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Daily Press Briefing - November 12

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 12

Ian Kelly

Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

November 12, 2009



1:37 p.m. EST

MR. KELLY: Afternoon. First of all, a statement, or some information on Ambassador Holbrooke’s travel. He’s currently traveling to Berlin. He’s there today. He’ll be in Paris tomorrow, in Munich on November 14, and then next week he’ll be in Moscow. These are for consultations with government officials and his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan counterparts. These routine meetings are part of continued efforts to stay in close touch with allies and partners on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He will then travel to Afghanistan for the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai.

And then just a few words on the Secretary’s schedule today. We know that she arrived in the Philippines on November 12th and met with senior Philippine officials, including Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo. The Secretary affirmed a strong bilateral alliance, solidarity with the Filipino people following severe flooding caused by recent storms, and interest in exploring ways to expand our cooperation in the region. She announced a new tranche of relief funds – $5 million. This will go to help rebuild schools, construct new classrooms, provide 300,000 books and desks for 15,000 students. It will also help repair damaged water and sanitation systems to prevent the spread of disease, and it will help to refurbish clinics to provide medical supplies and assistance.

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And with that, I’ll take your questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Would you say that the Eikenberry memos are actually at odds with what the Secretary has been saying about adding more troops?

MR. KELLY: Well, let me, first of all, just reiterate what we always say about any kind of advice or analysis that comes from ambassadors to the Secretary and to the President, that this is a privileged channel of communication. They have the right to receive this advice in a confidential way. Ambassador Eikenberry has been providing this kind of advice and analysis to the President and Secretary since he arrived. And the President really deserves the right to be able to gather all this information from all the different principals, people involved in the shaping of this policy. You know that they met yesterday. The President met with his chief advisors involved in shaping Afghan policy, and Ambassador Eikenberry participated in that discussion.

But we really have to be sure that this – that the kinds of advice that they’re giving remains confidential. That’s true for the Secretary and that’s true for Ambassador Eikenberry. So we’re just not going to get into the details of this kind of advice that they’re giving.

QUESTION: But then the point on the confidentiality, this showed up in every major American newspaper today, has been the subject of considerable discussion. This looks like a calculated leak. And my question: Is this perhaps giving the President some wiggle room, given that the Secretary is reported to want a strong level of involvement in Afghanistan’s security situation? Does this give the President some wiggle room in perhaps going with a smaller number, especially given his growing concerns and the growing public concern in the U.S. --

MR. KELLY: Well, this --

QUESTION: -- about being involved and really what the U.S. is going to get out some sort of protracted military engagement here?

MR. KELLY: Look, again, this is a very important decision. It’s a decision for the President to make. The role of the Secretary and Ambassador Eikenberry in this is to provide their point of view. This will all go into the deliberation that the President is making right now. And it’s just not something that this Department is going to go into. Where the Secretary comes down on this issue, that is her private, confidential advice for the President. And I’m going to honor that.

QUESTION: But it is pretty hard to say that it’s confidential when readers in Los Angeles can read this, when readers in London can read this, when readers across the Middle East can see all this happening. It does look very calculated, and it does send a signal, some would argue, that perhaps the President is going back on his campaign year promise to fight the right war.

MR. KELLY: Well, the President hasn’t made any kind of decision yet. The deliberation process continued yesterday, and we can’t make any comments on what – where this is going to come out because the President hasn’t made the decision.

QUESTION: Also on Afghanistan, Secretary Gates has told reporters on his way onto travel that apparently the President is interested in taking the best out of the four options that were discussed in yesterday’s meeting. Is the Secretary of the same mind that perhaps a hybrid of these recommendations might be the way forward?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll just repeat what I just said. We’re just not going to get into what kind of advice that the Secretary is giving the President.

QUESTION: On Ambassador Holbrooke?

MR. KELLY: Ambassador Holbrooke? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He was trying to travel to India. Is the travelers are still there, or what’s the problem? Or is he going to wait now for the prime minister to get to arrive in Washington?

MR. KELLY: I just said that the only travel that he has planned right now is Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Kabul. He doesn’t have any other travel planned at this time. Of course, we all look forward to the visit of the prime minister later this month. And I know that preparations are well underway to ensure a good, substantive schedule for him.

QUESTION: One more on India, if you don’t mind.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Since still India is in high alert as far as terrorism is concerned, due to those two arrested in Chicago. Under FBI surveillance, they were planning or they still had plans to attack India beyond Mumbai. I know when prime minister comes here, all these issues will be discussed, but what I’m asking you: Is there a way U.S. or FBI is helping India in this connection - getting those information out before plans to conceal, as far as an alert is concerned?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Goyal, I don’t know the answer to your very specific question. I do know that we have – there exist channels for us to share information. And I know that the Government of India has been briefed on this case. And of course, the safety of American citizens and Indian citizens is always paramount on our minds. And – but I don’t have a specific answer to your very specific question.

Yeah. Indira.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Eikenberry, not specifically on this – on this or these memos that have been written about today. But earlier in the year, he had requested more civilian employees and, I believe, a doubling of the amount of money that was going to be put aside by President Obama for the civilian effort. Can you tell me a little bit about the update on increasing the civilian people in Afghanistan and the money?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I know – I think as you remember, Deputy Secretary Lew briefed you on the Department’s plans to increase the number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan. We want to triple the number, taking as a baseline January 2009. We’re on track to meet this goal. The whole strategy is specifically designed to help build Afghan capacity to – for having better governance, to promote the rule of law, and fight corruption. And it’s important to understand that this is being done not just at the national level, but it’s also at the sub-national level out in the regions. Many of my colleagues will be out in the provinces.

The decision on troop levels is not really related to this effort that we’re undergoing now to triple the number of civilians in Afghanistan. We plan to implement this plan of tripling the number. The only thing that would be affected would be where the civilians would be located, because we have to match where my colleagues go with where the numbers of troops are located. But this process is continuing apace and isn’t necessarily – the overall numbers are not affected by the deliberations going on now about the –

QUESTION: Only insofar as Eikenberry, supposedly one of his complaints was that there hasn’t been enough of a civilian ramp-up, and that he felt that more of a troop ramp-up would be inappropriate at a time when the civilian effort had not been given a chance to fully ramp up

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So that’s the way in which I see them linked. That’s what I’m asking. And also, the amounts that Eikenberry had asked for were above and beyond what Obama had announced back in May as part of his --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- budget that came out in early May, so is this tripling beyond? Because Lew had also briefed us on May 8th when the budget came out about, you know, what the civilian figures were going to be overall in the Department.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has that tripling figure increased from what was planned at that time?

MR. KELLY: Well, the tripling figure is using existing budget resources. We have received this request from Ambassador Eikenberry to increase this kind of assistance and this kind of presence beyond the level that we’re talking about here. And of course, we’re going to work closely with Ambassador Eikenberry. We also will have to work closely with Congress because this will, of course, entail additional resources as well.

QUESTION: If I can – I guess I was just trying to clarify – sorry. Because the tripling initially you guys had talked about a doubling. Holbrooke’s office had initially talked about a doubling of the civilians to be – come to about 1,000 by the end of this year.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And then when Lew briefed recently, he talked about a tripling.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering, is that --

MR. KELLY: I think it all depends on what your base level is. If you say tripling, you’re going back to January; doubling is probably more recent times. I mean, I don’t know exactly what the baseline was.


QUESTION: Okay, now I have a battery of questions about what’s going on in Latin America. One thing is Honduras, that we can talk, because two days ago there was a mission from the U.S. that visit Zelaya. Maybe you have some update? How is Zelaya, the situation there going on?

And the other thing is that also next week is going to be in Brazil Ahmadinejad. He’s going to be the 23rd in Brazil. Lula is becoming like a negotiator. He wants to do that between the Middle East countries. I want to know if the U.S. has been in touch with Brazil about this, especially for the Americans that are now in Iran. Maybe Lula can help in that.

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, on Honduras, as you know, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly was in Tegucigalpa the last few days. He’s now returned. His goal down there was to urge both parties to sit down and implement the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, which they’ve already committed to do, of course, on October 30th. He met with President Zelaya, he met with Mr. Micheletti, and he also met with representatives of the Verification Commission.

I think the message that he had was that it’s really – it’s up to the Hondurans to implement this agreement that they’ve already actually agreed to, and this is in the interest of Honduras. Our role in this is to support this process. There are right now still smart, patriotic, and pragmatic Hondurans who are working towards the implementation of this accord. And as I say, we support those efforts and we want to give those efforts a chance to succeed.

QUESTION: Did he receive any special message from Zelaya?

MR. KELLY: Sorry?

QUESTION: Did he receive any requests from Zelaya? He’s living there in the Brazilian Embassy. He’s still in a lot of pressure with --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I understand that he’s still at the Brazilian Embassy. I just – this – as I said before, this is a Honduran process. It’s not an American process. And we just want to support this. And there are people down there – there are Hondurans who are working hard on this, and we just want to give that a chance to succeed.

Regarding the visit of Mr. Ahmadinejad to Brazil, I don’t really have any information about that. We would hope that in any bilateral meetings that they had with Mr. Ahmadinejad that they would stress the importance of Iran living up to its international obligations, of giving the IAEA a response to this proposal to enrich uranium outside Iran, which is in the interests of the international community and the interests of Iran.

And finally, I would hope – yes, I hope that they would – the Brazilians would raise this case of American citizens who are being detained in Iran.

Yeah. Andy.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Honduras? Is that --

MR. KELLY: A follow on Honduras?

QUESTION: Just following up on Iran --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a real quick one. We’ve been getting reports from Vienna that the IAEA believes that Iran has very seriously slowed down its enrichment processes now, and they’re not quite sure why. I was wondering if the U.S. has been apprised of this, if you guys have the same or similar information. And I’m looking just to update us on where things stand with the offer and the Iranian response.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Regarding the first question, I think all I can say is that we’ve seen those reports and I don’t really have any information to add to those press reports. Regarding the IAEA, we’re at the same place we were yesterday and the day before, and that’s that we’re still waiting for Iran to respond to the proposal of the director general to enriched uranium outside of Iran.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Honduras. What does the U.S. think about the human rights situation there right now? There have been mass arrests, curfews, an emergency decree, and a ban on protests and media closures for three weeks during the presidential campaign. Does that undermine the electoral process, in the view of the U.S.?

MR. KELLY: Regarding the – well, first of all, our real priority here is to see this accord implemented step by step. We’ve only gotten through step one, and we need step two and step three to be implemented.

Regarding the – these reports, I’m actually not aware of these reports of any actions to – you say ban rallies and – no, I’m not just aware of those reports. I think that we would need to have more details about it for us to really comment on it.

And I’m sorry, what was – you had another question, too?

QUESTION: Well, it was just related to the – whether that undermines – whether the restrictions undermine the election. There’s a U.S. congresswoman who’s going to be talking about this in Tegucigalpa tomorrow, so I assume she’s going to be talking about the human rights situation.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we support the elections process there. We have provided technical assistance. I think that we want, the Honduran people want, the countries of the region want a – free, fair, and transparent elections. And these elections will be important to restoring democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, but elections in and of themselves do not guarantee national reconciliation, which is another important goal. And that’s why the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord includes provision for a government of national unity and a truth commission. And I’d just go back to what I said before. The important thing is that we implement this accord, and that’s what our main focus is right now.

QUESTION: Zelaya has seemingly made that link between the two, and he is calling on the U.S. to not recognize the outcome of the elections if the San Jose Accords were not realized by November 29th. Does the U.S. agree that there are going to be diplomatic problems, or should be diplomatic problems, if he is not the sitting president on November 29th?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, again, we want the restoration of the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras. There are a number of ways to get to it, and there are – these steps are outlined in the accord, and an important part of this is for these elections to be internationally recognized. And I think that in order to ensure that, ensure that kind of outcome of internationally recognized election results, the two parties have to implement this accord. And this is what we’re focused on. And as I said, there are Hondurans who are hard at work right now trying to get a resolution to this problem, and we just need to give them time to work this out, to find a Honduran solution to this Honduran problem.

QUESTION: Is – are you saying that the U.S. would recognize the outcome of that election even if the San Jose Accord was not implemented? If in the U.S.’s judgment --

MR. KELLY: There was a lot --

QUESTION: -- the elections --

MR. KELLY: A lot of “woulds” and “ifs” in that sentence. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I knew that. But still, you know, we’re coming on three weeks now. Is it a legitimate election if the current government has been supplanted by an interim military-backed government?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, it’s in everybody’s interest that these elections are seen as free, fair, transparent, and enjoy international recognition.

QUESTION: So that just wipes the slate clean over the past five months?

MR. KELLY: Well, they need to be recognized as free, fair, transparent. There are also – we also need to address this question of national unity and reconciliation. There’s been a fracture in the Honduran body politic, and we need to repair that. And that’s what this accord does. And that’s – again, I’ll just say it again, that’s what we’re focused on is the – this accord.

QUESTION: Will there be discussions in the American Organization of States about this? Because some countries in the meeting extraordinary that they had two days ago, they said that they will not recognize the election if Zelaya’s not in power?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know that there are people from the OAS who are – who are involved in the Verification Commission. There are senior OAS staff members who are in Tegucigalpa there to help facilitate an accord. I would just urge everybody to keep focused on that, getting the accord implemented.


QUESTION: Change of subject, if we can. Do you have anything more on Ambassador Bosworth’s travel plans?

MR. KELLY: Well, the short answer is no. (Laughter.) We’ve told the North Koreans –P.J. said this on Tuesday – that we’re prepared for Ambassador Bosworth and a small interagency team to go to Pyongyang. I don’t have anything to announce. But I think it’s – I mean, it’s fair to say that it will happen fairly soon.


QUESTION: Just one on the Central Elections Commission in Palestinian territories has suggested that their January elections should be postponed, and I gather President Abbas has accepted that recommendation. Do you have any – what does the U.S. feel about that? Is that a good idea? Does that increase the likelihood that we’ll get a solid negotiating partner in the peace talks, or does it decrease it?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s really – it’s up to the Palestinians themselves to decide when the best time is to have these elections. I think the key here – I mean, it sounds like somebody who repeats talking points, but the key here is that it’s an election that reflects the political will of the Palestinian people. And if they have decided that they need to have more time to do that, I think it’s really their decision to do it. And of course, we support the process, the democratic process and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Can you tell more about the Netanyahu meeting that night in the White House? Because there was no – not much comments --

MR. KELLY: I refer you to the White House for a --

QUESTION: No, (inaudible), nothing. Hmm?

MR. KELLY: I refer you to the White House for --


MR. KELLY: -- any issues regarding a meeting in the White House.


QUESTION: Just a quite different – go ahead. You have a follow-up?


QUESTION: A quite different question, diplomatic viewpoint, military man who is accused of killing 13 people, Hasan, how is it affecting as far as State Department’s concern dealing with the Muslim world, and are you getting any feedback from the Muslim communities? Because it may be affecting the U.S. image and also as far as if you see any more in the U.S. Government like that and how are you going to deal with it, because Secretary of State had a message for the Muslim world, the President had a message for the Muslim world. So any change you think had occurred, or what’s the future?

MR. KELLY: Well, the U.S. military community is a large community, a very large community and --

QUESTION: I mean – I’m sorry, I don’t mean in the military, but all over the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, I’m just saying that it’s a large community and it’s a very diverse community, and I would just discourage you from extrapolating too much from the actions of one troubled man. It’s not necessarily reflective of the feelings of the U.S. military of any – it’s not reflective of any kind of underlying trend in the U.S. military. Our position vis-à-vis the Muslim world remains the same. It’s the vision that was laid out in the President’s speech in Cairo. We want a new, more inclusive relationship with the Muslim world. And I don’t think anybody should draw any conclusions about the tragic events in – at Fort Hood.

QUESTION: I have been talking to many Muslims in the area. Many feel that it might backlash as far as their jobs and their existence concerning the U.S. Government and also in the streets.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, we had a lot of concerns about these kinds of issues after September 11, 2001. And it just means that we need to work hard to be inclusive, to encourage tolerance and to encourage dialogue.

QUESTION: Is there anything more that Miss Pandith is having to do or is asking her staff to do, in light of the Fort Hood shootings --

MR. KELLY: That’s a – yeah.

QUESTION: -- to perhaps reach out to other nations and indicate what you were just saying, that right now everyone is treating this as an isolated incident?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I mean, that really – that whole vision, the vision of Cairo speech, underlies her whole mission, her mission of outreach to Muslim communities. And that’s a good question. I’ll see if I can get an update on her activities.

QUESTION: If you could.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Indira.

QUESTION: I have a couple of Ethiopia questions.

MR. KELLY: Ethiopia questions.

QUESTION: Yeah. Has the State Department or USAID investigated claims by the country’s opposition, including a former president and defense minister that some of the $850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party? And then, also when the Secretary met with the Ethiopian foreign minister last week, did she bring up the issue of the jailed opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa, and did she express any concerns about the fairness of the outcoming Ethiopian elections in May?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, regarding the assistance, we’re committed to assisting people in need all over the world. And we provide humanitarian assistance that is politically neutral, socially impartial, and based on people’s needs, rather than on political factors. And we’re, of course, aware of these reports that you raise, Indira, about the politicization of humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia. Regarding that, let me say that we have monitoring systems in place to prevent or expose such activities, which we are continually reviewing and working to improve. Personnel from U.S. Embassy in Addis are increasing their field visits to observe how the assistance is distributed, and they’re aware of these allegations, so they’re conducting these monitoring activities specifically with these allegations in mind. We are committed to the people of Ethiopia and ensuring that our humanitarian assistance does reach those most in need.

In fiscal year 2008, the U.S. provided $934 million in overall assistance to Ethiopia, of which $479 million was humanitarian assistance. The fiscal year 2009 numbers will be available at the end of the calendar year. This – the meeting last week, I was not in that meeting, but I understand that a full range of issues were discussed. And in general, human rights are at the center of our bilateral dialogues with Ethiopia.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.


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