Special Briefing
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Via Teleconference
New York City, DC
September 27, 2010


(5:30 P.M. EDT)

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session of today’s conference. At that time, you may press *1 on your touchtone phone to ask a question. I’d also like to inform all parties that today’s call is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

I would now like to turn the call over to your host for today, the Assistant Secretary Mr. P.J. Crowley. Thank you, sir. You may begin.

MR. CROWLEY: Thanks very much and thanks for jumping on. The Secretary had a particularly busy afternoon, and I know you’ve had some readouts from Kurt Campbell and Bob Blake, but let me just quickly run down some things and we’ll get to your questions.

The Secretary first spoke this afternoon with UK Foreign Minister William Hague. They went through a number of global and regional issues from – Foreign Minister Hague provided the Secretary his perspective on a discussion that he had with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki. The Secretary, in turn, brought Foreign Minister Hague up to date on where we stand with the Middle East peace process. They talked about a range of issues: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the Balkans. And in a number of the bilaterals this afternoon, Ambassador Dan Benjamin talked about a evolving counterterrorism global architecture that we and a number of countries are promoting to increase the global capacity to fight terrorism and establish some global norms in terms of capabilities and practices that countries should adopt.

She then followed up with a conversation with Canadian Foreign Minster Cannon. They talked about a range of regional issues, including counternarcotics, the challenge that we face in this hemisphere, developments in the Arctic, and Haiti. I should mention in several of these bilaterals they started off with a full staff on both sides and then, in some cases, whittled down to one-on-one. She had a brief one-on-one conversation with Foreign Minister Hague as well as Foreign Minister Cannon. I think Kurt Campbell ran through the developments in the Pacific region, including the Pacific Islanders discussion, so I’ll skip past that. And Bob Blake talked about the meeting with Foreign Minister Krishna, so I’ll talk – we’ll go past that.

The Secretary then had her meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem. It was actually just a couple on each side, so I actually wasn’t there. I talked to George Mitchell and Jeff Feltman afterwards and got a sense of the meeting. They talked about our – the Secretary affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track. The – Foreign Minister Muallem was very interested in pursuing that, and there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.

Talked about regional issues: Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. Lebanon was probably the most significant topic of discussion. The Secretary emphasized in the context of both Lebanon and Iraq that no outside party should be working to undermine the stability of either country. But they talked about a range of issues in that context. And there was some discussion about bilateral issues. The Secretary reaffirmed that we are committing – committed to placing a U.S. ambassador in Damascus and hope that Robert Ford would be confirmed by the Senate. And then they simply talked about ways in which – from the discussions that we have had over the past few months with the Syrians, we can continue to develop our relationship bilaterally.

Finally, the Secretary had what amounted to a lengthy one-on-one meeting with Foreign Minister Kouchner on – and talked about the Middle East primarily as their discussion. And finally, before taking your questions, at the conclusion of the Kouchner meeting, the Secretary received a call with Prime Minster Netanyahu. He was following up on their discussions yesterday. But beyond that, there’s not a lot of – I’m just not going to go into the substance of what they discussed.

George Mitchell is leaving this evening as we indicated earlier today, and he will – he expects to have meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians later this week. His schedule is still being worked out. But just – he’ll travel tonight; he will not have meetings tomorrow, and then they will occur later in the week.

With that, I’ll stop there and be happy to answer questions.

OPERATOR: And at this time, if anyone would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone, unmute your phone, and record your name clearly when prompted. Again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone. And it does take a moment or so for the first to come through.

And our first question is from Laura Rozen with POLITICO. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thanks, P.J.

MR. CROWLEY: Hi, Laura.

QUESTION: Hi. So you went quickly through this long list and I missed any details, or if you could offer more on what you were saying about Clinton meeting with Hague regarding his meeting with Mottaki. Can you go into that any more?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m reluctant to become a spokesman for His Majesty’s government.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, on Clinton’s side, did she get a sense from Hague that Mottaki expressed understanding about what the P-5+1 is encouraging in terms of going through the Ashton channel and responding to Ashton to resume some sort of negotiations with the P-5 --

MR. CROWLEY: Let me just say that through this meeting and others, we have heard from the Iranians that they are willing to meet. But as we depart Washington – as we depart New York to go back to Washington, the Iranians have yet to actually pick up the phone, call Catherine Ashton, and set a date. So we’ve heard some things both publicly and privately from the Iranians, but as yet they haven’t actually followed through.

QUESTION: Thanks.

OPERATOR: And our next question is from Mina Al-Oraibi. Go ahead. And if you could please also announce the media affiliation you’re with.

QUESTION: Hi, P.J., it’s Mina Al-Oraibi from Asharq Alawsat newspaper.

MR. CROWLEY: How are you doing?

QUESTION: I’d just like to ask you a couple questions about the bilat with Muallem. First of all, is there any confirmation that Faisal Mekdad will be coming to Washington? And if so, what are the meetings he’ll be having here?

And secondly, you said that there was an agreement, a pledge – to look at ideas on how to proceed on the Syrian track. Is this for ideas from the American side or from the Syrian side? Any clarification?

MR. CROWLEY: We will follow up with the Syrians on how to best proceed in developing the Syrian-Israeli track, but that’s – I can’t go further than that. And as to any follow-up meetings, I’m not aware at this point.

OPERATOR: And our next question is from Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, P.J.

MR. CROWLEY: Hi, Arshad.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a similar question. Can you explain to us what it is that the Syrian foreign minister said that suggested that his government is very interested in the Israeli-Syrian peace track? What gave the Secretary that impression?

MR. CROWLEY: It was his response to the Secretary’s pledge that we wish to pursue comprehensive peace, including the Syrian track. It’s as simple as that.

QUESTION: Do you know what he actually said?

MR. CROWLEY: I wasn’t in the room, so I can’t give you a quote. But I specifically asked when the Secretary outlined our objectives for the Syrian track that she received a positive response. They did not get into detail about, okay, this means X, Y, Z. That’s the kind of follow-on discussion that we anticipate. But we left the meeting with an understanding that the Syrians were interested in developing this element of the peace process.

QUESTION: And just one more for me on this? Are there any plans now, any specific plans, for follow-up meetings or talks either by Senator Mitchell or by other U.S. officials with Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the meeting barely ended an hour ago, so we – or just over an hour ago. So we will follow up. It’s a fair question, Arshad. It’s just that with this meeting we will continue to work this dimension of the peace process. I should say that we have not been ignoring this element. Fred Hof has made multiple trips to Damascus, as has George Mitchell. So it is something that we are going to study and develop further.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Jane Aaron with Chicago Jewish News. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, good evening, P.J. Can you hear me?

MR. CROWLEY: I can.

QUESTION: Okay, good. Thank you. As far as Syria goes, what was said and what, if anything, is being done to prevent the recent arms sale from Russia to the Syrians to prevent those arms getting into the hands of Hezbollah?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m somewhat constrained in what I can say about this. The – broadly speaking, the issue of Lebanon – it was probably the most – among the most significant – say the peace process and Lebanon were the two most significant dimensions of the Secretary’s discussion with the foreign minister. And suffice it to say that we do have concerns about Syria’s activities inside Lebanon and its relationship with Hezbollah. I just will not go into any further detail.

QUESTION: All right, if I may also ask you, as far as Abbas’s refusal to recognize the state of Israel and – as a Jewish state until final-final negotiations, what, if anything, is the United States prepared to do to change that? Or do you not think that’s necessary?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve discussed earlier, each of the parties has entered into direct negotiations seeking an agreement and, in that agreement, resolution or affirmation of things that are important to it. Clearly, from Israel’s standpoint, its full acceptance and integration into the region is important, and as Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear in his opening comments during the first session in Washington, that it is important for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state. So that is something that is – has been well stated by Israel, obviously is understood on the Palestinian side.

But by the same token, as we’re seeing here, there are things that are important to the Palestinians. That’s why we’re actually in a negotiation and why we’re doing everything possible to continue in this negotiation. And ultimately, it will be up to the parties to decide how this issue among others will be resolved. And these are the kinds of things that they have already started to talk about and we hope the kinds of things that will be resolved if we’re able to keep the talks going, which is our central objective.

QUESTION: One other quick – I know there’s a Jewish holiday that begins Wednesday night, so will George Mitchell’s talks be concluded by that time?

MR. CROWLEY: We understand the calendar. That’s why he’s leaving tonight. I would say that he hopes to have meetings with the Palestinians and Israelis Wednesday and Thursday, but those – he’s still waiting for specific confirmation. So you can infer from the holiday calendar that our objective is to have meetings with the Israelis on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Jill Dougherty with CNN.com. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Hey, P.J., there is this – let’s see, coming out of Tehran, an Iranian newspaper saying that the Omani – an Omani delegation arrived in Iran on Sunday to try to get the other two hikers out. Do you know anything about that?

MR. CROWLEY: I think I’ve read the same thing that you’ve read. We – as we said when the Omanis were instrumental in the release of Sarah Shourd, they pledged that they would continue efforts, along with the Swiss and others, to seek the release of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer. So I’ll defer to the Omanis in terms of their delegation and whether a team has gone into Tehran. But this is consistent with what the Omanis have told us, and we’re obviously grateful for their ongoing efforts, along with the Swiss and others, to seek the release of the two remaining hikers.

QUESTION: But the U.S. or you do not have any independent knowledge that that’s the case?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – again, this is an Omani delegation. I’ll defer to them to discuss it. But it was something, when the Secretary talked to the sultan, that he pledged that they would continue their efforts. And if this is the case, this is fully consistent with what the Omanis have told us. But again, I just don’t, again, want to be the spokesman for the Omani Government. They’re doing a great job and we very much appreciate their efforts.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Ken Silverman with Fuji TV. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thanks very much for taking my question. I just wanted to ask your reaction to the announcement coming from Pyongyang today regarding the promotion of Kim Jong-un, specifically being that it’s coming ahead of the convention that’s supposed to take place in Pyongyang this week, and your thoughts on what implications this could have for any level of diplomacy concerning North Korea going forward. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: I think I’ll use the same answer that Kurt Campbell used earlier this afternoon. He was asked the same question and just said we’re studying very close – watching very closely what is happening in Pyongyang, we’ll take note of developments as they occur, but it’s too early to offer an assessment as to what the implications are.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And as a reminder, *1 if you’d like to ask a question. Our next question is from Jane Aaron with Chicago Jewish News. Go ahead, your line is open. Jane, you may go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Sorry, I was on mute and didn’t realize it. What is being done as far as Putin’s anger about being left out, quote/unquote, of the peace process at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t speak to any alleged anger by Prime Minister Putin. The fact is that the Russian Federation is an integral part of the process through its membership in the Quartet. We had a meeting of the Quartet ministers here last week. They issued a statement that affirmed their support for the process and, as we have, encouraged Israel to continue the moratorium. So we have – we’ve been in close consultations with the Russians as a member of the Quartet and we’ll continue that involvement.

OPERATOR: And we’re showing no further questions, but again, *1 if you’d like to ask a question. We have a question from Elise Labott from CNN. Go ahead, your line is open.

MR. CROWLEY: Aw shucks, Elise. I thought I was going to get away and head for the airport.

OPERATOR: Elise with CNN, your line is now open.
OPERATOR: Okay, we’ll take our next question from Charlie Wolfson with CBS. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: P.J., sorry to keep you from getting to the airport, but just a quick one, and I’m sure you’ll have a long answer for this. In the conversation Secretary Clinton had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, you said you didn’t want to get into the details or the substance. Can you talk about the tone? Anybody happy to talk to each other? They unhappy to talk to each other? How do you characterize the tone of the conversation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it was late at night in Israel, so – (laughter) – they’ve known each other for a long time. They know how to do business. They’re usually quite direct with each other. So if you go across the three conversations, they’ve been very significant, very detailed, very direct. The prime minister understands what our policies are. We understand his ongoing political difficulties. We believe he is sincerely interested in the process, recognizes its importance, and we continue to actively engage Israel and the Palestinians in trying to determine how to best move forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Mina Al-Oraibi. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, P.J., I just wanted to do a quick follow-up. Do you feel that the meeting with Muallem was in any way affected by the ending of the moratorium? I mean, did it change how the conversation went?

MR. CROWLEY: Try that again?

QUESTION: Basically, what I wanted to know is whether the timing of the ending of the moratorium with the meeting with Muallem, did it affect this meeting, how the conversation went, what the Syrians were saying about the peace process?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. Since I wasn’t in the meeting, my – when I received – when I talked to George and to Jeff Feltman, the focus of the conversation was on the Syrian aspect. I know that they touched on where the Palestinian and Israeli track stood, but it was not a significant area. They went past that right to the – to their own direct interests.

QUESTION: And did the tribunal come up at all in the conversation, the Lebanese tribunal?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you go into any detail on that?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Didn’t think you could. Thank you very much.

MR. CROWLEY: I am reminded of one thing as we close up. The Secretary – when the Secretary was talking to Foreign Minister Hague, they did spend a little bit of time talking about Yemen, following up on the Friends of Yemen discussion from Friday and pledged to continue to find ways to support Yemen.

And I think, as Foreign Minister Hague said, it is important to make sure that we strengthen the capacity of the government so that you don’t see the same vacuum develop in Yemen that has developed in Somalia, but pledged that from the internationals community’s standpoint – this includes the United States – we’ll continue to help Yemen in terms of its dialogue with its own population in both north and south, and also with the internal reforms that will strengthen the capacity of the Yemenis Government. And of course, that was a significant aspect of the Friends of Yemen meeting on Friday that Under Secretary Bill Burns led on behalf of the United States.

OPERATOR: And we do have a question from Elise Labott with CNN. Go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: I’ll try again. Can you hear me?

MR. CROWLEY: I can.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Lebanon. You said that you were concerned about Syrian activities in Lebanon. What does that mean? Are you worried that the Syrians are trying to make another play to interfere with Lebanon’s (inaudible) trying to take a presence there again? And are you worried that they’re threatening the Lebanese to call for the end of the UN tribunal?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Try the second half of the question again.

QUESTION: Are you worried that they’re threatening the Lebanese on the tribunal?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, on the tribunal, the Secretary simply reaffirmed our support for the tribunal and that it should not be interfered with or politicized in any way. I mean, Syria’s relationship with Lebanon is well known, and the Secretary was very direct in making clear, both in the context of Lebanon and Iraq, that we discourage any efforts to undermine the stability of either country. It was part of her broader point she was making that we are committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty and to working with the Lebanese Government in supporting the development of – the institutions of Lebanon’s Government.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

OPERATOR: And we are showing no further questions at this time.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. It’s been a great week and we look forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Thanks very much. And for those who are traveling back from New York, safe travels and we’ll catch you in the briefing room tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

OPERATOR: That does conclude today’s conference. Thank you for participating. You may disconnect at this time.

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PRN: 2010/1356

[This is a mobile copy of Remarks to the Press]