State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 29, 2006
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 29, 2006
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
March 29, 2006
Position of Iraqi Prime Minister / Decision for Iraqi People
Formation of a National Unity Government / Positions & Platform
Agenda for Upcoming Meeting in Berlin
Status of UN Security Council Presidential Statement / Progress on
Introduction of Nuclear Weapon to Region by Iran / Destabilization
Diplomatic Efforts to Avoid Nuclear Threat
Query Regarding Contrast to US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation
Recent Israeli Elections / Formation of Government & Platform
Unchanged US Position on Borders and Settlements
Travel by US Officials to the Region
Authority of Hamas Government / Authority of President Abbas
Previous Agreements / Period of Transition & Change
US to Review Contact Policy with Palestinian Officials /
US Looking at Ways to Increase Humanitarian Aid to Palestinians
No Provision of US Funds to Hamas-Led Government by United States
Visa Application of Mr. Raji Sourani / Visa Application Process /
Arab Country Contributions to Transition of Mission Welcomed
Charles Taylor in Custody & en Route to Special Court in Sierra
Arrival of President Obasanjo in US / Discussions with US
Officials re Charles Taylor
Jurisdiction and Physical Location of Trial / Discussions
Secretary Rice's Travel to Liverpool and Blackburn
Query Regarding Observation of Congestion Fees in London
DPB # 52
12:50 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? I think some of you here are going to be traveling with us later this afternoon. Sue, a hearty soul, here in the front row, congratulations to you. I don't know where the rest of your colleagues are if they'll even be on the trip. I don't have any opening statements, so I'll be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Have you seen the story about how the Administration is not particularly fond of the Iraqi Prime Minister and would like to see somebody else get the job?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen a lot of stories out there, George. And look, the bottom line here is that the Iraqi people are going to be the ones who choose the next Iraqi prime minister. It is for them to decide. They're going through a political process right now. There's a lot of bargaining. There's a lot of back and forth, not only about who will fill what job but also about what the platform of this government is going to be. So there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes and I expect that that is going to continue in the coming days.
That said, we are urging the Iraqi political leaders to move forward quickly and form a government of national unity, not because of what the U.S. expects but that's what the Iraqi people expect. They held an election, they put their trust in these political leaders and they expect them to move forward and form a government of national unity that is acceptable to all Iraqis and that has strong leadership. And who fills what position is going to be a decision for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi political leaders to make.
QUESTION: And so we didn't weigh in?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: So we didn't weigh in on whether Jafari should pull himself out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, the bottom line here is that the Iraqi political leaders will decide who's going to fill those jobs in the national unity government. Of course, Ambassador Khalilzad is on the sidelines advising the Iraqis in this process, of course, and at their request. But the hard decisions that are going to be made and that are being made about who is included in this Iraqi government as well as what the platform of that Iraqi government is are going to be made by the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Is that one of the things he advised?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into what discussions Ambassador Khalilzad or anybody else may have had through private diplomatic channels. You have those discussions through diplomatic channels because they're private and I'm going to keep them private.
Yes. That was quick. All right, Sue.
QUESTION: On Iran. Do you -- how close do you think you are to getting the agreement on a presidential statement? And also you've said that the goal of this meeting in Berlin tomorrow is to look at the medium and long-term strategies. What are those medium and long-term strategies? If you could be specific, is it sanctions? Maybe if you could give a few examples as to what those strategies might be to get Iran to change.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the last part of your question, I'm not going to get into specifics. There are a lot of -- number of diplomatic levers that are available to the international community, both acting as a community, as groups of nations and as individual nations. So I would expect that the P-5 + 1 member ministers represented at the Berlin meeting are going to have a discussion about their thoughts about what the medium and long term will hold. But ultimately the key to resolving this is the Iranian regime making a decision to change its behavior, to suspend its uranium enrichment programs, to seek to engage the international community in a serious manner, and to come back into the mainstream of the nonproliferation framework.
Right now this regime has taken Iran far outside that mainstream. They have isolated Iran and the Iranian people from the rest of the world. We see that right now just by the fact that we have -- are having these discussions about a presidential statement up in New York. The reason why we are having those discussions is repeatedly, over the course of many years, the Iranian regime has deceived the international community. The Iranian regime has lied to the international community about the nature of its nuclear program. It is, we believe, seeking to develop a nuclear weapon under the cover of a peaceful nuclear program; that is an abrogation of its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations and it is also an abrogation of commitments it has made to individual members of the international community.
So what the international community did at the Board of Governors was said: Enough -- we are going to hold you to account and one of the ways we are going to do that is we're -- this is issue is going to be sent to the Security Council. And that's where the issue resides at the moment. We're working very hard with other members of the Security Council on a presidential statement and this presidential statement will send a strong clear message to the Iranian regime that the international community is united in its demand that Iran come back into compliance with its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.
And just one brief update for you on that, the Secretary just spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this issue. They did make some progress regarding the language. There have been two meetings already up in New York among the Security Council members and I would expect that there's probably going to be at least one more today. They're working on it -- they have been working on it hard.
We all know that these questions of working out specific language in these multilateral fora take time. And the reason why it takes time in this particular case is because the issue is so serious and we understand that. We understand that people want to take time and look at this statement very carefully because it has meaning. We also, on the other hand, are urging the Security Council members to move forward because while it is an important -- it is an important issue, they need to move forward on this presidential statement and we're hopeful that we will be able to get a presidential statement today or in the next couple of days. If it -- I don't expect it -- it was not planned to be the main topic of conversation at the Berlin meeting. We'll see if it is something that they still need to discuss. We are hopeful that we'll be able to resolve any differences over the language in the next day.
QUESTION: When did the Secretary speak to the Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MR. MCCORMACK: Just a minute a go, within the past hour.
QUESTION: Today. So it's the third time in a few days.
MR. MCCORMACK: At least the second time. I have lost count of the various phone calls.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a question about the Foreign Minister Lavrov. He said today that any ideas about the coercive forceful solution to the issue of nuclear -- Iranian nuclear program are highly counterproductive. So do you think it would -- it will help for the (inaudible) you will have in Germany?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we're working right now up in New York to come to agreement on a presidential statement and we're hopeful that we'll be able to come to agreement in the next day. And on the issue of force, we've made it very clear that we're working on a diplomatic --
QUESTION: It's not force -- it's coercive forceful solution. So it can mean sanctions, it's not really military. It's not as precise as the military --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a number of different levers at the disposal of the international community. We are -- in seeking a presidential statement at the Security Council, seeking to use one of those levers -- a presidential statement. And we hope the fact that Iran finds itself in the spotlight of the international community, the subject of discussion, that that will bring more pressure to bear on the regime so that it will change its behavior, so that it will walk back its nuclear program. It will suspend uranium enrichment activities and that it will re-engage the international community in serious discussions. If the Iranians, after a presidential statement, choose not to pursue a policy of engagement in cooperation with the international community and insist upon continuing a strategy of confrontation, then the international community will have to take a look at what steps are next.
We've made it clear and we are showing through our actions that, as a first step, we are not seeking sanctions. But clearly, that is a lever that is available to the international community to individual states, but that's not the matter that's being discussed at the moment. The matter that's being discussed at the moment is a presidential statement and the idea behind it is to, again, create a consensus and send a strong message to the Iranian Government that they have to change their behavior.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to predict what future diplomatic measures might be agreed upon by the international community. Right now we are working on a presidential statement.
QUESTION: Who placed the call -- which way did the call go to Lavrov?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Secretary called for Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: I mean, if you don't -- if it ends up that there is no statement and you're meeting in Berlin, are you able to look ahead and move forward on next diplomatic steps without this kind of in hand, this presidential statement, or are you just kind of -- is it a foregone conclusion that there will be some presidential statement and you'll -- you know, the text of which you may not have at this meeting? I mean, how are you going to look ahead if you can't be in the present?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're hopeful that the presidential statement will be finished by the time they have this meeting in Berlin. If not, we'll deal with that situation. But the original intent of this meeting, which was thought about, I think, a couple of weeks ago, or at least in the wake of Under Secretary Burns's last meeting with his counterparts in this group, was to look down the road. And I expect that that will be the primary focus of the meeting. If there is some residual business that needs to be concluded with regard to a presidential statement or any other action in the Security Council, I'm sure that they'll discuss it.
QUESTION: When you say that you hope that there's be one in the next couple of days, have you seen, you know, a substantial amount of continual progress that you feel that you're very close at this point? I mean, you've been saying for the last, I don't know, week to ten days that you hope to have one in the next couple days.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the use of the word "substantial" depends on your perspective. When you're going at this hammer and tong and we're looking at individual words and word tenses, a little change means a lot. And that's when you get down to the -- when you get down to the end game of these kinds of discussions on these documents that are a product of a multilateral forum, it takes some time and small changes can mean a lot. So that's where the focus is. It's very detail-oriented and I think that it has come quite a way. We are hopeful that we'll be able to get this presidential statement, which would mean the 15 members of the Security Council would be speaking with one voice to Iran on behalf of the international community.
QUESTION: So when you -- so you are in the end game here? There's not like -- like a couple of days ago you were talking about fundamental differences on, you know, some of the main aspects of the resolution and now you're talking end game. So is it just kind of dotting -- well, I know, as you said, that's a big deal, but do you have fundamental agreement on the principles of the resolution at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look --
QUESTION: I mean the statement.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing's done till everything's done so I'm not going to give you a kind of percentage completion rate on the presidential statement. It has come a long way. There has been certainly a narrowing of differences over language in the presidential statement and we're hopeful that through hard work and some concerted diplomacy that we're going to be able to finish this up.
QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, does the United States view Iran's nuclear activities as a threat to international peace and security, and should that be a part of the language of a presidential statement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Steve, we've talked about the fact that introduction of a nuclear weapon by Iran into the region is a destabilizing event, not only for the region but for the rest of the world. It is a threat. It certainly is a threat. And that's why the international -- and everybody agrees that that is an action that we want to avoid. Everybody. I don't think -- you might find a few outliers, maybe some of the countries that voted with Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors, but I don't think you're going to find any disagreement with the idea that Iran can't be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon because it would be destabilizing and it would be a threat.
So we are seeking to deal with that situation, that potential situation, to avoid that situation through the use of diplomacy. And we have over the course of the past -- certainly over the past year built a larger and larger consensus among the members of the international community that that can't be allowed to happen. Now we're down to talking about various diplomatic tactics: How can we increase the pressure on the Iranian regime so that they will change their behavior and so that we don't get to that state where Iran has been able to develop a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: I mean, some countries on the Security Council are willing to say that that language needs to be in the resolution -- or rather the statement. Is that the U.S. view?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, right now, Steve, we are negotiating specific language and I don't want to, from the podium, start predicting exactly what language may or may not be in a final presidential statement. But what we want to accomplish in doing this is to send a strong, clear -- the strongest possible, most clear message we can to Iran. So that has been the principle under which we have been working and as well as other members of the Security Council. And in terms of specific language, I don't want to get into exactly where we are on specific language, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to conclude something here in the near future.
Yes, on Iran.
QUESTION: Yes. Just before this meeting, the P-5 meeting, the German Foreign Minister said today that the agreement, the India nuclear agreement is --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a tricky was of getting to Iran.
QUESTION: No. He said it was not helpful --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw --
QUESTION: -- because of the timing of this agreement during the negotiations with Iran. So --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the quote and he also said that Germany wasn't going to impose any changes in the Nuclear Supplier Group. Look, the Secretary and the President as well as other members of this Administration have talked about the importance of this agreement between the United States and India. And certainly we have talked about it in the past, how we would differ with anybody who tries to make any comparisons between the behavior of Iran and the behavior of India.
Our view, in sum, is that at the end of the day, India has been a responsible member of the international community when it comes to issues of nonproliferation. Iran, on the other hand, has abrogated its treaty obligations not to seek to develop a nuclear weapon, continually lied to the international community about that, continually deceived the international community about that. And certainly we do have concerns about Iran's involvement in proliferation of WMD. Certainly we can -- one great example is going back to the contacts between the Iranian regime and the A.Q. Khan network. The A.Q. Khan network was in business for one thing, and that was to help parties develop nuclear weapons.
So the track record of Iran with regard to nonproliferation behavior, I think is -- stands in stark contrast to the -- over the recent history, the behavior of India in this regard and that is the reason. And it is on merits of that behavior by the Indian Government that we have concluded the agreement between the United States and India and are now working with the Congress to seek some changes in U.S. law that would allow that agreement to be fully implemented.
QUESTION: Sean, change of subject. Everyone, meaning all the attendees at the Arab League summit in Khartoum have rejected Prime Minister-elect Olmert's unilateral pullout consolidation plan from the West Bank, including President Abbas. Are we back at square one and, of course, right now both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority are forming new governments?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Joel, you bring up the issue of the recent elections in Israel. Certainly, we congratulate President Olmert on the apparent victory of Kadima. I don't think the results will be actually certified and final for quite some time, but it's I think -- the votes are in. And we look forward to working with the next Israeli Government. We have worked over the years very well and very closely with the succession of Israeli governments. They are now going to enter into a process of government formation and also during that process come up with a platform for that government, and we will during this period of time, I am sure, be in contact with them about their thoughts on a variety of different issues, including the one that you raise.
Our views on the issues of borders and settlements and related issues are clear. They're unchanged. And just one additional bit of information. I expect that Elliot Abrams and David Welch would probably be traveling to the region in the near future. I think they're probably on their way and they'll be holding consultations in the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David is already in the region and I think Elliot is on his way.
QUESTION: There's a report that U.S. officials ordered diplomats and contractors not to have contact with the Hamas government and I assume that's a result of the actions today in the territories. Can you corroborate that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me try to walk you through this and provide a little bit of context. There is now a new Palestinian Government. The Hamas government has been sworn in. They hold the reins of authority in the day-to-day operation of the Palestinian Authority. President Abbas retains a separate set of powers and quite clearly he has chosen a different pathway with respect to abiding by the Palestinians' previous commitments to seek a two-state solution though peaceful negotiation.
Sadly, Hamas has not. They have ignored the wishes of President Abbas when he asked the Hamas government -- Hamas to form a government based on a platform of recognition of Israel, abiding by the Palestinians' previous agreements to seek a two-state solution via the roadmap. Hamas has also ignored the demands of the international community of the three conditions that were laid out very clearly in the statement made in London.
It will be -- in the future Hamas's decisions and actions will certainly influence the reaction from the international community. I say all this to say that we are now in a period of transition and change from a Palestinian Authority that was committed to seeking a two-state solution, seeking peace with Israel via negotiation, to a Hamas-led government which does not. And I say that with the caveat of President Abbas is still committed to the two-state solution.
Now, I would expect, George, over the coming days and weeks, based on the fact that Hamas has refused to heed the call of the international community, specifically the Quartet statement, to meet those conditions, that you're going to see some changes in policy and behavior on the part of the international community.
With respect to the United States, we are going to in the coming days and weeks take a look at our contact policy with regard to Palestinian Authority officials as well Palestinian diplomats around the world.
This story to which you refer, I believe, is talking about an administrative notice that was put out in the Consulate in Jerusalem, which has primary responsibility for contact with Palestinian officials. And all that administrative notice did was, before you have a contact with Palestinian officials, check with the leadership of the consulate because there is going to be a review of the United States contact policy with Palestinian officials. Based on the fact that Hamas now is leading a government and they have refused to meet the conditions laid out by the international community, also the United States as an individual country has certain laws that U.S. officials must abide by and part of those laws say that we will not deal with a member of a terrorist organization. So we will not have contact with members of Hamas, no matter what title they may have.
QUESTION: Follow up, Sean.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: If it's U.S. policy, if U.S. law bans contact for U.S. officials with Hamas, why did you need to put out a statement saying that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Because again, what it did is it said check first because there --
QUESTION: A what?
MR. MCCORMACK: It said check first.
QUESTION: It said check first.
MR. MCCORMACK: Because there is going to be a review of our contact policy. The reason for that, Janine, is because there are -- it's a period of transition, it's a period of change. You have a Hamas-led government. You also have President Abbas who have independent members of parliament as well who are not Hamas. So there may be questions in the minds of individuals -- well, with whom can I have contact? And we -- I'm not prepared to at this time to outline exactly what the policy will be for you. But certainly, that's a natural question that might arise in the mind of an individual that's seeking to do their job. But again, I have to point out that this is a period of transition, so we're going to try to answer people's questions as best we can, within the confines of the policy.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, there's been two things. First, the story said that it also -- statement also said we do not have any contact with Hamas officials; did it say that? And second, saying that you're going to review the policy might suggest that you're going to be open to meeting with Hamas officials --
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: -- since it's banned right now.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. That's -- it's you know, and certainly, I hope that you don't take away at all from anything that I said -- leaving open the door for contact with Hamas. It's not. We don't deal with terrorist organizations. What it's meant to do is just really try to answer questions for our people in the field in embassies around the world who have to deal with very practical questions about, well, if there's a Palestinian ambassador, how do I engage with that individual? So it's really just a -- it's a very practical thing that we have to outline for our diplomats around the world so they know that their behavior will be consistent with our policy.
QUESTION: But if you're saying the policy is under review now and you don't -- and it's not finished, what are they going to be told, if they're asking these questions and you don't have -- you don't have answers ready?
MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, as I said, this is -- it's a period of transition and change and I would expect that we will get answers to any questions that people may have in the field in the very near future.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I Just follow up on that? Did this note or is the thinking at the moment that whole ministries will be off limits?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, at this point, Teri, I'm not going to get in -- I can't get into detailed answers to these questions. I know it's a valid question. In due course, we'll be able to share all this with you.
QUESTION: On a related issue, now that there is a Hamas government, have you finished your review of U.S. aid programs?
MR. MCCORMACK: A couple of points of principle, Charlie. And one, as the Secretary has said, we're looking at ways to increase our humanitarian aide to the Palestinian people and there's been a review that is really substantially completed with regard to humanitarian and other types of aid there. I think there's some i's that need to be dotted and t's crossed on that. So I'm not prepared at this point to get into details of that. So we're looking at ways that we can increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. On the other hand, we've said it before and I'll reiterate it that we are not going to provide funds to a terrorist organization. And we are not going to provide U.S. funds to a Hamas-led government.
So in terms of the details, the practical matters of, well, what does that mean for individual programs, in due course I'd be happy to share those things with you. But at the moment, I don't have those details to share with you.
QUESTION: Circling back to the issue of contact, you said a second ago that the U.S. would not have contact with members of Hamas, no matter what title they have.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Does that leave the door open to having contact with officials in a Hamas-led government who are not members of Hamas themselves, like civil servants or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. People working in ministries and that sort?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, do you intend to leave the door open to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: On those questions, you know, I don't want to give you a steer at this point one way or the other. I want to be able to -- we'll certainly in due course be able to talk about these issues with you in detail, but at this point I can't provide -- I'm not able to provide you a detailed answer on that.
QUESTION: Why isn't that policy ready? It's not like it's a surprise that these guys were going to be in these places.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we now just today have the Hamas government. Certainly you can have changes right up until the last minute and you want to make sure that whatever your policies are, whatever your regulations and guidelines are, that they accurately reflect reality. So that's --
QUESTION: It didn't matter who the individuals were. You (inaudible) ---
MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I would expect in the near future we'll be able to talk to you a little bit more in detail about this.
Hold on. Sue's been very patient here.
QUESTION: Has the Palestinian Authority -- a couple of days ago, the previous Palestinian Authority, handed over the $20 million that was outstanding? I think it's slightly less. And have you informed aid agencies that they must have absolutely no contact with Hamas and have you asked for more funds to be returned from aid groups who are dealing with --
MR. MCCORMACK: On the first part of your question, I'll check. I haven't checked on that issue in a while. I know that some part of the 50 million was returned and there was a continuing discussion about that matter. I can't tell you exactly where that was left off.
In terms of the specific aid programs and specific regulations that might guide NGOs who receive U.S. funds, again, that would get into some of the details of the review. And again, in due course we'll be happy to share those with you, but at the moment I don't -- part of the dotting the i's and crossing the t's is once you have a policy decision or you have the substantial outlines of a policy decision, how do you go about implementing that at a technical level? There are a lot of practical questions that need to be answered in that regard, and you bring up a couple of them. So before -- I don't want to get into the details of it before we're able to answer some of those questions for you.
QUESTION: Same general subject.
QUESTION: I have another question on this.
MR. MCCORMACK: Do you yield the floor, Mr. Gedda?
QUESTION: I understand that --
QUESTION: -- there's a Palestinian --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's the same subject.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Palestinian human rights activist who had -- who was planning on coming to the United States who had been smart enough to bring a copy of the piece of paper (inaudible) be better off -- but anyway, he had a whole schedule planned here for this week and but he was not allowed to come because he declined to get a police certificate from the Israelis. Do you have something on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think you're referring to the case of Mr. Raji Sourani.
MR. MCCORMACK: And his visa application is currently being adjudicated according to all relevant U.S. laws.
On this particular matter, certainly we are aware of the case. We're aware of Mr. Sourani's prominence and his interest in the case. On the specific question of the police certificate, as a matter of practice consular officers notify individual applicants of any documentation that might be required to complete processing of their visa application, and as part of the visa record this information is confidential.
U.S. law does require consular officers to request additional documentation under certain circumstances. This can include police certificates from a competent police service. This requirement does not connote the need for a third-country clearance; rather, it is solely for the administration of U.S. law. Additional documentation would not be the sole factor in determination of an applicant's eligibility when consular officers evaluate all information available to them to adjudicate visas under U.S. law.
So this is a matter -- it's an open visa application and, as many of you know, we can't get into the details of the visa application process. This information is provided to consular officers in confidence and that's not a confidence that we can break.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you at this point, with everything going on with the Israelis, I mean, for the Israelis to help adjudicate -- to help in the process of adjudicating this guy's visas, do you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they don't help him adjudicate the visa.
QUESTION: Well, what I mean is they have to provide certain documentation that, you know, helps a favorable outcome. I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't comment on the specific -- this specific case, but I know in the past that these police certificates have been obtained.
QUESTION: Are you helping with this matter? My understanding is that --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not our job to help with the visa application --
QUESTION: Well, no, I understand but you --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- or to provide the documentation --
QUESTION: This guy was invited to Washington and, apparently, he has a lot of meetings with various Administration officials. So, you know, it just seems like this happens occasionally, not just with the Palestinians but with other people, that these people are invited to Washington and then have a problem obtaining a visa to get here to meet with the Administration. I mean, do you ever -- when you have a review of the visa process, I mean, is this one of the things that you look at?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, as somebody who's been on the other side of a consular interview window I know how hard people work and the discretion that people try to use in making these judgments, these are hard judgments concerning people's backgrounds, people's intention as well as the paperwork that they have in front of them. So certainly the United States and our consular officers around the world try to make the visa process as understandable, comprehensible and -- if I dare use the word -- pleasant as possible. And oftentimes that's hard to do. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that make the visa application process more difficult. We try to work with individuals to get them through that process, but at the end of the day consular officers have an obligation to uphold and implement U.S. law, and that's what the consular officers in this particular case are doing.
QUESTION: Right. But shouldn't there be coordination with the agencies that are actually inviting the guy? I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the consular officer has an obligation to make a judgment based on the merits of the case just before him, not whether or not somebody is going to be missing a meeting. They have to make their judgments based on the facts in front of them. And so somebody's schedule, while it may be a factor taken into consideration, is not the primary factor in making a judgment. The primary factor in making a judgment are the facts as they are before you and whether or not the facts will allow a consular officer to issue a visa given the circumstances.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. One more, though.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: I mean, if this guy is not -- and whether -- maybe he's not eligible for a visa. Is this the kind of guy you should be inviting to Washington in the first place? I just think that there's a disconnect in maybe the order in which -- you know, do you do background checks on people before you invite them to Washington, or you invite them and then see if they're applicable for a visa?
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) It was a private (inaudible).
QUESTION: My understanding was that he had meetings in the Administration.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have access to his schedule.
QUESTION: If I can go back to the administrative note?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does it apply only to U.S. diplomats or it applies also to contractors?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know to whom it was addressed.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Samir.
QUESTION: Oh, Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. assessment about the declaration by the Arab Summit in Sudan? Were you satisfied with all the positions they took or do you have any complaints?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would certainly welcome Arab League -- individual Arab country contributions to the AMIS mission as it makes the transition to a UN mission. The AU itself has agreed in principle to this transition. So individual group contributions in moving this process forward are welcome -- would be welcome.
QUESTION: But in general, the Arab Summit, the declaration, the communiqué, were you satisfied on Iraq on Palestine on Syria on Lebanon?
QUESTION: On nuclear power?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't read through it, Samir.
MR. MCCORMACK: Honestly, haven't read through it.
QUESTION: Could we talk about Charles Taylor, please?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: What do you want to say about him?
MR. MCCORMACK: He will face justice. He will face justice for the crimes that he has committed. He will face justice for the chaos and unmentionable pain he has caused in the region. He is on his way to the court in Sierra Leone as we speak.
QUESTION: Have you come to any conclusion about whether the government of Nigeria was negligent in letting him escape or do you think they did a great job in apprehending him at the border? I mean, how would you rate their --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's an open matter as to what happened that allowed him to escape. Certainly, we -- people in the region and around the world are gratified that he is in custody where he should be and that he is now on his way to facing justice.
QUESTION: And one final one, is the U.S. looking at -- there's some aid to Nigeria that has been frozen, I believe, some military aid, is that correct, that may now be freed up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't know. I'll check. Be happy to check for you, Teri.
QUESTION: Okay. I thought there might be some programs that were frozen until he was turned over.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll be happy to check into it for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Janine.
QUESTION: Could you take us through President Obasajano's arrival last night and who he met with and what happened overnight in the discussions between the U.S. and his delegation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know specifically what time he landed here. It was some time after 9 o'clock, I think. He and his party, I think, had some discussions with Assistant Secretary Frazer -- Jendayi Frazer, as well as Cindy Courville. We were, of course, very interested in what the President's party knew about Charles Taylor's escape, his status and the status of the manhunt for him. So that was really the nature of the conversations that we had last night with President Obasanjo's party.
QUESTION: And do you know at what point the U.S. learned that the Nigerians had detained him and had decided, in fact, to immediately send him to Liberia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the exact time. I don't know the exact time. I know that the Secretary found out early this morning.
QUESTION: As of late yesterday, they hadn't even informed you officially that he was missing, as I understand it. So what made you think there was a manhunt?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would naturally assume that since he was under detention by Nigerian authorities, that they would want to re-detain him.
QUESTION: And did you have any evidence that that order was given long before President Obasanjo came?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have a specific timeline. I think it's probably best to put those questions to the Nigerian Government.
QUESTION: Are you doing that? Are you guys asking? You said it's an open matter what exactly happened --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's an open question as to what happened. I think it would be -- it's certainly a matter of interest, yes, but I think it's probably a matter of greater interest to the Nigerian Government since they were the -- they were the authorities responsible for holding Charles Taylor. The important fact now is that he is now on his way to the international court in Sierra Leone where he will be tried for his crimes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Steve.
QUESTION: The discussions last night with the Assistant Secretary, were they face to face or where were they?
MR. MCCORMACK: They did. I think they were at his hotel, Steve.
QUESTION: And was there ever any point where the meetings that he was supposed to have today were in jeopardy?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think Scott McClellan addressed this over at the White House. He said that the meeting was always on the President's schedule.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. be investigating how he actually -- how this all came to be, how he escaped and then was caught? You know, the details of it? Will the U.S. be looking into it or are they going to leave it to the Nigerians and you're happy that now Charles Taylor --
MR. MCCORMACK: We will follow up with the Nigerian Government on that issue. But as I said, the important fact is that he is in custody and he's going to face justice.
QUESTION: Sean, a change of subject. Yesterday a rally -- or Monday a rally was held here in Washington, D.C., with the Falun Gong expressing moral outrage about secret death camps in China in which their practitioners are being tortured, murdered and live organs harvested. Yesterday Beijing issued a statement saying that this donation practice would end. I wonder what pressures are you contemplating to end this formally or seek a clarification with the Chinese Government for this to end. And also, what is being done to pressure them to quickly end this repression against Falun Gong and these so-called death camps?
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, I haven't seen those reports. If we have anything to add to them, we'll certainly get it to you.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments or words of wisdom on the Secretary's trip to Liverpool and Blackburn? And the Stop the War Coalition in Britain is planning, apparently, some quite large demonstrations to protest, you know, U.S. and British involvement in Iraq. Are you prepared for these demonstrations and anticipate them?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary looks forward to her visit to Liverpool and Foreign Secretary Straw's district. This is a return visit. The Secretary hosted Foreign Secretary Straw in Birmingham, Alabama, and so she's quite pleased to be able to visit Foreign Secretary Straw and get to know and get to meet the people that are important in his life and in Blackburn.
I think as a theme for those of you who were on the trip to Birmingham or who saw the reporting on it, an important theme of that trip was democracy and the journey that states undertake on the pathway to democracy. And I think if you look at some of the historical connections between Birmingham and Liverpool and Blackburn, it's quite striking how far our democracies have come separately in the UK and in the United States.
And there have been bumps along the way, but what's important is that we have persevered in that journey and that we have sought to address injustices, we have sought to address inequities in our lives and our societies.
And a big part of that in seeing that come about is freedom of expression and part of what is great about our democracy here, the democracy in England, is the ability of people to express freely without fear of harm or retribution their point of view.
And we all know, we've seen the reporting, there are certainly those who oppose the hard decisions that President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and other members of their respective cabinets took. It is the right of these individuals to protest, to protest peacefully and to air in public their differences with the United States and the policy decisions that we have taken. And I don't think in any way that diminishes the message the Secretary will convey, while she is in Blackburn -- in Liverpool and certainly it in no way diminishes the Secretary's enthusiasm for making this trip and visiting with Foreign Secretary Straw.
QUESTION: You know, three days is quite a long time to spend in one place and the Secretary doesn't always spend that long in one place. Why are you going for such an extended period of time? Is this a reflection of the sort of close relationship or is it an attempt to show a different kind of diplomacy at work with a more sort of public face of the Secretary?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it mirrors the stay that Foreign Secretary Straw had in Birmingham and it is intended to get the ministers and the people that work with them out beyond our respective beltways and see a different part of the country. Foreign Secretary Straw and his delegation were able to see a different part of the United States. And we're -- I know the Secretary is very much looking forward to seeing a different part of England, meeting the people there. And it, as you point out, it is also important as part of our public diplomacy efforts to engage directly people out beyond capitals to hear what's on their mind and also it's an opportunity for those people to hear directly from the Secretary. Part of our public diplomacy efforts are aimed at breaking down any barriers that may exist. Certainly that task is much less in the UK than it would be many other places, given the close special relationship between our two nations.
So it's a great opportunity to -- for the two ministers to spend time together and also to -- for the Secretary to see a different part of England and meet some people outside of London.
QUESTION: Is she planning anymore of these down-home visits with other -- (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that you'll see some more, George. We don't have any currently on the calendar.
QUESTION: I have a question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Elise.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the federal grand jury indictment of a former State Department diplomatic security officer and an obstruction of justice in a terrorism case in Detroit?
MR. MCCORMACK: No details for you on that, Elise.
QUESTION: Can you can go back to Charles Taylor for one second? The President just said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, that Charles Taylor would be sent to the Netherlands, hopefully, and that Secretary Rice was working on some sort of resolution to that effect? Did we already address this?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: No. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: If the President said it, it's right.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are some discussions about how to facilitate the prosecution of Charles Taylor and part of that discussion is because of the substantial nature of this case, what -- physically where is the best place to do it. The jurisdiction is still the international tribunal on Sierra Leone. And as for a possible movement to the Netherlands, physical movement of the trial, that is certainly something that we are working on. And it will require some actions up in New York, some things that we are currently undertaking. Actions aren't yet completed, so I can't say that -- can't give you a definitive timeline on this but, yes, we are working on it.
QUESTION: So it would go to The Hague -- to the International Criminal Court or --
MR. MCCORMACK: The jurisdiction would remain the same. It's just a question of where physically do you have the trial, where physically the -- where are the accommodations that can deal with a trial of this magnitude.
QUESTION: So it would be a special tribunal, such as the Rwanda --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't want to get ahead of myself in terms of the details. A lot of these things are still being worked on, as the President mentioned.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) New York a UN resolution? I mean, obviously, what kind of New York --
MR. MCCORMACK: It would require some action by the Security Council, yes.
QUESTION: And the reasons for doing this are logistical?
MR. MCCORMACK: They have -- again, I don't want to get too far down the road to something that hasn't happened yet.
QUESTION: Just give us some idea.
MR. MCCORMACK: It's because of the nature of this trial and its prominence --
QUESTION: Security reasons?
MR. MCCORMACK: -- and a lot of other -- a lot of other reasons, I think, so that we can best ensure that this trial proceed in the way that it should. That's the reason why people are taking a look at another venue, but the same jurisdiction.
QUESTION: Isn't about one man getting off on a heart attack?
QUESTION: Isn't the mandate due to expire on the Sierra Leone Court as well?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. We got one more right behind you.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan on observing any of the congestion fees in London when she travels in her motorcade?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll post an answer for you on that, Steve.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the criticisms, to put it mildly, of the Ambassador in London?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen some of the comments.
QUESTION: Yours or theirs?
MR. MCCORMACK: The -- I have seen some of theirs. And I think I'm going to -- I'm not going to engage in that sort of back and forth. It certainly doesn't -- the sort of ad hominem criticisms really don't merit a reply.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of a substantive issue, that is something that we will continue to be engaged with the UK government on.
QUESTION: So you're considering possibly changing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it's a continuing topic of discussion.
QUESTION: But not necessarily, because you're reconsidering because they won't let it go?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a continuing topic of discussion.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
Released on March 29, 2006