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Middle East Digest - December 8, 2009


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Washington, DC
December 8, 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 December 8, 2009

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QUESTION: On Iran, the Iranian foreign minister has accused the U.S. of having, quote, “abducted,” unquote, the Iranian scientist who went missing in Saudi Arabia in May. So the question is: Is Shahram Amiri in U.S. custody?

MR. CROWLEY: I have got no information on that.

QUESTION: A follow-up on yesterday in the David Headley case: As you coordinate with India and Pakistan on the prosecution of the Mumbai attacks and in light of the charges against David Headley, will you be putting additional pressure on Pakistan to get access to the suspects like Zarar Shah and other folks so at least the U.S. can prosecute its cases, much less coordinate with other capitals about the prosecutions?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously – we obviously have a role to play in terms of dialogue with these countries, but issues like that I think would be best addressed to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Iranian --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- scientist? You have – you are aware of this situation, aren’t you?

MR. CROWLEY: We are aware of the Iranian claims. I have no information.

QUESTION: You’re – okay, because, you know, when you guys go to Iran or you ask Iran for information about missing Americans, i.e., Mr. Levinson, and they say they have no information, you get quite upset about that and you say, well, you should have some information.

So this time, the situation is reversed. You have literally no information? Are you looking into this case?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve got no information I can pass on to you.

QUESTION: Are you looking into it?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to say anything else.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Then the next time that you don’t get an answer from the Iranians about Levinson, remember this.

MR. CROWLEY: Noted.

QUESTION: P.J., if I can finish up that, have you asked Saudi Arabia for any information?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not getting into this subject. I’m just not getting into this subject.

Next.

QUESTION: P.J., I’m hoping to just get three questions squeezed off if I can. First of all, what is the State --

MR. CROWLEY: Take your time.

QUESTION: What is the State Department’s reaction to the bombings in Iraq today? It seems that every time the Iraqi Government moves forward on the election process, there is some dreadful bombs set off and they seem to get increasingly close to government – important government targets, and this happened again today.

MR. CROWLEY: You’re exactly right. Obviously – and we should obviously recognize the tragedy again today with, I think, more than a hundred Iraqi citizens killed in these series of bombings. There’s no coincidence here. Every time Iraq takes steps forward in its political process, it seems that those who are determined to try to stop this progress in Iraq respond through this kind of violence. They – and we certainly commend Iraq for remaining focused on the future, on the political process which is vitally important to Iraq’s future.

These attacks are directed at specific ministries, or some of them are, as an attempt to undermine the Iraqi Government. And we commend the determination of the government and the Iraqi people that the extremists who are responsible for these attacks are once again trying to see if they can’t incite the kind of sectarian violence that we’ve seen in Iraq in recent years. And Iraq is determined to move forward, and we will continue to work very closely and support them in any way we can.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And the second one was: What is the State Department’s reaction to the – Israel’s complete dismissal of the European Union plan – push to have Jerusalem split into two so that there can be two separate capitals?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I think the United States, the EU and others – we certainly recognize the importance of getting back to a negotiation, and we all have our differing views on the emotional and complex issues that are at the heart of this challenge. We are aware of the EU statement, but our position on Jerusalem is clear. And we believe that as a final status issue, it’s – this is best addressed inside a formal negotiation among the parties directly.

QUESTION: Okay. And just finally, if my colleagues will just bear with me, I don’t think you’ll know the answer to this off the top of your head. You might, but we’re just trying to know what the status of the Bolivian Government’s extradition request for former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is living in the United States – apparently, he is. I could --

MR. CROWLEY: Tell you what; you’re exactly right. You’ve stumped the dummy and – (laughter) – if there’s anything we can provide on that, we will.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: I was looking for, first of all, a readout about the meeting with the Saudi foreign minister yesterday.

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary spent a little under an hour with Prince Saud. She was joined in that meeting – actually, the Secretary joined the meeting a little bit late because the important meeting with the President and Prime Minister Erdogan ran longer than scheduled. So Prince Saud spent some time with George Mitchell, spent some time with Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, and then the Secretary joined in. Obviously, they talked about the peace process. They talked about regional issues. I believe the most significant topic of discussion was Yemen.

QUESTION: And just on that in the peace process, in light of Israel’s moratorium on settlements, what is the U.S. asking now for Saudi Arabia to do in terms of Arab gestures and restarting peace talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think our focus of the discussion yesterday, and it remains our focus right now, is to see what we can do to try to encourage the parties, all of them, to move beyond kind of the cul-de-sac that we find ourselves in, and to continue to refocus on the future and see what we can do to get the process moving forward again, and to ultimately convince the parties to enter into a negotiation.

Obviously, for other countries in the region, we continue to encourage them to provide support to President Abbas and to be prepared to take meaningful steps if and when we get to a point where we think that the parties are prepared to consider negotiations. George Mitchell will continue to have, I think, between now and the holidays, regular contacts with a variety of the players. And so that was the context for our meeting yesterday.

QUESTION: Are you changing the sequencing? Because I thought the idea was that you would have gestures anyway. And now you’re talking about if and when there are negotiations, then you might see substantial gestures?

MR. CROWLEY: I would – fair enough, I wouldn’t call them mutually exclusive. I mean, our focus right now is to see if we can get some forward momentum going again. And obviously, a part of achieving momentum going forward and – is to have the region support the parties as they contemplate a return to formal negotiations.

QUESTION: And just one last thing. Do you have a sense of how the Saudi foreign minister took that, and whether he has --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll let my colleagues and friends at the Saudi Embassy characterize his response.

QUESTION: P.J., you’ve described the situation as being in a cul-de-sac. Are you acknowledging --

MR. CROWLEY: I did.

QUESTION: -- that this is a dead end now?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say it’s a dead – a cul-de-sac means there’s a path --

QUESTION: It’s exactly the same thing.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as was --

QUESTION: You can turn around in a cul-de-sac and you can turn around in a dead end, but a cul-de-sac – (laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: You always catch me on my terminology.

QUESTION: Well, you used the word.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have reached a point where there currently is – forward motion is very difficult.

QUESTION: Well, no, if you’re in a cul-de-sac, there’s no forward motion. Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you – but it’s --

QUESTION: -- is that – are you acknowledging now that this is a failure?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not a failure. I mean, we – it’s not a failure, because the process isn’t over. The process is ongoing. But clearly, in the aftermath of the Goldstone report, we’ve seen this fairly substantial gap emerge and we’re seeing what we can do to move both sides closer to a decision to enter into negotiations. So to the extent that we’re kind of stuck for the moment, we’re looking at how we can’t encourage both to get back on a track and back to where we can seriously attain formal negotiations.

QUESTION: Does Mitchell have any plans to travel before the –

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that he’s going to travel before the holidays.

Samir.

QUESTION: Did the Saudi foreign minister ask any specific help from the U.S. regarding their involvement in Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t been briefed at the level of detail, so can’t say.

QUESTION: Is there any movement on a new P-5+1 meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: No, not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, I got one more. There’s a – this – an Egyptian human rights group, which is called the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, has put out a report today that accuses the Administration – that says the Administration is not doing enough to promote human rights in the Arab world, and it specifically blames Secretary Clinton – or says that – doesn’t blame her, it says that she failed to address the issue during a meeting – during the meeting in Morocco last month.

Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to sustain a significant human rights dialogue there. It’s a dimension of virtually every contact that we have with representatives of countries in the region and around the world. I think there’s been a suggestion that because a certain word was not in a certain speech, that somehow that means that human rights is not important to the United States.

Human rights are vitally important to the United States. And on that particular trip, the Secretary had a number of occasions, working with specific countries, to raise the issues of governance and human rights that we – that is an essential part of our approach to countries of that region.

I’m not familiar with that particular report. Why don’t you ask us tomorrow? We’ll see if we have it and we’ve had a chance to review it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

DPB # 207



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