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Middle East Digest - September 30, 2009

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Washington, DC
September 30, 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 30, 2009

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QUESTION: Can you just, for the record, state who Special Envoy Mitchell is meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: For the record, I believe he is meeting with Mike Herzog and Yitzhak Molcho, who are advisors to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: Can you provide us with any kind of a readout after the meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see. If I can, I will.

QUESTION: Have you – and last thing on that. Is it fair to say that the Administration has essentially, even though it hasn’t given up on the possibility of getting a package of steps to announce and put together prior to any resumption of negotiations, that its real focus now is on trying to get negotiations started regardless of whether the package is in place or not?

MR. CROWLEY: I would not see those, Arshad, as being mutually exclusive. We continue to work on steps that the Israelis need to take, the Palestinians need to take, others in the region need to take. And again, you’re quite right; we are also interested in getting to negotiations as rapidly as possible, as the President, the Secretary, and George Mitchell emphasized last week.

As to the conditions or steps, obviously, they’re well known. But we haven’t given up on the idea. We haven’t set aside anything. We do believe that the Israelis, Palestinians, and other countries in the region need to take affirmative steps which create the conditions for a successful negotiation.

QUESTION: But is the – just so we’re clear, is the focus now really on trying to get negotiations started regardless of whether you have a package of steps in place?

MR. CROWLEY: No*, I would think that the meeting today, the meeting tomorrow, will be to continue to work on those steps that will lead the parties to have the confidence to agree to begin negotiations. Again, I think they are, obviously, part and parcel of the same process.

QUESTION: Did you get any update on what the Swiss learned about the condition of the Americans in detention?

MR. CROWLEY: The meeting did happen yesterday. It did happen in Tehran. Beyond that, there’s not a lot I can say for privacy reasons.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith has been recalled from UNAMA by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Do you have anything on this? There were differences between him and Kai Eide on the elections process?

MR. CROWLEY: I think I would just call your attention to a statement that has been put out attributable to the Secretary General – or the spokesperson for the Secretary General that he’s decided to recall Peter Galbraith. And this is really a UN personnel matter.

QUESTION: And finally, there was a report in The New York Times about Pakistan doing its own investigation on Mumbai terrorist attack in which LET was found responsible for this. Do you have anything?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we certainly have encouraged and continue to encourage Pakistan to fully investigate the Mumbai attacks, and even more importantly, bring those responsible before their judicial system.

QUESTION: Last week --

QUESTION: Can we go back to –

QUESTION: Last follow-up question. Last week, there was a meeting between India’s and Pakistan’s foreign minister in New York on the sidelines of UN General Assembly. How do you see these meetings in the view of –

MR. CROWLEY: I think we certainly encourage a dialogue between India and Pakistan, two very important countries to the United States.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Peter Galbraith, please?


QUESTION: You’re going to pass this off as a UN personnel matter? I mean, does the U.S. expect to have a replacement? Does the U.S. disagree with the UN Secretary General’s decision, even though he has a right to do it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well – and obviously, in occupying the position of deputy special representative, it will be up to the UN to establish a replacement.

QUESTION: Yeah. But – well, have you talked to the Secretary General? Has the U.S. Government, the Obama Administration, Ambassador Rice, anyone, had discussions about this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we had interactions last week during the UN with Special Representative Kai Eide. I just don’t know if this came up.

QUESTION: I think just the difference between the two of them was over the recount and whether the Karzai government should be pressed a little bit harder to address some of the concerns about voter fraud. Do you agree with Galbraith that this should have been an issue that the UN should be pushing much harder?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that we agree on the importance of the election and the importance of supporting the work of the electoral bodies in Afghanistan. I don’t know that we have a particular view, other than it needs to be a credible, transparent process that leads to an electoral result that the people of Afghanistan can believe in. That is our focus, and that’s what we think is important to the future of Afghanistan. To the extent that there were tactical differences between the special representative and his deputy over how to get to that place, I think our point is we agree on what the – where the finish line is and hope that the process will lead us there as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: To put it a different way, then, do you think that the UN should be pushing this much harder?

MR. CROWLEY: We ourselves continue to work closely with the electoral bodies to make sure that there is a credible, transparent, effective process. There have been very significant and credible claims of electoral fraud. They are currently being investigated. The electoral bodies have worked out a formula for how to address these concerns.

We think it’s vitally important that the end of this electoral process produce a government that the Afghan people can believe in and can support, and a government that is a position to begin to deliver more effective services to its people. That’s our bottom line. And we continue to work with the UN, with other countries invested in Afghanistan, to reach that goal.

QUESTION: And I guess my question was just more of how you assess the UN’s push on this so far?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, the international community is responsible for one of these two electoral bodies. It’s a very, very important element of the process. I think we are – we’re confident having worked closely and consulted closely in recent meetings that there is a formula for proceeding to a legitimate result in the elections, and we hope that we get there as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I just have to alleviate my curiosity and just for the record, could you check and get back to us on whether this did come up in the meeting with Kai Eide? And also, whether the Secretary or Ambassador Rice has discussed this with the Secretary General before today’s announcement?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Lashkar.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve got – are we still on Afghanistan or are we moving to other subjects?

QUESTION: I would like to go back to The New York Times article. I think for folks in the region, the question is that – is U.S. policy focused too much on the wrong border of Pakistan? It’s focused too much on Afghanistan and not on the India side and Kashmir, because the article implies that Lashkar can blow up the whole region.

MR. CROWLEY: The United States, in this region of the world, is focused – understands clearly the importance of Afghanistan, the importance of Pakistan, the importance of India, and the interaction among those countries. I – we have a strategic relationship that is emerging with India. We have a vitally important relationship with Pakistan, are working hard to help Pakistan address the issue of extremism within its borders, and we are likewise very concerned about the cross-border activity between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I think that these – this is kind of an inseparable – you can’t look at peace and stability in South Asia without understanding the vitally important role played by all of these three countries and, obviously, the surrounding republics in Central Asia as well.

It’s one of the reasons why we changed our strategic focus, that you could not look at these countries in isolation. And clearly, we have had discussions with both Pakistan and India on their relationship and how that affects the ability of any of these countries to address the challenges that exist within their respective borders.

So we recognize the importance of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. We recognize the vital importance of a stable relationship between Pakistan and India, and we continue to encourage all of these countries to work constructively together.

QUESTION: You spoke at some length yesterday about the talks in Geneva. Do you have anything additional you can add about the details, duration, format of the talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Not a lot. It will happen tomorrow. I believe that Mr. Jalili will lead the Iranian delegation. Our delegation has arrived in Geneva. I believe many of your colleagues are there and perhaps have had some discussions with our delegation already today.

As to the format tomorrow, as I said yesterday, it will be largely for Javier Solana to lead that, but would expect the meeting to be – to last just this one day. I think there will be a series of plenary discussions. There will be opportunities for interaction among the participants on the sidelines of these plenaries. And beyond that, we’re just as anxious as you are to get to the meeting itself.

QUESTION: The meeting has provoked a wide discussion about the effectiveness of sanctions in the past against Iran. From where you stand today, have past sanctions been successful in forcing Iran to change its policies?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we have a dual-track strategy which involves both engagement and pressure, including sanctions. We don’t see these as mutually exclusive. In fact, we will continue the kind of engagement that we hope to have tomorrow, and we will continue to aggressively pursue the existing sanctions and are obviously prepared at the end of this process, as the President has said, to consider additional measures if they are warranted.

QUESTION: And just one quick clarification. At the end of the process, does that mean that until this meeting is concluded that the United States has halted consideration of additional sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't expect a call for sanctions tomorrow night at the end of this meeting. I think we’re looking for a process. As the Secretary and the President have said, we’re going to give this some time. We would hope that this meeting will be followed by other meetings. We would hope that at this particular time Iran will indicate, starting tomorrow, that it’s willing to take practical steps and – that will produce measurable results to address the concerns that we will lay on the table tomorrow. And let’s get to the meeting.

But I think to the extent that we’re going to have one meeting and then make a snap decision on what happens in the future, that’s not the way this is going to work. We’re going to have this meeting tomorrow. We hope that it leads to a process. We hope that Iran will decide to come clean, to open up its facilities, to open up its files, to open up – give us access to those who are working on the nuclear program, so we can address the concerns the international community has.

This obviously will take some time if it works effectively, and we’re going to give it that time. But at the end of the year, as the President has said, we’ll evaluate where we are, progress that has been made, if any, and then we’ll draw some conclusions from that.

QUESTION: Staying with Iran, P.J., Al-Hurra reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki is in Washington today to visit the Iranian Interests Section at the Pakistani Embassy to the United States. Is that true?

MR. CROWLEY: It is true.

QUESTION: When and why did you decide to grant Mr. Mottaki -- or Minister Mottaki permission to come to the United States, to Washington?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t precisely – they made the request, and we have granted the request. It might have been in the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for Minister Mottaki to meet either with current U.S. officials of any sort or with non-U.S. officials, but there have been people like former – well, Ambassador Pickering, for example, who has been an advocate of sort of track two talks with the Iranians. To your knowledge, is he meeting – Mottaki meeting with any U.S. officials or with other such* --

MR. CROWLEY: I want to be very careful. I’m not trying to add to any mystery here. All I can speak of is for the United States Government. There were no plans that he will meet with anyone from the United States Government, and I’m not aware of any plans that he would meet with anyone on behalf of the United States Government.

As to what interactions that he has here, I don’t know. I’d refer you to the Iranians. But they made this specific request. He wanted to visit the Iranian Interests Section at the Pakistani Embassy, and we granted that request.

QUESTION: How long is he here for?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Can you take that for us?


QUESTION: And then one other one on this. Should we – why should we not regard your decision to allow him to do so as a gesture of a sort, indeed potentially a positive gesture? One reason I ask is that a week ago – well, about 10 days ago now, two weeks, I guess – the Administration gave permission for the Myanmar foreign minister to visit Washington to check in on their Embassy, something he had not done in years. And within a few days, the Administration announced the outcome of its policy review on Burma, and that you are going to go for more, higher-level engagement with officials from that country. Why shouldn’t we see this as another gesture of that sort and a positive gesture toward the Iranians?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we thought it was a straightforward request. We granted it on that basis. I think we’re far more interested in having Iran come tomorrow to Geneva, and we hope that they will be the ones who are offering gestures that they are ready to address the concerns that the international community has.

I wouldn't read too much into this. It was a straightforward request, and we granted it.

QUESTION: Can you check when was the last time an Iranian foreign minister was in Washington? I’m guessing 1978.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s probably been a while.

QUESTION: Can you check for us?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll see if we have that kind of historical knowledge.

QUESTION: On the Geneva talks, once the talks are over, are the political directors going to hang around and compare notes, or are they going to go back to their capitals?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, those are not mutually exclusive. I think they could have a post-game huddle tomorrow. I wouldn't rule that out. I would think that it might take some time to digest a meeting of this nature. It obviously is vitally important. We’re talking about complex issues, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some questions are taken and answered subsequently. So I would think that at this level, there is very regular interaction among the political directors, so whether it happens tomorrow in Geneva or happens in subsequent days, I suspect it could be a combination of the two.


QUESTION: Different topic, okay?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the talks the Syrian deputy foreign minister held yesterday at the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: I gave you pretty much all I had yesterday, Samir. Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad met with a variety of U.S. Government officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, including Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman, including NSC Senior Director Dan Shapiro. There is a possibility of other meetings today. If they happen, we’ll let you know. The one person – just to answer your obvious next question, he did not meet with George Mitchell.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) these meetings, one of the many meetings being held in the past. And how do you assess the outcome of this meeting? Where are we right now in terms of the relationship between the United States and Syria? I mean, those are the details we need to – trying to find out.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would characterize this as an extension of the steps that we’ve taken earlier this year. We’ve obviously agreed to have a dialogue with Syria. We’ve had a number of visits to Damascus, and this was an opportunity to have interaction here in Washington. So obviously, it’s a part of our continuing dialogue with the Syrian Government, and comparing notes on how we can advance our relationship going forward.


QUESTION: Just on that and George Mitchell, is Mitchell a possibility for the Syrian deputy foreign minister to meet today?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t lead you in that direction. He’s – George has got his own meeting this afternoon.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the consular access that the Swiss have to the American hikers? They – so they did indeed meet with all three of them; correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. And there’s nothing you can say about their well-being?

MR. CROWLEY: No. Trust me, we kind of pushed this – what can we say, but I mean, you would – it would be useful to check with the families. Obviously, they have been public about this case. We continue to press for follow – we will continue to press for follow-on consular visits. But in terms of – and obviously, we will stay in close contact with the families. But privacy aspects limit our ability to characterize the meeting itself.

QUESTION: Could you say whether they were able to contact their families at all?

MR. CROWLEY: I would be very confident that whatever the Swiss passed on to us, we have in turn passed on to the families.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:36 p.m.)

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