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Middle East Digest - February 20, 2009


February 20, 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 20, 2009

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11:00 a.m. EST

MR. DUGUID: I’m waiting for you guys. I’m waiting for you. I know it’s Friday, but you know, the fact of the matter is I don’t have any prepared statements, so we’ll go straight to your questions now that you’re here.

QUESTION: Netanyahu. What do you have to – what is your reaction to the choice of Benjamin Netanyahu for --

MR. DUGUID: Well, the president has tasked him to form a government. That is part of the election process in Israel. The United States is a longstanding and firm ally of Israel. We will work with the next Israeli government, however it is composed, and we’ll move on from there to work on bilateral and regional issues together. But as I said, the process is ongoing. There is not a government yet. We are still working, you know, with Israel. But I don’t have a reaction until we have a government – new government sitting in place.

QUESTION: But is U.S. optimistic about the peace process?

MR. DUGUID: We are always optimistic.

QUESTION: Really?

MR. DUGUID: We have been working on the peace process for a number of years. I think this shows determination by the United States to continue to work for a two-state solution in the Middle East and to help bring stability to the region. That is something that we’ve been committed to for a number of years, and I do not see that changing.

QUESTION: But a move to the right by the Israeli government clearly --

MR. DUGUID: Let’s wait until there is a government formed until we are talking about what the composition of the government is.


MR. DUGUID: Please.

QUESTION: During Senator John Kerry’s trip to the Gaza Strip, Hamas confirmed their channels were open for any contact with the new U.S. Administration. How does the State Department feel about Hamas’s willingness to talk, either directly or indirectly?

MR. DUGUID: The position on Hamas for the State Department, for the United States, is very clear. Should they accept the existence of the state of Israel, should they stop trying to violently overthrow the state of Israel, should they wish to reengage in the peace process and stop trying to rearm by smuggling rockets and other arms into Gaza, then there could be a place for them in future discussions. But until that happens, I don’t see our position changing.

QUESTION: What about Senator Kerry’s visit to the Gaza Strip, an area controlled by Hamas? How does the State Department feel about his particular trip to Gaza?

MR. DUGUID: I refer you to Senator Kerry for any reference to his trip. The Senate, or the Congress, is a separate and equal branch of government, and they are the ones who can best answer what Senator Kerry’s feelings were about the trip.

QUESTION: The – can you confirm that Hamas gave to Senator Kerry a letter for President Obama through a UN representative while he was in Gaza?

MR. DUGUID: I cannot. And I see – I saw, just before I came in, that Hamas has denied doing that.

QUESTION: Well, but – okay, UN officials have said that the letter is from Hamas. And there obviously is a letter, because the spokesman of the U.S Consulate in Jerusalem confirms that the letter was handed over to Senator Kerry and said it will be handled by appropriate channels.

MR. DUGUID: I haven’t seen that statement before coming in.

QUESTION: Okay. If you could --

MR. DUGUID: So I cannot confirm that for you.

QUESTION: If you could check on, you know, what’s going to happen to this letter that evidently exists?

MR. DUGUID: I’ll see what – I’ll see what we have to say.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Anything more on the – any achievements by our advance team to the Durban racism conference? There’s some reporting that they made some headway in watering and – you know, preventing some kind of language on slavery reparations and that they were able to stop, you know, alteration of a language on anti-Semitism.

MR. DUGUID: I believe the meetings have ended now in Geneva. Part of our delegation is – of course, is based in Geneva and part of the delegation is on its way back to the U.S. So I haven’t had a full briefing on their views of what happened. We went into this meeting – excuse me – we went into this meeting with grave concerns about the document that was being produced. And we engaged with other countries in an effort to have the conference produce a document that actually did address racism around the world in a way that could achieve some results.

Our intervention was welcomed by many countries. We had extensive meetings with all of the other representatives there to present our viewpoints on this document and on this process. I can’t predict any success for you at this point, first not having had a readout from the group. But as I said, there were many things we disagreed with in the document. The document began as a very lengthy piece of work and got longer during the conference itself. The intention was to engage and to try and make something that was flawed better. We did not predict success, and I can’t do that for you now. But we are on – you know, on the record with our international partners as to where we stand on these issues.

QUESTION: So bottom – you haven’t walked away from the process yet.

MR. DUGUID: Well, those decisions will be made once we have a full review and when the team returns and they’ve had a chance to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts and present them to the Secretary. The – it will be a verbal briefing and they will give their advice on where they think the process is going, and whether or not we can affect what is going to happen in the full session. As you know, we’ve had grave doubts about the effectiveness of these conferences in the past.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran, does* the U.S. plan any further reaction beyond yesterday’s remarks on the IAEA report? And does it view the amount of low enriched uranium that Iran has to be a matter of concern?

MR. DUGUID: Well, on Iran, we are encouraging the IAEA to take the steps necessary to ensure that Iran lives up to its international commitments. That was the message behind our statement of yesterday. I don’t have anything to add to it today.




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