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Middle East Digest - April 14, 2010


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Washington, DC
April 14, 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 April 14, 2010

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2:49 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Middle East. Again, these reports about the Syrians moving Scud missiles into southern Lebanon and are giving them to Hezbollah have emerged. Senator McCain raised the issue at the hearing on Iran this morning and Under Secretary of Defense Flournoy said that the U.S. is very concerned by these reports. Do you have anything to add to that? And – well, that’s the end of the question.

MR. CROWLEY: We are concerned about it. And if such an action has been taken – and we continue to analyze this issue – it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honor UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And clearly, it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk. We have been concerned enough that in recent weeks, during one of our regular meetings with the Syrian ambassador here in Washington, that we’ve raised the issue with the Syrian Government and continue to study the issue. But obviously, it’s something of great concern to us.

QUESTION: Well, the Syrians deny that they have any – (a) that this is happening, but (b) that they have anything to do with it. Do you accept that denial?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s – I mean, there’s a broader issue here. Regardless of the issue of Scuds, we are – we remain concerned about the provision of increasingly sophisticated weaponry to parties in – to Hezbollah. And this is an issue that we continue to raise with Syria, other parties in the region. And this is a clear threat to Lebanon’s security.

QUESTION: Well, does that – this is a clear threat to Lebanon’s security? That means you’re – so you believe or you know that these Scuds have been transferred?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters. I don’t think at this point, we have a clear --

QUESTION: Well, you just did. You just said that you’re --

QUESTION: Wait, could you finish your sentence? You said at this point, you don’t think you have a clear indication?

MR. CROWLEY: A clear picture.

QUESTION: A clear picture.

QUESTION: But you just did. You just said that this – that the transfer of increasingly sophisticated weaponry, as if it was a fact.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there is --

QUESTION: Is it a fact?

MR. CROWLEY: -- a flow of weaponry into Lebanon. I’m not talking about systems as large as Scuds, but we are concerned about it and we have raised it with various parties, including the Syrians.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the Scud reports are wrong?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not commenting on – specifically on scud reports.

QUESTION: Could this issue affect the dispatch of the ambassador designate to Damascus?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – no. We hope to have an ambassador placed in Damascus because it’s in our national interest to do so, that – so we have the opportunity to raise on a continual basis not only our concerns about Syria’s behavior but also work, we hope, over time more constructively with Syria on our areas of mutual interest, including potentially Syria’s important role, should it choose, in the peace process.

QUESTION: Is Lebanon the only country that is affected by this, if Scuds were placed in southern Lebanon? Are there other concerns?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, obviously a concern that we would have if you hearken back to a brief discussion that Matt and I had on Monday over what is the nature of a state, one of the essential ingredients of a state is monopoly in terms of the significant use of force. And if you have non-state actors that are armed to the teeth, that actually – that threatens the security of that particular country and stability across the region. That is something that we have been concerned about for some time. And we would be looking for countries in the region, including Syria, to play a more constructive role in taking responsibility for regional security.

QUESTION: But you don’t – you’re not afraid that this could jeopardize Israel’s security? I mean, you’re talking about Lebanon.

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s a clear risk to a number of countries in the region, given the range – and again, I’m not confirming anything.

QUESTION: Well, and given the mission of Hezbollah, right?

MR. CROWLEY: But given the range of those particular systems, if that report proved to be true, that would be a threat to a number of countries in the region, including Israel.

QUESTION: On Turkey and Iran, the Turkish foreign minister told some reporters today that he’s been involved in these active discussions with Iran about getting them to accept this research reactor deal and that he’s still having talks with them. And he sees that Iran is showing a greater flexibility and he sees the possibility of some progress. Do you see those diplomatic efforts as leading anywhere? Are you hopeful that there might be some kind of breakthrough or are you – is sanctions the only game in town now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. As the Secretary said, I believe, in the press conference at the UN following the Haiti donors conference, we think that our diplomatic effort involves engagement and, if necessary, pressure. We have steadfastly offered engagement for more than a year, and Iran has failed to engage constructively. We are focused right now both in terms of meetings that the President and the Secretary had during the Nuclear Security Summit, but now in New York working on the guts of a resolution. And we think these are both vital components of a diplomatic effort to get – to convince Iran that it should follow a different path. But should it choose not to do so, there’ll be consequences.

QUESTION: But specifically on this Turkish effort, on this Turkish diplomacy, he says he’s been going there like once a month and he sees something gelling together that you might see some kind of breakthrough, plans on going back to Iran possibly very shortly. I mean, do you see this as having any legs? I know in general you support diplomacy, but specifically on these Turkish efforts.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the Secretary and the President have said, we have not given up on engagement. And to the extent that there are countries that have better relations with Iran than we do, that if they can convince Iran to change direction, we would welcome that step. I think, obviously, the details do matter. Iran communicates publicly that some greater flexibility – but when you look behind the curtain there’s really nothing there.

So we would like to see Iran change its present course. We’d like to see it come forward, be more forthcoming through the IAEA in terms of meeting its obligations. If Iran chooses to do that, clearly that’s the ultimate objective of this effort, but – Iran has said a great many things, but we will be guided by what they actually do.

QUESTION: So can we say that the United – State Department is not trying to convince Turkey for what – for the sanctions, but is expecting a negotiation role from Turkey on Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think what we would probably say is that this is not an either/or proposition. We think that there are two tracks to our strategy. We are still interested in seeing the engagement track work, but we also recognize that at this particular time, we also believe that it’s time to put forward a strong resolution that yields real consequences for what Iran has failed to do.

QUESTION: When are you --

MR. CROWLEY: So we don’t think the – we would disagree with those who would say put this on hold because we still think this has promise. We think the most effective strategy will be moving in both, in parallel.

QUESTION: To follow up?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: There will be a summit on – in Iran regarding another nuclear summit this Friday starting, and Turkey will join maybe to the summit. What is your opinion about the countries which will join this summit?

MR. CROWLEY: If – any country that wants to go to Iran and convince Iran to change its course, to meet its obligation, to come forward and answer the questions that the international community has about its nuclear ambitions and its nuclear activity, that is the right of any country to try to convince Iran to change course. But to the extent that Iran is going to have its own nuclear summit, I think we’re skeptical that anything positive or concrete will come out of it.

QUESTION: You said you had wanted to pass the sanctions – a sanctions resolution within weeks, or the President said that.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, he did.

QUESTION: The Turks, for instance – the Turkish minister said that you haven’t even started talking with rotating members about what type of sanctions. And they feel that they don’t know if they could support it or not because they don’t even know the context or the nature of the discussions, except what they read from the press. So when are you going to start talking to the general membership about what kind of sanctions you’re proposing? Or are you just going to present them with a resolution and say here, vote for this?

MR. CROWLEY: That work is ongoing in New York and I would expect – I mean, we are having consultations with a range of countries.

QUESTION: But not Turkey, or Brazil?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are – we have been consulting very closely with Turkey on Iran. We are only at the point now where we are beginning to identify the specifics of a resolution. And obviously, that is work that will involve the entire UN Security Council at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: But is that just something that, like the P-5, is kind of developing what type of sanctions you want to put in the resolution, and then you’re presenting that as a list to the general membership? Or don’t you think that the general membership should play a part in what type of sanctions they think they could support? Or do you just care about the vetoes?

MR. CROWLEY: They will play – no, they will play a part.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)



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