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Middle East Digest - June 30, 2009

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Washington, DC
June 30, 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 30, 2009

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12:37 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I think you had a question, so --

QUESTION: She covered it.

MR. KELLY: Covered it, good. Okay.

QUESTION: Just quickly on Afghanistan, if you could take this question? How much has the U.S. Government provided to the Criminal Justice Task Force and --

MR. KELLY: Under what auspices? Under the Afghan Government, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s a Criminal Justice Task Force that goes after narcotics traffickers.

MR. KELLY: Okay. You’re looking for bilateral assistance?

QUESTION: Yeah. How much total are you --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Okay. There may be some assistance we do through multilateral mechanisms, too. Okay, well, we’ll take that question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) bilateral.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And if I may get back to just one. Ehud Barak (inaudible), as you may have read, is reportedly offering a three-month settlement freeze while Secretary Clinton and President Obama have called for a full stop to all kind of settlement activity, full stop.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How would you react to that proposal? It doesn’t sound like you’re really being heard in Israel.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, what we’re doing right now, or what Senator Mitchell is doing, is working very hard to create the conditions that will enable both sides to resume negotiations. And you’ve heard me say many times from this podium that we believe that all parties have to meet their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, you know for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlements, which means a freeze of all activity, including natural growth. The Palestinians have their own obligations under the Roadmap, and that’s stopping incitement and proving that they can improve security. We also have made it clear to Arab states in the region that they should take steps towards normalization.

As far as any kind of time limits, I think we’re not – we’re not interested in setting any kind of time limits before negotiations have even begun. And as you’ve also heard me say many times from this podium, we don’t really want to negotiate from the podium. We don’t want to negotiate via the media.


QUESTION: Sorry. Can I clarify that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What does that mean, “before negotiations have begun”? Does that mean before the Israelis and Palestinians talk about it they should be working on timelines, or before you and the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I just – what we want to do is get the parties to sit down, and I just don’t think it’s really fruitful for us to talk about any kind of time limit to those negotiations.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) there was a freeze of three months – the negotiations –

MR. KELLY: Well, like I say --

QUESTION: -- they have three months --

MR. KELLY: I just – I’m not going to get into the details --

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s what you are relating to? That’s --

MR. KELLY: Well, no, I’m talking about the negotiations themselves – a time limit, a start point and an end point. I don’t think it’s useful for us to talk about.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re getting out of this argument and for the longest time it’s between you – between the U.S. and Israel, and the criticism has been that it should be between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it sounds like you’re trying to back out of that argument.

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, this is what we want. We want the two sides to sit down. We want to get to a point where we have the kind of conditions where they can sit down and start talking.

QUESTION: A follow-up, please?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But if the Israelis agree to a three-month or a six-months freeze on settlement activity, all settlement activity, doesn't that give you a six-months window to try to get the peace process started? Would that be an acceptable compromise for you?

MR. KELLY: I’m not – as I say, I’m not going to negotiate from here, and I’m definitely not going to answer a question that begins “if.”

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iran, now that the Guardian Council has announced its decision and announced Ahmadinejad as the final winner with even more votes than before, is that enough for the U.S. Government, or are you still going to wait and see what happens on the street and by the opposition?

MR. KELLY: You know, as the Secretary said yesterday, we’re very concerned about what’s happening in Iran. We’re very concerned about this – what she called a credibility gap, or I think she even said a huge credibility gap. And so I think that the real question here is: Is this issue of the Iranian Government addressing these very real concerns of the Iranian people? And I think this process still has to play out.

QUESTION: Well, what are you waiting – what are you waiting to play out? I mean, are you waiting to see if the protests gain steam again and they – or they’re forced to make a decision? Are you waiting to see if Ahmadinejad gets sworn in again before you make a --

MR. KELLY: I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean by what are we waiting for.

QUESTION: Well, you say you’re waiting for it to play out. I mean, I’m just unclear what specifically you’re waiting for. I mean, are you waiting to see if the regime actually goes ahead and swears him in again as president to determine your next steps? I mean, you haven’t said whether you’re going to recognize the new government. I’m just not clear what you’re waiting to play out.

QUESTION: What is it that hasn’t played out?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I – yeah. I think that there are – that the Iranian Government still has to take some action. It’s not just a matter of pronouncements. I think that they have to take very seriously these concerns of a huge part of their population.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but --

MR. KELLY: We don’t see that.


MR. KELLY: In addition, we don’t see that they’ve addressed the concerns of the international community about their nuclear program. So we’re still waiting for some actions.

QUESTION: Well, but – I know. I mean, you could wait indefinitely for some actions, but just kind of --

MR. KELLY: Well, maybe we – I hope we don’t.

QUESTION: But – okay, but, I mean, at what point do you say there will be consequences if you don’t see some actions? I mean, I just don’t understand what you – at what point you say, okay, this is played out, we’re going to make a determination of what to do.

MR. KELLY: Well, you know what the Secretary said yesterday. I mean, we’re going to – we are going to make decisions and base our actions on the national interests of the United States. We have two sets of concerns. We have the concerns about the lack of consensus in Iran, and we don’t think that the Iranian Government is respecting the will of its people. So that’s one set of concerns.

The other is the concerns of the international community about Iran’s nuclear program, and we’re going to just continue to raise these concerns until we see that action is taken.

QUESTION: Well, I understand. But that’s – waiting to see if – how it plays out, don’t you think that’s inconsistent with “we’re going to do what’s in the best interests of our national security interests regardless?”

MR. KELLY: I just – you’re asking us to take actions. I don’t think --

QUESTION: I’m asking you if you’re going to recognize the president or not. I’m asking if you’re going to recognize President Ahmadinejad as the legitimate government that you will be – that you say you want to deal with in – on your other national security interests.

MR. KELLY: All right. Well, I’ll make a few comments. One is that legitimacy of any government derives from the consent of the governed. I think that we’ve always had concerns about the political process in Iran. We also want to make sure that we have – that the concerns – that our concerns that affect our national security and those of our allies are also addressed. And we will make decisions on that based on our dealings with Iran, based on our national interests. We think, right now, that this internal situation needs to play out.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up? But it has played out. The Guardian Council has said --

MR. KELLY: I don’t think it’s played out.

QUESTION: -- Ahmadinejad has – so what are you waiting for? You’re waiting for him to be sworn in?

MR. KELLY: Okay. I’ll say it again. We’re waiting for Iran to take some action.

QUESTION: What kind of action?

MR. KELLY: Well, they need to address the concerns of the international community.

QUESTION: But that’s separate from the election.

MR. KELLY: I know it’s separate from the election. We --

QUESTION: The nuclear file is separate from the election.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And when it comes to that region, a lot of leaders have a legitimacy problem and a credibility gap with their people.


QUESTION: And you still deal with them, like President Mubarak --

MR. KELLY: That’s right. We do.

QUESTION: -- or President Asad of Syria.

MR. KELLY: We do.

QUESTION: So at what point do you decide that you’re going to deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

MR. KELLY: Well, we haven’t reached that point yet. We will reach that point when – I mean, we’ve laid out exactly what we think needs to happen in the P-5+1. Javier Solana has invited Iran to participate. We have said that we will participate. Those actions haven’t taken place. That meeting hasn’t materialized.


QUESTION: But that’s – sorry, that’s --

MR. KELLY: We will make decisions when we – when this situation materializes.

QUESTION: Okay. This is a theoretical question, but if tomorrow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says “I’m the president of Iran, I’m willing to sit down with you to talk about the nuclear file -- ”

MR. KELLY: You know I’m not going to answer that.

QUESTION: -- would you recognize him as the president, or who would you talk to?

MR. KELLY: I just – I’m not going to answer that.

QUESTION: So what are you saying --

MR. KELLY: This is a moot question. We’ll deal with it when it happens.

QUESTION: They said he’s – won the election, and that they’ve scheduled his swearing-in. And so the question is: Once he is sweared in, are you --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to answer that.

QUESTION: But it could --

MR. KELLY: We’ll deal with it when it happens, Elise. It hasn’t happened.

QUESTION: Okay, okay. We’ll ask you when it happens.

QUESTION: Okay. But you are saying --

QUESTION: It’s a bit confusing.

QUESTION: It’s a bit confusing. You are saying that you are going to recognize Ahmadinejad when they decide --

MR. KELLY: Did I say that?

QUESTION: -- when they decide they will attend this P-5+1 meeting. I don’t see the relationship.

MR. KELLY: Look, as the Secretary said yesterday, this – it’s a – the situation is still evolving in Iran. We have real concerns. The Iranian people have concerns. When and if the Iranians respond to the concerns of the international community and decide to abide by their responsibilities under their agreements --


MR. KELLY: -- we will make our decisions based on our national interests.

QUESTION: How does that address the credibility gap?

QUESTION: So just for clarification, though, because it’s a bit confusing. The questions were based on the election.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: When will you justify the election. And then you said the Iranian Government needs to take some actions.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: But you seem to be basing the actions on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Exactly.

QUESTION: So do they need to take actions on the nuclear --

MR. KELLY: No, no, no. I said they’re two separate issues.

QUESTION: Right, exactly, but --

MR. KELLY: There’s two separate issues.

QUESTION: -- people were asking about the elections and you said they need to take actions in your response.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: But then you started – the actions you started saying they needed to take were on the nuclear issue. So I’m a little confused --

MR. KELLY: Well, okay.

QUESTION: -- what actions they need to take --

MR. KELLY: I’ll repeat.

QUESTION: -- in order to have the election recognized.

MR. KELLY: We don’t think that they’ve addressed the concerns of the people, and they need to do that. They have – they’ve taken actions against their own people, that they need to address these issues. That’s one set of issues. The other set of issues is the international set of issues, and they haven’t taken actions in that regard either.

QUESTION: A quick question, Ian, just about the linkage between the two sets of issues. Are we – I may be mistaken, but are we to understand that the United States will confer legitimacy on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and turn a blind eye on the crackdown if they do what you want --

MR. KELLY: Have we turned a blind eye? We have not turned a blind eye to what’s happened. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) If they come to the table about the nuclear issue, then are you going to recognize --

MR. KELLY: We’ll deal with that when the situation arrives.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Back to Iran, one last one. You say we don’t think they have addressed the concerns of the people.


QUESTION: Okay. So what do they have to do to address the concerns of the people?

MR. KELLY: Well, there’s a number of things they could do. One, they could allow foreign journalists back in to allow international coverage of what’s going on. They can allow the free flow of information via the internet. They can start some kind of political process that involves all of the parties involved in the political process. There’s a number of things that they could do.

QUESTION: Sorry. Again, are you just saying those are things they need to do before you will recognize –

MR. KELLY: No, I’m just saying --

QUESTION: -- or is it just examples?

MR. KELLY: -- these are things that any government should do to --

QUESTION: Another --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- last question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On North Korea, Treasury Department just announced that United States will freeze assets of Iranian companies that helps North Korean weapons program. Do you --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- have any comment?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we’re going to have an announcement on that. In fact, it may have already come out, but --

QUESTION: Treasury already put out the --

MR. KELLY: Treasury put it out, yeah. I’ll refer you to Treasury for the details of the implementation. But this just happened literally a few moments ago, so we’ll --

QUESTION: Do you think it’s going to have any effect, any impact on North Koreans?

MR. KELLY: Well, I certainly hope so. But for details, I’ll refer you to Treasury, but we’ll also have a Media Note that will --

QUESTION: Can you kind of explain to us what this effect is, I mean, specifically which companies --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, Kirit, like I say, this literally just happened this morning. So we’ll put out a Media Note, and if you have further questions, you can let us know.

QUESTION: Was this coordinated with the trip of Ambassador Goldberg? Was this – the timing coordinated?

MR. KELLY: I don’t believe it was timed with the trip. I think it was – the decision was made on its own merits.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)

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