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Verbatim | From Tuesday's State Department briefing

From Tuesday's State Department news briefing with spokesman P.J. Crowley

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Haiti. Do you -- do you think Duvalier should be arrested or removed from the country? I mean, what's your position of him being there? And did you know in advance that he was going?

CROWLEY: I think we were -- we were informed about an hour before the point that he landed this weekend. If I look at the -- you know, the list of challenges that Haiti faces today, having a former dictator return to Haiti just adds to Haiti's ongoing burden.

But as to his status in the country and what happens, this is a matter for the government of Haiti and for the people of Haiti.

QUESTION: Who informed you an hour before?

CROWLEY: The French government.

QUESTION: Did you...

CROWLEY: Which, as I understand it, was when they -- they first learned that he was on his way to Haiti.

QUESTION: So you're not -- is your understanding the French learned an hour before he landed that he was on his way? Wasn't he flying on an Air France jet?

CROWLEY: Again, you know, you're talking about the government. You know, we -- we were given a heads-up roughly an hour before he landed.

QUESTION: Do you think that that -- that that was an appropriate amount of time, considering the investment that you've made in Haiti?

CROWLEY: Again...

QUESTION: And the fact that you were the ones who took him out of the country in the first place?

CROWLEY: ... all I can tell you is, we were -- we were -- we were surprised, not involved, and what happens at this point is up to the government of Haiti.

QUESTION: Have you made any effort to get into direct contact with him or his -- his...

CROWLEY: I'm not aware that anyone from our post has been in contact with Mr. Duvalier.

QUESTION: What's your understanding of what he's doing there?

CROWLEY: That's a very good question.

QUESTION: There's got to be some -- I mean, analysts in the State Department who are saying...

CROWLEY: All I can tell you -- and we'd just repeat -- you know, we were -- we were not consulted, nor involved in his return to Haiti.

QUESTION: Fine. But you didn't give any thought to whether he would return at all? I mean, you haven't been looking at this? In 2006, you made a big effort which was -- you know, there were examples in -- in WikiLeak cables, but I remember at the time that the State Department specifically said that his return would not be productive. And so with all the turmoil that was going on in the election right now...

CROWLEY: And I -- I'm not -- right.

QUESTION: ... you didn't think in your wildest dreams that perhaps he would return?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, you're asking two different questions. You know, we are -- we are obviously, you know, looking at this very closely. This is a very...

QUESTION: ... very closely if you...

CROWLEY: You asked a question. Now it's my -- you know, you asked a -- you want to ask another question? All right. I'll wait.

QUESTION: No, go ahead. Please.

CROWLEY: Fine. You know, you basically asked -- you know, we're watching this situation very -- very closely. You know, when you think about the unpredictable aspect of his return, the delicate situation that Haiti faces, the many challenges that Haiti faces, in terms of public health, in terms of reconstruction, in terms of the ongoing election process, you know, we were surprised at his return, but we do not necessarily view this as being particularly useful at this time. But...

QUESTION: No, I understand. You just said that, though.


QUESTION: But what I'm asking is, how could you be so -- I just -- I'm surprised that you're surprised, because, you know, you've -- you've been looking at Aristide's possible return. You've been kind of warning him not to go. There is a precedent for him wanting to return. Like I said, in 2006, he was looking to come back, and you -- you made a lot of efforts for him not to come back.

So I just don't understand why this would like catch you completely off-guard, that this was not something that you had been looking into, given the volatile political situation in the country and the history for dictators wanting to return to Haiti.

CROWLEY: Again, let me underscore, what you're asking is, did we know in advance he was coming back to...

CROWLEY: All right. I'm just...

QUESTION: ... I asked you why you didn't look into it before.

CROWLEY: Our focus is on trying to help Haiti work through the current electoral, you know, situation, helping Haiti to -- to recover and rebuild. That is our focus. Just I'm simply saying, you know, did we know in advance he was coming back? The answer is no.

QUESTION: Did you have any discussion...

QUESTION: ... given that he's already there -- given that he's already there, what's your counsel to the government of Haiti now about prosecuting him? And wouldn't that further inflame the situation? Or are you saying that perhaps they should...

CROWLEY: Again, you know -- you know, what happens at this point -- today, there is a meeting, I believe, ongoing between, you know, government officials, legal officials, and -- and Mr. Duvalier. What happens at this point forward is a matter for the -- the people of Haiti. This is -- this is not -- you know, this is their concern, not ours.

QUESTION: So are you concerned that any further -- any action against him could further inflame the situation? Is that...

CROWLEY: Of course. You know, the fact that he -- he arrives in the middle of a -- a very difficult and delicate situation, in terms -- as the OES (ph) has provided its analysis of the first run of elections, and the government itself has to determine what to do about the ongoing election process, you know, this is -- this is a -- one more complication in an already challenging situation for Haiti.

QUESTION: Did the State Department have any discussions with the Preval government just before his arrest, Duvalier's arrest? CROWLEY: I'm not a -- I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: Now that the precedent has been set, would you object to Aristide also coming back to Haiti?

CROWLEY: Again, our -- our -- you know, we are focused on the many challenges that Haiti currently faces, you know, from public health to reconstruction to an ongoing election process. Haiti does not need at this point any more burdens.

QUESTION: But with so much U.S. aid money going down there, you say that -- that -- that like these -- these returns could just inflame an already complicated situation how? I mean, do you think Duvalier has the capability or the ability to destabilize things even further? In what way?

CROWLEY: Well, he's -- he's an historical figure. He has been a divisive figure in Haiti's past. He is -- has a track record of a repression of the Haitian people. So, you know, there are -- there are probably many, many views of Mr. Duvalier.

Again, our focus right now is, how do you -- how does Haiti move forward with the ongoing election process? What's critically important to Haiti's future is the development -- or the emergence of a strong, credible, legitimate government that can meet the needs of Haiti's people and help Haiti move forward and rebuild and recover.

That is our focus. And we -- we don't believe at this point Haiti needs any more distractions.

QUESTION: Given the fact that you said (OFF-MIKE) in terms of the -- that his presence just provides more complication in a tough situation already, what -- what was your reaction when you saw the reports on the ground that there were people who were actually supporting him outside his hotel? And our reporters on the ground are saying that, when they took him away, reportedly arrested him, that people were chanting in support of him.

CROWLEY: Well, again, as I just said a moment ago, there are a number of -- I'm sure a range of views of Duvalier and his record. It's not for us to recount it here. And what happens at this point is really up to the -- the Haitian government.

Our focus right now is to help Haiti through this delicate period, you know, get a -- you know, have a new government emerge that is credible enough and legitimate enough and viewed positively in the eyes of the Haitian people so that the country, with international support, including the United States, can move ahead with the ongoing efforts to -- to rebuild Haiti.