Middle East Digest: February 28, 2007
Bureau of Public Affairs
From the Daily Briefing on Feb 28, 2007:
QUESTION: During her testimony at the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday, Secretary Rice at some point referred to the PKK as a terrorist group operating "on the border between Turkey and Kurdistan." I was wondering why she did not say Iraq but said Kurdistan. Was she just referring to a geographical area?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yeah. I think --
QUESTION: The reason I'm asking is that the Turks are quite sensitive on this matter, on terminology.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, I understand. No, we -- it should be understood that we fully support the territorial integrity of Iraq and the Iraqi Government represents all of Iraq. There are regional governorates in Iraq as well, and I think they refer to themselves as the Kurdistan regional government. But it's a sub -- it's a provincial governing unit of the overall federal system.
QUESTION: So she was referring to a geographical area; is that right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Correct, yes, the border between Iraq and Turkey.
QUESTION: Completely different topic. President Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran is in Sudan meeting with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir criticizing the U.S. and blaming the U.S. for the mess in Iraq, blaming the U.S. for Lebanon, the Palestinian territories. What do you think of his trip there and what do you have to respond to?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any particular remarks that have come from him and his travels through Sudan. It is up to governments whom they host. The Government of Sudan has chosen to host President Ahmadi-Nejad. That is up to them. That's their decision. I don't think I would try to impute any greater significance to the visit than they have decided to --
QUESTION: Do you see them as some sort of Islamist alliance that's anti-U.S. --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I --
QUESTION: -- which is how they cast themselves --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn't try to read anything else into it -- anything more into it than that. I mean, he -- President Ahmadi-Nejad has traveled around the world trying to generate political support, diplomatic support for his regime and its policies and thus far he hasn't had a whole lot of luck. They find themselves very isolated from the rest of the world. I suppose he's trying to do the same thing in Sudan. We would encourage the Sudanese Government to tell the Iranian Government that they should comply with their international obligations.
QUESTION: But he's specifically trying to cultivate U.S. -- you know, countries that the U.S. has been critical of and doesn't have the best relations with - Sudan, Venezuela.
MR. MCCORMACK: I -- you know, again, he's looking for support where he thinks he might be able to get it. I don't know if he's -- I don't know what sort of support he thinks he can generate from Sudan. But suffice it to say, the number of countries to which he can travel and try to generate some sort of support for the policies of his regime, it's a pretty small group.
QUESTION: On Turkey. Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi asked Turkey yesterday to stop threatening cross-border military operations against Turkish Kurds, a rebel base in northern Iraq, saying unilateral action would not help resolve those problems. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we think is that Turkey and Iraq need to work cooperatively together on the issue of the PKK and the cross-border raids into Turkey. Retired General Joe Ralston is our special envoy on the matter and it's something we take very seriously. So we would urge Turkey and the Iraqi Government to work closely together to -- on a problem that's very difficult to resolve. The PKK is a terrorist organization and they've killed a lot of innocent civilians in Turkey and they have also engaged the Turkish military, so we understand the concern of the Turkish Government. So we're doing what we can to help them resolve it without any use of -- resort to any use of force.
QUESTION: Any answer to my pending question regarding the Greek Patriarch head in Jerusalem?
MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into this and this appears very generally to be more of a dispute between the Greek Patriarchate and the Israeli Government. I understand there's a little bit of history here about involving a land sale and a dispute within the Greek Orthodox Church about whether or not the former Patriarchate was allowed to make that land sale. And then there was an appointment of a new patriarch and I think that there are some unresolved issues, shall we say, between the Patriarchate and the Israeli Government. Beyond that I can't really offer any comment. We have met recently with the Greek Patriarch on the issue. It's listed in our International Religious Freedom report. There's a short explanation of what transpired but this is an issue between those two parties not really involving us.
QUESTION: You don't oppose the (inaudible) or the freedom of religions?
MR. MCCORMACK: Of course, we support freedom of religion. But I would submit to you that this is -- there's a little bit more to this dispute involving, shall we say, more earthly issues and that it is up to the Patriarchate and the Israeli Government to resolve those differences.