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Middle East Digest - June 7, 2010

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Washington, DC
June 7, 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 7, 2010

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2:17 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Turning to Afghanistan, the United States strongly condemns the attack today of the Afghan National Police regional training center in Kandahar, which killed an American police trainer and a Nepalese security guard. Our sympathies go out to those who lost loved ones in this attack. The United States will continue to stand with our Afghan partners to fight terrorism and help the Afghan Government provide security, safety, and prosperity to its people.

Also focused on Afghanistan, today in Madrid, there is a meeting of more than 30 representatives of – special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan for the United States led by Richard Holbrooke. But many countries have duplicated our structure and appointed special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan that are helping to coordinate international support to both of those governments. This Madrid meeting, in terms of Afghanistan, will focus on planning for the Kabul conference on July 20th. And this is obviously the first opportunity for Ambassador Holbrooke and the other SRAPs to hear from the Government of Afghanistan about the outcome of last week’s consultative peace jirga.

But other agenda items this week include progress on the Afghan National Security Forces, discussion of development and humanitarian assistance programs in Pakistan, plans for the Friends of Democratic Pakistan ministerial meeting announced on Friday at the Pakistan-EU summit in Brussels.

And finally, several of you are following reports of the disclosure of classified State Department materials as part of this investigation in Iraq. The State Department is working closely with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division, or CID, to determine the facts in this case. The investigation is in its preliminary stages, as you would expect, but we take the reports of the deliberate, unauthorized disclosure of classified State Department cables and materials very seriously. And the security of these materials is our highest priority.

QUESTION: On that point?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Were these documents taken from a U.S. Embassy, or what was the State Department complete role in this sort of connection?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, as I understand it, they were simply our cables. And if we do reporting, we do that reporting across the interagency, including to other departments of the government, so for – but they were basically our cables. But we are obviously cooperating to, among other things, assess the impact of these disclosures.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, this is, in a sense, a secondary leak from your point of view? It’s not that these were somehow leached out of the State Department itself, but rather they were transmitted to another agency and this individual may have had access to them as a result of that transfer?

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: And one other thing on this: To your knowledge, have any of those cables yet been made public? Because, to my knowledge, they have not been put out by WikiLeaks or anybody else.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. But I think that obviously, that is something that we will be watching carefully.

QUESTION: You’re not aware of their public disclosure? I presume that you would have --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware. No.

QUESTION: And are you seeking to prevent their public disclosure?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that we’ve had any direct contact with the organization that’s involved in this. Clearly, classified information, any time it is released in the public domain, can have a potential negative impact on our security. But I’m not aware that we’ve had any particular contact with this organization. Now, perhaps other agencies of government have.

QUESTION: P.J., just one more on that. There is also, although it’s a little unclear, a reference to a previous leak of 260,000 dispatches. Can you set us straight exactly what that is? A previous leak.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t.

QUESTION: Did you mention the number of cables that were issued?

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t, but Jill did. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So they --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – I mean, I think we are learning, and we are not the lead agency in this. We’re supporting the investigation. These are all issues that will be investigated fully as we go forward. But this is – these are classified documents. We take their release seriously. It has the – it has particular impact in terms of potentially revealing what we call sources of methods – compromising our ability to provide government leaders with the kind of analysis that they need to make informed decisions. So this is a serious issue and we are fully cooperating with the other agencies of government.

QUESTION: Can you say what period of time these --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I think for particulars as to what this individual might have done and – I would probably defer to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: When is --

QUESTION: They’re your cables?

MR. CROWLEY: They’re our cables. They – but the individual involved works for a different agency and was working within his classified networks. But when we do as you would expect, when we do analysis, we share that with other agencies other government that have a direct interest in these particular issues. Our operations in Iraq are interagency, so – but the fact that they’re our cables, but they are cables that we have shared broadly so that everybody is fully informed about the analysis that we’ve done that – on the issues that are the subject of those cables.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to get some sense of whether you’re talking about an isolated case in which cables coming in one subject were --

MR. CROWLEY: Again --

QUESTION: -- compromised over a long period of time?

MR. CROWLEY: -- I’m not going to be the source of information on this investigation.

QUESTION: When was the State Department informed?

MR. CROWLEY: Wait. Hold on, one at a time.

QUESTION: When was the State Department informed that these cables were potentially out there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I understand it, this person was detained in the last couple of weeks, so I assume that’s when we first learned of it.

QUESTION: So you don’t know what the State --

QUESTION: So you don’t know --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I will find out if that’s important to you, when we were first informed.

QUESTION: I understand that these cables are very restricted, only a small number of people can see those cables. Is that true?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t looked at the cables that are – that were downloaded here. All I will tell you is that we do share our analysis. In some cases, they might have gone to large agencies; in one case, to individuals. But in a way, that may go to the question of when we judge the potential impact, as – Arshad. And another issue here is not only they were allegedly passed to an entity that is not authorized to have this information, but what the impact of this will be, we’ll evaluate over time.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?


QUESTION: Afghanistan – the interior minister of Afghanistan has resigned. From the podium several times, Ambassador Holbrooke and you have also mentioned about his efficiency and one of the most efficient ministers – cabinet ministers there.

Do you have anything to say on it? Is it going to affect the efficiency of the government there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, these were – this is an internal matter for the Afghan Government, and we hope that President Karzai will work quickly to choose replacements so that we can continue the strong partnership that we have with these ministries.

QUESTION: Just to follow on, this issue of Afghanistan was also discussed between the U.S. and Indian officials here and when they met for a very high-level meeting. Like, Indian foreign minister said that no matter what, India will stay in Afghanistan as far as reconstruction or helping in economic buildup and also on – despite Pakistan’s or their agency’s objections there.

So what I’m asking you, have you discussed this as far as tussle muscle between India and Pakistan as far as India’s presence in Afghanistan is concerned?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think during the course of the Strategic Dialogue last week, Afghanistan was one of the topics discussed. We recognize that India has an interest in and a stake in the future of Afghanistan. We recognize that India is going to develop its own relationship with Afghanistan. We recognize that Pakistan will as well. We don’t see this in zero sum terms. We think that there’s plenty of opportunity for a range of countries to be supportive of Afghanistan to help stabilize the situation and help Afghanistan provide greater support to its people. So that was a significant topic of conversation during the course of our meetings last week.

QUESTION: But, P.J., does U.S. (inaudible) India’s presence in Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Excuse me?

MR. CROWLEY: No, we don’t oppose India’s presence in Afghanistan. We expect that India will develop its own relationship with countries in its immediate neighborhood. We recognize that. And that’s why this was a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have anything to say about Yemen arresting, apparently, foreign – foreigners for links to al-Qaida, including a few Americans? And what can you tell us about the Americans?

MR. CROWLEY: We are working to find out more about the individuals who may be in Yemeni custody.

QUESTION: Do you have it confirmed that there are any Americans among them?

MR. CROWLEY: We understand that there may well be some Americans who are in custody. We’re trying to find out more information.

QUESTION: So I’m assuming you haven’t had any access to them yet or anything like that, or --

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re trying to figure that out.

QUESTION: And have they given you any names? I’m not asking you to reveal them, but have you given you any names yet – the Yemenis?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I just think the – if the question is are we aware that there are Americans in custody in Yemen, we are. And I’m not aware that we have yet had consular access to them.

QUESTION: And do you know how many?


QUESTION: Do you know how many?

MR. CROWLEY: Several.

QUESTION: Or what specifically they were picked up for, even if they haven’t been charged yet?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, now you’re into privacy issues.

QUESTION: Why can’t you give us the number? Do you not know it?

MR. CROWLEY: Twelve.


QUESTION: Twelve Americans?

MR. CROWLEY: Twelve Americans.

QUESTION: As long as it’s not several. (Laughter.) Just a point of note. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: There are reports that they were picked up, taken into custody at the behest of their own governments. Can you confirm that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – we have great cooperation with the Government of Yemen. Together, we are doing our best to help Yemen reduce the threat posed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. That’s a threat to Yemen, it’s a threat to the United States, but beyond that I’m not going to talk about specifics.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: So this is terror-related. You would not dispute that --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into specifics.

QUESTION: Well, you said that you have terror cooperation. So why bring it up otherwise, right? I mean --

QUESTION: Could you say how long they’ve been in custody?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: Flotilla, latest developments. Iran’s Red Crescent is talking about participating, sending in some supplies to Gaza. Are you aware of those reports? Do you have any response, reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly are looking, ourselves, at trying to find ways of increasing the amount of assistance that goes to the people of Gaza. I don’t think that Iran’s intentions vis-à-vis Gaza are benign.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: This is following up on a question we posed last week about breaking down the $300 million humanitarian aid pledge to Gaza during the donors’ conference.


QUESTION: Have you been able to explain just how that money is --

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t – we’re still working through the figures. I’ve gotten some figures back and they’re not yet at a point where I can really describe them sensibly to you. So I’m still working on it.

QUESTION: And just one more thing. I’m looking at the USAID website, which describes specific projects in Gaza as well as the West Bank. And are – these are ongoing? And these are without --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- through NGOs or --

MR. CROWLEY: Put it this way: We still owe you a detailed answer. But we have had projects to support the people of Gaza for a number of years. Some of them are channeled through USAID, some go through the UN, some go through directly to NGOs who are on the ground there. So we are committed, as we have said, to supporting the people of Gaza while, obviously, continuing to isolate Hamas.

QUESTION: Do you expect to have some concrete ideas on how to do that when Abbas is in town this week? And who from this building will be meeting with him?

MR. CROWLEY: He’ll be at the White House. I’m not aware that he will be coming here. It wouldn’t surprise me that we have other meetings with some of his entourage while he’s here.

QUESTION: Would you expect this – I mean, the easing of the blockade, changing the way that the blockade is enforced --

MR. CROWLEY: We’re having a variety of conversations right now in terms of how to increase the assistance to the people of Gaza while at the same time protecting Israel’s legitimate security interests. We’re talking to Israel. We’re talking to other countries and other entities about how best to do this.

QUESTION: Are you saying that (inaudible) push the reconciliation issue with them?


QUESTION: To reconcile with Hamas, for instance, is that something on the agenda?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is an ongoing reconciliation process. Egypt has played a significant role in this. But at the heart of it, Hamas has to make a fundamental judgment. There are red lines that the Quartet has laid down about renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and agreeing to existing arrangements. And so Hamas has had that choice before it for quite some time.

QUESTION: So there is no change in U.S. position? You’ll not --

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no change in the U.S. position.

QUESTION: You’ll not --

MR. CROWLEY: The real question is whether Hamas is going to make that – to cross that – make that step and then play a more constructive role in the region.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the prime minister of Turkey, who said that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and that Hamas, as resistance fighters, who was struggling to defend their land?

MR. CROWLEY: I think if anyone who looks at the last few years, with thousands and thousands of rockets fired at Israel, at the civilian population, would recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization. The United States has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. So that is – our position is clear.

QUESTION: What do you think about the Turkish (inaudible) towards Hamas?

MR. CROWLEY: We think there is ample evidence to show that Hamas is a terrorist organization by words and deeds. It has not played a constructive role in the region, notwithstanding the fact that certain aspects of Hamas have provided social assistance to the people of Gaza. But when – it is the people of – it is the Hamas – is Hamas that through its actions have contributed significantly to the current significant humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza.

QUESTION: Have you received any information confirming an Egyptian official’s comment today that they are keeping the Rafah crossing point open indefinitely?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly have seen that report.


MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: What do you think of that --


QUESTION: -- think of that move?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are not against the – expanding the amount of assistance to the people of Gaza. We want to make sure that whatever actions are taken, whether it’s by the Government of Israel or the Government of Egypt or other governments, that we find a way to balance providing additional assistance, at the same time protecting Israel and the region’s security interests.

Now, I think Egypt has taken certain actions in the past to try to mitigate the smuggling of dangerous materials into Gaza. We appreciate that. But whatever arrangements are being done, whether it’s a land crossing or through other means, we need to make sure, going forward, that Israel’s legitimate security interests are protected.

QUESTION: So you’re not opposed to this?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we are in discussion with a wide range of countries and entities to see how we can expand the amount of assistance to the people of Gaza, and while respecting and protecting Israel’s security interests.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Egyptians have put in place mechanisms that would protect Israel’s security interests?

MR. CROWLEY: In terms of this latest step, I can’t say.

QUESTION: Well, but have you then had conversations with them to try to find out (a) whether they are putting in place such procedures, and if not, (b) to dissuade them from keeping Rafah open if there aren’t those kinds of things in place?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Vice President was in Egypt today, had high-level discussions with President Mubarak and others. I’ve got to believe that somewhere in that conversation, we were focused on what to do with respect to Gaza.

QUESTION: Did you make a decision about Furkan Dogan’s death? There will be any investigation, U.S. investigation about Furkan – the U.S. citizen who was killed in the raid, Furkan? There will be investigation?

MR. CROWLEY: We have not – we still are gaining more facts on what happened on the ship.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the flotilla?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm. I didn’t know that we left the flotilla.

QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis announced that they will have a group of justices investigating what happened with the flotilla, and they also said there are two internationals, one of them American. Do we know who the other justice is?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that the Israelis have yet put forward a formal proposal in terms of how they are going to conduct their investigation. We are in conversation with the Israelis about sharing ideas on how to best accomplish this. Everyone wants to see an impartial, credible investigation emerge and – but as to how that unfolds, I’m not aware the Israelis have made any final determinations yet.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about the conversations you guys have been having with other countries about how to open up more aid while maintaining the security you talk about? Can you bring us up to speed on any progress you are making on those? Any ideas that are being kicked about?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re sharing a lot of different ideas, both bilaterally and also within the EU, also at the UN. I’m not willing to share any of those ideas at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have a timeline for any decisions?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Is that the same thing, our daily question about Iran sanctions? Could we ask you – you know, I don’t even have to give the question, P.J. You know what it is.

QUESTION: When? When?

QUESTION: When, when, when?

MR. CROWLEY: Right. This is a different topic. Are we off of --

QUESTION: We’re on a different topic.


QUESTION: Oh, all right. All right.

MR. CROWLEY: All right. So we’re --

QUESTION: But it’s still legitimate.


QUESTION: When are you calling a vote?

QUESTION: Sanctions vote --

MR. CROWLEY: This week.

QUESTION: -- the UN. This week?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Definitely?

MR. CROWLEY: We expect to bring this matter before the Council this week.
QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

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