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Middle East Digest - May 4, 2010

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Washington, DC
May 4, 2010


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 May 4, 2010

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1:21 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. We are working closely with the Government of Pakistan regarding the ongoing investigation of the bomb plot in Times Square. And we appreciate Pakistan’s pledge of full cooperation and beyond that, I will defer questions to the Department of Justice. I think the Attorney General is about to walk out and give an update on the ongoing investigation.

Senator George Mitchell is in the region for talks with the Israelis on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and with Palestinian leaders, including President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad on Friday and Saturday. We certainly appreciate the Arab League’s support for our efforts and we hope and expect to formally move forward with proximity talks later this week.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the – your very first thing on the – Pakistan?


QUESTION: First of all, a couple questions about the suspect who is in custody, who is a nationalized citizen. Can you tell us when he – presumably, he got a visa to get to the States in the first place before he became a naturalized citizen. Can you tell us when that visa was issued and what kind of visa it was?

MR. CROWLEY: I will – I think I’ve actually heard some reporting in the last few minutes on that, but I’ll take the question as to whether we can release specific information about his visa history.

QUESTION: You’ve heard reporting on this in the last few minutes?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I was watching NBC.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you’ve heard reporting on it, then you surely know.

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I’m not disputing that we know. I’m just – I have to go sort through legal questions as to whether we’re allowed to release that information.

QUESTION: Well, he’s been charged with a crime.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: I don’t think that – the Privacy Act doesn’t apply here.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure if you – I can see a situation where if you’re convicted of a crime, perhaps you forfeit certain Privacy Act (inaudible) – I mean, I’ve agreed to take --

QUESTION: Well, once --

MR. CROWLEY: Wait a second. I’ve agreed to take the question.

QUESTION: Well, I’m a little surprised that --

MR. CROWLEY: I have to sort --

QUESTION: But I’m a little surprised that you don’t have that information ready to go. You clearly would have known this is going to be a matter of interest, no?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – I think there’s a difference between whether we have provided full information on this individual’s travel to the United States prior to becoming a citizen. That, you can rest assured, we have provided to the ongoing investigation. Whether we’re in a position to discuss this publicly is a separate issue.

QUESTION: Well, then when did he apply for and when did he receive a U.S. passport?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will take all – well, wait a second. I mean, again, all of these issues are subject to the Privacy Act. I pledge --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. This guy tried to blow up a car in Times Square (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: Let me finish. Let me finish. As to his visa history and as to whether or not – as to his passport information, I’ll take those questions. If we can release them publicly, I will do so.

QUESTION: There is --

QUESTION: No, no. Hold on a second. So you do know. It’s not as if you – I mean, the problem is that it sounds like you don’t know.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, but hang on a second. Does the United States State Department know if it has issued a visa to this individual in the past? Yes, we know. Does the United States Department of State know if we have issued a passport to this individual? Yes, we know. Again, whether I can share that information publicly, I’ve just got to consult before I can release that.

QUESTION: And on the cooperation with Pakistan, what is it that so far that you’re aware of that the Pakistanis have done?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to the Pakistanis to announce what they’ve done.

QUESTION: May I just follow Matt --


QUESTION: -- quickly. If you are aware of, in recent months and most part of last year and this year, more and more Pakistanis are becoming U.S. citizens, hearing that while holding U.S. passport they will have easy travel anywhere around the globe and they will not have any problems. Are you aware of this problem? And that’s why, because more and more now, U.S. Pakistanis, original U.S. citizens, are now more and more caughting – they’ve been caught – all these like – five are being held in Pakistan, and Mumbai attack and all that.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, wait a second. Goyal, you’ve thrown a lot in that basket. We are – we obviously are aware that we have a threat that we face on an ongoing basis of individuals in this country and elsewhere who wish to do us ill. The same is true of a number of countries around the world, including Pakistan and India and others. This is a global struggle. We are cooperating with these countries. It obviously – we have to continue to find ways to detect these plots before they reach a place like Times Square. And as a government, we have been extremely successful in thwarting a number of plots before they materialize, but in this particular case, it got very, very close. And we’re grateful to the law enforcement officials in New York that were able to intercept this in time.

QUESTION: One more quickly. Thanks. Not all Pakistanis are bad, not all Muslims are bad, but also there may not be a direct government hand in Pakistan. But if you remember in 1992, during President Clinton, President Clinton was about to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism – Pakistan, state sponsor – but then they gave them more time; they might change. What I’m asking now if anything have changed from then now, because many Pakistanis are saying here now they are fed up because being – living here a peaceful life, and this is affecting them, their everyday family life. And what they’re saying is this must come to an end. What steps the U.S. Government is taking, really, as far as you are being more (inaudible) to Pakistan, and you are telling the Pakistanis doing better, more cooperating and all that? So what is the next step from here we go?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, I’d be very, very careful, because in certainly – we are seeing cases of individuals who have links to a range of countries around the world, who for whatever reason have become involved in extremist movements and are attempting to attack the United States, whether it’s here in this country or elsewhere. I’d be very careful about making a broad- brush statement. We value our relationship with Pakistan. We value the fact that there are many Pakistanis who have come to this country, have links to Pakistan and have become citizens of this country. We’re very proud of them. They enrich us as a society.

And I think that we all share the same goal here, which is to determine what’s behind this movement, how people that may come here to study, come here to live, all of a sudden take a turn in a dangerous direction. We’re all trying to understand what this phenomenon is and see what we can do to prevent it from occurring in the future. There’s a great deal – across the government, there’s a great deal of interaction that’s going on with a range of diaspora communities. Here in this country, because we all sense the danger, we sense the concern, but we’re determined to reduce this threat to the United States and to other countries as best we can.


QUESTION: New topic.


QUESTION: Wait, wait.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold up.

QUESTION: P.J., can you confirm that officials in Pakistan have made at least one arrest in connection with this case, if not multiple more?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not in a position to confirm anything at this point. I’ve seen the reporting, just as you have.

QUESTION: And they haven’t communicated that with you?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure they have. It hasn’t come to my level yet. I’m not disputing the reports that they have taken some action. I’m just – you’re asking me to confirm, and I’ve seen different reports about numbers of people who have been picked up. I’m just not in a position to confirm one versus another.

QUESTION: I know you deferred to Justice, but can you give us any details about how you’re working closely with Pakistan in this regard on the investigation in the last day or two?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have very close law enforcement and intelligence relationships with Pakistan. And I think you can see, at least circumstantially by the reporting in the last hour or two, that Pakistan takes this shared threat seriously and is already taking action in response to the information that – or what we’ve seen over the past four days.

QUESTION: And have you been informed that any dual citizenship Pakistani Americans have been taken into custody in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not in a position to confirm any of that.

QUESTION: Can you say at least now that there is a suspicion that this individual didn’t act alone?

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leaping into a conclusion here. I mean that’s all part of the investigation.

QUESTION: Can you describe – I’m sorry. Just can you describe –

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, we’ll --

QUESTION: P.J., has there been any contact with the Embassy here at all? There was just a statement released by the ambassador. Did the Secretary have conversations? Was the State Department or anyone here asking the Pakistanis or involved with the Pakistanis in this kind of statement?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we – as I just said, we are in touch with the Pakistani Government both here and there on a continuing basis on a wide range of issues. And I’m sure through law enforcement and intelligence sources, once we unearthed the plot on Saturday and then began to harvest the available evidence both Sunday and Monday, we’ve alerted our law enforcement colleagues around the world, and obviously, they’re taking action in response.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary have any personal involvement in those communications?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any conversations she’s had with Pakistani authorities over the last 72 hours.

QUESTION: Once you unearthed the plot? The unearthing of the plot was a smoking car in Times Square. I don’t think that that’s really unearthing the plot, but I’m just – what is the State Department’s role in this? Does it have one? Or are you guys just completely on the sidelines?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the -- we have a responsibility to provide information that is in our records about the – at least one individual that is in custody, and beyond that, through Dan Benjamin, our Special Advisor for Counterterrorism, he is linked into and is fully engaged in evaluating what we know and working cooperatively with his counterparts around the world.

QUESTION: P.J., can you just – sir, please, can you clarify any comments on – the official statement from Pakistan yesterday was that he is not a Pakistani citizen; he is an American citizen and that led them to punish him. We have nothing to do?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. My understanding is that we’re talking about an American citizen.

QUESTION: P.J., just a follow-up on your answer to Matt. Have you been asked or has State been asked to look into the passport or visa information of anyone else connected to this event? You said “At least one person.” I’m just wondering if –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again -- put it this way. All right, we have one person in custody. Again, I’ll refer to these – the investigation itself, I refer to the Justice Department. But to the extent that – let me talk more broadly.

I mean, if you have an American citizen who seemingly is linked to a terrorist plot, we will scour our files to understand what we know about travel to other parts of the world and, of course, that opens up a window in terms of contacts that the individual might have had with others in different countries. That’s a fundamental aspect of trying to figure out whether this is an individual acting alone or part of something broader. So we are – you can rest assured we are doing our part in terms of understanding – finding out what we can find out either in our own files or working with our counterparts around the world to try to figure out what this was about.

QUESTION: Have you been asked – have you been asked --

QUESTION: Specifically, have you looked for his wife’s passport? He was married to an American citizen. Can you say that you’ve looked?

MR. CROWLEY: I will just say that you can rest assured that to the extent – as we are – as individuals are implicated in this ongoing investigation, if we have information relevant to that investigation, we’re providing it to the terrorism task force.

QUESTION: So you’re going to reach to the root cause?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: You are going to reach to the root cause to – from the U.S. to Pakistan and elsewhere, wherever he has connections?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, certainly, that is part of an ongoing effort that we have in our broader effort of global engagement, is trying to understand how these kind of plots come to pass and whether, through some combination of action and outreach to communities, where we can see if -- for ourselves and for other countries that are also afflicted by this, if we can, over time, reduce the threat to the mutual threat that we share.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you once again --


QUESTION: Why is it that you’re not able to – why is it that you have to take the question on the visa and the passport issuance?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, for one thing, I don’t have the information right in front of me.

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m sorry, it just very surprises me.


QUESTION: You didn’t expect that people would be asking about this today?


QUESTION: I mean, whether you have the information or not – I mean you do have the information. Someone does, at least, in this building and it’s been passed on to the Justice Department for –

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. We at the State Department have specific information. Whether we’re in a position to –

QUESTION: Okay. But why is it that you don’t know if you’re in a position –

MR. CROWLEY: That decision may or may not rest –

QUESTION: Why is it that you’re not sure that you have –


QUESTION: -- the legal authority –





MR. CROWLEY: I am certain –


MR. CROWLEY: -- that we have – if the United States Government has issued a visa in the past to any individual, I am certain that we know that.


MR. CROWLEY: If the United States Government has issued a passport to an individual in the past, I am certain we know that.


MR. CROWLEY: Now, there’s a process by which – you’re asking me if we are in a position to publicly release this information. A, there are Privacy Act implications and B, there are implications in terms of the ongoing investigation. So you have asked me if I will see if I can clear the release of information relative to this investigation. I’ll ask that question.


QUESTION: It’s on terrorism, but related to Russia.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Congressman Hastings, called on the State Department last week to official – to formally designate Doku Umarov and his terrorist network as a foreign terrorist organization. Are you doing anything about this? Any chances that you include this organization in the new list this year?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, those are two separate processes. We do have an annual Country Report on Terrorism that summarizes actions that we have taken to date. And so – but the 2009 report that we’ll be releasing shortly does not anticipate actions that we’ve not yet taken. Obviously, on an ongoing basis, we evaluate both the links of individuals and groups to terrorism activity and, when appropriate, we designate certain individuals or entities as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. So I have no announcements to make in terms of this particular case.

QUESTION: Just briefly back to Times Square. Yesterday there was talk that the investigation had prompted what was called increased vigilance here at the State Department, obviously, in terms of security. Has security been increased at U.S. State Department facilities here and abroad as a result of the – in the aftermath of the Times Square incident?

MR. CROWLEY: I will take that question. Not to my knowledge, but I wouldn't rule it out.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any more information about the Secretary’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister yesterday. Specifically, I’m wondering if they talked about this idea of Brazil and Turkey mediating with Iran. And is there any sense that you’re getting closer to consensus, possible consensus, on the sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I was in that bilateral with the Secretary yesterday and Foreign Minister Amorim. The conversation lasted about 20 minutes. Both – the foreign minister updated the Secretary on his recent trip to Tehran, what he told the Iranians, how he perceived their response. The Secretary went through where we are in the process within the Security Council. I think the foreign minister indicated that there will be a high-level trip to Tehran in the next couple of weeks – I’ll leave it to Brazil to announce – and that we would also – we’d be waiting to hear what the results of that trip were.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary feel that the Brazilian efforts at mediation or whatever you want to call it are bearing any fruit at all, or is this a useful process? Did she tell him that we are grateful for their efforts here, or what?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, certainly, we are – we do recognize the value and importance of a variety of countries engaging Iran. I think we are all sending the same message – that Iran has to answer the questions that the international community has, it needs to respond in a formal and meaningful way to the offer that was put on the table last fall. There may still be a difference of opinion as to where we are in this process.

I think there is a two-track process here, engagement and pressure. And the foreign minister told the Secretary that Brazil continues to see what it can – what can be achieved on this engagement process. We hope that these efforts by Turkey, Brazil, and others might be successful. As the Secretary said yesterday, I think we’re increasingly skeptical that the Iranians are going to change their course absent some – a real significant, powerful statement by the international community.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I ask about the Middle East? You gave some details about the meeting Senator Mitchell will have in the region. Are these meetings already part of the indirect talks? And if it’s – which of them are part of the --

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s --

QUESTION: Because last time in March, as soon as you had announced the --

MR. CROWLEY: I know, I know, I know. Tell you what. Why don’t we do this. We’ll have the meetings over the next four days and then we’ll describe to you what we achieved.

QUESTION: One more, different question.


QUESTION: Freedom of the press. Yesterday was the world freedom of the press. I know I saw the statement from the Secretary.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a significant day, absolutely.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. My question is that press is between – a bridge between people and the governments. But many journalists, they face even deaths around the globe.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And many government do not like the truth and they’d rather eliminate the truth. So my question is that, just like Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations, why not the freedom of the press at the universal level at the United Nations? And I think Secretary should take a step now, since she’s in New York during this session.

MR. CROWLEY: To this statement, Goyal, I mean, certainly we see the independent media as a hallmark of democratic and civil society around the world. It’s why we do things like this, where we present ourselves to you every day and are held to account. And you’re right; we are concerned that in many areas of conflict around the world, journalists are specifically targeted. This is of great concern to us. We have regularly highlighted the concerns that we have about efforts to silence journalists, particularly in societies that are going through crisis or conflict. The role of the press is fundamental to a universal system that promotes freedom of expression, freedom of information, and we will continue to support that. And we – obviously, yesterday the Secretary’s and President’s statements were to commend you for your critical role in promoting democracy around the world.

QUESTION: One more, quickly.


QUESTION: Yesterday at the Freedom House at the Newseum, Christiane Amanpour --

MR. CROWLEY: Fine journalist.

QUESTION: -- but now she’s with ABC. She had a very straight and forward and clear message for all the governments, including for the United States. That’s what she said, that there’s a time now that press should be honored around the globe, not just talking freedom of the press.

MR. CROWLEY: Pretty good idea.


QUESTION: Under Secretary Burns is meeting with Mustafa Barghouti, who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and an hour later, with the Israeli director of the foreign ministry. It’s a closed meeting. Do you usually go out and give a readout on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s see if we can – if we can put one out, we will. Otherwise, ask me tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can you give – give a official reaction to Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday in New York? And is walking out enough of a message to send to the Iranian president?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure I completely understand your last question.

QUESTION: Well, just the Secretary and allies walked out of the speech. And I was just wondering if that’s –

MR. CROWLEY: No, the Secretary wasn’t in the hall.


MR. CROWLEY: So we did have an office director at the table and there was a specific reference in that speech that we found outrageous – particularly outrageous, which was that somehow the United States supports terrorism networks. It’s false. He knows it’s false. And at that point in the speech, our delegate walked out. There were others that were doing so at the same time. I think there was a significant contrast standing there on the margins where there was a definite international statement as Ahmadinejad spoke and as he offended country after country after country. By the same token, when Secretary Clinton spoke later in the day, as far as I could see, no one walked out in protest.

QUESTION: And what’s the official reaction to his speech?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it was a – I mean the Secretary gave it yesterday. It was a missed opportunity. He spoke for 35 minutes and not once did he indicate what Iran was prepared to do to answer the fundamental questions on its nuclear program. He made the speech about everybody else but Iran.

QUESTION: What’s the U.S.’s next step, I mean in dealing with Iran at this conference?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean at this – I mean let me be cautious. This conference is about strengthening the Nonproliferation Treaty. It is not about any one country. So obviously Iran provides a subtext for the NPT, but we’ll be looking, as the Secretary said, to specific ways in which we can strengthen the NPT, strengthen the international commitment to nonproliferation and accountability, strengthen the capabilities of the IAEA. We look forward to a successful conference.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Any reaction to former Vice President Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia? And did the State Department play any role in that? And do you expect to be briefed by the former Vice President upon his return?

MR. CROWLEY: No and no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)

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