President Obama's 2013 State of the Union Address

As prepared for delivery.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress...It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union - to improve it is the task of us all."

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs - but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs - but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget - decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion - mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars' worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They'd devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That's why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as "the sequester," are a really bad idea.

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms - otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won't grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents - understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that's the approach I offer tonight.

On Medicare, I'm prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I'm proposing go even further. We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We'll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn't be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital - they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don't violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn't make promises we cannot keep - but we must keep the promises we've already made.

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth.

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can't pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That's what tax reform can deliver. That's what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won't be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let's set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I'll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns. So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar - with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before - and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year - so let's drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That's why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long. I'm also issuing a new goal for America: let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America - a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina - has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Tonight, I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let's start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That's holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there's a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today's rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What's holding us back? Let's streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance.

Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top - a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math - the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It's a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new "College Scorecard" that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made - putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship - a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let's get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

But we can't stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day's work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we've put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That's wrong. That's why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here's an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let's also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it's virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let's offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who've got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let's put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We'll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We'll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we'll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood - because what makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one.

Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity - broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class - that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged - from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don't need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we're doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don't end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands - because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That's why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today's world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union - because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon - when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, "There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that."

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can - and will - insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk - our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I'm Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families - gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans - investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans - no matter where they live or what their party - are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That's why, tonight, I'm announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I'm asking two long-time experts in the field, who've recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I've said tonight matters little if we don't come together to protect our most precious resource - our children.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans - Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment - have come together around commonsense reform - like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I've outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring - they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read "I Voted."

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside - even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, "That's just the way we're made.

That's just the way we're made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens. It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we're made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.


Hillary Clinton's Remarks at FP's 'Transformational Trends' Forum

The secretary of state delivers a speech on the future of U.S. foreign policy during a conference sponsored by the Foreign Policy Group and the State Department's Policy Planning Staff at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the unfortunate and counterproductive resolution at the United Nations General Assembly that just passed, because it places further obstacles in the path to peace. We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.

And I see my longtime friend and colleague, Ehud Barak, here, and I know he would agree with that, as both the most decorated soldier in Israeli history and a distinguished public servant. I'll have more to say about this later, but I did want to begin by recognizing the challenge that this will surely present.

I want to add my words of welcome to all of you. I want to thank Admiral McRaven for being here. It's wonderful that you are here, Bill. We very much appreciate your participation. Foreign Minister Sikorski, a good friend and colleague, who himself is a top global thinker - well deserved because of the careful, comprehensive views he's developed over many years of hard work about issues as fundamental as freedom.

And of course, I see right before me a wonderful friend and colleague, former Senator John Warner, who has been just a great example of public service - military and civilian - his entire life. And to all of our friends and colleagues from the diplomatic corps. And thanks, of course, to David and Susan and Deb and everyone at Foreign Policy for joining with the State Department's Office of Policy Planning to organize this conference about transformational trends. And I want to thank Jake Sullivan and everyone at Policy Planning. When Jake Sullivan first came to work for me, I told my husband about this incredibly bright rising star - Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School - and my husband said, "Well, if he ever learns to play the saxophone, watch out." (Laughter.) Now we travel all over the world together and people say how excited they are to meet a potential future president of the United States, and of course they mean Jake. (Laughter.)

Well, I will state the obvious to begin. We do live in a rapidly changing world. And many of the constants that shaped American foreign policy for decades are shifting. That poses new challenges but also new opportunities for our global leadership. Let me offer a few examples.

First, our alliances in Europe and East Asia are stronger than ever. After four years of repairing Iraq-era strains and answering questions about America's commitment to diplomacy, our staying power, our global leadership, we are working across the board on so many important issues to all of us. At the same time, however, many of our allies are struggling with serious economic challenges and shrinking military capabilities. This will have implications for how we uphold the global order going forward.

Second, China's peaceful rise as a global power is reaching a crossroads. Its future course will be determined by how it manages new economic challenges, differences with its neighbors, and strains in its political and economic system.

Third, in the Middle East, the Arab revolutions have scrambled regional power dynamics. And the energy revolution around the world will likely further change the region's strategic landscape in the coming years. Indeed, America's increasing energy independence will have far-reaching implications not only for our economic future, but for our security relationships around the world.

Fourth, economics are increasingly shaping international affairs alongside more traditional forms of national power. Emerging powers like India and Brazil are gaining clout because of their size, of course, but more the size of their economies than of their militaries, more about the potential of their markets than their projection of what we used to think of as power. Meanwhile, the global economic system - open, free, transparent, and fair - that fueled unprecedented growth is now under unprecedented pressure from trade imbalances, new forms of protectionism, the rise of state capitalism, and crippling public debt.

Finally, the traditional sources of America's global leadership are in need of renewal, a task for all of us. Now the cottage industry of Cassandras and declinists have dramatically overstated this case. But it is true that the reservoirs of goodwill that we built up around the world during the 20th century will not, cannot last forever. New generations of young people do not remember GIs liberating their countries or American development assistance changing the face of their economies or literally saving generations from hunger and disease. They are more connected and engaged with the wider world than their parents and grandparents could have ever imagined, but they face mounting social and economic challenges and are not automatically pro-American.

So, how should we - how should America lead in this changing world? As we look ahead to the next four years and the years beyond, what should top our agenda? Well, one thing I've learned and that you've been discussing all day is that the best-laid plans are quickly turned on their heads by the rush of events. And certainly the first job of our nation's policymakers in the years ahead will be to get the big crises right, whether that's Iran, North Korea, or some unexpected threat. But we cannot allow the in-box to overwhelm us. There also has to be room to think out of the box. We have to deal with the urgent, the important, and the long term all at once.

Now I mentioned five significant ways in which the international landscape is shifting, so let me offer five big-ticket agenda items that we absolutely have to get right as well. This starts with following through on what is often called our pivot to the Asia Pacific, the most dynamic region in our rapidly changing world.

Much of the attention so far has been on America's increasing military engagement. But it's important that we also emphasize the other elements of our strategy. In a speech in Singapore last week, I laid out America's expanding economic leadership in the region, from new trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to stepped-up efforts on behalf of American businesses. The President's visits to Burma and the East Asia Summit highlighted the democratic values and diplomatic engagement that power the pivot.

None of this is about containment. It's all aimed at advancing a rules-based order in the Asia Pacific that will drive peace and prosperity for decades to come. And by the way, that's why we need to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty as soon as possible, something that Senator Warner has been leading us on. Over the next four years, the region will be watching to see whether America will make the diplomatic, military, and economic investments to lock in this strategy. That is exactly what we need to do.

Now, when we talk about a pivot, we have to be mindful about both ends of the equation. The end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan do create an opportunity to increase our engagement in Asia. But this does not mean we are abandoning our traditional allies in other parts of the world or taking our eye off the ball when it comes to fighting terrorism and finishing the job in Afghanistan.

Bin Ladin is dead and the core of al-Qaida's leadership has been decimated. But the threat from its affiliates in places like Yemen and North Africa is still very real. So in the years ahead, we need to accelerate an integrated counterterrorism program that uses all our tools - civilian as well as military, multilateral as well as unilateral - to go after terrorist finances, recruitment, and safe havens; in effect, to marry up with the extraordinary work that Admiral McRaven leads on behalf of our special forces.

In Afghanistan, as we transition full responsibility for security to the Afghan Government in 2014, we also need to focus on helping the Afghans crack down on corruption, move toward economic self-sufficiency, elect their new leadership in 2014, advance a peace and reconciliation process, and pursue a regional framework, hopefully with Pakistan as a constructive partner.

And in Europe, we need to continue modernizing NATO for the demands of today's global landscape, including unconventional threats like cyber warfare, and we need to stand by the EU as it meets its economic challenge in the Eurozone. Because as we move to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, including in the Asia Pacific, we need our traditional partners of first resort right by our side. I spoke about this earlier today at the Brookings Institution. So let me just add this: America is not pivoting from Europe to Asia; we are pivoting with Europe to Asia. We have deepened and intensified our dialogue and collaboration with Europe about how to work together in the Asia Pacific to our mutual benefit.

Now the second item on the agenda is closely related to the first. We need to successfully manage our relationships with emerging powers like China and India. Navigating the U.S.-China relationship is uniquely important but also uniquely challenging, because, as I have said on many occasions, and as I have heard Chinese leaders quote my words back to me, we are trying to write a new answer to the old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet. No one should have any illusions that this will be smooth or easy. But there is reason to hope that over the coming years we can, in fact, chart a path that avoids conflict and builds on the areas where our interests align.

Consider what happened last May. I touched down in Beijing for the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue with a jam-packed agenda that included everything from the South China Sea to intellectual property rights to North Korea provocations. But the world's attention was focused instead on the fate of a blind human rights dissident who had sought refuge in our American Embassy. Suddenly an already delicate trip had become an outsized test of the U.S.-China relationship. This could have been, and many predicted it would become, the spark for a serious breach between two great powers unable to trust or understand each other. But this is not 1912, when friction between a declining Britain and a rising Germany set the stage for global conflict. It's 2012, and a confident America has encouraged China to take greater responsibility in regional and global institutions. And we have built mechanisms like the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that help manage disagreements and promote trust.

In the end, the relationship we have worked so hard to build with China proved more durable and dynamic than many feared. Both countries stayed focused on our shared agenda and engaged candidly on a wide range of critical issues. And today, that dissident is safely studying law in the United States. Looking ahead, we have to build on this foundation. As I like to tell my Chinese counterparts, zero-sum thinking will only produce negative-sum results.

This also applies to our relationship with Russia. We have made some progress with Moscow on areas such as nuclear arms reduction, sanctions on Iran, and trade. And we continue to seek new issues where we can cooperate together. But the reality is we have serious and continuing differences with Russia - on Syria, missile defense, NATO enlargement, human rights, and other issues. So we have to take a smart and balanced approach going forward. We need to continue expanding our engagement with Russia, but with very clear eyes about where we draw our lines.

We also have to engage with a set of emerging democratic powers like Brazil and Mexico, India and Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, that are exercising greater influence in their regions and on the world stage. The strategic fundamentals of these relationships - shared democratic values, common economic and security priorities - are pushing our interests into closer convergence. This is reflected in the broad strategic dialogues we have launched with these emerging powers. The key going forward will be to encourage them to leave behind the outdated politics of the past and take up the responsibilities that come with global influence, including defending our shared democratic values beyond their borders.

Let me turn to the third element of our agenda, what I call economic statecraft, because this will certainly help to shape our engagement in Asia and our relations with emerging powers. The United States is moving economics to the center of our foreign policy. In response to the trends I mentioned earlier and that you have been discussing, countries that are gaining influence more because of economic prowess than military power, and market forces shaping the strategic landscapes, are clearly driving change. We can either watch it or shape it.

Last year I laid out America's economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we've accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbors, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it's imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.

Africa, which is home to seven of the world's ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it's true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran's nuclear program. And we're stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field - level the playing field for our businesses. And we're building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.

Now, our new focus on economics is also changing how we practice development around the world. Consider this: In the 1960s, official development assistance from countries like the United States represented 70 percent of the capital flows going into developing countries. Since then - even though we have actually increased our development budgets - because of surging private investment and trade, that official development assistance represents just 13 percent of those capital flows. So we are refocusing our approach to development to better harness market forces and make public sector investments that catalyze sustainable private sector growth.

Now, the fourth agenda item is very much on our minds today. What does the future of the Arab Spring hold for those who are experiencing it and for all the rest of us? One day we see the new government of Egypt stepping up to help mediate a cease-fire in Gaza, and the next it is raising concerns through new far-reaching constitutional decrees. We see territory slipping from the grips of the Assad regime, even as the opposition faces questions about its own coherence and the presence of extremists in its midst. Libya has freely elected moderate leaders, but has also become home to extremists and roving militias. Iran continues to cling to its nuclear ambitions while its economy crumbles. And just today, the Palestinian Authority, which has eschewed the violent path of Hamas and others, pursued a diplomatic move at the UN that is counter-productive to the cause of a negotiated peace.

I will have more to say about that tomorrow night at the Saban Forum here in Washington, but for today let me offer this one thought for U.S. strategy in the region going forward. We cannot view any of these challenges or changes in a vacuum. They are all connected, and our strategy needs to account for the intersections and relationships.

For example, you cannot understand what happens in Gaza without tracking the path of the rockets from Iran, or how the upheaval in Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have affected Hamas, how the treaty between Egypt and Israel remains the bedrock for peace in the region, despite all the change going on around it, and how Israel's concerns over Iran's nuclear program shape its overall security posture. Then there are the economics of border-crossings and fishing rights, and concerns about smuggling and arms proliferation, and the list goes on.

So the United States really does need to bring an unprecedented level of strategic sophistication to these problems, rather than just chasing after the crisis of the moment. American policymakers need to play chess, not checkers. And although some would have us wall off certain challenges, that is just not realistic in today's world.

And that leads to the fifth area, a set of cross-cutting and interconnected global challenges that defy both national borders and easy solutions: climate change, poverty, hunger, disease, nuclear proliferation, human trafficking, women's rights, international terrorism, and more. No one nation can solve any of these problems alone. Each one calls for a global network of partners - governments, businesses, international and regional organizations, academic institutions, civil society groups, even individuals, all working in concert. Building those coalitions is one of the great tests of American leadership.

We rightly call America the indispensible nation because only the United States has the reach and resolve to rally disparate nations and peoples together to solve problems on a global scale, certainly in defense of our own interests but also as a force for shared progress. Our ability to convene and connect is unparalleled. And that, in the end, in the 21st century, is what leadership is about.

Diplomacy and development are not always glamorous. It's like what Max Weber said about politics; it's the long, slow drilling of hard boards. But it is the only way we're going to be able to bring together the disparate, often conflicting interests in order to move together in this interconnected world.

Here's one moment that captures this for me. In December 2009, the international community gathered in Copenhagen to try to negotiate a way forward on climate change. Interests collided, talks stalled, tempers frayed. And I remember well late one night being in a very small room in the convention center with a large number of leaders. We emerged after 2 a.m. following a particularly frustrating session. Everyone rushed to the doors. The cars were trying to get to everyone waiting to take all of us to our hotels. We were standing there when Nicolas Sarkozy looked up into the cold Danish sky with exasperation and declared, "After this, I want to die." (Laughter.) I think that's how we all felt, to some extent.

But we kept at it. And thanks in large measure to the fun that President Obama and I had in intervening in a meeting to which we were not invited, we hammered out a deal that, while far from perfect, set the stage for future progress on this critical issue, because starting in Copenhagen and continuing in Cancun, Durban, and this week in Doha, we have pushed for a global agreement that would apply to all significant emitters, developed and developing alike, because there is no way to get ahead of this crisis unless we do that.

Over the past four years, the Obama Administration has also struck a deal with car companies to nearly double fuel efficiency by 2025. We've doubled production of clean energy, made historic investments in breakthrough technologies, launched new international partnerships like the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to take aim at pollutants like black carbon and methane that account for more than 30 percent of current global warming. That's grown from just six countries to more than two dozen today.

And we are committed to continue this hard, slow, boring of hard boards in order to take the practical, effective steps necessary to tackle climate change. Our focus is on results - not on today's headline, but on the trend line. And we're after what works. We will continue to chase down every opportunity to move forward bit by bit, if that's what it takes. That is a model for how change happens today, from advancing peace in the Middle East to securing the rights of women to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons step by step, day by day. And there's no substitute for that hard work, no replacement for diplomacy, and no alternative to American leadership.

So certainly, there is a lot to do in the years ahead to tackle this agenda, and we'll need to use all the tools in our arsenal. That means institutionalizing smart power, continuing to tap 21st century technologies from social networking to clean cookstoves, building a network of partnerships with other governments to fight terrorism and AIDS, with the private sector to advance food security and financial literacy, and so on. It also means doubling down on good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather diplomacy.

I have found it highly ironic that in today's world, when we can be anywhere virtually, more than ever people want us to show up actually. Somebody said to me the other day, "I look at your travel schedule. Why Togo? Why the Cook Islands?" No Secretary of State had ever been to Togo before. Togo happens to be on the UN Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a real strategic purpose. The same goes for all those tiny Pacific islands. When you look at the future of Asia, you look at the voting dynamics in key international institutions, you start to understand the value of paying attention to these places.

And let me add that in recent months, we've been reminded once again, by its very nature, American diplomacy often is and must be practiced in dangerous places. The men and women who serve our country overseas represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation. They are no strangers to danger. From Tehran and Beirut to East Africa and Saudi Arabia, and now in Benghazi and so many other places in between, we have seen diplomats and development experts devoted to peace who are targeted by terrorists devoted to death.

That's why we are taking immediate steps to bolster security and readiness at our missions across the globe. We've already dispatched joint teams from the Departments of State and Defense to review high-threat posts to determine whether there are improvements we need in light of the evolving security challenges we face.

And as we mourn fallen friends like Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was fearless in his dedication to diplomacy, we refuse to be intimidated. Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs. So we will do what we always have done: pull together, learn the lessons we must, and improve, because America always emerges stronger and more confident when we do that.

And there should be no mistake this work does makes a difference. That's why Chris Stevens was in Benghazi to begin with. As we look ahead and consider the future of America's global leadership, let's remember what's really at stake here.

America's unrivaled military might will always be essential, and we are so grateful for every man and woman who serves in the uniform of our armed services. And our economic strength will be critical. That's why we have to make the tough choices right now to get our own economic house in order here at home. But America's global leadership goes deeper than that. It truly is rooted in the values that we champion and the ideals and aspirations we represent to the rest of the world. As my husband likes to say, America's influence flows more from the power of our example than from the example of our power.

But memories are short, and we can't afford to rest on the laurels of the past. So it's our job to reintroduce a post-Iraq generation of young people around the world to principled American leadership. That is part of why I've logged so many miles over the last four years going to something on the order of 112 countries, holding town hall meetings with young people from Tunis to Tokyo, shining a spotlight on the concerns of religious and ethnic minorities from the Copts in Egypt to the Rohingya in Burma, putting down a clear marker on internet freedom, going to the UN Human Rights Council to stand up for the rights and lives of the LGBT people around the world, advancing a new approach to development that puts human dignity and self-sufficiency at the heart of our efforts, and pushing women's rights and opportunities to the top of the diplomatic agenda.

Mountains of evidence tell us that no nation can achieve the progress we all want and need if half the population never gets to participate. So the economic evidence is overwhelming, we cannot exclude the energy and talent that women add to our economies and societies, and we know where women are allowed to and encouraged to participate, societies are more stable, less prone to conflict and the export of terrorism.

So there's a lot for us to do as we shape our own global leadership and then use it to help shape the world that we want for our children. The United States should be at the head of a growing column of democratic nations, always extending the frontiers of freedom and opportunity, of peace, prosperity, and progress. That's who we are as Americans. It truly is in our DNA. And that's what makes us such an exceptional country.

So I thank all of you. As I look around this room, I see a lot of familiar faces of people who have been on the front lines of helping to define, examine, and practice American foreign policy and national security policy for many years. And we need you to keep doing what you are doing, to keep thinking out of the box.

In the years ahead, we will need all the wisdom and perspective that we can possibly gather. But I am absolutely confident that our nation has what it takes to continue leading the world no matter what comes our way. And with your help, and the help of so many others around our country and likeminded people around the world, America will remain the greatest force for peace and progress the world has ever known. And the world will understand and work with us to move toward the kind of future that we all deserve.

Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. So Secretary Clinton has graciously offered to take a little time and answer a couple of questions.


MODERATOR: We've got 10 minutes, so I'm going to have to forgo the Ellen impersonation; there'll be no dancing. That should be a relief to everyone. But I'm going to use my host prerogative here and I'm going to offer the first question to my partner here, Susan, and we really only have about 10 minutes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we can stretch it a little bit. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Excellent. Very good, because actually I was not going to waste if it was one and only question on the question that probably everybody here wants to ask, so I'm just channeling them. We heard you talking about how 50 percent of the population has been denied a chance to participate, and I actually thought for a moment that you were going to tell us all whether it's finally time for a man to become Secretary of State. (Laughter.)

Now I didn't want to waste my one question on that though, so you can tell us of course. We'd be happy to know. But I did want to grab out from your inbox, from the headlines as well as the trend lines, one of the stories that we're all looking at today, and to ask us - to ask you to give us your assessment about whether you believe events in Syria are finally moving toward a tipping point. And regardless of that, there are reports that the United States is considering some moves that we have not yet taken in the course of this bloody crisis, including possibly recognizing the new Syrian opposition as the official representatives, and potentially considering even arms or something more significant to move forward.

First of all, are those reports accurate? And again, can you just give us your assessment about where things are in a civil war that is 18 months and counting? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Susan, I think that the short answer is that it appears as though the opposition in Syria is now capable of holding ground and that they are better equipped and more able to bring the fight to the government forces. And so we follow closely where the government still maintains regime control and where it's contested and where the opposition is making significant inroads. I don't know that you can say that for the entire country it is yet at a tipping point, but it certainly seems that the regime will be much harder pressed in the next months.

Now having said that, they still are receiving considerable assistance from Iran, from Hezbollah, and we follow what other countries are trying to do for them as well to keep the regime operating. And for a long time, the Syrian opposition was not able to present anything resembling a unified, coherent vision for what a future post-Assad Syria could look like. As you know, there was a lot of work done to help support the Syrians coming up with a new opposition. They are currently meeting in Cairo as we speak. We have been deeply involved in helping to stand them up, and we're going to carefully consider what more we can do. I will be having much more to say about that as we move toward the Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Morocco the second week of December.

No other decisions have been made yet, but we consider them on an almost daily basis. The United States has provided more than $200 million in humanitarian assistance. Syrian people who have been displaced are facing difficult conditions, given the winter that's upon them. This is - this remains a very difficult situation to manage because there are so many interests by all of the players, many of which are contradictory.

So Turkey, for example, is very much at the leadership level committed to seeing the end of the Syrian regime, but incredibly worried that nothing be done that empowers the Kurds, particularly the PKK affiliates. Jordan is working hard to maintain stability inside its own country. They are obviously worried about upsetting the delicate demographic balance inside. Lebanon has tried very hard to stay out of it because of their own internal conflicts and the role that Hezbollah plays and the opportunity for Sunni extremists to take up safe havens inside Lebanon, to be able to go back and forth across the border. The Golan Heights has been threatened by Syrian action.

So, I mean, if this were a straightforward challenge, I think we would all have reached a conclusion and have unified behind exactly what we are going to do and how to do it. But indeed, it is and remains extremely complex. So we are doing what we can to support the opposition, but also to try to support those inside Syria, particularly in the local councils who are committed to the kind of continuity in the Syrian governmental institutions so we don't see a collapse and a disbandment of institutional forces that we know from our Iraq experience could be extremely dangerous, and that they can present this united front more and more to the international community, and most importantly to people inside Syria.

So, yeah. We're constantly evaluating, we're constantly taking action, and I'm sure we will do more in the weeks ahead.

MODERATOR: Okay, very good. Go over here first, then we'll go to Robin.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary, for your comments. My name is Oriana Skylar Mastro. I'm a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in the Asia Pacific security program, so it's not surprising I'm going to ask you a question about China.

You mentioned UNCLOS, and I agree that the ratification would give the United States more leverage. But as you know, China has a different interpretation of UNCLOS, specifically that naval passage or even civilian vessels that are engaged in activities that they find not to be peaceful would not be protected under that. I feel that a new Impeccable incident or an EP-3 now with the rising tensions between the two countries could be detrimental.

So my question is: I think this is broader view that the Chinese have that U.S. presence, economic or diplomatic, is destabilizing. In your interactions with Chinese leaders, what are you doing to convince them that that's not the case? Do you feel like you're being convincing? And if not, what are the main obstacles? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you might need a psychiatrist to answer that because we certainly have made it as clear as we possibly could that the Pacific is big enough for both of us, indeed for all of us, that the United States historically, for more than 150 years, has been a Pacific power just like we are an Atlantic power. We have a lot of treaty alliances in the region that we take seriously. We have trading partners and other commercial interests. So we're there to stay. We are present now and into the future. And being present means that we have our own views that we share with the Chinese and other countries in the region about what it means to be a responsible stakeholder, as we hope China is, with respect to all of these areas that you are referencing.

The efforts by the ASEAN nations to work toward a code of conduct with China over the South China Sea is certainly an effort we support. We are not involved in it. We're not doing it. It is something that they are doing for themselves. But it is important because you can't, in the 21stcentury, permit anyone's claims to territory that creates instability, tensions, and potentially conflict to be unanswered if you're going to try to maintain peace and security.

So we've explained this to the Chinese. Their response is: What we claim is ours. And our response is that's why we have processes and mechanisms, and what you're claiming is also being claimed by others. We have not just the South China Sea but the East China Sea, with the dispute between China and Japan, because for the United States being a global power, we could see the same thing happening in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean. I mean, it is not just about the South China Sea.

So, certainly the Chinese are going to assert the broadest claim they possibly can. But I think if we want a rules-based order that deals with everything from territorial disputes to intellectual property rights disputes, in order to maintain stability, peace, prosperity, then we have to stand up and speak out in support of these broad tenets. And we have made it abundantly clear we do not claim any territory, and we are not taking sides in any of the territorial claims.

So this is partly one of these long processes that we just keep working on. And I think what happened at the East Asia Summit, where the Cambodians tried to basically gavel the summit to an end and have a communiqué that made no reference to these issues, and was interrupted by the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and others, was a good sign, because those countries have every right to stand up for themselves. And that's why we would like to see a code of conduct and a process to try to resolve these disputes.

So I think that this is a work in progress. There isn't any shortcut to just continuing to raise it. At one point in one of my long discussions about this, one of my Chinese interlocutors said, "Well, we could claim Hawaii." I said, "Well, go ahead, and we'll go to arbitration and prove we own it. That's what we want you to do."

So I think that this is a learning process for everybody, because why are these now - these old territorial disputes coming to the forefront? Because people think there are resources, and they want to drill, and they want to find out what's there. And they think it's got material benefits for them. But it has to be done in a lawful way. And that's why I've advocated strongly that we accede to the Convention on the Law of the Seas, because it will strengthen our hand in making these cases.

QUESTION: Robin Wright.


QUESTION: I want to ask you about Iran, and to speak with the same kind of candor you did about Syria. This morning, Dennis Ross said that he thought this year was going to be a decisive year. Apparently, one of the U.S. representatives in Vienna today said that we're talking about a March deadline - if you could explain that a little bit further.

And tell us realistically what prospects you think there is for compromise with Iran, given the past year of efforts by the United States.

And also, if you believe that Israel is fully on board in letting the United States take the lead and not going off on its own path.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the last question, I'm not going to speak to any country's security decisions other than our own. Obviously, that's up to Israel to decide. However, I will say that we continue to believe that there is still a window of opportunity to reach some kind of resolution over Iran's nuclear program. Now, I'm not a wild-eyed optimist about it, but I think it's imperative that we do everything we can - unilaterally, bilaterally, multilaterally - to test that proposition.

I think what was meant about the March reference was either about the IAEA and its continuing work or the fact that we finished our election and now would be a good time to test the proposition that there can be some good-faith serious negotiations before the Iranians get into their elections, which are going to heat up probably around the March period, heading toward a June election.

I think that it's a difficult matter to predict, because it really depends upon how serious the Iranians are about making a decision that removes the possibility of their being able to acquire a nuclear weapon or the components of one that can be in effect on a shelf somewhere and still serve as a basis for intimidation.

We get differing reports, as I'm sure you have seen, as to how serious the Supreme Leader is about that, but we want to test the proposition. This President came into office saying he was prepared to engage with Iran, reached out to Iran, without much reciprocity. We put together this unprecedented coalition to impose these very tough sanctions on Iran. We know they're having an effect internally. But I think that we'll see in the next few months whether there's a chance for any kind of a serious negotiation. And right now, I'm not sure that it can happen, but I certainly hope it does.

MODERATOR: Okay, we have time for one more question. And I know this will address a part of the world we haven't addressed much of today. Let me turn to Muni Figueres.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, I'm Ambassador of Costa Rica. I'm sitting next to the Ambassador of Honduras and the Ambassador of Dominican Republic. So my question to you is about the war on drugs and the violence that it has inflicted. Do you - since we're all, I think, sort of agreeing that we need to reconfigure it, or it's being reconfigured even as we speak, are you hopeful about eventually winning it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that one has to look at a couple of examples, because certainly Colombia is a lot more secure and a lot safer than they were 10 years ago. I remember very well when then-President Uribe couldn't even be inaugurated without the drug traffickers, in alliance with the FARC, basically firing artillery rounds into the square where the inauguration was to be held.

So I think you can, with a comprehensive strategy, succeed in certainly pushing back the tide of violence and corruption that drug trafficking brings. I think Mexico has made progress. They would be the first to say that it's a very difficult path, but they have succeeded in certainly diminishing the power of some of the main cartels. I think Central America, with both you and the Ambassador from Honduras know how you are squeezed between Colombia and Mexico, and often without the resources that larger countries have to deal with the threats from the drug traffickers, which is one of the reasons why we are trying to work with all of your countries in Central America. Certainly the Ambassador from the Dominican Republic knows how vulnerable the small Caribbean nations are. They don't have adequate coast guard or any other capacity to protect themselves. We are trying to do more on that front.

So I think that there are several problems that you have to address simultaneously, and certainly working to improve the institutions of government are good no matter what, but also very helpful in the fight against drug trafficking and criminal cartels. You improve your policing, you improve your prosecution, you improve your judiciary. That's good for the country, but it also is a necessary part of the effort against this criminality. You have to have transparency as much as possible in government. There can be no impunity. And so I think we've seen ways that work, but ultimately it's about providing greater opportunity, greater education, greater economic jobs and growth to populations so that they can have a real stake in their society and can be partners with their governments.

Now, I assume part of your question is aimed at the whole legalization issue. And I think this is an ongoing debate. And we are formulating our own response to the votes of two of our states, as you know, and what that means for the federal system, the federal laws, and law enforcement. So I respect those in the region who believe strongly that that would end the problem. I am not convinced of that, just speaking personally. I think when you've got ruthless, vicious people who have made money one way, if it's somehow blocked, they'll figure out another way. They'll do kidnapping, they'll do extortion. They will suborn officials and basically take over swathes of territory that they will govern and terrorize people in.

So I don't think that's the answer. Whether there is some movement that can be discussed, I think will have to be a topic for the future for us.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Madam Secretary, you asked us to think outside the box. So I'm going to take this out of the box. (Laughter.) We've tried, with the exhortation of Jake and his team, to do something here that was a bit of an un-conference, a conference unlike others. And even though conferences typically end with awards, I'd like to present an award that's a little unlike others in two respects.

In one respect, there's no hyperbole on this award. Awards are usually covered with extravagant phrases and overflowing with adjectives. This one simply says, "For extraordinary contributions to diplomacy." I, as Tom Donilon indicated to many of you, am something of a historian of national security and foreign policy. I spend lots of time studying the foreign policy make of the U.S., for the past 75 years particularly. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that as we look back on this period, it will be viewed as extraordinary. I think it will stand out as one of the best examples of leadership in the State Department that we have had. And I would add that for those of you who are weighing this in your mind, it represents a big step forward in that regard because when the State Department can focus on enfranchising the disenfranchised and get as much credit for it as in the past it may have gotten for invading another country, that's progress for us. (Laughter.) And I think that's why we consider this an extraordinary achievement.

The other thing on here which is not hyperbole, although it's extraordinary, is that it says here you've been one of our leading global thinkers in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. We don't like the idea of your leaving office, but it's nice for you to give somebody else a chance.


MODERATOR: Having said that, the other thing that makes this award quite different from others is that typically when awards are given out, they're going away presents. We hope that's not the case with you. Thank you. (Applause.)

(The award was given.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, David. Thank you. That's really, really too kind to say. It means a lot to me. Thank you very much.

Can you open the - maybe out of the box? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Yes, I can open the box, and close the box.

SECRTARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you all. I'd love to say hello to some of my friends who I see out there that I don't get to see enough, but hopefully will in the future. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

State Department