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Middle East Digest - October 22, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 22, 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 22, 2009

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1:22 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: And finally, you saw that she has her weekly meeting with the President today, and she will take that opportunity to make a status report on our efforts to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian talks. As you know, in New York, the President asked her by this time to give him a status report on Senator Mitchell’s efforts.

So that’s where we are today, and I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Well, what is that status?

MR. KELLY: Well, we will find out. We expect to have a readout that the White House will issue later this afternoon or this evening.

QUESTION: Well, what can you tell us about what progress has been made since the President –

MR. KELLY: I’m going to let her give her advice to the –

QUESTION: Has there been any progress made at all?

MR. KELLY: I think that the Secretary, first of all, has been very involved in this, and –

QUESTION: Okay, that’s great. I didn’t ask that, though.

MR. KELLY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Has there been any progress at all since – since the UN?

MR. KELLY: I – Matt, I’m really going to let – I’m going to let the Secretary brief the President before I give you any kind of characterization of where we are. We are involved in very intensive meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians. Senator Mitchell just wrapped up the latest round of talks here in Washington with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Secretary Clinton met with the Palestinian negotiator a couple days ago. She’s had phone conversations with the various players. She talked to Foreign Minister Lieberman yesterday. So we are very intensively involved in this effort. And like I say, I hope we’ll have a readout later on this afternoon or this evening.

QUESTION: Why isn’t Senator Mitchell going to be there?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure he’s not going to be there. But this is the Secretary’s meeting with the President, weekly meeting one-on-one. I – but I don’t – I’m not sure he’s not going to be there, frankly.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: There were some reports out of Jerusalem yesterday that there was some sort of deal afoot or imminent between the U.S. and the Israelis on the matter of settlements that could bring the parties together. Do you have anything on that?

MR. KELLY: No. I’ve seen those reports. I saw reports that unnamed Israeli officials were optimistic about being able to relaunch the negotiations, and I hope that’s true, but I don’t have any substantive response to that.

Mary Beth.

QUESTION: Going back to the Secretary’s day in Congress today, when you said she’s going to discuss with Senator Reid the Department’s key priorities over the coming months, what would those be?

MR. KELLY: Well, Senator Reid, of course, is the Majority leader, and there’s going to be a lot of business that the State Department has with the Senate regarding nominations, regarding budget issues. We, of course, are – we are trying very hard to meet our targets on getting more civilians out to Afghanistan. And it’s just a chance for her to brief him on a number of issues related to the State Department that the Senate would have a lot of interest in: budgetary, management and policy.

QUESTION: So will it be – will there also be sort of policy issues like Afghanistan or, you know, arms control? Would Sudan be part of that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know that they necessarily have a set agenda. I mean, I would expect that Afghanistan certainly would come up with the assessment going on and all the attention on that. And I would imagine with the – with our Sudan policy rollout this week that they would discuss that as well, but like I say, I’m not sure if they have a set agenda.

QUESTION: Did she request these meetings or did Senator Reid ask her? Did she --

MR. KELLY: I believe he requested it, but I’m not a hundred percent sure on that.


QUESTION: We sat down with Judge Goldstone yesterday to talk about the UN report on the Gaza war, and he said, one that he felt that the Obama Administration’s response to the report is evolving, but he still has concerns that the Administration hasn’t spelled out what it believes are the flaws with their look into the war. And I wanted to get your reaction to that.

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, I don’t know exactly what he said. But I think we’ve been as clear as we could be about our concerns, both publicly and at the Human Rights Council. And – I mean, we’ve reiterated those concerns on many different occasions, including from this podium. I think that we have had a lot of opportunity to spell that out, both in a diplomatic forum like the Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council, but also publicly.

And I don’t – if you want me to, I can reiterate it again, but I think you know what --

QUESTION: Yeah, if you could reiterate it, and then as a follow-up, is there any inclination on the Administration’s part to meet with him in an informal status since his official role, he says, is done to address some of these concerns and some of the ways that he and the other members of the panel conducted their work?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I’m not going to give you all the concerns because I think you could go back into transcripts of briefings here and we can --

QUESTION: Yeah, but you offered to.

MR. KELLY: I did, but --

QUESTION: Well, you --

QUESTION: Well, give us the top three.

MR. KELLY: Very – okay, briefly, I will give you the – first of all, we thought that the mandate was one-sided, that it focused primarily on the Israeli actions. It did go into some of the issues regarding Hamas, but the – it was mostly an unbalanced focus on Israel. We believe strongly that it should be handled within the Human Rights Council. And we strongly disagreed with many of its recommendations, including the recommendation that it go to the UN Security Council. And we just believe that this issue should be handled by domestic institutions, some of these allegations that international law primarily looks to the states involved to conduct their own investigations. And we leapt right away into an international forum. So those are just some of the concerns that we have with it.

QUESTION: But isn’t there a legitimate response that neither the Israeli Government nor Hamas could be trusted to do this without some sort of international pressure to review how we had the events of January 2009 and something that the judge pointed out yesterday, to make certain that these sorts of abuses don’t happen again?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I don’t want to suggest at all that we didn’t have serious concerns about what happened in Gaza. We did, and we think that they should be thoroughly investigated. And I don’t know if you call that necessarily international pressure, but we have called on the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to look into these allegations which are very serious. We just objected to it being considered, first of all, with a one-sided mandate to look into the Israeli side of it only, and second of all without giving an opportunity to the authorities themselves to look into it.

QUESTION: Would it be fair, then, to infer from your statements that the U.S. will not be meeting with the Palestinian ambassador who said he’s hoping to have some sort of meeting with Ambassador Rice along with the UK ambassador or the Russian ambassador, other members of the Security Council in the next few days as they try to figure out how to proceed in light of this report?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I think I would just refer you to my colleagues up at the U.S. Mission to the UN on that. I’m not sure what the plans are of Ambassador Rice. You know that she’s in the region now.


MR. KELLY: And I believe she had a meeting with Prime Minister Fayyad yesterday or even today. So she is having bilateral meetings in the region.


QUESTION: Yeah. What do you make of these latest comments from Iran about the alleged deal that was semi-reached yesterday in Vienna?

MR. KELLY: What are these comments?

QUESTION: That they don’t – that they don’t accept it.

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what we’re looking for and what the IAEA Director General is looking for is a formal response to the proposal that was tabled in Vienna yesterday. And we’ll consider that to be the formal response of the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: So you’re not at all concerned that they – that at least elements of the leadership in Iran is – says that they’re not on board with this?

MR. KELLY: Like I say, we’re – I’m sure there are a lot of voices in Tehran right now, but we’re going to wait for that authoritative answer tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that real quick?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you think that this draft deal was – shows the value of your constructive engagements you’ve been pursuing?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we’ll have to see. I mean, we want to see concrete steps taken by the Iranian Government to help alleviate some of the concerns that we have, the concerns that the international community have. And this agreement in principle we see as positive, but we’re going to withhold judgment until we hear the – like, I say, a formal response from Tehran, we hope by tomorrow, which is ElBaradei’s deadline.

QUESTION: A different topic? On Iraq, any comment on the impasse in the parliament over the election law, the possibility that will delay the election and possibly disrupt the timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and, I guess, Iraqi law or the – the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What’s happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text, the whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security, which is composed of the head of the main parties and the prime minister, deputy prime minister, president, and vice presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a – this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a – this is the kind of a process that you don’t see very often in Baghdad.

So in some ways, it’s encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: Speaking of Baghdad and Iraq, do you have any comment on the AP report on the Embassy – the IG's report on shoddy work at the new U.S. Embassy?

MR. KELLY: I do not. I know that we have just sent up an Inspector General’s report on that. Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. On the nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates. I think the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out a statement yesterday saying they’re welcoming it going into force.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I was just wondering if – I thought that had to be – that was contingent on the swapping of notes, and has that actually taken place yet? What’s the time – the timeline for that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I think I have something for you on that. Let me – just need to find it here. Sorry. I hate doing this on camera. Okay. Yeah, we’re – we are entering the – enter the final stages of efforts to bring the proposed agreement into force. According to U.S. law, the congressional review period – there has to be a congressional review period of 90 days, after which it automatically comes into force. And that 90-day period of continuous session ended October 17.


MR. KELLY: So we’ve completed all the procedures on our side to have it enter into force. And the next step is to talk to the government of the UAE to see what their own requirements are for us to enter into this formally.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, there would be – an exchange of notes would mark the sort of formal --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- launch of the thing?

MR. KELLY: Yeah.


MR. KELLY: The – that’s right. Once we exchange notes, then it’s –

QUESTION: Well, it hasn’t – in fact, it hasn’t entered into force.

MR. KELLY: If I said that, I was wrong. You’re right. It has to – you need an exchange of diplomatic notes to have it enter into force. What I should have said is that we’ve completed all of our internal procedures for it to enter into force.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

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