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Middle East Digest March 19, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 19, 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 19, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements. We can get right into any questions that you may have.

QUESTION: Can we start with -- are you yet in a position to announce the trip that the Secretary was talking about this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have a formal paper statement and I'll try to do it this afternoon or tomorrow morning for you.

QUESTION: Could you walk through --

MR. MCCORMACK: Here's -- at the very least, we're going to have meetings with Israeli representatives, I would expect Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni. She'll meet with President Abbas. She will also have meetings in Egypt with President Mubarak, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, and it's envisioned that she would have a meeting with the Arab Quartet while in Egypt and there may be another stop back to see the Israeli side as well as the Palestinian side.

QUESTION: Great. And then speaking of the Quartet, I gather there was a Quartet conference call today. Can you give us a sense of how the discussion went and what the outcome is?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's going to be a statement, a Quartet statement that the envoys are working out now. I would expect the statement probably won't come out until tomorrow morning just because they're working across time zones now and it's pretty late in Russia and this has to get approved up at the ministerial level, so we'll probably see it tomorrow morning.

So in terms of a formal readout, I'm just going to wait until that statement. I'll let the statement speak for the ministers coming out of that phone call. You got a little bit of a taste of where everybody is with listening to Secretary Rice, Mr. Solana, and Foreign Minister Steinmeier upstairs. I would -- just as a piece of guiding information, I would say I wouldn't expect any changes to come out with respect to funding for this new national unity government. I don't expect any changes in those guidelines. I would expect it --

QUESTION: In the statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the statement when it comes out. And I would expect a reaffirmation of the -- what we are referring to as the foundational principles for peace in the Quartet statement.

QUESTION: How about -- will the temporary international mechanism get reupped for another three months?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes. Yeah, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner mentioned that while she was upstairs, so yes, there will -- it is renewed for another three months.

QUESTION: And when you say it's getting worked at the envoy level, is that at the Assistant Secretary Welch level?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David Welch level, yes.

QUESTION: And just lastly, can you tell us who was on the conference call? I assume it was ministerial, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Secretary Rice, Minister Solana, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

QUESTION: And Minister Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Lavrov -- Foreign Minister Lavrov, yes.

QUESTION: So all four of them were in the same town?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Yeah, they -- we could have had them over instead of just having a phone call.

QUESTION: But it was a call?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was --

QUESTION: With the four of them in the room with the speakerphone on?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it was a conference call via a telephonic device, handset, a cord. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Kosovo --


MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're going to come back to you. We'll get to Kosovo.


MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Rosen, congratulations.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR. MCCORMACK: He is a proud new father.

QUESTION: Very kind of you, thank you. We'll come back to your congratulations, Mr. McCormack. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't pay any attention to him, Lambros. Don't pay attention to him.

QUESTION: From the comments that we heard upstairs, it sounds as though the United States at least has made a conclusion that the national unity government, as it exists now and what -- in terms of what it is saying now, does not meet the principles of the Quartet.


QUESTION: Fair to say, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yes.

QUESTION: The call for the extension of the temporary mechanism by Benita for another three months and the use of the term from Javier Solana's to the effect that "We're going to watch to see what they do instead of just what they say," does this suggest that we're going to give this government a sort of trial period of 90 days to see how they conduct themselves?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't say necessarily 90 days or put any particular time limit on it. We're going to continue to watch what they do and they say. Our hope would be that they would come around to agree to meet the foundational principles for peace, to renounce terror, renounce violence, and recognize Israel's right to exist. That's a situation where you can have an actual negotiation between a Palestinian side in which their political system has coalesced around one position and an Israeli side and really have the opportunity to advance the cause of peace and realize a two-state vision.

You don't have that right now. You do have President Abbas who is committed to those Quartet principles and he is an interlocutor for the Israeli Government in talking about those issues in the so-called phase one of the roadmap. It's sort of daily issues of how do you work out security, how do you make the daily lives of Palestinians who just want to go to work and send their kids to school and earn a living, how do you improve their lot while reassuring Israel on their rightful security desires.

So the idea is that the Israelis and the Palestinians certainly can work on those issues and that we had a little bit of that on the Secretary's last trip to the region, where they did talk about those issues. The Secretary would also propose further that the two sides start to talk about the so-called political horizon and those issues that might serve to frame out the Palestinian house, what is a Palestinian state look like. And I would expect that during this trip she may have separate discussions on those issues with Israeli side with the Palestinian side. But ultimately, we would like to get to a point where you have the two sides talking about those two levels, if you were, of issues together.

QUESTION: From the Secretary's remarks upstairs where she said it didn't sound very good to her about this right of resistance that's included in the language --


QUESTION: -- and that we should ask the Palestinians what they mean by it. Has -- is it the understanding of the Secretary and of the United States Government that Mr. Abbas is claiming that this language that has been framed out does meet the principles of the Quartet?

MR. MCCORMACK: That was language that was in the national unity government platform that Mr. Haniyeh referred to. We find that element in the platform disturbing and we have talked about that in public over the weekend when we were reacting to the formation of the national unity government. She was rightly pointing out that it is up to the Palestinians to define what this means, this rather antiseptic phrase. Are they really referring to the fact that they condone the use of terror, blowing up innocent civilians for a political cause? So she was merely pointing out that it is incumbent upon the Palestinians to further define exactly what they mean rather than just use some sort of catch phrase that's rather antiseptic. But we have reacted over the weekend in saying that we find that element of the national unity government platform disturbing.

QUESTION: My question was whether Abbas has maintained to us, or representatives of Mr. Abbas have maintained to the United States Government, that he believes that this does meet the conditions of the Quartet?

MR. MCCORMACK: President Abbas, when the government was formed, gave his own speech in which he reflected the Quartet principles back out to the world, those principles he has stood by for many years: renunciation of violence, turning away from terror and recognize Israel's right to exist. That's where we would like to see all of the Palestinian political body. As it stands now, President Abbas and his political cadre agree to those principles and that was, in fact, the position of the Palestinian Authority for many, many years. It's really just with the advent of Hamas' election that you have a turn away from those principles. So what we are actually doing is calling upon the Palestinians to go back to where they have been for the past decade.

QUESTION: But is he asserting to us that this should be good enough to meet -- is Mr. Abbas asserting to us that this language meets the Quartet's principles?

MR. MCCORMACK: I will let him speak for himself. I think that in his speech he reaffirmed at various points along in that speech that his adherence to the Quartet principles and those who are working with him. I don't think you could say the same about Prime Minister Haniyeh's speech.

QUESTION: Does your asking that the Palestinians to further define and parse the phrase "right to resistance" imply that if there was -- that there might be some kind of resistance that you -- political resistance, for example, or non-violent resistance to an occupation that the U.S. wouldn't have as big a problem -- or wouldn't have a problem with it at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't -- again, the core issue here is violence and resort to violence for so-called political ends, whether that's terrorism or other kinds of violence, which is just completely unacceptable.


MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard anybody talking those terms prior to this. I don't know if the Palestinians would choose to. What we're looking for is an unambiguous statement from all of the Palestinians, from Hamas or this national unity government that, they, in fact, do intend to abide by and live by those Quartet principles that were outlined. You know, I can't --

QUESTION: You'd prefer if the phrase didn't exist at all in any form, if they just opt to -

MR. MCCORMACK: The right to resistance?

QUESTION: Right, exactly.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I think the comment -- I think everybody's assumption here is that it is a code word for use of violence and use of terror. I haven't seen any indication that the Hamas or this national unity government has tried to define it otherwise.

QUESTION: You've been speaking about the right to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Resistance.

QUESTION: -- to resistance, but not about the two other principles. Does it mean that you are satisfied with their -- what they say about the right of Israel to exist and the recognition of past agreements?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I haven't seen anything -- what Prime Minister Haniyeh said that would indicate any adherence or desire to adhere to the Quartet principles. President Abbas very clearly did. But again, I haven't seen anything else that clearly lays out any expectation that Hamas right now intends to abide by those Quartet principles.

QUESTION: None of them?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven't -- no.

QUESTION: If we can go back to watching what they do and not what they say. The armed wing of Hamas today said it carried out its first attacks on Israel since the Gaza truce in November, it attacked an Israeli utility worker and it fired mortar bombs at Israeli soldiers. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, regardless of what the words are, the actions do not seem to be anywhere near what you are calling for?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's disturbing. It's clearly disturbing. You have, again, a armed faction operating outside the bounds of a Palestinian Government, taking the future of the Palestinian people into their own hands and unfortunately that's a future that does not end up with a Palestinian State, with -- given that kind of behavior, continuing firing of rockets, attacks into Israel. Those are things that are very clearly unacceptable by the standards of the international community.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) acting outside the bounds of the Palestinian Government, so you don't hold the Palestinian Government responsible for this. You feel like these are freelancers and not people reflecting the policy of the Government.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are -- you referred to the armed --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- "armed wing" of Hamas. While this is -- Hamas is in the view of the Palestinians a political party, in our view it's a terrorist organization. But just for a second to step into the Palestinians' shoes, they do it as a political party. This would be an armed faction of a political party which by definition would be operating outside of a Palestinian Government. So in that view, it is something that is outside the political norm or something that other democratic -- other states recognize where you have a government that controls -- has a monopoly on the use of force in maintaining security. But you know, let me make it clear that we do view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: I ask because I -- my assumption would be that you actually would hold the government responsible for this. In other words, it's the elected government. It's responsible for the territory under its control, notably Gaza and therefore it should stop these things.

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course, they do have a responsibility to stop these attacks and under the roadmap, they have a responsibility to break up terrorist organizations as well.

QUESTION: I was wondering if we went back to the schedule on the Secretary's trip. You said it was likely that she would meet the Arab -- there might be an additional stop where she met the Arab Quartet and then she would go back to the region to meet the Israelis and the Palestinians again, correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That's a possibility.

QUESTION: Why? Why would she go back? What would happen with the Arab Quartet that would require her to go back? Why couldn't that be handled in the first place?

MR. MCCORMACK: What you want to do is try to start a process here and sometimes you begin that process by having a discussion separately with each of the parties in relaying where they are, looking for opportunities to bring them together with respect to their decisions, looking to -- for opportunities where you can close those gaps. I'm not saying that that is necessarily going to occur on this trip, but that is how she views this process going forward. She wants to work with each individual party, where possible, bring them together to -- so that they can talk through any differences they might have and maybe even try to close some of those gaps.

QUESTION: And still no plans for a three-way meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't expect on this trip, no.

QUESTION: Can you -- is President Ahmadi-Nejad's passport ready at will-call in Bern with a visa stamped into it?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Let me update you on where we are. We had the -- if I can recall here, we have a total of 39 visas that have been approved. The breakdown of that would be 13 diplomats and 26 security. They all have, I think, the same -- basically the same kind of visa, so those have been approved in Bern. There was just today another request for 33 air crew visas. So what we're going to do is we're going to go through the visa process there, doing all the checks that we need to do. And then once that process has been completed, we're just going to actually issue, which means putting the visas in the passports all at once. But we'll make it clear that there's -- we are not going to be in any way hindering the ability of President Ahmadi-Nejad to appear before the Security Council. We're going to fulfill our host country obligations, so we're going to do that and then in a manner or so that there is no question whether or not he can appear before the Security Council.

QUESTION: The 13 diplomats?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that Larijani and the foreign minister are both among those 13, too?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Both of them are here.

QUESTION: Do you know if any were rejected at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so.


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so.

QUESTION: And Sean, this does not mean to be frivolous, but do they -- do people with diplomatic passports, which I assume that all -- at least the 13 will have. Are they still subject to the same immigration fingerprinting and eye things when they arrive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. Let me ask. I think there's --

QUESTION: I think he's been here since that came into effect, but I just don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check, Matt. I think that there are different categories here when you talk about heads of states and ministers than others in the party. But let me -- we'll get you an answer.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the date of arrival or departure yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. That will be up to the Iranians. They have not yet scheduled at the Security Council a date for the beginning of the debate on the resolution or the vote.

QUESTION: And how long is their visa valid for, do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. We --

QUESTION: I'm just curious.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm happy to look into the -- see if we can share the information for you.


QUESTION: Is this one of these visas where they're allowed to go to New York and the five boroughs but they can't travel outside? Is that -- (inaudible) mile limit?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's the standard practice. I'll see if that applies in this case.

QUESTION: Yeah, and I also want to make sure that they submitted the right kind of photographs, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: There is a standard --

QUESTION: -- standard.

MR. MCCORMACK: Standard size. You know, it is one of my goals to see that you are reassured, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: And also seeking reassurance on this matter, the United States Government has charged the Government of Iran with complicity in the funneling of ordnance into Iraq that has the direct result of killing American soldiers.


QUESTION: Here we have the President of that country on our soil. Do we have any plans to interrogate him about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. We, of course, in the neighbors meeting in Baghdad raised this issue with the Iranian representative. Make no mistake, we are -- we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. But we are the host country for the United Nations and as a result we have certain obligations and we are going to fulfill those obligations.

QUESTION: Still on Iran. At the UN itself tomorrow, is it correct to say that there will be informal discussions tomorrow afternoon? It's more formal on Wednesday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I -- they've been ongoing. I suspect that there are probably informal discussions going on among any given number of the members of the Security Council right now. So we're going to be talking to all the other members of the Security Council to talk them through the resolution, underlining the fact that we do want to try to move this as quickly as we possibly can but also ensure that countries understand all the provisions that they are comfortable with what they are voting on regardless of which way they vote. It is a draft resolution that has been agreed among the P-5. We think it's a good strong resolution, albeit it incremental, but it's still a good strong resolution.

QUESTION: Can you -- can I follow up?


QUESTION: Would you hear Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's case before that resolution is passed? Is that how it works?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's one or the other. He can choose to either give a pre-buttal -- I guess you could say -- prior to a vote or a rebuttal once the vote has taken place. It's really up to the Iranians working with the Security Council chair, which in this case is the South Africans this month.

QUESTION: Just on the resolution. I noticed that the President spoke to the Indonesian President this morning.


QUESTION: And the White House has made it clear that this was a major part of the conversation.


QUESTION: Do you know if -- in terms of the Secretary's outreach to the E-10 has been, if there's been any kind of similar --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. She has spoken with Foreign Minister Wirajuda of Indonesia and she has also spoken with --


MR. MCCORMACK: This was -- no, this was over the weekend. And then she's also spoken with Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem of Qatar.

QUESTION: And those were --

MR. MCCORMACK: Both on Saturday.

QUESTION: But both on the resolution?


QUESTION: And -- okay, sorry. What was the second one, Qatar?

MR. MCCORMACK: Qatar, yeah.

Kirit. We'll get to Kosovo. We'll get there.

QUESTION: New topic if I could?


QUESTION: On Zimbabwe. There's reports that the U.S. Ambassador walked out of a meeting with the foreign ministers. I'm wondering if you could confirm that. And also, if you could say whether there's any consideration in lowering the U.S. diplomatic presence in Zimbabwe, calling back the Ambassador or anything like that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not -- I hadn't seen those reports, Kirit. Chris Dell, our Ambassador there, is just doing an outstanding job representing the United States and representing the values that we're -- our nation's been founded on.

I'll check for you to see whether or not he actually had a meeting with the foreign minister. At this point, I don't anticipate any lowering of the diplomatic presence. He's really doing a terrific job there. But we'll, of course, keep you up to date if there are any changes to that status.

QUESTION: The Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Minister, in fact, said on state television that he had called in Western ambassadors accused of backing the opposition and warned them that it would -- the government would not hesitate to expel those who support the opposition's politics. So I don't know -- if you didn't know about that report, I mean, essentially threatening to boot western Ambassadors. One would be interested in not just in whether Ambassador Dell was there, but to what your reaction to this idea of this threat of expelling western Envoys from the country?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I have an idea of what we might say, but

QUESTION: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check -- yeah, let me check into the facts here. We'll post an answer for you guys.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


QUESTION: On Iraq, the former vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan is going to be hanged tomorrow morning. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a matter for the Iraqi Government. This is an individual that has had a trial by his fellow citizens that has by most accounts met the standards, basic standards of international justice. He has had an appeal. And it's -- this is an Iraqi decision with respect to the sentence being carried out.


QUESTION: An Italian journalist was released today after two weeks -- kidnapped in Afghanistan. And I was wondering if you'd comment -- could comment on that and especially on the fact that apparently that was possible after the release of Taliban.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly nobody is happier than his friends and family that he's back home. I think everybody can really appreciate that. Certainly our hearts are glad that he's back with his friends and family. It is also sad that I understand that his Afghan associate was lost in this and that's terribly sad. It just underlines the fact that the Taliban are a brutal force that has an interest in turning back the clock on Afghanistan and that is why we as well as NATO are on the ground there, working with the Afghan Government to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves.

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