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Middle East Digest - October 19, 2009


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Washington, DC
October 19, 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 October 19, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Okay, good afternoon. First of all, you’ve seen that the Secretary has a meeting with Prime Minister Maliki. That’s in about 40 minutes. There’ll be a camera spray before the meeting and then I expect the Secretary will make some brief remarks as well. There will be, of course, a discussion of bilateral issues, but I think one of the more important items on the agenda for the meeting will be tomorrow’s U.S.-Iraq business and investment conference. This conference we see as a stepping stone to greater private sector involvement and investment in the Iraqi economy. And of course, we have had very intensive government-to-government relations, but we think that the next step is greater involvement of the private sector. So this conference is intended to encourage business-to-business connections and partner our respective business communities.

And with that, I will take your questions. Mr. Burns.

QUESTION: Can we start on Pakistan?

MR. KELLY: On Pakistan.

QUESTION: The authorities there said that prior to the launching of this offensive in South Waziristan that they’ve reached agreements with two – with commanders of two militant groups to keep them out of the fight, not attack them. And these are groups in particular that are more focused on fighting in Afghanistan than in fighting the Pakistani Government. What’s the U.S. position on that prioritization of the Pakistani offensive to not attack those groups?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, I’m not aware of that particular report. I think that we have a shared goal here, and the shared goal is fighting violent extremism. And I think that it’s – I mean, we’ve been quite clear that we see a continuum between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And one of the reasons that we’re supporting the Government of Pakistan in their fight against these violent extremists and terrorist organizations within their border is because, of course, there is this continuum -- between the border areas there’s a continuum between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And we support their efforts to try and fight these elements. And of course, this operation right now is designed to put these guys out of business, and we support that.

But what – this report that you’re referring to, I’m not --

QUESTION: You’re not aware that they’ve --

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of that --

QUESTION: -- reached agreements with these other groups?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not. Not aware of that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you just clarify a little bit more how crucial the current Pakistani offensive is in South Waziristan to the overall U.S. interest in stability of the region and protecting the U.S. and its allies from terrorism?

MR. KELLY: Well – yeah. This is part of an overall offensive that we’ve seen the Government of Pakistan conduct. I mean, we saw the operations in the Swat Valley earlier. We recognize that these are very difficult operations and a very difficult terrain. And of course, there are the concerns for the civilian populations that are paramount in all our minds. But as I just said to Bob, we see what’s happening in this part of Pakistan as being very much part of what’s happening in Afghanistan. So one of the major reasons that we are supporting these efforts is to help us reach success in Afghanistan as well.

QUESTION: Just to follow up quickly please. For eight years, international community and U.S. help Pakistan, and what do you think will be new this time that did not take place or happen in eight years that you think Pakistan will be with you or you can trust them and have faith and they will fight side-by-side with you, not both with you and with the al-Qaidas.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I mean, we’re not asking them to fight side-by-side with us. We’re – we are offering to partner with them as they deal with this extremist – with these extremist elements within their borders. And I think that within the last few months or so, we’ve seen a real commitment on the part of the Government of Pakistan to confront head-on militarily these elements within their borders.

QUESTION: You don’t see a military again in Pakistan because of all these developments, maybe because demonstrations taking place and all that, so much going on? You think that Pakistan may have again military for – Pakistan may have again military rule because of so much going on in Pakistan?

MR. KELLY: I think that we have full faith in the Government of Pakistan. I think that they’ve turned a corner as well in their democratic development, and so we support them in their efforts.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ian, recently we’ve been criticizing Pakistan because of their lukewarm attitude to go into South Waziristan and also to the north up in that area. Now, I guess it was about a year or more ago, they offered the – went into some type of agreements with the Taliban, and you see that it came out as naught. Do you think they’re serious now? Of course, some of the cities even in the east, such as Lahore --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- up in the west have been attacked recently, even around Islamabad. Do you think that they should go further and strictly cut off that region, especially for some of the goods that are smuggled through, weapons and else what?

MR. KELLY: First of all, I mean, this is a – first and foremost, this is a challenge for Pakistan which should have a Pakistani solution. We share these goals. They’ve expressed their determination to eliminate these dangerous and murderous elements within their borders. And they’ve backed up these expressions of determination with real action, first in the Swat Valley and now in South Waziristan. As I said before, we don’t minimize the difficulties and challenges faced of trying to conduct military operations in this – these mountainous tribal areas, but we are encouraged by the determination that they’ve expressed and also shown to eliminate these elements.

Yes.

QUESTION: Your statement on Iran over the weekend condemned the terrorist attack.

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: So I’m wondering, if that was a terrorist attack, why isn’t Jundullah a terrorist organization?

MR. KELLY: This is something we’re looking at. We’re looking at a number of designations, and this particular organization is one of these organizations we’re looking at. I don’t have anything to announce at this time.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that there could be a different designation for Jundullah, or you’re saying that it’s one of many groups that’s being considered for terrorist designation?

MR. KELLY: I’m just saying that we’re looking at – we’re looking at possible designations. I really don’t want to say anything beyond that.

QUESTION: Well, is there any reason why Jundullah wouldn’t be designated?

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to say that it won’t be designated.

QUESTION: But it’s been – it’s been conducting attacks for years now.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, like I say, I have nothing to announce now. But this is something that we’re looking at.

Yeah, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ian, good afternoon. This is John Terret from Al Jazeera English television.

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: How does the increased likelihood of a runoff in the Afghan presidential election affect the Obama Administration? And what I mean by that is that we assume that you guys would like a bit more time to sort out what you want to do with Afghanistan, but this might give you almost a bit too much time, allowing critics to really attack Mr. Obama for dithering while troops are in harmed way – harm’s way. What do you say to that?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, I don’t want to suggest that we haven’t given our troops on the ground the kind of resources they need to carry out their mission, because we have. I mean, we have resourced this. I think you’ve heard people say that we were concerned that this mission was under-resourced in the past. But we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it – that our troops have the wherewithal to do what they’re there to do.

QUESTION: But this runoff can’t be good for you guys.

MR. KELLY: Well, no, I don’t agree with that, and – because I think what we’ve all got to focus on here is we’ve got to focus on the need for a credible and legitimate outcome that reflects the will of the Afghan people. And in order to do that, we need to allow these Afghan institutions to do their job. And we need to support this process that they’re carrying out now, and this process is being carried out according to Afghan law and the Afghan constitution.

And that’s really what we’re focused on right now, is allowing this process a chance to play out. I think you saw today that the Electoral Complaints Commission, that they’ve carried out their mandate in a very thorough fashion. This was carried out under the Afghan election law. They’ve delivered their orders or their recommendations to the Independent Electoral Commission. And right now, the IEC is examining those recommendations. And of course, we’ll call on – we call on these Afghan institutions – in this instance, the IEC – to implement the recommendations of the ECC. And we look forward to the final certified results, which the IEC will issue in the coming days.

QUESTION: Ian, just to follow up, you don’t think it opens up the Administration to attacks from critics who say, well, you know, they’re really dithering while American lives are at risk?

MR. KELLY: I don’t – again, I – of course American lives are at risk, but we’ve given them what they need. General McChrystal has presented his recommendations for the way forward. And of course, that’s being assessed right now. But this is a very serious decision which requires some very thorough deliberation.

Do you have the same subject, Janine? Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you able to confirm that Karzai did not get 50 percent as a result of this examination as it’s being reported?

MR. KELLY: No, we’re not able to confirm that. I think that this is something – the results can only be certified by the IEC.

QUESTION: And just to follow up, Senator Kerry is meeting with President Karzai today and looking very much like a diplomat, meeting with him several times and encouraging him with – vis-à-vis the election and the possibility of a second runoff. Can you talk about how he’s been coordinating with the State Department?

MR. KELLY: He’s been – yeah, he’s been very – he’s been coordinating very closely with the State Department. He’s been coordinating with Ambassador Eikenberry. Secretary Clinton has spoken with Ambassador Eikenberry several times. She spoke as well with President Karzai and with Mr. Abdullah. Senator Kerry, as I say, is closely coordinating with us, but he does – he’s a senator. He represents the Legislative Branch, and as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of course, he plays a key role in shaping congressional policy.

QUESTION: What about Khalilzad? He’s also in Kabul. Did anyone ask him to go? Is he coordinating with you at all?

MR. KELLY: No, not that I’m aware of. Mr. Khalilzad is a private citizen.

QUESTION: He has not been coordinating?

MR. KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Do you know if he asked?

MR. KELLY: I – not that I’m aware of. I don’t think so, but I’m not --

QUESTION: Can you take – can we take that question and find out?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure. I’m not sure we’ll be able to give you any more information. If we – if there is information contradicting what I just said, we’ll let you know, but assume that it’s – he’s not --

QUESTION: So assume that he did not ask the U.S. Government how they felt about him going to Kabul --

MR. KELLY: Not in any coordinated fashion.

QUESTION: Any readout of the Iran LEU talks today?

MR. KELLY: I have a very short readout. We were able to talk to somebody who is at the meetings. And as you know, the meetings were convened to develop a response to Iran’s request to meet the need for safeguarded research reactor fuel. And of course, our – what we would like to see here is a substantial reduction in the – Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium that might otherwise be available for non-peaceful uses.

We fully support the IAEA proposal to have this low-enriched uranium processed in Russia and France. And so this meeting was designed as a meeting where experts in these issues could sit down and meet. And I think you probably saw what Mr. ElBaradei said today. He called the meetings a good start. He said that most of the technical issues have been covered and that we expect the discussion to continue tomorrow morning.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Sure, Kirit.

QUESTION: There was an interesting article in Time magazine today talking about the back story on this deal and talking about some of the personal involvement of President Obama in his discussions with Moscow earlier this year and then again in New York with the Russians. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this came together?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think as I just said, we were looking at a way to be responsive to Iran’s desire to have a nuclear energy program that could be used for peaceful purposes. And – but we also, of course, had great concerns about the possibility of them using some of the mechanisms to develop this kind of program for military purposes to develop a nuclear weapon. And I can’t give you a chronology of how this all developed, but obviously, it wasn’t something that we thought up right there in Geneva. I mean, it is something that has been developed over some time.

And as I said, it was a good way for both sides to meet our express concerns. On the one hand, Iran gets the fuel for its civilian nuclear energy program, and on the other, we make sure that this fuel is produced in a safe way. And by sending the stockpiles out of the country, it reduces the possibility of some kind of breakthrough, where they could develop a nuclear weapon. So --

QUESTION: And can you say whether this went back – the genesis of the idea went back to the Moscow visit?

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not sure, standing right here, if it actually was developed specifically at that meeting.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that you’d gotten some sort of readout from your people in Vienna. Did they give you any indication that the Iranians are more reluctant to proceed with this than they had appeared initially?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s – as I said, it was just a beginning. It was a good beginning. But I think that we still need to sit down and work out a lot of the details on how we’ll actually implement this agreement that we had in --

QUESTION: I’m asking about the Iranians’ attitude. Are they continuing – I mean, is it proceeding, or are they resisting this approach?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think it’s a good sign that they’ve agreed to meet again tomorrow. I think beyond that, I really can’t say.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Ian, they’re saying that – in Vienna, the Iranians are saying that if they don’t get what they want, they will just go ahead and enrich the uranium up to 20 percent themselves in the country. Will that in any way affect the strategy the P-5+1 has so far?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have been very, very clear on this that Iran is not meeting its obligations, and one of those obligations is not to enrich uranium. It’s also not demonstrating in a transparent and verifiable way that its intentions are what they say they are, that their intentions are to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program.

This agreement in principle in Geneva offers them a way to have what they say they want to develop, and that’s a civilian nuclear energy program. And it’s a way for us to be able to be certain that the fuel that they have is what they say it’s for, and that’s to develop a nuclear energy program.

So we would urge Iran to show – to demonstrate that its intentions are what they say they are, and the best way to do that is for us to work out a way forward on implementing this – the agreement in Geneva.

QUESTION: They’re also saying that the U.S. is preparing to officially announce that it will accept Iran enriching its own uranium, which you just mentioned is – any truth to that?

MR. KELLY: That’s not my understanding of what’s happening right now in Vienna.

QUESTION: -- Afghanistan, please. Afghanistan needs a lot of construction, and as far as the trust and faith is concerned, that requires a lot of massive economic aid or economic reconstruction. Many companies are there, but now, there’s a fear of terrorism; they are being under attacks and all that. Now in the case of India and Pakistan, they are blaming each other. As far as India’s presence in Afghanistan is concerned, Pakistan think that India will take over Afghanistan, or this is not in their security’s interest, India’s presence in Afghanistan.

So how can you bring all this trust, distrust --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think the main thing is that we all conduct this in full transparency, that any side that is contributing towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan, that we do so in a cooperative way, that we share as much information as possible. I don’t see how helping Afghanistan develop its economy and its infrastructure could be seen as a security threat to any other country in the region. On the contrary; a stable and more prosperous Afghanistan could be – is only going to contribute to regional stability.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. KELLY: Okay. Thanks.




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