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Middle East Digest - August 23, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 23, 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 23, 2010

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1:31 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: On the Middle East, the Palestinians have been very clear since the invitation went out on Friday that unless the Israelis extend the settlement freeze on the West Bank and expand it to East Jerusalem, these are going to be a very – this is going to be a very short round of talks, like basically two days maybe, and then they’ll go home and it will be over.

What are you guys doing with the Israelis to avert such a happening?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we look forward to the first meeting next week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, and Secretary Clinton here on September 2nd as well as the individual meetings and dinner that President Obama will host at the White House on September 1st. We look forward to getting into the direct negotiation and then we believe that once that negotiation starts, it’ll be incumbent upon both the Israelis and Palestinians to avoid steps that can complicate that negotiation.

QUESTION: Well, what specifically are you doing about this issue, which seems to be the prime issue for the Palestinians?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, settlements are an important issue and we expect to address settlements as well as the other crucial final status issues within the context of a negotiation.

QUESTION: I want to focus entirely on settlements, if I could.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Not the other issues.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. But --

QUESTION: Because this is the one that is going to --

MR. CROWLEY: But this is --

QUESTION: -- this is the one that is going to break the negotiations down before anything else.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand. We are very --

QUESTION: Are you aware of the --

MR. CROWLEY: We are very mindful of the moratorium and the fact that it comes up for reconsideration during September. We’re very mindful of this. We’re very mindful of the importance the issue is within the negotiation. That’s why we want to get in the negotiation. None of these issues can be resolved outside of this negotiation.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But are you working now with the Israelis to try to extend and possibly expand the freeze --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the direct --

QUESTION: -- beyond the 26th?

MR. CROWLEY: The direct negotiation begins on September 2nd and you can rest assured that this will be among the topics discussed early on.

QUESTION: But has it been discussed up – in this run-up to the actual announcement that was made on Friday, have you asked them to extend the moratorium?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, the issue of settlements has been a longstanding topic of discussion between the United States and Israel.

QUESTION: Does it worry you that they have not committed to extend that moratorium?

MR. CROWLEY: No. As we’ve been saying throughout this process, our focus has been to get the parties into direct negotiations and once in the direct negotiations, then these very issues will be tabled and resolved.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand exactly how you expect this to work. You’ve had five – you’ve had a year and a half of absolutely nothing, or a year and three months of nothing, and then five – and then several months of indirect negotiations, during which presumably we all thought that this was the kind of issue that were going to be discussed. Now you’re saying that basically this is not – this hasn’t been discussed at all?

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t say that at all.

QUESTION: Well, obviously, we’re just looking --

MR. CROWLEY: This is an issue that we have discussed with the Israelis and the Palestinians and will be addressed specifically within the negotiation that starts on September 2nd.

QUESTION: Well, are you looking for some kind of a formula whereby the Israelis could, in some form, extend the moratorium?

MR. CROWLEY: The issue of settlements, the issue of the moratorium, will be – has been a topic of discussion and will be a topic of discussion when the leaders meet with Secretary Clinton on September 2nd.

QUESTION: P.J., but if the Palestinians are insisting that if the moratorium is not extended they are going to walk out, is that an issue that is likely to be the first issue on the agenda on September 2nd and that you have to overcome that hurdle so – for the negotiations to go on?

MR. CROWLEY: We are very mindful of the Palestinian position and once we’re now into direct negotiations, we expect that both parties will do everything within their power to create an environment for those negotiations to continue constructively.

QUESTION: Being mindful of the Palestinian position, does mean that you have a sensitivity to this issue and you may be supportive of that issue to call for an extension of the moratorium?

MR. CROWLEY: We understand the importance of the issue, we understand its importance to the direct negotiations that are starting on September 2nd, and it’ll be something that we’ll be discussing with the parties as we get into the direct negotiation.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. Is it not true that Nabil Abu Rdainah called Senator Mitchell to discuss the fact that Secretary Clinton said the talks would have no preconditions, therefore no stop in settlements, and that was a top concern right after the statement on Friday?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no mystery here that the issue of the settlement moratorium and as it would perhaps affect the negotiation has been something we’ve been focused on. It has been something we’ve discussed with the Israelis and Palestinians, and will – something we’ll be discussing – continuing the discussion on September 2nd.

QUESTION: But you won’t mention any specific communication between the U.S. side and the Palestinians on the settlements, even right after the --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t – I don’t – I can’t speak to a particular call that George Mitchell has taken, but we understand the Palestinian position.

QUESTION: If I may follow up just as to further --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: On September 2nd, they are going to meet here at the State Department. I asked you that last Friday. What happens on September 3rd? I mean, what – does this all depend on what goes on on September 2nd, overcoming all these --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as George Mitchell said here on Friday, one of the topics of discussion will be to set out a prospective schedule for further discussions directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: P.J., as far as peace and security in the Middle East is concerned because of the past behavior from the Iranian Government, Iranian president, can you have a peace and negotiation on peace and security in the Middle East without Iranian involvement? And do you think Iranian – Iran will be discussed during this meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, if your question is can we have a successful negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians without Iranian involvement, the answer is yes.

QUESTION: You think Iranian behavior has changed from the past, like wiping out Israel from the world map and so on and other – and supporting the terrorism and Hamas and all that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, certainly, Iran’s support of groups that have been opponents of achieving Middle East peace, that is an ongoing concern to us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be drawn into the negotiation.

QUESTION: Is there any other talks or meetings scheduled for September 3rd, or the talks will end on September 2nd here?

MR. CROWLEY: Right now, we’re just focused on the meetings on the 2nd of September. I can’t rule out that they would continue, but I wouldn’t project that based on what we know now.

QUESTION: So it’s based on Labor Day Weekend or based on something else?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s also --

QUESTION: You expect that --

MR. CROWLEY: -- religious observances that one has to be mindful of.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you expect them to go home after the 2nd?

MR. CROWLEY: Right now, we’re only projecting a one-day meeting. Right.
QUESTION: Senator Kerry in Afghanistan and Pakistan – Senator Kerry in his interview to NPR and then President Karzai had an interview on Sunday – both of them said that the talks are going on with the Taliban in one way or the other. Are you aware of those talks and do you support those efforts?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is an Afghan-led process. I can’t say that I’m familiar with any particular talks, but I wouldn’t rule them out.

QUESTION: A quick question on – hope I pronounce this correctly – Huawei, it’s the Chinese maker of phone equipment. There’s a letter from lawmakers expressing concern about their interest in doing business in the U.S., and obviously they have links doing business with Iran. Is this something you guys are looking into or aware of?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we were copied on that letter. I think it went to, if I’m not mistaken, the trade representative and the –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: Secretary of Commerce.

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to those agencies.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any comment on the report that China’s chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei has called for preparatory talks between the United States and North Korea to – for resumption of the Six-Party Talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a particular comment, no.

QUESTION: On Iran, the regime unveiled a new aerial drone and assault boats. Do you have any reaction to that and what do you see as the reason for rolling out this new firepower?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to the reason, I’ll defer to the Government of Iran. This is something that is of concern to us and concern to Iran’s neighbors. On the one hand, every country is sovereign and has the right to provide for its own self-defense, but obviously, we take into account systems that can potentially threaten particular countries or peace and stability in the region more broadly. But this – in the face of growth of Iran – Iran’s capabilities over a number of years, we’ve stepped up our military cooperation with other countries in the region, and this is one of the reasons why we believe that if Iran continues on the path that it’s on, it might actually find itself less secure because you’ll have countries in the region that have joined together to offset Iran’s growing capabilities.

QUESTION: Did you see the – its comments about having defeated the U.S. – by Iran’s logic,
defeating the U.S. – Ahmadinejad saying that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s no particular logic to the path that Iran is on. Its nuclear ambitions, we believe, will actually in the long run make Iran less secure. But we’re still open to constructive dialogue with Iran to try to clarify the questions that we have and the international community has about the true nature of its nuclear programs. But in the meantime, we will work with other countries to try to do everything that we can to maintain peace and stability in the region.

QUESTION: P.J., no pithy comment about the “Ambassador of Death”? Looked like you were about to say something and then shied away from it.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) It’s a curious name for a system.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the freed political prisoners? When you say you’ll evaluate them on a case-by-case basis, is there any law or regulation that would hinder them or prevent them from – prevent their admission?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are working closely with DHS to find the most expeditious manner to handle any requests that these individuals might make, and details are still being worked out.

QUESTION: Well, what is your understanding of what they might request?

MR. CROWLEY: Well –

QUESTION: I mean, are they eligible to request asylum?

MR. CROWLEY: We have –

QUESTION: Would they be coming as regular immigrants?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are individuals who have made inquiries. I’m not aware that there’ve been any formal requests made yet to come to the United States, but we’ll evaluate these requests on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: But as far as you know, there’s nothing to prevent them from – or nothing that would automatically reject their application if they – if one was made?

MR. CROWLEY: Something that would automatically –

QUESTION: Well, there’s been a lot of talk about the executive order or regulations that are put in place – not necessarily the law, the “wet foot, dry foot” rule, that kind of thing. This stuff has been brought up.

MR. CROWLEY: It – there’s no question that in traveling to the United States from Cuba through a third country, it’s a more complicated process; no question about that.

QUESTION: And that would – and so it’s more complicated for these people –

MR. CROWLEY: It’s more complicated, but it doesn’t rule --

QUESTION: -- than would be if they had gotten on a boat and washed up in Miami?

MR. CROWLEY: It doesn’t by itself rule out anyone coming to the United States.

QUESTION: P.J., I just need your comments that for the first time – of course, maybe good news – but many Indians don’t believe in India that ISI has said two things: One, they have admitted that their country and Pakistan has many groups which they named, many of the groups – they have problem of terrorism and by many groups; and second, of course, that India is no longer threat to the Pakistan. What made them now, first time in 20 years, everybody including you here, and we’ve been saying all these problems – is the U.S. playing role in this statement?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, these are individual judgments made country by country. We have certainly encouraged countries in the region to work collectively together because they confront a shared threat, and we think some of these challenges can only be resolved through effective and coordinated action across the region. So does Afghanistan need to have a constructive relationship with Pakistan? It does. Does Pakistan have to have a constructive relationship with India? It does. Should all these countries need to avoid a zero-sum mentality that a gain on one side is necessarily a detriment on the other? We think that to the extent that these countries can work more effectively together, that will ultimately help reduce the threat of terrorism to any one of them.

QUESTION: P.J. –

QUESTION: On Iraq?

QUESTION: -- can we go to North Korea for a second?

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. We’ll come back. Hold on a second.

QUESTION: P.J., there was an article yesterday in The Washington Post in which a sigh of relief was being expressed by the Iraqi foreign minister at the departure of Ambassador Hill and the coming of Ambassador Jeffrey. Do you expect now that there’s a great deal of goodwill and a good feeling towards Jim Jeffrey being the ambassador there, that he will be more effective in sort of negotiating a new government? I mean, what is – what are you feeling? What are you getting from there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ve been very fortunate through the years to have a number of distinguished statesmen as ambassadors in Baghdad. Each has confronted a different set of challenges and different ambassadors have worked effectively to address those challenges. It’s hard to say that – compare John Negroponte to Zal Khalilzad to Ryan Crocker to Chris Hill to Jim Jeffrey, they’re all distinguished diplomats. They’ve all engaged effectively with the government in Baghdad.

Chris Hill was an ambassador as we were working through a transition in the nature of our relationship with Iraq. Jim Jeffrey will be the ambassador as we begin to execute civilian-led strategy. Ryan Crocker was there when we were still executing a largely military strategy. So each of those conditions was different. The interests of the United States at any particular phase in our involvement in Iraq was different. Jim Jeffrey, we hope, will succeed just as Chris Hill did.

QUESTION: But since Mr. Jeffrey’s engendered such a feeling of goodwill, do you expect him to be effective in negotiating the next government?

MR. CROWLEY: We expect him to be effective. That’s why we nominated him to be our ambassador.

QUESTION: In negotiating the next government?

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: In negotiating the next government?

MR. CROWLEY: We expect Jim Jeffrey to be just as effective as Chris Hill was and just as effective as Ryan Crocker was.

QUESTION: I’m asking because it appears that President Chavez does not think that your ambassador designee – your nominee to Venezuela will be an effective – and --

MR. CROWLEY: And we continue our conversation with Venezuela, and we believe that Larry Palmer, if confirmed by the Senate, will in fact be an effective ambassador and an effective interlocutor between our government and Venezuela.

QUESTION: Have the Venezuelans withdrawn agrement?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: They haven’t.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. The first question is: Is Afghanistan still an ally?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, okay. So have you – what is the answer to this question from the national security advisor to Afghanistan and former foreign minister in his article opinion piece in The Washington Post, where he has asked that – his heading is that Pakistan is the Afghan war’s real aggressor. And he’s mentioning that the terrorists’ main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, as I mentioned a moment ago, one cannot look at this in isolation and one can’t look at this through the lens of a zero-sum calculation. It is in the United States interest to work with Afghanistan to deal with a threat that is of direct consequence to the United States, a threat from al-Qaida. Likewise, it’s in our interest to work effectively with Pakistan to deal with that extremist threat that exists within Pakistan’s borders.

These are not mutually exclusive, and likewise, it’ll be important for Afghanistan and Pakistan to have an effective relationship going forward, and with the effective action on both sides of the border, we think the threat of extremism will be reduced to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries, including the United States.

QUESTION: One follow-up. But in the last line, he says we cannot mobilize – it’s a straight-up – that we are cutting ties, kind of.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and in fact, we have encouraged Pakistan to take decisive action to deal with the threat within its borders. We’re satisfied with the steps that Pakistan has taken thus far, but obviously, that – the offensive that Pakistan has started needs to continue.

QUESTION: Just quickly back on Iraq and the transition, when will you be releasing some kind of fact sheet on just who’s going to be there and also in terms of contracts and bidding in view of the State Department’s increased commitment to the area? I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. We’ll see if we have a fact sheet pending on our future status in Iraq.

QUESTION: P.J., Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has made some comments that have trickled out from his overseas trip in the Mideast, and partly because of that, Congressman Peter King and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have requested that the State Department reveal more of the specifics of his itinerary, at least when he returns. Is that something that you’re prepared to do, and if so, why – is that something that you would be prepared to do now?

MR. CROWLEY: Imam Feisal remains in Bahrain. I believe he is due to arrive in Qatar tomorrow. He’ll have a variety of activities in Qatar very similar to the kinds of activities he had in Bahrain. He’ll be visiting mosques, he’ll have private meetings hosted by key figures in Qatari society. I think he’ll be talking to some university students while there.

So I can give you – I can characterize the kinds of things he’ll be doing. We have not released a public schedule, respecting the character of the conversation he’s having with Bahrainian, Qatari society, and he’ll have a similar kind of program in the UAE. I know there’s a great deal of interest in having – we have – he has had some interaction with media overseas. I expect he’ll have some interaction with media in Qatar and in the UAE. We have also indicated that once he – and I think he’s indicated that once he returns to the United States, he’ll be free to describe what he did and what the reception was in those particular countries.

QUESTION: What is the reason you won’t release the names of the mosques or the key figures that he’s meeting with in advance of those meetings? What’s the reason?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, on these trips that 1,200 experts make on a periodic basis around the country – around the world, we have not generally released specific schedules on any of them. So we’re not treating Imam Feisal’s trip any differently than we treat the 50 or so religious figures or the 1,200 experts that we send on these information speaking tours.

QUESTION: Has he requested you to not release that information?

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Is that – that’s a decision that the State Department made or is that at the request of Imam?

MR. CROWLEY: These – we have a set policy on how we approach these. These are not necessarily trips that engender the same kinds of headlines that you’re seeking here. But – we’re not hiding him, but by the same token, these are, for the most part, visits to groups, figures that are occasionally open to the public, but for the most part, they’re not.

QUESTION: Do you have any additional information on the Pakistan and Afghanistan support office which was established last week, who is getting --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. I promise to get you some information on that.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)



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