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Middle East Digest - August 9, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 9, 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 August 9, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: You’ll hear from Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Holbrooke this afternoon at 3:00, and when they will reiterate our shock and sadness over the killing of 10 medical aid workers including U.S. citizens, Afghans, and others. The FBI has opened a formal investigation regarding the deaths of our American citizens. Under federal law, they have jurisdiction to conduct investigations worldwide when U.S. citizens are killed. But we – as the Secretary said yesterday in her statement, the claim of responsibility by the Taliban is a transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

This attack cannot be justified, it cannot be rationalized, it cannot be condoned. Across the world, every religion, every great religion, celebrates the healers, those among us who administer to the sick. And this underscores that the Taliban do not have the interest of the Afghan people at stake. They are murderers who do not care about individual Afghans and their welfare. They only care about power and murder and we will – we are reminded of why we are in Afghanistan: to try to help create a more just, more tolerant society.

Next door in Pakistan over the weekend the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Gilani and reiterated that the United States stands ready to continue and to assist and to expand our assistance to the people of Pakistan as they deal with the ongoing flooding. The Prime Minister Gilani indicated that Pakistan continues to evaluate its needs and will respond not only to the United States but to others among the international community as its needs become clear.
Military helicopters resumed operations today. There were a couple of days of delay because of weather. They rescued approximately 500 people today and delivered 48,000 pounds of relief supplies. And we have supplied to date food sufficient to feed about 158,000 people through our partnership with the World Food Program, that is reaching about 35,000 to 49,000 people per day. And so we will continue to monitor that and to expand our assistance to Pakistan as needed.
Senator George Mitchell is arriving in Tel Aviv kind of as we speak. We expect Senator Mitchell to have discussions with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow. Before coming back to the United States on Wednesday he will have additional consultations probably by phone with other regional allies. And he will be talking to both parties tomorrow to continue our effort to launch direct negotiations as soon as possible.

QUESTION: On Mitchell.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Why is he going there just for one day to have a quick meeting with each of the leaders? I mean, why not – if he’s really trying to go kind of jump start these talks, why not an extended stay to kind of nail down what’s keeping them from jump starting the talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think that what he needs to accomplish can be done with rather quick meetings with both of the leaders.

QUESTION: So do you expect that after these meetings you’re going to announce a resumption of the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s wait for the meetings.

QUESTION: Well –

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you think – based on what do you think that he can do this rather quickly? It certainly hasn’t been rather quick to this point, has it?

MR. CROWLEY: No, not at all. We are – we make--

QUESTION: So you think you’re (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: -- no secret of the fact that we’re pushing both sides to begin direct negotiations. And based on a lot of work that’s been done in recent days, Senator Mitchell will basically see if both sides are ready, in fact, to make the commitment to begin direct negotiations.

QUESTION: So if he’s there to – if it’s so close then why doesn’t he just stay and resume the discussion?

MR. CROWLEY: We frequently see value in having these kinds of discussions face-to-face rather than over the phone.

QUESTION: So educate me, if you will. Mitchell will go there for one day and then is he coming back here or is he going to Syria or what? What’s going on?

MR. CROWLEY: Right now, I would expect him to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas tomorrow. He will return to the United States, we expect, on Wednesday. Could he call an audible while he’s there? He could. But he will – based on his conversations with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, phone calls he’ll have with other leaders in the region, we’ll see where we are and then he’ll return to the United States to report to the President and the Secretary.

QUESTION: But the president of – the Palestinian Authority said yesterday that he is not convinced that they will go to direct negotiations because there’s been no response to whatever request they submitted on the commitment to ‘67 borders and on some of the issues, including Jerusalem?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, hence the reason for Senator Mitchell to travel to the region.

QUESTION: P.J., have you found any kind of update on the Blackberry situation (inaudible) the Saudis?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: Well, hold on. I’m sure where --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Israel for one second? I just want to know if you have any reaction to this tourism ministry complaint about your travel alert?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in touch with the Israeli Government. Obviously, we adapt our travel advisories on a regular basis, based on our assessment of conditions on the ground and the risk that it poses to American citizens. And we provide that guidance for our citizens, but we are in touch with the Israeli Government to explain our judgment.

QUESTION: Do you – can you say why a similar warning for Jordan, specifically Aqaba, there was no similar warning?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, beginning at post and back here at the Department, we evaluate conditions everywhere in the world and we continue to update our citizens based on our best judgment of the assessment of risk wherever American citizens are traveling. So I would say that – it’s not our judgment that the risk is identical between the two locations.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the region for second? So is it possible that we would see the president – the Palestinian president and Mr. Mitchell standing side-by-side announcing the start of the talks tomorrow?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, let’s have the meeting first, and then we’ll evaluate where we are.

QUESTION: Is this visit something to do with a verbal message that he’s carrying, which cannot be given by letter or by phone and that’s – you know, it goes on record like we had these allegations about threats from U.S. that we would be dropping relations with – (inaudible) PA in case they do not start the --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re inferring that – something that I would not sanction. We value our relationship with the Palestinian Authority. We are intensively working with the Palestinian Authority not only get into direct negotiations, but also with Prime Minister Fayyad and others to build up the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to be ready, willing, and able to assume the responsibilities of an effective government if direct negotiations – if and when they begin – are successful. We are committed to finding a solution to this challenge and to ending the conflict once and for all.

So, Senator Mitchell is returning to the region, as he’s been many times in recent months. We continue to think that this is the right time and that we have, in fact, appropriately paved the ground for successful direct negotiations. That will be his message to both leaders. To the extent that he needs to, he will update them on our current thinking and provide answers to questions that have been posed in recent meetings, and we’ll see if we can get both leaders to yes.

QUESTION: P.J., can you shed some light on the possible trip by Mitchell to Syria and the start of the Syrian (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: At the present time, I’m not expecting him to travel anywhere but beyond Israel and the Palestinian territory.

QUESTION: P.J., in the past, U.S. was against Israel and India military-to-military deals, some of the projects now underway between the two countries. What do you think now is U.S. going to oppose some of the – like including missiles and other military-to-military projects between India and Israel?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any current dialogue between Israel and India on defense cooperation. Sorry, we can’t comment.

QUESTION: P.J., two different questions on your statements earlier. One, as far as the killings of humanitarian people in Afghanistan, what India – Indian Government is saying that everybody has a right to food and it should be investigated thoroughly through the UN and international community. And secondly, if I may, as far as flood in Pakistan concerned, still many Pakistanis are waiting for aid from the last earthquake. What they’re asking the United States, there should be accountability. Aid should reach to the people, not to the government.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, to your last point first. In these kinds of disasters what you need is a logistical infrastructure to be able to deliver aid through the government to the people. It is expressly these kinds of circumstances where a government is critical to delivering life-saving assistance or rescuing people who find themselves in peril.

QUESTION: But (inaudible) corruption and (inaudible) there.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, you’re making a leap. We are working very closely with the Pakistani Government. As I indicated, the Secretary had a conversation with Prime Minister Gilani who is leading this effort. We’re in touch on a daily basis with the leaders of Pakistan’s disaster relief agency. On board the helicopters that we have operating in Pakistan, are military – are Pakistani military liaison officers to help direct the need – the aid where it needs to go. So, we are working very closely and very collaboratively with the Pakistani Government in dealing with this crisis.

What was your first question?

QUESTION: The Afghanistan humanitarian –

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, hold on, hold on. On the issue of food – it’s one of the reasons why we have launched over the past year the Feed the Future Initiative, because we do recognize that helping countries and communities reach a sustainable level of food security is vitally important to the future (inaudible) and security of these countries that are at risk.

QUESTION: P.J., on Afghanistan, just for a second, you said they mentioned the FBI’s opened a formal investigation.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: To what end? Is it your hope that you can find these people – people who did this and bring them back to prosecute them here?

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take it a step at a time. We’ve got six Americans killed among this international team. We’re trying to understand the circumstances by which they were killed. We certainly want to see justice done – served here. We would always like to see those responsible for the deaths of Americans or our allies brought to justice. We will work closely with our Afghan colleagues in this investigation, but the FBI has launched its own investigation as it is appropriate.

QUESTION: Which would seem to suggest that you don’t have a lot of confidence in the Afghan investigation or judiciary --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a matter of we have a right given the deaths of six Americans to investigate, and we are investigating.

QUESTION: Could you – if no talks right now – the start of the talks is not announced, wouldn’t that be seen as a setback?

MR. CROWLEY: Start again.

QUESTION: If the beginning of the talks, the direct talks, is not announced tomorrow, wouldn’t that be seen as a setback? How would that impact future negotiations?

MR. CROWLEY: No, we want to get the leaders into direct negotiations as soon as possible. We think that the time is right, but obviously, we are – we need the assent of the leaders to proceed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

QUESTION: Last week it was suggested that the talks themselves should be an incentive to the Palestinians. But is Mr. Mitchell carrying with him any – Senator Mitchell carrying with him any incentives to the Palestinians on the issues that they raise? Or as per the letter that was sent to you they are (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as I emphasized last week, the direct negotiations are the only means to the end that we all want to see: security and stability in the region and the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. Outside of negotiations there can be no Palestinian state. So we believe that the Palestinians have a strong incentive to enter into negotiations, and we think through those direct negotiations can clarify the underlying issues – they’re well-known – and we think that through these negotiations they (inaudible) important leverage to get to where we have a resolution of the issues of security, refugees, borders, and Jerusalem.

QUESTION: A question about the military commission trials moving forward this week, Guantanamo; one of them involving Omar Khadr, at the time arrested at the age of 15. The United Nations and others are arguing that he was arrested as – should be treated as a child soldier. Why is the U.S. continuing to press forward with treating him differently than that?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer that. I’ll defer that question to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Another one, and I’m sorry if I’m going over stuff you went over last week –

MR. CROWLEY: It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- since I wasn’t here. On the Israel-Lebanon border incident last week, there’s a letter from Congressman Klein here to the Secretary suggesting that he would like to see the State Department launch an investigation into whether or not any of the Lebanese military personnel involved with that were trained by U.S. – under U.S. training programs. I know U.S. military assistance was somehow linked in that incident. Is that something that the Secretary is willing to take on?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are not aware that there was any U.S. equipment used during the incident. We do have training programs with Lebanon. It’s hard to say whether those who were directly involved in this incident were a part of any training program under IMET. But we have an extensive military cooperation program with Lebanon, because it’s in our interest to have that program. It offers – it allows the Government of Lebanon to expand its sovereignty. We think that is in the interest of both of our countries and regional stability as a whole. I don’t believe that we are planning to reevaluate our current military cooperation with Lebanon in light of this incident.

QUESTION: P.J., on that issue, are you confident that this was Israeli territory where the Israeli soldiers were now? It seems –

MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL –

QUESTION: -- that UNIFIL was saying that it’s –

MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL after –

QUESTION: -- disputed.

MR. CROWLEY: UNIFIL after the meeting last week affirmed that the tree cutting was done on Israel’s side of the blue line.

QUESTION: P.J., since you first gave that answer to the top – to Andy’s question on Thursday, do you know if there’s been any further investigation into this? I mean, you said on Thursday you weren’t aware that there was any U.S. equipment involved, you weren’t sure of the (inaudible) of the training of the soldiers, has this been looked into since Thursday further?

MR. CROWLEY: It wouldn’t surprise me –

QUESTION: Or is this still the same result – same conclusion you had last week?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question whether we have satisfied ourselves or whether there is an investigation that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Well, because it’s not just Representative Klein now.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: It’s a growing number –

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I understand that.

QUESTION: -- and Representative Cantor put something out today as well.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll ask the question –

QUESTION: So I just want to know if –

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll ask the question whether the matter is still open or the matter is closed or not.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Given President Karzai’s move to investigate anticorruption teams, does the State Department still have confidence in his ability to deal with corruption there? And have you gotten any more recent updates than the latest media reports on how that’s going?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t say that we have any updates. This is something that is part of our ongoing dialogue with the Afghan Government and with President Karzai. As we noted last week, Secretary Clinton and President Karzai had one of their periodic conversations and she stressed during this conversation the importance coming out the Kabul conference of continuing to support the work of the Major Crimes Taskforce and the Special Investigations Unit, two elements that are widely supported by the United States and other international partners. And it’s important that they get the support that they need from the Afghan Government. There is a question of a particular investigation.

As President Karzai, as president of Afghanistan, is fully within his rights to raise questions about how that particular case unfolded and its implications in terms of the constitutional guarantees of any Afghan citizen potentially implicated in corruption. We understand those questions. It’s not unlike in the aftermath of 9/11 as the government took new actions. We ourselves have raised questions about the constitutionality of certain steps that the government has taken. This is part of a mature society. So it’s one thing – the questions that the president has raised, we understand those questions and it’s fully within his rights to ask his ministers to review those actions. But we certainly will continue to support the Major Crimes Taskforce. We’ll continue to support the Special Investigations Unit. These activities are vitally important to Afghanistan’s future, and they need the support of the Afghan Government even as they work through and address procedural questions that might come into play along the way. So we’re fully understanding of the questions that President Karzai has raised. It is fully within his rights to review what’s been done. But clearly the Afghan Government needs to continue to show its commitment and to fight corruption within the Afghan society wherever these investigations would lead.

QUESTION: Sorry, one teeny follow-up. When did the Secretary speak to him?

MR. CROWLEY: I think last Tuesday.

QUESTION: P.J., there’s a report in Forbes that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque is going on a trip to the Middle East. It’s basically to bring peace – moderation, and peace, and understanding to the region. And the claim by his people is that it’s a U.S. Government-supported trip. Do you know or rather is the U.S. Government supporting this trip? And would there be any problem with that in light of the – that this could be used as a fundraising – also simultaneously for fundraising for a controversial project?

MR. CROWLEY: He is a distinguished Muslim cleric. We do have a program whereby through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau here at the State Department, we send people from Muslim communities here in this country around the world to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society. I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program. And it is to foster a greater understanding and outreach around the world among Muslim majority communities. But there are strict procedures as to the kind of activity that occurs during the course of this travel. I think this is exactly what we’ve presented it as. And we’ve done this many, many times with many leading figures since – over the past few years.

QUESTION: And is it just him and can you give me any guidance to the itinerary or the cost?

MR. CROWLEY: I think the itinerary is still being worked. And he is by no means the only Muslim religious figure in this country to participate in the program.

QUESTION: And how about just that last point about whether – there’s been reports in some Arabic language media that he plans to fundraise for the Islamic center and mosque overseas. Might he be –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I will double check. But that would not be something he could do as part of our program.



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