2:39 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. Just two things to mention. This afternoon, Secretary Clinton will join National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Secretary Bob Gates at the White House for a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They will discuss a range of issues – I’m certain that Egypt among them.
And Ambassador Robert King, our Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, was in Seoul today and met with National Security Advisor Chun Yung-woo and members of the national assembly from various parties. They had valuable discussions on North Korea human rights-related issues. Tomorrow, he will also meet with the Minister for Unification Hyun In-Taek.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s it.
MR. CROWLEY: I thought I would --
MR. CROWLEY: -- set the tone for a brisk briefing. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On Egypt, before we get into the – have you seen the interview that Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit has done with PBS?
MR. CROWLEY: I have not. I’m aware of it. I think our friend and colleague, Margaret Warner, was there today.
QUESTION: Yeah. In that interview he’s pretty angry about what he regards as interference in U.S. – in the U.S. trying to – the Administration trying to dictate to the Egyptian leadership how and when they should do this transition. Do you – what do you make of those comments?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I haven’t seen them, so I’m reluctant to comment specifically. I think from our standpoint, what’s important here is not how we view things. We’re not trying to dictate anything. As we’ve said and emphasized many times, there will be an Egyptian solution and Egyptian actions within this orderly transition. But it’s important that what Egypt does do is seen as credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people. And it’s our view that what they’ve put forward so far does not meet that threshold.
QUESTION: So when you or when the Vice President calls the vice president of Egypt and says you must repeal the emergency laws and you must stop cracking down on protestors or intimidating the opposition, that’s not telling the Egyptians what to do?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – we don’t see that as interference. As we evaluate this process and we evaluate what’s going on, it is our view that the Egyptian Government needs to show that it is serious about pursuing this transition. And what the Vice President outlined in his discussion yesterday with Vice President Suleiman, from our standpoint, are the kinds of very specific and irreversible steps that we believe the people of Egypt are looking for.
QUESTION: Yeah. But whether or not you think that it rises to the level of interference – quote, unquote, interference – isn’t telling the vice president that the emergency laws need to be repealed and that the protestors should not be intimidated --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- isn’t – aren’t you telling them what to – isn’t that telling them what to do?
MR. CROWLEY: No. What we’re doing is commenting on unfolding events in Egypt consistent with both our policies and our values. Go back and look at what we have advocated from the start, that there be no violence, that universal rights be respected, and that there be political change --
MR. CROWLEY: -- in Egypt. And what the Vice President outlined in his discussion yesterday is fully consistent with our values and our policies. And we would --
QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re still telling them what to do.
MR. CROWLEY: -- like to see.
MR. CROWLEY: Ultimately, what happens in Egypt will be --
QUESTION: I understand that. But it’s more than commenting on this. The Vice President of the United States called up the vice president of Egypt and said do this, do this, and do this. I don’t see how that – how you can possibly say that isn’t telling them what to do.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, these will be Egyptian decisions, and we are providing our best perspective on what the government needs to do to meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: P.J., I realize you haven’t seen the transcript of Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit’s remarks, but he said that he regards this as the United States trying to impose its will on Egypt. He said that he was amazed at the call for the immediate repeal of the emergency law because he points out that – or he says that they are dealing with 17,000 escaped prisoners who are on the streets and they need to get the situation under control and then they will look at this. Are you disappointed that within 24 hours the Vice President’s thoughts, whether you regard them as dictating or not, have been rebuffed so quickly and vehemently by the Egyptians?
MR. CROWLEY: With all due respect, it’s less about what we think. It’s more about what the people of Egypt thinks – what they think. There have been pledges made by the government, there have been commitments that have been advanced by the government, and now it’s important to have real actions that are consistent with those pledges.
With all due respect to the foreign minister, he should not be amazed, if that’s the word that he used, at our call for rescinding the emergency law. We have been calling for that for years, if not decades. So again, let’s go from back to front. What we want to see for Egypt, and we think it’s vitally important to Egypt’s future, is free, fair, and credible elections. And we want to see a broad-based, open process that allows Egypt to move forward and advance to reach that objective.
And we continue to advocate for the kinds of actions that, first, show that the process that is unfolding is credible, and, second, that it is an inclusive process where opposition figures, members of civil society have a real opportunity to participate in this process. We think that these are the kinds of actions that ultimately get to where free, fair, and credible elections and legitimate elections are feasible.
QUESTION: P.J., from the other perspective, there are those who say that the United States didn’t, quote, “interfere” enough, that the U.S. basically didn’t do enough when it was warned. And this is, of course, that article by Jackson Diehl quoting the experts groups, the working group on Egypt, which he says contacted the Secretary and others in the Administration numerous times saying that things were crumbling, it’s a turning point, and the Administration should change its policy; that they were, in essence, predicting precisely what has happened.
Did the Secretary pay attention to that? Was there discussion about it? How was that dealt with?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t see how the – what the working group aspires to differs from what the Secretary advocated in her Doha speech. She said very clearly that the status quo – and it applies to Egypt and other countries in the region as well – is unsustainable. I think we have been encouraging for a number of years that these autocratic governments reform. And I think there have been many, many speeches going over months that have advocated for this throughout the region.
I don’t remember anything in the most recent letter or in past letters that said on January 25th this will happen. We’ve understood fully that the vulnerabilities that have existed within these governments as the gap emerged between what they were delivering for their people and what the people were aspiring to. I don’t think that anybody could have predicted that the combination of very specific, unique events that started in Tunisia and have continued in Egypt, no one predicted the spark, but everyone recognized the vulnerability.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: Yes, but they were saying – just to pursue this a little bit further, they were saying this a year ago, at least 10 months ago, and what they were saying also is that they were in no uncertain terms saying that it was a turning point. Now, Secretary Clinton’s speech, which we were at, was just, what, a month ago maybe, I guess – I lose track – but just a month ago. The red flags were out there, they would say, a year ago.
MR. CROWLEY: And I think we fully agree with the red flag, but there’s a difference between a red flag and the events that have unfolded over the past few weeks. I mean, we have invested in civil society and democracy programs in Egypt for some time. So I just don’t see the criticism as being valid.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the statement made by Omar Suleiman, the vice president, just a short while ago today that it’s either Mubarak or a coup, basically what he said? Are you aware of that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve seen that perhaps in one press report.
QUESTION: But do you have any reaction to that?
MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, and in fact, what we are encouraging Egypt to do is a – I mean, and I believe Vice President Suleiman said it himself yesterday, that the goal here is a peaceful transfer of power. That’s everyone’s aspiration for Egypt. But now that there is an orderly transition underway, it is vitally important for the government to deliver specific actions, concrete actions, irreversible actions that demonstrate to the people of Egypt that this is a credible, real process.
QUESTION: Is there a schism evolving between the United States and Egypt as close friends and allies, and that’s why, in fact, the leaders in the region are running scared and scurrying about and trying to pressure the Administration to stick to Mubarak? Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, you’re – I think you’ve got the whole – as a former boss of mine would say, you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. These are events that are unfolding in Egypt, and this is a process that the Egyptian Government needs to lead with full participation by opposition figures, members of civil society, and it needs to engage the Egyptian people. It will be the Egyptian people who ultimately decide about Egypt’s future. They should have that opportunity to participate in and influence how this will happen.
Obviously, countries in the region will draw their own lessons from this. But President Mubarak has already announced he will not run for reelection, his son will not run to replace him, so there is going to be change in Egypt. Now comes the hard challenge of working through what we would hope would be a credible, real process to bring that change forward.
QUESTION: Expanding on that point --
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: Can I --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, hold on.
QUESTION: Listen. It’s part of your question.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve got plenty of time.
QUESTION: Could the Suleiman statement be interpreted as a veiled threat to use the military against the demonstrators?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for me to interpret that.
QUESTION: Getting back to the second question there – not the last one, the second one – on the idea that Arab leaders are telling you to take it easy, is that – to take it easy on Egypt, to take it easy on – in calls for Mubarak to leave or for him to not run, is that actually correct? Are you hearing that from Arab leaders?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we, at all levels, from Secretary Clinton, Under Secretary Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, we’re broadly engaged with countries in the region. As the Secretary in her meeting with Defense Minister Barak, we will hear a variety of views, I’m sure, across the region about what is unfolding in Egypt. Countries will have – will learn, will study what’s happening there and learn their own lessons and apply those in their own context. It’s not for me to characterize a regional view. I think, obviously –
QUESTION: Well, have you –
MR. CROWLEY: -- country by country, leader by leader, they’re watching, as we are, what’s unfolding in Egypt and will draw their own conclusions.
QUESTION: Have you heard from regional – leaders in the region that perhaps it would be best to go slow and to take –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to characterize –
MR. CROWLEY: -- what we’re hearing from other countries.
QUESTION: Then – and then just one more thing. You and the White House have been saying this line that we are calling for irreversible steps. Can you give me an example of what an irreversible step is? It seems to me that any step that they take is reversible. I mean, short of someone killing themself, there isn’t – I mean, they can repeal the emergency laws but they can reverse it and put it back in place. What is an irreversible step?
MR. CROWLEY: Irreversible step I would associate with real, fundamental, and lasting change.
QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? I mean, any country can go from – any country can transform itself into a – into some kind of a democracy, even perhaps a model democracy, but that’s reversible.
MR. CROWLEY: Matt, it – I think it relates to the relationship that the government has with its people. Once the people have the ability to participate fully and once a government is acting on behalf of and in response to the will of the people, then that is a fundamentally different environment than a government that is serving for the benefit of an elite and not for the benefit of the broad population. So we’re talking about real fundamental change, and there are concrete actions that are necessary to help achieve that.
QUESTION: On the Doha speech, just one clarification. The timing of that – it was the strongest statement, I think, that the Secretary has made, the sinking into the sand comment. Why did she do it at that particular point? Because as we know, very quickly after that, you did have Tunisia and you did have Egypt. Did she have an indication that something was going to happen, or –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, but it is why –
QUESTION: -- know the setting?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, but it is why that we have supported the Forum for the Future, which brings together leaders to help them understand and see the regional dynamic that – and the clear demographic challenge that is underway. So – but it is a forum like that that brings together government leaders, entrepreneurs, who can be agents for change to bring about the economic and social reform that the Secretary called for in her speech.
QUESTION: So she did not have any indication that something was brewing, something was going to happen?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was a fortuitous coincidence.
QUESTION: Can we go back and stay in Egypt for awhile?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s been 16 days since this revolution started in Egypt, and it seems that the Egyptian Government is not happy with the point of view of the Administration. On Monday, President Obama talked about the progress that he’s seeing happening, referring to negotiations. Do you still have the same view today? Do you see there’s a progress? Do you see the Egyptian Government on the right path?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we – I mean, it – the President’s offered his – has offered his perspective throughout these past two weeks. And as we continue to underscore, there is the makings of a process that is underway. There are steps that the government has taken. And our advice in the President’s call with President Mubarak and the Vice President’s call with Vice President Suleiman and the Secretary’s call with not only Vice President Suleiman but also Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit is now, within this process, you have to open it up. You have to invite in all of the relevant political actors. You have to find ways to engage with the people who are in Tahrir Square. You have to bring in business leaders, all of whom want to have the ability to help join in this process and shape Egypt’s future.
And what we have said compellingly is that even as steps are being taken, as commitments are being offered publicly, they have to translate into concrete, real actions. And as we’ve said is so far, it is not our perspective that what’s been advanced so far meets the test in the eyes of the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: Yeah, but on Monday, the President said he saw progress. Today is Wednesday. Do you still see the same progress?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I – the President’s words speak for themselves.
QUESTION: So is that just a smokescreen by the government?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want to see the government translate public commitments into concrete, meaningful, and lasting actions. And so far, what they’ve done, while useful, falls short of the standard that we think that the Egyptian people are setting.
QUESTION: On the issue of the Egyptian military, several officials so far are hinting through statements that they might – the government might use military force against the protestors in future events. Do you think these kinds of comments are helpful?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we respect the role that the Egyptian military has played so far and we would encourage them to continue to show that the restraint that they have shown in recent days.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? There’s been an enormous of praise of the Egyptian military, but there were at least two days last week when their soldiers either withdrew from Tahrir Square and when pro-Mubarak activists came in and started throwing stones and using clubs and, in some cases, tossing Molotov cocktails at the anti-Mubarak demonstrators. And there are – I mean, there have been plenty of interviews on TV of people saying that they got beat up by pro-Mubarak demonstrators with soldiers standing just a few feet away.
I mean, do you – surely, you are aware that these things happen. Do you not think that maybe their restraint in that case just worsen the violence?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, obviously, it depends on your starting point. If your starting point is in the very first days of what happened and the ineffective actions or even destructive actions of the Egyptian police – I think when the military stepped in, the situation did stabilize. Now, I do think that after the unfortunate violence for those couple of days, the Egyptian military did adjust its presence and adjust its tactics on the ground. And again, what – that has helped to sustain where we are today. We still have protestors in Tahrir Square and it is peaceful, it is – the mood there is, I think, pretty upbeat. I think there have been a couple of weddings in Tahrir Square in the last couple of days.
That said, we remain absolutely concerned about ongoing reports of people being detained, whether they’re bloggers, activists, journalists, so that whatever authority, whether it’s the ministry of the interior or other police elements, security services, that are responsible for these – this harassment or these detentions or these physical beatings, again, as the Vice President made clear in his call with Vice President Suleiman yesterday, we need to see an immediate end to these actions.
QUESTION: P.J., do you think that the U.S. is supporting enough the demonstrators in Egypt who are asking for reforms and democracy?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, Michel, I can go back over the things that we are --
QUESTION: No, no, are you supporting those – the demonstrators enough?
MR. CROWLEY: We are – I mean, we are supporting a process that allows the government, civil society, business leaders, other key figures within Egyptian society to play a vital role in this process. How this unfolds will be for the Egyptian people and Egyptian institutions to determine.
QUESTION: But how are you supporting the demonstrators who are asking for democracy and reforms?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we continue to encourage this. We have ongoing programs within Egypt. And we will continue to evaluate how to make our ongoing programs applicable and beneficial as Egypt goes through this process.
QUESTION: But since 14 days --
MR. CROWLEY: But we’re – we are doing what we can, but understand that this is an Egyptian process, and ultimately, the decisions on how this unfolds will be made inside Egypt.
QUESTION: P.J., can I ask you on Israel and Egypt? Yesterday, William Hague had an interview with The Times in which he called on America to do much more to get the peace process moving again and set a timetable for that. And he called on Benjamin Netanyahu to drop the belligerent language, as he called it, with his views and reaction to the crisis in Egypt. And he warned that Israel was in danger of retracing to its shell and putting an end to any immediate hope of any movement forward on the peace process.
Were you surprised at what William Hague said and do you agree with him?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not for me to characterize his comments other than to say that the United Kingdom remains a key partner in working towards a two-state solution, and we will continue to work in the context of the Quartet. Our focus remains on consulting with the parties to achieve a framework agreement on the core issues. I have no doubt that this topic will come up in the discussion with Minister Barak this afternoon. We continue our efforts. They’re ongoing. Today, more or less, right now, Saeb Erekat is here at the State Department meeting with George Mitchell. This follows a meeting that he had with Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho last week. We are going to continue to engage the parties in the coming days and weeks to continue our efforts to work on the substance – substantive issues behind the process.
QUESTION: Have you been alarmed by Israel’s reaction to the turmoil in Egypt? Have you been disappointed by the reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, other than to say I do expect that this will be an issue discussed this afternoon in the meeting at the White House, and I expect the White House will probably read out the meeting in some way.
QUESTION: P.J. --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) meetings with – between the Palestinian negotiator and the State Department, are they bilateral or are they trilateral?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, today at the State Department, Saeb Erekat is here. He may still actually be in the building.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that there’s an Israeli delegation here. I’m not aware that (inaudible) trilateral meeting anticipated.
QUESTION: But as far as you’re concerned, there are no scheduled meetings.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, Saeb Erekat is here. Ehud Barak will be at the White House this afternoon. I know of no other multiple interactions.
QUESTION: Is Mr. Barak discussing the issue of Egypt, or he is discussing the possible resumption of peace talks (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: As I just said, I expect he’ll be talking to us about Egypt. I wouldn’t be surprised if the peace process comes up. I wouldn’t be surprised if other regional issues come up. As defense minister, he has a broad regional portfolio.
QUESTION: P.J., you just said that the UK remains a key partner in working towards – how exactly is the – are the Brits a key partner in this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, they’re --
QUESTION: They’re not a member of the Quartet, per se. They have a former prime minister who’s their representative. But what exactly has Britain been doing to make itself a key partner?
MR. CROWLEY: But they feed into the EU’s positions that Lady Ashton brings to the table.
QUESTION: P.J., can you --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, but I mean, Foreign Minister Hague himself has had a number of interactions with the parties. He is – the United Kingdom is its own player in this process.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I go back one more time to Egypt? I’m sorry about this.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Just the issue of the death toll in these protests, like, it seems there’s no one credible report about the death toll. But it’s 300 people – protestors killed by security forces, Egyptian security forces, and maybe some thugs. Do you have an assessment of the death toll? How many people were killed? Who killed them or did you --
MR. CROWLEY: This is something that our Embassy --
QUESTION: Did you see any reports --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is something that our Embassy is monitoring. I am not in a position to corroborate the – I think it’s the Human Rights Watch number. I have no reason to dispute it either.
QUESTION: So do you have any comment about the death toll?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said --
QUESTION: Is this --
MR. CROWLEY: What we have advocated from day one is that all sides refrain from violence and all sides respect universal values, including the right to assembly, the right to expression, and so forth. So I think that is fundamental to our advocacy for an orderly and peaceful transition.
QUESTION: Well, that’s your position about future actions. But what about the people who got killed so far? Do you think there’s – whoever is responsible for the killing of these people should --
MR. CROWLEY: And again, throughout this process and earlier in this briefing, we expressed our concern about the ongoing detentions, beatings, and we want it to stop. And obviously, accountability is vitally important and we have called for that.
MR. CROWLEY: Pakistan.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Pakistan. First, what is the status – has the U.S. suspended any talks with the Pakistanis, halted any, changed any planned talks, because – specifically because of the case of Raymond Davis?
MR. CROWLEY: Courtney, be more specific. I mean, we – the reports that we have suspended all contacts with the Pakistani Government is not true. We continue to have high-level contacts with – both in Pakistan and here to be able to express to them the importance that we attach to resolving this issue and this case. And we’ll use every opportunity in our engagement with the Pakistani Government to reiterate that position.
QUESTION: What was the most recent – I know the ambassador spoke with President Zardari on Monday. Has there been any contact since then at a high level --
MR. CROWLEY: I believe today Ambassador Munter had a meeting with the interior minister in --
QUESTION: Specifically about --
MR. CROWLEY: -- Islamabad.
QUESTION: Specifically about this issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: And then can I go to Raymond Davis himself? Is he actually a U.S. Government employee or is he actually a contractor working for the U.S. Government?
MR. CROWLEY: He – I’ll just repeat to you what I’ve said all along. He is a U.S. diplomat. He was assigned to the Embassy in Islamabad. He has immunity. And we again call for his release.
QUESTION: So if he has diplomatic immunity that would mean he’s not a contractor, right? Because contractors are not eligible for diplomatic immunity, correct?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that that statement is correct.
QUESTION: I’m just – the only reason I base that on is Blackwater back in Iraq, they were subject to prosecution --
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.
QUESTION: So is that the case --
MR. CROWLEY: But again, we notified the Pakistani Government when he arrived in Islamabad, and he has diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: P.J., you said that reports that said you’ve suspended all high-level contacts with Pakistan are incorrect. Have you suspended any? Have you not had meetings or have you let the Pakistanis know that certain people or certain officials will not be available to meet with certain Pakistani officials until this matter is resolved?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, Matt, if you’ve got a specific question, I’ll be happy to answer it.
QUESTION: Yeah. Did you tell the Pakistanis that Secretary Clinton would not meet with Foreign Minister Qureshi if he showed up in Munich at the security conference?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the fact is he didn’t show up at the – he --
QUESTION: Did – but prior to that, did you --
MR. CROWLEY: He chose not to come to the --
QUESTION: Prior to his decision not to come to Munich, did you let it be known that the Secretary would not be available to meet with the foreign minister?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, let me take it from front – back to front. There was no meeting in Munich.
QUESTION: Yes, and it’s so evident that --
MR. CROWLEY: The foreign minister was not there. As to the reasons why the foreign minister didn’t come, I’ll --
QUESTION: I’m not asking you why he didn’t come. I’m asking you if you told the Pakistanis that there wouldn’t be a meeting if he showed up.
MR. CROWLEY: There was not going to be a meeting in Munich.
QUESTION: So there was never a scheduled meeting – is that what you’re saying – in Munich?
MR. CROWLEY: Schedules are always fluid. All I can tell you is there was not a planned meeting in Munich.
QUESTION: And can I ask one more about this still? The – after – immediately after this alleged shooting, there was a U.S. vehicle that rushed to the scene and hit a bystander and killed a civilian. What’s the status of – for starters, were the people who were in that vehicle American citizens? What’s the status? Do you know if – are they people --
MR. CROWLEY: I have – actually, to be honest with you, I have received different information on that. It’s a matter of – under investigation, but I’ll see if we can find out if it was an American citizen driving that vehicle. I just – I’m not confident about the answer.
QUESTION: Was it an American – a U.S. Embassy vehicle, at least, or --
MR. CROWLEY: Let me – I’ll take the whole – all the questions around that.
QUESTION: P.J., can you just check – the Pakistanis apparently do not accept the fact that he has diplomatic immunity. Are they telling you specifically why?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that that is a correct statement. I know there are lots of things that are put out by an unnamed official. The fact is that we did notify Pakistan of this diplomat’s arrival and his status. And we do not believe that there’s any ambiguity about that.
QUESTION: P.J., just brief, on that point, is there – can – is that all it takes, you just notify them? Do they not have to affirmatively accept that this person does have diplomatic immunity? Say a diplomat is posted here and Country X tells you, “Okay, this is our guy and he – we want him to have immunity,” does he automatically then get it? Or do you have to say – or does the host country have to say, “Okay, we accept that,” and there’s --
MR. CROWLEY: You’re wading into areas that I’m not --
QUESTION: All right. Well, is it possible to find that out?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, I’ll see if we can get an explanation on that.
QUESTION: And the other thing on this, which directly relates to this building, is the upcoming trilat that’s supposed to be held on the – I believe on the 24th of this month. I understand – and I know that there’s still plans – that these meetings are still being planned, the planning is still underway. But --
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a true statement.
QUESTION: -- is it possible that the meeting could be postponed if the case is not resolved or that it might be held at a level lower than anticipated at the moment, which is ministerial?
MR. CROWLEY: Planning is continuing for the trilateral meeting at the end of this month. It is currently scheduled to be at the ministerial level. If we make any changes in that, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: So it is possible that it could be downgraded or put off?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we want to have a productive meeting, and if there’s a reason why we don’t think the meeting will be productive, we’re prepared to make adjustments. But if we do make those decisions, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Is there – is a resolution to this case needed for the trilat to be productive?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we – if we make decisions to alter the meetings, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Just – can we go to North Korea? Are you dismayed by the collapse of the mil-mil talks?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I would characterize it necessarily that way. It is an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity and willingness to engage in dialogue, and understand that the one delegation walked out today. It’s hard at this point to really assess what the meaning of that is.
QUESTION: Well, we’re quoting a unification ministry official in Seoul as saying, quote, “The talks have collapsed. They haven’t even agreed on a date for their next meeting.” I mean, are you suggesting that the meeting went swimmingly well and --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not suggesting that the meeting went swimmingly well, but we’ve been briefed on the meeting by South Korea, and we’ll assess what it means. North Korea is – needs to take meaningful steps to improve inter-Korean relations. Clearly, meetings like this are a vehicle to accomplish that and reduce the tensions that have arisen between North and South Korea due to North Korea’s provocative actions. So we’ll just continue to evaluate what unfolds going forward, but clearly, this was an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity.
QUESTION: Care to say it was a missed opportunity, then?
MR. CROWLEY: You could call it a missed opportunity.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that?
QUESTION: I have – on Korea, North Korea, after today’s failed, if you will, on military talks, they continue to deny any involvement in the Cheonan sinking and refuse to apologize for the Yeonpyeong Island shelling, which the South Korean side demanded. Do you think these specific actions or attitude should be included in – when North Korea showed their sincerity?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, that – the talks were between North and South Korea, so I think the first judgment as to either the ramifications of what transpired here over the last couple of days – the first implication is South Korea’s. We certainly do believe that North Korea has to take responsibility for its recent actions, whether it’s the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeonpyeong, and then demonstrate that it is going to take affirmative steps to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
This was an opportunity to do that, and clearly, having North Korea walking out puts them in the category of a missed opportunity.
QUESTION: In WFP, they said the joint assessment of a food situation in North Korea with FAO was prompt by the extremely harsh weather condition there, and that that has raised new concerns for the food security in the country. Did Ambassador King share these kind of concerns with his South Korean counterparts in Seoul?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me take it beyond the context of Ambassador King’s discussions. We continue to monitor the situation in North Korea. We have provided food assistance in the past. We had a program that I believe was underway through the early part of 2009 and was abruptly ended, and so – and we have no plans at this point to resume food aid to North Korea.
But we’ve made clear what will be needed if there was going to be restoration of food aid, which includes a needs assessment, the ability to effectively manage the program, and the ability to monitor the program on the ground to make sure that the food aid gets to those who need it most and is not diverted to others within the government.
QUESTION: But do you all agree that the winter – the weather situation, the extremely harsh weather, does that prompt some kind of concerns?
MR. CROWLEY: It could be weather-related. It could also be related to failed economic policies of North Korea. It’s probably more than one factor.
QUESTION: P.J., can you add any details to the – yesterday’s very brief and pretty vague statement announcing Secretary Burns’s trip to Moscow? What exactly is he discussing with his Russian counterparts? Was this visit – was there any urgency to this visit or was it planned all along?
MR. CROWLEY: We’re hurt that you called our trip announcement vague. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Look – (laughter) – why don’t we do this. We’ll get you a full readout of Under Secretary Burns’s trip to Moscow. As you know, he knows the country very well, having been ambassador there. When he goes there, there’s a broad range of issues not only on the – in the context of bilateral relations, but also in the context of our work with Russia as a part of the Quartet, for example, and other things.
Clearly, we’re buoyed by the exchange of instruments on Saturday in Munich between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov. We’ve got some work to do to see where our mutual arms control agendas move from here. We’ve got ongoing work on the bi-national commission efforts that were instituted by President Medvedev and President Obama last year. So there’s a lot on our agenda with Russia.
QUESTION: A question on Haiti. President Aristide has apparently been issued a diplomatic passport. Just curious if you had any general reaction to that, and then if you could tell us what your message has been all along to the Haitian Government about this and to the South African Government?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to – I think we understand that he has been issued a passport. As to what kind of passport, that’s a matter for the Government of Haiti. What beyond that?
QUESTION: Well, what’s your reaction to them actually giving him one, first?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we don’t know of any travel plans that he has. He continue – I believe he still remains in South Africa. Our focus is on the next six weeks and the run-up to the March 20 election. And we would hate to see any action that introduces divisiveness into the – into this election process.
QUESTION: Would that – are you discouraging him from returning? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we would be concerned that if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction. The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and I think that should be their focus.
QUESTION: You --
QUESTION: Can I just follow up this line of questioning real quick? Does that mean that you’re okay with him returning afterwards?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, what he ultimately does, whether sooner or later, is a matter between former President Aristide and the Government of Haiti. I think we are concerned that if he returns sooner, it might disturb a – the calm that is needed for an effective election process to conclude.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Okay. Have you – sorry, three follow-ups on this. Have you communicated that to his people? Have you communicated that to the South African Government? And did you discourage Haiti from issuing him a passport in the first place?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know what conversations that we’ve had either with the Haitian Government. All I can tell you is, is that we’re wary of any distractions that can complicate the ongoing election process.
QUESTION: Okay. And what about the South Africans? Have you told them not to let him get on (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll just leave it there.
QUESTION: On that point – I’m sorry, is he a prisoner of South Africa? He is allowed to travel, isn’t he?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I – we were asked, does the United States have a view, and our concern is making sure that there is a – the kind of environment that will lead to a credible election and a result that --
QUESTION: And if he returns --
MR. CROWLEY: -- the Haitian people will accept. And any action by any player that we think distracts Haiti from the – from getting the kind of government they need to continue to carry forward the rebuilding of Haiti we think would be unwise.
QUESTION: Can I just point out for the record so that the next time you use what I’m about to say as an excuse for not answering something that this comes back to haunt you, you just answered a hypothetical question. And did it – in pretty striking fashion – so the next time you’re presented with an “if” question, I hope you’ll remember it.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay, noted.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, hold on, hold on.
MR. CROWLEY: Lauren.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a readout, per se. I would tell you I believe that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell was also a part of that meeting with Director General Sugiyama, and so was Ambassador Bosworth. And then tomorrow, there will be another – a different set of meetings with Assistant Secretary Campbell, Assistant Secretary Chip Gregson of DOD, and other Japanese counterparts from the ministry of foreign affairs and Defense --
QUESTION: And they have been focusing on --
MR. CROWLEY: -- which is called the security subcommittee meeting.
QUESTION: And they’re focusing on the North Korea issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Today, I think the focus was on North Korea issues, yes.
QUESTION: Was there any consensus about how to go forward based on the failure of North-South military talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we regularly consult with Japan, South Korea, Russia, and – on these issues --
MR. CROWLEY: -- and China, didn’t want to leave --
QUESTION: -- that Sudan now is completely off the list of the state sponsors of terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: That is not true. We have begun the process, but there’s a lot that has to be done before they are formally taken off the state sponsor of terrorism list.
QUESTION: And is there a date set for --
MR. CROWLEY: Come on up.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)
DPB # 20