2:53 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to a soon-to-be snowy Washington, D.C. and the Department of State. This is where we’ll do a kind of a conspiracy here, where we’re expecting many inches of snow in Washington this afternoon, the government is shutting down and going home. I hope you guys will wait for the end of the briefing. And we can make this rapid.
Let me mention a few things before taking your questions. Secretary Clinton met this afternoon with Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti to discuss the future of U.S.-Sudan cooperation following the Southern Sudan referendum. The Secretary congratulated Sudan on the successful completion of a peaceful, orderly vote, and reaffirmed U.S. willingness to take steps towards normalization of relations as Sudan meets its commitments under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including negotiating post-referendum arrangements and committing to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur. The two agreed that much work needs to be done as the parties finalize in the coming months the arrangements that will define our future relationship. But both pledged their continued cooperation to ensure a peaceful and more prosperous future for all Sudanese.
As you saw earlier, the Secretary met this morning with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, reviewing a range of issues across the region. But they did spend a great deal of time talking about our bilateral relationship. The foreign minister and the minister of planning spent a great deal of time talking through what Jordan has done itself to reduce deficits, create jobs for its own citizens, improve its education system, create innovations within its society, and expressed concern about food and oil prices but reiterated the importance of ongoing U.S. financial assistance to Jordan.
And since we were with you last, just to recap, yesterday the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Saudabayev of Kazakhstan. They talked about cooperation to support Afghanistan Kazakhstan provides for the transit of supplies through the northern distribution network. They talked about ideas on deepening our cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation. During the meeting, Secretary Clinton emphasized the United States’s concern that the national referendum that would extend President Nazarbayev’s term of office to 2020 would be a setback for democracy, and we hope that Kazakhstan will renew its commitments to democracy, good governance, and human rights.
Today, in Afghanistan, the United States congratulated the government and people of Afghanistan on the inauguration of their new parliament. We commend the voters in particular who have steadfastly and courageously supported peace and democracy despite tremendous challenges. We look forward to supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches work together to advance the priorities of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: P.J., on Egypt, are you aware of reports that a number of journalists have been detained, some of them roughed up, by Egyptian police in trying to cover the demonstrations? And if you are, what do you make of this?
MR. CROWLEY: We are aware that certain reporters have been detained, I think a couple of AP reporters in particular. We have raised this issue already with the ministry of foreign affairs and we will continue to monitor these cases until they are successfully resolved.
QUESTION: Okay. And when you say you’ve raised the issue with the ministry of foreign affairs, does that mean you’ve said that you expect that these people will be released or that they will be treated well?
MR. CROWLEY: We are calling for the release of journalists, yes. Absolutely, and we will continue to raise this with the Egyptian Government if it is not quickly resolved.
QUESTION: Okay. And then more broadly, the Egyptians say that they’ve arrested close to – I think it’s close to a thousand people now. What about those people?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary made clear in her remarks earlier today, we believe it’s vitally important for Egypt to respect the universal right of its people to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right to peacefully protest. Our Ambassador, Margaret Scobey, had a meeting today with the Egyptian Government. She expressed our concern about the situation and the need for the Egyptian Government to demonstrate restraint. She also raised the issue of interference with social media. Internet freedom is just as important as a citizen’s right to enter a city square or criticize the government without fear of reprisal.
QUESTION: When you say that Scobey met with the – who did she meet with?
MR. CROWLEY: She met with the Minister of State for Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab.
Goyal. Oh, I should mention one thing. Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman left Tunisia today. He’s now in Paris conferring with his counterpart within the French Government. But he met today with civil society representatives and had a press conference with Tunisian media. And that’s the latest on him as well.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for him to go to Egypt?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Any plans for him to go to Egypt?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think so. I think he’s coming back here tomorrow. I think there’s a conference later this week on Iraq that he plans to attend.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. He’s in Paris talking about what? About Lebanon or Tunisia?
MR. CROWLEY: He’s meeting with his counterpart. I have no doubt that the bulk of the conversation will be on Lebanon.
QUESTION: Just on the reform issue with the Secretary this morning and the statement last night --
MR. CROWLEY: But yeah, I think he’ll also talk about Tunisia.
QUESTION: -- was talking about that now’s a good time for Mubarak maybe to move ahead with some reforms. And you talked broadly about the political, economic, social opportunity. Does the U.S. Government have any specific ideas about political reforms, which might improve the situation in Egypt, and are you making those suggestions to them?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a conversation that we’ve had with Egypt for some time. We do believe that political reform is important for Egypt, just as it’s important for other countries in the region. We have long called for Egypt to create greater space for broader participation in its political process. Our concern and the fact that we have raised this issue with Egypt is longstanding, actually.
QUESTION: Two related questions as far as – as India celebrates today the public day of India, many of the military officers are under arrest and many are under investigation because of their last corruption on a big way, and this corruption could be related or some with connection overseas, including in the U.S. and Swiss. Any idea if anything you have heard about these people?
MR. CROWLEY: I have not heard anything about that.
QUESTION: And second, as far as black money in the Swiss banks are concerned and accountability, many people now around the globe are asking that Swiss should open their banks now, just like any other banks around the globe because – do you believe that because of the secret accounts by money held in billions of dollars by the corrupt politicians and al-Qaida and terrorists, the Swiss are spreading terrorism and money laundering around the globe because of their secured accounts?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that I would say that, Goyal. I mean, obviously we have had discussions with the Swiss Government about our own concerns, but I’ll take the question as to whether we have a view about Swiss banking practices broadly.
QUESTION: I have a question about the Tri-Valley University, which is a university near the San Francisco Bay area, which has been charged with being a sham university and is going to be closed down, reports say. And I had a question about the status of that investigation as well as the fact that a number of Indian students who have signed up to this university might be either interrogated or deported. Could you please comment on whether there have been any arrests or deportations, whether you have had contact from the Indian Embassy in Washington or not, and how many students have been involved and what legal recourse they have?
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible), I’ll narrow down that question. I will – we’ll take the question as to whether this has been a subject of concern that’s been raised by the Indian Embassy with us. All of the other issues involved there do not involve the Department of State, but I’ll see if this has been raised with the government.
QUESTION: And just one more follow-up, thank you, on this issue. There are a number of – not only that one university. Number of other universities, including in the Washington area and Virginia, where they’re called visa factory. And easily and usually you get visa from India, Pakistan, and Nepal, and there’re hundreds of them. What –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, any activity involving visa fraud would obviously be of great concern to us. But the investigation of that is done by law enforcement, obviously with our cooperation, since we are the ones who issue visas.
QUESTION: But – I’m sorry – the sad story that there is nothing wrong that they come on a student visa, but they never go to school or they go only for two hours a week and that’s – and then they are holding $50-60,000 jobs.
MR. CROWLEY: And as you know, since 9/11, one of the areas that we as a government have strengthened is the tracking, so that if you come here on a student visa, you have to check in and you have to go to school. That is a requirement of that program.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ve heard – we’ve been monitoring the situation very closely as it evolves. Our view is that the Government of Haiti should accept the findings of the OAS report and them move forward with the follow-on round of voting. As to – I think we’re still waiting for the Government of Haiti to make its decision.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you at least say that that’s something that you would like to see specifically?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the – I mean, again, it’s not for us. This is a Haitian electoral process. The OAS verification monitoring group analyzed the findings and took exception with the preliminary findings that, in fact, Mr. Celestin finished third and will not qualify to participate in the follow-on election. But we – it’s not that we are picking one over the other. It’s that there are strong indications that there was significant voter fraud that led to the – and that the findings do not – the preliminary findings do not reflect the actual voting of the Haitian people.
QUESTION: Sudan’s Foreign Minister Karti, in his speech this morning before he met with the Secretary, said that it was time for the U.S. to immediately normalize ties with Khartoum and that these relations were being held hostage by the Darfur issue. I’m wondering if he made those points directly to the Secretary when they met, what her response was. He also is saying that it’s time for the U.S. to immediately take Khartoum off the State Sponsor of Terrorism list and lift sanctions.
You’ve said the Secretary talked about broad commitment to moving forward. Was there any discussion of the timeline? Does the U.S. feel that they are making progress that will allow that to happen?
MR. CROWLEY: We have laid out a roadmap for normalization of relations with Sudan. These criteria were laid out late last year. We reiterated – both in a number of meetings that the foreign minister has had in Washington, including a meeting with the Secretary – that with the formal acceptance of the results of the referendum, we are prepared to move ahead with the process of rescinding Sudan from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list.
We have made clear to Sudan that there are a number of steps that have to be done during this process in terms of making sure that Sudan, first and foremost, meets the criteria under law to – which would include not supporting international terrorism for the preceding six months and providing assurances that it will not resume providing that kind of support to international terrorism.
So as far as the SST is concerned, there are legal requirements the Sudan has to meet with the formal acceptance of the referendum results. And that process will take another couple of weeks, we believe. At that point, we’re prepared to begin this process. But there’s a lot of work to be done during this post-referendum phase as we move towards rescinding the Sudan from the list and then going through the process of normalizing relations with the United States.
There was a spirit of cooperation in the meeting today. The foreign minister emphasized to the Secretary the spirit of cooperation. We recognize the constructive work of Sudan during this lead-up to the referendum. We are poised to move ahead with the process of normalized relations, but there are a number of things that have to be done along the way.
QUESTION: What are among those things? You haven’t mentioned anything about the situation on the ground in Darfur. Is that now a completely separate issue, that all of this process toward normalization can take place purely based on how Sudan deals with the fallout from the referendum?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are maybe three things, at least three things, and they work in concert but they are – they have their own criteria. The matter of the state sponsor of terrorism list is a matter of – not only continue to cooperate on the post-referendum phase, but also meeting the legal criteria to withdraw Sudan from that list. There is a process of leading towards normalized relations, but we have to have Sudan work with the United States and others to resolve the situation with the – with Abyei. You need to have continued work on how the relationship between North and South will be constructed, assuming as – hypothetically, the result that is broadly anticipated.
So there are still lots of work to be done in the post-referendum phase to set up normal relations, first and foremost, between North and the South. We are certainly not ignoring the situation with respect to Darfur. That is a critical – of critical importance in terms of our ability to make the decision down the road to normalize relations with Sudan. There’s a lot of work being done. We appreciate steps that Sudan has taken recently. We want to see a formal ceasefire in Sudan. We want to see economic opportunity created for the people of Darfur. I think we expect – hopefully, Ambassador Dane Smith, who is now focused on – the team here at the State Department, to come brief you on the current situation in Darfur early next week.
QUESTION: All right. One final question on this and I’ll go. Karti also said that Sudan has been cooperating on what he called joint counterterrorism efforts with the United States. He didn’t go into detail. Would you – and would you describe them as cooperative in ongoing counterterrorism campaigns?
MR. CROWLEY: I think in recent years, the cooperation between the United States has been – on counterterrorism has improved, yes.
QUESTION: A question about the efforts for peace in the Middle East. Al Jazeera has learned that the United States put a lot of pressure on the Palestinian Authority in October of 2009 to stonewall the Goldstone report and to refrain from going to any international organizations to seek legal relief or redress. Why was the United States insistent that the PA don’t go to any international organizations?
MR. CROWLEY: And how would you know this?
QUESTION: Well, we’ve learned this from documents that we have.
MR. CROWLEY: All right. And we’re not going to talk --
QUESTION: Well, actually, it was public knowledge at the time.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say – I am just – we’re not going to talk about any documents. The issue of bringing up the Goldstone report was a subject of significant controversy within the Human Rights Council. There were formal and – sessions on that. Our view was well-stated at the time, that we did not think that the Human Rights Council was the appropriate forum to consider the issues in the Goldstone report. We made that clear publicly. We made that clear to the Palestinians. That’s actually, as Matt suggested, not new news.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up. I mean, the Palestinian Authority subsequently rejected the Goldstone report, then they accepted it, then they rejected it. And they came in from withering criticism, just – not only from the Palestinian people, but also from neighboring Arab states. Why did the United States not anticipate at that time that there would be a question mark over the credibility of the PA when they did that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, at the – as I recall, at the time that the report was commissioned, the United States was not a member of the Human Rights Council. We’ve made our – we have made our views clear about this issue in the context of the Human Rights Council, in the context of the report itself. We’ve not been shy about criticizing the findings of the Goldstone report. We recognize that that, at the time, significantly complicated and retarded efforts to achieve Middle East peace. So again, we’re very much on the record on these issues already.
QUESTION: Well, but – yet isn’t it a fact that you didn’t like the Goldstone report and you didn’t want the Palestinians to raise it in the council because you thought it would be unfair to Israel?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’ve --
QUESTION: Isn’t that correct?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve got a very strong and public record regarding our views of the Goldstone report.
QUESTION: So the answer to that is yes, right?
MR. CROWLEY: The answer to that is you –
QUESTION: You thought it would be unfairly --
MR. CROWLEY: If you want me to do a dramatic recitation --
QUESTION: You thought it would be unfairly – no, no, no. You thought it would be unfairly --
MR. CROWLEY: -- of our view of the Goldstone report, I’ll be happy to --
QUESTION: You thought it – there is a point to the reason --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: There is a point to my question. The reason that you thought – that you didn’t support the Goldstone report, it was because you thought it would be, and then you thought that it turned out to be, unfairly critical of Israel. Isn’t that a fact?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the fact is that our concern all along, independent of the contents of the Goldstone report, which we did not think was fair, was --
QUESTION: So you could just say yes and that would be --
MR. CROWLEY: Hey, all right, fine, but we – it has been borne out in terms of the effect that the Goldstone report at the time, and subsequently, had on our ability to move the parties into a direct negotiation. That has had a material effect on a delay in getting the process started and has complicated our efforts over the past two years.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I’ll take that as an answer, “Yes,” to my question that, “Isn’t it a fact that that’s the reason?” So isn’t it also a fact that there was serious disagreement within the Palestinian Authority about what to do about this --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, that --
QUESTION: -- that initially, they agreed with you not to do it, that they came under --
MR. CROWLEY: As to --
QUESTION: -- huge pressure at home and they did do it?
MR. CROWLEY: As to the issues of – I mean, there were lots of conversations about --
QUESTION: I just remember all of this being on the record --
MR. CROWLEY: I was going to say – but --
QUESTION: -- back at the time, so I --
MR. CROWLEY: I will defer to the Palestinians to describe their conversations with other governments that had an interest in this report.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Staying on this broad subject, though, was – this concerns General Dayton and his – he and his office have claimed that they’re not aware – they were not aware of allegations that Palestinian intelligence agents were torturing people. Is that, in fact, the case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to put words in General Dayton’s mouth. I would say that, first of all, there have been no reports of U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces engaging in torture. That said, over the past year, the State Department documented over 100 complaints of prisoner torture which often targeted political detainees suspected of ties to Hamas or Israel. We have raised those concerns repeatedly with Palestinian officials.
That said, the Palestinian security forces have come a long way. Their professionalism has increased over recent years. There’s obviously still much work to be done, and this is a vitally important element of Palestinian efforts to build up strong institutions of governance, including security forces that have the confidence of the Palestinian people and confidence of other countries in the region. And we will continue to work with the Palestinian civilian justice sector institutions as part of our overall efforts.
QUESTION: Would these documented – more than 100 documented, or more than 100 cases that you have documented of torture – would General Dayton have been aware of those?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll be happy to research that.
QUESTION: Staying in the region. Again, Israel – one day after Israel commission released its report on flotilla crisis, Turkey also released its own report. How do you view Turkish report on the flotilla crisis, which basically contrary to Israeli report right now?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s recapture a little bit here. Last September, the Turkish National Commission of Inquiry submitted its interim report to the UN Secretary General’s panel of inquiry. Each country – Turkey and Israel – has worked seriously and responsibly to get at the facts, and both have made important contributions to the work of the Secretary General’s panel.
We look forward to the process continuing at the United Nations within the Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry – it’s also called the Palmer Commission – which will give the international community the opportunity to fully review the circumstances surrounding this incident. And we look forward to a full examination of facts and perspectives from all sides.
So we would say that the fact – that the contribution made by Turkey and its analysis and Israel and its ongoing analysis will help us in this ongoing effort to understand what happened fully. And this is an area that still has work to be done.
What is of equal importance to us is the longstanding ties that we have to both Israel and Turkey. They are both close friends of the United States. They have a relationship that has been important bilaterally and to the region, and we hope that both countries will continue to seek opportunities to move beyond the recent strains in their own bilateral relations.
QUESTION: So these reports – this relationship is getting even worse, with the reports, Turkish and Israeli, and we don’t know exactly what the Palmer is going to be. But it seems like the relationship between these two allies of the U.S. in the region, two of the most important allies in the region, are getting worse, not for better.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s – I think that we simply recognize the importance of this relationship, and we do know that there are efforts being made on both sides to find ways to resolve the strains that do exist. We hope that can be done, because this relationship has very significant meaning, both in terms of our respective relations with these two countries, but more importantly, Turkey has been a significant player in helping to resolve issues in the region related to the pursuit of Middle East peace. And we would hope that in the future that effort can continue.
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: (Inaudible). What is the U.S. response to the fact Interpol has just released a statement saying that they put out an international alert for the location and arrest of the Tunisian President Ben Ali?
QUESTION: Can we go back and stay with Turkey for a second?
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: I just – on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into this. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t – wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.
MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent.
QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has --
QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So – but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.
QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis'?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one.
QUESTION: Well, how can they both be --
MR. CROWLEY: I think both countries are --
QUESTION: How can they both be credible --
MR. CROWLEY: Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year.
QUESTION: Are they? Or are they helping to contribute to their version of what happened?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, they – each has provided the UN Secretary General with a report. These are important steps. They contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened. And through Palmer Commission we will try to obviously resolve contradictory points of view. We understand that.
QUESTION: I have a question about the Tunisian former president. Interpol has just put out a global alert for his arrest – location and arrest.
MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for Tunisian authorities.
QUESTION: P.J., just a quick question. Last night when President spoke about two issues that was concern around the globe – one, that China is now – has fastest supercomputer and also solar power and --
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a matter of public record.
QUESTION: But he said that U.S. was the leader before China. My question is now concerns are there that many – you have known here that number of Chinese were arrested for spying for China or espionage. My question is: Do you believe that China has stolen the U.S. technology?
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, there’s no way I can answer that question.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the Palestine papers for just one second. The Palestinians, or at least one Palestinian official, is claiming to have discovered the source of the leak of these documents. It’s a person who I believe is known to you from Camp David, Clayton Swisher. Anyway, he – the only reason I mention his name is that the Palestinian official – who I believe is Saeb Erekat, but I could be wrong – said that he had asked the State Department to look into whether – into this gentleman who is now believed to be working for Al Jazeera. Are you aware of any requests from the Palestinians to interview or talk with this person?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware, but we can take that question and see if it’s been raised.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On a different note, the situation in Gabon. There was – the opposition leader, Andre Obame, who apparently declared himself to be the ruler. Is this a helpful development, or – (laughter) – what’s the U.S. perspective?
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What’s the – does the U.S. have a position on this, please?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure we do, and I’ll – sure, we’ll take the question for the record.
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: No. Wait, wait, I got one. Do you have any more clarity on the --
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, we’ve got to get the shovels out, but we’ll --
QUESTION: No, no, on the Warden notices that were released yesterday in Bujumbura and Kampala warning about possible Al-Shabaab attacks, and particularly – in particular, next month, meaning February, is there any – do you have any more information about that or why you believe that they are – that attacks might be more likely in February than in January or March?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take – we’ll be prepared to answer that question tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Drive home safely.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)
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