State Department Briefing by Phillip J. Crowley, February 18, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–February 18, 2011.  


Secretary Clinton Asia Society Speech
Ivory Coast: U.S. Condemns Nationalization of Banks
Ambassador Rice Will State Position at 3 PM Session/Secretary Spoke with President Abbas
Reprogramming of $150 Million/Suez Canal/Iran
Attack on Journalist
U.S. Remains Concerned/Political, Economic, and Social Reform Vital in the Region
Our Charge in Tripoli Has Been in Contact with Libyan Government
Regional Approach
Student Hunger Strike
U.S. Cargo Seizure


2:44 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Two things to mention before taking your questions.

Obviously, we delayed the briefing so we could hear first from Secretary Clinton today at the Asia Society, where she underlined our strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, highlighting the fact that there are three surges: a military offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments economies and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and secure future in the region. She pointed to the fact that here at the State Department we’ve deployed now more than 1,100 civilian experts from nine federal agencies working in Afghanistan to improve agriculture, expand infrastructure, stem the drug trade, and train Afghan civil servants. And she underscored, as we have the ongoing budget debates here in Washington, that retreating from the civilian side of the mission, as some have proposed, would be a grave mistake.

Turning to Africa, we have seen that spokesman for Laurent Gbagbo announced that Gbagbo has nationalized four major international banks that previously shut down operations in Cote d’Ivoire. We strongly condemn this action. The banks closed because former President Gbagbo attempted to force them to participate in irregular banking transactions in order to circumvent international community measures. The international community put these measures in place because Gbagbo refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, widely recognized as the rightful winner of the November presidential elections.

Nationalization of banks could result in serious implications for monetary stability and investor confidence in what should be one of West Africa’s leading economies. This political standoff continues to have a very real impact on Ivoirian citizens who have long awaited lasting peace and prosperity after years of instability and civil war. The best hope for the Ivoirian people to regain their economy and future is for democracy to prevail and Mr. Gbagbo to step down.

QUESTION: P.J., on the Security Council, are you going with a veto to the Security Council this afternoon?

MR. CROWLEY: I know that’s a major story. I’m simply going to point to the session that will begin at, I believe, three o’clock. Ambassador Susan Rice will be there, and she’ll state the position of the United States.

QUESTION: But the impression is that if it goes to a vote, you will vote no.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I – the session will begin in ten minutes, and Ambassador Rice will give the position of the United States.

QUESTION: Could you share with us some of the things that you may have enticed the Palestinians with in order to dissuade them from submitting that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our position all along has been that negotiations are the only root to achieve a lasting peace. We have not changed our position.

QUESTION: The Palestinian leadership has decided to push forward with the vote. Are you disappointed with this decision?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, Ambassador Rice – I mean, let’s see what happens in this session today. But Ambassador Rice will state the position of the United States.

QUESTION: And what did Secretary Clinton tell President Abbas today?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Secretary Clinton reinforced our view that the solution here is direct negotiations and a framework agreement that resolves the core issues.

QUESTION: So we can understand clearly, do you feel that this direct negotiations contradict presenting this before the Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’ll get to the session, and Ambassador Rice will present our view.

QUESTION: But you just said that we feel that direct negotiations is the form —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have not changed our view that, ultimately, this can only be resolved through direct negotiations.

QUESTION: So going to the Security Council contradicts your position on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ve just stated our view. I’ll let somebody else explain the steps that may or may not be taken today.

QUESTION: Have you heard the threat of the Palestinian Authority that if they go to the Security Council, then there will be consequences?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had a number of conversations with Palestinian officials in the recent day. The President has talked to President Abbas, the Secretary, again, today. We’ll keep those diplomatic exchanges private.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the European EU leaders about the Palestinian —

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary has been engaged with a wide range of leaders in recent days, today, including the Qatari prime minister. Also, she talked a short time ago with the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

QUESTION: Now, sir, you – just to clarify one thing on the aid. Was there a talk or a threat to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if they go forward?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m – there’s a session coming up in, now, eight minutes. And, obviously, there will be – whatever actions are taken in the session, we’ll evaluate what happens after that, once the session concludes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: P.J., on Egypt, could you detail a little bit more what’s going to happen with the $150 million in U.S. aid, what part of that might be economic versus democracy aid and which groups might it go to and any other details?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, those are all fair questions, Mary Beth*. I mean, just to reiterate from yesterday, we have reprogrammed $150 million of U.S. assistance. This money came from previously appropriated Egypt programs but had not yet been spent, some from 2010, some from prior years. Broadly speaking, they come into the category of economic support funds, or in budget vernacular ESF funds.

As to how we deploy these funds, we are going to work with Egypt and assess needs. The Egyptians will tell us where they think this money can be best invested. Obviously, there are challenges to support the ongoing transition process. Egypt also has – is dealing with the economic consequences of what has transpired over the past three weeks. We will – what the Secretary announced yesterday was simply putting money in positions so that as Egypt identifies its needs, we’re in a strong position to be able to aggressively respond.

At the same time, we’ve had a number of conversations with European – the governments so that not only the United States but the international community as a whole will have resources standing by to support Egypt through this transition process.

QUESTION: On Egypt, too – the government there has decided —

MR. CROWLEY: Just – I mean, so it’s probably a lengthy answer that says we’ll see; we don’t know yet.

QUESTION: The government has decided to allow Iranian warships to sail through Suez Canal. How do you view this decision?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Egyptian Government. I’m not sure that we are aware that a final decision has been made.


QUESTION: Because they said that they will allow the warships to sail.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I don’t have an immediate comment.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that – if they will sail soon to —

MR. CROWLEY: Again, once – if what you say is true, and if the ships move through the canal, we’ll evaluate what they actually do.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about even the prospect that they’re going to move through? At this point, it seems the Egyptians have said that they are going to allow them. They’ve given – so does that —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s really not – I mean, it’s not really about the ships. It’s what are the ships carrying, what’s their destination, what’s the cargo on board, where is it going, to whom, for what benefit.

MR. CROWLEY: We have ongoing concerns –

QUESTION: They are going —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold on. We have ongoing concerns about Iranian weapons being supplied to bad actors in the region. But it’s not about the ships. It’s really about what is their intent, what is their destination, what is their cargo. We’ll continue to watch these ships as they – wherever they go.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the answer to all those questions you just said – what is their intent, what is their cargo, what is their destination?

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t know.

QUESTION: So you have no intelligence on what is the cargo and what all these things (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: And, Said*, as you know, whatever intelligence we have on this, I can’t share from here.

QUESTION: Since this never happened before, do you consider this a provocative act?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not – I’m just not in a position to say much more than I’ve already said.

QUESTION: Iran has said that ships are going to Syria for training. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Do you believe that?

MR. CROWLEY: I would be – my initial response to that would be that we’re highly skeptical of that claim.


MR. CROWLEY: For training, there’s a history there.

QUESTION: One more. As far as this wave of freedom is concerned throughout the Middle East, some of these dictators or kings have been ruling or dictating their people for the last 40, 50, or more years. Is U.S. ready now for this change suddenly out of the blue moon comes out?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, I’m not sure it’s a question of whether we’re ready. It’s a question of whether these governments are facing up to a new reality in the Middle East and North Africa. Clearly, the people across the region are emboldened. They are stepping up. We’ve seen significantly greater demonstrations today in countries like Yemen, countries like Libya, obviously, in Bahrain. We saw a magnificent celebration and tribute to the people of Egypt in Tahrir Square today. The challenge remains whether the governments are willing to change, whether governments are willing to recognize the aspirations of their people. As the Secretary said in Doha, there is a vital need for political, economic, and social reform.

We – as the White House has done a short time ago in condemning the actions against peaceful protestors today in Libya, in Bahrain, in Yemen, this is not going to fix the underlining problem. And the sooner these governments recognize and respond to the needs and aspirations of their people the better.

QUESTION: But you do your condemnation of the excessive use of force in Bahrain was enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon?

QUESTION: Do you feel that your condemnation of the excessive use of Bahrain to quell the demonstrations was enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we remain concerned about it. This is a second situation where security forces have responded aggressively to protestors, and there’s been an unacceptable loss of life.

QUESTION: Yeah. But just to clarify, just to clarify a bit further, P.J. Your position during the demonstrations in Cairo was very clear on the necessity of not using any excessive force to quell demonstrations. Yet we find that your condemnation of what is going on in Bahrain is a bit equivocal. Knowing that this might go on for a while, are you prepared to demand that they Government of Bahrain ceases —

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll tell you – I would say two things.


MR. CROWLEY: First of all, our comments regardless of the country, has been focused on the three principles that we’ve outlined — we want – we do not want to see violence under any circumstances. We want to see the universal rights of people respected, including the right to assemble, the right to freely express their views. And we have reinforced that political, economic, and social reform is vitally important to the region. So everything that we say whether the country is Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, or another country is rooted in those principles and our values. The specific circumstances and the response by a government may well not be the same. There’s no cookie-cutter approach here. So that what has occurred in Egypt may or may not represent what occurs in a different country. But it is vitally important for these countries to respond to the needs and aspirations of their people. And excessive force that leads to violence and loss of life and injury, we believe, is not the right answer.

QUESTION: You just said it’s not a cookie-cutter approach, but you’ve got the same response for all three countries. So when witnesses in Bahrain are calling it a massacre, and it’s the same response in –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. But it’s important. If there’s a lesson to be learned from Egypt, it is the fact that the Egyptian military declined to use excessive force against its people. It’s preserved its bond with the people of Egypt, and that has given Egypt time and space to work through the transition that has started there. So it is important for countries in the region to learn the right lessons, but we remain very, very concerned. And the White House obviously condemned today’s violence in those countries.

QUESTION: But the UK has decided to review its arms supply to Bahrain. What is the U.S. doing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we – our support to countries is rooted in our values and our laws and any time we have concern about how U.S. assistance has been used, we will take appropriate action. I’m not forecasting any particular step at this point, but obviously we have legal obligations to countries with which we have these kinds of relationships.

QUESTION: In your statements –

QUESTION: Do you know whether or not Saudi Arabia has been supplying tanks to Bahrain? There’s been some anecdotal evidence that Saudi tanks have been driven across the causeway into –

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t verify that.

QUESTION: In the Administration’s statements recently on Egypt, there were very clear indications that called for change in Egypt. I’m not hearing the same thing about other countries.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I actually disagree with you. The – of the principles that we’ve laid out throughout the last few weeks, one of them has been the absolute requirement for political, economic, and social reform. That has changed. As the President said last week, there is change coming to the region, and governments will be well served to anticipate and stay ahead of that change.

QUESTION: Is security becoming a worry for the American Administration that because of fast-moving changes in the area then things has to go a little bit, like, more slowly?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I understand the question.

QUESTION: Well, there is a big issue in Yemen about countering terrorism, and if we don’t have a strong government and that we may have a problem that is the Fifth* Fleet in Bahrain, and we have worries about the Iranian being stronger in Bahrain if we don’t have the King in there and his government.

MR. CROWLEY: Let me stop you there for a second. I mean, certainly, that’s one of the reasons we have an expanding civilian assistance program to Yemen. The ultimate solution to defeating extremism, as the Secretary laid out today in the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is stronger institutions of government, governments that are clearly working on behalf of their people, governments that are addressing the challenge of corruption. We have a counterterrorism strategy with Yemen, but part of that is, in fact, the kind of economic and political assistance that can help strengthen Yemeni institutions, strengthen the bond between Yemen and its citizens. Yemen’s got a number of challenges. They’ve got multiple conflicts, and that’s why we have a robust and expanding civilian program in Yemen that complements what we’re doing on the terrorism front.

QUESTION: But P.J., when we talk about violence and freedom and standing up with the people, people of Tibet and people of China stood for the freedom and democracy, but they – it ended up the killings of thousands of people and nobody stood with them.

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I disagree with you. We have never hesitated to express our concerns about violence perpetrated against people anywhere in the world, most particularly, Tibet.

QUESTION: To understand the – P.J., you are worried about the situation in Libya, especially that Human Rights Watch has said yesterday or today that there may be more than 20 people who got killed during the last 24 hours in Benghazi and Baida.

MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely, which is why yesterday the Secretary talked to the Bahraini foreign minister, expressed our concern about –

QUESTION: I’m talking about Libya.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, I’m sorry. About what?


MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. All right. Are we – we have the – we have some feedback here. Okay. All right. Start again.

QUESTION: Human Rights Watch has said today that 24 people got killed during the last 24 hours in Baida and Benghazi in Libya. To what extent you are concerned about this region?

MR. CROWLEY: In fact, again, go back to the White House statement. We’ve condemned what has happened today in Libya. It is not – that violence is not the right answer. These – there is a new dynamic in the region. These protesters are not going to go away. They are no longer intimidated by governments. It is now up to these governments to face this new reality, make commitments to reform, and then follow through on those commitments.

QUESTION: Have you talked to anybody in Libya?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t point to any conversations –

QUESTION: Qadhafi –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I know that our chargé in – I know that our chargé in Tripoli has been in contact with the Libyan Government.

QUESTION: Qadhafi blames the United States of America as being behind these demonstrations. Is the United States behind inciting these demonstrations in Libya?


QUESTION: As far as Mr. Qadhafi —

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I know a number of governments have pointed to foreign players. We are certainly not one.

So let’s take one or two questions because I know the session is about to begin in New York.

QUESTION: I have a question on – two questions the Secretary’s speech in New York. She spoke about Taliban, and does she mean – is she giving a threat to Taliban or as a peace offer to Taliban?

MR. CROWLEY: No, she’s just reinforcing the ongoing threat that al-Qaida and its affiliates and the Taliban pose to the United States and to the region as a whole.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about – whoop, change of – I was – just a quick one about Venezuela.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: She welcomed the dialogue between India and Pakistan, and when the foreign minister of Pakistan visits India in July this year, do you think that she’ll talk on Afghanistan also – India and Pakistan talk on Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as she reinforced today, we have a regional approach. India has an interest and is invested in Afghanistan. So is Pakistan. So are other countries in the region.


QUESTION: And when is Ambassador Grossman taking over formally?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very good question. She announced his appointment today. He’s actually already in the building, but I’m not sure that all the paperwork has caught up yet.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Venezuelan officials have taken the U.S. advice that the OAS be allowed to see the hunger striking students very badly. They accuse the U.S. of meddling and also trying to create a virtual Egypt, according to the Interior minister, and I just wonder if you’ve considered the comments.



QUESTION: Argentina?

MR. CROWLEY: All right. Last one.


QUESTION: Yeah? Okay, please, I would like to know if so far did you receive any word of the Argentinian Government saying that maybe they can leave the cargo free, the cargo that you are demanding?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that – we remain in contact with Argentina. I think we had a – we delivered a diplomatic note to Argentina on Wednesday. We want our equipment back.


MR. CROWLEY: Last one.

QUESTION: A Pakistani court has issued an arrest warrant for the driver of the vehicle that responded to Ray Davis’s arrest at the time and that led to the death of a Pakistani citizen. What is your comment on that? Can you tell us whether that individual has diplomatic immunity? And is that individual still in –

MR. CROWLEY: That is a matter still under investigation. I’ll decline to comment.

QUESTION: And P.J., did you get a readout from the Egyptians on Lara Logan’s situation?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, what?

QUESTION: Have you gotten a readout from the Egyptian Government on any investigation into the attack on Lara Logan – Cairo?

QUESTION: Lara Logan.

MR. CROWLEY: We have called for an investigation. It was a deplorable, horrible attack on her. Egypt needs to investigate this.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. considering giving some kind of compensation to the victims who were killed by Davis? Because there has been some talk of giving some compensation –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ve got no information I can share on that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Is the person who was driving that car still in the country, still in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)