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Middle East Digest: April 20, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 20, 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 20, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: One quick announcement for you, just an official announcement of the Secretary's travel to Egypt for the upcoming International Compact with Iraq and expanded neighbors meeting. She'll leave for Sharm el-Sheikh and be there for meetings May 1st through the 4th, depart on the 1st, back on the 4th. She's also going to have a bilateral agenda while she's there. We'll keep you up to date on those as the schedule develops. It's not settled yet.

That's about it in terms of opening stuff. We can get right into your questions.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to meet the Iranian Foreign Minister while she's there?

MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, I don't know if he'll be there. I'm not sure he's RSVP'd to the Iraqis at this point. Whether or not he goes is going to be up to him. Same answer as for the envoys level meeting; I'm not going to rule out any particular diplomatic interaction, I'm not going to point you in the direction of any particular meeting with the Iranians or the Syrians. You know, she -- obviously, the Secretary has latitude to choose targets of opportunity if she feels as though something presents itself, but I'm not going to point you in the direction of anything in particular.

QUESTION: Targets of opportunity? That's an interesting phrase for talking about the Iranian Foreign Minister.

MR. MCCORMACK: I also mentioned the Syrian Foreign Minister as well.

QUESTION: On Iran, unless there's anything more on this trip. No? I take it that there's nothing yet back from the Iranians again or anything through your extended contacts.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new to report.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Sean, Senator Reid made some interesting comments in which he apparently said that -- well, no, he didn't apparently say, he did say that the Secretary of State was among several senior officials in the governmental cabinet level of people who knew that the war in Iraq was lost. Has the Secretary told him of her thinking on this? Is he -- is that, in fact, her thinking?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, thanks -- first of all, thanks for allowing at least me to correct the record here. Senator Reid is a legislator. He should stick to that and not try to be a mind-reader. The Secretary has, in no way, conveyed any such idea to Senator Reid or anybody else. Secretary Rice would never countenance continuing to send young American men and women to Iraq in pursuit of a strategy that she didn't think had a chance of success. She would never continue to commit resources to a strategy that she thought wouldn't work. So to suggest otherwise is just flat untrue.

QUESTION: Has there been any contact with -- between her and the Senator on this that you're aware of?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Not that I know of, no.

QUESTION: Do you have -- and you're not aware of any conversation that she might have had with him in which -- that would have led him to come to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, absolutely not.

QUESTION: General Pace said a couple of days ago that the U.S. forces in Kandahar intercepted some Iranian-made weapons.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: We've had these earlier reports of similar kinds of weapons going to Iraq to both -- populations on both sides. Now, how concerned are you that this is all part of a very broad, an increasingly broad, you know, covert Iranian effort to destabilize American forces in the entire region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a real source of concern not only with regard to U.S. forces but Afghan forces as well as the NATO forces. We all know that NATO has a heavy presence in Afghanistan. And this is a situation that bears careful watching. It's not something that I can, you know, elaborate beyond what General Pace said.

But we are quite concerned that this could signal a change in Iranian policy with regard to Afghanistan and its support for the Taliban as well as other violent extremist groups that seek to undermine the progress that has been made by the Afghan people. So it is something that we're watching very carefully and it's something about which we are concerned. And I would expect that others would be concerned as well since this is a truly international effort in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Do you have sense what Iranian entity is responsible for sending these arms? Would it be the Quds Force --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- or the Iranian leadership itself?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, in terms of the details of this, I can't really go beyond what General Pace offered.

QUESTION: This is very new information -- this Afghanistan, Taliban involvement?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you how far back it goes, but I think it's, relatively speaking, new.

QUESTION: And are you surprised? I mean, the Taliban are a traditional enemy of Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: There certainly are a lot of questions, outstanding questions, about this, none of which I can get into talking about here. But we are concerned that this could possibly signal a change in Iranian policy. They had previously actually played a constructive role in Afghans' future, especially in areas of counternarcotics as well as other areas, and certainly we'd like to see those -- that cooperation continue. But this certainly is a troubling sign.

QUESTION: Going back to the threat level in Europe, the terrorist threat level, do you see any connection between the ongoing trial in southern Germany against Ansar al-Islam members and the fact that the level has been raised right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't draw in public for you any particular connection. To do so, we would start to get into intelligence-related matters. But as I said before, we're taking the steps that we think are prudent based on what we believe is a serious threat.


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