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Middle East Digest: Feb. 20, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
February 20, 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. 20, 2007:

George?

QUESTION: Iran?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Did you notice the generous offer of President Ahmadi-Nejad for discussions?

MR. CASEY: Well, I guess that would be one way to characterize it. I believe that President Ahmadi-Nejad seems to be missing the point of the international community here. As we've said before, the United States, the other members of the permanent -- members of the Security Council have put forward a very clear opportunity for Iran to do the right thing, for itself, for its people and for the international community. Iran has clearly refused to do that. And those simple conditions are simply suspending their uranium and enrichment activities.

And people forget, I think, that we're not asking Iran to do this out of whim. We're asking Iran to do this because of their clear pattern of deception, of hiding their nuclear activities and the clear concerns that we all have about their supposed civilian nuclear program being a cover for the development of a nuclear weapon. And so while I'm sure we would all like to see Iran accept the positive pathway given, suspend the enrichment and return to the negotiating table. I'm afraid that what we're seeing so far, including these recent statements is just more of the same, defiance. It's clear that Iran is not moving in the right direction and I think that's unfortunate and it's unfortunate not only for the world community, but it's unfortunate for the people of Iran.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Would you have any reaction to the war games Iran has been conducting today?

MR. CASEY: If I had any information about them, I might. But no, I -- look, I think every country is going to conduct its own military operations. I don't really have any specific comments on what the Iranians might or might not be doing with their own military forces. I think, you know, the Pentagon's made clear what our defensive posture is in the region and certainly I don't view this as anything out of the ordinary.

QUESTION: And you don't see it -- you see it's only by chance that they are conducting these war games the day the new -- the second U.S. aircraft arrived in the Gulf?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think you'll be shocked to learn that the Iranian military doesn't generally communicate with us very much about their plans and activities. Look, they're obviously free to conduct their own internal affairs as they see fit. The Pentagon has spoken and certainly the President has spoken about our concerns about Iranian behavior in the region generally. But again, has also spoken, and I believe Secretary Gates said it best for the umpteenth time, there is no planning or idea that we are going to attack or invade Iran. And certainly nothing in the moves that the U.S. military is making in terms of its regular rotation of forces in the Gulf should be interpreted that way.

Yeah, Nick.

QUESTION: The Secretary talked about next steps on Iran, the nuclear issue with Iran last week. She said that she's already discussing potential follow-up resolution in the Council. Where do things stand? Tomorrow is the deadline. It doesn't look they'll meet it. Have you -- or anybody on the Council began drafting another resolution? Have there been any recent talks? Is the Secretary going to talk about this tomorrow with the Germans and the other Europeans? Where do we stand?

MR. CASEY: Okay. There's a lot in that. We talked about this a little bit on Friday, Nick, and I think where we stand is pretty much what you heard from us then.

We've got a report that's coming due from Dr. ElBaradei in conjunction with the UN Security Council Resolution 1736 and we'll be looking forward to seeing that report. I think it's clear, though, that Iran has not made any moves to date to comply with that resolution either by suspending its uranium enrichment activities or by answering the questions that are still outstanding that the IAEA has about their nuclear program. But we do want to see the report, look at it in full and have a chance to discuss it both here internally and with Security Council partners.

Now, as the Secretary said, we're certainly considering an additional resolution in the Security Council depending on what we see in that report and depending on how we view the next steps in this process. Certainly we want to make sure that Iran understands -- that the government of Iran understands that they're going to continue to pay an increase in price for their defiance of the international community. But at the moment where this stands is that there certainly have been consultations between the Secretary and some of her counterparts on this subject. I know there have been consultations that have been ongoing in New York, understand Under Secretary Burns has also been in discussions about this in a bit of a more formal way with some of his P-5+1 colleagues. But we'll have to wait and see once we get the report, have everyone have a chance to digest it. At that point we'll be in a position to make some decisions about how specifically we want to proceed in the Council.

Kirit. And then we'll go down to Arshad. Sorry, Arshad.

QUESTION: Have you been able to get a readout of Secretary Rice's meetings in Jordan yet?

MR. CASEY: No, I haven't, and frankly I think there was going to be a briefing of one kind or another done to your colleagues on the plane, and I think I'll leave it with them.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Iran for a moment. Are you pleased by the Russian announcement that they will not start up the Bushehr reactor this summer as planned, so that's point one.

MR. CASEY: I just saw some of those statements coming out. Certainly we don't think at this point that it's appropriate to do anything that could potentially help further Iran's nuclear program. Obviously, the Russians, and there has been a long-standing engagement on the subject of Bushehr, but I think what that shows is Russia's own concerns about Iran's nuclear program and Russia's own concerns about what Iran actually is intending to do. Certainly, the Russian Government has supported Resolution 1736. They have moved forward in terms of working with us on the possibilities for follow-on resolutions as well, but I think what this probably does more than anything else, and you certainly can ask the Russian Government themselves, though, is show that they too are concerned, along with the rest of the international community, about Iran's programs.

QUESTION: Why do you think that they are concerned? Because the reason that they have given for this is that they say Iran has not paid them on time and their concern seems to be more with when they get paid. Do you have specific reason to believe that it is, in fact, concern more broadly over Iran's nuclear program than over the money?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I've seen a couple of different attributions on it and again, you can ask them. But I do think it's very clear to us that the Russians share our concerns about Iran's nuclear program. And regardless of the reasoning behind this, I'm certainly not -- don't think we're anxious to see any aspects of their nuclear program move forward at this point.

QUESTION: And do you know if -- among the consultations that have taken place in New York by Under Secretary Burns and by the Secretary herself, about the possibility of a second resolution, do you know if there have been contacts with the Russians and the Chinese on this?

MR. CASEY: I know there have been contacts among the Permanent 5. As to what level and how frequently and how often, that I really don't have details on, but certainly, we are in conversations with all the members of the P-5 about this.

Michel.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the abduction of three U.S. women in the Palestinian territories today?

MR. CASEY: I really don't for right now, Michel. We've seen those reports and we are taking them seriously. Our consulate in Jerusalem is actively talking to the Palestinian Authority officials about this, but I don't have any specifics for you in terms of either being able to confirm those reports or give you any sort of readout on them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Let's go here. I'm getting to you, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Okay. Maybe we'll --

MR. CASEY: After -- I'm working down the row.

QUESTION: Okay. Turkey's top military commander was in Washington last weekend. He accused two largest Iraqi-Kurdish groups of support -- fully supporting the PKK. Do you have any information confirming or denying these arguments?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen his comments, but certainly, we believe that the Government of Iraq, and by that, I would include people like President Talabani and other representatives from the Kurdish region are committed to working with us and with the Government of Turkey to halt PKK activities in the north of Iraq.

So certainly, as far as we're concerned, we believe that the Government of Iraq is committed along with us to taking action against this problem. And we recognize that this is a serious issue. It's why we appointed General Ralston as a special envoy to help work on this concern, to help coordinate better the activities among the three governments. But this is obviously a problem that does need to be addressed and we're committed to working with the Government of Turkey and the Government of Iraq, including officials and certainly officials from the northern part of the country on this issue.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: A follow-up to my Turkish colleague's questions regarding Kirkuk.

MR. CASEY: But of course.

QUESTION: How do you respond, Mr. Casey, to Mr. Richard Holbrooke criticism in Washington Post that the U.S. Armed Forces (inaudible) did not start an intensive mediation on the Kirkuk issue referring to the new Iraqi constitution which calls a referendum this year on whether Kirkuk is to be incorporated into the Kurdistan region and the Turkish Government of Recep Erdogan strongly disagrees?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, first of all, the issue of Kirkuk needs to be resolved by the Iraqis themselves. There are procedures laid out in the Iraqi constitution for doing so. We certainly are encouraging that those efforts move forward. In terms of the comments of other individual officials on them, well, certainly they're entitled to their views.

We believe that the best way forward on this issue is, again, to have the Iraqis carry out the commitments that they themselves have laid out in their constitution. And certainly, what we want to see happen is this issue be resolved in a peaceful way in accordance to Iraqi law and that is respectful of the rights of all communities there.

QUESTION: What about the Turkish concern?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think many of Iraq's neighbors have concerns about different aspects of the situation there, including the situation in Kirkuk. What we, again, want to encourage everyone to do is work with the Iraqi Government and help them as they seek to try and carry out the commitments that they --

*****

QUESTION: There's been reports of al-Qaida resurgence in northern Pakistan and I'm just wondering if you had any sort of comment on that and also on Pakistan's commitment to fighting Usama bin Laden's network?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think I've seen a number of the stories that you're referring to, or where I assume your question's coming from. And a lot of that does get into intelligence assessments. But I frankly am not in a position to be able to offer you. Certainly, though, we continue to be concerned about the existence of al-Qaida's leadership that's out there, Usama bin Laden among others, and we continue to be concerned as you know, about cross border activities from Pakistan to Afghanistan. It's something that we've been working on with each of those governments, the Government of Afghanistan and the Government of Pakistan, to try and be able to put a stop to those kinds of cross-border activities and certainly the hunt for Usama bin Laden and other senior leaders of al-Qaida continue and through a variety of means and a variety of agencies. But I think the main point for us has been that we do believe we have good cooperation from the Government of Pakistan on counterterrorism issues.

Certainly there are concerns, as I've just said, with activities across the border. I think they've been discussed fairly -- in a fairly detailed way both from here and from other buildings and I really don't have a lot to add to that. But we do believe that President Musharraf and his government are committed to fighting terror and to working with us. However, it's very clear to all of us that we and the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Afghanistan all need to do more since the problem is out there and it is continuing.

QUESTION: Some analysts are blaming this recent deal that Musharraf struck with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan for the resurgence of the al-Qaida networks and especially these training camps. Can you speak to that at all?

MR. CASEY: You know, I really can't. I think you've heard from the White House on the subject of the agreement. I think the President's words on that a couple months ago are so far the definitive one. I don't have an analysis to offer you of that agreement beyond what you've already heard.

Mr. Lambros, one more shot.

QUESTION: On the Bulgarian nurses. Mr. Casey, the five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya for infecting 426 children with the virus that cause AIDS have appealed their convictions. Their attorney said Sunday, February 18, 52 of the innocent infected children have died of AIDS. A lawyer for the Palestinian doctor lodges an appeal last week keeping in mind that they were sentenced to death twice in 2004 and in 2006 following a court appeal. Any comment since the U.S. is very much involved to release them?

MR. CASEY: No, Mr. Lambros. Our position on this issue remains the same. There are additional, as you noted, judicial appeals available. We certainly hope that in the end a decision will be reached that will allow these Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian physician to be able to return home to their families. We certainly recognize the tragedy that occurred in Libya and share the concerns of the international community about the affected individuals. And again, as you've heard before, supported ideas for providing some form of compensation as well through an international mechanism. But our position on this issue remains the same.

QUESTION: One more question. (Inaudible) AIDS, a global organization of more than 205 -- of more than 2,500 signed this, medical doctors, another based in Canada with a statement today called for the creation of an international commission to investigate the case. Saying inter alia that witnesses alleged that the Bulgarian nurses have given to the children pills and injections, the contents of which remain unknown. Do you have anything to say on that?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think the origins of this case and the history of it are all very well documented. Again, our position on this is quite clear and it remains the same.


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