State Dept. Daily Press Briefing January 5, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
January 5, 2006
Welch Abrams Trip to the Region Postponed / Lieutenant General
Dayton to Travel to Region / Increasing Security Apparatus /
Working on Movement and Access Agreement
Contacts with the Israel Government after Prime Minister Sharon's
Illness / Olmert to Continue as Acting Prime Minister / U.S.
Wishes for a Recovery / Hateful Comments Regarding Sharon by
Secretary of State Rice Meeting at the White House with Former
Secretaries of State / Contact with Predecessors
Secretary Rice's Remarks on Iran with Journalists / Votes to Refer
Iran to the UN Security Council for Noncompliance with the
Nonproliferation Treaty / U.S. Support of the EU-3 Diplomatic
Process / Iranian No-Show at IAEA Meeting / Reserving the Right
for Security Council Referral / Russia and China Abstained in
Previous Vote / India's Vote in Finding Iran in Noncompliance /
Security Council Prepared to Take Action
Criteria for Referral / Consultation with Fellow Members of the
Board of Governors anEU-3 Allies / Judgment of Main Interlocutors
/ Talks with Russians / Failure to Engage in Diplomatic Process /
Proposals to Exercise Civilian Nuclear Program / Undermining and
Circumventing Obligations under NPT
1:15 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements, so we'll go right into your questions.
QUESTION: Sean, can you update us on David Welch and Elliot Abram's planned trip?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What ended up happening? Are they still going to go?
MR. MCCORMACK: They postponed the trip. They were scheduled to leave last night and after consulting with all the parties with whom they were going to meet, they decided that they would postpone the trip to a later date. As Secretary Rice pointed out this morning in her breakfast with you, we are continuing to work with the Palestinian authorities on issues related to security. Lieutenant General Dayton, I expect, is going to continue with his travel plans at the end of the week to go out with the -- go out there and work with the Palestinians on beefing up their security apparatus, working on how to build a command-and-control structure, how to increase their capabilities. So, those efforts certainly continue.
QUESTION: So just to follow up, does this delay the U.S. efforts to sort of bridge the gap over the crossing between Gaza and the West Bank? Is that something they're going to try and work -- are they going to work that issue from here or is that on hold until Sharon's health clarifies?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that they will work on issues related to the movement and access agreement. But I think that also, the Palestinian Authority has a number of issues before it that it needs to work on. And this is an issue that is, you know, not only important for the broader issue of striking that balance between addressing the legitimate concerns of the Israeli -- security concerns of the Israeli Government, but also -- and the needs of the Palestinian people to be able to move, to build a better life for themselves, to build their own economy, but it's for the good of the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip don't want to be subjected to chaos and lawlessness and kidnappings. So, it's important that the Palestinian people -- it's important that the Palestinian Authority work on these issues. We're going to be there to work alongside them on these issues and I expect General Dayton would also continue to work on the access and movement agreement.
QUESTION: In -- for however long Sharon is incapacitated or until the situation, you know, is resolved one way or another, is the U.S. dealing directly with Ehud Olmert? Can you describe what our government-to-government contacts look like at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I have not talked to the Embassy about what contacts they've had with the Israeli Government. I know that they continue their meetings. I know that they have met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so the daily work at the embassy does continue. In terms of its contacts with the Israeli Government, Secretary Rice has not had a phone call with acting Prime Minister Olmert at this point. I'll keep you up to date if, in fact, there is a phone call. We understand that Mr. Olmert is the acting prime minister at this point, and that he is well known, well respected to members of this Administration. Of course, on any issues that arise, we will work with the acting prime minister as well as other Israeli Government officials.
QUESTION: Is that a viable relationship long term? I mean, if he's the acting prime minister for two weeks, a month, two months, is that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Those are all questions that relate to Prime Minister Sharon's condition. And as the Secretary said this morning, we're -- our focus is on wishing Prime Minister Sharon a recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family and the Israeli people, so that's really where our primary focus is right now. I understand the intent of the question, but right now that's where our focus is.
QUESTION: Iran's President says he hopes that Sharon doesn't survive. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I saw those remarks and this is a man who wraps himself in the cloak of a peaceful religion, Islam, and yet you hear remarks like this coming from him. I can only say that those remarks are hateful and disgusting. And I think that it is again a window into the true nature of this particular Iranian Government. I don't -- I certainly don't say those things, meaning to try to implicate the Iranian people. I think that they are suffering as much as anybody else from this particular regime. They have -- this regime has isolated the Iranian people from the rest of the world in a matter of months, through its actions and its statements. And this most recent statement, which is hateful and disgusting is sadly not surprising, given what we have seen come out of this -- come out from this President before, talking about wiping Israel off the map. So I think this is part of a continuing stream of hateful invective that has come from this President.
QUESTION: Sean, yesterday the President met with various members of both political parties, former Secretaries of State mostly talking about the Iraq situation, but also does the President, as well as the Secretary of State have any inklings of putting her former colleagues to work settling both situations, both Iraq, as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the meeting, I think the White House is best positioned to talk about that. I have seen some of the former Secretaries out on cable television talking about the briefing. I think the President described the intent behind inviting the former Secretaries to the White House for the briefing. These are people with whom we are in contact certainly on a regular basis, perhaps in a more informal way. But Secretary Rice, I can assure you, is somebody who does reach out on a regular basis to her former colleagues, her predecessors as well to talk about the situation in the world, the variety of issues that she faces and the challenges that are before her and she values the opinions and perspectives of those distinguished predecessors.
QUESTION: Following that meeting, former Secretary of State Eagleburger said he doesn't -- just doesn't see how it's possible that Sharon returns to the political stage, even if he survives. Do you now consider the Sharon era over?
MR. MCCORMACK: I am -- again, I'm going to refer back to what I have said, what the Secretary has said on this matter.
QUESTION: To Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Mm-hmm .
QUESTION: Please correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't seen the remarks of -- today's remarks of Secretary Rice in its original form. I was here for the special press briefing. I apologize for that. My understanding is that she basically said two things, that: (a) there is a real possibility of Iran referral to the UN Security Council and there is already a project of the resolution and the United States have votes to support such resolution. I was wondering if that means that you have persuaded Russia and China to support you on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, you know, rather than trying to summarize her remarks, I'd refer you to the transcript. We're going to have it out soon. I leave it to your colleagues to describe to you whether or not they feel as though she said anything that she has not said before. I didn't detect any deviation from what she has said before.
But very basically, we have said in the past and she has said in the past that we think we have -- we know we have the votes to refer Iran to the Security Council for noncompliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty. We have chosen at this point not to pursue that particular avenue because we have been supportive of the EU-3 diplomatic process, the Russian initiative with the Iranians as well. We wanted to give that every opportunity to play out; that it still is in play right now, although I would note that the Iranians -- the Iranian representatives were "no shows" for a meeting at the IAEA that was previously scheduled to discuss these issues related to their covert nuclear weapons program. So, you know, again, I think that is indicative of their attitude towards the willingness of the international community, including the EU-3, the Russians and the IAEA to engage them on these issues. Yet, it's met with silence, it's meet with obfuscation, it's met with not showing up for meetings.
So the Secretary made it very clear that while, at this point, we have not moved to have Iran referred to the Security Council for NPT violations, we reserve the right to do so at the time of our choosing and we have the votes to do it. So we'll see what Iran does, whether or not it chooses to engage in a constructive manner in the diplomatic hands that have been extended to them.
QUESTION: Do you have the votes to do it on the understanding that Russia and China will abstain at the IAEA or they'll vote in favor of referral?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I would leave it to them -- leave it to each particular country to describe where they may or may not be on a theoretical vote. I would note in the finding of the Board of Governors this past October, Russia and China did abstain and that Iran found itself isolated with Venezuela in the only two states voting against that Board of Governors' resolution. India voted for finding them in noncompliance and the overall vote had the effect of finding them in noncompliance. So we'll see, moving forward, whether or not there are other -- any potential referral to the Security Council and at this point, I would say that that is -- that's hypothetical because we have not chosen to pursue that in the Board of Governors as Secretary Rice has said, but we reserve the option at the time of our choosing to do so.
QUESTION: Would you also back the votes at the Security Council for the council to take action -- sanctions or whatever it might be?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a variety of different ways that the Security Council can act. I think at this point, it's premature to try to describe or prejudge in what way they may act, but I think that certainly, if it is -- if the Iranians are referred to the Security Council, that the Security Council would be prepared to take some action. I'm not going to prejudge what that action may or may not be.
QUESTION: And you're confident then that you would have the votes for them to do something?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that in some form, of course, if it were referred to the Security Council, that there would -- that the Security Council would address the issue in some form, some diplomatic way.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I believe, Secretary Rice's exact words were, "There is a resolution sitting at the UN Security Council." I was just wondering if you can clarify who's the author of this resolution?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll go back into -- I have to go back and check the exact context of her remarks. I don't think that the -- I don't think that there has been any circulation of a resolution in the Security Council. There is -- there was, in fact, a finding of noncompliance and perhaps you call it a resolution in the IAEA Board of Governors that is ready to be voted on and sent forward to the Security Council. But I'll have to go back and check the exact context of her remarks.
QUESTION: What's the criteria for your choice to ask for a vote at the IAEA?
MR. MCCORMACK: Referring them to the Security Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: That is a judgment I think that we would take in consultation with our fellow members of the Board of Governors and in particular, in close consultation with our allies that make up the EU-3. One, of course, one important consideration I would say -- one consideration in that would, of course, be the judgment of the main interlocutors with the Iranians on this particular issue with the EU-3 and certainly, we would want to talk to the Russians as well on this issue and get their judgment on where we stood with respect to the diplomatic process and what prospects there were for pursuing this particular diplomatic avenue and whether or not it would yield the results that everybody is looking for. And the Secretary described what -- those results we're looking for.
QUESTION: So if this thing is not actually -- the criteria doesn't depend on Iran's behavior as far as you're concerned because you've pretty much dismissed the behavior as bad, needs to go to the Security Council -- it's a case of where the votes are.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think it's very much an issue of Iran's behavior. They, to this point, have failed to engage in a serious manner in the diplomatic process and to engage with the EU-3 and the Russians in a serious manner on some very important proposals. Proposals that we believe allow the Iranians to, in their view, exercise their desire to have a civilian nuclear program while reassuring the world and the international community that they are not going to try to use that civilian nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.
To date, as the IAEA has reported, they have sought to undermine and circumvent their obligations under the NPT. So, it's Iranian actions that have gotten them to this point and their willingness to engage in a diplomatic solution to the current to the place where we find ourselves right now has not been evident, but it is entirely within their power to engage with the EU-3, the IAEA and the Russian Government.
QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday, we had this letter from 104 congressmen to Secretary Rice asking that the U.S. Administration take action concerning the Western Sahara to push -- to have the parties to the table of negotiations and also expressing concerns as to terrorist threats that's maybe coming from the region. So, what's the follow-up to this letter?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the letter, so we'll -- I'll take a look at it and see if we can get you an answer.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m.)