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 November 2, 2010
1:42 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: P.J., any clarity today on whether Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting with the Secretary when he’s in the U.S. next week?
MR. CROWLEY: Nothing more. I think you heard the Secretary in the Q&A with the – and Malaysian Foreign Minister say that it’s something that they’re still trying to see – assess our schedules.
QUESTION: About Mitchell –
MR. CROWLEY: He remains in New York. Nothing on --
QUESTION: Netanyahu is going to be in New York.
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Is that – Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to be in New York for about three days. Presumably, then he’ll have time to --
MR. CROWLEY: He’s going to go to New Orleans, first.
QUESTION: Then he’s going to go to New York.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What we’re hearing is at least for a couple of days.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. And we’ll let you know as we get closer to – I mean, I am confident that we will have contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu while he’s here (inaudible) whether the Secretary is back in time and their schedules can be aligned so they can meet. That’s what we’re trying to figure out.
QUESTION: What about – the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is in town. Are there any plans to meet with him?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you going to be more specific?
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.
QUESTION: Syria? P.J., Jeffrey Feltman in The Washington Post today says that we know that Syria basically – to paraphrase, we know that Syria has an interest in gaining back its territory, but that – and it knows that the United States is important to that issue, but --
MR. CROWLEY: The United States is --
QUESTION: Is very important --
MR. CROWLEY: Important, yeah.
QUESTION: -- to – for that process to continue and basically, unless they behave in Lebanon, in essence, that we will not exercise that leverage. Are we (inaudible) that way?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. I mean, there are a number of interests here. We are in search of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and so that has an Israeli-Palestinian context, and Israeli-Syrian context, and an Israeli-Lebanon context. We would like to see progress and success on each of those tracks, so we’re not going to play one off against the other. We will continue to support Lebanese sovereignty. We will continue to seek better relations with Syria.
But obviously, as we’ve made clear, Syria’s actions in Lebanon, its support for groups like Hezbollah, and – it will have an impact in terms of the potential in our – in the context of our bilateral relationship. So if Syria desires better relations with the United States, it – we hope that it will be a more constructive act around the region.
QUESTION: But the United States support of peace process between Syria and Israel is not contingent on how they behave in Lebanon, is it?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the pursuit of success on that track is a national interest. We will continue to seek ways to pursue comprehensive peace. But at the same time, we will not seek comprehensive peace in the Syrian-Israeli track at the expense of Lebanon. We have multiple interests here; we’re going to pursue all of them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything – did you get any clarification either from the Swiss or through other channels about the delay on the hiker trial in Iran?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not. We have asked the Swiss to see what they can find out, and as far as I know, we have not been officially notified nor has the lawyer for the hikers been officially notified of the delay yet.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any ongoing efforts by the Omanis around this issue or just --
MR. CROWLEY: Nothing I can point to specifically, but we continue to make clear that we would like to see the hikers released.
QUESTION: On the midterm elections and the Middle East peace process – can I --
MR. CROWLEY: You can ask the question.
QUESTION: Do you expect the election results to accelerate the talks, (inaudible) it, or hold it back – the outcome of the elections?
MR. CROWLEY: The talks in the Middle East?
QUESTION: How do you expect the outcome of the elections to impact the (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t necessarily – well, first of all, we don’t know – Americans are voting right now, so we don’t know what the results will be. Democratic and Republican administrations supported by Congress under Democratic or Republican leadership have all supported our pursuit for comprehensive Middle East peace. So this is a significant national interest and I would not expect any election results to have an impact on that.
QUESTION: P.J., do you have any comment on the blowing up of an oil pipeline in – by militants in Yemen?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know anything about that.
QUESTION: I have a Yemen question. Given that there’s been some criticism by some analysts about the fact that Yemen has been neglected as a region sort of by the U.S. and that’s led to sort of a resurgence in al-Qaida activity that perhaps could have been avoided, is there sort of a rethinking of what can be done in Yemen in terms of targeting different (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, a lot of that, Flavia, depends on your starting point. We have understood for some time that there are violent extremists in Yemen who are a danger to the region and to the United States going back to the USS Cole. And we have worked with – the United States has worked with Yemen for a number of years to help build greater counterterrorism cooperation. As we said yesterday, we have – we think that that cooperation has deepened and Yemen’s capabilities have improved. As we also stressed yesterday, Yemen is a government with a lot of challenges and limited capacities.
Now, if you fast forward to the start of the Obama Administration, for consecutive years we have significantly ramped up our attention to Yemen and our support from a bilateral standpoint, security standpoint, and development standpoint to Yemen. So speaking for the Obama Administration, we have been focused significantly on Yemen. We were focused on Yemen before the Christmas Day bombing attempt. We’ve been focused on Yemen since then and we’re working intensely with the government to combat al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And we’re – we’ve been informed and we completely are supportive of Yemen’s announcement today of the indictment of Mr. al-Awlaki.
QUESTION: Are you confident that Yemen’s security forces can actually pursue al-Qaida and contain it?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Yemen has taken decisive action against al-Qaida with our support. We have no – we – Yemen is focused on the threat posed by al-Qaida and we will continue to work with Yemen, continue to build up its capabilities so that it can continue to take aggressive action. That is in our interest and Yemen’s interest.
QUESTION: P.J., another one on Yemen, please. You’re talking about ramping up the development side in Yemen. Are there actually teams now on the ground or are there physical civilian groups there yet, or is this just something that’s being planned?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m confident there are development experts there. I can’t tell you – I’ll try to get more information on that, Jill.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And a quick one on Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yes, as far as those payments were concerned to President Karzai, I mean, it was just strange that a foreign hand is getting payments from a different – (inaudible) other countries. This is just like Seymour Hersh accused the former prime minister of India Moraji Desai in the late ‘70s in his book that he was on the payroll of the CIA. My question is: If the payments from Iran and – or from other countries have stopped going to President Karzai or not, illegal way?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, look, that’s a – that’s really a question for President Karzai. We recognize that a variety of countries are supporting Afghanistan and the government. We just want to make sure that that is done in a transparent way and that that support is truly for the benefit of the Afghan Government and Afghan people and not intended to undermine it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.