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 13, 2010
MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary is wheels up and en route to Sharm el-Sheikh. She will also this week have meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman before returning to the United States late Thursday night, early Friday morning. But she’ll have a variety of trilateral and bilateral meetings as we continue to encourage the parties to make progress towards an agreement on Middle East peace.
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will be traveling to Pakistan this week where he will tour areas affected by the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history, and visit camps where there are displaced persons to see firsthand what the most critical needs on the ground are as we begin to help Pakistan with the transition from immediate relief to recovery and reconstruction.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the latest on Sarah Shourd and her possible release?
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to work and hope that she, along with Shane and Josh, will be released, but I’ve got no details at this point that I can provide you. The Swiss, as our protecting power, are seeking to help us understand what exactly is happening in Iran at this point.
QUESTION: And they haven’t been able to enlighten you?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s simply unclear. As everyone knows, we were hopeful that she would be released at the end of last week. That release was suspended. There have been some statements from Iran about possible new details of her release, and we have the Swiss and others working actively on our behalf to seek – to bring her home along with the others.
QUESTION: In terms of this bail that they’ve asked for, is paying that – would paying that require some kind of a special license or exemption to the sanctions?
MR. CROWLEY: Matt, that may well be more hypothetical than anything else. We do understand that the prosecutor has put forward that possible condition. Whether or not there’s bail it’s hard to say at this point. For example, we still – I think over the weekend, the three had access to a lawyer for the first time; they’re still not subject to any formal charges. So we want to see them home and that continues to be our focus at this point.
QUESTION: Well, in general though, would paying a bail or a criminal fine to the Iranian judiciary violate sanctions without some kind of waiver or exemption?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, it’s hard to say. This is part of a legal process to the extent that they have had one.
QUESTION: Well, take it out of the context of this particular case. In general, would it
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it would depend. Matt, it’s hard to make a statement that would say yes or no. The short answer – I mean, there are transactions all the time between Iran and the rest of the world. Some of them violate sanctions, others don’t. But right now, our focus is on working as hard as we can to seek the release of all three of the hikers.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the – some or any of the 500,000 would come from U.S. Government funds at all or be facilitated for the U.S. Government?
MR. CROWLEY: The United States Government does not fund prisoner bail.
QUESTION: P.J., now that the Basiji has attacked the Swiss Embassy in Tehran – the Basiji force in Iran has attacked the U.S. – the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Have you heard anything about it?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: And would you say that there might be two different forces at play here; one, wanting to release these three and –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s hard to say what’s behind the twists and turns of this. Our focus is on getting the hikers home, as it has been for more than a year.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up?
QUESTION: He had –
QUESTION: You say on one hand that your aim is to get the hikers back home. On the other hand, would you like to tell us where this money is coming from? If it’s coming from a U.S. private citizen, is it not coming under the sanctions? How it is linked? Tomorrow if they demand one million for the --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s a similar line of questioning that we just went through.
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s –
MR. CROWLEY: We want to see the hikers home. There’s no other hand. Our focus, as it has been since last July, is getting these hikers safely back to the United States. We do not believe that they are guilty of any crime. Iran has had more than enough time to investigate and satisfy its questions about why these three individuals crossed an unmarked border. We want to see this resolved. We are grateful to the Swiss and other countries that are working these issues on our behalf.
QUESTION: No, I –
MR. CROWLEY: As to the specific circumstances through which they might be released, it’s hard to say at this point.
QUESTION: No, but –
MR. CROWLEY: We were hopeful last week when there were pronouncements out of Tehran that at least one of the hikers would be released. That has not yet taken place, but we continue to do everything that we can in concert with others to seek their release.
QUESTION: No, I know where the money is going to be. I am unable to understand where the money’s coming from, the point. The transparency – it’s a question of –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s – that has been offered by a prosecutor as being one manner to resolve the situation. But we, the United States Government, would not be involved in that action if that action were to be taken.
QUESTION: P.J., one, do you have any idea why they changed their mind even for not releasing the one earlier they announced they will? And second, why all three are not coming? What is the reason that one by one –
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, those are fine questions. I would just invite you to ask the Iranian Government those questions.
QUESTION: P.J., Ban Ki-moon said today that President Ahmadinejad is going to be at a UN disarmament conference next week on the 24th. I’m wondering if you knew who was going to be representing the U.S. there.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Change of topic? New topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure. New topic.
QUESTION: P.J., there seems to be a great deal of fogginess on the peace talks today. What are the priorities? The Israelis or Mr. Netanyahu is saying that the Jewishness of the state has to be item number one. The Palestinians are saying the settlements and so on. Have there been any clarifications or is there a position by the Secretary of State on her way to the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s the reason why we’re going to have the meetings tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday. There’s work to be done and we are satisfied, as the President talked about late last week, that the parties are approaching this with a seriousness of purpose. We hope to see progress made both in this meeting and in successive meetings. We understand that we face some immediate obstacles that we hope to resolve in the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: So I just have a couple follow-ups. Now, we’re going into these meetings without knowing what the agenda is? I mean, are they going to discuss this agenda in the meeting itself? I thought this was taking place –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we know what the agenda is. We have re-launched direct negotiations through these direct negotiations. We plan to address all of the core issues and try to resolve negotiations in all of the core issues over the next year.
We also understand that we have some immediate challenges to overcome. That will require both parties to work constructively. That will require both parties to create the appropriate climate. That will require both parties to perhaps adopt – adapt positions that they have taken publicly on these critical issues.
That’s why the Secretary of State is on her way to the Middle East to move these other parties forward, begin the process of wrestling with the core issues, and seeing what progress can be made.
QUESTION: And lastly, the President on Friday urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to maintain the freeze while the negotiation is showing progress. That’s one. And second, he also said that the window is closing for the Palestinians and they needed to be serious in these negotiations. What is exactly expected of the Palestinians? I mean, how could they show seriousness in these talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want to see the process continue, and we understand that both sides have staked out some certain positions. But at the same time, both sides have assumed a responsibility to create an environment in which these talks can continue and progress made and, ultimately, a successful negotiation completed.
So we’re in a critical window the next two to three weeks, where we hope that the parties will come prepared to continue to engage constructively, show some creativity in terms of how to navigate through some difficult and challenging and emotional issues so this process can continue and we can – one by one, we can work through the core issues and reach a satisfactory outcome and get to a final agreement through – which is the only means through which we see the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that if we don’t show that kind of progress in the next three to four weeks – what about this year that the President has given to reach --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s turn it back the other way. There is an opportunity that is available to these leaders and the people that they represent. We have encouraged both of them to resume direct negotiations because it is the only way to reach a final settlement. There is no other way.
So to those who want to see the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, this is the process through which that is accomplished. And as we have stressed many times, in order to achieve that state, the Palestinians will have to demonstrate to Israel that it is willing to take appropriate steps to ensure Israel’s security. This is the balance. This is the essential agreement that is available to both of them. And we hope they seize the moment.
QUESTION: The United Arab Emirates contributed $42 million to help the Palestinian government with its deficit. Did the U.S. play any role to encourage the Emirates to do this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s first salute the Emirates. They have been one of the major supporters of the Palestinian Authority. And we are very grateful for their contribution and we would recognize that this support will need to continue.
The United States has been a significant contributor to the Palestinian Authority, and through these kinds of contributions you’re seeing through the efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, the building of the institutions that will be the foundation of an eventual Palestinian state, this is – these two efforts go hand in hand. You have a negotiation that would lead to an agreement that results in a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. But in order to have that viable state, you’ve got to have the institutions of government that the Palestinians are actively building.
But it takes resources to be able to do that, and we’re very, very pleased that the UAE has stepped up and provided its – this contribution. The Secretary has, in recent weeks, been on the phone with Tony Blair and others to continue to encourage international support for the Palestinian Authority, and we’re happy that the UAE responded.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary brought that up with the Saudis? Do you expect them to take that up?
MR. CROWLEY: The Saudis as well have been a key contributor in the past, and we hope that will continue.
QUESTION: Israel has complained about the upcoming weapons deal with the Saudis for 60 billion. Can you assure the Israelis that the deal will not pose a threat militarily?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is a process involved in this which includes congressional notification, so I’ll reserve comment at this point. Suffice it to say that at the core of our policy is making sure that there is stability in the region, and part of that stability is making sure that Israel has what it needs to be able to provide for its own security. So the United States would do nothing that would upset that – the current balance in the region. We – and I won’t talk about anything forthcoming, but obviously, anything that we do in the region is geared towards maintaining security and stability in an important part of the world.
QUESTION: So there’s reporting that it’s going to create 75,000 jobs. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’ll reserve comment pending congressional notification.
QUESTION: So is the – has a notification happened yet or --
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Actually, also on Saudi Arabia, there’s a report of a gay Saudi diplomat who has appealed to the U.S. for asylum, saying that he’ll be killed openly if he goes back home. This apparently happened – he’s in the consulate in Los Angeles and he’s been interviewed by DHS. Do you have any comment out of here on that?
MR. CROWLEY: For the immediate – let me find out what I can. But you mentioned key words, which is he may or may not have approached a different agency of government.
QUESTION: I think that he already has, but --
MR. CROWLEY: I – let me – let’s find out what we can.
QUESTION: And then just a similar issue on – there’s, I think, now a second Iranian diplomat who has defected in Europe, this one in Belgium. Do you have anything to say about this trend? This is the second one in the past week, I think.
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Change of subject. On Ambassador Holbrooke’s travel to Pakistan, will he be talking other issues besides floods when he goes there?
MR. CROWLEY: Knowing Richard, whenever he’s in Pakistan, he has the opportunity to interact with a wide range of Pakistani officials. But his – the central focus of his trip will be to assess how the developments in and around the flood will – how we need to adapt our approach to Pakistan and our support to Pakistan in light of this devastating disaster.
QUESTION: And have you been able to conclude your review of the Kerry-Lugar bill priorities set up in the Kerry-Lugar bill in view of the floods?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that will be part of what Richard will be doing this week.
QUESTION: And will he be traveling to Afghanistan during this trip?
MR. CROWLEY: I think my understanding is for this particular trip, because he’s got – also got to be in New York over the weekend for a meeting on Sunday involving Pakistan, that I think this is a quick in-and-out that just involves Pakistan.
QUESTION: And in view of some reports – I’ll bring the papers today here – about fight corruption in Afghanistan, have you toned down your priorities with regard to corruption for Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. We are working closely with the Afghanistan Government. Corruption is a critical issue. But most importantly, it’s critical for the government to demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan that it is working to root out corruption and make sure that the Afghan Government and its institutions are working on behalf of the people, not working against the long-term interests of the people.
This is a critical aspect in our relationship, and it is something that we are working collaboratively with the Pakistani – I’m sorry, the Afghan Government on. It is our support for the institutions of governance within Afghanistan that has helped in terms of the work of the Major Crimes Task Force, the Sensitive Investigations Unit, even in the case of working through issues regarding financial institutions. The Afghan Government has responded decisively to this and we would expect them to continue to work hard to build institutions of government. And part of that aspect is rooting out corruption wherever it exists.
QUESTION: So are they moving in the right direction? The Karzai government, are they moving?
MR. CROWLEY: There has been a lot of progress in this area – as I mentioned, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigations Unit. But obviously, I think President Karzai would be the first to say that more work needs to be done.
QUESTION: P.J., Amnesty International issued an abysmal assessment of the conditions in Iraqi prisons and the abuses endured by prisoners and so on. And I know how difficult it is for the UN to monitor the human rights situation, especially in the Iraqi prisons in Iraq. What kind of oversight do you have, and what is your comment on the Amnesty International report?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we’re aware of the report and the serious charges contained in the report. We’ve just received it and are studying it. But in our work to build up institutions of the Iraqi Government, human rights is a critical component. Just last week, the Secretary had a meeting here with the human rights coordinator for the Iraqi Government and it is an important aspect of our ongoing work with Iraq.