SECRETARY CLINTON: You’re very popular, Franco. Look at this. (Laughter.) Oh, my goodness. And I know why, because he is a very good colleague and an excellent friend not only of mine but of the United States. And it’s a pleasure to welcome him back once more to the State Department. Franco and I consult frequently. We often are on the cell phone to one another, and usually I drop before he does. (Laughter.) So we have to call back. But I’m very pleased that we could meet to discuss a number of very important and urgent issues.
Obviously, we discussed at length the situation in Libya. As NATO allies and as members of the coalition of nations that responded jointly to the crisis in Libya, Italy and the United States have a shared stake in ensuring the security of the Libyan people. Italy has made critical contributions to that mission. Italy was a strong voice in support of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Italian planes have flown missions to enforce those resolutions while Italian ships and bases have provided valuable logistical support. And on the humanitarian front, Italy helped to evacuate foreign nationals quickly and safely while also delivering 26 tons of aid, including food and medical supplies. The foreign minister and I talked about the ongoing NATO mission. We will be meeting at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin next week. And we are very committed to staying in close consultation.
Now, there are so many issues that we have on our plate right now, but one that I want to mention is the number of immigrants that are coming to Italy. Italy has been dealing with this influx of immigrants particularly from Tunisia, because we also share the goal of helping to provide stability and opportunity to the people of Tunisia. And they are also, as Egypt is, engaged in a very important transition. So Italy is bearing more than its share of the responsibilities as we all do everything we can to assist the people of North Africa and the Middle East to fulfill their aspirations for a more democratic future with greater human rights and economic opportunity.
I want to express again the appreciation of the United States for the contributions that Italy has made to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Italy leads the NATO forces in western Afghanistan, where 4,000 Italian troops are stationed, most of them in Herat Province. Thanks in large part to Italy’s leadership, including the hard work of Italian police trainers, Herat City will be one of the first districts to transition to Afghan-led security in July.
Now we will be in constant conversation because Italy and the United States are close friends and trusted allies. We work on many issues in addition to Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Afghanistan, and we’re always grateful to our friends for their leadership and their solidarity in working together. Thank you, Franco.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: Thank you. Thank you very much, Hillary, for this very warm welcome. Thank you very much for acknowledging the Italian efforts and Italian commitment towards working together with allies, with the partners, first of all with the United States. Italy and the United States share values, objectives, political goals.
We talked about Libya. We both share the view that Libyan people deserves a better future – a future of liberty, a future of civil rights, and that Qadhafi should leave. Unfortunately, we will not be in the position to, I would say, predict when. But what is absolutely necessary, we have to work together in order to guarantee a national process of political reconciliation not including Mr. Qadhafi in the future of Libya. This is a very clear political point. We talked about our respective contacts with the CNT, the Council of Benghazi. We talked about the perspective of reconstruction, helping reconstruction of Libya.
We talked about what to do to encourage a political solution involving all the international and the regional players, including African Union. I informed Hillary about the visit President Bingu of African Union paid yesterday to Rome and the visit that Mr. Jalil, the president of CNT, will pay on Monday to president – to Italy, to Rome, and that I will meet, of course, to talk about how to develop our cooperation.
We talked about Tunisia. We talked about North African countries. And again we shared the point of view of United States that we have to work together to launch a comprehensive economic plan of economic growth, re-launching development, creating new job opportunities in all the countries concerned to support the good outcome of the peaceful revolutions, particularly in Tunisia and in Egypt. I think stability and democracy do not contradict each other; on the contrary. They can go hand in hand. The more democracy comes, the more development is stable. If there is no democracy, there is no stability. It is a fragile situation where it’s demonstrated by a situation where, after decades, non-democratic states have fallen because they were not democratic.
So this exactly something that has much to do with our common understanding and our common values: democracy, civil liberties, and so on and so on. Where we’ll be cooperating very closely on Afghanistan, as your Hillary has said. Italy’s helping reconstruction in the province of Herat, training Afghan forces. We will continue to contribute to the alliance, to NATO, to our partners’ efforts.
Thanks very much, Hillary, for recognizing the efforts we made on managing migration flows. It is very important point you touched upon because we are asking for how to strike the right balance between dealing with human beings, was the first point. These are not numbers. These are human beings. These are children, women, men that are desperate, that try to escape from difficult situation. And on the other side, try balance between how to deal with human beings and how to share the burdens and the responsibilities among a number of European member states that should have the same interests. That’s why we are, I would say, asking for more European involvement, more European commitment on managing together migration, which is not a Sicilian issue or an Italian issue. It is a truly European issue. It is a very, very good point.
On all these points, we will be having very close and continuous consultations as we have done in the past. In spirit of frankness, we are in the condition to speak to each other practically whenever is necessary with a great pleasure. And thank you once again, Hillary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Franco.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: Thank you.
MR. TONER: The first question goes to Jill Dougherty of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, hello.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello.
QUESTION: Speaking of Libya, we have this intriguing letter from Moammar Qadhafi going to President Obama, urging him to stop the NATO bombing. How do you interpret that? I mean, could this be a sign that Qadhafi is ready to deal, ready to step down? And then also, you have your representative there and he’s meeting with the opposition. Is it time for the U.S. to recognize or fund the opposition?
If I could ask one quick one – (laughter) – I know this is our tradition, our tradition. Two days to go before the government could shut down. How is the State Department ready for this? What can Americans expect from the State Department?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, you were talking about Libya. Are you urging Secretary Clinton to – the United States to recognize the opposition?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Franco, that’s four or five questions, so we – (laughter) – they try to test my memory. (Laughter.) So I’ll see whether I can.
First, with respect to the letter you referred to, I think that Mr. Qadhafi knows what he must do. There needs to be a ceasefire. His forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost. There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power and, as the foreign minister said, his departure from Libya. So I don’t think there is any mystery about what is expected from Mr. Qadhafi at this time. That is an international assessment. And the sooner that occurs and the bloodshed ends, the better it will be for everyone.
Secondly, our envoy Chris Stevens is in Benghazi. He is meeting with many different people. I want to publicly thank again the Italian Government, which has been very helpful in assisting him to be there and to meet those with whom he is meeting. And we will wait to hear more from him. He’s obviously doing an assessment right now.
With respect to the question about the shutdown, obviously, President Obama has made abundantly clear that the United States Government, the Obama Administration, and I believe the American people do not want to see a government shutdown. We are very hopeful that the Congress will reach the right decision, which is to agree on whatever cuts are necessary for the 2011 budget and go on with the business of the American people.
Now, obviously, we have to plan for every contingency and we are doing so. We hope that there will not be the necessity for triggering any of the actions that we have been preparing for, but if there is, we will provide more details. Now, of course, the State Department is a national security agency. We will continue working, even through a government shutdown, to the fullest extent possible because we have a lot going on in the world. We are only talking about a few of the things that we are dealing with here at State and USAID, but I, as an American citizen as well as the Secretary of State and as a former member of the Senate, hope that there will be a resolution that would be in the best interests of our country.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: As for the question asked to me, of course, we talked about a American position. The Secretary of State informed me about the presence of her special envoy to Benghazi, and I know perfectly that United States have to know more about this group of Benghazi. Maybe Italy did so because we know for a longer time from inside the country who they are, how the situation is. So it’s absolutely necessary for these people to be a bit well known to the public opinion to the rest of the world to offer the opportunities and the elements that are necessary to take a decision like the one Italy has still – has taken.
MR. TONER: The second question is from Massimo Gaggi of Corriere.
QUESTION: I would like to know if you discussed the possibility of the exile for Colonel Qadhafi and the different options that are in the field. I think you discussed this issue also yesterday with Mr. Ping. And if there also the possibility of a more relevant involvement of Italy in the management of this crisis, something like Kosovo style, after Italy did not participate in the conference and the day before the London summit.
And if I may ask a question to Secretary Clinton, if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time in the 60 years that a military intervention from NATO is not leaded full power from the beginning to the end from United States. Does this depend only on the peculiarity of this crisis, the situation in the Mediterranean, or does this also message to the world that in the multilateralism carries some increasing burden for the rest of the world, also in terms of military intervention? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: Well, first of all, we discussed about the possibility of Qadhafi leaving to another country of Qadhafi’s exile. I informed the Secretary of State about a visit of President Ping, but I think if we want to succeed we shouldn’t at this stage fill in details about potential destinations, countries of destination, possibilities, options, and so on and so on. What is absolutely clear is that I do hope that African Union, as it was decided in Addis, will send a delegation to send a very clear message, like the rest of the international community, in the sense that Qadhafi should leave – Qadhafi and his family.
On the second point, of course, we talked about the involvement of Italy. Frankly speaking, I don’t feel excluded at all. I think Italy is one of the key partners. Italy you know has the command of maritime operation of NATO, hosts the headquarter of NATO in Naples. We have the responsibility of the European mission for humanitarian aid, just adopted yesterday in Brussels, so we are satisfied.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, we not only highly value our partnership with Italy on a bilateral basis, but also through NATO. And we are very appreciative of the leadership that Italy has provided in this situation, as in so many others. I have full confidence in NATO and in our NATO allies and in those countries such as Sweden, Ukraine, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, who have joined as part of this effort to enforce the UN Security Council resolution.
The United States, from the very beginning, said that we will, of course, do our part. We began to do a lot of the work that we were uniquely capable of doing, but we have every confidence in what NATO is doing now. In fact, since NATO took over command and control of all aspects of the air mission, just a few days ago, on March 31st, it has launched 851 sorties, including 334 strikes sorties. A number of these strikes, based on our assessment, hit Libyan air defense systems, tanks and other vehicles, and ammunition storage facilities.
So we think NATO is performing very well. We do know that it is difficult when you have a force such as that employed by Qadhafi that is insinuating itself into cities, using snipers on rooftops, engaging in violent, terrible behavior that puts so many lives at risk, for air power alone to be sufficient to take out those forces. So given the mission that NATO is performing, it is performing admirably.
What Franco and I discussed is how we can, through our mutual efforts by everyone involved, do more to help the opposition make very fast progress. I mean, these were not soldiers. These were not trained military forces. They were doctors and lawyers and university professors and economists and young men who were students, and they are being attacked by mercenaries, by ruthless forces that Qadhafi is utilizing to show no mercy against his people. And they are courageous. They are moving as fast as they can to try to form themselves into a military operation. And I think that what NATO is doing is buying time, buying space. But ultimately, we believe that Qadhafi must go. He has lost legitimacy. And we are supporting efforts such a those that Franco described in order to make that happen.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: Thank you very much.