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Middle East Digest - May 24, 2010

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Washington, DC
May 24, 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 24, 2010

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1:32 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Based on your description of the kidnapping of the Americans in Yemen, you said that it does not appear to be – or you don’t believe it’s terrorism related. Why? What about the event makes you believe it is not terrorism related?

MR. CROWLEY: There has been, unfortunately, a bit of a side business in what are called tourist kidnappings where, for whatever reason, a certain tribe has a particular grievance with the government and uses the presence of foreigners for leverage, so we have every reason to believe that this is one of those cases.

QUESTION: With the Yemeni Government?

MR. CROWLEY: With the Yemeni Government, yeah.

QUESTION: And then on the Iran letter, have you had any chance to review it? I mean, on first glance, it sounds like it’s pretty much just what was in the declaration the other day --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: It’s not like it --

MR. CROWLEY: -- we’re going to consult with France and Russia before responding formally to the letter. As we indicated last week, we do appreciate the efforts of Brazil and Turkey in trying to push Iran to be more forthcoming to address the concerns the international community has. It’s unclear if the letter truly offers anything new, but we will study it closely and will respond formally through the IAEA in the next few days.

QUESTION: Yeah, but this letter was leaked on the weekend, the letter published – released by Reuters concerning the – that was sent by President Obama to President Lula, saying that they agree with the negotiations and all that. And did you see that this letter that just came out like that and with the – and the relations between Brazil and USA, it seems that they’re not on the good terms today and it’s becoming worse. You can – you could see.

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. We work with Brazil on a wide range of issues, regional and global. Brazil, like Turkey, are – they are emerging global powers and are stepping up in terms of wanting to play and actual playing a significant role in tackling the challenging issues that we face around the world. Climate change is one. But nonproliferation is another. We do appreciate the earnestness with which Brazil and Turkey have tried to mediate this, but this is really about Iran. It’s not about Turkey; it’s not about Brazil. It is about whether what is on paper today represents a real change in the attitude of Iran to address the concerns of the international community has. And we will study that closely, we’ll consult, and then respond formally later this week.

QUESTION: Anything on the hikers?

MR. CROWLEY: The mothers have returned to the United States. It is unfortunate that Iran had an opportunity to make a significant humanitarian gesture. I mean, we do appreciate the many hours that the moms were able to spend with their children. That said, there were claims over the weekend that these three are spies. That’s totally false. They are exactly as they present themselves, three young people who wandered across an unmarked border. And we continue to call for their immediate release.

QUESTION: Do you think that the 5+1 can become 5+3 soon, including Brazil and Turkey?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s about more than five, it’s about more than seven. I mean, we continue to work in New York at 16 and higher. Prime Minister Hariri is here; Lebanon is a member of the Security Council as well, and we’re using the opportunity of Prime Minister Hariri’s visit to Washington to stress the importance of all countries who currently play a role within the Security Council. But it is – in New York, we continue to work on the NPT Review Conference. And this is where Iran falls short. A wide number of countries around the world are committed to fulfilling their obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty and are committed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear arms around the world.

We have made clear to Iran that if it chooses to develop a nuclear weapon, that will kick off an arms race in the Middle East that will challenge the foundation of the NPT. As we’ve stressed, Iran and many other countries have the right to develop civilian nuclear energy, but with that right comes responsibilities. And Iran, by insisting that it will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent, is in violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. That’s why we seek to engage Iran directly on these issues. It’s why we called for the meeting last October 1st. And we will continue to look to see if Iran is prepared to engage the international community seriously. I think over the weekend, Catherine Ashton reiterated the willingness of the P-5+1 to meet anytime, anywhere, provided that Iran is willing to engage seriously on these nuclear question.

QUESTION: But that’s a very concise reiteration of your position. However, that wasn’t the question. The question was: Brazil and Turkey have made these efforts at diplomacy, trying to get Iran – to bring Iran forward. You have this P-5+1 process where you’re engaging Iran. Turkey and Brazil maintain that maybe you can have better efforts if you enlarge the group to countries that Iran has a better relationship with and it has more trust with. Is that something you’d be willing to consider?

MR. CROWLEY: We value the participation of Turkey and Brazil in this process. I can’t tell you whether we would make the P-5+1 a P-5+3. What we’re really interested in doing is getting Iran back to the table, where it’s willing to address its nuclear program directly and answer the many questions that the international community has. We’ll be seeking a way of most effectively pursuing such dialogue. But right now, I think our – as the joint declaration indicated, Iran committed itself to engage the P-5+1. And right now, we’ll watch to see if Iran is actually willing to follow through

QUESTION: On the same subject, regarding the IAEA and the next steps in the agency, is this – is it any longer about the U.S.-French-Russian proposal, or is that a totally different matter now? Is it dead? And does – when you say the U.S. will respond, does that mean you’ll say yes or no to the proposal from the Turks and Brazilians, or --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the proposal for the TRR was put forward by what’s called the Vienna Group: the United States, France, and Russia. So it is up to the three nations to respond to the letter from Iran. The IAEA is serving as a facilitator in this process and we value that role.

We’ll get back to the IAEA and have a formal response later this week. Certainly, from a standpoint of the TRR, we offered the proposal last October as a confidence-building measure. It has diminished value today relative to nine months ago expressly because Iran only today finally responded formally to the offer of last October 1st. But in the meantime, it has for all intents and purposes doubled the available enriched material. So we will have to take that into account as we evaluate Iran’s letter.

QUESTION: But – so if the U.S., France, and Russia says we don’t like this new proposal, would it just – that would be the end of the story?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s remember that we will respond in the context of the TRR, but even the TRR didn’t address the large concerns that we have about Iran’s behavior. And we take note of the fact that notwithstanding a formal offer regarding the TRR, it continues to stress that it will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent. Now, when it originally announced a few months ago that it was beginning that process, it tied that enrichment to the TRR. So to some extent, Iran is the one that is presenting contradictory perspectives here. If Iran is willing to accept the basic TRR proposal, then there’s no foundation for Iran’s pledge to continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)

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