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Middle East Digest: April 10, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 10, 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 April 10, 2007:

QUESTION:
When you are going to start negotiating about the new resolution against Iran in the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we have to see what the Iranians do. Yesterday's announcement by President Ahmadi-Nejad certainly doesn't offer much hope that they're going to move in the right direction on this, talking about expanding the number of centrifuges and talking about introducing UF-6 feedstock into the centrifuges now. I can't -- you know, I can't verify those claims, whether or not they have actually achieved what it is he said that they have achieved.

But one should understand also that no matter whether or not the Iranians have hit all the deadlines that they've set out for themselves, they have proceeded in the general direction which they said they would, meaning they're trying to expand the size of their centrifuge operation.

As for what actions the Security Council is going to take next, that is something that we're going to take up in a formal way at the end of May. There is going to be a report requested by the Security Council from the IAEA on May 24th, I think. So at some point -- some point thereafter the Security Council members can talk about what next steps might be required by either the actions of the Iranian Government or the lack of actions, and lack of action could be a failure to comply with the demand of the international system for them to stop their uranium enrichment activities.

So we'll see. And all along the way I expect that there are going to be informal consultations to do a check of where we are in this process and what next steps might be available to the international system should Iran fail to comply with the requirements of the Security Council and the IAEA.

QUESTION: Because sufficient would be delivered of the political director of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't point to any one specific conversation, but I'm sure at any given moment, you know, Nick Burns is on the phone with some of his political director colleagues and very often he talks about the issue of Iran.

*****
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East just for a second? Olmert -- Palestian President Abbas has said that he expects to meet Prime Minister Olmert next week. Can you -- and do you know that that is, in fact, the case, that they plan to meet? And are you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't been able to check myself. I don't have any reason to doubt that that's when they're going to meet. That would be roughly within the timeframe that they outlined for Secretary Rice. So we view that as positive; it's positive that (a) they're meeting their commitments to Secretary Rice, both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, and (b) it's good that they are starting up a conversation that we have encouraged them to have.

QUESTION: And it's not -- I don't mean to be too sort of persnickety about this, but next week would be the third week. It doesn't bother you that it's not every two weeks?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I mean, I don't -- you know, we're not going to start wagging our finger at them if -- you know, they happen to say, "Well, you know, it's not possible this week. How about next week?" They're going to work that out for themselves. I would note that there have been some major Jewish holidays recently and I know that for some -- as things would around here for our major holidays, have kind of slowed down in the Israeli Government as people take vacation. But the process -- I think it's safe to say that they are moving forward with those discussions and that's good and that's positive.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Saul.

QUESTION: The Congress has agreed to provide $60 million to the Palestinian Authority. You've requested 50 million. Do you have any update on this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, here's the process as I understand it. This is one of these things where the absence of action on the part of Congress allows the Administration to move forward. So there was a congressional notification given March 23rd about our intent, unless otherwise directed by the Congress, to reprogram about $59 million worth of funds for the purposes of training and equipping the Palestinian presidential security forces, as well as making improvements and upgrades both infrastructure-wise as well as security-wise to the Karni crossing.

So it's roughly 43 million for the presidential security forces -- that's non-lethal training and equipping -- and about 16 million for upgrades to the Karni crossing. Congress -- a 15-day period lapsed after March 23rd, which no senator or representative put a hold on the money and, therefore, we can proceed with that program.

*****
QUESTION: Another subject. The Iraq neighbors conference, did you have time to look into the comments of the Iranian Foreign Minister who said he was not interested?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, it's -- I guess it's an odd statement that contradicts previous Iranian statements about promoting greater security, stability in Iraq and essentially having good, transparent neighborly relations with Iraq. That -- this conference is about Iraq, it's not about anything else. Should they choose not to attend, that is obviously their decision. I would leave it to them to explain why they wouldn't attend, whereas they attended a previous envoys -- envoy-level conference, I'm not sure what they're afraid of. It's a conference focused on Iraq and certainly, their presence there would be one signal that they truly have an interest in seeing a more prosperous, more stable, more democratic Iraq.

QUESTION: Would you be disappointed if they didn't come?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not for us to be disappointed. We're -- it's the Iraqis who are convening the conference. I'll let them talk about how they would feel about it. From our point of view, we think it's important for all of Iraq's neighbors and all states that have an interest in seeing a different kind of Iraq lend their support to Iraq and this is one way to manifest that support. It was a good showing in Baghdad for the neighbors-level envoy meeting. I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to attend this ministerial, but I'll let the Iraqis describe their thoughts on the matter

*****
QUESTION: I have a question concerning cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think to what degree is he in the pocket of the Iranians? And secondly, our news headlines here in Washington today -- the Washington Post say like it or not, the Iranians have to learn to live with the Mahdi Army. And the other is that the Iraqis -- this is in the Washington Times -- want our troops and our infrastructure out of Iraq. What do you make of those headlines and also what do you make of the behavior of Moqtada al-Sadr?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, to borrow a line from many reports that I talk to on a daily basis, I don't write the headlines. (Laughter.)

As for -- a delayed reaction here -- (laughter) -- finally caught on. You guys have to wake up a little bit. Look, Joel, as for the relationship between Moqtada al-Sadr and the Iranians, I will let the Iranians or Moqtada al-Sadr speak to that. He is -- at this point, chosen to play a role in the political process and we would encourage him to play a positive constructive role in that political process. Iraq faces a lot of challenges and what it doesn't need is people within the political process trying to obstruct or stand in the way of progress. I'm not saying that that's what he's doing but it certainly -- Iraq needs all of its sons and daughters to answer the call to try to build a better state.


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