State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 8, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
September 8, 2005
NATO Serving as Clearing House for Hurricane Assistance from NATO Countries
Assistance in Moving Donated Items into US
Mexican Overland Convoy Cross Border to Assist in Hurricane
Information Provided to Embassies and Consulates on Hurricane Response
VENEZUELA / CUBA
Various Venezuelan Offers of Hurricane Assistance / Cash Offers
Through Citgo / Increased Shipments of Gasoline to US
Status of Hurricane Aid Offer From Cuba
Opinion of Egyptian People Regarding Elections Most Important
Issue of International Election Monitors
Allegation of Polling Irregularities
SYRIA / LEBANON
Secretary to Discuss Lebanon and Security Council Resolution 1559 at UN
US Seeking International Support for Lebanon / Discussions to Continue
Investigation into Assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri Ongoing
ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
Gaza Withdrawal Process / Commitments Under Roadmap
Dismissal of Cabinet / US to Watch Events Unfold
Six Party Talks / US Delegation Preparing Return to Beijing /
Statement of Principles
Humanitarian Transition and Reconstruction Activities / USAID
Assistance Comprehensive Support of Peace Agreement
Iraqi Political Process / Increase in Number of Registered Voters
Issue of Draft Constitution /Discussions Ongoing
1:30 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements, so I'd be happy to jump right into questions. I'm sure you have a few. I guess not. The one day you don't have questions.
QUESTION: Nothing terribly specific. But will there be an updated list, do you think, today?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get you an updated list.
QUESTION: Okay. And we've been asked -- it's just a parochial question about NATO. Can you tell us roughly what NATO's role in this process is?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. NATO has been involved in this process for about a week. And that's a rough timeframe.
MR. MCCORMACK: The function that they are serving right now is a coordination function. The Emergency Action Committee was activated last week. And what they are doing is a function of going out to the various NATO countries, serving as a -- and serving as a clearinghouse for both messages going out and incoming offers of assistance, saying, yes, we can provide X number of items. So that is the function that they have been performing. You know, we gave the example of, you know, MREs or water or other types of equipment. So they are sort of a clearinghouse for those various capabilities and responses from NATO member countries.
There is also now just this morning our Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, talked to fellow members of NATO a little bit about assisting with some of the logistics of moving -- moving these donations across the Atlantic to the United States. It's an issue that is currently under consideration and I expect that we'll hear back formally from NATO as an organization very soon within the next day or so.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you hoping that this help with logistics will kind of break some of the logjams that there have been in getting aid up from some of the European donors?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, one of -- the reason for this particular request is there are a number of different offers of assistance from NATO countries and some of these offers are based -- you know, these offers are all based on needs, but they're based on capabilities and resources and other factors. Some are larger, some are smaller. All are appreciated.
For some of the smaller offers of assistance, if you have a consolidated lift capacity, whether that's air lift or sea lift, it allows you to consolidate some of the smaller donations that might require an individual aircraft or an individual ship that might not be full and allows you to put several smaller shipments onto one aircraft or one ship and get them here in an efficient manner. It's really a matter of efficiency.
Yeah. Anything else on this?
QUESTION: On the relief effort.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Okay. Great.
QUESTION: Now the first time in maybe in the (inaudible) in the relation between U.S. and Mexico, Mexican troops were allowed to come across the border to deliver some help. Does it means maybe that there is that better understanding between both countries? And soon we can see the same thing by perhaps having maybe American troops visiting Mexico to provide relief in case of disasters, et cetera?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I certainly am not going to try to predict future actions and we certainly don't wish any future disasters on Mexico or the Mexican people, but I would say simply that this is a, you know, a material demonstration of the close relationship that we have with Mexico. We again ask questions here on occasion about, you know, difficulties in the U.S.-Mexican relationship and any relationship, especially when you're this close, when you're such close neighbors, there are going always -- there are always going to be issues to resolve. But, you know, the point is that we always resolve them in a respectful manner and in a transparent manner and it is very heartening when the United States is in a time of need that our good friends and neighbors in Mexico respond with a very generous offer. I think the fact that this is an overland convoy is symbolic of that close relationship and we very much appreciate the Mexican people and the Mexican Government coming to the aid of those who need it in the effected areas.
QUESTION: And the American -- the Mexican soldiers are going to be allowed to go maybe to provide relief in areas where Mexican population is living here?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any details on that. And as far as I know, this is just -- they're part of the transportation convoy. As for how the aid gets distributed on the ground, I think the folks at DHS and FEMA or DoD would be in a better position to answer that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the offer from Cuba to send several thousands of -- about a thousand doctors?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, nothing new on that. Yes.
QUESTION: Sean, there are many foreign citizens who, by now, have gone back home and they tell their press some horror stories about their time in the Superdome in New Orleans. There have been numerous articles in the British press. So, the pictures painted of the United States these days are not particularly flattering. I wonder if you're instructing your embassies overseas to do something to explain to people what happened, why it happened, what's being done to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
MR. MCCORMACK: What we're trying to do is what we do in every case, and that is to provide our embassies and our people around the world the facts and the information, as we know them, to help explain what it is that people are seeing on their television sets, that they're reading in their newspapers, that they're seeing on the internet, to try to provide some context as to what actions we are taking to try to dispel any sort of myths and rumors out there.
I know one of them that has been talked about quite a bit is the fact that some people think that the response to coming to the aid of some of the victims in New Orleans and other areas was based on something, you know, along class lines or along racial lines. And Secretary Rice has spoken to this issue, I think, quite eloquently. And you know, what we try to do with our embassies is to get the information out to them so that they can speak to these issues, trying to dispel some of these myths, and try to focus people on what the real issue here is, and that is trying to come to the aid of those in need.
QUESTION: Can we change to the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's check. Is there anything else on this?
QUESTION: I just want to follow up the Cuba question. When you said you had nothing, does that mean that the U.S. is still evaluating the Cuba request and the Venezuela request also? Are they in that category of being -- do we have (inaudible) already?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Venezuela offers of assistance, that's a separate issue. There is an extended discussion on the issue of Cuba and their public offer of doctors coming to the United States. My response is meant to indicate there's no change or update to the situation from when I talked about it just two days.
QUESTION: And Venezuela -- sorry -- separately?
MR. MCCORMACK: Venezuela, there are a number of different offers of assistance. I believe that they have made some cash donations through their subsidiary, Citgo, and there are also, I believe, intentions on the part of their national oil company, through Citgo, to ship more refined gasoline product to the United States. But I have to point out that that is -- that the sales of that gasoline product will be based on whatever the market prices are. It's just they're making more gasoline available on the market, but the sales will be commercial sales at whatever the market price is.
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie?
QUESTION: Does the Cuba offer -- and I understand what you've said so far -- but does it still come in the category of Secretary Rice as saying no offer will be refused? Is it still open?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, a couple things just to revisit. One, we have -- in our official exchanges with the Cuban Government, we have received a general offer of assistance, as we talked about two days ago. They're -- in public, the Castro government has made this offer of doctors. I've talked about where we stand with regard to the robust response from our health care providers in the United States and the fact that we will continue to look at what the needs are out there and if there are offers or capabilities on the international side that can best fill those needs, certainly, we'll take advantage of those.
But there's no change in terms of the status of considering any of the offers beyond those which we have provided you and the list -- we tried to do the daily update.
QUESTION: Did you officially answer Cuba? Did you give your answer to Cuba officially? Because they say they still for your --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a general offer of assistance. As for the offer of these physicians, that was something that was done in public through the press.
QUESTION: But Mr. Thomas said yesterday that all offers have been answered.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I'll check with you specifically if there was a reply to the general offer of assistance.
QUESTION: Two questions not really related. The first one is about Egyptian election. Are you satisfied with the matters that the Egyptians voted yesterday, among allegations from Ayman Nour over that party, that it was not transparent and he asked for a revote? And the second question, I'll ask you after that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the most important opinion is the opinion of the Egyptian people, as to how they saw their elections unfold. We talked a little bit yesterday about the fact that this was an historic departure for the Egyptian people in holding a multi-candidate presidential election. I mentioned the fact that it was probably unlike any other election that the Egyptian people had seen in their lifetimes and that this, the debate, that during the campaign process was something, I think, that will enrich the Egyptian political dialogue, certainly for years to come. And I think that in terms of how the process unfolded, the Egyptian security services showed discipline in ensuring safety and security among the citizens and that there was an atmosphere of relative calm during the election day.
That said, there were issues, first among them was that despite the urgings of many in the international community, including the United States, Egypt chose not to invite international monitors. There was also a decision very late in the game to allow some form of domestic monitoring. The fact that that decision came so late, it didn't allow for a more organized effort in terms of monitoring the elections. And I think that while the other candidates in the presidential election did have access to media, I think that there were certainly some reports that they didn't have quite the same -- there wasn't quite equal access to the media. And again, yesterday there were reports of some irregularities at polling places in terms of campaign posters or t-shirts being seen at the actual polling place and a variety of other issues.
So again, I think the vote count is still ongoing. We don't have the final results yet. But what we hope is that the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people can build upon this positive first step in holding this multi-candidate presidential election and build on the positive experiences, the positive actions in this election, as they look towards parliamentary elections in the fall time and look to addressing some of those issues that I mentioned that were less positive.
QUESTION: So do you think his accusations are not valid or would you wait until Saturday when the actual results come out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think that we'll wait until we have a chance to sit back and do a full analysis of the election period. I think I've gone through a list of many positive aspects as well as some of the aspects that there have been critical reports about during the election process. And what I think is important as -- once the results are announced is that the Egyptian people move forward, build on this experience, this process, as they look forward to their parliamentary elections in the fall time.
QUESTION: Another matter that's --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. All right. We'll come back, Barry.
QUESTION: So do you -- despite all of these issues, you don't think there was anything to question or put under any doubt the actual outcome of the election? Whatever the results are --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know --
QUESTION: -- you will accept the results?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have the results of the election. So once we have the results of the election --
QUESTION: That's really -- what I'm saying is did anything happen yesterday during the voting process that, for example, like it did in Zimbabwe, that you think would make those results not valid or questionable?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we haven't done a full analysis of the election day and the election process. I've offered some preliminary comments here about the election period as well as election day. We will wait to see the final outcome of the election when all the votes are tallied and then, I think, we'll have some more comments concerning the election.
QUESTION: When you talk about reports, could I assume that you wouldn't mention a report if you didn't think there was something to them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think, you know, these are reports that we have seen in the media, Barry. I think that we have our own observations to make based on our people on the ground watching events. And I think that since there are news organizations that see fit to publish many of these reports as well as looking at our own reporting that they're certainly worth mentioning.
QUESTION: Could I ask you about Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Egypt?
QUESTION: It's now clear that President Assad is not going to the UN and the Secretary is still planning, I assume, a large session with Middle Eastern and European leaders, basically, about Syria's behavior. Can you say whether any Syrians will be invited? And what can you tell us about Lebanese officials? It's supposed to be a more independent government but it's not entirely yet. All the members of the government are not independent particularly.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we will -- in terms of the Secretary's activities up at the UN, we'll provide you a more detailed public account of her schedule up there. I expect, certainly, that she will talk about issues related to Lebanon and issues related to UN Security Council 1559, issues related to the Middle East, including the process that's ongoing between the Israelis and the Palestinians now, as well as a variety of other issues.
So, you know, on the issue of Lebanon, you mentioned, we are always looking for ways to build international support for Lebanon as it makes its way forward, having just emerged from two decades under the shadow of Syrian occupation. So I think that we will continue those discussions. They're discussions that we've had over the past months since Syrian military troops have made a withdrawal from Lebanon. And we'll, I'm sure, talk to other interested parties, including the French, about those issues.
QUESTION: There was some reports that, actually, the President is going to exclude the Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, from a reception at the UN for the leaders who's going to be there. Have you seen these reports?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the reports. And as for White House events, I'm going to turn you over to the White House.
QUESTION: I wasn't quite sure if you were the right person to answer, but it's always worth asking.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
Peter Mackler, welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. On another aspect of the Middle East, on the Quartet meeting that's going to be on the 20th, can you give us some idea what is going to be the purpose of that meeting; and specifically, are you going to try to sort of turn the page on Gaza and move it more towards implementing the roadmap, which you've been talking about for a couple weeks now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, there are -- first of all, as for the Secretary's public schedule, we'll keep folks updated on that. But I expect that she'll get together and talk about issues related to the Israeli and Palestinian issues. There have been a variety of envoy level meetings that David Welch has attended over the past months. I think the last one was in Cairo. And I think that certainly the UN provides a good opportunity at the ministerial level for the Quartet to get together.
As for the agenda that they will discuss, we'll try to keep you up to date and better informed on that as we get closer to an actual meeting. There are a variety of different issues related to Gaza withdrawal that I expect that they will talk about. The withdrawal process still isn't complete yet. I expect that they'll also talk about Mr. Wolfensohn's work in working -- in terms of the, you know, economic issues related to Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal. There are a number of different issues in terms of crossings, in terms of the links -- the transport links between the West Bank and Gaza that are still to be resolved and still an issue for discussion between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In terms of the roadmap and Sharm El-Sheikh, certainly we have in public urged the parties to use a positive withdrawal experience and to build on the trust and confidence that has been built up to reenergize the roadmap, reenergize progress on the roadmap. All -- both parties have responsibilities in those regards and they know what those are and we're going to continue the process of working with them to help them fulfill their commitments under the roadmap as well as under the Sharm El-Sheikh understandings.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I'm sure you've been in contact with, obviously, the other members of the Quartet just over all the weeks and stuff. Do you think that the time is ripe now to make a move more specifically onto the roadmap issues or do you think we still need to resolve and let ventilate the issues from Gaza and have a sort of a cooling-off period?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what we need to do first is complete the Gaza withdrawal process, which has not been completed. It's still an ongoing process. Thus far, it has been an extraordinarily good process, I think, in terms of both sides working together to see that it moves forward in a positive way and to work out some very difficult issue. There are still tough issues ahead of both parties related to Gaza. But I think that there's a commitment on both sides to try to work through those issues with the assistance of the Quartet, with the assistance of Mr. Wolfensohn and with the assistance of the United States.
And as for the roadmap, again, we have made clear that we would look to both parties to use the positive experience from the withdrawal to reenergize progress on that. And we are going to be in contact with both parties as well as members of the Quartet on issues that come after the roadmap -- come after the Gaza withdrawal.
QUESTION: On Ukraine, Ukraine's President fired his government today, fired his cabinet. Are you concerned that sort of a large political crisis is going to develop in Ukraine? Do you have any comment on the firing of his cabinet?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen the news reports. We're certainly watching the events unfold in Ukraine closely. I think that first off, this is a matter for the Ukrainian people. Young democracies sometimes have changes in government, but as long as those changes are made in a constitutional manner, in a peaceful manner, that's all part of the democratic political process.
I think that we have great confidence that the people of Ukraine will come through these various changes in this process stronger. It's a process of building a stronger democracy. So in terms of what government comes next in Ukraine, that's going to be for the Ukrainian people to decide and their elected leaders to decide.
QUESTION: So do you see this as sort of democracy at work, the fact that this can happen?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is part of the democratic process. It's not always neat.
QUESTION: Changing the subject, please -- Iran. Apparently, the issuing of the visa for President Ahmadi-Nejad has been raised and the host country agreement. You said yesterday, I quote, "We have to take into account our obligations under the Headquarter Agreement." Do you have any intention to reconsider your agreement with United Nations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Are we --
QUESTION: Yes, because the agreement goes back to 60 years ago.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: With the United Nations.
MR. MCCORMACK: So we're --
QUESTION: The host country agreement by the United States -- between United States and United Nations goes back to 60 years ago, before 9/11, before the whole concept of new international terrorism and new concept of nuclear terrorism. Do you have any intention to reconsider your agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not aware of any intention to reconsider that, no.
QUESTION: Has Mr. Mehlis updated Ambassador Bolton in the UN on the investigation in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any particular conversation they may have had about where he stands in the investigation. I think that we have heard certainly the news reports from reporting on Mr. Mehlis' comments as well as comments of others from the UN about where they stand in the investigation. I think we've seen and followed the events in Lebanon over the past couple weeks in terms of various people being questioned, brought in for questioning about the investigation. But it's still an ongoing investigation and I think that the appropriate place for any description of where that investigation stands would be with Mr. Mehlis, so I'm going to defer any comments on it.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Are you considering a new resolution on Syria if it will not cooperate with Mehlis in the investigation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I think 1559 is very clear in terms of all parties' obligations to cooperate with the investigation, including Syria's obligation to cooperate with that investigation. And as for -- do we call upon them to cooperate in a full and complete manner according to the existing resolution, and if they're -- as for any other developments, we'll deal with that at some point in the future. But I am not aware of any plans at this time for anything, new.
QUESTION: The six-party talks. Chinese Government announced them today that (inaudible) resume (inaudible) South Korean response. And how long next session is going on?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. The last one lasted 13 days, so it could go on for some time. We would urge people to make speedy progress, but we're ready to stay there as long as it takes. Ambassador Hill is going to be packing his bags and headed to the region in the near future. So what we want to see is progress at this round of talks and we're ready to stay there as long as it takes to get things done.
QUESTION: Do you have any strong conviction or assurance that you are going to reach some sort of agreement in the next session? Otherwise, you -- probably you will have the same outcome with the last session.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I think the last part of this round of talks, actually, they did make some progress in terms of a statement of principles, coming up with a statement of principles. There's still work to be done to complete a statement of principles that all parties can agree to.
As for progress, that is going to be up to all the six parties and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and to engage in a constructive manner in a negotiating process that leads to, at this point, a statement of principles. So we're ready to do that and we hope that all the other five parties are ready to do that.
QUESTION: Recently -- my question is regarding with the U.S. position. Until up to last year, you have mentioned the so-called CVID so many time, over and over. And recently, since last year, I haven't heard anything about CVID, so-called. Did you abandon the idea of a CVID or still you have same position regarding the CVID?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we haven't changed our position. Our position is that North Korea needs to dismantle its nuclear programs, and that's what the topic of this negotiation is.
QUESTION: Can you give your position, too, on the North Korean peaceful usage of nuclear power and light-water reactor?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think Chris Hill talked about this and it's unchanged.
MR. MCCORMACK: Unchanged from when Chris talked about it.
QUESTION: On the Sudan, Sean, there seems to be some quasi-legalistic problem that's developing there that previously aid projects in the south of Sudan were exempt from sanctions imposed because of the terrorism issue there, but now since the North-South Peace Agreement that State Department lawyers, we are told, have to reconsider that and actually impose sanctions on these aid projects even if that's not what you intended to do.
Are you aware of this situation? Is there any effort being made to rectify this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that that's the case.
MR. MCCORMACK: I've had some description of the situation.
MR. MCCORMACK: Current humanitarian transition and reconstructioning activities in Sudan are permitted under the authority of several pieces of the legislation, including the Horn of Africa Act, the Malaria Control Act and the Comprehensive Peace in Sudan Act of 2004 to continue provision of economic and development assistance in Sudan. In other words, the Congress's current guidance is that the U.S. Agency for International Development can provide assistance to support implementation of a comprehensive or viable peace agreement, including the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Southern Sudan.
In particular, the Comprehensive Peace Act in Sudan permits USAID to implement any program in support of any viable peace agreement at the local, regional or national level in Sudan. The majority of these programs are in South Sudan and Darfur. At this time, USAID lawyers have determined that the broad authorities conveyed under the legislation continue to apply, so we anticipate no impact on the work of our partners in Southern Sudan.
QUESTION: In Iraq, the Sunni clerics called today for dissolution of the parliament. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those particular comments, but there is an active and lively political process that is unfolding in Iraq as we speak. There are -- I've seen news reports and I think that we have seen information that there's a, since January, a one million person increase in the number of registered voters since the January 30th elections. I think that is an indication of the Iraqis' strong desire to engage in the political process. The Iraqis -- all of the Iraqi people are going to have an opportunity on October 15th to voice their individual opinions through the ballot box of the constitution that has -- that will be before them. It's still a topic of continuing discussion among various leaders in Iraq right now -- the draft constitution.
So I think that, you know, again, there are going to be some voices who are opposed to this constitution, having had an opportunity to take a look at it. There are others who have not made up their mind and there are others that support it. And what we would hope is that all Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia, Kurd, as well as other groups -- take this period before October 15th to, once they have it printed, look at the constitution and make their own decision about whether or not this is the right constitution for their country, whether it's the foundation for a new democratic Iraq in which individual rights are respected, which freedom of worship is respected, in which women's rights are respected, in which freedom of speech is respected, as well as other issues. But again, those are decisions for the Iraqi people to make.
QUESTION: If I can follow up on that. Last time we spoke about that, about the Iraqi constitution, we said that it was -- the discussions were still open. Are they still open or is it definite now?
MR. MCCORMACK: It is -- my understanding is there are still discussions ongoing among Iraqi leaders about the draft constitution, although they have completed the drafting process. I think it's still a matter for the national assembly, it's still a matter that is before them and it's still a matter for discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)
DPB # 154
Released on September 8, 2005