FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Thank you so much, and thank you for the birthday cake. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think – are we going to do consecutive translation on both sides or just on the German side?
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: No. We will speak English.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. You’ll speak English. Okay. Then we’ll not do it unless we have a question that calls for it.
Guido and I discussed Afghanistan. We obviously are very committed to the path forward for a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. We are deeply regretting the bad news about the four French soldiers killed earlier today in the second attack on French soldiers this month. That follows the deaths yesterday of six U.S. Marines in a helicopter crash. So let me express, on behalf of all Americans, are deepest condolences to the families of both those French and American soldiers. We know what a personal loss that is and how important it is we work toward our goal of security and long-term stability.
I want to thank Guido once again for hosting the Bonn conference on Afghanistan last month and the continuing bravery of German soldiers who serve with such distinction as the third largest national contingent in our NATO-ISAF forces.
We’re looking forward to our work in May in Chicago at the NATO summit, where we will advance several NATO priorities. Let me say clearly the United States is fully committed to maintaining a force posture in Europe that meets our enduring commitment to European security and our collective defense obligations to our NATO allies. We are grateful to Germany for hosting the U.S. military for many years, and we will be maintaining a close relationship going forward. We recognize that the transatlantic partnership is absolutely indispensable to our own security and well-being.
We are also focused on economic security, and we both recognize and appreciate greatly Germany’s leadership role in resolving the debt crisis facing Europe. I can only imagine how challenging this is. And as I conveyed to the minister, the United States stands in support of Germany as it leads the way for all of the Eurozone countries to regain their economic footing and to implement measures that will restore sustainable and balanced growth.
We discussed at some length our nation’s shared concerns regarding Iran and the steps it has taken toward furthering its nuclear weapons ambitions. We are both firmly committed to the dual-track approach, pressure to bring about meaningful engagement by Iran on its program, and we are closely coordinating as we implement sanctions.
We talked about so many things. We talked about North Africa, Egypt, Syria, the Middle East, and so much more. So as always, we have a very comprehensive agenda to cover, and I appreciate your being here for us to continue the conversation.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Thank you so much, Madam Secretary Hillary. Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the hospitality for the warm welcome here, and in this specific and special case also for the wonderful and delicious birthday cake we just had a few minutes before. Don’t be jealous, it was really delicious. (Laughter.)
And I would like to say that this is, of course, not only an expression of our close collaboration, it is also an expression of our wonderful and very personal relationship. The United States is our most important partner and ally behind Europe. Close cooperation across the Atlantic is essential in times of global changes and enormous political challenges, so we discussed, of course, the deeply worrying situation in Syria. The regime of President Assad must be stopped urgently. We support the efforts by the Arab League to solve the crisis, and we agree that the United Nations Security Council must take a clear position to condemn the violence by the Syrian regime.
On Iran, I have informed my colleague, Madam Secretary, about the discussions in the European Union on new sanctions. The government in Tehran keeps violating its international obligations on the transparency of its nuclear program. We have no choice but to pass tough new sanctions that address the financial sources of the nuclear program. One this is clear, the door for serious dialogue remains open, but the option of nuclear weapons in Iran is not acceptable to both of us.
And I want to repeat what I said to my colleague and friend in the last hour before. I think it is important for all of us to see that a nuclear option is not acceptable of Iran. And this is not only our raison d’etre, to protect Israel. It is also a question of the balance in the region, and it’s also unacceptable if we look to the situation and the nonproliferation necessity worldwide. So I think this is a serious situation, but we will stand united to give a common and clear and, unfortunately, tough answer, because a nuclear option for Iran is not acceptable – not for the region, not for the world.
We also discussed the situation in the transformation countries of the Arab Spring. There are enormous political and economic challenges, and we have to support a successful transformation. I explained our transformation partnership program, which we designed in Germany and what was introduced in our European policy, and I think it is successful. But we all know we have to see and we have to differentiate from country to country, and I think this is necessary that we do not think one answer fits all, one size fits all. I think it is necessary to give specified answers and differentiated answers.
We also discussed the preparation of the NATO summit in Chicago in May. Of course, this is important for us. We both want a successful NATO meeting in Chicago, and we’re looking forward to this. Once again, we are looking forward for all the hospitality of the Government of the United States of America. And of course we want this summit to become a success and we will work hard for this.
We also discussed – and this is what I wanted to underline because it is important not only for your discussions, but it’s a crucial time for us in Europe, of course, like you all know – we also discussed the debt crisis in Europe. I know that some in the United States paint a dark picture of an old continent unable to solve its problems. First of all, allow me in an ironical remark. We finished socialism with the support of the United States of America 20 years ago, and we know that we have to show solidarity. This is our desire and our destiny. As Germans, we know that Europe is not only the answer to the darkest chapter of our own history; it is also our life insurance in times of globalization. And I think it is crystal clear that Germany is committed to Europe and to the Eurozone, and we will show solidarity on the one hand, but on the other hand we also will ask for structural reforms because both is the answer to this present crisis.
Well, thank you so much for the hospitality and I, unfortunately, also want to say a few words to this latest attacks and the killings of our soldiers and our friends in Afghanistan. I am shocked by the tragic death of the French and the American soldiers in Afghanistan. I would like to express my sympathy and my deepest condolences in the name of the Federal Republic of Germany to all the families and to the relatives. But also it’s clear tragic setbacks such as this must not stop our engagement for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Thank you, Hillary. Thank you so much
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for your --
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: -- for the time and the hospitality.
MS. NULAND: We’ll take two today, one from each side. First one is from Kirit Ridia, ABC.
QUESTION: Hi, Madam Secretary, Mr. Minister. A question on Iran, if I may. Iran in recent days has expressed some willingness to return to talks on its nuclear program. Just today, Lady Ashton released a letter she sent to the Iranians in October in which she calls on them to take some concrete steps for confidence building. First question would be: What exactly are those steps that you’re looking for the Iranians to take? And second, do you take them at their word this time that they’re willing to fully engage?
And if I may Madam Secretary, in our way of asking two questions – (laughter) – you’ve made a decision not to testify on the Keystone XL pipeline next week. Can you explain why you don’t want to do that? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well Kirit, first let me say that we’re going to miss you. I understand this may be the last time I get two, three, or four questions from you. (Laughter.) But we wish you well as I think you head off to Moscow, which will be an exciting assignment, from all indications.
With respect to Iran, first let me say that we have a very strong partnership with the EU, and we expect to see the EU taking some additional steps to keep the pressure on Iran in the coming days. And I believe that we’re making it clear to Iran, as the minister said, that its pursuit of nuclear weapons and its needless provocations such as the threats regarding the Straits of Hormuz, place it on a dangerous path. Iran does have a choice to make. It can come back to the table, as we have consistently made clear to them, and address the nuclear program concerns that the international community rightly has or face increasing pressure and isolation.
I want to underscore we do not seek conflict. We strongly believe the people of Iran deserve a better future. They can have that future. The country can be reintegrated into the global community, able to share in the benefits when their government definitively turns away from pursuing nuclear weapons.
Last October, on behalf of the E-3+3 member nations, of which both Germany and the United States are two, High Representative Ashton did send the Iranians a letter saying that we are open to negotiations if Iran is serious about addressing the nuclear program without preconditions. We stand by that letter. The EU did make it public earlier today, and we await Iran’s response. And I think it’s been very important that the EU has kept this open channel. And we all are seeking clarity about the meaning behind Iran’s public statements that they are willing to engage, but we have to see a seriousness and sincerity of purpose coming from them.
And with respect to what we expect of them, I think we’ve made the letter public. They know we want to see them coming to the table to seriously engage about the future of a program that is prohibited under their obligations pursuant to the NPT and in light of Security Council resolutions. So we will await their response.
With respect to the Keystone XL Pipeline, as you know, on Wednesday, the Department of State recommended and President Obama agreed that the presidential permit for the proposed pipeline should be denied. That decision was based on the fact that the State Department did not have sufficient time to assess whether the project was in the national interest as a result of the limited timeframe set forth by Congress. And as the President said yesterday, this announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project or to make other decisions with respect to it and protect the American people.
The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects, and we are following our normal procedures and actually sending the official that actually knows something about this issue in great depth and has been leading our efforts, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones, to the Congress to testify.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iran again. You didn’t say what those specific steps you wanted to see were from Iran. Can you tell us what those are?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we won’t know until we know whether they’re serious about engaging with us.
QUESTION: You don’t have anything in mind already?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, yeah. We do. They have to give up their nuclear weapons program. (Laughter.) They have to be – they have to be willing to come to the table with a plan to do that.
QUESTION: The confidence-building measures were specifically referenced in the letter --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, confidence-building measures would – I’m not going to go into any more detail. I appreciate your efforts to get me to do so. But I think what’s important is that confidence will start with their conveying a seriousness of purpose to engage with us and our partners in the E-3+3 process. That would build confidence, and then the additional steps will await the actual resumption of negotiations.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: If I may add just a few words to this, because I agree to this answer a hundred percent. But I just want to explain with my words for the German Government and, of course, as a representative of the European Union here. This letter is important because it underscored and underlines our dual-track strategy. On the one hand, it is necessary to show the Iranian Government that we are united and that we do not accept any option for nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian Government. That’s the one point. But on the other hand, second, it is also necessary to show that we are ready for dialogue, but we are ready for serious dialogue and substantial talks. Just to meet for show, that this meeting would be misused for propaganda, is not what we want to do. And therefore, I think this letter of Cathy Ashton is exactly expressing what our strategy is not only in Europe, together.
MS. NULAND: Last question. Hanni Husch of ARD.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary, Herr Minister. Secretary, what exactly does the American Government expect from the German Government in solving the European debt crisis? Mr. Westerwelle made it perfect clear today that printing more money is not the answer.
And allow me, out of fairness, a second question. (Laughter.) A follow-up on –
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: This is the same (inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A follow-up on Afghanistan. Mr. Sarkozy is considering the withdrawal of his troops. Is that the right answer?
SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to the second question, I am in great sympathy with what happened to the French soldiers. It was terrible, and I can certainly appreciate the strong feelings that are being expressed.
We are in close contact with our French colleagues, and we have no reason to believe that France will do anything other than continue to be part of the very carefully considered transition process as we look at our exit, as previously agreed upon in Lisbon.
I think with respect to the Eurozone debt crisis, look, it’s not going to surprise you to hear me say that the United States cares deeply about what happens with this crisis. We have a great stake in the health and vitality of the European economic markets. European growth is essential for our growth. It’s essential for global growth. And we are – we know from our own experience that moving from crisis to recovery depends on rebuilding confidence and getting the economy to start moving again, producing jobs, producing growth. And Germany has been at the forefront of shaping the strategies to move Europe forward.
And as the minister said, there’s a lot of hard work ahead. We’re not going to stand over here on the other side of the Atlantic and second-guess the tough questions that you have to answer in Europe. But we think that our European partners, led by Germany, have laid a solid foundation on which to build a recovery. I know President Obama and Chancellor Merkel speak often about this. I know that the minister met with Secretary Geithner earlier today. So we are encouraging German decision making, German confidence building, German leadership, because it’s in the interests not only of Europe but of the United States as well.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Please allow me some words especially, of course, to the American journalists here, because I think for me it is very crucial and it’s very important that you understand our point of view. We think a debt crisis cannot be solved and cannot be answered by making it easier to take up new debts. So we think it’s necessary that we have structural reforms. So for us, it’s always a combination, solidarity, and Germany showed a lot of solidarity. We put on the table for solidarity in the European Union 200 billion Euro. If I would compare this to the economy and to the size of the economy in the United States of America, this would be $1 trillion. So we have to compare the sizes of our economy and we have to compare, of course, the size of our countries.
So I think this underlines it and make it crystal clear that Germany knows their own responsibility, and all these programs are supported by a majority in the German Bundestag of all party lines around about 70 or 80 percent. So I think this is a clear signal.
But on the other hand, please understand us. If we just put money into the window, if we just put money on the table and we wouldn’t ask for structural reforms, we wouldn’t solve the cause of crisis. So structural reforms which increases the competitiveness in the countries in the European Union are essential. And I mean, we do not ask for anything more as Germany, as Germans, than what we delivered in the last 10 years by our own structural reforms. And this is the reason, together with the programs of the last two years, why Germany is so, with all modesty, successful in the European Union. So it’s a combination of both. We think it’s a debt crisis; it morphed into a confidence crisis; we have to answer both with solidarity but also with structural reforms. This is our combination.
And about Afghanistan, I just want to express one thing. Of course, we all feel sympathy with the families, with the victims, and we understand these discussions very well. You do, we do. But we should never forget why we are in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan may never become a safe haven for terrorists worldwide again, and this is the reason why we are there. We really are full of sympathy and we want to express our deepest condolences, but we think we have to continue because we have to protect our own security and our own freedom and way of life in the Western community.
Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.