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Middle East Digest - June 30, 2010


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Washington, DC
June 30, 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 29, 2010

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With us today here at the State Department is Swiss ambassador to Iran Livia Leu Agosti. She is visiting Washington this week as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the agreement establishing Switzerland as the United States protecting power in Iran. Over the past 30 years, the Government of Switzerland has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to representing the interests of the United States in Iran, and we would like to especially recognize Ambassador Leu for her exemplary dedication and valiant efforts on behalf of those citizens currently detained and missing in Iran. She has greatly assisted our government in our efforts to ensure fair and humane treatment for Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and Shane Bauer, who have been detained without charge for nearly a year, and to Reza Taghavi, who has been detained without charges since May 2008. She has also amplified our call on the Iranian Government for cooperation in the case of Mr. Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran over three years ago in March 2007. We remain committed to securing the safe and immediate return home of these American citizens.

In terms of senior officials on travel, I think you noticed George Mitchell was in Israel today. He had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak. He also joined General Dangot at the Kerem Shalom land crossing to observe firsthand the expansion of assistance going into Gaza. He will meet tomorrow with Palestinian President Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. But at this point, it appears that between 130 and 140 truckloads of goods are now entering Kerem Shalom crossing. This compares with roughly 77 truckloads that were entering the crossing on June 20 prior to Israel’s announcement of its new policy. So we continue to see that as a positive step and meaningful and tangible increase in assistance going to the people of Gaza.

QUESTION: All right. And I just have a couple of logistical things about the rather extensive schedules that are being released now. I notice that Ambassador – that Special Representative Holbrooke is meeting – met this morning with the new British ambassador to Israel. Can you explain why?

MR. CROWLEY: I cannot. I’ll take that question.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you look into it? It seems to be a bit out of his region, but maybe not. I don’t know.

And then I also noticed that Under Secretary Burns is meeting with Rachel Corrie’s parents.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you explain that? And --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- have you talked to the Israelis about the fact that this meeting was happening?

MR. CROWLEY: Rachel Corrie’s parents have visited the Department regularly since March of 2003 and her tragic death, and we continue to provide them with support and assistance. And the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is attending an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by the family against Israel, and that opened in Haifa on March 10th. We continue to stress to the Government of Israel at the highest levels to continue a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation of the circumstances concerning her death.

QUESTION: Okay. She was – she died how many years ago?

MR. CROWLEY: Seven.

QUESTION: Seven years ago. And you don’t believe --

MR. CROWLEY: And the family has touched base with us from time to time.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t believe that the Israelis have conducted – yet have finished a full, transparent investigation?

MR. CROWLEY: We have received – I believe the family has received some information from the Israeli Government, and we continue to push the Israeli Government to be more forthcoming.

QUESTION: More forthcoming? After seven years?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And so you believe that the Israelis are capable of doing an investigation into the flotilla incident when, after seven years, you’re not—you’re still not satisfied with what they’ve done in the death of just one person in a – what I think was an almost videotaped incident?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't draw a direct comparison between the two. In fact, if you look at the Israeli efforts in its flotilla investigation, it is expanding the authorities of that panel as we speak, including their ability to subpoena high-level officials so that they can arrive at what we hope will be a thorough and credible account of what happened.

QUESTION: P.J., what sort of support are you providing her parents? Like what does that mean?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we touch base with them from time to time to keep the other one updated on our contacts with the Israelis, the information that is passed to them or may, in fact, be passed to us.

QUESTION: On the – related to their lawsuit?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, related to their desire to have as much information as is available about the circumstances surrounding her death.

QUESTION: On the flotilla panel, had the U.S. Government communicated to Israel that it thought that the panel should have subpoena power or is this just purely a self-generated --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is – we, obviously, have an interest in the outcome of this investigation. We continue to talk to the Israelis about it. But this is their investigation, and I think this is a demonstration of how – why we believe that we have full confidence in the institutions of government of Israel to be able to conduct an impartial and credible and complete investigation.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I asked a question about Afghanistan – the problem that happened between Eikenberry and attorney general in Afghanistan. Do you have any comment? Although, attorney general of the U.S. been in Afghanistan today.

MR. CROWLEY: I would simply say that Ambassador Eikenberry is doing his job as our civilian representative in Kabul. He has regular contact with officials of the Afghan Government from President Karzai through the cabinet to local officials when he travels out around the country. He continues to encourage the Afghan Government to follow through on the vision that President Karzai has laid out, particularly regarding corruption and capacity within the Afghan Government. I’m not going to comment on a specific exchange between the Afghan attorney general and the ambassador other than to say that we are – the ambassador continues his important work and working with, but also encouraging the Afghan Government to do everything it can – not just because we’re telling them to, but because this is important in terms of showing the Afghan people that this is a government that is going to root out corruption; this is a government that’s going to expand the services that are available to its people.

QUESTION: Follow up on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: How satisfied were the steps being taken by Afghan Government with regard to corruption, the massive corruption is there in the Afghan Government?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, there are many things that the government is doing, but we have to recognize that this is a significant ongoing challenge. There is not the kind of robust financial structure in Afghanistan that there is in a developed world. That actually might work to Afghanistan’s advantage given what’s happening here in the last couple of years. But this is largely a cash economy. There’s a lot of money flowing through Afghanistan and out from Afghanistan. We are – obviously, this has come to the attention of congressional figures and we’re going to answer the questions that the Congress has raised about the accounting systems that are being put in place, the transparency that is being put in place. The ability of Afghanistan to track money flows around the country has expanded significantly in recent months. President Karzai just this week has recommitted himself publicly to rooting out corruption.

So there’s a lot of work being done, a lot of support for this being provided by the United States.
But we still recognize this is a very significant ongoing challenge.

QUESTION: Just to follow.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: This may be the first time that our attorney general is visiting Afghanistan or many different countries. Is he carrying any special message from the Secretary or --

MR. CROWLEY: No, I think we’re --

QUESTION: -- anybody from the U.S. Government?

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I think we’re talking about the Afghan attorney general.

QUESTION: Eric Holder is in Kabul.

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I --

QUESTION: Yeah, our attorney – the U.S. attorney.

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t know that.

QUESTION: Yeah, he (inaudible) there. So I thought if you know that if he’s carrying any special message from anybody from the U.S. Government.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Department of Justice has been very significantly involved in promoting the rule of law inside Afghanistan. You’ve got to strengthen institutions of government. The people have to have confidence that if corruption or malfeasance is discovered, it will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted. That continues to be our message to the Government of Afghanistan and, in fact, we are helping Afghanistan to expand its capacity to do these various things. So I don’t know that Attorney General Holder is carrying a specific message other than part of the consistent message that we have been conveying since the President’s strategic review last year.

QUESTION: So he must be also discussing as far as terrorism is concerned because that comes under his command here. Is he discussing terrorists? Is he discussing terrorism?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll defer to my colleagues at Justice in terms of the particular agenda – his particular agenda and the things that he wants to accomplish. But obviously, DOJ is a critical part of the whole-of-government effort that we have going on in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: New topic on Iran. (Inaudible) seemed to have lost track of your defector. Mr. Amiri posted a new video on YouTube saying that --

MR. CROWLEY: Then we know exactly where he is. He’s on YouTube.

QUESTION: No, he’s in Virginia, I guess. (Laughter.) He said that he’s escaped his U.S. captors and the – one of the videos that said that he was free to study in the United States is not true. It was fabricated by the U.S. He said he’s not free and not allowed to contact his family. And if he doesn’t return to his country soon, the U.S. Government will be directly responsible for it.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have any comment on that video.

QUESTION: Well, are you – can you confirm or deny whether his charges that he was kidnapped by the United States --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’re in any position to confirm or deny --

QUESTION: You can’t deny that you kidnapped him from Saudi Arabia?

MR. CROWLEY: The United States has not kidnapped him from Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow – he says that he’s being prevented from returning to Iran by the U.S. Government. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t know where he is. So I can’t comment on that, but – I mean, this is ostensibly a third video. But I don’t think we’re in a position to validate what is on the video or the circumstances surrounding the video.

QUESTION: Have you found – that it actually is the guy? I mean, is that – is the person who appears in the video is that actually this man?

MR. CROWLEY: I have not looked at the third video to say. I do not know the man, so I can’t comment on that.

QUESTION: Well, but he makes some pretty serious charges against the United States. And whether or not you want to admit whether you know where he is, whether he defected or not, but he makes some serious charges that he was kidnapped, held against his will, is not free to travel within the United States, and that he is at risk here in the U.S.

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know where he is and I can’t comment on the particular charges because I don’t know where he is. And I don’t know the circumstances of what he’s doing wherever he is.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran for a second?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Briefly on the – Under Secretary Burns’s meeting with the Swiss ambassador to Iran. You said it was the 30th anniversary of the agreement on the protecting power?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: Is that something that needs to be renewed? Or does it just last until it – you and Iran –

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think it has –

QUESTION: -- reestablish –

MR. CROWLEY: It’s –

QUESTION: Okay, the reason I ask –

MR. CROWLEY: -- just a milestone.

QUESTION: All right. The reason I ask was that the previous administration at several points was quite frustrated with the Swiss and there was some serious talk about replacing them as the protecting power. Is that – that is not the case with this Administration?

MR. CROWLEY: We are very grateful for the support that we have received from Switzerland. I know of no desire to replace them. We’re gratified that they continue to do important work on the ground in Tehran to help us with our interests.

QUESTION: Okay, and you’re not at all concerned about potential Swiss investments in Iran? That was one of the reasons –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is an issue that is being debated at high levels within the EU and it is something that I believe we’ll hear more about next month. You’ve had meetings of the foreign ministers and leaders. They’ve committed to fully implement Resolution 1929. They are now going through the process of determining how best to do that. And we would expect the EU to have an aggressive program going forward in terms of carrying out the international mandate under Resolution 1929.

QUESTION: P.J., during my short trip to India, the major concerns Indians at this time – one is that U.S. should help or take action as far as terrorism is concerned from across the border because it is flowing information or people, basically also Americans of different country citizens, American citizen but from different country, like five arrested in Pakistan, and they are also going back and forth to India and to U.S. if they are U.S. citizens.

Also, what they’re saying is Mr. Anderson should be brought to justice to India if Indian Government has made any request at this time, because burning issue in India at this – during this – my trip there. And what I’m asking you is that there is a request or not officially from the Indian Government, because they are considering to extradite him to India.

MR. CROWLEY: And, Goyal, it works in both directions. That confidentiality works in both directions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.



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