State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 4, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 4, 2006
Status of Abuja Peace Talks / Deadline Looms
Query on Whether Vice-President Taha has Returned
Timeline for Vote on Tabled Chapter VII Resolution / Secretary
Participates in P5 + 1 Dinner Tomorrow in New York/ UNSC Informal
Discussions Continue / Language of Resolution / Hope for a
Unanimous Vote / Position of Russians and Chinese / Timeline for
Iran to Comply
Vice-President Cheney's Remarks on Russia / Russian Energy
Policy's Effect on International Relations
President Chen's Travel to South America and Whether He will
Transit through the U.S. / Rejection of U.S. Offer of Transit
Through Anchorage, Alaska / Effect on Relations with U.S.
Nationalization of Gas Industry / Bolivia's Contractual
Obligations / Whether Bolivia's Relations with Venezuela Concern
U.S. Welcomes President Fox's Announcement to Introduce Amendments
to Legislation that would Decriminalize the Possession of Small
Drug Amounts / Cooperation with U.S. on Anti-Drug Trafficking
U.S. Reaction to the Vatican's Excommunication of Two Chinese
Ordained Bishops / U.S. View of Religious Freedom in China
U.S. Reaction to Tension Between Argentina and Uruguay Over Paper
Factory and Mercosur
Whether Negotiations Possible / Status of Roadmap / U.S. Hope that
Hamas Makes Necessary Decisions so that Negotiations Can Resume
Reports that Friends of the U.S. and Europe are trying to Create a
Trust Fund to Aid Palestinians / U.S. Concern for Humanitarian
Situation in Palestinian Territories
Follow Up to Terje Larson's Report to Secretary General
12:44 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? I don't have any opening statements, so I'll be happy to get right into your questions.
QUESTION: I pass.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's completely civil here in the front row.
QUESTION: Do you have any news from Sudan?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well --
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that? Oh, you want to reply to that one Barry.
QUESTION: Or if there's any news from Iran. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They're going to announce a deal. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, as a good Catholic schoolboy, a product of a Jesuit education, I took Latin and I'm not going to -- as they would say, they are in media res, in the middle of things right now. So I don't have any particular updates for you other than Deputy Secretary Zoellick and the AU negotiators, as well as other members of the international community, are working hard on trying to bring the parties together on the solution. They are responding to some ideas on a variety of different issues that the rebel groups have put forward. Deputy Secretary Zoellick, as well as others, have tried to work with those ideas to see if they can bridge any of the differences between the rebel groups as well as the Government of Sudan.
Thus far, I don't have any final announcements for you with regard to where they stand. There's a deadline of midnight Abuja time, and I think that's about 7 o'clock our time here in the East Coast. So at that point, the decision of what to do will be up to the AU mediators; they're the ones who set the midnight deadline. Certainly, Deputy Zoellick is there; he's working hard. So we'll see what the negotiations can produce. We'll try to keep you up to date as best we can.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you know if Vice President Taha came back?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, he is not back, not back there.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Iran. Can you just -- do you have any more precision on the timeline of what's going to be happening specifically, if you're going to be expecting a vote on this resolution sometime in the next couple of days?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we hope that there is a vote soon on this. I think Ambassador Bolton talked a little bit about the fact that this should be a very straightforward decision for the members of the Security Council to take. This is very close to what has been out there before in terms of a presidential statement and the IAEA Board of Governors statement. It is tabled as a Chapter 7 resolution. We believe that is appropriate and we believe the time is now for a Chapter 7 resolution. And while I don't have a timeline for you right now, Peter, on when there will be a vote, I know that there was discussion within the Council yesterday on this and there are informal discussions ongoing today and I would expect that to continue tomorrow as well.
On Monday, the Secretary is going to participate in a P-5+1 dinner up in New York. I would expect that, again, the resolution is the topic of conversation as well as looking out beyond what other diplomatic steps might be needed if Iran continues to defy the international community. So we'll see, but we think that there's no reason why there can't be a relatively -- a vote in the relatively near future on this. It's pretty straightforward.
QUESTION: Two things just to follow up. So can we assume then that there probably won't be a vote until the P-5+1 dinner or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to link a vote to that dinner one way or the other. We'll see. As it stands now, my understanding is that today there are informal discussions and tomorrow there will be informal discussions, so I'm not sure there is, at this point, a meeting scheduled in which they would take a vote. Of course, if there is agreement and unanimity within the Council and agreement on this language, of course one could happen at any time, according to the rules. But at this point, I don't think there is a vote scheduled before Monday.
QUESTION: And just one last thing. Do you have a reading any more on the Russians or the Chinese either way -- abstain, no, yes, whatever?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to let them speak for themselves, where they stand, but we're talking to them and they'll be at the dinner on Monday, too.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Did you notice the Vice President's remarks on Russia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I did. I saw the reports of it and saw the remarks before he gave them, yeah.
QUESTION: Well, I think the timing was interesting. The imperative with Russia nowadays is what's happening in the Security Council and it would seem to me that you would sort of set aside the concern that the U.S. has about its energy policy while you're trying to enlist their support in New York. What do you have to say about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, you know, George, that's not the way we work.
QUESTION: Yes, it is. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, the Vice President's remarks, I think if you take a look at them, are a pretty straightforward outline of our hopes for the future of democracy and freedom in Central and Eastern Europe. He also talked a little bit about where we think things stand with Russia now on that front in terms of the growth and expansion of democracy within Russia.
The President has expressed concerns in the past about the trajectory that Russia finds itself on right now. Secretary Rice has talked a little bit in her testimony about the warping effect of international energy politics on international relations. So I think that, again, there's not anything new, it's not a new policy speech, but I think it's an outline of where we hope -- where the horizon is for democracy and I think a very straightforward, clear assessment of where Russia stands right now.
QUESTION: My only point was that the timing was interesting.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. You know, again, George, Vice President's Cheney's trip has been planned for quite some time. I know he's planned to give a speech there for quite some time, so I wouldn't make any connection between the two.
QUESTION: Back on the resolution. Is this the text you're going to put to a vote and have people be counted, or are you still open to changes to the language?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're still talking about the specific language, but we would hope that the fundamentals of what you see before you in this resolution is what people ultimately vote on and that we hope for a unanimous vote. We'll see whether or not we get that. But again, the time is now to pass a Chapter 7 resolution.
QUESTION: Is it the Vice President that's making a speech? Is the --
MR. MCCORMACK: He just did.
QUESTION: Oh, he just did. Was there consultation with State on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: You know what we're driving at, of course: whether the Administration is speaking with one voice at a time of sensitive diplomacy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, they are. But thank you for laying it out quite that way, yes. That's an easy one.
QUESTION: I don't think AP needs anything else. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: This is the AP line for this briefing. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we saw the speech beforehand.
QUESTION: That was --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we did. Yes.
QUESTION: Was it the same -- no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the draft text of the Chapter 7, do you have any sense for when they'll come up with a timeline for when Iran will comply? I know there was an X left in the draft text. Is that something they're going to hammer out this week or that the foreign ministers will decide when they meet? Any sense?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, it could be something that is worked out this week. I'm sure even if they do hammer it out, they'll talk about that timeline and then what might come afterwards if Iran fails to comply. We don't think that whatever that timeline is, giving them a chance to comply shouldn't be that long. I think some people have talked in terms of two weeks or a month. We'll see what the final timeline is. But again, this isn't hard. It shouldn't be hard because Iran's pattern of defiance of the international community has been pretty clear over the course of the past several years so we think it's now appropriate for the Security Council to act in a strong manner and pass this resolution.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iran? Okay, you have the floor.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean. Do you have any updates on Taiwan's President Chen's transit through the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand he will, on his outbound leg to his destination in South America, or destinations in South America, that he will not be transiting the United States. It is an open question whether or not -- whether on the way back he will transit the United States. As of this point, we don't have a request for that, but if we do receive the request we will certainly look at it consistent with our past practice on that question.
QUESTION: A follow-up. In the past, the U.S. has approved Taiwanese leaders to transit through other U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco, which were more preferable to the Taiwan side. Can you tell us why this time the U.S. put only stops in Alaska?
MR. MCCORMACK: There was an offer of transit through Anchorage, Alaska, which we thought was appropriate. We take each of these requests on a case-by-case basis. Each of them we take on their individual merits and beyond that I don't have any further comment on it.
QUESTION: One last follow up, sir. In your (inaudible) yesterday, you called Chen Shui-bian "he" and never once did you address his title and you are the spokesperson and a diplomat, I would assume your expressions are --
MR. MCCORMACK: "He" referred to Chen Shui-bian.
QUESTION: Excuse me, can I follow up on this President's transit issue? By rejecting the U.S. offer to transit in through Alaska, President Chen is obviously, you know, showing his displeasure with the U.S. arrangement. Do you think there will, you know, a chilling effect of current and future U.S.-Taiwan relations?
MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, I would refer you to his -- Chen Shui-bian's traveling party for a comment on why they chose not to transit through Alaska. And as for the second part of your question, I would expect that it would not have any effect.
QUESTION: The transit -- was that meant to be just to refuel for a couple of hours or was that supposed to include an overnight if the timing coincided or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you can talk to his traveling party about that.
QUESTION: Well, no, but wait a second. This is a serious decision -- was that -- what does transit mean? Does it mean 24 hours, less than 24 hours, 12 hours? What does it mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: It has meant different things at different times.
MR. MCCORMACK: Libby. Oh, Teri, sorry.
QUESTION: We look alike?
MR. MCCORMACK: Both distinguished journalists, I sometimes --
QUESTION: Right, right. Anyway, change of subject -- change of subject from talking about Libby and me.
Bolivia. You said that you were going to wait and see how the nationalization of the gas deals worked out, and now the Bolivia leaders meeting with Hugo Chavez. Are you getting more concerned as the week goes as to the direction that he is taking?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think there are a lot of questions in the region about this. The delegations from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and perhaps some others, I know are getting together or have gotten together to talk about this issue. So it's an issue of concern in the region and something that we're watching closely. I don't have anything really to add beyond what I've said before on the matter. I don't think that, at this point, we have seen any steps on the part of the Bolivian Government that have actually affected the contractual obligations. There is certainly the declaration of intent there, which is something that we want to understand better, and I think that that is the motivation of Bolivia's neighbors in the region as well in seeking these discussions.
It's something we're going to keep an eye on and watch. But at this point, I don't have any update for you.
QUESTION: And the coziness with Hugo Chavez doesn't cause you any alarm?
MR. MCCORMACK: They -- I know that President Morales and Mr. Chavez have talked in the past; I'd expect that they talk in the future.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Mexico. Yesterday, President Fox decide to have a new law that will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs -- amounts considered for personal consumption. I would like to know what is the reaction (inaudible) of the U.S. Government.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we welcome the announcement. My understanding is that President Fox introduced amendments to the legislation so that "there is no doubt that the possession and consumption of drugs are and will continue to be crimes." So that is a welcome announcement. We, of course, shared our views prior to this announcement with the Mexican Government on the matter. There were meetings here in the State Department and I expect there were meetings elsewhere in Washington. You can check around town on that. But the bottom line is we welcome the announcement.
QUESTION: A follow-up. According to the announcement from Los Pinos, the presidential house, they say that they sent this law back to the congress so it can be reviewed and close some loopholes, as they -- that's the way they put it. The question was if the U.S. will agree in the new law the same concept, maybe more rigorous, or U.S. against any legalization of any amount of drugs at all.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'd just refer you back to what -- you know, what President Fox said, and that is that there shouldn't be any doubt that the possession or consumption of drugs will continue to be a crime in Mexico. That's certainly a welcome announcement. You know our views with regard to the illegality of trafficking drugs and consumption of drugs are well known. We all know about that.
And as for cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on these matters, it has -- I think most of the reports have been that it's been very good. There have been some issues certainly along the border, the border regions, and you've seen some violence resulting -- or connected to the traffic in illegal drugs. The Government of Mexico and the United States have reacted to that. The Government of Mexico has certainly been very cooperative in that fight so there's been a lot of progress that's been made. Still more to do, but we're going to continue to work on it.
QUESTION: Another subject? China just ordained two bishops, two Catholic bishops, and the Vatican says it's a violation of religious freedom. So I was wondering if you have any comment on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as for the specific matter of the ordination or excommunication of bishops, that's something for the Catholic Church and the Vatican to address.
As for the more general issue of freedom of religion, very, very clearly the United States is at the forefront of promoting freedom of expression and freedom of religion around the world, including in China. It's something that Secretary Rice brings up at every opportunity in her meetings with Chinese officials. I know President Bush has raised it directly with President Hu many times as well. So we are going to continue to talk very clearly and directly to the Chinese Government about the fundamental importance of freedom of religion in China.
QUESTION: But on this incident you don't have any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: On that particular -- on that specific matter, I'd refer you to the Vatican for comment.
QUESTION: This is about -- was it the same subject? Sorry.
QUESTION: This is about Argentina and Uruguay. This is about Argentina's taking Uruguay to The Hague over this paper factory and then there's this whole tensions along with the situation with MERCOSUR. And I was wondering if you thought bringing the case to The Hague will help on easing the tensions specifically in a time the U.S. is broadening its trade with Uruguay.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a bilateral issue between Argentine and Uruguay. I know that when the Secretary met with the President of Uruguay on the margins of her attendance at President Bachelet's inauguration, this issue came up. And I know the President of Uruguay is working very hard on the issue; it's a real source of concern. This is a major part of the Uruguayan economy. But as for how it gets worked out, where it gets worked out, that really is for those two countries to decide.
QUESTION: Sorry. On the Palestinians --
MR. MCCORMACK: You have to be quicker in raising your hand. Charlie is very quick on the trigger today.
QUESTION: Israel has a new government and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, called Israel to (inaudible) negotiations. So I was -- wanted to -- I would like to know for you -- if the time is right for negotiation now and what do you think about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we would hope that there would be a moment in the future when we could get back to the roadmap, we could get back to the negotiating table. But unfortunately, there is, on the Palestinian side, in terms of the government, not a partner for peace. We have a Hamas-led government which has failed to -- it will not recognize the state of Israel, will not renounce violence, will not renounce terror and doesn't recognize the Palestinian Authority's previous commitments. That said, President Abbas, we believe, is still an important figure within the Palestinian political system, within Palestinian society, has great moral authority in terms of speaking out on behalf of the cause of peace and the cause of realizing a Palestinian state via the negotiating table.
So we would hope -- we would hope, at some point in the future, that Hamas does make the decisions that the international community has called upon it to make that would allow us to get back to the negotiating table. But at the moment, that's not where we are, because there isn't a partner for peace on the Palestinian Government side.
QUESTION: So President Abbas is an important figure, but not important enough to negotiate on the Palestinian side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we have a Hamas-led government. We have a Prime Minister that is a member of Hamas, a terrorist organization. So it is hard to have a negotiating partner when the government is led by a member of a terrorist organization and his cabinet comprises members of a terrorist organization.
Dave Gollust here.
QUESTION: There are continued reports today that friends of the United States and Europe, Britain and France are trying to create a sort of a trust fund, perhaps, by which funds could go to Palestinian health, education services, getting around this financial roadblock and the United States is supposedly holding out against this idea.
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, it hasn't been raised in any formal way. Certainly, we've heard about this idea; I've seen the news reports. I've seen the letter President Chirac sent -- I think posted it on a website.
If this is a topic of discussion at the Quartet meeting coming up on Tuesday, I'm sure Secretary Rice will listen and participate and engage in the conversation. And if there are any useful or constructive ideas that emerge from that, I'm sure that she'll ask David Welch and others to follow up on it. We are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian areas. We have increased our level of aid -- humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, but we aren't going to provide money to a terrorist organization. So it's a matter of law. It's a matter of policy. It's a matter of principle. So we look forward to discussions on Tuesday. If this particular topic comes up, I'm sure that we'll engage on it.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you spoke of the possibility of her seeing the French Foreign Minister, I guess, about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: About --
MR. MCCORMACK: Tuesday night.
QUESTION: Has that moved in any way?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have a final schedule for you, Barry, but --
QUESTION: I'm not asking you so much the meeting, per se, what time. I mean, is there a basis for trying something?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're looking at what might be done as a follow up to Terje Larsen's report to Secretary General Annan and that very well may include a new Security Council resolution. So, yeah, that might be part of the discussion, Barry.
QUESTION: And it would be the U.S. and France as the leading forces?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's certainly a possibility.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)