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 28, 2011
QUESTION: How about – how is foreign aid is impacted? In this case in particular, let’s say foreign aid to Israel and the Palestinians. Does the State Department have a recommendation or a policy to cut or how much to cut or not to cut?
MR. TONER: Again, I think these are all issues that, as we do get closer, if it does look like that we are headed down this path, we’ll look at all of these issues. But at this point, I don’t want to really discuss it.
QUESTION: What sort of information is State giving proactively to Treasury. I know that the Pentagon is doing this already, particularly when it comes to contracts with outside vendors, the loan programs. What sort of information is coming out of this building to help Treasury?
MR. TONER: To help Treasury?
MR. TONER: That’s a fair question, Rosalind. I’ll take it. I can’t give you a full answer right now.
MR. TONER: Libya, sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I listened to a – the Libyan ambassador or the former Libyan ambassador, and he’s saying that it’s getting really very difficult for him to operate in Washington.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: He stated that he’s looking at a short period of time before the embassy is reopened. Do you have any idea when the embassy, now that you recognize the Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, when are you likely to allow the reopening of the embassy?
MR. TONER: I don’t have a hard date. What I said yesterday is we – this is something that we’ve been discussing since Istanbul with the TNC, with the Transitional National Council. Indeed, it’s part of a number of issues that have been opened, if you will, upon recognition of them as the legitimate representation of Libya or recognition of them as the legitimate representation of Libya. And we’re addressing these issues. We did receive a formal request from the TNC, and we’re working hard and diligently to resolve these issues. But I can’t say tomorrow, next week; it’s impossible for me to say.
QUESTION: Is it safe to assume that the embassy will be reopened before the General Assembly meeting in September?
MR. TONER: I don’t think I can promise that. I just would say that we are addressing – working to address some of the outstanding legal issues. As we’ve seen in terms of unfreezing frozen assets, these are often difficult challenges to overcome legally. But we’ve got to take those steps.
QUESTION: Is Turkey still the protecting power of U.S. in Libya?
MR. TONER: No. I believe it’s the Government of Hungary that’s the protecting power in Libya. Yeah.
QUESTION: What was the Secretary talking to Defense Minister Barak about this morning?
MR. TONER: She did meet with him this morning. I guess that meeting is over now. Well, he’s here on a Washington visit. It’s always an opportunity to reiterate our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our support for Israel’s military and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. It’s also a chance to talk about security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, especially given the amount of change going on in the region. They’ll also discuss, I imagine, larger regional issues given the extent of – the continuation of the Arab Spring and its impact on all countries of the region.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that their conversation had anything to do with the peace process and lack thereof?
MR. TONER: I would imagine that the peace process was discussed.
QUESTION: Or –
MR. TONER: I just don’t know. I haven’t got –
QUESTION: -- strategy ahead of the Palestinians’ UN move?
MR. TONER: I would imagine that they discussed the peace process, but I don’t have a clear readout.
QUESTION: Is it – can you get – can you try to get one?
MR. TONER: I will try to get one.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: On Tuesday, there was a UN Security Council meeting, and the Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour argued that actually going for full recognition at the UN is a multilateral action since 122 countries already recognize ’67 lines, not a unilateral action as you usually describe it. Would you comment on that?
MR. TONER: Again, it is an action that is not going to get this issue – this longstanding conflict to resolution. The only way to do that, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement is for the Palestinians and for the Israelis to sit down and tackle the tough issues through negotiation. Action at the UN doesn’t achieve that end.
QUESTION: Mark, there’s a group of seven Israeli former generals and statesmen that are going around town, they’re speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at Brookings, they’re making trips to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco urging the United States Government to push through with the President’s points that he made on May 19th for a state on the basis of the 1967 borders. Are you meeting with them? Are you – are they –
MR. TONER: I will check. That’s a fair question. I’ll – I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything, but we’ll check and see if we’re meeting with that group.
QUESTION: They also suggest that actually the Palestinians getting recognition of the United Nations might help the peace process rather than stagnate it. Do you concur?
MR. TONER: I think I just stated our position.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region for a second?
QUESTION: Stay in the same –
MR. TONER: Sure. And then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: There was an announcement by the Israeli minister of housing and construction. Again, there is new housing permits, about 336. Have you had the chance to raise with this issue whether with the Minister Barak meeting or with the –
MR. TONER: I will – I can check on that. I’m not sure if we have raised it or not. Our position on new construction settlements is pretty well known, but I’ll check.
Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the meeting with – her meeting with the new Omar Suleiman is supposed to be about?
MR. TONER: You mean the Egyptian?
MR. TONER: It’s just – it’s an opportunity for her to – again, that’s this afternoon, I believe.
QUESTION: To restate your unshakable commitment to Egypt –
MR. TONER: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- and talk about how you want to keep their military less powerful than the Israelis?
MR. TONER: We’ve missed you, Matt. (Laughter.) No, this is a chance, obviously, for her to talk about Egypt’s ongoing democratic transition, as well as talk about regional issues. And that meeting, I think, is later today.
QUESTION: Does she expect to deliver the sense in the building that the U.S. is concerned about the military’s reluctance to embrace U.S. democracy-building programs in Egypt?
MR. TONER: Look, the U.S. stands ready to support the Egyptian people. They’re undergoing a very difficult, challenging democratic transition, but one clearly that’s full of hope and promise. And I think she will continue to offer that support for the Egyptian people as they move towards elections, and we’re – again, we stand ready to help them as --
QUESTION: Yeah. But when you consider that some of the programs that the U.S. has been conducting have been not accepted since the military took over in this interim role, it does raise some questions about whether or not the military is fully committed to realizing the Egyptian people’s aspirations.
MR. TONER: And as I said, this is – and the military did play a very inspiring, inspirational role in the events in Tahrir Square, showed professionalism and restraint. They are, in fact, leading this transition towards a democratic change and elections. And it’s clearly important within that context that they continue to uphold the principles of – that they upheld so clearly in Tahrir Square. Our position is that we offer – continue to offer our assistance as they – both in terms of the Egyptian economy but also other facets of this transition.
QUESTION: And how does she plan to address the question of lack of foreign observers for the election in September?
MR. TONER: How does she plan to address that?
QUESTION: How does she plan to raise that with them since they have said, “We don’t want any outside observers”?
MR. TONER: I mean, ultimately, that’s a decision for the Egyptian people to make, but we believe in transparent elections and --
QUESTION: But doesn’t that --
MR. TONER: -- the more transparency, the better. But I’m not going to preview what she may or may not say in this meeting.
QUESTION: Does she think that the intel chief has a direct line to the military?
MR. TONER: Again, I think it’s important that – this is an important opportunity for her to stress broadly our feelings about democratic change underway in Egypt.
QUESTION: But certainly you have a view how the Egyptian military has been managing this difficult process you are talking about. Would you be able to share it with us?
MR. TONER: I think I just did. They were – they played a very powerful, inspirational role in Tahrir Square, showed restraint, showed professionalism. Clearly, this is a difficult period. They need to maintain order, but also allow this change – this transition to move forward. And they need to uphold the standards that they showed then.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill.
MR. TONER: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: There are reports this morning that there were attacks by some militants on the – I think it was a governor’s office in Uruzgan, and wondering if you have any comment about that because it follows the killing of the mayor in Kandahar. And speaking of that, is there any clarification on whether it was the Taliban? I think that was one of the questions --
MR. TONER: Yeah. I don’t have – I still don’t have confirmation. That’s often difficult, to obtain clear confirmation of a Taliban responsibility in the attack. I mean, it bears all the hallmarks of a Taliban assassination, and certainly they performed these kinds of heinous acts before, and they continue to target government leaders and innocent civilians. But broadly, I don’t have any information and a confirmation of the attack in Uruzgan, I’ll look into it.
Again, it’s hard for us to say what this points to. I think I talked yesterday a little bit about that the military surge has, in fact, had success in suppressing the Taliban. It’s unclear whether this is some kind of – they’re now moving this kind of action. It only strengthens our resolve, and we believe it strengthens the resolve of the innocent Afghan civilians and people who are subjected to this kind of terrorism.
MR. TONER: Turkey.
QUESTION: Russian envoy to NATO, Mr. Dimitry Rogozin, after meeting with senators here in Washington, next day he was in Ankara and stated that open opposition against the radars, part of the missile system – not the missile system in Turkey. Do you have any view of that? And second is, has Secretary Clinton raised this issue while she was in Turkey? We have not heard.
MR. TONER: Well, I think she’s – she spoke broadly about our consultations with Turkey and other NATO members about this phased adaptive approach --
MR. TONER: -- and missile defense system for Europe. In terms of Russia’s opposition to missile defense plans, we’ve sought – long sought a cooperative relationship with Russia on missile defense. We continue to seek to cooperate with them on missile defense. We’ve been clear for many years now that this is not focused on Russia. It’s not a threat to them in any way. It’s based on our assessment of other threats in the region, and we seek a cooperative relationship.
QUESTION: What’s the respond of Turkish administration? It is under the consideration, thinking about it? Any plan?
MR. TONER: I’d just say it’s under – we’re talking to a number of countries in – within NATO about this radar system and when it might be deployed --
QUESTION: Are you talking about the part –
MR. TONER: -- but I don’t want to get into the substance of those discussions.
QUESTION: -- the part that is going to deploy in Turkey, and I’m asking –
MR. TONER: I know what you’re asking, and I’m going to say I’m not going to get into the substance of our discussions.
QUESTION: Can you go back to money for a second?
MR. TONER: Money.
QUESTION: Yeah. Since the Secretary’s letter to the Hill the other day, or to the House Foreign – do you know if she’s made any calls or had further communication with people on the Hill about the budget and the proposed cuts?
MR. TONER: I will – that’s a fair question. I’ll check. I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: So that’s two debt questions now.
MR. TONER: No, he was talking about the budget.
QUESTION: That has nothing to do with it.
MR. TONER: He was talking about foreign appropriations.
QUESTION: Mark, do you have details – there was a statement by the Treasury, I think, about the fundraising operation in Iran for al-Qaida. What I have is –
MR. TONER: Fundraising --
QUESTION: Fundraising operation for al-Qaida, which was based in Iran. Did you see this?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry, Christophe. I’ll have to take that question. Are you asking if we have any comment or reaction to it or --
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, yeah, any details.
MR. TONER: I’m – I’ll have to look into it.
QUESTION: There’s a new Zogby poll out, and it shows that the U.S. Administration’s approval rating less than 10 percent in the Middle East, which is basically worse than the previous administration. After two and a half years, how do you view – why do you think that your approach and policies in Middle East –
MR. TONER: I haven’t seen the poll, so it’s difficult for me to comment on its findings. We have – this President, this Administration, the Secretary of State have sought a cooperative relationship with the Middle East. And it is a region clearly undergoing tremendous change, whether it be in Syria, in Egypt, and elsewhere – in Bahrain, other countries, and the Secretary has spoken very clearly about the need for many of these governments to reform and to work with their populations to offer them economic promise and political openness. And we’re going to continue to press those messages. We think that those are the correct messages to send to the Middle East, regardless of poll numbers.
QUESTION: Right. There is not only one poll, actually. There is – there are other polls, like Gallup poll from a couple weeks – a month ago. You obviously – your Administration has been pro-change and, as you describe it, supporting the protesters. So certainly, there should be a reason. I think there is no disagreement about that Middle East has a negative view on your approach. Going forward, do you have any plans to change any policies –
MR. TONER: No. As I said, we’re going to continue to stand for universal rights, as we have thus far in the Arab Spring, and continue to work with these countries that have already, as we say, turned the corner and are on a path towards democratic transition, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for them and it’s the right thing for the world and for the region.
QUESTION: Mine is very brief. I don’t know if I missed it last – while I was gone last week, but did you guys ever rerun the Diversity Visa lottery, and –
MR. TONER: We did.
QUESTION: Oh. There was –
MR. TONER: I think we did. We did.
QUESTION: And you screwed it up again?
MR. TONER: No, we didn’t – no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: By your – judging by the look on your face.
MR. TONER: It was – no, no, I just was – I also have been out, so I’m not sure – I believe it was rerun, and successfully.
QUESTION: Okay. So the results are out, or –
MR. TONER: Yes, they are.
QUESTION: They are out? Okay. All right.
MR. TONER: Thank you.