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Middle East Digest: April 12, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 12, 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 April 12, 2007:

Today's attack on Iraq's Council of Representatives facility is a heinous act of terrorism meant to intimidate the Iraqi people, their democratically representatives and institutions, and all those work selflessly on their behalf to build a peaceful, unified and stable Iraq.

I extend my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured. The United States condemns such criminal acts and will continue to work with the Government of Iraq and our coalition partners in pursuing the criminals who commit these atrocities against the Iraqi people and their democratically elected government.


QUESTION: Do you have any further information on the casualties? It seems that now they're talking about eight people.

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw General Caldwell cited the figure of eight and 20 injured. I don't have any update beyond that figure.

QUESTION: How about the -- is it still correct that you are not aware of any Americans killed or wounded?

MR. MCCORMACK: Still not aware of any Americans injured or killed.

QUESTION: There are news reports out there that al-Qaida is responsible. Have you heard that yet? Have you heard --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don't know. We don't know. Clearly, it's an indiscriminate terrorist attack. There were Sunni, Shia killed in this attack. It was timed apparently with lunch breaks where people would be in this cafeteria that was used by parliamentarians and those who work in the parliament.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, have there been any claims of responsibility?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not aware of any. I'm not aware of any.

QUESTION: Sean, are you aware of the fact that their -- apparently -- metal detectors were not operating properly?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not --

QUESTION: You hadn't heard that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- as for the particular circumstances that allowed this attack to take place I'm sure there's going to be a thorough investigation by the Iraqis. We're going to be ready to help them out in any way that we possibly can, not only to determine what happened with this particular attack, but also to ensure that this is a place where parliamentarians and those working on behalf of the Iraqi Government can do what they need to do in a safe, secure atmosphere.

QUESTION: Do you know if there were any Americans around the scene -- in the building at the time?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know. It is a building that Americans from the Embassy visit on a regular basis.


QUESTION: Norway announced today that they were going to resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority after a meeting with Salam Fayyad. And Fayyad said that the money would come in once banking restrictions had been lifted and expected that to happen very soon. Are you aware of any moves afoot to ease restrictions that presumably result from the Quartet boycott?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into it, David, and see what they're talking about.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the Norwegian decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think I want to understand exactly what Salam Fayyad is talking about before I have any particular response, and other than to say we haven't changed our position or the Quartet hasn't changed its position with respect to direct funding to the PA.

QUESTION: Can you -- if you could -- when you check into it, if you could try to get a specific response on the Norway angle too because --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we'll try to post something for you.

QUESTION: And also on the same thing. Fayyad is on his way to Washington.


QUESTION: Is there anything new on possible meetings?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. We'll keep you up to date if there are any meetings with Department officials

QUESTION: Did the Iranian -- the governor of the Iranian central bank get his visa to come to the --

MR. MCCORMACK: The application's still pending.

QUESTION: So there is no chance he can come because it's the day after tomorrow?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can't speak to travel plans, but the application is still pending.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Is there going to be a ministerial meeting for the Quartet on the margin of that Iraq conference in Egypt?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not on the books right now. I know that the Quartet plans to do, at some point, a meeting in the region, but I don't see that on the books right now.

QUESTION: Will all the members be there, though?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, but they're there for a different reason. They're there to --

QUESTION: Well, I know, but I mean, they will all be there, right? Or am I wrong in thinking that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that they will. I don't -- I haven't seen whether or not they're going to be at the ministerial level. They're going to have to decide that for themselves, but there's two focuses: international compact for Iraq and the Iraq neighbors meeting.

Also, we're at a point in the Abbas-Olmert meeting process where they will have -- probably will have not met twice by that point, as I think their next scheduled meeting is next week, so it's possible that they will have met by that point. So we want that process to proceed and unfold a bit more before the Secretary heads back to the region or really have a Quartet meeting.

QUESTION: But is there some reason why two meetings is -- I mean, this is going to sound stupid, but I mean, is two meetings better than one to have a Quartet meeting at -- is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's just -- all it means is that they have had more of an opportunity to have a discussion not only laying out the agenda of what they want to talk about, but perhaps make some progress on things that they are discussing.


QUESTION: Mohamed ElBaradei today said that it was the IAEA's view that the development of the enrichment -- centrifuge and cascades and everything -- in Iran was still at the hundreds stage --


QUESTION: And the Russians have also come out and said they really didn't think that they were any where near industrial.


QUESTION: Do you have any more to flesh out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I certainly have no reason to dispute Director General ElBaradei's account. The IAEA are the ones who are on the ground in Iran and they have the ability to measure how many centrifuges -- not only do they have in a cascade, how many are they working on -- so I have absolutely no dispute with that.

Now, as for President Ahmadi-Nejad's statement that they have reached industrial-level capability and that they are on their way to 1,000 or 3,000 or more centrifuges, that I think is a, at the least, a real caution for the international system. Because the one -- whether or not the Iranians have actually installed 1,000 or 3,000 centrifuges as he has claimed is -- verifying that fact is important and the Director General has said that in fact is not the case.

But one thing the Iranians have consistently done is followed through on what they said they are going to do. So even if they have not yet installed the thousand or 3,000 centrifuges, the international community should take the Iranians at their word -- that is their intention and then that is where they are heading. So I don't think anybody should really take that deep a breath just because they haven't gotten to that point. It's very clear that they intend to and that they are working very hard to reach those goals.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, wait. We have a couple more guys back here.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Sean, Guantanamo?


QUESTION: Al Jazeera photographer Sami al-Hajj has been detained there since 2001. Do you have any updates on his condition? He has not been tried or charged. Given the fact that he is a journalist, do you have any updates or concerns?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- check with the Department of Defense who are running that process.


QUESTION: Today Turkish Chief of Staff of military Yasar Buyukanit said that we should make the military operation to northern Iraq. What is your response for that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I talked a little bit about this earlier and since then Dan Fried has been in contact with Turkish officials to express what I have expressed in public and that is that Turkey and Iraq are neighbors and that situation isn't going to change. They're going to be living next door to one another for a long, long time. And that as such, that they should really focus on trying to resolve differences that they may have and put in place lasting solutions.

Now, Turkey faces a real threat from the PKK. It's a terrorist organization that has killed innocent Turkish citizens, that has killed Turkish military and it's a problem that needs to be dealt with. The way we suggest it be dealt with is to have the Iraqis and Turkish Governments working together to try to eliminate this threat and we have lent our good offices to that effort in the form of retired General Joe Ralston, former SACEUR. And he has had good discussions working with the Iraqis and the Turks on this issue. It's clearly a very emotional issue I think on both sides. Everybody understands that. But the focus should be on trying to resolve this in a cooperative way, in a joint way, rather than to resort to unilateral actions.

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