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Middle East Digest - March 10, 2009


March 10, 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 March 10, 2009

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11:05 a.m. EDT

QUESTION: It’s quite a broad question – Afghanistan-NATO. But focusing in on the various member-states that contribute troops have individual national caveats about their movements, whether they’re peacekeepers, whether they can go to certain areas. Is this something that’s being reviewed? Is this something – are there conversations going on in the State Department and approaching various heads of state about it?

MR. WOOD: Well, our policy all along has been to give commanders all the flexibility that they need. But it’s really going to be up to every individual nation to decide how it wants to contribute to our efforts in Afghanistan. And we’re certainly not going to in any way dictate to countries what we think they should do. But we all know we have a tremendous job, a tremendous effort that needs to be undertaken in Afghanistan beyond what we’ve already done, in order to turn things around. But as I said, yes, caveats have been something we’ve had to deal with, and we still maintain that it’s best for commanders on the ground to have as much flexibility as they can to move resources and troops where they need to go.

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that these caveats really have hindered some operations and hindered coordination? Is this something that you’re seeking to change?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, we’re not able to dictate to other governments how they contribute to the overall effort. You know, we have periodic discussions with our allies about how best to carry out certain operations. But again, our point of view is we need to make sure that all the commanders on the ground have the flexibility that they need to be able to carry out their mission.

Please. My friend right here, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s on Afghanistan.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Afghanistan conference that Secretary Clinton proposed in Brussels, do you have any updates on that? Is it going to happen? Where – the venue? Do we know any additional information at all?

MR. WOOD: At this point, all those details are still being worked out. As soon as we are able to give you more details in terms of, you know, first and foremost, when it’s going to – if it’s going to happen, when, and where. I just don’t have those details right now.

QUESTION: So there’s an if?

MR. WOOD: Well, it was a proposal.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. WOOD: The Secretary put forth a proposal. And we believe that there has been some receptivity to the idea. But we want to make sure that we’ve got everything nailed down. And then once we’ve been able to do that, certainly there will be an announcement about it.

QUESTION: It’s not that --

QUESTION: So March --

MR. WOOD: Nothing’s confirmed yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: New topic? On Darfur. I see you had an authorized departure from Sudan today. And obviously, the situation is getting pretty dire now that it looks like aid groups might have to leave. What is the U.S. considering doing to ensure that the government allows the aid groups to stay?

MR. WOOD: Well, what we’re doing is we’re having discussions with a number of countries in the region, with our allies, to try to figure out how best we can get the Sudanese to reverse this decision and to allow NGOs to operate in Darfur. The situation is very serious. It’s indeed very troubling for us. We want to see these groups be able to return and continue to do the work that they need to do, because the people of Darfur are suffering greatly, and this will only exacerbate an already bad situation by expelling these, you know, NGO workers and other aid workers.

We’re going to – I can assure you we are working hard diplomatically to try to get the Sudanese to reverse this decision.

QUESTION: During the campaign, President Obama spoke very tough about the situation in Darfur. He said he was going to rally the international community for a no fly zone, talk possibly about more sanctions, talked about appointing an envoy. Where does U.S. policy stand on making good on President Obama’s campaign pledges? The Darfur advocates are very strongly looking for him to take early and immediate action.

MR. WOOD: Well, this Administration plans to take some action with regard to Darfur. I’m not prepared here to spell out what those actions will be, but I can assure you that Darfur is one of those issues that’s at the top of the President and the Secretary’s agenda. And you’ll see in the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out a strategy in terms of how we’re going to deal with – overall with the situation in Darfur.

But what’s critical right now is trying to get the Sudanese Government to reverse the steps that it’s taken. And as I said, we’re going to work with our partners in the international community to try to persuade the Sudanese that this is in the best interest of the people of Sudan to allow these aid workers to return and to, you know, basically operate without restrictions. So that’s where we are.

Kirit.

QUESTION: To follow up on that real quickly --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: In your Travel Warning, you sort of revealed some of the details of what’s happening with the group’s passports being seized and assets and that kind of thing. You have a $6 billion aid package to Sudan, much of it which goes through these groups. Has any U.S.-provided funds been seized by the Sudanese Government?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if any U.S. citizens have had their passports seized that work for these groups?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – you know, I don’t know. I haven’t heard any specific cases. There may have been. I just don’t know, and I don’t know that I can get you an accurate answer on that at this point unless these people who, you know, have registered with the Consulate, you know, unless they’ve done that, it’ll be hard for us to know. You know, they would need to report that to us.

Yes.

QUESTION: Robert, can you just explain exactly what you’re doing with the U.S. workers there and with – some who are leaving or --

MR. WOOD: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: -- out of --

MR. WOOD: Embassy workers, you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve gone to – in Sudan, we’ve gone to authorized departure, and so non-emergency personnel as well as family members can leave. And that’s where we are. I’m not going to get into numbers of personnel that we have. There are obvious security reasons why I won’t do that. But you know, we are concerned about the aftermath of the expulsions of these NGO workers, and we want to make sure that we’re taking the prudent steps necessary to make sure that, you know, our personnel are, you know, out of any potential harm’s way. And our Travel Warning, I think, was very specific in terms of what we’re advising Americans to do in terms of not traveling to Sudan.

QUESTION: And what else U.S. wants India to do in Afghanistan or on climate change? You said U.S. needs to --

MR. WOOD: They talked in general about, you know, cooperation on climate change. I don’t remember them getting into a lot of specifics on that, but they did talk in general about the importance of working together to try to deal with the issue of climate – you know, climate change, global warming.

QUESTION: And on Afghanistan, what the U.S. wants India to do in Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, it wasn’t so much that we were asking India to do anything specific – specifically, but the Secretary wanted to hear the foreign secretary’s views on the best way forward in Afghanistan from the Indian point of view. And that was, in essence, the basis of the discussion.

QUESTION: Robert, is – do you think the Secretary is planning anytime soon any visit in the region – India, Pakistan or Afghanistan region?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of, not at this point.

QUESTION: Yes, on Afghanistan, Japan also agreed on paying salaries for police in Afghanistan. So as the State Department, would you be content with support from Japan, or would you like to ask for more?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the first part of it. You were asking me about?

QUESTION: Yeah, in – Japan agreed on paying salaries for police officers in Afghanistan. So as a U.S. Department, are you content with the support from Japan, or would you like to ask for more assistance?

MR. WOOD: Look, whatever type of assistance is provided to Afghanistan by the Japanese, that’s clearly a decision for the Japanese Government. And again, we can use all the contributions we can get. So we’re very pleased that the Japanese are willing to make that type of a contribution, so – but again, we all need to do more and we all have to figure out a way to be more effective in Afghanistan.

Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:31 a.m.)



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