1:00 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. As you saw a bit earlier today, the Transportation Security Administration announced a dynamic new threat-based process and is beginning to put into place new enhanced security measures for all air carriers and all passengers on international flights to the United States. The system includes strengthened watchlisting, more flexible security protocols tailored to reflect the most current information available, real-time threat-based intelligence. It will influence all passengers traveling to the United States.
These changes came about through a rigorous interagency review process that included a number of government agencies, including the Department of State, with input from partners in government and industry around the world, intelligence community and law enforcement. These measures supersede emergency measures put into place immediately following the December 25 attempted attack on the airliner destined for Detroit.
Our posts have been in touch with governments around the world to explain our new updated system, and emphasized again that this is a shared challenge and a shared responsibility. Many of our partners around the world have also increased their own security measures. And the overall intent of this effort, of course, is to ensure the safety and security of all – of everyone traveling by air – anyone, anywhere in the world.
Special Envoy Scott Gration remains in Khartoum meeting with government officials, including the National Elections Commission and with opposition leaders. There are legitimate concerns that have arisen as we approach the elections in mid-April – concerns about the overall environments around the election, access to the media to campaign, the election process itself, including logistical challenges of polling places and the like. As you have reported, it’s not clear whether decisions by opposition parties are final. We certainly hope that parties can reach agreement with the National Elections Commission so that there will be maximum participation in these upcoming elections.
I should just mention that starting on April 11th and over a three-day period, there will actually be six elections taking place for the Sudanese presidency, the national assembly, the Southern Sudan presidency and legislative assembly, and 25 state governors and state assemblies.
Just to finish up before taking your questions, we did release a little while ago announcing that we have contributed 200 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees so – to provide support for UNHCR in Africa, East Asia, Europe, the Near East, South Asia, as well as here in the Western Hemisphere.
And finally, we released a short time ago a statement on reflecting the progress in the Cyprus negotiations – or maybe we haven’t announced it. Well, I’ll tell you what – shortly, we will be putting out a statement commending the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders Christofias and Talat, respectively.
We are encouraged by statements that they have made recently and detailed meetings that have been going on this week, important progress regarding EU matters and the economy. As we said to the Cypriot – the Greek Cypriot foreign minister when he was here a few days ago, we continue to press both sides to reach a just and lasting settlement that reunifies the island into a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, and we continue to support the settlement efforts under the auspices of the UN Secretary General’s good offices mission led by Alexander Downer.
With that, questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that U.S. officials, current and former, met in such venues as Doha, Zurich, and Damascus with officials from Hamas? And if so, were these meetings approved by the State Department or the White House, or at least did they get your blessing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s separate the two. We saw the story this morning; probably the same one that you’re alluding to. There have been meetings with private individuals and Hamas officials. These are private meetings. They were not conveying any particular message from the United States. We were not aware of the meeting or the presentation in Doha by a Foreign Service officer on sabbatical to the Council on Foreign Relations. We are looking into that issue.
As far as I know, there was no permission granted for that encounter. That said, our policy hasn’t changed and our policy is not going to change. Our policy is rooted in the Quartet principles. And as the Secretary of State and others have said, anyone who embraces those principles can play a future role in the process.
QUESTION: Are you looking, then, at the possibility of a reprimand for the person who –
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We – this individual is on sabbatical. As far as I know, no one in the State Department was aware of her presentation. We’re looking into it and we’ll figure out what actions to take once we understand all the facts.
MR. CROWLEY: Iran and Pakistan.
QUESTION: Yeah. Two weeks ago, Iran signed – Pakistan signed gas pipeline deals with Iran. And now, India has said too that it’s also resuming negotiations process with Iran to extend that gas pipeline to India. So at a time when President Obama is looking for imposing additional sanctions on Iran through the UN Security Council, what’s your response to that – India and Pakistan both working together to sign a (inaudible) gas pipeline deal with Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, these are discussions that we’re having with a range of countries. We obviously are earnestly engaged with a wide range of countries, particularly within the P-5+1, beginning to put together the specific elements of a potential sanctions resolution. And we will expect, depending on not only what is in that resolution, but other steps that countries will take going forward, that it becomes – the international community as a whole has to be united behind this effort and has to enforce whatever sanctions are put in place.
There are existing sanctions already in place, but we have expressed our concerns to a number of countries that have ongoing economic relations with Iran that now may not be the best time to pursue such projects.
QUESTION: But have you expressed this concern with Pakistan and India, in particular?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with any particular project, but this is part of our ongoing dialogue with countries that we are looking to place pressure on Iran. And we are expecting everyone, particularly emerging powers, to play a significant role in this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just to follow up?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: P.J., thanks. First in the beginning it was India who was thinking of having a gas pipeline with Iran. But there was concerns in Washington and there were reports of visits, one in New Delhi over this. But now, after the U.S. gave billions of dollars to Pakistan, now Pakistan announced after getting the U.S. aid that they are going to go ahead with the Iranian – and at the same time, the U.S. had been – is working on President Obama sanctions against Iran. But one of your – I mean, greatest and biggest ally – when – what message do you get from somebody from, like, Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, let’s disaggregate a little bit of that. First of all, we do not think in zero-sum terms when talking about developments in the region. And we do recognize that ultimately, we want to see the growth of legitimate trade that more fully integrates countries like Pakistan, countries like Afghanistan, others, into a regional or a global trading system. That said, we have a broad-based dialogue with both India and Pakistan. Part of the dialogue in each country is to understand and help with the respective and legitimate energy needs that countries in the region have.
But we are also sending a very strong signal that – to a range of countries; not just in South Asia, throughout the world – to those countries that have economic relations with Iran or to those sectors of the global economy that do business with Iran, understand where this process is going, and understand that ultimately, the reputation of a company or the reputation of a country will – there will be ramifications here in terms of how this proceeds. We recognize, as we’ve said many times, Iran has rights, but Iran has responsibilities. And likewise, other countries that are responsible for strengthening and protecting and safeguarding the nonproliferation system around the world also have rights and responsibilities.
And now is the time to become united to put pressure on Iran, to take the appropriate steps so that we can send a clear message to Iran that there’s a consequence for its clear failure to live up to its obligations. So this is not just a responsibility for the United States, it’s just not a responsibility for the so-called P-5+1, there’s a shared global responsibility here. And just to finish, this will be something that is central to the nuclear security summit that will be held here in Washington middle of next month, and clearly be central to --
QUESTION: This month.
MR. CROWLEY: Next month – no, this month. You’re right. Thank you.
QUESTION: This month.
MR. CROWLEY: And central to the strengthening of the nonproliferation regime which will be undertaken next month at the UN.
QUESTION: Just a quick one.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: All this – what you’re saying --
MR. CROWLEY: I think I won’t set a record today.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you, 11th or 12th – 12th and 13th – 12th and 13th. All this what you said, P.J., also applies to Russia and China as far as sanctions and dealing with Iran --
MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- and all that. And at the same time, do you believe, really, whatever is going on this – because Iran is now – is, was, or will be isolated and people – that they might come back on the table and they might agree with the, let’s say, same deal like with India, the civil nuclear agreement? Are you still going to go with Iran with the civil nuclear agreement?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve said many times, the Secretary has said many times that Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear program. The dilemma for us and for the international community is, increasingly, the actions that Iran is taking, its refusal to engage, points to the potential that it is, in fact, pursuing a military program. We want to see Iran come to the table, answer the questions that we have. If they do, yes, they have the ability to pursue a civilian nuclear program. We, of course, have on the table an offer to help them with their legitimate civilian needs, but clearly, that requires Iran to engage constructively, something that they have failed to do.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the security measures, what will happen for the list of 14 countries of concern?
MR. CROWLEY: The measures that DHS announced today supersede the list of 14 countries. So the measures they’re putting in place apply globally, not just to specific countries.
QUESTION: There is no more – any list?
MR. CROWLEY: I can say it again. I can’t say it any better. This new structure and this new process we’re putting in place supersedes the previous efforts which we acknowledge were – among the efforts put in place after December 25th include a particular concentration on the 14 countries.
QUESTION: Back to Iran just quickly: Has there been any date set for when the ambassadors are going to meet in New York to discuss this in person?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s being discussed. I don’t know a specific date.
QUESTION: A follow-on on --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’re set yet. But there will be – I expect that there will be a meeting in the next few days.
QUESTION: Okay. And a follow-on on Sudan: With Scott Gration’s talks in Khartoum, is there any sense in the State Department that it might now be better to delay the election because of that long litany of problems that you just enumerated?
MR. CROWLEY: I understand the question, but we’re looking at what’s happening this month as crucial to beginning to establish the processes, the institutions, and momentum that leads up to a truly significant historic referendum involving Southern Sudan in January. So I think there has been a slight delay, as I recall, in this election already. But I think we’re looking, at the present time, to see if we can find a way to have it move forward on schedule.
QUESTION: Doesn’t that position effectively give Khartoum carte blanche? I mean, they can do whatever they want if the U.S. says whatever election – however big the flaws in the election are, we want this to go forward because the referendum is the important thing, then what’s to stop them from completely monkeying with the election?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me go back. Remember this is not about one election. It’s about six. And particularly if you’re talking about a referendum next January on the future of Sudan and the future of Southern Sudan, a critical element of that is putting into place governance structures and institutions that will guide the emergence of a new – potentially a new country. So there are six elections at stake. I know that there’s a tendency to focus on just one, but we think what’s important here is to put together credible, legitimate institutions of government that can govern all of Sudan.
And that’s why Scott Gration is here. He was set to go to the region anyway. He accelerated his trip so that he can deal with these current situation. He’s probably going to go to Doha tomorrow for a meeting there and then return to Sudan and stay there through the election process. I think at the present time, we’re working hard to try to resolve these issues – help the parties resolve these issues. I think we are still aiming for the election to occur on April 11th.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there were some Israeli strikes in response to rocket attacks. What’s the U.S. – what is the U.S. communicating to the two sides about this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve said many times, I don’t know what the predicate was for the Israeli action. The Israelis have a right to self-defense. At the same time, as we have said many times, we don’t ultimately think that there is a military solution to this. It’s why we have been pressing the Palestinians and the Israelis to get into proximity talks that can lead to direct negotiations. But we are always concerned that steps taken by either side, legitimate or otherwise, can be misconstrued, can be twisted, and end up causing turbulence that can be an impediment to progress.
So our message remains to the Israelis and Palestinians that we need to get the proximity talks going, focus on the substance, move to direct negotiations, and ultimately arrive at a settlement that ends the conflict once and for all.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the TSA measures for a minute?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that the new measures supersede the list of 14 countries. Would that indicate that if you’re a citizen of one of those 14 countries, you would not be subjected to enhanced screenings except if you were on some kind of an intelligence watch list?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go through the particulars of how the system works, other than to say that that there were some – there was a particular emphasis given to 14 countries in the aftermath of December 25th. Since that time, we’ve been engaged in intensive dialogue with those countries, other countries, and we are now satisfied that with the new measures that we’re putting in place, some of these measures will be visible at airports, some of these measures will not be visible at airports. There’ll be multiple layers of security. There’ll be actions that are focused on intelligence. There can also be some random elements to this to complicate the – any potential terrorist who’s thinking of attacking the global aviation system. But – and we also have been talking to specific countries about improving their own contribution to this system.
So what we’re saying is that the system that we’re now upgrading and strengthening will apply to all international aviation passengers coming to the United States. It will not just – it will not be concentrated on those 14.
QUESTION: But is the burden now mainly on the authorities and airlines in other countries who are carrying passengers to the United States?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way, I mean, you had a system that arguably was not necessarily sustainable. It wasn’t necessarily efficient. If you basically have a system that says for particular countries every citizen can be pulled aside for secondary screening, that is not a sustainable operation over time. This new procedure is much more intelligence-based and much more dynamic, tailored to specific real-time intelligence and threat information. So it will vary based on our analysis on any given day. But it is a system that we think is much more effective, much more efficient, much more concentrated on the threat as we see it, and will apply to all passengers coming to the United States.
QUESTION: One more on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to clarify. This system also applies to Americans, is that right?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: P.J., as far as Afghanistan and its President Karzai is concerned, President Obama just came from there and I’m sure they had a very lengthy and straight talk, and at the same time, the Secretary was there. And just now Assistant Secretary Blake also returned from Afghanistan just the day before. What message do you think are we getting, or the U.S. getting or the international community from President Karzai?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, we’re troubled by the comments that he made yesterday. From our standpoint, we are investing substantial resources to defeat al-Qaida. It’s in our interest. But in doing so, we’re also creating significant opportunities for the Afghan people. We are committed to helping Afghanistan because it’s in our vital interest to do so. I believe our Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has met with President Karzai today to clarify what he meant by these remarks. But obviously, we are actively working, as I mentioned yesterday, to strengthen government institutions at all levels. This is not about us. It’s ultimately about the relationship between the Afghan Government and the Afghan people. But suggestions that somehow the international community was responsible for irregularities in the recent election is preposterous.
QUESTION: But one more quick one. During your talks or Secretary or President or other U.S. officials with him, did you get any sense that he’s not satisfied with the way the operations are going there, because in the past, he was complaining that terrorist activities are there across the border and all those things?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to President Karzai to characterize how he sees the current operations. We’re encouraged by what is happening. We are working hard to not only strengthen government institutions at a national level, we’re working hard to strengthen government institutions at the local level. Our efforts are focused on giving the Afghan people a sense that government at all levels can deliver what they need, and in doing so, we think that’s the most effective way to defeat the insurgency.
MR. CROWLEY: Good, welcome back.
QUESTION: It seems nowadays the differences between the U.S. and the Karzai government over there -- so how are you going to work in Afghanistan if there are differences in the government over there on key sharp issues?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think the issue is differences. I mean, this is about Afghanistan. It’s about the relationship between the Afghan people and their government. Ultimately, as the President has made clear, we – there are things that we are going to do, but our overall strategic focus here is to transition to where these become Afghan responsibilities and an Afghan-led process. It’s why we’re building institutions of government. We’re building police. We’re building military forces so that it ultimately is the Afghans taking care of their own challenges and shaping their own future. We are here to help.
Now, at any particular time, there will clearly be differences between how we perceive a situation and how our Afghan friends perceive a situation. And we’ll resolve these differences when they occur through close coordination and dialogue as we have done.
QUESTION: Wasn’t this issue raised by President Karzai to U.S. officials earlier over this elections?
MR. CROWLEY: I – as to why he decided to do this yesterday, I would ask him.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Eikenberry -- do you have any more details who he met with, for how long?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.
QUESTION: Was his – what did he hear back? Were your concerns allayed?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t received a readout.
QUESTION: That was my question, too. Actually, but did Eikenberry also convey to President Karzai that the U.S. considered these comments troubling? And did anyone on the U.S. side have any kind of a heads up that he was going to make these comments during the speech?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we had a heads up.