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Middle East Digest - August 26, 2009

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Washington, DC
August 26, 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 26, 2009

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QUESTION: On the joint statement from Mitchell and Netanyahu, can you elaborate at all on what very productive and good progress mean?

MR. KELLY: Well, as you know, as they noted in their statement, we plan to continue talks next week. There’ll be a delegation coming from Israel to talk to Special Envoy Mitchell. We, of course, do want to make sure that this – that these talks continue to have forward movement. As you noted, they did make good progress and --

QUESTION: Well, I – no, I didn’t note that. The statement noted that. I’m just wondering what --

MR. KELLY: Well, as you noted, the statement noted that they made good progress.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. KELLY: Let’s let these talks play out. We’ve got another set next week. I think there is room for optimism, but I don’t want to get into anything that will in any way cause any kind of obstruction to this forward movement. So I’m going to defer comment on it.

Yes, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah, in connection with that, The Guardian newspaper in Britain had a rather elaborate story about possible breakthrough near on the Middle East. But one of the tenets of this story was that the United States is prepared to link its Israel-Palestine policy with Iran; in other words, a harder line on Iran by the United States --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is an incentive for the Israelis. Can you comment on that at all?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, Dave, this is a – this is very important to this Administration, the idea of comprehensive peace. This is an important objective. And because these are sensitive and critical negotiations, I really don’t want to comment on any of these stories and I don’t want to – we don’t want to suggest that there’s any – necessarily any imminent breakthrough either. We have an ongoing process and we want to give that process a chance to work.

QUESTION: In the statement, you talked about that the two parties have agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations. What did you mean by meaningful negotiations?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s – what we mean by meaningful negotiations is that everything that we’re doing now is to lay the foundation for the negotiations, for the – for Israel and Palestinian representatives to sit down and come to a negotiated solution. So, meaningful means negotiations that will lead to a solution.

QUESTION: Do you know who the Israeli delegation is that’s coming next week?

MR. KELLY: I don’t, Matt, but I’m sure if you call the Israeli embassy, they probably will tell you.

QUESTION: Or they would not tell me.

MR. KELLY: Or maybe they won’t tell you, but it’s up to them.

QUESTION: Do you know when next week and where?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have the dates. Here --

QUESTION: It’s in Washington; is that --

MR. KELLY: I believe it’s in Washington, but it – you know that they’ve met before in New York as well. So --

QUESTION: Is that – well, the statement said the United States.

MR. KELLY: It said the United States. Yes, I did notice that.

QUESTION: It didn’t say – it didn’t say a city, so --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- can we find – can we find out?

MR. KELLY: Let’s see if we can find it out for you.

Yeah, Mary Beth.

QUESTION: Ian, according to the reports from the meeting in London, Netanyahu said he was making headway in diffusing the agreement over settlement – settlements with the Americans, and it says Netanyahu says he wants a compromise that would allow Israel to proceed with some settlement construction, while at the same time restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. Is the U.S. prepared to agree to that compromise he talks about?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, again, I don’t think you can be surprised at my answer: We want to keep these negotiations in a confidential, diplomatic track. And I’m not going to try and characterize what the prime minister has said and I’m not going to try and characterize where we’re going to come out on the issue of settlement. We are in a sensitive time.

QUESTION: Right. But the other day – the other day, you were very clear about saying no construction.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So has that changed?

MR. KELLY: No, I just – again, Mary Beth, I beg your forbearance, but it is a sensitive time and I just – I don’t want to get into characterizing.

QUESTION: Well, so you’re suggesting that you may --

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just suggesting that I’m just not going to comment. I mean, I can give you our --

QUESTION: Well, she’s right. The other day, you said all – you said it was – all settlements must stop.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: All means all is what you said.

MR. KELLY: That has been our position.

QUESTION: And is it no longer your position?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, I’m going to let Senator Mitchell – I’m going to let him negotiate. I’m not going to negotiate from this podium.

QUESTION: So this is a negotiable position?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that either; I’m just saying I’m not commenting on it right now. But I’m not retracting my words either. I’m just not – I just don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to put myself in this process.

QUESTION: But what kind of good progress they have made?

MR. KELLY: Again, Michel –

QUESTION: I’ve tried that one already.

MR. KELLY: – same answer. I’m not going to try and characterize exactly what happened in the meeting.

QUESTION: Still on the meeting --

QUESTION: The other thing that apparently came out of this is that the – both sides apparently indicated after the talks today that the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders are likely to hold their first meeting in the coming weeks. Is that your understanding?

MR. KELLY: Broken record. I’m not going to characterize what our understanding is of these confidential negotiations.

QUESTION: So then do you see something – final settlement of peaceful resolution in the Middle East? Do you see it?

MR. KELLY: I certainly hope so, and I hope it’s very soon.


MR. KELLY: Yeah.

Mike, did you have a question?



Charley, you have a question?

QUESTION: Still on the Mideast, yeah. Former President Carter talked today about the expectation that in coming days, there would be the release by the United States Government of some kind of comprehensive peace goals for the Mideast. Could you clarify that for us, or is that your expectation as well?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen those comments. And I frankly am not aware of what exactly he means by that.

QUESTION: Well, how about the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Forget about President Carter. Do you plan in the coming days and weeks to – does the U.S. plan to release some kind of a --

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of any plans like that.

Yeah, back there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) My question on a different topic.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Five days before –

QUESTION: Can we stay on this issue?

MR. KELLY: Okay. We’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: The Israeli ambassador to the UN has said yesterday that there will be a meeting between President Obama, Israeli prime minister, and President Abbas in New York next month. Do you have anything? Are you working on it?

MR. KELLY: You have to ask the White House on that. I wouldn’t be surprised. There’ll be a lot of bilateral meetings, but you have to ask the White House.


QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In Afghanistan, foreign companies are under attack and – who are there to rebuild Afghanistan again, now by the terrorists – there are those who support that. So what U.S. and NATO or other forces are doing there to protect them so they can continue their work?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think – first of all, as we’ve said many times, this is a high priority for this Administration to help Afghanistan – help it in its democratic process and help it in its rebuilding, help it become an economically viable and prosperous society. The State Department, of course, has a role in that, as does the U.S. Agency for International Development. The issue of protection, I think, is – it’s primarily an issue for the Department of Defense. So I think for details on these kinds of protection issues, you probably should address it to --

QUESTION: These attacks have been going on for many, many years. So now you think under the new government or, let’s say, whoever comes in power in Afghanistan, will – things will change?

MR. KELLY: Well, of course, we want to try and enable the Afghan Government to take responsibility not only for its reconstruction, but also for its own security. So we have a number of programs in place to help train them, to help them be able to take on a lot of these responsibilities.

But as I said many times, we’re now in the middle of an electoral process. We had the elections, but the electoral process is ongoing, and we just – we want to remain impartial regarding the candidates, and you know that the incumbent president is one of the candidates.

QUESTION: Afghanistan --

QUESTION: Can I have just one more on a different issue?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Many Iranians are on hunger strike 24 hours (inaudible) from the White House, and they will continue until they get their human rights and law of – rule of law in Afghan – I mean, Iran and also they are seeking for justice and freedom.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we, of course, are watching very closely what’s happening in Iran. We have said consistently that the regime in Iran has to respect the will of the Iranian people and respect their fundamental human rights. I think you know that one of the detainees on trial right now in the revolutionary court is an American citizen, Kian Tajbakhsh. He has not been given a lawyer. We believe the charges that he’s facing are without foundation. And we, of course, have consistently called for his release.

Mr. Tajbakhsh has – poses absolutely no threat to the Iranian Government or to its national security. He played absolutely no role in the election, and he’s a scholar. As I said yesterday, he is really devoted his life to promoting understanding between the Iranian people and the American people. And he’s scrupulously stayed politically neutral.

And I’ll just close by saying that the world is watching what’s going on in Iran right now, and we will bear witness to what’s going on.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, Mary Beth, sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Again, about the indictment of Hassan Nemazee, I think yesterday you said you hadn’t yet heard about it. So I’m just wondering about what the reaction is. He was a key fundraiser for --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I don’t really have any reaction today either.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan again, there was a bomb blast in Kandahar yesterday, more than 40 people were killed. Do you have any comment on it?

MR. KELLY: Well, first, we deplore these acts of violence. We know that there was a great loss of life in the bombings, and our sympathies go out to the victims’ families. We don’t think that Afghanistan will be deterred from the path that it’s on towards developing into a democratic society and a prosperous economy. I don’t believe that there were any American citizens involved in the attack.


MR. KELLY: Yeah, Sylvie.


MR. KELLY: Go ahead, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Pardon me. Yesterday, I asked you about the tensions between Syria and Iraq. You told me you would try to --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- find something. Do you have any reaction to the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, if you could just hold on a second. We understand that there has been sort of mutual recall of the ambassadors. We consider that an internal matter. We’re – we believe that, as a general principle, that diplomatic dialogue is the best means to address the concerns of both parties. We are working with the Iraqis to determine who perpetrated these horrible acts of violence. But as I said, this is – it’s an internal matter for both – for the Iraqi Government and the Syrian Government, but again, we just encourage them to have as much --

QUESTION: But the Iraqis --

MR. KELLY: We hope this doesn’t hinder dialogue between the two countries.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Iraqis are actually accusing the Syrians to be behind the latest violence in Iraq. So do you think that it’s plausible or --

MR. KELLY: Well, again, we’re – we are – we’re very concerned about these reports. We’re – and we’re working with the Iraqi Government to find out exactly who was behind them, but we don’t have any firm information right now.

QUESTION: Is there any --

MR. KELLY: We have suspicions, but --

QUESTION: You have suspicions?

QUESTION: You have suspicions?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, everybody has suspicions about who was behind an attack.

QUESTION: Is there any progress on the Colonel Qadhafi house-hunting front? (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: How far into the briefing are we when this was finally raised? I don’t really have much of an update. I mean, we have gone over this, of course, in exhaustive detail. We continue to raise with the Libyans – the sensitivities involving this visit, particularly in light of the release of Mr. Megrahi, we’ve conveyed the views of our congressional representatives to the Libyan authorities. And we believe that the Libyans understand these concerns and that we’re hoping to take some action – take appropriate action and we plan to stay in touch with them.

But regarding Mr. Qadhafi and his accommodations, no – there’s been no final decision as we understand it.

QUESTION: What does it mean, you’re hoping that they will take appropriate action? What would appropriate action be? Deciding not to --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that you’ve heard the concerns of Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Rothman, and I think that they are – they’re reflecting the concerns of their constituents. And we, of course, think that the most important thing here is that we respect the feelings of the many families who live in the New York area who lost family members in the horrific bombing.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean he shouldn’t come at all?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that we need to do this in a way that respects the families.

QUESTION: Okay. And yesterday, you said you would take the question as to whether the – Senator Lautenberg’s suggestion or his request to limit the movements of – to limit Qadhafi’s movements to the UN headquarters district --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if that had ever been imposed on anyone else before.

MR. KELLY: There is something called the Foreign Mission Act, and we’re still digging a bit, but under that Foreign Mission Act, the – we have the right to restrict travel within a certain distance of UN headquarters, and that – Libya is not subject to that, as you know. In the past, Soviet diplomats have been restricted to it. We’re restricted to it. Right now, Iranian diplomats are restricted to it. But as far as I know, that’s the only restriction.

QUESTION: So in other words, confining someone to that area between 42nd and 48th Street and 1st Avenue and the East River has never been done?

MR. KELLY: As far as I know, it has never been done. There – but there’s another part of the Foreign Mission Act that I think has been referenced to, and that’s that we can impose restrictions on the use of diplomatic residences. That’s a very broad provision, and we’re hoping that – and we’re expecting that we’ll be able to come to some sort of agreement where all of these sensitivities are respected.

QUESTION: You mean related to the house and the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, related to the --

QUESTION: -- property in Englewood?

MR. KELLY: Related to the property in Englewood.

QUESTION: Because the mayor of Englewood and others say that there is an agreement that it’s only for use by the Libyan ambassador to the UN, not – and not anyone else, not even other members of the UN mission at --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. As I say, there are provisions in that law to --

QUESTION: Is that – but that’s your understanding of the – there are provisions related to that effort?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’ll have to take that question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said that Iran is – Iranian diplomats are subject to this 25, the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- whatever this radius is --


QUESTION: -- this 25 miles? Who else, what other countries are subject to it?

MR. KELLY: I’d better take that question too.

QUESTION: All right. I ask because the North Korean diplomats who recently went out west --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- needed special permission --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- to leave – to leave the --

MR. KELLY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- the area.

MR. KELLY: I think it’s fair to say that North Korea is also subject to the --

QUESTION: Right. But North Korea is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. Libya is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. And it was my understanding that that was the determination.

MR. KELLY: No, that’s not a --

QUESTION: That’s not an --

MR. KELLY: No, that’s not the – there may be one other criteria, but it’s not the only criteria.

QUESTION: All right. So Libyan diplomats to the UN – ignoring Qadhafi completely, Libyan – Libyan diplomats who are accredited to the UN can travel anywhere they want with no restriction?

MR. KELLY: I believe that is the case, and if it’s not the case, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Ian, just to clarify that – what are you saying? You’re expecting to – we can come to some kind of what?

MR. KELLY: Some kind of understanding regarding where Mr. Qadhafi will stay that is respectful of the sensitivities of residents.

QUESTION: And just still on --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Go ahead, Charley.

QUESTION: -- on Libya, is the United States participating in the upcoming celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Colonel Qadhafi taking power?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know – I don’t think we’ve made any decision on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple things concerning the UN Security Council meeting next month to be chaired by President Obama. Has the U.S. made any decision on what kind of outcome it wants from that meeting in terms of a resolution or a presidential statement or whatever, and where does that stand? What kind of feedback have you gotten from other leaders as to whether they will attend, including whether Qadhafi himself will attend that meeting?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Those are very broad questions and I’ll have to see if we can get you information on that. I’m just not prepared right now to say.

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