1:29 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few things to open up the briefing.
Today’s signing of the new START treaty in Prague is an important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation and for U.S.-Russia relations. The new treaty reduces significantly the number of strategic nuclear weapons that both sides may deploy. The treaty can be effectively verified with a regime that builds on the lessons learned from 15 years of implementing START and that allows us to build further trust and implement the treaty with confidence. It also enables both sides the flexibility to protect their own security. Nothing in this treaty diminishes our ability to defend the United States nor does it diminish America’s unwavering commitment to the security of our allies and partners.
The signing of the treaty also demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia to pursue responsible global leadership. Together we are keeping our commitments under the Nonproliferation Treaty which is a vital global foundation for nonproliferation and disarmament.
Secretary Clinton is on her way back. As we speak, has landed at Shannon Airport to refuel, be back here later on this evening.
Speaking of travel, Deputy Secretary for State for Management and Resources, Jack Lew, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah will soon travel later this week to Pakistan and Afghanistan on separate, but coordinated, trips. This is Dr. Shah’s first trip to the region as USAID Administrator ensuring the stability and prosperity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan as one of the United States’ highest priorities. And as the Secretary and President Obama have both said, our diplomatic and development efforts reflect a whole-of-government approach. And Deputy Lew and Dr. Shah will assess staffing and budget resources, review civilian and security assistance programs and efforts to promote governance and economic reform.
In Pakistan, they will build on the positive momentum generated by the recent U.S. and Pakistan strategic dialogue discussions, and in Afghanistan they will meet with senior members of the Afghan Government, ISAF officials, and key partners in the international donor community to continue our ongoing engagement on the range of priority issues on which we collaborate and cooperate.
Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg is in Serbia today for meetings with President Tadic and representatives of Serbian civil society. He’s following up on Vice President Biden’s travel to the region last May. He has reaffirmed our commitment to support Serbia as it makes progress towards European integration and will work with the government in Belgrade to foster stability in the region and encourage practical cooperation with Kosovo.
Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela is in Colombia and Cartagena where this morning he visited a USAID-funded community development center for internally displaced persons. Before leaving Bogota yesterday, he had a meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Regarding the Middle East, we are disturbed by comments of Palestinian Authority officials regarding reconstruction and refurbishing of Jewish sites in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Remarks by the Palestinian ministry of information denying Jewish heritage in and links to Jerusalem undermine the trust and confidence needed for substantive and productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We also strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end. We will continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for incitement.
Here today, I think we have some visitors from – Russian regional ministers for mass communication here – are they here? Are you here? Nope, not here. Well, anyway, we’ve had visiting here at the State Department some who are here under a USAID international media partnership program.
I think all of us at the State Department were saddened by the news this morning that Anatoly Dobrynin, the renowned Soviet ambassador to Washington during the Cold War, died today in Moscow. Obviously, our – we express our condolences to the Russian Government and the Russian people for a tremendous loss and a figure who worked for decades to help stabilize U.S.-Russian relations.
And finally – well, two more things. One, you’re aware Richard Holbrooke had a medical procedure in New York today. The angiogram showed the best possible results. There was no significant obstruction that required intervention. In fact, he has been in touch with Secretary Clinton today and has been cleared to travel with General Petraeus to Afghanistan tomorrow night.
Regarding Kyrgyzstan, we continue to closely monitor events on the ground in Bishkek, as well from here in Washington. Today, Assistant Secretary Bob Blake met this morning with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Sarbaev. The purpose of the meeting was simply to inform him that we would not be having the scheduled dialogue today as was originally planned. Our chargé at the Embassy in Bishkek also met today with opposition leader Rosa Otunbayeva. Our message in both cases was that we hope that calm will be restored in a manner consistent with democratic principles. Our priority, at this point, is law and order and that democracy be established in accordance with the rule of law. And we’ve been – continue to reach out to government officials and opposition leaders in every way that we possibly can.
We have no information regarding any specific threats to Americans who are there. Obviously, the safety and security of our personnel is of paramount importance, and we will continue to monitor the situation. This evening, in Bishkek, there are some crowds that are assembling on the streets. We have ongoing concerns about looting, even though the situation on the ground was relatively peaceful today. Our Embassy is operating, although it is closed except for emergency public requirements that can be arranged through a special appointment, and operations are ongoing at the Manas airfield.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the – I mean, was there any substance in the conversations that you had with the foreign minister and with the opposition leader in Bishkek? Did they talk about what kind of a solution the United States could recognize, what kind of a solution would not result in you finding this to be a coup d’état? And did they talk about Manas and its future?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not think it was a substantive conversation.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any concerns about any of what I just asked about, or you think everything’s just going to be fine and you’re going to continue to --
MR. CROWLEY: Right. Run it by me again. Let’s take it step by step.
QUESTION: Well, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how you’re going to deal with the situation. I mean, there is statutory requirements that you’re obligated to uphold, although I guess the argument on Honduras wasn’t exactly – it didn’t go exactly as planned.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s start --
QUESTION: What are you going to – I mean, is this is a coup? Is this --
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s start with this point. The situation is ongoing. We will be governed by the facts. We will operate in accordance with U.S. law. I think one of the important factors by law is the question of a military coup. There’s no indication that the military or security services played any role or any meaningful role in what has happened in Kyrgyzstan. Our interest is in seeing a peaceful resolution and we will work with the government ministries and Kyrgyz officials to see the restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Was that democratic rule really there before?
MR. CROWLEY: We want to help Kyrgyzstan continue on a path towards effective democracy.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that if any group of people gets big enough and storms government buildings and declares that they’re in control and they’re going to form a new government – as long as they didn’t have anything to do with the military, that that’s okay with you guys?
MR. CROWLEY: We have concerns about the situation on the ground. Obviously, we deplore any violence. There has been – we have concerns about ongoing looting and disorder. We stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan. We understand that there were specific grievances that resulted in the demonstrations that have produced an opposition that now says that it has effective control of the government. We recognize states. We obviously will deal with governments – some good, some not so good. But we will continue to work – to help Kyrgyzstan and the people of Kyrgyzstan have a government that they can support and that functions in accordance with democratic principles.
QUESTION: Well, are you operating on the – operating with the idea that Bakiyev is still the president?
MR. CROWLEY: Right now, we are in touch with government ministries. We are in touch with opposition figures. Our message to both is the same.
QUESTION: But wait, just on that – but, I mean, do you believe that Kyrgyzstan was on a path to democracy before this whole incident? I mean, if you had a restoration of the status quo, would that be a return to democracy?
MR. CROWLEY: We have expressed our concerns about Kyrgyzstan and corruption within its government. We want to see Kyrgyzstan continue to develop on a path to democracy.
QUESTION: But was it on that path, I guess, is my – was it on the path before, like, last week?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – I mean, there was an election in Kyrgyzstan not so long ago. We stated our concerns at the time about the manner in which that election was conducted. At the same time, we recognize that there was a government in Kyrgyzstan and we have been dealing with that government. We are closely monitoring the situation. We are talking to all of the figures involved in this situation and we will continue to encourage them to resolve this in a peaceful way.
QUESTION: When you say you’re talking to all the people, are you talking to the president?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not been in touch with the president.
QUESTION: The president is supposedly in the southern part of the country and it seems, of course, that he’s sort of rallying support for himself. Do you advise him to give up?
MR. CROWLEY: It is not for us to advise him to do anything. It’s for us to advise government officials to resolve this peacefully and with the interests of the people of Kyrgyzstan at heart.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday – I’d like some clarification on a meeting – yesterday, you said that the foreign minister and the son of the president was going to meet for these meetings. Did --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I said that the foreign minister and the son were en route here to Washington. We have not had any contact with the son today.
QUESTION: Did he actually come? Can you verify that he actually came?
MR. CROWLEY: I cannot. We believe he’s in Washington, but beyond that, we have not had any contact with him. We had contact today with the foreign minister.
QUESTION: And can you fill me in a little bit more what was said in that meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Did you send any messages for him to send back to the president?
MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, we talked about our goals being peaceful resolution of this, respect for democratic principles and respect for human rights of those who are demonstrating. But beyond that, we did not send a particular message to the president.
QUESTION: Do you still think that this guy is the foreign minister?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Do you still --
QUESTION: Do you still recognize him as a foreign minister?
MR. CROWLEY: He is currently the foreign – I mean, there are – as you’ve just said, there is a president who has not yielded power. There is an interim leadership that claims to be in charge of the government. We are talking to both. It’s not for us to take sides one way or the other. Our interest here is with the people of Kyrgyzstan and a peaceful resolution of the situation. We met with the foreign minister because he was arriving here to participate in scheduled talks that obviously have been postponed. We are in touch in Bishkek with the foreign ministry officials that we have worked with for quite some time. We know foreign – former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. She served in the United States, I believe, at the UN during the 1990s. So she is a figure who is known to us. But again, how this is resolved should be resolved with the interest of the people of Kyrgyzstan in mind. We will continue to work with all sides to try to resolve this peacefully.
QUESTION: So why is this different than a case, for instance, with Honduras, where you insisted, which didn’t necessarily happen, but you insisted on the return of the democratically elected president? Is it just the fact that the military was involved that makes this less unacceptable than it did in Honduras?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we –
QUESTION: It seems like –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, fair enough. We prefer to see changes in government through democratic and constitutional means. That is clearly our preference. That happens in many places of the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in all places of the world. If you look back on Honduras, the facts in that case are well-known. The military charged into the presidential mansion, took President Zelaya out of the country against his will, and then put in place a de facto regime.
QUESTION: So it’s just logistics, basically?
MR. CROWLEY: The situation in Kyrgyzstan is still unfolding, but it is different. In the case of Honduras, we also had the ability to work effectively within the Organization of American States, an organization that was founded on democratic principles and, in fact, insists in its charter that those countries that are functioning democracies are those that are able to retain their membership. So I wouldn’t see direct comparability between the situation in Honduras and the situation in Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: Are you going to contact the president? Do you know where he is now?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve seen the same reports that you have that he’s still in the country, has moved into a part of the country that he is from. Beyond that, we have not had any contact with him yet.
QUESTION: You said earlier --
QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton actually made any phone calls to Putin or had any conversations when she was in Prague regarding this situation with the Russians?
MR. CROWLEY: A good question. She has been with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was part of the conversation, but I haven’t had a readout of her contacts today.
QUESTION: On the al-Madadi incident –
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, we’ll stay in the same –
QUESTION: P.J., you said earlier that it’s not your place to take sides, but surely you are on the side of a democratically elected government, aren’t you? Or are you suggesting that this wasn’t a democratically elected government and therefore you’re willing to let it be toppled?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s --
QUESTION: Through undemocratic means?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to let it – I mean, this is a sovereign country. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of Kyrgyzstan. We do recognize that various ministries and security services have pledged their allegiance to the opposition group that has emerged. I think, again, it’s not for us to take sides here. We are watching closely what is happening. We will continue to encourage everyone to follow the interest of the people.
QUESTION: But the impression that you leave by saying that you’re not taking sides is, in fact, entirely the opposite of – you are taking – by not taking sides, you are taking sides. You’re saying that you can accept this.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we will continue to deal with the Government of Kyrgyzstan and we are following closely what’s happening. We understand what’s happening. But as to what – how it will – we’ll watch and see how events unfold.
QUESTION: All right. And then you mentioned – you had a reference when talking about Honduras to the OAS. Well, you have a multi-nation organization that can deal here –
MR. CROWLEY: And yes --
QUESTION: And an illustrious ambassador there as well.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Who I’m sure is thrilled that his first couple weeks there –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact –
QUESTION: What do you want – what would you like the OSCE to do, if anything?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Look, first let me reiterate again. The situation there is very fluid. There are competing claims as to who is in power. We’re going to watch this carefully as it continues to unfold. We will note that the UN is sending special representatives there to monitor the situation. As you do note, the OSCE has a direct interest in what is happening and the intrepid new ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly, is on the case and providing information to us. So – and we will watch this carefully. We will continue to remain in contact with government ministries and various figures within Kyrgyzstan, and we’ll see how events unfold.
QUESTION: There are reports from a senior leader within the opposition that there’s a high probability that the base will be – that the lease for the base is going to be shortened. Have you been told that, and could you react to the possibility of that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. We have an existing agreement with the Government of Kyrgyzstan. It is an important transit center, contributes significantly to stability within the region, including Afghanistan. It is – it continues to operate. And we have seen reduced operations there in the last day. It hasn’t had a significant impact on our operations in Afghanistan. We will – but we will continue operations there and we will continue to discuss this with government ministries.
QUESTION: So are you saying that if you lose the base, it won’t have a significant impact?
MR. CROWLEY: I think you’re – I think you’re leaping ahead --
QUESTION: Well, if it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, do you think you --
MR. CROWLEY: Pardon?
QUESTION: If it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, according to you, then would it have any sort of impact if you lost the base?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re leaping to a conclusion that I think – I don’t think we’re prepared to draw at this point.
QUESTION: Also on the base, have any – though you haven’t issued any kind of authorized or ordered departure yet, and you may not, have you moved any Americans to the base for safety?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s – that is an option to us. I can’t really tell you if – we’ll just go through that process. We have – we’re monitoring the security situation closely. We remain concerned about the welfare of American citizens in Bishkek. We’re taking appropriate security precautions to protect our families and our diplomats there. We have the option of moving personnel to Manas if we think that is necessary. We’ve evaluated that option. I can’t say at this point whether we’ve actually done that. It’s possible that there are some people who are there. And we also have other facilities that are available to help our families and diplomats if that’s the case.
At the same time, the situation was calm during the day today. We are not aware of any specific threats to Americans in Bishkek, but it is something we’ll continue to consider.
MR. CROWLEY: Can we move on to Qatar?
QUESTION: -- diplomat?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: So where is Madidi now? How do you plan to address this with him? And could he be expelled from the country or could any punitive action be taken against him in the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me go back through – you’re all aware of the basic circumstances. There was an incident onboard the airplane last night, and we’re grateful to the action by the crew and by federal air marshals onboard the aircraft last night. When it landed – when the aircraft landed in Denver, authorities questioned all passengers to determine what had happened, including the Qatari diplomat. He was brought to a hotel in Denver, where we were able to determine what had happened. Once we determined that there was not an ongoing threat, this morning he was linked up with a team from the Qatari Embassy that had traveled to Denver. My understanding is he is on his way back to Washington as we speak.
We have been in touch with the Qatari ambassador a number of times over the past few hours. Our ambassador in Doha has had conversations with senior leaders in the Qatari Government, and we expect this situation to be resolved very rapidly.
QUESTION: Do you expect him to leave the country?
MR. CROWLEY: We expect this to be resolved very rapidly.
QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? I mean, it doesn't look like any charges are going to be filed against him, but you have the option to either declare him persona non grata, or you have the option to just kind of say no harm, no foul, and let him go back to do his job, or the Qatari Government could withdraw him.
MR. CROWLEY: We have options available to us, the Qatari Government has options available to it, and we expect it to be resolved very quickly.
QUESTION: Would you say that you’re examining your options?
MR. CROWLEY: I can just repeat what I just said. I won’t go any further.
QUESTION: Do you expect an apology from them, at the least? I mean, this was a felony. Any other person caught doing – smoking – and did they tell you exactly what the – because there seems to be --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – look, you’re right. This is a very serious issue. Any of us who travel on airlines were reminded of that every time we take off. We have in our communications with the Qatari ambassador last night – he fully understood the seriousness of the charges. I think we’re satisfied with the seriousness by which they take what has occurred, and we – that’s why we have confidence that this will be resolved very quickly.
QUESTION: There are some reports that a deal has been made; that is, they will send him back home and we have said we will file no charges. Is that correct?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this is a Qatari diplomat. He has diplomatic privileges. So – and just as our diplomats do in posts around the world.
QUESTION: But not for felonies, do we?
MR. CROWLEY: Hang on a second. We – well --
QUESTION: That’s a question.
MR. CROWLEY: I – he has diplomatic immunity. So we have been proceeding in accord with diplomatic practices that have legal force. And we have every confidence that this will be resolved very quickly.
QUESTION: Well, is it your understanding that he was making a joke on the plane to authorities about lighting a shoe bomb?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to law enforcement. We received full cooperation from him, but I’ll leave it to others to describe what we believe actually happened onboard the airplane.
QUESTION: Do you – is it your understanding that charges will be filed or will not be filed? Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, that’s for domestic law enforcement to determine. I’m not aware that any charges are contemplated.
QUESTION: P.J., when you say --
QUESTION: You’re not aware that they’re contemplated? Is that what you --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that any charges are contemplated.
QUESTION: When you said that you expect this to be resolved very rapidly, do you mean that you expect it to be resolved very rapidly without the United States having to take any formal --
QUESTION: -- punitive steps?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, given that the diplomat is in the air right now, we understand that we have options, the Qataris have options, and we fully expect, based on our conversations with Qatari officials, that this will be resolved very quickly.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. What time does that flight leave Dulles again?
QUESTION: So it – you expect it to be resolved today?
QUESTION: Well, actually, if you could answer that question: Do you expect it to be resolved today?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know when the flight leaves Dulles.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) yet. Well, there – it is – there is a nice direct flight to Doha.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I hear you.
QUESTION: But do you expect it to be resolved today?
MR. CROWLEY: I expect to resolve very quickly. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, I’ll leave it where I left it.
QUESTION: And – but why can’t you answer whether you expect it to be resolved without or with the U.S. Government having to take any kind of formal step --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get – I understand --
QUESTION: -- that you’re allowed – that you are entitled to under the Geneva Conventions.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand the question and I understand that we have options available to us. I understand the Qatari Government has options available to it.
QUESTION: Well, how about this question: Do you expect you to use any of the options that you have available to – that you have available? Or do you --
MR. CROWLEY: I expect this to be resolved very quickly.
QUESTION: Well, what makes you expect that? Based on your conversations with the Qataris, you have an expectation that this will be resolved today?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes – I mean, no. I have --
QUESTION: To resolve very quickly?
MR. CROWLEY: We have an expectation --
QUESTION: Based on your understanding from the Qatari Government, you expect that this will be resolved very --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, very quickly.
QUESTION: What is going to be resolved?
QUESTION: That he’s going to leave the country. I mean, he’s just not saying it.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Thank you, Elise.
QUESTION: Beyond any apology, P.J., is there any consideration asked of the Qataris to reimburse the U.S. for the thousands of dollars for scrambling jets and all of the law enforcement that this required?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any previous incident involving this diplomat?
QUESTION: I’m sorry, why? Hold on a second. Why not? It was a stunt by a guy who knew – you know, who knew better and it cost thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. Why not?
MR. CROWLEY: We took the actions that we took in response to the security of that particular airplane and our airspace. But I would not expect that we would seek compensation.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any previous incidents with this diplomat?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
MR. CROWLEY: Yemen?
QUESTION: Yeah. So a couple of days ago in The New York Times and Washington Post, there were reports that the president has authorized an assassination – I’m sorry, the assassination of a U.S. citizen thought to be in Yemen. So as the Executive agency responsible for the interests of U.S. citizens abroad, I’m wondering what the State Department’s position is on that authorization?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, without going into particulars, we are in active conflict with a global terrorist network, al-Qaida, and those who are actively engaged and a part of that network put themselves at risk.
QUESTION: So, I mean, does the State Department support the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad? Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go any further.
QUESTION: If a U.S. citizen is part of a global terrorist network, do they forfeit their rights to be an American citizen, their citizenship? Would you – yeah.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question. I don’t know.
QUESTION: On North Korea --
QUESTION: Afghanistan. Ambassador Holbrooke will be going to Afghanistan tomorrow night. Will he be meeting the president?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know the schedule of General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke.
QUESTION: What is the (inaudible) of going there this time? What are the issues he – what are the issues they’re planning to discuss?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke travel to the region periodically. Sometimes Richard travels with Admiral Mullen, sometimes with General Petraeus, sometimes on his own. Richard Holbrooke is the chief overseer of the President’s – the civilian component of the President’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he will be going to converse with senior officials in both countries. But as to particular meetings, I can’t project at this point.
QUESTION: And secondly, today, Pakistan national assembly passed the 18th constitutional amendment which restores the parliamentary democracy and strips some powers from the president. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for Pakistan.
QUESTION: P.J., a Jihadi online magazine is warning that the North African terror group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is threatening to attack the World Cup games in South Africa this summer. Are you aware of these threats? And is anything being done to protect U.S. interests?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think for any major sporting event, whether it’s the World Cup or the Olympics, the Super Bowl, what have you, we are aware and other countries are aware of the ongoing threat to those games. And I think collectively, we are taking appropriate precautions.