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Middle East Digest - November 17, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 17, 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 17, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Well, we continue to stay in close contact with the IAEA and with our P-5+1 colleagues. The recent report, as we noted yesterday, underscores that Iran still refuses to comply fully with its international nuclear obligations. Instead, it’s expanded its work in uranium enrichment and heavy water-related activities. And it’s conducted a multiyear effort to construct a clandestine enrichment facility in contravention of the UN Security Council requirements and IAEA obligations.
The Director General verified that the Qom facility was built to accommodate approximately 3,000 centrifuges, although no centrifuges, of course, had been installed. The report notes that the purpose of the facility and the chronology of its construction require clarification from Iran. The report further notes that Iran’s failure to inform the IAEA of the facility near Qom is inconsistent with its safeguard obligations, and underlines the fact that its failure to declare this facility reduces confidence about the absence of other nuclear facilities that have not been declared to the IAEA.
And finally, the report notes that for over a year, Iran has refused the IAEA’s request to provide substantive explanations regarding its past work to develop a nuclear warhead and other possible military dimensions to its nuclear program.
QUESTION: Okay. So where does that leave you?
MR. KELLY: Well, we – as I said, we are consulting with our P-5+1 contacts. We are still waiting for a formal response to the proposal that the IAEA put forward to enrich its LEU outside of Iran. We hope that they will provide a formal response, but the failure to provide a response to this and its overall noncompliance, as laid out in the IAEA agreement, frankly doesn’t give us a whole lot of confidence that they will respond formally. But we are still not prepared to close the door on that possibility right now.
QUESTION: It doesn’t appear as though President Obama has made much headway with either the Russians or the Chinese in terms of another – more sanctions. Are you prepared to go it alone?
MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure I agree with you on that. I haven’t seen exactly what the Chinese have said recently, but I read what President Medvedev said after the meeting in Singapore with the President, and he made --
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you guys have been spinning that up ever since he spoke at the UN, and it’s just – you know, I’m sorry, it’s --
MR. KELLY: But they – Matt, they have gone along with us all along. I mean, we share the same goal.
QUESTION: No. In fact, I was sitting in Moscow --
MR. KELLY: They’ve signed on --
QUESTION: -- when Lavrov specifically said that even the threat of sanctions is not helpful and was – it was counterproductive.
MR. KELLY: Well, I heard President Medvedev say that there are a number of options that we have to look into, and if there – if they do fail to engage, we’re going to have to look at some of these options.
QUESTION: Okay. But you were in the same room, weren’t you, when Lavrov --
MR. KELLY: I was, yeah.
QUESTION: -- said that it was counterproductive to even talk about the idea?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. That was about a month ago, too.
QUESTION: Yeah, it was.
MR. KELLY: And this is what --
QUESTION: And look where – and what’s happened since? Nothing.
MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, it was before the – this IAEA report. It was before we had the proposal on – to enrich their lower – their low-enriched uranium outside of the country, and the apparent failure to provide a formal response. So I think the frustration is mounting.
MR. KELLY: And I wouldn’t take something that was said a month ago as necessarily applicable to today.
QUESTION: Well, is there any headway on having a new meeting on this issue?
MR. KELLY: A new meeting with Iran, you mean?
QUESTION: With Iran, without Iran?
MR. KELLY: As I say, we continue to consult with our contacts in the P-5+1 context, and I don’t have anything to announce at this time. But I mean, clearly, we’re going to have to review the bidding, given the fact that the – that Iran has not provided us with a formal response. As I said before, we’re not prepared to actually pronounce that they have rejected the deal because they haven’t formally rejected the deal yet. But we’ll continue to consult with them.
QUESTION: Is there any timeline on what you would say that you’ve just decided amounts to a formal rejection, or can we spin this out for weeks and weeks and weeks?
MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure. No, I – we always hesitate to give a formal deadline. But I would – I mean, I would just say that time is very short.
QUESTION: Well, it has already been spun out for weeks and weeks and weeks. And all that – all the time, what has Iran been doing in terms of enrichment for the past – since the October 1st – or since the offer was allegedly accepted by them?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think that’s –
QUESTION: Are they or are they not continuing to enrich?
MR. KELLY: I believe that they are, and I think that that –
MR. KELLY: – was pointed out in the IAEA report.
QUESTION: Well, exactly. So I’m – just, you know, at what point do you – is too much too much?
MR. KELLY: Well, that point will come, but we’re not at it yet.
QUESTION: On the peace process, Israel has approved today the construction of 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem. How do you view this approval at this specific time?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think, Michel, you’ve heard us say many times that we believe that neither party should engage in any kind of actions that could unilaterally preempt or appear to preempt negotiations. And I think that we find the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval of the – approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem as dismaying.
This is at a time when we’re working to re-launch negotiations, and we believe that these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. So we object to this, and we object to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.
And – just to repeat what we’ve said all along, our position on Jerusalem is clear. We believe that the – that Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, did this come up in Ambassador Mitchell’s meetings in London yesterday? Apparently, we were told that he met an advisor to Netanyahu, asked them to not permit these new buildings, and then that request was flatly turned down.
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Andy, I just don’t want to get into the substance of these negotiations. They’re sensitive. I think you’ve seen the Israeli – some Israeli press reports that did report that this was raised in the meetings. This is – I mean, these kinds of unilateral actions are exactly the kind of actions that we think that both sides should refrain from at a time when we’re trying to start the negotiations again. But I don’t want to get into the substance of the discussions yesterday in London.
QUESTION: Would you steer us away from not believing the Israeli press reports?
MR. KELLY: I just don’t want to get into the substance. I’m not going to steer you one way or the other on it.
QUESTION: Where’s Senator Mitchell today?
QUESTION: How long is the U.S. going to continue to tolerate Israel’s violation of international law? I mean, soon it’s not even going to be possible – there’s not going to be any land left for the Palestinians to establish an independent state.
MR. KELLY: Well, again, this is a – we understand the Israeli point of view about Jerusalem. But we think that all sides right now, at this time when we’re expending such intense efforts to try and get the two sides to sit down, that we should refrain from these actions, like this decision to move forward on an approval process for more housing units in East Jerusalem.
QUESTION: But should U.S. inaction, or in response to Israel’s actions, then be interpreted as some sort of about-face in policy – the President turning his back on the promises he’s made to the Palestinians?
MR. KELLY: You’re – okay, you’re using language that I wouldn’t use. I mean, again, our focus is to get these negotiations started. We’re calling on both parties to refrain from actions, from – and from rhetoric that would impede this process. It’s a challenging time, and we just need to focus on what’s important here, and that’s --
QUESTION: Well, what actions (inaudible) the Palestinians taken recently that would impede progress?
MR. KELLY: Well, as I say, we would discourage all unilateral actions, and I think --
QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Palestinians --
MR. KELLY: We talked yesterday --
QUESTION: -- don’t appear to be taking any unilateral actions. It seems to be (inaudible).
MR. KELLY: Well, we did talk yesterday about the – and I want to make sure I get my language right here – about the – discouraging any kind of unilateral appeal for United Nations Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That would fall in that category of unilateral actions.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Palestinian call for this, which was rejected by both the EU and yourself yesterday, you’re putting that on the same level as them building – as the Israelis building --
MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that. You just said that, Matt. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that --
QUESTION: Well, you’re saying you’re calling on both sides to stop doing these things.
MR. KELLY: We are.
QUESTION: Yeah. But the rhetoric from the --
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent.
QUESTION: -- Palestinians is not actually constructed in a --
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent. I’m just saying that we – they – we have to treat these things as sensitive issues.
QUESTION: You said a little bit earlier that we understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem. Can you explain what you mean by that?
MR. KELLY: Well, you have to ask – I’m not going to stand up here and characterize the Israeli point of view on --
QUESTION: No. I’m just asking you, if you understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem, why are you saying that this is not a good thing?
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying we support the Israeli point of view. We understand it.
QUESTION: Right. And then, last one on this, you characterized this decision by the planning commission as dismaying.
QUESTION: You can’t come up with anything stronger than “dismaying”? I mean, this flies in the face of everything you’ve been talking about for months and months and months.
MR. KELLY: It’s dismaying.
QUESTION: Yeah, you can’t offer a condemnation of it or anything like that? (Laughter.) I mean, who is in charge of the language here.
MR. KELLY: I have said what I have said, Mr. Lee.
QUESTION: Would you say, though, that your own envoy has – does he have any leverage at this point, given the fact that the Israelis not only refuse, but blatantly have ignored his wishes on this?
MR. KELLY: Well, let’s take a step back and let’s also recognize that both sides agree on the goal, and that goal is a comprehensive peace. That goal is two states living side by side in peace and security and cooperation. So that is why we continue to be committed to this. That is why Special Envoy Mitchell meets with both sides at every opportunity, and why we are continuing to expend such efforts on this. So let’s remember that, that we do share a common goal.
QUESTION: Well, where’s Senator Mitchell today?
MR. KELLY: I believe Senator Mitchell is on his way back today.
QUESTION: Could you give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have – we’ve gotten --
QUESTION: Yeah, maybe if the --
MR. KELLY: -- both sides to agree on this goal. We have gotten both sides --
QUESTION: Ian, they agreed on the goal years ago. I mean, that’s not --
MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we – this government --
QUESTION: You mean you got the Israel Government to say, yes, we’re willing to accept a Palestinian state? You got Netanyahu to say that, and that’s his big accomplishment?
MR. KELLY: That is an accomplishment.
QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration – previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.
MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.
QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.
MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.
QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?
MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have – we have – we’ve had a intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look --
QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense --
MR. KELLY: Obviously --
QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.
MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not – but it’s – we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.
QUESTION: Well, I – really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.
MR. KELLY: All right.
QUESTION: I’ll drop it.
MR. KELLY: Give us a chance. Thank you, Matt.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: It seems Senator Mitchell is focusing in his meetings on the Israeli side. Is he – does he have any plans to talk with the Palestinians, or there is no need now for that?

MR. KELLY: Well, he, as I say, he had meetings yesterday with the Israelis. He’s coming back to the U.S. now. He always stands ready to talk to both sides. There are no plans at this moment to meet with the Palestinian side.

) MR. KELLY: Well, you know that we have a robust partnership with Pakistan, an aid package that is supportive of their economic development efforts, but also of their – some of their security efforts. And we’ve been very supportive of their offensive in South Waziristan and supportive of their efforts to deal with the problem of the violent extremists in the region.
QUESTION: So you’re happy so far, whatever the Pakistan is doing at --
MR. KELLY: We support what they’re doing, yes.
Charley? I think Charley had his hand up. Did you --
QUESTION: No, it’s the same – different topic.
MR. KELLY: No? Okay.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to ask, where is Holbrooke?
MR. KELLY: Holbrooke? Ambassador Holbrooke, I believe, is still in Moscow today.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question?
MR. KELLY: Sure.
QUESTION: A different topic. I don’t know whether you touched on it yesterday. If you did, I apologize, but do you have reaction to the Afghanistan Government announcement that they were launching a major crimes task force? And is this a step down a long path toward dealing with corruption problems? Does it satisfy the United States?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we’ve – we said that the – it’s time for actions, for the Afghan Government to address this problem of corruption, and that we stand prepared to work with them and support them as they address this. And we, of course, welcome the announcement that we saw of the formation of the major crimes task force.
This is done with American and British support, that it will investigate and prosecute major anticorruption, kidnapping, and organized crime cases. As I say, there are American and British law enforcement officials who are helping from the FBI and the British Serious and Organized Crime Agency. In addition, we welcome the attorney general’s recently established anticorruption unit. This is the Afghan attorney general, of course. And then we also welcome the announcement by the Chief Justice Azimi of another important institution, the national Anti-Corruption Tribunal, which is – which will be designed to set up serious corruption cases throughout Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Is this enough? I know there’s been widespread criticism of corruption in Afghanistan.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is this enough? Is this going to meet the bar set by the United States?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think in the case of the latter, the Anti-Corruption Tribunal, this is – it’s an announcement that they intend to set up the tribunal. And of course, we’ll look forward to getting more details about how it intends to operate, what kind of cases it intends to prosecute. But again, it’s the actions that are important, and so we’ll be monitoring it closely. And of course, we stand ready to help, too, in whatever way we can. But I think that these are some of the early signs of the kinds of tangible steps that we need to see to demonstrate that the Afghan Government is serious about tackling corruption. But it’s fair to say that we welcome these steps, but a lot will depend on the implementation.
Yeah, Andy.
QUESTION: I have a sort of ancillary question back on the IAEA report. We’ve had your reaction to the Iran section of that report. I’m wondering if you have any reaction to the Syria section of that report, where they talk about --
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- deep suspicions about Syria’s activities.
MR. KELLY: Right. Right. If you just give me a second here, I do. Yeah, this is the fifth report by the IAEA relating to Syria’s nuclear activities since the Al Kibar reactor was destroyed in 2007. In the report, the IAEA makes clear that Syria unfortunately has not made any credible explanations that clarify the true nature and scope of its clandestine nuclear activities. The IAEA has again had to report that Syria is refusing to cooperate fully with the IAEA and has failed to account for the undeclared manmade uranium found at two sites. We believe that Syria must uphold its international obligations, including providing access to any site or information requested. And we again reiterate our full support for the IAEA’s investigation.
QUESTION: What does the U.S. think should be the next step if Syria doesn’t uphold its international obligations?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think it will depend on what their response is to it. We’ll continue to consult with our partners in the IAEA about next steps in light of their – in light of the serious nature of the findings in this report and in the previous reports. But I think whatever we do, will have to be in consultation with our partners and allies.
QUESTION: Well, what would be an adequate response, in your view, from the Syrians? I mean, are you looking for them to say, yes, you’ve caught us, we were working with the North Koreans and the Iranians secretly to build a reactor? Is that what you want them to say?
MR. KELLY: No, we want them to open up what the IAEA is asking them to open up in terms of access to sites and access to information. I’m not asking for any --
QUESTION: But haven’t –
MR. KELLY: -- declaration necessarily.
QUESTION: Well, you said that they have not made any credible explanation yet of this.
MR. KELLY: Yeah, that’s what we want – a credible explanation.
QUESTION: Well, is a credible explanation “Yes, we were colluding with the North Koreans and the Iranians to do this secretly?”
MR. KELLY: Well, I – (laughter) – a credible explanation will be allowing full access to what they’re doing.
QUESTION: Have they not allowed access?
MR. KELLY: No, not to everything that the IAEA has asked for.

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