SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, everyone. I am delighted to welcome back to Washington someone who is very well known here, a friend and a colleague, and his colleagues as well. We last hosted Minister Terzi in February, and he's back to attend the annual dinner for the National Italian American Foundation, an organization that does so much to strengthen the ties of friendship and fellowship between the people of Italy and the people of the United States.
We also took this opportunity to continue an ongoing, never-ending conversation about all of the issues we are working on together and of course our very strong commitment to making a difference in the world and beyond. And on that point, let me congratulate the European Union on its Nobel Peace Prize. Certainly it's quite remarkable to see how unified and peaceful Europe is in the 21st century, and that did not happen by coincidence. It happened because of the very hard work and dedication of leaders and citizens across Europe. So for us, it's a great validation as well.
Italy is such a close friend and ally, a critical partner on countless international issues, and we look to Italy to lead on many of those issues. On the conflict in Syria, Italy has been with us every step of the way. In September, the Foreign Minister hosted Syrian opposition groups in Rome to discuss human rights and a peaceful end to the conflict there. We're working together to strengthen sanctions and the violence inflicted by the Assad regime and encourage a peaceful democratic transition.
We've also worked together during the course of the last year with the Monti government on economic reforms in Italy and elsewhere. We really are encouraged by the leadership shown by the Monti government, and Italy's progress. Our close ties in investment and business really demonstrate that we are in this together, and we will grow together. And as Italy tackles bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to create more growth and opportunity for the Italian people, they will have a partner in the United States.
So again, I thank you, Minister, for your work and for the great leadership you personally have shown and that the Government of Italy is demonstrating day in and day out, and we look forward to continuing our close consultations.
FOREIGN MINISTER TERZI: Thank you, thank you very much Madam Secretary, dear Hillary. Let me say how pleased and honored I am to be received here at the Department of State and to have been able to have important exchanges on main subjects in the international political agenda. But let me say, really, how pleased I am that you mentioned the fact that another commitment that I have tomorrow night is with the most important association of the Italian American organizations, because it brings to me, immediately, to the point that the importance of culture in foreign policy for my country.
We believe in -- my government and I am a strong believer of the principle that culture is really a fundamental backbone of Italian foreign policy; probably foreign policy for every country, but especially with Italy, this is particularly true. And that is why I have the opportunity of mentioning during our meeting the program that we have put together for celebrating 2013 to have next year dedicated to the promotion of the Italian culture in the United States, so to name 2013 as the Year of the Italian Culture in the United States, and that in that sense, I would be very glad to see and to explain the program also tomorrow night.
But also the reference you made to the decision of the Nobel Prize committee to bestow upon the European Union the Peace Prize is extremely important, because it gives the gravitas of a strong sensibility that the U.S. Government and yourself, in particular, Hillary, give to the role of the European Union in world's affair and to the fundamental value for the European Union of speaking with a single voice in very difficult situations that are around us. But speaking in a single voice gives importance and substance to the Euro-Atlantic values and objectives, which are objectives of peace, social and economic development, and understanding more people. So this is the sense that we attribute also to this recognition of the European Union, and I think it is deeply shared with our American friends.
The discussion we had on Libya, Mali, Syria have been very important. Our objectives are very much coincident to our working for a quick stabilization and also improvement of the political institutions in Libya. We have, I think, agreed on the importance of the election of last July 7th and the political process which is developing which hopefully will lead to a government in the next few days which will be supported by the Libyan people and the Libyan society. As a close partner of Libya, the Italian Government will continue to do its utmost to assist and contribute to this institution of (inaudible) and to the economic development of the country.
And the same goes for Syria, a major crisis which is so worrisome from humanitarian point of view, but also for the instability which is bringing in the region which is already full of tensions for many different reasons, but which needs to be addressed in political terms. And that's why working together with the different opposition groups and different opposition personalities is so important to create really another option, another future for a country that we want to be seeing peaceful and stable and respectful of human rights and of minorities.
And also our exchanges on Iran was important and the expectation that the Iranian leadership will finally decide to come back to the negotiating table in order to erase, specifically, the concern that the international community and especially the UN Security Council has so many times raised without clear and definite answers from Iran.
Thank you again, Hillary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MS. NULAND: We'll take one from each side today. Let's start with CNN, Jill Doherty.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, in the debate -- the Vice Presidential Debate last night, there was one thing that the Vice President said, which was, "That is what intelligence told us." And there's just one issue that seems so very basic that I'm finding it difficult to understand why it's not clear, and that is whether or not there actually was a demonstration that night. Is there any clarity that you have at this moment about that?
And then also, could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, before I answer your question, I want to underscore what an invaluable partner Italy has been in our efforts to support a democratic Libya. Italy played a crucial role in NATO's Operation Unified Protector to protect the civilian population from Qadhafi's violence. More than 4,000 air missions were flown from Sigonella alone. And in the wake of the Benghazi tragedy, the support of Italy has been absolutely essential. In ways large and small, our Italian friends and partners helped us evacuate our people on September 11th. They helped us get the FBI team in and in so many other ways. So I personally want to thank you, Giulio, and thank you, through you, your government for everything that you have done. And as you said, we will continue to work together to try to stabilize Libya and give the Libyan people the kind of future that they have so clearly stated they want.
With respect to your questions, Jill, I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on. We have an Accountability Review Board that is just beginning its work. There is much we still don't know. And I am the first to say that. But as someone who has been at the center of this tragedy from the beginning, I do know this: There is nobody in the Administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened. And we are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again -- anywhere. And of course, we are, as a government, doing what it takes to track down those who were responsible.
To this day -- to this day, we do not have a complete picture. We do not have all the answers. No one in this Administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us has made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time. And that information continues to be updated. It also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood through the process we are engaged in. Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community as every other senior official did.
And that's the very way that I'm answering your question today, because we can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack and what led up to it. Obviously, we know more as time goes by and we will know even more than we did hours and days after the attack.
So that's what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting. And I want us to keep in mind that four Americans were killed, four men who served our country. Dozens of Americans fought for their lives that night, and to honor them we all have to get to the bottom of every question and answer it to the best of our ability. And then we've got to be sure that we apply the lessons we learned to make sure that we protect everybody in harm's way.
So I'm going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was --
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I'm going to leave it at that.
FOREIGN MINISTER TERZI: May I just -- because this, for me, is a neat opportunity to say how deeply shocked we were in Rome, in the Italian Government, for the terrible loss of life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who left many friends and people who had the opportunity of appreciating his outstanding job as an American diplomat and so important also in terms of looking ahead for the future of Libya. I think that his sacrifice is and should be -- and it is surely for the Italian people -- a further indication, a further encouragement to commit ourselves to contribute to the Libya -- Libya's future, the future of the Libyans in the country, and freedom and democracy there.
MS. NULAND: Last question today (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you very much. You mentioned the strength of the relationship between Italy and the United States on many issues, on Middle East, Libya. I was wondering if you stand on the same side also on Afghanistan. And, Madam Secretary, if I may, Minister Terzi mentioned 2013 being the Year of the Italian Culture in the United States. I was wondering if this can be a way to further strengthen the relation between the two countries. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER TERZI: Thank you very much. On Afghanistan, we are following the path which was, the last time, at the highest level in the Chicago NATO Summit, reiterated and reinforced. We are following the strategy of empowerment of the Afghan national security in every possible way. And we have common projects in the way we will train, and we continue to train an Afghan security force which has reached now a very considerable number of 350,000 personnel globally.
So we are on schedule. The indications that we have from the field are promising. There are still many problems that we are confronting, but we are confident that the agenda that we have established among the ISAF countries -- and when we talk about ISAF country, it's very important to remind that the other day, at a meeting -- the ministerial defense meeting a few days ago, there were 50 countries around the table. That shows and that proves that the commitment of the international community at large is very strong, solid, and there is a unique agenda for everybody.
Afghanistan must go ahead. Over the last 10 years, there have been incredible success stories in terms of education, in terms of participation of women, children, and development of the country. So we have to continue and to be positive about the future of the country. We are working exactly, exactly in the same direction with the United States.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I want to start by expressing great appreciation for the sacrifices that Italian soldiers and their families have made in support of our mission in Afghanistan. Italy is the fourth largest contributor to ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, and leads the ISAF mission in Regional Command West. They've also, as you know, when President -- when Prime Minister Monti and President Karzai met, signed a strategic partnership agreement. And Italy has been very generous in committing to help sustain the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014.
So as the Minister said, we are working together. We are committed to the roadmap set forth first in Lisbon and then in Chicago, and we are very grateful for Italy's contributions and leadership.
As to your second question, we are very excited that December marks the beginning of the Year of Italian Culture. I thought every year was a year of Italian culture. (Laughter.) In the United States, certainly many of us enjoy it and hope for more. And I hope, though, that by highlighting it as a particular year, everyone can take advantage of the programming and the events that will be planned in cities across the United States. The very best of Italy, which is very good indeed, will be on display for American audiences. And I'm thrilled that this is going to enhance our close relationship in all the ways that matter -- art, music, good food, you just name it. We are very excited about having this year upcoming, and I personally am looking forward to it even deepening and strengthening the ties between our two countries more than they already are, which is almost impossible to imagine, but I'm sure can occur.
Thank you all very much.