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 12, 2010
1:05 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: I have a question on Afghanistan. Members of the new peace council are saying that the process could be jump started if the U.S. were to make a few gestures such as releasing more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and supporting the removal of Taliban figures from the UN sanctions. Are those things that the U.S. is interested in doing?
MR. CROWLEY: What’s the second part of it?
QUESTION: Supporting the removal of Taliban figures from – people from the UN sanctions list.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, on an ongoing basis we are evaluating modifications to the individuals on the sanctions list at the UN. We’ve made some adjustments during the course of this year. And as we work through issues and in collaboration with the UN and other members of the Security Council, that is certainly possible. I can’t see where – we have a process ongoing in terms of the situation at Guantanamo. We have returned a significant number of individuals at Guantanamo to their countries or to third resettled – third countries based on our assessment of the dangers that they pose to the United States and to others. But I would not connect our ongoing activity to work to close the facility at Guantanamo with the efforts at reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: Change of topic?
QUESTION: Why is U.S. not part of the peace talks, because without U.S., nothing can be achieved in there? You are the in the middle as to why U.S. (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: This is an Afghan-led process. We will support that process. But ultimately, you’re talking about the composition of the political structure and civil society within Afghanistan, and this is rightly decisions for the Afghan Government and Afghan people to make.
QUESTION: P.J., just quickly – yeah, one more, I’m sorry. As far as (inaudible) is concerned now, is open if you can confirm, but what I’m asking you – what went wrong between the United States and Pakistan as far as blockage was concerned. And where was –
MR. CROWLEY: As far as what is concerned?
QUESTION: The blockage.
QUESTION: He’s talking about the –
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, the gate?
QUESTION: Right. Yeah. And what – where was Special Envoy (inaudible) Ambassador Holbrooke since he was the instrument between the two governments?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure that I would say that anything went wrong. The gate is now reopened.
MR. CROWLEY: There are trucks flowing through that gate and on their way to resupply international forces in Afghanistan. We successfully worked through the issue with the Pakistani Government and – but in the meantime, we did have other avenues available to us to continue to resupply U.S. forces and international forces.
QUESTION: But what I’m asking is that out of hundreds of trucks or thousands of trucks, there are only handful – like 30, 40, 50 were burned or something – that means somebody was there giving information to the Taliban or whoever was burning those trucks.
MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, I – I don’t know that I would agree with that statement.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just to change topics to Israeli-Palestinian matters. What do you make of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apparent offer of extending the settlement freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’ll be important for both parties to continue to create conditions for the direct negotiations to continue. It will be ultimately up to them to determine whether they see value in continuing this process. We certainly continue to encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue in direct negotiations as we continue to emphasize to them, there is no way – no other way to resolve the core issues except through this – these direct negotiations leading to what we hope to be an agreement. It’s not for us to endorse this idea or this idea. We have offered to both sides our thinking on things of importance to the Israelis, to the Palestinians. We would hope through this kind of dynamic where now you have the leaders saying this is what I’m going to contribute to the process, this is what I need to get out of the process to be able to convince my respective constituencies that there is value in continuing. So I think we endorse what the leaders are doing in terms of contributing ideas that we hope will help continue the process. But it’s not for us to say, “This is a pretty good deal, you ought to take it.” That – ultimately, it will be up to the prime minister and President Abbas to continue this kind of dialogue and see if through these kinds of statements and other ongoing discussions if both sides will make the commitment that we hope they will make to continue in the process.
QUESTION: I mean, from the Palestinians’ point of view, I think they feel that what they’re being asked to do is to, if not give away the store, to make a very major concession. The corollary to acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state is, effectively, abandoning the so-called right of return for Palestinians to whatever – become the ultimate borders of the Israeli state. And that’s a major – what used to be called, “final status,” question – is it constructive to float offers or ideas like that just to get back into talks?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think it’s constructive for the parties to put forward and to continue to put forward their ideas on – to demonstrate their commitment to and the importance of and the value of these negotiations. And this has to be something that’s done by both sides. They’re in the direct negotiations now. We want to see those direct negotiations continue. There is a pause in the action as we kind of work through the issue of the moratorium and settlements. But if Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has offered his thoughts on both what he’s willing to contribute to the process, what he thinks he needs for his people out of the process, we would hope that the Palestinians would do the same thing, and through this ongoing dialogue will gain the commitment on both sides to continue and to resume in these negotiations.
We will continue our discussions with both parties. We hope that a formula can be arrived at, conditions can be established that allow the prime minister and the president on behalf of their respective people to make the political commitment to stay in this direct negotiation. So this is the kind of process that we think is needed at this time. But ultimately, it will be up to the prime minister and the president to decide if they’re seeing enough, they’re getting enough, and they’re offering enough to sustain this process.
QUESTION: So the ball’s in the Palestinian’s court now? You want to see them make a counter offer or put some ideas out there?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s the responsibility of both the parties. This ultimately is – has – you work from back to front. This has to be an agreement that they make. It’s not something that we’re going to impose on either one of them. As we get down the road in this process, as we’ve said all along, we’re willing to offer specific proposals that might get beyond the inevitable challenges that we know we will face. We’ve offered our ideas to both sides to try to navigate through this particular issue that we currently confront over the settlement moratorium. But these are judgments that the leaders have to make. We want to see both of them stay committed to the process. We want to see both of them offer their thinking about what needs to be advanced and agreed to that allows both sides to stay in these negotiations. That’s what we want to see them do. But ultimately, it will be up to both to say these – that this is what we need to be able to make the difficult political decision that we know both of them face, whether or not stay directly engaged in negotiations.
QUESTION: Well, P.J. --
MR. CROWLEY: Michel.
QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?
MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I – it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. We will offer our ideas on – based on our conversations what our assessment is that – of what each side needs to be able to make the political commitment to remain in these direct negotiations.
QUESTION: And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MR. CROWLEY: We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has – it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that – the special character of the state of Israel.
QUESTION: Is that a yes or no?
QUESTION: P.J., it’s – do you want to answer his question or --
QUESTION: Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.
MR. CROWLEY: We recognize that Israel is a– as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. My question is it’s been less than two months since this whole process started and already you’re seriously hung up on the settlement issue, and I just would like to know what you guys are doing to break the deadlock, but more importantly, how you’re going to prevent this from happening over and over again.
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a very good question. We – that’s what we are involved in right now. We are working with the parties. We’re trying to find a formula that allows the direct negotiations to continue. And then through this negotiation, one of the issues that we recognize is a core issue is the issue of borders. And we want to be able to see and use the time that is available to us. If we can make progress on the issue of borders, then largely speaking, the issue of settlements is then resolved and both sides will understand how to manage this process going forward.
We are offering our thoughts to be able to move the process towards a final agreement within the next eleven months. It is not our intention to confront this issue every few weeks. We want to – and that’s why it’s important for the parties to make the political commitment, to stay in the negotiations for the long haul so we can get to – into greater detail on the core status issues.
QUESTION: So do you think it’s really helpful for Prime Minister Netanyahu to have made this demand, a final status core issue demand, right up front, early on in the process in exchange for just two months? I mean, you said that you were looking for both parties to make contributions that indicated they wanted to continue.
MR. CROWLEY: Right.
QUESTION: A lot of people would not say that Mr. Netanyahu’s request fits that description.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we want to see the direct negotiations continue with enough room for us to move from where we are towards a successful negotiation that resolves the core issues. As we’ve said since the outset in late August, we believe that this can be accomplished within a year’s time. But we have to see – we have to get the commitment from both sides to stay into – in the direct negotiations. That’s what we’re trying to do now. And in trying to resolve this immediate issue, we’re trying to resolve it and create sufficient time and space so that we do not have to confront this, whether it’s two months from now, three months from now or six months from now. We want to see a clear path so that the parties can continue the process.
I mean, in what we’ve done so far, there have been some discussion of the core issues. We believe, based on the discussions that have been done so far, that there actually is the opportunity to resolve this conflict once and for all. That’s what we believe and that is the essence of our commitment to this process. So we don’t just want to push the can down the road two months. We want to create a clear path that allows the parties to begin the arduous process of addressing the core issues one by one with the intention of reaching a successful negotiation within a year’s time.
QUESTION: Did you say that you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not making any news here. The President, the Secretary, and others have said this before.
QUESTION: Because Abbas said they recognize the state of Israel. Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some – I’m trying – I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the – what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the – a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.
Now, so the prime minister has put forward his ideas and what he believes his people need to hear so that they can make the commitment that we’re seeking to stay in this process and to reach a successful conclusion. This is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street. The prime minister is offering something and asking for something. It is perfectly within the rights of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas to say there’s something I need and there’s something I’m willing to give. This is the essence of the negotiation that is ongoing and the essence of the negotiation that we want to see continue.
QUESTION: P.J., I’m a little – I want to get something straight. I understand what you say and what other Americans have said for years, decades even, about the leaders in the region have to decide, that we can’t do it for them. But you also said something 10 minutes ago, 15 minutes ago, about it is not for us to say this is a pretty good deal, you ought to take it. And I’m wondering if there’s really a conflict there and if you are really suggesting to us that an American negotiator, whether it’s Senator Mitchell, Secretary Clinton, or the President, would not go to one of the two leaders at some point and say this is a pretty good deal, you ought to take it. And I’m not referring to this --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there’s a difference between the advice that we might offer privately and we have shared our ideas with the – with both parties. But ultimately, they have to make the commitment. And as I said, George Mitchell, I expect in the coming days, will be conferring again with the leaders and – to determine where we are and, in essence, sort through whether we believe that the conditions are right for direct negotiations to continue. That’s what we’re trying to do from this point forward, help the parties create conditions for these direct negotiations to advance. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past few weeks and we hope that both parties can and will make the political commitment to continue.
QUESTION: P.J., what do you think about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal timing? What about the timing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, you had what we thought was an affirmation by the Arab League last week where everyone sees the value of the direct negotiations. And at its essence, the Arab League said we’re willing to give more time for the United States to work with the parties and see if we can’t create a formula and create conditions for the negotiations to continue. So in that context, the prime minister is – offered some thoughts before the Knesset yesterday as to what his view is of the balance needed on both sides for the negotiation to continue. Now, on the one hand, there’s some voices within the Palestinian Authority that have said that’s not what they consider the right answer. That’s fine. So then from a Palestinian standpoint, what are their ideas for the negotiations to continue?
So this – so in a sense, we see on the – we see both sides seem to want the process to continue. Now it is up for both sides to continue to share ideas with each other and with the United States on what is needed, what are the right conditions for this negotiation to go forward. That is – so this is exactly what we think is necessary to get both sides to make that public and political commitment to stay engaged.
QUESTION: Apart from Netanyahu’s proposal to break the deadlock, is there a separate U.S. proposal on the table right now, or is that the only game in town right now?
MR. CROWLEY: We have shared our ideas with the parties, and beyond that I’ll leave our advice to the parties, private.
QUESTION: P.J., last week you said that President Ahmadinejad’s visit or trip to the south of Lebanon is not a good idea. Tomorrow he will be going to Lebanon and on his schedule a visit to the south of Lebanon too. Do you have anything to add?
MR. CROWLEY: We are concerned – we remain concerned that Iran continues to take steps that undermine Lebanese sovereignty and security, and we would hope that Lebanese officials will keep that in mind during the president’s visit.
QUESTION: In Afghanistan, Afghan forces have seized weapons made in Iran. So is this an issue of concern to you? This has happened --
MR. CROWLEY: Lalit, start again? I --
QUESTION: In Afghanistan, on the border of Iran, the Afghan security forces have seized large amount of weapons which were made in Iran, smuggled out of Iran. Is this an issue of concern to you, and do you see any Iranian role in this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Iran has an understandable interest in the future of Afghanistan. That said, we have been concerned in recent months, the last couple years, about Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. It is something that we continue to watch closely.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)