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Middle East Digest- August 31, 2009


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Washington, DC
August 31, 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 31, 2009

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1:08 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Can I ask a housekeeping question on --

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: What’s – has the date and venue for the Mitchell meetings with the Israeli delegation, has that been – have they been determined yet?

MR. KELLY: No. The short answer is no. We hope to – I would imagine either late today or tomorrow we’ll have an announcement on it.

QUESTION: So where’s Mitchell now? Are they – is there – there’s nothing – there’s no meetings happening today? There’s --

MR. KELLY: No, no.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, you think, maybe?

MR. KELLY: No, there won’t be any meetings tomorrow, I don’t think, either, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. KELLY: -- later this week.

QUESTION: Different topic. On Qadhafi, any progress on where he might stay now? Is New Jersey completely off the table? Have you progressed in finding him someplace in Manhattan? And does the Gordon Brown situation complicate the matter, or are you trying to convince him not to come at all?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of what the complicating factor of Gordon Brown is, frankly.

QUESTION: The problem with the British now, whether there was a back-and-forth on the release of Megrahi.

MR. KELLY: Oh, I see. Yeah. Well, I think you saw the various statements that came out on Friday. It is safe to say that Colonel Qadhafi will not be staying in New Jersey. I know that there are ongoing discussions between the Libyan mission to the UN and the city of New York regarding appropriate accommodations. I’m not aware that any final decision has been made on that.

QUESTION: But on the issue of the revelations over the weekend, Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that the British did attempt to make al-Megrahi’s release part of a deal – part of deals related to oil and gas. I mean, this is your closest ally, and they’re basically kind of bargaining away his release of someone who’s been convicted of killing, you know, 180 Americans. I mean, what does that say about the strength of the relationship between the U.S. and the UK?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we have a very strong relationship with the UK. Of course, we’ve seen the allegations. We’ve seen the various statements. We hope these allegations are taken very seriously.

QUESTION: Sounds like an admission. It doesn’t sound like an allegation.

MR. KELLY: Well, the --

QUESTION: It’s from a former foreign secretary who is involved in the discussions --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: --was involved. And he is, you know, kind of spilling the beans on what happened.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, it’s – as I’ve said before, there is a very vigorous political debate going on in the UK right now. As I said before, these are serious allegations. But I can only tell you what our position has been. Our position has been – or what our role has been is that prior to his release, we made it very clear to both the Government of Scotland and – I’m sorry, to the authorities in Scotland and the Government of the UK that we thought that Mr. Megrahi should finish out this sentence in Scotland.

And of course, as we’ve said many times, we were deeply disappointed by the decision to release him and let him return to Libya. But regarding the political debate that’s going on, I’d really have to refer you to the UK and the Scottish authorities.

QUESTION: Right. But you keep referring to them as allegations. I mean, it sounds like more of an admission or a confession. And you say that you’re deeply disappointed that –

MR. KELLY: That’s your characterization.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. KELLY: That’s not mine.

QUESTION: Well, you’re calling them allegations and they’re not allegations. This is a former official that was involved in the discussions who’s saying, you know, what the discussions were and was releasing documents related to it. So you say you’re –

MR. KELLY: Yeah, well, let’s let the process run out.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. KELLY: I think the – it still is in the process – at the stage of allegations at this point.

QUESTION: You say that you’re deeply disappointed by the decision. Are you deeply disappointed by the British move to make his release part of their bargaining on economic deals?

MR. KELLY: Well, if that were true, again, we would have concerns about that. But it’s – we had no direct role in this process.

QUESTION: I’m not saying that you did.

MR. KELLY: So we can’t characterize what kind of discussion went on either between Edinburgh or London, or London and Tripoli. That’s for the UK authorities to work out.

QUESTION: Are you seeking clarification from the British?

MR. KELLY: It is up to the British Government to work these things through. We have complete faith in the British system to air these allegations in a complete and transparent way.

QUESTION: So – and --

MR. KELLY: Obviously, it is going on in a very clear and open way.

QUESTION: And if these – you’ve called them allegations, but I maintain that they’re not allegations. But anyway –

MR. KELLY: They’re allegations until it’s determined in a court of law that’s they’re –

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. These documents don’t really look like they’re allegations. It looks like this is part of the negotiating documents. But anyway --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I haven’t seen the document.

QUESTION: -- if it does – if the revelations then come out that Britain was involved, what will be the consequences for that?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ll figure that out once everything comes out. But right now, not everything has come out.

Yes.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. KELLY: New topic? Okay.

QUESTION: The IAEA report that came out late last week said that 300 fewer centrifuges are now in operation in Iran. Is this due to perhaps technical problems or a result of some productive negotiations?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I think the short answer to that is is that we’re – I just don’t have the information to comment on what the reasons were for X number of centrifuges. What I can tell you that – this report, although I have not read it all the way through and I don’t have all the details of it, but it clearly shows Iran’s continued lack of cooperation with the international community.

It continues to refuse to suspend all proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities, as required by the UN Security Council. It’s continued to install centrifuges, enrich uranium, and construct the Iraq heavy water research reactor. And it has refused to address in a real, sustained and complete way the very real concerns of the international community about the intent of Iran’s nuclear program. And this report is yet another report in a series of reports that have pointed this out.

And as you know, on Wednesday, there will be a meeting of the political directors of the P-5+1 group in Germany. And this report, of course, will be a real, important discussion item for that group.

QUESTION: What’s the – what’s the danger of Israel getting involved, maybe militarily?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m just not going to –

QUESTION: And are you – are you engaging Israel diplomatically?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to comment on that. Well, of course we’re engaging Israel diplomatically. We do that every day.

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: One thing -- just on the report. This came out three days ago. It’s only six pages long. Are you saying that no one in this building has had the time?

MR. KELLY: I’m saying I haven’t. I haven’t seen the report. Of course people in this building have seen this report.

QUESTION: And but – and there isn’t anything more to say about it than what you had to say on Friday? Because I believe what you just said was a repeat of what was said on Friday, right? There hasn’t been --

MR. KELLY: More or less, yeah.

QUESTION: There hasn’t been any more analysis.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, nothing more than I can – that I can give you from this podium.

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s some reporting of a meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan in, I believe, Paris, at the middle of the week. Is Mr. Holbrooke going to go? What’s the subject for them?

MR. KELLY: Yes. Just a moment. Yeah, I think as you know, the international special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and speak on a regular basis to discuss issues related to the two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The next in this series is in Paris on September 2nd, and will cover a wide range of issues relating to these two countries.

QUESTION: Is – this is being depicted in some reports as sort of an emergency meeting because of the –

MR. KELLY: No, it’s not an emergency meeting. It’s a regularly scheduled meeting

QUESTION: Because of the election difficulties. And Holbrooke’s going to go?

MR. KELLY: Holbrooke will go.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I’m sorry. Wait, which two countries?

MR. KELLY: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Can you just comment on an opinion piece in the Washington Post today by Cordesman about the U.S. Administration micromanaging the affairs in Kabul – sorry. I’ll just read a little bit. It –

QUESTION: Envoy meddling?

QUESTION: It says that the – that they’re – back from vacation. It says that –

MR. KELLY: Take some time, Lach.

QUESTION: -- Karl Eikenberry and McChrystal are basically being micromanaged by Washington, they’re not given enough room to do their work, enough resources to do their work.

QUESTION: I think the word is “meddling envoy.”

QUESTION: And meddling envoy, yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t know who that could be.

QUESTION: So there’s an implicit criticism of envoy Holbrooke, then.

MR. KELLY: Well, I respectfully disagree with that criticism. There is a great deal of communication between Washington and Kabul. I know I’ve participated in a number of conference calls between Washington and the Embassy, and with General McChrystal. I think that we are, of course, in a time when we’re trying to be patient and let this Afghan-led process play out. I would reject any accusations of meddling. We’ve been very scrupulous to allow this election to be an Afghan-led and developed process.

We, of course, have pointed out some of the concerns that we have. You’ve seen a lot of accusations of fraud. And we urge Afghan authorities – not just us, but other members of the international community have urged Afghan institutions to take these allegations very seriously. And I think we just all need to be patient on --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, over the last few days, the number of allegations of fraud have doubled --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, and that’s serious.

QUESTION: -- to 500. So what does that say about the – you know, President Obama hailed these elections as, you know, a major victory for Afghanistan. But it turns out, you know, there are more and more complaints of fraud in the election, that it was not a free and fair election, and – I mean, what does that say about the credibility of these elections?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it says, first of all, that there is a process in place to evaluate these and analyze these allegations of fraud. And that’s a very good sign that these – that they are being taken seriously, and that these Afghan institutions that have been set up will look at them very carefully. I think that there is a very complicated and very transparent process that’s been set up.

But again – I’ll just say it again, that we need to be patient before we pronounce one way or another whether or not these elections are legitimate. I mean, what we want, what the international community wants, and what the Afghan people want is a result that accurately reflects the will of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: And can you say at this point, with 500 serious allegations of fraud, that that reflects the will of the people?

MR. KELLY: Well, I just – as I say, we have not seen this whole process play out, and until it does, we’re not going to pronounce.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I just wanted to clarify --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead, Lach.

QUESTION: -- what Cordesman was saying. He was criticizing micromanagement of their work, of Eikenberry’s and McChrystal’s work in Kabul, that you’re not giving them the space and the resources they need.

QUESTION: Just a small one, going back to Libya. Tomorrow, I believe, the Libyans are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Colonel Qadhafi’s rise to power. Does the U.S. Government plan to send anyone from Washington or the Embassy to those ceremonies?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m not aware of any plans for anybody to come from Washington. And I’m also not aware of any plans – if any decisions have been made about plans for somebody from our Embassy in Tripoli to attend.

QUESTION: The Jerusalem Post has a poll that showed that only 6 percent of Israelis actually support and think that the – President Obama is pro-Israel. Does that concern you at all?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that our support for Israel and the President’s support for Israel is unwavering. I haven’t seen the results of that poll, but I think that the people of Israel know who stands with them.

QUESTION: Do you think that Secretary Clinton may think that a more balanced Mideast policy would be more appropriate?

MR. KELLY: You’re asking a very tough last question, I have to say. I’ll defer comment and – thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)



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