3:33 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Just to tick off a few things, obviously, just refer you back to the statement by Secretary Clinton yesterday that we do keep in mind today the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.
Tomorrow, the Secretary will meet with Indian Foreign Secretary Rao. Primarily, they will focus on preparation for the upcoming Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi, but she’ll have the opportunity to meet with Under Secretary Bill Burns, and during the course of her visit to Washington, Raj Shah, other officials of the State Department, Commerce Department, Defense Department, and Energy.
Tomorrow at 12:30, the Secretary will deliver a second major address on internet freedom at George Washington University. The speech will call on the global community to choose to keep the internet open as a space for free expression, ideas, innovation, and economic growth, and will discuss the contemporary versions of age-old challenges that arise in this new digital age.
Tomorrow, Raj Shah will deliver the David E. Barnes Global Health Lecture at the National Institutes of Health. And this is the first appearance at NIH by a sitting USAID ambassador.
Assistant Secretary Bob Blake departs tomorrow for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In both places – in Ashgabat he’ll conduct the midyear review of the annual bilateral consultations and in Tashkent actually will conduct the second annual bilateral consultations.
Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz departed – will depart today for Liberia. He’ll meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other Liberian Government officials. One of the focuses of his trip will be the – looking at ways to help Liberia, given that roughly 35,000 people have crossed the border to escape violence in Cote d’Ivoire, unleashed as a result of the ongoing presidential election crisis.
We obviously are watching the situation in Iran very closely and the government’s response to peaceful protests. We are deeply concerned about reports that one person has been killed and two wounded in clashes with security forces. Those security forces are arresting, beating, and using tear gas against protestors, as well as blocking them from using public transportation, cell phones, and other means of communication. Iran reportedly continues to jam news coverage in the country. Both major opposition leaders remain under house arrest, and this is in conjunction with a wave of other arrests of opposition figures, including women’s rights advocates, leading up to the protests.
We condemn in the strongest terms any use of violence against people peacefully assembling and expressing their views – expressing their desire for freedom and reform, and call on Iran to refrain from violence. And as the Secretary said in her remarks on the Hill – I believe she used the term hypocrisy – it’s well earned – in the contrast between the words that Iran used relative to the protests in Egypt, but its ongoing crackdown of its own people and their universal right to demonstrate.
And finally, we continue to watch the ongoing legal process regarding blogger Tal al-Mallouhi. She’s 19 years old, which is remarkable. But she’s – we don’t know her status right now. We’ve seen conflicting reports, but we continue to watch her case very closely.
QUESTION: Well, what does that mean, you don’t know her status? Yesterday, you said she was convicted in a secret trial.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. But there have been reports today that she’s been sentenced to five years. There’s reports today that she’s actually been released. We can’t verify either of these reports at this point.
MR. CROWLEY: Nothing new. This Thursday, February 17, the higher court in Lahore will examine several petitions and the issue of diplomatic immunity. Unfortunately, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations clearly states that this not a matter for local courts to decide. And we continue to insist that Pakistan certify his diplomatic immunity and release him.
QUESTION: Wait, so --
QUESTION: The foreign minister – I’m sorry. The foreign minister said that he actually did not have diplomatic immunity.
MR. CROWLEY: The former foreign minister.
QUESTION: The just foreign – foreign minister said that he did not have diplomatic immunity and it was only – and he changed that only after getting pressure from the U.S. Can you explain this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Pakistan – he does have diplomatic immunity. Pakistan has an obligation to certify that under the Vienna Convention, and we continue to engage Pakistan to insist that he be released.
QUESTION: Why do you think someone in the foreign ministry wouldn’t know that or have a different --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to Mr. Qureshi.
QUESTION: So is that – well, did – was there ever an answer to my question, whether after you tell him that he’s coming or he’s there and that you say that he has diplomatic immunity, do they need to certify that for him to actually have that immunity?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: So just your claim alone is enough --
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no, no. There are specific positions agreed upon by the governments as to which positions carry diplomatic immunity. He is in a position that carries diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: Well, then why --
MR. CROWLEY: And once the – once we notify the Pakistani Government that he’s in the country, at that point he has diplomatic immunity.
QUESTION: Well, then why is there this question about certification?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very good question to – one to ask the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: So what it really is is that you notified the Pakistani Government that he was there as this position?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Isn’t there some kind of written document that would – that you could point to? I mean, people have to sign the U.S. --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, like I say, there are existing agreements over which positions among the American diplomats carry diplomatic immunity. Some do, some don’t.
QUESTION: No, no. I mean --
MR. CROWLEY: Or some carry full diplomatic immunity, some carry partial.
QUESTION: No, I just – I mean, when he went into the country, the same as when you stamp a passport, wouldn’t there – when you acknowledge that he’s in the country, wouldn’t there be some sort of a stamp, a document, that would say he’s in this country that would exist so you could point to this and say, see he’s – we acknowledged he was here?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Is it safe to assume –
QUESTION: There’s a – the spokeswoman for – spokesman for the ruling party in Pakistan for the first time today invoked the Geneva Convention discussing this case and then said that those with diplomatic immunity must be released. Do you consider this kind of an opening in some way or encouraging comments from somebody related to the government that this might be resolved?
MR. CROWLEY: We want him to be released. That’s the only step that we want to see.
QUESTION: Sorry. Did you say the Geneva Convention?
QUESTION: He did. I think he meant the Vienna Convention.
QUESTION: The – but is – but do you consider this any kind of an aperture in any way, or is this kind of just noise?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we feel that Pakistan has an international obligation to release him because he has diplomatic immunity, and that we continue to press this point with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: P.J., you understand the position the Pakistani Government’s in. I mean, there could be a huge public outcry if they release him. And wouldn’t that just – wouldn’t that do just as much to damage U.S.-Pakistan relationships as they already are?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve said, we’re building a strategic partnership with Pakistan. We’re going to build this relationship for the long term. We respect our international obligations, and we expect other countries, including Pakistan, to do the same.
QUESTION: But hasn’t the U.S. gone out of its way to try to rebuild relationships with the Pakistani people? All the flood assistance, all the efforts that have gone into making American – to giving America a better image in Pakistan, wouldn’t this just destroy that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have done that. We will continue to do that. We continue to make clear that we’re supporting Pakistan because it’s in our mutual interest to do so. We are committed to Pakistan for the long term, but we do expect that international obligations will be respected.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how – I mean, people have said that you’re cooperating with the investigators. I mean, how are you cooperating? Have you given, for instance, this other car or access to the people in that car?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is an ongoing investigation. There’s a court case underway. And like I say, on Thursday we will present a petition to the court to certify that he has diplomatic immunity and that he should be released.
QUESTION: And in terms of investigating at all – in terms of the investigation at all in – I mean, there are also another person killed who was just a bystander. I mean, are you helping --
MR. CROWLEY: That is still being investigated.
QUESTION: P.J., I understand that diplomats customarily would carry a card that indicates that they have diplomatic immunity, as they would do in this country. Had he actually been issued one of these cards or not?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I believe the answer is yes, but I’ll double-check that.
QUESTION: He had the get out of jail free card from a Monopoly game.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, clearly from the outset, he identified himself right away as a diplomat. He made clear to the police officers who responded to the scene that he had diplomatic immunity. And unfortunately, he was taken into custody.
QUESTION: And Ambassador Munter met today with someone about this?
MR. CROWLEY: I did not get an update on what he did today.
QUESTION: That trilateral meeting – is it safe to assume that’s not going to take place before this is resolved?
MR. CROWLEY: I actually wouldn’t say that. Just to go back over the announcement that we made on Saturday, as we said, first and foremost, there’s a practical issue here. Since the Pakistani Government is reforming its government and a number of the ministers have not yet been appointed who would be relevant to the trilateral, we thought it was prudent to postpone it.
QUESTION: Is there any resolution yet on who was driving the vehicle that allegedly hit the civilian?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, how would I describe it?
QUESTION: Or whether it was even U.S. Embassy staff at all? You mentioned --
MR. CROWLEY: It was U.S. Embassy staff driving the car.
QUESTION: The State Department sent – started sending direct messages to Iranians in Farsi yesterday. Can you talk about that, and is this a new social media initiative from the State Department?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would put it in a broader context. And actually, if you’re interested, we’ll bring Judith McHale down to explain it in greater detail. As you’ve seen, we are making more significant use of social media. It’s a key element of our plan to – and our strategy to engage people-to-people around the world. As the Secretary has made clear, we do engage governments, but we also want to engage people directly. And as we use social media, we’re also employing – using languages in key parts of the world. So last week we began Tweeting in Arabic, and this week we begin Tweeting in Farsi.
QUESTION: Are these the only two foreign languages?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, not necessarily. I think also embassies around the world have their own Twitter accounts. So I won’t – we do employ a number of languages. But obviously, this is a little more targeted.
QUESTION: So you’re trying to create --
QUESTION: There’s your own language.
MR. CROWLEY: My own language.
QUESTION: Are you trying to create a revolution then in Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – what has guided us throughout the last three months and guides us in terms of how we focus on Iran is the core principles – the Secretary mentioned them again today – of restraint from violence, respect for universal rights, and political and social reform. There is a – it is hypocrisy that Iran says one thing in the context of Egypt but refuses to put its own words into action in its own country.
QUESTION: How about other countries – Bahrain, Yemen, or Algeria, or Jordan? Why you are not talking about those countries and you are condemning what is happening in Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, in the other countries there is greater respect for the rights of the citizens. I mean, we are watching developments in other countries, including Yemen, including Algeria, including Bahrain. And our advice is the same. As the Secretary made clear in her Doha speech, there’s a significant need for political, social, and economic reform across the region, and we encourage governments to respect their citizen’s right to protest peacefully, respect their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and hope that there will be an ongoing engagement, a dialogue between people in governments, and they can work together on the necessary forms.
Now, those reforms will not be identical. They’ll be different country by country. But clearly, the people in the region, emboldened by what’s happened in Tunisia and Egypt and well connected through social media, are gathering together, standing up, and demanding more of their governments.
QUESTION: Can I have just two follow-ups on that? One, are you, in sending these Twitter messages to Iranians, are you also sending a message to the Government of Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we always give Iran our best advice. (Laughter.) They seldom follow it.
QUESTION: In Egypt --
QUESTION: Are Egyptians also – have you Tweeted directly with the Egyptians as well?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s – last week, we expanded our use of social media, including Twitter, to communicate in Arabic. And obviously – I don't have the numbers in front of me, but they’re growing very significantly in both the Arabic Twitter and the Farsi Twitter accounts.
QUESTION: So far in Egypt, from what you’re seeing from the military government, are they doing enough? Are they going in the right direction, taking the steps that you believe are sufficient to move toward real democracy?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is a transition underway. It’s not going to be our judgment that counts. It’s going to be the judgment of the Egyptian people. They’ve issued a number of communiqués over the course of the last three or four days. They are taking steps. They have had broader conversations with members of civil society, and this kind of engagement needs to continue. But clearly, those who assembled last week in Tahrir Square will be watching closely to see what steps the supreme council is taking and to make sure that they’re moving towards free and fair and legitimate elections.
QUESTION: Egyptian army also stated that they need six months to figure out how to conduct elections. Do you think six months is –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, that will be a judgment made in Egypt. As the Secretary said on the Hill today, clearly, they’ve got a lot to do. We just think it’s important that there be broad-based participation in this transition process, and they should take whatever time is necessary to get to the finish line, which is free, fair elections – free and fair elections, and that produces a more democratic government.
QUESTION: P.J., on Egypt, there have been some talk and indeed there’s been some action going for freezing Mubarak and Mubarak family assets. I’m wondering if the U.S. thinks that’s a good idea. Have you been approached about trying to look into their assets – possible assets here? Is there anything that the U.S. could do to help reclaim some money if it had been –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that there has been any specific request regarding any funds associated with President Mubarak. Obviously, if the Egyptian Government makes a particular request, we will take appropriate action.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what’s happening in the Palestinian Authority? Because Abbas is reshuffling his cabinets. Erekat has offered to resign. They’ve disbanded the negotiating support unit. It sounds like this peace process is really dead if it wasn’t already dead.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, these are Palestinian decisions. They have made some announcements over the last couple of days and they will be reforming a government, and we look forward to working with that new government.
QUESTION: But what – I mean, the U.S. has made Israeli-Palestinian peace such a priority. I mean, what can you possibly do to revive these talks right now? Or is it time to rethink it altogether?
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, both the Palestinians and the Israelis are assessing the situation in light of what’s happened in recent days. It’s not going to change what we do. We’ll continue to engage both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But obviously, everyone is still absorbing what has happened, what the impact is on the process.
QUESTION: So they’re assessing it, but you’re not – what’s happened in the last few days?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we’re going to continue to work on the substance and we’ve had meetings recently. We will plan to have meetings here very soon, and we’ll keep you posted on that.
QUESTION: I’ve got two Latin America questions. One, another –
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region for a second? In Turkey, today, since we are talking about the freedom of press, three journalists got arrested – linkage -- what their news complication on the alleged coup from 2003. Do you have any take on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that. We’ll check and see what we have.
QUESTION: I always thought Turkey was in Europe. At least (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: It is in the region. It’s connected to the region.
QUESTION: It’s half. Half and half.
QUESTION: Can I go to Latin America? Uribe – this diplomatic immunity request?
QUESTION: During the crisis in Egypt, it looked like Turkish administration was very much parallel with the U.S. Administration. Is the – the statements came from Ankara always confirm what came from Washington. Would you be able to give us any kind of detail on that? How was the – your negotiations with Ankara (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, let me make it a little more broadly. We have stayed well-connected with countries in the region. The Secretary made a very significant number of calls yesterday. But throughout these last three weeks, we’ve had conversations across the region. I believe both the President and the Secretary have had conversations with their counterparts during this. So it’s part of our effort to – as we’ve gone through this and certainly at this point – stay in close touch so that the international community, including the United States and others, is poised to support Egypt as it identifies its needs during this transition process.
QUESTION: Are we –
QUESTION: And last question on Turkey.
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Last question on Turkey in other subjects with Armenia. Armenia’s President Sargsian just stated today that the normalization process with Turkey is dead, and the U.S. has invested so much work and time on this process. What’s next step you are taking*?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, there have been – it’s been something that we’ve placed a great deal of emphasis in. The Secretary herself has been fully engaged in this. We’ve understood for a number of months that there have been obstacles to progress. We will continue to engage Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and see how we can move forward.
MR. CROWLEY: I think the Department of Justice has requested an extension.
QUESTION: So –
MR. CROWLEY: So?
QUESTION: Why? Because you asked for one?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, we asked.
QUESTION: No, I mean, the State Department – I mean, the judge gave the State Department until midnight on Friday.
MR. CROWLEY: No, I understand that.
QUESTION: So you asked Justice to ask for an extension?
MR. CROWLEY: Right.
QUESTION: Can I ask why?
MR. CROWLEY: We are still – the matter is still under active consideration.
QUESTION: But --
MR. CROWLEY: And we – Justice requested 30 days additional to continue to evaluate the case.
QUESTION: Is it that difficult a decision to make?
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. So here is a guy who is requesting diplomatic immunity, and you’ve asked for 30 days extension. And you have a guy in Pakistan, and the court there – the people there want to decide, and that’s unacceptable?
MR. CROWLEY: I would not draw – they are not comparable cases.
QUESTION: Well, maybe the specifics –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way –
QUESTION: -- of the cases aren’t comparable, but I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, one is a current U.S. diplomat and one is a former diplomat. But we are still – it’s under active consideration.
QUESTION: And then the – this diplomatic spat with the Argentines, what’s – did they file a complaint with you today as they said they would?
MR. CROWLEY: We have had a number of discussions both at post and here in Washington, and I think our Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela was in touch over the weekend with both Foreign Minister Timerman and Security Minister Garre.
We are puzzled and disturbed by the actions of Argentine officials. The purpose of the visit was a training exchange between U.S. military experts and the Argentine federal police, focused on advanced hostage rescue and crisis management techniques. This is part of our ongoing cooperation with Argentina on citizen security. The visit had been fully coordinated with and approved by the Government of Argentina’s Ministry of Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although the cargo was manifested in accordance with existing practice and protocols between our two governments, Argentine authorities conducted an unusual and unannounced search of the aircraft’s cargo, seizing certain items. But these were items that were routine for an exercise of this kind. But the seized items include batteries, medicine, a rifle, and communications equipment.
QUESTION: Is it not the case that some of this stuff hadn’t been properly documented on the manifest?
MR. CROWLEY: I think I recall hearing that maybe one serial number was not properly documented. But this is the kind of thing that could easily have been resolved on the ground by customs officials. Like I say, we are disturbed that it was handled in this way.
QUESTION: Has the exercise been –
QUESTION: Do you know the serial number was about what? Do you have any idea?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: The serial number that was not properly informed –
MR. CROWLEY: Like I say, these were small technical issues that could easily have been resolved by customs officials. For whatever reason, it was elevated to higher levels of the government, and we find this puzzling.
QUESTION: According to the information that has come out during the weekend, there was a suitcase among the eight items that were seized that had drugs and narcotics. So I would like to know if you could confirm that. And if so –
MR. CROWLEY: I have no information to corroborate that rumor.
QUESTION: Have you seen today any change in the spirit of Argentina? Do you see any collaboration spirit in how they are dealing with the thing today, or so far?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, unfortunately, what – because of the actions taken when the plane landed, the training activity was canceled and the aircraft with the training team has departed, so the opportunity to work together was lost. And we continue to seek explanations from the Government of Argentina.
QUESTION: You didn’t receive a complaint today so far?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t say – I don’t – we have been engaged with the government through the weekend, expressing our great concern and puzzlement over how this was handled. And we continue to seek an explanation as to why Argentina took the steps it did.
QUESTION: If this stuff happens in other countries, is this something you’ve heard, that sometimes there are some items in this kind of cargo that have problems and are solved in a different manner? Or this is a very unusual case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think the way in which this has been handled has been very unusual.
QUESTION: How does – can I follow up? How does it affect the situation, the fact that the Argentina Government or the Argentina authorities have disclosure, public disclosure, some kind of the material that was inside the plane, and it’s supposed to be a sensitive one, and so they explain what was it about?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, but for example, the aircraft carried various types of global communications equipment, and to ensure consistent, secure lines of communication for the purposes of this training. And this is a common practice. This kind of equipment is used in these kinds of exercises or would be used in joint operations. And we continue to call on the Argentine Government to return our equipment.
QUESTION: They say that you, on purpose, denied information.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe that’s true. Like I say, we were fully prepared to resolve this routinely. And unfortunately, the matter has been escalated, and we are very concerned about it.
MR. CROWLEY: When last I checked, we had no plans to resume food aid. It is something that – we are watching the situation in North Korea very closely. Should a request come in for assistance, obviously, we have particular stipulations that it would be effectively managed and monitored to make sure that it got to – the food got to the intended recipients, it was not shuffled off to the elites.
QUESTION: You’re not aware of any new developments on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we have current plans to provide food assistance.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I’m not asking if you have plans to provide it. I’m talking – I’m asking if there are any developments towards – that might lead to a decision --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any change from the last time this came up.
QUESTION: No, not any change. (Laughter.) Have there – are there any developments –
MR. CROWLEY: If you wish – tell you what. Ask me the question again tomorrow, and I’ll see if there’s anything new.
QUESTION: Well –
QUESTION: It is reported that U.S. is intending to offer to North Korea half million tons of food.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question as to whether we are evaluating any plans.
QUESTION: P.J., on Capitol Hill, the push to cut the budget for the State Department, USAID, what would be the result of some of these proposals?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean there’s – I mean, we will be engaging both houses of Congress on this issue. It’s very important. One of the dilemmas – it is a unique situation that you’ve got two budgets being considered simultaneously on the Hill. One of the dilemmas is: Should Congress make a substantial cut? You only have a half year to be able to make the programmatic adjustment, so one challenge for us is simply the calendar.
Ideally, you’d have your budget at the start of the fiscal year and then be able to plan and act accordingly. In this particular case, while we have reduced our expenditures from the FY 11 proposed budget back to ’10 levels, any further dramatic cuts would be very, very difficult to carry out and would cause very significant disruptions in the affected programs.
So we are studying what came out of the subcommittee, I believe, on Friday. We have great concerns about particular areas of the budget, from food security to living up to our commitments under Copenhagen and Cancun relative to climate change. I think as both the Secretary and also Deputy Secretary Nides said, we have significantly expanded our programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’re set to assume responsibilities in Iraq. I think that’s – the key here is that there have been some proposals to take funding back down to the equivalent of 2008 levels. The challenge for us is that we live in 2011. We’re operating in 2011. It’s literally a different world. We have substantially expanded our presence – our civilian presence in Afghanistan. As we outlined in the 2012 budget submission today, we have plans to expand that presence, have our civilians working side by side with the military. And it – these areas are – will be at risk depending on what judgments Congress finally makes.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you clarify what the level is for 2011 in the CR?
MR. CROWLEY: I want to say that we’re operating perhaps something around 8 percent below the proposal for ’11, so we’re already operating – we’ve restrained spending for the first half of the year. But obviously, to be able to put additional cuts, endure additional cuts with only a half year to go in the fiscal year, would be very difficult.
QUESTION: You don’t have a round billion dollar figure for it?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it depends. I mean, obviously, the House will have its view; the Senate will have its view. Where it comes out, we’re going to aggressively make the case for funding for State and USAID for the simple reason that we are enacting, carrying out integrated plans, and we need to have an integrated budget that appropriately funds the military component, the civilian component, and the other elements of what we believe strongly is a national security budget.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:09 p.m.)
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