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Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - October 1, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 1, 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 October 1, 2009

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QUESTION: Can you give us any details about what happened in Geneva today beyond what others have already said?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I was able to talk to the team in Geneva, and I’d first like to preface what I’m about to say by just noting that we knew this was going to be very difficult. This is the first time that we’ve met in this context for 15 months, since July 2008. It marks the beginning of a way forward that will require intense diplomatic activity as we move to push for practical steps on the part of the Iranians that will establish more transparency in their nuclear program and raise the confidence of the international community in the nature of that program.

I think you also saw that on the margins of the meeting, Under Secretary Burns was able to meet with the Iranian head of the delegation, Saeed Jalili, and he took that opportunity to amplify our position regarding the nuclear program and reinforce the international community’s concerns about the program. We urged Iran, of course, to take concrete steps towards more transparency and steps that are consistent with Iran’s international obligations. He said that we recognize that Iran has certain rights, but with those rights come responsibilities. We’re not trying to single out Iran or try and practice any kind of a double standard with Iran.

In addition to the focus on the nuclear program, they also had a frank exchange of a number of other issues, including issues of human rights. And we also raised the issue of American citizens who are being held in Iran, and we stressed that the detention of these American citizens is an urgent matter that must be resolved as soon as possible.

QUESTION: You felt the need to preface this by saying you knew it was going to be very difficult.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the meeting today was a difficult or contentious one?

MR. KELLY: I think you heard the Secretary characterize it as productive, as – it was a businesslike meeting.

QUESTION: Well, it produced nothing but vitriol and bombast.

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t think it produced nothing but vitriol and bombast. The High Commissioner Mr. Solana had a press conference. I don’t know if you saw what he said.

QUESTION: Well, we were upstairs with the Secretary.

MR. KELLY: Well, he said that there will be another meeting before the end of October. And the agenda for this meeting will be worked out through diplomatic channels. It’ll focus again on nuclear issues, including specific proposals that are being made by both sides. Iran informed the P-5+1 that it plans to cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA on the new enrichment facility near Qom and will invite IAEA experts to come in the next few weeks.

And then it was also agreed that – agreed in principle in consultations with the IAEA – and this I guess was on the margins of the plenary – that low-enriched uranium produced in Iran will be transported to third countries for further enrichment and fabrication into fuel assemblies. And I’m starting to get into the kind of physics that I’m not really – competent really to talk about. But this regards producing isotopes for medical applications. And the details of this will be worked out among experts at the IAEA in Vienna on October 18th.

QUESTION: So the P-5+1 agreed to further enrich some Iranian uranium for medical – outside of the country for medical purposes?

MR. KELLY: I believe that’s what that means. But again, I’d refer you to the IAEA and experts who know a little more what they’re talking about than I do.

QUESTION: Well, but this is the whole face-saving kind of compromise that you’ve been working on for years, isn’t it? That Iran gets to maintain that it’s enriching uranium, but it satisfies the concerns of the international community. I mean, is this the kind of grand bargain that’s been shaping up for the last –

MR. KELLY: No, it’s no grand bargaining, because it’s really – it’s just the start – it’s the start of a – of some – what we hope will be an intense diplomatic activity that will take place in the next few weeks that will culminate in another meeting where we’ll, I hope, be able to get some actual concrete steps that Iran is willing to take to --

QUESTION: You’re still working on the whole idea of freeze-for-freeze, which has always been –

MR. KELLY: That offer has always been on the table ever since April.

Yeah, Charlie?

QUESTION: Just to clarify, and I’m not sure I heard Solana correctly, but I understood the next meet would be at the technical level. Is that your understanding? Or maybe I didn’t hear right. At what level do you expect the next meeting to be before the end – the meeting before the end of October?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have information on what the level will be, but it’s not my understanding that it’s simply a technical meeting. In fact, in the next few minutes, there should be a briefing in Geneva by the U.S. side, a background briefing, so – yeah, so – and we’ll get that transcript as soon as we can and send it out to all you guys.

QUESTION: Well, when you say that it’s not at the technical level, then it’s at the political –

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure. I’m not sure what it is.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: No, wait, wait. Hold on a minute. When you talked about Burns’ sidebar with Jalili and talked – said it was a frank exchange about a number of – about the nuclear issue, but a number of other issues, what – can you describe what – how Jalili took this --


QUESTION: – considering he is the nuclear negotiator and his portfolio is somewhat –

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: – more limited than Bill Burns’s portfolio?

MR. KELLY: Right. This is true. Yeah, but we, of course, would hope --

QUESTION: I mean, you would hope you were talking to the right guy, if you want to talk about –

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure who else was in this delegation, for one thing. But I think we would expect that Mr. Jalili would take these concerns that we have back to Tehran. And again, I just want to underline that this is a – the issue of the detention of American citizens is very important issue for us of some urgency. So – and this was the first face-to-face meeting that we’ve had with Iranian officials in a long time, so we took advantage of that to press this important issue.

QUESTION: Did you raise the issue of Mr. Levinson?

MR. KELLY: As I understand it, all these cases – the three hikers, Mr. Tajbakhsh, and Mr. Levinson, all of them were raised.

QUESTION: And how long was that meeting, the bilateral meeting?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I don’t have that information. If I can get it, I’ll give it to you.


QUESTION: Ian, did they mention the countries to which low-enriched uranium will be transferred?

MR. KELLY: I’m sorry. Repeat that, Peter*.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there was an agreement that lower-enrichment uranium or plutonium, it will be transferred to the third countries, right?

MR. KELLY: To other countries, yes.

QUESTION: To the other countries.

MR. KELLY: But the countries weren’t specified, if that’s what you’re going to ask.

QUESTION: Yes, okay.

MR. KELLY: No, they weren’t specified.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for just one second?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: We’d asked repeatedly yesterday when was the last time that an Iranian foreign minister had come to the – come to Washington, D.C. Finance ministers and central bank governors, they come fairly routinely with --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the IMF and World Bank meetings.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But did you get an answer on that?

MR. KELLY: We actually did quite a bit of research on this. And I believe the answer to that is 1978.


MR. KELLY: That just popped on my email screen as I was coming down.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. KELLY: Yeah, that’s because it just popped on my screen and I didn’t --

QUESTION: So that would have been the shah’s last foreign minister?

MR. KELLY: That’s right.

QUESTION: The president --

QUESTION: Ian, can you put that out as a TQ?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just so that you’re certain of it.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, we can do that.

QUESTION: Can you check and see whether there’s been a request for an Iranian foreign minister to come to D.C. before that? I mean, is this the first time the Iranians requested it or has it been --

MR. KELLY: I believe it’s the first time an Iranian foreign minister has requested --


MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know. I shouldn’t say that. I can’t speak for the previous administration.

QUESTION: If you could – if you could check that.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, okay.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: Yes, also on a related issue, there have been reports, as you know, that the foreign minister, while he was here, met with – well, various – there’s been various reporting, whether members of Congress, former members of Congress, former U.S. officials. I know you don’t speak for the foreign minister. But because there have been U.S. officials, as it were, following and shadowing, I just wonder if you’re aware of any specific U.S. individuals the foreign minister met with.

MR. KELLY: The short answer to that is no, I’m not aware that he met with any American officials. He requested permission to come down here to talk to people in the Pakistani Embassy in the Iranian Interests Section, and this just fell in line with our normal policy and procedures for handling interests sections and was consistent with the President’s commitment of principled engagement.

QUESTION: Ian, but not officials. Any non-U.S. officials. Are you --

MR. KELLY: No. Well, I know that he was at the Pakistani Embassy. That’s – and he was here overnight and left this morning.

QUESTION: Can you give us some details about Senator Mitchell’s meetings with the Palestinians today?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have a readout. I know that he met with the Israeli delegation this morning. And then now, this afternoon, he’s meeting with the Palestinian side. But I – unfortunately, I don’t have any details of today’s meetings. If we can get you a readout, I will.

QUESTION: Do you expect more meetings, like next week, or it’s going to be just --

MR. KELLY: I don’t know. It may continue into tomorrow. I’m not sure. But like I say, if we can get you more information – I just don’t have a readout yet.


QUESTION: Is there any statement at the end of this meeting today?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know that any is being planned. I don’t think so.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: There are reports the Israeli ministry is set to approve new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory near Bethlehem. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you know what our reaction in general is, and that we – what we’re focused on is creating the kind of context to get the two sides to start meaningful negotiations. That’s what Senator Mitchell is doing right now. Our position all along is that the two sides should refrain from the kind of activities and rhetoric that would prove to be any kind of impediment to the resumptions of these talks.

And of course, we’ve called on all sides to abide by their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, for Israelis, that means an end to settlement activity; for the Palestinians, it means taking responsibility for security and ending the kind of divisive rhetoric; and for Arab states, it means steps towards normalization with Israel.

QUESTION: So has anyone reached out specifically about this settlement? I mean, it would be a huge settlement allowing* 40,000 Jewish settlers.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, actually, I’m not aware of that specific case. So we’ll check on it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

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