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Middle East Digest - August 25, 2010

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Washington, DC
August 25, 2010


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 25, 2010

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1:39 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you just update on floods in Pakistan? And also, according to some reports, when P.J. said yesterday that clear-cut they don’t know who is coordinating, who is the chief, as Dr. Shah was in Haiti, but many visits are taking place there, like Ambassador Holbrooke, Senator John Kerry, and so on. Do you have any idea now – Dr. Shah is also there – why he was not appointed as the chief negotiator, chief coordinator there? Because some Pakistan did object to it because he’s an Indian American.

MR. TONER: P.J. addressed this, I thought in great detail, yesterday when he said that we’ve got a robust interagency response working in coordination with the Pakistani Government and that is key. It involves assets from the U.S. Agency for International Development, it obviously involves military assets as well, and all are being brought to bear working in coordination with our Embassy in Islamabad to bring as much relief as quickly as possible to those affected by the floods in Pakistan.

QUESTION: And now one more quickly. Can you say now that as far as food and medicine and other basic needs are now reaching directly to the people?

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right; that’s a legitimate question in the sense that we’ve seen reports that we’re having trouble – that international organizations are having trouble getting assistance to the people. All I can say is it’s a massive, complex natural disaster and we’re making every effort to get those types of assistance to the people who need it most. And frankly, the helicopters and the air capacity or capability that the U.S. forces – the U.S. military brings to bear in a crisis like this is invaluable.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern or comment about the ITU, the International Telecommunication Union, which is a UN agency, issuing an appeal for people – individuals to donate money and to – for flood relief directly into the Pakistani prime minister’s fund and also a Swiss bank account that the ITU controls?

MR. TONER: Matt, I’m not aware of that story, so I’d have to look into it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Well, Dr. Shah, I think spoke to it in Pakistan and --

MR. TONER: What was his comment? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t --

MR. TONER: All I can say is that we’ve got several texting options and we would just encourage folks to use them. For example, the U.S. --

QUESTION: You would encourage people to use --

MR. TONER: We would encourage people to – I mean, you’ll have to go to the UN. I’m not aware of the story you’re talking about. I’d have to look into it. But as we’ve said many times from this podium, U.S. individuals can send $10 through mobile phones by texting FLOOD to 27722. But as to those specific complaints, allegations, whatever, I just don’t know any details.


QUESTION: New topic?

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: WikiLeaks has posted a new document today from the CIA. It was apparently a report from February of this year about concerns that the U.S. may be viewed as an exporter of terror given the number of Americans who have gone abroad to join terrorist movements. Do you have any similar concerns here at the State Department?

MR. TONER: Kirit, I’m not going to comment on the contents of classified material that’s put up on WikiLeaks. I don’t think I can.

QUESTION: Did anyone ever – from WikiLeaks or any news organization ever come to you, to the State Department, before this latest release today to try and vet any of the information? It seems like it was all CIA, but the State Department --

MR. TONER: The vetting – I’m sorry, did anybody from WikiLeaks contact us? Not that I’m aware of, no.


MR. TONER: Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: A different topic. Avigdor Lieberman is quoted as saying that it will be virtually impossible to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians within the one-year or the about-one-year timeframe that was announced last week. Are such pessimistic comments like that from a senior Israeli official helpful heading into next week’s talks?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just say that President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and others have all expressed confidence in the one-year timeframe. And we’re just looking to next week and beginning the talks and getting the process going.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t be – you wouldn’t prefer it if Israeli officials weren’t saying things like that?

MR. TONER: It’s not a matter of my preference. We’re looking for good discussions, all topics, all issues on the table next week. And I’m not going to get into the position of evaluating remarks into the run-up.

QUESTION: And secondly, one Indian man, Vijay Kumar, was arrested in Houston last week with materials all for Islamic fundamental – al-Qaida materials, booklets, and other things. Do you have anything on that? Is he cleared of the charges? Did he have any terrorist connections?

MR. TONER: I’m aware of the story and would refer you to DHS on specifics.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s the U.S. reaction regarding Iran providing weapons to the Lebanese national army?

MR. TONER: Look, no real comment. I mean, it just speaks to what we’ve said in previous weeks, which is U.S. assistance – it underscores the importance, both to our national security and the security of the region, to continue with our security assistance to the Lebanese army.

QUESTION: So you’re not worried about this hold? You don’t think it’s a bad idea?

MR. TONER: The hold --

QUESTION: The hold from Congress on the $100 million?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re looking – we’re reviewing the program that’s underway and we hope to conclude that soon and renew assistance.

MR. TONER: In the back there.

QUESTION: Mark, thanks very much for taking my question. This is John Terrett from Al Jazeera Television. Can you just say something about how – this is about a troop drawdown question. Can you just say –

MR. TONER: In Iraq?

QUESTION: In Iraq, yeah.

MR. TONER: In Iraq, okay.

QUESTION: Can you just say something about the Administration continuing to hang onto the line that things have changed in Iraq, that the ballots and politics have taken over from warfare sufficiently to allow the complete withdrawal of all combat troops by next week? And yet today, almost 50 people have died in what looks like almost 20 coordinated attacks in the country.

MR. TONER: I would just say – I would just paraphrase, reiterate what Ambassador Chris Hill said when he was here a couple of weeks ago, which is that these are terrible, tragic incidences. And we’ve seen, obviously, a spike in violence. This was somewhat predictable in the sense that there are factions in Iraq who are seeking to exploit what they view as a transition period to undermine the progress that’s been made on the ground. But the overall arc is towards less and less violence and more and more stability. That’s thin gruel to the people who are affected by the kinds of violence that we’ve seen today, but it’s still important to be said.

So we continue to believe that we’re seeing progress on the ground, that the overall trend is positive, that we’ve got a democratic process in place that is moving forward, and that we believe that Iraqi security forces can assume responsibility for that country’s security in the long term.

QUESTION: Might I just do a quick follow-up?

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Because, I mean – can you just speak to the idea about the door being ajar for combat troops to go back in? Ray Odierno said so on television on Sunday. He said if they ask us, we’ll consider it at the national security level in the (inaudible). So why leave the – why even say that the door is still open for combat troops to go back in?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is part of a transition period, and we have confidence that Iraqi security forces can handle this transition and can ultimately be the providers of Iraq’s security and stability. That is the goal. But as for an assessment of the security situation as it stands now, I would just – I would defer to Odierno’s comments.

QUESTION: Yesterday, General Conway said with the July 2011 deadline that the Taliban – it’s giving sustenance to our enemies. Do you honestly believe that the Taliban is just lying in wait until we pull out of Afghanistan in 2011?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I would refer you to the Pentagon for what he said. I can speak to what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan on the civil side, and obviously we’re trying to grow Afghanistan’s security forces, police forces, army, in order to fill the ultimate role of providing security in Afghanistan.

But in terms of assessing the troop drawdown, I’m going to defer to the Pentagon on that one.

QUESTION: From his assessment, would you think that they will still be there beyond 2011 in Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Again, he’s a military expert and I’m going to leave the assessment to them.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)

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