Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 29, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • BURMA
    • Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell to meet in New York today with a Burmese delegation
  • IRAN
    • Swiss ambassador to Iran will be granted consular access to detained Americans / U.S. grateful that Iranian Government decided to live up to Vienna Convention obligations / U.S. looks forward to hearing from the Swiss on conditions under which the hikers are being detained
    • Iran has to live up to its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty / U.S. anxious to see Iran seriously engage on October 1 / Iran has the obligation to convince the international community of its peaceful intentions / International community has concerns about the nature of Iran's nuclear program / It will be up to each individual country to evaluate whether they're satisfied with Iran's engagement
    • Javier Solana will lead talks on October 1 / Through P-5+1 process, U.S. is interested in addressing nuclear concerns of international community
    • U.S. will evaluate the willingness of Iran to engage on these issues after the meeting
  • SYRIA
    • U.S. and Syria continue dialogue / U.S. would like to use these encounters to increase understanding on both sides / U.S. and Syria have a wide range of common interests in the region
  • HONDURAS
    • U.S. believes all sides need to act constructively, avoid provocative statements or actions / Both sides need to sign on to the San Jose process and begin a transition to a new government that the people of Honduras can support
    • U.S. hopes OAS delegation will be able to enter the country and have meaningful discussion with the de facto regime
    • U.S. reiterated in a written statement that it was important for the regime to rescind suspending freedom of speech and banning protests and media groups
    • Brazil has legitimate concerns about statements that have been made regarding the status of its embassy
  • CURACAO
    • Missing Vice Consul / U.S. continues to work with Curacaoan authorities
  • SUDAN
    • No push to normalize relationship in the absence of concrete progress on the ground
  • GUINEA
    • U.S. deeply concerned about the general breakdown of security in Conakry / U.S. encourages the Guinean Government to exercise restraint and ensure the safety and security of all Guineans and foreign nationals / U.S. is very concerned about violations of basic human rights and calls upon the regime to release all political prisoners


TRANSCRIPT:

12:51 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Welcome back. The first of our UNGA survivors – (laughter) – returns, more to follow. Welcome to the Department of State. Let me do a few housekeeping matters before taking your questions.

Obviously, yesterday, we had a detailed briefing on our Burma policy. And I can report that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell is scheduled to meet in New York today with a Burmese delegation headed by U Thaung, the Burmese minister of science – for science and technology. And in that meeting we also expect Burma’s permanent representative to the United Nations Than Shwe to also participate.

You also asked yesterday about a visit to Washington by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad. He met this morning with Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew and will be meeting with a range of U.S. Government officials on several issues during his stay here in Washington.

Some of you have asked this morning before the briefing – we have been informed through the Swiss ambassador to Iran that we will be granted – that she will be granted consular access to Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd. We’re not aware that that consular access – that the meeting has happened yet, but we are grateful that the Iranian Government has decided to live up to its Vienna Convention obligations.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Does that hold any prospect for them having telephone conversations or other contact with their families – the three? Does the fact that they’ll have – the Swiss will access to them, does that mean it’s more likely that they’ll be able to have direct contact with their families?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, let’s wait and see. We’ve been demanding consular access since we were informed that Iran did, in fact, have the hikers just over a month ago. We look forward to having the first meeting and hearing back from our Swiss friends on what – the conditions under which they are being detained, and then we’ll see. I mean, obviously, we would like to have them released as quickly as possible. But what happens from this point forward –let’s get the first meeting.

Kirit.

QUESTION: On the timing of that, do you see any connection to that and the fact that you’re meeting with them in two days’ time?

MR. CROWLEY: Hard to say. I mean, clearly, we welcome the fact that Iran is meeting up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention. And clearly, on Thursday, we will have a similar message that Iran has to live up to its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty. But beyond that, I can’t say.

QUESTION: Will Bill thank them for this on Thursday?

MR. CROWLEY: Let – we are – we welcome that decision, but also we are looking forward to actually have the first encounter with them. The Swiss ambassador or whoever on her staff has the opportunity to see them, talk to them and make sure they’re being well cared for.

QUESTION: And the last one for me on this one is whether you think this shows any willingness or goodwill on their part that may transfer over into the other talks.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see. Obviously, we welcome this step. But obviously, we are anxious to see Iran seriously engage on Thursday, and we look forward to that meeting as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the meeting with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, what type of topics do you expect to be discussed during his meetings here at the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s part of a continuing dialogue that we’ve opened with the Syrian Government, again, earlier this year with visits by Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman and NSC Director Dan Shapiro. Obviously, there also have been visits by Special Envoy George Mitchell. So I think it’s a wide range of issues, but I wouldn’t sort of detail them.

QUESTION: Could I just also follow up? What – how would you describe the status of U.S.-Syrian relations? This is the first invitation to a senior-level Syrian official to the U.S. in five years. What is the status of U.S.-Syria relations?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we’re continuing our dialogue. We’d like to use these encounters, whether they are in Damascus or here in Washington or in New York, obviously, to increase our understanding on both sides. Obviously, there’s a number of common issues that we have joint interests in in the region, and I’m sure that we have been discussing them during the course of this week.

QUESTION: What did the Deputy Secretary discuss with the Syrian official?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, all I can say really is we have a wide range of common interests between Syria and the United States in the region. And I suspect that we covered the full range of them and we also discussed the current status of our bilateral relationship and how to advance it going forward.

QUESTION: What about the other meetings? Who will he meet?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m – a range – a number of government officials, but I’ll see if I can get more.

QUESTION: At the White House too, or --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s possible.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to come back to the Iranian issue again, and for that matter, to Turkey. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has recently said that Iran’s nuclear program is only for peaceful means. So it sounds like that, you know, this non-permanent member of the UN Security Council does not seem to agree with what the U.S. is suggesting about the Iranian nuclear program. I’m asking you whether you see eye-to-eye with Turkey on this Iranian issue.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if the issue – if the question is whether the United States is willing to – based on what we know, whether we view this as a peaceful program, we have concerns. And as Secretary Clinton said on Sunday, it’s not just that Iran asserts that it’s a peaceful program; because of the concerns not only the United States has, but also the international community, then Iran now has the obligation to convince the international community of its peaceful intentions. This should be feasible.

But as we talked about yesterday, if Iran’s program is peaceful, then why has it gone to great lengths in this recent reactor disclosed in Qom and in other places – why have they gone to great lengths to hide what they’re doing? If you have a peaceful program, there should be nothing to hide. That will be among our primary points on Thursday. It’s time for Iran to come clean. It’s time for them to constructively, positively, affirmatively show and demonstrate through – by opening up their program to meaningful international inspection under the IAEA and take other steps, including disclosure of information, access to individuals, so that the international community can be convinced of Iran’s peaceful intentions.

QUESTION: Right. But Mr. Erdogan’s statements came after this announcement at Pittsburgh. So I’m just, you know, asking you as a member of the international community, as Turkey is a member of the international community --

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- do you feel like that it is the Iranians to convince Turkey, or it is the United States or the P-5+1 to convince Turkey at this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it would be fair to say the international community has concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. It will be up to each individual country to evaluate, based on the information that’s available, whether they’re satisfied. Is the United States satisfied with what we know about Iran’s nuclear program? The answer is no. We have great concerns, and those concerns are shared broadly across the international community, including by our fellow European and other members of the P-5+1. So that’s precisely why we have encouraged this meeting. It’s precisely why the United States has decided to actually join this meeting, so that we, in fact, can have the kind of meaningful interaction with Iran and begin a process through which we can satisfy the concerns that we have and that others in the international community has.

QUESTION: I would like to come back to the statement by your ambassador to OAS yesterday about Honduras. He said that Zelaya’s return to his country had been foolish and irresponsible. It seems that this statement has raised some questions, especially because Zelaya is still under siege in the embassy.

MR. CROWLEY: Who said that? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Sorry?

MR. CROWLEY: Who made that statement yesterday?

QUESTION: Your – I mean the U.S. ambassador to the OAS.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. Lew Amselem.

QUESTION: Lewis Amselem.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And so is there any comment? Is there any change in the U.S. policy on this matter?

MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. Not at all. We have said throughout this process that all sides need to act constructively, avoid the kind of provocative statements or actions that would precipitate violence and inhibit the resolution of this situation. And I think our acting representative simply said with regard to statements that President Zelaya and his supporters have made that they need to act in a more constructive and positive manner. So I think what he said yesterday is fully consistent with our concern that both sides need to take constructive action, affirmative action. Both sides ultimately need to sign on to the San Jose process and begin a transition to a new government that the people of Honduras can support.

QUESTION: The words were very strong. The words were very --

MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely, absolutely. And we have said this before.

QUESTION: The OAS is sending a team to Honduras on October 7, I believe. What is the U.S. hopes for this visit, and do you think that this is going to mark a juncture in the discussion about where to go with Honduras? Are you there to deliver any sorts of new messages or --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we hope that this delegation will be able to enter the country and have the kind of meaningful discussion with the de facto regime that we had anticipated with the delegation that was held this week. So it is time for the de facto regime to have a dialogue with President Zelaya and come to some resolution of this current situation, and we welcome efforts by – ongoing efforts by the OAS to try to seek a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

David.

QUESTION: Micheletti hasn’t lifted the media decrees, and neither has he lifted a 10-day deadline for the Brazilian Embassy to come to some decision on Zelaya’s status. Is that troubling to you?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, we reiterated last night in a written statement that it was important for the regime to rescind this latest decree suspending freedom of speech and banning protests and media groups. There are some indications by the de facto regime that they’re going – they’re willing to rescind this decree, but as far as we know, it hasn’t happened yet. And we continue to work very closely with Brazil. Brazil has legitimate concerns about statements that have been made regarding the status of its embassy. And obviously, as – in our capacity as the current president of the UN Security Council, we have addressed those concerns within the UN.

Yes.

QUESTION: P.J., back on Iran, how do you respond to Iran’s assertion that it won’t talk about its second nuclear facility because it’s their sovereign right?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re – as we have stated quite clearly, we have encouraged this meeting because the United States and the international community have concerns about all of Iran’s activities, all of its nuclear ambitions. We seek answers to questions that we’ve had for some time and questions that were raised most recently by this covert reactor.

So that is the ultimate question on the table: Is Iran going to come to the meeting on Thursday, prepared to seriously address the concerns that the international community has? And we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

QUESTION: Have they even actually confirmed that they are going to attend the meeting – and at what level – or even attend it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: We – I don’t – as of last night, I don’t know that we had a confirmation as to who was attending the meetings. So I think that – I’ll take the question if we have any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.

Richard.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any indication, do you know any of the details of how this will come about, the talks Thursday, in the sense that – do they all sit around the same table? Do they make presentations? And if the Iranians, as they’ve said, refuse to discuss the nuclear issue, what is the reaction? Does everybody else get up and walk out?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we look forward to the meeting on Thursday. I think leading the effort will be Javier Solana. So many of the mechanics of the meeting, both in terms of the setting, the duration, et cetera, will be up to him. I think that we will welcome whatever opportunity presents itself for discussion, both as the P5+1, and then if it goes well, you can probably anticipate one or more plenary discussions, perhaps the opportunity for lunch and further discussion. But I would – in terms of really concrete details of how it’s going to unfold on Thursday, that is really up to Mr. Solana.

QUESTION: Is it a possibility more than one day?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re looking at one day. But let’s get to Thursday and see what happens.

QUESTION: One – just a follow-up on that. When the Bush Administration joined those talks in Geneva last year, I remember that Bill Burns was instructed not to really speak, to participate verbally in the meeting. Is that going to be the case this time or is he directly involved this --

MR. CROWLEY: No, we have indicated we plan to be a full participant in the meeting, in the process.

QUESTION: Does he – does Ambassador Burns plan on raising other issues like Afghanistan, other Iranian issues?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, in the course of an important meeting with a relatively small set of individuals, there could be the opportunity for side interactions. I’m not going to predict that that’s going to happen. And in those side interactions, we’ll see. But I mean, clearly, in the broader sense, we – through the P-5+1 process, we are interested in principally addressing the nuclear concerns that we have shared by the international community. We have made a clear offer of dialogue with Iran on the larger range of issues. If this meeting kicks off a broader process, we welcome that.

QUESTION: But is there not the possibility that the U.S. and the Iranian delegation could have a meeting just with the two of them in the room, or is that not going to – have you (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: I think there’s clear – any time you’re together in some sort of meeting, there’ll be the opportunity for interaction, and we will welcome that if it happens.

QUESTION: Excuse me, the offer you refer to is the so-called freeze-for-freeze of April?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to predict what’s –

QUESTION: No, but is that –

CROWLEY: We are prepared to – we have the concerns that we have. There have been proposals made in the past. But I’m not going to kind of – let’s get to Thursday and we’ll – and then to the discussion. We’ll be happy to report afterwards as to what the specifics of the discussion were. But clearly, we have offered some ideas on how to resolve this in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me if during the course of this meeting, there’s a review of proposals made previously, a review of questions that have come up in conjunction with our concerns. The real question is we want to have that kind of meaningful, serious, sustained engagement by Iran to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: Would you expect that your readout at the end of Thursday’s meeting will give us a sense of whether the U.S. feels it’s worth continuing with this at all, or is it just at that point when we get thumbs-up or thumbs-down that it’s a useful engagement?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would put it this way. The President has said clearly that we’re interested in a process. We don’t think that these issues will be solved in one meeting. I don’t think that we’ll get the full perspective of Iran’s willingness to engage in one meeting. But clearly, once we are at the table, we hear from them, we see the tone, we’ll know some things.

And then the real question is, are they willing to engage in a process. Because obviously, from this meeting, if they are willing to address the international community’s concerns, then obviously there are other things that have to be done – information that has to be provided, access to individuals if that’s appropriate, access to sites in Iran, doing the kinds of things that Iran is supposed to do as a member of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but has in the past been unwilling to do.

So clearly, what we’re looking for here is a meeting that leads to a process that leads to a resolution of the concerns that we have. That process will take some time, and we’re not going to make a snap judgment on Thursday. We’re going to see how that meeting goes, see – evaluate the willingness of Iran to engage on these issues. If there is a process, then you could infer that there will be subsequent meetings after that. As the President has said, at the end of the year, we will be in a position to evaluate any progress that has been made over the course of this period of time. And in that – then we’ll be in a better position to evaluate what we should do next.

Yes.

QUESTION: Another topic?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Any update, please, on the Tennessee man jailed in Japan on child abduction charges?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not.

QUESTION: You have anything on your Embassy employee in Curaçao who went missing last week? Any update on him?

MR. CROWLEY: No. Basically, Vice Consul James Hogan left his residence last Thursday and has not been heard from since, and we continue to work this with Curaçaoan authorities.

QUESTION: And is it still being treated as a missing persons case or has it been elevated?

MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s still being treated as a missing persons case?

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the Sudan policy review and any comment on The Washington Post article this morning with some of those quotes from the envoy which have drawn a fairly sharp response from the human rights groups?

MR. CROWLEY: In fact, I think there’s a – you saw in the Secretary’s schedule there are a number of Principals Committee meetings today at the White House. One of them regards Sudan. So the policy review continues. I don’t think that the story really is an accurate reflection of our policy. There’s, for example, no push to normalize relationship with Sudan in the absence of concrete progress on the ground. But obviously, we’ll see what the principals decide, recommend to the President, and that process continues.

QUESTION: Is there any sort of – just for planning purposes, is there any sort of window? How long would you expect it to take now before we get a recommendation of – a recommendation is made? Days, weeks?

MR. CROWLEY: I would say we’re in the final stages of this process, and the fact that it’s before the principals today is a meaningful step.

QUESTION: What other meetings does she have at the White House today? There’s more than one?

MR. CROWLEY: There are a bunch of meetings at the White House.

QUESTION: That she’s participating in?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Besides the NATO?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Is Afghanistan one of them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll defer to – obviously, that’s an important issue as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything on Guinea, what’s happening in Guinea?

MR. CROWLEY: We are deeply concerned about the general breakdown in – of security in Conakry, and we encourage the Guinean Government to exercise restraint and ensure the safety and security of all Guineans and foreign nationals. We’re very concerned about violations of basic human rights and call upon the regime to release all political prisoners. Obviously, the reports of deaths now over 150 – very, very significant loss of life and of great concern to us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)

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