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 March 3, 2011
2:23 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Regarding the situation in Libya, as you heard the Secretary – I’m sorry, as you heard the President indicate a short time ago, he has authorized the deployment of military and civilian aircraft to assist in the movement of third-country nationals out of Libya and back to their host nations. We estimate that there are third-country nationals from roughly 23 nations along the Tunisian-Libyan border. Many of these citizens come from Egypt. It’s a very, very fluid situation. At the start of the day today, we estimated there were upwards of 95,000 people at the border. During the course of today, that number was significantly reduced both through some operations that are already ongoing and the natural flow of people across the border.
But we do have – USAID – our teams are now deployed, one along the border between Tunisia and Libya – a combined team of USAID, OFDA – Foreign Disaster Assistance – and PRM here at the State Department. And they are assessing the situation and what might be needed in the coming days. There’s also another team in Malta that is there in case they need to support any reception efforts in that country.
We have – we are working to provide – we’ve provided already $2 million to the International Organization for Migration to support these emergency evacuations. And we are in the process of working to put in place an additional $15 million across the international organizations and NGOs that are currently working on this challenge.
QUESTION: What – is there – what specifically is the State Department component of what the President announced? Is there one?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we would be chartering the civilian aircraft if – like I say, there’s some operations that are going on, very limited infrastructure along the border. But we have aircraft, both military and civilian, standing by to be sent there on an as-needed basis.
QUESTION: And where would they – would they be going all to their homes – home countries? I mean --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the majority of people at the Tunisian-Libyan border, we believe, are Egyptians. And they need to be transported back over into Egypt.
QUESTION: Right, but say --
MR. CROWLEY: And the airlift and sealift can be helpful there. There have been maybe 75 – 77,000 people that we estimate have flowed across the Libyan-Egyptian border. But we don’t have the same situation on that side of --
QUESTION: Well, what I’m trying to get at, if you happen to be from New Zealand and you’re stranded there, are you going to fly them all the way – I mean, a country that’s not particularly close. Are you prepared to fly them all the way home?
MR. CROWLEY: I think what we’re trying to do, because of the conditions there – it’s cold at night – is first do everything we can to scale down the number of people who are exposed to the elements along the border. And then, to the extent that we can get a significant complement of people back to Egypt, as one example, that allows you then to address the specific needs of others in terms of finding ways to get them back to their host countries. We also have some people moving through – a small number of people moving through Niger, for example, going back to Sub-Saharan Africa. So there’s a wide range of people, multiple destinations. The team is there to do what we can to move them on --
QUESTION: And --
MR. CROWLEY: -- get them past the border, where they can make other transportation arrangements back to their home countries.
QUESTION: All right. And then just the last one. This is not something that they have to pay for, correct? It’s not like the evacuation of American citizens, where they’re expected to repay the costs --
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know, but clearly we want to get these people out of harm’s way, and we’ll do that irrespective of their ability to pay.
QUESTION: P.J., how much is this effort coordinated with what the Europeans do? Because I know there are many British and French and other --
MR. CROWLEY: Right. There are operations going underway, are already underway. And clearly, we’re coordinating with Egypt, for example. We’re coordinating with other countries to see how we can contribute. But we do have the aircraft standing by, and they will be employed on an as needed basis.
QUESTION: P.J., two things. One, you said that the – earlier today you had estimated that there were something like 95 – upwards of 95,000 people at the Libyan-Tunisian border and that that has been reduced substantially or significantly. How much – what’s your current estimate?
MR. CROWLEY: It probably is probably at least half of that.
QUESTION: Okay. And the --
MR. CROWLEY: Down in the 30,000 range.
QUESTION: And then second thing – in the range of 30,000 or in the 30,000s?
MR. CROWLEY: In the range – that complement has been cut at least in half.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second thing, if I may, just what is your reaction to the Venezuelan call for some kind of an international commission, apparently to be headed by former Brazilian President Lula, to try to work out a solution in Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the President emphasized again in his press availability a short time ago, you don’t need an international commission to tell Colonel Qadhafi what he needs to do for the good of his country and the good of his people. He should step aside, and for the good of his people, he should stop attacking them.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s not doing that, so what – so you say he should, and he’s not, so there’s not room for someone in the middle to maybe talk to him and persuade him to do that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we support any effort to --
QUESTION: So that would include the Venezuelan --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me – all right. Let me finish –
MR. CROWLEY: -- what I’m going to say. Any effort that is able to resolve this peacefully deserves consideration. But if I flip that around, if he’s not responding to the many calls across the international community to step down, it is uncertain to me what an international commission is going to accomplish. Colonel Qadhafi needs to step down. And as the President said, history is moving against him. He needs to recognize that and step aside for the good of his people and the good of his country.
QUESTION: Can I just – can you just confirm – you’ve been talking about, like, things that you’re doing on the border with Tunisia, on the border with Egypt. Just to be clear, you’re not taking any activities, humanitarian or otherwise, inside Libya right now. Is that correct?
MR. CROWLEY: I am not aware of any U.S. personnel inside Libya. There are a variety of NGOs, including some NGOs that we support, that may well still be operating within Libya.
QUESTION: But are you funding any specific operations, humanitarian or otherwise, on behalf of the opposition right now in Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s separate the two out, okay? Through organizations such as UNHCR, IOM, and others, we have already provided and will continue to provide funds to help with the humanitarian situation in Libya. It is possible that some of those groups, Save the Children and others, may well still be operating inside of Libya. But we don’t have any activity in Libya at the present time that’s geared towards a political opposition. We’re focused on the humanitarian situation.
QUESTION: P.J., those chartered civilian airplanes and military airplanes strictly use Tunisian territory and Tunisian airspace?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. A quick follow-up on the Libya situation. Saif al-Islam, the son of Qadhafi, he says that he’s miffed at the position of the United States because he is in the same fight with the United States against terrorism, and he’s rather disappointed. Can you tell us that – if there was every any kind of counterterrorism coordination between the United States and Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: Has there been dialogue with Libya regarding counterterrorism?
QUESTION: Has there been operational coordination with – between the United States and Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: You’ve got to define “operational coordination” for me.
QUESTION: Much like (inaudible) –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, in other words, has part of our dialogue since we resumed diplomatic relations with Libya involved terrorism and counterterrorism? The answer is yes.
QUESTION: Not just dialogue. There has been –
QUESTION: Not dialogue, cooperation.
QUESTION: -- cooperation with the –
QUESTION: Has there been cooperation?
QUESTION: -- Libyan Government on terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, if you want me – well, I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Please, yes.
MR. CROWLEY: We can describe to you the nature of whatever dialogue or activity that we’ve had. I would presume that our dialogue would include sharing information. But I don’t know of any other activity.
QUESTION: Can we –
QUESTION: But no operational, let’s say, coordination as much as Yemen, for instance, where there is actually an ongoing fight against al-Qaida and –
MR. CROWLEY: I would say they are two different situations.
QUESTION: Can we speak on Libya and Venezuela? It is – there is some information coming from Venezuela actually that some members of the government of Qadhafi or some relatives are already in Venezuela. What will be the U.S. position if Qadhafi seeks exile in Venezuela?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our position is that President – Colonel Qadhafi should step aside. Where he goes is up to him.
QUESTION: But it’s something that you will welcome if he goes to Venezuela or –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we –
QUESTION: -- considering the current situation?
MR. CROWLEY: We have called for him to step aside, and we’ve called for him to stop attacking his people. If that means he leaves the country, I think that’s a good thing for the people of Libya.
QUESTION: Is –
QUESTION: Are you –
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) I’m not sure it’s a good thing for the people of Venezuela. I don’t know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Are you willing to say that about other potential havens for –
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to determine where he goes.
QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t -- yeah, but by your actions, wouldn’t –
MR. CROWLEY: It’s for us to hopefully see him step aside for the good of his country.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t you prefer to see him go into exile, say, in a cell in the Hague?
MR. CROWLEY: Well –
QUESTION: I mean you voted for that resolution, right?
MR. CROWLEY: One destination does not preclude another.
QUESTION: Does this one have an impact in the relations or in the situation between the U.S. and Venezuela if Colonel Qadhafi goes to Venezuela?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, our view if that Colonel Qadhafi should step aside today. If that involves his movement to a third country –
QUESTION: Are you –
MR. CROWLEY: -- that would be a major step towards resolving the current situation.
QUESTION: But are you aware of the Venezuelan initiatives in that regard or –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as to whether he would be welcome in Venezuela, obviously that’s a matter for Venezuela to determine.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about your outreach to the Libyan opposition that you’ve been talking about – Ambassador Cretz and others? How is that going along? Have you – what type of contacts are taking place, meetings, that type of thing?
MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Cretz and his team have been very busy over the last several days. They’ve had some meetings here, primarily with Libyan Americans who have an obvious interest and may have, themselves, contacts in Libya. We’ve worked the phones hard with a variety of business people and others trying to figure out the nature of the emerging opposition, how they’re – what their composition is, what their structure is, what they might be thinking, and this is an effort that is ongoing.
QUESTION: Libyan businesspeople or, like, American businesspeople?
MR. CROWLEY: All of the above. I mean, in other words, we are trying to determine as best we can what is actually happening on the ground inside Libya, what the nature of the opposition is. Clearly, if you look back over 42 years, there has – Colonel Qadhafi has not allowed a lot of politics to occur in the country. He’s never allowed an alternate center of power to emerge. He hasn’t been subject to checks and balances, as we would understand them.
So as we’ve seen, perhaps in other countries, it’s going to take a while for – to understand how the opposition is organizing itself, who they are. You’ve got a number of former government officials who have turned against the regime. You have a number of military officials who have done the same. You’ve got tribal leaders who are part of the fabric and the culture of Libya. All of these entities are standing up in opposition to Colonel Qadhafi and his regime. But we are reaching out and expanding a network to try to fully understand what this dynamic is, what’s happening, and as we go forward, how we might be helpful.
QUESTION: Will that include the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not cataloguing who we’ve reached out to so far, but we are monitoring this opposition. It’s a disparate group. It’s not one entity; it’s a number of entities. But we’re trying to fully understand what’s happening.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) over the last few days has been about trying to peel off the remaining loyalists to Qadhafi. Have you had success with that? Have you had ministers, senior government officials continuing in the last three to four days to defect from the regime?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you have had a steady stream of diplomats and others who have rightly calculated that there’s no future aligned with the – with Colonel Qadhafi and his regime. And as the President said again today, we are monitoring this very closely, and there will be accountability. And so that’s something that anyone who has been a part of the Libyan Government has to take into account.
QUESTION: Well, how credible –
QUESTION: Since –
QUESTION: How credible are former government ministers who, in many cases, will have benefited from the Qadhafi regime for years or perhaps decades and who are jumping the ship only as it appears that Qadhafi’s rule may be threatened?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and that is not our – ultimately, that’s not our judgment to make. That will be the --
QUESTION: But that’s exactly the judgment I thought you were trying to make here where you’re trying to figure out who the opposition is, what –
MR. CROWLEY: No, but that – well, no, we are – we – there’s a difference between assessment and judgment, as to you have a variety of people who are standing up and identifying with the opposition. But as to what individual or what group emerges going forward, ultimately that is not our judgment to make. We would like to see a transition so that the Libyan people have the same choice to select leaders in the future that exists in other countries. Who they choose, who stands to be a part of a future Libyan government is ultimately not our determination.
QUESTION: And so far, you have not taken – have you taken any steps, not so much to recognize but to deal significantly with the self-proclaimed caretaker government said to have been formed by the former justice minister? Does it hold any – does that group hold any particular special status in your point of view?
MR. CROWLEY: We are reaching out to a wide range of figures. I don’t want to, from here, say we’ve talked to this person but not that person. I don’t want to put any kind of a – the impression that we are giving an imprimatur to one versus another. We are talking to a variety of figures and trying to understand what – who and what this opposition means.
QUESTION: When you say that those who’s perpetrated violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable, I mean, are you talking about the violence that stemmed from this recent response to the protests? Because, as you know, Colonel Qadhafi has been ruling for 40 years with an iron fist and there’s been violence against the people for all of that time. And some of the people that are in the opposition, as Arshad just said, not only were benefiting financially but were also involved in some of the violence against the people. So who’s going to be held accountable for what?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution that was passed, I believe it stipulates that the accountability will be from, I want to say, February 15 onward. So that focus is on possible atrocities or crimes that are committed in this current situation.
QUESTION: P.J., several times over the last two days, the Secretary has talked about her interest or the Administration’s interest in possibly prosecuting Qadhafi himself for the Lockerbie bombing. She said that she has talked to Attorney General Holder and the director of the FBI about this. Do you know what the status of that is? Has it gone anywhere or is it still in a very exploratory phase?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I believe that – and I’ll defer to Justice, but I believe that there has been an ongoing, open investigation regarding Pan Am 103. It may qualify as kind of a cold case, but to the extent that there is information that is forthcoming on that, we certainly will take that and evaluate it. But that would be a Justice action to take.
QUESTION: But the – right, but at this building, are you aware of any action that this building has taken, other than referring the letter that was sent and – to the FBI?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any particular action that we’ve taken, other than if there’s any information that we come across, obviously, we’ll refer that to the Justice Department.
QUESTION: When did she speak – can I just – when did she speak to the – to Holder and the FBI?
MR. CROWLEY: I think she spoke – I mean, there have been some statements in recent days that have suggested that Mr. Qadhafi himself was implicated in Pan Am 103, and she has spoken to the Attorney General since then.
QUESTION: You’re sure of that? Because she said, “I will speak to him,” and I don’t remember the Secretary saying that she had.
MR. CROWLEY: All right. I’ll tell you, I’ll – I’m not – I can’t say 100 percent. I will take the question as to whether she has conferred with the Attorney General sometime this week.
QUESTION: Or Mueller?
QUESTION: And Mueller –
QUESTION: And Mueller, please?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Fine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer on the legal status of the former Libyan ambassador, Mr. Aujali?
MR. CROWLEY: For the time being, he remains the head of mission. We did receive a fax, as I indicated earlier this week. We have not been able to verify the authenticity of this document at this point. Normally, if you get that kind of notification, there’s a formal diplomatic note that follows – a fax or a phone call. We have not received a diplomatic note since the fax was received. We’ve attempted to call the foreign minister to try to verify the authenticity of this document, and we have not been able to reach him.
QUESTION: So his diplomatic visa still is valid?
MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?
QUESTION: His diplomatic visa is still valid?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he is still the head of mission at the present time.
QUESTION: Wait, just more on Musa Kusa.
QUESTION: Yeah, when did you last talk to him?
QUESTION: Has he talked to you at all since the evacuation?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the last time we have talked to him was last Friday.
QUESTION: But you’ve tried since last Friday, and he’s – is he – has he said he’ll call you back or he’s said, no, I don’t want to talk to you?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not been able to reach him.
QUESTION: Well, but what – could you expand on that? Does he – is he saying that –
MR. CROWLEY: He has not picked up the phone. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, well, is he not – has he said that – have you been told that he will not speak to you, or you just haven’t been able to connect?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, normally for that kind of follow-up question, we check with the ambassador. But his communications with the government is limited, too.
QUESTION: No, I understand.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, so the short answer is: We have attempted to reach the foreign minister to discuss this and other things, and so far we have not been able to reach him.
QUESTION: When you say that normally a fax like that is followed up by a diplomatic note, how exactly is the Libyan Government supposed to present this note to you? You’ve removed all of your diplomats from Tripoli, the whole country –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, a fair point, but –
QUESTION: -- and the UN –
MR. CROWLEY: -- which is – which is --
QUESTION: Hold on. Hold on.
MR. CROWLEY: Which is why we tried to reach the foreign minister.
QUESTION: The UN mission – right, but the UN mission has basically all defected to the other side, as has the ambassador here. So where – it goes to exactly how you’re trying to verify this because I suspect that – how you’re trying to verify the authenticity of this fax because it – as I said, I suspect that you’re not really trying that hard to verify –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you – no, I mean, we – I mean, I’m just here to say that we did, in fact, try to reach out to the foreign minister, and we have –
QUESTION: And if he had said, yes, it’s real, you would have –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again you’re – I’m just saying –
QUESTION: Well, wait a second.
MR. CROWLEY: We –
QUESTION: If he said, yes, it’s real, would then you have accepted that as authentic or –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, when we reach him and we’re able to talk about this, then we’ll judge what he says in terms of the authenticity. But we just have not been able to verify –
QUESTION: I understand that, but his say-so won’t –
MR. CROWLEY: -- this at this point.
QUESTION: -- be enough for you to consider it authentic.
MR. CROWLEY: You’re making a presumption there, Matt.
QUESTION: Well – (laughter) –
QUESTION: What’s the status of the diplomat who was designated chargé d’affaires for the fax that you received and whom you said, I think, on Monday that you were regarding as the duly selected representative of the Libyan Government? Do you no longer (inaudible) that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, my comments were based on the presumption that the fax would be followed by a diplomatic note. We – the fact is we haven’t received it.
QUESTION: So he’s just some guy at the embassy?
MR. CROWLEY: We – I mean, we are – we have responsibilities under the Vienna Convention, and we are willing to exercise those responsibilities, but like I say – and Matt’s point is a good one. We – our communication with the Libyan Government is limited by the fact that we have removed our diplomats, and you’ve got some turmoil at the Libyan missions here and in New York as well. But we will – we are continuing to assess this document and try to verify its authenticity.
QUESTION: But more specifically – less on the document and more specifically on the communication with the Libyan Government, you have not made a deliberate decision not to talk to the government; is that correct? You will continue to try and reach the foreign minister to talk about this and other issues related to the current crisis?
MR. CROWLEY: We still have diplomatic relations with Libya.
QUESTION: No, but that’s not what I asked. I asked whether you have made the decision – are you – you said you haven’t been able to get him on the phone. Are you going to keep trying? Are you going to keep trying to talk to the foreign minister and other Libyan officials? Or you just kind of – we’re not talking to them right now?
MR. CROWLEY: No, let me answer it this way. We do have diplomatic responsibilities under the Vienna Convention. We take them seriously. We are honestly trying to assess this document. We’re honestly trying to reach out to the Libyan Government to verify this document. That process is ongoing.
QUESTION: But I’m not just – I’m sorry to –
MR. CROWLEY: I –
QUESTION: I’m sorry to – I’m not just talking about this particular document. I’m talking about whether you see the – whether you see a benefit or a reason to continue communications with the Libyan Government – not just particularly on this issue, but in general related to the current crisis.
MR. CROWLEY: When we’ve had a need to talk to the Libyan Government, we have reached out to the Libyan Government. And up until the last few days, we’ve had success in reaching out to them. We have tried since last Friday, which is the last conversation I’m aware of that we had with Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, and over the intervening time, we have not been as successful as we had previously been. That may also reflect some developments inside the Libyan Government.
QUESTION: P.J., can you say at this point –
QUESTION: P.J., hold on. Just back to the specific document, would a faxed diplomatic note to you confirm the authenticity? Or would you then have to – of the original note – or would you then have to verify that that diplomatic note fax was, in fact, authentic?
MR. CROWLEY: Matt, we continue to assess the document, and we continue to try to verify its authenticity.
QUESTION: Well, how hard is it? I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: I just –
QUESTION: Has anyone called the number that it said that – at the top of the thing to find out if it’s a working fax machine? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t make myself clearer.
QUESTION: On a related note, can you say whether you have been able to identify a protecting power in Tripoli yet?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not identified yet a protecting power.
QUESTION: Can you say if there are any candidates or anything at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: There are candidates, we are having conversations, and an agreement has not yet been completed.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that you don’t have one yet? Is this a problem?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. We are in touch with diplomats who are still in Libya. We are in touch with American citizens directly who are still in Libya. So, so far, I can’t say that the lack of a protecting power has hampered our efforts.
QUESTION: How many citizens are left?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t – that – Elise, for a combination of reasons, that’s a hard answer to – a question to answer.
QUESTION: Can you give us --
MR. CROWLEY: We have in recent days assisted a small number of Americans, perhaps – at last I heard about 30, who we were in contact with and steered them towards either ships or aircraft of other countries where they had offered us seats. And we are, as always, grateful for that support from the international community. So at this point, I don’t know that we have any pending cases where there are Americans were still there who have indicated to us that they want to leave. But we do – we have maintained contact with American citizens throughout the past few days, and if any American citizen continues to reach out to us, we will help them evacuate.
QUESTION: But last week it was suggested that a number of Americans and those with dual citizenship was something like 4,000, 5,000 people, so --
MR. CROWLEY: And that remains the case, yes. Yes, there are still obviously American citizens with dual citizenship and perhaps American citizens with just one citizenship, and they remain in Libya.
QUESTION: Can we move a little bit to the right? Do you have any reaction to the resignation of the Egyptian prime minister?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – again, this is an ongoing process, but the selection of interim leaders is a matter for the Egyptian Government. We will continue to engage the government and support it as a partner as it moves in this transition.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) call yesterday with the prime minister?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. It was primarily about the situation in Libya and efforts to try to help move Egyptian citizens back home.
QUESTION: But you don’t – you don’t have any concerns about continuity or stability or anything like that in Egypt right now? What – whoever they choose is fine with you?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, but this is an ongoing process in Egypt, just as it is in other countries, as these governments need to continue to demonstrate that they are responding to the aspirations of their people. And – but the decision as to whether a certain individual occupies a certain position, these are decisions being made in Egypt.
QUESTION: Can we go further east to Yemen?
QUESTION: Except in Libya, right? Except in Libya and Ivory Coast, where you’re telling the leaders they have to go?
MR. CROWLEY: In those cases, they have turned weapons against their people, and we think that’s a special case. Those are special cases.
QUESTION: In Yemen, do you have any concerns of the turn of these protests recently with a particular cleric, for example, who has been on the U.S. terrorist list? Do you have any concern about the direction – the way these protests are going at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: Who are you talking about in particular?
QUESTION: Off the top of my head, I can’t remember his name right now. But he’s the guy who’s been a special designated terrorist.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, if you’re talking about Abdul Majid al-Zindani, he is designated as a terrorist financier.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any concern about his apparent involvement in leading these protests in recent days?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is not for us to select individuals. But obviously, we believe that anyone involved in these efforts should be committed to a peaceful and democratic process. And someone who has associated himself with known terrorists probably doesn’t fit those qualifications.
QUESTION: Israel and the Palestinians?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Can we change topics – Israel and the Palestinians?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: P.J., last December, Mr. Matthew Lee asked you several questions, mid to late December, about the status of Mr. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the Palestinian peace activist, and time and time again, you said that you would come back with answers on this. And I believe that Mr. Lee and all of us are still waiting for that answer.
MR. CROWLEY: No, I satisfied that question. If you want to ask again if there’s anything new in that case, I’ll be happy to take that question.
QUESTION: Is there anything new in that case?
MR. CROWLEY: I did, in fact, respond to Matt’s initial question.
QUESTION: As the original asker of those questions, let’s say that you did respond. I’m not sure you satisfied the question – (laughter) – but you did respond. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: I will be happy to take that question again.
QUESTION: Okay. Related, today, Mr. – the Defense Minister Mr. Barak came out on Channel 10 and he said that the current government cannot advance peace. Do you concur with Mr. Barak that the current government is incapable of advancing the peace process?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we continue our efforts working with Israel and with the Palestinian Authority to press ahead to resolve the core issues. We had a meeting with the Quartet and Palestinian officials today in Brussels. Our efforts are ongoing. Ultimately, we believe that this government and the existing Palestinian Authority should come back to good faith, direct negotiations, and that continues to be our focus.
QUESTION: But you don’t feel like Mr. Barak – that this government is unsuited to advance the peace process?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, does this government have the ability to reach a framework agreement? Yes, it does. It is within the power of the existing government to do this. As to whether the politics in Israel will enable that to happen, it’s not my judgment to make.
QUESTION: What level was that Quartet meeting was in?
MR. CROWLEY: It was at the envoy level. Leading our delegation was David Hale.
QUESTION: Continuing on over to the right, if we could.
MR. CROWLEY: There’s a trend here.
QUESTION: Is it California? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Not that far yet. Pakistan.
QUESTION: How about --
MR. CROWLEY: As opposed to Wisconsin. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, is Turkey part of Europe or the Middle East? I don’t know.
MR. CROWLEY: They feel strongly both ways.
QUESTION: On Turkey, another week yet, another set of series of arrests – journalists and (inaudible) about 10 people today. Do you have any concern or what does it mean, having concern?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will monitor ongoing developments in this case. We urge that any investigations or prosecutions proceed in a transparent manner, and we will continue to engage Turkey and encourage an independent, pluralistic media. It’s critical to a healthy democracy. And we will continue our assessments of global press freedoms in our annual Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on that.
MR. CROWLEY: Yep.
QUESTION: Is President Obama aware of the intimidation of reporters in Turkey, and did he bring this issue when he was talking (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, those are questions – that specific, I’ll defer to my colleagues at the White House.
QUESTION: And those --
MR. CROWLEY: And certainly, we, the United States Government, remain focused on these issues.
QUESTION: But don’t you think the intimidation and the arrests of the journalists in Turkey are systematic now? Basically, every 10 days, there are a group of journalists being arrested.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a hard judgment to make. We have concerns about trends in Turkey, as we have indicated publicly. We continue to engage Turkish officials on these developments and we’ll – and we will follow these cases very closely.
QUESTION: Do you – (inaudible) on that – this goes on and it has been a year, several years for some of the people who have been in jail and trials have been going on. Is there any red line or this (inaudible) is going to go on?
MR. CROWLEY: We – this is an issue that we follow very closely. We are huge advocates of press freedoms around the world, and we monitor these developments as part of our ongoing human rights assessment of Turkey and every other country in the world.
QUESTION: Can we go to Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the latest hearing for Mr. Davis?
MR. CROWLEY: There were hearings today in Pakistani courts on charges against Mr. Davis. The proceedings on a weapons charge were adjourned until March 16. The proceedings on the murder charges were adjourned until March 8th. We are concerned that the proceedings are ongoing. We can’t really comment on the litigation itself. We continue to stress to the Pakistani Government and to the Pakistani courts that he has full immunity from criminal prosecution.
QUESTION: What about the fact that – is it the lower court made a judgment?
MR. CROWLEY: These were the lower court in Lahore today.
QUESTION: So what about the fact that they’ve upheld the decision that his immunity was --
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, my understanding – I’m not a legal expert in Pakistan, but my understanding is today, the court indicated that in the absence of a certification by the Government of Pakistan that he, in fact, had diplomatic immunity, the court would presume that he did not. So that’s not a definitive judgment. There was actually, as I recall, later this month, a higher court hearing on the question of diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: That was my --
QUESTION: You said that you continue to stress to the Pakistani Government and the Pakistani courts that, in your view, he has diplomatic immunity. In terms of the courts, have you filed, like, an amicus brief? Have you actually made a filing with them? Or you’re just saying out loud and hoping they sort of hear it? I mean, it’s just not clear to me if there’s like, an American lawyer there --
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question.
QUESTION: -- making that case or not.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question as to whether we have yet or may well file a brief with the court between now and the middle of March.
QUESTION: And --
MR. CROWLEY: And it was the – with the higher court. I’ll take that question.
QUESTION: P.J., is Venezuela under investigation? Because it’s --
QUESTION: Wait, can I – hold on.
MR. CROWLEY: Sorry.
QUESTION: Is there any more clarity yet on how it is that there’s – that the U.S. and Pakistan still can’t come together over whether he has diplomatic – I mean, the thing that’s --
MR. CROWLEY: But just – not to cut you off, but there is not a question about diplomatic immunity. We have yet to get the Government of Pakistan to recognize that.
QUESTION: But didn’t --
MR. CROWLEY: But we don’t think that this is a – there is a question here.
QUESTION: Didn’t the lower court – my understanding was the lower court said today that there is no certificate from the Pakistani Government indicating he has diplomatic --
MR. CROWLEY: I think I said the same thing.
QUESTION: Right, okay. So then why – so then there is clearly a discrepancy here if the U.S. is saying he does, the Pakistanis are saying they have no evidence of it. Is there yet any --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is – just on that point, we did provide a diplomatic note in January 2010 that informed the Government of Pakistan of his arrival in country, his assignment to the administrative and technical staff of the U.S. Embassy. And that was notification that he, in fact, has diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: But wait, if --
QUESTION: Yeah, but that note didn’t claim diplomatic immunity at that time, did it? That note didn’t stipulate his diplomatic immunity at that time, did it?
MR. CROWLEY: As – I think we had a background briefing that with that diplomatic note, that constituted informing Pakistan that he occupied a position that qualified for diplomatic immunity, leaving Pakistan as – if Pakistan objected to that judgment, its only recourse would be to declare him unacceptable.
QUESTION: But as a matter of course, do you have to designate who is a diplomat and who is not?
MR. CROWLEY: There are specific definitions under the Vienna Convention. As to which kinds of activities, there are different categories of people assigned to an embassy, and those categories qualify for diplomatic immunity, and Mr. Davis was in one of those categories.
QUESTION: Is there any more information about the car that hit the civilian on the way and who was driving it, and whether there’s going to be charges leveled against that embassy (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: These are all matters still under investigation.
QUESTION: How is that still under investigation, though? Because the Pakistanis have identified the driver of that vehicle, and he was, apparently, someone attached to the embassy. So what exactly is under investigation in that? Whether he was driving it? Whether – what part of that incident is under investigation of the --
MR. CROWLEY: The incident itself is still under investigation.
QUESTION: By whom? Do you have some --
MR. CROWLEY: Pakistan. I mean, as we’ve indicated, as a normal course, if one of our officers is involved in these kinds of incidents, we will also do an investigation.
QUESTION: So the U.S. is conducting an investigation?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we’ve concluded ours either.
QUESTION: Have the Pakistanis questioned anyone in that case, in that specific part of the incident?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a better question to ask the Embassy in Islamabad.
QUESTION: Thank you. Is Venezuela under investigation because it’s relation with Iran, that this information come that the U.S. --
MR. CROWLEY: I think all I would say is that – let me rephrase the question slightly. We have had discussions with Venezuela regarding the Iran Sanctions Act, CISADA. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
QUESTION: And what did that mean? Sorry, just to follow up, what that means? What kind of --
MR. CROWLEY: It means that we reviewed with Venezuela the specific terms of the law and how they apply to certain entities.
QUESTION: So there is any provision to get – or to be in relations with Iran? Is that what you mean?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, this – we thought this was important legislation. We’ve had broad conversations internationally with countries who might have companies or entities that do business with Iran. And we have lots of conversations to ensure that countries and companies are in full compliance with both --
QUESTION: Who are you talking to in Venezuela?
MR. CROWLEY: -- international sanctions and also national sanctions.
QUESTION: Who are you talking to in Venezuela? Or, I mean, who is the counterpart?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had – I know that we’ve had conversations here at the – with the embassy in Washington.