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Middle East Digest - June 29, 2009

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Washington, DC
June 29, 2009


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 29, 2009

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1:15 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Afghanistan – Richard Holbrooke on the weekend at the – I believe at the G-8 Foreign Ministers meeting said that U.S. policy with regard to drugs was changing, that instead of eradication, which he described as shooting Afghan farmers, there would be a policy of stopping the drugs, of – what was the word that he used – interdiction combined with support to the farmers in Afghanistan. I was wondering, do you have any strategy for how this interdiction should work? Would it be a NATO operation, would it be in cooperation with other countries in the area which are affected by the flow of drugs from Afghanistan? Is there a clear roadmap on how that would work?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think first and foremost, this is an Afghan operation. And our efforts and the efforts of our NATO allies have been to support the Afghan Government’s efforts to deal with this problem of narcotics.

We remain committed to counternarcotics in Afghanistan. I think what we’re talking about here is we would like to increase our efforts to alternative crop development, public information, and interdiction, rather than eradication. Again, this is really – it’s up to the Afghan Government to determine how they go about their own counter narcotic efforts. But we do support them, of course.

QUESTION: Well, the Afghan Government seemed to indicate – or the Afghan forces, counternarcotics forces, seemed to indicate that they are happy with the policy as it’s now working. And there was some discrepancy there in regard to –

MR. KELLY: Yeah, well, I haven’t seen any statements from the Afghan Government in that regard.

Yeah, Bob.

QUESTION: Do you have an answer to the question that was raised last week about the two Palestinian-American boys who could not get out of Gaza to get their –

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I might. I might. Hold on a second. Okay. We’re aware of the situation. Due to Privacy Act limitations, we have no comment at this time. We’d like to emphasize that our ability to provide consular services in Gaza is quite limited. And of course, all along, we’ve urged citizens to refrain from traveling to Gaza.

QUESTION: So they have no – there’s nothing you can do about it?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that we – I can’t comment on the particulars of it because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver for them.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on Israel.

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: It’s been reported that Ehud Barak is going to present some sort of compromise to your Mideast peace envoy tomorrow at their meeting that reportedly would have some sort of three-, six-month freeze on new constructions. Is that acceptable? Is that dead in the water? Does it go far enough or too --

MR. KELLY: Well, as you probably know, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is going to meet with Special Envoy Mitchell in New York tomorrow morning. Of course, we’ve been working with all the parties to try and come up with an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations. And we look forward to sitting down and talking about what we can do to move this process forward. But let’s see what – I’m not going to prejudge what happens tomorrow. Let’s see – this is tomorrow morning they’re going to meet.

QUESTION: In the past, the Secretary and others, including the President, have said that they would accept no settlement growth and they put a full stop at the end of that. It doesn’t sound like you’re saying that now.

MR. KELLY: What I’m saying is that in order to create this environment that I talked about that would be conducive to the resumption of negotiations, both Israel and the Palestinians need to comply with their obligations under the Roadmap. And both sides know exactly what that means. For the Palestinians, it means ending incitements to violence against Israel and demonstrating an ability to provide security. For Israel, it means: stop the settlements, which is laid out very specifically in the Roadmap. A freeze on all activity relating to settlements, including natural growth, is what it says in the Roadmap.

QUESTION: So no compromise is really acceptable then?

MR. KELLY: Well, inherent in the word “negotiation” is, of course, sitting down and finding what one side – what the other side wants and then working out a way to come to a resolution that leads to our goal of a lasting peace in the Middle East. I’m not going to say we’re not willing to compromise or – I mean, let’s just see what happens.

QUESTION: And then one other question on Israel. The Human Rights Watch has put out a report faulting Israel for using precision drone attacks that resulted in civilian casualties in Gaza earlier this year. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen that actually, that report. I think, in general, of course, we’ve been calling on all sides to avoid actions that would lead to more tension. But beyond that, I don’t really have any comment.


QUESTION: Another question on Iran. I might have missed the answer on this, but did the United States deny a visa to the first vice president of Iran to attend a meeting at the United Nations last week as their mission claims?

MR. KELLY: I think the short answer to that is no. But we do have more information that we can give you – I need some more details on that. I just – I mean – never mind, I do have that. Hold on a second.

We are aware of this statement of Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee where he said that the first vice president of the Islamic Republic of Iran was denied a visa. We did receive a large number of applications to this UN conference on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development. On June 16, however, the Iranian mission requested that we return the passports, including Vice President Davoodi’s, without visas.

Late on June 23rd, the applications for a large Davoodi delegation were submitted too late to be processed for a conference that began the next day on June 24th. In addition, the Department did expedite the processing and issuance of visas for a smaller delegation led by Foreign Minister Mottaki. All in all, seven visas were granted for that.


QUESTION: Just on Iraq, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from major Iraqi cities tomorrow, our reporter on the ground down in Mosul is saying the military there is keeping six U.S. military posts inside the city due to recent tensions between the Kurdish and Arab communities in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Is your understanding that the agreement is to pull back from all major cities within Iraq? Is that how you – are there any exceptions to that as far as you know?

MR. KELLY: Well, as far as I know, the agreement is very clear: June 30th, U.S. forces pull out of urban areas. And we’re – we are very committed to fulfilling the terms of that agreement. Regarding this specific instance, I’m not aware. But of course, we want to do what’s right by Iraq. We’ll have to look into this specific instance. It may even be a question for the Pentagon and not for us.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

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