printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - February 24, 2009

February 24, 2009


Bureau of Public Affairs

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 24, 2009

View Video

QUESTION: I don’t have anything – well, except for the Secretary talked a little bit this morning about your plans, or planning for the Gaza conference. She didn’t have any details, but I’m wondering are you in a position to provide any more?

MR. WOOD: No, not at this point. No – I don’t have anything more than what she said. We’re still working on the package. And once it’s done, then we’ll have something to say, but it’s still being put together. It’ll be, you know, several hundred million. But I don’t have much more than that at this point.

QUESTION: And do you know if this is going to be old money, new money? And if it’s new money, where exactly is it coming from?

MR. WOOD: Those details are still being worked out, Matt. And we’ll try to get information to you guys as soon as we can, once that package is complete. I don’t want to speculate as to what’s old, what’s new. I just don’t know at this point.

QUESTION: It will be a mix then, correct?

MR. WOOD: It’s likely to be a mix, yes.

QUESTION: Dennis Ross?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is he in charge exactly of?

MR. WOOD: Well, Dennis is –

QUESTION: Is it Iran? And if it’s not Iran – if it’s Iran, why is it not written in the statement?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just start off by saying, the Secretary is very happy that Dennis Ross agreed to serve as her special advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. What Dennis is going to be charged with doing is trying to integrate policy development and implementation across a number of offices and officials in the State Department. And, you know, he is going to be providing the Secretary with strategic advice. He will be also trying to ensure that there’s a coherence in our policies and strategies across the region.

Let me be clear, he’s not an envoy. He will not be negotiating. He’ll be working on regional issues. He will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on long-term strategic issues across the region.

QUESTION: Can you give us – well, what is the State Department’s definition geographically of Southwest Asia? What countries does that include?

MR. WOOD: Matt, I didn’t --

QUESTION: No, you guys named an envoy for Southwest Asia. I presume that you know what countries that includes.

MR. WOOD: Yes. Of course, we know. I just – I don’t have the list to run off – you know, right off the top of my head here. But obviously, that’s going to encompass – that region encompasses Iran. It will – you know, it’ll deal with --

QUESTION: Does it include Iraq?

MR. WOOD: Indeed, it does. He is going to be, again, as I said, providing her with advice – strategic advice, looking at the long term, the bigger picture and how we can make sure that our policies are coherent across the board in the region. And as I said, the Secretary is very pleased that Dennis has agreed to do this. He’s got years of experience in the region. And, you know, it’s a daunting task, but it’s one that she felt was necessary.

QUESTION: And so, does it include parts of the Middle East?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: It does? Does it include Syria, and it includes Israel and it includes Jordan?

MR. WOOD: Well, he’ll be looking at the entire region that will include, you know –

QUESTION: Where does that stop? I mean, you know, you have NEA which, you know, runs all the way to Morocco. So does it include –

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s going to be in touch with a number of officials who work on issues throughout this region.

QUESTION: Does it include Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, countries that are within the – within the Middle East or within the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, but are not necessarily technically part of Southwest Asia?

MR. WOOD: He will be providing advice to the Secretary on a – across that entire region, where appropriate, where she needs it, and that’s the position he will serve.

QUESTION: So he’s going to meet with the leaders in the region as well, so you said he is going to offer an assessment --

MR. WOOD: That’s right. At some point, he will.

QUESTION: -- including the Iranians?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not sure at this point. But again, our policy with regard to Iran is under review, so once that review is completed, we’ll be able to go forward vis-à-vis Iran. But until that time --

QUESTION: Well, was there a consideration at some point that you would have a special envoy for Iran? And why didn’t you now go in that direction?

MR. WOOD: Well, a decision was made by the Secretary that she needed broad strategic advice to look at a range of issues across the entire region that we just talked about. And it was felt that his skills could be better used to do that type of work, given the years of experience that he’s had dealing with the Middle East, other parts of the world. And so, again, as I said, Iran will be one of those countries that he will be, you know, looking at in his portfolio. But --

QUESTION: The military sometimes refer to parts of the -stans, Central Asia, as Southwest Asia. Are those included in your --

MR. WOOD: Well, look --

QUESTION: Can you find out? Because, I mean, this is --

MR. WOOD: We can get you that. Yeah, we can get you a breakdown of --

QUESTION: I mean, does this – is there a geographic limit to his portfolio, or is it really an issues-based thing so that he could be dealing with Morocco and Algeria --

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and Tunisia --

MR. WOOD: I would look at it, Matt, as more of a regional --

QUESTION: -- and Kyrgyzstan, and the -stans that are not covered by Ambassador Holbrooke? And does it include Turkey? Does it – you know, there are a lot of unanswered questions from – from the statement last night as to exactly what he’s going to be doing. I mean, I presume it’s all of the Gulf – Saudi Arabia, that makes sense. But does it include Somalia, which is – you know, that there is – does it include – I don’t know --

QUESTION: Or is it (inaudible) Iran?

MR. WOOD: Your question is – you know, let me answer your --

QUESTION: It could be anything. Or is he limited by the geographic --

QUESTION: Or did you just not want to put Iran in the name, and so this is your clever way of doing that?

MR. WOOD: Can I speak now?


MR. WOOD: Thank you, and thank you. Look, it’s more – he’s going to be providing advice to the Secretary on a number of regional issues, and I would not try to limit Dennis’s advice to, you know, just those regions. He may have other – you know, he may have advice that he wants to give the Secretary on other issues. I don’t think we’re trying to narrow it here. If you’re looking for a geographical breakdown of those countries that he will be looking --

QUESTION: It would be nice to find out what the State Department considers to be Southwest Asia.

MR. WOOD: We can certainly do that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any detail about the schedule of Special Envoy Mitchell?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I can --

QUESTION: Turkey is saying that he is expected in –

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I just got some details on his schedule this morning. Special Envoy Mitchell will travel to the Middle East and Europe from February 23 to March 4. Currently confirmed stops include London, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Sharm el-Sheikh, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. As part of his trip, he will join Secretary Clinton in Egypt for the March 2 donors’ conference on Gaza. He will be accompanied by other State Department and National Security Council officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale. He’ll meet with government officials on – at all of his stops. And yeah, that’s what I have.

QUESTION: Do you have any news about the discussions the Syrian ambassador is supposed to have in this building? Do you know if he’s coming, or when?

MR. WOOD: No, I think that we were waiting until the Syrian ambassador returned from Damascus in order to have that meeting, so I’m not – I don’t think he’s returned yet. So as soon as that meeting can happen, it will take place.

QUESTION: Did he accept to come to the meeting – the Syrian ambassador?

MR. WOOD: I – honestly, I don’t know. We’ll have to look into that. I’ll see if I can find something on that for you. I’m not sure.


QUESTION: Robert, do you know anything about the fate of the letter that John Kerry brought from Hamas? Is it in the building? Will there be a U.S. response to it?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that Senator Kerry turned over that letter to our Consulate in Jerusalem, and it’s being handled through appropriate channels. But I don’t have anything more at this point to tell you on – to tell you about it.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to Gaza for a second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: When this aid – excuse me, when this aid package is announced next Monday or Tuesday or whenever it is --

MR. WOOD: Monday.

QUESTION: -- how is it that this money is going to be channeled to the Palestinians in Gaza? Who actually will get this money to do the work?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have those specifics right now, Matt, but I can assure you that that money will not be going through Hamas.

QUESTION: Well, so does that mean it’ll go through UNRWA, or does it go through --

MR. WOOD: It could very well --

QUESTION: -- ICRC, NGOs, what?

MR. WOOD: It could very well. I just don’t have that specific breakdown for you as to how the money will be channeled and through whom.

QUESTION: Well, will it go to the PA? Will some of it go to the PA?

MR. WOOD: That’s certainly – I could conceive that happening, but I don’t have those details yet, Matt. So let’s wait until the package is done and we’ve got all of those things sorted out, and we’ll be happy to let you know.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.