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 30, 2010
QUESTION: What do you have to say about Pakistani authorities having blocked an ISAF supply route for Afghanistan in retaliation for an airstrike?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think ISAF is working with the Pakistani Government to investigate the incident earlier today. We have multiple routes to be able to resupply our forces in Afghanistan. We are aware of, I think, one gate being closed, and we’re discussing that with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Given the amount of assistance that the U.S. Government has given the Pakistani Government for many years now, and given the frequent descriptions of Pakistan as a key partner for the United States in the war on terrorism, is this the kind of ally you want that, in a moment of pique, cuts off any supply route to what is now your major theater of combat operations abroad?
MR. CROWLEY: And we are talking to the Government of Pakistan about – I mean, we take seriously our partnership. There has been an incident along the Afghan-Pakistan border. We take seriously our responsibilities as a partner, and there’s a review ongoing and we are working with the Pakistani Government on both of these issues.
QUESTION: Ambassador Patterson and Director Panetta met with the president today. Do you have any readout of that meeting, whether or not all of these issues came up?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, do you have any comment on the execution of these Taliban suspects by the Pakistani military?
MR. CROWLEY: We have raised this issue with the Pakistani Government. We are – have encouraged them to investigate it fully. We take all allegations of human rights violations very seriously. Human rights and the issue of extrajudicial killings has been a part of our ongoing conversation with Pakistan. It’s been recorded in our previous human rights reports and we are awaiting further information from Pakistan.
QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up on Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign minister in a private dinner last night said that they’re quite confident of the robustness of Pakistani democracy and that the – that a military coup is not something likely. Are you confident in the Pakistani democratic structure?
MR. CROWLEY: We are doing everything that we can to support the civilian government in Pakistan and the improvement in the capabilities and performance of civilian government. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve responded so aggressively to the recent flood to support Pakistan’s assistance to its own citizens, and it’s why we have committed time and resources and developed the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan to help this government not only build its capacity, but also rebuild its relationship with its own people. It’s very, very important.
QUESTION: P.J., what’s the latest on Senator Mitchell?
MR. CROWLEY: He has met today in the region with President Abbas. He met yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He will also meet Catherine Ashton later today. And we expect that he will have additional meetings with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas individually tomorrow.
QUESTION: And has the rest of his trip been set, or where he goes after --
MR. CROWLEY: I have not seen his follow-on agenda.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, you said the additional meetings were tomorrow?
MR. CROWLEY: He will have additional meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas tomorrow.
QUESTION: But you don’t expect him to come home after – you still expect him to stay out there and talk to --
MR. CROWLEY: I do.
QUESTION: Any expectation that – well, two questions. One, are there any follow-up meetings with Syria following Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s meeting today? And two, do you have any expectation that Senator Mitchell might return in the near term to Damascus?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t believe that he will be going to Damascus on this trip. I’m not ruling it out entirely, but he went through his likely schedule with me before – last week in New York before he left, and that wasn’t on his list at the time.
QUESTION: What was?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he wasn’t entirely sure of the times and sequence, so I’ll try to get the details as to where he’ll be.
QUESTION: And any other Syrian meetings? I mean, you’ve had – in the two-week span you’ve had Senator Mitchell go there, you’ve had the Secretary meet with the foreign minister, you’ve now had the Deputy Secretary meet with the vice foreign minister. There’s a lot of activity. Any more coming?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sure we will continue to engage Syria. We’d – while we were gratified that the Senate last night confirmed a number of our nominees for ambassadorial positions, Cameron Munter being one for Pakistan, obviously Robert Ford was not confirmed last night for Damascus. But we will continue to engage the Syrian Government, but I’ve got nothing to announce at this point on the next step.
QUESTION: P.J., the Palestinians are claiming that the Obama Administration is weighing in or considering announcing ’67 borders as the borders for the state, the Palestinian state, with provisions on the land swap to keep the Palestinians in the talks. Could you comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, other than to say George Mitchell had – has had meetings this week with both the prime minister and President Abbas, he will have additional meetings, I’m not going to get into the substance. We continue to do everything that we can to encourage both parties to stay in these direct negotiations. Last – yesterday afternoon, Secretary Clinton had follow-on calls with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, so we are talking to others in the region in anticipation of important next week – important meetings next week within the Arab League. So we’re talking to the parties on how to keep the negotiations going forward. We’re talking to other governments in the region about how to support the leaders as they work through these difficult issues and make difficult decisions in the coming days. We’re doing everything we can to keep this moving forward.
QUESTION: P.J., you said that you didn’t want to get into the substance of this, but --
QUESTION: Is that an option that – excuse me.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Is that an option that is being considered at the present time, the ’67 borders?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is that an option that we may see come up as a suggestion or --
MR. CROWLEY: We’re talking – we’re sharing our ideas, as we have indicated, with the Palestinians and the Israelis. I’m not going to talk about specifics.
QUESTION: Well, you say you don’t want to talk about specifics, but that question – I mean, this has been U.S. policy since the beginning of this Administration. Since day one you’ve come out and said the – on the basis of the ’67 borders with agreed swaps. Has that changed?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: People have said that on the record. The Secretary, the President has. Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, you’re asking two different questions.
QUESTION: No, I just don’t understand. There’s been a flurry of reports over the last two days about this alleged letter that Obama has sent to Netanyahu. There was things that are --
MR. CROWLEY: And just to set the record straight, there was --
QUESTION: Hold on a second.
MR. CROWLEY: There – on that, there was no such letter.
QUESTION: Well, fair enough. Whether there was or not, the reports all suggest that the U.S. is offering a bunch of guarantees to Israel, which look – which appear, to me at least and to others, to be exactly what you’re giving them now, but also say – talk about the ’67 border being the basis for negotiations. But unless I’m completely wrong and have a really bad memory, everyone from the President on down has said that the basis is the ’67 borders with agreed swaps. Am I correct?
MR. CROWLEY: There is a formulation that we have used in our public statements. That formulation has not changed.
QUESTION: Is that the formulation?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: ’67 borders with agreed swaps?
MR. CROWLEY: And there’s a little bit more language. If you want, I’ll get it for you and recite it. I don’t have it here in the book.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess what I’m trying to figure out is --
MR. CROWLEY: There’s more to it than you’ve talked about, but I’ll – tell you what, can we get that formulation? I’ll give it a dramatic reading.
QUESTION: And – okay, so all of these reports, including from Dennis Ross’s co-author, about a letter being sent by the President to the prime minister, are incorrect?
MR. CROWLEY: There was no letter to the prime minister.
QUESTION: Well, what does that – was there something else?
QUESTION: Was there something else to the prime minister or an email or --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m – there have been reports that within the context of the ongoing negotiations the President, in recent days, sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu outlining certain things. The White House has denied that letter was sent.
QUESTION: Well, is the White House – the Israelis claim that President Obama suggested to extend the freeze for two more months, and in exchange he will agree to the principle of placing Israeli troops on the other – on the eastern side of the Jordan River even after the Palestinian --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, beyond saying that we are talking about areas of interest with both the Israelis and Palestinians as a means of encouraging both to continue in the direct negotiations, being able to show that this negotiation can yield results of importance and value to the Israeli people, to the Palestinian people. But again, I’m not going to go into any specifics.
QUESTION: Senator Levin told The Cable, the foreign policy site on the web – on the internet that President Obama is asking Prime Minister Netanyahu to extend the moratorium for 60 days. Can you confirm that?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, Samir, it is – the President last week in his statement at the UN, and the Secretary as well, affirmed our position. That position has not changed.
QUESTION: Sorry. Going back to the Iran sanctions, the Japanese company Inpex indicated that it will be leaving the Azadegan oil field contract and – but it wasn’t included in the four that was mentioned in the briefing prior to this. And I was just wondering why that was, where they stand in terms of cost to the U.S.?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we announced specific steps that come under the Iran sanctions legislation. We have had conversations with Japan about that issue, but it is not a part of this action today.
QUESTION: Are you pleased with Japanese cooperation on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Japan itself has announced steps that it has – it is prepared to take in support of Resolution 1929. We think these actions by Japan, by Korea, by other countries, are having the effect that Deputy Secretary Steinberg outlined.
QUESTION: Speaking of Deputy Secretary Steinberg, he said that he was not aware of any anger or upsetness from people on the Hill, because the people that he briefed, or the people that he talked to about this, presumably over the last couple of days, were all very pleased. Could you – do you happen to know if he talked to any Republicans?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not have a list of who he talked to.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the meetings the Syrian deputy foreign minister had with Assistant Secretary Feltman and Ambassador Benjamin and Assistant Secretary Schwartz yesterday?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t. I know Jeff Feltman was in the meeting a few minutes ago with the deputy foreign minister. We maintain contact – dialogue with Syria on a range of subjects, some of those involving terrorism cooperation. Today, talked about both the potential for U.S.-Syrian relations, obviously concerns that we have about activity that Syria has undertaken in the region. But this is part of our fundamental decision to engage Syria, and we are doing that.
QUESTION: Do you see eye-to-eye with Syria now about the formation of the next government in Iraq?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t say whether that came up today. This – these are – this is a decision for Iraq to make. We are intensively engaged in discussions with the Iraqi Government. I think the White House has known some contacts that the Vice President has had in recent days. I believe he’ll have some additional contacts today. We are encouraging the Iraqis to form a government and we are working closely with them. We recognize that other countries in the region have an interest in what happens in Iraq, but ultimately, the formation of a government should be decisions made in Iraq and not subject to outside pressures.
QUESTION: On (inaudible), if I may, on Ambassador Ford, the fact that he was not confirmed by the Senate, does that cast anything on his likelihood of being the ambassador to Syria?
MR. CROWLEY: He remains our nominee.
QUESTION: He remains your nominee.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have one. I am told that a Taliban official has described Karzai’s peace council as, quote, “failed” and has also denied General Petraeus’s assertion that senior Taliban leaders are in touch with Afghan authorities in Kabul. Do you have any comment on either of those?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll stick with what General Petraeus said. We are supporting an Afghan-led process on reconciliation, and we believe that the intensified action that we’re taking on the ground is and will have a positive effect in bringing some people to the table. We recognize that there will be some holdouts. There are those who are ideologically committed to this, who will likely have to be defeated. However, we do believe that there are a mix of tribes and fighters that are not ideologically committed, and we can change the cost – their cost-benefit analysis, and in doing so, perhaps get them to switch sides.