State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 5, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 5, 2005
Department of State to Host International Conference Related to
Reports Opposition Leader Has Been Jailed for 23 Years
Secretary Rice's Visit to Region / Addressing Issues of Economic
and Political Reforms and Expansion of Freedoms and Democracy in Region
Interpretation of the Transitional Administrative Law and Upcoming
Referendum on Constitution
Development of Political System / Democracy in Iraq
Sunni Participation in Political Process
Travel of Coordinator for Iraq James Jeffrey to Region
Status of Kosovo Talks
Under Secretary Burns Upcoming Travel to Region
International Support for Helping Build Palestinian Institutions
Prospects for Iran Restarting Talks with EU-3
Issue of Possible Iranian Military Control Over Iran's Nuclear Program
Threats to Nicaraguan Democracy / Hemispheric Concern
Possible Visit to US by Taiwan's Former President Lee Teng-hui
12:25 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everyone. One brief note for you. Starting tomorrow and into Friday, the Department of State will host an international conference related to avian influenza and Under Secretary Dobriansky and Health and Human Services Secretary will kick off this conference tomorrow night with an event at the National Academy of Sciences.
What this event does is it brings together 65-plus countries and international organizations that are concerned about preventing the spread of avian influenza. The countries that are participating in this event have either signed up to or we hope will soon sign up to the Core Principles that Under Secretary Dobriansky and Secretary Leavitt unveiled at the UN about a month ago or so.
And at the heart of these Core Principles are a few things: one, transparency in terms of reporting; quick and accurate reporting of any potential outbreaks; donor support for those countries that either have been affected or might be affected; and a pledge to work closely with the World Health Organization.
At this conference you'll have countries that have been affected or -- that have been affected by avian influence. You have developing countries, developed countries, and we think that this is just one more step that our government as a whole is taking to take steps that might prevent an outbreak of avian influenza, and if there should be, in the unfortunate case there should be an outbreak of avian influenza, the fact that there -- so that there could be an effective response to such an outbreak.
That's it. Be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Following up on that, that whole -- that sort of a session in the United States, if at least so far the main threats for an avian flu outbreak appear to be overseas, and why wouldn't it be maybe a UN or a World Health initiative instead of a U.S. Government one?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a variety of different organizations and countries that are going to be working on this. There was a meeting up at the UN. The UN special -- designated special representative for this particular issue, Mr. Nabarro, will be attending this. Secretary Leavitt and Under Secretary Dobriansky will, in the near future, be taking a trip to the region, Southeast Asia, to visit a number of different countries that have either been affected or might be affected by this outbreak. And I expect that there are going to be other meetings at different locations in the weeks and months ahead on this issue to ensure that there is good coordination and that you have a common set of principles that everybody is operating from.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: As the Secretary is planning to go there and the day after you announced her trip, which you said was going to be about democracy building, there seems to be a step backwards, an anti-democratic step. The supreme court has jailed a top opposition leader for as many as 23 years and this should help the President with a rival out of the way before the elections. So what does the U.S. think, given that the Secretary is going and going to be dealing with the President?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I have seen these reports and at this point I don't have any reaction to this particular report. We're going to be looking into it. As I said yesterday, a part of the Secretary's message in traveling to the region is going to be one that encourages economic, political -- economic and political reform, the expansion of freedoms and democracies in the region. Very clearly we support freedom of expression as part of the strong civil society that is important to any democracy, whether that is one that is developed or on the pathway to development.
So these are certainly, in general, issues that the Secretary is going to be addressing not only in Tajikistan but other -- at other stops on her trip in Central Asia. On this particular matter, we're going to look into it and I'll try to get you a response.
QUESTION: On Iraq, the change back to the original rules for the referendum. I mean, have they, you know, pulled back from the brink here, in your view, and what was the role of the U.S. ambassador or any other U.S. officials in reaching this position today?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Iraqi Transitional National Assembly took a vote, I believe earlier today, our time, to go back to the original interpretation of the TAL, in terms of what percentage of voters and the definition of who a voter is related to the passage of the constitution -- upcoming referendum on the constitution. They did this in coordination with the Iraqi Electoral Commission. I think that it is a positive step.
I talked yesterday about what we thought were important principles as the Iraqis considered what action they may take regarding this issue, and one was that whatever decision they take, it adhere to the TAL, that it be true to the TAL, and also that it served to expand or broaden the political consensus.
I think that the action that they've taken certainly meets both of those standards. I think it also helps the Iraqis when it comes to meeting international standards for either elections or voting on referenda. I had noticed that the United Nations spoke out about this yesterday.
We think that, you know, on the second part to your question about the role to the United States, certainly we're in contact with the Iraqis on various aspects of the political process as well as other issues that are ongoing in Iraq. I think that it is the role of friends to speak out and offer their counsel when various actions might not meet international standards in terms of the political process or the electoral process. And, you know, we certainly provided our counsel to the Iraqis but this was an Iraqi decision and an Iraqi process they arrived at the decision that they've taken.
QUESTION: When you said, "Might not meet international standards," I mean, does it -- is it the United States position that the rules change, had it occurred, would not have met international voting standards?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they've gone back to the interpretation of the TAL that originally stated -- I think that it would have been, as you saw yesterday from the UN, that it would have been a source of concern for the international community. But, again, this is an Iraqi process and they deliberated these issues as you would in a democracy and they came out with a decision that the original interpretation of the TAL would stand. And we think that that was a positive outcome for Iraq and its political development.
QUESTION: Was the Ambassador personally involved?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have information on what conversations he may or may not have, but people in our Embassy are in daily contact with all walks of --
QUESTION: Was the Secretary involved?
MR. MCCORMACK: She did not make any phone calls on this.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the talks the Coordinator for Iraq, Mr. James Jeffrey, had with the King of Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any particular readout for you. He is traveling in the region, discussing various issues related to Iraq. One thing that we are encouraging Iraq's neighbors to do is to find their own way to support Iraq's political and economic development as they move forward to building a more stable, prosperous country for themselves. We have encouraged Iraq's neighbors to send diplomatic missions to Iraq. We have encouraged Iraq's neighbors to have diplomatic representation in Iraq as one form of support for the Iraqis. And that's a discussion that we'll continue to have with Iraq's neighbors.
QUESTION: Ellen Tauscher, the co-chair of the Congressional Iraqi Women's Caucus, I think, yeah, Caucus, says that what happened with the tangle with the law, in addition to concerns that the U.S. has had about women's rights and the constitution, draw into question the entire viability of the Iraqi state. Do you feel that way? Do you feel that the rules, the reversal, et cetera, makes it seem like the foundation of the state is much shakier?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen her comments.
QUESTION: To Secretary Rice.
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't -- again, I have not seen or her comments, in particular, so I can't comment on them. But I would just make the point that, you know, as with our democracy and any other democracy, it's not about -- democracy is not about a point in time. It is about an ongoing process. And what we have seen the Iraqis do from, you know, going back two years or so when they were discussing the Transitional Administrative Law and you had the Governing Council, up until the present day, is you have seen the development and evolution of a political class in a political system. What Iraqis are now engaged in is a healthy political debate about their future and how -- and what political institutions, what laws, what political documents, are going to govern them.
And what we have seen over time is an increasing number of Iraqis who want to participate in that political system and we think that that's positive. This is a young democracy. They are just getting started. And what they deserve and what they need is our support. They need the support of the United States, they need the support of the international community, and that is the focus of our efforts.
QUESTION: Well, just to follow up. I mean, one of the things that you've called for and the international community has called for is more inclusion of the Sunnis in the process and they did seem to be kind of registering and saying that they would vote in the referendum. But the kind of recent changing of the rules for the referendum almost dictate that the referendum will be passed, whether the majority of Sunnis who vote for it vote or not. So I mean, even if the referendum failed, you know, a lot of officials said it would be a success anyway if a lot of Sunnis took part. And do you still feel that way, if, you know, they take part and still feel disenfranchised from the process?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple of things. One, the rule change didn't -- they considered it and they went back, so we are back at the original interpretation of the TAL where you had the definition of voters as people that actually vote.
In terms of the Sunni participation or the participation of any group in Iraq, we encourage the broadest possible participation in the political process. That is, I think it is a sign of a healthy democracy where you do have political debate, you do have participation in the political process.
Now we'll see what -- how Iraqis vote on the upcoming referendum. They'll have an opportunity on October 15th to vote on this constitution. So we know there will be a vote on October 15th. There will be a vote in December on a permanent -- on an elected government. Now, whether that government is a new transitional -- a new government based on voting for a new transitional assembly or an election for a permanent government based on this constitution, will depend on what happens in October 15th. But you are seeing the political process move forward.
We encourage the broadest possible participation in this vote, and it will be up to the Iraqis to decide what their political future will be.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Kosovo? Last night the Special UN Envoy submitted his report to the Secretary General about whether they're meeting the standards of democracy so that then there can be talks on Kosovo's future. This is something that the United States, and particularly Under Secretary of State Burns, has encouraged. So do you see this as a good step forward and when do you expect that the talks on the status of Kosovo to go ahead?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're certainly aware of the report. We're going to take a look at it. I think that it's an important question that is before us and it is before the international community. Under Secretary Burns will be traveling to the region, I believe next week -- yeah, next week -- and we hope in the next couple of days you'll have an opportunity to talk to him about that trip and what he hopes to accomplish on it.
QUESTION: In the Palestinian territory, you said previously that U.S. expect the international community to give more financial aid to the Palestinians. And you announced today that they are going to raise their help from 200 to 300 million Euros a year and after the first (inaudible) of 60 million Euros. Is it what you were expecting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I hadn't seen that particular report in terms of the amount but we do encourage the international community to support the Palestinian Authority in a variety of different ways. The EU has been very generous in terms of its support for helping to build Palestinian institutions, including security institutions.
Mr. Wolfensohn has provided an interim report to the Quartet about various projects that would help the Palestinian people, that would help the Palestinian Authority, in building those democratic institutions that could eventually form the basis for a Palestinian state. So I think that this is another indication of the EU's generous support to the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: Same topic. President Abbas has just voiced concerns that Hamas is gaining ground in the way he doesn't expect and that they're becoming more militaristic and wants the security to be reined in. Is General Ward and others going to try to assist with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have been working very closely, as I said, with the Palestinian Authority to build up their security capabilities. We think that that's important, not only to meet their international obligations, their roadmap obligations, but also to help the Palestinian Authority meet its obligations to the Palestinian people.
And General Ward, I think, has earned the trust of not only Palestinian officials but Israeli officials as he's worked on his mission. His tenure in this current position will be coming to an end this fall. We are now working within our government and the international community to identify a person to take his place because we believe that that function is important. I think all agree that it's important -- the Quartet, the Palestinian Authority, as well as Israeli authorities.
So as I've pointed out before, the Palestinians have made good progress in terms of consolidating control, making more professional their security forces. They started out at a real deficit because of the state in which Yasser Arafat left those security forces. But there's a ways to go.
But we believe that President Abbas is dedicated to this mission. He sees it as important, as I said, to meet his -- help meet his international obligations, but, importantly, to provide a safe and secure environment for the Palestinian people. That's very important. We saw the importance of that just a couple of weeks ago when you had Hamas mishandling some explosives in public and killing innocent Palestinians. There's a reason not only to fight terror, but also to help protect the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Has there been any advanced results of the talks of Secretary Rice with the Israelis and the United Nations or her recent talks with the Israelis concerning the wall? The wall has crossed a school, a Palestinian middle school yesterday, and cut off the school in a half. Half of it has been annexed to Israel to build the wall and the other half is now crowded with the students in there. So what is the progress that the United States Government is making with the Israelis concerning the illegality of the continuation of building that separation -- wall of separation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with regard to this issue, you know, our views are clear. You've heard recently from the Secretary and I don't have anything to add to what she said.
QUESTION: A question on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, Sylvie.
Do you have any sense from your European counterparts that they are preparing to restart talks with Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any update for you on that. We've encouraged the Iranians to return to talks with the EU-3, but I don't have any particular update for you on that.
QUESTION: Have you seen reports that this is in the works? Not even that? No?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Have you seen reports that one of the main negotiators, one of the most moderate negotiators from Tehran, resigned today?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I hadn't seen those reports.
QUESTION: In fact, that's the main negotiator, Ali Larijani, went to Syria and met with President Assad. Did you see that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I had heard that that had occurred. Look, Iran has to decide what course it's going to take here. Is it going to continue on the course of further isolation from the international community, further defiance of the international community, or is it going to take the opportunity presented to it by the EU-3?
And we'll see. We'll see what the coming days and weeks bring. The IAEA Board of Governors voted at their most recent meeting that Iran was not in compliance with its international obligations and it had a series of questions to resolve concerning its nuclear activities.
And as part of that resolution there will be another report from -- there will be a report from the IAEA to the Security Council. Now, what is contained in that report in terms of Iran's cooperation, its compliance with its international obligations, will be up to Iran. So we'll decide -- we'll see, based on their actions and the decisions that they take, what pathway they're going to choose to go down.
QUESTION: What are your opportunities if Iran radicalizes completely its position and isolates itself from the rest of the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's take this one step at a time. What I think Iran has seen as a result of its actions -- you know, Iran has gotten itself to this position by itself, through its actions and its failure to cooperate and its defiance of the international community and, most recently, the speech by the Iranian President at the UN. I think that was shocking to a lot of countries but I think that they started to see the real face of this regime.
So we'll take this one step at a time, and right now we'll see what Iran does in terms of its reaction to the very clear statement of the international community, as manifested in the vote by the IAEA Board of Governors.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: There's a report out that the Iranian President is looking to completely turn over nuclear program to the military. Does this give you added -- do you know anything about this and would this give you added concern about Iran's nuclear program?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, one note about -- I saw this news report, and one note about the source of the report that I have to make. And that is that the National Council for Resistance in Iran --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right -- is a designated alias of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the MEK, which is -- which the U.S. has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and the U.S. Government has no contact with the MEK or NCRI regarding Iran's nuclear programs. So just that note about the source of this report.
But in general, about the general issue of Iranian military control over Iran's and its role in Iran's nuclear program, we note that one of the outstanding concerns of the IAEA is, that the IAEA is continuing to investigate, is the extent of the Iranian military's role in Iran's nuclear program. The IAEA has already confirmed that Iran's military oversees many of the centrifuge workshops in Iran and that an Iranian military organization had conducted nuclear-related work at a facility in Lavizan that Iran demolished before the IAEA accessed the site. And also I would note that Iran continues to refuse the IAEA the full access it is requesting to visit an Iranian high-explosive facility at Parchin.
So there are -- this report aside, there were pre-existing concerns and outstanding questions regarding the Iranian military role in their nuclear program.
QUESTION: I understand what you say about the NCRI and MEK but they have been on the list for a while and they've provided information to the international community that it's used in claims before. So what's changed in terms of the kind of reliability of their information?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't vouch for the veracity of this claim. But one thing that we have done in the past and continue to do so is to encourage the IAEA to look into any potentially credible claim.
QUESTION: One last one. Is the U.S. considering this South African proposal as a viable solution for the standoff between the EU and Iran? Have you looked at that? I think this came up while we were at UNGA over the --
MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary met with the South African Foreign Minister and I'm not aware of any change in the South African position on this. Where it stood at the time of that meeting was that the South Africans were interested in looking at what was happening with the EU-3 negotiations, what the objective -- the objectives of those negotiations were and exactly what was on the table, so they were in sort of information-gathering mode at that point. I haven't heard anything further about any formal proposal or formal offer from the South Africans. But so, at this point what I would say is that we would encourage Iran to get back to the table with the EU-3 in terms of their negotiating process.
QUESTION: You hinted at it, yes, but could you say it outright that the signs of an increasing role of the Iranian military in the nuclear program is further evidence that it's a weapons program?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the fact that there are those outstanding questions, and it's not only the United States but it's the IAEA that has these concerns, I think it stands to reason that the -- one logical conclusion of a military involvement in a nuclear program is that they're trying to build a nuclear weapon and that has been our concern for some time.
QUESTION: Sean, the Deputy Secretary has been rather forthright in Nicaragua in defending President Bolaños against what appears to be this kind of left-right attack on him in the parliament to the -- he's threatened to withhold Millennium Challenge money. It's drawn criticism from across the political spectrum there that he's interfering in Nicaraguan affairs, that he's being imperialist and that sort of thing. And I wonder how you would respond to thoughts like that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our -- you know, I think our view and our concern is not one of left or one of right; it's about protecting democracy. This was an issue that came up at the OAS summit in Florida. Secretary Rice made very strong statements on this issue. It's not a matter of working with a leftist government or a right-of-center government. What we're -- we can work across the political spectrum. What we're concerned with is how governments govern; do they govern in a democratic manner.
Now, going back as far as and even predating that summit, the OAS summit or meeting, OAS meeting in Florida, there were concerns about Nicaragua and threats to Nicaraguan democracy, in fact, that there were concerns that there were some attempts under the guise of democracy actually to undermine democratic governance. And that is the issue that Deputy Secretary Zoellick addressed on his trip.
I'd also note that we encouraged OAS Secretary General Insulza to visit Nicaragua. He has talked about this issue as well. So this is not just a U.S.-Nicaragua issue; it is an issue of hemispheric concern.
QUESTION: Taiwanese former President Lee Teng-hui, he's announced that he will be visiting America from the 11th to the 23rd. I was wondering whether you could confirm this and also what kind of an effect that might have on U.S.-China relations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we'll try to get you something on that.
Yes, thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)