FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: (Via interpreter) Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to once again renew my warm welcome to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is a dear friend as well as a colleague. It is, for us, a true pleasure to host her here in Rome for this second meeting of the Contact Group on Libya, which I’ll be co-chairing starting from 11 o’clock with His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, crown prince of Qatar.
This is an opportunity for us to once again reiterate that the United States is, by Italy, considered as a friend and a very close ally when it comes to international policies. I would like to point out that we always, as a country, discuss these policies and approaches with all of our partners, and obviously, with the United States. This is how we have acted as far as the mission in Libya is concerned. This is what we have been discussing. We have also been looking at the importance of seeking a political solution, whereby military pressure is employed as a means of convincing the regime to bring to an end the attacks against Libyan civilians and put an end to violence.
And this obviously is going to be one of the focal points of the meeting which we’ll be opening shortly of the Contact Group on Libya. We discussed the Middle Eastern question, the situation in Syria, the implications for Lebanon, and we both agree that it is necessary to convince the Syrian Government to bring to an end the violence and to establish a dialogue with those calling for reform, as President Asad had promised, given that unfortunately, this has not as yet occurred.
We also discussed the decisions that the United States has already adopted and that Europe is shortly to adopt with regard to sanctions. When it comes to Syria, sanctions must obviously include the suspension of the EU agreement with Syria for framework agreement and association and cooperation. Obviously, this will also involve restrictions to the movement of individuals who are directly involved in the violence that has been committed over the past few weeks. Obviously, the impact of the Syrian crisis is severe for the entire region. In particular, we discussed the situation in Lebanon and the importance of guaranteeing stability in Lebanon, given that, as we know, the government has not as yet been formed. And we also expressed concern on account of the growing Iranian presence in the region, and we know that this has taken a very visible form with actions and measures targeting important countries such as Saudi Arabia in the Gulf area, and we have seen recent instances of this. And this testifies to a very active Iranian presence which shows that Iran is exploiting the crisis underway, and of course, this is a reason for concern.
I have summarized the key points that we have discussed. I would like to once again renew my thanks to the Secretary of State. Hillary, over to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, and it is a great delight to be here in Rome, and especially to have this opportunity to consult with my colleague and my friend, the foreign minister.
As Foreign Minister Frattini just reported we have discussed a broad range of issues.
But it is all premised on the strong friendship and partnership between the United States and Italy. This is a great source of pride to our country, because Italy is not only our NATO ally, but our partner in the G-8 and the G-20, a close collaborator on a range of critical issues from counterterrorism to peacekeeping, and a nation that shares our democratic ideals and our commitment to prosperity, peace, and progress. So we are delighted to be working so closely with your government, and we thank you, Franco, for hosting this Contact Group meeting about Libya.
As Franco said, we discussed at length where we are and where we’re going with respect to Libya. The United States and Italy have stood shoulder to shoulder along with NATO and our regional partners. Today, we will be discussing in depth how better to increase the pressure on Qadhafi and those around him diplomatically, politically, economically, how we can bring about the outcome that the people of Libya and the international community seek – an end to the violence against civilians, and the beginning of a democratic transition to a better future.
We also discussed our deep concern about the alarming situation in Syria. Our nations have called for an immediate end to the use of violence by the Syrian Government against its own people, and we’ve joined the chorus of the international community. Just last week, the Human Rights Council condemned the violence and is dispatching a mission to Syria to investigate. The United States has announced targeted sanctions against key individuals and entities that have engaged in grave abuses in Syria. And I appreciate very much the foreign minister’s call for EU sanctions that should be pursued. Together, we have to show the Syrian Government that there are consequences for this brutal crackdown that has been imposed on the Syrian people.
I also want to express our deep appreciation for Italy’s important participation in the mission in Afghanistan. Four thousand Italian troops stand with us in doing the difficult work of securing Afghanistan and paving the way for its more effective transition to a better future. We’re very grateful for that commitment.
With respect to the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, Usama bin Ladin’s death sent an unmistakable message about the strength of the resolve of the international community to stand against extremism and those who perpetuate it. But let us not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaida and its affiliates does not end with one death. We have to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but around the world, because it is especially important that there be no doubt that those who pursue a terrorist agenda, the criminals who indiscriminately murder innocent people will be brought to justice.
Now there are so many other areas where Italy and the United States are intertwined – certainly, our trading and commercial ties, our educational and cultural ties, and our very important family ties. And we join in congratulating Italy on this important milestone year of your independence. You may know that Vice President Biden will be leading a distinguished delegation for the formal recognition of independence on June 2nd, and we could not be more excited.
I am very grateful to the close collaboration that I have developed over my time at the State Department with Franco, and we look forward to continuing to work on a range of important and critical issues between our two countries as well as regionally and globally.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. There’s time for four questions. Elise Labott, CNN.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, on Libya, the TNC has said that they need about 2 to 3 billion to avoid a complete breakdown of their operations. Do you expect that today, you’ll be able to make that type of commitment? And what about the arms that the rebels are requesting?
And on Usama bin Ladin, do you believe Pakistan’s military intelligence knew that he was hiding in this garrison town, and do you think that the Pakistani military and ISI can be trusted going forward, that there aren’t more terrorists in the country? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to Libya and the TNC’s request, Franco and I discussed those. He’s been meeting with representatives of the TNC. We both will be meeting with them today along with the other Contact Group members. Clearly on our agenda is looking for the most effective ways to deliver financial assistance and other means of supporting and helping the TNC opposition.
I think it’s fair to say that there’s been an enormously effective effort that has been led by the Contact Group. Individual nations have certainly made their contributions. The United Nations, which will be represented here, is working very hard on the humanitarian relief side. I think that we have made a number of important commitments.
Now, everyone is always impatient. We expect things to be done immediately in our very fast world. But we’ll be discussing a financial mechanism. We’ll be discussing other forms of aid. I will be announcing formally our nonlethal assistance. So I think that there is an effort with urgency to meet the requests that the TNC is making.
With respect to your questions about Pakistan, I have said before, I said it the day after our successful operation, that we have cooperated with Pakistan in the war against terror. They’ve been an important partner in our counterterrorism efforts. They have helped us put unprecedented pressure on al-Qaida and its leadership. Bin Ladin is not the only high leader in al-Qaida who has been removed from the scene thanks to the partnership between the United States and Pakistan. And we are committed to supporting the people and the democracy that Pakistan is representing now.
It is not always an easy relationship. You know that. But on the other hand, it is a productive one for both of our countries, and we are going to continue to cooperate between our governments, our militaries, our law enforcement agencies, but most importantly, between the American and Pakistani people, where we have made a commitment to helping them meet their needs and trying to establish a firmer foundation for their democracy.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I have a question for Minister Frattini and one for Secretary of State Clinton.
A question for Mr. Frattini: Wars costs money. Hillary Clinton mentioned Afghanistan, and some believe that the exit strategy in Afghanistan could be stepped up following the death of Usama bin Ladin, and this could mean that both Italy and the United States might have to spend a bit less on the current operations. And of course, this also applies to Libya. It is naturally impossible to establish how long the operation in Libya is going to last. It is clear that there are some costs involved, and I was just wondering whether Minister Frattini could say something about the cost of these operations.
And a question for Secretary of State Clinton: Televisions, the internet, the papers showed a picture that we will never forget, the picture of the Situation Room where you are with President Obama, with Vice President Biden. And in that picture, you covered your mouth with your hand and you looked concerned, frightened. I’m wondering whether you could tell us what you were looking at at that particular moment when the picture was taken, and what were you thinking?
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: (Via interpreter) Well, with regard to the first question that you put to me, there can be no doubt that the more we are successful in the fight against terror, the greater security and the lower the costs that have to be incurred in order to ensure that we have in place adequate protective measures. Italy and our friends in the United States have always stated firmly that the fight against terror is waged to ensure the security of our respective countries, Europe and the United States.
So the more successful we are in this fight against terror, the most likely it is that we can reduce, let’s say, the extent of our commitment. So the more successful we are in the fight against terrorism, the more likely it is, for instance, that in Afghanistan, we will be able to focus more on the transition strategy. The more successful we are in Libya, in other words, the more successful we are in putting pressure on Qadhafi’s regime and making it quite clear to him that he has no future, the more likely it is that we will be able to successfully continue putting pressure on the current regime, to ease the pressure on the current, let’s say, movements, protests, and the more likely it is that we’ll be able to rapidly move on and ensure that there can be a peaceful political transition. So that’s why I would say that protecting civilians is instrumental in ensuring that we can rapidly achieve a political solution, and this is one of the topics that we will be discussing today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I just want to reiterate what Franco said about Afghanistan. We are very committed to begin a drawdown of our forces in Afghanistan beginning in July, but the scope and pace of that drawdown has not been determined yet. And I think that the death of bin Ladin deals a significant strategic blow to al-Qaida and to their Taliban allies, and reinforces that the United States, Italy, and all of our partners in Afghanistan are going to track down and, where necessary, kill or capture those who are on the battlefield or directing the actions against our troops and against Afghanistan, with the goal of trying to help Afghanistan be able to defend itself.
That is what we are working toward and that is what the NATO strategic goal is, that we achieve this by 2014, which is the same goal that Afghanistan has announced. So I think our resolve is even stronger following bin Ladin’s death, because we know that it will have an impact on those who are on the battlefield in Afghanistan. And we are also committed, as I have said numerous times previously, to reconciliation, to working with Afghanistan in the lead, on attempting to reach a political solution that will remove insurgents from waging war to participating in a political system within Afghanistan in accord with the laws and constitution of Afghanistan.
Now with respect to your second question, those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken. I’m somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs, so it may have no great meaning whatsoever.
MODERATOR: Steve Myers, New York Times, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Minister, Madam Secretary, does the agreement that was announced yesterday in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah, does that close the door on the prospect of peace talks continuing with the Israelis? And in the case perhaps of the EU and as well as Congress in Washington, at what point do you reconsider the aid that you now provide to the Palestinian Authority? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Steve, speaking for the United States, we are waiting to see the details. We obviously are aware of the announcement in Cairo yesterday. There are many steps that have yet to be undertaken in order to implement the agreement. And we are going to be carefully assessing what this actually means, because there are a number of different potential meanings to it, both on paper and in practice.
We’ve made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles. And the Quartet principles have been well known to everyone for a number of years. So we’re going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: (Via interpreter) Italy shares exactly the same view, as was pointed out by Hillary. Obviously, we are waiting to receive more detailed information on these developments, but there is no doubt that complying with the principles of the Quartet is a prerequisite before Hamas can be considered by Italy as a potential interlocutor. As you will recall, in the past, an attempt was made to give Hamas a very clear message. Nothing has come of this. We are waiting to see which of the two options will be adopted by this new government.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Last question from (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Madam Secretary, we know that the U.S. Government had taken into consideration the possibility of taking into custody Usama bin Ladin in order to interrogate him. Given that, what happened? Was his death a mistake? That was my first question.
The second question is on Libya and on Qadhafi. We know that the National Transition Council considers Qadhafi a legitimate target, so would it be imaginable that an operation such as the one conducted in Pakistan could take place in Tripoli, for instance?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to bin Ladin, he was a sworn enemy of the United States and a danger to all of humanity. The crimes that he committed not only in our country, but throughout the world, from London to Madrid, from Istanbul to Bali, left thousands of people dead and maimed. And the majority of the people that he directed the killing of were actually Muslims. And I think that his ideology of hatred and violence is thankfully being rejected in what we see going on in the Middle East and North Africa as people are protesting, largely peacefully, for a better future for themselves and their children.
But our view has been that bin Ladin was a clear target for the United States and our allies since, now, nearly 10 years. The operation was conducted in the highest professional standards, and in a very clear, unmistakable effort to bring an end to his leadership over terror. I’m not going to comment on any operational details whatsoever. I have the highest regard for everyone in our government who planned and executed this operation. And there is no doubt in my mind that his death is going to make not only our country, but the world safer, and empower those around the world who are builders, not destroyers. But as I also said, and as Franco said, this is not the end. There is still a lot of work that has to be done and a lot of vigilance that has to be maintained.
And with respect to Qadhafi, we are implementing United Nations security resolution with respect to protecting civilians. We have made it abundantly clear that the best way to protect civilians is for Qadhafi to cease his ruthless, brutal attacks on civilians from the West to the East, to withdraw from the cities that he is sieging and attacking, and to leave power. So that is the outcome we are seeking.
FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: (Via interpreter) Thank you. That is all.