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Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - April 8, 2010

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Washington, DC
April 8, 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 April 8, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Deputy Secretary for State for Management and Resources, Jack Lew, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah will soon travel later this week to Pakistan and Afghanistan on separate, but coordinated, trips. This is Dr. Shah’s first trip to the region as USAID Administrator ensuring the stability and prosperity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan as one of the United States’ highest priorities. And as the Secretary and President Obama have both said, our diplomatic and development efforts reflect a whole-of-government approach. And Deputy Lew and Dr. Shah will assess staffing and budget resources, review civilian and security assistance programs and efforts to promote governance and economic reform.

In Pakistan, they will build on the positive momentum generated by the recent U.S. and Pakistan strategic dialogue discussions, and in Afghanistan they will meet with senior members of the Afghan Government, ISAF officials, and key partners in the international donor community to continue our ongoing engagement on the range of priority issues on which we collaborate and cooperate.

Regarding the Middle East, we are disturbed by comments of Palestinian Authority officials regarding reconstruction and refurbishing of Jewish sites in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Remarks by the Palestinian ministry of information denying Jewish heritage in and links to Jerusalem undermine the trust and confidence needed for substantive and productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We also strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end. We will continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for incitement.

QUESTION: Can I move on to the Qatari --

MR. CROWLEY: Can we move on to Qatar?

QUESTION: -- diplomat?


QUESTION: So where is Madidi now? How do you plan to address this with him? And could he be expelled from the country or could any punitive action be taken against him in the U.S.?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me go back through – you’re all aware of the basic circumstances. There was an incident onboard the airplane last night, and we’re grateful to the action by the crew and by federal air marshals onboard the aircraft last night. When it landed – when the aircraft landed in Denver, authorities questioned all passengers to determine what had happened, including the Qatari diplomat. He was brought to a hotel in Denver, where we were able to determine what had happened. Once we determined that there was not an ongoing threat, this morning he was linked up with a team from the Qatari Embassy that had traveled to Denver. My understanding is he is on his way back to Washington as we speak.

We have been in touch with the Qatari ambassador a number of times over the past few hours. Our ambassador in Doha has had conversations with senior leaders in the Qatari Government, and we expect this situation to be resolved very rapidly.

QUESTION: Do you expect him to leave the country?

MR. CROWLEY: We expect this to be resolved very rapidly.

QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? I mean, it doesn't look like any charges are going to be filed against him, but you have the option to either declare him persona non grata, or you have the option to just kind of say no harm, no foul, and let him go back to do his job, or the Qatari Government could withdraw him.

MR. CROWLEY: We have options available to us, the Qatari Government has options available to it, and we expect it to be resolved very quickly.

QUESTION: Would you say that you’re examining your options?

MR. CROWLEY: I can just repeat what I just said. I won’t go any further.

QUESTION: Do you expect an apology from them, at the least? I mean, this was a felony. Any other person caught doing – smoking – and did they tell you exactly what the – because there seems to be --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – look, you’re right. This is a very serious issue. Any of us who travel on airlines were reminded of that every time we take off. We have in our communications with the Qatari ambassador last night – he fully understood the seriousness of the charges. I think we’re satisfied with the seriousness by which they take what has occurred, and we – that’s why we have confidence that this will be resolved very quickly.

QUESTION: There are some reports that a deal has been made; that is, they will send him back home and we have said we will file no charges. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this is a Qatari diplomat. He has diplomatic privileges. So – and just as our diplomats do in posts around the world.

QUESTION: But not for felonies, do we?

MR. CROWLEY: Hang on a second. We – well --

QUESTION: That’s a question.

MR. CROWLEY: I – he has diplomatic immunity. So we have been proceeding in accord with diplomatic practices that have legal force. And we have every confidence that this will be resolved very quickly.

QUESTION: Well, is it your understanding that he was making a joke on the plane to authorities about lighting a shoe bomb?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to law enforcement. We received full cooperation from him, but I’ll leave it to others to describe what we believe actually happened onboard the airplane.

QUESTION: Do you – is it your understanding that charges will be filed or will not be filed? Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, that’s for domestic law enforcement to determine. I’m not aware that any charges are contemplated.

QUESTION: P.J., when you say --

QUESTION: You’re not aware that they’re contemplated? Is that what you --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that any charges are contemplated.

QUESTION: When you said that you expect this to be resolved very rapidly, do you mean that you expect it to be resolved very rapidly without the United States having to take any formal --


QUESTION: -- punitive steps?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, given that the diplomat is in the air right now, we understand that we have options, the Qataris have options, and we fully expect, based on our conversations with Qatari officials, that this will be resolved very quickly.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. What time does that flight leave Dulles again?

QUESTION: 11:50.

QUESTION: So it – you expect it to be resolved today?

QUESTION: Well, actually, if you could answer that question: Do you expect it to be resolved today?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know when the flight leaves Dulles.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) yet. Well, there – it is – there is a nice direct flight to Doha.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I hear you.

QUESTION: But do you expect it to be resolved today?

MR. CROWLEY: I expect to resolve very quickly. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, I’ll leave it where I left it.

QUESTION: And – but why can’t you answer whether you expect it to be resolved without or with the U.S. Government having to take any kind of formal step --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get – I understand --

QUESTION: -- that you’re allowed – that you are entitled to under the Geneva Conventions.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand the question and I understand that we have options available to us. I understand the Qatari Government has options available to it.

QUESTION: Well, how about this question: Do you expect you to use any of the options that you have available to – that you have available? Or do you --

MR. CROWLEY: I expect this to be resolved very quickly.

QUESTION: Well, what makes you expect that? Based on your conversations with the Qataris, you have an expectation that this will be resolved today?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes – I mean, no. I have --

QUESTION: To resolve very quickly?

MR. CROWLEY: We have an expectation --

QUESTION: Based on your understanding from the Qatari Government, you expect that this will be resolved very --

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, very quickly.

QUESTION: What is going to be resolved?

QUESTION: That he’s going to leave the country. I mean, he’s just not saying it.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Thank you, Elise.

QUESTION: Beyond any apology, P.J., is there any consideration asked of the Qataris to reimburse the U.S. for the thousands of dollars for scrambling jets and all of the law enforcement that this required?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any previous incident involving this diplomat?

QUESTION: I’m sorry, why? Hold on a second. Why not? It was a stunt by a guy who knew – you know, who knew better and it cost thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. Why not?

MR. CROWLEY: We took the actions that we took in response to the security of that particular airplane and our airspace. But I would not expect that we would seek compensation.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any previous incidents with this diplomat?


QUESTION: Go to Yemen for a minute?


QUESTION: Yeah. So a couple of days ago in The New York Times and Washington Post, there were reports that the president has authorized an assassination – I’m sorry, the assassination of a U.S. citizen thought to be in Yemen. So as the Executive agency responsible for the interests of U.S. citizens abroad, I’m wondering what the State Department’s position is on that authorization?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, without going into particulars, we are in active conflict with a global terrorist network, al-Qaida, and those who are actively engaged and a part of that network put themselves at risk.

QUESTION: So, I mean, does the State Department support the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad? Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go any further.

QUESTION: If a U.S. citizen is part of a global terrorist network, do they forfeit their rights to be an American citizen, their citizenship? Would you – yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. Ambassador Holbrooke will be going to Afghanistan tomorrow night. Will he be meeting the president?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know the schedule of General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke.

QUESTION: What is the (inaudible) of going there this time? What are the issues he – what are the issues they’re planning to discuss?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke travel to the region periodically. Sometimes Richard travels with Admiral Mullen, sometimes with General Petraeus, sometimes on his own. Richard Holbrooke is the chief overseer of the President’s – the civilian component of the President’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he will be going to converse with senior officials in both countries. But as to particular meetings, I can’t project at this point.

QUESTION: And secondly, today, Pakistan national assembly passed the 18th constitutional amendment which restores the parliamentary democracy and strips some powers from the president. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for Pakistan.

QUESTION: P.J., a Jihadi online magazine is warning that the North African terror group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is threatening to attack the World Cup games in South Africa this summer. Are you aware of these threats? And is anything being done to protect U.S. interests?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think for any major sporting event, whether it’s the World Cup or the Olympics, the Super Bowl, what have you, we are aware and other countries are aware of the ongoing threat to those games. And I think collectively, we are taking appropriate precautions.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Japanese ambassador said he would support another round of sanctions against Iran. You have a reaction to that?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly think that’s appropriate thinking at this stage.

QUESTION: P.J., just a follow-on. Are you aware of these specific threats and --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to – I’m not aware of those specific threats, but we think there’s an ongoing threat globally and regionally involving al-Qaida. And I think that’s why countries that host these kinds of activities that are of interest to people all around the world – they take appropriate security precautions.

QUESTION: Back to Iran. So you wanted to get a resolution passed by the time all of the leaders arrived for the nuclear summit next week. How likely do you think --

MR. CROWLEY: Say that again.

QUESTION: You wanted to get a resolution on Iran at the UN Security Council. The goal was originally to have it not overshadow this nuclear summit coming up next week. The President said --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of a particular timetable.

QUESTION: Well, the President a few weeks ago said he hoped to wrap it up in --

MR. CROWLEY: A matter of weeks.

QUESTION: -- in a matter of weeks.

MR. CROWLEY: That remains our emphasis.

QUESTION: Well, how realistic do you think it’s going to be that a resolution is completed by that summit or even the end of the month?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue our efforts in – through the P-5+1 in New York. We’ll have meetings here next week – bilaterals involving the President and the Secretary and other cabinet officials. Iran, I expect, will be a significant topic of discussion. We continue to do everything we can to produce an appropriate resolution as soon as possible, and we are very mindful of the timetable or the target that the President put in place that we want to get this done as quickly as possible, and he hopes to have it done in a matter of weeks.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the discussions with Israel regarding the concessions you asked for?

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to have contacts with Israeli officials and Palestinian officials, but I’ve got no particular meetings or travel to announce at this point.

QUESTION: I have a question on what you had said in your opening comments about the Palestinian officials denying the Jewish right – their heritage and claims to Jerusalem. What particularly about it was so offensive, considering that the Israelis often claim that this is solely an Israeli and Jewish heritage for Jerusalem and they don’t recognize the Palestinian right to Jerusalem?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we’ve been very consistent in telling both parties that they have to take responsibility for things that happen, steps that happen, unilateral actions or statements that happen on the ground. They have to both understand not only what their own interest is, but how the pursuit of their own interest – the impact that that will have in terms of misunderstandings, mischaracterization, increase of tension. They are the ones that ultimately have to take the steps that create the atmosphere for this process to move forward.

So we have said many, many times that whether it’s the pursuit of settlements, the pursuit of housing, or efforts at incitement, that we will clearly call on both parties where we think they’re taking steps that are unhelpful.

QUESTION: Right, but what particularly about these comments were so offensive? Because I’ve never seen you from this podium criticize Israel for saying that the Palestinians don’t have a right to Jerusalem. Whereas in this particular case, you’re claim – you’re, you know, decrying what the Palestinians --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, all I will say is that Jerusalem is a – is one of the core issues in the process. And the only way to resolve issues regarding Jerusalem is through direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

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