1:38 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of things before taking your questions. You’ll hear from Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Holbrooke this afternoon at 3:00, and when they will reiterate our shock and sadness over the killing of 10 medical aid workers including U.S. citizens, Afghans, and others. The FBI has opened a formal investigation regarding the deaths of our American citizens. Under federal law, they have jurisdiction to conduct investigations worldwide when U.S. citizens are killed. But we – as the Secretary said yesterday in her statement, the claim of responsibility by the Taliban is a transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
This attack cannot be justified, it cannot be rationalized, it cannot be condoned. Across the world, every religion, every great religion, celebrates the healers, those among us who administer to the sick. And this underscores that the Taliban do not have the interest of the Afghan people at stake. They are murderers who do not care about individual Afghans and their welfare. They only care about power and murder and we will – we are reminded of why we are in Afghanistan: to try to help create a more just, more tolerant society.
Next door in Pakistan over the weekend the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Gilani and reiterated that the United States stands ready to continue and to assist and to expand our assistance to the people of Pakistan as they deal with the ongoing flooding. The Prime Minister Gilani indicated that Pakistan continues to evaluate its needs and will respond not only to the United States but to others among the international community as its needs become clear.
Military helicopters resumed operations today. There were a couple of days of delay because of weather. They rescued approximately 500 people today and delivered 48,000 pounds of relief supplies. And we have supplied to date food sufficient to feed about 158,000 people through our partnership with the World Food Program, that is reaching about 35,000 to 49,000 people per day. And so we will continue to monitor that and to expand our assistance to Pakistan as needed.
Senator George Mitchell is arriving in Tel Aviv kind of as we speak. We expect Senator Mitchell to have discussions with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow. Before coming back to the United States on Wednesday he will have additional consultations probably by phone with other regional allies. And he will be talking to both parties tomorrow to continue our effort to launch direct negotiations as soon as possible. In Moscow, an OFDA, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance team has arrived and had their first meetings with Russian fire experts following up on the Secretary’s conversation on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov where we offered our assistance to Moscow, or to Russia, in dealing with these horrible fires, and the team has arrived and is evaluating what we can do. But at the Embassy today there was a town hall meeting to address concerns by our colleagues at the Embassy, also family members, and our Foreign Service national staff. The Embassy has sent a cable into the State Department, which we are evaluating, requesting authorized departure for those in the community, particularly children who may be greatly affected by the lingering smog particularly focused on Moscow, the capital. So that is something we will be evaluating and perhaps we’ll make a decision before too long.
QUESTION: On –
QUESTION: Please, Matt.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Mitchell.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Why is he going there just for one day to have a quick meeting with each of the leaders? I mean, why not – if he’s really trying to go kind of jump start these talks, why not an extended stay to kind of nail down what’s keeping them from jump starting the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think that what he needs to accomplish can be done with rather quick meetings with both of the leaders.
QUESTION: So do you expect that after these meetings you’re going to announce a resumption of the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s wait for the meetings.
QUESTION: Well –
QUESTION: Do you think – based on what do you think that he can do this rather quickly? It certainly hasn’t been rather quick to this point, has it?
MR. CROWLEY: No, not at all. We are – we make--
QUESTION: So you think you’re (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: -- no secret of the fact that we’re pushing both sides to begin direct negotiations. And based on a lot of work that’s been done in recent days, Senator Mitchell will basically see if both sides are ready, in fact, to make the commitment to begin direct negotiations.
QUESTION: So if he’s there to – if it’s so close then why doesn’t he just stay and resume the discussion?
MR. CROWLEY: We frequently see value in having these kinds of discussions face-to-face rather than over the phone.
QUESTION: So educate me, if you will. Mitchell will go there for one day and then is he coming back here or is he going to Syria or what? What’s going on?
MR. CROWLEY: Right now, I would expect him to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas tomorrow. He will return to the United States, we expect, on Wednesday. Could he call an audible while he’s there? He could. But he will – based on his conversations with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, phone calls he’ll have with other leaders in the region, we’ll see where we are and then he’ll return to the United States to report to the President and the Secretary.
QUESTION: But the president of – the Palestinian Authority said yesterday that he is not convinced that they will go to direct negotiations because there’s been no response to whatever request they submitted on the commitment to ‘67 borders and on some of the issues, including Jerusalem?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, hence the reason for Senator Mitchell to travel to the region.
QUESTION: P.J., have you found any kind of update on the Blackberry situation (inaudible) the Saudis?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold on. I’m sure where --
MR. CROWLEY: We are in touch with the Israeli Government. Obviously, we adapt our travel advisories on a regular basis, based on our assessment of conditions on the ground and the risk that it poses to American citizens. And we provide that guidance for our citizens, but we are in touch with the Israeli Government to explain our judgment.
QUESTION: Do you – can you say why a similar warning for Jordan, specifically Aqaba, there was no similar warning?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, beginning at post and back here at the Department, we evaluate conditions everywhere in the world and we continue to update our citizens based on our best judgment of the assessment of risk wherever American citizens are traveling. So I would say that – it’s not our judgment that the risk is identical between the two locations.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the region for second? So is it possible that we would see the president – the Palestinian president and Mr. Mitchell standing side-by-side announcing the start of the talks tomorrow?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, let’s have the meeting first, and then we’ll evaluate where we are.
QUESTION: Is this visit something to do with a verbal message that he’s carrying, which cannot be given by letter or by phone and that’s – you know, it goes on record like we had these allegations about threats from U.S. that we would be dropping relations with – (inaudible) PA in case they do not start the --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re inferring that – something that I would not sanction. We value our relationship with the Palestinian Authority. We are intensively working with the Palestinian Authority not only get into direct negotiations, but also with Prime Minister Fayyad and others to build up the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to be ready, willing, and able to assume the responsibilities of an effective government if direct negotiations – if and when they begin – are successful. We are committed to finding a solution to this challenge and to ending the conflict once and for all.
So, Senator Mitchell is returning to the region, as he’s been many times in recent months. We continue to think that this is the right time and that we have, in fact, appropriately paved the ground for successful direct negotiations. That will be his message to both leaders. To the extent that he needs to, he will update them on our current thinking and provide answers to questions that have been posed in recent meetings, and we’ll see if we can get both leaders to yes.
QUESTION: P.J., can you shed some light on the possible trip by Mitchell to Syria and the start of the Syrian (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: At the present time, I’m not expecting him to travel anywhere but beyond Israel and the Palestinian territory.
QUESTION: P.J., in the past, U.S. was against Israel and India military-to-military deals, some of the projects now underway between the two countries. What do you think now is U.S. going to oppose some of the – like including missiles and other military-to-military projects between India and Israel?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any current dialogue between Israel and India on defense cooperation. Sorry, we can’t comment.
Nicole, you had a question.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to know if you --
MR. CROWLEY: Are we able to switch? Okay, shift.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, in about 45 minutes we’ll be sitting down to be updated by officials from RIM and we’ll see what – whether the information they provide is similar to recent press reports.
QUESTION: Can I ask for a future taken question, once you have that briefing? Could you let us know --
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) I’m sure you will be here tomorrow and you will be happy to --
QUESTION: I’d love to know before tomorrow.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that, but --
QUESTION: Well, what kind of specific information are you looking to from – are you looking from RIM?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s been a report of at least an agreement between RIM and Saudi Arabia. We’ll ask if that report is true and if they wish to provide any particulars on how they reach that agreement. And as we continue our consultations with countries with which this issue has arisen, we’ll see if we can’t be of any assistance. We’re not – it’s not for us to mediate. These are, at one level, negotiations between this company and these countries. However, we have a broad interest in trying to balance out the legitimate security interests that countries have, their need to regulate the technology that exists within their own country. But at the same time, we want to make sure that to the extent possible we ensure that there is access to this technology so it can ensure the ongoing free flow of information across the world.
QUESTION: P.J., you just said that it’s not for us to mediate.
QUESTION: But last week, that was certainly what you were saying. You were saying that you were going to get involved. You were going to be talking to both sides to see if some kind of an accommodation could be reached.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: That is mediation, is it not?
MR. CROWLEY: These are negotiations between the company and (inaudible) countries. We have an interest in this, as we’ve explained, from a broad policy standpoint. But at this point, we’re collecting information. If we can be helpful, we will. But obviously these are ultimately specific negotiations that we are not a party to.
QUESTION: It’s a different subject; Mexico. Last week’s report on terrorism provoked quite a controversy in Mexico of what the U.S. was trying to say whether there was terrorism or not occurring in Mexico at this present time. Can you clarify the position of the U.S., because –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure what the predicate is. What –
QUESTION: Exactly –
MR. CROWLEY: -- launched this question.
QUESTION: The question is whether in Mexico are happening acts of terrorism or any criminals using terrorist tactics.
MR. CROWLEY: Based on the release of the terrorist report.
QUESTION: Exactly. Because that’s something that created quite a controversy in Mexico, and I just wanted to get your clarification from you.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we had Ambassador Benjamin and Russ Travers here. I don’t have any information beyond what they have provided.
MR. CROWLEY: Mr. Palmer is still our nominee to be the ambassador in Caracas.
QUESTION: Would you consider that that would happen if, like, consequence of a leak of information that was not supposed to happen? Considering that everybody now knows what Mr. Palmer answered to the questions regarding –
MR. CROWLEY: Right. He was asked questions during his hearing. He provided written responses to those questions. That is a matter of public record. However, he remains our nominee to be the ambassador to Venezuela.
QUESTION: So no change of plans?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: For now? No –
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: -- change at all?
QUESTION: Does that mean that the Venezuelan Government has not withdrawn agrément?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t speak for the Venezuelan Government.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But you’re suggesting that you’re going to force this guy down their throats when they say that they don’t want him and you can’t do that unless you want to violate the Vienna Conventions.
MR. CROWLEY: You’re inferring something that we have not heard officially from the Venezuelan Government.
QUESTION: Okay, so in other words, what Chavez said on his TV program yesterday, that has not been communicated formally to you guys and they have not withdrawn their agreement to accept him as the ambassador?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not received a formal notification from the Government of Venezuela.
QUESTION: So in this case, when the process is ongoing, like that, waiting for the process to be finished on the Senate, even if there is a question regarding from another country about a nominee, you just proceed with the process regardless?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the President has nominated Mr. Palmer because we think he has the right expertise and professionalism to be successful as our ambassador in Venezuela. As is customary, we do seek agrément from any government before we place the individual in nomination. We received agrément from the Venezuelan Government. They are quite aware of the comments that he made in his testimony. We will, I think, continue to try to best help the Venezuelan Government to understand that this individual can be an effective interlocutor between our two governments and can help advance the interests of both of our countries.
QUESTION: But at the same time, I mean, the agrément is not just like a rubber stamp. I mean, if they withdraw the agrément, you have no choice but to – I mean, you have a choice. You can put forward another candidate or –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, remember at the start of the conversation – and we’re certainly hopeful that we can assuage whatever concerns the Venezuelan Government has. But he is still our nominee.
QUESTION: But if they withdraw agrément, will you put forward another name or no?
MR. CROWLEY: We hope that Mr. Palmer will be, in fact, our ambassador in Venezuela.
QUESTION: Have you sought clarification from the Venezuelans following President Chavez’s comments about whether or not that constitutes –
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that we’ve had any conversations to date.
QUESTION: Do you plan to do that?
QUESTION: Do you foresee to have a dialogue with them?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Do you foresee to have a dialogue with the Venezuelan Government to convince them to accept Mr. Palmer?
MR. CROWLEY: We have had conversations with Venezuela. I can’t say what would happen today since comments by President Chavez yesterday. But we continue to make the case to Venezuela, I think, that we believe Mr. Palmer is the right candidate and can help advance our relationship.
QUESTION: P.J., two different questions on your statements earlier. One, as far as the killings of humanitarian people in Afghanistan, what India – Indian Government is saying that everybody has a right to food and it should be investigated thoroughly through the UN and international community. And secondly, if I may, as far as flood in Pakistan concerned, still many Pakistanis are waiting for aid from the last earthquake. What they’re asking the United States, there should be accountability. Aid should reach to the people, not to the government.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, to your last point first. In these kinds of disasters what you need is a logistical infrastructure to be able to deliver aid through the government to the people. It is expressly these kinds of circumstances where a government is critical to delivering life-saving assistance or rescuing people who find themselves in peril.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) corruption and (inaudible) there.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re making a leap. We are working very closely with the Pakistani Government. As I indicated, the Secretary had a conversation with Prime Minister Gilani who is leading this effort. We’re in touch on a daily basis with the leaders of Pakistan’s disaster relief agency. On board the helicopters that we have operating in Pakistan, are military – are Pakistani military liaison officers to help direct the need – the aid where it needs to go. So, we are working very closely and very collaboratively with the Pakistani Government in dealing with this crisis.
What was your first question?
QUESTION: The Afghanistan humanitarian –
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, hold on, hold on. On the issue of food – it’s one of the reasons why we have launched over the past year the Feed the Future Initiative, because we do recognize that helping countries and communities reach a sustainable level of food security is vitally important to the future (inaudible) and security of these countries that are at risk.
QUESTION: P.J., on Afghanistan, just for a second, you said they mentioned the FBI’s opened a formal investigation.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: To what end? Is it your hope that you can find these people – people who did this and bring them back to prosecute them here?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take it a step at a time. We’ve got six Americans killed among this international team. We’re trying to understand the circumstances by which they were killed. We certainly want to see justice done – served here. We would always like to see those responsible for the deaths of Americans or our allies brought to justice. We will work closely with our Afghan colleagues in this investigation, but the FBI has launched its own investigation as it is appropriate.
QUESTION: Which would seem to suggest that you don’t have a lot of confidence in the Afghan investigation or judiciary --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a matter of we have a right given the deaths of six Americans to investigate, and we are investigating.
QUESTION: On North Korea. The U.S. has been urging the North Koreans to stop further provocation, but today, North Korean military fired more than a hundred rounds of artillery into borders (inaudible) – border of South Korea. So I can I ask a reaction to this particular incident?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure it resulted in a lot of dead fish and we certainly hope that PETA will protest. It is not a helpful sign by North Korea and this is exactly the kind of behavior we would like to see North Korea avoid.
QUESTION: But just to continue on North Korea. I mean, since they – you passed your UN Security Council resolutions warning against further provocation, I mean, they seem to be doing a host of things. I mean, the shipping boat was just the other day was just one. Then there are continued little small skirmishes that we’ve seen. I mean, is there a concern that there is going to be continued provocation by North Korea, one of which might not just be left to joke about later?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, based on – if past is prologue, are we likely to see more provocations? Regrettably, the answer is we’re likely to see more provocations. All we can continue to communicate to North Korea is that there will be no reward for these provocations. North Korea will continue to be isolated. We’ll continue to work with the international community to fully implement Resolution 1874, and we will continue to find ways as we’ve talked about to put pressure on the North Korean Government to change course. As to what North Korea will do, my crystal ball is not that effective.
QUESTION: P.J., I presume that your initial comments there were a bit tongue – you were trying to be tongue and cheek, yes? I just want to make sure that – you’re not suggesting that the only thing that needs to be protested here is the death of a bunch of fish.
MR. CROWLEY: No –
QUESTION: I mean, you want PETA to protest this? Are you willing to protest it as a provocation?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have –
QUESTION: With (inaudible) intention to be –
MR. CROWLEY: We have made our views known to North Korea directly and repeatedly. We want to see North Korea cease its provocative actions. We want to see North Korea find a way to work constructively with its neighbors. We want to see North Korea reduce tensions. The fact that they have sunk a North Korean ship, we are aware that they have taken a fishing vessel in the high seas. It’s unclear the specific circumstances; South Korea is investigating that incident. But certainly the firing of a very large number of rounds in the region is the last thing that we want to see and is certainly not the best way to reduce tensions.
It’s unclear to us exactly what North Korea feels it is trying to achieve through this ongoing chest thumping that it has engaged in. All we can say is that we will continue to work effectively and closely with South Korea, other countries in the region, and there will be no reward for North Korea, for these provocations.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Mitchell (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Could you – if no talks right now – the start of the talks is not announced, wouldn’t that be seen as a setback?
MR. CROWLEY: Start again.
QUESTION: If the beginning of the talks, the direct talks, is not announced tomorrow, wouldn’t that be seen as a setback? How would that impact future negotiations?
MR. CROWLEY: No, we want to get the leaders into direct negotiations as soon as possible. We think that the time is right, but obviously, we are – we need the assent of the leaders to proceed.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
QUESTION: Last week it was suggested that the talks themselves should be an incentive to the Palestinians. But is Mr. Mitchell carrying with him any – Senator Mitchell carrying with him any incentives to the Palestinians on the issues that they raise? Or as per the letter that was sent to you they are (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as I emphasized last week, the direct negotiations are the only means to the end that we all want to see: security and stability in the region and the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. Outside of negotiations there can be no Palestinian state. So we believe that the Palestinians have a strong incentive to enter into negotiations, and we think through those direct negotiations can clarify the underlying issues – they’re well-known – and we think that through these negotiations they (inaudible) important leverage to get to where we have a resolution of the issues of security, refugees, borders, and Jerusalem.
QUESTION: I have a question about Venezuela. Tomorrow there’s going to be a meeting between Santos and Chavez about restoring diplomatic ties. Would you have a comment about it?
MR. CROWLEY: We certainly encourage these kinds of meetings.
QUESTION: I’ve got one on the IAEA in saying today that they’ve determined that the Iranians have started machinery which will let them get to the 20 percent mark and they’re noting that this is in violation of the UN sanctions. Do you have any comment on that? And what do you – how do you think this plays into some of those – the discussion last week about being still open to negotiations if they’re still moving along that track?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it once again validates the strong concerns of the United Sates and the international community. Iran is in fact not in – not abiding by its international obligations. There’s no justification for its ongoing enrichment to 20 percent; certainly not related to the TRR or any other project. Iran should meet its obligations under the NPT. It should cooperate fully with the IAEA. As we’ve indicated, we remain open to a negotiation within the P-5+1 on these issues and a broader range of subjects. But we certainly encourage that Iran needs to more constructively engage and cooperate with the IAEA. And this report today just underscores what we’ve known all along.
QUESTION: But it seems that neither of your tracks – the pressure track sanctions or this sort of diplomacy track is having any influence on the Iranians at all. Have you reached the end of your leverage with them? I mean, they’re just going to march ahead with this.
MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t think we’ve – I think we are acquiring important leverage every day. As we’ve said, we think that the sanctions that have already been put in place and are now being enforced are having an impact. We think it’s getting – the cost of doing business in Iran and with Iran is going up. There is a dialogue between Iran and Catherine Ashton of the EU. And we are hopeful that Iran will express a willingness to come to the table. We stand ready to have that dialogue. David.
QUESTION: Have you had any discussion with the Chinese about helping them with this mudslide disaster that they’ve had this week?
MR. CROWLEY: We are certainly mindful of this tragedy. Our hearts go out to the people who have been affected. I think the – if they haven’t already, our Embassy is in touch with the Chinese Government to see if we can – if they – if we can be of any assistance.
QUESTION: Have you got another one?
QUESTION: That’s all right.
MR. CROWLEY: I think we are encouraged that the elections appear to have come through peacefully and in an orderly fashion. We have expressed concerns in the run-up to these elections regarding what appear to be attempts by the Government of Rwanda to limit freedom of expression. But we’ll await the results of the elections before commenting further.
QUESTION: A question about the military commission trials moving forward this week, Guantanamo; one of them involving Omar Khadr, at the time arrested at the age of 15. The United Nations and others are arguing that he was arrested as – should be treated as a child soldier. Why is the U.S. continuing to press forward with treating him differently than that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer that. I’ll defer that question to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Another one, and I’m sorry if I’m going over stuff you went over last week –
MR. CROWLEY: It’s okay.
QUESTION: -- since I wasn’t here. On the Israel-Lebanon border incident last week, there’s a letter from Congressman Klein here to the Secretary suggesting that he would like to see the State Department launch an investigation into whether or not any of the Lebanese military personnel involved with that were trained by U.S. – under U.S. training programs. I know U.S. military assistance was somehow linked in that incident. Is that something that the Secretary is willing to take on?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are not aware that there was any U.S. equipment used during the incident. We do have training programs with Lebanon. It’s hard to say whether those who were directly involved in this incident were a part of any training program under IMET. But we have an extensive military cooperation program with Lebanon, because it’s in our interest to have that program. It offers – it allows the Government of Lebanon to expand its sovereignty. We think that is in the interest of both of our countries and regional stability as a whole. I don’t believe that we are planning to reevaluate our current military cooperation with Lebanon in light of this incident.
QUESTION: P.J., on that issue, are you confident that this was Israeli territory where the Israeli soldiers were now? It seems –
MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL –
QUESTION: -- that UNIFIL was saying that it’s –
MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL after –
QUESTION: -- disputed.
MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL after the meeting last week affirmed that the tree cutting was done on Israel’s side of the blue line.
QUESTION: P.J., since you first gave that answer to the top – to Andy’s question on Thursday, do you know if there’s been any further investigation into this? I mean, you said on Thursday you weren’t aware that there was any U.S. equipment involved, you weren’t sure of the (inaudible) of the training of the soldiers, has this been looked into since Thursday further?
MR. CROWLEY: It wouldn’t surprise me –
QUESTION: Or is this still the same result – same conclusion you had last week?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question whether we have satisfied ourselves or whether there is an investigation that’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Well, because it’s not just Representative Klein now.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.
QUESTION: It’s a growing number –
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I understand that.
QUESTION: -- and Representative Cantor put something out today as well.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll ask the question –
QUESTION: So I just want to know if –
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll ask the question whether the matter is still open or the matter is closed or not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: P.J., we hit the – yesterday, we hit the two-year anniversary of the war in Georgia. And two years from the start of it, the Russians are still seemingly solidly in control of the two areas. Could this be seen as a failure of diplomacy subsequent to the war?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, when the Secretary was in Georgia recently, she reiterated our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And she called on Russia to recognize its commitments under the 2008 Ceasefire Agreement mediated by French President Sarkozy and signed by both President Medvedev and President Saakashvili. There is a Geneva process through which, periodically, these issues are considered. We want to see Russia fully adhere to its obligations under this agreement. And we will continue to encourage Russia to cooperate fully and meet its obligations.
QUESTION: Given President Karzai’s move to investigate anticorruption teams, does the State Department still have confidence in his ability to deal with corruption there? And have you gotten any more recent updates than the latest media reports on how that’s going?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t say that we have any updates. This is something that is part of our ongoing dialogue with the Afghan Government and with President Karzai. As we noted last week, Secretary Clinton and President Karzai had one of their periodic conversations and she stressed during this conversation the importance coming out the Kabul conference of continuing to support the work of the Major Crimes Taskforce and the Special Investigations Unit, two elements that are widely supported by the United States and other international partners. And it’s important that they get the support that they need from the Afghan Government. There is a question of a particular investigation.
As President Karzai, as president of Afghanistan, is fully within his rights to raise questions about how that particular case unfolded and its implications in terms of the constitutional guarantees of any Afghan citizen potentially implicated in corruption. We understand those questions. It’s not unlike in the aftermath of 9/11 as the government took new actions. We ourselves have raised questions about the constitutionality of certain steps that the government has taken. This is part of a mature society. So it’s one thing – the questions that the president has raised, we understand those questions and it’s fully within his rights to ask his ministers to review those actions. But we certainly will continue to support the Major Crimes Taskforce. We’ll continue to support the Special Investigations Unit. These activities are vitally important to Afghanistan’s future, and they need the support of the Afghan Government even as they work through and address procedural questions that might come into play along the way. So we’re fully understanding of the questions that President Karzai has raised. It is fully within his rights to review what’s been done. But clearly the Afghan Government needs to continue to show its commitment and to fight corruption within the Afghan society wherever these investigations would lead.
QUESTION: Sorry, one teeny follow-up. When did the Secretary speak to him?
MR. CROWLEY: I think last Tuesday.
QUESTION: P.J., there’s a report in Forbes that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque is going on a trip to the Middle East. It’s basically to bring peace – moderation, and peace, and understanding to the region. And the claim by his people is that it’s a U.S. Government-supported trip. Do you know or rather is the U.S. Government supporting this trip? And would there be any problem with that in light of the – that this could be used as a fundraising – also simultaneously for fundraising for a controversial project?
MR. CROWLEY: He is a distinguished Muslim cleric. We do have a program whereby through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau here at the State Department, we send people from Muslim communities here in this country around the world to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society. I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program. And it is to foster a greater understanding and outreach around the world among Muslim majority communities. But there are strict procedures as to the kind of activity that occurs during the course of this travel. I think this is exactly what we’ve presented it as. And we’ve done this many, many times with many leading figures since – over the past few years.
QUESTION: And is it just him and can you give me any guidance to the itinerary or the cost?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the itinerary is still being worked. And he is by no means the only Muslim religious figure in this country to participate in the program.
QUESTION: And how about just that last point about whether – there’s been reports in some Arabic language media that he plans to fundraise for the Islamic center and mosque overseas. Might he be –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will double check. But that would not be something he could do as part of our program.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Hold on.
QUESTION: On the Russian fires, was the Secretary’s offer of assistance due in response to a Russian request?
MR. CROWLEY: No, it was an offer of assistance. And Russia is evaluating both its own domestic capabilities, but if Russia decides that it needs to have international assistance, we would welcome the opportunity to participate. That’s why the OFDA team is there now.
QUESTION: And can you just say –
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you. Come on up.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)