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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 28 2005


Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 28, 2005

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Zoellick Upcoming Travel to
Europe
Secretary Rice's Visit to Germany /Meetings and Agenda
Issue of Reported Secret Prisons and Possibility of Topic Being
Raised During Secretary's Travel to Europe

BURMA
Extension of Aung Sung Suu Kyi's Detention

SUDAN
Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks Scheduled to Resume in Abuja, Nigeria

SPAIN/VENEZUELA
Spanish Sale of Defense Items to Venezuela

CHINA/HONG KONG
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Hong Kong Democratic Party
Legislator

IRAQ/IRAN
Possible Meetings between Ambassador Khalilzad and Iranian
Counterparts

MISCELLANEOUS
Allegations Regarding a Reported U.S. Plan to Bomb al-Jazeera
Offices

ZIMBABWE
US View of Zimbabwe Senate Elections
US Sanctions on Zimbabwe

IRAN
IAEA Board of Governors Meeting and Next Steps

EGYPT
Electoral Process / Arrest of Muslim Brotherhood Members

AZERBAIJAN
Police Violence Against Peaceful Protest
Electoral Process in Azerbaijan

IRAQ
Reports of Missing American Citizen in Iraq
Human Rights Situation in Iraq

KENYA
Reported Government Ban on Demonstrations Following Opposition's
Call for New Elections

RUSSIA
Parliamentary Elections in Chechnya

LEBANON/SYRIA
Border Demarcation Discussions
Status of Mehlis Investigation


TRANSCRIPT:

1:10 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have two opening statements for you, then we can get right into the questions.

The first one concerns the travel of Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Zoellick; they'll be taking separate trips. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Belgium from December 5th through the 9th, 2005. Her visit will highlight the enduring importance of transatlantic relations in our efforts to partner with Europe to address common challenges around the globe.

Secretary Rice's visit to Germany will be an opportunity to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her government to discuss ways to build our longstanding friendship. Her first trip to Romania will continue our dialogue on a broad range of issues with this important NATO ally. And her stop in the Ukraine will underscore U.S. support for continued political and economic reform one year after the Orange Revolution. In Brussels, the Secretary will participate in the NATO ministerial and have a number of bilateral meetings with her European counterparts. We'll keep you up to date on what those meetings will be.

Prior to Secretary Rice's visit, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will visit Germany November 30th through December 1st to meet with Chancellor Merkel, members of her new cabinet, national security officials and members of the Bundestag. Deputy Secretary Zoellick will also participate in a roundtable with German opinion leaders. It will focus on listening to German officials and opinion leaders about their views on Germany's evolving role in Europe and the world, as well as their ideas and plans to promote economic growth and prosperity and as the world's leading exporter and Europe's biggest economy, the promotion of further bilateral trade liberalization in Doha WTO negotiations.

And second, concerns the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention. The United States deplores the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention, since the brutal attack on her convoy in May 2003, after which she was imprisoned and subsequently transferred to house arrest, the regime has failed to charge Aung San Suu Kyi with any criminal offense, instead making the incredible assertion that she is being held for her own protection. The extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention is yet another step in the wrong direction by Burma's military leaders.

In order to remove the country toward -- in order to move the country towards democracy and national reconciliation, the Burmese regime should release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and initiate a meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic political groups.

And with that, I would be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Sean, can we go back to the first statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: When you said the Secretary is going to Romania for the first time --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Obviously the first time as Secretary of State.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Is that also since she's been part of the government, as the National Security Advisor?

MR. MCCORMACK: As National Security Advisor -- I'll have to go back and check my records, Saul. She certainly traveled there with the President, when the President visited Romania in Bucharest. As for any separate travels as national security advisor, I'd have to go back and check my records.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the sale completed today of 12 military planes from Spain to Venezuela?

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you mind if we stay on the statement?

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, sure. We'll move to that.

QUESTION: Thanks. Obviously there's a lot of emphasis on the relationship with Germany, with the Deputy going before the Secretary as well. Well, what -- can you sort of elaborate a little more on what it is that you hope for the relationship as it's going forward, now that you have a new government in Germany?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think this is going to be -- well, first of all, this is going to be an opportunity for the Secretary to meet with a new chancellor and her government, and I think that the Secretary will look for the opportunity coming up also in a meeting, I might add, with the foreign minister this week, the German foreign minister, to continue the excellent cooperation we have had in a variety of different areas with Germany.

We have -- I think Secretary Rice has made it a point in her tenure to, as she would -- as she has put it, put the U.S.-European relationship to work. And I think we've seen that. We've seen the results of that, to cooperate with Germany as well as other states to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in support of the EU-3 negotiations. We have worked well together with Germany as well as other European countries in Afghanistan. We have also worked well with them on the question of Iraq. We have put behind us the difficulties. Those are well known. But Germany is now contributing to training Iraqi security officials outside of Iraq, but they are making a contribution.

So I think that all of -- certainly all of those items will be on the agenda, the U.S.-European relationship in general. Items on the agenda will also include how to work together to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, work together in our common fight against terrorism, and we'll also be prepared to listen to what the -- is on the agenda of the new German Government as well.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Yes, Peter.

QUESTION: Okay. The issue of the secret prisons has obviously been high on the minds of the Europeans. They've made a formal request of the U.S. Government for clarification. I think Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said that it came up all during his conversations in Europe. Is the Secretary going to Europe? Is she prepared to discuss this issue with her European allies?

MR. MCCORMACK: If questions about the reports of the so-called secret prisons as well as other questions that have been in the press about, you know, about flights, these things have all -- we've all seen the press accounts of them. We have received inquiries from Europe concerning these press reports. We're going to do our best to answer these questions in as complete and forthright a manner as we possibly can. And if the topic does come up in any of the Secretary's meetings, whether it's here in the United States or in Europe, she will be prepared to discuss these issues.

I think that in the -- the conversation will take place in the broader context of our common struggle against terrorism. This is a struggle that all free countries, including the countries of Europe, share with us: How to deal with groups of people, individuals, that respect no law, that wear no uniform, that follow no regulations, and how do we as a country and how do we as countries that abide by the rule of law that follow -- that abide by our international obligations and abide by our constitutions? How do we deal with that?

So I'm certain that she will be prepared, if the topic does come up, to discuss it.

QUESTION: And can I follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. The Europeans are already complaining that the United States has not been responsive to their queries of a few days ago on this issue there. What sort of assurances -- is she prepared to discuss this issue substantively in terms of their concerns? We already have the EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini threatening sanctions for any European Union country that houses secret prisons. What sort of -- is she willing to give assurances that they will not base these secret prisons within their confines?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, without -- you know, without commenting on the substance of these news reports, we've been through this. She is prepared obviously to engage with her counterparts on whatever topics they choose to raise with her. I expect that she, if asked about it, will certainly be willing to have a conversation on these news reports.

In terms of supplying information in response to certain requests from Europe, we will, as I said, do our best to reply to those requests for information in as open and as forthright a manner as we possibly can. I don't have the latest timeline, Peter, in terms of the requests coming in and when a response might be expected. I can say in the interest of our very close relations with Europe and many of the organizations that represent Europe, we will as a government, do our best to reply in as forthright a manner as we possibly can.

Yes, Saul.

QUESTION: As the Secretary does that and as the administration does that, in what you say is a forthright manner, would she be able to go further than you have from the podium with us? I mean, generally the attitude has been these are only reports and it's about an intelligence matter and we can't get into confirming or denying. Is that -- can she go further than that or would she have to also say, look, we don't confirm or deny this type of report?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, Saul, we'll let the meetings take place. We'll see what comes up and we will try to inform you as best we possibly can about the topics that were discussed in those meetings about -- as well as what the Secretary had to say about this -- about those topics.

QUESTION: If I can just follow up. Are you planning a formal response to the formal European inquiries or is it going to just come up in conversations (inaudible) it comes up in?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- Peter, we're going to try to get back to them, like I said, in response to their queries. I don't have any detail. I don't have details on what manner of response there will be. But you know, again, we will endeavor to give as forthright and timely of a response as we can.

Yes.

QUESTION: Are you planning a multi-agency response? Would it be the White House, the State Department, the CIA, Defense Department? What kind of a response are you looking at giving?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I don't have any further details for you.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, tomorrow there's a conference that's going to be underway in Nigeria over Darfur --

QUESTION: Wait --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back. We'll come back. Yeah.

QUESTION: And to what extent -- it's the seventh round of talks. To what degree are you taking part? What do you want to see accomplished, especially with the problems with the Bashir government?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sorry. I missed the -- Joel, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Okay. Tomorrow there is a conference in Nigeria. It's the AU over Darfur.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: To what degree are you working that particular conference with respect to the Bashir government in Khartoum?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with regard to the Abuja conference, it is scheduled to start tomorrow.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: And we are pleased by the fact that many of the parties to the conference that we had hoped to get there are -- they have indicated that they are going to attend, that they are going to arrive there. We understand that Mr. Abdel Wahaed Mohamed el-Nur and Mr. Mini Arko Mennawi of the Sudan Liberation Movement are already in Abuja to attend the new rounds -- new round of talks, and that the leadership of the Sudan Liberation Movement has committed to attend the talks with a common negotiation platform. So that's positive.

We hope that all the representatives do attend the Abuja talks. We ourselves are represented by Mr. Winter and our Chargé in Khartoum, Ambassador Cameron Hume. So we hope that these talks move the political process forward because, ultimately, it is the political process that is going to -- that is going to resolve the situation in Darfur. As I said before, we can provide humanitarian assistance; working with the AU we can try to provide some security assistance, provide an atmosphere that is free from fear of violence in Darfur. There's still much work to be done in that regard, but the situation has -- the situation has improved somewhat with the AU monitors in place.

But ultimately, in order to resolve the situation in Darfur, address the humanitarian situation on a long-term basis, to address the security situation on a long-term basis, you need a political settlement. And we believe that the Abuja process is an important part of arriving at that political settlement.

Yeah. All right. Let's move forward, then come back to the front.

QUESTION: I just wanted to see if you had a response about the sale of 12 military planes and boats from Spain to Venezuela.

And also, separately, is Secretary Rice meeting tomorrow with the delegation of Hong Kong lawmakers? And if so, is she going to endorse their campaign for full, direct elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of Secretary Rice's schedule, let me check into exactly who she's going to be meeting with. We'll try to update you.

In terms of the sale of some military systems by Spain to Venezuela, we have expressed our concerns to the Government of Spain concerning those sales and we are currently looking at technology licensing issues related to that sale. There may be some issues related to the fact that there would be U.S. technology included in some of the equipment, which Spain has said that it intends to sell to Venezuela. So as part of the normal licensing process, we are going to take a look at that and we're currently working through those issues. There hasn't been any final conclusion on that question yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Saul.

QUESTION: Presumably, when the original technology was transferred to Spain, when you had good relations with Venezuela, I doubt there was some kind of caveat saying you can't sell it to Venezuela. But can you just say that as a principle, is there a clause in there that says any country that sort of falls out of favor with us that then can't have the transfer of technology to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Saul. But I think it is just actually a matter of principle in which there is transfer to a third country of technology that there's a licensing procedure that you go through. I'm not sure that it is -- I'll try to confirm for you whether or not there is an additional specific clause related to Venezuela, but I think as a matter of principle there is a licensing process that gets triggered whenever there's a potential third country sale.

Peter.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this? No? Okay.

QUESTION: Newsweek magazine reported over the weekend Ambassador Khalilzad said that he's going to be having meetings with Iranians, which would be the first high-level meetings with the Iranians in several decades. I think the Secretary did allude to that in her testimony in the Foreign Relations Committee that there would be authorization for such context. Can you confirm that the meetings will be held and can you sort of describe for us what is going to be the range of the context? Is it going to be confined to specific topics or is this something that maybe might be intended to broaden the path towards maybe eventual normalization with Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me -- as for whether any meetings have in fact taken place, Peter, I'll check for you. The last time I checked on this, there hadn't been any meetings, but it's been awhile since I checked on that.

QUESTION: Or scheduled meetings.

MR. MCCORMACK: Or scheduled. It's a very narrow mandate that he has and it deals specifically with issues related to Iraq. We have in the 6+2 context, previously engaged with Iran in that multilateral forum on questions related to Afghanistan. So there's precedent for this kind of engagement. I think that we -- well, I know that we have said in the past that we believe Iran and Iraq should have the kinds of relations that -- good relations that most neighbors enjoy, that those relations be governed by mutual respect and by transparency. So we would expect nothing less from Iran with respect to Iraq.

I think that you have heard the same from the Iraqis as well. They have had exchanges of visits with the Iranian Government. I think that that certainly is to be expected. They share a long border. And there are a number of issues of which they can work together but again, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and transparency. And inasmuch as Ambassador Khalilzad needs to work through any of those issues in Baghdad, it would be specifically related to Iraq.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Are there particular things in Iraq? I mean, is it the border situation in Iraq or would it be the political situation in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check, Peter, and see if there's been any meeting scheduled. I think that this would be, again, something based on a particular need. So if there's a particular need, then we'll try to identify what that need is for you, as well as whether a meeting has been scheduled or taken place.

QUESTION: The Ambassador himself seems to suggest that this was something of a new initiative. I think he described the permission for him to talk to the Iranians as a departure. So what is it that's prompted this new tactic? Is there something particular in Iraq that has made you think, okay, now we need to talk to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, as I said again, you know, Iraq shares a long border with Iran. And there have been issues concerning -- between the Iraqis and the Iranians concerning control of the border as well as other things you might expect between two governments.

Let me get back to you all if there has been any meeting scheduled and the particular topic of such a meeting.

QUESTION: But as far as you know, there's not like -- there wasn't -- I guess I was trying to get at what made the change, if he's describing this as a change. If there was, you know, what made the policy change from you guys?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms any particular trigger, I'll see if there is anything in particular that I can identify for you, Saul.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, let's move around. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you can comment on the outcome of the senate election in Zimbabwe and if perhaps you can comment on the sanctions, the widening of sanctions to 128 people in Zimbabwe. What is it that you hope to achieve?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple of things. Let me take the first part of your question first.

Let's also -- let's first discuss kind of what this election was all about. This was an election that was designed to elect people to an institution that has truly little legal significance. It was created by Mr. Mugabe a few months ago as, in our view, a source of patronage for ruling party politicians. So in terms of democracy, and we talk about elections as being part of democracy, this was really a non-event.

So I guess I can't really offer too much comment about these elections beyond that, other than to say the Zimbabwean people seemed to view them largely in the same way in the turnout, at least as best as we were able to measure, was about at the 30 percent level. So it doesn't seem as though the Zimbabwean people took these elections very seriously as well as a real exercise in democracy.

In terms of sanctions, we have for some time, as well as along with other countries around the world and the EU, spoken out very clearly about the need for Zimbabwe to really make a turnaround in terms of its support for democracy, democratic institutions, as well as to stop what has been a marked deterioration in their economic situation.

Part of our attempts to do this has been through rhetoric. Part of it has been through diplomacy. Mr. Mugabe does not seem to have gotten the message from us as well as the rest of the world. So we and others use the diplomatic leverage at our disposal, and the sanctions to which you refer are part of those, to try to convince those who are currently leading Zimbabwe that they are on the wrong path.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: I just need (inaudible) to ask you about Zimbabwe (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are these new sanctions that you're talking about? Is this an extension? Is it --

MR. MCCORMACK: This -- it's an extension, I believe. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any more specifics on those or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any. Don't have any other specifics.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Argentina has asked for an investigation into the Bush Al Jazeera bombing issue. How is the U.S. going to deal with this and why hasn't there been any comment on this issue yet --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the White House --

QUESTION: -- from the Bush Administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the White House has addressed the issue and I don't have any comment beyond what they have said on that.

QUESTION: They haven't -- I mean, they haven't really gave -- they haven't really given an answer to this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have any comment beyond what the White House has offered on the issue.

QUESTION: Can I make a follow-up on the Zimbabwe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's move around a little bit. If we have time, we'll come back to you.

Yes, Janine.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have comments -- the reports out of Iran that Iran and the EU-3 have agreed to resume talks on the weapons program? Anything? You might have commented on Friday and I might have missed it on the IAEA meeting. Any further comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven't seen a news report that Iran has committed to come back to the talks with the EU-3. I'm not disputing it; I just haven't seen the report.

We have encouraged Iran to get back to the table, negotiating table, with the EU-3. The EU-3 is working very closely with Russia as well as others to try to address Iranian concerns as well as the world's concerns. The world's concerns center around the fact that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. Every indication, based on information provided to the IAEA as well as in the IAEA's own reports, are that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. Just at the -- not this past Board of Governors meeting but the one just prior to that, they were found in noncompliance with their treaty obligations. That's a serious message to Iran.

So our efforts with the IAEA Board of Governors and in support of the EU-3 and the Russians, has been to get Iran back to the negotiating table. What the Russians have put forward is an interesting proposal and that proposal is that Iran not be allowed access on its soil to that sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technology that could lead as a next step to a nuclear weapon and that is reprocessing enrichment technology. So we believe that that is a very interesting proposal from the Russian Government. We support the Russian Government and the EU-3 in making that proposal to the Iranian Government. We're not party to that proposal, but we support them in that. And we support the EU-3's attempts to negotiate a solution to this issue with the Iranians.

At the last IAEA Board of Governors meeting we made a decision after consultations with the EU-3, as well as others, that we would give this negotiating effort a little diplomatic running room. And we'll see if the Iranians come back to the negotiating table with the EU-3 and the Russians and are ready to negotiate in a serious, constructive manner. So we are willing as a government in the interest of diplomacy to try to find a diplomatic solution to this issue to let that initiative run its course. And we hope that the Iranians do come back in a serious way to negotiate. If not, there are certainly a number of other diplomatic steps to take.

We believe that we have the votes within the IAEA Board of Governors to refer Iran to the Security Council. We thought that was true at the last meeting. We chose not to pursue that course, but it is an option. And frankly, given Iran's past behavior we believe that it is likely that Iran will be referred to the Security Council, but we'll see. We'll see what the Iranians do. The ball is in their court and we'll see if they come back to the negotiating table and negotiate in a constructive manner with the EU-3.

Peter.

QUESTION: Going to Iran? Okay. Another topic?

QUESTION: I've seen it described as being the first high-level contact in decades with Iran. Is that accurate?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have through the Swiss channel, as well as through the UN, the ability to pass diplomatic messages to Iran. We, as I've said also, have had contact in the bond process, in the run-up to the formation of the Afghan Government and prior to that through the 6+2 forum. So, you know, I can't tell you exactly sort of rank wise who is involved in that. But certainly, at the bond process, there are senior level people that were involved in that process. I mean, at the ambassadorial rank.

QUESTION: Back in 2003, Khalilzad met with Iranians through the Swiss channel, I think.

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that was through the 6+2 process.

QUESTION: Or through the Geneva process, I think, the State Department called it back then.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Would this be the same constraints? I mean, that these talks would be held under UN supervision? Would they be held in Geneva? Would they be held in Baghdad?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, if there are, we'll get back to you if there any, in fact, meetings scheduled to address particular topics, then we'll certainly try to keep you informed of that.

QUESTION: So have you heard back from the Iranian Government as to whether they are open to this possibility?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, I haven't checked for --

QUESTION: With respect to the concept that Khalilzad has outlined that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, if there is a particular issue to discuss to try to resolve that Ambassador Khalilzad can do, again, within the constraints that I have talked about, I'm sure that there will be a meeting. If there is such a meeting that has taken place or is scheduled to take place, I will do my best to inform you of that -- in terms of -- and as well as any particular issues that may come up. But again, the mandate for this is quite narrow.

Yes.

QUESTION: Egypt. There are reports the Muslim Brotherhood said that 200 of its members were rounded up Monday in eight provinces there following their latest election successes in the latest round of voting. Can you comment on whether or not there is a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, what you think about it, and just generally what is now the quite evident successes of the Muslim Brotherhood in (inaudible) of elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple of things. One, you know, our -- you know, you understand our policy with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood. Secretary Rice outlined it in a question-and-answer session during her speech in Cairo. That hasn't changed.

We have seen reports of some violence, some arrests, some intimidation, as part of this electoral process. I don't know all -- I don't have all the facts with respect to who might have been arrested. We are looking into that.

But let me just say that all of this takes place in the -- you know, in the context of the wider electoral process in which we have seen some violence. We have seen arrests. We have seen intimidation, you know. For example, we have seen some reports that security forces have barred some voters from the polls. We have seen reports of some domestic monitors that were threatened and had difficulty accessing polling stations.

These are sources of real concern and we speak to the Egyptian Government -- we have spoken to the Egyptian Government about these concerns. We have spoken in public about these concerns. This is still an ongoing electoral process. There is still another round of parliamentary elections that take place, I believe, on December 1st. So we'll see how that plays out.

But we would urge the Government of Egypt to provide an atmosphere during this election process in which the Egyptian people, all Egyptian -- all the Egyptian people, can express their will through the ballot box and not fear violence, not fear intimidation by any group. That's important. That's the responsibility of any government in a democratic process to provide that atmosphere. And in terms of the election results to date, we note that there have been a number of independent candidates that have won seats in the new Egyptian parliament.

It's important in any democratic process for any healthy, vibrant, growing democracy that the results of an election reflect the will of the people. And this is, you know, again still an unfolding election process so I can't offer any final analysis, any final words on the Egyptian elections, but as with any democracy it is the people who get to choose who governs them. And it is important for the legitimacy of any democracy as it moves forward that the people have faith and confidence that their will, as expressed through the ballot box, is reflected in the results of the election that took place.

QUESTION: The independent (inaudible) say that there was -- most of the violence has, indeed, been initiated by the ruling party -- they're working with the security forces. So how does that square -- or maybe your opinion has changed -- I was going to ask you how does it square with what you said last week, which was that you were confident that the government actually does want peaceful elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- I think when we talked about last week is the fact that I think any government would want a peaceful election process. And as for any specifics of the arrest or the violence, we will take a look at the facts surrounding these arrests and the violence that has taken place. I'm not in a position at this point, I think, because I don't have all the facts to offer a final assessment of it, Saul. But I would point out as -- and I would repeat -- that it is the responsibility of the government to provide an atmosphere where people can express their will through the ballot box, so that they are not intimidated from casting a ballot one way or another. That should be the individual's choice, that they are not barred from polling places and that they don't hesitate to go to a polling place because they're afraid of violence around those polling places. The very fact of going to vote, they might somehow encounter violence.

Now it is -- no election is going to be perfect. But it is the responsibility of the government to do the best possible job to provide that kind of atmosphere.

QUESTION: So when you say that any government would want peaceful elections, you're not actually going as far to say that you know that's what the Egyptian Government wants (inaudible). As you've raised your concerns about the violence with them, have they given you assurances that that is also their goal?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we, in our discussions with the Egyptian Government, believe that they share the desire that the elections take place in an atmosphere that is free from violence. And we hope that they take all the steps necessary to ensure that that atmosphere surrounding this election process does prevail.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is it a matter of concern to the U.S. that the Muslim Brotherhood is advancing in elections and aren't you afraid or does it concern you that this thing might expand to other Middle Eastern countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we've talked about our position with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood. And in answer to Peter's question, I noted that the number of independent candidates, people running as independents have won seats in the parliament. Those people presumably have won seats in the parliament because that reflects the will of the people in those areas.

We think that in any election, regardless of where it may be, that the results of the elections and who it is that governs them -- whether it's in a parliament or Congress or Prime Minister or President -- that those individuals -- that the fact that those individuals there reflect the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot box. And you've heard Secretary Rice talk about this, that the legitimacy of any government, of any democracy is only strengthened by the fact that all people have an opportunity to express their will in a peaceful way through the ballot box, to include all members of society in the democratic process and that's important. That is the process that we are seeing in Egypt in which they have -- through changes of the law, they opened up presidential elections to multiparty candidates.

We saw a first step with that in the last presidential elections. We now have the parliamentary elections. So we'll see what sort of progress Egypt is making along the continuum in terms of opening up this process to all Egyptians so that they can express their will about who will govern them.

QUESTION: So you don't mind the Islamic Brotherhood that being stronger in Egypt?

MR. MCCORMACK: As I noted, that there are a number of independent candidates who have won seats in the parliament.

QUESTION: You're not afraid that the Algeria experience might --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think I would draw that parallel.

Yes.

QUESTION: Has the United States engaged with the Azerbaijani authorities over their rather energetic breakup of an opposition rally over the weekend?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- the Embassy put out a statement over the weekend in which we condemned the violent breakup of what was a peaceful protest. And we would expect that the Government of Azerbaijan hold to account those responsible for the violence against peaceful protestors.

Now, the -- again, this is another case in which the electoral process has not been finally concluded. There are some final certification of results -- it has to go through, I believe, a constitutional body. So that is something that is still ongoing.

We have very clearly expressed some serious concerns about the Azerbaijan -- the recent elections in Azerbaijan. The OSCE has spoken to the fact that the electoral -- the election process did not meet fully all -- international standards for a free and fair election. I think that we found that to be a factual statement.

But there have been also, on the positive side of the ledger, some developments that we would note. I put out one, for example, on which the government has fired several individuals who were found to be involved in fraudulent voting. That is certainly positive.

Once we have completed the election process -- and I expect that to happen in the not too distant future, to have an overall assessment about the electoral process. But before all the results are certified and all the final investigations are taken -- take place with regard to allegations of fraud, I don't think we can come to any final, final -- put a period at the end of the sentence on these elections quite yet.

Saul.

QUESTION: Actually, I have one question on Egypt, if we can go back to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How you explained it is that when the U.S. has been discussing the election with the Egyptian authorities, the U.S. has come to believe that the Egyptian Government does share the view that the elections should be peaceful, but you've also shown by the things you've cited that the election has turned out not to be peaceful.

So the question is: Do you think it's turned out not to be peaceful because the government wants it to be peaceful but actually can't control its own security forces or do you think it's that they say one thing to you and then actually allow other things deliberately to happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: Saul, with -- again, with respect to some of these specific incidents, I don't think from here I have all of the facts so I can't offer an assessment of -- to who exactly was responsible for what. I think that we hope over time that these incidents of violence will be better understood so that they don't occur again. I think in order to understand how to prevent it in the future, you have to understand what precisely happened. I don't think we have all the facts on that score.

In terms of your -- I can only -- I can only relate to you the -- some of the impressions that we have as a result of some of our contacts with the Egyptians. I would leave it to the Egyptian Government to speak specifically to what their plans are and with respect to these elections.

Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have any update on the missing American in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think that our Embassy in Baghdad has confirmed that there is an American who is missing. I don't have any additional information to provide you at this point. I think that you -- we all hope that this individual, as some of the other individuals that are missing, are returned safe and sound to their families as quickly as possible. We are in contact with the family of the American citizen, but I think you'll all understand that out of respect for their privacy, I'm not going to be able to get into too many details of that contact.

Peter.

QUESTION: Sean, in Kenya. The government apparently has imposed a ban on demonstrations by the opposition that are seeking to call for new elections after the rejection of the constitution. Can you give me a reaction to the government's actions?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen that report, Peter. I do know that recently the people of Kenya in a yes-or-no vote rejected changes to a new constitution. That is -- that, I think, we believe reflects the will of the Kenyan people. That is a decision for them -- that was a decision for them to take with regard to their constitution.

As for this particular report, I'll have to look at --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Also, yeah -- we'll take a -- we'll see what we can get for you on that.

QUESTION: Can I try another election then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Chechnya. (Inaudible) is saying that the parliamentary elections in Chechnya reflects a return to normalcy and constitutional government. Does the United States agree with that assessment?

MR. MCCORMACK: We hope that the leaders of Chechnya at all levels, working together with Russian officials, would build on the elections that have taken place and find ways to bring the conflict there to an end and to isolate and eliminate terrorists and establish a more normal life based on democratic principles. I think we have said it before, but we call for an end to human rights abuses by all parties of the conflict and urge that those who have committed such abuses be held accountable and the United States Government supports Russian territorial integrity as something again that we have said in the past. And we reiterate in the strongest terms our condemnation of those who engage in terrorism. No cause, no circumstances justify such actions.

Yes. Let's move to the back, I'll come back to you. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Sir, according to the article published yesterday in The London Observer, Allawi alleged that the Shiite politicians has set up death squads and torture centers. He's also saying that human rights are worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. How would you comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We believe that the Government of Iraq, including the Iraqi Minister of Human Rights and other human rights ministry officials, take the task of ensuring the basic human rights of all Iraqi citizens seriously. I think that we all share the concerns of those in Iraq when recent incidences of what appeared to me abuses of human rights have come to light. Those instances need to be investigated and the Iraqi Government needs to hold those responsible for those abuses to account. There are no free passes here. And especially in Iraq in which the Iraqi people are emerging from the shadow of a terrible tyranny under Saddam Hussein that in which he was responsible for the torture and murder of untold number of people that the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people are particularly sensitive on this issue.

So we again call upon any instances of abuses of human rights to be investigated, investigated thoroughly and to hold those responsible to account.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Concerning Lebanon and Syria. You know, there's a committee that is supposed to be join the borders between Lebanon and Syria but Syria has excluded the Shebaa Farms when it always said before that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese. So do you have any comment on this and how do you see -- I mean, this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a -- the UN has gone through. They have drawn a demarcation line and again these are --

QUESTION: No, but (inaudible) Lebanon and Syria, not Lebanon and Israel.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right -- right. And these are issues that need to be worked out between the Lebanese and the Syrian Government. The UN has drawn -- drawn a line of demarcation there.

Peter.

QUESTION: And one thing on Syria there. Apparently, the Syrians are saying that there's a key witness in the Hariri investigations, recanted his testimony -- he went on TV, recanted his testimony -- so now they're demanding that the UN report be totally scrapped and be -- at least be reviewed in light of this new testimony there. Do you have -- are you familiar with that? Are you aware --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think what we'll do -- I think what we'll do is we'll let an independent investigator, Mr. Mehlis, make the decisions about what is credible and what is not credible and what should be included in his report. I would note that he is going to be interviewing several officials from the Syrian Government in Vienna in the next day or two. His work needs to be able to proceed in a manner free from any outside influence. We have refrained while he is working on his report to comment on any potential preliminary findings or press accounts that may come out about, you know, facts or alleged facts, so I'm not going to try to comment on those.

QUESTION: Are you familiar with --

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports. I've seen the news reports. And I think what we need to do is let Mr. Mehlis do his work. He has provided an important report to -- the preliminary report to the Security Council. The Security Council acted to tell Syria through a UN Security Council resolution that it needs to cooperate. They have apparently decided to cooperate by sending these witnesses to Vienna. We hope only that that cooperation continues and is expanded.

And I would note just -- you brought up the issue of Syria and Lebanon and the investigation of the assassination of Mr. Hariri. I would note that a journalist who was a target of an assassination attempt, May Chidiac, has recently returned to the air, working for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. I think that's an important statement about the will of the Lebanese people to determine for themselves what their future is going to be, free from any attempts to stifle free and open dialogue in that country.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been talks that President Asad's brother and brother in-law have been dropped from the investigation. Is there any deal that has been struck in order for Syria to go to Vienna?

MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to talk to Mr. Mehlis about who he is investigating and who he's talking to.

All right. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

DPB # 201

# # #

Released on November 28, 2005

ENDS


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