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 14, 2010
1:21 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. Just very briefly before taking your questions, the Secretary is – will very shortly depart Brussels to return here to Washington. She just participated, along with Secretary of Defense Gates, in a joint NATO ministerial to review progress on the new NATO Strategic Concept, as well as prepare for the upcoming November 19 and 20 NATO summit in Lisbon. And earlier in the day, she had the opportunity to meet with EU Council President Van Rompuy, EU Parliament President Buzek, as well as other EU parliamentary leaders, and of course, she met with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to review a wide range of issues, including support for Pakistan.
Lady Ashton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi will tomorrow host a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in Brussels. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke will be representing the United States at that meeting and they will chart Pakistan’s progress in responding to the tragic flood, assess Pakistan’s longer-term needs, and help the international community prepare for the Pakistan Development Forum which will take place next month in Islamabad and provide a roadmap for long-term reconstruction.
And of course, this also tees up here at the – in Washington next week, the third high-level meeting of the Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and the United States, an example of our ongoing, broad partnership with Pakistan. And Foreign Minister Qureshi will be here along with Secretary Clinton to receive reports from the various working groups that will chart progress in the full range of issues that we have in our relationship with Pakistan. But one of those will be, obviously, to continue to assess Pakistan’s long-term needs given the flood of earlier this summer.
QUESTION: A question on Afghanistan: U.S. and NATO officials in recent days have been talking about high-level peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and certain Taliban leaders. I’m wondering, given statements in the past that there is no strictly military solution to this conflict, do you see these developments as representing in some sense a turning point in the war?
MR. CROWLEY: I would say that they represent the execution of the strategy that we have, which we – and which we share with other national partners, and most importantly, with the Government of Afghanistan.
Our strategy has both a military and a civilian component, and within the civilian component, we recognize that not always, but insurgencies frequently are resolved – not by military means alone, but a combination of military means and a viable political process. That is precisely – it’s incorporated in our strategy. We are following that strategy. We are supporting the Government of Afghanistan in pursuing reconciliation with those elements that are currently part of the insurgency. And we will continue to support, as the Secretary said in, I think, a press appearance a little bit ago in Brussels, we’ll continue to support this Afghan-led process in any way we can.
QUESTION: What I’m getting at is I wonder how much importance you attach to the fact that apparently, for the first time, there have been direct face-to-face negotiations by high-level figures on both sides. Is this just another small step or is it a significant step? Is it a turning point in any way?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’re – this – there’s nothing new to this. We outlined our plans for – or actually, let me correct myself. The Government of Afghanistan outlined its plans for reconciliation and reintegration, first in the London conference in January and then subsequently at the Kabul conference this summer. So the Government of Afghanistan is pursuing this strategy on reconciliation which involves potential political resolution that would allow, under certain circumstances, the leadership of these various groups to participate in the future of Afghanistan.
Our – the criteria for such participation is clear. It’s a criteria that’s shared by the United States, the international community, and by the Government of Afghanistan, including renouncing violence, severing any links with al-Qaida or its affiliates, and fully supporting the Afghan constitution, including rights for men and women in Afghanistan. Anyone who supports those criteria, in our view, can have – can play a role in the future of Afghanistan. So the Afghan Government is pursuing this strategy.
I think the Secretary said on the reintegration side that the pressure that we are putting on these elements is having an effect. And we’re seeing the gravitation of the foot soldiers of this insurgency who are not ideologically driven moving towards reintegration and playing a constructive role in Afghan society. And we’ll certainly find – continue to find ways to support that. But on reconciliation, we will continue to support the Afghan Government, but this is an Afghan-led process and ultimately will involve political reconciliation, Afghans talking to Afghans, and reaching an understanding on the future of their country.
QUESTION: Wait a second. You said there’s nothing new here. Is there nothing new about the fact that high-level officials from the Taliban as well as the Afghan Government are having direct negotiations? Is that not new?
MR. CROWLEY: As to the nature of those meetings, how many, who’s involved, I would defer to the Afghan Government to describe that. But we said this out – all through this year that there would be a process of reconciliation and that process is underway.
QUESTION: Right. I understand the concept is not new, but haven’t there been new developments? I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying, that there’s nothing new here.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, all I can say is we –
QUESTION: It sounds new.
MR. CROWLEY: What these stories underscore is that we are actually pursuing both the military and civilian components of the strategy that the president outlined and agreed to late last year.
QUESTION: Presumably, you know who the leaders are that are speaking with the Afghan – who are they from the Taliban?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is a Afghan-led process, so the Afghan Government knows who they are.
QUESTION: But they haven’t briefed you on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as we have said, we’re supporting this process. I’m not going to go into details on how we’re supporting this process. We have some knowledge of these meetings, but these are Afghan-led meetings.
QUESTION: So you know who they are partly because NATO has provided safe passage to these leaders in (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, since we are facilitating and supporting this process, we have some knowledge of what has taken place, but this is an Afghan-led process.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that Secretary Clinton mentioned the acceleration of the reintegration program. Can you give ballpark figures on how many Taliban foot soldiers have joined that reintegration process?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, probably better questions to be directed to the people on the ground, but we believe that the pressure that we’re putting on the Taliban on the ground is having the right effect.
QUESTION: P.J., you said that anyone who subscribed to the conditions that you described could play a part in the future of Afghanistan. I won’t rehearse the conditions; they’re in the transcript. Does that include figures like Mullah Omar?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary said in her press avail in Brussels, it remains to be seen what the response by various Afghan or Taliban factions will be. If you look at Afghan culture, this is frequently a way within Afghan society that various groups resolve conflict. So I’m not going to predict who may or may not take advantage of the reconciliation process. Clearly, we recognize Mullah Omar’s responsibility and support given to bin Ladin and the 9/11 plot. We can’t imagine him playing a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan, but ultimately these are decisions that will be made by the Afghan Government.
QUESTION: So if he changed his spots, that’s okay?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, sitting – standing here from the standpoint of the United States, we have great skepticism that Mullah Omar is going to be one of those people who takes advantage of this process. But again, this is – these are Afghan decisions. This is their country. We’re talking about their future. We’re talking about their political process. We’re not going to impose our thoughts on their process. Afghanistan is sovereign. We have laid out criteria; the Afghan Government agrees with those criteria. I can’t imagine Mullah Omar playing a constructive role in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: But that’s not the issue at all. I mean, to my mind, the issue is not whether you can envisage him playing a constructive role. The issue is whether, if he were to sign up to all the conditions that you described, if your statement that anyone who does that is welcome to play a role in Afghanistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Again --
QUESTION: I mean, the reason I’m asking --
MR. CROWLEY: No, Arshad, Arshad, it’s a hypothetical question that really defies an answer at this point. Our focus on Mullah Omar is – from a U.S. standpoint, is based on his complicity in the support of al-Qaida that led to the plot of 9/11. From our view, Mullah Omar has been attached at the hip to bin Ladin for some time. So based on everything that we know about him today, in fact, he will not meet the criteria that we have laid out. He had many opportunities during the ‘90s and even after 9/11 to disassociate himself from Usama bin Ladin. He chose not to. So there’s nothing that we see that indicates that Mullah Omar will, in fact, change his stripes; as a result, we don’t see that he qualifies to play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s future.
QUESTION: The reason I’m pressing on the question, which I acknowledge is hypothetical, but then you’re talking about hypothetical circumstances here: if certain people do certain things, then certain things are acceptable to the U.S. Government; i.e., if they sign up to the conditions, then it is acceptable to the United States that they continue to play a role in the life of Afghanistan.
And the reason I ask is that the previous administration, I think, drew a much clearer and brighter line. The speech that former President Bush gave within weeks of 9/11 made very clear that anybody who supported al-Qaida was therefore an enemy of the United States. I don’t think we would have heard spokesmen leaving even a scintilla of a possibility that somebody like Mullah Omar could fall into that category.
MR. CROWLEY: I just laid out for you that based on everything that we know today about Mullah Omar, he has not changed his stripes, he has not disassociated himself from al-Qaida, and thus he remains an enemy of the United States and cannot, in our minds, envision him playing a constructive role in Afghanistan’s future.
QUESTION: But just a last one for me on this. I mean, if --
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If he did change his spots or stripes, the basic point is if your earlier statement is accurate that anybody who signs up to those conditions can play a role, then he can play a role if he changed his spots.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, there’s nothing that we know that would suggest that Mullah Omar would qualify.
QUESTION: On the same topic, you mentioned several times that there’s nothing really new here, but both Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates spoke about opportunities and taking advantage of new opportunities when they presented themselves. Do you know – can you expand on what they meant by that? Was this – did this indicate that there were some high-level guys that were coming forward approaching the Afghan Government saying that they were ready? I mean, what were they talking about – these opportunities?
MR. CROWLEY: I think, again, these are better questions to ask the Afghan Government. It is their process. We are aware that there have been some meetings between Afghan officials and these groups. Who, what, when, where – those are questions to ask the Afghan Government. So we are moving forward on the joint strategy that we have. We are supportive of this reconciliation and reintegration process. We believe in the case of reintegration, we’re talking about not ideology here; we’re talking about basic economics. And as the Afghan economy continues to progress as there are opportunities for these foot soldiers to have, to play normal constructive roles in Afghan society, we think they are moving off of the battlefield and are changing their stripes or changing their spots, to quote Arshad.
So this is where we believe that the – our strategy has been validated and we believe that there are opportunities here on both the foot soldier rank and the leader rank to move in a different direction.
QUESTION: But before I put in my call to President Karzai on that, what – (laughter) – since
Secretary Clinton is the one who used the word “opportunity” and Secretary Gates, I mean, can you just give us a better idea of what --
MR. CROWLEY: It goes to the heart of our colloquy here with the distinguished correspondent from Reuters that there is an opportunity and that opportunity is available to those who demonstrate that they are willing to meet the criteria laid out by the Afghan Government and supported by the United States – and some may, and some won’t.
QUESTION: I think the valley that I don’t understand or the break in information that I don’t understand is that it wasn’t long ago – it was just a few months ago – that people in the Administration and U.S. military officials were saying it was just too early to talk about this, that this was something that the U.S. was supporting the idea of talks but that it was premature to talk about any actual sitting down face to face. And now, sort of all of a sudden, both Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton are saying these opportunities presented themselves, but no one is saying what the opportunities were.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would only disagree. We have been talking about this for many months. We are – now what you’re seeing is the actual follow-through and both the process and structure are in place. And part of that structure is the Afghan Government’s appointment of members of the peace council that will be a part of this process. So all I can tell you is that we have – we laid out our strategy with the President’s deliberations last year, the commitment that we have from the Afghan Government and our allies, and what we discussed in the London conference in January and the Kabul conference this summer. And we are fast executing the strategy both on the military side as well as the civilian and political side.
QUESTION: Another Canadian question? (Laughter.) Terror suspect Omar Khadr, the young man being held in Guantanamo Bay prison, there are some reports that his lawyers are working out a plea deal. Can you comment on this? Does the U.S. support this? He would serve most of his – he would serve his term in Canada.
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll defer to other agencies on his case.
QUESTION: I’d like to just go back to Afghanistan for a moment. Why shouldn’t people conclude that after a decade of warfare and the expenditure of considerable numbers of American and allied lives and significant amounts of U.S. taxpayers and other countries’ taxpayers’ money, that a decade later you’ve to the conclusion that you just can’t defeat the Taliban and so your only bet, your best bet, is to just try to work out a deal with them if they’ll change their outlook?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Arshad, I would highly recommend the counterinsurgency manual that the military put out under the leadership one of one David Petraeus. Again, there’s – we are following our strategy which is rooted in the analysis that we’ve done, he’s done on counterinsurgencies – how they are fought and how they come to a successful conclusion. I think General Petraeus has said many, many times in public that this will be one through a combination of military action and political action. So we are following our strategy. That strategy is rooted in a counterinsurgency doctrine that has been developed within the government. We are doing exactly what we said we would do and we’re following the basics of our strategy as we laid it out earlier this year.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about Ahmadinejad in southern Lebanon today, the waving crowds?
MR. CROWLEY: His travel to southern Lebanon is solely to rally Hezbollah, which continues to serve as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. So his presence there we think is a provocation. It continues to undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon and the security of the region.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)