12:21 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: On behalf of the UNGA survivors club, we – (laughter) – we welcome most of you back to the State Department briefing room. I understand that there may be a couple of you who are still stranded at La Guardia. Free Courtney Kube, that’s our mantra for the day.
Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of things to mention before taking your questions. First of all, the Secretary did have about a 30-minute meeting today with Indian Defense Minister Antony. They talked regional issues such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. They agreed that their – that India and the United States have a mutual interest in a stable Afghanistan, and the Secretary welcomed India’s contributions in terms of diplomacy and development in its – building its own relationship with Afghanistan. They also talked about a mutual interest in expanding our defense partnership, and although, I think India is contemplating the purchase of a number of upgrades in its defense capability, and of course U.S. firms are bidding on those projects.
Secondly, I think we sent out a notice last night, but just to give a shameless promotion to the Bureau of Public Affairs, tomorrow the Office of the Historian will be hosting a conference on the American Experience in Southeast Asia between the years 1946 and 1975. The Secretary will open the conference tomorrow morning and she will be followed by addresses by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who served as a young Foreign Service officer in Vietnam. And then on Thursday, Ambassador Holbrooke’s roommate in Vietnam, Ambassador John Negroponte, will also address the conference. But we have attracted historians from Vietnam and other parts of the world to participate in this program and we’re very much looking forward to it. And even tomorrow night, some of your colleagues will have a panel to discuss how the media viewed operations in Vietnam. That panel will be hosted by Christiane Amanpour.
QUESTION: On that, P.J., can I ask Dr. Kissinger, if he could to liven things up – to repeat some of the colorful language that he used in the – in his conversations with the aides and the president that are included in the transcripts of the Historian’s Office release?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll see what I can do.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Actually, on a semi-serious note about the same meeting, can you issue an exact schedule of different – of parts of the events as opposed to just saying the evening stuff? We’ve had a general thing about the secretaries speaking, but what --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- time and other --
MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely. We’ll be happy to do that. And finally, before taking your questions, we’d like to welcome our guests today at the briefing, the spokesperson for the European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, spokesperson Darren Ennis, also her senior media advisor Kasper Zeuthen and Silvia Kofler, who is the spokesperson and head of the office of press and public diplomacy for the EU mission here in Washington, D.C.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: P.J., the Kim family in North Korea appears to have scored a rather significant trifecta at the Workers Party Congress. Not only was Kim Jong-il reelected, I hear with more than 100 percent of the vote, to the head of the party, but his son, a man with vast military experience, was promoted to be a four-star general, and his sister was also promoted. Do you have any words of congratulation for them or any other – (laughter) – comment you’d like to make about the situation?
MR. CROWLEY: As the father of a daughter and a son, I’ve got to go home and explain this to my children. No. I would suppose this is perhaps the ultimate reality show unfolding in North Korea, and we are simply watching this very closely. And as Kurt Campbell said yesterday, it’s a bit too early to assess what the implications are.
QUESTION: You don’t see any significance at the moment in terms of these appointments?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we will be assessing what happens during this gathering and the implications on our present and future policies.
QUESTION: Can you explain what you mean by ultimate reality show just out of curiosity?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s unfolding in real time and we are watching it just like you are.
QUESTION: That’s it? Okay. No interesting characters or – (laughter) – who’s going to get chucked off the island or anything like that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if possible. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented today to the UN slightly different vision of peace than the one that was agreed between the U.S. Administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu, so he was talking about long-term intermediate agreement, exchange of the populated areas. And he said that basically this conflict has nothing to do with Iran, et cetera. So do you have any reaction to this?
MR. CROWLEY: I actually haven’t seen the text of what he had to say.
QUESTION: On that --
QUESTION: Did you not follow that issue? Because that is a major – the major difference between the position of the Israeli Government and the position of the foreign minister of Israel.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not questioning that there may be divergent views between the prime minister and the foreign minister, but I’ll defer to the Israeli Government to explain the difference.
QUESTION: But there is more than just divergence of views. I mean, are we likely to see a statement issued by the State Department saying that we have already gone through a process and we have agreed on a methodology and we have agreed on certain aspects to these negotiations, and this comes out of that – the blue, so to speak, this new peace plan, with different priorities altogether?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are in direct discussion with the prime minister. We had meetings last week with the defense minister, and we are actively engaged in working to continue direct negotiations. I will let the Israeli Government comment on what the foreign minister had to say and whether that actually reflects the views of the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on team Mitchell and what they’ve done today, if anything?
MR. CROWLEY: They have arrived in the region. They are consulting with those on the ground prior to meetings tomorrow. I think our – when I last left George last night, his intention was to have meetings with the Israelis tomorrow, the Palestinians on Thursday. He will likely remain in the region and have other discussions with regional leaders before coming back to the United States, but a lot of what he’ll do subsequently is still being worked out.
QUESTION: Does that mean that he is going to be talking to them ahead of the follow-up – the Arab League Follow-on Committee meeting on the 4th?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, he will definitely have meetings in the region, and it’s hard to say how many stops he’ll make and when they’ll conclude, but he’ll be consulting broadly in the region prior to the follow-up committee meeting early next week, then of course, prior to the Arab League Summit at the end of next week.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that you would like the Arab – the Follow-on Committee to endorse the Palestinians staying in the talks despite the --
MR. CROWLEY: It is our absolute position that it is important for both the Israelis and Palestinians to remain in direct negotiations to reach an ultimate agreement.
QUESTION: Right. But in terms of what you would like the Arabs to do, would you like to give their – them to give the stamp of approval to Abbas to stay at the table?
MR. CROWLEY: That would be our desire, yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Given the situation, I’m just wondering if you could sum up what his message is to Netanyahu and company?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as you know, the Secretary had a phone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu last evening before she came back here to Washington. She had other contacts with him over the weekend. George Mitchell has been in daily contact with the negotiators on both sides, and we are working to see how we can best help both sides make a decision to stay with the direct negotiations that were started barely a month ago.
QUESTION: But do you think the Israelis – I mean, the Israelis aren’t going to pull out. They’re able to stay with it, so what specifically are you asking the Israelis to do?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as we’ve said from the outset, while we are convinced that both sides have to this point taken the process seriously, their discussions here in Washington and in the region and in New York last week were substantive, intensive. We think there’s value here and we’re looking for both sides to do whatever they can do to demonstrate their commitment to stay in the negotiations. And so we are looking to see if both can advance ideas that help each see value and importance in continuing the talks.
QUESTION: What kind of ideas can be advanced? I mean, there were expressions of disappointment all across the board yesterday – the State Department, the UN, the EU, all together. And Mr. Netanyahu made it very clear, I mean, the settlement will continue and so on. So what are the ideas that you are looking to advance? I mean, what do you want the Palestinians to do?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want the Palestinians to stay in the direct negotiations and we want the Israelis to demonstrate that it is in the Palestinian interest to stay in these negotiations. And obviously, on the other side of the coin, the moratorium has expired and it is important for both the United States and the Palestinians and others to understand what the Israeli policy is going to be going forward. So these are the kinds of discussions that we are having and will continue, but we understand we’re in an intense period of time where we need to find a way to help both sides resolve the immediate situation and continue in the negotiations. And that will be what George Mitchell is working with both sides on this week.
QUESTION: Is it correct that you are --
QUESTION: So the prime minister --
QUESTION: Is it correct that right now you are entirely focused on just overcoming this settlement issue and keeping the talks alive, or are Mitchell’s talks a little bit broader in nature? Do they go with the assumption – do you start with an assumption that, in fact, the talks will – there will be another round of talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, those are not mutually exclusive. We earnestly believe that if the parties stay in this process, we can successfully complete negotiations within a year. We have – as George Mitchell said in the region, the talks got off to a fast start. They have been working through the substance. And in fact, the substance can be part of the solution to the immediate challenge that we face. They can’t be separated out. So we understand these issues. They’re important to both sides. And to the extent that both sides are engaged in putting ideas on the table that demonstrate the value of continuing the negotiations, clarify where the talks can lead, show the kind of promise that allows each leader to say to his respective constituencies it is important for us to stay in this process, stay engaged, and work through these issues. We understand that this is very hard. These are highly complex issues.
We knew that going in. We understood what was confronting us immediately on the calendar. We’re aggressively trying to work through this situation, but we’re also keeping both sides focused on the long-term goal. And to the extent that each is clarifying what both they think they need to stay in the negotiation and what they can offer as a commitment to provide incentives to the other side to stay in the negotiation, this is the kind of dialogue that we have ongoing.
QUESTION: P.J., has the defense – the defense minister, Ehud Barak, in his discussion with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, proposed that they can stop the settlements altogether – settlement activities in exchange for the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? Where did this discussion go? How far did it go?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I –
QUESTION: And how did it evolve?
MR. CROWLEY: Saeed, you’ve now crossed a line. I’m not going to comment on any specific idea that may or may not have been advanced in discussions that we’ve had.
QUESTION: P.J., you’ve spent several months addressing the settlements issue and it’s not solved yet. How can you achieve a peace agreement in one year and you didn’t discuss yet the core issues?
MR. CROWLEY: Michel, actually, I would disagree with you.
MR. CROWLEY: We are, in fact, discussing the core issues.
QUESTION: But it’s not solved.
MR. CROWLEY: Settlements are, in fact, a –
QUESTION: The settlements issue is not solved yet.
MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?
QUESTION: The settlements issue is not solved yet, and –
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) That’s true. I mean, I’m not standing here saying that the core issues have been resolved. In fact, the current situation demonstrates that we are dealing with an unresolved issue. Our point to the parties is and continues to be that the only way to resolve the settlements – which is either a core issue or a derivative of a core issue, depending on how you want to look at it – the only way to resolve this is by staying in the negotiation, and that’s what we’re encouraging both sides to do.
But at the same time, we’re saying, okay, in order for both sides to stay in the negotiation, you’ve got to put things forward that demonstrate that there is the potential to reach an agreement. We know what we’re dealing with here, among everything else, is a fundamental lack of trust that’s been built up over the years. Each side has to demonstrate not only – each side has to demonstrate that by staying in this negotiation, you really do, in fact, have this potential to reach an agreement within a year.
We are convinced that if we can get the parties to stay at this, they can, in fact, get to a negotiation that resolves the core issues. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.
QUESTION: P.J., I’m sorry. To go back to the issue of alternatives, are the Palestinians or the Israelis or you, in this case, providing any kind of alternatives to, let’s say, the Palestinians thinking that settlements must stop and the Israelis saying the settlement moratorium is over; it has run its course?
MR. CROWLEY: There is a multilevel conversation going on. The Israelis, the Palestinians, others in the region, the United States, everyone is advancing ideas and formulas that we hope will convince the parties to stay in the negotiation and will convince countries in the region to continue to support this negotiation.
QUESTION: A new topic? Venezuela.
MR. CROWLEY: No, I’m –
QUESTION: Just to finish with it, we got now the reaction of Netanyahu, who said that apparently this speech was not coordinated with him. So do you –
MR. CROWLEY: We’re not surprised by this. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you believe that if Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot, apparently, control his foreign minister, that he still can deliver an agreement?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the prime minister has told us that there is – there are difficult politics on his side and this is perhaps a manifestation of that.
QUESTION: Venezuela. Does the U.S. have evidence that Chavez is pursuing a nuclear weapons program over in Venezuela? He mentioned that he wanted to start one.
MR. CROWLEY: I believe that Venezuela has had conversations regarding a civilian nuclear program. I’m not aware that there are – I’m not aware of any concerns that Venezuela is pursuing a military program.
QUESTION: Speaking of Venezuela, what’s the status of Larry Palmer?
MR. CROWLEY: He remains our nominee.
QUESTION: How is that possible if they’ve withdrawn agreement? I mean, if the Venezuelans were to send someone here or to want to send someone here and you said no, wouldn’t you expect them to offer up someone else?
MR. CROWLEY: I understand. We have received communication from the Venezuelan Government, as we have acknowledged, and he remains our nominee.
QUESTION: But can you – protocol-wise, can you do that? I mean, that basically just means that you’re not – he’s never going to go.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand.
QUESTION: So you’re going to have an ambassador to Venezuela who’s based in the U.S. and never speaks to the Venezuelan Government? I’m not sure – I just don’t understand how he can remain your nominee if the other country, which has to agree to this person, has said no to this person.
MR. CROWLEY: The Venezuelan Government has expressed its concern about our – concerns about our nominee and we continue to talk to Venezuela about those concerns.
QUESTION: So they have – so your position is that they have not withdrawn agreement?
MR. CROWLEY: Correct.
QUESTION: Do we know about Venezuela having a peaceful nuclear energy program of any kind?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Venezuela is having trouble generating electricity, but –
QUESTION: Even as a major oil producer, they’re having trouble?
MR. CROWLEY: Hey, I’m just reporting the facts. I’m not aware of any specific concerns that we have about Venezuelan nuclear ambitions; certainly, nothing that rivals Iran.
QUESTION: Still Venezuela.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the results coming out from last week’s legislative elections?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we commend the people of Venezuela for what appears to be a peaceful and successful election. And it would appear that the results suggest that there’s now a real opposition, and President Chavez and his administration will have to govern as part of a functioning democracy and can’t just dictate policies to a compliant legislation.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on a question that was asked to Campbell yesterday during the brief on the South China Sea issue. It was already asked, but it was not mentioned directly in the joint statement of the ASEAN leaders, and he tried to tie it with this issue of freedom of navigation. But why was it not explicitly stated? There’s been reports that it was in the draft of the proposal and then it was requested to be taken out.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve got nothing to add.
QUESTION: Okay. Just – at today’s gaggle at the Pentagon, they referred to you for this question.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They said – we asked him about the – if the Pakistanis officially lodged a complaint about the cross-border – the fighting and the helicopter raids that took place.
MR. CROWLEY: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, is there a connection between the ramped-up drone attacks and the flooding that’s going on there? Holbrooke mentioned yesterday something cryptic about using bridges and roads, and wondering if the two are connected at all.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I – the connection between --
QUESTION: Drone attacks and the flooding.
MR. CROWLEY: They would appear to be two – is someone suggesting that the drone attacks caused the flooding?
QUESTION: Well, it’s cut off major transportation in Pakistan. Have the --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t see a connection.
QUESTION: Okay. Are the Pakistanis --
QUESTION: Are you acknowledging that there are drone attacks?
MR. CROWLEY: The State Department does not have an air force. Actually, we do have an air force, but they’re all helicopters. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Another follow-up?
MR. CROWLEY: They’re not all helicopters. There are some fixed wings.
QUESTION: Tomorrow meeting with Baroness Ashton here.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: I assumed one of the topics would be – one of the topics that, say, Secretary and baroness would talk about would be dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and American involvement – possible involvement in that dialogue. Could you tell us more about the nature of the American --
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen the summary of the meeting. Tomorrow when they get together, they talk about a wide range of things. I’m sure that Iran will come up, I’m sure that the Middle East will come up, and I’m sure that the Balkans will come up. It is something that we are working intensively with the EU on in its various manifestations. It’s been a topic that has come up with many European leaders during the course of last week in the Secretary’s bilaterals, including with High Representative Ashton.
QUESTION: She’s going to Serbia next month, right? Can you confirm that?
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible), you’ve got able people in the back of the room who can probably answer that question once we’re done here.
QUESTION: No, the Secretary.
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: I’m talking about Secretary Clinton.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I’m sorry.
MR. CROWLEY: We – she has a trip coming up and we’ll announce her specific stops, but yes, she will be going to the Balkans.
QUESTION: P.J., just going back to South Asia for a second, President Karzai has named his members of his peace council or mission, which is going to be looking at the reintegration or reconciliation. Yesterday, General Petraeus said that high-level Taliban people had been in touch with Karzai about this. And I’m just wondering if your position has changed at all, or the U.S. Government’s position has changed at all regarding the whole issue of reconciliation and who should be allowed back into the community.
MR. CROWLEY: No, our position hasn’t changed at all. And it is – it’s a position shared by the Afghan Government. First, this is an Afghan-led process and what the Afghan Government has announced and what they’ve done in terms of designating the members of the High Peace Council as a follow-up to the Kabul Conference, the London Conference – these are things which the Afghan Government pledged they would do. But our position remains that we support this process and we will – and the keys to participation and reconciliation and reintegration are to cease violence, break ties with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and live under the Afghan constitution, which includes protection of rights of all Afghan men and women.
QUESTION: Still on South Asia, cold we get a little bit more on the Secretary’s meeting with the Indian defense minister today? Specifically you said they mentioned this idea that India is in the midst of looking for big defense purchases. Did they talk about – specifically about the fighter jets or any other particular items on India’s wish list? And did – was there any --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- sense about what kind of timing there might be on a decision there, or was the Secretary urging him to consider U.S. --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Indian Government. I believe our understanding is that some of those decisions are coming up fairly soon. But this is an Indian process, but we’re pleased that U.S. companies are competing. We think we have the finest military hardware in the world, and if India is upgrading its defense capabilities, they should buy American.
QUESTION: And that was the Secretary’s message this morning?
MR. CROWLEY: Indeed.
QUESTION: Can we --
QUESTION: Now --
QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to the peace talks. The Washington Post today described your effort as scrambling and somewhat frantic and so on. Do you – is there a feeling of frustration and maybe that the process is in free fall?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn’t characterize what we’re doing in that way. We understood when both the – both parties agreed to enter direct negotiations a few weeks ago that there – the first date on the calendar was September 26th. We saw this coming. We’ve been working on this issue from the outset of these direct negotiations. Our position is clear. It was enunciated by the President and the Secretary last week at the UN, and we are working directly and, as you have seen, with the – intensively with the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to resolve this.
Are we frustrated? Tell me about a Middle – a dimension of the Middle East peace process that at some point in time has not been frustrating. (Laughter.) Of course we’re frustrated, but we understand that these are just very, very difficult. We’ve been at this for some time, and the issues are not yet resolved because the issues are very, very complex. And you’ve always had a challenge where, for whatever reason, the politics on one side and the politics on the other side have not converged at a point where the parties, since going back to Madrid, have been able to resolve these issues. I think we take some comfort in the fact that the people that are involved in this process we know very well; we’ve been at the table with them all before, we know the issues very well, we even know the rough parameters of the solution very well. That’s why we’re convinced if we can get by this current challenge that there is real promise that we can reach a successful negotiation within a year.
QUESTION: P.J., have you heard from the Omanis yet about their delegation in Iran and if they’ve made any progress in trying to negotiate the release of the two other hikers?
MR. CROWLEY: We stay in close touch with the Omanis and the Swiss. I’m not aware of any reports at this point.
QUESTION: All right. So, but you are aware that there is a delegation there?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. We – as I said yesterday, we – the Omanis pledge to continue to help with the release of the two hikers and we’re very grateful for their efforts.
QUESTION: Well, but you didn’t say – actually, I read it pretty carefully – the transcript – and I was listening in, too. I mean, you said that, but you also said “if this is the case.” Are you aware that there is a delegation there specifically talking about --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- the two hikers?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: You are aware of this delegation?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know when they got there?
MR. CROWLEY: No. As I also said yesterday, for the details, I’ll defer to the Omani Government.
QUESTION: One more question on Venezuela. So if they are working on a nuclear program, do we have any kind – do we know if Iran is cooperating with them in these efforts?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, hang on. I mean, let’s be clear. They – all signatories of the Nonproliferation Treaty have rights, but I – all I’ll say, I’m not aware of any particular special concerns that we have regarding Venezuela and its nuclear program, if one exists.
QUESTION: No, wait, we’ve got one more. Sudan. The government of the North has laid out some pretty significant conditions for the referendum. Still, there seems to be not really any – much progress on the logistics of holding this. I’m wondering if you have any comment about this.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you saw the – our efforts last week with the Secretary’s meeting – meetings with First Vice President Salva Kiir and Vice President Taha. That was followed by meetings led by General Scott Gration and Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson in New York with negotiating teams for both sides. They worked through the weekend. Their focus was on Abyei, one of the more significant issues that still need to be resolved between now and the referendum in January. We thought that they were useful meetings. They established a foundation for resolving the Abyei challenge.
The teams and our Sudan team will meet again next month in Addis Ababa. The date is still being worked out. And we would expect that the parties should come to that meeting prepared to reach an agreement on Abyei. So we are intensively – knowing what we know, that there are unresolved issues that have to advance to have a successful referendum, we are working through them, as we committed last week. Abyei is our immediate focus. There are other issues regarding boundaries. There are clear responsibilities that both North and South have. And while we worked through some of the issues this weekend, we expect that both sides, particularly Khartoum, needs to come to the next meeting prepared to reach an agreement.
QUESTION: I just wanted – you mentioned the meetings that the Secretary had and that Special Envoy Gration had. Wasn’t there another meeting involving a higher-ranking person last week you might want to mention?
MR. CROWLEY: There was. The President of the United States – high-level meeting as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)