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Middle East Digest - July 24, 2009


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Washington, DC
July 27, 2009

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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 24, 2009

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1:48 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Just a few announcements: we’ll have a fact sheet for you this afternoon that goes through in some detail the issues of the $200 million in assistance that the Secretary and the prime minister just talked about.

Clearly, you’ll see the Secretary again this afternoon in a couple of hours. She will, of course, host Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a bilateral discussion and the – a meeting of the – the first meeting of the – in-person meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement Higher Coordinating Committee. There was a meeting that took place via video conference right at the end of the Bush Administration, hosted by -- or led by Secretary Rice. But this is the first time that the groups will get together in person, and there will be a variety of discussions on economic issues, investment, (inaudible) to broaden the frame of the U.S-Iraqi relationship, moving towards the Strategic Framework Agreement that the two countries have committed to.

The Secretary mentioned George Mitchell. He met today with the crown prince and foreign minister in Abu Dhabi, and will arrive in Damascus tomorrow for a meeting with President Asad on Sunday. Then Sunday, he will travel to Jerusalem. While there, he will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak. He will also, of course, meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

Richard Holbrooke continues his trip to Afghanistan. Today, he was in Ghazni province, is overnighting in Kabul.

Libby.

QUESTION: Quickly, on the Asad meeting. Is this the first meeting with Asad? Would – did he meet with him last time?

MR. CROWLEY: I think he – they’ve met before.

QUESTION: Okay, they have.

MR. CROWLEY: But obviously, it will be not only as the Secretary described, looking at where we stand on a comprehensive peace agreement, it will include the Syrian track. They’ll talk about the range of bilateral issues as well, including our joint interests in a stable Iraq.


Yes.

QUESTION: Janine Zacharia of Bloomberg.

MR. CROWLEY: Hi.

QUESTION: The Secretary said you’re sending an ambassador back to Syria. Has that person been named, and when are they going back?

MR. CROWLEY: We have agreed with the Syrians to return an ambassador. We obviously have to go trough the confirmation process, which means announcing a candidate and then having them formally nominated, and go through the confirmation process. So I think it’ll be still some time to accomplish that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that Rose Gottemoeller had made progress in the negotiations. Are they on track to –

MR. CROWLEY: I think part of what they did today was, given the significant push that the negotiations received from President Obama and President Medvedev, and now they use this session to kind of organize a work plan that will take them through the end of the year, and we hope to the completion of a negotiation.

QUESTION: And can I just ask, back on the Middle East, can you just – I know we’re getting fact sheet later. This $200 million is money that she pledged in March in Sharm el-Sheikh?

MR. CROWLEY: This is part of the tranche. I think roughly speaking, she made a $900 million pledge in Sharm el-Sheikh earlier this year. I think this tranche brings us about halfway through that.

QUESTION: Also on the Middle East, is this Senator Mitchell’s first meeting with Asad or did he meet --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think so. I think they’ve met before.

QUESTION: He did meet with him last time? Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: This is his second trip to Damascus that I --

QUESTION: I just asked.

QUESTION: You already did?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: She doesn’t listen to my questions.

QUESTION: No, I’m still on vacation mode. I’m sorry about that.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) newspaper. I just wanted to ask you about the significance of his visit to the Emirates today. I mean, I know that he’s seen other countries, you know, other leaders in the region. But what is the significance of the Emirates visit?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, as I think the Secretary has pointed out, we need action by all parties in this process. The Israelis have responsibilities, the Palestinians have responsibilities, other nations in the region have responsibilities. As I think I’ve already mentioned, he’ll be going to Egypt on this trip. He’ll also be going to Bahrain.

But we’re touching base with leaders on every trip just to make clear that as this process goes forward, one of the critical elements we’ll need will be making sure that there is support in the region for the difficult decisions and compromises that are going to have to be made if and when we do get into formal negotiations.

QUESTION: Have you reached any agreement with the Israelis on the settlement issue?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that will be a subject of Senator Mitchell’s meetings on Sunday.

QUESTION: P.J., when Mitchell was in here a couple of weeks ago, he seemed to have – be a little more forward-leaning about the progress that’s been made, and that didn’t seem to come through with the Secretary’s comments today. How far apart are you on the settlements issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, I think, as the Secretary said, we’re having very earnest negotiations with all of the parties, and we’re making sure that we can have clear understandings of where we are, and in doing so, create the conditions that allow a negotiating process to begin. And then obviously, once you’re in a negotiation process, there are clear issues that will have to be resolved, and many of those need to be resolved as part of final status negotiations.

So I think he wants to be clear that all sides are creating the conditions, putting themselves in positions so that when we begin a formal negotiating process, we’ve put ourselves in the best position to have a successful outcome.

QUESTION: Would you say he’s encouraged by the talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that he continues his efforts to create those conditions, as he said when he was here, for a negotiation to begin. As I recall, I don’t think he put a timetable on this, but obviously said we want to do this as soon as possible.

Paul

QUESTION: New topic. The Secretary talked a bit about Iran in an interview yesterday. She said the Iranians appear to be unable to, you know, make a decision about the American diplomatic overture. And I wonder whether the Administration’s thinking on this September deadline is evolving at all, given that there’s this political turbulence within Iran now.

MR. CROWLEY: I think, as the Secretary said – I think she used the term “capacity” – is right now, there does not seem to be a capacity within Iran to be able to significantly respond to the offer of engagement that we have made in a number of different frames. We’ll have to wait and see where Iran is and at what time they determine that they can kind of give us an indication of what they are either willing to or are able to do.

Obviously, from our standpoint, there are a number of possibilities. We’ve talked repeatedly about the importance of the P-5+1 process. That will be one opportunity. But there are other avenues for engagement and potentially for cooperation in the context of Afghanistan and, of course, bilateral. But the ball is clearly in Iran’s court, and obviously, right now, the government has its hands full.

QUESTION: On Iraq, I just wanted to ask you if there was any follow-up regarding the Iraqi cabinet’s statement that they would be sending an official letter to the American Embassy and the Turkish Embassy regarding this so-called secret protocol. Did your embassy actually receive a letter thus far regarding this?

And the Iraqis have said they’re asking clarification from Americans, so is there going to be verbal clarification, anything written? What’s the story on that one?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t tell you if we have received a formal letter regarding this issue. Obviously, it has received some public attention. And from a U.S. standpoint, the meetings that may be the subject of – had occurred some months ago, part of a broad dialogue that diplomatic and military officials have with a wide range of interested parties in Iraq. And as we understand it, the meetings did occur with the knowledge of officials within the Iraqi Government.

But obviously, to the extent that there are views in Iraq that this is somehow undercutting the Iraqi Government, from our standpoint, clearly, we have a great deal invested in the relationship between the United States and Iraq and we would do nothing to undercut that.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)



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