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Middle East Digest: Feb. 26, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
February 26, 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. 26 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me note one thing for you and then we can get right into your questions. We'd like to congratulate the Iraqi Government and their Council of Ministers for agreement on a hydrocarbons law -- this law, draft law. It will now be forwarded to the Council of Representatives, their parliament, for a full vote. But it's an important piece of draft legislation and it does a couple of things. All revenues from sale of oil would go into a single national account. All Iraqi regions and provinces would be represented in a Federal Council on Oil and Gas, the principle energy policymaking body for the country. Provinces would receive direct shares of revenues significantly increasing local control of financial resources.

The law would include international standards for transparency, including requirements for public disclosure of contracts and associated revenues. It also would define the oil ministry's role as a primary regulatory agency as is generally the case in most countries. And under the law, oil would become a tool that would help unify Iraq and give all Iraqis a shared stake in their country's future. The draft legislation also provides a legal framework to allow international investment in Iraqi oil and gas sectors. And this is something that obviously would be very positive for all Iraqis. It has the promise -- holds out the promise that this government is working on behalf of all Iraqis to create an Iraq that -- in which all Iraqis could benefit from their national patrimony, in this case, hydrocarbons. So with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.

Okay. I have stunned you. I've awed you. No questions.

QUESTION: Do you know when this draft law is supposed to be -- to pass?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that will depend on the Council of Representatives. The Council of Ministers is a body that comprises the representatives of all the major parties in the Council of Representatives. I believe that their parliament comes back into session within the next week or so. I would expect that it would be at the top of their list for debate. I can't predict for you exactly when it would get passed. But this is an important step in that the agreement represents an agreement among all the major political factions in the Iraqi Government. It is also important in that it represents an indication that this government is, in fact, working on an Iraq that would benefit all Iraqis.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the London meeting on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: The meeting is now over. I'm sure you've seen the FCO very brief statement calling it productive. Can you shed any further light on what it produced, if anything, beyond an agreement to meet again and talk more about this topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they did -- I just talked to Nick Burns, who is our Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He attended the meeting on our behalf. And he said it was really one of the best meetings of this type that we have had in about two years, that it was conducted in a very good, positive, constructive atmosphere. They feel like -- feel as though that they accomplished quite a bit. They will meet again via telephone on Thursday, at which time they hope to be able to hammer out the elements of a UN sanctions resolution.

Coming out of this meeting, they have agreed on a -- on the fact that they will go forward with a UN sanctions resolution. They have also reaffirmed their commitment to make it clear to the Iranian Government that the pathway to negotiation is also open to them. Again, emphasizing the fact that there are two pathways for the Iranian regime. We hope that they take that pathway of negotiation. There is an offer out on the table. Secretary Rice has reiterated that over the past couple of days in some very strong statements that she has made.

But we are equally committed to sending the message to the Iranian Government, should they choose not to proceed down that pathway, then there will be consequences and those consequences will be diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world. They've already had a taste of that, and this last resolution that was passed 15-0 has knocked them off balance, I think. You have seen a debate erupt in Iran that you had not previously seen before and there is a real discussion in Iran right now whether or not the opportunity costs of continuing down their current pathway are really worth it, because there are real costs to them. And the Iranian people are going to have to make that judgment, as do they want to proceed down this pathway of isolation or do they want to proceed down the pathway of greater cooperation and contact with the outside world.

QUESTION: You said that they agreed that they will go forward on a sanctions resolution.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: You don't mean to imply by that that there's actually agreement that there will be a resolution, because the devil is always in the details. I mean, it's not like -- is there --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, obviously you have -- you have to have a vote, put it to the vote. But the P-5+1 have agreed that they are going to move forward with a resolution.

QUESTION: Now I'm sorry, and I don't mean to try to split hairs, but I'm really trying to understand what that means. I mean, if you don't have an agreement on -- you're not saying they've agreed that there will be a resolution no matter what; is that what you're saying?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, short of an actual vote, yes, their intention is to have a resolution. Yes.

QUESTION: And this morning you suggested to some of us that you might be satisfied by something other than a resolution. You said a resolution or other incremental steps. Why -- were you trying to suggest by that that something less than a resolution, other than a resolution is acceptable?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.

QUESTION: And what kind of steps do the P-5+1 agreed on?

MR. MCCORMACK: What other elements in --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the resolution? Well, we're going to negotiate those in private and at some point, I'm sure that we will make them publicly known. But until that point, we haven't finished the discussions on that yet.

QUESTION: So if I understood well, you agreed to have a new resolution, but you didn't agree on what will be the resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: We've agreed on a couple of things: 1) that we're going to go for a UN Security Council resolution and 2) that we are going to reaffirm to the Iranians that there is a negotiating track that is open to them. The political directors will convene again via conference call on Thursday, at which point they will have a further discussion about what elements would be included in a Security Council resolution and that -- we hope at that point that they can actually come to agreement on the elements of the resolution and then you also -- then you would proceed from that point in finishing up negotiations on the actual text of the resolution.

QUESTION: Okay. Did the P-5+1 agree on having additional steps?

MR. MCCORMACK: What additional steps? What --

QUESTION: Well, additional measures to -- incremental measures.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. That's why you would have another resolution.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if it's a resolution and with no new sanction or no new
measure --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, presumably, there would be something new in it if you have another resolution.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense if you'll be going back --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: No, not necessarily -- yeah, exactly. Okay.

QUESTION: But didn't you have an initial kind of menu of resolute -- of elements that you wanted, particularly United States supports to table, which was then subsequently watered down? Will you be revisiting that initial list?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We're certainly going to draw upon that list. I can't tell you at this point what all the elements will be. That remains for further discussion. As we said, we hope we can have that wrapped up by Thursday, but again, we all know how multilateral negotiations go, but I want to emphasize this was a very good meeting today. Nick told me it was one of the best that we have had of this kind in the past couple years. And I think it really underscores the fact that the international system is going to reply to Iran's continuing to thumb its nose at the international system. They just can't continue with this kind of behavior on an issue of this fundamental seriousness to the international system.

QUESTION: But you say you have much more confidence in this. You sound so much more optimistic than you did before Christmas. Do you have much more confidence in the substance of this resolution? Will this be more the kind of thing that the U.S. wants to see?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we -- let's rewind back to December. We were saying all -- we were saying all along that the resolution that is going to emerge and that did emerge from the Security Council wasn't going to be the one that we would have drafted ourselves. But in looking back at that resolution, it has actually been quite effective. The fact that it was a 15-0 resolution, the fact that it was a Chapter 7 resolution, signaled to not only the Iranians but the international system and the private sector of the international system that this was a quite serious moment for Iran and that it had some fundamental choices that it needed to make.

And the result has been that the business community has made certain decisions about reputational risk and risk involving Iran, and they've made those decisions on their own based on Iran's standing in the international community. I think sometimes we forget and maybe we lost sight of the fact that a Chapter 7 resolution is a very strong signal to players in the international system. But a country now stands outside, in terms of its behavior, the international consensus; and Iran, as a result of that resolution, found itself in a very exclusive club, not one that people really want to get into, but a very exclusive club.

And so we are -- we and the P-5+1 think that it turned out to be a very good and very effective resolution. Now we're going to add to it. We're going to add to it because Iran has decided that it's going to continue to defy the international community -- not just the United States, but the entire world in the form of Security Council resolutions and the IAEA Board of Governors. We would hope that they choose a different path. That pathway is open to them. But in the meantime, we are going to continue down the road of a Security -- another Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Did Nick and his counterparts affirm that they want to pursue a Chapter 7 resolution this time around? And also would you say, since Nick has said this is one of the best meetings they've had, that the Russians have come closer to the views of the Europeans and the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let the individual parties characterize their interactions within the group. In terms of the elements of the resolution, we'll let that unfold over the next few days here. I would expect that, as we said, it's going to be an incremental step in the diplomacy that's proportionate to the kind of response that Iran has given the rest of the world.

QUESTION: Well, Iran has just flatly, utterly, completely, unequivocally, you know, rejected what you wanted. That wasn't incremental. I mean, that was just flat out, no, we're not going to do what you want to do.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a lot of adverbs in one sentence.

QUESTION: I thought so, too, but it seemed to me to be justified.

MR. MCCORMACK: You feel very strongly about that.

QUESTION: But -- no, but they've rejected what you wanted, so why respond incrementally? Why not respond with more? You guys wanted more in the original draft that you were talking about last autumn and that were gradually, you know, negotiated to have less and less of the things that you wanted into them. Why don't you try for more than just incremental steps? Is that just all you think you can get at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we think that -- again, we rewound the clock a little bit and I admitted at the time that this wasn't -- the first resolution, at the time we were drafting it, we acknowledged wasn't all that we had -- would have hoped that it would have been. But the fact of the matter is that it has been a very effective resolution, and I think even more effective than we might have originally thought when we signed onto it. We, at the time, we said that this is a good resolution, it's a Chapter 7 resolution, but it has been even more effective than we would have thought at the time.

So again, Iran keeps taking steps -- again, they do continue to thumb their nose at the international community. But they are taking incremental steps along the pathway to perfecting enrichment technology and, we would argue, along the pathway to developing a nuclear weapon. And so we are going to -- we have said all along that we are going to have a proportionate, diplomatic response if they continue to defy the international system. We believe -- and again, we haven't come to full agreement on the elements of this resolution, but we believe that whatever it is that we come up with in terms of a resolution will have a proportionate effect on Iran given its continued defiance of the international system.

QUESTION: And proportionate to what?

MR. MCCORMACK: Proportionate to the actions that it has -- it is taking, and that we have said we are going to gradually increase the pressure on Iran. That has been -- that's been the operating concept behind our diplomacy, really, for the past couple of years. And I think that that's what you see playing out right now.

QUESTION: So does it mean that we don't have to expect a very strong resolution, the next one, because it will be proportionate?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think that you will see a strong resolution come out that is incremental in nature. And I'm just -- I'm trying to make the point to you that the -- while in the language of diplomacy we may call these incremental, that we may call them gradual increases in pressure, the real world effect of these is actually quite significant on the Iranian regime. I think we have seen that demonstrated over the past several months in the wake of the passage of the last resolution.

So don't discount the effect of these resolutions within the international system. It's important to remember that Iran is not a state that exists in isolation from the international system. Its people want interaction with the rest of the world and, frankly, we would like nothing better than to encourage that interaction between the Iranian people and the rest of the world, including with the United States.

So these resolutions have an effect of isolating Iran from the rest of the world, and that is not something that the Iranian people want. Or it's certainly not something that this government, this Iranian Government, would want. It understands it has -- while many of its behaviors are outside the international consensus of acceptable norms, it still has to exist and depends in some respects on the international system.

Yes.

QUESTION: Does this mean now that you believe that the participants of this meeting, including Russia, are now open to increasing sanctions on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let's take this step by step. They agreed at this political directors meeting that we were going to go for another Security Council resolution, also reaffirmed that there is a negotiating pathway. There are going to be elements in that resolution that have yet to be agreed and we'll talk a little bit about those in the coming days and weeks.

Anything else on Iran? Yeah.

QUESTION: Did United States ask Turkey to talk to Iran about its nuclear program? What are the U.S. expectations from Turkey on this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we would hope as a neighbor of Iran that Turkey would encourage the Iranian regime to take seriously the requirements of the international system and make clear to them that there is another pathway for them. There is another pathway where they can realize discussions on a whole host of subjects about which they have expressed an interest to have discussions and negotiations. We can do that. We can do that within the P-5+1 mechanism that has been laid out for them and it's a very simple entry requirement. It's been laid out for them. It's not just ours. It's the same requirement as the IAEA Board of Governors has laid out, that the P-5+1 has laid out. So we would encourage that message to be sent to the Iranians.

And on the other side, if they choose not to cooperate, then they are going to find themselves more and more isolated from the rest of the world.

QUESTION: Can you define "go for" just so we understand what you mean when you say they've agreed to go for --

MR. MCCORMACK: Go for; present to the Security Council for a vote.

QUESTION: Seek to agree on? I mean, is that a fair definition?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you have to table a resolution and get it voted on.

Anything else on Iran?

Samir.

QUESTION: On Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: The U.S. initially discovered today a huge depot of very sophisticated weapons. Iraqi analysts say that this could prove good -- have a good evidence that Iran may be supplying these weapons. Do you have anything?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any more information for you, Samir. I saw a news story, newspaper reports about such a find, but you'll have to talk to the folks at MNFI in Baghdad about what it is that they found.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Mr. Talabani's health after negotiating --

MR. MCCORMACK: We wish him well. We wish him a full and speedy recovery. Any other comment on Mr. Talabani and his health, I think it's more appropriate to come from the Iraqi Government and his family.

*****

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or has been aware of the British Foreign Secretary. Also there seems to be mounting concern about these problems along the border. What's your take in all this? And do you think Pakistan's doing enough?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, there's a shared interest here. We have a shared interest. The Pakistanis and the Afghans all have a shared interest in seeing that the al-Qaida and Taliban who may be operating in that border region are dealt with. Now, the Pakistanis have come up with a plan for dealing with the federally administrated travel areas along that border region. There's been a lot of talk recently about the Taliban and al-Qaida seeking sanctuary in those areas and we know that the Pakistani Government takes this quite seriously. It takes it so seriously that President Musharraf did come up with a comprehensive plan that he briefed us on and he briefed the Afghans on that he is now implementing.

The task now is to assess the effectiveness of the steps that have been taken. I think that that is an ongoing process right now. But let me reiterate and underline that President Musharraf is a good ally in the word on terror, Pakistan is a strong fighter in the war on terror, and that the al-Qaida and the Taliban elements are as much a threat to President Musharraf as they are to us. They tried to -- the al-Qaida tried to kill him twice in his own country, so that he understands that this is a serious threat. So there are ongoing efforts.

It is important that we encourage that cooperation among the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that you don't have the transit back and forth across that border. Steps have been taken, cooperation has improved. Is there more that can be done? Yes. And that's what we're going to focus on -- how do we make our efforts more effective and are we doing the right things. And as for the Vice President's trip, I think that I'll let him speak for himself or the White House speak on his behalf, after his meeting with President Musharraf. He did have a one-on-one meeting, I guess, with President Musharraf.

QUESTION: Would you say that relations are improving between Karzai and Musharraf since last time they met here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, President Bush got them together and they all had dinner together and they had a good meeting. There have been tensions in the past. I think it's evident to everybody that there have been tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But despite those tensions, they do continue to work together and they understand that there's a common bond here and that is that these extremists, violent extremists groups pose a threat to them. They pose a threat to the Afghan Government. They pose a threat to the Pakistan Government. So the task is to encourage them to work together and work together in that trilateral group that includes us as well.

QUESTION: There's a lot of talk about this Taliban offensive that's expected in the spring. Are you therefore putting more pressure on the two parties to work more closely together or is there a push from the State Department for them to do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we in the U.S. Government are, every single day, we encourage them to work together. That happens at the working level and it happens behind the scenes. You don't always see it. Every now and then the issue will come to the fore when you have the trilateral meeting at the White House or you have Vice President Cheney stopping off in the region. But it's something that we work with them on every single day.

*****

MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Iran's rocket launch yesterday, the low-orbit space rocket?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that we do. Let me check it out here for you. I guess they have not given me a whole lot more on this, other than to say we've seen the press reports, Kirit. I don't have a whole lot more details for you other than their usual concerns about their missile activity and how it comports with their nuclear program as well as the missile technology control regime. So if there's anything else in the future that we can find out about this, we'll be happy to share it with you.

QUESTION: Do you consider it saber-rattling or do you think this is actually for a space program?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any further details for you right now, Kirit.

 


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