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Middle East Digest - April 7, 2010


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Washington, DC
April 7, 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 April 7, 2010

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1:30 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: P.J., are you concerned that this tension with Karzai could affect the bottom line on the ground militarily in Afghanistan? Is this a distraction? Does it embolden the enemy in any way?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think so. We’ve – we’re committed to this partnership. There’s too much at stake – Afghan lives, American lives, coalition partners. There’s shared vital interests in this struggle. We share President Karzai’s desire to lead Afghanistan to greater sovereignty and we support the goals that he has laid out from his inaugural speech to today. So we’re working with the government on security, creating jobs, generating economic growth, and delivering effective and accountable governance for the Afghan people. To the extent that we have differences with President Karzai, we’ll work through them constructively and in a spirit of the long-term partnership that we’ve established with Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton weighed in on whether or not to cancel this May visit?

MR. CROWLEY: The visit is still on and there’s been no change.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Ambassador – former Ambassador Galbraith was on television making some pretty direct --

MR. CROWLEY: Outrageous accusations?

QUESTION: I’ll leave you to characterize that. Does --

MR. CROWLEY: I will.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that President Karzai is like, hiding out in the basement of the palace doing bong hits or, you know, something worse? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: He is the president of Afghanistan. He’s been significantly engaged with us on a regular basis. The Secretary talked to him Friday. Ambassador Eikenberry talked to him on Friday. He was with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry over the weekend. We have no information to support the charges that Peter Galbraith has leveled.

QUESTION: P.J., just to follow up, what major differences do you have? You say you have differences with him. And also, if you can confirm he’s threatening, according to the reports, that if you don’t listen to him, he will join Taliban.

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen a particular transcript of that. I’ll leave that description of that comment, if he had said it, to the president. I mean, as I just said a minute ago, this is a shared struggle. We have vital interests in the region. That’s why we’re there. That’s why we’re expending significant resources, both in terms of the lives of our soldiers and the investment that we’re making in Afghanistan. Eventually, we want to, working with Afghanistan, secure Afghanistan, help it develop, and then turn over responsibility to an effective Afghan Government.

Along the way, will we see eye to eye on every step? No, we don’t. And where we have concerns, we’ll respectfully engage the government – not just the president, but others – and work through these in a spirit of respect and partnership.

QUESTION: But what he’s trying to say, which he said that if you don’t listen – what he has in mind, what he’s trying to say? And also, at the same time, are you in touch with all your allies within NATO on this issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we’re in touch with our NATO allies every day. And Afghanistan is vitally important to not only the United States, but other countries in the region and more globally. We have the same strategic goals. We have the same objectives as the Afghan Government does. We want to see it develop. We want to see it take the lead. But we recognize that Afghanistan tragically is one of the poorest countries on earth, and for a period of time, Afghanistan is going to need all the help that the United States and the international community can provide.

In doing that, obviously, there’s tension over how to best do that. We are working with the Afghan central government, we’re working with – to develop a more effective government at the local level, and we’ll continue to do that. So we value our partnership and where we have bumps in the road, we’ll manage them as they go along.

Sure. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of the differences, the issues you have with the Karzai government? What are the issues and differences --

MR. CROWLEY: I think probably in some cases, it’s not so much the – it’s the pace and – but we want to see the Afghan Government emerge, take a more aggressive leadership role. We’re working to build up the capacity within specific ministries. Obviously, in doing so, accountability is going to be very important to us; make sure that the resources that we provide are well and effectively spent.

That does create tension in doing so, but we have our own interests there, and not in all cases will they be identical to Afghan interests. We understand that. I mean, we are a foreign power on Afghan soil. That is something that can create issues on the ground. And we will work through these as we go forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Galbraith’s comments --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but apart from the drug allegation, he talked about the president being – “flighty” perhaps is a nice word for it. Does the U.S. Government have any concerns about Karzai’s stability, his mental state, or his seeming erratic behavior of late?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: None?

MR. CROWLEY: None.

QUESTION: So his – everything that’s been said from this podium and the White House in the last few days about – concern about his comments is without merit?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, in the recent past, there were questions that some of the world had about some of our leaders. Look, we understand that. We found some --

QUESTION: Who?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, let me --

QUESTION: Who would those leaders be? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Let me – let me --

QUESTION: Well, you opened the door.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t remember --

MR. CROWLEY: Did we – I mean, as we have said for a couple of days here, we have concerns about some of the things he said, just as I think that probably President Karzai and others may take issue with some of the things that are said in this country, whether said within the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, or wherever. And we do understand that there is a political process that has emerged in Afghanistan – that’s a good thing – and that politicians in Afghanistan and around the world sometimes will feel a need to say things of importance to their own population and that may cause some discomfort.

But he is the president of Afghanistan. He’s a partner. We work very closely with him. The Secretary had a very constructive conversation with him last week. We expect he will be coming to Washington next month. And we’ll continue to work on our joint shared interests --

QUESTION: But you don’t --

MR. CROWLEY: -- and work through issues as they occur.

QUESTION: So you don’t share Galbraith’s opinion --

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t.

QUESTION: -- of --

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t.

QUESTION: In any way?

MR. CROWLEY: He – look, he is the president of Afghanistan and he is a figure that we respect and that we are working closely with to see the emergence of an effective government that – at the national level. And we will continue to work with others in Afghanistan on effective government at the provincial and local level.

QUESTION: Secretary has trust and faith in President Karzai?

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary has a very good relationship with President Karzai. They have the ability to talk to each other. And they went through various issues on Friday and I think she feels very comfortable with the relationship that she has with the president.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary been advised not to use terms such as “Islamic radicalism” when referring to the enemy? Apparently, a new national security strategy seeks to remove those terms from --

MR. CROWLEY: I am not aware of any specific directive. Beyond that, what are you referring to?

QUESTION: Well, there’s an AP story out today – “Barack Obama’s advisor planned to remove terms such as `Islamic radicalism’ from a document outlining national security strategy,” and they’re trying --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: They (inaudible) insensitive, inciteful terms that they’re going to steer away from.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would think it is also not a reflection of the struggle that we face. I mean, we do confront a global movement of terrorists, violent extremists. Not all of the – not all of them are Islamic. I think it would be a mistake to say that this is about one part of the world or one community. We oppose people who employ violence for political purposes regardless of where they are. And al-Qaida is working hard to extend its network to all corners of the world, including here in the United States.

So I think terminology is important, but part of our strategy going forward is to combat violent extremism in all of its forms. And that will involve working closely with Muslim communities around the world, but it will also involve working more broadly for – against any movement working with our partners around the world that threatens democratic institutions.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the nuclear stuff in South Asia, Pakistan in particular, are more vulnerable to terrorists – al-Qaida and Taliban? Is that an issue of concern to you?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to break any new ground here. I think various U.S. leaders have expressed confidence in the security of the Pakistani weapons. I’m not going to go any further than that.

QUESTION: What’s the update on Senator Mitchell’s efforts with the Israelis and the Palestinians? Because there is an article in the Post today saying the President is considering a peace plan to replace the approach of step-by-step that Senator Mitchell is working through.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, the holiday period is over. We are in touch with the parties. We want to get them into negotiations as quickly as possible. As we’ve said many times, this is the only way that agreements can be reached that end the conflict. As to the column today, as we’ve said many times, we’re prepared to play an active role once the parties get in negotiations. But beyond that, I’ve got no particular comment.

I would steer you away from the idea that we are – we’re going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties. We ultimately believe that getting into negotiations where they will address the core issues, we can help them, as we have done many times in past negotiations, where we can offer ideas on how to bridge differences, we’re prepared to do that. But our focus right now is getting them into the proximity talks, into negotiations, and then we’ll see what happens after that.

QUESTION: P.J. --

QUESTION: How is that effort going?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: How is that effort to get them into proximity talks going? What’s – has there been any movement at all or any contact?

MR. CROWLEY: I think the back and forth – there is – has been contact, but then the back and forth continues. We’re still looking for the parties to indicate that they’re prepared to take the steps that we’ve outlined for both of them that can create the right atmosphere for proximity talks to get underway.

QUESTION: Would that include a meeting next week when Prime Minister Netanyahu is here, with the prime minister and the Secretary, or the prime minister and special envoy and --

MR. CROWLEY: At this point, I’ve got nothing to project about future meetings.

QUESTION: P.J., recently when U.S. and Pakistan met here for a strategic conference, when Pakistan asked the U.S. that they should be given the same kind of deal with – like U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement or deal, were you told that they already had the deal with China when they were meeting here in Washington? Because they already had a deal with China – Pakistan-Chinese nuclear --

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know --

QUESTION: -- civil nuclear deal?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know if this came up during our discussions. We are focused on Pakistan’s energy needs. But as we said last week, right now, that does not include civilian nuclear energy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)



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