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Middle East Digest - June 2, 2010

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Washington, DC
June 3, 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 June 2, 2010

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Also today, the Secretary a while ago met with 17 civil society activists from the Middle East and North Africa, the Leaders of Democracy Fellows. This is a program under our Middle East Partnership Initiative, or our MEPI. It’s a three-month program that the U.S. provides to young civic and democratic reform leaders from the region. They have an opportunity to complete academic coursework at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and complete a professional assignment with a political, nongovernmental, or public policy organization here in Washington. And this year’s cohort is a diverse group representing Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen.

In the region, George Mitchell spent the day with the U.S. delegation in the Palestine Investment Conference, part of our effort to support the PA’s economic reforms and institution-building efforts. And during the course of the day, he had the opportunity to talk with President Abbas about the PIC and I think they’re attending a dinner as we speak. He will have other meetings this week with both Palestinian and Israeli officials. Some of his schedule is still being worked out.

QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what you know about any Americans who might still be in Israel? Have all of them been sent back towards the U.S.? And do you have any numbers that are more updated than yesterday on --

MR. CROWLEY: I checked in with our consular affairs folks. They have had contact with 12 Americans. All of them have agreed to be deported. Some of them have already moved out of the country. This is not to say that these are all Americans that might have been on one of those ships, but we have had contact with a dozen and we expect that they’ll all be leaving Israel in the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, did you say they agreed to be deported? Is that something you can agree to? Do you have a choice?

MR. CROWLEY: Under the Israeli arrangements, I think they had to --


MR. CROWLEY: -- sign something that then led to the deportation.

QUESTION: P.J., on – yesterday, I think we were talking about IHH and the accusations that it is part – it supports terrorist organizations. There were some who said it supported al-Qaida in some fashion. Did you get some clarification on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we know that IHH representatives have met with senior Hamas officials in Turkey, Syria, and Gaza over the past three years. That is obviously of great concern to us. That said, the IHH, which stands for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, has not been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.

QUESTION: So the U.S. does not believe it has connections to al-Qaida?

MR. CROWLEY: We cannot validate that.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. or has it been considering calling either privately or publicly on the Israelis to lift the siege of Gaza, as several of this country’s allies have done in recent days and even the New York Times, for that matter?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we support the expansion of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. And at the same time, we recognize that Israel has legitimate security concerns given the attacks that have emanated from Gaza in recent months and years that have endangered the Israeli people. We will be talking to Israel and other countries about ways in which we can improve the flow of assistance to Gaza and support the people of Gaza while meeting Israel’s security concerns.

QUESTION: Just on the investigation, what Israel is talking about is the IDF leading its own internal investigation. So is that acceptable to the United States? Or when you talk about international presence, are you looking more to the South Korea model?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the president’s statement in the Security Council indicated, we support an investigation that meets international standards. There are a number of ways of doing that. We’ll be talking to Israel about how it can best lead an investigation that is broadly viewed as credible by the international community.

QUESTION: And that could potentially be led by the IDF itself?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to prejudge what – how the investigation proceeds. We obviously recognize that not only does Israel have its own interest in understanding what happened, there are a wide range of countries that had citizens represented in that flotilla. They, too, will want to see that this is a credible, transparent, impartial investigation. We support that objective and we’ll be talking to Israel about how best to accomplish that.

QUESTION: Speaking of talking to Israel, have there been any high-level talks between U.S. officials and Israeli officials other than the Mitchell talks today, either the Secretary or the White House or NSC, that you’re aware of?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any that would involve, say, the prime minister today, although I can’t speak for the White House. But the Secretary has not had a high-level discussion with either the – any top-tier Israeli official today, to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Mr. Crowley, it is the Israeli’s actions that need to be investigated. So how can Israel, too – best investigation – why is the United States opposed to UN investigation?

MR. CROWLEY: As we’ve said, we are completely supportive of an impartial investigation that helps us understand what happens – what happened on these ships, and more importantly, working collectively, how we can meet our common objectives of increasing the international support for the people of Gaza, and at the same time, supporting Israel with its legitimate security concerns.

We believe that Israel is in the best position to lead this investigation. But as the Secretary said yesterday, this has to be credible. The international community will be watching this very closely as it unfolds. We want to see this done in a way that meets international standards. We’ll be talking to Israel about how best to accomplish this. We’ll be talking to other countries that may want to play a role in this. And as we – as the Secretary said, we are open to ways of making this as credible as possible, including international participation. And that is our view.

QUESTION: Why – I think his question, though, was essentially why? And can you explain why Israel is in the best position to lead the investigation (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Israel is a vibrant democracy. It has effective, competent institutions of government, and Israel is fully capable of investigating a matter that involved its forces. And so can Israel conduct a fair, transparent, credible investigation? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on Jill’s question on Iran, the Iranian resolution. Could you be a bit more specific with regards to the timeline, when you, approximately, hope to introduce it for the vote? Are we talking about a week? Two weeks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, the President said he’d like to see this done by the end of spring? Is that June 20 or 21?

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