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Middle East Digest: March 27, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
March 27, 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 27, 2007:

QUESTION: Tom, is there -- have you guys gone up to the Hill yet with your revised Palestinian aid -- security aid package?

MR. CASEY: Not as far as I know, Matt. I think that's still something that's under discussion, though I expect if it hasn't as of yet, it will probably do so in the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to tell on the referendum in Egypt and its very low level of participation?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did have a chance to look into that a little bit more between this morning's session and now. First of all, while the approval of these amendments is a question for the Egyptian people to decide, it is evident that the vast majority of Egyptians chose not to participate in this referendum. And I think that's reflective of the many voices in Egypt that have criticized the abbreviated process which led up to this referendum, as well as the criticism of the amendments themselves as something of a missed opportunity to advance reform.

We also do take note of the significant discrepancies between the estimates of voter turnout provided by the government and both Egyptian and foreign media and observers. As the Middle East is moving forward towards greater openness and pluralism, we do want to see -- as the Secretary has emphasized and as the President has emphasized, we do want to see Egypt play a leading role in that process. And as you know, the Secretary, in Egypt, discussed political reform with senior Egyptian officials and expressed her concerns to them about this referendum as it went forward. So this is certainly an issue that we're going to continue to follow and we're certainly going to continue to discuss these kinds of issues with the Egyptian Government.

We want to see that the Egyptian people have the opportunity to achieve their aspirations and to have a legal process move forward that meets the standards of openness and transparency and accomplishes the reforms that they themselves have set out.

****

QUESTION: The British soldiers that are still in detention, some people suggest that this is a kind of tit-for-tat, really not against the British, but against the U.S. for the detainees in Iraq. What is your response to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure who's saying that, but I certainly -- the Iranians certainly haven't drawn a connection between that and we certainly wouldn't either. Look, this is a simple case of British soldiers working to help the Iraqi people and working in accordance with the mandate provided by the UN Security Council. As we've said the past few days, this is something where we back Prime Minister Blair's call and other members of the British Government's call for these sailors to be released immediately and without condition.

QUESTION: But the idea that it's really not directed at the British, per se, but it's kind of a indirect way of getting at the United States. There are some in the Iranian Government that are more hard-line and they're trying to crack down on other elements of the government that want better relations with the West and they did this in 2004. They have a habit of doing this. You don't think this is indirectly against the United States, not the British?

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything that supports that theory and I think it's best left to the Iranians to explain what their motivation was in this case.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the term of hostage taking that has been used by Dana Perino yesterday at the White House press conference regarding this matter?

MR. CASEY: Sorry, could you say that again? I didn't quite --

QUESTION: Dana Perino --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in the news conference yesterday at the White House, the briefing she used the term of hostage-taking regarding the British sailor. Do you -- I mean support this -- using this term?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think as we've said, this was -- this action was a violation of international law. The British forces were operating as we understand it in Iraqi territorial waters. As such, they were doing so under mandates provided by the United Nations and so therefore the seizing of them by the Iranian forces and the Iranian Government is an illegal act.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. CASEY: I don't have any characterization beyond it. My understanding from our legal people is that the best way to describe this is it's a violation of international law.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up -- well related. U.S. News is reporting that in September, I guess a group of Iraqi soldiers being advised by U.S. soldiers engaged Iranians near the border, but within Iraqi territory. Has the State Department raised this issue before with Iran?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think in terms of any specific military actions in Iraq, you frankly have to go talk to the folks on the ground in Baghdad for that. In terms of our overall view of Iranian activities in Iraq, I think we've made those quite clear. Certainly, the Iranian Government is involved in -- the Iranians, excuse me, are involved in providing materials for EFPs as you've heard from our military officials there. We certainly see Iranian support for various militia groups as well. And as the President said, we'll certainly do whatever is required to protect our troops by making sure we deal with any threats inside Iraq to our troops from whatever nationalities the people involved are.

****

QUESTION: The Human Rights Council yesterday voted to remove Iran and Uzbekistan from the list of so-called (inaudible) procedure. What is your reaction?

MR. CASEY: Well, we're very disappointed by that decision and it was not just Iran; it was Iran and Uzbekistan. In the case of Iran, that decision is completely out of step with the views of the General Assembly expressed which, a couple months ago, voted again to condemn the human rights practices in Iran. I think unfortunately, this is just another example of what we've seen of the Human Rights Council not behaving as a credible body and as one that the international community more broadly can see as being able to actually carry out the function that it was intended to have. So it's disappointing on several levels and certainly, we've expressed those concerns to the countries that are currently members of the council.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Council yesterday voted to remove Iran and Uzbekistan from the list of so-called (inaudible) procedure. What is your reaction?

MR. CASEY: Well, we're very disappointed by that decision and it was not just Iran; it was Iran and Uzbekistan. In the case of Iran, that decision is completely out of step with the views of the General Assembly expressed which, a couple months ago, voted again to condemn the human rights practices in Iran. I think unfortunately, this is just another example of what we've seen of the Human Rights Council not behaving as a credible body and as one that the international community more broadly can see as being able to actually carry out the function that it was intended to have. So it's disappointing on several levels and certainly, we've expressed those concerns to the countries that are currently members of the council.

 


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