Daily Press Briefing - May 11

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary Clinton Opens Briefing / Roxana Saberi Released from Prison / Returning to the United States in Coming Days / Taking Issue with Charges and Verdicts Rendered / Best Wishes to Her and Family
    • Introduction of Ian Kelly as New State Department Spokesman / Appreciation to Robert Wood for Serving as Acting Assistant Secretary and State Department Spokesman
  • IRAN
    • Roxana Saberi / Welcome Release as a Humanitarian Gesture / Concerns of Human Rights in Iran / Continue to Press for Safe Return of All American Citizens Detained / Working through Swiss Colleagues
    • Detained Journalists / Concern about Their Welfare / Consular Access
    • Tamil Tigers / Hundreds Killed in Safe Zone / Urging Tamil Tigers to Lay Down Their Arms and Leave Safe Zone / Government Should Abide by April 27 Statement
    • Susan Rice Representing United States Ministerial Meeting in New York
    • Secretary Clinton Meeting with Foreign Minister Kouchner and Foreign Minister Miliband
    • Reports that Aung San Suu Kyi Needs Medical Care / Urge Burmese to Allow for Medical Care and Meet with Personal Attorney/ Unjust Arrest / Urge for Immediate Release
    • Assault in Farah / Concerns over Use of White Phosphorous / U.S. Will Investigate
    • Meetings between Presidents Karzai and Zardari / Meetings Productive / Battling Extremists
    • Control of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan / Full Faith and Confidence in President Zardari
    • Operations in the Swat Valley / In Close Consultation / Stand Ready to Help with Any Humanitarian Situation
    • Activities of Embassy in Light of H1N1 Virus / Opening and Issuing Visas
    • Verifiable Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula / Ambassador Bosworth's Travel / Bosworth Not Traveling to Moscow / Meeting with Japanese Officials
  • IRAQ
    • Soldiers Killed at Camp Liberty / Sympathies to Families
    • Foreign Fighters / Issue Raised in Damascus / Deep Concern of Foreign Fighters into Iraq Via Syria / Call on Syria to Take Action
Kelly, Ian
Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 11, 2009


11:56 a.m. EDT

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. Still, it’s morning nearly. I just spoke to the Swiss Ambassador to the United States, who confirms, as the protecting power, that Roxana Saberi has been released from prison. She is currently with her family and will be leaving Tehran to return to the United States in the coming days. Obviously, we continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered, but we are very heartened that she has been released, and wish her and her family all of the very best we can send their way.

I wanted to come down to the briefing room today to formally introduce the new State Department Spokesman and Acting Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Ian Kelly, and to say thank you publicly to Robert Wood. Ian is a career Foreign Service officer who most recently served on the Russia desk. So it was fitting that the very first bilateral meeting that he sat in on was my meeting and lunch with Foreign Minister Lavrov last week.

Ian has spent significant time overseas serving in various public affairs positions that have prepared him well for his new role. He will be a full-fledged member of my senior team, and as such, he will speak authoritatively on my behalf and on behalf of the Department.

As you have heard me say many times since becoming Secretary, our ability to connect with people around the world, communicate the foreign policy of the United States, give our own people here in the United States vital information that is relevant to their daily lives has never been more important. And not only is Ian the new face of the State Department, but as an added qualification, he is a long-suffering Cubs fan, so – (laughter.)

And I want to thank for a wonderful job and provide my deepest appreciation to Robert Wood. He took over in the middle of a transition and has been drinking from a fire hose ever since. But I have really enjoyed getting to know Robert and I look forward to continuing to work with him as an important contributor within the Department to the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Both Robert and Ian represent public diplomacy and public affairs at their very best.

And with that, I will turn the podium over to the new occupant, Ian.

MR. KELLY: Thank you very much. Well, thank you, Madame Secretary, for the confidence that you’ve shown in me, and I want to say that I’m very much looking forward to working with her and looking forward to representing her and my colleagues here at the State Department as the spokesman. I want to particularly thank my buddies, Robert Wood and Gordon Duguid, who I hope gave me a leg up. I guess you guys will be the judge of that. And finally, I look forward to working with you all as well. I think you have a very important job, and I look forward to, as I say, working with you. And I’ll be committed to the work that you do.

So having said that, let’s have at it.

QUESTION: Welcome.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

QUESTION: The Secretary talked about Roxana Saberi. I’m wondering if you – the Administration, since the Iranian judicial system is not exactly the most independent in the world, and I think that the State Department recognizes that, do you see any sign in this move by the court today of a thaw, of this possibly being a positive response to your overtures?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we see it as it is. We see it as a humanitarian gesture. We welcome it as such. We continue to have a lot of concerns about Iran. We have concerns about the human rights situation there. Even though, as I say, we’re very pleased that Ms. Saberi has been released, we will continue to press for the safe return of all American citizens detained in Iran, including Esha Momeni.

QUESTION: And there’s also the case of Silva Harotonian. Are you – there’s an appeal that’s supposed to be heard on that – in that case. Is there any update on that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have anything, unfortunately, on Ms. Harotonian.

Still on the same subject? Libby.

QUESTION: Yeah. I know that since January you’ve been working on this with the Swiss, sending messages to the Iranians, but what can you tell us about maybe the past week, the last-minute negotiations that were going on, what role the U.S. played, if any, in securing her release?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, this was a very important issue. Obviously, it was something that we had very deep concerns over. And we, you know, right up to today, were working through our Swiss colleagues in Tehran who represent our interests.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific about what you were doing, working through the --

MR. KELLY: I think – beyond that, I don’t think I want to get any more specific.

Also on the same question?


QUESTION: On Saberi, with the speed with which her plea was – you know, it went through and all that, do you think that the whole case might have been, in the Iranian regime’s eyes, a statement, a show of power, or something of that sort?

MR. KELLY: You know, I just – I think as I – you know, as I said before, we saw this as a humanitarian issue. We were very focused on her safety and her security, and trying to get her released. But I just am not going to speculate on any kind of political motivations that the Iranian Government might have had.

Also on Iran? I think, Nick, you were next.

QUESTION: Well, I think what we’re trying to figure out is was there any sort of – if not negotiation or pleas back and forth between you and the Iranians, do you – did you have to – if not commit to anything, at least articulate to them that you will be more favorable in reviewing certain policy aspects of the United States towards Iran? There are Qods Force prisoners in Iraq that the United States has captured, so you have leverage in that respect. Was there any back and forth on any of those issues?

MR. KELLY: You know, again, we saw this as a humanitarian issue. We saw this as an – we called on Iran consistently to release her. We found the charges against her to be baseless. But I’m just not going to go into any kind of political motivation or anything like that.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, though, in your messages to the Iranians that you took – you wanted – you said – the message to them was this is a humanitarian issue, let’s take the politics out of that? Is that –sort of --

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not – you know, I’m not aware of what exactly we said to the Iranians, but I think it is fair to say that we did see this as a humanitarian issue.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? The five that are – the five Iranians that are in Iraq, are they still in Iraqi or U.S. custody?

MR. KELLY: You know, I think you have to ask the Iraqis and the Iranians about that. I’m just not sure.

Also on Iran?


MR. KELLY: Segue, good.

QUESTION: Well, while we’re on the subject of female journalists being detained in “axis of evil” states on spurious charges, is there any update on the North – on the people – the two ladies being held by North Korea, going on for several months now?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think I have anything specific on it, other than to reiterate that we’re very concerned about their welfare. Of course, as the Department of State as a whole, there is no higher priority for us than the safety and welfare of American citizens abroad. And – but beyond these things that you’ve heard from Robert already, I don’t have any specific update.

QUESTION: Really? There are no events revolving around this incident going on today?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – you know, the – our protecting power in North Korea is the ambassador of Sweden, but I don’t have any updates on his activities.

QUESTION: I’m talking about here.

MR. KELLY: Talking about here in Washington?


MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR. KELLY: Same subject? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Through the Swedish ambassador, I’m sure you’re trying to see the two journalists, or trying to get access to them anyway. Have you been given any reason or any indication why the North Koreans are refusing to let the Swedish ambassador have access to them once again?

MR. KELLY: I think that since March 30, the Swedish Embassy has not been – not had access to her. But I’m not aware of any kind of reasons that have been given to us as to why they’re denying the consular access, which, of course, is contrary to the Vienna Convention.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR. KELLY: Different topic, okay.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka. The – there are about – we are told more than 400 people have been killed in the past couple of days in this no-fire zone, and I wondered what your comment is on that.

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re deeply concerned. We think that there’s an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties. We’ve repeatedly urged the Tamil Tigers to lay down its arms and allow the civilians to leave the safe zone. The Government of Sri Lanka should abide by its April 27th statement that combat operations have concluded and that – and security forces should end the use of heavy weapons, which, of course, could cause civilian casualties.


QUESTION: There is a meeting at the UN today or tomorrow on the Sri Lankans at the ministerial level. What does U.S. expects from that meeting?

MR. KELLY: You know, I don’t have anything on that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: We’ll see if we can get you information, though.

QUESTION: Well, that’s actually taking place at the UN. And I’m just – I’m wondering, this morning as the Secretary was addressing the high school and middle school students at the Model UN, there was a ministerial meeting going on in New York of Security Council members. I believe Foreign Minister Kouchner, Foreign Secretary Miliband, Foreign Minister Lavrov were all there. Can you explain to us why the Secretary did not go, why Susan Rice is representing the United States up there and – for a ministerial meeting? And if this is a harbinger of things to come, will --

MR. KELLY: A harbinger in what sense, of things to come?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, for the UN General Assembly, will the Secretary be representing the United States at the UN, or will it be Susan Rice?

MR. KELLY: Well, the – Susan Rice does represent the United States at the United Nations. And we made the determination that she was the most suitable person for this meeting. As the Secretary said, I was in the meeting last week with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They talked about this. She explained her reasoning and he accepted it, but I wouldn’t read into it any kind of sign. We take this meeting very seriously.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then – so these foreign minister – well, as you mentioned, Foreign Minister Lavrov met here separately last week, Foreign Minister Kouchner is coming tonight, Secretary Miliband tomorrow. Why – if Ambassador Rice is representing the United States, why is there the need for the Secretary to meet with these foreign ministers?

MR. KELLY: This was at their request. I mean, they – Foreign Minister Kouchner is going to meet with her today. Foreign Minister Miliband is coming tomorrow. And I’ll just repeat what I said a few minutes ago. We made the determination that Ambassador Rice was the most appropriate person for the meeting in New York.


QUESTION: What was the explanation that the Secretary gave to Foreign Minister Lavrov about that decision?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m going to say something that I’ll probably say a lot at this podium, in that we don’t really go into the details of private diplomatic exchanges. But as I said, we just made the determination that Susan Rice was the best person.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is that a suggestion – given that Russia stated that the purpose for this meeting was to try to move the Mideast peace process along, should this be interpreted in any way as a dis by the U.S. to Russia’s efforts to move the process along? Because for so long, it has been the U.S. acting as the broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or at least the perception has been that.

MR. KELLY: No, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a dis of the Russians.


QUESTION: In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, has been prevented from seeing her doctor for some days now. Do you have any view on that or any --

MR. KELLY: I do.

QUESTION: -- reaction concerning --

MR. KELLY: If you’ll bear with me for a moment. As I said, if you’ll bear with me for a moment. You know, I may have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: It’s under Myanmar. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: I got it.

The U.S. Government is concerned about reports that Aung San Suu Kyi needs medical care and that the Burmese authorities have detained her personal – have detained her primary personal physician, Dr. Tin Myo Win. We urge the Burmese regime to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to receive immediate medical care from a doctor. We further call on the regime to permit Aung San Suu Kyi to meet with her personal attorney immediately.

As the anniversary of her detention approaches, we are reminded that the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi is unjust. We join with the calls of the international community and urge her immediate release, along with the release of all the more than 2,000 political prisoners the Burmese regime currently holds.



QUESTION: Do you have any update on the arrest of the U.S. citizen in Burma last week, which New Light of Myanmar said he was coming out of the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi?

MR. KELLY: Did we address that last week?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we have no update.

MR. KELLY: No, we have no update.

QUESTION: Another one --


QUESTION: -- you might take. A couple of Americans, who were working for the U.S. Cultural Center in Rangoon were teaching a writing class, apparently were arrested and thrown out of the country last week. Just wondering if you had anything on that.

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t – I don’t have anything on that. We’ll see if we can get you the information, though.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And this is just in regards to the assault in Farah. There have been some reports that white phosphorous was used, and it didn’t indicate whether it was from the U.S. or from the Taliban. And has the Karzai government expressed any concern with the U.S., if they did, using this kind of warfare in heavily populated areas of civilians?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not aware that they have expressed concern about this. You know, of course, we’ll take – I mean if there’s any – if there’s been any – I mean, we’ll obviously investigate it, but the – I think any questions regarding the use of it should be directed at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Does this hinder your operations in Afghanistan? I know the State Department is doing something separate from the Department of Defense. So how is this going to bother your operations there if the Afghans in that area believe that the U.S. did use white phosphorous --

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, I --

QUESTION: -- in a village?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to comment on the impact of something that I don’t know the details of. So I’ll just decline to comment at this time.

QUESTION: Same region?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In light of last week’s meetings with President Karzai and President Zardari, in particular with Pakistan, is there increased assurance within the State Department and within the U.S. Government that Zardari has the full support and command of the military and is fully committed to dealing with the Taliban and with sympathetic elements, particularly in the Swat Valley?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. I think the President spoke extensively on that subject. I think that the meetings last week were very productive. And we look forward to continuing to help the Government of Pakistan in their battle against the extremists and their attempt to establish democratic institutions.

QUESTION: Were there any promises made by the U.S. in terms of helping to protect Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

MR. KELLY: We were assured by President Zardari that they have complete command and control of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

QUESTION: But how do you verify that? I mean, they can say it, but how do you verify that?

MR. KELLY: We have full faith and confidence in President Zardari.

QUESTION: On this, but it’s kind of a technical, logistical thing. You know, these meetings last week were pretty high profile and very – presumably, you regard them as pretty significant.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’m wondering why on earth you would put out at 1:22 a.m. Saturday morning a statement about the trilaterals? I mean, it was only on Friday morning that I brought up the fact that you put out the new Mexico travel alert at 5:27 a.m. Do you really think putting something out at 1:22 a.m. Saturday is going to give it the oomph that you’d like to see?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re a 24-hour operation, Matt. And I mean, I could have waited until you were having your coffee the next morning, but we decided to put it out when we had it.

QUESTION: At 1:22 a.m.?

MR. KELLY: At 1:22 a.m.

QUESTION: So there was someone awake who had to sign off on --

MR. KELLY: Absolutely. There’s someone awake --

QUESTION: Who hadn’t signed off on it until 1:22?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, it was a weekend night, people stay up later. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I’m serious. Something should be done to address this because it’s --

MR. KELLY: All right, fair enough. I said that I’m committed to you and your work, and so I’ll take your concern.


QUESTION: This morning the Secretary talked about how the United States wanted to see what it could do to aid the situation of people fleeing Swat, refugees uprooted by the Pakistani military offensive. I’m wondering what she and you might have in mind about what the United States is concerned about and will do.

MR. KELLY: Well, whatever we do, of course, will be in close consultation with President Zardari and his government. I think at this point we’re assessing what the needs are and we’re assessing where our aid can fit in and be of use. But we support, of course, the operation in the Swat Valley, and we will stand ready to help with any kind of humanitarian situation that might evolve out of it.

QUESTION: So how quickly do you expect this aid to move in (inaudible) the Swat Valley (inaudible)?

MR. KELLY: That’s really difficult for me to say. Of course, we already have a lot of ongoing programs. I don’t know what’s prepositioned in the area out there, and I don’t know what kind of specific assistance is needed.

QUESTION: Are the USAID people on the ground looking at the situation there?

MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not sure. Yes, I mean, of course, they’re on the ground looking at the situation, but I’m not sure if they’re actually in the area. So let me see if I can find out the information and get back to you.

QUESTION: Have you had a specific request from Pakistan for humanitarian aid?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware that we have a specific request at this time. But that’s information we can fold maybe into the same question.

Same issue?

QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering when Mubarak and Netanyahu will be here. Do you have --

MR. KELLY: When we have dates, we’ll let you know.


QUESTION: On a different subject, on Mexico. Do you have any update on the activities of the Embassy, of the consulates, anything like that? Are things going to start to get back to normal, issuing visas? Maybe they have and it’s – maybe that was another 1:22 memo that came out.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, we do have something on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. KELLY: Yeah. They’re opening and issuing visas.



QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea?

MR. KELLY: North Korea.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Ambassador Bosworth’s trip to Seoul and Tokyo? And I also want to ask you the reason why Ambassador Bosworth cancelled his plan to visit Russia?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t think cancel is the right word. I think that he had another engagement that precluded him going on to Moscow. But I do have some –I have an update.

The delegation arrived in Tokyo today and met with Japanese officials. Ambassador Bosworth is returning back here on May 12th, and the rest of the delegation will go on to Moscow and then return to Washington on May 14th.

Today, Ambassador Bosworth and his delegation met with Vice Foreign Minister Yabunaka, Deputy Foreign Minister – and I’m going to wreck this name – Sasae, and Director General Saiki. Ambassador Bosworth and the Japanese officials had good discussions about the current situation in North Korea and exchanged views about the next steps and the way forward to achieve our common goal of the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question about two reporters in North Korea?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Victor Cha suggested in The Washington Post article that Mr. Al Gore can be a special envoy to North Korea to help those two reporters release. So are you also considering sending special envoy to North Korea to solve this issue?

MR. KELLY: We’re – as I said before, we’re very concerned about the safety and welfare of these two. And – but beyond that, I don’t think – I don’t want to get into the details of anything else regarding their detention.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. propose to Pyongyang this time?

MR. KELLY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Bosworth propose to visit Pyongyang in --

MR. KELLY: No, he has no plans to visit North Korea.

QUESTION: If not, why not?

MR. KELLY: It’s too early to go to North Korea.

QUESTION: Ian, do you have anything at all on this incident at Camp Liberty today?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t, except to say that; of course, our sympathies go to the families of the soldiers. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to say. I’d refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Can you update us a little bit on the trip to Syria? And also, is it true that the U.S. is concerned that the – that suicide bombers are using Syria once again to get into Iraq?

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do have something on Syria, if you’ll just hold on a second. Sorry I have to use this a lot, but in the first few days you can expect me to do that.

On the issue of the foreign fighters, Assistant Secretary – or Acting Assistant Secretary Feltman and Mr. Shapiro from the NSC did raise the issue during meetings in Damascus. We continue to have very deep concern about this issue of the flow of foreign fighters going into Iraq via Syria. And we also continue to call on Syria to take immediate and decisive action, including better screening of individuals entering Damascus airport, increased security on the Iraq-Syria border, better cooperation with the Government of Iraq, and denying foreign fighter facilitators safe haven within Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:21 p.m.)