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Middle East Digest - December 10, 2009


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Washington, DC
December 10, 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 10, 2009

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QUESTION: On Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Who was it that went from the Embassy? What kind of officials? You said consular officials were going to go tomorrow. But I mean, it wasn’t consular officials today?

MR. CROWLEY: I think these were security officials.

QUESTION: Security meaning RSO type?

MR. CROWLEY: Security and – yes, yes.

QUESTION: Well, like from – who work for the Department of State or who work for other --

MR. CROWLEY: This was an Embassy team. I would describe it as an interagency team, which would include RSO and FBI.

QUESTION: So no consular at all today? That was --

MR. CROWLEY: No. No, I mean, and part of it was we had some officials in Lahore who could get there rather quickly. But I think it’s – I mean, this is an ongoing process. Obviously, we – as Americans, the families of these individuals had expressed concern going back a couple of weeks to the disappearance of these five individuals. And we now – they now are safely in the custody of Pakistani officials, and we’re going to find out how they made their way from Washington, D.C., to Pakistan, why there were there, what their intentions were. And at this point, we’ve reached no judgments beyond – we obviously now are beginning to talk to them, to gather information. We’ve reached no conclusions as to the circumstances surrounding their travel from the United States to Pakistan.

QUESTION: When did they express concern – when did the families express concern to the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they have not – I’m not aware that the families have been in touch with the State Department. I think the families – since the – I should refer you to law enforcement (inaudible) in terms of interaction between the families and the United States Government. All I can tell you is that once they went missing, as we do in any particular case, embassies around the world touch base with law enforcement officials and provide notifications in terms of asking for law enforcement assistance globally. We did that, as we do in any of these cases, and the Pakistani law enforcement came upon these individuals yesterday. They promptly contacted our Embassy. We’ve had contact with these individuals, and we are together with our Pakistani colleagues in the information-gathering phase.

QUESTION: P.J., can you say whether the Pakistanis have given you any explanation for why they’ve detained the five?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Pakistani authorities. This was their operation.

QUESTION: And then can you just – sorry. I’m just wondering if you can confirm one last thing here. The breakdown of the background of these individuals – they were – you’ve all confirmed that all five are U.S. citizens? And then whether – how many are actually American born or foreign born?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer – I’m not – we believe that we – that they are the five individuals who were reported missing. Beyond that, I’ll not go into further detail.

QUESTION: Is this an effort to get them back here, to bring them back here?

MR. CROWLEY: I think right now, they’re in Pakistani custody and we are gathering information about why they were there, who they were in the company of, and the implications of that. We’ve reached no conclusions on that. Obviously, there’ll be further investigating, and then we’ll figure out what to do beyond that.

QUESTION: P.J., are all these individuals cooperating with the Embassy team, and how would you characterize that discussion? Are we talking about --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to characterize that discussion. I mean, obviously just think about the timing here. Yesterday they were apprehended by Pakistani authorities. Today we’ve had access to them, an opportunity to talk to them about the circumstances of their travel to Pakistan. I think this is indicative of the cooperation that we have received with Pakistani authorities. And we will continue to investigate this together, share information. Where this leads, we should just not draw any conclusions at this point.

QUESTION: Right. But in terms of defining what this conversation is, are the individuals cooperating? Are they talking willingly with the U.S. team?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not in the room, so I really can’t characterize it.

QUESTION: P.J., what message does it send to the U.S. as far that most of the Pakistani-born U.S. citizens are involved in various activities against the U.S. or --

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I think you’re leaping to a conclusion that we have not drawn. And again, some of this just involves publicly available information. If I have it right, in recent days, these individuals went missing. Their families expressed concern. Eventually, those concerns came to the attention of law enforcement. As we frequently do, we establish contact with our law enforcement colleagues around the world, asked them to be on the lookout for these individuals.

In this particular case, Pakistan came across these five individuals. We’ve already had access to them. I know there’s a lot of conjecture being bandied about as to what they were about, who they were associated with, what the implications are. I would just kind of dampen that kind of conjecture at this point. We are in the information-gathering phase of this. We’ve drawn no conclusions. All we really know is that these individuals were in the United States until recently, they made their way to Pakistan. And beyond that, we are trying to talk to them, find out what they were up to, what the implications are. And we should let the investigation go forward before we draw any conclusions.

QUESTION: Related to this one. U.S. had charged two Pakistanis or two U.S. citizens in Chicago. They were plotting against India. And those are also related cases are there. So where do we get from there? What conclusion we get to this really? Because not just on one case, but one after another, so many cases are now in –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, Goyal –

QUESTION: How many more of these are in the U.S.?

MR. CROWLEY: I would have two thoughts back. First of all, there is an emergent case in Chicago. I would not link that case and these individuals in any way. And secondly, because all we know at this point is you have five individuals from the Washington, D.C. area who have made their way to Pakistan, I would not draw any inferences as to what that means. That’s why we are going to chat with them, investigate this, and then we’ll draw some conclusions going forward.

QUESTION: You said there wasn’t any contact – you said there wasn’t any contact between the State Department and the families before their discovery – before they were arrested, correct? Has the --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that the United States Department of State has been in contact with the families at this point.

QUESTION: Has there been any – has there – oh, okay. So there still has been no contact with the – you haven’t reported to the families that you’ve seen these guys and talked to them?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe that we, the Department of State, have been in touch with these families at this point.

QUESTION: And have the Pakistanis told you that they have been formally charged with anything?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe – I’m not aware of any charges at this point.

QUESTION: These are the five adult individuals who have the right to travel to any part of the world as an American citizen. I presume they went on a valid Pakistani visa. When they were arrested by Pakistani authorities and they informed you, what were the reasons they gave as to as why –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, in terms of whether they applied for visas, that I’ll defer to the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: But what – were they arrested because of any suspicious activities or did they violate any rule of law --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, as – there was a very fair question as to why the Pakistani authorities took this action. Again, I’ll defer to them.

QUESTION: And following up from Goyal’s question on this Chicago thing. Indian authorities have requested for the extradition and the request for interrogation of Headley and Rana. Is it possible will the State Department or U.S. accede?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as to the precise disposition of this case, at the present time, I’ll defer you to the Department of Justice. Obviously, we do have an extradition treaty with India, but how that will work going forward, I think that’s premature.

QUESTION: P.J., I just want to tie up the issue of whether you’ve asked for either extradition or talked to Pakistani authorities about bringing the five back. And I understand all the caveats about the timeline and the investigation is still ongoing. But my specific question is: Has the U.S. asked the Pakistani Government for the return of the five individuals?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. Not yet.

QUESTION: Do you know how many people were on the Embassy team – the Embassy and Consulate team?

MR. CROWLEY: Two or three.

QUESTION: And where did they actually see them? In this holding facility?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a – I think they – my assumption is they saw them in Sarghoda. But beyond that, I don’t know.

QUESTION: And how many people was it – the team?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. It was either – I’ve seen two and three. I just don’t – I think it was three.

QUESTION: P.J., just to clarify, prior to the families expressing concern – who did the families express concern to? And prior to their expressing –

MR. CROWLEY: Just a – three.

QUESTION: And prior to expressing their concern, did these individuals come to the attention of the U.S. Government in any form?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to Justice on that.

QUESTION: On human rights? On Human Rights Day?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, sir, happy Human Rights Day.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much. Same to you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Are you celebrating or what?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I do think --

QUESTION: Because as far as China is concerned, still many people that you talk to anywhere that is most –

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, there is no question that on Human Right Days we have much to celebrate. And on Human Rights Day we know we have a lot of work to do. But clearly, from where we were decades ago when the convention was first passed, there is much to be thankful for in terms of the diminishment of the – not so much the scope or the number of conflicts around the world, but certainly the scope of them when you go back and compare where we were during the middle or latter stages of the 20th century. More and more governments are democratic. More and more governments are actively trying to serve the needs of their people and adhering to universal principles regarding freedom of association, freedom of expression, transparent government, and so forth.

At the same time, we obviously know that there are places where governments are continuing repressive activity. Iran would be a perfect case in point where there is still an ongoing struggle to reach a new understanding with the government and Iranian people given the election, its questionable conduct, and the aftermath, which has certainly been unsatisfactory to a significant number of Iranian people who want to see a regime that currently they begin – they now increasingly see as a – as militaristic and a police state.

QUESTION: Can we check – move on?

MR. CROWLEY: So – do you have a date?

QUESTION: I do, in fact.

MR. CROWLEY: So, we – this – human rights is something of importance to the United States. It’s something that is part of the relationship we have with a significant number of countries on earth, and it continues to be a vital part of our foreign policy.

QUESTION: The Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an op-ed in New York Times today has sought U.S. role in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Have you received any formal – sorry, formal or informal request from Pakistan on this issue?

MR. CROWLEY: First of all, I thought it was a fine op-ed. And secondly, we understand the importance of the Kashmir issue to both Pakistan and India, and it is something that we do discuss with both countries. But obviously, at the end of a process that has to be something that is resolved ultimately between Pakistan and India with the active involvement of the people of Kashmir.

QUESTION: Do you see any role for U.S. in this?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we’ve been asked to play a specific role at this point.

QUESTION: Not even with Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: P.J., one more thing on the Pakistan arrests. You said you’re not --

QUESTION: And just to clarify it, obviously, because of the issue, it would be something that would – have to be an agreement by multiple parties, not just one.

QUESTION: And do you agree with his view that resolving Kashmir --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll let the president’s view stand on its own.

I’m sorry, Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: Pakistan arrests again, if you would. You said you’re not aware of any charges against them. On what basis were they picked up?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will defer to Pakistani authorities to describe their operation, why they undertook it. But obviously, we are now in contact with them. We’ve working very closely with them and we’re gathering information about these individuals, how they – how and why they found their way to Pakistan, and we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: Right. And the Secretary referred to them as detainees. Is there something that we should read into that? Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: No. I wouldn’t – I would not --

QUESTION: -- a technical term?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, they are in the custody of Pakistani authorities. We’ve had access to them, and we’ll have ongoing conversations with them, I’m sure, tomorrow.

QUESTION: P.J., the Government --

QUESTION: Change the topic?

QUESTION: The Government of Iraq has said that it’s going to close down Camp Ashraf and move the MEK people there, first to Baghdad, and then to some remote desert outpost in the south that used to be a detention camp in the 1950s. Do you still – do you have any thoughts on this?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that particular proposal. We have discussed on an ongoing and regular basis the status of the MEK within Iraq. This – you are quite aware of an operation earlier this year where the Government of Iraq sought to assert its sovereignty over this particular camp. The Government of Iraq has a right to do that. At the same time, the operation itself we believe was not carried out --

QUESTION: But you have no thoughts about this --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me finish what I was saying. It – the way it was carried out resulted in, we think, unnecessary violence. We continue to have conversations with the Government of Iraq on the future of this group. And beyond that, I’m not familiar with this particular proposal.

QUESTION: Any comment on the two Pakistani nationals who were indicted in a case related to the Mumbai attacks of last year?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.

QUESTION: And if I could just follow up with that, have the Indians expressed any concern about where U.S. military funding is going, especially because these two men are – were from the Pakistani military?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in an ongoing discussion with the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India trying to reassure both that they have nothing to fear from each side. We understand that for the region to advance, for us to be able to reduce tensions and have greater regional cooperation on a range of issues, whether it’s building more commerce and trade among the countries of the world or dealing with the threat that does confront India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, other countries in the region, it’s very important for us to reduce tensions and to have all sides have a clearer picture of the intentions of the other. And that remains an ongoing – it’s very important to us and it remains an ongoing conversation.

QUESTION: Have the Indians contacted you about these two men?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: And if I could, just one more question on Human Rights Day. You mentioned repressive activity. I’m sure you’re aware of the human rights conditions in Gaza right now. I was wondering if you had any statements on the situation in Gaza and if you’ve spoken to the Israelis about lifting the siege and allowing international aid to flow through faster than what it has been so far.

MR. CROWLEY: We remain deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza. We’ve expressed that – those concerns to all of the parties. And we encourage everyone to take affirmative steps to improve the conditions on the ground for the people of Gaza.

QUESTION: So you’ve encouraged Israel to lift the siege on Gaza which is contributing to these human right violations?

MR. CROWLEY: We have had conversations – I’m not going to – without repeating your characterization, we continue to have conversations with all the parties about the situation in Gaza.

QUESTION: But nothing on lifting the siege?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.



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