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Middle East Digest: April 18, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 18, 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 of April 18, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK:  And one other bit of housekeeping regarding the Deputy Secretary's trip to Libya. I had talked to you earlier this morning about the fact that he had not met with the Libyan Foreign Minister. He had, in fact, met with the Libyan Foreign Minister, so I wanted to correct that for the record.

And with that, I can get into your questions.

QUESTION: Arab ministers have formed a working group today consisting from Egypt, Jordan and Palestinians to contact Israel to try to persuade it in the Arab peace initiative. This delegation will visit Israel soon. Do you have any reaction on this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: It would be a start. And the Arab League has talked about the fact that they would reach out to the Government of Israel and that they would form these working groups, so it's a start. Certainly, we would like to see a broader dialogue between neighbors in the region of issues of mutual concern. The pace of that dialogue is going to be one for the two parties to determine themselves. We can encourage them along, and we have been and will continue to do so.

So we say all that with the thought in mind that this could be -- this would be a first step in that kind of dialogue.

QUESTION: When you say that you'd like to see a broader dialogue, do you mean broader than simply these groups that already have relations with Israel, or is this the broader thing you'd like to see?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we've talked about for some time about the fact that, of course, we would like to see an initiative in which there were more participants in some form of direct dialogue discussion with Israel. We've talked about the fact that you have the whole spectrum of kinds of relationships between Arab states and Israel, going all the way from full diplomatic relations -- countries like Egypt and Jordan -- all the way to other groups of countries which have absolutely no contact or diplomatic relations with Israel whatsoever.

You want to get to the point where you start expanding out that group of countries that can have some form of diplomatic interaction with Israel. So we would view this as a first step in that regard and we would encourage that it expand. It is going to have to expand at a pace that is comfortable for both sides. Secretary Rice has made it very clear that just as Israel and the Palestinians need to work on day-to-day very practical issues regarding that sort of tension and friction between Israelis and Palestinians, you also need to have what she refers to as a political horizon as well.

The same -- you can make the same case on the other side between Israel and Arab states that it would be an important part of this process in trying to bring peace to the Middle East in which you have some form of political horizon for Israel with Arab states. Now the Arab League has come up with its own initiative and we have commented that that is a positive thing. It's their initiative. And perhaps that initiative, the re-launch of that initiative can serve as a starting point for discussion and that's how we would view this effort.

QUESTION: You just pointed at some of the -- you said the Gulf states who have the kind of nominal relations, trade ties with Israel that aren't -- weren't included in this?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know. Well, the --

QUESTION: I mean, the Mauritanians who I believe have diplomatic relations and where you have a very senior person today --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, ultimately, that's going to be -- that's going to have to be their decision. We have encouraged as wide and thorough participation as we could among the Arab states in these working groups. So we would hope that this is just a step and that you would actually see the expansion over time of the membership of these working groups, as well as an increase in the intensity of the kind of discussions that they might have. But you know, this is a first step.

QUESTION: Did you ask or suggest to any of these countries with -- that are not at virtual war with Israel --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- that have some contact to --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have encouraged contact. But ultimately, we have left it to them to make the decision about how they would participate in this working group and what kinds of contact they might have.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Are you expecting that Saudi Arabia will be in this delegation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that's -- you know, that's really something for the Saudi Government to decide. I would note that it was the re-launch of this initiative of the former Crown Prince, now King Abdullah's previous initiative took place at the Arab League Summit in Riyadh. And that, I think, was an important signal, but the pace of any sort of engagement between Saudi officials, Saudi Arabia and Israel is going to have to be a decision for both of those parties to make.

Charlie.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) today in Israel, I believe, Secretary of Defense Gates made some comments about some -- seeing some forward movement or said something to the effect that the diplomacy is working with Iran and the nuclear issue. I mean, are you aware of those comments? Do you agree with those comments? And can you tell us why you think it is?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his comments, Charlie. You know, I'm not going to try to interpret them for you. I can tell you that in our view the diplomacy has moved forward in the sense that you -- if you turn back the clock to 2005, the United States found itself in a position of being relatively isolated on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program. We don't have -- when we looked around, there weren't too many people standing to either side of us, telling Iran that it has to meet the conditions of stopping their enrichment and actually get into negotiations so that they can realize a peaceful nuclear program and not a nuclear weapons program. The Europeans were -- came onboard early on in that regard.

But now we have gotten to a point where we have a -- two 15-0 Security Council resolutions and Chapter 7 resolutions that have made it quite clear to Iran that their behavior is unacceptable, that they need to take up the P-5+1 on their offer of negotiations and that you have had strong support in the IAEA Board of Governors, including among -- including from those states that count themselves as members of the Non-Aligned Movement. So in that sense, absolutely, the diplomacy has moved forward and in that sense, it has worked. Now, have we gotten to the point where Iran is stopping its enrichment-related activities? No, we haven't. But we are hopeful that the diplomatic strategy that we're pursuing of gradually increasing pressure on the Iranian Government to get them to change their behavior will yield positive results. And by that I mean actually getting them to the negotiating table under the conditions the international community has set out. We're not there yet.

QUESTION: Sean, on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you enlighten us a little bit further as you said you had tried to do about the new outreach on Mr. Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. I don't have numbers for you. I'll try to get those for you guys this afternoon. We'll post an answer for you. But just to recap a little bit, we have -- we have not yet heard from the Iranian Government regarding our request about Mr. Levinson and his whereabouts. We put in a request over the weekend, you know, reiterated our request for information about his whereabouts. We have not yet heard back from them. We think that they've had sufficient time to pulse their system, look everywhere that they need to look, talk to all the people that they need to talk to in their system and come up with an answer.

So as a result of that, we're going to continue pursuing that track. But we are also going to try to work with other states who might have some diplomatic entrée to the Iranian Government at their resources, all the resources to make inquiries with the Iranian Government or Iranian officials to try to determine Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. We're going to start that effort today and I'll try to get you some more information as to, you know, sort of the numbers of states that are going to participate in --

QUESTION: And which ones would be nice, too, if you can.

MR. MCCORMACK: If we can at this point, we'll certainly try to provide those for you.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, on Iraq. It was a very bloody day there today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on numbers as far as the U.S. Government knows and any reaction to the violence?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it was just an absolutely horrible series of attacks. I don't have specific numbers for you. We'll try to get those for you. But the latest that I have seen is over a hundred dead, over a hundred wounded, well over. And it's just terrible I understand to watch that. It is quite clear that these attacks are perpetrated by individuals who don't want to see Iraq make any progress and they are designed to try to exacerbate an already tense situation among various sects in Iraq and in Baghdad and that -- you can talk to the military folks, but I expect that they would tell you that this is also a reaction against the joint efforts of the multinational forces and the Iraqi security forces to try to implement the Baghdad security plan, bring a greater sense of order to Baghdad and a greater sense of security to the Iraqi people. Those efforts will continue.

I expect that we will see continuing attempts on the part of those who want to derail that -- those efforts in the future and you will see future spectacular attacks such as this in which there's large-scale loss of life. We don't accept that as a continuing condition and we are going to do everything we can, working with the Iraqis, to try to prevent them. But it is a very difficult security environment in Iraq now.

QUESTION: To what extent does it worry you -- I know you said and the Secretary said that this is early on in the process.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But to what extent does it worry that the Iraqi people will continue to lose confidence in, you know, the U.S. -- you know, given that these bombings keep going on despite the surge?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they as well as others need to understand that you still have the flow of inputs to the Baghdad security plan ongoing now. That all of the resources are not yet in place, that those resources will continue to be put in place over the course of the next months. The Pentagon can fill you in on the exact timetables. I don't have those right now.

One of the origins of the Baghdad security plan, or the point to which you can trace this effort back to I think pretty directly, is Prime Minister Maliki's meeting with President Bush in Jordan in which he brought to the President the outlines of a potential plan and he said this is a starting point; we'd like to get your thoughts on it and work together with you on it. And he understood at that moment that it was important that the Iraqi people felt a greater sense of security in their country, but most especially in Baghdad where you had the greatest potential for sectarian tensions. And it was very important to address that -- those tensions at that moment, because they had been steadily increasing over the year 2006.

So the Iraqi people should understand that the Baghdad security plan is an attempt to act on the desire of the -- desires of the Iraqi people to see a more stable, secure, prosperous Iraq and to see their government working on their behalf. And we want to try to help the Iraqi Government do that, as it's going to be important for Iraq's future that people build confidence in Iraqi institutions, that they have faith in them.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Do you expect Ambassador Crocker to take the same kind of hands-on approach in trying to help forge a political settlement that Ambassador Khalilzad did? Or do you think that now that you're having this regional neighbors conference, it'll take more of kind of an international dimension?

MR. MCCORMACK: Ryan's going to have his own style. I don't expect he's going to be any less involved in encouraging the Iraqis to work on those political benchmarks that they have laid out for themselves: implementation of the hydrocarbon law and the associated revenue-sharing action on a de-Baathification law as well as work on a budget. I expect that he will continue to be very much involved in efforts to encourage the Iraqis to come to the political accommodations that they need to in order to pass that legislation. But ultimately, it's going to be up to the Iraqis to pass that legislation, to cut the political deals that they think they need to cut.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: One more on this. I don't know if you talked about this idea of the war czar for Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't know if you've addressed that here, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, right -- no.

QUESTION: I'm wondering what the State Department role is as -- trying to find somebody. Is Secretary Rice part of the process of interviewing or talking to people?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. You know, I haven't asked her about it, so let me ask her. I know that there's been -- the White House has talked a little bit about the fact that they're looking for a person to replace Meghan O'Sullivan, who's going to be leaving at some point in the next couple months. Let me talk to her about it. I'll ask her. I just -- it hasn't come up.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Going back to your housecleaning item, can you give us, to the best of your ability and knowledge, a run-down of what the Deputy Secretary discussed with the Libyan Foreign Minister that was not Darfur-related?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have -- he did a little availability with the press in there and we're going to try to get the transcript of that out for you. He did address and bring up some bilateral issues between the United States and Libya that are outstanding, specifically the importance of the Libyan Government coming to agreement with the families and victims of the Pan Am 103 bombings as well as the La Belle disco bombings.

He also urged them to resolve the issue of the Bulgarian nurses and medics as an outstanding issue and important to really continue the work of a changed relationship between Libya and the outside -- and the rest of the world.


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