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Middle East Digest: March 21, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 21, 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 21, 2007:


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We can get right into your questions. Who wants to lead off?

QUESTION: Can you go into a little bit more detail about what the Secretary was talking about just now on the Hill about the reformulation of the Palestinian security aid package, and if you could talk about the reduction, if -- has that been decided, how much it will be reduced?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a rough figure. As she said, we're nearing completion and it's going to be forwarded to the Hill soon. I think you'll understand that I'm going to let that be transmitted up to the Hill first as a courtesy as part of our consultation process before I start talking about it in public. But as the Secretary said, there is going to be some reduction in it based on the fact that in our assessment of the current situation, we couldn't assure ourselves that all the controls that we currently have in place would be sufficient to ensure that the money was going to be spent in such a way that it met the laws and regulations.

That said, there is still a commitment to move forward with this program. We think that it's right, we think it's significant, we think it's properly targeted on those forces that report to President Abbas in a clear chain of command, and that it is -- its focus is on non-lethal assistance. But there will be some reductions in the overall amount. It started at 86 million, but you --

QUESTION: Sorry. In what amount?

MR. MCCORMACK: There will be some reduction in the amount. It started out at 86 million. You can expect to see a lower number come up.

QUESTION: Can you give us -- if you can't give us the specifics, is it like cutting half of it or not by much? I mean, how do we --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, at this point I'm going to defer any description of exactly how much would be coming out. Suffice it to say there is still going to be a significant package that is proposed to help train and equip with non-lethal assistance those security forces that report to President Abbas because we think it's important to build up the professionalism and the capabilities of those forces. We're also working with others in the region on issues related to governance of Palestinian institutions as well as other aspects of the Palestinian security force development.

QUESTION: Okay. And these -- do you have a time frame when it might -- before she leaves?

MR. MCCORMACK: Before she -- I can't tell you --

QUESTION: Is it days away or is it --

MR. MCCORMACK: I suspect it's probably days. Yeah, I think we're talking days. We're pretty close to having this ramped up.

QUESTION: And just the last thing on this for me. Are there revisions still going on since post-Saturday? After the formation of the government, there was -- revisions are still being made, or were they pretty much --

MR. MCCORMACK: I see what you're saying. I'm sure people are doing a double-check post-formation of the government, but it was largely done even before that because you had an idea of what was coming down the pike. And I'm sure the guys with the green eyeshades and the lawyers and the policy guys are taking a close look to make any last-minute tweaks that they might need to, but it was substantially done prior to that.

QUESTION: Do you have any news about the Quartet statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Quartet statement, I'm still working on it. I expect it soon. I expect it soon.

QUESTION: Well, it's -- does it mean that there are problems or there are differences between --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- these issues and -- you know, I would not characterize the issues that the members to the Quartet have been working on as deeply substantive issues. I would characterize them as more wordsmithing. It is compounded -- the difference is they're compounded by the fact that you have been working across time zones. You know, and I know that of course does not account for the delays in the Quartet statement being issued. But I think what you will see come out is a good, strong statement from the Quartet. You'll recognize a lot of the elements that are in there reaffirming the past that call to adherence to the Quartet principles that were laid out in January 2005 by the Quartet in London as well as other elements. I don't think you will see real changes in substance, certainly not from what you heard upstairs described by the Secretary and Foreign Minister Solana and Foreign Minister -- Mr. Solana and Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

QUESTION: Well, Sean, we're confronted, you know, -- it's been 48 hours now since the principals of the Quartet have (inaudible) to discussed their principles.

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand. I understand that. You know, this is a --

QUESTION: It's starting to get suspicious.

MR. MCCORMACK: Your question evinces a natural and understandable curiosity, that we expect the statement should be out soon. I hope to have it out for you very early this afternoon and you guys can take a look at it. And we'll be happy also to answer any other questions that may arise after you have a chance to take a look at it.

QUESTION: And would there be someone willing to tell us exactly what it was in the wordsmithing that was taking so long, if they were not subsequently --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll try to -- I'll take a shot at that.

QUESTION: Speaking about words, the Secretary said that now she said -- she speaks about not anymore about the Quartet principles, but the foundational principle for peace. Does it mean that all members of the Quartet don't agree anymore on these principles?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. She just thinks that that is the more accurate term for the Quartet principles. That's a rather -- I'm not trying to demean the Quartet in any way, but it's a rather planned description of what exactly they are. She just thinks that describing them as foundational principles for peace is actually a more accurate description of what they are. And in trying to communicate our policies about the Middle East and why we are doing what we are doing and what those policies are based upon is just a more accurate and descriptive term of what those principles are.

QUESTION: Yes. But when Mr. Solana spoke after his meeting with the Secretary, he said that the words are important, but the deeds are more important. And so it seems that there is a kind of difference between Europeans and Americans and that the Europeans seem to be more less strict than the Americans on the interpretation of the words.

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess I didn't pick up on that. I have absolutely nothing to dispute in the statement that says words are fine, but actions are more important, absolutely. We have said that we are going to watch what this government does. And in what it has not done to this point, it is notable, they have not met those foundational principles for peace. We'll see if they do in the future. We would encourage the government to accept those principles in full and that clears away many obstacles and makes the prospect of a Palestinian state more clear, absolutely, because it clears away what is a very significant obstacle to negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.

And that obstacle is the fact that you have a significant "political faction" we consider a terrorist group in the Palestinian political body that does not recognize the state of Israel. And it's hard to have a negotiation when half the negotiating team from the government doesn't recognize the other side. Now President Abbas, of course, is different and we have stated that and the Israeli Government has stated that. We would encourage others within the Palestinian political system to accept those principles and you can realize a potentially very different future for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: So is action more important than words? If there is no rocket attack on Israel for -- why would you be -- would it be enough for U.S. to consider that Hamas renounced violence?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Acts can also mean people come out -- publicly affirm adherence to those statements. That, in fact, is -- I would characterize as an act as well. Certainly, the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to stop and prevent terrorist attacks and ultimately, according to the roadmap, break up terrorist organizations. Those are responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority. We would hope that those parts of the Palestinian Government and the national unity that don't accept or recognize those responsibilities would change their minds and have a change of heart.

QUESTION: Do you have any update at all on the visa process for President Ahmadi-Nejad and the traveling road show?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No real update since we last spoke about this. Now you understand that the original tranche of visa applications have been approved. Those are ready for issue. The second tranche of visa applications are still being processed at this point and -- you know, we expect that that process won't take too much longer. All of that said, we are going to make sure that this process, the issuance of the visas for the traveling party, is -- in no way hinders the ability of President Ahmadi-Nejad to appear before the Security Council should he choose to do so, given Iran's right of rebuttal, in that they will be subject to a UN resolution. So we're not going to be a roadblock to that.

QUESTION: All right. And as far as you know, there's no problem with the 33, somewhat large number of aircrew visas for that?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's -- they are now -- they -- our folks are now in the process of looking at those applications and processing them. And we'll let you know at the end of --

QUESTION: Tomorrow -- perspective or something --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, at the end of all this, we will try to fill you in on more of the details of it as we have them.

QUESTION: And reduce more substantially how? How are things looking on the resolution? Do you have anything more to say than what Nick Burns said this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't see exactly what Nick said, but what I understand is the case, the Security Council is going to start discussions in the Council this afternoon, I think about 3 o'clock, on the draft resolution. And those discussions will continue for some time. I don't think there's been a date set yet for a vote, but I would expect that to be in a matter of days.

QUESTION: He -- I think that he went into some -- a little bit more specifics than people have, at least so far on the record going into -- talking about naming --

MR. MCCORMACK: Naming?

QUESTION: A bank, the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Bank Sepah?

QUESTION: Yeah, and --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's in the draft that's been circulated.

QUESTION: Right. But you have nothing to add to --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there's -- this is soon to be a formal public debate in the Security Council and the draft resolution and its annexes will be out in the public. I think that they have been reported on pretty extensively before now, but it does include designations, for example of Bank Sepah and entities directly related to Bank Sepah. It also has designations of certain individuals in the IRGC who may have some connection to missile-related activities. It also talks about a ban on export of -- transfer -- a ban on transfer of arms from Iran to other countries. And then it also has some cautionary language urging countries to take a look at what sort of arms sales they might conduct with Iran, but that's not a binding statement.

QUESTION: And what about export credits?

MR. MCCORMACK: Export credits -- it is -- I don't have the language immediately in front of me, but it -- what it does essentially is urge states to take a look at export credits and whether or not in light of Iran's behavior and defiance of the international system that there should be a business as usual attitude toward export credits. I would note that some states already have taken a look at this issue and by themselves taken steps to reduce the levels of export credits; for example, Germany has reduced, I think by about 40 percent, the level of export credits for Iran. And other states I know are taking a look at that issue as well.

Nina.

QUESTION: Can you just tell me how important it is to the U.S. for the resolution to be adopted unanimously and how -- you know, to what extent are you paying attention to South Africa and how important is it to you that everyone is exactly on the same page and is this -- could this compromise the end result?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are working towards three goals here: getting a good, strong resolution that is appropriate for the moment; we are looking to do this on a timely basis; and we are looking to get as many countries voting for this resolution as we possibly can. We'd like to hit our marks on all three -- in all three of those areas and we are going to work with every single country on the Council to try to talk them through the resolution as it stands, why we think all the elements are important. We're going to talk through them any concerns they may have. We're going to talk through with them any potential amendments they might have to the resolution. And of course we are open to changes in the resolution language. What we want to do is preserve the core elements of that resolution which get at Iranian behavior and attempt to change that cost-benefit analysis that the Iranian regime is currently making about defying the international community. We want to raise the costs to the Iranian regime for continued defiance of the international system.

So we are going to make every effort to bring onboard every single member of the Council. I can't tell you at the end of the day who's going to raise their hands yes or no or abstain on the resolution. I feel pretty safe in predicting that we are going to get a good, strong resolution with a significant number, if not all members, of the Security Council voting for it. But at the end of the day, I can't tell you.

It is important to note, too, in this discussion about imposing other sanctions imposed on Iran because of their behavior, there still is open to the Iranian regime the pathway of negotiations. So don't let anybody try to obscure the issue and say that the international system is trying to impose such and such on Iran and the Iranian people. There is another pathway that's open and the Iranian regime knows it. They know what the terms of those negotiations might be. It is a forum in which they can raise any issue that they want to, which is something that they've been asking for for quite some time. And we've come quite a long way, just the United States, in turning around 27 years of policy to try to go the extra mile and reach out the -- extend the hand of negotiation to the Iranian regime. They have to take a -- they have to take certain steps. It's pretty easy. They know what they have to do. Thus far, they haven't done it.

QUESTION: What's -- at the end of the day, what's most important to you? Getting the thing passed as soon as possible or getting everyone -- getting consensus?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, the -- as I said, you want to try to achieve your goals on all -- in all three aspects. The actual content and substance of the resolution, very, very important. Getting it done in a timely manner, we think that is important as well. And bringing along as many countries as we possibly can. In the past, we've had 15-0 vote counts on this. We have a different Council now. The membership has turned over and so you have different countries coming on to the Council now with different points of view and they don't have the experience of having been through those previous debates and those previous discussions.

So we'll see. We're sparing no effort in trying to consult and reach out diplomatically to these countries and to try to take into account their concerns. But there also comes a point where you're not going to -- you're not going to sacrifice what are core elements agreed upon by the P-5 for other considerations.

QUESTION: Sean, Russia in particular -- Lavrov's been talking about, you know, the South African amendments need attentive consideration. Do you think this is going to be a real stumbling block of the Russians again of paying far too much attention to what the South Africans want?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Russians have already agreed to the resolution that's on the table right now, so you know, I think what he is saying is essentially the same thing that I am. Of course we're going to be attentive to their concerns and we are going to talk to them about it. We are going to listen to them. We hope that they listen to us. But at the end of the day, it would be a real mistake to compromise on the core of this resolution.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, thank you.


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