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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to the Press


Special Briefing
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 7, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: A busy, busy day. We hope all of you will be moving over as soon as we finish here to the Reagan Building as the Secretary is thrilled to formally swear in Raj Shah as the new administrator of USAID. And we are going to put Raj to quick work, he will be back here this afternoon, along with Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke to talk about our agriculture strategy for Afghanistan in a briefing that we hope you all will attend at 4:15.

Just to run through a couple of things really quickly. We’ve announced the Secretary’s upcoming trip to the Asia-Pacific region. Just to touch on a couple of very quick highlights, she’ll start the trip in Hawaii, thrilling to those of you that plan to go with her, where she’ll give a major policy address on the United States’ vision for Asia-Pacific architecture, stressing the importance the United States places on regional cooperation. From there –

QUESTION: Security architecture?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Security architecture?

MR. CROWLEY: Security architecture. From there, she will go to Papua New Guinea. Among the subjects – it’s the first trip by a secretary of State since 1998. But among other things, we fully expect to follow up on the work done in Copenhagen and have a discussion on climate change, the environment, conservation, renewable energy, sustainable fishing, HIV/AIDS, and women’s empowerment.

From there, she moves to New Zealand, visiting Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. She will meet with Prime Minister Key, opposition leader Phil Goff, but also a variety of business and community leaders, and do a couple of events there. Then finally will finish up in Australia, where along with Secretary Gates, she will participate in the Australian-U.S. ministerial. She will also meet with Prime Minister Rudd as they have – Prime Minister Rudd was here before Copenhagen, they had a meeting at Copenhagen, and I’m sure they will follow up on how to operationalize the Copenhagen accord as quickly as possible.

Also, I should mention that while she is in Hawaii, she will have a bilateral with Foreign Minister Okada on January 12th.

QUESTION: What’s the topic of that?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, obviously it will be a wide range of discussions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the issue of Futenma comes up as part of that discussion.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t be surprised?

QUESTION: Surely, that’s going to be the main subject, right?

MR. CROWLEY: I – yeah.

QUESTION: Isn’t that the reason for the meeting? Did he ask to meet her in Hawaii to talk about it? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: No. We meet with the Japanese foreign minister often. We have a wide range of both direct issues regarding our alliance and regional security issues. Japan is an important contributor in Afghanistan, for example. So I’m sure it’ll be a full-ranging discussion, but I would suspect that the issue of the roadmap will come up.

QUESTION: P.J., can I just ask you a quick question on that? In November, the U.S. and Japan agreed to review the alliance. What – can you tell us what the status of those talks are, to kind of review the U.S.-Japan alliance and if the Futenma issue is –

MR. CROWLEY: Tell you what. Why don’t – I believe Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell this afternoon will be at the Foreign Press Center, having a detailed briefing. Perhaps – let’s see what –

QUESTION: On this same subject?

MR. CROWLEY: On the trip.

QUESTION: What time is that?

QUESTION: Two-thirty.

MR. CROWLEY: Two-thirty. So let’s see if Kurt is asked that question, and come back to us if –

QUESTION: And this is going to be January 12th, you said, in Hawaii?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: In Honolulu?

QUESTION: Can we get the dates and the cities?

MR. CROWLEY: In Honolulu.

QUESTION: Can we get the dates and the cities?

QUESTION: Can you put it out?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll put it out.

QUESTION: That’s on the way, that’s in Hawaii on the way to, correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, first stop – well, she stops for fuel on the West Coast and then –

QUESTION: Tuesday the 12th?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, is the meeting with the Japanese foreign minister.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you guys getting out of the cul-de-sac on the Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY: Let – I have some, actually – more stuff.

QUESTION: How about Guinea?

QUESTION: Guinea?

QUESTION: Mmm-hmm.

MR. CROWLEY: We commend General Sekouba Konaté for his announcement yesterday of immediate plans to form a transition government in Guinea. We welcome this new beginning and are pleased to see an advance towards civilian rule. And the United States and our partners within the International Contact Group look forward to supporting Guinea through this transition process.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, along with his French counterpart did have meetings in Morocco and we were very pleased with the agreement that was reached. And obviously now we will work closely with Guinea to see implementation of what they have agreed to do and to move towards civilian rule.

The Secretary spoke this morning with Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga for just under a half an hour about constitutional reform in Kenya, obviously as a follow-up to her Africa trip where this was a major topic of discussion back in August.

Speaking of Ambassador Holbrooke, he will leave this weekend for Abu Dhabi, where the UAE will host a meeting of international special representatives. It will include the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and from there he will go to Pakistan and Afghanistan. On the way back, he’ll stop in Paris to consult with the French Government on the upcoming London ministerial.

QUESTION: Sorry, could you clarify? The Abu Dhabi meeting is going to be what, exactly?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s – periodically, the special representatives from the various countries that are directly engaged in Afghanistan get together.

QUESTION: So it’s all the SRAPs?

MR. CROWLEY: And I think my final point before taking your questions, we have two important meetings tomorrow for the Secretary. In the morning, Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan will be here. And in the afternoon, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and head of the Egyptian intelligence service General Suleiman will be with the Secretary. We’re still working out the press arrangements for those, but you’ll have -- both of them will have some sort of press activity. Special Envoy George Mitchell will be a part of those meetings and then he leaves on Sunday night for Paris and Brussels for consultations with our allies and partners, including the Quartet, the EU, other bilateral discussions yet to be scheduled. He will also travel to the region sometime later this month.

QUESTION: So he’s coming back. He’s not going straight –

MR. CROWLEY: He’s coming back. He’s not going straight –

QUESTION: He was expected to go straight.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, he’s coming back. And then he’s – I think he’s got a personal commitment. So he’ll come back and he’ll go back out again. But he will be going back to the region before the month is over.

QUESTION: And will he be bringing with him these letters of assurance?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve got nothing to pass on about letters of insurance -- insurance or assurance.

QUESTION: He talked about, on Charlie Rose, things like timeline, that it’s going to be a two-year. I mean, what are you guys looking at to get out of this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we – we have our ideas. From a process standpoint, we continue to work directly with the parties. I think part of his travel this month will be to assess where we are. It’s – we had hit a rough patch, as we have described, during the tail end of 2009. Some things have moved along since then. So I think we’re going to kind of assess where the parties, how they see themselves, how they see current events, where they are in terms of the difficult decision of coming back to negotiations.

As this process moves along and as the United States plays its role as facilitator, depending on where the process is at any particular time, we have our ideas, we’re willing to share our ideas, but clearly the first step in this process is to get the two sides back together to formal negotiations and also find a variety of ways to address some of the very concrete issues that are also attendant in the challenge of trying to get two entities that are going to be neighbors to work through the kinds of issues that neighboring states would work through under normal circumstances.

QUESTION: Well, but you have – you had a Abbas in Egypt, you had, you have all this, like, activity going on. Abbas was just in Egypt, Netanyahu was in Egypt, the Saudis were in Egypt. I mean, now you have the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers and Suleiman coming here –

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: – Mitchell’s going out there. There’s obviously a lot of activity right now. And would you say that is reflective of the fact that you’re going to make a push to, you know, to re-start negotiations as soon as possible?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to push to re-start negotiations.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he backed off. He backed off at the end. You even said yourself that there was, like, a rough patch. Everyone kind of backed off at the end of the year, and they did.

QUESTION: What’s new about this –

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, what’s – yeah, what’s new?

MR. CROWLEY: Huh?

QUESTION: I mean, is this like a –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re – it’s 2010. Yeah, I mean, we’re – we –

QUESTION: So your new year’s resolution to jump-start talks in the first quarter of the year?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary said, we would like to see 2010 be a promising year for peace and stability in the Middle East. It is something that is important to us. It is a major commitment by the Administration. And we are, even with the rough patch that we’ve gone in, we’re in better shape than we were a year ago, but we’re not where we want to be.

In the Jordanian meeting, the peace process will be a central issue to be discussed. Jordan has always played a very important and – relationship. As does Egypt because they are two countries in the region that have normal relations with Israel. And in that sense, they have a – they play a special role in this process.

In the case of the Egyptian meeting, the Egyptians have been involved in reconciliation efforts and we will continue, as was the case when the Secretary met with General Suleiman and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit in Cairo in November. Right? We’ll follow up on that discussion and hear from the Egyptians about steps they’ve taken since that time.

QUESTION: P.J., Do you feel that you’re any closer to a resumption of negotiations now?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that there’s still work to be done. And so, are we – I mean, it’s hard to say, Arshad. We’re not there, but we continue to work at it.

QUESTION: Can we say that Senator Mitchell is taking new ideas to the region?

MR. CROWLEY: I would describe it at this point as we – at the end of the year, we were concerned about, among other issues, the political support for President Abbas. Now some things have happened in the last few weeks. I think his political situation is – has stabilized to some extent. The Palestinian Authority has for the moment resolved the open question about elections. And so when he travels to the region, consults directly with the parties, we’ll get a sense of where both sides are.

Clearly, there are still concerns on both sides. And this is never a static situation. So you’re always in a process of assessing where we are. You could have differing sets of ideas to try to advance the process, but we want to get these parties to “yes,” and we’re not yet there.

QUESTION: That’s not what he asked. He asked if Mitchell is bringing new ideas, and you said that he’s going to get a sense of where both sides are. So that means, no, he’s not bringing ideas?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: I mean how many temperature-taking trips does the guy have to take?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, but we – I mean, we have used the time since the Secretary’s trip and some of the meetings that have occurred since then to take stock of the situation.

QUESTION: But why does he have to take stock again?

MR. CROWLEY: In taking stock of the situation, we’re always looking at what can we do. We want to see these – our objective remains the same: We want to see the parties in direct negotiations as soon as possible. We are not yet at that point. So you’re always looking at what can we do to try to advance the parties to “yes.”

But part of that is also always consulting and listening, from an Israeli perspective, where are you in the situation; from the Palestinian situation, where are you in the situation; from other countries in the region, what – how do you see these things. So we had the meeting with Qatar earlier in the week. So we are consulting with some of the key players who will – who are and will need to remain supportive of the process, and they’re having their own conversations. We’re having conversations. And you hope that the dynamic moves you closer to a point where the parties have confidence to be able to make that difficult decision to enter formally in negotiations. So we are always talking at lower levels, trying to work on some of the specifics that can feed into the high-level discussions.

So are we always looking for different ways of advancing? We are.

QUESTION: But --

MR. CROWLEY: Are we always having to consult closely with those who will play critical roles in this process? We are.

QUESTION: That doesn’t sound any – I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound any different than anything you’ve been doing since taking office. And the Israelis, the Arabs, and the Palestinians, all sense right now today, or this week, that there’s some kind of new push, and they’re looking for you to articulate what you’re going to do. There is – I mean, if you don’t want to talk about these letters, fine. But there is a sense that now is the time – now that Abbas’s situation is more fluid – not fluid – more settled, and there’s this effort by the Arabs to kind of, you know, nudge him back to the table, that this is the time now. And there’s a – there’s all this movement which indicates that you are going to make a push – not consult, not bring parties together, not see what we can do – but specific actions that say, you know, it’s time to get back to the table.

MR. CROWLEY: All I would add to that is that we are always looking for ways in which we can be helpful. We – if you go back historically, the United States has – we’ve adapted our role. There have been times where we’ve felt that the process was at a point where we could put some of our ideas on the table.

QUESTION: You don’t feel that now as the --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not forecasting that we’re prepared to do that imminently. I mean, we are pushing the parties. We have never stopped pushing the parties. But as we have also recognized many times, this is ultimately the decision that they have to make. We can’t order them into a negotiation that they’re not prepared to undertake.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts about a Quartet meeting, the principals meeting in Paris this month?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we are aware of the French desire to host a conference on Middle East peace at some point. And we believe that conferences should be held when the time is right and when they can advance our substantive work.

QUESTION: Well – yeah, well, is the time right?

QUESTION: But not now?

MR. CROWLEY: We --

QUESTION: In other words, you’re not in favor of it?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not saying we’re – we want to make sure that when you do have such a meeting that it moves the process forward. And we will be consulting. The Quartet plays an important role in this. They’ll play a vital role if we ever get to an agreement.

QUESTION: Can you envision the Secretary attending a meeting in Paris when she goes later this month?

MR. CROWLEY: The purpose of the Secretary’s meeting right now is to focus on --

QUESTION: No, I’m asking --

MR. CROWLEY: -- I understand – on Afghanistan. Obviously, there --

QUESTION: Well, yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: -- may be discussions about Yemen --

QUESTION: There may be?

MR. CROWLEY: -- when we --

QUESTION: It was pretty much confirmed.

QUESTION: It was pretty much announced when the Secretary said that she was going to London --

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, but we’re still --

QUESTION: -- to talk about Yemen.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re still working on exactly what that agenda will be and how such a meeting will unfold and --

QUESTION: Which, on Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, on Yemen. And then without announcing the Secretary’s travel beyond London, she will make other stops in her European trip. And were she to stop in Paris, I think we would have the kind of full-ranging discussion with our French counterparts that you would expect.

QUESTION: Right. But with – but specifically a Quartet meeting? I mean, is it in the cards? Is it out there as an option?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t project at this point.

QUESTION: Well, right, but is it – but Mitchell is going there to talk to the Quartet people.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And presumably – well, not presumably – in fact, this is one of the things that’s on the table. So I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Are you against – are you opposed to having this meeting or --

MR. CROWLEY: No, we’re not opposed to anything. We --

QUESTION: Do you not feel the time is right?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. I’m --

QUESTION: Or would you prefer to wait until he goes to the region and comes back and that might be a more appropriate time?

MR. CROWLEY: That would be the normal flow of things.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. CROWLEY: You have effective work at lower levels, you kind of gain an understanding of if such a meeting were contemplated, what would be the objectives, who would attend. So will we continue to consult closely with our European counterparts on this subject? Yes. Could you envision a Quartet meeting at some point in the future? Yes. Will we forecast it for the end of this month? Not there.

QUESTION: On the Quartet, you said that he’s going to have consultations with the Quartet – Mitchell. Does that mean he’s going to actually meet, sort of, with all of them at the same time, or is he going to meet the Russians separately and the EU separately and --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: In Brussels.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. As I would read it, there is a – there will be a Quartet meeting while he’s in Brussels.

QUESTION: This is Tuesday.

QUESTION: When’s he leaving? Tuesday?

QUESTION: I can’t --

QUESTION: Is that right, P.J. – Tuesday?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – other than leaving on Sunday night the 10th for Paris and Brussels, I don’t have a specific breakout.

QUESTION: So there will be a Quartet meeting in Brussels?

MR. CROWLEY: That – I believe the answer is yes. If – we’ll check that to be perhaps a hundred percent sure.

QUESTION: Okay. So Mitchell is going to Paris and Brussels, but not to the region?

MR. CROWLEY: He will go to the region before the month is over, but I think logistically, he will go to Europe --

QUESTION: So that’s a separate trip?

MR. CROWLEY: -- he will come back, then he will go to the region.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ricardo Alarcon in Cuba said this guy is a terrorist. I’m wondering what your response is – I mean, not terrorist, is a spy working for U.S. spy services.

MR. CROWLEY: Those comments are false. Cuba has a history of mischaracterizing what Americans and NGOs in Cuba are doing. This person is not associated with our intelligence services.

QUESTION: What are American NGOs doing in Cuba?

MR. CROWLEY: The individual in question was there and was part of the process whereby we continue to encourage and help facilitate Cuban citizens being able to do what citizens in most other parts of the world get to do – connect with the internet, be able to communicate, be able to offer and express their views on a variety of subjects. But it --

QUESTION: Try to (inaudible) the regime, basically?

MR. CROWLEY: Huh? No, we – I mean, put it – we --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: We – the United States has a long history of building civil society in various parts of the world, and that’s precisely what we’re doing in this case.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. at all rethinking handing out computers and laptops there? And I asked this question last year after he was arrested. Has USAID encouraged or told contractors not to go to Cuba while this case is --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this particular program was designed to support and show respect for fundamental freedoms. We’re not going to step back from that critical foreign policy objective. We believe that the Cuban people have basic rights. Those rights should be respected, and they should be empowered to have a voice in Cuba’s future. And we will continue to – our efforts to help them achieve that.

QUESTION: So there’s no ban on travel for – or you’re not encouraging USAID contractors not to go right now?

MR. CROWLEY: We have these programs in place and we’re continuing to pursue these programs.

QUESTION: Can you address that question? It seems like a fairly straightforward question whether you are discouraging contractors from going there. Why is it so hard for you to say yes, we are, or no, we’re not?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll – I’m not aware of any specific instructions to anybody who’s working in these programs not to continue to do them.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: China/Taiwan. The foreign ministry – Chinese foreign ministry has strongly objected to the sale of the patriot missile batteries to Taiwan, and I wanted to get your comment on the sale as well as your reactions to the Chinese charge that this is – runs contrary to prior (inaudible) U.S. joint communiqués.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would reserve comment on any particular system that might be part of our foreign military sales program. We continue to evaluate Taiwan’s defensive needs, and no decisions have been made. But we do make available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: Any update on when the White House will announce the new ambassador to Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Is that on hold?

MR. CROWLEY: We are committed to put an ambassador in Damascus and – but we – I’m not aware that we’re close to an announcement.

QUESTION: But why? Is it because you haven’t found the right individual, or it’s not the right time to send them back?

MR. CROWLEY: Having gone through this process personally, it does take a while to find the right person, and then it does take a while to move through the vetting process that leads to an announcement by the President. So we are committed to do that, but I have no particular timetable as to when we’ll accomplish that.

QUESTION: Is there anything new on the Iran front, P-5+1 or anything with that? Or is it just kind of on hold until the Chinese are out of it?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say the P-5+1 process is on hold --

QUESTION: Well, in terms of meetings or discussions.

MR. CROWLEY: Nothing specific.

QUESTION: This week, is there anything coming up that you’re aware of?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would expect that we would – we will continue our regular consultations within the P-5+1, as you specifically have asked at times what form they’ll take. Sometimes, you do – we do them by video teleconference, sometimes we do them in person. I would fully expect that we will remain absolutely engaged.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there’s nothing specific.

MR. CROWLEY: But I don’t think that – I’m not aware there’s anything that’s imminent.

QUESTION: There’s no political directors meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: No, Bill Burns is here in Washington. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. And there’s no political directors meeting or UN ambassadors meeting or --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I’m sure – well, UN ambassadors meet all the time on a variety of subjects, including Iran. But I’ve got – I mean, I’m confident that we will be getting together within the P-5+1 in the coming weeks, but specifically, I don’t have anything to announce.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Nigerian media reports that Nigeria – that former Northern Nigerian governors and politicians and relatives were among the U.S. visas that were yanked?

MR. CROWLEY: I have no comment.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Robert Park in North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: On --

QUESTION: Park.

QUESTION: Robert Park?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR. CROWLEY: No update.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – do you know anything about this – the UN Special Rapporteur’s call for a war crime investigation in Sri Lanka?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you see the Robert Park case differently from Euna Lee and Laura Ling?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we see it first and foremost as an American citizen in North Korea, and we – the first step is to get consular access to him, and I’m not aware that we have achieved that yet through our protecting power in North Korea.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

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