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Middle East Digest - August 12, 2009


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Washington, DC
August 12, 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 August 12, 2009

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12:36 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government seems a little peeved about an American delegation going to Syria to talk about stability and security, infiltration, et cetera – that it’s not your job. It’s – in fact, they’re sending – the prime minister is going. And they say they take care of those things. Is there a serious flap here?

MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. Not at all. I think there’s probably just simply a difference of terminology. We do have a CENTCOM delegation in Damascus today, led by Major General Michael Moeller. Obviously, regional coordinator Fred Hoff is part of that delegation. They are talking to Syrians, part of our ongoing discussions. Both have bilateral and regional significance.

Obviously, one of the issues that we continue to discuss with Syria is its efforts in terms of taking care of border issues on the Syrian side of the border. We have had concerns going back a number of years regarding the infiltration of foreign influences from the region through Syria into Iraq. Obviously, at times in the past, that has had an impact on stability in Iraq. And we want to make sure, as we have said, as part of our strategy, that in supporting Iraq we are beginning to make sure that there is greater regional cooperation so that we can do everything in our power to support the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: It doesn’t – I don’t know if it’s a leading question – but doesn’t Iraq benefit if infiltration is cut back? Doesn’t Iraq stand to benefit from more stability in the region?

MR. CROWLEY: I would certainly say that’s true, so I don’t see anything out of the ordinary in terms of this kind of dialogue. And as we – in this delegation, I think, with Mr. Hoff there, he will have discussions also about other issues that are significant in our bilateral relationship, including comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, we got confirmation that Iraq – I’m sorry, Iran is holding three Americans. Is there an update, any details, where they’re at, status, consular access?

MR. CROWLEY: There is no real change. We continue – we continue to demand that given – in line with international agreements that Iran give us consular access as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Where are they being held? Do you --

MR. CROWLEY: We do not know where they are. We have not been informed by the Iranian Government on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any understanding of –

QUESTION: Is that the same as ‘we do not know?’

MR. CROWLEY: Well, sorry. We have asked where they are, and we have not yet received a response.

QUESTION: You’ve asked through intermediaries?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our – the Swiss ambassador, as our protecting power, has made these inquires and has had conversations with the Iranian Government regarding their status. But we do not know where they are.

QUESTION: Can you say where you believe they may be, though? I mean, there’s several possibilities, that they’re either where they were picked up or they’ve been moved. Do you know if they have been moved?

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. If we don’t know where they are, then I would be speculating to suggest where they might be. But I’ll be honest with you, regardless of where they are, we want to make sure that we get access to them as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: What’s the next step? I mean, is it – will the Swiss be an intermediary negotiator (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there are a number of next steps. The first next step is for Iran to meet its international obligations and, having confirmed that they have these three individuals, give us consular access. Another step would be, given that every indication is they just innocently wandered across the border, that Iran should release them.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the statement issued today by the Iranian parliament saying that the United States, France, and Britain have been doing some meddling in the Iranian affairs?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not true. Obviously, Iran has just gone through an election. It was Iran’s election, and clearly, there was a result that even now, despite the inauguration of President Ahmadinejad, the people of Iran have questions about. So the situation in Iran today is a self-inflicted wound where Iran has taken actions that the people of Iran question, and it is up to Iran to answer those questions in a satisfactory and peaceful manner.

QUESTION: That Iranian exile group, MEK, is accusing the United States of failing to live up to some written commitments to look after its people’s interests at their camp in Iraq. Anything to say about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think that the outbreak of violence at Ashraf was an avoidable tragedy. We certainly understand and support efforts by the Iraqi Government to extend its sovereignty into the camp. I think even the Iraqi Government would acknowledge that that effort, while understandable, was not necessarily executed as it should have been.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)



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