State Dept Daily Press BriefingNovember 30 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 30, 2005
The Practice of Rendition
Letter from EU Presidency Foreign Secretary Straw on Alleged
Secret Detainee Sites / Request for Information
Issue of US Response to Alleged Detentions / Fighting War on
Terrorism / European Cooperation / European Public
Assistant Secretary Dan Fried's Meeting with Dutch Government /
Request for Information on Alleged Detentions
Read-out of Meeting with German Foreign Minister / Issues
Concerning Iran / US Support of EU-3
Reports of Stories Planted in Iraqi Press / Department of Defense
Update on Hostages / Missing German Citizen and Offer of US
Issue of Participation in National Assembly Elections
Incident with Congressional Delegation
Reports of Arrests of Muslim Brotherhood Members
Electoral Process / Freedom to Participate in Political Process
Release of Information on HIV/AIDS Day
Mexican Authorities Lifting of Ban on Extradition of Criminals and
Fugitives / US Reaction to Decision
12:48 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements, so I'd be pleased to get right into your questions. Let's get the first one.
QUESTION: Why don't we sort of go back to what's emerged from yesterday?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On the -- after the German visit and regarding the secret prisons, you obviously took a couple of steps forwards by acknowledging that you -- you know, there was concern and you also said that we are going to give them an answer. I wonder if now, as you're evaluating how to do that and how to address the concern, you're sort of thinking how you can present your message. I know I wanted you to answer a question here. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: There is a question in there.
QUESTION: There is, yeah. Well, I'm trying to get the question in before Charlie says, "Thank you." (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Insert it at any time, Charlie. Feel free.
QUESTION: You can't talk about intelligence but you can talk about the principles of the United States, so are you able to enunciate for the Europeans what your principles are regarding, for example, you know, renditions? Do you think they're wrong or do you think there is a place for them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I wouldn't be in a position to talk about any type of intelligence operations, Saul. It's just a constraint that you know that I have in talking from this podium. But just as a theoretical legal matter, I understand the practice of renditions is one that is recognized at the -- by the international system. Beyond that, I couldn't get into any of the details for you about that, Saul. You'd have to talk to some of our international law experts.
QUESTION: So if you are prepared to go as far as saying that as a theoretical legal matter that's recognized, how about the issue of secret prisons? I don't know if those complaining in Europe have actually made the argument that these things are illegal. They may not like them, but are -- in principle, having secret prisons, would that be illegal?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, what you're getting back to is the question that we spent quite a bit of time on yesterday, the substance, the core of your question. And we have all seen the news reports about the allegations of secret detainee sites. It's not a -- these are reports that I cannot confirm or deny the substance of for you. So the sort of core of your question is just not one that I can get into from any particular angle. I appreciate the fact we're trying to come at it from a different angle. I can't do that.
One thing I can do for you is I know it's of interest to all of you -- we talked about it yesterday -- is we have received a letter from the EU presidency, from Foreign Secretary Straw. The UK is currently -- currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. And although I'm not in a position to release the letter for you, just as a matter of practice, I think that that would be something that would be up to the UK to decide whether or not they, in fact, release the letter, I can describe the gist of it for you.
I would say that what it does is it asks for information from the United States regarding press reports about the alleged detention or transportation of terrorist suspects in or through EU member states. And the letter does talk about the fact that these press reports have been -- have attracted considerable attention among European publics as well as parliaments.
So our reaction -- we have just received the letter recently. I think it was either last night or today. I didn't get the exact time. We will, as I said yesterday, endeavor to respond to this letter to the best of our ability in a timely and forthright manner. We haven't had a chance to compose that response so I'm not going to presuppose what will be contained in the response. But as I said yesterday, we will try to -- when we do provide that response to the EU -- I'll try to provide as much information as I possibly can to you about that response.
QUESTION: Does the letter characterize detention or overflights as illegal under EU law?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. It talks about alleged U.S. detention or transportation. It talks in terms of the news reports and these allegations.
QUESTION: Does it do anything other than ask for information?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Have you -- you just said you don't have a specific timeline for answering that, but have you made any further progress on answering the queries that were already outstanding?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have no updates for you on that.
QUESTION: When you say it's been -- it's going to be a timely answer, is it that the Secretary will deliver the response when she's in Europe?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I'm sure that this will be a question that she has discussions with her counterparts in Europe. I'm sure it will come up.
QUESTION: But you don't --
MR. MCCORMACK: As for the response to the letter, as I said, I can't give you a specific timeline at the moment, but we will do our best to respond in as timely a manner as possible.
QUESTION: Wouldn't it be awkward, though, for her to be in Europe without having given a response on this? I mean, do you expect to be able to do it before she leaves?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see what the timeline is. At this point I can't speak to exactly when we will provide a response to Foreign Secretary's Straw's letter. I can say that the Secretary will look forward to having whatever discussions concerning this matter do arise in her meetings in Europe.
I would note one thing -- yesterday -- from yesterday's discussion. I would underline it again for you today. All of these questions concerning these allegations of overflights and secret detainee sites for those who may have engaged or intended to engage in terrorist activities all take place within the context of fighting a war against terrorism. As I said yesterday, this is a different kind of war. This is a war in which countries -- European, American and others around the world -- employ all their aspects of national power in order to fight a shadowy enemy, an enemy that doesn't recognize any rules, doesn't recognize any laws, doesn't recognize any regulations. Their sole intent is to try to kill innocent civilians in an attempt to undermine our way of life.
So that is not to say the United States acts in contravention to its laws, the Constitution or its international obligations. But it is to say that this is a different kind of war in which we use our military assets, that we use our assets to dry up terrorist financing, that we use our law enforcement assets, that we use our intelligence assets. And inasmuch as our intelligence community and intelligence agencies are engaged in fighting this war on terrorism, I'm not in a position to talk about some potential actions that our intelligence community may or may not be engaged in. I don't think -- I think the American publics as well as foreign publics certainly understand that because to discuss -- to potentially discuss such actions undermines -- would undermine our ability to fight the war on terrorism.
So I note this just to bring to your attention, to bring to the attention of the American public as well as foreign publics, that this is a different kind of war that we're fighting. And make no mistake, we are in a war. These individuals, these groups, are intent and they continue to plot and plan to try to kill Americans, Europeans and others around the world.
QUESTION: As you say, this is a different kind of war and the President has also said that different kind of tactics are probably needed to fight this kind of war. So does that mean that because it's a different kind of war with different kind of threats, that the use of covert sites would be justified?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this gets back to that same core point that, you know, I just am not at liberty from this podium to discuss, to either confirm or deny.
QUESTION: One more?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back to you.
QUESTION: Does the United States through outreach and diplomacy believe that the publics of Europe and the government of Europe -- governments of Europe also believe that this is a different kind of war that perhaps requires different kinds of tactics?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I think -- I don't have any particular polling data. I haven't seen any polls on that and, you know, I leave it to you whether or not you believe, you know, any particular poll on these subjects. But I think the fact -- the very fact that the people of Europe themselves have experienced terrorism, they have suffered losses in this war against terrorism, whether that is on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq or in the capitals of Madrid or London, that I think they understand very clearly what kind of war it is that we're fighting, that this is an enemy that is determined to strike at them when they are engaged in their daily activities -- riding a bus, getting on a train, flying on an airplane.
I think that people are acutely aware of the fact that this is a different kind of war and the very fact that we do -- that we have managed to build an extraordinary cooperation on a variety of different levels with European governments as well as other governments in fighting this war on terrorism, I think is testimony to the fact that governments certainly understand. I think that reflects the will of the people as well that we are fighting a different kind of war and that we have built up relationships on law enforcement, the military, in terms of intelligence cooperation in fighting this war.
QUESTION: But in Europe the people didn't know about these secret prisons, as the U.S. public didn't know about it, so when you say that they understand this kind of war and that your partnerships are testimony to that, don't they deserve to have the answers then that they -- their governments and we are asking you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this gets back to Saul's point to and Sue's -- and Sue's point.
QUESTION: Well, of course, it's the same issue. It's all going to get back to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And I -- again, I'm happy to entertain these questions. I can't go any further than I have in my previous answers to that particular point.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a different question then.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Dan Fried is in Holland, I believe. He's still there, had talks there about trying to get more troops for Afghanistan and other issues. And this came up, I believe, with the Dutch Government and there are some reports indicating that the Dutch Government was pressing the Administration through Assistant Secretary Fried to come out with more information. And can you tell us whether there was any kind of link to whether they'd be willing to send more troops to ISAF or any of the other Dutch efforts based on what information they get from you on the secret prisons?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a full readout of his meetings. He is in The Hague today with an interagency team to discuss a variety of different issues. I can say that Foreign Minister Bot did in a general way raise these news reports, these allegations. There was -- they did also talk about the ISAF mission and possible Dutch participation in that ISAF mission which involves sending Dutch troops to a certain province, I think in the south -- southeast of Afghanistan, that they would be working together with other European forces in that region along with American forces. But there was -- my understanding is in their meetings there was no linkage between those two issues.
QUESTION: Did they press you to come out with more public information on saying that their own -- that the Dutch people were not -- would perhaps not be supportive of sending more troops into any kind of --
MR. MCCORMACK: See, that's the readout I have. Admittedly, it's not a full readout, but that's what I was able to get before I came out for the briefing on the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay. You didn't get --
MR. MCCORMACK: But there was -- I did get that certainly in the meeting there was no linkage made between those two issues.
QUESTION: And how much pressure to give more information publicly?
MR. MCCORMACK: All I have is that it was raised in a general way.
QUESTION: What does that mean? What does --
MR. MCCORMACK: Foreign Minister Bot raised it in a general --
QUESTION: And said --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's all I have. I'm happy to try to provide more information.
QUESTION: Okay. Just find out if he said you need to tell us more, you need to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Whatever we can provide in addition, we'll try to do for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Elise.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. In relation to that and also to the fact that you say you have this extraordinary cooperation in the war on terror and the fact that the Europeans are saying that this is causing enormous concern in their publics, do you see that this issue is becoming a stumbling block or could put at risk the excellent cooperation that you've enjoyed thus far in the war on terror, in Afghanistan, in other areas of foreign policy?
MR. MCCORMACK: We talked a little bit about this yesterday, but I can say, you know, just based on a sample size of one, the Secretary's meeting with the German Foreign Minister yesterday, as we talked about yesterday, this issue did come up at the meeting. But in no way, shape or form was this the major topic of conversation. In fact, they focused most of their conversation, the vast majority of their conversation, on a variety of other issues, including Afghanistan, including Iran, including U.S.-European relations and the importance of supporting the spread of democracy in those areas of Europe which it has not reached, and to support those emerging democracies like Ukraine.
So that was the core of their conversation. And inasmuch as we today and yesterday are spending a lot of time talking about this issue instead of talking about other things like our cooperation on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons or on Iraq or on Afghanistan or on fighting the war on terrorism, then, yeah, it is taking up -- it is taking up time in the public discourse. I understand that. I understand, you know, because of these news reports, you know, that these questions are coming to us. But I can tell you that, again, admittedly, on a very small sample size, I have not seen any evidence that these allegations or this public discussion has in any way diminished our cooperation on issues in which we have a shared interest, as I discussed.
QUESTION: Do you think that there's a danger that this concern among European publics, among European governments, could infect the cooperation that you're enjoying with these countries, making it more difficult for them to continue cooperation with you?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen no indication of that thus far, and we certainly hope that as we expand our cooperation with countries of Europe and other countries around the world on issues of mutual interest, that we do that on the basis of that mutual interest.
Let me move -- I'll come back to the front. Let's move back here.
QUESTION: You said yesterday and today a few minutes ago that those flights should be viewed in the large context on the battle against global terrorism. I'm wondering since Human Rights Watch named also Greece and Cyprus, did you ask permission from those two countries in the EU to land the planes? Because EU, Mr. McCormack, is raising now the flag for serious consequences, including losing even voting rights for those members states hosting such U.S. flights.
MR. MCCORMACK: As I said yesterday, we have received a number of different inquiries concerning these allegations and these news reports. We will endeavor to respond to those requests for information in as forthright and as timely a manner as we are possibly able. I can talk about this letter that we have received from the EU presidency. The Secretary has pledged to the German Foreign Minister that we will respond to the best of our ability to this letter from Foreign Secretary Straw.
And as for the other inquiries, I will keep you up to date as best I can in terms of our response.
QUESTION: Will you allow similar flights from EU countries to various locations in the United States of America in the name of international terrorism?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything else for you.
QUESTION: Well, actually, that's what I wanted to ask you about, returning to the letter for a moment. Your phrase that she pledged to the Foreign Minister that she would respond to the best of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Those aren't her exact words, but I'm paraphrasing.
QUESTION: -- the United States would respond to the best of its ability, or words to that effect. I mean, unless I'm missing something, you don't have that many choices: You can either answer their questions release the information and then the question is answered once and for all, do these things exist and do the flights exist; you could stiff the Europeans and say, no, we're not going to answer the question; or answer the question secretly, you know, without telling us what the answer is, whereupon it would probably leak in Europe anyway. But does this letter, in your view, get us to answering the question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's -- we just received the letter, so I'm not going to prejudge what will be in our response. As I, you know, pledged to you yesterday, I will do -- to the best of my ability, I will try to keep you informed as to what our response is to this letter. So at this point I don't have any indication what the particular response is going to be this letter.
QUESTION: You can't elucidate the "best of our ability" thing? I mean the --
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point I can't, no.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, Sean. If, you know, if all this stuff is a matter of intelligence and classified, to what extent can the U.S. respond in a manner that, you know, the EU public will, I don't know, accept or, you know, understand?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. I'll have to refer you back to my answer to Anne's question, let's see what response we generate for the EU regarding this issue, and I'll try to keep you up to date on that response as best I can.
QUESTION: But you acknowledge that it's difficult because of matters of intelligence?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, inasmuch as these news reports and these allegations refer to potential intelligence activities, I certainly, in a public forum, could not get into those things. I can't confirm or deny these allegations or these reports. But again, inasmuch as the allegations involve the intelligence community, it's not something that I could get into.
QUESTION: When you're asked these questions, you often, if not always, stress the broader context of the war on terrorism.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And today you said, in part, you're noting that for the European publics. Now, in Europe, the debate's generally focused on other things and you haven't heard that voice very much. Are you hoping that you can reframe the debate a little bit and add that so that the European publics are aware of it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think it's important that people, again, focus on the larger context in which these allegations have arisen. And I think because in the United States and some places in Europe, because there hasn't been a terrorist attack recently or some -- or in some places in Europe there hasn't been a terrorist attack, there is a tendency to think that it might not be coming. But again, make no mistake, they are plotting, they are planning and there are people in London, in Madrid and other places in Europe who have experienced terrorism who can tell you that these killers are out to target innocent civilians and also to undermine, you know, our way of life to attack the very freedoms that we are fighting to defend in -- on battlefields around the world.
QUESTION: If your cooperation with these countries is so close, why are they having to write a public letter and ask you for answers that you could have given them already?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't speak to any particular aspect of a cooperation with a given country. I can talk in general terms about the fact that we do have excellent cooperation on a variety of different levels, like I talked about, in terms of intelligence cooperation, in terms of law enforcement, in terms of drying up terrorist financing, in terms of military actions. So there is a wide variety -- a wide spectrum of cooperation by -- between the U.S. Government as well, between -- and European governments as well as governments around the world.
Now, we also note that inasmuch as there is intelligence cooperation between the U.S. Government and European governments and other governments around the world, that some of that cooperation -- and, you know, I don't want to get outside my lane here, I'm the Spokesman for the State Department -- but I think it's safe to say that obviously there is exchange of classified information when you do have intelligence cooperation.
Now, I don't think that the American publics or European publics or any public around the world would want to -- want their government to do something that would jeopardize their ability to protect those publics, to protect the American people, to protect European citizens or citizens around the world. And that is the nature sometimes of intelligence cooperation. That is the world in which we live, in which we're fighting this different kind of war on terrorism.
Now, it is the responsibility also of governments to explain as clearly as possible to their publics and publics around the world what it is that they are doing in fighting the war on terrorism. But I think also publics have a certain understanding that they would not want anything -- they would not want to do something -- their government to do something that would undermine that government's ability to fight and win the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: One follow-up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: But don't you think that's really asking both the European publics and this American public to take a huge leap of faith to just say we're doing what we're doing to protect you, but we're not going to explain what we're doing or how we're doing it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that there is a fundamental -- just speaking very generally here as sort of Democracy 101, there is in the relationship between any government and the people that it governs an element of trust. The people put their -- through the ballot box put their trust in that government to do a variety of different things to fulfill the promises that the politicians that are elected make during campaigns. But the -- I think if you looked around the world, the -- most would agree that the primary responsibility of any government is to protect their people and to do everything that they can to provide for a secure, peaceful environment where their citizens and their nation can prosper.
QUESTION: Well, but if I might follow up. I mean, I don't want to get too into political science, but isn't it also to uphold the laws of the state and the international laws and treaties by which the country is bound?
MR. MCCORMACK: And what we have said is that the United States Government is -- that we abide by our laws, American laws, we abide by our Constitution, and that we comply with our international obligations.
QUESTION: Allegations of that supposed, you know, secret flights, secret prisons in Europe has raised the suggestion maybe that the United States doesn't respect the sovereignty of these countries. Now, you do not violate your international obligations. Can you reassure the countries of Europe that the United States does respect their sovereignty?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it -- I think you can assume that we as a government respect the sovereignty of our friends and allies.
QUESTION: Just out of interest, have any countries come forward and said in this, you know, global war on terror, you're very welcome to use our countries as the site for such questioning? I'll say, not -- I'm not using the word "prison sites." I'm just saying questioning.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nice try. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, have any countries come forward and said --
MR. MCCORMACK: I mean, that's not --
QUESTION: -- you know, all this brouhaha, we --
MR. MCCORMACK: I understand we're going to come at this from a variety of different angles. I respect that, but I don't have anything to add to my previous answers on the topic.
QUESTION: Washington Post reported today, Mr. McCormack, "There is a tone in the European press, an anti-American sentiment, that I have not seen in a year," said one senior U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity. Do you share this opinion? What is your --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure -- don't -- share what opinion? I didn't hear the last bit.
QUESTION: If there -- if you notice any anti-American sentiment in Europe via to those illegal flights.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, what we can do is try to explain as best we can our efforts in fighting the war on terrorism, our efforts to put the U.S.-European relationship to positive use around the world and we see it -- we see it at work in a variety of different ways and a variety of different fora, whether that's with -- in support of the EU-3 concerning Iran, or in Afghanistan in helping that country consolidate the hard-fought, hard-won gains that they have -- that the people of Afghanistan have made recently.
So that's our focus. That certainly is the tone and tenor of the private conversations, the diplomatic conversations that we are having with our interlocutors in European governments, and we will continue to make that case to European and other publics around the world.
Nicholas. Do you have --
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: India. Are you -- and I apologize if this has been discussed in the last few days, but are you aware of a letter that a bipartisan group of security experts and former officials, including from this building, has sent to the Congress regarding the nuclear deal with India, asking the Congress to review it very carefully and not to approve it in its current form?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the letter. I'm happy to look into it for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Teri.
QUESTION: What can you say about this story that the Pentagon, I guess, or Administration, any other building, planted these stories in the Iraqi press?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I saw those news reports today and the -- talked to my colleagues over at the Pentagon. They are looking in these news reports and I think that they're probably in the best position to address those news reports.
But I would say only that from our perspective that we support the development, and in fact encourage the development, of a free, responsible Iraqi press. And I think that there's been quite a growth in the number of Iraqi media outlets. We work with those media -- that we work with those media outlets in a transparent way to help them understand journalistic best practices. Some of that involves doing work with these journalists outside -- outside of Iraq in terms of exposing them to your colleagues from around the world to talk about how it is that you -- you do your job. We think that a free and responsible press is an essential element of any democracy and we're working -- working -- the State Department is working certainly within the appropriate bounds to do that in Iraq.
QUESTION: Would you consider that an appropriate way to -- I don't know -- instruct or be an example for responsible reporting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Inasmuch as these news reports talk about the Department of Defense, I'm going to have to refer you over to them. They are looking into these news reports --
QUESTION: But why --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- and beyond that, I don't have --
QUESTION: Why would they have to look into the news reports if it's -- if it's happening, wouldn't they know they did it.
MR. MCCORMACK: You'd have to talk to them about those issues.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran? Are you finished?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq for a little bit?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: After months of no Westerners being taken hostage, there are now five in custody. Do you -- does the State Department have any theories about whether the kidnappings are related? And if so, why now?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I don't have any information to suggest that these are connected. We did -- the Secretary did talk to the German Foreign Minister yesterday concerning the case of the German -- the missing German citizen. We have offered whatever support we can to the German Government in their efforts to see that that person is returned safe and sound to her family.
In terms of the other four individuals that are hostages, we have -- we have the news reports, we've seen the videotape, and there is nothing that justifies the taking of hostages. These are people that were in Iraq to help the Iraqi people on a peaceful mission. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and we hope to see them returned at the earliest possible moment to their friends and family. And our Embassy officials are working closely with Iraqi officials and officials from other missions whose citizens are being held to locate and secure the release of these individuals.
QUESTION: Can you -- any update on the hostages that you can give us or can you confirm the name of the American now that's --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand that the organization that sponsored Mr. Fox's trip and presence in Iraq has released his name.
QUESTION: Apparently, the EU-3 has canceled its meeting with Iran to talk about talks. I just wondered whether in her discussions yesterday with the German Foreign -- you mentioned that Iran was a topic of conversation. Did the German Foreign Minister give any indication, you know, where they were at the moment in terms of talking to Iran, what the views are at the moment?
MR. MCCORMACK: No specific update in terms of a date or a time for the meeting. They talked very generally about our support for the EU-3's efforts as well as our support for the Iranians engaging the EU-3 and the Russians concerning their ideas and their proposals.
We -- you know, she underlined our concerns about the nuclear fuel cycle and Iran obtaining the nuclear fuel cycle and underscored the critical importance that Iran not be able to obtain the enrichment or reprocessing capability on Iranian territory. And I think there was -- everybody was on the same page in terms of the importance of seeing that Iran not be able to obtain the technology or know-how to develop a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So was the sense that the timing is just not right to be talking to the Iranians now and that you should wait a month or so?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I didn't get that sense at all. In fact, we have encouraged the Iranians to return at the earliest possible time to the negotiating table in a serious and constructive way with the EU-3 as well as the Russians.
QUESTION: Sean, some of the opposition parties in Venezuela, including a couple important ones, apparently will boycott the election this weekend. And some of the Venezuelan Government people are saying that the United States was a hidden hand behind this decision that these -- that the U.S. at least gave encouragement to this. And I wonder if you had anything on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the answer to that is no. But we understand that several of Venezuela's principal opposition political parties have decided not to participate in Sunday's national assembly elections because of their lack of confidence in the electoral system's transparency and ability to guarantee the secrecy of the vote. Some parties have decided to remain in the race while other parties have yet to announce a final decision on participation.
Venezuelans, like all people, have a right to free and fair elections. We are concerned that this right is increasingly in jeopardy and will continue to support the Venezuelan people's efforts to advance transparent electoral processes and to safeguard their basic political and civil rights. But this decision not to participate in the elections by these political parties was a decision by those political parties.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Charlie.
QUESTION: A question on the theme of the previous question. Do you have anything to say about Egypt and the arrest of large numbers of Muslim Brotherhood as the election campaign there continues?
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, I've seen the news reports of these arrests. I don't have -- you know, I can't confirm for you the facts concerning who exactly was arrested. But I think as a general point, we want to -- we think it's important that all Egyptians have the ability to express their will about Egypt's future direction and their -- as well as the future direction of their political system through the ballot box. We think that that's an important right and that the Egyptian Government has a responsibility to provide an atmosphere for its people in which they can feel as though they have -- they are not encumbered, they are not barred from or under the threat of violence or coercion, in exercising that basic political right.
QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: And therefore, does the arrest of these people impinge on that right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, again, I can't -- you know, I can't confirm for you the specific facts concerning these arrests, the specific facts surrounding, you know, who exactly it was that was arrested or the circumstances concerning their arrests. But I would just point you back to the basic principle that we believe that all Egypt's citizens should be able to participate in the political process, feel that they are free to participate in the political process and express their will through the ballot box.
Inasmuch as any of the individuals arrested broke any Egyptian laws, which I can't confirm for you at this point, we would underscore the importance that they receive due process and that that due process unfolds in an atmosphere of transparency and openness.
QUESTION: On the Venezuelan issue from yesterday, is there any follow-up to the plane -- the co-del incident? Venezuela released a statement yesterday and it did not include an apology, by any means.
MR. MCCORMACK: There was one that was given to our Embassy, unless they misunderstood that, and I don't think they did.
QUESTION: What was -- what did they apologize for? Because in the statement the Foreign Ministry said that they'd only been made to wait because they went to the wrong gate or there was another gate they were supposed to be going through.
MR. MCCORMACK: The congressional delegation landed there. The arrangements were made. The arrangements were made and understood between our Embassy and the Venezuelan Government. The Venezuelan Government didn't follow through on their end of those arrangements.
The congressional delegation decided that after 90 minutes of waiting on the tarmac, quite some distance from any terminal, that it was appropriate to leave. And I think that the fact the Venezuelan Government did choose to apologize to our Embassy, whether or not they made that apology public, underlines the fact that this congressional delegation was well within their rights to make the decision that they did.
QUESTION: What did they apologize for?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think they apologized for the incident and the fact that it took place.
QUESTION: Just for (inaudible) incident?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Was the apology in writing, or do you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check. I don't know if it was a phone conversation or in writing. I don't know.
QUESTION: Another subject, Mr. McCormack.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: On HIV/AIDS, tomorrow, December 1st, is the HIV/AIDS Day.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment? And I'm wondering if you're going to have any special event or like a special briefing for this event?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're going to be putting out some information for you, but also the Secretary is going to be recording a video message that we are going to put up on the website. It's going to be a podcast so we'll let you see what she has to say there tomorrow.
QUESTION: One more. On Kosovo, there's some reporting in Europe that the United States has put forward a list of criteria for a Kosovo agreement, not recommendations for the terms but rather criteria for an agreement. I wonder if you have anything on that at all.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I'll look into it for you.
Yeah. One more from this gentleman here and then --
QUESTION: Mexico. Yes, it's Mexico. Extradition has been a very contentious issue between Mexico and the United States for you all in the recent years. And yesterday the Mexican Supreme Court lifted the ban for extraditing both criminals and fugitives that, you know, face life imprisonment here in the United States. Is the United States now happy about this decision? Would this foster a better partnership?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I understand that this is a decision that has been taken by Mexican authorities and we welcome the news of -- we welcome the news of the decision. And we're still studying its potential effect and scope. It's a very, very recent decision. But to the extent the decision removes the bar to extradition of fugitives facing life imprisonment, we consider it a positive development and await -- and we're going to await some further analysis on the issue before making further comment. But I think our initial reaction is that it's a positive development.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)
DPB # 203
Released on November 30, 2005