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 17, 2011
MR. TONER: We are disturbed by reports that a town square in the West Bank has been renamed in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, who was a terrorist responsible for an attack that killed 35 Israelis in 1978. We condemn this commemoration of terrorism and have conveyed our deep concern about this incident to senior officials in the Palestinian Authority and have urged them to address it. We underscore that all parties have an obligation to end any form of incitement.
QUESTION: One on the area: What’s your reaction to Abbas’ initiative to reconcile with Hamas and form a new unity government?
MR. TONER: Well, I haven’t seen those reports yet, but again, our approach is quite clear. Our goal remains trying to get both parties – both the Palestinians and the Israelis – back to the negotiating table. And so the – and by saying that, what I mean is the ultimate goal there is comprehensive peace. And so our efforts remain getting them back to the negotiating table so they can reach that comprehensive peace. But in speaking to – I haven’t seen those reports yet, so I don’t have any reaction yet.
QUESTION: Would a Hamas-Fatah – Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity government advance that goal or would it hinder that?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to comment on something I haven’t seen yet, either in press reports or in any form whatsoever. Obviously, our – what we’ve said publicly is that – and in fact just reiterated is we want to see both parties take steps that advance direct negotiations and advance steps to get back into direct negotiations and avoid incitement or provocation or anything on either side.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: With the UN considering the resolution we’re expecting about this afternoon on Libya, and Qadhafi’s so close to Benghazi right now, even if that resolution were to pass in hours from now, is time not running out for the international community to do anything to stop what’s happening and what could happen in Benghazi?
MR. TONER: Well, it’s a good question, and we’re acutely aware. I think the Secretary spoke to the urgency of the situation yesterday. And you’re right; there is negotiations ongoing right now at New York – in New York, rather – and I believe there is even a vote scheduled at – for 6 p.m. Is that right, Julie? That’s what we’ve heard. But we’re very much aware that it’s an urgent situation on the ground. And one of the reasons they’re working so diligently in New York is to look at not just things we’ve had discussed, no-fly zone and et cetera, but other steps that will help alleviate our two fundamental goals, which are to apply pressure so that Qadhafi and his colleagues, his counterparts, his associates step down and out of power, and then also that we, in some way, stop the violence against Libyan civilians.
QUESTION: But with things so close, I mean, that his troops are so close to Benghazi, and the Administration has said it’s concerned with what might happen next – what really can be done to stop it?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to prejudge what or any way preview what might come out of New York later today, but they’re all very much aware of the situation on the ground. And obviously, when they look at the draft resolution, they’re doing so with the situation on the ground in mind. So we’re looking at a number of options, and what we’re trying to do is work in a consensus with the international community in order to find a way forward.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said that four GCC countries are in Bahrain currently. Can you – do you know which four, I mean, apart from Saudi?
MR. TONER: I don’t know the other three, but we’ve been in – I don’t have an answer for you. But we’ve been quite clear in communicating to the GCC our concerns and our belief that there’s no security solution to what’s going on in Bahrain right now. They need a political dialogue. But I don’t have the other three. I can certainly check. I’m sorry, did she list them or –
QUESTION: She just said four in an interview. She said four countries were there. It wasn’t clear, either, if they were – if they had deployed troops or not.
MR. TONER: I mean, I would just refer you to the GCC. I mean, I know that they are there in a mutual assistance agreement, but I don’t have any details of the other countries
QUESTION: Yes, Secretary Clinton and President Obama have both stated that Qadhafi has to go, going back to the question of Libya and the resolution. In not uncertain terms, is that still the position that Qadhafi has to go today in –
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- waiting for this resolution?
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: And how is America going to back up that statement?
MR. TONER: How is America going to back up?
MR. TONER: Oh, okay. I didn’t hear it. Well, as I said, we’re – this is not about America versus Libya. This is about the international community looking at what is happening, transpiring in Libya right now, and frankly, being appalled by what’s going on there, and recognizing that Qadhafi and his associates have lost all legitimacy to govern and demanding that they step down. This is not a U.S. opinion/position. This is an international position against Libya.
Yeah, go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: Just about Pakistan.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations today regarding this drone strike?
MR. TONER: We don’t discuss drones, any of that, but --
QUESTION: No, I mean between you and the Pakistanis.
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that it’s come up in our bilateral discussions. I’ve seen press reports. But as a matter, we don’t – as a rule here, we don’t talk about that.
QUESTION: I know that you’re probably going to say this is a CIA issue, but do you know if Ray Davis is back in the U.S. yet?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I said yesterday he’s out of –
QUESTION: He is out of Pakistan, yeah.
MR. TONER: – he’s out of Pakistan, obviously. And he was put in the care of an American health practitioner immediately after his release, and seemed in good spirits and good condition. He’ll undergo further medical testing, but I don’t know if he’s back in the U.S. or not.