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Middle East Digest - January 25, 2010

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Washington, DC
January 25, 2010


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 25, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: On behalf of the American people, the United States extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the loved ones of those lost aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409. We’ve been in contact with the Lebanese Government and, per the request of Prime Minister Hariri, we are providing U.S. assistance in the search, rescue, and recovery efforts. And consistent with our strong relationship with Yemen, the U.S. will continue to do all it can to support the government in the face of this tragedy.

QUESTION: Did you say Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Lebanon. My apologies. With Lebanon.

And just finally before taking your questions, George Mitchell is on his way back from the region. Over the weekend, he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, also met with King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman, and last night with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Cairo. But he’s on his way back to the United States as we speak.

QUESTION: On the Lebanon, can you be a little bit more specific about what the U.S. role is going to be in this? Who is going, if anyone, and what’s --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think normally we would provide assistance through the NTSB and most of our focus right now is whatever we can do --

QUESTION: Well, what did they ask for, I guess is the question.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question. I don’t know that – I mean, the USS Ramage has been redeployed to Lebanese waters to assist in search, rescue, and recovery. I assume the Ramage was in the Mediterranean at the time the airplane went down. And to – we’ll all – I think we’ll be involved through the NTSB and helping to investigate the loss of this particular flight.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the delay of the Afghan elections?

MR. CROWLEY: This was an Afghan decision. I think we support that decision. We want to make sure that the election when it is held is – results in an election process and an outcome that the Afghan people will support. So the fact that it takes a little bit more time gives us time to make sure the security will be appropriate for that and that the electoral bodies can – and make sure that it is an effective election.

UESTION: A couple things. On Ambassador Mitchell coming back, it seems like there were some positive sounds made, at least in the press, about what happened. I’m wondering if you guys here in the Department feel that anything has changed following this trip, and specifically this idea that perhaps starting talks with lower-level officials might be a way to kind of edge the door open?

And just a second, unrelated one: Noriega extradition, is that something that the Secretary has to sign off on? And if so, does she plan to do – on doing that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I think there was a legal development today, and I’ll just see what the State Department responsibility is as part of that.

Regarding Senator Mitchell’s meetings, obviously they focused on relaunching negotiations as soon as possible. I mean, we’ve – and we’ve always, and for quite some time, have advocated that there will need to be a mix of approaches here – that you could have high-level, direct talks that establish a framework for the negotiations, that we might have parallel talks where the United States is engaged with both sides separately, and that – obviously, many of these issues are difficult and complex and would benefit from having low-level, direct talks where many of the details can be worked out. So any or all of these approaches will have to be part of a successful negotiation.

So we continue to work with the parties on how we can take steps, a variety of steps, to kind of work through these issues and make progress. But fundamentally, we still want to see both sides take the significant political step of formally returning for negotiations.

QUESTION: Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Government’s special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, says the State Department has exercised weak oversight of Dyncorp International’s contract with the Iraqi police training program, and as a result, 2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud. What’s your reaction to that?

MR. CROWLEY: The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has made substantial improvements on the issues addressed in the report, which have been recognized in previous reports by the special inspector general. We do take note of the recommendation for additional in-country contract officer representatives, and we have been actively seeking additional staffing.

But from our standpoint, we have an intensive process of reviewing invoices. We only make provisional payments to the contractor after initially certifying invoices, and we insist on a hundred percent reconciliation of all invoices as part of this process. And all we can point to is that currently, we have a rejection rate of over 19 percent, meaning that from our standpoint, we are doing due diligence. But we’ll obviously work to see if those systems can be improved even more.

QUESTION: So do you say the audit is unfounded, or is there merit to the audit?

MR. CROWLEY: We – I don’t think that we agree with the characterization in that report, but we will continue to work with the IG on it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)

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