Briefing on Recent Developments at Camp Ashraf
MR. TONER: Thank you, and thanks to everyone for joining us on such relatively short notice. Appreciate it. Very happy to have here with us this morning Ambassador Dan Fried, who, as you know, has taken on the additional responsibility of being our special advisor on Camp Ashraf. And he’s here today to update us on the status of the situation at Camp Ashraf as well as some details regarding the UN’s January 31st announcement that the facilities at former Camp Liberty now meet international humanitarian standards and are ready to receive the residents of Camp Ashraf.
Just a reminder before I hand the mike to Dan, this is an on-the-record call and Dan will say a few words, and then we’ll open it up to your questions. So without further ado, Ambassador Fried.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Thanks, everyone, for joining. The U.S. has – welcomed – the U.S. has and continues to welcome and support the peaceful temporary relocation and eventual permanent resettlement of the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq. This was the heart of Secretary Clinton’s statement on December 25th last year. Our purpose is humanitarian. We welcomed the signing of the MOU last Christmas Day between the Iraqi Government and the UN. This MOU charts a peaceful way forward.
Since the signing of that MOU, the Iraqi Government has worked to prepare a portion of former Camp Liberty, now called Camp Hurriya, to receive the first residents on a temporary basis, working in regular and close touch with the UN and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. That work has made enough progress that the UN last week confirmed that the facilities and infrastructure at Hurriya are in accordance with international humanitarian standards.
The UN recommended that the Government of Iraq and the Ashraf residents discuss details of the first move to Hurriya. Yesterday, an Iraqi representative met with the leadership of Camp Ashraf to discuss these details. The UN was present as facilitator. These discussions, according to all of our information, were businesslike and productive.
The United States welcomes this progress, and we look forward to the first residents moving from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya in the immediate future. In any move of this kind and in the early days, once people are settling into Hurriya, problems may arise, of course. Patience, goodwill, and willingness to resolve logistical issues in a practical way will be critical. The United States, through its Embassy in Baghdad and my office, will continue to support the reasonable, prompt resolution of issues that arise, cooperating with the UN and the Iraqi Government and in contact with the residents at former Camp Ashraf and, of course, Hurriya.
The residents of Camp Ashraf must make the decision to start this relocation process. Camp Ashraf is no longer a viable home for them. They have no secure future there. On the other hand, the Government of Iraq has committed itself to the security of the people at Camp Hurriya and is aware that the United States expects it to fulfill its responsibilities.
The UN has committed itself to stationing monitors at Camp Hurriya on a round-the-clock basis. In addition, as Secretary Clinton made clear in her statement, the U.S. will visit Hurriya on a regular and frequent basis. Camp Hurriya is intended as a temporary transit facility to support the safe departure of former Camp Ashraf residents from Iraq. In this regard, while the UN and the UNHCR are doing and will continue to do their part, governments in Europe and beyond and the United States must do our part as this process unfolds.
Once at Camp Hurriya, some people may decide to return to Iran, but on a voluntary basis only. Several hundred already have in the past. Others may have citizenship or valid residency status in third countries and should be able to return to their homes promptly. Still others may qualify for refugee status under UNHCR’s mandate. The residents who relocate to Camp Hurriya will need to be considered individually. To make our own determination about any specific individual, the United States needs to know more about them, and such information can be obtained only after they move to Hurriya and participate in the UNHCR’s status determination process.
In short, it is time for the MEK to make the decision to start the move out of Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty-Hurriya from where they can begin new lives outside of Iraq. A peaceful solution, no matter what the circumstances, is the only acceptable solution, but it is time to move forward.
Now, with that, I’ll take your questions. And – oh, I should add that the UN head of mission in Iraq Martin Kobler and I were in Europe late last week discussing all of these issues with the European Union, with European parliamentarians, and I met separately with the French Government to discuss the way ahead. So this is an issue very much in motion.
So I’ll now take your questions.
MR. TONER: Great. Thanks, Dan. And, Operator, you can go ahead and tee up the first question.
OPERATOR: Yes, thank you. If you would like to ask a question, press *1. To withdraw your request, press *2. One moment for the first question.
The first question comes from Matthew Lee of AP. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hey, Dan. Can I ask you what is prompting you to make this call today to tell the MEK that it’s now time? Has there been some new development where they’ve indicated they’re stalling again?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I wouldn’t say that there’s a new development indicating stalling, but the reason I’m emphasizing this is because yesterday’s – last week’s determination by the UN that Camp Liberty was ready and yesterday’s practical discussions of the way ahead means that the time is now for the MEK to make its decision. It’s got to move forward. And it’s – all those who wish the residents of Ashraf a peaceful future outside of Iraq can help by encouraging the MEK to make the decision it needs to make.
QUESTION: Okay. But I thought – didn’t a limited number already move?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: No.
QUESTION: Or was that just an offer, that they said that some would --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: That was an offer.
QUESTION: It was an offer.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: No one has moved from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty because Camp Liberty was not yet ready to receive.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: So this was not a case of stalling. It was a case of the Iraqis having to get Camp Liberty up to speed. It now is. And that movement needs to start taking place.
QUESTION: All right. And who determined that it was okay, that it was habitable now? The U.S.?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: The UN. Not --
QUESTION: Not the envoy?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Now, the U.S. has looked at it also, but the determination was made by technical experts from the UNHCR. The UN issued a statement last week, which is readily available, making clear that the infrastructure and facilities are now up to speed.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Sure.
MR. TONER: Next question.
OPERATOR: And I show no further questions at this time.
MR. TONER: All right. We’ll give it a couple of seconds, but – for you to weigh in if you’ve got any additional questions.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, I’ll take that as a sign that my presentation was comprehensive and answered all possible questions.
MR. TONER: Very good. Operator, last chance for our contestants.
OPERATOR: We have a question from Ian Duncan*. Go ahead.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Hi, there. I’m calling from the LA Times. I just wondered to what extent the FTO designation hinders the U.S. role in the process and if there are any plans to change that designation.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: My office is not part of the FTO designation process. Obviously, I’m aware that that is a decision which the Secretary will make. We are – our interest in a humanitarian solution for the people at Camp Ashraf is quite independent of that decision. And we are able to move forward even now without that decision having been made.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks very much.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Next question comes from Andrew Quinn with Reuters. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I have a couple of quick questions. One was: I was wondering if there has been any agreement on the process of moving people. I understand that there was some dispute over whether or not they’d be able to take their own vehicles, how they would get from Ashraf to Liberty. Do you know if that has actually been resolved and how they would get from A to B?
And the second question is: Earlier – last month, actually – and Mrs. Rajavi gave a speech in Paris where she said that the United States would hold full responsibility for all Ashraf members – for the safety of Ashraf members while they’re in Iraq. Is that a responsibility that the United States is now willing to accept, given the status of Camp Liberty? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: First, the issue of the organization of the convoys was, I understand, discussed yesterday in some detail between the Iraqi Government representative and the Camp Ashraf leadership. I also understand that some good progress was made. And that – we welcome that. We welcome that.
With respect to the U.S. responsibility, Iraq is a sovereign country. Iraq has the responsibility for the exercise of that sovereignty, and they know that a peaceful solution is the only acceptable one. The U.S. is not the sovereign in Iraq. We are doing our best, and we are committed to trying to support a peaceful relocation of the people at Ashraf over to Camp – old Camp Liberty, and then support the UNHR efforts to get them out of Camp Liberty and out of Iraq. We’re going to try our best.
The responsibility for the next decision rests with the MEK. They need – the Iraqi Government has done, so far, what it committed to do; that is, it’s got Camp Liberty up to speed. The MEK and the residents of Ashraf, for their part, held a constructive set of discussions yesterday, and we welcome that. And now the decision has to be theirs to start this process and to work with all of us so that the shared objective, shared by all the sides in this – the UN, the Iraqi Government, the people at Camp Ashraf – for a peaceful solution. And the departure of these people from Iraq is up to them. A peaceful solution is at hand, but they’ve got to take it.
MR. TONER: Great. Any more questions?
OPERATOR: There are no further questions at this time.
MR. TONER: Okay. Well, we’ll take that for a sign that you’re all fully briefed on this. Anyway, thank you very much, all of you, for joining us today. And thanks to Ambassador Fried for also taking time.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: All right. Well, thanks a lot, everybody. And I’ll keep – I’ll – we can do this again when the news justifies it.
MR. TONER: Great. Thanks, all.
# # #