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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 9, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Special Envoy Mitchell's Travel
    • Under Secretary Burns' Travel
    • Assistant Secretary Blake's Travel
    • U.S. Very Concerned about Sentencing of Two American Journalists
    • U.S. will Explore all Possible Channels to Obtain their Release
    • Call on North Korean Authorities to Release the Two American Journalists
    • Meeting with Permanent Members of the Security Council
    • Call on North Korea to Refrain from Belligerent and Provocative Actions
    • US Looks Forward to Discussing a Broad Range of Bilateral Issues
    • Special Envoy's Mitchell's Travel to Damascus a Follow-up to President Obama's Speech
    • US Supports More Dialog between India and Pakistan
    • No Plans for a Kashmir Special Envoy
  • IRAN
    • US Following Iranian Election Very Closely
    • No Letter from the Department to VOA Persian Broadcasters/ Respect VOA's Independence
    • US Does Not Normally Release Information on Invitations to Diplomatic Functions
    • US Expresses Condolences to the People of Gabon
    • Process for placing the Uighurs continues


12:42 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Hey, guys, sorry I’m a little late. I actually forgot my glasses so we had to run upstairs and get them. I want to make sure I get every word right.

Let me start off with a short statement on travel of some senior officials. As you know, Special Envoy Mitchell is in Israel today. He is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials. Tomorrow he’ll be in Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials. As part of the President’s commitment to work to advance a comprehensive peace in the region, Special Envoy Mitchell will also travel to Beirut on Thursday, June 11, and Damascus on Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13.

Under Secretary Burns arrived today in New Delhi for bilateral meetings with Government of India officials. He is also joined by new Assistant Secretary for South Central Asia Robert Blake. Mr. Blake will then continue on to Nepal on June 12, 13, and Bangladesh June 13 and 14.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: What – do you have any updates on the situation with the journalists in North Korea? Is there any movement that you’re aware of from either the Swedes or through – from the New York channel? Has this envoy idea gotten any more, or any traction?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think Secretary Clinton addressed this upstairs in a – there was a camera spray with the Mongolian foreign minister, and she reiterated that we’re engaged in all ways, through every possible channel, to try and secure the release of these two young women on humanitarian grounds. And I’ll leave it at that. We are engaged in every way possible. I guess you got a big story.


QUESTION: Wow, so you haven’t heard anything more from the Swedes? There has been no more contact --

MR. KELLY: No, we – no more information from Ambassador Foyer.

QUESTION: And on the idea of an --

QUESTION: (Inaudible)


QUESTION: Maybe I’m confused here, but I’m not sure that you’ve given us any news.

MR. KELLY: There must be a better briefing somewhere down the hall, I guess. (Laughter)

QUESTION: Is anything that you said different than what was said yesterday?

MR. KELLY: No, no.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Just to make sure.

MR. KELLY: Okay.

QUESTION: And what about the idea of an envoy? Is that still something that’s under consideration?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I say, we’re – our top priority is the safety and welfare of these two individuals. And we’re doing everything we can to explore all different channels. But I’m not prepared to talk about details of that.

QUESTION: All right. Then on the non-journalist North Korea issue, how are things going in New York on the new resolution?

MR. KELLY: There was a meeting of permanent representatives today. This is the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus the permanent representatives from Japan and South Korea. We’re working very hard on trying to craft a strong, unequivocal, unified response to North Korea’s violation of a binding Security Council resolution under Chapter 7. I think Ambassador Rice, just a few moments ago, came out of that meeting, and what she said was we’re continuing to make progress, we’re working towards a resolution. There are a number of technical details that still need to be worked out. But we’re hopeful that we can do that soon. (Cell phone rings)

In terms of timetable – lots of distractions here today.


MR. KELLY: That’s all right, Cheryl. I think they’re going to meet again tomorrow. I think that’s the next step.

QUESTION: And then I’ll stop after this, but just – there have been reports, and there’s some signs that the North Koreans might be preparing for another missile launch. How would you respond to that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, I’ll just say that – first of all, I don’t – I’ve seen press reports on that. But I would just say again that we call on North Korea to refrain from these kinds of belligerent and provocative actions and return to the negotiating table.


QUESTION: Can I change subjects?


MR. KELLY: You are – I don’t think so.


MR. KELLY: North Korea, Jill.

QUESTION: There have been some comments about potentially using nuclear weapons. Can you comment on the North Koreans’ comments?

MR. KELLY: No, I’d just repeat what I just said to Matt. We think this is a time for North Korea to refrain from any kind of provocative rhetoric, belligerent rhetoric, belligerent actions, and let’s return to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: And just one more. What is the U.S. understanding of the nature of the succession process that’s underway, and how do you think it’s affecting this situation both with the journalists and the nuclear standoff?

MR. KELLY: Well, clearly this is a big priority for us. We are keeping our eye on developments in North Korea, but I’m not going to characterize any kind of internal North Korean politics.

QUESTION: But you do believe that the succession is underway, I mean, that his son has been showing up at party meetings and has been on party lists.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, well --

QUESTION: And it does seem that the succession is underway.

MR. KELLY: Again, I’m just not going to characterize internal North Korean politics.

QUESTION: Well, you spoke in the past about – that you realize that Kim Jong-il’s health is frail and that he won’t last forever and that Secretary Clinton, in fact, has said that, you know, the issues of the succession, you know, are playing into the diplomacy with North Korea right now.

MR. KELLY: Well, there’s a number of factors. And we just hope that North Korea will finally realize that the way forward is integration with the international community, cooperation with the international community, including through the Six-Party Talks, and I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Well, just on that point, though, I mean, the son that they’re – that everyone assumes that will be taking over, the youngest son, has studied abroad, is considered to be a little bit – I mean, I don’t know if you can call the North Koreans pro-Western, but a little bit more cosmopolitan. And do you think that that is a sign that North Korea may want to engage the international community with a more kind of sophisticated pro – or more cosmopolitan --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Elise, I think what we’re really focused on is concrete actions. I mean, we need North Korea to take concrete actions to come off the path that they’re on and return to the talks and begin to integrate with the international community.

QUESTION: But if you have someone that knows the international community a little bit more and has been overseas, perhaps you would have someone in the new leadership that would be more predisposed to that.

MR. KELLY: Well, yes, I have served overseas, but I’ve never served in North Korea, nor have any of my colleagues that I know of. And I’m just not going to characterize it. I appreciate your probing questions, though.

QUESTION: You can’t blame a girl for trying. (Laughter)


QUESTION: Two questions, one journalist-related, the other one not. First, on the journalists, I know you’re saying you’re trying every way to work this issue, but can you at least comment whether there has been any dialogue whatsoever with the North Koreans, either through the Swedish ambassador or through the New York channel? Since the conviction of the two journalists, has there been any dialogue whatsoever?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, as you know, Ambassador Foyer, the Swedish ambassador, he is our point of contact. He does make contacts on our behalf with the North Korean authorities. He does make representations on our behalf to check on the situation of the two young journalists. But I’m not going to go into any other details of our diplomatic exchanges.

QUESTION: But they’ve had dialogue on the U.S. request wanting them to be released? There has been dialogue through the Swedish ambassador? Is that what --

MR. KELLY: I don’t know if you can call that dialogue. He certainly has made representations on our behalf.

QUESTION: And secondly, it appears that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find evidence of a nuclear test. U.S., Japan, and South Korea have all done multiple tests and they have not found any evidence so far that there was actually a nuclear event. Does this change anything going forward if there’s no conclusive evidence that a nuclear test was --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m not really sure that we’ve made any conclusions one way or the other, and I’ll see if I can get more information.

Yeah, Michelle.

QUESTION: Can I have a new topic? I wanted to ask about Zimbabwe, because Morgan Tsvangirai is coming this week.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. considering doing in changing its aid programs in Zimbabwe or resuming some aid to Zimbabwe?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we look forward to his visit. I know he’s going to – has a meeting at the White House. We look forward to discussing a broad range of bilateral issues between our two countries. You know that we have some concerns about the course of democracy in Zimbabwe. And I think we’ll have more to say about it on Friday.

QUESTION: But is the U.S. sort of reviewing its aid programs now? Are there sanctions that could be lifted?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, we’re in the process of a broad-based review of our aid programs, including in Zimbabwe. But beyond that, I’m not prepared to go into any details.

Yeah, Mark.

QUESTION: Change of topic just for a moment to the Mitchell trip?

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I’m wondering whether you could tell us if – what sort of conditions have changed on the ground with Syria that makes a stop in Damascus a good idea at this point. I know for weeks when we’ve asked about Mitchell’s traveling to Syria, the response is usually some variant of, “Well, we’re not just there yet.”

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So why are we now there?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s – in many ways, it’s a follow-up to the President’s speech in Cairo. You know that this Administration is committed to a broad-based comprehensive peace dealing with all the different players in the region. And we decided this was an appropriate time for Senator Mitchell to go to Syria. And we’re – this is a very high priority for this Administration, and we’re going to pursue this vigorously in the coming months.

QUESTION: So is it mostly a function of things that are happening on our side, or are there also elements that are happening on their side, signals they’re sending us?

MR. KELLY: As I said, this is just – we don’t want to have a piecemeal approach to Middle East peace. We want to approach this from a regional basis. And Senator Mitchell – Special Envoy Mitchell is the lead for the Administration, and we thought it was an appropriate time for him to go.

QUESTION: So the Lebanese election is pure coincidence?

MR. KELLY: Well, he was – he planned a trip out there to go to Israel and Oslo.

QUESTION: Yeah, but his travel to Damascus and Beirut wasn’t approved until yesterday after the election – after the election results were known. Are you suggesting that there is absolutely no link between how --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to suggest anything one way or the other.

QUESTION: How about this: Is there --

MR. KELLY: We welcome the elections in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Is there a link – is there a link between Mitchell’s – the decision to approve his travel to Damascus and Beirut, and the conduct and the results of the Lebanese election?

MR. KELLY: I am not prepared to make that link.

Yes, same issue --


MR. KELLY: -- or new issue?

QUESTION: India-Pakistan. The Indian prime minister made a big policy speech today saying he wants to resume peace talks. Is that something that’s going to be discussed with Burns? Is this something that the U.S. is sort of pushing for again?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, clearly, we would support more dialogue. You’re talking about between India and Pakistan?


MR. KELLY: We would support more dialogue between the two countries. I’m sure that Under Secretary Burns will talk about this issue among the many issues that he has on his agenda.

QUESTION: Is there any prospect that a special envoy would be appointed still with –specifically Kashmir or is it something that would –

MR. KELLY: No, there’s – there are no plans to that effect.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, Jill?


MR. KELLY: Iran.

QUESTION: Iran. There’s been some interesting developments recently. You know, you’ve had that debate about a week ago between the two leading candidates. You’ve had some – a demonstration yesterday and signs of kind of – you know, some democratic ferment, healthy debate. Have you been watching it? What are your impressions? Have you – like, how do you think it’s going? What does it say to you?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think any spokesman up here is – always hesitates to give impressions, but yes, we’ve been following it very closely.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. KELLY: No, I can’t do any impressions, believe me. (Laughter) Groucho Marx, maybe. Well, we just – we look forward to following the debate going on in Iran. We look forward to the time when Iran begins to reengage with us on some regional issues on nonproliferation. You know, the offer stands out there to sit down with them in the P-5+1 context, and we hope that Iran is able to respond to that soon.

QUESTION: Were you heartened by the – by this ferment going on and people on the streets and participating?

MR. KELLY: I am always encouraged by expressions of – free expression, free lawful expressions. So in that sense, yes, I am heartened by it.

QUESTION: Ian, semi-related?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was an implication and a question at the briefing yesterday about State Department letter of instruction to VOA Persian broadcasters, and you suggested you were going to look into it?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you find anything?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t have much, but I did contact a friend of mine at the BBG, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. They are not aware of any such letter. And such a letter would violate what we call the firewall, which guarantees the journalistic independence of your organization. This journalistic independence, of course, is accorded under the agency’s founding legislation in 1994. And the Department of State respects the journalistic independence of BBG journalists, including VOA.

QUESTION: Back on the engagement part to the – do you have any idea yet how many embassies have invited Iranian diplomats to July 4th parties and –

MR. KELLY: I do not.

QUESTION: Can someone look into this?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I don’t know if we can or not, Matt. But if we do have some information, we can give it to you.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, just –

MR. KELLY: We don’t normally release information on invitations to diplomatic functions.

QUESTION: Even though, oftentimes, people are – journalists are invited to these functions and they can see for themselves who shows up?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know. We don’t – well, that’s true. But that’s not – that doesn’t necessarily mean who was invited.

QUESTION: Well, what I’m looking for is like – is an idea of how much – you say you look forward to the time when Iran engages, and this is an informal way of engagement.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And it would be interesting, I think, for all of us to know if – how many – how much – how many invitations were sent out and how many that were positive responses. That would be a sign of engaging.

MR. KELLY: If I can get you that can kind of information, I will. But like I say, generally, we don’t discuss or release invitation lists.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking for an entire list.

MR. KELLY: No, I know that. But, I mean, even the information on the lists we don’t release.

QUESTION: More on the Iran election?

QUESTION: On that --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the Iran elections? Can you talk in just general terms about what you’ve been doing in the kind of – lead-up to elections – I know you were talking about the firewall, but certainly in the past the U.S. has tried to, you know, send out a message to Iran about the importance of this election and the importance of electing someone who’s willing to engage with the international world and not conduct such destructive behavior. So what – have you been reaching out to groups in the United States, to the Diaspora? Have you been – you know, could you talk about what you’ve been doing?

MR. KELLY: I can see if I can find out for you. I don’t have that information right off the top of my head, though.


QUESTION: On the embassy invitations, according to Iranian reports – news agencies, at least the U.S. Ambassador in the Republic of Azerbaijan has decided to invite the Iranian official. But there’s one thing I’d like for you to clarify, please. She has said, according to this Iranian report that the U.S. Embassy in Baku would invite Iranian officials to such events in the future – as in plural, whereas, Robert, about 10 days ago, said that it’s – this is only a one-time thing for this Fourth of July.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm. So you’re asking me to clarify if the – if the authorization goes to – for –

QUESTION: Later on for other events or occasions?

MR. KELLY: – for other diplomatic functions? I’ll see if I can get you that information.

QUESTION: See – now, there’s one embassy that’s going.

MR. KELLY: (Laughter)

QUESTION: If that’s the only one, it would be interesting to know.

MR. KELLY: Like I say, we’ll see if we can find out for you, Matt.

Other questions?

QUESTION: Do you know if that one is true?

MR. KELLY: Sorry?

QUESTION: Do you know if that one is true, whether –

MR. KELLY: About Baku, you mean?


MR. KELLY: Not off the top off my head. I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I have one – I have one more. Yesterday, at the very end of the briefing, I asked you about the death of the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo –

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: – which that was in the early afternoon, I believe. At around 6:30, the White House put out a statement from President Obama about his death. The State Department took another 14 hours before it put out a statement about his death. One, I’m curious to know why a simple statement of condolence would take probably close to 18 hours from the time the question was originally asked to come out.

And second of all, if perhaps – and I’m wondering if anyone from the State Department used those 18 hours to actually look at the Human Rights Report about Gabon. The statement that came out in your name this morning says that Africa has lost a leader who was dedicated to the cause of national and regional peace --

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- praised him for – the Human Rights Report on Gabon that came out February 25th says that Gabon is basically a serial human rights abuser, that President Bongo, who was in power since 1968 and ruled with an iron fist, won reelection in 2005 in a vote that was marred with major irregularities. It talks about human rights problems, use of excessive force, torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests, detention, inefficient judiciary, et cetera, et cetera.

I do not want to impugn or speak ill of the dead, but was any of this given any consideration when you were putting out this statement – your statement? I won’t address the President’s because that was a White House thing. Did anyone think about that before offering such deep condolences for this president’s death?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think our main purpose was to express condolences to the family of the president and to express our condolences to the people of Gabon. This man was their president for some – almost 40 years, I think. But I take your points, Matt, and I appreciate your point of view.

QUESTION: Well, can I – well, it’s not really my point of view. I’m just wondering if anyone had – if anyone looked at --

MR. KELLY: I thought I heard point of view in there.

QUESTION: And there was a – and I’m really – the timing of this, I mean, I really do – would like to know why it took 14 hours for this building, after the White House, to come out with a – come out with a statement. I mean, surely it can’t take that long to clear something.

MR. KELLY: Thanks. Thanks very much.

QUESTION: One last thing?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, uh-huh.

QUESTION: Uighurs – are they going to the South Pacific?

MR. KELLY: The Uighurs.



MR. KELLY: Palau. Yes, I have something. As you know, we’re working closely with our friends and allies regarding the resettlement and repatriation of Guantanamo detainees. As a matter of policy, we’re not going to comment on our bilateral discussions with individual countries. It’s really up to the – our partners to characterize the level of their involvement. So, actually, I said I had something for you. I really just wanted to say I don’t have anything for you.

Anyway, thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

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