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Middle East Digest - March 12


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Washington, DC
March 12, 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 March 12, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary had a number of calls this morning. First, she had a brief conversation with Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak where she wished President Mubarak a safe and speedy recovery following his surgery of March 6.

Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.

QUESTION: -- about the Netanyahu call?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: One, do you have any idea about how long it was?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not.

QUESTION: Two, knowing that from the podium you all use your words very carefully, you just called – you referred to the prime minister as Bibi Netanyahu. Is that intentional? You’re not wanting to quote him by his full first name?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: You’re using a nickname, which --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m --

QUESTION: -- could be seen as pejorative by some.

MR. CROWLEY: No. That was my choice of words.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, third, why three days after what happened, and the Vice President’s own condemnation of that happened, was the need felt to deliver this quite harsh rebuke?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve wanted to have a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu for a couple of days, and the call finally happened.

QUESTION: I’d go the other way – why did it take three days for that call? Why wasn’t it an immediate call?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I would – obviously, the Vice President was in Israel as well, so we also had a means of communication directly between the Vice President and the prime minister.

QUESTION: Can – has anyone talked to the Palestinians yet to try to encourage them not to walk away from the proximity talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Senator Mitchell and Assistant Feltman spoke to a range of leaders in the region over the past day, including President Abbas, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit of Egypt, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs al-Thani, UAE Foreign Minister Al Nahyan, and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. So we have reached out, as we said yesterday, to a range of leaders. And I think we jointly remain committed to this process, acknowledging that obviously it is a difficult environment given the Israeli statement.

QUESTION: All of those calls were made by Feltman and/or Mitchell.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And they were all intended to encourage the Arabs not to push Abbas away from the talks and to Abbas himself to keep him on board?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I believe that President Abbas himself has indicated that he remains committed to --

QUESTION: Right, but the Arab League advisory committee has come out and said that they should not – that the Palestinians are – has withdrawn their endorsement of the --

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. And as I said yesterday, we are – we do not know that – as far as we are – we understand, we remain committed to the indirect talks that both sides have agreed to.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one. You said the Secretary told Netanyahu that she could not understand how this happened. Does that mean that you do not accept his explanation that he didn’t know anything about it, that it was going to happen?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve also said, we accept what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. By the same token, he is the head of the Israeli Government and ultimately is responsible for the actions of that government.



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