1:09 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Several announcements before taking your questions:
On March 18th and 19th, Secretary Clinton will participate in a meeting of the Quartet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, European High Representative Catherine Ashton, as well as Quartet Representative Tony Blair to discuss efforts to promote Middle East peace. The Secretary will also meet with senior Russian officials to discuss progress on the successor agreement to START, cooperation on nonproliferation, counterterrorism, regional security issues, and the work of the Bilateral Presidential Commission. She will depart Washington on Wednesday.
Tomorrow, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric Schwartz will present the keynote speech at the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980 at Georgetown University’s Gewirz Student Center. His speech will honor the durability of the landmark 1980 legislation and will highlight some of the modern-day challenges and opportunities facing the State Department and all humanitarian organizations as we work to defend the basic rights and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable: uprooted people in need of protection. I think the speech is at 9:15 tomorrow morning.
And we announced the launch today of Opinion Space, an interactive site hosted on State.gov, that seeks to foster global conversations on foreign affairs. Opinion Space invites users to share their perspective and ideas on U.S. foreign policy in an innovative, visual, opinion map that will illustrate which ideas result in the most discussions and which ideas are judged most insightful by the community of participants.
Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell remains in the Asia Pacific Region. He had meetings today in Jakarta on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues in advance of the President’s trip and the launch of the U.S.-Indonesia comprehensive partnership. He is now, I believe, in Singapore and will be coming back here to Washington. Because of a change in his travel schedule, there was not enough time in his stopover in Tokyo for meetings with the Japanese Government. So those meetings will be rescheduled.
Ambassador Robert King, our Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, is in Geneva today to participate in the UN Human Right’s Council’s 13th session. He will urge countries to support the resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, as well as meet with the UN special rapporteur. And a number of you have asked for a period of time about the status of an American in Pyongyang, and we can confirm that on March 14, the DPRK granted the Swedish Embassy, our protecting power, consular access to a detained U.S. citizen.
QUESTION: Do you have the identity of --
QUESTION: Robert Park?
QUESTION: No, he’s (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: No, he’s back in the States. He’s back in the United States. This is another individual. We are not at liberty to disclose his identity.
QUESTION: It’s a he?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: It’s a he, you can say? Just to get the pronoun right. (Laughter.) You don’t have to.
MR. CROWLEY: But finally, obviously, we are – we will, as the Secretary and the President pledged, work tirelessly with Mexican authorities to bring the killers of American citizens Lesley Enriquez, who was an employee of our U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, and her husband Arthur Redelfs – the killers to justice. We are – offer our deepest condolences to the families as well as to the spouse of a U.S. Consular employee who was killed in a separate incident. But the investigation is ongoing. Today is a Mexican national holiday, but the Consulate will be closed tomorrow to review its security posture.
QUESTION: P.J., on that --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: That’s your last --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- thing? Can you give us a few more details about who this woman – what did she do at the Embassy? Where – what were the circumstances of this party that they were at? And on the authorized departure for dependents, can you give us some more specifics? How many people have taken – how many people are eligible, how many people have taken advantage of it so far, that kind of thing?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I don’t have a particular job title for her. We’ll see if we can get that. I should have had it in here.
QUESTION: Well, can you be – I mean, just generally, what did she do?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, worked in the Consulate, obviously – it was one of our busier consular sections to process --
QUESTION: Processing visas?
MR. CROWLEY: -- visas for citizens wanting – or for Mexicans wanting to travel to the United States. My understanding, that both of these – the spouse of the – our Consular employee, local national employee and her husband and – as well as Lesley Enriquez and her husband had both been at a private birthday party and were on their way – in the case of Lesley Enriquez, on their way back across the border. They lived on the U.S. side. She was a civil service employee. Beyond that, as to the circumstances of what happened, this is all part of the investigation.
QUESTION: What about the second part about the authorized departure?
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, the authorized departure was something that had – the decision had already been made and was about to be announced. Obviously, we’ve looked at the increased risk and criminality associated with – along the northern border between Mexico and the United States and had made that decision to offer – to authorize dependents to come back to the United States if they choose. I think the population is just over a hundred that would be potentially affected by this. As far as I know, it was just announced yesterday. I can’t say at this point how many have taken advantage of –
QUESTION: When was the decision made?
MR. CROWLEY: It was made last week.
QUESTION: And why –
MR. CROWLEY: Based on an assessment by diplomatic security about the conditions along the northern border.
QUESTION: Well, when last week?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I learned about it, I believe, on Friday.
QUESTION: Well, why was it not announced until Sunday?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we were going to announce it as part of our revision of the travel advisory.
QUESTION: Were people able to take advantage of authorized departure before Sunday?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, these individuals that were involved in the incident yesterday would not have been affected by that announcement.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that they would have been. I’m just asking were there employees of the Embassy or the employee – families of employees of the consulates able to take advantage of authorized departure before Sunday?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.
QUESTION: Can you take that question? Because it goes to the whole double standard issue.
MR. CROWLEY: Double standard being?
QUESTION: The double standard being that when there is – when decisions like that are made, that they are not to be shared only within the Embassy community, but also made public. So if this decision was made and people were taking it and people knew about it and were taking advantage of it before Sunday, that would be (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that anyone was taking advantage of it before Sunday.
QUESTION: Can I ask just a couple of follow-ups?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any information, at this point, to suggest that they were actually targeted because of their affiliation with the consulate?
MR. CROWLEY: Kirit, it’s a fair question. I’d be leary about jumping to any conclusions at this point. That’s all part of the investigation. But, as to the circumstances surrounding these killings, I mean, we’re outraged by it. We want to see the killers brought to justice. But as to the specific circumstances, it’s all part of the investigation. The Mexican authorities have the lead on this. The FBI is consulting and Diplomatic Security is also consulting.
QUESTION: All right. I have just a few of them if I can just run through them real quick. Which one of your consulates are being closed? You have about six of them on the board. Which ones are being closed for review?
MR. CROWLEY: As far as I know, only the one in Ciudad Juarez will be closed tomorrow to review its security (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. Who is going down there? Is the FBI going down? Is there DS going down?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, DS is already onsite.
QUESTION: Okay, but are you sending more people to investigate this?
MR. CROWLEY: The FBI has mobilized teams to engage with and support the investigation by Mexican law enforcement.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you just say if this is going to change any of U.S. plans to support the Mexican efforts against the drug cartels? Are you going to be changing your – sending more people down there, more money? Are you going to pressure them in any ways?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think this reinforces why the United States has provided through Merida significant assistance to Mexican authorities because we’ve always understood that this is a shared struggle by two allies and neighbors. We have provided an enormous amount of assistance to Mexico in recent years to help primarily with equipment. Our aid, at this point, is transitioning to focus more significantly on training now that much of the equipment to provide assistance to Mexico has been purchased and delivered. So we’re going to continue to cooperate. As the Secretary has said, there are things that need to be done on the Mexican side. There are also things that have to be done on the U.S. side in terms of money, guns to try to diminish and ultimately defeat these cartels.
QUESTION: So no plans to increase that at all or send anybody – any troops to the border or anything like that at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t know (inaudible).
QUESTION: Then my last question, do you think – has there been any conversations between Secretary Clinton and any of the senior officials and Mexican officials? Does she plan to bring this up when she’s down there, that kind of thing?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m certain that this will come up during future discussions with Mexico authorities.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied by the cooperation that you’ve gotten with Mexican law enforcement on trying to investigate these killings?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, they just happened yesterday. As far as I know, the investigations are –
QUESTION: Saturday. Didn’t they happen Saturday?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Yeah, I mean the investigation launched yesterday and, as far I know, we’re fully on board and satisfied with their response.
QUESTION: And one other one, you don’t – do you see any reason why –
MR. CROWLEY: Hang on a second.
QUESTION: Just last one on this for me. Do you see any reason to think that U.S.-Mexican relationship would be hurt or impaired in any way because of these killings?
MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. Not at all. I – obviously let’s – we have to – I understand fully what happened as – during this investigation. But I think this underscores, as I said a minute ago, that this is a common challenge. And there is violence along the border. At various times, it has spilled across onto the U.S. side of that border, but I think we are determined as are Mexican authorities to get to the bottom of this particular tragedy, but also do everything we can to restore the rule of law in Mexico.
QUESTION: Are you (inaudible) – these violence have affected before the U.S. citizens, but are you more concerned now because this is affecting U.S. diplomats?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t jump to a conclusion. I think, obviously, we see that this is something that has profoundly affected the Mexican population. At various times, it has also affected U.S. citizens, but as to whether this was a particular incident directed at U.S. diplomats, I think we’re not prepared to draw that conclusion yet.
QUESTION: Are you requesting more security to the Mexican authorities in the – for the U.S. consulates along the border?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have our own assets there and I’m sure that, just as we indicated, we’ll be reviewing our security procedures at our facilities all along the border and if additional resources are needed, whether they be American resources or Mexican resources, then we’ll have that conversation.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) General McCaffrey says that maybe Mexico is in the verge of becoming a failed state. Are you concerned about –
MR. CROWLEY: No, not at all. I think we are encouraged to, as we have said many times before, by the commitment of the Calderon government, to fight this violence. We share that commitment. We want to make sure that we are doing what we can just as we see Mexican authorities doing what they need to do, both in terms of security forces to protect Mexican citizens, but also fighting corruption that allows this violence to continue. But I’m sure in our ongoing discussions we’ll see what else that Mexico needs, and we’ll work that into our long-term planning.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m Penny Starr with CNS News. With this tragedy of these U.S. citizens being killed in Mexico, the Administration has been forthcoming with their names, ages, the circumstances of the tragedy, the killings. And yet, according to the State Department, there are dozens and dozens of U.S. citizens who are victims of homicide in Mexico. They’re documented every year in their annual death of U.S. citizens abroad for – by non-natural causes. Just, in fact, from January through the end of June, the first six months of 2009, there were 30 U.S. citizens who were victims of homicide in Mexico.
And I want to know – and their names are not provided, only the location of their death and the cause of death, which is listed as homicide. I’m referring to those 30 in the first six months of 2009 right now. What’s the difference with – between the two U.S. citizens who died this last weekend in Mexico and the countless Americans who have died of homicide in Mexico that we don’t know who their – what their names are or what their ages are, what the circumstances of their deaths were? And what is the Administration doing to see that justice is served for those U.S. citizens who were victims of homicide, specifically, in Mexico?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, to your very specific point, obviously, these were employees of the United States Government and that’s why we announced their particular identities.
QUESTION: Is there a difference, then, between someone who works for the government –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, I think --
QUESTION: -- and regular citizens?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re talking about the difference between a U.S. Government employee and the difference between a private citizen. And it’s up to the families to announce what details they want to announce on their particular identities. I mean, we – as we do in any country in the world, we take safety and security of U.S. citizens extraordinarily seriously. We go to great lengths to try to do everything we can, working with host nation governments, to make sure that they can live or visit in these countries safely. It’s why we announce Travel Warnings to U.S. citizens to provide them full information as they decide where to travel, either in this hemisphere or around the world.
QUESTION: Well, can you --
MR. CROWLEY: And just to draw a corollary for you, though, we announced the identity of one American who was killed during the earthquake in Haiti. She happened to be a U.S. Foreign Service officer. There are many American citizens who died in Haiti, but the announcement of their deaths, we felt, is a private matter unless those – and those families get to decide that.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Beyond their name, though, let’s get to the part of seeing that justice is served. These two employees of the United States Government, it’s valid that they’re going to serve justice for them, but what about the other U.S. citizens who have died in Mexico? What is the status of their cases?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, but --
QUESTION: And has justice been served if – and we don’t even know who they are.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, but it is expressly the reason why we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Mexico to help provide the resources so that, working with the Mexican Government, we can make sure that to the extent there is violence, whether it affects U.S. citizens in Mexico or Mexican citizens, that these killings are investigated, that the culture of corruption and impunity that has been evident in certain places in the past, that is reversed. So this is a shared struggle, a shared responsibility. We are working extremely closely with our Mexican neighbors on this issue. But in – throughout Mexico, we have consular officials, security officials, who are constantly looking at and evaluating the safety and security of Mexico and the implications on the U.S. citizens there. But --
QUESTION: So there’s no difference on how they’re going to move on a case, having the FBI involved, if you’re a government employee or regular – just a regular U.S. citizen?
MR. CROWLEY: We work with our Mexican counterparts to investigate the ongoing violence, and including violence against U.S. citizens.
QUESTION: P.J., a follow-up on the FBI persons in Ciudad Juarez. What exactly the FBI agents are doing with Mexico? You say they were supporting the investigation, but there are some reports by the Mexican media saying they are investigating the assassinations by itself, in other words, working alone?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, the Mexican authorities are in the lead on this investigation, given the sovereignty of Mexico. We have volunteered to help with that investigation. We have a very strong relationship between U.S. law enforcement and Mexican law enforcement. As to particular things they’re doing, I’ll defer to the FBI.
QUESTION: But --
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: But if you trust the Mexican authorities to investigate, why the necessity to send FBI agents, too?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in some cases, we have some expertise. And in any investigation, there will be issues that might – that we may investigate on this side of the border that can be relevant to the Mexican investigation. But this is part of the ongoing relationship that we have. It’s very close; it’s very deep. It has grown significantly in recent years, given what has happened on both sides of the border.
QUESTION: One more thing.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You are expressing – absolutely support the President’s Calderon war on drugs, giving more money, equipment and everything. But it has been more than three years since President Calderon took office and have been more than 10,000 people that – Mexicans and a few Americans. How long this country will continue to support Calderon to see succeed? Would you call a success his struggle against the war on drugs, even there’s more than 10,000 people who are already dead?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I think it underscores the – both the significant challenge that Mexico faces; challenge the United States shares. I don’t think anyone expected that this would be fixed in a relatively short period of time. You’re talking about violence fueled by drug use that produces vast sums of money, that produces significant capabilities that could rival the strength of any army.
So it is going to take – this is a long-term challenge. It’s going to take determination, it’s going to take resources. I think it’s going to take enlisting the support of the population, both the Mexican population to themselves take back their own communities. It’s also going to take cooperation by the American people to understand that there are things that we do on this side of the border that compound the challenge for Mexico.
So I think what – the tragedy of this weekend just underscores how severe, significant a danger this represents to Mexico, to the United States, to the hemisphere. And I think we all share that determination that, ultimately, through a variety of means, we will take back these streets one community at a time.
QUESTION: I’ll try another approach to this. Only one percent of the crimes in Mexico are fully prosecuted and receive a final sentence. What makes you think that, you know, there is going to be a final prosecution and sentencing in this particular case? And don’t you think would be ironic that only this case would be solved and, you know, prosecuted? And, well, go ahead and I have a second question.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m discomforted by that question, to be honest with you. I mean, this is a significant challenge for Mexico. This is a significant challenge for the United States. Thousands of lives have been lost, and ultimately, the Government of Mexico has to make sure that the resources, the security forces are put in place to fight these cartels. We have a role to play in helping Mexico achieve that. We have a role to play in help – and which we are doing in terms of working with Mexican authorities who are bravely trying to fight back but only to take back their streets but also to fight corruption that has been a significant challenge that undercuts the rule of law in Mexico. It is resources that sometimes come from the United States that compounds this challenge in terms of the movement of weapons, the movement of money that ultimately creates a circumstance that completely undercuts the authority of the government.
But I think we all share the tragedy of this. Thousands of lives have been lost, thousands of innocent lives have been lost. They’re all important. And it underscores that we ultimately will seek and, we hope, achieve justice over the long run. But this is a significant challenge. It affects the security of Mexico, it affects the security of the United States, which is why we take it so seriously.
QUESTION: A quick one.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. received any tracing requests for any weapon used in this crime?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a law enforcement issue.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this one.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Just one question: Are you still confident that the Mexican Government can maintain the situation under control in the border?
MR. CROWLEY: We understand how hard it is, but we also understand the commitment that President Calderon has made to this politically and the resource commitment that has been made by Mexico. This remains an ongoing challenge. It is not easy. It is not going to – success is not going to happen overnight. It is going to have to happen community by community, street by street. And it will not just be the government that is successful here. It has to ultimately be a commitment by the Mexican people to push these people out of Mexico. It’s going to have to involve a commitment by the American people in terms of our lifestyle and how what we do here can have an influence on what happens there.
And that ultimately affects Mexican citizens, it affects American citizens, it affects other citizens of the hemisphere. This is a joint challenge and I think we remain determined based on the tragedy that happened over the weekend.
QUESTION: On the security (inaudible) consulate, is it – will they be assessing whether or not that consulate should reopen, or is it just what kinds of security --
MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s just what kind of security --
QUESTION: Is there --
MR. CROWLEY: -- as we continue to find out more about what the background of this particular incident was.
QUESTION: And is there any discussion of a reassessment of the broader security situation for all of the consulates along the border?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure everyone will be reviewing their security posture in light of what’s happened.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: Wait, can I get just one more on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Aside from this incident on Saturday, are you aware, were there any threats directed at – have there been, recently, threats directed at Americans or American diplomats?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: New topic? Is that okay?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: So when the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, did she make any specific requests of his government and what sort of actions they’d like to see taken?
MR. CROWLEY: She did outline for Prime Minister Netanyahu some specific things that we wanted to see from the Israeli Government. I’m not going to go into specific detail. I think that they involve not only specifics about the project in question that was announced last week, but really more so about the willingness of the parties to engage seriously in this process and jointly create conditions for its success and be willing to address the core issues at the heart of the peace process.
I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.
So this is something that we are and will continue to talk with both parties about, which is – as we see, proximity talks started. Both sides have responsibilities to make sure that there’s an appropriate environment that allows progress to be made.
QUESTION: Did she specifically ask, though, to put an end to the 1600 apartments, the project that was announced --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to go into particulars, but her discussion on Friday did focus not only on this particular housing initiative, but also about the process more broadly.
QUESTION: Let me follow up, though. There’s word today that the project that – Netanyahu, who announced that the project’s going to go forward. Any reaction to that?
MR. CROWLEY: We – she – when she outlined for the prime minister our specific concerns, she asked for a formal response by the Israeli Government that has – and we await that response.
QUESTION: So – but tell us again, does it – you have no reaction to him saying that this project’s going to go forward? I mean, how about – can you say publicly --
MR. CROWLEY: As I just said, when she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli Government. We wait for that response.
QUESTION: So you’re discounting whatever he said today? It does – means nothing to you?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that we asked for a formal response from the Israeli Government and when we get that response, we’ll react to it.
MR. CROWLEY: Sir.
QUESTION: P.J., there are Israeli media reports or there were Israeli media reports over the weekend that said that she had indeed asked for cessation of this project. You can’t address that at all?
MR. CROWLEY: I just said – Arshad, as to particulars of what she asked, I’m not – just not going to get into the particulars.
QUESTION: Is Senator Mitchell still planning to go to the Middle East? And are the talks going to start or they’ve reached a dead end?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we have announced, George Mitchell intends to be in the region this week. However, his schedule is not yet set.
QUESTION: It’s not yet set?
QUESTION: So he’s not leaving tonight?
QUESTION: I understand there are meetings in Israel tomorrow – or tomorrow and Wednesday.
MR. CROWLEY: This is a fluid situation. As of this moment, he’s still in the United States.
QUESTION: Thanks. You mentioned the rededication of a synagogue in the Old City?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That you were disappointed in that. Are you disappointed in the rededication or in the reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: No, the reaction. I mean, there have been some mischaracterizations of this particular event, and we have concerns that this could lead to further tensions. And we just call on everyone not to – to be careful about public statements that can incite further violence.
QUESTION: So you’re not objecting to the rededication?
MR. CROWLEY: Not at all, not at all, not at all.
QUESTION: And have there been any --
MR. CROWLEY: This is about statements made about this event, not about the event itself.
QUESTION: By the Palestinians?
QUESTION: Have there been any direct --
QUESTION: By Palestinian officials.
QUESTION: Have there been any direct communications with the Palestinian officials on that issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: And are you requesting specific things of them?
MR. CROWLEY: We have made our concerns known about these public statements regarding this event. I mean, we remain in – over the weekend, we were in contact with officials from – both Palestinians and Israelis as we continue to look for the right conditions to move these talks forward.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the talks. Other than the Secretary’s call, the Vice President’s call on Friday, and the ambassador being called in to talk to the Deputy Secretary on Friday, have there been any meetings or calls between senior U.S. and Israeli officials since then? Anything today?
MR. CROWLEY: Calls, yes, across a range of officials from the U.S. Government, Israeli Government. I’m not aware of any further meetings at this point.
QUESTION: Can you be any specific – give us any specifics about those calls, meaning who and when and what?
MR. CROWLEY: Many. I mean, there’s a lot of --
QUESTION: From the Secretary? I mean, anything of any significant level?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I’m not aware that the Secretary has any further calls.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: One quick one on the concerns that you expressed about the Palestinian statements about the rededication of the synagogue. Who made those concerns known to Palestinian officials? Was that Assistant Secretary Feltman? Was it done through the consul general in Jerusalem? Who actually made that --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure it’s more than one. I just don’t have a rundown, Arshad.
QUESTION: But it wasn’t the Secretary?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Well, are your concerns --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I will take this question. I’m not aware that the Secretary talked to President Abbas over the weekend. If she did, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: But your concerns about the comments on the mosque, do they rise to the same level as your concern on the unhappiness about the statements – the announcement of the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to draw any comparability here. We – as we’ve said many times --
QUESTION: Well, you’re trying to even it out here.
MR. CROWLEY: No. I am not --
QUESTION: You’ve gotten savaged – you’re getting savaged on the Hill --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: -- and by some very powerful interest groups in this city. And you come out – without anyone asking about concerns on the Palestinian side, you’ve offered this up. And so it looks like you’re attempting to balance your criticisms of --
MR. CROWLEY: I understand your question, Matt. I wouldn’t describe it in that way. As we’ve said, both sides have responsibilities, and where we have concerns about either side and jeopardizing the conditions that we think are necessary to move this process forward – as we said when we announced the proximity talks would start, we will not be – we will not hesitate to say so. We have very specific concerns about public statements made surrounding this particular synagogue rededication, and we are not hesitating to talk about those concerns.
We have very particular concerns about a housing project announced while the Vice President of the United States is standing in Israel. And we have condemned that announcement.
QUESTION: Can you --
MR. CROWLEY: But I’m – we’re not trying to achieve any kind of comparability here. Anytime we have concerns about actions being taken on either side, we will not hesitate to say so.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you say which comments by Palestinian officials concern you? What --
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t got that kind of detail. Go ahead.
QUESTION: P.J., can you comment in general about the status of U.S.-Israeli relations? The Israeli envoy to Washington said Israel’s relations with the U.S. is facing the most severe crisis since 1975. Do you agree with that assessment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – Israel is a strategic ally of the United States and will continue to be so. The Vice President, during his trip to Israel last week, restated that commitment. We have very specific concerns about not only the substance of an announcement, the timing of an announcement, but its broader implication in terms of jeopardizing further progress on the peace process.
We have made some specific requests of the Israeli Government in that regard, and we’re looking forward to their response. But – this is a specific area of concern. But it should not be taken as an indication that the – our commitment to Israel’s security, as the Vice President said last week, remains unshakable.
QUESTION: But last week, you said it was actually jeopardizing the relationship, and I wonder if you’re backing off from that now.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. We – well, we will evaluate the implications of this once we hear back from the Israelis and see how they respond to our concerns.
QUESTION: You said that Ambassador Mitchell’s trip was still a fairly fluid situation. Can you tell us what specifically you need to get nailed down before you can say when he’s going? And is there any possibility he might not go if those things aren’t determined?
MR. CROWLEY: I would expect George Mitchell to be back in the region, but as to the particular timing, I think that’s still the question. He will be with the Secretary at the end of the week in Moscow for the Quartet meeting. But as to his particular departure plans, we’ll let you know when he leaves.
QUESTION: But you expect him in the region before the Quartet meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: I expect him in the region soon.
QUESTION: Do you want an answer on the 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem before making a decision on whether he’s going?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t condition one on the other. We want to see this process move forward. The proximity talks are a means to accomplish that. But we want to make sure that in scheduling the next round of talks, that we have an environment that allows us to move the process forward.
QUESTION: And --
MR. CROWLEY: So I don’t think – it’s not a question of if George will go to the region. It’s a question of when George will go to the region. But we want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides that when he travels, we can make progress.
QUESTION: And is it still your position – last week, when asked if you were – on the day that you issued the Media Note with his statement that both sides had accepted proximity talks or indirect talks, you were asked if you were certain that the talks had indeed begun. And you said, “I am certain.” Is it still your position --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that the indirect talks began last week?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. They have begun. But as to when the next round will occur, we want to make sure – I’m confident that there will be another round of proximity talks. We want to make sure that when they happen, we – let me finish – we – that the conditions are right so that we can make the kind of progress we want to make.
QUESTION: I don’t understand the difference, then, between – proximity talks – if you have Mitchell going from Ramallah to Jerusalem and back and forth, which he’s been doing for nine months now, why aren’t you saying that proximity talks began last year?
QUESTION: Last week.
MR. CROWLEY: Last week.
QUESTION: No. Yeah, why aren’t you saying they began last year?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the difference is --
QUESTION: He’s been shuttling between the two sides --
MR. CROWLEY: No, we --
QUESTION: You have now the Palestinians saying they’re not interested in these talks unless this project is canceled, so I’m not sure – how can you say that --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’ve had for the past year are talks about talks. What we want to get to is talks about substance.
QUESTION: But it sounds like you’re still talks about talks.
MR. CROWLEY: No.
MR. CROWLEY: We are prepared to have talks and address the substance, the core issues at stake in the peace process.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Not yet.
QUESTION: Just one real quick. Have there been any discussions about actions that the U.S. could take if Israel ignores these specific requests that you won’t detail?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll get to that point if we need to, based on the response by the Israeli Government, which we haven’t received yet.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about a DHS official – I think he was stationed at either the Consulate or the Embassy in South Korea – who was accused of swindling $200,000 out of a widow and then fleeing the country before his diplomatic immunity could be revoked? He’s supposed to be in the Philippines right now.
MR. CROWLEY: I actually do not know anything about this case. I’ll take the – as to whether this is an issue for – what our role might be versus the role of DHS.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You might want to keep it that way. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)
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