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Middle East Digest - May 18, 2011


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Washington, DC
May 18, 2011

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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 May 18, 2011

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MR. TONER: As you know, the Secretary later today will meet with the Foreign Minister of Iceland Ossur Skarphedinsson. Sorry if I mispronounced that. The Secretary and foreign minister will discuss a range of issues on our bilateral agenda, which is based on a shared commitment to democracy, freedom, and human rights. The Secretary and foreign minister will continue the discussions they began last week at the Arctic Council. They’ll also discuss ongoing events in Libya, North Africa, and the Middle East. As NATO allies and partners in ISAF mission in Afghanistan, the United States and Iceland continue to work closely together to address these global challenges.

Just one final note. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank today and tomorrow, May 18th and 19th. On May 19th, he’ll participate in the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. This strategic dialogue allows senior U.S. and Israeli leaders to discuss, on a regular basis and in depth, the many issues that affect our mutual relation – our mutual security and partnership. In Israel, Deputy Secretary Steinberg will meet with Israeli academic and student leaders. In the West Bank, he’ll meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials, and among other issues, he’ll be discussing moving forward a Middle East peace as well as the recent fundament changes in the region, as well as the United States response to them.

QUESTION: Just --

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- a logistic thing on the Iceland meeting.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What – do you have there what Iceland’s contribution to ISAF is? Last time I checked, I don't think the country has an army.

MR. TONER: I don’t. What they probably do is offer expertise to PRT, provincial reconstruction team, but I’m not sure what capacity.

Any other questions? Lalit.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout on Ambassador Grossman’s trip? Which country he is now – when he’s going to Pakistan?

MR. TONER: I don’t. I believe he’s heading to the region for operational security details. I don't want to get into exactly when he’s going to arrive, but obviously Islamabad is among his first stops.

QUESTION: But the statement – a statement yesterday said he left probably yesterday, it said.

MR. TONER: Right. Again, I don't want to get into too much, given obvious security concerns. But I believe he’s heading to Islamabad in the next few days.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Five Senators yesterday sent a letter to Secretary Clinton, asking for assess time to check Pakistan’s commitment to and efforts to --

MR. TONER: I missed the – asking for?

QUESTION: Assessment time --

MR. TONER: Assessment time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- for Pakistan’s commitment to and efforts towards the fight against terrorism. Do you have any comments on that letter?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s – we’ve said before that we understand concerns raised in Congress by Congress about – or in the wake of the bin Ladin raid, and we share some of those concerns. We’ve been quite clear in conveying those concerns to the Government of Pakistan. We just had the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry, in Pakistan. He’s being followed now by S/RAP Mark Grossman, and we’re going to continue this dialogue. We’ve also been consistent in saying that we believe this kind of counterterrorism cooperation is indeed in the interest of both our countries, our long-term national security interests, and we’re going to seek to move forward. But that’s – it’s also important to stress that we do have these concerns, we share them, and we want answers.

QUESTION: But just a follow-up. At a hearing yesterday, which was shared by Senator Kerry, the senator did say that there are terror groups operating out of Pakistan. Have you got anything from Islamabad saying that they are working to get rid of them or stop these operations?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry – terror groups working –

QUESTION: Out of Pakistan.

MR. TONER: Oh, out of Pakistan. I thought you meant outside of Pakistan. Look, I think that we’ve been clear that we’ve had a productive counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan over the past ten years that’s led to, as the President said, the death of more terrorists on Pakistan’s soil than anywhere else in the world. We’re going to continue to pursue that because, as I said, it’s in our long-term national interest and our short-term, frankly. And it’s in the interest of Pakistan who faced, frankly, an existential threat as we saw last week with the bombing at the police training academy. So this is in our mutual interest. We clearly have some concerns that we want to address, but we’re going to keep this moving forward.

Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: But the same letters and the senators are also calling for conditions-based aid to Pakistan. Does the Administration, the Secretary, believe that you can have – put conditions on Pakistan for getting U.S. aid?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to talk in great detail about what we’re asking from Pakistan. But we are – as senator and others – Senator Kerry and others have made clear, we are asking them for some concrete actions, and short of that, I’ll just repeat what I said, which is that we’re interested in taking this relationship forward. We believe it’s in our best interest as well as in the interest of Pakistan, and we’re looking for ways to do that.

QUESTION: Can you just clarify one thing for me? All the media reports – all the on-the-table reports are suggesting that the Pakistani leaders are working on anti-American sentiments. Do you have any classified information that they are doing anything for America?

MR. TONER: No. I don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Sure. Christophe, yeah.

QUESTION: Have you seen the comments by the Russian President Medvedev this morning about – he said that Russia might abandon the START Treaty if the U.S. goes ahead with these plans on missile defense in Iraq?

MR. TONER: Right. No, nothing particular, other than that we’ve been consistent and clear for many years now that our missile defense cooperation in no way is directed at Russia. And in fact, we want to cooperate on missile defense with Russia, and we’ve been quite clear on that.

QUESTION: First, one on Steinberg’s trip. With President Obama being here tomorrow talking about the Arab Spring and with Netanyahu here later in the week –

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: -- is Steinberg taking a message with – to Abbas with him?

MR. TONER: Is Steinberg taking a message –

QUESTION: Taking a message to – if he’s going to meet with Abbas, is – and other Palestinian officials, what message is he bringing with him?

MR. TONER: Well, look, I think – I don’t want to get out in front of the President’s speech tomorrow. He’s going to talk about the region as a whole. That part has been clear. We are interested in getting both the parties back to the negotiating table, and I think he is there to – following Senator Mitchell’s resignation, to clearly convey that we remain committed to this process going forward.

Sorry, Christophe, just an add-on, and it’s actual news related to your question. We do know that Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher is departing for Moscow today and is going to continue talks on missile defense cooperation on – with her Russian counterpart.

QUESTION: Is that what was previously scheduled?

MR. TONER: That was previously scheduled.

QUESTION: Okay. Change of – just as a quick one, that Iranian American journalist –

MR. TONER: Thought I might add some news to the policy –

QUESTION: -- Dorothy Parvaz has apparently been released and has now returned to Qatar, the Al Jazeera journalist, Dorothy Parvaz.

MR. TONER: Yes –

QUESTION: I was just wondering if – number one, if you’ve confirmed that release, and number two, if the U.S., through the Swiss or the Omanis or anyone else, tried – was doing anything in that case with the –

MR. TONER: We did, I think, ask for consular access. We didn’t ever receive it, I don’t believe. But we can confirm that she is – she was permitted to depart Iran today, and I believe, as you said, she’s in Qatar. We welcome the Iranian decision to allow her to depart Iran, and we would urge – take this opportunity to urge the Iranian Government to show the same compassion for Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who have been in prison for almost two years so that they can be reunited with their families.

QUESTION: Do you know if she’s been debriefed by the U.S. Embassy?

MR. TONER: I don’t know yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:45 a.m.)



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