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Middle East Digest - October 22, 2010

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Washington, DC
October 22, 2010


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 22, 2010

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1:45 p.m. EDT

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Sorry to be late, and probably given the time – I know we have the bilateral with Foreign Minister Qureshi coming up, so we may need to abbreviate the briefing slightly.

But as you heard this morning in the Secretary’s comments as – during the plenary of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, she announced the Administration’s multi-year security assistance commitment to Pakistan. It includes a commitment of – to request $2 billion in foreign military assistance from Congress for the years 2012 through 2016 and it will complement the $7.5 billion in civilian projects that has already been approved in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Pakistan remains one of our closest partners in the fight against terrorism and in the counterinsurgency effort along the border with Afghanistan. And we will continue to work closely with Pakistan to ensure they have the training and equipment necessary to support their counterinsurgency efforts.

Later on this afternoon, the Secretary will visit the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, our flagship public-private partnership supporting Afghan women. It will convene this afternoon here at the Department with co-chairs Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia, and Council Honorary Advisor Laura Bush. She’ll be speaking by phone to open the session.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Pakistan – a couple things about Pakistan aid? One is: When did the Administration begin withholding assistance to military – Pakistani military units that were accused of human rights abuses under the Leahy Amendment?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, the way the process works – let me kind of turn that around. In providing military assistance to Pakistan or other countries, we vet units that are slated to receive equipment. And under the Leahy Amendment, we do not support units where we have a credible human rights concern. So it’s not a matter of pulling back on assistance; it’s a matter of we make sure that in providing assistance to militaries, including the Pakistan military, we will not support any unit for which we have –

QUESTION: Okay. So this is –

MR. CROWLEY: -- security or human rights concerns. And in fact, we remain in full compliance with our Leahy obligations.

QUESTION: So in other words, since the beginning of the Administration, this has been going on? It’s not new as some might suggest.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would use an example, though. You’re familiar with the recent video that seemed to demonstrate potential human rights violations with respect to Pakistani units. In that case, we’ve asked the Pakistani military to conduct an investigation. General Kayani has assured us that there is an investigation underway. So I’m not saying that in a case where we might have an existing relationship with a military unit, we might be forced to, in fact, withdraw assistance. But in this particular case, we’ve made sure that we will not support units where we have credible information.

Now, in the context of Pakistan, we’ve had a number of conversations with Pakistan over many months on these issues. We’ve had discussions with Pakistan both before that video, as an example, and since that video. And we do believe that – and are supporting Pakistan as it both investigates human rights concerns, but also to improve as General Kayani – I think he himself has said publicly – to improve efforts further professionalize the Pakistani military. So this is something that has been and continues to be part of our ongoing dialogue in Pakistan.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know how many units it affects right now?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m constrained in what I can say about this for a variety of reasons, including legal and intelligence reasons. It’s a relatively small number. That’s all I can say.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that these concerns that you’re talking about are going to make it more difficult to get congressional approval for the 2 billion that the Secretary talked about this morning?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it’s an example of where we have concerns. We’ve raised them with the Pakistani military. We’re following U.S. law. But at the same time, because we have a system of vetting units, we can have confidence that for those units that we are supporting we have vetted them properly and we believe there are no such concerns.

QUESTION: P.J., just to follow quickly, according to Freedom House, many countries, including Pakistani, using blasphemy law, the sixth century law, and caning. As far as human rights here, what do you think about these blasphemy laws?

MR. CROWLEY: Goyal, that’s a very broad sweep. We are supporting the Pakistan military because it is in our mutual interest to do so. Pakistan is a strategic partner. It’s a vitally important partner in counterinsurgency operations and counterterrorism activities, and it is in our national interest to continue to support Pakistan.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to know where – how and when did you notify the Pakistanis about this? It appeared as of yesterday evening that they didn’t seem to know about it. (Inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: We have been talking to Pakistan about our human rights concerns for some time.

QUESTION: I understand that. But when did – when were they informed of – that the aid to these units would be cut off?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t answer that question.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR. CROWLEY: I cannot answer that question.

QUESTION: P.J., in the strategic --

QUESTION: You don’t know or you --

MR. CROWLEY: As I said, there are both intelligence and legal considerations. I can’t answer that question.

QUESTION: Which --

MR. CROWLEY: I won’t answer that question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You said the investigation is on, not completed yet, so how can you take a decision before the investigation is complete?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry, what?

QUESTION: You said the investigation is still on, it’s not completed yet, so how can you take a decision before it’s --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s – no, let’s – all right, Lalit, let’s separate the two issues. In other words, we have an ongoing requirement in the military support that we provide to any military, including Pakistan. As we are providing that assistance, we have to ensure that any unit that we are supporting is free of any human rights concerns or violations. So to Matt’s point, we have been following the law all along, and as we have developed our relationship with Pakistan, we have been in full compliance with the Leahy Amendment. Where we have had human rights concerns, we have not supported particular units. That is fully in accordance with the law.

So for those units that we are supporting, we have satisfied that – we are satisfied that these units do not have human rights concerns. And we will just continue in our relationship with Pakistan as well as other countries to fully support the requirements of the Leahy Amendment.

QUESTION: P.J., on the broader issue of the Strategic Dialogue, which one of the 13 working groups deals with the issue of Kashmir?

MR. CROWLEY: Kashmir is an issue that we believe needs to be resolved between Pakistan and India. It is an issue that does come up in time to time in our bilateral discussions with Pakistan, but there is no working group on Kashmir.

QUESTION: So in other words, for the Pakistani foreign minister to come here and raise the issue and tell – and say that President Obama should redeem his pledge to get the U.S. involved in some kind of mediation of the dispute when he visits India next month, that kind of a statement is not particularly appropriate to the Strategic Dialogue, is it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, actually, because the Strategic Dialogue is focused on expanding our bilateral relationship, when we get together the United States or Pakistan can bring forward any issue that it wishes. The Pakistanis have raised the issue of Kashmir with us before. This is not new. Our understanding of the Pakistani view of this issue is well known. But at the same time, the United States policy is clear: We believe that this is ultimately an issue that has to be resolved between India and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about human rights violations in Kashmir which have raised tensions between Pakistan and India?

MR. CROWLEY: We obviously have great concern about the situation in Kashmir. We talk both to our Pakistani friends and our Indian friends on this issue on a regular basis. We would like to see the situation in Kashmir resolved. There is obviously too much tension and violence in Kashmir, which is why we continue to encourage both countries to resolve it through dialogue.

QUESTION: Back to the Pakistani military support, when you said that you’re sure that the units that you’re supporting are – don’t have human rights violation concerns, when you say support, you mean training – the U.S. military is training these particular units, right?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the nature of our relationship, we provide training, we provide equipment. There’s a variety of support under our existing and future programs.

QUESTION: Well, what I don’t understand is how, if the U.S. is providing all this military assistance and money, how you can be certain that that money is not going to individual units that you have human rights concerns with.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is why we have – we do have oversight over our programs with Pakistan and we do have regular discussions with Pakistan on these issues. It is something we take seriously and something that we focus on intensely in our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: You said the – going back to the President’s trip to India, this aid package is announced just ahead of that. Were the Indians briefed about this? Presumably, the Indians might not be entirely happy about the military cooperation.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t tell you if the Indians were briefed. We have – we do not see this in zero-sum terms. The Indians are well aware of the support that we provide to Pakistan. Pakistan is well aware of the nature of our relationship with India.

QUESTION: P.J., what’s the level of tension between the U.S. and Pakistan after three days of dialogue and $2 billion military aid to Pakistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think there’s tension at all.

QUESTION: There was before the dialogue and Ambassador Holbrooke’s deputy has recognized that.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, look, there are – we don’t deny that we have issues. We did have a cross-border incident. We investigated it fully. We apologized for it, and we’ve moved on. So I think that you’re seeing here in the Strategic Dialogue and the ongoing support that we’re providing to Pakistan, an example not only of an expanding relationship, but also clear evidence of a long-term commitment by the United States to Pakistan’s future.

In any relationship, there are going to be – periodically be irritants that come up, and this is an example of how something arose. And we worked it through and have resolved it.

QUESTION: P.J., as far as this close to $10 billion, including military and civilian aid to Pakistan is concerned, what do you think what U.S. will get out of this and what new you are looking or asking or coming out of Pakistan that you have not seen in the past?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this is something that benefits Pakistan. It benefits the United States, and we think it benefits the region as a whole. We want to see a secure, stable, peaceful region. It is in our interest expressly because there are extremists in the region that threaten countries there and countries here in the West. We want to see a continuation of the kind of determined effort that Pakistan has shown over the past year or so, and what we’re seeing here is an investment in the very capabilities that we believe can help Pakistan continue to carry out its counterinsurgency responsibilities.

QUESTION: And if I may go back to Kashmir one second, quickly please. As far as Kashmiri issues – conflict has been going on forever since India-Pakistan got freedom or existing, the problem – both side – they are using Kashmir, number one. People are sick and tired --

MR. CROWLEY: Wait, Goyal. Not to cut you off, but just to say that I understand the history lesson --

QUESTION: What I’m asking --

MR. CROWLEY: -- but my answer will be the same. This is an issue that ultimately has to be resolved between India --

QUESTION: Can we move next door to --

MR. CROWLEY: -- and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Can we move to Afghanistan?


QUESTION: What is the status of the discussions between you guys, the rest of the international community, and the Karzai government about this private security contractor ban that seems poised to wreak havoc on development and reconstruction?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, Matt. It’s a – it is an issue that we’ve been working with Afghanistan for more than two months, since the decree came out. We completely support the objective of the decree. There are a vast number of private security contractors, some of them licensed, many of them not. This is – and the Afghan Government’s objective of moving to where Afghan National Security Forces can take over responsibility for the security of the country. Obviously, that is central to our strategy. We’re in a period of time where as we are building up the capabilities of the Afghan Government, we recognize that there’s a gap that presently exists, and we are working through – with the Afghan Government and others within the international community to try to figure out how to help Afghanistan implement its decree, but at the same time, make sure that essential operations continue to function. And as we’re going through this, we’re seeing that there’s still a lack of clarity in terms of how the decree affects certain kinds of operations.

We understand that there are reports that development organizations are beginning to look at how they would shut down operations if we get to a worst-case scenario. We’re hopeful that we can – while we – the issue is not the decree and its objective; the issue is how you move along a timeline and how much time it will take to move from where we are to where the Afghan Government wants to be. And that’s – those are details that we continue to work out with the Afghan Government and help them explain to those who would be affected what the implications are.

QUESTION: Can you finish the sentence that you started – we’re hopeful that?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’re hopeful that we can resolve with the Afghan Government a course of action so that over time we can help with this transition from private security contractors to a situation where the responsibility for security in Afghanistan is done by the Afghan Government. That’s their objective. That’s actually our objective. We’re just working through the intervening period and working through the particular implications.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of this – what sort of the threat of this decree has already slowed down the development effort there? I mean, these reports that you’re talking about are saying that some of these companies are already scaling back because they don’t what the situation is going to be, so there’s sort of an inevitable delay that this uncertainty is bringing.

MR. CROWLEY: There’s clearly a lack of clarity in the eyes of many organizations that are providing vital assistance to Afghanistan. We don’t think it’s had an impact at this time, and we certainly do not want to see development projects that are important to Afghanistan’s future affected by this decree, and that’s why we’re continuing to work with the Afghanistan Government. It’s not about the long-term objective. It’s about the timeline of how we can effectively work this transition and do so in a way where essential operations that are important to Afghanistan’s future are able to continue.


QUESTION: Can I ask one question on the reconciliation in Afghanistan? You said a couple of days ago at the daily press briefing that the U.S. officials are not at this point of time taking part in the preliminary talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan Government officials. Do you think it might change? Do you envision the situation where U.S. high-ranking officials like General Petraeus or Ambassador Eikenberry will be present in directly negotiating with Taliban face-to-face in the presence of Afghan – officials from Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: This is an Afghan-led process, and at the present time I can’t envision such a scenario.


QUESTION: About a month – less than a month ago the Indian defense minister was here and he had expressed his concern about misuse of U.S. military aid to Pakistan by Pakistan against India. Is that been addressed to when you announced for your new package for Pakistan to fight against terrorism?

MR. CROWLEY: This is a subject that comes up in all of our discussions with high-level Indian officials. It comes up in all of our discussions with high-level Pakistani officials. And we continue to provide the same message to both countries. This is not a zero-sum proposition. Our assistance to Pakistan does not come at the expense of India, and our relationship with India does not come at the expense of Pakistan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow up on that?


QUESTION: Is there anything to prevent – or is there a safeguard to prevent Pakistan from diverting this money away from the counterinsurgency or counterterrorism activities that has been getting – is getting the money for?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all countries are sovereign, but by the same token, we’ve tailored this package we believe to improve training and equipping that is focused on the – our counterinsurgency programs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you and have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)

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