State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 30, 2005
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 30, 2005
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
August 30, 2005
Statement on status of U.S. Passport office in New Orlean in
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Offers of overseas assistance in wake of Hurricane
Rhode Island court case / Freeze of Palestinian assets / No U.S.
briefs filed in case
Obligations under the Roadmap / Dismantling of terrorist groups
Six-Party talks / Host China taking lead on scheduling next round
Representatives Lantos and Leach trip to North Korea /
Department's involvement in Congressional trips
Jesse Jackson on private trip / Chavez statement to resume
cooperation on counternarcotics / Programs to increase mutual
understanding / Return to robust cooperation in various areas
Arrests related to Hariri assassination investigation / UN
investigator Mehlis's progress / Syrian compliance with UN
Security Council Resolution 1559
MOROCCO / ALGERIA
US efforts to continue positive work of Sen. Lugar / Success with
Visa for Iranian President update
U.S. support for EU-3 efforts / U.S. waiting to see IAEA report
Work on Millennium Summit document on terrorism / Ambassador
Bolton's working relationship with Permanent Representatives
Hospitalization of President Rugova in U.S. military facility in Germany
Ambassador Khalizad's meetings
CRS report on Arms Transfers / Arms Export Control Act / Arms
embargo on China
1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have a brief opening statement concerning the status of our New Orleans Passport Agency. We have all witnessed the devastation suffered by Americans across the hurricane hit, Gulf Coast region. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we express particular concern today for those who work at the New Orleans Passport Agency and their families. They're part of the State Department operation. Their safety and welfare is our primary concern and first priority. We are striving to learn more about our people as well as the agency itself.
Our agency in New Orleans is a critical part of our passport production infrastructure, processing about 17 percent of our nation's passport applications. As with many other government facilities in the region, it is at this time closed until a damage assessment can be completed and any remediation activities taken. However, we are working urgently to address workload concerns by rerouting new cases to other locations and tracking those cases that are currently in New Orleans. For additional information, please call our National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 or refer to our website at Travel.State.gov. And we'll be putting this out in paper form, so you can all refer to it. And that's all I have -- be happy to go into questions. Mr. Gedda.
Let's start with George.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the storm?
QUESTION: Is there a storm question? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to let Mr. Gedda mediate this.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the court-ordered freeze of Palestinian assets in the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: There was a question yesterday about this case. My understanding is that there is a Rhode Island -- a judgment in a Rhode Island court. We are aware of this lawsuit as well as the $116 million default judgment that resulted. We are not party to the lawsuit and, therefore, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on the exact status of the lawsuit. I understand that there are possible appeals involved in the lawsuit. It stems from a terrorist attack in which -- that we believe was perpetrated by Hamas in which several people lost their lives, one of whom was an American citizen. So there was this court case in Rhode Island and this judgment was rendered. It is an ongoing -- it is a matter, ongoing judicial matter. So from that standpoint, I can't offer any other comment on the particular aspects of the case.
QUESTION: But are you doing anything to help the Palestinians unfreeze some of this money?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, there is still an appeal or potential appeals that are ongoing. In terms of what injunctions there are against the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian Authority assets, that I think the Palestinian Authority or their representatives or perhaps the lawyers for the claimants would be a better position to describe exactly what status there are regarding any claims, any injunctions. Because I don't believe that there are any assets that have been seized at this point.
QUESTION: Well, it was a freeze, though? Right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you would have to either talk to the court or the parties involved in the lawsuit to determine exactly what the status is of any freeze or any actual seizures.
QUESTION: But have the Palestinians asked the State Department to help them out in any way on this matter?
MR. MCCORMACK: We are aware of the court case, very clearly. We have heard from the Palestinian Authority at a variety of different levels at the State Department on this matter. They've raised it with us. At this point, we do not have any -- we have not filed any briefs as part of this court case and we'll try to keep -- if there are any filings from the U.S. Government, with regard to this court case, I'll try to keep you apprised of those.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new on the six-party talks and the possible resumption of them on September 12th? And what's going on with the New York channel? Has there been another meeting whether it be via telephone, in person, letter, fax, whatever?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Nothing new on the six-party talks. The Chinese Government as the host of the talks is really the party responsible for working on a bilateral basis with the other five members of the six-party talks in terms of what date is mutually convenient to set the talks. So it's not a matter of any contact through the New York channel between the U.S. and North Korea to work out a date for the talks, it's the Chinese as hosts that work on setting that date. Now, I understand that those efforts are ongoing. They continue with the -- we've heard the week of September 12th as a possible date. We are certainly prepared to return September 12th. We would urge return at the earliest possible date and continue to urge all parties to get back, resume this round of negotiations and to engage in a constructive manner.
QUESTION: Did you get any more information on my question of yesterday, whether the North Koreans informed the United States through the New York channel that they would not be returning on the 29th -- this week?
MR. MCCORMACK: Two things on this. First, I have to emphasize that it is the Chinese Government that, as the host of the talks, is the responsible party for setting the date, after working bilaterally with the other members of the six-party talks. I think last week we talked a little bit about some New York channel contact. We did have an indication via the New York channel that North Korea might seek to return, resume negotiations in the six-party talks, at some date later than the week of August 29th. But again, any official word about when the discussions would resume come from the Chinese.
QUESTION: I understand. Did they indicate at that time that it was due to these -- the reasons that we discussed yesterday?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's really all I have for you on this.
Go ahead. New topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, new topic.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back to you.
QUESTION: Oh, no. Sorry, same topic.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask on the statement you made on Katrina typhoon which strikes so badly Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. Any help from abroad so far? I mean humanitarian. Anything you are aware of?
MR. MCCORMACK: I am not in the position to answer that question. Maybe the folks at FEMA or local officials in the areas affected would be in a better position. But I know that certainly there's a national, U.S. national coordination effort ongoing which assets from different parts of the United States are flowing to that part of our country.
QUESTION: Did the --
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of overseas, overseas assistance, I think other officials would be in a better position to answer that.
QUESTION: For example, did the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice receive any telephone calls from her colleagues from abroad vis-à-vis to this (inaudible) issue? It's a devastation.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any such calls.
Okay. Teri and then Peter.
QUESTION: On North Korea. Do you have any comment on the trip that Representatives Lantos and Leach are making now to Pyongyang? Did you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I've seen the news reports.
QUESTION: Okay. Did they get briefed by the State Department in advance? Is there any message that they'd be taking from this building, trying to talk them into coming back earlier than the 12th? Anything like that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- yeah, we urge all the parties, including North Korea, to return at the earliest date to the table. There are, on occasion, congressional, individual trips made by members of Congress to North Korea. Representative Weldon has traveled there in the past. These are trips that they take at their own discretion. We provide appropriate assistance in some of these cases. And certainly we are always open to discussions with members of Congress and their staffs concerning important foreign policy issues, including North Korea. I'm not aware of any particular briefings that were done in preparation for this trip.
QUESTION: Do you expect it to be useful?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, these are trips that are taken by members of Congress. It's their decision to take these trips. I refer you to their offices for any discussion about their trips.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I continue on the subject of envoys? What do you think of Jesse Jackson going to Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's a private citizen and free to travel.
QUESTION: But clearly -- he's there saying that he's trying to bridge the gap between the two governments and ease tensions. And while there, he says that Chavez has agreed to resume cooperation on drugs -- on counternarcotics and perhaps send oil. Do you have any reaction to these developments? Is it confirmed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of, you know, we do have an Embassy in Venezuela. We have daily contact with the Venezuelan people, Venezuelan NGOs, civil society groups as well as the Venezuelan Government. And on the issue of cooperation on fighting the production, transport of illicit drugs, certainly we would welcome a resumption of our once strong cooperative efforts in the fight against illegal narcotics. We had a variety of different areas in which we worked. We had programs, cooperation between the DEA and the Venezuelan Government and we would certainly welcome a return to the cooperation, which at one point was quite strong.
QUESTION: But you haven't heard through diplomatic channels that this is, indeed, the case that Chavez will resume the cooperation?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. We have not, no.
QUESTION: Do you think that citizen exchanges -- well, not exchanges but citizen visits, citizen contact like this, might be a helpful tool in the current relationship with Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Reverend Jackson is a private citizen who's free to travel. That aside, certainly we have emphasized with respect to Venezuela as well as other countries around the world, it is important that societies develop good understandings about their neighbors and other countries around the world, different cultures, different histories, different practices. And that's something that we do through our educational exchange programs. We have programs where we bring government officials, journalists, private citizens to the United States to see more of the United States and better understand us and our values. And certainly we have many private citizens that travel abroad and certainly that only helps to increase mutual understanding.
QUESTION: A follow-up to Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. McCormack. Venezuelan President, already he said he's going to continue working together with the U.S. in the fight against drug trafficking, what those remarks are saying to you?
And I have a second one on the remarks of OAS General Secretary made in Venezuela yesterday. He said that the U.S. should attend the extradition request of Posada Carilles. Those remarks are in the frame of a common position of the OAS members which the U.S. is part of them, or do you have any comments on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything on the issue of extradition beyond what I said yesterday. And specifically, there are some areas of cooperation in fighting drugs that we would like to see reinstated, including: Venezuelan cooperation with the DEA; allowing the National Guard to rejoin the Prosecutors Drug Task Force; sharing information on illicit aviation and maritime traffic and interdicting such trafficking; disrupting narcoterrorists groups inside Venezuelan territory; implementing anti-money laundering efforts; targeting drug-related corruption; improving border inspections at major crossing points from Colombia and eradicating opium poppy fields.
So there's a lot to do and certainly we would welcome a return to a previously robust cooperation. And I've outlined some of the areas where we would hope to see the return to that cooperation. So if it is, in fact, the stated intention of the Government of Venezuela to resume that strong cooperation, we'd welcome it and I've outlined a few areas where we could start.
QUESTION: Will you be following up to the Embassy on --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure the people in our Embassy are in daily contact on these matters in Venezuela.
Anything else on Venezuela? Peter. Finally getting back to you.
QUESTION: Lebanon. Do you have any reaction to the arrests in the Hariri assassination out of Lebanon, and especially whether or not it hardens up your feeling about whether or not Syria was directly involved?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that this is still an ongoing investigation. There have been some arrests and some further requests to speak with individuals in Lebanon, and I believe that the UN is also going to have an update on the activities of Mr. Mehlis' investigation. I think that'll be coming out of New York, I think, and that's the appropriate place for it to come from, as it is a UN investigation.
But I think as a general statement, the Lebanese people deserve to know what happened. This was a terrible moment for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. But out of that terrible moment, the Lebanese people came together and, as a result, they are on the pathway to reclaiming their future, a future free from occupation. And what we have called upon the Syrian Government to do is to comply fully with Resolution 1559. They've withdrawn their troops but we still have continuing concerns about the presence of Syrian operatives in Lebanon. And so we think that part of allowing Lebanon and the Lebanese people to move forward is determining what happened and who was involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and that's -- Mr. Mehlis is trying to get to the bottom of that. And in trying to get to the bottom of it, these arrests, as well as these further questionings are part of that effort. We welcome that effort.
Okay. If we move around. Okay. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: It's about Lebanon.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Okay. It's about a report the European Union released regarding the May 15th Ethiopian election.
MR. MCCORMACK: The May 15th, which election?
QUESTION: The Ethiopian election. TheEuropean Union criticized the Ethiopian election. The report indicates voter intimidation, unnecessarily delaying vote counting and assassination of opponents and other witnesses. Do you have anything to say to on that? What's your reaction?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get to you an update on the issue of the Ethiopian election process.
QUESTION: There are some reports in Morocco that the United States is involved in a little bit of diplomatic work in trying to get Morocco's King together with the Algerian President. Do you have any insight into what's going on there? And apparently, this is -- there's a drive to get a summit on U.S. soil, bringing the two together. France and Spain, apparently, didn't have much success in pulling this off.
MR. MCCORMACK: The return of the prisoners, which occurred as part of Senator Lugar's presidential mission, was a positive development and it removed a longstanding issue between the governments of Morocco and Algeria. And what we would hope is that the two governments can build on this positive development to resolve outstanding issues between the two of them. There are a number of different issues that go back a ways between the two countries. We will certainly continue to do our part to help the two of them come to the point where they can talk about these issues and even move forward on resolving them.
As for the particular diplomatic activities of our Embassy, I don't have any updates for you in that regard. But we will do everything as appropriate and as needed and requested by the two parties to help them build on the positive development, the return of these prisoners.
QUESTION: But are you close to having a summit or hosting a summit in the United States for them to get together?
MR. MCCORMACK: If there are any further developments on that, anything happening here, we'll try to keep you updated on those.
QUESTION: Iran -- changing the subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Iran?
QUESTION: Yes. Any new developments regarding the visa for Iran's President? Is there any possibility from the U.S. Government to refuse his entry visa, even though that there is an agreement, host-country agreement between United States and United Nations?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything to add to what the President has said on this topic. We have received a request for the visa or we're looking at it, and we'll try to keep you updated on any developments.
QUESTION: The United Nations. There are talks going on now trying to get this document ready for the Millennium Summit, and I guess there was a four-hour meeting yesterday. Can you talk about how they're moving along on this draft document and if Ambassador Bolton is happy with the progress?
MR. MCCORMACK: There is a lot of hard work going on up at the UN Headquarters, as well as the U.S. mission to the UN. The process that they're going through now I think is taking the work that they have done and -- in a way sort of disaggregating it. You know, taking the separate issues, like development, like working on terrorism, working on UN reform, and getting together separate working groups on all of those issues, so that countries that have an interest or an equity in those issues are able to work together on all those issues.
Anytime you have a multilateral negotiation, and especially one of this size, in which you have a large number of countries interested in all of the given topics, you have to go at it hammer and tong and that's what, I think, Ambassador Bolton is doing with our team up at the UN. And I think that there's a seriousness of purpose on the part of all the parties involved, and they know the deadline. They have the summit coming up. Right now I don't have any particular progress report on any of those given areas, but I know that they're working hard on it.
QUESTION: You can't talk about the language on terrorism, for example?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a couple of different things going on with terrorism. We're working within the Security Council on some language with regard to terrorism. Then, there is also the Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism, so that's a separate General Assembly document. I think on both of those areas, we're working with our partners in the Security Council and then in the General Assembly, countries that are interested in that effort. I don't have a detailed state of play for you, where they are, how close they are to completing work. But it's one that we're very interested in. I know that there are other countries very interested in this effort, for instance, like the United Kingdom. So we're working hard on it and I don't have a particular state of play for you right now.
QUESTION: From what you can tell us, despite all the discussion before he got there, does Ambassador Bolton seem to be settling in with a good working relationship with all the other ambassadors?
MR. MCCORMACK: From what I've heard, yes. I think he's working well with his fellow Permanent Representatives up there and he is doing exactly the job that the President and the Secretary of State want him to do.
QUESTION: Not all 190?
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter). Not all 190. Even John Bolton can't do that.
QUESTION: And you think -- you think the document will be ready by Friday? That's the stated goal.
MR. MCCORMACK: We shall see. Everybody knows what the deadline is.
QUESTION: On Kosovo? The so-called President of Kosovo-Serbia, Ibrahim Rugova, is hospitalized in a U.S. military base in Germany. I'm wondering do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: On Saturday, August 27th, President Rugova traveled to the U.S. Army Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany for consultations. The United States military facilitated his travel there. And any questions about his health, I think, would be best addressed to his spokesman.
QUESTION: On Turkey. Regarding the recent trip to Ankara by Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza did --
MR. MCCORMACK: He'll be very disappointed that you have demoted him. (Laughter).
QUESTION: But in my conscience, he is Assistant Secretary. Did you find anything on the issue of PKK since you told us yesterday that he had good meetings with Turkish officials?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any updates for you.
QUESTION: And one more after this --
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's move it around.
QUESTION: It's the same subject. Did Mr. Bryza discuss also with Cyprus, Israel, since he's in charge for the European Affairs? And specifically, for Cyprus, with Turkish officials?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: You're welcome. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: On Iraq. Ambassador Khalilzad has met today with Sunni -- Iraqi Sunni's figure al-Dulaimi. Do you have anything on this meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any updates for you on his meetings. I think, on any given day Ambassador Khalilzad has a number of different meetings with different political leaders and civil society leaders in Iraq, and I think that he would be in the best position to give you an update on his meetings on any given day.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: You may have to take this one, Sean, but the parliament of Zimbabwe has approved some constitutional amendments. Critics of the Mugabe government contend that some of the provisions would allow the government to crackdown on domestic dissidents, take away passports and things like that. And I just wondered if you had any reflection on it.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have to get back to you on that particular question.
QUESTION: Sean, if I could just ask one on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Because also they approved a measure, I think, that would allow them to take away the land of white farmers without appeal, right? I think they approved that one today, too. So can I just add that to that mix?
MR. MCCORMACK: You can pile on.
QUESTION: Okay, pile on.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Mr. Burns, Nick Burns, had a meeting with a Japanese official yesterday afternoon, actually late afternoon, Mr. Nishida. I'm wondering if you have anything to tell us about the meeting, what issues they discussed yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't talk to Under Secretary Burns about any of his meetings that he had yesterday.
QUESTION: Can you check and let us know?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll see what I can find out for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Interior has announced today that it will not allow any groups to be armed after Gaza disengagement and it called all the groups to be part of the Palestinian National Army. How do you assess this position?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen that particular statement, but what we have said repeatedly is that all the parties have obligations under the roadmap and the Sharm el-Sheikh Accords. Part of the Palestinian Authority's responsibility is to prevent terrorist attacks and dismantle terror networks. We have also talked about the fact that and the importance of in any democratic society or emerging democracy or any area that aspires to be a democracy, you have to have one authority, one gun, one rule, and that's something that President Abbas has talked about.
And as for, you know, terrorist organizations like Hamas, we have made it very clear what our views are. And in terms of how the Palestinians define their way forward in their political environment, that's going to be for them to say.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on President Chirac's tougher approach toward Iran on these nuclear talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that he is echoing in public what the EU-3 has told Iran in private, they've also made public statements about it, and that is that they cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, which is what they're trying to do. And we have -- we support the efforts of the EU-3 to resolve these issues with Iran. We encourage Iran to reengage with the EU-3 and not only reengage but take the deal that has been offered them. It's a good deal.
There are also ongoing questions with respect to the IAEA. We encourage the Iranian Government to work with the IAEA to resolve those questions. There is a whole long list of them. And at the moment, we are waiting to see the report that the IAEA is due to prepare and distribute to Board of Governors members on September 3rd about the state of their investigation of Iran's nuclear program. We look forward to seeing that report.
QUESTION: Sean, there's a new report out today about weapons sales in the world, that the United States is still the largest seller of weapons in the world, I think about a third, including about a third to developing countries. Isn't the United States policy to discourage weapons sales to areas in potential conflict, and how does this square with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We, the United States, we treat our arms transfers as a very serious national security and a foreign policy matter. There is a very rigorous set of rules and regulations and laws that govern the transfer of armaments. And every U.S. arms transfer is evaluated for its impact on regional stability, our international commitments and other important foreign policy interests, including human rights. As I said, there are certain laws that govern these transactions, one of which is the Arms Export Control Act. And arms transfers over $14 million are approved only after notification to Congress. We also have a number of important pre-approval and post-shipment programs to ensure that our defense exports go only to the intended parties and are used only for the purposes authorized.
I think that you will find this program's scope and the manner in which it's implemented unique around the world. And just as we exercise restraint in our own transfers, we encourage restraint by other countries, including the EU, in considering its -- reconsidering its decision to lift the arms -- its arms embargo on China.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)
DPB # 149
Released on August 30, 2005