State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 3, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 3, 2006
Secretary's Statement on 16th World Press Freedom Day
Barry Lowenkron and John Bellinger to be Senior Representatives at
Convention Against Torture Talks
Informal Task Force on Possible South Pacific Tsunami Established
/ Department in Contact with Ambassadors in Pacific Region /
Status of Peace Negotiations / Sudanese Government Holds Keys to
Deputy Secretary Zoellick's Meetings with Sudanese Government
officials, AU Mediators, Nigerian President Obasanjo
Deputy Secretary Zoellick Committed to Positive Outcome in Sudan
Read-out of Under Secretary Burns Meetings in Paris
Update on UN and UNSC Diplomacy regarding Iran / Chapter 7
Role of Russia
Secretary Rice meeting in New York next week
President Chen's Air Transit Through U.S.
SYRIA / FRANCE
Secretary working with French Foreign Minister on Syrian
Implementation of Resolution 1559 JAPAN
Readout of Secretary's Meeting With Japanese Foreign Minister Taro
Lack of Human Rights, Press Freedom of Deep Concern / Role of U.S.
Special Envoy Lefkowitz
Hamas to Blame for Financial Troubles of Palestinian Authority
U.S. Will Not Provide Money to Terrorist Organization
U.S. has increased Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinian People
U.S. Not Blocking Legitimate Private Commerce
U.S. working with Transitional Government to End Violence, Fight
Terror SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
U.S. Urges Cooperation with International Criminal Tribunal for
the Former Yugoslavia
1:58 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one opening statement from the Secretary and then we can get right into questions. This concerns the 16th World Press Freedom Day.
"As the United States celebrates World Press Freedom Day, we hail the courageous sacrifices made by journalists around the world to report the facts, even at the cost of their lives and their freedom. Every day brave men and women risk harassment, beatings, detention, imprisonment and even death simply for seeking to share the truth with others around the world. In other countries, the crackdown on press freedoms include: tightening libel laws, a concentration of media ownership, restricted internet search engines and diminishing independent press outlets.
"In China, 62 cyber-dissidents are being held in prison. Zhao Yan, a New York Times researcher, was also charged with revealing state secrets in connection with a 2004 New York Times story on leadership changes in China. Despite the charges recently being dropped, he still has not been released. In Zimbabwe, security forces selectively harassed, beat and arbitrarily arrested members of the media.
"In Venezuela, the combination of new laws governing libel and broadcast media content, legal harassment against journalists, and physical intimidation has resulted in limitations on press freedoms and a climate of self-censorship. In Russia, the Government continued to weaken media independence, particularly of major network -- television networks. In Iran, press freedom has eroded. In addition to harassing and imprisoning journalists, the Iranian Cultural Ministry has ordered the daily newspaper, Asia, to be closed and banned a planned women's publication, Nour-e Banovan, from being published.
"While the United States will continue working to advocate for greater global press freedom, all free societies carry the responsibility to press restrictive governments to allow an open press. Independent media empowers people, exposes corruption, encourages transparency and prompts participation in the political process. Without it, society as a whole suffers."
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: In Iran, a writer, he's not exactly a journalist but Mr. Jahanbegloo -- I'm not sure how to pronounce his name. Do you have any reaction to this -- he's a well-known writer in Iran being held by the Government because he tried to leave the country.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have specifics on that case. But clearly the human rights situation in Iran has taken a turn for the worst, especially since the election of Ahmadi-Nejad. I noted just in this statement a couple of examples where they've cracked down on freedom of expression through the media. There are numerous other examples of human rights abuses in Iran. On this particular case, I don t have the facts, be happy to look into it for you though.
QUESTION: Okay. And in Kazakhstan, I believe the Government is taking over the national news network as well. Anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have talked to the Government of Kazakhstan about the importance of a free, open and vibrant media as part of an evolving democracy, so certainly any moves that would run counter to that kind of idea and that kind of trend would be a source of concern to us.
QUESTION: Sudan. The Secretary had a few words today that sounded slightly optimistic. That was a few hours ago. Can you update us on your -- on whether it looks like this is the time we're going to get an agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see, Barry. I think that now is the time that the Government of Sudan, the rebel leaders, are faced with decisions. They are faced with decisions of whether or not this area of the world will have a better, more peaceful future, or whether we will continue to see the humanitarian tragedy unfold as we have for the past couple of years.
So they are the ones that hold the keys to a solution. We are working with the parties. We, along with others, are working to try to bring the parties to an agreement. The folks out in Abuja have characterized their discussions as -- the atmosphere there is one where they believe the parties want to come to an agreement; now it is a matter of transferring that desire, that will, into reality.
So Deputy Secretary Zoellick is there. He has had a number of meetings. He met with the Sudanese delegation today, just to bring you up to date on his meetings. He met with African Union mediators who, by the way, are doing terrific work. They have been on the ground there for some time, day-in, day-out, hour by hour, working to try to bring these parties together.
He has also met with Nigerian President Obasanjo, who is deeply engaged in these discussions, and we are all grateful for his personal involvement on these matters. And Deputy Secretary Zoellick also may meet later with African Union Commission Chairman Konare -- again, somebody who has been deeply involved in these negotiations and really has taken a personal interest and spent quite a bit of time trying to bring the parties together.
Deputy Secretary Zoellick has -- some of these meetings he's on his own, some of them have been in concert with Hilary Benn, who is the minister from the UK on the ground there. There are also a number of African leaders who are traveling to Abuja. I don't have the whole list, but there's intense international interest here to bring pressure to bear on the parties to come to an agreement. But again, they are the ones that hold the keys to coming to an agreement here.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any telephone calls today? President Bush phoned the Sudanese President yesterday. Has the Secretary reached out to anyone in terms of getting them to send more senior negotiators? Has Taha gone?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, he has not arrived there yet. You rightly point out President Bush did call President Bashir to urge him to send a senior-level representative back to Abuja. Vice President Taha was there earlier. We encourage his return.
And in terms of the Secretary's involvement, she is in contact with Deputy Secretary Zoellick, getting a readout from him. She is also able to inform the President of the progress or the situation on the ground there now. She is absolutely ready to make whatever phone calls might be necessary, if need be. At this point it's been determined that that is not what is needed right now, but she certainly stands ready to do whatever it takes to help bring these parties to an agreement.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion of enforcement of an agreement should one be reached? These agreements in certain regions have a way of unraveling. I can remember the celebration when there was a peace agreement signed in Eastern Congo in '98. In the wake of that, 4 million people died and are continuing to die. So my basic question is, what about enforcement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's a very important point. It is -- the first step is getting to the piece of paper that outlines a common understanding. As I mentioned yesterday, implementation of that agreement is equally, if not more important. We have had some experience with successful implementation of agreements in this region. You pointed out one negative example, but one positive example thus far has been the comprehensive agreement between the Government of Sudan and those in the South.
Now certainly, there have been bumps in the road in implementation of that agreement and we have to monitor that closely and constantly to make sure that it does move forward. But we think that that is a model for how a political accommodation can work in this region and that would include the Government of Sudan. So you're right to point out that it's a big issue. It's something, that if we do get to an agreement, that we are going to be deeply involved, along with other countries in the region and others around the world who have an interest in this, to see that it happens.
QUESTION: You were speaking about the intense international pressure, is it just to give guarantees for the implementation of this agreement if it happens?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the -- I think international attention does have a way of focusing the efforts and the energies of those involved in negotiations. Our hope is that the presence of members of the international community, including Deputy Secretary Zoellick, representatives of the AU, will have a positive effect. It's not pressure in the negative sense, but the positive sense of helping them come to agreement, bridge differences, offer suggestions. But ultimately, they are the ones that are going to have to come to an agreement on this.
And in terms of implementation, certainly, I think that it is a positive sign that at this stage during the negotiation phase, you have many, many countries and organization -- international organizations interested in seeing an agreement reached. So we would hope that if there is an agreement that that level of interest and effort is reflected in the implementation of the agreement.
QUESTION: Today the Senate approved an amendment to the emergency spending bill by Senator Biden to create a special office for an envoy to Sudan. As far as the Administration and the State Department is concerned, is this an issue of resources or do you not think that the time is right for a special envoy? A lot of people have been calling...
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We have had a special envoy in the past. Senator Danforth served in that capacity and really brought to closure that North-South agreement that we had talked about earlier. Right now, Deputy Secretary Zoellick is really the point person in terms of the diplomacy on this issue. He is deeply involved in it. He spends a tremendous amount of time on it back here in Washington and we see the effort that he's putting in in Abuja. He works very closely with Assistant Secretary Frazer, as well as his Special Representative Roger Winter. So you have a lot of people working on this at a high level in Washington. So there is high-level attention to this. And that isn't -- mention also the personal interest and effort that the Secretary has put in, as well as the President of the United States.
President Bush has really from day one of this Administration back to 2001, had an interest in this issue. He is the one that raised it with his advisors as something that he wanted to work on, so he has an intense interest in that. That interest is reflected by the effort of the U.S. Government.
Now as for the issue of a special envoy, I know it's an idea that is out there. Certainly, if the senior policymakers in the U.S. Government believe it's the right thing to do at the right moment, of course, they'll take a look at it. But right now we have Deputy Secretary Zoellick and his team that are working very intensely on this issue.
QUESTION: But as you know, well the people that are calling first -- both in Congress and human rights and groups in Darfur, advocates, say that you really need someone to kind of work this issue, you know, day-in, day-out. That needs to be their only focus. As you know, the Deputy Secretary also has several other large issues on his portfolio. Do you think not that there should be someone who -- their full-time job is to just manage the Sudan issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not sure if they met Deputy Secretary Zoellick. He is an enormously capable and talented diplomat. He has a tremendous capacity to deal with this, as well as other issues. And when he has an intense interest in something like this, I can assure you that we are putting our best on the topic.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense for how long he's willing to stay over there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that as I've said before, he's a results-oriented individual and he is going to put in the time and the effort that he thinks is required to move this process forward. I don't think that he himself has set a timeline, but he is also interested in seeing this process move forward, working with the AU and working with the parties. So at this point I don't have a timeline, but he is deeply involved in this process and I think he'll make the decision on the ground there in consultation with the Secretary and the President about what the appropriate next steps are, if there are any, coming out of these negotiations.
QUESTION: Yesterday you said that he was in listening mode, so I take it today he's in fighting mode? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not an either/or thing. It's not an either/or thing.
QUESTION: But in his discussions with the Sudanese in particular, has he been asking them about an international force and a NATO force? Has that also been part of the discussion? Because as George pointed out, you know, you would need someone to implement all of this at the same time and to monitor it and to help it along.
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't gotten that level of detailed readout. He has been in meetings basically back-to-back. So we'll see what we can do to get a little more granularity about the topics of discussion and exactly what he's heard from the various parties, but he's in the mode of working. As you mentioned, he listened to the various parties, their views, their ideas. So I think now at this point there is an effort to see how you can come to solutions that are acceptable to everybody on the various issue areas. But we'll try to get you some more.
QUESTION: Amnesty International is critical of the --
QUESTION: Can we finish?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let's go to the same issue. We'll come back to you, Barry.
QUESTION: Sean, are you putting pressure on the Sudanese Government or on the rebels to achieve an agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: As I mentioned before, when I talk about international pressure, I talk about it in the positive sense. Certainly, in order for this to work in terms of coming to an agreement, you need the Government of Sudan. They themselves have already said that they agreed to a draft that had been tabled by the AU. We're seeing what modifications might be made to that draft agreement that was tabled by the AU -- whatever modifications are acceptable to the rebel groups as well as the Government of Sudan. So that's the task at hand right now.
We're certainly working with the Government of Sudan to play a positive and active role in coming to an agreement as part of what we're doing. And as part of that, we hope that the Government of Sudan does send a senior representative back to Abuja: Vice President Taha.
QUESTION: Amnesty International critical of U.S. treatment of prisoners, detainees -- slow they say the U.S. Government is to responding to suggestions. Do you have any response to all of that? And there's a conference in Geneva in a few days and I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about the kind of representation the U.S. will have.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the first part of your question, certainly, there is no more staunch defender of human rights around the world than the United States Government. There are some who have a different view. Amnesty International is one of those groups that put out these reports. They certainly are entitled to their opinion. As for the review group on the Convention Against Torture, we are sending over there Assistant Secretary Barry Lowenkron as well as John Bellinger, who is our Legal Adviser. So they'll be representing the United States at that review.
QUESTION: The reports -- not to overdo it, but the reports said it's going to be a huge -- a 30-person delegation?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure there are going to be other people involved in this. I'm just telling you who from the State Department will be the senior-level representation.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Reporters Without Borders put out a report today on the journalism in the world and said that Cuba is the only jail for journalists. This is very similar to what the State Department said in the human rights report. There is no improvement. Do you think there's any -- should be any change in policy or insisting on the same thing, because it's the same thing all over again.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the Cuban Government treatment of the press?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, journalists.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think this has been a problem for about 40 years and -- you know, the problem lie with one person, Fidel Castro, and the policies that he has forced upon the Cuban people. So it's a sad situation, where the Cuban people are suffering and freedom of expression is virtually nonexistent in Cuba. The Cuban Government has criticized the United States Government merely for putting a display on the side of its Interests Section that is meant to convey facts to the Cuban people. So clearly, they have a problem with facts. They must have a problem with the free press.
QUESTION: Sean, on the earthquake that struck in the South Pacific, do you have any update on that from U.S. officials over there and the potential for a tsunami?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We have been in contact with our ambassadors in the region. Just so you know, the U.S.-Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the U.S. Geological Survey have issued tsunami warnings. We're monitoring the situation. As I said, we have an informal task force established here at the State Department. We're in contact with our ambassadors in the region. We don't have any reports at this point from our ambassadors about any aftereffects of the earthquake, but certainly, it's something that we're going to be watching very closely. We have, in addition to those steps, notified all the Peace Corps volunteers in the region.
So we have, we think, a good level of awareness, certainly, among the official U.S. Government representation there and part of what they do in these types of circumstances. Those also try to notify any American citizens that are also in the region, but it's a situation that we're going to be monitoring closely.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Can we go to Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you give us a wrap-up of Nick's talks yesterday? In some comments he made upon leaving last night, he seemed to be more critical than previously on Russia and, in particular, said that they absolutely need to stop their arms deals with Iran and they need to get tougher. They need to join the rest and get tougher on Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he did say those things and I don't have anything -- certainly, I wouldn't modify anything that he said in Paris yesterday. I think he gave a pretty good summary of where we stand. This is -- we are coming upon a time for decision by members of the international community about whether or not the Security Council is going to take strong diplomatic measures to, if you will, meet the continued defiance of the Iranian regime to the will of the international community.
The international community has requested now, through an IAEA Board of Governors statement, as well as a Security Council presidency statement, that they come back into the mainstream of good international behavior, immediately suspend their enrichment activities, as well as take several other steps that would help rebuild some of the trust that they have eroded over time with the international community. Their answer to that has been continued defiance. They announced that they have achieved some level of success in terms of enriching uranium. They make statements about new deposits of uranium ore.
So this is hardly the behavior of a regime at this point that is interested in constructive interaction with the international community. As a result, we think it is appropriate that Russia take a look at what its level of cooperation is with Iran. And certainly, we don't think it's appropriate that they continue with arms sales to such a regime, a regime that has talked about wiping Israel off the face of the map. In our view, that's not a regime to whom you should be selling arms.
Now in terms of where we stand now on the debate in the Security Council with regard to Iran, I would expect that this afternoon is the -- marks the beginning of that discussion. I think the initial discussions will be about the IAEA report which is a report that again catalogs Iran's continued defiance of the international community and also catalogs a list of questions that remain unanswered. And in our view and in the view of many others where those questions lead to this conclusion that Iran is engaged in development of a nuclear weapon.
As a result of that continued defiance and the facts that have been assembled thus far, we believe the next appropriate step is a Chapter 7 resolution. The time is now for a Chapter 7 resolution. And that is what we are going to be working towards in the Security Council. That has been -- that was the topic, the general topic of discussion among the political directors in Paris, Under Secretary Burns and his counterparts. Secretary Rice is going to be in New York next week, Monday night. She is going to have a dinner meeting with her counterparts to take up the issue of Iran. I can't tell you right now where we are going to be in the course of the Security Council debate about Iran, but certainly I think that it will be a good, interesting conversation up in New York on Monday.
QUESTION: Is the increased -- go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: That's Monday now and not Tuesday?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It'll be Monday night.
QUESTION: Is the increase --
MR. MCCORMACK: Monday. We changed. It's Monday night.
QUESTION: The increased annoyance with Russia, though, is that -- I mean, are you really surprised? They haven't ever pretended they are going to change this view. So did you just somehow think that as they saw Iran's continued defiance, as you describe it, that they would come into line with U.S. and British European views?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of difference of views, they're -- certainly, they are to this point coming at it from a different tactical point of view. We, as well as others think that now it is an appropriate -- it is appropriate to take strong steps in the form of a Chapter 7 resolution. That's going to be a topic of continuing discussion.
Well, as for the other -- the other issues, it is something that we have talked to them in the past about. But we think that you now have a qualitatively different situation in which Iran has said that it has taken the step of enriching uranium in contravention of the direct request of the international community. So as a result of that, as well other actions, we think it's appropriate that the Russian Government take a second look at its cooperation with the Iranian regime, certainly in the areas of arms sales, as well in the area of nuclear cooperation. This has much less to do with the Russian Government than with the Iranian Government and their behavior. We think it's an appropriate reaction to take a look and see whether or not it is appropriate to continue that kind of cooperation and to follow through on their previous agreement to sell arms.
MR. MCCORMACK: Elise.
QUESTION: What about the criticism from Russia and China that if you use a Chapter 7 resolution that the United States could use that as a pretext to use military action similar to the way it did in Iraq? I know you've talked that it's not about military action right now, but that is a concern of Russia and China when signing on to a Chapter 7
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, we've made clear the President -- from the President on down, that we are on a diplomatic course. We are -- the agenda now is diplomacy. And while the President never takes any options off the table, we are on a diplomatic course. And in our view this Chapter 7 resolution would focus specifically on the issue of suspension of uranium activities, as well as some other possible steps that the Iranian Government might take to start to rebuild that confidence with the international community. So our focus is on diplomatic action. Our focus is on using those diplomatic levers at the disposal of the United States and the international community to get Iran to change its behavior.
QUESTION: Are you still optimistic, though, that you're going to achieve a Chapter 7 resolution? And secondly, Germany and some others say that the time is now right for you to be talking directly to Iran and that that would lower the temperature and really help with this. So are you -- that's one of the reasons why Angela Merkel is here today to speak to President Bush to ask you to speak directly to Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to speak exactly what the -- Chancellor Merkel might raise with President Bush. She'll obviously have the chance to raise whatever she wants to in just a couple of hours and I think that there's also a plan for them to appear before media as well.
In terms of whether or not we believe that we can get a Chapter 7 resolution, we think that certainly the behavior of the Iranian regime in terms of its defiance easily merits a Chapter 7 resolution. This is, again, a strong diplomatic step but it is again a progressive step. It is incremental. And we think that their continued defiance certainly merits a Chapter 7 resolution and we think that after some appropriate discussion on the matter that the Security Council will also agree that it is time to take that step.
QUESTION: And what about the issue of direct talks with Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are plenty of channels of communication that are available if the Iranian Government wants to pass information to the United States Government or if the United States Government wants to pass information to the Iranian Government. We have been fully supportive of the engagement of the EU-3 as well as the Russian Government. We have gone so far as to remove any objection that we previously had to the Iran beginning talks with the WTO in terms of Iran joining that body. We also said that we would consider sale of aircraft parts to Iran. So we have taken positive steps not only to -- that really reaffirms the rhetoric that we have put out in public as well, supporting the EU-3 as well as the Russian Government.
Thus far, those negotiations have been fruitless. As a matter of fact, at every turn the Iranian Government has really poked its finger in the eye of the international community during those negotiations. The EU-3 said that those negotiations had reached a dead end because the Iranian regime sought to engage in this salami-slicing tactic where they thought that they could keep the negotiations going without reaching any sort of end, meanwhile they continue on with their nuclear weapons development. Finally, the EU-3 said enough is enough. The Russian Government has also reached a certain frustration level with their efforts to get the Iranian regime to engage.
So there's been no shortage of international communication both in public as well as private with the Iranian regime. Thus far, they have sought to defy the international community so now we believe it's appropriate that we in the international community increase the diplomatic pressure and to see if that brings about a change of behavior.
QUESTION: Along the issue, has Germany asked the Secretary of State or Nick Burns or any other senior official -- or any other country, for that matter -- urged the U.S. to engage in direct talks at this stage?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen no public comments on the matter. I can't speak to whether or not it's been raised with Nick Burns. I can't recall it having been raised directly with the Secretary, but I was -- I haven't been privy to every conversation she's had. Whether or not Chancellor Merkel raises it with the President, we'll see. The White House, I am sure, will talk about that. But I think that in terms of the international community's involvement in negotiations and communication with the Iranian regime, there's certainly been plenty of that. In the future, I'm sure there will be plenty more. But there is the opportunity for plenty more.
But it is now incumbent upon the Iranian regime to take steps that help rebuild the trust that they have really destroyed with the international community.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, just quickly on -- it may not be related, it may be related. But I understand the Taiwanese President is not being allowed to stop off, as he wanted to, in San Francisco or New York. Is this a sop to China at this difficult time in negotiations?
MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is he had chosen not to travel on this trip. I think he's cancelled his trip. That's the latest information that I have. He was offered transit through the United States, as is customary with our policy, when he chooses to travel, but he has decided not to travel.
QUESTION: The Taiwanese press says that he was given Alaska but was turned down for San Francisco and New York. Are you saying that those reports are not true?
MR. MCCORMACK: What I'm saying is he was offered transit consistent with our previous policy and actions with regard to requests from him to travel. He was offered a transit through Anchorage, Alaska. I understand now -- the latest information I have that we've received from TECRO is that he has chosen not to travel. That's his decision.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Burns said yesterday that the U.S. and France working to introduce a new strong resolution to pressure Syria to implement Resolution 1559. Can you update us on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is -- the Secretary is going to, right now, try to talk to Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy about this up in New York. We're trying to arrange a meeting between the two of them. Certainly in the wake of Terje Larsen's report, we think that some other measure through the Security Council might be merited. We're going to talk to the French Government about that. We have worked very well together on this issue and we look forward to doing so in the future.
QUESTION: Do you know when the meeting -- you expect the meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to keep you up to date on her schedule.
QUESTION: That's when she goes to New York (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, possibly in New York. It hasn't been completely set yet.
QUESTION: Back to Iran for one second.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you expect this afternoon that the draft text of a Chapter 7 resolution will be introduced in the consultations?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check with UN. I know that they're going to start with a discussion of Director General ElBaradei's report. I'm not sure if they're going to actually informally table any text. It has been, at an informal level, shared it with -- shared among the various parties in Paris. That's really what was the meat of their conversation, specific text as well as the ideas that are reflected by that text. So formally, I'm not sure when something might get tabled, but certainly it is circulating informally.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), but did anybody here notice a GAO report mildly critical of the way the U.S. State Department is going about getting its message to the Muslim world? The facts credit State with -- it's a new program, it credits State with reforming it even as they criticize the State Department.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you happen to have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the report, Barry.
QUESTION: Can we have a readout of the meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sure. They talked about a number of different topics. It really ranged across the board. They talked about the issue of beef -- U.S. beef getting into Japan. They talked about Iran. They talked about Iraq. They talked about Security Council reform. They talked about the six-party talks. They talked about the India civil nuclear deal that the United States has negotiated and that is now under consideration by the Congress. So there was really sort of -- it was a wide-ranging discussion, as you would expect, between two close allies.
QUESTION: Anything new on the U.S. beef?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. We'll certainly let you know if we do hear anything new on that.
QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned earlier about where the freedom -- press freedom.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: As you know, North Korea Kim Jong-il is not improve their human rights condition in North Korea yet. Also, very isolated reaching information and no freedom of press and no freedom of speech. Do you have any idea how can the United States help them?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of a free press in North Korea?
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think there's anything in North Korea that anybody would characterize as a free press. The North Korean news agencies are state-owned, are an organ of the state and basically put out propaganda. As for the human rights situation in North Korea, it is something that is of great concern to the United States, the United States Government, the plight of the North Korean people, and is of great concern to many other countries around the world. President Bush has appointed a special envoy just on that issue, Mr. Lefkowitz. So it is -- part of what we're trying to do is raise awareness about the issue and doing what we can to try to help improve the situation there.
QUESTION: Sean, on funding for the Hamas-led Palestinian Government --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Cutting off funding is one thing, but the Prime Minister of the Government says -- is accusing the U.S. of using sanctions, threats against banks to, to disrupt the delivery of money that they're getting from the Arab League and others. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We talked about this a little bit yesterday. There is going to be, I expect, and we've seen it -- seen it today in these statements by Mr. Ania, a concerted effort to try to blame somebody else for the situation in which the Hamas-led government now finds itself. They want to blame everybody around the world, point the finger at everybody else instead of looking at the real cause, which is their failure to take the positive decisions that the international community has asked them to take.
They are the ones who broke with the practice of the past Palestinian Authority in being a partner for peace, in seeking a two-state solution with Israel, trying to find a solution across the negotiating table. They have chosen a different path. And as a result of that, the international community has made clear that there will be consequences for that and one of those consequences is that we, as well as others, are not going to provide money to a terrorist organization. We are going to take into account the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. We, in fact, have increased our humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.
So the difficulties that the Palestinian Hamas-led government might be experiencing now are wholly of their own making. They are going to want to blame others for that, but the Palestinian people need to understand that it is, at this moment, a Hamas-led government that is the single biggest obstacle to their realizing a two-state solution. They are the ones who are standing in the way of that, nobody else. So it's clear that they are -- this Hamas-led government is increasingly uncomfortable with the situation in which they find themselves now, but they are the ones that put themselves there.
QUESTION: Is there interference by the United States in banking?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have said if there is to be private commerce between -- legitimate private commerce between private businesses and Palestinian areas and outside businesses, whether that's in Europe or the United States, we have no problem with that. With respect to the United States, people would have to comply with whatever, you know, licensing requirements might exist. But in terms of legitimate private commerce, there's no problem with that.
The reason why they may be experiencing some problem is because private entities are making their own decisions about the risks of doing business in those Palestinian areas where -- when you have a government that is led by a terrorist organization. So those are calculations that private business will make and they are theirs to make.
QUESTION: The Somali President talked today about U.S. efforts to contain terrorist activities in Somalia. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw those comments, George. We are working with the transitional -- the individual members of the transitional government to try to create a better situation in Somalia. That's a country that has been wracked with violence for quite some time and the people have suffered greatly. So you know, our principle here is to try to build institutions and a working government that can help improve the lives of the Somali people. Our other operating principle is to work with responsible individuals and certainly members of the transitional government in fighting terror. It's a real concern of ours -- terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another safe haven for terrorists created.
So I'm not sure sort of the origin of these remarks in terms of what he has in mind, but our interest is purely in seeing Somalia achieve a better day, and part of that is working with the transitional government in building up real institutions that function there.
Dave Gollust, once more.
QUESTION: It appears that Serbia and the EU have had a real falling out over the Mladic issue and the EU has broken off talks with Serbia about membership. I just wonder if you had any comment on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: We support the European Union and their efforts to ensure that Ratko Mladic is transferred to The Hague to face justice. The United States continues to urge Serbia and Montenegro to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and to arrest and transfer all fugitive indictees, most notably Ratko Mladic. Full Euro-Atlantic integration will not be possible until Serbia and Montenegro fully cooperate with the tribunal. We expect all countries in the region to arrest and transfer to the tribunal all remaining indictees at large, wherever they might be, particularly Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)
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