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Middle East Digest - September 9, 2009


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Washington, DC
September 9, 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 September 9, 2009

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QUESTION: Middle East. Is there anything set yet on Mitchell’s trip, and what is your reaction to the new – the announcement by the Israelis of these new housing units in East Jerusalem?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. First of all, on Mitchell’s trip, no, we have no itinerary to announce. We still expect him to leave probably – I think we said the end of the week, so I think it’s probably Friday. I think there will be several stops, but we don’t have any specific information on the trip itself.

Regarding Iran, let me just say, first of all –

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: Sorry?

QUESTION: Iran. No.

MR. KELLY: No.

QUESTION: Not yet.

MR. KELLY: What was the other one?

QUESTION: You’ll get a question about Iran, but --

MR. KELLY: Okay.

QUESTION: But about the new housing units that have been announced for East Jerusalem.

MR. KELLY: Oh, the new housing, I don’t have anything to add to what the White House said on Friday.

QUESTION: Well, that was – that was about the West Bank. This is new housing units in East Jerusalem.

MR. KELLY: We – our position is clear. We do not – we believe that Israel has an obligation to cease all settlement activity in East Jerusalem or the West Bank or wherever it may be over the 1967 border.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question on the settlements. There are reports that Americans who hold dual Israeli citizenship have been helping to finance certain settlements in East Jerusalem in areas that are heavily populated with Muslim communities, which would be in contradiction to your policy. Is it concerning that there are American citizens who are doing this, and is it counter-productive to your objectives?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, first of all, these are private American citizens. I’m not going to pronounce on investment decisions that are not contrary to U.S. law that are made by private American citizens. Again, you know what our policy is, that we need to get to the point where
we have the proper atmosphere for the two sides to sit down and come up with a solution to this longstanding conflict. We need to remove all the obstacles in the way of getting to that point of being able to start talks.

QUESTION: Would that be one of the obstacles?

MR. KELLY: And this would – we see the settlements as one of the obstacles to these talks.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Mitchell for a second?

QUESTION: And is MCC not – sorry, just following on that, is MCC not also under the same obligation of the U.S. Government to automatically cut off that aid? I mean, I’m just trying to understand, is this just a pro forma thing where they’re just going to take a vote and automatically cut off that remaining 11 million? Aren’t they obliged to do --

MR. KELLY: No, I wouldn’t call it – well, first of all, I wouldn’t call it pro forma. This is a – we’re talking about a board of directors that includes the Secretary.

QUESTION: You better hope that it’s pro forma since you announced last week that they’ve done it already.

MR. KELLY: Well, this – I mean, this board includes Secretary Geithner, Trade Representative Kirk, Acting USAID Director Alonzo Fulgham, and some very distinguished private sector representatives as well. I mean, we – the Secretary will make our position clear and I’m sure she’ll make it forcefully, but I’m not going to say --

QUESTION: And it does not apply --

MR. KELLY: -- that it’s an automatic or a pro forma meeting.

QUESTION: -- about the – under that same coup designation?

QUESTION: They’re not. They have so-called notwithstanding authority, under which they don’t have to automatically terminate it. It’s up to the board to even have the determination to make.

Can we go back to Mitchell?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: You said there were going to be several stops. Are there going to be stops other than in Israel and the Palestinian territories?

MR. KELLY: I believe so. He’ll go to other places in the region, but we just haven’t – we haven’t nailed down all the details. So we want to refrain from announcing the trip till we have the whole thing put together.

QUESTION: Will he be meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. KELLY: That – I don’t know. It’s quite possible.

QUESTION: I have two questions I’ve submitted in advance, so I hope that they reached you. A Middle Eastern nuclear scientist has been arrested in Indiana. His name is Amir H. Sanjari. He’s in the Elkhart County Corrections Center. No one seems to know why he’s been arrested.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I’m asking, does the State Department know why he has been arrested?

MR. KELLY: I think the short answer to that, unfortunately, is no. And I’m not sure that we would have a comment on it necessarily because it’s a – that sounds to me to be a judicial or a law enforcement issue. But we did get your question by email, and if we do have a comment, we’ll be happy to get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Second question: The Kingdom Assembly of Iran has taken responsibility for an attack in southern Iran where civilians were killed. They’re saying in a link in their website that they received money from the United States. What is the official stand from the United States on this organization?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’ve asked several questions there, and I think that we would need to look at the event itself. I mean, obviously, if it was an event that – where innocent people were killed, we would deplore that. We deplore all acts of terrorism. And regarding their funding, I don’t know that we would have a comment on that. But if you want to send us the link, we can see if we can get something for you.

QUESTION: On Iran, has the United States received this new proposal from Motaki via the Swiss Ambassador?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. This is the question I tried to answer earlier. I was – I have to admit I was all locked and loaded for it.

Well, first of all, let me say that the Administration has made it clear to Iran and the whole international community that we have a new approach to Iran. And we’ve made it clear to Iran that the choice really is theirs to make. They have a stark choice: They can continue down this path of isolation from the international community, or they can choose to reintegrate with the international community. And that choice is out there for them, and we look forward to learning their choice.

We have received a proposal. We are literally in the last few minutes. We’re now reviewing it seriously and carefully. We plan to confer with our partners in the P-5+1 group. And I expect that we’ll have more to say about it in the coming days.

I think what we’ll be looking for in these proposals, or in this proposal, is, first of all, if they’ve responded to our longstanding offer to engage with us in the P-5+1 process. And second of all, we’ll look to see how in this proposal they address these longstanding concerns of the international community about Iran’s failure to comply with its nonproliferation treaty, IAEA, and Security Council obligations. So those are a few of the things that we’ll be looking for.

QUESTION: What --

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any comment on it now, obviously, because we just got it, literally, right before I --

QUESTION: So was it the Swiss ambassador --

MR. KELLY: -- came down here and then --

QUESTION: -- who received it on behalf –

MR. KELLY: I understand – yeah, I understand from press reports that all six of the representatives received it from the foreign minister.

QUESTION: Was there a separate letter specifically for the U.S.?

MR. KELLY: That I am not aware of. I mean, normally in these kinds of diplomatic communications, there is a cover note. But I have not --

QUESTION: It went through the --

MR. KELLY: -- physically seen the --

QUESTION: But it went through the Swiss, so we can say the U.S. letter went through --

MR. KELLY: That’s my understanding, yeah.

QUESTION: In Tehran or in Geneva?

MR. KELLY: In Tehran.

QUESTION: Ian, did you – you said that you expected to confer in the coming days and then have more to say about this. Is that going to be a conference call among the political directors or is that going to be some other vehicle?

MR. KELLY: I expect, because we want to do this in a very serious and – in a serious fashion, and we want to do it with dispatch, I assume it will be by conference call.

QUESTION: And among the political directors, not the foreign ministers?

MR. KELLY: Among the political directors, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Ian, if it doesn’t contain what you’re looking for, these two items that you mentioned, are you going to go ahead and try to engage or are you going to move on to the next set of sanctions?

MR. KELLY: Again, we have to look at it carefully. We have to see how serious it is. And just as importantly, we want to make sure that we confer with our partners.

Jill, you’ve had your hand up for a while.

QUESTION: Yeah, Ian, it’s Iran, but kind of a different aspect of it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this first?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Specifically on this, just – is not the fact that they gave this proposal enough for you to say, yes, they are taking your engagement offer seriously and that they’re trying to engage because they’re offering this?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it has been concerning to us that we’ve been waiting since April – we, not just the U.S. but the other members of the P-5+1 and then Javier Solana and his office – we’ve been waiting all this time for a response that – what we thought was a very serious offer to sit down and engage. So, in the sense that we have finally some kind of official response, I mean, that, at least, is something that we can respond to ourselves. So, in that sense, I mean, this is something that we will take very seriously and look at very carefully.

Yeah. Jill.

QUESTION: Iran.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MR. KELLY: Iran/Venezuela. Okay.

QUESTION: Yes. Morgenthau yesterday had this speech at Brookings in which he goes into great detail talking about efforts by Iran to use U.S. banks to subvert or go around UN sanctions, talking about pervasive system of deceitful and fraudulent practices --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- employed by Iran to move money all over the world. And then there are other aspects to that. What does the State Department know, what does the U.S. know, about these efforts by Iran through Venezuela to undermine those sanctions?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, first of all, we take any allegation of proliferation very seriously, particularly if it involves proliferation within this hemisphere. We are following the situation very closely. We are following any kind of links between Venezuela and Iran very seriously. And we would expect Venezuela, as any other UN member, to fulfill their obligations under the decisions of the UN Security Council to call upon Iran to meet its obligations under various Security Council resolutions relating to Iran.

QUESTION: Do you have doubts at this point that they are doing that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any specific information. As I say, Mr. Morgenthau raised some serious allegations, and we’ll look into them.

QUESTION: Are you talking to the Venezuelans or any --

MR. KELLY: I’m sure we are. We have – I mean, we have an embassy in Caracas. I’m sure we are talking to them about it.

QUESTION: If I can just go back to Iran’s nuclear issue, can I just ask about to what extent will the U.S. be coordinating a response with Iran’s neighbors in the region, both Arab nations as well as Israel?

MR. KELLY: Regarding the nuclear issue, you mean?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. KELLY: We engage with Iran’s neighbors on a regular basis. I think, first and foremost, when we have concerns about proliferation, we’re concerned about the region and our friends and partners in that region. And so we consult with them often. They – of course, they have insights into Iran that we find – that we appreciate very much. And we listen to their concerns.

QUESTION: Defense Secretary Gates has even expressed those concerns, even urging Arab countries in the region to buy weapons to counter the Iranian threat. Are you concerned that more weapons in the region will lead to more instability?

MR. KELLY: I think that one of our main – we have a number of reasons why we’re concerned about the possibility of Iran developing ballistic missile technology and developing nuclear weapons, but one of the main reasons is that we’re concerned about destabilizing the region around Iran. We’re particularly concerned about the possibility of an arms race in the region, and this is why we’re – one of the reasons we’re encouraging Iran to take the route of integration, cooperation, and don’t take this route of going down the path of isolation.

QUESTION: Ian?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Matt.

QUESTION: Tripoli, Libya. The Libyans brought a group of about, I think, 150 members of the Pan African Parliament to see al-Megrahi in the hospital. Some of those parliamentarians congratulated him on his release. Do you have any comment about this?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen that report. And we’ll look into it. I mean, what we’ve been saying consistently is that we all have to be sensitive to the feelings of the families of the victims of the Lockerbie disaster. And of course, we have --

QUESTION: Well, is this --

MR. KELLY: We have urged Libya to – not to give Mr. Megrahi a kind of public profile that would be distressing to these families.

QUESTION: No, no, no, hold on. Ian, POGO says that it’s got no response from you guys to its 10-page letter to Secretary Clinton about the Embassy in Kabul, the guards at the Embassy in Kabul. And the response that they got is a – refers them to the daily press briefing, the answers that were given on – I believe it was September 1st. Is that really an appropriate response to an oversight or to – you know, a group that sent you – that compiled all this information and --

MR. KELLY: You’re saying this was their response to – POGO?

QUESTION: No, no. This was the State – State Department’s response to POGO to the 10-page letter that was sent to Secretary Clinton.

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: It’s a very short one-line – one or two-line thing that says, “We refer -- ” you know, it provides them with the link --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the URL to the month – to that transcript.

QUESTION: It almost looks computer-generated.

MR. KELLY: Can I see that? Do you have a copy of it?

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. KELLY: Okay.

QUESTION: You posted it.

MR. KELLY: All right. I’d like to see it and then we can comment on it.

QUESTION: Is there anything new on the election fraud and contacts that you guys have had with the Afghans about this?

MR. KELLY: I don’t really have anything to update from what I said yesterday in terms of what’s going on the ground in Kabul. I can say that the Secretary is very much engaged in the issue of Afghanistan. It’s fair to say that it’s moved to the top of her agenda, really, in the last few days. She’s spoken a couple times with Ambassador Eikenberry. She met with Ambassador Holbrooke today, and he just came back from the region. She’s looking forward to speaking to Deputy Secretary Lew tomorrow when he comes back from Kabul.

She also is going to meet with a number of senators tonight who have just come back from the region, and get a debrief from them – this is Senators Levin, Reed, and Kaufman. And she’s touching base around town here – White House, NSC, DOD. This is – it’s a very important issue to us and it’s very – it’s important that we get it right.

QUESTION: Did Eikenberry meet with Karzai yesterday? Did Eikenberry meet with him a second time?

MR. KELLY: I believe he did.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you tell us what the agenda of that meeting was compared to --

MR. KELLY: Well I can – I can’t give you a detailed readout of it, but what I can tell you is that they did discuss the elections, and the message that he delivered is very much the same message that we’re delivering publicly on the need for these elections to be seen as credible and legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and the eyes of the world.

QUESTION: And since your public call for patience among the – and for him to not declare victory, are you satisfied with the way he’s acted?

MR. KELLY: We’re very satisfied with the way the Afghan authorities have responded to this with the --

QUESTION: What about Karzai?

MR. KELLY: Well, the – Karzai, I think, has – he is also refraining from publicly commenting on the outcome of the election, giving a chance for the process to work out. Afghan governmental organs are also responding to the allegations of complaints. The – I think we all need to focus on this process and keep in mind that we’re dealing with a country that didn’t have any of these institutions even a few months ago. And so it’s encouraging that they do have this mechanism in place, and we all need to give it a chance to work.

QUESTION: When you say it’s gone to the top of her agenda, it may imply she might make a statement about this or --

MR. KELLY: Oh, I’m not aware that she’s going to make a statement. I think we’ll have more to say in the coming days, especially as Deputy Secretary Lew gets back and has a chance to debrief and, of course, Ambassador Holbrooke’s had a chance to debrief.

QUESTION: What do you make of the NATO Secretary General’s points that this is – he’s expressed concern about the growing public skepticism because of this lack of – seeming lack of legitimacy over the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- election results? He said that this is something that he’s very concerned about and --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- he’s thinking that the discourse has started to go in the wrong direction.

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: Do you disagree with that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I haven’t seen his precise remarks, and I would want to see them before I would comment exactly on what he said, but – I mean, clearly, we are concerned. We’re concerned that all of these allegations, and the – as the Election Complaints Commission itself said, there is clear and convincing evidence that there was this kind of fraud on a large scale. So we are concerned that the proper authorities in Afghanistan take these charges very seriously and deal with them in a way that people can have confidence in these elections.

QUESTION: The Europeans are calling for a conference on Afghanistan. Is that something you’re – the U.S. would be participating in towards --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. I think this was asked yesterday and I – we would be – of course, we look forward to further details of this conference, and we would look forward to participating in it.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)




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