Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 20, 2010


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Counselor Cheryl Mills delivers remarks at Global Agriculture and Food Security Symposium/ Remarks followed USAID Administrator Shah's speech on the U.S. Government's new architecture for food security
    • U.S. appalled at the sentencing of same sex couple to 14 years of hard labor in Malawi
    • U/S Otero met with members of the Interreligious Council in Jakarta to discuss the importance of interfaith cooperation in confronting today's challenges
    • Special Envoy Mitchell left the Middle East today after having productive meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Leaders/ Will be continuously engaged in these talks in pursuit of comprehensive
    • A/S Feltman arrived today in Jordan following his visit to Iraq/ Will return to Washington tomorrow
    • A/S Carson in Uganda for talks with President Museveni and other senior Ugandan officials / Will travel to Istanbul for UN conference on Somalia
    • U.S. is pleased with the visit of the mothers and the three hikers being held in Iran/ Time for Iran to do the right thing and release these young Americans
  • IRAN
    • Access has not been denied to either consular officials or family members of Iranians in prison here in the United States/ Happy to work cooperatively and constructively with Iran/ No equivalence between three hikers and individuals in U.S. custody who have been tried and convicted/ Swiss Government is supporting the mothers during their visit/ Held a private meeting, lunch, and met with Iranian Officials/ U.S. gratified to see hikers on TV/ Mindful of other Americans being held by Iran/ U.S. not contemplating prisoner swap/ Not aware of diplomatic list sent from Iran concerning Iranian prisoners/ Sanctions resolution has been tabled and being considered by entire Security Council
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Secretary Clinton traveling to Asia/ North Korea to be a significant topic of conversation
    • Investigation of the sinking of the Cheonan thorough and categorical/ U.S. continues to evaluate options/ Focused on South Korea and the international response/ Actions will be guided by our laws and working collaboratively with our international partners / U.S. is in consultations with international partners/ Secretary Clinton will meet with Chinese Officials to discuss options/ This was a provocative and unprovoked and unwarranted action / Concerned these kinds of irrational actions by North Korea can provoke a broader crisis/ North Korea is in clear violation of their international responsibilities
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Aware of unofficial talks being held in the Maldives/ Talks do not include official representatives of the Government of Afghanistan/ U.S. supports the efforts by Afghan Government towards reconciliation with Taliban who abandon violence and respect human rights / Looking ahead to the peace jirga that the Afghan Government will sponsor later this month


TRANSCRIPT:

1:44 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Several things to talk about before taking your questions.

Cheryl Mills, counselor and chief of staff to Secretary Clinton, delivered remarks today at a Global Agriculture and Food Security Symposium hosted by the Chicago Council and held here in Washington, D.C. The symposium focuses on the implementation of Feed the Future, the U.S. Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, through partnerships with recipient countries, donors, civil society, and the private sector. Counselor Mills placed Feed the Future in the context of the Obama Administration’s vision for development, one that fundamentally elevates development as a central pillar of our foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense.

Counselor Mill’s remarks followed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s speech on the U.S. Government’s new architecture for food security. Other speakers included the president of the Republic of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; and Namanga Ngongi, the president of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa.

Feed the Future renews our commitment to invest in combating the root causes of chronic hunger and poverty. Each year, more than 3.5 million children die from under-nutrition. Hunger robs the poor of a healthy and productive life and stunts the mental and physical development of the next generation. Through Feed the Future, we will accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of halving – of cutting hunger and poverty in half.

The United States is appalled by today’s sentencing of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza to 14 years of hard labor. We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. We are particularly disturbed by the severity of the sentence. The Government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world.

Turning to travel, today, Under Secretary Maria Otero met with members of the Interreligious Council in Jakarta to discuss the importance of interfaith cooperation in confronting today’s challenges, such as poverty, climate change, limited education opportunities, and corruption. And she is – also met leading Indonesian bloggers and digital media developers in Jakarta.

Special Envoy George Mitchell left the Middle East today after completing a round of proximity talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The talks were constructive and reflected both parties’ commitments to reach an agreement that realizes the goal of two states and a more secure and prosperous future for both peoples. Special Envoy Mitchell urged the parties to remain committed to promoting a positive atmosphere for the talks. He and his team will be continuously engaged in these talks in pursuit of comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman arrived today in Jordan following his visit to Iraq. He met with King Abdullah II, chief of the Royal Court Nasser Lozi, and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Discussions focused on bilateral and regional issues, including the formation of an Iraqi Government and efforts to achieve a two-state solution and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. He will return to Washington tomorrow.

Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson is in Kampala, Uganda for talks with President Museveni and other senior Ugandan officials. Their discussions will focus on a range of important bilateral and multilateral issues. Tomorrow, he will hold a series of meetings with additional government and political figures as well as embassy staff before leaving for Istanbul, where the UN – where there will be a UN conference on Somalia.

We were obviously pleased to see pictures of the mothers of the three hikers as they visited their children for the first time since they were detained in Iran almost 10 months ago. As the Secretary said in her April 23 statement, these three Americans, innocent tourists, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region when they were detained on July 31, 2009, have been unjustly held for almost nine months without formal charge or access to legal representation. It is time for Iran to do the right thing by releasing these three young Americans and allowing them to go home and be reunited with their families.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: P.J. --

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got a question on North Korea.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we stick with Iran and the last thing? Can you talk about the issue that Iranians are raising about people – Iranians that America is holding and they claim access has been denied to their families?

MR. CROWLEY: Access has not been denied to either consular officials or family members of Iranians in prison here in the United States. In fact, we have reiterated many times that if Iran wishes to arrange consular visits or family visits, we will be happy to work cooperatively and constructively with them.

But I would certainly say and remind that there is no equivalence between three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border and individuals in U.S. custody who have undergone a transparent legal process and have been tried and convicted, in most cases, of arms smuggling.

QUESTION: And also, can you go back and tell us a little about – any more detail you have about the visit of the mothers and the three hikers?

MR. CROWLEY: Really can’t. We – the – our protecting power, the Swiss Government, is represented – is supporting the mothers while they’re on the ground in Tehran. We are gleaning some information from them and obviously some information as we see the media coverage, as you do, of their reunion today.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) where do you understand they are right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Based on the information you’ve gotten from the Swiss, where do you understand that they --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. The last time I checked, I know they had a private meeting for roughly 90 minutes and I think there was a lunch and then there were going to be follow-on meetings with Iranian officials. But the families themselves, I think, will be their chief spokesmen as they go through this.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. concerned about any propaganda value that may have come out of this footage from Iranian TV of the hikers and their mothers?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the – I mean, as I said, we are gratified to see them, to hear their voices. Anyone has to understand the wrenching experience of parents and family members and friends who have been separated for this length of time from their loved ones. Iran has specific responsibilities. We’ve had some consular visits, not enough. We have concerns about the health and welfare of these young people. We are also mindful of other Americans who are in custody and unanswered questions regarding disappeared Americans, including Robert Levinson. We won’t forget about them at all.

But I mean, this is a matter where we think there’s the right thing to do. Iran wishes to be respected around the world, and we think the appropriate step would be to allow these young people to return home.

QUESTION: Do you expect them to meet with President Ahmadinejad --

MR. CROWLEY: I do not, no.

QUESTION: -- or the supreme leader?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not.

QUESTION: Do you encourage such a meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, our interest here is the welfare of our young citizens. We’d like to see them released and brought home on humanitarian grounds. What Iran decides to do, obviously, is up to them.

QUESTION: Back to the idea of – you were saying something about the disappeared Americans and I’d like to just pick up on Charlie’s question about Iranian citizens. There are two kinds of Iranians that are presumably in detention. There are the ones that you’ve spoken about and that you’ve said you’re happy to provide consular access and family visits, and then there are about seven Iranians that President Ahmadinejad claims have disappeared in third countries and that the U.S. has them in detention, and these are the ones that he says there should be a prisoner swap between these hikers and these Iranians that haven’t been heard of.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re not contemplating any kind of a prisoner swap. But if Iran has questions about any of its citizens and whether we have any information as to their whereabouts, we would be more than happy to receive that diplomatic note and respond to it.

QUESTION: Have you received diplomatic notes from Iran in the past on this issue?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we have received a list of particular individuals for whom they are inquiring.

QUESTION: How many Iranians do you have in detention?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we the federal government, we the State Department, don’t necessarily keep that kind of a list. There have been some cases I’m aware of, one in New York in particular, and we have made it clear that if – who’s been recently convicted – if anyone wants to visit him, we’ll be more than happy to facilitate that.

QUESTION: Does the fact that the Iranians allowed the three mothers to meet with the children, the hikers, and appear on TV there give you any hope that they may be released eventually? Is that new hope?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, certainly it is a positive development. It’s something that we have pushed hard for. And we think at this point, on humanitarian grounds, there’s a – we would – where there’s something that Iran can do, we would hope to see these three individuals released.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In light of the investigation results from the ship sinking, is the Administration considering any unilateral action against North Korea to include putting them back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take this step by step. The Secretary obviously left in the last couple of hours for her trip to Asia. As Kurt Campbell indicated here yesterday, we would expect North Korea to be a significant topic of conversation as we meet with officials in Tokyo, in Beijing, and in Seoul. As he also said, and I think we reaffirmed in a White House statement last night, we are committed to support South Korea through this effort. We think this was a very thorough, intensive, scientific investigation. We think the results are categorical. We will obviously consult closely with the five parties as to what the appropriate next steps should be. That’s one of the reasons why the Secretary will be meeting with her counterparts in Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul.

We have, obviously, an array of existing authorities available to us. We’ll continue to evaluate whether there’s other measures that we can take within those authorities, the most recent being Security Council Resolution 1874. But I think right now, we’re focused on supporting South Korea as it itself goes through the process of determining what it would like to see the international community do.

QUESTION: You’re not contemplating any unilateral steps at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not ruling out any unilateral steps. We will be consulting closely. I think one of the hallmarks of our policy towards North Korea over the past 15 months has been the strong consensus that we have had and maintained with China, with Russia, with Japan, with South Korea, on this process. It was a matter that, after a series of provocative steps with North Korea last year, the Council acted aggressively and affirmatively in passing 1874. We’ve seen over many months aggressive implementation of 1874 and other resolutions. So there are tools that are already available to us. We will be looking at what other steps we might take, but we will do this in close consultation with our partners.

QUESTION: The event --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) back on the terrorism list? You didn’t answer my question about the terrorism list.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, regarding terrorism, there is a significant and detailed process that the United States goes through under our laws to list a state as a state sponsor of terrorism. North Korea has been on that list in the past. It is not currently on that list. So that is a course that is available to us. But as the President has said, we will follow this based on the facts. There is – there will be – I think as we go through this, there’s a definitional question as to whether this activity meets the criteria under that law, but we will --

QUESTION: Do you consider that a terrorist act? Aren’t the two countries at war? Isn’t it more of an act of war?

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, as the White House statement said last night, this was a violation of the existing armistice. This was a clear act of aggression by North Korea against South Korea.

QUESTION: A country it’s at war with, right?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, yeah. And I mean, there is a clear definition of terrorism. Terrorism normally involves acts of violence against innocent civilians. At one level, this was a torpedo fired by one military vessel at another military vessel. So I’m sure that we will review these issues and we will follow that process and our law.

QUESTION: Well, also, I mean, this had nothing really to do with you. I mean, it was a horrible and heinous attack, but it was from one country to another that isn’t you. So I mean, do you expect that any action you would take would be in the realms of international instruments like the United Nations or something? I mean, you don’t really have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, that’s a very good point. I mean, this was the deliberate sinking of a South Korean vessel by a North Korean torpedo. But we have a shared interest and a shared responsibility. South Korea is a very close ally of ours. We will continue to support South Korea through this. We will be guided by actions that South Korea wishes to take. We all have a mutual interest in a stable and peaceful and secure Korean Peninsula. In that regard, there are clearly things that North Korea must do. It must recognize that provocative actions will not be tolerated and that there will be consequences for those.

QUESTION: But you seem to be --

QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to clarify my understanding of your answer to my question about the terrorism list, is it correct to say that you are not going through that process that you described to consider putting them back on the list? You’re not --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not ruling out that we will take a look at this. I’m simply saying that there are set criteria that – and a threshold that one has to meet to list a country as a state sponsor of terrorism. And I think there is a legitimate question as to whether this specific act is – it is clearly an act of aggression. It may or may not be considered an act of terrorism.

QUESTION: So it sounds like you’re making a political – you’re making a political judgment as to whether they should be on the list, when you pretty much are saying that the legal criteria doesn't apply.

MR. CROWLEY: What I’m saying is that there are fine and outstanding lawyers here at this Department of State and elsewhere within the federal government. I am confident that probably somewhere in this process we’ll take a look at our understanding of what happened here and we will be looking at a range of tools that are available to us to make clear to North Korea that these kinds of provocative actions will not be tolerated.

QUESTION: Speaking of provocative actions, it’s been just about a year since North Korea launched the missile which led to 1874. Is there any concern that there may be a similar sort of action in the offing over the next few weeks?

MR. CROWLEY: Boy, I’m not sure anybody makes any money by making any predictions about North Korea and what they’re capable of doing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But aren’t you guided in your response by not provoking them to take provocative actions?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – there are things that we definitely want to see them do, and certainly, ceasing the string of provocative actions that undermine peace and security in the region is fundamental. They have a range of responsibilities under the 2005 agreement and other responsibilities, and North Korea must fulfill those responsibilities if they have any hope of changing their relationship with the United States or other countries in the region.

But it wouldn't surprise us if we go through a period of time where you see rhetoric. I mean, who knows why North Korea chose to take this action?

QUESTION: North Korea also said that it would take more offensive action if South Korea tried to impose any sort of sanctions. Since the U.S. is calling itself a very close ally, what is the U.S. prepared to do to protect South Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are firmly committed to the security of South Korea. It’s why we have an alliance with South Korea. We have our forces there to secure South Korea and the peninsula. So we will continue to support South Korea throughout this process.

QUESTION: Will you consider new naval maneuvers, maybe in the Yellow Sea where the incident occurred?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, the Secretary is off on her trip. We will be consulting closely with officials in Japan, China, Korea about this. And we will work closely and collaboratively as we work through this, just as we have in the past. So as you’re highlighting, there are a range of actions that we can take collectively, there are actions that we could take with our own authorities. We have the ability to – we have the authority to take unilateral actions in the financial sector and other areas. I’m confident that given this tragedy, we will look at how we can send a clear signal to North Korea.

QUESTION: Was there a message sent to Seoul to not try to retaliate in a military fashion?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that kind of message was necessary. We will be consulting closely with South Korea. We have – we were an integral part of the investigation. We have been talking to South Korea throughout this process. That’s one of the reasons why the Secretary is stopping in Seoul after Beijing, so we will have the opportunity to have high-level consultations, determine what South Korea believes the appropriate actions is, and we are pledged to support them as we respond to this.

QUESTION: Backing up on a question about the terrorism list, is the process for designating someone or not designating someone on that list consideration, as you suggested, of the objective factors with technical experts, or is it a function of our bilateral relationship with that country?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I get the question.

QUESTION: I’m asking when you decide whether someone is or not on the terrorism list or you were to decide on North Korea’s case, would it be a reflection of looking at whether North Korea still sponsors of terrorism, or would it be looking at how the U.S. is relating to North Korea at that moment?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) If you’re listing a country as a state sponsor of terrorism, having firm evidence that they are, in fact, a state sponsor of terrorism, I would think, would be one of those criteria.

Look, I mean, this is a very specific and arduous, and justifiably so, legal process because it has significant ramifications, not only for – it in that bilateral context but in a multilateral context. So this is not something that anyone would do lightly, and there is an evidentiary standard here that has to be applied.

QUESTION: But also, I mean, don’t they have to have launched – supported a terrorist attack which killed American citizens?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t necessarily think that that’s – I mean, if they are a state sponsor of terrorism, that can be terrorism directed at the United States. I certainly think that there’s – part of that criteria would be their threats to us, their threats to allies. I don’t think it would be difficult to construct a scenario where North Korea poses a threat to the United States or to our interests. The real issue is there are specific criteria that are part of this process. I’m sure – confident that we’ll review this matter as we determine how to respond to what has occurred. But we will be guided by our laws and we’ll also be guided by working collaboratively with the other countries in the process, what we think is the most effective actions and appropriate actions to take at this point in time.

Samir.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CROWLEY: New topic or the same? No, not yet. (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) any possibility for you to take up these allegations that North Korea is (inaudible) arms to terrorism groups like Hezbollah or Hamas in order to --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m confident that we will be reviewing a range of ideas, and we have a range of tools available to us. And we will be guided by not only what’s available to us that we think can have an impact on the thinking of North Korean leadership, but also working with our partners in this process what we think the most effective steps in the coming weeks and months should be.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: Looks like there’s about three on Korea. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, same. Even after the announcement of this investigation, China is still calling for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. What’s your response to that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I – our response is that we will have talks with Chinese officials during the Secretary’s trip and we’ll be comparing notes on how we view what has occurred and what should occur now. I think in Chinese comments in recent days, they’ve indicated that they as well will be guided by the facts that were presented in this investigation. And we find those facts to be very, very compelling.

QUESTION: What’s your position on the Six-Party Talks after --

MR. CROWLEY: Look, our position is that we’re going into consultations in the coming days with our Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean partners in this process. We will obviously take light of what has occurred, review the specific findings in the investigation and the range of steps that are available to us both on a multilateral basis and a bilateral basis, and will be guided – we will work collaboratively as we have for the last year.

QUESTION: Thank you. North Korea challenged the investigation outcome and said they will send an investigation team to – it will send its own investigation team to South Korea to examine the investigation outcome. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: If North Korea wants to start an investigation to see if they have any torpedoes missing, that would be a good way – place to start. (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea is threatening all-out war if South Korea tries to retaliate. How worried is the U.S. about that retaliation that it could escalate into a full war there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, clearly, this was a provocative and unprovoked and unwarranted action by North Korea. We, of course, have concern at all times that these kinds of irrational actions by North Korea potentially can provoke a broader crisis. We are focused on the immediate challenge before us and will be consulting, as I’ve said, with our partners in the coming days.

At the same time, we are looking at the longer term and what we want to see for the Korean Peninsula. And there are clear actions that North Korea has to take. And so we are looking at not only how we address the immediate challenge and the tragic and emotional – I mean, the tragedy that has occurred. Remember, this was an unprovoked action that resulted in the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors. This is abominable. It is not the way that civilized nations act towards one another.

But we also – we’ll continue to make clear that North Korea has responsibilities, both to own up to its conduct in the – in this particular episode, but also its broader responsibilities to take affirmative actions towards a more peaceful, stable, and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: What’s the immediate challenge? Is the immediate challenge responding to the attack or North Korea’s guilt, or is the immediate challenge to make sure that this doesn’t erupt into something greater on the peninsula?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this – as we said, this was an act of aggression against South Korea. It was unprovoked and it was unnecessary and it was unwarranted. It is a violation of the armistice. It is a violation of --

QUESTION: I know. But what’s the immediate challenge? Is the --

MR. CROWLEY: -- North Korea – once again, it’s a violation of North Korea’s international responsibilities. So we will be consulting with our partners on what to do in the immediate term, but we will also be mindful of what can be done with a broader and deeper challenge of getting North Korea to fundamentally change course and see that its isolation is not in its interest or the interest of other countries in the region.

QUESTION: No, but I’m sorry. What’s the immediate challenge? You didn’t answer the question. Is the immediate challenge responding and punishing North Korea, or is the immediate challenge making sure that they don’t something else (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: All of the above. I mean, they have taken a tragic and unfortunate action. It is a clear violation of their international responsibilities. There will be consequences for what North Korea has done. But at the same time, we will continue to try to see what can be done to continue to work towards a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula and the broader region. So we will be managing this in the short term but – and we will be seeing how we can ultimately achieve our long-term objectives in the region, which are shared by many, many countries, which is a peaceful and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: But to be clear, the U.S., you just suggested, didn’t have to tell South Korea not to retaliate. I mean, you know, 46 sailors, that’s a significant --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as you – as we have agreed, first and foremost, this was an act of aggression by North Korea against South Korea. South Korea has a right to defend itself. It has a right to determine from its own national interest what the appropriate response to this will be. We will support South Korea as it works through how it feels not only South Korea itself should respond but how the international community should respond. And we are committed to supporting South Korea as it works through these difficult issues.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. rather that South Korea not respond in kind with a military response?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we will be guided by what South Korea, within its own government and pursuing its own interest, decides what it feels should be done. We are an ally and friend of South Korea and we will support them, whatever their choice is. We have other options available to us as well on this and we’ll be considering our options just as we discuss with South Korea what we think we should be doing individually and collectively.

QUESTION: But certainly (inaudible) to the armistice would not be a helpful situation.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there’s no interest in seeing the Korean Peninsula explode here. We all want to see a peaceful, stable, secure, and non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. The real issue now is we’ve had this event and how do we continue to work towards the broader end while managing this unfortunate incident. But clearly, this was a serious provocation by North Korea and there will definitely be consequences because of what North Korea has done.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: One more.

MR. CROWLEY: One more. Last one.

QUESTION: China has not yet supported South Korea’s announcement, and nor blamed North Korea. Any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will be talking to China about our understanding of what has happened and what the implications are.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CROWLEY: New topic.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, there’s apparently some talks going on with the Taliban in the Maldives. What can you tell us about that? Do you support their efforts? And what do you expect to come out of it?

MR. CROWLEY: The Afghan Government has told us that it is aware of the unofficial talks being reported today, held in the Maldives. And according to the Afghan Government, these talks do not include official representatives of the Government of Afghanistan. We continue to support efforts by the Afghan Government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect human rights of their fellow citizens.

QUESTION: But you don’t see support – sorry.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) whether you consider these talks fruitful, useful --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re aware of them. And let’s see – I mean, it – I think that to the extent that we’re looking ahead to the peace jirga that the Afghan Government will sponsor later this month, that’s the main event. And we’ll – but we’ll be guided by what comes out of that particular meeting.

QUESTION: That’s a pretty tepid endorsement of these talks.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re not saying they’re a good thing or a bad thing. The real question is what comes out of this? Clearly, reconciliation is a dimension of the Afghan Government strategy and we’ve made clear any number of times that to those individuals and groups that are willing to come forward and support the Afghan Government, support the constitution, abandon violence, cut any ties to al-Qaida, there’s a place for those groups in the political process in Afghanistan. So whether there’s a meeting for a meeting’s sake, the real issue is what do groups as they work through the opportunity that the Afghan Government is offering for a different relationship with – and a different future in Afghanistan, for those groups that choose to join this process, meet the criteria that we’ve laid out, there’s a place in the future of Afghanistan for those groups.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you support two-track talks in the United States between various parties all the time. You never know what’s going to come out of them. You always, wherever you go, you encourage a robust civil society where various people are talking about how to develop their country. So why isn’t this an example of that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just saying that there’s – that we’re not involved in this. Afghanistan is not involved in this. The real issue is from meetings like this, what are particular groups prepared to do? That’s what we will focus on.

QUESTION: New topic? On Turkey, can you tell us anything about the Deputy Secretary’s meeting with the deputy Turkish prime minister?

MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s still going on. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So that’s good news.

MR. CROWLEY: The Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg is hosting the deputy prime minister of Turkey. This is a meeting that was scheduled some time ago. But clearly, as part of this meeting, I would expect that they will reflect on current events, including the efforts to sanction Iran.

QUESTION: Can I say also (inaudible) a follow-up? You said in the past day or two that there have been some telephonic conversations between Secretary Clinton and the Turkish foreign minister. But has there been any letter sent to Ankara since October detailing as to what the U.S. would accept if Turkey and Brazil were to broker a deal with Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had a number of conversations with Turkey going over several months. And have we at times put those – some issues down on paper? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the conversations with Cuba regarding the BP spill? We know there have been some conversations. But now that the BP spill has gone into the flow and the loop and there’s much more spread of this, what can you tell us about the update talks --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we have a regional responsibility to inform governments that might be affected by oil spills. That includes Cuba. And both in writing and in word, we have informed Cuba about the oil spill and fulfilled our responsibility. We’ve done the same thing with Mexico. We’ve done the same thing with – I think there are other conversations going on – the Bahamas today.

So as we see that the spill has broader ramifications beyond the immediate coast of the United States, we have informed governments as we’re required to do.

QUESTION: Are you able to relate – I mean, we’ve not had relationships – relations with Cuba. And so in other words, this seems to be an instance where there is some conversations going on daily, I’m told. Can you tell us of what the conversations have been on that --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I’d characterize it as daily. We do have an interests section in Havana. We have the ability to communicate with Cuba when we need to. And in this particular case, I think we have recently passed a diplomatic note to Cuba outlining our view of this ongoing disaster.

QUESTION: And my understanding is that Cuba has responded in saying that they are willing to help in any way they can.

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know if Cuba has responded.

QUESTION: Are you willing to accept Cuban help?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that they’ve responded.

QUESTION: But if they – can you take the question?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I will take the question. I can actually answer this question. Are we aware that Cuba has offered assistance to the United States? I’m not aware of that. I’ll – we’ll take that question. I don’t think that’s occurred.

QUESTION: Okay. On the help issue, can you just say – Gordon talked about it yesterday – has there been any update on whether the 17 countries, any of their help has been accepted?

MR. DUGUID: None this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, not this morning.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: Samir.

QUESTION: Assistant to the President Mr. John Brennan was quoted on Tuesday by Reuters saying that the U.S. was to build up moderates within Hezbollah in Lebanon. Are you considering a new approach towards Hezbollah? And if so, how are you going to do that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our policy towards Hezbollah has not changed. As John Brennan said, Hezbollah is a designated foreign terrorist organization. We do not recognize separate military and political wings. Hezbollah’s leadership and funding are fungible across all parts of the organization, and all parties within Lebanon must adhere to their obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559.

QUESTION: Well, but how does that square with what he said?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as we have said, if some – if a party wants to participate in a political process in the region, there are stipulations that they have to forego violence, they have to recognize the existence of Israel, and they have to adhere to and respect all existing agreements. And that opportunity is available to any group in the region. I’m not aware that Hezbollah qualifies at this point.

QUESTION: Another topic?

QUESTION: No, can I just go off – one more? Can you comment at all on whether you think there are moderate Hezbollah?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, there are specific criteria and Hezbollah remains a foreign terrorist organization.

QUESTION: But is like, the deputy solicitor general of Hezbollah’s general party or something a moderate? Do you know?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there’s – we can get into any kind of esoteric conversation as to whether there are moderates in Hezbollah, there are moderates in Iran. I mean, there’s a – there are clear red lines that we have laid down for anyone who wants to constructively engage in seeking peace in the Middle East. Hezbollah, to this point, is not one of those organizations.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Pakistan’s blockage of – Pakistan’s – to YouTube and other web – internet sites?

MR. CROWLEY: I do. Obviously, this is a difficult and challenging issue. Many of the images that appear today on Facebook were deeply offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We are deeply concerned about any deliberate attempt to offend Muslims or members of any other religious groups. We do not condone offensive speech that can incite violence or hatred.

The page at issue was posted anonymously at the website of a private company. It is now a legal matter between Facebook and the Government of Pakistan. But that said, we also believe that the best answer to offensive speech is dialogue and debate, and in fact, we see signs that that is exactly what is occurring in Pakistan. Governments have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression and the free flow of information.

The best antidote to intolerance is not banning or punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, and proactive government outreach to minority religious groups and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression. Those last words came from the Secretary’s internet freedom speech last year.

So I think that this is a difficult issue. Pakistan is wrestling to this issue. We respect any actions that need to be taken under Pakistani law to protect their citizens from offensive speech. At the same time, Pakistan has to make sure that in taking any particular action, that you’re not restricting speech to the millions and millions of people who are connected to the internet and have a universal right to the free flow of information.

QUESTION: But who’s to say that Pakistan isn’t simply playing to the more conservative religious factions in order to maintain political viability?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, as I said, we – there are actions that Pakistan can take under Pakistani law. We respect those. But there needs to be a balance to make sure that in rightly restricting offensive speech, or even hate speech, that Pakistan continues to protect and promote the free flow of information.

QUESTION: But blocking an – you know, this website or that website doesn’t seem to go toward promoting free flow of information. I mean, I have colleagues whom I cannot reach via Facebook right now because of this.

MR. CROWLEY: Right. And what we’re saying is that Pakistan, as it works through these issues, has to try to find that difficult balance. But we certainly fully understand how material that were posted on this particular page were offensive to Pakistanis and members of other Muslim majority communities around the world. But at the same time, we do in fact support the universal principle of freedom of expression, free flow of information, and we will continue to promote internet freedom as the Secretary outlined in her speech.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: One last one?

MR. CROWLEY: One last one. Two – we’ll go one, two, and then we’ll be done.

QUESTION: What is your first reading of the new report released on Monday by the expert group chaired by Secretary Albright, which is supposed to be the foundation of the new Strategic Concept of NATO? I think it caused some mixed reaction in Moscow. They think it was welcomes, you know, new relationship with Russia, but at the same time, issues of warning. It’s like, you know, giving the hand and throwing a punch at the same time. What’s your take on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we did a detailed reaction to this on Tuesday. I’d call your attention to that. We welcomed the work of the distinguished group chaired by Secretary Albright. She has presented a report to NATO. We’ll be working within NATO on the development of the Strategic Concept and it’ll be presented to the leaders – NATO leaders at a conference later this year.

Last one.

QUESTION: Just two questions – short questions on the sanctions discussions on Iran. Firstly, could you tell us if there’s been any update on the timeframe in which we could expect an announcement in terms of results? I know that maybe Gordon mentioned yesterday that there wasn’t such a date, but any updates on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm, and your second question?

QUESTION: Second question is: In its pursuit of sanctions against Iran, what does the U.S. have to say to countries like India and others in the G-15 group who may be friendly with Iran and feel that the fuel swap deal, you know, is a sign that they’re more – Iran is willing to cooperate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the first – the resolution that’s been tabled is now being evaluated by the entire Security Council, and we will continue to consult broadly on its – on the particulars in the coming days and weeks. We are still looking for and expect support within the Council for a new sanctions resolution, and as we have said many, many times, that not only with existing measures, but adding new measures and new teeth to this, we would expect all countries in the world to live up to their international obligations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)

DPB #78

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - May 20]