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Middle East Digest - October 21, 2010


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Washington, DC
October 21, 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 21, 2010

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QUESTION: Anyway, on Pakistan talks, are they – the meetings today? Are they really as news-less as you suggested? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: Matt, I go out here and I don’t want to bore you with a lot of information at the top, but I can get into greater detail. If you want to know more about the energy working group, they discussed opportunities to support development of policy and plans to put Pakistan’s energy sector on firm financial footing.

QUESTION: In other words, the answer to my question was yes, there was – they are as news-less as you – (laughter) –

MR. TONER: These are all substantive meetings working to address core issues for Pakistan’s long-term economic and political development.

QUESTION: Is it correct that the law enforcement working group also includes counterterrorism?

MR. TONER: That is correct. It addressed law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation.


QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what that group talked about and what they achieved or --

MR. TONER: I cannot. We’re going to – the meeting just took place, so I will try to get a readout for you, but of course, there will be a broader, deeper readout tomorrow.

QUESTION: May I just follow up on --

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: As far as – like Matt said, these are reports which we don’t get anything – but Mr. – Ambassador Holbrooke has been briefing the – only Pakistani press. He just concluded a meeting. What has – he has been telling the Pakistani press only that we don’t know anything about this meeting going on between the U.S. and Pakistan.

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’ve lost the thread there.

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke just concluded the --

MR. TONER: I know he did do interviews with Pakistani media today. But I’m not aware of --

QUESTION: I know. Briefing or something – he briefed them.

MR. TONER: He did – I believe it was an interview with Pakistani members of – Pakistani broadcast journalists.

QUESTION: So what I’m asking is, is there anything else that we should be told what is going on other than what you just said?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re going to do some – there is some media at the end of the talks tomorrow scheduled for tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can you get a list of those 13 working groups and a readout of what happened in all those groups, maybe tomorrow?

MR. TONER: We can certainly ask for that, Lalit, sure.

QUESTION: Maybe tomorrow?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: I was actually going to ask the same thing, but about energy. And is there anything you could say right now about the energy group meeting, especially with reference to the energy projects that the Secretary announced in July?

MR. TONER: I’ll have to get a broader readout. I mean, I know that they talked on – more broadly about opportunities to support the development of policy and plans on Pakistan’s energy sector, but I don’t have a lot of detail. Again, the meeting just took place, so I’d have to get a status.

QUESTION: But it seems they’re talking about terrorism and also, I’m sure, between – regional security between India and Pakistan and all that. Indian army chief, which is Mr. V.K. Singh, he said that like General Musharraf had admitted that 22 terrorist groups are operating in occupied Pakistan and Kashmir, but now army – Indian army chief is saying that there are 42 terrorist camps now operating in occupied Pakistan and Kashmir. Is this going to be discussion – part of the discussion that’s – what’s – or U.S. going to ask more to do Pakistan about tackling down all these terrorist groups?

MR. TONER: In Pakistan or in Kashmir or --

QUESTION: Inside Pakistan (inaudible) Kashmir area.

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, in terms of inside Pakistan, this will be – obviously, they’ll talk about counterterrorism efforts, but I can’t say specifically whether they’ll address these groups.

Go ahead, Courtney.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary attend – has she been attending all the working groups, or any?

MR. TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t believe so. Not today, at least.

QUESTION: Can I change --

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead. No, I think we have Lalit in the back.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. The defense minister of Afghanistan today said that the security forces in Afghanistan are ready to take over charges from the international forces. So do you agree with his assessment of the progress made by the Afghan Security Forces?

MR. TONER: Well, it’s certainly encouraging words. I think I would defer to my colleagues in the Pentagon and in the Department of Defense and on the ground in Afghanistan for their assessment. But obviously, that’s part of our long-term strategy is to – yes, and --

QUESTION: And secondly --

MR. TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: And secondly, President Karzai today said that the foreign countries are in Afghanistan for their own national interests, security interests, but not – they don’t care for the people of Afghanistan. Do you --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. He said foreign companies?

QUESTION: Foreign countries.

MR. TONER: Countries are there --

QUESTION: Are in Afghanistan because of their own national interest, not – and they don’t care for the people of Afghanistan. Do you agree with his statement?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of his remarks so I don’t know what context, I don’t know what exactly he said. I would just say that the international countries that are in the coalition that is in Afghanistan right now is working both in their national security interest, as is the United States. We all know that Afghanistan provided safe haven for the 9/11 hijackers. But it’s also in the interest of Afghanistan. We want to see a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan emerge. It’s in everyone’s interests, so it’s hard to say it’s in someone’s unique national interests.

QUESTION: But, Mark, (inaudible) July 2011 when some of the changes will take place in Afghanistan, what do report do you think Ambassador Holbrooke privately is bringing if Afghanistan will be ready or is ready to take care of their security needs and if international community still will be needed? Because today, army general was speaking from Afghanistan as far as security and police is concerned. He said that Afghanistan is not ready and may not be ready without NATO and U.S. support.

MR. TONER: Okay, look, Goyal, I just said I’m not in a position here to assess where the Afghan military or police services are at this point in time. Obviously, it’s in our long-term goal to see them take over security operations for Afghanistan. That is what we’re working towards. We’re doing police training. Obviously, military training continues. There are press reports today that indicate that Afghan and U.S. – or NATO forces in Kandahar are making gains. That’s encouraging. But as to when that switch can take place, I really can’t say from here.

QUESTION: Mark, all this is also going as part of the discussion going on down – I mean upstairs or downstairs in this building.

MR. TONER: The discussion about --

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- so we can move on.

MR. TONER: This is focused on – this is Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. Go ahead, Andy.

QUESTION: Just another quick one – sorry – on Afghanistan. (Laughter.) I’m just wondering – the Peace Council today saying it’s willing to make concessions to get some of the insurgents to the negotiating table – Afghan Peace Council.

MR. TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: And they’ve mentioned housing, jobs, cash, which seem to have been on the table already. But in any event, I’m wondering if the U.S. is aware of this offer, if you think it’s a good idea for them to make concessions to get the Taliban in. And they’ve also said that they want to see a greater role for Saudi Arabia. This is the Afghan Peace Council.


MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia in this process. Have you been in touch with the Saudis about what role they are or might be playing here?

MR. TONER: That’s a fair question. I’m not aware that we have been in touch with the Saudis beyond our regular bilateral discussions. We have consistently stated that we support an Afghan-led process and the Afghan Government is allowed to come forth with their ideas and proposals on how to move this process forward. We’re supporting the process more than these initiatives. We support the overall process and the fact that it’s Afghan-led.

QUESTION: Mark, would you have any concerns about the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam if Saudi takes a greater role?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I mean, from what I’ve seen, it’s really speculative at this point. I don’t know that they’ve been asked to play a role in this process.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I have one quick question about – going back to the Pakistan story? Are you expecting an announcement by tomorrow on this multi-year security assistance package?

MR. TONER: We do expect some announcement tomorrow that addresses security and across-the-board cooperation and progress made – and assessing* the progress made at this meeting.

QUESTION: One question

MR. TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary said that there was not a magic formula to break the impasse between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiations. I want to know, is the U.S. disappointed at this moment about the situation? How is the negotiations will continue or the process has – is a failure in this moment?

MR. TONER: I think it was just a pragmatic assessment of the situation right now. But also, an affirmation that we’re not going to back away any time soon from this process. In fact, we’re wholly committed to direct negotiations, because as the Secretary also made clear in her remarks last night, it’s the only way that any of these issues can be resolved.

QUESTION: Mark –

MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.


QUESTION: Has it gotten to – has reality set in to this building here that it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to be able to meet your now 11-month, less than 11-month deadline for –

MR. TONER: No, but we’re grateful that we have your ticker keeping us apprised of how many months remain. We’re going to stick with our timeline.

QUESTION: Your time – so you’re still confident that –

MR. TONER: We’re committed in 11 months.


QUESTION: Are you confident that you can meet that deadline?

MR. TONER: We are committed to meeting that deadline.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but the Secretary – one of the other things the Secretary said last night was she spoke about progress being made and she said she hoped it would be in her lifetime, and if – but if not, in our childrens’ lifetime. Is that suggesting that perhaps a year is not – the now 11-month deadline is not -- is no longer necessarily a deadline, a firm deadline?

MR. TONER: Not at all. I think she’s talking about not just the progress and success and direct negotiations, but also regional peace and long-term peace, stability, and development in the region. It’s going to be a long process, but we’re fully focused on returning to direct negotiations, addressing these hard issues, and meeting the deadline of one year.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the last thing on this – she also said that Mitchell was going to be returning soon.

MR. TONER: I don’t have – I also checked on that. I don’t have a date or a timeline for when he’s going back, but –

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is this soon like, you hope Viktor Bout will be in a U.S. jail soon, or this soon like it could happen tomorrow?

MR. TONER: Are we on Bout time now? Is that the –


QUESTION: No, well, I’m just curious. I mean, are we talking –

MR. TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) week?

MR. TONER: I understand. He’s currently here in the U.S. and I just know that he’ll return soon. We’ll provide more information when available.



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