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Middle East Digest - January 4, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 4, 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 4, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: Let me – I just wanted to mention a couple of things. Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero will travel later this week to those countries, a trip that Ambassador Richard Holbrooke had planned to make after the new year. He will meet with government officials, representatives of civil society, and the media. And it will focus on preparations for the upcoming U.S.-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral meeting scheduled to take place in Washington next month. He will reaffirm the United States commitment to the people of Pakistan and will continue to support Pakistan’s efforts to ensure greater peace, security, and stability in the region, now and in the future. And he will also reiterate in Afghanistan the President’s commitment to a transition to full Afghan lead for security that will begin this year and conclude in 2014.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, just to reaffirm, we keep checking our inbox, and no invitation has materialized. So – but I mean, these are antics that we’ve seen from Iran in the past where they try to kind of flash a shiny object and said, "No, don’t look over there; look here." This magical mystery tour, if you want to describe it as that, is not a substitute for what Iran has to do, which is to cooperate fully and transparently with the IAEA. If I understand, the invitation is to visit facilities at Natanz and Arak. On the one hand, there’s no need for a special tour to those facilities. The IAEA – which inspectors who do know what they’re looking for, visit these facilities periodically. But we should just be reminded that the IAEA has said that – and made clear that the – Iran has not yet been able to fully answer the questions that have been raised about its nuclear programs. And so this tour or whatever Iran has planned is not a substitute for sustained, credible, and transparent interaction with the IAEA.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. encouraging members of the EU 3+3, those that may have received invitations, to turn them down?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I’m not aware that necessarily the E3 have received invitations either. I’ll defer to –

QUESTION: Well, how about members of the P-5 then?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we would not see – if we’re asked for our view, we’re not attending, but we do not see any reason for others to attend either.

QUESTION: Are you actively discouraging it, though? Do you think it’s a bad idea? Does it somehow cloud the waters over – with the talks coming up?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think it will cloud – it’s a pretty clear public relations stunt by Iran. So we don’t think that anyone who might take this tour is going to learn anything substantive on such a visit.

QUESTION: P.J., on another subject. There have been numerous attacks recently on Christians throughout the Mideast and some other areas. The Pope is now saying that they are – Christians are the most persecuted religious minority in the world. Are you tracking some of this? Do you agree with that characterization? How serious is it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are certainly aware of a recent string of attacks against Christians from Iraq to Egypt to Nigeria, and of course, number one, we’re concerned about this, and we condemn all violence that is based on religion or ethnicity or any similar political violence. It is something that we do routinely track in the context of our monitoring of human rights around the world report on this every year as part of our Human Rights Report, and obviously, we are deeply concerned about what seems to be an increasing trend.

QUESTION: And who do you think is doing this?

MR. CROWLEY: I’d be very wary at this point about making any sweeping statements about whether what’s happened in Iraq has a bearing on what’s happening in other countries such as Egypt or Nigeria. These are all being investigated. Clearly, there are pressures on minority groups in these countries, and we would hope and expect that in – those respective governments will fully investigate these attacks and bring those responsible to justice. That’s what, for example, the people of Egypt are rightly demanding a credible, thorough investigation and those responsible brought to justice.

QUESTION: P.J., on that letter from Netanyahu, should we interpret that as – the timing of that as connected to the issue of settlements?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, that’s a question for the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: Well, where are you interpreting it?

MR. CROWLEY: No, we’re not – we’re reviewing the letter, full stop. This is an issue that has come up from time to time in our discussions with Israeli leaders, this one and others, and we’ll review the letter.

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