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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 21, 2006

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 21, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 21, 2006

INDEX:

NORTH KOREA
Policy toward North Korea and U.S. Position on a Return to
Six-Party Talks
Introductory Visit of New Representative to the Six-Party Talks

UNITED NATIONS
Delay of Security Council Meeting and the Diplomatic Process
Cooperation with Security Council and EU-3 toward a Presidential
Statement regarding Iran's Nuclear Activities
Clarification on Under Secretary Burns' Meetings and Current
Location

IRAN
Long-standing Concern about Iranian Support of Terrorists &
Terrorists in Iran
No Changes in Behavior despite International Community's Call to
Stop Supporting Terrorism
Query on Diplomatic Discussions between United States and Iran

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
U.S. Policy on Terrorists / Hamas
Importance of Hamas Abiding to the Agreements that the Palestinian
Authority Concluded, Meet Quartet Requirements

AFGHANISTAN
Response to Legal Case Against Abdul Rahman / Importance of
Freedom of Worship, Tolerance, Freedom of Expression / Confines of
the Afghan Constitution / U.S. Has Discussed the Case with the
Afghan Government / Urges Fair and Transparent Legal Proceedings

BAHRAIN
Query on Secretary Rice's March 20 Meeting with Crown Prince
Shaikh Salmon bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa

IRAQ
Media Coverage of the Two Realities on the Ground in Iraq


TRANSCRIPT:

12:49 p.m. EST


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements, so I'll be happy to get right into your questions.

QUESTION: You may have seen this report on saber rattling from North Korea saying they have the ability to launch a preemptive attack on the United States as a way of countering U.S. atomic weapons threatening them. Any observations on that, carried by the North Korean News Agency?

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess a couple things, Barry. What we would do, first of all, is encourage the North Korean Government to return to the six-party talks, to engage in serious discussions as opposed to making kind of inflammatory statements. We've been very clear that the President, the Secretary of State and others have made it very clear that the United States has no plans to invade or attack North Korea. So what we would urge the North Korean regime to do is instead, as I said, return to the six-party talks at the earliest possible date and to engage in those discussions in a serious manner.

QUESTION: Related, I think I saw -- I may be wrong -- but the South Korean Minister is coming here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The new representative to the six-party talks. That's correct. He is going to be here, I think, Thursday and Friday. He's going to have meetings around town. I expect that he'll have a meeting with Chris Hill, his U.S. counterpart, and then probably meetings elsewhere throughout the building, maybe Bob Joseph. When he gets here and actually has the meetings, I'll try to give you a list of with whom he's met here and around town.

QUESTION: Is that an indication, though, that the long slump in negotiations may be coming to an end?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates for you in terms of dates, Barry. We're prepared, as are the other four members of the six-party talks -- North Korea being outside of that group -- ready to return to the six-party talks at the earliest date. You know, Chris Hill has a bag packed next to the door, so he's ready to go whenever we have a date.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: While you don't have a date, Ambassador Hill has said in the past when he thought that there was an increase in diplomacy or an increase in communications that could indicate we're moving in the right direction. Is this meeting symbolic of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't read it one way or the other. I would read it actually as a introductory visit. He's new to the job and this is an opportunity for him to meet with his counterpart here in the U.S., as well as other key people involved in the six-party talks policy.

Teri.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you talk about what's going on at the UN and the delay of scheduled meetings today, what that portends for the statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wasn't current with a delay in the informal Security Council meeting. I knew that they were scheduled to meet at three.

QUESTION: Yeah, it's --

QUESTION: They're not doing it.

MR. MCCORMACK: They're not doing it?

QUESTION: No.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: So there we are. News to me.

QUESTION: Scoop. Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: News to me. Look, you know, diplomacy takes time. You heard this from Nick Burns last night. He had a -- talked to the stakeout, I think, after the P-5 + 1 meeting which was held at the UK Mission to the UN. Multilateral diplomacy takes some time and these are serious issues. And I think it's understandable that people want to take some time to consider carefully what language would be in a presidential statement. We believe the diplomacy continues to move in the right direction. But this is going to take a little bit of time, but we're focused, we're patient and we're working closely with the other members of the Security Council, as well as members of the EU-3.

QUESTION: Is there any frustration on the part of the U.S. with how long this is taking?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I would say, again, this is -- you know, this is the normal -- this is the course of diplomacy and we all have experienced -- you, certainly from reporting on these things over the past several years, oftentimes it takes some time to negotiate these multilateral statements. What you're trying to do is get 15 countries who are members of the Security Council onboard with a presidential statement. That's the nature of presidential statements. They are consensus statements. So it will take some time. It will take some effort. We are certainly dedicated to putting in that time and effort. As you've seen, Under Secretary Burns has been up in New York. Ambassador Bolton is working very hard on this. Secretary Rice has certainly been in contact with, I believe, Foreign Secretary Straw recently on these issues. So we're putting in the time. We're putting in the effort. We're patient. But we are moving towards a presidential statement on this issue.

That is a reminder of the fact that Iran now finds itself before the Security Council and, as I've said before, in a very uncomfortable position. They don't like being here. And so what is important that the international community do now is to stay united. We have been successful to this point in increasing the pressure on Iran because we have built a larger and larger coalition, larger and larger consensus on this issue, and gradually ratcheted up the pressure. Iran now finds itself before the Security Council, a position in which it does not want to find itself. And we're going to be very patient as we work through this diplomacy and very focused.

QUESTION: Sir, just on some logistics. Is that it as far as the political directors meeting is concerned? They've met and they -- I mean, Nick Burns is back here now, isn't he?

MR. MCCORMACK: He is back. He returned last night.

QUESTION: But is he going back to New York again or --

MR. MCCORMACK: He doesn't have any plans right now. This was -- now remember, this was a grouping that has met previously. It's the P-5 + 1 so it's P-5 plus Germany. And they met up in New York last night. They met previously in London and I think there was one other meeting that they might have had or one other phone call that they've gotten together as a group.

I would expect that as the diplomacy on this issue continues that you'll see this group consult from time to time. But at the moment, I don't have any new meetings of that group scheduled for him.

QUESTION: A related question on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Well, not really related, but related that it's on Iran? (Laughter.) The fact that it's about Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: There are new reports circulating about President Ahmadi-Nejad's if not cooperation, at least acceptance, of al-Qaida presence in Iran, and more and more concern that he may be letting that happen. What can you say about that? Is that something that the State Department is concerned about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any new information to share with you. I saw there was a news report today on this issue. We have longstanding concerns about Iran providing shelter or comfort to terrorists on its territory. Iran is the world's most significant state sponsor of terror and this includes shielding al-Qaida terrorists on its territory.

We have over the years, over the past several years, requested from Iran and urged Iran to come forward with information concerning al-Qaida members on its territory and even some that may be in their custody. As to custody, I can't really describe what exactly that means, but we have urged them to come forward with that information. We believe that there are those who were involved in the 1998 bombings of our embassies in East Africa who are in Iran, so we've urged them to not only turn over information about those individuals but turn those individuals over to us so that they can face justice.

This is absolutely consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which calls for all states to cooperate in the war against terrorism. Sadly, Iran has repeatedly decided to remain outside of those not only individual state requests but UN requests for information.

So that's a long way of saying I don't have any new information for you concerning specific al-Qaida members on Iranian territory, but it's a longstanding concern of ours that there are al-Qaida members on Iranian territory, but it's a longstanding concern of ours that there are al-Qaida members in Iran as well as other terrorists.

QUESTION: And then have you noticed any difference between the regimes, the new regime of Ahmadi-Nejad? Do you see any difference in the way they may be responding to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Couldn't speak to that, Teri. I haven't really -- on this particular issue, I certainly haven't seen any difference in behavior. Certainly they haven't changed their behavior in response to the international community's call for them to cooperate on terrorism issues. That much I can certainly say.

QUESTION: Sean, just picking up on the specifics of that, so you say -- when you're saying harboring terrorists, are you saying specifically al-Qaida or --

MR. MCCORMACK: That they're -- it's been previously reported and we've talked about this -- talked about this before and talked about it in detail some specific people who we believe are in Iran. So there -- certainly they're on Iranian territory. Now as for their current status, whether they are freely roaming in Iran or in Iranian "custody" I can't tell you. We don't have that information. We've repeatedly asked for information from Iran on this issue and received -- haven't received any word back.

QUESTION: That leads on to the other question about the discussions. I know you answered this yesterday, but just wondered if there's any update on whether you -- if there's any progress in face-to-face talks between the Ambassador.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new today.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you today.

QUESTION: Back up to one line -- you say you've asked them about this. Can you tell us how you've asked them, through the Swiss, through the Interests Section or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Charlie. I know that it's been done before -- I'll try to track down for you the communications mechanism.

Michel.

QUESTION: Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al has said that his movement is ready to travel to the United States to discuss with American administration of Palestinian issues. Do you have any reaction on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't deal with terrorists.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Probably you've seen an Afghan citizen faces prosecution, possibly the death penalty --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for converting to Christianity. Do you have any observation?

MR. MCCORMACK: I talked a little bit about this yesterday, Barry, but thank you for bringing it up.

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Thank you for bringing it up because we did raise this particular case with Foreign Minister Abdullah. We are watching this case closely and we urge the Afghani Government to conduct any legal proceedings in a transparent and a fair manner. Certainly we underscored -- we have underscored many times and we underscored also to Foreign Minister Abdullah that we believe that tolerance and freedom of worship are important elements of any democracy. And certainly as Afghanistan continues down the pathway to democracy these are issues that they are going to have to deal with. These are not things that they have had to deal with in the past. Previously under the Taliban, anybody considered an apostate was subject to torture and death. Right now you have a legal proceeding that's underway in Afghanistan and we urge that that legal proceeding take place in a transparent matter and we're going to watch the case closely.

QUESTION: Well, I don't want to quibble but it sounds like you're asking for fair play and good procedure. Why don't you simply ask that it be cancelled? I mean, what possible justification is there for putting someone on trial for changing his religion?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, Barry, this is a question of the Afghan constitution and its laws. There are differing interpretations of it and I think that that's the issue with which they're trying to grapple with. That's the allusion that I made to -- of Afghanistan being a new democracy and coming to terms and dealing with these issues.

So it is, in the eyes of Afghanistan, the Afghan Government now, a legal issue that we are going to watch very closely.

QUESTION: I mean, it does seem a little lukewarm to just say you hope that they treat him fairly in this court case when it's questionable whether that is even a moral grounds to hold a proceeding. Is that something that the U.S. Government has pressed the Afghan Government to do is just to allow people to convert their religion?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, in the sort of -- within the Afghan -- confines of the Afghan constitution, this becomes a legal question. We have underscored the importance of freedom of worship, tolerance and freedom to express oneself as a core element of democracy. Like I said, we raised this issue with Foreign Minister Abdullah and I think that he and the Afghan Government understand very clearly where we stand on this issue. But as I said, this is, at the moment, a legal issue for the Afghan Government and that we would urge the Afghan Government to proceed in a fair and transparent manner.

QUESTION: Do you feel that that's all it's appropriate for the U.S. Government to do is just to hope the court case goes --

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we have raised it with the Foreign Minister and we're going to continue to watch the case very closely.

QUESTION: But I guess my question is: Are you raising the fact that you want the court case to go transparently or raise the fact that there should even be a legal question?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that the concerns that I have expressed in public are the ones that we have expressed to the Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: Isn't there something wrong with the constitution of Afghanistan if it's -- I mean, the Secretary of State goes around, you know, telling countries which have, you know, bad human rights records to respect the freedom to worship, and here's a country where America has gone in and tried to help, has been praised by the President, praised by the Secretary of State for its democratic progress, and here it is persecuting somebody because they've converted to another faith.

MR. MCCORMACK: Jonathan, as I said, this is right now -- it's a constitutional matter so it's a legal question. So what that tells you is that there are two sides to this. There are those that believe that this is absolutely this person's right within Afghanistan, Afghans who believe that. So right now this is -- I believe certainly this is the first case that I have heard of of this type. So it is a test of the Afghan constitution. It's a test of Afghanistan's democracy. And so as I said, we will watch the case very closely. We have raised it with the Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: Is there anything at stake if they choose to prosecute -- choose to actually take -- persecute, perhaps, this man for his faith?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's deal with the situation as we have it right now. This is the -- it is at an initial stage and, like I said, we're going to watch it closely.

QUESTION: But by waiting until the results of the trial come out, you're not casting judgment on whether there should be one in the first place.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I've provided the answer that I'm going to provide to you on it.

QUESTION: Let me try it a slightly different way, though the answer may be the same. Are you troubled in any way by the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, again, I've answered the question.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Crown Prince of Bahrain saw the Secretary, and you remember it coincided with the briefing so there was no readout. He came down and according -- and in Arabic, the translation is that he felt that Hamas must deal with Israel, should deal with Israel, if there's going to be a solution to some problems there; that's the only way to do things is deal with Israel.

In his conversation with the Secretary, did he make similar remarks? And if he did, is there something there that you think the U.S. can work on, that this type of attitude can be spread in the Arab world? Do you see any indication that Arab governments are becoming more aware of the need for Hamas to change its ways?

MR. MCCORMACK: A few things, Barry. Certainly we welcome those public comments. As to the exchange during the meeting, I have to admit I have to check upon that for you. I believe that you have heard similar comments from others in the Arab world. You mentioned the Egyptians. And they have stated very clearly that they believe it is important for Hamas to abide by the agreements that the Palestinian Authority has concluded, and that includes agreeing to the roadmap, which also includes recognition of the state of Israel and the fact they're dealing with Israel in seeking peace. So certainly we welcome those comments and we would urge others throughout the Arab world to echo those sentiments and we have encouraged others to do so. And we will continue to work with members of the international community and the Quartet to send very clear messages to Hamas that they must meet the requirements of the Quartet as laid out in the London Quartet statement.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: On Iraq --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sean, the Administration -- President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, the Vice President -- in recent days has sort of tried to lay blame on the media for not covering more of the good stories in Iraq. And I'm just wondering if you would agree that, you know, it's often hard for reporters to get out into the field because of poor security, the threat of kidnapping and that sort of thing. Is that something the Administration would agree with?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I've seen this interpretation of the remarks of various officials. Look, there are very --

QUESTION: Do you agree with that interpretation?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are very tough things going on in Iraq and certainly we see those. We see those on our television screens and we see those things reported. There is also another reality in Iraq and that is a country and a people that are pushing forward on the pathway to democracy. It's tough work, but we're there to help them out. Now, there are many brave men and women from various media outlets that are telling the story of what's going on in Iraq. They are working under difficult and oftentimes dangerous conditions. You see a lot of people -- a lot of reporters getting out and actually embedding with the military, actually getting outside of Baghdad to tell the real story of what is going on in Iraq. But I think it is important for everyone to understand that there are those two realities in Iraq at the moment. You see a lot of the very difficult stuff. You see the results of terrorist acts, the IEDs, the bombings, the killing of innocent civilians, but there is also another story to tell as well. And we see many reporters on the ground telling that story.

Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:09 p.m.)

DPB # 47

Released on March 21, 2006


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