Thursday, April 08, 2010

US State Department Responds to Kyrgyz Crisis (Sort Of...)

From the transcript of US State Department Spokesperson PJ Crowley’s comments at today’s press conference:
Regarding Kyrgyzstan, we continue to closely monitor events on the ground in Bishkek, as well from here in Washington. Today, Assistant Secretary Bob Blake met this morning with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Sarbaev. The purpose of the meeting was simply to inform him that we would not be having the scheduled dialogue today as was originally planned. Our chargé at the Embassy in Bishkek also met today with opposition leader Rosa Otunbayeva. Our message in both cases was that we hope that calm will be restored in a manner consistent with democratic principles. Our priority, at this point, is law and order and that democracy be established in accordance with the rule of law. And we’ve been – continue to reach out to government officials and opposition leaders in every way that we possibly can.

We have no information regarding any specific threats to Americans who are there. Obviously, the safety and security of our personnel is of paramount importance, and we will continue to monitor the situation. This evening, in Bishkek, there are some crowds that are assembling on the streets. We have ongoing concerns about looting, even though the situation on the ground was relatively peaceful today. Our Embassy is operating, although it is closed except for emergency public requirements that can be arranged through a special appointment, and operations are ongoing at the Manas airfield.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the – I mean, was there any substance in the conversations that you had with the foreign minister and with the opposition leader in Bishkek? Did they talk about what kind of a solution the United States could recognize, what kind of a solution would not result in you finding this to be a coup d’état? And did they talk about Manas and its future?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not think it was a substantive conversation.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any concerns about any of what I just asked about, or you think everything’s just going to be fine and you’re going to continue to –

MR. CROWLEY: Right. Run it by me again. Let’s take it step by step.

QUESTION: Well, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how you’re going to deal with the situation. I mean, there is statutory requirements that you’re obligated to uphold, although I guess the argument on Honduras wasn’t exactly – it didn’t go exactly as planned.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s start –

QUESTION: What are you going to – I mean, is this is a coup? Is this –

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s start with this point. The situation is ongoing. We will be governed by the facts. We will operate in accordance with U.S. law. I think one of the important factors by law is the question of a military coup. There’s no indication that the military or security services played any role or any meaningful role in what has happened in Kyrgyzstan. Our interest is in seeing a peaceful resolution and we will work with the government ministries and Kyrgyz officials to see the restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Was that democratic rule really there before?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to help Kyrgyzstan continue on a path towards effective democracy.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that if any group of people gets big enough and storms government buildings and declares that they’re in control and they’re going to form a new government – as long as they didn’t have anything to do with the military, that that’s okay with you guys?

MR. CROWLEY: We have concerns about the situation on the ground. Obviously, we deplore any violence. There has been – we have concerns about ongoing looting and disorder. We stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan. We understand that there were specific grievances that resulted in the demonstrations that have produced an opposition that now says that it has effective control of the government. We recognize states. We obviously will deal with governments – some good, some not so good. But we will continue to work – to help Kyrgyzstan and the people of Kyrgyzstan have a government that they can support and that functions in accordance with democratic principles.

QUESTION: Well, are you operating on the – operating with the idea that Bakiyev is still the president?

MR. CROWLEY: Right now, we are in touch with government ministries. We are in touch with opposition figures. Our message to both is the same.

QUESTION: But wait, just on that – but, I mean, do you believe that Kyrgyzstan was on a path to democracy before this whole incident? I mean, if you had a restoration of the status quo, would that be a return to democracy?

MR. CROWLEY: We have expressed our concerns about Kyrgyzstan and corruption within its government. We want to see Kyrgyzstan continue to develop on a path to democracy.

QUESTION: But was it on that path, I guess, is my – was it on the path before, like, last week?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – I mean, there was an election in Kyrgyzstan not so long ago. We stated our concerns at the time about the manner in which that election was conducted. At the same time, we recognize that there was a government in Kyrgyzstan and we have been dealing with that government. We are closely monitoring the situation. We are talking to all of the figures involved in this situation and we will continue to encourage them to resolve this in a peaceful way.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: When you say you’re talking to all the people, are you talking to the president?

MR. CROWLEY: We have not been in touch with the president.

QUESTION: The president is supposedly in the southern part of the country and it seems, of course, that he’s sort of rallying support for himself. Do you advise him to give up?

MR. CROWLEY: It is not for us to advise him to do anything. It’s for us to advise government officials to resolve this peacefully and with the interests of the people of Kyrgyzstan at heart.



QUESTION: Yesterday – I’d like some clarification on a meeting – yesterday, you said that the foreign minister and the son of the president was going to meet for these meetings. Did –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I said that the foreign minister and the son were en route here to Washington. We have not had any contact with the son today.

QUESTION: Did he actually come? Can you verify that he actually came?

MR. CROWLEY: I cannot. We believe he’s in Washington, but beyond that, we have not had any contact with him. We had contact today with the foreign minister.

QUESTION: And can you fill me in a little bit more what was said in that meeting?


QUESTION: Did you send any messages for him to send back to the president?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, we talked about our goals being peaceful resolution of this, respect for democratic principles and respect for human rights of those who are demonstrating. But beyond that, we did not send a particular message to the president.

QUESTION: Do you still think that this guy is the foreign minister?


QUESTION: Do you still –

QUESTION: Do you still recognize him as a foreign minister?

MR. CROWLEY: He is currently the foreign – I mean, there are – as you’ve just said, there is a president who has not yielded power. There is an interim leadership that claims to be in charge of the government. We are talking to both. It’s not for us to take sides one way or the other. Our interest here is with the people of Kyrgyzstan and a peaceful resolution of the situation. We met with the foreign minister because he was arriving here to participate in scheduled talks that obviously have been postponed. We are in touch in Bishkek with the foreign ministry officials that we have worked with for quite some time. We know foreign – former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. She served in the United States, I believe, at the UN during the 1990s. So she is a figure who is known to us. But again, how this is resolved should be resolved with the interest of the people of Kyrgyzstan in mind. We will continue to work with all sides to try to resolve this peacefully.

QUESTION: So why is this different than a case, for instance, with Honduras, where you insisted, which didn’t necessarily happen, but you insisted on the return of the democratically elected president? Is it just the fact that the military was involved that makes this less unacceptable than it did in Honduras?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we –

QUESTION: It seems like –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, fair enough. We prefer to see changes in government through democratic and constitutional means. That is clearly our preference. That happens in many places of the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in all places of the world. If you look back on Honduras, the facts in that case are well-known. The military charged into the presidential mansion, took President Zelaya out of the country against his will, and then put in place a de facto regime.

QUESTION: So it’s just logistics, basically?

MR. CROWLEY: The situation in Kyrgyzstan is still unfolding, but it is different. In the case of Honduras, we also had the ability to work effectively within the Organization of American States, an organization that was founded on democratic principles and, in fact, insists in its charter that those countries that are functioning democracies are those that are able to retain their membership. So I wouldn’t see direct comparability between the situation in Honduras and the situation in Kyrgyzstan.


QUESTION: Are you going to contact the president? Do you know where he is now?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve seen the same reports that you have that he’s still in the country, has moved into a part of the country that he is from. Beyond that, we have not had any contact with him yet.

QUESTION: You said earlier –

QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton actually made any phone calls to Putin or had any conversations when she was in Prague regarding this situation with the Russians?

MR. CROWLEY: A good question. She has been with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was part of the conversation, but I haven’t had a readout of her contacts today.

QUESTION: On the al-Madadi incident –

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, we’ll stay in the same –

QUESTION: P.J., you said earlier that it’s not your place to take sides, but surely you are on the side of a democratically elected government, aren’t you? Or are you suggesting that this wasn’t a democratically elected government and therefore you’re willing to let it be toppled?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s –

QUESTION: Through undemocratic means?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for us to let it – I mean, this is a sovereign country. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of Kyrgyzstan. We do recognize that various ministries and security services have pledged their allegiance to the opposition group that has emerged. I think, again, it’s not for us to take sides here. We are watching closely what is happening. We will continue to encourage everyone to follow the interest of the people.

QUESTION: But the impression that you leave by saying that you’re not taking sides is, in fact, entirely the opposite of – you are taking – by not taking sides, you are taking sides. You’re saying that you can accept this.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we will continue to deal with the Government of Kyrgyzstan and we are following closely what’s happening. We understand what’s happening. But as to what – how it will – we’ll watch and see how events unfold.

QUESTION: All right. And then you mentioned – you had a reference when talking about Honduras to the OAS. Well, you have a multi-nation organization that can deal here –

MR. CROWLEY: And yes –

QUESTION: And an illustrious ambassador there as well.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Who I’m sure is thrilled that his first couple weeks there –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact –

QUESTION: What do you want – what would you like the OSCE to do, if anything?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Look, first let me reiterate again. The situation there is very fluid. There are competing claims as to who is in power. We’re going to watch this carefully as it continues to unfold. We will note that the UN is sending special representatives there to monitor the situation. As you do note, the OSCE has a direct interest in what is happening and the intrepid new ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly, is on the case and providing information to us. So – and we will watch this carefully. We will continue to remain in contact with government ministries and various figures within Kyrgyzstan, and we’ll see how events unfold.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports from a senior leader within the opposition that there’s a high probability that the base will be – that the lease for the base is going to be shortened. Have you been told that, and could you react to the possibility of that?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. We have an existing agreement with the Government of Kyrgyzstan. It is an important transit center, contributes significantly to stability within the region, including Afghanistan. It is – it continues to operate. And we have seen reduced operations there in the last day. It hasn’t had a significant impact on our operations in Afghanistan. We will – but we will continue operations there and we will continue to discuss this with government ministries.

QUESTION: So are you saying that if you lose the base, it won’t have a significant impact?

MR. CROWLEY: I think you’re – I think you’re leaping ahead –

QUESTION: Well, if it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, do you think you –

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon?

QUESTION: If it hasn’t had a significant impact yet, according to you, then would it have any sort of impact if you lost the base?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re leaping to a conclusion that I think – I don’t think we’re prepared to draw at this point.

QUESTION: Also on the base, have any – though you haven’t issued any kind of authorized or ordered departure yet, and you may not, have you moved any Americans to the base for safety?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s – that is an option to us. I can’t really tell you if – we’ll just go through that process. We have – we’re monitoring the security situation closely. We remain concerned about the welfare of American citizens in Bishkek. We’re taking appropriate security precautions to protect our families and our diplomats there. We have the option of moving personnel to Manas if we think that is necessary. We’ve evaluated that option. I can’t say at this point whether we’ve actually done that. It’s possible that there are some people who are there. And we also have other facilities that are available to help our families and diplomats if that’s the case.

At the same time, the situation was calm during the day today. We are not aware of any specific threats to Americans in Bishkek, but it is something we’ll continue to consider.