State Department Briefing by Phillip J. Crowley, December 22, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–December 22, 2010. 


Salute to Last Class of FSI Public Affairs Officers Graduating
Monitoring Senate START Treaty Vote / Secretary Clinton Trip to the Hill
Statement on Iran and Human Rights / International Treaty Obligations
Cote D’Ivoire Election / President Gbagbo Statements / President-Elect Ouattara Declared Winner / No Reason to Question Results / Post in Touch with Ouattara and Government / ECOWAS / Peacekeepers / Human Rights Abuses /
Cote D’Ivoire Election / President Gbagbo Statements / President-Elect Ouattara Declared Winner / No Reason to Question Results / Post in Touch with Ouattara and Government / ECOWAS / Peacekeepers / Human Rights Abuses / French Involvement
Have the Ability to Talk to North Korea When Needed / Communicating with North Korea
Governor Richardson’s Visit
Six-Party Talks / Bilateral Discussions / International Obligations
South Korea Military Drills No Threat to North Korea
Agrément for Ambassador Palmer
Manas Air Base / DOD Contracts
Warden Message / Monitoring Embassy Security / Have Taken Appropriate Precautions
Monitoring of Media Coverage of Earthquake / Proud of Achievements in Haiti / Port-au-Prince Press Operation / Value Media Coverage
Brazilian Contribution to MINUSTAH Operation
Concern over Human Rights Abuses


1:29 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Department of State. The first thing I want to do is salute the last class of information and public affairs officers who will be graduating tomorrow from the Foreign Service Institute. They will soon be at posts around the world from Pretoria to Sofia to all places in between. But they will be here to serve the needs of the media around the world in the future. So we welcome them to the State Department briefing.

Just a couple of things to mention to you. Clearly, from the Secretary on down we are monitoring the Senate and anticipate a vote on the New START Treaty perhaps in the next hour. The Secretary has been monitoring developments this morning from home. She actually plans to go up to the Hill, perhaps is leaving her house as we speak, and will be there when the vote takes place.

Over the course of a number of months either in phone calls, meetings, or interactions on the Hill, she has perhaps touched virtually every member of the Senate where she has great friendships from her time there. And we believe this will be a strong bipartisan statement and an important development both in the nonproliferation agenda and demonstrates our commitment to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons. It is certainly appropriate that the two countries with the leading nuclear arsenals should demonstrate a commitment to arms control and to reduction in the size of their respective nuclear forces.

QUESTION: Why did you use the word perhaps?

MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps. Perhaps what?

QUESTION: She has perhaps touched –

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that she has talked to every single senator, but I think she has touched virtually everyone if not everyone. I can’t – I haven’t got a whip count. So that’s why I qualified it slightly.

At the end of the briefing you’ll see a statement from Secretary Clinton. The United States welcomes the UN General Assembly resolution calling on the Government of Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. This resolution also reiterates the need for Iran to permit credible and independent investigations of all allegations of human rights violations. The international community is deeply concerned about ongoing human rights abuses in Iran, the plight of Iranian citizens facing persecution at the hands of their government.

Yesterday’s UN resolution recognizes the severity of this troubling situation, particularly the continued harassment, persecution, and violent repression of political opponents, human rights defenders, and a wide variety of civil society representatives, and it reflects our concern that an increasing number of Iranian political prisoners have had to undertake life-threatening hunger strikes in order to invoke their minimal due process protections. These rights are enumerated in Iran’s own constitution and called for under Iran’s international treaty obligations. To those Iranians struggling to lift your voices and speak up for fundamental freedoms and human rights, as the Secretary reports, you are not alone. The United States and the international community stand with you.

And finally, regarding Ivory Coast, yesterday President Gbagbo held a news conference, I believe, where he called for an independent body to review the election results. In fact, this has already been done by Cote D’Ivoire’s own Independent Electoral Commission, and the United States under its certification mandate has already done what President Gbagbo proposes. These certified results irrefutably show that President-elect Ouattara was the winner. Credible, accredited, and independent election observers have declared the election to be fair and reported no incidences of fraud that would change the outcome as announced by the Electoral Commission. And so Mr. President Gbagbo must accept the results of the election. From our standpoint, this is not negotiable.

President Gbagbo also claimed that the current situation in Cote D’Ivoire has been peaceful. This is untrue. The international community is documenting widespread human rights abuses occurring in the country from home abductions to a feared mass grave in Abidjan. The International Criminal Court is monitoring the situation. The United Nations Human Rights Council also announced that it will hold a special session to address these abuses tomorrow.


QUESTION: On Ivory Coast, P.J.?


QUESTION: Any – there was some suggestion here about financial sanctions to supplement the travel. Any movement there?

MR. CROWLEY: It is something that we have under active consideration.

QUESTION: Also on Ivory Coast, has this building read the full ruling of the supreme court of the Ivory Coast. I mean, I know that you say that the international observers certify the election, but as far as I know, the supreme court said that there should be some kind of examination or recount. I mean, have you read the full ruling of the supreme court?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m certain that the post in Abidjan, led by our able Ambassador Phillip Carter, is familiar with the court ruling. I have not seen it.

QUESTION: So I mean, what are you – if you could just be a little bit more clear, I mean, I know you just said, but if you could just be a little bit clearer about what you’re basing the election results on. I mean, are you – is it unrefutable that Gbagbo won the – lost the election?


QUESTION: According to whom?

MR. CROWLEY: According to the Ivory Coast’s own Independent Election Commission, which certified the results. I understand that President Gbagbo appealed these results to a supreme court within which he has great influence. But from our standpoint, everything that the United States and other international observers have seen in the election and the aftermath, we see no reason to question the results as certified by the Independent Electoral Commission.

QUESTION: Also on the Ivory Coast, Ouattara’s Prime Minister Soro was – said in an interview today that they felt that force was now the only option, that there was no other way out of it. Does the U.S. take a view on that and are you in direct contact with the Soro camp? The Ouattara-Soro camp?

MR. CROWLEY: I – through our post I believe we have been in touch with both the government and President-elect Ouattara and his supporters. We certainly would hope that the use of force would not be necessary. That said, we believe that the United Nations force in Cote D’Ivoire has had a great stabilizing effect, and we have talked to countries about how to perhaps reinforce the UN force there to make clear to President Gbagbo that he has to step down.

QUESTION: Is that a U.S. – proposals that you’re making to other countries to strengthen the UN force?

MR. CROWLEY: We are talking to countries about how to – I mean, given the challenge that President Gbagbo issued for the UN force to part, we can’t rule out that at some point in time he may challenge the presence of that force through force of his own. We want to make sure that the UN has the capability to maintain peace and stability in Cote D’Ivoire while this is being worked through. And so we are in discussions with other regional countries to see if there are ways in which we can reinforce the UN peacekeeping force.

QUESTION: And that would involve both additional troops and military equipment?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know about military equipment, but certainly one of the issues that we are discussing is how can we make sure that the UN force that is there can continue to maintain peace and stability in Cote D’Ivoire as this situation unfolds.

QUESTION: Thank you, P.J. Two question on North Korea.

QUESTION: No, wait, wait.

QUESTION: Let’s stick with –

QUESTION: Since you’ve opened this can of worms, what countries are you talking to?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re talking to a number of countries within ECOWAS.

QUESTION: Okay, so that would be Nigeria? How many other ECOWAS countries are there that have a large number of troops that can be deployed rapidly within the –

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll – I’m just going to – I will say that to the extent that –

QUESTION: I think the army in Guinea Bissau is a little bit preoccupied right now, so –

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: — can you be more specific?

MR. CROWLEY: No, I’m not – I will not – this – to the extent that – we would hope that it is not necessary to employ force. By the same token, we recognize the value of having peacekeepers there, and understand that we support other countries like France are in a position to play a supporting role as well. So this is a conversation that we are having within the international community about how to buttress the peacekeepers who are there. And it is – it could be that that kind of reinforcement could be another way to send a clear message to President Gbagbo.

QUESTION: Is that conversation happening there or at the – in New York or in the AU or in Abuja? Where is that conversation happening?

MR. CROWLEY: All of the above.

QUESTION: Can you give us more detail on the reference you made to an additional mass grave found? And what other mass – have you heard something about a mass grave in Daloa?

MR. CROWLEY: That is something that is being investigated, that to the extent that President Gbagbo and his regime do have some armed – I suppose the genteel word would be militia; a more appropriate word might be thugs, at his disposal. We are concerned about ongoing human rights abuses and that people are being intimidated, people are being killed and their bodies dumped in a mass grave in Abidjan. That is being investigated.

QUESTION: And what specifically is the U.S. doing to investigate that? Are you appointing a special envoy to investigate, or what formal steps will you take to investigate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said, the International Criminal Court of the UN has a mission there and is in the best position to investigate these – this situation.

QUESTION: Korean News – the South Korean News Agency today, Yonhap, reports that the U.S. and North Korea actually restored the unofficial dialogue through New York channel. Could you confirm that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m puzzled by the word “restored.” We have the – as we have said many times, we have the ability to talk to North Korea when there is a need. We have had conversations with North Korea from time to time so that it has the opportunity to hear from us firsthand about our concerns about its provocative behavior. I’m not going to cite particular examples of how that happens, but when we need to communicate a stern message to North Korea, we have the ability to do that.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to them recently through the – have there been communications recently through the New York channel?

MR. CROWLEY: We do communicate –

QUESTION: I didn’t mean from time to time. I meant recently, since – in the last couple of weeks since this recent escalation, and specifically since Governor Richardson’s visit.

MR. CROWLEY: I can – not since Governor Richardson’s visit, but since the situation – since the shelling in recent weeks, perhaps.

QUESTION: Governor Richardson is unofficial channel or he is the official channel for the —

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Governor Richardson is official channel for the United States or –

MR. CROWLEY: Governor Richardson –


MR. CROWLEY: — is not an official channel.

QUESTION: Okay. So –

MR. CROWLEY: He is a private citizen and –

QUESTION: Well, not entirely. It’s – he is an elected official.

MR. CROWLEY: He is an elected official, but the portfolio of the governor, of a sitting governor, does not normally include North Korea.

QUESTION: Did you get your –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Alaska (inaudible) Russia.

MR. CROWLEY: You can see it from there. I understand that. No, in other words, Governor Richardson, my understanding is he is on his way back, if not already back, in New Mexico. I’m not aware that we’ve an outreach from him to report back on his visit. But as I said, when we have a need to communicate something to North Korea, we have the ability to do that.

QUESTION: He’s back. Have you reached out to him to get his briefing?

MR. CROWLEY: We have not reached out to him. It is entirely possible that perhaps after we get past the holiday, he may well give us a call and let us know what he heard. If he does, we look forward to that conversation.

QUESTION: P.J., since the shelling you said “perhaps.” So when and how did the United States had a talk with North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will just repeat what I said. We do have the ability to talk to North Korea when needed. We do not talk about when that occurs or how that occurs.

QUESTION: But you said “perhaps,” so it means perhaps you had a talk, right?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll – we do communicate with North Korea from time to time when we feel it’s appropriate.

QUESTION: North Korea said intention to talk to either – direct talk to either United States, between U.S. and North Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure of the –

QUESTION: North Korea only want U.S. and North Korea talks, not the Six-Party Talks, preferred –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the value of the Six-Party framework is that there are implicit in that a number of different relationships that are all important. We recognize that China and North Korea have a relationship. We recognize that South Korea and North Korea need to have an effective relationship, given the realities on the Korean Peninsula. We understand that Japan has important interests with respect to North Korea. It’s one of the – and Russia as well. We – so there is value in the Six-Party framework, within which you can have meaningful bilateral discussions as well. We are not against having bilateral discussions with North Korea, but they have to be under the right circumstances. And as we’ve made clear, it will be important for North Korea to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose before we envision having anything involving further discussions, whether it is within a Six-Party context or within a bilateral context.

QUESTION: P.J., the recent uranium revelations from North Korea – China said yesterday that it believes North Korea has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but should be opening its borders to the IAEA inspectors. Does the U.S. believe that North Korea has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and what will this uranium track mean for any efforts to verify future denuclearization?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, countries do have rights, but countries also have responsibilities. Implicit in the rights of any country is meeting international obligations. North Korea, right now, is not meeting its obligations. It’s not meeting its commitments. It has withdrawn from the Nonproliferation Treaty, which enshrines those basic rights. It has kicked out IAEA inspectors so that we, as an international community, are unable to verify at the present time whether North Korea is pursuing a legitimate nuclear program for civilian purposes.

So should North Korea meet its international obligations, follow through on the commitments it’s made, open itself up to international inspection, within that context certainly the United States and the international community, as we have in the past, would be open to having discussions with North Korea about how to best meet its energy needs, and civilian nuclear power is one of those mechanisms. But what’s most important is that North Korea has to meet its obligations under international law, and that is something it has failed to do.

QUESTION: Well, just to be a little – to put a fine point on that, if they’ve withdrawn from the treaty, aren’t they no longer obligated by it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are also —

QUESTION: What exactly are their obligations and commitments? You say the 2005 –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are also obligations under UN Security Council resolutions that apply specifically to North Korea.

QUESTION: South Korea just announced another round of military drill, and some afraid that could lead another tension escalation. How you respond to that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, my understanding is that the drills that South Korea has planned, they have been long scheduled. They’re some distance from the North Korean border, they pose no threat to North Korea, so I would hope that North Korea’s response to what South Korea has announced is the same as it was earlier this week.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Venezuela, two things very briefly. One, I presume no decision has yet been made on the consequences for their withdrawal of agrément for Ambassador Palmer. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Still under consideration.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, yesterday, the Venezuelan parliament passed a law that bans foreign funding of all Venezuelan NGOs. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Let us get that for you.

QUESTION: On Manas, there was a report from Congress yesterday about the U.S. using a company – two companies which were described as misleading or lying to the Russian Government about how they were dealing with – what the fuel’s purpose was for. My question is to you: Have the Russians or the Kyrgyz authorities contacted you following this report? Has there been any diplomatic follow-up from this?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question. Obviously, these are DOD contracts, so on the particulars I would refer to them. We can check and see whether there have been any contacts between the Kyrgyz Government and our post in Bishkek.

QUESTION: And the Russians as well, because they were sort of depicted as the —

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I’m not aware of any contacts between the United States and Russia on this issue.


QUESTION: Has there been any telephonic conversation today between Secretary Clinton and Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna? Do you have any readout on it?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me take that question. I know that they were trying to connect today. I just don’t know at this point whether that has happened yet.

QUESTION: Also on India, have you heard anything about heightened security around embassies, particularly the United States Embassy and other kind of, if you will, soft targets frequented by Westerners because of some heightened security threat?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, earlier this week there was a Warden Message issued for the American community in Sweden as one example, based on not only the recent attempted terrorist attack there that, thankfully, killed only the perpetrator, but also an increase in the threat level in Sweden.

QUESTION: No. I’m talking of India. I said also on India.

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, India.

QUESTION: India specifically.

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: That’s fine.

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Swedish one though, is there any further information on what the specific threat was to the embassy?

MR. CROWLEY: We always – we monitor our – the security of our posts around the world. We were aware of some additional threat information specific to our Embassy in Sweden and have taken appropriate security precautions.

QUESTION: Would you say that that would have been related to the suicide bomber or something else?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that particular event —

QUESTION: No, I mean, not related specifically to him, because he presumably is no longer a threat now because he’s dead. But —

MR. CROWLEY: That’s true.

QUESTION: — related to that.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say it’s related. All I can is that subsequent to that attack, we’ve received some additional information, and it was of sufficient concern that we were warning Americans in that country.


QUESTION: I have one more on Ivory Coast. Would you envision an expanded UN force as actually being the force that would depose or —

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re just having discussions, who might contribute forces and how they might go in to augment the UN peacekeeping force. Decisions have to be made on that. They haven’t been made yet, so hard to project at this point.

QUESTION: But when you say —

MR. CROWLEY: But it is something that we are considering. Obviously, the longer this goes, the more the risk that President Gbagbo and his supporters could resort to force themselves, beyond the intimidation tactics that are already – that we’re already seeing. We want to make sure that there is a force on the ground that has the ability to maintain peace and stability, and we’re actively looking at it to make sure that the forces on the ground are adequate and, to the extent they could be augmented, what countries might be in a position to assist.

QUESTION: But augment would mean they would be folded into the UN? Or just they’re —

MR. CROWLEY: Again, it’s a fair question for which we have to make the decision to augment and outline how that would be done.

QUESTION: But specifically, P.J., would it then remain a peacekeeping force, or would it become a stabilization force or some other kind of force with a different mandate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, it could come in under a different mandate. For example, Ivory Coast is a member of ECOWAS, and it has some authorities as well.

QUESTION: But just on David’s point, do you see this augmented force as specifically one of their duties is to depose or get Gbagbo out of there?

MR. CROWLEY: I can say that we want to see President Gbagbo step aside. We want to see him step aside peacefully and pave the way for a peaceful transition. We obviously have concerns about the threat of violence in Cote d’Ivoire. We hope it doesn’t come to that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. in a position to make any offers of support, whether it’s sort of logistical or financial, to help pave the way for this increased force?

MR. CROWLEY: We have done that in the past. Again, I can’t – these are decisions that have yet to be made.

QUESTION: Is France the only European country that you’re asking for possible troop contributions?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not saying that we’re asking France. France itself has a history with Cote d’Ivoire, and it has – already has, I believe, forces within the country. But France is also in a position to help determine what can be done to make sure that there are adequate forces in Cote d’Ivoire to maintain peace and security.

QUESTION: Do you agree that France is warning of a civil war there? France is warning its – warned it citizens to leave —

MR. CROWLEY: Again, everyone is concerned about the current situation and the potential for violence. Obviously, we have scaled back our Embassy operations there. Different countries are making their own decisions about whether their citizens and their diplomats can be adequately protected. We want to see Cote D’Ivoire remain peaceful, stable. We want to see it emerge under new leadership. And that’s our objective and we’re doing everything we can to achieve that objective.

QUESTION: Can we move to other former French colonies in distress, Haiti? One very briefly. Yesterday, I asked you a question about this cable which talked about the desire or this building’s wish for chiefs of mission abroad to push back on what was perceived to be negative press reporting of the earthquake relief effort at the time. You said that you weren’t familiar with that yesterday. But without talking about the specific cable, can you say if there was concerted effort in this building to correct what you thought was unfair or inaccurate reporting of the U.S. quake relief effort?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m trying to remember. Obviously, we were closely monitoring media coverage both from Haiti out, and also monitoring diaspora media here in the United States who had the ability to communicate to Haiti. Beyond that, I —

QUESTION: Well, there’s been some concern expressed that there may have been a misplaced – that priorities may have misplaced and that this building may have been devoting energy into PR efforts rather than the actual quake relief. I’m just —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t see those as being mutually exclusive. In other words, at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince you have a press operation. That press operation obviously was itself damaged as the Embassy was damaged in the earthquake. We augmented the press contingent in Port-au-Prince because of the influx of media into the country. To the extent that there were what we felt were inaccuracies in reporting, we made those known from this podium. From time to time, we critiqued certain coverage. We’ve had —

QUESTION: Specifically, as I recall.

MR. CROWLEY: Particularly. And in fact, we had follow-on conversations with one foreign outlet in particular. We’re very proud of what we have done and achieved in Haiti. We value the media coverage that happened on both our diplomacy and our development and our recovery operations. We’ve got an anniversary coming up and we’ll be happy to talk about not only what has been accomplished in Haiti over the past year but what still needs to be accomplished. So we do pay attention to media coverage. We want to make sure it’s right. I don’t think that is necessarily unusual.

QUESTION: And then the other thing about Haiti has to do with MINUSTAH and an apparent disagreement, not during this Administration but in the Bush Administration when MINUSTAH first went in, whether – on what kind of UN mandate it should operate under, whether it should be Chapter 6 authority or Chapter 7. This was a disagreement that apparently you had with the Government of Brazil.

Do you – are you aware if this disagreement persists, or is everything hunky-dory with the Brazilians now in terms of MINUSTAH?

MR. CROWLEY: We have valued the contribution that Brazil has made to the MINUSTAH operation. I think as I recall – well, in the past year, obviously, MINUSTAH itself also had personnel injured and killed by the earthquake, but I know of no current issues involving MINUSTAH and the United States. We continue to value the important role that it plays.

QUESTION: I have one other in the region.


QUESTION: Is that it? This is Honduras. There’s a new Human Rights Watch report out about alleged atrocities, abuses, whatever you might want to call them, during the first months or year of the Lobo administration. I’m wondering if you’ve seen this report yet. If you have, what do you make of it? And if you haven’t —

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen the report itself, but obviously this is something that has been part of our ongoing conversation with the Lobo government. We do think there’s been progress made through reconciliation commission that has been stood up by the Lobo government that was called for under the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accords. But we are – we remain concerned about ongoing human rights abuses in Honduras, and we have raised those on a regular basis with the Honduran Government. And obviously, that is critical to both Honduras and moving forward and repairing the split that does exist within Honduran society and manifested itself within the past year, but also in terms of Honduras’s broader acceptance back into the OAS and international community. Countries, including the United States, will be looking to see how Honduras improves the human rights conditions on the ground for all of its citizens.

QUESTION: All right. So —

QUESTION: On another human rights report, now that the State Department has had a chance to fully read the Human Rights Watch report that came out over the weekend about Israeli settlers and alleged specific discrimination and abuses against Palestinians, is there any formal comment? I know —

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. We should get you an answer on that. I know you’ve been – asked it for a couple days.

QUESTION: And then also just on the same region, have you yet received from the Government of Israel a request for clemency for Jonathan Pollard?


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)