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Middle East Digest - August 11, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 11, 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 11, 2010

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1:36 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: They did talk about Iran, and the Secretary again stressed our openness to dialogue, but that we would continue to enforce sanctions and put pressure on Iran to come to the table and be prepared for constructive dialogue.

MR. CROWLEY: In Pakistan, you’ve heard a bit ago that the UN has announced a $460 million appeal for Pakistan. We have, as you know, already committed $55 million to this effort. Our Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration intends to provide an additional 16.25 million to UNHCR and to the ICRC to assist Pakistan’s flood victims. This funding should help support Red Cross relief distributions, including food, tents, and shelter, water purification, restoration of community water supplies, preventive health measures, and the like. And this – we obviously will look at the specifics of the UN appeal and I would expect that we’ll have more – a higher contribution to make as we understand exactly what is needed. I think over at the Pentagon this afternoon, you’ll hear an announcement there of the commitment of additional helicopters to the relief effort.

Next door in Afghanistan, the remains of four citizens killed in Afghanistan over the weekend are on their way home here to the United States. They’re on board a U.S. military aircraft; they’re accompanied by FBI personnel, and will be arriving back here in – I expect at Dover Air Force Base sometime hours from now. Two of the U.S. citizens killed will be laid to rest in Afghanistan.

Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman will leave Washington this afternoon. First, he’ll stop in Paris to confer with his French counterparts on Middle East issues and then he will move on to Iraq to – for – he’s been (inaudible) a couple of times to Iraq in recent weeks and will continue to discuss progress on the transformation of our relationship with Iraq, from one focused on security to civilian-led partnership based on shared interests.

The Secretary joined the President late this morning after the bilateral with the foreign minister of Argentina. She joined the President for a national security meeting on Iraq, and then after that, she just concluded a video teleconference with George Mitchell and – to get a full update from him about the meetings with President Abbas yesterday and Prime Minister Netanyahu today.

I think you heard from the Secretary in her press encounter this morning that we think we continue to make progress. There are still details that we are discussing with the parties. Yesterday, in addition to the SVTS yesterday, she continued her consultation with her counterparts in the region. Yesterday, she talked with Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan yesterday afternoon to talk about how to continue to push the parties towards direct negotiations.

Questions?

QUESTION: Yeah. What details are you still discussing with the parties?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – there are specific details regarding how direct negotiations would go forward, and we will be – continue to talk to the parties in the next couple of days. George Mitchell also met with Defense Minister Barak while he was in Israel; he will be coming back to the United States this evening. And we will continue our consultations with the Quartet members and other parties in the region, but we believe we continue to close in on direct negotiations; there’s still work to be done. And we will continue to press forward in the coming days until we get them into negotiations.

QUESTION: P.J., the Palestinian spokesman (inaudible) today said that the talk – that it was actually deadlocked. Can you share with us what are the daunting issues that are not moving these – the preparations forward?

MR. CROWLEY: I would not characterize the – our situation as deadlocked. You’ve heard public comments by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. They both indicate that they are ready to proceed into direct negotiations. We want – when that happens, we want them to be successful. There are some details regarding the negotiations themselves that we are still working through with both sides.

QUESTION: So would you say that there are some issues that have been overcome and we are likely to see an announcement on when the talks are likely to begin?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s still work to be done. We believe – through these meetings, as indicated yesterday, we believe we are closer to direct negotiations than we were last week. But we still have some details to work through and we will continue to press – work through these details, press as hard as we can to get the parties into those negotiations as soon as possible. We will continue to consult with the Quartet and others on how we can be as supportive as possible and to encourage the leaders to say yes and move forward.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Are we – I’m sorry, Charlie – are we closer today than we were yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And how will you work with the Quartet? Will there be a meeting, a phone call? Is – how is that going to happen?

MR. CROWLEY: I would expect the Secretary will have further consultations. Also, George Mitchell, as we indicated, will be in touch with his counterparts and we will – as we indicated yesterday, there’s likely to be a statement of support from the Quartet in the coming days. We will work through the elements of that statement with our partners and use whatever means that we can to demonstrate that we are supportive of the leaders as they contemplate taking this important step into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: You said that the work – that there’s still work to be done. Can you mention one subject out of all the subjects? Like, is it settlements? What exactly is the subject where the – we have these hiccups?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) No, I’m not going to go into any further details.

QUESTION: P.J., different question.

QUESTION: No, no, let’s stay here.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, stay – I’m sure we want to stay here for a while. Or maybe not. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no. I do. I just have – I just – yesterday, you put out a new Travel Warning for Israel, and I’m just wondering if – can any country complain about the travel advice that you give and have it changed? Or is that just a privilege that’s accorded to Israel?

QUESTION: Whoa.

MR. CROWLEY: Whoa. (Laughter.) Clearly, a particular country made its feelings known on this issue, but in truth, what we had was a situation – a specific set of facts where one embassy recommended one course of action, a neighboring embassy represented a different course of action. We reevaluated the Travel Warning since – and there were – a particular incident, one incident, was added to the Travel Warning for Israel. It was not added to the Travel Warning for Jordan.

We stepped back to review this, and said, in essence, we have a number of ways of making risks known to American citizens. One is through a formal Travel Warning; the other is through Warden Messages to our own personnel as well as American citizens who live in that country. We have always had a pledge that we would – if we had information that was of importance to our own diplomatic family, we’d share the information with other American citizens who could be similarly affected.

We decided, upon further review, to use a football term, that the Warden Message was the appropriate way, because we were talking about one specific incident, to communicate this threat information and that’s why we withdrew the language from the Israeli Travel Warning.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t change the fact that a rocket did land in Eilat.

MR. CROWLEY: It is not – it does not change the --

QUESTION: Right, it doesn’t change the --

MR. CROWLEY: It doesn’t change the risk calculation at all.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. CROWLEY: We normally – and in retrospect, perhaps we did not have as vigorous a review of the proposal as was appropriate. So you had one episode, it was reflected in a Travel Warning. Normally, Travel Warnings reflect a broader trend as opposed to one particular incident. We haven’t changed our assessment of risk. We’ve only said that because we had a similar set of circumstances being treated different ways by neighboring countries, that the appropriate – as it stands now, the appropriate way to communicate this risk was through a Warden Message, not a Travel Warning.

QUESTION: Right. But I was under the impression that the responsibility of the State Department was for the safety and security of American people and to let them know when there are threats.

MR. CROWLEY: True.

QUESTION: And now you --

MR. CROWLEY: All true.

QUESTION: Now you’ve removed – the word “Eilat” does not even appear in the new Travel Warning.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s true.

QUESTION: And it is still dangerous for Americans to go there, you believe?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s true.

QUESTION: So why would you take it out?

MR. CROWLEY: We took it out because we felt that a Warden Message was the more appropriate way to communicate a particular risk factor for Eilat.

QUESTION: Well, if I’m an American citizen planning to go on a Red Sea vacation and I’m going to go to Eilat, and I go to your website and look at the Travel Warning, I won’t see anything about it. And yet you still think that there’s a risk and you’re still concerned about people being there. So I’m not sure I understand how it is that you allow a political complaint to alter advice to Americans.

MR. CROWLEY: And I’m not denying that there was a complaint by Israel. I’m also saying that we believe that in retrospect, we did not vigorously vet the change to the Travel Warning within the State Department that we made two weeks ago. But should we see that – a trend vis-à-vis Eilat, we will not hesitate to adapt our Travel Warning as we see – as appropriate. But for the moment, our policy has always been, if you’ve got an isolated incident, you tend to communicate that risk information locally as opposed to nationally. That’s the assessment that we made. We stand by the assessment. We’ve made the change. We think it’s appropriate to balance off the actions that – our assessment based on Israel, our assessment based on Jordan, and so we made the adjustment that we did.

QUESTION: New topic; can we go back to the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: P.J., Abbas was warned by – to help push him into the talks, was warned by President Obama – he was given a green light by the Arab League. And yet he stubbornly hangs onto the notion or the request for terms of preference, time table, ‘67 borders and so on. So when the Secretary of State spoke with Senator Mitchell today, did he convey how soft has Abbas gotten over the past four or five hours?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure he did, but because I’m here and she did the (inaudible) teleconference at the White House, I am not privy to what Senator Mitchell told her specifically. I have talked to Senator Mitchell’s team today. We believe that we made progress, as I think Senator Mitchell said, in the region. We thought it was a productive conversation. There are specific details about the negotiation that we are still working through. So I would say, sitting here today, we are confident that both the Palestinians and the Israelis are prepared for direct negotiations. That is an issue that is before them now. Senator Mitchell is working through what are the remaining details that have to be resolved and understood that allows the leaders to confidently say yes. I think there will be consultations by the United States with those who are supporting the process. I’m sure there will be ongoing consultations within the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government over the next few days. But I think we are down to the – to some specific details that, if we can resolve those, we think will overcome remaining hesitation.

QUESTION: Do you expect this Quartet statement or endorsement, or whatever you’re calling it, to spell out these kind of details or terms of reference, for instance, that President Abbas is –

MR. CROWLEY: There is – we are in consultations with our partners in the Quartet. We haven’t arrived at a final statement at this point. So it’s hard for me to say it will be – it will contain XYZ, but not ABC. I just don’t –

QUESTION: And how long after you kind of get the green light and you make this endorsement, do you expect the negotiations to start in earnest?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the first thing we have to do is to get the parties to commit formally to negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, you say you’re very close; it’s moments away.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we are very close. There is still work to do.

QUESTION: After you – there is still work to do before you get the okay, or still work today after – before the talks?

MR. CROWLEY: There is still work to do get to get the formal commitment from the parties to enter direct negotiations. And at that point, we will then begin to determine with the parties how exactly is this going to work. What will be –

QUESTION: Well, isn’t that what you’re doing now?

MR. CROWLEY: We have been doing some of that, but we are – a part of this is just helping understand if they say yes, what are they saying yes to. And then there are details as where will the negotiations take place and who will be involved. So there are some details inside the process itself that we still are working through. There are also some other details to determine when will the first meeting take place, who will be involved, where will it happen.

QUESTION: So you expect it to be –

MR. CROWLEY: This will take a little bit of time to –

QUESTION: You expect it to be more than just the parties and perhaps Senator Mitchell. It sounds like you’re expecting other parties to be at the table as well. Not at the negotiating, but for the kickoff.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the United States has played a role in this process and we, of course, will make ourselves available to be a part of this. There could be others that want to be involved as well. These are the kind – so I would say there are multiple things we’re working through. We are still working through the basis for the negotiation to go forward. But we’re also contemplating precisely how will the negotiations unfold, what our expectations in terms of timelines, what our milestones that we hope can be accomplished during the course of this initial phase of the negotiation. So we are working through all of these details. And we will have follow-on discussions with the parties in the next few days and then we will need to look to how can we best support them as they now really have a fundamental question in front of them. We’re at that point where it’s are you ready. And we, in essence, posed that question. And we’ve got indication from both sides as to what they think they need to be able to get to yes.

QUESTION: And P.J., since you’re so close, why isn’t Senator Mitchell staying in the region to knock out these final details during the (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: He’s coming back for further consultations and, as you know, we have – he has a deputy, David Hale, who is in the region and has his own dialogue on an ongoing basis with the parties and with others who are supporting the process.

QUESTION: P.J., an American official has said that the negotiations will be held in Egypt or the United States in the presence of senior Arab officials. What can you say about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, Michel, a fair question. As I said, a discussion that we’re having inside the process is where would a first meeting be held and who would be there. Those are questions we’re working through as we speak.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead, Eli.

QUESTION: Okay, first – thanks. The Russian oil company, LUKOIL, has announced that it’s going to be in a partnership with Chinese oil company, Zhuhai Zhenrong, to sell refined petroleum to Iran. Do you have any comment on this? Is this evidence of reset? And will the new secondary sanctions passed by Congress apply in this case?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me take the question. That’s – I don’t know about that specific (inaudible). We’ll see what we have on that.

QUESTION: I have a related question.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: AFP is reporting that Russia deployed S-300 air defense missiles –

QUESTION: That was my question, too.

QUESTION: -- in the disputed region of Abkhazia, which the U.S. has recognized as part of Georgian territory, do you have a comment on --

MR. CROWLEY: I believe it’s our understanding that Russia has had S-300 missiles in Abkhazia for the past two years.

QUESTION: Well, is that a good thing?

QUESTION: No, but it’s not news.

MR. CROWLEY: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So the fact that they – if it wasn’t a good thing that they had them there in the first place, the fact that they put more in isn’t equally --

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no, no, no. No, I don’t know that that report is necessarily true. There have been systems in Abkhazia for two years. We can’t confirm whether they have added to those systems or not. So I – we will look into that. But just – this is by itself is not necessarily a new development. That system has been in place for some time.

QUESTION: Georgia related? It’s related to that. Over the weekend, Senator McCain called for selling radars and defense (inaudible) to the Georgians. Does the State Department have an opinion on that?

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the two questions on the Indian subcontinent. One, the Pakistani press is very mad and really – in Pakistan and also here, because of the shoes thrown at the Pakistani president at a public rally in the UK. The Pakistani Government has banned the freedom of the press in Pakistan – ARY Television, Geo Television, and a number of newspapers have been banned and threatened. So in the meantime, at one hand, you are promoting democracy in Pakistan, and at the second hand, Pakistan is your ally. So where is this double standard? How can we have the freedom of the press and democracy in Pakistan at the same time?

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Goyal, that’s all – you always ask interesting questions. I’m not sure completely what I understand what the shoe has to do with freedom of the press.

QUESTION: Why don’t you just comment on the closure of – on the possible closure of Geo and the threatening of the director there?

MR. CROWLEY: We ourselves, who have been to Pakistan, have witnessed and interacted with – among the most vibrant media that exist anywhere in the world. The Pakistani press is very aggressive. We always have – take issues with particular stories that may or may not have a basis in fact, but we recognize that the dynamism that we do see in Pakistani society that a vibrant and free press contributes significantly to that. We certainly think it would be a mistake for the Pakistani civilian government to follow the press intimidation that was present during its predecessor.

QUESTION: But, P.J., one more just to follow up, have you protested or asked or have you asked anybody in Pakistan officially that you do not agree with what they have been doing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I will – I have – I talk on a regular basis with the Embassy in Islamabad. Let me take the question of whether there have been any new episodes or whether it potentially affected one of the more recognizable media outlets in Pakistan. Ask me the question tomorrow, I’ll see – I’ll just get a perspective on that.

QUESTION: Just --

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: On Pakistan, the Taliban – Pakistan Taliban has issued a statement asking people not to accept U.S. aid with flood-related issues. Has it affected any of your operations, relief operations in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: And secondly, you said 16.25 million was today, so is in addition to 55 million yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And thirdly, yesterday the figures were given about the text messaging was around $10,000.

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’ve added – it’s now over $12,000.

QUESTION: 12,000 means around 1,200 people have made donations.

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: Now that the UN has declared this as a more greater calamity than Haiti earthquake and tsunami, do you think the response that you’re receiving from the people of U.S. is much less than Haiti and the tsunami and why is it so?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very good question. I mean, I think the – I don’t think it’s fair to necessarily compare the two. But certainly we would encourage, since we have a very substantial Pakistani diaspora here in this country, they obviously have links back to families back home. They, I think, through a variety of means are trying to find ways in which they can contribute to this. So we’re in the early stages. Eventually over months, the private appeals through the texting programs got to, I think, $30 million – more than $30 million for Haiti. We would hope to see an appropriate public reaction and public support for the people of Pakistan, and we will continue to make this as visible as possible. We talk about it every day.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It’s Mr. Feltman’s visit. P.J., as we have seen in the last eight summers, August brings with it high temperatures and high violence, especially as we come closer to the anniversary of the bombing at the UN headquarter and the deadlock seems to be getting deadlier in this case, is Mr. Feltman – will he be pushing the current prime minister to become a bit more flexible, especially that he’s been dropped by most coalitions as their candidate for premiership?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, you made three points. Let me go through them: Is it hot in Baghdad? It’s absolutely hot in Baghdad. (Laughter.) Is there a spike in violence? There is. We anticipated this as we get closer to September 1st and the completion of the transition that we’ve talked about for some time. That said, as we have also indicated, and as I think Dan Benjamin and Russ Travers indicated last week, that while we do see ongoing episodes – I think yesterday there was a significant shell that found its way into the embassy compound in Baghdad. Thankfully, I’m not aware of any significant injuries. But there are – there is an ongoing level of violence in Iraq. That said, it is lower than the height of the conflict in 2005, 2006.

On the political situation, there are – there is dialogue going on among the political parties. We would like to see that dialogue intensify to – and reach a point where Iraq can form a new government. We are – we continue to encourage Iraqi leaders to focus on the national interest and not necessarily the short-term political interest. That will be something that Jeff Feltman will be talking to Iraqi leaders about. It is something that Ambassador Chris Hill, who will be coming back to the United States and retiring later this month, has been talking to Iraqi leaders. It is something that the Vice President, in particular, has been talking steadily to Iraqi leaders about.

So we are encouraging them. But this is an Iraqi process, and ultimately there has to be the emergence of an Iraqi Government that reflects the will of all Iraqis and represents all Iraqis. We can’t impose a solution here. It has to grow out of the political process that now does exist in Iraq.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there is real politics going on here. There are discussions among the various factions, including the top two factions. They haven’t resolved it yet, but this is the kind of political horse trading that you see in a parliamentary system anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: But many Iraqis, senior Iraqi officials, including the foreign minister, have said that they are looking for a more intensified U.S. engagement in terms of helping them move to the point where they could form a government and that they were looking for this kind of more intense involvement. Is Ambassador Feltman’s trip – or Assistant Secretary Feltman’s trip evidence of that? Is he going to be kind of really – is he going for an extended kind of hands-on diplomatic engagement to try to move them along? And is this a pretext for possibly Secretary Clinton getting more involved at some point?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t – I mean, ultimately, we can be helpful, but we can’t make these decisions for Iraqi leaders. We can’t bring everybody in the room and say, okay, you’re the prime minister, you’re the secretary of defense, you’re – these are decisions that Iraq has to make for itself. We can be encouraging; we can perhaps find ways to enhance the dialogue and the discussions that are already going on --

QUESTION: Is that what he’s going to be doing?

MR. CROWLEY: -- within Iraq. I mean, as Assistant Secretary Feltman has done on his previous trips to Iraq, he will touch all the political bases. He’ll encourage them to move forward. But while we have been engaged and continue to be engaged on a regular basis, ultimately, these – the resolution of this political process has to be done by Iraqis and for Iraqis. It can’t be done by the United States.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up.

QUESTION: Just one more – just one more on this, just one more on this. I understand what you’re saying, that the Iraqis have to be the ones to make the decisions. But it does sound like he’s going there to kind of crack some skulls, if you will, and get them to intensify – he’s going to be intense – trying to intensify the diplomacy to get them to come to an agreement. I mean, he’s not going there to just make meetings; he’s going there for a specific purpose, isn’t it – to try and help them move farther along to form a government?

MR. CROWLEY: As you know, I don’t think that’s necessarily Jeff Feltman’s role to go crack skulls. He – we will have a firm message to Iraqi leaders that it’s been – it’s coming up on six months and Iraq needs a new government. And the sooner they can arrive at a political solution, the better.

QUESTION: P.J., just a quick follow-up on the Awakening Council. As – one of the elements that really augmented the surge was the creation of the Awakening Council and paying them regularly. Now, they have not been receiving their pay, and in fact, al-Qaida is coming through the back door trying to pay the Awakening Council and, in fact, increase the violence and thrust Iraq back into sectarian violence. So what are you doing in terms of urging the Iraqi Government to pay them as they have promised?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is now an Iraq responsibility. This is something that we started and it’s a program now that Iraq has a responsibility to continue. And it needs to continue its outreach to all of the communities within Iraq. That’s the only way that you build, ultimately, an inclusive and effective government and an inclusive and secure and stable society. But this is where Iraq is now stepping up and making its own decisions and – on its economy, on its security, on its – on civil society. We will be there to help. We have a long-term commitment to Iraq. As our military forces have come down in numbers, now to fit below 50,000, they are no longer patrolling the streets of Iraq. That responsibility is now with the Iraqi Government.

But we are going to have a significant civilian effort in Iraq. We’re going to have a presence across the country. We will continue to be engaged in helping to build the capacity of the Iraqi Government. One of our core responsibilities will be to continue police training. The military contingent that remains in Iraq for the next 16 months will be focused on ongoing military training. Over time, we’ll define the nature of our long-term relationship with Iraq further.

But we are committed to this. We can help Iraq. But we are at the point where now, Iraq is – and in fact, is stepping up and taking more and more responsibility for its own affairs.

QUESTION: There was an extensive article today in The Washington Post just about that very thing that you just said, about the fact that, yes, you’re trying to ramp up your diplomatic presence, increase police training, and other things, but you can’t afford it and that you’re not going to have the funding that you need to do all of the things that you just said. Could you tell us your thoughts on that?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in discussions with Congress about the long-term civilian requirements for Iraq. There was substantial funding in the recently passed 2010 supplemental, and yet it was about $600,000 – $600 million below what we had requested. We are in discussion with the Congress about the nature of our long-term commitment. One of the important variables in our ongoing presence will be security. In virtually any other country around the world, we rely on – we provide our own security, but we rely on host nation capabilities to help us secure our embassies.

In Afghanistan and in Iraq, we’re in unique situations right now where we will rely on security contractors for some time. This is the kind of role that is actually appropriate for security contractors where we would anticipate, over time, the security situation in Iraq will improve. But for the moment, as our diplomats will go out around the country and maintain the presence that we’ve had in Iraq going back to 2003, they will need a significant amount of security to have the kind of movements and do the work that we need our diplomats and other experts to do.

This costs money. We’ve requested about $2.5 billion in funding for FY ’11, which Congress is currently evaluating and we’ll continue to make our case, but anticipating in a tough budget environment that the funding that we requested, not all of it may be forthcoming. We are working through different policy options. We will be able to perform our mission in Iraq, but obviously, resources matter in terms of the breadth of that – of those programs.

QUESTION: Can I get back to just the earlier question about Anbar?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the Guardian story that that question was somewhat based on track with State Department reporting that there’s a danger that the sheikhs of Anbar that fought bloody war with al-Qaida could be joining al-Qaida now? Is that tracking with what you understand to be the case?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Sunni connection to al-Qaida and the historical violence in Iraq is fairly well-documented. The Awakening program, we think, was a critical turning point in Iraq and it is important for the Iraqi Government to be seen as supporting all of the major communities in Iraq. That’s part of the political process that is going on now, is you need a government that is inclusive and is seen as acting on – to benefit all Iraqis, not just a majority.

So – but this is something that is important to the future of Iraq and we – this is something that we continue to push Iraq to support.

QUESTION: We going to – I don’t want to belabor it, but can you say whether you think there is a risk or that you have seen a phenomenon of Anbar Awakening leadership entertaining the notion of rejoining al-Qaida or at least aligning with them?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, is there a risk? There’s always a risk. The security situation in Iraq has improved, but there is still a significant level of ongoing violence. Thankfully, it is not at a level that we’ve seen previously.

As I’ve said before, what is, I think, remarkable about Iraq is that notwithstanding the five to six months where Iraq continues to work through the formation of a new government, it is remarkable what you have not seen – that while there have been incidents of violence, and certainly the people who have been responsible for that violence are trying to recreate the kind of sectarian conflict that we tragically saw in 2005-2006, the fact is we haven’t seen that.

Now, is there still a – more violence in Iraq than we’d like to see? Yes. Is there a risk of greater violence? I would say probably yes.

QUESTION: But by you saying it’s important for Iraq to be seen as supporting all the communities, and pointing to the Sunni awakening as a critical turning point, it sounds as if you’re suggesting that they’re not being seen as supporting all the communities and that you are worried that this community is becoming disenfranchised.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it will be important for the new government to continue to have a relationship with the major communities and bring them into the –

QUESTION: Well, do they not have one with that community now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – this is a responsibility that’s up to Iraq. To the extent that there’s a story that says some within the awakening community may be disillusioned with what’s happened, that is something that Iraq has to pay attention to and to continue to develop that relationship.

QUESTION: P.J., but if you have this huge presence in Iraq and you are not able to help the Iraqi leaders or to push them to form a new government, what will be the situation after the withdrawal, do you think?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think Chris Hill is doing some farewell interviews. I heard one that he did this morning in which he reminded that this is the largest embassy that we have anywhere in the world. So we have a – we will have a substantial presence in Iraq and we’re committed to a long-term partnership that is civilian-led as opposed to being military-led. But we want to make sure that we have a presence and visibility around Iraq. We can’t do our mission in Iraq just by sitting behind the walls of the embassy in Baghdad. We want to be able to establish consulates and embassy branch offices in various parts of the country so that we can have regular contact, but not just with officials in Baghdad, but with officials in the key provinces within Iraq. That’s how we construct our relations with any country anywhere in the world.

We want to have the same kind of diplomatic relationship and diplomatic presence in Iraq that we have in all of the neighboring countries or in many countries around the world. That will have – we’ll have to build that presence over time. That will take resources. And we’ve made a substantial investment in Iraq; we want to see that investment pay dividends in terms of relations between the United States and Iraq, but also stability and prosperity across the Middle East. So we will be making this case to Congress in the coming days and weeks, that in order for us to do the things that we want to do on the civilian side of our strategy, we’re going to need to have the support of Congress to be able to carry that out.

QUESTION: P.J., you said – you had said you had embassies and consulates in all of Iraq’s neighbors. When did the embassy in Tehran open?

QUESTION: It’s just a consulate right now.

QUESTION: My question, P.J., on the council – do you have – are there any options to give direct aid to the councils – the United States to give direct aid to the councils? Because it is a very serious issue. Mr. Maliki’s government, since day one, has treated them with suspicion or were there – when they accepted them, it was really a grudging acceptance and so on. They cut off salary, cut them by half. They then for themselves – it’s a very fluid situation.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand the issue. This was something that we were doing. That program has transitioned to the Government of Iraq. We continue to talk to the Government of Iraq about a lot of issues, including this one.

QUESTION: About the –

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, P.J., the Lebanese defense minister has said today, whoever sets as a condition that the aid, the military aid, should not be used to protect Lebanon’s land, people, and borders from the enemy can keep their money. He added to welcome any unconditional offer of aid to the Lebanese army, and if anyone announces they have decided to halt that aid, they are free to make that choice. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are committed to our relationship with Lebanon. It serves our interest, it serves Lebanon’s interests, it serves the region’s interests. We continue to believe that investing in Lebanon’s Government and investing in Lebanon’s military serves as a stabilizing influence and expands and strengthens Lebanon’s sovereignty.

We have – there are questions that have been raised on the Hill regarding the nature of our assistance. As we indicated yesterday, we will be talking to Hill leaders, answering the questions that they have. We’ve had meetings with Hill leaders to go over this issue in the last 24 hours or so, and we think that as we work through this everyone will see that the program that we have in place for Lebanon is – should be continued to be supported.

QUESTION: About safety of Americans, after the cloud burst and the rains in Leh, in North India, can you give us a figure –

QUESTION: Let me finish this.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on this. But are there conditions on this aids to the Lebanese army?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the military assistance that we provide to Lebanon, there are conditions placed on any military assistance that we give to any country in the world in terms of how the weapons will be used. And we do have regular inspections to make sure that the assistance that we provide to Lebanon or other countries is in concert with our defense agreements. So nothing that we do is condition-free, but obviously, we think that the nature of our training programs, the nature of the equipment that we do provide to Lebanon* is in our interest, it’s in Lebanon’s interest, and this is a relationship that we hope to strengthen and – but we’ll continue to answer the questions that have been raised because of this recent incident.

QUESTION: But are there conditions that these arms – not to be used against Israel?

MR. CROWLEY: We place conditions on how our military aid is delivered, and there are similar conditions in terms of how Israel is able to use the (inaudible).

QUESTION: P.J., could you shed some light on the kind of political maneuvering that Secretary Clinton did last week to dissuade the Israelis from striking back? It was reported today and last week that the Israelis were intent on striking back, (inaudible) so to speak, that they were actually –

MR. CROWLEY: Striking back?

QUESTION: With the Lebanese.

QUESTION: In Lebanon. In Lebanon, striking back to avenge the killing of a colonel in the Israeli army, and that Mr. Barak spoke with Foreign Minister Kouchner and with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and they dissuaded him from doing so.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll go back and check. I’m not aware of any call that the Secretary had immediately after the incident. I’ll double check.

QUESTION: P.J., yesterday you took a question on the reports of the U.S. pressuring allies on WikiLeaks. Those reports persist. I’m wondering if you have any more information about whether or not this is true.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve touched a lot of bases over the last 24 hours and I’m not aware that anyone at the Department of State has had that kind of conversation with a foreign government.

QUESTION: But are you hoping that these governments will take a look at how this has impacted their own national security and decide to take criminal action?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I think, the Attorney General has indicated, we are evaluating – well, step back further – we are obviously investigating directly the leak itself. That investigation is led by the Department of Defense. We are supporting that investigation. But the Attorney General has indicated that we will aggressively pursue any case where we believe our laws have been broken. I would think that any other country that has been similarly affected by this action would consider similar steps, but those are decisions for individual countries to make.

QUESTION: One of the servers that’s used in these WikiLeaks things is in Sweden. Have you approached the Swedes to take that down?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I mean, I can just speak for the – we have not approached any country to encourage them to do anything. Most of our conversations have been – as I’ve indicated, we’ve had conversations with a variety of countries both explaining the leak, listening to concerns that we’ve had. But I’m not aware that we’ve had any conversation where we have said, “Hey, you should look at prosecuting person X, Y, or Z.

QUESTION: On WikiLeaks – has WikiLeaks responded to your call of not publishing any further data? You made an appeal last week.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that we’ve had any direct contact with WikiLeaks.

QUESTION: And also, the foreign minister of Afghanistan has said they’ll review their foreign – country’s foreign policy after going through the WikiLeaks data. What do you have to say on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is – remains our central concern, that we cooperate extensively with countries around the world, we share information back and forth. Any time that information is released publicly to those who do not have access to classified information. We are concerned about the compromise of that information and the compromise of those sources. And that’s why we say that we have great concern that this negatively impacts our national security.

QUESTION: P.J., this morning the Secretary and Rich Verma said that they were confident or hopeful – perhaps confident that more than one Republican senator would support the START treaty when it comes up again. Can you be any more specific about how many, who, what other Republicans you think will sign up?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t give you a number. All I can say is that we’ve had, as Rich said this morning, conversations with just about every Senate office on this issue. And we believe strongly that once we’ve gone through the next few weeks, continue to work with individual senators, address the questions that they’ve legitimately raised, we have very high confidence that, number one, the treaty will pass and be ratified, and number two, that there will be Republicans who join Democrats in a bipartisan commitment to this treaty.

As the Secretary said, we certainly would like to see a vote that rivals previous votes where you had unanimity or near-unanimity across party lines regardless of whether that treaty was advanced by a Democratic or a Republican administration. We have a strong bipartisan tradition on this issue going back many years. We’d like to see that continue. But we do believe that as the treaty goes through a committee and reaches the floor in the next month, that you’ll have commitments from Republicans who will see that this is in our national interest.

QUESTION: When you say that you’ve talked to Senate offices, has the Secretary specifically spoke to any senators?

MR. CROWLEY: She has had a number of senators here, both Democrats and Republicans, to address their concerns, answer questions about missile defense, about our negotiating record, about modernization. So yes, she has been directly involved.

QUESTION: P.J., the UN released a report on 2010 civilian casualties in Afghanistan saying that 31 percent have largely increased due to insurgents. Meanwhile, the U.S. has reduced their casualties by half. Do you believe that this will help to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people even if they’re probably not even aware of this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, I think we have done a pretty remarkable job over our presence in Afghanistan. This is the ninth year of our presence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a country that has always welcomed foreign forces onto its soil. The –

QUESTION: Has not always? Have they ever? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Reinforces my point. But over the past year, we have seen a slight decline in Afghan support. But broadly speaking, the support by the Afghan people for the presence of U.S. international forces has remained remarkably strong. We do understand how civilian casualties can affect Afghan public opinion. We completely understand that. We have been responsive and we’ve become more responsive through the efforts of General McChrystal and now the efforts of General Petraeus.

We’re – if we tragically see civilian casualties, and there’ve been a couple of episodes in the last few days, we aggressively investigate. If we’re responsible, we freely admit that and we immediately interact with families of the village and make compensation for civilian casualties. That is certainly in contrast to the Taliban who are now increasingly responsible for civilian casualties and we see no comparable actions by the Taliban. So we do think that as people are able to see what we’re doing and the care that we try to take as our operations continue, that in that contrast, people will see that we are true partners with the Afghan people and the Afghan Government. And that is certainly – the Taliban have a different purpose, a different strategy and ultimately do not have the interest of the Afghan people at stake.

QUESTION: On another topic, can you just tell us if there are any more details on Imam Feisal Rauf’s trip to the Middle East?

MR. CROWLEY: None beyond what I announced yesterday.

QUESTION: Do you have –

QUESTION: Can you say what days he’s going to be in what countries just for our foreign outlets –

MR. CROWLEY: Let me see what I can find out.

QUESTION: Back to START for a second.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you gotten a commitment from the Senate majority leader for time on the floor for a vote? I know that Senator Kerry has said he wants to bring it up, but is there going to be time? It’s a packed schedule in September.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I know that. But all I know is Senator Kerry has announced in the middle of September when the treaty will go – it will be marked up by the committee. Beyond that, I’ll defer to the leader’s office.

QUESTION: But you don’t know that there will be a floor vote?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, as the Secretary said, we have confidence that the treaty will be presented to the floor and ratified by the Senate this fall.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)



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