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Middle East Digest - February 6, 2009


February 6, 2009

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Bureau of Public Affairs
February 6, 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 6, 2009

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MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Have you talked about Kyrgyzstan yet?

MR. DUGUID: I have not.

QUESTION: Would you?

MR. DUGUID: Would I talk about Kyrgyzstan? I don’t have much in the way of news for you. There are government officials from Kyrgyzstan who have made statements in the press. We have seen those statements. However, we have not received our official notification about the status of the disposition of the Manas base. We proceed with our operations in Manas today and we will continue to do so as we try to continue our discussions with the Kyrgyz Government about our presence there.

QUESTION: Where are those discussions taking place? In Bishkek? Are they taking place here, or are they --

MR. DUGUID: In both places. We are communicating through our embassies, government-to-government.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls about this?

MR. DUGUID: The Secretary, to my knowledge, has not made any calls on this yet.

QUESTION: Well, yesterday she said she was – she took a – you know, a personal interest, she puts a high priority on this.

MR. DUGUID: That’s true, and I’m sure that when the Secretary feels that her intervention is something that will be needed, that she would be happy to do that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you still trying to – do you still want to stay there? Do you still want to have – I mean, is that – the discussions are --

MR. DUGUID: That is one of our options. We are there, and it is always a --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. DUGUID: -- you know, a bit of a procedure if you have to change. But we are there under the current agreement, and yes, we are in discussion to continue to stay there, but we do have other options.

QUESTION: Now, your Embassy in Tajikistan has put out a statement talking about cooperation with the Tajiks. Do you have anything on that?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have anything other than what the Embassy has said. We are in – we have been cooperating with the Tajiks and we are looking at ways to cooperate with other nations throughout the region. As you know, Afghanistan is extremely important, not only for the United States, but for the countries that border Afghanistan. It needs to be a secure nation. It needs to be a stable nation. That is as important to the neighboring countries as it is to the United States.

QUESTION: Just to stick with this, Gordon, the – our stories out of Bishkek quote the Kyrgyz – Secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council as telling reporters, quote, “The air base’s fate has been decided,” close quote. Quote, “I see no reason why the air base should remain in place now that this decision has been taken. We are not holding any talks on this,” close quote.

So you are definitely certain that you are talking to them about this?

MR. DUGUID: I have – as you have read, I have seen press reports that may or may not reflect the final deliberations in the Kyrgyz Government. We have been in discussion with the government. They have not responded to us with a request to close down our operations there, and therefore we proceed as normal until we receive that.

QUESTION: And you are now in discussion – I’m just trying to get --

MR. DUGUID: Today – or whether or not we’ve been in discussions with them today or in the last two days on this, I don’t know when the last communication was. We have seen a number of statements in the press that may or may not reflect the debate going on within the Kyrgyz Government. When they have a position, the way to present that to us is through the official channels, as we’ve been doing in the discussions for several months.

QUESTION: And one more on this. You probably don’t know this off the top of your head, but if you don’t, if you could check. I presume there’s a SOFA governing the use of this base, and I wonder if you could find out for us what period of time may be specified for closure if they inform that you that it is going – formally, that is it is going to be closed.

MR. DUGUID: I have to defer to experts on this at the Pentagon. It’s my understanding that the actual name of the agreement is called a Protocol of Intention, and that it is accurate to say that that Protocol of Intention includes a six-month notification, or 180 days. But I’m not the expert on this. The Pentagon has the experts on this. I refer you to them.

QUESTION: Just to try and nail this down a bit, you have sought from the Kyrgyz clarification of what their position is, and they have – what, not gotten back to you at all, or not told you that the decision is final?

MR. DUGUID: They have not told us that they’ve reached a final decision through official channels, which is what we are waiting for.

QUESTION: Have they told you anything through official channels?

MR. DUGUID: Not that I am aware of. We’ve seen the press reports.

QUESTION: So they have – so this is kind of a – you talk about discussions, but it appears that it’s an awful one-sided discussion, where you ask and they don’t respond.

MR. DUGUID: Well, we are waiting for them to formulate their position on the last discussions that we had. We’ve seen press reports of --

QUESTION: Well, I understand that --

MR. DUGUID: -- a debate that may be going on inside that government. But there is an official channel for them to present to the United States what their decision is.

QUESTION: But to the best of their – to the best of your knowledge, have they gotten back to you with anything?

MR. DUGUID: No, to the best of my knowledge, they have not gotten back to us with any changes.

QUESTION: So it’s not exactly correct to say that you’re in discussions with them, because they don’t seem to be discussing anything.

MR. DUGUID: Well, it is correct to say that we have been talking to them and we’re waiting for their response to us. I have seen that they’ve been having a vigorous debate in the media. That may represent a debate going on in the government. But a discussion does require you to stop and listen sometimes. We’ll listen --

QUESTION: But there’s also – but a discussion also requires two people to be involved in it, and it seems like it’s --

MR. DUGUID: There are more than two people involved in it.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sure – two sides to it.

MR. DUGUID: And that is accurate --

QUESTION: It does not appear that the other side is actually discussing, so – discussing anything, so that what this guy that Arshad is talking about saying is there are no talks on this, that’s correct.

MR. DUGUID: No. What is correct is that we have been in discussions with the Kyrgyz Government. We are waiting for them to respond to us about the disposition of the base – the future disposition of the base. What you are seeing and what we are seeing are many media reports that may or may not reflect what’s going on internally as they formulate their position. We’re waiting to hear back from them officially about what that position is.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah. The Secretary yesterday with the French foreign minister said that the United States and others would like to consult more with the Russians on Iran. Can you flesh that out a bit more for us? I mean, when and where and what topics would be discussed with the Russians? Would it just be on Iran or would it include some of the concerns Russia has with the U.S.?

MR. DUGUID: The discussions that we are ready to have with the Russians would be across the spectrum of our bilateral relationship as well as those multilateral issues on which we are cooperating. The United States is fully prepared to talk to Russia in a number of fora and bilaterally.

I don’t have any announcements for you right now of when meetings will be taking place. The first meeting that could possibly take place of a planned nature is the G-20, where, of course, we will be looking at economic issues. There will be the NATO summit following that. I am not sure if there’s going to be a NATO-Russia Council meeting at that summit, but that would be another place where we could have discussions.

The meetings take a little bit of doing. You can have a snap meeting, but it’s better to prepare and to go in with a full agenda. When we have those things and are going to sit down with the Russians, we’ll make sure that everybody knows.

MR. DUGUID: Change of topic. Please.

QUESTION: A Pakistani court has declared the nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to be free after five years of house arrest. I wonder – and as you’ll recall, he was convicted after having confessed to selling nuclear technology to a number of countries, including Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and immediately pardoned but placed under house arrest.

One, what is your reaction to the court’s decision to free the man who, I think, is regarded as the most successful nuclear proliferator in the world? And second, I believe the United States had repeatedly sought, but had been unsuccessful, in interviewing Mr. Khan about his activities. Does his newfound freedom open up the possibility of your talking to him about his proliferation activities?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I won’t get ahead of where we are in what we know about the situation. We have seen that Mr. Khan’s defense lawyer has announced a court decision, and that this announcement came late on a Friday in Islamabad which, of course, is the Sabbath. And there has been no government confirmation of this decision that I’m aware of, and I was in touch with our Embassy earlier.

But on the general principle of A.Q. Khan and his status, let me say that, in our view, it would be unfortunate if the court released him. We believe A.Q. Khan remains a serious proliferation risk. The proliferation support that Khan and his associates provided to Iran and North Korea has had a harmful impact on the international – on international security, and will for years to come.

QUESTION: Have you made – is there more?

MR. DUGUID: No.

QUESTION: Have you made that point to the Pakistanis?

MR. DUGUID: The Pakistanis are well aware of our position on this. This is not a new position.

QUESTION: Well, no --

MR. DUGUID: They are – they know that this is our position.

QUESTION: But have they been told subsequent to the lawyer’s announcement?

MR. DUGUID: We’re trying to confirm what the court has decided and said. But I have said, if it is accurate, this is the U.S. position and it will remain the U.S. position.

QUESTION: Were you anticipating A.Q. Khan’s release, because sanctions were announced here and in the State Department a few weeks ago, and ones particularly targeting A.Q. Khan?

MR. DUGUID: The sanctions were announced to target the A.Q. Khan network, which we are actively pursuing and we are trying to roll up. And the United States and its international partners have done a good job in tracking down this network. That should have no effect or influence on whether or not Mr. Khan is let out of his current status of detention.

QUESTION: Still on that subject. You said that you’re trying to confirm what his status is, what the court decision is.

MR. DUGUID: Correct.

QUESTION: Have you asked the government there for clarification --

MR. DUGUID: The gov --

QUESTION: -- or are you going through other channels?

MR. DUGUID: To be – the government is – it’s Sabbath in Islamabad right now. The government is, if you will, not in session. So we have tried to reach those people that we know can inform us of the decision, haven’t had a response as I came into this room. We may get it.

QUESTION: So right now, you’re just trying to clarify the situation.

MR. DUGUID: Yeah.

QUESTION: But if he is released, you think it’s a bad thing?

MR. DUGUID: If he is released, we think it would be extremely regrettable. This man remains a serious proliferation risk.

QUESTION: Let me congratulate you, Gordon. On your first appearance before the podium, you have answered the first hypothetical question that this building has ever, ever answered.

MR. DUGUID: I answered it hypothetically: I said “if.” (Laughter.) So the subjunctive remains. (Laughter.)

Other questions?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

QUESTION: I got one, I got one.

MR. DUGUID: Oops. Here we go.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton called Israeli Prime Minister Olmert yesterday?

MR. DUGUID: That is correct.

QUESTION: Accounts of the conversation vary. Some Israeli media report that she called to thank him for the release of – I believe it’s about $43 million to go to pay PA salaries in the Gaza Strip. Other accounts are that she had called to press him to release that money, which presumably is something the United States Government would support since it’s trying to bolster the Palestinian Authority, notably in Gaza.

So can you give us any detail on the substance of that call, whether it was just thanks for doing that or whether it was please do this?

MR. DUGUID: Accounts vary because the call was confidential and it will remain so with me.

Thank you.



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