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Middle East Digest - March 29, 2010


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Washington, DC
March 29, 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 29, 2010

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1:06 p.m. EST

QUESTION: A quick one. Surprise visit by the President to Afghanistan, what do you make out of this? Is something big going on in the area, or the President just had a really – a big message for the Karzai government and also regional powers?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think first and foremost, the Secretary – I’m sorry, the President had looked forward to the opportunity to visit the troops. Obviously, we have adapted our strategy. He wanted the opportunity to meet with the troops, meet with General McChrystal, meet with Ambassador Eikenberry, and check firsthand how our revised strategy is going and get from them, how they see developments on the ground. But given his presence there, he had the opportunity to meet with President Karzai and discuss the importance of good governance, combating corruption, appointing effective officials, and delivering for the Afghan people. And that is a process that is ongoing in places like Marjah, looking ahead in places like Kandahar. But I think this is just a reflection of the importance that the President attaches not only to our revised strategy, the military and civilian components of it, but the burden that it does place on our troops and their families.

QUESTION: I hope you have some Osama bin Laden soon.

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: I hope you have Osama bin Laden coming soon.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) We all hope for that day.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any discussions with any of her Israeli colleagues since Prime Minister Netanyahu has left town?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow-up on that? What is the status of this would-be agreement that’s supposedly being negotiated between the U.S. and Israel on confidence-building measures that the Israelis and Palestinians could take in order to move everybody to talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Would-be agreement.

QUESTION: Well, you know, supposed agreement that’s in the process of being negotiated. Or is it –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we obviously had a number of detailed conversations last week – the President, the Secretary, George Mitchell. I think we are hopeful that we can push this process forward after taking a break for the holiday period in the region. As to how the – we and the Israelis and the Palestinians continue to view this, we will be in touch with them soon after the holiday and we’ll see where they are. We want to get this process moving forward.

I think we still – while we thought that the discussions here last week made progress, I think we still think there is work to be done. And we hope that the parties will repeat to us in the near future what they have said to us in the recent past, which is they are ready to move forward with these proximity talks. But we will continue to push both sides on that aspect of confidence-building and taking the kind of steps that we think create the atmosphere for proximity talks to ultimately lead to direct negotiations.

QUESTION: But you are in direct negotiations with the – well, I don’t know if you want to call them negotiations – direct talks with the Israelis since the meeting with President Obama about specific measures that both sides --

MR. CROWLEY: There were some things that we laid out in the initial phone call between the Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu. As I said, there have been a number of follow-up discussions on those ideas and other issues. And this is still a work in progress.

QUESTION: And secondly, on – the Arab League Summit decided not to make any statement encouraging the Palestinians to go enter into negotiations. Is that a setback for the attempt to bring the parties to the table again?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say so. We will be in contact with the parties and others in the region in the next couple of weeks. We still think the – ultimately, it’s vitally important for the parties to move forward with these proximity talks, begin to address the substance within the core issues of the peace process, and move to direct negotiations as quickly as possible. We don’t see an alternative to this course of action.

QUESTION: Going back to the Middle East, is there any consideration into possibly moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me read you the guidance. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Since the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have utilized the waiver authority within the legislation to protect critical U.S. national security interests, most crucially to preserve our ability to work with the parties and the key states in the region to realize a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They recognized then, as we do now, that moving the Embassy would have an inflammatory and destabilizing effect, and complicate our ability to play a helpful role in meeting these goals.

QUESTION: Is there any (inaudible) – is there any discussions from Congress, from those who might identify themselves as friends of Israel, on moving the Embassy?

MR. CROWLEY: I can read this statement more dramatically if you like. (Laughter.) I assure you, I am not saying anything else that’s not in that statement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: You are under pressure from Congress, I mean, especially in this limit – in this new kind of environment, like, following the tension with Israel recently and this kind of reiteration of Congress – of its support by Israel. There have been some in Congress that are trying to resurrect this idea.

MR. CROWLEY: We understand that there are 75 different views of this in various form – in various parts of the Congress.

QUESTION: Who else did she speak to, P.J., over the weekend? I mean, it seems that she also called the President of Lebanon. Did she make a whole series --

MR. CROWLEY: That was on Friday.

QUESTION: Did she make a whole series over-the-weekend of calls to the Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY: I want to say she talked to the Foreign Minister of Belgium over-the-weekend as well. I think maybe the Governor of Sao Paulo.

QUESTION: Mr. Sarkozy is coming to Washington tomorrow. Given that we’ve been talking a lot about nuclear nonproliferation, et cetera, are you seeing the French coming here as – is there going to more constructive comment and talk about subjects like Iran and the French role that can be played there?

MR. CROWLEY: I have no doubt that – I’ll defer to the White House in turn for this specific agenda. But France, as other counterparts in the EU, are involved in a wide-range of issues from climate change to Middle East peace, to the – our progress in terms of sanctions and Iran. I wouldn’t – we have a shared interest in specific issues regarding Africa. So I think it will be a wide-ranging conversation, but I’ll defer to the White House on the particular agenda.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)



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