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Middle East Digest - March 30, 2009

March 30, 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 30, 2009

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11:35 a.m. EDT

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, everyone. I would like to lead with a statement this morning concerning the ruling by the Afghan Supreme Court that took place earlier yesterday, I believe.

The Afghan Supreme Court has endorsed the continuation after May 22nd of President Karzai’s term in office until free and fair elections have been held and a duly elected successor can take office. The United States strongly supports and welcomes this ruling. We believe that the continuity of government in this critical period before elections is vital and contributes to creating stability. We urge all Afghans to support this ruling by the Supreme Court and to focus on the elections to be held on August the 22nd, rather than continuing to question the status of their government.

The United States calls on the Government of Afghanistan, joined by its international partners, to make every effort to ensure that the conditions are created for genuinely free and fair elections and that that will reflect the will of the Afghan people. For its part, the United States neither supports nor opposes any legitimate candidate and will concentrate its efforts on helping to create a level playing field for all candidates.

That concludes the statement, and I will go to your questions.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything on Afghanistan, but --

QUESTION: I was going to ask on Afghanistan.

MR. DUGUID: Afghanistan, please, and then go --

QUESTION: President Karzai’s opponents say that that doesn’t constitute a level playing field, that it will give him an advantage as he goes into the elections.

MR. DUGUID: The opposition – well, the best place to explain why they believe that -- for our part, the United States considers that having no interregnum between the original end of President Karzai’s term and the elections is conducive to stability in Afghanistan; it will not require any other political arrangement for that time period.


QUESTION: Can we get some kind of readout of the encounter between the Iranian deputy foreign minister and Patrick Moon at the Moscow conference a couple of days ago?

MR. DUGUID: Well, if I can confirm it, I’ll get you a readout on it, yes.

QUESTION: There’s a report in the (inaudible) that they --

MR. DUGUID: Yes, I’ve seen this press report on the meeting. And if I can get you some details on that, I shall.


QUESTION: On Afghanistan, last time the U.S. had supported Karzai as his presidential elections. Why he – why the U.S. is not supporting him this time?

MR. DUGUID: I’m not sure that during an election campaign the United States has ever come down in favor of one candidate or another. We have certainly supported President Karzai as president of Afghanistan. We will continue to do so as long as he is the duly elected president of his people. Should he be reelected, we will be happy to work with him. If another leader is elected, we will work with the democratically elected government of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Arab League – Bashir got the red carpet treatment when he arrived. Any reaction to that?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we would hope that while he is in Doha that the Arab League would focus on the immediate and urgent needs of the people on the ground in Sudan and address the grave humanitarian situation in Darfur, as well as the need to establish peace in Darfur and meet the key priorities of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. As they are going to be holding discussions, the discussions should be on how to stop the violence, support the people, and reestablish peace in Darfur and South Sudan.

QUESTION: But are you not concerned that the Arab states are lending him yet more legitimacy by giving him this welcome and not speaking out?

MR. DUGUID: The presence of President Bashir at this conference should be used as an opportunity to bring forth the international opprobrium to what is happening in Darfur and in South Sudan.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on the new Sudan envoy’s upcoming visit? I believe he’s going to Sudan.

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have anything for you at this time. He is having meetings at the White House today. So following those meetings, if I have something, I’ll be happy to get that to you.

Other questions. Yes, David.

MR. DUGUID: Gordon, is the United States working with the Iraqis on the disposition of the MEK people? It seems like they’re kind of – the Iraqis are rushing to judgment on this sentence and – well, what outcome would you like to see for these people?

MR. DUGUID: As you may be aware, the disposition of Camp Ashraf was given a full transfer to the responsibility of the Iraqis on February the 20th. We continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq’s constitution and international obligations. And those are the two key factors that specifically address your question. Although the United States Government remains engaged on this issue, responsibility for resolving the situation at the camp rests with the Government of Iraq at this time.

QUESTION: Do you have a desired outcome from this?

MR. DUGUID: The desired outcome is one that fully fits within Iraq’s laws and their international commitments to the residents of this camp.

QUESTION: Back to the Arab League again. They more or less gave Israel an ultimatum that the Saudis want the peace deal, but time is running out fast and it should be seriously considered. Any reaction to that?

MR. DUGUID: I haven’t seen that or know that it’s characterized as an ultimatum. The Arab League, as well as other international organizations, should be helping to try and resolve the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. We -- at the moment, are encouraging the Egyptians to continue with their work. The situation in Gaza, as I understand it, has improved some with the shipments of relief supplies going in. More needs to be done on that front. More needs to be done on working to stop smuggling that is going into Gaza. And so setting timetables doesn’t seem to be a way forward at the moment. But as I said, I haven’t seen these particular comments.

QUESTION: As long as we’re on the Arab League, do you have any comment about the erratic behavior of your new friend Mr. Qadhafi at the summit?

MR. DUGUID: I will leave the Government of Libya to address Mr. Qadhafi.

QUESTION: One more. Do you have anything on the arrest of an American citizen in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia?

MR. DUGUID: I am – is this a follow-on from a question that we had last week? I was unaware of the arrest of an American citizen at that time in eastern Saudi. We will find out what we can for you, okay? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:49 a.m.)

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