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US journalists question why US ambassador walked out

FULL Transcript of US State Department Press briefing in Washington on Thursday at which journalists question the decision by the US Ambassador to walk out of the Swearing ceremony of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. The press briefing was led by Elizabeth Trudeau, Director, Office of Press Relations hours after the swearing in.

 

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Sudanese president slipping into Uganda today, in defiance of an arrest warrant, and slipping back out again without being arrested?

MS TRUDEAU: So —

QUESTION: And was anyone from the U.S. Embassy present at the inauguration of the new president? And if so, how did they react?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thank you very much for the question.

QUESTION: Re-inauguration of the old president.

MS TRUDEAU: So the United States has made its position with respect to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s travel very clear. We’re concerned that President Bashir has been able to travel to Uganda as well as Djibouti in the past. In Kampala, President Museveni made disparaging remarks about the ICC in front of attendees, including other heads of state. In response to President Bashir’s presence and President Museveni’s remarks, the United States delegation, along with representatives of the European Union countries and Canada, departed the inauguration ceremonies to demonstrate our objection.

We believe that walking out in protest in an appropriate reaction to a head of state mocking efforts to ensure accountability for victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, particularly when his country has committed to accountability as a state party to the Rome Statute. While the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, which is a treaty that established the ICC, we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.

QUESTION: What did he say?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m – I don’t have the exact transcript in front of me. It was my understanding he spoke to – you know what? I’m going to have you take a look. I’m not going to extrapolate here.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple on this?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: I’ll come to —

QUESTION: Prior to the actual inauguration, was there any contact between the U.S. and the – the U.S. and Ugandan governments about the appropriateness of President Bashir attending?

MS TRUDEAU: When U.S. officials who were present at the ceremony learned of President Bashir’s arrival, we relayed our concerns immediately to the Ugandan prime minister and foreign minister in light of President Bashir’s status as the subject of ICC arrest warrants for genocide and other atrocity crimes in Darfur.

QUESTION: And did – I mean, I’m not – was the decision made that it was – even though he did arrive, they didn’t – basically they ignored your complaint and presumably the complaint of – complaints of Europeans. But why did they even then go to the ceremony if President Bashir was going to be —

MS TRUDEAU: So Uganda is – we do have bilateral ties with Uganda. However, they found that President Museveni’s comments about the ICC with President Bashir there – the two issues together. And —

QUESTION: So – but they went, so – they obviously went, because they walked out.

MS TRUDEAU: They did, they did.

QUESTION: But why was it appropriate for them to even go in the first place if your concerns about President Bashir were ignored?

MS TRUDEAU: So considering our bilateral ties with Uganda – it was the presidential inauguration – we did make our concerns known. However, when President Museveni did make those comments, we found it appropriate to leave.

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean – so, first of all, who was the U.S. delegation? Was that —

MS TRUDEAU: Which was Arshad’s question.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.

MS TRUDEAU: It was Ambassador Malac as well as our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bruce Wharton.

QUESTION: So there was someone from Washington.

MS TRUDEAU: Washington, yes, there was.

QUESTION: But here’s what – I mean, why is it okay to sit in the VIP section with President Bashir, or wherever it was they were – why is that okay or it was deemed to be okay and then it was only when President Museveni made his comments that – against the ICC that it was determined that they shouldn’t —

MS TRUDEAU: So we raised our concerns, as I mentioned —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: — with Uganda, as we did when he was previously in Djibouti. And consistent with our bilateral relationship with Uganda, we did feel it was appropriate to attend.

QUESTION: Well – so there was no walkout at the Djibouti inauguration, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: No there was not.

QUESTION: Is that only because the president – the —

MS TRUDEAU: We did not —

QUESTION: — re-inaugurated president of Djibouti didn’t make any disparaging comments about the ICC?

MS TRUDEAU: So we had no interaction with the Sudanese president at the inaugural ceremony in Djibouti, but they did feel at this time, considering both President Bashir’s presence as well as President Museveni’s comments, that it was appropriate to show —

QUESTION: Right. I —

MS TRUDEAU: — to show our concern.

QUESTION: But I’m just trying to find out – maybe this is a protocol question, but why is it okay to sit with him, but – and it’s only when another leader insults the ICC that it’s —

MS TRUDEAU: I think it was – I think it was the two issues together, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, why did they go in Djibouti?

MS TRUDEAU: So again, we have bilateral relations with Djibouti.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: We have a strength of relationship with both Djibouti and Uganda on this. What we found is what happened with President Museveni’s comments as well as the presence of President Bashir.

QUESTION: Right, but do you understand what I mean?

MS TRUDEAU: I —

 

US Ambassador Malac at a recent meeting at State House with Museveni
US Ambassador Malac at a recent meeting at State House with Museveni

QUESTION: My question is: Why is it – why is it only appropriate to walk out if the – if President – when President Museveni makes comments, when they were perfectly happy to —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I’d refer you to President Museveni’s comments, as we mentioned, mocking the —

QUESTION: Yeah. And I can understand why they would walk out if that happened. What I don’t understand is why they were there in the first place after the Ugandan Government ignored your concerns about President Bashir being there in the first place and President Bashir showed up and participated or attended.

MS TRUDEAU: Again, it was a bilateral decision to attend the inauguration of an important U.S. partner.

QUESTION: Here’s something I don’t quite understand.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Your decision to walk out was a function of dismay at Museveni’s comments about the ICC or Bashir’s presence or both?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s both. This goes back to Matt’s question.

QUESTION: Okay, so it’s both. And then secondly, was there – I know you said that as soon as you learned of his presence at the ceremony – do you mean, like, that he had actually shown up at the ceremony, or rather —

MS TRUDEAU: So it was after President Museveni’s comments that our delegation left, as well as other delegations.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I get that.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: But what I didn’t understand was at some point you were asked – and I believe you said that as soon as you learned of President Bashir’s presence, you raised your concerns.

MS TRUDEAU: As soon as we learned about his planned travel and his presence, we did raise our concerns with the —

QUESTION: And how did you do that?

MS TRUDEAU: We raised our concerns with both the prime minister and the Ugandan foreign minister. I’m not sure if it was a demarche or —

QUESTION: Can you check that?

MS TRUDEAU: I can. If I have anything to add —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a question of detail on that. But if I do have something to add, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: And following on that, apart from your concern about President Bashir presence and the Ugandan president comments, are you concerned also about the fact that the Ugandan president is starting his fifth term as president?

MS TRUDEAU: So the United States and Uganda have a longstanding and strong partnership. We are concerned the Ugandan Government’s recent actions could endanger the economic and political process that has allowed our strong bilateral relationship to grow. We do urge the government to take steps to reverse this troubling trend.

QUESTION: On the Sudan – the Sudan Government held a referendum last month in Darfur and they said it was very successful and it’s going to end the crisis in Darfur. Do you accept that?

MS TRUDEAU: We actually put out a statement, I think you remember, on April 9th that specifically spoke about our concerns with the referendum in Darfur. We spoke about our concerns with the timing of the Darfur referendum due to conditions on the ground not being right for holding a vote – a widespread insecurity currently exists, there are millions of internally displaced individuals still. Again, we thought that the referendum posed a risk of setting back efforts to secure a monitored cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access in the conflict-afflicted areas, so —

QUESTION: Thank you.

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