QUESTION: We have a new president of Russia who will be coming this week. But how does that change things for us, France in particular as it pertains to austerity versus economic growth? And is that going to have a major impact on our relations with Europe on the economic situation there, et cetera?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I think we have enduring relations with nations, and certainly our relationship with France goes back to before we were a country. And we highly value the incredible alliance that we’ve had for so many years.
Obviously, it’s like when a new president comes into office in our country. Other leaders want to meet that person, they want to figure out what the priorities are and how they’re going to relate to the president. I think it’s similar with us. We are engaged at all levels with those who will be advisors and officials in the new French Government. We’re looking forward to welcoming President Hollande to an Oval Office visit with President Obama, and then he’ll go on to Camp David for the G-8, and then he’ll be in Chicago for the NATO meeting. So we know that he has a different political approach, just as a French president would know, when a Republican comes into office or a Democrat, there’s going to be a different approach. But the depth and strength of our relationship makes accommodations for the leaders at the time on a very strong base.
And with respect to the economic situation in Europe, President Obama and our economic team have been saying for some time that growth had to factor into a European recovery, that there was a role for austerity and changing the ways of spending too much over too long a period. But there also had to be a well thought-out effort to stimulate growth, put people to work, especially young people.
So we’ve been delivering that message publicly and privately for some time. And I was heartened to see recent statements coming out of European political and economic leaders that there was an effort to try to find an agreed-upon consensus concerning growth going forward. And so I think within the European debate, different voices may be louder on growth than they have been, but the overall approach of how we support Europe’s recovery hasn’t changed. We want to see Europe come back, and we think it’s a combination of austerity and growth.
QUESTION: But you’d have to think that having him being more growth than austerity, as opposed to Sarkozy, would be helpful, I guess.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t want to characterize it, Richard, because I think what’s important to us is that Europe make the decisions that are going to lead to a firm, sustainable recovery. It’s been our view that there needed to be some adjustments to just austerity so that there could be growth, both for economic reasons and for political reasons. People have to be brought along. They have to be convinced that the path they’re on is going to work. Otherwise, in democracies, which European nations are, they make other decisions, and that’s disruptive.
So I think our view is primarily supportive of what Europe itself decides to do. We don’t have a vote in that. That’s a decision for Europeans to make. But we care deeply about what happens to Europe economically and politically, and we’re going to do everything we can to support their way forward.
QUESTION: Two more, quickly, on news of the day, sort of. And that is the Israeli situation with the Palestinian prisoners, I thought was interesting, and wondering whether a small move like that is something that diplomats in other countries might jump on and use as a pointing out, “Hey, guys, you just agreed on something; maybe we can move the ball here.” Is that possible?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that it was heartening to see, when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the new coalition between Likud and Kadima, that one of the central goals of this new coalition was to further the Middle East peace process. That was a very strong signal coming out of the negotiations between the two parties and leaders. I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He seemed resolute about his commitment to proceeding with the Palestinians. I’ve spoken with President Abbas. He is ready, he has said, to engage seriously. We continue to urge and nurture this process along because we believe it’s in the best interests of Israel’s security, which we care deeply about, and in furtherance of the Palestinian people’s aspirations. So any step taken to avoid any rupture but to, rather, promote greater trust, greater willingness to pursue engagement, we view as a positive step.
QUESTION: And on P-5+1, with Baghdad, I guess, a week away or little more than a week away, any sense that that is a particularly crucial meeting when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program? And I don’t suspect I’m necessarily going to get a firm answer on this, but are we moving toward a situation where we would accept some level, whether it’s 20 percent or so, of enrichment, because they seem to be so far along? Is that possible that our negotiating stance changes?
SECRETARY CLINTON: To the latter question, no.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Absolutely no. We see this as potentially important. There is a unified position by the P-5+1 going into Baghdad which sets forth what we would expect to see Iran do on what kind of timetable to reassure the international community that it is not and will not seek nuclear weapons. And the fact that it is unified – that includes both the Chinese and the Russians – is a significant statement about the importance that the rest of the world is placing on a peaceful resolution of this problem.
Whether it is meaningful or not in Baghdad will, to a large extent, depend upon the Iranian response. So once the unified position was agreed to, there has been outreach by the P-5+1 to the Iranians to say, “Here is an idea of what we’re expecting, that we want to see as the core of any negotiations, so we want you to come prepared,” because we don’t want to just have a meeting where we present and they say, “We’ll get back to you,” because time is of the essence. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency is pushing Iran for access to some of the military sites that we believe are important for determining the factual basis of where Iran’s nuclear program might be.
So we will be taking stock in Baghdad, but we come in good faith. We come with an appropriate set of actions that could be taken by Iran that would be reassuring to the international community, and we wouldn’t be going if we didn’t expect to see Iran respond in kind.