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Middle East Digest: April 25, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 25, 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 25, 2007:


QUESTION: What do you have to say about the possible training of Iranian athletes by the U.S. Olympic Committee in preparation for the '08 Olympics?

MR. CASEY: Well, what do I have to say about that? I don't actually know, George. I'll have to get back to you on it. Sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Still on Iran, do you have anything on the Iraq compact meeting on -- next week and as to whether you think there's going to be debt relief provided by the participants of it?

MR. CASEY: You know, we talked a little bit about that this morning. I think, Sue, as you know and as I mentioned this morning, this has been -- debt relief has been part of the effort to help Iraq move forward since early on, back in 2004, partly as a result of the good efforts by former Secretary of State Baker among others.

The Paris Club made a decision to ask for 80 percent as a minimum level of debt forgiveness for Iraq among its members and that is something that a number of countries have already acted upon, but it's certainly an issue that we continue to discuss with many countries in the Paris Club and certainly, something that we do want to see people live up to that Paris Club commitment on. I think the Saudis have already made some announcements in that regard and we're very pleased to see that and we'll certainly be continuing to work with other countries as we move closer to next week's compact date, as well as beyond that to see that they carry out those agreements.

I do want to point out as -- again, as I said this morning as well, that the compact, though, is not simply a debt relief agreement. It is intended to be very much an agreement between the Iraqis and the Iraqi Government, and those people who are part of the compact are the international community, and is designed to be able to provide a variety of different kinds of support, in part in response to the Iraqis' own ability to meet the commitments they've set out for themselves in terms of economic reform.

But obviously, one of the many components of helping to improve the lives of Iraqis and helping them develop a stable, democratic society is the ability to move forward economically, to provide jobs for people, to give opportunities to people in Iraq, and to have a fully functioning and developed economy. And the compact and the agreements that are reached under it are part of that effort.

QUESTION: David Satterfield has been traveling in the region this week. What has his message been to the governments that he's been meeting, and is he hoping to get -- is he hoping that by putting pressure on these countries that they'll come forward and offer a lot more support?

MR. CASEY: Well, David, of course, in his role as the Secretary's Senior Advisor on Iraq, is moving about quite a bit and is constantly talking with not only the Iraqi officials but friends and neighbors, and certainly is doing so now as we move towards next week's meeting not only of the compact but of the neighbors group as well. And certainly, his message to the officials he's meeting with, just as it has been, is we want to make sure that they are doing everything they can to help support the Iraqi Government, and again, not only on those sorts of economic issues that are related to the compact but also on some of the broader political questions, which is part of what the neighbors conference and the previous meeting of that kind are designed to help produce.

*****

QUESTION: Would you mind if we went on to Levinson? Have you had any response from the Iranians yet at all?

MR. CASEY: No. Unfortunately, we haven't heard back for -- to our last diplomatic note to the Iranian Government. And certainly we do want to hear back from them and we want to get some answers as to what has happened to Mr. Levinson. We again don't have any credible information on his welfare or whereabouts. But we certainly want to know what the Iranians know and we want to make sure that they really have done something more than a cursory pulse of their system. It's clear to us as we've said, that he entered Iran via Kish Island. And it's also clear to us that he did not leave, at least not by the same route he went in.

So we are fairly confident then that he is somewhere in Iran on Iranian territory. And we would hope that the Iranian authorities would be able to provide us some answers as to his whereabouts. And we also are continuing to talk with other friendly governments about this. We've asked now a total of three different countries to knock on some doors for us, to use what resources they have to be able to see if they can find any information or glean any information from their Iranian contacts about where he is.

QUESTION: And you've had no feedback yet from these other governments?

MR. CASEY: The other governments have simply responded by saying, yes, they're interested in helping us. And my understanding is they've begun to try and follow up on some of those efforts and try and make some contacts for us. But unfortunately as yet, they haven't produced any information either that gives us a sense of where he is.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just continue? Would you mind? We've had these claims from Mr. Belfield that he was the last person that met with Levinson on Kish and now Belfield is also claiming that Levinson was carrying a rather explosive file of documents with him. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of those reports?

MR. CASEY: I really don't. I've seen a lot of press reports on this. And there are press reports, as you've indicated, that say that he might have been picked up or otherwise detained by some element of Iran's security forces. And certainly we've pointed out those press reports to the Iranian Government and asked them to look into those matters.

But I don't have anything that I can offer you. We don't really know the details of his private business in Iran. And again, I think those are all questions that we would hopefully be able to have Mr. Levinson himself address when we locate him. But the important thing to us right now is that we do everything we can to be able to ascertain his whereabouts and to make sure that he gets home safely and securely and as soon as possible to be with family.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about his safety? Are you becoming increasingly concerned about his safety?

MR. CASEY: Well, we don't have any information that leads us to conclude one way or the other where he is or what his status is. But certainly, anytime an American citizen goes missing, it's something we're concerned about and it's something we make efforts to try and deal with. There are -- while this is certainly a case that's gained a lot of attention for obvious reasons, there are thousands of cases each year that our embassies and posts overseas deal with to try and help find Americans who are missing or who simply have failed to make contact with their family members, and make sure that they're all right, give them help where they need help, and get them back to their families. And we're pursuing the same kind of procedures here.

But again, as time has gone on and as we have still not had any information that gives us an idea of his whereabouts or his welfare, we are continuing to reach out and reach out more broadly. And that's appropriate and we're going to keep doing so and we're going to keep pressing the Iranian Government for answers as well.

QUESTION: One last thing, if I may.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I know it's difficult for you to comment on this, but Belfield seems to think this is all about him, this is all part of some scheme, whether official or not, to tempt him out of the country because, obviously, he's a wanted fugitive here. Do you have any comment on that, or with this in light of this? Are you concerned that the Iranians will think that Mr. Levinson was in any respect working for U.S. authorities?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Mr. Levinson was in Iran on private business. He had no business there that was on behalf of the U.S. Government. I'm not sure about what Mr. Belfield's latest statements are, but this is about Mr. Levinson and this is about finding Mr. Levinson and bringing him home safely and quickly to his family, which is where he belongs.

Libby.

QUESTION: How much contact does the State Department have with Levinson's family? Are you aware of whether they're doing any other investigations on their own outside of the U.S. Government?

MR. CASEY: I don't know if they are doing any kind of "investigations on their own." Certainly, we're in contact with his family on a regular basis. It's important to us that we are and we want to, again, make sure that any information we receive, we pass on to them and we also want to make sure that they know about the efforts that we are making on his behalf.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: One more.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Have the Iranians previously been helpful in similar sorts of cases where people have gone missing? And do you think they're being deliberately unhelpful in this particular instance because of Mr. Levinson's previous affiliation with the FBI?

MR. CASEY: Well, Sue, I can't tell you what Iranian thinking is or what their motivation is. I think, though, it's clear to us that they owe us a good faith answer on what they know about his welfare and whereabouts. And that's why we've sent our latest request to them. Again, what we know is that he entered Iran. We have no reason to believe that he left and therefore, it would seem to us that the Iranian Government ought to have some information available to share with us.

In terms of other issues, again, he was there on private business. This is a private American citizen and we want to make sure that he gets back home to be with his family. In terms of other cases that have occurred in the past, as we've said, there's usually a couple of cases any given year like this, of welfare and whereabouts cases, in Iran itself. My understanding is each of those resulted in us being able to locate the individual successfully and put them back in contact with their friends and family.

I'm not aware of any instances where the Iranian Government has obstructed that process. I can't tell you in the global history of this how particularly helpful they have or haven't been. In some cases, these are issues where I think the Swiss, acting on our behalf, as our representative there in Iran, has been able to locate the individuals without having to do the kind of formal requests that we've had to go through in this process.

QUESTION: So do you think they're being obstructive, though?

MR. CASEY: Again, I don't know what their thinking is. Our concern is that we believe that they ought to be able to come up with some answers to the questions we've raised with them and we're going to keep pushing them on it.


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