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Middle East Digest: March 12, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 12, 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 of March 12, 2007:

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have anything to start you out with on this fine Monday morning, so we'll go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Tom, Libya is saying that you guys are going to help them with their civilian nuclear program; is that true?

MR. CASEY: I haven't seen any reports to that effect and I'm not aware of any such plans to do so, Arshad. Sorry, that's news to me.

QUESTION: But just so you know, it's from Libya's official Jana news agency: "The United States will help Libya generate nuclear electricity, the North African country said on Monday in an announcement that appeared to herald a further improvement in ties with the West."

MR. CASEY: Arshad, I'll happily look into it for you, but I'm certainly aware of no plans for the United States to participate in nuclear programs with Libya.


QUESTION: Change of subject --

QUESTION: On Libya, has there been any movement on the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor case?

MR. CASEY: No, I'm not aware of any change in that particular situation and of course, our policy on that remains the same. We want to see these folks be able to come home as soon as possible. We believe that that's appropriate, though we certainly respect and understand the feelings and concerns of those who have been affected by this tragedy.

QUESTION: So why are you helping with the nuclear power plants? I'm joking, go on.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, Arshad.


QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Iraq conference of this weekend? I wanted to know what you feel you have achieved going there and if you think it's something that's positive for the future.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think a number of you heard directly from Ambassador Khalilzad on Saturday about this subject. We believe that this was a good opportunity for the international community to come together and show support for the Iraqi Government and to talk with the Iraqi Government about its plans for moving forward in a variety of areas, including on security and economic development, political reform, and the like.

We thought it was a good opportunity as well to have everyone at the table be able to express their own views and concerns about the situation in Iraq and again, to talk about what they might be able to do to move the situation forward. It is positive as well that these working groups have been established and hopefully will be able to provide some practical ideas as to what Iraq's neighbors can do to improve the situation there.

So it's a useful initiative as started by President -- or Prime Minister Maliki and it's one that we expect there will be follow-up to in the form of a ministerial-level conference that'll hear reports from the working group. Again, that conference hasn't had a date or location established for it. That's something the Iraqis will be working on as part of the follow-up to this. But again, we thought it was a useful exercise and expect there will be this follow-on later.

QUESTION: Do you think it would be a good idea that this conference would be in Baghdad?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think there were a variety of views expressed on that subject, as you heard Ambassador Khalilzad say, and again, we think what's important is that everyone work together to help the Iraqis and help Prime Minister Maliki achieve the objectives that he has for his government. The location of that is something that he and others will discuss and make a determination on, but the important thing for us is that it does take place and it does move forward.

QUESTION: If they spoke about the burden on Syria, did they speak about some financial aid, maybe the U.S. could provide?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any kind of more specific readout on that. Obviously our focus is on working with and through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to be able to allow them to provide appropriate support and assistance to those refugees there. That's something that we've been working with High Commissioner Guterres on for some time. You all heard from him as well as from Paula Dobriansky and Ellen after one of their meetings here a little while ago when we talked about some of the support the U.S. intends to provide for refugees.


QUESTION: Was her meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister alone or with the UNHCR Representative?

MR. CASEY: My understanding was it was alone. Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on the so-called Iranian defector that you can tell us?

MR. CASEY: I have the same nothing that we've had previously, but you're welcome to keep asking.

QUESTION: Go ahead. You -- there's nothing more at all you can add? We don't know if he defected. We don't know if he was kidnapped or who was behind it.

MR. CASEY: We have absolutely no information about this individual, his location or his situation.

QUESTION: Can I switch topics?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iran, what update do you have on the UN Security Council process? Is it realistic to expect a draft this week?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not going to try and start placing bets on when we'll see a resolution tabled, but there are certainly consultations that are continuing in New York among the P-5+1 representatives up there as well as at the level of political directors. I know Nick Burns, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, had a number of conversations over the weekend with a variety of his counterparts.

So they're still working hard at it. They're still trying to work out some of the remaining concerns that are there. Obviously, when you get down to the details of any of these resolutions, people do care very much about the language and certainly want to make sure that all of their concerns and issues are addressed before we move forward. But we are working well. We continue to work well together with our partners on this and certainly want to move a resolution forward as soon as possible.

QUESTION: What do you make of this delay in the launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant? Do you think this is tied to sensitivities, political sensitivities? There are some officials quoted in reports saying that, you know, the Russians are unhappy with the Iranians.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think the international community is unhappy with the Iranians because of their failure to respond to repeated calls and repeated requirements for them to suspend their uranium enrichment activities.

In terms of the Bushehr nuclear plant, well, my understanding is that is a commercial arrangement and a commercial dispute between the Iranian and Russian government, and I'd leave it to them to tell you if there's any other considerations at work there.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: You said that you're working well in New York to try and get this resolution through, but yet the Chinese seem to be blocking you at almost every step. How's that going with the Chinese? Is that problematic or are you -- do you still see yourself as being on the same page?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think everyone believes that there needs to be an additional resolution. Everyone believes that that resolution needs to be under Chapter 7, Article 41, meaning that it will include additional sanctions and additional measures to be taken because of Iran's failure to comply with the requirements of previous UN Security Council resolutions.

The Chinese certainly have their concerns that they have made known. And again, this is multilateral diplomacy. We're going to continue to work with them as well as all the other members of the P-5+1 to ensure that we come up with an agreed-upon text that we can all move forward with. And again, you've heard from us before about the first resolution saying that that was not the draft that we would have -- or the resolution that we would have put forward, left to our own devices. That's never the way it is when you're dealing with this many countries, each of which has their own interests and concerns.

So certainly, there's no change in the Chinese position or the position of any of the other members of the P-5+1 about the need to move forward with a Chapter 7, Article 41 second resolution. And we certainly view any differences that remain there as being resolvable and we are all committed to doing that and to moving forward as soon as possible with an actual resolution.

QUESTION: Tom, is it more important for you to get a resolution than not necessarily to get everything you wanted in the resolution? Is international unity seen as being more important by having that resolution than -- not what's in it?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think I'm -- there would probably be someone in our historian's office that might care to dispute this with me, but I don't think any single nation has ever drafted a text of a resolution, at least on something of this level under Chapter 7, without any consultations with others, put it down on the table, and had it voted on as is. International diplomacy requires that we all work together and come up with a position that's unified.

But I do think the unity of the international community is important and I don't think the Iranians have any reason to believe that the international community does not remain fully united in wishing to see it change its behavior. And there will be a second resolution that will not only demonstrate that, but again, will unfortunately raise the stakes for them by placing additional sanctions on them. Because again, they've failed to comply with previous resolutions and more importantly, they've failed their own people by being unwilling to take that step and to then join with the P-5+1 nations at the negotiating table, wherein they can achieve their stated objective of having a civilian nuclear power program, but where the international community can gain assurances that that program can't be used for development of a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Returning to the questions of Iran, former President Khatami has urged Iran to (inaudible) a certain price for talks to resolve the standoff. Are you talking to him directly through the Swiss ever since he was here, I guess, about two months ago and gave some speeches? He apparently is a moderate.

MR. CASEY: Well, former President Khatami, as you know, came to the United States on a unofficial visit invited by a number of nongovernmental organizations. He does not have an official role in the Iranian Government. The important thing is not what he or anyone else says; the important thing is whether the Iranian Government moves forward with its requirements, complies with UN Security Council resolutions and suspends its uranium enrichment. Words in this instance aren't what's important, it's actions that are required and unfortunately to this point, Iran hasn't taken the actions necessary and that's why they're unfortunately going to face additional sanctions.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION: Turkey announced yesterday that Turkish forces can invade northern Iraq "under international laws." Do you agree with them?

MR. CASEY: Could you say that again? I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.

QUESTION: Turkey announced yesterday that its forces can invade northern Iraq "under international laws." Do you agree with them?

MR. CASEY: We believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq. We certainly are working well with the Government of Turkey as well as the Government of Iraq to try and enhance our cooperation in combating the PKK. In terms of any cross border actions or other kinds of things, we've spoken before to this and again certainly do not wish to see any kind of military actions taken on the part of Turkey into northern Iraq.

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