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Middle East Digest - February 16, 2011


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Washington, DC
February 16, 2011

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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 February 16, 2011

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QUESTION: Have you heard back from Senator Kerry yet about his progress or lack thereof?

MR. CROWLEY: He has departed Pakistan. He did a press availability before he left. I’m not sure that we here have heard back from him. I’m sure Ambassador Munter has been with him and is familiar with what has happened during his stay.

QUESTION: All right. What’s the – what’s your latest understanding of what the situation is with Mr. Davis and how he’s being treated?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, but – I mean, just to kind of round it off here, during Senator Kerry’s stay, he met with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Chief of Staff Kayani, he talked with party leader Nawaz Sharif, and Foreign – former Foreign Minister Qureshi. He reaffirmed U.S. support for the strategic relationship between the United States and Pakistan. He expressed his sorrow at the loss of lives in the January 27 incident, but nonetheless made clear that Pakistan has obligations under international law to release him.

QUESTION: And as far as you know, he has not been poorly treated in custody, has he?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that he has been poorly treated. I think he’s been fairly treated. But just to make the point, we do not believe that his incarceration is proper. Under the Vienna Convention, he should not have been incarcerated.

QUESTION: Have you received any new communications from Pakistani officials regarding his immunity, the status of immunity? There seems to be some question about who can decide that. What’s your – what are you hearing from the government?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe that diplomatic immunity is in fact – is a fact. It’s not – from our standpoint, it’s not a matter in dispute. It’s certainly not a matter that should be resolved by courts in Pakistan. That said, there will be a hearing tomorrow and we will present a petition to the court that he, in fact, has diplomatic immunity.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding the Pakistan Government is absolutely on the same side as you are in this – on this question?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the Pakistani Government will have the opportunity to present its view tomorrow as well.

QUESTION: So could the Pakistani Government request to repeal his diplomatic immunity and this --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t speak for the Pakistani Government. Our view is he should be released.

QUESTION: What – in your view, what would be the process to how to deal with this?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: How would the State Department deal with such a request?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we believe he should be released and we continue to press that point with the Pakistani Government. Now, I think during the course of Senator Kerry’s stay there, we made clear that in – with such incidents, it is the practice of the United States Government to conduct its own criminal investigation, and we intend to follow that practice here. But it is – remains our view he has diplomatic immunity and should be released.

QUESTION: Mr. Crowley, I just wanted to go back to Burma and --

QUESTION: Wait, can we stay on Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on. We’ll come back.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there any concern on the part of Secretary Clinton that the case and fate of one specific individual may somehow be permitted to affect overriding bilateral issues between this very important country and the United States?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to do everything possible to prevent that from happening. We’re building a strategic relationship with Pakistan. It is in the United States’s interest to do that. We have shared concerns and a shared threat in the extremists who are in Pakistan. That is a threat to Pakistan as well as other countries including the United States. We are committed to build a strong and effective partnership with Pakistan, and we certainly do not want to have issues like this distract us from our joint efforts.

QUESTION: Has that happened so far?

MR. CROWLEY: Not so far. I think – and that’s part of what Senator Kerry did in his trip, was to reaffirm our interest in this partnership, the importance of continuing to work with Pakistan not only to deal with the extremists within its borders, but to build up Pakistani institutions. That is our commitment. We want to and continue to do everything that we can to resolve this case.

QUESTION: So the cases pose no disruption to the bilateral relationship so far?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say it has, no.

QUESTION: P.J., can you talk about this investigation? I mean, does an American court have any kind of jurisdiction over something this guy may or may not have done in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as the Department of Justice has said, we as a normal practice would ourselves investigate incidents involving American citizens overseas where there has been a loss of life, and we’re prepared to do that. And obviously, where that investigation would lead, I can’t say.

QUESTION: Why didn’t the Administration come out and say that, talk about the – an investigation here at the very beginning of this? Is there not some school of thought or school of thinking in this building that saying something like that at the outset might have avoided the dilemma that you’re in now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the dilemma that we’re in now is because Pakistan has not followed through on its international obligations.

QUESTION: Well, no, no. What --

MR. CROWLEY: Let me – but let – that’s an important point. We continue to stress that he has diplomatic immunity, the issue should not be a matter for the courts, and he should be released. But because we are in the situation that we’re in, we are clarifying that we are prepared to investigate this matter as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but had you said that at the beginning – had you said that you were prepared to investigate this on your own at the beginning, instead of just slamming the Pakistanis over the head with the idea that he has – the demand that he has to be released, that he has immunity – you’re wrong, we’re right, let our guy go – don’t you think that you could have avoided some of this, or at least tamped down --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, you’re – we’re not --

QUESTION: -- some of the anti-American sentiments?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not a matter of right or wrong. It is a matter of international obligation. That’s the point --

QUESTION: It is a matter of right or wrong. That’s what you’re saying.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. We have – Matt, we have made clear that any time there’s a loss of life it is tragic, and we’ve expressed those views, as have our ambassador and consulate officials in Pakistan. That said, there is a very fundamental point here. Countries have to live up to their international obligations, and we do, and we expect Pakistan to as well.

QUESTION: And there was no one in the Administration who was counseling this kind of approach at the beginning?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s an academic point. I --

QUESTION: I think there was, because I’ve spoken to --

QUESTION: Prime Minister Gilani apparently has said that under Sharia law the whole thing could be resolved if there’s compensation offered to the families of those involved who were killed in the attack. Is that something that the U.S. would undertake?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we’re trying to resolve this case. We’re doing it at every level of government. It’s – I can’t predict at this point precisely what steps will be taken. We just continue to stress that he has diplomatic immunity.

QUESTION: But has the concept of compensation been discussed, do you know?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I just – we’re working as hard as we can with the Pakistani Government to resolve this case.

QUESTION: Can we change topic?

QUESTION: Can I ask another on --

QUESTION: On this, one last thing?

QUESTION: You said to James that there’s been no disruption in relations because of this specific incident. So you’re saying that the postponement of the trilateral talks had absolutely nothing to do with this case?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we stressed in the statement over the weekend, there was a fundamental, practical issue here. Pakistan dissolved its government, and it has not reformed all of – not repositioned ministers in every ministry that would expect to participate in a trilateral meeting. So we’ve postponed it for that reason.

QUESTION: And on Senator Kerry, can you just clear up, did the Administration dispatch him to Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. He is there in his capacity as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obviously, he coordinated with us before he left, and he has maintained contact with us throughout his trip.

QUESTION: Did he go at your behest?

MR. CROWLEY: No, this was – he expressed an interest in going. Obviously, anything that he can do to help move this towards a resolution is a welcome step.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. He – the Administration did not ask him to go? Because that flatly contradicts with what his office says.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – he expressed an interest in going is my understanding, and we --

QUESTION: And you said, yes, would you please go?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we certainly have --

QUESTION: Or did you say no, no, no, please don’t go --

MR. CROWLEY: No. We didn’t say --

QUESTION: -- and he raced over there anyway?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, he is an effective leader in his own right. He felt he could help the situation in Pakistan, and we welcomed his intercession.

QUESTION: The last time you sent a special envoy out to deliver a message, there was somewhat mixed results. You’re pretty confident in Senator Kerry’s going to stay on message? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Wisner was on message. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to ask you about something the Secretary said on Monday. In the course of one of her interviews, she was specifically asked when she thought the emergency law should be lifted in Egypt. And in response to two questions about that, she said, one, that it was – this was a matter for the Egyptians, and --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s true.

QUESTION: -- two, that she was not going to substitute her judgment sitting in the comfort and beauty of the State Department for theirs. And she was specifically asked about timing, and she said that was – she just wasn’t going to substitute her judgment on that for theirs. But six days earlier, the White House issued a readout on Vice President Biden’s conversation with President Mubarak in which it said that he told President Mubarak that the United States supported, quote, "immediately rescinding the emergency law." What changed in six days? I mean, the U.S. --

MR. CROWLEY: Nothing has changed in six days.

QUESTION: Well, except that he’s no longer president. (Laughter.) I mean, that’s a pretty big change, isn’t it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, nothing has changed – all right. Thank you. Nothing has changed in the context of what Arshad --

QUESTION: But the U.S. position on February the 8th was that it supported the law being rescinded immediately. The U.S. Government position, as stated by Secretary Clinton on Monday, was this is up to the Egyptians.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and it is up to the Egyptians. As to specifically what they do and when they do it, it is a matter for the Egyptian Government, working with opposition figures. Clearly, the opposition has pointed to the emergency law as being something they want to see rescinded. The United States position has always been that the emergency law should be rescinded. The President and Vice President reiterated that, as has the Secretary, in comments over the past three weeks. We haven’t changed our view at all.

But the Secretary is simply pointing out that these decisions are part of this transition process. They will be made by Egyptians. But clearly, the opposition has made – has pointed out that it is hard to have an open, credible political process with the emergency law still in effect.

QUESTION: But, P.J., the White House made it very clear – and the White House ultimately is the institution in this government that sets foreign policy – that the policy was – that it should be immediately removed. And six days later, the Secretary --

MR. CROWLEY: Arshad, I know there’s a great --

QUESTION: I don’t understand why.

MR. CROWLEY: There’s a great inside-the-beltway tradition of trying to find infinitesimal peaks of daylight between what is said one day and what is said the next day, what is said by one official and what is said by another official. The position of the United States Government could not be clearer. We’ve called for years for the rescinding of the emergency law. We have not changed that view. The Secretary was reflecting however, correctly, that when and how this is done is a matter for the Egyptians to work through.

QUESTION: It’s not infinitesimal to call for something immediately --

MR. CROWLEY: Arshad, I --

QUESTION: -- and not to call for it immediately. And it’s particularly not infinitesimal if you are being held without charge indefinitely and without trial.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. Again, don’t misunderstand what I said. You’re trying to create daylight between the White House and the State Department. There is none.

QUESTION: Are you conducting your diplomacy business as usual with Egypt today? Would you say that you are conducting your relationship and diplomacy with --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, (inaudible), I am not sure that there is anything called business as usual in Egypt today. They are – as the President said yesterday in his press conference, they are working through the specific elements regarding constitution, regarding elections. It’s off to a promising start, but clearly, there’s a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: Okay. More and more it is being perceived that six months being not a long enough time to conduct the election. So there’s a suggestion that perhaps governing should go to a civilian council, sort of council, so to speak. Would you encourage such a --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, at the risk of getting crosswise with Arshad one more time, these are decisions that will be made by the Egyptian people and the Egyptian Government. We want to see an effective transition process, an open process. We want to see broad engagement across all segments of Egyptian society. But ultimately, how this proceeds and on what timeline, these are decisions to be made in Egypt.

QUESTION: But you would prefer to see this transit into a civilian authority as soon as possible?

MR. CROWLEY: As I’ve said from here many times, we always have to look at the finish line, if you will, which is free and fair elections, credible elections that reflect the will of the Egyptian people. And now is the challenge of working through the various issues that get us to that point.

QUESTION: With the assurance that I regard any daylight between you and Arshad to be infinitesimal, P.J. – (laughter) – I think that the question that Arshad posed remains relevant, which is whether it remains the position of the Secretary of State specifically that the emergency law in Egypt should be lifted immediately. That’s the question put to you: Should it be lifted immediately?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I can reiterate what I’ve said. The position of the United States, long held, is that the emergency law should be rescinded.

QUESTION: Immediately?

MR. CROWLEY: That is something that the – that is a matter for the Egyptian Government. We have indicated that it is important to rescind the emergency law in order to have the kind of open political process that we think is necessary to get to free and fair elections.

QUESTION: So let the record reflect that you’re unwilling to endorse the language of the White House from February 8. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: No, we want – the sooner this can happen, the better. But I don't want to get into a situation where we’re doing daily play-by-play, and at some point in time, if they haven’t done this today or they haven’t done this tomorrow, that indicates there’s a real problem. The emergency law needs to be lifted. That is the view of the Administration. As to the process in transition, as to how that takes place, these are decisions to be made by Egypt. That said, the opposition continues to point to the emergency law as being something they want to see lifted. We agree with that view. The sooner it can happen, the better.

QUESTION: P.J., on the broader – the broader question of daylight here, are you seriously trying to suggest that there were no differences in opinion between the State Department and the White House on Egypt over the past two weeks?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s one foreign policy. There’s one foreign policy of the United States.

QUESTION: Because that’s just simply not true. There was, and we all know it.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Matt, there’s one foreign policy --

QUESTION: I understand that. But there were – but you told --

MR. CROWLEY: And in the day-to-day interaction, whether it’s in deputies committees or in principals committees, there may well – there were different views on how to accomplish certain things. But that is part of the kind of robust interagency process that is characterized by the Administration.

QUESTION: Right, right. So, in fact --

MR. CROWLEY: But at the end of the day, decisions are made and they’re carried out very clearly, and that’s what we’ve done.

QUESTION: But in fact, when you say that there is no daylight between the State Department and the White House, that is not true, is it?

MR. CROWLEY: It – well, I think that’s too simplistic a view. Across the interagency there are various elements that are paid to look through a particular lens. If you’re focused on a military relationship, you might have one view of events. If you’re focused on a diplomatic relationship, you might have a corresponding view. And if you are focused on democracy and human rights, you will, again, have a corresponding view. All of that feeds into a process where we have to find the right balance in moving forward.

But at the end of this, there’s been a clear policy with regard to Egypt. The President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense all played major contributions in terms of annunciating the policy, helping to encourage Egypt through this last three weeks. We’re encouraged by where we are now, where Egypt is now. But clearly, as the President stressed yesterday, there’s still a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: P.J. --

MR. CROWLEY: Michel.

QUESTION: Something related to Egypt. The Israeli foreign minister has said today that two Iranian warships plan to sail through the Suez Canal on route to Syria, and it’s for the first time since 1979. Are you concerned about this development?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe there are two Iranian warships – or, I mean, I don't know what kind of ships they are. There are two ships in the Red Sea. What their intention is, what their destination is, I don’t – I can’t say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question on Egypt?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) would that be a provocation?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’ve seen the reports, but I don't know that we have any understanding at this point of what those ships are there or where they’re going.

QUESTION: I understand that. My question is more of whether you would regard that as a provocation, whether you would discourage Iran from doing something like that, or that you would not like to see it happen. I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a hypothetical question.

QUESTION: Well, no, because it seems like they’re going that way. But would you like to see that happen or not?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, look --

QUESTION: That’s not a hypothetical.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Look, there are reports that there are a couple of ships in the Red Sea. What they do, where they go, we’ll follow this with some curiosity.

QUESTION: Follow-up on unrest in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, hold on, just staying with the ships. There are always a couple ships in the Red Sea. I mean, that’s not unusual at all. Are you saying that they’re Iranian ships that you are aware of?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’ve seen the reports as you guys have checked in with us during the course of the day.

QUESTION: Are they going to --

MR. CROWLEY: I have strong suspicions that we have the ability to identify certain ships. We’ll be watching to see what they do. But at this point --

QUESTION: Right. But you’re watching the Iranian ships?

MR. CROWLEY: We always watch what Iran is doing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But I’m just trying to make sure that the – what the Israeli foreign minister is talking about is the same thing you’re talking about.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: On the protests that we’re seeing in different countries today, first, with respect to Libya, how do you characterize those protests? And is Muammar Qadhafi properly characterized as a dictator?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, there are events going on across many countries in the region today. As the President made clear yesterday, change is coming to the region and it’s important for governments – plural – to stay ahead of this trend. The Secretary made clear in her comments in Doha, reiterated them recently in Munich, countries across the region have the same kind of challenge in terms of the demographics, the aspirations of their people, the need for reform. And we encourage these countries to take specific actions that address the aspirations and the needs and hopes of their people. Libya certainly would be in that same category.

QUESTION: Is Qadhafi a dictator? You have no answer to that question?

QUESTION: He (inaudible) stumping --

QUESTION: Are you stumped?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not stumped.

QUESTION: So what’s your answer to the question? Is he a dictator?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think he came to office through a democratic process.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up (inaudible), one on Egypt, one on Pakistan. Egypt, what steps the U.S. is taking as far as to protect the interest of Israel and also --

MR. CROWLEY: You’ve lost me already, Goyal.

QUESTION: -- interest – what steps the U.S. is taking as far as to protect the interest of Israel and also interest of free flow of oil so that Egypt doesn’t become another Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a pipeline that connects Egypt and Israel and that’s one of the outside sources of energy for Israel. Look, we – first of all, we remain committed to Israel’s security. It is important. We were encouraged by statements by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt that they intend to respect the treaty which has benefited Israel, Egypt, and the region as a whole. Even as these – this dynamic unfolds in the region, I’m not aware of anything that points to a potential disruption of energy flows that are vital to the region and to the rest of the world.

QUESTION: As far as Pakistan, just to follow, let me put this again – are you saying that Senator John Kerry, who had been in Pakistan many, many times and had – has very good relations with the Pakistani officials, including military, he was not carrying any message from the Secretary? And second, things have little bit changed in Pakistan because of his visit, and also yesterday the President’s very blunt message to Pakistan that they should follow Vienna Convention. And third, Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Ambassador Haqqani, had said that Mr. Raymond Davis had or was issued officially – official visa by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. So where do we stand now from all these billions of dollars aid going to Pakistan and then anti-India – anti-Pakistan -- or Pakistanis are anti-U.S. every day?

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, you have loaded so much on that question – (laughter) – I’m not sure how it can possibly stay upright. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Why don’t you just answer the actual question, which was, "Was he carrying a message from Secretary Clinton," and then maybe we can move on?

MR. CROWLEY: The senator reiterated the view of the United States Government during the course of his visit to Pakistan.

QUESTION: One more on Pakistan, please. As we write our stories, some of us are challenged in defining exactly how to describe Mr. Davis. Could you – I know he is a diplomat.

MR. CROWLEY: He’s a U.S. diplomat. It’s very simple.

QUESTION: Yes, I know. He is a U.S. diplomat. But in other paragraphs, we have to say other things. What – how exactly do you describe him? I mean, is he a contractor? Is he a consular employee? What is he?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he is a U.S. diplomat currently incarcerated in Pakistan who has diplomatic immunity and should be released.

QUESTION: And what exactly was his job?

MR. CROWLEY: I can go back. He has technical – provides technical services to the – a member of the administrative and technical staff of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

QUESTION: And is --

QUESTION: Is he (inaudible) diplomat?

QUESTION: Is it correct that --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go any further than that.

QUESTION: But just one thing, he – the reports say that he was carrying a gun. Obviously, he shot the two guys. Is that standard --

MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s a safe assumption.

QUESTION: Is that standard operating procedure, that diplomats carry guns?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, there are people with diplomatic status in countries around the world who are authorized to carry weapons.

QUESTION: Can we switch subjects?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the contractor issue and whether a contractor for the embassy would be --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go any further. I’ve given you everything I’m going to give you on that.

QUESTION: But, no, no, just as a more basic – we talked about it last week as a more basic idea of whether contractors – going back to Blackwater in Iraq, State Department contractors – whether they’re eligible for diplomatic immunity in a case of murder.

MR. CROWLEY: Contractors – if you’re talking about a global issue, contractors can be given diplomatic status.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: The other day, P.J., on Monday, I believe, the journalists --

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on, hold on. Is this on Pakistan?

QUESTION: On Turkey.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on.

QUESTION: Excuse me --

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. First, unlike the White House, we actually do orderly briefings here. (Laughter.) Are we done with Pakistan? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There was the day --

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, no, there’s daylight between me and Jay Carney. (Laughter.) We wish him well, by the way, on his first day.

QUESTION: On Turkey --

QUESTION: The state media --

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on a second. If we’re done with Pakistan, I do go back to Burma first

QUESTION: I asked on Monday about the journalist who got detained. Do you have anything on that now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are watching this case very closely. I don’t have a particular comment other than to say we do have ongoing concerns about trends regarding treatment of journalists within Turkey. We’ve raised that with the Turkish Government, and we’ll be watching this case very closely.

QUESTION: So you have engaged with Turkish Government so far?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that we have engaged in this particular case, but this is an issue that we have raised with Turkey and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador in Ankara Ricciardone gave a couple of statements on the issue – I have the quotes – and there was a quite strong reaction from Turkish administration saying that nobody should be interfering with the Turkish domestic situation because of ambassador statement.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, obviously, Ambassador Ricciardone – we stand by his statement. But as I say, we do have broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey, and we have raised that directly with the Turkish Government and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: You said --

QUESTION: Two things real quick, one on Mexico. There were two --

QUESTION: Can I stay on this?

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. Please.

QUESTION: Turkey.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Also, AKP -- the vice president of ruling party AKP said that ambassadors has limits, so was Ricciardone out of his limits by having such a statement?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure what you mean by limits.

QUESTION: I’m not sure, too. He said ambassadors have limits. So regarding this subject, regarding Ricciardone’s --

MR. CROWLEY: You’re saying that Ambassador Ricciardone used the term "limits"?

QUESTION: No, no, vice president of AKP said --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, it’s not for me to parse the language used by Turkish officials. We stand by the ambassador’s statement.

QUESTION: There is some strong arguments in Turkey that the U.S. approach so far to Turkish Government, strong Turkish Government, kind of appeasement policy to --

MR. CROWLEY: What kind of policy?

QUESTION: Appeasement.

MR. CROWLEY: Appeasement?

QUESTION: Yes, to Turkish Government. Not – there’s my newspaper’s editorial yesterday, so I’m just (inaudible) message what would be your --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s hard for me to put that in context. Turkey is an ally and friend of the United States. But as we’ve made clear, anytime that we think that a friend or ally or adversary has crossed a line and – in terms of respect for universal principles, we will not hesitate to raise our voice



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