing to try to be supportive to the Israelis and the Palestinians in getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Two], did they meet last night? (Inaudible) came out last night and said they might meet again last night and then again tomorrow? Did they meet last night and now it’s again this morning?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They didn’t sit in Quartet format last night. What they did instead was have small meetings in different formations to try to work through ideas and preparations for this morning’s meeting.
QUESTION: Were the U.S.-Russian meetings last night?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I can’t speak to that, but I do know that David Hale was in contact with his Russian counterpart last night. I don’t know whether they sat down or just spoke on the phone.
Okay. We are delighted to have with us this morning [Senior State Department Official One], hereafter known as Senior Administration Official Number One – Senior State Department Official Number One – to talk to us about the Secretary’s activities on Africa this week, but also to preview the high-level meeting on Somalia later today.
Senior Official Number One.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Thank you very much. It’s – glad to be here. This afternoon, the Secretary will participate in a meeting hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the political and security situation in Somalia. As you all know, the Horn of Africa is the most complex, volatile, and climatically challenged region in Africa today. Somalia is at the center of these many challenges and faces a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis, and a political set of challenges.
This afternoon’s meeting will focus largely on two things: how well the AMISOM and TFG forces are doing in carrying out their UN Security Council mandate to protect TFG officials, to protect and defend TFG institutions, and to train and strengthen the TFG as TFG military. It will also focus on how effectively the TFG has been operating as a government. The meeting will also highlight the recent Mogadishu Accord that was signed by the TFG and a number of other political forces inside of Somalia, and witnessed and also signed by the secretary general’s special representative.
That accord is particularly important for advancing the political agenda in Somalia. It calls on the TFG to carry out elections before August 2012, to complete a new constitution by (inaudible), and to make progress in the political, security, governance, and reconciliation arenas. The Mogadishu Accord has specific goals and timelines, and there will be many in the room, including Secretary Clinton, who will endorse the significance and importance of this Mogadishu Accord, and will urge all Somali political parties to live up to it, complete it in accordance to the roadmap – the Mogadishu Roadmap – and will call on the international community to continue to provide support.
This session this afternoon will not deal very much with the humanitarian crisis. That will be dealt with largely tomorrow at a session on humanitarian affairs in which AID Administrator Raj Shah will be in the chair for the Administration. All of you know that the crisis on the ground is enormous. Some 750,000 Somalis are threatened over the next four months with the possibility of loss of life, and there are some 4 million people who are in serious need in the region out of some 14 million. We continue to believe that it is al-Shabaab which is causing the greatest hardship there because of their refusal to allow international aid groups to come in in the past. We note that if they had been cooperative weeks and months ago, we would have – not have seen the mass exodus of Somalis into Kenya, Ethiopia, and into other parts of the region. We continue to appeal to al-Shabaab to let in groups and to stop their callous treatment of their own Somali neighbors and relatives.
Two other quick notes for me is that the Secretary has had two major bilaterals this week with African leaders. One was a meeting with Foreign Minister Mashabane of South Africa. It was a broad-ranging discussion covering a number of the political issues confronting the continent, but it was also an opportunity for the Secretary to reaffirm her desire to move forward with the Strategic Dialogue with South Africa, indicating that she might, in fact, if her schedule permits, travel to South Africa for the next round of dialogues sometime in 2012.
The Secretary also had an excellent meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president. Again, she had an opportunity to express her condolences to the Nigerian president on the destruction of the UN headquarters in Abuja some three and a half weeks ago, but also to discuss the Strategic Dialogue that we have with Nigeria. Our relations with Nigeria are excellent, and we consider them a strong partner.
I’ll stop there.
QUESTION: I just have two things (inaudible), one on the Somalia, on – given the situation there, how realistic is it, I mean, to demand or call for them to have elections in 2012? I mean, is that feasible?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It is feasible. We believe that it is important that the Somali parties who have signed on to the Mogadishu Roadmap on September 6 live up to the commitments that they made in that document. That document has specific goals and timelines. We think those goals and timelines are reasonable and can, in fact, be met. We should not, some two weeks after signing that document, begin to question the feasibility of whether it can be implemented some 10 months from now. We are determined to work with the UN Special Representative Augustine Mahiga, the IGAD countries who are also signers and signatories to this, as well as the international community to do it.
I might underscore that these are not direct elections. These are not elections in which every Somali in every village will be able to walk into his or her neighborhood polling booth. These are indirect elections. They can be managed. They can be managed well. It is a timeline which is perfectly realizable, if Somalis and those in the region are determined to see it. Our desire – and you will hear that from the Secretary today – is to see that the roadmap is completed according to the way it has been drawn and the timelines that have been laid out.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Let’s take one more from the room. Then we have some folks on the phone. Anybody?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: It’s just about the South Africa meeting. Did the Mideast come up in that at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Middle East?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was very little on the Middle East in that discussion.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary raise the issue of the possibility of Security Council and make a case for South Africa to not support a full membership?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just say that the – over the last few days in all of the conversations that we have had with senior African officials, presidents, and foreign ministers, this has been an important priority topic for every one of them. Sometimes it has been 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes it has been several sentences. But in each case, it has been made very clear what our position is. The President made that clear in his speech. It is something that the Secretary has iterated in her discussions with African leaders she’s met and something that we continue to iterate as well. It is a priority for us. The Palestinian issue is a priority, and it is one of the things that is driving our discussions with everyone, whether it is President Goodluck Jonathan or South Africa. Both are members of the Security Council.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: From the – on the phone, anybody?
OPERATOR: I’m not showing any questions from the phone at this time. Once again, it is *1.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you. Anything else for [Senior State Department Official One]?
OPERATOR: We do have one question. Did you want to take that now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes, please.
OPERATOR: Indira Lakshmanan, Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official Two]. This was actually a question for you regarding the first briefing. Do you want me to ask that now or after [Senior State Department Official One] leaves?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Why don’t we just make sure we use [Senior State Department Official One]’s time well. Anybody with a question for [Senior State Department Official One]? Okay. Thank you very much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Very good.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Okay. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Indira, go ahead.
QUESTION: You were saying how the folks last night did not meet in Quartet format. By that, I guess you meant – you were talking about the foreign ministers and the Secretary. But what can you tell us about the Quartet meetings that did go on last night?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, Indira. What I meant was that envoys did not meet altogether last night.
QUESTION: On the what? I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you properly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That we are talking about Quartet envoys at the David Hale level. They met yesterday afternoon, as I read out yesterday, for nearly three hours. They then had smaller meetings and phone conversations in the evening in different formations in preparation for another Quartet envoy’s meeting this morning.
QUESTION: Great. Okay. So what I was asking is could you give us a little more readout on the smaller meetings last night that were after the last briefing you told us about?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Again, this is onward diplomacy effort to try to work towards a Quartet statement that will be helpful to getting the parties back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: So when are you expecting that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: When are we expecting what, Indira?
QUESTION: When are you expecting a Quartet statement? When are you aiming for that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Stand by.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Anything else from the room?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, just on that. I mean, if you could just – do you have any idea how close they are? I mean, is it (inaudible) distinct possibility at this point? Or is it – do things look good? What’s –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m not going to get betting off, but we continue to believe that a statement is important, and we’re continuing to work for it. We’ll have more information for you later in the day if there’s something to report.
QUESTION: Are you still hopeful that – well, if something is coming, then – I mean, this is basically just logistical and planning. If something –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: After we finish here, let’s do a little minute and –
QUESTION: That’s fine.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Anything on anything else?
QUESTION: Forgive me for being late, but did you address Yemen already?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I did not. What’s the question?
QUESTION: The U.S. hasn’t gotten any indication that his return (inaudible) is more inclined to begin the transition?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, as you know, there have been meetings going on for a number of weeks between his vice president and the acting President Hadi trying to broker a deal. And as you know, the GCC envoy was there all this week trying to broker a deal. So we remain committed to a path forward for Yemen along the lines of the GCC proposal. So we want to see that go forward. Okay?
QUESTION: Question on Pakistan. Have there been any conversations between the U.S. and Pakistan since Admiral Mullen’s testimony yesterday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Conversations with Pakistan continue at all levels, including with our Embassy out there. I think you know where we are on this issue, and you’ve seen a number of Administration principals have good exchanges, important exchanges, with their Pakistani counterparts. We do believe that Haqqani* Network was responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on ISAF headquarters and a number of other recent attacks. This is not a new concern of the United States, but it’s obviously a greatly heightened concern after these recent attacks, and we are continuing intensive conversation with the Pakistani Government at all levels. As you know the Secretary met with her counterpart, and other senior officials have also been meeting with their counterparts.
QUESTION: Can you tell us – I mean, I asked the question of the briefer right after the Pakistani Meeting on Sunday night, whether the Secretary had presented intelligence about that attack to the foreign minister during that meeting. And he said, oh I can’t talk about intelligence. And I’m not asking him or you to talk about the intelligence itself. What I am trying – what I would like though is, did the Secretary actually present such intelligence or evidence as you may have about this during that meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Again, I’m not going to comment on intelligence. I will say, as our briefer said, last – earlier in the week, that they had a very full and candid and clear exchange about our concerns about the Haqqani Network, and our sense – our shared sense that we’ve got to work together on this.
QUESTION: How is it that – one last question. And I realize this is a difficult one for you to answer, but – how is it possible for you to do business with a government, one of who’s arms you believe has encouraged a direct attack on one of your diplomatic facilities?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The President, Secretary, other officials have spoken to this over the last number of months. The U.S. and Pakistan have a vital interest in continuing to work on these problems together. These are problems that threaten both of us. We have had some counterterrorism successes. We need to continue to fight this battle together, and we will.
QUESTION: So can you --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Can I just do something else here, or do you want to continue on this?
QUESTION: No, no. I want to go back to the (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Back on background on a second subject. We’ve had a number of questions over the last couple of days on the U.S. role in working for and supporting the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from Iran. I just want to underscore here that we in the State Department, throughout this ordeal, used all of our diplomatic tools to seek their release.
The President and the Secretary made more than 10 public statements calling for their release, making this case a priority for the United States. Both the President and Secretary raised their cases with a wide range of world leaders during their imprisonment, who we felt could have influence on the Iranian Government. We used our Persian social media sites to raise awareness in Iran, linking the news of their plight and statements made by other world leaders.
We were in continuous contact with the Swiss Protecting Power to demand consular and legal access to them, and we remained in continuous contact with their families as we sought their release, including personal contact by the Secretary.
We are very grateful for all the efforts of those who worked for their release, particularly the Swiss protecting power in Tehran, the Omani Government, the Iraqi Government, and many other world leaders who have raised their voices in support, as well as those inside Iran who pushed for justice.
Okay. That’s it for me.