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Middle East Digest - May 12, 2009

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Washington, DC
May 12, 2009


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 May 12, 2009

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QUESTION: On to Afghanistan. The new commander, McChrystal – I know it’s a Pentagon matter, but do you have any response to this, any hopes of how he’ll work with your PRTs out there?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you heard what the President said. And we have a new strategy and a new mission. We have a new and able ambassador in Karl Eikenberry. And the President and Secretary Gates decided it was time for a change. As I said, we just thought it was the right time to make a change in our military command as well.

QUESTION: Would U.S. consider releasing some – some of the Iranian citizen arrested in Iraq two years ago, I think, on suspicion of helping the insurgents over there?

MR. KELLY: Well, let me – we look at this in a different way. First of all, there was no implied exchange. We simply welcome this as the right thing to do. In terms of the three Iranian detainees, there is a process in place there, as well. And – we’re – we work with the – with our Iraqi partners and – but I wouldn’t draw any connection between that case and the release of Roxana Saberi.

QUESTION: And what is this process? Where is it? At what point are we? Because –

MR. KELLY: You know, I – for details of that, it really is a Department of Defense matter.

QUESTION: Please, do you want to give any more details about what the United States did to win Ms. Saberi’s release, and also whether there’s been any contact by phone or otherwise by U.S. officials to her or her family today?

MR. KELLY: Well, of course, we pushed very hard publicly and also in a direct fashion. If you remember, we gave the Iranians an aide memoire. But in terms of follow-up contacts, it was really all through the Swiss Embassy. And beyond that, I really don’t have any more details to give you.

QUESTION: Any contact with her directly?

MR. KELLY: Any contact with her directly?

QUESTION: Yeah, now, since her release, with Roxana Saberi?

MR. KELLY: I – actually, I’m not sure about that. I think we – you know, I have to be very careful because of privacy concerns. And even if I take that question, I’m not sure I can – we can give you details, because as you probably know, we don’t have a privacy act waiver on her.

QUESTION: Well, then how is it that you – your predecessor and the Secretary, have been speaking out about this case publicly for months?

MR. KELLY: We can’t discuss the details, you know, personal details about her. We can discuss about – we can discuss aspects of her that are in the public domain, but when it comes to actual details of contacts with her or –

QUESTION: I’m sorry. One more issue. Do you have anything more specific to say about United States assistance to Pakistanis uprooted by the fighting?

MR. KELLY: Thank you for asking that question, because I do. We are, of course, very concerned about the well-being of civilians who are fleeing the fighting in the area. And we have personnel – USAID personnel on the ground in Pakistan – not in the Swat Valley, but in Pakistan – who are directing assistance to help them. We’ve provided a substantial amount of money through the International Organization for Migration. This is primarily to provide tents, to provide shelter and emergency relief supplies, food and medicine to the affected populations. And USAID and the U.S. Embassy continues to work closely with local and UN officials to discuss the scope of the problem.

QUESTION: How much money? Substantial?

MR. KELLY: $5 million, and that’s just the initial tranche, of course.

QUESTION: On Sri Lanka, there continues to be some serious incidents involving civilian deaths. I know that the U.S. put out a couple of statements yesterday. Is there anything going on so diplomatically beyond the rhetoric to try to deal with that situation?

MR. KELLY: This is a –we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Secretary Clinton is talking to her colleagues about it. I think you saw the comments of Foreign Minister Kouchner and Foreign Minister Miliband yesterday. The Secretary had a meeting, of course, with Foreign Minister Kouchner yesterday, has another one today. And I think the Secretary is very concerned about this and very engaged in it.

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