2:34 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. It’s 2:30 on a Friday afternoon and a busy day here at the Department of State. And we’re very conscious of the fact that there’s an activity at 3 o’clock in Vancouver that will occupy all Americans and Finns around the world, so we’ll try to get through this quickly.
Obviously, you’ve heard from – Secretary Clinton this morning had a bilateral meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, talking about the peace process, Iran, how to improve conditions in Gaza without – while being mindful of Israel’s security requirements, and as you heard, gefilte fish, as well.
She just finished a working lunch with Foreign Minister Yu of South Korea. I was asking Ambassador Kathy Stephens during the course of lunch with us – it was the fourth, fifth, or sixth time that they’ve met over the course of the past year. But it is – it was, as the Secretary said, a detailed and comprehensive discussion, not only about the situation with respect to North Korea, also the important evolving matters with respect to Iran, but very wide-ranging discussions on regional issues and long-term security architecture for Asia.
And this afternoon, the Secretary will have a meeting with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States Jose Miguel Insulza, as well as a farewell coffee with the outgoing ambassador of the People’s Republic, Ambassador Zhou, as he leaves Washington after five years of service.
QUESTION: Ambassador – People’s Republic of --
MR. CROWLEY: China.
QUESTION: A farewell coffee?
MR. CROWLEY: A farewell coffee.
QUESTION: Is that – is it just a social event?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I’m sure that they will reflect on where the relationship is.
QUESTION: Is this the resumption of the human rights dialogue?
MR. CROWLEY: Which we are still in discussion with China to establish a date for the human rights dialogue. That could very well be a topic.
QUESTION: February 29th?
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) I think we have – we’re still working on a --
QUESTION: I heard that’s what the Chinese proposed.
MR. CROWLEY: We’re still working on a particular date. But as we’re sitting here talking about the Olympics, we certainly should congratulate our friends in Canada on their gold medal performance last night. I think I heard that there are a few of us who are hockey fans in this room and that their goal differential was something like 48 to 2. That is incredible.
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Bill.
QUESTION: -- on Haiti.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The – apparently, it was put forward to the Administration the possibility of moving a lot of the refugees out of the area where they’re now located to other parts of Haiti, where the infrastructure has not been devastated and as well as to the United States, and these options were rejected by the Administration. What was the basis for not agreeing to a relocation --
MR. CROWLEY: I would challenge that assumption. Obviously, we are into the stabilization phase in Haiti, and there is this challenge for those who have lost their homes, lost their businesses. Now, some of this is being done by the Haitian people themselves. There has been a fair amount of movement in and around Haiti since various parts of the country were not significantly affected by the earthquake. But these are decisions that ultimately have to be made by the Government of Haiti, not imposed on the government by the United States.
We are working with Haitian Government officials. So is the UN. And this is a – there is a kind of chicken-and-eggs challenge here, which is you can’t start to rebuild until you remove the rubble, and that process is already underway, but how do you bring in the kind of heavy machinery that will allow this process to speed up.
So this is a very complex equation, not only how we stabilize the population, how we – as we’ve talked about – provide shelter in the short term because we know the rains have started to become – come to Haiti. We’ve got issues of sanitation. But I think there is work being done in terms of how to move the population into more short-term, sustainable situations, and then how to get about the business of rebuilding Haiti.
Now part of that will be – as the Secretary and others have said, our challenge is to rebuild Haiti better. So there’s already various groups underway looking at issues of building codes and other factors so that when this rebuilding does begin to occur in earnest, that we make Haiti into a more secure and resilient place than it was before the earthquake.
I’m not – I don’t believe that ultimately, that these are U.S. decisions. I think that we are consulting with our experts within USAID, together with our international partners and the UN and the Government of Haiti. But this ultimately will be a decision by the Government of Haiti.
QUESTION: Well, it seems that the options are for the Haiti Government that since the move cannot be made – and I’m given to believe that it was largely financial considerations that were taken there, which of course would involve the United States – that the refugees – some refugees have gone north and they’re in stable areas, but there are still 1.5 million people down there in the quake-stricken area. And the decision today by the Haiti Government is to set up facilities in that area which is going to be hit by the monsoons very, very soon. If that happens, you’re looking at a situation in which you’ll have another tragedy in Haiti, this time caused by human action or inaction, whatever the case may be, and not by a simple natural disaster.
MR. CROWLEY: And all I can tell you is there are very close consultations going on in terms of both how to sustain the people who have been most profoundly affected in the earthquake zone, how to stabilize the situation, mindful of the – a great threat right now is the emergence of disease, so that whatever conditions we can place them in, we have to look after sanitation as being a critical issue. That is front and center on the agenda right now.
And we’re working through these issues with Haiti and with the international partners as we prepare for an important donors conference at the end of March or early April to make sure that there are the resources available that can be sustained over time so that the rebuilding can begin as rapidly as possible.
QUESTION: Can sanitation be set up in those areas which are quake-stricken quickly and --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to my – to international health experts that – but this is obviously an area of tremendous concern.
QUESTION: On --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Nigeria, there’s been increasing confusion, concern, speculation in – about the condition of President Yar'Adua and – along with the suspicious – somewhat suspicious circumstances as reported about his rival. And in light of that, can you tell me who does the United States – who’s the United States recognizing right now as the leader of Nigeria?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, what’s first and – what’s important first and foremost is who is the leader, the recognized leader of Nigeria. And right now, I believe it is Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. President Yar’Adua has returned to Nigeria and I think Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson and others have welcomed that step. But we are concerned that his return is not an effort by his senior advisors to upset Nigeria’s stability and an effort to forward their own personal interests.
Nigeria, at this point, needs a strong and effective leader to ensure the stability of the country and to manage Nigeria’s many political, economic, and security challenges. So we are in – we have been focused on this issue ever since President Yar’Adua was stricken ill, and we have tremendous concern about stability. And our message to all of the players in Nigeria is make sure that this moves forward in a stable, constitutional, and democratic way.
QUESTION: One follow-up on that.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Have any U.S. officials tried to meet with the presidents or his staff since his return to the country?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve been having direct conversations with Nigerian officials going back several weeks. Secretary Carson has been in the region fairly recently and I think will be returning there very soon.
QUESTION: There’s been several Arab media or Middle Eastern media reports that George Mitchell offered his resignation, and just seeing if you might be able to confirm – it was – which was refused.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, George Mitchell was sitting with Secretary Clinton and Minister Barak in the meeting in her office this morning. There appears to be a monthly rumor, story that George Mitchell is resigning. He is not, and he is on the job, and as we indicated, a critical part of the meeting today.
QUESTION: Would you – sorry, would you be able to – I mean, they’re citing that he’s frustrated. You know, is there – what are the hurdles that the U.S. is seeing right now in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What are the main --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, are we frustrated? Sure, we’re frustrated. As we’ve said over and over again for the past few months --
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) We want to see the parties get in negotiations. We want to see the parties taking steps that create an impetus that moves you towards negotiation, not unilateral steps that create either tension or obstacles that can inhibit the return to negotiations. We think that these – as we’ve said many, many times, the issues that are complex, emotional, can only be resolved in dialogue between the parties, and the sooner they begin talks, the better.
So – but George Mitchell is determined, if you know him. He is – he’s engaged in discussions with the Palestinians, with the Israelis, with others around the region. And we’re all looking for that formula that can open the door to – for talks to begin.
QUESTION: Just --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So if these rumors keep coming --
MR. CROWLEY: He’s not resigning.
QUESTION: Right. But the rumors keep coming up, so I’m just curious why.
MR. CROWLEY: I have no idea. (Laughter.) I mean, look. He is – if you know George Mitchell, he’s committed to this and he is an extraordinarily patient man. When you look – when he talks about his experiences in Northern Ireland over several years, that – he understands that it will just take hard work and determination that finally will create that tipping point where the parties will commit, seriously address the issues, and move towards a settlement. So I don’t – I see nothing but determination in George Mitchell’s eyes.
QUESTION: On North Korea, the Secretary, after the meeting with South Korean foreign minister, said she is encouraged by the signs of progress to return to the Six-Party Talks. Could you elaborate what kind of signs she is talking about? Do you hear any signs from North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as she also said, we are waiting for North Korea to communicate that it’s ready to come back to the Six-Party process, and even more importantly, ready to take the affirmative steps that we’ve outlined and that they have previously committed to. Ambassador Steve Bosworth remains in the region. I believe he’s now in Tokyo finishing up the string of consultations that he’s had this week. Ambassador Sung Kim has returned here to Washington. I ran into him about an hour before the meeting with Foreign Minister Yu, and following up on the lunch that the Secretary had, there is now a meeting being held, led by Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, who himself landed in the winds this morning from Israel and joined the Secretary in the lunch about halfway through it.
The ball is in North Korea’s court, but we continue to have our consultations with the Chinese, with the Koreans, with the Japanese, with the Russians as well, to see if we can’t create a pathway that gets us back to the Six-Party process. So I think, I mean, the question as I recall was posed in a – were we coming back with a discouraging report? Actually, we’re – we can – we see the potential here for the Six-Party process to begin in the coming weeks or months, but the key is looking for a signal from North Korea they are in fact prepared to make that commitment.
QUESTION: If I may follow up, what were the actual signs of encouragement she was talking about this morning?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, all of these countries have had dialogue with North Korea. We had our own dialogue with North Korea back in December. At that time, as Ambassador Bosworth outlined when he was in this room, they have said that they are prepared to return to the Six-Party process. But as we’ve seen, they are – they have not yet communicated that affirmatively. So – but in their consultations, we see signs that they may be getting closer to making a decision. And we’re working with our partners in the Six-Party process to figure out how to create a path that encourages North Korea to say yes.
QUESTION: Related, a mundane question: When is Bosworth coming back? And will he be flying to D.C. or Boston?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know on the second part. I think he will – I think he’s still in Tokyo. He’ll be back over the weekend. Normally, he would go back to Boston. He had meetings in Tokyo today and the – it will – they will depart from Tokyo tomorrow, returning to the United States.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. I have two more. Go ahead. Three more.
QUESTION: Steinberg, is he planning a trip to Asia, to Japan next week?
MR. CROWLEY: I have nothing to announce.
QUESTION: On the differences between sanctions that the Israelis are looking at against Iran versus what U.S., is that playing at all into Palestinian-Israeli talks? How does the difference in sanctions factor into how we move forward with the Palestinians and Israelis?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – there’s not a direct connection. I mean, obviously, Israel is anxious to return to negotiations, and it recognizes a serious threat to its security with respect to Iran. All countries have both – there are multilateral sanctions in place with respect to Iran already, and other countries have supplemented those with their own sanctions. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of trade going on between Israel and Iran right now anyway, but I don’t – these are not – I wouldn’t say that these necessarily intersect.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. Two more.
QUESTION: I just wanted to see if I could --
MR. CROWLEY: Or one more.
QUESTION: -- reaction to the inspector general’s report on the press office here, and specifically the parts in here that talks about the policy that people who call – reporters who call, people in the press office have been told to not call back on sensitive issues.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, it’s a compelling reading. It is a tough report. It’s the first time in six years that the Bureau of Public Affairs has been inspected. I want – I’ve talked to my predecessor, Sean McCormack, and tried to figure out how he avoided having an inspection during his tenure. But I had invited the IG – tell me what I need to do to adjust the Bureau of Public Affairs to a much different global media environment than perhaps we are structured on today. And during the course of it, they have identified both the great work that our public affairs professionals here are doing, but some organizational weaknesses and some morale issues and a handful of leadership issues that we have to address. There were 31 recommendations in the report. We are – we have not waited for the specific final version of the report. We are already doing – making the adjustments and the changes that we think are appropriate.
In the report, it talked about questions regarding how media queries are handled. I think those of you in the room are the best experts to attest to how our – how we service your needs. I think we do an outstanding job every day. In some cases, if America really wants to know how the Bureau of Public Affairs works, we have specific questions that come in to our press office that are better handed in the front office. We have the background and the details. So our policy here is clear. If you in the news media call us, we are going to be responsive. If we’re not being responsive, tell me. I actually think the IG interviewed some of you in the room to get your understandings of how we’re doing. If a press call comes into this office, it will be returned. We think it’s very important that, through the media, we communicate what’s happening here at the Department of State to the American people and to international audience as well. What that refers to is simply at times, when press questions have come in to Mark Toner’s shop in the press office, we’ve said, actually, we’ll take those rather than have them answered by our duty officer.
QUESTION: So it’s more of handing them off to you guys instead of --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not – trust me about it. We have a clear policy here. We are committed to being responsive to those of you who cover us every day. We appreciate your being here. We think we are responsive. But we have to make sure that based on the issue, some of them will be handled in the Front Office, some by me, some by the spokesman, some by Mark Toner, some by our duty officers. But it’ll – it does depend based on the issue, and that’s what the report referred to.
QUESTION: One more (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Sure.
QUESTION: There have been even more reports of Kim Kye Gwan coming to visit New York, the North Korean nuclear negotiator. Do you have anything additional on that today that you haven’t had in the past?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: One more. David. Got nine minutes before the puck drops.
QUESTION: Any reflection on the – Qadhafi’s declaration of a jihad against Switzerland? I mean, all he was –
MR. CROWLEY: I saw that report and it just brought me back to a day in September, one of the more memorable sessions of the UN General Assembly that I can recall – lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)
DPB # 27
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