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Middle East Digest - January 18, 2011


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Washington, DC
January 18, 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 18, 2011

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QUESTION: Let’s see, where to begin? There are so many places. I’ll – can I start with the Middle East and the Palestinians talking about this resolution that they want to put into the Security Council this week which would condemn Israeli settlement activity. At the same time, they’re continuing their push to get countries to recognize their independence, even without a negotiated settlement. They raised the flag at their mission downtown here today, this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: Which, on that particular point, we had agreed months ago, but it doesn’t change their status in any way.

QUESTION: Well, no, but their status changed in August.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but the granting permission to raise the flag –

QUESTION: Well, that’s actually part of my question.

MR. CROWLEY: -- (inaudible) does not change their fundamental status of their diplomatic mission here in the United States.

QUESTION: No --

QUESTION: But did you approve their – the status of the –

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second. Hold on a second. The flag issue –

MR. CROWLEY: We digress.

QUESTION: -- would be a sideshow. I want to know what you’re going to do about this resolution at the UN and I want to know if you’re going to continue to oppose or lobby governments not to do what the Palestinians want, which is to recognize them as independent.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to be in conversation with a range of countries on this issue. Our view hasn’t changed. We’ve made that clear in our discussions with the Palestinians and others. We do not think that New York or the UN Security Council is the right forum for this issue, and we’ll continue to make that case.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, hold on. What does that mean? If you don’t think that New York or the Security Council is the right venue, that means that you will veto a resolution if it’s brought to the Council?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what happens from this point forward.

QUESTION: Well, are you trying to keep – prevent them from, or are you trying to dissuade them from – and their allies from bringing this to the Council?

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear that we do not think that this matter should be brought before the Security Council.

QUESTION: And when you do that, what do you tell them if it – what does that mean, exactly?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what that means is that we believe that –

QUESTION: Are you going to veto it if it comes up?

MR. CROWLEY: -- these issues should be resolved through the ongoing process and through direct negotiations. That is our position. We’ve made that position clear to those who have an interest in this issue. But again, I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the coming days.

QUESTION: All right. Well, as I understand it, the resolution merely restates what has been U.S. policy for some time, that – basically, it criticizes settlement activity.

MR. CROWLEY: And again –

QUESTION: Why is it not – why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t – that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.

MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?

MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

QUESTION: Plus, it undermines your own efforts. I mean, isn’t that the real reason, that it undermines your own peacemaking efforts?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not believe that this is a – would be a productive step.

QUESTION: But the peace process is not working, and your efforts didn’t achieve anything until now.

MR. CROWLEY: Michel, you’re right; as of this moment today, we do not have a framework agreement. That does not necessarily say that one is – that is not a – that’s an achievable task, in our view. And that remains something that we’re actively engaged in.

QUESTION: Are you contemplating any other – do you have any other levers at your disposal to persuade the Palestinians not to move ahead of these two tracks that you’re – you’re saying constantly that you don’t want them to do it, but they’re forging ahead anyway. What can the U.S. do in this situation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to engage the relevant actors. We do not think this would be a productive step.

QUESTION: Can you say exactly what will you think would be a productive step?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe the parties ultimately need to – in order to reach a framework agreement, they need to get back into direct negotiations, and we’re working to create the conditions that allows that to happen.

QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if – (laughter).

QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean –

QUESTION: Why not –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Matt, you’re –

QUESTION: I guess the fundamental question is –

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter.) It’s not half full or half empty. It’s completely empty. And I don’t really understand why it is that you would be opposed to a resolution that simply restates what U.S. policy has been for a long time. I mean –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate. We’ve made our position clear. We continue to make our position clear. I’m not going to speculate on what happens going forward.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve stated the policy, but the position’s not clear, because – do you think that settlements are illegal or not? And if they’re illegal when you say them from the podium, then why shouldn’t they be illegal according to UN resolutions, which you’ve acknowledged all along? Like why can’t you just restate what you’ve been –

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. Our position on settlements is well known.

QUESTION: Is that they’re illegal.

MR. CROWLEY: It hasn’t changed. You’re talking about is this a prospective step that moves the process forward? In our view, it would not be.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that the building of settlements is a productive step that moves the process forward?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that unilateral actions on all sides are not productive.

QUESTION: But you seem to think it’s okay – well, I mean, you don’t like it but there don’t seem to – you don’t – there’s nothing that you prevent – you don’t do anything to prevent the Israelis from continuing to build settlements. I mean, they continue to build them.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can continue to state our position, but I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the coming days.

QUESTION: I have a couple of issues related to consular affairs. Can you talk about an American citizen from Virginia that was in Kuwait? He was denied – he was basically – he was in Kuwait for a specific period of time and then was abducted by the Kuwaitis, was taken – he claims – his lawyer claims that he was beaten and then taken to the airport to board a plane back to the U.S., at which point he was denied – I guess he wasn’t allowed to get on the plane bound for the U.S. The lawyer is claiming that the Americans have been in kind of cahoots with the Kuwaitis in terms of his detention and are thwarting his deportation back to the United States, basically sending him into exile. Do you have anything on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all I can really tell you, because we do not have a Privacy Act Waiver, is that we are providing him consular access. Our last access was late last year, and we are committed to make sure that he has fair and humane treatment while in custody.

QUESTION: Are you providing him consular access or are you providing him FBI interrogation? I mean, which is it? Because he claims that --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, if you’ve got questions about the FBI, I’d defer to the FBI. We are doing what we do for any U.S. citizen anywhere in the world. If they’re in custody, we visit them on a regular basis. We make sure that they’re being well treated.

QUESTION: Well, he claims that he’s in custody because of information that you provided the Kuwaiti Government.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, if you’ve got those kinds of questions, I would direct them to other agencies besides this one.

QUESTION: So it is not – it would not be accurate to say that you’re sending a U.S. citizen into exile by denying him entry back into the United States?

MR. CROWLEY: No. What I’m saying is that we, the Department of State, have been in touch with him. We’re following his case. We’ve been in touch with him. We believe he is being well treated, and --

QUESTION: Actually, he’s – if I can correct you, he’s not in detention anymore.

MR. CROWLEY: I – look, I --

QUESTION: He was brought to the airport yesterday by the Kuwaitis, and allegedly, he was not able to board a flight for the United States because the U.S. said they will not accept him back --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. And that’s a question – if it’s a matter of whether he’s permitted to board a flight, that’s a matter to ask the TSA.

QUESTION: Okay. I have an equally ridiculous-sounding one. Apparently, there’s a British boy, a nine-year-old boy, whose grandparents wanted to take him on a surprise trip to Disneyland. And when they took him to the airport to surprise him, they were – or I guess when they took his passport to get his visa or something, it was –

MR. CROWLEY: Airport where?

QUESTION: Sorry, in Britain. He’s not able to get a visa to come to the United States, because allegedly, the U.S. Embassy claims that he doesn’t have a demonstration of, kind of, ties with the U.S. and they think that he would kind of seek asylum here. So are you – I mean, I understand –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with –

QUESTION: Could you look into that, please?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, of course, visa decisions are confidential. So I will look into it, but there may or may not be a whole lot that we could say.

QUESTION: It does sound a little bit ridiculous that a nine-year-old boy can’t come – that is basically in school and had a letter from his teachers that he would be returning back to school in Britain, wouldn’t – able to come to the United States to visit Disney World because he – because there is some fear that he wouldn’t go back when there is demonstration that he is.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that, but as you know – let me speak, broadly speaking, we are required to enforce the law in terms of judgments on visa applications, and that is one of the fundamental aspects enshrined in law, that in granting a visa to a foreign citizen, we have to be confident that that foreign citizen will meet the terms of that visa.

QUESTION: Both his grandparents apparently –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just saying I’m –

QUESTION: -- did provide documentation that he’d be able to –

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to second guess the judgment of any consular officer, but –

QUESTION: Okay, well if you could take the question?

MR. CROWLEY: -- I will see what – if there’s anything that we can say about that.

QUESTION: Can a nine-year-old get a visa to come to the States without being accompanied by someone?

QUESTION: The grandparents were going to bring him as a surprise trip for his ninth birthday.

QUESTION: I’m asking P.J.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I may or may not be able to comment.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Lebanon, France has called for the creation of an international contact group on Lebanon. The U.S. is one of six countries that would participate in this group. Have you agreed, first, to be part of this group? And when the first meeting would be held?

MR. CROWLEY: We are supporting this process. But as to when diplomats get together, I can’t project at this point.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Lebanon just for a second?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I realize the President and the Secretary put out statements yesterday after the indictments were submitted, but I’m just wondering what you make of the current – are you satisfied that your appeals for calm have gone – have been heeded? Do you still have concerns that – of more rupture in Lebanese – the fabric of Lebanese society because of the indictment?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we note that – we understand that this process is moving forward. There are judgments that are still under seal, but that – we do have ongoing concerns that various elements within Lebanon – both inside Lebanon and outside Lebanon – will continue to try to politicize this process. We continue to support Lebanon; we continue to support the work of that tribunal.

QUESTION: All right. What do you make of Nasrallah’s defense of Hezbollah and its allies pulling out of government saying that it was done peacefully; it was purely a political move?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the real question is what its purpose – I don’t think that we challenge that in a parliamentary system, various ministers can either support or oppose a sitting government. That’s not the issue. The issue really is what is the purpose – what is the intent of these actions and whose agenda are they actually serving. Our focus is on a sovereign, independent Lebanon, and we would hope that people should continue to focus on and support the needs of the Lebanese people at this time and not any outside agendas.

QUESTION: Right. But the Secretary said last week that this was a move intended to subvert justice. You’re calling into question whose agenda these ministers are acting on, and I’m –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the –

QUESTION: My question is: Why does it matter?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary said –

QUESTION: I mean, you support – particularly, we had this discussion about Pakistan a week or so ago where you took no position and talked about how – this being a vibrant demonstration of Pakistan’s political – of democracy and political freedom. Now, if Hezbollah, for whatever reason, wants to pull out of the government, why criticize it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the --

QUESTION: Why say it’s an attempt to subvert justice?

MR. CROWLEY: Our concern is that these actions are intended to force Lebanon to choose between justice and security. Now, that’s a false choice. As we said, there has been a political assassination. That assassination merits investigation and, where appropriate, indictment and prosecution. That is what the tribunal is doing. Its work should continue without interference.

QUESTION: After the arrival of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, have you talked to the Syrians about the situation in Lebanon, about – and about the contact group?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are engaged with a variety of countries that have been proposed for participation in this contact group process. Mr. Ford has arrived in Damascus. I’m not sure that he has, as yet, presented his credentials. Ergo, I’m not sure that he has been engaged in any discussions. But we continue to have discussions with the Syrian Government regarding Lebanon, yes.

QUESTION: But Syria has refused the contact group?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we – Syria has been involved in Lebanon. It has an interest in Lebanon. We have been in touch with the Syrian Government and are encouraging Syria and other countries to respect the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the reason for the visit of Mr. Gordon to Cyprus? And another question on Cyprus. As you know, the Secretary General to the United Nations moved their talks from Nicosia to Geneva. Can you tell us if the United States is going to send a coordinator to participate in these talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me take the second question. We are focused on the situation in Cyprus. We’ve been engaged since the Obama Administration came to office on this. We’ve had discussions here in Washington. But this was a good time for Assistant Secretary Gordon to see a situation on the ground first hand.



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