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Middle East Digest - November 18, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 18, 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 18, 2009

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1:37 p.m. EST

QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister has said today that Iran reviewed the proposal and will definitely not send out our 3.5 percent enriched uranium. He added that means that we will consider swapping the nuclear fuel simultaneously in Iran. Do you consider this statement as a formal Iranian answer to the proposal? And what would be the next step?

MR. KELLY: This proposal was done by the IAEA in consultation with Russia, France, and the United States. We’ve all accepted this proposal. We have submitted a formal response to Mr. El Baradei, and this is what Iran needs to do. They need to give a formal response to El Baradei. Something that is said to the media, of course, doesn’t – what was said today doesn’t inspire our confidence that they’re going to deliver a positive response, of course. But this is the IAEA’s proposal and Iran has to give their response to the IAEA, and that’s what we’re waiting for. That’s what the IAEA is waiting for.

QUESTION: But it’s not their response, do you think?

MR. KELLY: Until the IAEA gets the response and formally says this is the – this is Iran’s response, I don’t consider a statement to the – to the press necessarily a response.

QUESTION: Well, Ian, are you saying that the IAEA didn’t listen to what he had to say?

MR. KELLY: Oh, I’m sure they did. I’m sure they did.

QUESTION: So if you don’t think that a statement to the press is any kind of a formal response, what are you doing up here every day?

MR. KELLY: I think I’ve heard that. I’m having a déjà vu here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’m just trying to figure it out.

MR. KELLY: I think I’ve heard this before.

QUESTION: I mean, if you’re speaking – you know, when you speak from the podium, you’re obviously giving the U.S. Government’s opinion, when the Secretary speaks from the podium as well. So when the Iranian foreign minister speaks to the Iranian media, you just ignore that, pretend it never happened?

MR. KELLY: No, we don’t ignore it. There was – on October 1st, there was a meeting and it was – the proposal by the IAEA was accepted in principle by all the parties, including Iran, and there was also an agreement that each of the parties would provide a written response to their proposal. Russia, France, and the United States have provided a written response, and we expect Iran to provide a written response, and we expect the IAEA to pronounce on that response. So we will wait for the IAEA to make a formal response to this.

QUESTION: Right. Just remind me of the timeline again here? The meeting – the Iranians allegedly agreed to this in principle on October 1st?

MR. KELLY: That’s right. Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s today’s date?

MR. KELLY: I believe its November 18th.

QUESTION: Yeah. You know, that’s an awful long time, and during which they are continuing to enrich. So I guess the question is the same as yesterday. How long is too long? When do you actually do something?

MR. KELLY: Well, we are continuing to consult with the IAEA, with our P-5+1 partners. We have a policy of a dual track, both engagement and pressure. At a certain point, we will consult with our P-5+1 partners. And we will keep both of these tracks open. We’re not going to close any door on the engagement track, but at a certain point I think we’re going to start paying a little more attention to the other track. We’re not quite at that point right now, but as I said before, I think that time is short.

QUESTION: Ian, it seems where Mottaki has made these comments today, the script in Farsi of the interview is a little more clearer. He says that we’ve already given our answer, and he goes step by step into how this whole process started, and he says we were supposed to give answers till Friday, and then Tehran did its study and announced its decision. That means what the IAEA dubbed as the initial response is considered by Tehran as the final response.

MR. KELLY: Well, again, so we’ll continue to consult with the IAEA. As far as I know, the IAEA has not received a formal response. If that is true that they have sent a response, then we’ll consult with our P-5+1 partners and we’ll decide what the next steps are.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, it was not in written form – oral, so (inaudible) apparently (inaudible).

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ll follow up with the IAEA if that’s indeed true. I’m not --

QUESTION: That’s what he’s saying.

MR. KELLY: Okay.


QUESTION: On Iraq, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has vetoed the election law today. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. KELLY: We’re disappointed at these developments related to the elections law. We urge the Iraqi leaders and parliament to take quick action to resolve any of the outstanding concerns that have been expressed. And this is so elections can go forward. And these elections, of course, are mandated by the Iraqi constitution.

We believe that it’s the responsibility of all Iraqi parties to ensure that the Iraqi people are able to exercise their democratic right to vote, and this election law represents the best way forward for the Iraqi Government to be able to consolidate the democratic and political achievements.

QUESTION: But with two months to go, what is the implication for not – for triggering or not triggering the provisions of SOFA, which would suspend the U.S. troop withdrawals from the designated areas?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I – right now, the way things stand, our plans remain on track for our military withdrawal. We remain committed to this plan. And of course, you know what the plan is. We cease all combat operations by August 2010 and fulfill the other obligations we have under this security agreement.

As I said, we urge the Iraqi parliament to take quick action. There is a certain urgency here timewise because the elections are mandated by the constitution to take place in January, by the end of January. So we just hope that they will take action in a very quick and expeditious way.

QUESTION: Has there been any American communication about what the implications are for the troop deployments?

MR. KELLY: I think that the Iraqi leaders themselves recognize the importance of getting this election law done, of keeping to this timetable. We have a couple of kind of parallel timetables going here. It’s in everybody’s interest that we keep to these timetables. And as I said before, we remain committed to this plan of the President to uphold our end of the agreement, and we plan to. But as I say, there is a certain time urgency here.

QUESTION: On Iran, please. Your reaction to the death sentences handed down to five people in regard to election protests as well as lengthy prison terms doled out to dozens of other people?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think our policy on this has been pretty consistent that Iran needs to respect the rights of the Iranian people to peacefully express their opinions. We have had concerns about the way some of these trials have been conducted. They’ve been conducted as kind of mass trials. We always have had concerns about Iran’s adherence to an open, transparent, due process of law. And we continue to call on Iran to have an open judicial and legal process.

QUESTION: Ian, I’m curious. What do you base those concerns on, the trials?

MR. KELLY: What do I base the concerns on?


MR. KELLY: Whenever I get a question about specific legal procedures, I always tend to sort of hesitate and --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious, because you don’t have any ambassador – you don’t have any diplomats there. I don’t think these trials have been open to the Swiss or any other diplomats.

MR. KELLY: Right. Well, that’s exactly --

QUESTION: So how do you --

MR. KELLY: Well, here, that’s one of our concerns right there, that they haven’t been open.

QUESTION: And that – and they’ve been mass trials? I mean, do you have reason to believe that due process was not followed in these cases?

MR. KELLY: Let me give you – get you very specific answers to this since we are getting into areas that are kind of beyond my --

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to make sure you’re not basing your concern --

MR. KELLY: -- education and confidence.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure you’re not basing your concerns on media reports of it, because if you were --

MR. KELLY: Now I know where you’re going with that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- then I would go back to the foreign minister.

MR. KELLY: I see, okay. Yeah, in the back. Yeah.

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