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Middle East Digest: April 16, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 16, 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 16, 2007:

QUESTION: Do you have any details yet of Ambassador Negroponte's visit to Libya or who he's seeing? Is he seeing the leader?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's still to be determined. There have been a variety of requests in for meetings. We don't have the -- his agenda ready for you yet. I think he's going to be there Monday or Tuesday.

QUESTION: So in other words, you've requested a meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: Tuesday -- Tuesday, Wednesday. Today is Monday.

QUESTION: You've requested a meeting, but they haven't come back to you with a time or a yea or a nay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, exactly. This is typically how things work, though.

QUESTION: And what do you make of the Libya announcement that they're going to host some kind of a conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen it Matt. I haven't seen it. I'll look into it. What is this, a conference on Darfur or Sudan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look into it for you.

Elise.

QUESTION: Mr. Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you've heard back, if anything, from the Iranians? I know you spoke a little about this morning, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We -- what has happened over the weekend is we have sent another request to the Iranian Government via the Swiss Embassy and that request asked the Iranian Government to give us a definitive answer or as definitive an answer as they can give us right now as to Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. After we've had an opportunity to go through the data or do some of our own due diligence, we're confident that he did travel to Qishon/Kishon* in Iran and we are relatively confident that he did not leave Iran as far as we have been able to determine. So to the best of our knowledge he is in Iran. And we have given the Iranian Government what we think is a reasonable amount of time -- about a week -- to pulse their system and determine what his whereabouts might be. And so we have now sent a more formal request back through the Swiss Embassy to ask them that question: What have you found? And ask for a definitive answer back.

QUESTION: When you say that you're relatively confident that he didn't leave Iran and so thus he could probably be still in Iran, are you basing the fact that you think he's in Iran, based on the fact that you don't believe that he left or something that you believe places him in Iran recently?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don't believe he's left. We haven't been able to find any --

QUESTION: But that's what makes you think he's still there.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We haven't been able to determine or find any evidence that he had left.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you send this more formal request or asking for information back to the Iranian Government, at what point would you ask the Iranians or the Swiss or perhaps with your help to launch a more formal -- is that what you did now or are you looking to launch a more formal investigation --

MR. MCCORMACK: We would have hoped that the formal request that we put into the Iranian Government a short time ago, a little over a week ago, would have been sufficient to launch a more formal investigation into the matter, as opposed to the previous request that we had with the Swiss Embassy just to see what they can determine about his whereabouts. That was in the month of March. So these are in fact formal requests. And so we're asking a formal answer back from the Iranian Government as to what they have found.

QUESTION: But right now you're just kind of asking them for any information that they had found. But at what point is not -- is a lack of sufficient information from the Iranians enough to ask the Swiss to kind of launch -- you know, you don't have any -- because you don't have any formal relations with Iran, generally, if you had an embassy in a country, your people would launch your investigation as to what happened. And I think that it's probably more difficult in this case.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, regardless of the case, you know, we're constrained by the fact that we're dealing with sovereign nations. And we are dependent upon the cooperation of the host nation in launching whatever investigation it is that gets launched. Now, that's in the best of circumstances where you have a good relationship with the local law enforcement or security authorities. In Iran, we are dependant on the Swiss and then furthermore the Iranians to look into where Mr. Levinson is and to make inquiries throughout their entire system as to what they may know about his whereabouts. As for next steps, we'll see what the answer is that we get back from the Iranian Government.

Yeah.

QUESTION: In your own due diligence, did that turn up what he was doing in Iran, who he was meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are a number of reports. I've seen some of the news reports out there. I don't think at this point we can speak definitively as to what private business he was on. I think that's going to have to wait until Mr. Levinson gets back to the United States and he can explain exactly what sort of private business he was involved in.

QUESTION: Why do you think he's still -- why do you think he did not leave Iran? Because to leave Kish -- to go in and out of Kish you don't need a visa, so what evidence do you have that he didn't leave?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess the presumption is that -- exactly that, you don't need a visa to go into Kish Island and presumably he would leave from Kish Island. He wouldn't travel elsewhere in Iran. We don't know that, but that's the presumption. And we not been able to find any evidence that he retraced his steps in going in. So he didn't reverse his route out. And that's what leads us to the conclusion that he is Iran as far as we can tell.

QUESTION: And do you have any evidence at all to point to whether he's being held by some branch of the Iranian Government or some local authorities, the tourist police?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, we can't -- that's why we don't have any reliable information. That's why we're going back and asking the Iranians.

QUESTION: Do you still believe -- you believe he's on Kish still or you think that he may have gone into Iran proper, mainland or whatever?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't know. As far as we're able to tell he didn't -- you know, he didn't obtain a visa so that he means he would have been limited likely to Kish Island. He perhaps could have traveled to other locations in Iran. We don't know that. But as far as we can tell he hasn't exited. Again, we're --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: We're making a certain number of assumptions here that he would just retrace his steps on coming out.

QUESTION: I understand. But in response to when you first went to the Swiss with the request to the Iranians, the Iranians got back to you asking for more information.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: You gave them the information --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- and said can you tell us.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Did -- at any point have they said that they issued him a visa to go to the -- onto the -- into Iran proper?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've gotten that piece of information.

QUESTION: But a visa --

MR. MCCORMACK: Our folks in -- I'm trying to remember -- in Dubai did actually talk to him before he went into -- traveled to Kish Island.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, your folks -- you mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: In Dubai.

QUESTION: The U.S. Embassy in Dubai spoke to --

MR. MCCORMACK: The consulate, yeah.

QUESTION: -- Mr. Levinson before he left?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes,

QUESTION: So as far as --

QUESTION: And he told him he was going to -- they told them -- he told them he was going to Kish?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if he told them he was going to Kish Island. I don't know the extent of the conversation, but they did talk to him.

QUESTION: Why was he in contact with the Embassy to begin with? I mean, he was on private business. Most people don't just stop in at the Embassy.

MR. MCCORMACK: You can ask Mr. Levinson when he returns to the States.

QUESTION: He told them that he was going to Iran or not? Was that the purpose of his contact with the consulate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't the extent of their conversations. I know that they did. I don't know what sort of detail they get into.

QUESTION: As far as you know, though, at this moment, the Iranians are not giving you any information at all. The only contact that you have had with them through the Swiss has been for them to ask for these questions. They haven't said we gave him a visa to go to the mainland or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And, Sean, you don't really know if he's dead or alive at this point? You have absolutely no information as to --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're looking forward to his being reunited with his family.

QUESTION: Just on the consulate -- just a clarification. Is it not the understanding that he went to talk to the consul because he was going to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, I don't know.

QUESTION: Because Dubai is a *watch post* for Iran, so it would make sense --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Nicholas, I don't know why. I know that they had a conversation.

QUESTION: Right, because he --

MR. MCCORMACK: Frankly, even if I did know the contents of the conversation, I wouldn't relay it here because I want to maintain a certain amount of privacy for him.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: Basically, we've pretty much exhausted everything you have to say about --

MR. MCCORMACK: *Flagellum equus mortuus* -- (laughter) -- yes.

QUESTION: Still Iran, but a different topic. They announced on Sunday, early weekend at some point, that they were seeking bids for two more nuclear power plants.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything the United States is doing, will do, could do to discourage specifics? And so it would be a commercial decision at some point by some European or Russian --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think at this point, given where Iran stands with respect to the international community and their nuclear programs, that any outside parties would have a healthy degree of skepticism as to Iran's true motives in seeking the construction of these two power plants. The Russian Government has made a decision at this point not to move forward with the completion of its contract on the Bushehr reactor. And the fact that Iran is now under two Chapter 7 resolutions, directly centered on its nuclear activities, I would think would give firms who are involved in the nuclear power plant business some pause in dealing with Iran on nuclear issues.

QUESTION: Is that against the -- the kind of nuclear power plant that they're looking to build, for firms to help them with that would that be against -- in violation of UN Security Council resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a specific carve-out for Bushehr in the Security Council resolution. You know, I'd have to ask our lawyers and see whether or not, even at this early stage, even considering it in some way bumps against Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: If you could check --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I'll ask the lawyers.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, just to go back to the Levinson case.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied that the Iranians, though, are cooperating fully with all of your requests or do you think that they are stalling and holding something back?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think that -- we've given them a reasonable amount of time to check within their own system for any information on Mr. Levinson and that's why we're asking for an answer back. It's hard to get a view into their system how it works and what exactly they may or may not be doing. So at this point, I can't offer any insight other than it has been what we consider a reasonable amount of time for them to have done a good-faith search and develop information one way or the other about his whereabouts.

QUESTION: So you haven't decided whether they're stonewalling you or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can only look at the outputs. I don't know what's going on within the Iranian system.

QUESTION: Because your relationship with Iran is pretty miserable, so one would assume that even when it comes to consular issues, you may have problems -- maybe not.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Sue, we'll see. This is somebody that, you know, we want to see reunited with his family and his family wants to see him back. And regardless of whatever political differences may exist between the United States and the Iranian Government, we wouldn't think that those differences would in any way impinge upon a good-faith search for an American citizen who may be on the territory of Iran.

QUESTION: Move on to Iraq, please. Can I have a reaction to al Sadr pulling out his ministers?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. This is ultimately going to be a matter for the Iraqi Government to resolve how they configure their government, who's participating in it, who isn't. They -- I assume over a period of time, they will form different governing coalitions. The -- as far as I can tell, Sadr's party remains in the parliament and they will continue to participate in the debate about various issues like the hydrocarbon law, the finance law, the de-Baathification law. Just as a general statement, this is the time for all Iraqis who have an interest in a better and more stable, prosperous, secure Iraq to make every effort to work together to bridge differences. Whether they choose to do that from within the government or in the parliament is going to be a choice for them to make. But the Iraqi people voted for these representatives with the thought in mind that they would work on their behalf. And that's what the Iraqi people expect and that's the kind of thought in mind that these representatives should have when they're doing their work.

QUESTION: Still on Iraq, your -- some military commanders last week were saying that Iran is helping supply Sunni and Shia insurgents. What do you make of this?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is General Caldwell talking about the Iranian activities?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have much more information than he provided. But we have been for some time concerned about the activities of Iran, not only providing the material and the technology, but also some of the training to a variety of different groups. General Caldwell gave a pretty full briefing on it and don't really have much to add.

QUESTION: Why do you think they're doing this? Do you think they're just trying to promote chaos generally?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you'd have to ask the leadership of the Iranian Government why -- why they have an interest in doing this. Certainly you can come up with a lot of different theories, but it's really only speculation. The one thing you can say is that it runs counter to their stated desire to have good, neighborly transparent relations with Iraq and play a positive role in Iraq's future. And that's certainly -- those kinds of activities don't enhance Iraq's stability. And in fact, you know, it only adds to the tensions that currently exist within Iraq.

QUESTION: Any updates on whether Iran will send representatives to this conference, the neighbors conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't know. Haven't heard. They're going to, I guess, RSVP to the Iraqis, not to us.

QUESTION: Have you seen these reports out of France that French intelligence was aware of an al-Qaida plot to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. I read them. I'm not --

QUESTION: You don't have any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information about it. I don't know if the 9/11 Commission had access to that information, or I can't even vouch for the validity of it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: On the Consulate in Morocco --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: How long do you think that the Consulate will be closed? Is it indefinitely while pending this --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I -- look, the current status is that it's closed to the public. There are personnel that are working there, essential personnel who are dealing with a lot of security related issues to make sure they have the proper security posture to protect people who work there and may be visiting at any given point in time. We have not yet been able to determine with Moroccan authorities exactly the target of these bombers. Some people have speculated that it may have been consulate or it may have been an American center that is right near by. We can't confirm that. But the fact that the bombs that explode in relatively close proximity in the neighborhood of the consulate raises some real concerns and we want to make sure that we have the proper security posture with the American personnel, but also working with the Moroccan authorities.

QUESTION: Well, whether it was the consulate proper or an American center nearby, I mean, it -- certainly it seems that American interests per se seem to have been targeted.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we can't say that. I know that there's been a lot of speculation about that, but I mean, we just don't know that as a fact. And the -- to this point, the results of the investigation have not led to that definitive conclusion. That said, of course, we're going to take into account the fact that these went off in the neighborhood. And I think it would be a real dereliction if we didn't take a look at our security posture and make sure that we were doing everything that we could to protect the people there.


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