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Middle East Digest - January 12, 2010

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Washington, DC
January 12, 2010


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 January 12, 2010

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12:52 p.m. EST

Senator Mitchell is in Brussels today. He had meetings with the EU political and security committee, the Paris group, and then had bilateral meetings with EU foreign affairs chief Baroness Ashton, with Tony Blair, and with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos. Tomorrow, he will have a Quartet meeting at the envoy level.

Special Representative Holbrooke is in – is on his way and should be landing shortly in Islamabad. He, this morning, was in Abu Dhabi, where he had a meeting of the special representatives international network that was hosted by the UAE. The foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UAE and Jordan also attended, as well as several GCC countries in a portion of the meeting this morning. The network is one which meets regularly and is an important mechanism for building support for the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you give us an update on your secret program to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists? (Laughter.)

MR. DUGUID: I believe we have responded to this sort of question earlier today. The idea, the discussion, the charge that the United States had anything to do with a murder in Tehran today is absurd.



QUESTION: What is your best guess as to why the charge would be made in the first place? Are they grasping at straws?

MR. DUGUID: I’m not going to guess on this instance or other instances where charges are hurled about willy-nilly. The fact remains we are working within prescribed diplomatic channels to engage the Government of Iran on their behavior. Their nuclear program is of particular concern to us, as you know, and that is what we are working with the government on.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: This particular group that says they are responsible for it, the Royal Association of Iran, in the past, they have said that they’re based in Los Angeles. Is this something that the U.S. is looking into?

MR. DUGUID: I am unaware that this group before – as coming up here has made any claim whatsoever. I will look into it and see if I can get back to you on anything. The fact remains the charges that the United States has any connection with this murder in Tehran is absurd.

Yes, Jill.

QUESTION: Gordon, do you have any information on this man at all and why he might be a target?

MR. DUGUID: We don’t have people on the ground in Tehran, as you all know. We therefore rely on allies and partners who may have embassies or missions on the ground to share what they may know with us. At the moment, I don’t have any more information. We are asking friends and allies what they may know. No decision on – or, sorry, no information that I’ve seen has come in at this point that I could share with you.

QUESTION: The charge is both absurd and false; correct?

MR. DUGUID: Yes. Yes –

QUESTION: I was just wondering your position on the wall being built along the Rafah border in Egypt.

MR. DUGUID: We have seen that Egypt is carrying out activities which will help stop weapons smuggling into Gaza. We believe that weapons smuggling should stop, and that measures taken to stop that weapons smuggling should be – could be carried out, yes.

QUESTION: Well, aside from the weapons going through those tunnels, there’s also humanitarian aid that does and medicine and food going through.

MR. DUGUID: We also support greater access for humanitarian supplies to get into Gaza. There are established channels for that, and those established channels should not be hindered by Hamas or any party in Gaza. We do support the humanitarian supplies flowing into Gaza.

QUESTION: So you’d like to see the Egyptians open the Rafah border for humanitarian aid, then, which they haven’t done.

MR. DUGUID: What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped, but at the same time look for ways that we can improve the lives of ordinary Gazans through the supply of humanitarian aid.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up, mainly on the political scope of what – of the wall. It’s creating a political rift inside Egypt’s parliament as well as with the upcoming elections, and they view this wall being built as a possible hindrance to Egypt acting as an honest broker through the peace process. Is that of concern to you that the –

MR. DUGUID: I will – we will continue to work with Egypt as one of the parties that has much influence in the region and has been working to try and get the parties back to the negotiating table. That is our concern right now. We want to see the parties return to the negotiating table to start talking about the issues that will lead to a settlement or that can build the confidence to lead to a settlement. For reactions or divisions within Egypt, I refer to you to the Government of Egypt for that.

QUESTION: But Hamas and the majority of the Egyptian parliament, they believe that this wall will be a huge problem for the peace process and it will hinder negotiations. So, having said that, do you support this wall being built, even though it’s –

MR. DUGUID: I think I’ve given you our position that we need to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza, and this wall is being built as – in that effort.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: What kind of sanctions the P-5+1 political directors will discuss on Saturday in New York?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I don’t know that anybody’s given in exact detail the agenda for the next P5+1 meeting, which will take place towards the end of this week. What will be discussed, of course, is ideas that any of the partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations, on which of the two tracks needs to be pushed at this time. We will be looking at specific measures, of course. I think we will bring our ideas to the table, as well as our other partners, and discuss those. But let’s let the meeting take place first before we start talking about what it is that they may come up with. This is going to be a very long process. We are starting our discussions. They will be deliberate. They will be deliberative. And we’ll move on from there.

QUESTION: But this has already been a very long process. Numerous years. How much longer is it going to be?

MR. DUGUID: We will continue –

QUESTION: And in the meantime, while you guys have been talking away and chatting and not getting anywhere on the sanctions issue, the Iranians have continued to enrich. How much longer?

MR. DUGUID: The Iranian nuclear program has continued, and we have continued to oppose it. It is our goal to get Iran to live up to its international obligations. To do that, we feel that the two-track approach is the best approach. We will continue to work at it as long as it takes to achieve the objective. And we will continue to look at both tracks, and seriously look at both tracks, in order to better target not only whatever sanctions might be effective but also to look at those other incentives. We have a very good deal on the table right now with the TRR. We continue to say that Iran should accept that deal and help build the confidence that we all need to accept that its nuclear program is, as it says, for peaceful means and not otherwise.


QUESTION: Gordon, the Secretary the other day talked in general terms about the approach that the United States has right now concerning sanctions, and she was saying that there was a small leadership group. She seemed to be implying, or at least we inferred, that it was the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Could you expand – I mean, was that what she was talking about and is the policy now, or the approach, strategy of the United States to zero in specifically on that group?

MR. DUGUID: Our policy right now is to have a P-5+1 meeting and talk through a range of options and ideas with our partners and come to some conclusions after that on which we might be able to move forward. The Secretary’s remarks stand for themselves. I don’t think I need to go into them any further in advance of the meeting. I’m sure that following the meeting, we may have something to say.

But I do want to reiterate that this is a start of the process that we are going to deliberate. We are going to have more meetings of the P-5+1, and we are going to continue to look for a satisfactory resolution to getting our goals met as far as Iran’s nuclear program is concerned.

QUESTION: But just in general, you know, the debate always is if you have sanctions they could hurt average people, and if you target it, then you get the people who might be most --

MR. DUGUID: And our – and we – and I do agree, and we do agree. Our differences are not with the people of Iran. Our differences are not with Iran having a peaceful civilian nuclear program. Iran’s international obligations would allow it to have a peaceful civilian nuclear program to provide energy. Iran’s behavior heretofore has not built any confidence that their stated objectives mesh with what we’ve seen on the ground.

We need to get to a point where we do have confidence that what they say they are doing is exactly what they are doing. In order to do that, they need to live up to their agreed international obligations so that we can verify those things that they’ve been saying.

Yes. Same subject?

QUESTION: Yeah, Egypt if you don’t mind. Just generally speaking --

MR. DUGUID: Same subject was Iran, but we’ll go back to Egypt.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought – you know what I was talking about.


QUESTION: Well, are you just confident that Egypt will be able to help negotiate with the peace process?

MR. DUGUID: Egypt is a – is one of our partners in the peace process. We are working not only with Egypt, but with Jordan. Last week, we had meetings at the very senior level, at the Secretary’s level and foreign minister level here at the State Department. We continue to move forward with our partners to try and work for a way to get the parties back to the table and restart negotiations.

QUESTION: I have a last question on the subject.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

QUESTION: Any comments on the American citizens who were beaten on the streets of (inaudible) last week during a peaceful demonstration?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have anything for you at the moment.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Egyptian police were beating American women on the streets of Tahrir Square?

MR. DUGUID: I will look and see if we have more information for you on that and we’ll try and get back to you.

QUESTION: No one contacted the State Department on that?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have – it doesn’t mean that no one contacted the State Department. I wasn’t given anything to respond to your question at the moment. I will try and do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Okay. Yes, here and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just one more on Iran, please. So twice you’ve said this will be a very long process, it will be deliberative, this is the start of a process, so, you know, it’s going to take a while. However, as – when we got around New Year’s Day, we were seized with the idea that this was a deadline and that the President made this a priority and there was a sense of urgency about it. Does this mean that there was no real deadline, that this is just going to continue to go on as it has for a long time?

MR. DUGUID: No, Jill, I wouldn’t characterize it that way at all. We do have a sense of urgency. We do want to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. That is an urgent matter, but it’s not one to be approached in a headlong rush. Now, I know that you can say we have been at this for some years. That is true. We will go about it in a deliberative way in order to produce effective results.


QUESTION: Yesterday, you were asked about the acquittal of Sheik Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan. Having said that, the issue of human rights is very important for the State Department. There’s an annual review, obviously, that’s handed over to the Congress. Are you hopeful or have you received any indication that there may be a review of the judge’s decision?

MR. DUGUID: We haven’t received any information that there will be. We would welcome a careful review of the judge’s decision and an assessment of all available legal options to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met.

Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: Ambassador Mr. Holbrooke’s in Abu Dhabi. What were the key issues discussed at the Abu Dhabi meeting yesterday?

MR. DUGUID: The – for Special Representative Holbrooke?


MR. DUGUID: The issues are that we are trying to build support for the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan among the international community by coordinating the various levels of support and providing a forum for open discussion. That is the purpose of the group. I don’t have a specific outcome of the meeting for you at this time.

QUESTION: Were aid-related issues also discussed?

MR. DUGUID: They are aid-related issues, yes indeed. Ambassador Holbrooke is coordinating the civilian side of our engagement in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Other questions?

(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)

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