Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 17, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton's meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak
    • Statements by Secretary Clinton condemning the bombings in Iraq / Concern for missing Americans in Iran / Passing of Ken Bacon
    • Travel of Special Envoy Gration to Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt
    • Transmittal of Merida Initiative report to Congress on August 13
  • IRAN
    • Three missing American hikers / Demand for immediate consular access
    • No change in policy on UK Congestion Tax
    • Policy review continues / No plans for Special Envoy Gration to travel to Khartoum
    • U.S. is grateful to Senator Webb for his efforts to secure the release of John Yettaw / Secretary Clinton spoke to Senator Webb Sunday / Will have a full discussion upon the Senator's return
    • U.S. policy review on Burma continues
    • Human rights issues are a part of the ongoing dialogue with Egypt
    • Delegation representing the de facto regime arrives in Washington Tuesday / Will meet with OAS and Acting Assistant Secretary Kelly
    • U.S. military personnel were not involved in and had no knowledge of President Zelaya's flight to Costa Rica on June 28
    • Secretary Clinton and Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez will meet on Tuesday
    • U.S. assistance following Typhoon Morakot
    • U.S. expressed strong concerns on General Dostum's return and role in Afghanistan
    • U.S. welcomes debates in the upcoming elections
    • U.S. welcomes steps that might open door for renewed dialogue between North and South Korea
    • Continue to work with others to implement sanctions / North Korea must meet obligations under 2005 agreement / Goal is denuclearized Korean peninsula
  • IRAQ
    • Iraqi Referendum on SOFA


2:37p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Secretary Clinton just finished an hour-long meeting with President Mubarak of Egypt, who is obviously in town to meet tomorrow with President Obama, his first trip to Washington in five years. It was a wide-ranging discussion befitting the strategic partnership between Egypt and the United States. They obviously compared notes on the status of efforts by the United States and others to resume a negotiation between Israel and Palestine as part of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. They talked about a range of regional issues, including the situation in Iran, the situation in Sudan where both Egypt and the United States have a significant interest in both improving the situation in Darfur but also moving towards implementation of the CPA. Talked also about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan as we approach elections in Afghanistan on Thursday, and on the bilateral side, a variety of issues, including economics and trade, educational opportunities, human rights and democracy in Egypt.

A couple of statements this afternoon from Secretary Clinton. I’ll highlight a couple. But the United States joins leaders of all communities in Iraq in condemning the bombings that have been – have taken place over the past several weeks in various places across Iraq. In particular, we condemn the repeated targeting of Shia places of worship and, mostly recently, ethnic Shabak and Yezidi villages in Nineveh province. These attacks are reprehensible acts of extremists who continue to attempt to ignite violence between people who desire to live in peace, despite being of different sectarian and ethnic groups. We reiterate the Iraqi Government’s call that these individuals and groups responsible for these horrific acts will be pursued and brought to justice in accordance with Iraqi law.

Secretary Clinton finishes up by offering thoughts and prayers to the injured and the families of those innocent Iraqis killed in these attacks.

And just calling your attention, over the weekend, the Secretary also had an announcement just to reiterate our concern about the welfare of American citizens who have been detained or are missing in Iran. And once again, we call on the Iranian leadership to quickly resolve all outstanding American citizen cases, and that would include Kian Tajbakhsh, Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, Sharah Shourd and Robert Levinson.

This weekend, we also had some terrible news, the passing of Ken Bacon, the president of Refugees International, and I think this is also felt here in the room. Obviously, he started with the Wall Street Journal many years ago before becoming spokesman for the Department of Defense, and then a tireless advocate for refugees around the world. But we will miss him greatly.

And finally a Media Note that Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration will be traveling to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt between August 17 and August 24. Obviously, he will be in Southern Sudan to continue working on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA. He will be in Addis Ababa for talks with leadership of key Darfuri armed movements on unification efforts in support of the Doha peace process, and will meet in Egypt with some regional leaders to talk about preparations for various steps that will be coming up in the CPA process.

QUESTION: Is he going to Khartoum?


QUESTION: Just to Juba?

MR. CROWLEY: To Juba and to Malakal in Southern Sudan.

QUESTION: All right. Can I ask just something else on – briefly on --

MR. CROWLEY: Just one more point just before --


MR. CROWLEY: And just on Friday, I misunderstood a question. The question was asked about the report that we have made to the Congress regarding Mexico. And we did transmit on Thursday, August 13, a report on Merida. And in that report we talked about – relayed to the Congress efforts by Mexico to – in terms of implementation, what its needs are and its efforts to professionalize security forces and the justice system in order to strengthen the rule of law in Mexico.


QUESTION: What prompted the – what prompted the statement on Iran and the detained or missing U.S. citizens? Was there any reason why it – you put it out when you did?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have – I think we just tied together a number of threads that we have been concerned about. Obviously, we have the most recent case involving the three Americans who wandered across the border from Iraq. On that situation, we continue to demand that the Swiss be given consular access to these three individuals.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking – I mean, was it an anniversary or something or was there a --


QUESTION: -- an important date or something coming up?

MR. CROWLEY: No, nope. It’s just ongoing concern about the status of Americans in that country.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the Mubarak meeting --

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary able to get any assurances from the Egyptians on taking incremental steps towards normalizing relations with Israel?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, of course, Egypt isn’t a --

QUESTION: No, but I realize that they have a peace deal with --

MR. CROWLEY: I think, obviously, they compare notes. We have ongoing consultations with the parties in the region. So do the Egyptians. I think it was an effort to compare notes not only on where we feel the parties are but what they’re prepared to do. As we have said, we’re trying to work hard to create conditions for a negotiation to continue, and we hope to have this phase, this process, completed in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Right. But is Egypt going to use its influence with Arab countries that do not have relations with Israel to push them to take these internal measures?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe that the United States shared a view that we have to have parallel steps here, that the – and I think they shared the view that, obviously, as the Israelis focus on settlements, as the Palestinians strengthen their position and take steps to improve the security situation, improve the stability in the areas that they control, work on ending incitement to violence, and that we agree that there will need to be steps by Arab countries to – gestures that move towards normalization of relations between Israel and the rest of the region.

QUESTION: New subject? P.J., the arrest of one of the biggest movie stars of India from Bollywood, he was detained at the Newark International Airport, and demonstrated – demonstrations around India against the United States. What was the reason? Was there something, they found some kind of underground connections, or why his name was brought up this time, because he was in the U.S. dozens of times in the past, and there were no problems at all?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I think that the ambassador – our ambassador to India has put out a statement on this case. Beyond that, I think I’ll defer to the Department of Homeland Security for anything they might have to say here in this country.


QUESTION: And you think in the future they will not have any kind of these kind of problems or harassment, that he feels that it was kind of harassment since he was coming for shows around the U.S.A. He has given shows in the twin city, and today in Houston, yesterday he was in Chicago, and so on.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I’m not equipped to really comment on the case from here at this point.

QUESTION: P.J., this is sort of going back to an older issue, but it’s surfacing again. A new U.S. ambassador is starting in London, and the mayor of London’s office as well as member of the London Assembly are calling for the U.S. to revaluate its policy on congestion fees for the city, and they want the United States to pay 3.5 million pounds of fees that they say the United States owes. Is there any change in policy coming?

MR. CROWLEY: There is no change in policy.

QUESTION: Would you consider a change in policy based on a new ambassador, new Administration?

MR. CROWLEY: Our policy does not change with the change of ambassador.

QUESTION: What is the policy?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I know the issue. It’s a little bit of a complicated question. I think it goes to the heart of the reciprocal arrangements and diplomatic issues. We’ll take the question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. Can you expand a little –

MR. CROWLEY: Welcome back, also.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks. Can you expand a bit on Scott Gration’s trip to Sudan? He made some comments relatively recently that struck many, talking about how sanctions perhaps aren’t making his job very easy, and talking about the nature of the genocide or not-genocide in Darfur. Do you think that he’s going to be pushing a new type of policy or any sort of new type of engagement with Sudan once he’s there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we are getting close to the point where we will announce the – a new policy approach on Sudan. I would expect that in the next couple of weeks. Also, I think you’ll see the fruits of General Gration’s labor emerge here very shortly.

QUESTION: You did say he was not going to Khartoum, so he’s not expected to –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that he’s going to Khartoum.

QUESTION: So he doesn’t plan to meet with any members of the Bashir side of government?

MR. CROWLEY: He may meet with members of the government while in Egypt.

QUESTION: Of Southern Sudan?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s what we had in our announcement.

In Egypt, he will meet not only with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, but also Sudanese Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salahuddin, Libyan Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation Musa Kusa, and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

So General Gration, in the conduct of his duties, does meet with officials of the Sudanese Government, as you would expect in terms of dealing with them on a range of issues, both what’s happening in Darfur and with the North-South dialogue. He will not meet with President Bashir.


QUESTION: On Burma, Senator Webb secured the release of a U.S. national over the weekend. What’s the comment on that, and do you see it would have any impact on the review process on Burma?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we are grateful to Senator Webb for his efforts to secure the release of Mr. Yettaw. And he is – Mr. Yettaw is currently in a hospital being treated in Bangkok, and obviously, our consular officials are in close contact with him and providing whatever support is necessary.

I don’t think that this is by itself going to have an impact on our ongoing review. Obviously, as we look at the current situation, we remain very concerned about the continued detainment of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 prisoners that are in detention. We continue to look for signs that the Burmese Government is prepared to embark on a meaningful dialogue with Aung Sun Suu Kyi, along with the rest of the democratic opposition. And obviously, Burma needs to have a dialogue with a full range of ethnic minority leaders in Burma, and move towards a peaceful transition to genuine democracy and national reconciliation.

So we’ll be looking for signs that Burma is fundamentally changing its approach and its policies. I don’t think that Mr. Yettaw’s release is an indication of that.

QUESTION: P.J., just like in Burma, do you think U.S. is going to send somebody to Iran to get out all those held in Iran – U.S. prisoners?

MR. CROWLEY: I would not anticipate that.


QUESTION: Hi. You mentioned that – (inaudible). You mentioned that during the talks between Secretary Clinton and President Hosni Mubarak at 1 o’clock today in Washington, there was mention – they talked about democracy and human rights in Egypt. What does the United States think of democracy and the human rights record in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: This is an ongoing source of concern to the United States. It is part of our dialogue, ongoing dialogue, with Egypt. It is something that we raise in every high-level meeting that we have. We would like to see Egypt embark on a path to expand political dialogue in its country, expand political participation in the Egyptian political process. And we will continue to raise these issues with Egypt.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Burma, there seems to actually have been some signals from Secretary of State Clinton that she is pro-easing the sanctions on Burma. Would you be able to give us any more information on what triggers you would have to see from Burma to initiate this easing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have had an ongoing policy review. Obviously, we are taking into account what is happening in Burma, and we are – as we have expressed significant concern following the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. There was not a timetable on when we’re going to finish that review. Secretary Clinton talked to Senator Webb yesterday, and the two, I think, will get together when Senator Webb returns to Washington. And obviously, what – having just met with the Burmese leadership, having just met with Aung San Suu Kyi herself, I think the Secretary will look forward to having a fuller discussion with Senator Webb, getting his impressions of – based on his meetings. And that will inform what we think is both feasible and advisable in terms of our future policy with respect to Burma.


QUESTION: Honduras and Colombia. Have you had any contacts with the delegation sent by the de facto government in Honduras? And also, do you have any updates on the military agreement with Colombia?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, on the situation in Honduras, there is a delegation from the de facto regime. These are prominent civilians; they’re not members of the regime itself. But they are en route to Washington, and I would expect there will be meetings not only at the OAS tomorrow but also with Acting Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly, during which we will continue to encourage the de facto regime that the Arias process is the best chance that Honduras has to resolve this crisis and move towards a new government.

QUESTION: And on Colombia?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Honduras?


QUESTION: There have been some charges that the U.S. knew about the planned coup of President Zelaya because the plane that was carrying him stopped at the air base that houses U.S. troops. Can you respond to those charges?

MR. CROWLEY: Soto Cano Air Base belongs to Honduras. It was run by and operated by the Honduran Air Force, and they make decisions about its use. Military personnel were not involved in the flight that carried President Zelaya to Costa Rica on June 28th. Task Force Bravo members had no knowledge of or any part in the decisions made for the plane to land, refuel, or take off.

In light of the June 20th coup, the 600 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen based at Soto Cano as part of JTF Bravo have ceased conducting joint operations and exercises with the Honduran military.

QUESTION: So you – so the U.S. troops on the air base didn’t – and the Administration didn’t know about the flight until after President Zelaya had already taken off from the air base?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that to the extent that we were concerned about the emerging crisis in Honduras, I think at the ambassadorial level we expressed our concerns to Honduran authorities prior to the coup. I don’t think we had any advance knowledge of what took place.

On Colombia, the United States and Colombia have reached provisional agreement ad referendum. That means that there is a text that was agreed to, and both sides are reviewing the draft prior to signature. This bilateral agreement seeks to ensure effective bilateral cooperation for activities undertaken in Colombia to address security concerns such as illegal narcotics trafficking, illegal armed groups, and terrorism.

In fact, I think the Secretary and Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez will meet tomorrow, and I think they will have more to say about the bilateral agreement.

QUESTION: Are you trying to reassure the government because there are some criticisms, some tensions in the region?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. And we have and will continue to talk with other governments about the nature of this agreement. I believe the Colombian Government has and will continue to do the same thing.


QUESTION: U.S. military is sending helicopter and plane to Taiwan to help with typhoon. So did you get any reaction from Chinese partner with that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we’ve had a particular reaction from the Chinese Government, but you are quite right that as we signaled on Friday that we were prepared to offer additional assistance to Taiwan in light of Typhoon Morako. In fact, the United States has delivered plastic sheeting for use in temporary shelters. That delivery happened yesterday. And today, there was a shipment of water purification supplies. U.S. helicopters, including heavy-lift helicopters, have arrived in Taiwan and will be supporting these relief efforts. And just to be clear, these are U.S. helicopters and they are piloted by U.S. crew.


QUESTION: Yes. P.J., your take on the return to Afghanistan of this General Dostum, a warlord who was accused of human rights abuses early in the conflict?

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear to the Government of Afghanistan our serious concerns regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan. And I think that President Obama had earlier, based on an earlier story, had asked that the national security team gather further information on his background, including concerns that he might have been involved in the deaths of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war a few years ago, and that the team is continuing to gather that information.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Over the weekend, there were a presidential debate for the first time in Afghanistan, three candidates. How do you see this as part of the democracy growing over there? And secondly, do you have any update on Holbrooke’s visit in the region?

MR. CROWLEY: I think, obviously, we welcome the debate. In fact, I think sometime before the day is over, you’ll probably have a statement from Secretary Clinton on congratulating Afghanistan for a very healthy debate during this political process and calling on Afghanistan to do everything in its power to have a free and fair election – obviously, under very difficult circumstances – that will produce a government that the people of Afghanistan can believe in.

QUESTION: Can – may I go one more, please?


QUESTION: On that Khan – Shah Rukh Khan story, this is – this was the third incident in the U.S. in recent days. Last month, former president of India was also detained, but all these people happen to be last name Khan, so are Muslims. Anything to do?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't read anything into that, Goyal. Obviously, we want to have a close relationship with Muslims around the world. It’s one of the reasons why the President felt strongly about the special outreach to Muslims around the world that he did in his speech in Cairo, and so I think there’s an ongoing effort to obviously have policies that reflect that outreach, but at the same time, meet our security concerns here in the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: All the way in the back. We’ll go from back to front.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Taiwan. I mean, was China informed or be consulted with before sending U.S. troop into Taiwan? Was Chinese Government informed of or been consulted with before sending U.S. troop into Taiwan?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe that we felt it was necessary to inform China in advance. Obviously, this is a serious humanitarian situation that Taiwan is facing. We’ve provided this kind of support in the past and are happy to be able to do it this time as well.


QUESTION: Chinese Six-Party Talks envoy Wu Dawei visited North Korea on Monday. Did China inform you about his visiting? Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of that.


QUESTION: On tomorrow’s talks between President Obama and President Mubarak, can you tell us anything about what will be happening?

And the second question is – I called the White House this morning, and I was told that they will not – there won’t be a press conference. Why is it sometimes there is a press conference with – when there is a, you know, president coming to visit the United States and have talks with the President, and sometimes not?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll comment on the first part.


MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the White House on the second part. But obviously, reflecting – the Secretary met with President Mubarak today. She will be involved with the President in the meetings tomorrow. And I would expect that the discussion tomorrow will very much track their discussion today, not only the status of the Middle East peace process, what we’re trying to do, what Egypt is also doing in the region in support, other regional, bilateral issues. I think that probably the current situation in the region, be it the global economic situation may well come up, but I’ll defer to the White House in terms of the specific agenda.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a last – just a last question. You said that you will – for the second part of my question, you will refer me to the White House. But when I called this morning the Egyptian Embassy, they said that it will be hard for you to attend the meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel because the media attendance will be determined by the Egyptian Government, so it won’t be – it was not open for everyone?

MR. CROWLEY: Are you talking about today?

QUESTION: Yes, for today.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, today, the media rules for today’s meeting were set by the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Why is that?

MR. CROWLEY: Because they’re – the meeting was happening, in essence, on their turf.

QUESTION: Okay. So it was initiated by the Egyptian Government?



MR. CROWLEY: But I mean, there’s a protocol aspect. We have the President meeting with the Secretary of State, and the President gets to --

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question, P.J. Are you saying that the Four Seasons is Egyptian sovereign territory? (Laughter.) Well, I mean, just because a head of state is staying in a hotel, does that mean that that facility --

MR. CROWLEY: I think the Egyptians have a fine embassy, which is sovereign Egyptian territory.


QUESTION: P.J., could you comment on these recent overtures by North Korea to resume the trips to Kaesong and Mount Kumgang and to resume the family reunions? Do you take this as a gesture, a goodwill gesture on their part following on the release of Euna and Lisa and – Laura, rather? And does it – and does this mean that sanctions are working? How do you interpret this?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question. I mean, first of all, I don’t have a crystal ball, so anyone who considers himself or herself a North Korea watcher ends up shrugging their shoulders and saying, “What’s going on?” Who knows? Clearly, these are welcome steps in and of themselves as discrete gestures. Obviously, getting the journalists back was very important to us. Obviously, small gestures that might open the door for renewed dialogue between North Korea and South Korea is a welcome step.

One might infer that North Korea is feeling some pressure, whether it’s political pressure, economic pressure, or a combination of the two. Obviously, as Ambassador Goldberg said last week, we continue to work with others in the region to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions and, in fact, to apply that kind of pressure to get North Korea’s attention.

That said, these marginal steps, in and of themselves, are not enough. We continue to reiterate what North Korea has to do. We expect them to abide by their obligations – international obligations by their agreement under the 2005 agreement. We want to see them take definitive steps, irreversible steps, towards denuclearization. That will be the kinds of steps that show that they have made a fundamental calculation to move in a different direction than they currently have. That’s what we’re looking for.


QUESTION: Just wondering if you had any reaction to some apparently terrorist violence in the Russian Caucasus region, Ingushetia.

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re aware of that, but I’ll see if we have any reaction.

QUESTION: The White House put out a statement about that less than half an hour ago, while we were in here.

MR. CROWLEY: And we certainly --

QUESTION: Can I take you to Iraq?

MR. CROWLEY: -- identify ourselves with that statement.

QUESTION: On Iraq, do you have any thoughts or concerns about the scheduling of a referendum on the SOFA and the security deal?

MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for the Iraqi Government.


MR. CROWLEY: It’s an internal matter for the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry – it’s a referendum. That would be a vote.


QUESTION: Among the people.


QUESTION: That has to do with the Iraqi Government, not the Iraqi people?

MR. CROWLEY: A vote by the Iraqi people, conducted by the Iraqi Government --


MR. CROWLEY: -- for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Exactly. But you haven’t --

MR. CROWLEY: They are sovereign.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any concerns if this gets – if it gets defeated?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s – we, obviously, support implementation of the agreements between the United States and Iraq, and – but this is an Iraqi matter.

QUESTION: So in other words, you --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not trying to signal any specific concern here, just this is an internal matter.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but surely you would like to see it approved in a referendum, right? You’re not hoping that it does down to defeat?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly are working hard with the Iraqi Government on implementation of the SOFA and movement towards the Strategic Framework Agreement that we have reached with them in the past year.

QUESTION: Right. But that took an awful lot of negotiation and time. And if it’s about to get all – if all of that is about to be destroyed --

MR. CROWLEY: I think now you’re leaping a little bit into conjecture.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking you what you think about the idea of this going to a referendum. I mean, isn’t it – didn’t you – you negotiated this with the government. If the people now are able to come out and veto it, is that not a problem for – or does that not pose a potential problem?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take this question, but I believe that this step is consistent with the Framework Agreement. But I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:08)

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