1:30 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Three quick items to talk about before taking your questions. Secretary Clinton is on her way to Brussels, where she will participate along with Secretary Gates in a -- what they call the jumbo NATO ministerial coming up tomorrow. But today in Kosovo, the Secretary met with acting President Krasniqi, Prime Minister Thaci, Foreign Minister Hyseni. She then traveled to Gracanica, a Serb-majority municipality near Pristina, where she met with municipal leaders in the Kosovo Serb community and visited the Gracanica Monastery. She also, in Pristina, held meetings with leadership of several women’s groups, other civil society leaders, and youth from all ethnic groups as we continue to work with the Serbs, the Bosnians, and the Kosovars on moves towards greater interaction, recognition, and cooperation within a united Europe.
Turning to Chile, I think we’ve all been inspired by what we’ve been seeing in Copiapo over the last hours, days, and weeks. But the United States joins the world in cheering the rescue of the first miners from the San Jose mine near Copiapo. And our thoughts and prayers remain with those who have not yet safely returned to the surface. But we salute the Government of Chile, which has demonstrated great leadership throughout this ordeal, and we applaud the skill and professionalism of those who have worked to engineer the miners’ rescue. And the United States is proud to have played a very small part through NASA and the private sector in contributing to this wonderful moment. And we look forward to celebrating the return of all of the Chilean miners to the surface.
And finally before taking your questions, the United States welcomes the decision of Uganda’s Constitutional Court, which yesterday dismissed long-standing treason charges against Forum for Democratic Change president Kizza Besigye. Functioning democracies require an independent judiciary, and we believe the court’s decision to dismiss these charges reflects such independence. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is an encouraging sign for the independence of the Ugandan judiciary. It also underscores the importance of ensuring that opposition leaders have the legal and political space to campaign freely and without fear of prosecution from the state.
With that, I’ll be happy to take your questions. Michel.
QUESTION: On the peace process, yesterday, you asked the Palestinian Authority to put proposals or offers on the table. Today, Yasser Abed Rabbo has came with this proposal asking the U.S. Administration and the Israeli Government to provide a map of the borders of the state of Israel which they want us to recognize, as Abed Rabbo has said. What is your reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, I think what we are seeing does represent the interest in the parties in continuing this effort. This is exactly the right conversation that the Israelis and Palestinians need to have to be exchanging ideas on how to advance this process to a successful conclusion. But it also is a reminder of the limitation of making offers and counteroffers by long distance and through the media as opposed to sitting down face-to-face in a direct negotiation.
So this underscores exactly why we feel it is imperative for the Israelis and Palestinians to stay committed to direct negotiations. So they’re having exactly the right conversation. The only difference is this conversation has to take place face-to-face where eventually they can address both the core issues and the derivatives in pursuit of mutually recognized states and security for all.
So this underscores why we believe it’s vitally important for both sides to do everything possible to stay in these negotiations, and in fact, to move to a point where we can once again have them sit down face-to-face and get into a direct discussion about these central issues.
QUESTION: Do you have any map that you can provide to the Palestinian Authority?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what they’re asking for is the essence of the negotiation – what are the borders of a future Palestinian state, and conversely, what will be the borders of the Israeli state. This is a core issue and this is something that only a direct negotiation can resolve. So it is perfectly legitimate for the Palestinians to say, “What will the shape of a future Palestinian state be?” But again, to resolve this question and to move forward, the direct negotiations have to continue.
QUESTION: What’s your position regarding the 1967 borders?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our position is that borders is a final status issue and must be resolved inside the negotiations.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Wait.
QUESTION: The Israeli security forces have battled many Palestinians or have been training in the – an area that is called Hattin in preparation for the segregation implementation – Israeli segregation policy implementation later on when they are planning to eradicate the Palestinians out of their land and homes based on the new law that is supposed to tie your eligibility for a Palestinian – for an Israeli citizenship, tie it with the condition that you must profess your loyalty and recognition to Israel as a Jewish state. So this is a religious condition that goes against every democratic principle and against the framework of peace process.
What do you – what does the United States believe and think of this Israeli policy, then?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we talked about that somewhat yesterday. I mean, Israel is a pluralistic democracy. It guarantees the equal rights of all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. I’ll defer to the Israeli Government in terms of the question of citizenship oath. But we feel strongly that Israel is a functioning democracy, and as such, has a responsibility to protect the rights and privileges of all of its citizens.
QUESTION: Do you believe – does it continue to be what you believe as a democratic state after any implementation of segregation and eradication of the Palestinians who lived in – on that land for thousands of years, based on the fact that it will not – would not recognize their citizenship as a – citizens who would profess that Israel is only for the Jewish people, not for them as Palestinians who lived in there for thousands of years?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, you underscore exactly why we have made the commitment to pursue a final agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So the borders of a Palestinian state will be clear; the borders of an Israeli state will be clear. The nature of a Palestinian state will be for all to see and to participate in; the nature of an Israeli state living in peace with its neighbors will have that same right.
This is exactly why the direct negotiations have to continue. This is the only way to reach an agreement that ends the conflict once and for all and ends decades of suffering on all sides.
QUESTION: Any update on the Senator Mitchell trip to the Middle East?
MR. CROWLEY: Nothing to announce.
QUESTION: On Afghan peace process, the High Peace Council has started its work today. What role do you see for the U.S. in the peace process there? And secondly, is the U.S. willing to consider one of the major conditions from Taliban that the U.S.-led international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan for permanent peace in the country?
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Lalit, give me that second part again.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. willing to consider one of the major conditions of Taliban that the U.S.-led international forces to withdraw from Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not plan to remain in Afghanistan forever, the President has made clear. I think he is supported by the leaders of other countries that are contributing to the international force that eventually, the responsibility for security in Afghanistan will transition from the national force to Afghan National Security Forces. The pace of that will depend on progress in training, which is ongoing, and conditions on the ground. But we – the United States and the international community have every intention of transitioning to an Afghan-led security force.
We plan to remain committed to Afghanistan in terms of helping to develop Afghanistan’s economy, Afghanistan’s governance, promote civil society, an inclusive society within Afghanistan. Just as we’ve seen in Iraq over time, you’ll see a transition from a process that is largely dependent on military force to a process that is increasingly dependent on a civilian effort. How long that will take, who knows. But we are fully committed to turning over full responsibility of security within Afghanistan to the Afghan people and the Afghan Government. When that occurs, it’s hard to predict at this point.
In terms of the efforts of the Afghan Government towards reconciliation and reintegration, we are fully supportive of that strategy, but it will be an Afghan-led process because ultimately it will be defining the nature of a future Afghanistan state, and we certainly hope and will support efforts for people to be committed to a stable and secure and peaceful Afghanistan state.
QUESTION: I have one more question. It is now more than 20 months that Ambassador Holbrooke was appointed as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. What is Secretary’s impression about his role and performance in this 20 months and has there been performance overview?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Holbrooke is leading the day-to-day execution of the President’s strategy on the civilian side of the equation. He has assembled a team that includes representation from across the American Government and, in fact, includes significant participation from other international partners in this effort. And we are enormously pleased with the effort that Ambassador Holbrooke is leading and he will continue as he is at the present time. He is in Europe consulting with our international partners. He will be with the Secretary in Brussels. And we’ll be continuing to work as hard as we can to see this process advance.
QUESTION: Is his appointment open-ended or there’s a term attached to it – two years, three years, four years?
MR. CROWLEY: There’s – I’m not aware – Ambassador Holbrooke is not term-limited.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I know you talked about this yesterday with Ahmadinejad’s visit in Lebanon. But does the U.S. have a position on – and have you articulated this position to the Lebanese Government – on Lebanon’s participation in the Hariri tribunal? It seems that Hariri is under a bit of pressure right now to withdraw from that from Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we support the tribunal. We think it should be free of any political influence, whether it’s from within Lebanon or outside of Lebanon. And we continue to believe that everyone involved should continue to support the tribunal as it moves to adjudicate this particular case. The work of the tribunal is essential to the future of Lebanon. It’s got – it has to be clear that there can be no impunity for the kind of political assassination that we saw with the death of former Prime Minister Hariri.
QUESTION: And can I just follow up? Are you – it seems like the current government is under a lot of pressure to withdraw Lebanese cooperation and participation in the tribunal. Have you done anything to try to mitigate that? Have you said anything about this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary met last month with President Suleiman at the UN, and we did discuss the tribunal and we indicated our commitment to continue to support the tribunal as it does its important work.
QUESTION: Have you watched the reception that President Ahmadinejad had in Lebanon and what’s your reaction to that?
MR. CROWLEY: Have I watched? No. I’m fascinated by the efforts at the Chilean mine.
QUESTION: One more on Lebanon.
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold --
QUESTION: Yeah, but an Israeli official has said today that Iranian president’s visit mark the completion of transforming Lebanon into a state that lives under the auspices of Iran, thus Lebanon has joined the axis of the extreme states that oppose the peace process and supporting terrorism. Do you agree with this statement?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is why the United States is committed to Lebanon’s security and sovereignty. We understand that there are both states like Iran and sub-groups like Hezbollah that are trying to undermine the effectiveness of the national government and the sovereignty of Lebanon itself. We are committed to Lebanon’s security. We continue to work directly with the government. And as we said yesterday, we are – have strong suspicions about the motives of Iran and its – the groups that it supports who do not have Lebanon’s long-term interest at heart.
QUESTION: Can I just – one more on Lebanon?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports that Ahmadinejad will extend his stay on Friday to meet with Prime Minister Erdogan and that this could be an Iranian-Turkish attempt to resolve the tribunal crisis. Do you have any thoughts on Turkish-Iranian cooperation in Lebanon? Is that shunting the U.S. role aside?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Turkey is a neighbor of Iran. It has been an effective interlocutor in discussing with Iran and encouraging Iran to play a more constructive role in the region and to effectively engage the international community. If such a meeting takes place at the end of the week, we would hope that Prime Minister Erdogan would continue to deliver that strong message that Iran, having been a less-than-constructive player in the region, should change directions, but – and more broadly, should engage the international community on the range of issues and concerns that we have, not the least of which is the true nature of its nuclear program.
QUESTION: Ahmadinejad has offered to provide Lebanon with arms. Do you have any concern regarding this point?
MR. CROWLEY: I know of nothing about – I mean, the real question is: If there are arms shipments into Iran, will they be under the control of the national government? And the essence of sovereignty for any government is having a monopoly on the significant use of force. A challenge for Lebanon is the fact that you have outside players who are providing military capabilities to sub-state groups such as Hezbollah.
So we would naturally have concern that the provision of any arms into Lebanon would not be for the benefit of the national government; it would be to strengthen groups like Hezbollah, which both undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon itself, but also pose a tremendous security risk to the region as a whole. So I think we would be very concerned about that effort, which is one of the reasons why we remain committed to building up institutions of government within Lebanon, including support for the Lebanese military.
QUESTION: One final question on Ahmadinejad. He is going to the south tomorrow. Do you expect any escalation of tension in the region?
MR. CROWLEY: We have very well-stated concerns about the role that Iran is currently playing in the region, and we’ll watch carefully what President Ahmadinejad does.
QUESTION: Today, you tweeted that we have seen in one day what we did not see in 10 years or something. So would you like to share what more you have learned about Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I was commenting on the fact that North Korea opened its doors ever so slightly for a celebration this weekend. It invited the international news media to come to Pyongyang to observe the country and its parade and so forth. Even – there were even media reports that the internet was working in Pyongyang. For a society that has traditionally been as closed as North Korea, we would hope that North Korea will continue to have the door open so the region and the world can learn more about what is happening there.
QUESTION: But the eldest son of – is – has given a statement that he’s happy that his younger brother is – but is the U.S. in touch with him or trying to –
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: P.J., Ambassador Chris Hill said he does not expect North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons. So any comment?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Start again.
QUESTION: He said –
MR. CROWLEY: Who was talking?
QUESTION: Chris Hill.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. He says?
QUESTION: He does not expect North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
MR. CROWLEY: He does not expect North Korea to –
QUESTION: To abandon its nuclear weapons.
MR. CROWLEY: -- abandon its nuclear weapons?
QUESTION: Yeah, so any comment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that remains the fundamental choice for North Korea. And it is an either/or proposition that so far North Korea has not been willing to accept. North Korea can have nuclear weapons, but it will not have normal relations with the rest of the world or the United States. If it desires normal relations with the United States and other countries in the region, then it should follow through on commitments it has made, but has not yet followed through to abandon its nuclear programs and begin steps to denuclearize.
QUESTION: Lots of the former Chinese communist leaders have written a letter asking Beijing to remove censorship from the media and other restrictions. What U.S. has to say on this – on the media censorship in China and human rights violation there?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think that freedom of expression, freedom of assembly are universal rights. They are fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in international agreements, including international agreements that China has accepted and has signed on to. And we certainly are supportive of the sentiment behind that manifesto.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what her visit to the Balkans underscores is our commitment to the region and to integration in Europe. Her message in Sarajevo, in Belgrade, and in Pristina has been the same, which is you have to overcome existing tensions and historic divisions and there are opportunities that present themselves in terms of integration and membership within the EU and integration and membership down the road with NATO. But there are responsibilities that the parties – that the countries have to take now, affirmative steps to end these existing divisions within their respective societies, and move to dialogue that in the case of Serbia and Kosovo can ultimately, hopefully, lead to mutual recognition.
We were successful working with the international community 15 years ago in ending the conflict in the Balkans, but we have not yet seen as much movement as we need to see in terms of the end of tensions and divisions within societies in those respective countries. So I think she was there to remind these countries there are tremendous opportunities that are available to them. We have a keen, significant interest in seeing the complete integration throughout Europe. There’s great promise there. There’s great opportunity. But there are steps that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Kosovo need to take if they are to take advantage of these opportunities.
QUESTION: Any indicator – any one of the parties in there who is less cooperative with the ambitions --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, I think that what we’ve seen is that in each case, some progress has been made on critical issues but more needs to be done, so part of her trip was to continue to encourage them to continue to address the outstanding issues that are there and to perhaps accelerate the pace of change and reform.
QUESTION: A few months ago, Afghanistan president had issued a decree for closing all the private security firms by December, and then U.S. had expressed its reservation on that decree and you said you are in talks with Kabul. Have you reached at any conclusion or working solution on that issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to support the Afghan Government’s intent to properly regulate the activities of private security companies in Afghanistan. We are working urgently with the Afghan Government to clarify implementation of this decree so that development and reconstruction efforts are not negatively affected. So we continue in close consultation with Afghanistan as we work through the implementation of this decree.
QUESTION: Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is visiting the Damascus today and meeting President Asad there. Do you – after a one year of boycott between the two parties, do you view any role that Syria can play in the formation of the Iraqi Government?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the formation of the Iraqi Government, these are fundamental decisions that Iraq itself must make. And they should make these decisions without outside interference. That said, there is an important role for other countries in the region, including the United States, to encourage Iraq and its political leaders to put aside political interests and work more intensively to form an inclusive government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and recognizing that all of the major blocs that achieved significant support during the election six months ago deserve to play a role in Iraq’s future.
But that said, we are certainly supportive of the dialogue that has occurred today between Syria and Iraq. They must have – they should have constructive relations so that each can play an appropriate role to help reintegrate Iraq into the region.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)
DPB # 166
# # #