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Middle East Digest - June 22, 2009


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Washington, DC
June 23, 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 22, 2009

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QUESTION: Ian, on Iran, a few different things. First, what is Dennis Ross’ status as far as you understand as of today?

MR. KELLY: As of today, he is – he’s here at the State Department. He has been in constant touch with the Secretary. I know that he spoke with her several times over the weekend. He continues to be the – and I’m probably going to mess up his title, but the special advisor for --

QUESTION: Gulf and Southwest --

MR. KELLY: Gulf and Southwest Asia affairs. A lot of us were in contact with Dennis over the weekend as we were following these very dramatic events in Tehran. So we all here at the State Department benefited from his insights.

QUESTION: Was Dennis participating in interagency meetings over the weekend as far as you --

MR. KELLY: I think it’s fair to say that Dennis participated in interagency meetings, yes.

QUESTION: Will his job be here at State, or is he actually moving to the White House?

MR. KELLY: His job is here at State.

QUESTION: The – Friday’s sermon by Ayatollah Khamenei, did that set back the prospects for meaningful engagement with the regime? It seemed extraordinarily strident and hostile to the West.

MR. KELLY: I think that – well, I mean, you all know our policy about engagement and our policy about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But I really think that the focus has to be on what’s going on inside Iran. This is not about us, this is not about our bilateral relationship right now. This is about Iranians and the Iranians having their rights to express themselves, be respected, their political will be respected.

The President made a very strong statement, I thought, standing very firmly behind those who want to have their views respected, want to be able to peaceably assemble, want to have access to the media. So right now, our focus is on this very dramatic situation unfolding inside Iran.

QUESTION: This situation is unfolding in a country with which the Obama Administration over months now has been attempting to engage. And I’m simply asking whether the prospects for that succeeding or not seem to you to be improving or slipping away?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, this is a very rapidly evolving situation. At this point, we are – like all of you, we are following with great interest what’s happening in Iran. And it’s a rapidly evolving situation right now.

QUESTION: Let me put it one last way if I may, and then I’ll yield. A very knowledgeable source told me that right now, the Obama Administration is in the process of recalibrating its entire approach to the nuclear diplomacy issue with Iran. Is that true?

MR. KELLY: I will – what I will say is that this issue of Iran and its refusal to meet its obligations to the international community is a matter of great concern to us. But again, right now, we want to see this process worked out in a way that the will of the Iranian people is respected.

QUESTION: It just sounds like engagement is on hold, is what you’re saying.

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying engagement is on hold. I’m just saying instead that our focus is on what’s going on in Iran right now.

Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: Ian, it sounds as if you have basically two tracks going on. One would be the nuclear engagement, which is separate from the election; is that right?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, right now, I don’t – I’m not sure which track you mean, if you’re talking about a real track. And we have – the Iranians have not responded to Javier Solana’s invitation to join the P-5+1 talks, at which we’ve said we are willing to sit down. So there’s not much developments going on, not many developments going on in that track.

QUESTION: Granted that, can you see the situation with the election having a direct effect on how you deal with their – with the nuclear issue?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s fair to say that this is a very dramatic situation going on in Iran, and by all indications, the authorities there are very much focused on this dramatic internal situation.

QUESTION: So what are you saying, that they won’t do anything on nukes?

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying at the present time, the whole world is watching, and all eyes are on the internal situation there.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. still willing to have the idea of a P-5+1 meeting (inaudible) the G-8 despite what’s going on in Iran?

MR. KELLY: P-5+1 at the G-8?

QUESTION: Right. Is the U.S. still --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that’s up to the Italian hosts. I think you have to ask them.

QUESTION: But the U.S. is (inaudible)?

MR. KELLY: We’ve said that if they would respond to our invitation, that we would take it up.

Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: Just one more on Iran. You were saying, you know, watching with great interest, et cetera. I’m sure that’s happening. Can you be a little more specific on how the Secretary is watching this? Because a lot of the really dramatic stuff is real time, coming over TV, coming over TV reporting, on Twitter, et cetera.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And also, there was this case of the young woman who died --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Neda, I believe. Is the Secretary aware of that? Is she making any comments about the role of women in this, which is significant?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that, as I said before, Dennis Ross is playing an important role in briefing the Secretary. It’s been, frankly, very difficult, as it is for all of you, really, to get good, hard, confirmable information about what’s going on because of the inability of the media, of representatives of your organizations to really cover the situation. It’s been dangerous on the streets, so foreign diplomats, of course, have had difficulty as well.

She is following this situation with great concern, and as I said, these are very dramatic and very distressing images that we see. Most distressing of all is the image of this young woman covered in blood.

QUESTION: Do you know if --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton has spoken directly with the President in the last few days about Iran?

MR. KELLY: Yes, she has.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On China --

QUESTION: Can we – Ian --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, one more on Iran?

QUESTION: I have several more.

MR. KELLY: Several more.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: (Laughter.) I’m going to run out of material here.

QUESTION: We’ll supply the --

QUESTION: This isn’t a frivolous question, really. Do you think it’s still appropriate to have Iranians come to these July 4th parties under the circumstances? I mean, is there any thought being given to like, rescinding invitations?

MR. KELLY: No, there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats.

QUESTION: It’s appropriate to have a social dialogue with them if they come?

MR. KELLY: Well, we have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran, and we tried many years of isolation and we’re pursuing a different path now.

QUESTION: Have they said yes?

QUESTION: The President keeps saying that --

MR. KELLY: I don’t know, Arshad. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The President keeps saying that it’s important for the U.S. to not be seen as trying to influence events inside Iran one way or the other. But the Iranian Government has begun blaming not just the U.S., but also the British --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the French, and the Germans for meddling, for making social networking tools available --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- for – by just simply saying that they stand with the people --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- accusing them of meddling.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: This morning, we heard from the former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, also essentially asking President Obama and the State Department to say more. Is this narrow path that the U.S. is treading going to be the path? And if so, why?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what you’ve seen in Iran, what we just saw on Friday is what you’ve been seeing all along. And that’s using us as a kind of foil – using the Great Satan, using the U.S. as a way to justify the policies or gain public support. So we don’t want to get into a polemic necessarily on this. I think what you saw over the weekend, though, was a – as I said before, a very strong statement by the President, setting out these fundamental principles that our country was founded on. And these are the kind of principles that we are going to stand up for, wherever we see them being violated, and --

QUESTION: But if the Iranian Government is going to go ahead and accuse the U.S. of meddling, why wouldn’t there be a willingness to say more or to do more on the U.S.’s part, for example, asking for an investigation of human rights abuses at the UN?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think – as I said before, I think that we’ve already done a lot. And I think because of the reasons I laid out before, I’m not necessarily – I don’t necessarily think we need to get into kind of a Washington-Tehran polemic. I think we need to coordinate, and I think that the Secretary is doing that – coordinating our approaches with our allies. I think we have to do these things together. I don’t think it’s necessarily productive for the U.S. to be out in front on this. I think we need to do these things together.

QUESTION: So there isn’t any element that the U.S. policy toward Iran – engagement, the nuclear issue, direct bilateral relations, July 4th parties – there isn’t a single element in our policy toward Iran that the events of the last 10 days has caused us to rethink?

MR. KELLY: Oh, well, no, I think that what – again, this is a rapidly developing situation. But I think we’ve come out very strongly condemning acts of violence, calling for the Iranians to open up their society, to allow these Iranian protestors to be able to express their views, to be able to assemble peacefully. These are all very strong statements on our part.

QUESTION: But on the broad level – engagement with Iran, our approach toward the nuclear issue on the broad level – these things are undisturbed by the events of the last few days, correct?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I said before, we – right now, we’re not really focused on the bilateral relationship, not so much. What we’re focused on is what’s going on inside Iran.

QUESTION: How focused is the U.S. Government on what appears to be a growing schism among the members of the theocracy inside Iran?

MR. KELLY: I think we’re monitoring all these situations very closely. We’re monitoring how the Iranian people are being treated by their own government. We’re monitoring the way the situation is unfolding, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Ian, you said – you talked about the need to coordinate approaches with allies. How have you done that so far? I mean, we haven’t really seen any joint statements from the U.S. and other European nations or others or any high-level meetings on the matter.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How exactly are you coordinating the approach?

MR. KELLY: Well, the – as I said, the Secretary has called some of her colleagues today. We’re going to have more opportunities to talk in these two multilateral meetings coming up. As far as joint statements are concerned, I think we’re talking more about common approaches rather than joint statements.

QUESTION: Have you had any contact with the former Iranian crown prince?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: On Israel, I was wondering what your reaction is to the new Israeli budget that puts tens of millions of dollars for new construction in Ma'ale Adummim in the West Bank and Har Homa in Jerusalem.

MR. KELLY: I’ll see if I can get you more information on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just to clarify --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: When you’re talking about no natural growth in settlements --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- does that include any Jerusalem neighborhoods that are over the green line?

MR. KELLY: That – we call for a cease to all settlement activity.

QUESTION: Including Jerusalem --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Including Jerusalem in that?

MR. KELLY: We’re talking about all settlement activity, yeah, in the area across the line.

QUESTION: Thank you.



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