Daily Press Briefing - July 23 (Corrected)

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Ambassador Holbrooke Has Arrived in Afghanistan/Spent the Day in Helmand
    • Will not Stop in India this Trip/Will do so on Future Trip to Region
    • US Not Contemplating Economic Action Against Israel
    • The Secretary is on Her Way Back to US
    • Issued Strong Statement on North Korea While at ASEAN
    • Special Envoy Mitchell Currently in Abu Dhabi/Damascus Saturday/Israel Sunday
    • Situation of Imprisoned Journalists is of Great Concern
    • North Korea to Fulfill its Obligations under 2005 Agreement
    • Congress has Asked State Department to Review North Korea's Removal from State Sponsors of Terrorism List
    • North Korea Wants Nuclear Weapons and Normalization of Relations with the US at the Same Time
    • Climate Change Action Needed from Developing Countries Like China/India
    • US Rebalancing Interests with China to Represent Total Range and Balance of Issues
    • President Arias' Proposal is a Very Good Step Towards Resolving Situation Peacefully and Restoring Democratic and Constitutional Order
    • Immediate Step at Hand for Both Parties is to Look at President Arias' Proposal
    • Any Step Taken that Would Add to the Risk of Violence Would be Unwise
    • Georgia is on Path Towards NATO Membership/US Supports This/Logical for United States to have Military to Military Relationship
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary of State
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 23, 2009


1:09 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Good afternoon.

MR. CROWLEY: Mr. Goyal, good afternoon. Hello to one and all from your Department of State. A couple of announcements before taking your questions:

Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has arrived in Afghanistan after a stop in Pakistan. He will be meeting with officials of the Afghan Government over the next several days, and dealing with a variety of issues leading up to Afghan’s election on August 20. He spent the day today in Helmand province, but over the course of his time in Afghanistan will be focused on critical issues such as civilian-military planning, police, rule of law, Afghan civil society, and agriculture.

Secondly, Special Envoy George Mitchell is in Abu Dhabi, the first of several stops in the region. He will be in Damascus, Syria tomorrow[1]. He will be in Israel on Sunday for meetings with Israeli officials and Palestinian officials. He has other stops planned in Egypt and Bahrain during this trip.

By the way, there was – there had been some reporting after yesterday’s briefing that I think represents some misinterpretation. There’s been some reporting that the United States is contemplating financial or economic pressure against Israel. We are not contemplating such action. Clearly, this is why George Mitchell is in the region today, talking to all of the parties that we believe – about what they need to do to set conditions to resume negotiations so that all of these issues are – can be resolved through peaceful negotiations.

And finally, Secretary Clinton is on her way back home after participating in the ASEAN conference. You may have noticed before she left Phuket, she had a very strong statement on North Korea, expressing the fact that the United States and other countries in the region expressed their concerns directly to the North Korean delegation about their provocative behavior of the past few months, and that there is now a strong international consensus on implementation of Resolution 1874. She called this a powerful tool to curb North Korea’s unacceptable activities, and that implementation of 1874 – it targets a spectrum of individuals, organizations, and institutions.

But at the same time, Secretary Clinton made clear that there is a – we’re prepared to work with North Korea if it’s willing to act on its previous commitments towards a verifiable nuclear – denuclearization of the North Korean Peninsula.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: May I ask you a couple things on Mitchell’s trip? One, he’ll be in Syria tomorrow, Friday, but not going to Israel until Sunday. So does that mean he’s going to spend two days in Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: His schedule is in flux, which is the reason why we really couldn’t tell you yesterday. And in fact, I think he’s in Abu Dhabi as we speak. He’ll move to Damascus tomorrow[2]. Whether the meetings are Friday, Saturday, he will be in Israel on Sunday. So I haven’t seen a full readout, so –

QUESTION: Is he --

MR. CROWLEY: But the order of his trip, which is all we we’re trying to convey: Abu Dhabi, Damascus, Israel, and then other stops --

QUESTION: No stop in Beirut?

MR. CROWLEY: Not that I have been informed about.

QUESTION: Well, is it – why is it so difficult to pry this information out of what seems to be a relatively routine trip?

MR. CROWLEY: It is a relatively routine trip. That said, the array of officials that --

QUESTION: I mean, this is not Kissinger secretly traveling to Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah – no, no, it’s a fair question, Matt. I mean, it simply is the array of officials that he will talk to, the sequencing of those discussions. That has been what has bottled up this particular --

QUESTION: On Syria and Damascus, is there any special focus to this? Does it have to do with the Turkish attempts to restart the indirect talks between Syria and the Israelis, or is it something else?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it would be a number of things. Obviously, we’re trying to see what Syria is prepared to do to move towards a comprehensive process. We’re also trying to develop bilateral issues that we have with the Syrians as well. I would imagine both of those would come up.


QUESTION: Is Mr. Frederick Hoff going to join him, or is he – did he return back to Washington?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.

QUESTION: Another question?


QUESTION: As far as the Secretary’s visit to India is concerned, what – the two countries have achieved during her visit or – she got what she wanted? And also, Ambassador Holbrooke is going to stop over in India, I understand?

MR. CROWLEY: On that latter point, I think the Ambassador is not going to stop in India on this trip. There was a mismatch in terms of scheduling. So he will do that on this – on a future trip to the region. I think Secretary Clinton reflected in a number of occasions that we were very satisfied with the trip to India and the launching of a strategic dialogue and an expansion of the range of issues that we will address in future meetings with both countries.

QUESTION: So where do we go now from here – to let’s say, prime minister of India is coming, of course, in November and also in September. And there may be more visits and all that, so where --

MR. CROWLEY: I would expect now the hard – now that you’ve broadened the frame and significantly increased the number of issues that the two countries will address together, now comes the hard work of preparing for these meetings and deepening the cooperation and seeing what progress can be made in all of the working groups that she outlined with her Indian counterpart.

QUESTION: One more question. Foreign minister of India is coming?

MR. CROWLEY: The prime minister, I believe –

QUESTION: Foreign minister, I’m sorry.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, yes, of course, obviously, the strategic dialogue will be carried on primarily at the ministerial level, but as was noted the other day during the trip, the prime minister will be coming for a state visit (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: P.J., the North Koreans had some very personal comments about the Secretary today. Does she have any reaction? Do you have any reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: I have – she’s airborne as we speak. I have not had a chance to talk to her. I think that what is vulgar is that the North Korean Government chooses to harvest missiles rather than enough food for its people. And what is unintelligent is the path that the North Korean Government has chosen. It’s a dead end, which dooms the North Korean people to a dismal future.

The Secretary laid out a clear path for North Korea, but it’s unclear if Pyongyang has the wisdom to choose an alternative, which is to fulfill its commitments, take irreversible steps towards denuclearization, and serve the interests of its people rather than the interests of a few.


QUESTION: Are you concerned that this sort of war of words that seems to be going on now, this back and forth between yourself and the North Koreans, is somehow going to jeopardize the fate of the journalists who have been imprisoned?

MR. CROWLEY: We, of course, do not – the issue of the journalists is of great concern to the United States, and the Secretary has spoken about this and hopes that North Korea will, on amnesty grounds, release them as soon as possible. I think this is part of the reason why we remain open to have a normal relationship with North Korea.

But obviously, as the Secretary made clear in the region, there are things that North Korea must do going forward -- cease such provocative action, come back to a negotiating process, fulfill its commitments under the 2005 agreement. And as she also outlined, if North Korea takes irreversible steps towards denuclearization, together with our partners, there are an array of benefits that could potentially come to North Korea in the future.

QUESTION: One of the benefits that the Bush Administration gave them was taking them off the list, the terrorism list. Are you looking to – are you taking steps to put them back on that list? Have you begun that process?

MR. CROWLEY: Congress has asked us to review that issue and that review is ongoing.

QUESTION: Is it possible to have normal relations? You said you’re still open to having a normal relationship with North Korea. Is that possible when they continue to use this kind of, you know, bombast and personal insults?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it certainly makes it more difficult, absolutely. I mean, obviously, what North Korea wants is a normal relationship with the region and the United States, and nuclear weapons at the same time.

QUESTION: I’m not sure. Is that obvious?

MR. CROWLEY: Those two are.

QUESTION: They certainly don’t seem to be acting, in any way, to make it seem that – that would make that obvious.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, to paraphrase Regis Philbin we do not think that this is their final answer.


QUESTION: Another subject? Another subject?

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, there are – will be (inaudible) – a lot of meetings between the United States and China next week. Will you express your concerns about (inaudible) tragedy still going on?

MR. CROWLEY: I think there was a briefing over at the Foreign Press Center this morning that tees up the strategic and economic dialogue that will occur here in Washington on Monday and Tuesday for a range of issues that will be discussed – economic, obviously, strategic, and bilateral. And clearly, when we have bilateral discussions with China, human rights is a crucial element of it.


QUESTION: What is it that the Secretary’s hoping to get from this – from these discussions? There were some unnamed officials who gave a briefing today, but on the record it would be nice to know what she is hoping from the strategic side to get out of this. Do you see this as a brand new beginning? Do you see this as following on from the Bush Administration’s work, or how do you – how does she see this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s a recognition of the significant and growing range of issues that we have both in our bilateral relationship with China and China’s responsibilities and growing responsibilities as an emerging power in the world. When you start to dissect what we’re going to talk about, as we’ve talked about many times, if you’re going to make progress on restoring the global economy, China and the United States will have to work closely and successfully as part of that effort. If we’re going to make progress on climate change, we need meaningful action not only by the developing world and the United States, but by the developing world, including countries like China and India.

So I think we – this will reflect a significant range of issues and there will be pockets of time where you have different combinations and officials here at State, at Treasury. The President will join in these – in this dialogue on Monday morning.

QUESTION: Will they --

QUESTION: Does the --

QUESTION: What you just talked about, though, is mainly the – well, with the exception of climate change, which is not a Treasury thing, I don’t think. But in terms of the strategic part of it, is there anything --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, clearly, I mean, North Korea will come up. Clearly, we have worked significantly with China within the Six-Party process. Other regional issues will come up as well.

QUESTION: But that --

MR. CROWLEY: On – yeah, yeah – I doubt that. They’ll probably just defer back to the --

QUESTION: Unnamed officials. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Right. But the Six-Party --

MR. CROWLEY: Unnamed officials, you’ve got – I mean, I haven’t --

QUESTION: But the Six-Party Talks format seems dead, at least that’s what the North Korean delegate said this morning. So is there much to talk about on that? Are you still hoping that the --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, speaking for the United States, what we see is that there is very close collaboration that is ongoing with the five parties and between – among Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, and the United States. I think we see the issue the same way.

And we are pursuing our policies going forward with a set of principles that – and we are obviously hard at work in terms of implementing 1874 and insisting that any country in the region that does business with North Korea will have to do so with clear transparency. And any entity that wants to do business with North Korea will understand the risk that is – the increased risk that is involved in that.

So there’s a – we have a full range of bilateral issues with China. We have regional issues with China. We have global issues with China. All of those will reflect in the dialogue on Monday and Tuesday.

QUESTION: But the Secretary – Secretary Rice handed over a lot of the China discussions to the Treasury Department and she played a sort of less prominent role. Has Secretary Clinton decided to make this one of the key issues that she focuses on? I mean, she’s appointed a lot of envoys in many different areas, but China is one area where she seems to want to have the – really just stamp the --

MR. CROWLEY: I think it is fair to say that there is a rebalancing of interests in the relationship. You are quite right that over the past few years, the dialogue tended to shift significantly towards the economic and financial side. Those are no less important given the global financial crisis that we have, but there are a large number of issues.

And I think it’s fair to say that this will be a balanced agenda where both Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner will both play significant roles with their counterparts, together with the President. And I think it reflects a return to a really broad range of issues rather than a fairly narrow set that might have been the focus of the agenda the past couple of years.

QUESTION: So do you think that approach – the previous approach was detrimental to the – to U.S.-China ties?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t speak to what – the judgments that Secretary Rice and Secretary Paulson made. I just believe that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner have worked very closely together to plan the strategic and economic dialogue. It represents both the range and the balance of issues that we have. They are strategic. They are economic. They will deal with regional security issues. They’ll deal with global financial issues. They’ll deal with climate change and other issues where, increasingly, you want to see a country like China both assume a greater responsibility for resolving these global challenges, and this two-day conference will reflect a deeper --

QUESTION: P.J., is U.S. worried in any way about China’s military (inaudible) and also China’s support for – military support for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, North Korea and elsewhere, wherever U.S. (inaudible)? It’s – there must be a problem. I’ve been saying it for the last ten years, and next ten years, see what is going to happen.

MR. CROWLEY: Alright. Try me again. You ticked off a number of things.

QUESTION: China’s military support, like to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, and North Korea and also in Africa now, coming to Latin America and all over the places now.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there has been stepped-up dialogue between the defense officials in China and the United States. I think the United States has tried to push China to be more transparent with its military planning and its acquisition of – and development of military hardware. I’m sure that will be a dimension of these talks.


QUESTION: On Honduras, please. Is there – do you have anything you could tell us about (inaudible) of President Zelaya?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not have any idea of what President Zelaya might contemplate at this point. Yesterday, President Arias presented a multipoint plan to both parties. As we understand it, they are in their respective camps reviewing his proposals. And we think that what President Arias has put forward is a very good step towards resolving this peacefully and restoring democratic and constitutional order to Honduras.

If you go through what President Arias has proposed, it would restore President Zelaya to power. It would form a government of national reconciliation. It would accelerate the schedule of presidential elections. It would cease any steps towards a constitutional referendum. It would establish an international observer mission for these elections. It would establish an OAS-led verification commission to ensure compliance with this agreement. And it would establish a truth commission to investigate and identify the acts that led up to the current crisis. And most importantly, if both parties accept the Arias plan, it would lead to a resumption and immediate access for Honduras to international cooperation.

So we think it is a noteworthy proposal. We hope that both parties will study it closely, will continue to support this mediation process, and will come back and report back to President Arias as quickly as possible. And we certainly hope that they will seize this opportunity to peacefully resolve this crisis and lead to the formation of a new government in Honduras that will enjoy the support of all of the Honduran people.

QUESTION: But President Zelaya has said that he does intend to return. He’s been pretty specific about that. What’s the opinion of the United States?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the immediate step at hand for both parties is to look at what President Arias has put on the table, and we hope that they will accept what President Arias has proposed as the best possible outcome for this crisis. If – obviously, if both sides accept what President Arias has put forward, then in fact, there would be immediate steps taken, a very accelerated process to form – to return President Zelaya to Honduras, form this new government, and move towards early elections and the formation of a new government that would enjoy the confidence of all of the Honduran people.

So the first step, Jill, is simply, let’s see what both parties come back to. We hope that they’ll report back to President Arias promptly. Obviously, based on their decisions, there will be ramifications.

QUESTION: My understanding, though, was that the supreme court of the de facto government says that he can’t come back because he’s broken the law. So they are not accepting that --

MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s one of the reasons – that’s one of the reasons why the de facto regime took the Arias proposal. They have returned to Tegucigalpa and are consulting. Our advice to both parties is to accept the Arias plan and move forward.

QUESTION: What is the – what’s the latest contact been between the United States and the two sides, or President Arias?

MR. CROWLEY: Good question. I believe we have maintained contact with both sides. I think Ambassador Llorens in Honduras has been particularly close to the parties, but I haven’t got a play-by-play today.

QUESTION: And are you saying that – when you talked about ramifications just a second ago, are you saying that if by tomorrow --

MR. CROWLEY: I would not put a timeline on it. I just said that obviously, where we are right now, President Arias has put his proposal on the table. Both parties are reviewing it. We would encourage both parties to accept it and move forward. As to when they reply to President Arias, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, hasn’t Zelaya – I mean, hasn’t he already accepted it? Maybe I’m wrong on that.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I am not aware that either side has given a formal response.

QUESTION: But absent the acceptance from both sides, what – would you advise Zelaya not to try to return?

MR. CROWLEY: I think as we have said throughout this crisis, any step that anyone takes – either the parties directly, other countries in the surrounding area – any step that would add to the risk of violence in Honduras or in the area, we think would be unwise.


QUESTION: Different topic. Maliki was speaking at a think tank this morning. There was a question concerning a letter or a statement from the Iraqi Government to the U.S. Embassy there complaining about U.S. officials talking with opposition leaders. Do you know anything about this?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.

QUESTION: No? And on another topic, just quickly, these reports that Saad bin Laden has been killed, can you respond to that?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.

QUESTION: Nothing at all?

QUESTION: Another subject? Georgia; during Vice President Biden visit to Georgia, President Saakashvili asked again for American weapons. Is U.S. contemplating rearming Georgia?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Georgia is on a path that the United States supports towards NATO membership. Clearly, a fundamental tenant of NATO membership is to have a military that meets NATO standards and would add to the capability of the alliance. So it is logical that the United States would have a military-to-military relationship with Georgia. Obviously, it becomes increasingly important, given the current situation in and around that country.

So I think that the Vice President outlined today not only the importance of our relationship with Georgia, our willingness to continue to help Georgia with its defensive requirements, and a commitment that we will continue to work closely with the government going forward.

QUESTION: And aren’t you concerned that this could affect your relations with Russia?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we have made clear to Russia that ultimately, decisions like this rest with the people of Georgia, and we will continue to have, I’m sure, conversations with Russia on these issues.


QUESTION: On that subject – you may have answered this yesterday, I wasn’t here – but did --

MR. CROWLEY: Or my colleague Robert would have answered this yesterday.

QUESTION: Well, the question of whether the United States would join some type of international monitoring body to patrol the border between Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)

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[1] Saturday

[2] Saturday