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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 3, 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 3, 2006

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Statement: Burma Supreme Court Affirms Detention of Labor Activist
Statement: Zimbabwe Crackdown on the Press
Statement: Egypt / Secretary call Ferry Disaster in the Red Sea
Statement: Venezuela Expulsion of Venezuelan Diplomat

VENEZUELA
Jeny Figueredo Frias's Designation as Persona Non Grata
U.S. relations with Venzuela regarding Counter-Narcotics and the
IAEA

IRAQ
Alleged Report on Pre-War Conversations between President Bush and
Prime Minister Blair

IRAN
IAEA Vote on Referral to UN Security Council / UN Security Council
Discussions with Members and Non-Aligned Movement Members

COLOMBIA
U.S. Support for Democratic Process
U.S. Visa Application Process / Query on Uribe's Visa situation

ICELAND
Keflavik Base Negotiations / Secretary's February 2 Meeting with
FM Geir Haarde

HAITI
Response to January 29, 2006 New York Times Article / Aristide's
Departure

EUROPE
Muslim Protests about Danish Cartoons / U.S. Respect for Freedom
of Speech

SAUDI ARABIA
Question on President Bush's State of the Union Address

KOSOVO
U.S. Forces / Political Developments

SERBIA
U.S. Response to Serbian Military's Sheltering of War Crimes
Fugitive Ratko Mladic

KOREA
Timetable for the Six Party Talks

LEBANON
U.S. Calls on Lebanese Government to Implement UNSCR 1559


TRANSCRIPT:

12:58 p.m. EST


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have four opening statements.

QUESTION: Is that negotiable? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know. It's the price for asking questions, George. First one, this is on Burma. Supreme court affirms detention of forced labor activists. The United States strongly condemns the continued detention of National League for Democracy member Su Su Nyway which Burma Supreme Court affirmed yesterday by refusing to hear her case. She is serving an 18-month prison sentence on charges brought after she sued village officials for imposing forced labor.

We are also concerned about reports that her health is deteriorating. Su Su Nyway's case highlights the brutality of the Burmese regime and its disregard for democratic principles and fundamental human rights. The United States reaffirms its unwavering support for the right of the Burmese people to speak out against the junta and its repressive policies. We call on the regime to release Su Su Nway and over 1,100 political prisoners it is holding and to initiate a credible and inclusive political process that empowers the Burmese people to determine their own future.

The second concerns Zimbabwe. The United States is concerned about the decision of the Government of Zimbabwe to press charges against the trustees of the Voice of the People, an independent radio station. The government's actions suggest a new intimidation campaign against press and human rights defenders. The trustees are prominent human rights activities and include Arnold Tsunga, the Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The United States calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the rights of its citizens to advance the cause of human rights without fear of reprisal and from the state and its agents. We also call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to repeal its repressive media laws and to end the harassment of civil society groups and human rights activists. The deterioration of the human rights environment in Zimbabwe was underscored by a December 2005 resolution of the African Union's Commission on Human Rights -- Human and Peoples' Rights.

We also have a statement on the ferry disaster in the Red Sea. It is with the deepest sorrow that we learned of the sinking of the Al-Salaam 98 ferry in the Red Sea last night. The United States extends its condolences to the victims of the families of those lost in this terrible tragedy and to the Egyptian and Saudi Governments. The United States stands ready to assist the Egyptian and Saudi Governments in their search and recovery efforts. And I would just add that the Secretary also spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit this morning to convey these same sentiments.

And the final statement concerns the expulsion of a Venezuelan diplomat. Today via diplomatic note, the United States notified the Government of Venezuela that it is declaring persona non grata Ms. Jeny Figueredo Frias, Minister-Counselor at the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington, D.C. This decision is in response to the Government of Venezuela's decision to yesterday expel Commander John Correa, U.S. Naval attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ms. Figueredo Frias, is she related to President Chavez whose second last name is Frias?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know. She is, I believe, chief of staff to the ambassador here.

QUESTION: Can you give us the spelling?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. First name -- Jeny, then Figueredo, F-i-g-u-e-r-e-d-o. Last name Frias, F-r-i-a-s.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) she's gone?

MR. MCCORMACK: We just -- no, they have, I believe, 72 hours. She has 72 hours to leave the country. We just notified the Venezuelan Government via diplomatic note a short time ago.

QUESTION: How was this particular diplomat chosen in terms of -- is this a comparable -- duties or position that she does that this gentleman in Caracas was --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this one was chosen from among the Venezuelan Embassy staff. I would just note only that Mr. -- Commander Correa was a U.S. -- was a Naval attaché. And she, I understand, performs the function of chief of staff to the ambassador, so they're two different jobs.

QUESTION: So again, why her?

MR. MCCORMACK: She was chosen -- we believe that she is the appropriate person. Look, we don't like to get into tit-for-tat games like this with the Venezuelan Government but they initiated this and we were forced to respond.

QUESTION: You said she's chief of staff to the ambassador?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that's her function at the embassy.

QUESTION: So you say we were forced to respond?

MR. MCCORMACK: We were forced to respond, yeah.

QUESTION: Why is that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Because the Venezuelan Government declared Commander Correa persona non grata and we felt compelled to respond.

QUESTION: But there are not charges against her are there? Are there charges against her?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. She was declared persona non grata. I'm not aware of any charges against her.

QUESTION: You're not alleging any inappropriate activities in her performance and her duties?

MR. MCCORMACK: I am simply saying that we have declared her persona non grata, Charlie.

Yes.

QUESTION: So how many times did she have to leave your country?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe it's 72 hours.

QUESTION: So you've got one tit-for-tat, what's to stop the Venezuelan Government from expelling somebody else?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we don't like to do tit-for-tat, but again, the Venezuelans -- the Venezuelans are the ones who initiated these actions.

QUESTION: Well, they started it, I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point in time this is the only action we're taking.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: I want to ask about Venezuela but in another aspect. Secretary of State Tom Shannon yesterday said that the United States doesn't want to quarrel with Venezuela. At the same time, there were two incendiary comments from senior official linking Venezuela with axis of evil member, like North Korea and Iran and even comparing President Chavez with Hitler. How do you explain the mixed signal being sent by the Administration to Venezuela? Do we speak real for the Bush Administration who has the voice*?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have made clear numerous times from this podium, the Secretary has talked about it and others have talked about it, that we have no particular quarrel with the Government of Venezuela. Our issue is -- or particular quarrel with the people of Venezuela -- our issue rests with the way the Venezuela Government has governed. It has, we believe, governed in a non-democratic way. That is the issue. We have had concerns about Venezuela's activities in the hemisphere. That said, we stand ready to work with the Venezuelan Government on a variety of different issues. We have a positive agenda for the hemisphere. We stand ready to work with them on counter-narcotics efforts. So it's not a matter of left of center, right of center -- the political orientation for a particular government, it has to do with their actions and their behavior and that's where we have expressed our concern.

QUESTION: What about the cooperation with counter-narcotic? Is the United States going to sign with DEA today an agreement with your cooperation? These harsh remark can be an attempt to cloud this good agreement with Venezuela and United State even when exist a difference between the two countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're not going to stop speaking out about our concerns. That said, we will also pursue a course of working closely with the Government of Venezuela where we can on issues of mutual interest. You pointed out the anti-narcotics agreement. That is certainly an area where we have in the past had excellent cooperation and a good relationship with the Government of Venezuela and we hope that that kind of cooperation would continue in the future based on the new agreement we have with them.

QUESTION: Any hope that Venezuela will vote your way at the IAEA?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they didn't last time. I'm not holding out any particular hope, certainly based on the public comments by their Ambassador to the IAEA. I think he has come out opposed to the resolution.

QUESTION: You look shocked.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Recent agreement of collaboration between Al Jazeera and Telesur from Venezuela, does the State Department see it as a threat, as legislator Connie Mack puts it, of a network for terrorists? I'm Sandra (inaudible) from Voice of America.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those particular comments. How media organizations associate with one another and with whom they associate is up to them. It's not up for -- up to us to dictate. We have, of course, expressed our concerns about some of the practices of Al Jazeera. Those are well known. That hasn't changed. But that said, we're not going to dictate what sort of business deals media organizations seek -- intend to conclude.

Yes.

QUESTION: Jonathan Rugman, ITN. I wonder if you could comment on allegations made by Channel Four in the UK last night that in January '03 the Administration discussed with Tony Blair the possibility of flying a spy plane over Iraq dressed in UN colors to lure Saddam into war, assuming he was going to attack it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the news report you're referring to alleges a conversation between the President and Prime Minister Blair, and I know that the White House has addressed this issue and I don't have anything to add to what they've said about it.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to the allegation that the Administration had decided to go to war in January '03 regardless of a second resolution, UN resolution, or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, this is ground that has been plowed over and over and over again. The President and others couldn't have been more clear where we stood at that point in time with respect to seeking a diplomatic solution versus a military alternative. And you know, again, I don't have anything to add to the voluminous public record that is already out there on this issue.

Yes.

QUESTION: Back to Venezuela. Do you have anything to say on those accusations against the naval attaché? Do you have a response to what the Venezuelan said he was doing, which is why he was expelled?

MR. MCCORMACK: He was performing his duties as naval attaché.

QUESTION: You don't think he did anything wrong? He did not deserve to be expelled.

MR. MCCORMACK: I would say only that he was performing his duties as a naval attaché.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about the meeting dragging over into a third day before a vote? And what do you make of the remarks this morning from the Chinese UN Ambassador that China would never support action in the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, a couple of things. One, the resolution that is on the table and that we hope will be voted on tomorrow, I expect it likely will be. There are some continuing diplomatic discussions but I expect those to be resolved in short order. The resolution that is on the table refers the matter of Iran's behavior to the Security Council. The Security Council would then choose not to act for a period of about a month, till about March 6th, until after they hear from Director General ElBaradei. At that point, the Security Council will have the issue before it what to do, what to do concerning Iran's behavior.

Part of what will go into that decision making will be how Iran reacts in this interregnum between when the resolution from the IAEA Board of Governors passes and when we hear from Director General ElBaradei on March 6th. So at this point, I'm not going to prejudge a particular action on the part of the Security Council. The Security Council can act in a number of different ways, as we all know. Secretary Rice has made clear that we do not think at this point that seeking sanctions is the first step in the Security Council process. So we'll see what action the Security Council may take. First we need to get to the point where the matter is referred to the Security Council, and that's what I would expect to happen tomorrow.

QUESTION: But you're still confident the Chinese will vote with you on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: On this?

QUESTION: On step one.

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see how they vote. But there is, as the Secretary has said, there's a certain logic -- (cell phone rings) -- answer that. There's a certain logic to the resolution -- not to the resolution, to the P-5 agreement, in which it calls for reporting Iran to the Security Council on this measure. The Chinese were part of that agreement. But ultimately, how they vote in the IAEA Board of Governors is going to be a decision for them. We would urge them to vote for a resolution that refers Iran to the Security Council, but how they vote is going to be up to them.

QUESTION: Does the Chinese statement that they're opposed to sanctions as a matter of principle foreclose that as an eventual option in the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: We will - let's take this step by step. We're not at the point of considering sanctions as a step in the Security Council. I would say now only that much of how the Security Council responds to this referral will be based upon what Iran does, and we don't know what reaction Iran is going to have at this point. We would urge them to take seriously a resolution passed by the Board of Governors, which I believe will send a very clear and distinct message to the Iranian Government, and that is one of abiding by -- they should abide by their international obligations, they should cooperate with the international community, they should not try to seek a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program.

QUESTION: But just to take you back to the first point. The fact that the vote will now presumably be Saturday instead of Thursday or Friday doesn't indicate that there's any slippage in --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I wouldn't take it that way. Look this is -- the last time there was a vote of some seriousness about the Iranian matter was back in September at the IAEA Board of Governors. That board meeting lasted three days. I think it went a day over schedule. If, in fact, the vote happens tomorrow, Saturday, then this board meeting would run a day over schedule, perfectly understandable, given the fact that these are serious issues. Certainly, we don't think talking about this issue for one, two or three days will affect the clear message that Iran gets out of this IAEA Board of Governors meeting. And certainly we want to have this subject fully discussed, fully debated among the 35 members of the Board of Governors; we think that it's only right. But there will come a point in time, and we believe that time will likely be tomorrow, that members of the board will be called upon to vote and we would urge them all to vote in favor of this resolution, a final resolution, that refers Iran or reports Iran to the Security Council.

Teri.

QUESTION: Given that you expected to have, and you still believe you have a majority of members in support of your resolution, were you surprised by some of the angling that has come at the last minute by members of the Non-Align Movement, by some of the Arab countries, for example, wanting language inserted referring to a nuclear free Middle East? Did you expect those moves and why do you not think that that will hinder a vote coming already tomorrow?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's still some diplomatic back and forth concerning language and we're engaged in those discussions. This is a diplomatic process. Whatever resolution is finally voted upon or put on the table for a vote, you can be assured it's one that we will support, so there's still some diplomatic interactions. But again, this is -- we certainly aren't going to try to restrict the ability of a member state to the Board of Governors to offer their suggestions concerning this resolution or to offer their thoughts concerning this matter. It's a serious matter. So whether that takes two or three days, again, I think is not going to affect what will be a very clear message sent to the Iranian regime.

QUESTION: But could the United States support language calling for a nuclear free Middle East in this resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's been our declaratory policy for some time, I think you can go back and check in the record that we all hope -- hope for a day when the Middle East achieves a state where there are no nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

QUESTION: So would --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a day that we all hope for and it's been our declared policy for some time. And I think that there have been previous resolutions, I'm not sure in the IAEA or the UN, where the United States has voted for resolutions or documents that have contained that language.

QUESTION: So you may be willing to insert it in this resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We'll see what the final resolution looks like. There's still some diplomatic back and forth but I expect a vote to come in short order.

QUESTION: And India -- any -- has India given you any more indications of which way it'll go? Made any progress behind the scenes with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to speak on behalf of the Indian Government. We'll see how they vote. We urge them to vote in favor of the resolution that will be tabled.

Yes.

QUESTION: Some of the Non-Aligned Movement are also calling for a deletion of any reference in the resolution to the Security Council, even though you're willing to have their suggestions. Is a kind of reporting or referral, whatever you want to call it, to the Security Council a redline for the U.S.?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have made clear and you saw in the P-5 statement that was agreed to in London on Tuesday that referral to the Security Council was important. We believe that that -- we continue to believe that that's important. We believe that Iran finding itself -- the Iranian regime finding itself before the Security Council may put their decision-making process into a different context, that they have been trying to avoid being referred to the Security Council for quite some time.

So we hope the fact that the international community will have spoken in a clear, unmistakable voice that what they have done is crossed a line with the international community, that that will have some effect on the decision-making processes concerning what the international community has asked them to do.

QUESTION: So even while there's a, as you say, a diplomatic back and forth going on, you're not willing to entertain any resolution that doesn't talk about what you've said you wanted, which is referral to the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've made very clear, again, and the P-5 have made very clear that what we seek out of this Board of Governors meeting is a report to the Security Council.

Libby.

QUESTION: Talking about this diplomatic back and forth, I'll ask the phone call question. Has the she -- has the Secretary had any phone calls in the last day or so to insert herself into the process a bit more?

MR. MCCORMACK: She -- I don't have anything -- any other phone calls other than I know that she has spoken with Foreign Secretary Straw today.

QUESTION: Okay. About this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. You've been very patient.

QUESTION: Two questions for -- can you hear me?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. For Colombia.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's hold on a second. Do we have anything else on Iran or the IAEA? (No response.) Okay.

QUESTION: All set?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. There you go.

QUESTION: The Colombian press published today that the State Department is instructing the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá to put pressure so that paramilitaries don't take part in politics. What is the State Department concern?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, I have seen these or I have heard about these news reports. This is news reports that somehow the U.S. was involved in reviewing the lists of candidates, and I can say that that is not what the United States does; that the United States supports the democratic process in Colombia. We have not here at the State Department instructed the Embassy in Bogotá to intervene in the selection of candidates. We have not and will not review Colombian candidate lists. Such an action would be contrary to our strongly held principles concerning democracy, and those are that free elections are central to any healthy, functioning democracy and it is the responsibility of Colombian political leaders to determine who the candidates will be. It's simply an internal matter for domestic Colombian politics to sort out who is on candidates' lists and who isn't on.

QUESTION: Excellent. Another question? Thank you for that.

Is it true that the U.S. Embassy in Colombia informed that it will cancel Maria Uribe's visa, who is -- he is the president of the U Party -- if he allows senators with paramilitary links to be part of the party?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those news reports. I can only say that there are criteria that our consular section uses to issue visas and to review existing visas. It's done in the visa application process and the entire visa process is a confidential process so I certainly wouldn't, under any circumstances, have anything to add about any potential reviews. But again, I have to emphasize I don't have any information about that particular story.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir. I'll get back to you, George. I'll come back to the front. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. There are ongoing talks between the U.S. and the Icelandic Government regarding the future of the navy base in Keflavik, Iceland. And this morning, the Foreign Minister of Iceland said in parliament that the government had proposed to the U.S. Government taking over the civil aviation part of the airport and parts of the search-and-rescue operations at the base; instead, the U.S. would, you know, keep the remaining four fighter planes in Iceland, as has been the goal of the government. So my question is: What is the U.S. Government's position towards these proposals and what are your goals regarding the base?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a couple things. One, the Foreign Minister did have a meeting with Secretary Rice and also his team had some subsequent meetings with Under Secretary Nick Burns and Ambassador Loftis, who have been deeply involved in this issue. It's been a long-running negotiation, I think, that's stretched out over the past few years.

Our view is that the United States is committed to the common defense and to our obligations under the 1951 defense agreement and our goal is to ensure that the manner in which we carry out our defense relationship with Iceland is appropriate to the security demands of the 21st century.

You mentioned particular proposals. I don't want to get into particular proposals and our response to those at this point, just for the simple fact that they're ongoing negotiations. We had good discussions yesterday. I expect that those discussions will continue and it takes place in the context of guaranteeing our common defense interests and how we can -- both our countries can appropriately share the burden of that common defense.

QUESTION: One more question. Is it the eventual goal of the U.S. Government to remove those planes from Iceland --

MR. MCCORMACK: That would prejudge an outcome to these negotiations and I'm simply not going to do that from here.

George.

QUESTION: This is kind of a follow-up to the Colombia question. Did you see the New York Times story on Haiti this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Which one is that? Remind me.

QUESTION: It's 8,000 words. It's hard to miss. Anyway, the thrust of it was that there was a strong tilt against Aristide during the prior months --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, that was this weekend. That was from this weekend.

QUESTION: Well, I saw it on the -- I'm sorry, maybe (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: There was a-- yes, I did see a very long story in the New York Times on Haiti, yes, sir.

QUESTION: I spotted it online today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Anyway, do you have any guidance prepared for that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that AID was looking in -- AID and the International Republican Institute had some responses to that. I think the story goes in -- to make some allegations about the behavior of some of their employees -- so, I don't have anything in particular to add, other than the fact that, as we have said before, that Former President Aristide, of his own volition, decided to resign and the United States did, at his request, assist with aircraft that would take him to South Africa.

But beyond -- as far as a detailed response to the specific allegations in the story, I think IRI, as well as AID, have some response.

QUESTION: AID or NED?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was AID. There were some AID officials that were cited and the central, the -- I guess the way the story was set up, the central protagonist in the story was from IRI and I know that they, just from things that I have read in public about it, took issue with the characterization of the behavior of their employee.

Yes, Teri. I'll come back to you, Joel.

QUESTION: New subject, George?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes? Can you say anything about a U.S. response or a U.S. reaction to this uproar in Europe over the Prophet Muhammad pictures? Do you have any reaction to it? Are you concerned that the violence is going to spread and make everything just --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any -- first of all, this is matter of fact. I haven't seen it. I have seen a lot of protests. I've seen a great deal of distress expressed by Muslims across the globe. The Muslims around the world have expressed the fact that they are outraged and that they take great offense at the images that were printed in the Danish newspaper, as well as in other newspapers around the world.

Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy -- democracies around the world -- and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.

We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may -- like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.

For example -- and on the particular cartoon that was published -- I know the Prime Minister of Denmark has talked about his, I know that the newspaper that originally printed it has apologized, so they have addressed this particular issue. So we would urge all parties to exercise the maximum degree of understanding, the maximum degree of tolerance when they talk about this issue. And we would urge dialogue, not violence. And that also those that might take offense at these images that have been published, when they see similar views or images that could be perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic, that they speak out with equal vigor against those images.

QUESTION: That the Muslims speak out with equal vigor when they see -- that's what you're asking?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would -- we believe that it is an important principle that peoples around the world encourage dialogue, not violence; dialogue, not misunderstanding and that when you see an image that is offensive to another particular group, to speak out against that. Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief. We have to remember and respect the deeply held beliefs of those who have different beliefs from us. But it is important that we also support the rights of individuals to express their freely held views.

QUESTION: So basically you're just hoping that it doesn't -- I'm sorry I misspoke when I said there was violence, I meant uproar. Your bottom line is that both sides have the right to do exactly as they're doing and you just hope it doesn't get worse?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I --

QUESTION: You just hope it doesn't escalate.

MR. MCCORMACK: I gave a pretty long answer, so --

QUESTION: You did. I'm trying to sum it up for you. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: A couple of years ago, I think it was a couple of years ago when, I think it was the Syrians and the Lebanese were introducing this documentary about the Jews -- or it was the Egyptians -- this Administration spoke out very strongly about that and called it offensive, said it was --

MR. MCCORMACK: I just said that the images were offensive; we found them offensive.

QUESTION: Well, no you said that you understand that the Muslims found them offensive, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm saying now, we find them offensive. And we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.

Yes.

QUESTION: One word is puzzling me in this, Sean, and that's the use of the word "unacceptable" and "not acceptable," exactly what that implies. I mean, it's not quite obvious that you find the images offensive. When you say "unacceptable," it applies some sort of action against the people who perpetrate those images.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think I made it very clear that our defense of freedom of expression and the ability of individuals and media organizations to engage in free expression is forthright and it is strong, you know. This is -- our First Amendment rights, the freedom of expression, are some of the most strongly held and dearly held views that we have here in America. And certainly nothing that I said, I would hope, would imply any diminution of that support.

QUESTION: It's just the one word "unacceptable," I'm just wondering if that implied any action, you know. But it doesn't you say?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you caution America media against publishing those cartoons?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's for you and your editors to decide, and that's not for the government. We don't own the printing presses.

QUESTION: Sean, these cartoons first surfaced in late September and it's following this recent election with the Palestinian Authority. The EU mission was attacked or held, in effect, by Hamas yesterday near Gaza City. And the tact of some of these European newspapers, again, are to re-publish -- these cartoons. Is the election mood -- is this what is possibly fueling this and what is our media response to this, a la, what Katherine Hughes may or may not do versus international State Department and government media to the Muslim world, including Indonesia, Asia, and the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think your colleagues really want me to repeat the long answer that I gave to Teri, so I'd refer you to that answer.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, George.

QUESTION: Getting back to your next question, nobody doubts the right of newspapers, et cetera, to print such drawings as appeared in Europe, but is it the responsible thing to do -- or is it -- or would it be irresponsible to do what the European newspapers did because of the sensitivities involved?

MR. MCCORMACK: George, we, as a Government, have made our views known on the question of these images. We find them offensive. We understand why others may find them offensive. We have urged tolerance and understanding. That -- all of that said, the media organizations are going to have to make their own decisions concerning what is printed, George. This is -- it's not for the U.S. Government to dictate what is printed.

QUESTION: You're not dictating -- everybody knows you can't order people not to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- print this or that, but you might have on your hands the same kind of problem that the Europeans find --

MR. MCCORMACK: You're right, you're right.

QUESTION: -- now. So, I just thought that there might be a word or two saying -- you know, that -- you know, you should do your best not to incite people because this -- you're dealing with deeply-held beliefs.

MR. MCCORMACK: You're right. You're right. You are dealing with deeply-held beliefs and certainly, we have talked about the importance of urging tolerance and appreciating differences and to respect the fact that many of -- millions and millions of people around the world would find these images -- these particular images offensive. But whether or not American media chooses to reproduce those images is a question for them, for them alone to answer, not for us.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: Forgive me if you maybe addressed this, because I was out of the room filing on some other stuff, about Rumsfeld's remarks about Chavez?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we covered that one.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: We did.

QUESTION: The question I wanted to ask -- and if you covered that, then I'll just shut up -- is, is there an 'out-of-sync" when you get an official like that making a remark at the same time you're trying to do public diplomacy in the region? All of a sudden, you've got somebody coming from out of area to make a remark like that. I mean, who's basically running the public diplomacy? Did you address that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did, in full.

(Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Take my word for it. (Laughter.)

Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. was quoted as saying he wanted more clarification on what President Bush meant in the State of the Union when he said he was going to aim to reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern oil. Have we heard anything -- has the U.S. Government heard anything from the Saudis about clarification on this? Anything official come to the State Department?

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

QUESTION: You'll take that question?

MR. MCCORMACK: I will take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Gedda. I'll come to you. George.

QUESTION: Another one on Rumsfeld, who says he wants to reduce the number of American troops in Kosovo.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. I think he also said that we went in together and we're going to come out together. This is -- he is responsible for a global military force and the allocation of those assets around the globe in -- certainly at the direction of the President. He expressed a commitment to our deployment in Kosovo. I think we have about 1,500, 1,700 troops there now.

QUESTION: 1,700.

MR. MCCORMACK: 1,700. So this is -- this is going to be a matter of discussion with the other members of the representatives of the countries with forces in Kosovo. We're reaching a delicate moment, approaching a delicate moment in the diplomacy. Mr. Ahtisaari is working hard on coming together to find a resolution to the outstanding questions regarding Kosovo. The Secretary has appointed a special envoy to deal with this issue on a day-to-day basis, Mr. Wisner, and he's going to be deeply involved in trying to resolve those political questions. If you can resolve the political questions, then of course you can revisit the issue of forces there. I'm not trying to prejudge a particular outcome, but certainly progress on the political front would change the situation vis-à-vis the military deployment there. So that's a long way of saying we'll see, George. We'll see what progress we make on the political front.

QUESTION: Same area? Did you check on whether we'd heard officially from the Serbians that they admitted they had been harboring Mladic?

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, I did. I have an answer for you, which I will --

QUESTION: Good news, bad news. Good news, you have an answer. Bad news, they did it.

MR. MCCORMACK: You're asking the questions that get long answers. (Laughter.) well, you're going to have to deal with your colleagues here. You ask the questions.

The Supreme Defense Council statement is an overdue admission that Mladic has been provided with support by military personnel within Serbia and Montenegro. The support for Ratko Mladic has occurred even though the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro were well aware of their international obligations to apprehend and transfer fugitive indictees to the ICTY and detracts from Serbia and Montenegro's aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration. We are disappointed that despite many statements of intent from the Government of Serbia and Montenegro progress has not been made on the apprehension of Mladic. The statement you cited to me must lead to concrete action that is long overdue. And we continue to call on Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica and Defense Minister Stankovic to intensify their efforts to apprehend and deliver Karadzic, Mladic and any fugitive indictees within their territory to The Hague.

QUESTION: Are there any implications for their funding?

MR. MCCORMACK: We will take a look at issues of funding based on what their actions are.

QUESTION: But still on hold? Certainly not going forward based on this news, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we take a look at funding based on what actions are, not what their words are.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Thank you. South Korean Foreign Minister Mr. Ban Ki-moon mentioned on CNN interview North Korea will return the six-party talks on February. Has the United States heard any message from North Korea about the specific timetable on the six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. I don't believe that we have. I don't believe that we have a date. I know a lot of people were talking about February, but we have not heard any official dates having been set yet. We would urge the North Korean Government to return to the talks at the earliest possible date -- we're ready -- and for them to return without precondition.

QUESTION: But the South Korean Foreign Minister mentioned but you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'll check for you. I don't have any official word yet that there is an agreement on a date to return to the talks.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Did you get a sense that North Korea was moving closer towards a date or does this come out of the clear blue to you? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the first I've heard, the first I've heard of it. I think there was a lot of hope expressed that we could get back to the six-party talks in February, but I haven't heard anything official back yet.

Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, five Shiite members of the Lebanese parliament returned after the Lebanese Prime Minister declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement against Israel, not a militia. Do you see this as further interference by Syria on Resolution 1556?

MR. MCCORMACK: We continue to call upon the Lebanese Government to fully implement 1559, which involves also disbanding of militias. How and when they do that is a matter for the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese political classes to decide, but we think it's important for Lebanon to implement 1559 and for all parties to respect 1559, including Syria.

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

DPB # 19

# # #

Released on February 3, 2006


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