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Middle East Digest - September 15, 2009

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Washington, DC
September 15, 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 15, 2009

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QUESTION: Excuse me, I lost my voice. Can you give us an update on George Mitchell?

MR. KELLY: I was able to speak this morning with my colleague, and he said they had a good meeting, lasted over two hours. They agreed at the end of the meeting that they would meet again tomorrow. After the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the senator has probably already met with the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Fayyad, and then plans to meet with Mr. Abu Mazen as well.

In addition, this evening he is going to join Abu Mazen at an Iftar and then, as you know, he will continue on to three other locations after being in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He’s going to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more descriptive than “good” in terms of the meeting?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s – as I say, they agreed to meet again tomorrow. They’re still working through a number of issues. That is the word, though, that I was given.

QUESTION: Well, did they make --

MR. KELLY: It was a good meeting.

QUESTION: Did they make any progress?

MR. KELLY: Well, I can’t say for certain whether – what exactly came out of the meetings, but they’ll continue them tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so, the answer is no?

MR. KELLY: Well, no. I can’t – I’m just – see, I’m not prepared to say what exactly they accomplished during the meeting.

QUESTION: Did they accomplish anything?

MR. KELLY: Well, these meetings are still going on. They --

QUESTION: Other than agreeing to talk again tomorrow, did they accomplish anything?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. They will talk again tomorrow.

QUESTION: Did they --

QUESTION: But what can you say – like, why were they so good?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: What was so good about them?

MR. KELLY: As I’ve said many times, these are important talks. We want to give them a chance to succeed. And I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Ian, I think there’s a discrepancy because the last time you described a meeting as positive between Mitchell and the Israelis, it was anything but. Can you say whether you feel like they are any closer now to an agreement than they were a day or so ago?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Again, I think that – I think we are moving forward. I think the fact that they agreed to meet again tomorrow to continue discussions is a good sign. But beyond that, I really don’t have anything else to share with you.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you saying that it’s good that the talks haven’t totally broken down?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not.

QUESTION: I mean, what --

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying that, no. I mean, the fact --

QUESTION: I mean --

MR. KELLY: -- that they’re still talking, obviously, is a good sign.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean, he was there to try and shore up a deal --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on the settlements. So is it positive that the talks are continuing or is it not positive that you weren’t able to wrap it up in the meeting?

MR. KELLY: Of course it’s positive that the talks are continuing.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean, it’s clear that you weren’t able to secure an agreement from this meeting. So the reason that you’re meeting again is because you’re not in full agreement yet; is that right?

MR. KELLY: Well, it means that they have more to discuss. That’s all.


QUESTION: Israeli media says the Secretary might be traveling to Israel at the end of October. Do you have any information about that?

MR. KELLY: She has no plans at this time to go to the region.

QUESTION: Well, but is she committed to representing the U.S. at the U.S. – next meeting of the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue, which is supposed to be in Israel?

MR. KELLY: I think that has normally been – that has been – we’ve been represented at those meetings at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs level.

QUESTION: Right, but hasn’t she agreed that – her and the foreign minister have agreed that they’ll be the ones to undertake that?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware that she’s agreed to do that.

QUESTION: Can you take that?

MR. KELLY: I’ll – if we can get you that information, we will.

QUESTION: There was one report that said that she had tentative – or she had presumptively – what was the word, I can’t remember – but agreed to go. Can you give us a list of the number of countries that the Secretary has said she would – intends to visit other than Israel? Because I have a feeling it’s a lot more than just Israel that she has expressed to a foreign official or a foreign minister that she would like --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to go there someday or that she intended to come visit them.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think that she – there’s quite a few countries that she still would like to --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR. KELLY: -- would like to visit. She’s visited already – Gesundheit – already visited quite a number of countries. She plans, of course, to go to Russia in October for the U.S.-Russia Binational Commission talks. There is a number of other trips that are planned in the fall as well.

QUESTION: And Pakistan?

MR. KELLY: She looks forward to going to Pakistan and that region as well, but there’s nothing that’s been planned yet.

QUESTION: Staying in the Middle East, do you have any reaction to the Goldstone report that came out today, this morning?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We – of course, we saw that it came out today. We’ve just gotten a copy of it. It’s rather lengthy. It’s over 500 pages. It has – it covers a number of very complex issues and very sensitive issues. We want to take some time to digest it completely and we’ll review it very carefully.

As you know, our focus, as we can see from Senator Mitchell’s trip now to the region, is on taking the steps to get to a point where we can resume negotiations and come to a comprehensive regional peace agreement.

QUESTION: Well, what do you make of Goldstone’s conclusions that both sides – well, that both sides may have committed war crimes during the conflict?

MR. KELLY: Well, these are really – obviously, that’s a very serious allegation, and so we want to look at it very carefully. Of course, the events of nine months ago were tragic. There was a loss of life on both sides. And of course, we expressed our concern about the humanitarian suffering in both Gaza and in Israel. And these are serious issues, and Mr. Goldstone makes serious allegations, and we want to take time to review them.

QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on his conclusions at the moment?

MR. KELLY: Not – well, we – like I say, we want to have a chance to look at the entire report. We don’t read that fast. It’s 500 pages.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the release today of the Iraqi shoe thrower?

MR. KELLY: Yes, we saw that --

QUESTION: And his allegations of --

MR. KELLY: -- he was released and we saw his allegations as well. I think that we saw that he made some pretty serious allegations of human rights abuses. And of course, these kinds of accusations we take very seriously, and we trust that the Iraqi Government will take them seriously as well. His release from prison is – was done pursuant to Iraqi law, and we’re pleased that he’s been released. And in general, we support the rule of law in a fair and open judicial system in Iraq that allows all Iraqis to express their opinions freely.

QUESTION: By throwing shoes at the President of the United States?

MR. KELLY: Well – (laughter) – actually, I think that probably would go beyond the bounds of admissible free speech, but --

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, why are you pleased that he’s been released?

MR. KELLY: We – this – as I say, this was done pursuant to Iraqi law. He has served out the time under – as prescribed under the Iraqi judicial system.

QUESTION: So you don’t wish that – or you don’t feel that he should have been incarcerated longer?

MR. KELLY: We’re pleased that he was released in a way that was consonant with Iraqi law.

QUESTION: Right. I’ve got another one. Do you – the Secretary upstairs just now talked about it being some time before the Administration reached a decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan. Can you be more explicit about how long it’s going to be before this policy review is done?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. She was referring to General McChrystal’s report on the implementation of the President’s strategy. And I think that this is a process of review that is going to have to be done across the U.S. Government, lots of interagency coordination that has to take place. And of course, we also want to be sure that we’re consulting closely with Congress as well. There’s going to be a couple hearings in the days to come.

But in terms of what exactly is the end date for us to make a – to complete this review, I would say it’s not going to be terribly long. But there are a few things that have to happen. I think it also has to be discussed at NATO as well.

QUESTION: Right. But how – not too terribly long? That’s, you know, not exactly something very explicit.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: How long is that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t want to put an artificial deadline on this, Matt, but --

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: In order for the Secretary to make her recommendation to the President, is she looking for McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry to come with specific requests, or more of strategic concepts, whereby then you can start discussing what would be needed to implement that strategic concept?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I think what the assessment by General McChrystal, I think, was – it doesn’t get into the specifics of requesting troops. I think it’s more in the vein of looking at how we’re implementing the strategy. And of course, an important part of that from our point of view will be the development side of it. And this is something that we have to do in close consultation with Congress.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But, I mean, Secretary Clinton has been meeting with senators --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- over the last few weeks. What is she looking for from these senators? Is she going to them with some kind of Administration message or is she looking to hear what they’re looking for?

And again, when she looks for Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal to present their opinion as to how the strategy is implemented, do you think it’s best to wait and see how the ramp-up will go with the resources already committed? Is she looking for strategic concepts that – to be fulfilled? Or is she looking for them to come say, it’s going this way, we’re going to need X to implement --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, first of all, in regards to the senators, she’s met with a couple of groups of senators who have come back from Afghanistan, who have been on the ground and have seen the situation, have gotten briefings from officials who are involved in the implementation of the strategy. And so she’s – of course, she wants to get as many points of view as she can. She speaks often with Special Representative Holbrooke. She speaks with Ambassador Eikenberry. And so these talks with the senators have been mostly in terms of getting their points of view after having been on the ground.

In terms of the way forward, I mean, it’s a – this is going to be a process that will be led by the White House. And she talks frequently with the President and lets her views be known. And this is why she’s collecting as much – as many views and – as she can.

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