SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. Well, I am delighted to welcome the foreign minister here today. I know this comes a little early, but, Minister Martin, I wish you and the people of Ireland and all people who are connected to the wonderful Irish history and traditions a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.
I had the great honor of representing a very large Irish American citizenry in New York for eight years, and I know well the contributions that Ireland and Irish Americans have made to the United States. They’re so numerous, they’re impossible to quantify. And indeed, we now have a President and a Vice President who trace some of their family roots back to Ireland.
So I am grateful that the foreign minister could join us here today ahead of the holiday tomorrow to acknowledge both the history and friendship that we share, but also the working relationship that we have enjoyed on a number of important issues that are really significant to both the people of Ireland and to Americans.
I told the foreign minister how much we appreciate that strong partnership. And we discussed and had a very productive meeting about a range of issues. Our countries share a vital economic relationship that has created tens of thousands of jobs in Ireland and the United States. We need to coordinate closely to preserve those benefits in the face of global economic challenges.
Ireland also makes significant contributions to global security. Over 800 troops, 10 percent of the country’s armed forces, are currently deployed overseas on peacekeeping missions in Chad, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and other countries.
And on the subject of conflict prevention, I want to address the recent events in Northern Ireland. As many of you know, this is an issue of great personal concern and commitment to both me and to my husband. It was an honor to work on behalf of peace in Northern Ireland and to do so with the leadership of Senator George Mitchell as our negotiator. I had the privilege of visiting Northern Ireland numerous times to meet with activists from both communities. I spent a lot of time in particular with women, Catholic and Protestant, who were working to build bridges in their own communities, to find common ground as mothers and wives, and to create conditions for peace from the ground up.
Thanks to the brave efforts of government leaders and community activists like the women that I was privileged to know, the people of Northern Ireland, with the strong support of the Government of Ireland and the Government of Great Britain, reached a peace agreement, the Good Friday Agreement, that has delivered more than a decade of calm and progress.
Now, in recent days, a handful of rejectionists have tried to drag the people of Northern Ireland back into a full cycle of violence and retaliation. The recent attacks which killed two British soldiers and a police officer are an affront to the values of every community, every ethnicity, every religion, and every nation that seeks peace. I want to commend the entire leadership of Northern Ireland as well as the Irish and British governments for their constructive statements and their strong resolve in the face of this attack.
I hope that the recent arrests will bring an end to these tragic events and allow the people of Northern Ireland to continue to move forward not only with the important work of reconciliation, but with prosperity and progress that will redound to the benefit of all. The success of the peace process has consequences that go far beyond Northern Ireland. It provides proof to people everywhere that negotiations, dialogue, reconciliation, diplomacy can end conflicts that have tormented generations. The United States stand with the people of Northern Ireland. We will not let criminals destroy the gains that have been achieved through great courage and sacrifice.
Now, this issue is, of course, only a small facet of our relationship with Ireland. Whether it is supporting the Middle East peace process; strengthening democratic institutions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Western Balkans; promoting human rights; finding solutions to the global financial crisis and climate change; working together on development, we know Ireland is and will remain a strong and steady partner and leader. We share responsibilities, a common agenda, and a proud history.
So Minister Martin, I am grateful for your friendship and for the friendship that you represent on behalf of your country, and I look forward to working with you as we address these and other challenges.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: Thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State, and may I say that it’s a particular pleasure for me and indeed a privilege to be here with you and to have the opportunity to have our first bilateral meeting here in Washington.
I think you will agree that our meeting was substantive, it was productive, and very fruitful. And indeed, I, of course, congratulated Secretary of State Clinton on her recent appointment and, of course, said all of us in Ireland look forward to working with you in the months and indeed in the years ahead.
It is especially appropriate that the meeting should take place on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, when Ireland again has been honored so warmly here in Washington. And indeed there’s a special bond of friendship between Ireland and the United States, and again this is reflected, I think, in the very generous way in which St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated here today and tomorrow in Washington and indeed across the United States itself.
Secretary Clinton has been an extraordinary friend of Ireland and continues to be. For many years you’ve played a key role in our peace process, as you’ve just articulated, and you’ve been a frequent visitor to Ireland over the years. Your engagement at a political and civic level, particularly in terms of developing political awareness among women’s groups in Northern Ireland, was particularly important and earned you the greatest respect on the island of Ireland and indeed amongst our Irish American community here in the United States. And of course, we look forward very much indeed to welcoming you to Ireland for an official visit at an early opportunity.
In addition to that, we did discuss, of course, the situation in Northern Ireland, including the tragic events of last – of the past week, when three lives were needlessly and senselessly lost as a result of unacceptable and criminal attacks by dissidents. We – what has emerged from the past week, as I spoke and discussed with Secretary Clinton, has been a very strong unity of purpose from both the Irish and the British Government and indeed from all of the political parties on the island of Ireland. It has demonstrated a very significant unity of purpose in ensuring that we will never go back to the bad old days and that we’re very anxious to build on the political momentum and develop very strong political structures and community structures to ensure the continuation and the enhancement of the extraordinary achievements of the past ten years. And of course, America has been particularly important in relation to those achievements.
In terms of the ongoing bilateral relationship that we – Secretary Clinton has expressed interest in the new strategic framework that the Taoiseach announced last evening, which will in many ways be the framework for the development of our relationship with the United States in the decades ahead. And we want to work on quite a number of those issues into the future, not least in developing bilateral frameworks whereby young Irish people can come to America and indeed young Americans can come to Ireland to work and to study and to learn more about each other’s cultures and experiences. And in that context, we look forward to working bilaterally on issues such as development and other issues where we can add value to the world by working in partnership.
I wish to pay tribute to Secretary Clinton’s intensive engagement with the international community over the past few weeks. We look forward to the United States assuming a strong and progressive global leadership role in the years ahead. And already within the European Union community, there is strong anticipation, excited anticipation about the relationship that will develop across the Atlantic between the European Union and indeed the United States.
We’ve discussed, as the Secretary of State said, issues pertaining to the Middle East, to Afghanistan, to global economic downturn, and developments within the European Union itself. We welcome your very energetic engagement in the pursuit of a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. And of course, we were particularly warm in our welcome of the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy, a person who did an enormous amount of work for Ireland in developing the peace process back in Ireland. And anywhere we’ve gone in the Middle East, we have made it very clear a man of integrity, a man of fairness, and a man who listens has been appointed to a very sensitive post. And that speaks volumes in terms of your commitment to the resolution of that issue. And indeed, if we can be of any assistance in that regard, given our own experiences, we’re only too willing to provide such assistance.
We look forward to tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day. I was intrigued by the Secretary of State Clinton’s memories of the capacity of the Irish to party in a unique way – (laughter) – and she interrogated the Ambassador in terms of where the real parties were going to be tomorrow evening. (Laughter.) And I think, you know, we’re looking forward to it, and the Taoiseach – and the meeting between President Obama and the Taoiseach tomorrow as well, which of course is the highlight of the remarkable celebration of our national day in the United States.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister Martin.
MR. WOOD: We’ll take a couple of questions. The first one is to Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. On Pakistan, I’d like to talk to you about your message to Pakistan over the weekend, which certainly seemed to help, at least, calm the situation. What sort of pressure did you apply to Pakistan? Did you warn that Congress may not be forthcoming with aid if the political turmoil continues? And given the political turmoil, can you say that the government is stable and are you concerned that it’s distracted from the very important task at hand at fighting the war on terrorism? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, the Pakistanis themselves resolved the difficulties that were manifest over the last several days. The work that was done by our Ambassador Anne Patterson and the Embassy staff, along with our Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and his staff, was, I think, very helpful in both working with the Pakistani leaders themselves and in keeping our government informed. I did speak with both President Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. And I believe that the resolution that they have agreed upon is the first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and the rule of law, both of which are essential to the efforts that the Pakistanis themselves see as so critical; namely, preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani people and the country.
So we are going to continue our very close working relationship with the government and a number of Pakistani leaders in the days and weeks ahead. We have another trilateral meeting scheduled a few months off. So there will be an ongoing effort to make our services available and to help the Pakistanis fight against our common enemy.
QUESTION: Are you worried that (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think they understand what’s at stake.
MODERATOR: Last question is from Denis Coghlan of the Irish Times.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Denis, how are you?
QUESTION: Very well. Thank you, Madame Secretary. The Administration has asked a number of European countries, including Ireland, to help with the resettlement of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. I wanted to ask you, first, how important is our help with that issue? And secondly, what would you say to European citizens who say that Guantanamo was an American creation that most Europeans didn’t approve of, and that the United States really has the responsibility to resolve the problems it created?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the President has made it clear that we will close Guantanamo. That is a position that was widely advocated by Europeans, both European governments and the EU, as well as European citizens from, I guess, every country. We believe that that is the right step for the United States to take, and we are going through our process now to evaluate the disposition with respect to each detainee.
But it is clear that we will need help because many of the detainees cannot safely, for themselves or others, be sent back to the countries from which they came. There are some countries that have made it very clear if the detainees are returned that they will face consequences; imprisonment, for example. So we need help to avoid the human rights problems that might arise with the release and resettlement of the detainees. And we are trying to do the best we can with the problem that we inherited, and that certainly is something that Europe, from one end to the other, called upon us to do. So we would hope to have the cooperation of European governments.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: First of all, we warmly welcomed the decision to close Guantanamo, and indeed Ireland was one of the first countries out calling for its closure. And it has been welcomed warmly across the European Union. And as I have said, and I’m on the record publicly as saying, that given the fact that we called for the closure of Guantanamo, we have – there’s a compelling logic to being responsive to the situation and to see what – where we can help in – within the context of the European Union as well, because we do believe that Europe is working on this at the moment, and I understand that the European Union is engaged with the Administration in terms of information and so on. And I know it will be the subject matter of discussions perhaps tomorrow as well between the President and the Taoiseach, so I’m not going to preempt anything the Taoiseach may say.
But we’re a friend of America and we will respond to the issues as they emerge. And we’ve made it clear that we want to be positive in our engagement on this issue with the Administration.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We appreciate that.
MR. WOOD: Thank you all very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: One – you want one more on each side?
MR. WOOD: Sure.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how do you respond to criticism from Senators McCain and Graham and Brownback that Chris Hill is – does not have the experience necessary to become ambassador in Baghdad? He doesn’t have the experience in the Arab countries. And they also allege that he doesn’t have the negotiating skills necessary, and they point to the recent deadlock in the negotiations with North Korea as an example.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, obviously, I think both of those criticisms are unjustified and unfounded. Chris Hill is a distinguished, experienced diplomat who has served in some very difficult positions on behalf of our country. Another very distinguished, experienced diplomat, John Negroponte, was our ambassador to Iraq. He did not have Middle East or Arabic language skills when he was sent to Iraq. I believe the people you’ve just mentioned, my former colleagues, all voted for former Deputy Secretary Negroponte. So I think on the experience basis, he is not only very well-qualified in terms of running a large embassy, helping to deal with the myriad of issues that will arise as we conduct our withdrawal, but we’ll have around him, as any ambassador does, people who have particular skills and expertise.
With respect to the North Korean mission that we believe Ambassador Hill carried out with great persistence and success despite some difficult challenges, this is a hard set of challenges to meet. And it is our perspective that he made a lot of lemonade out of some pretty bad lemons, and he was able to get the North Koreans on record as agreeing to certain obligations. We now have to follow through on those obligations.
So our assessment, which we believe is rooted in the facts, may be different from those who, you know, are rightfully distressed with and extremely critical of North Korean actions on human rights, on their continuing effort to obtain nuclear weapons, on their belligerence and their provocative actions. But that is something that is not in any way reflective of the job that Chris Hill did in the Six-Party Talks, where we think he did a very good job.
QUESTION: A question for the Secretary of State. You had strong words there for the dissidents in Northern Ireland. Can I just ask –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Not dissidents, not – I’m all in favor of dissidents. I’m not in favor of criminals.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, your strong words, how – I just want to ask how you felt personally last week when you saw the events unfolding. And just secondly on that, you’ve been asked to make an official visit at the earliest opportunity.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: When do you think that will be and will President Obama be coming with you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, I told the minister that unfortunately, my colleagues in the State Department know my great affection for Ireland and they’re somewhat skeptical that it’s a work job for me to go. So I’m working that through. I will get there at my earliest opportunity.
I think like all people who value peace and who know what it’s like to feel secure sending your, you know, son to the store or waiting for your husband to come home from work, those days were thankfully behind us. And so when these criminal elements, these rejectionists, determined to kill and try to set the communities against one another in Northern Ireland again, to relive the troubles and the bad days that everyone worked so hard to resolve, it was distressing.
But I was immediately heartened by the response across Northern Ireland, indeed, the island of Ireland with people speaking out against the murders and the violence and the provocation that these actions represented. I particularly appreciated the very strong statements of Northern Ireland’s leaders from both communities. So I believe this did, as the minister said, fortunately foil the efforts of the criminal elements to try to provoke violence again. In fact, it did show a unity of purpose, a commitment to a positive future.
Now that doesn’t mean all of the problems are over and all of the difficulties that people live with day-to-day – the minister and I talked about some of the economic issues that we wanted to help address in Northern Ireland. But it did, in a resounding way, demonstrate a commitment to peace that touched my heart and was incredibly moving to me.
Thank you all.
FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: Thank you.