Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 5, 2010

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
    • Reports Iranian Courts Have Upheld Death Sentence for Mohammad Amin Valian / U.S. Concern / Disproportionate Punishment / Urge Immediate Release / Release of All Political Prisoners
    • Travel of Assistant Secretary Campbell / Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan / Meetings with Senior Government Officials
    • Stop in Guatemala / Meeting with Central American Leaders
    • Resuming Assistance to Government of Honduras
    • U.S. Support Chile in Aftermath of Earthquake / DART Team
    • Meeting with Foreign Minister Okada in Japan / Range of Issues
  • IRAQ
    • Voting for Iraqi Citizens Living Abroad / Strong Voter Turnout / Serious Security Incidents / Preparation by Iraqi Security Forces
    • Withdrawal Timetable / Iraq Decisions
    • Normalizing Relations / Recall of Turkish Ambassador / Secretary Clinton Speaking with Hill Officials / Normalization Process / Congressional Vote / Ratification of Protocols
    • Visit of Prime Minister
  • CUBA
    • Review of Programs
    • Migration Talks
    • Access to Alan Gross / Call for His Release
    • Kabul Attacks / Holbrooke Comments
    • Six-Party Process / Denuclearization
    • Meetings on Sunday and Monday / Written Assurances / Helping Parties End Conflict / Good-Faith Negotiations / Honest Broker and Facilitator


1:12 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Extremely well attended for an almost-spring Friday in Washington, D.C. Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few announcements before taking your questions:

The United States notes with great concern reports the Iranian courts have upheld a death sentence for 20-year-old university student Mohammad Amin Valian. Mr. Valian was arrested for throwing stones during a December 27 Ashura demonstration, a crime to which he confessed. For this minor act, he was found guilty of warring against God. It appears this would be the first person facing execution after the election, although we do note due process concerns about other executions.

We find this disproportionate punishment deplorable and urge his immediate release. Furthermore, we join the international community in calling on Iranian authorities to release all political prisoners. If the Iranian Government wants the respect of the international community, it must respect fundamental freedoms of its people.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will depart Washington on Sunday for an extensive trip to Asia. During his trip, he will stop in Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan. In Singapore, he’ll meet with senior government, foreign affairs, and defense officials. In Kuala Lumpur, he’ll meet with Malaysian officials and hold a town meeting with the American Embassy staff there. In Vientiane, he will meet with senior Laotian Government officials and attend the U.S.-Lao comprehensive bilateral dialogue. He will also meet with representatives of the Mekong River Commission.

In Jakarta, he will have meetings with ASEAN permanent representatives for discussions on U.S.-ASEAN relations, as well as senior Indonesian Government officials, with senior Thai foreign affairs, security, and economic officials. In addition to meeting with them, he will also make remarks on U.S.-Thai relations at Chulalongkorn University. And of course, he will finish up in Tokyo, will meet with senior Japanese officials.

The Secretary is now in Guatemala on the final stop of her trip to – throughout the Central and Southern region. She is currently having lunch with Central American leaders. This afternoon, she’ll meet with Salvadoran President Funes. Earlier today, she met with Guatemalan President Colom. In her discussions with heads of government of Central America and the Dominican Republic, discuss wide range of issues of common interest, including how to deepen cooperation to improve citizen safety, strengthen respect for democracy, human rights, and rule of law, as stipulated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, work toward greater social inclusion and broad-based economic growth, and expand partnerships on energy and the environment.

And as you may note, yesterday, she announced that the United States is resuming assistance to the Government of Honduras. Honduras now has a democratically elected government and democratic constitutional governance has been restored. These conditions and President Lobo’s actions since taking office meet the United States requirements for restoring assistance to the Government of Honduras.

While staying in the region, just to update you a little bit on U.S. support to Chile in the aftermath of the earthquake, we have a DART team on the ground with six additional personnel expected to arrive tomorrow. That DART team has six members. We also have one USAID contractor embedded with the Chilean National Emergency Response Office, the equivalent of our FEMA. Seventy-one satellite phones have been distributed along with plastic sheeting, two mobile water treatment units, with six more units scheduled to arrive within the next week. $1 million has been disbursed to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We’ve deployed a field hospital and two C-130 aircraft to assist with moving supplies around the country.

Deputy Secretary Steinberg is on his way back to the United States. He met earlier today with Foreign Minister Okada and other senior officials to discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.

And finally, before taking your questions, voting for Iraqi citizens living abroad has started today in the United States and 15 other countries and will continue through Sunday. There has been strong voter turnout in several countries. Here in the United States, Iraqi citizens are voting at locations in or near eight cities which include Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco. Yesterday, there was voting throughout Iraq for special categories of voters such as security personnel who will be on duty on Sunday, election day.

Our Embassy reports that the process went well. Generally, election officials were well-prepared, and the voters enthusiastic. There were three serious security incidents that affected voting centers out of a total of 2,550. We regret the loss of life, but it is clear that these incidents failed to deter the determination of the Iraqis who voted yesterday. And today, there were minimal security-related incidents.


QUESTION: On the Armenian genocide resolution that was passed yesterday, I was wondering if you could give us your thoughts on the vote. Did you feel that it was helpful? And are you going to do anything to ensure that a full vote does not take place (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary made clear, that any further congressional action will impede the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia. We continue to believe that the best way for Turkey and Armenia to address their shared past is through their ongoing effort to normalize relations. We have been in contact with Turkish and Armenian officials at the highest levels to urge timely ratification of the protocols, and we look forward to continuing dialogue with them.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like the Turks are pretty upset with you. They recalled their ambassador yesterday for consultations. Are you really optimistic that that’s going to happen right now? And are you in touch with Speaker Pelosi’s office about trying to make sure that a full vote doesn’t take place?

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary has talked to Hill officials. Other officials have as well.

QUESTION: ( Inaudible)

MR. CROWLEY: I think they understand our position and that we don’t think any further congressional action is appropriate.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to Hill leadership since the vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Only Berman or was there wider contact?

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary has talked to Chairman Berman. But I think we have had a range of conversations over several weeks on this issue.

QUESTION: But you’ve not had any conversations since the vote to try to (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary hasn’t. I mean, it is possible that we have been in touch with congressional officials today somewhere here in the Department, but I’m not aware of any contacts.

QUESTION: Are you saying that State Department officials or Administration officials were making clear to people on the Hill that they didn’t want this to proceed for the last few weeks? Because --

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had – I mean, this is not an issue that has snuck up on anybody. This is an issue that we’ve gone through a number of times in the past. We know that the feelings about this issue are firmly held on all sides. But – the Secretary made clear in a conversation with Chairman Berman earlier this week, but other officials have been talking to congressional staff for some time on this.

QUESTION: Can you get any details on that? Because every – I mean, people on the Hill are denying that pretty strongly.

MR. CROWLEY: Denying what?

QUESTION: Denying that there have been conversations along the lines that Secretary Clinton had with Chairman Berman in recent weeks.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, keep – we have not made a secret of our feelings that the best way to resolve this issue is through the normalization process that we have supported, going back to last year. I mean, obviously, Congress has a role to play. They’ve registered a vote yesterday. You can interpret that vote any way you want to. But we have made clear to them the risk. I think in the statements that various members made before the vote – I think they understood fully that their – the risk of this vote and the impact it was going to have in both political circles and in popular circles, particularly in these two countries. I think we have continued to make clear that we think any further action on this will impede the normalization process that we think is the best way to resolve these questions.


QUESTION: There is a theory that the ratification of the normalization protocols was not going anywhere in Turkey anyhow – that subsequent to the signing of the protocols last year, that the Turkish Government, notwithstanding its public position, has not really been very eager to put this to a vote in its parliament. Do you see it that way?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave the analysis of the Turkish parliament to others. We continue to press Turkey and Armenia to move ahead with the ratification of the protocols. We understand that this is difficult. We understand that these issues evoke very strong emotional reactions within both populations. That said, we think it is in everyone’s interest to see this process continue to move forward, and we will continue to press this case with these countries.

QUESTION: P.J., if you feel so strongly about this, why hasn’t the Secretary or other senior officials – senior enough that it would come to your attention – tried to make sure, subsequent to the vote, that it won’t come to a – won’t come to the floor?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure what the question is.

QUESTION: You say that, you know, if it comes to the floor, further action will disrupt the normalization process. But you also say that Secretary Clinton hasn’t called anybody about the vote itself.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: I’m wondering why --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in our conversations with Chairman Berman and others, I think they understand how we feel about this. And we’ll just have to see what Congress decides to do in the aftermath of what they’ve seen today.

QUESTION: Are you really just going to wait and see, or are you working to ensure that there’s not a Hill – that there is not a floor vote?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we have an understanding with congressional leaders on this issue, but obviously, Congress has a right to take action with its own body as it sees fit.

QUESTION: Understanding --

MR. CROWLEY: But I mean, we – let’s be clear. We oppose any further action on this issue within the Congress. We feel that the best place to resolve these issues is through the ongoing normalization process between Turkey and Armenia. We have made that position clear to Congress, and we will see what is done or not done in the future.

QUESTION: When you say you have an understanding with the leadership of Congress, do you mean that they understand how you feel about this issue, or you have an understanding with the Congress that this is not going to reach the full floor?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, ultimately, this – I’m not an expert in terms of parliamentary procedure, but I think that the leadership of the Congress understands our position and they will – they have taken this into account as they evaluate further actions, if any actions will be taken.

QUESTION: What if it – just one more – what of the discussions – you said that you spoke with the Turks. Have you spoken with them since the vote? Obviously, they would have to communicate that they were (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I am sure that somebody here at the State Department has talked, and talked to our friends in Turkey today. I’m not sure it’s been at a high level.

QUESTION: Who or what is the obstacle for the normalization between the two countries? Did the Turks or the Armenians told you?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, I’m not sure I understand the question? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I mean, what is the obstacle for the normalization?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the next step in the process is for the parliaments of the two countries to ratify the protocols.

QUESTION: Why they refuse to?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I --

QUESTION: Why they --

MR. CROWLEY: That would be a better question to direct to Turkey and Armenia.

QUESTION: So you can say that there is an understanding of the Congress that the issue will stand as it is now?

MR. CROWLEY: We hope that Congress will – having taken this vote, that Congress will not take any further action.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any update on Pentagon shooting yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to my colleagues in the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary is going to meet with the prime minister of Greece on Monday? And if they are going to meet, what issues the Secretary wants to discuss with him?

MR. CROWLEY: I would defer to my colleagues at the White House to announce meetings with heads of government. If they are planning to announce such a meeting today, which is possible, the Secretary will be in that meeting.

QUESTION: Not (inaudible) separate meeting at all?

MR. CROWLEY: I think – it’s not for me to announce what’s happening at the White House, but --

QUESTION: I’m asking if the --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- if the Secretary is going to meet with him.

MR. CROWLEY: If the prime minister is here in Washington next week – I’m winking as I say this – the Secretary will be in that meeting.


QUESTION: Can you comment upon the fact that former Ukrainian President Yanukovych conferred the Order of Hero of Ukraine on Nazi war criminal Stefan Bandera? And then as a follow-up, the UN passed a resolution, 64/147, prohibiting the – it’s on the inadmissibility of the glorification of Nazism, and also prohibiting the exhumation of bodies of soldiers who had been killed fighting against Nazism. And that action is a violation of Geneva Convention Article 34. The only country that voted against that resolution was our country. Why?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that case. Let me take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Cuba – Secretary Clinton said last week in the Senate that she wanted to have an – there was already a review of programs in the island for the – pushing for democratization and so on after that episode, that detention of that contractor, Mr. Gross.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you completed that review?


QUESTION: Do you have any update on the case of that – Mr. Gross?

MR. CROWLEY: We did have senior officials in Cuba recently for migration talks. During the course of those meetings, we pressed on multiple occasions to have access to Mr. Gross. I’m not aware that that was granted. I think the last time we’ve seen Mr. Gross was early February.

We continue to call for Cuba to release him. As the Secretary said, we are reviewing our programs, but we have and continue our firm commitment to work with the people of Cuba to build and expand civil society there.

QUESTION: Have you frozen any of these programs?


QUESTION: Just temporarily?


QUESTION: Mr. Richard Holbrooke made some comments yesterday to clarify comments he had made on Tuesday regarding the Kabul attacks, and the Department of State hasn’t yet carried a transcript or offered any further comments.

MR. CROWLEY: He made these comments in Boston?

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, you’re saying that Richard clarified what he said – I mean, he was here on Tuesday and you’re saying he made some comments. I happen to know he was in Boston yesterday at Tufts University and at the Kennedy School. If he did issue any clarifications up there, I have not seen a transcript yet.

QUESTION: Is it likely that we’ll get one later if he did do that?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know what public activities – I happen to know he was at the Kennedy School because my daughter works there, so – but beyond that, I don’t know what he said publicly yesterday. But if we have any details on – if we have a transcript, we’ll be happy to put it out.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, what he – his comments have – are available in the media. But it’s just that there isn’t an official version yet, so I was wondering if you would be issuing one.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. As I said, I will check to see if there’s a public transcript of what he said yesterday, and we will be happy to put that – to make that widely available if we have it.

QUESTION: Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said in Beijing China’s goal is to restart the Six-Party Talks within the first half of this year. So any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we share the same view as China. We would like to see the Six-Party process begin again as soon as possible. But as I’ve said many, many times, that right now is up to North Korea to agree to come back to the talks and to take affirmative steps towards denuclearization.


QUESTION: I just wanted to get a bit more comment on Iraq. Clearly, you mentioned there have been a couple of incidents. Clearly, violence is a potential concern. Do you have concerns that the threat of violence is going to be a big factor in these elections?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we hope not. And I think we’re encouraged by the – not only by the attitude of the Iraqi people. Every community seems to have been fully participating in the campaign. We think that is very encouraging. There’s been an enormous amount of preparation by Iraq security forces. So I think that Iraq is ready and we think they’ll be able to protect their citizens as they go to the polls on Sunday.

QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on that. Most people admit that there’s going to be a long period before a full government is formed and that there’ll be coalition negotiations going on and that there’ll be, you know, a good deal of tension surrounding that. How is the U.S. kind of – how is the U.S. been sort of planning around those issues or thinking around those issues?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that – past experience, I think, informed the timetable that we have outlined together with the Iraqi Government regarding the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. We understood from the previous transition that it was a fairly lengthy one. We’ve built in some flexibility into the current timetable. And – but we right now are on a track to reduce the number to 50,000 by the end of August and to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of December 2011.

QUESTION: So what is this sort of flexibility that you built in?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we were just conscious of the fact that in the parliamentary system and knowledgeable about what happened the last time, that it could take a number of weeks for Iraq to form a new government. But obviously, these are decisions that are up to Iraq.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Wait, I’m sorry, one last one. On Senator Mitchell’s travel to --

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you for asking that question.

QUESTION: -- Israel and the Palestinian territories, I know this came up in the briefing yesterday, but can you shed any light on whether his – you expect his planned meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to themselves constitute the beginning of the indirect talks or not, if that will be left to a subsequent stage?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re looking forward to the meetings on Sunday and Monday, and that question will be part of the discussion. So let’s wait till Monday and then I think we’ll have more to say about that.

Just while we’re on this subject, there have been some reports out of the region regarding questions about written assurances or documents or guarantees to either party. Just to be clear, we are trying to help the parties end this conflict. And what we have said to both parties is what we’ve said to them privately and publicly all year: Our goal is two states living side by side in peace and security. The only way to achieve that is good-faith negotiations between the parties. When those negotiations hit obstacles, we will work hard to overcome these obstacles. And as we have always done, if we believe either party is not living up to these commitments, we will say so.

QUESTION: But you have – you are --

QUESTION: You’ll say so --

QUESTION: -- kind of memorializing what your vision of a final status solution is as this process goes on, aren’t you?

MR. CROWLEY: As – should we enter into these discussions, obviously we will take into account the previous discussions that have – taken place over many, many years. We’re not starting this process, if it starts, from scratch. But to the extent, as we get into this – any – as we’ve done in the past as facilitators of this process, if there are snags, we can offer our bridging proposals as we’ve done before. But we are not going into this, should the parties decide to enter into talks, with an outcome already predetermined, other than good-faith negotiations that lead to the end of the conflict and the creation of two states living side by side.


QUESTION: So do you offer Abbas any guarantees or any assurances?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have been working steadfastly with these – with the parties on how to get these negotiations started. We have been clarifying a number of details during the course of this process, but we haven’t given any written assurances or documents or guarantees.

QUESTION: Wait. Wait. Just so we’re clear, leaving aside the word “assurances,” have you in writing conveyed, more or less, what you just said publicly and what we’ve heard other officials say before – notably, that if you think either side is not living up to their obligations, you will say so? Have you conveyed that to both parties in writing?


QUESTION: So can you explain to me, then, the Haaretz story – and I know it’s not for you to explain newspaper stories, but they have quotes at length from what purports to be a written communication.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There is no such writing, and what they put in quotes they just made up?


QUESTION: So can you square the circle here?

MR. CROWLEY: Have we provided written assurances? No.

QUESTION: Well, leave – I said leave aside the word “assurances.” Have you in writing conveyed to either parties the substance of what you just said publicly?

MR. CROWLEY: In writing? No.

QUESTION: Have you read it? Have you gone in and read it to them?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’ve had any number of discussions with the parties going over several months. To the extent that during these discussions, things were written down by the parties, that is possible.

But have we provided our written guarantees and assurances regarding preconceived outcomes going into this? The answer is no.


QUESTION: No, no. So maybe you read stuff aloud and they wrote it down?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, maybe we’ve had a number of discussions. And, as you know, Arshad, in all meetings, there are note takers. But those – but what is quoted are not our documents.

QUESTION: And then just one more.


QUESTION: You said in your opening comment about this, you said that if we feel that either side is not living up to their obligations, we will say so. Will you say so in public or in private?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we will play the constructive role as honest broker and facilitator, as we have in the past. We are not going to have preset outcomes going into this process. But I would just repeat what I said: If we think as part of this process that either party is not living up to its commitments, we will say so.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying whether you’ll say so publicly or privately? In other words, it’s possible you’ll just say it privately, but it won’t be a public matter?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll – I don’t – (laughter) – I mean, but we’re not going to issue guarantees in advance of the start of a process that hasn’t started yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

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