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 14, 2009
QUESTION: There were some reports that the head of the CIA went to Israel to warn Israel not to attack Iran. So what is the official position of the U.S. regarding the possibility of preemptive strike?
MR. KELLY: Well, on your first question, I think you know what I’m going to answer. I refer you to the Agency’s press office.
On the other question, we, of course, believe that the multilateral track is the right way to go. Our goal with Iran is to get them to abandon their nuclear program and do it in such a way that is verifiable by international verification – or international inspections. And we are continuing that track.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the previous topic, just something – what Kirit asked about the charges? Reports are that he was charged with illegally entering a restricted zone and breaking immigration laws. You said you don’t have any details about that.
MR. KELLY: No, I just – personally, I haven’t seen – I haven’t seen the charges.
QUESTION: So that’s all new to you?
MR. KELLY: That particular – those particular details of the charges, yes, they’re new to me.
QUESTION: Could you look into that for us?
MR. KELLY: What exact charges he --
QUESTION: Well, that he was charged and what was --
MR. KELLY: So you’re looking for the Embassy to confirm what was – I mean, if you have the charges, what – I’m not sure what the question is.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what – is that your understanding as well? Is that the State Department’s understanding of what he’s been charged with?
MR. KELLY: Well, we can ask the Embassy to confirm it, but that’s what the charge is.
QUESTION: And then any sort of readout of whatever your consular officer saw in these court proceedings at --
MR. KELLY: Yeah, I don’t think we’d be able to provide that, frankly. I think that would be privileged.
QUESTION: If you can look into it, if it’s possible.
MR. KELLY: Yeah, okay, all right.
QUESTION: Has his family talked to you and are you concerned --
MR. KELLY: I’m not – not aware. We’re starting to get into areas of privacy that – I probably wouldn’t reveal that anyway.
QUESTION: You don’t have a Privacy Act waiver for him?
MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve given you what my guidance is, but I don’t think we do, though.
Go ahead, Dave. You look eager.
QUESTION: Back to Iran, there’s a press report this morning that the Administration is basically going to give Iran until like, the UN General Assembly in September to respond to the U.S. dialogue – an effort hasn’t started yet.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that coincide with your view on it?
MR. KELLY: Well, let me just say that we’re not setting any deadline. We’re not – and we’re not interested in setting any kind of specific or even notional timeline. We are, of course, monitoring very closely what the Iranians are doing, assessing progress. But it – we don’t have any timeline forward. What – you know, we’re not going to let this string out forever, of course, but we don’t have any time – timetable on it.
QUESTION: Well, what --
MR. KELLY: Yes. Sorry, Matt.
QUESTION: They were saying the same thing. They were saying the same thing, that they are watching the U.S. Administration and waiting for signs of change in policy, so --
MR. KELLY: Well, there is a change in policy. I mean, we have – we’ve decided that we – we’re going to – we want to – we’re going to have a seat at the table, of the P-5+1 table. We’ve decided to engage. We’ve decided that the – our previous approach of isolating Iran didn’t work. And so we want to give engagement a chance.
I’m sorry, Matt. You --
QUESTION: Well, I just – back on the whole idea of the timeline, then. This was first reported in the Israeli press over the weekend, this whole October idea. You’re saying that that’s incorrect?
MR. KELLY: I’m saying that we do not have any timeline.
QUESTION: Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?
MR. KELLY: I’m saying that we’ve decided that we want to get Iran to come back to the table and engage with us at the – on the P-5+1 process.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?
MR. KELLY: I – the information I have is that we have – that there is no timetable for Iran to come back to the --
QUESTION: Does that mean that these reports are incorrect?
MR. KELLY: I am not going to pass judgment on whether or not the reports are correct or incorrect. But the information I have is that there is no specific timeframe.
QUESTION: There seems to be a – you’re not able to – there seems to be a syllogism here that you’re unable to – if these reports say –
MR. KELLY: That’s a big word, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, if these reports say that you’re setting an October deadline for Iran to respond and you’re saying that there is no deadline, it would seem to me only logical that you could say then that these reports are not correct.
MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as I said yesterday, I really don’t like to lie, I’ll just say. (Laughter.) Okay? And then we’re going to move on, okay?
QUESTION: Yesterday, you didn’t --
MR. KELLY: There is no deadline for talks, okay?
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Yesterday, speaking about yesterday, you said that this assistant to Richard Holbrooke, Vali Nasr, didn’t go to Iran. You were sure 99 percent. Are you sure a hundred percent today that he didn’t go to Iran?
QUESTION: Since taking up position?
QUESTION: Since taking up his position.
MR. KELLY: I think we took this question, didn’t we? Did we get – I guess we didn’t post the answer. We still owe you an answer.
QUESTION: Still on Iran.
MR. KELLY: Kirit, yes.
QUESTION: I know we’ve been over this I think a couple times before. But there’s a new report out saying that the U.S. wanted to swap Saberi for the four diplomats who are being held in Irbil. The IRGC guys have been held for a while. Can you say categorically whether that’s true or not?
MR. KELLY: I can categorically say that’s not true.
QUESTION: Well, why was that so hard five minutes earlier?
MR. KELLY: (Laughter.) All right. I’m still working through this, Arshad.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, there are some reports that there are talks going on between the Afghani – the Afghan Government and the insurgents about the possibility they would be promised asylum in another country if they would lay down their arms. I’m just wondering if you have heard about these reports, if you can comment on them, if you support such talks, and what you think about the possibility that they’d be given asylum in another country, including one of the countries mentioned is Saudi Arabia.
MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen these reports, so I really am sorry. I can’t comment on it.