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Middle East Digest - June 14, 2010


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Washington, DC
June 14, 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 14, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Turning to the Middle East, the United States is concerned about the death of Khaled Mohammed Said at the hands of Egyptian security forces in Alexandria on June 6th. We have been in touch with the Egyptian Government on this matter. We welcome the government’s announcement of a full investigation and we urge that it be done transparently and in a manner consistent with the serious allegations that have been made.

The Government of Egypt last week supported a UN Human Rights Council universal periodic review recommendation that it investigate police abuse allegations effectively and independently to prosecute offenders. We believe this case is an opportunity to immediately demonstrate this commitment. We urge the Egyptian authorities to hold accountable whoever is responsible.

The United States believes that all individuals should be allowed to exercise freely the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This belief is central to our values system and to our foreign policy.

Here at the Department, today Secretary Clinton and Under Secretary Bill Burns met with Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, UAE trade minister, this morning. They discussed a wide range of issues, including our strong and broad bilateral relations and expanding trade partnership. They also touched on the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

Also in the region, we welcome today’s convening of the Iraqi Council of Representatives in Baghdad. This event demonstrates that Iraq’s electoral processes are working following the successful March 7th elections. We hope this positive development will lead to formation of an inclusive and representative government to work on behalf of the Iraqi people. Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman is en route to Iraq and will have meetings with senior Iraqi officials later this week.

And finally, a couple of things before taking your questions. Ambassador Dan Benjamin is in Israel for the annual counterterrorism consultation. Although Israel and the U.S. work regularly on terrorism issues, the Joint Counterterrorism Working Group is an opportunity to formally review the full range of counterterrorism issues that are of concern to both of our countries.

Jill.

QUESTION: P.J., on this story about the minerals in Afghanistan, has Ambassador Holbrooke been involved in any of the – looking at the implications of this? And does the U.S. have any opinion – the State Department have any opinion on what this could mean for Afghanistan and perhaps the conflict?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. I mean – (laughter).

QUESTION: Well, good.

MR. CROWLEY: This government has opinions on lots of things.

QUESTION: We’re glad. They don’t always share them, but --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, turning the potential of Afghans’ – Afghanistan’s mineral wealth into actual revenue will take years. And mineral extraction faces numerous but not insurmountable challenges. We know that the extraction efforts are challenged by remote locations, some of which are in areas controlled or at least threatened by the insurgency. There’s weak infrastructure. This is obviously something that we are trying to expand for the benefit of Afghanistan’s economy. And if, over time, minerals become a growing part of that economy, I think that is – would be significant. And of course, there’s the issue of a lack of investment capital.

So this is an uphill climb for Afghanistan, but there have been a number of studies that have shown that there is a great untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan. And obviously, we are working closely with the Afghan Ministry of Mines to support development in this sector. A lot of work done by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Commerce, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, USAID, DOD, and, of course, main State.

I think what will be of great challenge to Afghanistan is, at the point at which this develops over time, that there be an effective plan so that the revenues that are generated from this are for the benefit of all Afghan citizens. So it is a potentially important development. We’re not underestimating the challenges involved here. But obviously, if these things can be developed over time, that offers the ability for Afghanistan to have the resources necessary to develop a modern economy, a legal economy, as opposed to the economy they currently have now, which is heavily dependent on narcotics.

QUESTION: And is the State Department actually involved in some of this discussion about what potentially or how it potentially --

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, certainly. Well, I mean, Jill, I think I would call this a subset. We’ve recognized from the outset of our direct involvement in Afghanistan that Afghanistan needs to develop a legal economy. To the extent that we see that there are resources here that offer potential for Afghanistan, that is certainly welcome news. But pick your number, but at least half of the current GDP of Afghanistan is generated through illicit means as opposed to legal commerce. That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to develop Afghanistan’s agricultural sector.

But to the extent that we can add a second pillar to an Afghan economy that – able to draw out the mineral resources that are available there, that – certainly, this is something that we’ll be discussing directly or have already have been discussing with the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: And just one more on that.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, people of the cynical state of mind would say this news comes out – which is pretty positive news – at the very moment where there’s a lot of negative news about Afghanistan. And some cynical people say that this is an attempt to brighten the picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as to the emergence of this, I think we have been focused for many years on how to develop effective government. Any effective government has to have resources to be able to sustain itself and provide effective services to the Afghan people. So this is a welcome development but on a thread that has been central to our strategy since the United States has been in Afghanistan, how you develop an effective government, and then how, over time, do you transition so that you take a country that is heavily dependent on foreign assistance and allow it to be able to sustain itself over time?

And so naturally, part of the effort of trying to figure out how you develop effective governance at the national level and at the local level is to figure out how, over time, do you increase the revenues that are available to the Afghan Government? And how do you martial those resources to the benefit of the Afghan people? So, I mean, let’s not underestimate this. This is going to be a long-term proposition. And we – and it will be central to develop the effective processes of government so that resources aren’t to the benefit of the few; they’re to the benefit of the many.

Certainly, we’re very mindful of the fact that around the world, you have a number of countries that are blessed with natural resources and they become a source of conflict and corruption. We want to be sure that we have helped Afghanistan develop effective institutions of government so that, as it’s able to develop its mineral and mining sector, that it’s generating revenue that can be turned into greater prosperity and shared opportunity for the Afghan people.

QUESTION: P.J. --

MR. CROWLEY: Wait.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: A follow-up. You’ve spent four or five minutes and finally, the word “corruption” sort of got into the conversation. How big a concern is corruption in the development of this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is obviously a significant issue in Afghanistan. But I would say that it’s one of a number of different challenges. If you’re going to develop something like this, infrastructure is going to be critically important. You’ve got to have security if you’re going to attract the kind of international investment that will help Afghanistan draw on those resources. And naturally, you’ve got to have systems of accountability and transparency within government so that everybody knows where the money is going and for – and who is benefiting from that revenue.

So this is fundamental to the future of Afghanistan, whether we’re talking about the development of an agricultural sector on apples and pomegranates or you’re talking about a mineral sector based on lithium. At the heart of this, you need to have an effective, transparent government working on behalf of its people.

Josh.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Government of Israel, according to the White House yesterday, took an important step forward in proposing an independent public commission to investigate the circumstances of the recent tragic events aboard the flotilla headed for Gaza. Could you please explain for us why this independent public commission is an important step forward? Was that something that the U.S. side had encouraged the Israelis to unveil? And what would be the U.S. involvement in that commission going forward?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, this commission was set up by the Israeli Government. We’ve had conversations with the Israeli Government about how to assure the credibility and partiality that were called upon in the presidential statement of the UN Security Council. But these were Israeli decisions. I think the commission is – will be led by a respected Israeli jurist. There will be international participation through the – a Nobel Laureate from Northern Ireland and a judge advocate from Canada.

So we believe that Israel certainly, as a government, has the institutions and certainly the capability to conduct a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation. So I think this is an important step forward in what is called for in the UN Security Council presidential statement. That said, we’re not going to prejudge the process or the outcome.

QUESTION: Wait. Just to be clear, you said that the U.S. encouraged – spoke with the Israelis about ways to encourage international participation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we were completely supportive of the UN Security Council presidential statement calling for a transparent, impartial, credible investigation. And we think what Israel announced yesterday is a step in that direction.

QUESTION: On the same topic? The Turkish Government said today they were not satisfied with this commission. The Turkish Government, they were not – they are not satisfied with it because they are not party to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Turkey, as any sovereign country, has a right to conduct its own investigation. I’m not aware that Turkey has reached its own judgment on how to proceed. But I think this is precisely why, in our discussions with the Israeli Government, we understand that there are a number of countries, the United States included, that are looking for an impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. Certainly, we continue to believe that Israel is fully capable of conducting one.

QUESTION: Wait, so you think that the Turks should be allowed – should go out and conduct an investigation if they want?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Turks have that right.

QUESTION: Well, what do you mean that they have that right? So, what if Iran wants to conduct an investigation? Is that okay, too?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this was an event that directly affected Turkish citizens. We understand that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the reason I’m – because you voted against the resolution at the Human Rights Council which called for – which sent – which is, actually, since it passed, sending a team to look into this. So I’m just --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: It’s okay with you if the Turks want to get in the game here?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, what we are looking for in – with any country that decides to conduct an investigation is an impartial, is credible, is a transparent – we stand by Israel and will voice our strong views against any action that is one-sided or biased by an international organization. That’s why we voted against the resolution at the Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: Okay. So all of this talk about you guys and the UN supporting some kind of an international, separate probe other than the Israeli one is not correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I’m not aware that the Secretary General has yet made any decisions on steps that the UN might take.

QUESTION: Well, that means that you would be willing to support something that the Secretary General comes up with?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’ll listen to what the Secretary General has in mind and make a judgment at that time.

QUESTION: There are reports of aid ships from Iran that have departed recently with an intention to break the blockade. What advice or what – how should the Israelis respond to this one since you had very strong views on how they responded last time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, look. We are going to – we are continuing to work with Israel, Egypt, and others to try to figure out how to expand the amount of assistance to the people of Gaza. We think there are better ways to do this than what Iran has perhaps announced.

QUESTION: Are you considering --

QUESTION: Well, but – hold on. Specifically with regard to the reports of these ships coming, I mean, how --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, Iran does not have a particularly constructive role in Gaza. It’s a divisive country. I suspect very strongly that its intentions here are not humanitarian in nature. But we are focusing our efforts, working to see how we can, through the land borders between Israel and Gaza and Egypt and Gaza, increase the amount of assistance to the people of Gaza?

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that the ships are not carrying the humanitarian aid that they claim to be carrying?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Or that they (inaudible) carrying?

MR. CROWLEY: But that is – that remains a – it remains a very legitimate concern that Israel have. They have, in fact, in the past, intercepted ships that were carrying weapons and armaments that have been used to threaten the Israeli people. But we think through land routes is a much more effective way of increasing the flow of humanitarian assistance while being able to protect Israel’s security interests.

QUESTION: But what I’m trying to understand is whether you believe these ships are carrying some sort of weapons or --

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.

QUESTION: I have two follow-ups. One is on the BP. The European Union has an emergency trigger mechanism and that was triggered last week only after getting the request from the U.S. Why the delay in the request?

And the second one is about the – Afghanistan, that now this positive news has come. So will the U.S. decide and also recommend to the allies to delay withdrawal of – withdrawing the troops to develop a legal economy?

MR. CROWLEY: All right. Give me the second one again. You lost me halfway through. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The second one is about in the light of this positive development with the minerals and all that, will the U.S. decide and also recommend to the allies to stay more time in Afghanistan to develop the, as you said, legal economy? Because the corruption – it’s in complete chaos.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, taking the second one first, I think we should separate out a strong international commitment to the future of Afghanistan. That commitment is going to be a matter that takes us years. And we, the United States, and others will be supporting Afghanistan for as long as it takes. That’s a separate issue as to the current U.S. and NATO forces and other international forces that are in Afghanistan at present to try to help improve the security of Afghanistan so that we can do the kinds of things you just outlined, including helping Afghanistan build a legal economy and a more stable situation for its people.

So we, the United States, are not abandoning Afghanistan. We’re going to be committed to Afghanistan for years. And over time, you’ll see, just as you’re seeing in Iraq, responsibilities and activity will transition from military to civilian support. So – but we would expect to be working with Afghanistan and helping Afghanistan develop its economy for many, many years.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: The president of Afghanistan today announced formation of a high council which will hold peace talks with the Taliban. It’s – this is part of the peace jirga which was held last week. How do you see that development over there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, certainly, we continue to support the government of President Karzai. This will be an Afghan-led process. The peace jirga was an important step in that direction, but I do not have any information on that particular development.

QUESTION: And Afghanistan is also seeking removal of certain names of the Taliban leaders from the UN Security Council-led Taliban Sanctions Committee list. Are you going to support that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, over time, obviously, if people make the commitment that they’ve been asked to make to support the Afghan Government, renounce violence, they’re – and as they indicated a willingness to play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan, we and the UN will respond accordingly.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.



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