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 5, 2010
QUESTION: Mideast. Is there any update on Mitchell’s discussions or the Secretary’s discussions with anyone in the region, and particularly ahead of the Arab League meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of any particular discussions today by the Secretary. George Mitchell remains in touch with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we continue to work closely with them to see if we can’t find a way to create the conditions for the continuation of negotiations. But I can’t point to any particular act this morning.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion or possibly suggesting that the Arab League move back or delay, postpone once again, its meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: This is a decision for the Arab League. The Follow-on Committee has, in fact, pushed their meeting back. It was supposed to be yesterday originally.
QUESTION: Right. The meeting --
MR. CROWLEY: And for a combination of reasons, I think including the availability of some of the participants, it’s now scheduled for Friday.
QUESTION: Can you give us some elements about William Burns’s visit to Yemen?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t. Let me – I’ll see if we can’t get a more fulsome readout for you.
QUESTION: Are we still on the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Are we still on the –
MR. CROWLEY: We’ve moved to Yemen, but we can move back.
MR. CROWLEY: We’re nimble here.
QUESTION: Back to the talks? Could we go back to the direct talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. I know that you guys have denied the substance or the existence of a letter, but they still persist. The Israelis persist that Netanyahu received a letter, and the letter suggested the extension for 60 days in exchange for the U.S. not ever asking for another extension on the settlement freeze in exchange for giving a commitment to support Israel for placing troops along the Jordan River and all kinds of things. So could you comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, no – the short answer. We continue discussing the full range of issues with the parties, but I can’t be specific.
QUESTION: No comment or nonexistent?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m – as we indicated last week, there was a report that there was a letter from President Obama. The White House denied that there was such a letter. We are – continue our discussions with the parties, putting forward our ideas that, in our view, can create the conditions for the negotiations to continue. That is our desire. And we will continue to work this throughout the week.
QUESTION: Do you expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce tomorrow, Wednesday, that he will extend the freeze on building of settlements for another 60 days?
MR. CROWLEY: I believe I understand that the prime minister had a meeting with the security cabinet today and may well have a follow-on meeting tomorrow. We’ve made our position clear to the Israeli Government, but obviously, they have decisions to make and so do the Palestinians.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any indication that he would?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, it is our desire that the current negotiations continue. We’re trying to create conditions that enable that to occur. And that is our – continues to be our message to both sides.
QUESTION: Just one more. Nabil Shaath, the prominent Palestinian negotiator, said that the Palestinians will stay in the negotiations come what may. Is that something that has been coordinated with you?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe the only way to seek what both the Palestinians and the Israelis desire is by continuing negotiations. That is our desire. That has been our message to both parties throughout this process, and we hope that they will decide to continue these negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Stay in the region?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the wisdom of a possible trip to Lebanon, including southern Lebanon, by your friend Mr. Ahmadinejad? Apparently, he has suggested that he would like to go to southern Lebanon and throw some rocks at Israeli soldiers across the border on a visit to Lebanon. Do you think that’s a good idea?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t normally recommend travel arrangements for President Ahmadinejad. We certainly would hope that Iran would play a constructive role in the region. Throwing stones, whether they’re literal or figuratively – or figurative, I would not consider constructive.
QUESTION: So – but more seriously, just on the broader idea of a visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon?
MR. CROWLEY: We’re aware that he has travel plans to Lebanon. And beyond that, I don’t have a comment.
QUESTION: Well, have you suggested to the Lebanese or the Syrians that this – that they might – this might not be a good idea?
MR. CROWLEY: These are judgments for countries to make. The issue of the prospective travel of President Ahmadinejad to Lebanon did come up in the meeting between Secretary Clinton and President Sulayman on the margins of UNGA.
QUESTION: And she told him?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we expressed our concern about it given that Iran, through its association with groups like Hezbollah, is actively undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty. But again, we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese Government to make.
QUESTION: Have you talked to the Lebanese Government to convince Ahmadinejad not to travel to the south?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we don’t think that his travel to that part of Lebanon is a good idea. But again, what he does within that country is up to the Lebanese Government.
QUESTION: But the Israelis are very critical on this visit and they believe it’s a provocation of Ahmadinejad, and they are taking military preparations on the border.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: And you are concerned about steps that they --
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we respect the fact that countries can choose to have diplomatic relations with other countries. That is a sovereign choice for Lebanon and for Iran. It’s not for us to tell them who they should or should not talk to. We did say to Lebanese officials this is a country that is actively undermining your government and we believe that whatever you decide to do should be with – in light of making sure that the Lebanese Government continues to demand that Iran or any other country respect its sovereignty.
QUESTION: One more question?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: After meeting with the – after the Secretary’s meeting with the Syrian foreign minister in New York and his vice – his deputy in – here in Washington, President Assad visited Iran on Saturday and was very critical about the U.S.-sponsored direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and said they are only serving the interest of President Obama in the U.S. Do you still – after such criticism, are you still considering moving the Israel-Syria track?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, the pursuit of peace in the Middle East is in everyone’s interest, including Syria’s. We’re not trying to score points with anyone. We’re trying to end a conflict. So we are interested in pursuing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We are interested in seeing the establishment of a Palestinian state and security that both the Palestinians and the Israelis want and deserve. We are willing to work with any country that is genuinely interested in constructively working towards peace in the Middle East.
It is in Syria’s interest to pursue peace in the Middle East. And we would hope, as we’ve said, to see progress on the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track. I don’t think that we see that these threads are in competition. Perhaps that might have been true 10 or 15 years ago. But we are pursuing comprehensive Middle East peace. We want to see countries in the region play a constructive role. Many of them are, and we hope that Syria would join that list.
QUESTION: What’s the significance of the Afghan elections being pushed back to later in October? Is this a bad sign?
MR. CROWLEY: No, I think it’s a reflection of the nature of the election. We knew going in, given the relatively large number of candidates for a relatively small number of seats, that if there were ten candidates for every one seat, that nine people would end the election unhappy and many would contest. So I think this reflects just the number of complaints, which is, we think, really geared, based on the number of candidates, and the commission is working through those. I don’t think we’re troubled by the fact that there’s been a week’s delay.
QUESTION: P.J., Iraqi sources claim that the United States Government is pushing for a partnership government between Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki, whereby the presidency will go to Allawi provided that it becomes more than just a ceremonial post where they have foreign affairs and so on and all these things. Could you confirm that that this was really made in a suggestion by the Vice President, who has been speaking to everybody?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we’re not picking any winners in this. We don’t have any favorite candidates for any office. That said, we believe that all four winning blocs, including Iraqiya and State of Law and others, should be able to play a role in the new government.
QUESTION: Would you be willing to lean on the Kurds in this case if they insist on keeping the presidency, but a solution for the deadlock would be in giving the presidency to Allawi?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re looking for the emergence of an inclusive government. The Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, and others have to all feel if there’s a government that is working on their behalf. That’s been our position for the past six months.
QUESTION: And you would not have any problem of having the Sadrists be part of the government?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, these are decisions for the Iraqi Government to make based on the electoral results that emerged last spring.