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Middle East Digest - March 11, 2009

March 11, 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 March 10, 2009

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MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the discussions about a letter that possible President – that President Obama could be sending – considering sending to Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran as a possible overture to engage Iran?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything about any possible letter, but that would be something that I’d refer you to the White –

QUESTION: Well, there were some diplomats that briefed reporters over the last week that said that the Administration has kind of told the Europeans that one of the things that you’re considering in terms of your efforts to engage Iran is possibly – the way you would do that is to send a letter to President Khamenei – sorry, Ayatollah Khamenei.

MR. WOOD: Look, you know we have a policy review underway on Iran, and –

QUESTION: Is that one of the options being –

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not going to talk about options that are being discussed within that review. But with regard to some type of presidential letter, that’s something that would have to come out of the White House. I’m not aware of it.

QUESTION: Well, this Administration never responded to President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Obama congratulating him.

MR. WOOD: As I said, there is a review on Iran policy underway. I don’t have anything more for you on that, Elise.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, clearly you are looking for ways to engage Iran.

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. We have said that.

QUESTION: Could this be a possible –

MR. WOOD: I just don’t want to get into a discussion of those ways that we may or may not be planning to engage Iran.

QUESTION: Well, the first time this came up several weeks ago, both you from this building, and the White House from the White House building denied that there was any letter that was under consideration, and said that no one had been instructed to draft such a letter, and today it seems a little different. What’s the scoop?

MR. WOOD: I’m not saying anything differently. I’m just saying to you that there is an Iran policy review underway, and I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Well, but why can’t you say the same thing that you said before when this was first – this first bubbled up?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to. I don’t want to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, that’s telling.

QUESTION: I mean, if you’re denying that it wasn’t true then, you’re not denying that it isn’t true now.

MR. WOOD: I’m just saying to you that there is a policy review underway with regard to Iran, and that’s how I’ve been answering those questions. I don’t want to discuss, you know, letters, policy ideas that have been floated; I don’t think that’s useful. I think once we have completed our review, we’ll be able to enunciate our policies, and then you’ll have – we’ll be able to answer a lot of your questions.


QUESTION: A UN Security Council sanctions committee has found that Iran has violated – is in violation of the sanctions and was trying to transfer weapons-related material to Syria. Any comments on that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we support the UN Iran sanctions committee decision. Clearly, Iran and Syria violated UN Security Council Resolution 1747, which, you know, prohibits Iran from exporting arms and materiel and for countries from procuring such items. And so I understand there is a 10-day review period, whereby Iran and Syria have to get back to the sanctions committee, and then they’ll take furthers steps from there. But we certainly support that decision by the committee.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have some questions on the spending bill that was –

MR. WOOD: Hang on. Was there a question on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. I was wondering if you had an update on Roxanna Saberi and her status in Iran.

MR. WOOD: I don’t have any update. I will take a look and see if there is anything new on it, but I didn’t receive one today, so I assume there is no update.

QUESTION: It was Friday when the Iranians said that it would – they would – that they were planning to release her in a few days. You don’t have any updates on what the Swiss are doing?

MR. WOOD: I don’t, but I’m happy to take a look and see if there is anything.

QUESTION: Yes. President Asad has said today that Syria is ready for direct talks with Israel if United States will be the mediator. Are you planning to be a mediator in these talks or negotiations?

MR. WOOD: This is the first I’ve heard of it. As you know, the Turks were helpful in trying to help bring together Israel and Syria in direct talks. And certainly, we want to see a process between Israel and Syria, you know, be established. But you know, these are – I haven’t seen these reports, so I’m just going to refrain from comment at this point.

QUESTION: Different subject. The Dutch foreign minister has announced that the Afghan conference, Afghanistan conference, will be held in The Hague. Can you confirm that?

MR. WOOD: I can’t confirm that. Was this from a press report or –


MR. WOOD: Yeah, I can’t – yeah, I’m not able to confirm it at this point. But you know, I’ll leave it to the Dutch.

QUESTION: So you haven’t been notified? The U.S. has not been –

MR. WOOD: I – not that I’m aware of, that we have been officially notified. I certainly haven’t been told about it. I know that there was certainly a lot of work underway and that that was certainly a possibility that the Dutch would co-host this conference. But I haven’t seen anything official yet.

Anything else? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:33 a.m.)

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