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Middle East Digest - January 13, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 13, 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 13, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: Secretary Clinton is en route back to the United States. In Doha today, she delivered remarks at the Seventh Forum of the Future. She called on leaders in the region to open greater political and economic space, particularly for Arab youth, to respect human rights, improve business climate, and combat corruption, and that these elements and more are important to the region’s future. And the impact of how the Middle East and Gulf regions develop going forward will have significance, obviously, on a worldwide basis.

She also met again briefly with Qatari Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Al-Thani to discuss regional developments, including Lebanon. She met with the staff and families of the U.S. Embassy in Doha to thank them for their hard work and dedication. She also met with civil society representatives from the Middle East and North Africa.

MR. CROWLEY: Here at the State Department, Senator George Mitchell met this morning with Saeb Erekat and will meet this afternoon with Yitzhak Molho. These meetings are part of our ongoing consultations with the parties to achieve a framework agreement on all core issues.

You asked, I think yesterday, about the status of Ambassador Robert Ford. He continues to have consultations here in Washington. He departs for Damascus on Saturday.

QUESTION: Can we talk for a moment about the conversation that Senator Mitchell had this morning –

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, let me just – I wanted to make –

QUESTION: Sure, okay.

MR. CROWLEY: You were asking yesterday also – the Secretary and her calls. Yesterday afternoon, she did have a call with UK Foreign Minister Hague. They talked about a range of issues, but most significantly the search for Middle East peace as well as developments in Lebanon – I’m sorry, developments in Yemen and Sudan.

QUESTION: They didn’t talk about Lebanon?

MR. CROWLEY: I think the conversation touched briefly on Lebanon, but they spent most of their time talking about the Middle East peace process.

QUESTION: Okay, the Middle East peace process. Will – did Senator Mitchell’s talks with Mr. Erekat this morning touch at all on the draft resolution that the Palestinians would love to see put to a vote in the Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t got a readout, Arshad, of his meetings. However, we have had and continue to have conversations with the Palestinians on that question.

QUESTION: And can you, just for the record, restate your position on addressing Israeli settlement activity in a Security Council resolution?

MR. CROWLEY: It is our belief that New York is the wrong forum to address these complex issues, that the parties should work to find a way back to direct negotiations as the only way to resolve these difficult issues and the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: On the Holbrooke memorial service, are you going to release details on attendees, including foreign dignitaries (inaudible)? We’ve been asking about it.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, yeah. I just – I’ve not seen an updated list. We’ll see what we can do. If we can, we will.

QUESTION: I have a question on Iran. During her trip, the Secretary made many comments about how Iran – how the sanctions are delaying Iran’s nuclear program. I was wondering if you attribute the delay in Iran’s nuclear program solely to the sanctions, or do you think – what do you think the assessment of the impact of this worm – I’m going to mispronounce it, so I won’t even –

MR. CROWLEY: Stuxnet.

QUESTION: Stuxnet, yes. And also, the recent assassination of several Iranian scientists, how does that factor in into your understanding of the delay of the program?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that I can answer that question without getting into intelligence matters. The Secretary believes that we have some time to deal with this issue, but that time is limited. It’s one of the reasons why we look forward to next week’s P-5+1 meeting. We hope that Iran comes to the table prepared to engage in a constructive process to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: But I mean, just to follow up, I mean this worm and assassinations of Iranian scientists have been kind of recognized as realities. So surely you don’t think that just the sanctions alone have contributed to the delay of the program. I mean, even senior Mossad officials, or former Mossad officials, have acknowledged that there has been – that there is a panoply of issues that have contributed to the delay. Wouldn’t you agree?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s safe to say that, on the one hand, Iran does appear to be struggling to master this technology. On the other hand, the path that Iran is on is of great concern, and we think, if this path continues, can be destabilizing to a very, very important region of the world.

QUESTION: No, I know, but that doesn’t specifically answer –

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Again, I’m –

QUESTION: I mean, do you – no, do you attribute – the Secretary made a great big showing about how the sanctions are delaying the program. Do you attribute the delay in the program, which you just acknowledged, solely to the sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe very definitely that the sanctions, which are targeted primarily against institutions that support Iran’s nuclear program, have had an impact. Are there other factors here? Probably.

QUESTION: Thank you. Have you done Yemen yet? I’m sorry to – I showed up late. No?

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Secretary had a meeting with Yemeni opposition leaders, after which the Yemeni Government banned opposition leaders from entering embassy – any embassy grounds for any reason without prior approval. Why did the Secretary meet with the opposition leaders? What is your comment on the fact that these meetings are now banned, et cetera?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of that announcement. We’ll take that question and see if we – and certainly, if such an announcement has occurred, we’ll definitely have a reaction to it.

The message to the Yemeni Government in the meetings with President Saleh focused on counterterrorism and our joint efforts to combat extremism in Yemen, which is a threat to Yemen and a threat to others, including the United States. She talked about the fact that we need to have a multi-track strategy, and political reform and economic reform in Yemen are vitally important to Yemen’s future.

As the Secretary travels, she frequently meets with opposition leaders in a variety of countries, so what she did in Yemen is not unusual. And certainly, Yemen has to develop an open political system, just as you said, for the region as a whole, today in her speech in Doha, so that all elements of Yemeni society or all elements of other countries can have the chance to participate fully in political affairs and contribute to the future of those countries.

QUESTION: What’s the next step after Senator Mitchell’s meetings today with the Israeli and the Palestinians?

MR. CROWLEY: At the working level, we are working on the core issues. We’re trying to narrow the gaps that exist. I would expect that we’ll have similar engagements, and this is all trying to build a foundation, improve trust, and try to move the parties back to direct negotiations. That is – this is an effort that will continue.

QUESTION: Do you expect Senator Mitchell to travel to the region after that?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, the meeting is either just happening or hasn’t happened yet. Let’s get through today and then we’ll evaluate what the appropriate next steps. But I would say expect that we’ll have further activity at the working level and see where it goes.

QUESTION: Can we say this is the beginning of your new approach to focus on the core issues?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, we had some activity late last year along the same lines.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, is there any more talk within the Administration about halting aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces and the result of the --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that we see a need at this point to review our assistance to Lebanon. We provide support to institutions like the Lebanese Armed Forces that operate under the constitutional authority of the Lebanese state. We believe that our support for these institutions is critical to a sovereign and independent Lebanon. We expect a new government will emerge through constitutional procedures, and at this point, there’s just no reason to speculate.

QUESTION: Can you get us a readout following Senator Mitchell’s meeting with Mr. Molho this afternoon?

MR. CROWLEY: I doubt it will be a whole lot more than what I’ve already told you.

QUESTION: Right. But --

MR. CROWLEY: Efforts will continue at the working level.

QUESTION: -- at least we would know that they had indeed actually met as --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. We will let you know that the meeting with Mr. Molho has occurred.

QUESTION: And can you let us know if either meeting touched on the question I raised, which is this draft Security Council resolution?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I actually thought I gave you an affirmative answer that I would expect that in one or both --

QUESTION: No, no, not what you expect.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, all right, all right.

QUESTION: I want to know if it – after the meeting, I want to know: Did they talk about it? I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I will see what I can do.

QUESTION: On Iran, are you – as you, I am sure, know, the Chinese foreign ministry today said that it would be difficult for their ambassador to the IAEA to get to Iran, because they happen to be in China at the moment, and I guess it’s hard to fly from China to Tehran. But are you pleased that it’s going to be hard for him to get there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think that we’re pleased that other countries that received invitations have seen through the Iranian gambit, just as we did. Whatever Iran contemplates in terms of opening up its facilities to visits by diplomats is no substitute for opening up its facilities to qualified IAEA inspectors so that – so we can truly assess what’s happening and use those visits and other cooperation that we would expect Iran to undertake with the IAEA to finally answer the questions the international community has about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: And are you disappointed that the Egyptian ambassador plans to take the tour? I mean, it’s your ally.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure a fine time will be had by all.

QUESTION: Well, the meeting with Zardari, any specific issues that the U.S. might want to bring up with the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is a vitally important partnership that we’re building with Pakistan. The Vice President was just there and had the opportunity to talk to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani. The President will have a chance to talk with President Zardari about the state of the relationship, what’s happening on the ground, and we look forward to the meeting tomorrow.

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