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Middle East Digest - August 24, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 24, 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 24, 2010

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1:23 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Continuing on, a couple of announcements before taking your questions. Dr. Raj Shah, administrator of USAID, arrived in Pakistan this morning to consult with the government on the extensive U.S. response to the country’s devastating floods. Dr. Shah is the most senior U.S. official to travel to the country since the flooding began last month. This is his third trip to Pakistan in five months, and while there he will meet with senior government officials, key representatives of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Aid Authority, and leadership from the United Nations and other disaster response organizations to coordinate our joint response to help Pakistan.

And finally, the United States strongly condemns today’s murderous attack by al-Shabaab against civilians staying at the Mouna Hotel in Mogadishu. Our condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims. The attack occurring during Ramadan highlights al-Shabaab’s complete disregard for human life, Somali culture, and Islamic values. The terrorists appear to have been targeting Somali parliamentarians and other members of the Transitional Federal Government – further evidence that they are bent on depriving Somalia of security, peace, and stability.

The United States reaffirms its strong commitment to stand with the Somali people and transitional government and the African Union Mission in Somalia as they courageously work to restore peace and stability in Somalia. And this comes at a time – and we’re very grateful for the fact that this week we have additional resources arriving in support of the AMISOM mission, troops coming from Uganda.

QUESTION: Is Rajiv Shah the lead U.S. official in charge of coordinating the government response to the Pakistani flood? Is that an official designation, or can you tell us more?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the lead official in dealing with the Pakistani flood rests within the Government of Pakistan --

QUESTION: No, of the U.S. effort. Of the U.S. effort.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, USAID will play a significant role in the response and recovery to the flooding in Pakistan, but there will be other officials. Richard Holbrooke will be coordinating also with the Government of Pakistan because, clearly, as we’ve said, we will have to be – we’ll have to adapt our strategy. We think we have the right strategy, but within that strategy we’ll have to adapt specific actions once we fully understand the impact that the flooding has had on Pakistan.

QUESTION: I understand. The reason I asked is because during the Haiti crisis, Administrator Shah was designated as the lead official in charge of coordinating the U.S. Government interagency effort. I’m wondering – do you not think that’s necessary for this crisis? Do you have a plan to do that? Or is – you’re taking a different approach to disaster response? Is there some thinking behind that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s hard to compare Pakistan and Haiti. With Pakistan, we have a broad strategy. Pakistan is a strategic country for the United States and we are trying to achieve multiple things in Pakistan. Clearly, one of those things is to support the Government of Pakistan in its immediate – the immediate challenge of dealing with this flooding, and USAID will play a pivotal role on that. You’ve had Mark Ward here from OFDA to kind of outline for you how we’re dealing with this. But this comes within a broader strategy in terms of the nature of our relationship with Pakistan as well as supporting Pakistan in its own efforts to deal with the extremist elements within its borders. So our strategy with respect to Pakistan is broader than is the case with Haiti.

QUESTION: So to be clear, there is no designated U.S. official or agency to lead – to coordinate these various efforts, as you rightly point out, touch so many different areas of our policy?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in terms of who is on a day-to-day business continuing to manage our relationship with Pakistan and our broad strategy with Pakistan, that responsibility would rest – continue to rest with Richard Holbrooke as the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan. But clearly, Pakistan has growing needs in light of this flooding, and Dr. Shah, as the head of USAID, will play a pivotal role in this.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like what you’re saying is if USAID is not the lead agency in handling this, it sounds like you’re concerned that the – and continuing to have SRAP as the lead agency, that you’re concerned that the growing disaster and devastation in Pakistan might divert from the other critical missions that you have with Pakistan right now.

MR. CROWLEY: No, I think – and let’s not forget that the Pentagon is playing a significant role in Pakistan given the military forces that are at work here. And INL, as you were briefed yesterday, is playing a role here because of some of the assets that have been in Pakistan for a different purpose. So, Josh, if you look at who is still broadly in charge of our strategy for Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke is coordinating many different threads, not just within the State Department but across the government and in coordination with other countries, because there are so-called SRAPs from a wide – broad range of countries. But clearly, for the immediate future, the disaster response is going to be critical and USAID is playing a very significant role in that.

Now let me just finish. As we just mentioned, Dr. Shah – this is his third trip in five months. AID is playing a role in how we transform the delivery of development assistance to Pakistan. That was true before the flooding started. That will be true after the flood waters recede. This is a coordinated, whole-of-government effort to support Pakistan, but that broad policy frame is being overseen by Ambassador Holbrooke.

QUESTION: So there are no plans for like – again, realizing it’s not a perfect analogy, in Haiti you had a war room set up in the Reagan Building with interagency representatives working on this problem, putting out fires around the clock. You have nothing like that envisioned for the – this broad interagency U.S. Government response to the Pakistani flood crisis?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as you’ve heard, we’ve had Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance – they have their own operational capability looking at how to do this. I think the other thing to keep in mind is the fact that we have a functioning Embassy in Pakistan that also has the ability to help coordinate these things. So there’s a great deal of effort being done both within this Department and across the government in response to this growing tragedy and disaster.

QUESTION: Don’t you also have a functioning government in Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, they do.

QUESTION: And did they – and remind me, did they in Haiti at the time of the earthquake?

MR. CROWLEY: It – the government in Haiti had taken a very severe hit.

QUESTION: So there was a need for the U.S. to play a larger role in that; is that what you’re saying?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to come to the podium? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m just trying to end this line of questioning. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There’s, like, more than a fifth of the country underwater right now. Why do you think that it hasn’t been able to translate in terms of the kind of giving in America and the kind of attention – that it just seems as if the American public doesn't see this on the kind of level of devastation that Pakistan is facing right now? I mean, why do you think that in Haiti there was this kind of perception that with the major disaster, there was all this U.S. Government attention being paid, but the perception now, rightly or wrongly, is that this isn’t a devastation on the same scale and that the U.S. Government is not paying as much attention and Americans are not giving as much?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me – at the risk of turning this back to CNN, Anderson Cooper --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, CNN and Sanjay Gupta is on his way. So I’m not going to take that argument.

MR. CROWLEY: -- Anderson Cooper went live 24/7 in Haiti. Is Anderson Cooper in Pakistan? If not, why not?

QUESTION: P.J., I mean, I’m not going to get into an argument about it.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, but look, it is very difficult to compare Pakistan and Haiti. You have one country – the poorest in our region and very close to the United States. You have Pakistan some distance away, and that has influenced, thus far, the level of media attention and the pictures that come from these disasters – and they are coming from these disasters – is having an impact and you’re seeing a growth in private donations to Pakistan. It doesn’t rival Haiti at this point, and may not.

An earthquake is a different kind of disaster than a flood. We’ll be dealing with the effects of the earthquake in Haiti for a decade or more. We’ll be dealing with the – helping Pakistan deal with the impact of the flood for years, but probably a disaster of less duration and a different kind of impact. So it’s hard to compare the two.

We are in Pakistan doing our best to help the people of Pakistan; it’s the right thing to do. And Pakistan is a strategic country of direct importance and impact to the United States.

QUESTION: Sending – well, okay. Well, why don’t you send anyone to Iran to pick up the three hikers?

MR. CROWLEY: As you know, there was earlier this spring a private humanitarian visit to Tehran. But we continue to urge Iran to do the right thing. Just today, we had some Iranian citizens who had been picked up by a U.S. naval vessel, rescued in the Gulf from an Iranian fishing vessel, if I’m not mistaken, returned to Iran. This is what civilized countries do. Citizens who are in our care and are not guilty of any wrongdoing are returned to their host countries.

In this particular case, we have three hikers who crossed an unmarked border; they’ve been in custody for more than a year. They have not been charged with a crime, and we continue to do everything possible to seek their return to the United States as well.

QUESTION: Understood. That would mean that this – I mean, Mr. Gomes broke North Korean law. He went into the country illegally, and for whatever you think of their judicial system in North Korea, he was convicted.

QUESTION: Just like the two journalists.

QUESTION: So his case would seem to be a little bit less extreme than the case of the three hikers, who you say didn’t break any law, haven’t been charged, haven’t been convicted of anything, regardless of the independence of the judicial system.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that if Iran offered us the opportunity to send a private individual to Tehran to secure the release of our three hikers, we would welcome that opportunity. Iran has shown no indication that it wishes to resolve the case of the three hikers. Iran has shown no willingness to share information with us regarding the status of Robert Levinson. So we will continue to look after the welfare of American citizens anywhere in the world, and that’s what we do every day –

QUESTION: P.J., a quick one on Iraq. Yesterday during his first press conference, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey basically vetoed – was it his first? First in Baghdad. He --

MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Jeffrey vetoed?

QUESTION: Right, he vetoed – basically issued a veto on the participation of the Sadrist (inaudible) in any future government of Iraq, saying that while they are part of a political process on the one hand, they continue to be involved with committing violent act, they continue to have arm, they continue to have militia, and as long as they do this, they cannot participate.

Considering that they’re the ones that really basically put Maliki in power and they have won so many seats, is that U.S. policy that they cannot be part of any future government of Iraq?

MR. CROWLEY: I actually – I’ve not seen Ambassador Jeffrey’s remarks, so it’s hard for me to comment on them. We are working hard through Ambassador Jeffrey with the Iraqi Government and encourage them to find a solution to their political stalemate. Those efforts are ongoing and we will continue to work hard to see a new and inclusive government emerge in Iraq as soon as possible. But this will be decisions made ultimately by political figures in Iraq not dictated by the United States.

QUESTION: When he said the position of the Government of the United States, the Sadrist (inaudible) cannot participate in any future government?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can’t comment on Jim’s remarks. I have not seen them.

QUESTION: There are press reports in the Middle East that Senator Mitchell and his deputy will be visiting Syria and Lebanon very soon, before the September 2 direct talks here.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that George Mitchell has any projected travel this week. He is currently working hard to prepare for next week’s meetings.

QUESTION: Staying in that area, there’s some reporting in the Middle East that the United States and Israel have reached an understanding about what happens after the settlement moratorium expires on the 26th, that there won’t be any announcement that it will be continued, but there will be some settlement work going on. Is that --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we look forward to the meetings next week, and as George Mitchell indicated along with Secretary Clinton here on Friday, we look forward to talking about the full range of issues associated with achieving Middle East peace.

QUESTION: The Korean Government delegation is now – has arrived here in Washington this afternoon to consult about the Iran sanctions, especially on the Iranian Mellat Bank in Seoul at the – in Seoul. So what would be your prospects and --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me take the question. I haven’t seen their full schedule, so we’ll try to find out what they’re up to and try to give you a full readout after those meetings are done.

QUESTION: Imam Rauf. There has been some reporting today about – and some recordings of comments he had in 2005 saying that the U.S. Government has more blood on its hands of innocent Muslims than al-Qaida has of innocents. Do you have any reaction to that? And is that the type of outreach that – the type of person you would be sending for outreach to Muslim countries?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, let me say that Imam Feisal has arrived in Doha, Qatar from Bahrain. He will be giving remarks and attending a traditional event of handing out gifts and treats to children at the Doha Youth Center. He has another – a full range of other private events that include a lecture at a university, meetings with government officials, meetings with NGOs, participants in Iftars, and participation in services at mosques and Ramadan activities.

Imam Feisal is a distinguished cleric in this country, and I will let him discuss remarks that he’s made. We are aware of those remarks. I would just caution any of you that choose to writing – write on this, that once again, you have a case where a blogger has pulled out one passage from a very lengthy speech. If you read the entire speech, you will discover exactly why we think he is rightfully participating in this international speaking tour.

QUESTION: Is he the Muslim Shirley Sherrod?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good cautionary tale for everybody.

QUESTION: Can I – you said that --

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does it --

MR. CROWLEY: Hold it.

QUESTION: Well, this is on that. You gave a little bit of detail about his schedule in Qatar. I just wanted to make sure – that’s all today or is that tomorrow when he gets --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s during the course of the next several days while he’s in Qatar before he goes to the UAE.

QUESTION: Yeah. The New York – well, Mr. Feisal made a comment, a brief comment about the mosque to be built near Ground Zero. And The New York Times reported, when he said that, that it was a departure from the message of discipline urged on him by the State Department. Does the State Department – is the State Department either advising or coaching him on his overall message during the trip?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: And then has the State Department in any way advised him not to talk about the mosque project?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Imam Feisal has his own objectives for what he – I mean, this is a tour sponsored by the State Department. It is for Imam Feisal to communicate what he feels is the appropriate message in his interactions in Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. He has, at various times, been staked out by your colleagues in the media who are in the area. He has been asked about this project in discussions with his interlocutors in Bahrain.

We – he wants to be sure, because at – from this podium, we’ve been, and in other interviews that we’ve done, we’ve been – it’s been suggested that through this tour, he’s going to be promoting the center; that’s not true. He’s going to be fundraising; that’s not true. He has chosen to make the focus of his efforts the kind of interfaith dialogue that we seek around the world. He has chosen not to comment on the center so he can’t be accused of doing things which are not consistent with the goals of the international program that he’s participating in. And we respect those decisions.

We have talked to him to learn from him how he plans to approach the tour that he’s on, how – what he wants us to do in terms of helping him arrange prospective interviews with the news media. He has chosen an approach. We respect that approach. We are supporting him throughout this tour. But the choice as to whether he talks about the center and what that represents in terms of issues of freedom of religion and religious tolerance, those are his choices to make.

QUESTION: So on the --

QUESTION: Did you caution him not to engage in any kind of fundraising, lawful as it may be?

MR. CROWLEY: We have – we did remind him – and we have no evidence that he had any plans to do any personal business during this trip, but we did remind him, in light of some media accusations, that he would be doing fundraising just to be – just to reiterate that our policies are he’s here on a government-sponsored tour to have dialogue with people in these countries, and he has not done any personal business that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: But has he been given, like, guidelines as to what is lawful and what is not lawful in terms of raising funds?

MR. CROWLEY: No. But I don’t think personally that this – the fact that he mentioned the center and the issue that it has created in this country is necessarily off message. He’s not there to promote the center. But the fact that there is an issue that is being debated within our country and is – will be resolved through a dialogue and applicable law and zoning regulations, this is precisely the kind of tolerance and rule of law that we do, in fact, preach through our international information programs.

QUESTION: You mentioned he’s going there to promote interfaith dialogue. He’s going to Middle East, which is Islamic countries. Where the interfaith dialogue comes in?

MR. CROWLEY: You’re right. You’re right. He is talking about the role of religion in our society. But I know from reading some of his past – he can reflect on his own faith and how that compares to other faiths. But you’re right; he’s there primarily to talk about how Muslims practice in this country.

QUESTION: And how – who’s paying for those gifts he’s giving away? Are they made in U.S.A.? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll assume that that is within the $16,000 cost of his trip.

QUESTION: Is his wife scheduled to be in any of these programs?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe – is – his wife is here in the United States and I believe she – there was a provision for her to join him in the UAE. I believe she has chosen to stay in the United States.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)



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