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Middle East Digest - April 13, 2011


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Washington, DC
April 13, 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 April 13, 2011

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1:38 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: As you’re all aware, the Libya contact group met earlier today in Doha. The meeting built on last month’s meeting in London and was an opportunity for the international community to discuss and build consensus as we move forward in Libya. The Libya contact group meeting chairs issued a statement that highlighted the following -- international progress and implementing UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 73, and it also reiterated the demand for a halt of attacks on civilians, including the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks and abuses on civilians.

They also highlighted the call for a political process that allows Libyans to choose their own future, stressing the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis that responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. They discussed support for the Libyan people, including support to the opposition consistent with UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 73, as well as a delivery of humanitarian aid to agencies able to deliver it effectively, including the UN, humanitarian agencies, and the opposition. And they also talked about the serious humanitarian situation in Libya. Participants urged all relevant parties to grant immediately safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian agencies to provide urgently needed assistance, including evacuation of the wounded.

Finally, participants stood firm in their position that Qadhafi and his regime have lost all legitimacy and must leave power allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future. With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that Libya suggested at the contact group meeting to supply defensive weapons to the opposition in Libya. Would the U.S. support that?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Who discussed – or who?

QUESTION: There’s a report. I don’t know if it’s AP or Reuters that the Italians suggested –

MR. TONER: Oh, the Italians. Okay. I didn’t hear that. Look, we’ve said all along that all options remain on the table. And we’re not going to – I’m not going exclude anything at this point. Chris Stephens is on the ground in Benghazi. He remains there. He’s talking to the opposition, and certainly today in Doha was another opportunity to discuss with them primarily what would be effective and what kind of assistance they need.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Senator Kerry, during a plenary session on the U.S. Islamic Forum suggested Egypt was far more important than anything else. So whether Qadhafi stays or does not -- is toppled or not toppled really is not a priority, that ultimately he will go down. Is that no longer a priority? Is the U.S. focused on removing Qadhafi from power – consistent with a statement that he must go?

MR. TONER: Well, look, I think at the State Department and elsewhere in the U.S. Government, we need to be able to keep our eyes focused on several different balls at once –

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: -- and certainly the Secretary and others have spoken about the fact that Libya is important because – not just for what we’ve been seeing in terms of humanitarian assistance and crises and the fact that the Libyan people have expressed their legitimate aspirations and been met with violence and repression, but also the fact that what happens in Libya has effects elsewhere in the region, including Egypt. So they’re all interconnected, and we need to be able to focus on many different fronts simultaneously. We need to obviously work with the Egyptian authorities as they manage this difficult transition. They’re facing a lot of challenges, and certainly, part of our assistance, at least along the border area with Libya, has been focused on alleviating that pressure on Egypt. We’ve also been working to get Egyptian civilians who were – who fled the fighting in Libya back home to Egypt. So again, it’s – they’re all – there’s an interconnectedness here.

QUESTION: So just a quick follow-up. So, that does remain a goal of the United States of America that Qadhafi must leave office?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And a quick follow-up. Arab diplomats are saying that the lack of identity of who the rebels are is actually what’s causing all this reluctance –

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. Who said this?

QUESTION: It’s causing all this equivocation by the Administration in terms of aiding the rebels.

MR. TONER: But who said that? I’m –

QUESTION: Arab diplomats.

MR. TONER: Oh, Arab diplomats.

QUESTION: Arab diplomats are saying that the United States is unaware of the identity or remains unaware of the identity of the rebels, and that causes them to be reluctant in aiding them. Could you confirm or deny that?

MR. TONER: Well, what I think we’re trying to do is to evaluate both what their needs are and that’s why we sent one of our most seasoned diplomats to Benghazi to talk to them firsthand and to assess what their needs are in the field and how we can be most effective. We want to make our assistance count and help them in the best way we can. But also, it is true that we have been trying to all along better assess the opposition. Concurrent with our assessment is the fact that they’re evolving as an opposition. They’re becoming more organized and more coherent as an organization, as a political organization. We’re finding out more about them as this happens, so I – we’re keenly aware that there’s an urgency to all of this, but we’re also trying to take an approach that allows us to understand both their needs as well as who they are.

Yeah, go ahead, Brad. We’ll get to you, Jill. Sorry.

QUESTION: We’ve heard more appeals today from the opposition for the U.S. to play a larger role in the aerial campaign. Will this be done? Why or why not?

MR. TONER: Well, NATO’s set to meet, obviously, in the next couple of days in Berlin, and obviously, Libya and the establishment of the no-fly zone and maintenance of the no-fly zone and the arms embargo and the humanitarian assistance operation that NATO’s overseeing will be one of the topics of conversation, if not the topic of conversation. There will be other elements to the meeting, obviously. But we believe NATO is fully capable of carrying out this mission.

We’ve seen broad participation, both on the part of European countries – certainly the UK and France have played a leading role, but other European countries – as well as Arab countries, UAE and Qatar. So we believe that this operation’s been successful and that NATO – led by NATO, it can continue to be successful in fulfilling UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We’re --

QUESTION: So you don’t see it --

MR. TONER: Well, again, Brad, just to finish my thought, we’ve never said we’re – the U.S. role was clearly defined from the very beginning. We brought capabilities to the implementation of 1973 and we continue to play a supportive role in its ongoing fulfillment.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then just on the current kind of stalemate in the fighting, is the United States comfortable with the kind of partitioning – de facto partitioning of the country as it is now?

MR. TONER: Again, I – it’s a very fluid situation and it’s going to remain fluid for some time to come. We have said all along that our goal was to implement 1973. We believe that’s been done. We’re now calling on, in a very unified fashion through the contact group, for Qadhafi to ceasefire and to withdraw his forces. That message was clear from Doha today, earlier today. And we’re going to continue to apply political pressure.

Ambassador Rice said this doesn’t need to be -- the second phase of this, which is urging Qadhafi to step away from power and then trying to allow a democratic transition to take place. It doesn’t need to be done at the barrel of a gun; it can be done through diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, and other means. Thanks.

Yeah, Jill. Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s the view of the United States on the detention of Mr. Mubarak and his sons?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is – I think is something – as I said earlier, Egypt is navigating a very difficult transition. It’s trying to set in place democratic processes. But it’s really a matter for the Egyptian Government to address.

QUESTION: Do -- no viewpoint whatsoever?

MR. TONER: I mean, insofar as – Egypt is addressing the Mubarak regime and/or Mubarak rule over Egypt and trying to move forward into a democratic transition. But that’s their – this is their action, this is – it’s their country and we don’t have any comment on it.

QUESTION: Mark, as far as waves in the Middle East or Egypt is concerned, or Libya --

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: -- there is a conference going on here, more than dozens of Muslim and Arab leaders are here in Washington as far as World Muslim Forum is concerned. Are they going to discuss as far as a wave in the Middle East and also Libya if --

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the Organization of Islamic Conference?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: And are they going to discuss all these issues? And what do you think the outcome when Secretary also going to address this forum – what’s the outcome?

MR. TONER: She did last night, and she did address the --

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean --

MR. TONER: Yeah, and talked about – echoed some of the themes in her – in – that she raised first in Doha, and the fact that it’s important for Arab leaders to address the legitimate aspirations of their people, and to implement reforms that speak to some of the inequities that exist in the region. She also said that we’re going to remain committed to comprehensive peace in the Middle East. So she raised a lot of these issues, obviously taking advantage, as you said, of this gathering of leaders from the Islamic and Arab world.

QUESTION: What I’m asking you – one more thing on – just to follow, as far as this gathering is concerned, mainly, basically, the Arabs and Muslim leaders are there. Whether she had discussed with them individually or bilaterally or in a group that – if U.S. and NATO both are same – on the same line as far as Qadhafi’s departure is concerned? Or you still have some kind of concessions with his son, or he can depart and his son can stay or – I mean --

MR. TONER: Look, Goyal, our public statements and our private statements are the same on this, and there’s no gap between what NATO’s saying or – in fact, NATO is running the command and control of the unified protector. And we’ve been clear that we want Qadhafi to step away. He’s delegitimized as a leader and needs to leave.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Because there is also a problem of flow of oil. Oil is – that’s the –

MR. TONER: I know. Let’s give some other – we’ll get back to that. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just moving back to the meeting in Doha, the Libya group has agreed to set up a trust fund to support the rebels. Is the U.S. supportive of this fund, and does it want to see it help provide arms or humanitarian assistance like electricity?

And then a follow-up to that is a spokesman for the regime reacted to this, saying that he hopes the American Government doesn’t buy into Qatari schemes.

MR. TONER: Well, we very much appreciate the Qatari Government’s efforts to host this event. And certainly, they’ve been playing a leading role in the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. And I think I said yesterday that we’re deeply appreciative of those efforts and that leadership.

Speaking to the idea of a trust fund, look, I think there was broad consensus on a number of issues, and one of them was we need to find ways to assist the TNC, the Transitional National Council, and to make sure that they have funds and they have the wherewithal to continue to operate. There have been a number of ideas floated. That was one of them. But certainly, we’re supportive of – overall of assisting them financially and otherwise.

Yeah. Go ahead, Cami.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about Mahmoud Jibril’s visit to the U.S.? Is he planning to meet with anybody here?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Thanks, Cami. He is going to be in Washington later this week, and he’s going to meet with various members of Congress as well as officials at Department of Defense. And he’ll also meet here with Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg. I don’t have the date; Thursday or Friday, obviously. These meetings will allow us to continue to get a better sense of the opposition in the Transitional National Council and its vision for Libya.

Yes. Go ahead, Brad, and then –

QUESTION: On Israel-Palestine –

QUESTION: Sorry –

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: -- but do you know when he arrives, by any chance?

MR. TONER: I don’t, actually. I’ll try to find out. I mean, it’s got to be most likely tomorrow.

QUESTION: Back to the Mideast – well, not that; we’re still there – but the Secretary made a reference last night in her speech about a renewed pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, a two-state solution. Does this signal that there will be some sort of new proposal, new parameters, new element coming forward from the United States? Or is it simply the same old process but maybe with new energy or –

MR. TONER: Well, I would say that there’s not – it’s not necessarily a new push or specifically a new push, but rather a redoubling of our efforts. And obviously, we’re aware that at this moment, there’s – some wonder whether there’s any hope for progress. There’s a lot going on in the region, and it was just a moment for the Secretary to reinforce the message that we are committed to this process and that we’re going to make sure we commit the energy necessary to see it fulfilled.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up --

MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- to this. Earlier in the day, Senator Kerry, again in the same forum, expressed confidence that the resolution of this conflict, based on the two-state solution, can be attained by September, in accordance with the declaration made by the Secretary of State at that podium and the speech made by President Obama to the General Assembly. Is that – so, is there anything new, I mean, just to follow up on that? Or something is going on?

MR. TONER: Well, we continue to meet with both parties. I believe Hale was in the – David Hale was in the region just last week. And our goal is to get them back to the negotiating table. And we do recognize that September is inexorably approaching here and that it’s important for us to keep the momentum – or rejuvenate this process, rather – and to get both parties back to the negotiating table because, as we’ve said many times here, that’s ultimately the only way that we’re going to resolve these issues.

Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: On that, didn’t the Secretary, if I’m not mistaken, indicate that the President would be speaking about this sometime soon?

MR. TONER: I think she did. I don’t have her speech in front of me, but –

QUESTION: Do you know any –

MR. TONER: -- I don’t know any more details. I’ll just have to refer you to the White House on that.

QUESTION: Because you said “redoubling our efforts,” but that almost made it sound like there was something more. Maybe new ideas or not?

MR. TONER: Well, I – look, we’re always open to new ideas and new approaches. But fundamentally, we know what needs to be done, which is to get the parties together, to get them talking about these core issues so that they can resolve them in a fashion that’s sustainable and appropriate to both sides. I mean, that’s the core thing here, is to get them back under direct negotiations. We’re open to new ideas and new approaches how to do that, but that’s our goal.

QUESTION: Mark, in the speech she mentioned that this would happen in the coming weeks. Is that – when you talk about redoubling efforts and that bit, is that going to be something that will happen in that couple weeks? Are we going to start seeing some of that now? Or give us some sense of the timeline if you could.

MR. TONER: Well, again, in terms of the President, I’d refer you to the White House. I don’t have details about his speaking on the issue. But as I said, we continue to meet with both sides. I don’t know that there’s ever been a slackening in our approach to Middle East peace, but certainly there’s been a lot of other issues that have come to the fore in recent months. There’s a lot of change sweeping the region. And so I think you’re going to see in the weeks ahead, as I said, a better focus on the Middle East peace process and how we can push it forward. I don’t have a sense of a timeline. I’ll try to get you more details on that.

QUESTION: And the one thing that was unclear was that it seemed from the remarks that it would be maybe a broader speech about kind of wrapping up everything that we’ve seen over the last several months. Is that what we should expect, or should we expect it to focus mainly on the Middle East peace process?

MR. TONER: You’re talking again about the President’s speech?

QUESTION: About the speech or any of this kind of redoubling of efforts or --

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: Well, I know, but it --

MR. TONER: -- talk about the President’s speech. I mean --

QUESTION: -- it was still unclear from her remarks, so --

MR. TONER: Right. But as I said, there is a tremendous amount of change taking place in the region, and I think all of us are aware – the President, obviously, as well, as the Secretary of State – that all of this is interconnected and we need to take advantage of this opportunity to pursue peace in the Middle East as well.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Is the speech likely to coincide or precede the visit by Mr. Netanyahu?

MR. TONER: I don’t have any details.

QUESTION: You don’t have that --

MR. TONER: I really don’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on George – or any update on George Mitchell’s activities?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I know he’s – I believe he’s in New York. I don’t know what his – if he has any plans to travel. I know he remains in contact by phone and with both parties, but I don’t have any travel plans for him.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR. TONER: Oh.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is saying that the United States pressured to have the Quartet meeting postponed again. Is that – could you confirm that?

MR. TONER: There was nothing ever announced. I don’t have any details.

QUESTION: But did the U.S. Administration push to have the meeting postponed?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t think – believe anything was ever announced. But we’re open to meeting with the Quartet when there’s – when that meeting has value.

QUESTION: In Bahrain, do you know about the case of Karim Fakhrawi, a businessman in the opposition? He went to the police to complain about something and he died in the police custody and this case is the fourth death of its kind in police custody of people in the opposition.

MR. TONER: Right. Yeah. No. We do have – we are aware of the death and we’re obviously – we are deeply concerned by the deaths of both him and several other individuals while in custody of Bahraini authorities, and we extend our condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives. We strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure the security of all persons of all arrests – rather, the security of all arrestees and abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain’s international legal obligations. And we would call on the Government of Bahrain to conduct complete and transparent investigations into all these deaths.

QUESTION: And any update on the situation in Syria? Are you hearing anything from Ambassador Ford about these contracts?

MR. TONER: I haven’t – we haven’t – I haven’t reached out to him or to the mission. Obviously, the President issued the statement on Friday. We’re still concerned about reports of violence there. And we ask President Asad and the Syrian Government to respect the human rights of the protestors.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)



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