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Middle East Digest - May 21, 2010

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Washington, DC
May 21, 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 May 21, 2010

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1:20 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the hikers in Iran, the family visit, and any prospect for release?

MR. CROWLEY: The mothers of the three hikers remain in Tehran. We understand that they had a second meeting with their children earlier today, and we are grateful for that. And beyond that, we understand they’re still there. And that we certainly continue to call upon the Government of Iran to release them on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: The U.S. military has released two Iranian prisoners. Can we see any link or --

MR. CROWLEY: Actually, I think, Lach, that’s not true. You’ll remember last July the U.S. military turned over to Iraqi custody five Iranians. And I would defer to the Iraqis as to whether any of those Iranians have been recently released.

QUESTION: So they’re in the hands of the Iraqis right now and it’s up to the Iraqis to release them; is that what you’re saying?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, in July 2009, consistent with the requirements of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, the U.S. transferred five Iranian detainees to Iraqi custody. So if there were further releases of any of these individuals to Iran, I would refer you to the Iraqis.

QUESTION: So the Iraqi Government’s on good terms with the Iranians, so does it at least raise some hopes that if these guys are released, then the Iranians may be more encouraged to release the Americans – the three Americans?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, the circumstance – if there was such a release, those circumstances were up to the governments of Iran and Iraq.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any Iranians in custody in Iraq?


QUESTION: Okay. And you said that the mothers are still there. The wire reports were saying they were seen on their way to the airport. Do you have any indication that --

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, I mean, we’ll find out. I mean, I think the – they will be the ones who will be telling you what is happening. We obviously are getting some information from our Swiss protecting power. But on, I think,, that’s where I think you’ll chart what continues to happen with the three mothers.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran real quickly? There’s a word that the U.S. denied a visa to an Iranian deputy foreign minister who wanted to go to the NPT Review Conference. Is that true and why would you have kept him out of the country?

MR. CROWLEY: Visa decisions are confidential.

QUESTION: But you already said – when you approve the visa it’s not confidential. I mean, you say we’ll approve this visa. I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Is there a particular reason why this individual was not --

MR. CROWLEY: It’s not a matter of a visa decision being confidential. In this particular case, regarding the delegation that was coming to the United Nations, obviously if we approve visas they become visible, as with the arrival of President Ahmadinejad at the United Nations.


QUESTION: On Pakistan, can you say more about this Warden’s Message that the Embassy sent out about avoiding a catering company that might have ties to the Taliban? It looks as if the owner’s son was arrested in Pakistan for talking to the Taliban about targeting VIPs and other diplomats at government functions.

MR. CROWLEY: Let us see if we can get you something on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And another one on Pakistan: There’s been some more reports about the connections between Faisal Shahzad and the Taliban in Pakistan. And now it looks like an army general in Pakistan was arrested, allegedly knowing about the attack but not alerting Pakistani authorities. Is there anything you can say?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, there have been some arrests in Pakistan. We just had a high-level visit to Pakistan by General Jones, the National Security Advisor, and Leon Panetta, the CIA Director. We are satisfied with the cooperation that we are receiving with Pakistan in this investigation. But as to any detentions that have been taking place, I’ll defer to the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: I know you say you’re happy with the kind of cooperation you’re getting from authorities and the leadership, but – excuse me. (Coughing.)

QUESTION: Going back to Iran, P.J., the – Ban Ki-moon has said that the IAEA now has the official wording that they have received the agreement that was made in Tehran between Turkey, Brazil, and Iran. Besides what you’ve said before, do you have anything --

MR. CROWLEY: Can I clarify – are you – you’re suggesting that the IAEA has received a response from Iran?

QUESTION: From Iran.

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, yesterday the Brazilian president was daring the West, specifically the U.S., to come to the table. Now that according to him Iran has said it is willing to negotiate, to come to the table, to talk, now who’s to take the next step? Even before this, Iran used to say, okay, we’re waiting for the West to say when and the West was saying we’re waiting for Iran to say when. So who goes first?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Iran goes first. (Laughter.) I mean, it is Iran that is in defiance of many UN Security Council resolutions. In the joint declaration, Iran has indicated a willingness to engage the P-5+1. We want to be sure that at the top of the list of any prospective engagement is the Iran nuclear program. If Iran wishes to have that engagement, and we would welcome that engagement, it can pick up the phone and call Catherine Ashton of the EU and set up a meeting. Iran has had that option available to it since October 1st of last year when we had this – we had one meeting in Geneva.

QUESTION: Isn’t Jalili supposed to be meeting with Catherine Ashton this week? I mean, I’d heard --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there may well be contacts. But if Iran is willing to come to the P-5+1, then --

QUESTION: You said Catherine Ashton.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, but if they’re willing to have a follow-up meeting to the session in Geneva, we would welcome that opportunity. We’ve been – made our – we’ve made ourselves available since October and it has been Iran that has failed to come forward and seek that engagement.

QUESTION: Can you provide an update on this debate over the sanctions resolution? Is there talk going on this week? Will it be going on next week?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. I mean, work continues in New York.

QUESTION: Any progress on the annexes, if you’ve got a list of --

MR. CROWLEY: There’s still work being done on the annexes.

QUESTION: Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA has informed the IAEA that they’re ready to submit a letter on its declaration reached the other day. Have you heard about this? Allegedly, Turkey and Brazil will be accompanying them to the IAEA when the head nuclear person addresses the IAEA.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re aware of is that in the joint declaration last Sunday, Iran committed itself to provide a letter to the IAEA. And we will watch to see if a letter arrives and what it says.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you. Have a nice weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

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