The Situation in Japan

Special Briefing
Patrick F. Kennedy
Under Secretary for Management 
James D. Pettit, Bureau of Consular Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services
Washington, DC
March 17, 2011

MR. TONER: Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department – quiet down – (laughter) – and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Let’s get right to business. We’re very fortunate to have with us today two individuals who can help address some of your questions about recent developments in Japan regarding American citizens, the voluntary departure order that went out last night, and I know kept some of you up late, but also – we have someone who can also address our ongoing efforts to help American citizens in the affected areas.

So without further ado, Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Pettit are here to answer your questions. Go ahead.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: With those statements, we’ll go right to your questions.

MR. PETTIT: Questions, anyone?

MR. TONER: That’s okay. Kirit, you want to go?

QUESTION: Would you like to update us on the implementation of some of the measures that you announced last night, specifically the flights that were supposed to come in, and then also the efforts to evacuate Americans who are within the 50-mile radius around the nuclear plants?

I did want to ask you one question I didn’t get to ask you last night. If you could be a little bit more specific about the reasoning for going to authorized departure; is it specifically because of the radiation concerns, or is it because of the broader picture going on?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Okay. Flights – we put in one flight today. It left about four hours ago and it’s on its – it was en route to Taipei. The flight did not leave full. We had teams of consular officers and management personnel at both Haneda and Narita Airport, in effect sweeping for American citizens and all American citizens that we could find who wanted to be transported out, were transported. We plan to put another aircraft, at least one, in tomorrow depending upon what we assess the demand will be.

The second question was about --

QUESTION: About getting them outside the – well, if you want to address, just keeping them in order, the reason you went to authorized departure, if that – because of specifically the radiation concern, or broader?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Well, it is – it’s clear – and I am not an expert. My B in high school physics does not qualify me to address this question to any depth. But we depend in the State Department in this matter on information that’s coming to us from the Department of Energy, from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Those are our experts. We discuss with them, we listen to their guidance, their concepts and their predictions. And we operate, to a degree, in a matter of caution, and the – it reached the point where we thought that it was advisable to simply tell American citizens the information that we had, and leave it to American citizens to make an informed choice on the basis of the information we provided.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the question of getting Americans out of this radius, I mean, do you have any update on – around the 50 – the 50 miles (inaudible), you had mentioned last night that they would – there would be efforts to get them out.


QUESTION: How do you plan to do that? How do you --

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Well, the answer is we put out lots and lots of information, consular warden notices, information on the website, telling people to contact us if they need assistance. And that’s our process. We tell the people that – what assistance is available and how to contact us, and then they do that.

Now, there are – there have been a large pocket of American citizens who have been, in effect, stuck north of the sight of the reactors in the Sendai area. Those individuals can – have not been able to move south to Tokyo because of the absence of transportation, and they have not been able to move north towards Misawa on the northern tip because – again, absence of transportation and because of severe damages to the roads. So the Consular Affairs people in Tokyo, they’ve organized and dispatched, earlier this evening Tokyo time, 14 buses, which is – and that capacity around 600, which we believe relates to the number of people who have contacted us, plus a little extra for comfort.

Those buses are en route. They – the consular teams are up in that area. They’re getting the word out where the rally points are. We will then load the buses and then begin dispatching them as each one of them are filled back down to Tokyo because, as I said, it – we’re – it’s been – our determination is they cannot move north, go around the area of the radioactivity, and down to Tokyo where they’ll be met by other consular officers, put – depending on the time the buses arrive, put up overnight and then offered transport out of the country.

As we’ve said before, commercial transportation, regularly scheduled flights are still available. And so if someone wants to go somewhere, they can make their own arrangements. We are not forcing them to go anywhere, but we will tell them that we have a flight. Our next charter flight is going from Tokyo to Point A, wherever that happens to be, and they may avail themselves of that, or they may make their own arrangements once we’ve gotten them to Tokyo.

QUESTION: But isn’t Sendai in the radioactive zone, and so aren’t you saying --


QUESTION: It’s 35 miles from the reactor.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It’s – we’re going around – think of it as at least ignoring the ocean as a half-moon curve, and we can go around the edge of it to come back down.

QUESTION: Can you give us some details about the flight which left today? How many people were on board?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I would say just under a hundred.

QUESTION: Okay. And these were people from --

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: These were U.S. Government family members and a small number of private American citizens. The destination happened to be Taipei – (inaudible) we go and look for aircraft. It is often convenient and less costly just to find out where the aircraft’s home base is, fly it in to pick up the American citizens, and return to that location if it is the location where regular commercial transportation for onward travel where – for wherever people go. So from Taipei, they will be met by personnel from the American Institute in Taipei, pointed at hotels, showed how to get commercial onward tickets, and then it is their choice about where they want to go.

QUESTION: What were you using as the zone for the radioactivity, in your comments just before, that you’re going to drive around?


QUESTION: Fifty miles.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Which is what was in our – what was in the notification that the Embassy put out the other day.


QUESTION: On the people on the buses who are coming from north of Sendai, when they arrive – they’re going to Tokyo, you said, right?


QUESTION: When they arrive, will there be some sort of testing? Can they go through some sort of testing to see if they have any exposure to radiation?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That is not in our program.

QUESTION: The U.S. Government’s not going to provide them any kind of testing?


QUESTION: And then can I also ask you – this morning, the Pentagon announced that they were going to begin evacuating – or there was a voluntary departure for family members --


QUESTION: -- that it seems more pervasive than the State Department one because it will – it encompasses the entire main island, as opposed to –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, it’s – from my discussions with the Pentagon last night – I have not seen the material that you refer to. The authorized voluntary departure for the State Department is Tokyo, the American consulate in Nagoya, which is, in effect, west of Tokyo. And the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute regional language school, our Japanese language second-year training institute in Yokohama. My conversations with DOD yesterday – and since I haven’t seen the piece, I can’t go farther – is that their area where they were going – they’re paralleling us in offering voluntary authorized departure – was in that same general – I mean, they’ve got things --

QUESTION: That’s not true.

QUESTION: That’s not true, actually, because they’re starting at Honshu, and that’s an outer island, so that –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That – you’re going to – you’ll have to ask --

QUESTION: But aren’t they relying on your planes?


QUESTION: They’re using --

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: We’re offering – we’ve offered to support them, they’ve offered to support us, and it’s sort of a mutual assistance arrangement which we have, and we work very closely whichever, the U.S. military command plus U.S. transportation command. So questions about the details of how the military are doing it should be addressed to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: But that’s actually – but my question was actually just more since the Pentagon – the DOD is now authorizing – and perhaps you haven’t gotten this word, but they are now authorizing departures for all family members on the entire main island of Japan. But – so my question is actually: Is the State Department considering expanding –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, at this time. As we explained yesterday – and Secretary Poneman did a better job – we make a decision on the basis of the information provided to us by other U.S. Government experts. At the moment, we see no reason to extend the area, on the basis of the information we have today.

QUESTION: Please, sir, do you have any information about Americans who may be remaining inside the 50-mile radius evacuation zone?

MR. PETTIT: Just to explain my role here, I’m deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services. Under Secretary Kennedy has been shouldering a lot of the burden in terms of some of the daunting logistical operations. We are – my task forces, consular task forces, have been engaged primarily in receiving inquiries on missing U.S. citizens, tabulating those, sending that information out to our consular field teams. We do have – at present, we have consular field teams at both airports in the Tokyo area, as well as in the north in the affected areas.

With respect to the 50-mile exclusion zone around Fukushima plant, we have notified through warden messages and on our website the rationale for the 50-mile zone. And we have also posted through the website information on available local commercial transportation. Many people are able to – in the affected area are able to leave under their own power, whether that’s by personal vehicle. There are buses, there are trains. We are focusing our, if you want to call them, rescue efforts or extraordinary efforts where we’re providing charters, such as the example of the charter buses, in the areas further to the north, where there is much more devastation and where transportation is – transportation challenges are much more present.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on Americans inside that zone?

MR. PETTIT: I can’t answer that question specifically. I would be surprised if we don’t, because we have, literally, thousands of names that were reported to us of Americans who reside in Japan. It would be hard to believe that some of them do not live within that zone. But again, in terms of assistance, at this point, it’s been primarily simply providing them information, and more specifically, providing them information on available transportation. We have not felt it necessary to lay on U.S. Government-organized charters to that particular area, because we feel that local transportation options thus far have proved adequate.

QUESTION: But are consular teams going to go in and look for Americans in that area?

MR. PETTIT: Not in the 50-mile area. The – their efforts are focused in Miyagi Province, which is where Sendai is. We have a team in Iwate. We had one in – and I hope I’m pronouncing this correctly – Ibaraki. Those are the areas that received most of the devastation.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, just to jump in, we’ve got the actual – the numbers, contact numbers and the email address behind you on these screens for –

MR. PETTIT: We encourage people to actually – well, to register, those who are in Japan, through our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, also available through Friends and family can also input data on missing loved ones also through They can input the data directly and even upload photographs.

MR. TONER: In the back.

QUESTION: Regarding the charter flight that should come in tomorrow, is there any time on when that would leave and from where? I assume it’s Tokyo Narita, but –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It’ll either be – it’s probably Tokyo Narita. That information goes out on the website as part of the warden notice and the – and other information that goes out depending upon the vagaries of the aviation industry. But that information is posted by the embassy, and it’s also available to anyone who would call in and find out.

QUESTION: Can you explain why the authorized departure only covered dependents and why it wasn’t broadened to include non-emergency personnel?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Because the – both the State Department and the Defense Department are working full out, seven by 24, in support of our Japanese ally in assisting them in dealing with the major crisis that they face. And so at the moment, it is our determination that all State Department personnel – and I believe from conversations I had with the Pentagon, which you can address it directly to them, that they have also determined that all employees, service members in that case are – constitute emergency cadre who are needed to carry out the national security and the assistance missions and the military missions that we’re engaged in.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Which radiation readings is the United States using? Are those the ones provided by the government or are they independently gathered measurements?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Both/and, and – but any details of that should be addressed to the Department of Energy, both our own readings and others that are provided to us.

QUESTION: Is there a discrepancy between both readings or has there been a discrepancy?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That’s a question you’d have to ask the Department of Energy. I am the recipient of the analyzed data from DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They have – both DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have dispatched additional personnel who are operating out of the U.S. Embassy facility and also in conjunction with our military.

MR. TONER: Courtney, and then –

QUESTION: Just one quick housekeeping one. How many – at this point, there are still no American citizens that have been – that you know of that have been killed in the aftermath, right?

MR. PETTIT: That is correct. To date, we have no reports, no information of confirmed dead American citizens.

QUESTION: And what is the --

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: If I could add just one thing to that – in order to be, in effect, a force multiplier in this – my Consular Affairs colleagues are partnered, in effect, with the British, the Canadians, the Australians. And so each one of our nations has teams out there, and there’s kind of a mutual assistance pack. And I use that as a term of art, not a – so if the Australians ran across an American citizen in distress, they would report that to us. If one of our teams ran across a Canadian in distress, we would report that to the Government of Canada.

So in addition to all the personnel we have, we have sort of extended our network and our reach by arrangements with those countries as well. So that gives us broader perspective, and a broader ability to potentially find Americans who need assistance.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

QUESTION: How many Americans are missing?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That’s an impossible question to answer for this reason – we have no travel controls in the United States. There is no requirement that an American citizen register in an American embassy. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has numbers, has websites, has the ability to self-register. Without even going near the American Embassy in the old days, you had to go in and fill out a 5-by-8 card, if I remember right. But there is no requirement to do that.

So your question really says A – B = C. Well, I don’t know what A is. B is you can just leave on your own. And therefore, I don’t have any idea what C is, because I don’t have the first two numbers, and I can’t generate a third number.

QUESTION: Well, as long as we’re asking questions that you may not have an answer for, do you have a – (laughter) --


QUESTION: Yeah. Do you – is there any kind of a rough estimate for how many Americans are in Japan right now and how many may need help getting out in the coming days?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I’ve seen numbers – Jim help me, though – at 90,000 in the Tokyo area, 350,000 in country. Starting at about noon or 2 o’clock yesterday, we announced that there would be a plane in the evening and we got a handful of Americans. We’re sending another at least one, if not maybe two planes in tomorrow, and we will be doing the same thing at Narita and Haneda to assist.

But I don’t – we don’t have a number. You don’t – to get it, you don’t have to register with us like you would register and make a reservation with a commercial airline. We are there to assist, but we don’t require you to do that in advance.

Jim, do you want to add anything to that?

MR. PETTIT: The Under Secretary is absolutely correct on numbers. They’re all guesses. The number of Americans both who live and visit in Japan is quite large in terms of numbers. I mean, the numbers of who is actually missing, even that number is difficult to derive. We certainly have reporting from the public, inquiries from the public. Often, those are duplicate inquiries. We spend – the task force has spent a lot of effort actually scrubbing those lists, reaching out again, contacting inquirers to find out if they’ve heard from someone, because people don’t always close the loop with us. So any number we could offer would be kind of a wild guess. As time goes by, and we learn that there are individuals from whom no one has heard, we focus more on those individuals. And in fact, our teams on the ground are going to specific addresses to see if the buildings are still standing or if anyone knows the whereabouts of the missing individuals.

QUESTION: Just to clarify it then, is that a pre-quake number that you threw out there? I mean, it’s –


QUESTION: Okay, the number that the Embassy put out was about half that amount over the weekend. They said it was about 160,000. So I mean –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: These are best guesstimates. We know the – I’m not saying 190,000 or whatever have left. Those are guesstimate numbers.

MR. PETTIT: And moreover, those would be residents – Americans residing in Japan. There is a much larger number of Americans in any given year who visit Japan.

QUESTION: There are reports that the U.S. Government search teams will leave Japan tomorrow. Can you confirm this?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That’s a question you’d have to ask the Agency for International Development. They manage the DART team process.

QUESTION: Mr. Kennedy, there’s some skepticism among the Japanese and Americans that they’re not getting full information from Japanese authorities. I was wondering what you feel, as an experienced diplomat that has been in troubled areas of the world so often. Do you feel confident you’re getting the information you need, and could you just paint a picture of the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan right now in this difficult period?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The diplomatic relations are very, very strong, and the President has spoken to the prime minister. Our ambassador speaks to the foreign minister and senior – other Japanese Government officials. Our militaries continue to work with the Japanese self-defense forces. Our technical experts are working with Tokyo Electric Power and METI. So the relationship is solid. There is information being exchanged all the time. And you can never have enough information in a situation like this. But there is an ongoing and very, very positive relationship.

QUESTION: And can I just get a clarification of those people who were standing by to bus out of the north, who are those people?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The people are resident – Americans who are resident or happened to be tourists there at that time who were in the Sendai and the prefectures in the north.

QUESTION: But not U.S. Government personnel?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, they’re U.S. Government personnel. You have to go all the way north to Misawa Air Base before you find official United States Government personnel. The – there is – the next U.S. official presence is on the next island in the chain up.

QUESTION: So for the charter flights for today and tomorrow, are they all going to Taipei or is there any flights going to, say, South Korea or China?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The flight that went today went to Taipei. It is likely, just because I will probably reuse the same aircraft, that at least one of those will go to Taipei tomorrow, and we’ll probably have a second aircraft, and that’s being worked on now. And I honestly don’t know where it’s going to go yet. But I can tell you that thanks to the work of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, starting yesterday, our embassies in Seoul and in – it was Seoul and – these were Seoul and AIT, the American Institute in Taiwan – were both notified, had both mobilized and have personnel who will – they’re making prearrangements with the local governments and will – and meet the aircraft to assist the American citizens.

QUESTION: Did China offer to help?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: At the moment, the – where the aircraft – the Chinese didn’t offer, and we didn’t ask, because the aircraft that were available were available out of Seoul and out of Taipei. And so we – what we want to do is move fast, get the people in, get out. If there were larger numbers, I always pick the shortest location so possibly I could even recycle the aircraft twice in a day to move more American citizens out, should that be required.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: In case of emergency, is the U.S. willing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tokyo to other locations?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It’s at least my policy – I’ll defer to our spokesman – I don’t answer hypothetical questions.


MR. TONER: Any other questions or – go ahead, and then Charley.

QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t understand how there’s no exact estimate – I mean, exact number of Americans in Japan currently. I mean, doesn’t everybody who go into the country get registered by immigration services?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Yes, but they don’t have to register with us. And I have no idea what the in and outflow of the Japanese Government or the government of Xanadu or any government in the world. So we don’t track American citizens. If American citizens wish to voluntarily register so that if they lose their passport or they need assistance, we can more easily assist them. But we simply are – we do not track Americans.

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Charley.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up.

MR. TONER: Charley, Sean, and then last person.

QUESTION: Please, sir, about the 50-mile radius evacuation zone. There was some suggestion that the U.S. military moved more quickly, maybe two days in advance to keep their people back 50 miles. Was the State Department slow to move and why?

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I have seen no indication, no evidence that that was the case.

QUESTION: And you feel confident the State Department moved as expeditiously as –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: This was an – a U.S. Government-wide analytical and decision-making effort, which had participation from all the agencies and parties that I identified earlier arriving at a collective decision.

MR. TONER: And then last question, Sean.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on an earlier question. The information-sharing that you discussed earlier that you’re satisfied with the sharing of information between the two governments, it’s just a little confusing. There seems to be a gap because the evacuation zone is different for each country. And I was wondering what the basis for that decision was, and it was –

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I would generally like to refer you to Secretary Poneman, but what I heard, I believe, the Secretary say was that we – for the zone, we used our definitions. That’s not to question the facts. We used our definitions of how we would draw circles, so to speak, or radiuses if such an event had taken place in the United States. So that, in my mind, is not a discrepancy, it is simply a factor that we do things one way, and the Government of Japan does those things some way else.

MR. TONER: Thank you both very much.


PRN: 2011/407