1:10 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can report from the deepest depths of Africa that your colleagues on the road are doing well, when I last saw them a couple days ago. But welcome to the Department of State.
Obviously, a significant story today: We are deeply concerned about the convictions on spurious charges of Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw. The Burmese Government’s action today is completely unacceptable. As the Secretary said earlier in the day, Aung San Suu Kyi should never have been tried and never have been convicted. Based on the facts of the case, in essence, she was convicted of being polite. This is a thinly veiled effort by the Burmese Government to keep her on the sidelines for elections next year. As the Secretary said, unless she is released from house arrest, along with more than 2,000 other political prisoners, those elections will have absolutely no legitimacy.
And the seven-year sentence given to John Yettaw is cruel. We remain greatly concerned about his health and the harsh sentence imposed upon him. In addition to releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, John Yettaw, and other political prisoners, Burma needs to embark on a dialogue with all democratic opposition and ethnic minority leaders for a peaceful transition to genuine democracy and national reconciliation.
Speaking of Africa, this could be the most powerful day on Secretary Clinton’s 12-day trip across Africa. Today, she traveled from Congo’s capital Kinshasa to Goma in eastern Congo where she met with President Joseph Kabila, toured a camp that cares for internally displaced persons, met with government and nongovernmental medical representatives working in the area, talked with survivors and activists regarding the rising rate of sexual and gender-based violence from the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, and reviewed operations of the UN military mission there.
The challenge in eastern Congo is complex. But the Secretary’s goal in traveling to Goma is to search for ways to end this conflict, prevent the mineral trade from being used to extend the conflict, stop the gross human rights abuses that are being perpetrated by the combatants on the local population, particularly women in the combat zone where rape has become a weapon of war, and insist that the Congolese Government take meaningful and urgent steps to professionalize its military.
Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, who focuses on global women’s issues for the Secretary joined her for this leg of the trip. From Goma, the Secretary will conclude her day in Abuja, Nigeria, another country profoundly affected by conflict, fueled, at least in part, by natural resources and the inability of the central government to effectively govern and meet the needs of its people.
And finally, our protecting power in Iran, the Swiss Government, the Swiss ambassador, did today receive formal notification by the Iranian Government that it has three Americans in detention. And Iran has obligations under the Vienna Convention, and we demand consular access at the first opportunity.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Consular access by the Swiss –
MR. CROWLEY: By the Swiss ambassador. By –
QUESTION: Right, by the Swiss ambassador.
MR. CROWLEY: By the Swiss ambassador, yeah.
QUESTION: And that’s not beeen granted or promised at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: Not yet.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we go back to the Burma trip?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Did you – you mentioned the charges were spurious. Were you referring to the charges on Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw? Do you believe that his charges are spurious as well? He did, in fact, cross a police line.
MR. CROWLEY: We think that seven years of hard labor is excessive.
QUESTION: But the spurious comment, is that only referring to her charges?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, all of the – this case was politically driven. These are not a reflection of what actually took place.
QUESTION: So the –
QUESTION: Could you – on Burma, is it time now for the U.S. to do something a bit tougher, like what about – France has called for an arms embargo. Is this something that you would look at, maybe in September, when you’re –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, in light of – we have obviously said to the Burmese Government that as part of our ongoing review of our policy towards Burma, we would take what happens in this case into account. We will clearly do that. I would expect that we’ll have extensive conversations with allies and other regional partners as to what to do in light of this action. But in terms of our ongoing review, clearly, this will have a negative effect.
QUESTION: P.J., just to –
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: You think that Burma’s military dictatorship will make sure that she will die in prison? Because it’s been now almost 20 years, when they went after another, she’s living in her (inaudible). And also, Amnesty International and Campaign for Burma, they’re calling that this is robbing of democracy at daylight and also crimes against humanity. So do anyone really on the international panel or at the UN or U.S. cares for democracy in Burma?
MR. CROWLEY: Of course. That is why we’ve taken the principled stand for these many years while she has been in captivity. You think about the government; they are afraid of a 64-year-old woman who probably weighs barely a hundred pounds. But what she represents is an idea that this is government by the people and on behalf of the people rather than government by the few for the benefit of a few. And clearly, like we have in many other circumstances, there is an opportunity for a different kind of relationship by Burma with not only the United States but also the rest of the international community. And clearly, we feel this is a step in the wrong direction.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. And I would expect that in the coming days we will have conversations with anyone who both has an interest in what is happening in Burma, as well as anyone we think has an influence with Burma, to make clear that what happened today we are very concerned about and feel is unacceptable.
QUESTION: In the past, the Secretary has talked about incentives for Burma, to engage with Burma, possible investments, that kind of thing. Is that now all off the table now that they’ve gone ahead with this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s not prejudge the review that’s ongoing. Obviously, in our review, this will have a negative impact. But we will broadly consult here in the region, in New York, and I wouldn’t want to prejudge what actions are taken in light of this.
QUESTION: Do you have any – change of the subject.
MR. CROWLEY: Or --
QUESTION: Do you have any timeline for the review, when it’s going to end?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: It’s six months now.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we’re disappointed in the court decision and – but as to what steps Thailand takes, at this point, it will be up to the Thai Government.
QUESTION: That’s fairly mild compared to the Embassy statement. Do you have reason for hope it would be – is there a process for reversing or reconsidering that you – gives you a prospect --
MR. CROWLEY: I think there is a prospect for the Thai Government to appeal this lower court verdict, but what they decide to do is – will be governed by Thai law.
MR. CROWLEY: Blackwater.
QUESTION: Yes. There were two motions filed in a Virginia courtroom accusing the former CEO Erik Prince of murder, and then there were some reports about Blackwater engaging in rape in Iraq. And there’s a GAO report that just came out indicating that there’s – it’s still unclear what laws govern Blackwater and how they will be prosecuted if they engage in these kind of activities. Is this worrisome, given the fact that Blackwater is – the State Department contracts Blackwater?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure – look, let me take the question. I’m not – I’m just hesitating because since this is a legal action it may not be appropriate for me to comment. Obviously, anyone who is working for the State Department has to abide by our laws and our professional standards. And we have taken action in the past when we feel that the contractors, whether it’s Blackwater or someone else, has violated the standards of their contract.
QUESTION: But there’s still more information coming out about the misconduct of Blackwater. And usually when I ask these questions, do you file it the same way?
MR. CROWLEY: And as we learn more, obviously, we’ll judge whether that has an impact on any ongoing relationships that we have.
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t prejudge it.
QUESTION: Do you have any sort of an understanding that the Russian alleged arms smuggler will not be extradited until the process runs its course? Again, I’m wondering – the Russians sound like it’s all over, of course. We’re waiting for him.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we – we obviously requested the extradition.
QUESTION: I mean to Russia, excuse me.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, to Russia?
MR. CROWLEY: We would like to see him extradited to the United States.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry. I misstated. I was wondering if you think he’ll remain in Thailand long enough for another step or two to be taken in this process.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s take it one step at a time. We’ve got this court ruling. I think the Thai Government will be evaluating its options. Let’s see what the Thai Government decides to do, and then we’ll see what happens after that.
Yes, back in the back.
QUESTION: Switching to Afghanistan, General McChrystal wants to deploy more civilian government workers, many coming from the State Department. Do you have a timeline on – and who are you looking at and will they also be involved in the crop substitution program?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that on the – obviously, as part of our strategy, we want to make sure that we are advancing on the military side. We recognize that we have to likewise advance on the civilian side. This is not just about the State Department, although we have a vitally important role to play and we’ll be deploying hundreds of civilians to Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months.
But this is, as the Secretary has described, a whole-of-government effort. So it is obviously the State Department and NGOs, it is Agriculture, it is other aspects. We think we have constructed an effective plan going forward. It’s sequenced carefully based on what the military is trying to accomplish to expand security into places in Afghanistan where we’ve not had a presence before. So we think it’s carefully sequenced here.
To the extent that we are able to, in light of any progress that’s made on the ground, adjust our deployment of civilians, we’re prepared to do that.
QUESTION: One more question: With the crop substitution program, it’s failed in other countries in the past. Why do we – why does the U.S. think that it’s going to work this time in Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, it’s one thing among many. Obviously, this is a very complex and multifaceted aspect, but crucially, we are changing our strategy on counternarcotics. Part of that involves going after the middlemen. But clearly, if we want to convince Afghan farmers to grow something else, we’ve got to come up with proposals that are viable, we’ve got to give them the support that’s toward the fields’ transition, and we’ve got to create the markets for them for these goods.
So this is a comprehensive strategy that leads to a development of a large and viable and legal Afghan economy. So it’s not just about one component; it’s about one component among a broader strategy. But clearly, getting the farmers to change requires us to do other things so that they can have a viable living doing something else other than growing poppies, which, in part, fuels the violence that we’ve seen in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Mr. Hof will be in Syria with the CENTCOM delegation following up on the meeting that they had in June. I would expect that a significant topic of discussion will be, again, ongoing efforts by Syria to help stabilize the situation in Iraq.
QUESTION: A prominent anti-government activist in Chechnya and her husband were found killed today, and there are some leadings or allegations that the administration there is basically allowing sort of a reign of impunity. I’m just wondering if you had any comment on that subject.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – the United States is deeply saddened and troubled by today’s reports of the abduction and murder of humanitarian Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov. And we do have deepening concern about the violence of those who are advocating human rights, the rule of law, and independent media and humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus. Clearly, these kinds of murders have a chilling effect on freedom and respect of law within the society, and it’s important that the Russian Government vigorously and immediately investigate these appalling crimes and bring those who are responsible to justice.
QUESTION: Is this something that you intend to raise with the Russian Government since they’re an overall --
MR. CROWLEY: I think we have raised this issue in the past, obviously in a broader frame than this one. But obviously, the trends are very disturbing to us and we will continue to speak out about it.
QUESTION: P.J., you told CNN that the student who asked the question yesterday was apparently lost in translation, had touched a nerve with Secretary Clinton. I was wondering if you can explain a little more of what you meant by that. And also, does Secretary Clinton have any regret? Is she sorry that she lost her cool over this offense?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say two things: First, it is our understanding that the student – perhaps he was nervous in talking to the Secretary of State. He meant to say – meant to ask a question about the views of President Obama. By mistake, he said the views of President Clinton. So there was a – and he was speaking one language, but obviously, as I said, what the Secretary heard, I think you have to put it in context. Obviously, she is the Secretary of State. As we’ve seen, her husband, as a significant global figure in his own right, has his own agenda.
But as I said to CNN, it’s important to understand the context here, that one of – an abiding theme that she has in her trip to Africa is empowering women. As the question was posed to her, it was posed in a way that said I want to get the views of two men, but not you, the Secretary of State. And I think it – obviously, she reacted to that. But I think it’s part of something that she is obviously very passionate about, which is making sure that if – that the role of women in the agricultural sector and the political sector and civil society – if Africa is going to advance in the future, the role of women has to be more significant in the continent than it is today.
QUESTION: But back to my core question, though, sir.
MR. CROWLEY: And just to finish the --
QUESTION: Does she have any regret?
MR. CROWLEY: Just to finish the point --
QUESTION: Go ahead. I thought you were done. I’m sorry.
MR. CROWLEY: -- at the conclusion of the town hall, she and the young man got together and I don’t think there were any hard feelings that were --
QUESTION: But chauvinism aside, sir, does she have any regret about --
MR. CROWLEY: I have not talked to the Secretary. She is --
QUESTION: -- losing her cool as the top diplomat in public?
MR. CROWLEY: She’s currently in the air coming back from Goma and I have not talked with her.
QUESTION: Was the student selected to make – to ask a question?
MR. CROWLEY: I --
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.
QUESTION: Isn’t it – doesn’t it strike you as a little bit odd to take on a student like this? It’s hardly an argument between equals, whatever he might say that’s outrageous or unsettling. Does it suggest a certain super-sensitivity on the Secretary’s part?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, obviously, she reacted to what she heard, but resolved it with the student before the event ended.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this. You just said that this was an error on the student’s part. Yesterday --
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, I’m saying it’s been reported that the student meant to say President Obama, said President Clinton by mistake.
QUESTION: Well, okay. No, but that’s what I’m trying to clarify, because yesterday, officials at the State Department and what the traveling party were saying that this was a translation error by the translator. You’re saying now that this was --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I --
QUESTION: -- a student being nervous and saying the wrong thing. Which one is it?
MR. CROWLEY: We – I wasn’t there, okay? And I was careful when I talked to CNN to say there may have been an error in translation. Clearly, she reacted to the English translation of the student’s question. It has been reported – I’ve seen one report where the student said he meant to say something else rather than what he did say. There was – the traveling party went back to the French – the original question as it was posed in French to try to understand exactly what the student said. I don’t know what the sourcing was by the network that I saw last night that said that the student meant to say something else.
All I’m saying is that, to Barry’s question, which is how the Secretary responded to the question as it was posed to her in English, I think it’s important to put that in context, which is she’s in Africa focused significantly on the role of women in that country, and as it was posed to her, as she said, I’m the Secretary of State, do you want to ask – you want my opinion on an issue, I’m happy to provide it. But she’s not there to provide a perspective of --
QUESTION: I understand that, but --
MR. CROWLEY: -- as it was posed in English.
QUESTION: Right, I understand that. Okay, I guess where my confusion was is that you were describing the incident in the initial question – answer to your initial question. And I’m kind of curious why you chose to highlight the --
MR. CROWLEY: I have not talked to the traveling party today to find out if they have further clarified, based on their analysis last night. I don’t think that we have a problem with the translation per se, and the report that the student said I meant to say Obama, I said Clinton, so that there – actually, the question was fairly posed, but that the student posed the question the wrong way, I have no reason to doubt that version of events.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s sounds to be the one you’re going with then.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, you’ve gone back to that several times, so --
MR. CROWLEY: Put it this way: If you want to ask me about the Secretary’s comments, I’ll be happy to take – to go into that in further detail. I can’t speak for the young student.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
MR. CROWLEY: Please. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Back in July, China detained Stern Hu, an Australian citizen – and he was the executive at the Rio Tinto group – for alleged spying. I know that that’s a dispute between China and Australia, but could this signal a crackdown on Western company executives for conduct related to industrial espionage? And do you have any info on the State Department’s level of concern on the increased scope of Chinese industrial espionage in the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, clearly, if there – China and how it reacts to cases like this will have a bearing on the international business climate and the willingness of individual businesses to invest in China. We obviously have encouraged China, and will continue to do so, to bring its practices into line with accepted international norms in terms of a variety of things, whether it’s how the government deals with companies that are interested in investing in China, it can be how China adapts its regulations and its laws, how it combats issues regarding intellectual property rights, and so on and so forth.
But to the extent that China acts in less than transparent ways that seems to raise questions about its business interactions with businesses and with countries, obviously, that can have a bearing in terms of willingness of firms around the world to invest in China in the future.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: What about – what can the U.S. do to ensure that trade and military secrets aren’t making their way over to China?
MR. CROWLEY: Say that again?
QUESTION: Trade and military secrets – what can the U.S. do to make sure those things aren’t making their way back over to China?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have – I mean, obviously – I don’t know a lot about the nature of this particular company’s business or the specific Chinese Government concern. I’ll leave it say that this should be resolved in a transparent way consistent with the rule of law. But as to the implications of this particular case, I don’t know enough about it to comment.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, please?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Pakistan’s High Commission says it’ll arrest former President Musharraf if he returns. Does the U.S. have a position on that?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a decision for the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about Honduras and whether you’re looking – it moves at a snail’s pace. There have been all sorts of charges, countercharges, confusion. Are you looking for an OAS meeting to do something this week?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s an OAS meeting going on this afternoon.
QUESTION: There is?
MR. CROWLEY: As we speak.
QUESTION: It hasn’t been delayed by the committee – by that mission being --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, I believe there is an OAS meeting going on as we speak regarding the status of the mission.
QUESTION: All right. Right.
MR. CROWLEY: We obviously would encourage that mission to go forward so that the mission can convince the de facto regime to accept the San Jose Accords, which is the best option that we believe is available to resolve this situation. Obviously, the President spoke about this issue yesterday in terms of --
MR. CROWLEY: -- a peaceful restoration of democratic and constitutional order. So in the meeting this afternoon, we are certainly encouraging the OAS to move forward with the mission and would encourage the de facto regime to accept the mission and heed their advice.
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have a lot of detail other than what has been – what we’ve heard in early reports. But certainly, the United States is grateful to the Government of Kuwait for taking steps to prevent an attack on this facility, and we will continue to cooperate with the Government of Kuwait in any way necessary as the investigation continues.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about what you might know about the threatened attack?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’ve heard that there’s some sort of relationship between the six individuals that have been arrested and al-Qaida. Obviously, an investigation will continue.
QUESTION: Can I go back just for a second? The interim government – or call it what you will – objected to Insulza’s being – the head of the OAS – being on the mission. Is it the U.S. position is the mission is what the mission is and changes shouldn’t be made to encourage? You know, it’s been very difficult what you guys think of these –
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think it’s --
QUESTION: Last week, you couldn’t call it a military coup. You said it was a coup – not you.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the President yesterday called it a coup.
QUESTION: Yes, I know. But, well, you shied away from calling it a military coup.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have not made a final judgment on that question, because that question has significant legal implications.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. CROWLEY: But I think we have been completely supportive of the Arias mediation process. We are completely supportive of the San Jose Accords. We are completely supportive of an OAS mission that hopefully will convince the de facto regime to step down, to allow the return of President Zelaya to finish out his term, and to go through carefully the steps that are outlined in the San Jose Accords that include a reconciliation process, the acceleration of elections, and obviously, the formation of a government that the people of Honduras can support.
QUESTION: And are you completely supportive of the mission, including the head of the OAS, Mr. Insulza?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is the purpose of this afternoon’s discussion to determine how best to move forward with the mission and what the composition will be and potentially what a timetable will be.
QUESTION: Can I ask another on Kuwait, just to follow up on that? When you said you’ve heard that there is some sort of relationship between the six individuals who were arrested and al-Qaida, you’ve heard this through – this is just reports, or is this like what you’ve heard?
MR. CROWLEY: I think details at this point are very sketchy.
MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s premature. I think what you can anticipate is that given the end of this case – and both individuals do have a right of appeal – that we will be broadly consulting at the UN, with others in the region, both who have – share our interest in the future of the region, and who also may have influence with the government in Burma. We’ll be comparing notes about the implications of this case and what the consequences will be.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka. On Sri Lanka, quick. According to some reports and also civilians there, what they are saying is almost 300,000 Sri Lankans are not still have access to basics by the government there. What’s going on?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve had – we’ve sent a number of emissaries to Sri Lanka. We continue to encourage the government to address the humanitarian needs of those who have been affected by the recent conflict, and we’ll continue to press that case with the Sri Lankan Government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Back in the back.
QUESTION: Going back to Afghanistan, President Karzai said yesterday that if he wins the election he’ll talk to Taliban and also his (inaudible). Now, do you have any concern on that approach of President Karzai?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, first and foremost, we look forward to the election on August 20. And we’re not going to prejudge whether a candidate will win in the first round, and if so, who that – who will actually – eventually be successful. Obviously, we value the fact that this is an election is that is run by the Afghan Government for the benefit of the Afghan people. So what the policy implications of the election will be, I think it’s too early to tell. We look forward to working with whatever government is formed after the election is completed.
As to political steps in the future, this is primarily an issue that needs to be addressed by the Government of Afghanistan. Obviously, we are pledged to work closely with them on the security front, on the development front, on the economic front, and on the political front. But I think we should make sure – let’s get through the election first, and then we’ll be able to see, once there’s a new government in place, what it decides to do.
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we’re gravely concerned about the impact of the typhoons in Taiwan, also in China. I don’t think that we have, as yet, received any requests for assistance. But we’re standing by in case there’s anything that we can do.
QUESTION: Are we in a position to help? I mean, do you have --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we have done these in the past. We’ve had missions like this. We have formidable assets in the region. And if these governments are in need – have any particular need, obviously we’ll do anything in our power to help them.
QUESTION: Can you describe any of the pre-positioned assets?
MR. CROWLEY: I would defer to the Pentagon in terms of what we might have. But as you’ve seen in other cases, going back to the tsunami, that we have the ability to respond aggressively and in a timely way to these kinds of tragedies.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Back in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Latin America, it’s regarding these recent tensions between Venezuela and Colombia because of the U.S. military presence in Colombian bases. The South American organization, the UNASUR, just called today for a new meeting in Argentina to try to discuss this with the other members of the region. Is the U.S. trying to attend this meeting or trying to organize a new meeting, try to explain what is the U.S. position regarding these military bases?
MR. CROWLEY: We went into this in great detail yesterday and we continue to have discussions with the Colombian Government on a bilateral basis. I’ve got nothing to add.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
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