1:11 p.m. EST
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. First, I want to welcome some journalism students from Black Hills State University in South Dakota. I think we have natives of South Dakota and Wyoming, right? And a long-time friend and colleague, David Super (ph) is with us. They are budding journalists. You can advise them to follow your career path or pursue a different one, whatever happens after the briefing. But we welcome you to the State Department.
This afternoon, following up on the International Women of Courage ceremony, Secretary Clinton will have a bilateral with one of the award winners, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan. The United States commends the president’s exemplary leadership in Kyrgyzstan through the tumultuous transition of the past year that set Kyrgyzstan on a democratic path. And today the country leads Central Asia with a new constitution, a new government chosen by its citizens, and it’s working to make it increasingly responsive to the will of its citizens.
Also, later on this afternoon, the Secretary will call Dr. Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh.
Dr. Yunus was scheduled to be here at the State Department and meet with the Secretary this afternoon. However, he decided to cancel his trip because of the legal challenge he filed in the Bangladeshi courts regarding his position at the Grameen Bank. We are troubled by the letter that the Bangladesh Bank sent to the Grameen Bank concerning Dr. Yunus’s status as managing director of the Grameen Bank. We continue to follow developments closely and await clarification from the government of Bangladesh and Grameen Bank. We hope that a mutually satisfactory compromise can be achieved that will ensure Grameen Bank’s autonomy and effectiveness.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that real quick? Can you just explain the reason for her calls? It is to show solidarity with him in the face of all this, or is there something else on the agenda?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, he’s a Nobel Prize winner, Medal of Freedom winner, Congressional Gold Medal winner. His public service is widely recognized and respected, and civil society organizations such as the bank play an important role in Bangladesh’s development and democracy. So it is both to show support for his ongoing efforts and the efforts of the Grameen Bank and also to express our concern about developments in Bangladesh.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more on that. What specifically – you said you – she’s expressing concern about this letter; you’re troubled by it. What troubles you –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s an ongoing court case regarding his dismissal from Grameen Bank, and we are following that court case closely. It is, I believe – the matter is still under appeal.
QUESTION: But the letter – I’m sorry, but the letter itself --
MR. CROWLEY: It regards –
QUESTION: What is troubling about the letter?
MR. CROWLEY: It regards Dr. Yunus’s status as managing director of the Grameen Bank.
QUESTION: P.J., when Mr. Muhammad Yunus applied for a visa, how much in advance did you know about this? Or did the Bangladesh Government advise you about this – his visitor case?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know, Goyal, how to answer that question. He was due to be here at the State Department this afternoon for a meeting with the Secretary of State. He chose to stay not because of a visa issue with us, but because of the ongoing legal case that he is involved in.
QUESTION: Did Secretary call or try to reach anybody in Bangladesh?
MR. CROWLEY: She has talked to the prime minister about this case in the – in recent weeks.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this. Isn’t this - your concern about the issue will be considered something interfering with the internal affairs of Bangladesh?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s really about the future and the autonomy and effectiveness of the bank.
Secretary Clinton this morning met with Australian Prime Minister Gillard. They talked about a number of issues, but in detail about the situation in Afghanistan and the fact that Australia continues to be an important partner in the NATO-led mission. They also talked about ongoing developments in the Middle East as well as Australia’s recovery from recent devastating floods.
Turning to Cote d’Ivoire, on Monday evening, the television controlled by former President Gbagbo announced that the purchase and sale of coffee and cocoa will be undertaken exclusively by the Gbagbo regime. His plan to nationalize the cocoa industry of Cote d’Ivoire, which is the world’s largest supplier of cocoa beans, amounts to theft. It is another desperate act on his campaign to cling to power. You’ll recall that President Ouattara imposed a ban on cocoa exports in January. He renewed that ban in February, and we continue to be gratified that leading U.S. importers continue to respect the ban as established by President Ouattara.
Staying in the region, we noticed yesterday that Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister Mumbengegwi indicated that in his view, the existing sanctions regime against Iran is, as he called it, unfair and hypocritical. We disagree. Working with Iran on uranium extraction violates international nonproliferation obligations as well as the threat posed by – to the international – to national security by the assistance to Iran’s nuclear program. Such activity violates obligations contained in U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1929.
But this is all part of an ongoing effort by Iran to escape its growing isolation by offering to bolster trade and other economic ties with receptive governments, such as Zimbabwe. The foreign minister of Zimbabwe is entitled to his opinion, but the Government of Zimbabwe is still bound by its commitments to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can do to stop that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: Does it stop it, or is there any penalty for Zimbabwe?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are potential international penalties, although obviously, Zimbabwe has its own issues with the international community, including the United States.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are ramifications for countries that decline to observe their international obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. I mean, what we’re indicating here is that it’s incumbent upon Zimbabwe to heed its own obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I’m trying to get a sense of what they might face if they go ahead with it.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t have a catalog for you other than we are indicating our concern about the statements that suggest that Zimbabwe would be open to cooperating with Iran in ways that violate UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any evidence that they are doing this already?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that we have any evidence that there are any operational uranium mines in Zimbabwe. But certainly, we have ongoing concerns about the behavior of Zimbabwe, its own human rights abuses. This is a – it would be quite a match for Iran and Zimbabwe to cooperate.
Turning to Ambassador Grossman’s travel, he has – he departed Pakistan last night and is currently in Brussels. Over the next couple of days, he’ll meet with a range of officials, including our U.S. ambassadors to the European Union Kennard and our U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. These meetings are a continuation of our effort to consult and coordinate with allies and partners on Afghanistan and Pakistan and coordination with international communities, and especially important as we look toward President Karzai’s expected announcement on March 21st about transition to Afghan lead for security of the first province under our efforts to improve Afghan security capabilities so it can begin to take a leadership role in its own security.
Turning to Libya – well, I mean, before I get to Libya, which I think will be the focus of your interest, regarding China, the United States is increasingly concerned by the apparent extralegal detention and enforced disappearance of some of China’s most well-known lawyers and activists, many of whom have been missing since mid-February. We note that Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, and Gu Chuan all disappeared between February 16 and February 19. We have expressed our concern to the Chinese Government over the use of extralegal punishments against these and other human rights activists. We continue to urge China to uphold its internationally recognized obligations of universal human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.
MR. CROWLEY: Let me just add two more things. I did note a question during Ambassador Verveer’s briefing about women’s rights in Iran. We understand that there are women in Iran marching today and being arrested in their struggle for equal rights. We support these brave women, as well as those facing continued political persecution at the hands of a government that has imprisoned over 100 women for their political views. Many of them have been arrested, tortured, and subject to lengthy detention without charge. Their family members have been jailed and harassed, and they have been barred from organizing on behalf of women. We recognize the important leadership role that Iran’s women play in civil society and the struggle for all Iranians to express their universal rights. There are also prominent human rights lawyers, activists, journalists and bloggers who have joined in this effort to gain respect for universal rights within Iran.
And finally on the current situation in Libya. Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg are in Tunisia through March 10th. They’ll be in Egypt later in the week to help address the humanitarian crisis and emergency, which – from which over 200,000 migrants have fled since the start of the Libyan conflict. They are meeting with government officials, international organizations, and nongovernmental organization representatives.
We have pledged $30 million in humanitarian assistance for supplies, transportation of third-country nationals, and basic emergency services. And as I mentioned yesterday, our efforts over the coming days would focus significantly on the plight of Bangladeshis at both the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. Today, we expect the evacuation of just over 2,000 people, including 140 Ghanaians and 200 – I’m sorry – and 452 Bangladeshis. Tomorrow, we hope to repatriate another 1,100 people, including nationals from Bangladesh, Ghana, and Egypt.
QUESTION: And they’re all on American flights?
MR. CROWLEY: I believe those are on our charter flights, yes.
QUESTION: Can you tell --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) at the request of Government of Bangladesh or (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s at the – it’s just a matter of as these people gather in sufficient numbers, we are working with the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR. I have no doubt that the Government of Bangladesh is – will be gratified to have its citizens home.
QUESTION: And who is paying for this – for Bangladeshi citizens?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an international effort to which we have contributed $30 million.
QUESTION: You expressed some concern a couple days ago about the possibility that people were being prevented from crossing the border, and that was one reason why the flows had stopped. Do you have anything more on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. It remains something that we are watching carefully.
QUESTION: You’re calling them migrants and not refugees? Is that just a word choice or does that mean anything?
MR. CROWLEY: It may actually have particular meaning. In this context, we’re using the term migrants.
A couple of just housekeeping issues. You had asked yesterday when’s the last time that we had a conversation with the Libyan foreign minister. I can report that he called our Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman on Friday. They had a brief conversation which touched on the ongoing situation in Libya. And I think we were asked today about our outreach to those who are opposition figures, business people, other figures trying to get a sense of what is happening in Libya. Ambassador Gene Cretz, over the past few days, was in Rome and Cairo for multiple meetings both with Italian Government officials, Egyptian Government officials, but also opposition figures within Libya to gain a greater understanding and perspective on what’s happening.
QUESTION: Who’s he meeting with?
QUESTION: Can we go back to Iran --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not – we have chosen not to detail every single person that we’re in touch with or every single person that we meet with personally. But he did have meetings both in Italy – in Rome and in Cairo.
QUESTION: Can you say whether generally they were members of this group that sprung up in Benghazi and is trying to organize (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: We have had meetings with – and phone conversations with members of the National Transitional Council.
QUESTION: Can we go back --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) where did the meetings take place?
MR. CROWLEY: That meeting happened in Cairo.
QUESTION: And on the Musa Kusa call, can you say if that – I mean, why at that point you weren’t able to clarify the status of the ambassador to Washington during that – did that come up? Did you ask at least?
MR. CROWLEY: The simple answer is it didn’t come up.
QUESTION: You didn’t ask.
MR. CROWLEY: Musa Kusa called to say hello, and he did not bring up the status of the ambassador. Neither did the Assistant Secretary Feltman. So our review is ongoing.
QUESTION: And any other readout? He called to say hello and how’s it going? (Laughter.) I mean, what --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m actually told because he heard from the press briefing that we were trying to reach him. (Laughter.) It was a very brief conversation.
QUESTION: Did you have any message for him, can you say that? What did --
MR. CROWLEY: They just talked about the situation in Libya from the point of view of the Qadhafi regime.
QUESTION: Can you talk more about this --
QUESTION: He claimed that Musa Kusa --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: Okay. On Musa Kusa, he claimed that you guys tried to get him to switch sides. Is that true?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m – I haven’t gotten a --
QUESTION: He came out and said that.
MR. CROWLEY: -- detailed readout of the conversation. I’m – my understanding is that the foreign minister described the situation as he saw it, and Assistant Secretary Feltman listened with interest.
QUESTION: Well, if President --
QUESTION: Can you deny that he --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) in any way?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have a position that the regime should get out of the way so the people of Libya can pursue a transition to a more responsive and democratic government. I can’t – our advice for Colonel Qadhafi applies to – the same advice applies to Foreign Minister Kusa as well.
QUESTION: Well, just to follow up on that. Specifically, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said that those that are close to Qadhafi or that are surrounding Qadhafi should take note of the fact that his days are numbered and should think about leaving him or think about switching sides – or I don’t know exactly what the wordage was, but that you should – they should think about their future or they will face prosecution. Is it fair to say that Assistant Secretary Feltman gave – delivered the same message to Musa Kusa?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know what Assistant Secretary Feltman told Foreign Minister Musa Kusa.
QUESTION: And then on this opposition council that you said you had meetings with in Cairo, I mean, you said over the last couple of days that you didn’t really know specifically who they were or how much support they had within the country. Do you have any more clarity on that? I mean, they do seem to be the largest opposition group. Even the smaller opposition groups are saying that they support them. They do have representatives from every major population center and have some former senior ministers and things like that. So do you have any more clarity on whether you consider this the premier opposition group?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to pick the leading contenders in this effort. We are engaging a wide range of leaders and those who both understand and can potentially influence events in Libya. We will continue to watch the council as it develops. My understanding is they have announced some of their membership, not all of their membership. So we remain engaged with this group as well as others.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean, it doesn’t seem to be the – you say that you don’t – it’s not up for you to decide, but then you’re also saying that we can’t get more involved in making a decision about what we want to do in Libya until we know who the opposition are. So is this idea that you’re still trying to figure out who the opposition is a convenient excuse to not get more involved?
MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, we have for several days talked about the fact that we’ve done this outreach to opposition leaders. That includes members of the National Transition Council. We’re talking to others beyond the membership of this council. Eventually, within Libya a formal opposition will emerge. We’re watching to see how that develops.
QUESTION: Have you come to any decision regarding the no-fly zone or the military option, or you are still considering these options?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Michel, Ambassador Ivo Daalder went through that in some detail in terms of the planning that’s occurring within NATO. As I recall, yesterday he said that there has been no formal presentation to the NAC yet as to the kinds of planning that has been going on. So this is something that is still under consideration, under planning, and will continue to develop.
QUESTION: When you will take a decision after two or three weeks of –
MR. CROWLEY: There’s no particular timetable. We also are considering and talking about the issue of the no-fly zone within the UN Security Council. Obviously, the groups that we are talking to and leaders that we are talking to within Libya, as well as leaders throughout the region, they all have views on this. As you – I think somebody asked a question yesterday, the GCC has come out and issued a statement regarding no-fly zone. The Arab League is developing its position on no-fly zone.
MR. CROWLEY: So this is something that, as we’ve indicated, is one among a number of options that are under both development and consideration.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) go back to the transitional council for a second. Two of their senior members, including a guy who is identified as the sort of shadow foreign minister, former ambassador to India, are in Strasbourg, I believe, where they’re going to talk to Ashton today. They’re going to address the European Parliament and speak to the French foreign minister. I’m wondering if there’s any sense that they may come to Washington. Are you having any discussion for this particular pair? Are you aware of this?
MR. CROWLEY: If they come, we’ll – and we meet with them, we’ll let you know. I mean, but this is also a part of what the Secretary was going through. She had a number of phone calls yesterday afternoon, including to the French foreign minister, the Italian foreign minister. There’s a lot of outreach going on and we’re sharing information and perspective to fully understand the nature of the opposition and the course of events within Libya.
QUESTION: And the meeting with the opposition in Cairo, who was there? Was it members of the Embassy in Cairo, the ambassador? Was it lower than that?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. Everybody was in the room, but include our ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz.
QUESTION: Have U.S. officials met with any of the opposition in Tunisia? And also Libya, I assume not, but can you clarify?
MR. CROWLEY: Members of the Libyan opposition --
QUESTION: The Libyan opposition in Tunisia. Yeah.
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t rule it out, but I am not aware of any specific meetings.
QUESTION: Do you know when the Cretz meeting was? I’m sorry, did you say that?
MR. CROWLEY: He is back today. These would be over the last four days.
QUESTION: P.J., the Arab League is getting ready to have a meeting on Saturday with the foreign ministers of the member-states, the Arab League member-states. And of course, Libya is not invited. Would you encourage them to invite someone from the opposition? They are getting ready to declare and to actually give support to the no-fly zone. Would that be something that you would discuss?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as I just said, it’s not for us to dictate who others should talk to or who they shouldn’t talk to. Everyone is trying to understand what is happening in Libya. Everyone is concerned about the current developments. Everyone is concerned about the violence that continues to take innocent lives and the lives of those who are standing up and searching for a better government.
So we are all concerned. We’re sharing perspective. We’re developing options. We’re trying to reach a consensus on appropriate steps. And there’s a lot of conversation going on in the region, in Europe, and involving the United States.
QUESTION: Isn’t there a sense of urgency, because apparently Qadhafi is really escalating his attacks? In the last 24 hours, he’s been bombing, using airplanes to bomb. They have been attacking in the surrounding areas. They are taking – retaking some positions and so on. Does that add a sense of urgency?
MR. CROWLEY: Of course, absolutely there’s a sense of urgency here. We have had a sense of urgency since the outbreak of significant violence over two weeks ago.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything about this supposed offer by Qadhafi to the opposition to step down if his family were given certain guarantees that he could leave the country safely?
MR. CROWLEY: I --
QUESTION: Have you been told --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know how credible that is. I mean, we certainly want Qadhafi to step down. As we’ve indicated, if he wishes to leave the country, as far as I know, there’s nothing that’s preventing him from doing so.
QUESTION: But in your outreach to the Libyan opposition, have – specifically have they told you about this offer?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: But P.J., let me just follow, so far Mr. Qadhafi is not listening the cries of the people or the repressed or warning from the international community. What I’m asking you is how long will you watch and wait (inaudible) he keeps killing the innocent people by bombs or rockets and so forth and all.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, Goyal, we have taken a number of steps. We are focused, unlike Mr. Qadhafi, on the welfare of both his people and others who are inside Libya. We are looking to see how we can address the humanitarian situation in Libya. We are reviewing a number of options. There’s been a UN Security Council resolution that the international community has aggressively embraced and is now carrying out. So we’ve done a great deal. There’s lots of other things under consideration, and we will be working on these options even as we monitor developments in Libya.
QUESTION: P.J., on the question of arming the opposition groups, which was raised yesterday, there seemed to be a little bit of discrepancy between your statement and stuff that came out of the White House. My question to you is: What is the U.S. Government position on that? Does the arms embargo forbid it completely or is there some wiggle room? And if there is some wiggle room, where do you find that?
MR. CROWLEY: There’s actually no disconnect at all. There is a UN Security Council resolution that establishes an arms embargo in Libya. The UN Security Council resolution established a sanctions committee. And with any sanctions regime, there’s always the option to go before the sanctions committee and ask for a waiver. So if at some point we decided it was appropriate to take a certain action, there is a procedure in place to either waive or amend the existing UN Security Council resolution. So as Jay Carney said yesterday, we have a number of options available to us, but as a practical matter, as of this moment, we could not arm anyone within Libya today.
QUESTION: But the sanctions committee, as I understand it, every member of that committee has a de facto veto because they all have a vote on it. Given the current makeup of the committee, is there any possibility at all that they would approve such a move?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, that is why we’ve done the broad outreach that we’ve done. That’s why we’re working through these issues to try to establish consensus on appropriate actions, and so that we have a consensus, we’re acting as an international community, and we’re expressing our concern about Libya with one voice.
QUESTION: But P.J., in the meantime, he’ll kill another thousand people.
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I mean, I understand, which is why we’ve been concerned ever since the outbreak of violence in Libya.
QUESTION: P.J., on this subject of sanctions, do you know whether oil is still being shipped out of Libya? Do you know who might be buying it at this time, and why the UN sanctions don’t target the oil (inaudible)? I think the U.S. sanctions might, actually, but maybe the UN ones don’t. Doesn’t the money just go straight back to Qadhafi?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know this current status. I know the price of gasoline has gone up, but beyond that, I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can I have one more, just quick?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: And that would be: Does the State Department have a view on the proposal that Mr. Qadhafi will stand aside, providing he and his family are given some kind of amnesty? I know you answered this question just now, but specifically, what would be the State Department’s view on him being given easy access?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll tell you, let me go back --
QUESTION: An easy exit.
MR. CROWLEY: Certainly, we – to remind regarding economics, that we – that the FinCEN did put out a warning, we did pass in the resolution, and the United States has captured, I believe, $30 billion in proceeds that belonged to the Libyan Government. So anyone who was involved in financial transactions involving Libya and the current government have certain obligations, and that is something that we continue to develop to put pressure on the Qadhafi regime.
Clarify again your second question.
QUESTION: The second question really was: What is the State Department’s view on the possibility of Mr. Qadhafi and his family being given an easy exit? In other words, that he could be forgiven for what he’s done and not brought to trial.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s separate those two things out. We want to see Qadhafi step down, and one would infer that in stepping down it is probably best for him to leave the country, to allow a different government to emerge. That – any departure from Libya does not exempt Mr. Qadhafi, his family, or others from responsibility and accountability for what has occurred.
QUESTION: Do you see the similar wave as far as China is concerned? Earlier, you were talking about expression of the people and human rights activists and all, so on. I mean, will you support China’s –
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, we’ve got to remind you about Jeopardy and framing these things in the form of a question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Will you support the Chinese people in their quest for freedom and democracy?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we respect universal rights. We want to see people everywhere have the opportunity to participate in politics and have representative government. That includes every country, including China.
QUESTION: Can I come back to this same point?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any discussions, offers from one side or the other about facilitating Qadhafi’s exit from the country?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, we want to see Qadhafi leave. We’re not his travel booker.
QUESTION: But to follow up on the earlier question, would you and the Europeans give Qadhafi – or conceivably, would you give him safe passage not ever to be prosecuted in exchange for his departure?
MR. CROWLEY: Saed, there’s nothing preventing Mr. Qadhafi from leaving his tent, climbing in an airplane, and leaving Libya so his people can have a better tomorrow than they have today. There’s nothing preventing him from doing that.
QUESTION: But in theory, if he comes to you and he says, “I will leave: –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, it’s not for us to choose his final destination.
QUESTION: If he says, “I will leave provided that I will not be prosecuted.”
MR. CROWLEY: Huh?
QUESTION: If he says, “I will leave” –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, as we indicated in the UN Security Council resolution, there is a commission of inquiry underway within the ICC. And within the constraints of U.S. law, we will support that commission of inquiry.
QUESTION: Do you have a good sense of where he is at that moment? You said he’s in a tent.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know where he’s pitched his tent today. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If he faces prosecution – if he and his family face prosecution, what incentive does he have to leave the country if he risks that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are going to hold him accountable. There is a commission of inquiry under the ICC. So my favorite booking would be a trip to The Hague. But we have called for him to step down, and in all likelihood, the best way to end the current violence is for him to leave the country.
QUESTION: P.J., (inaudible) once again said that they are exercising self defense. Do you concur that what the regime is doing is exercising self defense?
MR. CROWLEY: Look –
QUESTION: This statement came out yesterday.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, what we believe is that by turning lethal overwhelming force against his people, he has forfeited legitimacy. He has no right to self defense. What he has a right to do is step down for the good of his people and the good of his country.
MR. CROWLEY: Are we done with Libya?
QUESTION: Well, just – I mean, just one more. If he has no right to lead, why are you still talking to Musa Kusa if he has no authority, if his government has no authority?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the practical matter is Mr. Musa Kusa called us. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You could have hung up.
MR. CROWLEY: We answer the phone here at the State Department. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, the fact is (inaudible) you could have no communication.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, Saudi interior ministry has said that all sorts of demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins contradict Islamic Sharia law – contradict Islamic Sharia law. Do you agree on this description?
MR. CROWLEY: I am not aware of anything in Sharia law that prevents a human being from exercising their right of freedom of expression or freedom of assembly.
QUESTION: That means you don’t agree on this description?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t consider myself an expert in Sharia law. But you look at countries like Indonesia that has a vibrant civil society, I’m not aware that there’s any religious prohibition.
QUESTION: P.J., on Guantanamo, if I may.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Saudi Arabia?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: What kind of discussions are you having with your allies, the broader OECD, on what could happen in Saudi Arabia, the risk of unrest there?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know about the OECD. I would say that we have had conversations in the last couple of days with Saudi Arabia regarding its position on peaceful protests.
QUESTION: So what about oil importers like yourselves who risk to be affected by unrest there?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I tie the two together.
QUESTION: Would you say that those conversations are getting more urgent with Saudi Arabia? I mean, you said you had a couple in the last couple of days.
MR. CROWLEY: These – no, I said we’ve had one –
QUESTION: One. Okay.
MR. CROWLEY: -- in the last couple of days. I mean, as a practical matter, this – what – the position that Saudi Arabia has espoused publicly in the last couple of days is actually its traditional position. So these are things that we have talked with Saudi Arabia with at length over a long time.
QUESTION: But you said –
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Saudi Arabia is in any way sort of open to this contagion by this –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, look. I mean, Saudi Arabia is a very conservative society. We have great respect for Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has, since he has taken over reign of the kingdom, done a great deal in terms of reforms. We respect that and have long encouraged the actions that he’s taken. But in the context of recent statements by Saudi Arabia regarding prohibiting peaceful protests, we respectfully have a view that the Saudi people, like all people, have universal rights.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. You’ve had plenty. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On Guantanamo. P.J., what have you had to do to explain to allies, particularly those with detainees at Guantanamo, this decision by the Administration to resume military tribunals? And have they expressed any disappointment about what is basically indefinite detention?
MR. CROWLEY: Justin, I’m not sure I quite get the question.
QUESTION: What have you done to explain to allies who have detainees at Guantanamo this decision to resume the tribunals?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have always said that those at Guantanamo would be subject to prosecution as part of a legal and transparent process. One option available to us is through civilian courts. One option available to us is through military commissions. I’m not sure that –
QUESTION: Commissions now seems to be the only real option. If civilian courts was more of an option, that would be happening.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in the announcement yesterday at the White House, we reaffirmed our commitment to pursue cases through Article 3 courts as well as through military commissions.
QUESTION: The State Department confirmed that a delegation from Iran has applied for travel visa to U.S. during month of March. Can you name those delegation, head of it, the purpose for which they have put in an application? And has there been any contact or talk over Levinson? Iranian foreign minister said that –
MR. CROWLEY: I – well, let’s separate out at least three different issues raised by your question. There’s nothing I can say regarding the case of Robert Levinson beyond the Secretary’s statement of last week. Visa decisions regarding individuals are confidential. However, has an Iranian delegation applied for visas to come to the United States? The answer is yes.
QUESTION: Regarding Levinson, Iranian foreign –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean –
QUESTION: Regarding Levinson –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold on. Hold on a second.
QUESTION: Is it to the UN or (inaudible) something else?
MR. CROWLEY: I actually don’t know exactly what the purpose of their trip is. But they normally come through our Embassy in Switzerland.
QUESTION: Is the delegation invited by the U.S. or –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll take the question as to what we know about the purpose of this prospective travel.
QUESTION: Iranian foreign minister today said – ministry said that they need more information from U.S. regarding Levinson. Are there going to be more information given to them, more contact in that regard?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have provided information over four years to the Iranian Government. I just don’t know what further information that they need from us.
QUESTION: Well, what’s behind –
MR. CROWLEY: What we want is, obviously, the return of Robert Levinson, and to be able to reunite him with his family.
QUESTION: Well, what’s behind this Iranian cooperation regarding Levinson issue after years of –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we hope that given that Iran had signaled an interest in helping with this case that Iran will want to take humanitarian actions to help try to resolve it. So we hope that there will be cooperation.
QUESTION: Why now, not four years ago?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, from our standpoint, we have been providing and publicly calling for Iran to help with this case. But – and we are – we were gratified that Iran had indicated an interest, and we have followed up.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Kurt Campbell? On his way to Tokyo today, he said he was going to be apologizing personally for the issue that we were discussing yesterday. Does this amount to an official U.S. Government apology?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t received – I understand he was – there was a departure ceremony, if you will, at the airport. I – my understanding is that he indicated that he would offer a personal apology for any impact that this has had. But we’ll look forward to his meetings with Japanese officials in the coming days.
QUESTION: This isn’t a State Department apology; this is his personal apology?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, from the State Department’s standpoint – I mean, again, I do not know precisely what was said in this session. But our position is that we have the utmost respect for the people of Okinawa, and we continue to work to build a stronger relationship with the people of Okinawa.
QUESTION: Okay, one more. Do you know who he’s apologizing to?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know precisely who he’s meeting with.
QUESTION: P.J., regarding the stance with Argentina, there is any news? But also, I want to consider that during the last days there were very – a lot of disturbing cables from WikiLeaks affecting officials of Argentina. And I want to know if there is an impression that this is adding into the problem. What’s the position of the Department of State of this? What kind of conciliatory talks are you thinking that you may enter with Argentina, considering all the impasse and all these cables and everything that’s going on?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, let’s separate out two issues. We understand that virtually every country on earth has at least a cable in the 251,000 cables. We’re not going to comment on any individual cable. We understand that the release of these cables may have created some discomfort in our relationship. We’re working hard to overcome any discomfort that has been created in any relationship that we have with our friends and allies around the world.
Regarding the situation with our stuff, we still want our stuff back and we’re still engaged with the Government of Argentina to try to resolve this.
QUESTION: But Argentina is requesting an apologize. Are you also maybe talking – you’re going to talk about --
MR. CROWLEY: Which one are we talking about now? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, we have an apologize related about the plane that came with some stuff that Argentina request that --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: But I am asking if you are going to do an apologize also because of all these new cables that are coming and touching directly all these officials, central bank president, the Kirchners –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, Secretary Clinton, everyone in the diplomatic business has, in one way or the other, expressed regret to officials in many countries over the release of these cables. We’ve reminded countries that reporting at post to Washington about events, it’s what diplomats do. We do it; other countries do the same thing. But we reminded them that policy is made in Washington, and these cables represent a perspective but do not represent policy. So we’ve had many, many, many conversations in diplomatic circles since last November.
QUESTION: Change of topic? P.J., --
QUESTION: Thank you. On the nomination of Secretary Locke to be the ambassador to China, what’s the expectation of the U.S. Government to a new --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the expectation is that any announcements on ambassadors are made at the White House, not the State Department.
QUESTION: Can we change topic?
QUESTION: On China?
QUESTION: Could you share with us the latest on the schedule of Mr. Mitchell to the Middle East?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m actually not aware of any pending travel to the region by George Mitchell.
QUESTION: There are stories that he’s going this week to --
MR. CROWLEY: I understand there are stories. I checked in with George this morning, and I’m not aware of any travel.
QUESTION: So what --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, just to put the whole – bring it whole circle, we continue our engagement. We will have upcoming meetings in the coming days with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. At the present time, much of this work is being done by a variety of people, including Deputy Special Envoy David Hale. George Mitchell is on the phone working issues. But – so we will continue our engagement. We’ll continue our discussions with the Israelis and Palestinians. We continue to work to try to narrow gaps. But on the narrow question of do I know if George Mitchell is traveling to the region in the next couple of weeks, I don't know that he is.
QUESTION: Two quick ones. Is Mr. Hale back there, or is he here now?
MR. CROWLEY: I think Mr. Hale is still in the region.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, would you consider the relationship with the Palestinian Authority now, between the United States Government and the Palestinian Authority, to be estranged in any way?
MR. CROWLEY: We had counsel – we had cautioned and advised Palestinians not to bring a matter before the Security Council. They did. And the United States voted as it did. It hasn’t changed what we’re doing. We’re still fully engaged with the Palestinian Authority and with Israeli officials trying to do what we pledged that we would do: narrow gaps and try to find a way for the parties to return to direct negotiations. So nothing that’s transpired in the past couple of weeks has changed what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Okay. So, but the relationship between (inaudible) --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we continue to recognize the important work that President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad are doing. We appreciate their efforts to pursue peace. Our view is that achieving an agreement can only be done through direct negotiations, and we have – continue to have discussions with the Palestinians and continue to make that point.
QUESTION: Britain, France, and Germany are working to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. How do you view this effort?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we welcome efforts. I mean, everyone has the same objective: comprehensive peace in the Middle East. And we believe that the best way to achieve that is through direct negotiations. Anyone who can help move this process forward, any efforts are welcome.
QUESTION: Is this part of a concerted effort between the three of you to jumpstart them, or this a separate initiative on their own?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have long consulted with a variety of European countries. We have the Quartet process. So this is nothing new.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions, different issues. First on China. There are reports from China that foreign journalists are being threatened, harassed, and some of them have also been detained. Do you have anything to say on that?
MR. CROWLEY: We talked about this last week. Ambassador Huntsman had a meeting with American journalists. But we obviously remain concerned about the treatment of journalists in China as well as elsewhere around the world.
QUESTION: But it still continues. Even this week there were some reports.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that, and this has been a subject of longstanding concern and longstanding discussion with China.
QUESTION: And also in Tibet, on – before the March 10th anniversary of the uprising, there is some high security and there is travel restrictions on the Tibetans and people coming from outside and Tibetan media. Do you have anything on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.
QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka, last week the Senate passed a resolution on Sri Lanka calling for international investigations against war crimes there. What’s the State Department view on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question, whether we’re familiar with that resolution.
All right. Hold on, Goyal.
QUESTION: One more. There’s a news report coming from Georgia that the State Department has approved establishing an Indian consulate in Atlanta. What do you – is it true? I mean, have you confirmed it?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll tell you what. I’m sure we – I’ll take the question. I just don’t know. But obviously, we are broadening and deepening our relations with India. But I don't know the status of a particular proposal by India to establish a consulate in Atlanta.
QUESTION: In fact, it was (inaudible) Atlanta or Seattle, so you can take both of them?
MR. CROWLEY: All right, whatever.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Anything on dialogue in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo?
MR. CROWLEY: We put out a statement --
QUESTION: This morning.
QUESTION: It was last morning.
MR. CROWLEY: -- this morning.
QUESTION: Oh, on Kosovo.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on, hold on. Last one.
MR. CROWLEY: An update on?
QUESTION: Food aid to the North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: No change.
QUESTION: Okay, and one more.
MR. CROWLEY: One more.
QUESTION: North Korea urging South Korea to sending four North Koreans back who want to settle in the South Korea. So do you have any comment on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Try me again. I just want to be sure I understand your question perfectly.
QUESTION: Yes. North Korea urge South Korean Government to send four North Korean who want settle in the South Korea.
MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, what – I mean, I think we’re aware that there are a number of North Koreans who have – who are in South Korea. Their decision as to whether to return or to remain in South Korea is an individual decision.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)
DPB # 33