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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 7, 2006

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 7, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 7, 2006

INDEX:

IRAQ
US Condemns Most Recent Bombing of Mosque in Baghdad

PALESTINIANS
US Review of Assistance to Palestinians

VENEZUELA
Reported Assault on US Ambassador's Car

GERMANY
Reported White Powder Incident in Berlin

IRAN
Prospects for Meeting with Iran Regarding Iraq
IAEA Director General ElBaradei's Visit to Iran
Iranian Journalists' US Visas and Restrictions

CUBA
Cuban Border Patrol Firing on Boat in Cuban Waters / Two American
Citizens Taken into Custody / One Unidentified Individual Killed

AZERBAIJAN
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Azerbaijan Foreign Minister /
Discussions on Nagorno-Karabakh, Economic Reform and
Democratization
Possible Visit to US by President of Azerbaijan

UNITED NATIONS
UN Headquarters Renovation / Funding

PERU
Upcoming Elections in Peru

JAPAN
Military Basing Proposal


TRANSCRIPT:

1:48 p.m. EDT


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everyone. Barry, how are you?

QUESTION: Good.

MR. MCCORMACK: George, how are you doing?

QUESTION: Fine.

MR. MCCORMACK: Good. We've got -- I have a couple statements that I'd like to get into before we begin the briefing. The first is that:

"We condemn this most recent bombing of a mosque in Baghdad. There was significant loss of life. This was clearly perpetrated by those who wish to divide Iraq, who wish to encourage sectarian strife and it was perpetrated by individuals who clearly have no respect for religion. These bombs went off -- this bomb went off during Friday prayers intended to inflict mass casualties.

"So our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have lost loved ones in this attack and we wish a speedy recovery to all those who were injured in it. We call upon all to exercise restraint and calm in this period.

"We are going to be working very closely with the Iraqi Government to take appropriate measures to strengthen security to help to prevent similar types of attack in the future."

Also I have a statement from Secretary Rice. This is concerning Palestinian assistance:

"The United States remains committed to President Bush's vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is our desire to help provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.

Consistent with these principles the United States will increase its humanitarian aid to help Palestinians in need. Basic humanitarian assistance -- including health, food and education -- will increase by 57 percent for a total of $245 million. The United States will also provide $42 million to strengthen civil society and independent institutions. Assistance will be administered through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and non-Palestinian Authority actors, including local and international nongovernmental organizations.

"Because the new Hamas-led Palestinian government has failed to accept the Quartet principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel and respect for previous agreements between the parties, the United States is suspending assistance to the Palestinian government's cabinet and ministries. The new Palestinian government must make -- must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies. The path back to the roadmap is clear -- acceptance of the three principles. If it accepts the Quartet principles, or a new government comes to power that accepts them, funding can be restored."

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Okay. Thanks very much. See you. (Laughter.) Have a good weekend.

George, why don't you go then?

QUESTION: Are there no questions on this?

QUESTION: Well, we have a briefing on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's fine.

QUESTION: I have a question --

QUESTION: Can I ask about --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: It's open to you. That's the -- I'm here for you.

QUESTION: Was this coordinated with the Europeans? Because the Europeans have made a similar -- the EU has made a similar announcement today.

MR. MCCORMACK: There is discussion with the Europeans. David Welch was -- had been talking to his EU counterparts throughout this process. We are operating off the basis of the Quartet principles. Those were the guiding principles that led us both through this review. However, I have to emphasize that both reviews were done independently. The European Union conducted their review. We conducted our review. But there was certainly conversation about where we were in the process of our review, as well as what the principles were that we were using to assess our programs.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Can you clarify for me whether any assistance is going to continue to go to President Abbas since the government -- the Palestinian government is kind of multi-headed there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that that is still an open question at this point, Charlie. I think David will probably have a little bit more detail for you. He has recently returned from the region and has had some conversations with President Abbas as well as others on the presidential staff. So I think that he could probably fill you in a bit more on that particular question. But to my knowledge there is, at this point, not any assistance planned for President Abbas's office.

Teri.

QUESTION: You only said what you were spending. What are the numbers on what you're cutting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We have a fact sheet out for you and David and others can brief you on the details of this, but here's my understanding of this. There is a total of $411 million worth of programs that are either suspended, cancelled or under further review. Of that $411 million in cancelled, suspended or under review programs, we're going to redirect $105 million so that we can increase humanitarian spending.

QUESTION: Is that included in the 245 then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: And to break down a little bit more of the suspended, cancelled, under review programs, you have $165 million of that $411 million total that is under ongoing review. Those programs fall into the categories of security, potential spending on security for border crossings, as well as a wastewater treatment plant. So that chunk of money is still under review. The remainder -- and then you have $105 million which is going to be redirected so that -- and the remainder of that is now going to be -- is your total for programs that are suspended or cancelled.

QUESTION: Okay. And it's a little bit surprising that there isn't any money going to Abbas's office since you were always so careful to specify that money could continue going to his office.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I'm not ruling it out. I'm not ruling it out. I'm just saying to my knowledge there -- in this stage of the review that there isn't money going to Abbas's office.

QUESTION: Do you know why not, like what held that up?

MR. MCCORMACK: You and David can get into a little bit more of the details on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Elise.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Bill Brownfield? His car was pelted with eggs and fruit and vegetables by supporters of government -- of President Chavez. And your Embassy spokesman is saying that the protest appears to be organized by the mayor of Caracas.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those reports, Elise. Clearly, we are very concerned about any incidence that might affect the security of our embassy personnel, including the ambassador. And we believe it is an important responsibility for any host government to work with the American embassy to help ensure that our personnel are protected in the way that we would expect them to be protected and in a way similar that we work with foreign embassies here in the United States to ensure that their personnel are protected.

QUESTION: Could you let us know if you have anything more specific on this particular incident?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: It was very serious.

QUESTION: And also what have you asked -- I mean, you said you've asked the -- or these reports said that the U.S. has asked the Venezuelan Government for increased security because this isn't the first time that Ambassador Brownfield has been a target. Can you say -- and also this current report said that security officials did nothing to intervene in this attack.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, again, I haven't seen these reports. But clearly, if that is in fact the case, that would be a source of serious concern to us.

QUESTION: And can you confirm that you've asked Venezuela for more security and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I haven't seen the reports so I haven't talked to anybody about that --

QUESTION: No, this has been an ongoing issue. Do you know whether in the past you have asked Venezuela?

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I haven't looked -- I haven't looked into the issue.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Semi-related issue. In Berlin, a postal worker is said to have come in contact with some white powder that leaked out of a letter addressed to the U.S. Ambassador. Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll look into for you, Charlie. I hadn't seen it.

QUESTION: Just curious.

QUESTION: Can you double back to the Iraq statement you made at the beginning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Two thoughts, or two questions. Has the State Department noticed any increase in activity by Hamas? Not only in Iraq but elsewhere there have been reports they're engaged in this -- you know, problems, in this unstable country or in that unstable country.

And secondly, you're going to talk to the Iraqis about improving security. Is there anything to be gained and do you try talking to Arab governments to see if they could possibly weigh in and do some good?

MR. MCCORMACK: On the first part of your question, Barry, I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: On the part about the Arab governments, certainly we encourage Arab governments to in any way they can support the Iraqi Government, whether that's politically, diplomatically, economically or with other kinds of assistance. So certainly we have encouraged for some time the Arab governments to play a positive role in Iraq. We continue to encourage them to do so. Each government is going to respond in a different way to that -- to that --

QUESTION: No, I meant particularly with training to restrain Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, with respect to Hamas, you know, we have talked with foreign governments about our views of Hamas as a terrorist organization. As for whether Hamas is involved in any activities in Iraq, I don't have any information for you on that and I hadn't seen those reports.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: Is this still on that? Hamas?

QUESTION: It was on Iran.

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: So is mine.

QUESTION: Go ahead, go ahead.

MR. MCCORMACK: He's sitting in the second row. You're in the third. See, he's first.

QUESTION: I'm sure you can't update us on the talks. There have been reports, however, out of Tehran that they wanted talks with the Americans in Baghdad as soon as this weekend, meeting perhaps in a third embassy.

MR. MCCORMACK: No meeting scheduled.

QUESTION: Well, what about this idea that there will be no talks until the Iraqis have formed their government and put forward their own people for this meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have -- don't have a timeline for such a meeting. Ambassador Khalilzad, as you know, has for some time had the authorization to have a meeting with his counterpart concerning issues of mutual concern in Iraq. We've had concerns about the Iranians' behavior in Iraq. We are calling for good, neighborly, transparent relations between Iraq and Iran.

As for whether there will be a meeting, we'll see. Ambassador Khalilzad does have that authorization so we'll try to keep you updated if, in fact, there is a meeting.

QUESTION: So you still want this meeting to go ahead?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, there -- again, this is something that Zal has had the authority to do for some time, going back into the fall. We made back in the fall time an initial offer to the Iranian Government saying that this channel of communication was open on this narrow set of topics. They had no interest in it at that time.

Now that they find themselves under the scrutiny and the harsh spotlight of the international community concerning their nuclear activities, all of a sudden they're interested. So at this point there is not a meeting scheduled and we'll see. We'll see if there is such a meeting. We'll try to -- like I said, we'll try to keep you updated.

QUESTION: Did you notice that ElBaradei is going there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. I saw that.

QUESTION: And do you have any reflections on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Inasmuch as his trip involves reinforcing the message to the Iranian Government that it must come into compliance with its NPT obligations, that it must heed the call of the IAEA Board of Governors, then that certainly is positive.

QUESTION: So you think he will be reinforcing the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we certainly hope that that is the message that he will be sending.

QUESTION: Just -- oh, you remember those Iranian exercises that -- I don't know if it was you or Adam was talking about the other day? Do you have anything new on that? There's some British think tank that finds some cause for concern over something called a flying boat, and I don't even know what a flying boat is. (Laughter.) But they have found reason for concern. This is in --

QUESTION: Howard Hughes.

QUESTION: Hmm?

QUESTION: Howard Hughes.

QUESTION: Howard Hughes. I think he's dead now.

You don't have anything new to say?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything new.

QUESTION: You're going to dismiss as, you know, they bloviate, they kind of exaggerate their prowess. But you have nothing new on an assessment of --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have nothing new on that assessment, Barry.

QUESTION: And do you know what a flying boat is? No?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen pictures of flying boats. Yeah.

Elise.

QUESTION: This is about Iranian journalists in the U.S. There are a couple of, I think, a handful of visas that you gave Iranian journalists and some of them, particularly the ones that worked for the Iranian News Agency, have the same restrictions as diplomats in the sense that they're limited to a 25-mile radius of New York. Now, in recent months, you've talked about the need to increase cultural exchanges and try and forge more understanding about the Iranian people and the United States. Do you think it would be wise to kind of give Iranian journalists more of a license to travel the country so as to bring that greater understanding of America back home?

MR. MCCORMACK: You're certainly right that we are seeking ways to speak directly to the Iranian people. Officials from the State Department and other government agencies on a regular basis do interviews with Persian language media outlets that broadcast into Iran.

As for the government journalists, I don't -- I'm not aware of any move at this point to reexamine these -- any restrictions that may be placed upon their movement. I would assume that there are good reasons for those restrictions. I'll be happy to check into the matter whether or not there is any -- there's any interest in revisiting whether or not there will be any changes to those restrictions.

QUESTION: I understand --

MR. MCCORMACK: But I would underscore the fact that there are -- there are a lot of different ways to speak directly to the Iranian people, a number of different outlets. And as I said, our officials on a regular basis appear on those outlets.

QUESTION: Understood. But I mean, in terms of the whole idea of cultural exchanges, isn't it better for Iranians themselves to see what America's like and put that back home, as opposed to State Department officials or any government officials kind of giving -- you know, trying to speak about America? I mean, isn't it better to hear from the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it doesn't -- in a sense it doesn't really matter who's doing the interview. I know it matters to some of you. But the important point for us is the ability to speak directly to the Iranian people and the message that we send in certainly the hopes that the Iranian people are listening.

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday you were asked about the so-called smuggling event from Cuba.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I wondered is there an update. Specifically I guess what we were looking for is identification of the dead person.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Don't have anything --

QUESTION: No?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new on that -- on that part.

QUESTION: Okay. And have you got consular access to the two people taken -- detained?

QUESTION: Can you give us your general update on the situation?

QUESTION: Or whatever.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: If you have a fresh account.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our Interests Section in Havana can confirm that there are two Americans that are currently in Cuban custody. They were taken into custody following an incident in which the Cuban border patrol fired on a boat in Cuban waters. They were carrying -- this boat was carrying these two Americans plus an unidentified individual who was killed.

At this point, we don't have a Privacy Act waiver so we're unable to provide further information on the American citizens. U.S. consular officials are seeking consular access to them in custody, so we haven't gotten consular access at this point.

QUESTION: So you know they were -- they are Americans?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But the dead fellow you don't know?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't know. That's right.

QUESTION: Has consular access been denied or you're just in the process of seeking it?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're in the process of seeking it.

QUESTION: Is there a problem, Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: They're in Cuba.

QUESTION: But -- I understand that -- where are they being held in Cuba? Are they in a jail? Are they --

MR. MCCORMACK: I assume they're -- they're in custody with -- I don't know exactly --

QUESTION: You don't have any more detail?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know exactly -- I don't have any more details for you, Teri.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you -- is there any specific thing that's holding up identification of the third person? Do we have to ask Cuban officials to let us ID the third person?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't -- (*computer chirp*). That was an interesting noise, Charlie, from your computer. (Laughter.) Of course, in this particular circumstance we'd be dependent on Cuban authorities to allow access or to provide the information.

QUESTION: Okay. And you don't have any independent evidence as to what they were doing when they were shot at?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the information that we have.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: I had a -- I have a couple of things, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Just a clarification on the Palestinian aid. My understanding was that the overall budget for Palestinians for this year was only $150 million.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So we're talking about --

MR. MCCORMACK: And David and his compatriots, when they come up here, can explain this in greater detail. But when we're talking about this money, this is what they refer to in Washington as multi-year money. So it has -- the government is authorized to spend it across a period of time, not restricted to one fiscal year. So some of this funding goes back to the previous administration, I think, to some funds that were not spent. So again, the budget experts can explain in greater detail the breakdown of this money from current fiscal year money as well as past fiscal year money.

QUESTION: I was looking for a readout on the Azerbaijan Foreign Minister's meeting with the Secretary.

MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary met with the Azerbaijan Foreign Minister. They discussed a number of issues of bilateral interest, both to the United States and Azerbaijan. They talked about Nagorno-Karabakh. They talked about economic reform and democratization in Azerbaijan. The Secretary emphasized the importance of respect for human rights and moving forward on the democratization process in Azerbaijan.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think Dave is done yet.

QUESTION: Was there any talk of a visit to the United States by the President of Azerbaijan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Inasmuch as a visit to the United States by the President of Azerbaijan might concern the White House, I'll leave it to the White House to discuss such visits -- potential visits.

QUESTION: Nagorno-Karabakh was the very first initiative that Secretary Powell dove into when he took office. And I was just wondering if Secretary Rice had any inclination to become more involved in mediating the conflict.

MR. MCCORMACK: She actually has been very much involved in this. There was a recent meeting in Rambouillet, France where we had great hopes that the two presidents, the Armenian and the Azerbaijani president, would be able to come to some resolution, some agreement on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In advance of that meeting, the Secretary spoke with both of the presidents. And she has also been very much involved with Assistant Secretary Dan Fried as well as others who have been working to move this issue towards a resolution. So she's certainly up to date on where the discussions stand. We hope that both sides can -- in the wake of the talks in France, again provide some renewed impetus to those discussions and come to an agreement that would resolve this longstanding issue.

QUESTION: I have one. There's a report that the U.S. is holding up the money for UN renovation. We want the cost to be lower than the United Nations is asking for. Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can check into it for you, Teri.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: George.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the presidential election in Peru on Sunday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's -- we're looking forward to what we hope is a free and fair election in Peru. It's going to be -- it's a closely contested election, so we will await the outcome. We look forward to working with the democratically elected leader of Peru on a number of important issues of interest both to Peru and the United States.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: This is regarding the base relocation talks in Japan. They're able to get -- the Japanese Government and the local authorities were able to come to an agreement regarding the relocation of Futenma Base to Camp Schwab. And do you think that this time there'll be some forward movements in the talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen those news reports and I think at this point the Department of Defense is reviewing the proposal from the Japanese side and I think that they'd be in a better position to give you a detailed read of where -- what their thoughts on the -- what their thoughts are on that proposal.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)

DPB # 57

Released on April 7, 2006

ENDS

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