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Middle East Digest - April 28, 2009

April 28, 2009


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 28, 2009

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QUESTION: The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, told – he stated to foreign journalists that he believes Usama bin Ladin is dead. What did the State Department – is he dead or alive?

MR. WOOD: Look, I have no information that indicates that Usama bin Ladin is, you know, frankly, dead or alive. I just – we don’t know. We will continue to hunt Usama bin Ladin until we can capture him or bring justice to him. But I don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, there’s a report out there that Dennis Ross is going to the Gulf region later this week to talk to countries there about outreach with Iran. Can you talk about that?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that Dennis Ross will be traveling, but I don’t have – we don’t have an itinerary yet. As soon as we do have something to say further about it, we will.

QUESTION: Well, what is the purpose of it, though, I mean, politically?

MR. WOOD: Well, when we have something to announce, we’ll get it out to you.

QUESTION: But does he plan to meet any Iranians along the way? Is he going to --

MR. WOOD: When we have some more information, I’ll be happy to give it to you. But I don’t have anything at this point.

QUESTION: But is that one of the things that he’d like to do? I mean, is that what the State Department – he’s a high-level guy. Are you interested in him having – sitting down with the Iranians now to talk or --

MR. WOOD: We’re not there yet.
QUESTION: On Lebanon, just looking ahead to elections after the Secretary’s trip, are you making any contingency plans in case Hezbollah wins a majority? For example, reviewing military aid to the government and --

MR. WOOD: I think the Secretary spoke to this very clearly when she was in Beirut. I mean, we obviously want to see free elections. We’re going to support the Lebanese Government. We certainly want to see, you know, a government that has moderate views in place. We’ve made that very clear. What’s important here is that there not be interference in Lebanese internal affairs. We want to make sure that everyone supports a free election in Lebanon and, as an overall goal, a free, democratic, prosperous Lebanon. And that’s going to be our policy going forward.

You know, we’ll just have to see what happens after the election. But as I said, I think the Secretary was very clear in terms of where we stand with regard to Lebanon and the upcoming election.

QUESTION: The Administration is asking for the Congress to make some changes in U.S. law that would allow aids to continue flowing to Palestinian, even if Hamas become part of the – of a new government. This move has alarmed a number of lawmakers and supporters of Israel. How the Administration will deal with this opposition in the Congress? And are we seeing a real shift in the U.S. policy toward Hamas?

MR. WOOD: Our policy has not changed toward Hamas. And I really don’t have anything to add. The Secretary spoke to this very clearly in her testimony. We will be having conversations with the Congress about this question. But I really don’t have anything beyond what the Secretary said, and she, I think, was very clear in terms of what our position is.


QUESTION: Back to Iran. President Ahmadinejad, he made remarks yesterday – we heard they were broadcast yesterday – which appeared to say that if the Palestinians were to accept a two-state solution, that Iran would abide by that. Do you see this as an encouraging sign, or do you see this as a shift in policy on the part of Iran?

MR. WOOD: You’ll have to ask Iran. What we want to do is – what we want to see is Iran play a positive role in the region, which up until now it hasn’t. And a two-state solution, as you know, is what – the policy that we’re pursuing in the Middle East. And, you know, if Iran wants to show goodwill, it should encourage those forces that it supports that are opposed to a two-state solution to cease their opposition and work constructively toward helping us reach that two-state solution.


QUESTION: Different topic. Based on the Secretary’s comments last week about Pakistan, do you have any reaction about the latest military action in Pakistan against the forces of the Taliban and extremists (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have any reaction beyond what the Secretary and others have been calling for, and that’s for the Pakistani Government and military to take very decisive actions against these extremists. And we will be doing what we can to support the Government of Pakistan as it continues to fight extremism in the country.

But I – Charley, I don’t have anything beyond what we – you know, what we’ve been saying.

QUESTION: So do you think that the message was received that the Secretary so forcefully made public?

MR. WOOD: I think Pakistan understands the threat that it faces internally, and it’s got to take steps to deal with it. And we’ve been very clear on what we think Pakistan needs to do, and we’re going – as I said, we’re going to work with Pakistan, and not just Pakistan, but Afghanistan and other areas where these violent extremists are operating and trying to undermine fragile democracies. So whether it was the Secretary who influenced them or they just decided within their own national security interest to do so, I can’t tell you. The important thing is that they need to act further because these extremists are a threat to Pakistan as well as to the region.

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