State Department Briefing by Phillip J. Crowley, December 16, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–December 16, 2010. 

1:56 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, moving onto other issues. Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary called Azerbaijani President Aliyev. They discussed the strategically important partnership between our two countries. She reiterated to President Aliyev that the U.S. relationship with Azerbaijan remain strong, and she took the opportunity to convey her regret for the WikiLeaks disclosures. As the Secretary also made clear during her visit to Baku last July, Azerbaijan remains a key partner of the United States, including serving as a member of the ISAF coalition in Afghanistan and cooperating with us on – closely to – on counterterrorism and other important security issues.

QUESTION: But, P.J., on that —


QUESTION: What was the response? The cables that came out about Aliyev and his family were some of the most embarrassing. Was there a response from the president as to her expression of regret?

MR. CROWLEY: I think he simply indicated that he did not think that alleged cables would affect our long-term relationship.

You – just to – I think Mark Toner earlier today confirmed that in Ivory Coast, an errant rocket-propelled grenade did strike the outer perimeter of the embassy with only slight damage and no injuries. We remain very concerned about the outbreak of violence today in Cote d’Ivoire. We understand that there are a number of injuries, and as many as 18 have been reported killed. The UN operation in Cote d’Ivoire set up a field hospital to treat those who have been wounded. And we deplore the use of violence and, again, call on everyone to remain calm as we continue to work with the international community to help resolve this situation. This evening, a combined African Union and ECOWAS delegation is expected to arrive in Abidjan to continue to encourage President Gbagbo to step aside.

Also, in Yemen —

QUESTION: No, wait for one second.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I understand the embassy’s going to authorize departure.

MR. CROWLEY: It is something that we are considering given the violence, but we have not yet made a decision.

In Yemen, we can confirm that there was an attack on an embassy vehicle. Thankfully, those in the vehicle were not injured, and we have an ongoing investigation. The attack occurred in Hadda, which I think is a suburb of Sanaa.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick question on that real quick?


QUESTION: There were some conflicting reports I was hearing about whether they were actually in the vehicle or not, whether the bomb was thrown in the vehicle or placed – I mean, can you give us a sense of —

MR. CROWLEY: My understanding is that there were people in the vehicle. The bomb went off outside the vehicle, but again, thankfully, there were no injuries. But I agree with you, we’ve heard different reports on this. But my understanding – my last understanding was that there were actually personnel inside the vehicle.

QUESTION: And can you clarify whether they were embassy personnel that you’re talking about or – the reports were just saying Americans. I just wondered —


QUESTION: I know it was an embassy vehicle, but —

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m – there’s still details being clearly understood by the embassy, so that – I understand that there were Americans in the vehicle. But as to who they were, we’re still trying to narrow that down.

QUESTION: And was a missile —


QUESTION: That’s almost 24 hours ago.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – again, I —

QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re —

MR. CROWLEY: We were on the phone not 30 minutes ago just trying to clarify these details and they’re still sketchy, to be quite honest.

QUESTION: Well, does this mean that these are people who may work for an agency that doesn’t operate out of this building? I mean, what are we talking about here?

MR. CROWLEY: Again —

QUESTION: Were they government employees?

MR. CROWLEY: Matt, we’ve asked all those same questions. I’m – I believe they were embassy personnel, but we are trying to specifically nail that down. So that is our emerging understanding, but not all the details are clear yet.

QUESTION: Did Assistant Secretary Feltman return from Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: Assistant Secretary Feltman departed Yemen. He is in Libya today. He had a meeting earlier today with Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa.

One more, Deputy Secretary Steinberg, along with NSS senior director Jeff Bader and Ambassador Sung Kim, did meet today with senior Chinese officials. They met with State Councilor Dai Bingguo, director of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Minister Wang Jiarui, the Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, and Vice Foreign Minister Tiankai and Special Representative for the Korean Peninsula Ambassador Wu Dawei.

They talked about both the bilateral relationship issues on the Korean Peninsula and preparations for the upcoming visit of President Hu Jintao.

George – and one more, George Mitchell has met with Catherine Ashton – I think you saw a detailed statement from Catherine Ashton’s office earlier today – then met with French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie, and is due to arrive back here in the United States this evening.

QUESTION: P.J., as you may have noticed, Julian Assange was released on bail in London today. Do you guys care what happens to him? Does this appear on your radar screen at all, or is it just basically something that —

MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps will that put the conspiracy theories to bed once and for all? Look, there’s a legal proceeding underway in Britain, and we are obviously monitoring it. But we did not have any involvement in it.

QUESTION: Is there concern, since he eluded authorities for so long that he might skip out again?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Britain is a nation of laws. He’s been released on bail. I believe there’ll be future court proceedings where he will be expected to appear. And like I say, we are not involved.

QUESTION: WikiLeaks related. You’ve seen out there on the web a document from – addressed to people who work – some people who work in CA, telling them that they are not allowed to look at these cables, even on their home computers.

MR. CROWLEY: No. I’m glad you raised that. Just to clarify that memo. And recall, our – as department-wide, our concern is that these are classified documents and to download them onto an unclassified computer represents a security violation. So we have, in fact, told all State Department employees not to download these documents on an unclassified system. There was a mention in this letter which was written at the behest of the union just clarifying, because employees are authorized to have personal breaks while working here at the State Department, that on their personal breaks they are also not authorized to access these documents. That had nothing to do with whatever they do at home.

QUESTION: So they can look at them, but they can’t download them?

MR. CROWLEY: Here at the State Department, working on a State Department computer system, no one, not me, not anyone else, can download these documents.

QUESTION: So when it says they shall not access any classified documents, including WikiLeaks, during business hours or on their personal time —

MR. CROWLEY: That’ll be —

QUESTION: — that personal time is within the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: That personal time is while here on break at the State Department.


MR. CROWLEY: What they do when they leave here, obviously their home computer, their own personal network, their own decision.

QUESTION: All right. And then just two more on this, and without getting any – into any specific cables, are you aware or did there ever come a time in 2009, the last year, that Chevron may have been negotiating with Iran regarding a Iran-Iraq oil project?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me take that question. Obviously, Iran has been subject to sanctions, but let me clarify whether any such conversation that might have happened would be a potential violation.

QUESTION: And then also, are you aware of, at any point in the last two years, Raul Castro, through the Spanish, trying to open up a direct dialogue with the White House and him being basically – or the Spanish being told in return that, no, no, he should go – we’ve made a number of outreach efforts so far, and he should – if he wants to open up a dialogue with – a direct dialogue with the U.S., he should go through the normal diplomatic channels.

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear to Cuba that, first and foremost, before we would envision any fundamental change in our relationship, it is Cuba that has to fundamentally change, and that we would respond accordingly to any actions that Cuba undertook to release political prisoners, to fundamentally change its political system. That remains our position. But we still continue to engage Cuba on specific issues, such as migration issues, which has a clear humanitarian issue. We have opened up greater opportunities for travel of family members, which is, again, something that – of a humanitarian nature.

But we are – we will consider changes in our relationship only when we start to see a real change on —

QUESTION: Well, this is —

QUESTION: Well, what is dialogue?

QUESTION: Hold – hold on a second. This is not – this a little more narrow than a change in policy. This is just talking about – I mean, this is Castro seeking a direct contact – seeking direct contact with the White House, not necessarily a change in policy.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m just – we have an Interests Section in Havana that operates. We do have specific dialogue with the Government of Cuba. And a broader, higher level dialogue is — will only be feasible once we see real change in Cuba. As we’ve said, we’re prepared to respond as Cuba changes, but we have not seen anything approaching fundamental change in Cuba at this point.

QUESTION: But why is a broader dialogue only feasible once there’s a change in Cuba? I thought this Administration and this President campaigned on engagement with one’s enemies in order to change the behavior.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, but we engage at an appropriate level where we see an opportunity. We have limited dialogue with Cuba right now on specific issues — postal issues, migration issues.

QUESTION: These are small technical issues, though. This President –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand.

QUESTION: No, I believe that this President did campaign on engagement with one’s enemies or countries that you don’t have – that you don’t agree with in order to find areas of – further areas of common interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will pursue our national interest. We are willing to pursue engagement. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this. Our approach to Cuba doesn’t necessarily have to mirror our approach to Iran, which doesn’t necessarily have to mirror our approach to North Korea. We continue to review our policies with respect to Cuba. We have made, over the past 18 months, some changes to allow certain activities to expand. We continue to evaluate how to increase people-to-people contact between the American people and the Cuban people. But in terms of a broader, higher level dialogue, we’ve made clear we want to see fundamental changes occur in Cuba, and we will respond as those occur.


QUESTION: On North Korea, there’s some reporting of an agreed list – an agreement among the United States, South Korea, and Japan – a specific list of things that North Korea has to do to get the talks going again, the Six-Party Talks. Does such a list exist and has it been conveyed to the North Koreans?

MR. CROWLEY: There are things that we believe North Korea needs to do. One is to cease provocations. A second is to reduce tensions in the region. A third is to improve its relationship with South Korea. And a fourth is to take affirmative steps to denuclearize in line with the 2005 joint statement, and others is to abide by its international obligations under UN Security Council resolutions.

So North Korea knows what it needs to do. We’ve made no secret of those kinds of criteria that we need to see that will – that action on those criteria would demonstrate to us a seriousness of purpose that might open the door to renewed dialogue. So there are a list of things that we want to see North Korea do, but it is more in a category of once we see a consistent seriousness of purpose on North Korea to reduce tensions in the peninsula, then we’ll evaluate what steps we would take.

QUESTION: But this – does this – has this existed as a diplomatic note of some sort?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, we have had conversations with North Korea. They know exactly what we expect them to do. They have failed to respond to the kinds of actions that we would like to see.

QUESTION: South Korea is planning some live fire drills in the same area that the skirmish a few weeks ago or a month ago erupted. And I was wondering if you – this weekend. And I was wondering if you had advised the South Koreans that this would be – kind of could be perceived as provocative by the North and could lead to further escalation, and whether you’ve advised them not to do them.

MR. CROWLEY: No. We’ve been fully briefed on the planning for this exercise. We always stand ready as an ally to and are committed to the defense of South Korea. These are routine exercises. There’s nothing provocative or unusual or threatening about these exercises. The North Koreans have been notified about what South Korea plans to do.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you say that they’re not provocative, but the North Koreans clearly saw them as provocative and an act of war and asked the South Koreans not to do them. The South Koreans did them anyway. And obviously, what North Korea did was in disproportionate response, but they clearly see these as provocative actions. And given the escalation and the tensions in the region right now, do you think it’s a smart idea for South Korea to be further pissing off the North Koreans, for lack of a better word?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) A technical diplomatic term, not loosely. (Laughter.) Well, I would just challenge the presumption, Elise, behind the question that these are actually legitimately connected. Recall in the previous incident where North Korea shelled a South Korea island; in fact, a number of hours had passed between the South Korean live fire exercise and the North Korean shelling, so it’s hard to see how – that North Korea would be somehow responding to what it perceived as a South Korean provocation.

We clearly saw this as a premeditated act by North Korea. South Korea is entitled to take appropriate steps in its self defense, making sure that its military is prepared in the event of further provocations. It is a perfectly legitimate step for South Korea to take. North Korea should not see these South Korean actions as a provocation. And we —

QUESTION: But they do. But they do. And so if they’re leading to further escalation in the region, why are they a good idea?

MR. CROWLEY: It is a fundamental right of every sovereign state to take appropriate steps, to train its military, to be prepared to take action in its own defense. These are things that happen all the time. And we are committed to help South Korea. The North Koreans would be very unwise to react to what South Korea has announced.

QUESTION: But P.J., why would you do this if you know it’s going to increase tensions further?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no need for two increased tensions in the area. This is a preannounced, live fire exercise. The North Koreans clearly should know what is going to happen. It is not directed at North Korea. It is to help the South Korean military (inaudible) — properly trained and prepared in – should North Korea take further steps. North Korea does not have to react to what South Korea plans to do.

QUESTION: P.J., the Administration has been courting China, asking China, pushing China to do something about North Korea for weeks now.


QUESTION: Are you seeing any progress on that front? Have they said anything to your diplomats or actually done anything that makes you think they will follow through on this request?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the discussions with Deputy Secretary Steinberg and his delegation are ongoing. I believe they’ll have a statement that they’ll release as they depart Beijing. Obviously, North Korea is one of the issues that has been discussed in Beijing. We want to make sure that a clear and unified message is sent to North Korea that further provocations are unwarranted.

QUESTION: When is that? That’s overnight that they leave or —

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, they’re still in Beijing. They’ll be leaving to return to the United States tomorrow and I believe the delegation will release a statement as it concludes its visit.

QUESTION: And that would be a statement just from the delegation or a joint U.S.-China statement?

MR. CROWLEY: It will be a statement from the Embassy in Beijing on behalf of the delegation.

QUESTION: But P.J., you’ve been sending this unified message for weeks now. I mean, we’ve heard it over and over again from all levels and all kinds of people. And you’re saying up to now, you have seen no sign of progress that makes you —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Nicole, again, I – one of the purposes of Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s visit and his meeting with Dai Bingguo was to get a firsthand account of Chairman Dai’s recent visit to Pyongyang, a fresh perspective on the thinking of the North Korean leadership. I just want to – I want to read out – I haven’t had a readout of the meetings yet, so I – it’s hard for me to characterize what the nature of this latest discussion is.


MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we want China to use all of its influence to make clear to North Korea that these provocations are unwarranted, they do raise tensions, and they are opposed to both our interest and China’s interest. We have a shared interest here. We want to see peace and stability on the region. And we’ve – we want to make sure that China is using its influence to try to steer North Korea in a different direction.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, the Arab League Follow-up Committee decided that there would be no further peace talks with Israel until Washington announces a firm and clear path regarding those talks. Any reply from you?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve had what we thought were constructive meetings this week and will have more meetings with the parties next week. The Arab League continues to support the role the United States is playing and engaged in the parties. That is what we plan to continue to do.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you didn’t want to comment further on this issue, on what – the talks that Special Envoy Mitchell had in Cairo with Amr Moussa and President Mubarak and the foreign minister of Qatar until the follow up committee announces its decision. Can you talk further about what the – Mitchell heard from those leaders during his talks yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t – unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a full readout of his meetings there. We are going to continue to engage the parties, try to find ways to address the substance, to make progress, and that is our intent.

QUESTION: I think just —

QUESTION: Will you – are you – sure.

QUESTION: Just to follow real quick on that, actually, the – I think what the Arab League said – that they would not support talks without a strong American plan. At what point does the U.S. plan to put forward such a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, part of our purpose of the meetings that the Secretary had with the negotiators last week, and George Mitchell had with the parties and with others this week, was to try to outline a path forward. That’s what he’s done and we’re going to have follow-on meetings this coming week with George’s deputy, David Hale. So we are committed to continue to engage the parties, to begin to push them to share ideas on the substance of the core issues.

As we’ve said, we’re fully prepared, once we gain a better understanding of their positions on the core issues, to offer our own bridging proposals. So we are – we will continue to engage the parties and see what we can do to make progress.

QUESTION: This morning, the President told a group of Native American leaders that the U.S. would sign the UN Charter on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re familiar with this?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you explain why the Administration has decided to do this now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, today’s announcements – follows a comprehensive review process. It was announced in April of this year. It included a consultation with the relevant U.S. agencies and numerous North American tribes, outreach to indigenous organizations, civil society, and other interested parties. So it’s just – the President announced this as the completion of our lengthy process.

QUESTION: Right, but – I mean, why? Just that it’s a good thing to do?


QUESTION: I mean, you – not you, not this Administration, but the last Administration refused to sign it.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that —

QUESTION: So what’s the – what is the difference in thinking between the current Administration and the last administration on this? Well, I mean, I’m not really asking you to explain the last administration’s position.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m asking you why did the – does the Obama Administration think it’s a good thing to sign this, other than just that – I mean, is there a reason other than "Hey, here’s another international agreement we can sign up to?"

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we support the UN declaration. It – we think it’s an important and meaningful change in the U.S. position. Obviously, as with any international declaration, we have certain reservations that we’ve – that we will voice reflecting our own domestic and constitutional interests. But the President thinks it’s the right thing to do. We reviewed the standing U.S. position and the President decided to support the declaration and made that clear this morning.

QUESTION: But – okay, but my question is why, unless there is no other reason than "We thought it was the right thing to do?" I mean, why go ahead and —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, you’re – this did not sneak up on us. We announced in April that we were going to review our position. We’ve done that review. The President has made a decision to change the U.S. position. And we – he thinks it’s in our – both our national interest as well as the right thing to do, and has so announced.

QUESTION: But can you say whether it’s fair to say that the – any of the concerns about federal versus state versus tribal have all been resolved at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s a nonbinding declaration. It was originally adopted by the General Assembly in 2007. We’re committed to making U.S. support for the declaration meaningful. It is part of our ongoing work with tribal leaders and their communities.

QUESTION: But on the legal question —


QUESTION: — (inaudible) – and there – my understanding was that there had been some concern that signing on to this would violate some law along the way, either federal, state or tribal, and —

MR. CROWLEY: No, it – we think it —

QUESTION: — has that been – do those persist?

MR. CROWLEY: Even though it’s legally nonbinding, we think it carries considerable moral and political force. As with any international agreement, we have put in place provisions that are consistent with U.S. law. That was all what we evaluated as part of this review.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)