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 27, 2010
1:48 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. interested in reviving or renegotiating this uranium swap deal with the Iranians through the P-5+1 group?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, go back just over a year. We did table the Tehran research reactor proposal. We thought it was a confidence-building measure that could provide some momentum to enhance the discussions of our core concerns, which remains the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
We still think the concept has a potential value, so we would be interested in continuing to pursue that with Iran if Iran is interested. At the same time, regarding the TRR, it’s important to note that the proposal would have to be updated reflecting ongoing enrichment activity by Iran over the ensuing year. But this is something that we potentially look ahead to engaging Iran in through the so-called Vienna Group.
But it is important to just note that the TRR does – is not a substitute for the ongoing concerns that we have about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. For that, we need a sustained, serious conversation and where Iran has to convince the international community that it’s abiding by its international commitments. And as we say, through our discovery of Iranian activities, including the existence of the secret Qom facility, we have our doubts as to whether Iran is living up to its obligations.
QUESTION: Would you – on that one, would you see those two sets of talks – TRR and the broader talks – do they have to run in parallel? Or given that you’re saying the TRR proposal could be a confidence-building move, would it make more sense to start that one off first? And is that perhaps what Lady Ashton may be talking to them about?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the first – I mean, obviously, the first thing we’re waiting for is a response from Iran for the proposal put forward by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. She has proposed talks next month, and Iran has yet to respond to that. But if Iran is prepared to sit down and seriously engage, we are prepared to continue to discuss the TRR proposal. But at the same time, we need to have Iran come forward and demonstrate affirmatively that it’s living up to its obligations and its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
QUESTION: One of the newspapers today seemed to be pretty sure that these talks are going to be held on the 16th and 17th of November. Is that --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, that is what we have proposed. Iran has made some public indications that it’s interested in discussions, but has yet to formally respond.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MR. CROWLEY: I thought I could get away. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Afghanistan. President Karzai is now saying he’s going to give an extra 90 days to the security firms after the November deadline that he originally set so that they’ll be able to wrap up or smooth the transition. In your view, is that sufficient? Does that resolve the problems that we’re facing there? Or are there discussions still needed about the broader sense of how the security is going to be handled?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think what – first of all, we are encouraged by what President Karzai and his government have advanced today. It provides a process through which we can work with the Afghan Government and the international community to fully implement the Afghan Government’s decree.
So – but I think to understand that there are different categories of security contractors. There’s a category of security contractors that the Afghan Government has determined to be illegal, unlicensed, and the Afghan Government is already working to dissolve those firms. There’s a body of contractors that are guarding diplomatic posts, military posts, and the Afghan Government has made clear that those contractors can continue.
And then there’s a – contractors that are associated with the movement of convoys across Afghanistan, and the Afghan Government is in the process of a transition where those contractors will go from contractors to responsibility of Afghan National Security Forces. There is this remaining category of contractors who are securing development projects, and that will be the core focus of the committee that – it was announced today – that will operate under the ministry of the interior, and they will report back to President Karzai in short order. And then from that point, there will be an orderly process where judgments can be made and a transition, where needed, made again from the use of contractors to the use of Afghan security forces.
So we believe that this is a process that allow – that enables the implementation of the decree to go forward. As I think Ambassador Eikenberry said today in one of his press comments, it brings the kind of predictability to the process that we have encouraged the Afghan Government to put forward.
QUESTION: When the Secretary spoke to President Karzai on Saturday, did she ask for this specific delay?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what the --
QUESTION: Or suggest it?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary, together with President Karzai, they talked about the decree, how to best implement it. And I think we’re gratified that there is now a process that will enable the decree to be fully implemented.
QUESTION: These WikiLeaks reports on torture, the United Nations has called for an investigation. The United States said earlier that it thought that investigation should start with Iraq. Since then, has the United States initiated any kind of investigation?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t answer that question. I can tell you that our policy remains clear. We have obligations and our policy is not to turn over any prisoner in any country where we have concerns about torture. That was our policy five years ago. It’s our policy today. I can’t say at this point whether we feel that an investigation is warranted in this case, but we will continue to pursue and follow our policy and our laws.
QUESTION: One other question about – has the State Department in any way tried to stop Caterpillar from exporting its bulldozers to Israel during the Rachel Corrie trial?
MR. CROWLEY: I would probably pose that – I am not aware of any contacts between the United States Government and Caterpillar, but perhaps it’s a question to ask Caterpillar.
QUESTION: Same subject --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, we – the State Department, through commercial diplomacy, encourages economic relationships where our goods can be exported to other countries, including Israel. So I’m highly doubtful that we would have invited Caterpillar to take that step.
QUESTION: Last week with regard to WikiLeaks, the anticipated release which happened on Friday night, before that you said you thought – you said something to the effect that you thought it was likely that some State Department cables would be included in those and it turned out there weren’t any. Are you – do you have any –
MR. CROWLEY: I actually thought I said that I did not think that whatever was released was going to significantly involve State Department products. But –
QUESTION: I took it to mean that it would be similar to the previous release where there was a modest number of diplomatic cables released in July.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
QUESTION: At any rate, are you expecting – do you still have information or inclination – I mean, indications that some diplomatic cables are still in the possession of WikiLeaks that haven’t released?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, let me again state that we decry the release of these documents. They’re classified for a good reason. They do put U.S. lives and U.S. interests at stake as well as the lives and interests of our allies and partners. WikiLeaks should not release any other documents. It has been our presumption that in the cache of documents that were potentially moved from government networks outside of the government control that potentially some of our cables were moved. But that is still our presumption.
QUESTION: The Treasury Department has blacklisted about three dozen so-called Iranian front companies operating in Europe. Wouldn’t that make them less amenable to talk about nuclear issues?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the choice that Iran makes is up to Iran. We believe that Iran should come forward, engage the international community seriously, and answer the questions that we have and the concerns that we have about Iran’s nuclear program. We have said all along that we are open to engagement, but at the same time, we’re going to take steps to put pressure on Iran. And we believe that the sanctions and – both the international sanctions and the national steps that we have taken and other countries have taken are, in fact, getting Iran’s attention. Whether it convinces Iran to take the – what we think are the steps that are in Iran’s long-term interests, we’ll wait and see.
QUESTION: Amnesty International and Russia and the Vatican, they are asking Iraq not to implement the court order to execute the former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and two other officials from the era of Saddam Hussein. What is the U.S. position on this issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our position is that Tariq Aziz was convicted through a legal process that is consistent with the Iraqi constitution. The final disposition of his case is up to Iraq.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)