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Middle East Digest - March 26, 2010

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Washington, DC
March 26, 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 26, 2010

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And this morning, the Secretary spoke for roughly 15 minutes with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, discussing ongoing events in the region, including the status of the peace process and U.S. efforts regarding putting additional pressure on Iran.

You’ve just seen in the last few minutes that Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission has issued provisional results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections held on March 7. You’ll see a statement coming out of the State Department here shortly, but we congratulate the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Government, candidates and coalitions, and the commission itself for carrying out a successful election. In support of the election’s integrity, the commission has investigated and adjudicated a number of complaints. International observers and more than 200,000 domestic observers expressed their confidence in the overall integrity of the election, have found that there are no – there is no evidence of widespread or serious fraud. And this marks a significant milestone in the ongoing democratic development of Iraq.


QUESTION: I want to ask you about a couple stories that appeared over the last couple of days, one in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and another one in the LA Times today, about sanctions on Iran, the push for sanctions, specifically saying that the U.S. is in their words, watered down, but in other ways dropped some of the proposals that it’s put on the table. Can you --

MR. CROWLEY: Let me ask something, watered down what?

QUESTION: They said they’ve – according in their words – of the article – that the U.S. has at least dropped some provisions that had been put on the table for possible sanctions on Iran.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would suppose – I think it’s fair to say that both of those stories have significant inaccuracies. Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. We are, of course, trading ideas on not only how can we have an appropriate resolution, one that shows the unanimity of the international community, shows our shared concern about what Iran is doing. We think once we get to that point, and assuming we do get a strong resolution with appropriate measures, is going to send a very powerful signal to Iran that it cannot ignore.

But since we have not circulated a draft resolution, it’s hard to say at this point that we’re watering anything down. There’s nothing to water down. There’s nothing to take off the table. So this is an ongoing process. And we expect, as the Secretary alluded to in her comments at the White House this morning, that you’ll see increased activity here in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. At the end of this, we want – we do think that having a strong, united voice through the UN will increase the impact of a resolution, if and when it is passed by the Security Council. We also understand that whatever multilateral steps are taken, they can be augmented by significant steps at the national level. And of course, this involves some careful calibration on everybody’s side. Nobody – everybody wants to send the right signal to the Iranian Government, put pressure on institutions that continue to support that government and contribute to the increasing oppression that the government is exerting on its own people.

So we want to focus on institutions like the IRGC. We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process. The foundation of this is the close collaboration and consultation that we have still underway under the P-5+1 and more broadly.

You’re aware that there was a call this week at the political director level. I would anticipate we’ll have further conversations with key countries in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” And there’s a lot of --

QUESTION: There’s no contention with those elements in the story?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. But I would just say that the thrust of these pieces was – were that we were watering down the effort; we’re not watering down the effort. We are exploring ways, trading ideas, seeking the right formula that puts the appropriate pressure on Iran, sends a very strong signal internationally. But find – continues to find ways to support the Iranian people. And we will continue this effort.

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

QUESTION: And my last – sir, my last question on this topic. Just the call that happened two days ago, or I don’t if it was – two days ago, I think, what changed that you saw that the Chinese decided they wanted to participate in the call? Was there anything that was perhaps offered or was there – have you seen a shift in their mentality? I mean, a few months ago, they wouldn’t even hold a call.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are satisfied with the level of engagement across the board, and we will continue our close consultations in the coming days.


QUESTION: Yes, in the Secretary’s call to Hariri in Lebanon, what did she ask him about Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it was a call. We were updating each other on various regional issues. Obviously, during the course of the call, the Secretary also renewed our commitment to Lebanon and its independence and its sovereignty. Much of the call was focused on the Middle East peace process. And of course, Lebanon has a significant role to play in that. But during the course of the conversation, we also reflected on our ongoing concerns about the role that Iran is playing in the region. Lebanon is part of the Security Council and – at the present time, and obviously will play a role as the sanctions effort continues.


QUESTION: P.J., back on Iran. One can expect that the Secretary will take up this issue with her colleagues in Greater Ottawa next week. Will there be specific bilaterals on it, maybe even a sort of a caucus of P-5 countries?

MR. CROWLEY: I would expect that having the G-8 ministers together, obviously, they’re focused on specific issues regarding the G-8. I think there’s a separate meeting regarding development in the Arctic. But when you get these caliber of leaders together, I would fully expect that on the margins we’ll talk about a variety of things, Iran being one of them.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow up. How many countries are with you as far as sanctions against Iran is concerned at the United Nations? And also, you think going back on many different countries – you think sanctions are going to work at this time especially on Iran, because many countries need their oil?

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, you’re right. And that’s one of the reasons why we are – we want what ultimately advances to be effective. We want it to have the appropriate impact. We want it to be smart, intelligent, send the right signal, put the right pressure in the right spot. We – and we want it to have the right impact both in terms of how Iran sees its own self interest – we want to try to convince Iran that its long-term interest does not lie with nuclear weapons. Obviously, that is a broader conversation we’ll also have as we go through our nonproliferation and arms control agenda here in the next couple of months, culminating in May with taking steps to strengthen the nonproliferation treaty.

So – but we also want to find ways to support the Iranian people. And ultimately, if done right, we think it will convey to Iran, from the standpoint of the national community, where its own long-term self interest appropriately lies.

QUESTION: One, how are you going to enforce? And second, you think Iranian mood have changed in any way, comparing in the past to today?

MR. CROWLEY: We are obviously disappointed with Iran’s response to the gestures that we’ve made and the dialogue that we’ve had thus far. I mean, you raise a good point. In – back to how we’re going to do this, I think we do draw from the implementation of North Korea sanctions. And what you have seen is that with this painstaking effort to put together an effective sanctions resolution – and then it translates into an increasingly effective enforcement of that resolution, and you’re seeing that week in, week out with steps that the international community has taken because of its concern about North Korea’s behavior. And we have no reason to think that this same kind of strong international effort – we think it can be done in the context of Iran just as it’s been done effectively in the context of North Korea.

QUESTION: And finally, quickly, thank you, where do you stand as for an Israeli threat of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities if nothing is going to work out in the international community or at the United Nations? Are the UN --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we – you’ve had Admiral Mullen, others have shared concerns about the unpredictability of choosing a military path to resolve this. We’re focused right now on trying to resolve it, both through the diplomatic track and through the pressure talk. But as everyone has said, we have a range of options available to us, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


QUESTION: On the Iraqi elections, the Iraqi prime minister has refused the outcomes. Do you have any reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: Has he done that today?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that – well, let me back up. First, there’s now a 10-day period of certification and there are established procedures. If any candidate has concerns about the results and wants to come forward and offer evidence that – to back up those concerns, there are established processes through the Electoral Commission to adjudicate that. At this point, I think our strong desire – because from our vantage point and from the international community’s vantage point, we have not seen any evidence of substantial fraud that would fundamentally change the outcome. It would be very important to Iraq in the coming days to work through these processes, but at the completion of this process when the results are certified, then it’s up to political leaders in Iraq to work aggressively to form a new government that will serve the interests of all Iraqis.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does an apparent Allawi victory bode well for reconciliation, and why?

MR. CROWLEY: I think, first and foremost, we want to see the emergence of an effective Iraqi Government that will serve the interests of all of its people. As to who will lead that government, that’s up to the Iraqis. And it’s up to – now the politics and the coalition-building that is provided for under the Iraqi constitution.


QUESTION: On Pakistan and the David Coleman Headley case, The New York Times is reporting that Mr. Saeed, who is David Coleman Headley’s key contact, is a member of the Pakistani military. And the question is: Does the U.S. have a response on evidence that a member of the Pakistani military class played such a key role in plotting Mumbai and the Danish newspaper plot?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that information.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up (inaudible) different? You had some very important guests in the building who were there from Pakistan.


QUESTION: I mean (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: You had all those discussions there, so can you give some more of what we have given by those two and Secretary of State and also the foreign minister?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we provided, I think, over the past 24-to-48 hours some fairly significant background on the very successful strategic dialogue that we had with Pakistan. I think between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi, they characterized a much different, much broader relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect. You can see it in the memos of intent that were signed yesterday in terms of rehabilitation of electricity projects, rehabilitation of roads within Pakistan.

Our civilian – the civilian component of our strategy is geared towards identifying ways to meet the needs – working with Pakistan, of course, meeting the needs of the Pakistani people, strengthening institutions, the rule of law and civilian governance within Pakistan. We have gone beyond the security lens that has been a – and remains a key component but not just now the only lens through which you can evaluate the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. As Foreign Minister Qureshi reflected, we have taken the various sectors that we have cooperated on. They’ve increased from four to 10, so I think we leave this week with – very encouraged by the dynamic discussion that we had here. There will be sectors, groups that will follow up over the next few months during the course of the dialogue. The Secretary committed to visit Pakistan again later this year to continue this high-level dialogue. So we are very encouraged by what is taking place.

QUESTION: But, P.J., intelligence community here and also India is still concerned as far as terrorism is concerned, including CIA Director Mr. Panetta. So what length did you discuss? Because Osama bin Laden sent another message challenging the U.S. and international community.

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, a very good question. Security, counterterrorism efforts were part of the discussion this week and we will continue our cooperation. We are obviously encouraged by steps that have been taken by Pakistan in recent months because I think Pakistan now recognizes, as we do, that this is a shared threat. It’s a shared threat for Pakistan, it’s a shared threat for India, it’s a shared threat for others. And I just would caution that we should not see this in zero-sum terms. The United States is building a deeper relationship with India, a deeper relationship with Pakistan, the same with Afghanistan. This is good for the United States, it’s good for these countries individually, and it’s also good for the region as a whole.


QUESTION: What’s the latest in the peace process? What’s the next step after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s discussions in Washington?

MR. CROWLEY: Prime Minister Netanyahu is back in the region. We had, I think, very extensive, serious conversations with him at – with various interlocutors from the President to the Secretary of State to Special Envoy Mitchell. Yesterday, we had emissaries visit with President Abbas to update him on our discussions. Obviously, in the region we are approaching kind of a holiday period, so I think at this point we are evaluating our discussions this week. We’ll continue our contacts informally with the parties, but we’ll probably go through a period now of a week to 10 days where everyone’s kind of assessing where we are and still trying to construct the most effective path forward.

QUESTION: P.J., what’s – on Gitmo, what’s your reaction to the news that former Gitmo detainee Abdul Hafiz has returned to the battlefield in Afghanistan less than six months after he was released?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with that particular case. We have done some close analysis. There have been a small number of individuals who have returned to the battlefield. That doesn’t change that, in our view, closing Guantanamo is still the right course of action. And we want to make sure that in the future we have policies that reflect both our values and our laws. We’re working through these issues of how best to do it.

As we announced this week, you’ve had a couple of cases where detainees have been resettled or returned. So we continue, through Dan Fried, efforts to reduce the population. But I think that no one expected we would – in these complex issues, no one expect 100 percent success. There’s no legal system anywhere in the world that has 100 percent success that if you release someone on parole they’re not going to – there is a built in percentage of recidivism that goes through this. But we think, on balance, the steps that we’ve taken have been effective and we continue – we remain committed to closing Guantanamo.

QUESTION: And that percentage of recidivism is now at 20 percent.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that – there’s a lot of percentages going around. A lot depends on how you define recidivism.

QUESTION: Returned or suspected to have returned to the --

MR. CROWLEY: There’s – return is one thing, suspected is another thing. At one point in the analysis in the past, it was if you go somewhere and then say something bad about the United States. I think if you talk about precisely those people who actually go back on the battlefield, literally, and then rejoin al-Qaida or take specific action, aggressive action or violent action against U.S. or allied interests, that’s one thing. But that is a much smaller percentage than what you just cited.

QUESTION: Are you – finally, are you satisfied with the rehabilitation programs abroad that that most of these guys are going into?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you talk about the Saudi case in particular. There is – it’s been a very effective program. Obviously, significant resources devoted to that, but a very strong social network to – and a commitment by families and others to resettle these individuals, make sure they are on a constructive path. The Saudi program is being emulated in other parts of the world. That ultimately has to be part of the solution.


MR. CROWLEY: I mean, they’ll be together at the G-8. I would expect that they would get together in some fashion during the course of the meeting, yes.

QUESTION: But nothing in Oslo? You can’t confirm anything in Oslo?



MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware the Secretary’s going to Oslo, so --

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. All right.

MR. CROWLEY: In Ottawa, yes. In Oslo, no.

Hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: Can you go back to Pakistan?


QUESTION: I have three specific questions on them. Did you discuss with them the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline deal?

MR. CROWLEY: The which?

QUESTION: Pakistan had a gas pipeline deal with Iran earlier this month. Did this issue came up during the discussions’ two days?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’m not aware. I’m not – I can’t be specific. If you want, we’ll take the question and see if it came up.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, this is about the Pakistan request for a civilian nuclear deal, because they have been saying that there has been discriminatory energy – use of energy sources. Why U.S. is reluctant to have a nuclear deal with Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – it did come up during the course of our discussions. But as the Secretary said in her availability with Foreign Minister Qureshi, our focus right now is in – to focus on other means through which to satisfy Pakistan’s energy needs.

QUESTION: And finally --


QUESTION: Finally, about the – this is about Lashkar e-Tayyiba. As you know, several officials in this building and in the Congress, and this morning (inaudible) at the Senate Arms Committee hearing, they spoke about how dangerous this Lashkar e-Tayyiba is, which is Pakistan-based, primarily a threat against India but now expanding to other parts of South Asia. You have been discussing with Pakistani authorities about the actions they have been taking against al-Qaida and Taliban, was this issue specifically they’re taking action against Lashkar e-Tayyiba came up during your meetings?

MR. CROWLEY: In any conversation with Pakistan on terrorism issues, that does come up, yes.

QUESTION: Just a quick one, this morning and this afternoon at the White House when Secretary and President announced the treaty between U.S. and --

MR. CROWLEY: Don’t forget Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Right. So what I’m saying really, there was no mention of China. And you know in this building and across the river, you must be aware and also concerned about Chinese buildup of military and nuclear arsenals and all that. But where does China stand on this – as far as this treaty and future is concerned?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s actually a great question. But this was a treaty between the United States and Russia. You have – they – together we possess the two most significant nuclear arsenals in the world. But you’ll see as we go through the next couple of months, you’ve got the issue of START and its prospective ratification. We’ve got the release coming up soon of the nuclear posture review. We’ll have the nuclear security summit next month, focused on keeping nuclear technology out of the hands of rogue elements and terrorist groups. You’ve got the review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

These are all significant steps towards fulfilling President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. So at some point in the future, we will have to broaden this conversation. I would expect that that would begin during the NPT review conference in May.


QUESTION: Quick question. There is reports out of Gaza that Israeli tanks are advancing into Gaza and there’s reports of Palestinian casualties, do you know anything about that?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s probably – I had not heard anything about that prior to coming out to the briefing. We’ll see what we can find out about it.


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