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Briefing Skipper: Israel, Karzai, Kerry, Gration, Burma

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Wednesday’s briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley: Still no breakthrough on the move to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite that State Department officials were optimistic the Quartet would issue a ...

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Wednesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

Still no breakthrough on the move to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite that State Department officials were optimistic the Quartet would issue a statement this week, there are still disputes unresolved and so no move to direct talks can be announced. "We think we're close. We can't say whether today we're closer than we were yesterday. We believe we're close, and we're working aggressively to move them into direct negotiations," Crowley said. Special Envoy George Mitchell's team and the NSC are working the phones. "This is in full- court press." There were clues in Crowley's cryptic comments about the ongoing negotiations. For example, he indicated that the U.S. does not support preconditions for direct talks that the Palestinian side is widely reported to be demanding, such as statements on borders or settlements. "We believe that leverage is obtained inside these negotiations, not outside these negotiations," Crowley said. Also, there is now no assurance a Quartet statement is coming. "If a Quartet statement can be helpful, one will be issued," he said. "There have been discussions with the parties as to the content of the Quartet statement and what that would suggest in terms of the conduct of the negotiations. That is an area that we are still working with the parties." State is still trying to figure out the meaning of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decree that all security contractors have to shut down operations within four months time. "We are still trying to fully understand what the Afghan government's concerns are, trying to address those concerns," Crowley said. There is an exemption for guards protecting the embassy, which is good, and State is looking at what exceptions to the rule might exist. If the contractors leave, the U.S. military troops might have to stop fighting to do their jobs, which nobody wants to see, Crowley added. Karzai didn't give the U.S. a heads up before making his announcement. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, is in Afghanistan this week, traveling with Dan Feldman from Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's office. Crowley didn't deny but didn't confirm reports that Kerry was delivering a list of benchmarks regarding how Karzai could reassure Washington that he is taking steps to combat corruption. "He was carrying his own message as part of his travel," Crowley said. "So he's not carrying a special message from the administration?" a reporter pressed? "We coordinated with him before he went," Crowley admitted. Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Khartoum, Sudan. "He is on a trip to push the National Congress Party in the North and Sudan's People Liberation Movement -- the SPLM -- in the South to live up to all of the criteria under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and continue to move forward in preparation for the referendum next January," Crowley said. Gration also visited the Kalma camp in South Darfur and received assurances from the Sudanese government that full and equal access by aid organizations has been restored to the Kalma camp and the surrounding areas. No comment on the fact that Sudan continues to deport aid workers. No real comment on the decision by the Colombian court ruling blocking a defense pact with the U.S. that would give American troops more access to Colombian bases. "This is part of a legal process within Colombia. We expect it will be resolved in interaction between among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Colombia," Crowley said. Four Americans died in a tragic bus crash in the Philippines, apparently due to faulty brakes. Crowley declined to confirm reports that the U.S. has decided to back a U.N. commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma.

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Wednesday’s briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Still no breakthrough on the move to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite that State Department officials were optimistic the Quartet would issue a statement this week, there are still disputes unresolved and so no move to direct talks can be announced. "We think we’re close. We can’t say whether today we’re closer than we were yesterday. We believe we’re close, and we’re working aggressively to move them into direct negotiations," Crowley said. Special Envoy George Mitchell’s team and the NSC are working the phones. "This is in full- court press."
  • There were clues in Crowley’s cryptic comments about the ongoing negotiations. For example, he indicated that the U.S. does not support preconditions for direct talks that the Palestinian side is widely reported to be demanding, such as statements on borders or settlements. "We believe that leverage is obtained inside these negotiations, not outside these negotiations," Crowley said. Also, there is now no assurance a Quartet statement is coming. "If a Quartet statement can be helpful, one will be issued," he said. "There have been discussions with the parties as to the content of the Quartet statement and what that would suggest in terms of the conduct of the negotiations. That is an area that we are still working with the parties."
  • State is still trying to figure out the meaning of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decree that all security contractors have to shut down operations within four months time. "We are still trying to fully understand what the Afghan government’s concerns are, trying to address those concerns," Crowley said. There is an exemption for guards protecting the embassy, which is good, and State is looking at what exceptions to the rule might exist. If the contractors leave, the U.S. military troops might have to stop fighting to do their jobs, which nobody wants to see, Crowley added. Karzai didn’t give the U.S. a heads up before making his announcement.
  • Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, is in Afghanistan this week, traveling with Dan Feldman from Special Representative Richard Holbrooke’s office. Crowley didn’t deny but didn’t confirm reports that Kerry was delivering a list of benchmarks regarding how Karzai could reassure Washington that he is taking steps to combat corruption. "He was carrying his own message as part of his travel," Crowley said. "So he’s not carrying a special message from the administration?" a reporter pressed? "We coordinated with him before he went," Crowley admitted.
  • Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Khartoum, Sudan. "He is on a trip to push the National Congress Party in the North and Sudan’s People Liberation Movement — the SPLM — in the South to live up to all of the criteria under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and continue to move forward in preparation for the referendum next January," Crowley said. Gration also visited the Kalma camp in South Darfur and received assurances from the Sudanese government that full and equal access by aid organizations has been restored to the Kalma camp and the surrounding areas. No comment on the fact that Sudan continues to deport aid workers.
  • No real comment on the decision by the Colombian court ruling blocking a defense pact with the U.S. that would give American troops more access to Colombian bases. "This is part of a legal process within Colombia. We expect it will be resolved in interaction between among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Colombia," Crowley said.
  • Four Americans died in a tragic bus crash in the Philippines, apparently due to faulty brakes.
  • Crowley declined to confirm reports that the U.S. has decided to back a U.N. commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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