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Middle East Digest - October 29, 2009


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Washington, DC
October 29, 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 29, 2009

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1:27 p.m. EDT

MR. KELLY: Okay. Well, good afternoon. As you know the Secretary is in day two of her trip to Pakistan. Today, she went to Lahore and emphasized the desire of the U.S. Government to broadly expand and deepen U.S.-Pakistan official and people-to-people relations consistent with the democratic ideals of both nations. She met with a cross-section of Pakistani citizens, including students, civil society groups, women, and business leaders. She met with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. She held both a meeting with civil society representatives and lawyers and a town hall meeting with undergraduate and graduate students at the Government College University of Lahore. She also visited cultural sites of significance in Pakistan, such as the Data Darbar Sufi Shrine, the Badshahi Mosque, and the Iqbal Memorial.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: The Iranians have provided the IAEA with what the IAEA calls an initial response to the LEU offer.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction? What’s your take on the initial response?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you’ve seen the press release out of ElBaradei’s office that this is an initial response --

QUESTION: This is an initial response --

MR. KELLY: -- and we’re waiting for a clarification. We – for our part, we remain united with our Russian and French partners in support of the IAEA draft agreement. We think it’s a good agreement, and it’s a very balanced agreement that represents a confidence-building step for all parties. It satisfies a legitimate humanitarian need from Iran and creates an opportunity for all of us for further progress.

QUESTION: So then it stands to reason that any change from that draft proposal that you just said you still supported would not be acceptable?

MR. KELLY: I didn’t say that. We think, and France and Russia also think, that this is a good proposal. And we support it.

QUESTION: I understand that. I’m asking if any changes to that would be acceptable.

MR. KELLY: Well, you’ve seen what Mr. – or Dr. ElBaradei said, and we are in very close consultation with him that we need further clarification. And I think it’s also fair to say that we need to have a formal response from Iran. At this point, we’ve been given some details of it, but we’re still talking to the Iranians about it.

QUESTION: What about the --

MR. KELLY: Kirit.

QUESTION: -- specifics of the changes they’re proposing, that this be done in stages? And (inaudible) what the other one is.

MR. KELLY: Well, Kirit, like I say, we’re going – we’re waiting to get this – an official formal response. There is complete unity among the three parties here – or the four parties – the U.S., France, Russia, and the IAEA, that this is a sound agreement. That it’s balanced and answers the needs and concerns of all parties. And so we’ll work with Dr. ElBarbadei and see what kind of clarifications we get from the Iranians.

QUESTION: Can I just follow? Ian, Turkish prime minister was in Iran to sign several agreements and calling that Iran also has a right to have a peaceful nuclear energy program. And there was several agreements signed between the two. He also is supposed to come to Washington, but the trip was postponed. Any reaction – if anything to do with this agreement with Iran between Turkey and Iran?

MR. KELLY: Well, Goyal, I don’t have the details of that agreement. I mean, I will say what we’ve said all along: We don’t dispute the right of Iran to a peaceful nuclear energy program. What Iran has to do, though, is respond to the very real and legitimate concerns about the international community about the nature of that program, and that we need to have more transparency and Iran needs to raise the level of confidence among the international community in the nature of their program. And this proposal from the IAEA is one good concrete way to address some of those concerns.

I don’t have any information about the visit of Prime Minister Erdogan, however. I think – I just don’t have any details on that right now.

QUESTION: So basically, finally, you support Iranian and Turkey’s agreements?

MR. KELLY: This is a – it’s a bilateral issue between the two countries. Our position and the position of the Iranian – position of the international community is clear that Iran has to do more to make their program more transparent.

QUESTION: Ian --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- going back to the agreement, the Russians are supposed to be doing the reprocessing of the 3.5 percent uranium to 20 percent, and then the French are supposed to be doing the fuel rod fabrication. What is the role of the United States in this project?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, clearly, the United States has a lot of interests in Iran doing what we have been calling on Iran to do, which is make their nuclear energy program more transparent. And of course, we have played a role in the P-5+1 process. We stand ready to support this effort, this proposal of the IAEA to have this shipment – to have this LEU shipped out of Iran to be reprocessed.

QUESTION: So, basically, the U.S. won’t be doing any technical – is not involved in any technical aspect of implementation of the whole fuel reprocessing?

MR. KELLY: Why don’t I – yeah, well, that’s a very technical question, and I think the answer to that is no, but let me see if we can get you a technical answer to a technical question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on India, on the Secretary’s visit to Pakistan. You know, one thing if you can clarify, whenever officials visit to Pakistan or Pakistani officials visit to Washington, there are always some kind of bombings or some kind of terrorist activities there – over there. Can you – what can you make out of this? And I know Secretary had a very clear message. So did President as far as dealing with the global war on terrorism is concerned and that Pakistan should be tough on dealing with the terrorists now.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is a remarkably difficult time for Pakistan. They’re dealing with brutal terrorists and indigenous insurgents. We’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in the run-up to and during the operation in North and South Waziristan an increase in brutal bombings and targeted assassinations. We recognize that this is a very difficult time for Pakistan and – but we also recognize that the fight that they’re involved in right now is very much a common fight, this fight against retrograde extremists who want to bring their country back into the dark ages.

And Secretary Clinton went to Pakistan to show that we stand with those in Pakistan who are fighting this fight. This is a fight that we’re also fighting. I would not draw too much out of the fact that there was a bomb on the day that she arrived, however. There have been bombs, unfortunately, going off pretty consistently. It’s just an indication of the seriousness of this common challenge we have.

Dave.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on the modalities of the Middle East talks that P.J. announced in Lahore – where, when, how?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We’re still working out the where in particular, the where and the when. We don’t have – not all the arrangements are nailed down. I think you saw what P.J. said out there that we see this as a continuation of the kind of intensive efforts that we’ve been conducting over the last six months, really, and more. And the Secretary told the President last week when she gave him a status report on these efforts that there was a lot of work that needed to be done. And I would see this decision to have these meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas in this context. I would also see it in the context of her trip. She’s going from Pakistan to Marrakesh. And it just was a good opportunity for her to sit down with the two primary players in this process, with the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president, to sit down and talk before she went to Marrakesh to participate in the Forum for the Future, where she anticipates meeting with many of the foreign ministers of the Middle East. And this is one more piece in that puzzle – puts it all together.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Middle East? There’s been a notion that Special Envoy Mitchell’s trips and his mission has not been a great success, and leading many to believe that’s yet another reason why the Secretary is choosing to go there right now. How would you address that notion that Senator Mitchell’s trips and mission has not been that successful in terms of U.S.’s engagement in the Middle East peace process?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ve been engaged in trying to get a comprehensive peace for decades. And we knew going in that this was going to be challenging and would require a real deep commitment to intensive negotiations. And that’s exactly what we’re involved in right now. And the Secretary and Senator Mitchell thought this was an appropriate time, since she’s in the region, traveling from South Asia to Marrakesh, where she’ll have a meeting with Middle East foreign ministers for her to sit down and talk to the principals. But it’s absolutely no reflection on Senator Mitchell and the amount of efforts that he’s put into this. He’s done an outstanding job with his tireless efforts to try and bring the two sides together.

QUESTION: Are you seeing the type of results that you hope to see from Senator Mitchell’s --

MR. KELLY: Well, our goal is for them to sit down and start talking directly. And we’re – we continue to exert extraordinary efforts towards that goal.

QUESTION: But if you can’t – even get them to sit down directly, based on your conversations with them, and you’re more of the more adjusted party to each one than each other. What makes you think, once they finally sit down to talk to each other that they’re going to get anywhere?

MR. KELLY: It’s – this --

QUESTION: They had a whole year of negotiations between each other and –

MR. KELLY: -- this is so important, this reaching this –

QUESTION: It was important last year.

MR. KELLY: It’s important. It’s always important. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exert these kind of efforts. And so that’s what we’re doing. We’re committed to it, the President is committed to it, the Secretary is committed to it. They’re very personally involved. And this is a reflection of that.


QUESTION: Thanks very much. And I just wanted to go my question back to Turkey and Iran, if you can clarify please. I understand that you have been talking about sanctions against Iran or Iranian companies are dealing or doing business with them as far as helping Iranians. But now between these two countries, Iran – Iranian gas will flow through Turkey for billions of dollars. Do you support that?

MR. KELLY: Well, Goyal, you know what our approach is – a two-track approach. On the one hand, we’re – we indicated a willingness to engage with Iran, to talk to Iran, try and come up with an approach that will meet the needs of the international community and will meet Iran’s needs, humanitarian needs. And at the same time, we are also looking at what we call the pressure track, and that there are a number of options of what we have available to us under this pressure track. I think that we’re pursuing the engagement track, but we are just keeping our options open, and I’m just not going to get into the details of what those options are.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)



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