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Middle East Digest: March 23, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 23, 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 Daily Briefing on March 23, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- you know, I can't explain it.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: On the attack on the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, I was wondering if you could give us any information that you have about the circumstances and where the Deputy Prime Minister is right now and if you could also (inaudible) of how much of a concern this is to you that this attack was able to be carried out in the Green Zone?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, my understanding is it was not carried out in the Green Zone. The attack was not -- he was -- the attack occurred outside the Green Zone. That's the information that I was given. There are others who were injured and I believe killed in the attack. The Deputy Prime Minister was taken to a hospital facility in the Green Zone where he was treated. I would leave it to Iraqi authorities really to describe where he is at the moment, but he did receive medical attention in the Green Zone.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on who is responsible or anything?

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

QUESTION: Just for the record, do you mind going over the Iran information and the status? Do you -- have you gotten any word that the Iranians are coming to New York or have plans to come to New York -- use their visas?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect since they said that they intend to come to New York that they will come to New York. There were 39 visas that were requested for President Ahmadi-Nejad and his immediate contention of aides, diplomats and security officials. Those were issued 10 o'clock in the morning, Bern* local time. There are -- there's a second tranche of visa requests that have come in late in the game from the Iranians and we're working to process all of those. Initially there was some missing information on some of the visa applications. We're working through all of those steps with them to make sure that we are able to issue those visas in a timely manner according to our host country obligations.

We have seen similar episodes the last time around. President Ahmadi-Nejad visited the UN in September. There was some of these late applications, forms not completely filled in. But at the end of the day, he was able to -- he and his contingent were able to travel to the UN. He made his speech. I think some of you might remember some notable remarks in that regard. And we, in fact, fulfilled our host country obligations and we intend to fulfill our host country obligations at the moment.

As for the status of the resolution it has been put in blue. For all of those of you who do not speak UN-speak, that means that the draft has been formally put on the table for consideration. We expect that this really should be put to a vote this weekend. That is our hope. That is our desire. We don't see any reason why it should not be. We are still consulting closely with other members of the Security Council to see if there are any last minute fixes or changes that they might request. Of course, the P-5+1 and others will consider those. The core elements and core precepts of the draft, as agreed upon the P-5+1, remain in place. We think that's important and this is a good strong resolution that is appropriate for the moment in which we find that Iran continues to defy the international system. They -- it's a very simple requirement: verifiably suspend their uranium enrichment activities and they can realize negotiations with the rest of the world, the P-5+1. That offer still stands. In the absence of that very clear pledge, they will see another Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Sean, sorry to get again in dragging in the weeds on this. But what do you mean that at 10 a.m. they were delivered to some Iranian guy who came to the Embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Today, a.m. local, I can't tell you whether it was an Iranian.

QUESTION: Well, for some reason --

MR. MCCORMACK: It could be a courier.

QUESTION: When you say issued at 10 a.m. --

MR. MCCORMACK: They were handed --

QUESTION: They were given to a representative of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. The passports with the visas in them.

QUESTION: Of the 39?

MR. MCCORMACK: Of the 39, yes.

QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up and connect or rule in or rule out. We haven't talked about the situation with the British sailors who were taken today, with Iran taking them. But is there any connection in the U.S.'s mind of using the visas in any way to prevent him from coming to gain the release of the British?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not -- we're certainly not connecting those dots and we support the British in their efforts to have their personnel and their equipment returned to them immediately safe -- safely and immediately.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Deputy Prime Minister for a second?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you (inaudible) Iran's actions as connected to the upcoming resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the incident between the UK and Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not trying to draw any connection between those two.

QUESTION: Have the British voiced those concerns to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do we have any more information on the British sailors' situation and has the Secretary had any phone calls about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information -- further information on it. We, of course, have been in contact with UK representatives to understand the situation. I'm going to limit my comments to supporting the Brits in their request that their personnel and their equipment be returned safely and immediately.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Rice had any phone calls on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: She has not, no.

Kirit.

QUESTION: If I can just go back to the Deputy Prime Minister for a second.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: There's reporting that the attack was carried out by a member of his security detail -- an Iraqi member of the security detail. I'm just wondering if that was any cause for concern of that infiltration.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information that could confirm that. I just don't have that information -- probably check with the Iraqis.

Samir.

QUESTION: There's a report in The Washington Post today saying that the Secretary is aiming to have a meeting to get the Arab and the international Quartets together with Abbas and Olmert like -- can you confirm that or --

MR. MCCORMACK: One step at a time, Samir. She's going out there, leaving this evening for the Middle East. She's going to have meetings first in Egypt with the Arab Quartet and then also meeting with President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheitt there. She'll be traveling along. She'll see Foreign Minster Livni, Prime Minister Olmert, also see President Abbas in Ramallah. She'll travel to Amman to see King Abdallah of Jordan and then come back for some quick consultations with the Israeli side as well as the Palestinian side.

Her objective in this, as she has described it before, to start a -- move forward a process that ultimately will lead to the two-state solution outlined by the President. The President just yesterday spoke to the importance of this mission, his commitment to that goal, and that is the reason why he is sending Secretary Rice on this trip to the Middle East to continue that process. He made it very clear how important this is to the United States as well as to the states in the region. And so she is going to talk separately with each side to -- between the Israeli side and the Palestinian side -- to talk about the various issues on which they might try to close some of the gaps, both those issues that are of daily concern to Israelis as well as Palestinians as well as some broader issues that constitute what we refer to as a political horizon.

She is also going to talk to her Arab partners about what they might do to contribute to President Abbas's efforts to build Palestinian institutions that one day can form the basis for a Palestinian state. And I understand there's a lot of discussion among Arab leaders and Arab foreign ministers about the so-called Arab initiative. And certainly she wants to talk to the Arab Quartet as well as President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Gheit about where that stands. Certainly we would encourage the Arab states to reiterate and underline the fact that that Arab initiative still stands out there as a potential political horizon for the Israeli Government as they work on issues with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: So she would be working on two political horizons?

MR. MCCORMACK: In essence, that's one way to look at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Joel.

QUESTION: The roadblock for any particular peace settlement appears to be the militancy of such groups as Hamas. Does the Secretary expect in talking with the Arab Governments to see if they can restrain some of this militancy and end the terrorism and have them as interlocutors work overtime with Hamas to in effect restrain and bring some moderation to the Palestinians, and also at the same time talk to the Israeli right. Some of the settlers, of course, are in the West Bank and they need to be maybe restrained and to bring the whole tenor of violence down? Is that what' you're looking to pursue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, we're looking to further the cause of peace in the Middle East and there are a lot of different moving parts to that. And certainly we have encouraged the Palestinians to adhere to the foundational principles for peace, the Quartet principles, and we encourage all Palestinians to publicly sign up to those and act in ways consistent with those principles. And of course *various* responsibilities for the Israelis as well outlined under the roadmap and there's a real role for the Arab states to play in this effort as well. And the Secretary is going to be talking about all those issues when she goes on her trip.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Secretary met today with the Algerian Foreign Minister was it?

MR. MCCORMACK: She's going to.

QUESTION: Oh, she's going to.

MR. MCCORMACK: Going to, yes.

QUESTION: Is there any particular reason for that meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're working closely with Algeria on a variety of different issues, counterterrorism, talking to them about the issue of the Western Sahara and continuing efforts to try to resolve that situation. We're also talking to them about the importance of building up democratic institutions in Algeria. And those are all going to be on the agenda of the Secretary's meeting this afternoon with the foreign minister.

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