Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 19, 2010


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Under Secretary Bill Burns wrapped up his regional trip today; met with President Aliyev in Baku, Azerbaijan; previously traveled to Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
    • Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, traveled from Pakistan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan where he met with President Karimov; then to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he met with President Bakiyev; tomorrow he will be meeting with President Rahmon in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
    • The situation in Niamey, Niger is calm today; the U.S. continues to call on Niger's speedy return to democracy and rule of law
  • NIGER
    • U.S. gratified by unified international action; remains concerned about suspension of constitution; violence is not warranted; want to see democracy returned
  • CHINA
    • Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai called a meeting with Amb. Huntsman to reiterate his government's opposition to meetings with the Dalai Lama; we have agreed to disagree on this subject; the U.S. continues to encourage dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama
    • U.S. has called on China to do a thorough review of the Google cyber attacks; Secretary Clinton has directly engaged with the Foreign Minister on this issue
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Regarding Rules of Engagement, the U.S. military conducts itself in accordance with rule of law
    • Civilian assets are standing by to deploy immediately after Marja is cleared
    • Our strategy is to promote greater trade, greater cooperation
  • HAITI
    • U.S. has turned over control of the airport to Haitian authorities; no knowledge of U.S. citizens being bumped in favor of Haitian citizens
    • When the U.S. military had control over the airport's operations, things went exceedingly well
  • SOMALIA
    • Ambassador Rice at the UN today addressed withdrawal of food aid; al-Shabaab has been extorting money to allow food aid into the country
    • Taken Question as to when aid was suspended
  • NORTH KOREA
    • No plans for any U.S. officials to meet with North Korean officials; no meetings planned in China; no information regarding the detained Amcit
  • IRAN
    • The recently released IAEA report documents that Iran has failed to meet its obligations; the report makes a strong case for additional sanctions; we strongly associates ourselves with this report
  • SYRIA
    • We remain concerned about Syria's nuclear activities; we anticipate that our new ambassador will engage Syria on the full range of issues; it is in the U.S. interest to have an ambassador in Syria


TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Quite a crowd for a February Friday. Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of very brief announcements before taking your questions.

Under Secretary Bill Burns wrapped up his regional trip today. He met in Baku with government officials and civil society leaders to discuss a number of issues of mutual concern, including regional stability and security. He had a meeting with President Aliyev as well. This caps a trip where he was traveling this week to Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is this evening in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He’ll meet with President Rahmon tomorrow morning. But as part of a busy itinerary today, he traveled from Pakistan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he met with President Karimov; and then to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he met with President Bakiyev and also visited the Transit Center at the Manas International Airport, where he had the opportunity to talk with troops who have served in Afghanistan, or will shortly deploy there, and thanking them for their outstanding service.

The situation in Niamey is calm today. We are aware that a group calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy claims to have seized President Mamadou Tandja and announced the suspension of the new constitution of the 6th Republic of Niger. The United States continues to call on Niger’s speedy return to democracy and the rule of law, as well as prompt, fair, and transparent elections.

QUESTION: Follow up on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Niger, is there any – are there any actions that the U.S. – any leverage that the U.S. has that it can do to influence the situation in Niger?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we’re gratified by the unified international reaction to these events. We have, on the one hand, expressed our concern about the suspension of the constitution. On the other hand, no political situation should be – no one should resort to political violence to resolve political tension.

We note the strong statement by the European Union. I think there’s a delegation from ECOWAS that will be traveling to Niamey in the coming days. And we will, obviously, work closely with our international partners and do everything we can to see democracy returned to Niger as rapidly as possible.

QUESTION: On China?

QUESTION: One more on Niger?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there anything more on Representative Grayson?

MR. CROWLEY: I think probably I would defer to his office to discuss his movements.

QUESTION: Is the State Department – does it consider that a coup took place there in Niger?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we are very closely monitoring the situation. I’m not sure we’re ready to make any kind of declarations yet.

QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry --

MR. CROWLEY: Anything else on Niger? All right, we’ll move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry has said that President Obama and Secretary Clinton meeting the Dalai Lama is a direct interference in their domestic internal affairs, and it will also affect the U.S.-China relationship.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the foreign ministry had the opportunity to express its concerns again today to Ambassador Huntsman in Beijing. That said, we continued our dialogue with the Dalai Lama as U.S. administrations of both parties have for a number of years. I think on this issue, obviously, we just agree to disagree on this subject.

But this – the United States relationship, as the Secretary has said, is a mature one. We have areas of cooperation, we have areas of disagreement, and we will work through this as we have in the past.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: On – can we go to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Could I just follow up a little bit on – about --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: From the discussions the Secretary had with the Dalai Lama – presumably there’s some discussion about the recent dialogue in Beijing between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government – is there an assessment that the Department has about how those talks went at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: I think I’ll defer to the Dalai Lama. I think he’s had some interviews with you all over the phone to characterize where he thinks they are in that dialogue. We obviously are strong believers that there should be a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government, and we’ll continue to encourage that.

QUESTION: Still on that topic?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: On the Huntsman meeting, do you know who he met with? You said it was today.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And do you know if he was calling specifically for this issue or were there other issues?

MR. CROWLEY: He met with Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai.

QUESTION: Okay. And was this the only topic, or the principal topic, at the very least?

MR. CROWLEY: I would assume this was the principal topic.

QUESTION: A China one, but not Tibet. I was just wondering – going back to that Goggle case, there was the discussion that the U.S. is trying to lodge a formal complaint – a demarche on Goggle. I’m wondering if that has happened or hasn’t, and if not, why not?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the – we have had multiple conversations with Chinese officials on this issue, and that included a direct conversation between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang in London late last month. So I think we have satisfied ourselves that the Chinese understand the importance with which we view this issue. We have called on the Chinese to conduct a thorough review of cyber intrusions. And they are obviously in the best position to evaluate what has and continues to occur within their borders.

QUESTION: So – but just to follow on that, I mean, if the U.S. Government says it’s going to make a formal demarche, then it doesn’t, does that mean that there’s been a change in the assessment of the situation on the ground?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, if – a demarche can be a written statement. It can be a verbal statement. The Secretary directly engaged Foreign Minister Yang on this issue. So if you want to call that a demarche – I think we have done what we set out to do, which is to directly express our concerns at high levels about this activity and to encourage China to investigate it thoroughly.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, given all the frustration among marines and other NATO soldiers over the rules of engagement there, has the State Department considered reaching out to the Afghan Government to discuss the rules of engagement, particularly the 96-hour detention rule?

MR. CROWLEY: I think rules of engagement are subject to an interagency process, but they’re primarily developed at the Pentagon. So I’m not --

QUESTION: Do you believe that the State Department might have better diplomatic means of coming to an agreement with the Afghan Government, how Taliban officials should be dealt with? I mean, they’re calling it catch and release; they have them for 96 hours, then you give them back.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure rules of engagement is the proper term here. I mean – so I’m – let’s – what’s the precise aspect of your question? I’m not sure I get it.

QUESTION: When it comes – during the Marja offensive, it’s been coming to light that marines and NATO soldiers are very distressed by the rules of engagement of – like, they can’t shoot any Taliban unless they see an actual gun in their hand and guys throw up their hands and come out and surrender, but then they only can hold them for 96 hours. Is there any thought or been given anything with the light of this coming out that --

MR. CROWLEY: I still think this is probably a Pentagon issue, but our forces and NATO forces are guided by the rules of law. I wouldn’t have any problem with what you just characterized, that there are explicit rules on how – on the conduct of military operations. We follow them closely. It’s an important element of our operations. We certainly think that the manner in which we operate in Afghanistan has a vitally important impact on the – on how U.S. forces and NATO forces are viewed in the country.

If you want to call it hearts and minds, we think that obviously, as we work closely with the Afghan people, how we conduct ourselves, the care with which we operate in Afghanistan is certainly in contrast to the random violence that the Taliban perpetrates, leaving roadside bombs that could be a threat to – or are a threat to our forces, but also a threat to civilians as well. So we will conduct ourselves according to the rules of law, and we think this is a cornerstone of the counterinsurgency strategy that General McChrystal has developed.

And having once been a soldier myself, there are always going to be frustrations at various times, but I think we are quite satisfied with the strategy, with how it’s – how this operation is unfolding, and we think it’s going to have a significant impact on the Afghan people. As this unfolded – as this unfolds, as we’ve outlined for you before, we will be having – as the security situation improves, we’ll have civilians coming in right on the heels of our military forces to begin the kind of projects that we’ve discussed here to try to help the Afghan people understand the – that we are there to help them and we’re going to help the Afghan Government improve its ability to function on behalf of its people.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I change the subject?

QUESTION: Can we stay on this, sir?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: As – just to follow up with what you said, what the State Department, the U.S.A. plans to do as the U.S. and the Afghan forces win over those territories in south Afghanistan? Can you be more specific about it?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll probably refer to my colleagues in Afghanistan, but as they – as we have done the planning for this operation, civilian elements have been an integral part of this process. We’re going to look for opportunities to do – to have a rapid impact in the areas that are cleared, to be able to demonstrate to the Afghan people in Marja and its surroundings that this is a new opportunity and that we will have, together with the Afghan Government, immediate impact on the ground, work with them on their needs, and by doing so, try to turn the tide against the Taliban.

QUESTION: So are you setting up any specific special civilian team for that particular area?

MR. CROWLEY: There are civilian teams that are standing by and will be going into Marja as soon as the area’s secure.

QUESTION: And one more I have on Ambassador Holbrooke. This – for the first time, he visiting Central Asian republics in one year. What --

MR. CROWLEY: This is the first time that he has been in these countries as the SRAP.

QUESTION: Special Envoy, yeah. So what role do you see these countries have in Afghanistan and (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Our security is a – our strategy is a regional one, and this is fully consistent with our efforts to try to more significantly integrate, and particularly are doing so economically, so that – find ways to develop greater trade, greater cooperation, and by doing so, try to build a legal economy in the region. And that, we think, will be a significant contributor to stability over the long run.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Haiti, have you heard anything from the Embassy or seen reports that Americans that were booked on flights to come home to the United States were bumped from those flights, and the excuse from the Embassy was that the Haitians are now running the airport and have control over who is getting out of the country. And they, instead of putting the Americans on these flights, put local Haitians.

MR. CROWLEY: I will – I do not know. I know that today, I believe civilian air operations resumed at the Haiti airport, but I have no information on how it’s going so far.

QUESTION: Well, can you check on, like, who’s controlling the – I mean, I think the Haitians are controlling the government now. I’m not --

MR. CROWLEY: The airport?

QUESTION: The airport, sorry.

MR. CROWLEY: The (inaudible).

QUESTION: Not sure, but do they have control over who gets onto an American carrier, or should they?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would think ultimately, it would be the particular carrier that determines based on who has a ticket for a particular seat, how they manifest and move passengers on or off those aircraft.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, the argument being made by the Embassy here – excuse me, U.S. authorities on the ground is that they have no control over it because the Haitians now are running the government. And if you could just check into it?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I do believe that the Haitians are running their own government and their own airport.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well --

MR. CROWLEY: And I’ll defer to them to characterize how the air operations are going on their first day of resumption.

QUESTION: Well, no, but – I mean, this is a specific case of Americans being – you know, having confirmed reservations or confirmed tickets, bookings, for weeks to get out and Haitians bumping them for the express purpose of putting Haitians on the plane.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I’m not sure, under the circumstances, you could have reservations for – confirmed for weeks, given that – given the – this is the first day that we have resumed flights. So I --

QUESTION: But you’ve known for several weeks about the first flights, so these --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that’s true. I mean, I’ll – if we have anything we can add to this, I will – we will do so, but I’m not promising anything.

QUESTION: Regarding the logs of the – all the planes that landed in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake that were released to the Associated Press, I was wondering – they showed that there was some kind of disorganization, obviously, in deciding who was landing and not. Like some vital aid to, like, hospitals, were diverted to the Dominican Republic, et cetera. I was just wondering if you had any comment, any regrets about the how the operation --

MR. CROWLEY: No, I think quite the contrary. I think the operation speaks for itself. Through the support and assistance of the U.S. military, we significantly expanded the ability of the airport to accommodate flights from all around the world. As I recall, I think that on the first day you had 20, 30 or so flights, and we were able to ramp that up to flight landings in the hundreds. So the fact is that through the operation of the U.S. military at the airport, significant aid got in, lives were saved, and we were able to bring in the kind of aid necessary to bring Haiti to where it has – it is still stabilizing.

That said, clearly in an operation of this enormity and complexity, did every flight that was scheduled land both at the – in its time slot and where it was supposed to? No. I haven’t seen the logs, so I – what is your standard of success? But these situations were relatively small. They were based on either – an unexpected situation on the ground. If an airplane lands, it takes longer to off-load, since you only – for those of you who might not have been there, this is a very limited airport. And you have a fixed number of airplanes that can be on the ground at the same time. There’s airplanes circling overhead as the – as an airplane on the ground is taking longer to off-load or on-load, then obviously that airplane has to be diverted somewhere else. There might be other cases where, on the other end, the airplane took longer to travel into the area and missed its slot, in which case it also has to be diverted.

But this was an extraordinary effort, and the airport, as we have talked about, was vitally important because of the damage to the port facilities. So this was an important lifeline. It was an amazing operation. It was not without difficulty. And – but I think if you look at those logs and look at the operation in its entirety, you’ll come to the same conclusion that this was a vitally important element of what is, so far, a very successful operation.

QUESTION: New subject?

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. And on those logs, following up, they’ve just released the ones from the 16th of January onwards, and I was just wondering if the State Department is prepared to release the logs of, you know, right after the earthquake, like basically from the 13th to the 16th, when the United States took complete control of the airport.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think until the Government of Haiti was willing to turn over airport operations to the military, those logs would be kept by the Government of Haiti.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Somalia. UN officials in East Africa are again raising these accusations that the U.S. has been holding up millions of dollars worth of food aid for Somalia, because – out of political concerns that maybe it’s being diverted to al-Shabaab. Can you comment on that? Has the U.S. in fact held up any food aid? If so, why? And what about this accusation that it’s based on political --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, I think Ambassador Rice has talked about this this morning at the United Nations. The fact is that the World Food Program at the UN was forced to suspend its operations early in January because of not just concerns, but the reality that al-Shabaab was trying to extort cash in return for letting food into certain parts of the country. They were kidnapping and, in some cases, killing WFP employees.

So the idea that we have somehow politicized aid in Somalia is patently false. If there’s blame to go around here, it is al-Shabaab that – through its attack on the Transitional Federal Government, the checkpoints it’s set up around the country, it is impeding the flow of assistance to millions of Somalis. They’re the ones who are at fault here, and they’re the ones that have caused the UN and the World Food Program to suspend its assistance. We remain the leading donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia. We are the leading supporter of the Transitional Federal Government, and we’ll continue to work very closely with them to do everything we can to help stabilize Somalia, improve the conditions on the ground, and expand the sovereignty of the TFG.

QUESTION: So the WFP said it was once again able to process U.S. donations. Would those come right back into train?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are working to make sure that in Somalia, just like in any part of the world, that if we’re providing humanitarian assistance, we want to make sure it gets to the people who need it. In the case of Somalia, we do have concerns that aid was being diverted or money was exchanging hands. We’re not going to pay a terrorism tax to al-Shabaab. We’re going to make sure that the aid is delivered to the Somali people and it’s not done in a way that benefits al-Shabaab, which is attacking the government that we think is the right answer to Somalia.

QUESTION: But that makes it sound as though that’s a unilateral U.S. position that’s – that hasn’t got anything to do with the --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are going to follow our laws, and our laws rightly say that we cannot provide assistance to designated terrorism organizations. Al-Shabaab is a terrorism organization. And we have been working to make sure that aid is delivered to the intended recipients without benefiting a terrorism organization. But the reason why, right now, that there’s reduced aid is because the World Food Program was forced to suspend its operations. And the responsibility for that is al-Shabaab’s.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- can you just say – leaving aside the UN aspect, because I understand that they have suspended their operations in January – when did the U.S. contributions stop flowing into that, or did they stop flowing into that? And is that aid sitting in Mombasa in port, waiting to be transferred to the UN? I mean, can you bring us up to speed on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. That’s more specific than I have here.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On North Korea, when the North Korean nuclear delegation Kim Kye Gwan visited in China last time, he had met with the U.S. delegations over there. Has the North Korea presented any prior conditions to come back to the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that what you said is true. I’m not aware that when the North Korean delegation was in China recently, it met with any U.S. officials.

QUESTION: Because South Korean broadcasted yesterday --

MR. CROWLEY: I understand the report.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible), the U.S. delegation had met --

MR. CROWLEY: And I would caution that I don’t think that report is true.

QUESTION: Off the record – do you have any scheduled meeting with – further meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: No, nothing has changed there. We have no current plans to meet with North Koreans officials.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the report that North Korean (inaudible) Kim Kye Gwan is coming to New York on March 2nd?

MR. CROWLEY: We are – we – there are no plans right now for North Korean officials to come to the United States, nor for U.S. officials to meet with them.

QUESTION: You don’t have any formal meeting in China? Can you --

MR. CROWLEY: We did not have a meeting in China.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. On Pakistan, the reports – the U.S. media newspapers are reporting today sort of different versions on Mullah Baradar’s capture. One said that the Pakistani intelligence official didn’t know who he was first when they got to the safe house where he was. And another says that they were actually following a lead on intelligence to – you know, and they knew that he was there. Is there any official version of how he was captured and was being detained?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure there is, and I’m sure I don’t have it.

QUESTION: Nor on when he’s – where he is, where he’s being detained right now?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Do you seek to – do you plan to seek the extradition of Mullah Baradar or any other Taliban leader who have been arrested by Pakistan because of the involvement in 9/11?

MR. CROWLEY: I would defer to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Iran, on the IAEA report?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In light of the IAEA report, what’s the assessment that the U.S. has on the push for greater sanctions on Iran? Does it appear that globally, there could be more momentum toward the U.S. position?

MR. CROWLEY: Doesn’t hurt. (Laughter.) I mean, we are struck by the ongoing failure of Iran to either engage constructively or answer the questions. So we think it was a very strong report from the IAEA. It underscores the ongoing questions and concerns that we have about Iran’s nuclear activity. It points out that the secret facility at Qom has no rational place in a civilian program.

And if Iran continues on its current course – fails to engage constructively, fails to answer the questions that the United States has and the international community has – then it is going to face increasing pressure, including increasing sanctions.

QUESTION: Do you think that this – the way that this report is written and the fact that it was more kind of declarative about the intentions about Iran suggests that the IAEA, under this new director general, is going to be tougher, more robust? Because even when confronted with evidence of Iranian behavior, sometimes Director ElBaradei took a more kind of measured tone.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that would necessarily be a fair characterization. I mean, this has been a very steady process. Iran as a --

QUESTION: You don’t think that – I’m sorry, you don’t think that --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, hang on. Let me finish --

QUESTION: -- Mohamed ElBaradei was cautious in his reports?

MR. CROWLEY: -- my statement before you disagree with it. Iran has very clear responsibilities as a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty. And as the IAEA has been able to document over a number of years, it has failed to meet its obligations. And that has continued both at the end of the ElBaradei term, with the discovery of the secret facility at Qom, and now into the new term of Director General Amano.

So we think we’ve – we are continuing to make a very strong case for sanctions. There’s been a lot of consensus-building based on our mutual concern about Iran’s nuclear activities. And we think that this report underscores not only our determination to pursue this, but it makes a very strong case that now is the time to not only continue to offer engagement, but apply additional pressure.

QUESTION: But you don’t attribute any of this to the fact that there’s a new director general that might be setting a new tone with Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – put it this way --

QUESTION: I mean, this predates you.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: Let me finish this.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just --

QUESTION: Well, let me finish this time.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just --

QUESTION: No, let me finish this time.

MR. CROWLEY: I am simply going to say that we are – we think that this is an appropriate report. It underscores the concerns that we have, the unanswered questions that Iran has failed to address. And there will be consequences for this failure to engage, failure to answer the questions, and failure to fully disclose what nuclear activities are going on inside Iran.

QUESTION: But this predates you. But numerous – for numerous years, the Bush Administration, even when confronted with behavior by Iran that specifically suggests that they were developing a nuclear weapon, the Bush Administration repeatedly criticized the IAEA for not kind of taking the information at face value, that perhaps there was a nuclear – that there was a military dimension to the program.

And so now you have a new director general, and for the first time, suggesting in very declarative sentences that perhaps Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. And you don’t attribute it all to the fact that there’s a new IAEA director?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I just simply say we’re – we strongly associate ourselves with this report. We’ve taken a leadership role in expressing our concerns and bringing the international community to a stronger consensus that now is the time for decisive action, and we’re preparing the way for a resolution before the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: P.J., I --

QUESTION: Specifically on this comment, though, real quick before we – all right. You just said you associate yourself very closely with the report. Just a series of questions: Do you dispute any part of it, specifically the --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going – I haven’t read the report, so it’s hard for me to go through it chapter and verse.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because you did say you associate yourself with it --

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm. I --

QUESTION: -- because it does --

MR. CROWLEY: I think it makes a strong --

QUESTION: -- it does directly cut --

MR. CROWLEY: -- case of the current course that we’re on.

QUESTION: But the only reason I’m asking is because it directly contradicts the 2007 NIE, which said that Iran had specifically left behind its militarization of its nuclear program in 2004.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to get into an NIE discussion.

QUESTION: Well, but you – I mean, you’ve endorsed something that contradicts it. I’m just curious where the U.S. Government stands on this.

MR. CROWLEY: On what?

QUESTION: Well, you’ve endorsed a report that contradicts the U.S. intelligence estimate from two years ago. I’m curious if the estimate has changed and where the U.S. Government stands on it right now.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about the NIE.

QUESTION: The IAEA also made a report on Syria, which you guys have noted. It says that Syria isn’t giving any cooperation to IAEA either. So – and yet, in the case of Syria, they’re – they’re getting an ambassador, they just had a visit by Mr. Burns. Why this holding out of hands to Syria which is equally in contravention of the IAEA, and getting more tough on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, we remain concerned about Syria’s nuclear activity. They have not explained what was happening at the Al-Kibar reactor. It’s refused to cooperate with the IAEA or account for chemically processed uranium found at two sites. We’re not putting an ambassador into Damascus as a favor to Syria; we’re putting an ambassador in Damascus so we can have the kind of direct conversation and engagement that we think is necessary in the region in the 21st century. We are going to have an ambassador there who will engage Syria on the full range of issues, those areas where we think there’s opportunity for cooperation and those areas where we have concerns about Syria’s ongoing activity, whether it’s unexplained nuclear activity, whether it’s support of terrorism, whether it’s the presence of extremist groups in Damascus, whether it’s unhelpful activity that Syria is engaged in with respect to Iraq.

On the – at the same time, we will have conversations with Syria about its own intentions as part of the peace process and whether it’s willing to engage Israel constructively and move – make progress on that track of the peace process towards the comprehensive peace that we seek in the Middle East.

So we’re not – we’re not engage – returning an ambassador there as a favor; we’re returning an ambassador because we think it’s in the United States interest to have an ambassador in place who can have an ongoing daily conversation with Syrian officials and help them understand what we think about what is happening in the region and the bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships that we think are vitally important and serve our interest in the region.

QUESTION: But if Syria continues to stonewall the IAEA, would the U.S. then support continuing down the pressure track on the Syrian case and talk about new sanctions on Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: A lot of “ifs” in that question.

QUESTION: Any reaction on the Ayatollah’s dismissal of the report that we were talking about?

MR. CROWLEY: Not surprised.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

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[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - February 19]