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Middle East Digest: Feb. 16, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
February 16, 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. 16, 2007:

MR. CASEY:  Don't have any statements for you, but just wanted to make a quick note before we got to your questions.

We certainly want to take this opportunity to applaud the actions taken today by the Government of Japan for steps they're taking to implement Security Council Resolution 1737, which is designed to help prevent Iran from being able to enhance and continue its development of nuclear weapons. This action's coming several days after the European Union adopted a common position that calls for the implementation of the resolution and also allows for member states to be able to take additional measures beyond those formally required by the resolution as well.

I think you've also seen today that the Department of Treasury has announced a designation of several Iranian companies under terms of an existing executive order, but as part, again, of our efforts to implement this resolution. So I just think it's important to note that the international community is responding to the requirements of Resolution 1737 and I think this reflects the real and serious concern of the countries involved and of the international community more broadly to make sure that this resolution is implemented seriously and that Iran understand the concerns that we all share and our desire to see them apply the requirements of the resolution, as well as the decisions of the IAEA Board of Governors and suspend their uranium enrichment.

So with that, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Did you receive any sign that Russia is also complying with the resolution?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen anything specific in terms of implementation from the Russian Government, but of course, the Russian Government was one of those countries that unanimously voted in favor of the resolution and certainly, we expect they and all other members of the Security Council, all other UN members to honor and to fully implement this Chapter 7 resolution.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION: George Slidesmore (phonetic), RCN Colombia. Five Colombian congressmen that were very close to President Uribe were arrested yesterday on charges of corruption and (inaudible) with the illegal paramilitary groups of their country. How this will affect the Colombia-U.S. relationships, in particular with President Uribe? And what would be the repercussion of this affair in the upcoming final negotiations of the free trade agreement with Colombia?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think this is really a matter that you need to talk to the Colombian authorities about. I understand this is a matter that's now and will now be before the Colombian courts. We certainly have faith in the Colombian judicial system to be able to deal with these cases. And again, it's important for -- not only for Colombia, but for all other countries that there be accountability for those who have engaged in any kind of illegal activities, whether that's involvement with paramilitary forces or whether that's simple, straightforward criminal activity.

In terms of the U.S. Government policy, we remain committed to the free trade agreement -- I think Sue Schwab has talked about that over at the U.S. Trade Representatives Office -- and certainly look forward to continuing our cooperation with Colombia not only on trade and economic issues but of course on anti-narcotics cooperation and the other broad range of issues before our relationship.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice in her interview with the newspapers yesterday said that the U.S. was pursuing or considering pursuing a second resolution on Iran. Can you give us -- you know, expand on that, what kind of contacts we've had and what that might entail?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think she was pretty clear in what she said yesterday. Certainly we're considering the possibility, but we're doing so obviously in the context of Resolution 1737. The first step in that is seeing what kind of information we get from Mr. -- Dr. ElBaradei, as required under the resolution. I think we're expecting to see that sometime next week. Certainly we'll let him speak to the specifics, but I think it's pretty clear at this point that Iran has not responded in terms of complying with the terms of the resolution. And so with that idea in mind, we've certainly engaged in consultations in New York and among various capitals about what possibilities might there be for a follow-on resolution, whether that makes the most sense or not.

Again, the issue here is not about passing resolutions; the issue here is changing Iranian behavior, and we'll be looking in that light to see whether an additional resolution would be the most appropriate step for us to take to try and again continue to get Iran to change its behavior.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on any of the details of what you guys are looking at at this time?

MR. CASEY: No. Again, I think at this point, this is at early stages of consultations and I'll leave it to the folks involved in that to work on and formulate their ideas. I'm sure you'll be hearing more from us about this in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR. CASEY: It's okay, sure.

QUESTION: Is there any sort of timeline you guys are looking at? I mean --

MR. CASEY: Well, again, the resolution calls for a report to be filed. I believe the formal deadline for it is the 21st. I expect we'll see that report from the IAEA, from Dr. ElBaradei, in that timeframe. And then we'll have a chance to discuss it in the Security Council. I think, you know, within a reasonable period thereafter we'll be able to make a decision based on what we see in that report and based on the consultations we have, but I can't put a specific timeline on you for it.

QUESTION: Have you been talking to the Russians specifically about it?

MR. CASEY: I'm not honestly sure, Arshad, what specific conversations have gone on. Certainly I know that Under Secretary Burns is in regular contact with his political directors' counterparts, including the Russians. Again, I think these consultations have been relatively preliminary at this point since we don't have a report in yet, but I know that the Russian Government has been consulted, as have been the other members of the P-5+1, and I think those conversations have taken place here in Washington, in capitals as well as in New York.

QUESTION: And can you -- and I realize it's hard for you to go beyond what the Secretary said and I'm not in any way trying to --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I try and let her make the news, not me.

QUESTION: But what I'm trying to understand is why, given how difficult the negotiations were to get the first sanctions resolution and given the strength of the Russian objections that led to it being changed, some might say watered down repeatedly from the original draft to the final, why you think it may be beneficial to look at a second one, now less than two months after the passage of the first one.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's just a straightforward logical proposition. We passed one resolution. It's imposed a certain series of Chapter 7 sanctions on Iran. That resolution specifically said we'd get a report from the Director General about Iran's compliance or lack thereof with the resolution, and that depending on what that report showed the Security Council said it would agree to take up and consider further measures. So certainly it's something we want to consider.

Now, in terms of the passage of the first resolution, look, we've said all along this is tough diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy often is, and it's often something that takes time. We believe that taking the time to do this and do it right, and do it right meaning getting what we got, which was a resolution unanimously approved by all members, and then as I said at the beginning of the briefing we're seeing real implementation measures associated with, was a good thing. It put positive pressure on Iran to comply with the terms of the resolution.

And so certainly, while we're not in a position yet to say that we will in fact go ahead with this, we certainly want to consider whether additional Security Council action is appropriate. So again I think it's just logical and in fact is previewed in the existing resolution.

QUESTION: Tom, would you say that the U.S. was the one that went out to capitals, to other capitals to propose this idea of a second resolution?

MR. CASEY: Well, there's ongoing discussions that have happened both before the passage of 1737 and after the passage of 1737. Some of those were initiated by us, some of those were initiated by other people. Again, I think all the parties, all the countries that voted for that resolution understood that part of what they were voting for were clauses specifically saying the Security Council would consider other measures if Iran had not complied. So again, this is part of the mix and I think this has been an ongoing process.

QUESTION: Just what I'm trying to figure out is whether this is the U.S. idea of having a second resolution or rather there's a broader consensus that this is the way to go about this?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we haven't -- as the Secretary said, we haven't made any firm determinations on what our position is on this yet. I'm not aware that any of the other members of the P-5+1 or Security Council have come to any firm conclusions either. But I think everyone's interested in discussing what our next steps are, since again unfortunately, it appears that Iran is not going to comply by this deadline that was set out in the resolution.

QUESTION: Sorry, last one.

MR. CASEY: Sure. Last one? Last --

QUESTION: Last one. Okay, you said this was one of the options being looked at. Can you talk about any of the options that are being looked at?

MR. CASEY: Again, I think we need to let the diplomacy take shape on this one. Obviously again our goal here is to change Iranian behavior and to have them comply with the Security Council resolution, to suspend the uranium enrichment activities and then to come to talks with us and with the other members of the P-5+1 so that we can resolve this issue and we can resolve this issue in a peaceful, diplomatic way. There are plenty of tools in the diplomatic arsenal. There are many options available to people. A Security Council resolution or a second Security Council Resolution is one of them. But there are certainly others out there and I think the international community is going to have to look at all its possible options as we move down this road.

Again, I'd remind people, too, that the P-5+1 back this past summer put forward a choice for Iran to make, a positive path which involve negotiations and ultimately the permanent resolution of this issue in a way that would allow them to have a peaceful civilian nuclear program, but would provide guarantees to the international community that they were not in fact using that as a cover for building a nuclear weapon and a negative pathway.

And unfortunately despite the efforts of the P-5+1 or the EU-3+3, despite the negotiating efforts of Mr. Solana, the interventions of many other friends in the international community who've encouraged Iran to turn away from that path and move down a positive one. Iran continues to move in this direction. And so the international community has responded to that by passing this resolution, taking a number of steps, and we'll see now, if they again continue down this pathway of defiance, what the next steps ought to be.


QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about the trip? Specifically, the -- what do you make of these reports that are coming out quoting Palestinian officials saying that the U.S. will absolutely not deal with this proposed unity government?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we've talked about this and she spoke to it in her interview with some of your print colleagues yesterday. Our position on the Palestinian unity government, I think, has been fairly clear. We do not, at this point, have enough information about it, have not seen it name specific individuals to it and have not seen the specific policies that it plans to adopt. So at this point, we are really still in a wait and see position.

We want, though, for the Palestinian people to have a government that is able to move forward with the roadmap, with the peace process, and able to move forward to achieve their aspirations for a Palestinian state that can be at peace with Israel and with all its neighbors, so we definitely think they deserve a government that honors the Quartet principles. But we're going to continue to be looking at that government's formation and then we'll be in a position to make a determination about how we might or might not be able to engage in it.

I do think it's very clear, though, that the international community, that the Quartet, in statements as recently as last week, have indicated that those principles that are there are very clear and that for any Palestinian government to be able to have a positive relationship with the international community, that government is -- have to be able to meet those terms.

QUESTION: Do you have an indication of the kind of methods that she'll be bringing to them and specifically in terms of recognizing Israel, will there be a tough message saying that they will not -- you won't deal with them unless they do recognize Israel?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, the Quartet statement I think is pretty clear and pretty self-explanatory. You know, those terms and conditions are not, we think, particularly onerous or difficult for a government to meet. And they are essential if there's to be a full partner for peace in that Palestinian government with Israel.

Now, the Secretary is going out to the region today. She will have individual meetings with President Abbas and with Prime Minister Olmert. I'm sure there'll be a number of ideas exchanged about the unity government. But also as part of this discussion that's going on, there will be a trilateral meeting between her and President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. And I do continue to expect that the focus of that is going to be looking at the many issues that are out there toward achieving the goals of the roadmap including, as she has discussed, looking at the political horizon and seeing what kinds of ideas are out there and what kinds of agreements might be possible. Again, these are issues that in many ways haven't been discussed for six years and after six years it's appropriate to have some informal conversations about that and see where they go.

Let's go over to Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. She said in the interviews also that she expects while the Palestinian and the Israelis have achieved some progress, she expects Arab states to open up to Israel. Can you explain what she meant, like give us a specific example on this?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think her comments on that subject were fairly clear and are things that she's said before. Certainly in terms of a comprehensive peace in the region you need to have the completion of the roadmap. You need to have the establishment of a Palestinian state that can live at peace with Israel and all its neighbors, but you certainly also need to have a discussion and ultimately have peaceful relations between Israel and all of its neighbors, too. That's ultimately the goal of a Middle East that is at peace and is stable and is a place where all states in the region have good relations with one another.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Last one, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Mr. Casey, it's very important. Last Tuesday upon the arrival here in the town of the Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit, who's very, very sensitive about Islamists in Turkey, Washington Post with a front page story disclosed that al-Qaida is very active in Istanbul. In Turkey Islamists met with Usama bin Laden. Do you have anything to say since America is on the war on terror? And it's obvious, Mr. Casey, that the U.S. Government and General Buyukanit are in the same line on the Islamist issue for unknown reasons.

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, in terms of the Washington Post story, you can figure out who their sources were and go ask them. I don't think we have anything specific to say beyond what's in our annual counterterrorism report in terms of al-Qaida operations in Turkey or any place else. Certainly, Turkey has been under threat from terrorism over time, too, and that's why Turkey's been a strong partner with us in working on counterterrorism issues. Certainly, we are very interested and very actively engaged with the Government of Turkey and the Government of Iraq as well in trying to respond to the challenges and threats posed by PKK terrorism. So we're an active partner with the Government of Turkey on those issues.

Let's let Nina go first and then we'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Anything more to add to these reports that al-Masri might have been injured in Iraq?

MR. CASEY: No. I've seen those but I think what I've seen have been several conflicting reports and honestly I don't have any information that would clarify that for you right now.

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