1:48 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: I silenced the room – were that it were so. Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. Just a few things to touch on before taking your questions.
The Secretary this afternoon will meet with Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani, where she will reaffirm the strong U.S. support for and engagement with a secure, prosperous, and autonomous Kurdistan region with a united federal Iraq and laud the contribution of the Kurdistan Regional Government to Iraq’s development. Obviously, President Barzani had the opportunity to meet with President Obama yesterday.
Then the Secretary will depart early this evening for London and also Paris. Obviously, the first matter of business will be the meeting on Yemen to assist Yemen with its political and economic reform efforts. Then on to the conference on Afghanistan to review an agenda outlined by President Karzai in his November 19 inauguration speech and implementation of our strategy and support of Afghanistan’s security, governance, and development.
And then finally, the Secretary will move to Paris where she’ll have meetings with President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner where they’ll talk about Haiti, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and she will also deliver a speech on European security.
Obviously, coming off the trip last week by National Security Advisor General Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, along with an interagency delegation that included Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher and Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, the negotiations on START will resume on Monday in Geneva. And negotiating teams for both the U.S. and the Russian side will convene and hopefully will arrive at a quality agreement that meets the needs and interests of both sides.
There is an Ethiopian investigation team currently on the ground in Lebanon, and they will be joined by an aviation investigator by the National Transportation Safety Board to assist the Government of Lebanon with the investigation of yesterday’s tragic airline crash. I think the USS Rampage is still in the vicinity trying to help out with the rescue-and-recovery effort.
This morning, a delegation from Washington, including Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, his Principal Deputy Craig Kelly, and Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez departed Washington for Tegucigalpa where they will observe the inauguration of a new president in Honduras tomorrow.
And we are very grateful for the efforts of the Government of Peru in trying to help with the evacuation of American citizens near Machu Picchu, Peru. Actually, the Embassy has also dispatched four helicopters to Ollantaytambo, or Sacred Valley, to continue to try with the evacuation efforts. We have about an estimated 400 U.S. citizens there.
And with that, I’ll answer your questions.
QUESTION: All right. Can I just ask about the Peru thing? Who dispatched four helicopters?
MR. CROWLEY: The United States Embassy.
QUESTION: Why does the U.S. Embassy – is this for INL helicopters?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Right.
QUESTION: Can I ask about START?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I think a couple days ago, you had mentioned that there had been some progress in the interim since the talks had stopped. Can you give us an update on how far along the talks have moved since the formal discussions ended in December?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had some informal follow-up discussions. Obviously, the delegation led by General Jones is part of that. I think we’ve had a productive interlude since the teams broke late last year. There’s still work to be done. Hard to make any predictions in terms of what a timeline is. But I think we’re reasonably optimistic that the finish line is within sight.
QUESTION: On a different – I understand that the Secretary – on her schedule, she was set to meet with Senator Webb today.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, late this morning.
QUESTION: Sure. Just in terms of what was discussed, but the senator, of course, has been quite active on Burma. There have been noises coming out of Burma about a possible release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but potentially after this year’s election. Is that something the U.S. has been hearing? And if so, what would be the position on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have had multiple conversations with Burma. We’ve made clear that from a U.S. policy standpoint, we’d like to see Burma open up its political process. They’ve got important elections occurring later this year. It’s important for the Government of Burma to reach out not only to those who wish to be politically active, but also to the various ethnic communities within Burma. And I think, as Kurt Campbell said here when he was with you last week, there is still work that Burma needs to do. I can’t really characterize what the meeting with Senator Webb was about, but I assume this was one of the issues discussed.
QUESTION: But is it remotely acceptable to the U.S. Government? I mean, if these reports are true and they quote, I think, the Burmese interior minister as having told several hundred people that Aung San Suu Kyi would be released when her sentence or term ends in November, is it remotely acceptable to you or the United States?
I mean, I guess you could see it as a step in the right direction that maybe she’s ultimately going to get released. On the other hand, presumably it would be after the elections and therefore, she would be denied her political rights. Is that suggestion remotely acceptable to the U.S. Government?
MR. CROWLEY: We have long demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. We think that that should still be done and as quickly as possible. So I think the idea that her release will conveniently come after the election is unfortunate, but we will continue to press the Burmese Government for her release.
QUESTION: P.J., there’s a --
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you hear me? There’s a lot of speculation across the pond that the Secretary is going to get involved more heavily in the Northern Ireland situation. I understand she’s made some calls. Can you tell us about those calls? And also, does she have any plans while she’s over there to deal with this issue at all?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s always possible.
QUESTION: What’s always possible?
MR. CROWLEY: She will be spending time with Prime Minister Brown. And she has discussed the current situation in – with the prime minister. The UK and Irish governments are facilitating talks between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, in addition to the other parties in Northern Ireland. We are closely following those discussions. We remain strongly supportive of Northern Ireland’s efforts to develop a strong, lasting, and prosperous peace, and believe that the full devolution of government authority to locally elected officials, including policing and justice powers, is an important aspect of this.
So she has been focused on these issues, even today, and I don’t know that they’ll come up during the course of the trip, but in the course of discussions that she’ll have with the British leaders, this might – could easily be discussed as one among many issues. But clearly, there’s been some progress made lately and we think it’s a vitally important opportunity for the leaders in Northern Ireland to complete this process.
QUESTION: Were there calls?
MR. CROWLEY: I believe she has talked to Prime Minister Brown today on this issue.
QUESTION: Can we just go back to Peru for a second? What are the circumstances of those 400 Americans? And are the Embassy choppers going in to take them out in small groups?
MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, I think these are difficult conditions. We’ve moved some Embassy personnel from Lima to the area as well to try to provide assistance to the Peruvian police and military authorities. There’s been some continuing bad weather and obviously, a limited number of helicopters. So we are obviously – we’re grateful for the efforts of the Peruvian authorities and we’re doing everything we can to help. And this is going to be – I have not been there, but I’m told on the one hand, it’s beautiful, and the other hand, it can be difficult terrain in this kind of weather. So we will get these people back to safety as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: And are the Americans still on the train? Where are they?
MR. CROWLEY: Hard for me to describe the current situation from here.
QUESTION: Are they in danger?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that we are – well, they’re in difficult circumstances, but I have nothing that leads me to believe that this can’t be successfully completed. It’s just going to take some time.
QUESTION: And do you know how many have been evacuated --
MR. CROWLEY: I do not.
QUESTION: -- Americans been evacuated so far?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: P.J., the Secretary had some very harsh words this morning about foreign criticism of the Haiti relief efforts. And minutes after she spoke, the Italian prime minister released a statement distancing himself from the remarks of his own safety chief two days ago. I wonder whether Italy was the country that the Secretary was talking about. And if not, which country was it? What media was she talking about when she was --
MR. CROWLEY: Start again?
QUESTION: -- when she said she’s resenting --
MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t catch the first part of your --
QUESTION: Oh, wondering whether Italy was the country that she meant when she said she resents the foreign criticism about the Haiti effort.
MR. CROWLEY: As you know, there have been a number of entities that have expressed their concern. All that we can say is that the effort over the last two weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary – very difficult conditions, very limited infrastructure in Haiti. We still have a lot of work to go. There’s still much greater requirement than there are assets on the ground, but every day, we keep on getting closer to the point where we can support and sustain the population of Haiti.
I think that those who would criticize may take for granted the infrastructure that we have in the West relative to the difficult infrastructure that exists in Haiti – and the fact is that not only are USAID personnel supported by other agencies of government and also the military and the international response. We’ve been working to find ways over the past two weeks to compensate, both in terms of exploiting the airport, repairing the ports, finding ways to bring additional equipment and material to help the people of Haiti, at the same time supporting and rescuing our own citizens.
So I’ll let the Secretary’s words stand on their own, but clearly, I would say there have been a number of figures that have pointed fingers and occasionally at our country as well.
QUESTION: Just to – can I just follow quickly just on a broader question? There was a lot of excitement around the world when the President was elected in 2008, particularly in Europe. And as we can see, there are still officials, senior officials in allied countries in Europe, who continue to criticize the United States, whether fairly or not. I wonder what that – you think that might say about the Administration’s relations with some allies.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this has not been unique to this past year.
QUESTION: Right. I’m saying that it – that’s right. So I’m saying that it – one could argue that the trend of the eight years before the President was in office perhaps hasn’t discontinued.
MR. CROWLEY: Look, I think the engagement that we have undertaken over the past year has paid dividends. I think the – broadly speaking, many or most people around the world recognize the vital importance of U.S. leadership to solve issues – to resolve issues that are sometimes local or regional in nature and sometimes more global in nature. It is not to say that the election of President Obama by itself solved these challenges. The President himself has talked about the difficulty in dealing with all of these confounding issues – whether it’s climate change on the one hand, Middle East peace on the other hand – but we have shown our seriousness of purpose and our commitment to these issues. At any particular moment, you could take a snapshot and someone will say this is not right, that’s not right. We accept that, given our leadership position around the world.
But I think, on balance, we’re satisfied that we’ve improved significantly the standing of the United States in the world. We’re engaging a much broader range of countries than we have in the past. We’re seeking input from countries to work more cooperatively. You’ve heard the Secretary talk over and over again about the importance of partnerships among governments, among nongovernmental organizations, and partnerships between the American people and the people of the world.
So I think our efforts here are to try to establish a common purpose, and what she’ll do in London this week is obviously continue to collaborate closely on this issue, as we have on other issues, so that we move forward, try to solve these problems together rather than trying to suggest we can do it alone.
QUESTION: P.J. two brief things on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: One, you said those who would criticize may take for granted the infrastructure that we have here in the West. Do you see – notice a problem with that statement?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you – for example, in our country, you had General Honore --
QUESTION: P.J., Haiti is in the west. That --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in --
QUESTION: And a lot of people would say that the problem --
MR. CROWLEY: in the First World. As --
QUESTION: In the First World?
MR. CROWLEY: Let us say that.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. CROWLEY: What I meant was, for example, you have criticisms coming from Italy, occasionally from France. We’ve had General Honore in our own country, who has tried to draw an equivalence between our experience in New Orleans and the experience in Haiti, and the fact is you cannot compare the two. You can compare the experience in Italy and what was a very effective response to an earthquake in Italy last year.
The fact is that in countries like the United States, you have infrastructure, you have resources, you have the ability to respond rapidly and effectively. In the case of Katrina, you had a devastating storm, but that affected a relatively small part of the country. If you look at Haiti, a country that had limited infrastructure and capacity before the earthquake, you’re talking about a much more devastating punch that Haiti has taken. And we have responded effectively. We have responded rapidly. We are making progress. And we think that criticism is unfounded.
QUESTION: Okay. Now you’ve mentioned three – you’ve mentioned Italy, France, and General Honore. The Secretary talked about the international media criticism. Can you be more specific about that?
MR. CROWLEY: I cannot.
QUESTION: Can we --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. I mean --
QUESTION: I’m talking about reporting. When a senior Italian official or a senior French official says something critical, it should be reported.
MR. CROWLEY: When you’re talking about international reporting, we have had – I’ve had direct conversations with our friends at Al Jazeera, for example. And we have spent some time critiquing what we felt was unfair, unbalanced coverage of operations in Haiti. So we will have those conversations where we think that coverage is unfair. Occasionally, we’ve had those conversations with CNN.
QUESTION: Have – that’s interesting to know. Does it extend beyond television?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure it does. I haven’t had those conversations yet.
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Still on Haiti, can you update us on the numbers of Americans evacuated, Americans dead, Americans still not accounted for, orphans leaving for the United States, please?
MR. CROWLEY: I can. We’ve had a slight uptick in – tragically, in the casualty rate. At this moment, as of this morning, we have 60 confirmed American fatalities: 56 private, four U.S. Government. And we have another 37 fatalities that we have not yet confirmed their identities. So that brings you close to 100.
We have still roughly 4,000 or so files that we are pursuing where we have not yet been able to account – fully account for Americans there, but we’re approaching about 20,000 in terms of the number of Americans that we have been able to account for, either because we’ve had contact with them or because they’ve been evacuated or we’ve since had calls in so --
QUESTION: And that was about 20,000?
MR. CROWLEY: About 20,000.
MR. CROWLEY: Evacuations, it’s been more than 12,000 -- 12,083, to be exact, as of 5 a.m. this morning.
QUESTION: Do you have the orphan numbers and –
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: The orphan numbers and the DHS status?
MR. CROWLEY: Orphan numbers were at 497 that have been evacuated to date. Another 629 Haitians have been paroled for a variety of reasons – medical, humanitarian, or other factors.
QUESTION: On the orphans, do you have the breakdown on how many of those received immigration visas and how many of those received humanitarian paroles?
MR. CROWLEY: No. No.
QUESTION: To go back to your complaints about the coverage for a second, is it --
MR. CROWLEY: I think on balance the coverage has been extraordinary.
QUESTION: Specifically, what was your problem with the coverage – that these outlets were reporting the criticism from foreign officials or that they were editorializing?
MR. CROWLEY: No, we – in one particular case, we thought that the reporting on the ground in Haiti was inflammatory.
QUESTION: How so?
MR. CROWLEY: It suggested there was a militarization of the effort. It compared military activities at the airport to a little Green Zone, as I will recall, in one particular instance. We thought that was inappropriate.
QUESTION: And that was CNN?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Would you say who that was with?
MR. CROWLEY: It was a conversation I had with officials at Al Jazeera, English channel. Back in the back.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Charlie – are you going to answer Charlie’s question?
QUESTION: What was your – what is your criticism of CNN coverage? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Let me --
QUESTION: Wait. It’s a serious question. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: I’m done on this subject.
QUESTION: Okay. This is on London conference. I came late so I’m not aware if this was asked or not. What do you expect from the next two days, 28th and 29th, in London, where 63 countries are coming there and meeting on Afghanistan? And how is it different from the previous conferences?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, following up on developments late last year, we’ve refined our strategy in line of – in line with the President’s announcement and resource decisions last month and conversations that we’ve had with our international partners since then. So this conference is about further understanding what President Karzai plans to do as he continues to form his government. And it will be about reviewing various milestones and metrics that we are going to put in place so that we can, in fact, help the Afghan Government move forward with its ability to deliver services to its people.
I think there’ll be efforts in terms of how we are going to be better coordinated, particularly on the civilian side of this. We’ll have discussions and announcements regarding – of how we will more effectively work together from a UN standpoint, from a NATO standpoint, from a national standpoint. So it is about how can – what kinds of activities are we going to be looking at and how can we best support the Afghan Government. But at the same time, what are the mechanisms through which we’ll be able to evaluate this going forward and make sure that we can continue to see the Afghan Government meet its objectives, which significantly includes battling corruption and improving the capacity of their various ministries to deliver services, and then at the same time, how we will expand this effort not only across the national government but at the regional and local level as well.
QUESTION: Karzai has come out --
QUESTION: P.J., can I follow up?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: In terms of how President Karzai goes about this, he’s talked about bringing in some of the former Taliban, some people who might – how – can you talk about that and the so-called Taliban blacklist of people he might bring in? And what does the Administration have to say about those ideas?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think issues of reintegration will be discussed here, efforts to find – to work with those who might have been involved in the Taliban, not because they’re hardcore, fervent believers, but probably because at some stage, perhaps the Taliban paid more for those kinds of services. So we will be looking at how to set up a special fund to be able to support those who are committed to giving up violence. And I think that there will be discussions about a reconciliation strategy.
But as the Secretary said earlier this week, on the one hand, in any kind of counterinsurgency operation, you’ll have military solutions and political solutions. Working a political process will be an important part of this. But obviously, we have interests that we will be looking at once we hear ideas, and this will clearly have to be an Afghan-led process. But obviously, if you were to bring – to reconcile groups, you’ll want to know what is the impact that that has on the broader political process.
We would welcome a return by anyone who has committed to nonviolence to participate in the political process, but also those that espouse democratic principles that include the ability of all citizens, male and female, to be important contributors to society. We would not have – would not advocate the return of a group into a political process that is – that has as an agenda denying basic rights or healthcare to half of the population. So we will be talking through these kinds of strategies as part of this conference.
QUESTION: AP reported today that Obama officials --
MR. CROWLEY: And I’m sure if it was AP reporting, it’s brilliant reporting by the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) Well, they reported that the Obama Administration has notified Congress to go ahead on the Taiwan arms sales. Can you confirm these reports?
MR. CROWLEY: All I will say on that subject is the – is that we – the government will not – we will not comment on possible foreign military sales until formal congressional notification has taken place.
QUESTION: So does that imply that formal congressional notification has not taken place?
MR. CROWLEY: That implies that there’s no pot of golden words at the end of this rainbow until congressional notification has taken place.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s an account from some Belgians that they had knowledge or crossed paths with the American hikers in the prison in Iran and said that they feared for the welfare of the American hikers. What reaction do you have to this?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: And any update on your contacts?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we obviously – it’s one of the reasons why we have been concerned about the welfare of the hikers since they crossed into Iran. It’s why we have demanded consular access repeatedly of the Iranian Government. And unfortunately, we have not had consular access through our protecting power in three months.
What that tells us is that our three American citizens are potentially in deplorable conditions. It is outrageous that Iran refuses to abide by international standards and international agreements in terms of treatment of those who are in their care. And we continue – we will continue to press the Iranian Government so that we can see for ourselves what the conditions of our citizens are.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- Iran recently asked about whether there would be a reciprocal access to an Iranian who was in an American jail, and that TQ came out saying that the Iranians had, in fact, requested access. Do you know if access has since been granted?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I think there was access requested in one particular instance. I just don’t know the status.
QUESTION: So on Iran, there’s a report out today that the Iranians have asked the Swiss to, in turn, ask the United States to extradite members of a group – I think the group is called Tondar, T-o-n-d-a-r – and which is being blamed for the death of this Iranian scientist. What do you say?
MR. CROWLEY: I think allegations that a group in the United States is somehow responsible for an assassination in Iran is outrageous.
QUESTION: What? Really? There’s a bit of history here.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I think --
QUESTION: I mean, let’s go back to the ‘50s.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: North Korea has yesterday declared no-sail zone to maritime area near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea. After that, South Korea military placed on high alerts. What do you think about North Korea intention?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve heard that notice. I think we’re looking into it just to determine precisely what might be behind it. But obviously, in any kind of declaration like that, we would encourage restraint on both sides.
QUESTION: On the extradition request, I think you took a question yesterday about whether or when the Secretary has or might sign the extradition papers for Mr. Noriega to go to France. Anything on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. It is the case that the decision by the Supreme Court has been – the challenge to Mr. Noriega’s extradition has been resolved and the matter will go to the Secretary of State or her designee for a final decision as to whether or not to issue a surrender warrant. And she has not yet made a decision.
QUESTION: Am I correct that the law gives a 90 – excuse me, a 60-day period to make that evaluation?
MR. CROWLEY: That sounds right.
MR. CROWLEY: I think the – well, no – well, I think the polls have closed.
MR. CROWLEY: And I think we commend the people of Sri Lanka for a 72 percent turnout. That is something that is truly remarkable. And we will – I think we’ll have more to say after the election results are completed – are announced, I think, tomorrow.
QUESTION: They did get a better turnout in North Korea. (Laughter.) And they used to in Iraq.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a – it’s been reported that --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure it’s turnout. I think the results are --
QUESTION: Well, on Sri Lanka, there have been indications that the government might be trying to question the legitimacy of the opposition contender General Fonseka. Is there any concern about that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think, by all indications, it was a spirited election and we look forward for the results. There’s nothing that I have – I understand right now that would call into question the results, but let’s wait and see what they are.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. One more.
QUESTION: Have you heard a date on the talks between the special envoy of Dalai Lama in Tibet --
MR. CROWLEY: I think we released a statement on that last night. I have nothing to add to that.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)
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