Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Remarks With French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner After Their Meeting
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
February 5, 2009

Date: 02/05/2009 Description: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at the State Department. State Dept Photo
Good afternoon.




SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ll do the translation. I was delighted to welcome Foreign Minister Kouchner here today. We’ve had a very useful and productive discussion on a wide range of topics, first over a private lunch, and then with our various aides.

I just want to reiterate that the United States is committed to our transatlantic alliance. This is an alliance that is one of the oldest and closest that the United States has in the world. We appreciate France’s leadership, especially during its recent EU presidency. And I want to publicly thank President Sarkozy for his leadership working with the United States to achieve a ceasefire in Georgia. And I thank you as well, Mr. Minister, for the very broad-based efforts that France has undertaken to address the global financial challenges. Our alliance is rooted in common values, and we have put that alliance to work in support of security, justice, and opportunity.

We discussed a number of the difficult situations that confront us in the world. We will continue to coordinate closely in the Middle East and cooperate on Gaza, humanitarian aid, and the never-ending pursuit of a just and secure peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

You know, the United States is also very proud and grateful to have France as a coalition partner in our efforts to strengthen the Afghan people’s efforts to build a better future. The minister is very familiar with Afghanistan, and we spoke of his longstanding work in that country, going back many years, on behalf of the people. And I was particularly impressed with his description of the hospital that the French have built in Kabul, which is now being run by the Afghan people themselves.

We’ll continue to work closely as we close the Guantanamo detention center. And on behalf of our mutual concerns regarding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, we’re going to use smart diplomacy together to engage the international community. And we will do so, including Russia as a cooperative partner, because we intend to forge a more constructive relationship.

So, Mr. Minister, there is much ahead of us on global financial reform, on making sure that we forge an even closer working relationship. And I, on a personal level, look forward to working with you and advancing our shared objectives of liberty, peace, and prosperity around the world.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, I am very happy and honored to see you here today, to see you again here today in your new position, which, of course, makes the two of you – the two of us colleagues.

Of course, we saluted the election of President Obama, and although we are not always a hundred percent in agreement, our friendship, friendship between our two countries, is a very sound friendship. It’s an old friendship and it’s a friendship that has a lot of future to it.

(In English.) So we talk about a lot of subjects. We were (inaudible) the world with some consideration, but mainly on Middle East – pardon. (Laughter.)

So on Middle East, we are really very anxious about the situation of the people of Gaza, and we were in agreement together with Madame Secretary of State to make pressure on both side to open the crossing. The Gaza people, they need so-called humanitarian assistance. And we’ll do it together another time, even if this is difficult, because we are facing – all of us – the electoral process in Israel and the idea – very important idea of Abu Mazen, the president of the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, to set up – to try to set up a government of national unity. And we are, of course, supporting Abu Mazen, and we must strengthen him, but it will take some times.

Meanwhile, we must access to the people – we must accede to the people – sorry. For the rest, we were at complete agreement to support the Egyptian initiative, and you know that some talks are now – have been developed in Cairo in between the Hamas delegation, the PLO delegation, and we are waiting for the result of that with a very great support to the Egyptian. And there is a meeting in the – I think the – yes, the 2nd day of February, yes, in Cairo, and I hope we’ll get better support to Gaza people before this date.

We were talking about Afghanistan. We are talking about Darfur. We are talking about Guantanamo, and thank you for having closed this – I don’t know how to use – prison of Guantanamo. And with our friends of the European Union, we accept the idea of having a common position, if it is possible, European position, because you know that with Schengen, if one country accept one of the prisoner, he would be able to travel all – in all the places, in 22 countries – or 24 countries in Europe.

Afghanistan, it is a burden for us, but we need to succeed. We have to succeed in Afghanistan in offering support to the democratic elected government and to develop the access to the people. Afghanization is the word. For that, we need to secure the places, and with Madame Clinton we were talking a lot about that.

No, I know that I have to speak French. (Via interpreter) I’ll answer questions in French.

MR. WOOD: The first question will be for Jill Dougherty, CNN.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary?


QUESTION: Talking about Afghanistan, we have Ambassador Holbrooke going to the region. What does he want to accomplish on this trip? Does the decision by Kyrgyzstan not to – well, to actually close the Manas air base make it difficult for the U.S. to get in the troops that will be necessary in Afghanistan?

And if you would, one more in that region, speaking of --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Three questions.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, is the U.S. considering resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, first, let me say that Ambassador Holbrooke is on his way. He will be stopping in London and already has met with the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. He’s on his way to Munich where he will have dinner tomorrow with Minister Kouchner. And then he will be going to Pakistan and Afghanistan and, I believe, also has a stop in India.

These will be for consultative purposes. He has a very vigorous schedule of meetings and he’s attempting to cover as much ground as possible. He’s already done an enormous amount of work here in the United States in preparation. And we will await what he will report. There is an ongoing policy review process that he is co-chairing out of the White House, and we’re in the beginning of a very in-depth but expeditious consideration of the way forward.

That’s why I appreciated my friend, Bernard, being here because he has a lot of experience in Afghanistan. He actually was serving as a doctor for many years during the Soviet invasion, during the most difficult periods of the conflicts against the Russians by the Mujahideen. And so he has personal hands-on experience that he will share not only with me, but with Ambassador Holbrooke. So this is going to be an in-depth effort as set forth by the President so that the President will have the options available to him to make the decisions that he thinks are the best for our country, for the people of Afghanistan, and for our allies and friends.

With respect to the base, the Defense Department is conducting an examination as to how else we would proceed that will not affect whatever decisions we make. It’s regrettable that this is under consideration by the Government of Kyrgyzstan and we hope to have further discussions with them. But we will proceed in a very effective manner no matter what the outcome of the Kyrgyzstan Government’s deliberations might be. And with respect to Uzbekistan, that’s an area that is more properly addressed at this moment to the Defense Department.

QUESTION: Thank you. Three questions. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Unfair. He’s a guest.


FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: No, no, no, no, do it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, did you speak in details about a French-American cooperation about Afghanistan? Could you be more precise about that?

And Madame Secretary, congratulations for your nomination. What’s your reaction when Newsweek this week is saying Afghanistan could become President Obama’s Vietnam?

FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (Via interpreter.) Yes, we talked a lot about Afghanistan because it is a very serious issue. But we are determined. We are determined to continue to help, to continue on the path to help Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan, as we have already done.

And actually, we don’t speak enough of the successes that the allies have had in Afghanistan, yes, but the success for the population of Afghanistan, you know, in terms of education, health, and organization of their own agriculture, which is still tentative in a way, but they have irrigation projects and there is progress that has been accomplished in Afghanistan. For instance, there are 2 million young girls who go to school in Afghanistan, and Mrs. Clinton was kind enough to recall here my own involvement in Afghanistan. Let me tell you, when I was there, it was impossible to even dream that 2,000 – 2 million, I’m sorry, little girls who go to school.

FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: (Via interpreter) Of course, I don’t know that -- Madame Secretary, that Afghanistan will be the hardest and the most important task of President Obama’s, but there are other problems. Of course, there’s a financial crisis that is spreading around the world that have touched our American friends and have touched us in France as well.

However, I think that the key word about Afghanistan is what I call “Afghanization.” That means we must give the people in Afghanistan control of their own destiny in the sense that with the progress that has been made already, it’s there. They have elected their own government. They have a parliament that has been elected, with women in the parliament, two members, which we didn’t dream of some time ago. So we need to make it known to the Afghan people that they are in control of their own progress and their own future, and that they have something to look forward in terms of their family and their future in one of the poorest countries of the world, where 80 percent of the population works in farming. I think that this is what we need to do.

So we have – for those reasons, we have decided that we continue to work together. Afghanization is not an easy task. I mean, there are issues of security and other, but with our allies, we have decided that this is the way to go and we will make progress in that direction.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where’s – where is the question?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where am I looking?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, on the Vietnam, whether Afghanistan is going to become the Vietnam – that’s not my question. I was asked to -- ask you to answer your portion of the question, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I have nothing to say to that.

QUESTION: Okay. To Foreign Minister Kouchner, Tony Blair says that Hamas should be brought into the peace process. Do you agree with that?

And Secretary Clinton, do you see a way of dealing with Hamas within a unity government? And then finally, what is your view on Russia’s plan to open up to the Bushehr plant by year end?

FOREIGN MINISTER KOUCHNER: Hmm. (Laughter.) Okay. Well, Hamas, you know, we said several times we have no official talk with Hamas. It is, for the time being, impossible. Why? Of course, we have indirect talk in supporting the Egyptian initiative. We were obliged to go through – I mean, the Turks, and the Norwegian people, the Russian, et cetera. And of course, the Egyptian, mainly the Egyptian, because they are talking to Hamas.

Why aren’t we talking officially to Hamas? Because they are not part of the peace process. And we’ll certainly talk to them when they would start to talk to the Palestinian themself, to PLO, and certainly, when they would accept the peace process, the signatures of PLO on the Israeli-Palestinian documents and mainly the Arab initiative of peace. That’s the answer.

But certainly, this is part -- and Tony Blair was right in saying so. In Gaza, if you are not setting up a sort of common task force to get access to the people or this government of national unity, it will be difficult, I know – we know that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: You want to translate that?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, English. It’s okay.

And I would only add that our conditions respecting Hamas are very clear: We will not in any way negotiate with or recognize Hamas until they renounce violence, recognize Israel, and agree to abide by, as the foreign minister said, the prior agreements entered into by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: And on Bushehr, Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on a more personal note, a couple of years ago when you were a lawyer, you went to a trip to France as a member of the French-American Foundation. I was wondering what kind of memories you keep of that trip and what your impression of France, where you returned many times after that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have been to France many times, and I always have a good impression. I enjoy visiting in France. I have – in fact, I met the foreign minister’s wife many years ago on a trip to France back – longer than either Christine* or I would care to admit. (Laughter.)

And during the trip that you’re referring to that was sponsored by the French-American Foundation, I visited a number of facilities that were really impressive in the way that France provides for preschool care for French children, and came back and made the argument in writing and in many speeches that we could benefit from that kind of commitment to our own young children.

So I not only have enjoyed my time in France, but I have learned a lot from my visits and from my ongoing associations with friends. And I look forward to returning whenever I have the opportunity.


SECRETARY CLINTON: As soon as possible. Thank you all very much.


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PRN: 2009/102