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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 10, 2010

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Statement on the Passing of Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi
    • Secretary Hosting the International Women of Courage Awards
    • Assistant Secretary Campbell in Laos and Traveling to Thailand and Brunei
    • Deeply Disappointed in Burma's Political Party Law
    • Condemn the World Vision Office Terrorist Attack
    • Three American Hikers in Iran Able to Phone Their Families/ Positive Step, but We Continue to Seek Consular Access and the Release of Americans Held in Iran/ Department Officials Met with the Levinson Family
    • Successful Bi-Lateral Consultation with Kazakhstan
  • IRAN
    • Swiss Last Had Consular Access to the Three American Hikers in October 2009/ Selling of Gasoline to Iran an Important Issue/ Business with Iran Can Have Commercial Implications/ Seeking Further Sanctions for Iran to Change its Course/ Existing International and National Sanctions/ US Looking for a New Round of Sanctions/ Iran a Neighbor of Afghanistan/ Instances in the Past When US and Iranian Policies in Afghanistan Intersect/ Iran Has Declined US Offer to Engage/ Hope Iran Plays a More Constructive Role in Afghanistan
    • Very Disappointed in Burma's Decision/ Will Continue Our Outreach and Dialogue/ Burma Must Figure Out How it Wants to Advance/ Hope of Advancement of Relations with the Outside World Requires Burma to Develop a Process for Dialog with Minorities/ Burma is a Work in Progress/ Engagement with Burma to Make Clear They Must Do Better/ No Hope This Election Will be Credible/ Where the Talks Go Depends Upon Burma/ Burma Must be More Inclusive/ Aung Sung Su Ki Should Have a Place in Burma's Future/ Burma is Not Acting in Its Own Best Interest
    • Secretary Plans to Be in Moscow for Quartet Meeting
    • US Has an Important Alliance with South Korea and Military Exercises Have Been Done in the Past and Should Not be a Surprise to North Korea/ US Will Continue to Enforce UNSR 1874/
    • Secretary Has Not Spoken to Vice President Biden/ Special Envoy Mitchell Returning to the Region Next Week/ Vice President Made Clear in His Statement That Israeli Settlement Announcement is Not Conducive to Advancing Talks/ Timing of Announcement Highly Unusual/ Unusual for an Israeli Government to Take This Action During a Vice President's Visit/ Refer You to Israeli Government for Further Comment/ This Kind of Situation is Why Negotiations Must Take Place/ US Has Been in Close Contact with the Government of Israel Today
    • No Information on India Reducing its Role in Afghanistan
    • Taken Question on Shrimp Embargo Against Mexico
    • US Plans to Make a Substantial Contribution to Haiti/ Sending a Supplemental Request to Congress
    • Taken Question on US Training with Indonesian Special Forces


1:10 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few opening comments before taking your questions.

You’ll see a statement this afternoon regarding the passing of Grand Imam Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the head of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Imam Tantawi was an important voice for dialogue among religions and communities. Under his leadership, the university co-hosted President Obama’s speech laying out a vision for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. And we offer our condolences to the imam’s family and friends today, as well as his many students in Egypt and in Muslim communities throughout the world.

The Secretary looks forward this afternoon to hosting the International Women of Courage Awards here at the Department of State, including participation of the First Lady Michelle Obama. And they will recognize a number of women for their important contributions on behalf of fighting discrimination, advancing human rights around the world.

The women to be honored include:

Androula Henriques of Cyprus for leading the fight against human trafficking in Cyprus;

Shadi Sadr of Iran, who led an effort that led to the suspension of laws for death by stoning in Iran;

Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi of Afghanistan, who has worked for integrating women into the government and police force;

Shukria Asil of Afghanistan for an important work on the Baghlan Provincial Council;

Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic, for advancing the cause of social justice confronting exploitation and discrimination among the Dominican and Haitian communities;

Ann Njogu of Kenya, the forefront of reforms in her country;

Dr. Lee Ae-ran of South Korea, for promoting human rights in the North Korean refugee community;
Jansila Majeed of Sri Lanka for working on behalf of displaced Muslim and Tamil civilians;

Sister Marie Claude Naddaf of Syria for social – advancing social services for women in Syria;

And Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe, a longtime leader of human rights in that country.

Just to update you on Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell – where in the world is Kurt? He has arrived in Vientiane this evening from Kuala Lumpur, where he’ll meet with Laotian officials and attend the U.S.-Lao Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, as well as meeting with representatives of the Mekong River Commission. He will then move on to Bangkok tomorrow evening. He has added a stop on his trip. He will arrive in Brunei on the evening of March 12 and be there for a couple of days before resuming his scheduled travel.

Staying in that part of the world, Burmese authorities have announced the Political Party Registration Law, the second of five election laws that will govern the conduct of the planned 2010 elections. We are deeply disappointed with the political party law, which excludes all of Burma’s more than 2,000 political prisoners from political participation. We are also troubled that the law appears to bar National League of Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running. It may also prohibit her from membership in her own party. This is a step in the wrong direction. The political party registration law makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.

We join in condemning the terrorist attack today targeting the World Vision Office in the North-West Frontier Province District of Mansehra and we extend our deepest sympathy to the injured and our condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.

There have been some reports that we can confirm that the three American hikers detained in Iran have had the opportunity to call to their families. And while this is a positive development, we continue to seek consular access through the Swiss Embassy. As we have repeatedly said, we believe that these three American hikers should be released, along with Reza Taghavi, Kian Tagbach, and we certainly continue to call on the Government of Iran to provide assistance in the whereabouts of Robert Levinson. It happens yesterday that we had the Levinson family here at the State Department. They met with Under Secretary for Policy Bill Burns. We also had the family of Josh Fattal here yesterday. They met with Deputy Assistant Secretary John Limbert as well as Under Secretary Burns, and certainly we continue to call on Iran to release Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal.

And finally, we had a successful completion of the annual bilateral consultations over the past couple of days between the United States and Kazakhstan. Leading the Kazakhstan delegation was Deputy Foreign Minister Kayrat Umarov, and he met with Assistant Secretary of State Bob Blake. The talks centered on political security, economic energy, and human rights issues. I think Deputy Foreign Minister Umarov had the opportunity to participate here in Washington in a business forum with American companies as well as a forum on democracy and human rights here in town.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can we just very briefly on Iran before going to Burma for a second --


QUESTION: When was the last time the Swiss had consular access to the three?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s been some time. Let’s see – October 29.

QUESTION: Okay. And then presumably, the repeated inquiries by the Swiss have not been answered.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Going to Burma, unless someone else --

QUESTION: Oh, can I just ask one on Iran?


QUESTION: The Royal Dutch Shell says that it’s going to stop selling gasoline to Iran. Do you have any comment on that? And also the problem that, even as they stop, other companies are continuing and re-starting and you have some of the Asian companies, specifically Malaysian, continuing to sell gasoline.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is an important issue. We’ve had a wide range of conversations with our counterparts within the P-5+1 process as we’ve discussed ideas for putting additional pressure on Iran. We’ve centered on various industries and tried to call to the attention of companies in the energy sector, in the financial sector, others that if they choose to do business with Iran, it can have commercial implications. And we’re continuing to move forward with prospective sanctions, and I would expect you’ll see this advance over the next several weeks. But certainly, we are looking for countries and companies to be supportive as we try to find the right formula to put economic and political pressure on Iran to change its course.

QUESTION: Is there a sense of frustration, though, because that shows that there is weakness in the system when some people respect it and then they’re aced out by other countries? I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as we – I mean, we are continuing our efforts on a couple of fronts. One is, obviously, there are existing international and national sanctions that apply to Iran, and we continue to find ways to enforce what exists. We are looking at a new round of sanctions and talking to countries about how to best do this.

I would – as we have said before, if you look at – once you have a kind of understanding, a consensus, and a strong statement that we’d like to see in the Security Council, as we’ve seen with North Korea, that there has been concerted international action. And we would expect coming out of the UN Security Council, once we get to that point, that we would look for companies to step up, countries to step up, and discourage the kind of economic activity you mentioned.

QUESTION: Can I go to Burma?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Afghanistan?


MR. CROWLEY: All right. We’ll go to Burma and then come back.

QUESTION: Your comments were pretty strong – deeply disappointed, this makes a mockery of the process. What positive has come of your announced change in policy from the UN General Assembly in September of engaging Burma? It seems as though the Administration is kind of flailing about a little bit, and engagement has gone nowhere with Iran, North Korea’s not back to the table yet, and now the Burmese have come out and done exactly the opposite of what you wanted. Has anything positive come out of this with Burma?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s take those each at a time. We – I mean, we are very disappointed. There’s no other way to put it. This is not what we had suggested to the Burmese Government. We will continue our outreach and our dialogue, not because we expected to solve this instantly. Burma has to figure out how it wants to advance. It’s obviously struggling to do that. If Burma has any hope of the kind of broader relationship with the outside world, credibility in terms of how the outside world sees Burma and its government, it has to find a way to have a process where it has meaningful dialogue with ethnic groups and other political movements. And we will – that will continue to be our message to Burma.

QUESTION: Right. But can you point to anything positive that’s come out of this new policy of engagement, which has now been in the works for, what, six months?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Burma is by – is a work in progress. There’s no question about it.

QUESTION: Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had a number of conversations with Burma. These conversations will continue. We’re going to show determination and resolve, but to the extent that the dialogue that we have with Burma is providing an opportunity for Burma to advance, to have a different kind of relationship with the international community, but in order to have that progress, it’s going to have to show some flexibility on its internal political process. And so far, those results are lacking.

QUESTION: Right. But does that mean the answer to the question, can you point to any positive –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: That that mean the answer to my question is no?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not trying to put a pony here. I mean, we are disappointed with what this shows today, but that doesn’t mean that our engagement with Burma will stop at this point. It means that our engagement with Burma will have to continue so we can make clear that the results thus far are not what we had expected and that they’re going to have to do better.

QUESTION: Will you accept the results of the Burmese election?


QUESTION: Will you accept the results of the Burmese elections?

MR. CROWLEY: No. We just – just we made clear that given the tenor of the election laws that they put forward, there’s no hope that this election will be credible.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans for next round of talks with the Burmese officials?

MR. CROWLEY: Not at this point.

QUESTION: You talked about his commitment to dialogue and this is a way of helping Burma improve its relations with the international community. Is there – is that an open-ended commitment on the U.S. side? Is there anything the Burmese might do – I mean, if they keep on stonewalling you on these requests or these suggestions that you have, is it just talking to a brick wall all the time? Where does it go?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, where it goes depends on Burma. I mean, we’ve made clear that if Burma is to advance, it’s going to have to change its political process, make it more inclusive, have a dialogue with those political movements. It’s going to have to find peace with other ethnic movements inside Burma. This is what Burma has to do to follow its own self-interest. I think we’re not surprised by the reluctance that Burma has shown. They’ve been dug in for decades, and this is going to be a process that takes some time. We had hoped for a different kind of opening, and it doesn't appear as though Burma right now is prepared to open up its political process.

We’re not surprised by that, but our engagement with Burma is about our national interest, our regional interest together with our partners in the region. Our engagement, as we’ve said in a variety of contexts, is not a reward for Burma; it is a recognition that past policies isolating Burma have not had results either. So we did not expect to have a couple of conversations with Burma and have a complete about-face and change in the nature of their society, in the nature of their political process, but I think this reinforces that our choice of engagement is important but the process is going to take some time.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to take up this issue to the UN Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I understand why that would be --

QUESTION: No, U.S. was initially taking up this issue through the UN Security Council, but it’s not --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- not for the last couple of months --

MR. CROWLEY: We are going to continue to have discussions with Burma, and I’m sure that in a variety of different fora others will have the same kind of discussion. I think – I doubt that we’re the only ones who are disappointed with what – the direction that they’re taking at this point.


QUESTION: Is the political rehabilitation of Aung San Suu Kyi herself a condition for a better relationship with Burma?

MR. CROWLEY: I certainly think that having a more inclusive process that allows Aung San Suu Kyi to be restored to have a place in Burma’s future would be an important step.

QUESTION: P.J., you said just now that this development is a sign that the process is important? Isn’t it more a sign that they’re ignoring you, or even worse, they’re actively doing the opposite of what you would like them to do?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, at this point, we would say that Burma is not following its own self-interest. It’s not the first time that’s happened.

QUESTION: Different subject?


QUESTION: Are you ready to announce the Secretary’s travel plans with regards to the upcoming Quartet meeting in Moscow? And I gather there is a possibility she travels someplace else.

MR. CROWLEY: I think she’s planned to be – I don’t have a formal trip announcement to make, but she’s planning to be in Moscow next week for the Quartet meeting, as was announced by Foreign Minister Lavrov. But I don’t think her travel plans are entirely set yet beyond that stop.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: But I wouldn't – I’m not forecasting that she would be going – stopping elsewhere on this trip, just we don’t have anything to announce at this point.

QUESTION: On North Korea, this week North Korea foreign ministry spokesperson condemned U.S.­-South Korea joint military exercise. And he also said that North Korea will strengthen its nuclear deterrent against U.S. hostile action. Do you have any comment on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have an important alliance with South Korea. We have done these exercises before. These should not be a surprise to North Korea.

QUESTION: And one more thing on North Korea. Recently, North Korea has announced several different plans to attract a large amount of foreign investment, including investment from China. So do you have any concern that this kind of activity might neutralize other countries’ effort to press North Korea and persuade them?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of those particular reports. Given – but we are going to continue to enforce 1874 in terms of addressing our concerns about possible proliferation activity involving North Korea. It’s been a while since I looked at the level of outside investment inside North Korea. I don’t think their economy is going particularly well, so I’m not sure it would be a prudent investment.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any discussions with Vice President Biden on his trip in Israel regarding the diplomatic announcement?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that they have talked since he arrived in Israel.

QUESTION: And has she made any phone calls to anyone in Israel regarding that announcement?

MR. CROWLEY: Not today, as far as I know.

QUESTION: Did she make one yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: Not as – I mean, she had a meeting with George Mitchell yesterday.

QUESTION: But she hasn’t spoken with anybody directly?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Can you bring us up to date on Senator Mitchell – former Senator Mitchell’s schedule and tactics or any details about what he’s planning to do next week?

MR. CROWLEY: He will be back in the region next week with stops – meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. I don’t think we – we’re not prepared to announce his particular travel schedule, but I think he’ll be there early in the week.

QUESTION: How much damage did this do?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Vice President made clear in his statement yesterday, this is precisely the kind of step that we continue to encourage the parties to avoid. It’s – it undermines trust and it certainly is not conducive with creating the appropriate atmosphere for the indirect talks to advance. But we are in discussions with the Israelis about this announcement and I’m sure that it will come up when the senator is in the region next week.

QUESTION: What does that mean, you’re in discussions with the Israelis about this announcement? I mean, the timing of it or what they actually announced? Both?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the timing I think was highly unusual. But I think we’re focused primarily on what this action and the impact it’s had on the broad environment.

QUESTION: Can you just say – well, why do you think the timing is highly unusual?

MR. CROWLEY: I think –

QUESTION: I mean, I know why, but I’m trying to get you to say it. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Look, it would be unusual for an Israeli Government to take this kind of action while a vice president is standing next to the prime minister. But we are talking to the government and trying to understand what happened and why. And clearly, as we’ve said, we want to see the parties press forward with negotiations, and they both have a responsibility to avoid actions that we think undermine the process.

QUESTION: But you don’t –

QUESTION: Do you think the Secretary feels betrayed, then, by this? I mean, this was highly –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think – well, it is highly unusual. I’ll – but as to how it happened, why it happened, I will defer to the government of Israel to explain. But we – clearly, the Government of Israel has a responsibility, the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility, now that they have agreed to indirect talks, to take the appropriate actions and avoid the kind of actions that undermine trust.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Netanyahu and the government actually knew that this was going to happen on that very day?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll defer to the prime minister to describe whether this was expected or unexpected, but we’ve condemned the action. And that also is probably an exceptional thing to do with a U.S. leader in Israel, but we – obviously, it represents the seriousness with which we took this announcement. And both the Vice President in his discussion with President Abbas today and Senator Mitchell following up on that will continue to encourage the parties to move forward. We think this kind of situation is, in fact, the reason why we believe that they have to get into negotiations so they can put these issues on the table and resolve them and get to a formal agreement.

QUESTION: Okay. Has Senator Mitchell made any calls since the events of yesterday? And as a follow – not a follow-up, but a follow-up to an earlier –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that between Senator Mitchell and his team, we have been in very close contact with the Government of Israel today.

QUESTION: Did Senator Mitchell sit in in the meeting with – that Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon today earlier? The deputy foreign minister was here and saw, I believe, Deputies Steinberg and Lew.

MR. CROWLEY: If there was such a meeting, I’m sure he was there.*

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: The Iranian president was in Kabul today and you must have taken note of his statements on U.S.A. and NATO. How do you view Iran’s role in Afghanistan now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Iran is a neighbor of Afghanistan. Obviously, it has a legitimate interest in the future of Afghanistan. There have been times in the past where the interests of Iran and the United States have coincided. The two countries cooperated constructively during the Bonn process that led to the establishment of civilian government in Afghanistan.

We have issues with respect to Iran, not only within Afghanistan, but more broad in the region. We have been prepared to have that kind of conversation with Iran. They have declined to engage seriously in response to the President’s offer of engagement out of mutual interest and mutual respect. But we understand fully that the leaders of neighboring countries need to have dialogue. As we say, the future of Afghanistan has a regional dimension and we hope that Iran will play a more constructive role in Afghanistan in the future.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on his statements on U.S. and NATO, saying that these – they are having a destabilizing effect on Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen his particular statement on NATO.

QUESTION: And secondly, there are reports appearing in Indian news --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, just to that point, we are in Afghanistan to play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s future and we would hope that Iran does the same.

QUESTION: And secondly, there are reports appearing in Indian newspapers that following series of attacks on Indians in Afghanistan, India is considering reducing its developmental role in Afghanistan. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject, on Mexico? I understand the State Department already have reported to the Congress and informed the Congress that withdrawed the certification to Mexico in the case of the capture of raw shrimp. I would like to know what is the current status of the process and if the next step will be perhaps an embargo against the raw shrimp from Mexico.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: To Iran again just for a second. Could you divulge any information about the elements of the draft resolution that, as far as I understand, you gave to the Russians --

MR. CROWLEY: There is no draft revolution --

QUESTION: Elements, I said. Elements.

MR. CROWLEY: There is no draft revolution – there is no draft resolution – (laughter) – yet.

QUESTION: P.J., I’m wondering if you have any information on the supplemental funding request that’s likely to go to Congress before the end of the month. We’ve heard various figures. Do you have any figures for it and do you know when it might be submitted?

MR. CROWLEY: I think as we move towards the UN – or the donors conference in New York on March 31st, the United States plans to make a substantial contribution to the future of Haiti. But at this point, I can’t tell you what the particular number will be, but we will be sending up a supplemental to the Congress in the very near future regarding the monies that have already been spent on Haiti and what we think Haiti’s long-term needs are.

QUESTION: P.J., I have a brief one, and if you could please take this because I don’t know if you’ll have an answer to it. But the President is going to Indonesia this month, and I’m wondering, in light of that, if you can – if there’s any kind of an update on this pilot program, cooperation program with the Indonesian special forces that has been talked about.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I’ll take that question. I think we’ve – between ourselves and the White House, I think we’ve addressed that once before.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)

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