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Middle East Digest: March 1, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 1, 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 Briefing on March 1, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We'll work on that. One housekeeping item. What we're going to do is after the briefing stay in your chairs. We're going to have Anne Patterson, who's our Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, give you a special briefing on the rollout of our 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. So just a note for all you, stay in the briefing room, good stuff to follow.


QUESTION: Do you have any news about the P-5+1, the conference call this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I have not had a chance to talk to Nick, other than the fact that the call took place. What we will try to do is I'll get in touch with Nick this afternoon. He's in meetings all morning long and we'll try to provide you a readout via e-mail and get you some points.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Sean, what do you make of the commentary that's out there that the Bush Administration is suddenly changing its tune and talking to countries like North Korea, Iran and Syria? What is your response to that? There's been a lot of sort of chatter about it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It's not very good analysis, frankly. I got asked this question the other day. And what you have to understand is this didn't happen overnight. These policies have been put in place over a period of years. We've laid the diplomatic groundwork over a period of years and so now you are seeing the Administration in a position to be able to reap some of the benefits of the diplomatic groundwork that has been laid over the course of time. I'll use the example of the six-party talks.

The six-party talk mechanism is something that was put in place several years ago and it took some time to develop, but that mechanism has proven to be very effective in starting us all down the pathway of the objective that is laid out for us in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That's something that all the six parties share.

You can look back at the 2005 agreement that was put in place which enshrines that objective. You can look at the implementing agreement that was signed just a few weeks ago which takes us down the first couple steps towards that goal. And you can look back in the wake of the Korean nuclear test that that group, that diplomatic grouping proved very effective in providing an immediate response and condemnation of the North Korean testing of a nuclear device. That, in turn, led to very quick action within the Security Council passing Resolution 1737.

So that's just one example of the careful multilateral diplomacy that this Administration has engaged in over a period of time. And now, you're seeing the United States, based on that, being in a position to try to move forward towards some of our objectives.

QUESTION: But by leaving the door open to talking to Iran and Syria -- you know, on the margins of this conference --


QUESTION: Are you answering critics at all that have said you need to engage these countries if you're going to get anywhere?

MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, this is a conference that the Iraqis have called. We're there in support of the Iraqis. Again, this is not a U.S.-Iran show or a U.S.-Syria show. This is about Iraq. And if we can participate in a conference, participate in a discussion that supports the Iraqi Government in trying to bring a more secure, stable environment in Iraq, then of course, we're going to take that opportunity. This is an idea that's been out there for some time. The Iraqis originally talked about it, I think, last fall.

So of course, we are going to participate in it. We have listened to a variety of different voices, as Secretary Rice has said, from the Baker-Hamilton group as well as others who have talked about the importance of a regional diplomatic engagement. Now the Iraqis and the Turkish Government have actually been engaged in this process for some time. The Turkish Government has hosted a number of these neighbors meetings.

The Iraqis decided that they were going to expand it out and invite the Permanent Five to the envoy-level meeting and then expand that group further to include the G-8 at a ministerial-level meeting. We think that's a good idea. So we look at this as an opportunity to support the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice has long said that -- you know, the Iranians and the Syrians don't need the United States to tell them --


QUESTION: -- how to act in Iraq. It sounds like -- you know, again, by leaving the door open, you might be changing that calculation a bit, that perhaps they do need a message from the U.S. to cut it out.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Again, there are a lot of other countries that are going to be around the table at this meeting and it is going to be hosted by the Iraqis. We would hope that all the countries there, including Iran and Syria, take the opportunity to play a positive role in Iraq's future. And while we are there in the room, if we have the opportunity, of course, we are going to bring up issues related, for example, to EFPs and IEDs. That's an important issue for us, it's an important force protection issue for our forces in Iraq, and I think that people would be a little surprised if we didn't bring up that issue. Of course, we'll take the opportunity to do that.


QUESTION: Can you confirm that you plan to send a high-ranking U.S. official to Syria to talk about refugees, Iraqi refugees?

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, let me back up a little bit. UNHCR Chairman Gutierrez recently, within the past month or so, has taken a trip to the region to talk about humanitarian issues with a number of different governments in the region, including Syria. So what you're going to see is a follow-up to that visit. You're going to see a U.S. representative, a UNHCR representative travel to a number of states in the region, including Syria and Jordan, to talk about humanitarian issues related to refugees in those countries. There will be several stops. I think for sure there'll be one in Syria, for sure there'll be one in Jordan, maybe a couple of others.

The idea here is to follow up on that humanitarian mission and to talk directly with many of the NGOs that are on the ground doing the work for refugee processing and also helping to address the humanitarian needs of those refugees on the ground. I would expect, although the meetings haven't been set yet, that there would also be interactions with counterparts in the various governments, including the Syrian Government, including the Jordanian Government, to deliver the message that this is a humanitarian issue, it should be dealt with as such, and the United States is ready and prepared to do its part with respect to humanitarian assistance as well as with respect to taking in those -- some of those people who have been classified as refugees. But it would be a mission where you have a U.S. representative paired up with a UNHCR representative, so it's not a bilateral mission.

QUESTION: And who would it be and when?

MR. MCCORMACK: From our side, Ellen Sauerbrey, our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration Affairs. On the UNHCR side, I'm not sure. I'm not sure they've designated a specific individual yet. As for timing, I expect in the coming weeks. I don't have a specific date for you.



QUESTION: Iran has been challenging the international community, including the UN, IAEA and the United States, as far as their nuclear program is concerned. And they must have been watching also the situation of six-party talk or what happened with the agreement with North Korea. Do you think Iran, which was also saying that to wipe out Israel off the roadmap, do you think they are now have softened at all and then maybe ready to go the same path as North Korea? Are you ready to give them same -- what given to North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: As for what their intentions are, Goyal, I can't speak to that. I don't know. It's an opaque decision-making process in that regime. What you can see however is from published reports is that there is a conversation going on now in public about whether or not the regime is following the proper course with respect to their nuclear program. They've challenged the international community. The international community has responded in the form of a sanctions resolution. It is on the verge of preparing another sanctions resolution because Iran, the regime has continued to defy the international community. So that we believe has got the attention of the Iranian leadership. As for what lesson they will take from that and how that figures into their cost benefit analysis, I can't tell you. We will see. But the pathway to negotiation remains open. We've made that very clear.

There is the pathway to further isolation. It's the pathway in which they find themselves now or they can go down the pathway of engagement, negotiation, and engage in a negotiating forum where they can raise whatever issues they want to. We've made that very clear. We're ready. We are ready for that as are the other members of the P-5+1. Thus far, the regime has not taken us up on that offer. We would hope that they would. In the meantime, we are going to continue to work with our allies to pressure the regime to get it to change its behavior.

QUESTION: U.S. has no direct or indirect conversation in the last few weeks with any Iranian officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't speak to that. We have established communication channels via the Swiss channel as well as others, but I can't speak to that.

QUESTION: Do you think that pressure is working?



MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. We shall see. At the very least, you've seen a change in the public conversation that's going on in Iran and like I said, I can't tell you whether or not that's going to lead to a change in behavior, which is what we all hope. But certainly we believe it has gotten the attention of the Iranian regime.

QUESTION: Sean, you're saying they had some kind of readouts from the conference call? Will Nick be doing a briefing or can we expect anything like that later today?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think what you probably expect to see are some electrons. Nick doesn't have it in his schedule right now to do a briefing, but we'll try to share the information with you.


QUESTION: Sean, about you saying you can't speak to that when asked about whether there's been any contacts between the U.S. and Iran. I mean, bearing in mind your policy. I had thought you would be able to speak to that and give us (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: None that I'm aware of, none that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday at the briefing you said -- talking about the PKK that we are doing what we can to help them resolve this matter without any use of force. PKK is listed on the State Department's terrorist organizations list. I wonder which terrorist organization or organizations on that list qualify to be dealt without force. Would you consider Hamas and Hezbollah -- after all, they all claim, including the PKK, that they all fight against occupation?

MR. MCCORMACK: The reference was to cross-border operations inside of Iraq. There's been a lot of discussion in Turkey about that. I don't think anybody wants to see that. I don't think the Turkish Government wants to see it. I don't think the Iraqi Government wants to see it. I don't think that we want to see that.

So the idea is how can you deal with this problem through cooperation, making it such that you don't have a situation where you have cross-border operations from Iraq into Turkey by the PKK. Nobody wants to see that. We do consider the PKK a terrorist organization. So when I was talking about use of force, that's what I was referring to.

QUESTION: Sean, we know that A.Q. Khan sold nuclear (inaudible) to a number of countries, including Iran and North Korea.


QUESTION: Since U.S. still have no access to A.Q. Khan and do you still believe really that he acted on his own without the knowledge of the government there?

MR. MCCORMACK: President Musharraf has said that he was acting without the knowledge of the highest levels of the Pakistani Government, and we take him at his word.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the bomb threat against the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta?

MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into it. Thus far, I haven't been able to nail down any specific information for you. Of course, our standard procedure anytime there is a threat made against a U.S. embassy or a U.S. facility, then our security people take appropriate actions. But I'm going to keep looking into this for you.

Yes, sir.

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