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Middle East Digest - September 28, 2009

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Washington, DC
September 28, 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 28, 2009

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MR. CROWLEY: Just a couple of things before answering further questions. The Secretary obviously continues her schedule in New York today. She has had meetings this morning with the Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta, Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and shortly will be meeting with the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Namhong.

With that, your questions. Bob.

QUESTION: P.J., on Iran and the meeting on Thursday, what – aside from the question about sanctions, which I – as I understand, is not immediately the subject of discussion at that meeting, what about the incentives that might be offered to Iran to change its behavior?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think it’s a matter of incentive. I think it’s a matter of obligation. Iran has obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty. It has failed to answer the questions that have been presented in a variety of fora, including at the IAEA. So it’s really – the key here is not the incentives that we would provide to Iran; the key is that Iran has to come forward, answer the questions, and address the concerns of the international community.

If it does that, if it satisfies these concerns, as Secretary Clinton said many times, including yesterday on the Sunday shows, we acknowledge that under the NPT, Iran has certain rights, but with those rights come responsibilities. It’s time for Iran to meet its responsibilities. Obviously, this is a central concern – not the only one, but a central concern of the United States and the international community.

Should Iran come to the meeting on Thursday and prepared to engage seriously, prepared to address those concerns, you could envision over time that there would be benefits that accrue to Iran from that. But first and foremost, this is about the responsibilities that Iran has.

QUESTION: So there are no incentives, per se? You’re saying they could just have their normal rights under that – in the NPT, but under NPT --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, to – I mean, to the extent that the Iranian people want to see a more normal relationship with other countries in the region, the United States, and the international community, that opportunity is available to Iran.

But part of the process of getting to whatever benefits might accrue from a normal relationship, Iran has to meet its responsibilities. And obviously, on Thursday, we’ll be looking to see, does Iran come to the meeting prepared to engage seriously? Are they prepared to open up their program to effective inspection? As Secretary Clinton said yesterday, it’s not a matter of just having them assert that the program is for peaceful purposes; they now have to prove it.

QUESTION: Is it at all possible that it is for peaceful purposes, and is there any evidence out there that shows it could be?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if you have a peaceful program, why are you hiding it? If you have a peaceful program, why are you burrowing it underground? As we’ve outlined last week in front of the IAEA, Iran, as a member of the NPT, had the obligation to report that facility to the IAEA and failed to do so till recently.

QUESTION: What about Israel? If they – they haven’t had to go through these IAEA inspections at all.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll leave it to Israel to explain its own obligations.


QUESTION: How much – how hopeful are you that Iran will respond positively to the offer of engagement on Thursday, when just yesterday, they tested those missiles? And even though they say that it was a long-planned test, it certainly sends a rather defiant message to the international community.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not for me to give Iran advice. I mean, they perhaps are drawing a page from the North Korea playbook that hasn’t worked out terribly well for North Korea. And in fact, if you use that corollary, because of the provocative actions of North Korea earlier this year, you find the international community completely solid in its opposition to what Iran has done, and facing the most significant sanctions ever against North Korea.

So I think it’s time for Iran to come clean. It has taken actions that are in violation of its obligations, and it’s time for North Korea to come to the table, engage seriously, enter into a process by which our – the concerns of the international community can be addressed. And we’ll find out what it’s prepared to do on Thursday.


QUESTION: P.J., can you give us some detail of how this is going to unfold? Do you know who the Iranian – who will be leading the Iranian delegation? They meet in Geneva. You know, what’s the program? How does it --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think – obviously, I think those arrangements were being done by Javier Solana, and I’d probably defer to him to explain how this is going to work.

QUESTION: But give a little bit of detail, because, you know, before, there have been meetings where they didn’t show up with the highest-level representation. Are you sure that --

MR. CROWLEY: And you’re right. I mean, this is an opportunity. We’ve set up the meeting based on the response that Iran gave earlier this month, and we’ll see what happens on Thursday. We don’t go into this with any preconditions, but we also don’t go into this with any preconceived notions. Iran has prevaricated in the past. It could do so again. That’s why we’re having the meeting.


QUESTION: And do you see this as a one-shot deal? In other words, if they stick to their position that they’ll talk to the IAEA about their program, but not to others, not to you, is that --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if it is a one-shot deal, then Iran is going to face additional pressure and probably additional sanctions from the international community.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton yesterday described how the Administration is looking for broadening and deepening sanctions. Can you give us any idea of the outlines of what that might entail?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think Secretary Gates – I mean, let’s have the meeting first. I mean, I understand this – it’s like the media equivalent of “Are we there yet?”

Let’s have the meeting, and then from this meeting we’ll learn whether Iran is prepared to engage seriously, whether they’re willing to enter into a process, whether they’re willing to open up their programs for meaningful international inspections so that we – and provide information affirmatively, which is their obligation under the NPT, so that then, in fact, we can learn things, address the concerns that we have, answer the questions that were raised, and then there will be potentially positive actions that could accrue from that.

By the same token, if they continue to deflect their obligations, if they continue to fail to answer the questions, then, obviously, there will be implications and consequences to that as well. So I think we have to get to this first meeting. We hope that it will be the start of a process by which we could address the concerns that the international community has. This is an opportunity for Iran, but, obviously, it has failed to take advantage of opportunities like this in the past.

QUESTION: Beyond, though, addressing the obligations, as you said, it seems like the key task for the United States and its allies is to somehow convince Iran that its security would be improved without nuclear weapons, without the pursuit of possible nuclear weapons or that capability --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- rather than the opposite, that they would actually be better off without these weapons?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not sure. I first and foremost would bat the ball back in Iran’s court. Iran has affirmative obligations under the NPT. It has affirmative obligations, reporting requirements, as part of the IAEA. And it has steadfastly failed to live up to those obligations for a lengthy period of time. So first and foremost, if Iran wants the respect of the international community, it has to behave as a member in good standing of the international community and meet its obligations.

Now, that said, clearly, in its broader calculus, certainly we believe that Iran’s interests lie in a more integrated relationship with the region, a more normal relationship with the international community, including the United States. Should Iran be willing to enter into substantive dialogue on the nuclear issue – which is a core concern of ours, but on broader issues – then I think we can have the opportunity to have that kind of extensive conversation with Iran. But we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

QUESTION: Can I follow up with a non-Iran question?

QUESTION: I have an Iran question. Iran – I’ll do Iran – Iran. (Laughter.) Shayla Bezdrob with Fox News.

MR. CROWLEY: Iran for $200.

QUESTION: The Secretary of State said yesterday that Iran must present convincing evidence at this Geneva meeting. What is the – what does the U.S. accept as convincing evidence?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that I have a particular formula in mind. Clearly --

QUESTION: What would convince the United States?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have concerns about specific facilities. We have concerns about specific programs. We have concerns about specific individuals. The real question is what can – Iran has to come forward with compelling information, open up their facilities to meaningful inspection, carry on an extended conversation and affirmatively address the concerns that we have. I can – in a different context, someone said we’ll know it when we see it.

I mean, and really at this point, we have major concerns. Iran says certain things, but they have – it has yet to provide the information, the perspective that gives us confidence that what they’re saying is actually true. So this is about Iran coming forward once and for all, putting everything on the table, and letting the international community understand what the intentions of its programs are, how to explain activities that we have seen, including those that we have unearthed and announced most recently.

And so this will require an extended process. It’s what the President has said, in that here, we’re in the middle of the stocktaking phase. At some point towards the end of the year, we’ll be able to calculate how much progress have we even made, and we’ll draw some conclusions from that. But it is really for Iran to come forward and show us that it’s willing to sit down, in an extended conversation, over a period of time, and provide the kind of prospective information and access that we have long demanded.

QUESTION: But that – P.J., on that timeline you just made reference to, does that mean that the U.S. would not be interested in actually moving ahead with additional sanctions until the end of the year?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a dual-track approach. We have sanctions now, and based on the progress that we see, as Secretary Clinton said, we’ll see this meeting on Thursday, we’ll continue to talk to our partners in the P-5+1 process about the implications of these meetings. So – but our dual-track approach has both engagement as a – as one foundational piece, and pressure and sanctions as another.

QUESTION: What do you define by additional sanctions beyond that process?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, as we’ve indicated, we’re prepared to take additional steps. We’ll see what Iran is willing to do on – for its part.

QUESTION: But not until the end of the year?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s get to the end of the week, then we’ll see.


QUESTION: But specifically on that, President Sarkozy is being very specific that by – if there’s no answer by the end of the year or some movement, that they should move toward sanctions. I mean, he’s being very specific.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and the President said the same – something very similar, which is, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to judge what is – what Iran is or is not willing to do, and we’ll draw some implications from that.

QUESTION: Different topic?

QUESTION: Other whole different topic, too.


MR. CROWLEY: Iran, going once, going twice, sold. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I guess that’s – on Fayssal Mekdad, deputy foreign minister of Syria visit to Washington, can you tell us more about this visit regarding the schedule, meetings, agenda?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And of course, expectations.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, obviously, we have been renewing our dialogue with Syria, but beyond that, I’ve got no information yet.

QUESTION: Have you invited him to come or --

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. If we have, I’m not aware of it, but that may be true. I’m just not in the loop.

QUESTION: Mideast peace talks. I think we were told that they were due to resume at some point this week. I was wondering if you had any details on when, where, and who?

MR. CROWLEY: Still being worked out. I would think – I think George Mitchell will be meeting with both Palestinian and Israeli delegations here in Washington later this week. We’re still working out the particular arrangements. George last week, even after the trilateral, had extensive meetings with not only Israeli and Palestinian officials, but also others from various countries in the region, a very lengthy list actually.


QUESTION: Another – different subject. Jordan’s government apparently is asking the U.S. for information on that terror plot – alleged terror plot – in Texas involving a Jordanian citizen. Can you confirm that they actually have contacted the United States to

MR. CROWLEY: They have, and we have helped the Jordanians establish contact with the appropriate U.S. law enforcement authorities.

QUESTION: P.J., one more on Afghanistan. From our Pentagon people, they are interested in your assessment of how – or the State Department’s assessment of how the situation for civilians in Afghanistan has deteriorated. They’re pointing to comments by McChrystal on 60 Minutes talking about the breadth of violence being much worse than they anticipated, and also --

MR. CROWLEY: Against the Afghan civilians or against --

QUESTION: Against, yeah. Safety and security for them. And also, Lindsey Graham saying that civilians can’t operate right now. So --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just going to clarify. Are we talking about the Afghan citizenry?

QUESTION: Afghan citizenry.

MR. CROWLEY: Or are we talking about, say, civilians, whether they be U.S. civilians or --

QUESTION: No, Afghan citizens. How bad it has gotten for civilians in Afghanistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, at the heart of the shift in our strategy is an emphasis on protecting the population, and that is a cornerstone of what General McChrystal is trying to do. He has shifted the nature of military operations, put some tactics off – pulled some tactics off the table because, ultimately, the only way that you defeat an insurgency is through – by sustaining and growing popular support. So that is at the heart of it.

I’m not in a position to judge to what extent – obviously, it is a dire circumstance. We now see more frequent attacks, and those attacks, while they might be targeting the forces of a particular country, necessarily also affect the Afghan people. But I think that’s one of the reasons why you also see, despite everything else, significant Afghan support for the efforts of NATO, the international community, the United States, to try to improve the security and to do the other elements of our strategy in terms of governance and the economy and so forth.

Afghanistan is not a country that hasn’t always welcomed people from outside. It is a remarkable aspect that eight years – coming up on eight years in, there is still very significant Afghan popular support, because I think they definitely recognize what the international community is trying to do for them, and I think they continue to reject the vision that the Taliban offers or other extremists offer in terms of moving Afghanistan towards a dark past. So – and that is the heart of our strategy is what can we do to help the Afghan people. It’s why we continue to put significant emphasis on the – on an electoral result that the Afghan people will see as legitimate. And it’s why we continue to increase not only the pace of military activity, but also increase the pace of civilian activity to see if we can’t help improve the average daily lives of Afghan people. If we are successful there, then we have every reason to believe that we’ll be successful in our strategy.

QUESTION: Different topic?


QUESTION: Talk to us a little bit about response and talks and any commitments that you may have gotten from our European and other friends in the international community about taking in Guantanamo detainees as the camp in Guantanamo is expected to close at some point in the near future. Have you gotten any commitments from our European friends and anybody else?

MR. CROWLEY: Ambassador Dan Fried continues his efforts to resettle Guantanamo refugees in various places around the world. We continue to get outstanding cooperation, and we’re very grateful for the cooperation and support various countries have provided us. I think on Saturday you had two Uzbek nationals were transferred to a facility in Ireland, for example. So that effort continues. But – and we are very grateful and continue to get very significant support around the world.

QUESTION: What countries have made a commitment?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a list here. I think if a country has agreed to take detainees, I think that, first and foremost, it’s to that country can choose to announce those transfers. But we continue to have extensive conversations with a variety of countries, and we’re very grateful to those who have been willing to accept these detainees.

QUESTION: Any firm commitments at this point?

MR. CROWLEY: We have commitments, and we are continuing to work with those countries. And when transfers are made, we’re happy to talk about them.

QUESTION: Can I just return to an earlier point? You mentioned about Iran – the missile launches. There are a series of missile launches, apparently long-range missile launches. Do you think that this is helpful in the --


QUESTION: Well, particularly with a couple days coming ahead toward these talks --


QUESTION: -- how concerned is the U.S. about this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we did address this earlier in the briefing. It’s not helpful at all. It’s – to the extent that Iran wants to continue to act more like a police state or a military state than a constructive player in the region, it just will further isolate Iran and it will – you’ll continue to see greater – a greater international consensus for additional steps, including sanctions, against Iran. So this kind of provocative behavior did not work for North Korea, and it’s unlikely to work for Iran.

QUESTION: I want to ask my question about Israel again. I just want to know why – if they’re not going through these inspections, why is the U.S. not concerned about this?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – I’m not sure I --

QUESTION: With Israel with the nuclear inspections, the IAEA inspections. If they haven’t accepted them, why isn’t the U.S. concerned about that?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think that – I’ll defer to Israel again, but I don’t think that Israel is a member of the NPT.

Thank you. Paul.

QUESTION: One quick one. Are there plans for Israeli and Palestinian contacts at these meetings this week in Washington with George Mitchell, or is it all going to be U.S.-Israeli?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't forecast them, but I wouldn't – I think right now, I think we’re meeting separately. If that changes, let you know.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)

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