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Washington, DC
July 27, 2011

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 July 27, 2011

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12:52 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Go ahead. Are we switching from –

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. TONER: Then I should start with Goyal. He had his hand up first. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. TONER: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thanks. Two questions. One, you must be aware of this case of Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from American – Kashmiri American Council. Do you believe that he was working for the ISI and the Pakistani Government acting here and what – in the name of Kashmir cause? Because many Kashmiris are very angry that he had used Kashmir to – working for Pakistan. What my question is here: He has admitted that he was getting money from ISI, and some – he was paying to the lawmakers. He had lobbied for Pakistan. But finally, U.S. money was being recycled. U.S. aid –

MR. TONER: Goyal, can I stop you?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. TONER: I just – I’m aware of the case, and I’m not going to discuss the case. It’s an ongoing legal matter right now. I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Following on that, can you comment on – I guess it’s an internal note that was reported in The Washington Post and then also The Cable blog that suggested that there – if the U.S. went forward with this program on the visas that there would be a consequence for Russian participation in Afghanistan and other areas?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. One more time, the question. I apologize.

QUESTION: I guess that there was some sort of internal communication where the Russians had said or threatened that if you went forward with this visa program that there would be consequences in terms of their participation in Afghanistan. This is reported by The Washington Post and Josh Rogin’s Cable blog.

MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about any internal communications that we may have had. I’m just going to say what I just said, which is that this is a program that’s conducted worldwide, and we stand by our findings.

QUESTION: Can I ask it another way? Have the Russians threatened you in terms of their work, cooperation in Afghanistan, and linking it to this visa issue?

MR. TONER: Again, our relationship with Russia, the so-called reset, is based on areas where we can cooperate productively together. One of those areas is, in fact, Afghanistan, where we have seen a lot of progress, and we certainly appreciate the – Russia’s support for our efforts in Afghanistan, transportation over flights, and other capabilities they’ve allowed us to carry out. And we’re appreciative of that, but it’s certainly something that’s in Russia’s interest as well.

QUESTION: My question is regarding a new strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. Do --

MR. TONER: Are we done with the Magnitsky? Okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. A new --

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A new strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. It didn’t produce any result, and Afghanistan Government has their own conditions. Do you think that Obama’s Administration accepted those conditions of President Karzai?

MR. TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: New strategic agreement that they are talking about it. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Agreement – again, I think we remain committed to working with Afghanistan very broadly across a range of issues – economic, political, security – in trying to build up its institutions but also trying to build that kind of prosperity and the capabilities that we believe are necessary for Afghanistan to succeed on its own. Ultimately, our goal here is to create an Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet, both in terms of security but also economically. I’m not aware of the conditions that you mentioned. I could certainly try to get an update for you on that. But more broadly, that’s what – where we want to see the relationship go forward.

QUESTION: On --

QUESTION: And what stage these talks on a strategic agreement with Afghanistan?

MR. TONER: As I said, I’ll get that (inaudible) for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any timeline for that?

MR. TONER: No. I’ll get an update for you.

QUESTION: It just – it was supposed to be last year, like you said.

MR. TONER: I’ll get an update for you.

QUESTION: May I just follow up quickly? As far as security is concerned, Mark, in Afghanistan, according to The Washington Post annual report, al-Qaida may be going down or going to be end of al-Qaida in Afghanistan around the globe. But my question is here: Can you really have end of terrorism and al-Qaida without Pakistan’s cooperation? My question is: How much Pakistan’s cooperation is now more or less, comparing last year or --

MR. TONER: I’m sorry. The last nugget of your question was?

QUESTION: I mean, how much now U.S. is getting cooperation from Pakistan as far as security in Afghanistan or terrorism is concerned, according to this report?

MR. TONER: Right. Yeah. I mean, your – look, we believe that we have – we and our international partners have put considerable pressure on al-Qaida and degraded much of its abilities, its capabilities, including its capacity to train and raise money, train recruits, plan attacks outside the region. That said, it still remains a threat, and in terms of Pakistan, it’s clearly an existential threat for Pakistan. These terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, have been responsible for thousands of deaths within Pakistan. And as we have said many times, that we remain committed to working with Pakistan in addressing these common issues and these common – threats, rather. And we’re seeking a productive relationship with Pakistan. We’ve made certain requests of them, and we’re – but we’re fundamentally committed to that cooperation.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: After the President announced the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, there have been several high-profile killings in Afghanistan. Today, the mayor of Kandahar was also killed. How do you view the security situation in Afghanistan? What is your assessment of it?

MR. TONER: Well, I would just like to comment on the assassination. Obviously, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi and extend our deepest condolences to his family. As you mentioned, we’ve seen media reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. We have no independent confirmation of those reports. As you know, they do this quite often. It’s very unclear whether they actually are responsible for it.

I can’t really talk to you about what it means in terms of the Taliban’s capabilities. What we have said is that we believe the surge has clearly put pressure on them, militarily, and that they are feeling the heat. And what I can also say is that these kinds of actions, these kinds of heinous acts really, only strengthen our resolve, as I just mentioned, to work with Afghanistan, the Government of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, to address these fundamental issues of security, stability, and to help kind of – help create, rather, the institutions that will lead to a more successful, prosperous, and peaceful future for Pakistan – or for Afghanistan.

Yeah. Go ahead. Go ahead, Sean. Okay.

QUESTION: Just briefly, I was wondering if you had anything to say about the talks between India and Pakistan, the foreign ministers. Is it a positive step that it went ahead, despite the Mumbai --

MR. TONER: Always a positive step, always a productive or constructive in our view to see the two countries talking. And it’s constructive for the region, it’s constructive for both those countries. I’m not aware of what came out of them specifically, but more broadly, I can say that we always view that kind of dialogue as constructive.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. had any role to play in bringing the two countries together for dialogue?

MR. TONER: Did the --

QUESTION: Did the U.S. had any role to play in bringing the two countries for peace dialogues?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware of any direct or indirect role.

Yeah, go ahead. No, I apologize. Jill had a longstanding question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Libya, but --

MR. TONER: Are we off of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or a couple more?

QUESTION: I just had a supplemental question on –

MR. TONER: No worries. We’ll finish with the region, then we’ll move to Libya.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, you said that some specific demands are being made to Pakistan with regards to Afghanistan. That’s something you have said earlier as well and some of these demands are already known. So if you would just tell us if you’re satisfied with the cooperation coming through from Pakistan on these issues, or there are still problems that need to be tackled.

MR. TONER: Well, no, I wouldn’t say we’re there yet. I think we’re continuing to work through some of these issues. Again, I’m not going to be specific about what we’re looking for, except to say that after the Abbottabad raid, the questions it raised about support networks, we had serious questions about Pakistan, both this Administration as well as on the Hill, and we’re seeking to address those questions, and we’re working with the Pakistani Government to do so. But at the same time, our message is clear, that we want to build a stronger long-term relationship with Pakistan, counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan.

QUESTION: Where does this relationship stand today? Hundred percent, 50 percent? (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: We’re working through our issues.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: One more question. It says that U.S. officials start to discuss with the Taliban elements. Is that true, and what topic they start to discuss with –

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, more broadly – I certainly don’t have any updates for you. We support an Afghan-led process on reconciliation, provided that these Taliban adhere to the Afghan constitution and renounce violence and renounce ties with al-Qaida. I don't have any progress report. As the Secretary alluded to in her – in remarks about a month ago, it’s hard work, it’s necessary work. But again, we have certain redlines that we adhere to, but we do support this Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, one more.

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Last week, over the weekend, the Pakistani Government issued a press release saying that there’s a slander campaign against Pakistan going on inside the U.S. after Dr. Fai of Kashmiri American Council was arrested here. I’m not talking about that case --

MR. TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but the slander campaign, do you agree with their view that there’s a campaign against Pakistan going on inside this country?

MR. TONER: Inside this country? A slander campaign?

QUESTION: In the United States. Yeah.

MR. TONER: Again, I don't know exactly what he was referring to. I think, just speaking on behalf of the American Government, we believe our relationship with Pakistan is in both our national security interests, and we’re committed to moving that forward in a positive direction.

QUESTION: And has the visa issue been resolved? The lot of visas pending U.S. – by Pakistan; has that been --

MR. TONER: We’ve raised those concerns about visas with the Pakistani Government. I’m not – I’ll try to see if I can get an update for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Pakistani people that --

MR. TONER: A lot of pent up questions, Calit? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: After Kayani’s visit – after General Pasha’s visit to U.S., Pakistan has issued 84 – 87 visas to the U.S. persons here. Can you confirm that?

MR. TONER: I cannot confirm that.

QUESTION: Admiral – Joint – Admiral said in a press conference at the Foreign Press Center that the aid --

MR. TONER: Who did?

QUESTION: Admiral Mullen.

MR. TONER: Admiral Mullen, thank you.

QUESTION: He said that the aid of $800 million to Pakistan was stopped because of two reasons: One was that they threw out our trainers, and the second was they are not issuing visas to us. So what is the State Department --

MR. TONER: I’ll – as I said, I’ll – I’m aware that there have been delays in the visa issuance process. We’ve raised those concerns with Pakistan. I’m not aware – or I’m not – I don’t have an update for you today on where that issue – that specific issues stands. I’ll try to get you one. Admiral Mullen did speak about this pause in military assistance. On the civilian side, our assistance cooperation – our assistance and cooperation does continue.

Can we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah, move on.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Okay. Let’s go to Libya.

QUESTION: Libya? The UK --

MR. TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- now recognizes the TNC as the legitimate representative of the – of Libya, and they are kicking out the government ambassador.

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to do the same?

MR. TONER: Well, you might remember we did do pretty much that in March, when we did declare – or we did ask the Libyan embassy to cease its operations here or suspend its operations. And we asked – I believe we gave the diplomats affiliated with the embassy a certain time period to return to Libya or to leave the country. As you know, Ambassador Adjali had stepped down as ambassador for the Qadhafi government – or Qadhafi regime prior to that, and he remains as the representative of the Transitional National Council here. So that’s where we’re at.

QUESTION: But it’s not – I mean, is he considered now the official representative, the ambassador from Libya?

MR. TONER: Where we’re at with this is, obviously, we have the recognition of the Transitional National Council that took place in Istanbul two weeks ago. And so we’re consulting with the Transitional National Council on a broad range of issues, and that includes diplomatic accreditation and representation. Legally, they are able to appoint diplomats and reopen their embassy in Washington with our consent, of course. And just an update on that, we did yesterday receive an official request from the Transitional National Council regarding the reopening of the Libyan embassy here in Washington, and we’re reviewing that request.

QUESTION: So they’re saying that they want to send out --

MR. TONER: They want to reopen their embassy – or they want to open an embassy – reopen the – their embassy here – and as the Transitional National Council as the recognized Government of Libya.

QUESTION: All right. And just to make sure, so you are looking at that request because of legal issues? Is that --

MR. TONER: There’s just a number – this is – again, we just had the recognition a little under two weeks ago, I believe. This is obviously, as we talked about that – that that puts a large block of issues that we need to discuss on the table – diplomatic status accreditation, representation are among those issues. And we’re looking at them, we’re talking with the TNC about them, and they did finally send in – not finally, but they did send an official request regarding the reopening of their embassy, and we’re reviewing that request. And we’ll work through these issues.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just – what’s the status of the property that the Libyan embassy would have? Would that be handed over to the TNC?

MR. TONER: That’s a very good question. I’m not sure. It’s got diplomatic status, but I’m not sure whether they would be able to occupy that specific property. I think it is considered the Government of Libya’s property. But I’m not --

QUESTION: You mean the Qadhafi --

MR. TONER: Right. So I’ll have to see if there’s any legal constraints. That is likely amongst some of the issues that they’re looking at.

QUESTION: The British have decided to unfreeze all revenue for – so what is the U.S. doing about it?

MR. TONER: Again, we – by recognizing the TNC, the Transitional National Council, we are able to unfreeze some – not all, I understand – of their frozen assets. And we’re working through the many legal issues that we have to work through in order for that to happen.

QUESTION: I think I asked a couple weeks ago: Do we know how much money would be unfreezed?

MR. TONER: You remember well. Yeah.

QUESTION: Or could be unfreezed?

MR. TONER: And then we never got back with a dollar figure. I’m not sure we have an exact dollar figure. I’ll ask again.

QUESTION: And do you have a response to the appearance today of the perpetually-ill, always-on-his-last-days Lockerbie bomber at a rally in Tripoli?

MR. TONER: Well, Brad, we are – our views on Megrahi and his release are well-known. We continue to believe he never should have been released. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment.

Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the meeting tomorrow between Ehud Barak and the Secretary Hillary Clinton, what they’re going to talk about --

MR. TONER: About --

QUESTION: -- Israel?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, I can imagine they’ll talk about the state of the peace process, but they’ll also talk about regional issues as well. I – let’s let the meeting happen, and we’ll try to get you a readout. But he’s, obviously, someone who’s --

QUESTION: But there were some notes about the position of the U.S. in the next General Assembly in the United Nations in September. Is the U.S. having a position – they’re going to present the position to Barak or that something’s going to be discussed about this situation of the Palestinian state?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been very clear – our position on Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly on that issue. We believe it is not productive and that the only way to resolve these core issues is for the parties to get back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Not reflective in – what does that mean?

MR. TONER: They’re not reflective of our current operations. We’ve got missions in Afghanistan, we’ve got missions in Iraq that require a level of funding, frankly, that reflect the enormity of those missions and trying to build up, for example, in Afghanistan, democratic institutions, economic institutions, enhance security, and build in economic prosperity; and in Iraq, trying to help that fledgling government get on its feet as well as expand our diplomatic presence to other parts of the country. So these are enormous undertakings, not to mention everything else we’re doing in the world, from the Horn of Africa to our – to Asia.

And the Secretary spoke also not about our own security interests but also about economic interests and the importance of them. She spoke about that in her speech in Hong Kong. So we’ve got a full plate, and we’re committed to – if we’re committed to truly carrying out those missions, which, as I say, we believe are in our national interests, we cannot do so at the present funding level – or at the proposed funding level.

QUESTION: On that, is – you mentioned restrictions. Is that, for example, the Pakistan aid or the abortion language? Are those things that she’s concerned about?

MR. TONER: Again, I’ll just stop at what I – those restrictions. I don’t want to expand on it.

But go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you also have a comment on the bill they passed regarding – requiring a certification from the Secretary on cooperation from Pakistan, and if that certification was not coming through, it could be withheld?

MR. TONER: I don’t have a specific comment. I’ll try to get you a reaction

[This is a mobile copy of Middle East Digest - July 27, 2011]