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 24, 2011
MR. CROWLEY: Regarding our ferry, it is still docked in Tripoli. The citizens on board are safe. The ferry has been sealed since the people on board have cleared customs. We have 285 people on board the ferry, including 40 official U.S. citizens, 127 unofficial U.S. citizens, and 118 international citizens.
QUESTION: P.J., what’s an unofficial U.S. citizen?
MR. CROWLEY: Private citizens. In other words --
QUESTION: Oh, oh, I see. Okay.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. (Laughter.) Forty of our official party, non-essential personnel and family, 127 other American citizens –
QUESTION: Could you go through those numbers? I’m sorry. Forty?
QUESTION: Forty, 127, and 118.
QUESTION: Could I get it from the man up there? Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s replay the tape. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. P.J’s getting --
QUESTION: When the man up there starts briefing, we’ll get a lot better information. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Forty – (laughter) – oh, I – we need divine guidance today. Forty official U.S. citizens, 127 private U.S. citizens, and 118 citizens of other countries.
QUESTION: On that 40, that’s family members as well, right? That went up --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Non-essential personnel and family members.
QUESTION: That went up by five, yeah? Does that mean that more people have been – decided that they’re non-essential or non-emergency, or was it more family members were –
MR. CROWLEY: I – it could well be a combination of the two. Actually, it probably is more people declared non-essential.
QUESTION: Is there security aboard, or any type of security or --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Coming from Malta, we put both additional consular officers on board as well as security on board.
QUESTION: What are the conditions like on it?
MR. CROWLEY: I can only imagine. I mean, these people have been on board the ship for now well over 24 hours. I’m sure they’re uncomfortable. They slept last night on the ship. This is a ship that obviously can accommodate a large number of people. But I’m sure the conditions are – it’s difficult for anyone who’s on the ship for this long that hasn’t moved.
QUESTION: What about the provisions?
MR. CROWLEY: They have been moving provisions on – there are provisions on board the ship, and they have provided some additional provisions through, fruit and so forth through the course of the day.
QUESTION: And what kind of security? Is that by the State Department? Diplomatic Security?
MR. CROWLEY: The – yes.
QUESTION: Is the security stationed aboard the vessel or –
MR. CROWLEY: We have our own security personnel on board the vessel, and there are – the port is secure. There are Libyan security officials in the port area.
QUESTION: So the Libyans – so Libyan forces are guaranteeing the security of the Americans on that vessel?
MR. CROWLEY: The Libyans are securing their port at which the ship is docked. We have security officials on board the ship as well.
QUESTION: These people are armed?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Are the Marines involved, P.J., in securing the –
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t – this is not a diplomatic post that has Marines.
QUESTION: Really? That’s even – Tripoli is even in their Marine song.
QUESTION: Really? Exactly. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: I – there are – actually, the kind of post that you have determines whether Marines are present. They are there for a particular reason. This particular post does not have a Marine contingent.
QUESTION: That logically asks who’s left behind? If there’s only – if this ship holds 600 people and you only have 285 people on it, who – how many citizens of various countries –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s a – and I don’t have a count as to additional Americans who have contacted the post since the ship was sealed. We did plan to have a charter flight land in Libya today. It did not, because the weather, which is affecting the ship, is also affecting aircraft coming in and out of Tripoli. We do hope to have a charter land tomorrow so that we can continue to evacuate citizens who want to leave. My understanding is there are perhaps 5,000 people at the airport today in Tripoli. That’s from all stripes of nations. There are some Americans there still trying to make commercial connections, but we will spend today continuing to establish contact with any American citizen in Libya who wishes to leave. And it is – remains our strong recommendation that U.S. citizens depart Libya if they are able.
QUESTION: When you say that the ship is sealed, does that mean that no one else can get on?
MR. CROWLEY: Correct.
QUESTION: And what if someone decides that they’re – they want to get off? Can they do that?
MR. CROWLEY: Right now, I’m not aware that there is anybody who wants to get off.
QUESTION: No, no, no, but I’m – but you say that you – those conditions are not comfortable, and --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we --
QUESTION: -- I was wondering if someone changes their mind and decides --
MR. CROWLEY: As soon as the ship’s captain determines that it’s safe to proceed, and we are in touch with U.S. Government meteorologists who are monitoring the storm system that is proceeding through the Eastern Mediterranean – the moment that that ship can safely depart, it will, and we would expect that to happen, say, in the next several hours.
QUESTION: But you said that Libyans are securing the --
QUESTION: Is that (inaudible)?
QUESTION: You said the Libyans are securing the port.
MR. CROWLEY: It is their country, James.
QUESTION: I’m just asking, if – there is violence in Tripoli, as we know. So what constitutes the perimeter between the spread of that violence, possibly, and the ship itself? Is it --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let – all right, well, put it this way. As we have indicated, this is a very fluid, very unpredictable situation throughout Libya, including Tripoli. One of the reasons we’re strongly recommending that American citizens depart – and other countries are doing the same – is because violence has occurred and could occur at any time.
QUESTION: But I’m asking about the logistics.
MR. CROWLEY: But I’m just saying that right now, our assessment is that the area immediately surrounding the vessel is secure. I’m not aware of any current concern about the security surrounding the ship. Clearly, we are monitoring that at all times. Had we been luckier with respect to the weather, everyone would be comfortably in Malta by now. That’s not the case. But we will get that ship underway as soon as the weather permits.
QUESTION: But their security is dependent on the regime in some measure, then, correct? Because it’s the regime controlling those forces that are controlling the security perimeter, correct?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, and we have been in continual contact with the Libyan Government. Under Secretary Bill Burns has had two conversations today with Foreign Minister Musa Kusa talking about the situation in Libya as well as expressing our gratitude for the cooperation that Libya has shown in helping us with the evacuation of our citizens and making clear that we remain concerned about -- and we need to continue to have that level of cooperation as we continue our evacuation.
Let me just do --
QUESTION: What happens if the security decides to defect to the United States, to the ship, in essence?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, what?
QUESTION: What happens if the Libyan security decides to defect to the ship?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: I just want to do two other quick things.
Today, in meetings here in Washington, the United States is continuing negotiations with the European Union on the Passenger Name Records Agreement to ensure the safety and security of all travelers. These negotiations began in December 2010 and are based on the 2007 PNR agreement which continues to be applied provisionally until a new agreement is reached. The United States is committed to the goal of building on that current agreement, finding ways to strengthen our capabilities to effectively protect against threats of terrorism and serious crime while ensuring adequate protection of travelers’ data.
QUESTION: Back on Libya, P.J.
MR. CROWLEY: Yep.
QUESTION: The statement that you all put out this morning about senior Libyan officials telling American officials that un-visaed journalists would be considered al-Qaida collaborators, who actually were the Libyan officials? Can you say who these people were?
MR. CROWLEY: I cannot say. Our DCM – or our Chargé Joan Polaschik was invited in along with diplomats of other countries yesterday. The conversation, as I remember her saying this morning, was at the under secretary level. But this was the particular topic of the meeting.
QUESTION: It was --
MR. CROWLEY: And our feeling was that when we have information that affects the security of U.S. citizens, U.S. journalists in this case, or others, we thought we had an obligation to put that out.
QUESTION: So these were – this was at the foreign ministry?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: And did they say exactly what they meant by – or why they would deem these people to be sympathize – or collaborators with al-Qaida?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, this was their perspective. This was how they --
QUESTION: No, I understand that, but was it --
MR. CROWLEY: -- presented it to us. And we just felt an obligation to report it to you.
QUESTION: I got that, but I just want to – I mean, did they explain why? Did they explain to the diplomats that they gathered why they felt this way or why they were going to do this? And --
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t explain this rationale of the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: Did they mention any organizations specifically, other than the three that you talked about in – that they said they would allow people in from?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t tell you. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Was the chargé the only diplomat in that meeting or were there diplomats from other countries?
MR. CROWLEY: There were diplomats from several countries, not just our chargé.
QUESTION: And do you have, actual indications that any journalists are being allowed in legally and given visas?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, that’s a question to ask the Libyan Government. I mean, I’ve been listening to the reports at the border, inside the border, of your various correspondents who are there. But as to how they got there and who they talked to, I’ll – I have no perspective on that.
QUESTION: P.J., I have two questions. You just said that you strongly recommend that people depart Libya, but your Travel Warning doesn’t reflect that. It doesn’t say we urge people to leave; it just says we urge people to defer travel or depart now if they want to.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is our strong recommendation that the situation in Libya is very unpredictable. So – but obviously American citizens throughout the world will make their own judgments as to whether to stay or whether to leave.
I should note there are, give or take, roughly 6,000 American citizens who have been registered with the Embassy before these events occurred. The vast majority of them are dual nationals, and my understanding is that they would need the permission of the Libyan Government to depart. So there will be American citizens who, for one reason or another, remain in Libya in the coming days, weeks, and months.
But to the extent that you have American citizens who have the ability to depart, we are, obviously, helping as many out as we can. Some of them are still going out through other means. Those who work for private companies, in some cases, those companies have chartered their own transportation assets to remove their employees. Some have gotten out through commercial means. We’re taking care of this bloc who are on the ship now. We hope to have a flight tomorrow. And then we’ll continue to assess this as we can to help American citizens where we can.
QUESTION: And my second question: When the Secretary goes to Geneva on Monday, will she seek to get Libya removed from the Human Rights Council? Will she seek to get international support for that?
MR. CROWLEY: We support expelling Libya from the Human Rights Council. The Libyan Government has violated the rights of its people. Taking this step constitute – continues the increased isolation that the Libyan Government is facing, including announcements made yesterday by the Arab League and the African Union.
QUESTION: What is the status of --
QUESTION: P.J., why hasn’t the situation in Libya evoked yet calls for the ouster of Qadhafi, as opposed, let’s say, to someone who has actually held a good deal of hostility towards the United States and the West – as opposed to, let’s say Saddam Hussein, who – he was not in any kind of fight with the United States of America. Could you please explain to us?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, what happens to the leadership of Libya is up to the Libyan people. What we’ve said is that violence must stop, their rights must be respected, and there must be a government that is responsive to their aspirations. And if the government continues to suppress its citizens, then it will be held accountable.
QUESTION: But so far, the uniformed call of the Libyan population has been to oust the regime. So that is --
MR. CROWLEY: Correct.
QUESTION: That would be in tandem with --
MR. CROWLEY: And that is fully consistent – what you have is the people of Libya standing up and wanting to have a say in the future of their country and their government. We support that, but the decision as to who will lead Libya in the future is a matter for the Libyan people.
QUESTION: P.J., I have a question about – you talked about the situation is fluid. One of the issues is about chemical weapons and whether or not – what Qadhafi has in possession and what he could use, potentially use, on his people. What is the U.S. and – dealing – in terms of its dealing with its international partners, going to try and see and make sure he doesn’t basically rain whatever he may or may not have on – down on his people? Do you know that he has this as --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as you know, Jeff, a lot of work has already been done in this area. Since 2004, we have eliminated or destroyed the most dangerous elements of Libya’s former WMD programs, including its chemical weapons munitions. There are some chemical weapons, related materials, that remain in Libya today, but they are not in weaponized form. And we believe that these materials remain secure, but we are closely monitoring the situation.
QUESTION: But are you sure that he doesn’t have – hasn’t acquired the means to possibly weapon – you’re saying they’re not weaponized, what’s left. Are you sure he hasn’t somehow surreptitiously acquired the ability to weaponize these things and use them on his fellow citizens?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I – this is an area that we have worked with Libya on, and it is an area that we continue to monitor. I’m not in a position to give you a hundred percent guarantee, but I would say that we have no information at this point to suggest that he’s following that course.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on just one other thing about the Human Rights Council? Why is the Secretary going to Geneva as opposed to the Security Council? It just strikes – I guess strikes me as odd that something this serious wouldn’t be elevated to the level of her going to New York versus Geneva.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and again, those are not mutually exclusive. We are – one of the reasons she’s going to Geneva is to address the Human Rights Council, but another reason is that it will provide an opportunity with a number of her counterparts in Geneva for the kinds of consultations that are needed so that we can have effective action going forward, both in multilateral settings as well as decisions that we’ll make as a government here. So she’ll have the opportunity to try to build the kind of consensus for action that you saw in the UN Security Council statement of a couple of days ago, and I would expect – there are still – there are ongoing discussions in New York about future actions, and that’s one of the reasons the Secretary will consult, particularly with the European ministers who are there.
QUESTION: One last one. But would that – one of those future actions – for example, the Swiss Government announced they’re freezing Qadhafi’s assets. Are you pushing for concrete actions of that nature? And if so, when?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the President yesterday tasked the Administration to prepare a full range of options to respond to this crisis. These are actions that we might take and those that we will coordinate with allies and partners. So we are looking at actions that we might do here unilaterally, as well as consulting broadly. The President will be making some calls today, the Secretary hopes to make some calls today, where we will have this broad-based engagement, and that we will look to take actions both within our laws but also within a variety of multilateral fora, including the UN, including the Human Rights Council, and --
QUESTION: P.J., I’m glad you brought up the President’s statement, because I was just going to ask you about it. When we hear that the President has asked the Administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to the crisis, a couple of questions arise. First, given that this crisis has been evident since February the 14th, why did it take the President until February 23rd to ask the Administration to prepare that range of options?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been – I mean, we have a lot of tools at our disposal, as I talked about yesterday. We’ve been assessing the situation to have clarity about what is happening. We’ve been consulting with other countries. We did have a strong statement out of the UN two days ago. There are actions that are being teed up within our government if you think about the kinds of sanctions that we’ve imposed on foreign governments in the past and when they live up to their obligations or violate the human rights of their people. We are looking at a range of options, teeing up decisions for the President and the principals. We expect to take action in the coming days, but it takes time to fully assess and to also make sure that whatever actions that we take, we believe they are going – they are most likely to be successful in putting pressure on the Libyan Government to respect the rights and actions of their people.
QUESTION: So when the President tells us that he’s asked the Administration to prepare the full range of options, is it proper for us to infer that that full range would include military options?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had meetings constantly on this since last week when the events began to unfold in Libya. The military has been a full participant in these discussions. We are consulting broadly about steps that we can take. I’m not going to prejudge decisions that have yet to be made. But there’s a lot action going on across the government. We have a full – a wide range of tools – financial sanctions, multilateral actions – and we are considering all of them. The military is fully involved in these discussions and doing its own thinking about options that can be presented to the President.
QUESTION: And one last question, if you would. It seems to me that one of the first determinations U.S. policy makers have to make in their dealings with foreign heads of state is whether, in fact, they believe a given foreign head of state to be a rational actor. Does the United States believe Muammar Qadhafi to be rational – a rational actor?
MR. CROWLEY: Muammar Qadhafi is the leader of Libya. We have been in touch with a range of governments who have had direct conversations with him; we have not. We have had conversations with others in his government, most specifically the foreign minister. They have provided us their perspective on what they believe is happening in their country. We have offered our perspective about the urgent need for the violence to stop and the bloodshed to end. We will continue to have those conversations with Libyan officials. It’s not for me to characterize whether they are seeing this situation properly or not. We will be judge – we will judge Libya by what we see on the ground. We’ve condemned, as the President has said, the Secretary has said, the violence that has occurred. We’ve demanded as an international community that the violence cease.
We remain concerned about what we’re seeing. We remain concerned about the combination of military forces and mercenaries that are out on the streets of Libya. You can see a fracturing of Libyan society. We’re very, very concerned about the potential for continued violence and the implications on the people of Libya. And we will judge Libya by the actions that it takes. We made sure – we’ve clearly stated that the Libyan Government will be held accountable for the actions that it’s already taken and will take in the days going forward.
QUESTION: What’s the status of – along those same lines, what’s the status of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and how has his absence hindered what the U.S. is able to do in Libya and who it’s communicating with?
MR. CROWLEY: We have – Ambassador Cretz is not in Libya; you’re right. And – but we have complete confidence in the chargé, Joan Polaschik, who is – she and her team are doing a brilliant job under arduous conditions. They’re looking after the welfare of U.S. citizens and continuing the ongoing dialogue with the Libyan Government. So we – I don’t think there is any impact in terms of the absence of Ambassador Cretz, who himself is one of our more distinguished and veteran diplomats.
QUESTION: Is he returning?
QUESTION: How about reversing that? How has his absence helped you – (laughter) – in dealing with the – in dealing with the Libyans? In other words, would – do you think that Ambassador Cretz would have been invited to this meeting at the foreign ministry that the chargé went to? And I just have one more follow-up on that.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, with the ambassador outside the country, Chargé Polaschik is our senior diplomat on station, and she has dealings every day –
MR. CROWLEY: -- with the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: Right. But there’s a specific reason why Ambassador Cretz is here and not in Libya right now, and it has nothing to do with this. It has to do with concerns that his access to Libyan officials might have been curtailed in the wake of certain revelations. Anyway, the point – I want to get back to this meeting yesterday. You said that it was – that your impression was that it was called specifically so that they would – for them to talk about –
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not my impression; it’s a fact. It was called specifically --
QUESTION: -- to talk about journalists.
MR. CROWLEY: -- to talk about journalists in the country.
QUESTION: And did they – when they talked about treating them as al-Qaida collaborators, did they go beyond that? Did they say what that means?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve given you all of the information that I have and perspective that I have on this meeting.
QUESTION: P.J., on the question of leadership, you said that Muammar Qadhafi is the leader --
QUESTION: Wait, just one more on that --
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Hold on, hold on.
QUESTION: Just one more on the meeting: Did the U.S. contest the notion that journalists going in are collaborators with al-Qaida?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can’t tell you what kind of dialogue that she had during the course of this meeting. It – my impression is it was more like a one way conversation.
QUESTION: Are any journalists collaborating with al-Qaida?
MR. CROWLEY: No, of course not.
QUESTION: P.J., you said that Muammar Qadhafi was the leader of Libya. Do you have a picture of the chain of command in Libya? I mean, Mr. Qadhafi came out and said, “I hold no position for me to resign.” So what is the chain of command in Libya that you are – that you conduct diplomatic –
MR. CROWLEY: If he’s not the leader of Libya, that would be news to most of the rest of the world.
QUESTION: P.J., on the evacuation –
MR. CROWLEY: I – look --
QUESTION: Are you saying he (inaudible ) the chain of command?
MR. CROWLEY: It is not – it’s not for me to parse his words. We have, in many conversations with his government, made clear what we strongly believe the Libyan Government should do and what it should not do. As to what he says and what he does, we will evaluate what happens going forward, based on the actions of Libyan authorities. And we hope that, and stress that, the violence needs to cease.
QUESTION: I guess my question is: When you coordinate security matters, how do you coordinate security matters? When you coordinate people that are leaving or coming –
MR. CROWLEY: There are people who have control of security forces within the government. They have actually been responsive to the requests that we’ve made.
QUESTION: On the evacuation --
QUESTION: P.J., sorry, if I could just go back to the contacts, or lack thereof, between the government and Qadhafi, who obviously is the guy who’s calling the shots there, has the Secretary – or the President, for that matter – made any attempt to get through to Qadhafi? And had that – has that been rebuffed? Or have you decided that’s just not even a worthwhile option to pursue?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not pursued conversations with Mr. Qadhafi. That said, in the various contacts that we’ve had with Libyan officials, they have actually passed messages to us from Mr. Qadhafi.
QUESTION: Why is that? Why?
QUESTION: And we were told the Secretary was trying to reach Mr. Kusa yesterday but wasn’t able to. Is that effort still ongoing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said, Under Secretary Burns has had two conversations today with Foreign Minister Kusa. Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman has had a number of conversations with him. My understanding is the Secretary was trying to tee up a call with Musa Kusa, but there was a technical problem.
QUESTION: What messages have you gotten from Qadhafi?
QUESTION: But why not talk to – try to talk to Colonel Qadhafi?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m just – I’m not aware that we have any plans at this point to talk to --
QUESTION: But why? Because he is – I mean, it’s basically a one-man rule. He’s the guy who’s in charge. Why not talk to him?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, if and when we have such conversations, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Well, you said these messages from him have been passed to us. What was the content of the messages?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, these are diplomatic exchanges. I’ll leave them private.
QUESTION: Were they reassuring? Were you – did you feel reassured –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to – the – we’ve had a couple of instances where people have passed on what they purported to be direct correspondence or messages from Mr. Qadhafi. I’m not going to characterize them.
QUESTION: P.J – (inaudible) – come back to your statement about we’ll judge Libya by its actions. And what a lot of us have seen, countless types of cell phone and other types of video of bodies littered in various parts of the country, people screaming out for action. At what point does rhetoric become action to secure the country and secure – and for each of the countries that have citizens in them --
MR. CROWLEY: Jeff, we are taking action. We are in broad consultations with other governments as well. Recall, we don’t have the kind of relationship or the kind of economic relationship with Libya that other countries have. So if the intent here, as needed, is to find ways to put pressure on Mr. Qadhafi, his family, others who are responsible for the human rights violations that we’ve seen, the suppression of the Libyan people that we’ve seen, then we necessarily need to work as an international community, including actions with those who – and the idea here is that, collectively, we can put a concerted international pressure on Libya. We are reviewing those options right now.
As I said, the President has instructed the government to come up with a range of options. That is being done actively as we speak. We are in the process of making decisions, taking actions. We’ll detail those to you as we can. So we are, in fact, responding to what we have seen on the ground – not on – what we’ve seen in the last few days, and with the direct intent of making clear to Libya that this has to stop.
QUESTION: Well, what more do you need to see before you start cutting off his assets, before you start doing all those things that other people are – either the sanctions that members of Congress are calling to renew – when does the – when do the checklists start –
MR. CROWLEY: And Jeff, as we’ve said – as we said clearly yesterday from this podium, from the Secretary, from the President, we have all of these options available to us. We are pursuing these options. We are assessing what kinds of things can we do that could have the kind of impact that we seek, to put real pressure and demonstrate to Libya that there will be consequences for the action that they’ve taken. In many cases where we can take action as a government, we are putting those steps, those actions, in place. Where we have – where – it needs to be collective action. Sanctions we can do unilaterally; sanctions we can do multilaterally. In many cases, working with the international community, other countries are the ones that have more fully developed economic relationships with Libya, where it – we have a lot that is entrain, and as we reach a point where we can detail to you the actions that we’ve taken, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: But did the --
MR. CROWLEY: But there is action underway.
QUESTION: Do you expect decisions being made on possible actions when the Secretary when goes to Geneva on Monday?
MR. CROWLEY: Say it again.
QUESTION: Do you expect that decisions will be made on Monday when the Secretary goes to Geneva?
MR. CROWLEY: I expect that there will be decisions soon, and as we – as the President and others makes those – make those decisions, we will let you know.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: What’s the biggest challenge that the U.S. is facing in Libya? How big is the number of U.S. citizens in there which is – affects this (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: We kind of covered that a little bit earlier. I mean, we are doing everything that we can to get American citizens out of harm’s way. But we are actively pursuing the kind – the range of steps that are available to us and that the President outlined yesterday. So there’s action being taken, there are consultations that are being made, there are options being teed up for the President and the principals. And as decisions are made, we will let you know.
QUESTION: P.J., I understand that it is up to the Libyan people to decide who they want to have rule their country, but in the case of Egypt, at some point, President Obama did come out say the people of Egypt have spoken and the transition in Egypt needs to start now. Why are you not saying this about Libya? The people of Libya have clearly spoken; they don’t want to continue to be ruled by Muammar Qadhafi. So why isn’t it time for the United States to come out and say the people of Libya have spoken; it’s time for the transition to start in Libya?
And as a follow-up to that, you have condemned the violence, but I still sense that the language is cautious. And I’m wondering what is the United States and the international community – what are you afraid of? Are you worried of a hostage situation in Libya, human shields?
MR. CROWLEY: We are carefully evaluating the situation. It is very unpredictable. It is very unstable. You do have, unlike Egypt where the government maintained positive control of its country throughout these – its protests, here you do have a situation where the central government has lost control of portions of its country. So I don’t how you – there’s no single approach to these. We are looking at a unique set of circumstances in Libya. And we will – we are carefully evaluating the steps that we can take. Whatever steps that we do take, we want them to be effective, and we certainly don’t want to take any actions that put either our citizens or the citizens of other countries at risk.
So we’re dealing with a very unique set of circumstances in Libya. It’s much different than what we see in Tunisia. It’s much different than what we saw in Egypt or Bahrain. But we are – we have a number of options available to us. We will be making decisions in the coming days. Options will be presented to the President and the principals in the coming days. We are taking action. We are concerned about what’s happening. We have strongly condemned what has happened. We remain very, very concerned that this situation could turn even more violent than it already has.
But our objective here is to protect the people of Libya, protect our own citizens and those of other countries, and to have the kind of effect that we want to have on the thinking of the Libyan Government. That is what we are actively doing.
QUESTION: P.J., on the evacuation --
QUESTION: On the evacuation, the British were able to get a Royal Air Force, Hercules, in there and take people out. I know you’ve talked about weather, but why were the Brits able to do it and the United States so far --
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t – well, put it this way, we chartered a ferry, which would have the equivalent passenger load of two or three aircraft. And had we not been unlucky in terms of the weather those people would already be in Malta. We took this step because we were unable to secure permission to land charter aircraft earlier this week. We believe that we would have an aircraft on the ground today had it not been for the weather. We hope to have an aircraft on the ground tomorrow.
I’ll salute the RAF pilots who were able to land a C-130 under very, very difficult flying conditions today. In fact, many air carriers have canceled their flights today because of the weather.
QUESTION: Can I follow --
QUESTION: Was there any – I just wanted one more on that. Was there any request, or did you think about asking the British to help take out some Americans on that plane?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have had multiple conversations with a wide range of governments, because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, as I mentioned earlier in the briefing. There are roughly 5,000 people currently at the Tripoli airport, and that’s a much larger number for a relatively small airport. So we are using every means possible to get our citizens out. Where we – in the case of the ferry, where we have had the opportunity to support other countries, we have done so. And we trust that as other governments are able to help our citizens in different parts of the country, we have pledges that they will do their best to support us on a space-available basis. So everyone’s in the same boat, and everyone has pledged to cooperate fully. We are gratified to be able to help get citizens of other countries out of Tripoli, and we do expect that across the country others will be helping our citizens as well.
QUESTION: Along those lines, the British Government has been criticized for not acting quickly enough to get some of its oil – its citizens’ oil workers out in some of these remote areas. Are there Americans out there as well? Perhaps just a few, but are there Americans in some of these very remote areas?
MR. CROWLEY: There were at the start of this. I can’t give you a disposition at the present time. We have been in touch with various countries that do have – various companies that do have employees there. And in many cases they’re working through us, and in many cases they’re working through others, and in some cases they’re working on their own.
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold –
QUESTION: Oh, my god.
MR. CROWLEY: All right.
QUESTION: P.J., can I ask a general question on the process of the –
MR. CROWLEY: We can do rock, paper, scissors here if need be.
QUESTION: Just a general question on the general process we’ve been observing over the last few weeks. Now, you said today that you’re working on this in a case-by-case basis, and Tunisia, of course, is different from Egypt is different from Libya. Nevertheless, there is a general process ongoing which is changing the face of the Maghreb in the Middle East in a decisive and fundamental way. Much of this is occurring in the midst of the major international financial breakdown crisis which are creating conditions of un-livability for many people in this area of the world. And the fact that they’re on the street is not necessarily because their bread prices are going up; they have their complaints with their leadership. But nevertheless, this is the basic driving force in the region which is forcing people to make moves that they haven’t been forced to make previously. Now, the United States has –
MR. CROWLEY: Bill, you want to get to the punch line here?
QUESTION: -- a responsibility and has had a responsibility generally for taking the initiative and creating the economic conditions in which people are not in this. Now, do we have, in the State Department, anybody who’s looking at this in terms of the overall situation in order to adopt a policy to meet those changing conditions? Because if the conditions – economic conditions don’t get better, chaos will reign.
MR. CROWLEY: Bill, it’s a long speech, but what’s the “this”?
QUESTION: I’m sorry –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m still – what’s the “this” that you’re asking me about?
QUESTION: The “this” – is there in this building people who are looking at this saying, “Look, this world is changing, and we’re going to have to have a policy so that this region no longer” –
MR. CROWLEY: Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: What are they –
QUESTION: Can we try to move on?
MR. CROWLEY: Of course –
QUESTION: One more on Libya.
MR. CROWLEY: We are both looking at the immediate challenges country by country by country, and we’re looking at the broad implications of the enormous change that is happening across the region. Absolutely.
QUESTION: P.J., would the United States like to see Libya commence in an orderly transition to democracy now?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, that is not for us to say.
QUESTION: Well, why is it when it’s not Egypt?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, people, people –
QUESTION: So you don’t want to see an orderly transition to democracy –
MR. CROWLEY: James, James, you –
QUESTION: Hold on –
MR. CROWLEY: You did this to me the other day, and –
QUESTION: Can we go to a question that you might actually be able to answer?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s not say if you don’t say that, then you’re saying something else. Look, we are working significantly on the challenge that Libya represents here. We are reviewing a range of options. There’s something that we want in the short term. There’s something that the international community wants in the long term. In the short term, we want the violence to stop, we want the bloodshed to stop, we want the rights of the Libyan people to be protected.
We’re doing everything in our power, in our discussions with the Libyan Government to stabilize the situation on the ground. Clearly there are long-term implications based on what is happening here. We will join in what we expect to be a strong condemnation of the Libyan Government tomorrow in the Human Rights Council. They have crossed a line and significantly violated the human rights of their people, and we will support suspending Libya from the Human Rights Council. We are prepared to take further steps to make clear that Libya must respect its people and must respond to its aspirations and must reform.
QUESTION: Are the Libyans ready for democracy, P.J.?
MR. CROWLEY: How we do that, given the extremely complex situation that does present itself in Libya that is different than any other thing that’s happened in recent weeks in any other country of the region, we are working carefully to both assess the situation, review the options that we have, and then also understand what we would expect the response to be inside Libya not only by the government in Tripoli, but the other actors that have emerged across the country. We’re being very careful because this is a very, very complex and very, very volatile situation.
QUESTION: P.J., P.J. –
QUESTION: On the back channels, P.J. –
QUESTION: On the 118 Convention, the foreign nationals, do you have any information on what countries they’re from? Could I ask you specifically about China?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t have a list.
QUESTION: P.J., Al Jazeera has been told that the UN Security Council is going to meet within the next – possibly within the next 48 hours. What is it that you might be taking to the Security Council, if anything, on Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I do expect that there will be follow-up meetings and follow-up action within the UN Security Council.
MR. CROWLEY: We are consulting right now with other governments on what steps might be taken, and I won’t prejudge what will be –
QUESTION: Can we move on now? Yesterday, the President said that Bill Burns was going to be going to other places other than just Egypt and Tunisia. I understand he’s now in – or he’s going to Algeria today.
MR. CROWLEY: He’s in Algeria now.
QUESTION: And he’s going to Europe after that, or is that –
MR. CROWLEY: He will be going to Europe today. In addition to phoning Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, he had a meeting with the Algerian leadership, Mr. Bouteflika. He will be going to Rome tonight for consultations with Italy. And beyond that, I don’t know yet. But he will be – he’ll have other stops.
QUESTION: P.J., do you have any information on rumblings in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia among the Shia population?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not.
QUESTION: You do not? Or you –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I –
QUESTION: Are you aware that there were actually some protests and gatherings and so on yesterday and the day before and likely to be more?
MR. CROWLEY: There are protests going on in virtually every country in the region.
QUESTION: But you are aware of certain actions that are taking place in Saudi Arabia, and are you talking to the Saudis about that?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we are in touch with the Saudis. The King returned to Saudi Arabia, I think, yesterday. But I don’t have a particular comment on what’s going on today in eastern Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: On the general idea of uranium, do you have anything to say about the information that Iran is seeking to get uranium from Zimbabwe, among other places?
MR. CROWLEY: I can take that question. That’s been a concern, a longstanding concern, of ours. But I don't have any --
QUESTION: What, specifically to Zimbabwe?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, seeking sources of uranium in Africa.