1:34 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Well, continuing on, and always great to see my friend and colleague, Tom Countryman – and it’s always great to see the dean emeritus of the State Department Correspondents Association, Mr. Schweid has joined us. In your honor, I am wearing a Red Sox tie today as we welcome pitchers and catchers to spring training.
QUESTION: And others.
MR. CROWLEY: And others.
MR. CROWLEY: This morning, the Secretary met with President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, reaffirming the strong friendship between the United States and Guatemala. The Secretary thanked him for his leadership in the region, efforts that he has ongoing to work with the new government in Honduras and reintegrate Honduras into the inter-American community.
President Colom also talked about the situation in Haiti, the fact that Guatemala has sent a small rescue team and some food to Haiti, but is anxious to do what it can to help that country. They talked about strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala and agreed that more needs to be done to protect the – ensure the safety of the citizens of that country. And the Secretary was particularly appreciative of the ongoing work in Guatemala of the International Commission against Impunity in that country. And the president talked about his ongoing challenges to make sure that – grow institutions of government in that country, undertake tax reform, rural development, which the Secretary pledged we’ll continue to help.
Secretary Clinton will meet in less than an hour with Nobel Laureate, internationally revered religious and cultural leader, the Dalai Lama. She’ll be joined in this meeting by Under Secretary Maria Otero, who is also the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, and Deputy Assistant Secretary David Shear. And I think you saw the White House released a summary of the President’s meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I would expect that the agenda for the meeting with the Secretary will track very similarly with the discussion between the President and Dalai Lama.
And I expect that she will express our support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity. She’ll welcome the Dalai Lama’s report on the ongoing dialogue which was recently renewed with China, and I’m sure will encourage the Dalai Lama in his efforts to – his commitment to nonviolence and pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese Government.
Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew was in Zagreb this morning for the inauguration of President Ivo Josipovic and is on his way to Israel, where he’ll have high-level meetings with a range of officials and also will meet with representatives from the Palestinian Authority over the next couple of days.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Bill Burns, having been in Syria yesterday, was in Turkey today for meetings led by Foreign Minister Davutoglu. I’m sure that the foreign minister gave him an update of his trip to Tehran. Clearly, they were following up on a very detailed discussion that Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Erdogan had in Doha earlier this week. But one of the reasons for the meeting was the end review of the comprehensive strategic relationship between the United States and Turkey. But I’m sure they – in addition to talking about our joint concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, talked about Afghanistan, Iraq, the peace process, efforts of the Minsk Group, and the ongoing efforts towards a rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia.
Dan Benjamin, our Coordinator for Counterterrorism, met today with Syrian officials. He led a delegation that included representatives from the Embassy, also David Heyman from the Department of Homeland Security, Maura Connelly from the NEA Bureau here at State, and NSC Director Meaghen McDermott.
And Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today, and while he is there, will have meetings with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Foreign Secretary Bashir, opposition leaders, and Generals Kayani and Pasha. Then he will travel for his first visit as the SRAP to the `Stans, as well as Georgia and Germany.
And just picking up where Tom Countryman left off on Somalia, clearly, Elise, to your question, Somalia is a very complex, difficult challenge. But clearly, a significant part of the effort to combat piracy involves real changes on the ground in Somalia. It’s why the United States is a leading provider of assistance to Somalia, both in terms of humanitarian assistance, but also to support for the TFG, the Transitional Federal Government, in Somalia.
But we provided about $150 million in humanitarian assistance in the last fiscal year, have been a leading donor to the World Food Program, which has unfortunately been forced to suspend its activities here because of efforts by al-Shabaab to – its demands for cash payments, its kidnapping and killing of aid workers there. And when you look at the challenge in Somalia, al-Shabaab is, in essence, denying millions of Somalis access to the food and the availability of the kind of governance that Somalia will need to advance. So that’s why we continue our efforts on behalf of the TFG, working with other regional partners, to do everything we can to build up the kind of governance and institutions and delivery of services that will help turn the tide against al-Shabaab and other extremist elements.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of exactly what was on the menu for Dan Benjamin’s meeting with the Syrians?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. I think it’s – it is – obviously, we have shared counterterrorism concerns, review threats to the region. But beyond that, not a lot more.
QUESTION: U.S. and Syria have shared terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: They do, but just as --
QUESTION: No, I’m just asking.
MR. CROWLEY: No – yeah – well, we have concerns – shared concerns about terrorism in the region, and we also have our concerns about Syria itself. And I’m sure that was part of our discussion today and also with Under Secretary Burns when he was in Syria as well.
QUESTION: Why you are reversing the status of diplomacy in Damascus, raising it to full ambassador, was any consideration --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re restoring an ambassador there --
QUESTION: Well, restoring, all right.
MR. CROWLEY: -- yeah, I mean, primarily because we think that at this --
QUESTION: Status quo ante--
MR. CROWLEY: -- point in time, given the issues in the region, we thought it was appropriate to have a representative there full time, to be able to have the kind of discussion and dialogue with Syria that we need, to encourage them where we think they’re taking steps that are positive, and also to continue very direct dialogue to continue to express to Syria our concerns about its relationships with various elements in the region as well. Syria has, in the past, been interested in engagement with a variety of countries. We clearly want to see comprehensive peace and that would involve progress on the Syrian-Israeli track as well as the other tracks.
QUESTION: No, I understand. I was – about to get to the point of being on the terrorism list. Was consideration being given or can it be done only certain times of the year or whatever to – Syria is what, now one of four countries. It sort of sticks out when you do something like this.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, although this is a fact-based process --
MR. CROWLEY: -- and we do continue to have concerns about Syria, its ongoing support of terrorist elements in the region. There are a variety of actors in Damascus that we think should not be there. And should Syria make progress in this area, then we will evaluate. But I’m not aware of any effort right now to consider removing Syria from the terrorism list.
MR. CROWLEY: Right. Very fluid situation and the Embassy there is monitoring it closely. Indications are it could be an attempted coup. There was evidently an attempted assassination of President Tandja. My understanding is that our Embassy staff is safe. We do have Congressman Mark Grayson of Florida who happened to be in the country at the time and he is currently at the Embassy and is also safe.
This is a difficult situation. President Tandja has been trying to extend his mandate in office. Both the United States and ECOWAS have expressed our concerns about that, and obviously that may well have been an act on his behalf that precipitated this act today. Clearly, we do not in any way, shape, or form, defend violence of this nature. But clearly, we think this underscores that Niger needs to move ahead and – with the elections and the formation of a new government.
QUESTION: Was the president abducted by the gunmen? The --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – we’re – I don’t think we’re in a position to say what the status of the president is at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have any indications of who this was by? I mean, there were some reports that it could be coming from abroad.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I’m not – we’re obviously trying to figure out what’s going on as well – a very fluid situation. We may be able to provide more details as we go forward. But right now, we’re – we, like you, are trying to assess exactly what’s happening.
Conclusion - Part 2