At this press conference with Crotian President Ivo Josipovic on October 31, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on the U.S. government's involvement with a new opposition leadership council in Syria.
PRESIDENT JOSIPOVIC: (Via interpreter) (In progress) – profile itself as a democratic (inaudible). We are today a member of NATO, soon to be a member of the EU, and this shows that the support from the American side has been very meaningful. We've discussed our bilateral relations that are excellent, however there is a great potential for enhancing our economic cooperation. I'm very pleased that from you, Secretary of State, I've heard major interest of the American side in cooperation in the economy. There is, of course, a problem of the actual openness to investment, but we are aware that the Croatian Government is preparing a number of measures to facilitate investments in Croatia, and I am sure that there will be a major number of American investors who will come and invest in Croatia.
We have discussed our cooperation within NATO, which is a very important framework for our partnership, and Mrs. Clinton has shown great interest in the Croatian assessment of the situation in the region and the possibility of Croatia as a neighboring country and soon to become a member of the EU contributing to further stabilization of the European future of the entire region. I reiterated our view that a continued enlargement process is Croatia's vital interest and that also within the EU we should do everything for our neighbors to get support and to be tomorrow together with us in the EU. I thank the U.S. Secretary and her delegation for extremely open and constructive talk.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and it indeed is an honor for me to be here on my first official visit to Zagreb as Secretary of State and to celebrate the exemplary partnership between our two countries, which, as you say, dates back now 20 years. Earlier today I also had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister, and in both meetings we discussed a range of critical issues where our countries work side-by-side to advance peace and prosperity throughout the region. The United States is very proud to have the opportunity to work with Croatia in NATO, and we are looking forward to Croatia's joining the European Union next year.
For more than 20 years the United States has stood with the people of Croatia to overcome the wars and destruction of the 1990s and to rebuild your country. But this is really the work of all of the people in this country, because you made a fundamental decision early on. You decided you wanted to join the transatlantic institutions and be part of Europe, a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. So yes, today you are not only a full member of NATO and you will be joining the European Union, but you serve as an anchor of stability and prosperity in the region and demonstrate unequivocally what people and political leaders can accomplish when they work together toward a shared goal.
Nations around the world today are making the difficult transition to democracy, and they can look to you, they can look to Croatia, as a model. This country has taken great strides to combat corruption and uphold the rule of law, from prosecuting domestic war crimes cases to reforming your justice sector. Croatia has also made it a priority to include ethnic minorities and ensure opportunities for all of your citizens. And I would like to commend the Croatian Government, Mr. President, for leading the decade of Roma inclusion this year. Whenever Roma people cannot fully participate in their communities, whether that's getting an equal education, electing political representatives, or having the same opportunities to contribute to the economic and political lives of their countries, whole societies lose out. Because when more people in more places can contribute their talents, that adds immeasurably to what everyone is able to do. So thank you for taking on one of Europe's most persistent challenges.
I also want to commend Croatia's efforts to establish a regional housing program with Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is a significant step toward reconciliation with honor, and the United States is proud to contribute to your efforts. More importantly, tens of thousands of refugees who are still displaced by wars can now look forward to a better future.
Of course, there is still work to do to close the chapter on refugees and other important challenges, and we strongly support efforts here in this region and in particular Croatia's to combat corruption and organized crime, strengthen the independence of your judiciary, and privatize state enterprises in order to open up the economy. We encourage Croatia to share your experience with your neighbors, as you have a lot of lessons that can be useful to them.
Now, as the President said, to continue building a thriving, modern democracy, you need to have your economy keep growing. So we are strongly in support of any ways to improve your business environment and attract more investors, particularly investors from the United States. You have proven time and time again you have the political will and persistence to make tough choices that deliver concrete results.
I also wish to thank you, Mr. President, and through you the people of Croatia, for the contributions you have made to NATO, UN and EU peacekeeping missions around the world. In Afghanistan, more than 300 Croatian troops serve alongside Americans and others as part of the International Security Assistance Force. And I appreciate greatly the sacrifices Croatia has made and your commitment to see the security transition through with ISAF to give the Afghan people a chance to build their own institutions and secure their own country.
Now, I brought with me quite a delegation, Mr. President. I was pleased that our new Ambassador, Ken Merten, was able to get here in time for my arrival. He's been on the job about five days. And I was particularly pleased to bring with me the highest-ranking Croatian American in the United States Government, Capricia Penavic Marshall, who is our Chief of Protocol, who has been a longtime friend and associate of mine and whose father, Frank, has regaled me with many stories about growing up in Croatia.
So it's not only a partnership. It's not only that we are members of NATO together. It's not only that our soldiers serve side-by-side. It is also the bonds of friendship and family and real cultural affinity that Americans and Croatians share. And Mr. President, we look forward to celebrating Croatia's accession to the EU in the very near future.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Now we'll take questions. (Inaudible), a question to the President and the State Secretary.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) A question to the President and State Secretary: When on the first of July next year when the Croats wake up, in spite of the objections of the Slovenians, do you expect us to be a member of the EU with a special assignment in the region?
And the second question, based on – for the U.S. Secretary: Your former ambassador, when leaving Croatia, said that there is an anti-business climate in Croatia and that the U.S. has the lowest investment in Croatia compared to other (inaudible). Does the Obama Administration see any progress over the last period of years, or is this country still in an anti-business climate? Does it pervade here?
PRESIDENT JOSIPOVIC: (Via interpreter) I am quite sure that on the first of July, we will wake up in the EU next year. And I am sure that Croatia will be a successful member of the EU, which means not to benefit honey and milk, but we will have to show what we can do. It's a major opportunity for us, but it's up to us to show how we will take advantage of it.
We will have an important task in the region in our own interest. Croatia's best interest is that our neighbors also accede to the EU, of course, provided that they fulfill the EU requirements. This is important to us for the sake of peace, security, but also for the economic considerations, free movement of goods, people, among the neighboring countries and friends.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly in my discussions with both the President and the Prime Minister, they expressed equally the same confidence that you will be a member of the European Union. And we certainly strongly support that, as we have over the last several years.
Regarding the economic, commercial, business, and investment climate, I think it's important in today's world that everyone look for ways to create jobs, restore competitiveness, and spur renewed economic growth. That is particularly important here in Croatia because you have an educated workforce, you have a developed infrastructure, you have a very favorable geographic position, you are a promising destination for investment. But you also have a very high rate of unemployment for young people that could be addressed by opening up your business sector to greater competition.
We see potential for increasing trade and investment between Croatia and the United States. And as I discussed with the Prime Minister and the President, we urge Croatia to make necessary reforms: to increase transparency, to reduce bureaucratic hurdles wherever you can, to continue with privatization in an appropriate fashion, to make it easy to start a new business, to encourage young people to be entrepreneurs, to look for energy independence, which will give you advantages vis-a-vis the rest of Europe because of your long coastline, to explore liquefied natural gas and deepening your port.
We stand ready to assist in any way. We already have several business development programs in place. Last year, we brought people together from the United States and across the region for an annual business and investment conference known as the Brown Forum, named in honor of the late former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. So we stand ready to encourage American investment in Croatia. And I must say we think that there's a great potential here, but there do have to be continuing economic reforms which, if undertaken and implemented, will give Croatia a significant advantage vis-a-vis the rest of Europe, particularly southern Europe and especially the Balkans.
So we don't urge you to do this for us, we urge this to do it for you, but we think it will also benefit American businesses and investors because they will find Croatia a very attractive place to do business with all of the assets you have.
QUESTION: Secretary, if I could ask you about Syria. Mr. Brahimi's attempt at a ceasefire has evidently failed, and the violence is increasing again. What are your views on what needs to be done now to bring the violence down?
And turning to next week's opposition conference in Doha, what gives you confidence, if you have any at all, that this could produce the beginnings of a government in waiting where the SNC has failed to do that? And are you sure that your key allies, including Turkey, are ready to swing behind whatever is the outcome of Doha? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well Andy, those are all very important and timely questions. And I want to start by thanking Croatia for their assistance in dealing with the extremely difficult problems presented by both Syria and Iran.
Look, I sincerely regret, but I, unfortunately, was not surprised by the failure of the latest ceasefire attempt. Despite its reported commitment to the UN Special Envoy, Mr. Brahimi, the Assad regime did not suspend its use of advanced weaponry against the Syrian people for even one day. And the shelling in the suburbs of Damascus was as bad last weekend as at any time in the conflict.
So while we urge Special Envoy Brahimi to do whatever he can in Moscow and Beijing to convince them to change course and support stronger UN action, we cannot and will not wait for that. Instead, our efforts, and those of our partners in the EU and the Arab League, are focused on pressuring the regime through increasing and tightening sanctions, meeting the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people who are displaced, assisting those countries that they seek refuge in, and helping the opposition unite behind a shared, effective strategy that can resist the regime's violence and begin to provide for a political transition that can demonstrate more clearly than has been possible up until now what the future holds for the Syrian people once the Assad regime is gone.
So we are working very hard with many different elements from the opposition – yes, inside Syria as well as outside Syria. Some of you might remember I hosted a meeting in New York during the UN General Assembly. We facilitated the smuggling-out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition in order for them to explain to the countries gathered why they must be at the table. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years. There has to be a representation of those who are on the frontlines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.
And there needs to be an opposition leadership structure that is dedicated to representing and protecting all Syrians. It is not a secret that many inside Syria are worried about what comes next. They have no love lost for the Assad regime, but they worry, rightly so, about the future. And so there needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria. And we also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution. There are disturbing reports of extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over what has been a legitimate revolution against a repressive regime for their own purposes.
So the Arab League-sponsored meetings, starting in Doha next week, will be an important next step. I have been constantly involved with my counterparts, both in the EU and in the Arab League, in particular with the hosts of the meeting next week in Qatar. We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure. We've made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard. So our efforts are very focused on that right now. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) This completes the statements for the press. Thank you.