State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 10, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
February 10, 2006
Journalist Jill Carroll / Efforts to Secure Release
Election / Electoral Process / Logistical Problems / Tallying
Ballots / Working with New Haitian Government / International
MINUSTAH Mission / Security Situation / Police Training
Aristide in South Africa
Decision to Meet with Hamas / Conditions Outlined by Quartet /
French Support for Russia Plan / Secretary Rice and Undersecretary
Burns Contact with Foreign Ministry
Countries Making Sovereign Decisions Regarding Contact with Hamas
Assistant Secretary Welch Contact with Members of Quartet /
Reviewing Individual Aid Programs and Legal Standards That Apply
Efforts of General Dayton / Contact with President Abbas on
Security Issues / Continued Assistance in Training Palestinian
Quartet Envoy Wolfensohn / Consultations
Historical Change Throughout Middle East / Freedom Agenda /
Different Countries at Different Stages in the Democratic Process
/ Continue to Work with Governments
Six-Party Talks / Urging North Korean Government to Return to the
Table / Final Date to be Set / Continue to Push to Encourage All
Parties to Meet
Protection of Currency / U.S. Actions to Stop Illicit Activities
Venezuelan Ambassador / Contacts with Western Hemisphere Affairs
Bureau / Diplomatic Contact
12:20 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: We're ready for questions, whoever wants to go first.
QUESTION: Well, the first is, you know, I don't think it deserves a lot of time but Jill Carroll, again there's a tape. Is there any light you can shed on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you on this, Barry. We continue to make every effort to secure her release, to see that she's back safe and sound with her family and her coworkers. We call upon her captors to release her immediately. But beyond that I don't -- I'm not going to have too much more to say about her particular situation. I think you understand that we certainly don't want to do anything that would, in any way, negatively affect the chances of her being returned safe and sound.
QUESTION: But your remarks suggest that you hold out hope that she's still alive and all.
MR. MCCORMACK: We still very much hope for her release immediately and that she's returned safe and sound with her family.
MR. MCCORMACK: Saul.
QUESTION: On Haiti. What will you do to support the new leadership in Haiti?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, a couple of things. One, let's congratulate the people of Haiti on holding an election that was mostly free from violence. There were some violent incidents early on in the electoral process. Some of that resulted from polls opening late, some frustration among people who wanted to vote. But the key here is that there was a high turnout, that the Haitian people invested in this electoral process and we're now going to wait to see what the final results are. The Committee on Elections is now tallying all the ballots. They have come out, I think, with some provisional results but they're not yet final. So we're going to wait to see what the final results are, Saul, before we, I think, have some more specific comments about how we might work with a new Haitian Government and the new Prime Minister.
But I will say that we look forward to, as a matter of principle, working with the new Haitian Government. The Haitian people, it would seem through this voter turnout, have chosen to close this particularly dark chapter in their history. We look forward to working with a new Haitian Government on building those democratic institutions that would serve the Haitian people, that would help provide for a better way of life, that would help provide for the prospect of a better future politically, socially, and economically for the Haitian people.
QUESTION: I wonder -- a lot of your work so far has been to get to this stage.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: You call it dark chapter and then you close it and they seem to be goals. I wonder if you can elaborate on the "how." Is there more aid going down there? What are you going to be doing to build those democratic institutions?
MR. MCCORMACK: That, I think, is going to be a matter for continuing discussion among the members of the international community, Saul. I would expect that in the wake of the final election results that we are going to be speaking with members of the Core Group, that have formed a core international body that helps support the holding of these elections, both in terms of rhetorical and diplomatic as well as material support. And those discussions are going to continue. I don't have any specific figures for you about aid flows and what is projected. I think once we have the final election results, we can get into a few more specifics in that regard.
QUESTION: Okay. I realize that it's always awkward for you -- uncomfortable -- to speak about the leadership until it's officially announced, although I think we understand that the provisional results are pretty clear and the opposition has already said who they think is winning. What I get from what you're saying is regardless of who wins, whether it's somebody we would have supported or not, we're really prepared to work with them. Is that a fair assessment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Whoever -- in the end -- is elected will be somebody that is elected by the Haitian people in what has been a free and fair election process. We look forward to working with the new government and its ministers, regardless of where they may fall along the political spectrum. Our interest is in seeing that they govern in a democratic manner. And democracy is not just about election day; it is about how you govern. So that will be the focus of our efforts and we look forward to working with the new Haitian Government based on those principles.
QUESTION: Are you saying this was a free and fair election?
MR. MCCORMACK: George, every indication up until this point has been that it was a free and fair election. There were certainly instances of violence along the way; we saw that. There were some questions raised about late opening of some of the polling places. But the reports that we've gotten back from the field have been that those late openings and other problems along the way were largely due to logistical problems. You know, Haiti is a difficult place to hold this kind of nationwide election. Our judgment at this point is then that the Haitian people, the Electoral Commission working with the international community, pulled off a good election.
QUESTION: Will you have a more comprehensive analysis of the election, after all the returns are in?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I think we'll be able to do that for you.
QUESTION: One more. Do you think the UN peacekeeping should be extended?
MR. MCCORMACK: The MINUSTAH mission has served an important purpose up to this point. I think we've seen the positive results from their efforts. What we are -- we will continue to talk about MINUSTAH. I suspect that it will be a topic of discussion with the Haitian Government. We're going to have a new sovereign government in place. We're going to have to talk to them about the security situation. A big part of the international community's efforts right now is to work on police training. That effort I believe will continue. The Haitian Government is going to need some assistance in building up a professional police corps presence, which will be very important to ensuring rule of law in a safe and secure environment for the Haitian people. As for MINUSTAH, we'll be talking not only with Secretary General Annan, as well as the international community, but the new Haitian Government about that.
QUESTION: Another subject?
QUESTION: Can I have just one more?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Aristide cast a shadow over the election. His presence is always sort of in the background. Now in the past you've been categorical saying he's history, there's no need for him to play any part in Haitian politics. Is that still your position or do you think now with this new government or the vote behind us, he can and -- go back to Haiti?
MR. MCCORMACK: He wasn't on the ballot and he left of his own accord. He asked for assistance from the United States in going to South Africa. That was provided. We now will have a new elected government and we look forward to working with that government and the individuals that will be appointed by the prime minister in Haiti -- the new prime minister in Haiti.
QUESTION: But that's not nearly as categorical as you have been.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, Saul, he wasn't on the ballot and he is in South Africa and I would expect that he would stay there.
QUESTION: The candidate who is largely believed to be the winner, didn't have any clear opposition on Aristide and it seems Aristide could come back. Would you support that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, he is not in Haiti. He is in South Africa and we believe that the Haitian people have closed the chapter in this most recent part of Haiti's history.
QUESTION: Well -- but he's actually said that -- he's actually said that he believes that Aristide should be able to come back. Is that something you would fight? Would you be discussing that with the Haitian Government about not letting him back or --
MR. MCCORMACK: We think the Haitian Government should be looking forward to their future, not to its past.
QUESTION: France has indicated that it supports Russia's plan to meet Hamas. I just wondered, does the U.S. now -- I mean, you've had all night to think about this -- does the U.S. now support a meeting between President Putin and Hamas leaders? And also, this was not something that was agreed on during the Quartet meeting at all. Is there a split now in how you approach Hamas, if you have the Russians who want to speak to them and -- well, you can tell me whether overnight you've changed your position?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we haven't. Look, the Russians made this decision. They made clear their decision. What we have received in multiple conversations with the Russian Government about this issue is their assurances that if there is contact with Hamas that they will send the very clear, strong signal that is outlined in the Quartet that Hamas has a choice to make and it must meet the conditions as outlined by the Quartet. I believe the French Government is in total accord with that point of view and we have been assured that should the Russian Government meet with Hamas that they would send that -- that the meeting would be with the intent of sending that clear, strong message. Secretary Rice has spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this issue. Ambassador Burns has also had contacts with the Russian Foreign Ministry on it. And that was the message that we received from the Russian Government on this.
QUESTION: When did the Secretary speak to the Russians?
MR. MCCORMACK: This morning. This morning.
QUESTION: And did she give him her blessing for the meeting to go ahead? Did she say that she thinks it's a good idea or a bad idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a Russian decision. The Quartet -- if you look at the Quartet statement, it doesn't specifically address contacts, but there is a principle in there as it relates to review of aid programs. And that principle is that individual countries will make their sovereign decisions about these issues. We consider Hamas a terrorist organization. We have, we do and we will, absent any sort of change in Hamas meeting those conditions. Other countries will have to make their own decisions.
But what we would call upon them to do is if there are contacts, and there have been contacts among other countries in the region -- I'd point out Egypt, for example -- that they be consistent and strong in sending the same message to Hamas. And that's what we've seen. Should the Russian Government follow through and have a meeting with Hamas, have some contact with Hamas, we've been assured that they will send that message that is contained in the Quartet statement.
QUESTION: Can you go a half a step further? I heard the Egyptian last night talking about the virtue of talking to Hamas, as Egypt is doing. So it's sort of a two-part question. The point you just made, can we say the Secretary made that point to Lavrov? And secondly, do you folks see a virtue of that, a positive side, in conversations with Hamas that have the purpose of trying to bring them out of their current position and bring them closer to an acceptable position? In other words, can these interlocutors do some good as well as lecturing them and telling them, you know, renounce terrorism?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess the way I'd put it, Barry, is should individual countries choose to have contact with Hamas that they send the message that Hamas has a choice to make, and that choice is that they must meet the conditions as outlined in the Quartet statement; if not, then certainly the international community is going to have to look at how it interacts with Hamas if there is a Palestinian Authority government with -- led by Hamas -- we don't know that yet; that based on the principles outlined in the Quartet statement the international community is going to take a close look at aid programs and its contacts with Hamas.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Rice receive any assurances from Mr. Lavrov that Russia will inform U.S. on their next step on this matter?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure we'll hear from them if they do, in fact, decide to hold the meeting.
I would also make one further point regarding the Quartet. At the envoy level, I daresay that on any given day David Welch, Assistant Secretary Welch, is in contact with other members of the Quartet, whether that's from the EU or member-states of the EU, on these issues. So we're working very closely with other members of the Quartet, other states, regarding issues of aid. I would expect in the coming weeks that the United States and the EU would be talking about their reviews of their individual aid programs and the different legal standards that would apply and have a general discussion about policy matters concerning aid to any future Palestinian government.
QUESTION: I'm trying to see how you see this process that could take place with the Russians. Are you in support of it and coordinating with them, as you do with the EU-3, for instance, with Iran; that you weren't a party to it but you were briefed on it and you kind of coordinated your approach? Or are you saying, you know, although members of the Quartet agree to these certain principles, you know, you're on your own what you want to do and how you want to do it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't draw the analogy that you've laid out there. As I responded to Barry, should individual countries make the decision to have contact with Hamas, we have urged them -- and we've done this in public as well as in private --
QUESTION: Is it coordinated? Is this a coordinated approach that you support and endorse? Or are you saying, you know, do what you want, but if you're going to do it, you should stick with --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure I see the -- I'm not sure -- maybe you're making it a fine distinction here that I am failing to pick up, Elise, but what we have stated very clearly is that this is for -- individual countries will make sovereign decisions about issues related to aid, issues related to contact. What we have stated very clearly is that if they, in fact, do have contact that they should reinforce, underline the principles outlined in the Quartet statement. You know, I don't know if that's -- how I can be more clear more about that.
QUESTION: So you're saying that these countries are talking to them as unilateral actors and not on behalf of the Quartet; is what I'm -- I guess what I'm getting at?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that's what I've been saying all along.
QUESTION: On the --
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Hamas is getting some sort of international standing that you would rather they not get by being -- I'll use the word "courted"? They're being courted to change their position but they are getting an audience -- Egypt, Russia --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I would take issue with -- you know, you choose your words, but I would take issue with the word "courted." The way that I would put it, Barry, is that individual states are reinforcing, laying out, what the conditions are and what the requirements are. I wouldn't use the word "courted."
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: You said if the meeting goes ahead. Is it your understanding that the Russians have not yet finally decided whether they will invite Hamas, that it's still an open question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they haven't set a date. They haven't set a date for a meeting. They haven't, I think, talked yet among themselves about at what level a possible meeting might me. President Putin said there would be a meeting, so I don't have any reason to doubt that. I'm just trying to be specific as to where we find ourselves right now. They haven't set a date as far as we know.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice's conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on the assumption that the meeting will go forward. She was not still urging him to possibly call it off?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Right. Well, President Putin made it clear that he was going to make a sovereign decision and so we had no reason to doubt that none of that would be reversed.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, if the Russians had the chance to lay out what the Quartet wants in a meeting with Hamas, is this something the Secretary thinks is going to be helpful?
MR. MCCORMACK: We believe that should Russia have -- take the opportunity to have -- choose to have a meeting, they should take it as an opportunity to reinforce the message. Whether or not it has any effect on Hamas is going to be up to Hamas. They're the ones -- the onus is on Hamas to make certain decisions. The international community has laid out very clearly what is required of them. It's up to them to respond to that.
QUESTION: But have you gotten assurances that Russia will send that message?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you think the special links Russia entertains with Iran could help in this matter with Hamas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Russian links with who?
QUESTION: With Iran, with the fact that they have been trying to help in the Iranian nuclear story and even if they don't succeed, they still have special links with Tehran. Do you think it could help?
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess I wouldn't draw that -- I wouldn't conflate the two issues.
QUESTION: Israel's Foreign Minister described this as a sort of a slippery slope, the moment you start meeting with Hamas and it will lead to other countries compromising or meeting with Hamas. Is that your view as well as this is sort of a slippery slope, once you have one meeting, then it's going to give them more credibility and then more countries are going to start meeting with them and then possibly your policy of isolating Hamas will just fall by the wayside?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what you are seeing the -- what underpins the Quartet's statement is forcing Hamas to make a choice. And absent that choice, the international community is going to have to assess what is currently ongoing with the interim government. So the basic approach here has been to put the onus on Hamas to make a decision. I think we've -- in the context that Hamas has had, they have received the same message from all of their contacts. I know that they are making a tour throughout the region, searching for some sort of affirmation. But I think what they are hearing, at least as far as the reports that we have gotten back, is their interlocutors are sending that Quartet message to them.
QUESTION: Sean, are there any understandings with President Abbas which would prevent taking directives directly from Hamas and disrupting the (inaudible) training or put together a plan to train security in Palestinian areas? Has that now gone by the wayside?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the existing efforts that General Dayton has undertaken continue. We continue to have contact with President Abbas on security issues. Certainly, the question of continued assistance in training Palestinian security forces is going to be one that will depend largely upon, it not completely upon, what the arrangements -- what future Palestinian government there is and what powers may or may not be retained by President Abbas. So at this point, I don't think we can answer that question, Joel, because we don't yet know what a future Palestinian government would look like, but we do continue to meet with President Abbas and his officials on issues related to General Dayton's mission.
QUESTION: I was at a Carnegie forum last week and there were some speakers who were over there during the elections and one of the speakers made the statement that it seems that the trend, in fact, in the Middle East is not toward democracies like the U.S. is promoting, but is in fact Islamism is on the rise, as reflected in the Hamas victory as well as the Shia conservative majority in Iraq. And he said if free and fair elections, truly free and fair elections were held, Muslim Brotherhood-type governments would come to power in Egypt, Jordan, and so forth. I just would like you to rebut that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I have talked about this many times from the podium here. I think a lot of your colleagues have heard this many times before. You've heard it from the Secretary as well. But I'm happy to review it with you again. We are in the process -- what we are in the midst of is a deep historical change throughout the Middle East. You had 60 years of a freedom deficit in the Middle East where individuals had two choices: One, they could choose to live within the confines of autocratic political systems or they could seek outlets elsewhere through much more radical political groups, oftentimes with terrorists ties.
What President Bush did in his second inaugural is very firmly and clearly stake out a core principle of American foreign policy. And at the core of American foreign policy is the Freedom Agenda, is the advancement of democracy, freedom throughout the Middle East as well as around the world and part of that is elections. But you're going to find different countries at different stages across the Middle East. For example, in Saudi Arabia, you have had municipal elections. In Egypt, you have had now multiparty presidential elections, so just to use two examples. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are at two different stages in the democratic process.
In Kuwait, women will now have the right to vote. It's an important change. You have seen in Lebanon that Syria, as a result of international pressure, has exited Lebanon -- at least their ground forces have -- and the Lebanese people have chosen new leadership through free and fair elections.
So there is a lot of positive change throughout the region. The Palestinian people had free and fair elections, electing a new parliament. And President Bush has made very clear that it is not up to the United States to define how those elections turn out or who the people of the region choose to lead them. That is up to them. We will continue to work to address the freedom agenda, to expand personal freedoms for individuals in the region. We'll continue to work with those governments who are committed to opening up the political process, the political space for their citizens. We believe that that is -- that's important. We believe that our future security and the democracy agenda are inextricably linked; they are mutually reinforcing.
So while the democratic process, the opening of this democratic space in individual countries and through the Middle East writ large, is sometimes going to be bumpy, it will ultimately produce results that are not only in the interests of the people of the region in realizing a better, more free, more prosperous life, but it will also be in the interests of the United States and the rest of the world in producing a more stable, secure Middle East.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if you can update us on any development or progress with regard to the six-party talks. And if it's not this month, would it be possible to hold the six-party talks next month?
MR. MCCORMACK: We continue to urge the North Korean Government to return to the table at the earliest possible time to engage in serious, constructive negotiations. We're prepared to do so. We're just waiting for a final date to be set. We have not heard back from the Chinese Government, who is the party responsible for convening the talks, that they have an agreed date from all the six parties. So I don't have an update for you with respect to a specific time that the talks might start, but we continue to push to encourage all the parties to get together and meet for the next round of six-party talks, like they said they would do at the end of the last round, at the earliest possible date.
QUESTION: The North Koreans yesterday -- I think yesterday said that their consistent policy was to oppose all sorts of illegal acts in the financial field. I wonder if you would welcome this coming from the North Koreans.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a fine rhetorical commitment, but what we would call upon is the North Korean Government to cease all such activities.
We view the six-party talks and our actions to prevent, stop, illicit activities as completely separate. These are completely separate issues. I think it is absolutely understandable and perfectly reasonable that a sovereign state would take actions to protect itself, in this case to protect its currency, and also to act to stop illicit activities. It's very simple. It is within the power of the North Korean Government to do so. We would call upon them to do so.
In the absence of that cessation, the United States will continue to act in its interests to either prevent or stop these illicit activities from occurring.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Mr. Wolfensohn, the Quartet envoy? Where is he? What's his future role to be?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think he's back here in Washington or in the U.S. on consultations, so we're talking to him about his mission and what his future mission might be.
QUESTION: Is that in coordination with your review of aid and what you're going to do with the aid programs or --
MR. MCCORMACK: They're coincident. I'm not sure they're specifically tied, but certainly coincident.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
QUESTION: I still have a question. Yesterday I asked you a question about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Have to be quicker off the trigger.
QUESTION: The thing is your ambassador, he said he --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh yes, I think we posted it. I think we posted an answer on that. But as I understand it, let's see here, let me get the details for you.
The Venezuelan Ambassador has a number of -- has had a number of contacts with people from our Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau. The last one was on January 23rd when the Venezuelan Ambassador met with the Director and Deputy Director for the Office of Andean Affairs, which is the responsible office. Our deputy assistant secretaries are always open to meetings with ambassadors, typically on the day-to-day management of affairs between the State Department here and embassies is handled by desk officers and office directors. The Assistant in this case, Tom Shannon, is certainly always ready to schedule meetings. So in terms of diplomatic contact, the Venezuelan Embassy has had no shortage of that, as far as I can tell.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)
DPB # 24
Released on February 10, 2006