1:24 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Several things to talk about first: The Secretary is on her way back to the United States. She left Seoul early this morning and just departed Alaska after a refueling stop.
In Seoul, she had the opportunity to restate our solidarity and support for the people of South Korea. She met with President Lee and Foreign Minister Yu. And as she indicated in the press availability with Foreign Minister Yu, that we will not turn a blind eye to belligerence or provocation, as she called it. The investigation was objective, the evidence overwhelming, and the conclusion inescapable.
We will work together to chart a course in the UN Security Council with South Korea and others in the coming days. And she obviously took note of the fact that South Korea will have further consultations itself with China and Premier Wen in Seoul on Friday.
With the Secretary back this evening, she will deliver some remarks at Brookings tomorrow at 1:30 outlining major points of the Administration’s national security strategy, including preventing nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and al-Qaida. She’ll talk about the importance of diplomacy and development alongside military force as key elements of a balanced national security strategy.
In Sana’a today, we were able to meet with the two Americans who were released yesterday. They are obviously okay, but we are very grateful to the efforts of the Yemeni Government to help resolve the situation. They worked diligently to help secure the release of our kidnapped American citizens, and as a said, we are thankful for those efforts.
Turning to Ethiopia, preliminary results announced by the National Election Board indicate that the ruling party secured an overwhelming victory. It is our assessment that throughout the electoral process, freedom of choice for voters was constrained by the actions and inactions of Ethiopian Government officials, the National Elections Board of Ethiopia, and the ruling political party and its cadres. A number of laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the previous parliamentary elections in 2005 created a clear and decisive advantage for the ruling party throughout the electoral process.
We have a broad and comprehensive relationship with Ethiopia, but we have expressed our concerns on democracy and governance directly to the government. Measures the Ethiopian Government takes following these elections will influence the future direction of U.S.-Ethiopian relations. It is important that Ethiopia move forward in strengthening its democratic institutions, and when elections are held, that it offer a level playing field to give everyone a free opportunity to participate without fear or favor.
Turning to some senior travel, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg is in Copenhagen today attending the first deputy minster-level meeting of the Arctic Council. While in Copenhagen, he will also meet with Danish officials, including Foreign Minister Espersen and Defense Minister Bech. Climate change, increased human activity, and economic development have converged to make the Arctic a focus of global, geopolitical interest. Relations among the Arctic partners are characterized by strong multilateral and bilateral ties and collaboration. We were actively looking ahead and thinking about ways that we can continue to enhance that cooperation in pursuit of our common interests in the Arctic.
Deputy Secretary Jack Lew is in Nigeria, where he has met today with the emir of Kano, Al-Haji Ado Bayero, and visited the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby has been with him and has visited additional health facilities in Northern Nigeria. Deputy Secretary Lew departs this evening and will attend the OECD ministerial conference in Paris through May 28th.
Also in Nigeria, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero is in Abuja leading the U.S. delegation launching the Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity Working Group of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission.
Administrator Raj Shah of USAID spoke today at the Food Security Investment Forum and participated in talks to form the basis of a national strategy and detailed investment plan for food security in Bangladesh. He also met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and held a news conference with Ambassador Jim Moriarty.
And finally, Assistant Secretary for International Organizational Affairs Esther Brimmer will lead a U.S. delegation to the UN Alliance on Civilizations Forum on May 28 and 29 in Rio De Janeiro. The United States decided to join the alliance in – earlier this year to further the alliance’s goals of improved understanding and cooperation among nations and peoples across the world’s many cultures to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.
With that, Desmond?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the election results are as they are. We – I think we – it’s not just concerns that we had about the election itself. Unfortunately, Ethiopia did not grant us the ability to provide observers during the course of the actual election this weekend itself. But we have had concerns going over a number of years about Ethiopian tactics that have constrained rather than expanded the available political space.
So we’re not surprised by this result. It’s not really about how the election itself was conducted over the past weekend. That – the election itself was done in a – free of violence. We are grateful for that but the fact is that over a number of years, we have seen actions taken that reduce the available choices for the Ethiopian people. So moving forward, we will again be talking directly to the government and making clear what we feel it has to do to expand political space for more inclusive results in future elections.
QUESTION: Can you be any more specific about – you said what measures the government takes will influence the future of U.S.-Ethiopian ties. What measures specifically are you talking about? What can the Ethiopian Government do now that will make you feel better about the situation? And what leverage does the United States have on Ethiopia in order to try and get the result that Washington says it wants?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, to the extent that Ethiopia values the relationship with the United States, then we think they should heed this very direct and strong message. We value the cooperation that we have with the Ethiopian Government on a variety – range of issues, including regional security, including climate change, for example. So we will continue to engage this government but we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.
MR. CROWLEY: I actually made a mistake. The meeting with the Secretary will be on Friday. Tomorrow, she will meet with President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia.
MR. CROWLEY: So, my error.
QUESTION: So when he was speaking there, most of the human rights organizations and humanitarian organizations blasted him for what his country did against this – as far as human rights and atrocities were committed and many, many Singhs were killed during this operation, which they – he claims that that was necessity for – to bring peace in the country. But also, he said that my government – his government owes no apology, or we are not asking – or telling any apology to anybody; we don’t owe any apology.
So what will be his message when he meets with the Secretary on Friday? Or what Secretary will tell him or ask him?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary will tell him and reiterate what we have said publicly for the past several weeks, that with the recent end of the conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers, and the recent electoral result that gives a strong mandate to the Sri Lankan Government, the real key is how the government uses that mandate to heal Sri Lankan society and help move the country forward.
There is a historic opportunity here and the real challenge will be how Sri Lanka seizes that opportunity, the measures it takes to heal the divide that has existed within Sri Lankan society and offer opportunity to all of its citizens.
QUESTION: Different subject. Why General Dayton will step down next fall?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: General Keith Dayton will step down next fall. What’s the reason?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the – I’ll defer to the Pentagon in terms of its plans for General Dayton. I don’t know. I hadn’t heard that before coming out here.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s the special security coordinator --
MR. CROWLEY: He – it is a vitally important role that General Dayton plays and – but as to the specifics about his career, I’ll defer to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: But the Palestinian Authority is concerned that Dayton’s departure signals the Obama Administration intends to decrease its involvement in the peace process.
MR. CROWLEY: Say that again.
QUESTION: The Palestinian Authority is concerned that Dayton’s departure will decrease the involvement of Obama Administration in the peace process.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I – on – that should not be a concern. The work that General Dayton has done complements work that we’ve done in other areas to build up strong institutions within the Palestinian society. So we have seen the fruits of General Dayton’s work in terms of improvements in the performance of Palestinian security forces. That has directly led to some of the easing of checkpoints and incursions that Israeli forces feel that they have to undertake.
So the security situation in the West Bank is improving and – but we’ll maintain this commitment to support the efforts of Prime Minister Fayyad and others to build up strong institutions as we look to reach an agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: Any replacement or --
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Will there be any replacement for him?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question of if we have any information on a replacement for General Dayton.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about preparations for meetings next week here in Washington with the Palestinians and Israelis?
MR. CROWLEY: I think there’s been an announcement at the White House, or actually by the White House Chief of Staff, that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be coming to Washington in the next couple of weeks. We are in active discussion with President Abbas on a similar trip to Washington, so those are – will happen in the next – here in the next couple of weeks. I have nothing to announce in terms of plans for George Mitchell to come back in the region. But we will continue to remain engaged in this, obviously.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Dayton?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you expect that someone of his caliber would replace him or are you satisfied that this will --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll take that – I mean, General Dayton, being a military officer, obviously his assignment is under the control of the Pentagon, not the State Department. He works very closely with us. As to whether he’ll be replaced by a military officer, I’ll take that question and consult and see what we know about it.
QUESTION: Could you take the question just a bit further and tell us whether you are – maybe you are satisfied or the U.S. is satisfied with the level of training and capability of the Palestinian security forces that they would need no more training or supervision?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I thought I just tried to address that with Michel. I think we can see progress on the West Bank both in terms of their performance and the confidence that both the Palestinian people and the Israeli Government has in that performance. We are seeing real changes on the ground in the West Bank. You’re seeing the growth of an economy, and economies grow when people are confident about security. That is not to say that there are not still significant challenges that lay ahead. And as we see, there are always plenty of people who want to try to impede this progress.
But General Dayton has done extraordinary work on behalf of both our interests and supporting the Palestinian Authority. And more broadly, we continue to work intensively with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad in terms of building up the capacity of the Palestinian Authority so that should we reach an agreement at some point in the future, that the Palestinians are prepared to govern a viable state.
QUESTION: Another topic, please? So much attention today on the oil spill. Can you bring us up to date on international offers of assistance?
MR. CROWLEY: We have received 17 officers – offers of assistance from countries, and we’ve received other offers of assistance from international organizations – the European Union – including the European Maritime Safety Agency, the environmental unit of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the United Nations Environment Program and the International Maritime Organization.
So there – as I understand it, the – something called the Unified Area Command, led by the Coast Guard, it makes the decisions on international support. My understanding is that two offers of assistance have been accepted thus far – I believe it’s Mexico and Norway. Those offers were actually accepted by BP as part of this Unified Area Command. But we also are working internationally. I think there’s assistance flowing in through private as well as public sources, so this is something that we continue to evaluate. But I would defer probably to the Coast Guard in terms of explaining the process.
QUESTION: But is the State Department being approached both by governments and corporations?
MR. CROWLEY: Our role is to accept offers by countries and international organizations, and then pass those offers of assistance through channels to this United Area Command. The UAC is actually the entity that makes the decisions based on evaluating what’s being offered and what the immediate needs are. As I understand it, some of the early acceptance involved booms to try to contain the spread of oil away from the rig. But beyond that, these decisions are being made down in Louisiana.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up. There does seem to be a disconnect, though, with some governors calling for more booms, for instance, and the refusal to accept some of these generous international offers of --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. And let me be clear, we are grateful for the assistance that we have been offered internationally. It is something that we evaluate every day. But again, I would defer to others, particularly the Coast Guard, to go through where they are in the process of evaluating particular offers.
QUESTION: You haven’t shut the door?
MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?
QUESTION: You haven’t shut the door?
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, no, not at all. Not at all. I mean, clearly, this remains a significant and formidable challenge for everybody.
QUESTION: Has this come up in any specific way with State Department communications with London? Is there any bilateral communication about it given it’s a British company?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. The United Kingdom is one of the countries that has offered assistance. But beyond that, I’m not aware that this is a topic of conversation.
QUESTION: Will you release the names again, the full list?
MR. CROWLEY: I will be happy to. Canada, Mexico, Korea, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: What about Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you received any offer from Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They said that they offered.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand. Iran says a lot of things. We have received no offer from Iran. We’ve received no offer from Cuba.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Today, we have a very senior (inaudible) journalist from India attending this briefing as a visitor as part of the State Department exchange program. Can I ask a few questions on India? As we head towards the strategic dialogue next week, can you give us a sense of U.S.-India relations in the first 17 months of this Administration?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is – well, first of all, let me say probably on Tuesday, we’ll have a preview briefing with Assistant Secretary Bob Blake prior to the start of the strategic dialogue. I think the strategic dialogue speaks for itself. India is a great and emerging global power. Our range of interests are significant in terms of the environment, in terms of regional security, in terms of counterterrorism, economic issues.
We have very strong cultural ties to India, so we look forward to the strategic dialogue. It’s something that the Secretary and the President felt important to elevate the level of our coordination and cooperation. So we look forward to the dialogue. I think our relations with India have never been stronger. We are talking about the relations between the largest and oldest democracies in the world. We have a great deal in common and we look forward to the meetings next week.
QUESTION: The Dawn newspaper of Pakistan today reported that Pakistan has asked – urged (inaudible) U.S. help in bridging the trust deficit with India. So how – are you going to help them?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the trust deficit, as it’s been called, between India and Pakistan is most significantly a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India. We are friends with both countries. We have strong and strengthening relationships with both countries. We have encouraged both Pakistan and India to enhance its dialogue in a cooperation. We are gratified that both countries seem to be moving in a direction that – to see that dialogue become deeper. So we will continue to encourage both countries to pursue the commitments that both have made and pledged publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Michel.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the differences between Iraq and Kuwait over the Iraqi airlines?
MR. CROWLEY: Over the Iraqi?
QUESTION: Airlines company.
MR. CROWLEY: I do not.
MR. CROWLEY: I am not familiar with the report cited in that story. We certainly support the efforts of the Government of Jamaica to strengthen the rule of law and arrest Christopher Coke. The Government of Jamaica and the prime minister have taken bold steps in the last few days and we continue to work closely with the Government of Jamaica to counter illicit trafficking. I would just simply say we here at the State Department have no information to substantiate that report.
But to us, actions speak louder than words. It is the prime minister that signed the arrest decree and it is under his leadership that the government is aggressively pursuing the arrest of Mr. Coke.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, next month, or in the next two weeks, U.S. is going to (inaudible) NATO a major operation in Kandahar and – just like in Marjah. What I’m asking is that in Kandahar, the governor is the brother of President Karzai and who was – the president was here. And his team was here. And also, at the same time, you have just issued a warning – Travel Warning to Afghanistan.
So where are you going as far as the relation between the president and the brother? And brother has some connections also with al-Qaidas.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, Goyal, you just made an enormous leap that I don’t think is supported by any facts that we’re aware of. This was touched on when President Karzai was here. We are beginning to focus greater energy and attention on Kandahar as part of our strategy for helping to increase government influence, both at the national level and at the local level to greater portions of Afghanistan. And as we are increasing the availability of soldiers and other resources in Afghanistan, we’re able to move out into other parts of Afghanistan.
This is not about – this action is not about the president or the president’s brother. This is about bringing security and effective governance to all of Afghanistan. And then we understand from our standpoint here at the State Department that as we are able to improve the security situation on the ground in a place like Marjah and a place like Kandahar, we’ve got to quickly move to demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan that they can have confidence in their government at the national level and at the local level. That’s what we’re going to try to do.
QUESTION: Afghanistan follow-up?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Afghanistan’s opposition leader and the former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, is here for the last 10 days. What role do you see for him in Afghanistan’s democratic process? And did anyone from the State Department meet him – met him during this stay here?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the – Abdullah Abdullah has done a number of news interviews. I think that what’s most important is the role that he envisions for himself and for a loyal opposition in a robust political structure in Afghanistan. We have encouraged greater participation, broader participation in politics in Afghanistan. That’s a decision for Abdullah Abdullah and his supporters to make. He has been here in Washington. We have had officials from Richard Holbrooke’s office who have met with him while he’s been here.
QUESTION: And secondly, the peace consultative jirga in Kabul has been postponed for several days now. So how do you see this?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was postponed by a few days for logistical reasons. We’re looking forward to having the jirga take place.
QUESTION: And finally, the spy agency of Afghanistan has blamed Pakistan for several suicide attacks inside Kabul in the last several weeks. Do you see any Pakistani role? Do you see anything in the allegation by Afghanistan’s spy agency?
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we are focused on security on both sides of the border. We’re working hard with Afghanistan on the one hand, working hard on – with Pakistan on the other, and we certainly encourage ongoing cooperation between the two governments so that on both sides, we can have effective action against insurgents.
Contined: [May 26, Part II]