Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stacked her first full day of diplomacy at this year’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting, also known as UNGA, by meeting with the leaders of some of the United States’ most challenging allies in a region marred by recent civil unrest.
Clinton had sit-down meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Libyan President Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, before ending the evening Monday holding talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
The secretary and her delegation met with Morsi and his delegation for nearly an hour, according to senior State Department officials. One official described the meeting as “very relaxed and warm,” and said that Morsi began the meeting by affirming Egypt’s commitment to protecting U.S. diplomatic missions, and told Clinton that the Egyptian government understands it has a duty to protect embassies and it’s a duty he takes seriously.
The official pointed out that since the initial violent protests Sept. 11, Egypt has faced many more, but there have been no further incidents of damage to U.S. embassies and consulates, a sign security forces are doing their jobs.
At a late Monday night briefing, the official also said that Clinton and Morsi discussed Egypt’s relationship with Israel under the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government. The official said Morsi repeated previous statements affirming that Egypt has every intention of honoring the Camp David treaty with Israel and continues to work on keeping good communication lines open between the countries.
Both state department officials acknowledged that Egypt has a tough road ahead in shaping its new democracy but that Clinton assured Morsi that despite the call by some lawmakers for Egypt’s aid to be cut, she will continue to advocate for U.S. financial support.
“We understand that there may be members who have questions, but that there is strong bipartisan support for Egypt being a democratic success, because it’s in our national security interest that that occur,” one said.
Egypt’s plan to include Iran in any negotiations regarding the end of bloodshed in Syria was met with heavy skepticism by Clinton and her delegation. Calling it a small part in the conversation, an official would not dismiss Egypt’s initiative entirely, but said that the United States always has “concerns when Iran is engaged.”
Although the anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked global protests across the Muslim world, was brought up briefly in the meeting, the official said, Morsi understood the film was not a reflection of the U.S. government and acknowledged that it should not be used an excuse for violence.
Secretary Clinton’s meeting with Pakistan President Zardari, however, began by discussing the video, despite the continued issues between the two countries, including the use of drones, the jailing of the doctor who helped with the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, and the declaration of the Haqqani network as a terror group.
“The meeting today with President Zardari started again on the recent violence caused by the video,” said another senior State Department official with authority to comment. “We have had extremely good support from Pakistani security sources in protecting our posts and our personnel, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about the violence throughout the region.”
After they finished talking about the video, they turned to issues of counterterrorism, where Clinton and Zardari agreed to support a joint counterterrorism working group that will meet throughout the year.
Clinton’s most verbally and publicly pleasant greeting was reserved for Libyan President Magariaf, whom she thanked again for the outpouring of support the Libyan people have shown America after the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats earlier this month.
“The United States was proud to stand with you and the Libyan people as you fought for your country last year,” Clinton said. “And we will continue to stand with you as you now write Libya’s new future as a democracy that will give all of your people a chance to have a better future.”
In response to a general question about Clinton’s holding bilateral meetings with heads of state instead of President Obama, a State Department official told reporters at the Monday briefing that the president had a limited amount of time and had to make “choices.”
Another State Department official said Obama’s not meeting with any global leaders in New York was a “fine” decision, adding that because Clinton already has a relationship with many of the leaders in question, her meeting with them at the UNGA is simply a natural continuation of existing U.S. foreign policy.
“These are also relationships that she has helped him to maintain all the way through,” the official said.