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Middle East Digest - November 4, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 4, 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 November 4, 2009

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1:32 p.m. EST


QUESTION: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has raised a question mark about the legality of Karzai winning the elections. What’s your view on it? Is it going to further deepen the situation – crisis over there?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, our position on this is clear. We believe that there was an election that was carried out according to Afghan law. We recognize Hamid Karzai as the legitimately elected president of Afghanistan. We respect Dr. Abdullah very much. We hope that he stays engaged in the political process and plays a part in the dialogue and the political life of his country. But our position is is that Hamid Karzai is the legitimately elected president of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?

MR. KELLY: Go ahead, Matt.


MR. KELLY: Is there anything else on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yeah. His coming out against these elections, reflect a large section of this Afghan society’s not accepting Karzai as the legal president of the country.

MR. KELLY: Well, again, we greatly respect Dr. Abdullah, and we think that he conducted a very spirited campaign. We respect him for his ideas. But we believe that Hamid Karzai is the legitimately elected leader of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Well, how can you say that he was the legitimately elected leader, because the election commission or the complaints commission found enough fraud to say that he wasn’t legitimately elected?

MR. KELLY: They didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Yes, they – well, they said that there was enough fraud that he didn’t win the amount of votes that would make him the legitimately elected leader. And so there was going to be a runoff to decide whether he was, in fact, legitimately elected, and then there was no runoff. So is – if you – do you determine that, like an election that was riddled with fraud and corruption, produced a legitimately elected leader?

MR. KELLY: Well, look, every step along the way, the Afghan institutions who were running these elections followed the procedures as established by Afghan law. And Hamid Karzai won a plurality of the votes. He didn’t make the 50 percent mark because all of these votes that were considered to be suspect or outright fraudulent were thrown out. It was determined that they should have a runoff. And one of the candidates in the runoff withdrew. And the Independent Election Commission at that point saw no reason to continue with a one-man election, and declared Hamid Karzai the winner. I don’t think anybody is contesting the right of the Independent Elections Commission to so rule. There is a process.

QUESTION: But some would have said that they would have preferred that the Supreme Court or the Independent Election Complaints Commission were to also kind of endorse that ruling, which I don’t believe they did.

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t think that’s required under Afghan law.

QUESTION: So basically, he won by default --

MR. KELLY: There is a process for –

QUESTION: -- because Abdullah withdrew. But I mean, he wasn’t legitimately elected in the first round, so how can you say it’s – I mean, if you want to call him the president of Afghanistan, that’s fine, but do you really believe he was legitimately elected?

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do believe he was legitimately elected.

QUESTION: But he wasn’t legitimately elected in the first --

MR. KELLY: According to Afghan law --

QUESTION: Well, according to Afghan –

MR. KELLY: -- the results are certified by the International Election Commission. And within – there is a right for individuals to contest those decisions, and within, I think, three days, but after those three days the results are considered legitimate. I mean, this was an election that, first of all, was led by Afghan institutions --

QUESTION: I’m not disputing that.

MR. KELLY: -- at Afghan law – at no point was Afghan law ever contravened.

QUESTION: Except when there was fraud.

QUESTION: It’s presumably against the law to stuff ballot boxes and commit other such --

QUESTION: It should be.

MR. KELLY: Well, that is against the law. You’re right. At no point were any of these elections – did they violate – that means election results violate the – the election – the Afghan election law was scrupulously followed. I mean, we can argue this for hours, if you want.

QUESTION: Question on the Middle East. The chief negotiator --

MR. KELLY: We'll get to you next.

QUESTION: On the --

MR. KELLY: Wait, wait a second. I'll get to you after. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Chief PLO negotiator, Dr. Erekat, today challenged Secretary Clinton's interpretation of the U.S.-Israeli understanding on the settlement freeze when she said it shows a positive movement toward final status issues. And he said that if this stalemate continues that it raises questions as to whether the Palestinian Authority really wants to pursue the two-state solution because there's nothing in this anymore if the settlements proceed even under this understanding, given the fact that there's continued construction, it doesn't apply to East Jerusalem, public buildings and infrastructure continue to be build in – on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. So my question is: Are you worried that the PLO is threatening to abandon the two-state solution?

MR. KELLY: We are committed to the two-state solution. We couldn't be more clear on that. We have never wavered from that. We think that's the best way forward, that's the best way to a lasting peace, and it's in the best interests of both these peoples, of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we remain committed to it.

QUESTION: Do you sense a change in tone on the part of the PLO as – in response to the Secretary's most recent pronouncement that this is a positive movement?

MR. KELLY: The important thing is that the U.S. is committed to this, and we will stay committed to it. We are going to doggedly pursue this and try and create the kind of conditions where the two sides can sit down. That's the only important thing here.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Middle East for just a second?

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Have you figured out how you're going – or what you're going to do about the Goldstone report and the – at the UN?

MR. KELLY: That – those discussions are ongoing. I guess there was – the General Assembly took it up at 10 o'clock this morning. They are still debating the issue. As I understand it, there are some 50 countries that have signed up to speak, so this could last all day. It may even last into tomorrow. Since it's – the debate is continuing and negotiations on a text are ongoing, we can't really comment on something that hasn't been finalized.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. one of the countries that signed up to speak?

MR. KELLY: No. Well, as of a couple hours ago, we hadn't signed up to speak.

QUESTION: Okay. So there is still – are you still holding out hope that they might be able to come – that you might be able to negotiate a resolution that would be acceptable?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think, our --

QUESTION: I mean, I thought your bottom line was that you don't want it outside the Human Rights Council, so already this is a --

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: -- this is – you're opposed to what's going on --

MR. KELLY: Right. Well --

QUESTION: -- regardless of whether it gets sent to the Security Council.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. And you know why we're opposed to it. We think that the mandate was one-sided.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know, I know that. But I mean, you already lost your bid to keep it out of other fora than the Security Council, and this resolution that's being debated refers it directly to the Security Council. So I'm asking if you've figured out a strategy about how you're going to – I mean, have you decided that you're going to veto this?

MR. KELLY: I don't think we have.

QUESTION: In the Security – if it goes to the Security --

MR. KELLY: If it goes to the Security Council.

QUESTION: -- to prevent it from getting out of the Security Council and --

MR. KELLY: Well, our – yeah, I mean, our priority is that we – again, we remain committed to coming up with a way to address the root causes of the tragedy in Gaza last January, and that's what we think everybody should be focused on.

QUESTION: The root – just the root causes? Not the --

MR. KELLY: Well, the root cause is a lack of a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds as though you're not quite sure what you're going to do and that there isn't a strategy yet, or maybe you're just not aware of it. But can someone take that question and find out if there is a – if you guys have a plan on how to deal with this?

MR. KELLY: Let's see what happens in the General Assembly. Let's see what the resolution comes out to --

QUESTION: Surely, you're --

MR. KELLY: -- and then we will give you an answer --

QUESTION: Surely, you are preparing for --

MR. KELLY: -- to our policy.

QUESTION: -- any eventuality?

MR. KELLY: Of course, we are.

QUESTION: Right. That's all I want to know.

MR. KELLY: Well, I'm sure a lot of people want to know, but it's not always in our best interests to reveal our strategy.

QUESTION: Right. So much for transparency.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

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