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Middle East Digest - January 27, 2011

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Washington, DC
January 28, 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 27, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Maura Connelly in Beirut met today with Prime Minister Hariri and also Prime Minister designate Mikati. We take notes of various statements by the prime minister and others that pledge that the new government will work on behalf of all Lebanese citizens, it will protect Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. The Secretary said yesterday that we will judge the new government by its actions, and the prime minister acknowledged that in his discussion with the ambassador a clear test will be the willingness of the new government to continue the support the work of the special tribunal for Lebanon.

QUESTION: Did you say that the United States has taken note of the prime minister’s statements or the prime minister designate’s statements?

MR. CROWLEY: The prime minister designate’s statements.

QUESTION: Excellent.


QUESTION: Another topic?


QUESTION: Egypt. Does the U.S. Government have any view about the return of former IAEA Director General Mohamed elBaradei to Egypt.

MR. CROWLEY: This is a matter for the Egyptian people and how they view his return.

QUESTION: Would you like to see more potential political candidates showing up in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: We would like to see political reform in Egypt, as we’ve made clear for a number of years, and a broader opportunity for people to participate in the political process in Egypt. How that – what that actually means in terms of who might run for what office, that’s, again, a matter for the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: Was there a particular significance to Secretary Clinton’s language yesterday when she said that “Egypt had an opportunity for political, economic, and social reform at this moment in time”? Normally, your exhortations for political reforms in other countries, and particularly in Egypt, are much less specific in terms of time. Was she trying to signal a particular urgency because of the protests?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is actually not necessarily a new issue. We’ve had – this has been part –

QUESTION: I didn’t say it was a new issue.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I know that. And –

QUESTION: Then why are you saying it’s not a new issue? I didn’t say it was, right?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me continue.

QUESTION: Please do.

MR. CROWLEY: This is an issue that we have talked at length with Egypt for quite some time. We have made investments over the years to try to help expand Egyptian civil society. Clearly, what you are seeing this week is very significant public protests in Egypt. As the Secretary made clear, we want to see Egyptian authorities allow and enable those protests to occur peacefully. We’ve also made clear that we want to make sure that there’s no interference with the opportunity for the Egyptian people to use social media. But to the extent that we obviously see that, country by country across the region, people are watching what has happened in Tunisia, country by country, population by population, they are drawing lessons from what is happening.

Now, what happens going forward will be something that develops indigenously, country by country. We’re not looking at this as – there’s a regional dynamic, if you will, in the sense that many – as the Secretary said in her speech in Doha, across the region from the Middle East to North Africa, countries do face similar demographic challenges – young populations, highly educated, very motivated, looking for jobs, looking for opportunities, and quite honestly, frustrated by, depending on the country, what they see as a lack of opportunity. This is bringing more people out into streets. This is bringing forward public calls for a greater dialogue, greater opportunity. And the Secretary, given what we are seeing and observing in Egypt, was responding to current events.

QUESTION: So that phrase implies that she does indeed see a greater – see the need for reform with greater urgency because of the protests and violence?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, because of – everyone has been watching what’s happening in Tunisia, drawing lessons from what’s happening in Tunisia, it has created an opportunity. It’s an opportunity that presents itself in Egypt. It’s an opportunity that presents itself in Yemen. And we believe that governments need to take advantage of this opportunity to expand their dialogue with their populations and respond to the aspirations of their people.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t you have preferred – I mean, presumably they’ve had this opportunity for many years, not just in the last three, four weeks. Wouldn’t it have been better if these governments had taken advantage of this – of these important opportunities before blood was shed in the streets?

MR. CROWLEY: Well – and obviously, we deplore the deaths that have occurred among protesters and the security forces. I mean, I think we need to be careful here. Obviously, there is a dynamic that is underway within the region. But the – what happens from this point forward will rely on indigenous actions that happen country by country. The solution in Tunisia is not the solution in Egypt is not the solution in Yemen. And yet because people are observing what’s happening, they’re reacting to what’s happening, it is an important moment for these countries to find ways to respond. And that was the message that the Secretary gave to leaders in Doha. And we’re clearly seeing that there’s an opportunity here, and it will be best for these countries if they actively respond at this time to obvious concerns and the voices of their people.

QUESTION: All right. And so you --

QUESTION: Are you simply telling the Egyptian Government that you need to reform to stay in power? Are you getting --


QUESTION: -- that specific?

MR. CROWLEY: This should happen because it’s important for these countries to reform and evolve. This has not happened because we, the United States, are telling any country what to do. We see a dynamic in the region, as the Secretary said. The status quo in the Middle East and North Africa is not sustainable. The fact is that they have young populations that are looking for more than their respective countries and governments are currently giving them. And it is better for governments to respond when moments like this occur.

So we think that this can happen, change can happen, in a stable environment. In fact, if you look at Tunisia, even though protests do continue, in order to get to where the people of Tunisia want to go – to credible peaceful elections – you’re going to have to have calm in society so that these events can be generated. Jeff Feltman is on his way back from Paris and will be looking at how can we contribute expertise to help build a credible process so the Tunisian people can have the opportunities – opportunity to influence their future. But obviously, it has to be a peaceful environment for things like this to occur.

QUESTION: P.J., that was a fine answer, but I’m not sure it was the answer to Lachlan’s question. (Laughter.) His question was are you telling the Egyptian Government --

MR. CROWLEY: I heard fine answer.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Egyptian Government that they need to adopt reform? That was his question.

MR. CROWLEY: No, we’re --

QUESTION: And – hold on a second. As the Secretary said yesterday --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as a friend, we’re --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait --

MR. CROWLEY: We’re offering our advice to Egypt. But what they do is up to them.

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But what the Secretary said yesterday was reform must be on the agenda for the Egyptian Government. How is that not telling them that they should reform, enact reforms?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re giving Egypt and other countries our best advice.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are telling them that they should reform.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re – no, I didn’t hear that. I thought – I thought was there a particular – was there something in particular that we wanted to see Egypt do.

QUESTION: I think the transcript will reflect that what Lachlan asked was: Are you urging the Egyptian Government to reform to stay in power?

QUESTION: That’s correct.

MR. CROWLEY: This is not an either/or proposition. It’s not up to us to determine who, in the future, will lead the people of Egypt. That is a choice for the people of Egypt. We want to see political, economic, and social reform that opens up the opportunity for Egyptian people, just as the people of other countries, to more significantly influence who will lead their country in the future and the direction of that country and the opportunities generated in that country.

QUESTION: Could you be a little more specific, like would you recommend that they hold elections the way the Tunisians are heading, that they need some credible elections after the ones in November that you didn’t like?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, that’s an important distinction. We encourage reform. We want to see greater opportunity generated. How that happens will be something that develops country by country. We are willing, as a partner and a friend and an ally of Egypt, to help in that process if Egypt is willing. But as the Secretary said, we definitely believe that reform is needed. No question about that.

QUESTION: But are you talking about elections with them? Are you getting that specific?

MR. CROWLEY: We have always talked to Egypt about elections and the character of the elections that they have had and concerns that we’ve had about who gets to run and the dynamic and the environment surrounding elections.

QUESTION: And in light of the --

MR. CROWLEY: We did not hesitate earlier this year to express – or last year express our concerns about that.

QUESTION: So you must be urging them to do a better job next time, and you might be telling them maybe to do it sooner rather than later?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said, we’re encouraging reform, clearly. But exactly what the government does and how they do it and on what timeline, that is a matter for the government to work with its own population.

QUESTION: All right. And so at the risk of you just dropping the word “Egypt” and substituting “Yemen” in everything you’ve been saying for the last 15 minutes --

QUESTION: Can I ask – can I stay with Egypt for just one last one?

QUESTION: Well, this is going to be – all right.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on something from yesterday. You mentioned that there were several overtures from U.S. officials to the Egyptian Government about the detention of journalists and about stopping social media sites. I was curious if you were satisfied with any --

MR. CROWLEY: I believe the journalists have been released, by the way.

QUESTION: -- satisfied with any response that you – or reaction that you’ve seen from the Egyptian Government since then.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, at this point, I did ask if we had any high-level conversations with Egypt over the last couple of days. I’m not aware of any. Our interaction has primarily been through the Embassy. But I’m not aware that we’ve had any particular feedback from Egypt at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. No, but in their actions, I guess I was referring to, regarding the detention of journalists that they --

MR. CROWLEY: Like I say, I can’t speak for whatever discussions have happened with the government and our ambassador and embassy staff in Cairo, but I believe I saw a report earlier today that my counterpart in Egypt, or one of my counterparts in Egypt, has acknowledged that there is a need for a dialogue with those who are protesting. And that would be the kind of thing that we would encourage.

QUESTION: On to Yemen?


QUESTION: Do you have any specific Yemen – concerns about Yemen that are not applicable to Egypt or Tunisia or Algeria or wherever else about --

MR. CROWLEY: Not specifically. I mean, again, the solution for Yemen or decisions made will be specific to Yemen. But clearly, there’s – we’re aware that there are protests in Sana’a and other Yemeni cities, and our message is the same: We support the right of the Yemeni people to express themselves and assemble freely, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

QUESTION: But given the crucial role that Yemen plays in the war on terrorism and particularly in fighting AQAP --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this is not as zero-sum or either/or.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting it’s zero-sum. I’m just wondering --


QUESTION: -- if you have any greater or different concern about Yemen than you --

MR. CROWLEY: No, in fact, for those of you who were on the trip with the Secretary to Yemen, we do have important counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen. But at the same time, part of the solution to combating violent extremism in Yemen is political and economic reform. And that was the message that the Secretary carried to Yemen in her meetings with leaders there.

QUESTION: Well, and so you’re saying that concern is the same as in Tunisia and in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Or is that specific to Yemen because of the role that they are playing and the presence in Yemen of all these --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I certainly – it’s very difficult to compare the situation in Egypt from the situation in Yemen.

QUESTION: I know. I’m trying to get you to differentiate.

MR. CROWLEY: Yemen is the poorest country in the region. The challenges there – Yemen has a broad range of challenges. But clearly, the – a solution for Yemen may or may not specifically apply to another country in the region. Yemen has a host of challenges, from running out of water to a – the remnants of a – of multiple conflicts within its borders.

QUESTION: Are there any high-level contacts with the Yemeni Government today?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: And then just one last thing on this theme: Do you have any specific response to the resignation of the Tunisian foreign minister who had been, up until as recently as this past weekend, the Secretary’s main interlocutor?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary did speak to the foreign minister the last week or so and has also spoken to the prime minister. Again, the particular structure of the interim government is a matter for Tunisia. We want to see a process continue that leads to democratic elections. Stemming from Jeff Feltman’s visit to Tunisia this week, he – I believe he was the first foreign diplomat to visit Tunisia in the aftermath of the transition there. We’ll look to see what kind of assistance we can provide that uses the expertise that does exist within the United States to help them prepare the way for credible elections.

QUESTION: A new topic?


QUESTION: A new topic. What can you tell us about this Raymond Davis, the – who works at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore and who apparently shot and killed two would-be robbers? What’s his position there? Does he have diplomatic immunity?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me say three things. First, I can confirm that an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore was involved in an incident today. It is under investigation. We have not released the identity of our employee at this point. And reports of a particular identity that are circulating through the media are incorrect.

QUESTION: What does that mean? You mean the name?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean the name’s wrong.

QUESTION: The name that – the name that Michele --

MR. CROWLEY: The name that’s out there is wrong.

QUESTION: The name that was just mentioned?

MR. CROWLEY: Including that one.

QUESTION: The one that I just used --


QUESTION: -- is wrong?

QUESTION: Is wrong?

MR. CROWLEY: Not correct.

QUESTION: But what – this – the incident involved, you say, an employee of the consulate. But is this someone who has diplomatic immunity? Is this a diplomat?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m going to leave it there for the moment. As we are able to share greater details with you, we will.

QUESTION: Okay. You said you --

QUESTION: And do you know what this individual was doing out and about that day, why he was driving around?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, this is a matter under investigation.

QUESTION: You said you would say three things. You only said two.

MR. CROWLEY: I said three.

QUESTION: What was the third?

MR. CROWLEY: Confirm the employee – there’s --

QUESTION: One, you confirmed an incident.

MR. CROWLEY: It was an employee working at the consulate.

QUESTION: And two, the identities out there are wrong.

MR. CROWLEY: Two, the matter is under investigation, and --

QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t count. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: That doesn’t tell us anything.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve given you everything I’ve got.

QUESTION: But this is a very sensitive country.

QUESTION: He’s a U.S. national and not a Pakistani national, because you could have Pakistanis --

MR. CROWLEY: He is a U.S. national.


QUESTION: But this is a very sensitive --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s three. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- a sensitive issue, a sensitive country where anti-Americanism is rife, so --

MR. CROWLEY: I – completely. This is a matter under investigation, and we’ll let the investigation work its course.

QUESTION: And when you say an employee of the consulate, this is a civilian employee, yes? This is not a military person?


QUESTION: And who is doing the investigating? U.S., Pakistani, or both?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this happened within Pakistan. There’s a Pakistani investigation. We will cooperate fully.

QUESTION: Can you say whether this person was authorized to be carrying a firearm?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to say anything else.

QUESTION: Is this person still in Lahore or has he left the country?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any movement.

QUESTION: P.J., South Korea --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, one final one. Is this person currently in detention at all, can you say?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, there are lots of questions. I’d rather have you direct the questions to the Embassy in Islamabad. They’re – they’ve got, obviously, much more up-to-the-minute situational awareness than I do.

QUESTION: Well, where was he before you came in here, then? I mean --


QUESTION: Was he detained or --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, all I can tell you is that the individual is still in Pakistan.

QUESTION: P.J., the South Korean --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, still on this. Recognizing that the incident is under investigation, can you even provide the barest details, like – and was he alone in his car?

MR. CROWLEY: I actually have the virtue of not knowing the details.

QUESTION: South Korean Government and the North --

QUESTION: Well, I’m sure that’s a virtue for the spokesman. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Hey, it works for me. (Laughter.) Go ahead.

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