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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 15,

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 15, 2005

INDEX:

IRAQ
Today is Important, Historic Day for Iraqi People, World
Elections Relatively Free From Violence, Meeting International Standards
Reports That Voter Turnout higher Than October / No closing of
Polls Due to Violence
Allegations of Interference, Forged Ballots from Iran
Unsubstantiated
Iraqi Decision to Accept or Reject Egyptian Offer to Train Troops
Iraqi Soldiers Now Training other Iraqi Troops / Continued
International Assistance Important

GERMANY
Al-Masri Kidnapping

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Elections Scheduled for January
Hamas Participation in Government Contradictory to Democratic
System / Palestinians Must Resolve Issue
U.S. Does not have Contact with Politicians From Terrorist Groups

MEXICO
U.S. Welcomes Decision to Extradite Drug Trafficker Hector Luis
Palma
Law Enforcement High Priority in Bilateral Relations
U.S. Looks Forward to Working with Incoming Government
Cooperation along Border Region Improving

HAITI
U.S. Working Closely with United Nations, OAS, International
Community on Organizing Elections
Elections Crucial for Moving Beyond Violent Past, Corrupt
Government

BOLIVIA
U.S. Hopes Elections Take Place in Atmosphere Free From Violence
U.S. Concerned about Reports of Interference by Venezuela / U.S.
Calls for Positive Involvement in Support of Struggling
Democracies
U.S. Supports Counter-narcotics Policy, Expects Bolivia to
Maintain Commitments to Fight Production and Transport of Illegal Drugs
Bilateral Relations Dependent on Intersection of Common
Interests


TRANSCRIPT:

1:22 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. You have braved the weather to be here at the briefing today, so I will jump right into your questions.

Mr. Schweid.

QUESTION: Yeah, what have you got to say at this stage about the Iraqi elections? Sunni turnout seems pretty good. We don't know the results now, though, but what do you think?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think as you've heard elsewhere that today is a historic day for the Iraqi people. What we see with today's elections, if we step back, is that the previously unthinkable has become commonplace, that you can have elections relatively free from violence, that you can have elections that by all appearances are meeting the standards of the international community that were set out for them, that you have Iraqis running these elections themselves and that you have so many different candidates running for office is really extraordinary, if you look back where we were just two or three short years ago.

So this is -- it's an important day for the Iraqi people. I think it's an important day for the world. I think it's an important day for all of those around the world who are struggling to spread freedom and democracy.

The reports that we are getting from the field are that the turnout in the Sunni areas is well above what it was in October, that there have been no closing of polling stations due to violence. There has been some violence surrounding the elections and there have been some that have lost their lives. We have reports of families bringing their children to the voting booths, letting the children put their fingers in the ink to show that they were -- that their family voted. So all in all, I think that this is a tremendous and historic day for the Iraqi people.

Yes.

QUESTION: You spoke yesterday a bit about the interference from Iran and possibly Syria. Have you noticed any evidence of any interference today or any meddling in the electoral process?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any reports -- don't have any reports of that. And to get back to a question that was asked yesterday, I think Charlie was asking about this -- some follow up. We've looked into these reports of a tanker truck full of forged ballots crossing over the border with Iran. What we have been able to discern from our people on the ground is that there is nothing to substantiate this allegation. I think around elections in these periods of time, you get a lot of (inaudible), a lot of rumor, and I think that this particular allegation falls in that category.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The Egyptian Ambassador, Mr. Fahmy, said that his country's been offering help to the U.S. to train Iraqi troops, but he's kind of been snubbed. Anything from the State Department on responding to Egypt's offer?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you should talk to the Iraqi Government. This is an issue -- he's not offering to train U.S. troops; he's offering to train Iraqi troops. And I think this is -- it's a bilateral issue for the Iraqis and the Egyptians to work out. I think the Iraqis have gone out and asked for other countries to assist in the training of troops, security forces. The Egyptian Government has made an offer, but made the offer to train those troops in Egypt. What the Iraqis have said is that they would prefer that that training take place in Iraq, for reasons of efficiency, including lower costs as well. So it's a good offer, but it's also an offer that needs to be agreed upon between those two parties.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. still maintain kind of an oversight function, though, in the training of those troops? They're certainly the lead agency (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Department of Defense has talked about the training program. General Dempsey has talked about this recently. He took it over from General Petraeus. What they have -- the model that they are moving towards right now is that you have a multinational force training component that is overseeing much of the training being done. But what's happening now is that you have -- you have arrived at the point where Iraqis are training Iraqis. Iraqis that were previously trained by American forces, by multinational forces, are now training their countrymen to become Iraqi soldiers.

So there is an element of having the Iraqis participate more and more in the actual training of their own soldiers. That said, certainly international assistance is important to continue the progress that's being made in the training of Iraqi security forces. And if Egypt and Iraq can come to agreement, that is mutually acceptable with regard to Egyptian participation in that effort, certainly we would support that. But it is an issue for the two sovereign governments to work out between the two of them.

QUESTION: Have you heard of any incidents where coalitions forces had to actively back up the Iraqi troops? I know that there the lead on security.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I have not, but let's wait until we get a full report back from the field. And we'll try to -- if there are any incidents of that sort, we'll try to get the information to you. But I would also check with DOD on that.

QUESTION: Otherwise, you feel the Iraqi forces were up to the job this time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess the one best indicator of the performance of the Iraqi forces during this election, in terms of keeping the polling sites safe is that, according to the reports that I have, there were no incidents where polling sites were closed for security reasons.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the McCain proposition that the Administration (inaudible) now finds it more attractive than it did in the past?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would refer you to a (inaudible) for their use on constitution (inaudible).

QUESTION: That's (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Good try. A valiant attempt.

Yes.

QUESTION: Linked to that topic. In Germany, apparently there are reports that a Al-Masri was paid off by the U.S. Government to keep quiet about his case for quite a while. I just wondered whether you had any comment on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Secretary --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the U.S. Ambassador paid him off?

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw those news reports. The Secretary addressed this topic when she was in Germany and on her trip to Europe. I don't have anything to add to what she said. There's currently pending litigation, not only in the United States but in Germany as well, concerning this topic. So there's little that I can add to what the Secretary said.

QUESTION: But would paying off a suspect -- someone like this be something that you would approve of? Disapprove of? Doesn't seem terribly legal.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it's a -- this is a matter of pending litigation and as such I don't have anything further to add to what the Secretary has previously stated on this issue.

QUESTION: Sean, is that really -- I mean, if it's already done, would that be something that's included in the lawsuit, if a payment had already been made?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, questions surrounding this entire -- questions surrounding these allegations made by Mr. Al-Masri are all part of the pending litigation in the United States as well as in Germany. So as is the case when you have a case that is before the court, there are certain constraints on making any comment in public concerning the case.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, can you confirm that the German Foreign Minister is coming back next week to have a meeting with the Secretary here?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check the schedule. I didn't -- I haven't looked that far ahead on her schedule but I'll check and if in fact he is, we'll let you know.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Later today, the House is expected to pass a resolution saying that the Palestinian Authority risks losing U.S. support if Hezbollah -- Hamas is -- takes part in the elections and joins the cabinet. Projections are that Hamas is probably going to get more than 30 seats, maybe more now that there's a split in Fatah. How would the U.S. deal with Hamas in a Palestinian Authority government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's, you know, first of all, let's let the elections take place. They're scheduled to take place at the end of January. This is a question that has come up frequently in this room concerning Hamas and the Palestinian political process. And our answer is the same. There is a fundamental contradiction when you have a terrorist group that wants to keep an option open on terror and the use of violence, killing innocent civilians, and at the same time, wants to participate in the political process. That's a fundamental contradiction that the Palestinian people need to resolve. It's a contradiction that needs to be resolved in any democratic society.

President Abbas has talked about the fact that in Palestinian society, there has to be one gun, one authority, one law. And that it is the Palestinian Authority that needs -- that has to be in charge of providing a safe, secure environment for the Palestinian people. Tragically, we saw the results of that not happening when a couple of months ago, you had some Hamas members who mishandled some explosives and as a result, killed innocent Palestinians.

So these are questions that are soon going to be before the Palestinian people. They, themselves, need to resolve this fundamental contradiction. How the Palestinian political class, how the Palestinian political environment evolves are questions for the Palestinian people to answer. But they do need to resolve that fundamental contradiction.

QUESTION: But the U.S. still deals with Lebanon even though Hezbollah is in the cabinet.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have no contact with the cabinet ministry from the Hezbollah Party.

QUESTION: But the government --

QUESTION: No, but you have contact with the government.

MR. MCCORMACK: We do work with the government.

QUESTION: So is the answer that you would work with the Palestinian Authority if it has Hamas members?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's an "if" in that sentence and the elections haven't yet taken place. Let's see what happens with the Palestinian elections and what the Palestinian people do to resolve that fundamental conflict.

Yes.

QUESTION: Some, as you know, some members of Hamas do hold seats on certain councils and in fact just today, there was a result in Nablus that Hamas members won 68 percent and Fatah only 19 percent. So it's not just a hypothetical that these people are taking seats in --

MR. MCCORMACK: And to my knowledge, we don't have any contact with those individuals. Hamas is a terrorist organization. And to my knowledge, we don't have -- I'm not aware of any contact between U.S. officials and those individuals.

QUESTION: And even if there are -- if they are in clear majority on the city council of Nablus, which is a key city there, obviously you'd then --

MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy is unchanged with respect to Hamas. It's a terrorist organization. We don't deal with it.

Yes.

QUESTION: About Colombia. Do you have today any statement, relate to the proposal that (inaudible) has gone to the FARC about withdrawing the troops in order to get the humanitarian agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: These are questions for the Colombian Government to answer. I believe that we also posted an answer on this last night for you.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it's for TV.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think we posted an answer for you on this last night. The fundamental part of that answer is that this is an issue for the Colombian people to resolve.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Mexican Government granted extradition of a high-profile drug trafficker, his name is Hector Luis Palma. Along with what the Mexican Supreme Court decided one month ago by lifting the ban for extraditing criminals and fugitives to the U.S., does this mean that a new era of cooperation is coming or do you feel that the new government coming next year in Mexico could repeal this kind of cooperation with the U.S. in matters of legal affairs?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we welcomed the decision that was taken to allow extraditions. On this particularly case, I don't -- I'm not aware of the particular facts around it. But we have made cooperation in the arena of law enforcement a high priority in our relationship with Mexico. It's by no means the only part of our relationship. We have a very broad relationship with the Mexican Government. We look forward to working with the incoming government after the elections in Mexico next year. I would only say that we have good law enforcement cooperation with Mexico concerning -- especially concerning the -- try to reduce violence along the border region. It has improved. That said, there's always room for more improvement in that cooperation and that's what we're continuing to work with and the Mexican Government.

QUESTION: Well, I have two questions. One is in Lebanon -- about Lebanon. There are more and more people asking for the departure of President Lahoud so -- because he's pro-Syrian. I wanted to know what is the position of the U.S.

MR. MCCORMACK: Those are questions for the Lebanese people to answer within the context of their own political system.

QUESTION: You don't have any position on President Lahoud?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a matter for the Lebanese people to address, again, within the context of their own political system.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other question is not related at all. It's about Haiti. Haiti requested U.S. help for the organization of their elections. And apparently they didn't receive any news, any answer. So I wanted to know what is the position of the U.S., if you are ready to send helicopters and money for the organization.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with respect to those particular comments, I'll have to take a look at them and see what the specifics are. But we, along with other countries in the hemisphere, as well as the United Nations and the OAS, have been deeply involved in assisting the Haitian people in organizing these elections. They're crucial for the Haitian people in Haiti moving beyond their past of violence and corrupt government institutions. So we, the United States, is very deeply involved in helping the Haitian people and the Haitian interim government organize these elections, working very closely with the OAS, working very closely with the Canadian Government, the UN as well.

So as for these specific comments, I haven't seen them. I'll take a look at them and if I have anything to add beyond that, I'll let you know.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment in the run-up to the elections in Bolivia at the end of this week? Any expectations or concerns?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we hope that the elections take place in an atmosphere free from violence in which Bolivian people can express their will through the ballot box. They, the Bolivian people, will decide who is best equipped to lead them. They have gone through some difficult, difficult times as of late. So as to who is the best person to lead them past this turbulent period in Bolivian political history, it's going to be up to the Bolivian people to decide that.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about reports by this Department, as well, about Chavez involvement in backing one of the candidates?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- we have talked previously about our concerns regarding President Chavez, under his direction, the Venezuelan Government's activities in the hemisphere. We believe that it is important to provide transparent positive support to emerging democracies, struggling democracies. You saw that evident when OAS Secretary General Insulza made a trip to Nicaragua that was followed up by a trip by Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick. We think that that has helped the political situation in Nicaragua. So that's the type of intervention that the Secretary talked about way back at the OAS summit in Florida. So that's the kind of positive involvement in helping democracies in the hemisphere that we and others in the hemisphere are looking for.

We have raised questions, frankly, about President Chavez's motives and activities in the hemisphere and we would call upon him and the Venezuelan Government to join in a positive agenda for the hemisphere in reinforcing democracy, reinforcing good governance, reinforcing the opening of markets so to expand trade, so that those who have been left behind in some of these economies are able to benefit from free trade. And we've talked about the nexus between the promotion of free trade and good governance. So those are all important elements of our positive agenda for the hemisphere and we would call upon others to join in that positive agenda.

QUESTION: Will there be any American observers that you know of?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check. I'll check. I don't know.

QUESTION: Sean, change of subject. Any concern about the fact that Evo Morales has effectively launched to legalize the cocaine industry?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are in support of the Government of Bolivia's long-standing counter-narcotics policy, and we expect whatever government comes next in Bolivia to honor those commitments that they have made to fight the production and transport of illegal drugs.

QUESTION: It doesn't appear that he would be interested in that, though. Would that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see what the outcome of the elections are. But certainly the quality, the depth, the breadth of any relationship with the United States will depend upon the intersection of our common interest. So we'll see what policies that person pursues. And based on that, we'll make an evaluation of what kind of relationship we're going to have with that state.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

DPB # 213

Released on December 15, 2005

ENDS


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