Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 13, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Deputy Secretary Steinberg meeting with Chinese Politburo member Li Yuanchao
    • Special Envoy Mitchell has returned from the region / Israeli negotiating team will arrive in Washington October 15 / Palestinian team will arrive in Washington October 20
    • Special Representative Holbrooke met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi this morning to discuss the Enhance Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009
  • MIDDLE EAST
    • U.S. supports an effective Palestinian government / Reconciliation process / Unity government must be guided by Quartet principles / Committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations / U.S. will work with whoever is in a Palestinian government that supports the Quartet principles / Must be a foundation for successful negotiation
    • The Obama Administration is committed to comprehensive peace in the Middle East
    • Progress towards peace is ultimately up to the Israelis and Palestinians
  • PAKISTAN
    • Debate in Pakistan on the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 / Debate is healthy / Will help Foreign Minister Qureshi with any questions / The bill does not impinge of Pakistan's sovereignty / The bill represents a long-term U.S. commitment to the future of Pakistan
    • Secretary Clinton hopes to travel to Pakistan soon
  • NORTH KOREA
    • The U.S. is interested in the resumption of the Six-Party process
    • Assistant Secretary Campbell is consulting with Japan and China
    • Secretary Clinton discussed North Korea today with Russian FM Lavrov and PM Medvedev
  • IRAN
    • U.S. strategy involves a two-track approach / Engagement and pressure / Offer of engagement is not open-ended / Will see what happens when inspectors arrive to go through the newly-disclosed facility / Opportunities to apply pressure if Iran is unwilling to address concerns about its nuclear aspirations
  • CUBA
    • Mr. Pena Soltren indicated his interest in returning to the U.S. / U.S. Interests Section in Havana made arrangements with the Government of Cuba / Diplomatic Security agents escorted him to the U.S.
  • TURKEY
    • NATO military exercise was postponed
  • ARMENIA/TURKEY
    • The U.S. hopes both parliaments will ratify the protocols / Move toward open borders, normalized relations


TRANSCRIPT:

1:08 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of quick items before taking your questions. Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg this afternoon will host Politburo Member Minister Li Yuanchao for an important meeting representing the mutual commitment to building a positive, cooperative and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship.

Senator George Mitchell has returned from the region. And Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are sending their negotiating teams to the U.S. to continue their discussions with him. The Israelis will be here later this week on the 15th, and the Palestinian team will come on October 20th. Following that, the Secretary will share her report with the President after the conclusion of those meetings on the current status in our discussions and our efforts to lead towards a resumption of negotiations.

And finally, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had a meeting this morning with Foreign Minister Qureshi to discuss the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill.

With that, we’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Why don’t we start with the Middle East? As you are probably aware, Palestinian President Abbas says that Fatah has accepted Egypt’s plan for a reconciliation agreement with Hamas. Does the U.S. Government favor the signing of such a – or does it favor such a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we certainly favor an effective Palestinian government, and we are certainly supportive of a reconciliation process. That said, we have particular terms laid out by the Quartet. Palestinian unity must be guided in support of a government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.

QUESTION: So you are not in favor of this particular agreement then?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it depends on – it’s not an either/or proposition, Arshad. It’s a question of can a unity government be of value to the Palestinian people. Of course. But it’s the nature of that government that will be – will matter most. So if you have a unity government that operates on the basis of the principles that we’ve laid out, then we will be supportive of it.

QUESTION: So would you – okay, so the Quartet conditions apply as they are --

MR. CROWLEY: The Quartet conditions continue to apply.

QUESTION: -- regarding whether you would deal with a unity government?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Pakistan.

QUESTION: Could you tell us a little bit more about the meeting with Ambassador Holbrooke? And is it the Secretary’s position still that the bill as written is – well, as she’s described it when he was here last week, and that it should be supported, and he, in fact, spoke approvingly of it last week. What’s changed since then?

MR. CROWLEY: In the bill? Nothing’s changed. (Laughter.) I mean, as far as I know, the bill has passed with significant backing on a bilateral basis, bicameral basis, from the Congress. And I think it awaits signature by the President. It is worth noting that the bill is an authorizing piece of legislation. There will have to be further action on the appropriations side.

I mean, from our standpoint, the bill is a very important step forward in terms of balancing the type of assistance that we would provide to the Pakistan Government: supporting consolidation of democratic institutions; expanding the rule of law; building the capacity of government institutions, promoting respect for internationally recognized human rights; promoting economic freedom, sustainable economic development, investment in people; strengthening public diplomacy. I mean, these are – this is the support that we believe that is right for Pakistan and right for much of the world.

QUESTION: Or is it the conditionality of it that seems to be the problem?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure that’s right. And we recognize that there have been questions raised in the political debate in Pakistan. Obviously, we think that debate is healthy. We’re going to help the foreign minister answer the questions that have been raised in this debate. I think the foreign minister is going to meetings at the White House this afternoon and also up on the Hill later on today.

We do not think that the bill in any way impinges on Pakistani sovereignty. There are strict measures of financial accountability, but Congress has imposed those on the U.S. Executive Branch.

QUESTION: Well, what do you say, though, to Qureshi, who is in a tough spot himself, that this is a question of establishing trust with the military, which has a long history of wondering whether the U.S. is actually on board in trying to help it do its job of maintaining its internal security.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. Well, I mean, I think it goes back to the foreign minister when he was here recently standing with the Secretary of State. They both reflected on the fact that this bill represents the kind of long-term commitment by the United States to the future of Pakistan, which is in our interest, in Pakistan’s interest, and exactly what we think the people of Pakistan have been looking for.

QUESTION: But the military is saying that they don’t believe that this is going to bolster them. They feel as if this is somehow handcuffing their ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing.

MR. CROWLEY: I somehow – I’m not sure that that – when you have a piece of legislation that is predominantly about building further civilian capacity, extending energy – electricity to further parts of Pakistan, it’s hard to see how that impinges upon the relationship between the Pakistani military and the Pakistani civilian government.

QUESTION: Is Minister Qureshi doing himself any favors by – with the Congress by coming here this week to talk about a bill that the U.S. Congress has passed in its sovereign right as, you know, a legislative body and that, as you say, awaits the President’s signature? As you rightly point out, this is only the first shoe. The second shoe is when the appropriators decide whether to actually give Pakistan any of this money, which they could choose not to do. And I wonder if it will not be seen by some people up on the Hill as looking a gift horse in the mouth.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll let those on the Hill comment on how they see it. I think we welcome the foreign minister’s return to Washington. We think this is part of a very healthy debate that has started within this country, in terms of how to best support Pakistan going forward, now is being debated within Pakistan. And I think – we think this – that this represents the very kind of durable political processes that we welcome in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Wasn’t this legislation, though, drafted in consultation with the Pakistanis?

MR. CROWLEY: It was.

QUESTION: I mean. They knew what was in the legislation.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, again, I’ll defer – but I’m sure that when the foreign minister meets with Senator Kerry and Chairman Berman later in the day, they will, in fact, talk about that level of consultation. But I believe that, yeah – the answer is yes.

QUESTION: So I mean – it sounds like – that this is mostly kind of just a – for Pakistan anyway, a domestic political battle that really has nothing to do with you. I mean, the legislation can’t be changed. Is that – it can’t be rewritten. It would be a whole ‘nother piece of legislation.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think – let’s put it this way. There have been questions raised within Pakistan by the Pakistani parliament, by the Pakistani people. We welcome this debate. We welcome the opportunity to clarify what this bill does, what it doesn’t do, and that’s part of what the foreign minister is here to try to accomplish.

QUESTION: Can I – can I go back to the Palestinian for a second? I understand what you’re saying about the Quartet conditions. But those conditions notwithstanding, I guess my question is: Is it better not to negotiate with a single Palestinian entity that represents all of the political factions, as opposed to negotiating with just the PA, with the Fatah-dominated – you know, that’s just dominating one half of the Palestinian Authority? I mean, in the end, isn’t it better to have all Palestinians on board?

MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s better to have a process where we’re moving towards a comprehensive peace agreement, and we continue to do that. We are working closely with President Abbas. We’re working closely with Prime Minister Fayyad. We’ll be happy to work with whoever is in a Palestinian government that supports the principles. You could always flip that around and say: How can you have a successful negotiation if part of that negotiation involves somebody who wants – who doesn’t recognize the – one of the parties involved in negotiations? So we think the Quartet principles will serve the cause of peace over the long run. That’s why we support a negotiation. But we also lay down specific terms in terms of the basis upon which we think there can be a successful negotiation.

QUESTION: Well, one of your, kind of, things that you’ve said all along is that you want to take steps to prop up President Abbas, that it’s important to give him – you know, with some of the steps you’re asking the Israelis to take, I mean, it’s important to give him, you know, kind of credibility at home with his people. So do you think that by the U.S. kind of saying that it doesn’t support the proposed reconciliation agreement, does that undermine his position at home?

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: I think we --

QUESTION: You have sent a note to the Egyptians saying --

MR. CROWLEY: We do support a reconciliation process. We recognize the value of having a government that can – that has the capacity to meet the needs of the Palestinian people, to be able to work affirmatively towards the aspirations of the Palestinian people. But there has to be a foundation upon which you can have a successful negotiation, and I think that foundation is based on recognizing all the rights of all of the parties involved in the Middle East peace process. And so – but these conditions are nothing new. They’ve been laid out by the Quartet going back a number of years. And we’ve always thought that this should guide any kind of reconciliation process or the emergence of any kind of government.

QUESTION: I understand, but isn’t it up to President Abbas to kind of get these people onto – into his government and then say this government represents the principles that the leadership of the government espouses, just like they do in Lebanon? I mean, not everybody in Hezbollah agrees with what the Lebanese Government – kind of the values that they espouse.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, let’s – all right. There are – let’s go back and reassert. Do we support the efforts towards reconciliation that the Egyptians have been leading? Of course, we do. And as these reconciliation efforts go forward, we should – that reconciliation effort should be guided by the principles laid out in the Quartet. As to what agreement we get to and what government emerges beyond that, let’s wait and see.

QUESTION: Has State seen the reports coming out of Jerusalem via AP that, apparently, an internal Fatah Party document suggests that Fatah has lost faith in the Obama Administration? And if so, what is the Administration’s reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: I have not seen – I’m not familiar with those reports. Obviously, I think that in the region there’s a very strong recognition and there’s an appreciation that the Obama Administration, from the outset, has been committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

QUESTION: But the Palestinians seem to think that it’s great to say that you’re committed, but they feel that it’s not moving in a direction that kind of benefits them.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean – and ultimately, if there’s going to be progress in the peace process, it will be fundamentally up to the Israelis and the Palestinians. We are committed to support this process, but they ultimately have to decide as we’re going through these discussions, based on intensive meetings by George Mitchell going back a number of months, and looking at the kind of political investment that various parties have been willing to make in negotiations, is that enough to move it to the next stage? We don’t know. That will ultimately be up to the Palestinians and the Israelis, but that’s the reason why we’re bringing these teams back to Washington this week and next to see if there’s a basis to move forward. And that’s what we pledged to do from the outset, and we continue to fulfill that valuable role.

QUESTION: Are these separate bilateral meetings, or is there any plan to have these two groups --

MR. CROWLEY: They’re separate bilateral meetings.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Are they all going to be held in Washington?

QUESTION: There is --

MR. CROWLEY: The details are still being worked out.

QUESTION: There is a report on Israel TV yesterday that the Secretary is planning to visit the region before the end of the month.

MR. CROWLEY: Travel plans are still up in the air. The Secretary is committed to be in Morocco in early November. I expect there will be other stops added, but beyond that, I’ll – we’re still working through the details of her next trip. She will be traveling at the end of the month, but we – they’re still sorting out the details.

QUESTION: You said last week she was going to Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: She will go to Pakistan.

QUESTION: On this trip?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re still working out the details. I think she hopes to be in Pakistan soon.

QUESTION: On the North Korea, North Korea launched another five short-range missiles yesterday. What is your comment on that, their missile launch?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the Secretary made some comments over the weekend about this. It doesn't change our goals. We are interested in seeing a resumption of the Six-Party process. We’re interested in seeing North Korea recommit to its obligations that it’s made in the past few years. We have consultations ongoing in the region. For example, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell is in Beijing today. He just made a stop over the weekend in Tokyo as well. And his conversations with the Japanese and the Chinese will involve this issue and others. Secretary Clinton – North Korea was a topic of discussion in her meeting today with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Medvedev. So we continue our close consultations with the other partners in the Six-Party process, but our position remains the same: North Korea has to eventually come back to the Six-Party process and recommit towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Do you think North Korea has any intention to launch these missiles?

MR. CROWLEY: You should ask my counterpart in North Korea that question.

QUESTION: Are you any closer to grace on a decision on when and whether to resume bilateral talks with North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to evaluate that probability.

QUESTION: So I should say that’s no?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) That’s a no.

QUESTION: I have a question on – I have a question on this Iran sanctions bill that expected to pass the House today. It’s kind of designed – it’s focused on encouraging state pension funds from divesting in Iran’s energy sector. I’m wondering if you have an opinion on whether this legislation would be helpful to you in trying to put pressure on Iran right now, or given that you’re kind of still trying to see if these talks with Iran are going to shake out, whether that’s detrimental.

MR. CROWLEY: I won’t comment on specific legislation. I’m not aware that we’ve seen it. But certainly, our strategy involves a two-track approach that includes engagement as well as pressure. We have a suite of sanctions that are in place, and we continue to work to see how to make them more effective. As the Secretary and the President have made clear, our offer of engagement with Iran is not open-ended. We’ll wait to see what happens later this month when inspectors arrive in Iran to go through the newly disclosed facility. And then we hope to have a meeting with Iran by the end of the month as a follow-up to the recent meeting in Geneva.

But certainly, when you look at Iran’s economy, it has vulnerabilities, and we think there are still opportunities to apply pressure if Iran is unwilling to address the concerns the United States and the other members of the international community have about its nuclear aspirations.

QUESTION: Especially in light of the revelations about Qom, is the U.S. disappointed that Russia is not at least willing to put out the possibility of more sanctions against Iran if it doesn't comply with what it says it’s going to do – allow these inspectors to have --

MR. CROWLEY: I would challenge the presumption behind your question. Certainly, it’s safe to say that the United States, Russia, China may look at the prospect of sanctions from a slightly different vantage point. That said, you had a very strong statement by President Medvedev when he recently met with President Obama in New York. You had a very strong statement by the foreign ministers of the P-5+1. I think there’s unanimity coming out of Geneva about what Iran has to do. We’ll wait and see what happens through this process. I think the Secretary over the weekend called it positive or constructive. But really, it will be up to Iran to put its cards on the table, and we hope to see that happen very soon.

QUESTION: But it did seem that Lavrov’s comments today after his meeting with the Secretary seemed to indicate a little bit of backing away from what his own boss said about the use of sanctions or --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to the foreign minister to characterize whether he and his president see this eye-to-eye. But I think we were very satisfied with the meeting today, with the meetings recently in New York. And right now, the focus is on Iran and what will happen on October 25 and then what will happen in the aftermath of that.

QUESTION: I have one on this fugitive from Cuba, Luis Armando Peña Soltren. Could you talk about the State Department involvement in his arrival here in D.C.? But also, did the – was the State Department the one, through the Interests Section, that let the Cubans know he was going to hand – turn himself in and – so that they could approve the exit visa? And what was the – was there any State Department involvement in encouraging him to --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Peña Soltren did indicate an interest in coming back to the United States.

QUESTION: To whom?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: To the Interests Section?o coming back to the uuu. was going to hand -- turn w the focus is on Iran and what will happ

MR. CROWLEY: I – as to the particulars, I don’t know. Probably is the short answer. But given that, we – the Interests Section did make arrangements with the Cuban Government. He is, of course, a U.S. citizen. And then Diplomatic Security agents accompanied him back to the United States. And once he cleared immigration, he was turned over to the FBI.

QUESTION: Did he give any reason why he – this was the opportune time for him to --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to serve as spokesman for him.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Turkish-Israeli relations, there’s a tension between Turkey and Israel recently. It’s based on the reports that Turkey has excluded Israel from a NATO military exercise that was supposed to be held in Turkey. And now that the exercise (inaudible) would be conducted on a national level. Can I have your comment on that? Do you have anything --

MR. CROWLEY: I think the exercise was postponed.

QUESTION: What?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: The exercise as a whole was postponed?

MR. CROWLEY: The exercise, I think, was postponed. I believe that was a Turkish decision. As to the question of whether there was a government that was invited to participate and then removed at the last minute, we think it’s inappropriate for any nation to be removed from an exercise like this at the last minute.

QUESTION: And is that what transpired in this instance, as best you know?

MR. CROWLEY: As best I know.

QUESTION: And was that nation indeed Israel?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And why do I have to pull this out of you?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And also one question on Turkish-Armenian relations. Two protocols were signed last week in Zurich and now they have to be ratified by the parliaments. And Turkey announced that they would submit this protocol to the parliament next week or so. What are your expectations from both countries now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we hope that having signed it, that the parliaments will ratify it and move towards open borders and normalized relations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:32 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - October 13]