Daily Press Briefing - February 3, 2011
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Announcement of Haiti's Final Election Results / Ambassador Kenneth Merten / Haitian Constitution / Basic Humanitarian Needs
- Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Jandrokovic
- Secretary Clinton Met with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Rodas
- U.S. Congratulates People of Nepal on the Election of a New Prime Minister
- Secretary Clinton This Morning Called Jordanian King Abdullah
- King Abdullah / Jordan is a Significant Partner in the Region / Will Look Forward to Working with His New Cabinet / Jordan's Strong Support of Middle East Peace / Efforts on Political and Economic Reform
- Status of Evacuation of U.S. Citizens / Will Continue to Assess the Need for Flights / U.S. Citizens Have Taken Advantage of State Department's Recommendation to Register with Embassy
- U.S. Concerned About Protests, the Turn to Violence / No Reports of American Casualties / Continued Contact with Embassy / Monitoring Situation Very Closely / State Department's Tracking Reports of Journalists in Egypt / Upcoming Statement by Secretary Clinton / Support for Freedom of the Press / Embassy Trying to Determine Status of Journalists / Wants to Make Sure There is an Adequate Security Presence Near Journalists
- Ambassador Scobey's Outreach / Muslim Brotherhood
- Ambassador Wisner Returned to Washington Early this Morning / Briefed Secretary Clinton
- Important for Government of Egypt to Reach Out to Opposition / Have to Begin a Credible Process / U.S. Encouraging an Orderly Transformation
- Vigorous Interagency Process / This is a Transformational Moment / Policy Recommendations
- U.S. in Daily Contact with Defense and Egyptian Military Leaders
- U.S. Relationships Guided by National Interests, Shared Interests of Other Countries
- U.S. Offering Best Perspective and Advice / It is an Egyptian Decision / Calling for an Egyptian-led Process / U.S. Will Continue to Work Closely with Countries in the Region
- U.S. Continues to Encourage Government and Oppositions to Come Together Now / Vice President Suleiman / Aid
- Process Will Take Time to Unfold / Open and Broad-based / People Are Demanding Change
- U.S. has Made Concerns on Attacks on Reporters Very Clear / Will Do Everything to Get the Reporters Released / Expressed Great Concern About Tomorrow / Dramatic Change to Take Place for Social, Economic, Political Reform / President Mubarak / Fundamental that Government Responds to the Will of the People / It is Not About U.S. , Rather it is About the Aspirations of the Egyptian People
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- Peace in the Middle East is Important for the Region as a Whole / Quartet Meeting Coming Up in Germany
- Detention of U.S. Diplomat / U.S. Continues to Encourage Government of Pakistan to Release Diplomat
Daily Press Briefing
1:45 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. I know the issue of the day is Egypt, and we’ll get to that soon enough, but we did this morning have some news from Haiti regarding the announcement of the final election results there, and we thought, as a target of opportunity, we pulled Ambassador Ken Merten out of a lunch with the Vice President to just give you a – kind of a quick sense of what this means. We’ll give – just have him do one or two questions, then we’ll send him back to the conference.
AMBASSADOR MERTEN: Thanks, P.J. It’s good to see you all. Very quickly, we had – it was a good day in Haiti today again. We had some positive results from the CEP early this morning. They announced the final results of the parliamentary and presidential elections. We are pleased to note that they seem to have been very diligent in following the OAS Verification Mission’s report’s recommendations, and we salute their work in this regard. We look forward to continuing to work with the CEP, the Haitian Government, and most importantly, the Haitian people as we move forward to the second round of elections, both at the presidential and legislative levels.
I understand that they have a calendar which has been published by the CEP which envisions the second round of elections on March 20th. So between now and then, we’ll be working very closely with our Haitian and international partners to prepare for that. We would also want to make sure that all our – all the actors in Haiti, the political actors and the Haitian people, remain calm. We’re very happy that they have remained calm and patient throughout this period while they have sorted through the results of the first round, and we urge everybody to continue to remain calm and peaceful.
Anybody – if anybody’s got any questions, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador. Could you say something about the economic situation in Haiti? I mean, there is still the conditions of people living in the camps. It seems like it’s gone very, very slowly since they were hit. And are there any attempts to speed things up to try and get some kind of economic stability in that country?
AMBASSADOR MERTEN: Well, number one, I – it’s a great question. I firmly believe that we get the political situation back on track in terms of elected – legitimately elected president and parliament; I think that will bring a feeling of stability to the country. And that, in turn, will encourage economic investment. I would call to your attention the fact that we, the U.S. Government, the Haitian Government, Korean firm Sae-A, and the Inter-American Development Bank recently signed an MOU to build a large industrial park in the northern part of Haiti which will create between – when it’s finished, between 20- and 25,000 jobs. We hope to continue to work with other partners for other kinds of opportunities like that in Haiti. I personally believe that getting that kind of economic growth into Haiti will really help people’s purchasing power and build for long-term stability there.
QUESTION: Can you address – and forgive me if I missed it in your opening remarks, but can you address the upcoming expiration of the president’s mandate on February the 7th?
AMBASSADOR MERTEN: Right. I mean, the Secretary mentioned this in her recent trip to Haiti as well in some remarks. In the Haitian constitution, the date of February 7th is mentioned. How that date is interpreted is – what the Secretary said, how that date is interpreted and what the president and the people of Haiti decide is up to them. I’m only going to echo that. I mean, I think it is something that they have to work through. I think the important thing is that we now have a process in front of us, and we intend to assist and help the Haitian people move forward.
QUESTION: Would you say that you would prefer that his mandate be extended so that there would not be a period of vacuum before there’s a duly-elected president?
AMBASSADOR MERTEN: I mean, our goal is, again, to support what the Haitian people want and for there to be a peaceful turnover of power from one legitimately elected president to another. We hope that occurs within the framework of Haitian law. I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Sir, I just wanted to follow your earlier question that people of Haiti earlier were crying for basic needs. Are they getting the basics now after what they have gone through?
AMBASSADOR MERTEN: I think the international community has done a terrific job and I – not to pat the United States on the back more than anybody else, but we played an important role in that. The international community has done a terrific job in dealing with the Haitian population’s basic humanitarian needs in the wake of the earthquake.
Obviously, we’re at a point now where we are moving beyond that. We are entering a reconstruction phase where we hope that with increasing investment and increasing construction jobs and other things being – appearing on the ground in Haiti, that people will be in a better position to take care of themselves as we move forward. But I think people’s basic needs are certainly much – being much better met in an effective way than they were right after the earthquake.
Okay, terrific. Thank you very much, appreciate it.
MR. CROWLEY: Ken, thank you very much.
Just a couple of additional things to mention before moving to Egypt: The Secretary, this afternoon, will meet with Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Jandrokovic. They’ll discuss bilateral and regional issues, including United States’s strong support for Croatia’s membership in the European Union and that – and the hope that Croatia will fulfill the remaining requirements as soon as possible. Croatia also contributes significantly to international security operations, including ISAF, and is a leader in the Western Balkans. And they’ll discuss Croatia’s positive role in promoting stability in South and Central Europe.
Now, as part of this, the Secretary and foreign minister will sign an open skies agreement which will expand air travel between the United States and Croatia, paving the way for further tourism and investment opportunities.
Earlier today, the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Rodas of Guatemala. They discussed a number of issues, including efforts to improve citizen safety and combat human trafficking. The Secretary underscored the U.S. interest in ensuring that the upcoming September presidential elections are free and fair. She expressed a willingness to work with Guatemala and the OAS to assist, as appropriate.
And we congratulate the people of Nepal on the election of a new prime minister. We look forward to working with incoming Prime Minister Khanal and continuing the warm and constructive relationship between the United States and Nepal. And we are hopeful that today’s election – I think it was the 17th and final time – will give renewed momentum to the peace process and constitutional drafting.
The Secretary, this morning, placed a call to Jordanian King Abdullah. It was about a 15-minute call. She indicated that we look forward working with Prime Minister Bakhit and members of the new Jordanian cabinet. She expressed the United States’s ongoing – the importance that we place on the continued excellent relationship with Jordan. We are eager to continue to support Jordan during these difficult times. And the Secretary noted in the call that we appreciate the example that Jordan has set in allowing freedom of expression during recent protests.
They did briefly discuss Egypt as well. The Secretary stressed that an orderly process will serve not only Egypt’s interests but also the region, and we remain fully committed to the partnership that we have with Egypt.
In terms of the current evacuation effort, we had one flight move today with roughly 50 passengers onboard. That brings us to roughly 2,000 U.S. citizens, family members, the official party, that have departed Cairo. And we will continue to assess the need for these flights, but at the present time, we do not have any evacuation flights planned for tomorrow.
We’ve seen during the course of the week a declining flow of U.S. citizens to the airport. And we stress again that there are still commercial flights available and there are seats available there, so we’ll not have flights tomorrow but we’ll continue to watch this on a day-to-day basis.
QUESTION: P.J., just on that evacuation, there were 3,000 people, roughly, who had expressed an interest in being helped. You’ve got 2,000 out. Does that mean – what does that mean in terms of the other thousand? What’s --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that means that U.S. citizens did take advantage of our recommendation. They registered with us to let us know that they were there. In many cases they may still have chosen to remain in Egypt, or in other cases they have gone out through commercial means. So we will continue to monitor the situation, and where we – American citizens make clear that they still wish to depart Egypt, we’ll adjust our flight schedule in the future as needed.
QUESTION: Just briefly on the Secretary’s call to King Abdullah, did she outline to him any particular steps of support that you’re willing to take?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the King himself has indicated that – affirmed that Jordan needs to continue with reform efforts. I think I saw a story today where he acknowledged that Jordan’s own efforts up to this point have been too slow. We’re going to support Jordan’s efforts to undertake political and economic reform. As the Secretary said recently in her – following her bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Judeh, we have a very important program of economic assistance to Jordan. That’s going to continue, so we will continue to work with Jordan to see how we can support these reform efforts.
QUESTION: P.J., is your – is U.S. support for King Abdullah in any way different than what had been your support for Mubarak, because he is a king, he’s not elected?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Jordan is a significant partner in the region. King Abdullah – just like this father, King Hussein, and just like President Mubarak – have been strong supporters and participants in the efforts to pursue Middle East peace. And notwithstanding the ongoing change or transformation that may be occurring across the region, our interests remain the same. And it is our interests that guide our relationship. We have a very strong relationship with King Abdullah. We will look forward to working with his new cabinet. But we have this strong partnership because we have many shared interests.
QUESTION: Well, fair enough – but are – does that mean that monarchs are safe? If there’s a popular uprising that – you opened with talking about Nepal, where a popular uprising took down a monarchy. You have monarchs in the Middle East, and not just King Abdullah but throughout the Gulf who enjoy U.S. support and – from Morocco to Bahrain. And I’m just wondering, is it different if they’re a king or if --
MR. CROWLEY: No, but our message to Jordan is our message to Egypt is our message to Yemen. It’s the message that the Secretary carried in her speech in Doha. We want to see --
QUESTION: (Inaudible), it doesn’t matter.
MR. CROWLEY: -- political and economic reform. The form of government, the particular leaders – kings have some special qualifications, but these are --
QUESTION: Other than their genes – they have special qualifications? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: These are ultimately matters to be determined in these countries. So – but I don’t think that – we want to see the kind of economic reform that King Abdullah has been advocating. But for all of the countries in the region, as we’ve said many times, actions will be imperative.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about a –
QUESTION: A clarification on Jordan? Can you clarify (inaudible) on Jordan?
QUESTION: -- consular issue, actually? Can I go back on Egypt –
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- so we can talk about some consular things?
QUESTION: Can you clarify on Jordan?
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on.
QUESTION: Just on – violence, obviously, escalated in the past 24 hours. Can you tell us about any reports of Americans killed, injured, if there were any calls for help from the Embassy to go and assist any Americans who were trapped anywhere and get them out of harm’s way or something like that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we obviously, have been focused on this throughout the last few days. Our decision to, first, do an authorized departure and then an ordered departure, also instructions to American citizens in Egypt or who might be contemplating travel to Egypt. We’re all geared to our great concern that as the situation unfolded, the potential of violence involving Americans would be there and is there.
We are concerned about the protests, the turn to violence. I can’t tell you whether we have any reports of serious injuries. We have no reports of any American casualties, but we are tracking the impact that the current situation has on a range of people from ordinary citizens to bloggers to journalists to other activists, and we’re monitoring the situation closely. We’ve been in continued touch with the Embassy throughout the day as we’re tracking particular instances that have come to our attention. We’re greatly concerned about the – as we’ve mentioned to many of you this morning in phone calls – the efforts on the ground to at least disrupt if not outright interfere with media coverage of the ongoing activities. I expect we’ll have a statement by the Secretary sometime this afternoon released to you.
In particular cases, you’ve informed us of TV crews, journalists, drivers, others who have been taken and detained by authorities on the ground. The Embassy has been in touch with the foreign ministry. Ambassador Scobey talked earlier today with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit to register our grave concern and seek his assistance. We have talked here in Washington with the Egyptian ambassador with a similar message. So we are monitoring this very, very closely.
QUESTION: Sorry, just on the – I just want to clarify this whole bit about the journalist thing. I mean, do you have a message to journalists who are out there right now? I mean, are you encouraging them not to go out and do this or –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we understand that journalists are there to do the very important work of helping both the Egyptian people, depending on who the journalist works for, or the international community, including the American people, understand what is going on on the ground. We support freedom of the press, and so that has been our message to the Government of Egypt, and any attempts at interfering with this fundamental right and freedom is of great concern to us.
QUESTION: Do you think that this is being orchestrated by anybody in the government?
MR. CROWLEY: We – there are very strong indications that this is part of a concerted effort. I can’t tell you who is directing it, but with the increasing number of instances of people roughed up, journalists’ cars attacked, offices broken into, journalists detained, these do not seem to be random events.
QUESTION: Is that not –
QUESTION: P.J. –
QUESTION: My last question just on – of – did Wisner brief the Secretary this morning? Can you tell us anything about that?
MR. CROWLEY: All I can tell you is Ambassador Wisner returned to Washington, I believe, early this morning, and he briefed the Secretary here at the State Department early this morning.
QUESTION: How long was --
QUESTION: On Jordan –
QUESTION: Can you tell us what he said?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: How long was the meeting?
QUESTION: P.J., on Jordan.
QUESTION: What --
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was about a half an hour.
QUESTION: On Jordan --
QUESTION: On the issue – on the call to King Abdullah, did the Secretary ask King Abdullah to speak to Hosni Mubarak and explain to him that it was time to go?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave the specifics of their conversation private.
QUESTION: On this --
QUESTION: P.J., just one more thing –
QUESTION: P.J., on this topic –
QUESTION: Just one more thing --
MR. CROWLEY: They did talk about Egypt, but beyond that, I –
QUESTION: -- on the journalists --
QUESTION: Let’s (inaudible) off Jordan (inaudible) that and then we go to Egypt.
QUESTION: Well, let’s not be (inaudible).
QUESTION: That’s a bit strong, isn’t it? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just one thing on the journalists: There are indications that they’re – some of them, at least, have been held by the ministry of interior. Is that –
MR. CROWLEY: We have heard that. I mean, obviously, we’ve been talking to all of you, and we’ve been conveying the information that you have to the Embassy. We are tracking these. In fact, Mark Toner is monitoring. We have a spreadsheet. We’re monitoring, case by case, all the reports that are coming in. The Embassy has been terrific in having its security officers use their contacts within the Egyptian Government and others to just try to determine the status of all the journalists who have been either roughed up or detained.
QUESTION: But is there a pattern here? In other words, if you have several cases where they are being held by the MOI, is there a pattern? Do you think that they are orchestrating?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Jill, I just said that I don’t think that these are random events. There appears to be an effort to disrupt the ability of journalists to cover today’s events. It could well be this is in anticipation of events tomorrow, which we are bracing for significant increase in the number of demonstrators on the streets, and with that, given yesterday’s events, the real prospect of a confrontation.
QUESTION: On Jordan, you said that Jordan’s efforts were too slow. Was that –
MR. CROWLEY: No, I was repeating a quote from King Abdullah himself. I saw that he was quoted today in a dispatch saying that he said that reform efforts were slow.
QUESTION: Thanks for clarifying that. But is something like direct election of the prime minister in Jordan something that the Secretary of State discussed with the King of Jordan?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think – in a 15-minute conversation, I don’t think the conversation got into that level of detail. But again, clearly these will be efforts that Jordan undertakes. I think the King recognizes the importance of the increasing demand across the region for political and economic reform. He’s doing his best to respond to this growing aspiration, and we appreciate the leadership that he’s shown. But clearly, for all countries in the region, words have to be followed by decisive actions.
QUESTION: Back to the roundup of the journalists, I know that you’ve been asked this several times, but you’re not answering the question. Does the Embassy – do your people on the ground, does the State Department have information that the ministry of interior is involved in this crackdown of journalists, either of the roundup of the journalists or the violence against the journalists?
MR. CROWLEY: I think at this stage we have information that has primarily come from you all, which we are – which says that in various interactions that you’ve had today, ministry of interior personnel have been involved. We have taken that information. We have raised that information directly with the Egyptian Government. We obviously want them to investigate these fully. We want to have the journalists released. We certainly do not want to see this continue.
QUESTION: How many (inaudible) journalists have been detained or – (inaudible), do you have anything?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a number. But it’s – obviously, it’s both a matter of those who have been detained. It’s also a matter of those who are in situations perhaps where they’re indoors, but outside there were angry mobs that are nearby. And we want to make sure that wherever journalists are there’s an adequate security presence nearby.
QUESTION: Just a few things.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the comments by the Vice President Suleiman – (a) he seemed to indicate that this was a plot or a conspiracy that the protestors were being directed by foreign forces? He also seemed to indicate that the Egyptian Government, and presumably the president, were upset by the way friendly countries, assuming the U.S. and others, had been trying to give advice about what Egypt to do, and he rejected that interference.
MR. CROWLEY: We have no information to suggest that the protests on the streets are being managed or directed by foreign elements. We certainly, as we said and made clear yesterday, it’s vitally important for the government to reach out to representatives of Egypt’s opposition and begin serious negotiations. That, we think, is a very clear imperative and something that needs to be done now so that the Egyptian people can see that there is a credible transition process underway. As we’ve stressed, as Robert Gibbs and I both stressed yesterday, this process needs to begin now.
QUESTION: Well, what is your message to the opposition? Is your message to the opposition that this dialogue needs to begin now, that they can’t wait till he gets – till Hosni Mubarak steps down? Because they’re saying they’re not going to negotiate until he steps down. So you’re saying you’re having all this outreach with various opposition groups, what are you telling them about the imperative of negotiations?
MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Scobey continued her outreach. I believe she had another conversation with Mr. ElBaradei, among others, today. I mean, our message is the same to both sides: They have to come together, they have to begin a credible process, and they have to take – it has to be broad-based, and there has to be credible negotiations between the government and the opposition.
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve been promising James over here. Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just a few different things. On the evacuations, you mentioned that a flight had carried 50 Americans today. Where did that flight go to?
MR. CROWLEY: If we – if I don’t have this here, and I don’t know that I know the destination, we’ll get that before the briefing’s over.
QUESTION: Published reports had suggested that there were two flights today that had carried something along the lines of 235 Americans to Frankfurt. Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: We had two flights scheduled, but my information is only one was needed.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, on the policy for the Administration in handling this crisis, would you say that the internal divisions that have existed within the Administration about how best to handle this crisis have been typical of the kind of internal divisions you always see on any big policy matter or have they been exceptional?
MR. CROWLEY: You need to help me understand the internal divisions, because I’ve been in several deputies committee meetings and I haven’t seen any division at all.
QUESTION: So there has been unanimity amongst the President’s advisors as to how to handle this crisis?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let – we have a vigorous interagency process. You’re also dealing with something that is unprecedented, and so this is a transformational moment. Someone in one of the meetings this week said we’re moving into the unknown. So this is a very, very difficult, complex process. There have been a wide range of views expressed through this process. But we reach policy recommendations to the President by consensus. There’s been no difficulty reaching consensus, and the policy recommendations to the President have been clear.
QUESTION: Last question if I may. For decades, we have heard from Arab and Muslim heads of state that tensions in the Middle East would abate across the board if only the Israelis withdrew from the occupied territories and reverted to the borders that they had prior to the 1967 war. Do you believe that this wave of protests in these various Arab and Muslim states in the region that we have seen recently belie that claim?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not an either/or proposition. Peace in the Middle East is important. It is important to achieve comprehensive peace. It is important for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement. It is likewise important for the Israelis and Lebanese and the Israelis and Syrians. That is important for the region as a whole to be both peaceful and secure and prosper together.
As a overlapping imperative, we have always said it’s vitally important for these countries to undergo political, social, and economic change. We’ve seen the demographic of an increasingly young population where the various economies and the various political systems have not been able to produce the kinds of opportunities that the young people in the region want and deserve. So these are twin imperatives. I don’t think that the issue of one taking the fore today discounts the importance of the other.
QUESTION: Do you discern any connection between the upheaval we’ve seen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is clear ramifications, one for the other, but --
QUESTION: But I meant as a motivating factor.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I – hang on a second. I think that if you have a million people on the street, there’s probably a number of motivating factors. People will interpret change – they see a need for change, they may interpret precisely what that will mean, but that is exactly why we’re encouraging the kind of orderly transformation for Egypt that is in Egypt’s interest and is also in the region’s interest – to come together, address the questions that various people have, and working together to answer those questions and move forward.
I’m not sure that there’s necessarily one agenda. There’s probably a number of agendas here. But what you’re seeing from Tunisia to Egypt to Jordan to Yemen – if I’ve left somebody out in between – to Algeria, where there was a significant announcement today, people are demanding change. They are demanding more responsible and accountable governments. And that’s – you’re seeing the emerging dynamic in the region in response to the demands of their people.
QUESTION: P.J., can you (inaudible) – with the Muslim Brotherhood today? Did Ambassador Scobey meet with the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday or today?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: P.J. –
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Just a quick follow-up before anybody else at the –
MR. CROWLEY: She reached out to multiple figures today. The Muslim Brotherhood was not among them.
QUESTION: And – no, no. And – but anybody else?
QUESTION: Any mention – any mention about the army?
QUESTION: Anybody else besides her?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I happen to know that Mr. ElBaradei was one among –
QUESTION: No, no, no, that’s not my question. My question is whether anybody below the ambassador’s level has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood.
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Suleiman yesterday mentioned something about the control of the army. How the U.S. interpret – make an interpretation of what the army is doing? Because the army first was not acting and now they are taking some of the Mubarak forces. How do you see that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are in daily contact with defense and military leaders. I think that, broadly speaking, the military has played a very important and constructive role in being a stabilizing force on the ground, particularly relative to what the situation looked like prior to the weekend. Yesterday was a bad day for Egypt. I think there’s some indications the military is adjusting its movements today in response to that. But we are very impressed with the posture and the professionalism displayed by the Egyptian military.
QUESTION: Do you think – sorry, I –
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. One at a time.
QUESTION: Do you think that the military is following exactly what the government is telling them to do?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, a professional military follows the instructions of a duly constituted government.
QUESTION: On the allies –
MR. CROWLEY: Wait. Hold on. Guys, one at a time.
QUESTION: On your conversation with King Abdullah and other allies in the region, I mean, how much is there a concern that you’re hearing from regional allies that you’re going – that – questions about American loyalty are really penetrating through the region right now? That if you’re going to cut – start distancing yourself from someone like President Mubarak that has been an ally for 30 years, that they’re concerned that they’re next if the protests in their countries get larger. So how are you assuring U.S. allies that America is still a loyal ally in the region?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll challenge the –
QUESTION: Well, that’s what they’re telling you. I know so that they are, so –
MR. CROWLEY: Hang on. And I’m not going to cede that point either. Our relationships are guided, first and foremost, by national interests, our interests, and the interests of other countries. They’re not based on particular personalities. That said, we enjoy very close working relationships with leaders. We’ve enjoyed – American presidents going back to the ‘70s have enjoyed close working relationships with Hosni Mubarak, and that has been vitally important. That said, who leads Egypt or who leads other countries in the region, those are decisions to be made not by the United States. They’re made by individual countries, and we would like to see it by the people of those countries – have a say in the future of their governments and the composition of their governments. We will continue to work closely with countries in the region because it has national, regional, and global significance.
QUESTION: So that – just one follow-up. So these countries themselves can count on America’s loyalty as an ally, but not necessarily their leaders?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I mean, the supposition behind your --
QUESTION: Well, you just went on for 10 minutes in the beginning of the briefing about how important King Abdullah is an ally, but what if --
MR. CROWLEY: King Abdullah – but again, we don’t choose --
QUESTION: That’s what I said.
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to choose leaders of countries. We will work with leaders of countries, but our relationship, which is enduring, is guided by crucial interests that we share with many, many countries in the region.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that --
QUESTION: P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on.
QUESTION: Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy. You’ve had like, five questions already, buddy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So can we go back to civilians, American citizens in Egypt? Is the Embassy or the State Department aware of any Americans who are around Cairo right now who can’t get to help, who need help, who need someone to come to them, take them to the airport, take them to the Embassy for assistance?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re aware of one case that you have reported over the past 24 hours. We – that is one of the reasons why whenever people travel to a foreign country, we ask them to register with the Embassy, and then if they have needs, to communicate directly with the Embassy. In that particular case, we may or may not have had a contact. And it’s unclear to us whether that contact was with the Embassy or with someone back here in Consular Affairs. But we will do – we will stay in touch and closely monitor the welfare of any American citizen, and where we can be helpful, we, of course, will dispatch directly assistance or we’ll try to work with the host government, where we can, to help them.
QUESTION: In that case, that specific case where you’ve been – you were just mentioning, are you able to reach out to this woman and help her? Do you know if you’re going to be able to --
MR. CROWLEY: I believe we’ve been trying through the day to reach her directly and I’m not sure that we have been able to reach her yet.
QUESTION: P.J., given the pictures that we’re seeing out of Egypt and the growing deteriorating situation, the violence, I mean, I guess what many people are wondering is what exactly is keeping the United States from asking or advising Mubarak to step down at this point, immediately?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, it is not up to the United States to dictate who will govern Egypt. These are decisions to be made by Egyptians and in Egypt. We are in touch with the government. We’ve had direct conversations with President Mubarak and his senior leadership team. We are sharing our best perspective and advice on what they should do in response to the movement that they’re seeing on the street and the demands that their people have for change.
QUESTION: What are you advising Mubarak to do concretely?
MR. CROWLEY: We will keep our advice to the president private.
QUESTION: P.J., a follow-up. Vice President Suleiman has said today that President Mubarak is staying till the end of his term, and he added that the word “departure” means chaos. Does this mean – or does this meet your goal for transition now?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we want to see a transition now. We want to see a credible process where the government, the opposition, other key elements of Egyptian society, they come together as part of a broad-based effort to review what needs to be done and to take specific actions and do so with urgency. We – that is what we’ve been encouraging since the President talked to President Mubarak. And we – President Mubarak has made public commitments to undertake a process of reform and change, and we are just encouraging him, “You have no time to waste.”
QUESTION: And if President Mubarak stays till the end of his term, what does that mean?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, that is what President Mubarak has announced, but ultimately, the decision on how long he remains in office is an Egyptian decision.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that both (inaudible), both the Government of Egypt now and the opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood opposition, are both inciting against the American position, calling it interference and is fanning the anti-American --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’re not interfering at all. We’re calling for --
QUESTION: I understand. But that’s what they’re telling their public.
MR. CROWLEY: -- an Egyptian-led process --
QUESTION: They’re saying that --
MR. CROWLEY: -- an orderly transition that leads to free, fair, and credible elections. These are – this is – it has to be an Egyptian process. If there’s technical assistance that we can provide, we’re happy to do that. We do have active programs with assistance to civil society and democracy programs. We’re happy to continue those or expand those as needed.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: P.J., on the opposition, some in the opposition – maybe you went through this when I ran out, but some in the opposition say they don’t want to talk with Mubarak or with the government because they feel that they can’t do that until Mubarak is gone. So it looks as if you’re stymied. What is the U.S. Ambassador saying to those groups or whoever else is talking to --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what concerns us is the longer this goes on without concrete action that the people of Egypt can see, the greater danger of ongoing confrontations and violence. This is why we continue to encourage the government and the opposition come together, come together now, have a broad-based effort, move forward so that people can see that change is coming and, in fact, that change is occurring. So we continue to encourage that there has to be serious negotiations undertaken now between the Egyptian Government and opposition leaders.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. ever consider fully backing the protestors, the pro-democracy protestors?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve answered that question a number of times.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: I believe that Vice President Suleiman is – I didn’t see the report myself, but I believe he is reported to have said that – or I didn’t see his remarks myself. I believe he is reported to have said that the government will – is willing to open conversations with the Muslim Brotherhood and that he also said that President Mubarak’s son Gamal would not run for the presidency.
Are those good things – willingness to talk to the Brotherhood and ruling out the son?
MR. CROWLEY: Yesterday I made clear it’s not for us to rule people in or rule people out of an Egyptian-led process.
QUESTION: P.J., two things on the events. One, are you thinking something for the future? You said change must come. People are also asking for change around the globe. But what they are saying is U.S. aid, most of the aid going or enjoying only by the few elites around the globe. What are your steps taking for the future so all these events may not take place?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, Goyal, that’s kind of a broad-based, sweeping indictment of our aid effort. We have military assistance that benefits all Egyptians. We have civil assistance that benefits – broadly benefits Egyptian society. I would challenge your assumption.
QUESTION: Can we say that there is a conflict of interests between the U.S. and the Egyptian regime at this time?
MR. CROWLEY: A conflict of interest?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. We want to see an early transition to free, fair, and credible elections. President Mubarak’s public comments have been very consistent with that. But our concern is that the government has to move farther and faster than it has to date.
QUESTION: Two things, P.J. Has the U.S. Government come into any possession of any evidence as to who was behind the attacks on the protestors yesterday? We’ve talked about attacks on journalists, but the attacks on the protestors, have we traced that to the Mubarak regime?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we have traced it to elements close to the government or the ruling party. I don’t know that we have a sense of how far up the chain it went.
QUESTION: And one other thing, if I may. Is the Department discerning some difficulty on the part of the opposition to cohere so that it can, in fact, be in a position to take part in meaningful negotiations with the regime?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is going to take – this process needs to take time to unfold to have a genuine process that leads to real elections. Knowing that that’s going to take time, the sooner this process starts, the better. It needs to start now so that you can have a broad-based effort, you can bring in a wide range of opposition figures. And then through the normal politics of this process, they’ll work through their various coalitions.
It is fair to say that the opposition, obviously because of history in Egypt, is struggling to sort through how to do this. And that’s why we need to have a process it needs to be an open, broad-based process, and it needs to start right away.
QUESTION: Do you identify any particular figure or group as kind of the vanguard of the opposition at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, these are not – these are --
QUESTION: I’m asking for an observation --
MR. CROWLEY: This is – no, no --
QUESTION: -- not the mandate.
MR. CROWLEY: This is an Egyptian process and whatever results from this will be made by choices of the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: When you say the U.S. needs to see change immediately in Egypt now, do you mean that Mubarak shouldn’t finish his term?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, that – I’ve addressed that question. Those are decisions to be made within Egypt.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the pro-Mubarak mass text messages that the government forced the wireless carriers or the mobile networks to send out?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s – knowing that those messages were sent out yesterday gives us some strong indication that this was an orchestrated effort by elements close to the government.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
QUESTION: Well, hold up. What’s wrong with the – with people texting messages of support for any one particular person or group?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean --
QUESTION: Is there something wrong with that?
MR. CROWLEY: By itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. But clearly, the violence we saw yesterday which we condemned gave us great concern and --
MR. CROWLEY: -- we have strong indications that that was an organized effort --
QUESTION: Fair enough. I just want to make sure that you’re not supporting freedom of speech for the protestors only --
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no, no.
QUESTION: -- that government can’t – isn’t allowed to say anything.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, if people want – I mean, that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to have available communications, so if people want to organize groups, perfectly fair.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. CROWLEY: But it is important to know what they’re organizing groups for. And to the extent that part of this effort yesterday was an organized effort at intimidation, that is something that we have clearly condemned.
QUESTION: Back to the journalists. Can you just clarify who it is? You said someone in this building in D.C. has reached out to the Embassy here, I believe the Egyptian Embassy, on – who did that reaching out?
MR. CROWLEY: Deputy Assistant Secretary Jake Wallace talked to the ambassador today.
QUESTION: And you mentioned that you’ve reached out and just – to talk about the fact that this is happening. I mean, have you expressed your displeasure? Have you asked for – can you go a little bit more about what you specifically said?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. I mean, there’s going to be a statement by the Secretary. It might be ready as soon as I get off the podium here. We’ve made our views very, very clear. We have condemned in the strongest terms attacks on reporters covering the effort in Egypt. And we’ve expressed our grave concerns to the Egyptian Government. We’ve asked them to look into it. They promised that they would, and we’re expecting – first of all, we’re expecting news that the reporters have been released, and we want to see a commitment by the government to do everything that they can to make sure that there is freedom to report on the ongoing events in Egypt.
QUESTION: Did you call the ambassador in? That’s a signal of displeasure.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not --
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you did that or if you did it over lunch --
MR. CROWLEY: Given that – our first --
QUESTION: -- like with (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Our first desire today was to make sure that we do everything that we can to get the reporters released. To try to speed up the process, we’ve done what we’ve done by phone calls. If this continues, we don’t get the response from the Egyptian Government that we hope and expect, then we can do other things.
QUESTION: P.J., tomorrow you say it’s going to be maybe a bad day again because the – today is a holiday and tomorrow may be the Tahrir place is going to be full again of people. Do you expect there’s going to be a lot of problems? What kind of measures the U.S. is doing, recommendations to avoid this if there is new fights or shooting starts again?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in our various conversations with Egyptian leaders today, we expressed our great concern about tomorrow and the possibility of a confrontation and the rising risk of violence. So we are expressing our concerns and offering our advice on what needs to be done.
QUESTION: P.J., if President Mubarak holds on to power until August or September, what do you think the regional international map, sort of, will look like? I mean, do you think this regime will end up being isolated internationally and regionally? Do you think Arab leaders will rally around President Mubarak and face off with the international community? I mean, this doesn’t look very good.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you’re focused on the wrong thing, Kim. What we want to see is for the region, in a country that is at the heart of the Middle East, to see real change taking place, dramatic change that opens up new possibilities for the Egyptian people and serves as a model for other countries that are obviously watching events in Egypt very closely, watching events in Tunisia very closely. Everyone is trying to understand what’s happening. Everyone is trying to understand what needs to be done.
We would hope that, country by country, they’ll respond to the call of these people and respond to the policy that the Secretary outlined in Doha, and undertake broad efforts towards social, economic, and political reform.
QUESTION: P.J. what --
QUESTION: Does the U.S. --
QUESTION: At some point there discussion to review U.S. aid to Egypt. Is that still the case?
MR. CROWLEY: There’s no change there. We’ve said that we are prepared to review. There’s no review ongoing at this time.
QUESTION: P.J., does the U.S. Government believe that President Mubarak is in total control – sorry – total control of his government and the apparatus?
MR. CROWLEY: We have no reason to think he’s not.
QUESTION: Following up on the – on your answer to him --
MR. CROWLEY: Let me clarify. Is President Mubarak today the leader of the Egyptian Government? He is. That does not mean that he is issuing every instruction for every action. So as to some of the things that we’ve seen, I can’t say where in the apparatus these instructions to interfere with journalists or to undertake the violence that we saw yesterday – can’t say where those orders were issued. But is President Mubarak still the president of Egypt? He is.
QUESTION: Following up on the – your answer to (inaudible), you were talking about how much you would like to see change starting in the area. I know it is a basic question, but I need to hear from you why is it that important for this Administration and for this country to see this change happening?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s something that we value and something we’ve advocated for many years. It’s important to the people of these countries. It is important for the people of Tunisia when the government has begun to and needs to continue to respond to the frustration that drove a street vendor to set himself on fire and has set off a dynamic that we’re still seeing unfold in Tunisia, and that has obviously had an impact in other countries as well, so it is vitally important for these countries. It’s fundamental to the United States that we have a government that responds to the will of the people, and that’s what we want to see for these countries as well.
QUESTION: Vice President Suleiman did say earlier today that he started a dialogue with the opposition and he is scheduling a further talk to others soon. And he is talking about a timeframe that goes from now to the early summer where a candidate for the presidency can do so. Are you happy with this timeframe?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we are aware that Vice President Suleiman has had some meetings. They’re not broad enough. They’re not credible enough to meet the clear aspirations of the Egyptian people. He is doing – he is fulfilling what President Mubarak has instructed him to do, but it needs to go farther, it needs to go faster, it needs to be broader. So we would just encourage the Egyptian Government to continue to redouble its efforts, and we’d encourage the opposition to come forward, engage constructively and see this process take off, because that’s what the Egyptian people want to see.
QUESTION: You said we want to see dramatic things. Time is of essence.
MR. CROWLEY: Time is of essence, I agree with you.
QUESTION: If they don’t respond, are you prepared to take dramatic step from your side to make it happen?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not for us to make these things happen. This is not a process that is going to be dictated by the United States. This is a process that will be dictated --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we are giving the Government of Egypt encouragement. We’re giving the leaders our best advice on what to do. But it’s their decisions. It’s their country. They need to respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. This is not about us. It’s about the relationship between the Egyptian people and the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: So what is your best advice --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- you are giving?
QUESTION: P.J., you’ve said that the military has adjusted its force on the ground. Can you clarify --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll defer to – it’s clear to us that they are taking a different approach today than they did yesterday.
QUESTION: P.J., today there was a meet the press at Brookings and the concern was said that there is a fear that the Egyptian military may break down. Is it your assessment that the Egyptian military, if the stalemate continues, that it can break down?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that we see that.
QUESTION: Can we move away from podium analysis for a second? Very briefly, one, is it still your view as it was yesterday, the Administration’s view that the sooner elections are held, the better?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t changed today what I said yesterday. Again, this is an Egyptian process, but I think within the boundaries of being able to put forward a credible election process, the sooner these elections can be held – and understand, one of the challenges for Egypt will be what are they going to do, not only about the presidential elections, what are they going to do about parliament. There are lots of decisions to be made, but the sooner that they demonstrate progress to the Egyptian people, that the better.
QUESTION: All right. And then secondly, you had a very brief and oblique reference to a neighboring country, but you didn’t say what you thought about President Bouteflika’s announcement that he will suspend emergency rule very soon. What do you think about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re encouraged by his statement. We hope actions will be followed by words. If it is indeed lifted, it would be a positive step forward.
QUESTION: P.J., what advice are you giving (1) to the president, and second, as far as attacks --
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I’m not going to get into that.
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to encourage the Government of Pakistan to release our diplomat. He has diplomatic immunity and Pakistan needs to meet its international obligations.
QUESTION: Just a question on Jordan. When you were talking about Jordan, did you call it a difficult time – showing support to Jordan in this difficult time?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s a complex, difficult time for many countries in the region. Jordan is facing economic challenges (inaudible). So I don’t think that’s an inappropriate term.
QUESTION: Are you worried about the regime --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: -- in Jordan?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Change the subject.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, are there any kind of engagement at the present time with the Palestinians or the Israelis, in light of the --
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that there has been a particular engagement in the last few days. We obviously will have an important Quartet meeting coming up in Germany this weekend where we’ll have a chance to have a broad-based discussion on where we are. But I’m not aware of any particular actions in the last few days.
QUESTION: Well, on the Quartet meeting, I understand Mitchell will be going to that.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: But do you expect any Israelis or Palestinians to be there?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve looked at the schedule. I haven’t – I’ve not seen any meetings like that.
QUESTION: No, no. I mean at the Quartet meeting, regardless of whether the Secretary has a separate meeting over there.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not anticipating any meetings with Israelis or Palestinians officials.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Nepal. If – this is good encouraging news for the Nepalese that they have been waiting for so many months and years. As far as Maoist and other activities are concerned, if Nepal Government or the new government has asked any U.S. help to fight those elements.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question as to whether we’ve – they’ve got any particular help and assistance.
QUESTION: As far as the Tri-Valley students, have you made any determination what the fate of those Indian students would be who are facing deportation?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the investigation is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)
DPB # 18