11:24 a.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon – good morning and welcome to the Department of State. We’re doing kind of an unusual double-header today. We’ll have the Main State briefing here this morning, and then we will have a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in New York this afternoon. So –
QUESTION: With you?
MR. CROWLEY: Huh?
QUESTION: With you?
MR. CROWLEY: With me. So, which – those of you accredited with the Washington Foreign Press Center can participate in, and those of you on the domestic side can certainly listen in.
Anyway, just to start off, the United States is pleased to announce that we’ll host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day in 2011 from May 1 to May 3 here in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with a mandate to promote freedom of expression, and its corollary, freedom of the press. The theme for this commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. Obviously, we decided upon this before the latest round of news.
The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. There certainly is an irony here. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to the exercise of freedom of – for the right of freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor or silence individuals and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.
This afternoon, Secretary Clinton will meet with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere to discuss a wide range of issues, including the forthcoming referendum on Sudan, the Middle East peace process, our partnership in Afghanistan, and the strengthening of the Arctic Council. They will also discuss the New START Treaty, developments in Burma and various aspects of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
Also, this afternoon, the Secretary is meeting with a coalition of 11 human rights NGOs. The purpose of the meeting is for the Secretary to listen to their concerns and discuss areas where we can combine efforts to promote human rights. And groups include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House, to name a few.
QUESTION: P.J., a question --
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, one more, just – we – in Africa, we continue to monitor the situation in Cote d'Ivoire and to engage with relevant actors and the international community to establish a way forward that fully respects the will of the Ivoirian people. I think ECOWAS is going to be meeting today.
And from our standpoint, we see two possible paths for Cote d'Ivoire going forward, in particular the choice that confronts President Gbagbo. There are two paths that he can take – one that leads to continued progress for his country and his people, preservation of the institution of democracy, and one that maintains Cote d'Ivoire’s role as a leader in Africa. The other path is one that leads to isolation from the global community, and most particularly from the African neighbors of Cote d'Ivoire. We hope that President Gbagbo in the coming days will make the right choice.
QUESTION: Does that imply that the U.S. is calling on him to step aside immediately?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the – well, let’s put this in context. Cote d'Ivoire had an election. The international community judged the election as free and fair. The result was clear, which is a victory for the challenger in the election. It is time for President Gbagbo to recognize the will of the people of Cote d'Ivoire and embark on a peaceful transition. So it’s not something – the United States is calling on the president to respect the will and a clear, decisive victory by Mr. Ouattara.
QUESTION: Could we stay on Cote d'Ivoire?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that there might be a sectarian war between the Muslim north and the Christian south?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re – we are obviously concerned that if the current government makes the wrong choices, there could very well be the risk of violence. Our Embassy, led ably by Phillip Carter, is engaged with civil society trying to do everything possible to keep the situation calm while leaders work through this process.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Israel? Ehud Barak today quoted as saying that the talks between the U.S. and Israel on getting the Israel-Palestinian talks resumed have been put on hold, and that the reasons include distractions like WikiLeaks. Is it true that the talks are suspended and are in some way on hold, and does WikiLeaks have anything to do with that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our talk – our efforts are not suspended. We are having conversations, even as we speak today, with both Israeli officials, with Palestinian officials. I mean, the Israeli Government itself has been fully occupied, understandably, in recent days with the challenge of the fires. We remain determined to work with the parties on a path forward and try to determine how best to advance the process back to direct negotiations and to, ultimately, a framework agreement.
I would just say that we’ll be meeting today with both sides. We may have more to say later in the day.
QUESTION: Why would he – do you have any idea why he would say flat out that the matter has been stopped entirely? That’s his words?
MR. CROWLEY: I will say that the process has not stopped. We obviously recognize that we face a difficult obstacle, and we will continue to engage the parties on the way forward.
QUESTION: Who’s speaking today? Who’s meeting today? You mentioned a meeting today.
MR. CROWLEY: I think Daniel Rubenstein will be meeting sometime today with President Abbas. We – a number of officials have been on the phone throughout the morning with the Israelis as well.
QUESTION: So, P.J., what is your assessment of, let’s say, Argentina and Brazil saying that they’re willing to recognize a Palestinian state?
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t think that we should be distracted from the fact that the only way to resolve the core issues within the process is through direct negotiations. That remains our focus. And we do not favor that course of action. As we’ve said many, many times, any unilateral action, we believe, is counterproductive.
QUESTION: Would you have addressed this issue with both governments? Would you have talked to both governments about, let’s say, the foolhardiness of such a --
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t point to any direct conversation we’ve had in recent days, but I think our position on this is pretty clear.
QUESTION: Okay. Both Mr. Barak and Mr. Fayyad will be in town and they will also participate in the same event with Secretary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton on Friday. What will they discuss before that, prior to that? Will there be any kind of discussion?
MR. CROWLEY: I – let me take the question. Obviously, there is the Saban event coming up on Friday. The Secretary will have a speech Friday evening. I’m just not able to forecast at this point whether there’ll be any meetings prior to that.
QUESTION: And one last question on this issue. Have you spoken to Palestinian Authority President Abbas on his threat to resign (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: As I said, in the next couple of hours we’ll actually have a meeting with President Abbas and we’ll have more to say after that meeting.
QUESTION: On Iran, the meetings today in Geneva, do you have any kind of readout of what specifically and substantively was discussed during the meeting? The meetings were described as substantive in Ashton’s statement, but you didn’t go into actually whether this offer was put forth, how it was received.
MR. CROWLEY: Which offer is that, Kirit?
QUESTION: This is the nuclear fuel swap-off for the TRR, updated TRR offer.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Iranians afterwards did say that in this next round of talks they do not plan to discuss the nuclear – their nuclear – halting their nuclear emission program. Is that your understanding of what they agreed to for the next round of talks, and what is your reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, about 75 percent of the meetings yesterday and today were on the nuclear issue. It is something that remains forefront among our concerns. We look forward to another meeting in January, and we will continue our discussion on this and other topics. The TRR issue was discussed during the course of the meeting, and we’ll continue to explore this as we go forward.
QUESTION: Was there any other offer, since you asked me which offer? I mean, you asked me which offer I was referring to – I had assumed there was one. Is there another one? (Laughter.) Is there another one?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Also on the meetings, did Ambassador Burns have a chance to pull aside his Iranian counterpart for any discussion?
MR. CROWLEY: My understanding is that we had a couple of opportunities for brief, informal discussions with the Iranian delegation.
QUESTION: Can you say what was discussed during those?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: Can you say if the hiker case was brought up in –
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean --
QUESTION: I mean, (inaudible) last year --
MR. CROWLEY: Put it this way: All I can tell you is that there were brief, informal discussions. Beyond that, I’m just not in a position to say what specifically came up.
QUESTION: Can you characterize those discussions in terms of their tenor and if you feel any more heartened on any issues?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.
QUESTION: It was Bill Burns? It was Bill Burns who had the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was both Bill Burns and others.
QUESTION: P.J., on WikiLeaks, with Assange now in custody, number one, is there an official reaction from the State Department, and is the U.S. taking action to have him extradited?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our investigation is ongoing. And beyond that, as to his arrest, this is, at this point, an issue between Britain and Sweden.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: Back to – back on Iran. The meeting in January is going to take place in Turkey. Is that a goodwill gesture towards Iran, since that was the other choice?
MR. CROWLEY: We had indicated a willingness to – well, let’s back up. First of all, we hope that this will be the start of a serious process for a discussion between Iran and representatives of the P-5+1. We’re encouraged that there will be a follow-on meeting. As we signaled before this first meeting, we were open to have multiple meetings in multiple locations, and certainly the decision to meet next month in Istanbul is a reflection of that.
QUESTION: P.J., just back on WikiLeaks – sorry – the investigation is ongoing. In other words, the U.S. Government has to look into this to find out legally what could be done? You don’t have enough information at this point to build a case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I will defer to the Justice Department in terms of where our investigation stands. But obviously, our investigation is ongoing and that’s all I can say.
QUESTION: And just another, one more. The investigating – exactly what? How they were leaked? Who did it? What --
MR. CROWLEY: What we’re investigating is a crime under U.S. law. The provision of 250,000 classified documents from someone inside the government to someone outside the government is a crime. We are investigating it. And as we’ve said, we will hold those responsible fully accountable. That investigation is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Assange’s colleague says that they still plan to release even more documents from this cache you just alluded to. How concerned is Washington about what else could be released? And what pressure, if any, is the U.S. Government bringing on those who might be able to transmit the information?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our position has been clear from the outset that the release of this cache of documents puts lives and interests at risk, not just American lives and American interests, but the interests of others around the world. We have specifically called on Mr. Assange to return stolen property to the United States. He has declined to do that. But beyond that, without talking about any particular cable, there is information that fully deserves confidentiality and classification. Just as one instance, the release of a list of critical infrastructure that is important to our society and our economy and the economies of other countries is irresponsible. It is expressly the kind of information that is classified and deserves to remain classified. And its release, in essence, is providing a targeting list to a group like al-Qaida. It is irresponsible, and this is exactly the concerns that we’ve had from the outset when we indicated very clearly that the release of this information puts lives and interests at risk.
QUESTION: There’s some reporting that because of the disclosures, the State Department, other agencies, are going to have to make a major reshuffle of people abroad who may be compromised by the release.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t expect that to happen. I mean, first of all, let’s be clear. Again without getting into any particular document, we’re very proud of the work that our diplomats do, from ambassadors down to political counselors and down to the host nation staff that helps support our day-to-day operations. We’re very proud of them. They are serving United States interests.
And as we’ve said, there’s some who think that there’s this vast global conspiracy centered on the United States. That’s complete nonsense. Our diplomats are doing, day in and day out, what we expect them to do and what we need them to continue to do, which is to have contact with other governments, have contact with civil society, look for ways in which we can cooperate together, look for ways in which we can help resolve issues of local, regional, and global significance. None of that will change based on these revelations.
To the extent our relations with other countries are based on mutual interest and mutual respect, that hasn’t changed by the release of these documents. We’ll be -- we would not expect to make any significant, vast changes. We hope that will not be necessary. And as we’ve pledged, we will work with other governments. We will rebuild the trust that is inherent in the system of cooperation that is essential for us to work with friends, allies, and other partners on these issues.
QUESTION: P.J. –
QUESTION: Did the U.S. provide any information to the British court? Because the judge said that he felt that there were substantial grounds for Mr. Assange being a flight risk, which is why he denied him bail. Did the U.S. present any information as a friend --in a friend-of-the-court brief or anything of that sort?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I cannot say that the United States has been drawn into this issue this morning. This is an issue where British authorities have arrested him based on a warrant for his extradition to Sweden.
QUESTION: On the principal infrastructure, is the U.S. taking any steps at this point to mitigate the damage that could have been caused by that, beefing up security, anything like that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll refer back to the Department of Homeland Security. And obviously, infrastructure that is important to the United States may rest in this country. It may rest in other countries. It may be infrastructure or is primarily infrastructure that rests in private hands.
So since 9/11, there’s been a great deal of effort within the United States Government to both identify critical infrastructure and protect that infrastructure. As to how we have been doing that and whether this revelation changes anything, I’ll defer to DHS.
QUESTION: P.J., let me ask you a couple of questions. One, as far as whatever has been leaked, WikiLeaked, do you believe everything is authentic and nobody has altered the information before or after it had been leaked anywhere?
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, it’s a very good question. And that’s one of the reasons why we do not comment on any particular cable, because while we can acknowledge that this information broadly came from a database under our control, even though the leak itself did not occur within the Department of State, once any document leaves the State Department’s control, it is subject to be altered. So we can’t verify the validity of every single document that has been released so far.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know, Goyal.
QUESTION: And finally, one more if you don’t mind, please. How much damage do you see as far as U.S.-India relations and U.S.-Pakistan relations because of this WikiLeak?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are pursuing strategic partnerships with both Pakistan and India and other countries. Those relationships are based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and that has not changed. So we would hope that there’ll be no impact.
MR. CROWLEY: Kim.
QUESTION: A couple of questions. On the reshuffling of diplomats, what happens if countries declare diplomats persona non grata? Would you then consider removing them or shifting them around?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are specific diplomatic protocols if that occurs. I mean, the question was whether there was going to be this broad reshuffling, and the answer is no.
QUESTION: And then on the extradition issue, I mean, I understand the investigation is still ongoing. But would you, if it’s determined – if it comes to a conclusion that requires extradition, will you seek that? And is it easier to be done with the UK or with Sweden?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll fall back on what I just said. Our investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more. Or actually, two more. On --
MR. CROWLEY: Is there a limit? (Laughter.) I think it’s three. All right, it’s the holiday season, so –
QUESTION: On whether it’s breaking the law, (inaudible) breaking the law, this is information that is classified. I mean, media organizations often publish classified information. I mean, how do you determine who should be tried or not tried, depending on what they’ve published?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are a nation of laws. And we do have specific laws that govern the protection of information. And our focus, first and foremost, is on at least one individual who took an oath of office to protect the United States and its interests and has failed to heed that responsibility. But beyond that, we are mindful of the fact that we do have a Constitution, that enshrined in that Constitution is freedom of the press. We respect that, even as we have concerns about how it is exercised.
QUESTION: P.J., a technical question: On extradition, if you were to submit – if you were to request his extradition, who would do that? Is it the Department of Justice, the FBI, the State Department? Who would actually submit the request?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in a – to answer a hypothetical with a theoretical – (laughter) -- first, you have to have a finding that there’s a high probability that the laws of the United States have been broken. And that would primarily be determined by law enforcement here within the United States. And then you would, depending on a particular country, look at the extradition treaty that exists with that country to see what laws are governed by that extradition treaty. So I hope that helps you with your analysis.
QUESTION: P.J., one last thing on the reshuffling. Now, Senator Kerry on Sunday clearly said that there has to be some changes; there has to be some diplomats recalled and so on. Did he coordinate that interview with you?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Senator Kerry is a distinguished chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and we value his views and rely on his assistance and his perspective. Look, we – again, we are hopeful that no changes will be necessary. We do recognize that on a country-by-country basis, there could well be some impacts. We’ve already seen some indications of meetings that used to involve several diplomats and now involve fewer diplomats. I think we’re conscious of at least one meeting where it was requested that notebooks be left outside the room.
So we do understand that this is going to make the conduct of diplomacy more difficult for a period of time. And, again, the reaction will vary country by country, government by government.
We would hope there’s no impact. Obviously, it’ll be something that we will be watching to see if particular diplomats are frozen out in countries depending on their pique over what has been revealed. But we – the Secretary’s instructions to our posts are to continue your hard, effective work and address these issues head on, continue to work with these governments on our mutual interests, and continue to pursue the national interests of the United States. And that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: P.J., a State Department official passed along a message to Columbia University grad students that they shouldn’t discuss WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter; it would jeopardize employment opportunities with the U.S. Government.
MR. CROWLEY: Sean, I’m glad you raised that. First of all, we don’t know who that State Department official was. Whatever that individual passed to Columbia University is not a reflection of policy. Our focus here at the State Department is on – and we have given instructions to our employees here, because we are treating these documents as still classified, which means if you download these documents from an outside website to our unclassified system, it creates a security concern. So our instructions are to protect our unclassified network, not mix classified and unclassified information on that network. We do not control private internet access. We do not control private networks. We have issued no authoritative instructions to people who are not employees of the Department of State.
QUESTION: So why did this official ask –
MR. CROWLEY: We said – I mean, I just said we don’t know who it is, don’t know what that person said. It’s impossible for me to answer. All I can say is whatever was conveyed to Columbia University was not a statement of State Department policy.
QUESTION: But you don’t doubt that a State Department official actually did that.
MR. CROWLEY: We have no reason to doubt – I mean, someone at Columbia University said there was a call. We have no reason to doubt that, but – that person may have been an overzealous employee, but was not expressing a policy statement on behalf of the Department.
QUESTION: So it could be a U.S. Government employee if not the State Department?
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I don’t know.
QUESTION: Yeah, the special envoy of Indian Prime Minister, S.K. Lambah today met the Secretary of State. Do you know what were discussed and what was the meeting about?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll tell you – I haven’t got a readout. We’ll get something to you.
QUESTION: And secondly, on China. China had requested several countries that they shouldn’t attend the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony in Oslo. And 19 countries, according to them, have decided not to attend it, which includes some of your key allies – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. There are two questions. So how do you respond to their –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our ambassador will be there.
QUESTION: Your ambassador will be there?
QUESTION: You have no response to 19 countries saying they won’t be there?
MR. CROWLEY: Our ambassador will be there. Our actions speak for themselves.
QUESTION: The Polish prime minister today in an interview said that these – the revelation of these documents and what’s in them, specifically pertaining to Poland, kind of made the Poles lose their illusions about their relationship with the United States, that they had one impression of the relationship, but obviously it wasn’t yours, as evident in these documents, and that he thought that the relationship had changed now.
I was wondering what you think of that and whether you’re seeing the same from Secretary’s – Clinton’s meetings with others that countries that thought one way about the relationship now see that you see differently, and that this might affect relations in some way.
MR. CROWLEY: All we can say is that, as we’ve said, we condemned what’s happened and we will work as hard as we can to rebuild any lost trust that is perceived on a country-by-country basis.
QUESTION: Well, it’s almost like a situation where, like, you’re sorry that you got caught.
MR. CROWLEY: Well –
QUESTION: Because you’re – I understand that you condemn what happened and you would rather these countries not have known, but it seems to be a very eye-opening experience for a lot of these countries to know what the U.S. really thinks about them.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, wait a second. Our diplomats are posted in virtually every country around the world. They are there to pursue our national interest. They, on an ongoing basis, assess what is happening in a particular country; they engage members of government; they engage civil society; and then they provide their best perspective back to Washington about what is happening, how that affects the United States, and how that should inform our future policies and our future actions.
What our diplomats do is not unique. We expect that diplomats posted here in the United States provide the same kind of candid assessments of what’s happening in the United States back to their governments. That’s what diplomats do. What our diplomats do are no different than what the diplomats of other countries do. So we will continue to pursue our interests. Poland is a NATO ally, it is a strong friend of the United States, and we believe that we will work through whatever concerns that the Polish Government and the Polish people have.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean, just one follow-up. I mean, in general, it sounds like what you’re – what even these diplomats necessarily are telling not only the Poles, but other countries, when you say you have candid, frank discussions, I mean, how candid are they really if what – sometimes they read these cables and it’s a completely different impression that they were given in a meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Elise, all I can tell you is we have said that this will have impact. We have said that this will create substantial damage. We have said that it will make the conduct of diplomacy more difficult for a period of time. We would hope over time that our mutual interests continue to be clear and will lead us to overcome whatever short or mid-term impact that is created by what’s happened.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka?
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: A couple of travel questions. It’s been confirmed that DAS Yun is going to Burma. Do you – can you confirm --
MR. CROWLEY: He has arrived in Burma.
QUESTION: He’s there. Can you let us know if he’s going to be meeting Suu Kyi?
MR. CROWLEY: He will.
QUESTION: He will. And then on this meeting – or this trip to Asia that Secretary Clinton mentioned yesterday, is that going to be a Steinberg delegation or --
MR. CROWLEY: We hope to have an announcement for you later today.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Burma?
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. And if we could – I need to catch an airplane in an hour, so we should wrap this up pretty quickly. Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Is this part of the dialogue that you are having with the Burmese authority or is this --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, it’s an ongoing extension of the dialogue that we’ve had with Burma. By the same token, we’re under no illusions. Our – what we’ve asked Burma to do has not changed. We want them to develop a different kind of relationship with their people. We want them to release all other political prisoners. And that will be the message that he provides to the Burmese Government.
QUESTION: There was a strong message to China yesterday from the North Korean meeting here. Any reaction from Beijing?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure there’s a question there.
QUESTION: Yesterday – no, I said is – has there been any reaction from Beijing?
MR. CROWLEY: For their reaction, I would ask the Chinese Government.
QUESTION: I mean to you?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we --
QUESTION: Have they said anything to you?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure they will.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thanks very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:57 a.m.)