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Middle East Digest - October 18, 2010


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Washington, DC
October 18, 2010

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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 18, 2010

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1:33 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on Iraq. There were a spate of stories, it seems, this morning about the political situation and the formation of the new government there and U.S. concerns – alleged U.S. concerns that Iran may be playing quite a big role, that they may be trying to essentially try and form a shadow government in Iraq and that you now are telling the Iraqis to – well, these are just what the reports say, I don’t know if they’re true or not – that you’re telling the Iraqis to slow down, whereas before you were telling them to speed up and get a government in place as soon as possible. Can you comment on those?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our message to Iraq has not changed at all. We want to see the formation of a new government expeditiously. And we also want to be sure that the new government is inclusive of all four winning blocs. So our message has not changed. And it has been more than six months since the election, but we do notice that the pace of political action to try to form a governing coalition has picked up in Iraq in recent months – recent weeks. Prime Minister Maliki is visiting Iran today. I wouldn’t over-interpret this. We understand that Iran and Iraq are neighbors. They have to have a relationship. But we certainly think that Iran can be a better neighbor by respecting Iraqi sovereignty and ending it support to those who use violence in Iraq.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: Sure. Welcome back.

QUESTION: Do you find – thank you. Do you find the statement made by Allawi on this issue to be disconcerting about Iran really meddling in Iraqi politics and so on and out on the open and, in many ways, sort of preempting any kind of coalition formation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are concerned about any neighboring country that would meddle in Iraq’s affairs. Ultimately, this has to be an Iraqi decision as part of its own political process and we have every indication that Iraq’s leaders are working to try to form a government. We just want to see that government be as inclusive as possible. Our concerns about Iraq and its – I’m sorry, our concerns about Iran and its meddling in Iraq’s affairs are longstanding, but that said, we would expect the Iraqi Government to work on behalf of its own citizens and not on behalf of another country.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up: P.J., Maliki visited Jordan and visited Syria and now he’s visiting Iran. But the Saudis, another major neighboring country, so far has not extended any invitation to Mr. Maliki all throughout his tenure. Is that something that concerns you? Will you put some sort of pressure on the Saudis to receive Mr. Maliki?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want to see Iraq establish and sustain appropriate relations with all of its neighbors. We want to see Iraq integrated into the region. But it’s not for us to dictate to a particular country what their relations with a government should be. We have talked to Saudi Arabia and encouraged them to increase their dialogue with Iraq, but obviously, what they do is up to them.

QUESTION: P.J., just to follow up quickly – according to The Washington Post and other reports, Iran also meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan, can you have peace in Iraq and in the neighborhood without Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can we have peace in the neighborhood without?

QUESTION: Iran or Iranian dialogue or involvement?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we want to see Iran be – play a constructive role in the region. We obviously have a lengthy list of concerns about Iran’s behavior, not the least of which, its direct support of terrorism groups and its nuclear ambitions. We understand that Iran, in the context of Afghanistan, does have relations with Afghanistan and has interests in Afghanistan. In fact, we have worked directly and cooperatively with Iran previously. And we note today there was an important regional meeting in Rome and there was Iranian representation at that meeting.

QUESTION: One more follow-up on Iran and Iraq: Are you concerned that these reports suggest that the – Iran’s brokered a deal between Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Madhi Army?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we believe that this should be an issue that is resolved inside Iraq, by Iraqi leaders, working on behalf of their constituencies and working for the interests of Iraq and no other country. We want to see a government formed. We believe a government that emerges that is inclusive and reflects the major blocs that earn significant electoral support will be a government that is strong enough and credible enough to work on behalf of all of the people of Iraq. The sooner that happens, the better.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Iraq too. The New York Times has reported yesterday that members of awakening councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent month and the defections, as it said, have been driven in part by frustration with the government, which awakening members say – and intent on destroying them as well as by pressure from al-Qaida. Do you have anything on this?

MR. CROWLEY: We actually believe that the Government of Iraq is working constructively with the Awakening Council with living up to the agreements that it made earlier. I think in terms of saying that there’s one group that has moved in a direction and is responsible for significant levels of violence, I think oversimplifies the challenge in Iraq.

QUESTION: You are not concerned about this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, are there – I suppose there are undoubtedly a number of individuals who have gone back into perpetrating violence. We don’t think it’s a large number. We think by and large the Government of Iraq is working – is engaged with the Awakening Council and working to keep its members working constructively for the future of Iraq. So I don’t know that we agree with the thrust of that article.

QUESTION: P.J., on that issue –

QUESTION: P.J., the same –

QUESTION: -- on the Awakening Council. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Their major gripe is that they don’t get paid by the Iraqi Government unless a pressure is sort of levied on the Iraqi Government by the U.S. Government. So --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and this is something that we continue to talk to Iraq. There was a – I think, a problem that had existed some time ago, but we think that Iraq has improved its interaction with and its support of the Awakening Council.

QUESTION: But P.J., doesn’t that under – doesn’t that damage the concept of this whole thing? I mean, right when these Awakening Councils began, the idea – the criticism was as long as the money is there, people will be in those councils. As soon as the money is gone, they’ll go back to al-Qaida or to somebody else. So is it – it would appear that in some cases, it did not change that much. Perhaps temporarily it brought them over, but not permanently. And this same strategy is being used in Afghanistan right now with pay-for-work programs and other similar concepts.

MR. CROWLEY: Look, Jill, I think what – your comment is a little bit oversimplified. We want to see a government emerge in Iraq that is working on behalf of all people in Iraq. We want a government that Sunnis can support, Shia can support, Kurds can support, other religious and ethnic minorities can support. We want a government that is working on behalf of everyone and is not being perceived as a government working for one block in – at the disadvantage of another.

That’s what’s going to be vital to the future of Iraq. If that government is credible, if that government is doing what it should do to meet the needs of its people, then that’s how you change attitudes and that’s how you overcome existing tensions which are still a part of Iraqi society. So we’re focused on forming this government and we think that as this government is formed and as the government performs on behalf of all Iraqis, that’s the best way to convince people to move past these tensions and past violence and towards a better future for all Iraqi citizens.

QUESTION: Yes, but that – if I could, one little point on this. What I was referring to is specifically these Awakening Councils. I’m not talking big picture; I’m talking about the concept of paying people to join Awakening Councils, and when the money runs out – it’s a very simple question – when the money runs out, people no longer stick around because they don’t share the goals or they think that maybe they ought to go back and get on the payroll of al-Qaida or somebody else. Doesn’t it undercut that concept of paying people?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Back on Iran for a second.

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment, reaction to Iran being – taking over the reins at OPEC?

MR. CROWLEY: We took that question on Friday. I don’t know that I ever – we ever found – it’s a question we took on Friday. I don’t think we’ve had an answer yet.

QUESTION: No? Okay. And then on Feltman’s visit to – his secret visit to Lebanon – (laughter) – does that have anything to do with the –

MR. CROWLEY: The secret –

QUESTION: The secret unannounced before he got there. Did that have anything to do with --

MR. CROWLEY: That’s not true. We announced Mr. Feltman’s travel.

QUESTION: Did you? Well, it’s not in the week ahead. It started in his second stop.

MR. CROWLEY: He issued a very detailed statement –

QUESTION: Yes, after he got there. But, anyway –

MR. CROWLEY: -- after he met with President Sulayman.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. CROWLEY: I’d be happy to do a dramatic reading if you’d like.

QUESTION: No, I just want to know if that had anything to do with Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon last week and if it reflected any concern that you might have that Iran was sticking its nose into yet another place that you didn’t – don’t want it to be.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we expressed our concerns to the Government of Lebanon before President Ahmadinejad visited. Jeff is on a lengthy trip to the region and I am quite certain that the subject of President Ahmadinejad visit came up during his meeting with President Sulayman yesterday. He also was in Saudi Arabia today. He’s in Morocco where he had a meeting with Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihri. This was not a secret meeting.

QUESTION: But Lebanon wasn’t on his schedule. What happened to –

MR. CROWLEY: Lebanon wasn’t on his schedule?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Not in the announcement.

MR. CROWLEY: All right. I take that back.

QUESTION: Sorry, wait. Now are you --

MR. CROWLEY: Not so secret.

QUESTION: So it was secret?

MR. CROWLEY: No, I –

QUESTION: He was supposed to go to Cairo.

MR. CROWLEY: I will check and we’ll answer the question whether this was added to his travel after he left Washington.

QUESTION: Any comment or details on an alleged assassination attempt on Ahmadinejad in Lebanon?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, what?

QUESTION: On an alleged assassination attempt on Mr. Ahmadinejad?

MR. CROWLEY: I have no information on that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Post story this morning about the Administration looking at Chinese firms – in particular, for busting Iran sanctions?

QUESTION: P.J., another topic. There is a New York Times story about the – one of the wives of David Headley, who was involved in the Mumbai attacks, that apparently a year before that attack, she went to the American authorities in Pakistan to warn them that she thought that he was involved in some type of plotting for an attack, but it was never followed up on. And this was not the first warning – that there was another wife who did it years before. Is this a communications breakdown? Do you know anything about this? Number one, can you confirm that that is the case and –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me – I will respond in the context of two meetings that we did have with one of Mr. Headley’s spouses in late 2007 and early 2008. She did provide us some information. We followed up on that information and provided it to relevant agencies across the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on – P.J., as far as – I’m sorry, you want – as far as these training camps are concerned which Mr. David Headley told U.S. and Indian officials when they interviewed him. And also, in an interview General Musharraf also told a German magazine that 22 terrorist camps were in Pakistan. One, are they closed now? Can you make sure that those camps are now closed, if you have told the Pakistani authorities or if you are going to tell them here when they meet during this coming meeting?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s a lot to your question, Goyal. We have cooperated extensively in investigating the tragic Mumbai attacks, including giving Indian officials access to Mr. Headley. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment about any alleged particulars in those discussions. We have been pressing Pakistan to take more aggressive action inside its borders to deal with a threat that is of concern to us, a concern to the region, and a threat to Pakistan itself.

We – as we’ve noted many times, Pakistan has taken aggressive action within its own borders. But clearly, this is an ongoing threat and more needs to be done. That will be among the issues talked about during this week’s Strategic Dialogue.

QUESTION: And P.J., when President and Secretary visits Mumbai in November first week and they will be staying at the same hotel which was the target of the terrorist bombings from Pakistan, what message do you think they are carrying for the people of Mumbai?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to cooperate extensively with Indian officials. We were doing so prior to the Mumbai attacks. We have done so since the Mumbai attacks. Security is an area of significant dialogue between our law enforcement and intelligence agencies and those of the Indian Government. We will continue to cooperate with India on the security front, but even as we expand our dialogue and our cooperation with India on many, many fronts. And obviously, this will be part of the President’s visit to India next month.

QUESTION: Can we get back to the wife’s –

QUESTION: Yes, you said that you had this input from them. So did you follow up on that input? Was that input from Islamabad reach Washington? Did you share it with any other countries – India, Pakistan? Because allegations in the articles are coming out you did not do anything on it.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s go through those. Did we follow up? The answer is yes. Have – did we share information with our security partners, including India, prior to the Mumbai attacks? The answer is yes. We have cooperated with India since then. I think Ambassador Roemer put out an extensive statement in Delhi over the weekend that highlighted both the – our cooperation with India in – prior to and after.

Needless to say, I will just say that going back over some of the information provided to us, there was concern expressed by both spouses at the same time; the information was not specific. I think everyone should understand that if we did have specific information on this, we would have absolutely provided it to the Indian Government beforehand. The fact is that while we had information and concerns, it did not detail a time or place of the attack.

QUESTION: Did – have you noticed has there been any change or uptick in cooperation between India and the U.S. on intelligence matters like this since the – everything you’re talking about now happened under – not – it was not on your watch; it was under the previous Administration. Has there been an increase in cooperation now?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s – I mean, the short answer is yes. We have an extensive dialogue with India, and as we build a strategic partnership with India and security is one of those areas, and I would say that yes, our cooperation with India has expanded.

QUESTION: So can you say if anything would have been done differently – if this administration would have done anything different than what the last one did?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s an impossible question to answer.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the same issue? You said that the information which was provided by the wives of Headley was taken seriously and further investigated upon. Then why wasn’t he arrested during or soon after Mumbai? Why it took so many years – more than one and a half years to arrest him?

MR. CROWLEY: I – that’s –

QUESTION: You had some credible information about Headley.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s not – I can’t – I can’t make – I can’t answer that question.

QUESTION: So what are you --

QUESTION: Same issue, same issue. You said the information was not specific enough to be followed; did I get that right? The wives’ information?

MR. CROWLEY: In the contacts that we had with his spouses, there was not specific information as to who he was associated with or what they were planning to do.

QUESTION: But didn’t she say Lashkar, she was training at the Laskhar?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll just say there was not specific information provided.

QUESTION: Is Senator Mitchell participating in the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue, or this doesn’t include the peace process?

MR. CROWLEY: Senator Mitchell is in New York. He maintains contact with the parties as we look to create conditions for direct negotiation to continue. The Strategic Dialogue with Israel is really about the bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: But what’s the next step regarding the peace process?

MR. CROWLEY: We continue to work with the parties to create conditions for direct negotiations to continue, and that – those conversations are ongoing.

QUESTION: So if you were to give us a brief status report, where do we stand? I mean, since the beginning of September 2nd until today?

MR. CROWLEY: No change from last week.

QUESTION: The president of Afghanistan today issued a decree giving his – exempting a few – some of the private security companies to continue after his deadline expires in December. Do you have any comment? Do you – how do you view this development as?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been working with the Afghan Government to fully understand what it is trying to do. We certainly support Afghan efforts to properly regulate private security firms that are doing business inside Afghanistan. I think that this is a conversation that is continuing because there are some complexities here. But we understand that there are some exemptions for those firms that are protecting embassies and military compounds, and we think that’s an appropriate step to take, but we – there are some other issues that we are still trying to work through with the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: So what are the other issues? Could you, a little bit, explain that? What are the other issues that you’re working on?

MR. CROWLEY: I think there are still some questions about how this might affect ongoing aid workers and the security that they need to continue to function on behalf of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)



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