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Middle East Digest - October 7, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 7, 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 7, 2009

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Can I ask you about your friends, the Libyans, who seem determined not to allow the Goldstone report to go gently into that good night or just fall off the radar screen, which is what you’ve been hoping to do?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t agree with that, Matt. I think what we --


MR. KELLY: What we wanted to do was defer discussion of it so it wouldn't become an impediment to the talks going on which are designed to develop the resumption of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Right. And now, today, the Libyans are raising it at the Security Council, which is precisely what you didn’t want to happen.

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: What are you going to do, and how are you going to prevent this from turning into a giant mess – even more of a mess than it already is for Abbas, who’s under very, very heavy pressure and criticism at home?

MR. KELLY: I think what’s going on today is there is a – it’s on the agenda of the Security Council, a regular Security Council meeting, to discuss the Libyan request. I don’t think that they’re discussing the overall issue, though, which is the Goldstone report. But I think you know what our policy is --

QUESTION: Isn’t it a fact that the Libyans have asked for the report to be discussed by the Security Council?

MR. KELLY: I believe that they have made a request to --

QUESTION: So whether they’re actually going to be talking about the content of the report today or not, they’re still going to be talking about it, and that’s exactly what you didn’t want to happen.

MR. KELLY: That – well, I mean, I – as I’ve said before and we said many times that we believe that the report raised some very serious allegations that should be reviewed that – but we also believe that these issues should be discussed in a constructive and non-divisive manner. And for that reason, we believe that the place for this kind of discussion is in the Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: So what are you going to do at the Security Council to keep it from being discussed?

MR. KELLY: Well, it will be raised today, this afternoon, and I imagine that there will be discussion on whether or not to have a more general discussion of it.

QUESTION: Right. Exactly. And presumably, you’re opposed to having a more general discussion of it, correct?

MR. KELLY: We believe that the proper place for a discussion of this is the Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: So what will you do to prevent it from coming before the Security Council?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would imagine that what we’re going to do is point out what I just pointed out, that we are at a sensitive time in trying to re-launch these negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Senator Mitchell arrived this morning to resume these talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, and we think that we should all stay focused on that objective of addressing the underlying causes of the tragic events that are covered in the Goldstone report, which is the lack of a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and a solution to this longstanding conflict, which we believe, and which both sides also believe – they share the same goal of having two states living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to use your veto at the Security Council to prevent this from --

MR. KELLY: Well, you’re asking me to – you’re asking me to look into the future and prejudge what we will or what we won’t do.

QUESTION: I’m asking you about your strategy. What I’ve been trying to get at is trying to figure out what your strategy is --

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ll see --

QUESTION: -- in the Security Council to prevent it from being raised --

MR. KELLY: Right. We’ll see what happens at 4 o'clock today in this closed session of the UN Security Council.

Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: Do you see it as provoking controversy among the Palestinians and that the – Abbas’s position, your partner in the peace talks, is undermined --

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: -- by the decision to delay it, which you pressured the Palestinians to do?

MR. KELLY: Well, we – I disagree with you that we pressured the Palestinians.

QUESTION: But you asked --

MR. KELLY: We believe that it was in the interest of all concerned, of all who share this common goal of re-launching these negotiations, to delay discussion of this report. And as I said, this is what we are focused on is a long-term objective of getting to a point where we can talk about a real solution to the problems that caused these terrible events in Gaza.

QUESTION: But you’re not going to get a solution if you continually have a weak Palestinian partner --

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: -- divided also with Hamas, and apparently, one of the first casualties is this reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah that --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m not sure that that is --

QUESTION: Will it be delayed now?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m not sure that it will be delayed. I mean, we, of course, have urged the Palestinians to demonstrate that they are committed to what they say they’re committed to, and that’s a Palestinian state that can live side by side with Israel. And they need to commit to renouncing violence, to building on previous agreements and obligations. And we, of course, hope that we can play a helpful role in getting to the point where the – where we can start – or restart the process towards this shared goal.

QUESTION: Do you support the reconciliation deal as outlined by the Egyptian brokers, the Hamas-Fatah deal?

MR. KELLY: I – yeah, I mean, clearly, we support a process that would lead to a restart of significant negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I don’t know enough about the Egyptian proposal. I don’t know enough about the details of it to really pronounce on whether or not this is the way to go.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: A different topic?

QUESTION: Can we just – I just want to get something clear. Did you tell – have you told the Libyans or asked the Libyans not to do this, and they just basically blew you off?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Same topic?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On – you’ve made your position public that this report should be deferred. How do you think your position on the Goldstone report is going to impact U.S. relations with the Muslim world?

MR. KELLY: Look, we have said all along that – and I just said a few minutes ago that there are serious allegations in this report. And these allegations need to be addressed, and we have urged both sides to take steps to address these allegations and investigate them thoroughly. We think that the – it is in the best interests of everyone in the region, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, to start a process that will lead to two states living side by side.

This is the end – this is the goal that is in the interests of everybody living in this region. And what we’re doing – all of our energies right now are being employed to move this process forward, and we want to clear the decks of any issues that might impede our progress towards this. And this is why we thought that it was perhaps better to delay discussion of this.

QUESTION: When you say impede progress, during the President’s speech in Cairo, he said that U.S. relations with the Muslim world is going to be based on mutual respect.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: Muslims don’t believe the U.S. position is respecting the sanctity of Muslim lives, those Muslims that died in Gaza. How do you respond?

MR. KELLY: I respond by saying that we recognize that the allegations in the report need to be investigated thoroughly, and we, of course, were very concerned about the number of civilians who were killed in this operation. But again, we need to stay focused on this long-term goal of addressing the underlying causes for the whole conflict.

The conflict started because missiles were being fired into Israel and the operation was undertaken to stop these attacks on Israel. What we need to do is get to a point where there is peace between the two communities, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And the way to do that is to have two states living side by side in peace and security and focusing on what’s really important, and that’s the future of their children and the prosperity of their countries.

QUESTION: On another topic? Iran has accused the U.S. of involvement in the disappearance of a university researcher, a guy named Shahram Amiri, who is rumored to be involved in their nuclear program. Wondering – this was an accusation made by their foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m wondering what the response is.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We saw that wire story, and we looked into it – I mean, here in the State Department – and we just basically don’t have any information on this individual. And that’s – I don’t really have more to say besides that, really.

QUESTION: You here in the State Department (inaudible)?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, this story has only just come across the wires and we’ve only sort of talked in-house here. But I really don’t have any information about it.

QUESTION: So has anybody in the U.S. Government been involved in --

MR. KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: – you know, either --

QUESTION: Are you leaving open the possibility that another government agency might be – have more information?

MR. KELLY: I can only speak for the State Department at this point.

QUESTION: Then – but you can’t categorically rule out that you had no involvement in this, can you?

MR. KELLY: Well, we just – we – the case is not familiar to us. The name is not familiar to us.

QUESTION: Really? Because I – it’s my understanding that the Iranians actually raised this among – this case among cases of at least one other in Geneva --

MR. KELLY: Well, maybe I misspoke. I’m not aware of that, I must say.

QUESTION: – and that they also complained to the UN about it – complained during the UN – during the UNGA.

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm. Well, I know that I have no information about this. I don’t want to misspeak.



MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There has been funding that has been going out to a lot of exile groups. One has been Iran’s human – center for human rights violation, documentation of that in – near Yale University. That grant has been cut and denied after five years of granting this group millions of dollars, a $3 million grant this year has been denied suddenly. Is there – is this a change in policy? Are you changing the policy of funding any of these exile groups of different sorts and forms?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I don’t have the details of this particular case. I do know that our funding priorities haven’t changed for the region. What this program is designed to support is civil society and advocacy promoting human rights and the rule of law and increasing access to sources of information. But this particular grantee, I’m not aware of the reason that went into the funding decision for it.

QUESTION: Would you make available why a certain center or group has been denied? Is there a way to find out?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure if that’s public information or the kind of information we’d only share with the grantee itself. I think we’d have to probably check to see if that’s possible.

QUESTION: I’m asking that because there’s a lot of speculation that this – in Iran especially, and I’ve spoken to a lot of human rights activists in Iran who were not upset about this, surprisingly to say. These kind of grants never ended up in Iran in any way. But more importantly, they think this might be your way of saying we didn’t just say regime change policy has changed, we’re following through with it. Is this a message sent – being sent to Tehran?

MR. KELLY: No. I mean, as I said before, our funding priorities under this program have not changed. We still have the same priorities and in terms of supporting rule of law, supporting civil society, and broadening of access to information. Those are sort of the main priorities we have for the program.

QUESTION: But could you possibly speculate that whether or not --

MR. KELLY: Speculate?

QUESTION: Yeah, speculatively thinking, is there – are you looking – is it – could it be that you’re looking into federal funding and you’re saying why are we giving this money to – is it – could it that, as President Obama said, I’m going to go line by line? Is this part of that, or is it part of something --

MR. KELLY: I simply don’t know the answer to that. I just know that the overall – our overall goals for this program have remained unchanged, and our priorities for the kinds of programs that we fund have not changed as well.

QUESTION: So would it be – at all be able to find out at any point? Is there something --

MR. KELLY: I’ll see. And like I say, I’m not sure we can share this kind of information about individual grantees, but --

QUESTION: Also on Iran.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In light of the talks the U.S., Russia, France are going to have with Iran on October 19th about uranium reprocessing, Iran – Ahmadinejad is offering to buy uranium from the United States. Would the U.S. ever think of buying uranium?

MR. KELLY: Well –

QUESTION: Selling uranium?

MR. KELLY: Selling uranium. Yeah, I think this is all done under the auspices of the IAEA, and so we would do this within that context. I mean, whatever we would do would be in consultation with them. Whether or not we would sell Iran enriched uranium, that I can’t say. You’re asking me to discuss the decision we may or may not make in the future. But I know this is all done through the IAEA.

QUESTION: Yeah. And el-Baradei’s visit at the weekend, I mean, have you heard back about the process for inspecting the new plant at Qom, the new uranium enrichment plant at Qom?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any particular details about it. I know that it’s – the inspection will take place on October 25th. In the lead-up to that, there will preparatory work, interviews, and various ways to prepare for the inspection itself. But I don’t have any details about the inspection.

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