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Middle East Digest - May 21, 2009

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Washington, DC
May 21, 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 21, 2009

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QUESTION: Can we talk about Libya for a moment?

MR. KELLY: Libya, yes, we may talk about Libya.

QUESTION: As you are, I’m sure, unfortunately aware, Libyan dissident Fathi El-Jahmi died at the medical center in Jordan where he was being treated. A number of questions, but to start with, what is your comment on the fact that the Libyans released him from Libya only a few days before, you know, when his health was so very bad, that he died just a few days later despite longstanding calls for his release and his proper medical treatment inside Libya?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yes. Well, thanks for asking that question, Arshad. We’re saddened to learn of the death of Libyan political activist, an outspoken voice for human rights, Fathi El-Jahmi. And our hearts and prayers go out to his family, who had suffered greatly during his incarceration. And I think in previous briefings, we had welcomed his release to Jordan. We regret that his poor state of health, however, did not allow him to fully recover upon transfer.

QUESTION: What does this say about U.S. efforts to secure his adequate treatment for many years now?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as you know, we don’t comment on private diplomatic exchanges. We took his case very seriously. This case was – has been addressed both in Tripoli at our Embassy and it also has been raised here at the Department. But again, I – this has been a – it was done in diplomatic channels and I don’t want to comment on the substance of those exchanges.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, a couple of things. One, it was also raised in public, including by President – former President George W. Bush, who, although he got Mr. Jahmi’s gender wrong, did raise it in a public speech. It was raised by then-Senator Biden, now Vice President. And clearly, it didn’t work because the man was released by Libya and then died a few days later. And I wonder if you think there should be any consequences for Libya to its treatment of Mr. Jahmi.

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said, this is – it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to recover after he was transferred to the hospital in Jordan. We, of course, have – we restored our diplomatic relations with Libya. We have a very broad range of issues that we engage on. One of those issues that we discussed with them, of course, is the issue of human rights. And so we’ll continue to engage on that issue.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that – I mean, I’m well aware of the series of steps that the U.S. Government has taken to improve its relationship with Libya since its 2003 decision to abandon its WMD programs. And I know that the vast majority of the economic sanctions have been peeled off, partly because of its actions on Lockerbie in resolving those issues.

Is there any – are there any aspects in which this particular case and Libya’s violations of human rights, as documented by the State Department’s own reports, will restrain or hold back the improvement in relations?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, as I said before, we do have full diplomatic relations with Libya. We have full diplomatic relations with a number of countries. And we are very open and transparent about our differences regarding the development of democracy. We spell out in great detail in our Annual Human Rights Report any problems that we identify. And we have, in a very open and respectful way, a dialogue with countries that we have diplomatic relations with.

But I think, you know, beyond that, I’m not going to prejudge where our relationship is going to go with Libya.

QUESTION: So there are no – I mean, you don’t think that there are any consequences, even rhetorical, to the treatment of this man?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure what you mean by – I mean, I’m not sure what you mean by rhetorical consequences. I said that we really regret the fact that his poor state of health didn’t allow him to fully recover upon transfer. We were very saddened to learn about his death. We feel terrible for his family. But beyond that, I’m not really prepared to comment.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary raised this with Qadhafi’s son in a recent meeting?

MR. KELLY: What I do know is that it was raised when Qadhafi’s son was here.

QUESTION: But not by her, correct?

MR. KELLY: I do know that the Secretary instructed that this case be raised while he was here.

QUESTION: Do you hold the Libyans responsible for his death?

MR. KELLY: Do I hold – you know, I don’t really have enough to answer, Matt, to say that the --

QUESTION: And if not – and if not, why not?

MR. KELLY: -- that the Libyan Government was responsible for his death. I’m sorry. I --

QUESTION: Well, they kept him in prison in poor health, didn’t – and didn’t let him go.

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m just not going to – I’m not going to comment. I don’t – you know, I’m sorry. I’m not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: Well, if the Libyans take seriously U.S. requests on his treatment or on anybody’s treatment, if it doesn’t get raised by the Secretary – you know, not instructed to somebody else, but why shouldn’t they conclude, well, gee, if the Secretary of the United States can’t take ten seconds of our meeting to raise this, why should I take it seriously?

MR. KELLY: There aren’t – I mean, we have to make decisions every day about how we engage with countries. And as I said, the Secretary gave instructions that this case be raised while he was here in this building. And we engage on a number of senior levels by our Embassy in Tripoli and then here in the State Department as well. I think that Mr. Qadhafi realized it was a serious issue.

And I’m going to change the subject now. Does anybody have any questions besides on Mr. Fathi El-Jahmi? Because I really don’t have anything else to say.

QUESTION: I have a question. Have you seen Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest comments about Jerusalem and how it will be united – undivided capital of Israel, it will never be split or bifurcated?

MR. KELLY: I have not seen those. I have not seen those comments.

QUESTION: Well, perhaps your Near Eastern Affairs Bureau could apprise themselves of these comments and then tell us what – tell us what they think about them because this would appear to prejudge final status.

MR. KELLY: Well, you know, I know– yeah. I know and you know, Matt, that we have very specific language on that, so we’ll get you the specific language on that.

QUESTION: Do you mind if I have one more on a different issue, please – Iran? Do you believe that U.S. diplomacy has failed as far as Iran is concerned, because (inaudible) was saying that they are pursuing and U.S. is saying that Iran should not proceed with nuclear weapons or missile technology, and now they have all what they wanted?

MR. KELLY: No. (Laughter.) We are still committed to a diplomatic resolution with Iran. We are still willing to try and go down the route of engagement. But we also will not allow talks – not allow Iran to use talks as an excuse to continue pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. And as I say, we continue to believe that the best approach to this is multilateral engagement, that we’re – we haven’t given up on it. But our bottom line remains that we have to – we have to get to a point where Iran agrees to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And we think the best way to do that is through multilateral leverage.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the same subject, just tying up a loose end from last week or the week before. Were you ever able to get 100 percent confirmation that Vali Nasr did not visit Iran while he – during his – during the period that he’s been employed by the State Department?

MR. KELLY: One hundred percent. He has not been to Iran since he’s been an employee of the State Department.

QUESTION: Speaking of linkages or non-linkages, the 123 agreement went up to the Hill today. Is there – what’s – is that it? What’s the next step on that?

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s a very good question, Matt. And I have something for you on that, which I’m seeking to find right now.

The agreement was signed just a little while ago by Deputy Secretary Steinberg and by the UAE ambassador. The next step then will be to submit this agreement to Congress. And what happens then, as you may know – and I’m sure, Matt, you do know – that Congress – it’s up on the Hill for Congress’s consideration for 90 days of continuous session. And if nothing – if the Congress doesn't take any legislative action in those 90 days, it becomes effective.

And, you know, as you know, this agreement will establish a legal framework for the U.S. to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with the UAE under agreed nonproliferation conditions and controls. And we believe that we’ve taken an important step in building a long and fruitful partnership to enhance nonproliferation and energy security.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know if there’s anything that needs to be done from the other side?

MR. KELLY: From the UAE side?

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. KELLY: Not after it’s signed.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that the dismay on Capitol Hill about the video which is said to show an alleged member of the UAE royal family mistreating a man may make it difficult for you to get this agreement through? And it’s – I would just note that the dismay about that video includes some people who are quite influential on civil nuclear policy, like Representative Ed Markey. So you don’t have any concerns about that? You think there’s --

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll refer you to Congress for their concerns.

QUESTION: But the timing was --

MR. KELLY: I know. As I said last week, you know, obviously, we were concerned about the – about that video. And we raised our concerns with the UAE Government. We understand that the judiciary in Abu Dhabi has announced it’s going to conduct a full and transparent review of what happened. We welcome that.

But insofar as Congress’s concerns, I have to refer you to Congress. We think it’s an important agreement and it should go through.

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