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Middle East Digest - June 9, 2009

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Washington, DC
June 9, 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 June 9, 2009

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12:42 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Hey, guys, sorry I’m a little late. I actually forgot my glasses so we had to run upstairs and get them. I want to make sure I get every word right.

Let me start off with a short statement on travel of some senior officials. As you know, Special Envoy Mitchell is in Israel today. He is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials. Tomorrow he’ll be in Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials. As part of the President’s commitment to work to advance a comprehensive peace in the region, Special Envoy Mitchell will also travel to Beirut on Thursday, June 11, and Damascus on Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13.

Under Secretary Burns arrived today in New Delhi for bilateral meetings with Government of India officials. He is also joined by new Assistant Secretary for South Central Asia Robert Blake. Mr. Blake will then continue on to Nepal on June 12, 13, and Bangladesh June 13 and 14.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: Change of topic just for a moment to the Mitchell trip?

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I’m wondering whether you could tell us if – what sort of conditions have changed on the ground with Syria that makes a stop in Damascus a good idea at this point. I know for weeks when we’ve asked about Mitchell’s traveling to Syria, the response is usually some variant of, “Well, we’re not just there yet.”

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So why are we now there?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s – in many ways, it’s a follow-up to the President’s speech in Cairo. You know that this Administration is committed to a broad-based comprehensive peace dealing with all the different players in the region. And we decided this was an appropriate time for Senator Mitchell to go to Syria. And we’re – this is a very high priority for this Administration, and we’re going to pursue this vigorously in the coming months.

QUESTION: So is it mostly a function of things that are happening on our side, or are there also elements that are happening on their side, signals they’re sending us?

MR. KELLY: As I said, this is just – we don’t want to have a piecemeal approach to Middle East peace. We want to approach this from a regional basis. And Senator Mitchell – Special Envoy Mitchell is the lead for the Administration, and we thought it was an appropriate time for him to go.

QUESTION: So the Lebanese election is pure coincidence?

MR. KELLY: Well, he was – he planned a trip out there to go to Israel and Oslo.

QUESTION: Yeah, but his travel to Damascus and Beirut wasn’t approved until yesterday after the election – after the election results were known. Are you suggesting that there is absolutely no link between how --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to suggest anything one way or the other.

QUESTION: How about this: Is there --

MR. KELLY: We welcome the elections in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Is there a link – is there a link between Mitchell’s – the decision to approve his travel to Damascus and Beirut, and the conduct and the results of the Lebanese election?

MR. KELLY: I am not prepared to make that link.

Yes, same issue --


MR. KELLY: -- or new issue?

QUESTION: India-Pakistan. The Indian prime minister made a big policy speech today saying he wants to resume peace talks. Is that something that’s going to be discussed with Burns? Is this something that the U.S. is sort of pushing for again?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, clearly, we would support more dialogue. You’re talking about between India and Pakistan?


MR. KELLY: We would support more dialogue between the two countries. I’m sure that Under Secretary Burns will talk about this issue among the many issues that he has on his agenda.

QUESTION: Is there any prospect that a special envoy would be appointed still with –specifically Kashmir or is it something that would –

MR. KELLY: No, there’s – there are no plans to that effect.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, Jill?


MR. KELLY: Iran.

QUESTION: Iran. There’s been some interesting developments recently. You know, you’ve had that debate about a week ago between the two leading candidates. You’ve had some – a demonstration yesterday and signs of kind of – you know, some democratic ferment, healthy debate. Have you been watching it? What are your impressions? Have you – like, how do you think it’s going? What does it say to you?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think any spokesman up here is – always hesitates to give impressions, but yes, we’ve been following it very closely.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. KELLY: No, I can’t do any impressions, believe me. (Laughter) Groucho Marx, maybe. Well, we just – we look forward to following the debate going on in Iran. We look forward to the time when Iran begins to reengage with us on some regional issues on nonproliferation. You know, the offer stands out there to sit down with them in the P-5+1 context, and we hope that Iran is able to respond to that soon.

QUESTION: Were you heartened by the – by this ferment going on and people on the streets and participating?

MR. KELLY: I am always encouraged by expressions of – free expression, free lawful expressions. So in that sense, yes, I am heartened by it.

QUESTION: Ian, semi-related?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was an implication and a question at the briefing yesterday about State Department letter of instruction to VOA Persian broadcasters, and you suggested you were going to look into it?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you find anything?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t have much, but I did contact a friend of mine at the BBG, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. They are not aware of any such letter. And such a letter would violate what we call the firewall, which guarantees the journalistic independence of your organization. This journalistic independence, of course, is accorded under the agency’s founding legislation in 1994. And the Department of State respects the journalistic independence of BBG journalists, including VOA.

QUESTION: Back on the engagement part to the – do you have any idea yet how many embassies have invited Iranian diplomats to July 4th parties and –

MR. KELLY: I do not.

QUESTION: Can someone look into this?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I don’t know if we can or not, Matt. But if we do have some information, we can give it to you.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, just –

MR. KELLY: We don’t normally release information on invitations to diplomatic functions.

QUESTION: Even though, oftentimes, people are – journalists are invited to these functions and they can see for themselves who shows up?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know. We don’t – well, that’s true. But that’s not – that doesn’t necessarily mean who was invited.

QUESTION: Well, what I’m looking for is like – is an idea of how much – you say you look forward to the time when Iran engages, and this is an informal way of engagement.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And it would be interesting, I think, for all of us to know if – how many – how much – how many invitations were sent out and how many that were positive responses. That would be a sign of engaging.

MR. KELLY: If I can get you that can kind of information, I will. But like I say, generally, we don’t discuss or release invitation lists.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking for an entire list.

MR. KELLY: No, I know that. But, I mean, even the information on the lists we don’t release.

QUESTION: More on the Iran election?

QUESTION: On that --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the Iran elections? Can you talk in just general terms about what you’ve been doing in the kind of – lead-up to elections – I know you were talking about the firewall, but certainly in the past the U.S. has tried to, you know, send out a message to Iran about the importance of this election and the importance of electing someone who’s willing to engage with the international world and not conduct such destructive behavior. So what – have you been reaching out to groups in the United States, to the Diaspora? Have you been – you know, could you talk about what you’ve been doing?

MR. KELLY: I can see if I can find out for you. I don’t have that information right off the top of my head, though.


QUESTION: On the embassy invitations, according to Iranian reports – news agencies, at least the U.S. Ambassador in the Republic of Azerbaijan has decided to invite the Iranian official. But there’s one thing I’d like for you to clarify, please. She has said, according to this Iranian report that the U.S. Embassy in Baku would invite Iranian officials to such events in the future – as in plural, whereas, Robert, about 10 days ago, said that it’s – this is only a one-time thing for this Fourth of July.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm. So you’re asking me to clarify if the – if the authorization goes to – for –

QUESTION: Later on for other events or occasions?

MR. KELLY: – for other diplomatic functions? I’ll see if I can get you that information.

QUESTION: See – now, there’s one embassy that’s going.

MR. KELLY: (Laughter)

QUESTION: If that’s the only one, it would be interesting to know.

MR. KELLY: Like I say, we’ll see if we can find out for you, Matt.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

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