I remarked to the Minister that I keep a little running tally as I sit across the table from foreign ministers or prime ministers or presidents of countries around the world as to how many women are on the other side of the table. Finland wins, hands down. (Laughter.) And you don’t just, as we say, talk the talk, but you walk the walk, and I am very admiring of that commitment.
We deepened our partnership today with the agreement on information security that the Minister and I just signed. This is another demonstration of the close relationship that exists between the United States and Finland on defense and security matters that is very much in, not only both of our countries’ interest, but in the interests of regional and global security as well.
Let me just touch on a few highlights; I’ll start with Syria. Finland and the United States continue to work together closely to pressure the Assad regime to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians bearing the brunt of the regime’s brutal assault and to support the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan to prepare for a democratic transition that leads to a post-Assad Syria. And it is very much along those lines that I thanked the Minister for Finland’s cooperation in the Friends of Syria working group on sanctions as well as in support of EU sanctions.
With respect to our shared mission in Afghanistan, I want to express my gratitude to the Foreign Minister for hosting the International Contact Group on Afghanistan earlier this month that allowed us to coordinate our preparations for the upcoming Tokyo conference in early July, and for Finland’s efforts to help the Afghan people build a more stable and prosperous future. Finland’s pledge of more than $150 million in development assistance through 2016 is a model of the international community’s enduring commitment that extends beyond the security transition.
In particular, I want to again express my gratitude to Finland for the work you are doing to promote the rights and opportunities of Afghan women and to be sure that they are engaged as partners in all of our efforts. I also thanked the Foreign Minister for Finland’s commitment to promoting clean energy development and curbing climate change. Finland is a pioneer in this field; we have a lot to learn from you. We already work together as part of the global clean cookstoves alliance, which is helping replace dirty cooking stoves and open fires all over the world. And later today, we will take another significant step in our partnership when Finland joins the international coalition to reduce short-term pollutants like black carbon and methane, which account for more than 30 percent of global warming.
And everyone knows of Finland’s outstanding work to promote and protect human rights, not only first and foremost at home but around the world. So on behalf of that work, on behalf of women, the LGBT community, other marginalized groups, we are very grateful for Finland’s leadership.
And indeed, what Finland has done, and in particular, what the foreign ministry has done, to fight discrimination and promote equality among government workers, to create an office to investigate human trafficking in your own country, and to elevate the role of women and girls, really advances the rights and dignity of all people. And I want to welcome Finland as a core member of a new equal futures partnership, which aims to expand opportunities for women and girls and to drive inclusive economic growth.
So again, I thank you, Foreign Minister, for welcoming me to Finland. I’m looking forward to the rest of our program, also making a pilgrimage to the Marimekko factory – having discovered Marimekko many, many years ago as a young student and being an admirer of this as a symbol of Finland’s commitment to gender equality, economic empowerment, and of course world-class design.
And I thank the Foreign Minister for giving me a Marimekko work bag, which I will fill and carry all those papers back and forth between my office and my home. So Minister, thank you very much for --
MODERATOR: Thank you Secretary. Thank you Minister. Now we have some time for a couple of questions – (inaudible). Secretary, Madam (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, in anticipation of a meeting in Geneva on Saturday about Syria and anticipating that one could be announced in the next hour or so, could you tell us what you would expect to be the result of such a meeting? And by that I mean how detailed should the action group get in the plan, in the transition plan? Does it – should it specifically say that Assad should go? Should it specifically say what members of his government now should remain in an interim power-sharing or unity administration? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Matt, as you know, I’ve been in close consultation with Special Envoy Kofi Annan about the prospects for a meeting that would focus on a roadmap for political transition in Syria. I’ve spoken with him three times in the last 24 hours. And I understand he will be speaking publicly on this subject shortly, so I don’t want to get ahead of him. He is the person who is managing this process.
But I will say that he has developed his own very concrete roadmap for political transition. He’s been circulating it for comments. And when I spoke to him yesterday, I conveyed our support for the plan that he has put forward. We believe it embodies the principles needed for any political transition in Syria that could lead to a peaceful, democratic, and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people. If we can meet on the basis of that roadmap, with everyone agreeing before we arrive in Geneva that this will be the document we are endorsing by our presence, then I think a meeting makes a lot of sense. And we support it, but we want to ensure that any country that participates firmly supports the Envoy’s transition plan and his original six-point plan.
So we are looking forward to hearing a report about his consultations with those whom he intends to invite. I’m keeping my calendar open for a meeting with a great hope that this perhaps can be a turning point in the very tragic circumstances affecting the Syrian people at this time, and that the international community can get behind a plan that will lead to a better future for them.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question, Helsingin Sanomat (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, welcome to Helsinki. We’ll get you a Russia question. U.S.-Russian relations (inaudible) as of late have disagreement on Syria, they have missile defense disagreements. As a maybe smaller scale, in Moscow your ambassador is having a rough ride. I know this is like a larger-than-life question, but could you please give a brief analysis as how you see developments in Russia and with Russia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s an absolutely fair question, because obviously we highly value a positive relationship with Russia. Just last week in Mexico during the G-20, President Obama had a chance to sit down with President Putin to discuss our partnership over a wide array of issues. Both presidents reaffirmed the trajectory of our relationship and the importance of cooperating on as many issues as possible, and where we have differences, which we obviously do, being forthright about those differences and looking for ways that we can work through them.
So I think from my perspective, the so-called reset has proven to be a benefit to both countries. It has not only led to a new START Treaty, which is good for Russia, good for the United States, good for the world, in reducing nuclear arms and improving nuclear security, but it’s also led to enhanced cooperation over Afghanistan with the Northern Distribution Network being the now only route for shipments into and out of Afghanistan.
We have worked on a bi-national commission that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and I chair on behalf of both of our governments. So that there are innumerable areas of cooperation that don’t make headlines that have to do with visas or arrangements over exchanging information, the kinds of day-to-day work of both of our governments that we are trying to smooth out and enhance a broader level of cooperation.
We are cooperating well in the Arctic Council, something of great importance to Finland, as well as the original 5+3 members of the Arctic Council. In fact, if you look at our Arctic Council cooperation, it’s quite commendable. The United States joined with the other Arctic Council members, including Russia, to sign the very first Arctic Council Agreement on search and rescue. We are now working closely together on oil spills and recovery work.
So this is not a one-sided story. Do we have disagreements? Yes. We obviously disagree over the path forward on Syria. We have made it clear to the Russians that the outcome they are most concerned about, which would be a sectarian civil war, is made more likely, not less likely, by the international community’s failure to take a strong position vis-à-vis the Assad regime. We disagree on missile defense, but we continue to have expert consultations and look for a way forward that would be mutually acceptable. Russia just hosted the P-5+1 talks, where Russia is absolutely united with the other members of the P-5+1 in trying to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And President Putin reaffirmed Russia’s very strong position on that. The United States worked very hard to get Russia into the WTO. We helped to negotiate some last-minute solutions to problems that persisted.
So I think that it’s a broad-based relationship that we are determined to keep moving forward with. But it’s not just about government-to-government. We need more business-to-business relationships, something that both of our countries wish to work on. We need more people-to-people relationships. And I welcomed the Foreign Minister’s very good suggestion that we look for more student exchanges between countries like Finland and the United States and Russian students. The Foreign Minister told me there are more Chinese students than Russian students in Finnish colleges and universities. And of course, we’re going to continue to raise issues of human rights, democratization, transparency, openness, that we actually think are very much in the best interests of Russia as well as the relationship that Russia has with us and others.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, hi. Just a quick follow-up on that question, and then I’ve got my own. I’m wondering if you can tell us what your message would be to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the Magnitsky bill which moved out of a committee yesterday, I believe.
And then my question is a quick return to Egypt. Now that President-elect Morsi has been – is due to be sworn in on Saturday, do you still have concerns about the military’s willingness to transfer power? Have you received any fresh assurances from the new civilian leadership that they plan to uphold the Israel peace treaty? And can we expect a personal visit to Cairo anytime soon? Thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: These are the kind of multi-part questions that my friends ask me, and then I have to test my memory.
With respect to Magnitsky – and for our Finnish friends – in order for the United States to benefit from the accession to the WTO by Russia, we have to make some legislative changes because we have some preexisting legislation derived from the past that imposed certain burdens on Russia unless they released Jews who could then leave the former Soviet Union and migrate to Israel, Europe, the U.S., and other places. It’s called the Jackson-Vanik bill. And so we are very keen in the Administration of repealing the Jackson-Vanik bill, because we want to open the doors to greater trade and investment between our two countries.
However, there is great concern in our country, and in particular in our Congress, over human rights in Russia, and in particular the case of the lawyer, Mr. Magnitsky, who died in prison. There’s a lot of interest in our Congress over a full, transparent investigation of the circumstances of his death in prison.
And so our Congress, while they are being asked by the Administration to repeal Jackson-Vanik, want to pass legislation that will require the United States Government to take action against any persons who are connected with the death of Mr. Magnitsky. That’s probably more than you want to know, but that’s the background to the question.
And so we expect something to move on the repeal of Jackson-Vanik and something to move to reflect the Congress’s concerns. Now, we discussed this directly with President Putin when I was with President Obama in Mexico. We made it very clear that we do have concerns about human rights in Russia and we have concerns in particular about this case. But again, to go back to the original question, we think there is a way expressing those concerns without derailing the relationship. And that is what we are working with our Congress to do, and we have every reason to believe we can accomplish that.
Regarding Egypt, we have congratulated President-elect Morsi and the Egyptian people for continuing the path of their democratic transition, and the SCAF deserves praise for its role in facilitating a free, fair, credible election. We expect the transition to continue, as has been promised by the SCAF, and we expect President-elect Morsi, as he forms a government, to demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity that is manifest by representatives of the women of Egypt, of the Coptic Christian community, of the secular, non-religious community, and of course, of young people.
And we hope that full democracy is understood to be more than an election. One election does not a democracy make. That’s just the beginning of the hard work. And the hard work requires pluralism, respecting the rights of minorities, independent judiciary, independent media, all the things that Finland and the United States have worked so hard to achieve in our own democratic histories. We know a lot of work lies ahead. They have to write a constitution. They have to look at how they’re going to deal with the judicial decision about the parliament and seat a new parliament. And we’re going to work with the leaders in support of that transition.
And I think that what will counter actions – we’ve heard some very positive statements thus far, including about respecting international obligations, which would, in our view, cover the peace treaty with Israel. But we have to wait and judge by what is actually done.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, back to Syria. You said that you hope for a turning point for the better to take place, but it seems to me that the turning point has already taken place this morning when President Assad declared that he’s at war and gave orders to destroy his opponents. How does this change the configuration of the international community?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, he has been making statements similar to that for quite some time, and he certainly has been taking actions aimed at terrorizing the people of Syria, and in particular, any areas that evidence opposition to his reign. So it may be a more dramatic statement, but it is in line with what we have heard from him now, unfortunately, for some time.
However, he has relied on the support of Russia and China in the Security Council to prevent the international community from taking unified action. If Kofi Annan is able to lay down a political transition roadmap, which is what he intends to do, that is endorsed by countries including Russia and China, for example, that sends a very different message. That’s the first time that the international community will really evidence a direction that I think Assad will have to respond to.
Now, we’ll wait. We’ll see. As I said, I don’t want to get ahead of him – Kofi Annan – but I think if he’s able to pull off such a meeting, and if he’s able to get people there who, up until now, have either been on the sidelines or actively supporting and protecting the Assad regime, then that gives heart to the opposition. It also disheartens a lot of the regime insiders. Just look; in the last week, we’ve had the defection, along with his plane, of an officer in their air force to Jordan, and a very large defection of military officers, high-ranking generals, and others with their families into Turkey.
So this is a constant effort to put enough pressure on the regime and those around them that you’ll begin to see cracks in that regime’s unity, which then is the step necessary to get them into a discussion about political transition. So painful, tragic, dangerous, difficult – we know that. But we are moving with as much deliberation and speed as we can, given the circumstances.