1:27 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. I think the first thing to do is welcome – in the back of the room we have some cadets visiting us from Egypt. Welcome to the State Department briefing room. We look forward to the meeting tomorrow between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit to talk about a variety of regional issues, including the status of the – our efforts on Middle East peace.
But to begin in Haiti, we obviously continue to work very closely with the Haitian Government and its Ministry of Public Health in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas. There are 16 treatment centers that have been established in Port-au-Prince by the Government of Haiti and these are doing an effective job, as we indicated yesterday, in increasing the Haitian Government’s surveillance efforts to evaluate both the ongoing cholera outbreak and the potential impact that the rains from Hurricane Tomas is having. We can confirm at this point roughly 8,100 – the precise number is 8,138 cholera cases have been identified thus far; 544 people have died from complications of cholera; and obviously, the Haitian Government, in establishing these treatment centers, fully anticipates – as I think there were some earlier reports of an increase in cholera cases in and around the capital.
That said, the aggressive response by the Government of Haiti, in cooperation with international partners, we think should help to contain the outbreak. Obviously, tragically, we know that people will die from cholera even though it is a very treatable disease. But through a combination of the improved surveillance, the prepositioned stocks that are on hand in Haiti, that Haiti is well positioned to contain the outbreak, and we would expect to see, as we’ve seen in recent years – actually, the mortality rate relative to the number of cases has gone down fairly dramatically.
I would also tell you – you’ve have had some questions recently about the status of the supplemental funding that was approved by Congress. We have completed the process that was laid out in the supplemental appropriation. The spend plan has been approved, the way has been cleared, and we have transferred the first tranche of money, $120 million, to the Department of Treasury. Treasury over the next day will in turn be transferring that money to the World Bank for the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. So having completed the process as outlined in the appropriation, we are now moving aggressively to commit that money to Haiti’s reconstruction.
Second topic – was in touch with the EU High Representative’s Office a short time ago. I believe they have confirmed and have indicated to us that Iran has, in fact, responded to Catherine Ashton, her invitation. Dr. Jalili has sent a formal response. Iran has proposed a couple of tentative dates. I would expect there will be consultations within the P-5+1 in the next day or two. I wouldn’t be surprised – there may well be a call between High Representative Ashton and Secretary Clinton this afternoon. I believe there will be a political directors conference call probably tomorrow, and we will work to try to nail down with Iran a specific date and location for this meeting.
And lastly, yesterday you asked about – a question of Iraqi Christians and whether there has been any specific requests for asylum in the aftermath of the reprehensible attack recently. The answer is no, but we have not seen any reports of widespread displacement or resettlement. But we are in close contact with Iraq and the UNHCR. We do actually have programs that are already established and functioning. Since 2007, more than 53,000 Iraqi refugees have been resettled in the United States. So we have a program that is available to anyone who has these concerns. But in the immediate aftermath, we have not seen any specific requests.
QUESTION: What’s that number again – the date and the number for Iraqis?
MR. CROWLEY: Since 2007, 53,700 Iraqi refugees have settled in the United States. So we have aggressively worked this over the course of years and obviously we’re poised to be of further assistance. But we’ve seen nothing in the aftermath of that particular attack.
QUESTION: P.J., on the Iranian response to the EU invitation, are we talking about a meeting of the P-5+1 with them or are we talking about the smaller Vienna Group meeting with them, for one thing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think potentially, we would like to see activity, both within the context of the P-5+1 and also with the context of the IAEA. We’re open to Iran engaging through both channels. Right now, we are – Catherine Ashton did propose a meeting later this month, and Iran has now indicated it is prepared to move ahead, and we will try to lock in a date and location very quickly. But to the extent that Iraq wants – I’m sorry – Iran wishes to pursue the Tehran research reactor proposal, we are open to that, and that could be something that is done within the context of the Vienna Group and through the IAEA, because there are obviously some technical aspects that would have to be fulfilled for that to go forward, including the status of material that is shipped out of Iran, who controls it and so forth.
QUESTION: But the meeting we’re talking about, and whether it’s November 15th or in December or whenever it is, we’re talking about a P-5+1 meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: We are prepared to move forward with a P-5+1 meeting, and we’d hoped that that might occur as early as the end of this month.
QUESTION: And has the group agreed on the updated proposal that you have referred to in the past?
MR. CROWLEY: That is something we still are consulting with our partners on.
QUESTION: There was originally a suggestion, and more than a suggestion, that the first meeting would be between Ashton and Jalili alone, a sort of get to know you meeting. Is that what we’re talking about here?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we will consult and see how to move forward, but we are prepared to have a P-5+1 meeting at a mutually agreeable time and location.
QUESTION: I believe Turkey has come forward and said that it’s going to be hosting these talks. Do you know anything about that? And do you know – how do you see the role of Turkey in this engagement, since –
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe that we’ve arrived at this point at either a date or a location. But that will be what we will be consulting with our partners and then, in turn, back to Iran.
QUESTION: But the role of Turkey and where you see them fitting in, in the –
MR. CROWLEY: I think our immediate focus is to have a meeting of the P-5+1. That was what occurred just over a year ago. And we would like to see a series of meetings. Those meetings could happen in different locations. So we’re open to a variety of ideas here, but I think what we’re focused on, on one side, is a P-5+1 meeting. Now, our major concern is, of course, Iran’s nuclear intentions. But within the context of the P-5+1, we’re open for other issues that might be discussed.
Obviously, in any kind of engagement that would occur with the IAEA in the context of the TRR, there’s potential for that kind of a meeting as well. But I think our immediate focus here is to try to get, not just one meeting, but a process through which, through the P-5+1, we can address our concerns about Iran’s nuclear programs and any other issues that Iran wants to bring to the table.
QUESTION: Iran’s response said specifically they want – they think it should take place in Turkey, which seems to be an effort to bring at least the Turks in, and potentially the Brazilians, given that they were the facilitators of the last offer. What’s your view on whether or not, if we are talking about the TRR at this stage, should the Turks and the Brazilians be a part of it?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, let’s – I’ll come back to what we would like to have is a meeting within the context of the P-5+1. If we get a process going, then we’ll see where that process leads. But we want to see a return to the kind of meeting that we had just over a year ago. We thought it was a productive meeting, and we’d like to see it be a series of meetings, not just one. These are difficult, complex issues. And clearly, none of these issues can be resolved in a single meeting.
QUESTION: Did the Iranians make clear in their response that they’re talking about the same thing you’re talking about, a P-5+1, or are they talking about a broader group?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re going to have a conversation back through High Representative Ashton, but we – Iran appears in its response to be open to a meeting, and relatively soon, and we’re going to try to lock down a date, a location, and then begin to work the details of the meeting.
QUESTION: They’re open to a P-5+1 meeting, you say?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, that is – I believe that we are talking about having a P-5+1 meeting as soon as one can be put together.
QUESTION: P.J., if the Iranians say we’ll – we’re ready to have a meeting, but not to talk about our nuclear intentions, is the U.S. willing to go to the meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s a – Charlie, that’s a hypothetical. At the top of our list is Iran’s nuclear intentions. I mean, notwithstanding – as I recall, there were similar suggestions, publicly, prior to the meeting last year, but when we got together, the nuclear issue was of paramount importance in that meeting.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR. CROWLEY: No, not yet. Not so fast.
QUESTION: You just said – what Charlie was saying, you immediately said that that might be a hypothetical issue, but we’re hearing from Iranian officials that they only want to talk – they will talk about anything but their nuclear program.
MR. CROWLEY: I –
QUESTION: So are you going to get –
MR. CROWLEY: Wait a second. We are – we want a meeting, and at that meeting we plan to talk about the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: So this doesn’t surprise you, what’s happening?
MR. CROWLEY: No. And I’m not certain that’s actually the Iranian position either.
QUESTION: My question is about the Turkey aspect. Do you have any opposition to Turkey hosting this meeting if that’s what Iran wants?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, look, first and foremost, we want a meeting. We want to put it together as soon as possible in a location that is convenient for all of the participants. We’ll consult tomorrow and then respond with our own answer to the Iranian response. If we are successful in getting a process going, not just one meeting but a series of meetings and a serious engagement on the nuclear issue and other issues, we can envision that there would be many potential locations for this series of meetings. But we’ll consult in the next day with our partners in the P-5+1 process, or for the Europeans the E-3+3 process, and then we’ll respond formally to Iran through High Representative Ashton.
QUESTION: Is Turkey convenient for you?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see. We’re going to consult with our partners.
QUESTION: But don’t you need to have an agreement, an advance agreement about the agenda. Because the Iranians are imposing their own agenda.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, Samir, these are all good questions. We want to lock in a date and location and then we’ll make clear what we’re prepared to talk about. Iran will probably have its own issues. As I recall, last year, the meeting was predominately about the nuclear issue, but on the sidelines there was the opportunity to talk about other things. And we’ll come to the table prepared to talk about a range of issues. But, obviously, at the top of our list is the Iran nuclear program.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more. One more. One more thing on the process here. I just want to make sure. What we’re talking about first is a meeting between Ashton and the Iranians and this –
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t –
QUESTION: -- potential P-5+1 that you’re talking about.
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know. It’s –
QUESTION: But isn’t Ashton – was initially an offer to have her –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s –
QUESTION: -- letter sent to them?
MR. CROWLEY: Put it this way. If you’ll go back to prior meetings – were preceded by a meeting between an Iranian representative and the European high representative. I mean, it depends. The – Iran offered a couple of dates. We have a couple of dates in mind. It may well be that there’s a preliminary meeting. It may well be that we go right to the first meeting. I’m not prejudging both what we’re prepared to do and what Iran is prepared to do. We will consult with High Representative Ashton in the next day, and then we want to get this process going, and we want it to be a process.
QUESTION: And Under Secretary Bill Burns will be the U.S. representative if and when there’s a meeting in the next couple weeks?
MR. CROWLEY: I would expect it would be at political director’s level. Yes.
QUESTION: And just to go back to the TRR update, can you give us a sense of how far along those talks are? Do you plan to present a new proposal when this meeting does –
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, in the meeting last year, we put the TRR proposal on the table. That is something that we are prepared to offer, an updated version of that. It’s possible that this could be something that is discussed again, if and when a meeting takes place.
QUESTION: Different subject. On the Israeli announcement today, the 1500 new apartments in East Jerusalem, yesterday you said that somebody in Israel has made this known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process. Do you –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I suggested that as a possibility.
QUESTION: Yeah. But today prime minister’s –Israeli prime minister’s office has issued a statement defending the announcement, saying that Jerusalem is not a settlement; it’s the capital of the state of Israel. Israel sees no link between the peace process and its development plans in Jerusalem. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties, as we have insisted all along, that they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation. So to suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side, I think, is incorrect. We do understand that Israel has its own position on these kinds of announcements. That said, we have indicated that we think these kinds of announcements at this time are – even if there’s a process that’s going to carry over for months, if not years – are counterproductive to our efforts to get the parties into a direct negotiation. So we haven’t changed our view.
QUESTION: But the prime minister’s statement came immediately after, or very soon after the President made his own criticism of the settlement announcement. Doesn’t this appear – don’t they appear to be hardening their position or explicitly rejecting the U.S. stance on this, going into the second phase of --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, the Secretary looks forward to her meeting with the prime minister on Thursday. I have confidence that this will be among the subjects discussed.
QUESTION: Do you think she’ll be expressing her invitation? I mean, it sounds like –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m confident that there will be a meeting in New York.
QUESTION: – from the language that there is some –
MR. CROWLEY: Just on that point, we’re still working on the venue. I think it’ll be probably -- the meeting will start somewhere early in the morning, around 9 o’clock. We’re still trying to nail down precisely where it will take place.
QUESTION: At the Plaza?
MR. CROWLEY: There have been a couple of different possibilities broached.
QUESTION: The Palestinians have responded, saying that the Israelis are going to take unilateral action; the international community should go ahead and create a state of Palestine.
MR. CROWLEY: And this is why we’ve had a consistent position throughout that both sides have to avoid unilateral actions that really poison the atmosphere and prevent progress towards negotiations, which, again, is the only means through which we can resolve these issues once and for all.
QUESTION: What can you say about the process now? Is there any process – is there anything –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s absolutely a process. What we’re looking for is to make progress, and that is something that we continue to aggressively seek.
QUESTION: The announcement of the transfer of funds to the Palestinians – will this be new money, or from the 900 million of last year?
MR. CROWLEY: Samir, you’re asking me to step on tomorrow’s news. Look, we have been a – the leading contributor to the Palestinian Authority in the ongoing efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to make a difference on the ground in the Palestinian territories. We’re in a new fiscal year. We’ll have the opportunity to make an additional contribution to the Palestinian Authority, and beyond that we’ll wait for the Secretary’s visit here tomorrow.
QUESTION: So is this additional to the 900 million?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we have obviously contributed a significant amount of money to the Palestinian Authority to support its ongoing efforts at building the institutions that will be vital to a future Palestinian state. We are in a position with a new fiscal year to make an additional contribution, and I’ll leave it there in terms of a teaser, and we’ll wait for more details tomorrow.
QUESTION: P.J., (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: In the Secretary’s meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister tomorrow, is she going to have any special focus on, for instance, the Arab League and what they may or may not be doing in the next couple of weeks? Does she have any special requests?
MR. CROWLEY: I would anticipate the meeting tomorrow with foreign minister Aboul Gheit will cover bilateral issues. Egypt is approaching – important elections coming up. We’ll talk about Middle East peace. The Egyptians have had their own meetings in the region in recent days, and I’m sure will give the Secretary an update on their perspective. And clearly, what happens in terms of regional support for our ongoing efforts is a critical dimension of that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Since the launch of the – of President Obama’s initiative for peace in the Middle East, we have seen nothing from the Israelis but lip service from the prime minister of Israel concerning the peace on one side. On the other side, they are building faster than ever their new settlements on the Arab lands. Now, the only comforting thing in the Middle East is the – what they hear from Secretary Clinton is her determination along with the President, President Obama, about pursuing the peace process.
But now, do you all have any new look or new strategy to deal with this lip service kind of policy of the Israelis when it comes to peace that you could really do something that would make a difference from now on, since they have proven that they don’t really have sincerity pursuing this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me unpack your question and perhaps challenge some ingredients in there. We are focused on the direct negotiation. It is the only path to obtain the peace that we believe is vitally important for the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, the Syrian people, the Lebanese people, and everyone else in the region. This is the only way forward. It’s not about lip service; it’s about a negotiation. It’s not about making one-off gestures. It’s about the means of tackling the very complex issues and unwinding the difficult history in the region and focusing on the future, not being a captive to the past.
We are determined, as you said, and this is why the Secretary has been intensely engaged. The President has been engaged. George Mitchell and others have made countless trips to the region. And we appreciate the efforts of others, including Senator Kerry, who has made – had his own discussions. And recall that we’re talking about multiple contexts here, not just peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but peace between the Israelis and the Syrians, and the Israelis and the Lebanese. We are determined to try to make progress on all paths towards a comprehensive peace. That is our goal. When we came into this, we knew this would be difficult, but we are determined and we are continuing to work with the parties to try to find a way to make progress.
QUESTION: Sir, I just want to make sure that – I meant the Israelis’ lip service, not American lip service. I didn’t mean in any way that American --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, if you’re in a direct negotiation, then – I mean, I recognize that outside of a negotiation, there can be just the back and forth of public comments. That’s why we are pressing both sides because inside a negotiation, you’re dealing with the substance, and that’s where we want the parties to go.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry seems to have had a good visit with President Asad, and President Asad has praised President Obama’s efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. But do you have any reading of the meeting, as State Department?
MR. CROWLEY: I am confident that we have received a back brief from Senator Kerry. I have not, so I – but I – it was important meetings that he had both in Damascus and in Beirut, and it demonstrates that we are – we recognize that we are in search of comprehensive peace, and that remains our focus.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One question, but following on Senator Kerry. This weekend, you guys were announcing that the U.S. would take Sudan off the terrorism list earlier. I wonder if they have these referenda and I wonder if you’ve had any sort of response from the Sudanese, whether you’ve seen any sort of improvement.
MR. CROWLEY: General Gration and Ambassador Princeton Lyman remain engaged with former South African President Thabo Mbeki and the parties. We have had a series of discussions with Sudanese officials, both over the weekend and since then. And we are continuing to do everything that we can to have the parties live up to their obligations under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We’re focused on the fact we’re now barely two months from the scheduled referendum on South Sudan.
We’ve got no time to waste. A lot has to be done, a lot is being done, and there are preparations that are underway in terms of registration and training of poll workers who will be vitally important to carry off a successful referendum. Discussions continue on Abyei and we will continue to hold the parties to their obligation to a referendum on Abyei, likewise on January 9th, unless they arrive at an alternative that is mutually agreeable to both sides.
QUESTION: So did this offer at all change the atmosphere in those discussions?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it has had the desired effect. They recognize the – that it represents yet a – both a further commitment by the United States. We are putting real, tangible benefits to Sudan on the table. And I need to again emphasize that what we put on the table this weekend is contingent on a successful referendum, respect for the results, constructive work during the post-referendum phase, and meeting the legal requirements to have a country removed from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. But it demonstrates that the United States is prepared to follow up aggressively on a path towards a different kind of relationship with Sudan if Sudan, along with South Sudan, meets its obligations under the CPA.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the U.S. pretty consistently is saying that it was committed to full implementation of the CPA, but now it sounds as though you’re saying full implementation of the CPA or half implementation of the CPA and a side deal on Abyei, if that’s agreeable. Is that a different – is that a change in tack?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s a recognition of the calendar. The parties have agreed on many of the details on the referendum on South Sudan. They have not agreed on the details of the referendum on Abyei. So while it is theoretically possible that the referendum could still go on on schedule regarding Abyei, we recognize that that is increasingly problematic. We are not relieving the parties of their obligation. Today, they’re obliged to cooperate and schedule a referendum on Abyei on January 9th. We’re not taking anybody off the hook. But we recognize that given that there is not agreement between North and South on the details of that referendum, if they are able to arrive at a different course of action, that is up to them. But it has to be a mutually agreeable alternative, and that’s – those – that’s part of the discussion that is still going on in Khartoum.
QUESTION: Is it your view that that likelihood is increasing, that they may be able to reach a deal without a referendum?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, this – the responsibility here is on the parties. They have an obligation today to hold a referendum on Abyei on January 9th, and we are holding them to that requirement. If they are able to agree on an alternative, that is up to them.
QUESTION: The Egyptian foreign minister is suggesting a (inaudible) system between the North and the South. Do you support – do you accept such an idea?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we – inside the CPA there is a – the right of the people of South Sudan to decide on their future. And we’ll see how the people of South Sudan – what their decision is in the referendum on January 9th , and we will respect those results.
QUESTION: Sir, just to get back on Abyei, as you – would that arrogation of the Abyei element of the CPA deal – would that require ratification by the guarantors of the CPA, i.e. Norway and the UK and so on? Or is that something that North and South Sudan could decide between the two of them and present as a fait accompli?
MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, the guarantors of the CPA, including the United States, we are working cooperatively with the international community in supporting this process. It is up to the parties to decide – to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to Abyei and – but it’s their responsibility first and foremost.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, nope. I’m mindful that we’ve got a White House briefing coming up in a couple of minutes, so we’ll make this the last one.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re pleased that Japan may be considering taking steps that could help pave the way for its eventual membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan is a valuable and critical part of the transpacific economic system. The TPP, as it’s called, is a regional free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated among APEC economics. They share our vision of a high-standard, 21st century agreement. But we are encouraged by Japan’s interest and movement towards trade liberalization.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)
DPB # 184