I was in Lisbon last when Portugal hosted several major meetings, including the NATO Summit and the U.S.-EU Summit. It was an extremely productive visit, and I must say that our bilateral relationship is very strong. Portugal has been a friend and an ally to the United States, and we greatly appreciate all the work that we do together around the world on key issues, and today the foreign minister and I discussed a number of those.
We discussed the economic challenges now facing Portugal and Europe. And I want to say very clearly that the Portuguese people and the Government of Portugal have demonstrated impressive resolve in putting aside political differences to implement difficult austerity measures that are helping to stabilize the Portuguese economy, but also to set it up for long-term economic success. As I expressed to the foreign minister, the United States will stand with Portugal as it continues to make economic reforms that return Portugal to a path of growth and sustainable opportunity for the Portugal – Portuguese people.
But even during this time of economic challenge, Portugal has continued to work with the United States and NATO ISAF to help stabilize and secure Afghanistan. Portuguese troops serve in Afghanistan, helping to train and mentor Afghan security forces, a high priority for our mutual mission there.
Portugal has also played a key diplomatic role in North Africa and the Middle East during the democratic transitions of the Arab Awakening. As head of the UN Libya Sanctions Committee, and as a member of the UN Security Council, Portugal has overseen the release of more than $16 billion in frozen assets to help fund UN and humanitarian activity in Libya and to allow the Transitional National Council to provide basic security and public services to the Libyan people.
And with respect to Syria, Portugal has worked diligently with its EU partners to roll out the seventh round of EU sanctions this past week. And we both hope that this strong message will compel Asad and his regime to change course and cease killing and detaining Syrians who wish to have a better life.
On these and many other critical issues of global security, prosperity, and peace, Portugal is a leader and a valued partner. And let me express my appreciation to the foreign minister for the work that he has done personally and to the work that his government has undertaken. I met him in Istanbul about two weeks after he took office. He was thrown into the midst of everything as we were meeting with the Libya Contact Group, and we’ve had a number of occasions since to trade impressions and look at what we needed to be doing together. And it’s a pleasure to have you here.
FOREIGN MINISTER PORTAS: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER PORTAS: Portugal and the United States are old and very good friends. This visit reinforced our cooperation. In addition, it’s a pleasure to meet again Secretary Clinton, who’s a distinguished stateswoman. We had an overview over major global issues as well on the – our bilateral relationship. Allow me to highlight some of those issues.
First, I explained to Secretary Clinton what Portugal is overcoming – is doing – what Portugal is doing to overcome its economic and financial constraints. We are a very specific case, and our attitude as country – as a nation, as a government is as follows: to meet our goals on the fiscal consideration and economic reform, to honor our commitments to the international institutions, to fulfill the program with the European Union and the IMF. In the end of this very tough program, Portugal will be a success story. And we want Portugal seen in the international scene as unique story: Portugal delivers. Portugal honors its word and is making a tremendous effort to recover its autonomy.
We also spoke about Middle East and Palestine issue. As you know, Portugal is standing for a European consensual position. We believe in a two-state solution and we care about the security of everybody, namely the security of Israel. The Quartet’s statement was a very relevant one. The Quartet’s statement must be seen as a good framework to go to a table of negotiations. Both parties, both leaders must prepare their peoples to negotiations. To negotiate is to compromise. They must do their job on this issue.
So as you know, we don’t believe in recognition without negotiations, but we think that negotiations are the way, the right way, to peace and a two-state solution where the Palestinians have the state they deserve and the Israelis the security they deserve.
Those were, namely, some of the issues we were talking about. And thank you very much, Hillary. It’s really a pleasure. Thank you much – very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MS. NULAND: We have time for two questions today. The first one on the American side, Andy Quinn.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, hi. Good afternoon. Madam Secretary, were you surprised by Israel’s announcement today that it had approved 1,100 new settlement units for the West Bank? Does the timing of this announcement so soon after the Quartet urged both sides against provocative acts disturb you at all? And what is your message to the Palestinians who say it is precisely this kind of activity which makes resuming negotiations impossible?
And for the minister, if I heard you right, you just said that you, as Portugal, believe that there should be no recognition without negotiation. Are we to understand that Portugal would vote against recognizing Palestinian statehood if a vote was taken at the Security Council?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well Andy, first, let me say that we believe that this morning’s announcement by the Government of Israel approving the construction of 1,100 housing units in East Jerusalem is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.
As you know, we have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including, and perhaps most particularly in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side. And we’ve been here before over many years, as you know, and I think it only reinforces what the foreign minister was saying: Our focus must remain on working to convince the parties to return to direct negotiations, because in the absence of direct negotiations, nothing changes on the ground. If there are negotiations that delineate borders, questions of where anybody builds are settled. But in the absence of such negotiations, there are going to continue to be perceptions on both sides that the other side is not willing to negotiate. So that’s why the Quartet, of which, as you know, the United States is one of four members, called on Friday for a return to negotiations and set forth a timetable, and that is what we would like to see happen.
FOREIGN MINISTER PORTAS: Answering you, let me say as follows: after the declaration of the Quartet, you have a real chance to negotiations. And when you have a real chance to negotiations, you avoid hostile measure to negotiations. That means the settlements decision is not a good one.
The second point, I would love to – I would like to express is another one: you have the declarations of the Quartet. The Quartet is specifying that in 30 days, Israelis and Palestinians should be at table. This is my scenario: Negotiations to solve everything that must be solved. So I think it is the chance of a negotiation, and the chance is given by United Nations, European Union, United States, and Russia, who are the members of the Quartet, who are the key story in this moment.
Obviously, if there is a chance for negotiations, if there is a will to negotiations, as my prime minister said in the General Assembly, we could consider an upgrade of the Palestinian position in the United Nations as a sign of goodwill to negotiate. But, I repeat, the chance all the world and the Israelis and Palestinians they first have now is to become members of a negotiation, parts of a negotiation towards a peace treaty. And this is what interest to the world.
MS. NULAND: Last question, Paula Santos, SIC TV.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), Madam Secretary. Recently, President Obama said that the United States would help Portugal and Greece in which the crisis – the financial crisis is concerned. I’d like to know if you agree that Portugal and Greece are – stand on the same line in this crisis. And I also can – would like to remember you – President Obama’s words from yesterday, when he said that the Europe – the crisis in Europe is scaring the world, and that he believed that the political leaders in Europe have not taken the measures good enough to deal with the crisis. I’d like to know if you are scared with the crisis too.
And for the Portuguese minister, I’d like to ask your comment on these words of President Obama, and I would like to know specifically if you think it’s fair to say that the world is being frightened in any way, scared with the crisis in Europe.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as I said, we discussed these issues today, and we applaud Portugal’s actions. In fact, my information is that approximately 85 percent of the Portuguese Parliament approved the prime minister’s program for the next four years. That is a resounding show of support under difficult circumstances that included a package of austerity measures that actually went beyond what the IMF and the EU had demanded in the original agreement.
So we know that these are difficult decisions for governments to make, and we encourage countries to continue reform measures that will bring about renewed growth and improve competitiveness for the future. But as I said in my opening statement and as I repeat today, we think that Portugal is on the right track. Portugal has been given a very positive report in August by the so-called troika – the IMF, the EU, the ECB – following its first quarterly review. So it has already taken steps that has put it on the right path.
Other countries and governments are still working to take such paths, and we expect European leaders to continue to ensure that the response to this crisis is strong, flexible, and most importantly, effective. The United States, through our Treasury officials and State Department officials, have been in close touch with our European counterparts to discuss these matters.
So I think that, of course, it’s a challenging time, and it does raise concerns on the part of everybody, first and foremost the Europeans themselves. But no one should doubt that we have the ability to get through this, and I personally have confidence in our partners to make the tough decisions that will enable them to weather this crisis, and that it will add to a renewed level of economic recovery and activity around the world.
We’re facing a lot of the same challenges here in the United States, and I’ve heard European leaders say, “What is the United States doing?” Are we going to be able to return to growth, which is the engine that really propels the global economy forward. And we strongly support the common sense effective efforts that we see being taken here under President Obama and in Europe by various leaders. We just want to make clear that we have to continue down this path. There are no shortcuts. And it’s not going to be easy, but it will, in my view, result in a return to economic prosperity in the future if we’re willing to do now what is required of us.
FOREIGN MINISTER PORTAS: Let me tell you that’s why it’s so relevant to tell the Portuguese story in a detailed way to everybody who counts in the world. Portuguese is different story because of the attitude that we have as a country, as a nation, and as a government. And that attitude is to fulfill the program, to honor our word, to accomplish our commitments to the international community, and that means credibility. Tough efforts, but we know the goal is a better society, a better economy, and we’ll win this battle against the debt. We’ll win this battle against the debt.
The second point I would answer you is about economic transatlantic relations. We have in Europe a strong transatlantic link with the United States. In the past, we win huge battles against terrible enemies. We can win together the battle for a better economy, for jobs creation, and economic growth. We can reinforce our cooperation. My view is together – we can do it together, and I think we’ll do it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.
FOREIGN MINISTER PORTAS: Thank you very much.