SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the State Department and a very warm welcome to my friend and colleague, the foreign minister of Estonia. We have been able to work closely together during my tenure, and I've had the pleasure of visiting Tallinn several times. And I'm delighted to have you here so that we can continue the conversation that we started several years ago. And we have just finished a very comprehensive discussion.
Over the last 20 years, Estonia has grown from a newly independent democracy to an important and respected voice in the international community, and the friendship between our two countries has only grown stronger. We look to Estonia as an important ally, a leader in promoting stability across the Euro-Atlantic area, a partner we can count on from the battle space in Afghanistan to cyber space. We share a wide range of concerns that we stay in close touch with each other about.
First, we discussed our shared effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. This has been an important partnership. In addition to providing military personnel, Estonia has given critical support for civilian, humanitarian, and democratic programs, and we will continue to work closely with Estonia as we move toward the Chicago summit. We are both committed to a smooth security, economic, and development transition. So Chicago will be the next stop in this ongoing effort. Despite these challenging economic times, it's more important than ever that NATO allies and partners come to Chicago with concrete commitments to support Afghan security forces beyond 2014.
Just as Estonia has been a strong NATO ally in Afghanistan, the United States takes our responsibilities to NATO very seriously, particularly our Article 5 obligation for collective defense. That's why we strongly support the extension of NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission on a continuing basis with periodic reviews. A mission such as this underscores the importance of what Secretary General Rasmussen calls smart defense, sharing resources to maximize each partner's contributions.
I also expressed our support to Urmas about Estonia's work in helping countries build effective, free market, and democratic institutions. Estonia has maintained a strong assistance and development program in Eastern partnership countries, particularly Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. And in addition, Estonia is increasingly active in the world of e-government, electronic government. From Eastern Europe to Africa to Haiti, governments look to Estonia for guidance on how technology can make them more efficient and effective.
And on that note, I am pleased to announce that the United States and Estonia have agreed to co-chair a new initiative in the Community of Democracies that will use technology to help strengthen democratic institutions. This program that we call LEND, L-E-N-D, the Network for Leaders Engaged in New Democracies, is an online platform that will connect leaders from emerging democracies with former presidents, prime ministers, and others who have helped lead democratic transitions in their own countries. We are particularly focused on working together in Tunisia. When the network is activated later this year, it will help accelerate the exchange of ideas among leaders who have the experience to share, and we're very excited to be co-chairing this initiative with Estonia.
So again, Foreign Minister, thank you for the great work that you do on behalf of your country, and thanks to Estonia for the great partnership we have.
Foreign minister Paet: Well, thank you very much for the very positive and nice comments. And I also would like to start with thanking -- thanking you personally, Hillary, and the United States for friendship and support and cooperation we have done between U.S. and Estonia. And of course, we will continue.
Also for us, when we speak about upcoming NATO summit, it is absolutely important to get clear decisions how to move forward with Afghanistan. Estonia's clear position here is that what concerns military commitment then, of course we, together with our allies, and also going to make next possible steps together with our allies, and what concerns development, humanitarian cooperation, then we're also ready to continue our activities and our support after 2014 together with our partners and allies in Afghanistan.
It's also important to get strong, positive message to countries which want to get NATO membership in foreseeable future, countries like Georgia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And of course, once more, to stress the strong security of transatlantic relations, but also strong security of Europe, including Article 5, it is also from our point of view absolutely important as one of the outcomes of Chicago summit.
We're also very grateful for United States for their support to air police mission in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and also thank you for practical participation with your people and aircrafts. It's also clear that step-by-step we should and we are ready to increase the host nation support and to make also for our partners it more convenient and positive to have concrete rotation periods in air policing in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
Cyber defense for us also important area where we see good chances to develop cooperation with the United States, but also with other NATO countries. In Estonia we have center for cyber defense accredited by NATO, and here we also see that this center can be -- or can give more added value also to NATO cyber security issues and developments already in foreseeable future.
We are glad that also bilateral cooperation, what concerns development cooperation, for example, in Belarus. It works, and we're looking forward to continue with bilateral development cooperation work in Tunisia, for example, and also I'm glad that U.S. participates in our center for eastern partnership in Estonia, supporting and sharing our experience to civil servants from Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, but also many other countries.
And with pleasure we join U.S. in organization called Leaders Engaged in New Democracies, or LEND. We see that there are many countries, including us, which are able and ready to share our experience to countries which want to change and which also want to share the values we are sharing.
So to sum up once more, thank you for friendship and cooperation and always glad to be also here in Washington and in the States. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much.
MS. NULAND: We'll take three questions today. We'll start with CNN, Elise Labott.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. On Syria, what hopes do you have that President Assad will make good on his commitments to implement the Kofi Annan plan? And looking ahead towards Istanbul on Sunday, what do you expect to come out of this conference? And in particular, what are you looking for for the opposition to strengthen their message of how they see a post-Assad Syria? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Elise. As you just referenced, the Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and the Syrian National Council both said this morning that it is an important initial step that the Assad regime has written the United Nations to accept the Annan plan. Let me just pause here to say, however, that given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions. We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says. If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria's history to a close, he can prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas. He can also allow international aid workers unfettered access to those in need, and he can release political prisoners, permit peaceful political activity, allow the international news media unobstructed access, and begin a legitimate political process that leads to a democratic transition.
Now, as the regime takes steps, which we have yet to see, but assuming it does so, then Kofi Annan has pledged to work with the opposition to take steps of its own so that the bloodshed ends, that there won't be violence coming from opposition forces, that humanitarian aid will be permitted to come into areas where the opposition has been holding, that the true political dialogue will begin, and that all Syrians will be welcomed to participate in an inclusive process. Now that's a lot to look forward to seeing implemented, but given the response that we have had, we are going to be working very urgently between now and Istanbul to translate into concrete steps what we expect to see. And I'm hoping that by the time I get to Istanbul on Sunday we will be in a position to acknowledge steps that the Assad regime and the opposition have both taken. We're certainly urging that those occur.
Specifically with respect to the opposition, they must come forward with a unified position, a vision if you will, of the kind of Syria that they are working to build. They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians. And we are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision at Istanbul. So we have a lot of work to do between now and Sunday.
MS. NULAND: Next question, Neeme Raud, Estonian Public Broadcasting.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. My question is about our big neighbor, Russia. Today in the news, we hear news about conversation Mr. President had with Russian President Medvedev. Russia has accused you last year, Mr. Putin personally, intruding into their internal affairs. U.S. Ambassador McFaul was not received very warmly in Russia. At UN, when the talk is about Syria, there is a talk about new Cold War even with Russia. What is the U.S.-Russian relationship at this moment of transition in Russia? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we believe that it is a complex relationship. We've seen some positive, concrete accomplishments coming from the so-called reset. We are also engaged in a substantive bilateral dialogue that is quite comprehensive with many levels of the Russian Government and society. So we are committed to engagement with Russia.
Regarding the President's comments in Seoul, he spoke to those himself and made clear that the issues we are dealing with concerning Russia are difficult and complex ones. Technical discussions have been ongoing with Russia over missile defense. That's not a surprise to anyone. We have been consistent, both bilaterally and through NATO, in our invitation to the Russians to participate with us in missile defense. But this is going to take time. And whether or not there can be a breakthrough sometime in the future is yet to be determined, but we certainly look at this as a long-term engagement.
When we negotiated the New START Treaty, we were engaging at the same time in consultations with Congress, of course with all elements of the United States Government, including the Defense Department, with our allies in NATO and elsewhere, because you can't do something as serious as New START or missile defense without full buy-in from our government, bipartisan support in the Congress, and understanding and acceptance by our allies, particularly in NATO. So we will continue this effort. We may be somewhat surprising in our persistence and our perseverance in our engagement with Russia. It will continue with President-elect Putin, as it has with President Medvedev.
But let me hasten to say in the meantime we continue with the deployment of the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense that was agreed to at the Lisbon summit. We expect to announce further progress at the Chicago summit. And as the President made clear to President Medvedev in Seoul, we do not see this missile defense system as a threat to Russia; we do not see it as undermining Russia's nuclear deterrent. The interceptors are for defensive uses only. They have no offense capability. They carry no explosive warheads, but they are part of our Article 5 collective defense obligation. That is a clear, unmistakable message that we have sent to our allies and that we continue to reiterate.
So yes, we want to cooperate with Russia on missile defense. We think it is in everyone's interest to do so. But we will continue the work we are doing with NATO and we will be looking to complete that process in the years ahead.
MS. NULAND: Last question, Andy Quinn, Reuters.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I could turn to Sudan, please. You've seen the statement out of the White House today urging restraint, but I was hoping I could get your analysis of what's really going on there, and specifically how dangerous you feel it is. Are we on the brink of a new civil war? And what is the United States doing now to prevent a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Southern Kordofan? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andy, this is deeply distressing to us, because it was certainly our hope and expectation that with the independence of South Sudan, the newest nation in the world, there would be the opportunity to continue fulfilling the requirements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that included resolving border disputes, allocations of oil revenues and other contested matters between Sudan and South Sudan.
As you know, there has been almost continuing low-level violence in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it is our goal to end the violence and to convince the parties to return to the negotiating table. We believed we were making progress on two contested matters. In fact, there was a summit between President Bashir and President Kiir scheduled for next week to finalize understandings on borders and national citizenship. We want to see that summit held. And we want to see both sides work together to end the violence. We think that the weight of responsibility rests with Khartoum, because the use of heavy weaponry, bombing runs by planes and the like are certainly evidence of disproportionate force on the part of the government in Khartoum.
At the same time, we want to see South Sudan and their allies or their partners across into Sudan similarly participate in ending the violence and working to resolve the outstanding issues. It is becoming a very serious humanitarian crisis. We have been reaching out to the government in Khartoum through international aid organizations. We stand ready on behalf of the United States to provide assistance to people fleeing the violence. It is compounded by the fact that the violence is making it possible for people to get into their fields, and there's already adverse conditions because of drought that are compounded by the unfortunate violence.
So the bottom line is that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom helped to broker in 2005 ended a conflict that had cost more than 5 million lives. We have seen the ongoing violence and displacement in Darfur, and now we are looking at an upsurge in violence in two other parts of Sudan. So it is incumbent upon the leaders of both countries to resume negotiations, and the United States stands ready to assist in working out the contested issues.
The final thing I would say -- because I've been following this closely and it's been a painful problem to see the deterioration into conflict again -- there is a win-win outcome here. South Sudan has oil. Sudan has the infrastructure and the transportation networks to get the oil to market. Because of the feeling on the part of the South Sudan Government that they were being treated unfairly by Sudan, they shut down their oil wells and the pipelines. So the economic condition in both countries is deteriorating. So I would call upon the leaders to look for a way to resolve these very hard feelings. You don't make peace with your friends. There are decades of grievances that have to be overcome in order to work through these very challenging issues. But it is incumbent upon the leaders of both countries to attempt to do so.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER PAET: Thank you very much. Welcome to Estonia.