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Middle East Digest - July 12, 2010


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Washington, DC
July 12, 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 July 12, 2010

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1:33 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, President Karzai has requested removing around 50 Taliban leaders’ names from the al-Qaida Taliban sanctions list of the United Nations Security Council. What’s the U.S. position on this? Do you support this because they consider this as important for their reconciliation efforts?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would be careful about putting a particular number on this. The United States is in the process of reviewing the status of several former members of the Taliban currently on the – it’s called the 1267 Sanctions List. Most of the individuals under consideration have already reconciled with the Afghan Government while a few others are allegedly deceased and, therefore, no longer warrant inclusion on the sanctions list. So we, as with other members of the Security Council, are considering the merits of delisting specific individuals. But I would just say the number under review is far less than the 50 that was cited in one particular report.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Taliban – on the Taliban, as far as the status of women goes, if there is some sort of reconciliation, how far will the U.S. go to protect women’s rights if Taliban are drawn into any new governing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we have made clear –

QUESTION: I mean, beyond statements or response.

MR. CROWLEY: -- this should not be seen as a zero-sum process, and women are fundamental to the future development of Afghanistan. We have made clear that there are specific stipulations that anyone who wishes to reconcile has to meet. That includes support of the Afghan constitution, including the fundamental rights for all Afghan citizens, including women, enshrined in that constitution. So we do not think – and the Secretary has spoken repeatedly and strongly about this – we don’t think that any reconciliation process in Afghanistan should come at the expense of women.

QUESTION: It might, though, and if it does, have you discussed measures that you’d take?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is – you all know the Secretary of State very well. She has spoken about this. She’ll have the opportunity to reiterate this at the upcoming Kabul conference. And many other foreign ministers and leaders share her view that reconciliation cannot come at the expense of Afghan women, and that will be a very strong message that we continue to reiterate during the course of this process.

QUESTION: The India-Iran Joint Commission meeting took place on Thursday and Friday. And later the Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, she really was very critical of the U.S. unilateral sanctions. And she said that, to quote, “Our energy security and our attempts to meet our development needs of our people” are going to be affected. What is your comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not familiar with those particular comments. Every country obviously pursues its own self-interest of its citizens. We understand that. By the same token, all countries have international obligations to fully respect and to heed the sanctions that were passed by the Security Council last month. We are taking our own steps to fully implement those sanctions and to take additional steps within our own laws. And we would expect all countries to respect and commit themselves to undertake and to enforce the sanctions that have been passed by the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: She mentioned – a follow-up. She mentioned that these are unilateral sanctions of the U.S. and they are going to affect the business of Indian companies in Iran.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we’ve said, the – we have ongoing concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. There are many questions that we have that have gone unanswered. You even have today concerns expressed by President Medvedev regarding his concerns, which we share, about Iran continuing to move closer to having a breakout nuclear capability. It is up to Iran to come forward and engage the IAEA and the international community constructively. Iran has failed to do that.

So under these circumstances, from our standpoint and what we have made clear in our conversations with many countries, is that this cannot be a situation of business as usual. This is about the future of the world. This is about the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which will affect countries outside of the region, including India. So everyone has a responsibility to do what each country can to convince Iran to change its present course. I’ll leave it to India to describe what steps it is going to take.

We are moving forward both to implement international sanctions and to evaluate how we can take additional national measures that puts pressure on the Iranian Government to come forward and engage constructively.

QUESTION: On President Medvedev, do you – so you share his concerns that Iran is very close to having the potential to make a nuclear bomb? I mean, it sounds like he thinks that they’ve – they’re close to crossing the threshold.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to see that as Iran attempts to perfect the technologies involved in enrichment, it gets closer to that point at which the leap from a civilian program to a military program is narrowed. We have definite concerns that if this trajectory continues, that Iran will at some point approach that moment – that tipping point, if you will – where it has a de facto military capability. We are doing everything in our power to delay and deter that moment from occurring. That’s why today, at this point, what we need is international resolve. All countries have a special obligation to do everything that they can to convince Iran to move in a different direction.

Lalit.

QUESTION: Both India and Pakistan are moving ahead with Iran to have a gas pipeline – Iran, Pakistan, India gas pipeline. Are you talking to either India and Pakistan, both countries, on this issue? Do you have – I know you have been opposing this gas pipeline for a long time.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question as to whether we have concerns about that particular project.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Another one, to go back to – can we go back to President Medvedev’s comments --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- just to close out with that?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Were you pleased that he made this public statement which is being reported as among the sort of hardest comments of a senior Russian official about Iran’s potential nuclear capability? And would you say that it suggests that the Russians are growing even closer to your perspective on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Arshad, I would go back not only to the meeting that the – President Obama and President Medvedev had last fall at the UN in New York where their comments were very similar. Russia clearly reached consensus within the Security Council in both supporting, crafting, and passing the recent sanctions resolution. So I don’t think that there has been a great deal of daylight between our position and the Russian position. And they have, in fact, converged in the past several months. We have the same concern about the threat that an unchecked Iranian program poses to the region. Russia has a special concern because it is – it sits directly adjacent to that neighborhood.

So I think this is just indicative of the cooperation that – and shared perspective that the United States and Russia have reached on this issue based on the extensive dialogue that the presidents have had, the secretaries of state and foreign minister have had, defense officials have had over many, many months.

QUESTION: On Iran still?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been – there has been many reports on the continued breach of sanctions – on smuggling oil from Kurdistan to Iran on a daily basis. What are you doing to lean on the Kurdish – Kurdistan Government to stop that?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, with the recent Security Council resolution, now comes the important step of fully implementing it. And every country has a responsibility to abide by its international obligations. Iraq is no different. I can’t specify that we’ve had a specific conversation with Iraq over the past couple of weeks, but that is something – Chris Hill was in Kurdistan over the past day or two. I’ll check to see if he had – if that was on his list of topics discussed.

QUESTION: Because the Iraqi Government is saying they are in violation of these sanctions, and they are protesting that the Kurdish Government continues to send it across the border.

MR. CROWLEY: And like I said, I’ll check to see if this was an issue that Chris Hill raised over the last couple of days in his conversations with Kurdish officials.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have – the four senators from New York and New Jersey have written a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to take up with the Brits, very urgently, the case of Mr. Megrahi, who now appears to have far more than the three months to live that he was reported to have had when he was released by the Scottish authorities. One, do you know if the Secretary has received this letter? Two, even if she hasn’t yet, does the Administration share these concerns, especially in light of the comments that the doctor who apparently examined – who examined him now seems to be backing off on his original diagnosis and it turns out that he was actually paid by the Libyans to do this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I will check to see if we have received the letter. The senators – we appreciate the senators encouraging us to focus on this issue. We’ve actually been focused on this issue since last summer. We haven’t changed our view. We think that the decision to release Mr. Megrahi last summer was a mistake. We thought that he should continue to – in jail for his crime. And that continues to be our view.

But I’ll check to see if we have the letter and if, as a result of that, we’ll reiterate that position to the – to Scottish authorities.

QUESTION: You say you’ve been focused on it. When was the last time it has come up in conversations with British officials? Do you know?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, for – we made our views very well known to a variety of both British and Scottish officials.

QUESTION: Right. That was at the time, though.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, but there was an expectation from last August that Mr. Megrahi had only a few months to live. We’ve been on a Megrahi watch --

QUESTION: Right. Well --

MR. CROWLEY: -- since that time and we have been alert for indications that that doctor’s prognosis was going to come to pass. And we think that every day that Mr. Megrahi lives is an affront to the families of those who lost their lives in Pan Am 103.

QUESTION: Every day that he lives?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Lives? You mean, not --

MR. CROWLEY: Every day that he lives as a free man, we think is an affront to the families of and victims of Pan Am 103.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, just – I mean, there’s been a change in government in Britain since that, since last August. Have you – has it been raised with the new government?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: So it’s not really something that you’ve been focused on?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, we’ve been focused on the fact that he is in Libya --

QUESTION: You’ve been focused on him.

MR. CROWLEY: -- and there was an expectation that he was on death’s door, and that has not yet come to pass.

QUESTION: Well, so do you share the concerns of the senators about the Libyan involvement in the doctor’s examination?

MR. CROWLEY: Like I say, I’ll – we’ll find out – I’ll check to see whether we have that letter.

QUESTION: There are Israeli reports saying that they would like direct talks, or they hope to have direct talks starting by August 1st. Can you say anything about that timeline? And if it’s inaccurate, what would be inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you need decisions by both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to enter into direct negotiations. We’re trying to reach that point as quickly as possible. We haven’t put a particular date on the map and said it’s got to occur by this date. George Mitchell will be in the region later this week to continue his regular conversations with Israeli and Palestinian officials, and we’ll continue to evaluate, based on their responses, how close we are.

QUESTION: So August 1st is not a goal? We can say that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want to see direct negotiations begin as soon as possible. Will the conditions allow them to occur by August 1st? We would be very encouraged by that. But that’s not a particular deadline, if you will. We want to get them into direct negotiations as quickly as possible. If they can be done in August, terrific. If we – if it doesn’t happen until September, the key is we don’t – as we’ve said many, many times, until we get into direct negotiations, there is little prospect of reaching a just settlement for everyone concerned.

QUESTION: So the presumption is that the proximity talks have served their purpose?

MR. CROWLEY: I think the proximity talks are serving their purpose, but I think we recognize that –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: -- we’re not at a point yet where – I mean, clearly, from public statements by the leaders, we’re not at a point where both have yet agreed to direct negotiations.

QUESTION: But I thought that was the purpose.

MR. CROWLEY: That is our objective.

QUESTION: I thought that was the purpose. So if they –

MR. CROWLEY: That is the purpose.

QUESTION: Okay. So you haven’t reached – so they haven’t served their purpose.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. But we are working on substantive issues. George doesn’t sit down with both leaders and simply say how’s the weather, how’s the kids. He’s going through substantive issues on both sides to see if we can establish the kind of foundation necessary so that both the Israelis and Palestinians can get to yes.

Clearly, we’re not there yet. But we think there’s value in the periodic discussions that Senator Mitchell has had, supported by conversations that the President and the Secretary and others have had with the leaders on both sides as well.

Kim.

QUESTION: Former President Clinton was scheduled to speak in Washington this week on, I guess, the 10th anniversary of the failed effort at Camp David to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and that speech was abruptly canceled this morning. To your knowledge, did the Administration request that he not make that speech? Was there any feeling that that might be unhelpful?

MR. CROWLEY: I have no knowledge of this. I’d have to defer to his office.

QUESTION: When is Mitchell (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: I think he’ll be in the region in a couple of days. I don’t think the specifics of his travel plans are yet a hundred percent set.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the proximity talks are actually progressing? Or are you still where you were, I don’t know, six months or whenever it is that they started?

MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t – this isn’t – this is never a static process.

QUESTION: In the Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY: You’re always moving in one direction or the other.

QUESTION: They’re moving forward?

MR. CROWLEY: We think the proximity talks have value. They’re helping to clarify the issues that both sides will need to address substantively when direct negotiations actually do occur. So we are – we see value, we see importance. We are addressing substance in these respective meetings and we hope that we can get the two sides to appoint where they can begin direct negotiations as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)



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