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Middle East Digest - January 10, 2011


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Washington, DC
January 10, 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 10, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary, as you know, has finished her first full day in the Gulf. She participated in meetings and events today in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including a townterview co-hosted by Middle East Broadcasting Company’s Kalam Nawaem at Zayed University. She also visited Masdar City and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. She met with the staff and families of our Embassy in Abu Dhabi to thank them for their dedicated and tireless efforts. And she met separately with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Emirati Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid to discuss regional and bilateral issues, and emphasize the importance of government-to-civil society engagement.

This week, we are anticipating that envoys Yitzhak Molho and Saeb Erekat will come to Washington to meet separately with U.S. officials as part of our ongoing consultations with the parties at the working level to achieve a framework agreement on all core issues. We’d anticipate those meetings will include George Mitchell.

For several days there has been media reports regarding an American citizen in and around Iran. I can report to you that U.S. consular officials in Turkey have been in touch with this citizen and that we can convert – we can report that the individual is safe and has not requested – we offered consular assistance and none has been requested. So as far as we’re concerned, this case is closed. But we do not have a Privacy Act waiver, so ultimately it will be up to this individual and the family to determine if they wish to describe in any further detail the – her --

QUESTION: Can we just stay with --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I know you have other things to say, but they are safe where? In Turkey or they’re safe in Iran and they don’t want any consular --

MR. CROWLEY: No, our consular officials contacted the individual in Turkey.

QUESTION: And what is the individual’s name?

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver, so I cannot report that to you.

QUESTION: Was she ever in Iran at all?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not at liberty to talk about her travel other than to say that we have been in telephone contact with her in Turkey. She is safe and did not request any further assistance from us.

QUESTION: She was not arrested at any point?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m going to leave it there.

QUESTION: But is it clear --

MR. CROWLEY: As to where she was, how she might have attempted to enter Iran and her interactions at the border, I will leave it to – if this citizen wishes to describe her travel, that’s up to her.

QUESTION: Just so we’re clear, though. I know you can’t identify the individual, but this is the individual who was reported to have been arrested?

MR. CROWLEY: In multiple places, yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: So there have been various reports – as far as we can determine, one individual, one case – and she is not in Iran.

QUESTION: So what was the source of the Iranian allegation in this case?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will – as we reported to you last week, we had inquired through the Swiss whether the Iranian Government at the national level had any information. It was reported back that they did not. As to whether there was other interaction at the border itself, at the local level, again, we’re going to leave it to this individual to report on what happened if she chooses.

QUESTION: P.J., you said that Yitzhak Molho and Saeb Erekat are coming to town this week.

(Cell phone rings.)

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to answer that first? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, that’s not mine. That’s not mine.

MR. CROWLEY: Sorry.

QUESTION: I never have it on. Anyway, you were saying that Yitzhak Molho and Saeb Erekat will be in town holding --

MR. CROWLEY: Later this week.

QUESTION: -- bilateral meetings --

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- not trilateral meetings.

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: Now, does that mean that they will be in the building at the same time with someone like George Mitchell going in between?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t – I mean, we are having – we are engaged with the parties on substantive issues. I wouldn’t necessarily anticipate that will be any three-way activity.

QUESTION: But surely, from your experience, you know how these things will be conducted. Could you share with us how will they be conducted?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are at the working level. We are engaged with the parties, working to narrow the gaps that exist on the core issues. And that is something that we continue to aggressively do with the respective sides.

QUESTION: Okay, now, will they begin from, let’s say, where the talks ended last time or will they begin anew?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I completely understand the question. I mean, we had some activity at the working level before the new year.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re into a new year. As we kind of hinted to you last week, we anticipated there would be follow-up discussions, and those will occur this week.

QUESTION: I guess my question is: Will the settlements be the issue where everybody gets stuck again?

MR. CROWLEY: Will – I mean, we are working with the parties on the core issues. They’re well known. But I don’t know whether the meetings we have come up will address one issue, all the issues – I don’t know.

QUESTION: When are these meetings? I know you said this week, but what days?

MR. CROWLEY: Towards the end of the week. I don’t know that the specific timing in both cases is yet set.

QUESTION: And then on – in terms of the core issues, the Secretary took the relatively unusual step of issuing a statement yesterday that specifically raised her concerns about the demolition of part of the famed Shepherd’s Hotel in Jerusalem. From the actions on the ground, it would seem as if nobody is any closer on the core issues, given that the demolition of this – or at least the partial demolition of this building went ahead despite your view, let alone the Palestinians’ view, that such things should not happen and that Jerusalem and building in Jerusalem should be decided in final status negotiations.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I wouldn’t say that it was an unusual step. Where we have had concerns about unilateral actions by either side, we have not hesitated through this process to express our concerns. The Secretary said yesterday that the demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel was a disturbing development that undermines the peace efforts to achieve a two-state solution. Her language is very clear. It’s very consistent with the well-stated policies that we have regarding East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, though, that the demolition and your commentary on it illustrates that the two sides are no closer on at least that core issue?

MR. CROWLEY: It is expressly the kinds of meetings that we’re going to have this week. Our efforts to move the parties towards a framework agreement and back into direct negotiations, which is at the heart of the concerns that we expressed yesterday. We’ve made very clear that these kinds of steps need to be resolved inside a negotiating process and not subject to changing the facts on the ground outside of that negotiating process.

QUESTION: One other about this: Do – you said toward the end of the week. One of the reasons why I asked was, as you know, the Secretary is traveling for much of the week, and you described these as working-level. Do you expect any of the meetings to perhaps take place when she is back in town, and do you expect her to participate in –

MR. CROWLEY: I do not anticipate, at the present time, that she would be involved in these meetings.

QUESTION: Back to the demolition. I mean, understood that you believe that these should take place in the context – these type of steps shouldn’t be creating realties on the ground. But does that – I mean, even in terms of all you’ve said to the parties in the last few weeks, and the Secretary’s speech, in terms of creating the kind of atmosphere that’s necessary for talks. I mean, does an action like this signal to you that the Israelis are making any efforts whatsoever to create an atmosphere for – I mean, this is exactly the opposite of creating an atmosphere for talks.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that – I mean, the Shepherd’s Hotel has particular historical significance, but we have seen actions on the ground in the context of East Jerusalem, so in that – absent the aspect of this being a unique structure, these kinds of activities have occurred in the past. We have expressed our concerns in the past and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Question on Vice President Biden’s visit to Afghanistan: Would it be fair to say that his visit is meant in part to smooth things over after President Obama’s visit there, when he cancelled a face-to-face meeting with the president?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it would be fair to say that the White House is in the best position to characterize what he hopes to achieve during his travel. He is currently in Afghanistan, and I’ll just leave it to the White House to catalogue where he is and who he’s talking to.

QUESTION: May I just follow up? Also, Indian foreign minister was in Afghanistan, and he said that India is now again at the brink of terrorism war, or terrorists may strike India at the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan and also in India itself. So what India is seeking now, he said, protection as far as Indians in Afghanistan and the Indian diplomats at the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan is concerned. Do you have any comments about his remarks in which he told the Afghanistani president that –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, Goyal, as we’ve said many times, we have taken a regional approach to these challenges. The challenge of political extremism is not just focused on any one country. There have been attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, in India. And this is why we’re deeply engaged across the region with Afghanistan, with Pakistan, with India to try to attack this extremism that affects all of our countries.

QUESTION: And so, P.J., what he said – he mentioned that somebody, means he was – I’m sure he was referring to Pakistan – that somebody wants India to be out of Afghanistan.

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear that India, as a regional and emerging global power, has every right to have its own relationship with Afghanistan, and we appreciate the support to the Government of Afghanistan that India has provided.

QUESTION: Thank you. Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero is in Kabul today as well. Could you talk about what meetings he will have with senior U.S. and Afghan officials, what’s the goals of his visit there? And please give us an update on the search for a permanent replacement.

MR. CROWLEY: The search for replacement to Ambassador Holbrooke is ongoing, but as you say, Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero has been in Pakistan. He is in Afghanistan, has met with President Karzai, and this is his – obviously, prior to assuming the role as acting SRAP, he was himself based in Kabul. So he has the opportunity to return, see what has – the progress that has occurred on the ground, and confer with General Petraeus, Ambassador Eikenberry, and Afghan officials.

He had a very successful trip to Pakistan to demonstrate that we are committed to helping to build a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan, to use the opportunity while he was there to announce a contribution of $190 million to Pakistan’s Citizen Damage Compensation Fund. This was part of the $500 million in Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act funds that Ambassador Holbrooke had previously committed to help Pakistan with its flood relief.

QUESTION: Is it true that, as The Washington Post reported, that Frank Ruggiero is not on the list of possible permanent replacements for --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, the search is ongoing, and when the Administration determines who will succeed the late Ambassador Holbrooke, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: P.J., how would you comment when foreign policy (inaudible), including Mr. Berman? And also, al Jazeera said that Pakistan is a most dangerous place today and also it’s a failed state.

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we are trying to help Pakistan improve its government, improve that government’s relationship with its people, help Pakistan develop the tools and the strategy to combat extremism within its borders. This extremism is, first and foremost, a threat to Pakistan itself. There’s no country that has suffered more significantly from terrorism than Pakistan itself. It’s a strategic country. It is important in terms of regional stability, it’s important to the United States and others in terms of its links to extremism and the risk of terrorism that does affect all of us, including the United States. We are committed to a long-term partnership with Pakistan, and the SRAP’s trip is an indication of that.

QUESTION: Also, the report said that only a few very elite enjoys the U.S. aid in Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: We are committed to helping improve the circumstances on the ground for the people of Pakistan from those areas that were significantly affected by the flooding, but we have a strategy that is focused on all of Pakistan, including bringing greater economic opportunity to those areas where we have concerns about the presence of extremists that are – that can affect Pakistan on the one hand and Afghanistan on the other.

QUESTION: Has your strategy suffered a significant blow with the government’s decision to – described last week by the Secretary as a mistake – to roll back the price – the energy price increases?

MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. A stable civilian government supported by the people of Pakistan is essential to be able to carry out the strategy that we have worked out together. The Secretary has described our specific concerns that economic reforms continue, but economic reforms have multiple dimensions. Gasoline is one, but there are a number of other areas, from agriculture to reform of state-owned enterprises. Pakistan has to make progress on all of these areas.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: We quoted – sorry, can I keep going? We quoted a Pakistani petroleum ministry official as estimating that the rollback would – of the price increases would cost the government about $58 million a month. That, in one year alone, exceeds the $500 million in assistance that the late Ambassador Holbrooke announced. And even if there are other aspects to economic reform, I think it’s widely believed that economic reform in Pakistan is partly contingent on its continuing to receive money from the IMF. And that is, by most accounts, called into question by the fiscal implications of rolling back the price increases.

Given your support for Pakistan, are you willing, is the U.S. Government willing to step up and provide money if the IMF deems it unable to continue to do so?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have made our views clear to Pakistan on the importance of these economic reforms, plural. We will continue to do so. As the Secretary indicated, these reforms are fundamentally important to Pakistan’s future, and it is related to the ability of Pakistan to qualify for international assistance, as, Arshad, you just outlined. So this is vitally important, but we do understand that not only do you have to have the right strategy in pursuing these economic reforms is part of that strategy, but you have to have an effective government that is able to carry these out. The two have to go together.

QUESTION: But you’ve also talked about kind of giving aid, not just to Pakistan but to other countries in a way that is sustainable, so it’s not just necessarily aid, but it’s working in terms of partnerships.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: So is the U.S. willing to kind of expand discussions with Pakistan on giving it preferential treatment for textiles, for instance? I mean, that’s some way --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is --

QUESTION: -- you can definitely --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. And --

QUESTION: -- increase Pakistan’s revenue and help in terms of --

MR. CROWLEY: There is no question that economics is a very important dimension of boosting Pakistan. It not only has to have a viable economy, but it has to have access to markets. This is something that we continue to discuss with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Well, is that something that the U.S. is – that Secretary Clinton is willing to push with other agencies and --

MR. CROWLEY: As I said, we take a whole-of-government approach to our Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan. Trade is an important dimension, and this is something we continue to work within the U.S. Government and between the U.S. Government and Pakistan.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary believe that Pakistan should be afforded preferential treatment on textiles?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to be – I’m just saying that we understand that trade is an important dimension. This has been part of our ongoing conversation, and that will continue.

QUESTION: The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the U.S. is planning to announce more aid to Pakistan. Is it true? How much aid --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the fact is we have committed a significant amount of resources to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act. Over the last two years, we’ve tripled our civilian assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year, and that is a substantial amount of money. We’ve – it’s at the heart of the ongoing roadmap that we are working with Pakistan. I’m not aware of any plan to change that.

QUESTION: And there’s another bill pending in the Congress, R-O-Z bill, which would benefit both Afghanistan and Pakistan. What is the State Department’s --

MR. CROWLEY: Which bill is that?

QUESTION: R-O-Z, Reconstruction Opportunity Zone.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, that is something we continue to discuss with the Congress.

QUESTION: And do you have the list of the world leaders who will be coming for Ambassador Holbrooke’s memorial this week?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not have a full list.

QUESTION: Do you expect all of the special reps of Afghanistan from all of the ISAF countries?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me – I’ll talk to the SRAP Office and see what kind of details we’re going to have as we get closer to Friday’s event.



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