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Middle East Digest - January 31, 2011


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Washington, DC
January 31, 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 31, 2011

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MR. CROWLEY: Regarding Egypt, let me bring you up-to-date on the flow of American citizens out of Cairo.  We do have a couple of airplanes that are very close to taking off.   When they do, in the next few minutes, we will have had nine flights leave Cairo today, taking more than 1,200 American citizens out to three destinations:  Larnaca, Cyprus; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey. 

The nine flights include six aircraft that we have chartered.  One of those aircraft made two roundtrips, and then we were able to put a small number of American citizens on a Canadian flight leaving Cairo today.  We’re very grateful for the support of the Government of Canada.  And we also were able to put some U.S. citizens on a military flight that happened to be in the area, and we were able to divert in to take out some American citizens as well.

QUESTION:  What was the first one?  The first one went to Larnaca?

MR. CROWLEY:  Yeah, it was.  I think the first citizen when out on a military aircraft.  I believe it went to --

QUESTION:  Larnaca.

MR. CROWLEY:  -- Cyprus.

QUESTION:  Can I push on about that?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, hang on a second.  Now, in terms of tomorrow, we anticipate at least the same level of effort, another six flights planned.  Tomorrow, we expect to begin to add other destinations.  We might have two flights tomorrow going to Frankfurt.  But as we also have begun to do surveys around the country, we will, as soon as we can, have flights go in to Aswan and Luxor in the next day or two, as we’ve identified pockets of American citizens in those locations as well.

I’ve got some other – just other American citizen information, but I can come back to that, depending on what you want to do, Kirit.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to ask you to clarify one point.  You said that that flight had – the military flight had been diverted.  My understanding is that that flight was actually bringing in your Embassy security augmentation.

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, the flight was – I mean, it was a target of opportunity.  In other words, the flight had --

QUESTION:  But it wasn’t a diverted flight.  It was --

MR. CROWLEY:  All right.  Fair enough.  I stand corrected.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY:  Okay.  But as we are working through this authorized departure, we are sending more than 40 additional consular officers to Cairo and our other safe havens to assist U.S. citizens and, in fact, augment our force in Cairo as well as be able to handle the additional burden at posts for which they’re receiving American citizens from Egypt.  And one of our limitations at the present time is the curfew between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.  That has limited our ability to – or the ability of American citizens to flow to the airport.  That said, the airport is open 24/7, so as people get to the airport we will put them on the next available flight out.

We were very successful today.  My understanding is we have roughly 50 American citizens at the airport now that probably beyond the flights that we’ve done today will be put on the first flights tomorrow.  Obviously, as the curfew – as we reach 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, we anticipate there’ll be an additional flow of American citizens to the airport.

Roughly, 2,600 people have contacted us by a variety of means and registered with us that they wish to leave the country.  Obviously, today we’ve kind of put a pretty good dent in that number, but obviously, that will go up – will fluctuate day-to-day as American citizens make their own decisions about whether to stay in Egypt or to leave.

And just a reminder, American citizens who have the ability to get out through commercial means are doing so at the same time.  So we are a source of support, but there are still commercial flights coming in and out of Cairo.  They are operating at a slighter reduced time – schedule, but people have other commercial options besides these flights that we’ve set up. 

But we do ask American citizens and their immediate family members to verify that they have valid travel documents before proceeding to the airport.  If a U.S. citizen lacks a valid U.S. passport, they can go to the Embassy.  Non-U.S. citizen family members should consult with the appropriate officials of our designated safe haven destinations to ensure they have required entry documents. 

And while we’re making every effort to expedite evacuations of U.S. citizens and we expect a comparable number of flights to go out tomorrow, U.S. citizens should come to the airport prepared to wait, because for the 50 that we estimate here, they’ll be at the airport for several hours before we’ll be able to move them out again.  But we do – the internet situation is still down in Egypt, but we do know that people do have access to land lines and some cell phone coverage where they have a chance to check in back with their family members here in the United States.  But more detailed information is always available on travel.state.gov. 

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just following on that, the 2,600 figure that you mentioned of people who have contacted being interested in evacuation, have you canvassed – I mean, does that represent sort of the ones who want to leave of all the Americans there?  Are there Americans that you haven’t been in touch with yet?  And the question is:  Do you expect that number to rise significantly?

MR. CROWLEY:  Oh, totally.  I mean, this is – these numbers are going to be on a roller coaster for several days.  There are roughly 50,000 Americans who have registered, who have been registered in our system with the Embassy in Cairo just to let us know that they are in the country.  We expect that there are probably a larger number of Americans who are actually physically in the country at the present time.  Not all of them will want to leave.  Many of them will want to stay.  And this will be probably a dynamic process where, as they’re able to contact us, as they verify that they have travel documents, they want to leave, some will contact us and register online, some will call us, some will probably just show up at the airport.

QUESTION:  And given that number, is there – are you doing contingency planning about other ways to get people out; i.e., what other assets are in the region?  Are there lists being drawn up of boats, planes that could be brought into this operation if it does need to be expanded?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, we think we’ve established a fairly good flow, so if we have six charters plus available aircraft that might arrive in Cairo, that puts us in pretty good stead.  We’re going to do this for a number of days.  I mean, obviously, it’s an uncertain situation on the ground.  That said, we have no information to suggest that American citizens have been targets.  No American citizens have been killed or injured.  So we think we have some time to carry this out in an orderly way as we go through.

QUESTION:  P.J. --

QUESTION:  P.J., the BBC has information that the United States is planning to send or has sent an envoy to Cairo, presumably to meet or to speak to President Hosni Mubarak.  Can you confirm this and can you tell us what this envoy would be telling the president exactly?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, Frank Wisner, who is a former ambassador to Egypt, travels frequently to Cairo, and given his expertise, we have asked him to add his perspective to our analysis on current developments.  He has traveled to Cairo, is on the ground now, and we look forward to hearing his views when he returns.

QUESTION:  Does he have a message for the president?

MR. CROWLEY:  He has the ability to talk to leaders in Egypt.  We’ve sent a very clear message to Egypt publicly and privately.  So this is not about a lack of communication, but, obviously, Ambassador Wisner will have the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve already said.

QUESTION:  Would you prefer that –

MR. CROWLEY:  Hold on.  Hold on.

QUESTION:  Just on Wisner, can you give us a sense of who he’s been meeting with?  Is he meeting with Mubarak?  Is he meeting with ElBaradei?  Is he meeting with any other political officials?

MR. CROWLEY:  I’m not – I do not know his particular schedule.  He arrived today, and I can’t tell you at this point who he’s met with.

QUESTION:  Your counterpart at the White House said today that change must happen at the top and not only apparent, but also we need to see action.  Does that mean that you are abandoning Mr. Mubarak?

MR. CROWLEY:  As to – we want to see a process unfold.  The Secretary talked about this yesterday during her five Sunday shows appearances.  The President reinforced this in his comments late Friday after talking to President Mubarak.  President Mubarak pledged to undertake political and economic reform.  And as we’ve said ever since, we want to see concrete actions that shows that the government is responding to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.  So we will be looking for concrete actions, a process that leads Egypt to a more inclusive environment, and free, fair, and credible elections later this year.

QUESTION:  Ideally, how long this –

QUESTION:  To follow up on that, would you prefer that President Mubarak not seek reelection?

MR. CROWLEY:  These are decisions to be made inside Egypt.

QUESTION:  Following up –

QUESTION:  Could you elaborate on the concrete –

QUESTION:  That transitional period, is that –

MR. CROWLEY:  Saul, I’ll come back.

QUESTION:  Can you elaborate on the concrete steps that you want to see undertaken in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, we want – the process has to be inclusive.  It has to open up real space for political and economic reform to happen.  It has to be inclusive in bringing into a national dialogue political opposition, civil society, women, those who want to have the opportunity to shape Egypt’s future.  As to specific steps, I don’t think – it’s not for us to impose our vision on Egypt, but certainly one thing that we’ll be looking at as Egypt goes through this is revocation of the emergency law.

QUESTION:  Should the transitional period –

MR. CROWLEY:  All right.  Hold on.

QUESTION:  This transitional period –

QUESTION:  Yeah, on the issue of Ambassador Frank Wisner, so is he an envoy now?  Did the Administration ask him to go to Cairo or it happened that he was in Cairo and then he offered to help?  What’s the situation?  Is he formal envoy or what?

MR. CROWLEY:  Pardon me?

QUESTION:  Is he –

MR. CROWLEY:  No, he’s a private citizen, but he is a retired diplomat.  He is a former ambassador to Egypt.  He knows some of the key players within the Egyptian Government, and we thought it was useful for – but both him to have the opportunity to interact with people within Egyptian society, and then we’ll look forward to hearing his perspective on what’s happening.

QUESTION:  So did you ask him to go to Egypt or – I’m – I need, like, an answer.  Did you – did the Administration ask him to go to Egypt and to try to find out what’s going on?

MR. CROWLEY:  Let me take the question. 

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MR. CROWLEY:  I can’t tell you whether he was planning to go and then we took advantage of his opportunity or we specifically asked him to go.  I’ll take that question.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on this?  You say there is ample communication between you and the Egyptians.  So what exactly can Mr. Wisner bring to the table?  And if you – you say you’ve made clear to the authorities there what it is that you want which is an orderly transition.  Does that mean that there are some things that are better said in private face-to-face and this is what Mr. Wisner will be doing?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, if you look back, we have said lots of things publicly.  We’ve said lots of things privately.  Our messages, both public and private, have been very consistent.  But this is an opportunity both for Ambassador Wisner, who has a history with some of these key figures, to meet with them and reinforce what the President has said, what the Secretary has said at the same time, has the opportunity to gain a perspective on what they are thinking and what their ideas are in terms of the process that we’ve clearly called for.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you if – beyond that former ambassador, if there is any channels within the government that are communicating directly with President Mubarak and whether there are channels communicating directly with any opposition figures like Mohamed ElBaradei, since the President’s phone call to --

MR. CROWLEY:  Regarding Mr. ElBaradei, we have talked to him in the past and that dialogue will certainly continue.  We do have broad contacts in Egypt.  They include both some within government, a wide range of nongovernmental actors, including members of the opposition.  We are going to continue to touch base with all of these elements that we would hope would be a part of this broad national dialogue and this process that leads Egypt to free and fair elections. 

QUESTION:  Can you be more specific?  That doesn’t say who spoke to them and when. 

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, I – in answer to a specific question, I’m – I don’t believe that we’ve had any contact with Mr. ElBaradei in recent days.  But beyond that, we are – we do do a consistent outreach to elements of civil society, and that will continue.

QUESTION:  Can you say what your message to him from the podium would be?  Would – your message from the podium here would be to him as a leading opposition figure in Egypt right now?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, again, he is one of one of many different voices that should be heard during these negotiations with the government. 

QUESTION:  P.J., also, your counterpart at the White House, Mr. Gibbs, said that they expect that non-secular players to be included in the next government.  Does that mean that you guys are reconciled to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood might be included in any national unity government in Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, what’s important here is not any particular group.  It’s a process that allows the Egyptian Government, the Egyptian people, to have their aspirations heard and have the government respond to these aspirations.  We have not had any contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood recently.  I think Robert Gibbs laid out that from our standpoint, any group that wants to play a role in Egypt’s future has to be committed to nonviolence and willing to be a participant in and respect a democratic process. 

QUESTION:  P.J., last week from the White House, there was some suggestion that the U.S. aid to Egypt would – might be reviewed.  But then in subsequent statements, I believe the Secretary and others indicated that this wasn’t really an option, that they weren’t – we weren’t going to take a new look at the aid package.  Can you tell me where we stand with that?  Is it being reviewed?  Would it be reviewed?  What might trigger a review?  And if not, why wouldn’t the U.S. use what’s obviously its most immediate leverage on the situation in the government?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, what Robert Gibbs said on Friday was that as events go forward, we will, of course, review our assistance based on unfolding events.  What the Secretary said yesterday was that at the present time, we have no immediate plans to cut off aid. 

QUESTION:  So is the message there to the military that if you – as long as you don’t essentially shoot down your citizens, we won’t stop the aid?  Is that what the trigger is? 

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, I mean, assistance is provided.  There are stipulations in terms of the behavior of recipients of our assistance.  And obviously, if aid is used in a way that is contrary to our laws, our policies, and our values, we’ll make adjustments as we need to. 

QUESTION:  The feeling in – on the streets in Cairo is that the U.S. Administration is hedging its bets, speaking very subtly when it calls for orderly transition.  It’s a message that is seen as too subtle for the people in Cairo who very forcefully called for the departure of President Mubarak.  Do you think that’s a fair criticism?  Are you hedging your bets? 

MR. CROWLEY:  It’s not for us to choose the path – we want to see a path that leads to credible, free, and fair elections.  But I know there’s fascination both here and there.  Who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s out – these are decisions to be made within Egypt by the Egyptian people and the players within this system.  It’s not for the United States to anoint any individual who wants to play a role in this process.  We want to make sure that there’s a process that opens up real political space for Egyptians to make these kinds of --

QUESTION:  But Egyptians aren’t asking you anoint someone.  They’re asking you to make clear that it’s time for President Mubarak to go.  That’s what they – that’s what they’re calling for.

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, I mean, there kind of is a contradiction here.  But it’s not for us to make these choices.  It is for us to encourage Egypt to open up space for true economic and political reform to occur.  We want a process that leads to real change.  That said, how Egypt evolves through – down what path, to what end, these are choices that the Egyptian people have the right to make.  And we want to see a process where the government comes together with other elements of Egyptian society and responds to the aspirations of the people of Egypt and demonstrates to the people who are – who continue to want to have their voices heard in the streets of Egypt that they have a role to play in Egypt’s future. 

QUESTION:  P.J., a follow-up on that.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) taken the withholding of the aid off the table for now?  Would elections that lacked credibility, fairness, and freedom – would that prompt then this review of --

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, you’re asking me to speculate.  We continue to provide assistance to Egypt.  Based on what we see today, we don’t envision taking any immediate action.  But as Robert Gibbs emphasized on Friday, as events unfold, we, of course, will continue to review our aid in light of what happens. 

QUESTION:  P.J., tomorrow’s protest --

QUESTION:  A follow-up on --

QUESTION:  Tomorrow’s million person protest, if there is violence on the streets there, does that prompt the review of U.S. aid?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, again, you’re – I don’t think anybody has a crystal ball at this point in terms of determining precisely what’s going to happen.  Certainly, as we have emphasized and will emphasize again, people have a right to protest peacefully.  We do not want to see any of this devolve into violence.  We want to see all sides – the government, the military, the people show restraint.  And that’s what’s important – to allow this process to unfold, to allow real negotiations within Egyptian society to begin.  But we certainly continue to emphasize that people of Egypt have a right to peacefully protest, and they – government needs to respond and – to their voices and to their aspirations. 

QUESTION:  On the issue of --

QUESTION:  P.J., one more question on the issue of aid.  Mr. Crowley, do you know if any part of that aid is used by the Egyptian Government to fund the security apparatus, I mean, apart from the military?  Does any of that money go to the ministry of interior or the security forces that actually clashed with the demonstrators?

MR. CROWLEY:  I don’t have a lay-down of specific assistance and where it’s gone.  Clearly, we do provide assistance to Egypt.  Some of that assistance is in the form of security assistance.  And we make no apologies for that.  But at this point, obviously, what happens within Egypt, and to the extent that what happens in Egypt is tied to any assistance that we have provided, we will make adjustments if we need to based on how events unfold.

QUESTION:  So you’re not concerned that some of the assistance was used by the Egyptian Government to actually get its forces --

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, again, our assistance to the Egypt --

QUESTION:  -- to kill over 150 people on the streets?  Are you concerned about that?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, wait a second.  Our assistance to Egypt is longstanding.  It is based on what we – the work that we’ve done together.  Our relationship has been a stabilizing one.  Certainly, the relationship between Egypt and the United States and the support that we together with others have provided has been a stabilizing force across the region.  Egypt has been a strong supporter of the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

So these – there are very valid and beneficial reasons for the aid that we have provided Egypt up to this point.  As we have said, as events unfold in Egypt, we will continue to evaluate our assistance in light of --

QUESTION:  But that’s not my question.  My question is:  Are you concerned that some of that money was used in the killing of over 150 Egyptians according to the (inaudible) reports?

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, you’re – I’ll just simply say that we continue to watch as the events unfold and we’ll make adjustments in our aid program as we feel it’s necessary.

QUESTION:  P.J., on --

QUESTION:  Sorry, real quick.  Since we have been out there, Omar Suleiman has come out on state television.  And you may not be able to react to it, but he’s said that he’s been given the task by Mubarak to speak to the opposition that they’re going to have elections in the coming weeks.  Is that encouraging?  Are you encouraged by the fact that they’re going to hold elections in a couple weeks and that he will be tasked with speaking to the opposition?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, again, that – I’ll defer comment.  We’ll get something out to you once we are able to understand the full context of what he has said.

QUESTION:  P.J., are you – P.J., just to follow up on that question, you had given an elaborate answer about a procedure that you want them to follow.  Do you want that procedure under President Mubarak or you want a transition government?

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, the – how this process unfolds is up to Egypt.  We want to see meaningful negotiations with a broad cross-section of Egyptian society, including opposition groups.  These negotiations should focus on the elements of a transition to a government that is – that reflects the aspirations of the Egyptian people.  These elements would include free and fair elections for the presidency and the parliament, constitutional changes to facilitate a more open, inclusive democratic process. 

That’s our – that’s what we recommend and what we encourage Egypt to pursue.  How that happens in particular are decisions that the government, together with civil society, will make in the coming days.

QUESTION:  P.J., was the United States Government at any level consulted before Egypt reconstituted – before Mr. Mubarak reconstituted his government?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, Secretary Clinton talked to Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit on multiple occasions.  The President talked to President Mubarak.  I believe – the particular sequence I’ll leave to the White House, but we have been in touch with a broad cross-section of the Egyptian Government over several days.  And our private message is our public message, that the government has to respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.  So this will take some time to undertake, but we do encourage Egypt to take aggressive steps as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  But did U.S. officials push for different names or for a more inclusive process in this cabinet that’s been appointed?

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, these are decisions made within the Egyptian Government, but we think that there needs to be this broad national dialogue, and that’s what we continue to encourage.

QUESTION:  Who has the Secretary spoken --

QUESTION:  P.J., do you have any assessment on any damage that might have been done to Egypt’s antiquities – what’s the extent of that – and the museums or in Takara (ph)?  And also, is there any U.S. agency or mechanism or liaison to find out about that or where --

MR. CROWLEY:  Let me find out.  I don’t know that we’ve had an opportunity at this point to discuss that with the Government of Egypt.  Obviously, we are concerned when such historical artifacts are damaged.  I think I saw one report where at least nothing was stolen; that’s encouraging. 

And we are encouraged by the response of the Egyptian people.  They have – either in the context of museums or in the context of neighborhoods, they have taken some responsibility on their own.  We’re encouraged by the rapport that does exist between the Egyptian people and the Egyptian military.  And we want to see the looting dealt with; we want to see all sides continue to show restraint.  But in terms of getting down into the specifics on that, I don’t know that we have a perspective yet.

QUESTION:  P.J., Israeli officials have said today that Israel has allowed the Egyptian army to move, for the first time since ’79, 800 soldiers into Sinai.  Are you aware of this movement?  And what’s behind it at this specific --

MR. CROWLEY:  Are we aware of it?  Yes.  As to the details of that, I’ll defer to both the Egyptian and Israeli Governments.

QUESTION:  P.J., (inaudible) the events in Egypt (inaudible) to sort of push back almost indefinitely the restart of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians?

MR. CROWLEY:  I mean, it hasn’t changed our perspective of what needs to be done.  We continue to have contacts with officials across the region.  But obviously, this is going to perhaps distract people for a period of time.

QUESTION:  What phone calls has the Secretary made today or received today about this specifically?

MR. CROWLEY:  In terms of the Secretary today, she has participated in a lengthy conference call this morning.  I’m not aware that she has had any calls with outside leaders today.

QUESTION:  Can we also talk – go back through the numbers real quick that you mentioned in your opening statement?  So there were nine flights out today, assuming these last two take off, right?

MR. CROWLEY:  Right.

QUESTION:  One of them was a Canadian military flight, is that correct?  Or was it just a Canadian charter?

MR. CROWLEY:  It was a Canadian flight.  I don’t know whether it was military or civilian.

QUESTION:  And the U.S. military flight that went out, it was not diverted from there, correct?  It was already there.

MR. CROWLEY:  It was there on the ground but took U.S. official civilians out this morning.

QUESTION:  Do you know what kind of plane it was?  And was it Air Force or – do we know?

MR. CROWLEY:  I do not know.

QUESTION:  And then also, the additional – 40 additional consular officers, are they all going to Cairo, or are there some going to Athens, Larnaca, Istanbul –

MR. CROWLEY:  All of the above.  In other words, we have three safe haven destinations so far – Larnaca, Athens, and Istanbul.  Those put – we chose those locations because they have the ability to handle an influx of people, but we are sending consular officers there, as well as to Cairo.

QUESTION:  So it’s 40 total consular officers that have been deployed to all four locations, right?

MR. CROWLEY:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And then also –

MR. CROWLEY:  And we – that could – there could be other destinations as well, as we go forward.

QUESTION:  And then also on the 2,600 who have contacted and the one who have registered they want to leave, how many of those are Embassy non-essential personnel and dependents, and how many are regular old Amcits? 

MR. CROWLEY:  I’ll – my assumption is that we handle our own nonessential staff and family members outside of that 2,600.  So that 2,600 are private American citizens who have indicated they wish to leave.

QUESTION:  Do you know how many Embassy personnel or dependents have been moved out already, in addition to the –

MR. CROWLEY:  I do not have a number.  I think on the flights that have gone out today, there’ve been a mix of Embassy and private citizens, something correlating to about half the plane in each category.  We have several hundred family members and nonessential personnel that we will move out as we can, but – so, of the – if we’ve moved out 1,200 citizens, I’d say that perhaps somewhere, about half might be in that – let me – I’ll try to get you if we have a number of how many of our own community we’ve moved out.

QUESTION:  Great.

QUESTION:  Can you talk about security at the Embassy?  Have you sent in some extra Marines or private security or –

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, we have augmented our internal defense with both diplomatic security and additions to the Marine security guard.

QUESTION:  Can you say how many or what type of deployment?

MR. CROWLEY:  We’re not going to talk about –

QUESTION:  P.J. –

MR. CROWLEY:  In answer, we just – we have augmented both the number of Marines and the number of diplomatic security agents.

QUESTION:  P.J. –

QUESTION:  These demonstrations thus far have not expressed any anti-American sentiment.  How do you interpret that?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, we – they – I mean, as I’ve been monitoring a lot of conversations on line, including responses to Twitter, there are lots – there’s lots of sentiment.  We don’t think that – right now, the focus is – the Egyptian people are focused on their own government and what they want their government to do.  We do not see anything that has been directed specifically at American citizens.

QUESTION:  P.J., the main question in the region today is, after Tunisia and Egypt, who will be next, do you think?  Do you have any answer?  (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY:  Look, go back to what the Secretary said in Doha.  The status quo is unsustainable.  There has to be reform across the region.  So it’s not necessarily about Tunisia, then Egypt, then another country.  It’s about how can governments across the board become more responsive to their people?  How can they open up greater political and economic opportunity for their people? 

Each country, regardless, faces similar demographic challenges.  A very significant percentage of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is young.  And a high percentage of them are getting good educations or are looking for jobs and can’t find any.  So it is vitally important that countries understand the right lessons here and take aggressive steps to promote greater opportunity and to open up political processes so their people have a vested interest in the future and have the ability to help shape the future.

QUESTION:  But do you expect anything to happen in other countries in the Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY:  That’s an impossible question to answer. 

QUESTION:  P.J., in March 2009, the Secretary had mentioned that she has – she is family friends with Mubarak and family and she had extended an invitation to visit anytime.  Is that invitation still valid if he decides to come here with family?

MR. CROWLEY:  Look, I’ll defer to my counterpart in Cairo.  I think President Mubarak is focused on the current situation.  He’s reforming his government.  We continue to encourage him to begin a process that leads to a real negotiation with elements of Egyptian civil society and moves forward to give the Egyptian people greater opportunity, and is – and demonstrates concrete steps that respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

QUESTION:  On the reform issue, on Sunday, Mr. ElBaradei, who’s representing the opposition now, was critical towards the message delivered by Secretary Clinton.  And he basically said that American Administration cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator can implement a democracy.  Did you still have confidence in Mubarak’s ability to implement democratic reforms?

MR. CROWLEY:  Again, the government needs to reform.  The government needs to lead a process of national dialogue, and the government needs to open up this process for participation by broad elements of Egyptian society.  How that happens, who is involved in that process, these are decisions to be made inside Egypt. 

QUESTION:  Can I ask you about Pakistan?  The American who was arrested for killing two Pakistanis in Lahore – the U.S. wants diplomatic immunity for him.  The Pakistani – at least one Pakistani official I think was quoted over the weekend as calling him an "American functionary."  What is his job? 

MR. CROWLEY:  Well --

QUESTION:  And why was he carrying a gun?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, first of all, we’re talking about a U.S. diplomat.  We have called for his immediate release.  He is a member of the Embassy’s technical administrative staff and therefore entitled to full criminal immunity.  He cannot be lawfully arrested or detained in accordance with the Vienna Convention. 

In our view, he acted in self defense when confronted by two armed men on motorcycles.  He had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm.  And minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal backgrounds, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area. 

QUESTION:  But does Embassy staff carry – do they carry weapons?

MR. CROWLEY:  You know, but when he was detained, he identified himself to police as a diplomat and has – and repeatedly requested immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. 

QUESTION:  I don’t understand one thing about that.  If you look at the picture of his visa that’s out there, he has an official visa, not a diplomatic visa.  Can you explain why he was not issued a diplomatic visa and how that – I think that the Pakistanis are arguing that would be a reason for him not to receive diplomatic immunity. 

MR. CROWLEY:  Look, this is a matter that we are still discussing with the Government of Pakistan, but you’ve heard the United States view on this.

QUESTION:  Have you confirmed his name yet? 

MR. CROWLEY:  Hmm?

QUESTION:  Have you confirmed his name yet?  There was confusion over that last week.

MR. CROWLEY:  I’m not at liberty to talk about his identity yet.

QUESTION:  Can you say where he is?  Is he in detention?  Is he --

MR. CROWLEY:  He remains in custody.

QUESTION:  Still on Pakistan, The Washington Post today reported that Pakistan has doubled its nuclear arsenal and it’s now crossing a hundred.  What do you have to say about the – increasing this arsenal?  Are you concerned about its safety and security?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well --

QUESTION:  Have you talked to Pakistan about -- 

MR. CROWLEY:  First of all, these are estimates attributed to a nongovernmental organization.  We do not comment on nuclear issues, particularly the size of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. 

QUESTION:  A follow up?

QUESTION:  Do you have an official count of the arsenal, if you don’t believe in the nongovernment?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, we believe in the value of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, or FMCT.  And through our strategic dialogue, we are encouraging Pakistan to engage constructively on efforts to conclude the FMCT.

QUESTION:  Just on the FMCT, your – Rose Gottemoeller said that she – the U.S. is running out of patience and so – with regards to pursuing FMCT under the Conference on Disarmament.  So what is the next step?  Because she didn’t outline that at her media briefing last week. 

MR. CROWLEY:  Yeah, well, I mean, it is something that we continue to have ongoing discussions with the Government of Pakistan, and we continue to stress the importance of the FMCT and – globally and also that Pakistan should be a supporter.

QUESTION:  Iran is demanding that Sarah Shourd return to Iran for her trial on February 6th.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY:  I’ll defer to Sarah Shourd.

QUESTION:  Do you think she should go back?

MR. CROWLEY:  I’ll defer to Sarah Shourd.

QUESTION:  New topic?  Syrian President Bashar al-Asad did an interview today to The Wall Street Journal.  Have you – first of all, have you seen the interview in the --

MR. CROWLEY:  No.

QUESTION:  Okay.  He committed himself to a gradual reform and how sincere he was about a gradual reform.  Do you have faith in Syria’s commitment to gradual reform, or would you like to see something a la what happened in Egypt, that (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, again, the – I mean, the Secretary’s message was to the governments and the people from the Gulf to North Africa:  There’s a need for reform.  And I think in the context of Egypt, it’s one thing to say you’re going to reform; it’s another thing to actually take real steps and enact real, genuine reform.  The people in the region are looking at what happened in Tunisia; they’re looking at what’s happening in Egypt.  They have aspirations, they have talents, they have capabilities.  The region as a whole, when you look at the political, social, economic well-being of these people, it has underperformed.   And political and economic and social reform is vital to the future of the Middle East and vital to the future of the states of North Africa. 

MR. CROWLEY:  -- the individual in Pakistan?

QUESTION:  Incident in Lahore, yes, the U.S. diplomat in Lahore.  Why can’t you specify if he was or was not authorized to carry a gun, to have a gun?  And do you know if the international law provides for the embassy officials to carry guns outside embassies, outside national territories in the foreign country?

MR. CROWLEY:  There are people, based on your particular job, who are authorized to carry weapons, and would be authorized to carry weapons both inside the compound and outside the compound.  That’s about all I can say at this point.  I’ll see what else I can --

QUESTION:  But did you say he was a technical --

MR. CROWLEY:  Yeah, I did.  I’m just – I’m making a general point.  I’m not going to comment on – I mean, this is a matter that is still being investigated, so I’m reluctant to go into great details.

QUESTION:  But you’re referring to U.S. law or you’re referring to diplomatic (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, I’m just referring to that in the conduct of individuals who work at embassies around the world, there are specific individuals and specific jobs that are authorized to carry weapons in the conduct of their duties.  And this is something that we work out with the governments in question.  But I’m not going to comment on this particular individual.

QUESTION:  Can you comment – I guess, clarify something, because it’s a little confusing for people.  Is he directly employed by the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY:  I’ve given you all the information I’m going to give you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  What does a technical staff mean, then?

MR. CROWLEY:  Kirit, I can repeat what’s here.  I’m not going to expand on it.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)



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