Remarks to the Press

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 4, 2009

MR. KELLY: Yeah, why don’t we begin? And the first question goes to Elise Labott of CNN.

QUESTION: On the settlements, I mean, were you caught kind of blindsided by this? Did – have the Israelis been discussing the fact that as you’re negotiating a settlement freeze, they’re going to announce the approval of new settlements?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know that we don’t want to get too much into detail of our confidential diplomatic conversations. What I’ll say in response to that is that we have had a very open dialogue with our Israeli partners. And Senator Mitchell on multiple occasions has had a thorough discussion of all of these issues. We’ve made our position quite clear. Our position is that all sides have to abide by their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlement activity; for Palestinians, it means increasing confidence in their ability to handle their own security; and for the Arab states, it means taking steps towards normalization of their relationship with Israel. And you saw the statement out of the White House that we regret that they are planning to do this.

QUESTION: Well, did you know about it before?

MR. KELLY: Again, I’m – I don’t want to confirm --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they’re doing --

MR. KELLY: -- or deny what we discussed in these confidential diplomatic conversations. But we’ve been very open, they’ve been very open.

QUESTION: When you say you’ve been very open, are you speaking about your desire to have them stop all settlement activity --


QUESTION: -- or are you speaking about this issue in general that you had an open discussion about their plan to approve housing?

MR. KELLY: Well, yeah. Again, Libby, I’m not going to confirm what was discussed in the meetings.

QUESTION: In hindsight, Ian, was it the right thing to do to put out a statement on Wednesday night, saying that the meeting between Mitchell and the two Israelis was a good meeting?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I – that’s the way it was characterized, and it was a good meeting. We are making progress to the next stage in our --

QUESTION: But realizing that you don’t want to --

MR. KELLY: -- in this whole process.

QUESTION: Did Mitchell not tell the Israelis at this meeting that if they went ahead and made – and did this, that they were going to get slapped?

MR. KELLY: Again, Matt, I’m not going to get into the substance of what was discussed in the meetings.

QUESTION: The bottom line is that, you know, he knew this was coming.

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to get into the substance of what was discussed in the meeting.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, isn’t it – isn’t it –

MR. KELLY: But we do – I mean, we have a very open dialogue with our friends in Israel.

QUESTION: Well, aren’t they – come on, aren’t they like spitting on you, the fact that you’re --

MR. KELLY: Spitting on us?

QUESTION: You’re negotiating an agreement for a settlement freeze, and here they talk about announcing new settlements. I mean, doesn’t that just fly in the face of what you say that you want and what the Israelis say that they’re working on with you? I mean, that’s ridiculous.

MR. KELLY: No, we’re partners. We have a good dialogue, an excellent relationship --

QUESTION: It doesn’t sound like it.

MR. KELLY: -- with Israel. They’re open about their interests. We’re open about our interests. And we’re all being clear here.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls on this?

QUESTION: Or not clear. (Laughter.) Sorry.

QUESTION: I mean, has the Secretary made any calls on this? I mean, the Gibbs statement makes clear your displeasure, but I wonder if Secretary Clinton has actually – or Senator Mitchell actually --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- called Prime Minister Netanyahu to --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- express your displeasure.

MR. KELLY: Well, I think the next step in this process is Senator Mitchell going back out to the region.

QUESTION: Do you have any --

MR. KELLY: That’s at the end of next week. I’m not aware of the Secretary having had any conversation with any Israeli officials.

QUESTION: And how about Mitchell?

MR. KELLY: I’m also not aware of any – it’s quite possible that he has, but I’m not in a position to confirm it.

QUESTION: And have you yet fielded any calls from sort of unhappy Palestinian or other Arab officials about this?

MR. KELLY: Again, I’m just not in a position to confirm anything like that. The statement just went out less than two hours ago.

QUESTION: Is there any – is there any more detail on Mitchell’s trip, where he was going to be going?

MR. KELLY: No, we don’t have anything to announce at this time, but as soon as --

QUESTION: But you just announced that he’s going at the end of the next week. I was wondering if you had more.

MR. KELLY: Well, he – well, we did – I mean, yeah, we don’t have the details of what – I didn’t announce that. That was in the --

QUESTION: I know it was in the statement.

MR. KELLY: -- statement a couple days ago.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister --

QUESTION: Did you see the latest news?

QUESTION: Sorry. The Israeli prime minister’s office said that they had informed the U.S. Government about this decision, so I wonder if he did express regret in person or --

MR. KELLY: Again, we don’t discuss the substance of --

QUESTION: They did.

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s up to them to characterize the meetings, but we’re just not going to --

QUESTION: All right.

MR. KELLY: -- get into the substance of --

QUESTION: All right. Let’s --

QUESTION: Can we move on?


MR. KELLY: Yes, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) continue with this – continue with --

MR. KELLY: Well, we are --

QUESTION: They can’t. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: We are – we’re looking forward to continuing this process, and the next step – the next substantial step is the trip of Senator Mitchell to the region, the end of next week.

QUESTION: Does that take – have you taken a step back, though? I mean, there was all this --


QUESTION: -- hope that you were going to have a launch of negotiations at UNGA. Is this a step back?

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say that at all.

QUESTION: So that means you’re saying that it’s okay?

QUESTION: So this is a positive development?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I wouldn’t call it a positive development. I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: But if it’s not a step back and it’s – and you regret it, well, how does it – I mean --

MR. KELLY: Look, I mean, this – what’s going on now is we were having very intense discussions with all the parties involved. Right now, we’re focusing on our discussion with the Israeli officials. We talk very frankly and they talk very frankly, and – but this is, I think, part of the whole process of our discussions. We’re being clear, they’re being clear.

QUESTION: It sounds like they are completely ignoring you. That’s what it sounds like. You want a settlement freeze and they’re building more settlements. I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, did Senator Mitchell postpone his travel? Because yesterday, according to Crowley said that he’s going there within two days.

MR. KELLY: No, no. It’s later next week. We don’t have anything to announce, though.

QUESTION: What’s the point of him going if they’re just going to defy you?

MR. KELLY: I just said the process continues. We’re – I mean, nothing has stopped because of announcements.

QUESTION: Oh, there is no process if --

MR. KELLY: Oh, no, there is a process, most definitely.

QUESTION: And are you encouraging the talks – the Israeli-Palestinian talks? Are you encouraging the Palestinians to go in to talk with Israel even if there is no full settlement freeze, including natural growth?

MR. KELLY: I think we would encourage more dialogue between Israel and Palestine on many different levels.

QUESTION: All right, looks good.

QUESTION: Yeah, contract – can we move on to contractors?

MR. KELLY: Yes. Can I give you an update on contractors, what’s going on with the --

QUESTION: Is it more than what the Embassy has said?

MR. KELLY: I think it’s maybe a little more. It gives you a little more of the flavor of what’s going on here in Washington as well, although the Embassy’s statement, of course, was very clear. Speaking of the Embassy, they conducted 50 interviews today in connection with the ArmorGroup contract. There have been 120 conducted to date. These are interviews of the guards themselves.

QUESTION: Are supervisors involved with those?

MR. KELLY: Let me just finish the update.

QUESTION: Those are all – that means 120 separate people have been interviewed --


QUESTION: -- or have some people been interviewed twice?

MR. KELLY: I believe there’s been 120 people interviewed. There are representatives of the Office of Inspector General on the ground in Kabul. As you know from the Embassy statement, the Embassy has its own investigation going on. There’s also going to be a regularly scheduled State Department inspection of Embassy Kabul next month. And because of these developments, obviously, this whole issue of oversight of security contracts will be one of the most intensely examined issues.

There are senior officials from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and from the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Logistics Management, who are en route now to Kabul. You’ve seen the Embassy’s statement. We did ask the ArmorGroup to remove all personnel involved in these disgusting events that you’ve seen in the photos.

QUESTION: But what about the ones that --

MR. KELLY: Well, let me finish. Eight of the guards had been terminated and two have already resigned. We’ve also asked the contractor to replace his entire management team on the ground in Kabul, and just to repeat what Ambassador Eikenberry has said all along, that the security of our personnel in Kabul is the top priority of the Ambassador. And as we go forward, that will be paramount.

QUESTION: But part of the – part of this report, this POGO report, said some of the younger or like, kind of, new recruits were hazed --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and forced to be involved in these rituals. And it’s unclear whether some of the people that were in the pictures were there – were taking part in this against their will. So if you fired everyone in the photos, you might have fired people that really didn’t want to be there and tried to raise red flags.

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, let’s use the right terminology here. What we’ve asked that the contractor to do is to remove them from this particular contract that the State Department has with them. I can’t say that they’ve been terminated from employment. I don’t know if the contractor has done that.

QUESTION: So they --

MR. KELLY: But we made the determination that all of these individuals involved in these photos were no longer welcome.

QUESTION: So they could be working for the U.S. in one of your other aid countries?

MR. KELLY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They could be working for ArmorGroup in one of the other countries, like in Nigeria?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know exactly where they are, and I don’t know their employment status. We just know that they are persona non gratis in Kabul.

QUESTION: But if you did 120 interviews or – and 50 today, wouldn’t you have known by now, like that some of the people in the photos were not necessarily there – that they were part of these hazing rituals?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know. I just don’t know. This is what we’re doing right now. We’re trying to determine exactly what happened and under what circumstances these events happened. And --

QUESTION: Would you consider it permissible for any of those people who were in the photos, whether their behavior was coerced or not, to work for the State Department anywhere else?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m getting some signals from behind me. Yeah, that’s speculative, Arshad. Personally, I would not consider it permissible.

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s not likely. But, I mean have you told ArmorGroup --

MR. KELLY: But we’re talking about an ongoing investigation --

QUESTION: Have you ArmorGroup that these --

MR. KELLY: We’re talking about contract law involved here. And I just know that we’ve asked them to remove them from this particular contract.

QUESTION: But you did not ask them to make sure that these guys didn’t show up at the Embassy in Abuja or something?

MR. KELLY: I am not sure. I’m sure that would be --

QUESTION: And you’re not sure whether some of them were coerced?

QUESTION: Doesn’t that – don’t you think that that’s something that’s an obvious next question?

MR. KELLY: I’m just telling you that my own knowledge base right now, it’s not in there. That information --

QUESTION: Can you find out? I mean --

MR. KELLY: Whether they’re working somewhere else?

QUESTION: No, whether --

QUESTION: No, whether you told – whether you’ve told ArmorGroup --

MR. WOOD: It’s highly unlikely that these people will ever work for the Department of State in any contract, so --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

MR. WOOD: -- I think you can safely say that.

QUESTION: Highly unlikely?

MR. KELLY: Unlikely.

QUESTION: But have you told ArmorGroup that you don’t want them?

MR. KELLY: Okay, you’re – okay, they are not working from the State Department – for the State Department.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR. KELLY: Okay. If that information is incorrect, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Okay, but what about the idea that some of them might have been coerced?

MR. KELLY: That will be investigated very thoroughly.

QUESTION: And they’ll be reinstated?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know. We’ll see what the recommendations are from the investigation.

QUESTION: How many members of the management team – when you talk about replacing the entire management team --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- how – how many people is that?

MR. KELLY: The exact number, I think, is – Robert, do you know?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have the exact number.

MR. KELLY: We don’t have an exact number.

QUESTION: Why not just fire ArmorGroup or cancel their contract in Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: We – that may be the end result of this. But as I say, we have an investigation going on right now. We also have the issue of the safety of our employees, and these are the people who are protecting our colleagues. They’re also – I would say the majority of the guards there are hard-working and have done no wrong. And so there are issues like that that we have to consider as well.

QUESTION: Just clarifying, all the hazing incidents occurred in Camp Sullivan, none at the Embassy, right?

MR. KELLY: No, none at the Embassy.


QUESTION: Ian, can you go into any details that you have on State Department oversight of the contractor, the role of the RSO there, whether anybody in Diplomatic Security, which I understand has supervisory duties, has been disciplined yet or if at all?

MR. KELLY: I think that would be all part of the overall investigation into this. I think there have been some very serious allegations about the oversight of this contract, about the State Department responsibilities for supervising this contract, and this is all going to be something that will be thoroughly investigated by the people on the ground and the people who are en route.

QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, and maybe that I’m not the only one who is not, but it seemed the other day that you suggested that there were three separate investigations, the one by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- the one by Pat Kennedy’s office, the people that – in other words, the people that had been sent from here.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, that’s what I – when I mentioned that there were officials from DS, Diplomatic Security --

QUESTION: That would be part of the investigation.

MR. KELLY: -- and Bureau of Administration, that’s that investigation.

QUESTION: That’s the second one. And the third one is Eikenberry’s chief of staff.

MR. KELLY: Right, that’s fair to say – three investigations.

QUESTION: All right, North Korea.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MR. KELLY: North Korea. Go ahead, what’s the question?

QUESTION: What did you think of the letter to the sanctions committee yesterday?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think, first of all, we would be very concerned about any developments relating to North Korea’s nuclear program, its nuclear weapons program. We did receive this letter. The letter was – we received it in our capacity as the president of the UN Security Council. I think that in terms of characterizing it, I would say that it just reconfirms the need for a – for North Korea to step back from any kind of nuclear weapons program and recommit to the obligations that it made in the September 2005 joint statement. And that was the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Did it seem very – like he didn’t care about sanctions, thumbing his nose at the UN Security Council resolutions?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ve seen a lot of statements like this from North Korea, and we would just urge them to return to the table and join us with our Six-Party partners to resume talks leading to our goal.

QUESTION: But, actually, you haven’t seen a lot of statements like this from North Korea before. They have never admitted to having a uranium --

QUESTION: They did last month, I think.

QUESTION: They did in June.

QUESTION: Yeah. They did in --

QUESTION: In a letter to the Sanctions Committee?

QUESTION: Yeah. But not in a letter to the Sanctions Committee.

QUESTION: I mean, usually it’s statements that are --

QUESTION: It’s a pretty bold declaration.

MR. KELLY: I don’t think it was to the Sanctions Committee. I think it was to – there was a letter to the Security Council.

QUESTION: Do you have – the question of whether or not North Korea has, in fact, a uranium enrichment program, you know, has been a subject of huge internal debate --


QUESTION: -- since 2002, when U.S. officials first said that the North Koreans had admitted to them the existence of such a program. And in testimony, senior U.S. intelligence officials on the record have changed their assessments of their confidence in their belief that North Korea had such a program. Do you have reason to believe that there is any veracity to the North Korean claim that they indeed do have a uranium enrichment program?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think, in general, we’re very concerned by these claims that they’re moving closer to the weaponization of nuclear materials. But I can’t really comment on the veracity, how true these claims are, because you’re asking me to get into intelligence matters.

QUESTION: To these claims on the HEU?

QUESTION: Well, you said --

MR. KELLY: Not on the HEU, but – I believe what they were claiming is –

QUESTION: The uranium.

MR. KELLY: Hold on a second. Yeah. It was – yeah, the reprocessing of spent fuel rods is at its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponized.

QUESTION: But you --

MR. KELLY: That’s their claim.

QUESTION: So you’re referring to the reprocessing of the plutonium, but they’re also claiming that they’re in the final stages of enrichment for uranium.

QUESTION: Enriched uranium.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Experimentally, uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase. I’m not a nuclear physicist, so it’s difficult for me to understand..

QUESTION: So you’re concerned about their claims of both reprocessing fuel rods and the highly --

MR. KELLY: Well, we would obviously be very concerned about these claims, but I’m just not in a position to confirm that these claims are true.

QUESTION: Because you don’t have that – because the United States doesn't know, or because --

MR. KELLY: No, I didn’t say that. I just said that you’re asking me to get into intelligence matters, and I can’t do that, as you well know.

Other questions?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. KELLY: I think we’re – as we have said again and again, we are prepared to have consultations in the multilateral context. That’s exactly why Ambassador Bosworth is out in the region now to talk with our partners on how best to achieve that goal. And this is being done in coordination with everything that Ambassador Goldberg has done in terms of enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1874.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on what Ambassador Goldberg is doing right now in the wake of Iran – the interception by the UAE of that ship last week? I mean, is he – and they’re talking about 1874.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is he doing something today on --

MR. KELLY: I just – I’m not aware of his schedule.

QUESTION: What about Bosworth?

MR. KELLY: Bosworth was in Beijing today – or he is in Beijing today.

QUESTION: He’s going to Seoul.

MR. KELLY: He had useful talks with –

QUESTION: Useful talks. How’s the --

MR. KELLY: -- or a useful meeting with Wang Jiarui, Director of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. I’m sorry, they are not in Beijing. They are now in Seoul, and they’ll be there till September 6th, when they go to Tokyo.

QUESTION: So how’s the planning for the big fall reunion going?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know what you mean, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, you don’t?

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do. (Laughter.) I hope you all have a very good weekend.