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Middle East Digest - February 19, 2009


February 19, 2009

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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 19, 2009

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MR. DUGUID: Bob.

QUESTION: Have you received an expulsion notice yet from the Kyrgyz Government?

MR. DUGUID: No, we haven’t.

QUESTION: Or any other communication?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we’ve received the communication, of course, that the parliament has voted the bill out of committee. And that is the first step. The next step is for the president to sign that into law, and then that would be communicated to us through a diplomatic note. Those last two things have not yet happened, and we are still in discussion with the government while we see if the president will take those actions.

Meanwhile, of course, we have contingency plans. The Pentagon has a heroic section of contingency planners, and we do have options that we are reviewing in case the president does decide to sign this legislation. But despite the parliament’s move, we are not quite there yet.

QUESTION: So you’re not going to just walk away from it until they tell you you have to leave?

MR. DUGUID: The base is operational today, and I expect it to be operational at least for another six months. That is, you know, the time period stipulated in our agreement. Know we are still in discussion with them and we will stay until we get a final – in discussion till we get their final decisions.

QUESTION: So the offer you referred to yesterday remains on the table?

MR. DUGUID: I believe Secretary Gates has addressed this. I believe he’s in Krakow now, but he did come out and say that, yes, indeed that’s the case.

Okay. Yes, please. Stay on the subject, please.

QUESTION: When do you believe the 180 days starts? Is it when they sign it or when they notify you about it?

MR. DUGUID: I believe the --

QUESTION: Or has it already because of the parliamentary action?

MR. DUGUID: No, I believe that it is the official notification when the government actually signs this into law. I’ll have to ask for, you know, a --

QUESTION: Which one? When they notify you or when they – when the president signs it?

MR. DUGUID: When it becomes their law.

QUESTION: So when the president signs --

MR. DUGUID: It’s not signed into law yet. So I can double-check on that for you. It has not yet been signed by the president, and so I do not believe that we have entered the 180-day period. I am not, however, one of the negotiators, so I should reserve some margin of error. And if I’m not well informed about that, I’ll get right back to you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. DUGUID: Okay? Same subject?

QUESTION: Yes, same subject.

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: So during that 180-day period after you do – if you, in fact, do receive the notification, then the – will the base be being drawn down, as it were, during that time? Or will all the activities that had been taking place there, and others perhaps, continue?

MR. DUGUID: That’s an operational question for the Department of Defense. They have, as I noted, contingency plans that they always keep up-to-date. They are looking at our options. Those options will be presented up through the chain of command, and a decision will be taken as need be. But it will be for the whole range of decisions, either staying or having to make preparations to go.

Same subject? Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of how it’s going to affect your operations in Afghanistan?

MR. DUGUID: Not one whit. We will be able to continue our operations in Afghanistan fully and completely. The Pentagon is renowned for its ability to move troops, equipment, and other materiel to all parts of the world.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this?

MR. DUGUID: Same question?

QUESTION: According to General David McKiernan, NATO’s top (inaudible) in Afghanistan, what do you expect from NATO and EU countries to do more to this effect?

MR. DUGUID: I’m sorry. Would you please repeat?

QUESTION: I said your general in Afghanistan, Mr. --

MR. DUGUID: General McKiernan.

QUESTION: Your general, top general, David McKiernan.

MR. DUGUID: Yes, General McKiernan.

QUESTION: Stated yesterday that NATO’s (inaudible) in Afghanistan stopped (inaudible) wanting to do more. So what do you expect more from NATO and the EU countries to do?

MR. DUGUID: The United States, as you’ve noticed over the last couple of days --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. DUGUID: -- the President has signed a directive that increases U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: 17, yes.

MR. DUGUID: We are going to do more in Afghanistan. Yes, we also expect our allies to also do more. We’re in discussions with the allies about that. NATO minister – defense ministers are meeting this week. They – I believe it is today and tomorrow. There will also be other meetings that we’ll have with our allies to discuss what more that we can all do to confirm our commitment to the Afghans and their attempt to build a new democracy in South Asia, and how we can better serve all of our interests by looking at the range of activities that go into that.

As you know, Ambassador Holbrooke has just returned from the region. The review panel, the U.S. review panel, met yesterday for the first time and will now – in, I believe the period is 60 days – come up with the U.S. proposals on what we can do better in Afghanistan. We will, of course, share that with our allies. In fact, we are also inviting the Pakistani delegation to have input into that review process and an Afghan delegation to have input into that review process.

QUESTION: They’re going to be here next week.

MR. DUGUID: They will be here next week. So --

QUESTION: The minister – the foreign minister --

MR. DUGUID: Yeah. Sorry, I’ll just finish with Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR. DUGUID: We will then have a range of things that we can discuss with our allies. Our allies have stepped up to the plate in the past. NATO has increased its operations and taken over more PRTs over, you know, the past ten years or so. So I don’t think we’re on, you know--

QUESTION: Any response so far to this from NATO, the European Union, and Europe in general?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have one for you that they haven’t already espoused in public.

Yes, Elise, please.

QUESTION: If you could just – on those meetings next week. It’ll be with the foreign ministers, and they’re going to meet with --

MR. DUGUID: The foreign ministers are leading the delegations, yes.

QUESTION: And they’ll meet with Secretary Clinton? Do you know – and --

MR. DUGUID: They will meet – I don’t have their schedule yet and the meetings that they will have. They will meet with the review panel itself --

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MR. DUGUID: -- and that will be composed, you know, according to how the co-chairs arrange it. When we have more details, I’ll be happy to share those.

QUESTION: I just have one more on – could you say something about the release of Ayman Nour?

QUESTION: Can I stay on this real quick? Sorry.

QUESTION: Yes, can we --

MR. DUGUID: Stay – I’ll get to the release, but – same subject?

QUESTION: Yes, this is on the meetings next week. Can you tell us a little bit more about – Ambassador Holbrooke said last night that the military – Pakistani military would be represented. Do you know exactly who is coming? And then, is anybody from ISI going to be coming as well?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have that information for you. I do know that the foreign ministers will be leading their delegations. The rest of the delegation is not yet – has not been enumerated to me.

QUESTION: Where is it going to take place?

QUESTION: May I go back to Kyrgyzstan for a second?

MR. DUGUID: Pardon me, just one at a time and I’ll be better off doing this, because we’ve got a lot of area to cover today.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Where is this meeting going to take place? In D.C.?

MR. DUGUID: In – well, it’ll take place in Washington. I don’t know if it’ll be in the State Department or in the NSC. I presume that it’ll take place in a room that is commodious enough for all of the participants. But where that building will be, I don’t know yet.

On the same subject?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. DUGUID: I’ll come back to --

QUESTION: Do you have specific dates for that yet?

MR. DUGUID: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. DUGUID: No, I don’t. And back to Kyrgyz?

QUESTION: Yes, mine’s on Kyrgyz.

MR. DUGUID: I’ll come back to you, okay. Yes.

QUESTION: I believe you referred to some communication. You said we received communication on the –

MR. DUGUID: The parliamentary vote. Yes.

QUESTION: You referred to the communication from your Embassy --

MR. DUGUID: Our Embassy was informed officially of the parliamentary vote.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. DUGUID: Okay? And --

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke last night --

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on PBS said the United States doesn’t like to see the Pakistani Government ceding territory to bad guys, referring to the Swat Valley deal. Is that the way that the government is characterizing it, that the Pakistanis have ceded some of their territory to the Taliban?

MR. DUGUID: I think if I read the – you know, the transcript correctly, what we’re – what we’re talking about is these types of deals have happened before. The direction of events in the Swat Valley are not going in a positive way. What we do want to see is results. We have spoken to the Pakistanis. The Ambassador has spoken to the Pakistanis. They understand that the threat of terrorism is a threat to them as well as to us. What we’re working towards is a way that we can all address this common problem. That is part of our review. That is part of what we’ll be talking to the Pakistanis about when the delegation arrives here.

Yes, please, Nina.

QUESTION: Still on Pakistan.

MR. DUGUID: Still on Pakistan.

QUESTION: We’ve had confirmation from a couple of officials that Kayani and Zardari essentially turned a blind eye to these drone attacks. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. DUGUID: I refer you to DOD for anything that has to do with operational details.

Elise.

QUESTION: The release of Ayman Nour?

MR. DUGUID: Yes. We welcome the release of Ayman Nour, especially as it’s been done on medical grounds, and we view this as a positive step by the Egyptian authorities. The United States has called for this release many times in the past, and therefore, it is a good and positive move.

Yes, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Do you see – do you see that as a gesture of goodwill before the trip of the Secretary at the beginning of March --

MR. DUGUID: I see it as a move based on the medical grounds that is positive in and of itself. It is a good thing to do.

QUESTION: Did either George Mitchell or the Secretary in her meeting with Aboul Gheit last week raise this case specifically?

MR. DUGUID: Our discussions with the Egyptians are discreet, and we will keep them that way. Thank you.

QUESTION: But you have, though, in the past sometimes said that – when officials have --

MR. DUGUID: We have in the past, in public, made these calls. And diplomatic discussions will remain discreet, but we have said this publicly a number of times.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Gordon, according to today’s report, Turkey is going to play a prominent role as U.S. begins to remove thousands of tons of equipment and supplies from Iraq over the next year or so. Any comment on that?

MR. DUGUID: Turkey is a valued ally, and we have ongoing plans about the President’s order to wind up, or at least come to a successful conclusion to, our operations in Iraq. I refer you to DOD for the status of those plans.

QUESTION: Diplomatically, do you know, in terms of these U.S. weapons, supplies are going to be abandoned in Turkey, as you did after the end of the World War, implementing (inaudible) this time by the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Morton Abramowitz?

MR. DUGUID: Mr. Lambros, I refer you to DOD for operational details of their planning on Iraq.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Next question, please.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments about the provocations by Iran to Bahrain claiming that Bahrain is part of Iran?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we’ve seen press reports of these claims. I can only speak for the United States that we recognize the sovereignty of Bahrain. We recognize its international borders. It is a major ally of the United States, and we support their territorial integrity. But as the only thing I have seen are press reports, I can’t further comment on their source or if the quotes made were accurate or not.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment about this new report of the IAEA on Iran still enriching uranium? And on Syria also, the presence of uranium on Syrian soil, do you have a comment?

MR. DUGUID: I saw some information just before I came to the podium. And I’m going to take the question for you. And we’ll get a response, a written response, posted for you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments about the changes made in the Saudi Government on appointing a woman for the first time?

MR. DUGUID: The move is extremely welcome, and we commend the Saudi Government for that appointment. The changes are, of course, a matter for the Saudi people themselves, rather than for us to comment on. But the inclusion of a woman in the Saudi Government for the first time is a positive step.



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