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Middle East Digest - November 15, 2010

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Washington, DC
November 15, 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 November 15, 2010

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1:35 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Turning to Sudan, Special Envoy Scott Gration has returned to the United States, where he will join Secretary Clinton in New York tomorrow morning at the UN Security Council ministerial meeting on Sudan. There, Secretary Clinton will deliver remarks on U.S. support to the parties with only 55 days remaining until the Southern Sudan referendum. The parties continue to make progress on preparations for that referendum. We were pleased to see the start of voter registration today. This is an important milestone made possible by the hard work of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the CPA parties, and the international community. The start of voter registration moves the parties closer to meeting their shared goal of conducting a peaceful, on-time referendum that reflects the will of the people of Southern Sudan.

The discussions between the parties on Abyei and other outstanding issues have recessed briefly for Eid and will allow Northern leaders participate in the Hajj. The parties made considerable progress in the talks last week and reached consensus on principles to resolve a number of issues, including border demarcation, security arrangements, and economic cooperation. We continue to press the parties to make the tough political decisions that are necessary for peace and look forward to renewed dialogue next week.

Turning to Egypt, the United States remains committed to supporting free and impartial elections in Egypt. We welcome the Government of Egypt’s stated commitment to expand political participation and ensure free and transparent elections, including facilitating domestic monitoring by civil society groups. The candidate registration process for the November 28th People’s Assembly elections closed last week. In keeping with the Egyptian Government’s commitment, fair and transparent elections would include peaceful political assemblies throughout the campaign, civil society organizations freely promoting voter education and participation, and an open media environment that offers balanced coverage for all candidates. In addition, an open electoral process would include a credible and impartial mechanism for reviewing election-related complaints, a domestic election observation effort according to international standards, and the presence of international observers.

QUESTION: P.J., this morning, the Secretary was asked but she didn’t really respond to the point of the question, I think – she was asked about the – whether the Administration really believes that three months is enough time to make enough progress on the border issue – borders to keep the Palestinians involved or to keep their – to keep the peace process alive. I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and, Matt, all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. As the Secretary said, only through these direct negotiations can the parties reach an ultimate agreement. It does remain our view that an agreement can be reached within a reasonable period of time. As you know, when the process started, we said this could be accomplished within 12 months. Hard to say at this point, given the delay over the issue of settlements, where we stand on that clock. But the first step in the process is to get them back to the bargaining table. Once we get them back to the bargaining table, we believe that both sides then have the ability to move forward. I’m not going to predict at this point what that strategy will be specifically. But we can’t get to an agreement unless we get the parities back in negotiations. Once we get them in negotiations, then we think that progress can be made. That, again, reinforces to both of them that there’s value in staying at the table, staying engaged, working through the tough issues, and reaching an agreement.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations. Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well, I guess I just find it a little hard to believe that you don’t think that you’re going to get them back into negotiations. I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume. Yeah?


QUESTION: And that plan would be to get some – according to everybody – is to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues. So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations. We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. And then from there we believe that there’s every opportunity to work systematically through the core issues. And it would be our desire that, if and when the parties resume direct negotiations, that they will just – they will continue on until we are able to reach an agreement.

QUESTION: You said, P.J., that you – it’s hard to say where we are on that clock, referring to the U.S. belief that it would be possible to resolve all the major issues within 12 months. Why is it hard to say where you are on that clock? I mean that clock began in August when you said it.


QUESTION: And it ends, presumably, in August of 2011. So are you suggesting that it’s sliding?

MR. CROWLEY: And if we get to – and our point is if we get to August 2011, and we need a little more time to get this done; we’ll take that time. But what we said at the outset of this process was that we believe that an agreement can be reached. We haven’t changed our view. There’s sufficient knowledge about the issues at the heart of the process. We fervently believe that these can be worked though and arrive at a just agreement that meets the security needs of Israel and the aspirations for a state for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: By the end of August 2011?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, like I said – I’m just saying we have – we’re not making progress as we stand here. We’ve got to get the parties back into the negotiations. Then we can see, once again, some forward motion. So I can’t stand here and say do we have to reset the clock to September or October of next year. We – at the start of this process, we felt that an agreement could be reached within 12 months. We still think an agreement can be reached. If it takes 12 – if we can do it in 12 months, that would still be our goal. If it takes a little while longer because we have experienced this delay – but our point is you can’t get to an agreement unless the parties are into negotiation. And then once we get into the negotiation, once again, then we would hope that the parties will advance systematically through the core issues to an agreement. We certainly aren’t doing – working through these things with the idea that we’re going to face the same challenge weeks or months from now. We want to get them at the table. We want to get them to stay at the table, work through the issues, and get to an agreement. That remains our goal.

QUESTION: But do you think if they back to negotiations they could – they should start with the issue of the borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, borders is a critical issue. It’s not the only one.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s the one which gets the negotiations –

MR. CROWLEY: As I tried to say to Matt, I’m not going to stand here and kind of outline what our negotiating strategy is. It is up to the parties to work through these issues. We are prepared to help them do that. But the core issues are well known – security, borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water. We’re prepared to work through all of those, but in terms of sequencing, our goal is ultimately to make progress on all of those issues. But – and borders is one of them.

QUESTION: But the Palestinians already criticized this U.S. proposal saying that you’re rewarding Israel for merely fulfilling its obligation under international law. So why are you confident that the Palestinians will come to the table considering that even East Jerusalem is not on the freeze kind of horizon when it comes to settlements?

MR. CROWLEY: We are trying to do everything that we can to create conditions for the negotiations to resume. That is the – that was the focus of the Secretary’s discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we are and will be in touch with the Palestinians as well. What the Secretary laid out this morning remains our focus at this point. We’ve got to get the parties back to negotiations. We’ve got to get them over the hurdle that we currently confront in terms of settlements; we’re trying to do that. And then once back in negotiations, we believe that it is still possible to reach an agreement months from now.


QUESTION: Can you just answer the substance of Nadia’s question, though, which is this belief among some Palestinians and other Arabs that the United States or the Obama Administration is essentially rewarding Israel with all the described incentives for keeping what you at least would construe to be their commitment under the Roadmap to halt all settlement activity, including so-called natural growth. I mean, why shouldn’t somebody see – why shouldn’t they see it that way that they’re being rewarded for doing what they said they’d do?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. At the heart of the Israeli concern for the future is security and we understand that through this process we have to find ways to reassure the Israeli people that at the end of this process is a more secure Israel and a more peaceful region, one where countries in the region accept Israel’s presence and pursue normalized relations with Israel. We also are very conscious of the fact that there is at least one country in the region that is committed to wiping Israel off the face of the earth. So to the extent that there are very valid security concerns that Israel has both in the context of the peace process and the context of the broader region as an ally and friend of Israel, we are working with Israel to – as part of our commitment to ensure Israel’s security.

But I’m not going to go into the specifics, but on the Israeli side of the ledger, security is at the heart of its concerns. And at the end of this process, Israel has to have confidence that its security is assured. We understand that and are working with Israel to address its needs. At the same time, we are working with the Palestinians to address their needs as well and the Secretary’s participation last week with Prime Minister Fayyad in contributing to and encouraging others to contribute to the building of institutions that give us hope that should an agreement be reached that there would be the emergence of a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel. So we are working to address Israel’s needs as well. So we believe as part of this process, both sides have to understand and expect that out of a negotiating process they’re going to get what they think they need in order to make this kind of – make these kinds of difficult choices and actually reach an agreement.


QUESTION: Has David Hale briefed the president –

MR. CROWLEY: We’re being invaded. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Has Ambassador David Hale briefed President Abbas on the proposal and what was the Palestinian –

MR. CROWLEY: David is in the region. I’m not aware that he’s had any specific briefings as of yet. I would anticipate there will be meetings in the coming days. Obviously, we have staff on the ground that maintain day-to-day contact with our Palestinian friends.

QUESTION: P.J., can I --

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: I’ve been waiting.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just regarding U.S. assurances of Israel’s security, the proposal that you guys have made to Israel reportedly includes 20 F-35s. And I know you’re going to say, “We’re not going to comment on the details,” but I’m --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment on the details. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to finish so you’ll understand why I think you should. The agreement is for 20 planes. Israel has already committed to buying 20 of these planes from Lockheed at a cost of 7 billion. So my question is: If – is this the same 20 planes and, if so, what kind of incentive is that? I mean, they’ve already committed to buying. If it’s not, are you actually spending $7 billion to get them to extend the talks, extend freeze – the freeze for 90 days?


QUESTION: Because that’s the way it looks.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to comment on details. Our policy with regard to Israel’s security is well known. We are --

QUESTION: But $7 billion?

MR. CROWLEY: We are – look, we are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge in the region and – but beyond that, I’m not going to comment.

QUESTION: That was actually my question as well. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.

MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold --

QUESTION: Let’s stay – staying on the planes. Is this something that they would have to buy or are you going to give them these?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to comment on any specific discussions. I would just always caution that any time you have reports about specific things, some details may be right, some details may be wrong.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s – then let’s just ask this: Can you – can this Administration afford to give Israel another $3 billion worth of military equipment?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are committed to support Israel --

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether you’re committed to preserving their qualitative military edge, can you --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I – you’re --

QUESTION: Can this Administration, which is broke, afford --

MR. CROWLEY: -- leaping --

QUESTION: -- afford another $3 billion?

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leaping to a conclusion – to conclusions that I’m not prepared to address here.

QUESTION: But Israeli officials have told reporters over there this. Are they misleading the reporters?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m just not going to get into any details of ideas that may or may not be under discussion between the United States and Israel.

QUESTION: So I understand you want to have the parties back in negotiation. But do you think the reported offer actually addresses the concern of the Palestinians? Do you think the offer that has been reported – the offer to the Israeli Government that has been reported, do you think it addresses the concern of the Palestinians? Because as the colleague said, they’ve already reacted that a settlement freeze will not concern East Jerusalem – is not what they expect to go back to the negotiations. So do you think it provides them with a good reason to get back to the table?

MR. CROWLEY: We absolutely believe that the Palestinians and the Israelis should return to the negotiating table. And we are trying to create conditions on both sides that enable that to occur.

QUESTION: Okay. But why are you confident? I mean, that’s my point. It should, maybe in principle, but what is it there to make you believe that actually after giving this incentive to the Israelis that the Palestinians are going to come?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the Palestinian side, the only way to end the conflict once and for all is through negotiation that addresses all of the core issues, and that is what we are trying to accomplish. And we are trying to create the conditions that enable the parties to return to the negotiating table, work through these issues and reach an agreement that ends the conflict, and then within the context of a two-state solution, seize the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

QUESTION: But, P.J., they already said they have another option, which is to go to the UN Security Council, whether you’re going to use a veto or not. And my point is if Israel is not included, you’re not going to ask Israeli for another freeze. We’re talking about only 90 days. What is it for them to persuade them to go and sit and negotiate?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what – well, first of all, just on your first point, as – we’ve been very consistent in saying that we do not believe that unilateral steps by either side is the proper route to obtain an agreement. The best route is to negotiate. We believe that, for the Palestinians, for example, that is where you gain real leverage, in terms of getting what you need in – and seeing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. This is our fervent view. The negotiating process is the best route to Palestinian statehood. And that’s the case that we have and continue to make to the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: India. P.J., as far as recent trip of the President to India, he got a lot of (inaudible) when he was addressing the Indian parliament and either support or endorsing the UN Security Council seat for India, but U.S. was blasted by China and Pakistan. And where do we go from here, now as far as his trip to India is concerned? So many issues were discussed, and also now we will have a new Congress here in Washington.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, Goyal, you’ve lost me. Where do we go from here? There’s a reform process underway, and we will continue to work within the reform process at the UN on Security Council reform. Our focus is making the Security Council effective and efficient. And as we have stated publicly, we believe that, as we go forward with reform, it’s hard to imaging a viable Security Council in the future without the participation of India.

QUESTION: Has there been any – have there been any developments in terms of Iran accepting this December 5th date for new talks, and has there been any progress on finding a venue?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of a response to date to the EU letter to the Iranians last week.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you think – do you have any comment on the report North Korea is building light-water nuclear reactor?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, North Korea has obligations. It has stated in the 2005 joint statement that it is committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We expect North Korea to live up to its international obligations. As it does, we are prepared to have conversations with North Korea about its long-term requirements. But first and foremost, North Korea has to live up to its stated commitments.

QUESTION: In view of the two investigative reports over the weekend, which were co-published by a Washington newspaper, have you increased or asked Pakistan to bring to book the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai 2008 attacks?

MR. CROWLEY: We have – we have repeatedly called upon Pakistan to prosecute those responsible for the attack, and we continue to expect Pakistan to take the appropriate steps. That is something that we do raise with Pakistan on a regular basis.

QUESTION: When did you last reach out to them?

MR. CROWLEY: We have conversations with Pakistan all the time.

QUESTION: P.J., on Friday both the Congressman Berman and Congresswoman Lowey released their holds on the military aid to Lebanon. Has that money actually shown up there? Has someone gone over with a check, or is it something that takes a little while longer to work its way through the process?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re very pleased that Mr. Berman and Ms. Lowey have lifted their holds on our assistance, and we’ll be now working aggressively with the Government of Lebanon to obligate our programs with that country for this year.

QUESTION: So that means that you don’t know if it’s actually gotten there or not?

MR. CROWLEY: I think now that the holds have been lifted, we have the ability now to move forward, and we’ll do so very rapidly.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)

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