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Middle East Digest - June 16, 2009


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Washington, DC
June 16, 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 16, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Okay, part two. And there will be a part three in our attempt to set a record for the amount of time you guys spend in briefings. And I want to let you know that at 2 o’clock today, Special Envoy George Mitchell will brief you on the record, but off camera, on his recent trip to the region and efforts toward achieving a comprehensive peace. So with that bit of good news, I will take your questions.

Yes.

QUESTION: Dennis Ross?

MR. KELLY: Dennis Ross. I have nothing new for you on Dennis Ross, that – nothing more than I said yesterday, that he’s on the job here in the State Department working very hard. And if and when we have a personnel announcement, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: But how do you explain that newspapers announce that he’s going to leave the State Department?

MR. KELLY: Newspapers reports a lot of things. But I’m not prepared to report anything today on this.

Yes.

QUESTION: Death toll in Iranian demonstrations reached to seven people confirmed. Is the United States still watching and monitoring as it unfolds for more strong – stronger stand on that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, the President about an hour ago addressed the issue of the Iranian elections. I’ll repeat what he said, that it’s for the Iranian people to decide about their future. This is not about us. This is about Iran. Having said that, of course, I think it’s very – or we think as a government that it’s very important that the universal right of people to express themselves peacefully, that this right has to be respected. And of course, we condemn any acts of violence that led to the deaths of these demonstrators.

I think that what we’re seeing is very troubling. And I reiterate our call to have the rights of the Iranian people to express themselves be respected and have their voices be heard.

QUESTION: What about the recount that is partial there? They agreed that they’re going to go for a partial recount by a body that the head of the country Guardian Council actually supported the Ahmadinejad. So what is the United States’ stand on that?

MR. KELLY: Well, what we stand for and what our allies have said as well in public is that we want – we want the will of the Iranian people to be respected, that they be responsible for their own future. And we call on the Iranian authorities to be as transparent as possible and to – and that we express our hope that whatever the results are that they express the genuine will and desires of the Iranian people.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: The United States is being a little bit less outspoken than some of the other Western countries on Iran. Is there a fear here that if you say what’s really on your mind it will be used against American interests in Iran?

MR. KELLY: I think what we’re really – and again, the President addressed this just a few minutes ago. Of course, we have seen Iran characterize us as the great Satan. We have seen Iran often publicly use us as kind of a lever. And I think what we’re trying to avoid is we’re trying to avoid any kind of appearance of this being about the U.S.. We don’t want to appear as meddling in this whole process. Again, this is not about us. This is an important moment for the Iranian people, and this is about their future. It’s not about us.

Yes.

QUESTION: Indian Prime Minister Singh met Pakistani president --

QUESTION: Can we please stay on the subject of Iran?

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. KELLY: Another on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. Two things. You have a number of times, yesterday and today, invoked U.S. national security interests --

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- as the overall guiding, determining factor --

MR. KELLY: One of the overall guiding, determining factors.

QUESTION: Okay. I assume there isn’t anything else that you want to cite for us that would trump U.S. national security interests?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: But there are other factors here --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: -- what I mean.

QUESTION: Is it not in U.S. national security interests, or even more broadly, is it not in U.S. interests to encourage the flowering of democracy in Iran?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said before, what we want to see here is we want to see the genuine will of the Iranian people be respected. We support their evident desire for more participation in the political process. We support and are inspired and encouraged by the enthusiasm that we saw in the run-up to the elections, the high turnout.

Having said that, we also have a responsibility to the American people and to the world to address some of these concerns that we’ve had with Iran regarding development of nuclear weapons and the sponsorship of terrorism. So those are important issues as well. And we stand ready to – as we’ve said many times, to sit down with our partners in the P-5+1 and with Iran and see if we can address those issues.

QUESTION: Two more, if I might, before I defer to my colleague again on India-Pakistan there.

QUESTION: No, wait, she’s about to add another one on Iran, too.

QUESTION: No, I mean --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, if I may.

QUESTION: On Iran --

QUESTION: If I may, still on Iran. You, in your statement just now, said, of course, we condemn any acts of violence that led to the deaths of these demonstrators.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why are you not condemning more broadly any acts of violence against the demonstrators, period, not just those that happened to have led to deaths?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. That’s a fair question. And I would say that any use of violence against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable.

QUESTION: And something you condemn?

MR. KELLY: As I said before, I – we find this unacceptable. I’m not going to get into the semantics.

QUESTION: You just said, though – I’m taking you at your own words – that you condemn any acts of violence that led to the deaths of the protestors.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: So you’re restricting your use of the condemnation to those that led to deaths, right?

MR. KELLY: James, I’m just – I’m not going to get into a semantic game on this. What we’re focused on is we want to see the will of the Iranian people respected. We want to see their right to self-expression in a peaceful way be respected.

QUESTION: And the last one, and I appreciate your forbearance and that of my colleagues here. The Guardian Council investigation – Candidate Mousavi said that he does not hold out great optimism for the judgment of the council because its members were not impartial – in his words – prior to the election. Your remarks have been neutral about the possibility that the Guardian Council could potentially render a fair verdict in this investigation.

So I want to give you an opportunity to clarify how you feel about the prospect of the Guardian Council being the investigative agency here.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it possible in your mind that the Guardian Council will perform a thorough and fair investigation that meets the kind of criteria you have set forth?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is that possible?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ve said many times, including yesterday from this podium, we have concerns about the transparency and accountability of the government in Iran. We also believe very strongly that these reports of voter irregularities must be taken seriously and investigated. But just to follow up on what I said a few minutes ago, we also – we want this process to work out. And I really – I’m not going to get into – I’m not going to comment on the legitimacy of the Iranian internal process, because I want this process to play out.

QUESTION: You said at one point, though, that you don’t want to appear as meddling?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, the President’s words.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is this some new policy for the U.S.? It doesn’t seem to have bothered you before, a country –

MR. KELLY: Well, this is –

QUESTION: The Chinese, the Burmese, the Iraqis. A lot of people accuse you of meddling and you don’t seem to mind one bit. What makes this different?

MR. KELLY: This is an important moment. And as I said before, we’ve seen the Iranian Government use in a negative way the relationship with the U.S., particularly pronouncements that we have made. And we just want – as I said before, we – our goal here is to have the will of the Iranian people be respected, so –

QUESTION: Yeah, but when the Chinese repress people in Tibet, and when the Burmese repress, you know –

MR. KELLY: And I just condemned the acts of violence that led to deaths of demonstrators in Tehran. I don’t think I’ve pulled punches completely here.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the –

QUESTION: Since there are reports that death toll actually going up, and U.S. doesn’t want portrayed as meddling in the situation, why aren’t you referring the case to the UN Security Council? Isn’t it time? We see the demonstration after 30 years and the magnitude of 1979 revolution. We see for the first time after 30 years that magnitude and the death toll is going up. Is it – isn’t it time to refer the case to the Security Council?

MR. KELLY: Of course, we are – we’re consulting frequently with our allies in the EU. We’re in constant contact with them. We’re, of course, in constant contact with our colleagues up in New York as well. And as this plays out, we’ll look at many different opportunities that we might have. But right now, I’m not prepared to go into the details of it.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the State Department’s use of technology and websites like Twitter and Facebook to try and get information and any conversations that you might have had with Twitter?

MR. KELLY: I think – as I was following this – these developments over the weekend, it was – I mean, I – of course, I use email and I use the internet, but I began to recognize the importance of new social media as a vital tool for citizens’ empowerment and as a way for people to get their messages out. And it was very clear to me that these kinds of social media played a very important role in democracy, spreading the word about what was going on.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I – that’s – I’m wondering about the State Department, in particular, any discussions that you’re having with networking sites about maintaining the technology, about how the State Department as an institution is monitoring these type of sites to gain information about what’s going on.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, we’re monitoring – I mean, we’re monitoring many different media, including some of these sites. And we’ve had, of course, talks with Twitter as well.

QUESTION: What’s the nature of those talks?

MR. KELLY: I don’t want to go into the detail of the nature of those talks right now.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, but by not providing any information on the nature of the talks, it indicates that you have some role in kind of providing messages to Twitter, messages to Iranians.

MR. KELLY: No. No, we’re not --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: I don’t want to suggest that --

QUESTION: No, that’s great. If you could explain a little bit more –

MR. KELLY: -- that we’re somehow interfering in – with Twitter. But we do, of course, consult with them.

QUESTION: Well, what are you consulting with them about, if you’re not consulting with them on how to provide messages?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re consulting with them. I know the Secretary has a – wants a big push for eDiplomacy in using these new social media to develop horizontally communities. And of course, Twitter is another one of those social media.

QUESTION: Are you saying that – I think the presumption in Elise’s question or the assumption is that you’ve been in touch with them about the situation in Iran. Is that not the case? You’re just – it’s more broad – it’s broader?

MR. KELLY: That’s – yeah, in a broad sense.

QUESTION: So you haven’t been in touch with them on the situation in Iran?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we’ve been in touch with them on a number of very general issues.

QUESTION: Stay on the Middle East?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: A lot of rejection to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech concerning the peace process from your closest allies from the President of Asia Lee Myung-bak who called his – Netanyahu’s speech as a hindering to the peace process that President Obama has talked to the Islamic world from Cairo about. And also the Europeans have stopped their trade privilege to upgrade it for Israel. Why we are hearing here the words that there has been some positive thing in Netanyahu’s speech? Do you have any awareness or fears that this kind of hesitance to really call the things as they are, that this would affect the credibility of the United States policy that the United States and the current Administration is working so hard to rebuild in the area? What is your response to this criticism all around the world to the hard-line speech of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech? And what is the State Department going to say to his very hard-line foreign minister tomorrow when he visits Washington? If you can give me an answer to that, please

MR. KELLY: Well, I think first of all, President Obama addressed this yesterday when he was asked for a reaction to the negative comments coming from around the region. This is – I mean, we have to be – we have to look at this as a long-term process. Prime Minister Netanyahu was laying out what he saw as his interests. And in the process of negotiation, there’s going to be a lot of give and take. And of course, at 2 o’clock, you’re going to have an opportunity to talk to the experts, so I’ll defer the rest of that answer to Senator Mitchell.

QUESTION: But the fact – Foreign Minister, Mr. Kouchner called the speech, that it needs to go way beyond what it implied in order to accomplish peace. Why can’t you speak the same language as your allies do when it comes to the –

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll – like I say, I’ll let Senator Mitchell go into more detail on that. Regarding the reaction of the French Foreign Minister, I’d just refer you to his spokesman on that.

QUESTION: Why is that briefing off-camera?

QUESTION: Yeah, off-camera.

MR. KELLY: Well, let’s talk about it afterwards. This is the ground rules that we have, and we can talk about it afterwards.

QUESTION: Well, we – I mean, essentially I mean –

QUESTION: You’re the one standing at the podium referring us to this upcoming briefing. It seems fair in this very same setting for us to raise the fact that you are prohibiting television cameras from shooting it.

QUESTION: And we’d like to officially request that you reconsider.

MR. KELLY: Let’s – we’ll talk about it – I’ll talk about it afterwards. Thanks for raising the question, though.

QUESTION: Just to go back to the Twitter issue.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Who did the Secretary speak to, number one? And what drove her to speak to the Twitter people?

MR. KELLY: The Secretary didn’t speak to Twitter.

QUESTION: It’s not related to Iran.

QUESTION: It’s not related to Iran at all?

MR. KELLY: The Secretary didn’t speak to Twitter.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we have – we use a number of social media outlets, and we’re in constant contact with them. And as I said before, we were, of course, monitoring the situation through a number of different media, including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

QUESTION: Because Twitter has taken certain actions in this regard. They, for example, delayed doing upgrades to their system so that the Iranians could still continue using Twitter. I mean, are you speaking to Twitter in terms of the role that they can play? Is that one area where you’re being helpful?

MR. KELLY: I think in our talks with them, we have highlighted how helpful they’ve been, yes.

QUESTION: No, but what I’m saying --

QUESTION: No, no, no. Did you ask –

QUESTION: Are we talking about Iran election-specific stuff here? Because earlier, in answer to similar questions, you said no, this is a general discussion that the Secretary wants the Department to become more involved, and that there hadn’t been any discussions with these people specifically related to Iran.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Which is correct?

MR. KELLY: What I said before is that this is about the Iranian people. This is about the –giving their voices a chance to be heard. One of the ways that their voices are heard are through new media.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But the building – this building has had contacts with Twitter, Facebook, whoever, about – specifically about the situation in Iran since Friday’s election; yes or no?

QUESTION: But if the --

MR. KELLY: We have – we’ve highlighted to them the importance of these social media.

QUESTION: Related to –was it related to them, because this goes back months. The dialogue between the Department and these social networking sites is old.

MR. KELLY: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: It predates --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Iranian election stuff. Has there been contact since Friday with them?

MR. KELLY: I believe that we’ve been in contact with them all weekend.

QUESTION: Okay. But on the idea of Iranian elections, did you not – did the State Department – I’m not saying the Secretary of State – did the State Department ask Twitter to kind of make sure that its networks are up and running, to pay more attention, to skip kind of periodic maintenance, to make sure – and we’re not suggesting that you were trying to influence or that you’re trying to send messages. Did you ask to make sure that the technology is able to do its job and to allow Iranians to communicate to each other and to the outside world?

MR. KELLY: It’s a long question, and I’m going to take it, okay?

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But I’m sorry, when you just --

MR. KELLY: No, I just took the question, Sue.

QUESTION: No, no, I just have one more. Just to go back, when you say, “We’ve been speaking to – ”

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: Who is “we?” I mean, it is – which department --

MR. KELLY: It’s --

QUESTION: -- within the State Department has been speaking to Twitter? And what was the goal?

MR. KELLY: I have to – I’m not sure exactly who’s been in contact. So I’ll take the question and I’ll move on. Any other questions?

QUESTION: You just said all weekend? It’s – what?

MR. KELLY: I believe so. I’ve just taken the question. We’ll get you the details we can get you.

QUESTION: Because if you’re saying that you’re not wanting --

MR. KELLY: I’ve taken the question. Next question, please. Go ahead.



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