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Middle East Digest - March 31, 2009


March 31, 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 31, 2009

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11:36 a.m. EDT

QUESTION: Roxana Saberi’s parents, or at least father, have gone to Iran. Do you –

MR. DUGUID: I will –

QUESTION: Do you know anything about this?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have anything to share with you on her family’s plans. The family can, of course, make their plans public should they choose to. But I don’t have anything to share with you on her family’s plans.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a follow-up on that, actually?

MR. DUGUID: Okay.

QUESTION: In the case of Levinson, I think that the State Department helped organize and tried to arrange things. Is there – are you doing the same in this case at all?

MR. DUGUID: Again, I don’t have anything I can share with you on her family’s plans at this point. If we are able to share something in the near future, I certainly would do.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the remarks of Secretary of State Clinton at the news conference in the Netherlands today in which she described a letter that had been provided to the Iranians. Who wrote it, who signed it, who gave it to whom, et cetera?

MR. DUGUID: I can’t give you that right now. I will see what I can get for you and we will let you know later on today. Okay?

QUESTION: So you don’t have any further information. We don’t know who signed it?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have anything that I can share with you right now. If I can get that later today, we’ll certainly get that for you.

Yes, please. You had a question?

QUESTION: On Roxana Saberi, has U.S. officials been in touch with Swiss officials regarding the case?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, the last time that we were in touch with the Swiss was March the 25th. And I do not know that we’ve been in touch with them since then.

QUESTION: And U.S. demands for having consular group in touch with her, is that – has it –

MR. DUGUID: It is still pending.

QUESTION: – been met?

MR. DUGUID: We do not yet have – or we have not yet had consular access through the Swiss to Ms. Saberi.

Yes.

QUESTION: There appears to have been some flurry of diplomatic activity between Russia and the United States where some diplomats flew out to The Hague ahead of Secretary Clinton’s arrival. Can you tell us anything more about this, any sort of overtures or anything like that?

MR. DUGUID: I think the – you know, the Secretary has just answered a number of questions about what has gone on in The Hague. And the major focus of the meeting in The Hague has been to coordinate on Afghanistan. That is what our purpose is. Of course there are very often side meetings or meetings on the margins of these, but I don’t have any details of those that I have for you at this time.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: As part of improving relations with Iran, is the Administration considering reopening of the consulate in Tehran? And can you deny or confirm the existence of a process to pick a candidate to take the position of American consul in Tehran?

MR. DUGUID: The – I am aware of no plans to reopen a U.S. embassy in Tehran.

QUESTION: Consulate?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we would not open a consulate without opening an embassy – a diplomatic facility. Of course the subject has come up in the past. Nothing is ruled out. We are reviewing our entire policy towards Iran. But everything is based on the premise that Iran has a positive role to play not only in the region, but in the wider sphere of security and stability in the international community. And we will see how that role develops should Iran choose to reengage with us on those points before going any further forward.

QUESTION: What about choosing a candidate to take the position –

MR. DUGUID: I have no information that we are anywhere near such a stage.

QUESTION: Gordon, just to clarify, I don’t believe the idea of reopening an embassy or a consulate was ever –

MR. DUGUID: It was an interests section.

QUESTION: It was an interests section.

MR. DUGUID: Diplomatic – I changed my sentence to –

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to make sure.

MR. DUGUID: – a diplomatic facility. It was an interests section, correct.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Iranian didn’t send their foreign minister to the International Conference on Afghanistan. Does it – is it sending a discouraging message that they didn’t want to attend at the same level that U.S. and other countries?

MR. DUGUID: I think the Secretary has answered the question that Iranian participation was welcome and that we wanted to make sure that this conference was one that included everyone in the region. Everyone in the region has a role to play to help Afghanistan. We should not look for, at this time, individual and uncoordinated approaches to Afghanistan. We should look for a regionally based and coordinated approach to dealing with the problems in Afghanistan and with Pakistan.

QUESTION: But Iranian action today in the conference criticized increased – troop increase –– U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan and kind of confronting this concept.

MR. DUGUID: The Iranians expressed their opinions. That’s what they were there to do. And we were there listening to what they had to say. We have gone through a 60-day intensive review of our strategy. We have come forth and laid that out for everyone. The conference itself was our first foray into an international fora to explain our policy and to show that this is – these are the reasons why we see this as being the best way forward. You cannot have a solely military solution in Afghanistan and our strategy recognizes that. That is why we are looking for an increase in resources not only on the military side, but on the civilian side, on the side of trainers for economic development, for other institutional-building and capacity-building efforts that we see as necessary.

So there is a comprehensive strategy on the table in The Hague, and we are looking for as many of the international partners as we can to engage in that strategy and to find a positive role they can play in helping us move that forward.

Yes, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on Ambassador Holbrooke’s brief cordial encounter with the Iranian representative?

MR. DUGUID: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Was it deliberate? Was it accidental?

MR. DUGUID: I was not there. I heard it at the same time as you did on the press conference that we were all listening to. So again, if we get some information on that, I’ll be happy to share that later. But I learned of it just as you did from the press conference.

QUESTION: Yeah, have you seen this threat from a Taliban leader in Pakistan who says that they are going to strike – hit Washington soon in a way that will amaze the world?

MR. DUGUID: I have not. I’ll take that under consideration.

QUESTION: What, to answer the question or you’ll take the threat under consideration?

MR. DUGUID: I’ll take the threat under consideration. I have not seen that at all.

QUESTION: How –

MR. DUGUID: Sorry, I said I’d let James.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR. DUGUID: Same subject.

QUESTION: Just to – thank you – to stick with Pakistan for a moment, you know, we’ve now seen the second significant attack in Lahore, which is a pretty long way from the Afghan border. Do you believe that there is now a generalized threat from Taliban or other insurgents throughout Pakistan?

MR. DUGUID: First, I’d like to extend our condolences to the families of those who were killed. Our sympathies are with those who were wounded in this terrorist attack. I do believe it does show that opposition to a peaceful and democratic Pakistan exists, that those forces are the enemies of the people and Government of Pakistan, just as they have proven to be the enemies of peaceful democratic government in Afghanistan, and indeed the very ideology that you can have a representative government that looks to peaceful solutions through dialogue, is something that threatens us all.

QUESTION: What do you think of the Pakistani Supreme Court decision that suspends the rule that had barred – or the ruling that had barred the Sharif brothers from participating in politics in the Punjab? Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing?

MR. DUGUID: I see this as a matter for the Pakistani court system and the Pakistani people to decide on.

Yes, Kirit.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on something –

MR. DUGUID: I’m sorry, James. I will get to you.

QUESTION: – from the Af-Pak review on Friday that I didn’t get a chance to ask yesterday. In it, there’s several references to a democratic Pakistan, but none to a democratic Afghanistan, which is a shift from what we always heard under the Bush Administration. Can you explain this de-emphasis on a democratic Afghanistan?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I don’t know that there’s a de-emphasis on a democratic Afghanistan when we’ve just announced a $45 million contribution to helping Afghanistan conduct its next round of elections. And that comes on top of funding that we’ve already provided to help register voters for that upcoming election.

I think what you are looking at with the launch of our strategy is the emphasis by the Administration on things we really have to do now. The end goal, of course, is a democratic and stable Afghanistan. That is why we are doing this. But the strategy itself is something that looks at how we get there. The premise, as I understand it in the meetings, was to look at the state that we want to see for Afghanistan; that is, a state which does not harbor any terrorists, which cannot be used as a basis for future attacks on the United States or its allies or indeed other countries. That kind of state has to be a stable, democratic state that has some hope of economic prosperity. And to get there, you have seen the strategy that encompasses all sectors – security, development, political.

QUESTION: But the question that I had really, I mean, if you look at the white paper that was distributed, it makes it very clear when it says our desired – I guess maybe on the second page somewhere it says a desired end state is a democratic Pakistan and an effective Afghanistan – Afghan Government. There’s no mention at all. I mean, it makes a very clear distinction between what’s – you know, a democratic Pakistan, but never a democratic Afghanistan. Can you explain why, what that means?

MR. DUGUID: Well, again, I would simply return to our actions. An effective government, in our viewpoint, has to be democratic. That is a tenet for the United States. You have to have representative government to be truly effective. We have put our support into the election process and support for democracy in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: A Spanish court has started a criminal investigation into allegations that six former Bush officials violated international law by creating legal justification of torture in Guantanamo. I wanted to know if you had had any contact with the Spanish Foreign Ministry or there is any official position right now on that.

MR. DUGUID: I’m not aware of any contact with the Spanish Foreign Ministry on this. It’s a matter in the Spanish courts, as I’m given to understand. I don’t have a comment for you on it at this time. The Obama Administration’s position on the matters that are under discussion, I think are quite clear.

QUESTION: Hi. On the topic of Benjamin Netanyahu stepping in as Israel’s prime minister today, I guess what kind of steps, if any, could we see – could we expect from the Administration regarding the – furthering the notion of a two-state solution, as well as curtailing expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank area?

MR. DUGUID: Had the government been installed before I just walked in?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. DUGUID: It had been installed just before I walked in. We will then, of course, meet with the new government and begin our discussions, where we will go in and explain to them what our policies are and our support for a two-state solution and the way we see the best way going forward. But I don’t have anything more than that for you, as we have just now had a new Israeli Government.

Yes, Lach. Please.

QUESTION: Has General Gration left for Sudan yet?

MR. DUGUID: I do not believe he has left yet. He is leaving today. But I don’t have the exact time of when his departure is for you.

QUESTION: And what’s on his agenda? Will he meet – who will he meet with and where will he go?

MR. DUGUID: Well, he will make stops in Khartoum and Darfur and Juba and Abyei before returning to Khartoum for meetings with government officials.

QUESTION: Do you know how high up he’s going?

MR. DUGUID: I do not know how high. He will meet with a wide range of interlocutors, particularly those who are empowered to make policy decisions that can try and put Sudan on the path to peace.

QUESTION: Topping his agenda, I guess, is asking for the aid groups to come back in?

MR. DUGUID: Indeed. Indeed it is. I think you have seen the statement by the President yesterday when he came out with General Gration. He noted that we have an immediate crisis prompted by the Khartoum government’s expulsion of nongovernmental organizations that were providing aid to the displaced people of Sudan. And we have to work on a mechanism to get the NGOs back in country, to get the aid flowing again without disruption, and then we also have the issue of the longstanding creation of a peaceful Sudan. The North-South Agreement needs to be fully implemented and so on.

QUESTION: Does his trip end in Sudan, or does he go to Arab countries or neighboring –

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you his agenda as I have it, that he is only traveling in Sudan, as far as I know now. But things can always change.

QUESTION: Gordon, you said that he’s going to be meeting with officials who actually have a – have the power to make decisions that can improve conditions?

MR. DUGUID: Correct.

QUESTION: Well, since this Administration has laid the blame for all of this squarely at the feet of President Bashir, it would seem that he’s the one who would make – could make the decision. Will the general be meeting with the president?

MR. DUGUID: There are no plans to meet with President Bashir.

QUESTION: Well, then who’s he going to meet with?

MR. DUGUID: When he gets on the ground and has further discussions with our Embassy and tries to find who is implementing the aid –

QUESTION: He doesn't have appointments set up already?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have a list of those.

QUESTION: Does he have a visa?

MR. DUGUID: He is traveling today. So I don’t know. I haven’t seen his passport, but I presume –

QUESTION: And he’s going to Khartoum, Darfur, Abyei – or Juba, Abyei, and then back to Khartoum?

MR. DUGUID: Correct.

QUESTION: And you’re sure that he’s going to get there and not just going to end up going to Juba?

MR. DUGUID: I have only what the special representative tells me is his itinerary. He is fully confident that he is going, and we will let that stand as his statement.

QUESTION: Has the Embassy put in the request for him to meet with President Bashir?

MR. DUGUID: There are no plans to meet with President Bashir at this time.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn’t request him?

MR. DUGUID: There are no plans to meet with President Bashir at this time.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:08 p.m.)



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