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Middle East Digest - February 25, 2011


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Washington, DC
February 25, 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 February 25, 2011

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4:09 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Just to touch on a couple of things related to Libya, then we can move on to any other subjects you have. Just to go through some specific numbers, on the airplane today there were 41 passengers: the remaining 19 official party, 13 other American citizens, and 9 citizens of other countries. And on the ferry there were 338 passengers, including 183 American citizens, and that would include the 40 official Americans – or that might be technically not correct. It might be 39. We took one passenger – so I think including the 39 official party, we took one passenger off the ferry this morning, and she has been transported to Italy via an Italian evacuation. She is eight and a half months pregnant – and 155 citizens of other countries.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. P.J., that’s – you said that (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, sorry. It’s --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: The 183 includes --

MR. CROWLEY: Includes the 39. Yes.

QUESTION: So – okay. And on the – what was the total for the international?

MR. CROWLEY: If my math is correct, it would be 183, 155 equals 338.

QUESTION: So there were more international people on this than private American citizens?

MR. CROWLEY: No. 183 Americans –

QUESTION: Oh. But if –

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Private.

MR. CROWLEY: Right. Okay.

QUESTION: Did you take any other official international – foreign – members from other embassies and that kind of thing, do you know?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: You did?

MR. CROWLEY: I don't have a breakout of that, but, yes, there were members of the official party of other embassies too.

QUESTION: What kind of plane was that charter?

MR. CROWLEY: I don't know.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: The chargé was on that charter, right?

MR. CROWLEY: The chargé was on the charter.

QUESTION: Where exactly did it take off from?

QUESTION: Was it a military –

MR. CROWLEY: It take off – it took off from Mitiga, the military air field.

QUESTION: Because there had been reports, unconfirmed, that that had fallen to the opposition. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: No. It – as far as I know, it didn’t. Those reports were not correct.

QUESTION: But was the plane a military plane or was it --

MR. CROWLEY: No, it was a commercial charter.

QUESTION: Commercial?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And so chartered in Istanbul?

MR. CROWLEY: In Istanbul, and is perhaps still in the air or hasn’t landed. At last – I don't know.

And just to recap with the UN Human Rights Council session today, it did adopt by consensus a resolution that condemned the gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Government of Libya, established an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate these violations and to make recommendations on accountability measures for those responsible, and recommended that the UN General Assembly consider the suspension of Libya’s membership on the Council, given these violations.

The actual suspension of Libya’s Council membership will be considered by the General Assembly next week, probably on Tuesday. And we are already working with our partners regarding this issue. And just to clarify, we – I know we had a question of whether expulsion versus suspension was the correct term. It is, in fact, a suspension. And this would be the first time a Council member has been suspended since the Council was founded in 2006.

QUESTION: Well, 2006, that’s not that long.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not that long. So --

QUESTION: How about maybe you could go back to when it was the commission and that might be a little bit more revealing?

MR. CROWLEY: But just to touch on briefly, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg held meetings earlier today in Tirana, Albania with Prime Minister Sali Berisha, President Bamir Topi, and other senior officials. And in Sarajevo today, he met with members of the tri-presidency and other political leaders, where he urged all parties to conclude formation of a government. And during his – the previous two days, he had visits to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, where he met with the Presidents Sargsian of Armenia, Saakashvili of Georgia and President Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

And next week Under Secretary Maria Otero will be in Nigeria to discuss the promotion of democratic institutions and processes as Nigeria continues to work towards an important election in April.

QUESTION: P.J. can I (inaudible) lack of a protecting power. It seems a bit unusual that you would shut down – suspend the operations of the Embassy without having a protecting power lined up. I know that in the two other cases where you have protecting powers, things were different. It took a while to get the Swiss on board in Iran because things happened so quickly. But can you explain why the decision was made to go ahead and suspend operations, if you didn’t have someone lined up to take over?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the situation on the ground was the reason for that – and I think Pat hinted at it – which is we are still sorting out with other countries what their --

QUESTION: Who’s going to stay?

MR. CROWLEY: What their plans are as well. So we will be working to establish a protecting power, but given the uncertainty of the situation, those conversations are ongoing.

James.

QUESTION: P.J., is the United States Government in contact at all with any part of the opposition in Libya?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that we, the United States, have had any contact with the opposition at this point. We have had discussions with other leaders who have been in touch with opposition figures to try to understand what is happening on the ground.

QUESTION: What other leaders are those?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to catalog. I mean, I can go back over the discussions that the Secretary has had. Today, she talked to Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon of Canada. She also talked to Tony Blair. And yesterday, she talked to AU chairperson, President Ping. So we are –

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or Tony Blair?

MR. CROWLEY: Tony Blair.

QUESTION: Why would she speak – about Libya?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: All right. So are you suggesting that some of these individuals have had contact with the opposition?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, she talked yesterday with the Chadian president. And these are, collectively, figures who have far closer contacts and broader ties – or let me reverse that, closer ties and broader contacts than we do. So we have – we are talking to a wide range of people trying our best to get and understand fully what is actually happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Should it be a source of concern that we have no direct contact with the opposition in Libya?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this is still an unfolding situation, James. So I’m not going to rule out that at some point we may well reach out to other figures in Libyan society. In fact, I suspect that we will. But I can’t tell you that any direct discussions have occurred at this point.

QUESTION: P.J., in Jay Carney’s briefing he said that the U.S. is going to use the full extent of intelligence capabilities to monitor Qadhafi. Now presumably, the U.S. is already doing that. But it seemed to be a shot over to bow to Qadhafi, we’re watching you.

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously.

QUESTION: But what would the U.S. do – well, is it? And --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, in terms of our pledge to hold Mr. Qadhafi, his family, his regime fully accountable for what is happening on the ground, we will have to build a case. Now, there has been a meeting in the UN today to assess what is actually known, so we will be watching very closely, intensively, to see what’s happening on the ground. And as part of our efforts not only to understand and to the extent that we can shape future decisions, but also to hold the Libyan Government responsible for the actions that it has taken and will take.

QUESTION: And, P.J., in – exactly with that point, I was looking at the statement – the speech by Biden at the Holocaust Museum in which he referred to something you said a while ago: When a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty. I mean, is the U.S. now preparing to make a case that because of this violence and atrocity that the Libyan Government has forfeited its sovereignty, therefore action can be taken internationally to --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I certain think, as Jay Carney said in his briefing today, that the legitimacy of the Libyan Government is basically gone, based on its turning its weapons against its own people. Now going forward, obviously, we will look for ways to support the Libyan people. We are looking, for example, at – and studying – the humanitarian situation on the ground, and that will be something that we’ll be focused on in the coming days. But our broad message to Libya today, just as it has been throughout this period, is to stop the violence, stop the bloodshed, and we will continue to find ways to communicate that to the Libyan officials.

QUESTION: You just said build a case. It sounds like a warning to Libyan officials that they might themselves before the ICC or something of that nature.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, part of what the Human Rights Council did today was to establish an independent international commission of inquiry. We will let the – we will do our best to contribute to gathering the facts and evidence of what has happened in Libya, and those facts will determine what the appropriate steps are.

QUESTION: But just to make the --

QUESTION: Are you willing to help in an investigation that leads to an ICC prosecution?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, let’s not jump ahead. We – as you --

QUESTION: Well, that was – my question --

QUESTION: -- as you yourselves have --

QUESTION: The question was about – specifically about the ICC, which you are not a member of and have taken great pains to make clear that you’re not a member of or successive administration, so I’m just wondering if – or are you looking at – I mean when – are you looking at to having ad hoc tribunal --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re – well, again, you’re – as I was trying to say, you’re leaping ahead of the process. We will be gathering facts as an international community about what has happened in Libya and the responsibility of the government for the violence and violations of human rights that have occurred. Once we have a consensus on what has occurred and who is responsible, then the international community, working through the UN, will determine next steps.

QUESTION: But P.J., just to really push it beyond where you want to go – (laughter) – the – is it conceivable that – I mean, looking again at what you’re hinting here – that the international community – that the U.S. could be looking at the possibility of working with the international community to launch some type of concerted, shall we say, military action to go into Libya and protect those people in spite of Qadhafi because he has given up his sovereignty?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we have said, we have developed for the President and the senior leaders of this government a range of options. We are concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, and that will be one of a number of areas that we focus on in coming days. The – as we’ve said, the military is a full participant in the policy development process that is going on. And we have not ruled out any option at this point.

QUESTION: P.J., your comments reflect the fact that the United States has made a determination that the Qadhafi regime, or the Libyan Government, has lost legitimacy, as you have put it. Have you also made a determination about the actual degree of control that Qadhafi maintains over his territory?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is something that – one of the reasons why we highlighted that we are devoting – increasing attention and intelligence assets without getting into particular intelligence matters, to fully understand what is going on. It is clear that Qadhafi and the Libyan Government do not control major swaths of the country at this point.

QUESTION: What about Tripoli? What’s your assessment as to his extent of control of the city?

MR. CROWLEY: At this point, I believe that the situation in Tripoli differs somewhat from the situation in other parts of the country. But there is obviously a very fluid situation, so I don’t know that I can do a current play-by-play. But --

QUESTION: I won’t ask you to redistrict Tripoli for me, but I’m just saying --

MR. CROWLEY: No, no --

QUESTION: -- does he appear to be in control of the majority of the city?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a hard judgment for me to make from here.

QUESTION: Well, if it’s so different from the rest of the country, why would --

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, I mean, the situation in Tripoli today was described as relatively stable in the city itself. Obviously, we were able to get some citizens to the airfield to depart. We were able to get some citizens to the dock to join others who were onboard the ferry. So there is the ability to function in Tripoli itself. I can’t speak for how far outside of Tripoli does that situation change dramatically, but it’s clear that the government no longer has control of major population centers in the country besides Tripoli.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Someone else?

QUESTION: You had security concerns of the American personnel that are on – were on post there. Did you also have, as a rationale for your decision to evacuate, some sort of nod to the demonstrators to say, essentially, we can’t also tolerate the indiscriminate shooting of civilians?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t see those as being mutually exclusive. The decision to suspend operations at the Embassy, as Pat Kennedy was saying, was about, one, our concern about the security situation and the welfare of American diplomats there; the fact that, as far as we could tell, we had successfully evacuated as many American citizens as had identified themselves to us; and three, given a chaotic situation, from a practical standpoint, what else could our Embassy accomplish on the ground? We do maintain diplomatic relations so that we can continue to try to understand what is going on, and to the extent that we can, working with others in the international community, try to influence future decisions by the Libyan Government. But that is something that we can do, obviously, from outside the country.

Pakistan.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more on Libya? I’m sorry.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: The one thing that no one has said, now that all the Americans are out, the U.S. continues to condemn the violence, but nobody is calling for Muammar Qadhafi to step down yet. Why is that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is a situation that continues to unfold. Ultimately, as we have said, who leads Libya in the future is not for the United States to determine.

QUESTION: But I’m not asking you to determine it.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I understand that. But we are consulting broadly with others in the international community about how we assess the situation on the ground. And – but that is an issue that we continue to analyze.

QUESTION: But just to be clear --

QUESTION: You say, though, that he’s lost his legitimacy, so that would suggest that the United States believes that he’s beyond redemption here --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, ultimately --

QUESTION: -- that he cannot stay on as --

MR. CROWLEY: But that will be --

QUESTION: -- as a credible leader.

MR. CROWLEY: That will ultimately be determined inside Libya, not from outside Libya.

QUESTION: Yeah. But your determination is that he cannot be redeemed.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve gone as far as I’m prepared to go.

QUESTION: Do you still – do you still acknowledge him as the leader of Libya at this point – the United States?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe, from a legal standpoint, he is still the head of state and head of government. But clearly, he has lost legitimacy in the eyes of his people, and that obviously influences our perceptions of him as well.

QUESTION: And he’s lost legitimacy in the eyes of the United States too as well?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you check to see if he actually is the – is head of the government?

MR. CROWLEY: I --

QUESTION: He’s got some bizarre title. I’m not sure that that’s what it is. Anyway.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m shocked to hear that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Move on?

MR. CROWLEY: Pakistan.

QUESTION: On Pakistan --

QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. Sorry, I had one more. Why exactly did she call Blair about Libya? Because of his dealings with Qadhafi over the Lockerbie bomber?

MR. CROWLEY: He has very important and valuable contacts inside of Libya.

QUESTION: And he used those contacts to assist the United States or to do --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m --

QUESTION: -- do things in the past that the United States wanted --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not Tony Blair’s spokesperson. He actually has an able spokesperson.

QUESTION: Okay. So what – do we know anything more about the American who was detained today in Peshawar, first of all? And then I want to ask you about the second American in Lahore – his court appearance. Aaron Mark Dehaven, I believe is what the statement said.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I’m staring at a statement by the – that came out of Pakistan today. We’ve seen reports that Aaron Mark Dehaven has been detained by police in Peshawar, and we are arranging consular access through the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: So you don’t know anything more about him, why he was arrested?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s all we know at the --

QUESTION: What about the other American who had the court appearance?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) confirm those reports (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm? I don’t know that we have consular access yet, so I don’t think that we’re questioning the report that there is an American in detention in Peshawar. But beyond that, it’s hard for us to know exactly what the circumstances are.

QUESTION: And then you have no reason to understand why he’s been detained or whether it’s connected to the other case of a detention –

MR. CROWLEY: I would not suggest that it’s connected to the other case.

QUESTION: And about the other case, what is your understanding of what happened today in court?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Davis was in court today. He – my understanding is in court today he presented the court with a copy of a diplomatic note that affirms his full immunity from criminal prosecution. The court received that document and indicated that it would take the matter under consideration, and I believe there’s another hearing scheduled for March 3rd.

QUESTION: He presented the court with the diplomatic note from whom? From the U.S. Government?

MR. CROWLEY: From the – he presented a copy of a diplomatic note that was --

QUESTION: That you sent.

MR. CROWLEY: -- presented to the Government of Pakistan by the United States Government.

QUESTION: Isn’t that kind of like presenting a note from your mother that says – I mean, what --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he – I mean --

QUESTION: If the Pakistan – I mean, presenting this diplomatic note, how does that – I mean, that note has presented to the Pakistani Government already.

MR. CROWLEY: Right. But we wanted to put that note before the court as well.

QUESTION: And he declined a – the offer of an attorney? Is that correct? Or has refused to hire an attorney?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – can’t comment on – I mean, he does have legal representation by Pakistani lawyers.

QUESTION: He does?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t speak to their particular status. We had consular officials at – present at today’s hearing.

QUESTION: And P.J., that note, that’s the original note that he had when he went into the country?

MR. CROWLEY: My understanding it was a note that we provided to Pakistan, the Government, earlier this month.

QUESTION: Earlier this month, so that was –

MR. CROWLEY: I asked that question. It was not the original note from last year.

QUESTION: So, wait, wait – that you presented earlier this month; it wasn’t a new note.

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: It was just a copy –

MR. CROWLEY: It was a copy of a note that we had already presented to the Government of Pakistan, but we presented it to the court in Lahore.

QUESTION: So that’s the one you presented initially –

MR. CROWLEY: Or he presented to the court.

QUESTION: -- a copy of the one from January 20th.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Have a nice weekend.



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