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Middle East Digest - July 9, 2009


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Washington, DC
July 9, 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 July 9, 2009

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1:15 p.m. EDT

So with that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: What is this – what happened with these Iranian – alleged Iranian diplomats that were – the “Arbil Five”? You turned them over the Iraqis today. Why exactly, if you still believe that they are a threat?

MR. KELLY: If they’re – sorry?

QUESTION: If you believe that they are still a threat, which I think you do, why did you release them?

MR. KELLY: Well, this all gets back to our obligations under the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. We’ve – so we’ve turned them over at the request of the Iraqi Government. They’ve issued arrest warrants for all third-country detainees in U.S. forces custody and asked that these detainees be transferred to the Government of Iraq.

So today, the U.S. turned over five Iranian detainees to the Iraq Government. And obviously, for further details on this, I would refer you to the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, how you feel about the fact that the Government of Iraq says that they’re going to turn them over to the Iranians, if I’m not mistaken, tomorrow?

MR. KELLY: Again, I’d refer you to the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: But I don’t – I’m not interested in the Government of Iraq. I’m interested in the U.S. Government’s view on it.

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m interested in the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, look, we can play word games if you want.

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t want to play word games, Arshad.

QUESTION: But you know, I’m interested in what the U.S. Government thinks about the possibility that these men will then be set free.

MR. KELLY: The most important thing for us is the – for us to keep to our obligations under this security agreement. We received arrest warrants for all third country detainees, including these five Iranians. And because this is very important to us that we keep to our obligations, we handed them over.

QUESTION: And you don’t have a view on their transfer back to Iran?

MR. KELLY: Well, we – it’s my understanding that these detainees in question were associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and, of course, we have concerns about – particularly about the part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that they were associated with, which is the Qods Force, which has been involved in training and supporting Iraqi militant groups, so – but again, this is something that we agreed to with the Iraqi Government. And so we are maintaining our obligation to them.

QUESTION: But did the Iranian Government – or the Iraqi Government make the request to you under the security agreement? Because it’s been around --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The agreement’s been there since November, so why suddenly --

MR. KELLY: Lach, yeah --

QUESTION: Why now?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I think I have to refer you to the Pentagon for the exact details of when the – when they received these arrest warrants. But I know they were released today.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that – I mean, respecting the security agreement might entail a threat to the security of American troops to a certain extent, insofar as these guys might come back and do what they’ve been doing before?

MR. KELLY: Well, clearly, that is – a big concern of ours is the safety of American forces. And we have, of course, made our concerns known to the Iraqi Government. But again, we are doing this consistent with our obligations under the security agreement.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the U.S. or the embassy or through the military has protested to the Iraqis the transfer of these five to Iran?

MR. KELLY: Again, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ll see if I can find that out.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We can take that.

QUESTION: Well, there’s a lot of speculation that you knew, in fact, that this is what the Iraqis would do and that possibly this was part of your broader scheme of engagement, or trying to engage with Iran. Is that correct?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, that’s not correct. This handover is strictly consistent with our requirements under this security agreement.

QUESTION: And okay. So it has nothing to do with the Roxana Saberi case, anything --

MR. KELLY: There is absolutely – it was done, as I say, strictly under these requirements. There was not any – there is no other aspect of this. There’s no other deal or any prisoner exchange or anything like that involved in this.

QUESTION: So you’re doing it with the same misgivings you had from the very start? I mean --

MR. KELLY: Did I say misgivings?

QUESTION: Well, you said concerns, I guess.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we have concerns about this Iranian group, yes.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update information --

MR. KELLY: Any – I’m sorry. Yeah. Any more on – yeah, go ahead, Charlie.

QUESTION: Can you talk about any other detain – any other third-party – third-country detainees?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any other information on any other --

QUESTION: And can you say were your – I guess there were reports at the time about some of the materials that were found on these five when they were picked up – laptops, documents, maps. Can you speak to anything about that?

MR. KELLY: No, I can’t. I think, really, you have to ask the Pentagon about that.

QUESTION: Would you take the question and get back to us on what other third-party – third-country detainees --

MR. KELLY: If we have any other information, we will. I’m not so sure we have any other information.

Okay, new subject.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: In the Helmand province now, the Taliban has been driven out by the Marines there. So what’s going to be the State Department goal? Is it sending in civilians or the USAID, agriculture specialists there? Can you give us some of the details?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I think I addressed this question last week. We have a couple of officers who are in Helmand province. We plan to send more. I’m not entirely sure if – about the –

QUESTION: Yeah. You said three are there.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m not entirely sure if the moment has come for us to begin what would be a State Department-led operation of development. I’m not sure the state of the combat operations, so I’m not sure that it’s time to talk about State Department and USAID officers coming in behind here. I believe this is still categorized as a combat operation.

QUESTION: And secondly, the Afghan President Karzai has pardoned five prominent drug lords before the elections. Do you have any comment on this?

MR. KELLY: I think we do have guidance on that. We’ll get that to you.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the latest demonstrations in Tehran and the Iranian authorities breaking them up, I believe, by using – by firing into the air? It’s not clear to me whether tear – yeah, we have one report saying that tear gas was used.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I mean, right before I came down here I saw the images on television. I don’t have a specific reaction to those events except to say that we have – we’ve said all along that we think that Iran has to respect the political will of its people. And we would urge any government not to use undue force on peaceful demonstrators. And we – of course, as the Secretary has said many times and the President as well, that the right of the people to express themselves and the right of free association is a bedrock principle that we will always stand by. And we just hope that Iran will listen to its own people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)



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