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Middle East Digest - April 28, 2010

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Washington, DC
April 29, 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 28, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have made many public declarations going back to last year when they were first apprehended. We have brought this up both through the Swiss to the Iranians directly, but also we have highlighted this in a number of our bilateral consultations with other countries that we think have the ability to communicate our concern to Iran.
QUESTION: Such as?
MR. CROWLEY: Such as Austria, for example. She was talking recently with the Austrian foreign minister and this was part of the conversation.
QUESTION: Well, how about Brazil, considering the president of Brazil is about to go out there and the foreign minister was just there?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll check. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I don’t know.
QUESTION: And is this --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can you check on Turkey, too, in that – the same vein?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. I’m confident that in that context, yes, we have communicated that --
QUESTION: And how many times has she met with the families?
MR. CROWLEY: With the families – I’ll check that. This is not the first time.
QUESTION: And on the same issue, you said that – you mentioned the three hikers who remain in detention – I believe were your words – clearly, they are. Have they not been charged? Are there any charges pending against them?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not believe they’ve been charged
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have certain responsibilities as the host of the UN. Any foreign official who’s coming to the UN for official business is normally granted a visa.
QUESTION: He’s not normal, though.
QUESTION: He’s not a normal guest.
MR. CROWLEY: But to your more precise question – has the Iranian delegation, including its president, presented applications to our Embassy in Berne, the answer is yes.
QUESTION: And have you granted?
QUESTION: Have you granted him a visa?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this just happened this morning.
QUESTION: So they haven’t been granted yet?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: The conference begins on Monday.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, it does.
QUESTION: Today is --
MR. CROWLEY: But the applications were just --
QUESTION: -- Wednesday.
MR. CROWLEY: -- provided to us this morning.
QUESTION: Okay. The last time I remember Ahmadinejad being at the UN is two years, no?
MR. CROWLEY: Wasn’t he there last fall?
QUESTION: I don’t think he showed up. I thought -- was he there?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, he was there last fall.
QUESTION: Last year?
QUESTION: I thought the big show was Qadhafi last year. Anyway, but you’re reviewing the applications, is that the idea?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, if the Iranians will have a delegation at the NPT conference on Monday and, if they choose to have the president lead that delegation, that’s their decision.
QUESTION: Can we move a little bit to the west of Iran? What’s your understanding right now of the alleged de facto freeze in East Jerusalem construction, and is Senator Mitchell still planning to go next week?
MR. CROWLEY: Regarding the policy of the Israeli Government in East Jerusalem, I’ll refer to the Israeli Government to enunciate its own policy. George Mitchell is planning to travel to the region next week. He was here yesterday, along with the Secretary, for important meetings with defense minister Ehud Barak. They talked about a range of issues, including the efforts that the Israelis have undertaken on their side; some of those areas rest in – within Minister Barak’s portfolio. And the Secretary thanked him for working with the Palestinian Authority to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and access to key goods there. He has – the Israelis have worked in recent months to remove some checkpoints and talked about ways in which more can be done and have – to open up greater space on the West Bank.
So, but George is planning to go next week.
QUESTION: Did anything outside of Barak’s specific portfolio come up, such as the settlement issue or the East Jerusalem construction issue?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get any more particular than that. I think you can rest assure that we talked about the full range of issues both within our efforts to get the Israelis and the Palestinians into proximity talks. We also talked about other regional issues from Syria to Iran.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the reason I’m asking the East Jerusalem question is because the mayor of Jerusalem last night had some pretty provocative comments about what his local – you know, what the municipal position on this. And what he said was that regardless – well, it was basically that he doesn’t really care if it has any effect on the peace process, there will not be any freeze or de facto or otherwise, and that this kind of construction is going to continue regardless of whether it interferes or hurts your attempts to get the proximity talks started. The other thing he said was that there was no way – repeated his position – that there was no way that Jerusalem would ever be divided.
And I’m just wondering what you make of these remarks in light – are they helpful in light of where you are trying to get the two sides?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, look, we have our own issues in this country where occasionally cities or states delve into foreign policy areas.
QUESTION: Well, here’s the thing, he doesn’t regard this as a foreign policy --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, hang on a second. Let me – and there’s a conversation between the federal government and state and local governments over the provinces of federal action versus local action. In this case, as well, notwithstanding what they may or may not think, to the extent that there are issues that have broader implications, this is an area that really is between the Israeli national government and the mayor of Jerusalem. I’m not going to intercede in the middle of that relationship.
As the Vice President and the Secretary have made clear, we think that the parties have special responsibilities not to take unilateral actions that complicate – they should take actions that promote negotiations. They should not take actions that complicate negotiations. That is our position. As to how that applies to the actions of the mayor, I’ll leave that to the Israelis.
QUESTION: Well, but do you regard his comments as a complicating factor?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would ju
QUESTION: Well, that’s – right, but that’s not my question. My question is: Does this complicate your attempts to get the proximity talks started?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment on the mayor’s specific comments. Obviously, this issue involving actions on the ground have the potential to complicate proximity talks that we hope will lead to direct negotiations. We’ve made that clear that unilateral actions, whether made at the governmental level or made at the citizen level, have an impact. People need to evaluate and take that into account before they take such actions.
But these are matters that we remain in regular, if not daily, contact with the parties on, and we are – continue to work with them as we have in terms of the Secretary’s meeting with Minister Barak. Deputy Secretary Steinberg also had a meeting yesterday with Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon. And we are working this intensively and hope to see the parties back into proximity talks very soon.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll just drop it after this, but I’m just a little confused, because when the initial announcement was made that caused so much problems last – caused all these problems last month, there was no – you weren’t shy about talking about announcements or comments. The Secretary got on the phone with Netanyahu and complained rather vociferously about this, as did you from this podium, and as did White House officials after that.
So why now is it that you don’t want to talk about what – or you don’t want to say --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me separate -
QUESTION: You don’t want to give us your impression of what these comments --
MR. CROWLEY: Let me separate the two issues, okay? On comments by the mayor of Jerusalem, I will simply repeat what the Vice President said: that the parties have special responsibilities to do things that promote negotiation and not do things that complicate negotiation. But our – on the specific issue of actions on the ground, we have been very clear that Jerusalem is a final status issue and the only place in which that can be resolved is through direct negotiations, and no attempts should be made to change or complicate the facts on the ground before the parties can get into direct negotiations.
QUESTION: So do you --
MR. CROWLEY: On that score, we’ve been very clear.
QUESTION: So you --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about --
QUESTION: All right, all right. You think the mayor is irrelevant here?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m just – as to what the mayor says and how that relates to Israeli policies, I’ll leave that to Israeli politics. As to our view of Jerusalem, we’ve been clear over a number of years that Jerusalem was a final status issue and that the parties writ large, and that includes at high and low levels of government, they should avoid provocative and unilateral steps that complicate getting the parties into negotiations, which is the only route to resolve this once and for all.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we have special responsibilities as the host of the UN. And if you’re asking is he likely to be in New York on Monday, that – I mean, that’s an Iranian decision. I’ll defer to them.
MR. CROWLEY: But I don’t think that we’re going to stand in the wa
QUESTION: Well, it’s not an Iranian decision if you decide not to give him a visa.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, our focus is, should he come, we want to see him play a constructive role in the upcoming NPT Review Conference. This is about efforts that – our commitment to strengthening the Nonproliferation Treaty, strengthening the capabilities and resources available to the IAEA. We want to see nations reaffirm their commitment to the treaty, and we would certainly hope that President Ahmadinejad or whoever leads the Iranian delegation will come to New York prepared to make that commitment.
QuESTION: Okay. Following on that, would it be at all possible that he or members of his delegations would have meetings with U.S. officials in New York – the Secretary or anybody else?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t anticipate that.
QUESTION: You would not?
MR. CROWLEY: I – we’re – the Secretary will have a number of bilaterals when she’s in New York early next week. The Iranian president or foreign minister is not on the schedule.
QUESTION: What do you – you said that you hope that the Iranians play a constructive at this. What are the chances of that, do you think?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is what the international community is clearly telling Iran it needs to do. And if Iran plays by the approach it’s taken – I mean, it’s going around the world right now trying to evade responsibility, trying to demonstrate a face of being cooperative. It’s not. It has yet, as the Secretary said yesterday, with the recent meeting between the Iranian foreign minister and Director General Amano of the IAEA – was nothing new in that meeting. So while Iran is traveling around the world doing what I would call, to use a boxing term, rope-a-dope diplomacy, trying to evade responsibility, we are in New York committed to the Nonproliferation Treaty, strengthening the global regime, and we want to see countries play a constructive role. Iran is not playing a constructive role and it wouldn’t surprise us if they continue on this same path. And if they do, the leadership of Iran will be further isolating its country and its people.
QUESTION: P.J., I don’t know how big a boxing fan you are, but the rope-a-dope actually worked. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: In this particular case, I --
QUESTION: It won’t? All right. Can we just go to --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, look, we’re not looking for a knockout punch here. We’re committed to a nonproliferation regime. We are demonstrating through what we’ve done throughout the Obama Administration’s 15 months in office – the START negotiation, the recent Nuclear Security Summit – heck, Iran had a – its own meeting and couldn't even get nations to agree to its final statement.
So we think there is wind at our backs. We’re making the case. Other countries are seeing that Iran is offering nothing in its conversations with various countries around the world. We continue to work in New York on a strong sanctions resolution. We are working with the Congress on prospectively other actions that we will take domestically. The Secretary, in her meeting yesterday with the leaders of the president of the European Parliament, talked about the fact that we want to see Europe take its own steps. So this is a case where President Ahmadinejad, if he comes to New York on Monday, will have the opportunity to clearly make that kind of commitment. We will not be astonished if he fails to do that. And as we’ve said before, there will be implications.

QUESTION: Can I move --
QUESTION: P.J., why he was not invited for this global nuclear summit in Washington?
MR. CROWLEY: Why President Ahmadinejad was not invited?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, the countries that were invited, we think are playing or have the opportunity to play a constructive role, and Iran is certainly not part of that group.
QUESTION: But don’t you think it would have been greater opportunity for you to talk to him or bring him onboard? And since they are about to announce their nuclear --
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I understand. That’s a dead end.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m unclear. I think that there have been investigations both by the UN and there are obviously serious concerns that were in that report. There’s also an ongoing investigation by the FBI.
QUESTION: So what about the UN report? Do you have any comments on it? The killing of --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t have a specific comment on the report itself. I haven’t seen it. But obviously this is a very serious issue. We’ve seen some video of the incident. It raised some very serious questions, and we continue to work though those.
QUESTION: Have you taken up this issue with the Afghanistan Government
MR. CROWLEY: Well, notwithstanding that we have a UN report, this is a matter that we continue to investigate fully.
QUESTION: And finally, one from Kandahar. The UN has – had announced that it will be withdrawing itself from Kandahar. Do you had – how you see this development?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: From Kandahar. Kandahar.
MR. CROWLEY: Kandahar?
QUESTION: Yeah. The UN is withdrawing there – from there.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question.
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to work hard on it and we’ll work hard on it till it’s complete.
QUESTION: So that means that – not going to happen in the next two days?
MR. CROWLEY: I would not expect it to happen in the next two days

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