State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 27, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
March 27, 2006
Secretary Rice's Travel to Germany/France/United Kingdom
Consultations with Key European Allies
P-5 Meeting in Berlin
Status of UN Security Council Presidential Statement
Discussions and Meetings in New York / Bolton / Burns
Documents on US War Plans and Russian Intelligence
Possible Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister / Dan Fried Phone
Call to Russian Ambassador
European Response to Talks on Nuclear Program
Military Incident in Baghdad
Possible Discussions With Iran on Iraq
Iranian Compliance with Treaty Obligations
Meeting of Arab League / US Encouragement of Interaction with New
Charles Taylor / International Court
Talks with President Obasanjo and Liberian President
Liberia and Nigeria to Work on Modalities
Election Update / Use of International Standards
Release of Hostages
Hamas and Conditions Set by International Community
US Working with Quartet and EU on Humanitarian Assistance
Court Decision on Abdul Rahman / Rahman's Release
US Position on Rahman Case
Fundamental Freedoms / Principles of Afghan Constitution
New Representative to Six-Party Talks / Meetings with Hill and
Working-level Meeting in Tokyo on US Military Re-alignment
DPB # 51
12:35 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you on this Monday? Pretty rested after the weekend? Okay. I guess not. Well, maybe we'll see. I have one announcement for you that we can start off with it and then we can get into questions.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Germany, France and the United Kingdom from March 29 to April 2, 2006. During the trip she will consult with key European allies on the range of common challenges, including Iran, the United States is addressing with its transatlantic partners. Secretary Rice's trip to Berlin and Paris will provide an opportunity for her to continue her dialogue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac and other top officials. Her visit to the United Kingdom will take her to Liverpool and Blackburn where she will accompany Foreign Minister Jack Straw. The trip mirrors that which the Secretary and the Foreign Minister made to Alabama last September, underscoring their shared values and cultural links between the United States and the United Kingdom.
With that, I'd be pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: Jack Straw says there's a P-5 meeting in Berlin. Can you fill us in?
MR. MCCORMACK: There will be a P-5 meeting in Berlin -- P-5 plus 1, so it will be P-5 plus Germany. And the Secretary looks forward to attending this meeting with her ministerial colleagues. I expect they're going to be talking about Iran and they will be talking about their medium to long term -- I think the focus will be on the medium- to long-term issues about how to get Iran back into compliance with its nonproliferation treaty organizations, how to get Iran back into the mainstream of the nonproliferation framework and how to get it to roll back its nuclear program. So I think those will all be topics of discussion.
QUESTION: Do you need a presidential statement before then?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that right now we are working on the presidential statement. Up in New York, John Bolton had some meetings this morning. I haven't gotten a readout of it, but the conversations up in New York continue. Nick Burns, as well John Bolton over the weekend, were in contact with their counterparts working on language. And I expect the discussions will continue today and into tomorrow as well.
QUESTION: Will you have a meeting if there's no statement?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that there will be a meeting on Thursday, regardless of where we are in the process, finding the right vehicle with the right language to convey to the Iranian government that they need to come into compliance with their Nonproliferation Treaty obligations as outlined in the IAEA Board of Governors' statement.
QUESTION: Are there alternatives to a statement under consideration?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right now we are working on the presidential statement. That is where the focus of our energies is.
QUESTION: Would the meeting go another direction, though, if you hadn't -- to another vehicle to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, I'm not going to look out and see where we're going to be on Thursday in terms of our discussions, but we are continuing right now to focus up in New York on the presidential statement.
QUESTION: Are there any draft resolutions in the works?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right now, we are focusing on the language of the draft presidential statement.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice said that people will be working all weekend, so can you report any progress whatsoever?
MR. MCCORMACK: We are continuing to work the language. We haven't -- obviously haven't come to a consensus on language yet or else I would be up here reporting to you that we have a presidential statement. So there was work done over the weekend and that continued this morning and I expect it will continue this afternoon and probably into tomorrow as well.
QUESTION: Obviously, a P-5 meeting means the Russian Foreign Minister will be in Berlin. Do you anticipate the Secretary having a private meeting with him to discuss the recent revelation of these documents that the Russians provided intelligence to Saddam Hussein about U.S. war plans? She said over the weekend in interviews that she would be discussing this with the Russians.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I expect if that's the first opportunity for her to have a conversation with the Foreign Minister then she will bring it up then. If not, it will be before then in a telephone call. It clearly is, as the Secretary stated over the weekend, any hint that information provided to the Iraqis may have put our troops in harm's way would be very concerning. So we're -- as she said over the weekend -- we're going to be looking into it from our side. Assistant Secretary Dan Fried has already had a call with the Russian Ambassador here in Washington asking the Russian Government to look into the matter and the Russian Ambassador said that he would pass that message back to Moscow. So either in a telephone call or in person, I'm sure the Secretary will raise it with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Charlie, you had a question?
QUESTION: Yes. Back to the P-5 plus 1, do you expect in addition to Foreign Ministers to have political directors there as well? Might this continue beyond the Secretary's --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Charlie. I'll see if political directors will be there as well.
QUESTION: Change of subject. There are differing stories coming out today on the Sadr city attack against the mosque with cleric al-Sadr as well as the whole front page story here in the Washington Post in an editorial written by Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings. Have you read that editorial? Do you have any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I have not read the op-ed, sorry to say. In terms of the incident in Baghdad, I know our military commanders have addressed it. I know the Iraqis have spoken to it as well. This was an Iraqi operation. U.S. forces were in support and the Iraqis were going after a cell of individuals who were suspected of committing acts of violence as well as kidnapping individuals. They took action against them. And it is my understanding from our Embassy in Baghdad that the operation was not -- did not take place in a mosque. I know that that's been something that's been out there, but we understand from the Iraqi as well as U.S. officials that it did not take place in a mosque.
QUESTION: Just a request for an update. Has there been any progress on arranging meetings with Iranians in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you.
QUESTION: Nothing new.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: ElBaradei said in Berlin today that he thinks those talks should cover the Iranian nuclear issue that it is part of -- that you can't -- that the nuclear issue isn't severable from the regional security issue. Is that something he's raised with the Secretary? Do you have any response?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. Our response is that the potential for discussions between our Ambassador in Baghdad and the Iranian Ambassador in Baghdad is on a very narrow set of issues. And those issues concern Iraq and the fact that we have a large presence, obviously, in Iraq and, as the Secretary has said, we think it is a good idea to have that channel of communication. The nuclear issue is something that is being dealt with now in the Security Council as well as in the IAEA, and we believe that that's the proper -- those are the two proper venues.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: There are Europeans who suggest that the U.S. needs to be part of talks with Iran on the nuclear issue. I wonder if that's something that Secretary Rice will consider when she goes to Berlin.
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, that's not part of her plans. Right now, the onus is on Iran. The Iranian regime needs to come into compliance with its NPT obligations. It needs to prove to the world that it will negotiate in good faith concerning their nuclear program. It needs to come back into the mainstream. So right now, this is not an issue between the United States and Iran; this is an issue between Iran and the rest of the world. So the Iranian regime needs to take a hard look at where it finds itself now, before the Security Council, and we hope that it is receiving the strong, clear message that it needs to come back into compliance with its treaty obligations and it needs to act to rebuild the trust that it has completely eroded over the past several years on this issue.
QUESTION: I have a question about the visit of the Nigerian President. I wondered if you could make a comment about the State Department's view about the anti-gay law which is under consideration and if you can speak to whether that might come up during the visit.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of President Obasanjo visiting here, I believe he would be visiting the White House, so I would leave it to my colleagues at the White House to comment on this visit.
QUESTION: But the State Department has made a statement about this in the past, if you could just reiterate what the view is of the State Department of the --
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get you something after the briefing.
QUESTION: I have something related to Obasanjo. How quickly would the U.S. like to see Charles Taylor handed over? Are you offering any support to get him into custody?
MR. MCCORMACK: He needs to be brought to justice. We've made that clear. I understand that the international court, as well as the Nigerian Government and the Liberian Government, are working on the modalities of the handover of Charles Taylor to see that he faces justice. It is incumbent upon the Nigerian Government now to see that he is conveyed to the international court. Obviously, we have talked to President Obasanjo about this. We have talked about this issue with the Liberian President as well when she was visiting here. But this is right now mainly an issue for the court, for the Liberians as well as the Nigerians to work out in terms of the modalities and all the logistics of moving him from one place to another.
QUESTION: There's a lot of concern though that he may already have fled, that he is going to escape capture. What is the U.S. doing to prevent that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right now we have made clear both in public and in private to the Nigerians that it is their responsibility to see that he is able to be conveyed and face justice, so that would be the Nigerian Government's responsibility. I know that he is in Nigeria at the current time. I can't tell you what his current status is, where in the country he may find himself.
QUESTION: I have another Nigeria question. Do you have a position on whether it would be appropriate for President Obasanjo to seek another term and to have the constitution amended so that he could seek another term as president? He's been president about eight years already. Do you have a view on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check the facts for you, George. We'll get you an answer.
QUESTION: Just want to tie up a loose end back on the issue of the Russians and the Iraqis (inaudible). Is it correct that notwithstanding any contacts you've had so far with Dan Fried or the Secretary, you haven't had any substantive information back from the Russians explaining this?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
QUESTION: There is a report in The Washington Post today that Mr. Yanukovych would be open to an economic union with Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan as opposed to the alliance with NATO that President Yanukovych was considering or exploring. Can you comment on that and what is the likelihood of the alternative economic union taking place?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that's getting ahead of ourselves right now. There's just been an election in the Ukraine, which we , as well as the OSCE, has found to be free and fair, a vast improvement over the presidential election of 2004. We found that in, not only on election day but in the run-up to the election, that this was an election that was conducted according to the international standards of a free and fair democratic election. There was access to media, NGOs were able to do their work, people had access to the polling places. There were some irregularities, but our understanding is that there wasn't anything that could be really characterized as a nationwide problem; they were really localized.
So right now, where we find ourselves, they're going to be finishing the vote tallies. I don't think that they finally certified the results of the election. And the Ukrainian President will call upon the parties in the Rada to form a majority government and I don't think we're at the point now of exactly knowing what coalition might come together. So that gets to your point about somebody proposing new policies for the Ukraine when, in fact, we don't yet have a new government so I couldn't speak to that.
QUESTION: Back on Nigeria. Can you confirm and give us any additional details about the two Americans who are now free -- former hostages?
MR. MCCORMACK: Two Americans and one British citizen who were released in Nigeria. I believe that they are in contact with their families and they're looking forward to being reunited with their families. We're very pleased that they have been released. And in terms of other information, I don't believe I have anything else to add.
QUESTION: To your understanding, how is it that they came to be released?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any further information for you, Teri.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian territories. The new Hamas prime minister designated called for -- says he's ready to dialogue with Quartet. Would the Quartet be ready to dialogue with Hamas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think what the Hamas government needs to do is meet the conditions laid out by the international community. The Quartet was very clear in what those conditions are. The onus is now on Hamas. That said, I would expect in the coming days and weeks that we're going to be working very closely with the Quartet as well as the EU, talking about how we might provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and that's where our focus is now. But in terms of dialogue, Hamas needs to meet the conditions laid out by the international community.
QUESTION: The Arab League, as I understand it, is meeting tomorrow in Sudan. Among the topics they will take up is the possibility of Arab recognition of the Iraqi Government. Do you have some words of encouragement for them as they deliberate on that issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have for quite some time encouraged Arab governments, Iraq's neighbors and governments around the world to provide whatever support they can to the Iraqi Government as they push forward along the pathway to democracy; that includes diplomatic recognition, that includes diplomatic presence in Baghdad as well economic or other kinds of assistance. So we would certainly encourage as much interaction between Iraq's neighbors -- other Arab governments and we would encourage other Arab governments to be as supportive as possible of the new Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: On the Afghan. Anything new since yesterday's announcement that it looked like the case was going away and is the U.S. Government doing anything or has it made any offers to secure his safety if he is released?
MR. MCCORMACK: We do understand that he will be released. That the Afghan Government has found that there were substantial evidentiary problems with the case and that the case would -- has been referred back to the Ministry of Justice and that he will be released. We're pleased by that.
In terms of where he might go after that, that is going to be up to Mr. Rahman. And I understand now that the details of his release and any potential onward travel are being handled as a private matter.
QUESTION: Is there any attempt for U.S. officials to talk to him, see if he wants safe passage --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe we have been in contact with him. We certainly are pleased that he will be released. We look forward to his release and that certainly his physical well being -- continued physical well being is an important issue as well.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about his physical well being, that it's under threat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this has been a sensitive matter for the Afghan people. We understand that. So we think in the coming days, in the coming weeks as this case is resolved that there be calm and that any differences the Afghan people -- some Afghan people may have with regard to the resolution of the case, be handled without resort to violence. It's a -- we are going to continue to work with this young democracy to see that the fundamental freedoms, and at the base of that is freedom of worship enshrined in the Afghan constitution, are put into practice, that those principles are put into practice. So that, I think, is going to be our focus looking forward from this point.
QUESTION: How was the news of the court's decision conveyed to the U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: It was -- this was handled with our embassy on the ground. I can't tell you exactly who was contacted. It might have been -- I think it might have been our chargé at the time.
QUESTION: Any contact with Karzai?
MR. MCCORMACK: No further contacts since the Secretary's phone call.
QUESTION: Beyond Rahman's release, how do you want to see a reaffirmation of the principles? Secretary Rice spoke about, you spoke about last week, are you looking for something specific to come from the Afghan Government? You know, change of the constitution or something along those lines?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I referred to -- as Secretary Rice talked about over the weekend, these principles and these fundamental freedoms are enshrined in the Afghan constitution. So as we look forward from this point, you know, we are going to focus on our work and working with the Afghan Government to see that those principles that are enshrined are put into practice. Ultimately, those are going to have to be Afghanistan's decisions to take, the Afghan people and the Afghan Government's to take. But I think the Afghan people and the Afghan Government understand the importance of seeing these principles put into practice, the importance not only for Afghanistan's future but for the international community that continues to support Afghanistan as it makes its way along the pathway to democracy and greater prosperity.
QUESTION: Well, Sean, the resolution isn't because they reaffirmed those principles. The resolution, as you mentioned, is because they decided there were problems in the case.
MR. MCCORMACK: And as I said, we are pleased that he is released. And also as the Secretary said over the weekend and as I'm saying now, that these are fundamentally -- this is a fundamental issue that the Afghan people in building their democracy is going to need to wrestle with -- how to put into practice those principles which are enshrined in their constitution. And this is going to be an ongoing, I expect, process as their laws, as their constitution is put into practice, as their constitution comes up against reality. And what I'm saying is that every step of the way along the way we intend to work with Afghanistan and the Afghan people to see that those fundamental principles are put into practice.
QUESTION: But as far as you're concerned now, you don't need to hear anything more from them?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would just say that we're pleased that Mr. Rahman will be released.
QUESTION: Tomorrow there's a congressional debate over this immigration reform. Now, immigration reform may not occur. It's a dicey issue. President Bush is headed to Mexico for meetings. What might be the outcome and have you also spoken to the Canadian Harper government? It's less severe there, but with these immigration troubles, Mexico is getting the brunt of this and yet there are other South -- Central American and South American individuals that are jumping the border coming here to the United States. Also two congressmen of the Republican Party, Congress Tancredo as well as Senator Specter, were at odds in television interviews yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, I think inasmuch as your question involves a matter of domestic politics or presidential travel, you should probably talk to the White House.
Back here we've got a couple. Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the update on United States and South Korean delegation meeting last Friday?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- this is the new representative to the six-party talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that he met with Assistant Secretary Hill and Under Secretary Joseph, but that's all I have for you. I don't have any details of the meetings.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask about the U.S. military realignment in Japan. There was a working level meeting, DPRI last week in Tokyo, and they -- it seemed that they didn't have some conclusion for implementation plan. So do you have any comment or something for --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to keep working at it.
QUESTION: A follow-up. They want to make an agreement in this month.
MR. MCCORMACK: That is the goal that we set out for ourselves.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)
Released on March 27, 2006