Good afternoon and let me once again welcome Foreign Minister Moni to Washington. I’m very pleased that she was able, along with her husband, to attend our Iftar dinner last night. And I’m delighted to have this opportunity to discuss in depth the issues that are of concern to both of our countries.
As a country with a strong secular and democratic heritage, a record of respect for women, a Muslim majority population, Bangladesh embodies the promise that President Obama spoke of in Cairo. I remember when I visited Bangladesh in the 1990s, and I met many dynamic women in positions of responsibility, and I saw the way that pioneering microcredit projects really invented in Bangladesh – especially through the Grameen Bank – helped women living in poverty gain self-sufficiency and offered them a better life.
I saw the government’s efforts to increase access to education for young girls. I saw Muslim and Hindu women sitting down together to talk about their countries’ future. I was very impressed by the commitment I saw to empowering women, for which Bangladesh has long been known. And of course, it is further emphasized by Dr. Moni’s appointment as the country’s first woman foreign minister. So I am extremely pleased to have her as my counterpart.
And I’m also proud to say that the partnership between our two countries is strong and growing stronger. We are united by shared values, common interests, and a commitment to work together to strengthen democracy, promote economic development, deny space to terrorists, and create a more peaceful and prosperous future.
This is an exciting time for Bangladesh. The December parliamentary elections were widely viewed as the freest and fairest in the country’s history. Bangladeshis now have the opportunity to build on this success, strengthen their democratic institutions, and come together around an agenda that the prime minister has set for the future. And the United States stands ready to work with Bangladesh. And we will work to enhance economic opportunities. The foreign minister and I discussed the possibility of a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement. That would make it easier for U.S. companies and investors to expand their activities in Bangladesh and increase trade.
We discussed the ways that growing and increasingly successful Bangladeshi citizens who come to the United States to comprise a diaspora community can help to spur development and opportunity. Bangladeshi Americans have contributed so much to the culture and prosperity of our country, and I know they are eager to do more of their – for their country of origin.
I thanked the foreign minister for Bangladesh’s leadership on a range of regional and global issues, including efforts to combat violent extremism, provide peacekeeping forces in trouble spots around the world, enhance food security and global health, address the threat of climate change, which is especially important for Bangladesh’s survival.
Now, President Obama and I look forward to discussing these issues further next week in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. We are committed, Madame Minister, to work with you, with your government, and with the people of Bangladesh for a brighter future. Thank you very much.FOREIGN MINISTER MONI:
Thank you. Thank you, Madame Secretary, for receiving me and my delegation. We are truly honored. Meeting you is always a pleasure. You and President Obama are household names in Bangladesh. Our people fondly recall your visit to Bangladesh and the extraordinary love you have shown for Bangladesh. We have always been encouraged by your wisdom and dynamism. The leadership you have been providing since your resumption of office as the Secretary of State of this great nation has inspired great hopes around the world, particularly among women. As the first woman foreign minister of my country, I consider it my very special privilege to have this opportunity of meeting you here at the State Department.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have had very substantive and fruitful discussions with Secretary of State Mrs. Hillary Clinton on issues of mutual interest. We attach great importance to our relations with the United States. We consider the U.S. as our close friend and partner. During our talks today, I have reiterated our government’s commitment to further strengthening our relations.
You know that we had an election last December which was widely acclaimed as free, fair, and credible. The election has set a high standard not only for Bangladesh, but also for other democratic countries in South Asia and elsewhere. In this task, we have consistently received support from the United States. The U.S. Government, the Congress, and the people of this great country has always stood by us in support of our democratic cause. I have taken the opportunity to express to Secretary Clinton our sincere appreciation for the support.
I have also briefed the Secretary about the vision of our new government, which, under the dynamic leadership of our prime minister Sheikh Hasina, is committed to bringing change. Our resolve is to ensure rule under the constitution of – and the law, good governance, to protect the inclusive and the pluralist nature of our society, promote women’s empowerment, opportunities for the young and the disadvantaged. Our goal is to ensure a level of socioeconomic development that would elevate Bangladesh to a middle-income country by 2021, which will coincide with 50 years of our independence.
This is not going to be an easy task, and we cannot do this alone. We need support and assistance from our friends, particularly from the United States. I have discussed with Secretary Clinton the various areas of cooperation between our two countries, including enhanced trade opportunities, U.S. investment in Bangladesh, and cooperation in the area of counterterrorism and debt relief for Bangladesh.
With regard to trade, I especially requested for duty-free and quota-free access for Bangladeshi products into the U.S. market. We have also discussed about the social and human rights related issues. I sought her cooperation in deporting the killers of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, some of whom have reportedly been living in the U.S.
We have also discussed regional and international issues, particularly the issues of climate change and the current global financial crisis. I briefed her on the adverse impact of the climate change on vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh and stressed the need for collective action to cope with the challenge. I also drew her attention to the increased cost of development endeavors due to climate change, and underscored the need for developed countries to assist in adaptation and mitigation.
On the global financial crisis, we agreed that the challenges cannot be resolved by any single country and that there is need for concerted action. I apprised her about the negative impact of the crisis on Bangladesh and the need for addressing our concerns by the international community.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I have just said, ours had been a very substantive and fruitful meeting. We intend to continue our dialogue and build on the discussions we have had today. I look forward to receiving Secretary Clinton in Bangladesh soon. I thank you.MR. KELLY:
We’ll take a couple questions. First one is to Lachlan Carmichael. Do you want to go first? Go ahead. Arshad Mahmud.QUESTION:
Yes. Arshad Mahmud from bdnews24.com. Thank you, Madame Secretary, and thank you, Foreign Minister Moni. You have – both of you have said that you discussed substantive issues, and Bangladesh has this critical issue of – its seeking – its U.S. market – for duty-free access to the U.S. market, and also the Millennium Challenge – inclusion into Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Could you please give us some specific things that you have discussed regarding this – the issues that I have just said? And have you set any goals, say, for instance, if you go to Bangladesh in the next two years or if she comes back here, so that we can measure to what extent the relationship has gone? And how can you measure that? Thank you.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, we discussed both the issues along with many others in a very comprehensive discussion about the concerns that Bangladesh and the United States share. Certainly with respect to the Millennium Challenge Account, the foreign minister recognized that circumstances have changed with the election of a new government in December, about the same time that our Administration was elected. We are both young administrations and working hard to get established and proceed on the numerous goals that we share.
But we will certainly begin a conversation, with no guarantees, because, as you know, the Millennium Challenge Account is not only a very competitive process to get to a compact that many nations are competing for, but it is one that takes time. And so we will begin to look into that and see how that can proceed.
With respect to the foreign minister’s very clear request for duty-free access, we have a vibrant trade relationship now, and it has been growing, and we look forward to continuing to grow that trade. We did specifically talk about the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which has been discussed between our two governments – your trade officials along with our trade representative.
Bangladesh currently receives preferential tariff treatment for hundreds of products through the generalized system of preferences, and we’re going to work to see how Bangladesh can diversify its exports based on what already exists, because we now believe we have a government with whom we can really explore these questions. And it obviously is up to Congress if anything further is decided, but we’re going to do everything we can within the existing framework and where we have authority in the Executive Branch to try to enhance our bilateral relationship. MR. KELLY:
We’ll take one from the (inaudible) side.PARTICIPANT:
You want to add anything to that?FOREIGN MINISTER MONI:
Well, we are working together, and as she has mentioned, our two administrations, they are not just young, they are also with common aspirations. And we believe that we can work together very well and address all these issues, and I believe that we’ll be able to cooperate much more.MR. KELLY:
We’ll take one more question. Lachlan Carmichael with AFP.QUESTION:
Switching to East Asia, do you really think it will be business as usual with the new Japanese Government? I mean, Prime Minister Hatoyama today said he wants a less subservient role with the United States. Also, there is people in his party that want to reduce the U.S. military presence there. And I understand the defense minister today said he wants to end the Afghan refueling mission when it comes up for renewal in January. That sounds like some tough times ahead.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, Lachlan, I don’t see it that way. I think that we’ve already begun intensive consultations with the new Japanese Government. It was Mario Cuomo who famously said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” And I think that there is a lot of work to be done on both of our sides to develop some understanding and build relationships.
This is a new government for Japan. It’s a change which is dramatic, given the 50 years of LDP governmental leadership. But I am very confident that the strength of our relationship and our alliance will stand the test of any political changes, although there will be new policies and new approaches. I think that’s only to be expected.
We have a new government in Bangladesh that is creating a commitment to institutionalizing democracy, doing things differently than its predecessor did. We have a new government in Japan. But the United States remains committed to Asia. We remain committed to our relationship with Japan. And in the weeks to come, we’ll be working together, sitting across from tables having meals, meeting each other, learning about the concerns that the new government might have, and we’ll be addressing them.QUESTION:
Can you give us some details of Kurt Campbell’s talks?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, you’ll have to ask the Assistant Secretary. But he and a number of people within this Department, within the Defense Department, within the White House and other agencies of our government, have been engaging intensively in the last weeks. Kurt Campbell and others within the State Department know some of the people who are in the new government, so they’re not totally new; they’re just new in the capacity that they now enjoy.
So I’m very relaxed and optimistic that the strength of our relationship will be as positive as it ever has been and our core values remain unchanged. But every government has the right to change policies. The Obama Administration is changing policies from the prior administration, but it doesn’t in any way undermine our core values and our national security interests, and I don’t see that happening here.
Thank you all very much.FOREIGN MINISTER MONI:
Madame Secretary, do you (inaudible) President Musharraf’s comments that U.S. aid was used (inaudible) India (inaudible) military rather than fighting the global war on terrorism?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, we’ll get back to you on that. (Laughter.)QUESTION:
(Inaudible.) Thank you.