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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 14, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • THE SECRETARY
    • Press Availability with the Secretary after Meeting with the Malaysian FM / Press briefing at the Foreign Press Center
  • ITALY
    • Case of Sabrina De Souza
  • BURMA
    • Aung Sang Suu Kyi should be Released Immediately / U.S. Embassy Rangoon in Contact with the Burmese Government Regarding the Charges
    • U.S. Citizen John Yettaw had a Hearing in a Burmese Prison Court/Consular Officer Granted Access to Observe Hearing
  • IRAN
    • Multi-lateral Track / Goal to get Iran to Abandon Nuclear Program in Verifiable Way / No deadline set for Iran / U.S. is Assessing Progress / U.S. Decided to Engage Iran
  • NORTH KOREA
    • U.S. Concerned about the Welfare of American Journalists Being Held / Seeking Information about Reports of Trial / Approaching Issue in Different Ways


TRANSCRIPT:

12:45 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Apologize for the slight delay. First of all, I want to welcome our Iraqi guests. We have some Iraqi diplomats who are observing our briefing today. I also want to remind you that the Secretary has a press availability this afternoon after she meets with the Malaysian foreign minister, and that will be open press.

I think you’ve all also gotten the notification that the Secretary will have a briefing tomorrow at the Foreign Press Center, and so that – you need to register for that. But that will be tomorrow.

QUESTION: I think you have to be in the foreign press, right?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t think so. You just need to register.

QUESTION: There’s a Smith-Mundt provision. You better check that. You may not – you may not even have been able – allowed to announce that. (Laughter.)

But on the – since you already have, can we put in a request to have her come down and brief us, perhaps? You know, she has made a couple of appearances here, but never taken any questions.

MR. KELLY: Sure, sure. Well, she came a few days ago, but as you point out, didn’t take any questions. Yeah, we’ll be glad to suggest that to her.

QUESTION: Ian, I don’t think – I don’t know whether you – if you stated the time for that tomorrow. It’s – can you state the time for the record?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – yeah, I don’t know if I have the time. I think I have like the registration deadline for it. I mean, you have to RSVP by 5 p.m. today, but I don’t have the time. I mean --

QUESTION: Do you want me to tell you what it is?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, sure. Go ahead, Arshad. Okay, all right. Well, I’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Ian, can you tell – what can you tell us about the case of this woman named Sabrina De Souza, who has filed a law suit here seeking to force the State Department to invoke diplomatic immunity in her case in Italy?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, you know, I saw that – saw that story in the Times today. Because it’s a subject of an ongoing review, I think I’m just going to take the question, if you don’t mind, and get back to you.

QUESTION: Surely you can confirm whether or not someone was an employee of the State Department.

MR. KELLY: No, really, please just, you know, let me – let me – I want to refer this question to our legal department, if you don’t mind, and we will get back to you.

QUESTION: That’s even less than a comment on a pending legal case and I’ll refer you to the Department of Justice.

MR. KELLY: Well, but you’re going to get your answer because I’ve taken the question.

Yes, Lach.

QUESTION: Switch to Burma? Do you have anything more to say than just that you’re troubled by the apparent charges against Aung San Suu Kyi?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, I think I am ready to say something more than just that we’re troubled. I think that our bottom line is that she shouldn’t be under house arrest, she shouldn’t be – and even less so in prison. Our bottom line is she should be released immediately. So I’ll say that. And then Secretary Clinton, in a couple hours, as I said before, will be addressing – will have a press availability, and she’ll have more to say about it.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if there have been any contacts with the Burmese Government about this?

MR. KELLY: I do know that the Embassy in Rangoon has had contacts with the government. The initial response, of course, was to seek confirmation of the reports that we saw and also to – just to get further information on the charges. And of course, we have been constantly calling for – both publicly and privately in diplomatic channels, for the release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners. I understand there’s more than 2,100 political prisoners.

QUESTION: And can you say that the Embassy indeed repeated that in their contacts, other than just seeking --

MR. KELLY: I feel very confident in saying that they said something almost exactly like that.

QUESTION: Ian, do you expect that the Secretary will – I mean, that she will – unprovoked, will talk about Aung San Suu Kyi, considering the fact that she’s meeting with the Malaysian foreign minister and, you know, Malaysia plays a big part in ASEAN?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I feel very confident that at the top of her press availability she will have some comments about this.

QUESTION: And can you say what – maybe not because the meeting hasn’t happened yet, but what you – what it is you’re looking for ASEAN to do in this case?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think in this case, of course, this has been a real concern of us for many years, and we’ve used both bilateral channels and we’ve used a number of multilateral channels. I’m not prepared to say exactly what we would ask ASEAN to do, though.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: I understand you had consular access to the guy who went into her house, John Yettaw. Can you tell us a little bit about him? And, apparently, it’s not the first time it happens. Can you confirm that?

MR. KELLY: You know, really, I think all I can confirm, because this is a private American citizen, is that he had a hearing at the prison special court. It’s the – fortunately or unfortunately named – Insein Prison in Rangoon. And this was related to his reported entry into the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi. And the Burmese authorities did grant an Embassy consular officer access to the courtroom to observe his hearing. And that’s what I’ve got.

QUESTION: And that was when? When was that hearing?

MR. KELLY: That was today.

QUESTION: Did they get to speak to him, or they were allowed out into the courtroom to observe the hearing?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know if they were able to speak to him or not. I know they were allowed into the hearing.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the hearing and whether he was charged or anything about the proceeding?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t have details of that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: And is the first time this incident – these kind of things happens? Is it the first time this guy goes to Burma?

MR. KELLY: You know, I don’t – I don’t have any information on that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Has he had any problems with the law conducting protests, even in the United States? Has he done any stunt that got him into problems?

MR. KELLY: Mr. Yettaw? No, I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Does he have any relation to the U.S. Government?

MR. KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

Other issues? Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: There were some reports that the head of the CIA went to Israel to warn Israel not to attack Iran. So what is the official position of the U.S. regarding the possibility of preemptive strike?

MR. KELLY: Well, on your first question, I think you know what I’m going to answer. I refer you to the Agency’s press office.

On the other question, we, of course, believe that the multilateral track is the right way to go. Our goal with Iran is to get them to abandon their nuclear program and do it in such a way that is verifiable by international verification – or international inspections. And we are continuing that track.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the previous topic, just something – what Kirit asked about the charges? Reports are that he was charged with illegally entering a restricted zone and breaking immigration laws. You said you don’t have any details about that.

MR. KELLY: No, I just – personally, I haven’t seen – I haven’t seen the charges.

QUESTION: So that’s all new to you?

MR. KELLY: That particular – those particular details of the charges, yes, they’re new to me.

QUESTION: Could you look into that for us?

MR. KELLY: What exact charges he --

QUESTION: Well, that he was charged and what was --

MR. KELLY: So you’re looking for the Embassy to confirm what was – I mean, if you have the charges, what – I’m not sure what the question is.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what – is that your understanding as well? Is that the State Department’s understanding of what he’s been charged with?

MR. KELLY: Well, we can ask the Embassy to confirm it, but that’s what the charge is.

QUESTION: And then any sort of readout of whatever your consular officer saw in these court proceedings at --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I don’t think we’d be able to provide that, frankly. I think that would be privileged.

QUESTION: If you can look into it, if it’s possible.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, okay, all right.

QUESTION: Has his family talked to you and are you concerned --

MR. KELLY: I’m not – not aware. We’re starting to get into areas of privacy that – I probably wouldn’t reveal that anyway.

QUESTION: You don’t have a Privacy Act waiver for him?

MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve given you what my guidance is, but I don’t think we do, though.

Go ahead, Dave. You look eager.

QUESTION: Back to Iran, there’s a press report this morning that the Administration is basically going to give Iran until like, the UN General Assembly in September to respond to the U.S. dialogue – an effort hasn’t started yet.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does that coincide with your view on it?

MR. KELLY: Well, let me just say that we’re not setting any deadline. We’re not interested in setting any kind of specific or even notional timeline. We are, of course, monitoring very closely what the Iranians are doing, assessing progress. But it – we don’t have any timeline forward. What – you know, we’re not going to let this string out forever, of course, but we don’t have any timetable on it.

QUESTION: Well, what --

MR. KELLY: Yes. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: They were saying the same thing. They’re saying the same thing, that they are watching the U.S. Administration and waiting for signs of change in policy, so --

MR. KELLY: Well, there is a change in policy. I mean, we have – we’ve decided that we – we’re going to – we want to – we’re going to have a seat at the table, of the P-5+1 table. We’ve decided to engage. We’ve decided that the – our previous approach of isolating Iran didn’t work. And so we want to give engagement a chance.

I’m sorry, Matt. You --

QUESTION: Well, I just – back on the whole idea of the timeline, then. This was first reported in the Israeli press over the weekend, this whole October idea. You’re saying that that’s incorrect?

MR. KELLY: I’m saying that we do not have any timeline.

QUESTION: Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?

MR. KELLY: I’m saying that we’ve decided that we want to get Iran to come back to the table and engage with us at the – on the P-5+1 process.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?

MR. KELLY: I – the information I have is that we have – that there is no timetable for Iran to come back to the --

QUESTION: Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?

MR. KELLY: I am not going to pass judgment on whether or not the reports are correct or incorrect. But the information I have is that there is no specific timeframe.

QUESTION: There seems to be a – you’re not able to – there seems to be a syllogism here that you’re unable to – if these reports say –

MR. KELLY: That’s a big word, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, if these reports say that you’re setting an October deadline for Iran to respond and you’re saying that there is no deadline, it would seem to me only logical that you could say then that these reports are not correct.

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as I said yesterday, I really don’t like to lie, I’ll just say. (Laughter.) Okay? And then we’re going to move on, okay?

QUESTION: Yesterday, you didn’t --

MR. KELLY: There is no deadline for talks, okay?

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Yesterday, speaking about yesterday, you said that this assistant to Richard Holbrooke, Vali Nasr, didn’t go to Iran. You were sure 99 percent. Are you sure a hundred percent today that he didn’t go to Iran?

QUESTION: Since taking up position?

QUESTION: Since taking up his position.

MR. KELLY: I think we took this question, didn’t we? Did we get – I guess we didn’t post the answer. We still owe you an answer.

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: Still on Iran.

MR. KELLY: Kirit, yes.

QUESTION: I know we’ve been over this I think a couple times before. But there’s a new report out saying that the U.S. wanted to swap Saberi for the four diplomats who are being held in Irbil. The IRGC guys have been held for a while. Can you say categorically whether that’s true or not?

MR. KELLY: I can categorically say that’s not true.

QUESTION: Well, why was that so hard five minutes earlier?

MR. KELLY: (Laughter.) All right. I’m still working through this, Arshad.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, there are some reports that there are talks going on between the Afghani – the Afghan Government and the insurgents about the possibility they would be promised asylum in another country if they would lay down their arms. I’m just wondering if you have heard about these reports, if you can comment on them, if you support such talks, and what you think about the possibility that they’d be given asylum in another country, including one of the countries mentioned is Saudi Arabia.

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen these reports, so I really am sorry. I can’t comment on it.

QUESTION: Ian?

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, the North Koreans have set a trial date for the two American journalists. What do you have to say about that? Have you yet succeeded in seeing them?

MR. KELLY: I do have something for you, Matt.

We remain concerned about the welfare of the American citizen journalists. We hope they can be returned to their families in the United States as soon as possible. We’re in regular contact with the families of the two journalists. Regarding the reports that they’re going to be put on trial on June 4th, we’re seeking further information through our protecting power, the Swedish Embassy, in Pyongyang. And the Swedish ambassador has not had access to them since March 30. And of course, we call on North Korea to abide by all of its international commitments including, of course, its commitment to allow consular access.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, the Swedes have not been able to confirm that the – that in fact –

MR. KELLY: We’re still seeking information.

QUESTION: About the reports of the trial date?

MR. KELLY: About the reports of the trial, yeah.

QUESTION: Are there any other hunger strikes or refusal to eat something?

MR. KELLY: Hunger – among the journalists, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any information on that. I haven’t heard anything to suggest they are.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, there is a report that family members of these two reporters visited the State Department building. Is it right?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any information for you on that.

QUESTION: And my second question is: Are you considering sending higher-ranking envoy to North Korea to solve this problem?

MR. KELLY: Well, as you know, as I said before, I think, at least in a previous briefing, that the safety and welfare of American citizens is the most important thing that the – that we do at this – at the State Department.

We are applying, of course – we’re approaching this in a number of different ways. We’re approaching it diplomatically through our protecting power. When I stand up here – of course, and I – and call for their release and express our concern about their welfare, we, of course, have a public approach to this too. But at this time, we’re not contemplating anybody going to Pyongyang.

Other questions?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Okay, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)



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