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Middle East Digest - January 29, 2010

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Washington, DC
January 29, 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 29, 2010

QUESTION: P.J., is it correct that United States has prepared the draft of the sanctions towards Iran and is ready to distribute it to the United Nations?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that’s correct. Obviously, this week, we had a number of very productive conversations in Europe with various countries that share our concerns about the situation in Iran. We are working to develop our ideas on how to proceed on this pressure track and – but this is a process I think that will take some time to develop.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the North Koreans?

QUESTION: Can we just stick with Iran a second?


QUESTION: Any reaction to the Senate vote on Iran sanctions, please?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Congress understands our objectives and we look forward to continuing to work with them. As this legislation goes through conference, I think we note that the unanimous consent on Senate Bill 2799 reflects a shared frustration with Iran’s lack of engagement. Our goals remain to change Iran’s decision making on its nuclear program, to keep our international coalition together so that Iran sees clearly the unity it faces, and to maintain the President’s flexibility going forward. So we hope to work with Congress to ensure that measures eventually adopted do not penalize countries that are working with us to advance these shared goals.

QUESTION: And earlier, the State Department – am I not correct – had urged the Senate to hold back? Are you now urging them to pause before they move forward with the conference?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean, I think obviously, in both the House and Senate, you’ve had very strong statements of concern about Iran. We share those concerns. And we expect to work constructively with conferees as they work on the final version of this legislation.

QUESTION: I have a question for you on the UN deciding to remove five Taliban members from its official sanctions list, and I’m wondering – I – what is the U.S. view on that? And is there any concern that the American public would be skeptical of this sort of legitimization of Taliban, given the close association they’ve had with the 9/11 attacks all these years?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the Secretary has spoken to this in the last couple of days. We actually support and discussed yesterday during the Afghanistan conference the concept of reintegration, and we are very gratified that there has been a fund put together. And I think Japan, for example, has made a significant contribution to that. So this is fully consistent with our strategy of trying to build up capacity within the Afghan Government and provide it resources so that we can begin to peel away the foot soldiers who we think we are not ideologically committed to this. It may well be something simple, like the Taliban for the moment is paying better than the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. And we’ll do this process, and we think over time, we can put additional pressure on the leadership of the Taliban. It is a – the Taliban is a – kind of a mixed grouping of disparate elements, and we think that there can be an opportunity through a political process, one that is Afghan led, to try to see who among these leaders are willing to make a fundamental change in their approach, and we will – we’ll support this.

President Karzai’s announcement of a grand peace jirga as a traditional Afghan mechanism for reconciling competing views – we think that’s important. But in this process, we have some concerns that we’ve put forward. And we think that as this moves forward, it should be based on the concepts that anyone who wants to reconcile and play a more constructive role in Afghanistan’s future must accept the constitution, renounce violence, and publicly break with extremist groups such as al-Qaida.

QUESTION: Who initiated this at the UN, and who decides actually what, U.S. or --

MR. CROWLEY: Who – Goyul, who decides?

QUESTION: To takes the actions at the UN?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, there is a process by which, as we gain more information, as we see adjustments on the ground, adjustments can be made to the list of those who we have concerns about, who have been associated with terrorism and extremist elements in the past. So there is a process in the UN that can make adjustments as appropriate.

But we think that, certainly as part of our counterinsurgency strategy and consistent with what the Afghan Government is trying to do, that ultimately, we need to have a political process along – that has been – works in parallel with the military action that we’re taking with our allies and with the Afghan Government to try to ultimately defeat this insurgency.

QUESTION: I mean, who initiated? Which country put the package before the UN, or at the UN?

MR. CROWLEY: I – that’s a good question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: My initial question had to do also with the idea of the American public accepting this sort of reconciliation with people who were associated with 9/11.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I – that – you’re inferring that the people that we – that are likely to reconcile would include those who played direct or indirect roles in 9/11. I think that’s a challengeable assumption. The Taliban is made up of a mix of groups, a mix of tribal elements that have different motivations. Some of them feel in their own minds that they are fighting for the future of Afghanistan. Obviously, there are those like Mullah Omar, who were in power during the 1990s, chose to associate themselves and to give safe haven to al-Qaida and bin Ladin and those who were directly responsible for 9/11.

As Secretary Clinton made clear in various interviews today, we don’t see Mullah Omar as being among those who can be reconciled. But there are various elements, and in Afghan tradition, there are shifting alliances, depending on what is happening on the ground. Many of these want to be associated with the ultimate winner in the struggle, and that is expressly why we continue to work with the Afghan Government, build up its capacity to vie for its own security, build up its capacity to deliver services to the Afghan people. In doing so, we think that’s – confidence in and support for the Afghan Government will rise and that will, over time, turn the tide against the insurgency.

QUESTION: In connection with the London conference, one – World Bank and IMF, they have announced that $1.6 billion will be debt relief for Afghanistan, and also EastWest Institute has put out a report that without Gulf states, you cannot have peace and stability in Afghanistan. So are you concerned with those Gulf states and now in connection with this London conference and beyond?

MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. There were a number of regional states at the Afghanistan conference because states like Saudi Arabia, states like the United Arab Emirates have had a long history of relations with and interest in Afghanistan. We welcome their participation. We welcome their support. And we had very, very extensive dealings with them as they, like we, identify Afghanistan’s future needs and look for ways to support the Karzai government, help it do what it needs to do on behalf of its people.


QUESTION: Speaking of the Gulf states, the Saudi foreign minister spoke in a press conference in London yesterday, confirming in a strong way that Iran was behind the Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi territories. And in response to U.S. saying that you don’t have evidence that Iran is involved with the rebels, they’re saying there are evidence and photos about the presence of Iranians with these rebels in north Yemen.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s hard to know specifically who was behind the conflict. I think, we – as we indicated, we welcome the announcement of a ceasefire. We obviously are working closely with the Government of Yemen to deal with multiple conflicts within its border. We think that if this can be resolved, it allows the Government of Yemen to focus increased attention on the threat from al-Qaida that we think threatens Yemen, the region, and others including the United States. So – and I know that Saudi Arabia, among other countries, has a significant stake in stability and peace in Yemen, and we’ll work constructively with that government going forward.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for a moment?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Iran’s foreign minister told Reuters in an interview in Davos that the Geneva proposal on sending its low-enriched uranium abroad for processing and then use in the Tehran research reactor was still possible, that it – quote – “still can be on the table.” From the Administration’s point of view, is that deal now dead?


QUESTION: Is it – or is it – so it’s still on the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s still on the table. I mean, go back to the fall when we first advanced this as a confidence-building measure to work cooperatively with Iran, with the international community, to provide Iran with the fuel that it needed for the research reactor. The first response from Iran was a positive one. The second response from Iran, regrettably, was negative. But we still think that is a fair opportunity for Iran. We think it’s good for Iran and it would help begin to address some of our concerns about certain elements of its nuclear program. And as far as I know, the offer is still on the table if Iran – and the offer is there for Iran to say yes.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, so that nobody’s expectations get raised about this, to your knowledge, is there any active discussion with the Iranians by the United States or any of its P-5+1 partners about that offer?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there have been some discussions on mechanism through which that deal could be implemented. But as far as I know, it is Tehran that has said no, or Tehran that has tried to renegotiate the offer. And as Secretary Clinton and others have said, we have no plans to amend it.

QUESTION: And – but to your knowledge, there haven’t been any discussions about this lately, correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: And then, last thing, have you seen any indications from the Iranians that they have any interest in actually returning to the deal as it was originally agreed?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, to the extent that the Iranian foreign minister leaves open the possibility for further discussions on this, he knows the address of the IAEA, and it is the appropriate forum under – through which further discussions could be – could move forward.

QUESTION: P.J., Kurdistan’s Regional Government president was here. He met with President Obama, Vice President, also the Secretary. PKK is still a problem there, and Turkey – Turkey’s also concerned. So was there any discussion as far as concern from Turkey on PKK and terrorism?

MR. CROWLEY: The discussion was really focused on developments inside Iraq. On – Secretary Clinton encouraged President Barzani to continue to work constructively with the central government, looking ahead to the elections that’ll occur in Iraq in early March, encouraged him to continue to find – to resolve tensions over issues between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq, encouraged Iraq to move forward to resolve – open questions such as responsibilities of the regional government, the borders of the regional government, the hydrocarbon law. So it was largely focused on the future of Iraq, not other issues.

QUESTION: On a different note, there was a statement purported to be from Usama bin Ladin that was a bit nontraditional, addressing issues such as climate change, talking about the – his view on the dollar. I guess he was quite bearish on it. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: There go the markets.

QUESTION: What do you think? I mean, is he trying to be a statesman in addition to his usual role?

MR. CROWLEY: So we’ve gone from being the Great Satan to the Great Emitter. You know, he’s working hard to stay relevant. That’s all I can say.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)

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