Briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
First of all, we condemn the series of bombing attacks against Shia pilgrims in Iraq over this past week, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Attacking men, women, and children engaged in religious pilgrimage is reprehensible and exposes the cynical immorality of the terrorists who seek to replace Iraq’s hard-won progress with violence and intimidation. And we think that they will not succeed in breaking the will of the Iraqi people.
In terms of senior government officials moving about the world, obviously, the Munich Conference will be coming up this weekend and the U.S. delegation is led by General Jim Jones, the National Security Advisor, but the State Department contingent will include Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg as well as Special Representative Richard Holbrooke. And there will obviously be a full range of discussions on European security issues.
Deputy Secretary Steinberg arrived in Munich from Yerevan, where yesterday he met with President Sargisian and Foreign Minister Nalbandian in Armenia to continue to work with the government on its steps towards full normalization of relations with Turkey. And while he is in Munich, the Deputy Secretary will meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu and also President Aliyev of Azerbaijan.
I can also report that this morning, Under Secretary Bill Burns participated in a P-5+1 conference call with his counterparts from the European Union and China and Russia, about a 90-minute call. They discussed both tracks, both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: P.J., on that subject of the recent comments, how are you interpreting – or is there any change in the way that Under Secretary Burns understands those recent comments, I presume by Ahmadinejad?
MR. CROWLEY: All I can say is that to the extent that these comments will signal – would signal a change in perspective by Iran with respect to, for example, the Tehran research reactor deal, no – there’s been no change in the position as stated by the Iranian representative at the IAEA.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s a very important position in China. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Let us shows that the wire services are channeling our distinguished colleague from AP.
The Chinese representative including the – included their assistant secretary for arms control. As a practical matter, He Yafei, who has been their political director, is transitioning to become their new ambassador at the IAEA, so we thought it was at – given that there – there’s a vacancy in their political director position, we thought it was an appropriate representation. And my understanding is he was a vigorous participant in the discussion.
QUESTION: Can you give us his name and exact title? Is he a vice foreign minister or –
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll get that, yeah. He – no, he – huh?
QUESTION: Is he a vice foreign minister, which is usually our analog to an assistant secretary?
MR. CROWLEY: He – okay, we’ll get you his name and title.
QUESTION: Did they – I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding --
MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. I think they – I wasn’t a participant in the call so I – it’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks. But beyond that, I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a question, a couple on North Korea? Mr. Park has been released – is it actually correct – released? Do you know where he is and do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: North Korean authorities have informed both us and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which serves as our protecting power, that they plan to release him. We would expect – we have consular officials standing by in Beijing to greet him. But as to whether he has been released and is now in the care of the Swedish Embassy, it’s unclear at this point. But we expect him to travel in the – today and we will be standing by to offer him whatever assistance he needs as he makes his way back to the United States.
QUESTION: And any commentary on that? Do you welcome this?
MR. CROWLEY: Of course, we welcome the decision to release him. And beyond that, we look forward to his safe travel back to the United States.
QUESTION: And is there any agreement with the North Korean officials in exchange for his release? Was any – did they ask for anything or did you guys give them any assurances that – to facilitate the release?
MR. CROWLEY: They announced that they have released him and we welcome that news.
QUESTION: Unilaterally? There’s no – there was no --
QUESTION: You said “planned to release him.”
MR. CROWLEY: Well, they have announced a decision to release him, and we welcome that news. And we look forward to, obviously, having him back here in the United States and would expect him to travel directly back here.
QUESTION: Was there any pressure by the United States or did you give them any assurances?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have – from the moment we became aware that he was in North Korea, we have pressed for consular access. I don’t think that that was ever granted. But we are grateful that this has been resolved expeditiously.
QUESTION: What about the other Americans? Is there any --
QUESTION: But there were no agreements?
MR. CROWLEY: We still don’t have any information on the other --
QUESTION: No information?
MR. CROWLEY: No information.
QUESTION: What can (inaudible) his condition?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we – when we get – when we – when – I mean, my understanding is he will travel from Pyongyang to Beijing and we’ll have a chance to talk with him once he gets there.
QUESTION: Has anybody seen him yet? (Inaudible.)
MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have any – an embassy in – (laughter) – in Pyongyang, so --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) whether the Swedes have seen him.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – obviously, they will be facilitating his travel and we’ll obviously have a chance to talk to him and look forward to it.
QUESTION: It will be today?
MR. CROWLEY: I think he will travel from Pyongyang – if everything, as we understand it, goes according to plan, he’ll travel to Beijing sometime today.
QUESTION: And then when would he come to the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to his family to announce follow-on travel plans.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question about Haiti and – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Could I just do one more on North Korea? There are reports that there’s a senior party Chinese official who’s going to Pyongyang to talk nukes, I think it’s next week. Do you know anything of those reports?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Government of China on that. The Chinese senior officials have regular discussions with North Korea. We value that leadership by China. And I think we believe on this issue our message to North Korea is very direct and very consistent and shared across the Six-Party process, which is making clear to North Korea that it needs to come back to the Six-Party process and take affirmative steps towards denuclearization.
QUESTION: And just one more on North Korea, if I could.
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: These reports about the – you know, the currency changes and great hunger, economic problems that they’re having right now, do you – is there any light that you can shed on how serious this situation is? Because they’ve actually said that they’ve had some riots as a result of this.
MR. CROWLEY: I think we – this has been an area of significant interest and concern by the United States going back many, many years. The United States has been fully supportive through the years of the World Food Program and its efforts in North Korea. And we regret – regretted the fact that North Korea ceased its cooperation with the World Food Program – I want to say last year. And we stand ready, if North Korea’s prepared to request assistance, that the United States would again be fully supportive of international efforts to help feed the North Korean population.
And this underscores why it is vitally important for North Korea to make the correct choice going forward. This – the isolation that it finds itself – or the isolation that North Korea faces, it is not – it’s not good for the North Korean people. They have demonstrated selectively in recent years the ability to have a market economy. There’ve been modest steps within North Korea to allow private enterprise to go forward. And it appears that government steps recently regarding restricting markets and taking devaluation – devaluating its currency has had a disastrous effect on the North Korean people.
But this is why we continue to stress to North Korea that your people can have a brighter future if you are willing to work constructively with the international community, choose to apply your resources to feed your people rather than applying your resources to build missiles and other weaponry that potentially destabilizes the region.
QUESTION: P.J., just on North Korea, last thing, can you please just say definitively there was no deal made, there was no quid pro quo? Can you say that the U.S. did not give any assurances?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, since – other than requesting consular access to this individual, we’ve had no substantive discussions with North Korea. We think that these cases should be based on humanitarian grounds and we’re grateful at this step by North Korea, just as we were grateful last year when the journalists were released.
QUESTION: But that happened after a Bill Clinton visit, and the two issues were tied.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand. I understand.
QUESTION: So was there any assurance given in this case? Can you say no –
MR. CROWLEY: We had no substantive – there was no deal involved here.
QUESTION: Sir, on Haiti, the Haitian authorities yesterday said that the 10 Americans who were – who’ve just been charged should be tried in Haiti. I don’t know if this has been addressed already, but are you appealing this, trying to – I mean, with all the respect for Haitian sovereignty, do you think – are you trying to get them back to the U.S. to have them tried here? Or how does that work, exactly?
MR. CROWLEY: No. We have not had any discussions with Haitian officials about shifting prosecution to the United States. This is a Haitian legal process. Obviously, the 10 American citizens have been charged under Haitian law. The legal process will continue in the coming weeks. We are monitoring this process closely. We continue to talk to Haitian officials about how the case is going to be – to unfold. But it is – it’s their process and we will continue to provide the kind of consular services that – and support to our American citizens that we provide anywhere in the world. I mean, they have their own legal representation, so – but we will provide support in any way we can.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any position on the legitimacy of the charges?
MR. CROWLEY: I would – it’s probably inappropriate to comment on the specific charges while the case is unfolding.
QUESTION: You do in the case of Iran, for instance. The hikers, you said those are illegitimate.
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, we have not been able to observe any legal process with respect to the hikers, so I think there’s a difference in terms of a process that we have, the opportunity to see, because we have an embassy in Port-au-Prince. We have personnel there. We have regular contact with Haitian officials, and so we’ll have the opportunity over time to evaluate how this case is proceeding. We have none of those benefits with respect to Tehran. So I wouldn’t draw a comparison between one and the other.
Clearly, we are there because the Haitian Government needs our help. And – but in this particular case, there were 10 Americans arrested and it would appear, based on the reporting that we have seen, that they were in possession of children without – and were attempting to move those children out of Haiti without – the authorization of the Haitian Government. We recognize that that is a potential violation of Haitian law. And the judge in this case has interviewed the American citizens, he’s evaluated the evidence that has been presented to him, he has affirmed three charges against them, and we will continue to monitor this as it goes forward.
QUESTION: The prime minister of Haiti has complained that the case is becoming a distraction, and that instead of focusing on the thousands who are dead and the thousands who still need help, all the world’s attention is now focused on those 10 Americans. Do you think that’s fair?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to the prime minister to – I mean, he’s – I mean, we don’t think it’s a distraction in the sense that we continue to provide support every day to the Haitian Government and the people of Haiti. I mean, to the extent the prime minister has concerns about Haiti’s ability to proceed with this case and wants to talk to the United States about that, we’ll be happy to engage him.
QUESTION: P.J., a question about the charges: You just said that there were three charges. There was some confusion about the (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. And I’ll defer to the Haitian Government. I’ve heard two and I’ve heard three. Fair enough. I don’t profess to be the authority on exactly what the charges are.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Go home, man the shovels and – (laughter) – get ready for the storm.