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Middle East Digest- July 10, 2009

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Washington, DC
July 10, 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 July 10, 2009

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2:29 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: I had a second question, sorry. Switching topics to Iraq, what is the State Department doing in response to the passage of the new Kurdish constitution that solidifies Kurdish claims over oil in the region that could preclude the national arrangement of oil-sharing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re very concerned about any unilateral steps that might be taken within Iraq. Obviously, as a number of U.S. leaders have said – the Vice President most recently, the Secretary in her trip to Iraq in May – Iraq has a lot of work to do. There is a debate going on within Iraq about the powers of the central government, the powers of regional government. And as we have done many times, we encourage all Iraqis to come together.

And they’ve got unfinished business in terms of a variety of challenges, but this is a reminder that clearly, if the objective for Iraq and the objective for the United States is national unity, that the sooner they can come together, resolve these outstanding issues and move forward politically and socially, it would be better for Iraq. And we, the United States, of course, will be very supportive.


QUESTION: P.J., in the UAE, there’s a trial upcoming on a U.S. – for a U.S. citizen on terrorism-related charges, Naji Hamdan. Can you tell – and I know there’s been consular visits to Mr. Hamdan. Can you tell us whether you think the trial will be – do you expect a fair trial in the UAE, and do you think he’s been treated fairly since he’s been in custody?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we’re aware of it. We are watching carefully, but there’s a limit to what we can say, I believe, on privacy grounds.

QUESTION: Well, but that – on perhaps – on him – precisely on Mr. Hamdan, but in general, can you say whether you think he’s been treated fairly by the UAE and whether the UAE can conduct a trial and be fair?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me see if I can get that perspective for you.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on UAE, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and some number of her Republican and also Democratic colleagues, including Congressman Markey, have written a letter to Secretary Clinton asking the State Department to respond to a series of questions regarding whether the UAE has met a series of conditions that they believe it should, prior to consummation of a civil nuclear agreement. Do you have any response? Do you – are you aware of the letter having been sent and do you have a response?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware of the letter. I believe Under Secretary Tauscher testified on the Hill on – you’re talking about UAE 123?


MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, and I refer to her testimony.

QUESTION: Could you check on whether you --


QUESTION: -- received the letter which is post for her testimony --

MR. CROWLEY: Sure, okay.

QUESTION: -- if you have a response? Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: I will.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A Pakistani military spokesperson has said that the Pak army and the ISI are in touch with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and they can bring him to the table for negotiations with the U.S. Do you – are you aware about that, the Pakistani army and ISI in touch with Taliban leaders? And would you be willing to have a negotiation or a dialogue with the Taliban leaders?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Two quick ones on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One, are you aware of this Iranian American who has been arrested – detained there last night? Apparently it’s the second time in two years he has been arrested.

MR. CROWLEY: We are aware of it and checking into it.

QUESTION: Okay. And you said – have you asked the Swiss if --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, I’ll see where we – I mean, obviously, we are aware of it, yes.

QUESTION: All right. And then the second one on Iran. Coming out of the G-8, it doesn’t look like anything’s going to happen anytime soon on new sanctions, but – and the President had spoken about a desire by the end of the year to figure out exactly what the Iranians are doing in response to the engagement offer and then to see how to proceed. Is that timeline still in effect? What – and what do you plan to do? Because it appears that the engagement has been – the offers of engagement have been pretty clearly rejected so far. So what is it that you’re going to --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, first of all, Matt, the situation in Iran is still ongoing, and the demonstrations yesterday prove once again that the Iranian Government have yet to really satisfy the concerns of the Iranian people related to the results of the election. The questions that the Iranian people continue to raise have really not yet been satisfactorily addressed.

That said, obviously, we are still watching what’s happening. Clearly, the Iranian Government has its hands full with what’s happening on the ground. We’ve always expected that the issue of engagement would follow this election period. It’s kind of into overtime. So – but one of the questions that we have and the questions that Iran still has to answer is: Where does it want to take this. You have an offer of engagement in a variety of ways on a variety of issues. We are willing to engage because those issues are of serious concern to us. They are of serious concern to other countries as well, but – we’ve offered Iran a path forward, but whether they choose to move down that path, we simply still don’t know yet.

QUESTION: When does that window close? When do you consider the election period to be – you say it’s in overtime now.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: I mean, what –

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Well, when is it over? Is it over only if and when there is an investigation of the irregularities that meets international standards or your standards? Or are you prepared at some point, when as it looks they’re not going to do anything, the results that they announced will stand, are you still prepared to – are you still prepared to be open for engagement then?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, obviously, as we’ve said here many times, we are very concerned with what has transpired. I think the Iranian people are very disappointed with what has transpired. This has clearly diverted the attention of the Iranian Government from offers of engagement, whether it’s through the P-5+1 process or other processes. You had the ministerial meeting in Trieste with an offer of Iran to join that meeting. They chose not to. So I think the answer is we just don’t know yet. The offer of engagement is still there because it’s in our interest to do so. We still have the same concerns we’ve long had about Iran, and we’re looking for a way to resolve those. And we’ll just have to wait and see, continue to see how this plays out. And if there’s a point in the future where Iran decides to move down the path that we’ve outlined, we’ll be willing to engage.

QUESTION: P.J., just to follow up on that, it wasn’t clear to me. Are you suggesting that the end of the year, although you guys didn’t want to call it a timetable, is indeed still operative, or is not?


QUESTION: Let me tell you why I ask. Gary Samore said in London publicly earlier this week that, “I think if we really haven’t seen any significant progress by that time” – and in the previous sentence he referred to Obama’s comments on the end of the year – “I’m sure that the U.S. will rather work with the Europeans, with Russia and China, to try to increase pressure on them through the Security Council. We’re not there yet, and I think the Iranians need to understand that if this diplomatic opening, this window for engagement doesn’t produce any results, it’s just inevitable that they will face much stronger action in New York.”

So it just wasn’t clear to me whether you were trying to back away from the end of the year timeline or not.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, first of all, on the end of what Gary said, I mean, we are not pursuing just one path. We continue to enforce existing sanctions. And I think the actions of the last few weeks have reminded a number of countries of the danger posed by Iran. And you do have a growing convergence that recognizes the concerns and the threat that Iran faces. So I think that there is a growing consensus with the international community about the issues that the United States has long outlined are concerns about Iran.

Obviously, how Iran responds to the offers of engagement will tell us a great deal. And I think we’re still at a period where if – we’re looking for a response, we’re looking to determine, if they respond, how, and who will be the interlocutor, in what form, on what subjects they appear to be prepared to engage. And – but as they answer these questions, if they’re able to answer these questions, it will give us a perspective. And as we go forward, we’ll understand fully – more fully what they’re prepared to do, and we’ll draw conclusions based on the response if and when it comes.

QUESTION: P.J., Iranians already said that as far as the nuclear program is concerned or the elections results are concerned, they are not going to change any. That’s it then, and this is an internal matter. So how are you going to impose those through the UN or through EU or through diplomacy or whatever, like the President have already called engagement, but they are saying that now no more engagement, nothing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure that we’re convinced at this point that a true Iranian response has yet materialized.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)

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