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Middle East Digest - January 3, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 3, 2011


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 January 3, 2011

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QUESTION: Perhaps something less challenging to explain, like the status of the peace process. Could you share with us what is the status of the peace process, what Senator Mitchell is saying (inaudible) going on?

MR. CROWLEY: Senator Mitchell is here today for at least one meeting. We will be following up on the working level activity of late last month. Our focus is on engaging the parties on the core issues and using that as a basis to move forward.

QUESTION: And Mr. Netanyahu today put the blame squarely on the Palestinians for the failure of going back to the talks. Do you share that sentiment?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we haven’t changed our ultimate goal, which is a framework agreement on the core issues. To get to that goal, we will be engaging on the substance of – behind this effort, see if we can’t close the gaps in the coming weeks and months. At some point to get to a framework agreement, the parties have to return to direct negotiations and – but right now, we will continue our working-level efforts to see – on the core issues.

QUESTION: Many other --

QUESTION: Despite your statements saying that we hold Mr. Barak – Ehud Barak in good standing, the Israeli sources insist that there has been, at very high levels in the American Administration, an expression of vocal displeasure with Mr. Barak. Could you again address this issue? I know you have, but could you again just --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s not for us to get inside Israeli politics. I think it was our view that yesterday’s story in Haaretz was more about political mischief than real substance. We have the greatest of respect for Defense Minister Barak, and we will continue to engage him on the full range of issues between – within our relationship. Nothing has changed there.

QUESTION: Can you explain – Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Dennis Ross will be traveling to the region at the end of the week. Is Senator Mitchell going with Mr. Ross?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, regarding Dennis Ross, any travel plans that he have, I’ll defer to the White House. George Mitchell has no immediate travel plans.

QUESTION: I mean, why – I understand the desire to defer to the White House, but it does seem odd if a senior NSC official is going there that you guys can’t even say whether that’s right or not, or why Mitchell wouldn’t go too since --

MR. CROWLEY: No, I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just simply saying that on the – on travel arrangements for Dennis Ross, I’ll defer to the White House. He is on the National Security staff.

QUESTION: Okay. But if it’s not wrong, why wouldn’t, given that Senator Mitchell has – is the special envoy and has the responsibility, announced by the President on his first full day in office, to work on Israeli-Palestinian peace, why wouldn’t he be going too?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Arshad, there are a number of people who engage on these issues. George Mitchell is one. He is the special envoy. But there are others. Dennis Ross has Middle East peace within his broader portfolio. He has experience with these issues. I wouldn’t see this in zero-sum terms.

QUESTION: Were you aware of this protest that happened at Ambassador Cunningham’s house? At his residence in Tel Aviv over the weekend, a bunch of protestors tried to, quote-un-quote, “return teargas canisters” that were fired at them that led to the death of a protestor.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not, actually.

QUESTION: Okay. The reason I ask is that the Israeli police say that some of the teargas canisters were still active and that they were treating it as an attack on a diplomatic facility.


QUESTION: Can you --

MR. CROWLEY: -- we certainly support the investigation. I mean, I am aware of the episode in terms of the teargas, but I’m not aware of the protests. But I’m – we understand it’s being investigated.

QUESTION: Do you – so you – I’m sorry, you’re aware of the protest at the ambassador’s residence or --

MR. CROWLEY: No, I do understand that there was teargas that was led off in conjunction with a protest – I didn’t know the location of the protest – and that I believe at least one person was killed as a result of that. And I believe it’s being investigated.

QUESTION: Well, this was – this is – there are two separate incidents.


QUESTION: There’s the one where the teargas was fired and then there was this one in front of – can you --

MR. CROWLEY: I did not know anything about the other --

QUESTION: Okay. Can – is it possible to check to see if you guys are treating this as an attack on one of your diplomatic facilities?



QUESTION: Can we go to Pakistan?

QUESTION: Can we – Middle East, Middle East.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the Palestinian issue for a second, how do you coordinate, or is it – how is it normally coordinated between Mr. Ross and the envoy? I mean, do they work independently of each other, or do they coordinate their travel plans? I know you said (inaudible) I understand that.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s very simple. We have a – we’re fortunate to have a significant number of people who have experience in this region. George Mitchell is one, David Hale is one, Dan Shapiro is one, Dennis Ross, and others. And they’re all engaged on these issues on an ongoing basis. The team is well-coordinated, and the fact that at one point, one or more figures would be involved and at another point, a different set of figures would be involved – this is testament to the importance that we give to these issues. And we continue to make it as arguably the highest priority that we have.

QUESTION: What is the update --

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

QUESTION: What is the update – the view of the United States on the Palestinian resolution that it’s going to present to the UN on the settlements?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t comment on something that hasn’t happened yet. We continue to believe that the parties need to resolve these issues through negotiations.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. Do you see as the White House taking over the Middle East peace process?

MR. CROWLEY: I know there’s always a temptation to --

QUESTION: Let them have it.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Whew. (Inaudible) questions anymore.

MR. CROWLEY: One should not read – these are difficult, complex issues. The President is fortunate to have a broad array of officials who have experience in these issues and are fully engaged in trying to resolve them.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu --

QUESTION: Pakistan, can we --

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly told his cabinet that the – he was surprised that the offer for – the conditions for a three-month extension were withdrawn at – was that your understanding before the announcement, that they were willing to accept continual three-month extensions?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I will defer to the Israeli Government to explain their position. As we indicated late last year, we were focused on a moratorium extension. Based on our engagement with the parties, for a variety of reasons, we felt that that was no longer, at this time, a basis to move forward. And we are focused on a different path at this point.

QUESTION: Let’s go back to the UN resolution for a second. Have you told the Palestinians that you will veto such a resolution?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to detail our conversations with regards –

QUESTION: Well, have you talked to the Palestinians about their plans?

MR. CROWLEY: This concept is not new.

QUESTION: Right, and have you talked to –

MR. CROWLEY: All right, look –

QUESTION: Have you talked to them about it?

MR. CROWLEY: As I said, this concept is not new. We’ve talked to the Palestinians on these issues for some time.

QUESTION: Right, but in this specific instance, in terms of what they’re planning to do in the immediate future, have you spoken to them about their plans?

MR. CROWLEY: Have I – have we spoken to them this week?


MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say we’ve spoken to them –

QUESTION: -- since they started telling people that they were going to do this.

MR. CROWLEY: The Palestinians are familiar with our point of view on this.

QUESTION: The Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is in town this week –

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on, hold on. You’re – we’ll go to Pakistan first, and then we’ll –

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the situation in Pakistan and what’s happening with the coalition government there and especially the timing of it? Because it seems like it’s very much a big distraction over there when the U.S. would really like to focus on militants –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this is about internal politics within Pakistan, which has a parliamentary system, and you have a coalition government, and there are – there’s activity within that coalition, and the government is working to clarify what their support is. We’ll continue to work with the Pakistani Government. We’re building a strategic relationship with Pakistan, and –

QUESTION: But as the political wrangling continues, don’t you find that it’s diverting attention away from where the U.S. would really like it focused, which is the battle against militants?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, a civilian government, we think, is essential to the future of Pakistan and to building institutions of government that can transform the relationship between the Pakistani people and the government. So we continue to support the Pakistani Government. I can’t say at this point that the fact that they have this current political situation necessarily distracts them from what they’re – what else they’re doing.

QUESTION: Will you continue –

QUESTION: A follow-up to that. You’re asking the Pakistani Government to do things that are not necessarily very popular in Pakistan. One of them is the fight against the militants, which – in the drone attacks, which are not particularly popular. Others are the kinds of economic reforms and particularly tax reforms that they would need to take to keep to their IMF commitments. Having a Pakistani Government that appears to be tottering, given that two of its minority coalition partners have bolted from the federal government, surely doesn’t make it any easier to win public support for some of the policies that the United States would like to see Pakistan take, both in terms of fighting the militants, as Kami said, or on the economic front.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say, Arshad, that these are decisions for the government to make, and these are decisions that are in the long-term interest of Pakistan. So we’re not asking Pakistan to do something that we do not feel is in Pakistan’s interest. Fighting extremists within its borders that is a threat to Pakistani civil society is definitely in Pakistan’s interest. Getting its financial house in order is definitely in Pakistan’s interest. Building and expanding the capacity of civilian-led government in Pakistan is definitely in Pakistan’s interest. But the government obviously has – is confronting a challenge within its coalition. That – these things happen in parliamentary systems all the time.

QUESTION: And you don’t think that makes it harder for them to do those three things that you’ve just described as being in their interest – fighting extremism, pursuing economic –

MR. CROWLEY: No, we are going to encourage – we are going to continue to work with the Pakistani Government and provide the support that we’ve outlined to help expand its capacity, address the challenge inside its borders, and help put its finances on more solid footing.

QUESTION: But you’re not concerned that this is a distraction?


QUESTION: For them?

MR. CROWLEY: By every indication the government is taking steps to deal with this political situation. This is how coalition governments handle these issues all over the world.

QUESTION: So you see it as a good thing and normal part of the political process –

MR. CROWLEY: No, it –

QUESTION: -- and not something that’s going – that could possibly have any impact at all on what you hope to – what Pakistan’s going to do?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, thank you very much, Matthew. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it just seems a little bit bizarre to me that –

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no, again –

QUESTION: -- you’re saying that you have absolutely no opinion on what – no concern at all when the government is in crisis and this is your top – you need this government, you need this country as an ally.

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to work closely with this government on the issues that we’ve outlined as part of our strategic partnership.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I don’t understand how – it doesn’t make any sense for you not to be concerned about something like this.

QUESTION: Is that what Ambassador Haqqani –

QUESTION: If you weren’t concerned, I mean, that’s kind of a – it would appear that that’s some kind of a dereliction of duty if you didn’t have any concerns. I mean, if you just think that it’s oh this is great – wonderful, look at how politics is playing itself out in Pakistan, I mean, that just – that doesn’t seem to flow.

MR. CROWLEY: We understand that the government is dealing with a political challenge within its coalition. We’re watching it closely, but meanwhile we’re focused on our long-term partnership with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Your statement is exactly the same as the Pakistani military which says there is no problem. So will you be supporting the Pakistani military if it steps in to keep the house in order?

MR. CROWLEY: Tajinder, now you’re – that’s a great lead.

QUESTION: No, no. They had a statement that there is no problem, and you are giving a statement there is no problem.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m certainly not going there.


QUESTION: P.J., just to follow – let’s see – you had – you have had many, many challenges as far as Pakistan-U.S. relations were concerned – drones and also terrorism and many other problems in U.S. image. What I’m asking is, as far as recent development in Pakistan is concerned, have you, anybody from this building or from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad spoken with the current government or the opposition or any parties in Pakistan?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) all those conversations going back --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Ambassador Munter engages the government on a daily basis. He and his staff engage opposition on a regular basis. I have no reason to think that they haven’t done so today, just as they would any other day.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) which is the area you did not mention – the Afghanistan, Indian region, or Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Afghanistan – we now have a full complement of military forces on the ground joined by a very significant number of civilians who are pursuing the President’s strategy. Last month, the President finished our evaluation of our strategy. Back in November, we had a strong affirmation of that strategy in Lisbon. We continue to engage the Afghan Government. But as we’ve recognized in terms of our approach, it’s got to be a regional approach which includes from Pakistan to India to other countries, including Iran, that will have an influence in the events that unfold in 2011 and beyond.

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