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Middle East Digest - July 23, 2009

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Washington, DC
July 23, 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 July 23, 2009

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1:09 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Good afternoon.

MR. CROWLEY: Mr. Goyal, good afternoon. Hello to one and all from your Department of State. A couple of announcements before taking your questions:

Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has arrived in Afghanistan after a stop in Pakistan. He will be meeting with officials of the Afghan Government over the next several days, and dealing with a variety of issues leading up to Afghan’s election on August 20. He spent the day today in Helmand province, but over the course of his time in Afghanistan will be focused on critical issues such as civilian-military planning, police, rule of law, Afghan civil society, and agriculture.

Secondly, Special Envoy George Mitchell is in Abu Dhabi, the first of several stops in the region. He will be in Damascus, Syria tomorrow. He will be in Israel on Sunday for meetings with Israeli officials and Palestinian officials. He has other stops planned in Egypt and Bahrain during this trip.

By the way, there was – there had been some reporting after yesterday’s briefing that I think represents some misinterpretation. There’s been some reporting that the United States is contemplating financial or economic pressure against Israel. We are not contemplating such action. Clearly, this why George Mitchell is in the region today, talking to all of the parties that we believe – about what they need to do to set conditions to resume negotiations so that all of these issues are – can be resolved through peaceful negotiations.

QUESTION: May I ask you a couple things on Mitchell’s trip? One, he’ll be in Syria tomorrow, Friday, but not going to Israel until Sunday. So does that mean he’s going to spend two days in Syria?

MR. CROWLEY: His schedule is in flux, which is the reason why we really couldn’t tell you yesterday. And in fact, I think he’s in Abu Dhabi as we speak. He’ll move to Damascus tomorrow. Whether the meetings are Friday, Saturday, he will be in Israel on Sunday. So I haven’t seen a full readout, so –

QUESTION: Is he --

MR. CROWLEY: But the order of his trip, which is all we were trying to convey: Abu Dhabi, Damascus, Israel, and then other stops --

QUESTION: No stop in Beirut?

MR. CROWLEY: Not that I have been informed about.

QUESTION: Well, is it – why is it so difficult to prize this information out of what seems to be a relatively routine trip?

MR. CROWLEY: It is a relatively routine trip. That said, the array of officials that --

QUESTION: I mean, this is not Kissinger secretly traveling to Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah – no, no, it’s a fair question, Matt. I mean, it simply is the array of officials that he will talk to, the secret setting of those discussions. That has been what has bottled up this particular --

QUESTION: On Syria and Damascus, is there any special focus to this? Does it have to do with the Turkish attempts to restart the indirect talks between Syria and the Israelis, or is it something else?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it would be a number of things. Obviously, we’re trying to see what Syria is prepared to do to move towards a comprehensive process. We’re also trying to develop bilateral issues that we have with the Syrians as well. I would imagine both of those would come up.

QUESTION: Different topic. Maliki was speaking at a think tank this morning. There was a question concerning a letter or a statement from the Iraqi Government to the U.S. Embassy there complaining about U.S. officials talking with opposition leaders. Do you know anything about this?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.

QUESTION: No? And on another topic, just quickly, these reports that Saad bin Laden has been killed, can you respond to that?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.

QUESTION: Nothing at all?

MR. CROWLEY: Nothing at all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)

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