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Middle East Digest - April 7, 2009


April 7, 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 April 7, 2009

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12:42 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Robert, the President right now is in Baghdad meeting with American troops. And also you have two Gulf states here today for talks with the Secretary. Also down in the eastern coast of Africa, there have been more ship hijackings into Somalia and some of these pirates are going way out to sea and it’s threatening, I guess, the shipping lanes. Is there any regard to further blockade of those, I guess, pirates coming off the African coast, and are you currently in talks concerning that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we are certainly discussing this issue with a number of partners. There is a contact group, as you know, on piracy issue. It is a great concern to us. I mean, you’re seeing an increased number of these attacks taking place, these hijackings. And it’s not an easy issue, but what we tried to do in joining this framework is to make sure that we can do everything that we can legally to prevent these types of things from happening, and if they do happen, that we’re able to limit the impact of these hijackings and also to make sure that the crews are safe and that we can do whatever we can to bring these culprits to justice.

So it’s a problem that’s – you know, that’s with us. It’s been with us for a long time, to be honest, and we’re going to work hard. There are no simple solutions, but we think together in the international community, we can, you know, do what we can to, you know, prevent or limit these types of incidents from happening.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Other topic?

MR. WOOD: Anything thing else on this? Okay.

QUESTION: Middle East?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today, Israeli police demolished a home in Jerusalem where the man who – the Palestinian who killed three Israelis in a bulldozer rampage last year had lived. I believe it’s the first time the Israelis have carried out such a demolition since 2005. And I wonder (a) what you think of, you know, that demolition and (b) what you think of the Israeli police’s killing of a Palestinian who drove a vehicle into the officers who were guarding the demolition.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, this is obviously a very difficult issue, but I’d point to what the Secretary said when she was in the region last time, that demolitions, evictions are unhelpful and that the ramifications of such actions, you know, go beyond just the individual families who are impacted by families directed – directly impacted by these actions. And we continue to raise these concerns with both the Government of Israel and the municipal officials about this.

I would say, just overall, Arshad, you know, both Israel and the Palestinians have obligations that they need to meet. And we want to make sure that both sides are not taking steps that are divisive and that are going to increase tensions in the region. I don’t think I have anything more to add to it than what I’ve just said. But it is – clearly, it’s one of those emotional issues and as I said, we’ve made our concerns known to both the Israeli Government and to the municipal government.

QUESTION: Today, with respect to this specific demolition?

MR. WOOD: No, I’m saying in general with regard to these types of issues.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you raised it today?

MR. WOOD: I’ll certainly take a look at that. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one other related thing, if I may.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: The new Israeli foreign minister today is quoted as saying that peace efforts with the Palestinians have reached a, quote, “dead end,” closed quote. His full quote is “There’s definitely a regression here and we must understand and admit that we are at a dead end,” closed quote. Is that helpful?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have a special envoy, Senator Mitchell, who will be going to the region beginning April 13 to continue discussions with how we can move back to a very positive track with the goal being a two-state solution. We are going to hear comments from various parties about how they assess things. The important objective for us is to get this process back on track so that we can get to this two-state solution that we think is in the best interests of not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the United States and the rest of the world.

You know, it’s difficult. It’s not easy. And the people on both sides want to see results. And this Administration, in appointing a special envoy so early on in its tenure, shows that it’s committed to trying to get – to jumpstart this process to get everybody focused on the bigger goal, which is trying to get to that two-state solution. So it’s a process and there are going to be ups and downs, but we’ve got to continue to work through them.

Yes.

QUESTION: Speaking about the special envoy’s trip to the region, you posted a statement yesterday saying that he is going to meet people in the Gulf and also in the Maghreb.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific?

MR. WOOD: I’d like to be, Sylvie. I can’t because they’re still working out the actual stops on the trip. And as soon as we have all of that confirmed, we’ll certainly let you know. But that’s the reason why we weren’t able to be more specific, because we’re still working out the stops and the various states.

QUESTION: Just anything on the P-5+1 tomorrow in London?

MR. WOOD: Nothing beyond the fact that Bill Burns, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, will represent us at this P-5+1 meeting, and it’s obviously to chart the way forward in terms of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Hopefully, I can provide you a better readout after the meeting tomorrow.

Yes.

QUESTION: And does he plan to discuss any new sanctions or new resolution, or what is it exactly for?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say that we’re going to discuss the way forward. I don’t want to get ahead of the actual meeting itself.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iraq, as you know, the President is there right now and is apparently talking with Maliki by telephone rather than going in person. And it raises the question, I mean, is the government – is the U.S. Government specifically concerned about rising violence in Iraq? There have been, you know, recent reports about increasing suicide bombings and – are you – what are your concerns about increasing violence in Iraq, and is that why the President was doing it all by telephone?

MR. WOOD: No, my understanding is that he had to speak with Maliki by telephone because apparently there were some wet climate conditions --

QUESTION: Dust.

MR. WOOD: Dust and what have you.

QUESTION: That actually changed.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Oh, did it change?

QUESTION: Maliki went to the --

MR. WOOD: Oh, okay. You got a further update than I have.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you.

MR. WOOD: So, look, violence in Iraq, I think, overall has been on the decline. You’re going to see terrorists continuing to try to disrupt the functioning of the Iraqi Government. What’s important is that we help Iraqis to be able to help themselves and provide their own security and help give the people of Iraq hope. And you know, as I said, violence in Iraq overall has been on the decline. And the Iraqi Government, with our help and the help of others in the international community, is going to – we’re going to do what we can to try to give the Iraqi people a much better future, something that they so truly deserve.

QUESTION: Karzai says that he is going to review this law on women’s rights -- that has caused some concern here and elsewhere. I’m just wondering what – particularly given the Secretary’s interest in this issue of women’s rights and things like that, what exactly would the U.S. like to see done, changed, or removed from this?

MR. WOOD: Well, first and foremost, we want to see – we want the Afghan Government to review this law so that there are no provisions in there that discriminate against women, that violate the rights of women. This is an important issue for the Secretary, as you mentioned, for the President as well. You know, women have had an unfortunate and very sad history in Afghanistan, and the international community is contributing a lot. We have a number of female soldiers who are serving in Afghanistan. You know, this type of a law shouldn’t have been enacted without regard to changing some of these provisions which send a very negative signal to the international community about where Afghanistan is going.

So we’re glad that President Karzai has agreed to review this law, and we’ll have to – we’ll be watching this closely to see how the process develops.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out – I think you were asked if the Secretary raised it with Karzai directly when they were in The Hague together. Did you ever get an answer to that?

MR. WOOD: I think we answered that, but I don’t recall. Check with the Press Office. If not, give me a call later and I’ll get you an answer on that.



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