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Middle East Digest - February 2, 2010

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Washington, DC
February 2, 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 February 2, 2010

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QUESTION: How close – how close are you to getting them onboard with the Iran sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to talk directly with China and our other interlocutors on the P-5+1. I think we have communicated very forcefully to China that this is an issue that is not as important to them just as much as it’s important to us and to others in the region. And we do not have the same view of the urgency of the situation. We probably do not, at this point, have the same view regarding the steps that we think are necessary at this particular time, but that’s why we’re having this ongoing engagement as we did in New York recently, as we will in the upcoming days when our P-5+1 political directors have a chance to consult again.

QUESTION: And how close are --

QUESTION: P.J. can --

QUESTION: How close are you to getting them – is this about China?



QUESTION: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Speaking of that, it appears that there’s kind of a new tone coming out from the Secretary on the Iran sanctions. She was much more overt the other day in suggesting, lecturing to the Chinese about what they should do and how they should see it more long term. What explains that change of tone?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that – what explains that tone is precisely where we think we are in this process. We spent much of 2009 signaling to Iran that we were prepared to engage on the nuclear issue, but on a broader range of issues. For a variety of reasons, Iran has not been able to respond appropriately – or constructively to our approach. And together with our international partners, given our shared concern about the trajectory of Iran’s nuclear program, we’re at that stage, as the Secretary said last week in London, where, regrettably, we have to look at – more significantly at the pressure track because the engagement track has not yielded the results that we had hoped for.

QUESTION: So is she frustrated with the Chinese?

MR. CROWLEY: I think she’s frustrated with the Iranians’ response and its – their unwillingness or inability to engage us seriously on the nuclear issue and on other regional issues. So we are in discussion with the P-5+1 members, all of them, as well as with other countries as we look to possible pressure points that we can add to make clear to Iran that its unwillingness to come forward and address our nuclear concerns will have a cost.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied that the Russians are fully involved with you now?

MR. CROWLEY: The Russians are fully involved. They have always been fully involved. But I --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I mean, the sanctions --

MR. CROWLEY: No. We – as, again as you saw not only in London last week with Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov, but in the multiple meetings that have occurred between President Obama and President Medvedev, you’ve seen a significant shift in the Russian position. And I think we have a shared understanding of where we are in the process and we have significant engagement going on with Russia, just as we have with the other members of the P-5+1, beginning the process now of sharing ideas on where we need to go. We’re not – but this is a process that’s going to take some time.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic to Iraq?


QUESTION: P.J., there’s been reports of U.S. interference in Iraq’s decision to bar about 450 candidates from the upcoming March elections, and I believe Ambassador Chris Hill has made some statements yesterday. Officially, what is the U.S. position about disqualifying Baath candidates?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we – this is an Iraqi process. We are not in any way, shape, or form, interfering in the Iraqi political process. We’ve been steadfastly supporting the Iraqi political process. Obviously, as Ambassador Hill said yesterday, this has to be seen by the Iraqi people as an inclusive process and one that allows Iraq to continue its remarkable political progress. There’s a lot at stake in Iraq on March 7. We’ve expressed our concerns that a process that appears to the Iraqi people or to a segment of Iraqi society to exclude viable candidates from running for office and participating in the Iraqi political process has – creates the risk that the result of the election will not be seen as valid, as credible, and that can have potential ramifications for Iraq long term.

So we are saying the same thing to Iraq today that we have in past years: Have an effective political process, an inclusive political process, one that gives all segments of Iraqi society an opportunity to contribute to Iraq’s future. And that’s the message that we will continue to – and I’m sure that’s the message that the Secretary will deliver when she meets with the Iraqi vice president this afternoon.

QUESTION: Some politicians, some Iraqi politicians, have distinguished between “Baathists” – quote, unquote – proper and Saddamists or those who are loyal to the party of Saddam Hussein during his regime and were instrumental in carrying out his policies. Does the U.S. share that same distinction?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is the Iraqi-led process. It was an Iraqi commission that made these judgments. There is an appeals process that is underway for these various candidates. It’s not for the United States to dictate any of this to Iraq; we’re not going to do it. But what we are simply saying is that at the result of this process for those candidates who do stand for election on March 7th, that they have to be part of an inclusive political process that the Iraqi people can believe in and they can support the government that comes out of this political election.

QUESTION: Finally, if I could just add one last question.


QUESTION: It’s just that some are saying that because of this restriction, which is almost exclusively targeting Sunnis, it’s done in favor to – it favors Shia candidates. Do you think this is true?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for – it’s not what we think. It’s ultimately what the Iraqi people think. Our concern is simply not to go through a list and decide that this person falls on this side, this person falls on that side. It is really about making sure that you have an inclusive process, and to the extent that there is an adjudication of which candidates are judged to be viable in this process, it should be transparent so that ultimately, those candidates who do stand for election in early March, that everyone in Iraq can point to and say that they have equal opportunity of running, winning, and then together, form a government that will serve the interests of all Iraqi citizens.


QUESTION: Pakistan?


QUESTION: I know that from the military standpoint, you can’t talk about reports of apparent Predator drone attacks in North Waziristan today. But has the U.S. heard from Islamabad, given its distaste for alleged U.S. Predator drone attacks in North Waziristan in the past?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I understand the question.

QUESTION: There are reports that there have been at least 10 Predator drone attacks in North Waziristan, perhaps dozens have been injured, at least 10 insurgents have been killed. Has Washington heard from Islamabad in terms of this is violating Pakistani sovereignty or anything of that sort?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me --

QUESTION: I tried to frame it away from the DOD question.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me just simply say that we have very close collaboration with Pakistan on our shared struggle in combating extremism that exists in the tribal areas and through other parts of Pakistan. And we have senior officials who meet with their Pakistani counterparts on a regular basis on the military side and the civilian side. And from the Secretary’s visit there last fall, I think there is a shared understanding of not only the struggle that we face together, but the appropriate efforts on each side to diminish this threat to Pakistan and to the region and to other countries, including the United States.

So we talk to Pakistan every day at one level or another, either at the level of our ambassador or here in Washington, about this shared responsibility.

QUESTION: Does that – would it be too much to say that that’s an implied tacit acceptance on Islamabad’s part that Washington will do what it judges necessary in dealing with Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida?

MR. CROWLEY: I would challenge – I would – first of all, this is not what Washington is doing alone. This is what Washington is doing to help support the Government of Pakistan in its struggle. And I would simply say there is a shared understanding of the steps that need to be taken to ultimately help secure Pakistan and the region.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Could I ask you another one on Pakistan? The five Virginia men who were picked up by the Pakistani Government are making allegations that they were tortured by Pakistani law enforcement and they – we have video of them screaming in English, “We’ve been tortured by the Pakistanis,” in the last 24 hours. Do you have anything more on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not. We have had regular consular access to these five individuals, but beyond that, I’m not aware of that allegation.

QUESTION: Are they all American citizens? We had a question about whether they were all --



QUESTION: And when was the time you had consular access?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Because – well, the last time you did, were they in good condition?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, and I’ll get you a date.

QUESTION: And the other thing is if you could check on whether they made allegations to you during the consular access about alleged torture.

MR. CROWLEY: There are Privacy Act considerations here. But to the extent that we can comment on that, we will.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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