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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - March 13, 2009

March 13, 2009


11:52 a.m. EDT

QUESTION: A (inaudible) delegation is heading to Syria and will meet Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, and might get in contact with Hezbollah, so – and as we know, London will have (inaudible) discussion with the political – with Hezbollah political wing. So how do you see this – these actions, and would the U.S. reconsider its position toward Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any new position for you on Hezbollah and contacts with Hezbollah. I addressed this question last week, and I haven’t anything new to share with you on that.

The United States right now is looking for a dialogue with Syria, and we want to work with Syria in the context of Middle East peace and nonproliferation. That’s where we see our efforts best placed and that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But how --

QUESTION: Is the United States pleased that the British are opening up contacts with Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you the U.S. position. I’m not going to characterize the positions of other governments at this time. We have a clear and defined position on both groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. Those haven’t changed. So I’m not going to belabor the point with you.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mrs. Hillary Clinton yesterday signed the Consular Information Sheet for Greece, saying that, quote, “The U.S. Government remains deeply concerned about the heightening threat of terrorist attacks against the U.S. citizens and interests abroad,” unquote, declaring Greece as a terrorist country. I would like to know if this is true.

MR. DUGUID: I have never heard of this before, at this very moment.

QUESTION: Will you take this question, because it’s very important?

MR. DUGUID: If it can be generated that we can find it somewhere, I’ll take it. But if we can’t find this particular quote anywhere –

QUESTION: Yes, I find that on the internet. It’s come to the Department --

MR. DUGUID: There are many things found on the internet. (Laughter.)

QUESTINO: Excuse me?

MR. DUGUID: This – Mr. Lambros, I will not take this question, and I’ll tell you why: because I do not believe that the quote itself has any merit or basis in policy, and we don’t need to discuss it further.

QUESTION: So you don’t believe this?

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you my answer.

I – we had one more on Mexico. Jill, I’ll get to you. We had one more on Mexico, I think. Sorry –

QUESTION: No, this was on the British meeting in the – Hezbollah, there. I mean, is this a weakening of Quartet resolve?

MR. DUGUID: The Quartet remains resolved in its determination to achieve a lasting Middle East peace, and I’ve given you the U.S. position on that.

QUESTION: But as a member of the Quartet, does it not concern you to see another party to the Quartet, at least in a constituent sense, not insisting that Quartet principles be upheld?

MR. DUGUID: The Quartet will have its discussions and will be able to move forward on working on Middle East peace. The United Kingdom is taking a particular path. They’ve informed us prior to taking that decision, and we will move forward on our efforts to try and achieve the same goal.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Hang on one second. So you’re saying that now that – has – Britain has been added to the Quartet?

MR. DUGUID: Sorry? No, I’m not saying that.

QUESTION: And does it – has the Quartet ever taken a stance on Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: The United States has shared with --

QUESTION: No, has the Quartet --

MR. DUGUID: No, the United States has shared with it --

QUESTION: -- which I don’t believe includes Britain --

MR. DUGUID: That is --

QUESTION: That includes the EU, so it doesn’t include Britain itself.

MR. DUGUID: Right.

QUESTION: Does – has the Quartet ever taken a position on Hezbollah? Or has it?

MR. DUGUID: Not to my knowledge. But the U.S. has, inside the Quartet, let its position on Hezbollah be known.


QUESTION: What can you tell us about these reports about the Saudis taking a hundred Yemenis from Guantanamo?

MR. DUGUID: We do not, as a practice, discuss detainee transfers until those transfers have been made, so I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Has the State Department or the U.S. been discussing with the Saudis the possibility of taking --

MR. DUGUID: We have been in discussion with a number of our friends, allies, and partners around the world on the detainee issue. And when we have a result to announce, we do that after a transfer has been made, okay?

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the case of Roxana Saberi?

MR. DUGUID: No, we did check yesterday. And we do not have any update as of today. We continue to coordinate our discussion with the Swiss, our protecting power, to try and get more information out of the Iranian authorities. We continue to ask that the Swiss be allowed consular access. She has, of course, been allowed legal representation, which is a good thing and something that we had been asking for. We also want her to have consular access. That has not yet been granted, at least before coming in here this morning, and we will continue to do so until we find some satisfactory answer.

QUESTION: Gordon, two influential Senators, McCain and Graham, have come out against the nomination of Chris Hill to be ambassador to Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that? They say he doesn’t have the adequate Middle East and counterinsurgency experience for the job.

MR. DUGUID: I know that Ambassador Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the Senators’ concerns and go into more detail about his record. He is ready for those hearings. And I do believe, and I know that the President and the Secretary also believe, that Ambassador Hill is qualified. I won’t go down the huge list of the achievements he’s had throughout his career, but simply point on his negotiating experience both in the Six-Party Talks and in the Dayton Accords as being particular high points. But again, Ambassador Hill is ready to meet with senators and discuss their concerns, and looks forward to his hearings.

QUESTION: Would he meet with the two senators?

MR. DUGUID: I won’t speak for him on that point, but he is ready to answer questions in hearings.

QUESTION: Is that something that’s come about today as – what you’ve just said is – was that generated by the statement from Graham and McCain?

MR. DUGUID: I do think that Ambassador Hill has been ready to --

QUESTION: No, I know, but I mean --

MR. DUGUID: -- go through his confirmation from the start.

QUESTION: And you’ve spoken to him today or someone has spoken to him today?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s – he’s aware.

MR. DUGUID: Oh, yes. Of course, he is.

QUESTION: And Senator Brownback as well?


QUESTION: And Senators Graham and McCain actually asked the President to reconsider the nomination, suggesting that they might – one or both of them might actually block the nomination?

MR. DUGUID: That would be a question that you’ll have to direct to the White House. For the State Department, we have full confidence in Ambassador Hill. We feel that he is an excellent candidate.

QUESTION: How about – so the Administration stands behind his nomination?

MR. DUGUID: That is correct. Yes, that is correct.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Gordon. Could you give us some update on the Afghan review? And is it going to be Secretary Clinton herself who’s going to role it out ahead of the NATO meeting what the Administration’s new Afghan policy is? Admiral Mullen had some comments about it last night, and I’d love to hear what you can tell us, and whether she, rather than the President, will be the one rolling it out?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I’m not sure you’re going to love to hear what I have to say about it. It’s – as it’s still under review. Some of these decisions have not yet been cemented. We are in the midst, as you know. It will be something that has to be finally set before the March 31st meeting in The Hague. But until that time, we will – we’ll not give out more details until it is firmly finished.

QUESTION: And whether she rolls it out or the President?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information on either one of those for you. When there’s --

QUESTION: Do you have an end date for the agreement?

MR. DUGUID: Well, obviously, the end date was given, 60 days by the President. It depends on when you started. Of course, it’ll have to be done by the 31st.

QUESTION: Well, when do you start it?

MR. DUGUID: We start it from when Ambassador Holbrooke took his appointment, so that’s --

QUESTION: The day of the announcement?

MR. DUGUID: That’s the day of the announcement, or the day after, if you will, giving him a chance to get into his office.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:20 p.m.)

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