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 25, 2009
QUESTION: On Iran, sir, I was wondering – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the Obama Administration is behaving like the Bush Administration, and said there wasn’t much point in talking to Washington unless it apologizes to Iran. What – how is the State Department going to deal with this?
MR. KELLY: Well, as the President has said many times, what’s going on in Iran now is not about us. They’re – the Iranian Government has to focus on addressing the very real concerns of the Iranian people about their desire to be more involved in the political process. They can’t solve their problems by blaming them on us. They have to be focused, as we are, on what’s going on right now inside Iran.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran? Sorry.
MR. KELLY: One more question? Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, obviously, it’s becoming more and more difficult to know what’s happening there because of the expulsion of so many journalists. And I wonder whether you might pursue something at the UN. Is that a venue that you think might help to address how the international community responds to this?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think I addressed this yesterday in very general terms. We’re closely monitoring everything that’s going on there. As you point out, Nick, it’s getting harder and harder to monitor what’s going on there with this – with the closing down of the internet, to the expulsion of foreign journalists, the intimidation of the Iranian people, and the violence committed against those who are trying to exercise their universal rights to self-expression, communication and the right to assemble.
Secretary Clinton is in constant contact with her counterparts. We are consulting. We’ve got – as I said yesterday, we’ve got a couple of multilateral meetings coming up in Trieste and Corfu. And Iran, of course, will be a subject of discussion there. And as I also said yesterday, things are developing very quickly there. We’re very concerned about what’s happening. And we just need to see how this is all going to shake out.
QUESTION: Right. Although that doesn’t necessarily answer my question. But I’m wondering, in those meetings that you’re talking about, is the U.S. going into those meetings with an open mind or perhaps a suggestion that eventually these will move to the UN and specifically to the Security Council? Is there anything that you’ve done, any homework that you’ve done here before going to those meetings that might lead to that?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we’re – I mean, we’re discussing a lot of different options multilaterally and within the government. As we’ve said many times, we are – we’re very concerned about what we see going on on the ground. We want the will of the Iranian people to be respected and we’re coordinating with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: And just one last one. Have – I wonder whether you’ve been – whether you’ve noticed or have been discouraged or encouraged by anything that Russia and China might have said about the situation in Iran so far?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think as far as Russia and China is concerned, as I said yesterday, the Secretary spoke to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Yang. Russia and China have – they’ve expressed their own concerns about Iran and the path that it’s on. We have, of course, offered a forum for – to address some of these concerns that we have.
QUESTION: I was asking about this – the post-election situation, because they’ve –
MR. KELLY: No, I – well, that’s what I’m talking about too.
QUESTION: – they’ve barely spoken, but they’ve said a few things that’s not exactly what the West has been saying. They actually are supporting the election result as announced by the government in Iran.
MR. KELLY: Well, what I’m focusing on is what we’ve discussed with them in terms of the way forward, particularly in terms of getting Iran back to negotiating on some of these concerns that the international community has. I’m just going to have to refer you to Moscow and Beijing to get their views on the internal situation.
QUESTION: On Iran again, yesterday, we asked you how many invitations were sent to Iranian
diplomats. Do you have this figure now?
MR. KELLY: No, I don’t have that figure. I mean, you saw what happened yesterday. The Secretary sent out a message to all diplomatic and consular missions asking them to rescind the invitations that have been issued. And this was – we made this – or she made this decision based on what’s going on in the streets of Tehran. And that’s all there is to it. I mean, I don’t have any information about how many invitations were issued.
QUESTION: Israel – an Israeli military official has said that Israel plans to curtail the activities of its military in four West Bank cities. A Palestinian official that we have quoted derides this as a sham and notes that the Israelis reserve the right to continue to punch into the cities in cases of urgent need. What is your assessment of this? Is it a good thing that Israel says it is curtailing its military activities in those West Bank areas, and do you concur with the Palestinian view that they should stay out of the cities entirely and not reserve the right to go back in?
MR. KELLY: Well, let me say, first of all, that we understand that this has happened, that Israel has taken steps to improve movement and access in the West Bank, including by removing or easing some manned Israeli Defense Force checkpoints. We appreciate these positive steps which are consistent with the Israeli Government’s commitment to help improve lives of average Palestinians, but we also recognize that there’s also more work that has to be done in this regard.
Let me also say that we recognize that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must be – that must continue to be safeguarded. Efforts to maintain security while maximizing movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical. And of course, our ultimate goal is a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution. This is our objective, and of course, we’re pursuing it vigorously and we’ll continue to pursue it vigorously in the coming months.
QUESTION: Just so I’m clear, is it your understanding that the removal of some Israeli military checkpoints is directly related to this decision to pull out; in other words, the movement and access things you’re talking about are recent and related to this?
MR. KELLY: Right.
QUESTION: Not old --
MR. KELLY: I believe so. I believe so, Arshad.
QUESTION: On the same subject.
MR. KELLY: Right.
QUESTION: The Hamas leader Meshal has said that regarding Obama’s Cairo speech that he likes the words, but they’re seeing little action on the ground. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t agree with that. I think we’re working very hard to – for us to meet our common objective. I mean, we are – we’re encouraging all parties to take steps that will lead to a positive context, that will lead to renewed negotiations, and the goal that we need for the region, a comprehensive peace agreement. So I don’t agree with that assessment.
QUESTION: Was this speech monitored by the State Department – the – Meshal’s speech?
MR. KELLY: You know, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Yes, over here.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary appointed a special representative for Muslim communities?
MR. KELLY: Yes.
QUESTION: When was this?
MR. KELLY: This was – you know, she’s actually a friend of mine. I worked with her very closely in the European Bureau, Farah Pandith. She was a special advisor for outreach to Muslim communities in Europe. The Secretary has appointed her to more of a global role. And I think it’d be a good idea for her to come down here and talk to you guys about her role.
QUESTION: Could you put something out in the meantime about her appointment and --
MR. KELLY: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.
QUESTION: Just out of curiosity, is she a Muslim?
MR. KELLY: You know, I can’t answer that question.
QUESTION: You’re friends and you don’t know?
MR. KELLY: Sorry?
QUESTION: You’re friends and you don’t know? (Laughter.)
MR. KELLY: I haven’t asked her her religious affiliation.
Yes, Dave. I’m sorry. You have a follow-up?
QUESTION: When was this appointment made?
MR. KELLY: I believe it was made two days ago.
QUESTION: It was recent?
MR. KELLY: Yeah, it was either yesterday or the day before.
QUESTION: Is there some reason you guys didn’t announce it?
MR. KELLY: Well, there was an announcement, and I know it was sent out to the State Department community. But we will put it out more broadly.
QUESTION: That might be interesting for – just for a broader Muslim community other than those in the State Department, you know.
MR. KELLY: Fair point. Yes.
QUESTION: A faction of al-Qaida has apparently taken responsibility for killing an American in Mauritania and saying that he was proselytizing. I just wonder what you know about that case and the state of cooperation with the Mauritanian Government.
MR. KELLY: Yeah, if you just give me a moment, I’ll – I do have something for you. We’re closely working with the local police as they investigate this terrible murder. The investigation is ongoing, so I don’t have a whole lot of details. We’re not able to corroborate or dismiss the claim that it was a terrorist attack. It’s too early to tell if this was just simply rhetoric or propaganda on the part of some of these groups. And so because of that, because it’s ongoing, we can’t really speculate on the motive yet.