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Middle East Digest - August 26, 2101

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Washington, DC
August 26, 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 26, 2010

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1:22 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: USAID Administrator Raj Shah is on his way back to Washington from Pakistan. Yesterday, he announced $50 million of additional assistance to meet the immediate needs of Pakistan as it deals with this horrible disaster. This $50 million latest block is money that will be redirected from other priorities under Kerry-Lugar-Berman, including prepositioning of supplies in Pakistan to be able to more effectively assist the people of Pakistan when the immediate crisis – or when the flood waters begin to recede. In the meantime, as he said, we will be reevaluating our projects, some of which are, literally, under water. And whereas additionally, agricultural and economic infrastructure that has already been part of our plan, will become ever more important in the coming days and weeks.

But this brings up to – the United States’s support for Pakistan up to $200 million in a combination of relief and recovery efforts. And we’ll be releasing, as we always do, our daily fact sheet of the disaster response. But we have delivered to date almost 2 million pounds of relief supplies to the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Right. And then my other brief logistical thing was on the Pakistan aid. The 50 million is coming from Kerry-Lugar-Berman?

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: Well, then so how – so, in fact, that’s not new. It was already going to Pakistan, right?

MR. CROWLEY: It was already going to Pakistan. It was for longer-term development. It is being redirected to meet Pakistan’s immediate needs.


QUESTION: Sorry, 15 or 50?

MR. CROWLEY: Fifty, 5-0.

QUESTION: But the – all right, this is where the numbers get all screwy here. Because I mean if this money – regardless of whether it was going to go for emergency flooding or not, it seems to me that this money was already appropriated.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s true. That’s true.

QUESTION: So it’s not really new money.

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t say it was new money.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but you said this brings our total to 200 million.

MR. CROWLEY: The 200 million that we are directing towards the current crisis in Pakistan.

QUESTION: All right, okay.

QUESTION: P.J., may I just follow quickly on Pakistan, please? Talibans are threatening and warning foreigners who are working for relief efforts and that if you don’t get out of Pakistan then you will be killed. What safety do you have since Dr. Shah and others are – including Senator Kerry and Ambassador Holbrooke and all were there?

MR. CROWLEY: We are concerned that extremist elements within Pakistan, including the TTP, may well decide to attack foreigners who are in Pakistan helping the people of Pakistan, or may choose at this time to attack government institutions in Pakistan that are responding on behalf of the Pakistani people. And I think it just underscores the bankrupt vision that these extremists have, and we are conscious of that threat. We are working with the Government of Pakistan to deal with that threat, but it is something that we are watching very carefully.

QUESTION: And one --

QUESTION: What is the U.S. doing to mitigate the threat? Are they stepping up security? Is there an increase in security measures for --

MR. CROWLEY: We’re looking at the potential implications. We – security is obviously an ongoing concern to us given what we know happened recently next door in Afghanistan. So we are conscious of this threat; it is a real threat. We are working with the Government of Pakistan. But obviously, to the extent that this is something that extremists in Pakistan are contemplating, it demonstrates their disregard for the welfare of the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you have any information that this threat is actually increasing or has this always been there?

MR. CROWLEY: Without getting into intelligence matters, we have – we’re in possession of threat information. We are dealing – we are talking to and working with the Government of Pakistan to do everything we can to make sure that our disaster response and Pakistan’s disaster response can continue in light of this threat.

QUESTION: Is there any information that the U.S. aid is particularly targeted, or is that – or that – on a particular threat, or has it been the entire operation?

MR. CROWLEY: We have information of the potential targeting of foreign relief workers in Pakistan as well as government ministries.

QUESTION: How much of the $200 million has already been spent?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, for the most part, this is assistance that is already flowing to the people of Pakistan. I can’t speak of the $50 million that Dr. Shah spoke of yesterday, but for the most part, this is money that has already been committed and for which supplies and support is already flowing to the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: One more, same question I’ve been asking every day ever since this flood problem in Pakistan. I have been going around the Pakistani community in the area here. Again, they are saying that – tell them, the spokesman, or Secretary Hillary Clinton or Dr. Shah that – why Pakistanis are not giving because they have to stop corruption and relief funds should go directly to the people; people are still crying for food.

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, Dr. Shah spoke of this yesterday. We are aggressively supporting Pakistan, but we are also going to make sure that in providing that support, whether it’s in the immediate term or the long term, that assistance is provided in a transparent manner, that there will be accountability. And we want to make sure that the assistance actually gets to the people who are – who have the greatest need.

QUESTION: Afghanistan –

QUESTION: Pakistan, but a slightly different issue: In Afghanistan, an official today announced in Kabul that they have reached an understanding with Pakistan, Tajikistan and India for construction of a gas pipeline running from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and to India. How do you view this development? He also said there’s agreement of the signed letter, they said, maybe in November.

MR. CROWLEY: Tell you what, I’ll take the question of whether there’s – we have been working to encourage greater trade and investment across the region. There have been some energy deals that we’ve had conversations with, but I’ll take the question and see if there’s a specific project and if it’s reached a point at which we can comment.

QUESTION: New thing.


QUESTION: Could you update us on the trip of the U.S. envoys to the West Bank – Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Hale? And what are they doing? Are they indulging in trilateral talks?

MR. CROWLEY: They are not. David Hale and Dan Shapiro – David, of course, is George Mitchell’s deputy, Dan Shapiro from the NSC that are in the region today. They’re meeting with both Palestinian and Israeli officials and planning for next week’s direct negotiations here in Washington.

QUESTION: And these negotiations that they’re involved in, do they deal with terms of reference, do they deal with (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: They are doing the kind of preparatory work for the meetings next week. I won’t talk in any particulars.

QUESTION: There’s a report out of the region that the two of them are working on – with the Israelis to come up with some sort of interim step that they could take on settlements, for example, ahead of the talks, that they could show up to the talks with some sort of goodwill gesture. What can you tell us about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they’re dealing with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. These are preparatory meetings in advance of the gathering at the White House on September 1st and here at the State Department on September 2nd. These are preparatory discussions and – so that we – the negotiations get off to a fast start next week.

QUESTION: I understand that. I think what I’d like to know is whether they’re working on getting at least the Israelis to come to the table with some sort of proposal before talks begin.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re working with both parties to make sure that we have a successful first meeting.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know if there is an update on a possible Mitchell trip to Syria.

MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell remains here in the United States and he’ll be here in Washington next week. He is not traveling overseas prior to the arrival of the president and prime minister next week.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about Mr. Hoff? Mr. – Senator Mitchell’s deputy is visiting Lebanon today, I guess.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll – we’ll put – if he is, we’ll put out some information on his visit.

QUESTION: On the – on Iraq, as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its major combat forces from Iraq –

MR. CROWLEY: I think we have withdrawn our combat forces from Iraq.

QUESTION: As that takes place, how – can you comment on how America’s relationship will be changing with Iraq? And specifically, do you feel you may be losing some political leverage as less U.S. forces are on the ground so will American influence to perhaps get together with different Iraqi religious groups or political groups?

MR. CROWLEY: We are in the midst of a transition in our relationship with Iraq. Over the past seven years, our relationship has been dominated by our significant military presence in the country. We now have reduced that presence below 50,000 military forces who will be there for another 16 months helping to train Iraqi security forces and to back up Iraqi security forces as they continue to deal with the security challenge across Iraq. In the meantime, we are stepping up activity on the civilian side. We’re going to be constructing a relationship that more closely resembles our relationship with many other countries in the region.

There’s still a lot of work to do with Iraq: helping Iraq build its economy, helping Iraq build its institutions of government, extending civil society and the rule of law. And we’ll be continuing to encourage Iraq to form a new government and maintain or sustain an inclusive political process. I think our relationship is broadening and deepening with this transition. I don’t – but the key to – we will continue to work with Iraq as a partner. It’s not about leverage, but it’s about helping Iraq make – chart its own future and that’s something that we’re committed to help Iraq do.

QUESTION: You previously expressed your concern about Iran meddling with Iraq’s sovereignty. Is there a potential for Iran to gain greater influence in – with let’s say Iraqi politicians or politics as combat troops have withdrawn?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are worried about the influence of other countries inside Iraq. That said, Iraq is going to chart its own future. I think people that worry about the influence of Iran in Iraq, I think miscalculate it in terms of the determination of Iraq, its leaders, and its people to chart its own course. We’re there, committed to help Iraq, but we also want to have Iraq build constructive relations with its neighbors and play a more constructive role in the region than it has in the past.

QUESTION: How alarmed are you that the recent spike in violence could derail the U.S. mission as stated? Because I know you --

MR. CROWLEY: I think what’s important is that the current spike of violence is not directed at the United States. It’s directed at the Iraqi Government. It’s – yesterday’s brutal attacks were directed at the very institutions of government that are there to help secure the Iraqi people. We are concerned about the spike in violence. It’s something that we actually anticipated, that these extremist elements would, as we removed forces, try to step up their activity. They’re doing that.

By the same token, we have confidence that Iraqi security forces are up to the task. They’ve been in the lead now for more than a year. We’re going to – there are going to be good days and bad days in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Yesterday was a bad day. But we have complete confidence in Iraq’s ability to ultimately defeat these extremist elements.

QUESTION: Moving on, P.J., (inaudible) Iran to come to the negotiating table, and Iran has finally now said that it’s ready. What is holding up the determination of a date and place both with regard to the Vienna Group meeting (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: There are discussions ongoing between Iran and Catherine Ashton in the EU, and between Iran and the IAEA. We are hopeful that there can be constructive meetings in the coming weeks on both of those fronts. We stand ready to join other countries in a P-5+1 discussion with Iran, and we hope that such a meeting can be set up very shortly. And likewise, we look forward to discussions within the IAEA about whether there’s any arrangement that can be arrived at regarding the Tehran research reactor. So we’re hopeful that both of those meetings can happen soon, and there are discussions ongoing to try to set up a specific date for both of those meetings.

QUESTION: Would it make a difference if it was before or after the United Nations General Assembly next week – next month when (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that one affects the other.
QUESTION: -- you haven’t arrived a date, but has there been progress since you – we last talked about this?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we are hopeful that the meetings, both at the IAEA and with the P-5+1, can be set up in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but that’s – I’m just trying to figure out – the last time you talked about this, you were saying exactly the same thing. I’m just wondering if there’s --

MR. CROWLEY: And I’m not aware of any specific progress.


MR. CROWLEY: I think the negotiating of arrangements for these meetings is still ongoing.

QUESTION: A political question on Pakistan. You may have seen some --

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) another subject.

QUESTION: You may have seen some reports among the Pakistanis in Pakistan and also in the Pakistani media that Pakistani community is not happy with their government, and they are calling that there should be a martial law today from London directly, his message to the Pakistanis. And (inaudible) leader Mr. (inaudible), he called on Pakistan’s – that there should be a martial law in Pakistan in order to control the prices and all other problems going on there. Have you heard anything like that?

MR. CROWLEY: I have not.


MR. CROWLEY: Pakistan has a civilian government and we think it is the best form of government to take.


QUESTION: Just a quick one, first on the NASA-Chile thing. Was it Chile’s idea that NASA would be the most helpful U.S. institution or was that the U.S. Government’s idea? Who suggested this?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say. We provided an offer of assistance to Chile as a friend, and I believe Chile came back to us and said we would like to gain some perspective on NASA’s experience with how to support people in extended travel and space, and whether there are any corollaries between NASA’s experience and what these miners are experiencing underground.

QUESTION: This Saturday, in a hundred cities, protestors are going to be calling for the end of the stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran. Secretary Clinton has expressed her displeasure over our policy of not condemning stoning in the past. Is the U.S. ready to --

MR. CROWLEY: Say that again.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton has spoken out on this particular case with Ashtiani in Iran.


QUESTION: And we have yet to take a position on condemning stoning --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually that’s not true.

QUESTION: -- in Iran.

MR. CROWLEY: We have called it barbaric from this podium, and we again say stoning is a barbaric form of punishment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Will this come up with Ahmadinejad when he is in town in September for the UN?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t predict.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

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