Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 21, 2010.
|Volcanic ash / Air travel improved / Consular officers continue to provide assistance to stranded Americans
|Prayers and condolences to victims and families of those affected by train accident near Pretoria / Ambassador Gips and embassy staff assess situation / 40 Americans accounted for
|Deputy Secretary Jacob Lew welcomes African Union Delegation / AF hosts three-day talks at Department to strengthen U.S.-AU relationship
|Deputy Secretary James Steinberg in Kolkata and Dhaka
|Under Secretary Bill Burns en route to Angola / Travel to Liberia / Discussion with President Wade in Senegal
|Statements on U.S. involvement in Benazir Bhutto assassination and Peshawar attack refuted – “baseless and irresponsible” SYRIA
|Alleged transfer of SCUD missiles to Hezbollah / Latest discussions with Syria / No contact with Lebanese PAKISTAN
|Positive results from U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue remain a work in progress INDIA/PAKISTAN
|Warden message / Issued as a precaution / Concern for citizens / Continued cooperation with both countries / Intelligence issues not discussed / Ongoing effort to prevent attacks EUROPE
|Air travel improving / Need for assistance decreasing / Embassy staff continue to monitor the situation THAILAND
|U.S.’s stance on antigovernment protestors / Continue to encourage government and parties to work through longstanding tensions cooperatively SOMALIA
|Somali piracy transfer deferred to Pentagon / Status of prosecution deferred to Department of Justice / Respective countries responsible for prosecution CHINA
|Unaware of Secretary’s interaction with G-20 labor ministers in Washington to discuss child labor / Labor standards important to U.S. / Labor Department taking the lead ESTONIA
|Readout of Secretary’s agenda / Focus on NATO ministerial SRI LANKA
|Election results / Positive step for Sri Lankan society NORTH KOREA
|Reports of exported weapons to Burma / Responsibility to obligations under UNSR 1718 and 1874 / U.S. refusal to accept North Korea as a weapons state / Relationship with U.S. contingent upon fulfilling its obligations BURMA
Challenges surrounding U.S. engagement / Optimistic that ongoing dialogue will yield positive results
|Kurt Campbell’s travel to Hong Kong and Tokyo April 27 and 28
1:18 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A couple of things to chat about before taking your questions.
The aviation system in Europe is operating at roughly 75 percent capacity and the staffs of U.S. embassies and consulates throughout Europe continue to do everything possible to assist U.S. citizens who are understandably frustrated and inconvenienced by the flight cancellations called by – caused by the volcano. But in a few specific cases – in Berlin today, consular officers assisted a group of U.S. citizens and concentration camp survivors who had been forced to change hotels in Munich. The consulate helped more than 100 high school students find temporary lodging. In Frankfurt, they helped arrange dialysis for an elderly patient and gave emergency power of attorney to stranded citizens that would allow them to complete business deals in the United States. We continue to be available to provide loans to Americans who are completely out of money and without private funding sources, but we continue to be unaware that any such loans have taken place.
In South Africa, U.S. Embassy officers led by Ambassador Don Gips are at the scene of the tragic train accident near Pretoria. I would caution that first reports can frequently be wrong. But at this point, we believe that 40 American citizens were traveling on the train and we have been able to account for all of them. There are currently 10 Americans in local hospitals and our officers are making sure that they are getting the care that they need. And we certainly echo what Ambassador Gips said a short time ago, we offer our thoughts and prayers to those affected by the accident, we thank the South African emergency response and others who assisted immediately, and we continue to work closely with South African authorities to help our citizens get through this tragedy.
QUESTION: Just on that, when you say they’re all accounted for, they’re all alive, right?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: Because —
MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: — initially there were two reported missing, right?
MR. CROWLEY: But I think – my understanding is that may be train crew.
QUESTION: No, no, two of the Americans, I think.
MR. CROWLEY: No. Right now, we have accounted for all 40.
QUESTION: And of the 40, the 10 that are in the hospital, are those life-threatening injuries, do you know?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. But I think we’re – that’s – we have – our officers are going out to the hospitals as we speak to kind of help assess what their needs might be, but not aware of any life-threatening injuries at this point.
Deputy Secretary Jack Lew welcomed a delegation from the African Union today as part of the first U.S.-AU High Level Bilateral Meetings. These talks over three days are intended to add structure to the U.S.-African Union relationship and to broaden our engagement. And over the coming days these officials will meet with senior officials from the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council, the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Treasury and, of course, here at the State Department, led by our Africa Bureau.
Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg is in Kolkata this evening where the consul general hosted a dinner for him with a cross-section of representatives from government, industry, and civil society. And this interaction highlights opportunities for furthering the U.S.-India strategic partnership. And the deputy secretary travels to Dhaka tomorrow morning.
Under Secretary for Policy Bill Burns is now headed to Angola. He spent the day in Liberia where he discussed the country’s post-conflict recovery and reconstruction with President Sirleaf and her cabinet. Yesterday, he talked with President Wade in Senegal, other Senegalese officials and civil society to discuss democratic and economic reforms, as well as cooperation on regional security.
And finally before taking your questions, I just want to echo two statements put out this week by our Embassy in Pakistan. These statements rejected recent public comments by a former ISI official and by some members of Jamaat-e-Islami. General Gul made an outrageous suggestion that the United States was responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And Jamaat claimed the U.S. was somehow responsible for the terrible attack on their peaceful demonstration in Peshawar on Monday.
Such comments are baseless and irresponsible and should be examined by Pakistani media objectively. The United States and Pakistan are fighting and our citizens are dying at the hands of these common enemies. The extremists do not discriminate between striking Pakistani and American targets and continue to claim innocent lives of people from all walks of life from the peaceful Jamaat protestors to Benazir Bhutto.
And we are encouraged by the recent trends in Pakistani public opinion that recognize the value of the ongoing strategic dialogue and ever-improving cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. Many people in Pakistan recognize the positive tone and substance in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Our strategic partnership involves working together to address the needs of the Pakistani people and the security of Pakistan and the region. The United States and Pakistan, together, can and must take a stand against those who would serve as apologists for terrorists. In the best spirit of a free press, Pakistani editors and news makers should strive to highlight the irresponsibility of unfounded statements like these that are designed to divide rather than unite us.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Is there any clarity yet on the alleged, hypothetical transfer of SCUD missiles from Syria to Hezbollah?
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to study the matter.
QUESTION: And has there been any further contact with the Syrians about this or with the Lebanese for that matter?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had multiple conversations with Syria this week. I’m not aware of any particular contacts with Lebanon.
QUESTION: This week? I thought it was just the one.
MR. CROWLEY: I think we’ve had a conversation between our assistant secretary and the foreign ministry as well.
QUESTION: In Damascus?
MR. CROWLEY: In Damascus.
QUESTION: Can I just go back on your statement on Pakistan, sir?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Secretary had visited many times Pakistan and also she had given a lecture in Pakistan to the Pakistanis and also here in New York and elsewhere. Do you think there is another need for her to address the Pakistani community on this and other matters? Because one opinion poll around the globe by BBC is having a good image of America, but not in Pakistan. And you think there’s a need for her to bring to level – like as I said that during the last one year the U.S. is doing good in many countries, including in India, but not in Pakistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I think we are encouraged by recent trending. Goyal, you’re exactly right that – look back over a couple of years and the public opinion of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was not very high, I think public opinion polling in the teens in terms of favorability ratings, and that is of great concern to us. We have spent a great deal of effort building this relationship, explaining more significantly to the Pakistani people the – along with the Secretary in Pakistan doing that, and we think that has helped changed the environment. I think there was a significant and positive response to the recent U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and – but this remains a work in progress. And that’s one of the reasons why, between ourselves and the Embassy in Islamabad, we want to call those voices within Pakistani civil society who are saying things that can only incite public opinion in – to the detriment of Pakistan and the United States, and we would hope that civil society will rise and recognize the value of this emerging relationship, the fact that we are in it for the long term, see the importance of it not only to Pakistan but to the region as a whole. And we will continue – you’re exactly right; we will continue this dialogue with Pakistan, its government and its citizens, in the coming weeks and months.
Charlie. Or – go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just a quick one.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There are quite a good number of Pakistanis in the U.S. Do you think the Secretary is trying to reach them out or you are doing more to reach them here in the U.S. so it may make a difference back home in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: It can. You’re like reading my talking points here, Goyal. No, the diaspora – Pakistani diaspora in the United States can play an important role in improving U.S.-Pakistani relations, just as the Indian diaspora in this country already play a very affirmative role in terms of strengthening bonds between our two countries. So yes, this is all part of our ongoing effort to try to help do a better job of explaining the importance of this relationship, its benefits to both the United States and Pakistan, but it obviously continues to be a challenge.
QUESTION: In India, the Embassy has issued a warden message to Americans warning of a terrorist attack or possibility of. Do you have any more information on that than is what is in the warden message?
MR. CROWLEY: No. It was just a caution to our citizens within the American community that we have growing concerns about terrorism and that it might affect both Indian citizens and American citizens. We are very mindful of the fact that, in the attacks in Mumbai, Americans died and Indians died and citizens of other countries as well. So it was a – just a prudent warning about – to our citizens as they continue their business in the countries.
QUESTION: Well, there was a follow-up —
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there are some —
QUESTION: There was an order last week —
MR. CROWLEY: There are some specific concerns that we have, but we’re not going to go into them from here at the podium.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Just to follow Charlie’s —
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — do you think — because Indian authorities found about more than 50 pounds or more some material in Bangalore that is going to take some gains there. Fifty thousand people would have killed, according to Indian authorities, and they moved again from there. Do you think this linked, something to do or —
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t get any more specific than I did. Obviously, this is a shared challenge for India, for Pakistan, for Afghanistan, for the United States. We are concerned about attacks that can impact people there. We are concerned about attacks that emanate from the region to other parts of the world, including – affecting us here. This is a shared challenge, one that we take seriously, one that we know India and Pakistan take seriously. And we will continue our cooperation with both countries.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that real quick —
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Friday, you guys put out a travel alert for India and it did talk about threats or possible terrorist attacks.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there anything, I guess – I’m trying to tease out a little bit if there’s something new that had happened since Friday, between Friday and today, that prompted them to put out a warning message.
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question. Not to my knowledge, but I can’t go further.
QUESTION: Okay, so it may not be – it may be the same threat that was talked about in the warden message. I mean, I’m —
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I – put it this way: I happen not to know, but I can’t be any more specific than we are already.
QUESTION: Well, the message itself was pretty specific.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, it was.
QUESTION: It mentioned specific markets.
MR. CROWLEY: It did.
QUESTION: So, I mean, does that – that would suggest that there is information that these specific markets where Westerners and others may congregate, could be – are potential targets.
MR. CROWLEY: Whether we have specific threat information against those markets or just we have indications that the threat involves public spaces, I just can’t comment.
QUESTION: Without going much into the intelligence details, can you give us a sense of the intelligence sharing that you, U.S., India and Pakistan have against counterterrorism operations? And do you have any successful —
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t really talk about intelligence sharing between India and Pakistan. I’ll leave it to those two countries. I know that they have had high-level conversations in recent months on terrorism issues. We do have a strategic relationship with both India and Pakistan. Intelligence and counterterrorism is a significant element of that. We do share information. We do work cooperatively because it is a threat that affects each of us. So this underscores the fact that we have ongoing concerns about those who would try to disrupt favorable trends regarding security and cooperation in the region, and we will continue to do everything possible to prevent these attacks from taking place.
QUESTION: A different topic. Just back to the aviation crisis for a second.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thanks for those specific examples. But do you have an overall number of that request for assistance by American citizens and do you know what the State Department may be doing to assist international tourists here, if anything?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, of course, we have – countries would have embassies and consulates here that –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to assist them in any way.
MR. CROWLEY: — are looking after their own citizens, and we recognize that aviation authorities are trying to do the best they can to make unhappy citizens of the world comfortable in these dire circumstances. I can’t put a number on it. As we said yesterday, we’re fielding in some cases hundreds, and in at least one case in London more than a thousand calls or walk-in visitors. I suspect that with air travel continuing to expand, the pressure is starting to ease a little bit. But we will continue to pay attention to this as long as the backlog exists.
QUESTION: On a different topic, in Thailand there’s been a – the red shirts, the antigovernment protesters, have said that they don’t want to go – to come to the table right now in light of what’s happened in the past couple of weeks. How concerned is the U.S. with the situation now? And is the U.S. pushing for talks?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, ultimately this is something that has to be resolved within Thailand. There has been longstanding tension across Thai society about the representation of government and whether it serves the needs of all segments of Thai society. So we will continue to encourage both sides to work out their disagreements peacefully. We don’t think that violence in any way, shape, or form is the solution to this political challenge. But I can’t point to anything specific that is happening with our Embassy there, but we will continue to encourage the government and all parties within Thailand to try to work through these difficulties cooperatively.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just a – can you tell us about any role the State Department is playing in the transfer, which is now underway, of these five Somali piracy suspects to Norfolk?
MR. CROWLEY: I would defer to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: They deferred here. (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Really.
QUESTION: They didn’t defer directly to you but they deferred to their other colleagues in the U.S. Government.
MR. CROWLEY: It’s all part of this circular conspiracy that we have going on.
MR. CROWLEY: There are some Somali pirates on board U.S. military vessels and we have worked on this issue long and hard both within the region and back here in the United States. I believe we have at least one pirate in New York facing trial. Our focus right now is, to the extent that we have possession of pirates that have attacked U.S. vessels, we are – we have the ability to try those citizens in this country. Ultimately, the pirates will be transferred to civil authorities and I would defer to the Department of Justice as to prosecution once that takes place. But I would not deny that we have plans to bring pirates who are responsible for attacks against our vessels back to the United States.
QUESTION: Is it possible to –
MR. CROWLEY: Now, the State – just to finish – I mean the State Department role here is we continue to work within the contact group and those 48 countries. Every country has its own responsibility. Many countries are represented in the task force that has been patrolling off the shores of Somalia and the Horn of Africa for some time. We have worked cooperatively with Kenya and are continuing to look at other ways in which we can try to help resolve this challenge within the region. Kenya has been very receptive to prosecuting a number of these pirates in the past. But Kenya is reaching a capacity problem – challenge. So this is where all countries have to step up just as we are doing and take responsibility for pirates who have attacked their ships and prosecute them to the fullest extent of national law.
QUESTION: Different subject.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Quickly. The G-20 labor ministers are here in Washington meeting at the Labor Department and there is a problem, of course, about child labor around the globe including in (inaudible) those who are here, especially in China, the closed society. Has the Secretary had any interaction with these leaders or what do you think about this child labor around the globe including those who are here?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I failed to announce at the start of the briefing the Secretary is wheels up heading for Estonia as we speak. So I’m not aware that she has had any particular interaction with these labor ministers. But you’re exactly right, Goyal. Labor standards are vitally important to us. It is part of a conversation that we have with many countries around the world to bring labor standards up to international recognized standards. So it is part of our ongoing conversation and clearly Secretary Solis and the Labor Department are taking the lead in this one.
QUESTION: But is U.S. doing any – or helping those countries or any countries ask the U.S. help in bringing the labor standard to the level –
MR. CROWLEY: It is an issue that is part of our dialogue with many, many countries around the world where we have specific concerns about child labor. We take it very seriously. This is both a national and international responsibility.
QUESTION: On Estonia, can you just discuss what Secretary Clinton’s goal is in going to these meetings or is it more just sort of a – to discuss what’s going on there with NATO?
MR. CROWLEY: She will have bilateral meetings as well as the NATO ministerial. I think that the primary focus is on the NATO ministerial which will happen tomorrow – no, Friday, I’m sorry. But you have a number of issues on the table including the NATO ISAF support for the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. I think the Secretary will review with her fellow ministers, the NATO strategic concept, there is an issue regarding further expansion of NATO that they will focus on including the status of Bosnia. So those will be kind of the headlines of her trip to Tallinn.
QUESTION: Is it possible just to give a – to give a little bit more of a readout of what’s going on with the talks between the African Union and the U.S.? Are there specific issues that are being raised or will raise in the next few –
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Let’s see if we can’t add some visibility. They’re here for three days. Let’s see what we can do about that.
QUESTION: In Sri Lanka, election results have been announced and they have a new prime minister now, Jayaratne. What’s the message to the new Sri Lankan Government and prime minister?
MR. CROWLEY: I think our primary message to Sri Lanka is that there is – there appears to be a significant mandate coming out of this recent election and the government should use that mandate to help continue to – the healing process within Sri Lankan society to bring all elements of – to help Sri Lanka get past the recent conflict and move forward together.
QUESTION: Do you think things are moving in that direction in the –
MR. CROWLEY: We will continue to encourage Sri Lanka to use the power of this election ad the momentum coming out of this election, use it to best advantage.
QUESTION: There was a report that in North Korea, exported some weapons to Burma last week. Do you have any information on that and any comments?
MR. CROWLEY: Without verifying that particular report, I would simply note that all states, including Burma, have a special responsibility to be vigilant and transparent in their dealings with North Korea. And we have longstanding concerns about military links between North Korea and Burma and we expect all UN member states, including Burma, to carry out their obligations under U.S. security – UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
QUESTION: So is that a yes?
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You know how –
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Southern Lebanon.
QUESTION: Several senators have introduced a legislation – the U.S. Senate asking – sort of questioning Secretary Clinton for assessing the U.S policy – new U.S. policy of engagement with the Burmese because that hasn’t worked so far. So do you think it’s the right time to assess your new policy with Burma because it’s not working?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean the challenge of Burma wasn’t created in one year. It’s not going to be solved in one year. We have shifted to a policy of engagement following a comprehensive review of our Burma policy. We did it because, quite honestly, sanctions alone had not yielded results either. We have begun high-level dialogue with the Government of Burma on a long – a wide range of issues of interest and concern and we will continue this conversation. As we said, we’ve been disappointed with some steps that Burma has taken recently, particularly with respect to its election laws. Burma has an ongoing challenge. It has to – it has to solve much of its challenge internally with broader dialogue, with various elements of Burmese society. It has to open up its political process to more participants. We will continue to send that strong message to Burma and I think that we would hope that over time it will yield results. But we are not surprised that this has been a difficult process.
QUESTION: Are you getting –
MR. CROWLEY: We got — go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you getting up to declare the upcoming election null and void because it’s one-sided elections –
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve already indicated our concerns and that under these circumstances, we would not recognize that result.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) relationship between North Korea and Burma. Where do the Burmese
get their military equipment or – is it something linking to China?
MR. CROWLEY: Sounds like a fine question to ask my counterpart in Burma. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t think we have a counterpart in Burma.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) That may be true, too.
QUESTION: North Korea said today that it will build nuclear weapons as much as India and call for peace treaty with the United States. Do you have any comment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is not a new request from North Korea. North Korea is – the path opened – the path available to North Korea is very clear. It continues to avoid what it knows it has to do. We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Its current path is a dead end. North Korea ultimately has no choice but to come forward and engage the international community. It has to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement and UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
As we’ve said many, many times, if it meets its obligations, if it comes constructively back to the Six-Party process, then there are opportunities available to North Korea for a different relationship with the United States. But they cannot expect a different relationship until they take specific actions first.
QUESTION: Will Kurt Campbell be traveling to Japan anytime soon?
MR. CROWLEY: Kurt does have travel plans coming up next week. He will depart Sunday for travel to Hong Kong and Tokyo, and he has a speech that he will give at the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Hong Kong and he will meet with senior Japanese officials, I think, April 27 and 28.
QUESTION: What will he be discussing with them?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure it will be a wide range of issues, including our favorite topic. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)