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Middle East Digest - February 22, 2010


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Washington, DC
February 22, 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 February 22, 2010

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QUESTION: On Iran, so the rhetoric got ratcheted up quite a bit last week on the Secretary’s trip, among others, not just the U.S. Today, the Iranians say that they’re going to build two of these 10 new reactors inside mountaintops to protect them from attack. I’m just wondering (a) what your reaction to that is and (b) what’s happening on the sanctions front right now.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to any further enrichment activity, as we’ve made clear, Iran has more practical and sensible alternatives. We have the Tehran research reactor proposal still on the table. In a correspondence through the IAEA, the United States, France, and Russia have made clear that there are other ways in which Iran could purchase isotopes on the open international market to meet the humanitarian needs of its people.

So it is unfortunate that this is further evidence that Iran refuses to engage cooperatively and constructively with the IAEA. So in essence, adding more potential enrichment sites adds to the questions rather than resolves the questions that the international community has.

We continue to work closely with our partners in the P-5+1 process to identify potential targets for sanctions. And we will, I think, be advancing specific proposals to the UN in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he thinks what’s needed here are direct and biting sanctions against the energy – Iran’s energy sector and that the UN Security Council should be bypassed. I guess individual countries should try and impose on their own if the UN doesn’t get its act together.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, those are not mutually exclusive alternatives. There are sanctions in place nationally. We think we’re – as the Secretary has said, we’re continuing to look at other steps that we can take both multilaterally and prospectively on a national basis. You had recently an announcement by the Department of Treasury regarding specific entities that we are continuing to focus on with respect to current sanctions.

But we obviously are looking at the full range of possibilities. We want to see effective sanctions that have the impact that we want to put pressure on Iran. And as the Secretary has said, we will be paying specific attention to the Revolutionary Guard Corps that is playing a more – a growing role in Iranian society and in the Iranian economy.

QUESTION: In Afghanistan this morning, or I guess daytime there, there was another airstrike that killed several dozen Afghan civilians. What’s the State Department’s reaction to it? And then, this is – there have been several in this new operation, several pretty high-profile attacks that have killed Afghan civilians. What is this doing to the overall U.S.-Afghan relations? How is it making it more difficult?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s a reflection of, first of all, of our refined strategy – that we are placing significant emphasis on reducing the impact of these operations on the Afghan population, which is not to say that we’re not going to make mistakes. In conflict, mistakes are made, or there are unfortunate impacts that could not have been anticipated. Our view is exactly General McChrystal’s view, as he made clear to President Karzai in apologizing for the tragic loss of civilian lives. And as NATO has indicated, it will be thoroughly investigated.

But everything is being done to minimize the potential loss of life as we continue to take back control of Helmand province and turn it over to Afghan sovereignty. That said, given – there is ongoing loss of life in Afghanistan, and much of that loss of life is the responsibility of the Taliban. I have yet to hear them apologize.

David.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Netherlands Government about their future commitment to Afghanistan? Are you concerned that there might be a chain reaction here?

MR. CROWLEY: First of all, I’m not going to comment on internal Dutch politics. This was a decision for the Government of the Netherlands to make, and it was a decision that actually had been taken a couple of years ago. The Dutch are consulting with us and NATO commanders on next steps regarding the future of the Dutch role in Afghanistan. But for now, the Dutch remain in the lead in Uruzgan province and we appreciate their leadership and ongoing efforts. The Dutch have made a significant contribution to this operation and we value their close cooperation and ongoing participation.

QUESTION: The Pakistanis reported today that they had captured another Afghan Taliban leader near Peshawar. Do you have any information on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have any specific information on that, but obviously, if true, it continues to reflect the significant efforts that we have going on on both sides of the border, which is exactly what our strategy that the President laid out a year ago hoped to achieve. And through a concerted effort by both our Pakistani and Afghan allies, we’re making it much more difficult and reducing the space with which these insurgents can operate.

Samir.

QUESTION: In Yemen --

MR. CROWLEY: Come forward. (Laughter.) This is a good (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) my tape recorder. Who’s representing the U.S. at the Yemen donors conference in Saudi Arabia?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Well, let me – it’s not really a donors conference. It’s a GCC secretariat meeting on donor coordination in Yemen. And the chief operating officer of USAID Alonzo Fulgham will be representing the United States.

QUESTION: Turkey. You have any concern at all about potential political instability in Turkey, given these arrests of alleged coup plotters and – over the past couple days, and the fact – and the central role that Turkey plays in what you call the most successful alliance in history?

MR. CROWLEY: It is the most successful alliance in history. That’s a fact. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is it? I don’t know.

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: The Hanseatic League might (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But do you have any concerns at all about Turkey?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, these issues in the evolution of politics and society in Turkey are not new. I don’t think we have any specific concerns. Obviously, any action taken should be in accord with Turkish law and should be transparent. But the Secretary in Qatar last week had a very detailed and successful meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan. We continue to work closely with Turkey on a variety of issues, from Middle East peace to the situation in Cyprus, to the situations in Iraq and Iran.

QUESTION: Yeah. It was a quite a meeting, I hear.

MR. CROWLEY: It was quite a meeting.

QUESTION: Whose account of what happened is correct?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) I don’t know the --

QUESTION: Yours or --

MR. CROWLEY: Huh?

QUESTION: -- the ambassador’s?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the ambassador expressed his view that he had a – we had a conflict of two important meetings. Both meetings ended up running long, which I think is a reflection of the importance of the issues that both the Secretary talked to Prime Minister Erdogan about and the Emir of Qatar. And these were two highly successful meetings. And whatever happened outside the door did not have an impact on the – on either meeting.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.



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