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Middle East Digest - August 7, 2009

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Washington, DC
August 7, 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 August 7, 2009

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12:17 p.m. EST

QUESTION: How important is he in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaida and that region?

MR. WOOD: How important he is? Well, Mehsud has been responsible for a number of atrocious terrorist attacks against people from around the world, frankly. And we will continue to work with other countries around the world to fight the scourge of terrorism. Mehsud is just one individual who’s been responsible for carrying out heinous acts of terrorism and aggression against innocent civilians, and we will continue to go after those people who countenance those acts. So --

QUESTION: The Pakistani foreign minister has said that he has died. Haven’t you got --

MR. WOOD: As I said, I’m not able to confirm that at this point.

QUESTION: Can you talk about it means if he is dead? I know it’s --

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to speculate about what it may or may not mean. But again, this is a long-term struggle that we are in against violent extremism, and we’re going to continue to try to confront that challenge as best we can with our partners around the world. And – but we realize this is going to be a long-term struggle.

QUESTION: On Guantanamo, can you confirm that Portugal said that it was taking two Guantanamo detainees from Syria?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Portugal has announced that it will resettle two Syrian detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. We are very grateful for the efforts of the Government of Portugal, including its willingness to join our effort to close Guantanamo through this humanitarian gesture and for the leadership it exhibited in achieving a common European position on resettling Guantanamo detainees.

This position taken by the European Union has helped facilitate resettlement discussions. We are encouraged that so many of our close friends and allies are also considering assisting us in our efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities. The United States and Portugal will continue to work closely on matters pertaining to the actual transfer. We have no further comment on this at this time.

QUESTION: Well, what – are they going to take them into custody or are they going to just let them – monitor them?

MR. WOOD: I think we’re still working out the details to that, but it’s a very important step that Portugal has agreed to take these two detainees.


MR. WOOD: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: On Iran, do you have anything on the report published by The Washington Post today referring to the State Department saying that Iran is not able to produce a nuclear bomb before 2013?

MR. WOOD: Well, with standard – in keeping with standard practice, Michel, we don’t talk about our intelligence – intelligence matters, so I really don’t want to go any further on that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the three Americans?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: (Inaudible.) The only thing I can tell you in terms of an update is that I really don’t have an update. The Swiss Embassy is still trying to get information from the Iranian foreign ministry. We don’t have any information yet, so we’re not able to confirm that they’re being held in Iran. But again, no reason to doubt all the reports that we’ve all seen about that they’re being held in Iran. We just don’t have any kind of official confirmation from the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: This is on Switzerland about the agreement between the U.S. and Swiss Government on how to deal with the UBS civil case. It seems as if there’s some holdup in that the agreement, in principle, kind of isn’t final and there are still issues to be worked out. And I’m just wondering if the agreement is in danger of falling apart.

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t think it’s – at least, I’m not aware that it’s in danger of falling apart. And so – but I – beyond that, I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Well, can you give us an update on the case?

MR. WOOD: We’ll try. If there’s an update, we’ll be happy to do that.

QUESTION: But you don’t think that the agreement is in danger?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that it is. To be very frank, I’m not.


QUESTION: President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan has said yesterday that Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the early ‘80s and that it has evolved significantly over time. He added that, “I am pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are, in fact, renouncing their type of terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very legitimate fashion.” Can you elaborate on this issue? Have you changed your policy toward Hezbollah and have you started to differentiate between its military and political wings?

MR. WOOD: Let me be very clear: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. U.S. policy toward Hezbollah has not changed. We do not make any distinction between the political and military wings. And that is our policy. Until Hezbollah decides that it’s going to change and stop carrying out the acts of terrorism and other acts that are causing instability in the region, there’s no reason for our policy to change.

QUESTION: And how do you make the distinction between that and what Mr. Brennan said?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t seen a transcript of his remarks, but what I can tell you is what U.S. policy is with regard to Hezbollah.

QUESTION: But he seemed to say that there were some moderate elements that might be changing there, too.

MR. WOOD: Well, that remains to be seen whether there are or not. I’m not an expert on Hezbollah and the inner workings of that terrorist organization. But what I can tell you is that our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: But he differentiated between the two wings, between politicals and terrorists.

MR. WOOD: Well, our policy, the U.S. Government policy, remains the same with regard to – I haven’t seen the remarks, but I’m sure that he was not saying that the United States makes a clear distinction between those two branches, because we do not.

QUESTION: But it certainly was opening up the door to the possibility that if certain members of Hezbollah were to renounce violence that the United States could do business with it.

MR. WOOD: Well, again, without seeing his remarks, I mean, it appears that he may have been speculating on what may happen if Hezbollah does this or that. But Hezbollah has not done this or that. They are still a force of instability in the region. And as a result, our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Are you sure there’s not a different opinion between the White House and the State Department on this? Because this is an advisor of President Obama that’s talking about how, you know, there could be certain members of Hezbollah that are changing their tune, and he found it an encouraging sign.

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s – again, there is – our policy is very clear on Hezbollah. The question of whether or not there are people inside of that organization that may want to take a different approach, a different track, change their stripes, that could very well be. I don’t know. But in terms of dealing with Hezbollah as an organization, it is still a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It is, as I said, a force of instability in the region. And our policy has not changed.

preliminary assessment of the elections. But beyond that, I really don’t have anything.

MR. WOOD: Anything else? Okay. Happy weekend, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:26 p.m.)

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