State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 17, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 17, 2005
Announcement of Secretary Rice's Travel to Ottawa, Canada
Update on Iraqi Election / Violence / Insurgency and Violent
Attacks Upcoming Trial of Saddam Hussein / Issue of Security
Latin American Summit / General Discussions for US
US Position / Cuba's Record on Human Rights and Democratic Reforms
/ Cuban Extradition Case
Visit of Japanese Foreign Minister to Shrine / Concerns Over History
Terrorist Attacks in West Bank / Roadmap Obligations / Dialogue
Encouraged by US
Query on Valerie Plame Investigation
White House Announcement of President Bush's Travel to APEC Summit
/ Query on Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister
(12:15 p.m. EDT)
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everyone. I have a brief opening statement regarding the Secretary's travel, then we can go right into questions.
Secretary of State Rice will travel to Ottawa, Canada, October 24th and 25th to consult on a wide range of issues of mutual concern with one of our closest allies and a close neighbor. While in Canada, the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Paul Martin and Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: It's not on that. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on her remarks about Iraq and the future with the constitution apparently being approved. She says violence will continue, the U.S. shouldn't leave prematurely and it's a step toward democracy. So I mean, I'm having a little problem putting all this together. This doesn't move our departure date, theoretic as it might be, up a bit? And why would violence necessarily continue if the country is taking surefooted steps toward democracy? Isn't that what we see as the solution to this problem is to implant democracy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a part of the solution, as we've said many times before.
First of all, on the election I would say that we have not had any final results or even official preliminary results. I would note that there are a lot of news reports out there about turnout in various regions in terms of yes and no votes. We're going to wait until we have some final results, some official statements out of the election commission and the Iraqi Government before we go any further than congratulating the Iraqi people on an election where we have seen less violence surrounding the election than we did in January. We have seen a increase in voter turnout. Those things are positive.
And I think another positive aspect to the election, regardless of what the final outcome of the referendum is, you've seen an expansion of the political base in Iraq. We have seen more Sunni voters turn out this time around. We see that from some anecdotal evidence, evidence on the ground, and then some statements out of the election commission and the Iraqi Government. So that's positive.
Now, to get to your other point, Barry, about the violence in Iraq, as the Secretary has said, the way you fight an insurgency is on multiple fronts and we have a multi-front strategy to help the Iraqi people move down the pathway to a more prosperous, more stable, more peaceful country for themselves. And I think increasingly you're seeing more people invested in the political system, so that helps all towards the final goal of a peaceful, stable, secure Iraq.
You also have to fight an insurgency on the military front. There are some foreign terrorists and hardcore insurgents with whom there is no political dialogue, there is no political solution, and they need to be confronted militarily. And increasingly what you see is the Iraqi forces taking on the insurgents, taking on the terrorists, the Iraqi forces becoming more and more capable.
You also see, from our perspective and the perspective of the international community, progress on the economic front in terms of building and in some cases rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure in order to develop an economy where the Iraqi people have the opportunity to realize a better life for themselves and for their children, where they have an opportunity to make freedom of choice with regard to how they choose to make their living, how they choose to support their family.
So we are working on all of these fronts, Barry. As the President has said, we are going to stand with the Iraqi people as they make progress on all of these fronts. Increasingly you see the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi military, the security forces becoming more and more capable.
So that's the way that we address this insurgency and provide a foundation that the Iraqi people themselves can build on and to build a better state for themselves.
QUESTION: All right. Two quick -- when you say -- when you're referring to final statements on the election, is it simply because ballots have to be counted or do you suspect any, you know, reversal, any huge problem to manifest itself --
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a --
QUESTION: -- just in the process of --
MR. MCCORMACK: This is procedural. The election authorities are now in the process of counting ballots. Again, I know that there are a lot of, you know, news reports. I've seen some of the AP informal results and informal results from other news agencies. So -- but what we are going to do is we're going to refrain from any final comment on outcomes until we hear from the election commission and the Iraqi Government on this.
QUESTION: And on the larger question, the way that you've described it sounds consistent with what the Administration is saying all along. You would think that there's one more sentence to add, that unless U.S. troops are to stay until every last terrorist goes away, which is probably impossible, doesn't this advance the prospects of the U.S. being able to turn the problem over to the -- less of a problem, presumably, to the Iraqis?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, as we've said, you know, we talked about the fact how you fight an insurgency. And you -- inasmuch as you have more people invested in the political process --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- the more people who see any resolution to any disagreements or disputes or concerns that they may have about Iraq's future, resolving those through the ballot box as opposed to armed conflict, that's positive. And I think increasingly you certainly are seeing that. And moving the political process forward is part of the solution. Training the Iraqi forces so they can provide security for their own -- for Iraqis is part of the solution as well as, you know, providing for an economic system that -- in which Iraqis can earn a living for themselves. That's part of the solution.
So all of these elements necessarily must work together and in conjunction; it's part of our strategy. I think we are seeing progress on all of these fronts. And that ultimately is the way that we will help the Iraqi people provide a foundation for themselves on which they can build a stable, democratic and prosperous state.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on a specific point, Sean? You said that the violence around the election period seems to less than in previous. Are you referring to the specific day or in the run-up to it --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Because last week we had this discussion and the Pentagon apparently has figures showing that the violence is more before this election.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm talking about the immediate period around this election. I think that the numbers of attacks around the immediate period may -- and I don't have an exact hour count for you, but let's just say the days around the election were fewer. There were fewer incidences of violent attacks during this election as opposed to the last election in January.
QUESTION: So my question is, to sum up there, do you think that the violence, in a general way, is abating and the insurgency is abating in Iraq or is it still maintaining the same intensity?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know again, DOD can talk to you about the number of attacks each day. I think that, as you will hear from military commanders and other people on the ground, there are certainly different ways to look at the insurgency and the progress that you are making on military terms in fighting the insurgency. We're going to let military commanders and people over at DOD talk about that, the military progress that they are making in terms of fighting the insurgency.
Just to revert back to the point that I made to Barry, what you have to do is fight the insurgency on multiple fronts. Part of that fight is on the political front and that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: Sean, with these insurgencies, would it be safe to say that the Syrians are proxies for Sunnis and the Iranians proxies for the Shiites? And you saw over 20 to 30 year period where in Lebanon the Syrians had their -- both their political as well as military operatives there. The Secretary spoke about the Syrians yesterday on Meet the Press and also on Fox television. Is there anything more that you would want to add?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
All right. Yes.
QUESTION: Saddam is going on trial on Wednesday. I'm wondering if there's any concern within the Administration that this -- it's going to be a very highly charged event and might it unravel some of the, at least, tentative progress we've been seeing on bringing these ethnic groupings in Iraq together?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that the Saddam trial is going to be an important process for the Iraqi people in coming to terms and really closing a dark period, a dark chapter, in their history. Saddam Hussein, you know, from our perspective, is responsible for the brutal oppression of his own people and the deaths of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people during his two-decade reign.
I have to emphasize that this is an Iraqi process and necessarily it should be and rightly so. It needs to be an Iraqi process because the Iraqi people deserve the opportunity to hold to account the person and people responsible for this era of brutality in their history.
In terms of the process, the process now as it is set up, we and the international community have been counseling and assisting the Iraqis as they prepare for this trial; but again, I have to emphasize this is an Iraqi process.
And I think if you take a look at it, the basic elements for a trial that meet international standards are there. You have a defendant that has access to defense counsel. You have an appeals process. You have a process that is then set up in accordance with Iraqi laws. Now, we'll see how this process moves forward. It's certainly our expectation and our hope would be that it moves forward in accordance with the laws and the regulations that have been put in place.
QUESTION: How much is our coalition force going to be involved with providing security at the trial, since there aren't that many Iraqi forces yet able to take responsibility for that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have been -- at the request of the Iraqi Government, we have been assisting with the security around the proceedings involving Saddam Hussein as well as other members of the former regime. This has been at the Iraqis' request. In terms of any specifics with regard to the trial and the security around the trial, I think that the Iraqis would probably be in a better position to describe that. I'll try also, from our side, to get you some more information on that.
QUESTION: And all the -- the defendants would be in a bulletproof, I don't know, enclosure of some kind, won't they -- like a booth?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we would expect that the Iraqis, certainly with our help, would take every precaution to provide for the safety of all of those in the courtroom. In terms of the specifics, bulletproof glass and those sorts of things, we'll try to get you whatever information we can provide.
QUESTION: Just one more. How much concern do you have about the safety of the judges? I remember when they first were being named, there were death threats and assassination attempts on them.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Certainly, there have been, as you have reported, incidents of attempts to intimidate and use threats of violence to intimidate those involved on the government side in the judicial process, attempts to influence their decision making and their participation in this process. Certainly, that is a concern for us and that we are working with the Iraqi Government on those -- to mitigate any of those concerns.
QUESTION: Sorry. I want to get back to this issue of the number of attacks. You said that the number of attacks had decreased. Do you mean during the actual voting period? Because in the month preceding the number of attacks --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. That's exactly what I was --
QUESTION: -- just the actual voting, sort of the moment the polls opened to the moment they closed? Is that the time period?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think I was pretty precise, as precise as I could be, in answering Peter's question. And when I talked about in the days surrounding the election, I was not trying to extend the timeline out beyond the immediate period surrounding the election.
QUESTION: On the Latin American summit, on the Americas summit in Argentina, do you have anything on that, considering that it will be a new Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Thomas Shannon? What kind of issues the U.S. is going to bring to the summit to discuss with Latin American countries?
MR. MCCORMACK: If you could repeat your question. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. What kind of issues the U.S. Government is going to bring to the Latin American summit in Argentina in Mar del Plata next month?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is, as you said, a summit, which means leader level discussions, so I think that beyond the very general discussions about democracy, promotion of trade, promotion of good governance and all those things that come along with governing democratically, I'm going to leave it to the White House to describe what is on the agenda because this is going to -- as you point out, it's going to be a summit so the President is going to be participating in this. I think you can expect that they will discuss those general items, but for any comment I'd have to refer you over to the White House.
Let me just go back to Sue on this to talk about -- to talk a little bit about in terms of numbers and provide you a little bit of context here. According to information that we have from the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, the IECI, in terms of the violence on the actual sort of immediately surrounding this election, we had 35 attacks on polling stations and election staff on October 15th, referendum day. And that compares with 91 such incidents during the January 30th election. So that provides you a little bit of --
QUESTION: Specifically on --
MR. MCCORMACK: On the referendum day, yeah.
QUESTION: But specifically at election sites or are you talking just in the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: I said on polling stations and election staff.
QUESTION: Mr. Sean McCormack, a kind of follow-up. It is -- it was on the last summit on Spain the Latin American countries fix a position against the U.S. policy toward Cuba, toward the embargo for Cuba.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any answer, any position on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that that, if you look back over the history of such statements from these kinds of summits, this is a common statement. It's one that you'll find if you go back over the years, a common position that they have held.
But I think also if you look back over that same period of time, over the past few years, the Cuban Government shouldn't take any comfort in terms of the statements that have been coming out from our European friends and allies about Cuba's human rights records -- record and the importance of promoting democracy in Cuba. So I think that you have -- while you have seen these -- this same type of statement concerning the embargo and differences, policy differences or the embargo, you have also seen during the period of time over recent years increasingly pointed statements about European concerns about Cuba's human rights record and the importance of democratic reforms in Cuba.
QUESTION: Two things. One, apparently, there is a reference to the blockage of Cuba in this statement, as opposed to the embargo. So do you have a reaction to that?
The second one was also a reference to the extradition case, the Cuban extradition case. I was wondering if you had --
MR. MCCORMACK: On the first point, no particular comment.
On the second, the extradition case is a sort of process that is unfolding according to American laws and the applicable regulations. You know, I don't think we have to add anything beyond that, that this is a case that is being -- that is unfolding strictly according to those laws, applicable laws and regulations.
Let's move around a little bit. Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Japanese Foreign Minister Koizumi visited Japanese shrine again, and Chinese and South Korean angry and very concerned that -- concerned already of the effect on upcoming APEC summit. So are you concerned?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first and foremost, I think that we would hope that countries in the region could work together to resolve their concerns over history in an amicable way and through dialogue. I think that everybody understands the history here. I think that everybody understands some of the sensitivities and concerns in the region. And we would just hope that those with concerns about this issue could work together with the Japanese Government to resolve any of those concerns through the use of dialogue and in the spirit of friendship.
QUESTION: I want to follow up. Whenever the Japanese Prime Minister visit the Yasukuni Shrine, then the Chinese Government or South Korean Government complain to Japanese Government very much, I guess because they are afraid of revival of Japanese militarism. Is the U.S. Government concerned about revival of Japanese militarism?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think that I'll leave it to other countries to describe the particular reasons for their concern. I think that we -- it's well known, the history. We understand the basis for these concerns. And I'd leave it to others to describe what in particular those are.
I think that we all share an interest in good relations among the countries of the region and that we would hope that in light of that that they could work through any concerns that they might have through dialogue, through negotiation, through respectful dialogue.
QUESTION: This year is the 60 years anniversary of the end of the World War II. Also, ten years ago, the 50 years anniversary of the end of the World War II. Both times, the Japanese Government issued a statement in which they expressed their condolence and apology for our brutality before the World War II or during the World War II and then expressed also our self-examination. Do you appreciate this statement or do you think it's not enough?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that I'm going to stick with the answer that I've given you as well as the previous questioner.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. One more follow-up on that, Sean. In trying to maintain this dialogue about the past history, do you think it's incumbent upon the Japanese Government to avoid provocative acts which that might be interpreted as being, visiting the shrine?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything further to say on this.
QUESTION: Sean, do you have any comment on the escalation in the West Bank and on Israeli decision to freeze its contacts with the Palestinian Authority?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think, first of all, we -- with regard to the recent terrorist attacks on the West Bank, we condemn those attacks. We urge the Palestinian government to continue to meet their roadmap obligations in not only fighting to stop terror attacks but dismantle those terrorist networks that are responsible for these attacks. More needs to be done to stop these kinds of attacks.
We are going to continue to work in close consultation with both sides to increase cooperation and contact between the two sides on security matters. General Ward has talked to both sides regarding this incident. He has urged both sides to try to maintain an atmosphere of calm to encourage dialogue between the two sides.
We think that it is important in terms of continuing to provide for an atmosphere where the Israelis and the Palestinians can work through any differences they have to work through difficult issues; that action is important, that dialogue is important and that contact is important. And we would hope that all sides take into account the potential ramifications of whatever steps that they do take and keep their eye on the ultimate objective which we all know and all sides share of two states living together side by side in peace and security.
QUESTION: Can you speak specifically to the fact that they seem to be limiting crossing between the West Bank and Israel? And it seems like they've kind of cracked down on some of the easings that have been taking place.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. Again, I think that we understand and support Israel's right to defend itself. But at the same time, we urge them to, in whatever steps they might take, to consider the ramifications of their actions on the ultimate goal and restate the fact that all sides have responsibilities in this regard. The Israeli -- we would ask the Israeli Government and we have asked the Israeli Government, as you know, in the past, to take steps to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people. And I would reiterate, as I just said, and on the Palestinian side, they have an obligation to fight terror, they have an obligation to dismantle terrorist networks. And it is important to see action and that's what we are working with both sides on.
QUESTION: Don't you think the Israelis consider the ramifications when they tighten the screws like this? I mean, the U.S.'s suggestion is certainly not novel. I'm sure you consider the consequences you bomb parts of Iraq and kill 39 civilians. I'm sure you're not going out to kill civilians, which is a little more deadly than interfering with crossing a boundary.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But you have an objective and your objective is clear; to which you plan to cripple the insurgents. It's become a throwaway line, Sean. I don't mean to be argumentative. But is the Administration suggesting that Israel doesn't consider the impact on civilians when it does these things?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, as I said, and you know, again, I'm not going to buy into your parallel between these two places. But first of all -- so that's first.
Second, you know, I stated very clearly that we understand Israel's right to defend itself. We certainly understand, as victims ourselves of terrorist attacks, that it is an important duty and responsibility of any government to protects its own people.
MR. MCCORMACK: But there is also -- you know, understanding that, there is a -- you know, from our point of view, there is a political process underway here in which both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority are involved. And certainly in our view, in terms of the prospects for long-term peace, long-term stability and long-term security for the Israeli people as well as the Palestinian people, that those differences should be resolved through a political process. And all we are saying is that in taking steps to defend itself, as is its right, that Israel consider the ramifications of those steps in terms of the long-term goals.
QUESTION: Could you -- you mentioned General Ward talked to them. I mean, has he had official meetings or is he just through his regular channels talking to them? He's talked to them since the coordination was called off, since security coordination was called off?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll get the specific dates, but he is in constant contact with them.
QUESTION: Would you, while you're doing that, and maybe you know the answer -- is he in the area or is he back here, and how much longer is he on duty there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I will get you the specific dates. In terms of his length of tour, Charlie, it is coming up. The end of his tour is coming up this fall. And in terms of his follow-on, we'll try to keep you up to date on that. I think all sides agree that it's important that function that was created for General Ward and sort of the -- his modus operandi, I think, is one that all sides think is important and useful, so we're going to continue them.
In terms of his presence in the region, let me double-check. I believe he is in the region, but let me double-check for you on that.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Anything else on this? Joel, do you have anything else on that?
QUESTION: Change of subject.
QUESTION: Change the subject, yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. And we'll come back to you. All right.
QUESTION: During her interviews yesterday with Fox and NBC, the Secretary indicated that she had been cooperating with the investigators -- investigation into the Valerie Plame affair. I just wondered, has she spoken and been quizzed directly by the grand jury? If so, when? And are there any plans for her to hold further -- to meet again with the grand jury, if indeed this is the case?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I'll reiterate what the Secretary said yesterday. She has -- she cooperated fully with the investigation and she cooperated in all ways that were asked of her. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment any further concerning an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: But did she meet with the grand jury? I have to ask that once more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have anything to add to my answer.
QUESTION: Did other officials from the Department go before the Grand Jury or cooperate -- as you're putting it, cooperate -- with the grand jury? Have other members like you or Jim Wilkinson or anybody else in the immediate circle been called?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that all members of the Administration -- the President made very clear that all members of the Administration that were asked to cooperate with the investigation cooperate with the investigation. And I would leave it to those running the investigation to describe what kind of cooperation they have received from members of the Administration.
QUESTION: I have another question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Not on this. Change of subject. Can you say anything about a dispute -- or a row, as Sue and others would say -- in London over traffic fines on embassy staff driving into the center of London? Apparently, there's a big fight because they're being charged a congestion tax and the U.S. Government doesn't feel it should be taxed like this and they're running up big debts. Could you check?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I will have to check on that one. I would just add that, just having returned from London, our motorcade was not pulled over or asked to pay a tax. I'll check for you on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how many pounds you guys got away with?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll check for you on that.
QUESTION: Thanks. I mean, it seems to be in the same vein as the sort of traffic tickets in New York kind of issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, like I said, we'll check for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Joel.
QUESTION: Sean, the Chinese are working a deal with Australia on mining uranium and obviously it's for export to China. Have you spoken to either government and are you assured that this would just not be exported and then enriched?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I'm not aware of those reports. I haven't seen them, Joel.
Okay. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Sorry. When President Bush meets with Prime Minister Koizumi next month, what do you think will be the main topic of discussions?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that that's -- certainly, there is a White House announcement today about the President's travel to the upcoming APEC summit. I will leave it to the White House to describe what will be on the agenda of the President's meetings there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:45 p.m.)