MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A lot going on around the world and a lot going on in South Asia as well, and we thought – even thought before the weekend, when Secretary Clinton talked to the leader of the interim administration, that Bob Blake had a lot on his plate anyway. But now he’s got a lot on his plate and an airplane ticket as he takes off this evening for Bishkek – as the Secretary said that we would find – look for ways to support the process that is underway in Kyrgyzstan as Kyrgyzstan moves along the path towards democracy.
So we thought we’d start off the briefing today with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, who will talk about Kyrgyzstan. I suspect if you ask him a question or two about elections in Sri Lanka, he’ll probably be able to answer those as well. So Bob, thank you for coming.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thank you, P.J., and nice to see all of you again. As P.J. said, let me just open with some very brief remarks about Kyrgyzstan and my forthcoming trip there, and then I’d be glad to take a few questions on Sri Lanka if there’s some interest in that.
On Kyrgyzstan, I’m sure all of you saw P.J.’s statement that was released over the weekend that Secretary Clinton spoke to Ms. Rosa Otunbayeva, who is the head of Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government, and that was to support the efforts of the Kyrgyz administration to resolve peacefully Kyrgyzstan’s current political problems and renew its path to democracy and prosperity and human rights.
The Secretary offered continued humanitarian assistance from the United States and also offered U.S. support for Kyrgyz efforts to stabilize their political and economic situation. They also discussed the very important role that Kyrgyzstan plays in hosting the Manas Transit Center at the Manas airport. And Ms. Otunbayeva confirmed the Kyrgyz administration will abide by previous agreements regarding that center.
The Secretary and Ms. Otunbayeva agreed that I should go out to Kyrgyzstan as soon as possible. So I will be leaving this afternoon and arriving early the morning of Wednesday for two full days of meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. While there, I plan to meet with Ms. Otunbayeva as well as members – other members of the provisional government, members of civil society, whatever special envoys still remain there. There’s an EU special envoy who’s there. The UN Secretary General has an envoy. And there’s also a Kazakhstan special envoy in their role as the OSCE chairman in office.
I will be accompanied by Kurt Donnelly, who is the Director for Central Asia at the NSC, and by Dan Rosenblum, who works for me and is the manager of all SCA assistance programs. My main goal will be to hear from the Kyrgyz administration about their assessment of the law and order situation, the steps that they plan to take during their six-month interim administration to organize democratic elections and a return to democracy, and how we might be able to help them to restore democracy and economic growth in Kyrgyzstan.
The United States welcomes the assurances Ms. Otunbayeva has made that the provisional government will ensure that it manages this interim period and organizes a return to democracy in full accordance with OSCE standards. We also welcome the provisional government’s relaxation of media restrictions, including its decision to allow Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to resume their broadcasts.
So let me stop there and I’d be glad to take, first, some questions on Kyrgyzstan, and then if there’s interest, I’d be glad to talk about Sri Lanka.
QUESTION: Yeah, two things. One, does this mean that you’ve basically thrown Bakiev under the bus?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No. The situation with Bakiev remains, I’d say, unclear. I think there’s still some disagreement within the provisional government about Bakiev. What he – President Bakiev has, as you know, refused to surrender to authorities. There are some, I think, within the provisional government who would like to have him arrested. And there are others who are pragmatists who would like to perhaps see if there’s a way to get him out of the country. The United States really hasn’t taken a position in that. We think that this needs to be managed by the Kyrgyz themselves in accordance with the Kyrgyz constitution.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that this has been an unconstitutional change in government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, there’s – no change has yet taken place. So we can’t make a judgment about Bakiev --
QUESTION: Well --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: -- if that’s what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Well, let’s say if you look back a week ago, the situation is certainly different now than it was then; correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: So there have been some changes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There have been some changes.
QUESTION: I mean, 81 people died.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They did. But they weren’t – that was not by the current provisional government. That was in --
QUESTION: So you --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There were some – as you know, some demonstrations that took place. Many of the people who were killed that you refer to – I think about approximately 80 people were killed – many of those were killed by supporters of President Bakiev, according to the provisional government. So I think that’s – again, that’s something for them to sort out under their own constitutional --
QUESTION: So you don’t see this as a coup?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We do not see this as a coup.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my second one is: Do you see any Russian hand in fomenting the demonstrations that led to this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I know there have been a lot of reports about that, but – let me just say this: That President Obama and President Medvedev had a very good conversation, a brief conversation in Prague about the situation regarding Kyrgyzstan. And I think there was a convergence of views between them about the need to restore law and order. So again, I think we’ve had good conversations with the Russians so far and we’ll continue to talk to them and the Khazaks and many other countries.
QUESTION: So you don’t see a Russian hand in fomenting this.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t really want to comment. I don’t think we have enough information, and if – that’s probably a question best addressed to the Russians.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) Russian side of the –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
QUESTION: Do you have any other sort of interaction with the Russians on that? I mean, you must mentioned the President spoke. I guess it’s bigger than that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah, I think our Embassy has been in touch – our Embassy in Moscow has been in touch with Russian authorities about this situation. But those are the only contacts that I’m aware of so far.
QUESTION: Can you – speaking of contacts, has the U.S. Government had any contact with the former president, or with President Bakiev?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We have not.
QUESTION: Can I ask, in connection with that, would – two questions from Reuters.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
QUESTION: One of the members of the provisional government said, I believe today, that there would be a special operation against Bakiev, which means --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m sorry, a what operation?
QUESTION: A special operation –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: A special operation.
QUESTION: -- which means they would go try to capture or kill him. I mean, what would the U.S. have to say about that and would they help – would the U.S. help him leave if there were some kind of a threat to his life? And the second question is –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just deal with that question first. Again, I think we view the situation that anything that is done should be done in accordance with the Kyrgyz constitution. I don’t want to speculate about future operations. I don’t know anything about that.
QUESTION: Okay. The second question, about the transit center: What does it really mean that they will abide by the previous agreements? Is the – what specific agreement is there in place? Is it for the transit center to be in use by the U.S. and its allies through a certain period, with a possibility of renewal –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly. These are – as you recall, last year, we reached agreement with the Kyrgyz Government. And now, we’re in the process of renewing that agreement. You recall that Ambassador Holbrooke was in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek not too long ago and he said that the government of that time had agreed to continue those arrangements. And we welcome that, of course. So it’s very good news that Ms. Otunbayeva said that they will continue to abide by those agreements. And of course, the United States is prepared to talk at any time with her and the members of the provisional government about these arrangements.
QUESTION: Do the arrangements provide for – as far as I know, it was a year – a one-year agreement with the possibility of renewal, and then –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
QUESTION: -- and I believe expiring in the summer. Is that –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Correct. So we’ll just – again, we’ll – they got a lot of other things on their plate right now that they have to sort out, including the law-and-order situation and, again, forming this interim government, organizing elections. So when they’re prepared to talk about this, we’ll be glad to have that conversation.
QUESTION: When does it expire?
QUESTION: Sri Lanka?
QUESTION: Could we – can we keep on –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We have to stay on Kyrgyzstan, and then --
QUESTION: When does it expire? July?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t know exactly. You’ll have to ask the Pentagon about the exact date of that.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the son of Bakiev? He was supposed to be here in the States --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- last week. Do you know what his fate is? And can you comment on reports that he might have been kind of skimming off fuel money from that transit base?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, with respect to Maxim Bakiev, I think he was here in the United States. Nobody from the American Government met with him, so I don’t know where he is now. I think he has left the country but I’m not quite sure where he is. And again, you should probably ask the Kyrgyz Embassy. They’d probably have the best sense of that.
Sorry, what was your second question?
QUESTION: Well, there’s a published report today that he was involved in financing for sales of fuel to the transit base and may have been making an inordinate amount of money out of it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t know about the specifics of the fuel arrangements. You should talk to the Pentagon about that. But I would be very surprised if there was any kind of skimming going on. We make every effort to be as transparent as possible and to do everything, again, in accordance with Kyrgyz law.
QUESTION: Was the son part of the government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Was the son of the president part of the government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: He was – yeah, he was taking on a more and more important role in foreign affairs, so he was going to be one of the key participants. In fact, he was going to lead the Kyrgyz delegation to these annual bilateral consultations that we were going to have last Thursday and Friday. But as you know, we postponed those when all of these other demonstrations came to light.
QUESTION: But you were planning to talk to him previously.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We were. But I never actually had the chance to meet with him. I did have a very short meeting with Foreign Minister Sarbaev just to tell him that we were postponing those consultations.
QUESTION: Could you specify the current status of the transit center? Is it operational or is it still in limbo? You don’t fly –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think you’ll have to talk to the Pentagon to get the – all of the operational details. But my understanding is that the base is opened but that a lot of the flights that had been scheduled have been diverted elsewhere for the time being until the situation clarifies.
QUESTION: And do you plan to talk to the Russians yourself? Do you plan a trip to Moscow? I don’t know; do you plan to talk to the Embassy officials here with regards to this situation –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as I say, I’m leaving in a couple of hours to go to Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: No, I mean, after you travel to Kyrgyzstan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Probably when I’m in Kyrgyzstan, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to a number of the ambassadors, I assume including the Russian ambassador. Our Embassy is putting together my schedule right now.
QUESTION: Can we go to Sri Lanka now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Any more questions on Kyrgyzstan?
QUESTION: Okay, first, your view on the parliamentary elections which were held last week and the present government.
ASSISTANT SCRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: How do you see this as a process towards peace and stability in the country? And secondly –
ASSISTANT SECRETRY BLAKE: Sorry, let me get to that because that’s a big question right there. As the gentleman said, Sri Lanka just organized their first nationwide elections since the end of fighting with the LTTE in May of 2009. The results are still coming in, but I think it’s clear that President Rajapaksa has won a fairly decisive victory in those parliamentary polls that were held on Thursday. A total of 45 seats are not yet decided. Sixteen of those were because of irregularities in polling in Kandy and the central part of Sri Lanka, and then another 12 in the area around Trincomalee, which is on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. And in both cases, there were allegations of irregularities involving MPs from the ruling party preventing opposition supporters from voting. So the election commissioner has ordered a re-polling in those particular cases.
Once the results of those polls are in, then the – another 29 – what they call national list candidates, which are distributed according to the proportion each of the parties win, will then be allocated. So I think there’s still some work to be done there.
I think one of the noteworthy things about the recent elections was that hard-line Sinhalese nationalist parties took a severe beating in these elections. There was a group called the JVP, otherwise now known as the Democratic National Alliance. They at one time had 45 seats out of 225 in the Sri Lankan parliament. They are now down to, I believe, five, so 41 down to five. And then the monk party, which is known as the JHU, the Buddhist monk party, went from nine seats to none.
So again, I think that’s a quite telling and important result because these particular parties had opposed any kind of power sharing with the Tamils and with the Muslims. So I think this – the results of these elections should really open the way for President Rajapaksa to take important action to unify the country and get it back on a path of growth. And it’s a particularly important opportunity now, I think, to make progress on these important issues of reconciliation, power sharing, and accountability.
QUESTION: Today, Secretary Clinton had a New Year message to Sinhalese and Tamils?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: She said that for the first time in several decades, that the country’s enjoying peace.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Now the present government is not taking satisfactory steps towards human rights, sharing of power, reconciliations. Do you think this peace is going to be lasting, or no?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think – again, I think it’s important for the government to take these steps now. I think the government has a very significant majority. They probably will be able to get a two-thirds majority when all the dust is settled. And again, that gives them the power to amend the constitution and proceed with a lot of these steps that I’ve just described. So we do think this is an important opportunity that should be seized.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow, Mr. Secretary.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Please.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka. The major problem ever since was, Mr. Secretary, that the Sinhalese and the Tamils and the minorities were crying, and still today, that the humanitarian aid is not reaching, even not today. What are you doing, Mr. Secretary, about that as far as now president is again elected, he’s in government, he’s in power, he has brought the peace and stability, and terrorism – end of terrorism and so forth. But in order to unify the country, he has to bring those people with him and that is the main cause of humanitarian aid, and they have – they need food and shelter and home.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right. Well, I think, actually, the United States has been, I think, the leading donor of humanitarian assistance up to the north. So I’m very proud of the steps that we’ve taken to provide food assistance primarily to the Tamils who are displaced in the north, and we continue to provide that assistance. So I wouldn't say that that’s the primary cause of whatever problems exist. I think the main need now is, first, to restore their political rights, which would be through elections to a provincial council, that I think the government does have plans to do later this year; and then secondly, to take steps towards reconciliation, an important part of which would be steps on accountability. The Tamils in particular have suffered a great deal from some of the human rights abuses of the last few years, so we believe it’s very important for that to be part of the reconciliation process that will occur.
QUESTION: So, Mr. Secretary, from the Secretary Hillary Clinton, this could be a great gift, a humanitarian gift, on their new year.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, what’s that? What could be a new gift?
QUESTION: The humanitarian aid for these people.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, we’re continuing to provide a lot of humanitarian aid and we have done so for the past several years.
QUESTION: Can I ask – sorry – ask a question --
QUESTION: Actually, Bob, I just wanted to make a quick clarification –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: -- on something you said earlier. You weren’t sure about the exact date of expiration of the agreement, but it is this summer; is that correct? It’s not next summer, it’s this summer. Am I correct in this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah. I mean, again, we’re sort of in a sort of a limbo period now because we’re between governments, but yes.
QUESTION: The provision was that the agreement signed last year –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The agreement remains in effect until the government tells us otherwise.
QUESTION: Right. But the provision was that the agreement expires this summer unless it is extended for another year.
MR. CROWLEY: No, no.
QUESTION: Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Oh. So --
MR. CROWLEY: It continues unless --
QUESTION: -- unless it is.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Exactly.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that they can abrogate it now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, this is a new government, but they have – again, we received --
QUESTION: Wait, wait, it’s a new government? I thought you just said there was no change.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s a new provisional government and it’s – so far, Ms. Otunbayeva has again expressed her intention to abide by the existing agreement.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But next week, she could presumably – what you’re saying is she could say no.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: She could.
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, it doesn't have a set – it doesn't have a set expiration date.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s got a six-month notification.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right. So any – I’m sure that this will be something that we’ll be discussing during my talks there.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I go out of my way one question on India, please?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let’s stick with Sri Lanka for the moment. Any other questions on Sri Lanka?
QUESTION: Can I have one on Kyrgyzstan? (Laughter.) I apologize if you already covered it. While you are in Bishkek, do you plan to talk to Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his party, or not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I don’t have any plans to talk to him.
QUESTION: Can we go to India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.
QUESTION: You were there at yesterday’s bilateral with Prime Minister Singh and President Obama.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you give us a sense, your firsthand account what happened there at the meeting, how the relations between the two countries are?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well --
QUESTION: Because simply, there have been media reports in India about differences between the two countries and Afghanistan, David Coleman Headley, and some other issues.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, let me say the NSC has already provided a readout of that meeting.
QUESTION: Yeah, we got that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It was a very positive and friendly meeting. And I do not think there is any significant daylight between the United States and India on Afghanistan or Headley or any of the other issues that we’re working on. We have very close cooperation on all of those issues, and I think the President and the prime minister had good discussions on those as well as on the issue of terrorism and the prime minister’s plans to continue to try to boost economic growth in India to get it up to 8, 9, or 10 percent to continue to reduce poverty and provide opportunities for the people of India.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify with this visit and your remarks, does this mean the U.S. is recognizing the provisional government as legitimate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, we don’t – we’re – we don’t recognize governments. We recognize states. So this visit has nothing to do with that. Again, the purpose of this visit is, first of all, just to go and make an assessment of the situation, but also to express the support of the United States for the pledges that the provisional government already has made about the return to democracy and to see how we might help in that and restoring economic growth.
QUESTION: Then you might increase aid to Kyrgyzstan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, it’ll depend on what they ask. So I don’t want to try to --
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Going back to India, just a quick one, as far as nuclear terrorism is concerned, this summit is concerned, as President met with India and Pakistan and other leaders meeting today and tomorrow at the main summit, many fears that nuclear terrorism or terrorists will have small nuclear weapons or technology in the past, and that could be a center for (inaudible) Pakistan. Now Pakistan is also here, which – with whom you are talking there. And you just came back from Pakistan. Secretary, what surety can you give that as far as their key to nuclear key, who holds the nuclear key that it will not go in the hands of terrorists? Because what Pakistan is saying, they are not worried about terrorism or terrorists, but India. What India is saying that they are worried about Pakistan’s nuclear program, it may fall in the hands of terrorists in the future. So where do we go from here from this summit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I don’t want to predict the outcomes of the summit, but I think the President and many other senior leaders of this Administration have expressed confidence in Pakistan’s management of its nuclear weapons, and I’ll just leave it at that.
I think I’m going to turn this back over to my friend P.J., because I’ve got to run off to another interagency meeting. But thank you all so much.
QUESTION: Have a safe flight.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: If there’s sufficient interest, maybe I can come back and talk to you all after my trip.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. All the best for your trip.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you.