I just want to touch on a few highlights. Before I begin, let me once again offer our sincere condolences on behalf of the United States for Saturday’s tragic rail accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones who lost their lives. And as we have already offered, we stand ready to assist in any way.
We are also deeply concerned about the people of Syria, who continue to endure a brutal and relentless assault at the hands of the Assad regime. The minister and I discussed the latest developments, and I expressed our deep appreciation for Poland’s diplomatic role representing the United States in Damascus. And I want especially, Minister, to express our appreciation for the personal efforts of your ambassador in assisting U.S. citizens.
The regime’s refusal to allow humanitarian workers to help feed the hungry, tend to the injured, bury the dead marks a new low. Tons of food and medicine are standing by while more civilians die and the regime launches new assaults. This is unacceptable, and we agree completely with the great majority of the international community. The regime must, as it promised last November, withdraw its forces, release political prisoners, permit peaceful protests, and allow international journalists to do their job, which is to tell the truth.
Through the Friends of the Syrian People group and other avenues, we are working to increase our pressure on the regime to end its attacks on civilians and to allow humanitarian access everywhere, as well as for it to meet its commitments under the Arab League Plan. It is past time for all Syrians to break with Assad and stand against this bloodshed and for a better future. It is also past time for those nations that continue to arm and support the regime to bring an end to the bloodshed. We urge all nations to work together to support the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.
Given its own history, Poland understands better than many how important and difficult it is to stand up to tyranny. Poles remember the difficult choices they had to make, and they value their hard-won freedom. And I want to applaud the leadership of Poland during this tumultuous last year. They’ve shared their experience and their wisdom with representatives from many countries that are struggling on the path toward democracy. And I want also to acknowledge that through the leadership of Poland at the Community of Democracies, they have provided tangible support for civil society, connecting activists and officials with veterans of previous transitions. We will continue to work closely with Poland to see what more we can do.
We also discussed a wide range of common concerns from Iran to Belarus. We are working closely with Poland on many security matters. And once again, let me thank the Polish people, and particularly their troops serving in Afghanistan, for their service and sacrifice. We also agree that the new missile interceptor that Poland will host, as well as a new American aviation detachment to be stationed in Poland, will be cornerstones of our mutual security commitments. And we look forward to the Chicago summit.
So we covered a lot of ground, and I thank you for your leadership and your thoughtful analysis of the issues before us, Minister, and I look forward to continuing to work with you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: Thank you. Thank you, Hillary for those words and for having me here. Always a pleasure. And I hope next time we’ll see each other in Warsaw. Thank you for the condolences. Likewise, we regret the death of the American journalist Marie Colvin, and I am pleased that our diplomats were able to be helpful in taking her body out of Syria.
I agree with you that the democratization agenda is something that Poland and the United States can most effectively and fruitfully do together, because promotion of democracy is something that both of our nations feel in their bones. It’s not our policy, it’s what we are. And we are doing it in both the southern and the eastern neighborhood of the European Union.
As you mentioned, we discussed Belarus, and we’ve drawn plans to collaborate even more closely on monitoring developments in Belarus. We are also following the development of the situation in the Ukraine very closely. And we hope that Ukraine creates political conditions for a bigger and more intimate relationship with Europe and the West as a whole.
We’re coming up to the Chicago NATO summit, and we’ve exchanged ideas on smart defense and on what we can do together to maintain the security of Europe even while the United States cuts its defense budget and cuts its troops – troop commitment to Europe. And there are things that we can usefully do like activating the NATO response force and exercising in Poland. And we are looking forward to your air detachment coming for the first time to Poland on a permanent basis later this year.
We also have a great deal of business in common, and we are looking forward to the Polish American business summit. And it’s not just the energy field; there are other fields where more can be done. And of course, we follow the recent election and the future of our relations with Russia, an important neighbor of Poland’s.
So again, thank you for a good conversation which shows that our alliance is strong and has a great future.
MODERATOR: We’ll take two questions from the American side and two questions from the Polish side today. We’ll start with Scott Stearns at VOA.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Vladimir Putin looks to be returning to the presidency. You had some critical comments about the first round of voting. Can you tell us what you thought about the second round of voting in Russia and any hopes that the completion of that process might lead to some movement on Russia’s position regarding Syria?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think as the OSCE made clear, there were a number of concerns about this latest electoral process that should be investigated and addressed. And we also remain concerned about the arrests of peaceful protesters, which occurred again on Monday. But the election had a clear winner and we are ready to work with President-elect Putin as he is sworn in and assumes the responsibilities of the presidency.
We are going to be looking for ways to enhance cooperation on a range of difficult issues. You mentioned one of them, Syria. I talked with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday; I will be seeing him in New York on Monday. We continue to believe that Russia should join the international community and play a positive role in trying to end the bloodshed and help create the conditions for a peaceful democratic transition. And we will continue to speak out where we think appropriate, because as Radek said, this is not what we do, it’s who we are. We believe in democracy, we believe in human rights, we believe in the values that should underpin any great society in the 21st century, and that means for us that we recognize there has to be a lot of internal dialogue within Russia going forward so that the Russian people’s aspirations can be fully realized as well.
MODERATOR: Marcin Firlej from Polish Public TV.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Minister Sikorski, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the main topic of your discussion, but President Barack Obama in 2010, during official trip of President Bronislaw Komorowski to Washington, promised to include Poland into Visa Waiver Program by the end of his presidency. I would like to ask, what concrete steps have you taken to fulfill this promise? And Madam Secretary, can you assure Poles that they will be able to travel to the United States without visas by the end of this year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say we know this is an issue of tremendous importance to the Polish people, but it’s also very important to the American people because of our close ties and the many family relations. Later this year, the minister and I will be joining our presidents in Chicago, which I think has the largest Polish population outside Warsaw in the world.
So this is a matter of great concern and commitment. And as you rightly said, President Obama has expressed his support for the pending legislation in the Congress that would create broader participation in the Visa Waiver Program. We are working very hard with Congress to try to get that legislation through. I will be very honest with you. We have strong support and we have strong opposition, and so we need to work together to redouble our efforts. And we have to make sure that Poland can do more right now to move toward what the existing standards are, and then hopefully, if the legislation is passed, to be able to get in position and take advantage of it, including an agreement on data sharing, which we have with 20 other EU countries.
So I know the President pledged that this would be done before the end of his presidency, and probably that will be a little longer than the end of this year. But we are going to continue to work very hard to see that it is accomplished.
MODERATOR: CNN, Elise Labott, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. You talked about Syria and increasing the pressure on the regime. Beyond just increasing the pressure, can you talk about tangible ways that you’re working on to help the opposition? Specifically, Secretary Panetta had just told a congressional panel that you’re looking to provide technical assistance and humanitarian assistance. If you could flesh that out a little bit? And there has been a call by many senators to arm the opposition and get militarily involved. I’m wondering if you could – do you feel a lot of pressure on the Hill to do that? And if you could speak to whether you feel that that’s in the offing. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, we have pressure coming from all directions, not only one direction. But what we’re trying to do, and I think the President was very clear on that in his press conference yesterday, is to do everything we can to support the opposition, which is not yet as unified and focused either inside or outside Syria as we hope it could become.
We are working to build a stronger international coalition of support for taking action on the humanitarian level, on the political transition that needs to come in Syria. And we believe that it is a matter of time – we can’t put an exact timeframe on when – but we think that Assad and his regime will not be able to survive. So we do think it’s appropriate to help the opposition, but where we’re focused on is how we help them be more unified, communicate more clearly, have a message to all their Syrian counterparts who are not yet convinced that it’s in their interests for Assad to go. And I think that it’s – we recognize it’s a challenging situation. But I don’t know that it’s useful for me to go into any greater detail than what the President said yesterday and what Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey are testifying to publicly today.
MODERATOR: The last question is for --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Can Minister Sikorski say something?
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: Just at the end, I’d like to give a couple of sentences in Polish.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Good, good, good. Okay.
MODERATOR: So the last question for (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, there are opinions that after recent Vladimir Putin’s win in the Russian presidential elections, Russia might even harden its line on anti-missile – American anti-missile defense in Europe. Would the United States be willing to make any concessions to accommodate possible Russian concerns in this matter?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have been very clear that missile defense is a matter for NATO. NATO has made a decision. We believe that it is in all of our interest to carry forward and implement that decision. Poland, as you know, was the first country to commit to hosting an element of the European missile defense architecture. It was the first to bring into force a basing agreement. Poland’s support for the Phased Adaptive Approach is a strong pillar within the NATO collective security commitment, and we are going full speed ahead. We have every intention and we’ve taken every action to demonstrate our seriousness.
Now, we’ve also made it clear that we would love to cooperate on missile defense against mutual threats with Russia. That is not only a U.S. position, that is also through NATO that we have sought to discuss this at the NATO-Russia Council. Thus far, we’ve not seen a lot of movement, but we are going to continue to press that with the Russians and hope that there will be an agreement at some point that could be in both of our interests. But Russia has no veto over what we do in NATO. Our commitment is to our NATO allies, to our Article 5 collective security obligations, and missile defense is an integral part of that.
And then I think Radek wants to also say a few words in Polish.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: (In Polish.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.