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Middle East Digest - May 10, 2010


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Washington, DC
May 10, 2010

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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 May 10, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. I have a number of things to talk about before taking your questions.

President Karzai and his delegation, comprised of almost 20 ministers and senior officials, arrived this morning in Washington and we look forward to holding talks on our strategic partnership this week. The talks reflect a broad and deep tie between our two governments and will be held with President Karzai and his dedicated team of ministers responsible for security, governance, and economic progress. And the meeting formally kicks off this evening when the Secretary hosts a dinner along with Secretary Gates and General Jones, the National Security Advisor, at Blair House.

Tomorrow, we will host a series of roundtables with Afghan leaders and their U.S. counterparts and the teams will work on a range of challenges and opportunities that we face in the road ahead in Afghanistan. We have consulted closely with the Afghan Government and our international partners about the implementation of President Obama’s strategy and the constructive agenda that President Karzai described in his second inaugural address and at the London conference.

Our commitment is to a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan, and we are a part of – we are in this for the long haul.

Special Envoy George Mitchell was due to return to the United States and to brief Secretary Clinton earlier this afternoon on his – the first round of substantive proximity talks; however, his flight back was delayed by ash. So the meeting with the Secretary has been postponed.

Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon will be visiting this week Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia for meetings with senior government officials, civic leaders, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations. In Serbia, we will urge Serbia to look for areas of practical cooperation with Kosovo. In Kosovo, he will meet with the country’s leadership to encourage continued strengthening of Kosovo’s institutions. And in Macedonia, he will discuss our bilateral relationship and other regional issues.

Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez is traveling this week to Indonesia and Japan. He will engage with the private sector as well as governments and State Department missions to build support for opening markets to U.S. products as part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative. And he will also be following up on the April Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

Ambassador Phil Verveer, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, is leading an interagency delegation from the State Department, FCC, the National Telecommunications Information Administration, to the U.S.-Russia Information and Communication Technology, or ICT, roundtable, and bilateral talks with the Russian Ministry of Communications in Moscow. This is the first U.S.-Russia ICT roundtable since 2004.

Regarding the Deep Water Horizon oil spill we – over the weekend, we received two additional offers of assistance which we are grateful for from the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Turning to Iraq, we strongly condemn the senseless violence that occurred in Iraq today. These attacks will not undermine the confidence the Iraqi people have demonstrated in their government and their security forces. The Iraqi people overwhelmingly reject violence as a way to address their political differences.

We extend our condolences to the families of all of the victims. Discussions among the parties continue to take place in an effort to form a governing coalition. U.S. operations and personnel were not directly affected by these events. All personnel have been fully accounted for and no U.S. casualties have been reported.

Finally, the United States is pleased to join the decision to invite Estonia, Israel, and Slovenia to become members of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, or the OECD. This is a result of an intensive, lengthy process. Each candidate country was compelled to examine its own structure of governance, laws, and regulations. And in some cases – in some areas, accession candidates were required to make regulatory changes and to pass legislative reform. So right now, there are 31 members of the OECD. And assuming that the parliaments of these three countries approve their membership, that membership will increase to 34.

QUESTION: Can I ask just very briefly on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did this come up – did the OECD come up at all in Mitchell’s talks? Was there any U.S. role in pushing this as kind of a reward for Israel to do what --

MR. CROWLEY: I think this was a lengthy process to qualify for membership. I can’t say how far back. But it was not something that’s – I would not say this is a quid pro quo.

QUESTION: So it --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I think it’s a reflection of the economic dynamism that you see in Israel and it is the current quality of its economy that recommended it for membership.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to Pakistan for a second?

MR. CROWLEY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Last night in the interview that aired on 60 Minutes, the Secretary said that the Pakistanis have been told that there will be severe consequences if an attack linked to Pakistan was successful in the --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think she said that. No. I mean, in other words, you said that the Pakistanis had been told --

QUESTION: She said there would be – well, she said that you had made it clear to them. And you said that when she said there would be severe – all right, whether or not you have told them, she announced it pretty much last night on Friday.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think – first of all, I think she was responding to a hypothetical question that – and obviously, that we, the United States, would --

QUESTION: And we all know how dangerous that is.

MR. CROWLEY: Would –

QUESTION: So can I just ask my question?

MR. CROWLEY: -- take seriously any foreign link – any link to a foreign country where there are successful terrorist attacks. She’s not singling out any one country in particular.

QUESTION: Well, I –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean we would take –

QUESTION: The entire line of questioning was about the Time Square incident and Pakistan. So it’s a bit disingenuous for you to say that she was talking about, you know, Mali when she made these comments. Anyway –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we took seriously –

QUESTION: Can I ask – can I just finish my question?

MR. CROWLEY: -- and responded to the 2001 attack. And we would take seriously and respond to any attack that was successful within our borders.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Well, what did she mean by severe consequences? Because I can remember, I mean, not even Iraq was warned of severe consequences. They were talking about serious consequences. Severe would be a bit of step up. What is she talking about? A U.S. invasion of Pakistan or of a country that –

MR. CROWLEY: No, I think one would be willing to include that, again, were there a substantial link to – in any foreign country to a successful attack against the United States by a group that operated within the borders of any country, that we would take that seriously and that there would be severe consequences. I think the statement speaks for itself. It is how we, the United States, would respond to –

QUESTION: Well, what is it (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but it doesn’t. It begs the question of what the severe consequences might be. I mean what is she – what is the – what is she thinking about when she says “severe consequences?”

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, let me turn this around. I mean, as the Secretary also stressed in this interview – parts of which you saw and parts of which you didn’t see – this is a threat we share. It is a common enemy. The Secretary along with others on Sunday shows highlighted the fact that we do see links between Mr. Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban. And, in fact, this is an adversary that Pakistan is already taking aggressive action against through its operations in Swat, its operations in South Waziristan. I think we are very satisfied with the cooperation we’re getting on this particular investigation thus far. And I think we’re confident that Pakistan understands the – how seriously we take this particular episode.

QUESTION: But if this guy, who, you know, by all accounts of his bomb-making skills, wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed, or whatever you want to say, was able to get into Pakistani territory and see members of Taliban where the Pakistanis maintain that they can’t necessarily find these guys or go after these guys, what is that saying about the Pakistanis’ ability to go after them?

And a second question is: Presumably if you were happy with their cooperation the day before the bombing, what is the difference? I mean what is the difference? If you were happy with their level of cooperation before, you know, it was the same level of –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the difference is that we, obviously, now have an investigation ongoing in terms of determining how this individual found his way into Time Square and what kind of training and support he might have received from individuals or groups in Pakistan. As we’ve said, as we’ve developed information related to this investigation, we’ve shared the information that we can with Pakistani authorities and they are – have launched an investigation of their own.

QUESTION: So if you were happy with their cooperation before this incident, it turns out that their – are you saying that their cooperation wasn’t as good as you thought it was, because now it turns out that this gentleman must receive – got into Pakistani tribal areas and received training?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. As the –

QUESTION: Does it shed light on some flaw in the cooperation?

MR. CROWLEY: But again, as the Secretary said in her 60 Minutes interview, on the one hand we’ve seen a sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards and its willingness to act against groups within its borders that threaten Pakistan, the region, and the United States. That said, we expect more cooperation and more activity from Pakistan, and that is where we are focused right now.

QUESTION: But, P.J., one of the – I mean, one of the consequences of this sea change is for the first time it seems as if the Pakistani Taliban has conducted an attack within the continental U.S. after this. So I mean, how can you say – I guess it just doesn't really square with --

MR. CROWLEY: I think what we would say at this point is that an individual with links – an American citizen with links to the Pakistani Taliban attempted to execute a bombing in Times Square. The circumstances under which – the circumstances of that relationship are still something that’s being investigated.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, Eric Holder yesterday said – did he go too far? Because he specifically said that they directed it, they were involved in setting it up. And Secretary Clinton said that, well, the – as you just said, that the exact links and how deep and whether it was a directed attack or they just provided him with some training is unclear. So who’s right, Secretary Clinton or Attorney General Holder?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t find the two statements to be contradictory.

QUESTION: They’re completely – they’re completely different.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, these are --

QUESTION: One is saying – they’re completely different. One is saying we don’t know, it’s unclear; and the other one is saying they were specifically – they were specifically involved in directing this attack. So is the U.S. Government working under the assumption that the Pakistani Taliban directed this attack, or did they just provide training to this guy for any future attack that he might want to launch?

MR. CROWLEY: I think as Secretary Clinton said, as the Attorney General said, there were clear links between the Pakistani Taliban and Mr. Shahzad, and we’re still trying to understand the full dimension of that relationship.

QUESTION: Well, no, Eric Holder didn’t say that. He said there were clear links and then he said they directed the attack.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they provided him with material support that obviously helped him execute the attack.

QUESTION: Could there have been information that arose between the time that the Secretary taped her interview on Friday and the time that the Sunday morning shows were televised?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s entirely possible.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I go – you said that – you quoted the Secretary as saying we expect more – we’re looking for more activity from Pakistan. What exactly? Do you want to see them go into North Waziristan? You’ve mentioned two specific areas – Swat and South Waziristan.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to go down that road. I mean, there are, as we’ve said all along and as we’ve received firm pledges from Pakistan that we are cooperating fully, that they recognize that there is a threat to Pakistan within their borders. We’re going to continue to work with them in terms of what actions they should take and what actions we can take in support.

QUESTION: Right. But do they know – do the Pakistanis know what specifically more you want?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think-- there is an ongoing investigation --

QUESTION: Because it’s not particularly fair to go on TV and say we want more, for you to say we want more from here and then not to tell them what the more is.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, to the extent that we have identified a group --

QUESTION: So you want them to go after the group?

MR. CROWLEY: Can I finish?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. To Elise’s point, to the extent that we have identified a group that may be expanding its focus from the region to a more global situation, we would want to see Pakistan take steps to eliminate this threat.

QUESTION: But you said --

MR. CROWLEY: And to the extent that Pakistan can take action, we would expect that. To the extent that the United States can support that action, that is a conversation that we continue to have with Pakistan.

QUESTION: But you said may be expanding. If, in fact, they are involved and they directed the attack, then they are expanding it.

MR. CROWLEY: Look, there’s an investigation ongoing. As we learn more, there’ll be implications from that. But clearly, we’re seeing that there’s a link, there’s a clear link between what happened in Times Square and Pakistan. We’re trying to understand fully what that means. But – and to the extent that Pakistan is already taking aggressive action against the Pakistan Taliban, we’ll evaluate whether additional steps are warranted.

QUESTION: Don’t you think you should also look a little bit closer to home, how – why and how an American Pakistani went into the tribal region? I mean, how much of this is a fault of U.S. intelligence to be able to find out what this guy was doing? He made several trips to Pakistan over the last several years.

MR. CROWLEY: So, Elise, there’s a serious implication to what you’re just suggesting, that we should be able to monitor every single American citizen that travels into South Asia and may visit family and friends in Pakistan. I mean, one, there’s a capacity issue there. But secondly, that is assuming that everyone who visits Pakistan has nefarious intentions. I mean --

QUESTION: I didn’t say that. But I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: There’s a very strong link between Pakistan and the United States. And on the one hand, we are very conscious of that. This is something that we watch very carefully. On the other hand, everyone does have rights and civil liberties and the presumption that anytime you have a Pakistani citizen visit the United States that this is something that not only is valuable, but we encourage this kind of commerce and interaction between our two countries.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re not – I mean, the U.S. isn’t taking any responsibility for this guy almost getting on a plane and leaving the country? I mean, this is the second time in three months that someone who either tried to – the second foiled attempt of a terrorist attack on the United States. Where’s the responsibility for the U.S.?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this was an American citizen who decided to attack his own country. And we draw implications from that. I think the government has recognized for some time that we are not immune to the same developments and trends that we’ve seen elsewhere. There is the potential for homegrown threat. We’ve seen it in this instance and others and we are reacting accordingly. That reaction is not primarily the province of the Department of State.

QUESTION: New topic? Iran?

QUESTION: Can we go back to a related topic? There have been a number of people detained, if not arrested, in Pakistan related to this. Have Americans taken part in any of the interrogation of the people detained?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s probably a better question direct to the FBI.

QUESTION: Can I just go real quick on the Secretary’s interview one – one thing on Pakistan? Can you say why she decided to ask – to speak out about this now? She sort of upped the ante again on this. Matt was asking --

MR. CROWLEY: She was asked.

QUESTION: Well, she was asked. But we’ve asked her about this over the past week. We asked her at a press conference last week also. Why did she come out and say this at that time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s a matter of the information that was coming out of the investigation has clearly pointed to the Pakistani Taliban. At the time that she did the interview with 60 Minutes on Friday morning, that link was – became clear. She mentioned it. Others mentioned it. And obviously, it’s something we’re pursuing aggressively.

QUESTION: No, but what I’m asking more specifically is that also over the past several months, the U.S. has been urging Pakistan to do more – North Waziristan and whatever. She made that clear in her comments as well that she’d like them to do more specific – and linked it to this event. Can you tell us why did she come out this time and say that Pakistan needs to do more and link it to the consequences that Matt talked about?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, to the point that Elise was making, we have been focused on the extremist threat from South Asia and more specifically from Pakistan for some time. The implication – there have been global implications to these groups and individuals that have a link to Pakistan, but this is another manifestation that the threat is not staying there. The threat is – as we’ve seen for some time, the threat has links to the United States. We’ve seen now at least two or three recent attacks that have a clear link to Pakistan and the consequences are felt here, whether it’s Fort Hood, whether it’s Chicago, and now Times Square.

So as we are seeing the implications of – it’s not that we’ve been ignoring the threat in Pakistan. We’ve been focused on the threat in Pakistan as it remains primarily of a regional issue, and we should always remind ourselves that notwithstanding the near misses that we have seen here or the tragedy that happened at Fort Hood, it is Pakistan itself that probably arguably has suffered the greatest from extremism in the region. So we’re very conscious of that. It’s why we emphasize that this is a shared threat and a common enemy.

That said, as we learn more about a group that appears to be broadening its sights and specifically focused on the United States, we draw implications from that and we will adjust our strategy going forward and we would look to Pakistan to do the same.

QUESTION: New topic, Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you – Iranian state TV is reporting that the families of the American hikers can – have been granted access to come visit them. Do you know anything about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been seeking and supporting for some time efforts by the families of the three hikers to visit their loved ones in Tehran. We have communicated that to Iran. To our knowledge, they have not yet received visas.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the proximity talks for a sec? The proximity talks – what guarantees did the Israelis give in terms of freezing or declaring a moratorium on settlements in East Jerusalem so that the proximity talks could start up again? They have never publicly outlined what those conditions were and --

MR. CROWLEY: Nor have we.

QUESTION: And are you saying then that you’re not going to?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s exactly what I’m saying. I mean, we have charged both the Israelis and the Palestinians with taking affirmative steps to support proximity talks, but those conversations will remain private.



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