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Middle East Digest - March 17, 2010

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Washington, DC
March 17, 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 March 17, 2010

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QUESTION: So how is the – Prime Minister Netanyahu’s phone call to the Secretary? Did – how’d it go? Did he come up with positive responses to her recommendations, suggestions, demands that she made to him on Friday?

MR. TONER: Well, thanks for asking, Matt. We’re still looking forward to a response. It hasn’t happened yet. There hasn’t been a call yet. But as Secretary – we’re really in no – we’re really in the same place we were yesterday. As Secretary Clinton said, we’re engaged in active consultation and we’re looking for, really, both sides to represent – to demonstrate the requisite commitment to this process.


QUESTION: Do you think you’ll get one today, a call today? I mean it’s already in the evening there now.

MR. TONER: Well, she’s up in the air. So it’s hard to predict.

QUESTION: Well, so she’s just basically sitting there by the phone like a lonely teenager on Saturday night waiting to Bibi to give her a call. Is that the impression you’re trying to leave us with?

MR. TONER: I think I said we’re looking forward to a response. I didn’t say waiting expectantly by the phone.

QUESTION: Well, why didn’t the call –

MR. TONER: And in fact, she’s not waiting by the phone. She’s on her way to Russia where she’ll meet with her Quartet partners.

QUESTION: Why didn’t the call happen? What’s your understanding of why the call didn’t happen. I mean we were told to expect it by now.

MR. TONER: I truly don’t know, Matt.

QUESTION: And so is this why Vice President Biden felt the need to call Prime Minister Netanyahu, to ask him why he’s not calling the Secretary of State back?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Vice President’s office.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that call?

MR. TONER: I don’t.


QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary got a readout on the Vice President’s call?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I frankly don’t know that – has the Vice President’s office confirmed the call? I mean I saw press reports. So you’ll have to go the Vice President’s office.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the Israeli Government is digging in? I mean Avigdor Lieberman says the demands that the U.S. is making are unreasonable. He said that today. There’s no sign of any change there.

MR. TONER: Again, Lach, I just would repeat what I just said, which is that we’re still looking forward to a response. We’re pretty much in the same place we were yesterday; looking for both sides to take the steps, to show determination, and to reassert their commitment to the process. She’s on her way to Russia. There will be Quartet meeting there. I don’t want to get ahead of the diplomacy that’s going to take place there, but I also don’t want to characterize various responses coming from various corners.

QUESTION: Does the lack of a response to date sort of hinder the Secretary’s ability to effectively deal with the Quartet? I mean, she isn’t informed by any Israeli position on this. So how are they going to talk about the way forward when they don’t even know what Israel is saying in response?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s a regular consultation. I mean, there will be input from all the different players and parties and, again, we’re looking forward to the response. So we’ll just wait and see if it comes. I don’t want to prejudge something that’s happening on Friday.

QUESTION: Can you –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- tell us about Senator Mitchell’s travel plans, why he’s not on the plane with the Secretary if, as P.J. said yesterday, it’s a logistical reason that he did not go to the region himself? I mean why wouldn’t he take (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Karen just told me. I didn’t realize he wasn’t on the plane with the Secretary. I can try to get an answer for you.


QUESTION: And when he’s going, please?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: And when he’s going, as long as you’re getting (inaudible).

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure thing. Yeah.

QUESTION: Did the Israelis actually indicate that they would call back? I mean is it Netanyahu who said, “I will get back to you. So you’re waiting for this call?” Or was it just implied that eventually you would get their response?

MR. TONER: Sure. It’s hard for me to say. I mean I wasn’t obviously on the call and I don’t want to get into the substance of the call, but the expectation is that there will be a response. I guess I would leave it that way. Sure. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met Mr. Bill Burns yesterday, and Secretary Clinton also dropped in the meeting. Do you have any readout what are the issues discussed on that (inaudible).

MR. TONER: I mean we have a very rich, strategic dialogue with India. I don’t know the specific issues. I can try to find out what, in fact, they talked about.

QUESTION: And secondly, Under Secretary – Assistant Secretary Blake is going to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the first time. I thought that’s exclusive domain of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, so what – how different a role Blake’s role is in Afghanistan –

MR. TONER: At the risk of repeating myself on that, yes, he is going to the region. Well, he’s Assistant Secretary for that region. I think, I mean, I don’t need to explain what the special envoys on – I mean, you know and have heard many times from this podium a description of their role versus the assistant secretaries, especially on front-burner issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan. But that said, Assistant Secretary Blake is obviously engaged in that issue as well and he has --

QUESTION: But he has not been to India, not been to Afghanistan and Pakistan so far in the last 14 months after he became the Assistant Secretary. It’s basically Richard Holbrooke was visiting the country, the region, eight, nine times after that.

MR. TONER: Well, and being the special envoy there, that’s correct. I mean that’s proper and right that he would do so. But Assistant Secretary Blake, I think, is just also trying to get a sense of what’s going on on the ground so he can be better informed in his role.

QUESTION: Follow-up on India.

MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Before Foreign Secretary Rao met with the Secretary Clinton yesterday, she had a very straight warning. She was warning Pakistan at the Woodrow Wilson Center as far as –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry; who was warning that?

QUESTION: The Foreign Secretary of India.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Straight warning. Even before meeting with the Secretary here. And she said that she had been telling the U.S. officials, and I understand that she might tell the same thing here with the Secretary’s meeting, that Pakistan now time has come must stop terrorizing India, supporting terrorism, or bring those who are arrested in Mumbai attack and all that to justice. Otherwise, India is capable of dealing with it, it’s own; they’ll not need anybody’s help. What I’m asking is, this was the first time something like this happened, a state warning, coming here to the U.S. at the Woodrow Wilson Center? And if she has the same thing with the secretaries, that now time has come that U.S. must intervene or then they will take whatever actions are needed against Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have a specific readout. I can try to find out what was on their – what was their topic of discussion. I can certainly imagine that they did talk about dialogue between Pakistan and India, and better cooperation.

QUESTION: Okay. What I’m asking, why I’m asking really now –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- is so many things are going between there and U.S. Now today, a trade agreement was signed at the USTR, between Ambassador USTR and also the Indian Minister of Industry. At the same time, strategic dialogues are going on and many visits are back and forth to India and to U.S. from India. And same thing now, you said that the same thing happening between U.S. and Pakistan. And also, Mr. Headley in Chicago was – he pled guilty.

MR. TONER: Sure.


MR. TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: He pled guilty –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- of the charges that – against him in connection with Mumbai and other attacks in India.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: At the same time in Pakistan, five people from this area who were arrested, Pakistan had charged them but they pled not guilty. What I’m asking, so much going on now, I think people in India are now fed-up with whatever is going on and they are asking the U.S., now the U.S. must take action against those who are terrorizing India. So there must be --

MR. TONER: Actually, you did segue into something. I can give you an update on the --

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you, please?

MR. TONER: But just to answer your question very quickly, of course we’re in a common struggle with Pakistan and India against terrorism, and of course we’re encouraging cooperation on all levels. And we’re engaged in strategic dialogues to that end.

So – but let me give you an update on the five Amcits – American citizens. We can confirm that the U.S. citizens appeared at a hearing in Sargodha on March 17th, that’s today, and that consular staff were present at the hearing and, in fact, they were last visited by consular officers today. We can also confirm press reports that in today’s hearing, the court formally charged the five American citizens with the following charges: criminal conspiracy to commit terrorist activities in Pakistan, conspiracy to wage war against the powers in alliance with Pakistan, conspiracies to commit depredation on territories of Afghanistan and the United States, possession and contribution of cash for proscribed organizations with the intention to be used for terrorism, and taking direction from and giving direction to others to commit terrorist acts. That’s it.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that they are guilty of any of these charges, or that there is enough evidence to charge them with it – with them?

MR. TONER: Really, Matt, it’s a legal issue for Pakistani law enforcement. As – again, we’re monitoring the trial, we had somebody at the hearing, but we don’t have any comment on the veracity of the charges. We’ll let the legal system play itself out – legal process play itself out.

QUESTION: All right. So far – you said that the last consular visit was today as well, but I assume that was separate from just sitting in the same hearing room with them, that they actually saw them?

MR. TONER: Yeah. I believe so.

QUESTION: And they are okay? Because they have claimed in the past to have been tortured.

MR. TONER: Yes. I’ll double check on that, but since it says they last visited today, I assume that with – the lack of anything says that they’re in good health. And – but obviously we take seriously reports of abuse and torture. We did, in fact, raise those reports with officials from the Government of Pakistan. And as we do in all such cases where prisoners report abuse, we’ve requested immediately consular access and then subsequently visited them.

QUESTION: All right. And so far, the legal proceeding against them has been proceeding in an open, transparent way in the opinion of the U.S. Government?

MR. TONER: Yes, I would say so.

QUESTION: What was the response --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- when you raised the abuse claims with them?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. We were granted access immediately, so – and I assume we checked her welfare and were satisfied. But I can ask, actually.

QUESTION: The strategic dialogue next week with Pakistan, what will be the security issues the Secretary will want to raise?

MR. TONER: Sure. It doesn’t go into specific detail. I mean, obviously, we’re talking about the common – Afghanistan, the situation there --


MR. TONER: -- the spillover into the FATA and how to really better engage. And in fact, we’ve seen some successes on that front in recent weeks on terrorism.

QUESTION: Why aren’t there going to be joint talks with the Afghans? I mean, maybe after the Strategic Dialogue, could the two sides get together? I mean, it is Af-Pak, after all.

MR. TONER: Right. I don’t know if that’s intended down the road. I’d have to find out. I don’t --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t there already a three-way?

MR. TONER: Yeah, I think – you know what? I’m not sure what the status of that is, Matt. I’d have to check.

QUESTION: Well, they just had --

MR. TONER: I do know that --

QUESTION: They just had a meeting.

MR. TONER: Yeah, I do know that there was a meeting, but I don’t know what the – if there’s a plan following this to have a subsequent meeting.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: I’m sorry --

QUESTION: I had a different topic.

MR. TONER: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Pakistan and Iran. Yesterday, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement for construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan at a time when we’re looking for sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. How – what – do you – are you supportive of such an agreement between the two countries that might further extend to India?

MR. TONER: Sure. I don’t know the details of the arrangement, so I’m sorry. We can find out.

QUESTION: Getting back to the phone call --

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: -- between the Secretary and the prime minister, because it’s been so many days, does the U.S. consider the timing at all an insult?

MR. TONER: No. Again, we’re just – we’re looking forward to the Israeli response. We were clear that, as the Secretary said it best yesterday, that we want to have – make sure that we have the full commitment both from Israel and Palestine – Palestinian partners on this effort, and we’re looking for steps that we think would demonstrate the commitment. I don’t think there’s any timeline on that response. We’re trying to keep the process moving forward. Obviously, our ultimate goal is to get negotiations to start again, get both sides to the table. But I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

QUESTION: There’s absolutely no timeline for the response? The Secretary didn’t say, “Hey, when do you think you can get back to me?” I mean --

MR. TONER: I think there is an expectation, but beyond that, no.

QUESTION: And the expectation is?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to get into the substance of the phone call. I mean, I have said multiple times we’re looking forward to a response. P.J. mentioned it yesterday. He talked about in the near future. So –

QUESTION: Is the --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the prime minister still planning to come to Washington next week or --

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the prime minister, but I assume so.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t they asking for meetings with the Secretary?

MR. TONER: I don’t have next week’s schedule, so I don’t know. I mean, all that sounds like it would be appropriate, but --

QUESTION: And the Secretary is still planning to speak at the APEC conference; yes?

MR. TONER: I believe so.


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