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Middle East Digest - February 12, 2009


February 12, 2009

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Bureau of Public Affairs
February 12, 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 12, 2009

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QUESTION: Do you have any details on Bill Burns’s trip to Moscow, what he’s going to achieve, who he plans to see? Does he plan to discuss Manas air base? Maybe if you could give an overview of the goals of this trip.

MR. WOOD: Well, Under Secretary Burns arrived in Moscow on – I guess it was yesterday – for discussions on a wide range of issues with, you know, his Russian interlocutors. I don’t have specifics on with whom he met. Hopefully, though, I’ll get further readouts on his visit once he returns. He’ll be back in the U.S. tomorrow.

Regarding Manas, again, I haven’t gotten a readout from Bill, but it wouldn't surprise me if the issue came up. There are a host of other issues that Bill had on his agenda, Afghanistan being one, you know, reducing nuclear armaments being another. So once Bill gets back, I’ll be able to give a further readout on that.

QUESTION: What was the reasoning behind this trip? Was it largely to do with speaking to them about Manas or to find out what was behind the decision of the Kyrgyz Government, whether it was due to Russian influence? Was it a fact-finding mission for that? Was it just a, hey, this is a new Administration, this is what we – how we see relations moving?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. The Secretary asked Bill to go to Moscow because we’ve got a whole host of issues that we need to address with the Russians, and that was the primary purpose of it. And it is a new Administration, and there are a lot of issues that we need to work out with Moscow. And that was the basic purpose of the visit. But again, I’ll have more to say about it once, you know, I have a chance to talk to Bill.

QUESTION: But was the timing largely to do with Manas?

MR. WOOD: Look --

QUESTION: I’m going to keep asking.

MR. WOOD: Look, the Secretary asked Bill to go and have discussions with Russian officials about a wide variety of issues. I wouldn't, you know, say that it was linked to any particular event. This is something that, you know, Bill had been discussing with the Secretary about doing, and she asked him to go.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. WOOD: Sure, Dave.

QUESTION: What’s the state of discussion with the Kyrgyz themselves about the base?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, there has not been any formal notification provided to us, and those discussions with the Kyrgyz, you know, continue.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Speaking of readouts – past, current, and future – do you have anything on Holbrooke?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, let me see. I do. Let’s see. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke was in Lahore, Pakistan last night and today, where he met with provincial government officials and opposition politicians. Among them were former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Punjap Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Governor of the Punjab Salman Taseer, and the Pakistan Muslim League Quami leadership. Discussions included increasing U.S. assistance in the sphere of socioeconomic development.

Ambassador Holbrooke departed Lahore and arrived in Bagram today. He is expected to meet with General McKiernan, Major General Schloesser, and Ambassador Wood. My understanding is he’s – he will be back – someone had asked me the question yesterday about when he’ll be back in Washington. He’s due to be back on or about February 16, 17.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up with (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Thank you. Amnesty International (inaudible). Amnesty International is blasting Pakistan for leaving the Swat valley residents to the mercy and hands of the Taliban. And also, Pakistan has been saying that the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, they should talk with Taliban and make a deal. Was this issue discussed or came up that if Washington is ready to have a deal again with Pakistan, as before, with Taliban and al-Qaida?

MR. WOOD: Look, Ambassador Holbrooke is out in the region, as you know, to basically listen, not to lecture. In terms of talking to the Taliban, we have no plans to have any of our officials talking with the Taliban. The Pakistani Government is well aware of the challenges that it faces from the Taliban, both on – within its borders and across the border in Afghanistan. It’s a very severe challenge. But Pakistan certainly understands that there are a lot of challenges within that it has to deal with, and we will try to be as supportive as we can, and have been supportive.
And so I haven’t seen this Amnesty Report, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to really comment on it, other than to say that, look, we’re aware of the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, as well as the other challenges the international community faces, and in Pakistan.

But I think what’s important here is that Pakistan realizes those challenges within its borders, and it is trying to take steps to do what it can, because the Taliban are a threat on both sides of that border.

QUESTION: But this issue didn’t – this question didn’t come between the two when Mr. Holbrooke and Pakistans met?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I haven’t talked to Ambassador Holbrooke about the substance of the conversations. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a further readout once he returns.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Same question? On Pakistan?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Okay, let me go here and then we’ll – please.

QUESTION: Pakistan has announced the arrest of six in the Mumbai attacks, including the so-called main operator. What’s the State Department’s reaction to this?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, we have asked Pakistan, and India has asked Pakistan, to cooperate fully in trying to bring to justice those who are responsible for the Mumbai attacks. So this would certainly be a very positive step. I don’t have much more in the way of detail with regard to the arrests. But Pakistan has committed that it would do everything in its power to bring people to justice who may have committed these atrocities who have been within their border. So let me just leave it at that. It’s a good step. I’ll have to find out more details about the arrests, but I think it shows that Pakistan is serious about doing what it can to deal with the people who may have perpetrated these attacks.

QUESTION: On Syria. Did the U.S. provide some sort of waiver for the sale of spare parts or something to Damascus recently?

MR. WOOD: I’d have to refer you to the Commerce Department on that. But I do understand that, you know, in cases where there may be some issues with regard to the safety of civilian aviation, you know, there are ways that we can try to provide, for example, in the case of Syria, you know, spare parts that may be needed to ensure that there, you know, is continued safety in the aviation industry. But I don’t have anything more beyond that. I have to refer you to the Commerce Department.

QUESTION: But you’ve heard something about that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – just what I’ve given you.

QUESTION: Also on Iran --

QUESTION: A follow-up on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Hang on. One at a time, please.

QUESTION: So the answer would be yes?

QUESTION: So, really, you’re saying in general --

QUESTION: You did provide the waiver?

MR. WOOD: I didn’t get into the question of a waiver. I said, basically, that my understanding is that when there are concerns about aviation security, that that’s something we would certainly look at in terms of trying to address those concerns. But I would have to refer you to Commerce for further --

QUESTION: To find out whether the way the – the license was issued or not? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. WOOD: I would just talk to Commerce.

QUESTION: Well, I have talked to Commerce about this for actually the last three days, and their answer is that they won’t say.

MR. WOOD: They’re the authority on this. And if they don’t have anything to say, I probably have less to say.

Michel.

QUESTION: Robert, on – Secretary Clinton has met, in the morning, Senator John Kerry. Has she discussed with him his upcoming trip to Syria?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t talked to her about the breakfast this morning. But it would not surprise me if, indeed, they did discuss that trip. But I don’t have a read-out because I haven’t had a chance to talk to her about it.

QUESTION: What kind of help or support are you all offering this – Kerry and the rest of his CODEL?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ll provide whatever the normal support is; nothing usual about that. Whenever there’s a, you know, congressional delegation going somewhere around the world, we try to provide them all --

QUESTION: Well, not always. And in this case, in Syria, when Nancy Pelosi went there, the last administration was pretty clearly not in favor of her going, and I don’t believe offered, you know, significant support or help.

MR. WOOD: There is a new Administration. And the Secretary has been very clear that she wants members of Congress to travel.

QUESTION: To Syria, specifically?

MR. WOOD: I’m saying, in general, for members of Congress to travel to see the types of issues that we face in the Department, to meet our people, and to learn more about some of these, you know, very complex issues that we deal with. So that’s all I have on it. I haven’t spoken to her about – any further about the trip.

QUESTION: Are you actively trying to arrange a meeting with the senator and the president of Syria?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Robert, on the Cairo conference that’s coming up in March, will that be – can you give us some details on that? And will that route be a subject of the conversation this afternoon and --

MR. WOOD: Well, look, with regard to the Cairo conference, I’d have to refer you to the Egyptians in terms of what they’re planning for it. But certainly, the U.S. Government will be represented at a high level.

QUESTION: Right. And who is the high level?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point. We’ll let you know as soon as we have, you know, further details.

Sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, what is the situation regarding U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan? Is it going to be speeded up now, given that the security situation is deteriorating?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I’d have to refer you to the Defense Department or the White House for – because I know there are discussions that people in the White House and over at the Pentagon have been involved in. So, look, from our standpoint here at the Department, we’re going to be participating, along with other government agencies, in the review of our Afghan policy, and we’ll be looking at various elements of that policy. But I don’t have anything further to give you on that.

QUESTION: The deployment of the 30,000 troops, extra troops, is that still on the table?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, the President has made very clear that he wants – that Afghanistan is going to be a priority, and that we need to do more in terms of fighting the Taliban. And so once a decision is made to, you know, deploy additional forces, that’ll be announced, but I don’t have anything more for you at this point.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton has called today Saad Hariri, the Lebanese member of parliament. Do you have any readout?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have a readout on it. We’ll try and get you something on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a question on Iran. Is there anything you can say about sort of the structure of how the review is being conducted? I mean, is it being led by the NSC? I know Dennis Ross is working here on – in some capacity and he’s supposed to be involved in Iran. I mean, is there anything – I know it’s ongoing. I’m just trying to get a sense on the structure and who the players are in sort of doing it.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t have anything in terms of the structure or the players, except it is going to be a very full and comprehensive review. And it is a high priority, and we are going to try to complete that review as quickly as possible. And again, as we’ve said time and again, we’ve reached – we look forward to direct engagement with Iran. And you know, once we’ve gotten through with the review, we’ll be able to answer a lot of your questions. But at this point, I really don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: And what is Dennis Ross’s role in that?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the Secretary and the President are reaching out to a wide range of individuals to consult with as part of the review. And I’m not going to get into names of people with whom they’re engaging, but you can be assured a wide range of experts on the question of Iran and, you know, the Middle East in general.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Iran – sort of the diaspora, and also any Iranian officials to do this review? I mean, you’re anxious to speak to people.

MR. WOOD: We want to speak to as wide variety of people who understand what’s going on in Iran, who have visited Iran, who have been following issues there very closely, in order to formulate our policy in a comprehensive way. So that’s about the best I can do for you.

QUESTION: So you haven’t been in touch with Iranian officials?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

Kirit.

QUESTION: There’s some reports indicating that – citing U.S. officials that yesterday’s attacks in Kabul were perpetrated by a group based in Pakistan. Do you have any information on --

MR. WOOD: I don’t. But those were horrific attacks that took place. And just a reminder that we have to continue to engage enemy forces. It’s why this review on Afghanistan is so critical. That’s why Ambassador Holbrooke has been out in the region trying to listen to various players so that we can come – so that he can come back and we can complete this review and try to find the right mix of, you know, political, economic, and military ingredients to try to, you know – hopefully to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

I can tell you the Secretary and others are very concerned about the violence in Kabul. And we’re going to do what we can working with the Afghans, as I said, to try to bring about stabilization. But it’s a very big concern of ours.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication of who was responsible?

MR. WOOD: At this point, no. But they’re – obviously, the Afghan Government is investigating it.

QUESTION: Robert, may I go quickly back to Mumbai attacks, please? India and U.S. both have branded some of the terrorists based in Pakistan, and especially Mr. Dawood, wanted by India, in masterminding of the Mumbai and other attacks against India. Now, as far as these arrests are concerned, it has taken place (inaudible) in the past, but who will monitor? You think Washington or the Secretary will monitoring or play some role as far as Pakistan should and will take action against those who are responsible in attack and arrested, rather than releasing them just like A.Q. Khan later, after Holbrooke leaves the area?

MR. WOOD: As I said earlier, Pakistan’s got some tremendous challenges that it’s facing. It’s a sovereign government. It is said that it will pursue – will follow these leads wherever they go in terms of trying to find out who was responsible for these horrific attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan knows the entire international community is watching and wants to see justice. And so that, in itself, I think, will be sufficient incentive to the Pakistanis to, you know, follow every lead wherever it goes.



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