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Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - April 20, 2009


April 20, 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 20, 2009

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MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. Happy Monday. I’m going to start off with a brief statement and this is on new media technology.

The Department of State is facilitating the travel to Baghdad, Iraq, for the delegation of nine senior high-technology company representatives beginning Sunday, April 19, yesterday, to April 23. This will be the first delegation of its kind to Iraq. While in Iraq, the group will explore new opportunities to support Iraqi Government and nongovernment stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry.

The delegation includes a mix of CEOs, vice presidents, and senior representatives from AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, You Tube, Automatic/Wordpress, and Blue State Digital. During their visit to Iraq, they will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.

During the trip the delegation will meet with representatives from the Government of Iraq, the public and private education sectors, Iraqi technology companies, and groups active in Iraqi civil society.

Secretary Clinton has been a strong proponent of using the full range of tools, including emerging new media and communication technologies, to leverage capabilities that will allow for diplomacy not just with governments, but also with people and between different societies.

QUESTION: Another subject. Do you have any reaction to the speech of Ahmadinejad today at the Human Rights Council and the fact that he called Israel a racist state?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, Sylvie, look, unfortunately, we’ve heard all of this before from President Ahmadinejad. The comments that he made frankly were unacceptable, and frankly feed racial hatred. Iran needs to end this type of inflammatory rhetoric. It’s not helpful. And I think you saw today a number of delegates walked out during his speech, which I think sent a very powerful message to Iran that this type of rhetoric is unhelpful, it’s counterproductive. And as I said, it just feeds racial hatred. And you know, as I said, we’ve heard this before and, you know, we have said this type of rhetoric – this is not rhetoric that should be used in the 21st century, frankly.

QUESTION: So are you still interested in pursuing dialogue with Ahmadinejad and his government?

MR. WOOD: We have had said that we want to engage Iran directly through diplomacy.

QUESTION: Can you do that after he makes speeches like this?

MR. WOOD: Well, we – look, we certainly hope to be able to engage Iran on a number of issues. There are a number of situations around the world where we need to engage Iran. We’ve been very concerned about Iran’s behavior Iraq, its support for Hezbollah, for other terrorist groups. So – and obviously, this type of rhetoric and behavior is unhelpful. And you know – but it’s up to Iran.

If Iran, as I’ve said many times, wants a different relationship with the international community, it’s got to change its behavior and stop this, you know, horrible rhetoric. In the end, it’s going to be up to Iran. But this Administration has said it’s willing to engage in direct diplomacy.

QUESTION: In his speech or his comments, this rhetoric doesn’t affect the Administration’s desire to have a dialogue with him?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, this type of rhetoric is not helpful to trying to contribute – it’s not helpful in contributing to a dialogue. But I think what was important is that a number of delegates today spoke out very clearly through their actions by walking out during that speech. And --

QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m asking is: Are you – is the Administration still interested in pursuing dialogue with Iran after the speech?

MR. WOOD: Well, we want to have a direct dialogue with Iran, but Iran needs to do a number of things if it’s going to get back in the overall good graces of the international community. That type of rhetoric is not helpful and doesn’t help facilitate a constructive dialogue.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t preclude it?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not precluding it because we have said, very straightforwardly, we want to have direct diplomacy with Iran.

QUESTION: Right. Now you mentioned that the people who walked out sent a very powerful message. So why didn’t the U.S. go? If this is a very powerful message, why didn’t you guys go too and then walk out and join in this very powerful message?

MR. WOOD: Matt, as you know, we put out a statement on this, we’ve spoken to this quite clearly why we didn’t. We felt that there were references to the 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action that were not acceptable to us. There were some references to – in the document to – that, in our view, did not allow for, you know, broad freedom of speech and expression. And so we’ve made that very clear what our position was with regard to attending the conference. What I’m commenting on is what took place at the conference. And so I don’t have any more for that.

QUESTION: Do you think the Europeans were right to go there to attend this conference since they walked away?

MR. WOOD: You know, each individual country has to make a decision as to what it wants to do with regard to attendance at any conference. I’d have to refer you to those European leaders whose countries attended. I – you know, I just – I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: Israel said that they were disappointed by (inaudible) because they weren’t there.

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, the Government of Israel is saying what it believes and feels. I’m just saying to you what our position was from the beginning, and that we tried to, you know, work with a number of countries to get a document that would allow us to attend, but in the end, that wasn’t possible.

QUESTION: The Secretary talked a little bit about the Roxana Saberi case upstairs earlier. But do you know when the last contact you had with the Swiss was? Have the Iranians ever responded to the aide-memoire?

MR. WOOD: They have not responded to the aide-memoire as far as I know.

QUESTION: And then on the Swiss contact, what else can you do to try and get the Iranians to release her?

MR. WOOD: We’re working very hard. Look --

QUESTION: How?

MR. WOOD: Diplomatically.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how and with who?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve been in touch --

QUESTION: Through the Swiss?

MR. WOOD: That’s right, through our Swiss protecting partner – power. And we’re trying to get more details about the sentence, which I think we’ve spoken to over the weekend.

Look, she’s been wrongly accused. There have been charges that she, you know, committed espionage. And it’s absolutely without foundation. You know, we’re deeply concerned about this. And we are going to continue to work through the Swiss to find out as much information as we can, to make sure that she has been properly treated, and go from there.

I don’t really want to get much more into the substance of our diplomatic activities, but just to let you know that we are working this very hard. We’re very, very concerned about this case.

QUESTION: Well, is there any thought being given to possibly expanding from the Swiss to others to exert – to bring pressure on --

MR. WOOD: Well, Matt, I don’t want to talk about what we may or may not be doing beyond what I’ve said. But I can assure you, as you saw through the Secretary’s statement over the weekend, we remain extremely concerned about this process. And we’ll just have to see. We’ll keep you posted on that.



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