12:36 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Well, before we get started formally, as the Department of State’s self-appointed ambassador-at-large for golf, I wish to protest the unwarranted attack by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on the game of golf. Considering that the hemisphere celebrated the victory of former caddie and son of Argentina in the Masters over a good ‘ol boy who built a public course in his hometown in Kentucky, and we cheered as a relative unknown from South Carolina won the People’s Open on the country’s finest public course at Bethpage Black, we were in awe as a 59-year-old man held off the greatest golfers of the world for 71 holes on Linksland in Scotland, where the game of golf was created.
And now we are on the eve of the season’s final major with the favorite to win who’s arguably, the greatest golfer of all time and whose heritage literally spans continents. So the suggestion by Mr. Chavez that golf, a truly global sport, is bourgeois is a mulligan. And once again, Mr. Chavez, one of the hemisphere’s most divisive figures, finds himself out of bounds.
QUESTION: Maybe he’s a big baseball fan.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Yeah, but if he keeps on closing down media outlets, how do you get ball scores? (Laughter.)
But good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. The Secretary is still in Abuja, Nigeria where today she had meetings with Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, a number of Nigerian political leaders. She had a meet-and-greet at the Embassy in Abuja, as she always does, did a variety of local media interviews, met with President Umaru Yar'adua, conducted an interfaith roundtable that actually might be going on now. And we’ll move on, obviously, to Liberia and Cape Verde before wrapping up her arduous, but compelling visit to Africa.
The United States today provided a check for $250,000 to the Taiwan Red Cross. The money came from USAID through the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, obviously following a request for assistance from Taiwan authorities in response to the devastation of Typhoon Morakot.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Government seems a little peeved about an American delegation going to Syria to talk about stability and security, infiltration, et cetera – that it’s not your job. It’s – in fact, they’re sending – the prime minister is going. And they say they take care of those things. Is there a serious flap here?
MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. Not at all. I think there’s probably just simply a difference of terminology. We do have a CENTCOM delegation in Damascus today, led by Major General Michael Moeller. Obviously, regional coordinator Fred Hof is part of that delegation. They are talking to Syrians, part of our ongoing discussions. Both have bilateral and regional significance.
Obviously, one of the issues that we continue to discuss with Syria is its efforts in terms of taking care of border issues on the Syrian side of the border. We have had concerns going back a number of years regarding the infiltration of foreign influences from the region through Syria into Iraq. Obviously, at times in the past, that has had an impact on stability in Iraq. And we want to make sure, as we have said, as part of our strategy, that in supporting Iraq we are beginning to make sure that there is greater regional cooperation so that we can do everything in our power to support the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: It doesn’t – I don’t know if it’s a leading question – but doesn’t Iraq benefit if infiltration is cut back? Doesn’t Iraq stand to benefit from more stability in the region?
MR. CROWLEY: I would certainly say that’s true, so I don’t see anything out of the ordinary in terms of this kind of dialogue. And as we – in this delegation, I think, with Mr. Hoff there, he will have discussions also about other issues that are significant in our bilateral relationship, including comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
MR. CROWLEY: There is no real change. We continue – we continue to demand that given – in line with international agreements that Iran give us consular access as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Where are they being held? Do you --
MR. CROWLEY: We do not know where they are. We have not been informed by the Iranian Government on that.
QUESTION: Do you have any understanding of –
QUESTION: Is that the same as ‘we do not know?’
MR. CROWLEY: Well, sorry. We have asked where they are, and we have not yet received a response.
QUESTION: You’ve asked through intermediaries?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our – the Swiss ambassador, as our protecting power, has made these inquires and has had conversations with the Iranian Government regarding their status. But we do not know where they are.
QUESTION: Can you say where you believe they may be, though? I mean, there’s several possibilities, that they’re either where they were picked up or they’ve been moved. Do you know if they have been moved?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. If we don’t know where they are, then I would be speculating to suggest where they might be. But I’ll be honest with you, regardless of where they are, we want to make sure that we get access to them as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: What’s the next step? I mean, is it – will the Swiss be an intermediary negotiator (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are a number of next steps. The first next step is for Iran to meet its international obligations and, having confirmed that they have these three individuals, give us consular access. Another step would be, given that every indication is they just innocently wandered across the border, that Iran should release them.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the statement issued today by the Iranian parliament saying that the United States, France, and Britain have been doing some meddling in the Iranian affairs?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not true. Obviously, Iran has just gone through an election. It was Iran’s election, and clearly, there was a result that even now, despite the inauguration of President Ahmadinejad, the people of Iran have questions about. So the situation in Iran today is a self-inflicted wound where Iran has taken actions that the people of Iran question, and it is up to Iran to answer those questions in a satisfactory and peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about a rather scathing attack by the Russian president in a blog yesterday about Ukraine, among other things, saying that their efforts to get into NATO were anti-Russian and that he basically – Medvedev said he looks forward to a new government in Ukraine?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, on the subject of Ukraine, it is a sovereign country. It has the right to pursue its interests in any way that it chooses. I think Vice President Biden made that clear during his recent visit to Ukraine.
It is important for Ukraine and Russia to have a constructive relationship. I’m not sure that these comments are necessarily in that vein. But going forward, Ukraine has a right to make its own choices, and we feel that it has a right to join NATO if it chooses. And, obviously, we support that right.
MR. CROWLEY: Not a lot new. I think there’s an investigation that’s ongoing, and we have pledged to cooperate in any way possible.
Let’s go all the way to the back and we’ll work --
QUESTION: And anything on the – the WTO made a decision on – a ruling against China that the U.S. Trade Representative seemed to be pleased with?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that. I’ll – maybe I’ll defer to the U.S. Trade Representative to comment.
QUESTION: An agreement on UBS was announced today, just the details haven’t come out yet. Can you shed any light on it? Is the U.S. convinced that it’s adequate now to nail the tax evaders?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the primary comment should come from the Department of Justice, so I would defer to them.
QUESTION: CNN reported yesterday that the – some American economic experts got the photo of Kim Jong-il’s home in Pyongyang. So what do you think of the reliability of its (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Some U.S. Army experts?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Economic experts.
MR. CROWLEY: Economic experts?
QUESTION: Yes, right.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, got a picture of --
QUESTION: CNN reported that yesterday.
MR. CROWLEY: Maybe we’ll see this on a future program on Home and Garden.
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
MR. CROWLEY: Nothing new to report there. Obviously, I think the world expressed its – in different terminology, its deep disappointment at the decision regarding the judgment regarding Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw, and we are consulting broadly in terms of next steps.
MR. CROWLEY: The question is – a contingency plan in the event of --
QUESTION: The U.S. will have in case of further collapse of North Korean region.
MR. CROWLEY: And what’s the question?
QUESTION: Can you confirm on that? North – I mean, the Chinese Government is reluctant that contingency plan.
MR. CROWLEY: North Korea has a government. We hope that that government will act more constructively in the region. We are making clear what we want to see North Korea do to take affirmative steps towards denuclearization. They have a leadership in place. I’m not aware that there’s any risk at the present that – of having some sort of major dislocation. But obviously, the United States, other countries in the region, they have a biding interest in stability in the region, and that would include stability in North Korea. But beyond that, I won’t comment.
QUESTION: We’re getting reports of a swine flu outbreak in Mumbai, India. Is the State Department advising its personnel to take any special steps?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. It is of global concern to us and hemispheric concern, obviously. That was a major topic of discussion this week here within the hemisphere among the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. And I think through the World Health Organization we recognize that as this thing kind of marches around the world that we have to be alert and prepared to – and vigilant and prepared to respond going forward. But I don’t know anything about any particular impact on our personnel.
QUESTION: That Iranian exile group, MEK, is accusing the United States of failing to live up to some written commitments to look after its people’s interests at their camp in Iraq. Anything to say about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think that the outbreak of violence at Ashraf was an avoidable tragedy. We certainly understand and support efforts by the Iraqi Government to extend its sovereignty into the camp. I think even the Iraqi Government would acknowledge that that effort, while understandable, was not necessarily executed as it should have been.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)