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Middle East Digest: Jan. 16-19, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
January 16 - 19, 2007

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The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing on a weekly basis. For the full briefings, please visit  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/ 

From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 16, 2007:

QUESTION: President Chirac is considering sending a senior envoy to Iran to discuss stability issues in the Middle East. Do you think that this would be a good idea for them to send a special envoy to Iran? And have they discussed this with you?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not familiar with those statements or proposals. Certainly, France has diplomatic relations with Iran, as do a number of other countries in the European Union. I think our hope would be that any diplomatic engagement, by any country with Iran, focus on reminding them and reiterating to them their need to comply with their international obligations. That includes UN Security Council resolutions on their nuclear program. That includes the obligation of all states not to support terrorism, not to support violence, whether that's in Iraq or in Lebanon or elsewhere. And certainly, any diplomatic exchanges or efforts on that subject would be things that we'd like to see happen in that context. 

QUESTION: And on a semi-related issue, Russia has said that it's going to deliver antiaircraft missile systems. Do you have any more comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did look into this and this was a question Arshad originally asked me.

QUESTION: They have delivered them.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, and this is a sale that had been previously announced and my understanding is what has happened now is that these anti-missile systems have, in fact, been delivered to Tehran. We said, at the time that this sale was announced, and we continue to be disappointed by the fact that it has moved forward and that, in fact, these items have been delivered. We don't think that it's a appropriate signal to be sending to the government of Tehran at this time, particularly when they are under UN sanctions for trying to develop a nuclear weapon and when they continue to be in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. We also believe as well that we certainly don't want to see any kind of lethal aid or assistance given to any country that's a state sponsor of terror. And as we've said, Iran is the leading state sponsor in the world.

QUESTION: And have you voiced your displeasure to Moscow and sent them a note about this?

MR. CASEY: We've discussed this on a number of occasions both here in Washington and in Moscow with the Russian Government. I'm not sure what communications might have gone on today, but again, I think we'll be continuing to make our views known on this subject.

QUESTION: When you talk about Iran being in violation of UN Security Council resolutions are just thinking of the nuclear ones or are you also thinking of others?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm, first and foremost, thinking of the resolutions on their nuclear program as well as their defiance of IAEA Board of Governors resolutions. Certainly, though, all member states of the United Nations have an obligation not to support international terrorism, in fact, have an obligation to combat terrorism. And certainly, Iran's record in that regard, I think would probably put them in violation of a number of their other UN obligations.

QUESTION: And you would acknowledge, though, that the most recent UN Security Council resolution regarding Iran's nuclear program does not bar the transfer of conventional weapons?

MR. CASEY: That's true. Well, my understanding is it does not bar specifically the transfer, in a blanket sense, of conventional arms. You know, there are certain things that probably when you get down to the sanctions committee list and look at dual-use items or other things might, in fact, have some conventional military uses as well but I will leave those specifics to the experts. But there certainly is no blanket ban in any of the UN Security Council resolutions related to Iran on conventional weapons transfers.


QUESTION: On the Hill today there's some hearings on Iraq refugees. I'm just wondering -- the United States has accepted 202 refugees in I think FY '06. I was just wondering if you thought that was a low number given the number of Iraq refugees that are out there.

MR. CASEY: Well, I, first of all, think that the United States has a record that is second to none in terms of accepting refugees from all over the world and we do so, I think, to a greater extent than just about any other country out there. I think we took in something on the order -- and you can check with our experts in the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration on that -- but I think we took in something close to 50,000 refugees last year.

In terms of the situation of Iraqi refugees, as you know, there are many Iraqis who have left their homeland and are located primarily in two countries right now: Jordan and Syria. We are certainly supportive of the efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to go into those countries to augment their operations there and to evaluate the cases of those involved. And I think we've made clear there are certainly no numerical limits on the number of Iraqi refugees that the United States could or would be willing to accept and there are no specific numerical limits in that sense for any individual country for refugees. And we look to the UN to make the determinations as to when an individual might qualify for resettlement. And in the instances where any Iraqis or any other citizens are presented to us by the UN as eligible for resettlement, we're certainly willing to look at those cases and these things are matters that are handled on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: But of 700,000 refugees and 200 that have been displaced, I mean, 202 is a really small number of them. Why isn't that number any higher?

MR. CASEY: Well, Kirit, again, I think you have to understand how this system works. Not every person who leaves their homeland as a refugee is someone determined by the UN as requiring or needing resettlement in a third country. In some cases -- and the first preference of the UN system is ultimately to repatriate people back to their homeland. In instances where that can occur, there are some cases where individuals have ties to the country that they have, in fact, gone to and the first choice would be to resettle them there. But we are open and willing to consider any and all cases of Iraqis, just like we do for anyone around the world, once the UN has made a determination as to whether they are qualified for third country resettlement and when they approach the U.S. about that. So we will see what happens in the future.

Certainly, I would expect that as the UN is in a better position to evaluate some of these cases, that we'll see larger numbers of Iraqis who may come here. They may go to third countries as well. But the important thing is that -- to understand is that Iraqi refugees are being treated no differently than refugees from any other country in the world. And again, the United States, I think, has a very long and very honorable history of accepting refugees literally from every country.

QUESTION: And then one final question. There's been some criticism that the U.S. has not accepted a larger number based on political reasons, that they don't want to make it look like things are worse in Iraq. Can you respond to that?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, that's certainly not the case. Our standards for accepting Iraqi refugees into this country are the same as accepting refugees from any other country. Those are decisions that are based on an impartial review by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. And again, while we consider each case on an individual basis, we are not doing anything different in terms of how we would approach someone coming from Iraq recommended to us for resettlement as a refugee than we would any other country.

QUESTION: Just to clarify.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: You're acting -- you're saying you're acting expeditiously, but only after the UN makes a ruling.

MR. CASEY: That's --

QUESTION: You're not making any exceptions for Iraqi refugees?

MR. CASEY: Again, this is the system that we apply worldwide and it's being applied to Iraqi refugees just as it would be to refugees from any other country.


QUESTION: The United Nations estimates that 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in Iraq last year. Do you believe that number is accurate?

MR. CASEY: Well, we talked a little bit about this this morning. We rely on the figures provided by the Iraqi Government as our best understanding of what civilian casualties are and I'd leave it to Iraqi Government officials to talk about whether they believe the UN figures are something that they concur with or not. My understanding is their figures are somewhat lower, but again, I'd leave it to them to describe why their figures might be different.

Again, as I said this morning, though, I think the important point for all of us to take from this is that the Iraqi people have paid a high price for the violence caused by al-Qaida in Iraq, caused by other members of the insurgency, caused by sectarian militias. And we all are in agreement that we need to do everything we can to help Prime Minister Maliki and his government reduce this level of violence, provide security for the Iraqi people, particularly in Baghdad. And that's what the plan the President announced last week aims to do.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government attempt to count the number of civilian deaths in Iraq?

MR. CASEY: My understanding is we do not do a separate count on our own, that we have generally relied on the Iraqi Government to provide that information.

QUESTION: Why doesn't the U.S. Government do its own count of civilian deaths in Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think Iraq is a sovereign government. It's a country that has its own system in place for doing it. We are working very closely with them, but we certainly don't do that in other countries and I think we believe it's up to the Government of Iraq to determine what the statistics on this or any other issue are for their country.

QUESTION: The difference between Iraq and other countries is that Iraq is a country where, nearly four years ago, the United States led an invasion. I don't, by any means, wish to suggest that many or perhaps any of these deaths are directly the result of the U.S. military's actions. But I think it is not unreasonable to raise the question as to whether, had there not been an invasion, some of these deaths might not have occurred.

And therefore, it seems odd that the U.S. Government, which has been -- you know, which led the invasion and is so deeply involved in Iraq's affairs, would not bother to try to make any kind of a count on its own.

MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, first of all, certainly, every death that's occurred in Iraq, civilian, military, or otherwise is a personal tragedy for the families and the loved ones of those involved. And no one is trying to deny that or not accept that as a premise. And the Secretary, I think, has spoken fairly eloquently about her personal view of this and her sadness at the loss of life, of American servicemen as well as others. So obviously, behind any statistic, regardless of the number, there is a human life involved and that's something that's important to acknowledge and recognize.

I think, though, it's also important to acknowledge and recognize that whatever the figure that is being provided by the Iraqi Government or the UN or others, that what the U.S. military effort did was overthrow a dictator, overthrow a dictator who was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, who deliberately targeted his own people for killing, including with chemical weapons.

And again, I certainly acknowledge and everyone involved has acknowledged that in U.S. military actions, there have been occasions, unfortunately, despite our troops' best efforts, where civilians have inadvertently been killed. That is a unfortunate thing that happens in the course of combat operations, but again, I would contrast that extremely strongly both with the previous regime, which deliberately targeted its own people, and the people our troops are fighting against who seem totally unopposed to killing, in mass numbers, civilians with car bombs, through other kinds of attacks, and do so in a deliberate sort of way.

And I think the U.S. military has been very open in terms of its discussions of its actions and in cases -- including cases where military actions have caused loss of civilian life. And in the event that there are questions raised about those activities, the military has investigated it and there are trials of service members going on right now when the military's own justice system determines that any of those actions that were taken were in violation of the standards and procedures and the very high standards and procedures we hold our troops to.

From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 17, 2007:

MR. CASEY: Okay, Zane.

QUESTION: Yeah, the former Iraqi electricity minister, the Iraqi American man, Ayham al-Samaraie, who broke out from the Iraqi jail and he's now in Chicago, I'm wondering if you know any more on -- whether you're having conversations with the Iraqi Government about it and whether they're requesting an extradition.

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure what circumstances might be involved here. Certainly, we've had conversations in the past with the Iraqi Government about this and I'm sure we'll have additional ones. But I'm not aware of any formal requests that have been made by the Iraqi Government in that regard. Obviously, if there is issues related to extraditions, that's also something that the Department of Justice would be the best -- in the best place to address or handle.

QUESTION: A broader question on the issue of refugees in general. Is there any kind of specific outreach program that's been created by the State Department in Iraq to approach Iraqis that have risked their lives to work with the U.S. in Iraq in fighting the war on terror?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think one of the things that is important for all of us to remember is that it's more than just American soldiers and American diplomats and contractors and others who are taking risks to support the development of a free Iraq. Certainly are many Iraqis, many in the government and elsewhere, who are taking some very brave and courageous stands to try and help build a free and democratic country there, and we very much appreciate and respect the efforts and the work done with us both by translators and interpreters, our foreign national employees at the Embassy there as well as others who have been working with us and cooperating with us in these efforts.

As you know, in terms of refugee issues or issues related to visas, we had a fairly lengthy discussion on this yesterday and I know Ellen Sauerbrey went and testified on that same issue yesterday.

Look, I think the bottom line is is that the U.S. Government wants to do everything we can to support those individuals who have worked with us and have been able to support us over time. We certainly take very seriously any threats to our employees and do what we can to support them over time.

In terms of the specific issue of refugee status for individuals, again, as Ms. Sauerbrey talked about yesterday, we're looking at a variety of ways that we can provide additional support, including most directly by supporting the appeals that have been made through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Certainly, there are other possibilities through legislation, but that's really something that would require additional conversation with Congress about since obviously that would require their action.


QUESTION: About a specific instance in Iraq today.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I've heard that a convoy carrying civilian staffers from NDI was attacked, four people killed including one American. Do you have any more information?

MR. CASEY: I really don't. They're still reviewing that incident. We certainly know that it occurred. My understanding is there was an American citizen involved in that. But I don't have any further information or details about the individual or what they were doing there.

* * * * *

Let's go -- Kirit.

QUESTION: Kuwait's Foreign Minister is quoted as saying that he has told Secretary Rice that he would like to see the U.S. engage Iran and Syria on Iraq. And that's just adding to the course of U.S. allies in the region that have been saying that. I'm just wondering, first of all, do you have any confirmation that he actually did tell Secretary Rice this? And second of all, do you have any sort of response to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, no, I can't offer you any confirmation on that and that's really something you'd have to get from the party. I don't have any details of her specific conversations with any of the officials there. Look, I think our position on this is quite clear. You know, you can speak to any country and, in fact, we've offered up an opportunity for Iran to talk to us. As the Secretary has said, if they would take the simple step of complying with their international obligations and suspend uranium enrichment, we will sit down with them with the P-5+1 and not only engage them on their nuclear program, but any other issues that they'd like to discuss.

I will say it's certainly hard to see, based on Iranian actions and behaviors in Iraq and elsewhere, that there's any real change in their views and any real change in their basic positions, which includes not only defiance of the international community on its nuclear program, but also continued support for terrorism and continued support for sectarian violence in Iraq.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that, you know, all of these U.S. allies are coming out saying this but the U.S. remains --

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure -- I haven't seen the story you're referring to with respect to Kuwait. I think if you look at the communiqué that was put out after the GCC+2 meeting of all the Gulf Arab states, including Kuwait, you see in there a very clear sense of the support that countries in the region have for our efforts to address things like the situation in Iraq, support for the noninterference of Iran and other states in the internal affairs of other countries, whether that's Lebanon, Iraq, or elsewhere, and very much support for our efforts to try and help build on the dialogue started between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.

So I'm not aware that there is any chorus out there in the region calling for us to engage the Iranians. In fact, I think if you look at some of the Secretary's remarks on this trip, she's made it clear that that's not the message she's hearing.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, according to Washington Post, actually yesterday, the U.S. Government is going to use Kurdish forces in Baghdad. I'm wondering if you notified about this development to the Turkish Government, which is very, very concerned and even all the pertaining stories in the Turkish press?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the U.S. is going to use U.S. forces in Baghdad. The Iraqi military is going to use Iraqi forces. And it's really a decision by the Iraqi Government in terms of where they draw those forces from and whether they're principally based in the north, south, east or west of the country. I think the one thing that's clear is that the Iraqi Government has made a commitment to working with us to do what we all understand is necessary, which is bring down the level of violence in Baghdad, provide some basic security for the people even as they move forward on their political process and deal with some of the issues like national reconciliation that are so critical to addressing the root causes.

QUESTION: But according to President -- was said specifically by the President that Kurdish forces is going to participate as far as (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: Well, again, whether the Iraqi Government chooses to draw its forces from any particular region, and I would note that these are all forces that are part of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces, that's a decision for them to make and these are operational matters. I don't think they have any broader implications.

QUESTION: But did you notify the Turkish Government about this?

MR. CASEY: We would not notify the Turkish Government about movements of non-Turkish forces. That would be something that the Iraqi Government would be talking to them about.

* * * * *

MR. CASEY: Okay, Mr. Lambros, last one.

QUESTION: Just one on the Bulgarian nurses. It's very important, Mr. Casey. The day after tomorrow, January 19, is expiring the deadline of 30 days for an appeal by five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who accused -- that infected 426 children with HIV virus in a Libyan hospital. I'm wondering if you have anything to say due to the upcoming time limitation.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, there are appeals processes that are underway. My understanding is there are several different stages of this that are out there. But our basic position on this, Mr. Lambros, hasn't changed. We still believe that a way should be found to have these Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor sent back home and reunited with their family. We certainly respect the personal tragedy that was caused as a result of the infections of the children that were involved in this incident. But again, I think you know our position on this quite well.

QUESTION: I understand. But what is the U.S. position vis-à-vis to the pills, since for the first time in the 25 years of this deadly disease those nurses, Mr. Casey, used synthetic substance -- as they confessed, however, under torture as they are claiming now. And HIV looks now as a nominal terminology?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I know you've raised this issue before. Certainly not a position and have no great pretensions of medical knowledge, however, my albeit extremely limited review of the literature cannot come up with a single individual anywhere in the world that asserts that the AIDS virus can be transmitted using pills. So I think this is a shibboleth and it's an idea that has no basis or no bearing on the case as far as I'm concerned.

QUESTION: Do you know which government has sent them on a humanitarian mission in 1998?

MR. CASEY: I don't know. I think you'd have to ask the Bulgarians that.

From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 18, 2007:

QUESTION: On Libya. The European parliament is looking at -- says that the European Union should review ties with Libya because of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor case. Is the U.S. looking at reviewing the ties that you have with Libya and whether you should somehow punish them for this trial or take action that might put pressure on them to go another direction?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we talked about this a little bit yesterday. We certainly remain concerned about this case. We do believe that a way should be found for the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor to be returned home to their families. Certainly, we understand the tragic situation that this case is based on. I know that the European Union, as well as others, were looking at ways to provide some international compensation for the families of those who suffered as a result of this incident. 

As far as U.S. policy goes with respect to Libya, our relations are on the track that they're on. I'm not aware of any moves to change the substance of that dialogue.

QUESTION: And are there any moves to get an U.S. ambassador into Libya any time soon?

MR. CASEY: You'd have to check with the White House on that. I'm not sure what the plans are in terms of announcing an ambassador.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Still on this. And are you planning any -- I think that there is some kind of a deadline coming up regarding action on their fate and I wonder if you are planning any intensified diplomacy on this. Assistant Secretary Welch, for example, traveled to Libya right before the verdict -- the last verdict was issued and had extensive talks with the Libyans about it. Is he or is anybody else planning to go now or you somehow intend to find diplomacy now because --

MR. CASEY: Well, I know this is an issue that is raised regularly in our discussions with the Libyans. Assistant Secretary Welch has been in the region with the Secretary, so I'm not aware what conversations he might have been having and I don't have any travel plans, certainly, to announce for him or for anybody else at this point.

Again, as we looked at this issue, though, I think we've talked about the fact that there are several stages in this review process, as I understand it, with the Libyan judicial system. One piece of that has a deadline that I believe is coming up in the next couple of days. There is also at least one stage of review beyond that point and again, I think we're looking to see this case resolved as quickly as possible. But we certainly understand that the Libyans need to go through their judicial procedures in doing so.

QUESTION: One more.

MR. CASEY: Same issue? Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, since this is about another issue between Bulgaria and Libya, why the U.S. Government get involved with this issue?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, we are involved in this issue for the same reason the European Union is and other members of the international community are. We think that this is a case that deserves international attention. Again, while we recognize the tragic circumstances that occurred, we believe it's appropriate for the individuals involved, for the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor, to be able to return home to their families.

QUESTION: But they confessed they did that.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think we've been through this multiple times. The U.S. position on this issue has been clear since day one and we're not going to change it. I invite you to look at the record on that if you want to go back and review it.


QUESTION: Same issue. Are you looking at a new compensation package for those people who were affected by this?

MR. CASEY: My understanding is that's something that's been led by the European Union. We're certainly supportive of those efforts, but I'm not aware of any new initiatives in that regard.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about this apparent decision by Israel to release $100 million of aid to President Abbas?

MR. CASEY: Well, we talked about that the other day. I don't have any confirmation that that's taken place. Certainly though, this has been the subject of discussions with -- between us and the Israelis and us and the Palestinians. More importantly, though, it was a subject of discussion and a subject of agreement between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. We'd certainly like to see that transfer happen as soon as possible. Obviously, it needs to be done in a way in which the benefits of those funds flow to the Palestinian people and certainly don't do anything to support the Hamas-led government.

QUESTION: Are you confident that that money will be used for that? I mean, are you confident --

MR. CASEY: We're confident that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to work out those arrangements appropriately, yes.


QUESTION: There seems to be a bit of a rhetorical back and forth between Maliki and Rice at the moment about this "borrowed time" comment that she made during her hearing and she has referred to this on a -- off-camera on her briefing with traveling reporters today. Can you elaborate on her comments and trying to smooth this over?

MR. CASEY: Well, we talked about this at the gaggle this morning. I'm a little wary to get into commenting on comments about comments about comments about comments. Look, I think as -- again, as I said this morning, I think the Prime Minister's remarks, though I certainly haven't seen his exact words, as I understand these remarks were made in comments to reporters yesterday, reflects the fact that all of us want us to see progress as quickly as possible in terms of both developing Iraq's security forces, in terms of providing security to the people of Baghdad and more broadly to the people of Iraq, and in terms as well of being able to allow the Iraqis to move forward on not just providing security, but doing all the other things that the people expect of their government.

In terms of the Secretary's comments, again, as we've all said previously, her comments echo those made by President Bush, other members of the Administration, and frankly, the Iraqi Government themselves, including Prime Minister Maliki, all of whom have said that the Iraqi people need to have confidence in their government. And to do that over the long term, what they need to see is real actions taken that have a meaningful impact on their lives and that, again, is why it's so important for us that we support Prime Minister Maliki's plan as he moves forward with it as well as ensure that the President's plan moves forward since that, we believe, is the best way to get those kinds of outcomes.

QUESTION: Are you, in a sense, retracting her specific comments?

MR. CASEY: No. She said what she said and again, I think all she did was state the obvious and I don't think that there's any disagreement about them.


QUESTION: What she said was that Prime Minister Maliki -- she thought that Prime Minister Maliki understood that he was on borrowed time.

MR. CASEY: Mm-hmm. I guess, you know, what more elaboration can I provide you? Again, I think the Iraqi people need to see that their government can deliver for them in terms of security, in terms of reconstruction, in terms of economic development. Again, I think that's stating the obvious.


From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 19, 2007:

QUESTION: Have you seen these comments coming out of Tehran in editorials in several Iranian newspapers, one of them owned by Ayatollah Khamenei, criticizing President Ahmadi-Nejad, suggesting maybe he's gone too far in his dealings with the West on the nuclear program and kind of giving him a slap on the wrist?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen the actual Persian reports. I've certainly seen news reporting about them. Look, I don't think I can really offer you an analysis of internal politics in Iran, but I do think that it's quite clear that Iran is paying a price for its defiance of the international community. And you know, President Ahmadi-Nejad, when he was running for office, made great claims about what he was going to do to foster economic development in Iran, to provide jobs for young people, to, in effect, engage Iran more deeply in the international economic system and in the international community.

And unfortunately, the policies that he's adopted, in particular his defiance of the international community on the nuclear issue, has made it impossible for any of those objectives to be fulfilled. And as Iran finds itself more isolated, as it finds itself under additional sanctions, that goal gets further and further away. So it certainly wouldn't surprise me, whether that's in other parts of the Iranian Government or, more importantly, with the Iranian people, that there are concerns that he, frankly, is pursuing policies that take them further away from what everyone in that country wants to see happen, rather than closer to that goal.

And that's, again, why even more of the sanctions are in place. We continue to hold open the possibility for Iran to get out of this position by suspending uranium enrichment and joining us in talks.

QUESTION: Do you think President Ahmadi-Nejad, in particular, is responsible for Iran's isolation from the international community?

MR. CASEY: Well, I can't really parse for you different elements in the Iranian Government. He is the president of Iran. He is the head of government there. Certainly, there are other people that play a role in this, but whoever is responsible for which individual piece of it, the fact of the matter remains that the policy of the Iranian Government right now is defiance of the international community in pursuit of a nuclear weapon. And I don't think that's something that is in the best interests of the Iranian people and it's certainly not in the best interests of the international community. And if there's a reaction to that, I kind of think that's expected.

Arshad -- over here and then Arshad -- oh, same subject -- okay.

QUESTION: Just one thing, I think. Lee Hamilton again pushing for engagement with Iran at the House Foreign Relations Committee today. Any comments on that?

MR. CASEY: I haven't seen Congressman Hamilton's comments, but I think our response to this is the same as before. We've left it out in the open for engagement with the Iranians, again, not only on the nuclear program, but to discuss other issues. We think that's the appropriate way to go and frankly, we think that talks in conjunction with other interested parties and other members of the international community would likely be more productive than any kind of one-on-one engagement.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: There are -- there is an Israeli newspaper report based on an interview the newspaper Haaretz did with Jordan's King Abdallah in which he states an interest in Jordan having a nuclear program, although he says it would be for peaceful purposes. You are well aware of the fact that Egypt has, in recent months, suggested an interest in such a program and you obviously know that the GCC countries voted to explore such a program. What is your response to Jordan's interest in this?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did look -- and we addressed this morning a little bit this morning as you know, but I did look into the matter a little further. What I told you this morning of course still applies, which is that we support the peaceful use of nuclear power by any state so long as it's meeting its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty, as well as working with the IAEA and fully meeting the international standards that are regulating safety and export controls and nonproliferation standards.

Jordan is a party to the NPT and does have a safeguards agreement, including having signed onto the additional protocol with the IAEA. Now, obviously they'd have to make some infrastructure changes and improvements to be able to support this kind of program. But this is something that we'd certainly be willing to talk about and discuss with the Government of Jordan and we are working with other states to be able to help them expand peaceful use of nuclear technology without running the risk of proliferation or the spread of sensitive technologies as well.

I should note too, and one thing that my folks have told me in looking at this that in December 2006, just this past year, we did have three Jordanian participants in an IAEA workshop for countries that were considering nuclear energy and we co-sponsored that. And the Jordanian participants did, in fact, informally discuss their thoughts and ideas on this with us. So this is something that we've known about in a general way and that we've had some preliminary discussions with the Jordanians on and certainly happy to continue talking about this to them as they move forward.

QUESTION: You'll recall that Secretary Rice expressed -- where she essentially said she -- in December in an interview she said she questioned why countries like some of those in the GCC that have considerable, you know, petroleum resources would need nuclear power. I realize Jordan's in a different situation as is Egypt, but does it give you no pause the notion -- even if countries that pursue this have signed the NPT and the additional protocol and, you know, that it presents no kind of proliferation risk for more people to have this kind of technology and use it even if they sign documents saying that they will abide by those?

MR. CASEY: Well, the purpose of the NPT and the additional protocol and the regimes in place is to try and deal with the concern that you're talking about, which is to make sure that countries can peacefully pursue nuclear technology and nuclear power without running the risks of having that technology be misused for the development of nuclear weapons. Obviously, and you've heard any number of U.S. officials talk about this, the regime itself is something that we always want to look at and see how we can strengthen and move forward. The President put forward some proposals a couple of years ago at a speech in NDI. A number of those have been acted on, partly or fully, but we certainly want to see that move forward.

Again, I think you have to look at this issue in terms of how best to be able to meet those twin goals, which is giving people the opportunity to have and develop nuclear power and use that for the benefit of their citizens, but at the same time taking care of what is an equally important international concern which is making sure that neither -- no country use such a program as a covert means for developing nuclear weapons. And as well, that the materials involved, that the technology involved is safeguarded so that it isn't misused or taken advantage of by terrorist groups or other kinds of proliferation networks that we've unfortunately seen happen in the past.

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