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Middle East Digest- September 9, 2010


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Washington, DC
September 9, 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 September 9, 2010

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1:25 p.m. EDT

MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Let me just start off – you’ve probably all seen we’ve just issued a global travel alert cautioning U.S. citizens on the potential for anti-American, anti-U.S. demonstrations possible in some countries in response to stated plans by a Florida-based church to burn the Qu’rans on the anniversary of September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In addition to this, all our embassies worldwide have convened emergency action committee meetings to assess the possible threat. And indeed, some of – several of our embassies have issued Warden Messages to the local American community to warn U.S. citizens of potential demonstrations related to the proposed Qu’ran burning. Those posts are Jordan, Algeria, Syria, and Indonesia.

Just one other item to note. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg will travel to Geneva September 10th and September 11th. During his visit, the Deputy Secretary will speak at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Global Strategy Review. While in Geneva, the deputy Secretary will also meet with leaders of a number of the – many international organizations based in Geneva, permanent representatives from several countries, as well as attend a lunch in his honor hosted by the U.S.-UN Geneva Ambassador Betty King – Betty E. King.

That’s all I have. Open it up to questions.

QUESTION: Can we start with the Qu’ran –

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the plans to burn the Qu’ran?

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Has – Secretary Clinton yesterday at CFR commented on this and said she hoped that the media might not cover it if it happens. Has she been involved in any discussions within the Administration about possibly reaching out directly to the pastor who plans to do this and saying that while you understand his First Amendment right to do so, that he might want to rethink this, rather than communicating through the media? I mean, it’s hard to find an Administration official who doesn’t want to condemn this. But have you – has she been involved at all in talking within the Administration about direct outreach to him?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. But I think it is important to stress that, in fact, via the media, I think, as you said, many Administration officials, right up to the President yesterday, as well as the Secretary of State, as well as many religious and civilian leaders within – both in the United States and abroad have asked that he reconsider this planned event. So I think it’s – he knows what’s at stake. And he’s facing an unequivocal message that this is not a good thing. This does not represent the United States, the values we hold, and that it could potentially put at risk Americans overseas. I don’t know how we could convey that message any more clearly.

QUESTION: Yeah, it just might be more effective if you did it in a direct conversation rather than over the airwaves.

MR. TONER: Well, again, I would just say that we’ve been pretty clear in communicating our condemnation of this.

QUESTION: So there are no plans by either the State Department or any other government agency to contact him directly?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. TONER: He knows what’s at stake. He has the responsibility to act accordingly.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about the action meetings at the embassies overseas? What are they going to look at and what could they decide once they look at the information?

MR. TONER: Well, these are committees that exist at every embassy and, in essence, they look at possible threats. They look at the missions and the community’s security posture and take actions and adjust accordingly. So I think it was prudent – part of prudent planning to look at this – see this event on the near horizon and to ask themselves whether this could possibly cause any threat to American citizens in specific countries.

QUESTION: And why Warden Messages, in particular countries – Jordan, Algeria, Indonesia – why those particular countries? And I think –

MR. TONER: Again, because --

QUESTION: -- there were one or two others you mentioned.

MR. TONER: Sure, again, because those within the mission – those emergency action committees deemed it prudent to go ahead and issue Warden Messages to the American citizens living there.

QUESTION: Because of demonstrations already happened there?

MR. TONER: I’m aware of, I think, one demonstration in Indonesia. I’m not aware of the other countries.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: Afghanistan is not on that list?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware of. On the list of Warden Messages, they are not --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. TONER: No.

Go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: A couple questions on Iran. First, there are reports out of Tehran that Iran plans to free at least one of the hikers on Saturday. What is your understanding of that, anything through the Swiss at all and what’s your reaction, please?

MR. TONER: Well, our reaction is that we don’t know, frankly, what Iran is contemplating at this point. We have reached out through the Swiss protecting powers to try to find out more about this. Obviously, if this is – if this turns out to be true, this is terrific news. The hikers’ release is long overdue. And I would just stress that we hope that it’s all three hikers. I’ve seen various press reports that talk about one hiker. But we have called for their release on humanitarian grounds for many, many months, and it would be, as I said, welcome news.

QUESTION: There are reports of – that at least one of them has some health concerns. Can you tell us anything about that and do you share those concerns?

MR. TONER: I’m not certain about when our last consular visit was. I can check on that. However, we’ve just had concerns about the welfare of all three hikers throughout their ordeal. And again, if this turns out to be true, we hope it’s all three hikers who should be released, and we’ve said all along, on humanitarian grounds immediately.

QUESTION: Does anybody else have anything more on that? Because I have another Iran question on – related.

QUESTION: You cannot --

MR. TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You cannot confirm that the hiker is Sarah Shourd? There’ve been reports.

MR. TONER: We cannot. Again, we’ve reached out to the Swiss protecting powers and we’ll try to get more information about it.

QUESTION: And any role that the State Department played in this, in bringing about this --

MR. TONER: We’ve had a pretty consistent drumbeat through the – of urging the Iranian authorities to release these hikers since they were first arrested and detained, but beyond that, no further comment.

QUESTION: A related topic: There’s an Iranian opposition group that held a press conference this morning announcing that they found a new nuclear enrichment site – what they say is a new nuclear enrichment site in Iran. Do you have any reaction to that? Is this something that the U.S. Government was already aware of? They say they’ve also presented some of this evidence to elements of the U.S. Government. Can you say if --

MR. TONER: I’ve seen some of those reports that they’ve contacted members of the U.S. Government. I’m not aware of that. We’re not aware of it at the State Department. However, I would just say we’ll obviously study whatever they present.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to their findings?

MR. TONER: Not yet. I mean, we haven’t – we’ll have to look at them and judge them.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you have received anything about it – you, meaning the State Department – prior to the public announcement today?

MR. TONER: We did, and I --

QUESTION: And you did not?

MR. TONER: We did not.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: This group has been one of the sources of previous intelligence on the same subject?

MR. TONER: I’m sorry, is that a question?

QUESTION: With the Iranian nuclear sites and (inaudible)?

MR. TONER: I believe they’ve made claims in the past, yes, but I’m not --

QUESTION: Have they provided you, the State Department, the U.S. Administration, with any?

MR. TONER: Not that I’m aware. I can’t say yes or no. I don’t know.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) have asked that the Secretary of State remove the blacklisting of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mujaheddin Organization of Iran. Any plans to do that?

MR. TONER: This is the MEK?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. TONER: The so-called MEK. I believe they’re still deemed a foreign terrorist organization. No plans that I’m aware of to change that.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)



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