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Middle East Digest: April 30, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 30, 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 30, 2007:


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Israeli report on the Lebanon war? There was some rather harsh criticism against Prime Minister Olmert which sort of casts doubt on his political future in many ways. Do you have any comment? Have you had a chance to look at the report, number one?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have --

QUESTION: And secondly --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have not. No, we have not had a chance to look at it. Look, this is going to be -- this is a matter of internal Israeli politics and I don't think you're going to really catch us commenting on a matter of domestic politics in Israel.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the refusal of King Abdallah to meet with Iraq's Prime Minister, and what does this say about Saudi assistance to Iraq and its commitment to helping?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we encouraged* the Saudi Government to meet with the representatives from the Iraqi Government at the highest level possible, and that would include at the head of state/head of government level. The Saudis decided not to do that, as is their right.

But I would point out that the Saudi Government is going to be at the Iraq Compact meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh coming up on Wednesday. And then on Thursday, they will be at the Iraq neighbors conference and that is an important way for them to express their support for a whole, unified Iraq that is a place for all Iraqis regardless of sect or religious affiliation.

They are also going to, I expect, make an announcement regarding significant debt relief for Iraq at the International Compact for Iraq.

So these are all tangible demonstrations of Saudi support for Iraq. And we are encouraged that Iraq's other neighbors are going to be at this conference as well. Iran has said it was going to be there. Syria is going to be there, as well as other neighbors. And that's very positive as a demonstration of their support for Iraq as Iraq finds itself -- finds its place in the Middle East and neighbors find increasing numbers of ways to interact with Iraq and to contribute to their positive development.

QUESTION: But weren't you disappointed that King Abdullah chose not to meet with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, we won't hide the fact from you we did encourage him to meet with Prime Minister Maliki. He chose not. But again, those are individual choices that the Saudis as well as others have to make. Prime Minister Maliki met with other heads of government when he did a tour throughout the Middle East. So you can't expect that there's going to be a cookie-cutter approach, but we did encourage the two to meet. It didn't happen.

QUESTION: Is there a problem developing between your relations with the Saudis? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: -- there have been lots of disappointing events of late.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, you know, I -- look, we share the same strategic objectives in terms of a Middle East that is more stable, more peaceful, more prosperous, one in which there's a Palestine, one in which there's a free democratic Lebanon, one in which there is a democratic, stable prosperous Iraq.

So we share the same strategic objectives. We also understand the threats that are posed to those objectives, threats from violent extremism. There's a threat from Iran and that certainly plays a role -- and Iran plays a significant role in the promotion of violent extremism in the Middle East. The Saudis themselves are dealing with the terrorist problem. We saw it over the weekend that they have significant operations breaking up terrorist rings in Saudi Arabia, so they face many of the same problems. They have many of the same strategic objectives as we do.

From time to time, you will see differences in tactics. But people often tell you about the national unity government; well, the objective as stated by the Saudi Government of the national unity government was to stop the killing between Palestinians. Everybody can agree with that.

Now, as for the particular form, that was something that was negotiated by the Palestinians. Would we have preferred to see a government that abided by the Quartet principles? Absolutely. But that does not mean that cannot try to move the process forward as Secretary Rice has been working with the Israelis, the Palestinians as well as others in the region, the Saudis included. We're working closely with them on the issue of Lebanon. The Saudi Government has a real interest in seeing that Syria is not allowed to interfere in Lebanese affairs so that Lebanon can get back on its feet, rebuild those democratic institutions and build a better country for the Lebanese people.

Yes.


QUESTION: Iraq, please. There's a story in The Washington Post today saying that Maliki's barring certain generals that are apparently being too harsh on Shiite militias.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: What do you make of this? I mean, we've had a comment from General Pittard out there backing this story, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're looking into it and certainly, if that were true, it would be a cause of deep concern, but I have to tell you that the account as portrayed in The Washington Post is at odds with what we're hearing privately as well as publicly from the Iraqis. But nonetheless, it is something that merits our looking into and we are.

QUESTION: Sean, the government has -- bring up a wider question of whether the government can put aside its sectarian differences, you know, and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's -- yeah, that's the heart of it and one of the great strengths, from our view, of the Baghdad Security Plan has -- was this step back from sectarianism among the professional, military, and security forces. Now if in fact, we are seeing some walk-back of that, that would be of real concern to us. So we're taking it seriously. I can't confirm that that is, in fact, the case, but we're looking into it.

QUESTION: Will this be addressed in the meeting in a couple of days, at the meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: At the neighbors meeting? I'm sure Secretary Rice will probably talk to Ambassador Crocker. I'm sure he's going to be talking to the Iraqis about doing a survey with our military folks on the ground to see if this really is the ground truth there.


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