1:07 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Lou, thank you very much. Continuing on with the – some broader issues, in addition to hosting the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Secretary Clinton this afternoon will host a bilateral meeting with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.
And the Secretary and the Bahraini foreign minister will have the opportunity to talk about regional security issues as well as the state of the Middle East peace process and our joint pursuit on a comprehensive peace in the region.
Today, the Federal Council in Switzerland decided on humanitarian grounds to resettle two Uighur detainees currently held in Guantanamo Bay. Just last month, Switzerland resettled one Uzbek detainee from Guantanamo as well. The United States is grateful to the Government of Switzerland and the Canton of Jura for this latest humanitarian gesture and for its consistent support of our efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Nine countries have already accepted detainees for resettlement, and this number is growing. Yesterday, Latvia announced that it will resettle a Guantanamo detainee, and we are grateful for this decision by the Latvian Government. We are also encouraged by the assistance of the international community, which continues to support the Administration’s efforts to close Guantanamo.
Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell continues his trip in the region. He had a meeting today with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon. They talked about Copenhagen, the situation in Haiti, Afghanistan, and other issues. And he will have other meetings in Seoul tomorrow before returning to the United States.
And as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke mentioned earlier today, obviously we are offering the condolences for those who were killed today in Pakistan, including three American soldiers and a number of Pakistani citizens, including children, as they were gathering outside of a girls school in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. We’re obviously continuing to gather information on that.
And lastly, the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince reopened today for immigrant visa services, so we’ll be able to help Haitian citizens who are awaiting the opportunity to come to the United States as legal immigrants to join family members here in the U.S.
With that --
QUESTION: What’s the --
QUESTION: How may (inaudible) already approved today?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Have you approved any visas (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I think we just reopened today for business.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the import, if any, of President Ahmadinejad’s comments last night on television?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Haiti for a second?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: Since the previous briefers didn’t want to touch the case of the 12, how would you like to get your hands dirty and tell us what’s going on with them --
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Lou is being a good lawyer, I think.
QUESTION: -- and bring us up to date on the case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think today, the judge in Haiti continues to question the 10 American citizens, to ascertain the facts behind the movement of children, and we at the Embassy continue to provide them the same kind of consular support that we would any American citizen in a similar circumstance.
QUESTION: Are there any conversations beyond consular contacts between the U.S. and Haitian Governments on the case?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Do they have lawyers or --
MR. CROWLEY: I believe so. I mean, I believe so. They’ve had access to – put it this way: From our standpoint, we’ve given them advice on how to procure a lawyer. I simply don’t know if, in the – they haven’t been charged with anything yet, so it may well be that there’s just informal questioning going on. But I’ll defer – obviously, the 10 American citizens have made themselves available to the press; they can answer that question best.
QUESTION: Is it too early to talk about the suggestion from the prime minister, Mr. Bellerive, about possibly transferring these Americans to the U.S. for any prosecution? Are we still too early in that process?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that, first and foremost, is a judgment for the Haitian judge and whether he refers this case for further investigation. This is right now a matter in the Haitian judicial system.
QUESTION: Would you like to see that happen?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we want to make sure that there’s just a fair and transparent legal process. And I think, as far as we know right now, we’re satisfied with what’s happening.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Iran.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s unclear what the president was referring to yesterday. I think from our standpoint, we will look for actions as opposed to just words. To the extent that the president is offering a new perspective on the Tehran research reactor arrangement that was offered to Iran last fall in Geneva, we will look forward to hearing about the Iranian position through the IAEA. So – but it’s – I think we’re just seeking clarification through the IAEA as to whether Tehran has changed its current position.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. view Ahmadinejad’s comments last night as perhaps another form of stalling?
MR. CROWLEY: Unclear. I mean, obviously if, as he suggested, Tehran is willing to move forward to accept the arrangement that has been offered so that – this would be of benefit to the Iranian people, and it would clearly be welcome news from the international community. The real question is whether this represents a yes and whether Tehran is willing to communicate that to the IAEA.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the only acceptable answer is the one that comes to the response to the IAEA proposal?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the IAEA is the agency that is directly responsible for pursuing this, should Tehran say yes. So that is the appropriate forum for which Iran should give its answer.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on --
QUESTION: Has the IAEA told you that they’ve heard anything new from the Iranians?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: On his comments about the three hikers and about all the other Americans that are in Iran, your guidance yesterday didn’t say whether you would entertain such a swap. Could you answer that directly, please?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s – there are no negotiations taking place between the United States and Iran regarding a prisoner swap. I think from our standpoint, we have repeatedly called on Iran to release our citizens. They include Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fatal, Shane Bauer, Reza Taghavi, and Kian Tajbakhsh. We all remain concerned about the whereabouts of Robert Levinson and have communicated that through our protecting power in Tehran repeatedly.
So again, if this is a suggestion that Iran is willing to move forward and resolve the issues surrounding U.S. citizens in Iranian custody, we would obviously welcome that opportunity. As we said yesterday, this is a step that, in our view, is long overdue for Iran to meet its international obligations.
We also have clearly stated publicly that, to the extent that Iran has questions about Iranian citizens in U.S. custody, we would remain willing to entertain those questions and facilitate consular access if that’s what Iran desires.
QUESTION: And that’s – specifically, would you rule out a swap? That’s the suggestion from the president.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there’s not really an equivalence, if you will, between, say, an Iranian citizen who has been indicted and/or convicted of arms trafficking in violation of international law, and three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border. So I think we’re not interested in a swap, per se. We are interested in resolving the cases of our citizens who we think should be released immediately.
QUESTION: Could you --
QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Could you – can you confirm how many Iranians are being held in the United States?
MR. CROWLEY: I cannot. I’ll refer to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Richard Haas has written in Newsweek this week that perhaps it’s time for the U.S. to seriously consider encouraging some sort of regime change in Iran.
MR. CROWLEY: That is ultimately a matter for the Iranian people. There is a government in Iran. As we have said clearly for the past year, we are prepared to engage this government in – out of mutual interest and mutual respect to resolve the nuclear concerns that we have and the international community shares, as well as engage in a broad-based dialogue on a range of issues, concerns that we have, concerns that Iran has.
For a variety of reasons, Iran has been unable, unwilling to constructively engage in this dialogue. But what you’re seeing in Iran is questions that the Iranian people have about its government stemming from the election in June, the results of which were not credible.
So it is up to Iran to answer the questions that its people has. If there’s a question of legitimacy, that question rests in the eyes of the Iranian people. That’s not a matter for the United States to judge.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more on P-5+1 consultations?
MR. CROWLEY: I would expect that there will be a P-5+1 consultation. I’m still not exactly sure of the form it will take, but I would expect that to happen in the next few days.
QUESTION: And today, the Bahraini foreign minister and Secretary Clinton are holding a meeting. You indicated too that they’re going to be talking about peace in the Middle East. And the same day, we hear the rising sounds of drums of war in the area coming out of Israel. Defense Minister Barak and his top officials are talking about a possible coming war with Syria and Lebanon. War games have been conducted in the last few days that – with the scenario of attacking Syria.
The Syrian president today has – had in his meeting – or after his meeting with the foreign minister of Spain, has announced that Israel is going after – trying to reach a war in the Middle East, or all happenings are indicating to that conclusion right now. His foreign minister, Mr. Mouallem, is saying that the coming war, if Israel decides to attack either Syria or Lebanon, is going to have to be a comprehensive war in the area rather than peace. That’s going to also touch the Israeli cities as much as the Arab cities.
Now, with the new ambassador – American ambassador being probably close to going to Syria, what is the United States efforts at this time? What is it trying to do in order to refrain Israel from more war – you know, conducting new wars against Syria and Lebanon, especially that Israel is receiving billions of dollars from the United States, military and economic aids, and that Israel is a strategic ally of the United States? I would like to hear from you sir, what kind of conduct, of policies that the United States is doing right now to preempt any kind of new war in the area?
QUESTION: I think that’s a record.
MR. CROWLEY: That qualifies in my definition as a loaded question. Look, our efforts have been very clear, very transparent. It is why we have engaged strenuously over the past year to try to push all parties in the Middle East towards a comprehensive peace agreement – Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria. I’m not in a position to make any pronouncements on when we will have a formal nominee to be the U.S. ambassador in Damascus. As we have said clearly, we look forward to restoring our ambassador to Damascus because we think Syria plays a vital role and our bilateral relationship should progress, but also Syria plays a vital role in terms of the aspirations that everyone has for comprehensive peace in the region. That announcement will come from the White House.
I would respectfully suggest that Israel has a right to self-defense, and to the extent that it pursues training and war games, as you would call them, in advancing their self-defense, that is their right. And the United States is committed to help Israel maintain the capabilities that are important to Israel’s defense. The Israeli Government – this Israeli Government has indicated publicly that it is committed to pursue peace on all of these tracks, and that is the focus of our engagement. It’s why George Mitchell was in the region not long ago, stopped in Damascus to talk to President Assad and other Syrian officials to see what – where Syria is in this process and how it can contribute.
As we do, in fact, at some point this year, return our ambassador to Damascus, we will engage on a regular basis with Syria in pursuit of our interests and our mutual interests. So we will continue to engage Syria to play a more constructive role in the region. We have questions for Syria in terms of its support, even current support of extremist groups in the region. And – but we are committed to advance our relationship and we’re committed to work with Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinians, in pursuit of Middle East peace.
QUESTION: But could you speak to this --
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
QUESTION: -- in the same way to the right of the people of the area to have peace, to a just peace, that Israel is not only that – the only country that you always indicate that has right to defend itself.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. And --
QUESTION: But the people of the area have a right to live in peace --
MR. CROWLEY: The people of the area absolutely --
QUESTION: -- and raise their children.
MR. CROWLEY: They absolutely have a right to live in peace. That is why in the Secretary’s discussion with the Bahraini foreign minister we will continue to see how we can push all of the parties in the Middle East towards formal negotiations so that – rather than trying to resolve these issues through further conflict, we will resolve these issues through negotiation and a comprehensive peace agreement that everyone in the region can support.
QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation of the Syrian foreign minister’s comments that has received the agrément about Robert Ford to be the next ambassador to Syria?
MR. CROWLEY: We have passed a name to the Syrian Government and we are awaiting its response --
QUESTION: Can you say when that --
MR. CROWLEY: -- or request for agrément.
QUESTION: When was that passed on? By who?
MR. CROWLEY: Sometime in the recent – very recently.
QUESTION: So if you passed the name, why is it such a secret? Well, it’s not really a secret anymore, but I mean, why are you – why are you unwilling to talk about what the name is?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I will reserve that prerogative for the President of the United States.
QUESTION: Well, shouldn’t what you just said have been reserved for the President of the United States as well?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, as a --
QUESTION: If you have selected – if the President of the United States has selected --
MR. CROWLEY: As a matter of diplomatic practice, the question was: Has the United States of America passed a name to the Government of Syria under a request for agrément. We have. That is a matter of diplomatic practice. Now, as to – and since we have publicly said we hope to restore an ambassador to Damascus as soon as possible, I can tell you that we are pursuing that. As to who that individual is and whether that individual will be the formal nominee of the President of the United States to the Congress for its advice and consent, that prerogative I’ll reserve for the President of the United States.
QUESTION: Have you heard back from the Syrians yet?
MR. CROWLEY: Not yet.
QUESTION: Can we talk a little more about the attack in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The ambassador indicated this morning that all five were members of the U.S. military. The Taliban has already claimed that those who were killed were working for Blackwater. Is there, as far as this company which is now known as Xe is concerned, is there now some kind of PR problem that the U.S. Government has when it comes to contractors working particularly in Southwest Asia? And if there is a PR problem, how is the U.S. Government dealing with it?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s divide those two. If your question is about the attack today, we can tell you, as we have, that three American soldiers were killed in this attack and that two American soldiers were wounded in this attack. And we can also tell you that a large number of Pakistanis were killed and injured, including children. The question here for those who would either conduct or condone violence is: What precisely is the Taliban trying to build on behalf of the people of Pakistan? This was an occasion where it is the opening of a school to expand educational opportunities for all citizens of Pakistan, and in particular for girls in Pakistan, as part of building up a brighter future for all Pakistani citizens. What is the Taliban trying to build by attacking U.S. officials who are trying to support this effort, attacking Pakistani officials who are trying to support this effort, and killing the children who are Pakistan’s future? So I would turn – respectfully turn the question around: What is the vision for the Taliban for Pakistan except for further violence and violence against Americans but primarily violence against other Muslims? As far as I know, this is un-Islamic. So the real question is what – the challenge is what is the Taliban helping – hoping to achieve. And the answer is nothing that is good for Pakistan in the immediate or long term.
Now, as to your question regarding contractors in Pakistan, our Embassy in Pakistan has been asked this question repeatedly, it has answered it repeatedly, and this issue has nothing to do with what transpired today. This is, as Richard Holbrooke said earlier, just propaganda and disinformation being put out by the Taliban. Let’s not confuse the facts here that somebody put a bomb in a car and through the process of doing that killed the children of Pakistan. That’s the only issue about what happened today.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the United States strongly supports international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice and believes firmly that there cannot be a lasting peace in Darfur without accountability and justice. And we will continue to encourage the Government of Sudan and all parties to the conflict to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor, as required by UN Security Council 1593, passed in 2005.
QUESTION: I --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to Pakistan for a second. Yesterday, there was a TQ that you put out about the five Americans detained there. It was particularly unenlightening. When was the last time you had consular access to these five?
MR. CROWLEY: Did we – I just didn’t see it, so --
***MR. TONER: I think we just noted several times. We can try to find the last date.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a fair question. We should have answered it the first time.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you don’t have the answer?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. I’ll find out.
QUESTION: The TQ made it seem as though you weren’t going to say anything about it due to privacy concerns. This is a particularly – this whole --
MR. CROWLEY: We should --
QUESTION: -- privacy issue is a bit of a bugbear for me, and so I don’t --
MR. CROWLEY: And for me.
QUESTION: -- I don’t understand why the visit, if there are no details about it, why that’s --
MR. CROWLEY: I – it’s a fair question.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) by privacy issues.
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question. It is a fair question. I mean, the Privacy Act is nothing – it is the law and people do have rights, but we should be able to answer that question.
MR. TONER: I think it said regular access. We’ll try to get it for you.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, but we should be able to tell you how recently it was.
QUESTION: On the Uighurs, have they arrived in Switzerland and who transported them? Was it a U.S. airplane*?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – I’ll take that – my presumption is that they have not moved yet. I think the decision was just made to accept them today.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Sudan? I just want a point of clarification. Is it that U.S. policy now feels that the ICC is the best place for Bashir, et al, to come to justice over Darfur?
MR. CROWLEY: Without going through the history of the ICC, I believe that the ICC can focus on questions that involve crimes against humanity and genocide. But as always, there’s a national prerogative that if the national government of a particular country pursues a case, then the ICC will cede jurisdiction nationally. But in the absence of significant action by Sudan itself to investigate and prosecute those responsible for genocide in Darfur, this is an acceptable and – under the ICC, this is the kind – just the kind of case and circumstance that it was formed for.
QUESTION: And does Sudan’s failure to move its own justice system toward this conclusion have any bearing on U.S. policy as far as whether or not they’re meeting our goals for the carrot-and-stick approach that was outlined last year?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are pursuing our policies with respect to Sudan not only to help resolve the violence in Darfur, but also to promote full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That is in the interest of the United States. It’s in the interest of the region. At the same time, while pursuing that and pressing the Government of Sudan to do more, we obviously recognize that there has to be accountability and justice with respect to what did happen in Darfur. And as our emissary Scott Gration has said repeatedly and publicly, at some point, Bashir has to get a good lawyer.
QUESTION: Well, wait – are you endorsing – is the U.S. Government endorsing the prosecution of Bashir by the ICC?
MR. CROWLEY: The United States of America is endorsing the pursuit of justice and accountability with respect to the violence that occurred in Darfur.
QUESTION: Well, that’s not exactly what I asked. Are you endorsing Bashir’s prosecution by the International Criminal Court?
MR. CROWLEY: We are supportive of the effort to pursue justice in this case.
QUESTION: But P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure – Matt, I --
QUESTION: -- surely you understand why I’m asking you the question the way I’m asking you.
MR. CROWLEY: And I’ve given you my answer.
QUESTION: Do you have – well, do you have any feelings on actually what Michel’s question was, which was the tacking on or the agreeing to consider tacking on genocide to the existing charges?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m done.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Haiti real quick? Do you know if through all these proceedings with these 10 Americans if there have been in every single one of them a U.S. Embassy presence in the proceedings?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. And then do you have an update on the numbers on orphans, fatalities, and evacs?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s see. No change in the number of confirmed American fatalities. As of this morning, roughly 14,665 Americans and family members have departed Haiti.
QUESTION: Fourteen thousand and how many?
MR. CROWLEY: 14,665.
MR. CROWLEY: Twenty-nine orphan parole cases were processed yesterday, bringing the total to about 700. And yesterday, 45 orphans flew to Miami, and the total number of orphans who have departed is roughly 625.
QUESTION: Okay. And then can you take the question, please, on the number of visas issued today since the Embassy has been open again?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)