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 19, 2010
MR. CROWLEY: As we speak, the Secretary is having dinner with Afghan’s president – Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in preparation for the Kabul Conference tomorrow. Also attending is Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen. The conference is a follow-up to the January 28 London Conference and it’s a significant moment in the development of Afghanistan, the largest gathering of leaders in Afghanistan since the 1970s. This is an Afghan-led conference and the government has told us they will present their renewed commitments on a variety of issues with a great deal of discussion centering on the upcoming transition to Afghan responsibility, discuss their plan and also their peace and reconciliation – or, I’m sorry, peace and reintegration program.
Also, the United States congratulates Afghanistan and Pakistan on concluding the historic Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement yesterday in Islamabad after more than a year of diligent and determined engagement by both sides. This agreement is one of the most important, concrete achievements between the two neighbors in 45 years and represents the most significant bilateral economic treaty ever signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will undoubtedly bring great benefit to the people of both countries and is also a major milestone in promoting regional trade.
And we took note of the fact that as the Secretary left Pakistan for Afghanistan a couple of hours ago, a number of programs were announced today that demonstrate the significant United States investment in the future of Pakistan, including announcements regarding significant investments in health, water, agriculture, government-to-government partnerships, support for the private sector, energy, security, gender equality, and a wide range of programs to help those who have been displaced by the ongoing fighting in Pakistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Special Envoy Mitchell, having met yesterday with President Mubarak, was in Abu Dhabi earlier today for meetings – or, I’m sorry, yesterday for meetings with Abdallah bin Zayid, the foreign minister of the UAE. He is en route to Paris, but has also met during the course of today with Qatari Prime Minister At Thani.
MR. CROWLEY: I think a few minutes ago at the Pentagon, it announced that two detainees have been returned over the weekend; one to Algeria and one was resettled in Cape Verde. We are grateful to the countries of Algeria and Cape Verde for their willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. One of those cases involving the return of the Algerian sparked some legal review in the United States. Previously, a total of 10 detainees from Guantanamo were successfully repatriated to Algeria. None, in our view, has appeared to be mistreated. And as of today, 178 detainees remain at Guantanamo.
QUESTION: Yesterday after his meeting with George Mitchell, the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the direct talks should not resume unless previous commitments are adhered to. I think he was – he means the settlement – Hebron settlement (inaudible). What is your view, or has former Senator Mitchell talked to you about this issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to underscore to Arab League member states the importance of building on Middle East peace efforts and supporting proximity talks. As we’ve said here many times, the only way to end the conflict is for both parties to progress towards direct negotiations that allow us to address the fundamental issues at the heart of this process. And we will continue to engage Arab League states and seek their support to help leaders make this vitally important but difficult decision as soon as they feel ready.
QUESTION: Do you consider his statements to be not helpful to U.S. policy?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I understand it represents a point of view. Everyone wants to put specific conditions on the resumption of talks. We’re trying to get them into talks. We understand that we continue to work to lay the foundation for successful talks. Everyone’s got their view as to what is necessary before everyone feels confident that the timing is right. That’s why George Mitchell continues his interaction with both parties directly but also key states – the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, others – to try to find the right formula to give everyone confidence that the timing is right to take this important step.
So I’m not saying it’s helpful or unhelpful. The reality is we’re working as hard as we can and seeking the support of other countries, Egypt being one of them, to try to get the parties into direct negotiations as soon as possible.
QUESTION: But that would be a tremendous help by the Arab League secretary general. If he’s sold on the idea of direct talks, it would give a good cover to the Palestinian president.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, hang on a sec. I mean, obviously, we were gratified by the Arab League statement weeks ago both supporting and then reaffirming the proximity talks. We are working hard with the parties and with others to try to create the circumstances and the environment which would allow direct negotiations to begin. Everyone’s got their view of what the right conditions are. We ultimately hope that the leaders will, as soon as possible, make this tough decision and agree to direct negotiations. We’re not there yet. There’s still work to be done. And we appreciate everyone’s support and interest as we kind of work through this and see if we can’t find the right set of circumstances that allows direct negotiations to begin.
QUESTION: How do you view the visit of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri to Damascus in view of the ICC ruling is likely to come in September? Do you think that Syria is trying to sort of create some sort of a daylight between it and Iran, for instance?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure – help me on – what’s the – how’s the – how does the ICC fit into this? I mean, just in terms of the optics of --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, of course. I mean, just the dynamics of it all. I mean, after all, this is Saad Hariri, the son of Rafiq Hariri.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, these are two countries that coexist side-by-side. There is a history between them. We think that the meeting on Sunday was an important step. We hope it will help improve relations between the two countries. We also recognize that there have been significant gaps of trust given the history between Syria and Lebanon. We appreciate confidence-building measures like the ones that were discussed in the meeting, but we recognize that these confidence-building measures have to be a two-way street and have to be reciprocated by both countries. So – but we think this – dialogue like this is very important to regional stability.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Wait. No, no.
QUESTION: Can we go back on a small point to the Libya thing? Would a demand for review by the U.S. or request for review or reassurance just simply go back to the decision to release al-Megrahi, or would it go back to anything else in the case? Because al-Megrahi was appealing his conviction. Does the U.S. believe there was any merit to that, that – are you looking for a broader review of who else ought to have been named in – as responsible for this?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as to the status of any appeal – I mean, remember, this was a Scottish tribunal.
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t tell you what – the status of any appeal, even if it’s ongoing, from the past years. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: No, I wasn’t asking that. I was asking whether, in light of the fact that he had made an appeal and the fact that you’re asking for a review of his --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think --
QUESTION: -- repatriation --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, for example, let’s remember, he was convicted. He was in prison. It was our view that he should stay in prison for the rest of his life. So I don’t know how an appeal enters into this. He wasn’t released because of his appeal. He was released on what the Scottish authorities considered to be special humanitarian grounds. I think given our interest because of the expectations of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103, it was their expectation, as was ours, that he would serve out his entire sentence in Scottish prison. That to the extent that Scottish authorities can review this and once again provide a reassurance that they made the decision based on a wide range of medical evidence and information that was available to them, not on the word of any one medical professional, that would at least give people reassurance that they soundly considered a wide range of information rather than just the information provided by any one individual, if that individual even provided information at all.
But again, we recognize that this was their decision to make. We regret they made the decision they made. But certainly, given that we are going to be coming up on the first anniversary of his release, to the extent that Scottish authorities can at least give us reassurances that they made the decision they made based on a wide range of information, that will be helpful. It won’t, obviously, reverse the decision that they made.