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Middle East Digest - June 23, 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 23, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we change the topic? There are reports out of Kyrgyzstan that the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic have reached an agreement on the Manas air base and the United States continued use of it. Is that right and can you give details? Particularly there’s a report that – or a Kyrgyz official is quoted as saying that the U.S. payment will go up to $60 million from, I think, 17.4 million.

MR. KELLY: Well, I can’t give you details on the agreement, of the actual details of what we agreed to. I saw the report, actually, on Reuters about this. But what I can say is that we welcome this decision by the Kyrgyz Republic to submit to the Kyrgyz parliament a new agreement for use of Manas International Airport as a transport and logistics hub for our mission in Afghanistan.

These arrangements provide for a transit center operated by the United States at Manas International Airport. And this transit center will provide logistical support to coalition forces in Afghanistan. And we welcome efforts by the Kyrgyz Republic to continue to play a role in the international community. And we welcome this broadening role that they’re playing in the region.

QUESTION: So it is clear, then, that you do indeed have an agreement and they have now submitted this agreement to their parliament; correct?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure exactly when they’re going to submit the agreement. That’s a matter for the Kyrgyz to decide. As I understand it, the next session of parliament is in a few days.

QUESTION: Okay. But you do have an agreement?

MR. KELLY: I think it’s on June 25th.

QUESTION: You do have an agreement?

MR. KELLY: There is an agreement, yeah.

QUESTION: And you’re happy about it?

MR. KELLY: We – yeah, we’re happy about the agreement.

QUESTION: And then are you – even if you can’t go into the details, are you paying them more money – even if you can’t say exactly how much – than you were before?

MR. KELLY: I’m really not aware – seriously, I’m not aware of the exact details of it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But Ian, this was, it seems, the main problem for this agreement not to have been reached three months ago when it was an issue. And at the time, everybody was saying it’s – the money is not the problem.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And clearly, money was the problem, because now, all the reports – I mean, there are actually two or three reports saying that the U.S. will pay about three times as much as --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- it used to pay. And so I’m not clear that – it sounds as if both countries are ashamed to admit that this was about money, but you’re refusing to discuss details.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, is there anything wrong with the fact that you were paying rent for something you’re using?

MR. KELLY: No, not at all. In fact, all over the world, I mean, we pay our way. The U.S. military pays its way, the U.S. State Department --

QUESTION: Right. So why the secrecy? I mean --

MR. KELLY: No, it’s just that I don’t have the details of what was spelled out financially in the agreement.

QUESTION: Can you take that?

MR. KELLY: If I can get you more information, yeah, we’ll be glad to get it for you.

QUESTION: Can you also tell us, were there any discussions with the Russians about this? Because Bill Burns, when he was in Moscow with Mike McFall three months ago, he did talk about this.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any more recent discussions?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know – I’m not aware of any more recent discussions. I know that when Under Secretary Burns went to Moscow, of course, they talked quite a bit about Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Or even the Russian desk (inaudible) now.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, that’s true, yeah. And I do recall that it came up. Whether Manas specifically came up – I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

Yeah.

QUESTION: How is the new mission different from the old mission at this point?

MR. KELLY: What I understand – well, it’s more of a logistical hub. It is a – and I think another aspect of it that differs is the fact that there are Kyrgyz security elements that are providing security for the base. But that’s – beyond that, I don’t know many more details.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: A different subject, if we may, on Iran? The American public comment from officials has moved along two tracks from the very beginning of the post-election period. American public officials have commented on the voting irregularities, the apparent voting irregularities, and also on the regime’s response to the protests.

Setting aside the regime’s response to the protest and focusing on the initial American public official calls for there to be transparency with regard to the review of the election and so on, I wonder if you, having been one of those officials who has made those calls, are satisfied with the statements we’ve heard out of the Guardian Council, which is the body that the supreme leader has tasked with conducting those reviews?

Just in the last couple of days, we’ve seen the Guardian Council state that they found voting irregularities in 50 of 170 districts, but that the election won’t be annulled. Just today, the Guardian Council has apparently agreed to a request for more time for reviews.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What do you make of these actions and statements by the Guardian Council? And are they meeting the standards that the American public officials like yourself set at the very beginning when you called for transparency and for these kinds of concerns to be met?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, as I’ve said before, we think that Iran has to take very seriously these doubts that have been cast upon the election process. There are a number – there’s a significant number of Iranians who have very serious concerns. And Iran has to heed these concerns. I’ve also said from this podium that I don’t think it’s really productive for me, at this very important moment in Iranian history, to try and characterize what’s going on inside Iran. I think, as I say, this is – or as the President said, that it’s a profound moment. And it’s a moment for Iranians to be heard and to have their political will respected. But you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to get in – too much into detail into characterizing internal Iranian politics.

QUESTION: Well, when you stand at a podium and you say they need to take these concerns seriously, and Iran then announces certain steps in that direction, it seems to me that if you arrogate onto yourself the wherewithal and the latitude to make the original call, it’s incumbent upon you to answer forthrightly questions about whether or not the steps taken meet your expectations.

MR. KELLY: As a general principle, I agree with you, except when I don’t think it’s productive for me to do so. (Laughter.)

Let’s go to the back now.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to claims from Pakistani (inaudible) officials that a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan near the Afghan border has caused some major casualties?

MR. KELLY: I have not seen those reports. I think – in general, I don’t think that we would comment. But if we can, I’ll see if we can get you more information.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Israel, I think there were reports that Israel has authorized – I guess, building of an additional 240 settlements in the West Bank. Looking for comment on that. I think the number was 300, but I --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Just give me a second here. Well, I mean, I’ll reiterate our – what we always say or what I always say and what others say: We oppose continued settlement activity. All parties have the responsibility to help create the context that will support renewed, meaningful negotiations that can be concluded quickly. The bottom line is that we expect all parties to honor their commitments. Our position is that settlement activity has to stop consistent with the Roadmap.

We continue to hold discussions with the Israeli Government. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, our policy in Jerusalem has not changed. Jerusalem is a final status issue. Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resolve this status during negotiations.

QUESTION: And does Mr. Mitchell still intend to meet with Mr. Netanyahu tomorrow?

MR. KELLY: I think as – you’ve probably seen press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Special Envoy Mitchell jointly decided to postpone their meeting. This meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Paris. This was done because we want to give Special Envoy Mitchell a chance to meet with Defense Minister Barak, and that visit will take place on Monday where we hope to advance discussions on a range of issues.

QUESTION: That’s Monday here in Washington?

MR. KELLY: Monday here in Washington.

QUESTION: And do you know why it was – why it was felt necessary that Defense Minister Barak should first meet with Senator Mitchell?

MR. KELLY: I think it was – they saw it as a matter of steps – first, meet with Defense Minister Barak and then with the prime minister.

QUESTION: I get that. I’m just wondering why. I mean, Barak obviously has – you know, is directly responsible for what goes on in the West Bank and so on. And I wonder, for example, if it is related to movement and access issues that Senator Mitchell wants to discuss with him, or more broadly to settlements and the Israeli Government’s refusal thus far to adhere to the U.S. call for --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I really don’t have any information on that. But we’ll find out on Monday, I hope.

QUESTION: Can I ask you two quick ones on --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Palau.

MR. KELLY: Palau?

QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports that the Uighurs have raised concerns about the possibility of being resettled to Palau, and in particular, fear that – that, you know, that the Palau authorities couldn’t protect them from China there. Are you aware of those reports, or more specifically, of any such concerns on the part of the Uighurs? And do you see a way to resolve them, or might they have to go elsewhere?

MR. KELLY: Well, I can honestly say I’m not aware of those reports --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: -- which is always a good thing. And I’ll see if I can get you more information.

QUESTION: The other thing is that there seemed to be a suggestion that the Palau authorities might wish for greater compensation in connection with resettling the Uighurs, and if you could see if you can get more information on that.

MR. KELLY: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.



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