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Middle East Digest - July 1, 2010

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Washington, DC
July 2, 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 July 1, 2010

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Turning to travel by senior Department officials, today Senator George Mitchell met with the Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad concluding his trip to the region. He will be returning to the United States as we anticipate the arrival on Tuesday of Prime Minister Netanyahu for an important meeting with President Obama.

Richard Holbrooke met this morning with Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative to the Secretary General for Afghanistan. They discussed the upcoming elections and the Kabul conference, which, of course, will be co-chaired by the UN. Special Representative de Mistura was in New York yesterday where he participated in a Security Council meeting to review progress on Afghanistan and report it to the Council that despite recent attacks, he believes that the political objectives in Afghanistan remain on track.

QUESTION: What your contacts have been with the Cypriot Government about the case of the spy – alleged spy on the loose?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know if we have been in touch with the Cypriot Government. We are disappointed that Christopher Metsos was released on bail following his arrest in Cyprus. As we had feared, had been given unnecessarily the chance to flee, he did so. I’m sure we will be in touch with the Cypriot Government. I’ll see if we have already launched or filed our concern and our protest.

QUESTION: You’re concerned and a protest? You are going to?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll check and see if we have.


MR. CROWLEY: But we are clearly disappointed –

QUESTION: According to the Embassy, the ambassador met for an hour with, I think, the Cypriot president.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, well then we have done so. But I’m just not aware of that meeting.

QUESTION: Well, has there –

MR. CROWLEY: I will check and see if we have had a direct meeting with Cypriot officials regarding this development.

QUESTION: There’s – on a different note –

MR. CROWLEY: I thought we were going to set a record. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On a different note, there’s a report – I believe it was in The Wall Street Journal today – talking about Iran supplying radar equipment to Syria. Is that something that you’re aware of? If it’s true, would there be concerns that the U.S. would have about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s hard for us to determine if such a transfer has taken place. We have concerns about the relationship between Iran and Syria. And as we’ve said before, we don’t believe that Iran’s designs for the region are in Syria’s best interest. And Syria is subject to UN sanctions depending on the type of – I mean, radar is, by definition, a defensive system, but there are some technologies that could potentially be a violation of the – of those sanctions. And if that were the case, it wouldn’t obviously be the first time that Iran has flouted its international obligations. But we can’t say for sure that such a transfer has taken place, but obviously this is something of concern to us.

QUESTION: Are there suspicions that it has taken place? Is that something that’s being investigated?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s definitely – I mean, there’s definitely an ongoing military relationship between Iran and Syria. Our concern, among other things, on the one hand, countries do have the right to protect themselves. On the other hand, our concern, obviously, in the case of Syria is the transfer of technology to Hezbollah. And this is – broadly speaking, providing advanced technology to Syria with the prospect it could, again, change hands is an ongoing concern to us and is something that we do raise with Syria in our periodic discussions with them.

QUESTION: Talks between Turkey and Israel, did the U.S. have any role in sort of promoting these talks? And do you think that they’re – what’s your reaction –

MR. CROWLEY: We have had conversations with both countries individually. In those conversations, we have reinforced that -- a relationship between Turkey and Israel is not only in the best interest of the region, it is in the interest of – and supports our interests in the region as well. It is – it has been a valuable relationship. There have been several times in the past where Turkey has played an important mediation role with Israel and other countries in the region. Turkey is a long-standing – has had long-standing relations with Israel, one of the few in the region to do so. So we recognize the importance of the relationship and we certainly support this kind of dialogue that hopefully can help repair the fractures that have existed in recent weeks and months.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister, as you said, will be here next week meeting with the President. What are you hoping that the Israelis might offer in terms of concrete action that will encourage the Palestinians to come to direct negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: That was the subject of George Mitchell’s meetings this week with the prime minister, with President Abbas, and other officials. We continue to encourage both the Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate that they are ready to take the step from the proximity talks to direct negotiations. There are areas that both sides are looking for. Our role is to try to help each understand what the other is – feels it needs and to try to move them to a point where we think direct negotiations are possible. We’re not there yet. So there are still different expectations on both sides of what they feel they need to be able to take that step. We’re going to try to continue to work to reach a common understanding that we think can help them get to direct negotiations as soon as possible.

QUESTION: On the –

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. President Obama, on Tuesday I believe, when he met with the Saudi king, called for bold moves in the peace process. What do you have in mind? What does that mean? And is it addressed to the Israelis or the Arabs or both?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, to both. There are questions of substance. There are ongoing steps being taken to try to raise the confidence level that should both leaders commit to enter into direct negotiations, that there’s a solid prospect of progress that would lead to an agreement. So, obviously, having both sides commit to direct negotiations would, in fact, be the kind of bold step that we are looking for. But we recognize that some spade work has to be done to prepare the ground for each side to be confident that they can take that step. So, in the meantime, we’re trying to demonstrate that – or to show that progress can be made through the proximity talks. But we recognize that proximity talks are limited by themselves; that ultimately, to resolve the important issues between the two sides, a direct negotiation is required.

So there has been some posturing, say, in recent months. We’re trying to move them from posturing to a solid, substantive commitment to engage directly. And that’s what George Mitchell has been doing in recent weeks. And the President will have the opportunity to see where the – where Prime Minister Netanyahu is. I’m sure, obviously, in addition to getting his sense of the prospect for direct negotiations, we’ll also review the recent progress with respect to a change in policy on Gaza. Again, we see the volume of aid to the people of Gaza expanding. I’m sure the prime minister will give the President a report on the early stages of the Israeli investigation into the flotilla tragedy. So there are a range of issues that I’m sure the two leaders will discuss.

QUESTION: -- Iranian woman who faces death by stoning for adultery. Do you have any comment about this? I think the first person to ever face stoning, or in many, many years.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, this is an issue that comes up in many countries, certainly in a country like Iran. We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime. And for a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns, and disproportionate treatment of women in terms of how society metes out justice.

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