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Middle East Digest - October 27, 2009

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Washington, DC
October 27, 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 27, 2009

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QUESTION: Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera. Could I ask a question about the now rather public resignation of Matthew Hoh, who is --

MR. KELLY: Is there anything else on Honduras? Did you have something on --

QUESTION: Yeah, I do. Do you still think a legitimate election is possible given that it is only a month away?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think the clock is ticking. I think, in order for it to be seen as legitimate and for the authorities down there to conduct a completely open and transparent electoral process, that there needs to be some time, and this is precisely why we see some urgency in this.

So – yes.

QUESTION: Can I just – now pick up the question about – the resignation of Matthew Hoh, who was working for the State Department in Afghanistan and has made public a somewhat depressing three-page letter about the reasons for his resignation, and he talks about his loss of understanding and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States presence there.

Is this – how does the State Department view this? Is this an embarrassment of sorts, the fact that it’s become so public? It’s on the front page of the Post today.

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, we admire Mr. Hoh. We respect the sacrifice that he’s made for his country, both in Iraq and signing up to join our effort in Afghanistan. We take his opinions very seriously. Senior officials on the ground in Afghanistan and here in Washington have talked to him, have heard him out. We respect his right to dissent. This is an old and respected tradition in the Foreign Service, that Foreign Service personnel have the right to express their dissent.

Just to give you a little more background on his affiliation with the State Department, he signed on for a limited appointment. It is a non-career appointment. He signed on March 29th of this year and his employment lasted up until September 28. He submitted his letter of resignation a few weeks before that. He was signed on as a political officer in a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan in Zabul. And his role as a PRT political officer was to monitor and report on political and economic developments in his province.

As I say, we take his point of view very seriously. But we continue to believe that we are on track to achieving the goal that the President has set before us, and that’s – you heard Deputy Secretary Lew lay out some of those objectives: improving Afghan governance; providing security, infrastructure, jobs, basically giving the Afghan people an alternative to the very negative vision of the Taliban and al-Qaida. And this is the strategy, and as I say, we believe Iran tracked reaching the goals.


QUESTION: Just a couple of things from the article about his meeting with Eikenberry and with Holbrooke. Could you tell us a little more about this, and what happened in those meetings?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think he was upfront with his own chain of command, and had the opportunity to discuss with his immediate boss who is the supervisor of the PRTs. And he also talked to the Deputy Chief of Mission out there, Mr. Frank Ricciardone. And it was very much an open and transparent process. As I say, we value his service, we value his background and his skills. This is why we appointed him to this limited non-career appointment to be a political officer, to be our eyes and ears on the ground in Zabul. In the end, he made his own decision, that he decided to resign, and we respect that.

QUESTION: Do you wish he hadn’t gone public with it?

MR. KELLY: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you wish he had not gone public with that?

MR. KELLY: It’s really his decision. I mean, we don’t – it was a – obviously, a very personal decision, and I think he even told the post that it was a very painful decision. I’m sure it was, but we respect his right to act on his views.

QUESTION: So his tour – his job would have ended on March 29th of 2010?

MR. KELLY: It was a one-year appointment, yeah.

QUESTION: That would have ended on March 29, 2010?

MR. KELLY: It was supposed to end next March, yeah.

QUESTION: And then what would have happened?

MR. KELLY: At that point, he would have – his employment would have been over with the State Department. These appointments can be extended as well. I – there have been some appointments that have been extended up to 18 months, I know.

QUESTION: And the – okay, but then that’s it?

MR. KELLY: And that’s it. Yeah, that’s it.

QUESTION: So there –

MR. KELLY: He signs an agreement that he’ll – that he agrees to stay for a year and then his employment ends.

QUESTION: So that you can’t re-up it at that point.

MR. KELLY: Oh, I said we can extend him, but he has no – it’s a non-career appointment. So he doesn’t have any re-employment rights, per se. Of course, he can compete for other jobs.

QUESTION: Then I’m not – I’m unclear as to how he actually fits into the Foreign Service.

MR. KELLY: It’s – there is a provision of the Foreign Service Act that gives the Secretary the right to designate certain positions as limited with a time certain end date in order to fill positions that have not been filled through the normal Foreign Service process. And so this was one of them. We have, I think a total in the world, about 16 of these type appointments. It’s not – it’s fairly rare.

QUESTION: Is that the same thing as the 3161 or is that different?

MR. KELLY: No, that’s different.

QUESTION: It’s different, right?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know all the ins and outs of 3161. I think that’s more of a Civil – I think that’s for Civil Service appointments.

QUESTION: So this is under Foreign Service, but he is not considered --

MR. KELLY: This is under Foreign Service.

QUESTION: -- a Foreign Service officer, he’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer?

MR. KELLY: He’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer, yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Afghanistan? Can we just stay --

MR. KELLY: With Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yeah, Afghanistan.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Go ahead, and we’ll get to you, Lali, in a second. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, on the same topic, publicly, some of the reports stated that Ambassador Holbrooke had actually agreed with some of Hoh’s analysis – not his conclusion, but some of his analysis. I wanted your reaction on what it is that Ambassador Holbrooke agreed with him on.

MR. KELLY: I’m not – just to be very frank, I’m not sure exactly what Ambassador Holbrooke – what specifically in the letter he agreed with. I’ve read the letter.

QUESTION: The date?

MR. KELLY: Sorry?

QUESTION: The date?

MR. KELLY: The date? I’m not sure I understand.

QUESTION: It’s a joke. Don’t worry.

MR. KELLY: Oh, okay. I’m a little slow on the uptake. I’ve read the letter. It’s a – it is a very – it’s a well-written letter. It draws on, obviously, a deep knowledge of history. But again, I also do not agree with his conclusions. I very much respect his opinions, because he’s obviously very well read into the subject, has a lot of knowledge about the nature of insurgencies. You know he served as a Marine in Iraq. But I don’t know what in particular Ambassador Holbrooke was referring to in terms of the letter. And there are parts of the letter I agree with, too. I mean, this is a – it’s a very, very difficult job that we have out there and a very complicated situation, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

QUESTION: You’re --

QUESTION: Pardon me, last question about how we bill this story. It – I mean, it’s – is it – it’s not really comparable to, say, the career diplomats who left the service over Bosnia or, you know, other big disagreements.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I actually – I have a few friends who --

QUESTION: Or is it?

MR. KELLY: -- who resigned over Bosnia and Iraq. And these were people who had career appointments, who had a number of years into the Foreign Service, a real investment in the Foreign Service. And because they could not accept the policy, they made a principled decision to resign.

I mean, I would draw – I mean, without minimizing the obvious passion and depth of feeling of Mr. Hoh in terms of his perception of the mission in Afghanistan, I would draw a distinction between his situation and somebody who had been in the Foreign Service and had a stake in the Foreign Service for 20 years or more.

QUESTION: So to your knowledge, there haven’t been any career Foreign Service officers who have resigned over Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: To my knowledge, nobody has resigned over Afghanistan. No career officers, yeah.

Lali, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: In Afghanistan, there – for the past couple of days, some protests are going on against the alleged desecration of Holy Qu’ran by some U.S. soldiers. Have you tried to get into the facts and investigate what the real issue was? Or it’s just a propaganda by the Taliban?

MR. KELLY: No, I think that allegation has been very firmly denied by the Pentagon that there was desecration of the Qu’ran. And beyond that, I’m not certain of the facts.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: On Iran, an Iranian official has said today that Iran will agree to the general framework of the IAEA plan with a request for important changes. And the Iranian – the Press TV, an Iranian television, has said that Tehran is opposed to sending the entire shipment abroad at once, suggesting it wants to do it in stages. Do you have any reaction?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t, and for the very simple reason that we are waiting to get an official reaction to the IAEA proposal to use Iran’s own low-enriched uranium and send it out to be enriched to fuel their research reactor. And what we’re waiting for is a response to the IAEA. And they have not received an official response. We’re expecting that shortly, as we understand it, but until then, we’re not going to respond to other press reports and other voices out of Iran.

QUESTION: Well, is the response like the one Michel outlined acceptable?

MR. KELLY: We are going to wait to see what the official response is before we give any kind of possible --

QUESTION: Well, is a response like the one outlined in his question acceptable?

MR. KELLY: This is something that has to be worked out --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s look at it this way.

MR. KELLY: -- among the six capitals, the P-5+1 partners. We’re doing this as a group. We’re not going to respond individually to these proposals.

QUESTION: Is it correct that an Iranian rejection of the offer would be unacceptable?

MR. KELLY: I think it would be very unfortunate, but you’re asking me to respond to something that hasn’t been actually tabled to us.

QUESTION: Well, would an Iranian rejection of the entire offer as presented be unacceptable?

MR. KELLY: Well, Matt, we – we’re focused on --

QUESTION: You’re focused on --

MR. KELLY: -- on trying to get --

QUESTION: -- ignoring all the signs coming out of Tehran and waiting until they deliver some piece of paper to Solana.

MR. KELLY: We’re – not to Solana, to the IAEA.


MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m just going to refrain from comment till we get an official response.

QUESTION: Are you ready to make some changes to the plan or --

MR. KELLY: Again, let’s just wait – I mean, we understand it’s supposed to come the middle of this week. And so I assume in the next couple of days, we’ll get a response.

QUESTION: Ian, on that.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: When ElBaradei accepted Iran’s suggestion that it needs some more days to think about it, did – was that an individual decision or did ElBaradei consult with the U.S., France, and Russia, as well? Because just today, again, the French foreign minister says even one more day of delay is too late.

MR. KELLY: I think it’s fair to say that our mission to the UN in Vienna, our mission to the IAEA, has been in very close consultation with Mr. ElBaradei, and that he has kept everybody informed. And I think it’s fair to say we’ve been in close consultation with him.

QUESTION: So the extension did include the opinions of the three countries?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure I know which –

QUESTION: The extension that last week was given to Iran beyond Friday. Did the U.S., Russia –

MR. KELLY: He consulted with us. And ultimately, it’s his decision on – in terms of setting deadlines, but he does it in consultation with us.

QUESTION: Is there any movement on the P-5+1?

MR. KELLY: No, nothing to announce. Mr. Solana is still working with the Iranians on --

QUESTION: And that has absolutely nothing to do with the response – the Iranian response that you’re waiting for?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, clearly, they’re related. This agreement in principle came out of the meeting of the P-5+1 with Iran. And one of the agreements was for a follow-up meeting. And – but this is still being worked out, in terms of the way the meeting will take place and what the agenda will be.

MR. KELLY: Okay. Thanks.

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