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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
July 13, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton held Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review town hall at USAID
    • Will Meet this Afternoon with UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward
    • US Cannot Comment on the Reported Status of Kim Jong-il's Health
    • US is Focused on the Behavior of the North Korean Government
    • US is Paying Close Attention to Public Announcements Coming out of North Korea
    • US Remains Very Concerned About the Detained Journalists/Calls for Immediate Release/Currently Unaware of Any Comments by North Korea on the Status of the Detained Journalists
  • IRAN
    • Iran currently has no Major Presence in Nicaragua/US Hopes the Size of a Diplomatic Mission Would Reflect Bilateral Interests in that Country/US Respects the Sovereign Right of Nations to Determine the Size of their Diplomatic Missions.
    • US is Deeply Concerned About Any Harassment, Intimidation, and Imprisonment of Journalists on Groundless Charges
    • US Deeply Concerned About Reports that an Iranian-American Scholar has been Unjustly Detained in Iran/Has Asked Swedish Protecting Power to Seek Access/Unable to Comment on Details Due to Privacy Act Considerations/Calls on Iran to be Forthcoming with Information Toward Determining the Whereabouts of Robert Levinson
    • US Has Expressed Concern to China/Urges China to Handle the Situation in Xinxiang in an Open and Transparent Manner/US Embassy Officials are Currently on the Ground Working to Assess the Situation/Continues to Call on All Sides to Exercise Restraint and Refrain from Violence
    • US Supporting the Process Being Led by President Arias
    • Assistant Secretary Shannon and NSC Senior Director Restrepo met with President Zelaya in Washington.


12:50 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Okay. Well, good afternoon. Hope you guys had a good weekend. We’ll start off with some items on the Secretary’s schedule, as is becoming my want.

You saw that the Secretary had a town hall over at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She stressed that the Obama Administration sees development as one of the most powerful tools we have to advance U.S. foreign policy. She noted that long-term stability in some problematic areas, of course, depends not only on defeat of extremists, but on construction of roads, the creation of jobs, and strengthening political institutions. She noted that the 2010 budget request puts us on a path to double development assistance, and she reiterated what she said on Friday about the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, on the need to maximize cooperation, synergies between State and AID.

She’s also going to meet this afternoon with the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward. They’ll discuss ways in moving forward not only with the important work of reconciliation, but with promoting prosperity and progress in Northern Ireland. The Secretary will also discuss lessons from the Northern Ireland conflict and how they can be applied in other areas of conflict and leading to resolution of those conflicts around the world.

So with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of update about North Korea and the state of health of the dear leader?

MR. KELLY: I guess the short answer to that is I don’t have much. We have seen these reports about Kim Jong-il’s health. We – but as is standard practice, we don’t comment on these matters.

QUESTION: Did you see the footage of him from last week appearing at the memorial ceremony for his father?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. He didn’t look in the pink of health, I have to say.

QUESTION: He did not?

MR. KELLY: He did not, no.


MR. KELLY: But we have no specific information on his state of health.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government – I mean, is it fair to infer from your answer, when you say we have no specific information about the state of his health, that the U.S. Government really has no information at all --

MR. KELLY: No, I wouldn’t infer that at all.

QUESTION: -- about – about his health?

MR. KELLY: No. I just have no further information that we can share with you.

QUESTION: So you guys may actually have information about it?

MR. KELLY: We – well, you know what our practice is. Our practice is not to get into any information that may be obtained through intelligence channels. And as you know, we don’t have an embassy in Pyongyang, and so we – our means of getting information, of course, are very limited.

QUESTION: And one other thing: Have you had conversations with the – the South Korean – a news organization that reported this cited Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources – have you discussed this matter with your Chinese and South Korean counterparts to see if they may have better info than you do about this?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t have a specific answer to that question, although I imagine that we do discuss these things very often on a bilateral basis, both with South Korea and with China.


QUESTION: And also on that, I know you can’t talk about intelligence matters, but what is the official view of the State Department or of the U.S. Government on this so-called succession process, crisis, et cetera? What does the U.S. concretely believe is going on?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, as we’ve said many times, what we’re focused on is the behavior of North Korea. And we have some very serious concerns about their actions, specifically actions that run counter to various UN Security Council resolutions, their refusal to address these concerns with the international community, most specifically through the Six-Party Talks. And of course, we have a process in place so the leaders in North Korea know that there is a consequence for these kinds of actions that are provocative and unduly raise tension in Northeast Asia.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s not exactly the question that I asked. The question is really the --

QUESTION: Not exactly. It wasn’t anything like the question that was --


QUESTION: I’m trying to be diplomatic. After all, we’re at the State Department.

MR. KELLY: I appreciate that, Jill.

QUESTION: But never – and Matt, I would ask it differently. But seriously, I mean, what is your understanding of what is going on with the leadership right now? Are they – is the North involved right now in a succession process in which Kim Jong-il is leaving the scene as the leader and giving – slowly transferring power to his son?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said just a few minutes ago, of course, we don’t get into any analyses that are derived from any kind of sensitive channels. We, like everyone, of course, are paying very close attention to some of the public announcements that come out of North Korea through the media and through other means, through their official press agencies. And of course, we are following this with – we are following this very closely.

We – as I’ve said many times, we have real concerns about North Korea’s proliferation activities, about their plans to develop nuclear and ballistic missile technology. So of course, we’re concerned about any stories of political changes in Pyongyang. But I’m not an expert enough of – in internal North Korean politics to really be able to discuss it. And even if I were, I probably wouldn’t want to discuss them from here.

QUESTION: Have the North Koreans responded at all to the Secretary’s call for amnesty for Euna Lee and Laura Ling?

MR. KELLY: As you saw the Secretary’s statement on Friday, we remain very concerned about these two young ladies. We do want their immediate release. I’m not aware of any specific responses that we’ve gotten from the North Koreans, but we do hope that they will release them as soon as possible.

QUESTION: There was a suggestion in one report about those comments that the question that elicited that response from the Secretary may have been planted by the Department. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have anything to say about that. I mean, I didn’t plant the question.

QUESTION: Well, not you. Can you say that that’s not true?

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

QUESTION: So it’s possible that there – that someone from – someone asked this person, whoever it was not by yourself --

MR. KELLY: Well, I can only – yeah, I can only speak for myself.

QUESTION: -- to ask that question, to elicit the answer that was given?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I can’t answer one way or the other whether – true or false.

QUESTION: Can you explain why that person, in contrast to everybody else, did not identify themselves?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I wasn’t aware she didn’t identify herself.

QUESTION: That’s what I understand.

QUESTION: Well, that was what the inference was in this one report about it. I’m a little surprised that you’re not able to deny that that’s the case. But if you’re not, maybe it was planted, and that’s interesting.

MR. KELLY: I wasn’t aware of that particular detail. I know that she was a State Department employee, but I’m not aware that she – I wasn’t aware she didn’t identify herself.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, uh-huh.

QUESTION: The Secretary of State in May said that the Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And today, The Washington Post published a story as quoting some Nicaraguan official saying there is no such an embassy, there is no such project, and that the Iranian influence – in Latin America has been largely overestimated. So I wanted to know how the Secretary could be so wrongly informed about the embassy, that --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what we can say is that right now, there is no major Iranian presence in Nicaragua. Regarding their plans for a larger diplomatic presence, I mean, that would really be something that would be for the Iranian Government to address.

We, of course, respect the sovereign right of every country to determine the size of their diplomatic missions. We would always hope that the size of the mission would reflect the bilateral interests in that country. We also would expect that countries would recognize in their dealings with Iran that Iran has certain obligations to the international community, especially regarding its plans to develop nuclear weapons and also its support for terrorism. So we would hope that in any of the bilateral dealings that they would have with Iran that they would stress these important issues. But --

QUESTION: But before saying to us that the Iranians are building this embassy, did the Secretary consult the Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, in Managua to check?

MR. KELLY: She does consult via Assistant Secretary Shannon, and – but what – I mean, who exactly she consulted with in May, I’m not sure.

QUESTION: And is the Iranian influence in Latin America even – it overestimated?

MR. KELLY: Is it overestimated?


MR. KELLY: Compared to what?

QUESTION: Do you think you evaluate correctly the influence of Iran in Latin America?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure I could answer that question, Sylvie. I do know that we are concerned about Iranian activities in the past in Latin America, their possible involvement in some terrorist activities in the past. But as I said before, it’s a sovereign right of every country to determine their diplomatic presence.

QUESTION: Same thing?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Same subject. Iran is reportedly coming up with some new nuclear proposals. Is that something that you’re aware of?

MR. KELLY: I’ve seen the media reports on that, but I don’t have any firm information about any specific overtures.

QUESTION: And one more. Do you have – has the United States made any specific representation, perhaps third-party, in the case of the Newsweek correspondent who has been imprisoned in Iran for several weeks?

MR. KELLY: Well, as you know, we don’t have an embassy there, so it would be difficult for us to make a diplomatic representation on his behalf. But – and I saw the very compelling article in the pages of The Washington Post today, and I would just say that we are deeply concerned by any harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment of journalists on groundless charges. And I don’t know the specifics of this case, but of course, Newsweek believes that he was doing nothing contrary to his journalistic mission. And this kind – that kind of harassment is unacceptable.

QUESTION: Do you have any update at all on the Iranian American scholar who was detained last week?

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do, if you’ll just wait a moment. Yes, we’re deeply concerned of reports that an Iranian American scholar has been unjustly detained in Iran. Due to Privacy Act considerations, we’re not able to comment on the details of his arrest and imprisonment. It’s unfortunate that the Iranian Government is making choices that only serve to isolate Iran from the international community. We urge the Iranian authorities to immediately release Kian Tajbakhsh as well as return the passports of all Americans being kept in Iran on groundless charges. This includes Esha Momeni, who has been banned from departing Iran since her release from Evin prison in November of 2008. And we additionally call again on Iran to be forthcoming with information toward determining the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, who’s been missing in Iran since March 8th, 2007. And we, of course, here at the State Department and across the U.S. Government is committed to making every effort to reunite these American citizens with their families.

QUESTION: How many American citizens are we talking about here whose U.S. passports have been confiscated by the Iranian authorities?

MR. KELLY: Besides the Iranian American scholar who’s been detained, and I assume they’ve confiscated his passport, the only other information I have here is about Esha Momeni. But if there are others, I’m not sure of the exact number.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you check --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if it’s just those two or if it’s more than two?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, we’ll see if there’s more than two.

QUESTION: And have you – even though you don’t have a U.S. embassy there, obviously you have a protecting power.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you asked the Swiss to raise this matter with the Iranians?

MR. KELLY: We have. And we’ve also asked our Swiss protecting power to go in and get consular access to --

QUESTION: Mr. Tajbakhsh.

MR. KELLY: To Mr. – is it Tajbacksh or Taibarbakhsh?

QUESTION: Tajbakhsh.

MR. KELLY: Tajbakhsh.

QUESTION: Tajbakhsh.

MR. KELLY: Tajbakhsh.

QUESTION: And has – have they succeeded in doing so, or you’ve not had any – or they haven’t --

MR. KELLY: I don’t believe that they have gotten access, just that they’re requesting it.

QUESTION: And do you know when he was – this time around, when he was detained?

MR. KELLY: I believe it was late last week. If I can get you the exact time, I will.



MR. KELLY: On India.

QUESTION: Has there been any change in the U.S. policy towards civil nuclear deal transfers – transfer of civil nuclear technology to India in the view of G-8 declaration which says that you can’t transfer nuclear technology to non-NPT countries? Do you have --

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t. But let me see if I can get you a specific answer on that rather than try and wing it.

QUESTION: And one question which was asked last week on Afghanistan. The Afghanistan president has released five drug lords, one of which the (inaudible) is campaigning for him in his presidential election. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. KELLY: Boy, that question was asked last week, I think.


MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thursday.

MR. KELLY: Okay. We’ll have to – sorry, once again, we’ll have to ask your question to be answered.


QUESTION: These are quick ones. We have a report out of Xinjiang that Chinese police shot dead two people. This is according to Xinhua, and the report said that the police were trying to stop these two people from attacking another Uighur. One, do you have any comment on this specific incident? And two – and I realize you – I guess it took you a day or so to get a U.S. diplomat on the ground there, but do you have any – do you believe that the Chinese authorities are using excessive force?

MR. KELLY: We – I mean, we do have a team on the ground from the U.S. Embassy. Arshad, as you point out, that team got there a day or two after the incident started. The short answer to your question is: We’re still gathering information. We have expressed our concern to the Chinese Government about the situation in Xinjiang. We are urging China to handle the situation as we go forward in a transparent manner, also to – in their assessment of what’s happened, to do that in an open and transparent manner. And of course, as they work to restore order, we believe that it’s important that they respect the legal rights of all Chinese citizens. But right now, we don’t have the – we don’t have sufficient information really to comment on the reaction.

QUESTION: You’re urging them to handle the situation in an open and transparent manner?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They’ve pretty much been openly and transparently beating the crap out of all these people who are protesting, and even their own state media is reporting it. So what exactly does that mean, deal with an open and transparent --

MR. KELLY: Well, we have had our issues with the Chinese Government that we have been open and transparent about in terms of respecting the rights of all of China’s citizens, in terms of respecting the right of Uighurs to practice their own religion, not put restrictions on the – on their religious activity, on their manner of worship. We have also had some issues with the Uighurs –with restrictions on Uighurs’ ability to express their cultural identity. And this gets back to the need for China to respect the right of its citizens to freely express themselves.

QUESTION: But if they restrict that right openly and transparently then – I’m not sure I understand. What do you want? You say handle the situation in an open and transparent manner.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What does that – how?

MR. KELLY: There are – the situation did not emerge out of a vacuum. I mean, there are issues that we think – relating to the Uighurs that we think that the Chinese Government has to address. But in terms of how they have specifically dealt with a very difficult situation on the ground there, I just – we don’t have sufficient information for us to be able to pronounce how they’ve handled it.

QUESTION: Didn’t you last week – or maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought last week you had called for them to exercise restraint.


QUESTION: Based on --

MR. KELLY: We still do.

QUESTION: Okay. But that wasn’t totally absent from all of your preceding remarks on this, which makes --

MR. KELLY: That’s my fault.

QUESTION: No, no. Well, I mean --

MR. KELLY: We continue to call on all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

QUESTION: And just last question. When do you think you’ll have enough information given that you do have a team on the ground, to make those assessments? Or are you, in fact, sort of making the assessments, but you’re just not going to make them public?

MR. KELLY: Well, we are making the assessments. As I said, we have a team from Embassy Beijing. We also are gathering – or requesting more information from the Chinese Government. So when the time is appropriate, we will make that assessment.

QUESTION: Well, okay. When might that time be? Is that going to be before the release of the Human Rights Report in about a year or --

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m --

QUESTION: -- a little less than a year, eight months from now or less?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to put a deadline on it. I would imagine it would be before then.


QUESTION: Last thing.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: You said, you know, dealing with what is a very difficult situation, which made me think that it’s almost as if the U.S. Government’s sympathies here are with the Chinese Government for the difficult situation that they’re dealing with rather than with – I mean, here, you have – you know, I don’t know the circumstances. I wasn’t there, but when police shoot two people dead, that’s an unusual act, you know. And it’s almost as if the balance of concern is sort of toward the government, not toward the people.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I’m certainly not trying to convey that impression. What we have been trying to do is trying to lower the temperature as much as we can. We had a very overheated situation last week with a lot of lawless violence on the streets, much of it, if not all of it ethnically motivated. And in that kind of situation, I think the best thing that we can do is try and call for restraint on all sides and not try and fan the flames of a very, very volatile situation in the streets of Urumqi. So that’s really what we – what I’ve been – what we’ve been striving for in this.

QUESTION: Just – can I clarify one thing?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: When you said you have issues with China regarding the religious and cultural --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: You haven’t made that clear to China recently. This is just – and previous concerns that you’ve raised with them – have you specifically raised these issues recently?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, that’s something that I think that we’ll have to – I mean, we have raised our concern with the way the situation is developing out in Xinjiang. We have an embassy that is in constant communication with Chinese authorities. I don’t have a specific answer to your question if we’ve raised it recently, but as Matt points out, we do raise it every year in the Human Rights Report. And there is a constant dialogue with the Chinese authorities on all these issues. We don’t just issue the report and then not follow up on it.


QUESTION: Yes. A question about Ms. Kadeer: So Chinese Government is asking to stop – asking international society to stop assistance to Ms. Kadeer, saying that she’s one of the culprit of the uprising.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And at the same time, Ms. Kadeer’s activities here in the U.S. is funded by National Endowment for Democracy, and I understand that this is technically funded by State Department budget. So what do you comment about Chinese request to stop assistance to Kadeer? And so do you take a look at the possibility to stop the assistance or not?

MR. KELLY: The – I’m sorry, the last part of your question? I didn’t get the last part of your question.

QUESTION: All right. So what do you comment about that, about Chinese request to stop assistance to Kadeer? And does – U.S. State Department will consider to stop the assistance?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen these reports. I have – and I’m not aware of the Chinese Government asking the National Endowment for Democracy to stop its assistance to --

QUESTION: But not directly to National Endowment. So what they are saying is to – asking international community to stop --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Not being aware of the specific request, I really am not in a position to comment. I do know that her organization does receive funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is – receives its funds from Congress. But until we see this actual report, I just – I’m going to decline to comment on that.

QUESTION: But would you even consider asking --

MR. KELLY: Consider what?

QUESTION: Consider asking NED to stop funds to Kadeer’s movement?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, NED is not part of the State Department.


MR. KELLY: It’s part – it’s funded directly by – and, I mean, we’ll see. I mean, again, I haven’t seen these reports, so I’m not going to comment.


QUESTION: Are you investigating the claims made by the Chinese Government that Ms. Kadeer has actually orchestrated the riots, the unrest that she was behind this? Are you actively investigating that, or have you just disregarded these accusations?

MR. KELLY: Well, the State Department wouldn’t be investigating any of these claims, and as far as I know, we have no information that would substantiate those kinds of claims.

QUESTION: Well, if you don’t have any information that would substantiate those kinds of claims, why are you willing to leave open the possibility that U.S. taxpayer money could still continue to go – it might be halted to her group?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to – I’m not leaving the – sorry if I conveyed that.

QUESTION: Yeah, because I asked you why was – I asked would you even consider --

MR. KELLY: Well, I --

QUESTION: -- requesting that NED stop funding her, and I just wondered --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well --

QUESTION: -- because that leaves the door open.

MR. KELLY: You’re asking me to answer a question that really – that we don’t have all the details on. So I’m just saying I’m not going to comment on something till we have all the details on it.


QUESTION: Ian, I just wanted to clarify. I was not here last week, so maybe I missed a few things. But when you refer to the lawless violence, you are referring to the demonstrators as carrying out lawless violence?

MR. KELLY: I’m referring to the riots that we all saw on the streets last week.

QUESTION: Okay. So the fact that they are being, you know, hit by the police or maybe shot could be explained by the fact that this is lawless violence that must be put down? Is that – no, I’m serious.

MR. KELLY: No, no. I – when I mentioned – I said that the situation is volatile because there was – ethnic tension was running very high. Because of this ethnic enmity, there were examples of mob violence and – full stop.

Yeah. Arshad.

QUESTION: Just a change of subject. Honduras – there was a story over the weekend saying that Micheletti had voiced or held out the possibility of amnesty for Zelaya. And his exact quote was, “Asked about the possibility of amnesty, he said, ‘If he,’ meaning Zelaya, ‘comes peacefully first to appear before the authorities, I don’t have any problem,’” with amnesty, although those weren’t – I mean, he did say with amnesty. Do you find that idea an appealing one as a way to try to reach an agreement?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is not an American process. It’s a process that we are putting all of – it’s a process led by Costa Rican President Arias that we are giving our full support to. And --

QUESTION: That sounds like an American process to me. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: We are supporting this process led by President Arias. It is not an American --

QUESTION: Whose country is in what part of the world?

MR. KELLY: It’s not a process that’s being led by the United States of America. (Laughter.) And we just have to give – we have to give time for this process to work. And I’ll just – we – we’re – as I say, we’re standing firmly behind President Arias. He said late last week that he expects to sit down again within a week with the two parties, and these would be the kinds of proposals I hope that both sides can discuss.

QUESTION: What has the Secretary been doing on this, calls or anything over the weekend?

MR. KELLY: Well, over the weekend, it was mostly Tom Shannon, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and NSC Senior Director Dan Restrepo, who were – who had a lot of conversations. They met with President Zelaya upon his return Saturday. They discussed, of course, the talks in San Jose and, of course, reiterated our support for the restoration of democratic order in Honduras and, of course, for President Arias’s mediation efforts. So it’s – we have had a number of conversations, but it’s been Tom and Dan who really have led the way – this weekend, anyway.

QUESTION: Did President Chavez call – we have a report that President Chavez called Assistant Secretary Shannon over the weekend. Is that correct? And what kind of a readout can you give us about that?

MR. KELLY: It is correct. I believe – maybe I should take this question. But it is correct; Chavez did call Shannon.

QUESTION: Over the weekend?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Over the weekend. Let me take the question and see if I can get you a readout.

QUESTION: But on Friday, you published a statement on that.

MR. KELLY: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: I’m thinking that there was a – I thought there was an additional call over the weekend.

MR. KELLY: No, I think it’s just that one.

QUESTION: Well, can you double-check?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

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