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Middle East Digest - January 6, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 6, 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 6, 2011

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MR. TONER: Beginning with the Secretary of State’s travel to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar from January 8th through 13th. At each stop, Secretary Clinton will consult with government officials on a full range of regional and bilateral issues and emphasize the importance of government, civil society engagement. In addition to these meetings, the Secretary will engage with civil society and community leaders in each country, working to help citizens realize shared aspirations for progress. This engagement underscores the U.S. commitment to support civil society and promote partnerships that lead to prosperity for the people of the region.

In Qatar, the Secretary will participate in the seventh Forum For The Future, which is a joint initiative of the countries of the broader Middle East and North Africa region and the industrialized countries of the Group of Eight. This ministerial event brings together civil society representatives and government officials to discuss and exchange ideas on how best to work together to foster progress and expand opportunities for the people of the region. And given that she’s leaving on Saturday, we’ll make every effort to try to get a more full briefing for you before she departs that can walk you through some of the details of that trip.

MR. TONER: As you know, Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero is in Pakistan today, where he met with the Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani as well as Minister of Finance Hafeez Shaikh. At the conclusion of their meeting, Acting SRAP Ruggiero announced that the U.S. plans to contribute $190 million from funds authorized by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation to the Government of Pakistan’s Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. This commitment is part of the $500 million in accelerated flood recovery and reconstruction assistance that Ambassador Holbrooke announced during his November visit to Pakistan.

Acting SRAP Ruggiero also urged the Pakistani Government to quickly implement the necessary accountability mechanisms, particularly those already agreed to with the World Bank, in order to enable expeditious release of the U.S. and other donor funds to the Citizens Damage Compensation Fund. And we’ll continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to identify priorities for the remainder of the U.S. commitment to provide up to 500 million of accelerated U.S. assistance from Kerry-Lugar-Berman.

MR. TONER: Finally, a story that many of you have been following this morning about a U.S. female – U.S. citizen possibly detained in Iran for alleged spying. There’s lots of conflicting reports swirling about on this issue. We’ve reached out through our Swiss protectorate to try to ascertain the facts surrounding this incident. And once we get more information, we’ll, obviously, share that with you.

QUESTION: Can you say at this point whether you know she is an American?

MR. TONER: We do not. And I just say we’ve also reached out – given that she reportedly crossed over from Armenia – that we have also made inquiries to our embassy in Yerevan.

QUESTION: So there’s absolutely nothing that you can tell us?

MR. TONER: We really don’t. I mean, what we’ve heard so far is precisely conflicting reports. So frankly, rather than give those any kind of momentum or life, I’d rather just wait until we have the facts.

QUESTION: Conflicting media reports?

MR. TONER: Conflicting media reports.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah, Pakistan.

QUESTION: Yeah. Listen. The Pakistani Government has said that it plans to roll back the fuel price increases that went into effect on January the 1st. In so doing, it is endangering its ability to continue to receive funds under the IMF’s $11 billion loan program. $11 billion is a lot more than the 190 million that you just mentioned. That’s part of the 500 million that Ambassador Holbrooke announced in November. And I want to know what is the U.S. Government’s view of the Pakistani Government’s decision to roll back those fuel price increases, particularly in the context of Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary Clinton’s calls for the Pakistani Government to increase its ability to raise revenues?

MR. TONER: Well, precisely. I mean – and we stand by the fact that – what we’ve said all along is that the reforms that the Government of Pakistan is undertaking are difficult, but they’re important for its long-term economic stability.

QUESTION: So it is a bad thing that they’re rolling back these fuel price increases?

MR. TONER: That is our belief and that is our position. I’m not going to weigh into Pakistani domestic politics. But we believe that, again, these reforms, though difficult, are necessary.

QUESTION: So wait, wait, just to make sure – make clear when you say --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- your response to Arshad’s question, which was “So you think it’s a bad thing,” and your response to that was, “That is our position.”

QUESTION: And then you said that is our belief.

QUESTION: Our belief.

MR. TONER: Well, look, our position is that Pakistan needs to undertake difficult economic reforms that are going to require some pain, frankly, politically. But beyond that, I am not going to weigh into what is a domestic, political debate in Pakistan.

QUESTION: But you just did. When you say that Pakistan needs to undertake political reform, difficult political reforms that are going to cause pain --

MR. TONER: But we’ve said that all along. I mean, we realize these are difficult things. We encourage the Pakistani Government to undertake these reforms. But again, I’m going to stop short of --

QUESTION: Well, when we were there with the Secretary on her last trip, she talked about how they – they had to totally fix their tax structure, which seems to me to be an internal domestic thing, that not enough people were paying taxes, that – and that a they had to fix it.

MR. TONER: I’m aware of those remarks.

QUESTION: Now, telling them that they need to do that, which is a completely domestic internal or inland revenue matter, depending on which tradition you’re from, that seems to be getting involved in it. So why can’t you say that you think that the fuel price increases are needed, are necessary?

MR. TONER: Well, I think I did say that these reforms that they are now trying to undertake are important and are necessary for the long-term economic stability of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Mark, just to be clear, and this is just so that we don’t misconstrue anything that you said --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: In your response to my question, “Is this a bad thing,” and you said “That’s our position, that’s our belief,” did you mean to refer --

MR. TONER: Our belief is that these --

QUESTION: Did you mean to refer to the bad or did you mean to refer to your previous statement about how the reforms are necessary?

MR. TONER: About the economic – right, exactly, that these are difficult reforms to undertake, but we believe they’re necessary.

QUESTION: Okay. And then did --

MR. TONER: But as to the political process that’s underway right now about enacting those reforms, that’s – and I agree it’s a nebulous line, but we don’t want to weigh into domestic politics.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the second thing, you said that Acting Special Representative Ruggiero had met with – his meetings included with the finance minister.

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Did he raise this issue with the finance minister and make clear your belief that reforms that run directly counter to the government’s decision are necessary?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll try to find out and clarify that.

QUESTION: Mark, may I just follow?

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: A couple of questions just following up. One, as far as this $193 million and more of the 500 million --

MR. TONER: Hundred ninety million, yeah.

QUESTION: Right. Do you think this – because of this visit at this time, the situation in Pakistan has been defused; and second, if Secretary has spoken with anybody in Pakistan; and third, are you concerned about this situation and the nuclear program of the Pakistanis; and also if you are going to reassess any of the U.S. policy because of this ongoing current situation in Pakistan?

MR. TONER: In answer --

QUESTION: Yes, yes, no, no, no. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: How’d you know? The Secretary met with the Pakistani ambassador here, I think, two days ago.

QUESTION: Did she spoke anybody in Pakistan?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware. I don’t believe so. Now I’ve forgotten everything else you asked. (Laughter.) Do we believe they turned a corner on the domestic political crisis – is that what you asked – or that – Ruggiero’s visit?

QUESTION: I mean, yeah, this – according to --

MR. TONER: Right. I mean, Frank Ruggiero’s visit there is about our strategic partnership with Pakistan in the larger context of our mission to – obviously to bring greater security and stability to that region. I can imagine they discussed the political situation there. But to say that that was the intent of his visit is clearly overstating. " OUT

QUESTION: Can you go back to Pakistan for a minute?

MR. TONER: We can go back to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Your answers to Matt’s and Arshad’s questions. For me, it seems that you are asking Pakistan to increase the gas prices. Isn’t it interference in the internal economic affairs to what to do, what not to do?

MR. TONER: Well, I said I don’t want to weigh into what is a domestic political debate. But what we’ve tried to make clear all along, what the Secretary tried to make clear when she was there recently is that we believe that there’s hard reforms that the Pakistani Government needs to take, and we do recognize that these are difficult, but they’re in the long-term interest of Pakistan’s economic stability and growth.

QUESTION: And secondly, is the acting special representative traveling to India also doing this trip?

MR. TONER: The acting – oh, is traveling to India?

QUESTION: India. Does he have any plans to?

MR. TONER: I will check on that. I’m not aware.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, can I just quickly go into Pakistan one more, please?

MR. TONER: We never left.

QUESTION: Do you – are you thinking of any reassessment of U.S. policy toward Pakistan because of this turmoil going on?


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