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 18, 2010
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you update us on what’s going on with the Israeli-Palestinian – moves toward Israeli-Palestinian direct talks? What’s been going on, if anything?
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to be in close contact with both parties. I would say we’re working the phones and continuing to answer their questions, overcome the lack of trust that has built up over the years regarding this process, and get them to yes. It is an ongoing process. We think we’re close. Can’t say whether today, we’re closer than we were yesterday; we believe we’re close and we’re working aggressively to move them into direct negotiations.
QUESTION: Can you say who was talking to who?
MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell and his team, also his counterparts on the NSC staff. I mean, this isn’t full-court press. We are doing the things you’d expect at this point, and trying to work the details, not only of the remaining details that get the parties to yes, but also the details of if and when they say yes, how will this process unfold.
QUESTION: Well, that’s at least the third – second or third time that you’ve used the expression over the past couple weeks “full-court press” and I’m just – when – is it time to shift defensives– maybe go on --
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. We’re going to shift from a zone to a man-to-man. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, where has it gotten you? Where has your full-court press gotten you?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, we – as I’ve said, I mean, I can’t really do a play-by-play. For a Bostonian, it would be Johnny Most. But we are working with them, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to get them into direct negotiations. This is not easy and we believe that they recognize the value of entering into direct negotiations. As we’ve said to them many, many times, there’s no way to resolve the conflict without getting into direct negotiations. We believe that leverage is obtained inside these negotiations, not outside these negotiations, and this is a process that we’ll continue working hard until we reach direct negotiations. How long that’s going to take, I can’t tell you.
QUESTION: You expect the Secretary to raise this issue when she’s in New York tomorrow at all?
MR. CROWLEY: She will be with the Secretary General. I think our focus tomorrow is Pakistan. I can’t rule out that there could be a side conversation.
QUESTION: Are you predicting --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not projecting one; I’m just saying that --
QUESTION: What about a statement from the Quartet? Do you want to explain – say anything specifically about that?
MR. CROWLEY: We have maintained contact with the Quartet. As we’ve said, if a Quartet statement can be helpful, one will be issued. We’re prepared to do that, but they’re still working the details of what it would say and what it would mean.
QUESTION: What – wait a minute. Now it’s “if it can be helpful?”
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, from a Quartet standpoint, we’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the parties into direct negotiation. I think there’s been some public statements by the parties that this might be appropriate, might be helpful, and we’re prepared to do that. But obviously, there are details surrounding the Quartet statement, what it would mean, and this is an area that we continue to work with the parties and with the Quartet members.
QUESTION: So last week – I mean, through last week, we were given to understand that this statement was sort of expected imminently. It sounds as though there’s been a new roadblock, that they --
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t say – no, Andy, I wouldn’t say there’s a new roadblock at all. As we said, we are working through the details of what is necessary to get the parties into direct negotiations. That is a process that is ongoing. The Quartet is poised not only to help if a statement can be helpful, but also prepared to help with the launch of the direct negotiations themselves. We fully expect that we’re going to get there. We just, at this moment, are still working directly and trying to move the parties to that point where they’re prepared to enter into direct negotiations.
QUESTION: But you’re telling us not to expect a statement that would accompany the start of talks.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m telling you that there could very well be a statement. When that statement occurs, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. We’re not at the point yet where a statement has been agreed to.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Changes and one final – do you still agree on the statement that the Quartet issued in March 19th
MR. CROWLEY: Do --
QUESTION: On March 19th
, the Quartet has issued a statement.
MR. CROWLEY: The Quartet issued a statement in Moscow.
QUESTION: And do you still agree on this – on the statement, or how do you view the statement if --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, have we retracted the statement? No.
QUESTION: But Israel has refused to – has refused this statement, and the Palestinians asked the Quartet to reissue the statement as guarantees for the negotiations.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into the – I would tell you that we are working through details of what a prospective statement would say and what a prospective statement would mean. I’m not going to negotiate such a statement here. We issued a statement in March. We stand by that statement. As to the content of a follow-on Quartet statement, that is an area where we are actively working as we speak.
QUESTION: You said that you’re not at the point yet where a statement has been agreed on. Is that – you mean the need for a statement? I thought – the suggestion has been that both the Israelis – or you said – you suggested that both parties had said that a statement, a Quartet statement, could be helpful. Is that correct?
MR. CROWLEY: The Quartet is prepared to issue a statement that can help move the parties towards direct negotiations. That is true. There has been discussions – there have been discussions with the parties as to the content of the Quartet statement and what that would suggest in terms of the conduct of the negotiations. That is an area that we are still working with the parties.
QUESTION: Right, fair enough. But the – what appears to be happening is that there appears to be divisions in – among the Quartet, not --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: There are no divisions in the Quartet about this?
QUESTION: Afghanistan? On the private security firms, what are you working with the Afghanistan Government on this issue? Do you want them to extend the deadline, or how to manage the security of the diplomats over there?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, with the decree, we are in touch with the Afghan Government. We are still trying to fully understand what the Afghan Government’s concerns are, trying to address those concerns. In the decree yesterday, there was an exemption for embassy guards. That was important to us. We do use contract guards in Afghanistan to guard our Embassy. We still have questions that we are raising with the Afghan Government about other types of contractors and the role that they play.
We don’t want to see a decision like this shut down our operations. When you look at the volume of security contractors in Afghanistan, and there are a lot of them, they more or less equal the size of the military surge into Afghanistan over recent months. If we have to pull back military personnel to do security work that is currently doing – being done by contractors, that can have an impact not only on our operations but on security throughout the – Afghanistan. We don’t want to see that happen and we don’t believe that the Afghanistan Government wants to see that happen.
So, I mean, we understand that there are contractors in Afghanistan doing very legitimate, very important work. We also understand that there are contractors who, during the course of their operations, have had a significant impact on the Afghan people, and Afghan people have been killed and injured through those operations. We understand completely the concerns that the Afghan Government has about that. We are quite aware that there are security contractors working in Afghanistan who have not been licensed by the government. And for any government, being able to understand who’s operating in this space, that they’re properly regulated, that they’re properly overseen, that they’re properly managed, as we said, this is a shared objective of ours.
So we are in touch with the Afghan Government going through the details and the implications of this announcement, and I think we’re confident that we can find a resolution that addresses the Afghan Government’s concern but makes sure that the essential operations that are important to the Afghan people continue.
QUESTION: Did the Afghan Government consult you before it issued the decree – a decree?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, this is not a new topic. We’ve had conversations with Afghanistan for many, many months on the broad topic of contractors, what they’re doing and who’s overseeing their operations. So in that respect, no. The particular details of the announcement yesterday, as far as I know, were not shared with us in advance.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry was in Afghanistan yesterday. It seems like he’s always there whenever there are big problems. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Senate is in recess and the Congress has an important role to play in terms of allocating the proper resources for the strategy that we are pursuing. So it’s not surprising that the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee find himself in places like Afghanistan yesterday and Pakistan today.
QUESTION: What about Ambassador Holbrooke; isn’t that his role?
MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Holbrooke will be – well, as I just said, in terms of strategy, it is the Executive Branch responsibility to develop the strategy, and Ambassador Holbrooke played a key role in that. In terms of allocating – appropriating the resources to support that strategy, that is properly the role of the Legislative Branch, and that’s why Senator Kerry is there.
QUESTION: Okay, staying on the strategy --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Kerry real quick?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s just been some reporting about a message, if any, that Kerry was carrying on behalf of the Administration to President Karzai. Do you have anything you can say about that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as I said, Senator Kerry is an important actor in the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan in his own right. We briefed him before he left. We have Dan Feldman from Richard Holbrooke’s team is traveling with him. But he is there because, obviously the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plays a critical role in making sure that we have the resources to support our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
QUESTION: Specifically, the report says that he’s carrying some sort of list of benchmarks or steps that President Karzai can take to reassure the Administration about its fight against corruption.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there’s a close – Senator Kerry has established his own strong relationship with President Karzai. As you’ve reflected, this is not his first trip to Afghanistan, and he meets with President Karzai whenever he travels there. And he had meetings with President Karzai when he was here in Washington earlier this year. I think Senator Kerry, in his own public comments yesterday, reflected – and he was delivering a message on behalf of his colleagues in the United States Senate and in the Congress that there is strong support for what we’re doing in Afghanistan, but there is also understandably significant concern about corruption and wanting to see a strong effort by the Afghan Government itself in combating corruption within its country. We’re a partner. And so he was carrying his own message as part of his travel.
QUESTION: So he’s not carrying a special message from the Administration?
MR. CROWLEY: As I said, we coordinated with him before he went. The Secretary has talked to President Karzai in recent days. Between Ambassador Eikenberry and General Petraeus, we have the ability to communicate with President Karzai directly whenever we see the need.
QUESTION: Was he carrying a similar message for the Pakistanis?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: When he was in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as Frank Ruggiero was just talking about, we are going to have to adapt our approach to Pakistan, fully assess as the flood waters begin to recede the impact of this disaster on Pakistan itself, but also adapt our approach to Pakistan in light of its – the needs that it has on top of what we already understood before the flood waters.
QUESTION: May I take one more just on Pakistan quickly? Whether you agree or not, it’s not from the Pakistani Government but from the Pakistani newspapers and an editorial that as far as flood in Pakistan is concerned is a creation of U.S. and India cooperation.
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, say that again?
QUESTION: What Pakistani newspapers and editorials are saying, as far as flood in Pakistan is concerned, is a creation of U.S. and India combined.
MR. CROWLEY: So it was the United States (inaudible) India that conspired to have the monsoons come to Pakistan? I don’t find that credible.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: On Colombia and Venezuela --
MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold on.
QUESTION: Any – your comments on the developing (inaudible) between Moscow and Kabul with the Russian president?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, Afghanistan and Pakistan are both countries with profound needs, and the United States cannot meet these needs by itself. We have a regional strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Russia can play an important role along with other countries in the region. So we welcome this kind of interaction and we welcome the international commitment by Russia and other countries that is represented by this meeting.
QUESTION: P.J., on the trip of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to the Gulf states, what is the purpose of the trip? Why was he chosen? Has he been given any guidance, parameters on what he’s to speak about? And if you can, what are the costs?
MR. CROWLEY: Richard, let’s see. Let’s start one at a time. He will be traveling to the region at the end of this week starting, as I recall, in Bahrain, then Qatar, then the United Arab Emirates. He is participating – I think this is fourth trip – as part of an International Information Program. We have about 1,200 experts in a range of fields that travel on behalf of the United States every year. About 50 or so of those are religious figures. They come from every stripe. We have rabbis, imams, Protestants, Catholics who participate as part of our effort to promote religious tolerance and religious freedom around the world.
The guidelines that we provide him – he is there to promote this kind of international dialogue. We have had conversations with the imam to make sure he understands that during these kinds of trips, he’s not to engage in any personal business. He understands that completely. But this is his fourth trip and we value his participation as a religious figure here in the United States who can help people overseas understand the role that religion plays in our society.
QUESTION: Excuse me, just for --
MR. CROWLEY: As to the specific costs of the program, I don’t have them here.
QUESTION: Just for clarification, it seems to me in answering this question earlier, you’ve said this was his third trip.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, and – well, he made two trips – and I looked at some fine print – he made two trips in 2007, made a trip to Egypt this year. So actually, this is his fourth trip.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, President Obama has expressed his opinion on this mosque. Will Secretary of State be saying anything tomorrow on the Humanitarian Day?
MR. CROWLEY: About the mosque?
QUESTION: Yeah, its --
MR. CROWLEY: I doubt it.
QUESTION: -- humanitarian effort.
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)