1:23 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State, and we do welcome in the back of the briefing room today students from the Washington Center participating in a program here in D.C., and I had the opportunity to talk with them earlier this week and welcomed them to demonstrate the skill and cunning of the State Department Press Corps. Sit back and relax. I’ve got a lot of things to talk about up front.
Secretary Clinton is en route back to the United States. In Doha today, she delivered remarks at the Seventh Forum of the Future. She called on leaders in the region to open greater political and economic space, particularly for Arab youth, to respect human rights, improve business climate, and combat corruption, and that these elements and more are important to the region’s future. And the impact of how the Middle East and Gulf regions develop going forward will have significance, obviously, on a worldwide basis.
She also met again briefly with Qatari Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Al-Thani to discuss regional developments, including Lebanon. She met with the staff and families of the U.S. Embassy in Doha to thank them for their hard work and dedication. She also met with civil society representatives from the Middle East and North Africa.
Tomorrow, she will deliver remarks on U.S.-China relations here at the State Department at 9:45. Her speech will present a broad vision of U.S.-China relations in the 21st century and set the stage for the upcoming visit of President Hu Jintao next week. Then of course, she will join the President and participate in the memorial service for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, where she’ll have the opportunity to both reflect on and recognize his tremendous contributions to the United States and our foreign policy.
Turning to Cuba, yesterday, the U.S. delegation completed another productive round of migration talks in Havana. The team was led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson. The sessions covered a broad range of topics of mutual interest, including the importance of our continued commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. The delegation took the opportunity to press the Government of Cuba to release the detained development worker Alan Gross, as well as all remaining political prisoners in Cuba. This morning, Roberta Jacobson had the opportunity to meet with Alan Gross, also with representatives of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Jewish groups, and members of civil society while in Havana.
In Sudan, U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration and Senior Advisor for Darfur Ambassador Dane Smith have returned to Khartoum following their two-day visit to Darfur. Earlier today, they traveled with UNAMID officials to visit sites of recent violence in Darfur, including Deribat, Khor Abeche and Shangil Tobaya. Tomorrow, the special envoy will visit polling sites in Khartoum and meet with senior Sudanese Government officials to discuss the way forward on post-referendum arrangements and Darfur.
Staying in Africa, today, the United States granted agrément to Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara’s ambassador designate to the United States, and we look forward to welcoming and working with the ambassador upon his arrival in Washington. In Cote d'Ivoire, we remain increasingly concerned about the Gbagbo regime inciting violence against United Nations peacekeepers. Yesterday, his chief of staff, General Philippe Mangou, lied to journalists that UN peacekeepers had abandoned the neighborhood of Abobo, when in fact they had remained there the whole night to ensure the protection of civilians, one of their key mandates.
We’re conscious of the fact that the UN team came under fire while returning from patrol and returned that fire. Three peacekeepers were slightly wounded in the incident. But also, security forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo also blocked and looted a supply convoy destined for the Golf Hotel. We strongly condemn interference with the work of the United Nations operations in Cote d'Ivoire. We view this as a violation of the UN Security Council’s sanctions regime.
QUESTION: P.J., does all of that refer to the incidents yesterday?
MR. CROWLEY: And last night, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware that we are carrying reports that forces loyal to Gbagbo are attacking and burning UN vehicles, that there were six attacks on Thursday, and that two people (inaudible) were injured in those six attacks on Thursday?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. We are monitoring the situation closely. We are very concerned about Mr. Gbagbo and his staff and those who are allied with him as they continue to stir anti-UN sentiment through state-owned media broadcast and other events. So this is an area of ongoing concern for us.
QUESTION: And what is the name of Mr. Ouattara’s ambassador designate?
MR. CROWLEY: We will hold the announcement of his name until he has presented his credentials to the President.
QUESTION: When do you expect that to happen? When do you expect him to get here? Days or --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, that’s up to President Ouattara. But we would hope it would be in the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: And isn’t Ouattara supposed to come at the end of the week? Will anybody in this building be meeting with him?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that and see what – I haven’t heard that, but I’m not ruling that out.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary’s meeting or possible meeting with President Zardari – let me put it to you this way: The White House announced this morning that President Obama will meet Pakistani President Zardari tomorrow. Will the Secretary take part in that meeting or will --
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Great. Will she have any separate meetings with President Zardari?
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, we had contemplated that, but now she – a meeting that we had been talking to the Pakistanis about will be folded into the meeting that President Zardari will have with the President. Secretary Clinton will join that meeting.
QUESTION: And when you said that tomorrow she will have the occasion to reflect on Ambassador Holbrooke, do you mean that she will speak at his memorial service?
MR. CROWLEY: She will speak at his memorial service, and she will also reflect on his contributions in her speech tomorrow morning since Ambassador Holbrooke was, at one point, the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Let me just --
MR. CROWLEY: -- tick off a few more things here. Assistant Secretary Bob Blake spoke today with Prime Minister Nepal and Maoist Chairman Dahal separately by phone. He told both leaders that the United States Government commitment to support the peace process will continue after the United Nations mission leaves Nepal this weekend. He urged all parties to continue to respect their own commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. He concluded by saying that the people of Nepal look to their political leadership to bring the peace process to a much needed conclusion. He urged all parties to show flexibility and work together to achieve this goal.
Here at the State Department, Senator George Mitchell met this morning with Saeb Erekat and will meet this afternoon with Yitzhak Molho. These meetings are part of our ongoing consultations with the parties to achieve a framework agreement on all core issues.
You asked, I think yesterday, about the status of Ambassador Robert Ford. He continues to have consultations here in Washington. He departs for Damascus on Saturday.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. And finally, you’ll recall last April, Secretary Clinton and the Nigerian Secretary to the Government of the Federation Yayali Ahmed inaugurated the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, a strategic dialogue designated to expand mutual cooperation across a broad range of shared interests. The commission is a collaborative forum to build partnerships for tangible progress on issues critical to our shared future.
This week, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell confirmed that Nigeria’s rivers and delta states have formally accepted an infrastructure exchange partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT. The rivers and delta states will work with PennDOT and Rita Jo Lewis, the Secretary’s special representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, to implement the program.
QUESTION: Can we talk for a moment about the conversation that Senator Mitchell had this morning –
MR. CROWLEY: Okay, let me just – I wanted to make –
QUESTION: Sure, okay.
MR. CROWLEY: You were asking yesterday also – the Secretary and her calls. Yesterday afternoon, she did have a call with UK Foreign Minister Hague. They talked about a range of issues, but most significantly the search for Middle East peace as well as developments in Lebanon – I’m sorry, developments in Yemen and Sudan.
QUESTION: They didn’t talk about Lebanon?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the conversation touched briefly on Lebanon, but they spent most of their time talking about the Middle East peace process.
QUESTION: Okay, the Middle East peace process. Will – did Senator Mitchell’s talks with Mr. Erekat this morning touch at all on the draft resolution that the Palestinians would love to see put to a vote in the Security Council?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t got a readout, Arshad, of his meetings. However, we have had and continue to have conversations with the Palestinians on that question.
MR. CROWLEY: It is our belief that New York is the wrong forum to address these complex issues, that the parties should work to find a way back to direct negotiations as the only way to resolve these difficult issues and the conflict once and for all.
QUESTION: On the Holbrooke memorial service, are you going to release details on attendees, including foreign dignitaries (inaudible)? We’ve been asking about it.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay, yeah. I just – I’ve not seen an updated list. We’ll see what we can do. If we can, we will.
QUESTION: I have a question on Iran. During her trip, the Secretary made many comments about how Iran – how the sanctions are delaying Iran’s nuclear program. I was wondering if you attribute the delay in Iran’s nuclear program solely to the sanctions, or do you think – what do you think the assessment of the impact of this worm – I’m going to mispronounce it, so I won’t even –
MR. CROWLEY: Stuxnet.
QUESTION: Stuxnet, yes. And also, the recent assassination of several Iranian scientists, how does that factor in into your understanding of the delay of the program?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that I can answer that question without getting into intelligence matters. The Secretary believes that we have some time to deal with this issue, but that time is limited. It’s one of the reasons why we look forward to next week’s P-5+1 meeting. We hope that Iran comes to the table prepared to engage in a constructive process to resolve these issues.
QUESTION: But I mean, just to follow up, I mean this worm and assassinations of Iranian scientists have been kind of recognized as realities. So surely you don’t think that just the sanctions alone have contributed to the delay of the program. I mean, even senior Mossad officials, or former Mossad officials, have acknowledged that there has been – that there is a panoply of issues that have contributed to the delay. Wouldn’t you agree?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s safe to say that, on the one hand, Iran does appear to be struggling to master this technology. On the other hand, the path that Iran is on is of great concern, and we think, if this path continues, can be destabilizing to a very, very important region of the world.
QUESTION: No, I know, but that doesn’t specifically answer –
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Again, I’m –
QUESTION: I mean, do you – no, do you attribute – the Secretary made a great big showing about how the sanctions are delaying the program. Do you attribute the delay in the program, which you just acknowledged, solely to the sanctions?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe very definitely that the sanctions, which are targeted primarily against institutions that support Iran’s nuclear program, have had an impact. Are there other factors here? Probably.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have you done Yemen yet? I’m sorry to – I showed up late. No?
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary had a meeting with Yemeni opposition leaders, after which the Yemeni Government banned opposition leaders from entering embassy – any embassy grounds for any reason without prior approval. Why did the Secretary meet with the opposition leaders? What is your comment on the fact that these meetings are now banned, et cetera?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of that announcement. We’ll take that question and see if we – and certainly, if such an announcement has occurred, we’ll definitely have a reaction to it.
The message to the Yemeni Government in the meetings with President Saleh focused on counterterrorism and our joint efforts to combat extremism in Yemen, which is a threat to Yemen and a threat to others, including the United States. She talked about the fact that we need to have a multi-track strategy, and political reform and economic reform in Yemen are vitally important to Yemen’s future.
As the Secretary travels, she frequently meets with opposition leaders in a variety of countries, so what she did in Yemen is not unusual. And certainly, Yemen has to develop an open political system, just as you said, for the region as a whole, today in her speech in Doha, so that all elements of Yemeni society or all elements of other countries can have the chance to participate fully in political affairs and contribute to the future of those countries.
QUESTION: Back on Cuba? You said Jacobson met with Gross.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Were there any details about his condition?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say – Roberta is still in Havana, so I haven’t any fresh insights. We remain very concerned about Mr. Gross’s health, and it does bring a sense of urgency to why we believe very strongly he should be released as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And any details on Cuba’s reaction when it came up again yesterday in the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we appreciate the fact that she had the opportunity to visit with him. We’ve had regular visits with Mr. Gross. I think this might actually be the second one this week. But we remain very concerned about his health. We believe very strongly and continue to insist in our meetings with Cuban authorities this week that his case be resolved and he be released as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Do you see that as the main impediment to improvements right now on other issues with Cuba? I mean, I know you have a lot of issues with Cuba, but is that kind of the main thing that’s preventing you from cooperating on future areas of cooperation?
MR. CROWLEY: We have concern about the welfare of one of our citizens, but it is by no means the only concern that we have on Cuba. We want to see reform in Cuba. We want to see Cuba take aggressive steps to reform itself and to release political prisoners, open up political space, expand civil society, expand economic opportunity. There are lots of things that Cuba can do.
QUESTION: But that’s true of a lot of countries that you deal with --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, but I’m saying that as --
QUESTION: -- and there are a lot of countries that are holding U.S. citizens.
MR. CROWLEY: As we have said, that as Cuba reforms, then we will review our policies appropriately. But obviously, we wanted to see what happened what – Cuba needs to undertake fundamental reform first.
QUESTION: What’s the next step after Senator Mitchell’s meetings today with the Israeli and the Palestinians?
MR. CROWLEY: At the working level, we are working on the core issues. We’re trying to narrow the gaps that exist. I would expect that we’ll have similar engagements, and this is all trying to build a foundation, improve trust, and try to move the parties back to direct negotiations. That is – this is an effort that will continue.
QUESTION: Do you expect Senator Mitchell to travel to the region after that?
MR. CROWLEY: Samir, the meeting is either just happening or hasn’t happened yet. Let’s get through today and then we’ll evaluate what the appropriate next steps. But I would say expect that we’ll have further activity at the working level and see where it goes.
QUESTION: Can we say this is the beginning of your new approach to focus on the core issues?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, we had some activity late last year along the same lines.
QUESTION: On Lebanon, is there any more talk within the Administration about halting aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces and the result of the --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that we see a need at this point to review our assistance to Lebanon. We provide support to institutions like the Lebanese Armed Forces that operate under the constitutional authority of the Lebanese state. We believe that our support for these institutions is critical to a sovereign and independent Lebanon. We expect a new government will emerge through constitutional procedures, and at this point, there’s just no reason to speculate.
QUESTION: Can you get us a readout following Senator Mitchell’s meeting with Mr. Molho this afternoon?
MR. CROWLEY: I doubt it will be a whole lot more than what I’ve already told you.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MR. CROWLEY: Efforts will continue at the working level.
QUESTION: -- at least we would know that they had indeed actually met as --
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. We will let you know that the meeting with Mr. Molho has occurred.
QUESTION: And can you let us know if either meeting touched on the question I raised, which is this draft Security Council resolution?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I actually thought I gave you an affirmative answer that I would expect that in one or both --
QUESTION: No, no, not what you expect.
MR. CROWLEY: All right, all right, all right.
QUESTION: I want to know if it – after the meeting, I want to know: Did they talk about it? I mean --
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I will see what I can do.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about the speech tomorrow on China as to --
MR. CROWLEY: And step on the Secretary’s news? No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, just get some better – get more what she’s going to talk about.
MR. CROWLEY: Huh?
QUESTION: Can you just give us a little bit more about what themes she’s going to raise and --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think Robert Gibbs this morning kind of broadly outlined what the primary baskets that we expect to address in the visit of President Hu Jintao. And the Secretary will reflect on the current state of U.S.-China relations. I’m sure she’ll touch on the importance of the relationship in terms of regional security. I’m sure she’ll touch on North Korea. I’m sure she’ll touch on economic issues.
QUESTION: On Iran, are you – as you, I am sure, know, the Chinese foreign ministry today said that it would be difficult for their ambassador to the IAEA to get to Iran, because they happen to be in China at the moment, and I guess it’s hard to fly from China to Tehran. But are you pleased that it’s going to be hard for him to get there?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that we’re pleased that other countries that received invitations have seen through the Iranian gambit, just as we did. Whatever Iran contemplates in terms of opening up its facilities to visits by diplomats is no substitute for opening up its facilities to qualified IAEA inspectors so that – so we can truly assess what’s happening and use those visits and other cooperation that we would expect Iran to undertake with the IAEA to finally answer the questions the international community has about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: And are you disappointed that the Egyptian ambassador plans to take the tour? I mean, it’s your ally.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure a fine time will be had by all.
QUESTION: Well, the meeting with Zardari, any specific issues that the U.S. might want to bring up with the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is a vitally important partnership that we’re building with Pakistan. The Vice President was just there and had the opportunity to talk to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani. The President will have a chance to talk with President Zardari about the state of the relationship, what’s happening on the ground, and we look forward to the meeting tomorrow.
QUESTION: Can we get a reaction from State about the upcoming shift in the Japanese cabinet?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of a shift, but that’s a matter for the Japanese Government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes. There is a meeting between U.S. and Japan on trade issue going on today, and the State Department officials also attending. And I wonder – and they are discussing TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership as well – I wonder what would you like to achieve out of this meeting.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me – I’ll take the question as to whether we’re hosting the meeting or just participating, in which case we probably would defer, for example, to the Trade Representative or Commerce, depending on who is hosting the meeting.
QUESTION: A question on Indonesia. Three Indonesian troops have just gone on trial at a military tribunal. They are accused of the torture of two Papuan separatists. But apparently, they’re only facing charges of a disciplinary infraction. Do you have any comment on that and whether it casts any doubt over the sincerity of Indonesia to reform its security forces?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s vitally important for Indonesia to reform its security forces and hold those forces to high standards in terms of individual conduct and human rights. We have called upon Indonesia to aggressively investigate evidence of wrongdoing in violation of human rights, and we will be closely monitoring these cases.
QUESTION: Does – can I have one follow-up on that? Is there additional concern because last year, the United States reinstated military ties with the commando unit in Kopassus?
MR. CROWLEY: Right. And at the time, we obtained a commitment from Indonesia that it would undertake additional training and police its security forces and make sure that they were held to a high standard, and where there was concerns about a violation of human rights, that they would be fully investigated and, where necessary, face legal action. We’re going to hold Indonesia to those commitments.
QUESTION: So if there were continued signs of abuse such as this --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are --
QUESTION: -- and (inaudible), those ties could be --
MR. CROWLEY: Trust me, we are closely monitoring Indonesia’s performance, and that will be very important in terms of the cooperation. And remind that we’ve undertaken limited cooperation, but we’re – this is still an area that we are closely watching.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that there have been any new contacts today, but we obviously continue to monitor the situation. There continues to be an unacceptable level of violence. And we will continue our engagement with the Tunisian Government, but I just don’t say – I don’t know that there are any meetings today.
QUESTION: Well, what do you make of the president’s decision to fire some of the more hardline people in his cabinet and also set up committees to investigate some of the violence and to also take steps to ease some of the reasons for the protests in the first place?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. Well, I mean, but clearly, the violence was happening and we are concerned about this and we hope that there will be restraint on the streets of Tunis and elsewhere in the country. There is underlying tension. Obviously, the people of Tunisia are sending a message to the government in terms of the need for greater economic opportunity, expansion of civil society and political rights. And we hope that the government will respond aggressively to the concerns of its citizens.
QUESTION: Well, don’t you think that the steps that they took today are a step in the right direction of doing that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, the government has made public commitments to respond to the concerns of its citizens, address the tension that have brought these citizens out in protest. And we hope the sooner they act on these concerns the better.
QUESTION: Do you think that the unrest in Tunisia is partly a function not just of the specific concerns about prices rising and so on, but of the absence of political freedoms there and the fact that the current president has won elections – I think in the last one, he feel just below 90 percent to 89 percent, but that there really doesn’t seem to have been a lot of serious opposition or scope for opposition there?
MR. CROWLEY: I think what we see in Tunisia reinforces the Secretary’s message today at the Forum For The Future. There – the dynamic in the Middle East, across North Africa, elsewhere in the Gulf, you have the so-called youth bulge, and countries need to generate economic opportunity to meet the needs of increasing population, particularly young people. They, obviously, want to be educated. They want to enjoy the prosperity that others have. They want to have the opportunity to participate fully in an open political process. And it is incumbent upon these countries to respond to the aspirations of their people. If they don’t, we’ve seen in other places where a frustrated youth then, in turn, turn to other pursuits, including extremism. And it is vitally important for these governments to reform themselves and to create the kinds of opportunities that their populations hope and expect.
QUESTION: And that’s specifically important for Tunisia to open up its political process?
MR. CROWLEY: Certainly, Tunisia – but is one of many countries that face this challenge.
MR. CROWLEY: Brazil?
QUESTION: Yeah. We went over Australia yesterday. It is Brazil.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any. But certainly, we’re open to any offers of assistance in the context of Brazil, in the context of Australia. Certainly – but shifting to Australia, these are devastating floods in Queensland. We’ve made a general offer of support and assistance to the Government of Australia, and we stand by if there are any specific needs that they have. I’m not aware that they’ve indicated any needs at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)