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Middle East Digest - July 30, 2010

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Washington, DC
July 30, 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 30, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A couple of announcements before taking your questions. After the briefing you will receive a statement by Secretary Clinton regarding the one year of detention of the three hikers. As you’ll see in the statement, today marks the year-long detention of three U.S. citizens – Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Joshua Fattal – for allegedly crossing into Iran during a hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Their release by the Iranian Government is long overdue and their continued detention is unjustifiable. Iran has long espoused to the world its commitment to justice, security, and peace for all. We urge Iran to take action in this case – detained the three hikers – detained for a year in Evin prison without charge to match its stated commitments.

We call on Iran to do the right thing and allow these three Americans to return home to their families.

QUESTION: Is it today or is it tomorrow?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s tomorrow. But I will release the statement today.

Very shortly, Assistant Secretary Bob Blake will be at the Carnegie Endowment to discuss U.S. policy toward Central Asia. His remarks will focus significantly on Kyrgyzstan, but he’ll review the priorities of the – of our policies toward Central Asia including: expanding cooperation with Central Asian states to assist coalition efforts in Afghanistan; increasing development and diversification of the region’s energy resources and supply routes; encouraging political liberalization and respect for human rights, that is particularly important in our emerging relationship with Kyrgyzstan; fostering competitive market economies and economic reform; and preventing emergence of failed states, or in more positive terms, increasing the capacities of states to govern effectively. And we’ll have a text of his remarks out later on this afternoon.

QUESTION: P.J., do you think the new U.S. sanctions on North Korea will be similar to those on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the – we don’t take a cookie-cutter approach here. Iran and North Korea are two different countries. Iran has resources, particularly in the energy sector. North Korea does not. So we will apply measured sanctions against North Korea as we have in the past and tailor to help influence the thinking of the government and those who support the government. Likewise, we are directing sanctions at Iran and it’s the agencies that are linked to the concerns that we have – proliferation, nuclear concerns that we have. But they are different.

QUESTION: The UN has apparently taken some Taliban off of its sanctions list. Is there any reaction to that and do – will the U.S. follow suit in removing them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s important that this is an ongoing process. We obviously welcome today’s announcement on the delisting of five Afghan Taliban names under the 1267 process. These are individuals who have cut ties with al-Qaida and accepted the Afghan constitution and have given up the fight. So this is an ongoing process and we continue our conversations within the UN and we’ll look to see -- to make sure that the 1267 process is dynamic.

QUESTION: But will the U.S. follow suit? Will they also – will the U.S. also remove –

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes, yeah. The actions work in tandem, yes.

QUESTION: Several of them were actually dead?


MR. CROWLEY: Yes. That’s --

QUESTION: So how – if they didn’t – I assume didn’t renounce the Taliban or al-Qaida before they died, but –

MR. CROWLEY: I was – a fair point –

QUESTION: No, no. But I wasn’t – I’m not trying to be a smart ass.

MR. CROWLEY: Not all of the five are living. That’s true.

QUESTION: Of the ones that were dead on the list, though, now that they are off the list, that unfreezes their assets. Is there concern that money that they had that is now unfrozen is going to end funding the Taliban again?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean this is something that we worked through as part of the process. We understand that in these cases you’ve got family relationships, tribal relationships, and we took that into account.

QUESTION: So that means you’re not concerned that the money is going –

MR. CROWLEY: It is something that we have watched carefully. But again, we’re doing two things. We obviously don’t want to take steps that add risk on the battlefield. But at the same time, we are supporting the Afghan-led process that opens – paves the way and opens the door for important steps on the political front as well.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: Direct negotiations; anything you could share with us on the continent (inaudible) as far as recommendations made by the follow-up committee to the Arab Peace Initiative that was sent to President Obama yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t feel comfortable laying out the contents of the letter. We have it. We’re evaluating the ideas that were put forward yesterday by the peace initiative committee. For the most part, it entails how direct negotiations would unfold, and in particular, parameters where those stakeholders would want to see progress or understanding in terms of the issues that will be addressed in direct negotiations.

So it was a supportive letter. It was supportive of the role of the United States in this process. And we will be responding to those ideas in the coming days.

QUESTION: They requested – if I may, I have a couple follow-ups.


QUESTION: They requested that the United States submits or gives some sort of written guarantees, written guarantees on certain things – on settlements, on some of the other issues. That’s what the Arab League secretary general said. Are you – do you think that the Administration has the flexibility to do that or accommodate that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we have spent the last few months trying to establish a strong basis for negotiations to proceed. We have been trading ideas with the parties so that everyone has the right expectation should Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas agree to move forward into direct negotiations. But we want to see them get into direct negotiations as quickly as possible, and we’re – that’s – that will be our focus in the coming days.

QUESTION: On a related matter, as we talk now, the meeting, the summit in Lebanon is winding down, it’s ending between the king of Saudi Arabia, the president of Syria, and the president of Lebanon. What are your hopes for the summit? I mean, what is it that you would like to see the summit do?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’ll let the leaders themselves talk about their achievements. Clearly, there is heightened concern about the situation in Lebanon. We are committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty. It is not negotiable, as Secretary Clinton made clear in her most recent trip to Beirut. And we think it reflects the commitment that King Abdullah has to do everything possible to pursue peace in the region.

So our hope is that from this, there will be a recommitment to Lebanese sovereignty, there will be an understanding to try to restrain those elements within Lebanon who have precipitated conflict in the past, and we would hope to avoid that in the future.

QUESTION: P.J., may I go to a couple of questions on the leaks? Yesterday, I --

MR. CROWLEY: If you insist, Goyal.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a different question, not the one you’ve been answering or somebody been asking you. One, yesterday, Admiral Mullen at the DOD, at the Pentagon, said that it is unacceptable that ISI is involved or Pakistan was playing a double game. Do you agree what he said when he said unacceptable? That means he did agree and accepted that ISI (inaudible) was there.

But my question is that everybody is saying that you all knew what was going on, but only came to in public light only after it became officially on the website. So what steps that you really had taken?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, I’ll challenge the last part of your question in particular. We do not believe that the documents released present any new information in terms of Pakistani interest in and association with elements that have played a role in Afghanistan. And it is very, very important to understand that there have been historical links going back a couple of decades.

We believe that Pakistan has made a strategic shift. They are now aggressively attacking these elements inside their borders that have safe havens inside of Pakistan’s territory that not only threaten Afghanistan, the United States, but also Pakistan. The links between Pakistani agencies and these elements have been known and understood for quite some time.

The real question is: What is Pakistan doing now? We are satisfied with the action, the aggressive action that Pakistan has taken. But we want to see Pakistan continue on the offensive. We’ve made that clear since these documents came out.

QUESTION: And despite all that, you continue to give billions of dollars to Pakistan. And also, in the meantime, there is no really – what you call real accountability or real progress.

MR. CROWLEY: Well – and Goyal, your question again reflects a – kind of a zero-sum mentality that we think is – cannot be the equation in the region. We are investing in Pakistan because it’s in the United States’ interest to do so. We have a presence in Afghanistan because it is our interest to do so. We are working cooperatively across the region, including with India, because ultimately, these are countries that have to live together and find stable relationships that serve their own interest and a collective interest. That’s what we’re trying to do and we have – we think we have the right strategy to do this. We’ve emphasized and taken a regional approach to this challenge, which is why we have a relationship with Afghanistan, we have a relationship with Pakistan, we have a relationship with India. All three countries and others can play a role in helping to stabilize the situation.

QUESTION: And one more, if you don’t mind, quick --


QUESTION: Quick one, I’m sorry, to follow. You would be surprised to know that Mr. (inaudible) Gul, who was the ISI chief during 9/11, and he was in New York and in Washington on 9/11 and 9/10. Now he said, as far as these leaks are concerned, this is a plot against Pakistan by the Obama Administration.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not.

QUESTION: That’s according to The Washington Post, his interview.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not.

QUESTION: Not having to do with India’s well-known interest in this, is the State Department aware that WikiLeaks is in possession of any diplomatic cables?

MR. CROWLEY: Can we – well, there were a handful of cables that came out among this tranche, maybe five or six. So that infers that, yes, there may well have been some State Department cables in whatever was transmitted to WikiLeaks. Obviously, there have been reports that there’s a large tranche of State Department cables. We can verify that.

The investigation is ongoing and dealing with the forensics and trying to determine exactly why it might have been transmitted from government computers to WikiLeaks is still an ongoing process. We would hope that WikiLeaks would not release any further documents. As both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen reflected yesterday, we think this has done damage and has the potential to do additional damage to our national security. But we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Well, based on the five or six that were included in this first tranche, do you have any specific concerns about what there might be out there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – do we have concerns about what might be out there? Yes, we do. Would the --

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what it might – and do you have any idea what it might do, given --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’ve arrived at a specific determination of what might have been downloaded. Look, when we provide our analysis of situations in key countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, we distribute these across the interagency, including to military addressees. So within – resident within military networks are State Department classified documents.

So is the potential there that State Department documents have been compromised? Yes. And clearly, we have the same concern on our end that the military has on its end. We rely on sources to provide us information and perspective that allows us to understand what’s going on around the world and make sure that our policies are appropriate to those circumstances. If those sources are compromised, we lose valuable information, and sources – in many cases, human sources – can be put at risk.

QUESTION: Has anyone in the U.S. Government begun any kind of dialogue with WikiLeaks to find out what else they had and encourage them --

MR. CROWLEY: I am not aware of any direct dialogue with WikiLeaks.

QUESTION: Why is that? I mean, the U.S. is willing to talk to North Korea, but not WikiLeaks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you have to ask the question of WikiLeaks.

QUESTION: So the U.S. reached out to them, but WikiLeaks won’t respond?

MR. CROWLEY: We have passed messages to them, yes.

QUESTION: Coming back again to the WikiLeaks, yesterday, both of them at the Pentagon suggested that they – as you said, they have no dialogue with him, but they criticized him. And today, he has issued a statement criticizing the U.S. Government, so this tit-for-tat going on through media, is it not – are you planning to sit down with him or approach him for the leftover documents?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’s not an American citizen, so our ability to talk to him, wherever he might be, is obviously limited. We respect the fact that once these documents were distributed to news organizations, it was news organizations that contacted us, and we had the opportunity to express specific concerns. And I think we understand that the news media organizations took some steps to minimize the risk of compromise of sources and methods of the intelligence involved in this case.

We would prefer, obviously, that none of this information be released in public. It does do damage to our national security. But as to whether or not he’ll come forward and engage in a constructive process, I can’t say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) respecting intelligence service in the world is pouring over these things like there is no tomorrow, and they have all kinds of English speakers and --

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: -- translators and going through it with a fine-tooth comb. I mean, this is not just the media that can really guard it.

MR. CROWLEY: No, you’re right. No, and that’s – I think that’s the point that the secretary[1] and Admiral Mullen made yesterday, that you dump out tens of thousands of documents, intelligence services all over the world will be looking over them and seeing what they can glean in terms of how we gain information, and this can have a national security impact.

We’re not saying that because the release of these documents is somehow inconvenient. Actually, the release of the documents by themselves have not really had a significant effect. But behind these documents is a very important intelligence system that is vital to our national security. And we are concerned and will remain concerned that if WikiLeaks continues on its current path, this will do damage to our national security.

QUESTION: The –Secretary Gates yesterday also mentioned that, falling back on his background as a former director of CIA and all that, that a major damage has been done and there will be a lot of repair work that needs to be done. So have you launched that repair work?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – as Secretary Gates made clear yesterday, we are fully investigating this across the government. I think you touched on a very good point. We do have important and vital conversations every day with representatives of other governments. And that is important to us. It helps us understand what’s happening in the world and the impact of our policies around the world.

If those conversations are now somewhat constrained because someone will fear that if I say something to an American diplomat today, it will appear on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow, that too has an impact. We have to be able to build and sustain a trusting relationship with other countries. And quite legitimately, leaders of various countries have asked this question – how could this happen? And unfortunately, somebody inside the system has compromised their sovereign oath. We are investigating that and we’ll be prepared to prosecute those involved.

But by the same token, this kind of unauthorized leak does have an impact, and that’s why you’ve heard the response that you’ve heard from leaders from the President to the Secretary of Defense, to the Secretary of State, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.


QUESTION: Do you have anything – back on Iran, have you heard anything that – diplomatically that would back up the notion put forth by the Iranian nuclear chief today that they would be willing to enter into talks within days? Is this something you’re trying to track down?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there have been contacts between Iran and Catherine Ashton and we have made clear that we are willing to sit down, as the P-5+1, with Iran and we will see if a meeting can be worked out and how quickly, I can’t say at this point.

QUESTION: Was this in addition to the meeting Ashton had with Mottaki in Kabul on the 20th?

MR. CROWLEY: I think it’s part and parcel, the same process. There – we do have indications from Iran that they are willing to have a meeting. Again, it takes some preparation to understand, are they willing to come forward, are they willing to engage seriously on the full range of issues – most significant to us, the nuclear issues. If we’re satisfied that Iran is prepared to have a constructive meeting, then we’ll work with others to try to set it up.

QUESTION: But nothing has changed, really, since --

MR. CROWLEY: Nothing has changed, no.

QUESTION: -- Wednesday when --

MR. CROWLEY: Correct, correct, correct.

QUESTION: And do you see what they are announcing yesterday, that they are willing not to enrich up to 20 percent as a genuine position or a tactical --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s a very good question. In the case of the proposal regarding the Tehran research reactor, the details matter, both in terms of level of enriched material that would be subject to shipment, who will oversee that shipment, who will have responsibility for that shipment, and what will be the disposition of that material.

There is – we are looking to use the TRR to satisfy ourselves that Tehran cannot achieve a breakout capability in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty and its international obligations. That’s our interest. But we’ll see, if we get into a meeting, how flexible Iran is in using the research reactor proposal to try to start to satisfy and answer the questions that we have about the nature of their nuclear program.

QUESTION: You said earlier that Iran changing – reversing its position, which Mottaki insisted on at the UN, because of the sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure that Iran – that’s the very point. The Tehran declaration fell short of the concerns that we had, and we are willing to meet Iran and discuss those concerns. But in terms of whether we can actually move forward with this kind of arrangement, a lot depends on the details of what Iran is prepared to do.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)

[1] Refers to Secretary Gates

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