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Middle East Digest - December 1, 2009

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Washington, DC
December 1, 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 December 1, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Okay. Well, welcome. I think, as you all know, the Secretary is going to accompany the President up to West Point tonight for the speech by the President to talk about his strategy toward Afghanistan. The Secretary will have about seven hours of hearings tomorrow beginning with the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:00, and then that will be followed in the afternoon by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She’ll be joined by Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen at both of those briefings.

On Thursday, the same three will participate in a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That starts at 9:00. There will also be a hearing in the afternoon of the House Armed Services Committee, but Deputy Secretary Lew will participate in that one. Secretary Clinton tomorrow goes to – I’m sorry, not tomorrow, Thursday – goes Thursday to Brussels for meetings on December 4th.

There will be a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of foreign ministers at NATO Headquarters on the agenda. There will also be a meeting of NATO foreign ministers with non-NATO ISAF contributing nations, and a NATO-Russia Council working lunch. She, of course, will also meet with the NATO Secretary General Rasmussen as well as with the newly appointed Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, and Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere and EU leaders.

And that’s all I have at the top, and I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you – what is – presumably, almost all these people, or at least the leaders of these countries of foreign ministers she’s – excuse me, foreign ministers she’s going to be seeing have already been briefed about what the President plans to say tonight. What exactly is she going to be doing there?

MR. KELLY: Well, as you know, this is an international effort, and this is an opportunity for foreign ministers or their representatives from all of the ISAF contributing countries, and I think that’s 40-some countries in one place, so this is a real opportunity for the foreign ministers to – 43 nations are in ISAF. So this is a real opportunity for all the foreign ministers to get together and coordinate and talk about the strategy going forward. There’s also going to be a force generation conference of the same nations on Monday that will be – I think that will be at the military representative level.

So a lot of things are coming together, and it just highlights that this is a – this is not just a U.S. effort. It’s an international effort, and we all share common goals, and we see a common threat of – in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Yeah, but what is she going to be telling them?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s not just a matter of her telling them. It’s an opportunity for everybody to share approaches, to discuss how they can coordinate to make our efforts a lot more effective. They – it’s a – it’ll be a wonderful forum for them to talk about trying to avoid duplication of efforts and trying to leverage where countries have certain capabilities and certain advantages. And this is not just a – of course, it’s not just a military effort too. This is a meeting of foreign ministers, so they’ll be talking about developmental efforts and diplomatic efforts as well.

QUESTION: Does Holbrooke have any role in this?

MR. KELLY: I don’t know if we’re talking about Holbrooke’s plans at present, but he does – I know he plans to participate in the Brussels meetings. I don’t have his whole schedule, but there will be also meetings with his special representative colleagues in Brussels.

QUESTION: All right, and one more. Is this issue coming up at all at the OSCE?

MR. KELLY: This issue of Afghanistan? Not that I’m aware of. I mean, I think OSCE does have some role in certain training efforts, especially counternarcotics training efforts, and I think border guards as well. But those are --

QUESTION: Well, you better read up on that. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: I will. I will read up on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Ian, can you just bring us up to speed on Holbrooke, what he’s doing this week, who he’s meeting with, where he is right now?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know that – like I say, I don’t have his whole itinerary. He does plan to participate in these discussions in Brussels, these very important coordination meetings. And so he will have meetings with his counterparts.

QUESTION: Is he there already? Could you say that?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think he’s there already, Kirit, or I guess – I don’t have his itinerary.


QUESTION: Ian, speaking of Mr. Holbrooke, could you please tell us, would – give us a little more detail about his idea of a high commissioner or something akin to that? Would --

MR. KELLY: I don’t think it’s his idea, necessarily. I think it’s more of a – it’s a – and I’m not sure exactly who came up with the idea, but I want to be very specific about what this concept is. It’s about – it’s a coordinating role. It’s about coordinating civilian developmental and other resources among international partners. This is about helping build the capacity of the Afghan Government, as it is not about bypassing, as I saw in one – at least one media report today.

We are trying to better support the Afghan Government. It’s – this is the main objective of having this civilian coordinator. And it will include a role for the UN as well. So I just wanted to get that on the record, that this is not in any way an attempt to undercut or bypass the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: But where does it stand right now? I mean, is this a formal proposal? Is it something – is this being discussed informally among the allies? What’s the --

MR. KELLY: I think it’s more the latter, Jill. I’m not sure exactly what stage it’s in, and I think this will be a matter for discussions in Brussels. I am not sure if this will be a decision meeting in Brussels, but this idea will certainly be discussed.

QUESTION: Is this a requirement, though? I mean, I know it’s different. People have compared it to Dayton where it was kind of built into the process where you had a high commissioner with a lot of power. And this, granted, is not that situation, but --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I wouldn’t use that particular matrix to put on this role. This is not – we’re not talking about someone who has some kind of proconsul-type mandate or anything like that.

QUESTION: But this – would this be something that --

MR. KELLY: This is strictly coordination.

QUESTION: But would the – is this something that the U.S. and its allies would require President Karzai to do? Or how would they --

MR. KELLY: I don’t think it’s a matter of putting requirements on anyone. I think it’s – as I said before, it’s a way for us to better support the efforts of Afghanistan to provide for its own security and provide a better economic future for the Afghan people. It’s not designed to replace local governance by any means. It’s – think of it as coordinator. That’s really what it is.

QUESTION: But has --

MR. KELLY: Yeah, Andy. I’ll get to you in --

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government side unanimous on its position on this role? I mean, does the Secretary herself think this is a good idea, and is she going to tell that to the European parliament?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think she looks forward to discussing this idea, and I think that we – given this multipronged international effort, I think everybody thinks it makes a lot of sense to have one person be the coordinator for it.

QUESTION: Hasn’t this idea been out there for quite some time?

MR. KELLY: Well, as a matter of fact, I remember from my days at NATO that there was discussion of having a counterpart to --

QUESTION: Yeah, like almost six years.

MR. KELLY: -- the ISAF commander, have a civilian sort of equivalent to the ISAF --

QUESTION: Is there some reason it has new energy today?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I’m not sure, Matt. I just think that we’re all – we’re very focused on the international effort here and trying to make the effort, this multibillion dollar effort, as effective as possible.

QUESTION: Is it not true that in the past when this idea has been raised, Karzai has rejected it?

MR. KELLY: I’m not sure. I mean, certainly, we would want to --

QUESTION: And including specific – including specific candidates who have been discussed and proposed to him.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I’m not sure. I do remember some media reports about it, but I’m not sure if --


MR. KELLY: -- he rejected certain people.

QUESTION: Well, despite the media reports, Lord Ashtown was the name that was put forward, a man with great global experience, and it was – that idea was completely quashed by Karzai. How has he been persuaded to allow something like this to proceed now?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think – like I say, I think there has to be a lot of consultation and coordination with the Afghan Government. I think that’s a requirement. I think that the emphasis in this particular role, I think, will be more coordination of international resources. And it’s important that there not be any suggestion at all of this person having any kind of proconsul role or anything like that.

QUESTION: Is that consultation underway today?

MR. KELLY: With the Afghan Government?


MR. KELLY: I’m not certain, Charley. I would imagine it would be, though.

QUESTION: So are there going to be – does the Secretary plan to meet any Afghan officials when she’s in Brussels? Will they be there? Or is this just a group of people talking about what’s going on in their country?

MR. KELLY: No, there usually is the – normally, the Afghan minister of foreign affairs is there.

QUESTION: So you would expect there – her to meet with him?

MR. KELLY: I would expect her to have a conversation with him, but we’ll have to check to see if the Afghan foreign minister does plan to come. But normally, that’s the case, that he comes.


QUESTION: Ian, are you going – are you willing to put Iran on notice? Because a lot of the military light weapons, some of the IEDs and other type military objects that are being given to, obviously, both the Taliban and al-Qaida are coming from Iran. Are you willing to put them on notice, much the way that you’ve put over the last year or two Iran with its nuclear program, in the same general sense? And a lot of people say that this particular talk tonight by President Obama at West Point is going to be for a grassroots effort, not necessarily the central government in Kabul to the people of Afghanistan. And --

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I – in terms of particulars of the president’s speech, I’m not going to go into that. We just have a few more hours to go. We all, I think, can have enough patience to wait till eight o’clock tonight.

On the other question that you raised, yes, we have raised concerns like this with Iran. Our concerns with Iran – of course, first and foremost is our concerns about their – the intentions of their nuclear program, our concerns about proliferation, potential for it. We also have raised our concerns about their record on human rights. But at the same time, we’re extremely concerned about their support for international terrorism too.

So I don’t know about the exact – and I’m losing my voice – about the exact particulars of what you’re referring to in Afghanistan and support for al-Qaida. And I wouldn’t be at liberty to discuss particulars like that, because we would be getting into areas I shouldn’t get into. But I do know, in general terms, we do have concerns about Iran providing support – material support – to terrorists.

QUESTION: But are you willing to put them, just on that aspect alone, with further sanctions somehow from getting these black market materials to help them in their manufacture and distribution of all this equipment?

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, we have American men and women and soldiers from our allies facing the horrors of these kinds of weapons in places like Iraq and Afghanistan every day, and it is, of course, a real top priority to try and stop these flows of weapons. We have a number of sanctions in place already with Iran. And part of those sanctions addressed just this, the shipment of weapons out of Iran.

So I think in general terms, you know what our policy has been about Iran, that we have a dual-track policy. We’re hoping that they will help us address these concerns that – these two concerns in particular, the support for terrorism and the nuclear program – by engaging with us. But we haven’t closed the door on this engagement. But time is running out, and you’ve seen what the President has said, that he expects by the end of the year to have some kind of positive response to our offer. And if that doesn’t – if that’s not forthcoming, we’re going to have to look at other options, including pressure options.

QUESTION: So where does the situation stand right now with both the P-5+1 and within the IAEA?

MR. KELLY: Well, with the P-5+1, there was an agreement in principle, as you know, to meet again to discuss the nuclear concerns. We’ve not received an answer to that. We’re not optimistic that we will get an answer soon on it. And the P-5+1 has decided that they will meet again, and I expect they will, in the next few weeks, to look at options because we’re running out of time, obviously, in this year.

On the IAEA, I understand that in the wake of the announcement on Sunday, that they were going to build another 10 enrichment facilities, the IAEA has asked Iran to clarify what their intentions are. But there again, we don’t have any – we haven’t gotten a positive response to the proposal, but we all know about the Tehran research reactor.

QUESTION: So the IAEA has asked Iran to clarify what it meant when it said it was going to build 10 new enrichment – isn’t that kind of clarified already enough?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what they –

QUESTION: Every time you’ve gone back to the Iranians and asked for clarification, they’ve given you more of what they’ve said in public. And then every time that we ask about what they say in public, you say, “Well, we haven’t gotten any clarification yet.” So isn’t it obvious now what it is they’re doing?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s becoming more and more obvious, I have to say. I mean, we still prefer to pursue the engagement route, and we think that we’ve made some very good proposals that will address their concerns, and will help them reap some rewards for their own civilian nuclear program, reap rewards in the sense of greater cooperation, integration with the international community. But if they continue not to give us a positive answer, then they’ll leave us with no other choice but to go down the second track.


QUESTION: Ian, yesterday you were talking about all of the foreign ministers that Secretary Clinton had been talking to by phone. And I just wanted to clarify, there are reports that when she had that conversation with Minister Kouchner, that she actually asked for troops. Is that correct? Or could you at least clarify what the nature of that conversation was?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know exactly what I said yesterday, but what I should have said is that we don’t go into the details of –

QUESTION: Right. Predicted that you would say that –

MR. KELLY: – of our diplomatic –

QUESTION: Can you at least steer us in some direction?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think, clearly, they focused on our shared effort in Afghanistan, and looking forward to the NATO meeting, looking forward to the force generation conference on Monday. She gave him the broad outlines of the President’s strategy that will be rolled out tonight. But I think for details of what France is willing or not willing to do, I think you really have to ask our allies – have to ask the French.

QUESTION: Of course, the question isn’t what they’re willing to do, it’s what you want them to do.


QUESTION: Because we know what they --

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s not so much what we want them to do, it’s what we –

QUESTION: Well, that’s exactly what it is.

MR. KELLY: Well, we –

QUESTION: I mean, that was her question.

MR. KELLY: I know. But we don’t make demands on allies.

QUESTION: Well, you can’t change her question.

MR. KELLY: I know. I’m not changing her question.

QUESTION: Yeah, you are. You’re saying –

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m declining going into details of the contents of their conversation.

QUESTION: Well, the French would say that they – that they asked that they will not go – they will be there as long as the need to be, but no more troops. So that would seem to imply that she asked for more troops. Is that –

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not going to imply one way or the other except to say that France does have some very valuable capabilities that a lot of NATO and ISAF – NATO allies and ISAF partners don’t have in terms of rapid deployment --

QUESTION: Be as specific as you can here. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: (Laughter.) Rapid deployment --

QUESTION: Well, yeah?

MR. KELLY: -- and other capabilities of a major power like France.

QUESTION: You say the French have better rapid deployment ability than the U.S. or, say, a country that’s --

MR. KELLY: No, no. I’m just – but it’s an international effort, and we want to do this in concert with our allies. As I say, there are 43 countries involved in Afghanistan, and only a few have the kind of capabilities that France and the UK and the U.S. and other countries have.


QUESTION: Speaking of the international effort and the expectation that there’ll be an acceleration of troop movements to Afghanistan, can you bring us up to date in what the discussions are with Russia for the air corridor supply to Afghanistan?

MR. KELLY: Well, I know that we had intensive discussions a couple weeks ago when Ambassador Holbrooke was out there. We do have an agreement to use that corridor to overfly or transit Russian territory. And we’ve had a couple of flights – two, I said a couple, that’s two – and I’m not sure exactly what the plans are for more flights. I’m not trying to kick the ball across the river, but it really is the Pentagon that would – that has the implementation.

QUESTION: Well, they very diplomatically say that it’s actually a State Department concern, hammering out the --

MR. KELLY: Well, yeah. I mean, we did participate in these diplomatic discussions in Moscow which were focused mostly on logistical details, such as payment of fees and overflight rights.

QUESTION: But it sounds as if that kind of sputtering along won’t provide the huge potential overflights that are needed.

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not so sure we need the – that kind of huge potential. I think it all depends on where the material is coming from and where it’s pre-deployed, and – but again, these are – I’m getting into Pentagon details here.
Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you are talking about international effort to Afghanistan, what is the main goal for the United States? Does the United States try to get military and operational support, or just more civilian or – and diplomatic support?

MR. KELLY: No, it’s a comprehensive approach, or a blended approach. It’s civilian and military. I think a lot of the focus of this discussion has been on the security aspects of it, which is absolutely essential, because before we can get an Afghanistan that is secure and has good governance, people need to feel safe. So I would say that this is a – we talk about different legs of the effort – the civilian part, the military part, defense, development, diplomacy. This is all one effort. It’s a blended effort, really.

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