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Middle East Digest - August 2, 2010

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Washington, DC
August 2, 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 August 2, 2010

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12:23 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Very good. Continuing on, obviously, as you have seen in the last couple of days, the United States, along with others in the international community, are responding significantly to the devastating floods in Pakistan. As of this evening, we have delivered just under 200,000 halal meals to Pakistan for – then follow-on delivery by Pakistani authorities. I think the precise number is 189,000. We have put seven U.S.-owned helicopters at the disposal of the Ministry of Interior, their 50th air squadron, and continue to ferry both supplies and rescue people during the course of the last couple of days.

The Secretary had a statement yesterday, as you saw, making an initial pledge of $10 million for humanitarian assistance, as well as providing 12 prefabricated steel bridges. They’re in country. They’re identifying now sites to place those bridges as well as water infiltration – water filtration units and Zodiac inflatable rescue boats to continue with the recovery effort.

Also, I think right about now, you should see a release from Ambassador Susan Rice welcoming today’s announcement by the Secretary General of the United Nations of a panel of inquiry to receive reports from the Israeli and Turkish governments regarding the flotilla incident of May 31st. That panel of inquiry will be led by the former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer – he’ll be the chair – and outgoing president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, will be the vice chair. And they will be supplemented by two additional members, one each from Israel and Turkey.

QUESTION: Can I ask a different subject?


QUESTION: On the WikiLeaks, do you have any more clarity on – that these – that there’s going to be this another kind of release of a large tranche of documents that are related to the war in Iraq, supposedly State Department cables. And I’m wondering if you have any more clarity about the type of documents that are going to be released and whether you’re concerned that they will jeopardize anything, any --

MR. CROWLEY: Do we have clarity about what they have? I don’t know that we do. We continue to investigate, working with military authorities, what might have been downloaded from military computer networks. On the other hand, do we have concerns, the same kinds of concerns that our leaders have talked about recently, including over the weekend? Absolutely.

Notwithstanding efforts to try to sanitize these documents, we do have concerns about sources and methods, key sources of who are, for the State Department, largely human beings. And the revelation, public revelation of these sources can put them as well as our own diplomats and our own interests at risk. And as we’ve seen as, I think, both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have commented on where we have no doubt that people are scouring these documents and identifying sources and we have concerns about their welfare.

QUESTION: You said that your sources are largely human beings? What are the ones that not human beings?

MR. CROWLEY: There are technologies that play a role here. But for the State Department we rely on human sources of information. We do have a lot of satellites, though.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) reaction to the rockets that (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, any time you’ve got these kinds of rockets that are fired and at no particular target, they put innocent civilians at risk. This is a deplorable action by those responsible. I suppose we’re not surprised that at a point where we are hoping to see direct negotiations begin as soon as possible to address the core concerns. It’s not surprising that you have others who are taking actions to try to inhibit that kind of progress. But we continue our follow-on discussions with the parties. We hope to see them get in direct negotiations as soon as possible, and – but it’s reprehensible that we, once again, see these indiscriminate firings of rockets at innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Do you have an idea who’s behind it?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we have strong suspicions, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. I mean, there are armed elements here that do not want to see – they want to see the conflict continue. And they have used these tactics before, and we’re not surprised that they’re using them now.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that they were launched from Egypt?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, that’s what has been reported. But I’m not in a position of confirming any particular launching though.


QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Iraq for a sec. As you know, the AP has compiled figures from Iraqi Government sources saying that there were 535 civilian deaths in the month of July, and the U.S. says there were only 222. Maybe only isn’t the right word. But how did the U.S. and the Iraqi Government arrive as such different figures?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll check and see if those are State Department figures as opposed to if they are Multi-National Force-Iraq figures. I think that there has been, through the years, a process developed in terms of working with civilian authorities trying to identify the impact of ongoing operations on the Iraqi civilian population. But I have no particular detail as to how to explain that discrepancy.

QUESTION: Does the State Department feel that the Iraqi Government may be manipulating those numbers?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. Again, I can’t explain the discrepancy. This is something that has been very important. We’ve worked hard on this through the years to understand fully the impact that ongoing operations has on civilian population, and also how the activities of al-Qaida in Iraq, which has a significant impact and the most significant impact in recent months and years on the Iraqi population.

QUESTION: Just one more follow-up on that. Does the U.S. consider that the security situation in Iraq has improved?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it depends on your – improved compared to what previous point in time. Broadly speaking, the answer is yes. At the same time, there are – there is a stubborn insurgency that we see in Iraq; it is of concern to us. This is an effort by the remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq to stay relevant. I think what encourages us is that notwithstanding these regular attacks that have killed innocent civilians in Iraq, it is remarkable what has not happened. These are attempts to reignite sectarian violence and to perhaps try to take advantage of the ongoing political process of choosing a new government. And while we want to see Iraq choose an inclusive government and stand it up as quickly as possible, by the same token, we are encouraged by the fact that Iraqis have stayed firm during this transition period and have not responded to this ongoing violence.

QUESTION: Just also on al-Qaida, but on a different area. Can you shed some more light on the travel warning that you issued this morning on Mauritania? Are there new and specific credible threats against American or Western interests by al-Qaida and the Maghreb or this just an ongoing concern that’s kind of continuing to be out there? Or has there been a heightened alert?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – well, you’ve unfortunately seen recently where there was military action by Mauritania in Mali against al-Qaida and the Maghreb. And tragically, as a result of this, a French hostage was killed. So we do understand this is part of al-Qaida and the Maghreb’s ongoing tactic of trying to locate and kidnap Westerners in the region, and that’s the reason for the update.


QUESTION: A follow-up on that question. In upcoming new sanctions, can I understand it as it’s – the United States Government is going to add to the list of the entities and the individuals that they are banning right now? Or is it a completely new --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Einhorn characterized them in general terms today. We’ll have more to say shortly with more specifics. I’ll just wait for the announcement.


QUESTION: Palestinian officials have said that the U.S. Administration has threatened the Palestinian Authority that the relations between the U.S. and the authority will be affected if they don’t start immediately the direct negotiations with Israel. Can you confirm that?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – I wouldn’t characterize it that way. We have had intensive conversations with the parties in recent weeks. We have – we strongly believe that this is the time where the parties need to move from proximity talks into direct negotiations. We think there are clear benefits to doing – taking that step at this time. We’re encouraged by the fact that neighboring countries have given a green light to proceed with direct negotiations. We’re trying to move the parties in that direction. George Mitchell will be traveling to the region soon. We’ll have more to say about that. His schedule’s not yet locked in.

But we think that at this particular time, the best way to address the core issues is to – by moving to direct negotiations. That’s not a threat. I think that it’s an opportunity here, that we think after weeks and months of working with the parties, gaining a better understanding of where they are and what they want to do, we think the time is right.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up?


QUESTION: So there was – at no time or at no point was there any warning to the PA that if they refused and they continue to refuse to go to the direct negotiations, that U.S.-Palestinian relations will be adversely affected? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we --

QUESTION: Because that’s what they’re claiming.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we would characterize this as a significant opportunity for the Palestinians in terms of what they feel that they need to resolve the core issues. We have made a strong argument to them that you gain leverage inside a direct negotiation, not by setting – trying to set conditions prior to the start of that negotiation. But we think this is the right time to move in the step. We’re encouraged by the fact that leaders assembled in Cairo late last week agreed. We’re having follow-up conversations even today with U.S. officials and Palestinian officials. And our message is this is the right time and it’s an opportunity that both sides should not forsake.

QUESTION: So just --

QUESTION: But that doesn’t answer the question, though. I mean, have you – and this isn’t the first time that the Palestinians have claimed that you kind of said, well, if you don’t sit down for proximity talks or if you don’t sit down for direct talks, we’re going to pick a fight with you like we picked a fight with Benjamin Netanyahu, or this is going to negatively affect our relationship. I mean, these are the claims that the Palestinians are making.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re not picking a fight with anybody. We’re trying to reach an end to the conflict, which benefits everyone in the region.

QUESTION: But when you made your strong arguments to the Palestinians, was there any warning or advice attached about their relationship with the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: We are always giving the parties our best view of what needs to be done now --


MR. CROWLEY: -- based on these conversations. We have given our best advice to President Abbas and his team. We have given our best advice to --

QUESTION: Did it come with a warning (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: -- Prime Minister Netanyahu --

QUESTION: Did you link their relationship --

MR. CROWLEY: -- and his team.

QUESTION: Did you link their relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinians to President Abbas’ willingness to sit down for talks?

MR. CROWLEY: If – let me rephrase the question. Have we strongly encouraged the Palestinians to move into direct negotiations? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: No, I don’t want to rephrase the question.

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: That isn’t the question.

MR. CROWLEY: And have we strongly encouraged the Israelis to move into direct negotiations? The answer is yes.

QUESTION: But that’s not the question. The question is: Have you linked --


QUESTION: -- your future relations with the Palestinians to whether he’s willing to sit down and talk? So it’s a yes-or-no answer.

QUESTION: Have you threatened them that the relations will be affected if they don’t start negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t consider that statement to be a threat.

QUESTION: So in the President’s letter – P.J., just bear with me for a second.

QUESTION: So, you’re not saying no?

QUESTION: Bear with me for a minute. The quality of the relationship between the American Administration and the Palestinian Authority was not brought in any way in the letter that the President sent to Abbas in mid-July?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m simply going to say that we believe and are strongly encouraging the Palestinians and the Israelis to move into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: On behalf of their own kind of – on behalf of their own desire for a state or also on behalf of the future of their --

MR. CROWLEY: As we’ve said many times, absent a direct negotiation, there will be no end to the conflict, there will be no peace agreement, and there will be no Palestinian state. That’s a fact. And we understand the recent history and the difficulty in the region at this moment. We’ve worked hard to help each side understand what the other needs. We believe strongly that this is the right time to enter into direct negotiations. That’s the argument that we’re making to both sides. And I’m sure George will be traveling back to the region in the next few days and will continue to make that point.

QUESTION: Was there any allusion to the quality of U.S. involvement in future negotiations? Did they say that our involvement will be compromised or our involvement will be lowered and so on in future negotiations if you don’t go to these direct talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a strong sense of urgency as to where we are. There are consequences to failing to take advantage of this opportunity. There are consequences just in terms of the Middle East itself and how the Israeli citizens, how the Palestinians, how other countries evaluate this, and will draw their own conclusions if these leaders at this time fail to take advantage of this opportunity.

Now, just by getting into direct negotiations, we don’t expect to solve all of these issues overnight. But our argument today is that this is the time, these are leaders that we think are capable of making this bold and courageous step at this time, and we think that there are clear benefits to be gained, and leverage to be obtained, and solutions to be found by getting into negotiations now.

QUESTION: Is the President calling for a trilateral negotiation next week prior to the meeting so they can work out terms of reference and perhaps a timetable and all that?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to see the direct negotiations start as soon as possible. We are conscious of the fact that there are issues on both sides. There are political challenges on both sides, but the situation will not improve by waiting.

QUESTION: Do you see the Palestinian side as the chief culprit now in the absence of negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we think that this is the right time to start direct negotiations. It is not about – it’s about the steps that they need to take and it’s not about starting an argument. It’s not about identifying a culprit. And that’s not how we’re looking at this. We just think that after months of hard work by the President, by the Secretary, by George Mitchell clarifying where we are, understanding what both sides need at this particular time, understanding the politics on both sides of the equation, we think that now is the time to enter into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: On the trilateral talk – P.J., bear with us. So are you aware of a call by the President or by the Administration that there should be trilateral talks next week to set the terms of reference? This is like a Palestinian –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again –

QUESTION: But the Israelis are a bit reluctant.

MR. CROWLEY: Last week, President Abbas got a strong signal from his counterparts in the region. They put the decision in his pocket. It’s up to him to make this decision. We think there’s support in the region to take this step now. We would like to see negotiations start as soon as possible. We don’t think that there’s anything to be gained by waiting.

In fact, as we talked about earlier, the longer we wait, the more we give impetus to those who are opposed to peace in the Middle East or try to use this period of time to try to prevent the process from moving forward. This is our concern. This is why we think that now is the right time to move ahead into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any thoughts or comments on the UAE Blackberry situation?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re disappointed at the announcement. It is – we are committed to promoting the free flow of information. We think it’s innovative. It’s integral to an innovative economy and we will be clarifying with the UAE their reasons for making this announcement.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to weigh in on behalf of the Canadian company?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not about a Canadian company. It’s about what we think is an important element of democracy, human rights, and freedom of information and the flow of information in the 21st century. It was the essence of the Secretary’s internet freedom speech and it’s an argument that we make to countries like Iran and China. It’s also an argument that we make to friends and allies of ours like the UAE.

QUESTION: So could you say specifically how this infringes on that? I mean, you have your own – I mean, not Blackberry per se, but you have technological requirements in this country, too. I mean, what specifically infringes? I mean, they’re not blocking email all together, they’re just blocking the Blackberry service. So why does this infringe on human rights and the free flow of information?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, think – I mean, first of all, again, we’re going to clarify with the UAE what’s behind this announcement, but we think it sets a dangerous precedent.

QUESTION: Well, in just in what way, though? Because they’re not curtailing people’s ability to email each other. They’re just kind of curtailing one specific aspect of communications. I mean, they don’t have voicemail, for instance, in the UAE or in other countries in the Gulf. Is that infringing on human rights?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think – it is our view that you should be opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity to empower people. And rather than looking to see how you can restrict the specific technologies out of a security concern, which is understandable, but we think this is not necessarily the best way to accomplish that.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any reason to believe that it actually is a national security concern in the UAE?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what the UAE has indicated. We understand that concern, but the UAE has reasons to be concerned about how information can be used by those who wish to attack the UAE or others. But again, restricting technologies in the 21st century, we think, is a move in the wrong direction.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Last night –

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. One more.

QUESTION: -- President Lula da Silva from Brazil, he asked (inaudible) President Ahmadinejad to receive this woman who is facing execution by stoning. I would like to have your opinion about this initiative and also to know if you think that this is a better contribution from Brazil in the case of Iran than in the nuclear issues.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we think that stoning in the 21st century is a barbaric act and it should be outlawed. That said, as to the disposition of this particular case, if Brazil is willing to accept this woman, we would hope that Iran would consider that as a humanitarian gesture, much in the same way that we would like to see our hikers come home as a humanitarian gesture.

QUESTION: But do you think that this is a better contribution from Brazil in the case of Iran than in nuclear issues?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t tie the two together. This is a case that has caught the attention of the international community, and the fact that Brazil has stepped up and indicated a willingness to try to resolve it, we hope Iran will listen.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


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