12:53 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. I wish to start today’s briefing with a history of the Minsk process. (Laughter.) Short history. The Secretary is wheels up from Tallinn on her way back to the United States. The only change in her schedule is that she will be refueling in Goose Bay, not at Shannon. But during the course of the --
QUESTION: In Canada.
MR. CROWLEY: Huh? Yeah, yeah. I’ve been there.
QUESTION: Can they make it that far?
MR. CROWLEY: They can.
QUESTION: Hope so.
MR. CROWLEY: I hope – yeah. (Laughter.) Let the record show Matt is rooting for the Secretary. (Laughter.) One of the coldest places on earth in the middle of the winter.
But obviously, among the key areas discussed during the NATO ministerial was a review of progress in Afghanistan with a particular emphasis on how we can improve training programs for Afghan security forces. I think NATO Secretary General Rasmussen mentioned the NATO strategic concept and the fact that a group of experts will be providing a report that leads up to an in-depth discussion of the NATO strategic concept at the leaders summit in Lisbon later in the year.
Discussion of the NATO nuclear posture – the Secretary put forth a number of principles on how NATO should evaluate this posture in the future, emphasizing that this is an area of shared risk and shared responsibility, but a commitment that NATO should remain a nuclear alliance, but obviously, we should take our time in reviewing the way forward.
And finally, a decision by NATO to offer a Membership Action Plan to Bosnia, both reflecting progress made on reforms in Bosnia over the past few months since this was also considered in December, and the hope that this will act as a catalyst for further reforms in Bosnia in the future.
Just by way of secretarial schedule, the Secretary will open the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York on May 3rd. The White House will announce the rest of the delegation next week. But this shows the ongoing priority that the Obama Administration attaches to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime and fulfills the – continuing to fulfill the vision laid out by the President in his speech in Prague.
We have put out a statement today reflecting that this is the 10th Annual World Intellectual Property Day, or Monday will be the World Intellectual Property Day. And the United States has celebrated and protected innovation and creativity since George Washington signed the first American patent in 1790. And the ideas and inspirations of our citizens fuel our economy, enrich our culture, and help us meet global challenges from climate change to poverty, hunger, and disease.
QUESTION: And just out of curiosity, what was that patent for?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know, but I – but maybe Barry Schweid will know. Wasn’t he at the press briefing? (Laughter.) Sorry, Barry.
The Secretary also put out a statement today commemorating April 25 and celebrating ANZAC Day. In case you want to know, ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. The Secretary – as she indicated in her statement, we pay tribute to the brave men and women of Australia and New Zealand who have served and sacrificed for their countries and the values we share as free peoples. And we salute the ANZAC spirit, recognize the two countries have fought together 95 years ago at Gallipoli and remain united today by bonds of honor and fidelity. On ANZAC Day, we reaffirm our solemn debt of gratitude to those who serve their countries – the veterans, the fallen, and their families – in the name of peace and freedom.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Departments of State and Commerce will jointly host the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. And this is one of the announcements made in the President’s June 2009 Cairo speech. The summit is one of the many ways that we are delivering on the principles and commitments made in the President’s speech last year, how we are changing our approach to global engagement, and how we are working to partner with people in Muslim communities around the world.
And this will be an unprecedented event. No president or secretary of state have done this before. The summit will take place here in Washington at the Reagan Building. President Obama will speak towards the close of the first day. Secretary Clinton will provide closing remarks on the second day. Secretary Gary Locke will provide opening remarks and other participants will include Larry Summers, Valerie Jarrett, and several other senior White House and Department of State officials.
There are no – this is about and for entrepreneurs who are making a difference, and not about bringing government officials to Washington. The summit will include 275 of the most pioneering business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim communities, representing more than 55 countries and five continents around the world – a very diverse group ranging in age from ages 20 to 70, and diverse in terms of geography, gender, and professional endeavor.
The Africa Union’s bilateral meetings with the United States have basically concluded. There’s one more meeting this afternoon with National Security Advisor Jim Jones and other NSC officials. I think I would call your attention to a closing press conference that was done a short time ago at the Foreign Press Center.
Under Secretary of State Bill Burns concluded his meetings in South Africa today, talking to the minister and deputy minister of international relations and cooperation in South Africa. He is now on his way to Namibia. And he will attend a reception this evening and tomorrow he plans to meet with Namibian officials, including President Pohamba.
I think you’ve seen an announcement by the Department of Justice that we have 11 suspected pirates captured by the United States Navy. They are now in custody here in the United States. Again, it continues to demonstrate both our national commitment, as the Secretary said, to create a 21st century solution to this 17th century problem. But these pirates were captured after – as part of their ongoing tactic, they came up to a ship in – ships in the middle of the night, only to find out that, in this case, they had called upon the USS Nicholas and the USS Asheville. But we will continue to work with international – within the international community on this. There is an ongoing multinational naval patrol of over 20 countries, and we will continue to work with the 50 nations and international organizations of the Contact Group on Piracy.
The United States is concerned that the mob violence that has taken place in Nicaragua is hindering democratic political processes, undermining respect for human rights, and eroding the rule of law. We note the concerns expressed by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, the Archbishop of Managua Monsignor Leopolo Brenes, and Nicaraguan business community and other Nicaraguans regarding the political violence of the past few days. And we urge the Government of Nicaragua to take steps to end mob violence and we urge the police to ensure the safety and security of all Nicaraguans. Harassment and disruption of the national assembly and its members only serve to weaken the functioning of institutions that are vital to Nicaraguan democracy.
After repeated requests, the Swiss ambassador was granted a third consular visit to Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd yesterday, April 22. The last consular visit before that was back on October 29 of last year. And while we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release and request the families are granted visas to Iran to visit their children soon. We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health. These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They were simply innocent tourists in the Iraq Kurdistan region when they were first detained and there is no justification for their ongoing detention, and they should be released without further delay.
At the same time, we continue to call on the Government of Iran to assist in providing any information on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran almost three years ago.
And finally, before taking your questions, Senator Mitchell is meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as we speak. Earlier today, he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem. In his meetings, Senator Mitchell is focused on actions they can take to improve the atmosphere for peace and how to move forward with proximity talks. Tomorrow, he will have additional meetings with Prime Minister Fayyad and advisor to President Abbas Saeb Erekat and he will also meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu again on Sunday morning before returning to the United States.
QUESTION: On the – actually, on the Iran, what – before going to Mitchell, what kind of shape are these kids in?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t get into too much detail. Obviously, the families – we do not have Privacy Act waivers on these --
QUESTION: The families have a website.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. So --
QUESTION: They have not been shy about talking about this in the past.
MR. CROWLEY: And which is the prerogative of the families. We have to respect their privacy. Obviously, we are concerned about their health and think the families have spoken publicly about this. We obviously believe that the detention is unwarranted, but the fact that they’ve gone nine months with no charges filed is of great concern to us. And as we have said – repeated over several months that, in our view, their detention is unjustified.
QUESTION: Well, you’re asking the Iranians to grant the families visas so they can visit them, and at the same time you’re saying they should be released immediately.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: It sounds as though you’re not very optimistic that they’re going – the Iranians are going to release them at all if you want the families to be able to visit them.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have made that request. The Iranians, I think, have indicated a willingness to grant visas but for whatever reason have not – have chosen not to do so. We would like nothing more than to have these individuals on the next plane out of Iran and back here to the United States and with their families as soon as possible. Barring that, we obviously think that they have fundamental rights, including the right of these kinds of visits and the right to an attorney, and those have not been granted either.
QUESTION: Well, but back to the consular visit, though, in the statement by the families, they say that the Swiss reported that – to them that they were in bad health. Is it your understanding that they’re in bad health? Because they’re saying that this is what they’ve been told by the people that conducted the visit.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. And clearly, what we know about their status comes from our Swiss protecting power.
QUESTION: So does that concur with what they’re saying that they were told by the Swiss?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay --
QUESTION: You said you’re noting that the family is concerned about their health. They’re saying that they’re concerned about the health because of the Swiss telling them that they’re in poor health. So did the Swiss also tell you that they’re in poor health?
MR. CROWLEY: I have not received a specific report. We have no reason to challenge the judgment of the families. They know their children best. We have concerns about their health and welfare. We’ve had concerns since last fall. But again, I can’t be the specific source of information because of privacy concerns. But I understand the families have been communicating their concern. We share that concern.
QUESTION: Are the visas requests new? Your appeal today to the Iranians to grant the visas – I don’t remember that ever coming up.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that we have mentioned that publicly, but I think we made that request a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: Can we move to Mitchell?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So what grand accomplishments has he come up with in his meetings so far? Let me put it more (inaudible). What has he accomplished?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, we – if the question is: Are we where we want to be in terms of proximity --
QUESTION: What has he accomplished?
MR. CROWLEY: He has met with the – look, as we – we just – one meeting is still going on, the other meeting just took place this morning. He’ll have additional meetings while we’re here. As the Secretary said in Tallinn, she looks forward to getting George’s report.
If you’re signaling are we expecting a breakthrough through this visit, probably not. Are we trying to move the parties to a point where they agree to proximity talks and to begin to address the substance, the core issues of the process, we hope we’re getting closer to that point? But there’s still work to do.
QUESTION: What would constitute a breakthrough at this point for you?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there’s --
QUESTION: Getting the proximity talks started?
MR. CROWLEY: There should be one bar here. We want to get them into proximity talks, begin to address the substance in the process, and through that confidence-building then get them into direct negotiations. So I’ve said to you many times there’s only one path to a peace agreement, and that is through direct negotiation. We’re trying to move them in that direction, but we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: So – I just want to make sure, so the breakthrough, at this point in your estimation, would be getting them to agree to proximity talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, if George Mitchell comes back to the United States and reports to the Secretary that they’re ready to enter into proximity talks, that will be an important step. Can I say that that’s the likely outcome of this visit? I don’t know. But I think that we are still moving them in that direction. If that takes a little bit more time, we’ll take that time.
But our – the immediate goal here is to get them formally into proximity talks where they can address the substance, and we hope to be able to announce that step some time soon. I doubt it will be this weekend.
QUESTION: You said yesterday that you wouldn’t go just to hold meetings, that you would go when there was an indication that they’re willing to take up the substantive issues. Have the meetings, thus far, borne out that hope? Are they now taking up substantive issues that they weren’t before?
MR. CROWLEY: As I just said, we are in the middle of a meeting as we speak. We’ve had one – we’ve heard from one side. We’ll hear from the other side now, and we’ll have other meetings tomorrow with the Palestinians, other meetings with the prime minister on Sunday. We know what we want to do. We know what they need to do. Let’s wait to see what happens at the conclusion of his meeting with the prime minister on Sunday morning, and then we’ll know more. But we’re looking to get them into proximity talks; the sooner that happens, the better.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that’s primarily an issue for South Korea. As the Secretary said earlier today, we would like to see North Korea avoid provocative steps and begin to act more constructively.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout on Secretary’s meeting with Afghanistan’s foreign minister today? Is this – for the time they’re meeting or --
MR. CROWLEY: I have not heard a specific readout. But I’m sure it was to review preparations for the upcoming visit by the president of Afghanistan to Washington.
QUESTION: And secondly, in October last year, a U.S. national working as a UN security guard was killed in Kabul during a Taliban attack on the UN building. And then soon thereafter, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that the U.S. national was killed by the Taliban. But now there’s a UN report coming out with the – saying same that it was basically Afghan armed forces which killed the U.S. national. So what’s the factual position?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s an investigation that is still ongoing by the United Nations and the FBI, that the investigation is not completed, so I would defer judgment until the investigation is done.
QUESTION: Do you have any further information on these reports about the person of interest taken off the plane from Africa in Puerto Rico yesterday?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I mean --
QUESTION: I would – that there’s been reported that a person was taken off the plane that was coming from Nigeria by way of Senegal in Puerto Rico, and then other people have said that his visa was then revoked because he’s a person of interest. Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to particulars of that incident, I would defer to DHS on what happened on the airplane. With respect to this individual, we took appropriate action as a result. But again, visas are a matter of confidentiality, so I can’t talk about specifically what we did. But across the government, we took appropriate information  based on a call that was received. But beyond that, I can’t go into further details.
QUESTION: On the entrepreneurial summit, as you said in the opening remarks, this is mostly for the Muslims from world over been invited for it. Why only the Muslims? There are a lot of innovative entrepreneurs in other religions, too, (inaudible) Africa and Asia.
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I think there will be a press call at 2 o’clock, where a number of officials including from the State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale will participate. I think I’ll defer to them to describe the (inaudible). But other than saying that this was a particular specific pledge that was made in the President’s Cairo speech last year, we are trying to fundamentally change our relationship, with Muslims around the world, and this is a step in that direction to strengthen the bonds through commercial enterprise between the United States and these communities.
QUESTION: Russian adoptions, what’s the status of the delegation heading that way?
MR. CROWLEY: They will --
QUESTION: Any further clarification also, since the last --
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s look ahead to the meetings on April 29 and 30.
QUESTION: We can understand your statement about Nicaragua, that this is something like a support to Mr. Insulza based on the fact that yesterday, the Nicaraguan Government said they don’t like Insuza to intervene in their internal affairs. How you can understand this support of the U.S. is like this, the same message?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, certainly, we would support OAS involvement to the extent it would facilitate a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, in keeping with the democratic principles of the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. What you see here in Nicaragua is a democratic veneer, but eroding both the institutions of government and the checks and balances that you need within any democratic system. We are concerned about this trend in Nicaragua. We are concerned about similar tends in other countries in the region. And one of the reasons why we support the OAS potential involvement is expressly on our support for democratic and responsible governance in this hemisphere.
QUESTION: And there was any contact between the U.S. Administration and Nicaraguan officials?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t rule that out. I don’t know.
QUESTION: What other countries are you concerned about?
MR. CROWLEY: There are a number of countries in the region – Venezuela would be a very good example – where we see attempts to use but intimidate the democratic processes or erode the ability for a government to have competitive elections and a broad space for civil society.
QUESTION: Anywhere else?
MR. CROWLEY: I could probably come up with a list. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, you said other in countries in the region. You’ve come up with one country, not plural. Is there another one that you can identify?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that we have concerns in a variety of countries.
Thank you. Have a good weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)
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