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Middle East Digest - October 8, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 8, 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 8, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Good afternoon. Let me lead off with a short statement.

The United States condemns the bombing today near the Indian Embassy and Ministry of Interior in Kabul that has killed several people and wounded many more. There’s no justification for this kind of senseless violence. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of those who lost their lives in the attack.

And staying with Afghanistan, let me give you a quick status report for you on the ongoing process in Afghanistan. This process has now moved to the Electoral Complaint Commission, the ECC, that is now judging the information from the sample and deciding on fraudulent ballots to deduct, adjudicating the complaints that individually came in after the polling. And they will pass their decisions to the IEC, which will then certify the results as a victory for a candidate or will determine the need for a second round runoff. This counting phase of the audit process began on October 5. As you’re aware, timings have shifted frequently for this process, so I won’t predict when they will be complete. That’s, of course, a matter for the election authorities.

It’s important that we allow the ECC and IEC the time they need to eliminate the fraud that they have discovered. The publication of those final and certified results will tell us whether there is a need for a second round. And just to reiterate, we condemn fraud wherever it occurs, and we believe that these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated. To that end, the IEC and ECC, of course, are auditing and investigating these potentially fraudulent ballots. This process continues to move forward, and we need to give it the time, space, and support it needs to conduct the incredible review of allegations of fraud and irregularities in the election.

And finally, we continue to support the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, as it emphasizes transparency, inclusiveness, and the credible review of allegations of fraud and irregularities in the election. So with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: On that, how much time, space, and support do you think it needs?

MR. KELLY: As long as it takes to ensure that these --

QUESTION: So you don’t have a problem with this –

MR. KELLY: -- results are certified as legitimate and representative of the will of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: So you don’t – you don’t have any concerns that this could stretch out past the time that – where if it is found that a runoff is needed, that they wouldn’t be able to have one because of the weather and impending winter?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, –

QUESTION: Is there not any sense of urgency?

MR. KELLY: – sure. No, there is a sense of urgency.

QUESTION: Well, you just said there wasn’t.

MR. KELLY: You’re absolutely right. What I mean to say is, the bottom line is, is that these are serious allegations. They need to be seriously investigated. This is a finite process, involving a finite number of ballots that have been identified as needing to be investigated. We do recognize that there is a time constraint here because of the challenges involved in Afghanistan with the approaching winter. I believe that schools close because of the weather some time in mid to late November and, of course, that’s an important factor as well. You need to have polling places and the schools are a very good place for that. So yes, we’re very aware of the time constraints and the Afghan authorities are aware of it, too.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but then so it’s not really as much time as it needs?

MR. KELLY: Well, if they need more time, I think they have to take more time. I think it’s –

QUESTION: If it slides into the winter to resolve and –

MR. KELLY: We – yeah, I don’t think anybody is predicting this will slide into the winter. I think they’re talking about a matter of weeks to resolve this.

QUESTION: Is there – do you have any sense that this interregnum is itself deleterious for Afghanistan, that while there is so much uncertainty about the outcome of the election, whether or not there will be a runoff, that lots of things sort of grind to a halt, including, you know, policymaking, you know, that it may even have an effect on the economic activity to the extent that there is much?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, it’s – I wouldn’t characterize it as an interregnum. We have a government in place. We’re cooperating with that government. And there – I mean, there is – there are local authorities in place that won an election to be the government. Having said that, of course, the reason why we are emphasizing again and again and again is the need for these allegations to be investigated is because we recognize that it is critical that the government be recognized as credible and legitimate. So that’s why we are so interested in the process and why we are so supportive of the process.

And this was a – the elections themselves were a challenge – it would have been a challenge under the best of circumstances because of the problems of terrain and problems of transportation in Afghanistan. On top of that, you had a situation of armed conflict. So it was a difficult election to conduct, but we have to ensure that this process plays out – the process of certifying these results to ensure that the government that we have going forward is – has the full writ of the Afghan people.


QUESTION: Ian, on Afghanistan, you know, there seems to be this kind of debate or discussion about the Taliban and al-Qaida. Some people are saying, well, maybe you can actually do business with the Taliban, maybe they are not a threat against the United States, they’re kind of an indigenous group as it is; the real threat is al-Qaida and we should go after them. What does the Secretary think? Does she believe that the Taliban themselves are a threat to the United States or is it – are they just a threat to the people in Afghanistan or – if I can use that word “just?”

MR. KELLY: Well, they’re not just a threat to the people of Afghanistan. There are young American men and women who have been killed by the Taliban. There are young men and women of our allies who have been killed by the Taliban. The Taliban hosted and encouraged al-Qaida. And the attacks of September 11, 2001 were – the idea for them was hatched in the Taliban-run Afghanistan. So I think that we do see the Taliban as a threat to U.S. security for that reason.

Having said that, I think that one thing that we’re trying to do is we are trying to emphasize our support for the Afghan people to promote the idea that we are there to provide for their security, that – to contrast what we’re doing there in terms of protecting the Afghan people and helping build a more prosperous future for them by building infrastructure projects and helping with economic development. It contrasts what we’re doing with what happened today in Kabul. The Taliban took full responsibility for this indiscriminate killing of innocent Afghans in the streets of Kabul. So I think the Taliban is a threat. I think al-Qaida is a threat. I think what we’re fighting there is this whole idea of destruction and mass murder in the name of religious extremism, and I would put them all in the same category. They’re carrying – they’re using the same tactics.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region for a moment?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, I don’t know if you saw the comments by Congressman Ackerman last night which were (inaudible).

MR. KELLY: No, I didn’t.

QUESTION: They were essentially expressing his concern that some people in Pakistan don’t seem to want the money that the Administration would like to give them, and suggesting that maybe Pakistan is not, sort of, ready to be a full partner. And Leader Boehner today publicly appeared to criticize the Administration by suggesting that he would have expected the Administration to have tried to work out any problems that there might have been with the Pakistanis about the money that the Administration wants to give them.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you foresee any – I mean, obviously, the bill has passed both houses, but do you foresee any difficulty in the President going ahead and signing this into law, given the sort of multiple public statements we’ve seen from people in Pakistan who don’t seem to feel good about taking it?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, let’s be clear about what’s happening in Pakistan now. I think what we’re seeing is a debate and a diversity of opinion in the Pakistani parliament. It’ll be – we welcome this kind of debate. It doesn’t necessarily imply that this – that the debate is over and that anybody has rejected our proposal. I would draw your attention to the words of Foreign Minister Qureshi when he appeared with the Secretary the other day. Pakistan and the United States is embarking on a partnership, and this is a – this – the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill is a three-year commitment to the Government of Pakistan. We want to launch a partnership with Pakistan, and this is because this is in our national security interests to do this.

As I said yesterday, I think that we need to perhaps communicate better about what this bill entails. The bill does have some certification and monitoring requirements that are common for these kinds of assistance bills. They’re in assistance bills for other countries as well. I know that the assistance bill for aid to Egypt and the assistance bill for aid to Colombia also have these similar kinds of certification requirements, and this is all in the name of accountability. And this is something that – it’s something that the Legislative Branch levies on the Executive Branch. This is the Legislative Branch imposing conditions on us to certify that certain actions are taking place.

But I want to emphasize that we’re not holding Pakistan up to any kind of different standard that we would any other country where the U.S. taxpayer is making an investment.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Administration should have worked harder with the Pakistani Government to try to help them prepare their population for this?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what’s going on now is something that you see in parliaments. I mean, there is a debate on what – its interests in the Government of Pakistan. As I said before, we welcome that kind of debate as we would in any parliament. And also, as I said before, we want to be very open and transparent about what this bill does and doesn’t do. I mean, if there’s – there’s no secret annex to this bill. It’s --

QUESTION: The reason – can I ask one more? No go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, could I – can you recall another situation – a similar situation where a parliament has debated whether to accept U.S. aid?

MR. KELLY: No, but I’m sure you could help me with all that.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m just trying to – I can’t. It seems to me from – fairly --

MR. KELLY: Oh, I thought you were going to give me an example.

QUESTION: No, no, I don’t. But you seem to say that though – well, we welcome this debate and --

MR. KELLY: We do welcome debate.

QUESTION: -- it’s what we expect and has happened before, but I’m not sure that it has happened before.

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not saying that the debate has happened before. I’m saying that we have – we’ve had these kind of certification and monitoring requirements in the --

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, I don’t remember the Government of Colombia ever – or the parliament lawmakers in Colombia ever --

MR. KELLY: That may well be true. Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I wonder about your welcoming the debate is that – I mean, this is just an authorization bill. It hasn’t even gotten --

MR. KELLY: This is true.

QUESTION: -- hasn’t even got to the appropriators --

MR. KELLY: It’s good you point that out.

QUESTION: And so you have --

MR. KELLY: And this is just – and this is – we’re just talking about ceilings here. The money has not been appropriated. You’re right.

QUESTION: Exactly. And it seems to me, quite conceivable, that if even people on the – people of the President’s own party, like Congressman Ackerman, who is on the authorizing committee, are having misgivings about this, that you’re going to run into even more trouble from the appropriators who are not always eager to hand out money. And therefore, I wonder why you are so welcoming of this debate when a congressman might look at it and say, well, if they don’t want the money, why are we giving --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- why are we forcing it on them?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, I would point out that this bill had bipartisan support, so that’s one point. And another point is that the reason it had bipartisan support is that – I think that it is recognized on both sides of the aisle that this kind of long-term support to Pakistan is squarely in our national interests. This is – we fight a common battle with Pakistan. And we want to help them grow into a strong and stable democracy, and that’s exactly what this bill is designed to do.

QUESTION: You know, the difficulty is that you may, the Administration may regard, and indeed the Congress may now or may when it voted on this and regarded this as squarely in the United States national interest. But if the Pakistanis don’t concur, then it’s very hard to build the kind of partnership that you talk about.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, again, I would caution you against assuming that the debate in Pakistan is over and that they rejected the bill, because I don’t think they have.


QUESTION: Ian, do you have any more information on this Iranian nuclear scientist who either was kidnapped, disappeared, defected, et cetera, Shahram Amiri?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, I don’t. I don’t have anything to add to what I said yesterday. I’ve asked again for – if we do have more information that we can share. I didn’t get anything before 1 o’clock. If we have something more that we can share, we’ll push it out to you.

QUESTION: So you don’t know at this point whether it’s stuff that you can’t share or that you simply don’t have anything?

MR. KELLY: I just don’t have any further information right now.

QUESTION: Can you – specifically, on what Matt had raised yesterday about whether it was – he was indeed raised by the Iranians in Geneva and at the UN?

MR. KELLY: I can tell you what was raised, if you’ll just give me a moment. The Iranian Government is looking for information about two missing person cases involving Iranians abroad. One is Shahram Amiri. Is that the name of –


MR. KELLY: That’s him. Well, maybe I did get something by 1 o’clock. He reportedly disappeared in Saudi Arabia this year, and Ali Reza Asgari who reportedly disappeared in Turkey in 2006. We have no information about either case, and would refer you to those countries for information about their police investigation. We can affirm that we are in full compliance with both U.S. laws and our international obligations. We, of course, call on Iran to fulfill its responsibilities. The remaining cases, a Mr. Tajik and a Mr. Ardabili, involve ongoing legal proceedings, and we refer you to the Department of Justice for further information.

QUESTION: And they raised this when and where?

MR. KELLY: Some of these I think were raised in Geneva and I think in the case of – actually, I’m not sure exactly. But I know that some of them were raised in Geneva and some were raised in New York.

QUESTION: Can you check that one for –

MR. KELLY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Can you check that for some – and say – you know, put –

MR. KELLY: Well, if I can get you the information, I will.


QUESTION: Did you respond? Have you responded to the Iranians that you have no information?

MR. KELLY: Through official channels, you mean?

QUESTION: Oh, I don’t know how you – I mean, they raised it directly with you. I don’t know if you go through the Swiss or not. But I mean, this is – you’re basically giving them the same answer they’ve been giving to you on Levinson for the – and you don’t believe them. I realize the circumstances are different because Levinson was actually on, you know, on Iranian territory. And I’m not sure that there’s any evidence that these guys were on U.S. territory.

MR. KELLY: No. They were in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

QUESTION: If you have – have you communicated back to the Iranians in any form, that you don’t have any information about --

MR. KELLY: I believe that we have. But if there’s further information that I can give you, I’ll give it you.

Jill? Yeah.

QUESTION: Ian, just clarification. When you say we’re in full compliance with what?

MR. KELLY: Both U.S. laws and our international obligations.


MR. KELLY: In the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Have the Geneva talks led to any breakthroughs in the case of the three American hikers?

MR. KELLY: We did raise them. And we expressed our ongoing concern that they be released and united with their families. But no, they’re still in detention. No breakthroughs, unfortunately.

QUESTION: No promises? No nothing?

MR. KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

Samir? Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have a readout on the visit yesterday by the Saudi under secretary of the minister of interior who is in charge of combating terrorism Prince Nayef?

MR. KELLY: He was here in Washington?


MR. KELLY: Yeah. I know that he met with Under Secretary Burns. And I’ll see if I can get you a readout. I don’t think that’s in the book today. But I do know he was here in this building, but I don’t have a readout right now.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the Israeli foreign minister saying that the peace process should take years and any settlement would still be years away?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen that report. This was the Israeli president, you say?

QUESTION: Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman.

MR. KELLY: Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: He made this through Israeli radio – TV?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, I haven’t seen that. And we certainly see some urgency in moving beyond our facilitation of getting these talks started, to actually getting them started. And I know that Senator Mitchell, Special Envoy Mitchell is in the region. He met today with President Peres and with Foreign Minister Lieberman. And he’s also meeting, I think, now with Defense Minister Barak. He plans to see Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow, as well as Prime Minister Abbas tomorrow. And then, on –

QUESTION: President Abbas.

MR. KELLY: I’m sorry, President Abbas – thank you – tomorrow. And then, I believe on Saturday morning, he’s going to see Prime Minister Fayyad.

QUESTION: But an official of that high rank saying that settlement is years away, would you say that’s helpful or not helpful to the peace process?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what everybody has to focus on right now is we have to focus on getting to the point where we get the two sides to sit down and not impose any kind of timeline on the talks. The important thing is it’s time to get going and time to get the two sides together.

QUESTION: But if they’re saying we don’t think it’s going to happen for years, do you think that’s an indication the Israelis are –

MR. KELLY: I’m just – I’m not going to – I’m just not going to put any sort of qualifier on that. The main thing is they’ve got to agree to sit down.

QUESTION: Ian, just so we’re clear, you know, when – after the trilateral meeting in New York, it seemed from Senator Mitchell’s briefing – and this has certainly been confirmed by officials on background – that the Administration, while it hasn’t given up on the idea of putting together a package, that it – you know, was open to the idea of just going straight to negotiations, even if you couldn’t get the settlements, and so on, and the gestures by the Arab states. When you said we think it’s time to get to the negotiations, is it fair to say that you are, if not giving up, at least putting on the back burner the idea of putting together a package before getting to negotiations?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I – as I said before, I mean, you’ve seen what the President has said, that it’s – the time has come for both sides to agree to just cut right through all of this and get back to peace talks. And this is something that the two sides have to work out. I think too much emphasis has been on our role in this. And I’m glad that we’ve been able to play a helpful role. But it’s really – it’s between really the two sides to work out the kind of package that you’re referring to.

QUESTION: You were the one who put the emphasis on it. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t anyone else. I mean, the Administration came in the first or second day, and it was like, here he is, our special envoy.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And this is going to be our top priority.

MR. KELLY: It still is.

QUESTION: So what do you mean, too much emphasis has been placed on your role?

MR. KELLY: Well, I just think that for this to succeed, it’s going to have to be the two sides, first of all, agreeing to sit down and talk, and second of all, coming up with a comprehensive peace proposal.

QUESTION: Can I take you to a related subject?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: And a hot topic yesterday?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Goldstone?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So this report is going to be discussed on the 14th. Absolutely dead opposite of what you had wanted and hoped for. How did this happen?

MR. KELLY: Well, let’s put this in context. I mean, what happened yesterday is we agreed to move up a regularly scheduled discussion in the Security Council of Middle East issues. This is a monthly meeting. I guess it happens in the third week of every month. We moved it up by a week. This was, rather than accepting a Libyan proposal for an open meeting specifically on the report, we disagreed to move up the meeting by a week. And Goldstone is not on the agenda. During these meetings, any country is welcome to raise whatever issue related to the Middle East that they want. And we have to assume that Libya is going to raise this.

In the meeting – well, let me back up a little bit. You know what our position on this is. Our position is that we believe that the proper venue for a discussion of this is the Human Rights Council, not the UN Security Council, not the International Criminal Court, but the Human Rights Council. At that meeting yesterday, nearly all of the members agreed with us that the appropriate venue for this was the Human Rights Council. But because under the rules, any member can bring up any topic related to the main agenda item, we expect it to be discussed next week on the 14th.

QUESTION: And your – but, you know, you just restated your position again, that is, that you don’t think it should be discussed in the Security Council. And now, by your own admission, it’s going to be discussed in the Security Council.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: Is that a disappointment? Is that a loss?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: And, you know, how concerned are you that the Israelis – that it’s just going to make them more skittish?

MR. KELLY: Clearly, we would prefer this to stay within the context of the Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: So if you --

MR. KELLY: But this is not – we’re not talking about a meeting that’s specifically – organized to specifically discuss this one issue. It is a meeting where any member can bring up any item for discussion. We haven’t – nobody said this is going to be a session to discuss the Goldstone report. It’s simply to discuss – a meeting that’s scheduled every month to discuss the Middle East. So I just want to put it in that context. This is not – we’re not arranging a special meeting with the --

QUESTION: Well, just – you were trying to prevent this from being raised at any venue outside the Human Rights Council, and now --

MR. KELLY: It would be impossible to prevent it from being raised, impossible, because any member can raise whatever subject they want. And we have to assume that the member that had asked for a discussion of this, Libya, is going to raise it. So we can’t prevent that.

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