Monday, June 29, 2009

US Department of State Briefing

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SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- as the second Administration official noted, this has been a brewing conflict that has caught the attention and the concern of the OAS, of ourselves, and of the Central American – the other Central American countries and the European Union embassies inside of Honduras. And we’ve been working in concert with them in an effort to facilitate dialogue among the different and competing institutions, and especially to try to address the larger issue of political polarization inside of Honduras. I mean, I don’t want to go into great detail in terms of everyone we spoke to and every action we took, but we were consistently and almost constantly engaged over the last several weeks with our partners working with Hondurans trying to ensure that the political conflict around this survey that President Zelaya had proposed was resolved in a peaceful way that respected the democratic institutions and the constitutional order of Honduras.

QUESTION: You said a few minutes ago that you were in constant (inaudible) with the military and that they stopped taking the calls. (Inaudible) U.S. and allies been in regular contact with the military over the last few days to again prevent this from happening?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. We have been in contact with all Honduran institutions, including the armed forces. 


OPERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question comes from Juan Lopez. Please state your affiliation.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I believe the word “coup” will be used in the OAS resolution. And I would certainly characterize a situation where a president is forcibly detained by the armed forces and expelled from a country an attempt at a coup. We – I mean, we still see him as the constitutional president of Honduras. So it was an attempt at a coup. We don’t think it was successful.

OPERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question comes from Maria Pena. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, with EFE News Services. And thank you for taking my call. I take it that they’re all calling it a coup because the congress in Honduras has already approved the new president, Roberto Micheletti. But my question is – you’ve already answered that the U.S. is only looking at accepting President Zelaya as the president, the constitutional president in Honduras. So now my question has to deal with what the Honduran ambassador at the OAS said this morning. He said that for now, Honduras is not asking the U.S. for military assistance. But my question to you is that in the event that the constitutional order is not restored and they don’t allow President Zelaya to come back, would you consider a request for military assistance, or what would you consider to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, again, it wouldn't just be us. I mean, similar situations have happened in the past. There was something similar in Guatemala in which an elected president was deposed, and the region got turned against Guatemala very quickly in a way that Guatemala could not sustain and so had to back down. And I think that what you’re going to see over the next several days is a consensus throughout the Americas that this was an illegal and illegitimate act that cannot stand.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I think you’re also going to see, consistent with the President’s statement earlier today, the call for peaceful dialogue to resolve this through diplomacy. We very much believe that this is a situation that can be solved without recourse to the hypothetical that you laid out, and we are working very hard to ensure that that occurs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Rubén Barerra. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Notimex. Sorry, I just have one quick question, and it basically is that there is a call from the OAS to call for an emergency meeting of the foreign minister in Washington next week. (Inaudible) President Obama will be leaving on Sunday to Russia. And the question is if that meeting is called, will Secretary Clinton will be attending?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’re still working on the Permanent Council resolution, so we don’t know if that’s a reality yet. But obviously, we would be participating.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Rosiland Jordan. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes. Al Jazeera English. First, I wanted to find out whether the U.S. Government has been in touch with President Zelaya since he was flown to Costa Rica. I also wanted to find out that since Secretary Clinton was in the – in country just about a month ago, whether she had any conversations with President Zelaya about the political impasse. And if so, did she make any offer of assistance at that time to him and to his government?

And finally, is there any response from the U.S. Government to Hugo Chavez’s claim that this was a U.S.-inspired coup d’état? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In regard to the first question, yeah, we have been in touch with President Zelaya both from here in Washington and also from Tegucigalpa, not only in terms of talking to him but also trying to find ways to ensure the safety and well-being of his family.

In regard to the Secretary’s trip to San Pedro Sula to participate in the OAS General Assembly, the meetings there were largely focused on the broader issue of the OAS General Assembly and the different mandates that had emerged from the Summit of the Americas. She did have an opportunity to meet with President Zelaya twice, and President Zelaya did talk somewhat about the internal dynamic in Honduras.

But I think what’s important about the Secretary’s time in Honduras was a reaffirmation of the Administration’s commitments to the Inter-American Democratic Charter and to the democratic vocation of the Organization of American States. And as the Secretary and her team worked on the resolution related to Cuba, our insistence that the OAS reaffirm its commitment to democracy and reaffirm its commitment to the belief of democracy being a fundamental requirement for membership in the OAS has been proven wise because it is the Inter-American Democratic Charter that is being used now to interpret events in Honduras and to guide the region as it responds to events in Honduras.

And in regard to President Chavez’s statements, I think our actions speak very loudly that we’re committed to democratic principles and processes and constitutional order, and that we live by those principles. 

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Julio Marenco. Please state your affiliation, sir.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m with La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador. I would like to know if you foresee any sanctions against the new government in Honduras. You say you don’t recognize them. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’re not – as noted, we’re not talking about sanctions right now because we think this can be resolved through dialogue. And I think that once the forces that have conducted this act in Honduras recognize and understand how isolated they are and how committed the region is to restoring democratic order, that they’ll see they have no choice but to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you. 

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Mary Beth Sheridan. Please state your affiliation. 

QUESTION: Washington Post. There was a report in El Pais newspaper this morning – actually, it was an interview with President Zelaya, in which he said that there had been a coup plot afoot in recent days and it was only stopped by actions of the U.S. Embassy. Can you tell us about that or tell us if that’s not correct? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think the only thing we can say at this point is that we were very clear with the different sectors of Honduran political life and Honduras’s different political institutions that any resolution to the political conflict in Honduras had to be democratic and constitutional, and that we would not abide or support any extra-constitutional actions.

QUESTION: Okay. But you were in touch – with the military, was there that conversation with the military? 


QUESTION: And how recent?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t have – I can’t tell you the most recent, but it was fairly recent.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. 

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Dmitri Kirsanov. Please state your affiliation, sir.

QUESTION: I’m with ITAR-TASS, the Russian news (inaudible). Gentlemen, I’m sure you’re aware of the statements made by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who basically threatened military intervention in Honduras. I was wondering if you are in contact with him about that.

And secondly, I’m afraid I didn’t quite understand – are you saying that there is a possibility of President Obama canceling his trip to Moscow over some emergency meeting at the OAS?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: To answer the second question first, no. I think the question was whether that trip would interfere with the Secretary of State’s travel plans. 

QUESTION: Okay, sir.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So just leave that very clear that no one is saying that.

And on the first question, again, the call here from President Obama and from many leaders in the hemisphere have been for this situation to be resolved through peaceful dialogue, free of outside interference in the internal affairs of Honduras by other countries unilaterally. The United States firmly supports that position and will continue working to advance that position to ensure that this, again, remain a situation that is resolved peacefully and free from outside interference.

QUESTION: But are you speaking with the Venezuelan authorities?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We have several ways to communicate with Venezuela. But we don’t believe Venezuela is planning on sending any troops. Venezuela is participating in the OAS process and working towards a peaceful resolution. They have no intention of introducing troops.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Bill Schmick. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: I’m with Bloomberg. And I don’t cover State, and I just wonder, do you plan to identify yourself for somebody who doesn't recognize voices? 

MR. KELLY: I think not.


MR. KELLY: That’s the whole meaning of background.

QUESTION: No, I understand the meaning of background. But you know, in other places, they tell you who – they at least tell you who’s talking. 

MR. KELLY: Yeah. This is Ian Kelly. If you want to contact me separately, I’ll be glad to talk to you.

QUESTION: Okay. How do I do that?

MR. KELLY: Well, we can talk after the conference.

QUESTION: Thank you. That’d be fine. 

OPERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Our next question comes from William Booth. Please state your affiliation. 

QUESTION: Washington Post. What is the State Department’s feeling about the survey or the vote that the president of Honduras was going to (inaudible) today? 

And the second question is – you’ve been discussing sort of the internal dynamic in Honduras and the various players. Could you just give us a little help and a little tutorial who you think the principal actors in this coup was? Was the military an actor or an instrument? Could you help us understand a little bit your perspective on what happened this morning in Honduras?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, in regard to the survey or poll that President Zelaya had proposed, we viewed this as an internal domestic Honduran issue that needed to be resolved by Honduran institutions. The fundamental political divide within Honduras was whether or not this effort by President Zelaya was seen as constitutional and legal, or whether it was seen as illegitimate and unconstitutional. And several institutions, including the public ministry, which is their equivalent of attorney general, the supreme court, and the congress had declared this survey to be illegitimate and illegal. 

But we were trying to find ways to – along with our partners, to bridge the gap that existed and to ensure that the final decision that was made about this polling was done in a way that was peaceful and respected democratic values and the constitutional processes. 

Obviously, it was the armed forces that detained the president today and expelled him from the country. But as we’re seeing now with the naming of an interim president by the congress, this was an effort that has included other political institutions. 

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Kirit Radia. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: ABC News. Actually, just if I can go back to the last thing that you said there. You said other political institutions. Could you be a little bit more specific as to who you think was orchestrating this?

A couple other things on this. There’s a lot of Honduran media are reporting on a so-called resignation letter that was written by President Zelaya. What’s your view on that?

And then are you at all considering removing your ambassador at this point? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, in regards to the last point, the presence of our ambassador is an important means and mechanism of communication of U.S. interests and purpose, so we don’t have the purpose or intent of removing him at this point in time.

In regard to who these actors are, I’d prefer not to go into detail and point fingers at people because we – aside from restoring constitutional and democratic order to Honduras, there’s also the larger issue of addressing the problem of political polarization and rebuilding trust between and among institutions. And that’s going to require a lot of work by the OAS and by all interested parties, including ourselves. 

QUESTION: And then on the last question about the resignation letter that’s been reported on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It would be hard to take that letter seriously given the circumstance that President Zelaya was in.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Elise Labott. Please state your affiliation, ma’am.

QUESTION: Oh, thanks. I’m with CNN. I just have one quick question, back on the idea of the survey. You said that you felt other institutions felt that it was illegal and unconstitutional, but did you think it was and did you advise the president not to invoke it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Again, it’s not up to us to determine what’s legal or not within the context of Honduras. It was important for us to leave this to Honduran institutions to try to resolve. And that was really our focus, the focus of the OAS, and the focus of the other countries who were interested in a peaceful resolution of -- 

QUESTION: Yeah, but – I’m sorry. You talk about the democratic charter of the OAS and that you want all constitutional means to be adhered to. Did you find that – or you and your partners, I mean not just the United States, but did the international community and the OAS, who’s been talking about democratic principles and the need for constitutional – adhering to the constitution, believe that it was in line with the constitution?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, again, it’s not up to us to determine what’s in line with the constitution.

QUESTION: Yeah, but now you’re invoking the – I’m sorry, but now you’re invoking the constitution to return him. So did you think that what he was doing was in line with the constitution?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, but there’s a big distinction here because, on the one instance, we’re conducting about conducting a survey, a nonbinding survey; in the other instance, we’re talking about the forcible removal of a president from a country. So I think we can distinguish between those terms – those two in terms of what’s constitutional and what might be left to institutions.

But I think what’s important to remember about the survey is that it was just that. It wasn’t even a formal vote. It was a nonbinding survey. And the issue of whether it was legitimate or illegal did not revolve around the survey itself. It revolved around who conducted it and whether or not this could be conducted by the government and which institution in the government could conduct it, and whether or not as it’s being conducted state security forces could be used to both manage and secure the equipment that was being used for the survey and provide security. And that’s where the divide occurred within Honduras. It was about who conducted this survey, with several institutions in Honduras insisting that the Honduran Government could not conduct it, at least not in the way that President Zelaya had suggested.

And from our point of view, what was important was not inserting ourselves and trying to make a determination of what was legal or illegal, but trying to insist that the Hondurans find a way to resolve this in a way that was in accord with their constitution. 

MR. KELLY: Emily, I think we have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question comes from Rosalind Jordan. Please state your affiliation. 

QUESTION: Yes, Al Jazeera English. I was going through an October 2008 report assessing the effectiveness of the Embassy down at Tegucigalpa, and it pointed out that there were many endemic problems with Honduras that made the Embassy’s work much more difficult, notably political and law enforcement corruption, the drug trafficking problem, as well as Zelaya’s leftist political leanings. Now, granted, this report was written during the previous administration, but what I wanted to ask was had there been any concerted effort within the State Department or within the Obama Administration to assess the situation in Honduras, reassess the U.S.’s relationship with Honduras over, you know, over the next period of years, or was this simply not as much of a priority as has been dealing with the war in Iraq or Iran or anything else in the Middle East? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, we just came from San Pedro Sula, Honduras at the OAS General Assembly, and President Obama was in Trinidad and Tobago where President Zelaya was. So since almost the beginning of this Administration, we’ve been engaged in the hemisphere in a pretty dramatic way. And President Zelaya has been present at two of these events, and the President had an opportunity to speak to him in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Secretary also. And obviously, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak with him several times in Honduras. 

But again, Honduras is a country that we’ve had an important relationship with for a long time. We’ve got a free trade agreement with them through CAFTA. They’re part of the Merida Initiative. They’re part of the Millennium Challenge effort by the United States, and they also receive special status for Hondurans living in the United States through the temporary protective status program. And in that regard, I mean, Honduras has been an important partner over time. And so we’ve always been interested in the well-being of Honduras.

QUESTION: I guess the question really is: Was there enough concern about the polarization between the various political groups in country? Did the U.S. miss an opportunity to really help head off today’s events?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think we and others worked very hard to do that, but we were unsuccessful. 

MR. KELLY: Any final comments from our two speakers? If not, thank you all for joining us. And just to remind, the attribution for this is Senior Administration Officials.

OPERATOR: This concludes today’s conference. Thank you so much for joining. You may disconnect at this time.

1 comment:

David said...

Thanks for finding and posting this. Verbatim is always best.