printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - September 8, 2009

Other Releases
Washington, DC
September 8, 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 September 8, 2009

View Video

QUESTION: Can you – are there any details yet on the Mitchell trip?

MR. KELLY: We have nothing to announce. Senator Mitchell is still planning to go out to the region the end of this week, and I expect – well, I hope at least in the next couple of days to be able to announce exactly what his itinerary will be.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Iranian – on Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s invitation to representatives of the P-5+1 to come to Tehran for talks, although apparently not about their nuclear program?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, at this point, we’ve seen what you’ve seen, and that’s his comments to the press. And that’s all we have, so far, are his comments to the press. I read those comments in translation, and it was unclear to me whether he meant diplomatic representatives on the ground were welcome to come in and get the proposal when it’s ready, or if it was an invitation for people to come from the outside. And this is exactly why – or not – but it’s one of the reasons why we need to have these things done through officials channels in order to have clarity exactly what foreign leaders mean when they issue some kind of invitation.

And we’re still waiting, of course, for an answer to the P-5+1’s offer – invitation back in April. And in that offer, we said we’re willing to sit down in the P-5+1 context and discuss the concerns that we have, that the international community has, regarding the intentions of Iran and its nuclear program. And we don't have that answer yet.

QUESTION: Did you ask for a clarification of what he said, either via the Swiss protecting power or via your colleagues in the P-5+1?

MR. KELLY: I am not aware that we’ve asked that. As I say, what our stance is- is that we have made an offer. We’ve made it officially through the Office of the High Commissioner of the EU, Javier Solana. Last time we checked, nothing has arrived in response to that.

Yeah. Jill.

QUESTION: Ian, on Afghanistan, what exactly is the Secretary doing on that front specifically? Who is she talking to, if anyone, directly?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any message? Is she talking to Karzai? Is she talking to senior –

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: What’s her role?

MR. KELLY: Well, obviously, there’s an extremely important process that’s playing out now, the whole electoral process. We’ve seen a couple of important announcements today. We’ve seen that the Independent Electoral Commission has announced preliminary results accounting for 91.6 of the polling stations, and also announced that they’re quarantining about 600 polling stations for further investigation. You also probably saw that the Election Complaints Commission called on the IEC to act on some allegations, what they called clear and convincing evidence of fraud in a number of polling places.

And I think our message has been consistent throughout that the results of these elections need to be credible and need to reflect the will of the Afghan people. And as a result, we need to have a rigorous vetting of all of these allegations of fraud. And a legitimate electoral process is vital to us and vital to any kind of partnership that we would have with the government going forward.

Having said all that, it is a process and it hasn’t played out. We’re seeing the first phase of it drawing to a conclusion, the counting process. The next phase is just as, if not more, important, and that’s dealing with these complaints of fraud. So we are calling on all the candidates. We’re calling on all the different actors out there, the political institutions, to show patience. And we are not going to pronounce our analysis of the election until the whole process has played out.

Now, you ask me about Secretary Clinton. She did talk to Ambassador Eikenberry yesterday. She talks often to Ambassador Eikenberry and other ambassadors in these areas of U.S. national interest. Ambassador Eikenberry was able to give her an update of where we are in this very complicated process. And of course, I think you may have seen that Deputy Secretary Lew is out there now. And he is out there, I think, not so much in connection with the electoral process, but more in connection with the State role in helping Afghanistan develop into a prosperous country.

QUESTION: But based on what you’ve seen, do you think that there should be a runoff?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I’m not going to –we’re going to wait for everything to play out. I mean, this announcement by the ECC, I think, raised some very concerning issues. And like I say, the ECC’s recommendations have to be followed through on, there has to be a complete and rigorous vetting of all of these complaints.

QUESTION: How concerned are you – just a follow-up to the election?

QUESTION: Yeah. I just want to ask you what you can tell us about Eikenberry’s meeting with Karzai yesterday and whether he raised a number of these concerns about the fraud and whether that was a direct result of the Secretary’s call today?

MR. KELLY: Unfortunately, I can’t get you – I can’t give you much of a readout because I don’t – I didn’t get a readout of his meeting with President Karzai. I mean, I can imagine that his message is – was the same as our public message, that this is a process that needs to play out. We need to have an election that is – that reflects the will of the Afghan people, and all these allegations of fraud need to be acted upon.

QUESTION: Well, what was his agenda for the meeting, can you tell --

MR. KELLY: I don’t know, Kirit.

QUESTION: -- don’t have a readout for it. What did he want to say?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m not – I honestly do not have a readout of it.

QUESTION: Even if you don’t get a rigorous vetting of all these allegations, can you have a partnership with whomever is declared the victor?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s – it is very important that these elections are seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and in the eyes of the international community. And I’m not going to prejudge where this whole thing comes out. I think it’s going to be – it’s not going to be a matter of days or weeks; it could be a matter of months to sort out all of these allegations.

QUESTION: I asked the question because you yourself raised the issue of partnership --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and importance of credibility --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- to partnership. And if you have a government whose election is not seen as credible, how do you deal with them?

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s a fair point. And that’s why it is so important that these – all of these allegations get thoroughly investigated, that we run all these things down to the ground. And everything we’re seeing so far is that the process is working. The ECC took these allegations seriously. The IEC has quarantined 600 polling stations for further investigation. This is a good process and it needs to be given a chance to work itself out. And that’s why we all need to show a little patience and not get too ahead of ourselves.

QUESTION: How much of the conversation was about the election and how much was about the embassy security guard situation?

MR. KELLY: You’re talking about the conversation with the Secretary with --

QUESTION: With Eikenberry.

MR. KELLY: I can’t tell you that, Matt. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Did the Embassy security guard situation come up?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know, frankly.

QUESTION: Ian, do you --

MR. KELLY: I don’t have a readout. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, I thought you said you didn’t have a readout of his meeting with --

MR. KELLY: I also --

QUESTION: -- with Karzai.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I don’t have a readout of the conversation with the Secretary.

QUESTION: Well, okay. You said that she talks to Eikenberry and other people in key spots frequently.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: When was the last time she spoke to Eikenberry?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know that – the answer to that question.

Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the – what is the latest on the Embassy security guard situation?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could we just finish one more on this, please?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Go ahead, Jill. I’ll come back to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Ian, if this election is taking place in the midst of a war, essentially, a conflict, then what is your assessment of how dangerous it is to have this stretch on for months without a definition of who is the head of the country --

MR. KELLY: Well, you know --

QUESTION: -- allegations about massive vote fraud et cetera.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s the level of concern?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Again, I don’t want to get too far ahead on this and prejudge where we might come down – come out on this.

QUESTION: Yeah. But where you are right now is the situation that there are allegations of massive vote fraud --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The election that people were hoping would be over and defined is not, and you’re saying now it could stretch on not for weeks but for months. So what is the effect of that on a very delicate military and political situation?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think – as I said before, the key thing is that the result we end up with is a result that has the confidence of the Afghan people. That’s the main thing here. And we don’t – people may have been saying that this could be finished sometime in September, but the main thing is that we ensure that we do – or, I shouldn’t say we, but the – that the Afghan authorities do what needs to be done to ensure that all of these serious allegations are addressed. That’s our bottom line that we end up with a credible result at the end.

Yeah. Go back to Matt?

QUESTION: On the elections. Sorry --

MR. KELLY: On the elections. Okay.

QUESTION: As far as I understand it, all these complaints about fraudulent ballots, the charge that it was President Karzai and his people that done this. They’re talking about fake election voting sections in the hundreds. So I’m wondering – you know, you’re sitting here in Washington, the Secretary is here, the President is here. This is the president whose government we’ve given billions of dollars to, and this guy who’s supposed to symbolize democracy in Afghanistan is having hundreds of fake election voting sections in his country.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well --

QUESTION: What does that say about the American people about the investment in that country?

MR. KELLY: You’re saying you’ve already conducted your own investigation --

QUESTION: No, these are – no, the international – it’s a UN-backed commission.

MR. KELLY: -- and President Karzai is already guilty of --

QUESTION: No, the UN-backed commission very clearly said it has convincing evidence that this is happening.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. But I don’t – but let’s – okay, let’s – the announcement was made today. Let’s let it – let the investigation play out.

QUESTION: In your mind, is there any question that – I mean, I shouldn’t ask about judgments, but these allegations are very clear. There is an American member of this commission, the UN-backed commission. These charges are linked to President Karzai. So how do you think this looks to the American people, who have sacrificed money and lives to have this person and this government conduct an election that’s supposed to be an example to the world?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’d also --

QUESTION: It just doesn't look --

MR. KELLY: I also look at it another way, too, that Afghan authorities were able to conduct an election where millions of Afghans were able to freely express their will. There obviously are allegations of impropriety and outright fraud that they – these need to be addressed. But they are being addressed, and they’re being addressed by the Afghan authorities, by structures put in place and run by the Afghan authorities. So it’s – we just need to show patience and let this whole thing play out. We’re not going to prejudge how it comes out or prejudge what kind of measures they might take to address these problems.

QUESTION: Ian, following up on your theme – and I don’t quibble with it or argue with it in the slightest – that this needs to have – show confidence to the Afghan people that the election results – does the same hold true for the American people, following up on what Nick has said? Do the ultimate results, after it plays out --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I’m not --

QUESTION: Does it need to show credibility to the American people?

MR. KELLY: Of course, of course, we have a stake in this, too. We have committed American servicemen and women to the job out there, to supporting the Afghan Government. We’ve committed U.S. taxpayer money. Of course, we have a stake in this. And of course, we want to see an election that is reflective of the Afghan – the will of the Afghan people, and have a partner in place that we can work with that enjoys the support of the people. And that’s why this process needs to be rigorously followed.

QUESTION: Ian, can I just have a quick one? I understand your point about investigating and the process and all this, but the question is why did this have to happen in the first place? Why did these fraud of fake sections have to be there when, supposedly, this was a government that we supported for years and it wasn’t supposed to do things like that in a democracy that the Americans fought to support?

MR. KELLY: Well, Afghanistan is a challenging environment. One could argue that it is one of the most challenging environments to conduct an election in terms of lack of access and lack of sort of transport connectivity within the country, and of course, you’ve got – you have many areas of the country where there’s a military conflict. So nobody expected this to go smoothly. I mean, we have – some of our elections, of course, have had some difficulties as well, and we – our environment isn’t --

QUESTION: Which ones were those? (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: But I’m just saying it’s important that we have a transparent process here and everything is thoroughly, thoroughly investigated.

QUESTION: Ian, an investigation of fraud could take, obviously, weeks or months. We don’t know.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the meantime, what is the U.S. position towards President Karzai? Is he considered legitimate?

MR. KELLY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Is his government legitimate?

MR. KELLY: We work with President Karzai every day.

Matt, you had a – yeah, okay.

QUESTION: About the investigation.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I think I can just give you – I can give you an update on – in terms of the on-the-ground investigation. I don’t have a whole lot, really, to say today. But I know that 155 personnel have been interviewed. This is among the contractors there, the guards, and we plan to re-interview some of them as well. We are reviewing the information that we obtained in these interviews.

As of this morning, it’s my understanding that 11 people have left the country. I think I said 10 on Friday. And again, the bottom line in this case is that we do not believe at any time was Embassy security significantly breached or compromised. And these guards continue to – the vast majority of them continue to do a good job in protecting our Embassy.

QUESTION: So one additional person has been fired?

MR. KELLY: That’s my understanding. I’ll see if we can confirm that. But before I came down, that’s what I was told.


QUESTION: It’s not a question of being fired, but just removed from the country?

MR. KELLY: Removed from the contract.


MR. KELLY: Asked to be removed from the contract.

QUESTION: And can you check if they were a manager or a – you know, guard?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, okay. We’ll --

QUESTION: And what is Deputy Secretary Lew doing about this?

MR. KELLY: Well, obviously, he’s talking to Embassy management there and getting a complete brief on the status of the investigation. As I said before, Deputy Secretary Lew was out there. He had planned this travel before this incident broke. And he’s out there primarily to look at the State Department involvement in development issues.

QUESTION: And has there been any discussion of personnel changes in Washington?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of any discussions of personnel changes here.

QUESTION: All right. And can you check to see if this was at all a subject of the Secretary’s conversation with Ambassador Eikenberry?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m not sure I can --

QUESTION: I’m curious to know if --

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure I can get you that information, though.

QUESTION: -- what his awareness of this was --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Okay. All right.

QUESTION: -- before it came out last week.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: This is still on Afghanistan.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What about the impact on public opinion, not just in Afghanistan, but in Germany and Europe, of this airstrike that hit the two tankers, killed many civilians?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: How much concern do you have for the impact, especially since you need the allies in Europe to contribute more troops and help the military effort?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, as you know, it’s – it is a multinational effort in Afghanistan. I think that it’s one of – in terms of contributions of countries, one of the biggest international efforts. Germany is the third largest troop contributor to ISAF, and they have an important leadership role in what we call RC North, Regional Command North. They have the command of that.

This was obviously an incident that needs to be, again, thoroughly investigated. You may have heard that COMISAF General McChrystal has appointed a Canadian general, General Sullivan, to lead a joint investigation board. And they’re going to conduct this formal investigation. And the investigation board has been – will take several weeks to complete its work. And it – obviously, we’re very concerned by reports of civilians being killed anywhere. And this – these reports are serious and they need to be thoroughly investigated.

QUESTION: Is it appropriate to conduct a strike such as this one based on a single source asserting that all of the people there were Taliban or Taliban supporters?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, Arshad, with all due respect, I don’t think it’s my place to determine whether or not the judgment was made by the commander on the ground was appropriate or not. So I’m going to decline to comment on that.

QUESTION: Has there been any contact between the Secretary or anyone else senior in this building with the Germans about this?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m sure at the diplomatic level in Berlin and here, there has been, but I’m not aware of Secretary Clinton, for example, having any contact.

QUESTION: You’re sure there has been?

MR. KELLY: I am sure there has been, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you elaborate a little bit?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: With the Embassy?

MR. KELLY: Through the Embassy, yeah. I know there’s been contact in Berlin.

QUESTION: In light of this incident, isn’t it important for the U.S. to do more public diplomacy in Europe to convince the Europeans of the need for these operations, given – and then reassure them that efforts are being made --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to avoid these incidents?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, this is – actually, that is an issue that I was very much involved with back when I was at the U.S. Mission to NATO. This is – I don’t think it’s really for us to cajole our allies to do things. This is a – it’s a mission that all NATO allies support in one way or another through troop contributions, through development aid, through financial contributions to the military efforts. The Germans do all three. And as I said, they are a key – they’re a key contributor to the overall effort, and we very much appreciate everything that they do.

But again, it’s not for us to tell the Germans what to do. I think it’s more that we have to focus on our common mission that we may need to do more public diplomacy in terms of the NATO and the ISAF mission. But I appreciate the question.

Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: Actually, just one quick thing. Did you see the proposal by Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Brown for another big conference on Afghanistan to redefine the mission or to see what exactly --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the security situation --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We did see that, and of course, we look forward to more details. And of course, if there is such a conference, we’ll – we will happily participate, and we look forward to more details on it.

Jill, did you --

QUESTION: Sorry, on Afghanistan.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Obama Administration is interested in appointing a chief executive in Afghanistan to tackle corruption-related matters. Do you – can you please tell us more about it? Can you confirm?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to.

Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: Can you shed any light on these media reports, allegations that a Russian freighter that apparently was hijacked was actually carrying S-300 missiles for Iran?

MR. KELLY: No, I can’t shed any light on that. I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen some reports of speculation on what the ship may have been carrying, but I haven’t seen anything specific like that.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.