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Middle East Digest- November 9, 2009


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Washington, DC
November 9, 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 November 9, 2009

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1:15 p.m. EST

QUESTION: Ian, the three Americans in Iran, the hikers, can you confirm that they have been charged with espionage by Iranian authorities?

MR. KELLY: Well, actually we haven’t received official confirmation that they’ve been charged, and we are continuing to seek information about these press reports. If it is true, that they have been formally charged, we would find this outrageous, and of course, the families would find it devastating. And I think you also heard what the Secretary said a little earlier today: “We believe that there is no evidence for these kinds of charges. We renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian Government exercise compassion and let them return to their families.” We will continue to make that case, both publicly and privately, through our Swiss protecting power in Tehran.

QUESTION: Are you seeking consular access to the three Americans?

MR. KELLY: Our – the Swiss protecting power, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, is constantly asking for consular access. And we hope that the Iranian authorities will grant that.

QUESTION: It’s only been one time so far; is that right?

MR. KELLY: I think it’s been several times.

QUESTION: Several?

MR. KELLY: But the most recently --

MR. WOOD: The last one was October 29th.

MR. KELLY: The last one was October 29.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ian, it seems – or actually, al-Qaida and the Taliban groups continue with their predatory, vindictive, and malicious behavior with disdain for others. And what new concrete steps is the Department taking since the Fort Hood-type attacks, and do you view that as a cruel act as well as a symptom of these groups’ hate?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what we are doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan is we’re siding with the governments there who are seeking to counter the kind of violent extremism that we’ve seen at the – with the Taliban and al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. And we are making a partnership with the governments in – both in Kabul and Islamabad, to try and help them deal with this – with these groups inside their borders and that are crossing between the two countries, and helping them provide a secure environment where the people of Afghanistan and the people of Waziristan can focus on what’s important, and that’s building their country’s infrastructure, providing educational and economic opportunities for their children, and in general, just a more peaceful and prosperous future.

QUESTION: Also with regard to the Fort Hood attack, any links that you see with al-Qaida or the Taliban? And is there now an ongoing media war? Do you plan to also meet with religious leaders, tribal leaders, and others to end this violence?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure that there is any link between the horrible acts that took place at Fort Hood a couple of days and our ongoing struggle against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are going to let the Department of Army and Department of Justice conduct their investigations into the motivations behind those terrible attacks on our service members and civilian members.

But you point out an important facet of this overall approach, and that’s the need for inclusiveness, for dialogue, for interfaith discussions, and in general, more tolerance for different points of view.

Michel.

QUESTION: On the peace process, is Senator Mitchell planning to go back to the Middle East, and what are you planning to do after the latest development on the Palestinian side?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think a lot of the focus today, of course, will be on the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s meeting with the President tonight. We remain committed to our goal, which is the re-launch of negotiations between the sides and try and create the kind of atmosphere where these negotiations can succeed as soon as possible. As far as Senator Mitchell’s immediate plans, I’m not sure that he has plans in the very near term to return to the region. But of course, he’ll be ready to do so if that can be helpful.

QUESTION: Do you expect anything from the meeting between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not going to try and predict what – what’s going to come out of that meeting. I’ll leave that to the White House.

QUESTION: Hi, Ian. Do you have any update on the discussions about Iran potentially sending its uranium to Turkey as an alternative to Russia, or what the U.S. is pushing for at this point? And also, can you update us on the meeting that was supposed to take place at the end of October between the U.S. and the Iranian side as a follow-up to the early October meeting that never did take place? Has that been rescheduled? Can you give us a full update?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – first of all, we are still waiting for a formal response to the IAEA. I think you’ve seen Director General ElBaradei’s comments that he still hasn’t received an official reply.

We continue to believe that this is a good agreement. It has the support of the international community. It answers a lot of the needs of the international community in terms of increasing our confidence that the Iranians are pursuing what they say they’re pursuing, which is a civil nuclear energy program. But it also meets the stated needs of the Iranian people, their humanitarian and medical needs.

So we, of course, stay in close contact with the IAEA. As far as any details on how this reprocessing will take place, I’d really have to refer you to the IAEA. We – as I said, we support the proposal. And we think that –

QUESTION: Meaning you support the proposal of sending it either to Russia or Turkey or whatever?

MR. KELLY: We support the proposal as the IAEA has presented it. And as I say, we’re still waiting for a formal reply to it. We’re also consulting very closely with our P-5+1 colleagues. And of course, we’re – we hope that Iran will make the next – make the right choice and accept the proposal. But we will consult on next steps if Iran ultimately decides to not take this opportunity.

QUESTION: Is there a deadline for a response?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re not putting any kind of formal deadline on it, but I think you’ve heard the Secretary say that our patience is not infinite.

QUESTION: Can I just ask for a comment on – there is a Seymour Hersh report on nuclear weapons in Pakistan, saying that the U.S. is concerned about the safety of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and could try to seize it at a certain point. Is there a comment on that? Is there a plan underway, and are there concerns?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, let me just say the U.S. has no intention of seizing Pakistani nuclear weapons or material. We see Pakistan as a key ally in our common effort to fight violent extremists and to foster regional stability. We’re working very closely with Pakistan on a number of important initiatives regarding regional security. We do provide them with assistance, of course, as you know. And as the Secretary has said, we have confidence in the ability of the Pakistani Government to provide adequate security for their nuclear programs and materials. And we have a number of security assistance initiatives that are focused on strengthening counterinsurgency capacities to foster stability.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Okay. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)



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