(9:20 p.m. EDT)OPERATOR:
Welcome and thank you all for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session at the end of today’s conference. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I would like to turn the call over to Mr. P.J. Crowley. Sir, you may begin.MR. CROWLEY:
Hey, thanks everybody. Good evening. I know it’s late. Many of you are calling from suites, perhaps other establishments, so let me run through a couple of things real quick. The Secretary did have her two bilaterals this evening, one with Foreign Minister Zebari of Iraq and the other with Foreign Minister Rassoul of Afghanistan. Let me briefly run through the topics of discussion.
With Foreign Minister Zebari and Iraq, as you might imagine, the major topic of discussion was where Iraq stands on the formation – government formation. The Secretary and minister agreed that this is becoming of critical importance and that we don’t want to see Iraq drift and have a security vacuum result.
They talked about the importance of Iraq’s leaders stepping up and making decisions and forming a government. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey is significantly engaged in Baghdad in this effort. As you may recall, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman has been to the region for multiple meetings, as has the Vice President. But the Secretary solicited some ideas from the foreign minister about how the United States will be helpful while making clear that ultimately, this has to be Iraq’s decision to come to an agreement on forming a new government.
They went through a handful of bilateral issues, but also finished the meeting by briefly touching on the peace process. The foreign minister commended the Secretary on the U.S. engagement on the Middle East process and hoped that a solution can be found so the parties will continue to pursue the direct negotiations that we started three weeks ago.
After a brief break, Foreign Minister Rassoul came by. It was a relatively short meeting, 15 minutes or so, and the Secretary chose to have the meeting at just a two-on-two with herself and Richard Holbrooke as well as the foreign minister and the ambassador. I talked extensively to Richard Holbrooke afterwards. He characterized the meeting as primarily being forward-looking; we’ve got a lot of work to do with Afghanistan. This fall, she invited Foreign Minister Rassoul to come to Washington next month for further consultations leading up to the Lisbon conference, and Afghanistan will be a major topic of discussion there.
The Secretary solicited his impressions of the just-concluded parliamentary elections, notwithstanding the security, the – some of the violence that did occur. They were satisfied with the election. They thought the security overall was reasonably good. The government showed some improvement from elections last year, indicating that they had incorporated lessons learned into the process. They expect to have some preliminary results coming up in the next few days.
Talked about a specific technical issue, which is the strategic partnership document. This comes out of work that’s been done up to this point. The existing strategic partnership document stems from 2005. It’s something that was discussed at the Kabul conference. Work will continue on this effort which provides the broad framework for our relationship with Afghanistan. At the Lisbon conference, I think there will be a similar document that will be released by NATO, and then we’ll continue to work on this document and finalize it sometime after the Lisbon conference. And they talked about the importance of ongoing dialogue and cooperation with Pakistan as well.
So let me at least end there and I’ll be happy to take questions. OPERATOR:
Thank you. We would now like to open the lines for any questions. If you do have a question, please hit *1 and record your name when prompted. Again, that’s *1 to ask a question. One moment to see if there’s questions.
Okay. Our first question, we have Lalit Jha. Your line is open.QUESTION:
Hello, P.J. Good evening. We all miss you in D.C., probably will see you next week. About Afghanistan, a lot of things to discuss in the 15 minutes, what – you said with the forward looking and also about the strategic partnership document is being prepared. Can you give us a sense what has been talked about, what’s the long-term perspective of what the long-term relationship would be between Afghanistan and U.S.?MR. CROWLEY:
Well, they did spend a little bit of time talking about the state of U.S.-Afghan relations, things that we think are going well and things that we think we need to improve on. But the strategic partnership document declaration is – really is the foundation of where we want to take the relationship in the coming years. So it’s very much a framework document. I think we’ll have an interagency team going to Kabul sometime in the near future to continue work with the foreign ministry on this declaration, so – but it’s more – it’s like a foundational document that just kind of guides future U.S.-Afghan relations. QUESTION:
Thank you. Next, we have Andrew Quinn from Reuters. Your line is open. QUESTION:
Hi, P.J., just a follow-up on the strategic document. You said that there’s going to be one for the U.S. – MR. CROWLEY:
I should – Andy, I should clarify. I think the technical term is framework – or Strategic Partnership Declaration. I think I did use the term “document.” It’s actually Strategic Partnership Declaration.QUESTION:
All right, declaration it is. But you said there was going to be one that’s being worked between the United States and Afghanistan, and another one that’s going to come out of NATO summit. Are there going to be two different relationships here between ISAF and Afghanistan, and the U.S. and Afghanistan? Or is this one document that then sort of broadens out to cover the whole ISAF relationship? So if you could talk a little bit more about that.
And the second, back to Iraq, you said that there were some suggestions raised about how the U.S. could be useful as they go forward and the sort of government-forming process. What specific suggestions were made about what the U.S. can do to get things moving there?MR. CROWLEY:
Andy, on the first, I believe there will be two declarations – one that will guide the relationship between Afghanistan and NATO, and one that will guide the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan, recognizing that our interests do broadly overlap, but with the expectation that NATO will be heavily involved in Afghanistan going forward for a period of time. I think that’s why you’ll have one declaration that kind of guides the alliance’s efforts and one that will be more specific to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
On Iraq, the Secretary stressed again the vital importance that the solution to government formation has to come from within Iraq. It can’t be imposed from the outside, whether that’s from the United States or other neighboring countries who might have their fingers in the Iraq cookie jar. But that said, she solicited Foreign Minister Zebari’s ideas on who might be the influential voices inside the political circles in Iraq that can help prod the political leaders who are in a stalemate to try to become more significantly engaged, expand dialogue among the political factions, and resolve the current stalemate and actually form a government. The Secretary said that we will be helpful as we can, but again, to stress that this has to be ultimately an Iraqi solution.QUESTION:
Okay, just this one follow-up on the Strategic Declaration. It sounds as though it’s sort of a decoupling there of the U.S.-Afghan relationship and the ISAF-Afghan relationship. Are we starting to talk about two different tracks here?MR. CROWLEY:
No, I don’t see them in contradiction, Andy, and I don’t think there’s any decoupling, per se. But the United States anticipates having a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, and that’s why we’re pursuing a framework document that will guide our relations, but recognizing that NATO has a significant current presence in the country of – and NATO will be preparing a document that will be released first at the Lisbon conference.QUESTION:
Thank you. Next we have Betty Lin from World Journal.
Your line is open.QUESTION:
Hi, thank you. Yeah, I’d like you to clarify, if the U.S.-Japan defense treaty covered the Senkaku Islands (inaudible)? MR. CROWLEY:
Okay. Is there a specific question?QUESTION:
Is the U.S.-Japan defense treaty covering the Senkaku Islands?MR. CROWLEY:
The – well, I think it’s important – if you read the transcript of the White House press briefing today, I thought Jeff Bader went through this in some detail and laid out the U.S. position. We do believe that because the Senkaku Islands are under Japanese jurisdiction, that it is covered by the U.S.-Japan security treaty.
That said, we also stress that we don’t take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, but recognize current Japanese jurisdiction stemming back to the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. But Jeff made a good point, I think, that – it’s worth repeating, that that said, we do not envision that this current tension will rise to that level in any foreseeable scenario that we would envision.OPERATOR:
Thank you. And if you do have a question, remember, press *1. Our next question comes from Matthew Lee, the Associated Press. Your line is open.QUESTION:
Hi there. MR. CROWLEY:
P.J., sorry about the background noise. You can guess where I am: downstairs. MR. CROWLEY:
Yeah, good for you.QUESTION:
Come on down and have a $17 cocktail with me. MR. CROWLEY:
(Laughter.) It’s a deal.QUESTION:
(Laughter.) I just want to go off topic – not as far as Japan – but what’s the status of the moratorium negotiations? There’s – it looks like there’s been – there may have been a little bit of movement on that, the settlement moratorium.MR. CROWLEY:
Yeah. Matt, this is something that we’re working intensively. I would tell you that in between almost every meeting that the Secretary had today, she was getting a firsthand update either from Jake Sullivan or Jeff Feltman or another – a member of the Middle East team, Dennis Ross or George Mitchell.
So we are working this intensively. We are turning over every conceivable rock to try to encourage the parties to continue in the process and keep moving forward because, as the President said today in his speech, we do believe that where we have gone in a relatively short time has both significant value in its own right and offers tremendous progress. Everyone is trading ideas. There’s a significant back-and-forth going on both between the parties and among the stakeholders. I think we would say the situation is not yet resolved, but we continue to work it intensively.QUESTION:
Well, does this mean that you’ve gotten to the point now where this is going to expire on Sunday, or whenever it is exactly within the next couple days, that you’re now putting forward your own ideas?MR. CROWLEY:
We are exchanging ideas. The parties are themselves talking to each other. So are we a full participant in this? We are. Are we offering our ideas? We are. But again, just to stress –QUESTION:
Okay. But I mean, it’s gotten to – you are?MR. CROWLEY:
So you’ve gotten to the point now where – before, like a week ago, you said, “No, no, no, no, this is up to them.” And now, it’s gotten to the point where things are going to collapse and you’re trying to prevent the collapse, so you’re actually suggesting things?MR. CROWLEY:
Well, just to stress the obvious, these will be decisions that are made by the Palestinians and the Israelis about the process and the decisions that they’ll make about – specific decisions and their implications. As we have stressed, we want to see them in the process. We want to see this continue. They have – both have responsibilities to do whatever they can to create the right environment for an ultimate solution. We’re reminding them of their responsibilities.
But to the extent that – in this back-and-forth, yes, we are offering some thoughts in terms of how we think this can be resolved, but ultimately, these will be decisions made by them.QUESTION:
All right. I’ll just see you down here shortly after the call. Thanks. MR. CROWLEY:
Thank you. We would now like – our next question will come from Michel Ghandour from Al Hurra TV. Your line is open.QUESTION:
Yeah. P.J., are the Israeli negotiators still in New York? I understood that they left?MR. CROWLEY:
Are you talking about our negotiators?QUESTION:
No, the Israeli negotiators.MR. CROWLEY:
I’ll defer to the Israeli Government as to specifically where – the prime minister obviously remains in Israel, but obviously, we have the ability to talk to whoever we need to talk to wherever they are. QUESTION:
P.J. –MR. CROWLEY:
But I believe that some members of the – I think we still have the ability to talk to both sides as we need to. QUESTION:
But have the negotiators, the both of them, Palestinians and Israeli, met in New York today or yesterday?MR. CROWLEY:
I can’t say about today, but this week, yes, they have had meetings together, yes. OPERATOR:
Our next question comes from Andrew Quinn from Reuters. Your line is open.QUESTION:
Hi, P.J. Just to follow up on Matt’s question, these suggestions that you’re making, do they rise to the level of a bridging proposal or however Mitchell phrased it?MR. CROWLEY:
I wouldn’t – I mean, obviously, you have stated positions on both sides that are incompatible. And we are offering our ideas on how we might see movement on both sides that could allow the process to continue to move forward.
But I wouldn’t characterize them as bridging proposals. I just think that we’re demonstrating, as the sustained partner that we said we would be, that we’re committed to this process, we want to see the parties committed to this process. We know we have an immediate hurdle that confronts us. And we’re offering our suggestions as to how the parties can leap over this hurdle and continue moving forward.QUESTION:
Okay. Just so I’m clear on sort of the chronology here, were these ideas or suggestions from the U.S. side, have these been raised starting today, or is this something that’s been going since a few days ago?MR. CROWLEY:
When did the U.S. start to sort of actually suggest potential – MR. CROWLEY:
I would say we’ve been doing that intensively this week.QUESTION:
I am showing no further questions. MR. CROWLEY:
Okay, very good. Have a good night and we’ll see you tomorrow.OPERATOR:
Thank you all for participating in today’s conference. You may disconnect your line and have a great day, or a great evening.