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Middle East Digest - September 29,2009


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Washington, DC
September 29, 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 29, 2009

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MR. CROWLEY:

Some of you have asked this morning before the briefing – we have been informed through the Swiss ambassador to Iran that we will be granted – that she will be granted consular access to Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd. We’re not aware that that consular access – that the meeting has happened yet, but we are grateful that the Iranian Government has decided to live up to its Vienna Convention obligations.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Does that hold any prospect for them having telephone conversations or other contact with their families – the three? Does the fact that they’ll have – the Swiss will access to them, does that mean it’s more likely that they’ll be able to have direct contact with their families?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, let’s wait and see. We’ve been demanding consular access since we were informed that Iran did, in fact, have the hikers just over a month ago. We look forward to having the first meeting and hearing back from our Swiss friends on what – the conditions under which they are being detained, and then we’ll see. I mean, obviously, we would like to have them released as quickly as possible. But what happens from this point forward –let’s get the first meeting.

Kirit.

QUESTION: On the timing of that, do you see any connection to that and the fact that you’re meeting with them in two days’ time?

MR. CROWLEY: Hard to say. I mean, clearly, we welcome the fact that Iran is meeting up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention. And clearly, on Thursday, we will have a similar message that Iran has to live up to its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty. But beyond that, I can’t say.

QUESTION: Will Bill thank them for this on Thursday?

MR. CROWLEY: Let – we are – we welcome that decision, but also we are looking forward to actually have the first encounter with them. The Swiss ambassador or whoever on her staff has the opportunity to see them, talk to them and make sure they’re being well cared for.

QUESTION: And the last one for me on this one is whether you think this shows any willingness or goodwill on their part that may transfer over into the other talks.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll see. Obviously, we welcome this step. But obviously, we are anxious to see Iran seriously engage on Thursday, and we look forward to that meeting as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the meeting with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, what type of topics do you expect to be discussed during his meetings here at the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it’s part of a continuing dialogue that we’ve opened with the Syrian Government, again, earlier this year with visits by Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman and NSC Director Dan Shapiro. Obviously, there also have been visits by Special Envoy George Mitchell. So I think it’s a wide range of issues, but I wouldn’t sort of detail them.

QUESTION: Could I just also follow up? What – how would you describe the status of U.S.-Syrian relations? This is the first invitation to a senior-level Syrian official to the U.S. in five years. What is the status of U.S.-Syria relations?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we’re continuing our dialogue. We’d like to use these encounters, whether they are in Damascus or here in Washington or in New York, obviously, to increase our understanding on both sides. Obviously, there’s a number of common issues that we have joint interests in in the region, and I’m sure that we have been discussing them during the course of this week.

QUESTION: What did the Deputy Secretary discuss with the Syrian official?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, all I can say really is we have a wide range of common interests between Syria and the United States in the region. And I suspect that we covered the full range of them and we also discussed the current status of our bilateral relationship and how to advance it going forward.

QUESTION: What about the other meetings? Who will he meet?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m – a range – a number of government officials, but I’ll see if I can get more.

QUESTION: At the White House too, or --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s possible.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to come back to the Iranian issue again, and for that matter, to Turkey. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has recently said that Iran’s nuclear program is only for peaceful means. So it sounds like that, you know, this non-permanent member of the UN Security Council does not seem to agree with what the U.S. is suggesting about the Iranian nuclear program. I’m asking you whether you see eye-to-eye with Turkey on this Iranian issue.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if the issue – if the question is whether the United States is willing to – based on what we know, whether we view this as a peaceful program, we have concerns. And as Secretary Clinton said on Sunday, it’s not just that Iran asserts that it’s a peaceful program; because of the concerns not only the United States has, but also the international community, then Iran now has the obligation to convince the international community of its peaceful intentions. This should be feasible.

But as we talked about yesterday, if Iran’s program is peaceful, then why has it gone to great lengths in this recent reactor disclosed in Qom and in other places – why have they gone to great lengths to hide what they’re doing? If you have a peaceful program, there should be nothing to hide. That will be among our primary points on Thursday. It’s time for Iran to come clean. It’s time for them to constructively, positively, affirmatively show and demonstrate through – by opening up their program to meaningful international inspection under the IAEA and take other steps, including disclosure of information, access to individuals, so that the international community can be convinced of Iran’s peaceful intentions.

QUESTION: Right. But Mr. Erdogan’s statements came after this announcement at Pittsburgh. So I’m just, you know, asking you as a member of the international community, as Turkey is a member of the international community --

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- do you feel like that it is the Iranians to convince Turkey, or it is the United States or the P-5+1 to convince Turkey at this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it would be fair to say the international community has concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. It will be up to each individual country to evaluate, based on the information that’s available, whether they’re satisfied. Is the United States satisfied with what we know about Iran’s nuclear program? The answer is no. We have great concerns, and those concerns are shared broadly across the international community, including by our fellow European and other members of the P-5+1. So that’s precisely why we have encouraged this meeting. It’s precisely why the United States has decided to actually join this meeting, so that we, in fact, can have the kind of meaningful interaction with Iran and begin a process through which we can satisfy the concerns that we have and that others in the international community has.


QUESTION: P.J., back on Iran, how do you respond to Iran’s assertion that it won’t talk about its second nuclear facility because it’s their sovereign right?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re – as we have stated quite clearly, we have encouraged this meeting because the United States and the international community have concerns about all of Iran’s activities, all of its nuclear ambitions. We seek answers to questions that we’ve had for some time and questions that were raised most recently by this covert reactor.

So that is the ultimate question on the table: Is Iran going to come to the meeting on Thursday, prepared to seriously address the concerns that the international community has? And we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

QUESTION: Have they even actually confirmed that they are going to attend the meeting – and at what level – or even attend it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: We – I don’t – as of last night, I don’t know that we had a confirmation as to who was attending the meetings. So I think that – I’ll take the question if we have any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.

Richard.

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any indication, do you know any of the details of how this will come about, the talks Thursday, in the sense that – do they all sit around the same table? Do they make presentations? And if the Iranians, as they’ve said, refuse to discuss the nuclear issue, what is the reaction? Does everybody else get up and walk out?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we look forward to the meeting on Thursday. I think leading the effort will be Javier Solana. So many of the mechanics of the meeting, both in terms of the setting, the duration, et cetera, will be up to him. I think that we will welcome whatever opportunity presents itself for discussion, both as the P5+1, and then if it goes well, you can probably anticipate one or more plenary discussions, perhaps the opportunity for lunch and further discussion. But I would – in terms of really concrete details of how it’s going to unfold on Thursday, that is really up to Mr. Solana.

QUESTION: Is it a possibility more than one day?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we’re looking at one day. But let’s get to Thursday and see what happens.

QUESTION: One – just a follow-up on that. When the Bush Administration joined those talks in Geneva last year, I remember that Bill Burns was instructed not to really speak, to participate verbally in the meeting. Is that going to be the case this time or is he directly involved this --

MR. CROWLEY: No, we have indicated we plan to be a full participant in the meeting, in the process.

QUESTION: Does he – does Ambassador Burns plan on raising other issues like Afghanistan, other Iranian issues?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, in the course of an important meeting with a relatively small set of individuals, there could be the opportunity for side interactions. I’m not going to predict that that’s going to happen. And in those side interactions, we’ll see. But I mean, clearly, in the broader sense, we – through the P-5+1 process, we are interested in principally addressing the nuclear concerns that we have shared by the international community. We have made a clear offer of dialogue with Iran on the larger range of issues. If this meeting kicks off a broader process, we welcome that.

QUESTION: But is there not the possibility that the U.S. and the Iranian delegation could have a meeting just with the two of them in the room, or is that not going to – have you (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: I think there’s clear – any time you’re together in some sort of meeting, there’ll be the opportunity for interaction, and we will welcome that if it happens.

QUESTION: Excuse me, the offer you refer to is the so-called freeze-for-freeze of April?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to predict what’s –

QUESTION: No, but is that –

CROWLEY: We are prepared to – we have the concerns that we have. There have been proposals made in the past. But I’m not going to kind of – let’s get to Thursday and we’ll – and then to the discussion. We’ll be happy to report afterwards as to what the specifics of the discussion were. But clearly, we have offered some ideas on how to resolve this in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me if during the course of this meeting, there’s a review of proposals made previously, a review of questions that have come up in conjunction with our concerns. The real question is we want to have that kind of meaningful, serious, sustained engagement by Iran to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: Would you expect that your readout at the end of Thursday’s meeting will give us a sense of whether the U.S. feels it’s worth continuing with this at all, or is it just at that point when we get thumbs-up or thumbs-down that it’s a useful engagement?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would put it this way. The President has said clearly that we’re interested in a process. We don’t think that these issues will be solved in one meeting. I don’t think that we’ll get the full perspective of Iran’s willingness to engage in one meeting. But clearly, once we are at the table, we hear from them, we see the tone, we’ll know some things.

And then the real question is, are they willing to engage in a process. Because obviously, from this meeting, if they are willing to address the international community’s concerns, then obviously there are other things that have to be done – information that has to be provided, access to individuals if that’s appropriate, access to sites in Iran, doing the kinds of things that Iran is supposed to do as a member of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but has in the past been unwilling to do.

So clearly, what we’re looking for here is a meeting that leads to a process that leads to a resolution of the concerns that we have. That process will take some time, and we’re not going to make a snap judgment on Thursday. We’re going to see how that meeting goes, see – evaluate the willingness of Iran to engage on these issues. If there is a process, then you could infer that there will be subsequent meetings after that. As the President has said, at the end of the year, we will be in a position to evaluate any progress that has been made over the course of this period of time. And in that – then we’ll be in a better position to evaluate what we should do next.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)



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