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Middle East Digest - November 16, 2010

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Washington, DC
November 16, 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 16, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: And finally, the United States remains gravely concerned about Iran’s continued harassment, detention, and imprisonment of human rights defenders. For example, we understand that the trial of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is reportedly under way, but it is proceeding without the transparency and due process guaranteed under Iranian law. Iran’s leaders should know that their efforts to silence those Iranians who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens does not go unnoticed. We once again join the international community in calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including those imprisoned for defending detainees or speaking out against human rights abuses, and urge Iran to afford its citizens those rights that are universal to all people.

QUESTION: Change of subject. The Israelis are still waiting for a written offer or proposal from the United States to discuss the settlement freeze. Have you sent them this proposal?

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Michel, I missed the first part.

QUESTION: Yeah, the Israelis are still waiting for the written proposal from the U.S.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into specifics as to where we are. We’re trying to encourage both sides to get back into negotiations. As the Secretary said yesterday, the status quo is unacceptable. We want to get them back to negotiations. We still believe that an agreement can be reached within the 12-month period that the Secretary outlined back in August. But in order to get to the agreement, we have to get them back into negotiations, but I’m not going to give a play by play from here.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this. The Israeli Government, too, has blamed the Palestinian Authority for thwarting the understanding between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Have you got any reaction from the Palestinians?

MR. CROWLEY: We – our efforts are to get both parties back into direct negotiations as soon as possible. We are engaged with the Israelis. We have engaged with the Palestinians. Our message to both is the same: Get back to direct negotiations, work through the core issues, and get to a just, fair, and equitable settlement and agreement within 12 months.

QUESTION: P.J., without getting into the specifics of what is being proposed, is it correct that the Israelis have asked for a written proposal or a formal –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to talk about –

QUESTION: This has nothing to do with any of the details of the –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand. I understand –

QUESTION: Are you prepared to give them a piece of paper that outlines what you’re willing to do to get them back to the table – to get them to –

MR. CROWLEY: We’re prepared to do everything that we can to create the conditions for both the Palestinians and the Israelis to have confidence to return to direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Including giving the Israelis some kind of a written –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I just said I’m not going to do a play by play from here.

QUESTION: But this – we’re not – the –

MR. CROWLEY: I – Matt, I –

QUESTION: They were not being asked – look, the Israelis have come out and said they’re not going to vote on this tomorrow in the cabinet because they’re waiting for a written proposal. I fail to see how it would affect the negotiations if you say that yes, you’re willing to consider giving them something in writing.

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue to work with Israel to address what it sees as its legitimate interest in this process. We’ll continue to engage with the Palestinians and address the Palestinians’ interest in this process. We want to get them back into negotiations. We’re trying to create the conditions to do that. Again, I’m –

QUESTION: Right, I understand.

MR. CROWLEY: As to where we are today, where we might be tomorrow, we have not talked about the substance of this and will not.

QUESTION: But the – I guess I just don’t understand how this gets into the substance of it.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I –

QUESTION: A piece of paper, whether you’re willing to write something down on a piece of paper is not the substance – is not substantive. It’s not a question about the substance. I’m not asking you what the words are that are going to be on a piece of paper or that might be on a piece of paper. I’m just asking if you are willing to give them something written down.

MR. CROWLEY: We will do everything that we can to encourage the parties to get back into negotiations.

QUESTION: All right. Just to follow – let me try it from a totally different angle. Do you think you can do that without giving them a piece of paper? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: It’s a very good question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is Secretary Clinton taking charge now instead of Senator Mitchell in the efforts to convince Israel and the Palestinians?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have the luxury of a very deep, high-level bench when it comes to these issues, starting with the President of the United States who made a commitment to pursue comprehensive Middle East peace on day two of his Administration by naming George Mitchell as special envoy. The President has been deeply engaged, the Secretary has been deeply engaged. We have George Mitchell and others. So we have assembled an all-star team and we are putting on a full-court press to get the parties into --

QUESTION: That’s enough. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Two Hail Mary passes -- (Laughter.) --

QUESTION: Do you hope to cross the goalpost? (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: We expect to score major points in the next nine months.

QUESTION: Speaking of --

MR. CROWLEY: But look, obviously the Secretary spent several hours with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week. And as needed, she will be personally and deeply engaged in this. But we have David Hale in the region today as we speak and others, so this just demonstrates our ongoing commitment to proceed with comprehensive peace. And it really does require more than one player to get the parties across the finish line. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What is David Hale doing?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t – I don’t know that David has had any specific meetings at this point.

QUESTION: So what does he --

MR. CROWLEY: But he’s in the region, and I would anticipate he’ll be in touch with the parties in the coming days.

QUESTION: About what?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, is he --

MR. CROWLEY: About the --

QUESTION: He’s not over there on vacation.

MR. CROWLEY: -- the topics under discussion in a variety of formats.

QUESTION: So who is he going to meet with?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll – as David has – I talked to David this morning and --

QUESTION: Well, the Palestinians are under the impression that he’s going to be meeting with them tomorrow. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: I – that is a possibility, yes.

QUESTION: And will he also have a meeting with the Israelis?

MR. CROWLEY: David frequently connects with both sides while he’s in the region. But again, as David has meetings, I will lay them out for you.

QUESTION: All right. To what end? I mean, are you hoping that his meetings there will bring – will result in the Israeli cabinet voting on a new freeze and the Palestinians saying okay, we’re ready to go back to the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, put it this way, we want --

QUESTION: Is that the goal?

MR. CROWLEY: We want the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations, and we are engaged with both sides to encourage them to do that. We will continue that engagement and we will continue that encouragement.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. CROWLEY: Please. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Will you comment on former Secretary Colin Powell’s criticism of the present government policies in Pakistan, in Afghanistan?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m – you’ll have to help me. I haven’t seen --

QUESTION: He’s told one of the channels yesterday that we – our support to Pakistan is “inadequate” – he used the word. And also – and he said that the U.S. should give money to the chief of Pakistani military. I don’t understand why the U.S. should give to --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m reluctant to comment on a report that I have not seen. We have significantly expanded our assistance to Pakistan. We have continued very robust military and security assistance, and we have augmented that with very significant assistance to strengthen Pakistan’s civilian institutions and help Pakistan expand its economy. And we will continue to do everything that we can to help Pakistan advance. But we think we have a very robust combination of civilian and security assistance to Pakistan that is helping Pakistan deal with a very significant threat, which is a threat to Pakistan as well as a threat to the United States.

QUESTION: But just to follow up, should we wait for later in the day? Because the second is that bin Ladin is still at large because the U.S. Army has not caught him. So --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure – is there a question there?

QUESTION: He says it is because we haven’t caught him that bin Ladin is still out there.

MR. CROWLEY: That would be true. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So is it – how do you take it, like is it that you know where he is and you are just letting him around?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we continue our hunt for and interest in capturing Mr. bin Ladin.

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