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Middle East Digest - July 21, 2009

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Washington, DC
July 21, 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 21, 2009

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1:21 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: And I’d like to give you one other item about travel from Ambassador Holbrooke. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is traveling to Pakistan July 21 through 23 and then subsequently to Afghanistan. We’re still trying to work through his schedule in Afghanistan and to a couple of the other stops, and we’ll get that information to you as soon as we have it available.

While he’s in Islamabad, Ambassador Holbrooke will focus on a range of economic and security issues, in particular the situation of the internal refugees and reconstruction plans for their return to their homes. He is scheduled to meet with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Ashfaq Kayani, and General Ahmad Pasha. Also in Islamabad, he will have breakfast with citizens from Swat, Buner, Malakand, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, and South Waziristan.

And that’s all I’ve got. We’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah, Israel Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has said today that U.S. calls for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction run counter to past agreement between the two nations and could undermine the U.S. credibility. Do you have any reaction?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything beyond what we’ve said. Our policy has been very clear on the issue of settlements, and there’s been no change.

QUESTION: But are you --

QUESTION: What about the agreements between the U.S. and Israel?

MR. WOOD: I think Secretary Clinton has spoken to that issue in quite a bit of detail. And I just really don’t have anything more to add. I think you all well know our policy on settlements in Israel (inaudible). I mean, I could go through it again, but I think you’ve all heard it many times.

QUESTION: Yeah, we know your policy. But what are you going to do to convince Israel to go your way on settlements?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, this is what Senator Mitchell is trying to do. He is traveling – he’s been to the region a few times, as you know. He is planning to travel again. And what he’s trying to do, and what the Secretary has been pushing for, is to try to create conditions on the ground, conditions that will allow us to resume negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

QUESTION: Yeah, but obviously Israel doesn’t want to do that. Because today, the Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that Israel acts and will act in line with its national interests, our rights in Jerusalem, including its development cannot be challenged.

MR. WOOD: Nobody --

QUESTION: So this is obviously – they just reject all calls from U.S., from Europeans, from the Russians, from everybody.

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly no one is asking Israel to act outside its national security interests. What we’re asking both parties to do is to fulfill the Roadmap obligations. Both sides have committed to do that. We are working with the parties to try to help them fulfill those commitments. And as I said, Senator Mitchell is trying to help create the conditions on which we can begin negotiations again between the two parties and eventually lead to discussions on the other tracks.

Look, Sylvie, this stuff isn’t easy. If it were easy, it would have been – we would have solved this problem a long time ago. But the Secretary – Senator Mitchell is very committed to this process. And we’re going to work very hard with the parties. We expect there to be ups and downs, but we’re going to continue to push because this is in not only the interest of the parties, but in the interest of the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Would U.S. be ready to exert some financial pressures on Israel to convince the government to stop settlements?

MR. WOOD: Well, Sylvie, it’s premature to talk about that. What we’re trying to do, as I said, right now is to create an environment which makes it conducive for talks to go forward. And as I said, Senator Mitchell is working very hard on this. And what we all need to do in the international community is support this effort, and that means Americans, that means Arabs and Israelis, to do what they can to kind of foster a climate in which the two sides can come together and negotiate their differences peacefully so that we can get to that two-state solution.

QUESTION: But Robert --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Dan Meridor has said – that the agreement we had with the Americans is binding on us and them. And he added that they should keep to the agreement. He’s calling the U.S. to keep to the agreement.

MR. WOOD: I think we’ve been very clear with regard to settlements. They need to stop, and that includes natural growth. I don’t have anything more to add to that. The Israelis are well aware of our position. And we’ll obviously continue to have talks with the Israelis on this subject and other issues, but our policy remains the same.

QUESTION: But they are continuing building in --

MR. WOOD: Well, I said, we’re having --

QUESTION: -- Jerusalem.

MR. WOOD: -- discussions with our Israeli partners about this issue and a whole host of other issues related to the Middle East – Middle East peace. So that’s about the best I can offer for you right now.

QUESTION: Al-Sadr met with President Assad in Syria today.

MR. WOOD: Who met with President Assad?

QUESTION: Muqtada al-Sadr.

MR. WOOD: Oh, Muqtada al-Sadr.

QUESTION: Any reaction to that? Are you concerned about that meeting?

MR. WOOD: No, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. No, I’m sorry. I don’t have reaction to it at all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)

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