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Middle East Digest - August 30, 2010


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Washington, DC
August 30, 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 30, 2010

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1:36 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Continuing on, the Secretary has been working from home, shall we say, taking a few days off last week from her duties here. She’ll return to Washington this evening. And I expect between now and Wednesday, she’ll have a handful of meetings with her counterparts as we prepare for the President’s dinner on Wednesday night and the meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas here at the State Department on Thursday.

I know tomorrow, she will meet with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit of Egypt and General Soliman, who is the head of the Egyptian Intelligence Services. The two of them regularly interact with the Secretary and George Mitchell on Middle Eastern developments. I would expect she’ll have other meetings that are still being set up. She talked over the weekend with EU Special Representative Tony Blair. He will also be in town this week to participate in the dinner.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- those meetings are here?

MR. CROWLEY: The meetings are here, yes.

QUESTION: In this building?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes. I think you’ve seen in the last –

QUESTION: Has she spoken with any Israelis, as long as you’re doing various sides, or Palestinians directly?

MR. CROWLEY: Not that I’m aware of over the weekend, no.

QUESTION: All right. Can I ask you about the firing of the Afghan deputy attorney general and what this – what you make of that? Does it increase your concerns about President Karzai’s commitment to fighting corruption?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in terms of the – that specific action, we are in touch with the Afghan Government, but I’ll leave it to the Afghan Government to explain that personnel action. What he was doing was vitally important to fighting corruption in Afghanistan. It is an area that we are watching closely. We are concerned by recent pronouncements and recent actions by the Afghan Government. The Government has to demonstrate that it is living up to the commitments made by President Karzai and others, that it is going to allow the institutions that are being built in Afghanistan, including the major crimes task force and the special investigative unit to be able to function free of political interference.

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure

QUESTION: Can you give us more details about what happened on Thursday about the negotiations, the format, where they will be held, in which room, who will be participating?

MR. CROWLEY: Here Thursday?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re – actually we’re still working through some of the specific details. I believe they’ll be here in the morning. We’ll probably have more to say, I expect, tomorrow.

QUESTION: Back to North Korea –

QUESTION: I’m sorry – just a bit more to say about the logistics.

MR. CROWLEY: Just I would expect that the meeting will start with some sort of a media activity camera spay where each of the leaders, including Secretary Clinton, will have a chance to make some opening remarks and I believe at the conclusion of the meeting on Thursday, we’ll have George Mitchell give you a briefing as to what was discussed. I think because of the demand that we expect – the media demand, we may move the briefing to like the Acheson Auditorium. But we’ll let you know about that. I think we’ll have those details nailed down by the end of today.

QUESTION: And just in general, what’s the best case scenario for the outcome of Thursday’s meeting: an agreement to meet again or peace? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I think we would – while the parameters of an ultimate comprehensive peace agreement are well known, we do not expect to achieve peace in one meeting. But I think we want to see the launch of a vigorous process that will involve significant involvement by the leaders themselves as well as regular interaction with their respective negotiating teams, including the full participation of the United States supported by other countries in the region and around the world. As the President and the Secretary and George Mitchell have laid out, we think that we can reach an agreement on – within a one-year time frame. That is what our goal is.

QUESTION: There will be more than one session on Thursday or –

MR. CROWLEY: That’s a good – I mean, they’ll start off together. You never know; there could be some side sessions. I’m just not in a position to say at this point.

QUESTION: As part of the preparations for this, I’m wondering if you can tell us if the Secretary or anybody else has had specific conversations with the Saudis or if she plans to in the run-up to these talks. Is there any outreach going on with them?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t be surprised. We had team members in the region last week, including David Hale, Dan Shapiro. I understand Dennis Ross was also in the region. Last week, George Mitchell was working the phones, as were others. But I can’t – we are in regular contact with those that we trust will support the process as it goes forward. I don’t have a comprehensive list.

QUESTION: And on the logistics side, will the meeting on Thursday include a lunch or just a business meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: Depending on when – I don’t know if there’s a meal included.

QUESTION: Well, why the Europeans are not invited to the meeting at the White House?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, the Europeans are invited to the meeting at the White House. Tony Blair, as the EU Special Representative, will be there representing the EU.

QUESTION: But you don’t expect --

QUESTION: Not the Quartet?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Is the Quartet represented there?

QUESTION: The European Union --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Well, he – I mean, he is also there representing; I think, Catherine Ashton as well.

QUESTION: I’m just --

QUESTION: Why not – sorry. Why not –Ashton not intend – invited. Was she invited?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, she is on – I think she has travel coming up, if not already started, to China.

QUESTION: But she was invited?

MR. CROWLEY: She was aware of the schedule.

QUESTION: Just – you don’t expect Blair – do you expect Blair on Thursday here?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: You don’t. And you do – also do not expect Mubarek and King Abdullah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right. No.

QUESTION: So it’ll just be Clinton, Mitchell, Netanyahu, Abbas –

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and their teams?

MR. CROWLEY: Correct.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the peace process?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Israeli prime minister has said today that he didn’t give any commitment to the Americans regarding the extension of the moratorium that will expire on September 26th. And President Abbas has said that if there is no extension for the moratorium, then the negotiations will collapse. Did you talk to the two parties regarding this point?

MR. CROWLEY: We look forward to having the meeting on Thursday – the dinner on Wednesday, the meeting on Thursday – where we’ll have the ability to talk directly about all of the core issues, including settlements. But that’s – but the fact that you have positions on both sides, that’s – this demonstrates why we think it has been important for the parties to get into direct negotiations as the only way to come to some sort of agreement on this important issue.

QUESTION: But you didn’t get any guarantees from the Israelis regarding this point, exactly?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’ve gone through this many times. We’re looking forward to the meeting on Thursday, the dinner on Wednesday, and settlements will be among the issues that we expect to discuss.

QUESTION: Just to follow up very quickly, since settlements is obviously the issue or could be the issue that could make or break the negotiation, do you expect that to be the first item to be discussed?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the parameters of an ultimate agreement are well known. Settlements are one issue, Jerusalem is an issue, refugees is an issue, security is an issue, borders is an issue, water and other pragmatic aspects of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

During the course of this process, we expect to address all of these core issues and see if we can’t find a formula to reach an agreement that ends the conflict once and for all. All of these issues are on the table, and we expect all of these issues will be discussed during this process.

QUESTION: Do you think that you will be able to find a solution for the settlement issue in 24 days before the expiration of the –

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we –

QUESTION: -- moratorium?

MR. CROWLEY: We have pushed hard to get the parties into direct negotiations, and we look forward to the meetings later this week.

QUESTION: When you called for the direct talks to start without preconditions, do you consider the call by the Palestinians for freezing the settlements as a precondition?

MR. CROWLEY: We look – Samir, we look forward to seeing the talks, direct negotiations resume later this week. And then we’ll be happy to report to you as to what was discussed.

QUESTION: Change of subject, Iraq? The Vice President is in Iraq. I have two questions.

Do you think that the Iranian influence in Iraq has ebbed or retreated, as has been suggested?

And second, could you share with us the idea of, let’s say, shared kind of governing between Allawi and Maliki; one would head the government and one would head the – what they call the strategic council?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are concerned about Iranian influence within Iraq. We’ve said it many times. We are conscious that a variety of Iraq’s neighbors have had an interest in what happens there. That said, I think we have complete confidence, and those of us who know Iraqis well know that they will chart their own course, and they will do so free of whatever meddling they might see within their borders.

It’s important for Iraq to resolve the current political stalemate. The Vice President has arrived and will be having conversations with Iraqi leaders over the next couple of days as we see the transition ceremony later this week, want to see the Iraqi Government formed as soon as possible, and work going forward on behalf of all Iraqis.

But this is not something that we will impose on Iraq. We will be willing to have conversations and encourage Iraqi leaders to put aside whatever individual political interests they have, and look to Iraq’s future and take steps that are – take statesman-like actions that are in the broader national interest of Iraq. And we are confident that they’ll work through these politics and eventually arrive at a new government.

QUESTION: Do you concur with the assessment that Iranian influence has regressed in recent weeks?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s hard for me to calculate that from here. I think – Iraq is pursuing its own national interest, and we think that they will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Yeah. P.J., in his latest interview from Abu Dhabi, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf blamed a tiny vociferous minority and the U.S. political system for opposition to the mosque in New York. Is that, in your mind, consistent with his bridge-building mission on the trip?

MR. CROWLEY: He has moved from Qatar to the UAE, the final stop on his tour. Those comments are his own. I’m not surprised that, during the course of interviews that he might have, that he was asked about the controversy, and – but we certainly understand that helping people understand the genuine debate that is going on in this country is a legitimate topic of discussion during the course of his tour.

QUESTION: At least I hope they’re only loose ends. How go your efforts to convince members of Congress that the aid to the Lebanese – military aid to the Lebanese Army is a good thing and is in U.S. interests?

MR. CROWLEY: Our review is ongoing.

QUESTION: So it hasn’t – you haven’t reported back to them at all on whether you think Hezbollah has undue or any influence?

MR. CROWLEY: We have promised to inform Congress when we have completed our review, and we haven’t done so yet.

QUESTION: But it is still your view – so it’s still your view at the moment that this is a good thing, or this is in the U.S. interest, and in the interest of security in the region, to provide this assistance?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)



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