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 September 8, 2010
QUESTION: New topic? Peace talks? P.J., both Palestinian and Israeli sources say that Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested to President Obama that the settlements be maintained, but maintained under Palestinian sovereignty in the event that there is a Palestinian state. Is that an option that you are discussing?
MR. CROWLEY: All I’ll say is that we will continue our discussions next week. I’m not going to get into any details.
QUESTION: But you’re not aware of – this is something that is being floated --
MR. CROWLEY: Just as a matter of broad principle, we’re not going to get into any – anything, any issues that may or may not have been discussed last week.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up. The Secretary’s going to be in Sharm el-Sheikh on the 14th and then she’s going to Jerusalem on the 15th. Any reason why the peace talk has been split between Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem, considering all the parties will be in one place in Sharm el-Sheikh?
MR. CROWLEY: This was something that was brought up last week, and I mean, I kind of addressed it yesterday. But the Egyptians have volunteered to host a round of direct negotiations and – but during the course of the discussions last week, we agreed to the arrangement that we’ll see next week.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Pakistani Government’s announcement that it’s going to go ahead and try three people related to the Times Square attack – failed Times Square attack?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we indicated in the aftermath of the failed Times Square attempt, we believe strongly that Faisal Shahzad had help within Pakistan, and we have worked very extensively and closely with Pakistani authorities. There is an ongoing criminal investigation, but we are gratified that Pakistan have made some arrests in this case. But obviously, the fate of those particular defendants is in the hands of the Pakistani judicial system.
QUESTION: All right. And then also on the law and order theme, there was a bit of a – more outcry over the stoning sentence for this Iranian woman. You came out yesterday with some pretty tough language about it. Do you have anything more to say from this end, from --
MR. CROWLEY: We would expect Iran to live up to its international obligations. The --
QUESTION: Can I ask -- can I just stop you there?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Why would you expect Iran to live up to its international obligations? They’ve never done it before, according to you guys. They have never – they haven’t lived up to a --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- single international obligation that it’s had. Why should they – why do you expect them to in this case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what they will do is up to Iranian authorities. But Iran is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. There are international standards when it comes to transparency and due process. We don’t think that those standards have been met in this case. Stoning is a barbaric and abhorrent act. We have joined with many, many voices around the world in condemning this prospective action by Iran. But ultimately, this is in the hands of Iranian authorities.
QUESTION: Okay. I have one more, but I can wait.
QUESTION: P.J., I have a question about the Qu’ran burning issue. Given the past experience of the Danish cartoon incident a few years back and then the film that was made and the consequences of that, could it – could the Administration be possibly considering meeting with the pastor and trying to convince him to not go ahead with this idea?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I believe a lot of people have either talked to him, called him. I think he’s very well aware of the political and religious voices that have – that were very compellingly suggested to that community that they not take this proposed action this weekend. I think Cardinal McCarrick, I thought, said it compellingly yesterday, “America is not a country that is built on hate.”
The pastor will do whatever he and his community decide to do. I’m not aware that we have any particular plans to talk directly with him. I think there are local authorities who have done so. There are local authorities who are voicing their very strong concerns. The Secretary talked again about this issue today. I think we are encouraged that while the world is paying very close attention to this particular case, the commentary thus far has been very straightforward, I think particularly in Muslim majority communities around the world. They have heard our statements of strong condemnation. And we continue to hope that not only on the one hand, we can resolve this satisfactorily within our own country, but should we fail to do so, as we said yesterday, that we hope that the world will appreciate that this is the action of a very small fringe group and does not represent the views of the United States or Americans as a whole.
QUESTION: Well, extremists have taken actions continuously against the U.S., mostly overseas. Should this become an excuse for them to take another action, wouldn’t this be considered against the national interests of the U.S. if he goes through with his idea and instigates --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we spoke to that yesterday. General Petraeus spoke about his concern about his troops. We have broader concerns about the welfare of diplomats and American citizens traveling around the world who might be caught in a tragic reaction to whatever might happen this weekend. That’s expressly why we’re voicing as strongly and clearly as we can to this community and to others that might be able to communicate with this community that we do not want to take actions that, rather than fighting extremism, actually provide an excuse or feed extremism around the world.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: P.J., the killing of two American soldiers yesterday by an Iraqi soldier, is that likely to impact the proximity of American and Iraqi military personnel?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think as the President and others have said last week, we have moved beyond the combat phase in Iraq, but Iraq is still a dangerous place, and we will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Government to take action to try to make Iraq as secure as it can be. But we recognize that there are extreme – there are insurgent elements within Iraq who will continue to attack Iraqi institutions and American soldiers in the process.
QUESTION: But considering that Iraqi military is dependent on the American military for training and equipping and all that, is that likely to impact where they are, how they stay together and so on?
MR. CROWLEY: No, that’s expressly why we have not only maintained 50,000 troops in Iraq to continue to support the Iraqi military and increase the capability of the Iraqi military as it assumes more and more responsibility. But as the Secretary said this morning, on the civilian side, we’re doing comparable things to build up the capacity of the Iraqi police and the Iraqi Government. So we are committed to Iraq in terms of full implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement. We have another 16 months in this particular phase of our operation, but we are going to continue to work closely with Iraq to help them secure Iraq for their citizens and to be a stabilizing force in the region.
QUESTION: Could you share with us any diplomatic engagement between the American ambassador in Iraq and the government formation process?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure that our ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, is in daily contact with the Iraqi Government, but I’ll defer to Baghdad.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to comments by the prime minister of Lebanon basically saying that his government’s past accusations that Syria was behind the assassination of the late prime minister were political, now we’re withdrawing them –
MR. CROWLEY: We’re going to defer comment until the tribunal announces its results.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.