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Middle East Digest - March 16, 2009

March 16, 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 16, 2009

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11:32 a.m. EDT

QUESTION: Sudan’s president said today that he wanted foreign aid groups to stop distributing aid within Sudan within the next year, and passing on that responsibility to local aid organizations. I just wondered, number one, what your response was to that. And also, does this raise concerns as to where U.S. dollars are going in terms of distribution of aid?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, Sue, we’ve seen these reports, and we’re reviewing this alleged development closely. First and foremost, we condemn the Sudanese decision to expel, you know, foreign aid organizations. And any responsibility for the humanitarian suffering that flows out of this decision falls squarely on the shoulders of the Sudanese. And we’ve called on the Sudanese Government to reverse this decision. We believe it was a mistake. And the only result will be further harm, further suffering by the people of Sudan.

One of the things I do want to mention is that our Chargé in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, is on his way to Darfur, and he’s going to do an assessment for us and find – and give us some more details on what’s actually going on on the ground. And again, we call on the Sudanese Government to reverse this decision and to do so forthwith.

QUESTION: Can I – just to clarify --

QUESTION: The decision you’re talking about, the expulsion --

QUESTION: Yes, the –

MR. WOOD: The (inaudible) decision. That’s right.

QUESTION: No, but --

QUESTION: Not the decision – okay.

MR. WOOD: Well, that as well, of course.


MR. WOOD: But we’re reviewing that, as I said at the beginning.

QUESTION: Well, you made a big point of calling it an alleged development.


MR. WOOD: Well, because we’ve seen the reports. So if indeed these reports are true --

QUESTION: So the Embassy hasn’t heard anything there?

MR. WOOD: No, but again, as I said, Alberto Fernandez, our Chargé, is on his way and will be giving us a further readout.

QUESTION: Could you please find out, or maybe you have this information in front of you, what the current aid efforts are – U.S. aid figures are in Darfur, and also in --

MR. WOOD: Let’s see if I have those. I don’t have them for you. I know we have them available, so if you want to check with the Press Office, I’m sure we will – we have them.

QUESTION: Okay. That’ll be great. Thank you.

MR. WOOD: I just don’t have them in front of me.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, El Salvador has joined the --

QUESTION: Can I stay on Darfur for a moment, please?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Robert, isn’t this another example of how this ICC indictment could have – could, in fact, have backfired? Isn’t that (inaudible) these expulsions --

MR. WOOD: I think – look, I don’t make any connection to the indictment. I think unfortunately, what you’re seeing is the product of a decision made by the Government of Sudan to expel these foreign aid organizations.

QUESTION: But isn’t that a direct result of this indictment? I mean, Bashir has said he’s --

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to draw that link. I’m – basically, the link I am able to draw is clearly from this decision that the Sudanese Government took to expel these foreign aid workers. It had nothing to do with what was going on in The Hague. The Sudanese Government is responsible for any results that flow out of this.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one thing? Are you on the verge at all of appointing a special envoy yet to Darfur? Has that decision been taken?

MR. WOOD: No decision has been made yet. I expect that we will indeed, at some point, name an envoy for Sudan, but we haven’t done so at this time.

QUESTION: Is that under review – Sudan policy?

MR. WOOD: Well, yeah, we’re taking a look at a number of things with regard to our Sudan policy.

Let me – let me go right here to Kim, and I’ll get back to you, Matt.

QUESTION: The EU Foreign Relations Chief Javier Solana today made some comments about the fact that the EU would have to reconsider the way it relates to Israel if Netanyahu doesn’t endorse the idea of a two-state solution. What’s your reaction? And you know, how would you deal with an Israeli government that does not endorse a two-state solution?

MR. WOOD: Well, for one thing, a new Israeli government hasn’t been formed yet. And so I don’t want to speculate on what this new government may or may not do. But certainly, we have made the point over and over again to the Israeli Government, most recently by the Secretary’s trip to Israel, that we, the United States, support a two-state solution. And we want to see that happen. And it’s going to be important for Israelis and Palestinians to work together toward this goal. So let’s wait for the new government to be formed and to enunciate its policies, and then we’ll be able to say more about it.

QUESTION: In Iran, the former president Khatami has withdrawn from his presidential bid, which will probably boost the chances of Ahmadinejad. I wondered whether you had any response to that, number one. And then secondly, do you have any more details on the Afghanistan conference, and has Iran official – I’m sorry if you covered this last week, but has Iran officially responded to your invitation to attend?

MR. WOOD: Well, to answer your second question first, I believe you’ll have to check with the Government of the Netherlands. I believe Iran – I believe was invited, but you – you’ll have to confirm that with them.

The first part of your question again?

QUESTION: Was on Khatami. He’s pulled out and – which would probably make it easier for Ahmadinejad to be reelected.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, that’s a decision that Khatami made himself. What’s important for us is Iranian behavior, and we want to see a change in Iranian behavior on a whole host of issues. And that’s what’s important for us and for others in the international community concerned about, you know, Iran’s nuclear program, its behavior in Iraq and elsewhere. So that’s my response.

QUESTION: Can I -- just on the conference for a second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The – who is doing the inviting?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that Afghanistan and the Netherlands are the co-chairs, and the UN is the chair, so it would probably be one of the three. I would assume the UN. But I – again, I would check with the Government of the Netherlands --

QUESTION: Well, so who’s conference is this?

QUESTION: Is this a joint one?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s a conference that’s being organized by the United Nations as the chair, and co-chairs, as I said, Afghanistan and the Government of the Netherlands. And that’s the best I can do for you on that.

QUESTION: But wasn’t – this was something that the Secretary proposed in her speech at NATO, so I thought that the U.S. was sort of helping organize it. Has the U.S. now been pushed aside so that the UN’s taken over?

MR. WOOD: Did we get pushed aside? Nobody’s pushed aside here. This is just a conference that the Secretary had proposed, she had spoken about to others, and it was decided by the UN that it would sponsor the conference, working with the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Afghanistan. That’s the best I can do for you on that.

QUESTION: So is the U.S. playing any kind of a leadership role in this?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know what you mean by leadership role in terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of the conference.

MR. WOOD: We will be a key participant in the conference.

QUESTION: Yes, a participant.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: You’re not planning on – that’s it? Just a – just as a participant?


MR. WOOD: I said a key participant.

QUESTION: But there was much ballyhoo about this in Brussels when the Secretary, you know – when the Secretary put this forward to the NATO foreign ministers. So was she encouraged to let the UN take the lead and to take a back seat so it wouldn't look embarrassing when the Iranians didn’t turn up or something?

MR. WOOD: No, no. The UN – this was something that she raised. That’s right. It was something that was raised in Brussels. But this is something that the UN decided it wanted to take on in terms of sponsorship, and we welcome that. And what’s important now is making sure that we have a successful conference. And the U.S. will be a key participant, and we look forward to, you know, having a very good conference that’s productive and results-oriented.

QUESTION: But are you – but is the United States helping kind of plan the agenda and all those things, or are they just like taking --

MR. WOOD: No, the United States and other countries are helping plan the agenda. That’s quite normal. Not unusual at all. Certainly, we will have a role in helping set the --

QUESTION: But a major role? I mean, the Dutch are hosting it, but I mean, how involved is the United States in planning the agenda? Obviously, the invites have already gone out – in terms of setting the invite list, in terms of the goals? I mean --

MR. WOOD: Let me just say that --

QUESTION: -- is this a U.S. conference that’s being hosted in the Netherlands, or is this a Dutch conference that the United States is taking part of?

MR. WOOD: I think I’ve already given you my description of how this conference is being organized, but you can certainly expect that we are going to be involved, as with other countries, in terms of setting the agenda for the conference.


QUESTION: On Roxana Saberi, she’s been in prison for about six weeks, and we’re coming up to, I believe, the festival of Nowruz, which usually takes officials out of Tehran for a couple of weeks, so we’ve got a very small window of opportunity to get some progress on this case.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I would agree with you. I mean, we want to see this issue – we want to see her case resolved, and we want to see it happen as soon as possible. I don’t have any further update than what I think was given to you maybe on Friday or what I gave you on Thursday. But it’s a case of great concern to us. And we want Iran to provide more information. We want to see her back in the United States.

QUESTION: In your communication via the Swiss, do you sense that the Iranians are dragging their feet on this issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, I certainly hope they’re not dragging their feet. But obviously, there’s growing concern about why this is taking so long to resolve. And you know, we want to do what we can to bring her back home.

QUESTION: The Iranians, though, did say ten days ago that she was just about to be released. What – have you got any indication what the holdup is?

MR. WOOD: No, I haven’t. But we want to see this resolved and quickly. And you know, I’ll check and see if we have any further update to provide you with tomorrow.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about this bombing in Yemen?

MR. WOOD: No. I’ve seen the reports. We’re obviously looking into – you’re talking about the South --

QUESTION: Koreans.

MR. WOOD: Koreans? Yeah – no, I don’t have anything more for you. We’re looking at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:05 p.m.)

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