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Middle East Digest - August 17, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 17, 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 17, 2010

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2:00 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I’ve got nothing to announce. I know that makes Matt very happy.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: So, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Real quickly, do you know anything about this situation at the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv?

MR. TONER: I don’t, Matt. I’ve seen – I’ve just seen press reports, but I don’t have anything else, any information for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: If we get it, we’ll come back for you.

QUESTION: And then on the same basic issue, although not that specifically, is there any update on the situation with the Quartet statement, Mitchell’s talks?

MR. TONER: Nothing beyond what P.J. said yesterday.

QUESTION: So there’s been no movement?

MR. TONER: Essentially --

QUESTION: You’re not closer today than you were yesterday?

MR. TONER: We feel we’re – we feel we’re always – well, no, we feel we’re making progress. We continue to be in contact with all the parties.

QUESTION: Well –

MR. TONER: I think P.J. said a Quartet statement sometime in the near future, and we continue to believe we’re making progress and we’re getting closer to direct negotiations, was the ultimate goal.

QUESTION: Well, if there haven’t been any developments, how can you say you’re getting closer?

MR. TONER: On a larger metaphysical scale, I think we believe we’re getting closer. I mean, we’re continuing to talk to all the parties. We’re continuing to work all the remaining issues.

QUESTION: Okay. So what –

MR. TONER: And as P.J., said, we’re not going to – I’m not going to negotiate --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to negotiate.

MR. TONER: -- not negotiate in public.

QUESTION: What contacts have you had since yesterday that leads you to this metaphysical belief that you’re getting closer or not?

MR. TONER: I believe they’ve been meeting on the ground. I think Hale meet with Abbas.

QUESTION: Again, yesterday or today?

MR. TONER: I believe yesterday.

QUESTION: Mark –

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything more for you, sorry.

QUESTION: Are we likely to see a statement by the Quartet by the end of the week?

MR. TONER: I’m not going to put a date or a deadline on it.

QUESTION: Are you talking to --

MR. TONER: I think in the near future is what P.J. said.

QUESTION: -- Blair or someone else on the Quartet (inaudible). Are you in discussion with the Quartet? Could you give us what is the status of what you’re doing with the Quartet?

MR. TONER: We continue to be in contact with the members of the Quartet, but I’ve just – nothing – I have nothing new for you today.

QUESTION: Mark, is it an --

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Dmitry.

QUESTION: Is it a minister-level discussion at this point of time?

MR. TONER: Is it a --

QUESTION: Minister-level discussion within the Quartet?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t say that necessarily. I believe they’re all working levels. As I said, Hale in Jerusalem yesterday met with Abbas, and so we continue to work on a variety of levels.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, what progress has Mr. Hale made? This is the second meeting in addition to (inaudible).

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I think the meeting was yesterday, but --

QUESTION: Because Mr. Crowley said he met with him on Sunday.

MR. TONER: It may – well be the same meeting. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: And what was --

QUESTION: If it’s the same meeting, then you can’t point to any contacts you’ve had that gives you this metaphysical glow of progress. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be obnoxious, but –

MR. TONER: Yeah, I know.

QUESTION: -- I mean, if you – well, actually, I am trying to be obnoxious. (Laughter.) Because if you keep –

MR. TONER: You were about to disappoint me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If you all keep saying that progress is being made and you’re getting closer, you have to – you can’t just expect us to believe that hook, line, and sinker without offering any kind of – I mean, if you can’t even say that there have been contacts, I mean, is this – is progress just happening by osmosis, thin air, just --

MR. TONER: I will try to get an update if any contacts have been made in the last 24 hours. I’m not aware of any. That said, we continue to work on all the remaining issues. We believe that we are getting closer. I don’t know if we’re inches or centimeters closer today to direct negotiations, but we continue to make progress towards that ultimate goal. But I don’t have any new information.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What was the Palestinian answer to Mr. Hale on Sunday or yesterday regarding resuming direct negotiations with Israel?

MR. TONER: Again, it was a good, constructive conversation, but I don’t – I’m not going to get into the details.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. TONER: Wait. I think he had one more question.

QUESTION: Just to follow up.

MR. TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: The issues that are being – that were discussed with Mr. Hale, are they issue by issue or are they discussed like in a lump sum or a group of issues? Where are we in terms of progress? Because you keep saying we made progress. I mean, did we put, let’s say, the issue of the settlements behind us, now we are on the terms of reference and so on?

MR. TONER: Right. When I talk about making progress, I think we’re talking about we know what issues remain. We’re dealing with them in a constructive fashion, but I can’t get into the details of those discussions. But we are – continue to be optimistic that we’re moving towards direct negotiations in the near future.

QUESTION: Can I ask about – now that President Karzai has issued a decree, do you have anything else to say about contractors, security contractors, in Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve read the decree. And since last fall, we’ve been working proactively with President Karzai on the issue of private security companies. As you’ll recall, President Karzai noted his intentions about these companies in the speeches he gave at – in a speech, rather, at the London and Kabul conferences.

We continue to support the Afghan Government’s intent to properly regulate the activities of private security companies in Afghanistan. There are questions of implementation, however. And I think P.J. said it best yesterday when he said that any – a four-month timeline would be a challenge. Private security companies are currently filling a gap that allow us to deliver reconstruction and development assistance that, at the end of the day, focuses on improving the lives of the Afghan people.

So we’re still gathering information about the decree and how it would affect – specifically affect the United States and our contracts with private companies, and we’ll continue to work with the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: Do you have any specific concerns about your particular operations and the country being affected by this on that timeframe?

MR. TONER: Sure. I just know that we’re going to work, I think, directly with them. We’re still kind of evaluating where we’re at, where it stands specifically with our contracts with private security companies.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re not offering a blanket opposition to this move. I mean, you don’t mind regulating it, but you seem to have a problem --

MR. TONER: Well, as I said, this is something that President Karzai has raised in the past. We think – I guess I would say our concern would be with the deadline, the four-month window.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow up. As far as replacing both private security, how fast or how hard are you working on training the – Afghan’s military and police force so then it can satisfy the – both sides?

MR. TONER: Fast and hard. (Laughter.) I mean, that’s the ultimate --

QUESTION: And how long it would be?

MR. TONER: -- the ultimate goal here. I wish I could put a date on that, but I can’t. But as you and everyone in this room know, that’s – it’s probably priority number one is the transition to Afghan security forces.

In back.

QUESTION: The situation in Pakistan has got worse. Are there any plans to boost aid?

MR. TONER: The situation in Pakistan?

QUESTION: In Pakistan has got worse. Are there any plans to raise the aid there more than the 76 that’s already been announced?

MR. TONER: Nothing new to announce today, but we continue to bring airlift power as well as the 76 million in assistance to bear on the situation. I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions that it’s going to get better soon. So I think we’re constantly going to reevaluate where we’re at and possibly increase assistance.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the contractors for a second?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: You said you’re still --

MR. TONER: And then to – sorry. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. TONER: Yeah. That’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, if someone has something on Pakistan floods and you don’t want to refer them to the Embassy statement that you helpfully put out earlier this morning, then I would like to ask my question. But if they want to go --

MR. TONER: Okay. Pakistan and then Matt.

QUESTION: Early estimates suggest that there is a need for $15 billion for Pakistan. Is it likely that you would call a donors conference on anything like this?

MR. TONER: Nothing to announce, but we are fully cognizant of the fact that it’s going to need a lot of assistance over the long haul. I don’t think anyone is expecting this to be a short-term humanitarian need.

QUESTION: Nothing to announce?

MR. TONER: On?

QUESTION: Well, isn’t the UN holding a big meeting about the situation on Thursday?

MR. TONER: They are.

QUESTION: And you don’t have anything to announce with --

MR. TONER: Not yet, not at this time.

QUESTION: All right. Can I go back to the contractors --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for a second? You said you’re still getting information about the decree? I thought P.J. told us yesterday that you had a copy of it. So is translation being held --

MR. TONER: No, I said we’re still getting information about – we’re still evaluating how the decree is going to affect the U.S. Embassy’s --

QUESTION: Well, how difficult can it be? He says all prior contractors out in four months. Doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room there.

MR. TONER: Well, I’ve said that that’s a concern for us – the four-month window.

QUESTION: Well, that means – right, exactly, but it’s – so you’re – but if – you’re not gathering information about the decree. You’re gathering information about how you can water it down; right?

MR. TONER: Look. We’re going to work with the Afghan Government. We share a common goal. This is something that we’ve known about that’s been a priority for them for months, and we’re – we’ve had the – we have the decree, we’ve looked at it, and we’re still judging – or studying how it’s going to affect our private security companies that protect our personnel.

QUESTION: Is it that complicated?

MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the document. I can’t say.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing you said was that you’ve been working with – proactively with President Karzai on this issue since last year. What does that mean?

MR. TONER: Well, I think it just means that we – this is a priority. We’ve known about this and --

QUESTION: Known about?

MR. TONER: We’ve known about this as a priority, that he wanted to move beyond private security companies in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: All right. Well, the term “proactive,” which is not exactly the best term in the world to use, but would suggest that you raised it with him first – is that correct?

MR. TONER: No, I just think we’ve been engaged with him on the issue.

QUESTION: Then can I suggest that you take out the word “proactive” and --

MR. TONER: Thank you for editing that.

QUESTION: You – no, no, I’m not trying to edit.

MR. TONER: No, I --

QUESTION: But if you say you’ve been proactive; that means you approached him and say “Hey, listen, we’d really like to get rid of these private security contractors. Can I have you guys -- ”

MR. TONER: I think we said we – the phrase I used was “working proactively,” which means that we’ve been engaged, but I appreciate --

QUESTION: But the fact of the matter is that he came to you first, or he raised his concerns before --

MR. TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: On Iran and reports that they are – they have now announced some of the locations for the 10 new nuclear sites they plan to build, including some that will be built inside of mountains that would presumably defend them against aerial strikes, do you have any reaction to that – to their decision to go ahead with this?

MR. TONER: Well, under four United States [i] Security Council resolutions, Iran is prohibited from undertaking any enrichment-related activities, and it’s already in violation of UN Security Council resolutions mandating that it suspend its enrichment activities. So any additional enrichment facilities or enrichment to higher levels would only compound its existing violations. It goes without saying that it’s more fuel on the fire and that they continue not to meet their international commitments.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that former U.S. representative to the UN John Bolton --

QUESTION: Wait. I have an Iran question, actually.

MR. TONER: I think he’s got an Iran question, too.

QUESTION: On Iran. John Bolton was suggesting that Israel ought to strike before the end of this month. Is that something that is a concern in the State Department?

MR. TONER: I have no comment on former – or Ambassador Bolton’s comments.

QUESTION: So Russia made an announcement late last week that they would be helping Iran – shortly helping Iran bring the, I think, Bushehr nuclear reactor online. And NPR quoted P.J. as saying basically this is not a big concern for the State Department. But last March when the Russians made the announcement during Clinton’s trip to Moscow, she said that without reassurances from Iran, that they could have peaceful civil nuclear energy, that this would be a premature move opening the reactor. So I wonder if you have any – what’s changed between – obviously, you haven’t gotten the reassurances, so why the change in position and --

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t know that – I don’t know what context P.J.’s remarks were used in. I mean --

QUESTION: I could give them to you.

MR. TONER: But I don’t think the two of them are mutually exclusive. Bushehr is a civilian nuclear project and so – and it actually proves that they don’t need to build indigenous enrichment facilities. And actually it provides a model that we’ve extended – the P-5+1 has extended to Iran.

QUESTION: Right, but you’ve changed your position. I mean, in March, Secretary Clinton said this would be a premature decision. Have you gotten reassurances from Iran that they would –

MR. TONER: Well, I just – well, let me finish, Ben.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. TONER: So, however, the Secretary’s remarks are also valid in the sense that we continue to have concerns about their failure to meet with their international commitments and to seek enrichment of uranium. So Bushehr in and of itself is unconnected to their enrichment activities.

Go ahead in back.

QUESTION: P.J. said last week he was going to gather more information on the itinerary of Imam Rauf. Has his State Department sponsorship – has it begun, when does it end, and what dates will he be –

MR. TONER: I do. I don’t know if I have it in my book. I may. Hold on one second.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: It’s – I have the dates. I apologize to leaf through, but I believe they’re in here somewhere. And of course, I can’t find them. I’ll get them for you afterwards. I can get you the dates. It’s – I just don’t know it off the top of my head.

QUESTION: And also being raised about this trip, he is going not to the countries where you need to develop a relationship, but to the countries where it is – there is money. So how are you going to stop him from collecting money?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve said that speakers are prohibited from raising money and using this program to raise money. He is aware of the prohibitions. He is going to engage in a public diplomacy program in countries that are believed by the United States to be areas where we need to focus. And during the Holy Muslim Month of Ramadan, it’s the perfect opportunity to engage some of these populations. So --

QUESTION: Thank you --

QUESTION: I’ve got one more.

MR. TONER: Yeah, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the appeals court in New York – this appeals court ruling in New York in your favor against the Mongolian, Indian, and other governments on unpaid property taxes?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the decision, but if it’s in our favor, it sounds good. (Laughter.)

Dmitry – sorry – one more.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you for an update of your diplomatic spat with Venezuela over the nomination of Ambassador Palmer. I think President Chavez reiterated his dislike of your nomination again and --

MR. TONER: I’m aware of --

QUESTION: -- I’m just wondering if you’ve withdrawn the agrément, or what’s the status of this right now?

MR. TONER: He continues to be our nominee.

Great, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)


[i] United Nations



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