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Middle East Digest - June 15, 2010


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Washington, DC
June 15, 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 15, 2010

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1:11 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s see, and in other news, the Secretary met today with Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis. In addition to expressing continued commitment to our strong bilateral relationship, the Secretary underscored our appreciation for Latvia’s firm support of the international security agenda, even in the face of Latvia’s economic challenges. We expressed appreciation for Latvia’s role in Afghanistan, where it currently contributes approximately 170 troops to ISAF, provides crucial trainers, and makes important civilian contributions in the particular fields of rule of law and governance. They talked about a broad range of regional security issues, energy, and our ongoing efforts to try to diversify sources of energy and electricity across Europe. The prime minister indicated when he leaves Washington he’s heading to Brussels, where the EU Council will continue deliberations on Iran sanctions.

Speaking of the EU, we welcome yesterday’s statement from the EU Foreign Affairs Council indicating the June 17 European Council will take up the issue of strong measures to implement and accompany UN Security Council Resolution 1929. We continue to work worldwide on vigorous implementation of the resolution, and we have every indication that the European Council later this week will affirm that is the EU’s intention as well.

We have reaffirmed our commitment to engage Iran in pursuit of a diplomatic resolution to the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Resolution 1929 keeps the door open for continued engagement between the P-5+1 and Iran, as well as other differences between us. We hope that the Security Council’s adoption of this resolution will affect Iran’s strategic calculus and cause Iran to take a more constructive course.

The Secretary also this morning had a call from Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey of Switzerland updating the Secretary and following up on a call they had last week, but updating the Secretary on passage of the agreement between Switzerland and the United States regarding UBS. Now, as we understand it, there are differences between the versions of the legislation passed in the lower house of Switzerland and the upper house that’ll have to be resolved later this week. But the Secretary, also during the conversation both last week and today, continued to thank the foreign minister for the Swiss Government’s efforts on behalf of our – the Swiss Government’s efforts to free the detained hikers in Iran.

QUESTION: What are the Swiss Government’s efforts to free the hikers? I mean, my understanding is that they – basically, they’ve been going and that they get consular visits. They (inaudible) --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, yes, but they continue to lobby the Iranian Government on our behalf.

Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman is in Iraq. He arrived yesterday afternoon to get a firsthand update from Iraqi leaders on how government formation talks are going and to get a status report from the Embassy and U.S. Forces Iraq on how the transition to a civilian-led relationship is proceeding. While there, he’ll have meetings with President Talabani, Prime Minister Al-Maliki, and other political and religious leaders, and convey our interest in seeing talks make real progress towards informing an inclusive and representative government.

And in Syria, we have a delegation of prominent American technology companies in Syria engaging the Syrian Government and the local private sector, civil society, and academic stakeholders. The companies participating in this visit include Dell, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Symantec, and VeriSign. Leading the delegation is Alec Ross, the Secretary of State’s senior advisor for innovation, Jared Cohen from the Secretary’s Policy Planning staff and other State Department officials. The initiative is in line with President Obama’s Cairo speech of last year, where he called for expanding cooperation between the United States and Muslim-majority countries and promoting job creation, education, and technological innovation.

The meeting – the visit has several objectives: first, to advance U.S. commercial interests by opening a new and emerging market for U.S. technology exports; supporting access to technologies that facilitate communication innovation which are crucial to meeting Syria’s needs today and in the future; broadening our engagement with both the Syrian Government and people; and supporting the rights and values that Secretary Clinton spoke of in her speech on internet freedom late last year.

Turning to Pakistan, our U.S. Consulate in Peshawar was notified this morning of the arrest of an American citizen, and we are currently working to arrange to have consular access to him. But due to privacy concerns, we are not able to comment further at this time.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: And before going to that, can I just – this arrest in Pakistan, so this guy was picked up for what? Jaywalking? Why are you telling us about this and then saying that you have no additional information about it when no one asked a question about it.

MR. CROWLEY: I believe there are – I believe he crossed the border into Pakistan and was arrested.

QUESTION: And?

QUESTION: He crossed the border with a sword and a pistol and said he was looking for bin Laden.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: Is this guy on any watch list? Is there any reason to believe that he’s involved in any terrorist activity? Is he someone that you’ve been watching?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, at this point, we’re not able to discuss anything further. I mean, we’re going to talk to him, try to figure out who he is, what brought him to Pakistan, and we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: But we are talking about the same person, aren’t we? Well, you volunteered this information, saying that an American has been arrested in Pakistan --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Yes, it –

QUESTION: An American was arrested in Brazil today, too.

MR. CROWLEY: It is the same person. We’re talking about one person --

QUESTION: And have you seen him yet?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: But did you know about this person before? I mean, was this --

MR. CROWLEY: No. We – as I started the statement, we were informed by the Pakistanis of his arrest.

QUESTION: No, but what I’m saying is: Was this particular person a person of interest at all?

MR. CROWLEY: I --

QUESTION: Is he someone that’s been on U.S. watch lists?

MR. CROWLEY: I have no – I can’t even begin to tell you anything about him at this point.

QUESTION: P.J.?


MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: New subject. On Iran, President Ahmadinejad has said that the deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey was still alive. I think he had previously said the contrary, that the resolution would kill the deal. So do you think because of the resolution and because of the Europeans moving, now that Iran might be starting to move towards some dialogue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the first step that Iran could take is to respond to our response to the IAEA of May 24, where we clearly raised several issues that we continue to have with the Tehran declaration and Iran’s letter to the IAEA. But we would – in the Tehran declaration, there was a commitment, in quotes, to engage constructively with the IAEA and the P-5+1. So I’m not going to interpret what President Ahmadinejad said, but clearly, if Iran wants to engage constructively, either in responding again to what we have outlined in terms of our ongoing concerns or to engage the United States and other countries directly through the P-5+1, they know our number.

QUESTION: Well, why does it have to be that they engage directly with the U.S. and the P-5+1? I mean, again, we’re going back to – other countries feel that they can take a – play a role, Turkey, Brazil. Maybe the deal that came out at the end wasn’t what you were looking for, but obviously there’s a certain level of trust between Turkey and Brazil and Iran. And if you were to have more confidence in a deal that would come out, why can’t they play a role? Why does it have to be that they engage the U.S. and the P-5+1?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not – these are not mutually exclusive. I mean, as we’ve said, Turkey and Brazil played – tried to play constructive mediators. But ultimately it’s about whether Iran is willing to come forward and engage seriously and answer the questions that the international community has outlined. In terms of the narrow aspect of the TRR, of course, that was an idea put forward by the United States, France, and Russia. But ultimately, Iran is going to have to sit down with the P-5+1 and engage substantively on these issues. We are prepared to have that discussion if Iran is prepared to have it.

QUESTION: Well, also in your resolution, you recommit yourselves to diplomacy and acting – engaging constructively with Iran. Additionally, Secretary Clinton and others have said that they don’t feel that Iran would respond positively to such engagement until there was a resolution with the additional sanctions. So you have your resolution. You have your additional sanctions. Are there any plans from the P-5+1 to reach out to Iran again and say, okay, let’s put this past us; let’s get down to talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have –

QUESTION: I mean, if Catherine Ashton sent a letter, we want to meet – I mean, what are the plans for engagement?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t speak to whether there has been a particular conversation in the past week, but we have stood ready since October 1st of last year for a direct follow-on discussion with Iran on the TRR and broader subjects and that offer remains on the table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but standing ready and, like, waiting for Iran to come to you is different than what engagement is, right? Isn’t engagement continuing to reach out and say, hey, we’re here, let’s meet? I mean, is engagement just letting the other party know that we’re ready when you are?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that there should be any doubt in Tehran’s mind that we stand ready. We – when we were with the Iranian representative in Geneva on October 1st, we made clear that we hope to have a follow-up meeting. At that meeting, Iran itself said that it was willing to meet again. And then subsequently Iran failed to follow up. So we are –

QUESTION: One of the P-5+1 ambassadors had dinner with the Iranian –

MR. CROWLEY: There’s – Elise, there’s –

QUESTION: Did you bring up then –

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no mystery here. If Iran is willing to constructively engage on nuclear issues, the United States, among other countries, is ready to sit down and have that discussion. The ball is in Iran’s court.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds as if, though, that the TRR is out there and that’s like your only game in terms of engagement. I mean, are you trying to hash out other ideas, perhaps other ways to bring Iran back to the table or is it TRR or nothing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s not – again, remember, TRR was a means to an end. The sanctions –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) another means?

MR. CROWLEY: The sanctions are a means to an end. Ultimately, we want to see Iran change its current course. We want to see Iran understand that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is not in its security interest. We are prepared to have a broader conversation beginning with our nuclear concerns, but it can extend beyond that as we go forward. But really, what has been absent over the past year has been constructive engagement by Iran absent one meeting in Geneva last October 1st. European countries, the United States have made this clear to Iran on a number of occasions that we are ready to engage. It has been Iran that has been unwilling to come forward.

QUESTION: How does this juxtapose with the rhetoric that Iran is illegitimate or the current government over the past year and that the election has been stolen and so on? I mean, the Iranians have a – they must be a little bit confused. On the one hand you want to engage them; you’re saying they’re not engaging. On the other, the common rhetoric is that the government is illegitimate, the election was stolen and –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s take – a fair question. Let’s separate those two. I mean, we recommend – we recognize that Iran has a sitting government. President Ahmadinejad represented Iran at the opening of the NPT review conference on May 3rd. So from a legal standpoint, there is a Iranian Government in place. The issue of legitimacy goes to the real question and that is really something for the Iranian people, which is – there was an election just over a year ago. Many feel that that election was stolen and that the result that was sanctioned by the Iranian Government did not actually represent the actual will and votes of the Iranian people. That is an ongoing challenge for Iran. And from this has emerged a determined political opposition that, tragically, Iran is doing its upmost to try to intimidate and crush.

We want to see a confident but peaceful Iran emerge that allows for freedom of expression, allows for freedom of assembly, allows for a much broader and pluralistic political system than currently exists. But these are ultimately choices for the Iranian people to make.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq. What can you tell us about this request that the State Department has given to the Defense Department for military equipment, Blackhawk helicopters, bomb-resistant vehicles, et cetera? And especially the question of whether the – whether contractors will be the ones who would have to maintain this, thus continuing the role of contractors in Iraq.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are in the process or at the cusp of a significant transition in our policy in Iraq. You’re going to see, beginning later this year, significant reductions in the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Those forces have certainly helped provide security to the Iraqi people, but also to our diplomats who engage Iraqi Government and Iraqi people on a daily basis.
But as we make the transition from our current strategy to a civilian strategy in Iraq, our needs are going to change. There are some – there are a lot of programs that are currently being done by the military – police training is a good example of that – that are going to transition and be done by the State Department. As we do that, we’re going to have our representatives and diplomats out around the country. And they will need security.

So we are evaluating exactly what we’re going to need and make sure that our personnel are as safe as they can be. Safety and security of our personnel in Iraq is vitally important, just as it is in any diplomatic post around the world. So there’s a lot of this residual security that, over time, has been provided by the president – the presence of significant military forces in Iraq, but as they transition out, we’re going to have the same security requirements and we will be doing that, beefing up our Diplomatic Security efforts. A lot of this will have to be done by contractors and we are going through a careful planning process of determining exactly what we need so that we have the security as we transition from a military to a civilian strategy and presence in Iraq.

QUESTION: But when you look at this equipment, I mean, this is heavy duty military equipment, which would lead you to think that the situation there is still pretty dire. I mean, Diplomatic Security’s own equipment is not capable, apparently, of dealing with this. So what does that say about --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- the operation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, wait a second. I mean, the Air Force exists in the military. We have air assets that we manage right now, but those air assets are provided to us under civilian contract. So again, the – we are working with the Government of Iraq. The Government of Iraq will provide some of the basic security to us as well. But to the extent that we will have a continuing, ongoing need for years and years to be able to move around the country, to support the various programs that will continue to exist in our relationship between the United States and Iraq, we’re going to need that kind of security complement.

So will we need helicopters and aircraft? Yes. Will we need mine-resistant and heavy vehicles that provide security to the occupants of those vehicles? Yes. This is, for the time being, part of the landscape in Iraq. It affects our people. It also affects the people of Iraq. The situation is stabilizing in Iraq and we continue to be gratified that notwithstanding efforts by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and other – or al-Qaida in Iraq and others to try to foment sectarian violence, that hasn’t occurred.

But that said, there are these kind of residual, ongoing attacks that affect the Iraqi people and can potentially affect our soldiers and diplomats. And we’re just taking a very kind of clear-eyed approach to what we think the security requirements in Iraq will be for the foreseeable future. As the situation in Iraq continues to improve, we’ll adapt our security accordingly. But we have been beneficiaries of a very robust military presence in Iraq going back to 2003. And as the military begins its drawdown, we will still have those – many of those same security requirements as we maintain our civilian presence in Iraq.

QUESTION: But what does this say about the ability of the Iraqi Government to protect people such as the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think if you --

QUESTION: I mean, it looks like (inaudible) --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, no – you, Jill – I mean, CNN and others are reporting on a regular basis the ongoing tragedies that befall the Iraqi people around markets and government buildings and so forth. We recognize that right now, there is a ongoing – it certainly is less capable – insurgency than existed perhaps five years ago. But it is still a lethal force that continues to attack the Iraqi Government and that potentially affects governments like the United States that are providing direct support to the Government of Iraq.

So we’re just – this is not a statement about the Government of Iraq. We are pleased with the broad trajectory of what’s happening in Iraq, but we recognize in Iraq, just as we recognize in Afghanistan, that there is still an active insurgency, and we have to plan accordingly. As we – as the Government of Iraq continues to improve its performance and as more and more people of Iraq support that government, we expect that the security situation will improve.

But right now, we are very aware that there are just episodic attacks on the Iraqi Government and episodic attacks on U.S. forces and we’re planning for the environment that we see now, even as we continue to work with Iraq to see that situation improve.

QUESTION: P.J., are you sure that clear-eyed approach to vetting security is going to prevent another sort of, quote-un-quote, “Blackwater situation” from emerging in terms of vetting your contractors and so forth, or any manifestation of that --

MR. CROWLEY: We have existing contractors in Iraq that are providing the services that we need. I would expect those contracts to continue.

QUESTION: Today, the --

QUESTION: Was the --

MR. CROWLEY: Wait. Hold on, hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: Was Mr. Feltman’s visit planned to coincide with the session – the first session of the new parliament?

MR. CROWLEY: I think he actually physically arrived after the first session had opened. But yeah, he’s there at the opening of the session to see how he can help push, prod, cajole the political forces into putting together an inclusive government.



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