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Cartoon Crisis

'Editorial Boards Will Make Their Own Decision'

'We commend and support [Danish] PM Rasmussen's responsible statements in recent days in which he has urged tolerance and respect for all faiths, as well as freedom of the press. .... There is no debate about the inadmissibility of violent protests,

'Editorial Boards Will Make Their Own Decision'
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Remarks to European Press Roundtable by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Washington, DC, February 6, 2006

Ambassador Fried: First, let me express solidarity with and sympathy for the governments and people of Denmark and Norway in the face of the outrages committed over the weekend in Damascus and Beirut. I gather also that there has been an attack on the Austrian Embassy in Tehran.

The White House issued an unequivocal statement of support for Denmark and Norway in the face of the attacks on their embassies. We made clear that we held the Syrian government responsible for these violent demonstrations. We called in the Syrian Ambassador over the weekend so there could be no misunderstanding.

We also commend and support Prime Minister Rasmussen's responsible statements in recent days in which he has urged tolerance and respect for all faiths, as well as freedom of the press. There is a debate about whether the cartoons should have been published. The right of press freedom is an absolute right. Right of press freedom brings the responsibility of editorial judgment, and my government doesn't give guidance to editorial boards. They work out these issues on their own. Editorial boards will make their own decision. But there is no debate about the inadmissibility of violent protests, attacks on embassies, threats to citizens and diplomats which have been made, and I commend those voices in the Middle East who have called for restraint and reason.

I note that Prime Minister Erdogan and President Zapatero have issued a statement noting the importance of freedom of the press and calling for calm. My government urges all governments to take measures now to lower tensions and prevent violence. I should add that we are also in touch with our Danish colleagues, making sure that we share information and that our friends in Denmark understand that we are prepared to do whatever we can do to help protect Danish citizens and missions.

It was a difficult weekend for our friends, and the debate about the cartoons is separate -- must be separate -- from the unequivocal condemnation of attacks and embassy burnings. No doubt when I take your questions you will ask about these things and I'm happy to take questions, but I want to be very clear, that the solidarity with Denmark and Norway and other European countries who are under threat is unequivocal.

There was also news over the weekend that I want to comment on. The IAEA vote to report Iran's dossier to the United Nations Security Council was a welcome victory for the international community, which is concerned about Iran's nuclear program. Iran knows what it must do and it has some time to do it, but it must suspend enrichment related and reprocessing activities, cooperate fully with the IAEA, and return to the negotiating process based on previously agreed terms. This is a victory for a responsible approach based on transatlantic solidarity and solidarity throughout the responsible international community.

There are two more things I want to mention because it has been a very active week on the transatlantic agenda. The Wehrkunde conference, I think, found itself somewhat overshadowed in the media by the events of the weekend, but the theme of the Wehrkunde conference was -- and I'm paraphrasing rather than quoting -- rebuilding the transatlantic alliance, something like that. I note, in particular, that Chancellor Merkel's speech was strong and visionary about the role of NATO and the transatlantic alliance in the world. It signals a period in which the differences over Iraq that so dominated our discussions in 2003 and 2004 have ceased to dominate the current scene, and we are now focused on what the transatlantic community needs to do together to promote security and freedom in the world.

I applaud Chancellor Merkel's calls for strengthening NATO's role. As a multilateral organization -- and, notice I said a multilateral organization -- it's not a tool box, it's not a platform for coalitions of the willing. We want to see NATO, as such, strengthened because that is the center that is the foundation of the transatlantic alliance. Finally, although this was less noticed last week, the European Union and the United States issued an unusual joint statement in Brussels and Washington, this came out on Friday, about Belarus where we called on the Belarus regime to permit the conditions for free and fair elections to take place in March, and we very much regretted the refusal of the Byelorussian regime to receive a joint European Union-U.S. delegation to discuss the importance of free elections.

The Byelorussian regime seemed to be unwilling to accept Europe and the United States standing together. But I think the solidarity that the United States and Europe showed by issuing the statement and issuing a clear message will not be lost on the Byelorussian people. So a very busy week. Much of what we have talked about in the past year -- that is the importance of a strong transatlantic alliance focused outwardly on the challenges that the United States and Europe face together -- has been realized. That is at Wehrkunde, for Belarus, in the IAEA, in Afghanistan, and, by the way, we have a Dutch colleague, so let me express again great appreciation to the Dutch parliament and government for its support of the mission.

The transatlantic community is looking outward, working together -- the United States and Europe in partnership -- to address our common challenges in the world. This is what we should be doing, this is the right agenda. This is not easy, but we have to be working together, and it is far better to be standing together and then consulting about what we need to do rather than engaging in inward-looking debates. So let me stop there. I'm happy to take your questions. And thanks for coming. It's good to see you.

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