The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of June 12, 2009
Okay, round two, as everyone departs. We obviously have a constrained schedule this morning with the Secretary doing a readout of her meeting with Foreign Minister Falconi and Security Minister Carvajal. So we’ll try to do this, say, in 10 minutes or so. We’ll hang around afterwards for any additional questions you have.
Very quickly, just a few quick items. Special Envoy George Mitchell is on his way to Damascus, will arrive there tonight. He has been meeting in Lebanon with President Suleiman, Prime Minister Siniora, Foreign Minister Salloukh, and Parliamentary Majority Leader Saad Hariri, while he was in Lebanon. But we expect to have significant discussions with various officials in Damascus regarding both the Middle East peace process and our bilateral relationship.QUESTION:
During his discussions in Beirut, did Senator Mitchell bring up the possibility of talks between Lebanon and Israel? Is that an avenue that you’re exploring? If it’s going to be (inaudible) two-state solution, the Lebanese should be involved. Has it come up? MR. CROWLEY:
I haven’t got a readout of Envoy Mitchell’s discussions. Obviously, we’re looking at trying to assess a peace process and all of its dimensions. But where that goes, I think it’s – we’re premature.QUESTION:
Where will Senator Mitchell be on Sunday when Prime Minister Netanyahu gives his speech on the Middle East policy?MR. CROWLEY:
I’ll take that question. Whether he is still in the region or on his way back here, I don’t know. It could be one or the other.QUESTION:
On that speech, what are your expectations for what Benjamin Netanyahu will say in this speech? What are you hoping for? Do you have any readout or tip-offs? Did Mitchell learn what he’s going to say?MR. CROWLEY:
We will listen to the speech with interest.QUESTION:
Different subject? QUESTION:
I want to stay in the region if it’s okay. North Korea.QUESTION:
The region? (Laughter.)QUESTION:
Well, Nina was going to stay in the region. I know Nina wants to stay in the region.QUESTION:
I could be in the same region, but --QUESTION:
When South Korea media, at the beginning of this month, first started reporting on the existence of documents in which North Korean diplomats stationed overseas were apparently being foresworn to allegiance to Kim Jong-un as the successor of Kim Jong-il, the spokesman for this Department at the podium on June 2, who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are Robert Wood, said – (laughter) – that such reports were speculative. I wonder whether the Department today still regards the reporting surrounding the apparent anointment of Kim Jong-un to be purely speculative.MR. CROWLEY:
Obviously, we have heard the same reports that you have heard, and we know there are questions of succession in North Korea, given the questionable health of Kim Jong-il. As to – as far as we know, Kim Jong-il is still the leader of North Korea. I believe his – he is in firm control of the country. What happens down the road, we don’t know. That is up to North Korea.QUSTION:
So you are no more illuminated on the subject of whether or not Kim Jong-un has been anointed the successor today than the Department was when this question was raised on June 2?MR. CROWLEY:
It is something that we are conscious of. We are looking at it. We don’t know that it necessarily influences what is happening now.QUESTION:
But you don’t question that the anointment has occurred?MR. CROWLEY:
I don’t – I mean, who the – we know who the current leader of North Korea is. Who the next leader of North Korea is is up to North Korea. We are more conscious of what they are doing and for whatever reason, obviously, the actions that North Korea has taken recently are provocative, unhelpful. We expect sometime today there will be a vote on a new Security Council resolution. And at the end of this vote, should the resolution be adopted, North Korea will be facing a sanctions regime unlike any other on earth.
And in that regard, we will continue close consultations with the members of the Security Council, those in the five-party process, for the moment. We will implement those sanctions aggressively. As I think Ambassador Bosworth said in testimony yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we are taking appropriate defensive measures. But he made clear also that the door is still open to negotiations, and we hope that North Korea will, at some point in the future, come back to that process.QUESTION:
Doesn’t North Korea already face a sanctions regime unlike no other on earth?MR. CROWLEY:
And this is the – their ability to, number one –QUESTION:
It just seems like –MR. CROWLEY:
-- proliferate weapons will, I think, continue to be restricted. These are carefully targeted sanctions. They go after one of our primary concerns, since North Korea is a serial proliferator. They have been linked to unhelpful proliferation activities involving other parts of the world. And secondly, we’re going to continue to look and see how we can tighten financial sanctions that affect the regime, in particular. But these are carefully tiered. I think there will be more details coming out during the course of the afternoon.
The letter here from a Florida congressman to the Secretary regarding Iranian dual citizens here, ex-pats being able to vote in the Iranian elections today. He’s saying that there’s 35 locations throughout the U.S. He’s questioning the legality of these polling stations, and also asking if any Iranian officials are allowed to travel outside their sort of designated 25 miles from DC or New York to vote. Can you say how this – if these polling stations do exist and how they’re being handled here?MR. CROWLEY:
I think they’re being handled through Pakistan, which is the protective power for Iran here in the United States. We, I think, have watched closely, particularly over the last few days. There has been a lively debate within Iran. There seems to be a significant turnout today, and we won’t have a comment until the results are finalized.
Obviously, we’re conscious of the fact that a winner needs to have at least 50 percent of the vote to be president. Our outreach to Iran is not dependent on a particular result. We look forward to engaging the new Iranian administration on the full range of issues before us. QUESTION:
But just can I clarify, have any Iranian officials, say, in New York, for example, have they been allowed to travel? Did they need to travel (inaudible)?MR. CROWLEY:
I believe this is being handled by Pakistan. Obviously, there are limitations on travel regarding certain officials from New York. So I’m not aware that that’s the case. I believe the opportunities for participation in the election have been handled through the Pakistanis.
I’ll take one. On Pakistan, are you aware of reports that the Pakistani Government may impose martial law in part of the country? Do you have any comment on it?MR. CROWLEY:
I am not. Obviously, as Ambassador Holbrooke said earlier this week, Pakistan is taking aggressive action to deal with extremism within its borders, and we commend them for it. But we are focused primarily on the plight of the 2.5 million refugees or displaced persons, and we’re trying to work as hard as we can to help Pakistan in any way possible.QUESTION:
So you would not have a problem if they did impose it in the Northwest Frontier?MR. CROWLEY:
I’m just not aware of it. I mean, they continue to take action in the Swat Valley. I believe there have been some reports that military forces have moved in to Waziristan. And we continue to hope that they will both, number one, be able to deal with extremism and the violence that has occurred even this week, even around Peshawar, but also, number two, that we continue and the international community continues to help Pakistan, in any way possible deal with the plight of its own citizens.QUESTION:
So can you try to address the question, though, which is whether you would have any misgivings about the Pakistani Government (inaudible) --MR. CROWLEY:
Well, I mean to – I understand -- QUESTION:
Let me – can I finish my question? Can I finish my question, please? I mean, it’s a reasonable question. Long history of marital law being declared in Pakistan, a lot of interest among the Pakistani population in the United States Government working with multiple military leaders; you have no misgivings whatsoever about the idea of the martial law being declared in parts of Pakistan?MR. CROWLEY:
First of all, I am not aware of – I am aware of what you’re suggesting. I am not aware, in particular, of these reports. But I – we understand that there is an extraordinary situation going on in Pakistan. There is aggressive military action occurring in Pakistan to deal with these issues. How the Pakistani military decides to engage in this fight is really a matter for the Pakistani military and the Pakistani Government. We are working aggressively to support Pakistan in this effort, and we are focused in particular on the current situation regarding displaced persons in Pakistan, but those kinds of decisions are, in fact, up to the Government of Pakistan.