1:23 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Well, good afternoon and welcome to opening day. It’s a great day to be a baseball fan. It’s a great day to be a Red Sox fan, in particular, given what happened late, late last night. But the President will be over at Nationals Park here in Washington --
MR. CROWLEY: Maybe about now. Very good, there you go. So, baseball season is underway. I think probably it’s a great sports week if you’re a baseball fan, a hockey fan, as we get ready for the – Matt and I get ready for the hockey playoffs and the Masters this week.
So, anyway, several things to talk about before taking your questions. Secretary Clinton and Nigerian Secretary Yalale Ahmed will inaugurate the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission tomorrow afternoon here at the Department of State. The U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission is a strategic dialogue designed to expand mutual cooperation across a range of shared interests, including good governance, transparency, integrity, energy, investment, food security, and agriculture, the Niger Delta, and regional security cooperation. There’ll be a number of working groups formed as a result of this inaugural meeting that will meet here in Washington and Abuja in the coming months.
Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg leaves this evening for a visit to the Balkans. He will be in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo through this week. In Ljubljana, he will meet with Prime Minister Pahor and other senior officials. In Sarajevo, he will build on three previous meetings they’ve had there, joining Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos to deliver a joint U.S.-EU message of support and continued engagement as Bosnia works through its reform agenda. In Belgrade, he will renew the – our commitment to work with the Serbian Government to foster stability in the region and encourage practical cooperation with Kosovo. And in Pristina, the Deputy Secretary will reaffirm our commitment to Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Under Secretary Bob Hormats will be in China and Vietnam this week for bilateral meetings. He will also participate in the Boao Forum for Asia. It’s like, I guess, the Chinese equivalent of the Davos Forum. But he will also give a speech at the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations.
Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela is in Ecuador today. He will give a speech this afternoon on – to the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences. And tomorrow, he will deliver remarks at the Universidad de los Andes, in Bogota and will participate in the World Economic Forum in Cartagena. He will finish up his trip in Peru later this week.
Since I’m on the subject of speeches, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson will give a speech tonight at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University on Africa Focus at Harvard Series and will talk about U.S.-Africa relations. That speech is open to the public and the press.
Special Envoy Scott Gration is back in Khartoum, having spent the weekend in Doha. But he continues to work with the National Elections Commission and various parties regarding the upcoming elections in Sudan. These are the first multi-party elections in Sudan since 1986, and we’ve seen over 16,000 candidates from more than 70 parties running for races at the national, regional, and state levels, including 1,841 legislative seats where 25 seats will be for women.
This is a critical milestone within the framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and it is the responsibility of the National Elections Commission, the Government of Sudan, and the parties involved to take all possible steps to ensure that the elections proceed peacefully and transparently and are viewed as credible by the Sudanese people.
The United States is concerned by the troubling developments, including serious restrictions on political freedoms which have led to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Sudan’s electoral process. It is important for the Government of Sudan immediately to lift restrictions on political parties and civil society. The Government of Sudan must also ensure that all voters are able to participate in the election by improving conditions on the ground, including in Darfur and elsewhere, and by providing meaningful access to polling places.
And at the end, we will judge these elections based on whether they reflect the will of the Sudanese people and whether they meet international standards for elections. And we are currently seeing disturbing trends in both areas.
We are obviously looking – in Mexico, we are – we have, thankfully, seen no reports of U.S. citizen injuries or fatalities. We certainly are aware that there have been a small number of deaths on the ground in and around Mexicali, and offer our condolences to the families that have been affected. We continue operations today at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana.
And likewise, in Peshawar, we thankfully have seen – we have accounted for all Americans and all local nationals who are working at our consulate in Peshawar. We condemn this terrorist attack. We are outraged and deeply saddened by the assault. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Pakistani Police Frontier constabulary and security personnel who were injured and killed as a result of this incident. The attacks today are a part of a wave of violence perpetrated by brutal extremists who seek to undermine Pakistan’s democracy and sow fear and discord. We are coordinating closely with Pakistan authorities who are working to bring the murderers to justice. And we deeply appreciate the quick, effective support from Pakistani security forces as this incident unfolded.
This tragedy underscores a common challenge our nations face to defeat violent extremists that threatens us both and deepens our commitment to see Pakistan prosper as a strong democracy in a stable region.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On that last subject, what is the number of killed and injured you have in Peshawar at the moment?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a number, so we’ll see if we can get you something on that.
QUESTION: There’s some confusion --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- about that. And if you could provide that after the briefing, it would be --
QUESTION: When you say all Americans are accounted for, does that mean that they’re all okay?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. We – I think, obviously, in the explosion there’ve been some small-scale injuries, nothing life-threatening that I’m aware of. But in these kind of explosions, you’ve got blown-out windows, shrapnel, debris, so --
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many were injured?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Do you – earlier, the Embassy statement said that two Pakistani security guards were killed. Were they – they weren’t employed by the Embassy?
MR. CROWLEY: Correct.
QUESTION: They were Pakistani kind of police or --
MR. CROWLEY: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: -- part of Pakistan security that they provide --
MR. CROWLEY: The U.S. contract guard staff is okay. But yes, you’re right; there were Pakistani security in the area and, tragically, some of them have been killed.
QUESTION: Do you have any leads on the – the Taliban in Pakistan has claimed responsibility. I was wondering if you have any leads on the mastermind or --
MR. CROWLEY: We do not.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the building is like right now? I understand it was hit.
MR. CROWLEY: It’s still functioning. The recent security measures that we put in place there have been effective. But beyond that, I’m sure we will review, as we normally do, what – and make additional adjustments going forward as we think we need to.
QUESTION: When is it going to be open again? Do you –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s open now.
QUESTION: It’s still open – it was open today?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s functional.
QUESTION: It didn’t close after the --
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, in this kind of situation, what kind of business they’re doing is probably a separate issue, but it is functional.
QUESTION: And then --
QUESTION: Do you know how many – sorry, just one more – a clarification. Do you know, for context, how many people work at that consulate? It’s rather small. I think a lot of it’s done at Islamabad.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I don’t have a number. We’ll see if we can get you one.
QUESTION: What is the main function of the consulate there? Is it visa processing?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have a presence there. We work with Pakistani officials in that region. You’ve got a full range of U.S. personnel that are typical of diplomatic outposts.
QUESTION: Have you increased staff as part of the kind of ramp-up of U.S. personnel to implement Kerry-Lugar programs?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that we – given, as we’ve increased our --
QUESTION: Well, specifically --
MR. CROWLEY: -- overall program in Pakistan and have broadened it beyond just military aspects, my sense is that there are probably more people in Peshawar than there were a couple of years ago. But I’ll see if we can get some numbers on it.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan and drugs, last week, there was two major meetings on the issue. One was held by General Stavridis, the head of the European Command – called in the ambassador – U.S. ambassadors from the Black Sea countries to talk about it, saying that the question of the narcotics in Afghanistan is one of the biggest threats facing the NATO countries and urging action on this issue. The second one was in Kabul, which was addressed by Viktor Ivanov, the Russian drug head, who indicated that over the past year, there have been 30,000 victims of death by heroin overdoses, calling it a war that Russia is fighting which is undermining their capability, and addressing NATO, calling on them to set up a strategy within the NATO-Russia Council for going after the drugs.
Now, our policy under the McChrystal plan is to – hands off the heroin, let them do what they’re doing. And in effect, we’re actually defending the heroin trade, and our soldiers are fighting and dying to create an Afghanistan in which drugs, the heroin, is flowing. Isn’t that a contradiction? And don’t we have a responsibility to do something to get together with these nations like Russia, which is heavily affected by that, to deal with the drug trade?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Bill, I do not agree with your characterization of our strategy or its implications. Clearly, narcotics is a major concern as it pertains to Afghanistan and the region and beyond, including Europe. This was a subject that came up during the Secretary’s recent trip to Moscow and her bilateral with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We are looking to have – we have a strategy. We’ve made some adjustments over the past year. Our focus is on going after the middlemen, those who are responsible for the drug trades.
As you’ve had people here, including a couple of visits by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, we are affirmatively working to shift the Afghan economy, try to expand and re-grow a legitimate agricultural sector. So we are working this hard. It is an issue of great concern to the region, to Europe, to the United States. Ninety percent of the world’s poppies are grown in Afghanistan. So central to the future of a stable and democratic and prosperous Afghanistan is dealing with the current drug challenge.
We are working that aggressively, but we work this on many levels. Focusing just on one thing, as we’ve seen in recent years, despite heavy emphasis during the previous administration on eradication, the growth of poppies continued in Afghanistan. We think we have the right strategy. We’re putting resources in place. This is not – this is something we’re – that is central to our efforts in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: P.J., speaking of Afghanistan --
QUESTION: What specifically, P.J., in terms of – are you setting up alternative sources for funding agriculture for them to produce other crops? Are you taking --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have an aggressive civilian strategy, and that aggressive civilian strategy includes crop substitution. It includes the kind of things that can help people on the ground. It’s what we’re doing in places like Marjah – effective government, stronger security, working to grow a legal economy in Afghanistan. So if you focus just on the drugs without inserting it into a broader strategy, you’re not likely to be successful; you’re not likely to get the support on the ground from the people of Afghanistan that you want to.
We are introducing new agricultural opportunities there. We are showing farmers on the ground that, in fact, by switching to other crops, you actually can achieve a greater profit, more prosperity over the long term. But this is a very difficult, very long-term process. But we recognize the challenge. We have been focused on that since coming into office. And it is central to our Afghan strategy, it’s central to our civilian – the civilian component of our strategy.
QUESTION: P.J., speaking of Afghanistan, what is with President Karzai?
MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary had a discussion with President Karzai on --
QUESTION: It doesn’t seem to have done much good.
MR. CROWLEY: -- Friday afternoon. We’re focused, looking ahead, to the important work that we have with the Afghan Government. We have a common goal. We want to see the Afghan National Government expand, assert itself, and, over time, take greater responsibility for security and agriculture and the basic elements of Afghanistan’s future. So our goals are the same, and beyond that --
QUESTION: Well, do you take him seriously?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Do you take him seriously?
MR. CROWLEY: He is the elected leader of --
QUESTION: Yeah, but he says that he’s threatening to join the Taliban. I mean, is this a serious threat, in your estimation?
MR. CROWLEY: That particular comment is a bit of a head scratcher. But beyond that, we were troubled by some of his comments last week. We think we’ve addressed them. We’re moving forward.
QUESTION: Yeah, but isn’t it – is it still – do you still think that this guy is an effective, capable, competent leader given –
MR. CROWLEY: He is the leader –
QUESTION: I realize that he was allegedly elected in an election that you recognized in the end, but –
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, he is the elected leader of –
QUESTION: Yeah, but do you have confidence in him when he keeps going off the handle like this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I’ll leave the president and his government to explain his comments. He was in Kandahar with General McChrystal yesterday. We are working with the government on the way forward both in terms of military operations, but as we were just talking about before, working with specific ministries. We want to see the Government of Afghanistan step up, take responsibility in key areas, demonstrate the kind of leadership that the Afghan people are expecting of it. We are there in Afghanistan because – in our national interest to do so. We’re obviously spending significant resources both on the military side and the civilian side to do that. But there are clearly things that we want to see the government step up and do, and we’re working with President Karzai and his government to see that happen.
QUESTION: So he’s standing – well, I don’t know if he’s actually standing alongside of him, but he’s in Kandahar with General McChrystal and he says to about a thousand tribal leaders, “We will not conduct the operations in Kandahar unless you say we can.” Do you share his assessment? Are you – is the United States going to be dictated by Afghan tribal leaders as to where they’re going to undertake operations?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in the operations that we are putting forward in Marjah, potentially in other places, we will rely upon the support of the Afghan people. We will work closely with the Afghan national and local governments as we execute what is a joint strategy. As our strategy has moved forward, sustaining popular support for our presence there and the activities there that we are undertaking on behalf of the Afghan people is vitally important. So I think we are satisfied with the support that we – the close cooperation that we have achieved with the Afghan Government, as you saw. It worked quite effectively in the context of the Marjah operation, and I would expect that that is just simply forecasting that. The same approach that we took to Marjah is the kind of approach we’ll take to Kandahar and other places.
QUESTION: But he’s specifically saying that these tribal leaders will have the ultimate say as to whether the U.S. and Afghan forces, jointly or whatever, undertake these operations. Do you share that assessment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Afghanistan is sovereign. Ultimately, what we are doing there, we are doing there jointly with the Afghan Government. And I’ll defer in terms of how the specific operations are planned and executed and how the interaction between General McChrystal and his staff and how that works with Afghan security forces. But I don’t think we’re troubled by the fact that as we move forward together, we want to make sure that we are sustaining the support of the Afghan people and the support of international public support, including American public support for what we’re doing there. We think that has become a much more important and vital aspect of our strategy and that, we think, is the key to –
QUESTION: So those comments aren’t troubling or frustrating?
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: Has Robert Gibbs said to you --
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Look, how we do this – we’ll work closely with the Afghan Government. We’re not going to give any particular tribal leader veto power over what we think and the Afghan National Government thinks is important to stabilize and secure Afghanistan. But obviously, popular support is an important component of what we’re doing.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t hear you condemning the remarks that Karzai made over the weekend in which he said if foreign influence – Western influence continues, you know, this will legitimize the Taliban, a cause that he might join. Are you reluctant to condemn those remarks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I have not seen a specific transcript of his remarks. So frequently –
QUESTION: Then why did they report it, though? I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. Frequently there – comments made from some distance can be taken out of context. I’ll let the president of Afghanistan explain his own remarks. We were concerned about his remarks last week. We expressed our concern through Ambassador Eikenberry to President Karzai and his government. As a result of that, President Karzai called Secretary Clinton on Friday to clarify his remarks. He specifically said during the course of his conversation on Friday that they weren’t directed at the United States. In fact, at one point he said he was complaining about media coverage, as politicians tend to do.
So I’m going to take a cautious approach here. I can’t explain what he said about the Taliban. He is the elected leader of Afghanistan. We’re working closely with he and his government. Ultimately, as I said last week, this is not about the relationship between President Karzai and the United States. This is about the relationship between President Karzai, his government, and his people. Ultimately, he has to demonstrate leadership and effectiveness to his people. And it’s not about us; it’s about the basic relationship between the Government of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan. They want to see that government perform more effectively and so do we.
QUESTION: Right, P.J., but I –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) clarifying conversations between Clinton and Karzai again?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that on a daily basis, we are talking to the Afghan Government, and if we have sought a further clarification of his remarks over the weekend, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: It’s not – I mean, it’s not really about clarifying comments, is it? Are you concerned at all that his – that he – his impressions or his – the way he is approaching his relationship with the United States where there are dozens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting, yes, for a U.S. national security interest, but also fighting for the Afghan people – are you worried that these remarks that he’s making that are not the remarks that a leader that should be fighting in this joint – you say – common goal, should be talking about?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll just repeat what you just said, Elise. We are there because we are following our own national interests. It is in our interest –
QUESTION: Are these remarks the attitude of a man that’s working in favor of U.S. national interests?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, can I go back to what the president said to Secretary Clinton on Friday? He did not direct his comments earlier in the week at the United States. And I’ll leave it to him to explain.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold on. Let --
QUESTION: Well, actually, one more in Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: General McChrystal apparently has ordered a second investigation into the deaths of three Afghan women and two men during this nighttime raid in February. Apparently, originally, they thought it was an honor killing, but now it seems that there might have been some kind of cover-up and General McChrystal is ordering a new investigation. I was just wondering if you think that these type of incidents dilute the Afghan confidence in the U.S. military and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it underscores in my mind exactly what we were talking about a minute ago about other operations in and around Afghanistan moving forward. That has been a fundamental change in General McChrystal’s strategy. Maintaining the support of the Afghan people is vitally important. We have been on the ground in Afghanistan for almost a decade. And if we’re going to continue to be supported, then we have to aggressively investigate incidents like this, and where our operations have resulted in the tragic loss of life of Afghan people, we need to say so explicitly. I think we’re doing a better job of that as a government in terms of owning up to mistakes that we’ve made on the battlefield. Because they do have a significant impact in terms of local as well as national public opinion. So as to that particular incident, I think we would clearly support the investigation wherever it leads. But this is why we are developing a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, because we recognize that moving forward we’re going to have to sustain both national support and international support if we’re going to be successful.
QUESTION: Can I just make one – get one thing clear? Have you sought clarification from the president on these latest weekend comments?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he was with U.S. officials there yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, you --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any follow-up conversation.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, after his first comments last week, you did seek – and you caught up and said --
MR. CROWLEY: We did seek --
QUESTION: -- you asked for clarification. Have you asked for clarification --
MR. CROWLEY: I will --
QUESTION: -- whether he was standing next to Bozo the clown, I don’t care. I mean, are you looking for an explanation from him?
MR. CROWLEY: I will ask whether Ambassador Eikenberry has done any follow-up today.
QUESTION: Well, just one last follow-up.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s a fair question. I --
QUESTION: Do these questions – do these comments matter? I mean, do you think that this is indicative of some kind of problem that he has with the United States? Or do you just hear what he says, roll your eyes, and it doesn't really affect how you’re dealing with him?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I – they do matter. I mean, as we’ve just been talking about, we are – we think we are working hard to sustain Afghan support for our presence in Afghanistan. And what we’re trying to do, both on our behalf and on behalf of the people of Afghanistan – we are very conscious of the fact that we are expending considerable U.S. treasure in terms of resources, the lives of our soldiers, to do something that we think is important to us and important to the Afghan Government. These comments can undercut the kind of support that we think we need on all sides of this equation if we’re going to move forward. I think President Karzai – he was sensitive enough and expressed in his call with Secretary Clinton on Friday that he was surprised by the stir that these were created. And I think --
QUESTION: But then he did it again. It’s like Britney Spears.
MR. CROWLEY: And I would say that – I’m reserving judgment because I haven’t seen a particular transcript of what he said. But clearly, what he says does have an impact back here in the United States, and he should choose his words carefully.
MR. CROWLEY: Different.