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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 21, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton Upcoming Travel to El Salvador and Honduras
    • Secretary Clinton Attending Today's Meeting of the US-Joint Summit Working Group
    • U.S. saddened By the Death of Fathi El-Jahmi
    • U.S. Had Welcomed His Release to Jordan
    • The Secretary Instructed the El-Jahmi Issue Be Raised with Qadhafi's Son During His Visit to Washington
    • The President Committed to Carry Out the Terms of the Declaration on Strategic Cooperation
    • U.S. Committed to Supporting Poland's Defense Need
    • U.S. Patriot Missile Unit is Independent of the Missile Defense Issue
    • U.S. Disappointed the Regime's Decision to Close the Proceedings of Aung San Suu Kyi's trial
    • A U.S. Consular Officer Allowed to Observe Today's Hearings Due to Involvement of AmCit
    • U.S. is reviewing its Policy with Regard to Burma
    • Secretary Clinton is Very Active in Engaged/Trying to Ger the Burmese Authorities to Release all Political Prisoners
  • IRAN
    • U.S. is Committed to a Diplomatic Resolution with Iran
    • Best Approach is Multilateral Engagement
    • Iran Must Agree to Give up its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons
    • The Appointment of former President Clinton as Special Envoy to Haiti
    • No Conflict of Interest Review as Appointed by the UN Secretary General and No Compensation is Involved
    • Secretary Clinton Offered Full U.S. Cooperation to the UN and International Efforts to Address Humanitarian Needs of Sri Lankan People
    • U.S. Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to allow both ICRC and UN Representatives Access to the Former Conflict Area
    • End of Conflict Presents a New Opportunity to Seek Reconciliation, Build a Democratic, Tolerant Sri Lanka
    • The $1.9 billion loan proposal (IMF) is Still Under Review/International Community Still Needs to Make Assessment
    • The 123 Agreement was Signed Today by Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg and the UAE Ambassador
    • Now goes to Congress its Consideration/Takes Effect in 90 days if No Action by Congress
    • Important Step Towards Enhancing Nonproliferation and Energy Security


12:44 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Okay. Well, good afternoon. I will strive in the future to say good morning as often as I can. I’ll try and strive to get out here before noon. But I regret that the fire hose has still got a high volume to it and I still was absorbing a lot before I came down here. I’d like to start first with a statement that we put out regarding the Secretary’s travel to El Salvador and Honduras.

Secretary of State Clinton will travel to El Salvador and Honduras from May 31 to June 2. Secretary Clinton will travel to El Salvador to attend the presidential inauguration of Mauricio Funes on June 1st. While in El Salvador, the Secretary will also attend a ministerial meeting of Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas. The Secretary will then travel to Honduras to lead the U.S. delegation to the Organization of American States General Assembly in San Pedro Sula on June 2nd.

At the General Assembly, Secretary Clinton will meet with her counterparts from the other member nations of the Organization of American States to discuss the theme, “Toward a Culture of Non-Violence,” as well as continue the dialogue on issues identified at the 2009 Summit of the Americas, including promoting human prosperity, energy security, and environmental sustainability.

So with that, your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask – does anyone have anything on this? I have a very brief scheduling question. What in the world is the Joint Summit Working Group?

MR. KELLY: The Joint Summit Working Group – she is meeting right now, as we speak, with the Joint Summit Working Group, and I’ll have to get you the details.

QUESTION: You don’t know either? (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: I’ll have to get you the details. I guess I wasn’t part of the particular – I guess there was more water in the fire hose for the --

QUESTION: It doesn’t have to be detailed --

QUESTION: Is there a particular summit? Is that the deal?

MR. KELLY: I’ll get back to you. I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Does it have to do with mountains? What does it have to do with?

MR. KELLY: A summit is a meeting of leaders.

QUESTION: Well, it’s also, you know, a peak.

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ll get back to you. I do apologize to you that I don’t have the details of it.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, well, obviously, it’s something semi – you know, you think is semi-important in the building. Maybe --

MR. KELLY: Well, anything the Secretary’s got is important.

QUESTION: You would think – official photos are going to be released afterwards, so it would be just helpful for us to know exactly what --

MR. KELLY: We’ll get you the information.

QUESTION: It doesn’t have to do with knees or elbows or other, you know, joints that – no? Okay. Sorry. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: Any other questions?

QUESTION: Can we talk about Libya for a moment?

MR. KELLY: Libya, yes, we may talk about Libya.

QUESTION: As you are, I’m sure, unfortunately aware, Libyan dissident Fathi El-Jahmi died at the medical center in Jordan where he was being treated. A number of questions, but to start with, what is your comment on the fact that the Libyans released him from Libya only a few days before, you know, when his health was so very bad, that he died just a few days later despite longstanding calls for his release and his proper medical treatment inside Libya?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yes. Well, thanks for asking that question, Arshad. We’re saddened to learn of the death of Libyan political activist, an outspoken voice for human rights, Fathi El-Jahmi. And our hearts and prayers go out to his family, who had suffered greatly during his incarceration. And I think in previous briefings, we had welcomed his release to Jordan. We regret that his poor state of health, however, did not allow him to fully recover upon transfer.

QUESTION: What does this say about U.S. efforts to secure his adequate treatment for many years now?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as you know, we don’t comment on private diplomatic exchanges. We took his case very seriously. This case was – has been addressed both in Tripoli at our Embassy and it also has been raised here at the Department. But again, I – this has been a – it was done in diplomatic channels and I don’t want to comment on the substance of those exchanges.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, a couple of things. One, it was also raised in public, including by President – former President George W. Bush, who, although he got Mr. Jahmi’s gender wrong, did raise it in a public speech. It was raised by then-Senator Biden, now Vice President. And clearly, it didn’t work because the man was released by Libya and then died a few days later. And I wonder if you think there should be any consequences for Libya to its treatment of Mr. Jahmi.

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said, this is – it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to recover after he was transferred to the hospital in Jordan. We, of course, have – we restored our diplomatic relations with Libya. We have a very broad range of issues that we engage on. One of those issues that we discussed with them, of course, is the issue of human rights. And so we’ll continue to engage on that issue.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that – I mean, I’m well aware of the series of steps that the U.S. Government has taken to improve its relationship with Libya since its 2003 decision to abandon its WMD programs. And I know that the vast majority of the economic sanctions have been peeled off, partly because of its actions on Lockerbie in resolving those issues.

Is there any – are there any aspects in which this particular case and Libya’s violations of human rights, as documented by the State Department’s own reports, will restrain or hold back the improvement in relations?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as I said before, we do have full diplomatic relations with Libya. We have full diplomatic relations with a number of countries. And we are very open and transparent about our differences regarding the development of democracy. We spell out in great detail in our Annual Human Rights Report any problems that we identify. And we have, in a very open and respectful way, a dialogue with countries that we have diplomatic relations with.

But I think, you know, beyond that, I’m not going to prejudge where our relationship is going to go with Libya.

QUESTION: So there are no – I mean, you don’t think that there are any consequences, even rhetorical, to the treatment of this man?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure what you mean by – I mean, I’m not sure what you mean by rhetorical consequences. I said that we really regret the fact that his poor state of health didn’t allow him to fully recover upon transfer. We were very saddened to learn about his death. We feel terrible for his family. But beyond that, I’m not really prepared to comment.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary raised this with Qadhafi’s son in a recent meeting?

MR. KELLY: What I do know is that it was raised when Qadhafi’s son was here.

QUESTION: But not by her, correct?

MR. KELLY: I do know that the Secretary instructed that this case be raised while he was here.

QUESTION: Do you hold the Libyans responsible for his death?

MR. KELLY: Do I hold – you know, I don’t really have enough to answer, Matt, to say that the --

QUESTION: And if not – and if not, why not?

MR. KELLY: -- that the Libyan Government was responsible for his death. I’m sorry. I --

QUESTION: Well, they kept him in prison in poor health, didn’t – and didn’t let him go.

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m just not going to – I’m not going to comment. I don’t – you know, I’m sorry. I’m not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: Well, if the Libyans take seriously U.S. requests on his treatment or on anybody’s treatment, if it doesn’t get raised by the Secretary – you know, not instructed to somebody else, but why shouldn’t they conclude, well, gee, if the Secretary of the United States can’t take ten seconds of our meeting to raise this, why should I take it seriously?

MR. KELLY: There aren’t – I mean, we have to make decisions every day about how we engage with countries. And as I said, the Secretary gave instructions that this case be raised while he was here in this building. And we engage on a number of senior levels by our Embassy in Tripoli and then here in the State Department as well. I think that Mr. Qadhafi realized it was a serious issue.

And I’m going to change the subject now. Does anybody have any questions besides on Mr. Fathi El-Jahmi? Because I really don’t have anything else to say.

QUESTION: I have a question. Have you seen Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest comments about Jerusalem and how it will be united – undivided capital of Israel, it will never be split or bifurcated?

MR. KELLY: I have not seen those. I have not seen those comments.

QUESTION: Well, perhaps your Near Eastern Affairs Bureau could apprise themselves of these comments and then tell us what – tell us what they think about them because this would appear to prejudge final status.

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, I know– yeah. I know and you know, Matt, that we have very specific language on that, so we’ll get you the specific language on that.

Other issues?

QUESTION: Change of subject, yes. Poland?


QUESTION: In – according to the Financial Times, the British Government says that the U.S. Patriot missile unit will be deployed in Poland by the end of the year, no matter what, about the missile defense system in general --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- because of a bilateral agreement signed by the previous administration.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is this bilateral agreement binding? Is it – can you confirm that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think President Obama has committed to carrying out the terms of the Declaration on Strategic Cooperation, which was signed last year. We’re committed to supporting Poland’s defense needs, including NATO interoperability. We remain committed to – specifically to rotating in a battery, a Patriot battery. In terms of timeline, though, and the details of deployment, I think I have to refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: So this will be done, no matter what the –

MR. KELLY: As I said, the President’s committed to --


MR. KELLY: -- carrying out the terms of it.

QUESTION: So it’s independent of the – from the missile defense --

MR. KELLY: It is independent of the missile defense issue.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. KELLY: New issue?

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Have you seen – or Secretary – any reports or a book written by a well-known investigative journalist Seymour Hersh? He’s alleging that as far as Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, there may be a hand from Vice President Cheney or others.

MR. KELLY: That sounds pretty whacky. You know, as a matter of fact, because I do follow the Turkish press, I did see those reports. And I would just refer you to Mr. Hersh on that.

QUESTION: So you don’t want to comment on the allegation that Vice President – former Vice President Cheney ran his own personal hit squad that was involved in Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination, as well as the assassination of Rafik Hariri?

MR. KELLY: Like I say, that sounds pretty whacky to me. I refer you to Mr. Hersh.

QUESTION: Yeah, I was interviewed this morning by the Turkish Television live direct.

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh, okay.

QUESTION: So they mentioned that. That’s why I brought this issue again in the State Department so – have you heard anything from the Pakistanis in any way directly or indirectly?

MR. KELLY: No, have not. Like I say, it’s a pretty ludicrous story.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Burma, Myanmar?

MR. KELLY: Yes, we may talk about Burma.

QUESTION: Obviously – well, two things. One, the Myanmar authorities did not allow observers – diplomats – to observe the trial today after having allowed it yesterday. One, do you have any comment on that? And two, is the Administration – does the Administration have a position on whether neighboring countries, notably China and India, should cease selling arms to the Myanmar authorities?

MR. KELLY: On your first question, we’re disappointed with the regime’s decision to close the proceedings. We renew our call on the Burmese authorities to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all of Burma’s more than 2,100 political prisoners immediately and unconditionally. You’ve heard the Secretary say that these charges are baseless. And I will say that an American consular officer was at the hearings today. He was allowed to observe the proceedings because of the involvement of an American citizen.

And, Arshad, please repeat your second question.

QUESTION: Does the Obama Administration have a position on whether Burma’s – Myanmar’s neighbors, notably China and India, should not sell arms to the Myanmar authorities?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, you’ve heard us say from this podium a number of times that our – we are reviewing our policy, of course, towards Burma. On the specific issue of arms sales to Burma, that sounds like an interagency question to me. You know, I will see if we have more information on that. But as I say, we have a review going on, and I’m not sure that we’ll have something. But we’ll – I’ll see if I do.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sir, don’t you think that China is a major problem because being a member of the UN Security Council they always stood with Burma and they are the major suppliers of the weapons and economical and military aid to Burma, and they don’t want U.S. to interfere or change anything as far as the international community is concerned?

MR. KELLY: Is that a yes-or-no question?

QUESTION: Well, it has been going on really for the last 20 years this military rule and all those (inaudible) against democracy in Burma.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I mean, we have a very broad relationship with China. We cooperate with them on a number of issues. They’re an important player in the UN Security Council. We look forward to holding strategic and economic talks with them very soon, chaired by Secretary Clinton. But beyond that, I’m just not going to characterize --

QUESTION: But as far as the policies change you had just mentioned, you think it’s going to be like bringing India and China and U.S. and Burma and other countries in the region to solve this problem and bring back democracy? This poor lady’s been out of jail --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in and out for 20 years.

MR. KELLY: Well, the Secretary is very active in trying to engage all the countries of the region, identifying which countries have the most leverage in terms of their geographical location or the relationship with the Burmese authorities. And we are trying every channel, every diplomatic channel, to try and get the Burmese authorities to release all of these political prisoners and allow a political process that will ensure a democratic and prosperous future for the people of Burma.

QUESTION: Do you mind if I have one more on a different issue, please – Iran? Do you believe that U.S. diplomacy has failed as far as Iran is concerned, because (inaudible) was saying that they are pursuing and U.S. is saying that Iran should not proceed with nuclear weapons or missile technology, and now they have all what they wanted?

MR. KELLY: No. (Laughter.) We are still committed to a diplomatic resolution with Iran. We are still willing to try and go down the route of engagement. But we also will not allow talks – not allow Iran to use talks as an excuse to continue pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. And as I say, we continue to believe that the best approach to this is multilateral engagement, that we’re – we haven’t given up on it. But our bottom line remains that we have to – we have to get to a point where Iran agrees to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And we think the best way to do that is through multilateral leverage.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the same subject, just tying up a loose end from last week or the week before. Were you ever able to get 100 percent confirmation that Vali Nasr did not visit Iran while he – during his – during the period that he’s been employed by the State Department?

MR. KELLY: One hundred percent. He has not been to Iran since he’s been an employee of the State Department.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: New issue?

QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba.

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the review that’s taking place with regards to USAID money allocated towards Cuba and --

MR. KELLY: USAID money being allocated towards Cuba?

QUESTION: Yeah. Some reports --

MR. KELLY: No, I can’t comment on that, but I’m happy to get you that information.


MR. KELLY: Same subject?

QUESTION: I’ve got another kind of housekeeping question. I’m still looking for an on-the-record answer about why the State Department decided that Bill Clinton’s appointment to be the UN Special Envoy for Haiti was not deemed to need a review by the State Department for conflict of interest reasons, pursuant to the agreement between the Clinton Foundation and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

MR. KELLY: You know, I think – and I’m being very careful here, Matt – but I think the agreement was between the Administration and the Clinton Foundation. I don’t think the agreement was with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And in general terms, I’ll tell you that I think it’s a good thing, in general terms, to have someone like Bill Clinton, with everything that he brings to bear in terms of marshaling international efforts --

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad thing. I’m just asking why it wasn’t – why it was determined that there was no need for a conflict of interest review.

MR. KELLY: There was no need for a conflict of interest review because he was appointed by the UN Secretary General and he – it was deemed because he was in a non-compensated position that there was no legal reason to review the case.

QUESTION: So it only applies to compensated activities?

MR. KELLY: I’m going to give you one more short answer --

QUESTION: Because --

MR. KELLY: -- and then I’m going to refer you to the Clinton Foundation, okay?

QUESTION: Well, the Clinton Foundation --

MR. KELLY: Because this is really not something I should be addressing from this podium necessarily.

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s a State Department issue, because that agreement said that State Department lawyers would review at least some of his international activities. And I’m not suggesting that there’s any wrongdoing here. I just want – I just want – because conflict of interest just doesn't involve money. It can involve policy questions. It can involve influence and --

MR. KELLY: Okay. No, I – but I – as I understand the agreement – this is the last thing I’m going to say, and then I’m going to move on, if you don’t mind – is that what the agreement called for --

QUESTION: Well, I’ll just --

MR. KELLY: -- was reviewing compensation – was reviewing activities for which he was compensated. And that’s, you know, speeches, fundraising, activities like this. He’s – he has a salary of one dollar for this job, so that’s why it was determined there was no reason, no legal reason, to review this appointment.

Other questions? Yes.

QUESTION: On Sri Lanka, now that the war has ended, the U.S. has issued a lot of statements on this. Is the U.S. sending any humanitarian aid now to Colombo or – and has the Administration been in touch with any senior officials in Colombo, the president or the foreign minister?

MR. KELLY: On that latter issue, I don’t have anything for you right now. On the issue of – I’ll give you an update, if you like, on our diplomatic activities and relief efforts.

The Secretary spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday about his trip – upcoming trip, I think, to Sri Lanka, and offered full U.S. cooperation to the UN and international efforts to address the humanitarian needs of the Sri Lankan people. Again, we urge the government to allow the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN immediate access to former conflict area – to the former conflict area, to assess the needs and welfare of the injured in the area, and full and unhindered access to the IDP camps.

The U.S. also participated in a Tokyo Co-Chairs phone call on May 19 with Norway, Japan, the European Union Commission, and the Czech Republic, as the – as holding the EU presidency. Our Embassy continues to meet on an ongoing basis with senior officials of the Sri Lankan Government to reinforce these messages.

And as I’ve said before from this podium, the end of the conflict presents a new opportunity to seek reconciliation and build a democratic and tolerant Sri Lanka. And we believe the Sri Lankan Government must win the peace by focusing on power-sharing arrangements with the Tamil and other minorities.

And regarding the humanitarian situation, we think ultimately the best solution is for these internally displaced persons to voluntarily return to their homes in safety and dignity as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Mr. Kelly, if you don’t mind, please. Hundred thousand of them still dying of food, medicine, and basic necessities, and I don’t think still the Sri Lankan Government is hearing the cries of the people and from international community. What is the reaction from the Sri Lankan Government as far as the Secretary is concerned?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, I agree with you. It’s a dire situation. And I think this is why the UN Secretary General is going there to again reinforce to the Sri Lankan Government that they need to provide complete and unhindered access both to the conflict zone and to these IDP camps.

QUESTION: Do you think Secretary needs to announce it the way she announced about aid to Pakistan?

MR. KELLY: She needs – does she – well, we – I mean, I think we are constantly updating our assistance to Sri Lanka via USAID. In the case of Pakistan, we were talking about a bilateral package. In the case of Sri Lanka, we believe the best way to address this is through the international community, through – with the UN in the lead.

QUESTION: I asked you last week – earlier this week, I think, now that the Sri Lankan Government has won, you know, a military victory over the Tamil Tigers, or says it has done so, whether it was now time to – for the United States to consider – or for the IMF to consider the $1.9 billion loan. You remember about a week ago --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the other day, the Secretary said it wasn’t time.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does the government – does the U.S. Government – does the Obama Administration have a position on that? Is it now the time for that?

MR. KELLY: I think that’s something that we’re reviewing right now. As I said before, we remain concerned about lack of access to the former conflict zone and lack of access for humanitarian aid. But as we go forward and we engage with the Government of Sri Lanka, I mean, this will be something that, of course, we’ll consider.

QUESTION: And just so – I mean, you went from my question about reviewing it to your concerns about access and humanitarian aid. The two are linked?

MR. KELLY: Ah. Well, I just – you know, I think that we’re – this is just a couple days after the end of this quarter-century-long conflict. We still need to make an assessment. We need to – or I shouldn’t say – when I say we, I should say the international community needs to make an assessment of exactly what happened and consult with the Sri Lankan Government on the way forward. But again, we’re only a couple days after --

QUESTION: So you think --

MR. KELLY: -- the end of the conflict.

QUESTION: -- they’re not linked?

MR. KELLY: Well, I just – I think that we need to take things a step at a time. We need to focus on the humanitarian situation, and we need to focus on starting a political reconciliation process. Once we take those steps, we can start looking at the broader issue of – broader economic and trade issues.

QUESTION: Speaking of linkages or non-linkages, the 123 agreement went up to the Hill today. Is there – what’s – is that it? What’s the next step on that?

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s a very good question, Matt. And I have something for you on that, which I’m seeking to find right now.

The agreement was signed just a little while ago by Deputy Secretary Steinberg and by the UAE ambassador. The next step then will be to submit this agreement to Congress. And what happens then, as you may know – and I’m sure, Matt, you do know – that Congress – it’s up on the Hill for Congress’s consideration for 90 days of continuous session. And if nothing – if the Congress doesn't take any legislative action in those 90 days, it becomes effective.

And, you know, as you know, this agreement will establish a legal framework for the U.S. to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with the UAE under agreed nonproliferation conditions and controls. And we believe that we’ve taken an important step in building a long and fruitful partnership to enhance nonproliferation and energy security.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know if there’s anything that needs to be done from the other side?

MR. KELLY: From the UAE side?

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. KELLY: Not after it’s signed.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that the dismay on Capitol Hill about the video which is said to show an alleged member of the UAE royal family mistreating a man may make it difficult for you to get this agreement through? And it’s – I would just note that the dismay about that video includes some people who are quite influential on civil nuclear policy, like Representative Ed Markey. So you don’t have any concerns about that? You think there’s --

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll refer you to Congress for their concerns.

QUESTION: But the timing was --

MR. KELLY: I know. As I said last week, you know, obviously, we were concerned about the – about that video. And we raised our concerns with the UAE Government. We understand that the judiciary in Abu Dhabi has announced it’s going to conduct a full and transparent review of what happened. We welcome that.

But insofar as Congress’s concerns, I have to refer you to Congress. We think it’s an important agreement and it should go through.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you if there’s any update on the two detained journalists in North Korea?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m afraid I don’t have – I don’t think I have any updates on that. Sorry. I do not.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)

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