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Middle East Digest - July 26, 2010

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Washington, DC
July 26, 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 26, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A number of newsy items to talk about, so I’ve got about eight or nine on my list but we can start and stop wherever you want.

First, the United States welcomes the strong steps taken by our European and Canadian partners to robustly implement UN Security Council Resolution 1929. Consistent with the Security Council’s mandate, these measures impose additional sanctions against Iran’s financial, insurance, transportation, trade, and energy sectors, as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. These measures, combined with the new and existing U.S. sanctions, underscore the international community’s deepening concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and refusal to live up to its international responsibilities. We’ve already begun to see the impact of these sanctions as companies around the world refuse to do business with Iran rather than risk becoming involved in Iran’s nuclear program and other illicit activities.

The message to Iran’s leaders is clear: Meet your responsibilities or face increasing isolation and consequences. I think you’ll see before the day is over a joint statement by Secretary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Geithner reflecting these comments.

The Secretary, in about a half an hour’s time, will meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak here at the State Department. They will review recent progress in our efforts to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations. They will review the current situation with respect to Gaza as well as issues that relate to regional stability. We’ll try to have – if you call us later, we’ll have some kind of readout for you.

In the last few minutes, we have released, in response to an article yesterday in the Times of London, a correspondence from August of last year between our Embassy in London and the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. Let me read it in part just so that it’s clear about the United States position with regard to the ultimate release of Mr. Megrahi. As the letter made clear, the United States is not – and this was language as of – in the letter from last year: “The United States is not prepared to support Megrahi’s release on compassionate release or bail. The United States maintains its view that in light of the scope of Megrahi’s crime, its heinous nature, and its continued and devastating impact on the victims and their families, it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain in prison for – imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence. This was the understanding and expectation at the time arrangements were made for his trial in Scottish court in the Netherlands were he or his confederate to be convicted and their appeals upheld. Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the U.S. position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.”

But a key provision – the letter goes on to say very clearly, “The United States would strongly oppose any release that would permit Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. We believe that the welcoming reception that Megrahi might receive if he is permitted to travel abroad would be extremely inappropriate, given Megrahi’s conviction for a heinous crime that continues to have a deep and profound impact on so many. As such, compassionate release or bail should be conditioned on Megrahi remaining in Scotland.”

The story yesterday seemed to suggest that we were not against the idea of compassionate release, but clearly, in this letter, as it outlines, our firmly held position pending the Scottish decision was that Mr. Megrahi should not return to Libya where our fear, which ultimately, tragically, was realized, is that Megrahi, in returning to Libya, received a hero’s welcome, for which he was not entitled.

On travel, Deputy Secretary Jack Lew arrived in Iraq today to review developments in that country and review transition plans that are underway that will take place on September 1st. He’ll meet with Iraqi leaders, embassy staff, and U.S. forces in Iraq, discuss progress on the transformation of a relationship with Iraq from one focused on security to a civilian-led partnership based on a shared interest.

Speaking of Iraq, we condemn the attack earlier today against the offices of Al Arabiya Television in Baghdad. Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who were killed and injured in the blast. This senseless terrorist act highlights the fact that although the level of attacks by violent extremists have decreased, there are still those in Iraq who reject the role of the media and free speech in Iraqi society and will turn to barbaric methods in an attempt to silence and intimidate the media and the people of Iraq.

And finally, a story that you’ve been watching for the last, say, 24 hours. The State Department joins the White House and DOD in condemning the disclosure of classified information by WikiLeaks. The fact that these are, in many cases, documents that are several years old does not change our concern that this action risks our national security. We continue to work in partnership with Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny al-Qaida any safe haven and to defeat terrorists and insurgents who threaten each of our countries, the region, and beyond.

We will not comment on any particular classified document, but the coverage today raised a number of questions. Most of the questions involve military activities directly and I will defer to our colleagues at DOD to address questions which are well known and already incorporated into the revised strategy that the President approved in December. And of course, as a result of the intensive three-month review, we have committed additional resources to both the military and civilian components of our strategy. Here on the civilian side, we have committed to helping increase the capacity of both the Afghan and Pakistan governments to confront violent extremism and gain the trust and confidence of their respective populations. In doing so, we have worked hard to fundamentally change our relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both countries have made progress and both countries have acknowledged that more needs to be done.

In both Islamabad and Kabul, Secretary Clinton this past week had direct, constructive, and candid discussions with Afghan and Pakistani leaders that reflect the positive trajectory of our relations. But she raised concerns respectfully and honestly in public and in private, for example, in Kabul, emphasizing the need for Afghanistan to improve its capacity and continue to root out corruption that undercuts domestic support for the Afghan Government. And likewise, in Pakistan, she emphasized the need for the Pakistani Government to continue its strategic shift against insurgent groups and ensure that insurgent groups are not being supported by elements within Pakistan who continue to follow an old mindset that conflicts with Pakistan’s own security interests.

This is a common challenge that we share with both countries. We will continue to work with both countries on how to do better on all sides as part of our strategic partnership with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said it undermines national security -- the massive leak of these field reports. Does it undermine also the international alliance, in particular the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan? Because the reports did mention ISI involvement in killing of Afghan leaders.

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I don’t think so. Obviously, during this past week, you saw a historic trade transit agreement with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I mean, there is a history between these countries. And we’re – but we think both countries have made a fundamental decision to change their relations with the United States and also their relations with each other. But clearly, there is more work to be done as we continue to find ways on both sides of the border to help each country defeat the insurgency that threatens them both.

QUESTION: What kind of diplomatic conversations have gone on since the leaks between, say, the U.S. and Afghanistan and Pakistan and other partners?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, over the weekend as we had been contacted by media representatives and anticipated this story coming out, at high levels we gave an alert to President Karzai, to President Zardari, and to the other ministries on both sides so they would understand that – this and anticipate release of these documents. Obviously, from our standpoint, we continue to investigate the source of this leak and also to assess the impact that it’s had on our security.

QUESTION: You said investigate the source of the leak. Is there any indication it could be, say, not the United States that leaked it, but somebody else?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – we will learn something from the documents that we have seen in – on the WikiLeaks website. We have not identified a particular – a single source or a particular source for this leak. There is an ongoing investigation, as you are aware. And so we’re trying to determine if this is related to that ongoing investigation or a new leak.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: P.J., can you talk about the effect this is having on other members of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan? And one of the documents reveals a Polish massacre of villagers. Have you had any reaction from our allies saying they are upset with this and want to know where it all came from, what it’s about?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously we’ll be watching closely to see how various countries and populations respond to the information that’s here. As the media reports themselves indicate, at one level there may be granularity – more granularity to events on the ground. But by the same token, the media acknowledged that there’s no grand new revelations that weren’t well understood. Most of these documents are several years old and may well reflect situations and conditions and circumstances that have either been corrected already or are in the process of being corrected.

Some of the documents talked about a conflict that was under-resourced, and that was a fundamental element of the strategy review – the strategic review overseen by the President. And in fact, as you’ve seen, not only the United States but others have increased resources and commitments into Afghanistan based on the strategic review.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, if I can follow that up. The State Department has responsibility for public diplomacy and getting public opinion behind U.S. Government policy, particularly abroad. How do you think this has affected that? Have you had any indications? Are there any new diplomatic public diplomacy offensives you’re going to undertake to deal with the damage of this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we -- public support is fundamental to this campaign. We’ve worked hard to sustain public support because the mission in Afghanistan and next door in Pakistan is significant not only to our security, but to the region and others, including in Europe. Obviously, the revelations are now, what, 16, 18 hours. So it’s hard at this point to say what impact it’s going to have. This is something that we’ll be watching carefully and working with NATO and other troop-contributing countries. We’ll try to do our best to explain what these documents mean. But again, I think that while they individually might create a snapshot of what might have been the case in 2005 and 2006 and 2007, we think that we have put in place over the past several months a strong foundation working with Pakistan, working with Afghanistan, and the situation that we confront today is different than the one we confronted two, three, four years ago.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: As far as the investigation into the source of the leaks is concerned, P.J., what sort of access would the diplomatic community have to these documents and do you think that there is any diplomatic fingerprints on any of these?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure what you mean by diplomatic fingerprints.

QUESTION: There seems – they’re characterized predominately as military documents. But is there any scenario where the State Department and its staff might have access to these documents and therefore could be part of the investigation as to who the source is, or sources?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s hard to say. Going back to the revelations of a few weeks ago, it was suggested that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of documents might have been compromised, including a wide number of State Department cables. We – when we generate a cable, we distribute it widely throughout the government, including within the military. And depending on the origins of a particular document, those could make their way into broader diplomatic channels. So this is all part of an investigation. So we can’t say at this point whether this is part and parcel to something that we’re already of or that this is something that’s new. That will be something that we’re already looking into.

QUESTION: You mentioned this sort of old mentality of someone – some people in the Pakistani establishment particularly – I think you’re referring to ex-members of ISI military who have traditionally had alliances with militant groups for historic reasons.

So are you convinced that for – that the Pakistani Government and the military and the intelligence establishment has taken significant steps to really neutralize these people with this old mindset that you referred to?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you can see significant steps. Pakistan has taken significant steps. The offensives in Swat and South Waziristan are strong indicators that Pakistan has come to recognize that insurgent groups that are, in fact, within the borders of Pakistan pose a threat not just to Afghanistan, to the United States, but also, fundamentally, to Pakistan itself. So we do believe that Pakistan has undertaken a fundamental strategic shift. That said, this is an area of great concern to us. It is something that we’ve had ongoing, candid, direct conversations, respectful conversations at high levels, going back months and years. So this will continue to take a concerted effort on all sides of the equation by Pakistan, by Afghanistan, supported by the United States and international community to make sure that to the extent that there are elements in Pakistan today or in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there are safe havens, it will take a determined effort on both sides of the border to root out those safe havens and, in doing so, reduce the threat that they pose to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and to others.

QUESTION: And just a follow-up to that. And now in Afghanistan there’s also an effort to reach out to different tribal groups. And presumably in that effort, there are going to have to be intermediaries, and the natural sort of next thought, might be that some of those intermediaries would be people who traditionally had good relations with them. So how do you draw the line between people who, with all those old elements, with the old mentality and people who could be useful in bringing tribes back in to the fold, as it were?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, that’s – it’s a very good question. We feel that Pakistan at the leadership level is committed to root out these elements, to eliminate these safe havens, and in doing so, eliminate direct or indirect support for those engaged in violent extremism which threatens Pakistan itself. And in doing so, we – we’re encouraged by a shift where Pakistan is building a new relationship with Afghanistan, and in doing so we’ll revise and reform and establish different kinds of links, different kinds of relationships. That’s why the transit trade agreement was more important. You’ve seen, say over the past 25 or 30 years, much of the interaction between Afghanistan and Pakistan was through this security lens, working – going back a couple of decades, to root out the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. Now we see the ability to change fundamentally the nature of the relationship.

The transit trade agreement is good for Afghanistan. It’s good for Pakistan. It’s good for other countries in the region. It allows commerce to flourish, and in doing so that will help to establish new kinds of relationships and new kinds of links that are going to be far more productive over the long term.

QUESTION: I’m still a little unclear. So you said that Pakistan has taken significant steps, and that’s a proof of how the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is solid. But the steps that they’re taking in Swat and in South Waziristan are all U.S.-funded operations. So to argue that that’s a sign that there is some sort of a ideological shift or that the ISI no longer has ties to Haqqani or to Taliban and al-Qaida militants in that area, it doesn’t – it just doesn’t really jive. I mean, what’s the practical – the reality of how these documents, the release of these documents, with what allegedly have very clear ties between ISI and the Taliban and al-Qaida – what’s the practical reality of how this is (inaudible) now going forward affect Pakistan’s relationship with the United States? Is this --

MR. CROWLEY: Courtney, I would say, whether we are funding a lot of the Pakistani military activity, the reality is that Pakistan is investing its own treasure and spilling its own blood in defense of its own country. The impact on the Pakistani people is profound. They are the ones that, as these insurgents have turned their attention inside Pakistan, blowing up mosques, blowing up government buildings, blowing up marketplaces, it is the Pakistani people who are feeling the brunt of this challenge. And the Pakistani military and the Pakistani Government is responding to that. So I think that’s the proof of how Pakistan has fundamentally changed in the past year to two years its approach to these insurgencies.

Are we still concerned about this? Absolutely, we are. The Secretary in her discussions last week was very direct and very candid not only with the Pakistani Government but also, as those of you who traveled with her, direct in terms of a dialogue with the Pakistani people. Again, very respectful but very direct. This is, in our view, how friends and partners need to confront issues that threaten us both, resolve areas of tension. We are doing that and we will continue to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So, essentially, P.J., you’re saying this – all these leaks refer to Bush’s war and it’s got nothing to do with Obama? I mean, this is – you’re saying it’s all old, everybody’s changed their ways, we don’t have to worry about --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m simply going by what WikiLeaks itself has indicated, that the window for these documents, if I recall, is 2005 to 2009. You’ll recall that we fundamentally changed our strategy with the President’s decision in December of last year and we are putting in place a different strategy, more resources, a more concertive effort on the civilian side to go with the military side.

This is not to say that there weren’t adjustments being made beforehand. To the extent that some of these document obviously highlight concerns that we have had for some time about the impact of civilian casualties on the Afghan population, that is something that the military and General McChrystal had recognized going back months and had made a fundamental change in the instructions that the military gave to its troops.

So – but we believe that notwithstanding documents that point to understandings or facts or field reports from 2006-2007, we think that based on the Kabul conference and London conference and other interactions that we’ve had over the past months with the Afghan Government, the new Strategic Dialogue that we have with Pakistan, they both understand and see the value in their relationship with the United States, the importance of the international support that they are receiving on both sides of the border, and there is just a new dynamic.

Now, this isn’t to say that every issue that we’ve seen, every problem that we’ve seen, every challenge that we’ve seen are solved. Not at all. There is a lot of work that we have to do. But we think that the situation today is dramatically different than the – that portrayed in a variety of these documents that have been released so far.

QUESTION: You just said that this is all till 2009, and in the – yesterday there have been claims that there are – that means war crimes can be brought against these – from these cases. So do you expect war crime cases against the previous administration to come up?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I understand the question.

QUESTION: The war crimes cases – will they come up based on these documents against the previous administration?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think there’s any basis, based on the information in these documents. And again, remember in many cases these are field reports. These – it is information that is uncorroborated. But I don’t see war crimes being portrayed in any of these documents.

QUESTION: On – when you’re talking about discussions between President Karzai and Zardari and officials here, can you say – can you tell us who was – who informed them and what did they say about the allegations, and was there any discussion about the ISI specifically?

MR. CROWLEY: The – our ambassadors Anne Patterson, Karl Eikenberry were involved in the notifications, as was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, who I believe on Saturday night had a high-level meeting with Pakistani officials as well.

QUESTION: Sorry --

MR. CROWLEY: And I’m sure there were others, but we have had direct conversations with key leaders to help them – to warn them that these stories and these documents would be emerging.

QUESTION: Why did you think it necessary to warn them that these stories would be emerging if it reflects – if these stories reflect the state of affairs before the Obama Administration announced its new strategy? What’s to really – why use the word “warning” and “alert”?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we wanted to make sure they understood the context under which these documents would be released, that this was the result of a leak of classified documents not sanctioned, authorized by the United States Government, in fact, to help them understand that this represents a crime and that we are investigating it.

QUESTION: P.J., do you think that those meetings mitigated any damage to the relationship that may have been done, or does there need to be more follow-up? There are reports of angry officials over there questioning whether we can maintain secrecy when needed.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ll see. I mean, some cases, these documents hit in the region once the morning papers have already been published. I think there probably has been some reporting of broadcast media throughout the day. But the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan will do exactly what people in the United States and other countries are doing – digest these documents and then put them in context. But overall, these documents highlight issues which we’ve long known about, and in fact, that we’ve incorporated into our revised strategy.

So are we concerned about the impact that military operations are having on the ground in Afghanistan? Absolutely. And we’ve adapted our approach to military operations as a result. Are we worried about corruption on the Afghan side of the ledger? It was a significant issue that has been discussed in every high-level meeting between the United States and our Afghan partners going back many, many months.

Likewise, have we been concerned in our discussions with Pakistan about lingering links between Pakistani elements and these insurgencies? Absolutely. And we’ve had those kinds of frank, candid, but respectful conversations, again, going back months and years. But we are – we believe strongly that this is a true partnership on both sides of the border and we are there because we confront a challenge and a threat that is of concern to all of our countries as well as the region as a whole.

QUESTION: Has there been some diplomatic outreach to India or is there – are there any plans to?

MR. CROWLEY: We also gave a heads-up to India.

QUESTION: Is part of that about trying to protect sources? Are you talking to some of these countries about some of the people who might be exposed by this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in the unauthorized release of classified information, sources and methods is always a concern. In many cases, we obtain information from sources, a variety of sources, and the revelation of those sources puts those people and these operations at risk. And notwithstanding at least declarations by the outlets that reported these stories today that they had scrubbed these documents to try to protect sources, this is one of the reasons why – fundamental reason why classified information needs to remain classified and protected.

QUESTION: The link between ISI and the terror organizations, you have accepted that. So how do you answer the accusations from India that Pakistanis is – ISI and the military and they are hands-in-glove with the terror organizations?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, look. Combating terrorism is an element of our relationship with India; likewise with Pakistan; likewise with Afghanistan. We believe strongly that the proof is in what people do, not what people say. And as we’ve highlighted here, the fact that Pakistan is taking aggressive action against insurgents within its own borders reflects their understanding that now insurgents threaten Pakistan as itself. Likewise, from the standpoint of India, India clearly wants to see that Pakistan is taking steps to bring to justice those people that threaten neighboring states. So clearly as we’ve said many, many times if Pakistan wants to convince India that it has made this kind of fundamental change bringing to justice those who are responsible for the Mumbai attack would be a very, very constructive and important step.

QUESTION: Did Pakistan give you any confirmation that it is taking any action against people who launched this Mumbai attack? Because you said that actions speak louder than words, but India says that no action has been taken.

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to have conversations with Pakistan on bringing to justice those responsible for the Mumbai attack.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

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