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Middle East Digest - June 9, 2010


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Washington, DC
June 9, 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 June 9, 2010

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1:32 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: You’ve heard from the President and Ambassador Susan Rice in New York, but clearly the UN Security Council Resolution 1929 imposes new sanctions on Iran, and the goal of this resolution is, first, to increase the cost of Iran’s leadership – or the cost to Iran’s leadership for their continued noncompliance with Iran’s international obligations. Second, to persuade Iran to peacefully resolve concerns about its nuclear program. And finally, to send a serious signal that a state’s noncompliance with its international nonproliferation and UN Security Council obligations risks serious consequences.

The United States and our P-5+1 partners remain committed to a diplomatic solution to this challenge and we believe that the adoption of this resolution will affect Iran’s strategic calculus and, hopefully, cause Iran to take a more constructive course. The resolution is not intended to hurt the people of Iran. Instead, it focuses on the Iranian Government and its nuclear program. I know you’ll come back to that issue momentarily.

The President has met today with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg and Special Envoy George Mitchell attended the meeting as well. President Abbas is currently having lunch with George Mitchell. He will also be here on Friday morning to visit with Secretary Clinton.

You’ve seen a fact sheet, released by the White House, which details $400 million in projects for the West Bank and Gaza. And many of you have still – mostly by emails – we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but we had – since had questions about describing the $900 million pledge that the United States made in March of 2009 in round numbers. And just to clarify, in the fact sheet that the White House put out this morning, some of that funding counts for the pledge; some of that funding does not count for the pledge. And it involves other sources, such as the OPIC funding that was in the statement that the President, or the White House, released this morning.

But in round numbers, the $900 million pledge – which, to clarify, goes to the Palestinian people and is meant to benefit both Palestinian people on the West Bank and Gaza – in round numbers, $200 million goes towards budget support for the Palestinian Authority; that was transferred to the PA in July 2009. Three hundred million dollars for urgent humanitarian needs; we have obligated $200 million of that to date. This involves assistance to the Palestinian people through UNRWA, the World Food Program, and other international and U.S. nongovernmental organizations. And up to $400 million in support for the Palestinian reform and development plan. And we have actually obligated more than that amount to date, so that we are past our $900 million pledge.

Just a couple more things before we take questions. You’ve seen the statement, I think, today, or will shortly, that the United States will join partners from more than 50 countries and international organizations at the UN tomorrow for the sixth plenary meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. It’s a growing diplomatic effort to make steady progress against maritime criminals targeting Africa-bound humanitarian aid shipments and other vessels transiting one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.

Today, USAID Administrator Raj Shah swore in Earl Gast as the new USAID mission director for Afghanistan. Afghanistan is, of course, a critical country and ally for USAID’s work. Mr. Gast will oversee a program of approximately $4 billion for 2010. USAID’s efforts in Afghanistan focus on stability programs that promote agriculture, local economic development and education, as well as long-term projects aimed at increasing capacity in ministries and civil servants, fostering women’s role in society, and improving the administration of justice.
QUESTION: Can we start with Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government regret its failure to win the support of Brazil and Turkey for this latest sanctions resolution on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think coming out of the UN Security Council today is a very strong statement. It was not unanimous. Obviously, it will be up to Turkey and Brazil to explain their votes and their rationale. I think we are confident that there is unanimity within this international community regarding our strategic goals, which is get Iran to comply with its international obligations. Clearly, we’ve had disagreements over specific tactics, but we will continue to work with Turkey, Brazil and other countries as we go through implementation of 1929.

QUESTION: Do you think it was a tactical mistake for the Secretary to have – immediately after the Tehran declaration – to have announced that the P-5+1 had reached agreement on the outlines of a new sanctions resolution, and for her to have said to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this was the clearest response possible that the United States could give to that declaration?
I think Brazil – I think it’s fair to say both Brazil and Turkey took that as an almost instantaneous repudiation of their diplomatic efforts. And it certainly raises the question as to whether it cost you their votes.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, that will really be up to Turkey and Brazil to explain the meaning behind their particular votes at this time. I think we respect the fact that they have a different view on the impact of sanctions and perhaps we had a different view on the timing of this resolution.

But as we’ve said, the TRR proposal, not only when it was first proffered back in October and the joint declaration that led to response from Iran recently, do not respond to the fundamental, well-founded and unanswered questions about Iran’s nuclear program. And in fact, after thoughtful review, we did, in fact, deliver to the IAEA this morning the joint response from Russia, France and the United States which lays out lingering questions that are unanswered or unaddressed in the Iranian response to the TRR proposal.

So I think, again, this goes back to just a difference of view. But as we’ve pledged, we see the action taken today as being completely supportive of our continued willingness to engage Iran. And we’ll see how Iran responds.

QUESTION: P.J. --

QUESTION: One more. Can I have just one more on this?

QUESTION: Go ahead, sure.

QUESTION: Other spokesmen at this podium over the past several years have made much of the fact that the first two UN Security Council sanctions or resolutions on Iran were 15 to 0. The third one was 14 in favor with one abstention. This time, for the first time, you have had two outright negative votes in addition to Lebanon’s abstention. Other State Department spokesmen have argued that the unanimity in prior resolutions sent a very strong signal to Iran of the international community’s collective will on this.

Do you think your signal is not weaker now that you have not secured a unanimous vote?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question, Arshad. I would say that given the length of – the amount of effort and length of effort by Iran to try to do everything in its power to avoid this moment, I think we are satisfied that this sends a very strong message. And even for the two negative votes, there is no fundamental disagreement among those who voted for the resolution, Turkey and Brazil, in terms of understanding both the danger that’s represented by an unchecked Iranian nuclear program and the need for Iran to come forward and meet its international obligations.

We do, in fact – as we’ve indicated, we have a difference of view over perhaps tactics and timing. We respect that. But I think we are very satisfied that this resolution will raise the cost of Iran’s noncompliance. We are going to, now working with international partners, move ahead with aggressively enforcing this resolution. And we expect that it will have impact in Iran.

QUESTION: P.J., can I just follow up slightly on a different plate – a different track? Yesterday, we talked about and you responded to the notion of a dual-track sanctions down one end and the TRR deal down the other track.

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. CROWLEY: Diplomacy.

QUESTION: Diplomacy down – you know, as the broader track. But I’m specifically referring to the Turkey-Brazil fuel deal, which the speaker in Iranian parliament all the way across the board all but said it could be off the table if this sanctions regime passes, which it now has. Doesn’t that – and you talked about cost just a moment ago. Does this sanctions vote now cost you a diplomatic track, a way to – a way in to possibly bringing Iran back to the table and complying with resolutions that you have passed in prior years and in the – with the current one? Doesn’t it cost you diplomacy? And then it begs the question of what’s next?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it may beg the question of what’s next, and what’s next is really up to Iran. It – we are – still remain committed to engaging Iran constructively. But I don’t – I would challenge that it costs us anything in that – recall, Iran did engage the international community back on October 1st. And we went nine months and only recently did it even bother to respond in the form of a letter to the IAEA.

One of our problems with the joint declaration in Tehran was that there wasn’t necessarily a real commitment by Iran in that declaration to engage directly within a specific timeframe with the international community.

So on the TRR deal, as we’ve said, it was about building confidence. And the way that Iran has conducted itself, both over the past nine months and recently saying regardless of any arrangement, it will continue to enrich, this is about Iran’s ongoing enrichment activity which is in contravention of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, including now, 1929.

So that diplomatic track remains open. Our offer of engagement remains there on the table, but we haven’t lost anything because Iran has itself failed to come forward and meaningfully engage the international community over the past nine months.

QUESTION: So you don’t think you’ve lost any – you’ve blown an opportunity essentially by –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what opportunity?

QUESTION: Well, the opportunity – if Brazil and Turkey are trying to cut a deal – trying to create a diplomatic front – developing world, in essence – with this fuel deal, and there was a pretty almost unambiguous threat from the Government of Iran saying, you know, if this sanctions regime passes, this could cost you the fuel deal, which essentially takes it off the table. So is it worth the price of a possible new front on diplomacy to push through the sanctions regime? Is that –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the TRR proposal, when put on the table last October, was intended to serve as a confidence-building measure and be a catalyst towards meaningful engagement where we would hope that Iran would answer the questions that the international community has.

That opportunity is still there. There’s nothing that’s preventing Iran from coming forward, sitting down with the P-5+1, and answering these fundamental questions so that we can ascertain that Iran’s civilian program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes. The whole – this whole process has been put in train over a number of years because Iran has been unwilling to come forward and answer the questions that have been raised by the IAEA and by the international community about what the true intentions of its nuclear program – what they are. So that opportunity is still there.

But in order to have diplomacy work, you actually have to have a two-way process. This has been a one-way process where the international community has said to Iran, we’re prepared to talk. And certainly, we respect the fact that Turkey and Brazil have sent their leaders to Tehran to deliver that message personally. But what’s absent here is Iran’s willingness to actually respond in kind.

QUESTION: P.J., what was the purpose of Secretary’s call to the Lebanese president?

MR. CROWLEY: What was the purpose of?

QUESTION: Of the call. Secretary Clinton has called the Lebanese president after the vote. What was the purpose of --

QUESTION: Before the vote.

QUESTION: Before the vote.

MR. CROWLEY: I – today?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I was not – I knew that there were some calls teed up. I haven’t been – I haven’t had a readout on that particular call yet.

QUESTION: P.J., can I ask you, after every single one of the past three sanctions resolutions on Iran, the U.S. has said that this is going to be the one that’ll finally change the calculus for the Iranian Government and make them come to the negotiating table, and every time that has proven false. What makes you think this time is any different?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no guarantee here. We would hope that Iran would once again understand how isolated it is and recognize that there’s no alternative but to come forward, engage seriously, and cooperate fully with the IAEA and address the questions that remain about its nuclear program. I’m certainly not going to predict what Iran is going to do. They’ve had opportunities before and have failed to take advantage of those opportunities.

But we are going to continue to put pressure on Iran. We’re going to continue to – I mean, these are very smart sanctions. They have teeth. They’re directed not at the Iranian people. They are directed at the government and the institutions that we feel are tied to Iran’s nuclear program and the risk that is posed in terms of both its delivery systems and the wider proliferation threat that is there.

So this is going to raise the cost of Iran doing business. And in doing so, we hope that it will apply sufficient pressure that – and the costs will become high enough that Iran will look at other alternatives. But whether it will or not, that’s up to Iran.

Eli.

QUESTION: Occasionally, in the past few months or more than a few months, there have been stories that suggested that the UN sanctions would be the beginning of a wider effort to diplomatically press Iran, involving maybe coalitions of American allies in Europe looking at Iran’s banks. Can you give us any sense of the UN sanctions in the context of a broader pressure of Iran strategy?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, sure. I mean, back to Arshad’s point, certainly, we would have welcomed a unanimous vote. We didn’t get the unanimous vote, but we got a very, very strong, compelling statement from the international community. Lots of people were predicting a few months ago that we would not have Russia or not have China on board; today we do. And countries that have significant relationships with Iran are now going to be responsible for complying and enforcing this resolution, just as we have successfully with North Korea in Resolution 1874.

This is going to have an impact on the Iranian Government. It’s going to have an impact on institutions that are affiliated with and support that government. We are going to focus on how to put pressure on the Revolutionary Guard Corps that is increasingly playing a role in Iran’s economy. I think, through a variety of steps both nationally and internationally, you are going to see the kinds of financial grease that can – that underpin major projects. That financial support is going to be harder for Iran to put together. So this is going to have an impact.

Now, as to what calculation Iran makes, we’ll wait and see. But I think you see here, and I think we now have very significant momentum that this is the second major sanctions regime that the international community has passed against outlier states – North Korea last year, Iran this year. But we’ve seen in 1874 a willingness by the international community, with a resolution like this, to aggressively enforce that resolution. That’s what we’re going to do. And we – this resolution will have teeth and it will have an impact on Iran.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up with --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- just one follow-up here? Would you describe the sanctions that were passed today as crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Clinton promised a few months back?

MR. CROWLEY: They are – these are very strong, robust sanctions and they’re going to have an impact on Iran.

QUESTION: Speaking of the sanctions and what they do and don’t do – it’s kind of hard in the short time we’ve had seeing everything – but can you tell us specifically whether or not the sanctions that limit the sale of certain military equipment – it says missiles as a general category – specifically limit the sale – prohibit the sale of S-300s, Russia’s S-300s? Are they specifically among those components or missile systems that are limited? Are they excluded?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question to be sure. I don’t want to mislead you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: P.J., the Iranians already are indicating that they’re going to stop negotiations if these sanctions go into effect. I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: How can they stop what hasn’t started? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But I also – if I could go to one related question. Getting back to the scientist, Amiri, you said that there was a note. Can you give us an idea of what exactly that – you’re reviewing that note, what it’s about?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s about Mr. Amiri.

QUESTION: Well, a little bit more detail?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: A little bit --

MR. CROWLEY: That – I mean, they allege in the note that we have him and they want him back.

QUESTION: And --

MR. CROWLEY: And we’re – we will respond to the diplomatic note.

QUESTION: On those – there are now two kind of dueling videos on YouTube, one saying he was kidnapped; one saying he’s not kidnapped. Yesterday, you said you had analyzed the video, but have you analyzed both or --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know if we’re aware of the second video. We will – I mean, the short answer is I suspect we will not be able to – the videos will not be able to tell us any more about this individual’s whereabouts than the first one. But I’ll find out if we have a reaction to the second video.

QUESTION: Different subject, Gaza – on Gaza? Or --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: With the Abbas visit today.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The President pretty much reiterated many of the themes that you spoke at the podium here yesterday about the --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good thing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, you hope.

MR. CROWLEY: It beats the alternative. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, but digging down in the detail of addressing the issue of the blockade, there – our correspondents on the ground are seeing the fact that no raw materials are being let in, no factories are working, no exports are being let out, no jobs. I mean, there’s a long list of things that just aren’t happening.

Yet there is a UN release that came out today that talked about what was – you know, that laid out a bunch of statistics about how humanitarian aid was heading into Gaza and so forth. Yet you had all these things that are essentially not working, so – which raises the question of what real purpose Abbas is serving by being here, given the realities of the governance on the ground and speaking to how the blockade is really going to be lifted if he really doesn’t have the voice, the unified voice of everybody who is in Gaza, namely Hamas.

And that begs – which begs the question, the additional question of if you’re going to try to address trying to alleviate the unsustainable situation that you speak of at the podium, and the President has as well and the Secretary – aren’t you going to have to eventually, really, to abate the unsustainability, bring Hamas to the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have offered Hamas a spot at the table many, many times if Hamas will agree to very straightforward conditions – recognize Israel, recognize existing agreements, and give up violence against Israel and – those are not complex demands. So where does the responsibility lie for the fact that in the West Bank, you have stability, you have an economy that is growing.

And Jeff, you’re right. The situation in the – in Gaza, there is aid going in that sustains life but does not sustain a viable economy. We recognize that the current situation is unsustainable. We’re committed to try to expand the amount of assistance that goes into Gaza. The President talked to President Abbas about that today. We’ll have follow-up conversations while he is here. We’re talking to international partners and Israel about how to best do that. But at the same time, we continue to recognize that Israel has legitimate security concerns that have to be respected.

But here’s where – there are two stories here. There’s a compelling and urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And there is a growing economy and a stable, relatively stable situation that is improving every day in the West Bank. What is the difference between those two? It’s not the difference of Palestinians live on the West Bank and the difference of Palestinians live in Gaza. It is the nature of the government that is currently ruling in the West Bank and was part of a unified government until Hamas changed the situation on the ground in Gaza.

So let’s put the responsibility where it clearly lies. It is Hamas’s unwilling – I’m not done – it’s Hamas’s unwillingness to come to the table, to be a constructive force, to meet the international community or the Quartet’s clear, straightforward conditions and play a constructive role in the region. That opportunity is available to Hamas. But because Hamas chooses, rather than serving the needs of its people, to fire rockets at Israel, that’s the reason why you have the current situation in Gaza. That situation can change if Hamas is willing to change. But if Hamas is not willing to change, if it remains active as a terrorist organization, then there are consequences for that, too.

QUESTION: So wait a minute. So the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Wait a minute. So the consequences of not dealing with Hamas, based upon your perception of their current posture, is that all those things I listed earlier that are not going into Gaza that are help – that – I mean, cement to build schools, I mean agriculture products – you’re talking about all these basic things.

MR. CROWLEY: Jeff, and we are working aggressively with Israel to try to expand the range of materials that goes into Gaza. We recognize that there are some things that have not been flowing into Gaza that we think can flow into Gaza without jeopardizing Israel’s security. We’re working with them to try to expand that list.

But the fundamental responsibility as to why you have one situation in the West Bank, because you have – the Palestinian Authority has committed itself to peace and committed itself to serve the needs of its people. And you have another government entity ruling Gaza that has chosen a different and destructive course, and that unfortunately has impact on the people of Gaza.

So, but let’s just put the responsibility where it lies. The responsibility for that dichotomy is about the fundamental nature of Hamas and the choices that it has made over the past few years. And let’s not forget the fact that Hamas has been unwilling to agree and cooperate in a follow-on election that was scheduled for earlier this year, so that – to give the people of Gaza a choice as to the nature of the government that they want to lead them in the years going forward.

So the contrast here is between the Palestinian Authority committed to peace in the region and actively working through proximity talks to reach that point, and a terrorist organization that has taken over Gaza and unfortunately, in the process of doing that, is no longer serving the needs of its people.

QUESTION: But they’re not even running --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: They’re not even running --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: On the $400 million you mentioned, that $400 million is going to the reform and development Palestinian fund, how is that going to be --

QUESTION: Can you give us some specifics on that?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s going to fund specific projects in --

QUESTION: Such as?

MR. CROWLEY: For the Palestinian people, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

QUESTION: Are they going for security training? Are they going for – what are they going for? Do you have details, specifics?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ve given you what I got.

QUESTION: Today, Israel announced that it was going to allow some additional foods* into Gaza that were previously banned. Is that sufficient? It doesn’t include construction material. Do you think that it should?

MR. CROWLEY: We – this is an active process. We want to see more material flow into Gaza. We do understand that more material has to flow into Gaza so people can reconstruct infrastructure there that sustains life. We recognize that. We’re working to see how we can best do that while protecting Israel’s security interests.

QUESTION: Will that include exports?

QUESTION: A follow-up on the flotilla investigation?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: A follow-up on the flotilla investigation. The Israeli press are still claiming that there is a deal in the making that they will ease the blockade on Gaza, provided that the U.S. accepts the results of the investigation, the internal investigation of the flotilla, lock, stock, and barrel. Could you tell us --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into the nature of our discussions. Rest assured we are discussing these issues with Israel and the international community on a daily basis.

QUESTION: But no deal in the making?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not here to announce any deal.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify a little bit about the blockade list and your discussions with Israel. You’ve mentioned several times that you’re talking to them about letting construction materials in, but if you look at that blockade list, the majority of it has nothing to do with weaponry and not much to do with construction. They’re things like potato chips and toys and notebooks. Are you talking to Israel about those items as well as construction materials?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we want to see that list expand. We want to see more support get to the people of Gaza. I can’t tell you what the military value of potato chips is, but I would say we do understand that, on the one hand, we do need to find ways to help rebuild infrastructure, housing, schools, and so forth in Gaza to help ease the humanitarian burden on the people who live there. By the same token, we do recognize that there are materials that have dual purposes, and so we will be looking at how do we strengthen our – and gain greater confidence that if we move additional material into Gaza, that actually is – gets to the right people and does not end up supporting Hamas.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)



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