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Middle East Digest - May 27, 2011


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Washington, DC
May 27, 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 27, 2011

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MR. TONER: you also probably saw the note we put out earlier today about Ambassador Princeton Lyman is being dispatched to ongoing peace talks about Darfur in Doha, Qatar, and he’ll go on to Sudan to address the recent crisis in Abyei as well as outstanding North-South issues. Ambassador Lyman travels tomorrow to Doha, where he’ll join with the U.S. senior adviser on Darfur, Dane Smith, at an all-Darfur stakeholders’ conference. He’ll urge the Sudanese Government and Darfuri armed movements to reach a political agreement, commit to an immediate ceasefire, and take immediate steps to improve security and humanitarian conditions on the ground in Darfur.

From Doha, Ambassador Lyman will travel to Khartoum and Juba. He’ll join Sudan envoys from the other Troika nations, the UK and Norway, to meet with Northern and Southern leaders to address the recent Abyei crisis and as part of a sustained dialogue with Sudanese officials on a wide range of issues, including full and timely implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the resolution of the Darfur conflict.

That’s all I have. I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: -- did you give the date for when he’s actually going to travel in Khartoum?

MR. TONER: I do not. I believe he’s just in --

QUESTION: He’s going, like, one day?

MR. TONER: No. We don’t have it – I think Doha’s probably one day, so I think he’s onto Khartoum on, probably, Sunday.

QUESTION: When will he be back?

MR. TONER: He returns June 12th, so quite a long trip.

QUESTION: n. There’re reports out that American officials have met with senior aides to Mullah Omar over the past couple of months as a way to broach reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Do you have anything on those?

MR. TONER: I don't have any details. I mean, I think the Secretary was pretty clear in her remarks the other day saying we’ve had – we have – continue to have a range of contacts in Afghanistan, but we don’t want to get into any specific details about who those contacts are. We continue to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process, and the Secretary was also quite clear in laying out what we believe are the red lines that the Taliban need to adhere to before we can have any kind of reconciliation.

QUESTION: Any more on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: No, I don’t. Sorry.

QUESTION: Have some of those contacts taken place outside of Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. But again, I don’t have details.

QUESTION: Can I ask you – the UN Secretary General has sent letters to a number of countries in the eastern Mediterranean urging them not to send these flotillas next month to Gaza. I was curious what you can explain a little bit more about what the U.S. might be doing diplomatically to discourage --

MR. TONER: I know – I don’t know more broadly. I do know that, with respect to Turkey, we have been in contact with the Turkish Government and discussed it. Obviously, no one wants to see anything like what happened previously.

Yeah. Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Sorry. Nobody wants to see what part of it – the fact that they sent them or the fact that there was a response or what?

MR. TONER: No, just an incident, just an incident like previous –

QUESTION: Can we stay on that? Have you spoken to Israel at all in recent times about how they should respond to possible –

MR. TONER: I believe those were addressed in the aftermath of the previous incident. Yeah.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: May I go to the Secretary’s visit to Pakistan? Admiral Mullen --

MR. TONER: The Secretary’s visit to Pakistan, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Admiral Mullen and the Secretary was in Pakistan, and what I’m asking you is that before Admiral Mullen left, that he spoke at the Wilson Center in Washington, where –

MR. TONER: Admiral Mullen?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: And where he said that he doesn’t see any evidence of high-ranking ISI or Pakistani military officials as far as hiding of Usama concerned. Same thing now the Secretary is saying in Islamabad.

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What I’m asking you: How can they say – how do they – how sure they are that the very long hand of any high officials, because most Pakistanis believe that ISI and military at the top must be knowing or they are hiding from them and from the U.S.? So what I’m asking now: Is there any U.S. policy change in Pakistan or Afghanistan as far as their visit is concerned?

MR. TONER: As far as –

QUESTION: Secretary’s visit is concerned.

MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, as you know, the Secretary, along with Admiral Mullen, gave a press conference earlier today in Islamabad. You’ve all seen the transcript. It’s important to note that she did meet with and had a very frank, open discussion with the leadership of Pakistan, President Zardari, and then Prime Minister Gilani, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khar, Foreign Secretary Bashir, Chief of the Army Staff Kayani, as well as General Pasha.

The Secretary, I think, was very frank in her assessment of those meetings. She thought they were very constructive. She reiterated what we said before, which is that there are challenges in this relationship, and – but we’re committed to working through them because, frankly, it’s in the interests both of the United States and Pakistan to do so.

And with respect to your question, the Secretary – both the Secretary and Admiral Mullen said they see no evidence. They repeated that again today. I think the Secretary spoke of the fact that, with the president, that he may have been behind – that al-Qaida may have been behind the attack on his wife. And so this is – again, it’s worth noting that Pakistan is a country that’s been deeply touched by the scourge of terrorism. It’s had thousands killed by terrorists on its soil, and so they face an existential threat from al-Qaida and other terrorists as well. We’re committed to working with Pakistan moving forward on this.

QUESTION: And finally, is the Secretary asking the Pakistani to do more now, whatever the past is past, but as far as future is concerned for the Pakistanis as far as terrorism concerned, and so they will not train or export any more terrorists around the globe?

MR. TONER: Wind chime in here?

The Secretary was clear to say that we’re at a pivotal moment in the relationship, certainly with the death of bin Ladin, but there’s other important aspects of the relationship that are in motion. We’ve been applying – next door in Afghanistan; we’ve been applying steady pressure on the Taliban. We want to see also, concurrent with that, the reconciliation – Afghan-led reconciliation process move forward. So there’s clearly a lot on the table here. This is not a time for inaction – this is – inaction at all. This is a time for greater action and consolidated effort, I think, is what the Secretary was trying to say.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary seems to have given a clean chit to Pakistan. On what basis this is being given while the Chicago court is listening to all what Headley has to say against the ISI? And also that – does this mean that we have evaluated all the material that we took from bin Ladin compound?

MR. TONER: I think the Secretary acknowledged that – in her press availability that – and we’re appreciative of the Government of Pakistan giving us access to bin Ladin’s compound.

In relation to your other question, I don’t think she gave them a free chit, if you will. We acknowledge that there are difficulties in the relationship, but the bottom line is that this is a relationship that’s in our interest and in Pakistan’s interest, and so we need to work through these challenges moving forward.

QUESTION: So we cannot conclude that Pakistan’s hand is not in the attacks?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about the Mumbai attacks?

QUESTION: In the Mumbai attacks and also in hiding bin Ladin.

MR. TONER: I’m aware of the Headley trial that’s playing out in Chicago. We’ve talked about it before. But I’m restricted in what I can comment on it while it’s an ongoing legal process.

QUESTION: And you mention about the transcript. In her transcript she says many of the leaders of the Taliban continue to live in Pakistan. So on what basis she says that and did she meet any of them or --

MR. TONER: Well, Tejinder, we’ve – it’s widely known that in some of the FATA areas of Pakistan that there are Taliban leaders, that the borders are very porous and they move freely across them, and that’s a challenge that we need to confront in – we can’t put pressure on Afghanistan and not apply that same pressure within Pakistan. And it’s something frankly that – something that the Pakistan armed forces have taken on. They have made progress in that area.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on a question earlier this week about the Saudi woman, Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested after posting a YouTube video driving in Khobar. Any update on her status? And has the United States expressed concern to the Saudi Government over her detention?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’ll have to look into it. I’m not aware that – I don’t know that there’s been direct contact with the Saudi Government. I think we expressed pretty clearly from the podium earlier this week that there’s obviously an ongoing social debate within Saudi Arabia and that those voices need to be respected and heard on a variety of issues. I’m not aware that we’ve raised this particular case with the Saudi Government. I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. According to U.S. and Afghan generals, there were about – or more than 25,000 al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan. My question is, as far as Usama bin Ladin’s death, is that number going to reduce? Because only a few hundred have joined the mainstream – the army and police.

MR. TONER: I have no idea what the impact will be on Taliban’s numbers in Afghanistan. The Secretary and others have spoken of the fact that this is an opportunity for the Taliban to cleanly break with al-Qaida, to embrace the Afghan constitution, and to move forward to eschew violence and become involved in the political process. And that’s an Afghan-led process. We support it, we want to see reconciliation, but, in answer to your broader question about numbers, I just don’t have those details.



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