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Middle East Digest - December 7, 2009


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Washington, DC
December 7, 2009

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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 7, 2009

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1:28 p.m. EST

QUESTION: Actually, I have two questions about another issue, is senior of the FBI, Mr. (inaudible), has said in an official meeting in New America Foundation that there is – or that FBI help Saudi Arabia against its peaceful political. So can you confirm or deny that?

And my question is about the conflict between Saudi Arabia and al-Houthi in Yemen borders. So is United States provide any help or any personnel, military personnel in this conflict?

MR. KELLY: The first instance, I’m not aware of that instance, so I think we’ll just have to see if we can get you more information on that. On the issue of the U.S. providing any military assistance to Saudi Arabia, I mean, clearly, that’s a question in terms of the details for the Department of Defense. Of course, we have a very robust bilateral security relationship with Saudi Arabia. But I’m not sure how that necessarily figures in their present conflict regarding Yemen.

You know, of course, the foreign minister is here today. This is part of our regular ongoing consultations with Saudi Arabia. We expect that they will talk about ways to intensify our cooperation in Afghanistan and also Pakistan, talk about Yemen and ways to promote peace and stability in Yemen, and also ways to promote and further a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. And I know in that regard, he also plans to meet with Special Envoy Mitchell.

But on those other issues, we’ll – let’s see if we can get you more information.

Yeah. Lalit in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, one question. The President last week announced sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. And is the State Department planning to send more civilians after that announcement, in addition to the 1,200 which was announced earlier?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think we’re planning to send more necessarily than we’ve already been planning for. I think the way that the announcement will affect our plans is where these troops will go. I mean, our mission remains the same in terms of helping Afghanistan build up its own capacity to deliver security and good government. But our plans continue. We hope to have a tripling of the number of civilians that we had with the baseline being earlier this year. We hope to have that by early next year. We originally wanted to have them there by March, but the response has been such that we’ve been able to move up our timetable by a couple of months.

And as we go forward, we’ll continue to evaluate the need. And I’m sure that with this newest surge in – this new surge in additional 30,000 troops, that that – we’ll have to do some reevaluating of where our civilian officers go in Afghanistan, because, of course, they will have to coordinate and cooperate closely with military personnel.

QUESTION: But with nearly a hundred thousand troops there, wouldn’t they be mismatched between the U.S. troops and the civilians that you are sending from here to --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think you can’t – I mean, you can’t really equate the two. I mean, Foreign Service officers don’t go in brigades or divisions. I think what you’ve got to look at is you’ve got to look at them as managers – managers both of experts who will come in, non-Foreign Service experts who will have various specialties in areas like economic development, agriculture, and engineering, other needs. And you also have to look at them as manager of programs as well. So it’s – you can’t look at them the same way. It’s very, very different kinds of activities, obviously.

QUESTION: One more question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the last couple of months, FBI has arrested several U.S. citizens or people living here who have been trained in Pakistan and planning to do lot of terrorist attacks other – in other parts of the world. FBI again today released fresh evidences of one former Pakistani retired general who was helping U.S. nationals in planning terrorist attacks in India and in Denmark. Is the State Department concerned about this? Has it raised this issue with Pakistan about links that the networks have here, trying to stop the U.S. nationals from doing this attack there?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, obviously, our role is we – our role is to be the liaison with the governments who are concerned in these judicial issues. Let me just give you kind of an update of where we are with this. As you mentioned, there was an indictment and further charges in the case in Chicago. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI sent a briefing team that today shared with Indian law enforcement counterparts information disclosed by Headley relating to his alleged roles in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and his alleged role in plotting an attack in Denmark.

This visit reflects the President’s commitment to Indian Prime Minister Singh during his recent visit to cooperate closely on the case. We have also been cooperating or consulting closely with Pakistani authorities on this case as well, following the practices developed in previous high-profile counterterrorism investigations. After the meetings in New Delhi, this team of the Department of Justice and the FBI will travel directly to Islamabad to brief appropriate Pakistani security officials. We’re also working with Pakistani officials to follow up on leads regarding Headley’s activities in Pakistan.

Let me just conclude this by saying that Pakistan is a critical partner in the fight against terrorism. We are committed to building a long-term partnership with Pakistan – as the President has said, a long-term strategic relationship. And regarding further details of the case itself and the various legal aspects of it, of course, I have to refer you to Justice.

QUESTION: The Indian investigating agencies wants to question, interrogate Rana and Headley. Would the U.S. allow them to do that?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, I think that’s the kind of detail that I really have to refer you to the Department of Justice on.

QUESTION: And are you satisfied with the cooperation that you’re getting from Pakistani authorities in this case?

MR. KELLY: We – as I say, we have a very broad and deep relationship with Pakistan on a number of issues, including law enforcement and security issues.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Iran, Ian?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Protests there today appear to be the largest since the summer. Are you – is the United States supporting these protestors? And how worried are you about an escalation of violence?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think in terms of your latter point, I think that what we’ve said all along is that the Iranians have to know that these kinds of brutal attempts to suppress people who are trying to exercise their democratic rights – that we will continue to bear witness to it publicly. And they should know that their voices are being heard. We believe that the continued harassment, arbitrary detention, and conviction of individuals for their participation in peaceful demonstrations and expression of their views reflects a kind of disregard for the kind of rights that are enshrined in the Iranian constitution.

And it’s not just us; it’s not just the U.S. I think the – most of the international community has expressed concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and the government’s failure to uphold its obligations under international human rights law.

QUESTION: Have – these latest protests have disturbed you? Any red flags coming up here? Can you point to --

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we’re disturbed any time we see people who are trying to exercise their peaceful democratic rights being prevented from doing so by means of cutting off their access to information, cutting off their ability to communicate their views, and by arbitrary arrest and detention.

QUESTION: So there’s nothing specific to condemn in how the Iranian Government is handling these demonstrations?

MR. KELLY: Well, it’s a pretty fluid situation. I don’t – but I think in general, we’re concerned with the crackdown that we’re seeing today.

QUESTION: Is there any worry that a resurgence of demonstrations could complicate Iran’s efforts to get a response together for the P-5+1 proposal?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what we’re seeing is a – there are a lot of – there’s a lot of voices in Iran right now. It’s a challenging political situation, obviously. But as I’ve said many times from here, the international community has put a very good proposal on the table for the Iranian Government, one that addresses our concerns and addresses their legitimate humanitarian concerns. And we just hope that they’ll find a way to say yes to it.

QUESTION: But I mean, in addition to that, I mean, doesn’t the Iranian Government’s continued disregard for the human rights of its people and this continued crackdown on the protestors give you pause about your own engagement with Iran, considering, I mean, this is a country that isn’t upholding – not only isn’t upholding the kind of values and principles that you hold dear, but in other countries where – like China or Saudi Arabia, for instance, where they don’t necessarily respect the rights of their people, you have a dialogue with them about it. In this case, you have absolutely no dialogue and no way to improve it, yet they continue to disregard the human rights. So this gives you no pause about your own engagement?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think – I mean, clearly, the issue of proliferation is one of the top priorities of this Administration. That’s why we have made a very conscious effort to try and engage the Iranian leadership. That’s why we agreed to sit down with them on October 1st and make an offer that would address some of these concerns. I mean, clearly we’re disappointed they haven’t been able to give us a positive answer to that very fair proposal. It wasn’t just our proposals – the proposal of the IAEA and France and Russia as well.

QUESTION: Yet --

MR. KELLY: But all along, I mean, we have had a dual-track policy. And the President has said we will give Iran, without setting a real strict deadline, more or less, to the end of the year.

QUESTION: No, I know --

MR. KELLY: And then we’ll have to look at our options.

QUESTION: I understand. But that’s on the nuclear issue. There was also the issue of the U.S. engaging in some kind of full-scale relationship with Iran, not just on the nuclear issue but on other things, more of a bilateral engagement which transcended the nuclear issue, but on kind of issues about the region and other things like that. Are you saying that it’s only about proliferation now and --

MR. KELLY: I think it really is about proliferation in terms of our engagement. I mean, clearly we have other --

QUESTION: And then that would have no --

MR. KELLY: We have concerns about other aspects --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR. KELLY: -- of their foreign policy, their support for terrorism --

QUESTION: I understand. So if I get you right, what you’re saying is your primary concern about Iran is proliferation, and the human rights and kind of disregard for the protestors doesn’t have any bearing on your decision to engage with Iran on the nuclear?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think I said that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m reading what you’re saying. I mean, it sounds like regardless of how it treats its people, you have no intention of dropping your kind of two-track diplomacy on the nuclear issue?

MR. KELLY: No, I didn’t say that at all. What I’m saying is, is that we have concerns about Iran and its treatment of its own people. Iran says that there needs to be more justice in international affairs. Well, they have to show justice at home before we can take that particular statement seriously. It’s all part of a continuum.

But again, the – one of the most important priorities of this Administration is nonproliferation --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR. KELLY: -- and in particular, preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: So – I understand that. So regardless of what is going on on the human rights front, you have no intention of dropping your kind of two-track diplomacy in Iran? I mean, you’re not relating the two at all? I mean --

MR. KELLY: Well, we are. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How are you?

MR. KELLY: Well, I --

QUESTION: How are they related? If you’re saying that Iran – proliferation is the number one concern of this Administration and you need to – I mean, I’m not making a judgment of whether it’s right or wrong. I’m just trying to get you to be clear about the fact that the nuclear issue is your sole priority and --

MR. KELLY: It’s not our sole priority. It’s --

QUESTION: Well, not your sole priority --

MR. KELLY: It’s one of our top priorities.

QUESTION: -- but your top priority. And you know, your decision on whether or not to engage Iran on the nuclear issue is not affected by what’s going on with this human rights situation.

MR. KELLY: Well, okay, let me just be really clear. We have real problems with Iran’s support for terrorism. As I’ve just said, we have problems with the continued harassment of individuals who try and exercise their democratic right, and we’re going to speak out against that no matter where it is. So that’s one thing.

Another thing is that we do not want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapons capability. That is our – in our direct national interest not to allow that. And that is why we are working very closely with the other members of the UN permanent council and also with Germany and the IAEA to try and prevent them from doing it. They’re related, but they’re separate efforts.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a question about the Turkish prime minister here in Washington today, and Turkey has a different approach to Iran than the United States. It doesn’t seem to share your concerns about their nuclear capability or indeed their human rights record. Is Turkey’s position on Iran a problem for the United States? What is the message to the Turkish prime minister now? And there’s also been a suggestion that Turkey would like to set itself up as some sort of middleman in the relationship. Is there any role for Turkey to play in the current sort of stalemate between the U.S. and Tehran?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think first of all, Turkey is a vital ally in NATO. It’s also an important partner of the U.S. in regional security and regional stability issues. They’ve played a very productive role in the Middle East and they’ve played a productive role in some of the talks with Israel and Syria. They’ve had a strategic relationship with Israel, and that’s gone on for many years.

They – I think Turkey understands that – the need for unity in supporting the international community’s efforts to ensure Iran’s compliance with its Security Council and IAEA obligations. And we take every opportunity to urge that Turkey continue to play that role in conveying that message to Iran. I mean, Iran is a neighbor of Turkey and Iran has full diplomatic relations with Turkey. And we consult very, very closely with Turkey as they have these diplomatic exchanges and consultations with Iran.

QUESTION: Would you characterize their stance as productive vis-à-vis Iran? Is it a productive role that they’re playing here?

MR. KELLY: I think that Turkey understands that it’s not in their interests as well as the interests of the international community that Iran develop a nuclear weapons capability. I think they’re interested in playing a role in helping us come to a diplomatic resolution of this problem.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. like Turkey to be more vocal in its stating of this common urge not to have Iran develop nuclear weapons? You want them to get out in front on this one?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we would urge all of our allies to convey a consistent message and convey a vocal message, yes.

QUESTION: Ian, thank you. May I squeeze off two quick questions? First of all, does the State Department have any reaction to the Iraqi agreement on elections? We’re just hearing now that the election will be either the 27th of February or the 6th of March and the decision will be made tomorrow.

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do have something. We welcome the approval of the revised election law by the Iraq Council of Representatives yesterday. This action paves the way for Iraq to hold national elections in 2010, in accordance with Iraq’s constitutional framework. We see it as an important and positive step for the development of democracy. And we can commend the Iraqi political leaders for negotiating seriously to reach an agreement on the law. We look to the Independent High Election Commission to ensure transparency in election procedures, and to take the necessary steps to create and maintain informed citizenry.

QUESTION: Yeah. What’s on the agenda for the Secretary’s meeting with the Algerian foreign minister?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Thanks for asking. Yes, she’s meeting with Mourad Medelci, as you know, this afternoon. They will consult on a wide range of issues, including bilateral and regional issues. They’ll also discuss expanding U.S.-Algeria cooperation in various multilateral fora. The foreign minister also plans to meet with Under Secretary Hormats and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Daniel Benjamin.

So thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)



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