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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 17, 2006


State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 17, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 17, 2006

INDEX:

PHILIPPINES
U.S. Response to Philippines Mudslide

MIDDLE EAST
Secretary Rice's Upcoming Trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE
Expected Topics of Discussion: Democracy in the Middle East;
Recent Palestinian Elections; Iran's Behavior in the Region/
Current Situation With IAEA Board of Governors/Support for
Terrorism

IRAN
Iran-Iraq Relations
Iranian Foreign Minister's Call for Withdrawal of Multinational
Forces From Basra, Iraq
Iran's Comments Regarding the UN Security Council

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Hamas and New Palestinian Government / US Review of Assistance
US Request for Return of $50 Million Disbursed to Palestinian
Authority in 2005
Russian Meeting with Members of Hamas
Israeli Defense Ministry Comments Regarding Movement and Access of
Palestinians
Turkish Meeting with Members of Hamas

GREECE
Prospects for Secretary Rice to Meet with New Greek Foreign
Minister
Under Secretary Burns' Conversation with Greek Foreign Minister
Reported VOA Decision to End Greek and Turkish Services

IRAQ
Committee to Protect Journalists Annual Report

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Interagency Process and Review of UAE/Dubai Ports Acquisition of
US Port Operations

NORTH KOREA
Announcement by Banco Delta-Asia on Closure of Accounts with North
Korea
US Encourages North Korea to Return to Six-Party Talks UNITED
NATIONS
Process for Consideration of Next UN Secretary General


TRANSCRIPT:

12:23 p.m. EST


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one opening statement for you and then we can get right into questions. This is concerns the U.S. response to the mudslides in the Philippines.

"The United States extends its sincere condolences to the people of the Philippines in the wake of last night's deadly landslide. Reports indicate that the massive mudslide destroyed the town of Saint Bernard on the Island of Leyte and may have caused over 1,000 fatalities.

In response to a request from the Government of the Philippines, elements of the U.S. Marine Corps' 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was in the Philippines participating in a military exercise with the Philippine armed forces, have been directed to assist in the rescue effort. The MEU consists of amphibious ships equipped with helicopters and has about 5,500 personnel. The MEU is currently en route to the disaster area. In addition, USAID has authorized the U.S. Embassy in Manila to disburse approximately $50,000 in disaster assistance. The Embassy in Manila is also requesting an additional $50,000 for this emergency and is working directly with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Bangkok Region Office. The United States stands ready to provide additional assistance as needed."

With that, I'd be pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: The Secretary is going next week to the Gulf. I wanted to know what she expects from the Gulf countries there and if it's -- she said it would be linked to Iran and do they have concerns about Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: What does she expect to gain?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she has a wide agenda for this trip next week. Currently on the schedule, she's going to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE for a conference of the Gulf Cooperation Council. There are a number of different topics on the agenda. I expect that she is going to be talking about democracy in the Middle East and the United States' unwavering and continuing support for the spread and promotion of democracy in the Middle East, talk about recent Palestinian elections. I think she'll talk about Iran. She'll talk about Iran in the context of Iran's behavior in the region and how that affects Iran's neighbors in the region. You know, we are all aware of the current situation with regard to Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under cover of a civilian nuclear program and the international community has called them on it. So we will see how this process unfolds on the diplomatic front with respect to the nuclear program.

On the terrorist front, Iran is the central banker for terrorism in the Middle East. They support Hezbollah. They support Palestinian rejectionist groups. And that funding directly affects the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a better more peaceful prosperous life. So I think she will be talking to them about that and how the states of the region have an interest in talking to Iran about its behavior in the region. She'll also be talking about Iran's behavior towards its own people. Iran is headed in the opposite direction from where the rest of the region is headed. It is now putting in place more and more oppressive policies concerning its own people, their ability to speak out, their ability to protest, their ability to express themselves artistically. You know, you can see examples of Iranian publications being shut down, some even before they publish their first edition. You see examples of Iranians not being able to protest. There was a recent transit strike that was broken up. These people just wanted to tell the government, in an organized fashion, that they wanted a better wage for their work.

The Iranian Government won't allow individuals to play classical music anymore in Tehran. So, these are just manifestations of a more oppressive political environment in Iran. And the Secretary will be talking to countries of the region about that and how they have an interest in speaking out and confronting Iranian behavior because they do have a stake in how Iran is behaving in the region.

QUESTION: If I can follow up. You speak about interests. Do you plan to ask them to invest more in Iran -- in Iraq to counter -- try to counter the influence of Iran and Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have, for some time, asked member-states of the international community to support the new Iraqi Government in whatever way that they possibly can, whether that is a diplomatic presence in Baghdad or canceling debt or providing financial assistance in some form or providing -- or encouraging investment in Iraq. Certainly, we have, for some time, encouraged the states of the region as well as states around the world to do that.

We had a conference in Brussels last -- I believe it was several months ago, I can't remember the exact date -- in which you had more than 80 countries around the world gathered to talk about their support for Iraq. So, we would encourage those countries who made commitments at that conference and subsequently to follow through on those commitments. So, we think it -- we think a peaceful, stable Iraq on the pathway to democracy is in the interest of the world but also, in particular, to the region and to Iraq's neighbors.

Yes.

QUESTION: In her discussions with these Gulf countries, will the Secretary be asking them not to fill any funding gap that might be left over from the U.S. and other Quartet members, possibly cutting off aid to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Secretary will have the same conversation with states in the region as she has had with numerous other countries around the world. And the basis of that conversation is the Quartet statement. It calls upon Hamas to make certain choices: recognize Israel's right to exist, turning away from terror and also abiding by previous commitments of the Palestinian Authority, most notably, to the roadmap and a commitment to a two-state solution arrived at via the negotiating table.

That is in the interest of the Palestinian people. There's a lot of discussion about -- between states about funding and Quartet statements, but what we can't lose sight of the fact is what is at stake here is the future of the Palestinian people. They want a better way of life for themselves. They want a peaceful way of life. They want a more prosperous way of life. And the way they arrive at that is through the process that has been outlined via the roadmap.

Now, Hamas a choice to make. They have a choice whether or not they are going to meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a prosperous, more democratic, free way of life in which they live at peace with their neighbors. And part of that is, from our point of view and the point of view of the Quartet, is looking at the behavior and the choices that Hamas makes. Do they make the right choices? We encourage them to make the right choices because if they do make the right choices then there is a pathway to peace, then there is a partner for negotiation. And again, each country is going to make its own decisions concerning particular aid to a new Palestinian Government. We have encouraged and will continue to encourage, both in public and in private, individual countries to consider what kind of assistance they might provide in light of Hamas' decisions.

QUESTION: But does that amount to putting pressure on those governments not to fill that funding gap because if they do then whatever action you take will be fairly useless because if that funding gap is filled then the Palestinian Authority would still be thriving.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, individual countries are going to make their own decisions. There's no way around that. That's just the way the world works. But we will make the strong case, as we have in public and we'll make in it in private as well, that the international community has to set standards. The international community cannot allow those who are elected in a free and fair election to try to have it both ways: that is, to have one foot in the camp of terror and one foot in politics. That is a fundamental contradiction that needs to be resolved. That's not something that is just the view of the United States; it is the view of many others in the international community. We believe that others in the region should hold those elected to that standard. And it's also incumbent upon the international community to hold those elected via democratic elections to govern in a democratic manner.

So those are the arguments that we're going to make. And quite simply, a group that does not recognize the right of Israel to exist -- a potential partner for peace -- then it doesn't make sense that there could be a pathway for peace. You need two partners in order to do that.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up with one other thing? The New York Times said today that the U.S. has asked the Palestinians to return $50 million which is going to be used for (inaudible) water projects and other projects. Is that correct -- this money that was originally going to be used by various ministries, is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: That is correct. That is correct. There was $50 million disbursed to the Palestinian Authority in 2005. It was provided to the -- well, it was a past government, now that there's a caretaker government, for new infrastructure projects in Gaza. It's part of a broader effort to ensure Palestinian -- or to assist with Palestinian economic revival in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. And this is all part of our program of reviewing our assistance programs. We talked to the Palestinian Authority about this issue, found out that there was still -- the vast majority of this money is still in the bank. And so in the interest of seeing that this fund -- these funds not potentially make their way into the coffers of a future Palestinian Government that might not recognize the right of Israel to exist, might not meet those Quartet obligations, we've asked for it to be returned. And the Palestinian Authority has agreed to return it.

QUESTION: Have they indicated when it will be returned and do you have plans to use that money, for say, humanitarian projects, or to redirect it to other causes for the Palestinian people? The Secretary has made clear she doesn't want to sort of make the situation worse for the Palestinian people, particularly refugees and others suffering.

MR. MCCORMACK: You're exactly right on that. In terms of the timeline, they've told us that they would return it promptly and I don't think it has been returned as of this time. In terms of what the future potential uses for the money are, well -- we'll try to keep you updated. At this point, I don't have the information for you.

QUESTION: So --

MR. MCCORMACK: You rightly state that the United States does have an interest in seeing how we might provide for those who are the most vulnerable among the Palestinian population. The refugees, for example, that's funding that is -- those are programs that are usually -- assistance programs usually provided through the UN, so we're going to take a look at that. We're going to take a look at food aid programs, things like childhood immunizations. I think, although we haven't made any final decisions on that, those are certainly things that we will look for a way to try to do. Whether or not this -- and there's already money allocated for those kinds of programs.

Whether or not this $50 million makes its way into those kind of programs or other programs that we might find acceptable in terms of our law and our policy, we'll see. I don't have an answer for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri.

QUESTION: On Hamas and their trip to Russia, the Russians said today that they will not be making any demands of Hamas during those meetings. I'd like your reaction to that, considering that the Quartet statement lays out three pretty distinct demands of Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen their exact quote, Teri, so I can't respond to it.

QUESTION: Are you --

MR. MCCORMACK: And in terms of the word "demands," I -- you know, I just haven't seen the quote. But let me just tell you what Foreign Minister Lavrov assured the Secretary and that was that, should there be a meeting with Hamas, they were going to reiterate that Hamas must meet the requirements of the international community as outlined in the Quartet. We believe that should a state choose to have contact with Hamas, that that is the message that they should send.

QUESTION: Okay. And another question on the Palestinian Territories, Ehud Elmer said today that they -- that the Israelis plan to seal off workers from Gaza going into Israel, something like 4,000 -- now I'm getting my numbers wrong, but anyway, a large number of people who work in Israel will no longer be allowed to go there. And I don't understand -- they are couching it in terms of the Hamas victory again. But I don't know -- how does the United States feel about that? And if you could explain how that hurts the Hamas Government instead of just the Palestinian workers?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don't have a personal view -- don't have a new government yet, but in terms of Israel security, of course, we understand, as we always have, Israel has certain responsibilities in terms of protecting its own people. That is a general statement.

Now, in -- with respect to movement and access, you have to have some assurance that that movement and access is for the intended purposes, for example, going to work or transporting goods for peaceful commerce, for peaceful interaction. If you have a future Palestinian Government that is not committed to the renunciation of terror and violence, does not recognize the right of Israel to exist, then I think that certainly, those are legitimate questions for the Israeli Government to raise, concerning what is this movement and access going to be used for.

Now, of course, Israel certainly has obligations under the roadmap, as well as other agreements. In order to move forward on those kind of -- full implementation of those agreements, you need to have a partner in order to that. Now, there is -- we have encouraged states to work with -- including Israel, to work with this interim government. Now, as for a future Palestinian Government, I think it is understandable that Israel will want to take a look at its security interest when -- with respect to --

QUESTION: You're not planning to drastically upgrade your food aid to these people who would no longer have a way to make a living. Could you really support cutting them off from their jobs?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, the onus is upon Hamas to make certain choices. They are now going to be faced with the hard choices of governing to -- providing for the aspirations of the Palestinian people not only for a better way of life, but for a peaceful, secure life. So, there is an opportunity. There is a pathway. It's clearly outlined. The Palestinian Authority has been on that pathway for some time, or they have at least committed to that pathway for quite some time. If there's going to be a break with that policy, where -- which you might have, if there is a Hamas Government that chooses not to meet the commitments of the international community, certainly, the international community is going to look at what reaction it has to that.

And this circles back to Hamas making fundamental choices. It has those fundamental choices before it. And we hope and the international community hope that they do make those choices, because there is a potential pathway that is out there for them, but it is up to them to make those choices.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes. Sean, you said that those who were elected can not have one foot in terror and another in politics, but Fatah, who was defeated in the elections -- in the Palestinian elections had one foot -- one military foot, which is (inaudible) Al-Aqsa and the latest thing they did two weeks ago when they launched rockets pointed at Israeli territories and had the political foot too. Why is it that Hamas -- you're insisting on this, while Fatah had the military win -- went to (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: We called upon the Palestinian Authority to dismantle all terrorist organizations. That included the Palestinian and Islamic Jihad, that included Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, that included Hamas. So it is still incumbent upon a government to meet the legitimate demands of people for a safe, secure environment. You can't have militias operating outside of the central authority of a government. So the Palestinian Authority did and continues to have the responsibility to prevent terrorist attacks and dismantle terrorist networks.

QUESTION: But the leaders from Fatah are the leaders of the Palestinian Authority that you talk to and you still talk to them while they have the military wing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, President Abbas has turned away from the use of terror. He was elected -- he committed himself to a peaceful path. He committed himself to a two-state solution via the roadmap. So when we talk to -- we talk to President Abbas, we talk to him on the basis of this is an elected leader, a person who has made a choice. He has made a choice to try to better the future of the Palestinian people through negotiation, through acceptance of the roadmap and through a renunciation of terror and we believe he is committed to that; there are others who are committed to that. There are others Palestinians committed to that. And we look forward to continuing to work with President Abbas through this period.

Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, throughout this morning you were talking essentially about carrot and stick and also a Jekyll and Hyde-type mentality. What's to prevent -- we're beginning to see this where the new leaders of Hamas are invited to Moscow? What's to prevent them to go into a full camp with the Iranians and others, just ignore what we're saying? And you've seen over a period of two years that the Iranians are intransigent. Is that what the Secretary will be discussing in the Gulf?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think in answer to an earlier question, I talked about the fact that funding for terrorist groups, support for terrorist groups by Iran is something that is an obstacle for the Palestinian people realizing a better way of life, realizing an independent Palestinian state. Because the pathway to a Palestinian state is not going -- does not lie along the pathway to violence and terror; it is via the negotiating table that the Palestinian people can realize a Palestinian state, so Iranian behavior does matter.

And certainly if -- we would call upon all members of the international community as well as Iran's neighbors to try to influence Iranian behavior, not to turn away from support for terror. That's why we haven't seen any indication that this regime is going to do that. But we believe that it is important, as we have seen on the nuclear issue that the international community speak out clearly concerning Iran's behavior in this regard.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Some of the Hamas members visited Turkey yesterday. What's your view on that? Are you against such contacts or do you encourage it in order to deliver the message of international community?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it's the same answer when I was asked about the Russians meeting with members of Hamas. That will ultimately be a choice for individual states to make. Should they choose to do so, we would strongly encourage and, frankly, expect them to only use such a contact to send a strong, clear message to Hamas that they have to meet the requirements of the international community.

QUESTION: Do you think that happened in the Turkey meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have not gotten the readout from the Turks on that contact. We would certainly expect that that's what happened.

Do you have the same subject?

QUESTION: Yes. Same subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Then we'll come back to you, Jonathan.

QUESTION: You said that the neighbors of Iran or Palestinians should abide by the requirement of the Quartet, but don't you think it would be better to have the Palestinian Authority funded by Egyptians or Saudis instead of Iranians or Syrians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, individual states are going to make their own decisions about what aid they provide. We ourselves are very clear in our choice; we are not going to fund a terrorist organization. We will certainly look to the legitimate humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and to see what might be done within the confines of our law, our policy, as well as the Quartet statement to meet those needs. And we would expect that, you know, or we would encourage state of the regions, states around the world to follow that same set of principles.

Jonathan.

QUESTION: It's just a question about your approach, America's approach, to this compared to the rest of the international community. I mean, you say decisions -- Hamas is going to take decisions about whether it's a political entity or a terrorist group. And the rest of the international community appears to be giving Hamas time and space to set its course. And here you are taking a unilateral decision to cut off funding. I just wondered why aren't you prepared to give Hamas a bit of time and space?

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess -- I guess I'd, frankly, differ sharply with your characterization of the United States being isolated. I'd point you back to the piece of paper that is the Quartet statement. It's more than just a piece of paper; it was a commitment by all the members of the Quartet there, represented by the EU, Russia, the UN and the United States. So I'm not sure where this idea --

QUESTION: -- as I said, give Hamas -- you won't (inaudible) Hamas to be given time to set its course. So there are people in the Quartet who believe there should be some time and space given to Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we have said is that they face a choice. Their choices are clearly theirs to make. Of course, we are going to look at what choices they make -- we, meaning the international community -- and there's going to be, certainly, a reaction based on the choices that they make. And the members of the international community very clearly laid out that they would encourage everybody to review what assistance is provided to the Palestinian people and a future Palestinian Government in light of that new government meeting the requirements laid out by the international community.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Iranian Foreign Minister has called from Beirut today British forces for immediate withdrawal from Basra, Iraq. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: The multinational forces in Iraq are assisting the Iraqi people in helping to build their own democracy. They are there to help protect the Iraqi people against terrorist threats. And I would only say that the Iranian Government should concentrate on good, neighborly, transparent relations with Iraq.

Teri.

QUESTION: What do you think about the Iranians calling the Security Council a "scarecrow"?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen that. All I can say is I guess they've tried everything they could and they've tried awfully hard to not be sent to the Security Council, so I'm not sure --

QUESTION: Do you think they're scared?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't -- I can't characterize what emotions they may or may not be feeling at this point, but I can tell you that it's pretty clear given their behavior over the past few years that they tried everything they possibly could to stay out of the Security Council. So, I think, it makes it a little bit hollow now to say that this doesn't effect them in some way because clearly it has had an effect on them.

Lambros.

QUESTION: On Greece. It was reported extensively in Athens that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed a desire to meet the new Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Dora Bakoyanni. I'm wondering if you comment on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Secretary Rice looks forward to working with her new counterpart in the Greek Government. I don't have a schedule for you at this point when they might see one another, but she certainly looks forward to working with her.

QUESTION: Any telephone communication between the two?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at this point.

QUESTION: And one more to this effect. It was reported also that Under Secretary Nicholas Burns -- he had an extensive telephone communication with the new Greek Foreign Minister, Mrs. Dora Bakoyannis. May we know the context of their discussion?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not talked to Under Secretary Burns about that particular conversation. I'll try to find out, you know, what he may have talked about during a phone call.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Any chance for the Secretary to add Beirut as a stop on her trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we have the schedule out at this point and we'll keep you updated if there are any changes to it.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Committee to Protect Journalists in its annual report has criticized the U.S. for holding up journalists, one who is a cameraman in Iraq, where he works for CBS and the other one is his -- our correspondent al Jazeera correspond -- sorry, cameraman to -- Sami Al-Hajj, who was held in Guantanamo. Do you have anything to say on this report for the CPJ?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't read the report, so I can't speak to those particular cases. Certainly, in Iraq, our forces and the forces of other governments operating in Iraq try to work in the best possible way with journalists there trying to cover the story. There have been journalists who have covered the story in a lot of different ways over there, either embedded with reporters or operating independently. In either case, we try to work together so that legitimate journalists can tell the story of what's going on in Iraq.

In terms of these two specific cases, I'm just not familiar with the facts surrounding them. Certainly, we are -- the United States are forthright defenders of freedom of the press around the world. We have programs that we support in order to help train journalists who are new to the experience of a free and fair press. We do that with Iraqi journalists, as well as others -- as well. So, we not only support freedom of the press and freedom of expression rhetorically, but we also -- you know, have programs to do so as well.

QUESTION: On this -- the CPJ also said that by holding up journalists in Guantanamo and in Iraq, that you are giving licenses to other governments to do so.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not familiar with the particulars of these two cases, so I couldn't speak in an informed way about them.

Teri.

QUESTION: Was the State Department involved in discussions over the UAE taking over management of six ports -- six U.S. ports?

MR. MCCORMACK: The State Department is part of an interagency process which is led by the Department of Treasury. We did participate in it. This interagency process did a thorough review of all aspects of this proposed sale. And the bottom line finding was that there was no basis on -- no national security basis on which to block the sale going forward.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the outrage in Congress?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've heard the press reports about it. I can only say a couple of things. One, that this was a very thorough process. I think that the Department of Homeland Security has spoken to their aspect -- their participation in the process. They have a particular responsibility with respect to port security, so clearly, they would be an important voice in that process. And the only other thing I would say is that the United States is a longstanding friend and ally of the UAE. We have a good relationship with the UAE and look forward to a continuing friendship with them. I can only point you back to the fact that there was a rigorous interagency process that examined the sale.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yesterday in a statement, Banco Delta-Asia announced it has officially closed all of its accounts with North Korea in relation to their implementation of new money laundering policies and procedures. Has the State Department had any reaction to this or have they heard anything from North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- the North Koreans have talked about this issue in public quite a bit. As for contact with Banco Delta-Asia, I don't have the latest for you. I know that -- I do know that they were quite concerned about this issue and that they were talking to us, as well as others, about what remedial steps they might take.

Look. The United States is going to take steps to protect itself. In this case, it's going to take steps to protect its currency. I think that any -- you would expect any country around the world to do just that. So, we'll continue to do so and as for the attempt to make a connection with the six-party talks, it's just not there. These are completely separate issues and we encourage North Korea to return to the six-party talks at the earliest possible date, engage in a serious way without precondition.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) return to six-party talks. Has the United States heard any sign from North Korean delegation in New York? So, you have (inaudible) U.S. and (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: We haven't heard that the North Koreans are coming back to the talks. As for the New York channel, on any given day, there's some exchange of information. We don't have diplomatic relations with North Korea, so the New York channel is a way to pass information, anywhere from logistics to clarifying statements. So, as for the New York channel, you know, this is, I know, a source of continuing fascination among the press corps, but it is merely a channel through which we exchange information because we don't have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, just going back to Hamas for a minute, what impact might either naming of a government of technocrats by Hamas or a statement of a commitment to a long-term cease -- or continuing a long-term ceasefire -- might that have on the international community in their response to a Hamas government? Does there have to be a statement that these three conditions set up by the international community are met? Is there some sort of deadline for that or are there conditions that would sort of enter into the picture, such as the makeup of the government or a commitment to a ceasefire?

MR. MCCORMACK: As far as we're concerned, the requirements are clear. Hamas has a choice to make and we'll see what -- we'll see what choices they come up with.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Voice of America is stopping its Greek and Turkish services in other languages. And I'm wondering why such a decision by BBG, not BBC -- but since it was very helpful and very informative service?

MR. MCCORMACK: I refer you to the BBG about -- you know, about the decisions they make about the services they provide.

QUESTION: One on Bulgaria. Earlier today in CSIS, the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, Rumen Petkov, answered two question of mine -- rejected that CIA agents participated two days ago in the arrest and interrogation of a Greek citizen in Bulgaria, as it was important and you know that. The Minister verified, however, that the arrest and the interrogation reported by the Bulgarian authorities, that he has been sent already to Greece via the (inaudible) the Greek Embassy for medical reasons.

And upon the completion of his medical, they think he is going to return to Bulgaria to face charges for laundering money, another series of other crimes, as the Minister said specifically. Since, however, the Greek press is insistent that the entire (inaudible) is taking place with involvement of some U.S. authorities assigned to your embassy in Sophia, I'm wondering if you could look into that in order to find out what is going on exactly with this case?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything for you.

Dave, do you have a question?

QUESTION: I just had, sort of, another question on Hamas. Are you saying that Hamas, as far as the United States is concerned, is a redeemable organization? In other words, if they did adopt the Quartet statement, that we would have a relationship with them like we do with the current PA?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's see if they make those choices and if they do, we'll see what the reaction of the international community and the United States is.

QUESTION: But you did say if they do these things, there is a partner to work with.

MR. MCCORMACK: If they do those things, there is a partner to work with within the context of the peace process. Israel would have a partner for peace if you, in fact, had a Palestinian government that recognized the state of Israel that had turned away from terror and renounced terror and that had made a commitment to abide by the obligations that the previous Palestinian Authority had said.

QUESTION: So, wouldn't the answer to David's question be yes?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would hope. We all hope. The international community all hopes, the United States included, that Hamas does make those choices and should they make those choices, we'll see what kind of possibilities there are in the international community.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bolton, today at the UN, has called for a meeting for the five permanent members to discuss calling for the replacement for Secretary Annan. Does the timing have anything to do with the UN report on Guantanamo?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Ambassador Bolton was down here, I think, about -- what, three weeks ago, a month ago. He talked to a lot of you in this room in an on-the-record interview session and he talked about the fact that he was going to try to start the -- this process of consideration a bit earlier. And the reasons he laid out were that you want to give an incoming Secretary General as much time to prepare for the responsibilities of becoming Secretary General. He pointed out the past precedent where there was a very short amount of time for the incoming Secretary General to prepare for the work.

So, he was just encouraging member states to start the consideration process a bit earlier. It's not tied in any way, shape, or form, to news of the day.

Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, one of your former colleagues here at the State Department, Selig Harrison, has written in an editorial in the Post this past week criticizing the -- partly, the Pakistan Government over Baluchistan with the possibility that China is going to open up a -- both a naval base and a warehouse center west of Karachi. There's been rebels fighting there and the same type of initiatives that you see in the north of Taliban and al-Qaida up in the Tora Bora region may indeed be occurring in the south.

And in the last number of months, you've always said these are internal issues and the Pakistani Government has replied, "Hands off." Is this still the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they -- Pakistan clearly faces a number of challenges from those who would use violence to go after the current leadership of Pakistan. We have a common fight against terror. And certainly in going after those individuals who are committed to the cause, to the use of terror, the United States has a common foe with Pakistan.

Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

DPB # 27

Released on February 17, 2006

ENDS


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