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Middle East Digest - July 29, 2010


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Washington, DC
July 29, 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 29, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Just a couple of brief topics before taking your questions. The President, this morning, convened his monthly meeting with his national security team at the White House regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke represented the Department of State. The White House, if they haven’t already, will put out a summary of that meeting.

You’ll see a Media Note this afternoon that Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert Einhorn will visit Seoul and Tokyo next week to discuss sanctions on Iran and North Korea. He will be in Seoul on August 2 and 3 and in Tokyo on August 3 and 4. He will be joined by Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Daniel Glaser. He will have other travel for further consultation on these same topics later on in August as well.

And anticipating your questions regarding Middle East issues, obviously we’ve been watching through the day the Arab League Initiative Committee – or Peace Initiative Committee meeting in Cairo. As the President and Secretary have said, we believe that direct negotiations are the best way to achieve an agreement on two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. We are encouraged by reports that Arab states meeting in Cairo agree on the need to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final status agreement. In the days ahead, we’ll continue to work with the parties, consult further with Arab countries and international partners to try to launch these negotiations as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Do you think that they’re any closer to – I mean, you know that there have been signals and reports that the Arab League nations support a resumption of direct negotiations. Although, at least our report says that it leaves it to President Abbas to decide if and when. Do you think that you’re actually getting closer to direct negotiations now that Abbas seems to be gaining more regional Arab support?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we are encouraged and hope that there’ll be momentum coming out of this meeting. I think as has been suggested, the prime minister of Qatar on behalf of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee has sent a letter to the President. We will, of course, be evaluating the ideas contained in that letter and we’ll be consulting further. As you said, ultimately, the parties themselves have to agree that with the intensive work that’s been done over several months and most recently, that they feel that there is the basis to move forward in direct negotiations. We feel the time is right. We hope to have these negotiations begin quite soon. But obviously, there are still decisions to be made and we hope those decisions will be made soon.

QUESTION: Just one more from me on this. The letter that you referred to, are you referring to some new letter that you believe has been sent today or in the last day or two from the Qatari prime minister to President Obama?

MR. CROWLEY: As I think has been indicated in statements today, at the end of this meeting, they have sent a letter to us and we will be evaluating that letter and undergoing further consultations in the next few days.

QUESTION: Wait, but just so I understand, you expect that at the end of this meeting they will have sent such a letter or you believe they now have sent such a letter?

MR. CROWLEY: They have sent a letter.

QUESTION: Okay, and have you got it or has the White House got it?

MR. CROWLEY: The letter is on the way to the White House.

QUESTION: And it was dated today?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Today?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe the letter was forwarded today at the end of the meeting.

QUESTION: Do you – so you expect that come September 16 meeting, that recommendation coming out of the committee meeting today will be for the direct negotiations to resume?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Try that again.

QUESTION: The meeting today –

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- will submit recommendations for the foreign minister’s meeting on the 16th of September. So you expect that in that recommendation, there will be a call for resumption or start of direct negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll just go back to what I just said. Coming out of the meeting today, the Arab League Committee has forwarded to us some ideas on how they think negotiations should proceed. As was just said, ultimately the decisions remain with the parties to agree to formally start the negotiations. We will be consulting with the parties and with leaders in the region in the coming days. I think we are hopeful that coming out of the meeting there will be some momentum that will result in the decision to actually formally start these direct negotiations. Those are decisions that have yet to be made, but I think we’re encouraged by what we’ve heard today coming out of Cairo.

QUESTION: But your position is that these negotiations will be unconditional, and there is absolutely no incentive that the Obama Administration is willing to give the Palestinian president or the Palestinian Authority in order to entice them into these negotiations.

MR. CROWLEY: We have been talking in recent days and weeks with the parties and with other countries that have a stake in this process. As always, we have said, we do not want to have preconditions to the start of negotiations. And we are hopeful that direct negotiations can begin soon. Obviously, there’s work to be done in terms of how this process would unfold, what the parameters – what timeframes will be involved in this. These are further discussions that we’ll have in the coming days with a variety of players.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment on these Pew Research poll results that were released today on Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S.? Are you familiar with --

MR. CROWLEY: I have not seen the results today.

QUESTION: It says that negative – attitudes are overwhelmingly negative toward the U.S. For example, it says 60 percent of Pakistanis polled view the U.S. as an enemy, 10 percent view them as a partner. Relatively few acknowledge that the U.S. gives large amounts of aid to Pakistan. I’m wondering how that stacks up with your view of Pakistan as a partner.

MR. CROWLEY: Without seeing the poll numbers, and we will study them, I don’t know that they are necessarily dramatically different than what we’ve seen from Pew in recent years. We understand – and the Secretary in her recent trip and also in her trip last October – understand that there’s a deficit in trust in our relationship. There are those in Pakistan who recall and sense that they were abandoned by the United States and the international community, going back 20 years or more.

We have worked hard in recent months to try to turn this relationship around. I think we recognize that this was not going to occur overnight. We have tried to communicate forcefully to not only the government, but also to the people directly, that the United States is committed to the future of Pakistan. We are, in fact, a partner. We’re not – I think we’re not surprised that people will want to see fruits of this partnership; that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. It goes back to what the Secretary announced in Islamabad last week – concrete projects that – on energy, on health, on education that will create tangible results so the people of Pakistan can see it. And when they see it, then we would expect to see those poll numbers prospectively improve.

But as – for those of you who were with the Secretary last week, she spends a lot of time engaged directly with the Pakistani people. I think coming out of the trip last week, there was – we felt a change in tone. But we understand that this is a long-term proposition which we take seriously and feel is vitally important to, over time, demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that the United States is genuinely interested in a different long-term relationship with the country.

Lalit.

QUESTION: Change in tone of Pakistan, you meant? You said change in tone.

QUESTION: Change in tone.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said change in tone. Change the tone of Pakistan towards what?

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, change in tone. Well, sure. And as the Secretary – in her comments to the people of Pakistan, I mean, this is a two-way street. The people of Pakistan have questions and concerns about the nature of our relationship, and likewise, as we’ve seen in recent days, there have been questions raised, and we are involved in a respectful dialogue with the government and the people of Pakistan. So we’ve seen already a change in tone coming out of the strategic dialogue, high-level meetings that we had in Washington earlier this year – the (inaudible) meetings that we had in Islamabad last week.

We do think that over time, people will begin to understand and see that there’s genuine and mutual respect and benefit for this relationship. And as people are able to see those benefits firsthand, then we would expect to see an improvement in not only the tone, but also the substance of our relationship. But we didn’t expect this to change overnight. And we are going to continue to work hard to help people understand that there has been a fundamental shift by the United States and a fundamental shift by Pakistan in the nature of our relationship.

QUESTION: So you think that with good timing and good projects, you can win the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people? What about winning the integrity and the commitment and honesty of Pakistani intelligence in the fight against your common enemies?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we have demonstrated over the past couple of years our commitment to civilian government in Pakistan. And we understand that going back several years, the commitment to civilian government in Pakistan by the United States has been uneven.

So this is part and parcel of improving the relationship with Pakistan. We are committed to civilian government in Pakistan. Our investments in Pakistan are geared towards helping that government build its capacity and deliver effective services to its people. We’re committed to helping Pakistan improve the – its economy, including the economy in the tribal areas, and the frontier areas where we are concerned about the presence of extremist elements and safe havens that affect the security of Pakistan and the security of the United States.

So, it’s – ultimately, we’re trying to both improve relations with Pakistan and the United States, but we’re trying to help Pakistan improve relations between its own population and its own government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: President Obama acknowledged this week that there was nothing new in the findings of the WikiLeak reports. So if America was aware all along about the connection and the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban, why has the U.S. been nudging India to go in for talks with its neighbor Pakistan, encouraging this diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan when you know that the ISI is funding the Taliban, which was ending up killing poor Indian workers in Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, quite simply, we encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan because it’s in the interest of both countries and the interest of the United States that these countries that have gone to war multiple times in the past 60 years need to build their own relationship, need to find ways beyond military conflict to remove tensions in the relationship, gain a greater understanding that can be of substantial benefit to both the people of India and the people of Pakistan.

So we are simply encouraging Pakistan and India to pursue a dialogue that we think is fundamentally in the interest of both countries.

QUESTION: But did you share the intelligence that you now say that you knew that the ISI was – had a relationship with the Taliban when you asked India to go in for these talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, as you started out, as the President said, we think that while there might be granularity in some of the material that’s been – that has been released, and again we emphasize that we think this release has done damage to our national security, there’s no startling revelations in these documents. Pakistan’s relationship with elements that morphed into the Taliban go back to the Soviet occupation were very well known. They’re known to the United States, they’re known to India, and they’re known to Afghanistan.

Samir.

QUESTION: Can I go back to --

MR. CROWLEY: Chris, all right. Go ahead. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: President Hamid Karzai today at a news conference in Kabul asked for striking safe havens across the border. Is that an option for the U.S.?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, that’s what we’re doing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But do you (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me clarify the question. We are working with Pakistan to eliminate the safe havens which are a threat to Pakistan and a threat to Afghanistan and a threat to the United States. It is central to the strategy that the President unveiled last December and it’s central to the fact that we need effective action on both sides of the border. You have the United States and the international community working with Afghanistan on one side of the border, and you do have Pakistan taking aggressive action on the other side of the border. And our message to Pakistan is that that offensive, if you will, needs to continue.

QUESTION: So sending troops across in Pakistan is completely ruled out and we completely rely on Pakistan for actions?

MR. CROWLEY: We have no plans to send U.S. combat forces to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’re relying on the help of ISI who themselves may be aiding the Taliban --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we rely on the effect --

QUESTION: -- in going after (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: -- kind of effective action by the Pakistani military that we’ve seen in Swat, we’ve seen in South Waziristan, and we want to see continue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Samir.

QUESTION: Now after the Arab League approved to President Abbas to start direct talks, do you expect Senator Mitchell to go back to the region?

MR. CROWLEY: As we said a minute ago, we’re evaluating what has come out of the Arab League committee meeting today, and based on that, will have consultations with the parties in the coming days. If that means that Senator Mitchell should return to the region, he will. I don’t know that – what his immediate travel plans are at this point.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Clinton call President Mubarak yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is she working in the building this week?

MR. CROWLEY: She is not in the building this week. There might be something else happening somewhere else on the East Coast. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: China today saying that a new economic --

MR. CROWLEY: She is working, but – I’m sorry. She is hard at work, but not here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Middle East on that --

QUESTION: China?

MR. CROWLEY: Wait.

QUESTION: The Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I’ll come back to you in a second.

QUESTION: China today --

MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on. We’ll stay on the Middle East, then we’ll come to Korea.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about your assessment of the upcoming meeting tomorrow between the Syrian President Bashar Asad and the Saudi King Abdullah and the Lebanese President Michel Sulayman in terms of – since there is a letter that came out from the Arab League committee meeting, do you expect also this issue to be raised and approved?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll leave it to the leaders of the three countries to state their intentions. We certainly, as we talked about yesterday, value dialogue among key leaders in the region. Certainly, King Abdullah, through the Arab Peace Initiative, has put on the table constructive and concrete plans to help move the region towards the kind of peace and stability that everyone should have.

I would suspect that the current state of play and efforts towards Middle East peace will be part of their conversation. I certainly would expect that they’ll look at the region more broadly, including the concern that they have about Iran. So I would expect that’ll be part of a conversation, but I’ll leave it to the leaders to describe what their goals are.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we also just kind of talk the WikiLeaks before we move on?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: One last question. So India has always maintained and provided proof that – of this relationship between the ISI and the Taliban extremist groups. Now that America admits that they know of this and they have known of it all along, will you be putting more pressure on your ally, Pakistan, to bring those responsible for 26/11, including the death of six Americans, to justice?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I would challenge the assumption that this is a new revelation. It is not a new revelation. Our concerns about the ISI and its contacts with some of these elements has been well known. It has been a part of our conversation with Pakistan for some time. Pakistan itself has commented publicly about this. But we are focused on the decisive action that Pakistan must take to deal with the threat that is within its borders and has, in the last year or two, become clear that it’s a threat to Pakistan, and we are satisfied with the aggressive action that Pakistan has taken in response. We want to see that aggressive action continue. Where we have concerns about ongoing contacts, we will not hesitate to raise them with Pakistan.

But ultimately, as we seek a military and political solution to this challenge, it will take the leadership of Afghanistan, as was outlined last week in the Kabul conference. But Pakistan will have to play a role in this, as will other countries in the region.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go to Spain? Today a Spanish high court judge ordered the arrest and the extradition of three U.S. soldiers for the killing of a Spanish camera man in 2003 in Baghdad. I don’t know if you are aware of that petition. And they also asked the State Department and Justice Department for the documents about the case – of the case. So will you cooperate to this Spanish justice or –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is a case that has been adjudicated before. And I’ll leave it to Spanish authorities to once again work through the particulars. As to this particular episode, the soldiers involved were subject to an investigation by the military. And they were – under the existing situation that happened in Iraq, they were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right. Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to get it now. Any talks between Israel and the U.S. on Iran? I heard something about it, but I have no idea what’s going on.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Minister of Defense Barak was in town this week both here at the State Department and over at the Pentagon as is normal in those conversations. As minister of defense, he looks at the region as a whole. I’m certain that somewhere in that conversation, we talked about the current situation in Iran.

QUESTION: I thought there was something today.

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. I mean, not to my knowledge.



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