1:57 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Very good. Continuing to other business, this morning, prior to the town hall, the Secretary met with Quartet Representative Tony Blair as part of their regular consultation on the Middle East and our joint efforts on Israeli-Palestinian peace – the pursuit of peace. They discussed a number of areas, including our ongoing joint efforts to bolster Palestinian institutions.
As you, I think, have seen from his public statements in the region, Senator Mitchell met today in Cairo with President Hosni Mubarak, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani. He will leave tonight for Brussels. He’ll be meeting there with Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative, and then on to Paris, where he will meet with the new French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie. And obviously, I believe, as we speak, the Arab League Follow-On Committee meeting is currently underway in Cairo, and we continue to look for ongoing support by regional players on our joint efforts.
This afternoon, the Secretary will meet with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Secretary Salazar has an upcoming trip to Mexico and wanted to exchange views on a range of issues that might come up during his trip, including the recent work at the Climate Change Summit in Cancun. But expect oil and gas issues and conservation efforts to be among the areas that they discuss during this meeting.
Deputy Secretary Steinberg and his delegation arrived in Beijing and met today with Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, discussing bilateral and regional issues, including the Korean Peninsula. They also discussed preparations for the upcoming trip to Washington by President Hu Jintao. Tomorrow, the [Deputy] Secretary will continue his meetings, including a meeting with State Councilor Dai Bingguo.
Turning to Cuba, we congratulate Mr. Guillermo Farinas today as he receives the 2010 Andrei Sakharov Prize, which is awarded by the European Parliament. We congratulate Mr. Farinas not only for being selected to receive this award which is given for freedom of thought, but also for his remarkable fortitude and courage in defending freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights in Cuba. Through his actions he has clearly helped draw international attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba and eventually led to the release of many of them. And we stand alongside the EU in recognizing Mr. Farinas’s outstanding work, and we are disappointed that he was not permitted to attend today’s ceremony to receive this prize in person.
Also, I believe just having concluded at the UN, today marks a very important milestone in the restoration of Iraq’s normalized ties to the international community. The UN Security Council, in a special session chaired by Vice President Biden, has taken three significant steps to help return Iraq to the legal and international standing it held prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The three Security Council resolutions passed today end WMD-related restrictions placed on Iraq after the first Gulf War. They end the residual activities of the Oil-for-Food Program and terminate arrangements for the Development Fund for Iraq on June 30, 2011.
Obviously, this is in the multilateral context, but we hope that Iraq will continue to meet its commitments to Kuwait through a separate process, and we encourage both Iraq and Kuwait to continue direct negotiations on all outstanding bilateral issues.
We’ve just released to you a statement by Secretary Clinton on the bombings of the mosque in Chabahar, Iran. I’ll read in part that the Secretary strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack claimed by Jundallah that targeted Iranian men, women, and children worshiping at a mosque in Chabahar, Iran. On behalf of the people of the United States, we extend our condolences to the families and loved ones of those injured and killed as they mark the eve of the last day of Ashura. This is yet another example of terrorists using cowardly methods to inflict pain and fear on innocent civilians. The perpetrators of this attack must be held to account for their actions. But this clearly underscores the action that the United States took last month in designating Jundallah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
QUESTION: P.J., your colleague at the White House has put out in the last couple of hours or so a pretty strong statement denouncing Senator DeMint for the latest tactics that he is using to – well, the latest tactics he’s using to delay a vote on ratification of START. I’m wondering if you want to say anything from the State Department’s point of view on that.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we certainly identify with Robert Gibbs’s statement. The fact is this treaty has been on the Hill for eight months. Senators of both parties have had ample opportunity, and in fact are quite familiar with its contents. We fear that this is a delaying tactic to try to run out the clock with the time available before the holiday break. We continue to encourage the Senate to have a real debate on the treaty and ratify it before they adjourn.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Mr. Gibbs that this is a new low in --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a very strong statement, and we here identify with him.
QUESTION: Okay. Senator DeMint, in his defense, or perhaps not defense but in explanation, his office says that there are a couple reasons that he’s doing this. One, it says – and I’m wondering if you can address these point by point – the State Department, after a year of denials, recently revealed that there were talks with Russia on missile defense. Did the State Department ever deny that there were discussions with the Russians on missile defense as well as --
MR. CROWLEY: Not only did we not, it was the subject of testimony, I believe in the late spring, with Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton. So maybe this is a bit of a delayed reaction, but these issues were clearly addressed in testimony, I believe back in June. So the Senator has had that six months to work through this – these – there’s this perception of secret negotiations. We’ve denied it every time it’s come up and we deny it again today.
QUESTION: Well, is it factually correct that the State Department engaged in a year of denials of this?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: So that’s incorrect. Okay, the second thing is that he says that there have been movement of Russian tactical nuclear warheads toward NATO allies. One, do you know if this is true? Two, even if it is true, does it have anything to do with the START Treaty?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I won’t get into intelligence issues, but one of the reasons why we continue to encourage the Senate to ratify the START agreement – number one, it returns inspectors to Russia so we can monitor pertinent developments on the ground there. We haven’t had inspectors on the ground in more than a year. But secondly, it opens up the window for further negotiations with Russia on a broader range of systems, including tactical nuclear weapons that both countries have.
QUESTION: And without ratification, you wouldn't be allowed to have those – that would – you would not – those talks on tactical nukes wouldn't happen?
MR. CROWLEY: It is unlikely that Russia will agree to move forward with broader negotiations absent this ratification.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is that it says that despite repeated requests, the Administration has refused to share the full negotiating record of the START Treaty with the Senate. One, is that true? And two, if it is, why?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we have had discussions with senators over many months and we have, we believe, provided the documents that we can, being mindful of authorities between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch.
We have talked to this issue at length with members of the Senate. We believe we were responsive to their requests. In fact, senators during the course of this negotiation had the opportunity to go to Geneva, join the negotiating team, see firsthand what we have been negotiating. There have been a wide range of briefings, hearings. We think that we have answered every single question that the senators have raised.
QUESTION: So how exasperating is this for the Administration?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, all we – the President has made clear, the Secretary has made clear, there’s ample time to ratify this treaty. The debate will start today, and we look forward to an honest debate. We’re prepared to continue to respond to any requests for information or perspective that the senators have, but it remains our fervent view that this treaty can and should be ratified before the Senate adjourns.
QUESTION: Well, you’re prepared to respond to any requests, but apparently you’re not ready to release the full negotiating record?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this – we have answered every single question, Matt, that the Senate has raised. We’ve been at this for eight months. The Senate has all of the information that it needs to ratify this treaty. Opponents keep on bringing up canards ranging from perceptions that this constrains missile defense. We’ve made clear it does not. There are no secret negotiations here. We’ve answered every question that the Senate has raised.
And we certainly remind that there is a broad, strong record of bipartisan support for these treaties in the past. We’re disappointed that Republicans are being obstructionist in this. And in fact, it’s contrary to what we feel the message of the recent election was. The American people want the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to get things done. The Senate is in a position to take a strong step in that direction.
QUESTION: First off, can you just (inaudible) in terms of what prevents the State Department from releasing a formal negotiating record of this kind? Is there – are there laws? What kind --
MR. CROWLEY: There are legal issues. But we have – we believe what we’ve done is consistent with previous administrations have done. And we remind that every other treaty of this nature has been approved – ratified by the Senate with very strong, lopsided votes. And these are just a series of distractions and canards that opponents of the treaty are putting forward. We believe we’ve answered every single question that’s been raised.
QUESTION: Can you clarify what happens if the clock does run out? What if the clock runs out?
MR. CROWLEY: The – having – the Senate is poised to take up the START Treaty. We believe there’s plenty of time to do it and can be done before the Senate adjourns for the holiday.
QUESTION: Well, is there plenty of time to do it if you --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, there’s --
QUESTION: -- read the entire omnibus and the entire treaty on the floor?
MR. CROWLEY: I think what we – what they’re looking for is – if that becomes necessary, someone like from the FedEx commercial, someone that can really talk rapidly.
QUESTION: Some opponents are saying that they might want to amend the treaty. How do you look upon that?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we believe that the Senate has had ample opportunity to review the treaty. It’s in the national interest. These treaties have been debated before and ratified before. We believe it’s time to vote on the treaty as it was negotiated.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The Chinese president is in India right now and he will be traveling to the U.S. next month. The President was in India last month. So how do you see the relationship between India and China and also U.S. President (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, perhaps just drawing upon what Anne-Marie Slaughter was talking about earlier, this is a world with rising powers who are taking on broader responsibilities. China is one such country. India is another such country. They are also neighbors. So we certainly recognize that these two countries that are going to influence world events in the coming decades should have an effective relationship. And we look forward to hearing the results of this meeting.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Another subject. There’s a very disturbing report that came out from the Council of Europe. It’s a draft report – excuse me – about the KLA and actually authorities from Kosovo who allegedly may have stolen organs from prisoners of war. Does the U.S. have any indication that that could be the case, and how are – how do you evaluate this report coming out?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s a draft report. We’re aware of it. We take all credible allegations of criminal activity very seriously. And any evidence and sources cited in this report should be shared with competent authorities to conduct a full and proper investigation. The rule of law is paramount to stability and progress in the Balkans.
QUESTION: But is there anything that the U.S. independently has on this, any indication that would confirm these reports? Carla Del Ponte apparently brought them up quite a while ago.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as you know, there are tribunals, such as the ICTY, that have been active for many years. To the extent you’ve got allegations of war crimes, there have been successful prosecutions. Both the UN and the ICTY have investigated allegations of an organ trafficking ring as far back as 2004. They decided to take no action at that time. But we certainly continue to encourage any cooperation – or cooperation in any further investigation of these matters.
QUESTION: And then just one more thing. A quote from this – Mr. Marty is the one who put this report together. And he said that, essentially, the international community, the people who did recognize Kosovo, wanted to – needed to promote short-term stability at any price, thereby sacrificing some important principles of justice. In other words, they wanted Kosovo to be independent. These reports were out there, but they just barreled ahead ignoring them.
MR. CROWLEY: And the – I’m not sure what the question is.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. CROWLEY: Certainly, the United States has recognized --
QUESTION: Yes, but he is calling --
MR. CROWLEY: -- the independence of Kosovo that came after a very significant progress, incredible work done by Mr. Ahtisaari over a number of years. And when the judgment was that there was no other viable option, we quickly recognized Kosovo, and we’re working hard to improve relations between Kosovo and its neighbors.
QUESTION: Can we stick with international tribunals?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: On the Kenya findings of the prosecutor of the ICC, I realize the White House put out a statement about this earlier in President Obama’s name. But you know, at least one, and I believe two, of these people the Secretary shared a stage with when she visited Nairobi last year.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And at the time, the allegations, although not formalized like this, were floating around there. Does she have any second thoughts or regrets or misgivings about appearing with these people?
MR. CROWLEY: No. First of all, there is always a presumption of innocence while issues are being investigated. They have been investigated, and now the ICC has put forward a summons regarding specific individuals. She was fully aware of the investigations that were ongoing at the time of her visit to Kenya in August 2009. But at the same time, this was a matter that was discussed during her visit. As you recall, those of you who were with her on this trip, she encouraged, first and foremost, Kenya to take its own steps to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute those responsible for the violence in Kenya in 2005.
But as I recall when she was there, she said that if there cannot be a special local tribunal that has the confidence of the people, then they need to know that there will be a process put in motion to hold people accountable, and that they may well be through the ICC. So this is something that we’ve been closely monitoring since her trip to Kenya last year.
MR. CROWLEY: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: The president of Afghanistan today said in Kabul that it’s the foreign countries and foreign companies present in Afghanistan who are really responsible for corruption in the country; whereas, the media outlets here in the U.S. blame Afghan Government for corruption. What is your assessment of who are responsible?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, certainly Secretary Clinton has indicated that we recognize that the sudden influx of significant international assistance to Afghanistan has compounded a challenge that Afghanistan was already facing. But this is why we continue to work closely with the Government of Afghanistan to improve the capability and performance of Afghan governmental institutions. The people of Afghan – this is important to the people of Afghanistan. This is also important to the international community.
Consistent with what Don Steinberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter were saying a moment ago, we are changing the way that we’re doing business in a country like Pakistan and Afghanistan. We are investing significant international assistance in both those countries. We expect to see results, a return on investment, if you will. That’s important to be able to sustain that effort from the standpoint of the United States and the international community, but it’s vitally important in transforming the relationship between the Afghan Government and its people, and next door between the Pakistan Government and its people. So it’s not a matter of pointing fingers.
We recognize that the influx of assistance and fully support decisions and efforts that the president has made. He’s made a point of this, in particular with regard to security contractors. We’ve supported what he’s doing. We’re continuing to work with the government so that not only is there better monitoring, that monitoring is being done by the Afghan Government itself. So – but we agree that corruption is a tremendous issue for Afghanistan’s future, and it’s one that we continue to work cooperatively with the Afghan Government to counteract.
QUESTION: And does the new acting SRAP have any immediate plans to visit to Afghanistan? The new acting SRAP or special representative on Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would expect tomorrow afternoon you’ll see him here first. I can’t project when he will – he’ll travel, but I would fully expect that he will visit Pakistan and Afghanistan on a regular basis, just as Ambassador Holbrooke did.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Change topics?
QUESTION: One more if I may, just on Afghanistan. Can I, with your permission, say one more word before my question?
MR. CROWLEY: Quickly, Goyal.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Ambassador Holbrooke.
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, Goyal, Goyal, look, let’s keep this as a – I mean --
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll have more to say about Ambassador Holbrooke tomorrow.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Brookings – they were discussing about Afghanistan and Pakistan and the ending of the war, and they did not have any answer --
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, we covered this yesterday. I’m not going to go back on it today.
QUESTION: Regular question. Did Senator Mitchell meet with the whole Follow-Up Arab Committee on the Arab Peace Initiative, or just with Mr. Moussa and Mr. Al Thani?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that he met with the whole Follow-on Committee.
QUESTION: On the Mideast, I’ve been asking for several days now if you guys have anything to say about this Palestinian peace activist who has been imprisoned by the Israelis. Yesterday, you said you hadn’t gotten a satisfactory answer from the post yet. Have you yet?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m told by post by that this is a case that they continue to monitor.
QUESTION: This is a case they continue to monitor. So the United States doesn’t feel any – or the Administration doesn’t feel any compunction to speak out about this, as your – other members of the Quartet have done?
MR. CROWLEY: I can just provide you what I was provided by post. They are watching the case closely. And that beyond that, I’ll probably direct questions to the Embassy in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: Okay, well let me just try one more time to shake something loose from them through you, which is what does that mean that they’re monitoring closely. I mean, you monitor the weather in Beijing closely. What does this mean? Why is it beneath the United States to come out and say something about this person who is this – who is a practitioner of nonviolence?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll defer the question to the Embassy in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: So just a follow-up on my earlier question. Now, the talks, what form are they? How would you describe them? We called them in the past proximity talks. Now, are they --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ve resisted putting a label on that. I think we’re waiting in terms of next steps for a reaffirmation of the support of the Arab Follow-on Committee meeting for what we’re doing. The – David Hale will be reengaging the parties again early next week. We’re focused on the substance, and we think by focusing on the substance, that’s the best vehicle to move towards a framework agreement.
QUESTION: So are you likely to call them parallel talks?
MR. CROWLEY: We’re likely to resist putting a label on them.
QUESTION: Any reaction to Muslim employees of the Mandarin Hotel who say or allege that they were discriminated against while the Israeli delegation was visiting?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, there’s a lot of disinformation here, but let me – I’ll just speak to our role in this. And as to any other actions, probably best directed to the Israeli Embassy. What we do for any delegation that we are protecting, we have specific protective responsibilities. We take them seriously. We do routine law enforcement background checks on all individuals who may have access to or who are working in the vicinity of the delegation or official that we are protecting. Where we have concerns based on those criminal record checks, we may request that the hotel limits some of their staff access to a given delegation. But at no time do these checks include questions regarding religious or political affiliation. The State Department or Diplomatic Security did not bar any person from the hotel.
QUESTION: The Venezuelan president seems to be engineering a rule by decree to preempt the seating of a new congress in January that will have more opposition people. Is that something that you have noticed or are bothered by?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have noticed it. This is the fourth time that President Chavez has employed one of these decrees. He seems to be finding new and creative ways to justify autocratic powers. What he is doing here, we believe, is subverting the will of the Venezuelan people. As the Inter-American Democratic Charter underscores, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government are an essential element of representative democracy. An independent legislature has an essential role to play in the political system in order to meet the principles laid out in this charter.
In September, millions of Venezuelans exercised their democratic right to vote in legislative elections. They were successful elections and they gave the Venezuelans the opportunity to send a clear message to the government. The new legislature will be seated January 5 and should have the ability to contribute to the political process in Venezuela.
QUESTION: Just one on South Korea. They’re holding these civil defense drills that sound very serious, I think would be the biggest they’ve ever held. Is this – is there something we should be worried about? Is this an indication of how – of increasing tension, or does the U.S. believe this is just reflective --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we are very conscious that recent actions by North Korea have increased tensions. South Korea itself was a subject of a North Korean shelling. Civilians and military officials were killed as a result. South Korea has made clear that it is prepared to defend itself and is taking appropriate actions in its self-defense.
QUESTION: Could I ask a question on Cuba?
QUESTION: Also on East Asia, on the Steinberg delegation. Since Campbell is no longer going to be going on that trip, is --
MR. CROWLEY: He’s still sick.
QUESTION: Yes. Is there someone else that’s going to be going to Tokyo in his place?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s actually still being – I asked that question yesterday, Lauren, and I think it’s still being discussed as to whether someone stops by Tokyo. I believe we have plans – we had plans to send delegates to both Korea and Japan. And I’ll double-check that.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question on Cuba.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I heard a report that 400,000 Americans, mainly Cuban Americans, visited the island last year, which is like ten times – an increase of tenfold over, let’s say, pre 2008. Are there any – but they are strictly relatives of Cubans and Cuban Americans and so on. Are there any moves in the State Department to really lift that ban and expand visits to all Americans?
MR. CROWLEY: This is something that we continue to have under review. I’ve got nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Today’s New York Times --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t want to be seen as disadvantaging the back of the room. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. Today’s New York Times suggests the intelligence community has more of a pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than perhaps the Administration. Do you have any reason to dispute the NIE reports?
MR. CROWLEY: I have every reason to avoid commenting on intelligence matters at the podium.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There’s a new report now, not only just from WikiLeaks but also UN and the Amnesty International, that the Sri Lankan president should be added -- crime, war crime criminals in the International Criminal Court. What is the views from the U.S., or is there any discussion going on about this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I won’t comment on any cable that may have been released through WikiLeaks. We continue to engage the Sri Lankan Government. As we’ve said many times, it has a significant opportunity to transform the country, lift it above and beyond the recent conflict, and we certainly hope that the government will take advantage of that opportunity.
QUESTION: The recent incidents involving Indian ambassadors at U.S. airports – the State Department had said that it will be in touch with Homeland Security and TSA to make sure that such events doesn’t happen. So have you reviewed the process, and what has been --
MR. CROWLEY: Our dialogue with DHS is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you. Sorry. Go ahead, one more.
QUESTION: The UN Security Council lifted some of the bans on Iraq; i.e., the issue of --
MR. CROWLEY: Right.
QUESTION: -- nuclear --
MR. CROWLEY: Right.
QUESTION: Nuclear power. Aren’t there any – aren’t you worried that that might be used in one way or the other by the Iranians, given the influence of the Iranians in Iraq?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Not at all?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)