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Middle East Digest - September 17, 2009

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Washington, DC
September 17, 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 September 17, 2009

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“She also today has met with the minister of state for foreign affairs of Qatar, part of a regular consultation between U.S. and Qatari officials on a broad range of bilateral and regional issues. I think Mideast process, Iran, and energy – greater challenge of energy security were among the topics discussed.”

We are deeply saddened at the loss of life of the brutal attack in Afghanistan today. And we extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims that resulted in – the incident resulted in multiple Afghan and Italian deaths, as well as numerous injuries. But we remain united in our commitment to defeat the extremist elements whose intentions are to destroy the freedom and dignity to which all people are entitled.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on Senator Mitchell?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe he is in today – I think he started the day in Cairo and was in Amman, I believe is now en route back to Israel, where he’ll have follow-on meetings tomorrow. I have not received any kind of an update today on specific activities.

QUESTION: There is speculation that things are not going well and that the idea of a three-way meeting between the President – between the U.S. President and Netanyahu and Abbas is not – is no longer a possibility for --

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t heard that. Obviously, our objective is to get back to a negotiation, and the process of getting to that point continues.

QUESTION: What about – do you have any further reaction to the Goldstone report? Is it Goldstone or Goldsmith?

MR. CROWLEY: Goldstone.

QUESTION: Goldstone. Yeah. Netanyahu came out today, rejected it; it was a bad thing. Yesterday, Ian had said that you had some concerns. I’m wondering if you are prepared to elaborate on what those concerns are and what you plan to do.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to the contents of the report, we continue to review it. But I think from our standpoint, let’s remember the underlying causes of the tragedy in Gaza early this year, which was the lack of a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think we do have concerns about the contents of the report. We are beginning to consult with countries represented in the Human Rights Council and to talk about what to do in light of the report.

But I think we should be cautious at this point that the report should not be used as a mechanism to add impediments to getting back to the peace process. It would be a sad irony if this report that is designed to protect human rights gets in the way of the process that we believe will benefit all in the region and ultimately lead to greater and deeper human rights in the Middle East. So we will continue our efforts through the UN, through the Human Rights Council, other national bodies looking forward – not backward – to try to get to a negotiation that leads to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Yesterday, when Ian said – what Ian said was that you had concerns about some of the recommendations and that – you said today that you have concern about the content.

MR. CROWLEY: I would not disagree – differentiate between the two. Different ways of saying the same thing.

QUESTION: Well, can you be more specific about what --

MR. CROWLEY: We have reviewed the report.

QUESTION: -- content you are concerned about.

MR. CROWLEY: We have reviewed the report. There was a one-sided unacceptable mandate for this fact-finding investigation and that mandate was set forth before we joined the Human Rights Council. Now we have a report. We’re going to take a look at it. I’m not going to talk about the substance of the report at this point. But in terms of its recommendations, we will consult with various countries and determine how to take action going forward. But again, our --

QUESTION: I understand you don’t want this to interfere with the peace – attempts to restart the peace process. But I don’t understand why you can’t say what the content is that bothers you.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to – at this point, I’m not prepared to go into the content of the report. We continue to evaluate it. We have some concerns about it. We’re talking to countries about those concerns and about ways to work going forward within the Human Rights Council on this report.

QUESTION: Can you say --


QUESTION: -- whether specifically you have concern about the report’s recommendation that this be referred to the ICC, this report of the council?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about their – specifics of the report. We’re still reviewing it.

QUESTION: As you put it, this policy – sorry – policy shift, are you hoping that it’s going to gain Russia’s cooperation regarding Iran’s nuclear program?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn’t call it a policy shift. I mean, this is adapting our missile defense plans to a very specific threat and a changing threat. The old architecture was based on the projected emergence of a long-range missile threat that, according to our intelligence, is taking longer to materialize. In the meantime, we’ve seen advances by Iran in terms of short- and mid-level – mid-range missiles. And so we are adapting our missile defense plans to this changing threat and also to the advance – the advancements in technology, a great deal of testing, for example, with the SM-3, the standard missile package.
So we thought that through this effort we can field missile defense more rapidly. We can field it in a more cost-effective manner. This allows for greater collaboration among NATO allies and partners. And it even offers ongoing cooperation with Russia on – this is a shared threat that Russia, the United States, Europe have, and this should not be seen in zero-sum terms.
QUESTION: Besides nuclear program, the missile – I mean, besides missile program, Iran’s nuclear program. Are you see any, you know, more cooperation by Russians regarding Iran’s nuclear program, not missile program?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, on that score, we have a P-5+1 meeting coming up on October 1st. Russia, at the ministerial level, at the political director level, will be part of that. Before the October 1st meeting, there will be the opportunity for a ministerial meeting at – on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
QUESTION: But, the nuclear threat from Iran is still there as the missile --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what’s driving our changes on missile defense is advances in missile technology within Iran. Obviously, we remain concerned about unanswered questions on Iran’s nuclear program, and that’s what will be the heart of the discussion on October 1st.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the nuclear question, actually? AP is reporting an IAEA assessment that it – Iran does have the capability to create a nuclear weapon and is developing a missile system able to carry it. Do you have any comment or reaction to that?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.
QUESTION: Do you have any new details on the October 1st meeting in terms of a place?
MR. CROWLEY: Not yet. I think those details are still being worked.
QUESTION: There was a suggestion that part of this continental missile system will be moved to southern Europe. Are there any discussions with particular countries on that issue?
MR. CROWLEY: To move it?
QUESTION: To countries in southern Europe – that parts of the system could be moved there. I mean, last year, Bulgarian Government specifically asked for – to host short missile defense systems, for example.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as we go forward, there’ll be opportunities for cooperation. The benefit of using this kind of regional approach, it can be adapted to a changing threat environment. It can be expanded as technology advances. Over time, when you look at the phasing that the Pentagon has laid out, you’ll be able to cover more territory. And as we go forward, based on our intelligence assessment, where you’ll have to put various components, including radars and missiles, we’ll see. But obviously, in this particular case, it allows us the opportunity to field a capability much more rapidly, several years more rapidly than had been initially envisioned. So we’ll have some on the ground before – or by 2011, and then we’ll expand and adapt the system going forward based on our assessment throughout.
QUESTION: P.J., is this system being coordinated through NATO? I mean, the last system was not. Is that a change?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we are – we – there was some effort after the bilateral negotiations in the previous administration over the initial architecture to try to integrate that into a NATO context. I think what’s useful about this concept, using proven technology and systems that a number of countries already possess or have the opportunity to purchase going forward, is you do have the opportunity for a much more integrated approach to missile defense than was the case with the previous architecture and the fixed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
QUESTION: A different Iran topic?
QUESTION: The families – specifically the mothers – of the three Americans who were detained in – by the Iranians have written a letter or are writing a letter to President Ahmadinejad asking him to bring their children with him when he comes to the UN next week. Is this something that you support?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we certainly understand the sentiment behind that letter, and we actually share that sentiment that we believe that these three individuals – and others that are held by Iran – should all be returned without further delay. Yesterday, the Swiss ambassador once again was in contact with Iranian officials and demanded consular access that we have yet to be granted under the Vienna Convention. So, obviously, this is something that remains very important to us. We understand the families; they want their loved ones back. So do we. And we continue to press as hard as we can through the Swiss to get that done.
QUESTION: And what was the response from the Iranians to the Swiss?

MR. CROWLEY: We have not yet been granted consular access, and they have not yet informed us where the hikers are actually located.

QUESTION: Well, have they said no, you can’t, or are they just ignoring the request?

MR. CROWLEY: They have not granted us access, and so we await the opportunity where the Swiss officials can meet with them, make sure that they’re being well taken care of.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, have they come out and said no, you can’t meet with them or no, the Swiss can’t meet with them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they haven’t --

QUESTION: Or they just haven’t said yes?

MR. CROWLEY: They haven’t said yes.

QUESTION: But they haven’t said no, though, either? They’re just --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not part of that conversation. It’s a fair question. I don’t know the answer. I mean, we’ve demanded it. They have not yet granted it. And we continue on a regular basis to go in through the Swiss and demand our consular rights.

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