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Middle East Digest - July 7, 2010

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Washington, DC
July 7, 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 July 7, 2010

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01:23 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. A couple of things at the top. Today, German Ministry of Interior Thomas de Maiziere announced that Germany is willing to resettle two detainees currently held in Guantanamo Bay. We greatly appreciate Germany’s decision to resettle these two detainees. This humanitarian gesture is a strong signal of Germany’s commitment to assist the United States in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The list of countries resettling detainees continues to grow and we are encouraged by the assistance of the international community which continues to support this Administration’s closure effort. We’d also like to wish Germany as well as Spain good luck in today’s match.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

MR. TONER: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: First of all, you’re rooting for both sides –

MR. TONER: We’re rooting for a good match.

QUESTION: All right. You had wanted them to take three. They’re only taking two. Are you disappointed at all?
MR. TONER: Not at all.

QUESTION: You’re just happy to have unloaded another two?

MR. TONER: I wouldn’t phrase it that way at all, Matt. We’re happy to have the support of another country. We appreciate Germany stepping up to the plate to take these two detainees. And we appreciate the efforts of all our friends and partners around the world who are helping us achieve this Administration’s goal of the closure of the Guantanamo Bay facility.

QUESTION: The suggestion yesterday was that the ball now lies in the Palestinian court. Is that the Administration’s way of saying that we are going to lean on the Palestinians to forego proximity talks and go directly into direct talks?

MR. TONER: Well, I think we’ve been pretty clear all along that our goal is to get into direct negotiations. And certainly, that hasn’t changed. It was the impetus behind yesterday’s meeting and it remains the impetus behind the proximity talks and it’s what we’re all working towards.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday in Colorado, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba of the UAE seemed to endorse using a military option for countering Iran’s military – Iran’s nuclear program. Have you seen those statements and what is your reaction to his statements?

MR. TONER: I have not seen those statements, so I really can’t react to them.

QUESTION: He was asked specifically about whether or not he believes the U.S. should stop the Iranian nuclear program by force and he said, quote, “Absolutely, absolutely.” Do you take those words seriously?

MR. TONER: Again, I haven’t seen the context, I haven’t seen the reports. I could certainly look at them. But again, we’ve been pretty clear all along that we’ve got a two-track approach. We’ve got a significant sanctions regime in place now. But as the P-5+1 said after their meeting last week, the engagement track remains open. So those are our pursuits right now --

QUESTION: Are those sentiments --

MR. TONER: -- involving Iran.

QUESTION: Are you hearing those kinds of sentiments from Iran’s Arab neighbors in the region?

MR. TONER: What I think we’ve got is a broad international consensus recognizing that Iran needs to address its nuclear program in a transparent and credible way. It’s the reason why we’ve got probably the most significant sanctions regime against Iran and a reason why other countries have followed suit with similar sanctions programs. But again, we’re pursuing a two-track approach: the one side is engagement; the other side is pressure.


QUESTION: New subject? Department of Justice today has unveiled some new charges related to the subway – New York subway bomb plot in which they’re saying that it was directed by senior al-Qaida figures in Pakistan. I’m wondering, have you communicated with the Pakistan Government about these specific charges? Is there anything that they’re doing that – to try and track down these people who are actually targeting American citizens on American soil?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve got significant counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan. But as for the specific case, I can take the question, Andy. I may end up referring you to the Justice Department again, but I’ll try to find an answer.

Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. France is talking about changing the rules of engagement for UN forces in south Lebanon. Do you back France in this regard?

MR. TONER: Mm-hmm. Our understanding is that Security Council members are involved in initial discussions regarding a possible statement dealing with the recent spate of incidents affecting UNIFIL’s freedom of movement in southern Lebanon. We continue to call on all parties in and around Lebanon to adhere to their obligations under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and we continue to fully support the efforts of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Government to implement those provisions.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you support France in asking for changing the rules of engagement?

MR. TONER: Again, I think it’s a matter under discussion right now, and I’d just say we support – we call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under the terms of 1701.

But – go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Are you finished?

MR. TONER: No, I’m just saying that it’s a matter under discussion, fully support the efforts of UNIFIL and the Lebanese Government to implement those provisions. But I’ll let it be addressed once in the Security Council.

QUESTION: Speaking of France, do you have anything updated to say about the burka ban?

MR. TONER: I think I do, Matt. I’m not sure it’s updated, but it’s our position.


MR. TONER: I think the President addressed it in Cairo. He said freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That’s why the United States Government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I missed the word “France” in there.

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) I’d just say we encourage governments to find a solution that addresses public security concerns without restricting freedom of religion, where possible, and that minimizes restrictions otherwise.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the French about this?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about these reports in Israel that you guys – the U.S. has concluded some kind of nuclear cooperation agreement with the Israelis?

MR. TONER: I don’t have anything for you, Matt. Sorry.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, a grand ayatollah in Lebanon, a Shia cleric, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, died. I was wondering whether the U.S. was sending a delegation for condolences.

MR. TONER: I’d have to check on that.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. position about the Ayatollah at the moment? Is he on any sort of list?

MR. TONER: I’m not aware. I’d have to also check on that. Sorry, Kim. Get back to you on that.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)

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