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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 23, 2006

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 23, 2006

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 23, 2006

INDEX:

IRAN
Consultations and Diplomacy / Nick Burns / Ambassador Bolton
Right Language on Issue / Presidential Statements and Resolutions
/ Security Council
Issue of Japan's Investment in Iran's Petroleum Sector

IRAQ
Release of Christian Peacemakers / Tom Fox
US and Multinational Coalition Forces Stand Firm
Secretary Rice's Involvement in Issues Related to Iraq

ITALY
Public Announcement / Demonstrations in Italy

CHINA/TAIWAN
Chairman of Taiwan's Opposition Party to Visit US

AFGHANISTAN
Issue of Abdul Rahman
Issue Raised with Foreign Minister Abdullah / Dialogue with
President Karzai
Importance of Freedom of Religion and Expression
US Seeks Favorable Resolution / Deep Relationship with Government
Afghan Government's Decision on Issue
Nomination of New Foreign Minister

CHILE
Bus Accident / Death of Americans Tourists
Query on Investigation

ETHIOPIA
Release of Defendants / US Concerned About Charges Against
Detainees
Call to Ethiopian Government for Speedy Trial


TRANSCRIPT:

12:25 p.m. EST


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into the questioning.

QUESTION: Any back and forth diplomatically involving the Secretary or Nick Burns and the effort to get a consensus on the Iran nuclear thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are continuing to work the issue, Barry, both up in New York as well as in capitals. Nick Burns is, I would say, in daily contact with his political director counterparts on this issue. I know Ambassador Bolton is engaged in informal consultations up in New York as well. Secretary Rice, I think in the past several days, has spoken to Foreign Secretary Straw on several occasions. At this point, I don't have any other phone calls to read out to you, Barry, but we are continuing to work the diplomacy in a focused and patient manner.

QUESTION: You know accounts in New York speak of an impasse or a deadlock and the view here is that it'll take time, with patience, working in the right direction. I can't square these two. Is it just a matter of perception?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think, Barry, it is a matter of just the daily news cycle. You know people are reporting on this on a daily basis. There are discussions going on and clearly we haven't reached a final agreement on text, so we are going to have to continue with our diplomacy. We believe it is moving in the right direction. You heard from the Secretary yesterday that she's optimistic that we will find the right language on this issue that sends a strong, clear message to the Iranian government that they need to comply and heed the will of the international community.

Saul.

QUESTION: To go back to what the Secretary said, you said that she said "we'll find the right language." The word she used was "vehicle."

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. That's right. Right language and vehicle. We talked about that yesterday.

QUESTION: The vehicle might be something other than the language in a presidential statement. It could be interpreted different ways. Was she alluding to something away from the idea of a presidential statement that the U.S. might look at as an alternative to putting pressure on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Saul, right now our focus is on a presidential statement. That was our going in position when this matter arrived in New York in the Security Council in the wake of the March 6th IAEA Board of Governors meeting took it up. So that's what our focus is right now and, as the Secretary said, we are confident that we will find the right language and the right vehicle. Obviously there are a lot of different ways that the Security Council can act, but at the moment we are focused very much on a presidential statement. That is the focus of Under Secretary Burns' discussions with his counterparts and it is also the focus of discussions between Ambassador Bolton and his counterparts up in New York.

QUESTION: And included in those "a lot of different ways the Security Council can act," is that a resolution, a Chapter 7 resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly resolutions, as we talked about yesterday, are one way that the Security Council can choose to act. We talked about presidential statements and there are a variety of different types of resolutions. But as I said, I would reiterate that at the moment we are focused on a presidential statement. That is the focus of our efforts.

Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: No, I want to still stay on Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bolton seemed to say that ministers at the level of Secretary Rice will be having conversations today. You said you don't have a readout yet on phone calls, but do you know who she plans to call?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right now we don't have any calls on the books, Saul, and I know that Nick Burns is going to be talking to his EU-3 counterparts at the political director level. As I said, I know Ambassador Bolton is engaged in consultations up in New York. At the moment we don't have anything on the books for you, Saul, in terms of further phone calls between the Secretary and any of her counterparts on this issue, but I'll certainly try to keep you updated on that.

QUESTION: Okay, and then a related issue. There's a report; maybe you can confirm or deny it. It's out of Japan that Deputy Secretary Zoellick and Under Secretary Joseph have asked Japan not to go ahead with the development of an oil field in Iran. It's a two-year-old deal, it's a billion dollars, but that here have been recent conversations that said please don't go ahead with it because we want a united front against Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw those news reports and we checked with the Deputy Secretary's and the Under Secretary's staffs, and on both counts they did not raise this issue. And while they did not raise this issue, we have raised this in the past with Japan. As you note, that this is a deal that has been under discussion between Japan and Iran for some time, for several years now, and that we have raised our concerns with Japan about investment in Iran's petroleum sector and we've made consistently clear to Japan as well as other countries that such investment runs into trouble with U.S. law and policy and we asked them to take a look at it. But it's not an issue that they brought up in their meetings, but it is an issue that we have raised repeatedly in the past.

QUESTION: Real quickly on the past. Do you know how recently there has been a conversation about this? Are we talking about months ago or weeks ago, days ago?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check, Saul. I know that there have been a number of different occasions on it, but I'll see if I can get the most recent case where we've raised it.

Elise.

QUESTION: This is a new topic. This is on the Christian peacemakers from some other nations that were found alive yesterday. As you know, these kidnappers who also killed the American -- they killed American Tom Fox, who was part of the same group. Have you given any thought to why these kidnappers would kill the American and not members of other nations? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that other nations are willing to negotiate with some of these kidnappers, while the United States has a firm policy about not negotiating for hostages?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would say, first of all, that we grieve for Mr. Fox and our sympathies go out to his family. This was a brutal act by people who have no regard for life.

We are very happy for the three individuals who were rescued by multinational forces and certainly we share in the relief that their home countries as well as their families must be feeling right now. And certainly, we look forward to that moment when they're able to be reunited to their families.

As for the motivations of people who commit these types of despicable acts, I'm not going to try to get inside their heads and try to figure out what their motivations might be. But I will say that the United States and its multinational coalition partners working with the Iraqis are going to stand forthright against those who seek to commit acts of violence and terror in Iraq.

QUESTION: But if I could just have one follow-up. But you are standing firm to your policy of not negotiating with these people, while other countries seem to engage in more of a negotiation and that seems to be helping them. Is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, frankly, I think that's irresponsible, irresponsible sort of speculation, and I'm just not going to engage in it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, what role, if any, did U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad have in the hostage rescue this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Libby. Certainly, our hostage rescue operating cell in Embassy Baghdad is always in close touch with other countries whose foreign nationals might be captive. We offer all possible assistance in these cases. And as I said, we're very pleased for those countries as well as the families of those individuals. As for any specific U.S. role, I'll check to see if there's anything we have to offer on it. I would note that it was multinational coalition forces that were responsible for this rescue.

Yes.

QUESTION: So we don't know anything new on Jill Carroll, like any --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, don't have any new info for you on that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On another subject? On the Italy Public Announcement you published yesterday, the Italian press today writes and the Italian opposition says that you acted on the suggestion or request from the Italian Government. Is that true? And the second question: Why the Italian elections are more dangerous than the Germans or the Polish recent election for which you didn't publish a Public Announcement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these types of Public Announcements come out based on the facts on the ground. And I think if you look at the Public Announcement, it specifically related to some demonstrations, large demonstrations that occurred that started out peacefully but, in our view, had the potential to escalate into violence. And it is a matter of, in our view, a responsibility on the part of the government, the United States Government, to issue these types of warnings based on the facts. There's no political overtones to this warning in any manner and we issue similar kinds of warnings around the world whenever we have facts that we believe merit such a warning.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: The chairman of Taiwan's main opposition party Ma Ying-jeou, is visiting Washington to exchange views with U.S. officials and academics on the Cross-Strait issues. He has made some comments calling to resume talks with the Mainland and to even reach a peace accord with China. Are those the kind of policies that the U.S. would like to see Taiwan move towards?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his remarks, but our views on those issues are well known and longstanding.

Yes. Any other -- more on China?

QUESTION: Well, can we change to the Afghan situation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I'm glad you asked. I have an update for you.

QUESTION: I'd like to hear what your update is and also do you know if and when the Embassy started reporting on this case? There are stories that say he was arrested last month, so when did it come to the attention of people here and what has happened since Secretary Rice has been involved?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. On the first part of your question, I'll check. I don't know the first time either the Embassy became aware of the case or the Department back here. So I'll check for you on that and we'll try to -- as soon as we get an answer, we'll post it for you.

Two updates for you. Last night, the Secretary asked to see Foreign Minister Abdullah specifically on this issue. They had about a 15-minute meeting in her office in which she raised this issue with the Foreign Minister. Also this morning just a short time ago, she spoke with President Karzai about this issue. She called specifically on this topic. She raised it in the strongest possible terms and she urged President Karzai's government to seek a favorable resolution to this case at the earliest possible moment. She underlined the fact that the United States stands forthrightly for principles of freedom of worship, freedom of expression and that these are bedrock principles of democracy around the world. These are principles that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution and they're principles that are enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

So again, she spoke both with the Foreign Minister last night and with President Karzai this morning on this issue.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about -- the Embassy made a statement yesterday where they, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Which embassy?

QUESTION: The Afghan Embassy. Aware of all the concerns and they suggested maybe, you know, there's some mental -- there were some mental problems with the defendant, hinting that there'll be some way to resolve this without confronting it head on.

Does the U.S., considering your repeated support for freedom of religion -- do you want this resolved in a way which is squarely -- it squarely recognizes people's rights to religious freedom or you're just -- will you just be satisfied if this guy simply managed to get off the hook?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's an important question. And we have made it very clear and the Secretary made this clear to the Foreign Minister as well as to President Karzai this morning that we seek a favorable resolution to this case and we think that it is important for the Afghan people that this issue of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Afghan constitution, be reaffirmed. And so again, I've seen these news reports about this possible avenue to resolve the case.

I think in our view it is important that as this issue is resolved, and we do seek a favorable resolution to it at the earliest possible moment, that there be a reaffirmation of those principles which we do see in the Afghan constitution and that we share and that are enshrined in documents around the world. These are universal values, as the President talked about yesterday, and they're fundamental values to any democracy and vitally important for emerging democracies as they struggle with these kinds of issues to make a strong stand for.

QUESTION: What about the bedrock democratic principle of the executive not interfering with the judiciary?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to get into exactly how the Afghan Government arranges itself. I think that the -- I'll check for you, Saul, but I believe that there's in the Afghan system the government participates in the prosecution. So I'll check for you on the Afghan legal system, but I believe that's right.

QUESTION: It's 99 percent clear where the U.S. Government stands, but the 1 percent that isn't clear: Is it out of respect for sovereignty, which I haven't heard mentioned in the last couple of days as your position has tightened -- has toughened? Are you not -- is the Secretary not saying, "Let him go, stop this, cut it out, end your prosecution," or is she --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she --

QUESTION: Or is she putting it in more, you know, diplomatic language and saying we'd like to see freedom of religion observed, we'd like to see rights affirmed? You know what I mean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is clearly an Afghan decision to take. They are a sovereign government. It's a sovereign country. But as I pointed out, we believe that it is important that as the issue is resolved, that those fundamental principles of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, are affirmed in the resolution of this case.

QUESTION: Yesterday the President said we have leverage in Afghanistan and we're going to use it in this case. What kind of measures was he talking about or did the Secretary raise any suggestion of using leverage in her conversations?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into any specifics, Teri, but clearly we have a very broad and deep relationship with Afghanistan and I think that part of our efforts to seek a resolution to this you've just seen. You've seen the Secretary of State raise this issue with the Foreign Minister. You've seen the Secretary of State raise it at the highest levels of the Afghan Government. So we very much hope for a resolution at the earliest possible time to this.

QUESTION: She met with the Foreign Minister earlier this week, as well. Why -- what made her need a second meeting to talk about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: She wanted to raise this topic specifically. It had been raised with the Foreign Minister earlier in his visit. But she thought it was important to emphasize, to underline the fact that the United States Government and, frankly, the American people found this case deeply troubling. And so she wanted to make sure that she had the opportunity to convey that message very directly to the Foreign Minister and she thought that that was the best way to do it. He was still here. He was in other meetings. He had other meetings scheduled in the building. So she thought it was important when she got back from her trip to have that 15-minute meeting with the Foreign Minister to underline those.

QUESTION: Well, was it just rising public awareness of this and outcry? Or, I mean, on Monday or Tuesday, you were saying the Afghan courts will take care of it. And now, you know, that's a pretty big escalation to the Secretary calling another meeting about it. What happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we raised the issue that very day when I talked about it. We raised it with the Afghan Government. We haven't seen a resolution to the issue, so we thought it was important to underline to the Afghan Government exactly what the views of the American Government and, frankly, the American people were on this case.

QUESTION: So you're looking for action in a matter of days, then?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I would say is we're looking for a favorable resolution at the earliest possible time.

QUESTION: Sean, was there a large number of American citizens, you know, raising concerns with the White House and the State Department, you know, sending letters or that sort of thing? Was that partially --

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the White House, you can check with them. I didn't check what sort of public comment we were getting on this. If we have those numbers, then I'd be happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: So, I mean, is the response -- I think you said it was partially due to public sentiment; is that right?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't think I said that. I said -- what I said was that we had not seen a resolution to the case and we thought it was important as time was going on and this case was continuing to -- continued to be out there, that we convey very directly to the Afghan Government exactly what the views of the United States Government were on this issue. And that's what the Secretary did with the Foreign Minister. That's what she did with the President today. And as I said, we look forward to a favorable resolution at the earliest possible time.

QUESTION: So, Sean, when you say that it's an Afghan decision, it's their decision how to come out with a favorable resolution, but it looks like the end result would be the same. I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, by default, this is a sovereign country, so they are the ones who have to arrive at this decision. We are urging a favorable outcome. I've talked a little bit about what that might mean and the importance of that happening in our view at the earliest possible moment. And it's not just the United States that has spoken out on this issue. I think that there has been quite a bit of commentary from around the world on the issue.

QUESTION: Right. So, I'm sorry. One more on this. So when you say that it's an Afghan decision, it's more that the method is an Afghan decision because you're expecting a favorable resolution.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the simple mechanics of it, it's a sovereign country and they are the ones that actually have to take the decision. We're just urging them to act.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary -- sorry, Charlie.

QUESTION: On the same -- in the same vein. I mean, what if they act within their judicial system? You haven't mentioned that today at all and that takes time.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Charlie, I've underlined where we are and the Secretary made this clear to President Karzai. She made it clear to the Foreign Minister. And we are urging resolution at the earliest possible time.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary in her first meeting this week raise this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you.

QUESTION: But surely you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Saul.

QUESTION: How soon can we --

MR. MCCORMACK: There was some --

QUESTION: And that's different. You said that you'd come out here with an update. She calls a second meeting on something that you guys --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Saul. She had some one-on-one time with him. You know, they were talking one-on-one.

QUESTION: It wasn't a major part of the discussion?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'll check for you, Saul.

QUESTION: How about the criticism that the Bush Administration has gone along changing its position on this, has ratcheted up its pressure? But the criticism is it's actually been slow to react. It's just followed American public opinion. It hasn't been leading it here.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think, Saul, Teri asked this question. Libby asked this question. We stated our concerns about this issue immediately with the Foreign Minister during his visit here. He's been here for several days.

QUESTION: Okay. So you did bring it up for the first time?

MR. MCCORMACK: We did, at the beginning of his visit here. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: But you didn't urge them in the strongest terms that the Secretary did in her follow-up meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Saul, as we saw this case continued to be out there after our initial conversations with the Afghan Government, we thought that it was important that we speak in the strongest possible terms in public with regard to the issue and that we convey that -- our sentiments and our views on the issue to the highest levels of the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: Sean, did you check on these reports that Abdullah's been replaced?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. And this is what I understand and you can check with the Afghan Government on this, is that this is something that has been in the works for some time and that currently the Afghan parliament is out of session. And so in essence what President Karzai has done is nominate a new foreign minister, but that does not take effect until the parliament is back in session. And I'm not sure if the parliament has to actually act in some manner on that, but that's really the situation as I understand it.

QUESTION: So you have full confidence that any messages given to Abdullah though is fine?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes. He's still Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that Secretary Rice herself should be in Iraq working with the different parties to come up with a solution, you know, for their government, that she should be there directly herself. Do you have any particular reaction to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'm not going to get into political issues here in Washington. But clearly, Secretary Rice is deeply involved in issues related to Iraq. I daresay it is the issue on which she spends the most time during any given week. Just this morning she had a meeting -- she had a SVTS meeting with Ambassador Khalilzad as well as other members of her staff. She participates on a regular basis in White House meetings on the issue and she also has full faith in Ambassador Khalilzad in what he's doing out there in Iraq. He's doing an extraordinary job. And I think it is a measure of the confidence of the Secretary, as well as the President, that they have given him this assignment and he's doing an extraordinary job.

Teri.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the deaths of these 12 American tourists in Chile?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a terrible tragedy. I understand that there are 12 people who lost their lives in a bus crash and there are two Americans also who are injured. They're in the hospital. And I understand that the families have been contacted. Our consular people are offering any available -- any possible assistance to the families. This is a very difficult time. We understand that. But we have consular officials who are professionals and who can help out in these situations. So our thoughts and prayers really go out to those who lost loved ones in this terrible crash.

QUESTION: Is this the type of situation where there would be a U.S. Government investigation or is that handled by the commercial interests? Is there any reason that U.S. officials would go down and check the scene or anything like that? Any follow-up by the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check, Teri. Typically those types of things are done at the request of the host government. But I'll check for you if (a) there's either a request or (b) whether or not in this particular instance U.S. officials will look into it.

Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, a couple things on Ethiopia. The government and the opposition have reached an agreement under which municipal officials for Addis Ababa who were elected last year have agreed to take their seats. And another thing, the government has dropped treason charges against some but not all of the hundred or so people they charged after the elections. If you have any reaction to either?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we welcome the release, I think, of 18 defendants, including five journalists from the Voice of America. It's a welcome step, but there are still 111 people who remain in jail. And we continue to be concerned about the serious charges that have been levied against these individuals and that we call on the Ethiopian Government to ensure a fair, transparent and speedy trial for those charged and we urge the government to provide those detained with sufficient access to their lawyers as well as family members and to doctors for those who may need medical attention.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)

DPB #49

ENDS


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