3:12 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. The first thing I want to do is make along the way a reintroduction to many of you. Heidi Bronke is our new director of the Press Office here at the Department of State, succeeding Mark Toner, who is moving upstairs to, on a fulltime basis, perform his duties as the acting deputy spokesman. But we are delighted to have Heidi back with us. She had left the Department for some time for a fellowship up on the Hill and had a chance to have a child during that time as well. So – but we’re thrilled to have her back.
To begin, obviously, the Secretary just finished a very constructive, detailed bilateral and working lunch with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang and his delegation. The context of the discussion was the upcoming visit later this month by President Hu Jintao to Washington to see President Obama. They talked about a wide range of issues that both represent the agenda for the President’s meetings as well as the breadth of the relationship between the United States and China.
I’ll quickly tick off a few things, and I’m sure you’ll have questions and we’ll go through them in greater detail.
In the bilateral context, obviously, both sides reflected on the current state of the economy – the global economy and our interest in building more trade between the two countries. They did talk about human rights. The Secretary discussed the importance of our ongoing human rights dialogue and other initiatives that we have. They talked about regional security issues. Korea was undoubtedly discussed in the greatest detail, but there were other issues as well, as well as global challenges from climate change, where both sides mentioned the cooperation that China and the United States and other countries had during the Cancun meetings last month; talked at some length about the challenge of Iran and the need to continue to hold Iran to its international obligations.
I’ll just mention two other things. This morning in New York, the United Nations Security Council received a detailed briefing from the U.S. peacekeeping officials regarding the situation in the Ivory Coast. The United States and other countries expressed ongoing concerns about the situation, specifically about restrictions on the freedom of movement of UN peacekeepers there. But the United States expressed its ongoing support for the UN mission and for the efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS to ensure that former President Gbagbo accepts the results of the election as certified by the UN, recognizes President Ouattara as the due president of Cote D'Ivoire, and steps aside peacefully.
And finally, next week Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela will be traveling to Argentina and Chile to deepen relations with these two regional partners. I’ll stop there and --
QUESTION: P.J., on the lunch, what exactly did Secretary Clinton have to say and what exactly did Foreign Minister Yang have to say about this apparent North Korean offer for unconditional talks with the South?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it came up briefly. And again, understand that the context behind the discussions at lunch were about the issues that will undoubtedly come up in the meeting between President Hu Jintao and President Obama. The United States and China share the same goal of stability in the region. Both sides affirm that we want to see North Korea meet its obligations under the 2005 joint statement. There’s absolutely total agreement on those key issues.
Both sides affirmed that we are open to dialogue. We understand the importance of dialogue between North and South Korea. We understand the value and affirm the importance of getting back to serious negotiations within the context of the Six-Party Talks. What we conveyed to Foreign Minister Yang was that it was important to understand the ongoing context behind our joint efforts. And in the South Korean comments today in response to an offer by – for unconditional talks by North Korea, it’s not surprising to us that South Korea’s response is we want to make sure that there is a true exhibition of sincerity in the prospect of potential talks.
So from our standpoint, we reaffirmed that we’re open to dialogue but there are definitely things that North Korea has to do to signal that there is a true seriousness of purpose before we commit to these negotiations.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that an offer for unconditional talks is a sign of seriousness of purpose?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Ambassador Bosworth was in Seoul today. He had direct discussions with our South Korean colleagues. He’ll be in Beijing tomorrow for similar discussions with Chinese officials. As we’ve stressed, North Korea needs to demonstrate that it is prepared to have serious and sustained discussions. It needs to show that it is sincere with this offer. That is something it needs to demonstrate to South Korea as well as to others within this process.
We are open to dialogue. We want to see – want to make sure that North Korea takes appropriate steps so that we are assured that dialogue, if and when it happens, is constructive.
QUESTION: But what more than putting out an offer for unconditional talks can they do?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, South Korea, I think, made clear that it needs to have confidence that North Korea’s offer of dialogue is paired with the commitment to avoid further provocations.
QUESTION: You have suggestions?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, understand from the South Korean standpoint there have been, within the last year, the sinking of the Cheonan, the unwarranted shelling of South Korean territory, and these are the realities on the ground in South Korea. And we believe that South Korea, like the United States, is open to dialogue but want to be sure that North Korea is going to come to either a bilateral dialogue or potentially to a multilateral dialogue with a true seriousness of purpose.
QUESTION: From your account, it makes it sound as though the Secretary was explaining to the foreign minister why the U.S. would not be willing to take the North Koreans up on their offer. Is that roughly what happened? Did the foreign minister say that Beijing thinks this is a good idea and urge the United States to take it up, and she said no and here’s why?
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible). I’m talking about the North Korean offer to the South Koreans.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, correct. No, that – it briefly – there was a mention during the discussion of both the North Korean offer and the South Korean response. I think – and China – Foreign Minister Yang, Secretary Clinton, joined by Deputy Secretary Steinberg, went through our current thinking and we stressed that there has to be the appropriate context to be able to move forward either with bilateral dialogue or with multilateral dialogue. We’re open to it, but definitely there are still things that North Korea has to do to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose.
QUESTION: Does that mean moving troops away from the border? Does it mean actually sending someone to Beijing and say here I am in the hotel room, let’s actually start a discussion? I mean, how – I mean, it’s nice to say we want to see concrete steps, but what are they?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, within the last few weeks, you’ve seen a shelling of South Korean territory, which resulted in the loss of both civilian and military lives. North Korea has yet to take any responsibility for that unprovoked act. North Korea, to this day, has not accepted any responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan. So there are – we all understand that ultimately to resolve the challenge of North Korea there has to be dialogue. We’re open to dialogue.
But it’s not just for North Korea to say okay, fine, we’ll come talk. There has to be an appropriate context and there are things that North Korea has to show both South Korea and the United States that it is prepared to have a sustained and constructive dialogue. And committing itself that there will be no further provocations certainly would be one step. Demonstrating that it is prepared to move forward on its commitments under the 2005 joint statement would be another step.
QUESTION: But, P.J., China’s foreign minister must be knowing what North Koreans want. What role you think China and U.S. will play? And also as far as – yeah, that’s fine. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: I’m just asking as far as --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- meeting with the Secretary if they had discussed the situation in Pakistan also.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, going back to what I said a moment ago, there is no difference between our interests on the Korean Peninsula and China’s interests in the Korean Peninsula. We both stressed the importance of stability. We both want to see a reduction of tension. Neither one of us wants to see the emergence of a North Korea that is a nuclear state. We all want to see North Korea follow through on its commitments to denuclearize.
So we had a discussion today about how the upcoming visit and discussion between the President and President Hu Jintao, together with our respective teams, can chart the best way forward to ease tensions on the peninsula, get North Korea to be a more constructive player in the region, and take those – the kinds of steps that convince all of us that dialogue will be useful.
QUESTION: P.J., I understand you don’t have a list, a specific list in your pocket, so to speak, but would you say based on Bosworth’s trip that this is sort of phase one of this – of coming back to the table would be how South Korea engages with North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Boy, I’m not sure that phasing is necessarily --
QUESTION: It seems like you’re trying to reach a consensus with your allies in the region on how to best go forward with South Korea to reengage with the North. That seems like what’s going on.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, no one wants to see further provocations. No one wants to see additional tensions. We all want to move in a different direction. North Korea has the fundamental responsibilities here in terms of how it acts and clearly demonstrate that it’s willing to address and take action on the commitments that it has previously made. North Korea has to meet its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. We are prepared to respond to that. We are prepared to have dialogue that is based on a conviction that North Korea is willing to be constructive and to follow through.
QUESTION: But we –
QUESTION: On Taiwan?
QUESTION: I’m sorry, just to follow up. Would you say that one of the main things you’ve been discussing with other players in the region is how South Korea will be engaging North Korea in the future? Isn’t that a huge piece of how you deal with the situation?
MR. CROWLEY: Inter-Korean dialogue is a very important element of this. So we would like to see dialogue between North and South Korea. We are open to a resumption of Six-Party negotiations. But there’s – there are things that have to occur to make – to convince us that that will be productive. Should North Korea demonstrate that seriousness of purpose, we will respond accordingly.
QUESTION: Was Taiwan and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan mentioned during the luncheon?
MR. CROWLEY: We touched on – between both sides, both the Secretary and the foreign minister went through their – we each have our list of issues that we regularly bring up, and those did come up.
QUESTION: P.J., one more on North Korea. Do you think Minister Yang agreed to what Secretary Clinton described about North Korea? What was his reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we do share the same interests, we have the same concerns. And it was a very detailed discussion on both sharing insights – obviously, China has had dialogue with North Korea, and Foreign Minister Yang gave us a sense of his reading of what’s happening in Pyongyang, and the Secretary reciprocated with – along with Deputy Secretary Steinberg in terms of the results so far of Ambassador Bosworth’s discussions in Seoul. Foreign Minister Yang made clear that China was looking forward to the visit tomorrow by Ambassador Bosworth to Beijing, and we – they both see the upcoming visit – clearly, North Korea will be one among many issues discussed between the presidents.
QUESTION: What was – what exactly was the foreign minister’s take on what’s happening in Pyongyang these days?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the --
QUESTION: Will he be back for the next WikiLeaks --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll – (laughter) – I’ll defer --
QUESTION: Can I ask just one more thing on --
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You said repeatedly over the past couple of weeks that there is no list. And I don’t want to get back into that whole thing, but it seems to me that in one of your earlier previous answers today you outlined four specific things that you want to see. And if I’m correct – and I think I am – it’s one, a promise not to make any further provocations; two, recommitting to the 2005 – its 2005 commitments and UN obligations; three, taking responsibility for the Cheonan sinking; and four, taking responsibility for the shelling of the island. Is that – are those four things a good place to start – or five things?
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t – I mean, I can’t say it better than Ambassador Bosworth. He said he didn’t have a list in his pocket.
QUESTION: I’m not – I realize that.
MR. CROWLEY: But what we’re saying is there are --
QUESTION: I don’t want to get into discussion about a list.
MR. CROWLEY: There are --
QUESTION: But you’ve mentioned those specific things --
MR. CROWLEY: There are --
QUESTION: -- in the course of this briefing today.
MR. CROWLEY: There are clearly steps that North Korea has to take that will demonstrate to us that there is the kind of seriousness that would convince us that dialogue would be constructive.
QUESTION: Well, are those things that I just listed off, are those the kinds --
MR. CROWLEY: All those things would be useful steps for North Korea to take.
QUESTION: P.J., could you elaborate a little bit? You mentioned that Taiwan came up during your lunch. Can you talk about the details?
MR. CROWLEY: It was briefly mentioned. It comes up in bilateral discussions on a regular basis. Foreign Minister Yang indicated these are issues in our bilateral relationship. We understand those, and we had our own set of issues and brought those up as well.
QUESTION: Did Minister Yang mention about the Southeast China Sea as China’s core interest during this lunch? Has anything come up with --
MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary and the minister talked about a range of regional issues. Maritime issues were among the issues discussed.
QUESTION: P.J., on another subject --
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, can we stay on that? And also on – can you be more specific about that? I mean, did the Secretary reiterate that the U.S. has a national strategic interest in maritime stability in not just the South China Sea but also in the – in other areas? And did the rare earths issue come up?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: What are you – I’m not sure what you’re saying.
MR. CROWLEY: The rare earth issue did not come up.
QUESTION: So that’s a done deal for the U.S.? You’re not worried about it anymore?
MR. CROWLEY: Huh? Look, again, there’s – this was about a two-hour discussion together. There was lots of things talked about. There are other issues that are being discussed with the broader team. So I’m not suggesting that if something was not mentioned in this two-hour block, it is not important. I’m just saying that as both the Secretary and the foreign minister were going through a range of issues in the context of the upcoming visit, we actually – there’s still more work to be done between the respective teams between now and the arrival of President Hu Jintao.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying that rare earths did not – I guess it didn’t at lunch, but it’s --
MR. CROWLEY: It did not come up in this context, but we’re going to have further discussion --
QUESTION: All right.
MR. CROWLEY: -- about a variety of economic and trade issues between now --
MR. CROWLEY: -- and the arrival of President Hu Jintao.
QUESTION: But then also what about on the maritime issue?
MR. CROWLEY: It – there was a discussion about U.S.-China cooperation in the broader context of the region, talking about the East Asia Summit and the role that China and the United States can play in terms of regional security, was a fairly broad discussion.
QUESTION: P.J., talk – you mentioned that at the outset that they began – or maybe at some point during the discussion they reflected on the global economy and ways to increase trade. Did that discussion include China’s currency policy, for instance, and is the U.S. trying to prepare China for this to be an issue during President Hu’s visit?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, to the extent that the economic issues are a significant aspect of our relationship, you would expect they will come up in the – during the state visit by President Hu Jintao. And it was not discussed in detail, because obviously, that is something that we defer to our colleagues at Treasury. Under Secretary Hormats was there. He’s fully participating in the preparation of the economic and trade part of the agenda.
QUESTION: Other subject?
QUESTION: No. Well, some – I still have one more on this, but --
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- someone can go ahead of me. So I’m trying to figure – so would you say that the lunch or the discussions, including the lunch, were dominated by the North Korea issue? Because it sounds to – it sounds from your readout that it was basically, they just got down and read a laundry list of things in a kind of --
MR. CROWLEY: No, I – well, I mean, in two hours --
QUESTION: -- a speed-reading competition. Taiwan, maritime, currency, (inaudible), get it, got them on the table.
MR. CROWLEY: In two hours, you can cover a great deal of territory. The – in some respect, I would say that when the foreign minister and the Secretary get together in the context of both preparatory work that has already been done between our respective teams and work that still needs to be done between now and later in the month, when President Hu Jintao arrives in the United States, they’re affirming – in some cases, they’re affirming the context or affirming the progress that had already been made, signaling that yes, there are other things that we need to properly prepare and tee up for the actual discussion by the presidents.
But North Korea – it was a lengthy discussion during the course of the – of both the bilateral meeting and then the follow-on lunch. I think economics were discussed in some detail as well as a range of issues in our bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. CROWLEY: But I would – yes, I would say that North Korea was among the most detailed elements discussed.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Can you tell us what certain actions they proposed to each other to take in the next – just next couple days to ensure a successful visit by President Hu?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what was interesting during the course of the lunch in particular is that on both sides, you had the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, Kurt Campbell, Bob Hormats, Jeff Bader, myself. We’ve all been part of previous state visits, either where a president of the United States goes to China, or a Chinese president comes to the United States.
So they actually went through a little bit of the history going back to President Nixon, so – which is to say that on the one hand, the relationship between the United States and China has come a long way. On the other hand, when you do have these kinds of state visits, it does help crystallize areas where the United States and China can and do and should continue to cooperate, both for their mutual benefit and also broader regional and global benefits.
So it’s in the context of recognizing that anytime a United States president and a Chinese president get together, it does in fact set an agenda and help to chart a path forward for the benefit of our country and the – and China and others. So it was in that context, first and foremost, of how to take advantage of the upcoming visit, both in the context of our bilateral relationship and in the context of regional and global security issues that are important to both countries.
QUESTION: Can I just do one more on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Did they discuss Ambassador Bosworth’s trip at all and what his agenda is there, and specifically in Beijing, what he’ll be discussing?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it was just briefly mentioned that normally when Ambassador Bosworth is in Beijing, he frequently has the opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Yang himself. In this particular case, that will not happen, but obviously, the Chinese are looking forward to his arrival there. I think --
QUESTION: P.J., one --
MR. CROWLEY: -- if he hasn’t arrived already, for meetings tomorrow.
QUESTION: P.J., on Ambassador Bosworth, he left Seoul without meeting the press after consulting South Korean officials. This is very abnormal. Any --
MR. CROWLEY: I thought he had a brief press encounter today. I know that there was a lot discussed, but I thought he made a brief appearance with the press today.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: The dreaded word WikiLeaks crossed Matt’s lips. Could you please update us? (Laughter.) I’m just trying to give some credit.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very thin hook, Jill. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It came up. It came up. Could you please update us?
MR. CROWLEY: I can tell you, I do not recall that the word WikiLeaks was mentioned during the course of --
QUESTION: Yes, it did. Matt said it.
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. I –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. He is here for consultations. He is still our ambassador to Libya.
QUESTION: Will he be going back to fulfill his –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said yesterday, one of the issues that we’ll be discussing with Ambassador Cretz is his return to Libya.
QUESTION: Is that because you feel that there’s a possibility he may no longer be effective? And if so, why?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’s been ambassador for a couple of years. Again, I’m – all I will just say is that he remains our ambassador to Libya. He is back here for consultations. Obviously, we will – part of those consultations will be reflecting on where we are in our relationship with Libya. And we will – as part of that discussion, we’ll be evaluating his role in the future.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) form an impression at this point?
QUESTION: Could you say -- is that a normal thing, when an ambassador is here for consultations that you evaluate when they’ll return? Or should I say if and when they will return to their posting?
MR. CROWLEY: We – it’s very important for ambassadors to be engaged. I mean, one of the – let me talk more broadly. One of the issues that we are concerned about in the aftermath of WikiLeaks is the impact that these leaks can have on our relationship overall or the relationship between an ambassador and the government that – with which he or she deals. We have an improving relationship with Libya. It’s a very important relationship to the United States. That said, it is a complex relationship, and the ambassador is here to reflect on both where we stand in that relationship and his role as part of that relationship. I’m just not going to go – I’m not going to go into any --
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. But can you just explain maybe a little bit more for – the context of his return? My understanding was that, in fact, he was coming back to be part of a group – group consultations among his fellow NEA –
MR. CROWLEY: As I understand it, there was going to be a chief of missions conference. I think that chief of missions conference has been delayed. Gene had already come back to the States for consultations and perhaps –
QUESTION: When that (inaudible) was delayed.
MR. CROWLEY: -- a little bit of home leave – pardon me?
QUESTION: When – he was already here when the decision was made --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. We made – so he is here. We’re taking advantage of his presence here.
QUESTION: So in other words, the – what you said yesterday and what you said again today about your ambassador to Libya could just as well be – could have been just as well said about your ambassador to Tripoli, Iraq, Egypt, any other country in NEA, in that territory, had this meeting gone ahead – that the group –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, ambassadors come home for consultations on a regular basis. He’s here. We’re taking advantage of his presence here to review the state of our relations with Libya, and –
QUESTION: Right. But I mean if – but if this – if the big conference had happened, had gone ahead, you could just say the same thing about every ambassador that was attending that conference, correct?
MR. CROWLEY: Could, yeah.
QUESTION: Is it fair though to suggest –
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: That’s all right.
MR. CROWLEY: Tunisia makes an appearance for the second day in a row. I mean, last month, there were some demonstrations that occurred in Tunisia over a several-day period. They appeared to us to be triggered by economic concerns and not directed toward Westerners or Western interests. As we do in various places around the world where we have concerns about the safety of our citizens, we did put out a Warden Message right at the end of the year urging Americans to be alert to local security developments, but – and it’s best to avoid these demonstrations, even ones that can appear peaceful.
QUESTION: But aren’t you concerned about economic reforms in Tunisia, or –
MR. CROWLEY: That is something that is part of our ongoing dialogue with Tunisia.
QUESTION: May I ask a question on Iraq?
MR. CROWLEY: You may.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the return to Iraq of Moqtada al-Sadr for the first time in four years? It’s been interpreted as a healing of fissures within the Shiites. And yet, at the same time, he’s obviously been strongly anti-U.S. So is the U.S. seeing it as good or bad?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not for us to be for or against any particular leader or party in Iraq.
QUESTION: It’s not?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saddam Hussein. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s a new State Department position in 2011.
MR. CROWLEY: In the new Iraq. (Laughter.) Al-Sadr is the leader of an Iraqi political party that won a number of seats in the March 2010 election, and his return is a matter between him and the Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: And so there’s nothing that the U.S. is asking or pressuring the Iraqi Government behind the scenes to pressure him about, to tone down his anti-U.S. activities or anything like that? Have we talked to Prime Minister Maliki about getting al-Sadr to tone down his anti-U.S. rhetoric or activities? It’s not something you’re exerting pressure on at all?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our concerns about his rhetoric in the past is well-known, but what happens with him going forward is a matter for him and the Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: Given that he was (inaudible) the last (inaudible) years studying in Iran, are you concerned about what sort of political influence he may try to wield, given his recent experiences?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, his party is – was – won a significant number of seats. We certainly hope that that party will play a constructive role as part of the government coalition. What he actually does, I’m not sure I can predict.
QUESTION: There are already people, though, on the streets of Baghdad suggesting that he’s simply going to foment a return to the sort of violence we saw in 2006 and 2007.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that would be tragic for Iraq, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve worked so hard to build up the capability of Iraqi security forces to handle whatever challenge to the government occurs.
QUESTION: A group of opposition leaders are coming from Venezuela next week to Washington, and they are known for their anti-Chavez – are they going to be meeting officials in this building or the other U.S. officials?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. We’ll see what we can find out.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Venezuela. Apparently, President Chavez has some interesting suggestions for whom you might name to be the next ambassador. Who are they again? Bill Clinton, Noam Chomsky?
QUESTION: Sean Penn.
QUESTION: Sean Penn and Oliver Stone – (laugher) – all noted diplomacists.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m kind of partial to Sean Penn myself.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there --
MR. CROWLEY: Look --
QUESTION: First of all, do you – would you seriously entertain any of those suggestions? And (b) --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: No? Okay. So who are --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. We appreciate President Chavez’s suggestions, but the fact is we are not looking for another candidate to be the U.S. Ambassador to Caracas. We’ve made clear that we felt very strongly that Larry Palmer was the appropriate candidate, fully qualified, and would have been and would be an effective interlocutor to improve relations between the United States and Venezuela. We have not changed our view, even though his nomination is technically expired. We supported him prior to the end of the last Congress and we continue to support him. And we regret very much that Venezuela has rescinded agrément, but the fact is we’re not looking for another candidate.
QUESTION: Well, that seems to go – well, I mean, it doesn’t entirely contradict, but it seems to tamp down what you had suggested the other day, which was that someone would have to be re-nominated for that post.
MR. CROWLEY: Someone would have to be re-nominated.
QUESTION: Has the decision been made to re-nominate Mr. Palmer, Ambassador Palmer, to the post?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will – we are evaluating the implications of Venezuela’s withdrawal of agrément. We haven’t made any decisions, but we just want to be clear that we have not stepped back from our complete support for Larry Palmer.
QUESTION: So – I realize this is a White House matter, but --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, that is a White House matter. What – all I’m saying is that we are – there have been suggestions, particularly suggestions by President Chavez himself, that we are looking for another candidate, and the answer is that we’re not looking for another candidate.
QUESTION: Okay, so you’re happy then – or maybe not happy, but you’re ready to leave it – leave the situation as it is, without having ambassadors in either country?
MR. CROWLEY: We’re prepared to stay where we are for an indefinite period.
QUESTION: P.J., knowing that what is the present, current state of relationship with – between U.S. and Venezuela, aren’t you interested in knowing if these opposition lawmakers are coming in any kind of --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: Because I just got the information that they are coming. I will like you to know --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there – but there – I’m not saying – I don't know. I’ll take the question as to whether we have meetings coming up with individuals from Venezuela. Obviously, we have not shied away from offering our view and our concerns about what is happening in Venezuela. We believe that an ambassador on the ground in Caracas would both have the ability to engage the Government of Venezuela but also make clear in our interaction with Venezuelan civil society that we support freedom of the press, we support private enterprise, we decry the increasingly autocratic trends in Venezuela.
If we have an ambassador at post, that’s not a concession to another country. It is someone there serving our interests and protecting our values. That’s why we are prepared to have an ambassador in Caracas. We believe that Larry Palmer can be an effective ambassador. We wish that Venezuela would accept him as our nominee. We regret that Venezuela has rescinded its agrément, and – but we haven’t stepped back from our support for Mr. Palmer.
QUESTION: Can we get a quick one on Cote d’Ivoire? Speaking of letting the situation just sort of be, are you seeing any positive developments in the efforts from ECOWAS and from the AU to get Gbagbo to leave?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the one hand, we support those ongoing efforts. On the other hand, it does not appear that President Gbagbo has either recognized the election results, nor has he followed through on what we understand were commitments that he made to the ECOWAS delegation to, for example, withdraw the blockade from the Golf Hotel. That has not happened yet.
QUESTION: And what about the ongoing reports of alleged human rights abuses? How long is the U.S. willing to stand aside and watch this situation possibly worsen, especially given that Gbagbo was --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I challenge the assumption behind your question. We support the presence of UN forces there as a stabilizing influence in the region. We decry the violence that has resulted in deaths and injuries of citizens of Cote d’Ivoire. We believe they’re politically motivated. We believe that the Government of President Gbagbo is fully responsible. We are concerned about the situation on the ground. We are consulting closely with the countries in the region and beyond. ECOWAS continues to evaluate the possibility of sending a force into Cote d’Ivoire to help stabilize the situation there. So we are fully engaged in this effort.
QUESTION: But how willing is the U.S., France, other countries – how willing are outside countries willing to watch more people possibly be disappeared or killed while a diplomatic resolution is sought?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are still hopeful that a diplomatic resolution can be obtained in Cote d’Ivoire. However, clearly, we are evaluating the full range of options that are available to the international community.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a strategy that is supported by the United States, NATO, the international community, and Afghanistan. We’re approaching in 2011 an important pivot point, where we’ll begin the process of transferring security responsibility from the U.S. and international forces to Afghanistan. And that process, we hope, will culminate in 2014. So we have a strategy which President Karzai, President Obama, and other leaders within NATO have given their full support to.
QUESTION: Same topic. The Afghan Peace Council is visiting in Pakistan. What is the U.S. hoping will be accomplished?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is an Afghan-led process. We support it. Reconciliation and reintegration seeks to bring back into society those who cease violence, break ties with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and accept the Afghan constitution, including provisions that protect the rights of all Afghan men and women. So we welcome efforts that strengthen cooperation and coordination between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
QUESTION: But who exactly are – the Peace Council members, who exactly are they talking to in Pakistan? I mean, even some of the Afghans have expressed some concern about the political instability in Pakistan right now. Is there any fear that because of what’s going on there that these negotiations, these talks, may come to nothing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as we’ve said, this is an Afghan-led process. Ultimately, they will be the ones who are doing the talking, but we fully understand that many countries have an interest in a stable Afghanistan, and other countries can play a role in supporting this Afghan-led process.
QUESTION: Are any U.S. officials involved in these talks?
MR. CROWLEY: We are supporting the process, but it’s an Afghan-led process.
QUESTION: And finally, could you – do you have any more details on Frank Ruggiero’s schedule, any more scheduling details?
MR. CROWLEY: Not beyond what I gave yesterday.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Wait, hold on. (Inaudible) hasn’t had one yet.
QUESTION: Change subjects?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Middle East peace process. Today, the chief Palestinian negotiator claimed that Mr. Netanyahu’s claim that you withdrew the offer is not true; that simply, they refused to go along with the offer that was submitted by the United States to continue with the moratorium. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, as – we made the decision based on our discussions with the parties that an extension of the settlement moratorium would not at this time create the conditions to return to effective negotiations. We’ve shifted the basis of our ongoing engagement with the parties. It was our decision, but our decision based on our discussions with the parties.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Israeli foreign minister that there will be no peace agreement with the Palestinians in the many decades to come?
MR. CROWLEY: We have a much more aggressive timetable than he does.
QUESTION: Just a quick one. I asked earlier, was Pakistan discussed during the Secretary’s meeting with the Chinese foreign minister? And also, at the same time, Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Pakistani ambassador, if U.S. has any concern as far as their nuclear program is concerned because of the situation in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Let me put it this way. I don’t recall that Pakistan specifically came up in today’s discussion, but we obviously share an interest with China in stability in this part of the world. The Secretary did meet with Ambassador Haqqani yesterday. It was a wide-ranging discussion, including planning for the Strategic Dialogue, the upcoming trilateral meeting, which I’ll clarify is at the foreign minister level and will be hosted by Secretary Clinton, a potential visit to the United States by President Zardari, and they did discuss the current political situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:00 p.m.)