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Middle East Digest - February 5, 2009


February 5, 2009

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Bureau of Public Affairs
February 5, 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 5, 2009

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QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any reaction to – Russia plans to start up the Bushehr plant by the end of the year. What’s the Administration’s reaction to that? Do you think this is a good thing, a bad thing? Are you suspicious because of Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve always been suspicious of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And as I’ve mentioned many times here, our overall policy with regard to Iran is under review. I know you don’t like that answer, but that’s the answer I’m giving to you today – and probably give you tomorrow if you ask the same question.

QUESTION: So Bushehr is under review, how you feel about Bushehr? I mean, the former administration was not overly delighted about Bushehr but decided not to make it a huge, sort of, issue to fight over --

MR. WOOD: Look --

QUESTION: -- in the end. So --

MR. WOOD: As I’ve said, Iran’s nuclear activities have been of great concern to the United States, continue to be. And we’re taking our time to do a very thorough review of this policy. We’ll obviously have discussions with the Russians about this topic. I’m certainly aware of what the previous administration was trying to do. This is a new administration. We’re taking a much broader look at our overall Iran policy. And once that review is completed, we’ll be able to give you much more information in terms about how we’re going to go forward. Until then, I don’t have much more.

QUESTION: Did the Russians – did they consult you before they made this announcement, say, hey, we’re – this is what we plan to do and how do you feel about this?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that they did.

QUESTION: For example, in the P-5+1 meeting, did it come up?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t been able to talk to Bill in any detail about it. I don’t know if it came up. But those are, as you know, confidential discussions, and I’m not going to really get into much more detail than I did yesterday when I gave you the brief readout that I had.


QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have any reaction to the results of the Iraqi election.

MR. WOOD: Well, again, as I think I said the other day, this is a milestone in terms of Iraq’s democratic development. I think I said also the turnout was roughly, more or less, 50 percent.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But to the actual announced results?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think the final results are due out February 23rd, if I’m not mistaken. That’s when they’re certified, I think. And you know, it’s a – Iraq is a developing democracy. It’s going to have some ups and downs. But I think the fact that, you know, you had Iraqis going to the polls, very little violence that took place, you know, around the election time, it’s just – it’s great for the Iraqi people. I mean, this is what so many have died for, so many wanted. It’s a very good thing.

I know there have been some, you know, allegations or reports of, you know, fraud or disenfranchisement, but I know the Independent High Electoral Commission is looking at those. And the Iraqi people have a lot to celebrate. And they deserve all the credit, as I said the other day.

Let me go to Lambros.

QUESTION: On Cyprus. Mr. Wood, any comment on the Cyprus Government decision to send the issue of the ship to the UN to find out whether the ship’s cargo violated sanctions barring Iran from sending arms abroad?

MR. WOOD: Lambros, as I’ve said before, really with regard to the ship incident, I have to refer you to the Pentagon. I really don’t have anything beyond that.

QUESTION: Suspicions that the ship was taking arms to Hamas in Gaza were raised by the U.S. Government. Could you please clarify, Mr. Wood, how the U.S. Government came to this conclusion against the Republic of Cyprus?

MR. WOOD: I don’t think the U.S. came to any conclusion against the Government of Cyprus, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is a new topic. It’s on Yemen. It seems that over the last few weeks, some al-Qaida operatives have entered Yemen coming from Saudi Arabia and kind of renewing the kind of threat that could be targeting U.S. interests in the country. Do you have anything on that? Or can you talk about growing concerns that Yemen is becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to talk about, you know – not going to talk about information we may have about any particular country with regard to, you know, al-Qaida. But let me just say that al-Qaida remains a concern for us in a number of places around the world. It’s still active. It still remains a threat to the United States and its allies. And we’ll continue to pursue al-Qaida. The President’s made that very clear. You know, we’re not going to let our guard down. We have to be vigilant. And you know, al-Qaida is operating in a number of places around the world and, you know, it’s a challenge for us, but it’s a challenge that we have to meet.

QUESTION: Well, without getting into any specific information, could you talk about the concerns about Yemen in particular? I mean, you’ve had several attacks against U.S. interests, the Embassy over the last couple of years. There have – you know, in your terrorism reports and stuff, there has been, you know, heightened concern about Yemen. So could you kind of speak to the situation in Yemen and --

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to speak to it any more specifically than actually you just did. I mean, there are obviously concerns about al-Qaida activity in a number of places around the world, not just Yemen. And we’re working with our allies and partners in many places around the world to try to do what we can to, you know, basically eliminate the al-Qaida threat. It’s not easy. This is a growing challenge for the United States. But President Obama said that this is something that we have to meet, we have no alternative but to meet this challenge. And we need to work closely with our partners and others around the world to try to do what we can to eliminate the threat.

QUESTION: There have been some concerns about the fact that the Yemeni Government hasn’t done enough to combat extremism in the country. Do you have any response to that?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into the internal politics of Yemen. There’s a lot that we all can do to try to eliminate terrorism threats wherever they – you know, from wherever they emanate. So let me just leave it at that.



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