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Middle East Digest - February 9, 2009

February 9, 2009


Bureau of Public Affairs
February 9, 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 9, 2009

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QUESTION: To Yemen. Over the weekend, the government there released 170 al-Qaida suspects to – are you not concerned about this?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – this is the first I’m aware of that subject. I haven’t heard anything about it. But, you know, I have to refer you to the Government of Yemen for the reasons why it released, you know, 170 or so al-Qaida figures.

QUESTION: Isn’t this becoming a pattern?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not here to characterize whether something is a pattern or not. But obviously, al-Qaida is – you know, remains a threat and – in that region and remains a threat to all of us. And you know, we are going to continue to do what we can to hunt down al-Qaida wherever it is and go from there. But I don’t have any specifics with regard to the Yemeni case.

QUESTION: Are you working with the Yemeni Government to ensure that when these other hundred Yemeni nationals in Guantanamo are released that they will -- you know, when they get to their destination, that they’ll be put in some kind of rehab program or that something will be done?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean – you know, from here we’ve never gotten into the specifics of discussions that we have with countries about the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo. I don’t want to begin from here doing that. But one of our priorities is – as you know, is to close Guantanamo and we’ll be looking for other countries to take some of these detainees. But that’s – I don’t want to get any more specific than that.

QUESTION: So are you actively working with the Yemeni Government on this issue?

MR. WOOD: We talk to the Yemenis all the time about, you know, the threat from al-Qaida. We talk to them about various issues with regard to counterterrorism. I don’t want to really be more specific than that.

QUESTION: But in practical terms, what happens to these guys once they’re sent back home?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, as we do with – in conversations we have with other countries about taking detainees, we want to make sure that these folks are either going to be treated humanely or that they’re not going to be able to get back out on the battlefield. And so those are two issues that we always discuss with countries where we are dealing with the question of transferring detainees.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see this, Robert. But an Egyptian human rights group says that Egyptian police beat and detained a 22-year-old Egyptian blogger and activist, who, among other things, has expressed support for Gaza in his blog and has voiced, I believe, criticism of Egyptian President Mubarak and the Egyptian security services. I know the Department has had concerns in the past about the treatment of Egyptian bloggers, and I wonder if you (a) are aware of this case and (b) if you have any concerns about this man’s treatment.

MR. WOOD: This is the first I’ve heard of this case, Arshad. Obviously, we would be concerned about any maltreatment of, you know, any blogger or other individual in Egypt. We basically – our views on freedom of expression around the world are known. But again, this is the first I’ve heard of this particular case.

QUESTION: Could you look at – would you mind taking it and seeing if you guys – if you want to say anything specific --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about him?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, Israel holds election, and polls predict that ultranationalist party might become third biggest party in the Israeli Knesset. Are you concerned about it? Do you have any remarks on how it might impact the U.S.-led peace process in --

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into a discussion about Israeli domestic politics.

QUESTION: On Iran, earlier this morning from the Pentagon – from Iraq, Colonel Richard Francey* described Iranian influence in al-Anbar region as very manageable. That – those were his words. Does the State Department agree with his assessment of Iranian influence in al-Anbar?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – again, I can’t speak to his comments, because I haven’t seen them. But we remain concerned by any negative activities on the part of Iran throughout Iraq. We’ve encouraged Iran to play a positive role with regard to its neighbor. We believe it can and should. And – but again, I haven’t seen those reports, so it would be hard for me to give any further comment.

QUESTION: Have you been witness to what he described as projects that popped up that were neither funded by GOI nor the U.S. Government as an example of projects that are ongoing?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I – again, he would have – he seems to have more specifics. I’d have to refer you back to him in terms of those particular projects. I’m not familiar with them at all.

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