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Middle East Digest - December 13, 2010

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Washington, DC
December 13, 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 December 13, 2010

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MR. TONER: I don’t have much to add from what the Secretary already said about the status of Ambassador Holbrooke. He does remain in the hospital in critical but stable condition. He’s at George Washington Hospital. I can express that the family is deeply appreciative of the continuing efforts, commitment, and dedication of the entire medical team at George Washington Hospital, as well as for the outpouring of love and support from around the world that they have received.

And just a note about Kosovo’s elections – national elections – which the vote took place yesterday. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on their first post-independence general elections, a significant milestone in the development of their multiethnic democracy. We were heartened to see so many voters cast their ballots from across the country. International and local observers, including Americans, were present at polling locations throughout Kosovo. They observed a process that was largely deemed efficient and effective. The United States urges the Kosovo Elections Commission to address the few serious irregularities that did occur. Overall, however, we congratulate Kosovo – Kosovo’s electoral authorities for the organization of these snap elections under serious time constraints.

Go ahead, Bob.

QUESTION: George Mitchell. Could you give us the latest on his schedule and exactly what is it that he’s supposed to accomplish on this trip?

MR. TONER: Well, Bob, as you saw, the Secretary outlined in fairly specific detail where we see the process going in her speech on Friday night. Obviously, Senator Mitchell is in the region today. I do know he’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu today, and I believe tomorrow he’ll meet with President Abbas. As for – I know he’ll make additional stops in the region as well as in Europe. I don’t have the details. We’ll get those to you as we receive them.

What he hopes to accomplish is basically what the Secretary said, which is we’re continuing to work hard on the issues, and we want to make progress. We’re going to continue to work with the two parties. The Secretary was fairly candid in her assessment that we can’t impose a solution to this situation – to the situation, but we need to work with both parties and they need to address the core issues.

QUESTION: Is he offering proposals of any kind?

MR. TONER: Well, the Secretary said we’re going to offer bridging proposals as we deem necessary. I don’t know that he’s specifically going to come with anything or arrive with anything, but we’re willing to do that. But again, we can’t impose a solution. This is something that both parties have to want and work towards.

QUESTION: Mark, so is it fair to describe that as shuttle diplomacy by Mitchell?

MR. TONER: I think P.J. was reluctant to get into any details about how – or any characterizations of this current stage we’re in. I would just say that – on Friday – but I would just say that we’re going to remain hard at work. The Secretary underscored our resolve. We’re not discouraged. We realize that when one way is blocked, we’re going to seek another, and we’re not going to lose hope. Neither should the people of the region. We’re going to continue to advance this process any way possible.

Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on Ambassador Holbrooke’s exact medical condition at this point? There’s been various reporting and I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page. And are there any plans for an interim replacement as he recovers?

MR. TONER: I really can’t give you any more detail on his condition beyond what the Secretary just said in Canada and beyond what we’ve said in statements yesterday and over the weekend. He is in critical but stable condition. Obviously, the medical team worked extensively on him, I believe 20 hours of surgery. But beyond that, I really don’t have any more details.

I can say that in terms of successor, the SRAP team here at State remains hard at work. Obviously, there’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan review process under way led by the White House. That proceeds, and Frank Ruggiero in that office remains hard at work on that process. And beyond that --

QUESTION: Is he the acting head, Ruggiero?

MR. TONER: I believe so.


QUESTION: And speaking of that, can you give us an update on how – what kind of contributions specifically has come from the State Department on that review and how you intend to deal with it Friday? I know we were talking that maybe some briefings coming out of here or Defense, or certainly the White House.

MR. TONER: Right. I mean I don't have much to say in terms of – stay tuned, essentially, Jill, on whether we’re going to do any briefings as the week proceeds. Obviously, this is an NSC conducted review, but also it’s an interagency process, and they’re getting everyone’s input. It’s essentially diagnostic in nature. We’re trying to determine how we’re doing on our core objective, which is essentially to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, as well as build a viable and prosperous Afghan Government. On timing though, I refer to my – and defer to my colleagues at the White House. And also in terms of any public comments or events, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And just to make crystal clear, as you’re saying, would –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- will the illness of Ambassador Holbrooke have any influence on the way this would be carried out on Thursday or the participation of the State Department?

MR. TONER: Well, clearly someone with Ambassador Holbrooke’s intellect, his experience – we’ll miss his input. Obviously, he’s been closely involved in this process all along, and we want him to be back healthy and back at work as soon as he’s physically able to be. We miss him, and we miss his input. But we’re going to remain hard at work. He’s built a very strong team in SRAP and they’re going to, obviously, continue to advance the ball.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: You can go.

MR. TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know has he regained consciousness at all over the weekend?

MR. TONER: I really don’t know, and I really can’t comment on his current status, beyond what I’ve said.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one more on the review. Do you know if this will involve an actual, a tangible report, and are there any plans to make that, even an executive summary, available to the public?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’d probably refer you to the White House for what might be published in terms of a report or any other kind of executive summary. I frankly don’t know.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Persian News Network, Voice of America. You must be aware that Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has replaced Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister with one of the high-ranking atomic energy organization in Iran. Do you think it has any effect on the 5+1 negotiation, having an atomic expert authority --

MR. TONER: Sure. The Secretary already spoke to this in Quebec, but just to reiterate what she said, our focus is, obviously, not on personalities; it’s policy-driven. We’re going to continue to urge Iran to adopt constructive polices in the region as well as comply with their international obligations regarding their nuclear program. If they do so, they’ll find that we, the United States and the P-5+1, that its neighbors and the broader international community are prepared to move forward on a new and constructive way with Iran. But frankly, our policy of the dual-track approach has not changed, and we’re just hopeful that Iran will address in a serious and constructive way the international community’s very real concerns about its nuclear program.

The Secretary also said we had a good start last week in Europe and we’re going to meet again in Istanbul next month, and we’re hopeful that this is the beginning of a process that will yield tangible results.

QUESTION: Mark, I’m sorry --

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: Back on that review.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The State Department participation, what it has given to that review – could you characterize that? I mean, obviously it’s the surge, how it’s working, which is a lot of DOD.

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you’ve got the civilian side of it. So what has the State Department contributed?

MR. TONER: Well, obviously -- I mean you’ve characterized it pretty well already. We’re obviously overseeing the civilian part of this effort, and obviously this is going to be an interagency process with Department of Defense, Department of State, as well as the NSC all contributing to this process of review. Again here, I don’t want to begin to characterize something that’s still in process and frankly is an NSC-led operation. I think it’s an assessment of where we’re at. I would refer to them really to give greater detail. We’re obviously working hard at expanding our civilian presence in Afghanistan. We’ve made great strides this past year, and we’re going to continue to work towards that, obviously with the ultimate goal of extending the governance, the reach of the Afghan Government, of growing Afghanistan’s security forces, and ultimately therein lies the solution to Afghanistan.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s been described as a report card. Can you say, at least on the civilian side, that the State Department will be giving itself a passing grade? Just, if anything, can you give us that?

MR. TONER: Obviously, the challenges in Afghanistan are considerable, but I would say that working under difficult circumstances in this last year, we have made great strides, and we’ve -- I think we have had success in extending that civilian reach to more areas of the country and really – we’ve long said -- every expert on Afghanistan has long said this can’t be won through military means alone. That’s been a common refrain. And so when we – when this Administration took on the Afghanistan issue, problem, challenge, it really tried to build up that civilian side because that’s ultimately what’s going to create the capacity and the capability of the Afghan Government. And so we’ve worked hard at that. And again, we have made progress, I think.

MR. TONER: Is that it? Thank you.

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