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Middle East Digest - July 14, 2011

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Washington, DC
July 14, 2011


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 July 14, 2011

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MR. TONER: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Just a few things at the top very briefly and then I’ll take your questions.

I did want to note that Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides spoke by telephone today with Pakistani foreign minister – sorry, minister of finance, excuse me – Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. They discussed the importance of continuing cooperation on the U.S.-Pakistan civilian assistance program, and Deputy Secretary Nides reiterated to Minister Shaikh that the United States remains committed to working in partnership with Pakistan to fuel economic growth and to improve its energy, education, and health sectors.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about Deputy Secretary Nides’ conversation with the Pakistani foreign minister?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Did they discuss at all the impact on Pakistan’s budget and external accounts from the U.S. decision to suspend some of the security assistance?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, did they discuss the impact of --

QUESTION: One implication of the U.S. Government’s decision to suspend the 800 million in security assistance is that that’s a certain amount of foreign exchange that is no longer going to be flowing into Pakistan. And it is – at least according to our reporting, it’s going to have an impact on their external accounts because this is a bunch of foreign exchange that isn’t coming in that they had presumably been counting on. And I wonder if they had discussed the implications of that in their conversation.

MR. TONER: Arshad, specifically to the impact of that – of the slowdown of this military and security assistance and its effect – possible effect on the budget, I would have to take that question because I didn’t get a full readout of their conversation. But as you know, it’s important to note that while there is this slowdown on the security and military side, our civilian assistance continues. And I think since the passage of Kerry-Lugar-Berman, we disbursed about 2 billion in civilian assistance, which includes over 550 million in emergency humanitarian assistance that was in response to the floods. So we do have the slowdown on the security side, but our civilian assistance remains undeterred. But I’ll specifically ask if that was raised.

QUESTION: Can you speak – did they speak at all about the military security assistance, or was it limited precisely only to the financial civilian assistance?

MR. TONER: I think the crux, if you will, of the conversation was about the continuing flow of civilian assistance and how best to ensure that that meets Pakistan’s needs.

QUESTION: So would you – I mean, is it fair to say that --

MR. TONER: But I don’t – as I said with Arshad --


MR. TONER: -- I don’t know if the implications of --

QUESTION: So is it fair to say --

MR. TONER: -- budgetary implications were discussed of a slowdown on the military side.

QUESTION: So was the message essentially that even as the United States is pulling back or holding back some money militarily, the civilian side, the civilian component will continue?

MR. TONER: I think the message is that while the decision to slow down some of the security and military assistance reflects the reality that some of those programs are tied to the level of our cooperation. But we continue to work productively on the civilian side; that assistance continues to flow. It speaks to the full spectrum of our relationship with Pakistan that we’re able to continue to work with them productively, and that’s, again, in our national interest as well as Pakistan’s.

QUESTION: So was the tone specifically one of reassurance?

MR. TONER: I think that’s a fair question. I think it was an important opportunity to touch base with Pakistan to ensure that this civilian assistance continues and to look at our priorities and make sure that they match Pakistan’s.

QUESTION: Was it primarily on the aid or was there some talk, perhaps, about economic reforms? There’s been lots of concern about structural problems in Pakistan’s economy, lack of a tax base.

MR. TONER: Well, you’re right, those are longstanding concerns of ours, but – and the Pakistan Government has taken some steps to address them. I’m not aware that it’s come up in this conversation.

Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: So are you expecting any breakthroughs from Pasha’s visit and his meetings with --

MR. TONER: From?

QUESTION: From General Pasha’s visit and --

MR. TONER: Pasha’s – I’m sorry, I didn’t hear.

QUESTION: -- his meetings?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I’d have to refer you to the Pakistani Government about specific meetings he may have during his visit. It’s always an important occasion to touch base.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: Are we done with Pakistan?

QUESTION: Ambassador Haqqani was also in this building today and was meeting Ambassador Benjamin, so if you could tell us what happened there?

MR. TONER: I could see if there’s a readout. It might be just part of their normal dialogue. We have, as you well know, close counterterrorism cooperation, and it might have been an opportunity to just touch base on that. But I’ll see if there’s anything specific to read out.

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, I was wondering if the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did business with a man named Roy Carver who owned a company called Red Sea Engineering and Construction, I believe.

MR. TONER: That’s going to have to be a taker. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know that, but I’ve been trying to get an answer all week --

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and that’s why --

MR. TONER: Happy to take and get back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Like any details about the business that they did. I understand that he built --

MR. TONER: This is a contractor or --

QUESTION: American contractor. I understand he built embassy housing, and I’d like to know if that’s accurate.

MR. TONER: Okay. Fair enough. We’ll take it.

MR. TONER: Yeah. In the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m looking for the U.S. reaction to the Arab League decision to pursue – to request Palestinian status be upgraded to full member status.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The Arab League decision –

QUESTION: Decision to go to the UN to request from the UN that there be an upgrade in the Palestinian status to full member, to full member state status.

MR. TONER: To full member state status? I don’t have a reaction right now. I’ll see if we have one for you.

QUESTION: Has there been a decision or was that just a draft? I think that may be just a draft.

MR. TONER: Yeah. My thought, too, was that it was not a decision yet, so.

QUESTION: Well, the Arab League voted today in Qatar.

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Did they vote? Okay. Sorry.

MR. TONER: Anyway, we’ll see if we can get you something for that. I mean, we’ll see if we have any comment on that.

MR. TONER: In the back.

QUESTION: There was a question yesterday, I think, about the new Israeli boycott law, whether anyone at State had spoken to someone in Israel about it. Did you ever get a --

MR. TONER: Yeah, I did. We haven’t had any contacts with the Government of Israel specifically on this law.


MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said yesterday that the meeting with the Quartet was very useful and they signed specific documents. Can you tell us what kind of documents they signed?

MR. TONER: On the – this was the Quartet?

QUESTION: The Quartet.

MR. TONER: I can say that the Quartet did have an additional conference call today, but as to specific documents, I would have to – a senior Administration official did give a readout the other night of the meeting, said it was productive and – but in lieu of – or in recognition of some of the gaps that remain between the parties, that they would not be issuing a statement. But I’m not aware that there was – that they signed any documents. I’ll have to check.

QUESTION: So there was a two-hour meeting --

QUESTION: This was at the envoy level?

MR. TONER: Correct. At envoy level. Correct.

QUESTION: So there was a two-hour meeting yesterday at the envoy level. There was a conference call today. What’s the result?

MR. TONER: I don’t believe there was a two-hour – now I’m losing my days here. The dinner was Monday night.

QUESTION: Monday. Right.

MR. TONER: There was an additional meeting on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Tuesday.

MR. TONER: I don’t believe they met Wednesday. And then --

QUESTION: That’s okay. And then the conference call today.

MR. TONER: -- to a conference call today.

QUESTION: So what’s come out of these two additional meetings, in person and by phone?

MR. TONER: It’s – we continue to discuss with our partners ways to get the parties back to the negotiating table, ways to – as we cited, there’s – there are still gaps between them. And we’re again continuing the conversation about how to close those gaps.

QUESTION: What’s the biggest problem? Is it the Israelis or is it the Palestinians?

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) That’s a good question. But as these negotiations continue, I’m not going to discuss them here.

QUESTION: I mean, I presume you’re not going to say much on this, but there’s some talk that perhaps there was – in the course of the Quartet discussions, that there was some movement on the call for ’67 borders, that perhaps – in the Quartet – that there’s been more unanimity among the parties on that. Is that a sense that you get?

MR. TONER: Well, I think two things. One is we wouldn’t be pushing forward as aggressively as we have been if we didn’t believe there was an opportunity here and that there was a promise to get them back to the negotiating table. And the ’67 borders, of course, was something that was laid down as a principle by the President as the foundation for future negotiations, so it’s an important element.

QUESTION: You say you’ve been pushing very aggressively?

MR. TONER: In the past weeks.

QUESTION: The President made his speech.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been travel by envoy level --

MR. TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Right? Both Ambassador Hale and Mr. Ross.

MR. TONER: And Mr. Ross to the region.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls about this?

MR. TONER: I don’t have her call list in front of me, but --

QUESTION: Has she been to the region in about --

MR. TONER: -- I think she spoke to Netanyahu the other day.

QUESTION: She hasn’t been to the region in about a year, though, right?

MR. TONER: She has not. But again, she’s talked to Netanyahu just a couple of days ago.

QUESTION: Any plans for Ambassador Hale to go to the region?

MR. TONER: I don’t have any updates on his travel.

QUESTION: Can we get a readout on the conversation with Netanyahu?

MR. TONER: I’m sure I can try to get it. It was prior to the dinner, but --

QUESTION: Do you have an update about the refugees in Turkey in – coming from Syria or --

MR. TONER: Well, of course, it’ll be a topic when the Secretary is there both within the context of – well, sorry – both as she meets with countries and talks about Syria as on the margins of the contact group and also with her meeting with Turkish officials. My understanding is that the number may have dropped a bit, that – so that’s an encouraging sign. But we’ve said all along that we stand ready to assist Turkey in handling this situation.

QUESTION: Do you believe, like, this is a good sign for – is kind of improvement about the Syria –

MR. TONER: It’s unclear. I just – all I know is that the numbers dropped slightly, I think, from somewhere around 10,000 to the mid-8,000.


QUESTION: On Syria, has Ambassador Ford had any meetings with Syrian officials since his meeting with the deputy foreign minister after the Embassy –

MR. TONER: Don’t believe so.

QUESTION: And on Yemen, are –

QUESTION: Can we stay on Ford for one more second?

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Any further plans for him to travel outside of Damascus –

MR. TONER: Not at this time, but I believe we’ve said that he does plan in the near future to visit other places in Syria, but not any specific travel plans at this time.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I had a question on Yemen.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Has President Saleh had any meetings with U.S. officials since his meeting with Mr. Brennan last Sunday in –

MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: And have you – are you aware of reports that he’s planning on returning to Yemen tomorrow?

MR. TONER: I’ve seen those reports, but I can’t confirm them. Again, as we’ve said all along, the focus for Yemen should be on moving forward with the GCC proposal.

QUESTION: Is President Saleh reachable by telephone, or is he kind of cordoned off by the Saudis?

MR. TONER: You know what? I don’t have that kind of sense of his location on the ground. I know he’s receiving medical care. That much is, I think, in the public domain. But as to his whereabouts, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Sure. Thanks, guys.

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