1:25 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of quick items to start off. Secretary Clinton and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov will discuss a broad range of issues of interest to both countries this afternoon during a bilateral, including the upcoming Lisbon NATO summit, the Western Balkans, our cooperation in Afghanistan, energy security, and the rule of law. And I think you had the opportunity to listen a short time ago to Eric Goosby as he announced that the Obama Administration intends to seek $4 billion for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis, for the years 2011 through 2013, continuing our strong support for this multilateral partner. This pledge is a 30 percent increase in the U.S. investment over the preceding three-year period.
Turning to Africa, the United States applauds the signing of – in Liberia yesterday of a freedom of information act signed yesterday by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Liberia is the first West African state to enact a law on freedom of information. As President Obama remarked at the UN General Assembly, the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. This legislation to improve Liberians’ access to government information is an important element in supporting that openness. It’s an example of how other African states should follow suit.
And finally regarding the 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery registration, the registration period opened at noon today. Entries for the lottery may be submitted electronically through Wednesday, November 3rd. The Department of State administers this congressionally mandated program each year to provide immigrant visas to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. For the 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery, 50,000 immigrant visas will be available. And while electronic registration has been in place for a number of years, this is the first year that the entire process is electronic, including notification of selected applicants. Applicants can go online to check the status of their registration. The details are available on www.dvlottery.state.gov.
QUESTION: Can I just ask two logistical things, one on what you just talked about – the lottery? Is it the case that that’s the only way you can apply for one of these visas is online?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: So if you’re in a country which has a low – relatively low rate of immigration to the States and would be eligible for this program and you don’t have access to the internet, like a great number of, say, North Koreans or people in sub-Saharan Africa, how do you take advantage of this?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s – I may qualify my yes. That’s a very fair question. Let me take that question and see if we can’t double-check that.
QUESTION: Thanks. And then on the --
MR. CROWLEY: Your point is very well taken.
QUESTION: Then on the AIDS – the Global Fund, what does it mean, “intends to seek $4 billion”? You don’t have the money right now. How can you pledge it? I mean, I intend to seek a million dollars tomorrow so that I can retire – (laughter) – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get it.
MR. CROWLEY: The Department of State endorses – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Endorses the retirement? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: And then the financial collapse of AP as a result. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I mean, pledging money and saying that you intend to seek it seems to me to be something different.
MR. CROWLEY: We are making a multiyear pledge. Obviously, in terms of budgeting, we pursue budgets on an annual basis. So it is our commitment that we will seek this funding from the Congress in each of these years.
QUESTION: So you will ask.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: You will not necessarily receive.
MR. CROWLEY: We will request.
QUESTION: Okay. Then getting into regular substance, is there any update on the –
MR. CROWLEY: I get a commission on the million dollars. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No problem. At least half a percent, depending on how the Caps did.
Mideast. Is there any update on Mitchell’s discussions or the Secretary’s discussions with anyone in the region, and particularly ahead of the Arab League meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any particular discussions today by the Secretary. George Mitchell remains in touch with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we continue to work closely with them to see if we can’t find a way to create the conditions for the continuation of negotiations. But I can’t point to any particular act this morning.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion or possibly suggesting that the Arab League move back or delay, postpone once again, its meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a decision for the Arab League. The Follow-on Committee has, in fact, pushed their meeting back. It was supposed to be yesterday originally.
QUESTION: Right. The meeting --
MR. CROWLEY: And for a combination of reasons, I think including the availability of some of the participants, it’s now scheduled for Friday.
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t. Let me – I’ll see if we can’t get a more fulsome readout for you.
QUESTION: Are we still on the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Are we still on the –
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve moved to Yemen, but we can move back.
MR. CROWLEY: We’re nimble here.
QUESTION: Back to the talks? Could we go back to the direct talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. I know that you guys have denied the substance or the existence of a letter, but they still persist. The Israelis persist that Netanyahu received a letter, and the letter suggested the extension for 60 days in exchange for the U.S. not ever asking for another extension on the settlement freeze in exchange for giving a commitment to support Israel for placing troops along the Jordan River and all kinds of things. So could you comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no – the short answer. We continue discussing the full range of issues with the parties, but I can’t be specific.
QUESTION: No comment or nonexistent?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m – as we indicated last week, there was a report that there was a letter from President Obama. The White House denied that there was such a letter. We are – continue our discussions with the parties, putting forward our ideas that, in our view, can create the conditions for the negotiations to continue. That is our desire. And we will continue to work this throughout the week.
QUESTION: Do you expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce tomorrow, Wednesday, that he will extend the freeze on building of settlements for another 60 days?
MR. CROWLEY: I believe I understand that the prime minister had a meeting with the security cabinet today and may well have a follow-on meeting tomorrow. We’ve made our position clear to the Israeli Government, but obviously, they have decisions to make and so do the Palestinians.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any indication that he would?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, it is our desire that the current negotiations continue. We’re trying to create conditions that enable that to occur. And that is our – continues to be our message to both sides.
QUESTION: Just one more. Nabil Shaath, the prominent Palestinian negotiator, said that the Palestinians will stay in the negotiations come what may. Is that something that has been coordinated with you?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe the only way to seek what both the Palestinians and the Israelis desire is by continuing negotiations. That is our desire. That has been our message to both parties throughout this process, and we hope that they will decide to continue these negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Stay in the region?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the wisdom of a possible trip to Lebanon, including southern Lebanon, by your friend Mr. Ahmadinejad? Apparently, he has suggested that he would like to go to southern Lebanon and throw some rocks at Israeli soldiers across the border on a visit to Lebanon. Do you think that’s a good idea?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t normally recommend travel arrangements for President Ahmadinejad. We certainly would hope that Iran would play a constructive role in the region. Throwing stones, whether they’re literal or figuratively – or figurative, I would not consider constructive.
QUESTION: So – but more seriously, just on the broader idea of a visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon?
MR. CROWLEY: We’re aware that he has travel plans to Lebanon. And beyond that, I don’t have a comment.
QUESTION: Well, have you suggested to the Lebanese or the Syrians that this – that they might – this might not be a good idea?
MR. CROWLEY: These are judgments for countries to make. The issue of the prospective travel of President Ahmadinejad to Lebanon did come up in the meeting between Secretary Clinton and President Sulayman on the margins of UNGA.
QUESTION: And she told him?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we expressed our concern about it given that Iran, through its association with groups like Hezbollah, is actively undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty. But again, we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese Government to make.
QUESTION: Have you talked to the Lebanese Government to convince Ahmadinejad not to travel to the south?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we don’t think that his travel to that part of Lebanon is a good idea. But again, what he does within that country is up to the Lebanese Government.
QUESTION: But the Israelis are very critical on this visit and they believe it’s a provocation of Ahmadinejad, and they are taking military preparations on the border.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: And you are concerned about steps that they --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we respect the fact that countries can choose to have diplomatic relations with other countries. That is a sovereign choice for Lebanon and for Iran. It’s not for us to tell them who they should or should not talk to. We did say to Lebanese officials this is a country that is actively undermining your government and we believe that whatever you decide to do should be with – in light of making sure that the Lebanese Government continues to demand that Iran or any other country respect its sovereignty.
QUESTION: One more question?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: After meeting with the – after the Secretary’s meeting with the Syrian foreign minister in New York and his vice – his deputy in – here in Washington, President Assad visited Iran on Saturday and was very critical about the U.S.-sponsored direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and said they are only serving the interest of President Obama in the U.S. Do you still – after such criticism, are you still considering moving the Israel-Syria track?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, the pursuit of peace in the Middle East is in everyone’s interest, including Syria’s. We’re not trying to score points with anyone. We’re trying to end a conflict. So we are interested in pursuing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We are interested in seeing the establishment of a Palestinian state and security that both the Palestinians and the Israelis want and deserve. We are willing to work with any country that is genuinely interested in constructively working towards peace in the Middle East.
It is in Syria’s interest to pursue peace in the Middle East. And we would hope, as we’ve said, to see progress on the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track. I don’t think that we see that these threads are in competition. Perhaps that might have been true 10 or 15 years ago. But we are pursuing comprehensive Middle East peace. We want to see countries in the region play a constructive role. Many of them are, and we hope that Syria would join that list.
QUESTION: The Secretary, I think yesterday, took part in a video teleconference call with the President and President Karzai. I was wondering if you could give us a little sense of – a little more sense of what they talked about, what the central U.S. message was, anything?
MR. CROWLEY: I defer – I think the White House put out a readout of the call last night. I’ve got to nothing to add to that.
MR. CROWLEY: On the what?
QUESTION: Host Nation Support?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.
QUESTION: Oh. What’s your position on the Host Nation Support? Are you asking Japan to increase the budget?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any change, but we’ll – we can take that question and see if --
QUESTION: Yeah, the meeting is happening -- yesterday or --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m just – I have not been briefed on that.
QUESTION: P.J., can you give us a readout today on the Addis Ababa talks on Abyei? There’s some reporting that the talks are going poorly and that the Sudanese Government is insisting that a certain nomadic tribe be allowed to vote in Abyei that would throw the referendum their way.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Special Envoy Scott Gration and Ambassador Princeton Lyman remain in Addis Ababa. The talks continue today and they’re likely to continue tomorrow. We believe that the parties are engaging frankly on the substance. There have been good discussions also with representatives of the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya tribal leadership. To reach a genuine agreement on Abyei that paves the way for referendum, you have to have buy-in by all of the major players, and that includes not only North and South, but also the tribal areas in and around Abyei. They have to be part of the solution. We think we’ve got the right combination of parties there in Addis Ababa, and we hope that through these discussions, there can be an agreement that opens the door for a successful referendum in January.
QUESTION: But the notion that this – the talks are in trouble, you don’t follow with that?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s hard for me to characterize what’s happening in the room from here, other than to say there have been very, very direct talks, frank talks. The parties do not agree on every detail, but we certainly believe that an agreement on Abyei is possible. That was our goal going into Addis Ababa. The Secretary made clear in her discussions with the leaders and other regional leaders weighed in as well that they should come prepared to negotiate. They have done that, and with the clear authorities to reach an agreement. We believe they have those authorities. Now whether we can get there or not, we’ll see, but we remain deeply engaged in this.
QUESTION: Staying with Sudan, I believe the schedule is now set for the steps leading up to the holding of the referendum on January the 9th. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the preparations are behind schedule. But we think they – through an agreement and rapid action, a successful referendum can still occur on time. But there are some things that we need to see the parties agree to and then act upon. The first is establishing an Abyei area referendum commission, having a designated budget for the referendum, approving voter eligibility criteria, and then that allows voter registration materials to be procured. These are vitally important steps. One other one is hiring and training the poll workers that actually will conduct the referendum. So we believe that this can be – this can still occur on time and be successful if the parties make decisions and then act quickly.
QUESTION: What’s the significance of the Afghan elections being pushed back to later in October? Is this a bad sign?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I think it’s a reflection of the nature of the election. We knew going in, given the relatively large number of candidates for a relatively small number of seats, that if there were ten candidates for every one seat, that nine people would end the election unhappy and many would contest. So I think this reflects just the number of complaints, which is, we think, really geared, based on the number of candidates, and the commission is working through those. I don’t think we’re troubled by the fact that there’s been a week’s delay.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay, but let me – I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Just on Japan again, do you have any comment or any good feelings towards the Japanese and Chinese meeting on the outskirts of the meeting over – they’ve decided to resume their bilateral relationship and move past the –
MR. CROWLEY: We always think that dialogue is a good idea.
QUESTION: Several months ago, the foreign minister of Yemen said that if the West invested in development and helping them raise their standard of education and helped them get out of poverty, that would reduce terrorism. And on September 16th, Ambassador Rice said that she, quote, “anticipated an act of discussion this fall on the linkages between security and development.”
Does that mean that Secretary Clinton or the State Department is considering increasing development aid as a means of reducing terrorism, as opposed to the military approach, which doesn’t seem to be accomplishing that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the civilian side of our strategy with respect to Yemen, we do have development on the agenda. It is one of the things that Bill Burns is talking to the Government of Yemen about. And without getting into a detailed history lesson about Yemen, which I may or may not be qualified to provide you, development will be key to the future of Yemen. It is one of the, if not the poorest country in the region. There are significant sections of the country that are underdeveloped or for which the government is not providing essential services. This is a source of – has been a source of conflict in the past in Yemen.
So we are interested in development. We’re interested in building up the capacity of the Yemen Government to meet the needs of its people. We think that to the extent that the government demonstrates to the Yemeni people that it has – it is pursuing the interests of all the citizens of Yemen, not just one segment of the population, that can go a long way towards reducing sources of conflict and potential sources of extremism.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: On Korea, yesterday, South Korean defense minister told that the South Korea will launch a full-scale psychological warfare, including sending leaflets and radios, toward North Korea if there is a new provocative action by North Korea, or South Korean Government decision to make pressure on North Korea. Do you have any concern on this kind of South Korean position?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. I haven’t seen that comment. I would simply say we are encouraging a greater dialogue between North Korea and South Korea. We want to see tensions reduced and that is a critical aspect in terms of creating conditions for further dialogue and progress in the peninsula. But that sounds like – very much like a hypothetical to me.
QUESTION: Also, South Korean defense minister told that there is a possibility of the North Korean provocative action to disrupt G-20 Summit next month in Seoul. What’s the – your view on this kind of possibility?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not want to see any further provocative actions by North Korea under any circumstances, whether they’re now or whether they’re later as we get towards the upcoming summit. We want to see North Korea act more constructively in the region. And as we’ve said, we’ll respond to the extent that they do.
QUESTION: P.J., Iraqi sources claim that the United States Government is pushing for a partnership government between Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki, whereby the presidency will go to Allawi provided that it becomes more than just a ceremonial post where they have foreign affairs and so on and all these things. Could you confirm that that this was really made in a suggestion by the Vice President, who has been speaking to everybody?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we’re not picking any winners in this. We don’t have any favorite candidates for any office. That said, we believe that all four winning blocs, including Iraqiya and State of Law and others, should be able to play a role in the new government.
QUESTION: Would you be willing to lean on the Kurds in this case if they insist on keeping the presidency, but a solution for the deadlock would be in giving the presidency to Allawi?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re looking for the emergence of an inclusive government. The Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, and others have to all feel if there’s a government that is working on their behalf. That’s been our position for the past six months.
QUESTION: And you would not have any problem of having the Sadrists be part of the government?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, these are decisions for the Iraqi Government to make based on the electoral results that emerged last spring.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On the (inaudible), is there any development on the negotiations with Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey about missile defense – missile defense systems before the NATO summit?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know. I’ll take that question.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. (Laughter.) I mean, we average something like 2,000 a day and in the immediate aftermath, we’ve had roughly 8,000 a day. So it has increased by four-fold based on the Travel Alert on Sunday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: The Secretary had lunch or met today with Warren and Susie Buffett?
MR. CROWLEY: Today.
QUESTION: Was that personal or public business? And if it was public, what were they talking about?
MR. CROWLEY: They were talking about what we’re trying to accomplish, broadly speaking, in the area of global health and we’re looking to make sure that what we are doing on the public side can be effectively coordinated with what’s done on the private side.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any --
MR. CROWLEY: A little bit, but we’ve been in communication with DHS, and through DHS, the Transportation Security Administration. They are the lead agency in this case. But we are aware of an incident onboard that airplane.
QUESTION: P.J., in the – what seems to be the perpetually ongoing saga of Viktor Bout –
MR. CROWLEY: I was waiting for you to get to that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thai courts seem to have cleared the way now. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there’s still – under Thai law, there is a kind of a procedural period of time following today’s ruling, but we look forward to having Viktor Bout in a prison near us very soon.
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. CROWLEY: You’re channeling Matt now? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There’s a procedural – sorry, what’s your understanding of the –
MR. CROWLEY: I believe, actually, there is a mandatory kind of waiting period --
QUESTION: A forever? (Laughter.) A Russian year? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: But we believe after this mandatory period under Thai law, we look forward to a speedy extradition of Viktor Bout to the United States.
QUESTION: But the Thai prime minister has said that he has the final word on this. Have you been in touch --
MR. CROWLEY: Which is true.
QUESTION: And so have you been in touch --
MR. CROWLEY: The Thai Government is very --
QUESTION: -- now that it’s out of the courts --
MR. CROWLEY: The Thai Government is very well aware of our views on this case.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)
DPB # 161