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Middle East Digest - January 26, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 26, 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 26, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: As you saw earlier, the Secretary met this morning with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, reviewing a range of issues across the region. But they did spend a great deal of time talking about our bilateral relationship. The foreign minister and the minister of planning spent a great deal of time talking through what Jordan has done itself to reduce deficits, create jobs for its own citizens, improve its education system, create innovations within its society, and expressed concern about food and oil prices but reiterated the importance of ongoing U.S. financial assistance to Jordan.

And since we were with you last, just to recap, yesterday the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Saudabayev of Kazakhstan. They talked about cooperation to support Afghanistan Kazakhstan provides for the transit of supplies through the northern distribution network. They talked about ideas on deepening our cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation. During the meeting, Secretary Clinton emphasized the United States’s concern that the national referendum that would extend President Nazarbayev’s term of office to 2020 would be a setback for democracy, and we hope that Kazakhstan will renew its commitments to democracy, good governance, and human rights.

Today, in Afghanistan, the United States congratulated the government and people of Afghanistan on the inauguration of their new parliament. We commend the voters in particular who have steadfastly and courageously supported peace and democracy despite tremendous challenges. We look forward to supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of

Afghanistan as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches work together to advance the priorities of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: P.J., on Egypt, are you aware of reports that a number of journalists have been detained, some of them roughed up, by Egyptian police in trying to cover the demonstrations? And if you are, what do you make of this?

MR. CROWLEY: We are aware that certain reporters have been detained, I think a couple of AP reporters in particular. We have raised this issue already with the ministry of foreign affairs and we will continue to monitor these cases until they are successfully resolved.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you say you’ve raised the issue with the ministry of foreign affairs, does that mean you’ve said that you expect that these people will be released or that they will be treated well?

MR. CROWLEY: We are calling for the release of journalists, yes. Absolutely, and we will continue to raise this with the Egyptian Government if it is not quickly resolved.

QUESTION: Okay. And then more broadly, the Egyptians say that they’ve arrested close to – I think it’s close to a thousand people now. What about those people?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary made clear in her remarks earlier today, we believe it’s vitally important for Egypt to respect the universal right of its people to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right to peacefully protest. Our ambassador, Margaret Scobey, had a meeting today with the Egyptian Government. She expressed our concern about the situation and the need for the Egyptian Government to demonstrate restraint. She also raised the issue of interference with social media. Internet freedom is just as important as a citizen’s right to enter a city square or criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

QUESTION: When you say that Scobey met with the – who did she meet with?

MR. CROWLEY: She met with the Minister of State for Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab.

Goyal. Oh, I should mention one thing. Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman left Tunisia today. He’s now in Paris conferring with his counterpart within the French Government. But he met today with civil society representatives and had a press conference with Tunisian media. And that’s the latest on him as well.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for him to go to Egypt?


QUESTION: Any plans for him to go to Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think so. I think he’s coming back here tomorrow. I think there’s a conference later this week on Iraq that he plans to attend.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. He’s in Paris talking about what? About Lebanon or Tunisia?

MR. CROWLEY: He’s meeting with his counterpart. I have no doubt that the bulk of the conversation will be on Lebanon.

QUESTION: Just on the reform issue with the Secretary this morning and the statement last night --

MR. CROWLEY: But yeah, I think he’ll also talk about Tunisia.

QUESTION: -- was talking about that now’s a good time for Mubarak maybe to move ahead with some reforms. And you talked broadly about the political, economic, social opportunity. Does the U.S. Government have any specific ideas about political reforms, which might improve the situation in Egypt, and are you making those suggestions to them?

MR. CROWLEY: This is a conversation that we’ve had with Egypt for some time. We do believe that political reform is important for Egypt, just as it’s important for other countries in the region. We have long called for Egypt to create greater space for broader participation in its political process. Our concern and the fact that we have raised this issue with Egypt is longstanding, actually.

QUESTION: And second, as far as black money in the Swiss banks are concerned and accountability, many people now around the globe are asking that Swiss should open their banks now, just like any other banks around the globe because – do you believe that because of the secret accounts by money held in billions of dollars by the corrupt politicians and al-Qaida and terrorists, the Swiss are spreading terrorism and money laundering around the globe because of their secured accounts?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that I would say that, Goyal. I mean, obviously we have had discussions with the Swiss Government about our own concerns, but I’ll take the question as to whether we have a view about Swiss banking practices broadly.

QUESTION: A question about the efforts for peace in the Middle East. Al Jazeera has learned that the United States put a lot of pressure on the Palestinian Authority in October of 2009 to stonewall the Goldstone report and to refrain from going to any international organizations to seek legal relief or redress. Why was the United States insistent that the PA don’t go to any international organizations?

MR. CROWLEY: And how would you know this?

QUESTION: Well, we’ve learned this from documents that we have.

MR. CROWLEY: All right. And we’re not going to talk --

QUESTION: Well, actually, it was public knowledge at the time.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say – I am just – we’re not going to talk about any documents. The issue of bringing up the Goldstone report was a subject of significant controversy within the Human Rights Council. There were formal and – sessions on that. Our view was well-stated at the time, that we did not think that the Human Rights Council was the appropriate forum to consider the issues in the Goldstone report. We made that clear publicly. We made that clear to the Palestinians. That’s actually, as Matt suggested, not new news.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up. I mean, the Palestinian Authority subsequently rejected the Goldstone report, then they accepted it, then they rejected it. And they came in from withering criticism, just – not only from the Palestinian people, but also from neighboring Arab states. Why did the United States not anticipate at that time that there would be a question mark over the credibility of the PA when they did that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, at the – as I recall, at the time that the report was commissioned, the United States was not a member of the Human Rights Council. We’ve made our – we have made our views clear about this issue in the context of the Human Rights Council, in the context of the report itself. We’ve not been shy about criticizing the findings of the Goldstone report. We recognize that that, at the time, significantly complicated and retarded efforts to achieve Middle East peace. So again, we’re very much on the record on these issues already.

QUESTION: Well, but – yet isn’t it a fact that you didn’t like the Goldstone report and you didn’t want the Palestinians to raise it in the council because you thought it would be unfair to Israel?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’ve --

QUESTION: Isn’t that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve got a very strong and public record regarding our views of the Goldstone report.

QUESTION: So the answer to that is yes, right?

MR. CROWLEY: The answer to that is you –

QUESTION: You thought it would be unfairly --

MR. CROWLEY: If you want me to do a dramatic recitation --

QUESTION: You thought it would be unfairly – no, no, no. You thought it would be unfairly --

MR. CROWLEY: -- of our view of the Goldstone report, I’ll be happy to --

QUESTION: You thought it – there is a point to the reason --


QUESTION: There is a point to my question. The reason that you thought – that you didn’t support the Goldstone report, it was because you thought it would be, and then you thought that it turned out to be, unfairly critical of Israel. Isn’t that a fact?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the fact is that our concern all along, independent of the contents of the Goldstone report, which we did not think was fair, was --

QUESTION: So you could just say yes and that would be --

MR. CROWLEY: Hey, all right, fine, but we – it has been borne out in terms of the effect that the Goldstone report at the time, and subsequently, had on our ability to move the parties into a direct negotiation. That has had a material effect on a delay in getting the process started and has complicated our efforts over the past two years.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I’ll take that as an answer, “Yes,” to my question that, “Isn’t it a fact that that’s the reason?” So isn’t it also a fact that there was serious disagreement within the Palestinian Authority about what to do about this --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, that --

QUESTION: -- that initially, they agreed with you not to do it, that they came under --

MR. CROWLEY: As to --

QUESTION: -- huge pressure at home and they did do it?

MR. CROWLEY: As to the issues of – I mean, there were lots of conversations about --

QUESTION: I just remember all of this being on the record --

MR. CROWLEY: I was going to say – but --

QUESTION: -- back at the time, so I --

MR. CROWLEY: I will defer to the Palestinians to describe their conversations with other governments that had an interest in this report.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Staying on this broad subject, though, was – this concerns General Dayton and his – he and his office have claimed that they’re not aware – they were not aware of allegations that Palestinian intelligence agents were torturing people. Is that, in fact, the case?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to put words in General Dayton’s mouth. I would say that, first of all, there have been no reports of U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces engaging in torture. That said, over the past year, the State Department documented over 100 complaints of prisoner torture which often targeted political detainees suspected of ties to Hamas or Israel. We have raised those concerns repeatedly with Palestinian officials.

That said, the Palestinian security forces have come a long way. Their professionalism has increased over recent years. There’s obviously still much work to be done, and this is a vitally important element of Palestinian efforts to build up strong institutions of governance, including security forces that have the confidence of the Palestinian people and confidence of other countries in the region. And we will continue to work with the Palestinian civilian justice sector institutions as part of our overall efforts.

QUESTION: Would these documented – more than 100 documented, or more than 100 cases that you have documented of torture – would General Dayton have been aware of those?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll be happy to research that.

QUESTION: Staying in the region. Again, Israel – one day after Israel commission released its report on flotilla crisis, Turkey also released its own report. How do you view Turkish report on the flotilla crisis, which basically contrary to Israeli report right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s recapture a little bit here. Last September, the Turkish National Commission of Inquiry submitted its interim report to the UN Secretary General’s panel of inquiry. Each country – Turkey and Israel – has worked seriously and responsibly to get at the facts, and both have made important contributions to the work of the Secretary General’s panel.

We look forward to the process continuing at the United Nations within the Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry – it’s also called the Palmer Commission – which will give the international community the opportunity to fully review the circumstances surrounding this incident. And we look forward to a full examination of facts and perspectives from all sides.

So we would say that the fact – that the contribution made by Turkey and its analysis and Israel and its ongoing analysis will help us in this ongoing effort to understand what happened fully. And this is an area that still has work to be done.

What is of equal importance to us is the longstanding ties that we have to both Israel and Turkey. They are both close friends of the United States. They have a relationship that has been important bilaterally and to the region, and we hope that both countries will continue to seek opportunities to move beyond the recent strains in their own bilateral relations.

QUESTION: So these reports – this relationship is getting even worse, with the reports, Turkish and Israeli, and we don’t know exactly what the Palmer is going to be. But it seems like the relationship between these two allies of the U.S. in the region, two of the most important allies in the region, are getting worse, not for better.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s – I think that we simply recognize the importance of this relationship, and we do know that there are efforts being made on both sides to find ways to resolve the strains that do exist. We hope that can be done, because this relationship has very significant meaning, both in terms of our respective relations with these two countries, but more importantly, Turkey has been a significant player in helping to resolve issues in the region related to the pursuit of Middle East peace. And we would hope that in the future that effort can continue.


MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: (Inaudible). What is the U.S. response to the fact Interpol has just released a statement saying that they put out an international alert for the location and arrest of the Tunisian President Ben Ali?

QUESTION: Can we go back and stay with Turkey for a second?

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: I just – on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into this. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t – wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent.

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has --

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So – but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis'?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one.

QUESTION: Well, how can they both be --

MR. CROWLEY: I think both countries are --

QUESTION: How can they both be credible --

MR. CROWLEY: Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year.

QUESTION: Are they? Or are they helping to contribute to their version of what happened?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they – each has provided the UN Secretary General with a report. These are important steps. They contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened. And through Palmer Commission we will try to obviously resolve contradictory points of view. We understand that.

QUESTION: I have a question about the Tunisian former president. Interpol has just put out a global alert for his arrest – location and arrest.

MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for Tunisian authorities.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the Palestine papers for just one second. The Palestinians, or at least one Palestinian official, is claiming to have discovered the source of the leak of these documents. It’s a person who I believe is known to you from Camp David, Clayton Swisher. Anyway, he – the only reason I mention his name is that the Palestinian official – who I believe is Saeb Erekat, but I could be wrong – said that he had asked the State Department to look into whether – into this gentleman who is now believed to be working for Al Jazeera. Are you aware of any requests from the Palestinians to interview or talk with this person?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware, but we can take that question and see if it’s been raised.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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