SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. Before we begin, I’d like to say a few words about the Middle East. The United States continues to watch the situation in Libya with alarm. Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives have been lost and their loved ones, and we join the international community in strongly condemning the violence, as we’ve received reports of hundreds killed and many more injured. This bloodshed is completely unacceptable. It is the responsibility of the Government of Libya to respect the universal rights of their own people, including their right to free expression and assembly. The United States is also gravely concerned by reports of violence in Yemen and elsewhere. We urge restraint and for the governments in the region to respect the rights of their people.
In Bahrain, we welcome King Hamad’s decision to release a number of prisoners and we look forward to implementation. We also welcome Crown Prince Salman’s steps to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the full spectrum of Bahraini society. We hope Bahrain’s friends across the region and around the world will support this initiative as a constructive path to preserve Bahrain’s stability and help meet the aspirations of all its people. As we have said, these steps will need to be followed by concrete actions and reforms. We urge all parties to work quickly so that a national dialogue can produce meaningful measures that respond to the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Bahrain, and we continue to call on the Bahraini Government to exercise restraint. There is no place for violence against peaceful protesters.
The process for a new Tunisia and for a new Egypt has only just begun. We welcome Egypt’s leaders signaling their commitment to an orderly transition to a democratic government, and we look to them to take the concrete steps needed to bring about political change. And we will continue to be a supportive partner to the peoples of both countries as they seek a better future.
Across the Middle East, people are calling on their governments to be more open, more accountable, and more responsive, and the United States believes it is in the interest of governments to engage peacefully and positively in addressing their demands and to work to respond to them. Without genuine progress toward open and accountable political systems, the gap between people and their governments can only grow and instability can only deepen.
It was with great pleasure that I welcomed the foreign minister of Latvia here today, a democracy that is demonstrating by its actions how it can build a better future for its own people. We just held a productive meeting. I expressed our unwavering commitment to Latvia’s security and our support for its continuing economic recovery and the efforts that it is undertaking to ensure prosperity, energy security, and justice for all of its citizens. The United States has maintained an unbroken friendship with Latvia throughout its modern history, when it was at war and under occupation and since it acquired its independence from the Soviet Union, and we have long admired the Latvian people’s resilience throughout very difficult times.
We are proud to call Latvia our partner on many important issues, particularly with regard to global security. Latvia joined us at Lisbon last year to approve NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which will update our alliance so we can meet the diverse threats of the 21st century. And Latvia has been a leading partner in our military and civilian engagements in Afghanistan. As I said at the Munich Security Conference this month, and as I emphasized to the foreign minister today as well, these times of economic uncertainty have done nothing to lessen our enduring commitment to Europe and its security. We remain committed to our responsibilities under Article 5 and to the principles of the Strategic Concept. And we will continue working with our allies, like Latvia, to strengthen the security architecture in Europe for the 21st century.
As we work together for global security, we especially commend the Latvian people for their achievements over the past 20 years as they continue their work toward their own better future. Gaining membership in NATO and the European Union took patience and persistence, and when those memberships came they were richly deserved. And after suffering devastating job losses during this last global recession, they have been undertaking stringent cost-cutting measures necessary to begin a sustainable recovery.
The foreign minister and I discussed many issues from accelerating economic progress toward more energy security for Latvia to reduce its dependence on any one source of energy. And of course, a free economy goes hand in hand with a free and just society, and Latvia has shown its strong commitment to the rule of law. It has supported sanctions against Belarus, whose detention of its own citizens we strongly condemn. We commend Latvia for also reaching out to the Belarusian people with visa liberalization that allows them access to open countries and free media and with partnerships in business school education that expose the students of Belarus to free market principles.
As we look forward to seeing Latvia broaden that commitment by renewing a claims process to return communal property to its own Jewish community, I believe that the sky is the limit for Latvia. We have a shared commitment to values, a view of what is in the best interest of our people. And Minister, it is very gratifying for me to have you here today to reaffirm our strong bonds of friendship and alliance. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KRISTOVSKIS: Thank you, Madam Secretary, for your very kind words and vast explanation of situation in Latvia.
I represent Latvia’s people and our government, and I want to say very great thanks to your nation because we benefited over the many years because we appreciate the United States as our strategic partner. And we cooperate really in wide range of fields.
We are looking further that we will participate together with U.S. forces in ISAF mission in Afghanistan. We will support good U.S.-Russia recent policy. We are looking forward that we will extend our economic cooperation and that will be a good opportunity for development of policy of and economy of Latvia.
We want to create a stable nation which – with high quality of life, and we’re looking forward that U.S. will assist strongly to reach those aims.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Thank you, so much, Minister.
MR. CROWLEY: Jill Dougherty from CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, as we know, right now there is bloodshed in Libya, even using air power to attack civilians. Colonel Qadhafi just spoke recently and he said he will never surrender. He’s threatening to execute people. I’m sure you’ve seen his comments.
There’s intense frustration as the world looks on and a feeling of impotence right now to really get in and help people who are being attacked. Other than words, what is the United States doing to try to help to stop this?
And also if you could, just any comment on the pirates killing the Americans today. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, Jill, we are obviously watching developments in Libya with grave concern. We have joined with the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya, and we believe that the Government of Libya bears responsibility for what is occurring and must take actions to end the violence.
Now, as always, the safety and well-being of Americans has to be our highest priority, and we are in touch with many Libyan officials directly and indirectly and with other governments in the region to try to influence what is going on inside Libya. The Security Council, as you know, is meeting today to assess the situation and determine whether there are steps the international community can and should take.
As we gain a greater understanding of what actually is happening – because you know, of course, that communication has been very effectively shut down, and we’re trying to gather as much information as possible – we will take appropriate steps in line with our policies, our values, and our laws. But we’re going to have to work in concert with the international community, and I think that the message today is very clear and unambiguous from the entire international community: There is no ambivalence, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind, that the violence must stop and that the Government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of all of its citizens and to support the exercise of those rights.
Now, we are also deeply saddened and very upset by the murder of four American citizens whose yacht, The Quest, was seized off the coast of Oman. This deplorable act by the pirates that stalk vessels in the waters off of Somalia firmly underscores the need for the international community to act more decisively together. We’ve got to have a more effective approach to maintaining security on the seas in the ocean lanes that are so essential to commerce and travel.
Our deepest sympathies go to the victims’ families at this time, and we will honor their memory by strengthening international responses and partnerships to bring these criminals to justice and to more effectively end the scourge of piracy, something that should not persist in the 21st century.
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible) from Latvian (inaudible).
QUESTION: Mr. Kristovskis, as you have stated on numerous occasions, the way to Latvia’s economic recovery lies through foreign investment in part. And after meeting with Madam Secretary and other U.S. officials, do you have any good economic news to bring back home? And if not, maybe you can mention what are the main obstacles lying in the way of more U.S. investment in Latvia, be it lack of effort, the judicial – deficiencies in judicial system, or maybe the perception of corruption. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KRISTOVSKIS: Thank you. I strongly believe that U.S. will continue have interest in our region and especially also in Latvia. Yes, we discussed several aspects which is related with the development of economy of Latvia. We try to learn U.S. experience which is related with shale gas aspects. Also during the visit, I could exchange views on NDN. That means Northern Distribution Network project which is related with cargo flew via Riga to Afghanistan. And more and more, Latvian entrepreneurs, I believe, in future will participate in this road (inaudible). This road will not be just as a road for supplement of military needs, but I believe in future also that will work for civil needs and civil targets.
You mentioned some aspects which is related with the economical environment in Latvia. I strongly believe that our government under a very effective prime minister, Mr. Dombrovskis, will do the best, that our economy environment will be interesting for U.S. investors, and they will create good joint ventures with Latvian entrepreneurs.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.