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Middle East Digest: Feb. 12, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
February 12, 2007

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

From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb. 12, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one brief opening statement for you, then we can get right into your questions. This concerns Secretary Rice's travel starting at the end of the week.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories Amman and Berlin beginning February 16th, coming back on February 22nd of this year. She will hold bilateral meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as a trilateral meeting with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert on February 19th. In Amman, Secretary Rice will meet with King Abdullah of Jordan and other members of the Jordanian Government.

In addition to a meeting of the Quartet in Berlin, Secretary Rice will meet with Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel. The Quartet will discuss the recent agreement reached by the Palestinian government in Saudi Arabia and the next steps in implementing the roadmap.

With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: We're running a report out of Jerusalem saying that Israel is considering suspending contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if it doesn't -- if the new unity government doesn't ultimately meet the Quartet demands.

One, do you have any reason to believe that the Israelis may curtail their contacts before they can figure that out?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Israelis -- this meeting with Secretary Rice, Prime Minister Olmert, and President Abbas is on the schedule and moving forward.

QUESTION: And have you discerned any desire on the part of your fellow members of the Quartet to relax the conditions at -- you know, before seeing what happens to -- or to relax them even if it isn't definitive, the actions of the new national unity government on those three points?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I'll do is I'll go back to the Quartet statement that was issued just on Friday.

QUESTION: Late Friday.

MR. MCCORMACK: And they -- this was put out in the name of the Quartet principles.

"The Quartet welcomed the role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in reaching the agreement to form a Palestinian National Unity government. The Quartet expressed the hope that the desired calm would prevail.

While awaiting formation of the new Palestinian government, the Quartet reaffirmed its statement of February 2nd regarding its support for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap."

So it refers back to the February 2nd statement as well, which was a very, very strong statement and this is another very strong statement. So whether or not there are any discussions within other governments, I can't tell you. Check with them. But this is a strong statement reaffirming those principles.

*****

QUESTION: On Iran, the Iranian President has denied publicly today that the Iranians are providing deadly weapons that are going into Iraq and harming U.S. troops. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- our people in Baghdad with the Multinational Forces over the weekend had a background briefing in which they passed out a lot of information to reporters that were present. They made that publicly available. It included pictures of weapons that are clearly manufactured in Iran. They went through the explanation of these explosive form projectiles, their deadly nature and the fact that because of the tolerances and the machining and the technology involved with these things that they believe that these came from Iran and they also drew the linkages between the Quds Force which is a subset of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that specializes in training terrorists and those sorts of activities. They talked about their presence inside Iran and their linkage to these networks.

So while they presented a circumstantial case, I would put to you that it was a very strong circumstantial case. The Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity I think very clearly based on the information that was provided over the weekend in Baghdad. So beyond that I'm not going to try to embellish that briefing, which I think it was a pretty good briefing. And any reasonable person taking a look at it, I think would draw the same conclusions.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Rice see a final version of the presentation? I know you said that Friday she thought it needed more work.

MR. MCCORMACK: She did not. No, this was done at the deputy's level, I think from our building. I can't tell you all who looked at it. But David Satterfield took a look at it. He was comfortable with it. Secretary Rice gave him her proxy in terms of going through and making sure that the briefing met all the standards and the criteria that we talked about -- had talked about over the past couple of weeks.

QUESTION: So what happened over the last 10 days or so, since Steve Hadley said that it needed to be narrowed and that it had overstated the case at least the draft that he had seen? What happened in the last, you know, 10 days to make it ready for presentation?

MR. MCCORMACK: They tightened it up. In terms of the focus, in terms of the materials that were included in the briefing, I didn't go through every iteration of it, so I can't tell you what was left on the cutting room floor. But people wanted to make sure that this was a good, solid, clear presentation again that did not compromise our sources and methods, so we want to still be able to collect this kind of information, but we also want to present a clearer picture -- a clearer consensus picture of what the Iranian involvement is with these networks that are posing a threat to our troops. And that's an important point. Everybody should refocus on the fact that this originally came up because we were worried about the threat to our troops on the ground. This is -- I know others are trying to spin this up into something other than that. But this briefing talks about the threat to our troops. We had talked about what we are doing in reaction to that threat. So we thought it was important to try to present as clear a possible picture as we could at this point in time as to why we were taking the actions we were inside Iraq to protect our troops from these networks.

QUESTION: So we've known about this -- you know, I think it's been out in the public for some time now about, you know, the U.S. officials who said that the Iranians are supplying deadly weapons. Why now for the presentation, if this has been out there for a while?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the fact that this issue has come to the fore in public and we have started talking about it, they addressed that in Baghdad. They talked about the fact that it was -- they have recently -- and I can't give you the time period, seen an increase in the number of attacks from these devices.

As for the timing of it, it was something that the folks in Baghdad decided it was time to do. I can't tell you that it is tied to anything in particular other than the idea of we need to do something to address these networks, we need to tell our publics what we're doing to protect our troops and it flowed from that decision.

QUESTION: Last week you were speaking about mountains of evidence. Is it all the evidence you have or did you keep some classified?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, again, like I said, I can't tell you what was left on the cutting room floor. This represents the consensus view. We believe it's focused on the issue at hand. We believe that it's clear and it does not compromise sources and methods. So we think it's met all the criteria that we laid out for ourselves in making the presentation.

People continue to accumulate facts and information, and if at some point in the future people decide that there's an update that's merited, they'll take that decision. I don't believe anybody is thinking about that right now, but if there's -- if there are any updates that are merited, people will take a look at that in the future.

QUESTION: How can you make a convincing case about this if you can't really present all the evidence you have tying it to the Iranian Government? You know, you can say that it's coming from the Al Quds Force, but how do you convince people of that if you can't really show it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, let's step back to why we're doing this. We're doing this because there's a threat to our troops. Everybody agrees that there's a threat to our troops from these devices and from the networks that supply them. I don't think you're hearing much skepticism at all from any quarter except for maybe President Ahmadi-Nejad that the Iranians are involved in these networks. The Iraqis say that they're involved in these networks. The Brits say that they're involved in these networks. And I haven't kept track of anybody else in public who has said that they're involved in these.

So there's not a lot of debate about that. What this presentation does is talk about here's some of the evidence that has led us to these conclusions. And again, this is a consensus conclusion among U.S. Government agencies of Iranian involvement in these networks that pose a threat to our troops.

QUESTION: Sean, what will be the consequences on Iran after these threats?

MR. MCCORMACK: The consequences --

QUESTION: What are you going to do? Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: The President has talked about it. We're going to go after these networks that are operating inside of Iraq and we're going to do everything we can in Iraq to protect our troops. This is a very basic force protection issue. Any deployed military force around the world is going to take steps that it deems necessary to protect its troops, and President Bush has made very clear that that's what he's going to do as well.

So as for the consequences, well, the consequences are that these networks are going to be broken up, they're going to be hunted down and we're going to do everything in our power inside of Iraq to stop these activities.

Arshad, you were first.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you face any sort of problem, you know, given that Ahmadi-Nejad said that -- I think he -- one of the comments he made was that the Americans don't have credibility because of what happened with Iraq. How do you face that issue when he uses that as his rhetoric to make the case that the Americans are not being truthful about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: The -- I think it's -- I think it really is the Iranians who have a problem with the truth, to put it bluntly. Look, they're the ones who are obfuscating, who are not presenting all the facts to the IAEA Board of Governors, to their inspectors, to the UN Security Council. They are the ones that have to hide in the shadows with respect to their links to terrorist organizations. It's not the United States or its friends and allies.

The views here, again, represent the considered views of all the members of the intelligence community and the military as well as the policy community in terms of the facts as we know them. We're not trying to oversell this. Again, let's focus on what this is and what this isn't. What this is is a briefing about a threat to our troops. We're not trying to bill this as anything more than that. And the activities of our forces in Iraq with respect to the networks that support the manufacture and deployment of these kinds of devices are designed to stop those activities. That's what they're there for. It's a force protection issue. We're not trying to make this into anything more than it is, but it is a serious issue because it involves the lives of our troops deployed in Iraq working on behalf of the United States in support of building up a more peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq.

QUESTION: Related, also on Iran. Does the U.S. Government plan to ask the United Nations to take action against Iran for harboring members of al-Qaida?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any particular actions that we're taking at this point. There are already on the books existing Security Council resolutions that require members of the United Nations to take every step that they possibly can to fight terrorism, and that would include bringing to justice those known to be involved with terrorist activities.

QUESTION: I think the ones among the resolutions that I think you're alluding to are 1267 and the 1373, and the Post had a report over the weekend which cited two Bush Administration officials as saying that the United States plans to argue that Iran is violating those resolutions and that --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any move to do that.

QUESTION: Could you check that for me? I mean, if it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, Sean, sort of a follow-up on all these questions. In a general sense, the big (inaudible) at the moment we've seen, you know, cover of Newsweek, cover of Economist saying Iran could be next, a lot of speculation about military action. Can you give me any reaction to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It seems to be the news media that is whipping up that storyline, not us. We're dead serious about confronting threats to our troops in Iraq. We're also very serious, working through diplomatic channels, to address threats to the rest of the world about Iran trying to develop a nuclear weapon. We have expended quite a bit of diplomatic energy and capital, and I expect we will probably expend a lot more absent an Iranian turnaround in trying to convince them, using diplomatic means, to change their behavior.

We're also going to work with interested states around the world and nongovernmental organizations in trying to bring to light the abuses of human rights that take place on a daily basis inside of Iran. That is -- we believe as a country that stands up for freedom, democracy and human rights around the world that it's our obligation to do that.

But you notice that we're working through diplomatic means to accomplish all of those ends. President Bush has made it very clear that we, as has Secretary Gates -- Secretary of Defense Gates has made it very clear that while we don't take option -- no President takes options off the table, our force protection actions are focused on activities inside of Iraq. We have no plans to attack Iran.

So I'll put it to you that it might be -- you might look amongst yourselves and your colleagues within the journalistic community in terms of people who are whipping this up. It's certainly not the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: A lot of Bush critics are saying that the language that's being used in Iran kind of echoes the same kind of language that was being used in 2003.

MR. MCCORMACK: And what kind of language is that?

QUESTION: Well, even I can even quote Senator Rockefeller saying, "To be quite honest, I'm a little concerned that it's Iraq all over again."

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you're asking me to make a political statement about what is clearly another political statement. I'm not going to do that. I'll let people that are involved in politics play those games.

QUESTION: Iran signaled this weekend that they were ready to go back to negotiations on their nuclear program. Do you think it's a new language or did you see anything new on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, this seems to be a replay of something we saw back in April of 2006, very similar language about how they were ready to work through the modalities to enter back into negotiations, and thus far we've seen nothing from them. So this seems to be an old trick. It didn't work the first time because they didn't follow through on any of those words with any actions. It's very clear what they need to do: 1737 outlines it very clearly. So words are great, but they don't mean anything unless they're backed up by actions.

QUESTION: And also Larijani was in Berlin. Did you have -- did you get any readout of his talks with the Germans?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've heard anything about his discussions with the Germans.

QUESTION: Some of your European colleagues though seem to be somewhat interested in the possibility of Iran voicing interest in returning to the negotiating table. Do you see it as sort of, you know, utterly pointless for them to potentially engage in such conversations and you just want action?

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely not, no. If they -- there's no -- we absolutely have no problem with our friends and allies talking to the Iranians to get an idea of where they may be at a given point in time on this issue. It's too important for them not to occasionally take the temperature of the Iranians on the issue. But as for whether or not those exercises actually lead to anything, thus far, they have not and the Iranians have given no indications over the past several years that they are ready to take concrete steps to follow through on all of those promises. We've heard a lot of times that they intend to be cooperative, that all questions will be answered, and that conditions will be met.

Well, here we are on February 12th, 2007 and it's still not the case. So forgive my skepticism that unless they actually act on those words, I'm going to take a wait-and-see attitude.


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