Remarks to the Press
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
12:15 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: So we have the real hardcore here that remain focused on UNGA and everything that’s going on in New York. This is going to be – we have about 25 minutes before we start our afternoon bilaterals, and we’ll be bouncing back and forth between those of you here and, I think, some in the press room at the State Department in Washington.
But just to begin, obviously, we understand that among your primary areas of interest today, there’s the current situation in the Middle East. Senator Mitchell is in touch with both sides today. He, along with David Hale and Dan Shapiro from the White House will depart this evening for the region and will have meetings with both sides later in the week. Their particular schedules are still being worked out.
The Secretary, this afternoon here in New York, will have meetings with Foreign Minister Hague of Great Britain, Foreign Minister Kouchner of France, Foreign Minister Cannon of Canada, Foreign Minister Mualem of Syria, where we expect the Middle East will be a key topic of conversation. And later this week back in Washington, she’ll have meetings with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and German Foreign Minister Westerwelle. So we are maintaining close contact with European leaders to encourage ongoing support to the process.
From our standpoint, we remain focused on our long-term goal of advancing negotiations towards a two-state solution. We are in touch with the parties, as I’ve already indicated. We hope that the parties will continue to take constructive actions towards the long-term goal.
And just as a side note, also this afternoon before we return to Washington this evening, the Secretary will meet with Foreign Minister Krishna of India. I expect among the key topics there will be preparations for the President’s trip to India later this year, and she will also speak with Pacific Island nation leaders. Among the key topics there will be climate change.
But in the interest of time, I’ll stop there and just start with questions here in New York and then shift to D.C. after a couple.
QUESTION: P.J., how disappointed is the U.S. that the moratorium won’t be extended?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are disappointed and – but we remain focused on our long-term objective, and we’ll be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what she hopes to accomplish in the meeting with Mualem, and do you know, just historically, when the last time that they had a bilateral foreign ministerial?
MR. CROWLEY: We looked that up. I think it was 2007, if I’m not mistaken. And if I’m wrong, one of my staff will –
MR. CROWLEY: Two thousand – I got a nod – 2007, Secretary Rice had a meeting last with the Syrian foreign minister. I think too, our focus is on comprehensive peace in the region. And we believe that Syria has a constructive role to play in achieving a durable and lasting comprehensive Middle East peace. And – but among that, she will also reiterate, as we did on Friday, our commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty.
QUESTION: Now that the Israelis are clearly not (inaudible) extend the moratorium (inaudible)?
(Inaudible) on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, without getting into the particulars, as we indicated, our policy and views on the settlement construction has not changed, and we will be – that’s one of the purposes of George Mitchell’s trip to the region, to sort through with the parties where we go from here.
QUESTION: Have the Israelis told you that their decision is final on (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll defer to the Israeli Government to explain the decision they’ve made and what the implications are.
QUESTION: A little bit more about Senator Mitchell’s meetings today and (inaudible). At what level, and is it phone calls or in face-to-face meetings?
MR. CROWLEY: He has been in touch with the Palestinian and the Israeli negotiators. I actually think they’re face-to-face meeting.
QUESTION: How long is Mitchell going to be in the region to (inaudible)? (Inaudible) week?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. It’s a – this week, but again, they will leave tonight. But as to their schedule of meetings throughout the week, that is still being worked out.
QUESTION: There is kind of real urgency this week, is when it (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we always maintain a sense of urgency when it comes to Middle East peace. I mean, we have obviously recognized that this was a possibility when we entered into direct negotiations last month. But our focus remains on that long-term goal. And what we did here last week, both in the parties and from other stakeholders, is the importance and value of what’s been achieved up to this point. And we will be reminding the parties that as we sort through these most recent events, it is important for them to take constructive actions and avoid further actions that will make it more difficult for the negotiations to progress.
QUESTION: You haven’t used the words, “We want -- ”
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take one more here and then we’ll --
QUESTION: Okay. You haven’t used the words, “We want the Israelis to extend the settlement moratorium.” Is that some kind of strategic play by you?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. I mean, the President made that clear last week in his speech at the United Nations. That is our policy and our policy has not changed.
Okay, I’ve got one more here and then we’ll go to Washington.
QUESTION: Before you go to D.C., I think a lot of us who are in the Japanese press are very interested in kind of the dispute between Japan and China right now. I think the ongoing, possibly escalating – and I’m wondering what the U.S. position is on that.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. And I regret – Kurt Campbell was supposed to join me here at this time. His flight up from Washington was delayed, so we have rescheduled his meeting with you until later on this afternoon. The Japanese took a decision last week to release the captain. We believe that has resolved the matter and we hope that tensions that had begun to escalate will diminish.
Great. So how do we do – how do we go to Washington?
MR. TONER: Mark here, P.J.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
MR. TONER: I’ll go ahead and play traffic cop down here.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Very good, Mark. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Jill, you want to go ahead?
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. P.J., I presume you can hear me?
MR. CROWLEY: I can.
QUESTION: Oh, good. Can you just clarify, for the record, what are the next steps, if any, on the talks? Are they completely dead?
MR. CROWLEY: The next step in the process is the meetings that George Mitchell will have in the region later this week. This – the process is important. It’s vital. As the parties themselves know, absent these direct negotiations, Israel does not get the security that it needs and deserves, and the Palestinians do not get the state that they want and deserve.
So one way or the other, the parties have to find a way to continue direct negotiations. As we’ve said, we think in the brief period of time that we have been in direct negotiations, they’ve attacked this with a seriousness of purpose, have begun a constructive dialogue on the core issues. We hope to see this continue, and that is our focus.
QUESTION: Yes, but just to be precise, are the talks over, the talks that – they want a solution?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we recognize that given the decision yesterday, we’ve still got a dilemma that we have to resolve, and there are no direct negotiations scheduled at this point. But we will be in touch with the parties and see how we move ahead.
QUESTION: P.J., are you gratified or heartened at all that Abbas has decided not to immediate – that he hasn’t actually walked out of the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: We have – in our discussions with both sides over the weekend, we encouraged restraint, whatever decision was made on the Israeli side. And we – the Palestinian response so far reflects that restraint.
QUESTION: So you’re happy that he’s not just strolling away right now?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’ll defer to President Abbas. Obviously, you heard his – you saw his comments today in Paris. But we have called upon both sides to be constructive in the actions that they take from this point forward, and certainly, the restraint at this point is appreciated.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last thing is that the Israelis have basically rejected the (inaudible) – the President’s direct call for them to extend the moratorium. Are there any consequences for that, or do you just take this one on the chin like you’ve done so many times before?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will be in touch with the Israelis this week in the region. Again, I will defer to the Israelis to describe the decision they made to let the moratorium expire, and what they may be prepared to do going forward. But we will obviously have our conversation with them about the steps that they will be taking from this point forward.
QUESTION: So there are no consequences for their defiance? Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: We will be in touch with the parties and we’ll see what they’re prepared to do.
QUESTION: P.J., can you tell us whether Senator Mitchell will make any other stops in the region besides Israel or Ramallah? Any other Arab countries?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question, but his schedule is still being worked out, so I won’t say yes or no. It’s just simply at this point, I don’t think we know.
MR. TONER: Kirit.
QUESTION: P.J., my question is sort of similar to Charlie’s, but maybe a little bit broader. What is the U.S. doing to either lean on or urge Arab countries to give some support to Abbas so that he can stay in the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as President Abbas indicated, you have an important Arab League meeting coming up in the next few days. We had some discussions last week with key Arab leaders in countries on the – on supporting the process. I’m sure that we will have further discussions between now and the Arab League meeting.
QUESTION: How confident are you that you – that they will make that support public in time for him to make a decision?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe it to – it’s important to support this process because absent this process, you don’t have security and you don’t have a Palestinian state. That is a message that we have made and will continue to make to countries in the region.
QUESTION: I understand that. I guess my question was how confident you are that you’ll actually get that.
MR. CROWLEY: We will – we’ll see what – I mean, we’ll have further conversations with key countries in the coming days, and we hope that the Arab League meeting will continue and affirm its support for the process.
QUESTION: Okay. P.J., this is Kristof. This morning, President Sarkozy in Paris, along with President Abbas, asked for the EU to be more involved in the process. Is it a good time to try new ways to push things forward?
MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t quite understand the question. If you were referring to – try it one more time.
QUESTION: Yeah. This morning, Sarkozy and Abbas were in Paris, and Sarkozy asked for the EU to be more involved in the process. Do you think it’s a good time to try new ways to have the negotiations go forward?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the EU has been very involved and very supportive in the process, both collectively through the efforts of Catherine Ashton and also its involvement in the Quartet. We will have a series of bilaterals both this afternoon and this week. We’re – I would expect the Middle East to be a key topic of discussion.
But certainly, this is – we have had close consultations with our European friends. I know George Mitchell has, while he’s been here in New York, been (inaudible) to the bilateral with Foreign Minister Kouchner, been in touch with the (inaudible) security advisor in (inaudible). So we are mainly in close ties with (inaudible) and others as we sort through what next steps should be in the process.
Okay, we’ll bring it back here to New York for a second.
QUESTION: Colin Bower, father of the children (inaudible) in Egypt (inaudible) this weekend. Can you confirm any involvement that they (inaudible) have in getting over (inaudible) President Mubarak?
MR. CROWLEY: We have had high-level discussions with the Egyptian Government about the Bower case. I believe while President Mubarak was in Washington three weeks ago this has also been a (inaudible) topic of discussion through our ambassador Margaret Scobey in Cairo. So we are supportive of the Bower family in doing everything we can to help bring his sons back to the United States. We are grateful that the Egyptian Government did recently facilitate a meeting in Cairo where he had a visit with his sons. But this is something that we continue to engage the Egyptian Government to resolve.
QUESTION: Did (inaudible) then call the (inaudible) President Mubarak this week after he went to Egypt, after Colin Bower went to Egypt, to thank him for that? Do you know (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t – I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s come up this week, but we did raise it directly with the Egyptians three weeks ago.
QUESTION: Can you – back when President Obama met with the ASEAN group – that he would raise Myanmar – can you tell us what he said and what you’re expecting –
MR. CROWLEY: One more time?
QUESTION: With the ASEAN states – when President Obama met with the ASEAN states on Friday, I think it was, he was expected to raise Myanmar. Any detail – what did he say and what you’re expecting from the Friends of Myanmar meeting (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I’ll defer to the White House to describe the details of the President’s meeting. In our discussions with ASEAN leaders, beyond just that one meeting, Burma – Myanmar is a key topic of discussion. We have attempted ourselves to engage Burma directly. We hope that Burma will begin a constructive dialogue with ethnic groups within its population. We’ve been disappointed with the electoral process that Burma has put forward this year. We don’t believe that what they have announced and what they plan will result in a credible election.
But we will continue our discussions with other countries in the region, we – because we recognize that to see progress, not only the United States, but other countries that have relations with Burma have to send a clear message that they have to make fundamental changes in their policies and their approaches.
There don’t appear to be any other questions here in New York. Any other questions in Washington?
MR. TONER: Sir, go ahead, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MR. CROWLEY: I can.
QUESTION: Okay. This is (inaudible). I have just two questions. One of them is that you keep mentioning security of Israelis. How is that related to the settlement issue? How they are explaining the settlement issue related to the security?
And the second question is: The – has the U.S. raised the issue of the former Daniel Pearl Fellowship holder, Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema, who was badly beaten and threatened in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with the second case. We always are concerned about the health and welfare of journalists and decry when they are intimidated or attacked or killed. I’ll tell – I’ll defer that one. Perhaps Mark Toner can run down the particulars on that particular case for you.
In order to reach a successful negotiation and a two-state solution, both sides have to get something of value and both sides have to give something of value. What Israel desires of is process, is peace and security, and recognition that Israel, going forward, will be an integral part of the region. What the Palestinians want is a state and opportunity and also peace. So the two are connected in that as part of a successful negotiation. Both sides have to get something of value. And then for that to be accomplished and be successful, both sides have to be able to provide something of meaning to the other side.
So that is our ongoing focus, that we want to see these negotiations continue. We want to see a successful completion of negotiations within one year. We believe that if we can’t – if we can get – successfully get by this turbulence that we are experiencing now, there is absolutely an opportunity for a successful negotiation. Both sides have indicated to us that they are – they see – they recognize the importance of this ongoing effort, and we will stay engaged with both sides to see how we can best keep this process moving forward.
MR. TONER: Lalit.
QUESTION: P.J., this is Lalit Jha here. Last week, the U.S.-ASEAN joint statement had mentioned Burma as Myanmar, and the same day, another statement from the White House had mentioned Myanmar as Burma. So the same country, two names coming from the U.S. Can you help us understand that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I completely understand the question. We normally refer to this country as Burma. We have recognized that others refer to it as Myanmar.
MR. TONER: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you, everybody.
QUESTION: One more, sorry. Please one more.
MR. TONER: One more from – go ahead, quick.
QUESTION: P.J., hi. It’s on the same issue. In the ASEAN joint statement, there was no mention of the South China Sea issue even though the President brought it up in the meeting. Can you tell us why that was missing in the joint statement?
MR. CROWLEY: (No response.)
MR. TONER: Is he still there?
QUESTION: I think he left already.
MR. TONER: He’s already left. All right, thanks. Sorry.