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Middle East Digest - March 1, 2010


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Washington, DC
March 1, 2010

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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 March 1, 2010

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QUESTION: How do you assess the meeting that Assistant Secretary Feltman has had on Friday with the Syrian ambassador, and what about the timing of this meeting that came one day after the Syrian-Iranian summit in Damascus?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would point it in a slightly different direction. It came several days after an important visit to Damascus by Under Secretary Bill Burns. It was the first opportunity for Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman to follow up on the particulars that were discussed as part of that visit. And Syria’s relations with Iran is one of those items that is a part of our ongoing discussion with Syria. We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. We also want – to the extent that it has the ability to talk to Iran directly, we want to make sure that Syria’s communicating to Iran its concerns about its role in the region and the direction, the nature of its nuclear ambitions. So – but the primary purpose for having the Syrian ambassador in was to just kind of follow up on that meeting in Damascus and chart the way forward.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s a shift, I would say. And more importantly, do you have anything to back up the nuclear report, i.e., like the NIE? Anything to sort of suggest they’re on the right track?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we have lots of questions and information that backs up the IAEA report. Of course, the IAEA has had inspectors in Iran and they are the ones who have raised the concerns about the inability to answer the questions that we all have about Iran’s programs, its facilities, its lack of transparency on the nuclear issue.

I think it’s very important – this was a report by the IAEA but it represents not just the concerns the United States has but the concerns the international community has. So it’s unfortunate that the Ayatollah might try to once again create this satanic frame. This is about questions that the world at large has about Iran, the role its playing in the region, and its nuclear concerns. No one wants to see a nuclear arms race develop in the Middle East, but it would be better for Iran, rather than protesting this report, to come forward in a constructive way and answer the questions that the IAEA has on behalf of the international community as a whole.

QUESTION: You may have been asked this before, and forgive me, but does the NIE that we haven’t seen yet, does it support basically what the nuclear report that’s just come out --

MR. CROWLEY: I think the key words there are “that we have not seen yet.” (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. But okay, so what’s the holdup? Is it done? When do we expect it to get out?

MR. CROWLEY: Those are fine questions to ask the DNI.

QUESTION: Is Mr. Steinberg’s visit to China to focus on Iran? Because it’s coming immediately after his visit to Israel.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would think that Deputy Secretary Steinberg will clearly talk about Iran, but it also will clearly talk about the broad U.S.-China relationship, where we are at this stage. We’ve gone through a bit of a bumpy path here, and I think there’s an interest both within the United States and China to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.

Yeah. I promised.



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