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Middle East Digest - January 19, 2010


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Washington, DC
January 19, 2010

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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 January 19, 2010


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MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm. He is in Beirut today.
QUESTION: Right.
MR. CROWLEY: He’ll be in Damascus tomorrow.
QUESTION: And who did you say he was meeting in Damascus?
MR. CROWLEY: President Asad --
QUESTION: That’s what I thought you said, okay.
MR. CROWLEY: -- and Foreign Minister Mualem and then continues on to Israel, where he’ll meet later in the week with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.
QUESTION: Okay.
QUESTION: On this, P.J, can I ask – obviously, his portfolio is the Middle East peace process and any negotiations that might start between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but do you expect him to stick to that general issue with the Syrians? Or do you think he might broach other subjects like perhaps terrorism, perhaps Iraq?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we obviously have as a goal comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and Syria is – would be vital to achieving that objective. At the same time, whenever you have a high-level U.S. official in Damascus, it would be the opportunity to reflect on the current state of the U.S.-Syrian relationship. So it is primarily to continue our discussions on how we might make progress on the other tracks of the peace process in addition to the Israeli-Palestinian track, but I suspect that there will be other subjects discussed.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Taliban have obviously claimed responsibility for this latest attack and we condemn these in the strongest possible terms. I think it only will increase our determination to work with the Afghan Government and with our NATO allies and others to try to help Afghanistan in every way possible mitigate and ultimately defeat this insurgent adversary.


QUESTION: Do you see indeed the strikes and ability increasing, ability, capability of Taliban to strike, such strikes?
MR. CROWLEY: I – we – obviously, this was an attack perpetrated by a relatively small number of individuals. I think we look at – the Afghan security forces performed very admirably in responding to and ultimately dealing with the perpetrators of this. So I think you have to look – I mean, there are going to be attacks. We understand that we are facing a determined insurgency. The timing of the attack was probably not a coincidence in terms of the early stages of the Karzai administration. But it’s why we are there, it is why we are working very closely with the Afghan Government. It’s why we are going to continue to build the capacity of the Afghan Government, build the capability of the Afghan security forces so they can do what they did yesterday and ultimately extend the security of the nation.


QUESTION: It is one year that the Administration, this Administration’s one year tomorrow. How do you view the situation there in Afghanistan and Pakistan? You have two reviews over there.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – as the President --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) right direction? Or it’s – there have been more strikes -
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is – it’s a challenging situation. By the same token, you’ve seen progress. You’ve – the Karzai government is putting its – gradually putting its government in place. President Karzai is having to work with his parliament, just like President Obama works with his Congress. We are committed to expand the capacity of the government at the national level and also work to improve the delivery of services at the local level. So we’re – we think we are on the right path, we have the right strategy, we’re adding resources to the fight. And we are confident that this is the right strategy.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Taliban have obviously claimed responsibility for this latest attack and we condemn these in the strongest possible terms. I think it only will increase our determination to work with the Afghan Government and with our NATO allies and others to try to help Afghanistan in every way possible mitigate and ultimately defeat this insurgent adversary.
QUESTION: Do you see indeed the strikes and ability increasing, ability, capability of Taliban to strike, such strikes?
MR. CROWLEY: I – we – obviously, this was an attack perpetrated by a relatively small number of individuals. I think we look at – the Afghan security forces performed very admirably in responding to and ultimately dealing with the perpetrators of this. So I think you have to look – I mean, there are going to be attacks. We understand that we are facing a determined insurgency. The timing of the attack was probably not a coincidence in terms of the early stages of the Karzai administration. But it’s why we are there, it is why we are working very closely with the Afghan Government. It’s why we are going to continue to build the capacity of the Afghan Government, build the capability of the Afghan security forces so they can do what they did yesterday and ultimately extend the security of the nation.
QUESTION: It is one year that the Administration, this Administration’s one year tomorrow. How do you view the situation there in Afghanistan and Pakistan? You have two reviews over there.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – as the President --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) right direction? Or it’s – there have been more strikes --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it is – it’s a challenging situation. By the same token, you’ve seen progress. You’ve – the Karzai government is putting its – gradually putting its government in place. President Karzai is having to work with his parliament, just like President Obama works with his Congress. We are committed to expand the capacity of the government at the national level and also work to improve the delivery of services at the local level. So we’re – we think we are on the right path, we have the right strategy, we’re adding resources to the fight. And we are confident that this is the right strategy.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Haiti, actually?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s go to Iran first.
QUESTION: Turns out that the Iranians had submitted some days ago their formal response to the LEU proposal in which they described a sort of counterproposal. What is the Department’s comment on that Iranian --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that they’ve delivered a formal response, but it is clearly an inadequate response. And -
QUESTION: What do you mean it wasn’t a formal response?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not – I asked the question; I’m not sure that whatever they’ve done, perhaps today, is any different than what they’ve done previously. We don’t think it’s an adequate response. We believe that we’ve put on the table a fair, reasoned, approach. And Iran has not addressed the concerns of the international community on its – answered the questions that have been raised about its nuclear program. We had a very useful meeting in New York on Saturday within the P-5+1 process, and we will continue to discuss with our partners and a range of countries appropriate next steps and options that might exist going forward. So we do not view Iran’s gestures as being adequate.
QUESTION: Why do you say it was a useful meeting?


QUESTION: Yeah.
MR. CROWLEY: It was a useful meeting.
QUESTION: But we don’t see any signs of usefulness from our perspective.
MR. CROWLEY: How so?
QUESTION: Well, you had a lower-level Chinese official --
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm
QUESTION: And -
MR. CROWLEY: We had (inaudible) --
QUESTION: -- you’ve been talking a lot about --
MR. CROWLEY: We had --
QUESTION: -- moving towards sanctions, and I don’t see any --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there – we have a shared view. There was a statement put out on Saturday that recommits the P-5+1 that we continue to have concerns. We continue to see the Iranian response as inadequate. We continue our conversations in terms of options that are available to us, both in terms of the Security Council going forward but also steps that can be taken in a coordinated way, on a national basis. We’re developing options on the pressure track. At the same time, the door is open for further dialogue with Iran, but so far, they haven’t been willing to engage us seriously. So we thought it was a constructive meeting and we’ll continue this process.
QUESTION: China needs more persuading?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that we bridged different views that the United States and others and China have about the issue of sanctions. These are longstanding concerns and we’ll continue to talk to China about them.
QUESTION: Can you just give us a little more detail on what exact steps you talked about in a coordinated way on a national basis on this pressure track?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – there are existing sanctions --
QUESTION: Right.
MR. CROWLEY: -- and there are other options that countries individually can take.
QUESTION: So what specifically did you – was discussed on Saturday?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are developing a list – a set of options and we’re not going to discuss them here.
QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. Is – one more follow-up on that. I mean, if you’re now – you guys have talked for some time about – including the Secretary – about working with likeminded states. But if that’s what you’re talking about at the P-5+1, it suggests to me that you don’t have high hopes for another UN Security Council resolution that would provide the imprimatur of the international community for sanctions.
MR. CROWLEY: I think – we are moving on both tracks. We believe we are making progress. And when we have – when the process has gone down the road a bit further, I think you’ll see some actions emerge. But we are considering what to do next. We’re consulting closely.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, you’re describing – let’s see, I’ll do a baseball metaphor – you’re describing the final out – you’re projecting final outcome when we’re only in the middle innings.
QUESTION: Just to change the subject, one small one, to go back to the Middle East?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The Palestinian news agency Wafa today, I believe, quotes President Abbas as saying that – okay, well, if Israel isn’t going to engage in a complete and total freeze on settlements, then the United States ought to lay out the parameters for the endgame so that we can perhaps get back into talks. Sounds like he’s moving off the dime a little bit in terms of a willingness to consider returning to talks with the Israelis absent a complete and total freeze. Are you heartened by those? Have you seen them and are you heartened by those comments?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we look forward to having a direct conversation with President Abbas later this week.
QUESTION: Had you seen the comments?
MR. CROWLEY: I personally have not, no.



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