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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing January 4, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 4, 2006

INDEX:

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
U.S. Mourns Death of Sheikh Maktum bin Rashid al-Maktum

UKRAINE / RUSSIA
U.S. Welcomes Agreement Between Russia and Ukraine on Gas Dispute

MEXICO
Death Along U.S. Mexican Border / Homeland Security Investigating

BOLIVIA
U.S. Ambassador Has Met With President-Elect Morales
Bilateral Relations Depend on Intersection of Interests / Have
Enjoyed Good Counternarcotics Cooperation in Past / Hope
Cooperation Continues
Morales's Policies Once in Office Will Determine Course of Relations
No Plans for Morales to Visit Washington

SYRIA
Syria's Failure to Comply with Mehlis Commission / Need for
Compliance Outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 1636
Mehlis Still Actively Investigating Hariri Murder
Syria's Decision to Allow Interviews with Foreign Minister Positive Step

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY / EGYPT
Clash at Rafah Crossing / Security Situation in Gaza Fluid
Palestinian Authority Must Provide for Welfare and Safety of Citizens
U.S. Working with Palestinian Authority to Develop Security Apparatus

HAITI
Elections Delay / U.S. in Contact With all Concerned Parties /
Essential for Elections to Move Forward
Logistical Challenges to Elections Remain
Haitian People Must Have Confidence in Elections

CHINA
U.S. Welcomes Release of Journalist Jiang Weiping / Concerns
Remain About Human Rights, Press Freedoms, Religious Freedoms

LIBERIA
Secretary Rice to Travel with First Lady for Inauguration of New
President

AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Commitment to Helping People of Afghanistan, Developing
Market Economy, Lasting Economic Institutions Remains Strong
U.S. Working with International Community for Afghan Assistance

DEPARTMENT
Resignation of Ambassador Joseph DeTrani


TRANSCRIPT:

12:46 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one opening statement, then we can get right into questions. And the statement concerns the death of His Highness Sheikh Maktum bin Rashid al-Maktum.

The United States extends our deep and heartfelt sympathy to his -- the family of His Highness President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayid Al Nuhayyan, the Al Maktum family and the people of the United Arab Emirates on the death of His Highness, Sheikh Maktum bin Rashid al-Maktum.

Sheikh Maktum bin Rashid had been ruler of the Dubai Emirate and the UAE since 1990, when he succeeded his father. In addition to his Dubai role, he held the federal offices of Vice President and Prime Minister since that time. Sheikh Maktum is a faithful friend of the United States and was loved by the citizens and residents of the United Arab Emirates whose well-being he sought to advance. His vision, kindness and generosity will be greatly missed.

And with that, ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ukraine. Do you have a reaction to the agreements that the two sides have come upon? Was it okay with you in terms of market pricing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's not -- it wasn't for us -- it wasn't for us to determine whether the agreement was good or not. I think that in general we welcome it and that it was essentially a bilateral agreement between the -- between Russia and the Ukraine that settled the dispute between the countries. One thing that we hope emerges from this episode is that the episode will stimulate longer-term efforts to increase the transparency, openness and efficiency in the energy sectors of the region. We'll follow up with both parties and continue to emphasize the need for transparency, openness and efficiency in the energy sectors of the region.

As for our role in this, we reached out to officials both in Kiev and Moscow. But the agreement that was reached was reached between Russian officials and Ukrainian officials.

QUESTION: You did say that the U.S. yesterday -- that the U.S. would be talking to both sides. Was there American input in this agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge, Barry. This was a bilateral agreement worked out between the two -- two countries.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sean, the killing of a Mexican citizen in the border area of San Diego by the immigration officer. The United States has given -- the Mexican authority sent a diplomatic note to the State Department is my understanding. Can you tell us what the U.S Government has given the response to that diplomatic note to the Mexican authorities?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would provide any response to a diplomatic, you know, a communication via diplomatic channels. We wouldn't do it in public. But I think that it's safe to say, you know, anytime there's a loss of life in these -- under these kinds of conditions, it's very sad. It's tragic for the families and the individuals involved.

My understanding is that the Department of Homeland Security is looking into this matter and beyond that I would have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for any further comment on it.

QUESTION: I have another question on Latin America. The fact that the President-elect of Bolivia is looking for a strong alliance with Venezuela and Cuba, given the strong critics of U.S. Government argument that the President of the United States is losing ground in influencing Latin America. Do you have any reaction to that -- not besides that -- or are you looking at what the government of Bolivia is saying, but the fact is that Evo Morales is having conversations with Cuba and Venezuela and not with the U.S. Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as a matter of fact -- our Ambassador did have a meeting with Mr. Morales and we have had conversations with him.

Look, he can have conversations with whomever he wants to have conversations. And the U.S.-Bolivian relationship will be one -- the future course of the U.S.-Bolivian relationship will be determined by the intersection of our interests. We have, in the past, enjoyed good counternarcotics cooperation with the Government of Bolivia. We would hope that continues. We will -- we are certainly open to a broad, deep relationship with Bolivia, as we are with all democratic countries in the region.

What sort of policies Mr. Morales will pursue once he is sworn in as president, we'll see. We'll see, once he is faced with the challenges of governing, with the challenges of leading the Bolivian people, what kinds of policies he decides to pursue. And we'll calibrate the relationship based on what those policies are.

QUESTION: You don't believe the U.S. Government is losing influence in Latin America?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that there is great respect for the United States as well as the values that we represent. I think you see those values represented throughout the hemisphere in terms of democratically elected governments, in terms of free trade and open markets. So those -- that is what we are trying to promote. We're not trying to promote replication of American democracy or an American market in countries within the hemisphere. That is for the countries and the people of the hemisphere to determine on a country-by-country basis. What we are trying to do is promote a positive agenda that focuses on the promotion of democracy, that focuses on good governance and that focuses on open -- opening markets because we believe that combination will help the people of the region realize a better future, a more prosperous future and a more free future.

QUESTION: You talked about not being entirely sure where he's headed. How about a visit to Washington? Has that been suggested to him? Have they put out feelers to have him visit Washington? Is the U.S. averse to him coming to Washington?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think --

QUESTION: There are such rumors.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard discussion of that, Barry. I don't know that there are any plans for a visit for him to visit Washington at this point. He has yet to be sworn in as president, I would point out.

As I said, you know, what course the relationship takes will be determined by the course of the policies that he pursues and the intersection and the overlap of interests between the U.S. and Bolivia.

Yes.

QUESTION: Change of subject. President Mubarak was trying in France and Saudi Arabia to find a way of face-saving of President Bashar Asad by not being investigated. How do you assess this initiative?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that I would -- I'll leave it to the Egyptian Government to describe what they're doing. I'm aware that there are diplomat -- there's a lot of diplomatic activity concerning Syria's failure to comply to this point with all the requests of the Mehlis commission. Syria's compliance is -- the need for Syria's compliance is outlined in Resolution -- UN Security Council Resolution 1636. That is the standard for cooperation set out. It's very clear. It's in black and white.

And what Syria and the individuals in the Syrian Government need to do is to cooperate with the Mehlis commission. He has a number of different requests for interviews with Syrian officials still pending. He is still on the job. He is still actively working on this investigation. We, along with other members of the Security Council, as well as the UN, support him in his investigative efforts and that we would expect Syria to cooperate.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: What do you make of Syria's decision today that it will allow UN investigators to interview the Foreign Minister in the investigation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as long as Mr. Mehlis is comfortable with the terms of the interview, then I think that that is a positive step in the direction of compliance. It's not a complete step in the direction of compliance. There are still outstanding -- there are still outstanding requests for interviews. And we'll see -- we'll see as we go along how Syria behaves in terms of its compliance.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, there appears to be a clash in Gaza at the Rafah crossing and the Egyptian border was blocked by members of Fatah and they've even tried, at that point, to kidnap the parents of Rachel Corrie. Do you see an ongoing clash between the PA and Hamas prior to the elections on January 25th?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the security situation right now in Gaza is fluid. The Palestinian Authority needs to provide an atmosphere of calm and safety for the citizens of the Gaza strip; that's important. That's what any government entity is obliged to do. It is the primary responsibility of any government entity to provide for the welfare of its citizens in terms of the safety. And clearly, we don't have that right now in Gaza.

We are working closely with the Palestinian Authority to develop their security apparatus in terms of their capabilities, to increase the coordination among the various elements of the security apparatus and to have a very clear chain of command. It's essential in any security apparatus that you have a very clear-defined chain of command that goes from the president right on down. We don't have that at this point; that's what we're working towards. That's one of the things that General Dayton is going to be working on with the Palestinian officials. I expect that he'll be back out in the region towards the end of this week. And it is a continuing effort. I know it's a focus of the Palestinian Authority and it is certainly a focus of the United States as well as members of the Quartet.

Saul.

QUESTION: On Haiti. Election officials in Haiti are saying -- they're blaming the delay in the vote on the OAS and the OAS didn't issue voter ID cards in time.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that -- well, first of all, my understanding is that President Alexandre has not formally announced a delay in the vote. I know that he has announced his intention -- or he believed that the vote scheduled for January should be delayed, so we don't have an official announcement on that.

We are in close contact with all the concerned parties, with respect to the Haitian elections, both with the members of Haiti's presidential -- the acting president as well as the members of the Election Commission, in contact with the OAS and as well as Canada, Brazil and the French governments. We've been working very closely with them on this issue.

As for the reasons for any potential delay, this is a very challenging environment in which to hold elections. But we believe it is essential that elections move forward. We're going to work very closely with our partners, with the representatives of the Haitian people to see that there are good elections, that the Haitian people can have confidence in. It's essential for Haiti in order to be able to turn the page on what has been an unhappy chapter in Haiti's history.

I know that there have been some logistical challenges, Saul, in terms of getting -- assigning people to voting districts. I know that they have to work out some issues on that. There have been some issues regarding the printing of the cards and the ability of people to come and pick up their registration cards.

But I expect that these -- any issues that there might be will be ironed out. When we went down there with Secretary Rice, I think you saw an impressive effort to register voters. It was an effort that is being conducted under strict guidelines so that, ultimately when you do have an election, the Haitian people can have confidence in the election.

QUESTION: So when you say they'll be ironed out, you mean eventually they'll be ironed out, not ironed out in time for a January 8th election?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I'm going to leave it to the Haitian authorities to talk about the election date. I know that President Alexandre has indicated that there -- he has opened the door to the January 8th election date being moved. We don't have any formal announcements in that regard, so I'm not going to try to get out ahead of Haitian officials and everything. If there are any issues, we as well as our partners in the international community are working to iron them out.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given that the large focus of the U.S. diplomacy has been to urge and help that the elections are done in a timely way, how soon do you think it will be before these problems can be ironed out?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to put a timeline on these, Saul. I think that the -- it is important that the elections happen in a timely manner. And we are going to be working with the Haitian authorities as well as others to see that that happens.

Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, the Chinese Government has released a journalist whose case was of interest to the United States. I wonder if you have a reaction to that. Do you see a connection between this and the upcoming presidential talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that I'm going to draw a direct connection between that upcoming visit and this release. We welcome the release of Mr. Jiang Weiping. We urge the Chinese Government to release all those held for exercising their fundamental right to free speech. This is a case, as you pointed out, that we have raised repeatedly with the Chinese Government since his arrest in 2000. I believe he has been released ahead of his scheduled date.

All of -- while we do welcome his release, we do have remaining concerns about freedom -- the ability of a free press to operate in China. We do have concerns about freedom of speech in China. We are going to continue to raise those issues with the Chinese Government. It is something Secretary Rice has raised every time she has had meetings, official meetings with her Chinese interlocutors. So I expect that that is going to be something that stays on the agenda.

QUESTION: Presidential talks (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Whether what?

QUESTION: When President Bush meets the president of China, is that something that's going to be --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- at this point, presuppose what the President may or may not raise. But the President has been very consistent in raising with the Chinese Government issues of human rights and religious freedom, as well as the importance of opening up to greater freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, the White House this morning announced that the First Lady will be traveling with Secretary Rice to Liberia. Can you confirm that trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would put it the other way around. I'd actually -- Secretary Rice is going to be traveling with the First Lady.

Secretary Rice looks forward to attending the inauguration of the first elected woman president on the continent of Africa. Secretary Rice had a meeting with president-elect Sirleaf-Johnson* in December, I believe. They had a terrific meeting. Secretary Rice came away that the president-elect would be a strong leader for the people of Liberia, to lead them out of this period that has been marked by violence and chaos. The Liberian people held a good election in which they can have confidence that the elections reflected the will of the people. And Secretary Rice looks forward accompanying Mrs. Bush to this inauguration to mark this important moment in the history of Africa as well as the continent of Africa.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I just have one question.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Go back, and then we'll go over.

QUESTION: U.S. reconstruction aid to Afghanistan has been cut for this coming year, from something over a billion dollars to about 620 million, and Ambassador Neumann in Kabul said that that wasn't going to be enough. Does this represent a trend to withdraw aid from Afghanistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check into it. I haven't looked at the latest budget figures, but I don't think anybody should question our commitment to the Afghan people and the Afghan Government in helping them build on the foundations of democracy that they have themselves established. We will continue also to work with the international community to see that they fulfill the pledges that they have already made and also to make additional pledges to help out the people of Afghanistan.

This is a country that emerged from decades of civil war. It's a country that emerged from years of brutal rule by the Taliban. So they have come a long way, but they have a long way to go as well in terms of developing a market economy, in terms of developing solid, lasting, democratic institutions. President Karzai has displayed enormous leadership in leading the Afghan people and now he is working with an elected parliament in that regard.

So we're going to continue to do everything that we can to help the Afghan people and the Afghan Government and we're also going to call on the international community to do their part.

QUESTION: Just further to reconstruction, I understand that the 2207 report on Iraqi reconstruction is due out tomorrow. Will there be anything in that that reflects on the Administration's decision not to ask for additional aid?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think this issue came up at the White House the other day. They talked about the budgeting process so I think you have your answer on the budgeting process. That's something to come out of the White House.

In terms of this report, I haven't read it yet. I know that these come out periodically. So I haven't had a chance to look at it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, one more. Two more.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, 2006. According to a statement today by the speaker of the Cypriot House of Representatives Demetris Christofias, U.S. and UN are trying once again a new plan for the reunification of Cyprus. I am wondering if you have anything to say about that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our position on that remains the same. We support Secretary General Annan in his efforts.

QUESTION: But can you take this question? The information is coming from a senior Cypriot official. It's not something it was reported out of the blue.

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, it's an issue of continuing discussion with the Secretary General Annan as well as other interested parties.

QUESTION: And one more. It was reported in Athens and Nicosia that the Deputy Assistant Under Secretary Matt Bryza is going to visit Cyprus soon. Do you know when exactly and the reason of his trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't, no.

QUESTION: The old plan didn't go down.

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: Does that mean it has to be modified?

MR. MCCORMACK: If -- it's an issue that really Secretary General Annan is in a better position to answer. We support him in his efforts and I know that he still has an interest in the issue, as do we, so we're going to keep working with him.

QUESTION: As do you. As do you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we have one more.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. It was reported yesterday that the U.S. Special Envoy Joseph DeTrani resigned. Do you have any comment about why he made this move and when we can expect a replacement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't -- I didn't talk to Ambassador DeTrani. I think he's actually gone back to work in the intelligence community for the -- for Ambassador Negroponte. I think for him this is kind of a return home. You know, we were very glad to have him here at the State Department. He made an enormous contribution to our policies concerning North Korea. We thank him for all of his work here and wish him well in his endeavors for Ambassador Negroponte and expect that we're going to be working closely with him in his new position.

QUESTION: When did this happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think over the last week.

QUESTION: His first day was yesterday, was it not?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, over the last week or so.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

* The President-elect of Liberia is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

ENDS


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