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Middle East Digest - July 27, 2010


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Washington, DC
July 27, 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 27, 2010

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QUESTION: The question of this that came out yesterday from your Afghan counterpart, he was reacting in the sense that these were active documents or actionable documents today; they’re not just historical documents. For example, his call that the U.S. needs to do something about Pakistan intelligence, that doesn’t sound like an old historical document, but rather an action item that the Afghan Government wants the U.S. to act upon.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me separate two things. I mean, first of all, one of the risks in some of these documents is that they reflect field reports that are uncorroborated. Somebody talked to somebody and somebody wrote it down, sent it up the chain, and the information in these documents may or may not be true. As we said yesterday, notwithstanding our ongoing concern about the release of these documents to the extent they raise questions, certainly the relationship among Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the tensions that have historically existed in the region, this is – these are not – this is not a startling revelation. It’s been central to our revised strategy over the past year.

We don’t look at Afghanistan in isolation. We look at Afghanistan in the context of other countries in the region. We have conversations with each of these countries. Each of these countries we consider to be strategic allies in a vitally important region of the world. One of the reasons why we pushed hard, as the Secretary said last week – pushed hard for the transit trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to change the basis of the relationship between two important allies of the United States. And that transit trade agreement does, in fact, have the potential ability to transform relationships with countries in the region.

So we’re very conscious of the history among these countries in the region. We’ve worked hard to try to help each understand the interests and needs of the other. There is communication going on across these countries that we think is very important, very valuable not just to the United States, but there – it is important for Afghanistan and Pakistan to have a stable relationship. They are going to remain neighbors in perpetuity.

It is important for Pakistan and India to have a stable relationship. They, likewise, will have to have a relationship going forward, and if it is stable, then the world, including the United States, benefits. So we are very, very conscious of the complexity that involves these overlapping relationships, and we’ve worked hard in our dialogue with each country to try to make this a more regional approach to a common challenge.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to something you said a little bit before?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that if you look “on balance,” we are the most trusted country in the world. What – do you have anything to back that up?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: What?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Pew – the Pew polls that poll attitudes towards the United States and other countries, I think you’ll find, on balance, we are the most trusted country in the world. Among those reasons, because everyone recognizes that in the engagement between the United States and other countries, we have no territorial ambitions. We seek to help countries prosper and build stable, productive relationships. We want to improve trading relationships around the world. We want to open up markets, ours and others, to the free flow of goods. That’s precisely – the kind of policies that we have towards the rest of the world are encapsulated in that transit trade agreement.

QUESTION: But those polls, at the least ones that I’m familiar with, simply rate the United States and its popularity in the world. They don’t rate other – they don’t do the same thing for, say, Brazil or Turkey or – I’d be curious if there was some kind of objective data that can – that leads you to believe that any --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll point you back to the Pew polls, just one among many.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: P.J., the Afghan national security advisor today – he said that it’s not justifiable for the Afghan people that the U.S. gives billions to help the Pakistani defense forces when they train terrorism, and also that the only way to deal with people who support terrorism is not to deal with them as an ally. Do you think those are – those are pretty strong comments – justified?

MR. CROWLEY: We have worked hard across the region to try to move countries beyond a zero-sum mentality. Pakistan has an interest in what happens in Afghanistan. So does India. And likewise, going in the other direction, Afghanistan has an interest in what goes on in countries that will – that border it, whether it’s Pakistan and India on one side, or Iran on the other.

So we have strong relationships with each of these countries. We have important national and global interests with each of these countries. Our support for Afghanistan is not taken from Pakistan. Our support for Pakistan is not a – does not mean a negative for India. There are – it is vitally important that these countries develop reinforcing relationships; that’s what we’re trying to do. And that’s why one of the fundamental changes in the strategy that the President approved last year was to make sure that we are looking at this in a regional rather than just an isolated issue. So the – part of the solution to Afghanistan does, in fact, fall within the borders of Pakistan.

The national security advisor is right that it will be difficult to solve the insurgency in Afghanistan without effective action on the other side of the border. And as we said yesterday, we are seeing more effective action on the Pakistani side of the border not only because it’s important to Afghanistan, but more singularly because it’s important to Pakistan. Pakistan has understood in recent months and years that the insurgents which have enjoyed safe haven within Pakistan’s border now are an existential threat to Pakistan. And we’ve seen concerted action by Pakistan in recent months in Swat, South Waziristan and elsewhere, and our message to Pakistan is to continue on the offensive.

QUESTION: But, I mean, do you think that these comments reflect what you just called a zero-sum mentality? That they are --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll let the comments speak for themselves. But I think that – we understand that success here involves effective action for and by Afghanistan, effective action for and by Pakistan, and likewise, effective and transparent action by India. And through all of these processes, we will build regional security that benefits all of these countries.

Samir.

QUESTION: Is Iran increasing its influence in Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Iran has influence within Afghanistan, and we understand that. We want to be sure that what happens in the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran is constructive. And in fact, in the past, we have actually had constructive conversations and cooperation with Iran within the context of Afghanistan going back, say, to the Bonn conference that established the new government within Afghanistan.

QUESTION: P.J., just to follow up on (inaudible) if I may, and speaking of trust, would you characterize the relationship between the ISI and the United States as one of mutual mistrust?

MR. CROWLEY: Between what?

QUESTION: The Pakistani intelligence and the United States.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is a historical relationship between Pakistan, some of its agencies, including the ISI, and tribes, families, entities in the tribal areas. We understand that. By the same token, we have long had frank, candid, direct, but respectful conversations about what we think Pakistan needs to do, not because we’re telling Pakistan what to do, but because of what Pakistan needs to do for its own security interest.

And we have seen what we think is a fundamental and strategic shift in Pakistan’s thinking, because this insurgency has not just – has not just focused on Afghanistan. It’s turned back towards the government itself. And more of this burden is being born by the people of Pakistan. We note for a fact that probably at this point in time Pakistan itself has suffered more casualties, civilian casualties, than we in the United States suffered on 9/11.

So this is an existential threat to democracy in Pakistan. Pakistan has taken aggressive action in response. We are still in dialogue with Pakistan about further steps. We want to see Pakistan continue to take aggressive action to deal with the elements within its borders that are a threat to Pakistan as well as other countries, including the United States.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: On this too, how are you making sure that the military aid to Pakistan is not used against India and in supporting terror across the border? That’s a main question that comes up in India all the time.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, a stable Pakistan is not a threat to India. A stable India does not need to be a threat to Pakistan. In giving military assistance to Pakistan, we have systems of accountability to be sure that it is being employed in accordance with the agreements that we have with Pakistan. Where we have questions about the nature of Pakistani employment of U.S. assistance, we raise those questions directly with the Pakistani Government. We have in the past and we will continue to do that.

So building up the capability of Pakistan to deal with the threat within its own borders should not be seen as a threat to India.

QUESTION: A follow-up on a question yesterday: Will you be sending a U.S. delegation to Hiroshima?

MR. CROWLEY: We will have more to say on that as we get closer to that event.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout for Secretary Clinton meeting yesterday with the Israeli defense minister?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s hard to give you a readout of the Secretary’s meeting with Minister of Defense Barak, since it was a one-on-one meeting for about 45 minutes. I would say that the Secretary on Sunday did have a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. They talked about where we are in terms of the proximity talks, efforts with the Israelis, with the Palestinians, with other countries, to support a move to direct negotiations. They did talk about the situation in Gaza and the ongoing expansion of assistance to the people of Gaza. And in the meeting that Minister of Defense Barak had with the Secretary – and I should say he’s meeting, I think, right now with Secretary Gates – between those two conversations, it is a broader conversation about regional security issues as well.

So it was simply – Minister Barak when he’s here, he checks in with the Secretary of State and we continue – and I should say that Minister Barak himself deals a great deal with Palestinian authorities in terms of the situation on the ground in the West Bank. He provides that perspective to the Secretary and it helps her understand exactly not only what’s happening on the ground, but where we are in the dialogue that we have with all of the parties. So this is an ongoing part of our effort to try to push the parties to direct negotiations as soon as possible.

And when do you expect that to happen?

MR. CROWLEY: When it happens.

QUESTION: Like, can you give us, like, a couple of weeks, three weeks? A couple weeks ago, you said that you expected it within about two weeks maybe.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s – we’re hopeful that they will make a decision to move into direct negotiations, but as to exactly when we’ll arrive at that point, can’t predict.

QUESTION: Isn’t there a time limit for the indirect talks that

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Arab League has indicated that there is a finite window. We appreciate the support of countries in the region. During the course of the weekend, the Secretary touched base with a number of her counterparts – Jordan, Qatar, and others. So we are keeping an aggressive dialogue not only with the parties themselves, but clearly, as you said, when these leaders are poised to move forward, it’s going to have to be clear that they have the support of countries who have a stake in this as well.

So we are – we have a full court press underway to see if we can – to move to direct negotiations. And – but again, I think we’re hopeful that the parties will reach this point, but I can’t pinpoint a particular day on the calendar.

QUESTION: P.J., the President --

QUESTION: Is there any kind of incentive that the Administration may be contemplating giving the Palestinians so they can go to direct negotiations, such as continuing the settlement freeze beyond September, the September deadline, or any promises along these lines?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our message to – we understand there is a temptation here to try to put conditions on the decision to move in direct negotiations. As we’ve always said, there should be no preconditions because the issues that are at the heart of the process are well known and they can only be resolved within direct negotiations. We think that if the parties move in to direct negotiations, at that point – and there’s the proper political support – then in that circumstance, we think that the parties will not put other impediments in the way of further progress. The best way to resolve the settlements issue is to get into direct negotiations where concrete proposals can be exchanged between the parties directly.

QUESTION: Is Senator Mitchell going back soon to the region?

MR. CROWLEY: Not – I mean, I would expect further meetings, but I’ve got nothing to announce. I don’t think he’s – his departure is not imminent.

QUESTION: The other point regarding the negotiations, President Abbas was clear yesterday. He said that he’s not going back to the direct negotiations before achieving any progress into issues, border and refugees. How can you push him to go --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said, Michel. What he was saying was he has to understand what is the basis upon which a direct negotiation would start. And in fact, that has been a core aspect of what George Mitchell has been talking to the parties – I mean, they’re – through all of these issues. The issues are well known and there is a history behind all of these issues.

And so having an understanding of what will be the starting point of direct negotiation, this has, in fact, been a part of George Mitchell’s work to make sure that, as we’ve said all along, that conditions are right so that when direct negotiations do start, there’s a shared understanding of the starting point, and that serves as a foundation to make further progress.

QUESTION: You have told us that the U.S. Government spoke to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan about these leaks. Have --

MR. CROWLEY: And other governments as well.

QUESTION: Yes. Have the U.S. addressed the issue of involvement of ISI in particular with these governments to clarify with – especially with Pakistan?

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

QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government – has spoken to Pakistani Government, Islamabad about the role of ISI in Mumbai attacks and in other – which have come out from these leaks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have talked to Pakistan about our mutual concerns on terrorism many, many times going back months and years.

QUESTION: No, since the leaks.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say that we’ve had a substantive conversation about this, but there are concerns about making sure that we bring – that Pakistan bring to justice those responsible for the Mumbai attack. We’ve had that conversation with Pakistan and India many, many times. And our concerns about elements within Pakistan and connections that those elements have with the Pakistani Government, we’ve had that conversation with Pakistan many times.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I wanted to ask you a couple things about the – something that came up – something that you raised yesterday but there weren’t any questions about it. And that’s the letter that Mr. LeBaron wrote to First Minister Salmond of the Scottish Government.

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m curious. Is it your position on this – or the Administration’s position on this for the whole time has been that Megrahi should not be released at all; correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: So why in this letter would Mr. LeBaron talk about alternatives to that, saying that the release on compassionate grounds would be far preferable than to a prisoner transfer, and that if certain conditions – if certain thing – if certain conditions were met, that those would partially mitigate the U.S. concerns or the concerns of the victims – of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I – it seems like kind of a flawed diplomacy if you are – if your position is that you don’t want him released at all, and yet at the same time, you leave the door open to the Scots for something that could – that you don’t like, but giving them an out almost by saying that if you do do it, this would be preferable. Why?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, let’s put the letter in context. We had had conversations with Scottish and British authorities for months preceding the release of Mr. Megrahi. And our core position was exactly as stated in the letter – we would prefer and strongly protested that Scotland would release Mr. Megrahi from Scottish custody. But as Scotland was nearing the end of this process and it became apparent to us that they were prepared to release Mr. Megrahi on compassionate grounds, we did say that whatever you do, don’t return him to Libya.

QUESTION: All right. So --

MR. CROWLEY: And unfortunately, Scotland made a different decision. So it – I would suppose – haven’t we all had these kinds of conversations – don’t do that? And then when someone says I’m going to do it anyway, well, if you’re going to do that, don’t do this.

QUESTION: Yeah. But at this point – at this point, the decision hadn’t been made. Are you saying --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that you understood at this day – on this date, on August 9th, and then again on August 12th when the letter was sent, that you were aware that they were going to go ahead anyway and release him?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me be categorical: I don’t think that Scotland in any way, shape, or form misinterpreted the view of the United States. Our view, first and foremost, was keep him in prison for the rest of his life, he is not entitled to --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, why --

MR. CROWLEY: -- the compassion that Scotland was contemplating.

QUESTION: But --

MR. CROWLEY: But again, once we understood that they were moving towards releasing him, we said if you choose to do this, we would – because of our express concern that the last thing we wanted to see was Mr. Megrahi return to Libya and receive the hero’s welcome that he ultimately did, we said if you choose to release him because you believe he has less than 90 days to live, put him in a Scottish hospice, leave him there, but our – we said please don’t return him to Libya. And unfortunately, Scotland made a different decision.

QUESTION: All right, okay. So then by the time that this letter was written, you expected that he was going to be released, because it doesn't --

MR. CROWLEY: We – it didn’t change our – our preferred position was he stay in Scottish custody. But once we understood that it was very likely that Scotland was going to take a different decision, we said if you choose to do this, please don’t return him to Libya.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m also curious about this language: “While we are not able to endorse the early release of Megrahi under any scenario.”

MR. CROWLEY: That’s pretty clear.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a little wimpy.

MR. CROWLEY: Under any scenario.

QUESTION: If you – it’s a little wimpy. “We are not able to endorse.” But if – there’s a lot of things that people don’t endorse but they can accept.

MR. CROWLEY: We are diplomats here, Mr. Lee.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but – except that this doesn't look like – the diplomacy here failed big-time.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, ultimately, Scotland --

QUESTION: I mean, not only did he not stay in jail, none of the conditions that you asked for were --

MR. CROWLEY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So did you ever get the exams --

MR. CROWLEY: You’re absolutely right. I mean, unfortunately, Scotland made a different decision. We respect the fact that they had the authority to make the decision they made, but we made clear that we opposed the decision that they ultimately made, absolutely.

QUESTION: All right, okay, two more things.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: In the letter, you asked for the results of the medical exams. Did you ever get those?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Scotland has released since they made the decision information regarding --

QUESTION: Well, this is pretty clear that you --

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question as to --

QUESTION: -- wanted them before so that you could see --

MR. CROWLEY: I will – I’ll take the question as to whether we received the medical information prior to the decision.

QUESTION: All right, okay. And then as of this date, August 12, 2009, the last paragraph that says that, “We appreciate the manner in which the Scottish Government has handled this difficult situation,” is that still accurate? Is that still a valid position of the U.S. Government?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: So what is it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are disappointed with the Scottish decision.

QUESTION: But if you said – as you said before --

MR. CROWLEY: Don’t – Matt, don’t confuse diplomatic niceties with a – the direct kinds of conversations that we had with Scotland going back many, many months where they understood completely that we felt that the decision that they made was a travesty and that the – it opposed everything that we had understood going back to the origins of the tribunal and did not take adequately into account the interests of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not really diplomatic niceties. I mean, this is – I mean, it doesn’t have a lot of the diplomatic niceties. It doesn't say please –

MR. CROWLEY: If you --

QUESTION: -- we’re pleased to convey our compliments to --

MR. CROWLEY: If you read the letter from top to bottom, the United States Government position is clear.

QUESTION: But it seems as though you had – you already knew when this letter was written that he was going to be released and you just gave in and accepted the --

MR. CROWLEY: We didn’t – we clarified that whatever you do, Scotland, the one thing we can’t abide is his return to Libya. And tragically, Scotland made a different decision.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so does that have any impact now?

MR. CROWLEY: An impact now in terms of?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know, in terms of how you – in terms of how you have any dealings with the British or the Scottish Government.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have – we have dealings with the Scottish and British Governments because it’s in our interest to do so. We regret this decision, but it doesn’t change the fundamental nature of our relationship.

QUESTION: And then just the last thing on this, which is not about the letter but about the hearing that the Senate’s going to – the Foreign Relations Committee is having on Thursday. A large number of people who they – who the committee has asked to appear have said no and won’t be showing up. Have you had any contact with people like Jack Straw or Mr. Hayward or people at BP to talk to them about the – talk to them about possible testimony?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we have. We have been in contact with the committee and remain in contact with the committee to see if they wish to have any witnesses from this Department.

QUESTION: And do they? Do you know?

MR. CROWLEY: At the present time, no.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton had said – and also Foreign Minister – Foreign Secretary Hague had said that the British Government would be cooperative with Congress. Do you think that they’re being – that they are being cooperative?

MR. CROWLEY: We think they are being cooperative. But obviously, the staff of the committee – depending on what they have asked for. But as far as we know, the governments are being responsive to what the Senate has requested.



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