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Middle East Digest: March 13, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 13, 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 13, 2007:

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on these -- I saw Algiers Warden Message that came out today. Apparently, there's a fear that militants are going to be planning to attack commercial aircraft in Algeria.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I think the Warden Message is pretty self-explanatory. This was put out yesterday by our Embassy in Algiers. Basically there is information that we received that related to the possibility of extremists perhaps planning to conduct attacks against commercial aircraft carrying Western workers. We really don't have any further information about that. There is no specifics in terms of when the timing might be or what the potential carriers involved might be. But again as you know, there is commitment on our part to make sure that when we have information of this kind, even when it is non-specific like this, that we make it available not only to our own employees in the embassy community and official Americans but also that we as a matter of policy make that information available to American citizens more broadly. So that's why the Warden Message was sent.

QUESTION: Have you taken any special precautions at the Embassy or --

MR. CASEY: Nothing that I could talk about in terms of specifics. Again, I think the threat that we understand being out there is focused on aircraft and not specifically on our diplomatic facility or otherwise. Obviously, all our missions are always looking at their security posture and take appropriate steps when they think it's necessary.

QUESTION: Is it linked to any specific group?

MR. CASEY: No.

QUESTION: There's a report out quoting a Hamas source as saying that some of the $100 million in tax revenues that Israel transferred to the Palestinian -- to the Office of the Palestinian President Abbas has been used to pay security services, including members of a Hamas-led force. Do you have any reason to believe that is true and would you object to transfers or uses of those tax revenues to pay Hamas forces?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen that story. But no, I don't have anything that would substantiate that particular account. Certainly in terms of U.S. policy, as you know, as a matter of policy and law, we cannot provide any kind of funding or assistance to anything that's designated as a foreign terrorist organization which Hamas is.

QUESTION: One other one, staying in the Middle East. The Egyptian presidential spokesman, I believe, has said that Secretary Rice will be coming to Cairo later this month. Can you confirm that and describe what she would be doing there?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think you've heard us say before that the Secretary does intend to go back to the region fairly soon. We may see her there as soon as the end of the month, but I don't have any announcements for you in terms of any particular travel. Certainly, she is committed to continuing her work on a variety of fronts, including supporting dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as well as working on a variety of other regional concerns that are out there, on issues related to Iraq as we've seen recently and on Iran certainly.

QUESTION: I understand Assistant Secretary Welch is in the region right now. Can you tell us what he's doing and how that might be related to any -- the trip that the Secretary might eventually make?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did take a look into David's whereabouts. David has been -- yesterday in Amman*. Today, this afternoon, he is traveling to Riyadh for consultations there. This is part of David's ongoing consultations with the region. I expect -- I know in Amman he spoke about -- and I expect in Riyadh he will be speaking about both bilateral issues as well as a number of regional concerns, including the three I just outlined: Iraq, issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian discussions and then certainly some of the challenges posed by Iran and Syria and other regional concerns.

QUESTION: Is there -- there seems to be, at least in public, an effort to revive the Saudi peace proposal of 2002. Do you welcome that? Is this something you feel is particularly relevant now?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think what we've welcomed are the efforts by the Saudi Government among others to try and foster a positive change in dialogue -- and dialogue as a solution. In terms of U.S. policy, as you know, we support the roadmap. That is the position that has been supported by the parties in the region as well and that remains our primary focus. Certainly to the extent that any of these other diplomatic efforts can help foster a positive change or dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that's something we certainly support.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Part of the discussion that's out there is that this trip by Secretary Rice to the region would be to kind of set the stage or have consultations in advance of the Arab League summit which is going to be hosted in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month, so that she can advance the idea of reviving this peace plan in conjunction with her efforts for the Israelis and the Palestinians.

MR. CASEY: When we have anything to announce about either timing of her travel and discussions about the reasons for it we'll let you know. But I think at this point let's wait until we actually have something to talk about here before I try and speculate on her purposes.

QUESTION: Understood, but at this Arab summit that's coming out at the end of the month is it accurate to say that Secretary Rice is hoping that the Arab League will kind of resurrect this peace plan and move forward with it?

MR. CASEY: It's accurate to say that she intends to continue efforts to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. That includes as part of it her ongoing consultations with the GCC+2. Beyond that, when we have something to announce in terms of her specific travel or other efforts on her part directly, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: Can you be a bit more specific about the Saudi peace plan? I mean, is there anything in it that you think is unfeasible or is not practical or is a *bitsy* like with Sudan?

MR. CASEY: Jonathan, I think for our purposes, right now there is a single agreed-upon plan that all the parties have signed up to and that's the roadmap. Anything that moves us forward in that direction is a positive thing. Anything that moves us away from those goals is not. But I don't really have any, you know, other specific thoughts to offer you on that.

QUESTION: So you can't say -- for example, on the refugees issue whether you support the Saudi initiative or don't support that?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, if you look at the roadmap there are a variety of issues, including issues affecting the status of Palestinian refugees that would have to be decided as part of final status negotiations. So all of those issues are wrapped up in the roadmap and they're the kinds of things that do need to be addressed, ultimately, to be able to achieve a two-state solution.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: So just to follow up on what you just said, do you think the Saudi plan perhaps diverts or deviates from the goals of the roadmap or does it actually help achieve those goals?

MR. CASEY: I think what you've heard us say before is that we very much appreciate the efforts that have been undertaken by a number of countries, by the Egyptians, by the Jordanians, as well as by the Saudis to try and foster dialogue and try and foster peace between Palestinians and Israelis. We certainly recognize the role that the Saudi King played in helping to end some of the violence between Palestinian factions as well.

All I'm trying to do, though, is say to you that the clearly accepted international standard for achieving that two-state solution is the roadmap and I would encourage you to view any other proposals or activities or diplomatic efforts in light of whether it, in fact, fosters that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The roadmap -- I mean, I can't even remember when it was first put out -- what, like 2003?

MR. CASEY: 2003, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, we're not even in any stage of implementing the roadmap, so do you think it's wise for -- you know, to advance other proposals that may espouse or advocate the same goals of the roadmap, but why do you have to stick to a roadmap or a proposal or any kind of plan that hasn't -- that's been sitting on the shelf for years?

MR. CASEY: Well, Elise, right now, as far as I know, the only plan that both Israelis and Palestinians have accepted as a way forward towards achieving a two-state solution is the roadmap. Again, I think that if you look at the discussions that have been held by Prime Minister Olmert and Abbas, as well as the trilateral that was held with the Secretary, what the focus is there is achieving the goals of the roadmap.

That includes both the short-term objectives in terms of ending terrorism, dealing with some of the very specific issues related to border crossings and other matters, as well, as the Secretary said, looking at the political horizon beyond that. There are -- obviously, what the roadmap does is provide simply that. It's a framework for achieving that final goal of a two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace with one another. And obviously, there are a lot of individual things that need to be discussed.

It's important, though, that this has to be an agreement reached by the two parties. And the United States is doing what it can to support dialogue and support efforts towards that end. We certainly want to see all other parties in the region, including the Saudis as well as the Egyptians, Jordanians, and the other members of the GCC+2 do what they can to be able to encourage dialogue and again, encourage movement towards that goal. But the roadmap is again, the only document to the only way forward on the table that both sides have agreed to.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: The roadmap is between Israelis and Palestinians, but Arab initiative is between Israel and the Arab world -- all the Arab states. It's different from the roadmap.

MR. CASEY: Well, yes. And again, though, what I'd just simply point out is the goal here and I think the goal as I understand it, of the Saudi initiative is to resolve differences between Israelis and Palestinians and to achieve a two-state solution. And in that sense, I think there's consonance between them. All I'm saying is again, as far as U.S. policy is concerned, the roadmap is simply the only plan that's been put forward as to how to achieve an ending of Israeli and Palestinian issues, that has been deemed acceptable by both sides. And both sides in the case of the Palestinians represented by President Abbas, in the case of Israelis represented by Prime Minister Olmert, have agreed to move forward on and that continues to be the basis of those discussions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saudi -- I mean --

MR. CASEY: You could try.

QUESTION: Both Prime Minister Olmert and the Israeli Foreign Minister Livni have described positive elements about the Saudi plan. Do you yourself see that as a positive sign?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think anything that is done that helps to foster an agreement among the parties that helps us advance towards a two-state solution is positive. I'll let the Israelis -- let the Israeli officials describe what they view as the, you know, more positive elements of this.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask whether you've had any more conversations or readout from Ellen Sauerbrey's meetings in Damascus specifically. And in fact, what I really would like to know is whether you think that meeting yesterday was a good opening perhaps towards further discussions with the Syrians, not only on refugees but other issues?

MR. CASEY: Well, the purpose of Ellen's visit was to discuss the refugee issue and that's what her conversations focused on. I don't think we see it as anything more or less than that. The issue of Iraqi refugees is a very serious and important one. It was a subject of concern that was discussed at the neighbor's meeting in Baghdad as well. And in fact, as I understand, it's one of the working groups that's being formed as a result of that, is going to be looking at that. As you know, we're committed to working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other NGOs and institutions to provide the support that we can to Iraqi refugees until they are able to be returned home, which is I think the goal most of them share, or in certain cases where there were very serious concerns or needs provide for their resettlement. So we hope that what this will do is foster additional cooperation and support from the Syrian Government to deal with this very specific question of refugees.

QUESTION: Do you know whether she felt welcome in Damascus, about whether she thought the meeting was held in sort of an appropriate manner and whether they were courteous to her?

MR. CASEY: Well, my understanding, it was described to me as useful and constructive. I am not aware that there were any particular disputes or problems that occurred in terms of the tenor of the meeting. So in that sense, I assume it was a reasonably positive exchange. But in terms of the substance of the issues, again, I think we said yesterday, you know, Ellen's main point was to encourage their cooperation with UNHCR and to encourage them as well to continue to support, to the best of their ability, Iraqi refugees there. Again, the Syrians did say that they intended to continue to do so, though they did note that this placed certain burdens on their system logistically, among other things.

QUESTION: Can I have just one last one and I know it sort of came up yesterday. Are you now aware whether the Syrians asked for any specific help from the United States --

MR. CASEY: As far as I know --

QUESTION: -- for (inaudible) or otherwise?

MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific requests made to us, no.

QUESTION: Did she offer it?

MR. CASEY: Again, what we are offering is support for the UNHCR and other NGOs that are responsible for helping to take care of the refugees in Syria. Certainly, we expect and would hope that the Syrian Government would do what they could. But in terms of the channeling of U.S. aid or resources for Iraqi refugees, we intend to do that as we do in most refugee situations, through UNHCR and the affiliated NGOs with them.

QUESTION: Tom, can I just follow up? You said you were not aware of any requests from the Syrians to her. Is that because -- I'm just trying to understand it -- you asked and you were told no, there weren't any, or you didn't get a chance to ask and therefore, you don't know if there were any?

MR. CASEY: I do not know if there were any. I did not ask if there were any in the fairly extensive readouts that I've gotten on this and no one mentioned any requests being made. And if we have anything more for you on that, Arshad, I'll be happy to get back to you.


QUESTION: Can I change the subject? We go to Iran. You have the President of Iran one day he said that I want to go today to talk with the 5+1 and the next day he wants to go to pursuing the Security Council the other day. Today I believe Foreign Minister of Iran said that you are going to give every -- there are guarantees that you need and 5+1 need regarding the atomic plan. What's your really plan? Are you going to continue regardless of everything for the second resolution?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Iran finds itself in the position that it's in because it's failed repeatedly to comply with requests and then legal requirements first and over a couple of years from the IAEA Board of Governors and then subsequently from the Security Council. The standard for Iran and the simple measure that it must meet to be able to achieve a more positive arrangement with the international community is pretty clear. And that's simply go back to what it was for some time, adhering to under the original Paris Agreement which is a full suspension of its uranium enrichment activities.

At that point, we would be certainly willing, as we've said, to sit down with Iranian officials and discuss this issue and to be able to work out the kind of agreement in which the international community could be assured that Iran is not using its nuclear program to build a nuclear weapon while at the same time helping Iran do what it says, its stated objective is, which is achieving a civilian nuclear power program that would provide benefit to its people.

Again, I think it's terribly unfortunate that the Iranian Government has wasted so many opportunities provided to it by the international community to engage in this fairly simple step, to then go forward with dialogue and to have a dialogue in which we've said we would be willing to discuss any and all issues that the Iranian Government might wish to bring to the table, not just their nuclear concerns.

I think the Iranian Government has singularly failed to grasp and take these opportunities which I believe would have had a tremendous benefit for Iran in terms of bringing it further into the international community and also in terms of being able to provide real benefits for its people. So again, we continue to hope that the Iranian Government will change its behavior. But in the event that it continues down this current path, then certainly we expect that they will have additional sanctions placed on them and I suspect that that process will unfold sooner, rather than later. I know we've had some good conversations in New York yesterday and again this morning and we are moving towards a second resolution. And barring a change in Iran's behavior, we'll continue to do so.


QUESTION: Would you have any detail on this civil nuclear agreement Libya says they have reached with the U.S.?

MR. CASEY: And Sylvie wins the prize. I was wondering if someone was going to give me an opportunity to use this carefully planned and apparently well thought over response that I've been given to this.

Let me just tell you what the status of this is and this was something that I know Arshad had raised yesterday because of a news report from Jana from the Libyan news agency. Let me just go -- there's no formal pending nuclear cooperation agreement with Libya on nuclear power plants or any broader nuclear issues nor has the United States tabled a draft of any kind of agreement like that.

I do understand that Libyan officials, since that report has come out, have stated that they weren't trying to refer to an existing agreement or plan for agreement, but to the fact that the Libyan Government had this past Sunday formally authorized the foreign ministry to be able to enter into future negotiations on civil nuclear issues if there was an opportunity and a time when that might be appropriate.

The one thing, and this was part of my hesitation to just give you a categorical no on this yesterday, is that since 2003 we have had a number of scientific cooperation activities with the Libyans and that includes in the area of nuclear medicine and radioisotope productions. And that's part of our sort of broader effort to normalize relations. I know we are in discussions with the Libyans regarding a project to help them develop a nuclear medicine center and that is sort of the only thing that you could use the word nuclear in relation to kinds of agreements with us. So I apologize for the delay in getting that back to you, but that's the basis of this.

QUESTION: So there is no formal pending nuclear agreement? Are there some discussions or pre-discussions?

MR. CASEY: No, there's no discussions of this. There's no agreement being worked out and there aren't any plans to do so right now. Again, at a future date, we'd be open to discussions about this, but now is not the time that I think either of us deem appropriate for that.

QUESTION: And also I have another question. David Welch is in the region.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did he go to Libya? Do we know?

MR. CASEY: No, he didn't. As I said --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Libyans because he sometimes does it not in Libya.

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. But if for some reason there's a change in that I'll let you know. He went to Amman and Riyadh and these were bilaterally focused discussions and he didn't have any plans to meet with Libyans on this trip.

QUESTION: Tom, just a quick follow-up, Tom.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that there were specific cooperation on activities including a nuclear medicine project.

MR. CASEY: Plans including -- and let me make sure I get that right for you. We are in discussion with others, with Libya, regarding a project to help Libya develop a regional nuclear medicine center; meaning, not now, in the future.

QUESTION: But you are in discussions with them on creation of --

MR. CASEY: On a nuclear medicine center.

QUESTION: -- such a nuclear medicine --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: *Kind of like a stress test for people with, you know, cardiac disease, right?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, yeah. You're talking about nuclear medicine generally being defined by those range of things that a lot which do involve cardiac-related issues and some other kinds of chemotherapy as well I think.


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