On-the-Record Briefing

Special Briefing
Philip J. Crowley
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Mark C. Toner
   Director, Office of Press Relations
Washington, DC
December 23, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. There are, I know, two issues of perhaps significant interest. Perhaps we should start there. In Brazil, our Embassy in Brasilia, our Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, many people have been up through the night – just to provide support to the Goldman family, to maintain contact with the Brazilian Government, and as we hopefully come to the end of this process and look forward to the reuniting of Sean Goldman with his father David.

And in Kingston, Jamaica, our consular officials there at the Embassy are doing everything in their power to identify and support the Americans onboard that airplane that went past the – went through the runway. I think our latest understanding is about 76 American citizens were on board. Thankfully, no one was killed. Some had been seriously injured. Others were able to walk away. Just to give you an example of things that happened. Some of the people that walked away, left their passports on board the airplane. So obviously, doing everything we can to support them and facilitate their onward travel.

QUESTION: Do you know how many of those 76 Americans were seriously injured?

MR. CROWLEY: I think, four.

QUESTION: And how many injured, total? Because there were, I think, like 90 of them.

QUESTION: Can you go back and repeat whatever number you said for Americans seriously --


MR. TONER: Four.

MR. CROWLEY: Four. Somewhere around 40 or 50 were taken to the two area hospitals with minor injuries. And obviously, our people are now in touch with those hospitals and just tracking the passengers and seeing what – how we can best support them.

QUESTION: Are you –

QUESTION: Forty or 50 Americans or 40 or 50 total?

MR. CROWLEY: Of the 76 Americans, 40 to 50 of them were taken to the area hospitals.

QUESTION: And four of those --

MR. CROWLEY: And four of those we think are seriously injured, yes.

QUESTION: Are you – I guess, task force is a big word, but is there anything that you’re doing, like, people can call in to see if their loved ones –

MR. CROWLEY: Mark, chime in. What –

MR. TONER: It’s a good question. Usually, the Ops Center would provide that kind of support. We can check and see if there’s – if they’re actually going to set up a –

QUESTION: Yeah, if there’s a toll-free number.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, what we would normally do in these kinds of situations, we’ll establish contact with the airport and the airline. Sometimes they do some – these things. But certainly, you put your embassy on alert so that not only as people might call in, in some cases family members might decide to have to travel in.

QUESTION: Sometimes there’s like a toll-free – like, (inaudible) a hurricane or something else, there’s a toll-free number.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure, sure. Yeah. But we’ll adapt to what – obviously, our Embassy will do whatever it has to do, given the severity of the particular crisis. And again, this is one of those situations where we know where the airplane is and we know that no one was killed, and so we’ll do whatever we have to do.

QUESTION: Who’s running the investigation, the U.S. or the Jamaicans?

MR. CROWLEY: That would be a good question to ask probably the Department of Transportation.

QUESTION: P.J. can we go back to Brazil for a minute?


QUESTION: Does or did Sean Goldman have a U.S. passport? Did you have to issue him one? Have you issued him one?

MR. CROWLEY: We have issued him a passport – to his father. So he will be able to travel whenever the exchange of custody takes place.

QUESTION: Recently, you issued it?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s – in the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Can you talk about what’s going on with Niger? Have we severed aid to Niger or something to that effect because the president has perpetuated himself in power and –

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think I’m necessarily equipped to talk about that subject. I’ll take that question.


QUESTION: Can we talk Sudan? What the --


QUESTION: -- concern is there? Is this --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we put – as you know, we put out a statement during the night. We remain concerned about implementation of the CPA – the fact that through – in recent dialogue with both parties, with the – Scott Gration was just in country recently. The Government in Khartoum had agreed to do – take certain actions. And we are going to continue to make sure that they live up to what they’ve agreed to do in terms of legislation and specific language, so that we could move towards full implementation of the CPA.

QUESTION: How are you going to make sure that they do that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, for example, early in 2010, we’ll have further discussions with those who are involved in the CPA process. All of this is leading up to an election in April and the vitally important referenda in – just about a year from now.

QUESTION: And to continue, Ambassador Rice in October when they unveiled their new policy said that the new policy wasn’t aimed at rewarding people simply for standing still. And your own statement seems to point out two areas where, in fact, they’re backsliding. What --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, one of the reasons the Secretary sent Scott Gration back to Sudan recently was, in fact, to try to make sure that the parties are moving forward. There’s been some recent tension. And so you’re now into that period of time where you’re approaching an electoral process. As we’ve seen in other contexts, it’s important to have an appropriate environment for this to take place. You want to have the NCP doing what it has to do to create the proper environment so that these votes can go forward. Everyone should have the opportunity to freely discuss and debate the issues that are confronting Sudan, so that both the demonstrations and some of the reaction by the government, we thought was a concern. So in fact, we continue to have steady and significant dialogue with all of the parties in Sudan precisely to keep this on track, keep it moving forward so that the people of Sudan can make an informed decision on their future.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate Gration going back again anytime soon?

MR. CROWLEY: Scott travels to Sudan on a regular basis. And I should say Scott is our point person in terms of dialogue with the parties inside Sudan. But Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson is also heavily involved in this process as is Michelle Gavin at the NSC. And Matt probably knows this better than anyone else – there are many countries in the region that have a significant interest in and stake in regional security, resolution of these difficult issues, not only in the North-South issues, but also Darfur. And so we will continue to have this broad-based consultation to try to keep this on track. So I would expect, as Scott does from time to time, and others, both Assistant Secretary Carson and Scott Gration will be in the region soon after the new year.

QUESTION: Can we move on to START?


QUESTION: The – the announcement that you put out, or whatever that you put out this morning, that you’re going to be unable to reach an agreement by the end of the year and you’ll start again in January.

MR. CROWLEY: I think I talked about that yesterday.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Sorry about that.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all of what you said is true. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s your understanding – what’s happening in Iran today with these protests? Their opposition websites are saying that the police have been breaking up protestors with tear gas and the government denies it.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I think it’s more of the same. I mean, we’ve seen this dynamic tragically for the people of Iran over several months. Iran is increasingly showing itself to be a police state. It is using all of its levers, all of its security – various security elements to try to stamp out clearly the aspirations of the Iranian people for a different relationship with their government. And yet, the people keep on finding a way to exercise their universal rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. They are using, as we talked about before, technology. And Iran keeps on trying to find ways to prevent them from being able to have access to those modern tools of communication. So with the – Iran has to take note of what clearly its people are saying, which is they want a government that’s working on their behalf, that’s serving their interests. They want a government that leads them to a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world.

QUESTION: You may not know this offhand, but if – has – there was this – the Bush Administration started this program with this $75 million a year on democracy promotion. Has the Obama Administration changed that? Are you still funding democracy promotion in Iran to that – those levels?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question. I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: Can I – I'm sorry? Can I ask one? Kyrgyzstan, a journalist, I guess he was in neighboring Kazakhstan and he wound up thrown out the window apparently. And Kyrgyz journalists are having a run of bad luck (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: We obviously are deeply concerned. And I think we share your concern about the welfare of journalists around the world. Over the past six months, there have been a series of violent incidents against journalists and political commentators in the Kyrgyz Republic. The murder of Gennadi Pavlyuk, a Kyrgyz citizen who was attacked on December 16th in Almaty is the latest such incident. And we obviously want to see a thorough investigation. But clearly, for countries like Kyrgyzstan and others to advance, we need to have the kinds of institutions of government and civil society that allow these countries to move forward. We want to see journalists able to provide their valuable service in terms of creating an open society, free of intimidation, free of violence. And we will continue to raise these issues with the government.

QUESTION: I have a question about Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident (inaudible). I’m just wondering if you have any reaction to the fact that the government hasn’t put him on trial despite (inaudible). And does this show in any way the limits on the usefulness of the Secretary’s patient pragmatism or pragmatic patience or whatever the phrase is?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say ultimately this is –

QUESTION: Also, the diplomats are not being allowed in.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. No, you’re exactly right. This is about the future of China. And it is about the – what kind of political system it is going to have, what kind of participation individual Chinese citizens are going to have, it’s about the nature of the government in terms of its transparency. All of these things are touched in this particular case. As far as we can tell, this man’s crime was simply signing a piece of paper that aspires to a more open and participatory form of government. That is not a crime. And certainly, the timing of the case is no accident. In all likelihood, the verdict will be released on Christmas Day, when it’s designed specifically to attract as little attention as possible.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.

MR. CROWLEY: The trial did not.

QUESTION: Christmas is not a holiday in China.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but I think they are very conscious of how this will be viewed in other places where Christmas is a holiday. But the speed of the trial, the fact it was not open, the fact his family was not allowed to observe either. I mean, these are not hallmarks of the kind of government that is likely to be successful in the dynamic world of the 21st century. And we will continue as we have to have frank discussions with China about its future and human rights within China. It is a fundamental aspect of our relationship with China. And just recently when the President met with Hu Jintao, as the (inaudible) said, human rights was a focal point of these discussions and we will continue to have them.

QUESTION: One other thing on China.

QUESTION: Hold on a second. This is not a hallmark of a government that is likely to be successful in the 21st century? They own us. What are you talking about? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s the exact quote they gave to the last Treasury bond.

QUESTION: Do you have – do you know how much we owe them off the top of your head? I don’t.

MR. CROWLEY: $800 billion, give or take? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They seem to be doing pretty successfully so far in the 21st century. No?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I don’t want to get into a great metatheoretical debate here.

QUESTION: No, I was just – I’m just curious.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. But again, the nature of governments, how they govern, their relationship with their people are central to the forces that will shape the 21st century – how dynamic is your society, can the nature of your government keep up with the dynamism that we think will be characteristic of this century? I don’t argue with you that – and in fairness to China, China is evolving. We’re approaching, what, the 31st anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and China. And certainly the nature of our relationship has changed in fundamental ways – from when President Nixon went to China, what, 38 years ago. And – but China will continue to have to evolve. And as China evolves, its political system and its institutions and its fundamental relationship with its people will have to change as well. And I mean, these kinds of actions are clearly a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction is uncharacteristic of a great country.

QUESTION: Are you also following the cases of the 22 being tried in the Xinjiang region?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s – also, I would throw the fact that you had – China intimidated Cambodia into sending back the Uighurs. I mean, ultimately, this is, in our view, not actions that are characteristic of a great power.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Haitian elections coming up? If you don’t, can you take a look at – apparently, Maxine Waters has written a letter to Preval (inaudible), expressing concerns? And the reason I ask here because she brings up the Secretary and asks him to get in touch with her, so –

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I mean, I think we have a review of our Haitian policy. It is in progress. I would expect we’ll have some things to say early in 2010 about our approach to Haiti and what we think will be important there going forward. We’ll see what we can say about this.

QUESTION: Thank you.