Secretary of State Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister al-Araby gave these remarks and press conference on March 15, 2011 at Tahrir Palace in Cairo, Egypt.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: I’d like to speak in English first so that I would welcome the Secretary of State. We have had bilateral talks and multilateral talks. We discussed everything in Egypt, the Middle East in general, specifically Libya. We did discuss matters related to Palestine between us also. And I think on our part, we appreciated very much the responses from the Secretary of State. We are appreciative and we hope the very close relation with the United States would continue to flourish in the future.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me begin by expressing how pleased I am to be back in Cairo and to have this opportunity to meet with the foreign minister and other members of the government to discuss a wide range of issues. But I want to begin by saying very clearly and directly to the people of Egypt that this moment of history belongs to you, that this is your achievement and you broke barriers and overcame obstacles to pursue the dream of democracy, and the United States and President Obama and I will stand with you as you make this journey.
Like so many Americans, we have watched with great admiration and inspiration not only the activities in Tahrir Square but the outpouring of support for a new future where Egyptians take control of their own destiny. And the solidarity that was shown among Egyptians across all lines was very moving to many of us.
This courage and solidarity will serve the people of Egypt well, because the road to democracy, as the United States knows, being the oldest democracy in the world, although nothing like the oldest civilization in the world. We know how hard this path is. And we congratulate you on embarking on what will be a very important next chapter in the storied history of Egypt.
As the foreign minister said, we had a comprehensive discussion on many issues. I came to listen more than talk. I wanted to hear directly about the needs that Egypt has, particularly economically, because we know that political reform must be matched by economic reform, that there must be jobs and rising incomes and opportunities for all.
And we also discussed the current situation in Libya. We are very concerned about the Egyptian citizens who are still in Libya. We have played a part in helping to bring Egyptians home who made it to Tunisia, but we know that there are many, many Egyptians who are still unable to come home.
We also support – and I will have an opportunity to discuss this tomorrow with the prime minister and with the field marshal – the steps that are being taken to lay the groundwork for free and fair elections, and the need for those elections to be meaningful, to be based on a strong foundation that will be stable enough and strong enough to move into the future to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, to get results that will give you leaders that will be able to respond to the aspirations.
I am particularly pleased that the minister and I discussed in great detail with others who were there the economic needs, the need to rebuild a police force that will have the trust of the people. And I applaud the announcement today of the dismantling of the existing state security apparatus and the rebuilding of one that will be responsive to the needs of Egyptians.
We also focused on small and medium-sized enterprises because 99 percent of the jobs in Egypt are in small and medium-sized businesses. And I brought with me the head of our Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Elizabeth Littlefield, to discuss the ways that we could support this effort. And we want to see a very specific commitment by OPIC and by U.S. Export-Import Bank to provide letters of credit, to encourage private sector investments, because the long-term economic growth of Egypt depends not on government jobs but on private sector jobs. So the more foreign direct investment that we can help to encourage and support, we think will be beneficial for Egyptian people.
We’ve committed $90 million for near-term immediate economic assistance. At my request, we’ve had legislation introduced in the Senate of the United States by Senator Kerry and Senator McCain to establish an Egypt-American enterprise fund similar to what the United States did for Central and Eastern Europe. And we will closely coordinate with our Egyptian counterparts because we want to be responsive to the needs that you have.
In early January before the protests began, I warned at a conference in Doha that the region’s foundations were sinking into the sand. But today, because of the Egyptian people, Egypt is rising. Egypt, Umm al-Dunya, mother of the world, is now giving birth to democracy. Congratulations. (Applause.)
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: Thank you for that. I just would like to add one word, because at the talks, both the minister of finance and the minister of economic cooperation were there. And they did put to the Secretary of State the exact situation, economic situation, in Egypt. She responded favorably, and I must say we are all grateful because she did underline very important message, and we are grateful for that. Any questions?
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.) Hello, just before taking questions, let me give a few comments. I’m starting talking in English also, courtesy to Secretary Clinton. We have already late on schedule for the press conference. We were supposed to have 15 minutes. I’m not sure if the time is going to allow for 15 or more. That will be up to Your Excellency and to the minister. But I do ask that all journalists and correspondents to have very few questions, maybe two or three on each side, and each one should not take more than a minute so we can take – give their Excellencies time to respond.
One from the American side, one from the Egyptian side. You want me to choose them, to call on them?
QUESTION: Keith Johnson, Wall Street Journal.
MODERATOR: And then we’ll go to your side. Okay.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, microphone. Here it comes.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you alluded to the foundations of Egyptian democracy. This weekend we have a referendum coming up on some constitutional amendments. And I wonder if there are any concerns from the U.S. regarding the pace and the shape of Egyptian democracy – the transition to it.
On a related note, you also alluded to the Libyan situation. We’ve seen the situation on the ground today with the advance on the road to Benghazi by the regime. Is there any point any longer to continue talking about a no-fly zone given the state of play on the ground? And if so, what would you like to see done specifically, actions taken by regional actors that publicly have supported those measures?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are two large questions. The first question, we support Egyptians determining their own democratic future. There is the referendum on constitutional amendments this weekend. It is obviously up to the Egyptian people to vote yes or no to determine whether they accept those amendments. We have met with a number of Egyptians through our Embassy, through other contacts that we’ve made. As you know, Under Secretary Bill Burns was here and had extensive consultations. And we know that there is an internal debate within Egypt itself as to the timing and pace of when the elections should be held. So we don’t have an opinion; we have a clear message of support for what the Egyptians decide is in their own best interest.
Secondly, with regard to Libya, we welcomed the Arab League’s statement on Saturday. And I consulted with my G-8 colleagues yesterday in Paris. As you probably know, there is a British-French-Lebanese Security Council resolution that is being discussed at this time in New York. We are consulting with the Arab League about their understanding of the goals and modalities of a no-fly zone as well as other forms of support. We understand the urgency of this and therefore we are upping our humanitarian assistance. We are looking for ways to support the opposition, with whom I met last night. But we believe that this must be an international effort and that there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward.
QUESTION: Thank you, (inaudible) magazine. Actually, I want to ask about Bahrain. There is a problem now in Bahrain. It’s a question for both ministers, please. It seems that it will be a new problem between the Sunni and Shia. How do you see this problem?
And the second point, if I can, can the United States deal with the debt problem of Egypt? Those two, thank you.
**MODERATOR: Do you want to start on Bahrain?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: Well, (inaudible) I will make a comment if you allow me on the referendum as an Egyptian. What is to be taken into consideration is that we are going to have a referenda to improve the previous constitution, which was really not working well. So it’s to improve – that’s, number one.
What is more important and it’s number one (inaudible) is that we expect to have free, without any interference, referenda. It’s going to be, we hope, exemplary and it’s going to be the beginning for (inaudible) constitution amendments and work in the constitutional field to establish new constitution.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we call for calm and restraint on all sides in Bahrain. We’re particularly concerned about increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups. The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation and create a much more difficult environment in which to arrive at a political solution.
So our advice to all sides is that they must take steps now to negotiate toward a political resolution. The security issues are obviously important because there has to be an environment of stability and security in order for these talks to proceed. But it is important that everyone abide by that. And we know that the Government of Bahrain requested assistance from their fellow members in the Gulf Cooperation Council. We regret that the dialogue that was attempted had not started, and we call on all sides immediately to begin that dialogue and to look for ways to compromise to arrive at a peaceful resolution.
QUESTION: And the debt problem?
SECRETARY CLINTON: And we talked at length about the debt problem. And as I told the ministers, Egypt, you should be aware, is a very creditworthy country because you always pay your debts. And so part of our challenge is how we can help, and we’re looking at ways to do that and we’ve discussed a number of them tonight.
MODERATOR: I call on Matt Lee, please.
QUESTION: Hi, forgive me, Madam Secretary, I can’t stand up.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Bahrain. And I understand that you spoke with the Saudi foreign minister just a little while ago. And I’m wondering exactly what you could tell us about that conversation. Presumably, you made the same kind of appeals for calm and restraint as you just did here. But what was his response? Are you at all disappointed that the Saudis, the UAE, and others are going in to Bahrain?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to characterize their actions. Under their agreements among themselves in the Gulf, they have the right to ask for that assistance, and that’s what the Government of Bahrain has done. But I said the very same thing to the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia that I just said now. I said that the security challenges cannot be a substitute for a political resolution. And as they are moving in to respond to the requests by the Government of Bahrain, they, along with everyone else, needs to be promoting the dialogue between the parties. And we have a senior State Department official there, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, who is working with the parties as we speak, because we believe strongly that you can’t solve this problem by just trying to bring security to bear; you have to have a political solution.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Here comes the microphone.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: (In Arabic.)
MODERATOR: Are both Excellencies, both ministers willing to (inaudible) on any more questions? Maybe one more?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good. May I answer his --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. I don’t want to disappoint you. (Laughter.) First of all, I want to start where the minister ended. Egypt and the United States have many strategic interests in common, and a democratic Egypt will continue to have strategic interests in common with the United States. I think the aspirations that were on display for the world to see in Tahrir Square are universal aspirations. And the United States believes strongly in supporting the democratic transformation of Egypt.
Now, will we agree on everything? No. I don't know two people who agree on everything, let alone two countries. But we have a relationship of openness, and that will continue. And there are some disagreements or different perspectives that we may have, but I think, as with friends, it is important to maintain those lines of communication between countries. And certainly, I think both the minister and I are committed to doing that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sure, one more on each side?
MODERATOR: One more on each side. So this will be Steve Myers, New York Times.
QUESTION: I’ll defer to (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Okay. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I didn’t get all of it, but let me try to respond.
First, we are totally committed in the United States, and certainly both President Obama and I are determined to do everything we can to create a climate for a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is time. It is past time. And the minister and I were thinking about his history which goes back, as you know, to the Camp David accords; my history with my husband, where we got close but not close enough. And so we are determined to continue to press forward. And we think it’s in everyone’s interests, most particularly in the interest of the Palestinian people, who deserve a state of their own.
And under tremendously difficult odds, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been building the institutions of a state. The World Bank has given them quite a compliment by saying that they have made so much progress. I am proud that the United States is their primary partner in doing that. But we want to see them have the political benefit of having their own state, and we will continue to push for that.
MODERATOR: I think Her Excellency Secretary Clinton has to go, so I don’t think there is any room unless the minister --
SECRETARY CLINTON: You want to answer? One more?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: No, no, (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: You want to answer? Yes, yes, let’s please let the minister answer, absolutely.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ARABY: I was asked a question about the relations in the future between the United States and Egypt. And I did say – answer before that it’s moving ahead strongly. All the points made by the Secretary of State are extremely encouraging with respect to the economic problem in Egypt. With respect to the Palestinian question, I will permit myself to say that we did discuss about the (inaudible) to get matters resolved. And the answer I received is encouraging and very satisfactory.
MODERATOR: Thank you all. Thank you.