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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 15, 2008
Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the Vice President's Trip to the Middle East
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
3:02 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's going to be a really interesting trip. It's obviously -- and, again, there are a lot of opportunities and clearly the United States has an interest in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, of trying to advance the -- I think the substantial progress we've made in both theaters, particularly Iraq, over the last year, where a number of these countries have been very helpful and useful allies in the broader war on terror, but in different ways in these theaters, as well, particularly Oman, which has provided a quiet but robust support for our efforts, both in the initial liberation in Afghanistan and then again with regards to Iraq.
Turkey, certainly, is the same case, particularly in Afghanistan. The Turks are heavily engaged, troops on the ground, a NATO ally. So an awful lot to discuss there with Turkey in advance, particularly, of the NATO summit in Bucharest next month.
I expect in all of these countries that the challenge we face from Iran will be a very high topic of conversation. And it's a comprehensive challenge. At the forefront of that is clearly the nuclear issue problem, and how we attempt to resolve that. But it also includes Iran's worrisome activities in both the Iraqi and Afghanistan theaters; Lebanon; their connections to the Palestinian Territories to whatever violence is happening in Gaza.
Q What is the Vice President going to seek from the Saudis on the oil front?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure he'll seek anything more than a good and thorough discussion about the current situation in the global energy markets. He'll talk about, I'm sure, about the problems that exist in that market, both the short- and long-term problems that are leading the kind of instability and escalating prices we see.
And the challenge is, I think, that that kind of volatility in the market presents to both consumers and producers, and to discuss ways that we, together, can try and address some of those challenges in a way that meets everybody's interests and continues to grow the global economy.
Q He's not going to ask for, like, increased output either from Saudi Arabia unilaterally or for them to press OPEC to do that, as the President did?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't -- I don't know what to expect, obviously, exactly -- and what he plans to do. I just know that energy, as it has been in the past in his discussions, and other administration officials, will be a topic for a good conversation with the King. He should have -- I think the schedule, you know, might be able to shed light on it -- allows for a fair amount of time that he'll be in the Kingdom on that day, and quite a bit of one-on-one time with King Adballah.
Q The trip on to Oman, what's the topic there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's -- I think in some ways, first and foremost, to show our appreciation for what an extraordinary ally they've been in the war on terror. It's a pretty quiet country; you don't hear a lot about Oman, and they don't make a lot of waves. But they have been an incredibly reliable partner, particularly -- both before September 11th, and certainly after September 11th, the kind of support being provided, logistically and otherwise, to our ability to operate in the war on terror.
But beyond that, they sit in kind of the eye of the storm of that part of the world, and are both observers and participants in all the major issues there.
Q So is Iran on the top of that list?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think Iran has got to be very high on that list. The Omanis, like a lot of other people, are concerned by the escalating tensions between the rest of the world community and Iran, by some of Iran's activities, particularly in the nuclear field, but outside its borders as well.
So again, the strategic location of Oman, right there on the Straits of Hormuz, it obviously has a lot at stake, and we have a lot vested in that relationship bilaterally, but also the Vice President, certainly since his time as Defense Secretary, has a very deep, personal relationship with the Sultan, and I know that they have should some -- a good amount of time to sort of do a pretty comprehensive regional overview.
Q Can you talk a bit about what the Vice President, specifically, can bring to the whole Israeli-Palestinian discussion that the President -- that differs from what the President may bring, or what Secretary Rice brought last time, or a couple weeks ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't tell you anything different. I think he can certainly complement the kind of message that both the President and the Secretary have been consistently delivering to Israeli and Palestinian leaders about the depth of our commitment to try and make progress toward a Palestinian state, and at the same time, remind all the parties that at the end of the day, they're the ones who are going to have to have the will to get this done; to make the kinds of really difficult -- in some cases, kind of existential compromises that they're going to have to make.
In addition, of course, to trying to advance those road map obligations that have been out there for a long time on both sides. We've seen some progress, but we still haven't seen complete fulfillment of several of those obligations. So I think he'll -- I think it's more of it as a reinforcement of the messages that are delivered -- the nature of this diplomacy is we can't do it too often. And I think for what it's worth, the Vice President, in particular in Israel, has a long-standing and close relationship with the Prime Minister, but also with other very senior-level officials in the Israeli government, particularly the Defense Minister.
So I think adding his voice to the mix, going to the region and directly engaging and reinforcing the President's and the Secretary's message, I think everybody, including the President, sees real value in that.
Q How big an issue at the Turkey stop is the PKK? It seems like there's been something of an accommodation, whereby the United States intelligence information and asks Turkey to show some kinds of restraint. Is there any particular message about the PKK campaign the Vice President wants to bring to Turkey?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, other than our complete concurrence with the Turkish government that the PKK is a terrorist organization that needs to be defeated; and that the United States, as it has historically, will continue to do what we can to support Turkey to address the problem. And obviously the problem touches on Iraq, and the United States has been very active now in their -- I guess you could call it a trilateral sense, with ourselves working with both the Iraqis and the Turks, and trying to encourage them to work together, including encouraging the Kurdistan regional government to do their part, as well; to identify this as a common challenge, and to try and advance some kind of common solutions that obviously include a military component, but are probably going to require a more comprehensive solution that undercuts the PKK and makes it much less of a threat than it currently is to Turkey.
Q What does he want [the Saudis] to do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the issues that we had and I know that consumed some of the President's time, was obviously the question of appointing an ambassador, and their getting an embassy in Baghdad, getting a Saudi diplomat presence in place over time. And I think that's still -- we've had some steps, and teams sent to Iraq by the Saudis, but there's still obviously more to be done.
I think the Saudis -- one thing that we all saw, of course, was Ahmadinejad's visit to Baghdad, I guess at the beginning of this month. And on the one hand, my impression is that the trip was a clear disappointment for Ahmadinejad for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, that was clearly the case that the Iraqis were reluctant to make too big a deal out of Ahmadinejad's presence. On the other hand, in terms of the region, there's not a lot of competition; there's not a lot of other players in the region at a high level making the trek to Baghdad to engage that Iraqi government at a political level, economic level, cultural level. At least a significant portion of Iraq is an Arab state. I think historically a good portion of Iraq considers itself part of the Arab world.
And I think it's important that Iraq -- the United States can do a lot for Iraq, but we cannot provide Iraq with an anchor in the Arab world, a kind of legitimacy for the new Iraqi project that comes from being fully integrated in its neighborhood. And I think clearly some of our friends in the Arab world can do more on that score, too, and I think that kind of acceptance and integration is very important. And it's important to Iraqis.
Q But what message will he have to the Arab world about Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure -- I mean, he's discussed this problem with -- particularly with King Abdullah, as well as with the Sultan of Oman so often, and I'm not sure he's got a particular message, and it's really comparing and updating their notes on where we are, on the strategy we're pursuing to try and get Iran into a diplomatic settlement of this problem, using various talks, but also obviously trying to bring as much pressure as we can to bear on the Iranian regime; to see it in the fact it's in their interests, certainly in the interests of the Iranian people, to shift their calculation on this whole question of their Iranian enrichment program to abide by the U.N. resolutions.
But I expect that they'll review the problem. I mean, obviously you just had these elections in Iran, so there may be some discussion of that; review the situation inside of Iran, Iran's activities in the region. We'll discuss the nuclear issue, and certainly what the United States and other countries are trying to do to address the problem, and bring it to a peaceful resolution.
Q Can I ask about the road map, what in particular your message is going to be on that, and what do you hope to come away with?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think the President has said that he wants the Vice President, in addition to reaffirming the strength of our commitment to achieve this vision of peace, that he wants the Vice President obviously to remind all parties of the obligations that they've already undertaken -- and I would think the road map obligations, in particular. And the more progress we can make on the ground to improve the situation, the better the context will be for allowing those negotiations to succeed.
So I think they're important both because the sides have undertaken these obligations, including the United States, to do certain things, but I think they're also at some level really important, if not critical, to creating a context in which negotiations can actually succeed, and maximize the potential that the people can actually be empowered to take risks on behalf of peace, because they've actually got -- people can see results on the ground; the process actually is affecting their lives; and that there is hope, and that there are risks and compromises here that are really worth taking, because they're going to lead to real things that are tangible things in people's lives.
So I think he'll -- on the road map, he'll encourage forward movement, as difficult as it is, given the current climate and environment.
Q What in particular do you like for Israeli government to make some further recommendations about the settlements and the developments --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't gotten anything on specific things that he'll actually ask when he gets behind closed doors with the Prime Minister or President Abbas. But I'm sure encouraging forward movement on these various obligations will be included in the discussions.
Q He'll be taking more foreign trips after this, do you think, or could this be the last one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have absolutely -- I don't have indications if there is a next trip. But I have absolutely no indication that this is it, this is the swan song.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sometimes it's only about 48 hours' notice.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Personally, I'd be surprised --
Q And health wise, he's okay to do these long things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly is --
Q I think there was some talk about long flights or something.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no idea what his discussion -- but I cannot imagine that he's doing anything that anybody doesn't want him to do.
Q Can I ask a today question? Have you heard about Merkel and Blair arranging anything, a peace conference in Germany in June?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't, I'm sorry.
Q Would it be right to read -- on your comments about the Saudi stop, and talking about how there are not a lot of other players in the region who are making the trek to Iraq, they need an anchor in the Arab world that would help confer legitimacy on the Iraqi project -- is that all leading up to he might ask the King to go, himself, to Iraq?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I wouldn't go that far. What we've been working under -- the bar is not that high. It would be great to get a resident Saudi ambassador, a resident Egyptian ambassador -- which is not to say that there's no reason why trade ministers, culture ministers, economic ministers, foreign ministers from the Arab world at this point in time shouldn't be able to come to Iraq and engage Iraqi leaders and the new Iraqi government as they would just about anybody else in the region.
Okay? Great, thank you very much.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT