State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 6, 2006
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 6, 2006
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
April 6, 2006
Bombing of the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq
US Will Not Seek Election to the UN Human Rights Council
Ambassador Wisner Working with UN Envoy Ahtisaari on Status of
Kosovo / Talks Continue
Agenda of Secretary Rice's Meeting with UK Secretary of Defense
Condemnation of Government Ban on Public Gatherings and Detention
of Activists / Serious Concerns about Government's Curbs on Civil
Liberties and Human Rights / Dialogue is the Only Way to Return to
Democracy and Address Maoist Insurgency
Gathering Information on Possible Shooting of US Citizen
Visa Laws and Regulations / Under Section 212 (a)(3)(B) Visa Can
be Denied for Endorsing or Espousing Terrorism / Consular Officers
in the Field Consult with Washington
No US Funds for a Hamas-led Government / Ability to Provide
Humanitarian Assistance / More Details on Aid Review in Coming
Days / US Response to Possible Avian Flu Outbreak / Increasing and
Redirecting Aid Funding
France Has Denied Contact with Hamas
Clarification of Secretary Rice's Comments / US Strategic
Decisions Were Correct / Secretary Rice & Secretary Rumsfeld
Agenda of Assistant Secretary Hill's Trip to Tokyo / No Intent to
Contact North Korean Counterpart
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. How are you? It's good to be back. Okay. I have two statements to begin the briefing with. First one concerns the bombing in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq.
"We send our deepest condolences to the people of Iraq in the wake of the brutal bombing attack on worshippers near the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. The terrorists who seek to attack Iraq's religious sites are the enemies of all faiths and of all humanity. The international community must stand united against them and resolutely behind the people of Iraq. The United States condemns this cowardly act in the strongest possible terms. We ask all Iraqis to exercise restraint in the wake of this tragedy and to pursue justice in accordance with the laws and constitution of Iraq. The United States will continue to do all in its power to assist the Government of Iraq in bringing to justice those responsible for this heinous crime."
And I have one other statement, then we can get into questions. This concerns UN Human Rights Council.
"The United States will not run for a United Nations Human Rights Council seat in the Council's first election scheduled for May 9, 2006. There are strong candidates in our regional group with long records of support for human rights that voted in favor of the resolution creating the Council. They should have an opportunity to run.
"Since drafting the United Nations charter, the United States has led the effort to promote human rights at the UN. From Eleanor Roosevelt's championing of the cause of human rights to the present day, our nation has led and must continue to lead at the UN and around the world. We will continue to do so.
"As we said, when voting on the Human Rights Council resolution March 15th, the United States will work cooperatively with other member-states to make the Council as strong and effective as possible. We will support the Council and we will continue to fund it. We will work closely with partners in the international community to encourage the Council to address serious human rights serious cases of human rights abuse in countries such as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan and North Korea.
"Since the credibility of the Council depends on its membership, the United States will actively campaign on behalf of candidates genuinely committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and which will act as responsible members of this new body. We will also actively campaign against states that systematically abuse human rights. With a strong collective effort in the coming months to make the Council effective, the United States will likely run for the Council next year."
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can you just give us some background on when in the past the United States has decided not to run for the Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, this is a new body. This is the Human Rights Council that was created just recently.
QUESTION: Forgive the imprecision in the question, but if I understand it rightly, it's a body that sort of replaces the -- you know, the one that you've often sat in. If I were to phrase it such as "sitting on the key human rights body in the UN Council," when have you not tried to be part of (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't done the research on it, Saul. I know that from the inception of the old Human Rights Council, the United States was on that Council for many decades. Then it in an election, it failed to be elected to the Council. There was a period of sometime when it was not on the Council and then we resumed a seat on the Council. I don't have the exact dates for you. I can't tell you.
QUESTION: But it sounded like they always ran -- wasn't necessarily on -- the United States was always sought to be on it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, being historically, I would have to check for you to give you a precise answer, Saul, but we have in decades past been on the Human Rights Council.
QUESTION: Why do you not want to sit on the Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that as the statement said, that there are a number of countries that voted in favor for the Council; we did not. And we went into our reasons at the time of the vote why we decided not to run for it. There are a number of countries in our particular group that have strong human rights records that are democracies that we believe are strong supporters of human rights. And we believe that it's only fair that they have the opportunity to run for a seat on a Council for which they have voted.
As I said at the end of the statement, it is likely that we will run for a Council seat next year. We want this to be an effective Council. We are going to support its functioning politically, diplomatically, as well as financially. And we will also be an observer to the Human Rights Council. But we thought as a matter of fairness that we would -- that we would this year decide not to run for the Council and there are many strong candidates in our regional grouping and outside of our regional grouping on whose behalf we will actively campaign so that they can be represented on the Human Rights Council and so that they can work for a strong, effective council.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: In addition to a matter of fairness, would you consider this a matter of principle that you didn't support the makeup of the Council as it was voted into -- which it was created, and are you trying to make some statement that you don't want to be part of a Council you don't agree with?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. We made our statement when the vote concerning the Council came up. It was very clear. You can go back and take a look at the record. That was certainly a matter of principle for us. In that same statement we said that we supported the Council in its work but we could not vote for it.
The Secretary made this decision in consultation with her advisors and after a period of reflection on the matter, and she decided that this was the proper course of action given our vote not to support the formation of this Council but also our statement supporting the Council in its work. So she thought that this was the right outcome for us and she also thought that it was right to come out and state publicly that we would likely seek a seat on it in the next election, which will be next year.
Lambros, stunned that you're this early in the briefing.
QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, in the gathering yesterday with the participation too of American Ambassador Frank Wisner, organized by the European Institute, we heard in a statement of the policy on Kosovo and the reiteration of the standard position about the inviolability of the Balkan borders. At the same time, we heard the official Albanian position that asserts no borders will be respected if Kosovo is not granted independence. Therefore I'm wondering would the Department of State reconsider its position concerning autonomy for the Greek minority of northern Epirus, E-p-i-r-u-s? As you would be aware, Mr. McCormack, the Greek former Prime Minister in the 1990s linked the status of Kosovo with northern Epirus; moreover, the Greeks in northern Epirus was the only Balkan minority whose autonomy was recognized by the League of Nation and actually was used as a precondition for the recognition of Albania itself in 1921 by the League of Nations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with regards to Kosovo, you rightly point out that Ambassador Wisner, who is working actively with Mr. Ahtisaari as well as other members of the international community just on the question of the status of Kosovo. There's not an answer to that question yet. And I know that they're working hard and they seek to come up with an answer by the end of this year.
Now, in terms of the status of the citizens, the individuals who live in north Epirus, I'm going to have to dig pretty deep in the bureaucracy for that one, for an answer to that one. But if -- we'll try to get you an answer on that.
QUESTION: Excellent. Any readout on the completion of the second round of talks April 3rd in Vienna for the status of Kosovo?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that the talks continue and they haven't come up with a final statement of what their suggested solution is yet. We continue to work on it.
QUESTION: And do you know the purpose of the -- today's meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense for the United Kingdom John Reid, which recently is taking place with official visit of the British Foreign Minister Jack Straw in Tehran, Albania?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't necessarily think the connection between those two visits. The U.K. Minister of Defense is here in town. He's going to be having a meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld. Secretary Rice is going to see him for about 20 minutes or so, scheduled for about 20 minutes this afternoon. They have a lot of different issues to talk about. They'll talk about NATO-related issues, they'll talk about Iraq, and anything else that happens to be on the Minister's mind.
QUESTION: What about Balkans or Kosovo?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that it will come up, but if it does, the Secretary will certainly be prepared to talk to the Minister about it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Saul.
QUESTION: What does the U.S. think of the violence in Nepal? There are anti-monarchy protests, still rebel attacks, and obviously, you know that the police are involved in trying to put down the protest.
MR. MCCORMACK: We condemn the governing -- Nepal's banning of public gatherings and the detention of opposition party -- political party and civil society activists and we're seriously concerned about the government's ongoing curbs on civil liberties and human rights, which has led to serious unrest in Nepal. The arrests and harassment of pro-democracy activists violate their fundamental civil rights. The United States calls on the Government of Nepal to release these and other detained activists who have been held for voicing their opposition to autocratic rule in Nepal.
Dialogue between Nepal's constitutional political forces, the King and opposition political parties is the only effective way to return Nepal to democracy and address its malice insurgency. Such a dialogue is not possible in the climate in which freedoms of assembly and speech are suppressed.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on reports out of Cuba that the Cuban coast guard shot and killed at least one American who they believe were smuggling --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw those reports just before I came out and I made a call to gather some more information. Right now, we're in the information-gathering phase on this matter. It is -- the initial reaction, without having all the facts at this point, is that this is a deeply, deeply disturbing action and we are on top of looking into it. But beyond that, Teri, I don't think I can offer any further comment.
QUESTION: No sense, as of now, as to the credibility of those reports?
MR. MCCORMACK: I just don't have any information -- any more information to provide at this point, but our guys are actively looking into it.
QUESTION: Can you just ask then, without having gathered all the information, what it is about the information that you have that leads you to say it's deeply, deeply disturbing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, any -- if you have an American citizen who's been shot and killed, I think that that is a deeply disturbing matter and we would be very concerned about that.
QUESTION: Okay. I'm just wondering if that means you're also confirming that, yes, an American citizen has been shot --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I'm not. I'm not. There's an "if" in that sentence.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: There's a movement in Congress to change part of the Foreign Affairs manual on provisions for visas. Apparently there's a provision in the visa law that says that someone who advocates terror could still be eligible for a visa, as long as they're not inciting terror. And several members of Congress say that they're meeting resistance from the State Department on this and just wondering why in this kind of post-9/11 world why just advocating terror wouldn't be enough to disqualify someone from --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't claim to give you all the ins and outs of this particular piece of legislation. Certainly, we work very closely with Congress on matters of visa regulation, visa law and, in particular, on these very sensitive subjects about denying entry into the United States of those individuals who may endorse or espouse terrorism. Now, currently under section 212(a)(3)B of the U.S. visa regulations, consular officers have the authority, in consultation with an interagency process back here in Washington, to deny a visa to those individuals who may, as I said, endorse or espouse terrorism. Now, the reason why you have this communication between the post and Washington is you want to make sure that you have an accurate and fair application of the law and that the information provided by the consular office does in fact meet the criteria as listed under the laws and regulations.
QUESTION: So the whole provision of someone -- of it not necessarily being an absolute disqualifier. Is that because of issues of free speech or that doesn't necessarily make them a threat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you want to make sure that the facts actually meet the criteria of the regulations. So the American consular offices overseas have discretion. They have a bit of discretion here. Part of issuing visas is a matter of judgment and our consular officers are trained to take a look at the facts as they are before them. And if they have any concerns at all, any doubts at all, they're going to consult back with Washington and make sure that the facts that they may have and the concerns that they may have would, in fact, support a non-issuance, denying a visa to somebody.
QUESTION: Anything about aid to the Palestinians? Just really to get clarification on something that the Secretary said when she was on the Hill two days ago. She seemed to juxtapose two ideas but didn't quite finish the thought, I think. She said, we're not going to give aid; we're not going to give money to a Hamas-led government. Then she said but that there are, of course, could be emergencies and then said, we're going to help as much as we can on avian flu.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So was she telling us that the avian flu is considered an emergency that would allow the U.S. to have an exception to its rules about dealing with Hamas-led government ministries?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Saul, we're going to -- in the coming days ahead, I think have more for you on the results of our aid review. We've already talked about a couple sets of principles here. One, that we're not going to provide U.S. funds to a Hamas-led government. We don't deal with terrorists. We don't give money to terrorists. That is a principle that has guided us in this review.
We also, and the Secretary wanted to make sure that we retain the ability to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the Palestinian people. They will have humanitarian needs. It's very clear. We all know about those.
So in the coming days, we're going to have more to say about this. I don't have details for you. You bring up the topic of avian influenza.
MR. MCCORMACK: It is a source of real concern, preventing the outbreak and spread of avian influenza and we are going to look at ways how we can deal with that urgent priority to make sure that there isn't an outbreak -- potential outbreak of avian influenza in the region, in terms of how we allocate our budget support. So at this point, Saul, I don't have the details for you. I'd just say stay tuned; we're going to be talking about this more in the days ahead.
QUESTION: And one clarification on something else she said was -- she asked -- she said, "We are looking to increase humanitarian aid." Now, my only question is --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: What -- did that mean increase it over what we had originally planned in the budget for this year? Or increase it over what we did spend last year?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we're looking at, Saul, you have the humanitarian aid, which is what we would define as funneling through UNRWA, the UN agency, and I think that that's what, about 75 million this year -- it's about 75 million this year.
So what we're looking at is -- are ways to increase beyond that budget level, redirecting other monies that might have been set aside for projects that we might not be able to fund now, because of the Hamas-led government and U.S. laws. So we're going to take a look at how we allocate our money, Saul, but right now, the -- what was set aside for this year was about $75 million, so we're going to look at ways to increase that number.
QUESTION: All right. So are you saying that the humanitarian aid, you're categorizing as only the money that you've funneled through UNRWA, not money that was given through -- I don't know, USAID worked with NGOs on the ground?
MR. MCCORMACK: That was not what we classified as humanitarian aid. We referred to that as indirect assistance.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Palestinian still.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are conflicting reports that say that French officials have or have not met with Hamas actually in Gaza. Has the -- are you aware of those reports and have you asked the French --
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the reports. I don't know if we talked to them about it, but I've -- also have seen that they've come out and said that we -- they didn't have contact with Hamas.
MR. MCCORMACK: So they're in the best position to answer that question.
QUESTION: Is that --
MR. MCCORMACK: They're strongly --
QUESTION: Does that mean (inaudible) if they say they didn't meet with him?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we take them at their word.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sean, what do you make of Secretary Rumsfeld's comments yesterday that he didn't know what Rice was talking about when she said in Blackburn last week that the U.S. had committed perhaps thousands of errors in handling Iraq? Is that a sign of a rift here and their impressions of how they handled the Iraq situation?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, absolutely not. They're having lunch, as a matter of fact, as we speak, over with Mr. Hadley at the White House. If you look at the full transcript of what Secretary Rumsfeld said and the full transcript of what Secretary Rice said, they're -- you know, they're saying the same things. The strategic decisions were the right strategic decisions. The strategic decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power was the right one. And they're both saying that, of course, whether it's in diplomacy or whether it's in military operations or in terms of politics, of course you learn from mistakes that you've made. I think the Secretary said during the trip the only people who don't make mistakes are those people who don't make decisions.
So of course, throughout the Administration, people learn from errors that they may have made in order to do a better job. And that's what our government is committed to doing. And the Secretary herself said several times, in terms of that particular quote, she was speaking figuratively, not literally.
QUESTION: Well, if I could follow up, Secretary Rumsfeld, if you look at the full transcript, also said that whoever would say that has no understanding of what warfare is. I mean, do you think that was a kind of provocative comment to say against the Secretary?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld work together very closely, very well, and we all share the same goals here in terms of Iraq and elsewhere. And like I said, they're having lunch together right now.
Yes, a couple back here.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about Assistant Secretary Hill's trip to Tokyo, where he and his counterparts from the six-party talks attend a private conference? Do we expect him to have a direct conversation with his counterparts, especially North Korean counterparts, or even a meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: No plans for a meeting with North Korean counterparts. He's going over there primarily to have bilateral consultations and also talk to, I believe, a South Korean representative as well. So he's going to have a number of diplomatic contacts. At the same time, there's, I believe, an academic conference ongoing in Tokyo. I think he's probably going to attend that for a short period of time. But it's not -- the intent of the trip is not to have a contact in the context of this academic conference with a representative of the North Korean Government.
QUESTION: So while there are no plans to -- do you want to shut the door on that possibility and say he wouldn't meet with a North Korean counterpart while they're both in the same place?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are no plans to meet with him, Saul. If they do in fact meet or have some contact beyond saying hello and being polite to one another, we'll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)
DPB # 56
Released on April 6, 2006