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Middle East Digest - May 18, 2009

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Washington, DC
May 18, 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 18, 2009

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QUESTION: Do you have any comment on The New York Times story about U.S. concerns that Pakistan is trying to expand its nuclear arsenal?

MR. KELLY: I do have some reaction to that story. I think that one thing going on here is that we really have two separate issues. On the one hand, the U.S. Government has committed to helping Pakistan meet the extremist threat from within. We’ve made the commitment to help them establish stability. We’ve said this is in our direct national interest to do so. So I wouldn’t link these two issues: the idea of our providing an assistance package and the fact that Pakistan has a nuclear capability.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up quickly?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: Wait a minute. Just one thing on this. I don’t quite get that. I mean, I realize that the story partly carried the inference that money from the assistance package could potentially strengthen the nuclear capability, and if not directly, at least implicitly by freeing up resources that might be used for the nuclear side because of the size of the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- economic assistance that might come through. So I don’t quite get why – I mean, it doesn’t address the underlying question of whether you believe the Pakistanis are indeed trying to strengthen their nuclear capability.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I’m not going to address the issue of whether or not the Pakistanis are increasing their nuclear capability. I think Admiral Mullen addressed that, and so I’ll defer to the Pentagon and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the reason why I’m saying, you know, that we shouldn’t connect these dots, that we shouldn’t make this connection, is because this assistance package is for very specific purposes. And we’re going to work very closely with the Government of Pakistan for us to meet our joint goal. We have a joint goal with our Pakistani partner here of helping them reestablish stability. I don’t see necessarily a connection between the two.

We’re going to make sure that the package is well spent. We’re going to work closely with the Government of Pakistan to make sure that the money is spent for the specific purposes that the U.S. Congress had in mind.

QUESTION: And just to go to Congress for one sec. Do you believe that the legislation now before the Congress has sufficient accountability provisions to ensure that money is not diverted from X to Y?

MR. KELLY: Well, I personally have not seen the legislation. I’ll say, as a general principle, we, of course, are very scrupulous custodians of the U.S. taxpayers’ money, we are very responsive to Congress, and we always consult very closely with them on the money that they appropriate for us.

QUESTION: Ian, following on that, are you specifically referring – in your answer to Arshad’s question – to the Kerry-Lugar assistance, or are you also referring to the coalition support funds or to the emergency supplemental that would include the $400 million and the $700 million total? What are you referring to?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, I understand your question. I’m referring to our assistance in general, but more specifically to the recent packages that we sent up.

QUESTION: Meaning Kerry-Lugar more specifically?

MR. KELLY: It’s the assistance package.

QUESTION: So including the emergency and the supplemental?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, including that all. Yeah.


QUESTION: A question on Burma, if I could --

MR. KELLY: Any others on --

QUESTION: Can we stick with this?

MR. KELLY: Sure, yes.

QUESTION: What surety can you give to Congress and the Pakistanis in Pakistan that their nuclear weapons are safe and they are not going to go into the hands of Taliban because there are now heavy campaigns going on against Taliban and millions of Pakistanis are being displaced, and what U.S. doing about that?

MR. KELLY: Well, on the issue of the security of the nuclear capacity, the President and Secretary have addressed this already. We have confidence in their command and control. In very general terms, I’ll say that one of the very highest priorities of this Administration, and of really of any administration, is to ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. So we are looking forward to strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. You know, we have talks leading to the renewal of the treaty next year. So it is an important issue for us.

On the issue of the IDPs, let me see if I have an update on that. Just hold on a second. I’m sure I do. The number of IDPs has risen dramatically from over 500,000 to over 1.5 million. The U.S. and the international community are trying to identify resources and ways to assist the people and Government of Pakistan quickly in meeting the needs of these IDPs.

And then, you had a question on --

QUESTION: Yeah, just a couple questions. But first, is there a specific dollar – additional dollar amount of U.S. aid to assist the displaced persons?

MR. KELLY: You know, I don’t have a specific dollar amount.


MR. KELLY: We’ll get that information back to you.

QUESTION: I think the Pentagon said this morning – not a dollar amount, but they talked about halal MREs, stuff like that. Do you have any detail on that?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t have any detail on that.

QUESTION: So we can – can we just go back to the Pakistan nuclear arsenal? I wasn’t sure in your initial answer whether you said that the United States opposes Pakistan increasing the size of --

MR. KELLY: No, I didn’t say that. I hope I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: What is – does the --

MR. KELLY: I simply stated a fact, that Pakistan has a nuclear capability and that we shouldn’t draw any links between the issues of our assistance package and their nuclear capability.

QUESTION: Does the United States oppose the idea of Pakistan increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal?

MR. KELLY: I think I referred you back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on that.

QUESTION: And what you referred us to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on was the question of whether or not it is, in fact, expanding its nuclear arsenal. And the chairman was quite explicit in stating that Pakistan is, in fact, expanding its arsenal. The question that Charlie’s asking, which I’m seeking to follow up on, is whether or not the U.S. believes that to be a good thing.

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to comment on that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR. KELLY: It’s just – I don’t think it’s my place right now to comment on the issue of whether or not it’s a good thing if they expand their nuclear capability.

QUESTION: The Department has been very vocal in stating what things Pakistan must do in order to contribute to stability, which you just identified as a key goal of ours. So what should prevent you from addressing whether or not the expansion of a nuclear arsenal would or would not contribute to stability?

MR. KELLY: You know, James, I appreciate the question. And welcome back, I hope you had a good break.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: But I’ll just say that we are working very closely with the Government of Pakistan – with the elected Government of Pakistan. We have this joint effort, as I said before, to help them deal with the instability within their borders, and help them deal with the threat of extremism within their borders. But, you know, it’s – I’m not going to speculate on their intentions, whether they’re increasing it or not increasing. These are intelligence matters and I’m just not going to make a comment on it.

QUESTION: If U.S. officials continually tell us publicly that for Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability would be destabilizing, I don’t see why we can’t address as well whether Pakistan’s expansion of its nuclear arsenal, which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs confirmed is happening, also contributes to stability or destabilizing its region.

MR. KELLY: Well, I draw a bright line between Pakistan and Iran. On one hand, we have – in Pakistan, we have an elected democratic government who is our partner in dealing with extremism. And I wouldn’t link them in the same sentence.

QUESTION: One last question if I might, and Arshad raised this a bit, which is that essentially, money is fungible. So as scrupulous as you might be in steering U.S. taxpayer funds to directed purposes in Pakistan, the fact is that since money is fungible, we are indirectly contributing to the expansion of the arsenal that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs confirmed; correct?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think I agree with that. And the reason why I agree with that – or I don’t agree with that is because, as I said before, we’ve designed a very specific package for very specific purposes. We take our responsibility as custodians of appropriated funds very seriously. We’re going to work closely with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that this money goes to the purposes to which they’re intended.

And I’ll just – I’ll finish by saying – and I will move to another topic after this – I’ll finish by saying it is in the U.S. direct national interest to make sure that Pakistan is able to meet the threat of extremism within its borders. Now I’ll take another question from – go ahead.

QUESTION: Forgive me if you covered this in my absence. I’m interested in the selection of Egypt as the site for the President’s major address to the Muslim world. As you know, the Bush Administration had kind of a fitful experience in trying to prod Egypt toward democracy. Is this an effort to revive those attempts?

MR. KELLY: You know, when you weren’t here last week, James, I said I’m going to occasionally exercise the prerogative of a rookie and take some questions that pertain to some global issues like this. And so I’m sure that we have something that we can give you on that.

QUESTION: Do you think presently Egypt is playing a constructive role in the war against terrorism?

MR. KELLY: I’m going to take that one too, James. I think we have a broad, constructive relationship with Egypt. We have a lot of cooperative programs, including in counterterrorism. But again, let me see if I can get you something a little more interagency-approved, if you don’t mind.


QUESTION: Middle East peace?


QUESTION: Where does the Secretary stand in regards to the possibility of a two-state solution and dismantling the settlement buildings in the West Bank?

MR. KELLY: Well, our policy regarding Middle East peace, I think is pretty clear. We are for a two-state solution for two countries living side by side in peace and stability. We look forward to discussing these issues and coming up with a regional approach to Middle East peace with Prime Minister Netanyahu. You know he’s at the White House now and he’s coming over here for dinner with the Secretary in the evening.

On the issue of settlements, you know, I’d just – I will say only what we’ve said pretty consistently, that we call on all sides to refrain from any actions that might undermine the process that we have in place.

QUESTION: If I can follow up with that, you mentioned Netanyahu’s meeting here tonight. During the Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice cut Egypt’s military funding because of Ayman Nour, and it’s been policy that you won’t talk to Iran under – unless preconditions, they have to stop enriching uranium. Are you willing to say something to Israel, like we’re going to cut your military funding unless you comply with the two-state solution? Because it doesn't seem like Netanyahu is too into the --

MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not going to – I’m not going to prejudge anything that might come out of these meetings. I think the agenda is going to be very broad. I’m not aware of any kind of specifics such as the specifics that you just referred to. So let’s just see – let’s see what comes out of these meetings today.

QUESTION: But he – they are looking to create a Palestinian state in the first four years of President Obama’s term. But if the Israelis aren’t too into that, then how – how would you get them to comply with your agenda of a two-state solution, dismantling the settlements, and opening the borders to Gaza, if they don’t want to comply with your agenda?

MR. KELLY: You know, again, this is something that – I mean, we believe the best way to achieve a lasting – a regional peace – is via what we call in shorthand the two-state solution of both states living securely within their borders and being able to address long-term issues like the prosperity of their own – of their own countries. And this position is well known to all sides, and I’ll just reiterate that this is the – we believe this is the best solution and it’s in everybody’s interest. And again, I’m just not going to prejudge what Prime Minister Netanyahu may or may not say today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Middle East, you say the U.S. position, the Obama Administration’s position, is clear on the goals --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and the Middle East peace process. But will the Obama Administration be rolling out practical steps to get the ball rolling again since things are stalled, and would they involve, say, getting the Arabs, broader than just Palestinians and Israelis and even Syrians – be getting all the Arabs involved and the Israelis involved in that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah. As I said, we’re interested in a regional solution. We think that we have to get all the neighborhood to buy on to this. Special Envoy Mitchell has been working very hard and has had some very intensive talks with a number of leaders in the region. He will continue the talks today, of course, with his participation in the meetings. But I’m just not prepared to talk about what – any kind of details of any kind of specific new proposals we would make in any kind of new rollout until we see the results of the meeting today, or any case --

QUESTION: So we can expect something, then?

MR. KELLY: No, I wouldn’t say that you can expect anything. I said I’m not going to prejudge what may come out of the meeting, though.


QUESTION: On the schedule, you’ve only got Secretary Clinton meeting with Netanyahu at the 7:00 p.m. dinner meeting. Does that mean she’s not participating in his meetings with Obama at the White House or in any other meetings with him today?

MR. KELLY: That is correct. She is right now – well, in a half hour, will be at Columbia’s South Lawn --


MR. KELLY: -- to deliver the commencement address. This was a long-term commitment of hers that she wanted to keep.

QUESTION: But she couldn’t have met with him before she left?

MR. KELLY: Met with?

QUESTION: With Netanyahu, because they were --

MR. KELLY: She’s been in New York. She’s going to meet with him tonight.

QUESTION: I thought this morning, she was on this – oh, the Eleanor Roosevelt thing this morning was in New York?

MR. KELLY: That was in New York, yeah.


MR. KELLY: She stayed in New York through the weekend and just stayed up there.

QUESTION: Ian, could you at least dispel some speculation that has been fairly widespread in anticipation of these meetings that this is some kind of juncture at which the United States and Israel, historical allies, find each other at loggerheads over policy?

MR. KELLY: You know, I think yes, I can dispel that. I mean, I wouldn’t – I certainly wouldn’t – I wouldn’t describe it as loggerheads by any stretch of the imagination. You – this is going to be the first – I believe it’s the first formal visit – meeting between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has just recently formed a government, and we’re just looking – looking at this as an opportunity to explore a number of ways that we can, on a bilateral level, strengthen and deepen our partnership, but also in the broader context of looking at steps that all parties can take to help achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the settlement issue for a moment?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When you were asked about that, I think you said something to the effect that you would urge both parties not to do anything that --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- would prejudice, right?

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: Today, there’s news out of Israel that the Israeli Government has issued tenders for building an additional 20 housing units at a settlement called Maskiot, if I’m pronouncing it correctly. What is your specific reaction to that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t have a specific reaction because I haven’t seen the press reports. I’ll just reiterate what I said before in very general terms, that we just urge all sides to refrain from actions that might slow down or prevent us from reaching our ultimate goal, which is a comprehensive peace in the region.

QUESTION: And those press reports were not brought to your attention?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of them, Arshad.

QUESTION: Is there any light you can shed on the situation of four contractors in Afghanistan who were involved in a traffic accident and a shooting – American citizens --

MR. KELLY: This happened today?

QUESTION: No, the – it happened over the past week or so. It doesn’t seem to be --

MR. KELLY: I’m taking that one.

QUESTION: Okay. Admiral Mullen this morning was referring to the civilian ramp-up in Afghanistan.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And he talked about some estimates being that 500 civilians are needed, and other estimates being upwards of 2,000. So we know that the review has taken place. What is going on in terms of the timeline for ramping up how many State Department civilians are going to be sent there? And if you don’t know the answer, can you take it?

MR. KELLY: Well, I can give you a general answer, that this is a key part of our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to have a bigger civilian component. I don’t have the numbers in front of me or the timeline that would be needed to get these people on the ground. But, yes, I’ll be happy to take the question for the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

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