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Middle East Digest - January 5, 2011


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Washington, DC
January 5, 2011

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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 January 5, 2011

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3:12 p.m. EST

QUESTION: The dreaded word WikiLeaks crossed Matt’s lips. Could you please update us? (Laughter.) I’m just trying to give some credit.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very thin hook, Jill. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It came up. It came up. Could you please update us?

MR. CROWLEY: I can tell you, I do not recall that the word WikiLeaks was mentioned during the course of --

QUESTION: Yes, it did. Matt said it.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. I –

QUESTION: Anyway, I’ll raise it. Could you update us on the state of our ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz? He’s brought back. Could he be –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. He is here for consultations. He is still our ambassador to Libya.

QUESTION: Will he be going back to fulfill his –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said yesterday, one of the issues that we’ll be discussing with Ambassador Cretz is his return to Libya.

QUESTION: Is that because you feel that there’s a possibility he may no longer be effective? And if so, why?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’s been ambassador for a couple of years. Again, I’m – all I will just say is that he remains our ambassador to Libya. He is back here for consultations. Obviously, we will – part of those consultations will be reflecting on where we are in our relationship with Libya. And we will – as part of that discussion, we’ll be evaluating his role in the future.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) form an impression at this point?

QUESTION: Could you say -- is that a normal thing, when an ambassador is here for consultations that you evaluate when they’ll return? Or should I say if and when they will return to their posting?

MR. CROWLEY: We – it’s very important for ambassadors to be engaged. I mean, one of the – let me talk more broadly. One of the issues that we are concerned about in the aftermath of WikiLeaks is the impact that these leaks can have on our relationship overall or the relationship between an ambassador and the government that – with which he or she deals. We have an improving relationship with Libya. It’s a very important relationship to the United States. That said, it is a complex relationship, and the ambassador is here to reflect on both where we stand in that relationship and his role as part of that relationship. I’m just not going to go – I’m not going to go into any --

QUESTION: All right, fair enough. But can you just explain maybe a little bit more for – the context of his return? My understanding was that, in fact, he was coming back to be part of a group – group consultations among his fellow NEA –

MR. CROWLEY: As I understand it, there was going to be a chief of missions conference. I think that chief of missions conference has been delayed. Gene had already come back to the States for consultations and perhaps –

QUESTION: When that (inaudible) was delayed.

MR. CROWLEY: -- a little bit of home leave – pardon me?

QUESTION: When – he was already here when the decision was made --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. We made – so he is here. We’re taking advantage of his presence here.

QUESTION: So in other words, the – what you said yesterday and what you said again today about your ambassador to Libya could just as well be – could have been just as well said about your ambassador to Tripoli, Iraq, Egypt, any other country in NEA, in that territory, had this meeting gone ahead – that the group –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, ambassadors come home for consultations on a regular basis. He’s here. We’re taking advantage of his presence here to review the state of our relations with Libya, and –

QUESTION: Right. But I mean if – but if this – if the big conference had happened, had gone ahead, you could just say the same thing about every ambassador that was attending that conference, correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Could, yeah.

QUESTION: Is it fair though to suggest –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Venezuela?

QUESTION: That’s all right.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the recent unrest in Tunisia?

MR. CROWLEY: Tunisia makes an appearance for the second day in a row. I mean, last month, there were some demonstrations that occurred in Tunisia over a several-day period. They appeared to us to be triggered by economic concerns and not directed toward Westerners or Western interests. As we do in various places around the world where we have concerns about the safety of our citizens, we did put out a Warden Message right at the end of the year urging Americans to be alert to local security developments, but – and it’s best to avoid these demonstrations, even ones that can appear peaceful.

QUESTION: But aren’t you concerned about economic reforms in Tunisia, or –

MR. CROWLEY: That is something that is part of our ongoing dialogue with Tunisia.

QUESTION: May I ask a question on Iraq?

MR. CROWLEY: You may.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the return to Iraq of Moqtada al-Sadr for the first time in four years? It’s been interpreted as a healing of fissures within the Shiites. And yet, at the same time, he’s obviously been strongly anti-U.S. So is the U.S. seeing it as good or bad?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not for us to be for or against any particular leader or party in Iraq.

QUESTION: It’s not?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saddam Hussein. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s a new State Department position in 2011.

MR. CROWLEY: In the new Iraq. (Laughter.) Al-Sadr is the leader of an Iraqi political party that won a number of seats in the March 2010 election, and his return is a matter between him and the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: And so there’s nothing that the U.S. is asking or pressuring the Iraqi Government behind the scenes to pressure him about, to tone down his anti-U.S. activities or anything like that? Have we talked to Prime Minister Maliki about getting al-Sadr to tone down his anti-U.S. rhetoric or activities? It’s not something you’re exerting pressure on at all?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our concerns about his rhetoric in the past is well-known, but what happens with him going forward is a matter for him and the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Given that he was (inaudible) the last (inaudible) years studying in Iran, are you concerned about what sort of political influence he may try to wield, given his recent experiences?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, his party is – was – won a significant number of seats. We certainly hope that that party will play a constructive role as part of the government coalition. What he actually does, I’m not sure I can predict.

QUESTION: There are already people, though, on the streets of Baghdad suggesting that he’s simply going to foment a return to the sort of violence we saw in 2006 and 2007.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that would be tragic for Iraq, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve worked so hard to build up the capability of Iraqi security forces to handle whatever challenge to the government occurs.

QUESTION: Question for Afghanistan. Yesterday President Karzai has suggested that international forces should leave Afghanistan, otherwise the country will not be able to work on its own.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a strategy that is supported by the United States, NATO, the international community, and Afghanistan. We’re approaching in 2011 an important pivot point, where we’ll begin the process of transferring security responsibility from the U.S. and international forces to Afghanistan. And that process, we hope, will culminate in 2014. So we have a strategy which President Karzai, President Obama, and other leaders within NATO have given their full support to.

QUESTION: Same topic. The Afghan Peace Council is visiting in Pakistan. What is the U.S. hoping will be accomplished?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is an Afghan-led process. We support it. Reconciliation and reintegration seeks to bring back into society those who cease violence, break ties with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and accept the Afghan constitution, including provisions that protect the rights of all Afghan men and women. So we welcome efforts that strengthen cooperation and coordination between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: But who exactly are – the Peace Council members, who exactly are they talking to in Pakistan? I mean, even some of the Afghans have expressed some concern about the political instability in Pakistan right now. Is there any fear that because of what’s going on there that these negotiations, these talks, may come to nothing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as we’ve said, this is an Afghan-led process. Ultimately, they will be the ones who are doing the talking, but we fully understand that many countries have an interest in a stable Afghanistan, and other countries can play a role in supporting this Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: Are any U.S. officials involved in these talks?

MR. CROWLEY: We are supporting the process, but it’s an Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: And finally, could you – do you have any more details on Frank Ruggiero’s schedule, any more scheduling details?

MR. CROWLEY: Not beyond what I gave yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: P.J. --

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: P.J. --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Wait, hold on. (Inaudible) hasn’t had one yet.

QUESTION: Change subjects?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Middle East peace process. Today, the chief Palestinian negotiator claimed that Mr. Netanyahu’s claim that you withdrew the offer is not true; that simply, they refused to go along with the offer that was submitted by the United States to continue with the moratorium. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, as – we made the decision based on our discussions with the parties that an extension of the settlement moratorium would not at this time create the conditions to return to effective negotiations. We’ve shifted the basis of our ongoing engagement with the parties. It was our decision, but our decision based on our discussions with the parties.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Israeli foreign minister that there will be no peace agreement with the Palestinians in the many decades to come?

MR. CROWLEY: We have a much more aggressive timetable than he does.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. I asked earlier, was Pakistan discussed during the Secretary’s meeting with the Chinese foreign minister? And also, at the same time, Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Pakistani ambassador, if U.S. has any concern as far as their nuclear program is concerned because of the situation in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me put it this way. I don’t recall that Pakistan specifically came up in today’s discussion, but we obviously share an interest with China in stability in this part of the world. The Secretary did meet with Ambassador Haqqani yesterday. It was a wide-ranging discussion, including planning for the Strategic Dialogue, the upcoming trilateral meeting, which I’ll clarify is at the foreign minister level and will be hosted by Secretary Clinton, a potential visit to the United States by President Zardari, and they did discuss the current political situation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:00 p.m.)



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