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Middle East Digest - September 16, 2010


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Washington, DC
September 16, 2010

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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 September 16, 2010

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The Secretary is on her way back to the United States, having completed another day of discussions with leaders, both with President Abbas in Ramallah, but also King Abdullah in Amman. Also, before she departed the region, she had the opportunity to talk to Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey, and in that conversation, she expressed the strong gratitude of the American people for the ongoing Swiss efforts not only that led to the release of Sarah Shourd, but the ongoing Swiss efforts to seek the release of Josh Fattal and Sarah – and Shane Bauer as well. They also talked about other subjects including ongoing efforts to – with respect to tensions between Turkey and Armenia. And I think there will be a call the Secretary will make to the leadership of Oman, perhaps today, more likely tomorrow.

I also think the Government of Germany announced today – and I think the Defense Department, if they haven’t done already, will very shortly confirm the transfer of two detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Germany. Since the beginning of this Administration, we have transferred 66 detainees to 26 different destinations, including the transfer of 40 detainees to third countries. And with this action today, 174 detainees remain at Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Yeah. Why is the Secretary going to call the leadership of Oman?

MR. CROWLEY: To also thank the Omanis for its efforts –

QUESTION: For paying the –

MR. CROWLEY: -- for releasing –

QUESTION: -- $500,000 bail?

MR. CROWLEY: -- for helping to arrange the release of –

QUESTION: What exactly is she going to thank them for?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s wait for the call and I’ll give you a readout.

QUESTION: Well, but surely she knows what she’s going to be thanking them for.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have one of our citizens released. We continue to seek the release of Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal. We seek information on Robert Levinson. We seek access to Reza Taghavi. But also, as the Secretary said in various interviews today, we also seek the opportunity to engage Iran seriously on a variety of issues. But her call to Sultan Qaboos will be to express our gratitude for Oman’s efforts not only in the context of Sarah Shourd, but its ongoing efforts to seek the release of our other two hikers.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the Omanis’ most recent effort was confined only to Sarah Shourd? Or was it – were they actually trying to get all three of them out and they succeeded in getting one?

MR. CROWLEY: The Omani effort, just as the Swiss effort, has been directed at getting all three hikers out. That remains our focus now that we have Sarah released. We seek the same decision by Iranian authorities with respect to Josh and Shane.

QUESTION: And have you heard President Ahmadinejad’s most recent comments on this subject, that the other two are going to have to stand trial?

MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t seen his full transcript, but as we’ve said, we understand that there has been a legal process with respect to Sarah Shourd and it was Iranian authorities that made the decision to release her. The facts regarding Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are identical. So if the Iranian judicial system has reached judgment with respect to Sarah Shourd, we believe very strongly that it could reach the same judgment with respect to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer.

QUESTION: Is it your hope that the Omanis are going to serve as a sort of a communication channel on issues other than imprisoned Americans as well? Is that – are they now becoming a kind of effective backdoor into Tehran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe that Iran very clearly understands what we want to see happen. As the Secretary, I think, said today in at least one interview, we have a two-track strategy. We are applying sanctions on Iran and we believe that those sanctions are having an effect. At the same time, we remain open to serious dialogue with Iran – not only the United States, but also others within the international community.

And we, through our public statements, make that clear to Iran, and we do engage other countries who, in turn, have diplomatic relations with Iran and they are conveying the same message. And certainly, Oman, being one of those countries that has a relationship with the United States, a relationship with Iran, is an effective interlocutor. But there are others.

QUESTION: Congresswoman Ileana Lehtinen of the Foreign Relation – or International Relations Committee of the Congress has been discussing with the deputy foreign minister of Israel the – what seems to be the military sales to Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, and is expressing kind of objection or reservations about – the usual reservations that we hear from the Israeli friends in the Congress toward any sales to any Arab country. But Saudi Arabia supposedly is trying to push $60 billion of American military ware. Of course, this will help a lot the American jobs, thousands of American jobs.

Is the United States State Department going to still play that smoothing role to make these people understand that Israel will never be threatened by any kind of military sales, as Israel is a superpower in that region?

MR. CROWLEY: A lot in that question. On the specifics of our military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, we do work closely with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to make sure that our allies and friends have the capabilities that they need to – for their own security. Certainly, Saudi Arabia and other countries have very justifiable concerns about the emergence of Iran as a less than constructive actor in the region.

On any specific proposal that might be under discussion, I have indicated before that we go through a consultation process with the Congress before making any announcements, so I’ll reserve announcements on anything particular, but – other than to say that we provide military resources, security assistance to a range of allies from Israel to Saudi Arabia. It is in our national interest to do so to maintain both security and stability in the region.

QUESTION: On the same --

QUESTION: On Iran, were you able to get anything on this alleged donation from Iran, $25 million, to the Turkish military?

MR. CROWLEY: We checked around, and nobody has any information on that.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Mr. Steinberg yesterday met with Mr. Ayalon. Do you have a readout on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not. We’ll see. I mean, we do meet with officials from the Israeli Government from time to time. But I wouldn’t say that we have – we are in close consultation with Israel on a variety of subjects, from regional security to Middle East peace. So I’m sure the meeting was in that context. I’m not sure there’s much more to say about it.

QUESTION: Because Congresswoman Ileana said – she issued a press release today and said she discussed with him concerns regarding the sale of airplanes to Saudi Arabia and security assistance to the Lebanese army.

QUESTION: That question was just asked.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, but I’ll tell you what. Samir, since you mentioned that, I will say that we have completed our review of assistance to Lebanon and we are in the process of consultations with members of Congress regarding our findings. We’ll have more to say with that when the consultations are done.

QUESTION: My question – I meant to see if this – the issue of assistance to the Lebanese army was discussed with Mr. Ayalon. That’s what I meant.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. That’s a good question. But I – as I said, we indicated that we were reviewing our programs with Lebanon. We have completed that review and we are now briefing Congress on our findings.

QUESTION: One other subject. Pakistan drones? Its drone activity seems to have gone up quite a bit in September. Is this seen by the U.S. Government as a way – sort of a way to push the diplomatic efforts forward in terms of negotiating the different parts of the Taliban in the area?

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t do drones at the Department of State.

QUESTION: At all? (Laughter.) I know you don’t do drones, but do you have a comment on the diplomatic part of it?

MR. CROWLEY: We do have an air force here at the Department of State, but it doesn’t include drones. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.



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