State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 7, 2006
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
February 7, 2006
Statement on Debt Cancellation / Call for Other Nations to Do Same
US-Cuba Trade Association Meeting in Mexico City / Hotel Sheraton
Cuban Asset Control Regulations / Enforcement
Acting PM's Statements on Settlements / US Policy Clear and
Israel's Reimbursement of Collected Revenues
International Support for Palestinian Interim Government
Ongoing Review of US Aid to the Palestinian People
Review of Humanitarian Aid Cases
Aid for Projects Already Underway
US Interaction with Palestinian Interim Government
Presence of Basic Components to Produce a Nuclear Weapon
Concerns of the International Community
Russian Proposal / Objective Guarantees
Suggestion of Holocaust Cartoon Contest by Iranian Newspaper
Freedom of the Press / Coverage of Events
US Call for Countries to Speak out Against Violence & Incitement
US Offer of Assistance to Danish Government
Secretary Rice's Phone Calls Regarding Danish Cartoons
India's Vote on Iran Referral to UN Security Council
US-India Working Closely on Energy Issue
Secretary Rice's Travel to India with President Bush
Status of US Diplomatic Presence in India
US Support for Bangladesh in Fight Against Terrorism
Participation in Elections & Parliament
Foreign Minister Gul's Proposal Regarding Cyprus
Query Regarding Meetings Between Osman Baydemir & State Department
Reports of Phone Tapping
One China Policy / President Chen's Comments
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. How is everybody? All right. I have one opening statement, then we can get right into questions.
This is a statement on debt cancellation for Afghanistan:
The United States intends to cancel all of the debt owed to it by Afghanistan, which amounts to approximately $108 million. The U.S. action will be done through normal Paris Club procedures. Russia and Germany, Afghanistan's other Paris Club creditors, also intend to provide 100 percent cancellation.
The government and the people of Afghanistan are working diligently to build a stable market economy despite many challenges.
The solution of the debt problem through the Paris Club process will strongly contribute to the development of Afghanistan's trade, investment and other economic ties with its major creditors and with the rest of the world. The United States calls on other bilateral creditors of Afghanistan to provide the same 100 percent debt relief.
QUESTION: Any background available on how the debt came about and is it sort of international projects for the U.S. share? Is it old, is it recent, is it this year's?
MR. MCCORMACK: I suspect that it is old debt, Barry. I'll try to find out some more information.
QUESTION: Yeah. What I'm looking for is pre-recon -- is it pre-reconstruction?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Okay. We'll try to get you some more info.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
Yes. Oh, Barry, did you have anything?
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. MCCORMACK: You want to start? Who wants to start?
QUESTION: On Cuba. The Mexican authorities are kind of upset with the decision by the Treasury Department to call the hotel, the Sheraton Hotel Maria Isabel in Mexico City to expel the Cubans that were meeting with U.S. oil people on the weekend. Do you have any reaction -- or did the Treasury Department contact you before the decision was made or given to the hotel?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what -- just for everybody's background here, what apparently happened is the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, which is a U.S.-based group, organized a meeting in Mexico City with representatives of a number of American companies. Now -- so that's the background on this.
Now, there's a question of law here. And the law is -- the governing statute is the Cuban Asset Control Regulations, or a set of regulations; and under U.S. law, under U.S. regulations, the Sheraton in Mexico City is a subsidiary of a U.S. company and is subject to U.S. laws and regulations. The enforcement of these laws and regulations are under the Department of Treasury, the Office of Foreign Asset Control. So they can provide you a more full explanation of exactly what the ins and outs of the laws are and how they apply.
But very basically, U.S. law would apply to U.S. corporations or subsidiaries of U.S. corporations no matter where they may be, whether it's in Mexico City or in Europe or South America.
QUESTION: But my question was did Treasury Department contact the State Department before they tell the Sheraton Hotel guys to expel the Cubans?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know.
QUESTION: You were not consulted?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know the answer to your question. I'm not up on what -- when the communications were made between the Department of State and the Department of Treasury.
QUESTION: And have you received any complaint by the Mexican authorities? They say it's -- the enforcement of Title IV, of Helms-Burton in this case, it has the extraterritorial form and that Mexico is not accepting. Has you guys received any diplomatic note about it or something?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that we have been contacted by the Mexican Government on this matter. We view this as a matter of asset control. But again, the Department of Treasury are really better equipped to walk you through all the laws and regulations that govern this particular issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry.
QUESTION: Israel's Acting Prime Minister says Israel intends to hold on to major settlement blocs. The Defense Minister has some things to say too, but maybe we can take it one thing at a time. It's a good assumption, isn't it, that this will be discussed tomorrow with the Foreign Minister?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure if the Foreign Minister brings it up that we'll be happy to talk about it.
QUESTION: Oh, really? I mean, you guys are not unsettled by what he said enough to seek an explanation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, our position on these questions is well known. You've heard it tens of times over from the Secretary and others. It hasn't changed.
QUESTION: Well, the President on a Sharon visit a year or two ago, basically --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Facts on the ground.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And that was the last time that was heard enunciated in public by any Administration official. This presumably is more than just the settlement blocs alongside Jerusalem that the President appeared to be referring to. But I'm not going to push it. I just thought you might have some reaction to the assertion of intention.
MR. MCCORMACK: Our reaction is that our policy and statements on this are clear and unchanged.
QUESTION: Could you just recite one of them for us?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think I'll refer you back to the transcripts, Barry. You know what they are.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, they're ambiguous. That's why I ask.
QUESTION: Sean --
QUESTION: But wait, there's one more. The Defense Minister, while we're at it, says Israel would establish its final borders with or without negotiated agreement.
MR. MCCORMACK: You have heard our views on this, Barry. You've heard it from the President. You've heard it from the Secretary.
QUESTION: Sean, forgive me if you addressed this yesterday. The notion of Israel withholding the tax money for the Palestinians -- did you address that yesterday? I don't --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that it came up.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, what is the U.S. position on that? And the second question is we were told by senior officials at the budget briefing yesterday that there still is this review, as you said, of monies to the Palestinian. My question is: Is there any money now that should have been disbursed to the Palestinians that is being actually held up? Not new money that you're reviewing, looking at, but money that is supposed to be reversed but is being held up now.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, two things. One, as for the Israeli Government's reimbursement of these collected revenues, it was a decision that the Israeli Government took. We, of course, encourage all governments, consistent with the Quartet statement on this matter that was issued last week in London, to look at ways that they might support this interim government led by President Abbas. So I would say that this is a positive step consistent with what the international community has called for regarding international support for this interim government.
As for the second part to your question, there is a review that is ongoing concerning U.S. -- all aspects of U.S. aid to the Palestinian people. The Secretary has talked about the fact that we understand on the humanitarian side that the Palestinian people have certain humanitarian needs. They are a poor people and we're going to look at those on a case-by-case basis.
Now, on the question of indirect assistance, that's largely the money that goes through AID to NGOs on a variety of projects. The projects currently underway continue. As for planned projects or proposed projects, those are part of the review that is ongoing now. So there are projects that are continuing with USAID money during this period of the interim government, but there is also a review process that is ongoing that would cover proposed or new projects.
QUESTION: Is there a figure on this, on how much money is being right now frozen just because of this process?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I wouldn't use the word "frozen." I would say that we have a review process.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a figure for you, Peter.
QUESTION: When you say the projects that are ongoing, the U.S. -- I assume you mean and the U.S. contributions thereto are ongoing. Current projects.
MR. MCCORMACK: Current, yeah, because these are --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, exactly. The way it works, Barry, is that there's U.S. money that funds projects. Usually those projects are carried out by NGOs on the ground. Work on existing projects, as I understand it, continues, so therefore the U.S. Government continues to fund those contracts.
Peter was asking about new, not yet started projects.
MR. MCCORMACK: Those projects are subject to the review process. I think it's only logical, since we have a finite period of time that this interim government will exist. And we've made it very clear that with a new government that new government would be subject to meeting the conditions laid out by the Quartet if it was to receive any sort of interaction, including assistance from the international community.
QUESTION: But to be very clear, this was money that was already appropriated but hasn't been disbursed because the project hadn't started yet but you are sitting on it for (inaudible) to do the review.
MR. MCCORMACK: The way I would encourage you to look at this is projects already underway. It's a practical fact on the ground; people are working on these projects. Those continue to be funded. There are proposed projects, projects that have not yet been started. The physical work on the project has not yet been started. Those are subject to review. They are subject to the current ongoing review right now.
QUESTION: But the money has been allocated for those?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't speak to the budgeting process, Peter. I don't know -- I mean, you're starting to get to, you know, money that's planned to be spent on, allocated, so I've got --
QUESTION: I know --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yeah, I don't speak budgetese.
QUESTION: So this would include some of the water projects that have gone to the Palestinians, some of the RFPs that went out, that were handed out to various companies -- the water projects? Would those projects that have already been given to contractors be on hold if they haven't begun, for example?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, I --
QUESTION: Those RFPs won't be on hold --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Sue, I don't have that level of detail.
QUESTION: Separate but related --
MR. MCCORMACK: The threshold is projects that have physically been started, people working on those projects, that's the dividing line. So as for -- everything else falls into another category of being subject to the review that is ongoing.
QUESTION: Okay. And yesterday the Israeli Ambassador said that he was looking at -- they were looking at ways of trying to get some humanitarian -- or enabling humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinians and that this would be under discussion tomorrow with the Secretary, between the Foreign Minister and the Secretary. So are you going to be looking at how you can channel humanitarian aid without any money reaching Hamas or is it going to be --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like the Secretary said, you know, we're going to look at humanitarian aid cases on a case-by-case basis. We understand there are humanitarian needs. We want to, within the confines of the law and our policy, be responsive to those humanitarian needs but those are the constraints. So we're still taking a look at this entire issue. I'm sure that if Foreign Minister Livni brings it up, that we'll be ready to talk about it.
QUESTION: Olmert was quoted as saying -- it's in the Washington Times this morning, I think it may be an AP story -- was quoted as saying he'll continue to work with Abbas. I wondered if you had any thoughts about that. And it's been a while since we've asked if the U.S. is still engaged with Abbas, for instance, over security -- in areas that, after all, he is at least currently the leader.
MR. MCCORMACK: We do -- we continue to work and have interactions with the interim government led by President Abbas. That is something that the Quartet statement called for. It's part of the set of international principles that were laid out and agreed upon by all the members of the Quartet. So certainly our actions, and if in fact that is the case with the Israeli Government, would be consistent with that call by the Quartet.
QUESTION: Change in subject. Iran. Yesterday, Under Secretary Joseph said that the U.S. believes Iran now has the capability within its own borders to create a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it. That seems to be more forward-leaning than most statements here. Can you talk about that, let us know when the U.S. came to that conclusion that no other outside assistance would be needed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what Under Secretary Joseph was talking about was the fact that the Iranian regime has many of the pieces that would be needed to build a nuclear weapon. They have a highly trained, capable cadre of scientists, they have much of the equipment necessary and they have some of the materials necessary, the raw materials that could lead to production of highly enriched uranium fissile material.
If they had the capability today, right today, to build a nuclear weapon, they would have one and they would have -- and they would have built one by now. But what we're saying -- there are intelligence estimates on this that you can go look up that are the official estimates of the U.S. Government about how far they are from actually being able to produce a nuclear weapon -- what we're saying is that they have many of the pieces, many of the capabilities that are needed in order to finally build a nuclear weapon. They have not yet meshed together all of those capabilities. There are still certain techniques and pieces of know-how that we do not believe that they have, simply by the fact that they don't have a nuclear weapon yet. They've been working on it for some time.
So they have many of the pieces, the pieces that would comprise a full-up successful nuclear weapons program, but they have not yet put those together resulting in the construction of a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But his statement was that they also wouldn't need anything from any other country in order to arrive at that point.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if you look at the basic components there, they have -- they have highly trained scientists, they have some of -- they have the infrastructure required, you know, in terms of electricity, the raw materials, the machining equipment -- all of those types of things that go into producing a weapon. They have the intent of the regime to build a nuclear weapon. So those constituent parts exist but, as we all know, over the past several years that we've followed issues related to nonproliferation and how all those components fit together in developing the specific know-how, the unique techniques that go along with building a nuclear weapon, that they don't yet --
QUESTION: But there's still a gap?
MR. MCCORMACK: That they don't yet possess. And that is why the international community has been so concerned with preventing Iran from developing the know-how, the specific know-how how to enrich uranium, on its own soil. That's why -- that's why we've been focused very much on that particular component of it.
Certainly if you look at our estimates, given time and given their continued intent, which we don't think is diminishing, that all the pieces -- the pieces are there for them to produce a nuclear weapon. So that is why this issue has been sent to the Security Council and why we are focusing so much energy on trying to prevent Iran from achieving those key final capabilities, achieving that -- getting their hands on that knowledge, that know-how, at these key, critical nodes like enriching uranium.
QUESTION: Can I ask, Sean, a follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Last week the Secretary said that she had hoped that the Iranians would consider the Russian proposal and take advantage of the opportunity it presented for peaceful nuclear energy. But if you're talking about Iranians not getting the know-how to enrich uranium on their own soil, is there a difference between enriching on its own soil or learning how to do it if Iranian scientists are in Russia monitoring that proposal?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the -- our understanding is that there would be objective guarantees that would go along with completion of the Russian proposal that would prevent Iran from getting that know-how. So you know, you can talk to the Russian Government about the particulars of their proposal, but our understanding of the proposal is that there would be guarantees that are important to the proposal that would not allow the Iranian Government, Iranian scientists, to gain that know-how.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: What do you make of, I think, Ahmadi-Nejad's suggestion of a Holocaust cartoon contest?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's outrageous. It is. Any attempt to mock or to in any way denigrate the horror that was the Holocaust is simply outrageous. I have seen the press reports that there is an Iranian newspaper that has suggested this particular "contest." I did -- I saw an AP report that, in fact, that this particular newspaper is owned by the municipality of Tehran. So I think in the -- in this proposal you can hear the echoes of President Ahmadi-Nejad's statements concerning the Holocaust, concerning his statements about wiping Israel off the map.
And while we are certainly forthright and foursquare behind promotion of freedom of expression throughout the world, including in Iran, I don't think that anybody would draw any equivalencies between "freedom of press" in Iran and freedom of the press in Western Europe or the United States.
QUESTION: I didn't mean to say that he had proposed it. That's incorrect. But do you believe that he is behind it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, I saw the AP reports. I'm not in a position to confirm whether or not this newspaper is owned by the municipality of Tehran. It's been reported by the AP. I can't confirm that for you. But I think certainly you can hear -- you can almost hear President Ahmadi-Nejad's voice in the editor of this particular newspaper making this proposal.
And certainly we know, if you look back at our own Human Rights Report, one of the techniques that the Iranian Government uses is written orders to Iranian media, Iranian newspapers, about how they should cover particular events, making suggestions about how they might cover something and what they might cover.
So you know, I would only contrast what we have heard from Prime Minister Rasmussen concerning these issues with the failure of the Iranian Government to stop a mob that attacked the Danish Embassy in Tehran. I think that you can contrast what you have heard from other leaders throughout the region -- Iraqi leaders, Saudi leaders -- asking for return to calm and calls for restraint from use of violence with, for example, what we have seen in Syria, where a mob burned down, burned to the ground, two embassies. And I would just add that not too many spontaneous protests occur in downtown Damascus without at least the knowledge and certainly the support of the Syrian Government.
So what we have called for is tolerance and understanding, not incitement to violence. And we call upon all governments to lower the temperature, to urge calm and to urge dialogue and not misunderstanding. Sadly, we have not seen any of that from the Iranian Government or the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: You wouldn't urge tolerance for a Holocaust cartoon contest, though?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that's simply outrageous.
QUESTION: Sean, can I just turn to nuclear here just for one second?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On the car --
QUESTION: Okay. So we sort of -- okay, you want to?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah, if you want to go back, then we'll come back.
QUESTION: Just a nuclear question. Okay. The phrase, "the point of no return" has been bandied about, and indeed Secretary Joseph did use those formulations, saying that is the question. Given what he said yesterday and what you said today, and I'm assuming that means that it's the point beyond which you could not stop Iran if they wanted to get nuclear weapons, do you believe that Iran is now past this point of no return or is near it or is at it or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think those are really judgments, technical judgments, for the intelligence community to make. They have made their estimates known. There is a range that they have associated with those estimates that would vary according to certain variables: how much, if any, outside assistance they might get; how much of this has to be done only in Iran by Iranians. So you have a range of estimates.
I don't have the answer to that question, Peter. I can only say that it's a serious issue, that it's a issue of great concern not only to the United States but to the entire international community. There is fundamental agreement that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon because the introduction of a nuclear weapon by Iran would be a destabilizing event not only for the region, but for the entire world. So that's why we're working so hard on this question, Peter.
QUESTION: The President spoke to the Danish Prime Minister -- you wanted to go back -- I'm sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: He did.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, just cartoons.
QUESTION: More on that subject, but you go ahead.
MR. MCCORMACK: He did talk to him, Barry. The White House can provide you a readout.
QUESTION: I know that. I know that.
QUESTION: Go ahead, Barry.
QUESTION: I didn't want to interrupt. I'll get back to this.
MR. MCCORMACK: But you did. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That's okay, I don't mind.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Libby.
QUESTION: Yeah, I will get in this question eventually. I heard you talking on a radio program this morning about we've specifically reached out to countries about lowering the temperature on the cartoons. Do you have anything more on that and what we've sort of suggested to them to help lower the temperature?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have made an effort to go out to different countries around the world -- we've done it in public, we've done it in private -- asking them to speak out against violence, to speak out against incitement to violence by those who might have taken some offense at the publication of these cartoons. You have seen responsible protests in many areas. You've seen peaceful protests in Turkey. You've seen some peaceful protests in Egypt as well as other places. That is the right of those people to protest peacefully as a form of freedom of expression. That in no way diminishes our support for freedom of the press.
So we have -- you know, the --
QUESTION: Which countries though? I just -- that was --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't have a specific list for you. I don't have a specific list. One thing we have done is we have gone out to our embassies around -- or one thing that we are going to do is go out to our embassies around the globe and ask them to offer any assistance to the Danish Government, the Danish embassies' representatives in countries where they have representation, see if they need any assistance. The Danish embassies usually tend to be much -- tend to be smaller than our own. And if we're able to help them out in any way, we certainly will. And if that assistance is needed by the Danish Government, then they ask for it.
Barry, do you have anything else?
QUESTION: I just -- I was wondering if the Secretary followed up the President's call, if she made any significant calls on this issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: She, over the weekend, spoke with the Danish Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: No, I know over the weekend.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, nothing --
QUESTION: This is Tuesday. I just wondered, today or yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you, Barry.
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal.
QUESTION: Two questions on India, one related to Iran. Now, voting at the IAEA in Vienna is now over and Iranian President has not moved a little bit -- a bit even now, even the case having furthered to the UN Security Council. Also he has threatened those who voted against Iran will be published in one way or another way. Now as far as India's case is concerned, again, India voted with the global community for -- with the EU and the U.S.
Now visit is coming. The Secretary is going to India in the next two weeks. As far as U.S.-India relations are concerning many fronts, including the nuclear issue because India needs energy and maybe now, where do we stand on this issue? And also how U.S. is going to protect as far as India's interest is concerned on energy and Iranian threats?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we are very pleased that the Indian Government decided to vote with many other countries to report Iran to the Security Council. The energy issue, I know, is very important to the Indian Government and to the Indian people. That is why we have been working so closely with them on actual implementation of the agreement that Prime Minister Singh and President Bush concluded when Prime Minister Singh was visiting here.
We hope to make progress in the weeks leading up to the President's visit to India and the rest of the region on this issue.
We have continuing discussions with it -- with the Indian Government on the issue. The key component of these discussions is a workable proposal from the Indian Government on the separation of their civilian and their military nuclear programs. So we continue to work with them on that issue. We don't yet have anything to report in terms of a final agreement, but we think -- we hold out great hope that we are going to be able to make some progress here in the coming weeks on that issue.
QUESTION: And second, as far as the Secretary's trip to India is concerned, I understand that there will be --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's the President's trip to India. The Secretary's going along with the President.
QUESTION: But the Secretary will be accompanying the President.
MR. MCCORMACK: She will.
QUESTION: I understand that the U.S. will be opening a new consulate in Hyderabad in India. Is it part of the restructuring the State Department foreign staff and all that? And also Hyderabad -- and is there any other consulate coming in India?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that we're taking a close look at our formal diplomatic presence in India. At this point, I don't have anything to announce for you in terms of new posts, but we are looking at how we are arrayed in India. The Secretary talked about the importance of transformational diplomacy and shifting assets to those key areas of the globe where we might not have as many assets as we like. India she used as an example. So we're going to be taking a look at that and we'll keep you up to date, Goyal, on any changes in our diplomatic posture.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you keep us posted on new consulates or new representation? I know if you're taking a look they may be kind of scattered in terms of when they open, but can you keep us apprised of when you're going to be opening new posts and where?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean. For the last few months the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh is cracking down heavily on the banned terrorist organization, the JMB, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh. What is your reaction? Are you supportive of this action by the government and would you consider Bangladesh still to be a moderate Muslim country?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that the Bangladeshi Government is dealing with an issue of terrorism -- there have been -- we've seen in the newspapers the reports of the various explosions that have taken place over the past several months in Bangladesh. We stand with the Bangladeshi Government in their fight against terrorism. We believe it's a common fight for us all. And I can't speak to any specific actions that the Bangladeshi Government may have taken to combat the terrorist threat there, but we do stand with the Bangladeshi people in the fight against terror.
QUESTION: Yes, Sean, to complete this, the election is forthcoming. The major opposition that demanded reforms in caretaker matters. This could be contentious if not been resolved. And lately the opposition has decided to join the parliament. What is your take on this move and would you be considering to see Bangladesh getting its due, peaceful, democratic rights of peaceful elections and how do you foresee that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of this specific move, I'd have to look into it for you. And my initial reaction is to say how the Bangladeshi political class chooses to array itself and whether it chooses to participate in an election or in a parliament, that is up to those involved in leading those political movements -- peaceful political movements. So if we have anything further to add on the issue I'd be happy to get back to you.
QUESTION: Will you take this question, please?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On Cyprus, according to the Turkish press, the U.S. Government is trying in the recent days to convince the UN Permanent Member in the Security Council, Russia, to support the new Turkish plan on Cyprus delivered the other day by the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Do you know what it is all about or could you check for us what is the communication between you and Russia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll certainly check for you. We expressed previously our support for the proposal by Foreign Minister Gul in the context of working towards a solution under the aegis of the Annan plan. If there's -- if we have anything to add on the particular communication between the U.S. and Russia with respect to the Turkish Foreign Minister's proposal, I'll see if we have anything.
QUESTION: A follow-up with the same report. Madame Secretary Condoleezza Rice finally in the middle of February is going to visit Ankara, Turkey. Do you know if she's planning to make a stopover in Athens, too? Could you please check for us?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll keep you updated on her travel; nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: And the last one, since you are trying to end the isolation of the Turkey Cypriot in an effort to reunite the island, as you are claiming every Saturday, how do you respond to the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat's statement yesterday that, "We are more legal than the Republic of Cyprus," something that's potentially the permanent division of the island?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look to see if we have any particular response but -- you know, besides our saying that our policy on the issue is well known to you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if anyone in the Greek Government informed you about the tapping scandal?
MR. MCCORMACK: I, you know, couldn't tell you. I assume that the government has been in contact with -- the Greek Government has been in contact with our embassy on the ground because I know it's been in the Greek newspapers quite a bit. I couldn't tell you when they first heard about it.
QUESTION: Do you know, Mr. McCormack, that the persons would tape the conversation? They even tapped the telephone lines of American personnels in Athens?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I've seen the news reports on this regard. This is a matter for the Greek Government to handle.
QUESTION: You don't want a taken question? Can you take the question for us?
MR. MCCORMACK: If I have anything to add, we'll let you know.
QUESTION: Sean, I wanted to go back to the cross-Atlantic ties with the Muslim world and the cartoon issue. I understand that the State Department supports the freedom of expression in speech and the press in Europe and the rest of the world and that we value the alliance we have with Europe and Iraq and Afghanistan; but when we support, you know, in the name of free press blasphemous cartoons, are we basically, you know, alienating the moderate Muslims that we actually need to work with in the war on terror? I'm sure it's like chipping away at the relationship there and in terms of trying to fight the war against terror with the rest of the Muslim world.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think if you look at some of the protests that have occurred, there are a relatively small number of them involving a relatively small number of people when you look at the populations not only of these countries but of people who adhere to the Islamic faith.
There are, as I pointed out, some regimes that are intent upon, it would appear, inciting others to violence or encouraging others to commit acts of violence. We've seen it in Iran. We've seen it in Damascus. We've seen it in Lebanon.
Now, the difference with the Government of Lebanon is that they issued an apology to those countries whose embassies were attacked and damaged in Beirut. They took steps, positive steps, to see that it didn't happen again. The Minister of Interior resigned in those places -- in Lebanon.
You haven't seen -- you haven't seen that. You haven't seen apologies from the governments of Syria or -- the Government of Syria or the Government of Iran with respect to what happened in Damascus and in Tehran.
We have been very clear that freedom of expression, freedom of the press, is one of our core values. It will continue to be a core part, a principal part, of the President's freedom agenda around the world.
QUESTION: Right, but my question, I guess, was how is it affecting our relationship with the more moderate nations because it's inciting instability within those countries?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would only -- I would point only to the voices of calm and reason and moderation that you have started to hear in recent days. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani in Iraq has spoken out on this, has spoken out on this issue. As I said, we have seen peaceful protests in Turkey. We have seen peaceful protests in Egypt as well as other places around the world. That is the right of those individuals to protest in peace against something that they found offensive. It is also the right of the media and news organizations to make editorial judgments about what they will print. It is not for the government to dictate. So what we have encouraged -- and you have seen some response to this, to this call, not only from us but from others -- is dialogue, understanding and not resorting to -- not resort to violence, not resort to stoking the fires.
So you know, again, we -- you know, our continuing call is for those voices of calm. We need more understanding, not less. And we believe that in many parts of the world, including in the Middle East, you do see some response to that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry if we've already asked this question previously, but has the State Department reached out to editorial boards in the U.S., whether it be the New York Times, The Washington Post, and also to various networks to -- for them not to publish this cartoon because of its incendiary nature?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. I have made it very clear that judgments about what's in the newspapers are for the editors and the journalists to make, not us.
QUESTION: Turkey's (inaudible) Diyarbakir's mayor, Mr. Osman Baydemir, has been to town. Has he already met with anybody or will he meet with anybody in the State Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe he's met with anybody at the State Department.
QUESTION: So he will not?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe that there are any plans at this point for him to meet with State Department officials.
QUESTION: Thank you. Taiwan's President Chen stated yesterday that the sovereignty of Taiwan can only be decided by the 23 million on Taiwan and it can't be a shared decision with the 1.3 billion mainland Chinese. And this obviously differs from the U.S. policy on Taiwan, which states that any resolution should be accepted by the people on both sides of Taiwan Strait.
My question is: Is Chen's formulation a cause of concern for the U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy on this matter is well known. It's unchanged. We restated it in public with a statement by the Deputy Spokesman on January 30th. We have a "one China" policy that is based on the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act. We have made no changes to our longstanding policy aimed at promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region. The United States does not support Taiwan independence and opposes unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taiwan or Beijing, and we support dialogue in the interest of achieving a peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences in a manner that is acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow? You put out a specific statement last Monday regard -- I mean, responding to President Chen's remarks or intention to abolish the unification council. Can you tell us what response you have received from Taiwan authority and does his latest remark reflect that he hasn't understood or agreed with restatement of the U.S. policy?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to see if there's anything we have for you on that question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal.
QUESTION: Sean, as far as Nepal is concerned, the situation is getting out of hand, including press reports and also Human Rights Watch. So what -- have they come back to the U.S. and the State Department asking any additional help or how the U.S. is going to help to cut the (inaudible) of terrorism in Nepal and also at the same time keep the liberty and the freedom of press and freedom of information?
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. I'll see if we have anything for you, Goyal.
QUESTION: Yes. The Ivory Coast. There seems to be a delay in the implementation or imposition of these limited sanctions on various politicians or these sanctions that were meant to be imposed today. Is there a problem in them getting them through? Does the U.S. oppose some of these for some reason or is this just a procedural sort of delay at the UN?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check, Sue. I don't have the latest for you on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)
Released on February 7, 2006