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Middle East Digest - November 19, 2009

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Washington, DC
November 19, 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 19, 2009

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1:36 p.m. EST

MR. KELLY: Okay. Good afternoon. The Secretary had a full day in Kabul today. She met with, of course, the Afghan leadership, with international partners and allies. She had breakfast with foreign ministers, met with U.S. and international troops and staff from Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and also, of course, with Embassy staff.

She noted in her public comments that she was encouraged by President Karzai’s pledge in his inaugural speech to battle corruption and get his security forces sufficiently trained to take the lead in the country within five years. She also noted that President Karzai’s speech set forth an agenda for change and reform and that he outlined steps for tackling corruption.

She added that the U.S. is under no illusions about the difficulty of its mission in Afghanistan, that the road ahead is fraught with challenges and imperfect choices, and said that setbacks are inevitable and that, of course, we must remain realistic about what can be accomplished.

QUESTION: That’s real optimism.

MR. KELLY: She also said we’re starting to see results in areas like alternatives to poppy cultivation, opening of girls’ schools, opening of clinics, and better roads, and said that the international community can do better, and vowed more transparency in our aid. And she stressed that, while there are – there will be setbacks, she believes we can make progress.

QUESTION: Nazira Karimi for Ariana Television. As you mentioned, President Karzai at his inauguration today, he has pledged too many things, and he mentioned about fighting against corruption. Do you think that he going to be able to deliver it? And also, of course, he has an expectation from the U.S. authority and also international community.

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What do you think about U.S. position or role about this?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think the important thing is – is that he made a real commitment in the speech to tackle these issues. And they’ve already taken some steps to try and institutionalize the fight against corruption. And so we see it – we saw that speech as something hopeful in terms of setting out a new way forward for the new government. But as they do go forward, we’ll be looking to see the government actually implement and follow through on some of these steps that he outlined.

I think that for our part, we also see this as a new opportunity for our partnership with Afghanistan. And on our side, we also want to ensure that there is transparency and accountability for the assistance that we’re providing. And we have – we’ve set up some, on our own end, some of our own monitoring and verification mechanisms to ensure that our aid is meeting – is going to the right people, is meeting our goals for Afghanistan. And so we have a very robust monitoring procedure in place. We’re conducting a review of all the recipients on the side of the Afghan Government for our aid to ensure that they’re using the aid in the proper way. And if these agencies and ministries don’t – if we’re not able to certify them as having open and accountable procedures, they simply won’t receive the direct aid.

So this really is kind of a new chapter in our relationship and a renewed partnership. But it’s a partnership with mutual responsibilities. President Karzai recognized that they have their own responsibilities to be open and transparent, and we recognize that we have our own responsibilities to our own taxpayers, to our own people, but also to U.S. national interests to ensure that this is – that our aid program meets our goals.

QUESTION: How about the new cabinet? U.S. will have a special opinion – they don’t want to interfere about the people who will be in the future government of President Karzai?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that the next step here is for the president to present his slate of ministers to the lower house. So there is a mechanism in place in Kabul for a kind of – I guess we’d call it a confirmation process. It’s not really a confirmation process, but they need – the slate of ministers needs to be approved. And I expect that will happen over the next few weeks. But I think the key here is that our assistance really is performance-based. And that’s not just us. That’s also – that’s a pledge that President Karzai made as well, and it’s a pledge that we make to our taxpayers too, that our aid has to be delivered in an open and transparent and accountable fashion.


QUESTION: Even after Karzai made these promises today, and we’re on the verge of making decisions on whether or not we’re going to be sending or how many troops we’ll be sending, the Germans came out today – the German defense minister came out today and said that they did not want to send more troops. They’re our third-largest partner in Afghanistan. What’s your reaction to that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, Germany is an important partner, and they have a very comprehensive approach to assisting in Afghanistan, both in terms of aiding in their security needs but also aiding in their developmental needs. And I think that every country has to decide what’s in their own national interests how they can best help in this effort. I haven’t actually seen these remarks, in particular. But as you point out, they are the third-largest contributor, and we’ve been very appreciative of their assistance

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. KELLY: Same subject?

QUESTION: Yes. This monitoring and verification mechanism is already in place. Is it effective now?

MR. KELLY: On our side, you mean?


MR. KELLY: Yes, it is. I mean, we have a special inspector general in place, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. That office has been in place for quite some time. We’re in the process of going ministry by ministry to certify that they have the proper accounting procedures in place to receive aid directly. This is not only to improve transparency, but it’s also to ensure they have the capacity to receive this aid. We’re also dramatically increasing the number of officers from the U.S. Agency for International Development who can get out into the field and actually see how the aid is being delivered. So we have some mechanisms already in place, but we’re also looking to increase our own capacity to monitor the aid.

QUESTION: Yeah. But as you know, the major (inaudible) of U.S. aids goes to Afghanistan through the NGO sector, nonprofit sector. Only 30 percent goes through the Afghan Government. So what’s the mechanism to verify and monitor the aid which goes through the nonprofit organizations?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have the same kind of monitoring structures in place for NGOs as well. I mean, we also want to make sure that they’re – they have the proper accounting procedures in place. So it’s, I think, a similar mechanism for them as well.

QUESTION: Currently, the ratio of aid going to Afghanistan to NGOs and the government is 70/30; 70 percent goes to the nonprofit and 30 percent to Afghan Government. Is there any move to change this imbalance of aid going to Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure whether or not it’s imbalanced. But I know that we’re looking to increase the capacity of the Afghan Government, not just in Kabul but also out in the regions as well. So I think we’ll be looking to increase that proportion going to the government, as they are able to be certified that they have the capacity and the kind of accounting mechanisms that we need to have in place to actually deliver the aid. But it’s not just – we’re not just talking about the Afghan central government here. We’re talking about also the local and provincial authorities as well.

QUESTION: So the local and provincial authorities will go directly to them or through – routed through the central government?

MR. KELLY: It’s a good question. I’m not sure exactly. I mean, I’m sure that it has to be coordinated with the central government, but I’m not sure if it actually – the money actually flows through the central government.

QUESTION: On the theme of accountability, Senator Kerry has written a letter to the IG, and copied also to the Secretary, asking for a new investigation into Blackwater --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- given recent developments. And he says in the letter that the director of defense trade controls has told a Foreign Relations Committee staff member that Blackwater is engaged in broad violations of export laws, unlicensed shipments of weapons to Iraq, and potentially other places. Do you know: (a) If the IG is going to conduct a new investigation or at least review whether Blackwater is still appropriate – or Xe Services – sorry --

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is still an appropriate company to get contracts under the worldwide protective services – personal protective services scheme; and (b) – well, let’s just stick it – stick with (a) for a moment.

MR. KELLY: Okay. We can get to (b), if you want, a little later. Yes, we – I mean, Matt, I’ll just confirm we received the letter today. The Office of the Inspector General has the letter, and I’m sure the Secretary will see it as soon as she gets back. These are very serious allegations. We look forward to learning more from the committee about these allegations, because I think the letter says that they have new information. And so we’re looking forward to a discussion of that, and we’re looking forward, I think, to – in general, to a discussion of the issue of contractors. I think you’ve seen the Secretary has said before that we’re concerned about our dependency on contractors.

QUESTION: Well, why is –

MR. KELLY: But at the same time, though, we’re also – we have to – we have a need to provide protection for our people overseas. So it’s a – there are these two imperatives that we need to balance out.

QUESTION: Well, (b) – then the (b) part of the question then is: You are not aware of this new information? And do you know anything about --

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not sure what he means by new information.

QUESTION: The directorate’s acting director of compliance telling them that Blackwater engaged in broad violations of export laws; are you aware of that? It seems to me that you would be.

MR. KELLY: I think we’re – well, we’re – we’ve seen the – I mean, there have been stories in the media about this – about these allegations.

QUESTION: Forget about the – forget about stories in the media. I’m just talking about the letter from Senator Kerry, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, saying that the directorate’s acting director of compliance told the committee staff that Blackwater, quote, “engaged in broad violations,” end quote, of export laws. Do you know anything about that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know that the Department of State has this information at the present time.

QUESTION: He said unlicensed shipments went beyond weapons for personal use by Blackwater Security personnel.

MR. KELLY: This sounds like something that probably --

QUESTION: All right. So you’re not --

MR. KELLY: -- should be referred you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: This building is not privy to the information that Senator Kerry has?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think that – well, we are not aware of the specifics of these allegations.

QUESTION: Okay. Palestinian President Abbas told BBC today that he doesn’t want to go to the Security Council to ask for support for a declaration of a Palestinian state in a unilateral way, but he would like to ask for a resolution to reaffirm the endorsement of the Roadmap which is endorsed by Resolution 1515. Will the U.S. support this move, or do you – will you object to it?

MR. KELLY: Well, we – it’s hard for me to say if we’ll object to a move, not having seen the details of the resolution. But what you’ve just outlined to me is what we support too. We support both sides abiding by their agreements under the Roadmap. We do not support unilateral moves by one side or the other. We believe that these differences have to be worked out through bilateral dialogue.

QUESTION: But these things does not contradict U.S. policies in the past. Like Resolution 1515, the U.S. voted it, supported it.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m – Samir, I’m sorry, I don’t have Resolution 1515 in front of me. If – we’ll get you – you want a very specific response to --

QUESTION: No, no, just reaction, a general reaction, because he’s calling only for reaffirmation of the Roadmap, that Resolution 1515 endorses the Roadmap at the Security Council.

MR. KELLY: Right. Yeah. Well, Samir, I can’t give you a response to some – to a resolution that I haven’t seen, to a text that we haven’t seen. Once we see the text, we’re happy to give a response to it.


MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria, following incidents surrounding a soccer game between these two nations in Sudan. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. KELLY: I haven’t seen that report, so I don’t have any comment on it. Sorry, Christophe.


QUESTION: Could I ask you about Iran? The President promised consequences when the Iranians rejected the nuclear fuel deal, and there’s a meeting tomorrow of the P-5 plus Germany in Brussels. What is the best that you can expect out of that, given that your Russian counterpart said that there are no prospects for new sanctions? Are you just going to be satisfied with adding names to asset freezes and travel bans?

MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, let’s talk for a minute about what’s going to happen tomorrow. There is going to be a meeting that’s been called by Javier Solana of the political directors of the P-5+1, political directors or their representatives. And I think that they’re going to basically talk about three or four things.

One is, of course, that Iran, as the President said, is having trouble getting to yes on the proposal that the IAEA has put forward on sending their low-enriched uranium out of the country, so they’re going to discuss responses to that. They have also not been responsive to the invitation of the P-5+1 itself to sit down again and talk about the nuclear issue. They’re going to discuss the recent IAEA report of noncompliance and the ramifications of that and what can be expected in the meeting of the Board of Governors of the IAEA on November 26th.

And then finally, and last but not least at all, is to talk about what the President said that we have to start turning our attention to, and that’s developing a package of measures that will show to Iran the seriousness of the consequences of their noncompliance with the requirements of the international community. And I think that the important thing here is that there is unity in the P-5+1 of the overall goal of getting Iran to live up to its obligations, and there is a commitment by all members of the P-5+1 to this dual track, which includes not only engagement but also pressure.

So as the President said, over the next few weeks, we’re going to consult with our partners and allies about what we can do to show Iran that their nonresponsiveness, if you will, is – will have real consequences.

QUESTION: So the open-ended application of these consequences that the President mentioned seems to be – I mean, it’ll just go on and on. I mean, will --

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s not open-ended. No, I mean, he was very clear that this is not – this is not open-ended, that there is an end to this. And I think he’s pointed to the end of this year, which is coming very quickly.

QUESTION: So we’re still on to the end of this year? That’s still the deadline for that?

MR. KELLY: Well, this is a multilateral approach, and I – we will have to do this in consultation with our allies and partners. But I think that everybody realizes that we have to approach this with some urgency.


QUESTION: Yes, Ian, you mentioned a package of measures. If you don’t mind, could you name just some?

MR. KELLY: Can I name them?


MR. KELLY: I’m going to decline from naming them at the present time. This is something that’s going to be discussed within the P-5+1 and within various multilateral fora. But I’d – it’s – it wouldn’t be productive for me to get into specifics right now.

QUESTION: I have a question on next week’s visit by the Indian prime minister, Dr. Singh. Is there any event scheduled here by Secretary Clinton (inaudible)? Would you be able to announce them?

MR. KELLY: There will be – yes, there will be an event here. I believe it’s a lunch, but off the top of my head I don’t the – I can’t remember the date of it. I think it’s Tuesday, but I’m not a hundred percent sure.

QUESTION: And there will be separate meeting between Secretary Clinton and the prime minister?

MR. KELLY: Within this event here, and there may be another one as well. But the Secretary, of course, will be – she will be in the meetings at the White House that the President will have, bilateral meetings and other events at the White House. But there will be a bilateral meeting between her and Mr. Singh, and also a – she will host a lunch here as well for his delegation.

QUESTION: And what are the issues do you think would be – would come up for discussion?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that regional issues will be very important, particularly since the Secretary has just come back from Afghanistan, so they’ll want to talk about issues related to South Asia. She’ll want to talk about the State Department’s role in the Strategic Dialogue with India, so we’ll want to get into more detail on how we carry through with that. And just a whole range of diplomatic issues.

QUESTION: All right. And then do you have any indication from the Iraqi Government at all that they’re getting involved in the case of the detained hikers in Iran?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have anything on that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. And lastly, tomorrow is the three-month anniversary of al-Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds. And Senator Schumer has written a letter to Gordon Brown with a rather interesting suggestion that – or not suggestion, a demand that since the guy isn’t dead yet and they said that he only had three months to live, he should be returned to – immediately returned back to Britain to go to jail. Schumer said – he said in his statement from his office, which actually misspells Lockerbie, unfortunately – (laughter) – says that since --

MR. KELLY: Hey, can you release the text of that?

QUESTION: -- since he has outlived the term of his release, and there has been speculation about exaggerations of the severity of his condition, the British Government should seek his immediate transfer back to prison in Scotland. Do you share Senator Schumer’s belief that since he hasn’t died yet, he should be sent back?

MR. KELLY: Well, you know what our stance on this has been, is that we believed all along that Mr. Megrahi should have served out his sentence in Scotland.

QUESTION: Well, no, but now this is – this three-month thing, I’m just wondering if – would the U.S. Government join in with Senator Schumer in demanding that since he’s still alive, he should go back to prison?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’d be happy to get Senator Schumer’s points of view on this. I haven’t seen the letter, but I’d be happy to have discussions with him.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll give it to you.

MR. KELLY: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)

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