Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 18, 2010


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Special Envoy Scott Gration Travel
    • Bus Crash in the Philippines / U.S. Extends Condolences
    • Death of Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga / Condolences to the People of Italy
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • U.S. in Close Contact with Both Parties on Talks / George Mitchell / Parties Recognize the Value of Direct Negotiations / Progress is Ongoing / Have Maintained Contact with the Quartet / Working Through Details to get Parties into Direct Negotiations / Issue Dealing with Statement
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Decree / In Touch with Afghan Government / Raising Questions with Afghan Government / Embassy Security Guards
    • Senator Kerry in Afghanistan / Ambassador Holbrooke
    • U.S. Welcomes International Commitment
  • PAKISTAN
    • Floods/Adapt our Approach to Pakistan
  • COLOMBIA
    • Defense Cooperation Agreement with Colombia / Court Ruling / Will Consult Closely with the Santos Government
  • CHINA
    • Pentagon Report / U.S Continues to have an Interest in Dialogue on Military Issues
  • NORTH KOREA
    • U.S. Team in Pyongyang Last Week / Mr. Gomes / Will Press North Korea to Release Mr. Gomes on Humanitarian Grounds
  • MISCELLANEOUS
    • Travel of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
    • WikiLeaks / Classified Documents
  • BURMA
    • Policy Review on Burma / Meetings with Burmese Officials


TRANSCRIPT:

1:52 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Just a couple of quick items before moving on to other subjects.

Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Khartoum. He is on a trip to push the National Congress Party in the north and Sudan’s People Liberation Movement, the SPLM, in the south to live up to all of the criteria under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and continue to move forward in preparation for the referendum next January. But he has also visited the Kalma Camp in South Darfur and received assurances from the Sudanese Government that full and equal access by aid organizations has been restored to the Kalma Camp and the surrounding areas. And we will continue to monitor that situation closely to ensure that the Sudanese fulfill their commitments.

We are conscious of the tragic bus crash in the Philippines and extend our condolences to the family and friends of the victims. We are aware of four U.S. citizens that were killed in this bus crash and we have reached out to their families, those who live in the Philippines, to offer our services. Local officials are continuing to identify victims at the crash site in the Philippines.

And we extend our condolences to the people of Italy on the death of former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, a brave and committed statesman and lifelong friend of the United States.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you update us on what’s going on with the Israeli-Palestinian – moves toward Israeli-Palestinian direct talks? What’s been going on, if anything?

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to be in close contact with both parties. I would say we’re working the phones and continuing to answer their questions, overcome the lack of trust that has built up over the years regarding this process, and get them to yes. It is an ongoing process. We think we’re close. Can’t say whether today, we’re closer than we were yesterday; we believe we’re close and we’re working aggressively to move them into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Can you say who was talking to who?

MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell and his team, also his counterparts on the NSC staff. I mean, this isn’t full-court press. We are doing the things you’d expect at this point, and trying to work the details, not only of the remaining details that get the parties to yes, but also the details of if and when they say yes, how will this process unfold.

QUESTION: Well, that’s at least the third – second or third time that you’ve used the expression over the past couple weeks “full-court press” and I’m just – when – is it time to shift defensives– maybe go on --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. We’re going to shift from a zone to a man-to-man. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, where has it gotten you? Where has your full-court press gotten you?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we – as I’ve said, I mean, I can’t really do a play-by-play. For a Bostonian, it would be Johnny Most. But we are working with them, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to get them into direct negotiations. This is not easy and we believe that they recognize the value of entering into direct negotiations. As we’ve said to them many, many times, there’s no way to resolve the conflict without getting into direct negotiations. We believe that leverage is obtained inside these negotiations, not outside these negotiations, and this is a process that we’ll continue working hard until we reach direct negotiations. How long that’s going to take, I can’t tell you.

QUESTION: You expect the Secretary to raise this issue when she’s in New York tomorrow at all?

MR. CROWLEY: She will be with the Secretary General. I think our focus tomorrow is Pakistan. I can’t rule out that there could be a side conversation.

QUESTION: Are you predicting --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not projecting one; I’m just saying that --

QUESTION: What about a statement from the Quartet? Do you want to explain – say anything specifically about that?

MR. CROWLEY: We have maintained contact with the Quartet. As we’ve said, if a Quartet statement can be helpful, one will be issued. We’re prepared to do that, but they’re still working the details of what it would say and what it would mean.

QUESTION: What – wait a minute. Now it’s “if it can be helpful?”

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, from a Quartet standpoint, we’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the parties into direct negotiation. I think there’s been some public statements by the parties that this might be appropriate, might be helpful, and we’re prepared to do that. But obviously, there are details surrounding the Quartet statement, what it would mean, and this is an area that we continue to work with the parties and with the Quartet members.

QUESTION: So last week – I mean, through last week, we were given to understand that this statement was sort of expected imminently. It sounds as though there’s been a new roadblock, that they --

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say – no, Andy, I wouldn’t say there’s a new roadblock at all. As we said, we are working through the details of what is necessary to get the parties into direct negotiations. That is a process that is ongoing. The Quartet is poised not only to help if a statement can be helpful, but also prepared to help with the launch of the direct negotiations themselves. We fully expect that we’re going to get there. We just, at this moment, are still working directly and trying to move the parties to that point where they’re prepared to enter into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: But you’re telling us not to expect a statement that would accompany the start of talks.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m telling you that there could very well be a statement. When that statement occurs, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. We’re not at the point yet where a statement has been agreed to.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Changes and one final – do you still agree on the statement that the Quartet issued in March 19th in Moscow?

MR. CROWLEY: Do --

QUESTION: On March 19th, the Quartet has issued a statement.

MR. CROWLEY: The Quartet issued a statement in Moscow.

QUESTION: And do you still agree on this – on the statement, or how do you view the statement if --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, have we retracted the statement? No.

QUESTION: But Israel has refused to – has refused this statement, and the Palestinians asked the Quartet to reissue the statement as guarantees for the negotiations.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into the – I would tell you that we are working through details of what a prospective statement would say and what a prospective statement would mean. I’m not going to negotiate such a statement here. We issued a statement in March. We stand by that statement. As to the content of a follow-on Quartet statement, that is an area where we are actively working as we speak.

QUESTION: You said that you’re not at the point yet where a statement has been agreed on. Is that – you mean the need for a statement? I thought – the suggestion has been that both the Israelis – or you said – you suggested that both parties had said that a statement, a Quartet statement, could be helpful. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: The Quartet is prepared to issue a statement that can help move the parties towards direct negotiations. That is true. There has been discussions – there have been discussions with the parties as to the content of the Quartet statement and what that would suggest in terms of the conduct of the negotiations. That is an area that we are still working with the parties.

QUESTION: Right, fair enough. But the – what appears to be happening is that there appears to be divisions in – among the Quartet, not --

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: There are no divisions in the Quartet about this?

QUESTION: Afghanistan? On the private security firms, what are you working with the Afghanistan Government on this issue? Do you want them to extend the deadline, or how to manage the security of the diplomats over there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, with the decree, we are in touch with the Afghan Government. We are still trying to fully understand what the Afghan Government’s concerns are, trying to address those concerns. In the decree yesterday, there was an exemption for embassy guards. That was important to us. We do use contract guards in Afghanistan to guard our Embassy. We still have questions that we are raising with the Afghan Government about other types of contractors and the role that they play.

We don’t want to see a decision like this shut down our operations. When you look at the volume of security contractors in Afghanistan, and there are a lot of them, they more or less equal the size of the military surge into Afghanistan over recent months. If we have to pull back military personnel to do security work that is currently doing – being done by contractors, that can have an impact not only on our operations but on security throughout the – Afghanistan. We don’t want to see that happen and we don’t believe that the Afghanistan Government wants to see that happen.

So, I mean, we understand that there are contractors in Afghanistan doing very legitimate, very important work. We also understand that there are contractors who, during the course of their operations, have had a significant impact on the Afghan people, and Afghan people have been killed and injured through those operations. We understand completely the concerns that the Afghan Government has about that. We are quite aware that there are security contractors working in Afghanistan who have not been licensed by the government. And for any government, being able to understand who’s operating in this space, that they’re properly regulated, that they’re properly overseen, that they’re properly managed, as we said, this is a shared objective of ours.

So we are in touch with the Afghan Government going through the details and the implications of this announcement, and I think we’re confident that we can find a resolution that addresses the Afghan Government’s concern but makes sure that the essential operations that are important to the Afghan people continue.

QUESTION: Did the Afghan Government consult you before it issued the decree – a decree?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, this is not a new topic. We’ve had conversations with Afghanistan for many, many months on the broad topic of contractors, what they’re doing and who’s overseeing their operations. So in that respect, no. The particular details of the announcement yesterday, as far as I know, were not shared with us in advance.

QUESTION: Senator Kerry was in Afghanistan yesterday. It seems like he’s always there whenever there are big problems. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Senate is in recess and the Congress has an important role to play in terms of allocating the proper resources for the strategy that we are pursuing. So it’s not surprising that the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee find himself in places like Afghanistan yesterday and Pakistan today.

QUESTION: What about Ambassador Holbrooke; isn’t that his role?

MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Holbrooke will be – well, as I just said, in terms of strategy, it is the Executive Branch responsibility to develop the strategy, and Ambassador Holbrooke played a key role in that. In terms of allocating – appropriating the resources to support that strategy, that is properly the role of the Legislative Branch, and that’s why Senator Kerry is there.

QUESTION: Okay, staying on the strategy --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Kerry real quick?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s just been some reporting about a message, if any, that Kerry was carrying on behalf of the Administration to President Karzai. Do you have anything you can say about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as I said, Senator Kerry is an important actor in the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan in his own right. We briefed him before he left. We have Dan Feldman from Richard Holbrooke’s team is traveling with him. But he is there because, obviously the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plays a critical role in making sure that we have the resources to support our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Specifically, the report says that he’s carrying some sort of list of benchmarks or steps that President Karzai can take to reassure the Administration about its fight against corruption.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there’s a close – Senator Kerry has established his own strong relationship with President Karzai. As you’ve reflected, this is not his first trip to Afghanistan, and he meets with President Karzai whenever he travels there. And he had meetings with President Karzai when he was here in Washington earlier this year. I think Senator Kerry, in his own public comments yesterday, reflected – and he was delivering a message on behalf of his colleagues in the United States Senate and in the Congress that there is strong support for what we’re doing in Afghanistan, but there is also understandably significant concern about corruption and wanting to see a strong effort by the Afghan Government itself in combating corruption within its country. We’re a partner. And so he was carrying his own message as part of his travel.

QUESTION: So he’s not carrying a special message from the Administration?

MR. CROWLEY: As I said, we coordinated with him before he went. The Secretary has talked to President Karzai in recent days. Between Ambassador Eikenberry and General Petraeus, we have the ability to communicate with President Karzai directly whenever we see the need.

QUESTION: Was he carrying a similar message for the Pakistanis?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: When he was in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as Frank Ruggiero was just talking about, we are going to have to adapt our approach to Pakistan, fully assess as the flood waters begin to recede the impact of this disaster on Pakistan itself, but also adapt our approach to Pakistan in light of its – the needs that it has on top of what we already understood before the flood waters.

Yep.

QUESTION: May I take one more just on Pakistan quickly? Whether you agree or not, it’s not from the Pakistani Government but from the Pakistani newspapers and an editorial that as far as flood in Pakistan is concerned is a creation of U.S. and India cooperation.

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, say that again?

QUESTION: What Pakistani newspapers and editorials are saying, as far as flood in Pakistan is concerned, is a creation of U.S. and India combined.

MR. CROWLEY: So it was the United States (inaudible) India that conspired to have the monsoons come to Pakistan? I don’t find that credible.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: On Colombia and Venezuela --

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on.

QUESTION: Any – your comments on the developing (inaudible) between Moscow and Kabul with the Russian president?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, Afghanistan and Pakistan are both countries with profound needs, and the United States cannot meet these needs by itself. We have a regional strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Russia can play an important role along with other countries in the region. So we welcome this kind of interaction and we welcome the international commitment by Russia and other countries that is represented by this meeting.

QUESTION: The position of the Colombian Constitutional Court regarding this defense U.S. agreement, do you have any position on that? How does – this will impact the defense – the U.S. strategy in the region in terms of defense and so on?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a defense relationship with Colombia. It is very important. We recently completed the defense cooperation agreement to guide our ongoing military cooperation. We are, obviously, aware of the court’s ruling and we will be consulting with the Santos government on its plan for the way forward.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How would this impact – because there is, of course, a possibility right now with Santos trying to mend relations with Venezuela and with Ecuador, and this move – would you expect this move to be any quicker to reinstate this agreement, or are you working in other ways to keep working on this cooperation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I mean, this is part of a legal process within Colombia. We expect it will be resolved in interaction between – among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Colombia. We will consult closely with the Colombian Government, understand the issues that are involved in this legal matter and look to the Santos government to take appropriate steps to make sure that we can sustain our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: So how – I mean, how are you – are you going to keep going with this agreement, or what is going to happen right now at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that there’s been a court challenge and we’ll be consulting with the Santos government on what the implications are and what steps it’s prepared to take.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. think that this decision is going to have any impact in the strategy, the U.S. strategy in the region – I mean, the defense strategy in the region?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have the defense cooperation agreement to guide our relationship, our – our defense relationship with Colombia. Within that relationship, we have the shared challenge of combating drug trafficking and illicit activity and threat of terrorism that confronts Colombia, confronts the United States. So our interests aren’t changed because of this court ruling. We expect to be able to continue to cooperate. But obviously, we’ll work with Colombia to determine what it plans to do in light of this court ruling.

QUESTION: Do you think --

QUESTION: A quick one on Venezuela? Sorry.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on.

QUESTION: Do you think this decision is proof that the military agreement was done wrong from the start?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t profess to be an expert in the judicial process within Colombia. I think there’s been a constitutional question raised, but just as there is in this country, there can be actions taken by the executive or by the legislative branch that overcome the questions that have been raised. That’s the kind of questions that we’re raising with the Colombian Government to understand what it plans to do.

QUESTION: A quick one on Venezuela?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: There is – one of the major leading newspapers in Venezuela is facing a process, a legal process, because of the publishing of some photos. Do you have any position on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with the issue.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: In Peru, Lori Berenson – are you aware of the report that her parole has been revoked?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not. I’ll see what we know about it.

QUESTION: There’s a wire story about it. I don’t know --

QUESTION: It’s just in.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Chinese Government announced a possibility of their military actions in Korean Peninsula. If so, what would the U.S. can do (inaudible) the Chinese this kind of reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Pentagon in terms of the implications of military exercises.

QUESTION: China has also reacted to the Pentagon report. Are you giving any diplomatic reaction? It has rejected the Pentagon report. China has –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand – no, I understand that.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t –

QUESTION: Do you have any diplomatic –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, you’re making a statement that China’s reacted to the Pentagon report.

QUESTION: Yes, and they have said that this report –

MR. CROWLEY: We’re not surprised by that.

QUESTION: -- this report is wrong and the U.S. should take it back and they should understand and they should continue with the dialogue.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to be very interested in military-to-military engagement and dialogue so that we can better understand what China’s plans are for the region. We have been encouraging that kind of dialogue, and as far as I know – and I’ll defer to the Pentagon – we have offered the opportunity for military dialogue, and China has not been forthcoming.

QUESTION: P.J., do you think that North Korea asked the U.S. team in Pyongyang last week to send a higher-level envoy?

MR. CROWLEY: Do --

QUESTION: Do you think North Korea asked the U.S. team in Pyongyang last week to send a higher-level envoy to discuss relations?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that – I’m not aware that there were any policy discussions while the team was in Pyongyang last week. They were there to assess – to meet with and assess Mr. Gomes’s health. We obviously want to have him return to the United States.

QUESTION: So you are not considering sending a higher-level envoy to North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in – we continue our discussion with North Korea on getting Mr. Gomes back, and we will press them to release him on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: P.J., on the trip of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to the Gulf states, what is the purpose of the trip? Why was he chosen? Has he been given any guidance, parameters on what he’s to speak about? And if you can, what are the costs?

MR. CROWLEY: Richard, let’s see. Let’s start one at a time. He will be traveling to the region at the end of this week starting, as I recall, in Bahrain, then Qatar, then the United Arab Emirates. He is participating – I think this is fourth trip – as part of an International Information Program. We have about 1,200 experts in a range of fields that travel on behalf of the United States every year. About 50 or so of those are religious figures. They come from every stripe. We have rabbis, imams, Protestants, Catholics who participate as part of our effort to promote religious tolerance and religious freedom around the world.

The guidelines that we provide him – he is there to promote this kind of international dialogue. We have had conversations with the imam to make sure he understands that during these kinds of trips, he’s not to engage in any personal business. He understands that completely. But this is his fourth trip and we value his participation as a religious figure here in the United States who can help people overseas understand the role that religion plays in our society.

QUESTION: Excuse me, just for --

MR. CROWLEY: As to the specific costs of the program, I don’t have them here.

QUESTION: Just for clarification, it seems to me in answering this question earlier, you’ve said this was his third trip.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, and – well, he made two trips – and I looked at some fine print – he made two trips in 2007, made a trip to Egypt this year. So actually, this is his fourth trip.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, President Obama has expressed his opinion on this mosque. Will Secretary of State be saying anything tomorrow on the Humanitarian Day?

MR. CROWLEY: About the mosque?

QUESTION: Yeah, its --

MR. CROWLEY: I doubt it.

QUESTION: -- humanitarian effort.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On – new topic – on Burma, there was a report this morning that the U.S. has decided to back a UN commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma and also is looking at tightening economic sanctions against some of the Burmese leadership because of, so far, fruitless diplomacy. Can you comment?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ve got nothing to announce on that first item. We did do a lengthy policy review on Burma last year. We have, as you know, had a couple of meetings with Burmese officials as part of a decision to directly engage the Burmese Government. We do have sanctions in place.

Our strategy has always envisioned not only direct engagement, but also using tools like sanctions to put pressure on the Burmese Government to open up political space in its society for broader participation, to have a credible dialogue with minority and ethnic groups, to improve its human rights record. We have a range of tools available to us, but I’ve got nothing to announce today.

QUESTION: Well, my understanding was the White House announced it this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: That would be news to me.

QUESTION: Is there consideration of supporting the creation of this tribunal --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: -- or commission?

MR. CROWLEY: I can just repeat that I understood the question and I’ve got nothing to announce at this point.

QUESTION: Anything on upcoming elections there if the democratic parties will --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve been very clear, given the circumstances that Burma has described about the upcoming elections, we do not see any way that they will be credible.

QUESTION: So – I’m sorry --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that the White House has made an announcement this morning. I don’t think your information is correct.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on.

QUESTION: Can we go back to China? China this week overpassed Japan to become the second-largest economy of the world. And then you have a Pentagon report which expresses concern about Chinese increasing military might. What do you think --

MR. CROWLEY: About China?

QUESTION: -- China’s increasing military might and efforts to expand its military influence beyond this traditional territorial jurisdiction. Do you think we are moving towards a bipolar world with China being the other pole?

MR. CROWLEY: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just on WikiLeaks?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: The WikiLeaks guy says that he – that his group has been contacted by some lawyer connected with the Pentagon somehow. The Pentagon says no, that’s not really the case, but --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what they told me as well. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking about the Pentagon.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: I want to – have they been – has there been any contact since you were last asked about this --

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: -- between the State Department --

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Is it still your understanding that they do have a large collection of cable – classified cables that they may be on the verge of releasing? Is that still your understanding?

MR. CROWLEY: They – I understand that – we believe that they do have a tranche of classified documents. I don’t believe that in the 15,000 that they’ve been advertised, that there are State Department equities in that tranche.

QUESTION: But again, I just want to make sure. They have – you’re not aware of any contact that they’ve had with you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)

DPB # 137

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[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 18, 2010]