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Frank was a remarkable legislator and just a tremendous human being. He was someone who fought and won a lot of battles that today people just take for granted, like a ban on smoking on airplanes or progress for veterans and laws that have helped allow Jews and Christians and Baha’is and so many others escape persecution, laws banning foreign aid to state sponsors of terrorism, laws bolstering security of ports and chemical plants, and laws ensuring that the victims of terror achieve some sense of justice. We think of Pan Am 103 and what eventually took place there. That was Frank Lautenberg.
Frank was tenacious as a legislator. Never forgot where he came from in New Jersey. Never forgot the values that he grew up with and learned, always practiced them. But he was above all a person of huge personal conviction. We traveled together way back when in 1990 to the first climate change conference in Rio, and Frank never lost faith with that commitment to the environment. During the years when Frank was going through chemotherapy and he was weakened by cancer, he was still down there on the floor of the United States Senate fighting on every environmental debate late into the night.
He used to talk to me about his grandchild whose asthma was exacerbated by pollution, and it was all very, very personal to Frank. And so too was his conviction about those who have worn the uniform of our country. Frank never lost the connection to the 18-year-old Frank Lautenberg who volunteered for service in World War II. And I think he fought harder for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan because he had been there in their shoes. He fought just as hard for me as well, and I will always be grateful and touched by the ferocity with which Frank defended me in 2004 when partisans questioned my own service in the Navy.
Frank Lautenberg was as loyal as he was patriotic. So I will particularly miss the last World War II veteran who serves in the United States Senate. And my heart goes out to his wife Bonnie, to his children Ellen, Nan, Lisa, and to Joshua, and to the grandchildren that he loved so much.
Now also I want to just say a word because we are following the events in Turkey obviously very, very closely, and as many of you know, we’ve been working very closely with the Turkish leadership. Prime Minister Erdogan was just here, and I have been working very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu on efforts with respect to the Middle East.
As we have stated always to them in conversations as well as elsewhere in public, the United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly, including the right of people to peaceful protest, because that is fundamental to any democracy. And we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police. We obviously hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force with respect to those kinds of incidents. And we urge all people involved, those demonstrating and expressing their freedom of expression and those in the government, to avoid any provocations of violence. Obviously, everybody was deeply concerned about the numbers of people who have been injured and about the level of violence to property.
We don’t say these things to interfere in another country’s choices or events, but we say these things to reaffirm what we believe are universal principles and values that are essential to the practice of democracy and to the improvement of the relationship between governments and people.
Our Ambassador has made our views known to senior officials and we have updated our travel advisories for American citizens in Turkey, reminding them of precautions to take in travel but also that they should not participate in these kinds of events. And obviously we hope that the people of Turkey and the Government of Turkey will find their peaceful way forward in the next days.
That said – and I thank the Foreign Minister – I asked him his permission to be able to say a couple of things, both about Turkey and Senator Lautenberg, and I appreciate his indulgence because this is his visit and his time, and I’m grateful to him. As always, our friends in Poland are enormously thoughtful and enormously helpful to this partnership, and we are very, very grateful. I couldn’t be more pleased than to welcome Foreign Minister Sikorski to Washington at this moment to discuss the wide-ranging agenda that the United States and Poland share.
Our countries really do share a remarkable history, a long history. It’s been well over two centuries since George Washington and Casimir Pulaski stood side by side as our country was struggling for freedom. And it is safe to say that Poland and the United States have stood side by side ever since then, and particularly through the difficult period of the 20th century, through the war, through the Iron Curtain, and now into the 21st century where the American people and the Polish people are still standing side by side.
The United States is very committed to this partnership. And I reaffirmed to the Foreign Minister from Poland our gratitude for the degree to which Poland has been showing leadership within the European Union as well as within NATO itself. The Foreign Minister and I both understand that advancing our shared interests starts with keeping ourselves and our allies secure. As a NATO ally, Poland has played a particularly strong role in Afghanistan, where Polish troops are serving alongside Americans and those in 50-plus other nations, and we thank Poland for that commitment and also for that sacrifice.
At the same time, we are both focused on European security. Last November, we established the first full-time American military detachment at the Lask Air Base, and we are on track to deploy a missile defense site in Poland by 2018 as part of NATO’s modernized approach to our security. And of course, our commitment to Article 5 of NATO is ironclad. I also want to commend Poland for its defense modernization efforts and its commitment to NATO capabilities.
The Foreign Minister and I also discussed our economic ties. As everybody knows, we are pursuing the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. And that would make our relationship even stronger, but also raise the standards of doing business on a global basis and create one of the strongest markets in the world on both sides of the Atlantic.
We also want to see Poland included in the Visa Waiver Program. Making it easier for Poles to visit the United States makes sense in every respect. It’s good for trade, it’s good for investment, it’s good for promoting the people-to-people ties that help to bind our countries together. And we’re going to continue to work with Congress in order to achieve the goal of this visa waiver program.
We’re also both busily engaged in supporting democratic transitions within other countries, whether it’s in Eastern Europe or the Middle East or North Africa. And we thank our friends in Poland for their extraordinary commitment to democracy and to those who fight for freedom. And I think the Foreign Minister may have something to say about Polish plans with respect to that.
In every respect in the EU, Poland’s leadership has been exemplary. We’re both encouraging Ukraine to continue on the path to reform so that that will help it to be able to integrate with the EU. And these are the same steps that Poland itself has taken in the past. Therefore, Poland has a huge ability to be able to help other countries to understand that road ahead of them.
So I’d just finish by thanking the Foreign Minister for Poland’s hosting the climate change summit that will happen in November. It’s another example of Poland’s leadership. And once again, Foreign Minister, welcome. We thank you for the strength of this alliance, and I look forward to working with you to strengthen our partnership in any number of additional ways. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: Thank you. Well, thank you very much for hosting me here in Washington. We go back to before you assumed your current position, but it’s always good to have a visit at the office, and I’m sure that we’ll work as closely as I did with Condi and Hillary before you.
I wanted to say that I fully associate myself with what the Secretary of State said, both about the departed Senator – and I say this as a Pole, but also as the husband of an American citizen – and on what’s going on in Turkey. Poland, because of its successful transformation from dictatorship to democracy, is trying to be a leader of democratization efforts around Europe’s neighborhood. And therefore, we are – we pay particular attention when there is backsliding, whether it’s selective justice or it’s overuse of force or it’s skewing election results, be it in Turkey, be it in Georgia, being it in Belarus and elsewhere. We pay attention and we try to do something about it.
This is a unique Polish-American partnership, democratization, and we actually have a formal democratization dialogue of this because we bring unique capabilities to this. We remember being helped by the United States in our time of need. And it goes back a long way, to Woodrow Wilson and help for the resurrected Poland after World War I, but also Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter before him. We entered NATO under President Clinton. Everybody remembers this, and this is a sure foundation for our relationship, because we are both nations that feel liberty and human rights in their bones. And we are both revolutionary people who would like to share the benefits of these things with other people.
But we also have important interests in common. As the Secretary of State has already mentioned, the security dimension is very good. And we are delighted that at last there is a small but capable U.S. presence in Poland, and U.S. F-16s and Polish F-16s are training together. We also will welcome the missile defense site, and all the practical arrangements already being made.
Thank you for your words about the Visa Waiver Program. It’s become a symbolic but also a practical issue, and I will be delighted if President Obama’s promise to us to fix it by the end of his tenure is fulfilled.
Yes, Poland is a strong supporter of a transatlantic free trade area. We need to leave the crisis behind us. And developments in the energy sphere and this, removing the remaining barriers to trade, to investment, is one means of achieving this. And you can count on Poland being a strong advocate of this inside the European Union.
We, of course, also share your efforts to try to resolve both the Middle East issue between Israel and Palestine, but in particular the horrible situation in Syria, where there are already perhaps 80,000 dead, over a million external refugees, millions of internal refugees. And I know your expertise on this, and Poland will do in Europe to – what we can to support those issues.
You came to Poland for the COP Conference in Poznan. I know your long engagement with those issues. So I have taken the liberty of inviting the Secretary of State to come to Poland, and I hope you’ll pick not too distant a future date to do it.
Again, thank you for having me here, and I’m very glad to be able to say that the Polish-American friendship and alliance is as strong as ever.
SECRETARY KERRY: So, in case you didn’t understand that, he just took back everything he said before in English. (Laughter.) Except for Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: On that note, the first question will be from Jill Dougherty of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, you mentioned the violence in Syria. Everyone is watching that with concern, but of course, Turkey is one of the key countries involved in what is transpiring in Syria. Are you concerned that the government could be preoccupied by this violence, making it more difficult to deal with the Syrian situation at all? And do you have an update for us on the Geneva 2 meeting that we expect to take place?
And just one – the Foreign Minister mentioned Mideast peace. You’ve spent a lot of time working on that recently. When you were in Jerusalem the last time, you talked about the need for both sides – for the Israelis and the Palestinians – to make decisions; it’s decision time. How are they doing that? Are you at a point where you could have some type of proposal? Should you go back to the region to encourage them? Where do we stand? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin with the second part first, if you don’t mind, since it’s right there. I am confident that both sides are weighing the choices that they have in front of them very, very seriously. I’m absolutely confident about that, and that is all I’m going to say. I’m not – I think they need to have an opportunity to do that, and I will make a judgment at some point whether I need to go push a little bit or help that process, and I’m certainly willing to. I am open to that possibility.
But as I’ve said, we’re not raising any expectations about an American plan or other things. These discussions have been private, and I think they’ve been constructive as a result of being private, and that’s the way I would like to keep them until such time as they either deserve comment publicly or because they speak for themselves in some choices. And that’s where the Middle East is right now. But I am confident about the energy and effort that is going in to thinking through the road ahead.
With respect to the Turks and the process for Syria, let me just begin by saying that what is happening in Syria is happening because one man, who has been in power with his family for years now, more than 40 years, will not consent to an appropriate process by which the people of Syria can protect minorities, be inclusive, and have the people of Syria decide their future. He has decided to protect himself and his regime’s interests by reaching out across state lines and actually soliciting the help of Iran on the ground with foreign fighters as well as Hezbollah, a terrorist organization. A designated terrorist organization has now crossed over from Lebanon into Syria and is actively engaged in the fighting.
President Assad is not unwilling to use Scuds against women and children and students and doctors and hospitals. He’s not unwilling to wreak havoc on individual citizens. And today in Qusayr, which is under siege by his forces and the surrogate forces, you have an extraordinary number of civilians who are trapped, and he will not allow the Red Cross and humanitarian aid to go in until the military has finished what it intends to do.
So I think the world is seeing the actions of a person who has lost touch with any reality except his own and who is willing to wreak any kind of punishment on his own – on the people of his country simply so that he can maintain power. And so this situation is obviously intolerable, unacceptable by any standard, and I think all civilized countries would call on the Assad regime to pull back from that and to engage in a legitimate peace process.
Now, with respect to that, I’m confident that Turkey will continue to be a critical player in this. I’m confident Turkey will reach out and resolve these questions. It’s not the first time any government has faced this kind of challenge. And I do expect Foreign Minister Davutoglu and the Prime Minister to remain engaged in the effort to try to resolve what is happening in Syria.
With respect to Geneva 2, we all understand – I have said from day one – this is a very difficult process which we come to late. We are trying to prevent the sectarian violence from dragging Syria down into a complete and total implosion, where it has broken up into enclaves and the institutions of the state have been destroyed, with God knows how many additional refugees and how many innocent people killed.
That’s why the effort to try to have an implementation of Geneva 1 take place at a conference. Now, when that ripens, when that becomes a reality is going to be decided by events on the ground and the participants themselves. The United States can push and cajole, and President Obama has instructed all of us to try to take every step possible to protect the people and to provide a venue for this dialogue to take place. But in the end, the people on the ground are going to have to decide that that’s something they’re prepared to engage in.
I spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday. We had a good conversation. He remains deeply committed to trying to make this conference happen, as do all of the support group of the people involved with the opposition. But I will say that the possibility of the transfer of S-300s, which will upset the balance of power with Israel as well as the prosecution of this lopsided military initiative in Qusayr and the trapping of civilians and the treatment of civilians, could put this kind of thing at risk. So we hope people will pull back and stay focused on the possibilities of implementing Geneva 1 and having a legitimate conference.
This week – tomorrow, in fact – Under Secretary Wendy Sherman will travel to Geneva. She will meet with Russian counterparts, and we will continue to lay the groundwork for the possibility of a negotiated resolution. And we will stay committed to that possibility notwithstanding the violence on the ground and the difficulties that we face.
MODERATOR: The second question will come from Mr. Marek Walkuski from Polish Public Radio.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you personally and the State Department support an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program included in the current comprehensive immigration reform that’s in the Senate right now? I’m asking about provisions that open the door to the program for countries with low visa overstay rate. And can you assure that Poland would qualify to the program – for the program if the legislation is approved?
And on missile defense, President Barack Obama dropped an important part of his own missile defense plan for Europe a few months ago. Can you assure that the United States will not make more concessions to Russia on missile defense?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, are you convinced that Poland would finally – would eventually host a U.S. missile defense base on its territory?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me start with the second part of your question, if I may. The United States of America has made zero – zero concessions to Russia with respect to missile defense. There was no discussion with Russia whatsoever about the decision that was made with respect to phase four. And it was purposefully – there was no discussion with Russia in order to avoid any potential of an accusation of a deal or some agreement or some concession. There was no discussion.
This was a simple decision based exclusively on the functionality of the system and the decision that we could have a better system in the long run by moving to a different technology and building on phase three. And we are absolutely, President Obama is absolutely, committed to the deployment of phase three, as I said a few minutes ago. It is in the budget. It is proceeding forward. It will be deployed, very simply.
With respect to the question – the first part of your question was on the Visa Waiver – President Obama supports the Visa Waiver Program. I support the Visa Waiver personally for Poland. The Administration as a whole is supportive of the language in the legislation on the Hill right now. We hope that legislation will be passed, and we expect that Poland will benefit from the implementation of the Visa Waiver Program.
As I said in my opening comments, this makes sense, this is good for all of us, and we want this to happen.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: Well, I don’t think you could have got it either more eloquently or more firmly, so all that is left for me to say is thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But in the past, Mr. Minister, you had some doubts about missile defense in Poland.
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s why he came here, because we just erased all the doubts.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: We’ve also had a formal exchange of letters and we are on the same page on the missile defense issue.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Happy. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI: Thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, Minister.