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Middle East Digest - March 16, 2011

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Washington, DC
March 16, 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 March 16, 2011

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QUESTION: We’re getting conflicting statements regarding the release of Raymond Davis. The Secretary of State on record is saying that money was not paid to the families of Pakistanis killed, and Davis’s lawyer is saying, in fact, more than a million was paid to those families. I’m wondering if you can clarify those statements. And also --

MR. TONER: I’ll go with go with the Secretary of State’s statement. (Laughter.) No, I mean, I’m not going to discuss the details of his release beyond saying we did not pay compensation to the victims’ families. But beyond that, you’ll have to ask the families.

QUESTION: I’m wondering about the impact on Pakistani-U.S. relations given the fact that he was detained for 49 days. Would you say this was irresponsible on behalf of the Pakistani Government given that it did not respect the Vienna Conventions?

MR. TONER: Well, that’s a fair question. Look, we’re deeply appreciative of – first of all, of the victims’ families’ generosity in pardoning Mr. Davis. Obviously, this has been a difficult time, and as Ambassador Munter and others have said, what happened was a very tragic incident. That said, we’ve been working closely with the Pakistani Government for some time now. We feel we’ve been making progress on the key issues, the core issues. Both Pakistan and the U.S. face a similar threat, and we’ve been working very closely with them to address the threat of terrorism and to build up Pakistan’s infrastructure and to promote the democratic process and institutions that will lead it to better or greater prosperity in the future. So that all continues now, and we’re – it continued throughout this incident, but certainly it was a difficult time.

QUESTION: Do you know where Mr. Davis is right now, Mr. Davis?

MR. TONER: He’s left the country. That’s all I can say.

QUESTION: Can I just get a follow-up on that?

MR. TONER: Yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: It’s – I am unable to understand that on – the statement says that Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis. Now is the same thing possible in a U.S. court? No. Because it is Sharia law, and the pardoning comes only after paying the blood money. Why – where are we with half of agreement and half of disagreement? Because the Pakistanis --

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- are saying that the money has been paid, and that’s how the Sharia law works.

MR. TONER: Tejinder, what – as I understand what happened, it was in accordance with Pakistani law, and it resolved the case within its own legal system, and we respect Pakistan for that. Certainly, their legal system has differences from our own. I can’t really speak to that; I’m not a legal expert. But what I can say is that it was resolved within their legal system.

QUESTION: The legal system – I have spoken to somebody --

MR. TONER: I’m not sure what the question is.

QUESTION: -- somebody who was – who knows about this legal system and says that this happens only after the payment of the money. Why are we denying the payment of the money?

MR. TONER: I’ve said all I’m going to say, which is that the U.S. did not pay compensation to the victims’ families.

QUESTION: Did somebody else pay on behalf of --

MR. TONER: I’ve said what I’m going to say.


QUESTION: Was the U.S. in direct contact with the families?

MR. TONER: I’m not certain. I don’t think so. No.

QUESTION: How do you know that they then acquiesced to this without duress? It seems a very generous move --

MR. TONER: Well, they --

QUESTION: -- especially if no compensation was paid considering someone killed themselves recently over this.

MR. TONER: Look, Brad, again, this is – as I said, I’m not trying to in any way underplay or underestimate the tragedy of this incident. It was a difficult time, and as I said, Cameron – Ambassador Munter and others have expressed our deep sympathy to the families who were affected by this. I’m not an expert in Pakistani law, so I’m not comfortable discussing the legal process that took place. I understand that they signed a document that then pardoned Mr. Davis, and the case is, in our mind, resolved.

QUESTION: Well, where is the assurance coming from that this has been done correctly and to everyone’s satisfaction? Is that from the Pakistani Government?

MR. TONER: Well, that, and the Pakistani Government, I think, has spoken to it or released their own statement. But it’s also in accordance with their law, their legal system. They do have a legal system of their own, and we respect that.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. informed about it before they released their statement?

MR. TONER: Tejinder, I’m not sure. You mean before they released their statement about him being released?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, so was the U.S. --

MR. TONER: I’m not sure when we were made aware. Obviously, we were monitoring the case very closely, so – but --

QUESTION: Just following up on his question that --

MR. TONER: I’m not sure the timing of when they actually publicly announced it or when we, in fact, knew.

QUESTION: Did anybody from the embassy – did the ambassador or anybody from the embassy had a face-to-face, personal touch with the families? Because he says that I’m grateful for their generosity.

MR. TONER: I’m not aware that we did.

QUESTION: So how do we get this statement that – generosity?

MR. TONER: Because, again, according to Pakistani law, they had pardoned Mr. Davis. So that, to us, is a sign of generosity.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Why is it a sign of generosity, though, if they did not respect international conventions, the fact that he should have been treated as a diplomat and he carried a diplomatic passport? Why is the U.S. grateful for the generosity? It seems very bizarre.

MR. TONER: Look, you’re right, and we’ve said all along that Mr. Davis has diplomatic immunity and that should be respected. It was a difficult situation, and certainly, we have said all along that we have sympathy for the families of the victims, without a doubt. That – so --

QUESTION: They’re a diplomat, so that their (inaudible) passport --

MR. TONER: So for them to have pardoned – just to finish my – just to finish what I’m trying to say – so for them to have pardoned him, we do – we respect that generosity. On legal grounds, did we agree that it ever should have gone to court and gone to trial? Well, we’ve said that all along that we believe he was – that he was – he should have been – there’s – diplomatic immunity should have been respected.

Wait – yeah, go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: Broader on Pakistan, if we can move on from Davis.

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: There’s been reports of several cases of harassment of U.S. diplomats in Pakistan over the past couple days, police stopping cars with diplomatic plates and checking for the paperwork of those inside. Can you tell us anything about that and if any of your diplomats have been affected?

MR. TONER: Well, we are aware --

QUESTION: Mostly this is in the wake of the Davis stuff so I don’t --

MR. TONER: Well, we’re aware of these incidents. And obviously, whenever our diplomats are affected, it’s of concern to us. But we’re working cooperatively with the Pakistani Government to address them.

QUESTION: Can you say if any of your --

MR. TONER: We – I did say that some of them, I believe, involved American diplomats.

QUESTION: Okay. And are they detained? I mean, is it just harassment or is there anything beyond that --

MR. TONER: I don’t want to attempt to characterize it from here. I just – they’re incidents. We expressed our concern. We’re working with the Pakistani Government to address it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: One of the diplomatic meetings was recently postponed. When is the next strategic meeting between U.S.-Pakistan taking place?

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce yet, Tejinder. We’ll let you know. Go in the back and then --

QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, the court decision clearly shows that Raymond Davis never had diplomatic immunity. In fact, he was released because of blood money, and Government of Pakistan never presented any documents that describe that Raymond Davis is a diplomat.

Secondly, the attorney of victim’s family gave on-camera statement that he was never allowed to meet family members. He was forced to stay away from the courtroom. And do you think it was a fair trial?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, just to rewind a little.

QUESTION: The attorney of the victim’s family gave on-camera statement that he was never allowed to meet the clients. He was forced to stay away from the courtrooms during the decision. So do you think it was a fair trial?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’d just go back to what I said, which is that we respect Pakistan for resolving the case within its own legal system. As I stated, we strongly made the case throughout this process that Mr. Davis was a diplomat, and as such should be subject to diplomatic immunity, but the case was resolved within their own legal system. We respect that, and we want to move on now and get to the issues that we’re working together with Pakistan on.

QUESTION: All the family members are U.S. citizens now? It is reports that they were offered --

MR. TONER: I have no idea. I can’t --

QUESTION: And you decline that there was no money offered? There is no --

MR. TONER: The U.S. did not pay any more money, no – and any compensation.

Go ahead, Michel. I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: On the offer --

MR. TONER: Oh, I’m sorry – Libya. Yeah, go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Okay. Does this resolve the case with the third person who died, the bystander, or is that still subject to possible prosecution?

MR. TONER: Let me get back to you on that. Brad. We were saying it was under investigation. I’m not sure what the status of that is.


MR. TONER: Sorry, Brad.


QUESTION: What kind of a resolution are you looking for from the Security Council regarding Libya and when do you expect this resolution to be voted on?

MR. TONER: Well, as you correctly state, we’re consulting with our Arab partners and other partners in New York on a resolution on Libya. There’s a lot going on in New York right now. I don’t want to in any way kind of prejudge those discussions and where they might be leading. There’s a lot of things under discussion – obviously, a no-fly zone, but other things are being looked at, concrete efforts like humanitarian assistance and how much to support the Libyan opposition, just to name a few.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the other measures?

MR. TONER: As I said, how to keep arms out of Qadhafi, how to ensure the opposition can effectively communicate, there’s a range of options that are on the table, and those discussions are ongoing in New York.

QUESTION: Do you expect any vote today?

MR. TONER: I – you’ll have to check with our colleagues in New York. I don’t – I’m not aware that there’ll be any decision today.

QUESTION: Can you clarify what measures the U.S. supports?

MR. TONER: We said all along that there’s many different options on the table. We want to –as the Secretary has been in close contact with members of the Libyan opposition and talking to them over the past several days, we’re obviously very concerned about the humanitarian situation there. We’re concerned – or we’re still steadfast in our belief that Mr. Qadhafi should step down. So again, we’re looking at kind of ways to accelerate that process, to – ways that we can assist the opposition, ways that we can help their communication, ways that we can keep arms from reaching Colonel Qadhafi and his – and military there, and then above all, addressing the humanitarian needs in Libya. So those are a range of options that are all under discussion. And the no-fly zone is also under discussion as well. It’s just one of those – sorry, Christophe.

QUESTION: Considering the situation on the ground, do you think there is still a possibility to stop Qadhafi troops without a military intervention?

MR. TONER: You’re right, the situation is getting worse. I obviously can’t give you a very good assessment from here, but as we see from correspondents who are on the ground that it’s a very tenuous, a very dangerous situation within eastern Libya. But we believe there’s still time. We’re working urgently – God bless you – we’re working urgently to address what we believe are some of the steps we can take to assist both the Libyan people and the Libyan opposition, and again, to accelerate which is our – what is our ultimate goal here, which is to get Mr. Qadhafi to step down.

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- it’s a little bit late since Qadhafi forces – they took the territories that the opposition took in the past, and the forces are going now to Benghazi.

MR. TONER: I just said, Michel, we’re very much aware that the situation’s gotten worse, but we’re still looking at options. We believe there are options available to us, and those are all under active discussion in New York.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Arab League’s position. Their statement over the weekend seemed to imply that they would support an international no-fly zone, but not support any international action to enforce it. Where does that leave the effort, and has there been any movement in that?

MR. TONER: Right. We’ll we’ve – obviously, we welcomed the Arab League statement over the weekend, and the Secretary has consulted with both Arab and European partners as well as the Libyan opposition and – on the way forward. We’re – we’ve said all along that this needs to be an international effort, and it needs, obviously, again, Arab support and Arab participation as well. But our goal remains now is keeping that international pressure on Qadhafi, trying to find ways to help the opposition in concrete ways. A no-fly zone is one of those options under active consideration, but there’s other ones as well.

Yeah, go ahead, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Pentagon spokesman Geoff, he, on a domestic television channel, said that --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, who did it? Who said this?

QUESTION: The Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

MR. TONER: Morrell.

QUESTION: He said that the U.S. forces can go ahead with the no-fly zone and et cetera, other options, immediately, but awaiting a political decision. So when can we expect a political decision? Because February 23rd, President Obama gave a speech on Libya and today is March 16th. And --

MR. TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- Qadhafi’s son is saying the next 48 hours he will finish everything, so --

MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to parse out the statements of Colonel Qadhafi’s son, but we’ve been working urgently on this and we’ve accomplished a great deal, and we’ve done it all with international cooperation and international support. There’s been tremendous cohesion on this situation. Everyone recognizes that the situation within eastern Libya is increasingly dire, and the security situation there especially is tenuous, but we’re working hard in New York. And I know NATO is also looking at prudent planning in terms of options there. And we’re looking at concrete actions, as I said, that we can help improve the situation for the opposition for the Libyan people on the ground. But I can’t tell you right now when that’s going to happen. I mean, we’re working diligently to that end.

QUESTION: There is no time period for this political decision to be taken?

MR. TONER: Again, discussions are ongoing in New York and there’s a sense of urgency there, but beyond that – go ahead.

QUESTION: Will those actions continue with a widening of the sanction effort, and could you update us a little bit on the actions that were taken yesterday? And will there be sort of a further widening in terms of frozen assets?

MR. TONER: We’re always looking at – I mean, that’s been highly effective so far. I think they’ve frozen over 32 billion – is that the figure? I don’t have it here, but anyway – and we’re also looking – we’re working within the sanctions committee to look at ways to expand those. I don’t have any details right now, but as they come available, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: The additional members of the Qadhafi government who may be targeted, et cetera.

MR. TONER: Again, we’re looking at – that’s one of the things we’re considering is how to expand those.

QUESTION: Will those sanctions still be deemed successful if Qadhafi wipes out the opposition?

MR. TONER: Look, that’s speculative in the sense of you’re trying to foretell a circumstance that we don’t believe is necessarily going to happen. We’re working hard to find ways that we can help the Libyan opposition on the ground and – but that’s kind of a hypothetical, Brad.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to Pakistan for a clarification?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that resolving the case within its own legal system – so that means we accept that this was not a diplomatic case, but a legal case, and – because we were all the time --

MR. TONER: I didn’t necessarily say that, Tejinder. I mean, I did --

QUESTION: Resolve --

MR. TONER: -- expressly say that we felt all along that he should have been released because of his diplomatic immunity. That said, we do respect the fact that this was resolved, first and foremost, and that it was resolved through the – Pakistan’s legal system.

QUESTION: And the Pakistan legal system is the Sharia law, so we accept their legal system?

MR. TONER: We don’t impose our legal system on anyone. We do believe in due process and other kind of universal rights, but I’m not going to critique the Pakistani legal system.

QUESTION: But we didn’t pay any money?

MR. TONER: We did not.


QUESTION: On Syria, do you have any reaction to the protests that happened in Syria yesterday and today?

MR. TONER: I do. We’re concerned by today’s reports of injured and detained protestors in Syria, and we call on the Syrian Government to exercise restraint and to refrain from violence. People everywhere, including the Syrian people, have the universal right to peacefully assemble and freely express their opinions. And we call on the Syrian Government to live up to its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allow the Syrian people to exercise their universal rights of assembly and speech.

QUESTION: Have you spoke to the Syrians about --

MR. TONER: We have raised this and other human rights issues consistently with the Syrian Government.

Charley, you look like you have one more.

QUESTION: Another issue?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Bahrain; any comment on the violence there, particularly the – reports of storming – security forces storming hospitals and beating doctors? And also, can you bring us up to date on the investigation by the State Department into the security forces vis-à-vis the Leahy amendment U.S. aid to security forces and possible violation of --

MR. TONER: Yeah, to your second question, I’ll have to look into that. I don’t have any specific information on that, although it’s a fair question. But the Secretary has obviously spoken to this in the region, and she said the situation there is alarming. I can’t put it better than that. She also stressed, and we stress here obviously, that there’s no way to resolve this situation through security or excessive force. This needs a political – there needs to be a political dialogue that leads to a political resolution, essentially.

But we’re deeply troubled by reports of injuries and deaths of civilians, as well as attacks on the ambulances and – on ambulances and hospitals, which you just cited. We certainly object to the use of excessive force and violence against demonstrators, and we remind Bahraini officials of their obligation to protect medical facilities and to facilitate treatment of the wounded. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman was in Bahrain – I believe he’s left – and obviously, while he was there, raised these concerns to the Bahraini Government, directly with the foreign minister, and our U.S. Embassy Chargé Stephanie Williams will continue to carry on and convey our concerns. But obviously, we are deeply concerned.

QUESTION: Where is Feltman right now?

MR. TONER: He’s en route back, I think.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Have you talked to the other GCC countries – the Saudis, the Emirates?

MR. TONER: We have --

QUESTION: Beyond the stuff we knew about yesterday? I mean --

MR. TONER: Right. I don’t know that – yeah, I don’t know that there’s an update on that, but obviously, we call on them to join us in demanding an immediate end to the security operations going on there, and to support a political solution to this.

QUESTION: (inaudible) them withdraw their security forces?

MR. TONER: Again, we don’t believe that there’s a security solution to this problem, so --

QUESTION: So is that a yes?

MR. TONER: We – look, we believe that reliance on security measures will not answer the basic political questions that the Bahraini people have, and so yes, we see it as not helpful.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the differences between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia regarding the situation in Bahrain and sending GCC troops to Manama?

MR. TONER: I really can’t speak to the Saudis’ position. We’ve obviously conveyed our concerns to them directly. And the Secretary has spoken to that and – I mean, I can just go back through all our concerns, but you’ll have to ask the Saudi Government for its own position.

QUESTION: But from the U.S. point of view, do you have differences with the Saudis regarding the --

MR. TONER: Do we have --

QUESTION: -- situation in Manama?

MR. TONER: I didn’t hear you, Michel. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: From the U.S. point of view, do you have differences with the – Saudi Arabia regarding the situation in Bahrain?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve called on all GCC members to support what we believe is the ultimate resolution here, which is the political process that leads – or a political dialogue, rather, that leads to a political resolution. Security is not going to solve this. Military means is not – are not going to solve this. And we’ve conveyed those concerns to the Saudi Government as well as other governments in the GCC.

QUESTION: In Bahrain, the reports are suggesting that it is more of a Shia and Sunni divide than the – just democratic uprising, and Iran is playing a major role. What the U.S. is doing about it? Do you have any comments on Iranian role in it?

MR. TONER: Again, we – what we see it as is the Bahraini people having legitimate concerns and their government needing to address those concerns. And that’s really where the focus should be right now.

QUESTION: One more on Haiti.

MR. TONER: Brad likes that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Wanted to get your thoughts about the plans by Aristide to return on Thursday before the Sunday runoff, going against U.S. urgings.

MR. TONER: Well, you heard our concerns the other day. Look, there’s – the next round of elections for Haiti are on Sunday, and that’s where the focus should be. The Haitian people need to be looking forward and not backwards.


QUESTION: Can I just ask if there’s any new efforts regarding the hikers in Iran?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll certainly ask the question.

QUESTION: There was a statement from Muhammad Ali –

MR. TONER: I saw that. I didn’t have a chance to look into it. I’m sorry; there was so much happening today. I saw your question, and we’ll certainly look into it. I don’t know. I mean, our position remains we want them freed immediately.

QUESTION: But – no, just to – maintaining the institution of a daily State Department briefing?

MR. TONER: We’re committed to briefing you as frequently as we can and to meet your needs. Look, we’ve always been committed to doing that. And certainly, the last couple days have been – there’s been tremendous upheaval worldwide, and we also had the Embassy in Japan that was addressing some of the concerns there, as well as the Secretary in the region addressing some of the concerns there. So we didn’t brief for a couple days, but don’t read anything into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the Strategic Dialogue with India?

MR. TONER: Sorry I talked too much and now he got another question in his head. (Laughter.) Can we talk --

QUESTION: Yeah. Do we have any update?

MR. TONER: I don’t have an update.


QUESTION: Thank you.

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