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Middle East Digest - June 5, 2009

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Washington, DC
June 5, 2009


The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.

From the Daily Press Briefing of June 5, 2009

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Later on this afternoon, the Secretary will meet with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey. She is looking forward to hosting the foreign minister in his first visit to Washington as foreign minister. They will discuss the strategic partnership between our two countries and the ways to deepen cooperation on a wide range of issues. Topics will include counterterrorism cooperation, Turkey’s EU accession bid, the Turkish presidency of the UN Security Council, and developments in the Middle East, Iran, and North Korea.

As the President mentioned this morning, George Mitchell will be departing for the region, beginning on Sunday. He first starts with a stop in Oslo, Norway, and then will travel to the region for talks with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian officials.

You will probably ask me: What about Syria? That is a possibility, but it’s still being – the arrangements for that are still being worked.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said there was a possibility of Syria, but did we ever know – and I was on the trip, so I don’t know if this – did they get their visas? Did they get visas for --

MR. CROWLEY: They do have their visas.

QUESTION: They do. Okay. Does he, while he is there, have any plans to meet with anyone connected with Hamas or related to Hamas?


QUESTION: When the Secretary visited Lebanon, she said Senator Mitchell will visit Lebanon in June. Is there a possibility that they will include Lebanon on this trip?

MR. CROWLEY: That – the Lebanese have an important election coming up on Sunday. I wouldn’t rule out a visit to Beirut, but it’s not currently on the schedule.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, there have been the series of attacks in Pakistan, suicide attacks. How do you assess the situation over there? Is it the Taliban expanding its area of influence?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I haven’t – Ambassador Holbrooke has left Pakistan. He’s making a couple of other stops before he comes back to Washington. I actually hope to get him to come down to the briefing room next week, and he can debrief you himself on the current situation.

Obviously, we’re aware of the additional attack today. It is devastating, on the one hand, but everything that we see would say that there’s progress being made on the ground and that the area that the Taliban has to operate is shrinking. That said, we know that there’s a very difficult situation on the ground. They still have the ability to conduct these kinds of attacks. It would appear – I don’t – that the tide is turning in terms of Pakistani attitudes towards the Taliban. I think we’re very encouraged by that.

And so at the same time, we’re obviously recognizing that the current offensive has had an impact on the Pakistani population; something between two-and-a-half million and three million internally displaced persons. Ambassador Holbrooke announced some additional assistance by the United States earlier this week, and we’re going to continue in a variety of ways to assess that and to help the Pakistani Government in any way that we can make sure that we can care for these people. Many of them – some of them are in camps. Many of them are staying with families and friends. But, obviously, it’s a very dire situation, and we are going to do everything we can to help.

QUESTION: So what are the next stops of Ambassador Holbrooke?

MR. CROWLEY: I think he’s in the Gulf here. I’ll -- we’ll get you something afterwards.

QUESTION: He’s not in Afghanistan or India?


QUESTION: Italy is going to host an Af-Pak conference at the end of the month. They’ve sent out 30 invites: one to Iran, presumably; one to the U.S. as well. Is this something that Secretary Clinton would attend?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, yeah. There is a meeting at the end of the month. I’m not announcing the Secretary’s travel, but yes, there will be an important meeting on Europe on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yes, the Secretary will attend.

David. I’m sorry, Jill.

QUESTION: Angela Merkel mentioned some type of a timetable for progress on Mideast peace. They didn’t follow up on any answers about that, but can you tell us, is there actually now emerging some type of timetable for the steps that they want in progress?

MR. CROWLEY: I am not aware of any specific timetable. I think that the President laid out a very ambitious agenda in terms of the significant issues that we have in the Middle East, obviously, the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians being central among them. I think we’re working diligently on the issues that can help us come to a point where meaningful negotiations can take place. I’m not aware of any timetable.

QUESTION: As far as sequencing, if the United States is asking both sides to take certain steps, do you anticipate making that public about, you know, who’s doing what when and what your plan would be or what your sort of expectations would be for when they do that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think George Mitchell, supported by the President and the Secretary, will do things that we think will be appropriate and necessary to advance a process. But there have been some times in the past where we’ve been more forthcoming on specific negotiating criteria of steps, plans, and so forth, but that will be dictated by the needs of the negotiation.

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