Daily Press Briefing
- Secretary Clinton en route to Korea/Joins Secretary Gates in meetings with South Korean officials
- Kabul conference: International community and the Afghan government agreed on a joint plan for a phased transition of security in Afghanistan's provinces to the Afghan national security forces/Afghan government presented a detailed plan called "The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program"/US welcomes the commitment at the conference to implement the national action plan for the women of Afghanistan and the elimination of violence against women law and its reaffirmation of the rights of Afghan women
- USAID was a strong partner with other governments, scientists, and communities in this first-ever proof of concept that a microbicide can effectively and safely reduce the transmission of HIV from men to women
- Deputy Secretary Steinberg arrived in Tokyo and will meet with senior Japanese officials/Will also lead the US delegation in the trilateral strategic dialogue with his Australian and Japanese counterparts
- Under Secretary Burns met today with President Aquino in Philippines to discuss bilateral/regional issues
- Interagency team focused on US-Russian adoptions arrived in Moscow for the fourth round of talks
- Special Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, Ambassador Herbst, and Australian Ambassador to the US Beazley have signed an MOU which will enhance interoperability and cooperation between our respective civilian corps that are available to help with civilian efforts in failed and failing states
- UNITED KINGDOM/LIBYA
- US government would have liked that Mr. Megrahi never left a Scottish prison/Unclear whether the Scottish authorities have any recourse/Secretary Clinton discussed case in Kabul with Foreign Secretary Hague/Fully expect President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron will talk about it today at White House/Believe Prime Minister Cameron will meet with 4 senators who have been in contact with the State Department/US hopes that British/Scottish authorities will cooperate fully in trying to help everyone understand the circumstances around the decision and any interaction/influences that might have been presented outside of government
- Has had no effect on US-UK relationship/One way or another, answers to these questions exist within the British and Scottish, not US, governments/At this point, we have no information to suggest that it was other than just simply the judgment of Scottish authorities to release Mr. Megrahi on compassionate humanitarian grounds
- SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
- US hopes to see stasis change/DMZ reminder Korean War suspended, not actually formally ended
- US has a very strong relationship and partnership with the people of South Korea/US will do what it needs to do to protect the security of South Korea and the region/US hopes North Korea is paying attention and hopes North Korea will understand US is fully committed to the defense of South Korea/US hopes North Korea will take steps as a result to reduce tensions, improve relations with its neighbors, cease provocative actions, and work more constructively towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
- US fully engaged in implementing Resolution 1874/US always looking at ways to put additional pressure on North Korea, to send clear signals about what North Korea must do/US continuing to evaluate how can we address range of concerns that we have about North Korea/Part of our ongoing efforts to consult fully with our partners in the six-party process and others across the region/US continues our dialogue with these countries and others about the dangers posed by North Korea.
1:20 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few things to talk about before taking your questions. Secretary Clinton has departed Kabul and is en route to Korea, where later today, Korean time, she will join Secretary Gates and visit the Demilitarized Zone, participate in a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, have the so-called 2+2 meeting with their South Korean counterparts, and then looks forward to a working dinner with President Lee. But obviously, have a range of issues to talk about on the security front, on the regional development front, and the close relationship between the United States and Korea.
We welcome the commitment at the conference to implement the national action plan for the women of Afghanistan and the elimination of violence against women law and its reaffirmation of the rights of Afghan women under the country’s constitution.
You saw, I think, some front page coverage today regarding a breakthrough – potential breakthrough in terms of HIV/AIDS treatment. USAID was a strong partner with other governments, scientists, and communities in this first-ever proof of concept that a microbicide can effectively and safely reduce the transmission of HIV from men to women. This helps fulfill a specific and critical need for a new prevention option for women and complement other existing or new prevention approaches. The study addresses – or embraces many of the core principles of the Administration’s Global Health Initiative, which include advancing the health of women and girls, supporting country ownership, strategically coordinating with multiple partners in the field, promoting sustainability in health systems, and strengthening upholding the importance of monitoring and evaluation.
Very quickly, just to update you on a couple of key leaders, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has arrived in Tokyo, and tomorrow he’ll meet with senior Japanese officials and also lead the U.S. delegation in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with his Australian and Japanese counterparts.
Under Secretary Bill Burns met today with President Aquino in the Philippines to discuss bilateral and regional issues.
And our interagency team focused on U.S.-Russian adoptions has arrived in Moscow for the fourth round of talks, continuing negotiations that we had for a number of months to try to reach an effective agreement as quickly as possible to guide future adoptions from Russian children to American families.
And one other thing. The Special Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization Ambassador John Herbst and Australian Ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley have signed a memorandum of understanding which will enhance interoperability and cooperation between our respective civilian corps that are available to help with civilian efforts in failed and failing states around the world.
QUESTION: Can we start with something that I think is going to get taken up at the White House in about 33 minutes? And that is the question of the U.S. Government’s position with regard to Mr. Megrahi. The letter that you released yesterday, Secretary Clinton’s response to the four senators, says – notes that any decision to review or reconsider Megrahi’s release is a matter for the Scottish authorities and that the United States continues to believe that he should not be a free man. And then it says, “To that end, we are encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of al-Megrahi and to consider any new information that has come to light since his release.”
Is it fair to say that the U.S. Government would like Megrahi to be sent back to a British prison?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the United States Government would have liked that Mr. Megrahi never left --
MR. CROWLEY: -- a Scottish prison. It is unclear whether the Scottish authorities have any recourse with regard to this matter. Secretary Clinton did have the opportunity to discuss this issue today in Kabul with Foreign Secretary Hague. As I think Prime Minister Cameron indicated yesterday on his way to Washington, fully expect that this is an issue that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron will talk about today at the White House. I believe that Prime Minister Cameron will meet later on today with the four senators who have been in contact with the State Department, have, obviously, significant concerns which we share about understanding fully the circumstances surrounding the Scottish authorities’ decision.
What the Secretary said to Foreign Secretary Hague today is that we hope that British authorities and Scottish authorities will cooperate fully in trying to help everyone understand the circumstances surrounding this decision and any interaction or influences that might have been presented outside of the government.
QUESTION: The thing that interests me here, though, is – and that’s why I read it. The sentence ends, “Our unshakable conviction that al-Megrahi should not be a free man.” And then the next sentence begins, “To that end, we’re encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading up to his release.”
I mean, is – it seems as if your encouragement of the British and Scottish authorities is not merely to make sure that everybody understands the circumstances leading to the decision and what influences there may or may not have been on that decision, but rather that it is to that end, i.e., the end of his not being a free man. It seems as if you are not quite but almost saying you want him back in prison somewhere. I mean, do you want him back in prison? Not did you want – never – not want him released in the first place. Do you want him incarcerated again?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, if we had a preference, he’d be back in prison. I’m not sure how realistic a reversal of the Scottish authorities’ decision of a year ago is at this point. But certainly, questions have been raised. They’re legitimate questions about the breadth of information, who provided that information, what was the medical information that was available that caused the Scottish authorities to make what was, in retrospect, a regrettable and erroneous decision based on an assumption that Mr. Megrahi had a limited time to live.
So I think that, again, there are questions here. These are questions for British and Scottish authorities to answer. We think that the meetings today, particularly with the senators, will be an opportunity for the British Government to pledge cooperation with ongoing investigations of this. There will be a hearing before the Senate later in the month. So this is an issue that is going to be with us, I expect, for some time. We’re coming up next month on the anniversary of Mr. Megrahi’s release. So to the extent that particularly Scottish authorities can be forthcoming in helping us understand how they arrived at the humanitarian judgment that they did, I think will answer the questions that have been raised. And I don’t know that it can reverse the decision made, but it can assuage the concerns that we have about how this was handled.
QUESTION: P.J., the same question. In that, you mentioned new information, any new information. Is there any new information that might shed a different light on this or that might lead the Scottish authorities to change their original decision?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any new information. I think my understanding – and I think there was a release of some information and documentation by Scottish authorities last fall that they came to this judgment based on the medical advice of a wide range of medical professionals who examined the evidence that was available to them.
But again, these are very legitimate questions. They reflect the concern and the sense of outrage that we have and the families of the Pan Am 103 victims have about how this was handled. But these are questions for the Scottish authorities in particular to answer and I’m sure that the senators will reflect the views of many Americans that we want to make sure that we have available to us all of the details that went into this judgment a year ago.
QUESTION: And P.J., also on that subject, when this came up a while ago – a year ago almost – there was concern that it might have an effect on the relationship between the United States and the UK. That diminished and things went on. Now, it has been raised by these four senators from New York and New Jersey. Does it have new life, enough new life that it might actually pick up enough political steam to have an effect, a bad effect, on relations?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think it’s going to have an effect on our relationship. In fact, it hasn’t had an effect on our relationship. We continue to engage fully with the British Government on a range of shared interests. There was the – Prime Minister Cameron’s very effective and eloquent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that talked about that this is a relationship that is based on common interests, common values.
So it’s on that basis that we continue to have the kinds of high-level meetings we’ve had today between the President and the prime minister, between the Secretary and the foreign secretary, simply because there are such a wide range of issues on which the United States and Britain cooperate. And it is in our mutual interest to continue what is arguably the most productive bilateral relationship in the world.
QUESTION: May we stick with this for just one more?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You talked about the questions that have been raised and the influences that there may have been on the decision to release him. Are you alluding there to the questions about British Petroleum and its role in the – in lobbying the British Government regarding the prisoner transfer agreement which is not the vehicle through which he was ultimately released? Is that what you’re talking about?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, BP itself has answered some of these questions last week in its public statement saying – acknowledging that it did lobby the British Government regarding the prisoner transfer agreement, but not about Megrahi himself. We take that and understand it. But I’m sure that when the senators meet with Prime Minister Cameron later today, they’re going to raise BP’s role in this once again. My sense is that will be a significant issue talked about at this hearing coming up at the end of the month.
Now, there was a separate correspondence by these senators to Secretary Clinton also addressing the issue of precisely what was the medical information that was available to the Scottish authorities. There have been suggestions that perhaps a doctor who may have been influenced by the Libyan Government may have offered some information. It’s our understanding that the Scottish authorities made this decision based on the information and the evaluations of many medical professionals. It’s unclear that the individual in question who has ties to Libya was even a factor in the Scottish decision.
But these are the kinds of questions that we understand have been raised and we hope and trust that the British Government and Scottish authorities will be responsive to these questions.
QUESTION: Do you – two things here. One, do you think that – BP was very upfront about saying that it lobbied the British Government regarding the prisoner transfer agreement and that it was aware that slow progress on that could affect its offshore oil exploration agreement, which then required or was pending ratification by the Libyan authorities. They, however, said that they did not lobby on behalf of Mr. Megrahi.
I wonder, though, if you think there’s something a little sophistical in that argument because the prisoner transfer agreement, while it was not limited to Mr. Megrahi, it was certainly – he was certainly somebody ultimately covered by it. And within a week of the prisoner transfer agreement coming into force on April the 29th, 2009, on May 6th, the Libyan Government asked for Mr. Megrahi to be transferred to Libya to serve out his sentence under the prisoner transfer agreement.
And while I understand that these are two separate processes – the PTA on the one hand, on the compassionate grounds on which he was ultimately released because of his ill health – I wonder if you think there’s something a little sophistical here, a little disingenuous perhaps? Because clearly, Mr. Megrahi was somebody who could have been a beneficiary of the prisoner transfer agreement.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I understand it – again, British and Scottish authorities are in the best position to answer what you just asked – that in fact, the request for Mr. Megrahi to be transferred under the prisoner transfer agreement was actually rejected. And then the Scottish authorities decided to return him to Libya under a humanitarian decision, which we all regret.
So again, these are quite legitimate questions. They reflect the discomfort and concern that we have about what has transpired in light of the fact that Mr. Megrahi does live as a free man in Libya today. And to the extent that authorities can help us understand fully what led up to the decision last year, I think that will be helpful in – as we go forward. But I don’t think ultimately it’s necessarily going to change where we are today.
QUESTION: Another thing. It’s about – do you – with all these talks that’s going on, do you seriously believe that he can be brought back? The bird has flown the cage and it is not that it escaped; it was asked to. So where are we leading with all this? What does the U.S. today seriously believe?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I just said, it would be unclear, absent some sort of very specific finding that, in fact, laws and regulations were violated here somehow, that there would not be a basis to reverse this decision.
QUESTION: P.J., quickly --
MR. CROWLEY: But again, that’s part of the reason why these questions are coming up. And to the extent that British and Scottish authorities can be reassuring that this was exactly as it was described and the process was not skewed in any way, then at least we’ll understand fully how this happened. But it is an issue. It’s going to remain an issue and to the extent that the meetings today can help us understand more fully the basis upon which the Scottish authorities made this decision and other things that were swirling around surrounding it, that would be helpful.
QUESTION: Even if it was a mistake –
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Even if it was a mistake, do you expect Libya to listen to Scottish authority and hand him back?
MR. CROWLEY: As a practical matter, it is not – at this point Scottish authorities – and as we’ve said and stressed many times, Scottish authorities made this decision, they had the authority to make this decision. They would have to make a request to Libya that – on some sort of legal basis. I don’t know the Scottish authority is going to make such a request and I’m not sure that Libyan authority is going to honor such a request. That’s an academic point at this point, because we’re not aware of any such request from Scottish authorities to send – to return Mr. Megrahi to Scotland, which makes all of this more, as we’ve said, regrettable. But it’s unclear that it is reversible.
QUESTION: Given that you feel strongly about this, have you asked the Libyans to put him in jail? I mean, he’s in Libya. They could imprison him if they wanted.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, what would be the legal basis to do that? Had he been transferred under the PTA, he would be in prison today in a Libyan prison. He was transferred under a humanitarian gesture by Scottish authorities, and I’m not aware of what specific conditions Scotland placed on Mr. Megrahi. All I can say is, from our standpoint, we wish that today he was still in a Scottish prison. It was our understanding that he would serve out his sentence in a Scottish prison. And we regret very strongly that Scotland made the decision that it made, but we respect the fact that it was within the authority of Scottish authorities to do what they did.
QUESTION: Last one from me on this: The Secretary –
MR. CROWLEY: Wait. Hold on.
QUESTION: -- was asked – forgive me, just last one. I won’t ask any more about this, I hope.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) For a day anyway.
QUESTION: And you all hope, too.
MR. CROWLEY: We’re going to beat this horse for a while (inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The senators specifically asked Secretary Clinton or the State Department to investigate this matter. Her letter doesn’t actually address whether the State Department is going to launch any kind of an investigation into this. I mean I realize that the letter addresses some of the other issues, but it doesn’t say, “Yeah, and we’re going to launch an investigation.” Does the State Department have any intention of launching an investigation into the circumstances regarding Megrahi’s release?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Arshad, let us take this a step at a time. We’ve had – I think the President and the prime minister are wrapping up their meeting. As everyone has indicated, we fully expect that this was a topic of discussion among several. The prime minister will be talking to the senators later on this evening. There will be a hearing coming up at the end of the month where we’ll be able to learn some more things from hearing witnesses, including, I think, representatives from BP about what they did.
We, at this stage, are encouraging, as the Secretary said in her letter, British and Scottish authorities to cooperate fully to answer the questions that have been raised by the senators. We’ll evaluate this as we go along, but one way or another, the answers to these questions do not exist within the United States Government. They exist within the British and Scottish governments. They are the ones who have to answer these questions. And we are encouraging them, as the Secretary and Foreign Secretary Hague agreed today in Kabul, to cooperate fully in answering the questions that these four senators, on behalf of the American people, have raised.
QUESTION: Thanks. P.J., the suggestions that –
MR. CROWLEY: So we are going to beat this horse a little while longer.
QUESTION: We are.
MR. CROWLEY: Keep going.
QUESTION: But at least we all get a whack at it. The suggestion –
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, joy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The suggestion that there may have been, as you said yesterday, other parties or influences that could have skewed the decision, or raising the question as to whether there were, suggests some sort of quid pro quo is what you’re asking about: Was there something that Libya got or gave in exchange for this? And I wanted you to address that. What, concretely, is it that you’re hinting at? And then a follow-up to that –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not hinting at anything. I mean, what we – what the senators are reflecting and our frustration is that the decision by Scottish authorities almost a year ago was based on an expectation that Mr. Megrahi had a limited time to live, perhaps three months. Here we are 12 months later, and now you’ve seen some assertions publicly that perhaps he has years to live. Well, this has obviously touched a nerve here in the United States. We – it touches our nerves as well. So what was the – in retrospect, what was the – what were the key judgments that the medical professionals that the Scottish authorities consulted with that led them to believe that Mr. Megrahi was, in fact, confronting a terminal illness?
And so to some extent, fully understanding the full range of the information upon which they based this decision, I think would at least help us understand and assuage the concerns that have been raised. So was this something that was simply just a misdiagnosis or was this something else? These are the questions that the senators have raised and they deserve answers.
QUESTION: Can I have the one follow-up, and only one? I promise. This certainly raises the question of Libya’s reintegration into the civilized world. Libya was excluded from trade and diplomatic relations for – I can’t even think how long it was. I mean, it was even before Lockerbie. If you find that – do these questions, these doubts, and if there was some interference, would that affect relations with Libya, reintegration of Libya, access of U.S. companies to work in Libya?
MR. CROWLEY: There are a lot of ifs in that question.
QUESTION: Yes, I know.
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
QUESTION: Is that something you’re examining at this point?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We have some very legitimate questions and these questions could be resolved through very straightforward answers by British and Scottish authorities. We regret the decision. We think it was a mistake. We’ve made that clear. But at this point, we have no information to suggest that it was other than just simply the judgment of Scottish authorities to release Mr. Megrahi on compassionate humanitarian grounds.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Please.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the decision to – for the Secretary to go to the DMZ on this particular trip? She’s been to South Korea in the past. Why go now at this time of heightened tension with North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Remember, at the DMZ you are still confronting South Korea and North Korea across a line that is not a properly demarcated – demarked border. It is a place the place at which hostility ceased 60 years ago. So I think it is an important symbol –
QUESTION: Fifty-seven years.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much. It’s an important symbol of the current state of affairs, the tensions that do exist in the region. The Cheonan sinking is a reminder that this relationship right now is only guided by an armistice and there are definitely things that North Korea needs to do, should do, must do, to be able to reduce the tensions that do exist. We would hope to see, over a number of years, this stasis change; but, obviously, the DMZ is a reminder that the Korean War has been suspended and actually has not formally ended.
QUESTION: Is there any worry that, given the tensions of North Korea, that this high-level visit could be misinterpreted as something more provocative?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think – I mean, whether it’s misinterpreted, that’s up to North Korea. They’ve – we’ve been sending signals to North Korea for a long time and they haven’t exactly interpreted them correctly in the past.
Look, the Secretary and Secretary Gates, being in South Korea today, going to the DMZ, participating in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, their discussions about steps that have been taken and will be taken in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, these are our reflection of our very strong relationship and partnership with the people of South Korea and our determination that the United States will do what it needs to do to protect the security of South Korea and the region.
So we hope that North Korea’s paying attention. We hope that it will understand that we are fully committed to the defense of South Korea, and we hope that it will take steps as a result to reduce tensions, improve relations with its neighbors, cease these provocative actions, and work more constructively towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: The same issue. That 2+2 meeting will be held at the DMZ as well, right?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a technical question. I don’t – I’ll – I don’t know that that’s true. I think it’s a separate meeting. I think that --
QUESTION: In Seoul? Could you take that question?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I think it’s in Seoul. If I’m wrong, I will let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: P.J., are you still considering imposing further unilateral sanctions on North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are fully engaged in implementing Resolution 1874, which has given us significant authorities to address the specific concerns that we have about North Korea’s proliferation activities. We are always looking at ways to put additional pressure on North Korea to send clear signals about what North Korea must do.
I’m not suggesting that we’re contemplating a new round of sanctions, but we are continually evaluating how can we address the range of concerns that we have about North Korea, both their proliferation activities, their provocative actions like the sinking of the Cheonan, their participation in a range of criminal activity. We’re always looking at these things and how we can take specific steps to diminish and mitigate the threats and concerns that are posed by North Korea. But I’m not going to forecast that there’s any particular step that we are contemplating.
Part of what the Secretary, along with Secretary Gates and her counterparts – in fact, we will be reviewing with South Korea what our next steps should be in this process. Jim Steinberg in Tokyo will be doing the same thing. When the Secretary goes to the ASEAN Regional Forum, North Korea will again be a significant topic of discussion.
So this is part of our ongoing efforts to consult fully with our partners in the Six-Party process and others across the region, because everyone shares the same concern about the actions and provocations of North Korea.
QUESTION: So do you expect the secretaries and South Korean ministers will announce new sanctions in North Korea tomorrow?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll try it again. I would not forecast any specific action – any specific announcements on a new round of sanctions. We always have this as a tool in the toolbox, but I’m not forecasting what our next steps will be.
QUESTION: Actually, on the ASEAN conference --
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- there had been, I guess, some talk around the building that we could expect sort of a more robust condemnation of North Korea for the Cheonan sinking coming out of the ASEAN conference. But AFP was reporting today – reported to say that a draft statement of the ministers – made by the ministers says – kind of declines to place direct blame for the Cheonan on North Korea.
I mean, in wake of the fact that – or taking into account the fact that the UN also refused to directly blame North Korea for the Cheonan sinking, now ASEAN seems ready to also decline to directly blame them. Are you concerned that there’s a lack of support in the international community for a sort of strong response to the Cheonan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that we have had strong unanimity within the five countries of the Six-Party process. We continue our dialogue with these countries and others about the dangers posed by North Korea. I’m not going to forecast what the final result of the ASEAN Regional Forum will be. But I do know that North Korea will be a significant topic of discussion. Everyone’s going to have their views on what the next step should be. And clearly, we have different points of view on some of these issues. But North Korea will be a significant issue discussed because everyone involved shares the concern that – about North Koreans’ – Korea’s provocations and the potential dangers that it poses to the region as a whole.
QUESTION: On a different topic. In Cuba, there’s some indication --
QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: This visit to this DMZ area, I’m unable to understand the significance. Will she be visiting the – shown the tunnels? Will she be – what exactly -- I have been there personally. Where exactly she will be going there to? It’s a huge area with nothing basically except --
MR. CROWLEY: I think when senior leaders – it’s not unprecedented for a Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to go to the DMZ. I think there’s a pretty specific routine that they follow when they’re there.
QUESTION: Sorry, just one – I know that you addressed this a couple of days ago, but the North Koreans have now formally announced that they will be sending a representative to the ARF. Is there going to be any possibility of a meeting? I know you said they’re already – you weren’t planning one already, but no change?
MR. CROWLEY: Still not planning one.
Continued: July 20 - Part 2
 Secretary Clinton will be in Seoul July 21 with Secretary Gates as part of the 2+2 meeting.