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Middle East Digest- August 12, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 12, 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 12, 2010

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1:41 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Another crowded house today. Welcome to the State Department. Just very quickly at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

On assistance to Pakistan, to date, approximately $76 million in assistance has been provided to the U.S. – or been provided by the U.S. to the flood-affected populations in Pakistan. As of this morning, the additional money that the U.S. is providing is to Save the Children, and that’s 4.1 million that will be used for food vouchers, enabling flood victims to purchase food in their local markets.

Also in terms of – and with regard to latest developments, two U.S. Marine Corps Super Stallion helicopters were en route to Ghazi Airbase in Pakistan today in support of flood relief efforts, but they had to be diverted to Chaklala Airbase near Islamabad because of the weather. These two aircraft are the first of 19 helicopters that were ordered to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates yesterday. The remaining aircraft should be arriving over the next few days and will include, in total, three U.S. Navy Sea Dragons, four U.S. Marine Corps Super Stallions, as well as 12 U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knight helicopters.

QUESTION: On WikiLeaks, there was some back and forth yesterday at the briefing about WikiLeaks, what the U.S. Government may or may not be doing. P.J. said there had been no direct contact with WikiLeaks about what it might do next or stopping them from doing anything. Has there been any indirect contact with WikiLeaks?

MR. TONER: I believe what P.J. addressed was this story that we were somehow talking to other governments about pursuing --

QUESTION: That was a separate question, but if you have any –

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any other contacts, either indirect or direct, that we’ve had with WikiLeaks. But obviously, the whole matter is under investigation.

QUESTION: But is there any effort being made by the government – the State Department, in particular – to do anything to stop them from publishing again?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, publicly, we’ve made very clear that we view the publishing of these communications very seriously and as a very serious breach and a security breach to our soldiers and diplomats overseas. As far as what you’re talking about, direct communication, I’m not aware of any efforts that have been made to directly contact WikiLeaks.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious why nothing is being done, apparently, to stop them from doing it again since –

MR. TONER: Well, there’s an investigation going on to the actual --

QUESTION: Well, that’s a step backward on what happened.

MR. TONER: Right. That’s a separate piece, I understand that. Right, right.

QUESTION: Is there nothing being done to looking forward to the next possible --

MR. TONER: I mean, it’s a good question, Bob. I can look into whether we’re going to do any kind of direct outreach to WikiLeaks. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Or to coordinate with other governments who might be able to stop him from traveling on –

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question as to what concrete steps we may take in the future.

QUESTION: Beside issuing a statement on WikiLeaks, I mean, beside just making statements and so on, are there really any legal proceedings that you can follow to stop that?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, again – I mean, as Bob correctly stated, there’s – it’s – there’s two different matters here. There’s the actual security breach that took place, the leaking of these documents, and that is under investigation, obviously. But as to doing something to somehow prevent WikiLeaks from publishing them, I’m not sure. I would probably refer you to the Department of Justice and what legal steps might be available.

QUESTION: And just to follow on –

QUESTION: Are they – the Department of Justice, are they coordinating with you or are you coordinating with them on any kind of legal proceedings?

MR. TONER: Well, of course, we’re coordinating on how we view this process as it’s moving forward.

QUESTION: Under the pretext that they do compromise the security of the United States? Because obviously – I mean they did the –

MR. TONER: Obviously, they do compromise the security of the United States.

QUESTION: Mark, now --

QUESTION: One of the leading –

MR. TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. One of the leading generals in Iraq said that contrary to the SOFA agreement, that he didn’t think that U.S. forces could leave before 2020 versus 2011. Has there been any diplomatic conversation about that, and what’s our – what’s the thought on that?

MR. TONER: Right. Sorry, just to ask you the question again, you said an Iraqi general?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. TONER: -- said that? Yeah. Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: Actually the chief of staff of the Iraqi army.

MR. TONER: Right, chief of staff of the Iraqi army was --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. TONER: Well, look, I’m not going to – he’s entitled to his opinions, and I understand they were his opinions. Everyone recognizes that there’s a complex security environment in Iraq today. That said, we believe that Iraq’s armed forces are growing more capable every day. They’ve come a long way. There’s still a way to go. We’re going to continue to work with them, training them and advising them. And the bottom line is we would never let a security vacuum develop in Iraq. And I would just harken back to the – to what the President said, as we – under the – we’ve seen steady progress and this has been – allowed us to begin a new phase in our relationship with Iraq. So we have seen positive gains and we’re going to continue to work with Iraqi forces, and we’re still on target to meet the President’s deadline.

QUESTION: Was there any diplomatic conversation after that?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: But to follow up on this point, I mean, General Zebari held that press conference to actually speak about how ready the Iraqi army was and everybody talks about 665,000 member force and so on. And then he comes up with this thing and says “Had I been asked” – those were his words – “Had I been asked about withdrawal, I would have advised the Americans against it.” So does that put a damper in any way on the plans or does it really put it in a bad light, so to speak?

MR. TONER: Again, he’s entitled to his opinion. He gave his opinion, his assessment. We’re working to train and develop Iraq’s forces. As I just said, they’ve come a long way, there is still a way to go, but we’re still on track to meet the President’s commitment.

QUESTION: But Mark, don’t you see that there is a great deal of miscommunications? This is Iraq’s top military officer.

MR. TONER: Look, again, as I just said, there’s – it’s a complex security environment. There’s a lot of opinions and he’s entitled to his about the status of the state of Iraqi security forces. We believe that we’re making progress and that we’re on target.

QUESTION: Do you feel Iran is blocking the formation of a new government in Iraq?

MR. TONER: I have no comment on that. I mean, I – we’ve been public in urging Iraq to move forward in the formation of a government.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic. Can you tell us in coming --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq for --

MR. TONER: Sure thing. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: In the north, there was an incident yesterday where the PKK apparently blew up certain facilities in – on Turkish territory, and the Turks are again saying that they’re going to hold them responsible and tensions are rising. Are you coordinating with the Turkish Government and with the government of the northern region of Kurdistan?

MR. TONER: Yes. I don’t know about this specific incident, but we’ve been very public in our acknowledgement that we do work with Turkey and with Kurdistan or the – Iraqi Government and we share a common enemy in the PKK.

QUESTION: What do you do exactly to sort of diffuse tensions in this case?

MR. TONER: Well, we coordinate and we talk to each other and we communicate with each other, and that helps diffuse tensions.

QUESTION: There will be a meeting today at 2:30 --

MR. TONER: Apologize. Go ahead in back and then I’ll --

QUESTION: Just a follow-up question. There will be a meeting today in the State Department --

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- on Turkey. One of the subject is PKK issue? What’s the content of this meeting?

MR. TONER: This is a long-scheduled meeting. We do these all the time. They’re kind of deep policy dives on important policy issues, of which clearly, Turkey is one. And it’s just a chance for a, really, in-house discussion of a given issue.

QUESTION: Will Iran be coming up?

MR. TONER: It’s in-house. My understanding is that it’s in-house.

QUESTION: Will Iran be coming up in the meeting with Turkey?

MR. TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: Iran will be coming up with the meeting in Turkey – with Turkey?

MR. TONER: I can’t predict, I mean, other than what are the major issues in our relationship with Turkey. But again, this is an in-house discussion and it’s one of several or many that we’ve had on given issues that are of vital importance to our foreign policy.

QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) who’s going to be attending to this meeting?

MR. TONER: No, I really can’t. I mean, it’s just an in-house discussion and I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not going to talk about the participants or the content.

QUESTION: And when did you schedule this meeting?

MR. TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: When this meeting has been scheduled?

MR. TONER: You mean for how long it’s been scheduled?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: I have no idea. But, I mean, again, it’s not a one-off deal. It’s part of many – again, I can get a direct number, but it’s one of several too many policy discussions we’ve been having. It’s not just this one-off discussion on Turkey policy.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Any update on your talks with the leaders of Congress to unfreeze the assistance – the assistance to the Lebanese army?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Turkey?

MR. TONER: We can stay on Turkey. Who wants to stay on Turkey? Sure, Josh.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the hold placed by Senator Brownback on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the ambassador to Turkey?

MR. TONER: I do not. I’ll take the question. I don’t have any information on that. Thanks, Josh.

Actually, can I go to him and then to you? Thanks. Sorry. You had your hand up.

QUESTION: What’s – do you have an update on your talks with the leaders of Congress to unfreeze the assistance to the Lebanese army?

MR. TONER: I don’t have any update. What I can say is that we’re in touch with Congress on this issue, and obviously, we’re working with them to address their concerns related to it. And in order to – obviously to address some of their concerns, we’re – as we do with a lot of our security assistance programs, we’re going to review that in the case of Lebanon.

QUESTION: You’re going to review it?

QUESTION: Do congressional leaders agree with you that --

MR. TONER: Yes, we’re going to review it.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) and training the Lebanese army is actually part of U.S. national interests?

MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask Congress. We believe it’s in the vital interest, national interests.

QUESTION: Did you discuss that with Congress?

MR. TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: Do you raise this issue with Congress?

MR. TONER: Clearly, we do.

QUESTION: You mean you are going to investigate the --

MR. TONER: We’re going to review – no, no, we’re going to review our security assistance programs, which we do on a regular basis around the world. But we are going to do that in the case of Lebanon. And again, it’s just an effort – acknowledging Congress’s concerns in an effort to address those concerns.

QUESTION: Because the other day, Mr. Crowley, he felt that – he said he doesn’t think there will be a review.

MR. TONER: Again, we do these on a regular basis. We believe that in order to best address Congress’s concerns and alleviate those concerns and then to continue assistance, hopefully, we’re going to review that security assistance program.

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: Security?

MR. TONER: Wait a minute. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Speaking of security, in Afghanistan, President Karzai seems again to be calling for the dissolving of all international and domestic private security companies. A statement came out again today. In that statement, it said that he had spoken with leaders of the United States. Has he had conversations directly with the Secretary or anyone at the State Department regarding these private security firms?

MR. TONER: Anyone at the State Department or within the – my point is I don’t know that he’s had any conversations with people back here about it. I’d have to look into it.

QUESTION: -- media organizations --

MR. TONER: And they’re important --

QUESTION: -- and that would mean they would have to leave.

MR. TONER: Well, look, I don’t want to get ahead of – cart ahead of the course, or cart ahead of the horse, excuse me. But let me look into whether he’s had any direct contact with – I don’t believe the Secretary, but people – officials in the State Department. Obviously, our standpoint is that these are vital to our work in Afghanistan, these private contractors.

QUESTION: Mr. Toner –

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Same topic?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. TONER: Okay, sorry. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. President Karzai is saying that – he’s lashing out at those private security companies in Afghanistan and what’s he’s saying, that his government and his country is capable of governing Afghanistan and he wants international or outside interference to be out of his country, including NATO and the United States. Any comments?

MR. TONER: Again, I just gave our standpoint on this, was – is these people are vital to the conduct of our work, our joint work with the Afghan people, and with the other international presence in Afghanistan. Beyond that, I’ll –

QUESTION: What I’m asking, really, can Afghanistan be governed without NATO and without United States presence there at this time?

MR. TONER: Our shared goal with the Afghan Government is eventually extending the governance of the Afghan authorities to all parts of Afghanistan to create a stable, prosperous country that can both provide its own security and create a stable environment for economic growth. That’s our shared goal and we’re working with the Afghan people to attain that.

QUESTION: And may I ask one more just quick one? This war – global war on terrorism started from Afghanistan from 9/11 –

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- with Usama bin Ladin, the most wanted and fugitive on the global war on terrorism. Why nobody is talking about him anymore whether he’s alive, dead, or – I mean, war is still going on in his name, billions of dollars are still – countries, people are making in his name. What’s going on?

MR. TONER: I assure you he remains foremost on our most wanted list, Goyal.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change topic --

QUESTION: Change of subject onto Senator Mitchell’s visit?

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Despite some pretty upbeat or at least sort of optimistic comments from the podium and from the Secretary yesterday, Israeli newspapers are saying – some Israeli newspapers are saying that Netanyahu actually turned down Senator Mitchell’s pitch and explicitly rejected the idea of starting talks based on a Quartet statement, which might set terms of reference for them, i.e. no preconditions.

Can you tell us, is it your view – I mean, they’re saying Mitchell failed to get the talks on track. What’s your understanding of where things are?

MR. TONER: Well, Senator Mitchell is back in the United States, I believe, in New York today. We believe he had good, productive meetings, both with President Abbas as well as with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I’m not going to parse the opinions of the Israeli media. We believe, however, that progress was made. We continue on track. Obviously, we’re working through the details, but we have confidence that we’re moving in the right direction and ultimately will be successful.

QUESTION: Could you tell us any more information about – are discussions going on within the Quartet now about this statement? Is the Secretary having any more communication with other Quartet representatives or anyone else at the --

MR. TONER: I believe that kind of communication is ongoing and considering that we’re – that – considering the engagement that’s taking place right now, I would imagine that that kind of communication is ongoing. But I don’t have any specific details to add.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday –

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- a Palestinian spokesman said that actually, they were deadlocked. And today, we have the Israeli position saying that we are turning down any kind of Quartet cover. So where do you stand? I mean, what is – will you call for negotiations without any kind of Quartet statement of not under any kind of Quartet aid or auspices and so on? Would that be your next step?

MR. TONER: I think I’ll just stick with what I just said which is that we believe that he had good productive meetings, that we’re making progress. Obviously, there are details to be worked out, but we believe we’re getting closer.

Yeah, go ahead. Lalit. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yesterday, P.J. said that we’re closer than the day before. Now you’re saying we are closer, but all the signs say that it is really actually deadlocked. So can you give us or you share with us some of the things that make you believe that you are closer?

MR. TONER: No, I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of the negotiations. But again, we believe progress is being made and we’re continuing to engage and we’re continuing to talk about it. Is it difficult? Yes. Are there issues? Sure. But we’re going to keep moving forward and we are moving forward.

QUESTION: When do you expect Senator Mitchell to return?

MR. TONER: I don’t know. I can try to find out for you.

Go ahead, Lalit. And then – oh, you want to stay on the same topic? Go ahead.

QUESTION: You have said that (inaudible) to issue a statement soon?

MR. TONER: I’ve got nothing for you on that.

QUESTION: And finally, do you have any update on the Americans trapped in Lei where flash floods –

MR. TONER: Yeah, we have two consular officers who are on the ground in Lei, and I think – believe they’ve established contact with nearly all the Americans there and they continue providing assistance to them. But in terms of welfare and whereabouts, I believe we’ve located and ascertained the welfare of nearly everyone there – nearly all the American citizens there.

QUESTION: -- go back to Leaks? Leaks, please. Quick one. Has everybody been saying that everybody knew about this, nothing is new whatever came out of the Leaks. Let’s say –

MR. TONER: We’re talking about WikiLeaks. Is this what we’re talking about? I apologize.

QUESTION: The papers leaks and all that. Let’s say the genie was sleeping in the bottle. It is now out where everybody knew. What action and reaction – what steps are you taking now against those countries and people individual who are named or involved in those leaks, let’s say?

MR. TONER: I understand the question. These are internal documents that were never meant for release and reflect our diplomats and work in the field, and they’re internal documents; they’re not meant for external publication. So, to that end, as we’ve said when these were released, that we view them as harmful – potentially very harmful to our folks overseas and to our work. But as to your question, I really don’t have an answer for that. I don’t think any steps are being made in terms of people that might have cited. I mean, these are part of the kind of political and economic analysis that is the work of embassies overseas and that obviously fuels and guides our work as embassies and missions overseas. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: And I’m sure it’s going to hurt to some of the missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere because of this –

MR. TONER: It doesn’t help. Yeah, that’s true.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)



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