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Middle East Digest - October 1, 2010

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Washington, DC
October 1, 2010


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 October 1, 2010

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1:35 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Regarding Sarah, Josh, and Shane, the three hikers who were – two of them are still in Iran and Sarah here, they have been given a court date of November 2nd. And I do know that Sarah has been advised of this date by her lawyer. Do you know if she intends to go back for that? And also, can you give us a readout of the Omani trip, the recent one, to Tehran?

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, we have checked since you raised the issue earlier this week and we actually have no details, so we would defer what Oman is doing in terms of seeking the release of the two hikers, we’d defer to the Omani Government. But in Secretary Clinton’s conversations with Omani officials, they pledged to continue along with the Swiss and others to encourage Iran to release our two hikers, and we hope that Iran will do so as soon as possible.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: P.J., when you say that Senator Mitchell is going to be traveling and talking with Arab leaders and so on, but we do know the position of Mr. Netanyahu and the position of Mr. Abbas are well known. So what is he trying to get them to do?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’s trying to do exactly what we said: We want to see the direct negotiations continue. We understand that we confront a situation where both sides have to make decisions in terms of whether to stay in the negotiations and putting forth ideas that demonstrate the value and importance of these ongoing negotiations. I can’t go into details about what’s being discussed, but we believe that, clearly, both sides have to both see the importance and value of ongoing direct negotiations. It is the only way to resolve the core issues. We still believe we can get past this immediate period and that we have every hope that a successful negotiation can be completed within one year. We’re – a lot of ideas are being exchanged on how to maintain this commitment that the two sides have demonstrated over the past month. We just want to see the negotiations continue and that’s our message to both sides.

QUESTION: But if goodwill is being shown by both sides and they both want to stay in the negotiations, what kind of ideas could bring them together to overcome the major obstacle, which is settlement activity or the resumption of settlement –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, those are decisions that have to be made by the Israelis and by Palestinians. We have felt very strongly that the negotiations have gotten off to a very strong start. The parties, in their meetings, have been talking about the core issues. We see both sides seeing the potential for partnership. Both sides have been trying to build trust that is essential for this process to go forward.

There are tough political decisions that both sides have to make. We understand that, but we believe that by demonstrating that through concessions and gestures that can be offered on both sides, that both leaders can see and then, in turn, convey to their respective people that it is important and necessary for these talks to continue.

QUESTION: One more. The Arab League announced that they pushed the follow-up committee meeting until the 8th and I know that you guys pinned some hope on that committee meeting. Could you tell us what is your reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, these are positive signs that everyone understands what’s at stake. Everyone wants to see these negotiations continue. We’ve been very pleased with the restraint that has been shown on all sides. Time and space has been provided for Senator Mitchell and his team to continue dialogue and to see if there is a basis upon which the Israelis and Palestinians can make the decision to stay in these negotiations. So this has been a constructive week, but we still understand that there are political decisions that both sides will have to make sometime next week, and we hope that they’ll make the right decision.

QUESTION: P.J., the Egyptian foreign minister has said that the settlement freeze is not essential for the peace talks. How do you view this statement?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we understand that this is an important issue. Settlements can only be resolved in direct negotiations. And we’ll see if the discussions that are ongoing provide a sufficient basis for the parties to make the decision to remain in direct negotiations. But those kinds of statements of support will be vitally important over the next few days to demonstrate to the leaders that they will have the backing that they need to continue in these negotiations.

These are very difficult, these are very emotional questions. It is time for the leaders to demonstrate the political will conveyed to their constituencies that there’s value in staying in these negotiations. We hope that the leaders will make the right decision.

QUESTION: But do you still call Israel to renew the moratorium or after the statement, something –

MR. CROWLEY: Our position hasn’t changed, but ultimately it will be the leaders and their judgment as to whether there is sufficient basis and promise in the negotiations based on the work done over the past 30 days to continue these talks. We hope they will.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the two parties will be able to solve the border issue within a period of two months?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe that all of – that we can complete a successful negotiation on all of the core issues within the next 12 months. How that goes and what sequencing and what intermediate steps can be taken, I can’t predict. But we are confident that if they stay in the negotiations, if they get over this hurdle that we are confronting, that will show the kind of commitment that we’ve been hopeful for since negotiations started last month.

QUESTION: Change of topic to Pakistan?


QUESTION: Regarding these key routes that – going from Pakistan into Afghanistan that are continuously being threatened, how concerned is the State Department given its – particularly in light of its increased presence there in Afghanistan? How concerned are you about the supply routes?

MR. CROWLEY: The supply routes through Pakistan?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. CROWLEY: They’re important. They’re not the only means by which we resupply our efforts in Afghanistan. We’ve got the northern distribution network that we’ve worked out with Russia and other countries in the region as well, but the land supply routes through Pakistan are vitally important. We’re not surprised that insurgents have in the past – and have done so again in the past few hours – attacked those routes, and – but they are important and we will work with Pakistan to make sure that we have the best security possible.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the Pakistanis will reopen the Khyber Pass soon or that it –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is one supply route that is currently not available. We continue to talk to the Government of Pakistan about that. That said, there are multiple supply routes. So as I think the Pentagon said yesterday, at this point, the closure of one route has not had a significant impact.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Guatemala, too, unless someone has more about Pakistan?

QUESTION: Another one on Pakistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, we’ll come – all right.

QUESTION: Today, the Pentagon said that Pakistan has given the reason as due to rising tensions in the area, they have shut down the route. Do you have any update on that? It’s not because of the air attack or anything. They say it’s due to the rising tensions.

MR. CROWLEY: That is actually our understanding as well, that the supply route was not open prior to this week. That said, we are obviously working with Pakistan on better coordination on cross-border operations, and that will continue. But that’s why we have opened up multiple means of resupplying our forces in Afghanistan and the international forces in Afghanistan, because we understood that any one route was vulnerable to attack.

QUESTION: So when do you expect it to open? When do you expect it to open?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t predict.

QUESTION: P.J., today former Pakistani president, General Musharaff, expressed displeasure of these cross-border raids and so on. Any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Our cooperation with Pakistan is very significant. We have opened up a Strategic Dialogue on a wide range of issues, but security being a very significant element of our partnership. We look forward later this month to another Strategic Dialogue here in Washington, D.C. So we are partners in the struggle. We’ve seen Pakistan’s mindset change over the past few months. I think there’s an understanding that this is a shared struggle. And since it’s a shared struggle, this has to be something that we work very closely and collaboratively, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that, just on Musharaff. He founded a new political party today, with an eye, apparently, to running for office again. Do you have any particular comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: We support civilian government in Pakistan. We are working with Pakistan to increase the capacity of this government, the performance of this government. It will be important for a civilian government to demonstrate its value to the Pakistani people. The Pakistani people have made clear that they prefer civilian government to dictatorship. But as to who ultimately runs that civilian government, that’s a matter for the Pakistani people.

QUESTION: Just a follow up on that?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You say you prefer civilian government, but in the case of this gate closure, you’re talking to General Kayani.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – we do talk to General Kayani. We do talk to General Pasha. We do talk to President Zardari. We do talk to Prime Minister Gilani. We do talk to Foreign Minister Qureshi and others. So we have a broad dialogue with the Pakistani Government both on the civilian side and the military side. And this is an example of the genuine partnership that we are – have built, and we are continuing to work to strengthen that every single day.

QUESTION: On Ecuador, can you explain a little bit about the conversation?

MR. CROWLEY: I promise to come to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right. Ecuador.

QUESTION: Can you explain a little bit about the conversation between the Secretary and Mr. Correa? What was said in the conversation? Did --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I gave you as much detail as I feel comfortable providing.

QUESTION: The U.S. thinks it is a coup that happened there? What is the interpretation in the U.S.?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s difficult for me to stand here and characterize the motivation of every single person that was involved in yesterday’s uprising. To us, it looked like it started out as a protest but, to some extent, did represent a challenge to the government. The government responded effectively. Today, there are clear statements by the Ecuadoran military that they pledge their support to the government and to the president, and we believe this is just the kind of action that is necessary to resolve this with an affirmation and – of democratic values, and that’s what we hope for Ecuador.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about – (inaudible) earlier in the week, but I don’t think anybody’s asked you yet about an American citizen detained in Spain on terrorism charges, Algerian-born, for apparently financing al-Qaida?

MR. CROWLEY: There was an American citizen detained and he has been released.


QUESTION: On Iraq, how do you view the recent developments there, and are you optimistic that a new government will be former sooner rather than later?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly want to see a government formed in Iraq. It’s something that’s important to the country. It’s important to the people of Iraq that their votes result in an inclusive government. It’s not for us to choose a candidate. We don’t have one.

But we are beginning to see the kind of political horse trading among the major blocs that received support in the election and we are hopeful that a government can be formed that provides the opportunity for participation by each of the four major blocs that received significant support in the election back in the spring.

QUESTION: P.J., a couple hours ago, the National Iraqi Alliance, which is the major Shiite group or the major alliance, just threw its weight behind Prime Minister Maliki. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I basically just – (laughter) – again, in a parliamentary system where you have multiple blocs that received significant support but no one bloc is able to form a government on its own, you need to have the kind of political horse trading that we’re beginning to see. We have been encouraging this for some time, not to pick a favorite candidate. The United States of America does not have a favorite candidate.

But obviously, we’ve been recognizing and communicating to Iraqi political leaders that they have to find ways to form a political coalition strong enough to stand up a government. So these are the kinds of steps that Iraq has to take, and we’re now encouraged that they are beginning to take these steps. But this one decision or one announcement that you have mentioned by itself does not necessarily give any one bloc enough support to form a government. So we have to – there have to be more dialogue among the major parties, and we hope that they’ll find a way to work past their immediate political interests and stand up an inclusive government that can address the needs of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Ahmed Chalabi, who just won a seat in this last election and heads the Iraqi National Conference is in town. Is he likely to have any kind of official meetings in the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: On Iran, given yesterday’s announcements, has there been any sort of pushback from companies or – I mean, have any others come forward to sort of – to announce that they’re sort of severing ties with Iran? I’m just really --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any pushback. As Deputy Secretary Steinberg said yesterday, we’ve maintained a dialogue with companies that do have business with Iran. We’ve explained the implications of international sanctions and our own domestic legislation. We have a good understanding of what these companies are doing.

And both in terms of unwinding the business that they are currently involved in, we have pledges that companies that are currently invested in Iran do not plan to do any new business with that country. They are looking after their own reputational – business reputation, as we expected. So these are the kinds of conversations and the kinds of actions by the private sector that gives us hope that the sanctions are having an impact on Iran.

QUESTION: P.J., on Wednesday, the Secretary announced that the designation of eight Iranian individuals under the basis of human rights violations. Before that announcement, had the State Department told its allies that this is what we’re going to do, this is what we intend to do. Because just the day before, the Secretary had a meeting with Ashton here.

MR. CROWLEY: We have had many conversations with countries to help them understand the implications of recent legislation, the tools that they created, and the decisions that we will be making in line with that legislation.

QUESTION: Does it sound like maybe they might follow suit (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re following our law. As to whether other countries have similar legislation and could take similar action, I can’t say.

QUESTION: Another question I needed a clarification on. You’re pursuing another round of talks with Iran within the framework of the P-5+1. I’ve read reports that there’s a possibility that this meeting is to be a one-on-one between Ashton and Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: In terms of process, if you go back to what happened in the previous meeting that we had maybe a year ago today, it was preceded by a meeting with the Iranians and Javier Solana, just to set the agenda and make sure that we were confident that when the P-5+1 came together with Iran that it was clear on both sides what issues would be available for discussion. So in terms of process, we would anticipate that if Iran indicates it’s prepared to have the kind of discussion we want, and Iran has not given us that formal indication yet or given Catherine Ashton that formal indication yet, but it could well be that there would be a meeting with Catherine Ashton and her Iranian counterpart in anticipation of a follow-on meeting that would be inclusive of the P-5+1.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Have a nice weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)

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