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 22, 2010
1:28 p.m. EST
QUESTION: I’m just curious about your reaction to some documents that Canadian Broadcasting has obtained from the UN Tribunal looking into Rafik Hariri’s assassination. The documents clearly show a link between the assassins and Hezbollah, and I’m curious about your reaction.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, our reaction is to continue to support the work of the tribunal, and we look forward to the tribunal concluding its investigation and delivering its findings.
QUESTION: But the tribunal has been working now for several years, spent around $200 million and there still hasn’t been any indictments, are you confident there actually will be an indictment at the end of this process?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, the tribunal has yet to finish its work. Its investigation is ongoing. We have provided political and monetary support to this investigation. It is critically important to Lebanon’s future. Lebanon needs to end this era of impunity which has afflicted it for years, if not decades. And we support the work of the tribunal and we look forward to completion of its investigation and the findings that that investigation produces.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the objectivity of the tribunal given the fact that there seems to be, talking to a number of people who were involved, former investigators who made the statement that it looks like the tribunal itself was penetrated, that Hezbollah actually knew some of the movements, perhaps even was involved in the killing of a police officer doing a parallel investigation. How concerned are you about the objectivity of the tribunal’s work?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not – I don’t think we’re concerned about the objectivity of the tribunal’s work. I think we are concerned about the campaign that is going around surrounding the tribunal to politicize its investigation and its potential findings. We support the tribunal. It is critical to Lebanon’s sovereignty and its future. And we look forward to a completion of the investigation and a release of its findings.
QUESTION: Do you expect that an upcoming high-level visit to Tehran would impact the outcome of the tribunal?
MR. CROWLEY: I would think it will not.
QUESTION: Do you know, P.J., if Fred Hof is dealing with this issue on his current trip, or is he there with the Lebanese armed forces military aide?
MR. CROWLEY: Those are not mutually exclusive.
QUESTION: So he is there meeting with both?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have regular interaction with the Government of Lebanon and we make clear our commitment to Lebanon’s independence, Lebanon’s sovereignty, in every conversation we’ve had with – recently with Lebanese senior officials. We’ve talked about the importance of the work of the tribunal. So it wouldn’t surprise me if that isn’t part of the conversation this week.
QUESTION: There were a number of press reports about tension between Egypt and the United States over the elections, the coming election, parliamentary elections. And the think tanks intensified their symposiums and seminars giving the negative aspects of the coming election. What is the official stance regarding this? Is there tension between --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would – we’ve had direct conversations with Egyptian officials about the importance of the upcoming elections. As we talked about when Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit was here recently and the issue came up in her discussion both with Secretary Clinton and also with Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman. We have made our views clear to Egypt about the importance of this election, what it will mean to Egypt’s position as a leader in the Middle East. It has the opportunity to demonstrate clearly that it is going to expand the available political space for broader participation in its elections in its future, and we continue to encourage Egypt to take advantage of this opportunity.
QUESTION: There was tension or some differences during this --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there is – we are closely monitoring events that are happening in Egypt, reports of arrests and intimidation, and we have not hesitated to express our concerns directly to Egyptian leaders. As friends and allies of ours, we obviously want Egypt to advance in the region, and we think this is a vitally important period for Egypt’s future and we continue to encourage them to do everything possible to ensure a free, fair, and impartial election in Egypt.
QUESTION: P.J., a little further north --
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: The Egyptian Government reported that press – foreign press updating their reports just from the demonstrators and without giving why arrests are there, because they are not taking permits, they are not --
MR. CROWLEY: But again, this underscores what we have stressed. In a statement last week, we talked about the importance of domestic observers and we talked about the value of international monitors in this election process.
QUESTION: P.J., a little further north. The Israeli parliament is considering a --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just stay on Egypt for one second. So do you keep your own monitoring, let’s say, of this latest demonstration that took place in Alexandria yesterday or the day before, where there was an allegation of excessive police force and so on? Do you monitor these events yourselves?
MR. CROWLEY: We do monitor these events, and we have not hesitated and will not hesitate to express our concerns to Egyptian leaders.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all about this bill that’s being considered by the Knesset which would require a supermajority in the parliament to approve of any ceding of land that has been annexed by Israel since the ’67 war? That would mean the Golan and East Jerusalem.
MR. CROWLEY: Let me take that question.
QUESTION: P.J., can you give us an update on where we are, what is the status of peace talks, and what has (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve got – nothing to report other than David Hale, I think today, is meeting with Saeb Erekat in Jericho. Over the weekend, yesterday, he was in Amman for meetings with Jordanian officials. He was in Cairo on Saturday. But our work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians is ongoing.
QUESTION: Where’s Senator Mitchell?
QUESTION: What is the current role of --
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm? Senator Mitchell is in New York.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) working on the peace process?
MR. CROWLEY: He is working on the peace process, but he’s not traveling.
QUESTION: Are you having conversations with the Israelis then?
MR. CROWLEY: We have conversations with the Israelis all the time.
QUESTION: About the peace process matters?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Are they getting anywhere?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s a work in progress.
QUESTION: So weren’t you expecting that the cabinet yesterday would take a stand on (inaudible) and what’s going on and all that?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to work to create the conditions for a return to direct negotiations, and that is a work in progress.
QUESTION: What, if anything, can you tell us about Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to the U.S.?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) one more.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.
QUESTION: It’s a question about Israel. Can you confirm that there are new understandings or new offers that have been made to Israel by the United States in any form whatsoever?
MR. CROWLEY: I will only confirm that we continue to have conversations with the Israelis and the Palestinians to address concerns that each has, but to create conditions that enable the direct negotiations to resume.
QUESTION: Former Ambassador Dan Kurtzer has said on Saturday that it’s the first time that the U.S. has a willingness to reward a bad behavior from Israel. And he added that the deal is a very bad idea. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) Dan Kurtzer is a distinguished individual and former diplomat, and he has his views.
QUESTION: As a distinguished career diplomat and someone who has a great deal of knowledge in that region, do you concur with his assessment?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have an opinion. I read his piece, but beyond that, I’ll --
QUESTION: Yeah. P.J., on Pakistan, there are reports in media about the extension of drone attacks to Quetta and Baluchistan, and American authorities believe that Taliban Shura has safe havens there and CIA is seriously considering launching drone attacks there. These statements really triggers Pakistani military and civilian authorities. Do you have – do you – would you like to say anything about this? And also, is Obama Administration really thinking to do that?
MR. CROWLEY: You lost me. I’m sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There are – there were reports on the – in media about the extension of drone attacks to Quetta and Baluchistan.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not here to talk about drone attacks.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Saudi King?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What do you know about his visit to the States? What can you tell us about it?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll defer to our colleagues at the Saudi Embassy for particulars. Obviously, we’re aware of his visit. We helped to facilitate clearances for him to come to the United States for medical treatment. We hope for a speedy recovery. Beyond that, I’ll defer to the kingdom to provide more details.
QUESTION: Is he coming to Washington?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll defer to the Saudis to talk about the details of his visit.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about the state of his health and what it might mean for the Saudi Government?
MR. CROWLEY: The King is a valued partner. We wish him a speedy recovery. I don’t know that we have any particular concerns about his health. We want to see him up and about as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Wait, hold on.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) negotiation between Secretary Clinton and Catherine Ashton regarding the main topics of the first negotiation with Iranian, like Iranian –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that Catherine Ashton has yet received a formal reply from the Iranian Government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)