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Middle East Digest - November 12, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 12, 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 12, 2009

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1:37 p.m. EST

MR. KELLY: Afternoon. First of all, a statement, or some information on Ambassador Holbrooke’s travel. He’s currently traveling to Berlin. He’s there today. He’ll be in Paris tomorrow, in Munich on November 14, and then next week he’ll be in Moscow. These are for consultations with government officials and his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan counterparts. These routine meetings are part of continued efforts to stay in close touch with allies and partners on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He will then travel to Afghanistan for the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai.

And with that, I’ll take your questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Would you say that the Eikenberry memos are actually at odds with what the Secretary has been saying about adding more troops?

MR. KELLY: Well, let me, first of all, just reiterate what we always say about any kind of advice or analysis that comes from ambassadors to the Secretary and to the President, that this is a privileged channel of communication. They have the right to receive this advice in a confidential way. Ambassador Eikenberry has been providing this kind of advice and analysis to the President and Secretary since he arrived. And the President really deserves the right to be able to gather all this information from all the different principals, people involved in the shaping of this policy. You know that they met yesterday. The President met with his chief advisors involved in shaping Afghan policy, and Ambassador Eikenberry participated in that discussion.

But we really have to be sure that this – that the kinds of advice that they’re giving remains confidential. That’s true for the Secretary and that’s true for Ambassador Eikenberry. So we’re just not going to get into the details of this kind of advice that they’re giving.

QUESTION: But then the point on the confidentiality, this showed up in every major American newspaper today, has been the subject of considerable discussion. This looks like a calculated leak. And my question: Is this perhaps giving the President some wiggle room, given that the Secretary is reported to want a strong level of involvement in Afghanistan’s security situation? Does this give the President some wiggle room in perhaps going with a smaller number, especially given his growing concerns and the growing public concern in the U.S. --

MR. KELLY: Well, this --

QUESTION: -- about being involved and really what the U.S. is going to get out some sort of protracted military engagement here?

MR. KELLY: Look, again, this is a very important decision. It’s a decision for the President to make. The role of the Secretary and Ambassador Eikenberry in this is to provide their point of view. This will all go into the deliberation that the President is making right now. And it’s just not something that this Department is going to go into. Where the Secretary comes down on this issue, that is her private, confidential advice for the President. And I’m going to honor that.

QUESTION: But it is pretty hard to say that it’s confidential when readers in Los Angeles can read this, when readers in London can read this, when readers across the Middle East can see all this happening. It does look very calculated, and it does send a signal, some would argue, that perhaps the President is going back on his campaign year promise to fight the right war.

MR. KELLY: Well, the President hasn’t made any kind of decision yet. The deliberation process continued yesterday, and we can’t make any comments on what – where this is going to come out because the President hasn’t made the decision.

QUESTION: Also on Afghanistan, Secretary Gates has told reporters on his way onto travel that apparently the President is interested in taking the best out of the four options that were discussed in yesterday’s meeting. Is the Secretary of the same mind that perhaps a hybrid of these recommendations might be the way forward?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’ll just repeat what I just said. We’re just not going to get into what kind of advice that the Secretary is giving the President.

QUESTION: On Ambassador Holbrooke?

MR. KELLY: Ambassador Holbrooke? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He was trying to travel to India. Is the travelers are still there, or what’s the problem? Or is he going to wait now for the prime minister to get to arrive in Washington?

MR. KELLY: I just said that the only travel that he has planned right now is Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Kabul. He doesn’t have any other travel planned at this time. Of course, we all look forward to the visit of the prime minister later this month. And I know that preparations are well underway to ensure a good, substantive schedule for him.

Yeah. Indira.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Eikenberry, not specifically on this – on this or these memos that have been written about today. But earlier in the year, he had requested more civilian employees and, I believe, a doubling of the amount of money that was going to be put aside by President Obama for the civilian effort. Can you tell me a little bit about the update on increasing the civilian people in Afghanistan and the money?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I know – I think as you remember, Deputy Secretary Lew briefed you on the Department’s plans to increase the number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan. We want to triple the number, taking as a baseline January 2009. We’re on track to meet this goal. The whole strategy is specifically designed to help build Afghan capacity to – for having better governance, to promote the rule of law, and fight corruption. And it’s important to understand that this is being done not just at the national level, but it’s also at the sub-national level out in the regions. Many of my colleagues will be out in the provinces.

The decision on troop levels is not really related to this effort that we’re undergoing now to triple the number of civilians in Afghanistan. We plan to implement this plan of tripling the number. The only thing that would be affected would be where the civilians would be located, because we have to match where my colleagues go with where the numbers of troops are located. But this process is continuing apace and isn’t necessarily – the overall numbers are not affected by the deliberations going on now about the –

QUESTION: Only insofar as Eikenberry, supposedly one of his complaints was that there hasn’t been enough of a civilian ramp-up, and that he felt that more of a troop ramp-up would be inappropriate at a time when the civilian effort had not been given a chance to fully ramp up.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So that’s the way in which I see them linked. That’s what I’m asking. And also, the amounts that Eikenberry had asked for were above and beyond what Obama had announced back in May as part of his --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- budget that came out in early May, so is this tripling beyond? Because Lew had also briefed us on May 8th when the budget came out about, you know, what the civilian figures were going to be overall in the Department.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has that tripling figure increased from what was planned at that time?

MR. KELLY: Well, the tripling figure is using existing budget resources. We have received this request from Ambassador Eikenberry to increase this kind of assistance and this kind of presence beyond the level that we’re talking about here. And of course, we’re going to work closely with Ambassador Eikenberry. We also will have to work closely with Congress because this will, of course, entail additional resources as well.

QUESTION: If I can – I guess I was just trying to clarify – sorry. Because the tripling initially you guys had talked about a doubling. Holbrooke’s office had initially talked about a doubling of the civilians to be – come to about 1,000 by the end of this year.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And then when Lew briefed recently, he talked about a tripling.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering, is that --

MR. KELLY: I think it all depends on what your base level is. If you say tripling, you’re going back to January; doubling is probably more recent times. I mean, I don’t know exactly what the baseline was.

QUESTION: Just a real quick one. We’ve been getting reports from Vienna that the IAEA believes that Iran has very seriously slowed down its enrichment processes now, and they’re not quite sure why. I was wondering if the U.S. has been apprised of this, if you guys have the same or similar information. And I’m looking just to update us on where things stand with the offer and the Iranian response.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Regarding the first question, I think all I can say is that we’ve seen those reports and I don’t really have any information to add to those press reports. Regarding the IAEA, we’re at the same place we were yesterday and the day before, and that’s that we’re still waiting for Iran to respond to the proposal of the director general to enriched uranium outside of Iran.


QUESTION: Just one on the Central Elections Commission in Palestinian territories has suggested that their January elections should be postponed, and I gather President Abbas has accepted that recommendation. Do you have any – what does the U.S. feel about that? Is that a good idea? Does that increase the likelihood that we’ll get a solid negotiating partner in the peace talks, or does it decrease it?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s really – it’s up to the Palestinians themselves to decide when the best time is to have these elections. I think the key here – I mean, it sounds like somebody who repeats talking points, but the key here is that it’s an election that reflects the political will of the Palestinian people. And if they have decided that they need to have more time to do that, I think it’s really their decision to do it. And of course, we support the process, the democratic process and the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Can you tell more about the Netanyahu meeting that night in the White House? Because there was no – not much comments --

MR. KELLY: I refer you to the White House for a --

QUESTION: No, (inaudible), nothing. Hmm?

MR. KELLY: I refer you to the White House for --


MR. KELLY: -- any issues regarding a meeting in the White House.


QUESTION: Just a quite different – go ahead. You have a follow-up?


QUESTION: A quite different question, diplomatic viewpoint, military man who is accused of killing 13 people, Hasan, how is it affecting as far as State Department’s concern dealing with the Muslim world, and are you getting any feedback from the Muslim communities? Because it may be affecting the U.S. image and also as far as if you see any more in the U.S. Government like that and how are you going to deal with it, because Secretary of State had a message for the Muslim world, the President had a message for the Muslim world. So any change you think had occurred, or what’s the future?

MR. KELLY: Well, the U.S. military community is a large community, a very large community and --

QUESTION: I mean – I’m sorry, I don’t mean in the military, but all over the --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. No, I’m just saying that it’s a large community and it’s a very diverse community, and I would just discourage you from extrapolating too much from the actions of one troubled man. It’s not necessarily reflective of the feelings of the U.S. military of any – it’s not reflective of any kind of underlying trend in the U.S. military. Our position vis-à-vis the Muslim world remains the same. It’s the vision that was laid out in the President’s speech in Cairo. We want a new, more inclusive relationship with the Muslim world. And I don’t think anybody should draw any conclusions about the tragic events in – at Fort Hood.

QUESTION: I have been talking to many Muslims in the area. Many feel that it might backlash as far as their jobs and their existence concerning the U.S. Government and also in the streets.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, we had a lot of concerns about these kinds of issues after September 11, 2001. And it just means that we need to work hard to be inclusive, to encourage tolerance and to encourage dialogue.

QUESTION: Is there anything more that Miss Pandith is having to do or is asking her staff to do, in light of the Fort Hood shootings --

MR. KELLY: That’s a – yeah.

QUESTION: -- to perhaps reach out to other nations and indicate what you were just saying, that right now everyone is treating this as an isolated incident?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I mean, that really – that whole vision, the vision of Cairo speech, underlies her whole mission, her mission of outreach to Muslim communities. And that’s a good question. I’ll see if I can get an update on her activities.

MR. KELLY: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)

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