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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 30, 2005

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 30, 2005

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 30, 2005


AID Administrator Andrew Natsios to Brief on the President's
Malaria Treatment and Prevention Initiative for Africa

Action Under Syria Accountability Act to Freeze Assets of Two Syrians

Reports that President-elect Ahmadinejad was a Captor and
Interrogator of American Hostages in 1979
U.S. Efforts to Establish the Facts / Iran's Obligation to Address the Issue

Joseph DeTrani and James Foster's Attendance at New York
Conference / Query on Possible Contacts with North Koreans
Reports that North Korea Resumed Building Two Nuclear Reactors

Reported Violence and Killing of Two Israeli Soldiers in Nablus

Former President Akayev's Accusation of a U.S. Role in His Ouster


(12:40 p.m. EDT)

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Before we start, I just want to let you know, shortly after one o'clock, we have USAID Andrew Natsios who will be by the briefing room to answer any additional questions you may have about the President's announcement of the Malaria Initiative. So I just wanted to let you know, in terms of timing, Andrew will be here sometime shortly after one o'clock.

So that's it. I'll be happy to jump into your questions. Peter.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you elaborate on why the administration took, at this point, this move to freeze the assets of these two Syrians?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is an action that was taken under the Syria Accountability Act. And as you know, implementation of the act is an ongoing matter. This action was taken by the Department of Treasury; they have the responsibility for the implementation -- this aspect of the implementation of the act. It was a decision that they arrived at in identifying these individuals and then announcing this action.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up. Is there any particular reason that these two -- apparently they are identified with the Syrian presence in Lebanon? Is there a particular shot across the bow or is it a particular reason for taking this action at this time?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'd refer you in terms of specific questions about the whys and then the timing over to the Department of Treasury. They're the ones with the responsibility for implementation of that.


QUESTION: It's about Iran. Does the U.S. have reason to believe that the newly elected President of Iran was one of the captors and interrogators of U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979?

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks. Thanks for that question. We've seen these reports and we've also read the comments that have appeared in various publications from some of the former hostages. We are now seeking to establish all the facts concerning this story and concerning the question that you asked. And I want to assure you that we are going to look into this question seriously. We, as a government, are working to establish the facts surrounding the story. But I do want to say one thing and that is to underscore the fact that we have not forgotten. We have not forgotten the fact that 51 of our diplomats were held for 444 days; that they were taken hostage. This Secretary of State takes very seriously her responsibility to protect as best she can the men and women of the State Department and those who serve in our Embassies abroad.

The Iranian Government, with respect to this question, has an obligation to speak definitively concerning these questions that have been raised in public by these stories. And one final point on this is that this is also not a matter of just for the United States. What is at stake here are questions about the ability of diplomats around the world, under the cover of recognized international treaties and conventions, to freely do their work while posted abroad. So it is an issue that we are looking into seriously.

QUESTION: Can I ask how you're looking into it? Are you talking to the former hostages or are you going through records? Can you give us any fidelity on it?

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, it's a U.S. Government-wide effort. The State Department will be involved in this as well and I would expect that we will, as best we can, seek to speak to some of the former hostages. I would note that there is still, on active duty in the Foreign Service, one of the foreign hostages, Mr. -- Ambassador Limbert is head of the American Foreign Service Association. So again, I just want to underscore that anybody who, I think, was alive at the time during this period, you know, can never forget that period and we have not forgotten.

QUESTION: Well, I spoke to one of them, and he's still working here. And he reminds me that he was blindfolded. So your ability to get information, you know, might be hampered by the way they were treated, by the way they were blindfolded. Is this so exceptional a situation that you will attempt to talk directly to the Iranians about this -- not about other things, but to own up and tell us the facts?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think what we will do, Barry, as a government, we will do our best to establish the facts with people here in the United States, including the hostages. As for the Iranian Government we have, as I have just said, we believe that they have an obligation to speak definitively about the matter.

Yes. Anything else on this topic? Teri.

QUESTION: Generally, we pass messages through other countries. Have you done that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no information. If there is something in that regard that we can share with you I will let you know.

Anything else on this topic? Okay. Joel.

QUESTION: This morning a food freighter with tsunami relief was hijacked off of Kenya. Do you have any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no information on that, no. Anne.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Joe DeTrani's visit to New York? Are there now, indeed, some sideline meetings scheduled with the North Koreans around this conference that he's attending?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me run through a little bit -- update you on the -- about New York as well as repeat a little bit of what I said yesterday. U.S. Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Joseph DeTrani, and Office of Korean Affairs Director James Foster are attending a conference in New York hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. It's an academic conference. I think Mr. DeTrani went to the last one of these. I think it was last August. And officials from governments of some of the other parties to the six-party talks, as well as others, are attending this conference, including from North Korea. As I said yesterday, no meetings are scheduled between the U.S. and North Korean officials outside the context of the conference proceedings. They will be at the conference in the room at the same time. Last night, there was a social event connected with the conference and the conference itself begins today. But what I said yesterday stands -- no meetings scheduled between the two sides and that still holds today.

QUESTION: How does that square with the New York Times report today?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. You'll have to talk to the New York Times about where -- who they were hearing that from.

QUESTION: But maybe -- is 'scheduled' the wrong word? I mean, do you anticipate that there will be any sort of ex parte contact between U.S. officials and North Korean officials on the sidelines of this conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, last night there was a social event, which -- I believe Mr. DeTrani was there, as well as the other people attending the conference. There is nothing that I would characterize anything last night as a meeting. There are no meetings scheduled as part of this conference and, again, we are still waiting to hear a definitive word on North Korea that they will return to the talks. We encourage them to do so.

QUESTION: Sean, may I follow up on this? Forgive me if I missed this in the 10 seconds while I was walking over here. But yesterday you said no meetings or exchanges. I want to make sure that is still the position, that you're not going to have Li Gun and Jim Foster or Mark DeTrani sit down on a couch together and chat, even if you don't construe that to be a meeting because it's inside the conference room?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are no meetings -- there are no meetings, substantive interactions scheduled.

QUESTION: Okay, and then secondly, did you detail, while I was out of the room, who was at the social gathering last night? Did it include Mr. Li Gun?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe he was there. I don't have a complete guest list. This is a dinner and conference that are being organized by others and they can -- I don't have the guest list for you. You can check with the conference organizers to see who was there. There were others from the conference there. There were more than just Mr. DeTrani and Li Gun.

QUESTION: Was it -- I had heard about it yesterday and I heard yesterday that it was going to be the six members of the six-party talks. Was that who was at the meeting -- at dinner or was it a much bigger thing of everybody at the conference getting in?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have the total guest list. I don't know who all attended this thing, but this is not -- if, in fact, there are representatives from all the six-party talks who were actually at the dinner, which I can't confirm for you, this is not a case of a rose by another name; this is a social event.

QUESTION: Got it. Just to understand, Li Gun was there and DeTrani and Foster were there? You said Li Gun was there, but were our guys there --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Foster, I'm not sure if he was there. Mr. DeTrani was there.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question. was there any -- there was no contact whatsoever between --

MR. MCCORMACK: I wasn't there, you know, I don't know if they were in the same room together. I don't know any details of what happened at the dinner. But what I said yesterday still stands: No meetings, no meetings scheduled, and no meetings, substantive exchanges scheduled.

QUESTION: But it is possible there are some incidental contact when she was --

MR. MCCORMACK: This was a social event and I have no indication of anything beyond -- that this was an event other than a social event.

QUESTION: But -- that there were no substantive exchanges at a social event. We're all aware that people can talk substance at social events.

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no indications that this was anything other than a social event.

QUESTION: With no substantive interaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I was not there. I haven't talked to Mr. De Trani. I have nothing to indicate that it was anything other than a social event.

QUESTION: Okay, but if you haven't talked to Mr. De Trani, then how do you know it was nothing other than a social event? I'm sorry but did somebody else talk to him and report it back? Or we just talked about --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have -- talking to people in the Bureau.

Yes. Any other questions on this matter?

QUESTION: Japan media is reporting that North Korea has started rebuilding two nuclear reactors that were stopped in 1994. What is your response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: The North Korean Government has said previously that they intended to take this action. This is one of those areas where I can't comment on intelligence matters. So I don't have anything to offer, anything further to offer with regard to that report.

Yeah. Over here.

QUESTION: Change the subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Anything else on that? OK.

QUESTION: There are reports that today saying that two Israeli soldiers have been killed and one injured during the Palestinian shooting attack on Israeli troops operating in Nablus. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen these reports and I understand that they're actually conflicting reports with respect to this matter, so I think that it's fair to say, at this point, that Israeli officials, Palestinian officials are working to clarify this matter. We have been in contact with Palestinian officials as well, seeking to get all the facts. So I wouldn't -- I can't confirm the description of any possible events that you have given. I think, just as a general point, I would add that we encourage all sides to make every effort to fight terror, including the Palestinian Authority to ensure that they work to fight terror and to fight violence as well, to refrain from any violent actions.

Yes, Anne.

QUESTION: The former Kyrgyz President Akayev had an interview outside Moscow today with the AP in which he says that the United States engineered his ouster in part because of what he says is U.S. displeasure over his pro-Russian policies. Can you comment on this and say whether, in fact, the United States did view him in some way as pro-Russian and whether that was a problem.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen -- I have not seen this interview. I have not seen his comments, would hesitate to make any comment without having seen what he has said. But I'm not aware of any facts that would substantiate that. But I have not seen --

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any involvement at all in his ouster?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen his comments so I'm not going to comment definitively on something that I have not seen, or the context of his comments.

QUESTION: Well, that's a slightly different question, but did the U.S. have anything to do with his ousting?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I said is that I know of no facts that would substantiate that. But again, I have not seen his comments, I've not seen the context of his comments.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: Thank you.


(This briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB # 112

Released on June 30, 2005


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