1:50 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. Sorry the briefing happened late today, but one of my duties as Assistant Secretary is to periodically meet with the Department’s Historical Advisory Committee, which plays a leading role in the periodic release of the Foreign Relations of the U.S. series. So a spirited discussion about the declassification of issues involving the Vietnam War. So --
QUESTION: And it’s always up to date. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: And certainly before we return to our normal programming, we probably should congratulate Canada on their spirited victory yesterday. But a wonderful Olympics. We would have preferred to bring a couple of gold medals south, particularly in hockey, but we’ll await now the – we’ll find our vengeance during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But a couple of things just to start. Secretary Clinton released a statement a short time ago, wishing a happy 49th anniversary to the Peace Corps and paying tribute to the 200,000 Americans who have answered the challenge first laid down by John F. Kennedy a half century ago.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, accompanied by NSC Senior Director for Asian Affairs Jeff Bader, departed today for China and Japan. They will be in Beijing tomorrow and Wednesday and in Tokyo Thursday and Friday, discussing bilateral, regional and global issues.
The Secretary is in Montevideo as we speak. She had meetings this morning with Uruguayan President-elect Mujica and outgoing Uruguayan President Vazquez, who is now about to participate or observe the inauguration of President Mujica as the new Uruguayan president.
She will also have a meeting this afternoon with Paraguay President Lugo before departing for Buenos Aires, where she will have dinner tonight with Argentine President Fernandez de Kirchner.
She will, as planned, make a stop tomorrow in Santiago. But obviously because of the situation there, her meeting with the Chilean president-elect and outgoing President Bachelet will occur at the airport.
In terms of our support for Chile today, Chile has requested our help in terms of providing a field hospital, communications support, and water purification systems. And so we are mobilizing those capabilities as we speak and will be moving those down to Chile as quickly as possible. Obviously, it was a major earthquake, major disaster. Chilean authorities continue to assess the damage. By way of scale, roughly six of Chile’s 15 regions were affected by this. I think the Chilean Government reports more than 700 casualties and our condolences go out to the people of Chile. But you are also seeing a robust response in the face of this adversity. But we stand ready to assist our friends in Chile with whatever they need.
QUESTION: What they’ve asked for so far is pretty modest. Are we – are there any signals that they will be asking a lot more in the future?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, whatever they think they need, we will provide. I think they’re still in the assessment phase, but let’s remember that Chile has a great deal of experience with earthquakes. If you compare it to Haiti, for example, Chile went through their – a mega-disaster in 1960. And from there, they learned a great deal about earthquakes. Their building standards were strengthened over the past decades, and so I think you have a population that clearly was very well prepared, which I think accounts for the relatively low death toll at this point. But I think this will be a significant disaster. And as Chile identifies requirements, we will stand ready to support them in any way necessary, and I think that’s exactly what Secretary Clinton will communicate when she meets with President Bachelet tomorrow.
QUESTION: Will the meetings at the airport – will that be the only thing she’ll do in Chile? Could she take a helicopter tour of any damaged areas?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question, Charlie. I think right now the activity is to be centered around the airport, but we that – we will take our cue from Chilean authorities.
QUESTION: Can you be a little more specific about their requests. Is it – it’s one field hospital, I assume a military field hospital? And then the water purification and whatnot, is that going to be coming from the military or civilian assets?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we’ll be identifying those assets. They exist within the private sector. They also do exist within the military. But in terms of sourcing, that will be worked through the United States Agency for International Development. But specifically where those assets come by, I think part of it will be how – if the military has that capability, relatively close to Chile, perhaps they’ll be the ones that provide it. But I think – I can’t say what the specific source will be.
Likewise, in terms of a field hospital, you want to be sure that you’re equipping that field hospital with specific capabilities based on the needs of the population. So we’re tailoring that to make sure that it is to address the injuries that we think the Chilean people have suffered and that it would be best for those medical professionals to be able to address.
QUESTION: And they haven’t asked for any search-and-rescue help? And then also, can you say – is that correct? And also, can you say if what – when today they asked for this help? Is it this morning? This afternoon?
MR. CROWLEY: This was just something that was worked out a short time ago in the conversation with Chilean officials and our ambassador in Santiago. I would say we still have search-and-rescue teams from Fairfax County here in the D.C. area and from Los Angeles on standby. So as we work through the day, again, if Chile asks us for additional support, we will, of course, provide it.
QUESTION: And it seems to me there was some mention, either by the Secretary herself or her staff, about some of the communications equipment already being on board her plane that she was taking in?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we have – we do have some satellite phones that we are prepared to provide. I mean, that’s one of the capabilities. I think we’re also looking at imagery that might help the Chileans assess the damage across the country and how to best respond.
QUESTION: Aside from the phones, nothing’s been mobilized at this point. Things are just on standby.
MR. CROWLEY: No, I think we have received a formal request from Chile, so now we are mobilizing, meaning we’re going to identify a source and move it into Chile as quickly as possible. So obviously, we – but we – this has been a conversation that we’ve been having with Chile for – since the disaster on Saturday. And they’ve just – obviously, doing their initial damage assessment, determining what they have within their own capabilities, and Chile has a formidable capability within their own government. So – but as they’ve been able to identify things that they need to – more expanded capabilities than they might possess, they’ve come forward today with a formal request.
QUESTION: Can you also just update us on U.S. citizens there, if there’s any casualties, injuries?
MR. CROWLEY: We have accounted for all of our embassy personnel and we are aware – we are not aware of any American casualties. I think we’re aware of two minor injuries to American citizens who have – who are in Chile. We estimate there are roughly 18,000 American citizens in Chile, maybe about 1,000 in the immediate area, the hardest-hit area in Chile. And we are obviously working to let them know that we’re available if they need any help. And all Americans in Chile obviously can register with the consulate, chile.usembassy.gov/service.html. They can also contact the consulate through SantiagoAMCIT@state.gov. And you all have been very kind to publish the number 1-888-407-4747 for any American citizens who are seeking information on the whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Chile. So we’re doing the same thing in this case that we, obviously, did in the Haiti tragedy, which is just going about. And over time, we expect that American citizens, if they need our help, will check in.
QUESTION: Do you have a task force organized or not?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had – we had a watch over the weekend, but I don’t think we have a task force that we have, say, akin to the Haiti crisis.
QUESTION: And all the embassy personnel that are accounted for, do you know how many there are, total? Even a rough idea?
MR. CROWLEY: About 118 was the number I remember on Saturday.
MR. CROWLEY: Now in some cases, we’re also – we have some great Foreign Service nationals who also work at the embassy. Not all of them are accounted for, but it may just be the difficulty of communications in the aftermath of the earthquake, but we have not yet accounted for all of our Foreign Service nationals.
QUESTION: P.J., a different topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On North Korea. Japanese newspaper reported that China proposed to have a meeting by all the six countries to – in Beijing to discuss the resumption of the talks. And can you confirm if there is such a proposal on the table, and what’s your response to that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as Ambassador Bosworth said in Tokyo before he came back to the United States, five of the six parties are prepared to move very quickly, and we would hope that the DPRK will decide to move ahead. This will be a discussion, an item of discussion in Secretary Steinberg’s trip to Beijing when he arrives tomorrow. But the decision as to whether they’re going to come back remains with North Korea.
QUESTION: So is there such a proposal on the table?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, let me just repeat what I just said. We are very anxious to see talks resume, and we have made that clear to North Korea. We have, the Chinese have, the South Koreans have. But the decision rests with North Korea, and I’m not aware that they have yet said yes.
QUESTION: Going off Mr. Steinberg’s itinerary, can you give us any other details as to what he’s going to be doing in those two countries, who he’ll be meeting with and what they’ll be talking about.
MR. CROWLEY: I do not.
QUESTION: You don’t – nothing?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’ll be a – I’m sure it’ll be a pretty high-level discussion, but as to the particulars, I don’t have that.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you assess the meeting that Assistant Secretary Feltman has had on Friday with the Syrian ambassador, and what about the timing of this meeting that came one day after the Syrian-Iranian summit in Damascus?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would point it in a slightly different direction. It came several days after an important visit to Damascus by Under Secretary Bill Burns. It was the first opportunity for Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman to follow up on the particulars that were discussed as part of that visit. And Syria’s relations with Iran is one of those items that is a part of our ongoing discussion with Syria. We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. We also want – to the extent that it has the ability to talk to Iran directly, we want to make sure that Syria’s communicating to Iran its concerns about its role in the region and the direction, the nature of its nuclear ambitions. So – but the primary purpose for having the Syrian ambassador in was to just kind of follow up on that meeting in Damascus and chart the way forward.
QUESTION: Have they discussed the statements made by President Assad?
MR. CROWLEY: It wouldn’t surprise me.
QUESTION: Was Ambassador Ford in the meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. It’s a good question. I --
QUESTION: Can you get back to us on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Has he been confirmed? I don’t think he’s been confirmed --
QUESTION: Well, he wasn’t in the meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: If he’s not confirmed, he wouldn’t be in the meeting. That would be a – no, I – I know from – until you’re confirmed, you’re not in business meetings.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran --
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Iran’s supreme leader had some pretty strong words for the IAEA over the weekend alleging the report, the nuclear report, was biased, and took a lot of the criticism out on the head of the IAEA, this – the new guy, Amano. So are you encouraged by this more tenuous relationship that Iran has with the IAEA now? And do you have anything to back up that nuclear report --
MR. CROWLEY: Am I encouraged by --
MR. CROWLEY: -- the tenuous relationship?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s a shift, I would say. And more importantly, do you have anything to back up the nuclear report, i.e., like the NIE? Anything to sort of suggest they’re on the right track?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we have lots of questions and information that backs up the IAEA report. Of course, the IAEA has had inspectors in Iran and they are the ones who have raised the concerns about the inability to answer the questions that we all have about Iran’s programs, its facilities, its lack of transparency on the nuclear issue.
I think it’s very important – this was a report by the IAEA but it represents not just the concerns the United States has but the concerns the international community has. So it’s unfortunate that the Ayatollah might try to once again create this satanic frame. This is about questions that the world at large has about Iran, the role its playing in the region, and its nuclear concerns. No one wants to see a nuclear arms race develop in the Middle East, but it would be better for Iran, rather than protesting this report, to come forward in a constructive way and answer the questions that the IAEA has on behalf of the international community as a whole.
QUESTION: You may have been asked this before, and forgive me, but does the NIE that we haven’t seen yet, does it support basically what the nuclear report that’s just come out --
MR. CROWLEY: I think the key words there are “that we have not seen yet.” (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. But okay, so what’s the holdup? Is it done? When do we expect it to get out?
MR. CROWLEY: Those are fine questions to ask the DNI.
QUESTION: Is Mr. Steinberg’s visit to China to focus on Iran? Because it’s coming immediately after his visit to Israel.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would think that Deputy Secretary Steinberg will clearly talk about Iran, but it also will clearly talk about the broad U.S.-China relationship, where we are at this stage. We’ve gone through a bit of a bumpy path here, and I think there’s an interest both within the United States and China to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.
Yeah. I promised.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo – excuse for mispronouncing his last name – Valenzuela mentioned three objectives about Clinton’s trip this week to Latin America. And the third one was how the U.S. can partner with regional countries on issues of democratic governance.
Two days before that, there was a summit in Mexico where they formed a regional block excluding the U.S. and Canada, because they mentioned the OAS prioritizes U.S. interests over Latin America, with even some leaders saying the region is trying to move away from the U.S. influence and governance. So I’m just wondering, is Hillary Clinton – is she facing any of these concerns from a lot of these countries? And if so, how is she trying to remedy those concerns?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s take those in turn. I think what you’ve seen in the OAS in recent months, a very constructive but a very healthy debate. A cornerstone of the OAS is the promotion of democratic governance in the hemisphere. But, say, go back to the debate we had last spring about more the notional idea about what would be the circumstances under which Cuba would potentially be offered readmission to the OAS? And there was a very strong affirmation at the end of a very healthy debate that one of the preconditions for membership in the OAS is in fact democratic and constitutional rule.
And then fast forward from there to June and the crisis in Honduras, and once again, you had countries in the region that took different paths – some – and had different views on how to interpret what happened in Honduras. But what you see now is a growing consensus now that you’ve had a free, fair, legitimate election in Honduras. Now, we’re about charting a path to reintegrate Honduras back into the inter-American community.
So it’s hard to suggest that somehow, given these healthy debates, differing points of view, that this is an organization that somehow, the United States dominates. I think that’s Cold War thinking. This is an indication of the different kind of relationship, the different kind of partnership we want to have in the hemisphere. So Secretary Clinton is going in the region to consult on regional issues, but also global issues, recognizing the growing and important role that countries like Chile, Argentina and Brazil play not only in the region, but well beyond.
Now, in Guatemala later in the week, she’ll have the opportunity to confer with the presidents of the Central American countries. And they – I think they will talk more specifically about Honduras, among other issues that we have in common. So I think that we have tried to chart a new course in relations with the hemisphere. What she’ll emphasize is that this is a partnership based on shared challenges, but also it’s something that involves responsibility on both sides. And she will go there to listen and to consult, but also make clear that there are responsibilities that other countries in the region have as well.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The U.S. – the Administration was sharply criticized for its decision on the Honduran elections, and even till this day, it’s leaving a lot of Latin American countries skeptical about the U.S. involvement in issues like democratic reform or governance. And so I’m just wondering, how is Secretary Clinton going to reaffirm a more genuine kind of commitment to Latin America, as President Obama promised last year during the Trinidad and Tobago summit?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the fact that we were integrally involved – not to try to impose a solution on Honduras, but recognizing that the action to remove a duly elected leader of a country came in the middle of a presidential campaign. We didn’t try to impose our point of view on other countries. We had our point of view. Some agreed with that point of view. Some disagreed with that point of view. I think what you see now is coming together – now that you’ve seen the election of President Lobo in Honduras, where do we go from here?
And – but I think maybe the answer to your question lies in the center of your question, which is we’re not trying to impose our will or our view arbitrarily on the region. There is the opportunity here for healthy debate. We can respectfully disagree from a common set of facts. Some countries have agreed with the approach that we took. Some countries disagreed with the approach. But we were all part of that debate centered on the OAS as a significant and important institution to promote democracy in the hemisphere. You saw, for example, a report last week by the OAS on what it sees as the condition of democracy in the region and concerns that we all have about the situation in Venezuela.
So I think at heart, what you’re seeing is the Obama Administration working aggressively to have a different kind of relationship, one that is based on mutual interest, but also joint partnership.
QUESTION: Would you mind if I asked a question that’s not related to Latin America?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Sorry, I know you’re going over there. Egypt. Mohamed ElBaradei returned last week and there’s been – he’s kind of amplified the reform movement and the opposition and such. What do you make of his return back to Egypt and this – and the opposition’s coming out in full support of him for the 2011 election even though he’s not – he wouldn’t be considered under the Egyptian constitution?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, these ultimately are decisions that have to be made by Egypt. I think we would like to see the emergence of a more inclusive political process in Egypt, and one that is competitive and provides the opportunity for more citizens in Egypt to both participate in the process and have faith and opportunity to shape the future of governance in that country. But these are decisions ultimately that have to be made by Egypt.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Last week when we asked about the human rights dialogue between U.S. and China, the date hadn’t been set yet. Is there any movement on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we are still looking for a mutual date. I don’t think we’ve arrived at a mutual consensus.
QUESTION: And also, on North Korea, can – are you still denying a visa to Kim Kye Gwan, the North Korean nuclear negotiator, to visit the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that we’re denying a visa. I’m not sure that we’ve been requested to grant one.
QUESTION: The Secretary had some comments about the Falklands dispute today, saying among other things that the U.S. would be happy to act as an intermediary if the countries wanted one. Has there been any indication that Argentina or the UK are looking for --
MR. CROWLEY: I think actually, if you go back, Paul, and look at her precise language, she said we have strong friendship with both Britain and Argentina and we are willing to help. I think our view remains that this is an issue that should be resolved bilaterally between the two countries, but as she said on the flight down, if the United States can be helpful, we will be happy to see what we can do.
Back in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Latin America – I’m sorry.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s okay.
QUESTION: Did you saw the editorial of The Washington Post today regarding the OAS, kind of the organization fell short regarding democracy in the region and specifically with Venezuela?
And if you can make any comments on the agenda of Secretary Clinton? She’s staying in Argentina. Could you please talk about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, sure.
QUESTION: What will be the agenda for her there?
MR. CROWLEY: She made a change to her schedule, given the earthquake in Chile. She was planning to spend the night in Santiago. But given the earthquake, she has switched to Buenos Aires. She had a meeting planned for this afternoon with President Kirchner and that meeting will now take place this evening as part of a dinner. But obviously, we continue to have our concerns about Venezuela’s activity in the region as a – not being a particularly constructive player. And we will address those in our relationship with Venezuela as we go forward.
QUESTION: Just to pick up on that – we were talking about the drug issue at the other briefing, but, I mean, in the last kind of week or so, the Venezuelans have been making the case that, you know, it’s not that they’re an unconstructive person in the region, they just – country in the region – they just don’t agree with your world view and – you know, that there’s not an – you know, President Obama said that he was going to engage countries that had a different world view and that, you know, this is not an example of doing that.
He said that there are – the ambassador in particular said last week that there are two President Obamas, one that says he wants to engage and then when – one that doesn’t engage. And, you know, Venezuela says that it – you know, it is making efforts; you just, you know, use the fact that you don’t – they don’t agree with their world view as a political tool, and it’s not a kind of objective assessment of what they’re trying to do in the region.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we have very valid concerns about Venezuela and some of the activities that it has conducted, particularly with respect to its neighbors, Colombia being one. We have no earthly idea why Venezuela feels that it needs to bring in and purchase some of the military equipment that it has at least announced. Whether they – it actually follows through or not is a separate issue. We have great concerns about the state of democratic institutions inside Venezuela, and concentration of power by the president.
That said, there is engagement and there is engagement. We are engaged with Venezuela. We have a diverse relationship with Venezuela. We have a significant economic relationship with Venezuela. We have an Embassy that’s fully staffed in Caracas and we deal with the Venezuelan Government every day. So what I’m saying here is – should be no mystery to leaders in Venezuela. We have expressed our concerns many times.
But as to high-level dialogue at a leader level, obviously, that is something I’ll defer to the White House. But if Venezuela wants to have a more significant engagement, again, as I said in answer to another question, this is not a one-way street. It’s a two-way street. The countries in the region have rights. They have – but they have responsibilities as well. And Venezuela itself can help to shape the future direction of its relationship with the United States if it so chooses.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the OAS, actually, you didn’t answer my question on the OAS regarding the Washington Post editorial. But Secretary Clinton was having a meeting on Friday with General Secretary Insulza. Could you give us an update what happened in this meeting? Is the U.S. supporting the reelection of Mr. Insulza?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we’ll defer on how we see the future leadership of the OAS. But I think the Secretary used her meeting with Secretary General Insulza to reflect on his tour as secretary general, and she was inquiring about his ideas for the future of the organization. And from that, the United States will judge. I mean, as far as I know, he currently is the only candidate for another term as the secretary general. But I’m not going to announce our position from here.
QUESTION: Do you think you can have another bilateral meeting with North Korea before Six-Party Talks reopen?
MR. CROWLEY: I tell you, if we’re going to have another bilateral meeting with North Korea in the near future, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) North Korea, is the U.S. Government seeking for a thaw of the bilateral relations through this visit?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn't – “thaw,” I wouldn’t use as the correct term. I mean, we have a very broad, deep, complex relationship with China. There are many areas where we have achieved a consensus view. North Korea would be a great example of that. There are some areas where we do not yet have a convergent view. Iran might be an example of that.
We have different perceptions of our national interest when you talk about dialogue with the Dalai Lama, for example, or you talk about regional security issues perhaps involving Taiwan. I expect that Deputy Secretary Steinberg will talk about the full range of these issues. But we have a common interest in stability in the region and we have a common interest in working together on issues like climate and the environment. We have a common interest in working on issues such as piracy in and around the Horn of Africa.
So this is a very detailed relationship, but to the extent that there have been issues that have cropped up recently in the relationship, I think this will be an opportunity to kind of refocus on the future and get those views – express our views in a straightforward way to our interlocutors from China. We’ll also receive their perspective as well.
QUESTION: Recently, the news about the new electronic U.S. visa application form which becomes mandatory today – can you confirm on this?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question.
QUESTION: Back on the Colombia-Venezuelan question, that that came from over here, Chavez has said that he’s working with countries that tend to be adversaries to the United States for military buildup – or not buildup, but to purchase weapons, because they feel threatened with the U.S. military bases that have popped up in Colombia. And on top of that, he’s also concerned because in 2002, there was a coup against him and there’s substantial evidence that the U.S. was involved in that coup. So I’m just trying to understand what you said. You don’t want – you’re not encouraged by --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. Let’s --
QUESTION: -- Venezuela with these groups?
MR. CROWLEY: Venezuela has nothing to fear from the United States. We --
QUESTION: You don’t want them to – can’t work (inaudible) with other countries?
MR. CROWLEY: We – but the equipment that Venezuela has brought in does not seem to be consistent with what would be needed given the current security environment in the region. The U.S. base – or not the U.S. base – the Colombian base that Colombia has allowed the U.S. access to is strictly a part of the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship. It is focused on very specific missions. It is not there to be – have a regional perspective at all.
But again, that is just part of the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship. It’s not something that Venezuela or other countries in the region should be concerned about.
QUESTION: But you don’t like the fact that Venezuela is arming itself and working with Iran and Russia to purchase weapons and trade and such like that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as the Secretary has said, we have – and we have expressed our views to any country that seems to be expanding its military or commercial ties with Iran. And even Venezuela, like other countries around the world, have the same vested interest in global stability that the United States does, and should carefully evaluate its – their contacts with and their commercial ties with Iran.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)
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