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Middle East Digest - November 16, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 16, 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 16, 2009

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1:43 p.m. EST

QUESTION: There’s a new IAEA report out on Iran.

MR. KELLY: Yes. Welcome back, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m not sure – sorry?

MR. KELLY: I said welcome back.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you, thank you. I’m sure you’re thrilled.

MR. KELLY: I am. I am thrilled. (Laughter.) Why wouldn't I be thrilled? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This IAEA report – I guess it’s not out, but it – it’s not out officially, but it is out in terms of the fact that lots of people have seen it already.


QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can tell us about what your reaction to this --

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, we – I’d like to just reiterate our full support for this whole process. As we have throughout, we’re going to defer comment ourselves on the specifics. These – this report is intended for the Board of Governors. I take your point, Matt, that, of course, most of the details are already out, but I think you probably will appreciate that this is an important report and we want to make sure that we coordinate our response in the government, too.

I hope that we’ll have some kind of comment later on this afternoon, but certainly by tomorrow.

QUESTION: But – and here I thought the reason the briefing was delayed was because you were scrambling to put something together to tell us --

MR. KELLY: Well, I won’t deny that.

QUESTION: Why – you won’t comment now, but you might comment later this afternoon?


QUESTION: What’s going to change between --

MR. KELLY: Well, nothing’s going to change. It’s just that we need to make sure that --

QUESTION: So, basically, you’re talking to the French and the Russians and the Brits and --

MR. KELLY: No, no, no, I mean this – even here in Washington.

QUESTION: So the White House and the NSC and --

MR. KELLY: The interagency. Yes.

QUESTION: -- other interested parties, right?

MR. KELLY: Nothing wrong with that.


QUESTION: Unrelated subject?

MR. KELLY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There’s been a huge amount of attention paid to President Obama’s bow to the emperor of Japan. I was wondering if you had any reaction to that.

MR. KELLY: I don’t have any reaction to that. I mean, I’ve seen the reports on it, and I mean, I saw it for, I’m sure – for what it was intended, which is a sign of respect to the emperor. But I don’t have any reaction from the State Department on it.

QUESTION: Did the State Department play any role in terms of protocol preparing the President in how he should greet the emperor?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know the specific answer to that. Of course, we do have an Office of Protocol here. But as far as preparing the President for this, I’m just not sure, frankly. I think you’d have to ask the White House.

QUESTION: There have been some comments on the web that – even calling it a sign of treason.

MR. KELLY: Well, that seems a bit extreme. I mean, again, it’s – I think it’s a natural response of the President the first time he meets the Japanese head of state to show a sign of respect. But I’m not going to try and characterize it for anything else than that.


QUESTION: Yes. Do you have more details about Senator Mitchell’s meetings with the Israeli negotiators in London?

MR. KELLY: No, I don’t. I just – I mean, I know that they had meetings today, but I don’t have any readout of it.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this? The Palestinian Authority has asked the European Union today to back their plan to help the UN Security Council recognize an independent Palestinian state. And Saeb Erekat has said that the Palestinian Authority plan to seek U.S. approval. Will –
what’s your position toward this request?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t think that – I’m not aware that they have come to us seeking our opinion or our approval. I mean, our position is clear. We support the creation of a Palestinian state that is contiguous and viable. But we think that the best way to achieve that is through negotiations by the two parties. And we understand that people might be frustrated, but we would – we just, as I say, we – it is our very strong belief – we are convinced that this has to be achieved through negotiation between the two parties.

QUESTION: So you will veto any --

MR. KELLY: I’m not going to say we’re going to – I mean, I don’t – I can’t say we’re going to veto something we haven’t seen or hasn’t even been proposed yet.

QUESTION: So you support a Palestinian state, just not yet?

MR. KELLY: We support a Palestinian state that arises as the result of a process between the two parties.

QUESTION: There are a lot of people who think that this kind of a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians might be the thing that is the jolt that is needed to get the actual negotiation started. You don’t agree with that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t necessarily agree with that, no. I think that the thing we have to do is get the two parties to sit down, and that is what we’re putting all of our efforts behind. That’s what Senator Mitchell is doing in London today, and that’s what we’ve been doing throughout is to try to get them to --

QUESTION: Are you --

MR. KELLY: -- start the negotiations again.

QUESTION: Understood, but he’s been doing it for 10 months and you’ve gotten zero results.

MR. KELLY: Well, I know that 10 months sounds like a long time when it’s said out of context, but this problem has been going on for decades and it’s –

QUESTION: Well, some would say millennia. But that doesn’t change the fact of the matter that you’ve been trying just to get them to sit down with each other. I mean, not – and then they won’t even do that.

MR. KELLY: Well, like I say --

QUESTION: So you’re not even at the point where you can say that they’ve talked and haven’t been able to resolve anything. You can’t even get them to sit down at the table together.

MR. KELLY: Like I say, it’s frustrating. I mean, I don’t think anybody would deny that. But it doesn’t mean --

QUESTION: Does Mitchell --

MR. KELLY: -- we’re not committed to it.

QUESTION: Does Mitchell plan to go anywhere else?

MR. KELLY: I’m not aware of any plans to go anywhere else right now.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you said Steinberg was in Jerusalem for the Saban Forum and he met with Israeli and Palestinian officials, where did he meet with them? Who did he meet with, do you know?

MR. KELLY: I – well, they were – he met – he was – he didn’t go outside of Jerusalem, I don’t think. And I don’t have the list of people that he met with.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is it fair to assume that his conversations were roughly the same as those – along the same lines as Mitchell?

MR. KELLY: Well, given the fact that we are committed and we are putting all of our efforts behind trying to get the two sides to sit down, I think it is pretty fair to say they had a consistent message to that end.

Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan. Ambassador Holbrooke’s trip to Berlin, Paris, and Russia, do you have any readout on it or who he --

MR. KELLY: His trip to Berlin?

QUESTION: Yeah, and Paris and Russia.

MR. KELLY: I don’t have a readout of his trip to Berlin. I do know that he is in Moscow now. And he is in Moscow to – he’s meeting with his special representative colleague, who’s Deputy Foreign Minister Borodavkin. And he’s also meeting with a number of other officials from the ministry of foreign affairs, finance, and defense. This is part of a number of consultations that Ambassador Holbrooke has had with countries that are helping us in Afghanistan, have a number of cooperative programs with Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has been wanting to go there, I know, for several months, so this is something that’s been planned for for some time, and it’s – as I say, it’s part of our – or part of his ongoing consultations with a number of countries that are involved in the effort in Afghanistan.

In addition to Ambassador Holbrooke’s meetings with senior officials, there are also U.S. technical teams in Moscow right now who are discussing with Russian counterparts assistance coordination and also implementing modalities of the transit agreement that we recently concluded with Russia. And this – these will continue, I think, through tomorrow.

QUESTION: How has that transit agreement been going for you guys?

MR. KELLY: I know what you’re referring to. The Air Transit Agreement --

QUESTION: I just got off the plane. I don’t know.

MR. KELLY: The Air Transit Agreement provided the Government of Russia with a review and comment period which has just concluded. And this is one of the reasons for the technical team going now and not earlier. And I think one of the points that we’re trying to iron out is notification processes that have to be in place. We’re also working with other countries on the transit routes since anything over-flying Russia to go to Afghanistan would have to fly over other countries as well.

And both President Obama and President Medvedev are – of course, they announced this in July, this agreement, and we anticipate that regular flights will start as soon as we’ve worked out these remaining logistical details.

QUESTION: So is Holbrooke discussing this as well?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think that’s really on his agenda. I mean, I think his agenda is not this logistical details. His agenda, I think, is a higher political level.


QUESTION: It’s being reported today that the U.S., as part of its wider strategy in Afghanistan, is putting pressure on Pakistan to deal with the Taliban and al-Qaida. A couple of questions about that. First of all, does Pakistan have that capability? And two, couldn’t that adversely affect the civilian institutions that the U.S. says it wants to support and prop up?

MR. KELLY: Well, of course, one of the hallmarks of this Administration and our approach to this problem has been a – more of an integrated approach, not just looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan in isolation, but looking at the problem of extremism, violent extremism, in general, in the border areas. And I think we’ve seen in recent months a real commitment on the part of the Pakistani authorities to really try and tackle the problem of violent extremists within their borders, particularly in these border areas, and you’ve seen them take concrete steps to address these challenges.

At the same time, I think we recognize that this is a problem that can’t – that we can’t attack just by military means, that we need to also – we also need to deal with some of the underlying problems that give rise to this kind of extremism, and provide the people of Pakistan and the people of Afghanistan a hope for a better future, that their future lies not with extremists, but with a better and more prosperous future for their families.

QUESTION: But is the U.S. confident that Pakistan has the capability, if you’re talking about the fighters that may exist inside Pakistan’s borders right now. But what about, you know, sort of if there is an increased overflow from Afghanistan, does Pakistan still have that? Does the U.S. have the confidence that Pakistan could deal with that adequately?

MR. KELLY: I think we do. I think that we certainly have more confidence now than we did even a few months ago, before they did take some decisive action to deal with this problem within their own borders. But I think the important thing here is that we see this as a partnership, that these are shared challenges, these are problems that are in our national interests as well to tackle, and that’s why we see our role as supporting them. This is their effort, but we stand ready to support them, both on the military side, but also on the civilian side on reconstruction and economic assistance.


QUESTION: Different issue.

MR. KELLY: Same issue? Same?


MR. KELLY: No? Same issue?

QUESTION: The New York Times today wrote about President Obama writing a letter to Pakistani President on need for Pakistan to do more with regard to terrorism there. What else more needs – Pakistan needs to do in Pakistan?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure I saw these comments. I think – I always think there’s more that can be done, but I’m not sure exactly what their article is referring to.

QUESTION: Are you comfortable with what Pakistan is doing right now, or do you want them to do more with fighting against terrorists there inside the (inaudible)?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we all can do more. I don’t think we should ever be satisfied when it comes to the problem of dealing with this kind of vicious terrorism that we’re seeing in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. I think that there’s – I know that Pakistan – the authorities in Pakistan themselves are taking the challenge very seriously. How can they do otherwise when they see these kinds of horrible attacks almost every day?

QUESTION: And secondly, in the last couple of months, several individuals have been arrested in the U.S., namely several citizens here who have been trained back in training camps in Pakistan. Have you raised these issues with the Pakistani authorities of the need to close down those terrorist training camps?

MR. KELLY: Well, yeah, I think we’ve addressed this before. Yes, we have, of course, raised our concerns, and we have – we’ve briefed the Pakistani authorities about some of the information that we’ve gained from some of these suspects that have now been indicted. But I don’t have any real specific information that I can share with you.

QUESTION: Did you brief the Pakistanis, as well as the Indians?

MR. KELLY: I believe we did, yeah.

QUESTION: And finally, a couple of – before the elections in Afghanistan, the U.S. has expressed concern about one of the deputy vice president for Karzai, Fahim. Now he has been elected. He is now the vice president there. Are you comfortable with working with him, the vice president?

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)

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