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Middle East Digest - June 10, 2009


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June 11, 2009

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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 10, 2009

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12:03 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s a daunting task to follow the headliner, but I’ll give it a shot. I don’t have any statements, so I’ll go right to your questions.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the Uighurs and Palau? I believe a top official in Palau has said that they’ve agreed to take the Uighurs. Can you confirm that that deal is done?

MR. KELLY: Well, what I can say is that in preparation for closing Guantanamo, as I’ve said several times, we’re in ongoing discussions with a number of governments, including with the Government of Palau, on resettlement options for some of the Guantanamo detainees who we believe present compelling – a compelling basis for resettlement or a compelling case for resettlement on a humanitarian basis.

We have been in discussions with Palau. We’re very grateful to governments who have expressed an interest in being helpful, and we express our gratitude to the Government of Palau as well. I think you’ve all seen the statement that came out of the Government of Palau. But it’s – we’re still involved in ongoing discussions, so it’s premature for us to go into the details of the --

QUESTION: So the deal is not done yet, then?

MR. KELLY: As I said, we have talked to them, we’ve seen their statement, but we’re still involved in the details right now.

Jill.

QUESTION: Ian, are they being --

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Are they being – go ahead.

QUESTION: I was just – I’m sorry, you can’t take “yes” for an answer here?

MR. KELLY: I’m saying it’s not a done deal. I’m saying we’re still involved in negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, they say that they have agreed. Are you saying they haven’t?

MR. KELLY: I’ll let them – I’ll let the statement speak for itself.

QUESTION: Are they --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but the statement says that they’ve agreed.

MR. KELLY: They – I’ll let the statement speak for itself.

QUESTION: So you’re contradicting the statement?

MR. KELLY: Well, no, but the statement also talks about further review.

QUESTION: Ian, are they the only ones --

MR. KELLY: I’m not contradicting the statement, Matt.

QUESTION: Are they the only ones who have agreed at this stage?

MR. KELLY: As I say, we’re involved in talks with a number of governments, and I just am not prepared at this time to go into who exactly we’ve – we’re talking to and the details.

QUESTION: But now that you have gotten agreement, at least according to the president of Palau, who says we’ll take all of them – 17 – are you going to continue talking with other countries?

MR. KELLY: Yes, we will.

QUESTION: To – for what purpose?

MR. KELLY: Well, we want to be able to – first of all, we want to complete our discussions with these governments, and we want to make sure that these detainees who, as I say, present compelling cases for resettlement on a humanitarian basis, that we’re able to resettle.

QUESTION: So those discussions with other countries might be about other prisoners, not necessarily the --

MR. KELLY: I’m just – we’re – this – please, I’m not going to go into the detail of --

QUESTION: Well, just to be precise about it, have you – with those other countries, are you discussing --

MR. KELLY: We’re --

QUESTION: -- only the Uighurs or --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to go into details of what individual cases that we’re talking about.

QUESTION: Ian, wouldn’t --

MR. KELLY: Yes, Mark.

QUESTION: -- this be a case where you want another building in this town to announce this, and that’s why you’re not saying yes --

MR. KELLY: No, I’m just saying that we’re still involved in ongoing discussions right now.

QUESTION: Because you said a moment ago that the announcement said something about review, but my memory is that it said it’s subject to periodic review. It didn’t seem to imply that it was subject to review at --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m going to – like I say, I’m going to let the statement of the Government of Palau to speak for itself. It talked about a number of steps that they wanted to take. And we’re still involved in ongoing discussions.

QUESTION: Would that include reviewing the files of the individual --

MR. KELLY: Well, like I say, I’m not going to go into the details. I do apologize, but this is all part of sensitive diplomatic efforts that we have now.

QUESTION: But, Ian, at the hearing this morning, one of the – I believe it was Rohrabacher said that an FBI report said that the U.S. had allowed Chinese agents into Guantanamo to question and torture those Uighurs. Is that correct?

MR. KELLY: Those are serious allegations. I haven’t seen the exact comments. I do know that in Guantanamo, there had been monitored discussions by officials from other governments. But I think you know the next thing I’m going to say is that these are really matters for the Pentagon to address and not for me.

QUESTION: And Assistant Secretary Robert Blake is going to Nepal, right?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What is your sense of the situation in Nepal there, and what’s his purpose? Who all he’ll be meeting there?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – as I told you, he is going to Nepal. He’s going to have discussions on a – this is his first trip as Assistant Secretary, and this will be introductory calls for him in Nepal, and he’ll be discussing a broad range of bilateral issues.

QUESTION: George Mitchell yesterday, using the phrase “Jewish state,” he said, “Palestinian state living in peace side-by-side with Jewish state.” Was that a slip of the tongue, or does the word “Jewish” signal a new departure for the Obama Administration in dealing with Israel-Palestine? And that being what it is, as he said it, what does it mean as far as the Obama Administration is concerned for Palestinians living inside Israel?

MR. KELLY: Well, Secretary Clinton said in March during her meeting with Foreign Minister Livni that both she and President Obama are committed to Israel’s security and to its democracy as a Jewish state. What Senator Mitchell said is not – does not represent any kind of new policy. We believe that Israel is a pluralistic democracy that guarantees the rights of all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

As the President has said, we’re going to do everything that we can to be constructive, effective partners in this process. And the President has reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the framework of the Roadmap can advance the interests of Israel, the Palestinian people, and the United States. And our position remains that the question of Palestinian refugees is one to be decided between the parties of the permanent status negotiations.

QUESTION: But on the issue of Arab Israelis, you’re saying that their rights as Israeli citizens are guaranteed on an equal footing with their Jewish counterparts.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: Arab Israelis say that precisely, they’re not treated as their Jewish counterparts; they’re treated as second class citizens. Now within that appellation that both Clinton and Mitchell are talking about when they refer to the Jewish state, what is the angle on those rights, the rights of Israeli – Arab Israelis within a final settlement?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said before, we believe that Israel is a pluralistic democracy, and its citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish, enjoy the same full rights as citizens.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran, the election is tomorrow. Some candidates have been more --

QUESTION: Friday.

QUESTION: Or, I’m sorry, Friday. Gosh, I’m ahead of myself here. My story is due tomorrow – no. (Laughter.)

So what can you say? How big a deal is this election? I know you guys have talked about engaging the Iranian regime no matter who wins. But, you know, do you have anything to say about this election, and does it matter who wins as far as U.S. foreign policy?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think any spokesman at this podium, whether it’s a day before or two days before, is very careful not to comment too much about an electoral process. I’ll just say that we’re following the very lively debate that we’re seeing going on inside Iran, and we wish them success in their elections and – but beyond that, we’re not going to express any preferences. What happens on Friday, whatever the results are, that’s for the Iranian people to decide.

QUESTION: Are you heartened by the level of debate?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I say, we’re monitoring this lively debate. And we are looking forward to the results on Friday.

QUESTION: Ian, wait a second. You have no preference as to who wins?

MR. KELLY: We’re not going to express --

QUESTION: Surely --

MR. KELLY: We’re not going to express any preferences, Matt.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t the United States prefer that Iran had a president who doesn’t say that Israel should be wiped off the face of the planet?

MR. KELLY: We’re not going to express any preferences.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, so you actually would accept that --

MR. KELLY: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: You think that it might be a good -- you have no problem with a president of Iran wanting Israel to be wiped off the face of the map?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think our views concerning his statements vis-à-vis Israel are clear. But --

QUESTION: So you’re --

MR. KELLY: -- I’m not going to --

QUESTION: So you are separating his statements from the person?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: From the candidate?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to get into any --

QUESTION: You’re digging yourself into a hole, Ian.

MR. KELLY: -- preferences regarding –

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR. KELLY: Well, maybe I should start climbing out of it, then. Any other questions?

Ken.

QUESTION: Ian, this would have been a better question for Holbrooke, but I didn’t get a chance to ask it. So before his trip, President Zardari was quoted as expressing frustration that he had only seen like 10 to 15 million dollars in U.S. aid. And so I’m wondering, have things changed since then? I mean, while you guys wait for Congress to pass these bills, what American aid is going into Pakistan right now?

MR. KELLY: Well, one of the purposes of Ambassador Holbrooke’s trip, of course, was to go in and see the situation on the ground, see how the assistance was being delivered. There is a lot of immediate assistance that’s being delivered. I don’t know if I have that data in front of me, but we’re happy to get it to you. And as he said, of course, before I came up here, we’re working very closely with Congress to get that supplemental passed, and we’re hopeful it will be soon.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Back to Guantanamo. There has been a request made to the German Government to take all or some of the Uighurs that are presently in Guantanamo. In regard to the developments with Palau, does that request still stand?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said before, we’re involved in ongoing discussions with a number of governments. We’re not going to detail which governments in particular. My former boss, Ambassador Dan Fried, is leading that effort, and he has been in touch with a number of governments. But we’re just not going to get into details right now.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask you again about Senator Mitchell’s visit to the Middle East.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Khaled Meshaal of Hamas yesterday said that they would not be an obstacle to peace within the ‘67 borders. Do you see that as being a positive development? And also for Senator Mitchell’s visit to the region, does he have anything to propose? You know, you were in listening mode for quite some time. Have we moved beyond the listening mode into what can actually happen, especially with his visit to Syria?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, well, his visit follows two visits by other senior officials. We had two visits by then-Acting Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman and senior director Shapiro. This was on March 7 and May 7, so this is very much a follow-up to those visits. It’s a follow-up to the discussions that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have had with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. I think that the best way to describe this is a – these are exploratory talks. It’s his first trip to Damascus, and we’re looking at ways that the Syrians can contribute to a comprehensive peace deal that we all are aiming for.

QUESTION: May I go back on Pakistan, okay?


QUESTION: Just need a little clarification. As far as this military campaign against the Taliban in Pakistan is concerned, is this a – I hope it’s not a temporary phase, but also to destroy the Taliban and also no more land – what they call is no more – no land – no more people’s land there or the area, which they said nobody ever had gone, not even the Pakistani military. I hope that will not remain as it was for the last 40, 50 years, no-man’s land.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I’m – I really don’t want to get into the military details of the operation, except to say that we support the government of Pakistan in their efforts to deal decisively with extremism. And beyond that, I really don’t want to comment.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Ian, real quick on – one more on Palau. Can you say – and I know some officials have spoken on background about it, but can you confirm that the reported $200 million is not linked to the transfer of any detainees?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I actually have something. I have something for you on that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. KELLY: Palau and the United States are embarking on a 15-year mandated review of their Compact of Free Association which dates back to 1994. Part of those discussions include a review of direct and indirect assistance the United States has provided to Palau and might provide in the future. This longstanding agreement under the Compact of Free Association is not linked to any other discussions we may be having with the Government of Palau.

QUESTION: Including detainee transfers?

MR. KELLY: It has no linkage to any other discussions we may be having with the Government of Palau.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but I think this has something to do with what – something that I wrote. The Compact of Free Association is up for review this year; is that correct?

MR. KELLY: It – well, it is, I understand it. Yeah, it’s – they’re starting it now.

QUESTION: And you don’t regard it as a helpful coincidence that the fact that you’re about to give several hundred million dollars in aid to this country might – that that – you think that that doesn’t have any impact at all on whether they’re willing to help out in other matters?

MR. KELLY: We give assistance to dozens, if not hundreds, of countries around the world. No, I don’t necessarily see any linkage there.

QUESTION: So it’s a –

MR. KELLY: It’s very much driven by the circumstances of the country’s development situation.

QUESTION: Is it not a – is it not also a coincidence that this country is looking for cash at the time that you --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going there, Matt. I’m just not going there.

QUESTION: Ian, real quick, just on that.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Yeah, sorry, Kirit.

QUESTION: I mean, this is going to double their GDP. (Laughter.) I mean, certainly, the amount is certainly suspect, you know.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, like I say, it’s not linked to any other discussions that –

QUESTION: Can you tell us what the amount of aid that was given to Palau under the previous agreement was?

MR. KELLY: I cannot, but I can see if I can get you that information.

QUESTION: I’m sure you can, actually, and it would be nice to know what the percentage increase is, also.

QUESTION: Ian, can you also --

MR. KELLY: You’re a hard man, Matt Lee.

QUESTION: Can you also give us some details as to what the nature of the development aid is? Because I understood that some of this has to do with the U.S. maintaining an option to buy – to build a military base in Palau --

MR. KELLY: I really --

QUESTION: -- and this would be extra amounts in the form of --

MR. KELLY: I don’t have those details. If we can get you those details – some of those details may be with the Pentagon. I’m not sure. But we’ll see if we can get you --

QUESTION: Well, in fact, there is a military base on Palau right now, as I’m sure you’re aware.

MR. KELLY: Of course.


MR. KELLY: Yes, you haven’t asked a question in the back there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jumping to --

MR. KELLY: Actually, Paul, you haven’t. I’ll get to you next.

QUESTION: Iraq if I can. The other week, Muqtada al-Sadr said that the depravity of homosexuality must be eradicated. And while he went on to say that he was not advocating violence, there obviously has been a lot of rather gruesome violence directed at gays and lesbians in Iraq. So I was wondering if State has any reaction to that.

And then off the back of that, is there any extra responsibility that the U.S. feels towards these groups who were, by their accounts, safer and more free to live their lives under Saddam?

MR. KELLY: Well, let me say that, in general, we absolutely condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals in Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is an issue that we’ve been following very closely since we have been made aware of these allegations, and we are aware of the allegations.

Our training for Iraqi security forces includes instruction on the proper observance of human rights. Human rights training is also a very important part of our and other international donors’ civilian capacity-building efforts in Iraq. And the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise the issue with senior officials from the Government of Iraq, and has urged them to respond appropriately to all credible reports of violence against gay and lesbian Iraqis.

Other questions?

QUESTION: Ian, if I may go back to Mitchell, given what you said about Palestinians inside Israel, are you saying that any debate about resettling Palestinians living inside Israel now or at any time down the road is unacceptable to the Obama Administration?

MR. KELLY: What I’m saying is, is that this is really a matter for the parties themselves to resolve. And I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: So there’s – obviously, the appellation that Mitchell used yesterday is raising a lot of concern --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- about a possible debate about the future of Palestinians living inside Israel. So my question again, I’m talking about the debate itself --

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- would it be acceptable to you in any shape or form, were it to happen?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, there was a subjunctive verb in there, so I’m just not going to – I’m not going to comment on a – on something that may or may not happen in the future.

QUESTION: Maybe then also, if you ever get an answer to that, you could find out if Palestine is supposed to be a Muslim state.

MR. KELLY: Thank you, Mr. Lee.

QUESTION: No, I’m – it’s a serious question.

QUESTION: If – a question you were asked a couple of weeks ago about what Dennis Ross wrote in his book – you didn’t have an answer for us at that time. But there’s a school of thought in the Middle East and that the President, President Obama, seems to subscribe to it, is that if you solve Israel-Palestine, that will help solve other problems in the region. Dennis Ross, in his book, says that’s not necessarily the case. I was wondering if you have any comment on that.

MR. KELLY: Dennis Ross co-wrote this book before he became a member of the Administration, and I’m just – I’m not going to comment on anything that he said in the book.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:28 p.m.)




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