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 21, 2010
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. A few things to talk about before taking your questions.
At the conclusion of the briefing you’ll see a statement by Secretary Clinton joining the President and Vice President in saluting Iraq’s political leaders for forming a new, inclusive government that respects the will of the Iraqi people, reflects the nation’s diversity, and demonstrates a commitment to democratic ideals. Let me simply say that the Secretary concludes her statement that “The formation of this government is a milestone in the emergence of the new Iraq. It constitutes a resounding rejection of the extremists who sought to derail the democratic process and sow discord among Iraqis. Iraq is a great nation with a promising future, and we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the new government to help our Iraqi friends build on what they have already achieved.” But the full statement will be available at the conclusion of the briefing.
QUESTION: P.J., Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he’s going to ask – or I should say Prime Minister Netanyahu says he is asking for Jonathan Pollard to be released. Is the Administration inclined to do the prime minister any favors at the moment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, this would not be the first time that Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised this issue. But I’m not aware that he has made any formal request, which I believe it was part of his statement that he will raise this in a formal way with the United States Government.
QUESTION: Well, is the U.S. inclined to – would the U.S. be inclined to consider such a request?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is a – if such a request were formally made, there’s obviously a legal process that would be undertaken to evaluate it.
MR. CROWLEY: And?
QUESTION: Would the Administration be inclined to do this favor for Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as – I mean, again, since there’s no formal request, it’s hard to –
QUESTION: The guy just went on Israel radio and said he was doing – I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, look, this is an issue that Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised from time to time, both in his current incarnation and in his previous incarnation. All I can tell you is Jonathan Pollard remains in prison.
QUESTION: And the last time it was – in his last incarnation when he raised it, what was the – what happened?
MR. CROWLEY: Jonathan Pollard remained in prison.
QUESTION: That was during the Clinton Administration?
MR. CROWLEY: That was during the Clinton Administration.
QUESTION: And were there threats from people to resign if such clemency were granted?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not recall that kind – there were –
QUESTION: Seems to me you were in the thick of it.
MR. CROWLEY: There was –
QUESTION: If you don’t recall, I’d be really surprised.
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. There were spirited discussions about this issue.
QUESTION: And those spirited discussions, what came –
MR. CROWLEY: Resulted in no change in Mr. Pollard’s status.
QUESTION: Exactly. Well, is there any reason to believe that if such spirited discussions were had again, there might be a different result?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, if the prime minister wants to raise this with the United States Government again, obviously it is his option to do so.
QUESTION: Well, let’s take it away from the Pollard case and just in general, is the Administration at this moment inclined to do anything that the Israeli prime minister wants it to do as a favor --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- given the fact that he has done so many favors for you over the past year and a half?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, are – we continue to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on creating conditions for a framework agreement, and in the context of these issues, we will be happy to work with the parties on a variety of interests as we try to advance this effort. I don’t want to make any bold predictions one way or the other, but we had meetings yesterday and today with David Hale, and Dan Shapiro yesterday talked to Yitzhak Molho. Today, they talked to Saeb Erekat. We will continue our consultations with the parties. We’re looking for the right combination of circumstances that gets the parties to an agreement on the core issues. And we will do whatever we can do to help advance this process.
QUESTION: Well, getting –
MR. CROWLEY: In the context of advancing Middle East peace, if either the Palestinians or the Israelis want to raise with us issues of importance to them, we will consider all of this as we try to get them to an agreement.
QUESTION: So you would consider a request to release a person who was convicted of espionage –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not –
QUESTION: -- almost of treason in relation to the –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not passing judgment.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering, are you –
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. Matt –
QUESTION: Are you willing to consider linking the two?
MR. CROWLEY: It is something that has come up in the context of Middle East peace, both past and present. We understand this is a matter of importance to the Israeli Government and to the Israeli people, but our focus is on achieving Middle East peace, and anything that we might evaluate in the future will be based on that context.
QUESTION: Does that imply that you see some kind of relationship between a convicted spy and –
MR. CROWLEY: No, no. What I’m –
QUESTION: -- Middle East peace?
MR. CROWLEY: -- saying is others may well see a connection, but again, as I said at the beginning, if the Israeli Government makes a formal request, there is a legal process overseen by the Department of Justice to evaluate such requests.
QUESTION: You’re suggesting that there might – that you –
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just – you, as a matter of a statement of fact, said that in the context of Middle East peace, in 1998, the Israeli Government raised this issue with President Clinton. That is a fact. And in the context of Middle East peace, the Israeli Government has raised this with the Obama Administration, and as indicated by the prime minister, may well raise it again.
We understand that this is an important issue to the Israeli people. And we are willing to – if the Israeli Government makes a formal request, we have a legal process that allows for the evaluation of such requests. I can’t predict what we’ll do in the future --
QUESTION: All right. Well, there is also --
MR. CROWLEY: -- other than saying that there is a legal process if such a request is forthcoming.
QUESTION: Well, my understanding was that the legal process for Mr. Pollard himself was that he is eligible – he’s not eligible for parole until 2015. Are you saying –
MR. CROWLEY: And --
QUESTION: You’re saying that there’s a way that that can be sped up in the context of Middle East peace?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, you’re asking me to predict the future, Matt. I can’t do that.
QUESTION: Well, it seems to me that you’re leaving the door open to making some kind of a concession to the Israelis --
MR. CROWLEY: No, what I’m --
QUESTION: -- that is really irrelevant to the --
MR. CROWLEY: -- I’m just simply noting the fact this has come up before. It could well come up in the future. Beyond that, I’m not making any predictions whatsoever.
QUESTION: So has it been approached as part of a larger Middle East peace deal? Could it be part of a larger deal in this case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, you’re asking a hypothetical, Said. The prime minister today said he plans to raise this issue in some formal way with the United States Government. If and when he does that, there is, in fact, a formal process for us to review those kinds of requests, and that formal process exists within the Department of Justice. All I said was this is an issue that has come up before, and it could well come up in the future.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. --
QUESTION: Could we have a --
QUESTION: -- Government ever brought up the – ever brought this up in the context of Middle East peace?
MR. CROWLEY: Have we brought it up?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Could we have a status report on the mission of Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Hale and what they’ve done in --
MR. CROWLEY: They will be returning to the United States today, having completed consultations with Mr. Molho yesterday and Mr. Erekat today.
QUESTION: And do you know if there is a reaction, if there’s going to be a reaction to the Human Rights Watch report?
MR. CROWLEY: We are – we have the report, and we are reading it.
QUESTION: So are we likely to see a statement or a reaction or a comment?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as of when I came down here, we were still evaluating the report.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I – on Iran, the sanctions that Treasury announced this morning, could you talk us through what State’s role was, if any, in helping to select these new targets? And more broadly, where do you think we stand in the sanctions – the U.S. unilateral sanctions process? I mean, are they going to keep on coming? Is this – are we zero – narrowing down on the ones that we really think are important? Are we expanding the scope?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, this is a process that is led by the Department of Treasury. We obviously have a role to play and cooperate fully in the work of Under Secretary Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Department of Treasury.
All I would tell you is that this is part of the ongoing game of cat and mouse, if you will, between Iran and the international community. We have significant sanctions on Iran. They don’t remain static. They try to do everything that they can to evade these sanctions. And as they take actions, we also take corresponding actions. So these are efforts today that are in reaction to steps that Iran has taken to try to circumvent the sanctions that we think are having an effect on Iran.
QUESTION: So it doesn’t represent a broadening or a redefining of what the sanctions --
MR. CROWLEY: It’s certainly not a redefining. We continue to look at what’s happening in Iran and continue to sanction those entities that we think are controlled by the government and are directly related to their proliferation activities.
QUESTION: On Iraq --
QUESTION: Have you reacted to Iranian threats to Pakistan?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The Iranians, they directly threatened Pakistan to take action against the terror groups or they will take unilateral action.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t understand the question.
QUESTION: There was a bomb blast in Iran, and the Iranians are blaming Pakistanis. And they have – the Iranian president called Pakistani president over the phone and told him to arrest the people who are involved.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: On Iraq, the President called the formation of the government a promising moment. Why is that a promising moment, considering that they were able to fill 29 out of 42 posts, it was really divided along sectarian-ethnic lines, and the stalemates seems to be ongoing. Could you share with us why is this a really promising moment, beyond just announcing the government?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s a promising moment because it is a government that was made in Iraq as part of an Iraqi political process. Admittedly, it went into overtime and took longer than we might have first anticipated. But at the end of this process, you have an inclusive government; you have a government that represents broadly the will of the Iraqi people. It does include all of the major communities within Iraq. Thus, it is – I think will be broadly seen as credible and legitimate, and now this government has a lot of work to do. Iraq still has political challenges that it needs to address. There needs to be a hydrocarbons law. There needs to be effective action to reduce Arab-Kurd tensions within the country. But we now have a capable government that we believe will advance the interests of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Could you share with us the fate of the strategy council that was announced some three weeks ago, and Mr. (inaudible) commented on that during the conference call -- the strategy council that – to bring in Mr. Allawi and his Iraqiya, to allow him space to govern, so to speak, reporting to the prime minister. There was a strategy council that was formed almost parallel to the government. Could you tell us what has happened? What is the fate of that strategy council?
MR. CROWLEY: I would actually defer to the Iraqi Government. I mean, there is a government in place. It is broadly inclusive. You’re right; not every position has been filled. But you have commitments from each of the major political blocs to support and participate in this government. There will be further announcements in the coming days as Prime Minister Maliki fills out these positions, but -- we have been supportive of this process, but it has been, throughout, an Iraqi-led process.
QUESTION: But there was a body that was created.
MR. CROWLEY: I --
QUESTION: Almost a parallel body.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the fate of that body?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the importance of that was that the major political players and factions inside Iraq got together and hammered out the – and reached agreement on the formation of a government, and that’s what’s important here. There was a political process, and that political process has yielded what we think will be an effective government. It doesn’t remove every challenge that Iraq faces, but at least now you have a government that is able to move ahead and tackle these difficult issues, and like our government, not the least of which is forming a budget and moving ahead.
So it did take a long time, but suggestions that we either did or should have dictated the terms of the government, – we did nothing of the kind. We supported a process, as did other countries from the region, and ultimately it was Iraqis themselves that got together, worked through the political challenges, and have formed a government. And this is an important milestone. So you had differences of opinion, you had a very close election, but it was resolved peacefully. You have a government in place, and you have all of the factions committed to participate in and support this government. This is a very, very important day for the future of Iraq.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Iraq, still, what are the lessons that you have learned from Iraq which could be implemented in Afghanistan or are being implemented in Afghanistan?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s hard to apply lessons in one to the other. I think there was a credible political process, an effective election. In a young democracy like Iraq, clearly there were irregularities, there were questions. But those questions were raised, they were sorted through, and they were resolved. But what you have here – had – what you should see here is genuine politics happening in Iraq, and challenges and questions and disagreements were resolved peacefully. That is a lesson that probably can apply anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: The New York Times reported today that they – there’s a sense of frustration in the Administration that Pakistan is not doing enough and some of the military generals wants permission to go ahead and cross the border to hit the terrorist safe haven. Do you agree with the assessment? If not, why?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would just caution, do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. But we have a strategic dialogue with Pakistan. As we’ve said here many times, Pakistan has taken considerable action in recent years. No military in the world has suffered more casualties in the fight against terrorism than Pakistan. That said, clearly there are insurgents within Pakistan’s border that are a threat to the government itself, and we will continue to work with Pakistan and encourage Pakistan to continue to do everything possible to defeat this insurgency, which is a risk – which is a danger to Pakistan and a danger to others.
QUESTION: As the year comes to an end, how do you describe your relationship with Pakistan? Is it strained? Is it friendly? How is it?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s strategic.