Remarks With Slovakian Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda
Secretary of State
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SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Dzurinda to the State Department today. He is not a stranger to Washington and neither is our relationship and friendship with the Slovak Republic. They are a close friend and ally who shares our commitment to freedom and democracy. And in less than 20 years, Slovakia has made an extraordinary transition from a land locked behind the iron curtain to a vibrant democracy. It is a pillar of regional stability and cooperation, with some of the highest growth rates in Europe. And in the European economic context, it is still very much a beacon of economic development. Slovakia is essential to the integration of the Western Balkans and its eastern neighbors into Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions and a prime example of how greater integration benefits the broader European community.
The foreign minister and I just concluded a very productive meeting where we discussed the region. I appreciated his insight and views on a number of the issues ranging from energy security to protection for minorities. The upcoming summit in Lisbon, where we hope to finalize NATO’s new Strategic Concept and address U.S.-EU cooperation is another area where we will work together.
And I’d like to thank the foreign minister and the government and people of the Slovak Republic for their continued commitment to promoting and defending our shared values around the world. Your contributions to the NATO mission in Afghanistan are helping the people of Afghanistan build a more secure and prosperous future, and we are greatly impressed by and honor the service of Slovak soldiers serving alongside American troops. And I very much want to express our gratitude for the affirmation of your commitment to the ISAF mission during Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s recent visit to Bratislava.
We’re very proud of our friendship. I have known the foreign minister in his earlier incarnations in various positions and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to work with him on behalf of our two countries.
FOREIGN MINISTER DZURINDA: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary of State, ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy being here in Washington. I used time, which was created by Madam Secretary, to describe our cooperation in three areas. The first, which is the most important, is the area of political dialogue. I mentioned or I reminded that Slovakia holds the presidency of the V4, Visegrad Four cooperation. We want to contribute also in regional cooperation. There are many specific priorities in this cooperation – there’s energy security cooperation in the area of Roma inclusion into society and many others.
On Friday, we will organize the meeting of Foreign Minister of V4 plus Western Balkans Foreign Minister. Beginning of next year, we will organize ministerial meeting with the partners from the East, expression of our intention about and interest about Eastern partnership. I told Madam Secretary that we are not so big country, but we want to be concentrated in two main areas to the east and to the Western Balkans, and we want to contribute.
The second area is the area of defense and military cooperation. I am proud and very happy that in November we will increase the number of soldiers and trainers in Afghanistan as a part of our ISAF contribution. We are very thankful to the U.S. because they train and they educate our soldiers – National Guard, Guards of Indiana, is our traditional partners. The cooperation has been taking place since 1994. It is continuing and this is very helpful for us.
And last but not least, we spoke about economic dimension of our cooperation. We have more than 120 U.S. companies in Slovakia, and now we want more to cooperate in the area of research and development and innovations.
So thank you very much. I am very happy because I can imagine how busy are you, how often you travel to many countries, and I am very happy that you could create the space for our dialogue.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll begin with (inaudible.)
QUESTION: Hi, Madam Secretary, Mr. Foreign Minister. Madam Secretary, there were reports today that the remaining two hikers will be put on trial on November 6th. I was curious if you had particular reaction that and if you’ve heard that through any of the channels like the Swiss. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are aware that their lawyer has reported this date. We continue to express our hope that the Iranian authorities will exercise the humanitarian option of releasing these two young men. We do not believe there is any basis, whatsoever, for them to be put on trial. And we regret that they and their families are being subjected to a criminal system that we do not think, in any way, reflects their actions.
So it’s our continuing request to the Iranian Government that just as they released the young woman, that they release these two young men. There are many areas where we need to be discussing matters between the United States and Iran that are of great significance to not only our two countries, but the world. And it’s unfortunate that Iran would be holding, for now more than a year, two young men who should be released and returned to their families.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, also I would like to ask the question of prime minister – the Slovak prime minister.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) foreign minister. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a habit hard to break. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I left Slovakia – I left Slovakia five years ago. I don’t go anyplace. (Laughter.)
You talk about the cooperation between both countries, which is really, really good. I would like to ask about the issue that you disagree on. For example, over Kosovo. Do you expect that our government is going to change attitude towards Kosovo independence? And for prime minister, do you feel the pressure from the U.S. changed position?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we discussed the foreign minister’s opinions about what is happening in the Balkans. They coincide with mine, having just been there last week. We think that there is a great opportunity for Serbia to make progress in its ambition to be integrated into Europe. We think that Serbia and Kosovo have an opportunity now under EU sponsorship to engage in a dialogue to begin to solve the practical problems that are still between them. Certainly, the United States thinks that the issue of independence and sovereignty is decided by the International Court of Justice.
I understand the position of the minister and his government, but what’s most important is the positive role that the minister and Slovakia is playing in trying to limit the differences and create a different reality in the Western Balkans and in the entire region. The unfinished business of integrating the Western Balkans and the Eastern countries into the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic institutions is something we totally agree on. And I think we both have the same goals.
Obviously, we would like to see more countries recognize Kosovo, now that the International Court of Justice decision has been determined. But we also know that it’s important to keep working to bridge the historical divisions so that we can have a region that is peaceful and stable and moving toward Europe.
FOREIGN MINISTER DZURINDA: First of all, I want to tell that I admire a lot the last engagement of her Madam Secretary of State when she visited the countries of the Western Balkans. It was very helpful also before European Council next Monday. I appreciated a strong signal, an appreciation that Serbia cooperates with the tribunal and it decided properly to go to the West, I would say. It was very, very, very, very important.
And also, I followed the statement of Madam Secretary when she visited Gracanica, when she told that the success of Kosovo will depend on the level of standard of the Serbs living there – very, very encouraging.
And to your question directly, no, I didn’t feel any pressure. I tell you why. It is not a goal to recognize Kosovo. And I did my best to express what is a goal in my head. The goal is to help or to facilitate, to establish relations between Belgrade and Pristina which will be good, smooth, and what is essential, sustainable. This is the goal. And I believe that Slovakia is a country not recognizing Kosovo, is – can help a lot. I want – I will do my best.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER DZURINDA: Thank you, Madam.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.