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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 22, 2005


Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 22, 2005

INDEX:

ITALY
Investigation on the Death of Nicola Calipari Concluded

IRAQ
Saddam Hussein's Allegations of Abuse Are Bogus / Trial Should
Focus on Violence, Brutality of Former Regime
Iraqi Judges, Judicial Authorities Doing Best Job Possible Under
Difficult Circumstances / Trial is an Iraqi Process / Trial Should
Unfold in Manner Consistent with International Standards
Media Coverage of Saddam Hussein's Trial
Allegations of Election Irregularities Filed With Iraqi Election
Commission

INDIA
Talks Laying Groundwork for President Bush's Trip Next Year /
Dates for Trip Not Yet Set
Civil Nuclear Issue / Working with Indian Government to Separate
Civilian, Military Nuclear Programs

BOLIVIA
Removal of Small Quantity of MANPADS / Bolivian Government
Requested U.S. Assistance / Request Consistent with OAS Resolution

DEPARTMENT
Publication of Hi magazine Suspended to Measure Its Effectiveness
/ Website Remains Active / Distribution of Magazine

CHINA / HONG KONG
People, Hong Kong Government to Decide Pace, Scope of Political
Reform / Desire for Implementation of Universal Suffrage / U.S.
Supports Goals


TRANSCRIPT:

12:40 p.m. EST


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. No opening statements, so we'll jump right to your questions. Who's going to be first?

QUESTION: I got one.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mackler.

QUESTION: There you go. We understand that there's a U.S. Marine that's actually being put under formal investigation imminently in the Calipari case. I was wondering if you could give us any reaction to that, please.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think Secretary Rice has previously spoken to this question. There was an investigation concerning this issue -- not that particular question.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: There was an investigation into this tragic incident. The U.S. and Italian authorities joined together in that investigation. I don't think that there was a shared conclusion based on the facts that they were able to uncover. This was a tragic situation but as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, as far as the Italians are concerned, it's not closed. They've actually put a U.S. Marine -- I mean, that's the new part of this. Do you have any reaction to the fact that they have this U.S. Marine under formal investigation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the investigation has been concluded. There was not a shared conclusion between the Italian and U.S. governments regarding the investigation. As far as we are concerned, the U.S. Government, this matter is -- it's a closed matter. It's a tragic incident. Mr. Calipari was a brave servant of the Italian people but -- and his death is indeed a tragedy, but as for the investigation into the facts surrounding the matter, it's closed as far as we're concerned.

QUESTION: So there's no action either intended to -- against the Marine or to protect the Marine in any way?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of -- well, whatever legal actions, if any, are needed to be taken, that's a matter for the Department of Defense to determine.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I think it was, Saddam Hussein accused the U.S. of beating him and torturing him while he was in jail.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I know you spoke briefly to it yesterday. I'm wondering whether the U.S. or Iraqi authorities have investigated those charges and whether you have any information on it, or whether you intend to.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the people from our Embassy spoke very clearly to this, I think the Iraqi investigative judge spoke to this, that these allegations are bogus. And frankly, I think it is -- you know, I've seen this -- I've seen this issue play a lot on the cable TVs. I've seen it in the headlines. I've seen a lot of stories about it. And frankly, this sort of grandstanding detracts from what the real story is. The real story is, and the voices that need to be heard, are the victims of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was one of the most violent mass murderers of this century or any other century, and what you have now is an opportunity for the victims of Saddam Hussein to detail the tyranny, the oppression, the brutality, the violence of this regime. That's what's on trial here, not the U.S. Government, not the new Iraqi Government. It's Saddam Hussein. And that's where the focus should be, frankly.

And I understand you need to ask these questions, but I think that it does a disservice to the world when the equal ink and airtime, if not more, is not given to the stories of these people, horrific stories of, you know, women being raped, being brutalized, people who have had molten plastic applied to their skin so it could be ripped off, people's relatives -- families -- being wiped out. That's the real story here. And you know, frankly, I would encourage you to ask more questions about that as part of this trial and your coverage of it.

QUESTION: When you talk about grandstanding, don't you have the feeling that this trial is going out of control?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Iraqi judges and the Iraqi judicial authorities are doing the best job they can under difficult circumstances to bring to justice those responsible for the oppression of an entire people for over the course of more than two decades. We are working closely with them. But I think that these are a brave group of people -- the prosecutors, the judges -- who are working on these cases. These are people who are working under threat, a threat to their lives by those who don't want to see this trial move forward. So I think that what they deserve is our encouragement and support in moving forward on the best possible judicial process that they can.

Yes.

QUESTION: Saddam's claim -- it might be bogus and it might be preposterous, but it also may touch a nerve with Iraqis because of the numerous instances of U.S. abuse. They may feel that it's got some credibility to it. So have you done anything that you think could take away the credibility other than the rhetoric? Have you examined the body that he said still had marks on it? Have you talked to his jailers? Have you done anything that would satisfy --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think our -- the people on the ground, both military personnel and people at our Embassy, have spoken to this. And again, this is -- this is not the United States that is on trial here. This is Saddam Hussein and a vicious regime responsible for the murders of thousands and thousands of people. Frankly, this sort of reporting about these grandstanding courtroom antics is, frankly, a distraction from the real story.

QUESTION: Yeah. He may well have a credibility problem but the United States also has a credibility problem among --

MR. MCCORMACK: Are you equating the credibility of Saddam Hussein with the United States?

QUESTION: No, I'm not. I'm saying he has a credibility problem. You also have a credibility problem. I'm asking if you have done anything to help, you know, show that you haven't actually done this. You know, he's claiming that you've done it. People are listening to it. It's getting a lot of play. Other than just saying, no, it's totally wrong, are you doing anything to show it's wrong?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I take issue with the premise of your question that there's -- somehow equating the credibility of Saddam Hussein with the credibility of the United States Government. I just reject that in total.

In terms of what the United States has done, we have spoken out in public on this. We have -- I've spoken about it from here. Our officials in Baghdad have spoken to it. And the Iraqis have spoken to it as well. And they've all said the same thing: It's bogus.

QUESTION: A brief follow-up? Are you suggesting, though, that the media coverage of this trial has been a bit askew in focusing on this as opposed to the story? Is that what you're saying, that they're not doing a good job reporting on it?

MR. MCCORMACK: You make the decisions about -- the news decisions about what is covered in this. But frankly, just as a sample size of one, I have seen more ink, more airtime, given to Saddam Hussein's bogus allegations than I have to the voices of the victims in all this. You make the -- you make decisions about what's covered, but that's just one observation.

QUESTION: So do you think that the net result of this is that the trial is not turning out to be the trial that you wanted to see when he first went on trial?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- it's not a matter of -- the trial that we want to see is one in which the standards that are used in terms of the investigation and the judicial process is one that meets international standards, and that's what we're working towards. This is an Iraqi judicial process. So it's not a matter of how the United States wants the trial to come out. It's a matter for the Iraqis -- the Iraqi judicial process.

QUESTION: Okay. But I guess my -- excuse me, my question was is that these antics that they're focusing on, Saddam's antics, is there a concern there that this could make Saddam more of a folk hero to other people in the country there and be more of a rallying point there and as opposed to a prisoner on trial for all the crimes that he's accused of?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard that as a concern.

QUESTION: You want the trial to live up to international standards, but what's happened here couldn't happen in an American courtroom. I mean, he would be held in contempt of court. The judge would tell him to pipe down. They'd drag him out of the courtroom. Why isn't that happening and would you like to see, you know, some sort of strictures on what he can say and do in the courtroom?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, this is an Iraqi judicial process. I don't think anybody expected it to look like a trial would look in the United States or look in Britain or France or Italy or any other place around the world. I think trials in each of those places look different. They have different rules regarding evidence and how the trial proceeds and the rights of the defendant.

So you know, there are different ways to measure that. All of those different trials in those places would likely meet international standards. So a trial in Iraq is going to look different than it does elsewhere. I think at this point, you know, this is a trial -- it's moving forward with the Iraqis in charge. They are running it. They are doing so with the assistance and advice of advisors from the United States as well as others.

And we will see at the end of the trial what the outcome and what the process is. I think at this point, we would see this trial unfolding in a manner that is consistent with international standards. We'll see what the final judicial process looks like.

QUESTION: I'm with the Voice of America. I have a question about the U.S.-India nuclear talks that are currently underway. Now, we're looking at the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have another question on this?

QUESTION: I wanted to stay on Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll come back to you.

QUESTION: No problem.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: The Sunni groups who have threatened to boycott the legislature if the Commission doesn't examine the allegations of vote fraud -- do you have anything to say about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it, the Commission is looking into allegations. There have been a number of allegations filed with the IECI, which is the Iraqi Election Commission. They are working through all of those in a systematic manner. They have a good record of working through these allegations of irregularities and doing so in a manner that meets international standards. So I would expect that that process is ongoing now and we'll wait to see what the final results are. And I think that they expect the final election results to be announced sometime in the next week or two.

Okay, come back to you.

QUESTION: I was talking about how, you know, we've been seeing that there are more concerns within the Congress in pushing or clearing this deal through. Now, have these talks that have been happening given out anything new that would help allay the fears of Congress members?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what's happening now is these talks are intended to lay the groundwork for the President's trip to India coming up later -- early next year. And we're working through a wide variety of different issues. One of those issues is the civil nuclear issue with the Indian Government.

As I said yesterday, there are things that we need to do on our side and that on the Indian side there are things that they need to do in order to move that forward. On our side, we need to ask the Congress to change some laws. In order to do that, there are certain requirements that we have negotiated with the Indian Government, things that they're going to do. One of those things is to come up with a plan to separate the civilian and the military nuclear programs in India. The Indian Government now is working on that plan, and when we have a plan that is able to be implemented in our view, then that's the point at which we would go to the Congress and ask for some changes in the laws.

Now, what we're doing is working up to that point. We're not to that point yet.

QUESTION: What kind of a timeframe are we looking at before it gets to Congress?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. It depends. Again, this depends on both sides. We'll see what the Indian side comes up with in terms of their plan. It has to be a plan that can be implemented in our view. And we're working through all of those issues with them. That's part of what Under Secretary Burns is doing as well as Under Secretary Joseph and others in -- as part of this visit with the Foreign Secretary.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful that these talks with -- you know, some of kind of a deal will get through before the President goes to India? There's talk of him postponing his visit to make that happen. Is that true?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I -- well, you'd talk to the White House about the timing of the visit, but I haven't heard any talk about postponing the visit. We haven't set the dates on it yet, I would note, so you can't postpone something that hasn't been set yet.

QUESTION: Yeah, this was February and now March.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think anybody's thinking about really pushing it off.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the timeline, we're working hard on it. I'm not going to put any particular timeline on it right now. It's certainly a big part of the discussions that are ongoing now with the Foreign Secretary and I expect those discussions to continue past this visit as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. remove missiles from Bolivia last year?

MR. MCCORMACK: We worked with the Bolivian Government on the removal of a small quantity of man-portable surface-to-air missiles that were in deteriorating condition. This was done at the request of the Bolivian Government. They requested our assistance in this. And in fact, this request, coming from the Bolivian Government, was consistent with an OAS resolution that was adopted by consensus at the 35th OAS General Assembly on June -- in June 2005.

So Bolivia should be commended for their action to request our assistance in getting rid of these -- this small quantity of man-portable missiles. They were living up to their international obligations. In taking this step, they took a small step in making Bolivia and the hemisphere more safe.

QUESTION: So what do you make of this big to-do down in Bolivia that this was done under cover and without the knowledge of some Bolivian authorities and that it was done so that Bolivia would not be a threat to the United States? Have you seen these allegations?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. I saw the news story. Yeah. As for who was told in Bolivia about the action, you'd have to talk to the Bolivian Government about that. As for these other allegations, it's just not true. This was done at the request of the Bolivian Government and it was done in partnership and consistent, I would note, with a Organization of American States resolution on the matter.

QUESTION: I mean, has Mr. Morales, as of yet, made any request for further information from the government? I mean, he's pretty busy.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, no. I don't know if he's been -- I don't think he's been formally sworn in as President.

QUESTION: No. But he's talking about it already, apparently. Yes. All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Peter.

QUESTION: Sean, can you talk just a bit about the demise of Hi magazine? What are the figures and why it's being suspended?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a correct characterization that it's been suspended.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if -- I think it's a little early to talk about the demise of Hi magazine.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: What has happened -- just a little bit of background for everybody -- the magazine was conceived in 2002, launched in July of 2004 as a publication to engage Arab youth in the Middle East and North Africa -- (cell phone rings).

We can wait a minute for that. It's very tuneful.

QUESTION: 2003?

MR. MCCORMACK: In 2003. Yeah, it was launched in 2003.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: So it's just been in publication for about two and a half years. It was intended to reach a youth audience in North Africa and throughout the Middle East, intended to reach an Arab youth market.

And so what Karen Hughes has decided to do, she wanted to step back, take a look and see if we were actually effective in reaching our intended audience with this particular vehicle, Hi magazine. And this is part of an emphasis that she has placed in her role as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in measuring what it is that we do and, based on those measurements, seeing if what we're doing is effective. So this is part of that effort to see if this is actually effective and getting our message across to the intended audience.

The website is going to remain up. We think that this is, at this point, a cost-effective endeavor. It doesn't cost a lot to keep the website updated. We have a number of -- I think the number of visitors to the website is substantially higher than the circulation of the magazine. The circulation of the magazine is about 55,000 copies per month, I believe.

So she's going to take a look at it and she'll make a decision of what to do with Hi magazine based on our assessment of it.

QUESTION: Is it -- right now or is it suspended indefinitely or is there a projected restart date?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there's a -- there's not a projected restart date at this point.

QUESTION: Was there feedback from the embassies in the field as to whether they thought it was effective or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check to see if there's any feedback -- feedback from the field on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any figure of the sales?

MR. MCCORMACK: There was -- it was both distributed gratis copies, free copies, as well as sold. I think the total monthly distribution, and that includes both sales and free distribution, was about 55,000. That's the average monthly distribution.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR. MCCORMACK: Of the copies of the magazine. But the website has gotten a far larger number of hits.

QUESTION: And do you have figures of revenues?

MR. MCCORMACK: How much -- it costs $4.5 million dollars annually to --

QUESTION: No. Revenue -- how much.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not -- it was never intended as a for-profit endeavor. But it costs about $4.5 million dollar per year to publish.

QUESTION: Is there any -- just to follow up on Sylvie's question, is there any, like, progression in distribution? I think 55 was just about what they started with.

MR. MCCORMACK: That was the average monthly. I don't know -- I don't have sort of month-by-month sales figures. They gave me an average, the monthly average in --

QUESTION: And why was it necessary to suspend it while you're doing the study, as opposed to doing the study and keep it going? I mean, you know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, like I said, it costs -- you do the math. It cost $4.5 million dollars annually. I don't know what that averages out to per month, but you save money while you're actually not publishing it. And she's going to take a look at what the right thing to do with it is. Is it the right thing to retool it, to refocus it or make some other decision? But at that point -- I think at this point, you know, she's taking a look at it. She's not looking at it prejudiced one way or the other with what next steps to take.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the criticisms that it sort of was mostly puff pieces and didn't address at all political concerns of Arab youth and -- or do you have any response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, part of what she wants to do is see if we are actually being effective in getting our message across to the intended audience. So part of this assessment is to take a look at different feedback, feedback from the embassies, feedback from others -- take into account these kinds of critiques of the magazine and see what the next steps are.

QUESTION: Do you have any measurements of the other U.S.-sponsored media, Al Hurra and Radio Sawa?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything here for you, Saul.

QUESTION: Okay. But are we to assume that whatever measurements that are available have suggested that it's worth carrying on broadcasting those?

MR. MCCORMACK: They're currently under broadcast, both of them. If she decides that she wants to take a look at those, I'm sure she's going to. I think she's right now starting with Hi magazine as the first project she's going to take a hard look at and see whether or not it's effective in its intended purpose.

QUESTION: Are they standing down staff if they're still going to be doing the website?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the actual magazine is -- it's funded by the State Department but it is -- the magazine content and design are created by The Magazine Group, so it has editorial oversight and funding from the State Department. So I'm not sure what, if any, personnel impact for State Department employees there is at this point.

QUESTION: Just one last thing from me. Do you have any figures on the website traffic at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the -- what I've been told is that there are 3 million hits. Now --

QUESTION: Per day or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it's per day*.

QUESTION: Three million hits per day?

MR. MCCORMACK: Per day. Adam?

MR. ERELI: Yep.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yep, 3 million per day*. Now, here's one thing -- we will endeavor to find out the answer to this question for you, I don't have it yet -- are those unique viewers or are those page views. So at this point, I don't know the answer to that and we're going to find out the answer for you.

QUESTION: You said that's been significantly rising? Is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't know what the trend line for it has been.

QUESTION: That's this year's?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know. Well, if we can get more information for you in terms of trend lines, we will.

QUESTION: Sean, could you also -- if it's possible -- a breakdown between how many were bought and how many were given away? If you just have a figure that includes both, it doesn't really show --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We'll get that to you afterwards. I think we can get that together for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Also, what's the name of the group again that actually produces --

MR. MCCORMACK: Magazine -- The Magazine Group.

QUESTION: What is that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's people who produce Hi magazine. (Laughter.) It's a -- and what I have here, a proper noun. It's capital T, capital M, capital G, so The Magazine Group.

QUESTION: But that's like a -- that's a private entity of some sort that --

MR. ERELI: It's a contractor.

MR. MCCORMACK: Contractor.

QUESTION: Does it circulate throughout the Arab world, from Morocco to the Gulf?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get you the reach. Oh, I have this here. Hi magazine has been on sale in the following countries in the Arab world: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Jordon, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Israel, Qatar, Sudan and Yemen. It's also available in Europe and Africa as well, some parts of Africa.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have that listed here.

QUESTION: Sudan, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sudan, yes. And in Africa: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal -- and Sudan's listed. And Sudan I already listed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: This gentleman has one back here.

QUESTION: About Hong Kong.

MR. MCCORMACK: About Hong Kong. Yes, what about Hong Kong?

QUESTION: The Hong Kong Government's election reform proposal was blocked by the Legislative Council, so do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We believe the people and the Government of Hong Kong should determine the pace and scope of political reform in accordance with the Basic Law. The people of Hong Kong have repeatedly expressed their aspiration for progress towards democracy and their desire for a firm commitment to the implementation of universal suffrage. We support those goals and believe that the sooner a timetable for achieving universal suffrage is established, the better.

The Hong Kong people, through their commitment to vibrant but peaceful political debate, have demonstrated the strength and stability of Hong Kong society, which we believe will be enhanced by greater democratization. And we welcome the efforts by leaders from all parts of Hong Kong society to achieve democratic progress.

QUESTION: So do you see any impacts of this issue on the future -- on the political development in the future?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's going to be for the people of Hong Kong to decide. I've stated what our position is.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

* Correction: Projected 3 million hits in December 2005.

ENDS


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