On-the-Record Briefing On Steps the U.S State Department is Taking to Assist U.S. Citizens in Egypt, Jan. 31, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 30, 2011. 

MR. TONER: Thank you, and thanks to all of you for joining us on a Sunday afternoon. Given the fast pace of events unfolding in Egypt, we just thought it was important to try to get out some basic information on the steps that the U.S. State Department is taking to assist American citizens who are currently in Egypt. So we’re very fortunate today to have with us Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs. And just a reminder, this is an on-the-record briefing, and with that I will hand it over to Assistant Secretary Jacobs. Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Thank you, Mark, and good afternoon to everyone. I appreciate the ongoing coverage each of your news organizations is providing regarding the situation on the ground in Egypt. If I could, I’d like to take this opportunity to give you some information about the assistance that we are providing to U.S. citizens. Assistance to American citizens is our highest priority. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is open for emergency services for U.S. citizens. Officials at our Embassy and on our task force in the United States have been monitoring developments, passing information and instructions to U.S. citizens, and implementing crisis response plans.

Flights to safe havens will begin tomorrow. We will continue our work assisting U.S. citizens around the clock. We are employing every communications medium – websites, email, call centers, radio, and TV – to get information out to U.S. citizens on the ground in Egypt who are understandably worried. We are sending additional consular personnel to Egypt to assist U.S. citizens. We are sending a number of people into Egypt and we’re also going to locate additional officers at the safe haven points.

As we’ve said on our website, the Department of State has authorized the voluntary departure from Egypt of dependents and non-emergency employees. U.S. citizens currently in Egypt should consider leaving as soon as they can safely do so. The Cairo airport is open and operating, but we understand that flights may be disrupted and transport to the airport may also be disrupted due to the protests. Travelers should remain in contact with their airlines or tour operators concerning flight schedules and arrange to arrive at the airport well before curfew hours.

The Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safe haven locations in Europe. This assistance will be provided on a reimbursable basis, as is required by U.S. law. U.S. citizens who travel on U.S. Government-arranged transport will be expected to make their own onward travel plans from the safe haven location. Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Egypt tomorrow, Monday, January 31st. The government-arranged flights are not being offered to supplant Americans’ existing commercial travel plans. Citizens with ticketed flights should contact their airlines as the airport is still open.

Persons interested in departing Egypt by way of a U.S. Government-chartered transportation should contact the U.S. Department of State and the Embassy in Cairo. U.S. citizens in Egypt who require assistance, or those who are concerned that their U.S. citizen loved one in Egypt may require assistance, should contact the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy at the following email address: [email protected] or by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or outside the United States and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. Please follow the directions on the Embassy website for all other consular inquiries.

U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Embassy’s website and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which is, for the latest information.

Now I’m very happy to take any questions that you might have.

MR. TONER: Operator, we’re ready to begin the Q&A portion.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, if you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone and record your name. Your name is required so I can introduce you for your question. Again, please press *1 and record your name. One moment for our first question.

Our first question is from Lolita Baldor, Associated Press. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, yes. I wanted to know how many U.S. citizens do you believe are in Egypt. And with internet services being disrupted, can you say how many are – how people can figure out what’s going on if they can’t get email?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Sure. Good questions. We know that we have thousands of Americans in Egypt, whether they are tourists or living there permanently. Our numbers are always sort of hard to pass out because we depend on people registering with the Embassy, enrolling their presence in the country, so it is sometimes hard to come up with an exact number. But we are aware that there are thousands of potential evacuees out of Egypt, and so we are paying a lot of attention to that.

As far as communicating with people, you’re absolutely right; the lack of internet access makes our job more difficult. But what we are finding is that the Americans, or friends and family here in the United States, are able to communicate with their family members in Egypt. And so what we are asking is that people in the United States monitor the information very closely that we’re putting up on our website and through other means, and then conveying that information to their family and friends in Egypt. That seems to be working pretty well. And we also are going to make more use of radio announcements in Egypt.

QUESTION: Well, do you know, will the military be assisting in these flights, and do you know how many will happen per day?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: We really don’t have all those details. We are in the process of setting up several charter flights which will start tomorrow. And so we still are encouraging people, of course, who are ticketed who can get out via commercial airlines, to do so. And then for those who are still needing help in leaving, we will have these charter flights available to them.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Mark Orchard from Al Jazeera English Television. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for doing this call. A lot of the focus has been on Cairo, understandably, but I’m wondering what the advice is to American citizens in other towns and cities in Egypt, particularly Alexandra – Alexandria and Suez, particularly those cities where communication between those cities and Cairo is difficult. What’s the advice to Americans there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Well, again, this is one of the challenges that we have right now with the difficulties in communications. We are basically looking at locations where we have other American citizens and making sure that we get the information about these charter flights out to them. Of course, there is an airport in Alexandria that people can take advantage of through a regular commercial flight. But we know, for example, that we have several American tourists in Luxor and in other locations, so we are making every effort that we can to reach out to those people to give them the latest information.

QUESTION: Is it a possibility that extra flights may be sent in to secondary locations to get specific individuals or groups?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: I think we’re looking at all different options at this point. Certainly, if we have large numbers of people in any particular location, we might consider doing that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Kirit Radia, ABC News. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. A couple questions. First is: Can you tell us where these flights will be going to in Europe? A second question would be: What is your estimated number of private Americans that you expect to have to take out of the country? And the third question would be: For those Americans who are trying to get to an airport and may be kind of concerned about traveling throughout the city, will there be any sort of transport to an airport to catch one of the flights? And that’s it for now.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: We are looking at a variety of options at this point. I think what I can tell you is that we are going to have enough flights to take out all of the American citizens and their immediate family members who are looking to leave on one of these charter flights. So we’re talking, probably, about several flights over several days.

I can’t give you an exact number. A lot of American citizens actually live in Egypt and sometimes they prefer to stay and not leave. And so, really, we are depending on Americans who want to take advantage of these different charter flights to reach out to us to let us know. We’ll have a much better idea about numbers once we’ve been able to look at that information as it comes in.

QUESTION: Okay. And then what about transport within the city to get to an airport, and then again the destination of the charter (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: We’re going to look at the situation on the ground. We are relying very heavily on our Embassy in Cairo to give us the most up-to-date information. We understand right now, for example, that there is taxi service. I think there – people are able to get through, avoiding areas where there might be protests taking place. So we’re going to really look to our Embassy in Cairo to give us sort of the best ideas about how to get people to the airport.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the destination for the charter flights?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Right now, we’re still, I think, in the process of communicating with some of our other embassies to make sure that they’re staffed up and ready to serve as a safe haven. So I can tell you that they’re going to be in Europe, but I really, at this point, can’t give you the exact locations.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I guess one other question, just if you’ve been in touch with post, do you have any reports of large amounts of Americans going towards the Embassy at this point and trying to gather there? Is that happening?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: No, we haven’t had any reports. In fact, we are encouraging Americans to limit their movements and shelter in place, to the extent that they can, and certainly to avoid any location where it looks like there are protests taking place.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next is from Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking this call. Countries like India are also sending special charter flights to bring in their people stranded over there. So, Ma’am, are you coordinating with those other countries like India on this issue or helping other countries maybe who don’t – are not sending any charter flights but their citizens are stranded in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: That’s a good question. We are always wanting to help any way that we can. We do, of course, have to give priority to American citizens. And if there are seats available on a flight, we can sometimes make those available to other nationalities, of course, on a reimbursable basis. So I’m glad to hear that India is sending in some flights. I know that we have been contacted by some other embassies in Cairo to see if we can help with their nationals wanting to leave. But we always do this on a space-available basis, making sure that we give priority to our own citizens.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Courtney Kube, NBC News. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello, I want to go back to the numbers question. Number one, I’m confused now, because the charters that are going out beginning tomorrow, those are specifically only for dependents, Embassy dependents, and non-essential personnel; is that correct?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: No, we are – basically, we will be letting – or making space on those flights for dependents and non-essential personnel, but also for private American citizens. And we will have charters that probably take out nothing but private American citizens and their family members.

QUESTION: And the charters that are only going to take out private citizens, those begin tomorrow as well?


QUESTION: Okay. How many charters will begin running out tomorrow?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: I don’t think we’ve come up with an exact number at this point. We know that we’re probably going to have to run several of these flights over a number of days.

QUESTION: The thing I’m having a hard time understanding is how there’s no estimate for how many people you may need to evacuate, how many Americans, that you’re telling us there’s no estimate, but you say that you’re confident that you have plenty of charters, but you also don’t know how many charters there are. I’m just having a hard time understanding – there’s got to be some sort of an estimate that exists here for, number one, how many people you’re expecting to evacuate over the next few days and where you’re going to take them to.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Right. We have to come up with an estimate of the number of Americans that we believe are in any given country at any given time. That’s for emergency planning purposes. But that number – it’s very hard to look at that and then figure out exactly how many of those people will actually want to leave. And that’s why we are relying on people to actually reach out to us to let us know.

We are going to keep running the charter flights until we get people out. We’re not – basically, we will, by the end of today, probably have an idea about how many people will want to leave tomorrow, and then we will lay on additional charter flights until we’re able to accommodate anyone who wants to leave.

QUESTION: Okay, and then if I could just ask one more. Back to the military that Lolita brought up at the beginning, at this point, is it fair to say you don’t anticipate needing any assistance from the U.S. military in getting American citizens out?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: No, I don’t – other than perhaps chartering planes from the military. But anyway, no, we’re not – what you’re talking about is sort of a non-permissive atmosphere where we have to send in the military to help evacuate, and we don’t foresee anything like that.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Paul Eckert from Reuters. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Many of the questions I had were already asked, but I’d ask you to say two things. Do you have any accounts of casualties, injured or otherwise, dead, among American citizens at this point? And go ahead with that, I guess, first.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: No, at this point, we have no reports of any injured or deaths among the American citizen community.

QUESTION: And the reimbursable basis, does that mean these citizens will be presented with a bill later on when they’re home in the States, or are they going to be asked to pay –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: That’s right. They sign a promissory note and then we expect them to pay for that trip.

QUESTION: And airfare would be, what, basically what you would have to pay commercially for a similar flight?



OPERATOR: Again, if you would like to ask a question, you may press *1. If your question has been answered, you may withdraw your request by pressing *2. Our next question is from Oren Dorell from USA Today. Your lines is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks also for doing this. I guess I’m kind of wondering – I’d also like a little more detail, if possible, about where people are going to be going, because I guess if the charters are landing tomorrow and taking off tomorrow, they’re going to have to go – you must know where they’re going to be landing.

But also I’m trying to get a little information on what exactly prompted this today. Why is this happening today as opposed to yesterday or the day before? Things have been ramping up for a while.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: You mean regarding the charter flights?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: I think basically we – up until very recently, the commercial flights were pretty dependable going in and out of Cairo. And because those have become a little bit more sporadic, and because we are wanting to make sure that we get Americans out, especially once we have our family members leaving the country, that’s basically why we moved to these charter flights. This is pretty normal procedure for us in a crisis situation like this.

QUESTION: And where are they going to be taken to?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: I can’t tell you specifically where the flight or flights that leave tomorrow will go. I can tell you that the three places in Europe that we’re looking at as safe havens are Istanbul, Nicosia, and Athens. Again, we need to make sure that we are getting those places staffed up, and we’re doing that. We’re sending additional consular officers to all of those places.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, it was Istanbul, Athens, and what was the –


QUESTION: Okay. And again, so the – so non-essential Embassy personnel and dependents will be among the first to go, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: They will be among the first. But again, if we have available seats, we will include private American citizens. And then we will have charter flights that probably have nothing but private American citizens.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next is from Phil Gast from CNN. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. A little bit more information, please, on the U.S. Embassy. You say it’s available, I think you said, for emergency operations, but it’s, I guess, closed for normal business. But people are saying they’re sometimes getting a recording and being referred to the internet, which, of course, you mentioned is a problem for them. What is the situation on the typical American’s – someone who wants to leave – contact now with the Embassy? And are they getting recordings? Are there people they can talk to? Just, I guess, I needed you to expand what you meant by 24-hour emergency operations, please.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Okay. Well, we – as you can imagine, the Embassy staff in Cairo has been a little bit overwhelmed with the – by the number of inquiries, and so we are helping them back here. We have a 24/7 task force going. We have call centers where we are basically taking inquiries as they come in. The lack of internet access is a huge challenge for us because we really do rely a lot on our website to get information out into the hands of Americans. But we have found that the Americans, or family members, friends back here in the United States who are monitoring our website and the other information that we’re putting out, have been able to get that information to people in Egypt. That seems to be working pretty well. So we think that that is probably how most of the people in Egypt will wind up getting their information, although we are now making better use of radio stations, TV, and other media to try to get messages out.

QUESTION: Right. But if somebody – if I’m in Cairo or Alexandria and I – can you just – I know this is still developing – walk us through the step of how they’re going to know when it’s appropriate for them to go the airport? I imagine many are already there stuck. But how are you – is that going to be advised through phone recordings or, ideally, through relatives as well? How will I know if I’m there when might be an appropriate time for me to try to reach you or to know when I might be able to catch a flight?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Right. We are going to use all of the various media that we’re using right now. We’re going to have Warden messages. We’re going to post information on both the Embassy Cairo website, on our website. We’re going to have messages, automated messages at our call centers if people call where it will tell them exactly what to do and where to go. We don’t have all of that specific information at this point in time, so as soon as we get it, everything that we’re using now to try to get information out we’re going to do.

I think probably, though, the most effective way as long as internet service is down is going to be for Americans here in the United States or family members, friends, to monitor the information that we’re putting out and then conveying that information to people who are actually in Egypt.

QUESTION: Okay, one last question. I’m sorry. Could you provide that contact information you gave out earlier on the principal emails and phone numbers? I’d appreciate it.

Sure. The email address is [email protected].

QUESTION: USC, like University of Southern California?


QUESTION: Okay. And the numbers, please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: And the number within the U.S. or Canada is 1-888-407-4747.

QUESTION: And then you had – that’s Canada and U.S., and then you had one other 202 number.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Right. That would be 1-202-501-4444.

QUESTION: And that would be – that’s – how is that number different from the other one?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: That’s if you’re calling from outside the States. And you’ll get the same information.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, okay, I got you. Thank you very much.


OPERATOR: Again, if you would like to ask a question, you may press *1 and record your name. Our next question is from Laura Bly from USA Today. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thanks very much. I know you addressed this earlier, but could you reiterate the possibility of other airports – evacuation flights from other airports, including Luxor? When will you make that decision?

And also, the process of getting to the airport – you mentioned that travelers should arrive before – well before curfew. Can you confirm that the Cairo curfew has now been expanded from 4:00 to 3:00 p.m., and so it’s 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: As far as the charter flights going in to other areas or other cities, I think we will have to do that if we have large pockets of American citizens who are, for whatever reason, not able to get to Cairo. We know that in Luxor, for example, I heard on CNN today about a group of around a hundred people. So yes, we are definitely looking at those places outside of Cairo where we might have to do individual charter flights. And I am looking right now for confirmation that the curfew has been moved up to 3 o’clock. If that is the case, then we’re going to have to ask people to observe that curfew. And we have a very short window of time to get these charter flights – to operate them, and if it’s been moved up to 3:00 then our advice will be that they have to get to the airport before the curfew sets in.

QUESTION: You also mentioned that travelers should contact their airlines first. What if they can’t contact or can’t reach the airline? Can they just show up and board the flight without – if they don’t have any other source? You’re saying they should contact their own airlines first, but that may be difficult, if not impossible.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Right. You’re talking about a commercial flight or —

QUESTION: Commercial flights, yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Commercial. Basically, I can’t really speak for the airlines, but I think if someone shows up with a ticket that they’re – they have to accommodate that person.

QUESTION: But you said that the fights are becoming more sporadic?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Well, yes, and that’s why we are telling people to try to reach out to the airline beforehand. It’s hard to say. Yes, some of the airlines have either canceled flights or, because of the reduced window of time for flying in and out of Cairo, they’ve changed their schedules. So we do recommend that people try to reach out and get information from the specific airlines about – to get flight information.

QUESTION: But if someone just wants to get to the airport and stand by, you are saying you will accommodate anyone – any U.S. citizen who arrives at the airport and wants to fly?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: If – again, if you’re talking about the charter flight —


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: — we are basically going to – yes, we will accommodate people whether they – if they show up. We’re not encouraging people to head to the airport now, by any means. We don’t have the specifics on any charter flights for tomorrow, so we encourage people to stay put until we’re able to have that information and get that information out. So that’s for the charter flights. And if it’s a commercial flight, that’s really going to be between the American and the commercial airline. If they want to go to the airport and say board me, they’re going to have to sort that out with the – whichever airline they’re flying on.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Rosalind Jordan from Al Jazeera English Television. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on an earlier question about the timing of these flights. I’ve been wracking my brains and I can’t recall whether any similar flights were conducted for private American citizens in Cote D’Ivoire, in Haiti, in Tunisia, or in Yemen. Did – were U.S. citizens who didn’t have an affiliation with the Embassy or the consulates in those countries evacuated? And if they weren’t evacuated, what makes Egypt a special case?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Okay. Well, I think in Tunisia we did actually have a charter flight. We had one charter flight that took out private Americans there. A lot of this depends on the situation on the ground. If the airport is open and operating and flights are coming in and out, then we don’t need to do these special charter flights because people are able to get out on their own. So, in Tunisia, I know we did one flight because we had people who were not able to get out via commercial air.

In other countries, we – again, it depends on the situation on the ground. But we have done charter flights out of a number of countries where we basically have had to evacuate Americans. You know that we evacuated around 16,000 Americans and family members out of Haiti, but that was a very special situation in that we had military relief flights going in and we took advantage of those empty planes going back to fly out a number of American citizens and family members.

So every country and every situation is a little bit different. And we are always – our first preference is for people, if they can get out on a commercial flight, to do that. But when they can’t, then we do arrange for these charter flights.

QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up, and it goes back to Courtney’s question from NBC. I know that you’re having some difficulty putting hard numbers down, but if you’re suggesting that this could go on for several days, would it be fair to say that you’re looking at possibly moving several thousand American citizens from Egypt to those potential locations in Europe?


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: I think we have time for just two more questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next is from Paul Eckert from Reuters. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s me again. Are the Egyptian authorities cooperating with this or are they placing any restrictions on such outbound flights that you have planned? Who are you negotiating with to make this happen on the ground in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Well, we – the Egyptians have been helpful with all of the different clearances and other things that we need to carry out these operations. We still have an open line of communication and there hasn’t been a problem.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our final question comes from Oren Dorell from USA Today. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s – yeah, that’s again. How many Embassy personnel and dependents are going to be transported, evacuated?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBS: Can we get back to you with that number? I don’t want to give you wrong information. I think, all told, it’s probably around a thousand people, but I’m – really, I’m just guessing and I would much prefer to get back to you with a number.


MR. TONER: Great. Well, thanks so much, Assistant Secretary Jacobs, and for spending some time with us. And also thanks to all the reporters who joined us this afternoon.