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Middle East Digest - September 17, 2010


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Washington, DC
September 17, 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 17, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary, a few minutes ago, did have a brief conversation with Sultan Qaboos bin Said to thank the Omani Government for the role it played in the release of Sarah Shourd from Evin prison in Iran. And they agreed to stay engaged and to work cooperatively to do everything possible to bring about the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. At the same time that the Secretary had the opportunity to thank the – His Majesty for his steady leadership in the region, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the ascension of Sultan Qaboos as the leader of Oman.

QUESTION: All right. Another just little point of clarification: On the phone call with Sultan Qaboos, you said they agreed to stay engaged and work cooperatively, meaning the Secretary and the Sultan or --

MR. CROWLEY: Omanis.

QUESTION: -- the Omanis in general?

MR. CROWLEY: The Omanis – well, we appreciate, obviously, as we’ve said before, the role that the Omanis played in the release of Sarah Shourd, and the sultan and Secretary agreed that the United States and Oman would stay engaged and continue to work collaboratively to seek the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.

QUESTION: Okay. But can you be more specific about what that means, to stay engaged and work cooperatively? Do you mean as they have – as you were --

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- over the course of the time leading up to Sarah Shourd’s release?

MR. CROWLEY: As we’ve said, Oman has played a leading role in the release of Sarah Shourd. It has strong diplomatic relations with the United States. It has diplomatic relations with Iran as well. And the two leader – the Secretary and the sultan agreed that we would continue to do everything possible to seek the release of the other two.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I’m asking is because the Omani foreign minister has been out saying to various people that they’re not doing anything in particular for the other two.

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, when we saw that piece emerge earlier this morning, our ambassador checked back in with the Omani Government, and they indicated that there are a number of inaccuracies in that story. For specifics I’ll obviously defer to the Omani Government, but in that story it alluded to a call between the sultan and the President, and we’re not aware of any such call. So I would just tread cautiously on that particular piece.

From our standpoint, the proof is in the very strong engagement that we’ve had with Oman and the work that both Oman has done and Switzerland has done and other countries that resulted in the release of Sarah Shourd. And today’s call was just to reaffirm that those efforts will continue to seek the release of the other two hikers.

QUESTION: Well, can you be a little bit more specific about what was inaccurate about it? I mean, are they saying that they --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Is it just the phone call, or is there something else that was inaccurate about the story?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was a suggestion that there was not strong consultation between our two countries over the past year plus regarding this case, and in fact, there’s been very significant and regular dialogue between the United States and Oman as well between the United States and Switzerland on this case. So the suggestion that there was not an emphasis within our government to seek their release till recently is actually quite false.

QUESTION: In one – in fact, there were several stories about this. In one of them, it said that there wasn’t particular interest in Washington for a swap involving Mr. Amiri, that the Omanis had thought that that might be a good way to get the release of the three.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and in fact, we would certainly.

QUESTION: Is that not correct?

MR. CROWLEY: We would not characterize the return of Mr. Amiri as a swap because this was not something that we engineered; this was something that he decided to do.

QUESTION: P.J., if the ransom was paid, don’t you think it’s sending a wrong signal? Because between the two countries, you don’t pay ransom, but only the crooks or terrorists they always demand money in order to release if they have kidnapped somebody. It’s sending a wrong signal around the globe.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Goyal, you’ve actually – there are two pieces that I would differ with you on. First, this was – this is a case where three hikers crossed the border into Iran, so they were not kidnapped; we’ve never claimed that they were. And secondly, what was provided in this case through the efforts of the Government of Oman was bail. So that was not a ransom. And as Iran has indicated, there is still an ongoing legal process both regarding Sarah Shourd and also Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. So I would just differ with you on how you characterized both of those activities.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you just – does that mean that bail was paid? You’re finally acknowledging that it was?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as to the specifics of the arrangements, again, I’ll defer to the Omani Government. But we are, as I said, familiar with the details of the arrangements.

QUESTION: Are you going to bring this issue at the United Nations at the international level, what Iran is doing, and this can happen to any country to anybody in the future?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do continue to raise the case of the two hikers, both through public and private statements. We are gratified that a number of countries across the – around the world that have diplomatic relations with Iran have pressed Iran to resolve the case of these three hikers, and as well as other Americans with whom we have concerns. So we will continue to press that case and we’ll continue to be grateful that other nations on our behalf are sending that same message to Iran.

QUESTION: Did the sultan, regarding his contacts with Iran, give you anything specific that gave you cause for hope for the release of the two others?

MR. CROWLEY: It was a relatively brief phone call. So I would just think that there was a pledge to continue to work hard – as hard as we can for their release.

QUESTION: Is Sarah Shourd – she’s still in Oman?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: And what is she doing there? Do you have any more details?

MR. CROWLEY: She will return to the United States. But as to the timing of that, I’ll defer to the family.

QUESTION: P.J., you’re probably going to say this question is for the Defense Department. But just off the top of your head, is the U.S. still making any use of the military bases in Oman as in the past? Do you have any agreements with them?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we have military cooperation with Oman as we do with many countries in the GCC, but I’ll defer the specifics to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. But Assistant Secretary Brimmer talked about a P-5+1 meeting and then she didn’t want to say that it was at the principals level? I mean, that’s even – is there some chance –

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: -- that Ban Ki-moon is not going to show up for –

MR. CROWLEY: On the schedule there is a P-5+1 meeting that currently is slated to involve the Secretary plus Under Secretary Burns. And so we would anticipate a leader at the ministerial level plus the political directors.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, like, the NATO-Russia, is there some suggestion that Lavrov is not going to be there for this?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then – the Pakistan meeting. The Secretary said that she and the Australian were going to be there.

MR. CROWLEY: The Secretary will be meeting on Sunday to discuss Pakistan flood relief, and I know that that will include the Secretary on our side, plus Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who’ll just be back from Pakistan. On Monday, there will be a session on Haiti recovery that the Secretary will co-chair along with Prime Minister Bellerive, President Preval, and former President Clinton.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. Hold on. We got other – Samir.

QUESTION: The prime minister of Kuwait is meeting with the Vice President today and General Jones at the White House. Will anybody from State Department be meeting with him and –

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know that there’s a separate meeting. It’s possible that we’ll just have a State Department representative in that meeting, but we’ll try to check that.



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