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Middle East Digest - October 21, 2009


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Washington, DC
October 21, 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 21, 2009

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QUESTION: Can you tell us what happened today in Vienna, from your point of view?

MR. KELLY: We greatly appreciate IAEA Director General ElBaradei’s skillful efforts and dedication to pursue this initiative of getting Iran to send out their low-enriched uranium to third countries. We think that the draft agreement presented by him today in Vienna was a very positive step. And I think you’ve seen that he expects by Friday to get a response on this draft text from the four capitals involved. But we – as I said, we welcome this effort, and we very much support everything that he’s doing.

QUESTION: So the draft is acceptable to you?

MR. KELLY: It’s acceptable to us, yeah. Well, we expect to be able to say that it’s acceptable by Friday. I’ll put it that way. But we very much welcome his efforts.

QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? You expect to be able to say that you’re – it’s acceptable by Friday?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: It seems – you sound – it seems like it’s acceptable to you now. Presumably, you had some input into the draft, so --

MR. KELLY: Yes, yes. Well, I mean, it was acceptable to our team out there, but we want to give it a chance to be seen by a broader range of people in the interagency.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. KELLY: But I expect we’ll be able to approve it.

QUESTION: Well, but if it was acceptable to the team out there – I mean, were there changes made to it?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have that kind of detail, Matt. I just am told that it was a – it was – like I say, it was a good effort by the director general and we support it. And we expect by Friday to be able to say that we approve it.

QUESTION: What did you make of the Iranian reaction?

MR. KELLY: I have only seen press reports of it and --

QUESTION: Well, what does the team think about what the Iranians had to say in the meeting?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: What does the U.S. team think of --

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any details about the substance of the meetings. We had at least one bilateral meeting with the Iranians yesterday. But beyond that, I don’t have any details on the substance of the meeting.

QUESTION: You don’t have any details of what the one bilateral went into?

MR. KELLY: I don’t. I’m sorry, Charlie. I don’t.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who’s going to – participating in two conferences on North Korea next week, the one in San Diego --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and another one in New York?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any update for you on that. We anticipate that we will participate in an official capacity, that there will be representatives from the State Department at least. But we haven’t decided on who will go to the conference.

QUESTION: What has Mr. Holbrooke’s role been in the recent events in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and where is he now?

MR. KELLY: Mr. Holbrooke is here in Washington. I think, as I described it yesterday, he was very much involved in the coordination with Senator Kerry and with other officials involved in the elections process. He has been speaking frequently as well to Secretary Clinton and has been involved throughout, but he’s been involved here in Washington.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Sure.

QUESTION: So what do you – what’s next? Is the U.S. pushing for this runoff to be held? Are you concerned about the weather? Do you think that some kind of a power-sharing arrangement might be just as good, if not better?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, we – I mean, we don’t have any view, really, on a power-sharing arrangement. We support the decision to have a second round of elections on November 7th. We believe that this should be Afghan-led, but we pledge our complete support to this decision to have this second round, and we will support the process. At the same time, I think as I said yesterday, we don’t underestimate the challenges involved.

Under the best of circumstances, there will be many challenges to running a – countrywide elections, but in Afghanistan, it’s particularly challenging under the present circumstances of armed conflict. And then, there – of course, there’ll be some challenges presented by the colder weather. But we do have assurances that the Afghan institutions involved are prepared for them. They have started to transport equipment around the country to provincial capitals, and then from the provincial capitals, they’ll be transported out to the districts themselves. All the ballot papers have been printed as well.

And of course, one of our important roles, our being writ large, is the international community and the participants in the International Security Assistance Force will be to help the Afghan authorities provide a kind of security environment where people will feel like they will be able to go out and exercise their democratic rights. So we are committed as well to helping deliver security for this second round.

QUESTION: Well, when you say you don’t have any view on a power-sharing arrangement, does that mean that you’re completely neutral on the idea, that it would be okay if they could come to an arrangement? And if they can’t, then --

MR. KELLY: I think one thing that we’re not neutral on is the need to see this process out, to make sure that everyone abides by the very specific conditions and specific steps laid out in the Afghan constitution and Afghan law. And that – of course, those steps include conducting a second round if the two elections commissions – the Electoral Complaints Commission and Independent Election Commission – determine that no one candidate got 50 percent plus one vote, and that was the determination. So this is what we’re supporting is this process, but we don’t have any view on the whole idea of --

QUESTION: Well, would you be opposed --

MR. KELLY: – a new government.

QUESTION: Would you be opposed to something that would obviate the need for a runoff?

MR. KELLY: Matt, I’m just – I’m not going to speculate on whether we would be opposed or not. We – what we do support, again, is the vote process.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m not – I don’t want you to speculate. I want you to tell me whether you would be opposed or not.

MR. KELLY: No, you’re asking me to speculate. I mean, it would all depend on --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. KELLY: It would depend on the – on the manner in which it was presented and carried out.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t necessarily be opposed?

MR. KELLY: No, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed, but I’m not going to say what we’re going to be opposed to without knowing exactly what it is.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, a small group of PKK members crossed into Turkey from northern Iraq, which marked a new beginning in Turkey’s dealing with its Kurdish issue. Do you have any comment on that? And second of all, or separately, does it mean anything in your Iraq policy? Where do you put it?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we welcome the most recent – the steps taken by Turkey towards ultimate reconciliation between some of the – of some of the differences between the Kurdish population and Turkey. And I think we would see this most recent decision by the Turkish Government to allow these Kurds to – or former members of the PKK – to lay down their arms and reintegrate, that this would come in that category of steps that we welcome.

And you know we’ve consistently supported Turkey’s efforts to open up a dialogue with the Kurdish population, and we’ve welcomed some of the steps they’ve taken in that direction, including allowing more – allowing the Kurdish population more cultural and linguistic rights. And we’re pleased to see that the Government of Turkey is taking these kinds of concrete steps. You know that we consider the PKK a terrorist organization, and I think any steps that are taken to help deal with this problem, whether it’s in northern Iraq or Turkey itself, of course, we would welcome it.

QUESTION: On the second part, does it mean anything in your Iraq policy where do you put it?

MR. KELLY: Where we would put the PKK, you mean?

QUESTION: Where – no, in terms of Turkey’s dealing with its Kurdish issue, does it mean anything in your – dealing with your Iraq policy?

MR. KELLY: Well, our --

QUESTION: Does it even mean --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, our Iraq policy is separate from this issue. I mean, we support the efforts of the provincial authorities, of course, in northern Iraq to develop their own systems of governance and their own policies toward their own people. But I don’t – it’s not really connecting necessarily with our policy towards Turkey. I think any steps that are taken to diminish the influence or power of a terrorist organization like the PKK, that we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, Charley.

QUESTION: Ian, any reaction to the State Department official charged with taking kickbacks from reconstruction contracts in Iraq?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I don’t have a reaction, per se, because we don’t want to really comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, which is what we’re talking about here. I can talk to you about what his status was with the Department of State. He had a temporary Civil Service appointment to the State Department that was limited to Iraq only and limited to a particular timeframe. And he began employment with the Department of State in July of 2008, and his employment terminated just last week.

He was a provincial program manager on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq. And in this role, he would have had – he would have managed U.S. Government projects and programs designed to improve stability and security in Iraq. But beyond that, I really can’t say any more.

QUESTION: Did the State Department play any role in the investigation?

MR. KELLY: I can’t really comment on that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: Well, was he – what was the length of his contract? Did it run its course or was he --

MR. KELLY: It – the contract ran out on October 16.

QUESTION: So he wasn’t fired, in other words?

MR. KELLY: No, because his contract ran out.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.



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