Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 4, 2010


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Clinton, Administrator Shah spoke earlier about US flood assistance to Pakistan
    • Secretary met with Senator Kerry on START, Afghanistan, Pakistan, nominees, related topics
    • Anxious to get State nominees in place
    • US gratified significant number of Kenyans went to the polls to cast their vote on a referendum for their new constitution/US expects the results to be announced on Friday/US gratified that the voting, broadly speaking, was quite peaceful
  • ISRAEL/LEBANON
    • US reemphasizes that we regret the loss of life on both sides of yesterday's incident along the border between Lebanon and Israel/US calls on both sides to continue to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any escalation of tensions and to coordinate operations near the border with UNIFIL to avoid similar incidents in the future/US continues to work with all parties to gain a full understanding of the entire incident
    • US thinks UN judgment released today is an important element/US committed to Israel's security and Lebanese sovereignty, not mutually exclusive
  • START
    • State Department has had regular contact with committee staff and the Secretary has had a number of conversations with key senators, both Democrats and Republicans, to clarify their concerns and encourage them to move forward with START ratification
    • New START is in the national interest/Interest in making sure that our strategic deterrent remains viable
  • IRAN
    • US still evaluating based on the information that we have, haven't arrived at a judgment as to what happened with President Ahmadinejad and a reported explosion near him
  • UAE
    • US in touch with UAE, other governments to better understand their concerns and plans on blackberries/There are issues attached to freedom of information, the flow of information, the use of technology
  • CUBA
    • We will review current events in Cuba and we'll have more to say after the meeting between Cardinal Ortega and A/S Valenzuela/US raises Gross case with anyone that we think can be helpful in helping him get released
  • SYRIA
    • Regarding nomination of Ambassador Ford, we want to see him confirmed/We think there's value in having a sitting ambassador in Damascus who can report directly to the senior government about issues of concern to us
  • SPAIN
    • Regarding Spain consular information, we do review our postings on a regular basis multiple times a year
  • IRAQ
    • US in the midst of a significant transition and it will change our operations at the Embassy in Baghdad and other parts of the country in fundamental ways
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • US fully supportive of the institutions that have been set up to deal with corruption
  • CANADA/SRI LANKA
    • Not aware Sun Sea ship has contacted US Government/US aware it may well be moving towards Vancouver, Canada/US tracking this ship and we're prepared to take appropriate action if need be
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Robert Einhorn in Tokyo today, had meetings about upcoming actions that we'll announce in the next few weeks also in Seoul/Defer until we have more to say on the specific actions taken


TRANSCRIPT:

1:52 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of things to briefly mention. You heard earlier today from Secretary Clinton and USAID Administrator Raj Shah regarding U.S. assistance to Pakistan in light of the devastating floods, and the Secretary again, promoting our texting program, texting SWAT to 50555 to make a $10 contribution to support relief efforts.

But just to update you a little bit on further assistance – the six U.S. Army helicopters that we mentioned yesterday have arrived at Ghazi Airbase in Pakistan. They’ll begin flying missions tomorrow if weather permits. They’ll have Pakistani military representatives on board helping to provide relief assistance. And we have other material en route to Pakistan: four additional water treatment units; 14 Zodiac boats; 18 water storage bladders with distribution systems for drinking water; and 30 concrete cutting saws; and as of today, we have shipped 460,000 halal meals from U.S. stocks in Afghanistan to assist the Pakistanis.

And earlier today, the Secretary met with Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry. They talked about the new START agreement. They talked about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They talked about other business between the Department and the committee. We do hope to have Senate action on roughly 31 or up to 30 – 31 nominees pending for positions in the State Department. But as they talked about new START, the fact that the Senate has delayed the vote until September 15th or 16th, it’s neither a surprise nor a cause of concern, and we understand that the treaty will be the first item of business for the committee the week the Senate returns next month.

The Administration remains optimistic about the prospects for New START. Over the course of the past two and a half months, no significant opposition or credible arguments have emerged. We have said all along that we hope to have the Senate approve the treaty by the end of the year, and we believe they are on track to do that.

We commend – the Secretary commended Secretary – Senator Kerry for trying to build bipartisan support, and we certainly hope and expect that over the next six months as we continue to work with committee members and address issues of concern, that we would hope and expect at the end of this process next month, that we’ll have widespread bipartisan support for the New START Treaty.

On the nominee front, we certainly are anxious to get our nominees into positions here at the State Department into key ambassadorships. The Secretary expressed concern to Senator Kerry regarding ongoing holds of key personnel – people like Robert Ford, our nominee to be the Ambassador to Syria, and also Raul Yzaguirre to be the ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He is a professor – a distinguished professor at Arizona State University. He headed the National Council of La Raza for a number of years, and ironically, even though he has close links to Arizona, he’s being held by his own senator for issues that have nothing to do with his qualifications to be the ambassador to the Dominican Republic. So we certainly would hope to see the Senate confirm Mr. Yzaguirre, Mr. Ford, and others, as quickly as possible.

Turning to Kenya --

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Hold on one second. There are some others (inaudible) who say – I’m sure Matt Bryza really appreciates being (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: You’re right. I should say that we –

QUESTION: I mean, if you’re going to mention two, including –

MR. CROWLEY: I did mention two that perhaps are subject to holds and may well be subject to holds after tomorrow. We’ll see what happens with the Senate this week. We do expect to get a number of confirmations through the Senate tomorrow. We hope, including Jim Jeffrey, to be the ambassador in Baghdad, and Matt Bryza as well. I certainly was not saying that – we have a number of deserving candidates who hope to get on the job as quickly as possible.

But turning to Kenya, obviously, we are gratified today that a very significant number of Kenyans went to the polls to cast their vote on a referendum for the – a new constitution. We expect the results to be announced on Friday. We’re also gratified that the voting today, broadly speaking, was quite peaceful. And this is an important step towards strengthening democratic institutions in Kenya. The United States feel that 35 observer teams and, as part of an overall 67-member observer mission, there were 10,000 domestic observers and 500 individuals involved in a parallel vote tabulation.

And finally before taking your questions, as we said yesterday, we reemphasize that we regret the loss of life on both sides of yesterday’s incident along the border between Lebanon and Israel. The United Nations has now established that the trees cut by the Israeli Defense Forces were on the Israeli side of the line that separates Israel and Lebanon. The firing by Lebanese Armed Forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted. And we call on both sides to continue to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any escalation of tensions and to coordinate their operations near the border with UNIFIL to avoid similar incidents in the future. We will continue to work with all parties to gain a full understanding of the entire incident. We’re waiting to hear, obviously, details that emerge from today’s meeting with the countries and UNIFIL representatives there along the border.

QUESTION: P.J., yesterday, I mean, what you just said – the United States – the United Nations established was exactly what the Israelis were saying yesterday. I’m wondering why yesterday your comments were so timid about this, particularly when it’s the army of – an army of a country – a country’s army that you actively support that was involved in this.

MR. CROWLEY: I think our comments yesterday reflected the fact that we took our time, talked to all parties, and have gained a perspective that allows us – and I believe, in various conversations, Lebanese representatives themselves acknowledged that they fired first. But we think that the judgment released today by the UN that the tree cutting activity was done on the Lebanese side of the line is an important element. It’s been a matter of --

QUESTION: Israeli side.

MR. CROWLEY: -- public debate.

QUESTION: Israeli side.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, the Israeli side of the line. It’s been a matter of public debate over the last 24 hours. We will continue to seek a full report about this incident. But as with others, we’re also trying to make sure that we can strengthen whatever processes are necessary so that this kind of incident does not happen again.

QUESTION: There’s been – there’s been quite a lot of discussion in the region and among some circles here that the weapon that was used by the Lebanese sniper was, in fact, part – was an American rifle provided to the Lebanese armed forces as part of U.S. military assistance to them. What – do you have anything to say about that?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t confirm that report.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any concerns about what U.S. weapons or materiel that are sent to the Lebanese army end up being used against an allied country?

MR. CROWLEY: I will be happy to – I’ll be happy to go back and see what we can say about U.S. materiel being provided to the Lebanese Armed Forces. We have provided support to Lebanon to strengthen the ability of the Lebanese Government to exercise its own sovereignty. This is in our interest. We certainly do not want to see the kind of exchanges of fire that occurred yesterday. Our efforts, right now, are focused on how we can try to prevent this from happening again.

QUESTION: Has the situation that seems to have clarified in your comments today, done anything to clarify the travel plans of Senator Mitchell?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that his travel plans are set. He’s still here in the States. I don’t know that this particular episode has in any way affected his travel plans.

QUESTION: Now you’re certain that it is the Lebanese army’s fault in this incident? They’re the one that took action.

MR. CROWLEY: I think we can say that they were the ones who fired first, and that was an important escalation that, unfortunately, left people dead on both sides.

QUESTION: Okay. Was there any confusion do you think, or did they provide any explanation and maybe confusing the border points or anything like that (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, that – we have not received any readout yet of additional information that has come to light from the meeting that has occurred today between Israeli and Lebanese officials supervised by UNIFIL. That meeting actually may still be going on.

QUESTION: Did the Administration send a strong letter to the Lebanese army to refrain from any further activity, and to the Israelis counseling them or cautioning them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been in touch with both governments. We are urging caution, and in fact, we’ve seen some statements in the region. I think everyone recognizes that there’s a danger of having this escalate further. That’s the last thing that we want to see.

QUESTION: P.J., does this incident in any way will prompt a review of the U.S. assistance to the Lebanese army?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we support the Government of Lebanon. We support efforts by Lebanon to increase its ability to exercise its sovereignty over its entire country. We are very mindful of the fact that there are elements within Lebanese society that can challenge what is necessary for any effective state, which is a monopoly on the significant use of force.

So the fact that this is an incident – we’re trying to understand what happened fully. We want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think this fundamentally changes the support that we’re providing to the Government of Lebanon.

QUESTION: But you said that the military assistance provided to the Lebanese army is to help the country protect its sovereignty or exercise its sovereignty. And when you opened up, you said that the firing by the Lebanese Armed Forces was unjustified and wholly unwarranted. Do you regard this incident as an exercise in protecting Lebanese sovereignty?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we support the judgment by the United Nations on this particular incident. This is a – there’s obviously tension along that border. This is not the first time we’ve had incidents of this nature. We want to see that they don’t happen again. But we do have interests on both sides of the border. We are committed to Israel’s security, but we’re also committed to Lebanese sovereignty. These interests are not mutual exclusive. They’re not in contradiction.

That said, we leave that – the firing by Lebanese Armed Forces, yesterday along this border, was unjustified, unwarranted. We don’t want to see it happen again. We appreciate the work of the United Nations both to hold this meeting today, to create the ceasefire yesterday. We’re going to be working intensively to see that tensions along this border are eased. But unfortunately, from time to time, you have these flashpoints. But it doesn’t change our long-term strategic interest in the region.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, this is not – you don’t see this as an exercise in protection of Lebanese sovereignty?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to see this viewed – I mean, this was an isolated incident. We don’t want to see this --

QUESTION: But you don’t regard this specific incident as Lebanon protecting its – or exercising sovereignty – its own sovereignty?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we’re – we believe that the fact that the firing started on the Lebanese side of the border tragically led to the situation where you had individuals killed on both sides of the line. As to what actions were taken and what actions were misinterpreted on one side, we’ll have the opportunity to learn more facts and gain a full understanding of this. We want to see – we don’t want to see a repeat of this. We don’t want to see these kinds of incidents increase tensions in the region.

QUESTION: Can I –

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge –

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- is this the first time the Lebanese army commenced fire on the Israeli army on their side of the border? Could you --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not a historian along the Lebanese-Israeli border. I doubt this is the first episode of this –

QUESTION: The first episode that the Lebanese takes action against the Israelis on their side of the border.

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s not take this too far. You had individuals on both sides. You had an exchange of fire. But to kind of blow this up into something larger, I don’t think that’s our intent here. This was a tragic episode, it was an unfortunate incident. We regret the loss of life on both sides. The real issue is how do we reevaluate the processes that exist along the border, the alerts that go through the United Nations when there are actions that need to be taken on one side of the border or the other. We want to see tensions eased along the border between Israel and Lebanon. As we pursue peace in the region, we actually want to see progress on the Israeli-Lebanese track just as we want to see progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track and the Israeli-Syrian track. We want to see tensions ease. We want to see normalization of relations. This was a tragic episode. Let’s learn from this and find ways to avoid these kinds of flashpoints in the future.

QUESTION: P.J., did the Secretary speak to Defense Minister Barak about this yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: The Israelis maintain that they gave you kind of specific evidence to assert their claims that they were fired upon, that this wasn’t kind of miscommunication or anything like that, that they were deliberately fired upon and were – I think, were kind of disappointed in the reaction that you really don’t know what happened as if you weren’t kind of taking their word for it. Is – do you have reason to doubt their claims?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I just indicated that based on our contacts with multiple sources, we had multiple conversations yesterday with Israeli officials. We’ve talked to Lebanese officials. We’ve talked to the United Nations. As we’ve gained a better understanding of what happened, we’ve indicated here that it is the case that there was firing on the Lebanese side of the border,
so –

QUESTION: No, I understand that it was probably from the Lebanese side of the border, but they’re maintaining that this was not a kind of heat of the moment act that resulted because of people being on the border at a specific time, that their claims are that this was a deliberate
firing –

MR. CROWLEY: And again –

QUESTION: And that they had reporters there at the time and –

MR. CROWLEY: We have reported to you our understanding of what happened at this point. This is a process that is ongoing. There was an important meeting today supervised by UNIFIL. We’ll gain more understanding and information based on that meeting. This process will continue until we have what we consider to be a full report and a full understanding of what happened.

QUESTION: Since you blame the Lebanese Armed Forces, what follow-up corrective action do you expect from them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first and foremost, we want to make sure that these kinds of firings that leave soldiers dead on both sides, we want to prevent the reoccurrence. We’ll go back over along with the UN the processes of alerting each side when action is taken. I think this started with the cutting of a tree or tree limbs on one side of the border. Obviously, that kind of routine action should not be followed by an exchange of fire between Lebanese forces and Israeli forces. We want to do everything we can to ease tensions in the region, not see a repeat of incidents that can only inflame tensions in the region.

QUESTION: Are the lines of demarcation along that border clearly defined? Do you know from the line?

MR. CROWLEY: I can only cite information reported today that the precise border is a matter of some dispute between the two countries. I’m not here to get involved in the middle of that.

QUESTION: One last quick follow-up. Are you concerned that the Israeli army might take this as a pretext to strike across the Lebanese border?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly, as we have made clear yesterday and today and will continue to make clear, we do not think that this incident should escalate any further.

QUESTION: Do you take a – do you have any position on the actual tree trimming –

MR. CROWLEY: Again –

QUESTION: -- in terms of whether – no, no, this is a serious question. I’m not suggesting
that –

MR. CROWLEY: No, it is a serious question.

QUESTION: -- tree surgeons be brought in to be part of the UNIFIL team. But I am wondering if you think that that in itself is a provocative – if that is provocative.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the idea that you would have tree trimmings so you have clear sightlines across the border so that you would hope that these clear sightlines would prevent misunderstandings or unfortunate actions on side or the other. So – but the issue that I’m sure was covered today was whether there was proper notification that there was going to be this kind of activity on one side of the border. And if there was that kind of notification, how was it received on the other side? And precisely, what led to the circumstances where the Lebanese Armed Forces fired on the Israelis?

QUESTION: But your position would be then if there was proper notification, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’re against tree trimming along the border if it improves –
it increases security along the border.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CROWLEY: Please.

QUESTION: Can I get back to START?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Is the Administration or anyone in the Administration negotiating this with Senator Kyl or any other Republicans right now?

MR. CROWLEY: We have regular contact with committee staff and the Secretary has had a number of conversations with key senators, both Democrats and Republicans, to clarify their concerns and encourage them to move forward with START ratification. And we are going to pledge in the ensuing six weeks, before mid-September, that to the extent that members of the Foreign Relations Committee continue to have questions and concerns, we’ll be happy to provide information, answer those questions, address those concerns, so that we can gain the same kind of bipartisan support for the START Treaty that we’ve seen in the past.

QUESTION: And can I just follow-up on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there an outline of a deal that there will be nuclear modernization in exchange for Republican support for the START Treaty? Is that your understanding of what this is, basically?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s separate the two.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, first, new START is in the national interest just as previous – its predecessor treaty and other arms control treaties have been in our national interest and have been broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans for decades. Secondly, there is an interest in making sure that our strategic deterrent remains viable. Modernization of the labs is a critical component of that, so that we can continue to have confidence in our strategic deterrent. To the extent that the Senate wants to support a modernization program, the Administration supports that.

There are a set of concerns that we think have been satisfactorily addressed. People have questioned whether the START – new START Treaty constrains missile defense in any way, and the Administration has made clear that there are no constraints on our present posture with respect to missile defense or any future steps that we would take. But we’ve used the large number of hearings that have been held since the treaty went up a couple of months ago to allay these concerns, but to the extent that there are still questions, we’re happy to address those questions, and we believe at the end of this the treaty can and should enjoy broad bipartisan support.

QUESTION: One more on START and then I’ll stop.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have a position on something that some Republicans have said that they would like what’s called the record of the negotiation, which is all the other ancillary notes of the conversations and so forth in making that public?

MR. CROWLEY: This has been a subject of many conversations between the Department and senators. We think we provided the appropriate record of these negotiations and have satisfied those requests.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what happened with President Ahmadinejad today? Is there any intelligence on whether it was an assassination attempt?

MR. CROWLEY: We can’t say at this point. We’re still evaluating based on the information that we have. We haven’t arrived at a judgment as to what happened.

QUESTION: Where is the information that you have? Can you even share? I mean, are you going off of media reports or --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have – we’re trying to understand what happened, and we understand that there have been various reports, media reports, comments by the Government of Iran. We just haven’t reached a judgment as to what happened.

QUESTION: Well, do you expect to?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll do our best to try to understand it.

QUESTION: Your new consulate out there is being opened soon? You have – I mean, you don’t have any way to know.

MR. CROWLEY: No. We will use the sources that are available to us to best understand what happened. And that will include intelligence sources as well as open sources.

QUESTION: Well, and don’t you condemn the attempted assassination of any sitting world leader?

MR. CROWLEY: Well – I mean, we’re conscious of the fact that I think the Government of Iran has said – suggested that there was no attempted attack on the president. So we’re just trying to figure it out.

QUESTION: P.J., since earlier this week when you came out and said that you were disappointed about the UAE’s decision on Blackberry, a bunch of other countries seem to have joined on the anti-Blackberry bandwagon. And I’m wondering if you’re prepared to say you’re disappointed in the way that those countries, particularly Indonesia and India, Saudi Arabia, seem to be going about this. They are all countries that have extremely large Muslim populations – Saudi Arabia, of course, and Indonesia being the largest and then India with more Muslims than any other country living in it. Do you have any specific concerns about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are in touch with the UAE and other governments to better understand what their concerns and their plans are.

QUESTION: Well, just – the UAE said that they are following – they’re looking for the same type of regulatory compliance that you’re looking for. So, I mean, what is different from what the UAE is claiming that they need from what you need and the United States for you own regulatory compliance? How do the two different?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m just saying that we are in touch with the UAE and other governments on these issues.

QUESTION: Okay, but I’m asking you.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: How does it differ?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve given you what I’m going to say today.

QUESTION: Well, are – wait a minute. Are there any concerns as this starts to – this spreads? It seems to be steamrolling; more countries seem to be getting the idea now that they should do this. Do you have any specific concerns about how this could affect the work of government officials, diplomats, in these countries?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in touch with these governments and if we have more to say on the matter I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: So – but you’re not disappointed in the steps that other countries are taking?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just going to stop where I’ve –

QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re climbing down from what you said on --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just going to say that given these issues that have popped up in a number of countries, we are in touch with them, we’re going to understand what their concerns, we (inaudible) what their plans are, and then we’ll have more to say at --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you still –

QUESTION: Cuba.

QUESTION: Do you still think that this is a freedom of information and freedom of access to information issue? Or now are you modifying the stance that you took earlier?

MR. CROWLEY: There are issues attached to freedom of information, the flow of information, the use of technology. And as I said, we are in touch with these governments. We’re going to try to understand what their concerns are, the nature of the ongoing negotiations that they have with this particular company, and then we’ll – you’ve touched on that there are number of countries that are in the midst of these negotiations and we’ll see what the implications are.

QUESTION: Well, I’m trying to understand, though. Are you now saying that the freedom of information or access of free information and the free flow of information is not an absolute? That there can be – that you would – that you’re prepared to accept limits placed on it?

MR. CROWLEY: As we said earlier this week, there are legitimate security concerns attached to certain technologies and the flow of information around the world. We understand those concerns. We want to best understand what’s behind those concerns. At the same time, we do support the flow of information, the available technology which does empower people. And as I said, we are in touch, given that this issue has come up in a variety of countries, we are reaching out to those countries – have a discussion to understand the nature of their concerns and see if we can find solutions.

QUESTION: A few diplomats in Saudi Arabia, for instance, are dependent on Blackberry access to get their instant e-mails and whatever. Would you protest the fact that they would be cut off right away?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, individual countries have made specific announcements about the availability and utility of these devices in particular countries. We’re aware of these issues. We’re in conversations with these countries about these issues. And we’re going to see how best to resolve these cases in a way that addresses security requirements and supports the flow of information and use of technology that we think is positive around the world.

QUESTION: But P.J., I mean, what is it specifically about the Blackberry that’s so critical for the free flow of information. I mean, there are countries that censor the internet and don’t even give their citizens access to the internet. And you’ve been far – I mean, while this Administration has made efforts to improve internet access and freedoms for the flow of information, I mean, you haven’t been nearly as tough on countries that are providing a lot less access. And I would think that the UAE is considered a pretty open country in terms of media and access to information; wouldn’t you say?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How about this. If we asked you about internet freedom, would you respond the same way?

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: If the questions weren’t about Blackberry, would you be making the same thing – the same kind of statement?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve said what I’ve said. We are focused on this issue and we are in touch with these countries and we’ll have more to say once we fully understand their concerns and have reviewed potential solutions.

QUESTION: But could you tell us about why – help us understand why you consider the Blackberry so –

QUESTION: Because we’re asking about Blackberrys.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, all right – it is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) likes talking about Blackberries.

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s go back to the Secretary’s internet freedom speech –

QUESTION: I don’t remember it being about Blackberrys, though.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is about not only the free flow of information, but it’s the availability of technology. I mean, the cell phone in its various iterations has, in fact, opened up a new world of information to people around the world. It is empowering them to do many unique and different things. We are broadly supportive of trends to bring technology to bear to help people who have not had access to information before. Knowledge is power. And to the extent that you can bring knowledge through portable devices to more people around the world, this has the ability to transform societies.

So yes, speaking globally, it’s not about any one device. It’s not about any one network. It is about how you are using technology to open up new doors and opportunities. It’s underneath what the President and the Secretary and others have said during the course of this week’s young leaders forum with African leaders and at the heart of the AGOA conference that is – the ministers are on their way to Kansas City to see how we can create more opportunities and information. And devices like a cell phone can be empowering in terms of providing market information, details on crops – disease-resistant crops, and how people in small communities in the middle of Africa can benefit from the information that’s now widely available around the world. So it is not about any one device. It’s not about any one network. And we’re trying to see how we can make these technologies more broadly available and they can be utilized in a variety of different ways to help build institutions, accountability, and other trends in key countries.

QUESTION: But there are plenty of other mobile devices in the UAE and these other countries that allow citizens to do that.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Like this one. (Cell phone rings.) (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Timing is perfect. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Cuba, can you tell us about the meetings of Cardinal Ortega with State Department officials today? We know about the meeting with Mr. Valenzuela, but –

MR. CROWLEY: The cardinal is here in Washington, will be meeting late this afternoon with Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela. It’s a courtesy call. I think the cardinal also has meetings at the White House as well. We will review current events in Cuba and we’ll have more to say after the meeting.

QUESTION: Are we going to get something about this meeting today? Tomorrow?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, we’ll follow up tomorrow. Probably tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about the political prisoners – if the released prisoners could be – come to the United States? Would that be on one of the topics?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s have the meeting and then we’ll tell you what they discussed.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in contact often with Cardinal Ortega?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: The (inaudible) Havana, how often is – how much is it in touch with Cardinal Ortega?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. This is, I think, the second time that –

QUESTION: He comes here.

MR. CROWLEY: -- Assistant Secretary Valenzuela has met with Cardinal Ortega.

QUESTION: On a related thing, do you expect the issue of Mr. Gross to come up and is there any news on Gross?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no news now on Alan Gross, but we raise his case with anyone that we – anyone that we think can be helpful in helping get him released. And that would include the cardinal.

QUESTION: That would include him.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the ambassador? The topic that you (inaudible) on the ambassador. On Ambassador Robert Ford. Is the hold-up against him personally or is it not to send an ambassador to Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s a better that’s a better question to address to the Senate.

QUESTION: What is the feeling of the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to see him confirmed. We think there’s a value in having a sitting ambassador in Damascus who can report directly to the senior government about issues of concern to us.

QUESTION: And what are you doing to convince the Senate that they should –

MR. CROWLEY: We have conversations about Mr. Ford and other nominees, including Matt Bryza, on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Can you talk about – the State Department website on Spain had a security warning that was – warning against some African Americans traveling in Spain. It was apparently taken down. Can you tell us, I guess number one, when was it removed from the website and why?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do review our postings on a regular basis multiple times a year. Given the – we had the opportunity I think earlier this week reviewing information that was dated information from an incident that occurred about 18 months ago. And upon review, we thought it was no longer current and we removed it.

QUESTION: When did you remove it?

MR. CROWLEY: I want to say sometime early this week.

QUESTION: And then the information was actually dated March of this year. So it wasn’t –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we review these things one, two, or more times a year. So – but the specific information that you’re asking about had been posted originally about 18 months ago. And we just felt, based on our periodic review, that it was no longer current.

QUESTION: Was there any additional review because of the first lady’s –

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, it was probably – it was the press attention around her trip that caused us to look at it once again and that made us think about that issue and as we reviewed it, we thought it was no longer current information and reviewed it. So I can’t say it was directly related, because we do review these things regularly, but it was the press activity around her impending visit that caused us to go back and review this document.

I’ll get you. No, go ahead.

QUESTION: This week, the President said that our mission in Iraq came from one that is run by the military, ones that are run by our diplomat. How is the role of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad changing in that respect?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a great question. We are in the midst of a significant transition and it will change our operations at the Embassy in Baghdad and other parts of the country in fundamental ways. Clearly, as we’ve reduced troops – and they will be below the 50,000 level here shortly – it means that we will have to assume security for our operations around the country. We benefited from having our troops disbursed around the country to help provide security along with Iraqi security forces. So we will have to assume a greater responsibility for our own security and that will mean we’ll be increasing our use of security personnel to help defend our diplomats. We’ll be taking over responsibility for key programs that have been overseen by the military up until now. Police training would be a good example of a program that’s been supervised by the military in the past. And they’ll be supervised by the State Department in the future. Those are a couple of examples. We’ll have more to say about this as we get closer to the September 1st turnover. And obviously our relationship with the military – the military’s mission will fundamentally change and obviously our relationship with the military will change as well.

QUESTION: Isn’t there an event tomorrow that might be helpful for this gentleman to attend --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. There will be a --

QUESTION: -- two very senior officials?

MR. CROWLEY: -- remarkable event at CSIS featuring Deputy Secretary Steinberg, Deputy Secretary Lew, and moderated by former Deputy Secretary Armitage to talk about Iraq.

QUESTION: And --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a nice (inaudible).

QUESTION: And the transition --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, and the transition.

QUESTION: -- to the --

MR. CROWLEY: Nice (inaudible). Matt, you should be up here.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: But effectively, you’re saying you’re going to have to hire more security contractors, private contractors?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, this is a perfect example of where contractors actually can have benefits. Our security posture in Iraq and Afghanistan is fundamentally different because they are war zones, than our security posture in other countries. In most countries, we use resident security personnel. They live at home. They come to our embassy. They guard our embassy and at night they go back home again. Because the security circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan, we use security contractors and they, for the most part, employ third-party nationals. And we’ll have other requirements that are more temporary in nature, so there’s no reason for us to build up an in-house army, if you will. This allows us to use security personnel for a relatively fixed period of time. And then over time, we expect, as the security situation improves in a place like Iraq that – and more of the security responsibility is assumed by the Iraqi Government itself – that the need for security will diminish and then we will reduce our reliance on security contractors.

But since we have a temporary situation – this is one of those cases where actually the use of security contractors for a limited period of time for a specific purpose that doesn’t have application globally, it’s where contractors actually make sense.

QUESTION: And P.J., just a quick follow-up. On the PRTs, the Project Reconstruction Teams, this was a DOD-DOS --

QUESTION: Provincial.

QUESTION: -- joint effort in the past. So are we likely to --

MR. CROWLEY: You’re going to see – there will still be PRTs. I believe there’ll be fewer of them. We’ll also be looking to see how we are going to situate operations and consulates around the country. So we’re still evaluating lots of these things. But the net effect here is that our relationship with Iraq and our presence in Iraq will begin to more closely resemble the kind of relationship that we have with a number of countries around the world.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any comment on this later flare-up over corruption with President Karzai?

MR. CROWLEY: Be more specific.

QUESTION: The arrest last week of one of his top advisors and his demand that he be released. Does this – any concern that he is not really following through on his pledges made, first, in London and then at the Kabul conference?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I would say the exact opposite: This is a demonstration of the commitment of the Afghan Government to root out corruption wherever it exists. The arrest of the National Security Council deputy was an Afghan-led investigation and resulted from effective work by the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigations Unit. The individual has been released, pending the adjudication of his case. His case is ongoing. We’re watching it very closely. But it is an Afghan-led process, and for details of the particular case, I would defer to the Afghan Government.

But these – the Major Crimes Task Force, the Sensitive Investigations Unit, were specifically set up by the Afghan Government with tutelage from U.S. Government agencies to do exactly what Afghanistan needs to do and is fulfilling the pledge made in his inauguration by President Karzai, and most recently, his reaffirmation of that pledge during the Kabul conference.

QUESTION: Yeah, but Karzai demanded that this guy be released and now has ordered an investigation into the unit that arrested him in the first place.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. But this case is still ongoing and we are watching carefully --

QUESTION: You don’t see that as problematic?

MR. CROWLEY: At this point, no.

QUESTION: July was the deadliest month for the U.S. troops. Any moves on the diplomatic fronts to address that – because the Department of Defense is --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would go back to the Kabul conference – there’s a lot of activity on the diplomatic front, both in terms of reviewing and continuing to expand and make as effective as possible our civilian presence, to work with Afghan ministries, to work to grow the Afghan economy, to coordinate international systems more effectively. So there’s a lot going on on the diplomatic front.

But we understand the nature of the conflict that we’re in. We’re – we’ve got more military forces in Afghanistan. The increases announced by the President last December – we’re nearing completion of that increase in force. We’re moving out into areas of Afghanistan where the government has not had a significant presence in the past. And we fully expected that during the course of doing this and expanding the sovereignty of the national government, improving the effectiveness and presence of local governments that there will be response from insurgents.

QUESTION: Just to go back on that question about the corruption: Who exactly is taking care of this – like, Karzai – the charges are against Karzai and his government. How can his government take care of the charges?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, to be more specific, in this particular case, the charges are against an individual who works within the Afghan Government and we are fully supportive of the institutions that have been set up to deal with corruption within the Government. We are providing significant support through agencies such as the FBI and the DIA – DEA and others to try to build up the capacity of these entities. This is an Afghan-led process. We are supportive of it. And obviously, what you’re seeing here is decisive action taken as a result of an Afghan-led investigation.

QUESTION: P.J., can you say why the U.S. Government has taken an interest in this ship that’s carrying Tamil refugees across the Pacific, apparently headed for Canada? Why are you guys monitoring it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, as a practical matter, we monitor, through the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, all ships that are moving in waters and moving towards the United States. We don’t know about this particular ship, what its final destination is. As I think DHS has said in the past 24 hours, it will take appropriate action depending on the course of that ship. But --

QUESTION: It’s not your understanding that it’s headed toward Canada?

MR. CROWLEY: That – we’ve seen the reports that it’s headed toward Canada.

QUESTION: So --

MR. CROWLEY: But we are – we monitor shipping that comes into this hemisphere on an ongoing basis.

QUESTION: So you have no special concern about this particular --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have – there is information that there may be some individuals on board that ship. And the relevant agencies that we triggered – if that’s the case – belong in DHS.

QUESTION: All right. So what – I presume that there may be some individuals on board the ship? I assume, aside from the crew, yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way. We’re not aware that the Sun Sea, which is the name of the ship, has contacted the U.S. Government. We’re aware that it may well be moving towards Vancouver, Canada.

QUESTION: There may be some individuals aboard what? What kind of individuals – other than the crew presumably, because it’s not a ghost ship out there with no one on it, right? I mean –

QUESTION: A pirate – is it?

MR. CROWLEY: What?

QUESTION: The pirates are moving. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we are tracking this ship and we’re prepared to take appropriate action if need be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: P.J., do you think new upcoming sanctions will target part of the slush funds of North Korean leader team Kim Jong-il held in foreign banks?

MR. CROWLEY: The upcoming sanctions will target --

QUESTION: The slush funds of North Korean leader team Kim Jong-il held in foreign --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Robert Einhorn talked about this subject today in Tokyo. He had meetings about upcoming actions that we’ll announce in the next few weeks also in Seoul. I’ll just defer until we have more to say on the specific actions taken.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on. We have two more.

QUESTION: What does the U.S. know about Iran’s claims on having four S-300 surface-to-air missiles?
MR. CROWLEY: Difficult for me to answer that question without getting into intelligence matters. I mean, we – I’ve seen a press report on that –

QUESTION: I mean, how troubling would that – would the U.S. find that news if true after the efforts that have been made to get international partners not to supply to them?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me see what I can find out about that.

QUESTION: This is a bit different from foreign policy question, but today is President’s 49th birthday and his family is away and his approval rate has dropped. So I just want to get your comment on that.

MR. CROWLEY: Today is?

QUESTION: President’s 49th birthday. And I’m sorry this is different from foreign policy question, but I just want to get your comment.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, whose birthday?

QUESTION: Obama’s.

QUESTION: The President’s.

MR. CROWLEY: Today’s the President’s birthday?

QUESTION: Your boss’s birthday.

MR. CROWLEY: Happy Birthday. (Laughter.)

(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)

DPB # 129

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 4, 2010]