And we work together with France in so many areas. France just very successfully hosted the G8, and I am very grateful to the Minister and his government. We also discussed our work together in Afghanistan, where our young men and women are working side by side. I expressed regret for the death of a French corporal, who was taking part in a reconnaissance operation; yet another very tragic reminder of French sacrifices in this ongoing effort.
The president – or the prime minister – excuse me. He’s been everything but the first – (laughter) –
FOREIGN MINISTER JUPPE: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah. I know I haven’t either, so we have something else in common. (Laughter.) But the Minister and I also discussed the Middle East Peace Process, and we are certainly committed to working together with the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a peaceful, mutually beneficial outcome. On so many areas, French leadership, from Cote d’Ivoire to the Middle East and North Africa to Afghanistan and far beyond, is absolutely essential, and I’m very proud of this partnership and very grateful to have this opportunity, once again, to explore the very comprehensive agenda that we share.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUPPE: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary of State, for your kind words and very warm welcome. We have just had a very good meeting. We have met on many occasions since my recent appointment, during contact group meetings on Libya, for example, or the OECD ministerial meeting in Paris. Today we have deepened this ongoing dialogue on the most pressing issue of the moment, namely on Libya, on Syria, on Iran, and Afghanistan. On all those issues, we share the same views and we are implementing the same actions.
I also briefed the Secretary of State on my latest visit in the Middle East and our efforts to boost the peace process. We had on this issue a comprehensive and in-depth exchange, and we agree to work closely together and with the Palestinians and Israelians. This has been a very productive discussion and further proof that France and the United States hold close views on the international situation. Our partnership, our friendship are as strong as ever.
Today is no ordinary day for the French and the American people. As you have said, Madam Secretary, 67 years ago, on June the 6th, 1944, thousands of young American men lost their lives on the beach of Normandy, on the first day of the campaign to liberate my country. We will never forget those who shed their blood in D-Day. As we speak, American and French soldiers are fighting side by side in Afghanistan. My thoughts go to them also. In a few hours, I will be at the World War the Second Memorial to present the Legion d’honneur, our most prestigious award in France, to three American veterans. And it will be for me a very important moment.
Well, thank you again. And we’ll meet again in Abu Dhabi in a few days to discuss more precisely Libya and maybe other issues. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MR. TONER: The first question today goes to Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. For the both of you, you talked about your close cooperation on the Middle East. Can you talk, Mister Minister, about France’s efforts on a Mideast peace process conference? And Secretary Clinton, is this a helpful idea at this juncture? Would the U.S. support that?
And Madam Secretary, I was wondering if you could talk just a little bit about Yemen. You said last week that you’re doing everything you can to get President Saleh to leave power and get out of the way. Now that he’s in Saudi Arabia on medical treatment after this attack on the palace, should he stay out of the country? Would that be helpful for the transition?
And then there are reports about a precipitous and steep withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan. Are you afraid that that would engender – danger the fragile gains that you’ve made at peace there? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Let the minister begin on the Middle East.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUPPE: Yes. On the Middle East, why are you trying to develop our initiative? Our main concern is what would – will happen in next September. We have the feeling that if nothing happens before September, the situation will be very difficult for everybody when the General Assembly will discuss a resolution about the Palestinian state. It will not be easy for us Europeans, for Palestinians, for Israelians, and the only way to avoid such a situation is to boost or to encourage a resumption of the negotiation between Palestinian and Israelians. And that’s what we are trying to do. I presented in Ramallah, then in Jerusalem, a kind of platform of parameters for negotiation. The Palestinians have reacted very positively. The Israelians are reflecting on this proposal. We discussed that all together and we agreed to continue our conversation and our work closely as possible.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as the minister said, we are working to have negotiations between the parties resume. We’re consulting the parties. We’re consulting our partners in the international community, including the Quartet. As I’ve said many times, we believe the status quo is unsustainable. We have said that to the Israelis, we have said it to the Palestinians, and therefore a return to negotiations is the only path forward. Unilateral action at the United Nations will not create a state. And I appreciate how difficult this is because we all know it. We have lived it and certainly understand that the United States, France, the international community, we cannot impose a solution on the parties. They have to decide between themselves how to have two states living in peace and security next to each other. So it is ultimately up to them, and any way we can encourage them to get back into negotiations might create the environment in which these very difficult decisions will have to be made. And as the minister said, we discussed that and we will be certainly working together.
With respect to Yemen, we know that President Ali Abullah Saleh is currently in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment. The civilian government remains in power in Yemen. The vice president is currently serving as the acting president. Our ambassador, who’s been very actively involved along with other Embassy personnel, are continuing to meet with a broad cross-section of Yemeni officials as well as civil society to try to better assess what this means to the country. Obviously, I can’t speculate on what President Saleh is going to do or say, but we do want to emphasize we’re calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a nonviolent transition that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution. And our position has not changed. It continues to remain the same. We think an immediate transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people, because the instability and lack of security currently afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there is some process that everyone knows is going to lead to the sort of economic and political reforms that they are seeking.
And, finally, with respect to Afghanistan, there have been no decisions made. Obviously, we have said consistently that our transition will be in accordance with the agreement reached at the Lisbon summit. That was a very firm commitment by NATO and ISAF partners to a transition that will end the combat mission in 2014. We know it needs to be conditions based. There will be transitioning to Afghan lead security.
But speaking for the United States, we have absolutely not made the specific decisions, because we’re still gathering our best assessment. But we will do what we do in consultation with our partners in the NATO-ISAF partnership. And we will do it in consultation with the Afghans, because ultimately our goal here is to try to create conditions where Afghanistan can defend itself.
MR. TONER: Second question goes to Lorraine Millot of Libération.
QUESTION: To Secretary of State, first, are you ready to attend a conference proposed in Paris by Mr. Juppe? Do you think such a conference would be helpful? Could it help prevent a vote at the U.N.? And with due respect to this house, don’t you think that if you would send President Obama, it would give more weight to such a conference, because he was in charge of the negotiation until now?
And to Mr. Juppe, in French if I may. (In French.)
INTERPRETER: So the question in French was, to Mr. Juppe, what do you expect to obtain in this conference, so that you would kind of avert the vote of the UN or convince the Palestinians that it is not a good idea to have this vote at the UN?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that there is no agreement that the parties will resume negotiations. And I think the idea of any gathering, a conference or a meeting, has to be linked to a willingness by the parties to resume negotiating. And I know that Minister Juppe raised that with both parties when he was recently in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
We strongly support a return to negotiations. But we do not think that it would be productive for there to be a conference about returning to negotiations. There has to be a return to negotiations, which will take a lot of persuasion and preliminary work in order to set up a productive meeting between the parties.
So right now we are still in a wait and see attitude, because we don’t yet have any assurance from either party that they would return to negotiations. And speaking just for the United States, we continue to have serious concerns about the role, if any, that Hamas might play in a Palestinian government. It is not enough for us that it would be called technocratic if Hamas is involved. We think that undermines the whole purpose of negotiations, because you would have a party that rejects Israel’s right to exist.
Now, Hamas knows very well what it can and must do. If it wishes to be part of a process, it must recognize Israel, it must renounce violence, and it must agree to abide by the prior agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority.
So we are waiting to see how this develops. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the United States agrees with France that we want to see the parties return to negotiations.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUPPE: (Via interpreter.) So as – I’m going to answer in French. As you could notice, there’s agreement between the U.S. and France. There is also perfect agreement between Mrs. Secretary and myself. And we have to convince the Palestinian that, indeed, the two parties at the status quo is not a good solution – that is no solution at all – that it is not a good idea to try to go through the UN to have this resolution. And we have to convince both parties of this fact.
When I went to the Middle East, I didn’t expect an immediately enthusiastic welcome from all parties. I was rather pleasantly surprised, because the Palestinians were happy with what I said. The Israelis didn’t say no, and Mrs. Secretary told me, wait and see.
So we agree to keep on working. We have not decided to invite anybody right now to the conference in Paris. So there is no question of who is coming and who is not coming. And we are only going to have this conference if there’s sufficiently – sufficient work done so that it is well prepared.
As for the rest, it is way too early to talk about it. We’ll see in September, and then we’ll see if we take a decision.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUPPE: Thank you.
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