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 6, 2010
1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Several things just to mention en route to your questions. The Secretary, in about an hour’s time, will have a meeting with Quartet representative Tony Blair. She will update him on our current efforts to push the parties to continue with negotiations. On that aspect, the Secretary, as we mentioned by Twitter yesterday, did have a conversation yesterday afternoon with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh in advance of Friday’s Arab League meeting. And Senator Mitchell has had a series of calls with leaders in the region today as well.
And secondly, the Secretary and Tony Blair will continue to review how to increase support for the Palestinian Authority and the ongoing institutional efforts led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.
Turning to the Middle East, Under Secretary Bill Burns is in Baghdad today, where he had a wide range of meetings with key Iraqi leaders. Those meetings will continue tomorrow. But today, he met with Iraqi President Talabani, Vice President Abd al-Mahdi, Prime Minister Maliki, Foreign Minister Zebari, and Dr. Allawi, the head of the al-Iraqiya Party. He continued – he talked about a range of bilateral issues, but on the formation of government he continued to stress the U.S. position, which is that we urgently want to see the formation of an inclusive government that is representative and accountable to the people of Iraq.
He – when he finished – obviously finished his meetings in Yemen, where he consulted with President Salih, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, as well as the leadership of the Joint Meeting parties. They discussed regional and domestic security as well as ways to promote development within Yemen. Secretary Burns’ meetings with the leadership of the Joint Meeting parties, they discussed the need for a genuine national dialogue that is inclusive and comprehensive.
And speaking of Yemen, obviously we are mindful of the attack on the British ambassador in Yemen today. Our Embassy has resumed normal business and – but our Embassy Action Committee did convene shortly after the incident took place. And that attack is being investigated by Yemeni authorities.
QUESTION: Going back to Mitchell, who did he call?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a list. I’ll – it was several calls, as it was characterized to me.
QUESTION: And you said that the Secretary is going to update former Prime Minister Blair on the efforts. What would you care to update us with on those efforts?
MR. CROWLEY: We – I will not say much. We --
QUESTION: So she’s just going to tell him that she made a call yesterday to Nasser Judeh and that Mitchell is --
MR. CROWLEY: Don’t take offense, but she’ll probably tell him more than I’ll tell you. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: No, we are intensively engaged. We are in touch with the Palestinians. We are in touch with the Israelis. We are in touch with countries that will be participating in the Arab League meeting on Friday. Our message is clear: These are important negotiations; we’re at a critical state in the process; we want to see the negotiations continue; we don’t want to see the parties step away from this process. And we continue to offer ideas to both sides as to how to navigate through the settlement issue that currently confronts us.
QUESTION: Right. Well, you say that your message is clear, but it’s not very clear at all, in fact, to us. What kind of ideas?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, as to the formula that we are trying to construct that demonstrates value to both sides and enables them to make the political commitment to continue with these negotiations, that’s not something I’m going to discuss.
QUESTION: All right. Well, what is it you want out of the Arab League on Friday?
MR. CROWLEY: What we want out of the Arab League is continued support for direct negotiations that we have just launched. We think that withdrawing support from the negotiations at this stage would be premature.
QUESTION: Even if --
MR. CROWLEY: The discussions that we’ve had over these first 30 or so days, we think have been productive. Both leaders have demonstrated a commitment to these negotiations. They are worthy of support within the region. We understand that there are frustrations on all sides, but that said, we hope that the Arab League will – Follow-on Committee and the Arab League itself will stay committed to supporting the leaders as they continue in negotiations and ultimately reach an agreement that ends the conflict.
QUESTION: And even – you want that even if there is no new freeze on settlements?
MR. CROWLEY: We want the negotiations to continue.
QUESTION: No matter what?
MR. CROWLEY: That is our bottom line. We said prior to the start of direct negotiations that they should not be subject to preconditions. And we believe, as we’ve said repeatedly, that the only way to resolve the core issues is inside this direct negotiation.
QUESTION: P.J., follow-up on that, are you still hopeful that Prime Minister Netanyahu might still announce a continuation of the freeze of settlement today?
MR. CROWLEY: We want to see the negotiations continue and we understand that settlements are an important issue inside this negotiation. And both leaders feel that they have to be able to demonstrate to their people that there is value in making the difficult but necessary political decision to continue with these negotiations.
QUESTION: But since Abbas has painted himself into a corner, demanding that the settlements be totally frozen for him to continue, are you willing to pressure the Israelis so if something can come up, at least for 60 days and so on prior to the Arab League meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to discuss these issues with both parties. I’m just not going to get into specifics. As well as other leaders in the region.
QUESTION: But excuse me, just to follow up, you keep saying that you don’t want to delve into specifics. Yet you know the parameters. There are two or three points – the settlements and continuation of talks. So why are we being sort of stuck? Where are we stuck, so to speak --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: -- in the – where are we? What is holding up the process? What would be the two or three things that are holding up the talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we know there’s an issue in front of us regarding settlements that is an obstacle to ongoing, direct negotiations. That obstacle has to be surmounted. We are presenting our thoughts to the parties on how to navigate through this issue that confronts us. And then we understand that both sides will have decisions to make in the next few days. We hope they’ll make the right decision and commit to continue negotiations.
That is our objective. We believe if we can get past this immediate challenge, then we can get more substantively into and address the core issues, and ultimately reach a successful negotiation within 12 months. So we’re doing everything that we can to convince the parties to remain committed to these negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: In her conversation with Judeh, did she urge him to persuade the – King Abdullah to talk to Netanyahu, for example, and see what he can offer in return if the Israelis make it easier to resume these talks, such as a settlement freeze extending?
MR. CROWLEY: Let me just answer it broadly, that they talked about the upcoming Arab League meeting, that – what we would like to see happen and not happen in the Arab League meeting, and how to best prepare for what we think is a successful outcome.
QUESTION: To what degree is the Arab League meeting a make-or-break moment for these talks? I mean, if you don’t get what you want out of them, i.e. backing for the Palestinians, does that mean the whole thing is just in the dumpster, so to speak? (Laughter.) Or is --
MR. CROWLEY: How to answer a dumpster question diplomatically? (Laughter.) Let’s start with our fundamental view and work backwards.
We want a successful negotiation and an agreement that results in a two-state solution. The only way to get to that agreement is through direct negotiations. We are in direct negotiations now and we hope to be able to sustain these in the coming months. I’m reluctant to say that this is a make-or-break moment. This is a difficult moment. It’s one that we anticipated. If we can successfully work through this, then the negotiations will continue.
We’re going to stay committed to comprehensive peace regardless of the outcome on Friday, but we believe the best outcome on Friday is continued support in the region for the leaders to continue in direct negotiations, and for those direct negotiations, once passed, this immediate challenge can get more aggressively and substantively into the core issues.
QUESTION: On Judeh, just to follow up on Judeh, did the Secretary of State discuss with the Jordanian foreign minister their holding back of their Jordanian ambassador to Tel Aviv?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t recall that coming up.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: No, no, wait. I’ve got one more on this. I just want to make sure I have something clear. You said in response to a question a little while ago that your hope remains that you can – that if you can get through this deadlock, you can still get some kind of an agreement in 12 months, so a year. But you – is it still 12 months or is it now 11? We’ve already had a month of this, so are you giving yourself an extra month here already? (Laughter.) Has it already been extended so it’s --
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It was really a 13-month process and not a year?
MR. CROWLEY: Fair enough. It is --
QUESTION: Now, is it – no, I am serious.
MR. CROWLEY: No, it – I’m not –
QUESTION: I mean, is there some subtle shift going on here or are you just giving yourself --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a fair question. At the start of these direct negotiations, it was our view and it remains our view that we can be successful in 12 months. If we get into next year successfully, whether it’s 12 months and one day, 12 months and one week, but it would – on the clock that was started here in Washington in late August, we are now one month into that process.
QUESTION: P.J., change of subject?
QUESTION: The same topic?
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Samir.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Israeli Government to extend the freeze now, the moratorium?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I don’t speak for the Israeli Government. Our policy has not changed. Our advice to the Israeli Government has not changed. And we hope that the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority will make the right decision and stay committed to direct negotiations.
QUESTION: And just so – one more question. Do you have any information about Senator Mitchell’s deputy, Fred Hof’s visit to Syria today?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have any information. I’ll see what we can find out.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Can I –
MR. CROWLEY: All right. No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is it accurate to say that you’re still trying to get over the current hurdle in negotiations by getting an extension of the moratorium? And if that is still the plan, what does it say about the prospects for reaching an agreement within twelve or thirteen months if the Israelis aren’t willing to make that gesture and you are not willing to – or you’re not able to break the deadlock? I mean, it’s taking a lot of heavy lifting. If the heavy lifting is all at the beginning, how are you going to get over some of the other very difficult issues that are going to be coming up in the negotiations?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, one thing that gives us confidence, Kim, is that if we’re able to encourage successfully the parties to remain in the direct negotiations, that gives the process a boost. That demonstrates that both of them are willing to take the difficult political steps and stay committed to the process. So that is our goal. And we continue to intensely work on this as we speak. All I’ll say is that we understand the issue before us is the issue of settlements and the expiration of the moratorium. I’m not going to predict what one or both will do. We hope that they will stay committed to the process.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Former Pakistani president, military ruler, Pervez Musharraf in an interview to a German magazine has admitted that Pakistan, a close ally of the U.S., obviously, trained underground militant groups to fight against India in Kashmir. Would you like to comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: And he also said that he has no regrets for Kargil intrusion which led to an armed conflict in 1999.
MR. CROWLEY: This is an issue between Pakistan and India. It is important. There have been successful discussions between Pakistan and India on this subject in recent years. Some of those discussions – very fruitful discussions – occurred between former governments of India and Pakistan. This is an issue that we hope that the two sides can address and resolve, but this is obviously an important bilateral issue between the two governments.
QUESTION: Just to follow up. And now he’s going to run for office in 2013. So how do you see U.S. working with him?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s a long time between now and 2013. We are engaged deeply with the current civilian government. We’re working hard with this government to address the immediate aftermath of the flooding and the ongoing security challenge that affects Pakistan and the United States.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: When a former president who was the president of a country for ten years says that he trained terrorists to fight against other countries, do you consider this a case of state-sponsored terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. What?
QUESTION: Do you consider that claim or that statement as a case of state-sponsored terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: Lalit, that’s a very sweeping kind of question I just can’t address here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just a lot has been written and said from here and from everywhere, including the President and the Secretary and Secretary of Defense and also that one thing is clear, including by the Pakistani Government, that there are terrorism in Pakistan and they had involved with them either current or former top-level officials of ISI and military. My question is, one, you will have a soon new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, as early as today, I believe, and if they are going to be any changes as far as U.S.-Pakistan relations in connection with the terrorism?
And second and final, many Americans are now asking that – if everybody’s claiming and believing and admitting that center and hub of terrorism is Pakistan, then what are you doing in Afghanistan? Why not in Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Well Goyal, first of all, we have a strategy and it has a military component and it has a civilian component. It is one of the innovations that the Obama Administration brought in where our emphasis is on both countries, because we can’t – we don’t believe that you can solve the challenge of Afghanistan without concerted effort in Pakistan.
We have worked diligently with the Pakistan Government. We have seen a shift in the Pakistani thinking. Pakistan’s support for extremist elements in the past is fairly well understood, but we believe that Pakistan has changed its view and recognizes that extremist elements within its borders now represent an existential threat to Pakistan itself and to the civilian government in Pakistan. We will have the next round of the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan coming up in a couple of weeks, and security will be a significant area of discussion.
QUESTION: And, P.J., do you believe that the revolving door which had existed between Pakistani officials and Taliban or al-Qaida has now been closed forever?
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I missed the first part of the question.
QUESTION: The revolving door – there was a revolving door which everybody admitted that during the day they were with the U.S., and at night or in the evening they were with the Taliban and al-Qaidas. Is that door now closed forever?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a better question to ask the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. This is a question on Bangladesh. An international tribunal are being set up to try the Bangladesh war criminals. Now what is the position of the State Department in this regard since it has become a very touchy issue in Bangladesh and also it has got ramifications as far as the war criminal issue is concerned, which led to the (inaudible) Bangladesh?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. Let me take the question. I have – I’ve not been briefed on that in a while.
QUESTION: Well, thank you so much.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go to Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports about Karzai – President Karzai talking to the Taliban, and can you tell us what the U.S. is aware of in those negotiations?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s see. I mean, our policy is, as we’ve said a number of times, we support an Afghan-led process on reconciliation. I’m not aware of any U.S. involvement in that process, so questions on where this stands are probably be best directed to the Afghan Government.
QUESTION: Well, surely – I mean, are you saying the U.S. Government is not aware of any of the conversations even if you’re not – even if you are saying you’re not involved?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have made clear as part of our strategy that there needs to be a political component to the challenge and solution in Afghanistan. But this will be an Afghan-led process and it’s hard – there are not necessarily enough facts in that story and there’s a lot of on background, deep background comments about maybe this happened, maybe that happened. But we recognize that there has to be a political solution to the current challenge. That’s what we’ve discussed in both the London conference and the Kabul conference, efforts at reconciliation and reintegration.
One of the things we’re doing by intensively going after and putting pressure on the Taliban, both inside Afghanistan and inside Pakistan, is to create the conditions for a – for those who, for one reason or another, are opposing the Afghan Government, to switch sides. We’ve established clear red lines as to the conditions that need to be established or need to be adopted for any group that decides to participate in the Afghan political system. But this is an Afghan-led effort.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conditions that you’re establishing have made it more likely or more – you have made a political solution more likely now?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s hard to say. I think we are comfortable with our strategy. We now have the full complement of military resources onboard in Afghanistan. We are aggressively taking action and putting pressure on those elements that are opposed to the emergence of an effective government in Afghanistan.
We believe that some of these groups may well be willing to seek a political solution. We recognize that other groups will be holdouts and that’s why we are intensively bringing the fight to them.
QUESTION: And just as a follow-up on Charlie’s point, I mean, you’re saying that it’s an Afghan-led process – yes, that’s been said all along. But it sounds as though what you’re saying now is that they’re going to reach some sort of deal that will then be presented to the U.S. as a fait accompli. When does the U.S. actually get to make its views known while the process is underway or is that happening already?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’ve established our criteria in terms of what we would see as acceptable for those who might seek reconciliation: renouncing violence, ending ties to al-Qaida, and supporting the Afghan constitution and the rights that are inherent in the Afghan constitution, relative to all segments of Afghan society, including women. Anyone who adopts those criteria, in our view, can play a role in the future of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And so, I’m still waiting for an answer to Charlie’s question, though. Are you aware of these discussions that are going --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment on discussions.
QUESTION: Well, General Petraeus said last week that he was aware of this.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.
QUESTION: So you’re not – you don’t have the same information that General Petraeus does?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have the same four stars that he has. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, how about the same information?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, I’m just – maybe I’m just kind of drawing a line here. I understand there’s a great curiosity about this issue. And this podium is not going to be a significant source of information on this topic.
QUESTION: So we can understand clearly, if this Afghan-led process is – in part or in full contradicts the U.S. larger strategy, will the U.S. --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me turn it around. It does not contradict our U.S. strategy. It’s an inherent element of our strategy that, if you look at insurgencies, there has to be both action on the military side and action on the political side. The reconciliation element and the reintegration element are part of the political dimension of our strategy. Ultimately, insurgencies end, more often than not, because of a political agreement, not because of a military defeat. So we are – we have talked about this at length with the Afghan Government. We believe we have a shared vision as to how this needs to unfold. But because we’re talking about the future of Afghanistan, these – this will actually have to be ultimately an arrangement done by the Afghan Government. We support it, but we will not be directly involved in it.
QUESTION: So just to follow up, so we can safely say that you have given Karzai a free hand to do these negotiations?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, he is the president of Afghanistan. It is his government and he is leading his country. And so this – we are supporting him. But ultimately, who participates in the government under what circumstances, these are decisions for the Afghan Government to make. That’s why we say we support an Afghan-led process.
Now, in our discussions with President Karzai and the Afghan Government, we have made clear that there are, in our view – and this is widely shared by the international community – certain red lines that we think are important. You’ve heard the Secretary talk about the importance of women and their role in the future of Afghanistan. So one of our red lines is, given the history of the Taliban, for example, and their repressive policies going back to the 1990s, that we don’t – we want to see an Afghanistan that advances; we don’t want to see an Afghanistan that regresses.
So we’re not interested in recreating something that we rejected and the people of Afghanistan rejected during the 1990s. But to those elements who are willing to accept the criteria that are shared by the Afghan Government and Afghan people and by the international community, we support this process.
QUESTION: But, P.J., what makes them to lay down their arms and denounce terrorism and join the mainstream government of President Karzai at this time, which has happened many times in the past? And also, what do you think the generals on the ground think about this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s why the President approved the strategy that he did last December that we will, for a period of time, add to our military capability in Afghanistan , we will bring this fight to those who are opposing the Afghan Government. And we are doing that. And this interaction between the political and military components of our strategy, we think will create the conditions for the reconciliation process to bear fruit.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Pakistan for just a second? You said just a moment ago that you had seen – or the Administration had seen a shift in Pakistan’s thinking with regard to security issues within its border. I wonder if you could describe that shift in thinking and also if you could react at all to the report in the Wall Street Journal that the Administration is, in fact, critical of the Pakistani effort to deal with alleged militants in its borders.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the shift is evident in the military action that Pakistan has taken within its own borders. Its offenses in Swat, in South Waziristan – clearly, because of the flooding, Pakistan has had to take its foot off the gas, so to speak, but – and one of our messages to Pakistan is that we can’t afford to let up. And while we are helping Pakistan with dealing with the implications of the flood and the 20 million people who are displaced, we continue to encourage Pakistan to stay on the offensive.
We’re seeing, obviously, in the string of attacks of the NATO convoys in Pakistan that the insurgents haven’t given up, and we want to see the government continue to take effective action. And that will be our message to Pakistan when we get together in the Strategic Dialogue in a couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Okay, just one more. Do you have any more on the apology by U.S. Ambassador Patterson for the recent helicopter strike that killed Pakistani soldiers? And also – was it two soldiers that were killed or three?
MR. CROWLEY: I know that Anne Patterson has, I think sometime this morning, put out a statement where she expressed regret on behalf of the United States. As to the particulars, I’ll defer to the post.
QUESTION: Can you comment about the White House report to Congress that the Pakistani Government isn’t doing nearly enough to combat al-Qaida and the Taliban, particularly in North Waziristan?
MR. CROWLEY: I haven’t read the report, so I’ll defer to – it is part of the system of metrics that we put in place at the insistence of the President and with the full cooperation of the interagency, including the State Department. There are metrics that we laid out last – in the aftermath of the President’s strategy – the President’s decision. And we are reporting periodically to the Congress on how we believe that strategy is proceeding.
QUESTION: This shutting down of the supply route, has there been any update on that? When do you expect that to be opened up?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware there’s any change.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: You keep saying that you want an Iraqi government – that the American position is that they want an Iraqi government that is representative of all Iraqi political components. Yet during his press conference yesterday, Ambassador James Jeffrey basically put a red line against the participation of the Sadrists. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure I would characterize it that way. We do want to see the emergence of an inclusive government, and we believe that there are a number of blocs that have received a significant amount of support from the Iraqi people. And they want to see those political elements play a role in this government. That said, I think what Ambassador Jeffrey was emphasizing is that as Iraq forms a government, it should be cautious regarding the particular role that any one element will play, and particularly cautious about which tasks will be assigned to individuals who have an uncertain view on the use of violence within Iraqi society. But he wasn’t saying that – he was just saying that as you choose an inclusive government, be cautious about who goes where.
QUESTION: Yeah, but his caution went a little further. He says that the whole U.S.-Iraqi partnership is going to be brought into question based upon who participates in the government.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s true. I mean, we have stronger relations with certain ministries than other ministries. There are areas that are of particular emphasis within our bilateral relationship and it is just something for Iraq to keep in mind, that we might have trouble dealing with a ministry that is led by an entity that still believes it’s appropriate to promote violence within Iraqi society.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:41p.m.)