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Middle East Digest - March 22, 2010


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Washington, DC
March 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 March 22, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Continuing on, a few announcements before getting started with your questions. Secretary Clinton will meet this afternoon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Mayflower Hotel, following up on their discussions over the past two weeks and the prime minister’s meeting with George Mitchell yesterday. George Mitchell met with President Abbas earlier today as he works to keep proximity talks moving forward. He is en route back to Washington now.

The Secretary spoke this morning to AIPAC here in Washington. She stressed that the status quo is unsustainable for all sides. A two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state. As the Secretary said, our focus is on getting the parties to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust, praising both sides when they show courage and giving our central role in the process being unequivocal when we disagree with actions on either side. She also reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future, and she also stressed that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to the United States, to Israel, and to the international community.

QUESTION: What are the dates of that?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s see, 23 and 24.

Assistant Secretary Bob Blake continues his travel through South Asia. He is in Afghanistan today visiting a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz. He also met with local officials there. He was in India on Saturday where he reviewed a wide range of bilateral issues with his Ministry of External Affairs counterpart and helped prepare for the U.S.-India strategic dialogue early this Summer. He also discussed regional issues in a meeting with Foreign Secretary Rao.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Why was the meeting moved to the Mayflower?

MR. CROWLEY: I think – I’m assuming at the request of the Israeli delegation.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is there --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I – yeah.

QUESTION: It’s been played – it’s now – it’s gone from a meeting in the – a meeting here at the State Department with a photo-op in the Treaty Room to a closed event, basically, at the Mayflower.

MR. CROWLEY: Correct me if I’m wrong. I think there’s still a spray at the top.

MR. TONER: We’re trying to --

MR. CROWLEY: You’re trying to figure that out? All right. Matt, I learned about this less than 30 minutes ago.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. CROWLEY: So I’m --

QUESTION: Official photographer only, just so you know.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, we learned about it while we were sitting in here during the water briefing, which is the reason I left.

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Can you – can we try and find out, is there some kind of problem? Do they not want to be seen together?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Are things that bad?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know the reason for the change in venue.

QUESTION: Well, it doesn’t – you’ll concede that it doesn’t look particularly good when you have your – the leader of your top Mideast ally in town and a meeting that was supposed to have some kind of public atmosphere to it becomes closed.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, the prime minister – it’s usually by protocol, his choice of meeting site. We are set to welcome him here at the State Department. I don’t know the reason for the shift, but that is something that is an Israeli prerogative. And of course, this meeting this afternoon is a preliminary to the meeting at the White House tomorrow, and so I wouldn’t read anything into the change in venue nor the change in media coverage.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t read anything into it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: I would not.

QUESTION: No? Even given the last-minute nature of it?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can only say it for the third time – as to why the shift was made, I do not know.

QUESTION: But it does have an almost symbolic effect because you have --

MR. CROWLEY: Come on, Jill.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton going to see the prime minister after essentially not getting what she wanted out of him in the discussions, and certainly, you know, there’s a stalemate. He’s not backing down. She’s not backing down.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s a presumption behind your question --

QUESTION: On the settlements. On the settlements.

MR. CROWLEY: -- that I wouldn't necessarily share. I mean, this is an ongoing process. Our – the reason for the call two weeks ago was to follow-up on the announcement that happened while the Vice President was in Israel. We do not use the term “condemnation” lightly. The Secretary laid out for the prime minister the concerns that we have, outlined some specific steps that she thought it was important for him to take. As the Secretary indicated in her speech today, the prime minister has responded, and she views that as a positive development. And just as George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, the Secretary will continue our dialogue today, the President tomorrow, as we continue to look for ways in which we move the proximity talks forward. This is an ongoing process, and so I wouldn't suggest that we have particular concerns at this point. Our task in front of us is to get the parties into the proximity talks and to the direct negotiation and towards a comprehensive agreement.

QUESTION: But is it correct to say that he has not backed down on what the United States wanted on settlements? I mean, he --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics. The Secretary made a request of him. He has been responsive to her requests. And we continue our conversation with him.

QUESTION: You’re saying not to – if you’re saying not to read anything into it, then you can give us an explanation --

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: -- a very simple explanation, I take it, pretty quickly. I mean, you haven’t given us an explanation for why the venue has been changed and the press coverage.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t give you something I don’t have.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you will be able to give it to us, I assume, if it – if there’s nothing to read into it.

MR. CROWLEY: I – if there’s something different than just simply the prime minister asked that the meeting be shifted to the Mayflower, I will let you know.

QUESTION: I was wondering – was the text of the Secretary’s address this morning to AIPAC communicated to the Israelis and to the prime minister before she made the address? Did they have that on hand before --

MR. CROWLEY: I have no idea.

QUESTION: So you don’t know whether or not they were surprised by what was in it? That was – I mean, basically, did they know it was coming?

MR. CROWLEY: We didn’t clear the speech with them, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: What do you expect from today and tomorrow’s meetings after Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to freeze settlements in East Jerusalem?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, Michel, this is an ongoing process. We have raised our concerns. We have said clearly what the U.S. position is and we will continue the conversation. Our goal here is to create a climate of trust, push both sides to provide confidence-building measures that give momentum – for momentum to the proximity talks. We recognize the importance of these complex issues. And our bottom line is Jerusalem is a final status issue; the sooner we get into formal negotiations, the sooner we can address the specific issue, reach – make progress, and hopefully, reach a successful peace agreement.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject? As far as this U.S.-Pakistan’s Strategic Dialogue is concerned, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is here in the State Department and she met with the Secretary. We don’t have much about between their – what took place, what happened, really. But before meeting the Secretary here, she told the groups of think tanks at Wilson Center that a very blunt warning to Pakistan that Pakistan must do more as far as if they want to continue dialogue between India and Pakistan to stop terrorizing India across the border. Do you have any idea of what went here in the building between the two, Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary of India?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there – the secretary did join Under Secretary Bill Burns recently in a meeting that was charting the way forward on the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue. I think we are satisfied with the level of engagement that we have across a wide-range of issues with the Indian Government. We’ll have a similar conversation with Pakistan this week on a wide range of issues from agriculture, water, and energy, economic development and finance, defense and security, social issues, and public diplomacy. We are broadening and deepening our relationship with both India and Pakistan, and we certainly are looking for ways in which we can encourage – continue to encourage the two countries to increase their dialogue as well.

QUESTION: A different issue but in the same region. It was a follow-up to the question asked last week. Pakistan and Iran signed a gas deal pipeline last week. Are you supportive of a gas pipeline between the two countries?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this is a decision for Pakistan to make. Our concerns about the role that Iran plays in the region and beyond is well-known. We continue a wide range of discussions not only in the region but around the world in terms of the nature of future economic transactions between Pakistan and Iran, and we’ll continue that conversation.

QUESTION: Would this come up during the Strategic Dialogue on Wednesday?

MR. CROWLEY: It could, sure.

QUESTION: And secondly, in Afghanistan, Afghanistan President had a peace talks with Hizb-e-Islamic leaders yesterday. They have links with al-Qaida. How do you see the peace talks with these leaders translating?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, these are primarily issues between Afghanistan and insurgent groups as part of the reintegration and reconciliation process. We do support the Afghan Government’s interest in reaching out to members of these insurgent groups. Our concern, shared by Afghanistan, is that they cease support for insurgency, live in accordance with the Afghan constitution, renounce violence, and have no ties to al-Qaida or terrorist organizations. If they are – any group that is willing to accede to those conditions can play a role in Afghan’s future – Afghanistan’s future.

Jill.

QUESTION: P.J., just back on the Mideast again, this would appear to be the second time that the United States has backed down on settlements. You had back in September a similar thing, the U.S. pushing that and then a backdown. And now, what can you tell us that would convince us that this was not a sign of the U.S.’s inability to convince Israel that it should freeze those settlements, at least in East Jerusalem?

MR. CROWLEY: I would challenge the assumption for – this is a dynamic process. So notwithstanding public statements that have been made – and we certainly understand that the Government of Israel has a different view of these issues than we do – and we will continue this conversation. I think we have conveyed successfully to the Netanyahu government that these things are important, it’s important to the Palestinians, it’s important to the region; they are directly related to our ability to create confidence in the process that we’re starting to move forward within, and that the Government of Israel has to take responsibility for and get control of this process so that we do not see these kinds of announcements in the future and we – and that they will have the obvious impact on the process. So our goal is to move the process forward. In moving the process forward, both sides have to avoid the kinds of announcements, actions that will inhibit further progress.

QUESTION: P.J., though, it’s not just that you have a different view than the Government of Israel does on this. The entire world has a different view than the Government of Israel does on this issue. I mean, the Europeans came out today and condemned it. I don’t think there’s another – with the exception of the two or three South Pacific islands that vote with the U.S. against resolutions condemning Israel, I can’t think of any other country that is actually – that actually holds the same view that Israel does on settlements in East Jerusalem.

When it is going to be time to put your money where your mouth is on this and do something beyond complain and carp about it, that will really get through to the Israelis --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- the fact that they are incredibly isolated on this position.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are doing exactly what we think is necessary at this time. We want to see the parties get into formal negotiations where these kinds of issues can be put on the table, wrestled with, and hopefully resolved. The sooner, the better. We’ve made that clear. So – and that is – that’s exactly why we raised our concerns publicly. That’s exactly why George Mitchell went – was in the region yesterday. It’s exactly why the Secretary and the President will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu today and tomorrow.

The sooner we get into that formal negotiation, the sooner we can see a resolution to these issues as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. Absent a formal negotiation, it’s quite unlikely that these issues are going to be resolved just by posturing phone calls or meetings. It’s the formal negotiation that’s going to enable the parties to actually wrestle with this and find an equitable resolution. And our position has been clear – the sooner we can create the conditions for a formal negotiation to begin, the better. And that’s exactly what we’re doing and will continue to do today.

Michel.

QUESTION: What was the purpose of Senator Mitchell’s trip, the latest one? And what did that – what did he achieve?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t had a readout from him. He was in Moscow last week as part of the Quartet meeting. Our goal is to move the proximity talks forward. And we were encouraged by the support that we received last week in the Quartet statement. They were very supportive of the proximity talks. They were very supportive of our broad goals. And everyone understands the bottom line here is getting the parties from where they are today to a formal negotiation. And we recognize that an essential element of doing that is to have the right atmosphere that includes making sure that the parties are taking constructive steps that move the process forward and avoiding negative steps that impede progress.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.



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