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Middle East Digest - February 3, 2009

February 3, 2009


Bureau of Public Affairs
February 3, 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 February 3, 2009

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10:34 a.m. EST

QUESTION: So we’ve got, like, zero minutes? Can I ask you if you’ve figured out anything about this American in Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, the only thing I can tell you is that an American citizen employed by the United Nations was kidnapped in Quetta, Pakistan, on Monday. And officials here in Washington are doing what we can to support the family and providing whatever services we can. But at this point, because of, you know, Privacy Act concerns, I can’t say very much more, I think you can understand, at this point.

QUESTION: Well, not really, since the UN has made his name public.

MR. WOOD: Well, from our standpoint, I can’t say any more at this point.

QUESTION: Well, all right.

QUESTION: Can you give us any sort of pointers on the P-5+1 meeting tomorrow? What is the U.S. hoping to achieve going into this meeting? Are you going in sort of in a listening mode, or are you going in with new ideas to look at how you can rein in Iran’s nuclear program?

MR. WOOD: I think I addressed that the other day. Of course, Under Secretary Burns is going to go there to listen. Of course, his counterparts will be interested to hear what new ideas the Administration may have for moving forward vis-à-vis Iran. Under Secretary Burns will share some thoughts with them and report back to Washington, as I said before. And that will all be factored into the overall review of our policy toward Iran.

QUESTION: Are you going to be looking at new sanctions against Iran --

MR. WOOD: I think it’s a little early to start talking about that.

QUESTION: -- on refined petroleum products, for example?

MR. WOOD: It’s a little early. Review ongoing.

QUESTION: What new ideas is he going to be talking about?

MR. WOOD: I’m not at liberty to talk about those*.

QUESTION: Are there new ideas, or are there --

MR. WOOD: I just said that he’ll be taking some ideas forward.

QUESTION: You said that --

MR. WOOD: Wait, are the mikes working? I just want to --

QUESTION: No, you said that they would be interested – the others would be interested in hearing what new ideas --

MR. WOOD: Sure, that’s right.

QUESTION: -- he might have.

MR. WOOD: And he will be --

QUESTION: He does have new ideas?

MR. WOOD: He will be going out in his discussions with his counterparts and, you know, express some of the views that are still developing within the Administration about how we would like to go forward on Iran. But again, it’s going to – he’s going to come back and report on the conversations, and that will all be factored into the policy review.


QUESTION: Regarding the news about Iranian launched their first satellites to the orbits, is there going to be any talk today with Miliband and Frank Steinmeier*?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m certain that Iran will come up in that conversation. But with regard to these reports about the Iranian launch of satellites, you know, we’ve seen the press reports. And you know, developing a space launch vehicle that could be – that could put a satellite into orbit could possibly lead to the development of a ballistic missile system, so that’s of great concern to us. And as you know, UN Security Council Resolution 1718 basically prohibits North Korea** from engaging in missile-related activities.

QUESTION: We’re talking about Iran.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I meant – I meant to say Iran. I’ve got another thing on my mind.

QUESTION: Would you say that again so that it reads* Iran?

MR. WOOD: Sure, my apologies. Just that UN Security Council Resolution 1718 prohibits Iran from engaging in missile-related activities.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about North Korea --

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask one more little thing on Iran. Is it in Wiesbaden – the meeting – or Frankfurt?

MR. WOOD: It’s, I believe, Frankfurt. I’ve heard Wiesbaden. I mean, they’re very, you know, close to each other. But I’ll have to get back and – is it really that important to you, or --

QUESTION: Well, someone’s asked me to ask you.

MR. WOOD: We can get you that information.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Iran?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, with several years of diplomacy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program behind us now, from with the EU-3 and the P-5+1, I think it’s clear that Iran is among the most predictable of the actors involved: They will continue to install centrifuges. Less reliable, it seems, are Russia and China, who will sometimes vote for sanctions on Iran and sometimes demand with the force of international law that they cease enrichment , but they don’t always behave in ways designed to give those documents meaning.

And so I wonder if you can address how this Administration can be more effective than its predecessor in developing the Russians and Chinese as more effective participants in this process.

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, this Administration wants to engage Russia and China on these important issues to the international community. And Russia and China share our concern about what Iran has been doing, not only with regard to its nuclear program but, you know, with regard to missile technology. So we will, in the future, in discussions with both the Russians and the Chinese, and others, frankly, bring up this issue about Iran’s activities in both of these areas that I mentioned. And it’s of great concern what Iran has been doing, as I’ve mentioned before. So you can count on the fact that in future discussions in these two – with regard to these two countries, we’re going to raise those concerns.

QUESTION: They’ve been raised. Do you have concerns about the spotty record of the Russians and the Chinese with regard to Iran?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think, frankly, everyone can do better with regard to trying to limit Iran’s ability to act in these two particular areas of concern with regard to missile technology and its nuclear program. So it’s something we raise quite often with a number of countries, not just Russia and China. So you can expect that we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: Yeah, just to get back to the thoughts that Under Secretary Burns will be taking there, is it fair to say that these are along the lines of what the President outlined in the campaign and what the Secretary of State talked about in her confirmation hearings, that the United States would like to engage with Iran, that we’re seeking ways – that the United States is seeking ways to begin that engagement and to also work within the Six-Party process? Or are we talking about completely different thoughts that have not been expressed by --

MR. WOOD: The Six-Party process? Did you mean --

QUESTION: I mean, sorry, the six –

MR. WOOD: I had the same problem this morning.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, not the Six-Party, the --

QUESTION: Well, it’s still six.

QUESTION: The – it’s still six. (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: The other six party --

QUESTION: Six plus zero --

MR. WOOD: The other six parties.

QUESTION: The five plus – P-5+1 --

MR. WOOD: Plus one.

QUESTION: -- or EU-3+3. I think you’re --

MR. WOOD: I got you.

QUESTION: You know what I’m talking about.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I do.

QUESTION: Are they – so are we talking about those thoughts, the thoughts that have already been publicly expressed by the President and the Secretary of State in various forms? Or are we talking about some new, different direction that has not been revealed yet?

MR. WOOD: No, I think he is going to be expressing some of the points that have been raised by the President and the Secretary, as you pointed out, and also to get feedback from his other counterparts as to how they see or how they think we can best go forward in terms of addressing Iran’s nuclear activities. And so we’ll have to see. When Bill comes back, I’ll get a readout from him as to the conversations.

But again, he’s – he’s going to share some ideas with them. And again, these ideas are based on the framework that the President and the Secretary have basically outlined. And again, what they’ve outlined are basically initial ideas and thoughts. We’re still reviewing Iran policy. And as I said, Bill’s feedback will factor into that overall policy review.

QUESTION: In other words, you want to see what the allies think about the ideas that the President and the Secretary of State have expressed publicly already in various --

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, we’re going to want to hear what their views are about going forward on Iran based on what they’ve said publicly.

QUESTION: Well, and also what they’re willing to do on Iran, right?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, you mean the allies, in other words? Well, that will certainly be something that we’ll want to hear about what they think are the next or most appropriate steps to go forward on Iran.


QUESTION: Robert, at the UN, the P-5+1 met with the Arab League on this. Is that – is there another meeting coming up like that?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware. There may be some meetings. I mean, the P-5+1 meets fairly regularly, so --

QUESTION: But that was the first time they met with the Arab League at the UN, right?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, that’s – I’m not sure if there’s another meeting coming up with the Arab League. I mean, at some point in the future, I’m sure there will be. I just – I haven’t heard about any update to that.

QUESTION: Robert, did you happen to see those comments by Chavez to CNN?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran? I’m sorry, Jill.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, why don’t we stay on Iran and then we’ll go back to Jill.

QUESTION: Is it a danger that any concerted action by the P-5+1 prior to the Iranian elections in June can have an adverse – what we would regard as an adverse impact on those election outcomes?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to say what P-5+1 discussions will have on, you know, the Iranian election coming up. I mean, we’re dealing with the reality of the situation with regard to Iran, and that’s Iran has a nuclear – is conducting nuclear activities. We’re very concerned about them. We want to see Iran stop. We’re trying to figure out the best way forward to do that. And so the Iranian election is – you know, that’s certainly something that will be down the road, but that’s not where the focus of activity is right now. It’s how do we get Iran to do what the international community wants it to do.

QUESTION: That’s not – that’s not – you’re not taking that into your – factoring into your deliberations at all, the election?

MR. WOOD: Look. Of course, we’re aware that there’s an Iranian election coming up. But again, this is a longstanding concern that the international community has had about Iran’s nuclear program. So again, we’re going to be looking at, you know, discussing with our allies ways that we can possibly go forward, and to try to achieve our goals, which is to basically have Iran, you know, discontinue what it’s been doing with regard to its activities -- longstanding.

QUESTION: So you’re basically – if I can just follow up my question --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you don’t regard that the – the possibility that the P-5+1 action could potentially adversely affect the outcome of the Iranian election as a constraining factor on the P-5+1?

MR. WOOD: It’s hard for me to make that kind of a characterization. I don’t know. All I can tell you is that the international community through the P-5+1 has been trying to work this issue for quite some time. And it remains a very serious concern for the P-5+1 and others in the international community. So that’s where our focus is. The Iranian election, that, you know, is somewhere down the line, but our focus is to try to do what we can to get Iran to live up to its international obligations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a quickie on the Secretary’s comments on the Palestinians. When she said that the United States wanted to talk to all the parties, was she – was it sort of an overture to Hamas to say that, you know, put this aside and then we’ll be –

MR. WOOD: Sue, I think she was very clear what --

QUESTION: I mean, is it a new era – is it a new era you’re looking at? I mean, how do you --

MR. WOOD: Sue, I think she was very clear in terms of what it would take for us to even consider talking to Hamas. She was very clear on that. I don’t think there was any ambiguity there on what she said.

QUESTION: On Robert Levinson, there’s an article in Newsweek this week suggesting that – or floating the idea that – of the prospect of some kind of prisoner swap between him, if he’s still alive, and the Irbil five. Where are the Irbil five now and what’s your reaction?

MR. WOOD: I have no idea where the Irbil Five are at this point. Look, what we have been doing for quite some time now is to call on the Iranians to do more – provide more information with regard to Mr. Levinson. And his family is extremely concerned, as you can understand, but no information has been forthcoming. So again, we call on the Iranians to provide whatever information they have on Mr. Levinson so that we can, hopefully, return this gentleman to his family.

Okay. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:48 a.m.)

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