SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister Zarifi, for that very warm welcome to Tajikistan. It’s my first visit here. The beauty of this country is well renowned, from the glaciers and mountains to the rivers and forests, as is the hospitality of your people. So I am greatly appreciative. And I want to say directly to the people of Tajikistan that the United States values the relationship and friendship between our two countries, and we are committed to a long-term partnership to advance the opportunities and brighten the future for the people of this absolutely beautiful country.
I appreciated, too, the chance to discuss with the foreign minister and President Rahmon a wide range of issues that the foreign minister has just briefly described. We talked about our work to improve Tajikistan’s security, particularly along your border with Afghanistan; to combat drug trafficking, which is threatening every nation in this region; and I want especially to praise Tajikistan for the progress you have made in fighting human trafficking, which was reflected in the latest Trafficking in Persons Report compiled by the United States State Department.
I also want to emphasize that I thanked the president for the critical role Tajikistan has played in the international community’s efforts to bring security and peace to Afghanistan. Tajikistan has been a strong partner, not only to us but to the 48 nations in the international forces. We have worked to defeat al-Qaida, to increase pressure on the Taliban, and to support an Afghan peace process aimed at ending the conflict and bringing wider stability to this region. And I conveyed my thanks on behalf of the United States Government to the president.
As we head toward the conferences in Istanbul and Bonn next month and in December, it will be critical for all nations to support the common goal of a stable, sovereign, independent, prosperous Afghanistan. And Tajikistan is committed to doing so. We know we must deliver on the pledge that the countries of the region made nearly a decade ago when they signed the declaration on good neighborly relations. So we are working to secure commitments from all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity, and support an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation effort.
Closer to home, the president and I also discussed the need to bring more economic opportunities, jobs, and trade to Tajikistan, so more of its young people can find work here rather than having to move abroad. The United States is working with Tajikistan and other countries in Central and South Asia to achieve greater regional economic integration and development. We call this initiative the New Silk Road, and we hope that it will give rise to a network of thriving economic relationships throughout the region. And I so appreciated the president’s enthusiastic support for this vision. Achieving it will require a lot of hard work by all countries, to improve business climates, to change laws and regulations that impede business development or discourage foreign investment, to build modern infrastructure, develop human capital through education and health. And as Tajikistan makes progress in these areas, you can count on the United States for support.
Earlier today, I attended a town hall discussion with Tajiks from across the spectrum of activities from human rights activists to religious leaders to members of the media, women leaders, students, and educators. We had a lively discussion. And it is clear that Tajikistan is home to courageous, dedicated, intelligent, talented people who want to help build their nation’s future. And it is always important for government and leaders to provide the space necessary for these activists to have a voice, to develop their talents, promote their ideas, come together on behalf of their country.
And it is also important to ensure fundamental freedoms, including religious and media freedoms for all people – men, women, young and old. Obviously, the United States, because of our centuries of success as the longest democracy in the world, is convinced that an open and democratic, tolerant society provides a firm foundation for a secure, stable, and prosperous nation. And we encourage the Tajik Government to take concrete steps toward that kind of society right here in Tajikistan.
So again, let me say to President Rahmon, to the foreign minister, and to the people of Tajikistan, thank you for welcoming me so warmly. The United States and Tajikistan are committed to broadening, deepening, and strengthening this important bilateral relationship. Thank you, sir.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIFI: Thank you very much, Secretary of State. Now we are going to enjoy your questions.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) (Inaudible) – Minister of Foreign Affairs Zarifi, how do you assess the current state and the prospect of bilateral cooperation of Tajikistan and the United States of America and your visions on a New Silk Road concept?
FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIFI: Thank you very much. As I mentioned earlier, the bilateral cooperation of Tajikistan with the United States of America (inaudible) back in 1992, and over that years we could succeed in a cooperation in a military security cooperation, human rights and cultural, and we today are – Tajikistan today is an ally of the United States of America in bringing the peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, and we today maintain very fruitful cooperation with the U.S. authorities in economic and social projects in Afghanistan.
There are a number of American companies which are – functional in Tajikistan. And you well know that recent airplanes which we bought from the United States has enriched the port of aviation of Tajikistan, and we today give very positive assessment on our cooperation with the U.S.
QUESTION: Okay. Begging your indulgence, Madam Secretary, I’ve got three baskets here, but I will be extremely brief, and I think you’ll have the opportunity for brevity as well.
One, you mentioned human rights in your comments now. Did you raise any specific issues here, and will you do so in Tashkent? And if you did, what were they? And what concrete steps would you like to see the two governments take?
Two, different – the next basket is: How do you respond to critics that the President’s announcement yesterday on Iraq – the withdrawal of troops from Iraq plays into the hands of Iran?
And the last one is: I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the death of the Saudi crown prince, and if this – his passing with an uncertain succession should give – should be an object being discussed to speed up the laws of modernization? Thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Matt, let me start with the last question first. On behalf of the American people, I offer my condolences on the horror of his loss to His Majesty King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia. The crown prince was a strong leader and a good friend to the United States over many years as well as a tireless champion for his country. He will be missed. I do not think it’s appropriate to comment on what will be an internal decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, except to conclude by saying that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is strong and enduring, and we will look forward to working with the leadership for many years go come.
With respect to human rights, yes, of course I raised issues in my meeting with the president. And in specifics, we raised both press freedom and religious freedom. As I said this morning at the town hall, I believe everyone should have the right to practice his or her religion openly and freely. And therefore, I disagree with restrictions on religious freedom, and shared those concerns, because freedom of worship is a universal, fundamental human right that should be able to exist anywhere, anytime. And I think it’s also a potentially unfortunate step to try to register or legalize religion because it could push legitimate religious expression underground. And that could build up a lot of unrest and discontent. We have seen around the world over many years that if you tell young people or even older people they can’t do something, then they are attracted to do doing it.
So I think you have to look at the consequences. And we do not want to do anything that breeds extremism. We understand completely the concerns by both the Government and citizens here in Tajikistan to avoid the scourge of violent extremism. So we would hope that there would be a re-thinking of any restrictions going forward because we think they can increase sympathy for extremist views, which would in turn threaten the stability and security of the country.
We are also concerned about press freedom. There are specific cases that we have raised and continue to raise through our Embassy and through our interactions from the State Department because we believe journalists should be free to perform their function without fear of reprisals. And therefore, we believe, and I stress, the importance of an independent media and the role that it plays in moving toward establishing and cementing democratic institutions.
With regard to Iraq, as the President said yesterday, this marks a new phase in our relations with Iraq. President Obama promised the Iraqi people and the American people that all our combat troops in Iraq would come home by the end of this year, and they will. That will end the war, and it will open a new chapter in our relationship. And I join President in thanking all those who served so bravely in Iraq, and particularly noting the thousands who lost their lives, to bring this day to fruition. But even as our troops come home, the United States' commitment to Iraq’s future as a secure, stable, democratic nation remains as strong as ever. At Iraq’s request, we expect to have a significant security training presence at Embassy Baghdad, as we have in many embassies around the world. We expect to have about 1,700 Americans in Iraq committed to our ongoing political, diplomatic, economic, and security partnership. And we expect to have appropriate security for all those Americans who are serving.
As we open this new chapter in a relationship with a sovereign Iraq, to the Iraqis we say America is with you as you take your next steps in your journey to secure your democracy. And to countries in the region, especially Iraq’s neighbors, we want to emphasize that America will stand with our allies and friends, including Iraq, in defense of our common security and interests. And we will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIFI: Thank you, Secretary of State. We agreed for four questions. It’s done. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.