12:50 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few things to mention before taking your questions.
In about 45 minutes’ time, the Secretary will have a bilateral with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. Poland is, of course, a close friend and ally of the United States. And they will discuss a range of issues from NATO to Afghanistan and European security. I am certain, once again, the Secretary, on behalf of the American people, will express condolences for the tragedy that claimed the lives of many, many people including the Polish president. They will also discuss the U.S.-Poland strategic dialogue, a forum that deepens our already broad-based partnership, and they will have a joint press availability afterwards.
This evening, the Secretary will address the American Jewish Committee dinner. I think you already have been provided remarks, text as prepared. But she will reflect on the very real threats that affect Israel and express our concerns about the behavior of the Syrian Government and their provision of arms to various groups in violation of Resolution 1701. But she’ll also say that this is expressly why we need an ambassador in Syria. Not that we’re engaging as a reward or a concession, but that engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight and greater ability to convey strong and clear messages aimed at changing Syria’s behavior.
She will also reflect on our current work at the United Nations to craft new tough sanctions. We are committed to pursuing the diplomatic path, but will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. She will reflect on the status of Middle East peace and that we are working around the clock to move forward with proximity talks which we hope will set the stage for a resumption of direct negotiations on all permanent status issues as soon as possible.
And she will underscore the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative and – but that it is time for all those in allegiance to support the parties in this effort and advance this proposal with actions, not just with words.
The Secretary this morning had a lengthy conversation with Chinese State Councilor Dai. During that discussion, she indicated how much she looks forward to her visit to China next month. But they also talked about our ongoing engagement regarding a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran, and they also discussed our mutual efforts to get North Korea back to the Six-Party process. The Secretary, during her trip to China, will also visit the Shanghai Expo. I think the expo opens on May 1st and, I think, we were gratified that President Hu Jintao paid a visit on the U.S. pavilion, I believe, yesterday.
Assistant Secretary Bob Blake is – remains in Bhutan. He gave an intervention today at the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation, reflected on our mutual efforts to promote climate change, trade, efforts at disaster management and mitigation, and agriculture and food security. In 2010, the United States will provide a total of $4.4 billion in bilateral assistance programs to member countries of the SAARC and additional money for various regional assistance programs.
The team – the interagency team has finished a lengthy meeting in Moscow today. Our seven-member delegation indicated it was a fruitful initial conversation. They will – they agreed to meet again as part of an expert-level working group in Moscow on May 12. I’m happy to go through that meeting in more detail, so I’m sure you’ll want that.
And finally, before taking your questions, we reflect on the fact that today is a National Day of Mourning in South Korea for the 46 seamen lost aboard the Cheonan. Our deepest sympathy goes to the families and countrymen. We are in close touch with the South Korean Government at senior levels and we are coordinating and assisting in the investigation of the sinking of the navy vessel. The investigation taking place is methodical, careful, and includes civilian experts. And we will continue to collect, analyze, and assess the evidence to get to the bottom of this tragic loss of life.
And finally, obviously, we extend our condolences as well to those injured and the families of the dead from today’s attack in Pakistan*.
QUESTION: Have you gone ahead and approved the visa for Ahmadinejad and his delegation to come to the UN?
MR. CROWLEY: The visas for the Iranian delegation for the NPT conference are still being processed.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the adoption meeting in Moscow?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What can you – I don’t know what other details you have, but give us whatever details you have, and then I have a follow-up question.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a lot of details. I didn’t get an extensive readout. Obviously, talked about the current state of affairs. We have committed to pursue an agreement that strengthens the processes of adoptions of Russian children and American families. And we’re committed to working at this, but it will probably be a lengthy process to reach that kind of agreement.
QUESTION: In such an agreement, the Russians have indicated they would like the U.S. to sign on to an agreement which would allow American citizens to be extradited, basically, to Russia for mistreating or abusing Russian children – Russian citizens. Would you be willing to sign on to anything like that?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a complicated legal question. As to whether that came up in today’s meeting, I don’t know. But we will – we’ve agreed to pursue an agreement, but obviously, the details of the agreement need to be worked out.
QUESTION: So is the delegation not meeting again tomorrow, then? I thought it was two days.
MR. CROWLEY: My understanding is they had a fairly lengthy meeting today. We held open the prospect of another meeting tomorrow. My understanding is they will not meet tomorrow but will meet at an expert level on May 12.
QUESTION: How lengthy?
MR. CROWLEY: It was a couple of hours. So I think we would characterize this as the beginning of an important but probably a lengthy process. Our message to the Russian Government was we understand your concerns, we share those concerns, but we want to make sure that as we pursue this agreement that the process remain open for further adoptions between Russian children and American families.
QUESTION: And their response to that?
MR. CROWLEY: It is our understanding, coming out of this meeting, that the process is still open, but I think we clearly are conscious of the fact that that process may well slow down for a period of time.
QUESTION: May well? It already has. In other words, the current slowdowns that you – or the slowdowns that people have been talking about for the past couple of weeks are still there, still --
MR. CROWLEY: Still there.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say that if there’s any child or family that’s in the – not in the pipeline, nothing’s going to happen until after --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn't – again, I wouldn't make any kind of these sweeping statements. We are going to have an ongoing conversation with the Russian Government on this. To the extent that we’ve agreed to pursue this agreement, that, we recognize, will be a lengthy and, as Charlie mentioned, could be a complicated process in terms of what Russia might seek. And we recognize that our citizens have rights and we also have laws that govern and protect children here in this country as well.
We hope that as we work through this issue that we can reassure the Russian Government. We share their aims. We want to see these adoptions continue. And we are – we share the interest in Russia in protecting these children as these adoptions are pursued.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. side bring up this slowdown that you’ve noted? Did they ask the Russians why it was – why this was being slowed down, and did they ask the Russians to stop slowing them down?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m sure the team communicated to Russia today just what I communicated to you, that we recognize the concerns that Russia has, we share them, but we would not want to see the process stop entirely.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: You wouldn't want to see the process stopped entirely, but it’s not stopped entirely.
MR. CROWLEY: Right.
QUESTION: So is there still some concern that they might shut everything down?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t --
QUESTION: Instead of just slowing down --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have an understanding of where the – where we are, and we want to see – I mean, we would hope that further adoptions will proceed. I think our understanding coming into this meeting was that if you were already in the pipeline, those cases are proceeding. I mean, and in part, this may be – there’s a – whenever an issue of sensitivity and concern reaches the public domain, sometimes institutions respond, whether or not they’re receiving specific instructions from higher levels of government.
What we want to see going forward, recognizing that this process is going to take some time, that we would like to see adoptions continue while we work through the process of strengthening these adoptions procedures. So, I mean, we recognize on our end of this that we have loving American families that are interested in adopting children from around the world, including Russian children. We would not like to see that – we’d like to see that pipeline continue to flow. And that will be something we’ll continue to talk to Russia about.
QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Are you happy with the status quo right now, or is the status quo right now in which adoptions in the pipeline are going ahead but those that weren’t are being slowed down, is that okay with you?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will seek to reassure the Russian Government, starting with today’s meeting, that we are committed to this process. But as we work through these issues, as we reach an agreement between Russia and the United States, we would like to see adoptions continue. So this will be an ongoing conversation that we have --
QUESTION: Which adoptions continue? The ones that are continuing now or the ones that – where people are still waiting for court dates?
MR. CROWLEY: We would want to see the process continue while these negotiations are taking place.
QUESTION: So you want new cases to go into the pipeline as well?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes.
David, you’re looking inquisitive here.
QUESTION: Let me – as long as I have the –
MR. CROWLEY: My eye. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What is your understanding – and I’ve been out for a few days, but what exactly are the Syrians providing Hizballah? I mean, is it – are there components of SCUDs, entire SCUDs, SCUD technology? Are you able to be specific about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Much of this touches on intelligence matters, which I cannot share. I mean, there’s a broader issue and a narrower issue. Let me talk about the broader issue: Are we concerned about the nature of missiles that are being provided from Syria to Hizballah? Absolutely, and that is at the heart of why Syria is a member of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. We have had direct conversations with Syria about the nature of their assistance to Hizballah. It is destabilizing. As the Secretary will say in her speech tonight, these are issues that are fundamental to war and peace in the region.
As to SCUDs, let us say we have concerns and we are – continue to watch that issue very carefully. But we are concerned about the broader issue of the nature of Syrian support to Hizballah on a range – involving a range of missiles, including that one.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke had a very difficult time, it seemed, from those of us in the peanut gallery of persuading members of the House that there is an actual need for an ambassador in Damascus. Is there any concern here at State that perhaps the nomination of Mr. Wood might be held up --
MR. CROWLEY: Mr. Ford.
QUESTION: Mr. Ford – excuse me – might be held up on the Senate side?
MR. CROWLEY: We want to see Ambassador Ford confirmed and on the job in Damascus as soon as possible. That remains our position. It is what we are communicating to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We understand that there are concerns, not only about the Syrian behavior in the region, but we think that actually makes the compelling case that we need an ambassador there who is making clear to Syria what we think it needs to do going forward.
QUESTION: But there seemed to be this lack of understanding of cultural sensitivities within the Middle East, which members of the House – granted they can’t vote on Mr. Ford’s nomination – but they just do not seem to understand that import of having someone at a very high level engaged in face-to-face conversations with the foreign minister in Damascus, as opposed to a cable being sent across the ocean.
MR. CROWLEY: We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. And we think by having daily conversations with Syria, that is a more effective way to proceed than having episodic conversations through other visitors to Damascus on an ongoing basis.
QUESTION: Why --
QUESTION: What’s the long-term harm of not having him there?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s a matter of – we think it’s time to engage Syria – again, not as a reward. It is in our national interest to see Syria evolve as a more constructive player in the Middle East. It is in our national interest to see Syria actually engage directly with Israel to pursue the Syrian track of Middle East peace. We think that we can pursue our national interest more effectively by having an ambassador there by – rather than having someone do that from here.
QUESTION: Why do you not use the same argument with Iran and North Korea? And before you start telling me the differences, I’m well aware that you have diplomatic relations with Syria, but you don’t have them with Iran or North Korea. But there was --
MR. CROWLEY: We have diplomatic relations with Syria and not with Iran and North Korea.
QUESTION: But there was a push not so long ago to have an interests section in Iran. There was not so long ago a State Department office in Pyongyang that was helping the – helping with the Yongbyon dismantlement.
And if you’re arguing to the Hill that you need direct conversation to make your point clear with the Syrians, why don’t you make this – why aren’t you trying to make the same point with Iran and North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in the case of North Korea, we think there are fundamental things that North Korea has to do first. I mean, there’s no cookie-cutter approach here.
QUESTION: Well, but why doesn’t Syria --
MR. CROWLEY: Let me – it’s a fair question. I mean, we evaluate how can our engagement be as effective as possible, whether it’s with relation to Syria, whether it’s relation to North Korea, whether it’s relation to Iran. In the case of North Korea, we have said, very specifically, if you want to have a normal bilateral relationship with the United States, there is a clear path to get there, but there are things that North Korea has to do first.
In the case of Iran, could you envision some change down the road? I know the previous administration thought about this, but you have to have a partner that is willing to engage in order to have that conversation.
In the case of Syria, we actually do have a country that is willing to engage. And we have assessed that at this stage of our relationship – and it is Syria – we’ll evaluate this on a case-by-case basis – that we think it’s most effective at this point to have an ambassador on the ground in Damascus. That serves our interest.
QUESTION: Oh, I thought the whole problem was that the Syrians weren’t willing to engage on this, particularly.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think they’re willing to engage. We can debate whether they’re – I mean, we have very specific concerns about their behavior, which the Secretary will address tonight.
QUESTION: There are lots of reports that these – whatever this missile technology that you’re referring to that may be going to Hizballah actually --
MR. CROWLEY: I think I’m referring to actual – not to a specific system, but in many cases, we’re talking about actual missiles, not technology.
QUESTION: Okay. Well – but that they are actually sourced from North Korea. Is there a – does the State Department make any spillover? I mean, what about putting North Korea back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, if that’s where it’s coming from?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s hard to answer without getting into intelligence. I think there are multiple systems and there are multiple sources. Some of those sources are actually in Syria.
QUESTION: Is there any plans for the Secretary to meet with the Syrian foreign minister at the NPT conference?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen her schedule. She will have bilaterals while she’s in New York. As to who, we’ll maybe try to get you that by tomorrow.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility of any pull-asides with the Iranian delegation, assuming that the visas are approved?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that a face-to-face meeting between a U.S. diplomat and an Iranian diplomat is highly unlikely.
QUESTION: But not out of the question?
MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s highly unlikely.
Yeah. Going once, going twice.
QUESTION: Okay. The family of the Venezuelan politician, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, is here in Washington trying to raise awareness on the detention of his father in Venezuela for expressing his opinion, according to them. So what is your position? Do you have any comments on that or anything to say?
MR. CROWLEY: Let me take the question as to whether we are going to have any encounters while they’re in town.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Israel. We’ve reported at the Jerusalem Post this past week that Israel feels it’s no longer obliged to keep – to take down the 23 outposts it pledged to do, because it feels that the U.S. hasn’t kept its own commitment regarding understandings reached with Israel over the settlements. So I’m looking for a U.S. reaction to that.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have made clear that these are important issues, they’re final status issues, and that the parties need to take affirmative steps that create an improved atmosphere for negotiations to proceed and they need to avoid actions which inhibit progress. And certainly, settlements are a contentious issue. The United States has a clear policy with regard to settlements, feeling they are illegitimate. And we believe that this is – we should, number one, avoid actions that complicate this process, and number two, the only way to resolve the status of borders, refugees, settlements, security, Jerusalem is to get into formal negotiations. And we’re pushing hard to get them into proximity talks as soon as possible that we hope will lead to those direct negotiations.
QUESTION: But the outposts were supposed to come down anyway, regardless of proximity talks.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and – but the Israeli Government has pledged to take specific actions. I mean, in the broader context, for a number of years, they have responsibilities, and we would expect them to fulfill those responsibilities.
QUESTION: How close is the U.S. to getting to proximity talks?
MR. CROWLEY: How close are the parties to --
MR. CROWLEY: -- to get – let’s see where we are this weekend.
QUESTION: I know you spoke about it in the past, but is there anything you can update us on on the conversations between the United States and other countries – Mexico in particular – about the Arizona immigration law?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the President spoke about his concerns about the Arizona immigration law. And it comes up in every meeting we have with the region.
QUESTION: And what do you say?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we understand – I mean, we are committed to pursue immigration reform. That is the best way to proceed here. I know there’s also this – there’s a legal question that I’m sure our colleagues at the Justice Department are evaluating in terms of the implications of the Arizona law on federal responsibility. But the President has indicated he’s got concerns about the Arizona law, that it’s misguided. And the White House is studying this issue intensively.
QUESTION: Can I just get an explanation of what – you say it comes up in every meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: The issue – I mean, obviously we had a meeting with the foreign minister of Honduras yesterday. But the issue of – the region had concerns about immigration before Arizona passed this immigration law. You’ve heard, particularly, concerns from the Mexican Government – they’re not exclusive to the Mexican Government – about the implications of the Arizona law. And I would expect that this will be part of our ongoing discussions, either at the ground level in terms of our interaction on a daily basis between our posts and governments, and we are hearing the concerns of the hemisphere loud and clear.
QUESTION: If we could go back to the Secretary’s phone call with Dai Bingguo this morning, you mentioned that they spoke about Iran. Was there a further meeting of the minds there about the way forward on Iran? Are they completely on the same page going into next week and the --
MR. CROWLEY: I think the Secretary indicated that she appreciated China’s decision to engage fully in this process and – but now we’re kind of working through the particulars. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more about reports that perhaps the latest Mehsud who was said to have been killed in Pakistan may not have actually been killed after all, and according to the Taliban is alive?
MR. CROWLEY: I have no idea.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)
DPB # 65
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