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Middle East Digest - April 21, 2009


April 21, 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 21, 2009

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MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Any readout on the Secretary’s meeting with Mutassim Qadhafi today?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. They had a very – what I would call, you know, a productive meeting. They talked about a broad range of issues – you know, one being security cooperation, the second being expanding the broader relationship. And I don’t want to get into the details of what went on in the meeting, but it was a good discussion.

And you know, we’re trying to move forward with our relationship with Libya and we’ve come a long way, as you all know, over the last couple of years. And so the Secretary looks forward to working with the Government of Libya on improving our bilateral relationship and dealing with some of these thorny issues where we disagree and where we can make further progress.

QUESTION: Have they discussed Fathi El-Jahmi’s issue?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into the substance of the discussions, as I just said.

QUESTION: Did they discuss human rights at all?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to get into the details of the discussion beyond what I’ve just given you.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the only point that I would make is that – and I wasn’t asking for details – but it’d be interesting to know if generally the topic of human rights came up, because you talked about security cooperation generally, and you talked about expanding the broader relationship, but you don’t mention anything other than sort of moving – you know, making progress on the thorny issues where you disagree. And it just seems odd if all the public emphasis is on security cooperation and sort of moving on, but you don’t actually acknowledge the human rights issues or -

MR. WOOD: You know, as I said, I don’t want to go into any more specifics beyond what I’ve said. But of course, human rights is an important issue. We have raised human rights issues with Libya on numerous occasions. Let me just leave it at that, if I may.

QUESTION: One more on that, Robert, please.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The – there was a letter in The New York Times just a week or two ago by the Libyan ambassador saying that Libya had given up its WMD, but it had not been rewarded as it should have been, and saying that the U.S. ought to send a stronger message that Libya has made the right decision, and that other countries were taking a message from what’s going on – namely, North Korea and Iran – to say, well, maybe it’s not worth giving up our weapons either.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I don’t think it’s fair to draw that kind of a parallel. What I would say is that, look, the relationship has come a long way. You know what the relationship was, you know, as recently as a year ago. There have been a lot of differences that we’ve had with the Government of Libya over the years. We have made tremendous progress in this relationship within the last, you know, six months or so.

And look, for the relationship to get – to become a normal relationship, a lot of things have to happen. A lot of the concerns that we have with the Libyans, with regard to human rights and other important elements, are going to have to be addressed. And – but again, we think we’re on a good path with Libya right now to dealing with a host of these issues and in trying to move the relationship forward.

But it’s going to take more time. It’s not something – you’re not going to expect a relationship to, you know, change dramatically overnight. It takes time. You know, resolving the Pan Am 103 issue was a very important event in this relationship. There’s still a lot – a long way to go in terms of getting that relationship to the point we’d like to see it. So – but it’s going to take time, and we understand that, and we’re willing to put in the hard work. And we certainly hope that the Libyans are willing to put in the hard work as well.

James.

QUESTION: On what issues or fronts is there security cooperation between the United States and Libya?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I don’t want to go beyond what I’ve said. But certainly, we want to see Libya play a positive role in the Middle East. We want to see Libya work with us to prevent the proliferation of weapons around the world. There are a range of issues. But again, we’re taking it step-by-step in trying to build this relationship. And it’s not to say that we won’t have, you know, ups and downs. We certainly will. But we’ve come a long way and I think that’s important to recognize. But we still have a long way to go as well.

QUESTION: Would you say that there is existing security cooperation between the two countries or the talks without getting into the specifics, or aimed at trying to establish the ground?

MR. WOOD: I think we’re trying to build that type of closer cooperation on security matters.

Yes.

QUESTION: Anything new on Roxana Saberi?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have really much new on Roxana Saberi. We are still, obviously, trying to work for her release. We’re very concerned, as I said yesterday, about the whole – the transparency of this judicial process. We – the sentencing, of course, was of great concern to us. We’re working with our allies to try to press the government in Tehran to disclose fully, you know, the charges against Ms. Saberi and ensure, as I said yesterday, you know, that she’s being treated properly. And you know, we want to see a transparent appeals process. We think that’s critical here. And we expect, as outlined in the International Civil Covenant on Political and Human Rights, and as well as the Declaration on Human Rights, which Libya – excuse me, which Iran has, I believe Iran has ratified both of them, that they’ll follow through on those commitments. And so – but nothing further than that at this point.

Anything else on Roxana Saberi? Okay.

QUESTION: Robert, yesterday you were asked about the arrests of intellectuals, writers, and university professors in Turkey. And you said that you didn’t see the reports and you will look into it. Have you anything more to say today?

MR. WOOD: I don’t really have anything more to say. We’ve seen the reports and we’re certainly confident that Turkey will handle this particular case, or these cases, in a manner that is in line with Turkey’s, you know, laws and constitution.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the American journalists detained in North Korea?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t, unfortunately. I’m trying to get more information, but I don’t have anything to update you on.

QUESTION: And have you heard back from Swedish – they were able to meet them for the second time or --

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

Yes.

QUESTION: Robert, the situation in Pakistan, according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the Taliban are cutting off the ears and noses of village elders who oppose them. Last week, I raised the issue of the little girl in Somalia who was stoned to death. What is the position on this extreme form of sharia law which seems to be spreading with the Taliban?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, it’s horrific, the practices that the Taliban are engaged in. This is why it’s so important for the international community to come together and to use all of our means to defeat these extremists.

QUESTION: But they seem to be spreading. I’m just looking at the map. You’ve got Islamic areas to the north of Pakistan, the Chinese are afraid of the Islamic extremists in Xinjiang, and then you have Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. It looks as though they’re spreading all – I mean, rather than getting weaker, they seem to be taking over huger and huger areas.

MR. WOOD: Well, I – first of all, I don’t think we can make that kind of broad assessment. The Taliban are a very serious threat. There’s no question about that. And you know, we are working with the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to do what we can to counter these violent extremists. But you know, they’ve carried out horrific acts. They continue to do so. The international community needs to come together, and we are trying as are others to bring diplomatic, military, and other types of pressures on the Taliban to defeat them. It’s not going to be easy. It’s been very difficult the last seven years. And you know, as you’ve seen – as an outcome of our strategic review, that the Administration is very clear in terms of how we’re going to prioritize our efforts to defeat the Taliban, to strengthen both Afghan and Pakistan – Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s not going to be an easy thing.

But we think we have a strategy in place. We think we have buy-in from other partners in the international community. So we’re going to go forward and start implementing and – but under no illusions of how difficult this is. But these people need to be defeated, and we’re going to continue to work to do so.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t Russia be a very important ally in this because –

MR. WOOD: Russia is a very important ally in this, and Russia’s very committed to defeating the Taliban as well. And they’re working closely with the United States and other countries to try to do that.

QUESTION: How are these people able to spread so far?

MR. WOOD: You know, look, the Taliban take advantage – have taken advantage of very difficult situations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And what we have to do is try to strengthen civil society in these countries, governance – extend governance outward in these countries so that, you know, it can be shown that the Taliban just don’t have the support that, you know, they claim to have and that they do have in many cases. But it’s going to take a lot of effort. But we’re willing to make that effort.

MR. WOOD: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Omani foreign minister has several meetings in the building today, one of them with Secretary Clinton in the afternoon and the other one with Dennis Ross. Do you have anything on this meeting?

MR. WOOD: No. I do know that the Secretary is looking forward to meeting with the Omani foreign minister and they will be discussing a range of issues, both bilateral and regional. And she’s looking very forward to having that conversation. Oman is an important player in the region and she wants to, you know, talk with her counterpart about how we might be able to advance peace in the Middle East, a more stable Gulf region, and go from there. We’ll, you know, be able to provide you with a readout later, possibly tomorrow if we can’t get it by the end of the day.



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