State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 18, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 18, 2006
Statement on the Denial of Ayman Nour Appeal
US Relationship with Egypt / US Has Derived Great Benefit
Benefits of US Aid Program / Working with Congress on Aid Issue
Egypt's Role in Gaza Disengagement
Positive Steps As A Result of US Public and Private Interventions
/ Shift in Orientation of Egyptian Politics
Measurable Benefits of Interaction Between US-Egyptian Militaries
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Senators Richard Lugar and Barack
Obama / Discussion of India Civil Nuclear Program and Cooperative
Threat Reduction Programs
Introduction of Draft Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu
US Concern for Health and Welfare of Aung San Suu Kyi / US Demand
for Release of Aung San Suu Kyi
Joint Statement from September 2005 Meeting of the Six Parties /
Framework for Parties to Shape Future Discussions / Statement Does
Not Discuss Timing
North Korea Needs to Return to Six Party Talks / Cannot Have Talks
Without All Six Parties / US Position on Six Party Talks Remains
US-India Civil Nuclear Deal / Working with Congress to Address
Concerns / Involvement by Secretary Rice, Under Secretary Burns
Query Regarding Diplomatic Note to the US from Mexican Foreign
Minister Regarding Deployment of National Guard Troops Along
Upcoming Meeting Between President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister Prince Saud
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. How are you? I have an opening statement for you, then we can get into questions. This is regarding Egypt and the denial of Ayman Nour's appeal.
"The United States is deeply troubled by the case of imprisoned opposition leader Ayman Nour. The Egyptian Government's handling of this case represents both a miscarriage of justice by international standards and a setback for the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. We are deeply concerned by the repeated instances of police violence against peaceful demonstrators in Cairo and other places.
Both Mr. Nour's ongoing detention and the Egyptian Government's handling of dissent raise serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt and are incongruous with the Egyptian Government's professed commitment to increase political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society.
We urge the Egyptian Government to respect the rights of citizens to express their views peacefully. We note that Mr. Ayman Nour's health situation appears to be deteriorating and we once again call upon the Egyptian Government to consider his humanitarian release, as well as the release of demonstrators detained in recent weeks. We continue to follow Mr. Nour's case closely and to engage the Egyptian Government to advocate for his release and for appropriate medical care prior to that release."
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can we ask on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: What's his health problems?
MR. MCCORMACK: He has -- I think if you look back at the reporting, Saul, he has some kidney ailments and also I think -- is it diabetes?
MR. CASEY: High blood pressure.
MR. MCCORMACK: High blood pressure, yeah.
QUESTION: It's a little ironic, isn't it, that you're banging the Egyptian Government for this type of miscarriage of justice a day after Welch is on the Hill saying, "Please Congress, don't stop us giving lots and lots of money to Egypt because they're our friends?"
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look. We have talked about the fact, Saul, that there are -- that our relationship with Egypt has got many different facets to it. The Secretary went to Cairo to talk about the importance of the Egyptian Government leading on the case of political reform, expanding political rights, expanding political freedoms for its own people as -- not only as a benefit to the Egyptian people, but also as an example to people in the Middle East. And that remains the case; we believe -- we have seen unprecedented changes in Egypt in the political system over the past couple of years.
That said; the road along that pathway has been bumpy. It is -- we believe Egypt is on a path forward to greater political openness and political freedom for all of its people, but there have been some recent incidents and some incidents surrounding the election that we've talked about our concern. And we'll continue to talk about our concerns if similar incidences appear in the future.
That's a way of saying that we do see benefits coming from our aid program to Egypt. I know that there are a lot of voices on the Hill who have concerns about not only the amount of money that is going to Egypt, but where -- how that money is spent, where it's directed, much of it now being directed towards military assistance to the Egyptian Government; we believe, at this point, that the current aid levels as well as the areas in which that money is spent are appropriate.
We do derive some benefits from those aid programs. We derive quite a few benefits from the military-to-military relationship with the Government of Egypt. All of that said, we're going to continue to speak out where we see problems.
QUESTION: That's a huge -- making them second and recipient -- second-biggest recipient of U.S. aid is rooted in their moves to break the pact of intransigents among the Arabs and the individual (inaudible).
MR. MCCORMACK: It goes back a ways. You're right.
QUESTION: It goes back a way. So let me ask you, since that is the backdrop for it, is there any question now about Egypt's commitment to continuing the process, doing what they can to promote a Middle East peacemaking? In other words, your complaints are internal, aren't they? They don't go to Egypt's foreign policy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, we're speaking -- as my statement I hope makes clear, we're speaking about political developments within Egypt. Certainly, the Egyptian Government has been deeply involved in trying to move the peace process forward over the course of many, many years and that includes over recent years. They have played a very positive role, for example, most recently, in the Gaza disengagement process. They worked closely with the Palestinian Authority led by the then-Fattah government of the Palestinian Authority to work on security, to help them organize, help them train, help them equip those individuals so that they could get take over the security responsibilities once the Israeli forces left Gaza. They continue to be engaged and play a helpful role in this process. They continue to urge Hamas to make the hard choices that the international community has asked of it, so they do to continue to play a positive role, Barry.
QUESTION: Just a follow up. Two things, one is the Secretary last year really dressed down the Egyptian Foreign Minister over the case of Ayman Nour when he came here. She was very, very firm on it. But nothing has happened there in a year and a half. And what you've had is a series of announcements from that podium expressing serious concern about this or that and this and that in Egypt there. So my question is twofold: One, is that how long can this go on before you do start addressing the question of the aid; and (b) just to be very clear, is your overall assessment of Egypt's record on democracy over the last two years is it overall in a positive direction or do you think that they haven't really advanced very far? Some people call what they've done cosmetic.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think, Peter, many of the changes that they have made, including providing for multiparty presidential elections set the stage for a fundamental change in Egyptian politics, which leads to greater openness, greater participation by the Egyptian people, a much more prominent and real platform for different political voices to be heard within the Egyptian political system. We believe that that's all positive. We believe that the orientation of the Egyptian political system has changed in a fundamental way and for the positive.
And that said, like I just pointed out, there are going to be problems and there have been problems. And that when you have these kind of -- when you start in motion these kind of fundamental changes, there are going to be perturbations within the system and it is really going to be up to the Egyptian people working with their political leadership to decide how exactly these issues sort themselves out. How exactly civil society arranges itself, how exactly Egyptian political parties organize themselves and how people group themselves together.
The role we see for ourselves is, as a friend of Egypt, to continue to urge them, push them, cajole them in the right direction. And when we see problems, speak out very clearly about them and this is -- just today is another case of that. You know, you point out that we have made several statements about this in the past. It's true. And we have seen Mr. Nour released during the course of this trial process.
Our fundamental problem with the process has been the Egyptian Government's handling of this. We really question, you know, really the basis for these charges to begin with. So that's -- I want to make that clear. It's not -- this isn't a commentary on the Egyptian judiciary.
So there have been some small, I think, I guess you could say, positive steps that have come out of our -- what I would argue, out of our public interventions, public and private interventions on this matter. Clearly, there's more work to be done on this case. We hope that the Egyptian Government will take to hear what we have said and take it in the spirit in which it's intended and that is as a friend, speaking out clearly in favor of greater political freedoms, greater transparency and greater openness within the Egyptian political system.
QUESTION: Sean, just to go back to Saul's question, is -- at the same time you're doing that, you're basically giving a blank check on the aid. You're saying that there's no threat --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I wouldn't say there's a blank check, Peter. We have made -- this aid program goes back years. And as Barry pointed out, it's rooted in another era of the Egyptian political activity on the international scene. We continue to believe it's our assessment within the U.S. Government that it is an important program from which we derive numerous benefits. Assistant Secretary Welch talked about that. We also hope that the Egyptian Government will see it clear to take to heart our public statements regarding political freedom and political openness in Egypt, take to heart the fact that the United States and the American people are generous in their aid programs, and really take a hard look at some of the individual cases which we've brought up here.
All of that said, the American Congress has a say in how money gets spent and the amount of money that is spent. And like I pointed out at the top of the briefing, there are a lot of voices out there which have raised the very questions that you have raised, that Saul has raised. But we as the Executive Branch of government continue to believe that the aid program as it is currently constituted right now is the right way to go and we're going to -- but we're going to be working with the Hill on this question. It's clearly something that's on the mind of -- minds of senators and representatives.
QUESTION: Just one more, if I may. Please excuse me if you've answered this question previously about the GAO report on the FMF. Have you answered that question?
MR. MCCORMACK: I talked about it. We've seen the report --
QUESTION: Basically, the report says that you have no way of assessing exactly what are the benefits of the military aid you give to Egypt, so how can you say that it has benefits?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are measurable benefits. David Welch has talked about that. There are also intangible benefits that come along with the interaction between militaries. The military exchange program is a close working relationship. That's beneficial, in our view, and you don't necessarily measure that on charts and graphs. A lot of that comes through in personal interactions and personal dealings, and as these people rise up through the ranks of the Egyptian military, the ability to work very closely with them is something that's hard to -- it's hard to measure in a pie chart, but it accrues real benefit to the United States.
QUESTION: Can I go to something else?
QUESTION: Wait. One more on Egypt?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: But, I mean, despite the fact that you've given a lot of verbal reprimands, there continue to be -- there continues to be a backsliding in democracy. Protestors are being beaten up on a daily basis. Isn't it time for something a little bit more stronger than discussions or verbal reprimand and show that there are some kind of consequences for not following through on its commitments for democracy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, let's not lose sight of the fact that Egypt is a friend, is an ally, and they -- and overall the United States has derived great benefit from its relationship with Egypt and the Egyptian people. And you know, as I mentioned in response to Peter's question, we believe that there has been the beginning of a fundamental shift in the orientation of Egyptian politics, and that for the positive.
We have encouraged the changes that the Egyptian Government has talked about. We've urged them to pick up the pace of some of the changes that they've talked about. We talked about, for example, the emergency law recently. That is something that we would have hoped that the Egyptian Government had used the time in between the elections and when they announced the extension of the emergency law to submit some new language to the parliament that focused very clearly on fighting terrorism but that also protected individual rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and protest.
So when we see those things, we are going to talk -- speak out about them. We believe the fundamental orientation has changed for the positive. But really, Elise, you know, what we can do is we can urge from the outside, we can counsel as a friend and we can give advice, we can push at certain times in certain areas; but fundamentally, these are decisions that the Egyptian people are going to have to make for themselves. We made that clear. President Bush made that clear in his Second Inaugural Address that they are going to have to come to terms with what, you know, what Egyptian democracy looks like and what the pathway forward is for them. We can't make those decisions for the Egyptians, but we can encourage them to take on these -- take these issues head on.
QUESTION: On another subject. Senator Obama and Senator Lugar --
MR. MCCORMACK: They were here.
MR. MCCORMACK: They were here.
QUESTION: Exactly. And we have Senator Obama -- it's about their efforts to curb the spread of proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles. Could you give us an idea of how the Secretary feels about all this and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she has a great working relationship with both Senator Lugar and Senator Obama. They -- I didn't talk to her about her breakfast meeting with them, Barry. They were over here. I think the thing that -- a couple things that were on the mind of the Secretary were the India civil nuclear deal as well as cooperative threat reduction programs, in which both senators have a great interest.
So in terms of shoulder-fired missiles, we have an extensive program that's out there. It's -- this is a serious issue, the issue of MANPADS worldwide. We have a program in many countries around the world where we've actually had a buyback of these. And I don't have exact numbers for you, exactly how many we've managed to buy back on different markets, but it's been in many areas, Barry, a successful program and it's something that the Secretary supports and encourages.
QUESTION: The curve on -- the spread of -- with proliferation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Of MANPADS, yeah.
QUESTION: On Burma, Sean, these reports today about Desmond Tutu pushing the Secretary for a UN resolution. On Burma is that an accurate description of the meeting yesterday and is this something that she will push for soon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Libby, I regret that I didn't talk -- I wasn't in the meeting. I didn't talk to her about the meeting. She has great respect for Bishop Tutu. I believe that he is an important voice on the international scene on a variety of human rights issues. On the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi, I saw Bishop Tutu's remarks and, you know, our concern for the health and welfare of Aung San Suu Kyi as well as our demand of the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi is on record -- it's longstanding. As for the question of a UN Security Council resolution, we'll see. It's an interesting idea and we'll take a look at it.
QUESTION: Change the subject to North Korea.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is the Bush Administration -- does the Bush Administration want to have simultaneously six-party talks on the nuclear issue and at the same time also have talks on a peace treaty with North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me -- I think this is in response to the New York Times story that was out there today. Let me just back up a little bit and I think for -- help everybody understand the basic issues here. Back in September of 2005, the six parties agreed on a joint statement. We have copies of it here at state.gov for all to view and it covers a number of different issues. And what it does is within the context of the six-party talks what it does is it provides essentially a framework on which the parties to the six-party talks could use to shape their discussions in the future. It talks about a number of different issue areas. It talks about North Korea's nuclear program. It talks about security assurances. It talks about economic and energy cooperation. It talks about addressing some of North Korea's other illicit activities. It talks also about -- it also talks about negotiating a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and in an appropriate and separate forum.
So our position is that what is needed is that the North Korean Government needs to do a couple of things. It needs to come back to the six-party talks and really engage in a constructive manner. And two, it needs to make very clear and it needs to demonstrate that it has made a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons and all nuclear programs. That's what they signed up for in this joint statement. And if they do those things then North Korea, and we've made it clear, the other members of the six-party talks have made it clear, North Korea could realize a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world. But as for the choreography of how those various pieces might fit together and what kind of steps the North Korean Government needs to take in order to demonstrate that it has made that strategic decision, those are all things that were intended for the next round of the six-party talks. They had a round in September in which they agreed to this joint statement, and I believe they had a round at the, I think it was in the beginning of November, just prior to the APEC meetings. It was truncated and short and they didn't have the opportunity to really get into a detailed discussion of how to move forward on all the various aspects that are outlined in this framework agreement.
But just to get back and cite some of the language in this agreement, on your specific point of a so-called peace treaty, in paragraph four of this it says, "The six parties committed to joint efforts for a lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum." So the appropriate separate forum refers to the fact that the current arrangement does not include all the six members of the six-party talks, so you would have the relevant parties to that agreement talking about this particular aspect. But all of this takes place within the context of the six-party talks.
QUESTION: I guess the question goes to what you call choreography, but the timing, how soon is the Bush Administration prepared to talk about or address this issue of the peace treaty, setting up the forum after they can return to talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if you look at the joint statement, it doesn't address these temporal elements. And those, as I said before, in terms of choreography and how the various pieces of this joint statement fit together both substantively as well as in time. That's really are -- that's really the subject of six-party negotiations. That's why -- that's, in part, the reason why you want this -- the North Koreans back at the table. You can't have a negotiation when there's an empty chair at the table.
QUESTION: But they do fit together as you describe it. Peacemaking depends on certain actions by North Korea that are on the table in the six-party talks. So you're not -- I mean, it doesn't sound like -- it sounds like the second is conditional on the first. In fact, you don't like the word "condition," well, that's okay. But it's predicted on their doing certain things, which are six-party negotiating things. So the question really is and I think I know the answer, but just to be sure of it, you're not anticipating or proposing setting up now a coincident, a simultaneous separate forum to talk peace to North Korea.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right, Barry. Yeah, that's right. At the beginning of my explanation, I tried to make clear that two things need to happen first. They need to come back to the talks, engage in a constructive manner and demonstrate that they have clearly made the strategic decision to give up their nuclear weapons and nuclear -- all nuclear programs. So that's the language that they signed up to in this joint statement.
QUESTION: So there's been no change. There has been no tactical change by the Bush Administration.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of where we stand on the six-party talks?
QUESTION: In terms of your approach to this issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the six-party talks, our position remains the same.
QUESTION: Just your approach to North Korea, there has been no tactical change in the way you approach that country and the problem posed by its nuclear arsenal.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have repeated over and over again that they need to come back to the talks. They need to demonstrate that they have made the strategic decision to give up their nuclear programs. Now you know, one of the things that happened in the wake of the September 19th statement is a couple days after, I think maybe even the day after it was issued and that they signed up for it, they started talking about a light-water reactor as a precondition to come back to the talks. Well, that was certainly an indicator, you know, raised questions in our mind and I think in the minds of all the other parties of the talks about their commitment to actually give up their nuclear -- all their nuclear programs. So that's why we have the emphasis on demonstrating that they made that strategic decision.
QUESTION: But when you say to me, as you just did, that you have said something over and over and you're saying it again today, then you should feel very comfortable saying to me that there's been no tactical change in your approach.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, James, in terms of the choreography and sequencing and all those kinds of temporal questions related to this statement, that's the subject of negotiations. That's the subject of negotiations in the six-party context. And you can't have that negotiation if you have in a six-party format if you only have five parties there.
QUESTION: So you're not ruling it out that there's been a tactical change in the way the Bush Administration approaches this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, in terms of the internal deliberations about the Administration on this issue, that's not something, you know, that's not something that we get into. And in terms of, you know, do people think about if the six-party talks come back into session, how might we address these issues. Of course, people think about those things. We've had several months to think about those things. But you can't do anything about it until you actually get back to the talks. And the reason why we are not back at the talks is North Koreans have not come back to the table.
QUESTION: Sean, can you say whether Mr. Zelikow wrote two papers that were circulated that put forward a different approach that would be simultaneous or concurrent track? In other words, peace talks not predicated on their coming back to the six-party talks, but a parallel track. Are there such papers? Did we draft them?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't -- again, we don't negotiate in public. We don't get into the internal deliberations, who wrote what paper, and what was in any particular paper. It was just -- you know, it's not our style.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) getting published?
MR. MCCORMACK: Go talk to David Sanger about his sources. But -- well, all I can do for you in public here is clearly as I can explain what our thinking is and what our policy positions are.
QUESTION: Without talking about a kind of tactical change or anything like that, it sounds like if North Korea were to come back to the talks and signal some kind of strategic decision to give up its nuclear program, you're not precluding the fact that while you negotiate a deal on the nuclear program and verification, all those things, you're not ruling out that you could also at the same time discuss some kind of peace treaty. Is that correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: The only thing I can do for you, Elise, is to refer you back to the language of the statement. We haven't moved. In the context of the six-party talks, we haven't moved beyond this statement. And the reason why we haven't beyond the statement is because the North Koreans haven't come back to the talks. I've made very clear, I've tried to make as clear as possible the idea that they need to come back to the talks and they need to demonstrate, not signal, demonstrate that they have made a strategic decision to give up their nuclear programs.
QUESTION: When you say "demonstrate", what kind of demonstration are you looking for?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we're not going to negotiate in public on the issue.
QUESTION: Sean, I was clear on this two minutes ago and now I think I'm more confused than I was two minutes ago. You're saying that there are two conditions: come back to the talks and; second, demonstrate they made the strategic decision. And afterwards, I thought you were saying a moment or two ago that in the context of the six-party talks then you will -- one of the things you'll start talking about will be a peace regime --
MR. MCCORMACK: Look --
QUESTION: -- with the other five countries within the context. Now I hear --
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't given you any sort of indication of how pieces might fit together in time or in substance. And I've cited the fact that in this statement, it doesn't talk about timing. It doesn't talk about how the various pieces fit together. It talks about here are the various issue areas that can be addressed within the six-party talks. But in terms of the answer to those questions, how in substance do these things relate to one another and how might they relate to one another in time, those are discussions, those are negotiations. That's what you do and that's what was on the agenda for the next round of talks. We didn't -- you know, we did have an extra round of talks, but it didn't take on those issues, it was truncated. But that's what's on the agenda, talking about what North Korea is going to do in terms of demonstrating how it's going to get rid of its nuclear programs and how you might address some of these other issues. That's what negotiations are about.
QUESTION: But you are saying that it'll be discussed and decided in the framework of the six-party talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: All I'm saying, Nicholas, is it's in the statement. This is our guiding statement. It's the guiding statement in the six-party talks
QUESTION: Can we move to a different subject?
QUESTION: You won't say that the Times story is wrong, (inaudible) the Times story says that top advisors have recommended a broad, new approach to dealing with North Korea that would include beginning negotiations on a peace treaty even while efforts to dismantle the country's nuclear weapons program, et cetera -- you can't say, "That's really not where we are?"
MR. MCCORMACK: What I can say, George, is we don't get into talking about what our internal discussions might be. And what I'm trying to -- you know, the answer to these questions lie in the six-party talks resuming. And you can't have six parties with only five parties agreeing to come back. You need the six and the six is the North Koreans.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Can I just have --
MR. MCCORMACK: Dave Gollust.
QUESTION: North Korea returns to the talks, signals a strategic decision --
QUESTION: -- to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Signals -- the word, signals --
QUESTION: Okay, no (inaudible) negotiations that could go on for some time, like a couple of years to solve the nuclear issue. During that time, then, these normalization talks could occur, correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's the same answer that I've given to -- nice try, good try. Anything else on North Korea?
Okay, James. You have the floor.
QUESTION: The Indian nuclear deal; is the Administration confident of ratification?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you don't -- you know, you're not going to -- you don't want to assume anything, but we think we have a good case with this deal and we believe that we have a good case for the American people. It's a good case for the Indian people and overall, it benefits the international nonproliferation regime and efforts. Now there are a hundred votes up in the Senate and each individual senator is going to have to make up his or her mind how they vote on this. We certainly are doing everything we can to encourage them to vote in the positive, working very closely with the leadership and people who are interested in this topic on the Hill in terms of addressing their concerns, answering their questions, talking to them procedurally how all the different pieces of potential legislation -- legislative action might fit together.
So I think that we would like to say that we're optimistic about the deal going through the Senate, but -- you know, again, we don't want to assume anything and we're not going to take anybody's vote for granted on the issue.
QUESTION: What have been the main concerns that lawmakers have raised with the Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a variety of concerns that -- you know, you've seen them in public, concerning India's participation in, for example, fissile material cutoff, their participation in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, how the agreement does or does not limit their ability to produce more fissile materials that could go to a nuclear weapons program. And legislatively and procedurally, how does the Senate grapple with these questions, how do they retain their prerogatives to say yay or nay on various aspects of the agreement. So very generally, that's it. I mean, I don't have a more detailed read for you, James. I haven't talked to our legislative guys about what, in particular, they're asking about right now.
QUESTION: Has this been consuming any substantial amount of the Secretary's time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it has. She's done quite a bit of work talking to members of Congress both on the House of Representatives side as well as the Senate side, a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls since the deal was announced. She's done a lot of work with the Indians on this issue. There are still some issues that we're trying to work through with them; for example, the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations in the Council on Disarmament in the UN. We just tabled a text there. It's certainly a text that we hope the Indian Government can support. It's been an issue for some people. So we've put that out there. We've been working with them to encourage them to support that text. That's one example of something that we've been doing. Nick Burns has been devoting quite a bit of time to it. So it's certainly in the top two or three issues that the Secretary has been working on over the past few months.
QUESTION: It would be accurate to state that this deal is in serious trouble?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that I've heard anybody describe those terms in terms of the deal, no.
QUESTION: A Reuters story by my esteemed colleague, Carol Giacomo, from two days ago used those exact words.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, far be it from me to dispute Carol Giacomo. But I think, look, our discussions with senators and congressmen have been very positive on this. There are some people that have raised some hard questions about it and we try to answer those questions. And like I said, we don't take anybody's vote for granted on this and we're going to do everything we can to see that every senator and every congressman that has an interest in this issue has their questions answered and that we give them enough information so that they can feel comfortable in voting for this deal.
QUESTION: My final annoying question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Forever?
QUESTION: For today. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: I almost got you.
QUESTION: You said you would like to say you're optimistic. What is it that precludes you from flat out saying you are optimistic?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not a vote counter here, James. That's not my profession. I talk to our leg guys. It's just a way of saying that we're not going to take anybody's vote for granted. You know, we're not going to -- we're certainly not going to declare victory at this point. We still have work to do with the Hill.
QUESTION: On the fissile treaty you just mentioned, Sean, on the text, is the timing related to the Indian deal and if you can -- I know that Mr. Rademaker went through most of these things in Geneva. Can you give us the rationale for this? And you know, the first few years of the Administration, nobody expected it to propose a new treaty because it made it clear early on that it wasn't really interested in treaties and negotiating things in Geneva on arms control, but it is proposing this one. So what prompted you to -- the Administration to do it?
MR. MCCORMACK: We think it's a good idea. We think it's beneficial for us as well as for the international nonproliferation regime. It's something that, as you point out, people have been -- that people have been working on for some time. We have just gotten to the point now where all the various elements of the U.S. Government are comfortable with the proposal that we've laid down. Four of the five permanent members of the Security Council currently have voluntarily fissile material cutoffs. I think China is the only one who does not at this point. Ours has been in place since 1998.
This is something -- the issue has been a source of concern among various members of the international community for some time, so we think that it's a positive step that we have come up with a text that we think is -- that works for us. We think it works for a lot of other countries in the international community. This organization, the Council on -- or Committee on Disarmament operates by consensus so it's not something where you can just get a majority vote, so we hope to bring along everybody with this proposal. And like I said, India is on -- India is one of those countries we hope can come out and support the text that we've laid down.
QUESTION: Have they indicated to you in your discussions with them that they would?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we have a final signal one way or the other on it. We've talked to them about it.
QUESTION: And a final question on this. Do you expect the negotiation on this to be pretty much a regular type arms control negotiation?
MR. MCCORMACK: What, the --
QUESTION: On the treaty in Geneva.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we --
QUESTION: I'm just asking because specifically I've talked to Mr. Bolton about this when he was Under Secretary for Arms Control and he had ideas about negotiating these things in a new way, and I'm just wondering whether there is a new way or this will be pretty much a traditional arms control negotiations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if you mean by traditional since, you know, you have a negotiation that lasts 15 years, we have -- we hope that isn't the case. We would hope that we could compress the timeline here. You know, I can't tell you exactly, Nicholas, what the modalities of it would be. We've laid the text down. We think it's a good text and we hope that everybody will agree to it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if that's all right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The Mexican Foreign Minister has said that he's going to send a note to the U.S. protesting the placement of National Guard troops on the border and the creating of a fence. Can you confirm that we've received this or any other details about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Can't confirm it for you. I'll be happy to post a response for you later. We'll look into it.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little about your expectations for the visit by the Israeli prime minister in a few days?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's going to be visiting with President Bush over at the White House, so I'll leave most of the lifting on this question to them, but I think -- just a couple of comments. It's an opportunity for President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert to meet in their current roles, to get acquainted with the new Israeli prime minister. You'll have to check with the White House if President Bush has ever met with Prime Minister Olmert in another capacity. And there's a lot to talk about. I would expect that they talk about the state of play regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. I expect that they talk about various Israeli ideas about how to move forward. And I would expect that they talk about issues in the region. I wouldn't be surprised if Iran comes up, but in terms of, sort of, more granularity on the topics and what might come up, George, I think my colleagues at the White House can address that.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you give us a first readout of the discussions with the Saudi delegation this morning?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'd love to, but I haven't either (a) talked to the Secretary -- was in the meetings. The meetings were quite small. She started off with a one-on-one meeting with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, then they met in a much smaller group, I think just with a couple of advisors. They had a lunch. The same --
QUESTION: Was this One on one?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. A little bit larger expanded, sorry -- went their own way, one-on-one. Then they had the lunch with a small group of advisors, I think maybe one or two on each side. Then we're going to have a plenary session here coming up around two o'clock or so. Then they're going to -- then you'll have an opportunity to ask them directly in a joint press avail what it is that they talked about and maybe ask a few questions. What happens beyond there -- whatever happens to be on their minds.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's a long way of saying I don't have anything for you. (Laughter.) All right. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)
DPB # 83
Released on May 18, 2006