State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 19, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 19, 2006
State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger to Brief on UN
Secretary Rice to Give Commencement Address at Boston College
Travel Schedule for Under Secretary Burns to Boston and Europe
Deputy Secretary Zoellick to Travel for World Economic Forum
Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility / Detainees
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister / Discussion of
East Timor, Millennium Challenge Account, Policy Planning, UN
reform, Iran and Visit of Ahmadi-Nejad
Commission For Assistance To A Free Cuba Report
US Policy Based on Principle and Solidarity with Cuban People
Diplomatic Note From Mexico Protesting Deployment of Troops to
Transparent, Open, Respectful Dialogue on Immigration Important
Reports of Ballistic Missile Tests of Concern / Launch Would
Contravene September 19, 2005 Joint Statement
Italian Prime Minister Prodi's Remarks on Iraq Withdrawal
U.S. Concerned About Egyptian Government's Handling of Ayman Nour
Case ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
Reports of Meeting Between Israeli Foreign Minister and President
US-Kyrgyzstan Discussions on Manas Air Base
Reports of Iranian Law Requiring Badges to Identify Non-Muslims
Redeployment of Troops to Iraq Accompanied by Increase of NATO
Troops in Afghanistan / More Troops, Warmer Weather Resulting in
More Engagements with Insurgents
12:40 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How you doing?
QUESTION: Fine, and you?
MR. MCCORMACK: One addition to the briefing schedule for all those who can make it, at 2:30 down here in the press briefing room John Bellinger, who is the State Department Legal Counsel, will be down here to answer any and all questions regarding the Convention Against Terror* report that has been issued today.
QUESTION: So we should ask you nothing.
MR. MCCORMACK: Feel free, but you get the lawyer's explanation here at 2:30.
QUESTION: On the record?
MR. MCCORMACK: On camera, on the record. With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the Secretary's meeting with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, please?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. She had a good meeting with him, talked about a number of different issues. They talked about Iran. They talked a little bit about the situation in East Timor. They also discussed Indonesian-U.S. bilateral relations, talked about the Millennium Challenge Account. They talked a little bit about the upcoming policy planning talks between the U.S. and Indonesia. They talked a little bit about UN reform. So that's sort of the range of issues that they discussed.
QUESTION: Did they talk about the visit of President Ahmadi-Nejad?
MR. MCCORMACK: They did.
QUESTION: He must have spent four days in Indonesia and --
MR. MCCORMACK: They did.
QUESTION: -- a few days ago. Could you give us the flavor of that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. They talked about the visit. The Secretary was thankful to President Yudhoyono for talking to the Iranian government about the need for them to be responsible members of the international community. And I understand that Indonesia's position on this is that they believe that there is a right to peaceful nuclear energy, but they also would call upon Iran to abide by their international treaty obligations. I think there was some concern on their part that Iran's behavior not affect the ability of other countries around the world to access peaceful nuclear technology. So we certainly think that that message was positive.
QUESTION: Did the Indonesian Foreign Minister bring up the issue about Indonesia's proposal to expand the negotiating team -- direct negotiating team with Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, it didn't come up. Anything else on Indonesia?
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Indonesia?
QUESTION: I mean, similarly the President of Indonesia said a week ago that Indonesia had offered to mediate between the U.S. and Iran. Was that -- did that come up --
MR. MCCORMACK: That didn't come up.
QUESTION: Didn't come up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Saul.
QUESTION: The State Department's Transition Coordinator had planned to give a report to the President tomorrow, I believe. That's been delayed. Can you just tell us for how long it's been delayed and the reason why it was delayed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba is headed up by Caleb McCarry who has offices here in the State Department. The Secretary appointed him to that position. This is not a legislative or regulatory deadline; this is a deadline that Mr. McCarry had set for the Commission. They might take a few extra days, Saul, to complete the report. It's not because of any particular dispute within the Commission. They just want to make sure that they produce a good report for the President. And the process from now forward, the report goes to the President. He will be able to take a look at it and be able to consider the recommendations made in the report. He's not under any legal or regulatory obligation to accept the recommendations. He can take them, add to them, modify them before it goes up to the Congress.
QUESTION: Okay. So there's no particular dispute that has caused the delay, but what was the reason for the delay?
MR. MCCORMACK: Just they needed a little more time to work on the report. That's what happens sometimes when you have a commission, a number of different people want to have input to it, want to make sure that it's a quality report. It is a report that is going to the President, so they want to make sure that it's something worthy of going to the President.
QUESTION: Could you just sort of tell us what the report is about -- what this year, because obviously there was one the previous year not done by the Coordinator, but by the Commission. Why do we need a new one if we had like 400 pages last time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you've had a year that has transpired and during the course of that year people will come up with different ideas. They'll come up with ways to address the situation in Cuba, various changes in the situation in Cuba. So it's really sort of the course of time and events, Saul, that they think merits another report.
QUESTION: The original report I thought was two years ago. It will remain essentially intact and this involves tweaking more than anything else, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to Caleb about exactly how long the report is going to be. But, yes, the previous report does stand. I would expect that this report builds on the previous one.
QUESTION: Are you (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's going to be up to the White House and the Commission.
QUESTION: On Mexico. Change of topic. What is your reaction to the diplomatic note sent by Mexico protesting the immigration issue and the whole issue of deploying troops to the border?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we did get a diplomatic note. I have a note here on the 18th, yesterday, so we haven't had a real chance to go all the way through it and to react to it. You've heard in public from President Fox on the whole sort of package of measures that President Bush has talked about. So I would expect in time, once we have a chance to look at the note in detail, we'll have a response for the Mexican Government.
QUESTION: Are you worried that the atmosphere between the U.S. and Mexico -- obviously, Mexico very upset about the immigration issue -- is going to create a climate for the next Mexican Government to follow Fox that might be a little less friendly to the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would certainly hope not. Who the Mexican people choose to lead them as a result of this upcoming presidential election is a choice for them, but the U.S. and Mexico have long and deep ties where we share a long border, we're good friends. This particular issue is an emotional issue. It's an emotional issue on both sides of the border. And what's important is to have an open, transparent, and respectful dialogue on it, which I think is what you see transpiring between President Bush and President Fox, as well as U.S. and Mexican officials.
Anything else on Mexico? Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: It is reported today North Korea is about to launch intercontinental missile Taepo Dong-2 that is known to reach the Western part of the United States. What is your comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen those news reports, but certainly, because of the closed nature of North Korea, I think that you might reasonably assume that whatever one might know about such activities or whether or not they're taking place would be based on intelligence information. And I, of course, don't comment on intelligence information. If, in fact, North Korea did launch a long-range missile, it would be a real source of concern to the international community. They haven't done so since 1998. That was the last time they launched a long-range missile.
Since then, they have abided by a moratorium on the launch or testing of long-range missiles and we believe that such a launch would also contravene the letter and the spirit of the September 19th joint statement -- September 19th, 2005, which North Korea signed onto. So again, I don't have -- I can't provide any confirmation or denial about those reports, but if, in fact, there were such a launch, it would be a real source of concern.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Has there been any reaction, direct or indirect, by North Korea toward the Administration floating, again, the idea of if it would do A, B, and C, there might be a normal relationship?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the way I would put it is maybe the New York Times was floating something. I wouldn't say the U.S. Government was floating any particular proposal. I haven't heard of any particular reaction, Barry. I'll be happy to check to see if there is -- if we have heard one through the New York channel or indirectly through others.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction or comment to the declaration on Iraq made yesterday by --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we'll get back to that. I didn't realize you wanted to stay on North Korea.
QUESTION: Why would the launch of a missile from North Korea be a source of concern? You're not particularly concerned, are you, about the accuracy of any of their missiles? Can they actually hit a barn door?
MR. MCCORMACK: What it says about North Korea and North Korea's thinking and about North Korea's engagement -- desire to engage with the rest of the world and to address some of the concerns that the rest of the world has had about their behavior, many of those concerns have centered on North Korea's nuclear program as well as their development of means to deliver potential nuclear weapons. So that's really the basis -- I think that would be the basis of the concern. What it says about North Korea's intentions, what it says about their motivations and what it says about their seriousness about abiding by commitments that they've made.
QUESTION: There's been a moratorium on missile testing --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
QUESTION: -- since 1998 or so?
MR. MCCORMACK: 1998, 1998.
QUESTION: That was the last test?
MR. MCCORMACK: That was the last test, but they --
QUESTION: They imposed a moratorium which is still in effect --
MR. MCCORMACK: Still in effect, yes. Anything else on North Korea? Okay.
QUESTION: Any comment or reaction to the declaration on Iraq made yesterday by the Italian Prime Minister Prodi?
MR. MCCORMACK: And which declaration in particular are you referring to?
QUESTION: Well, about the withdrawal of the troops that it will be soon and after consultation with allies.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the question of withdrawal of troops, this is a position that Italy has had for some time, so I don't think that that comes as a particular surprise or news to anybody. We appreciate the contributions that Italy has made to the efforts in Iraq. Italian blood has been spilled in Iraq and we honor the sacrifice of the Italian people in helping to build a free and prosperous Iraq.
QUESTION: Did Dr. Rice speak already with the new Italian Foreign Minister, Mr. D'Alema?
MR. MCCORMACK: She has not yet spoken with him.
QUESTION: I just -- he also had a few terms or phrases -- the war in Iraq was a grave error and he alluded to it as a crusade. Can you respond to any of those?
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, there are few different thoughts about that. On the eve of the inauguration of a freely elected Iraqi Government to talk about the liberation of the Iraqi people from one of this -- the recent history's most brutal and oppressive dictators is -- do we think that's a mistake? I guess our answer is no.
QUESTION: I realize John Bellinger is coming to talk about this in detail a bit more, but you can just give us an initial response to the UN report and the specific request for Guantanamo to be closed down?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let John talk about the -- a detailed response. I think he might be limited in his ability to give you, you know, a kind of point-by-point analysis. We just got the report and we have to take a close look at it. But I think a first scan of the report, what's our reaction? I guess we would say we are a little bit disappointed because we don't think that the commission really took into account all the information provided to it in terms of changes in policy, changes in laws, changes in procedures. I think we would also argue that they didn't really give a fair hearing to what were our detailed arguments about U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture. But John can get into those arguments in more detail.
In terms of Guantanamo, the President of the United States has talked about the fact that he doesn't want the United States to be the world's jailers, that we at some point in the future would very much like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down. But at the moment, it's housing some dangerous people. And very often, we hear these arguments, "Well, you need to close down Guantanamo Bay," which eventually, certainly, the United States would like to do, but you have to deal with the people that are in there. And some of the same people that make those arguments -- I'm not saying it's necessarily the people on this commission, but many of the same people that you hear those arguments from, when it's put to them about, "Well, would you like to house some of these people, would you like to take some of this burden off the United States," they say, "Well, no, not us."
So there's a contradiction in that. There's -- people don't want to deal with the need to keep dangerous people who would do -- who won't discriminate between U.S. citizens or European citizens or citizens from Asian countries when they're setting off IEDs or setting off bombs killing innocent civilians or taking life. So these people they are there for a reason and the United States is housing them in Guantanamo Bay. They're a threat to people around the world. So we are working through judicial procedures to deal with these people. There's federal court oversight of the legal processes down in Guantanamo Bay.
A number of people have been returned to their home countries after the United States has negotiated agreements with those countries that these people won't go in the front door and then go out the back door of a jail or some sort of assurance that they won't be allowed to commit terrorist acts or engage in terrorist activities. And also, that we are able to assure ourselves that we have a reasonable, rational expectation these people won't be mistreated or tortured.
QUESTION: Following up on that, one of the things they say is that it's regrettable that the U.S. doesn't give detail. I mean, you complain that they didn't take into consideration some of the changes in policy, but they complain that you do not give detail about who is being held where and obviously, there is no oversight in some of the facilities that you have. What are you doing to address that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the people held at Guantanamo Bay, I believe the Department of Defense has just recently released a list -- names of people that are held in Guantanamo Bay. And as for this other question, I know the allegations of secret sites and secret prisons. We have done chapter and verse on that. Secretary Rice talked about it on a trip to Europe several months ago and, frankly, our arguments with respect to these allegations have not changed.
QUESTION: But that doesn't build up trust, does it, between those who criticize the U.S.; that's the problem. And if you can't give that kind of detail, then there will always be suspicions.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know what? It's always very easy to criticize, isn't it? And it's always very easy to criticize and maybe not offer up solutions. I've outlined some of the contradictions and the arguments that many people have made. And I'm not talking about the people on the Commission Against Torture.
But you do; you hear these arguments, you hear these criticisms about U.S. actions --Guantanamo Bay -- but you don't hear any other solutions or you don't hear a willingness on the part of others to step up and to take on some of this burden. So I have to -- sorry, I have to discount some of those arguments when you don't have a willingness on the part of some of those very same people that offer those criticisms to offer solutions.
QUESTION: Does that include the United Kingdom?
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: The people that you're talking about right now, does that include the United Kingdom?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to point to anybody in particular, James.
QUESTION: Because they have criticized -- the attorney general of that nation has --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to point to anybody in particular, James.
QUESTION: Can you say a word about how credible you feel this UN Committee Against Torture is and whether you value what their report says and value them as an organization and their ability to evaluate what the U.S. is doing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Convention Against Torture is an important international convention and I think the very fact that we sent a high-level delegation there -- we had our Legal Counsel go there and he was accompanied by our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the fact that they stayed there and gave detailed presentations and they answered -- they gave responses to questions that were asked of them, I think is an indication of the seriousness with which we took the exercise.
QUESTION: Yes, but they protested because they couldn't meet with prisoners and that's why maybe the report is so harsh. So don't you think it undermines your ability to push for freedom agenda abroad and to have more credibility abroad?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I don't think -- yes, I have heard a lot of criticism of the United States on this square. We've all heard it. But I don't think that -- and certainly we wouldn't take the criticism that somehow the United States is not in the forefront of pushing for a freedom -- the expansion of freedoms around the world. The United States has been a beacon of democracy and liberty over the decades and that continues to the present day. The number of people who still want to come to the United States, to emigrate here, I think is just one indicator of what people think of the United States.
So yes, we do hear the criticisms and sometimes when you're in a period, a turbulent period of history, you have to do hard things. And sometimes doing those hard things falls to the United States and sometimes people don't like the actions that we have to take. But the actions that we take, we believe are in the best interests of the American people and we believe that they are in the best interests of expanding freedom and democracy around the world.
QUESTION: Two questions, if I may. It's one thing if this kind of criticism comes from some whacko far-fringe group and it's another thing if it comes from some group that has a historical antipathy towards the United States. But I wonder if this kind of criticism carries more weight, compels policy makers here towards greater consideration of the criticism, if and when it comes from your closest ally in the war on terror, such as Great Britain.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, when our friends and allies offer up criticism, if they offer up their points of view, of course we listen to them with a great deal of respect. And we take -- we accept whatever points of view are offered in the spirit in which they're offered, and we believe they're offered in the spirit of friendship and the spirit of alliance. So of course we hear what people have to say. We listen to those points of view. But at the end of the day, the President of the United States and his top advisors are going to do those things which they believe are in the best interests of protecting the American people as well as in the course of that protecting our values and our freedoms and the freedoms of people around the world.
QUESTION: One last one on this subject. Can you tell us anything more today about the repatriation of the Saudis, where it stands, if -- anything you can give us on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you whether or not that's actually happened, James. I know there was the intent to do it. DOD has the actual responsibility for the logistics. I've seen some news reports that the transfers have actually taken place. I can't confirm that for you.
QUESTION: You said that it's the U.S. -- the U.S. has to do this, essentially, because nobody else is doing it. Have you made specific requests then to individual countries to take -- to house prisoners, to put them in facilities, and those requests have been turned down?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have had a lot of requests out there to take back individuals that are either citizens of countries or that were -- or that served as the point of origin for these particular individuals -- for particular individuals in Guantanamo Bay. We have to be able to satisfy ourselves of a couple of conditions which I talked about: one, that these people somehow won't be allowed to engage in terrorist activities if they are transferred; and also, that we have to be able to assure ourselves that those individuals -- we have to have a rational or reasonable expectation that they won't be mistreated, they won't be tortured.
Some of those negotiations have taken quite a long time. Some of them, you know, for example, negotiations with Saudi Arabia took quite some time. But at the end of the day, we were able to come to some agreement.
There's ongoing discussions with other countries. I think that John might be able to provide you a better state of play on exactly where we stand on all of those fronts, but certainly, there are cases where we absolutely would like to transfer people from Guantanamo Bay, but for any variety of reasons, we haven't been able to do so.
QUESTION: But it's not because individual countries turn to you and say, "We don't want them," it's because you don't trust those countries to put those prisoners in facilities and keep them there, essentially?
MR. MCCORMACK: I will let John get into any details that he can concerning negotiations.
QUESTION: If I can turn the question around, did you agree to all the requests to turn back the people to the countries?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to let John answer those questions. He really has been at the center of a lot of those discussions.
QUESTION: On Egypt --
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else before we get into Egypt? Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Okay. Today, the Egyptian Government rejected the U.S. criticism regarding Ayman Nour's case and the foreign minister described this as an insult to the independent justice system in Egypt. What's your reaction to that and do you expect Mr. Zoellick to discuss this matter during his visit to Egypt?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's going to be in Sharm el-Sheikh to attend the World Economic Forum. I'm sure he's going to run into and have discussions with Egyptian officials. It's certainly at his discretion whether or not he intends to raise it. We have raised it with the Egyptian ambassador here, our concerns -- you heard my publicly stated concerns on behalf of the U.S. Government yesterday. Those same concerns were conveyed to the Egyptian ambassador.
As for the independence of the judicial process, if you look back at my statement yesterday, I wasn't talking about the judges or the courts. What I was talking about was the Egyptian Government's handling of the case. That's where our problem is and I don't have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: You described it as a miscarriage of justice yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: The Egyptian Government's handling of the case. I wasn't referring to the courts and I think I made that -- at least I tried to make that clear yesterday.
QUESTION: The wife of Ayman Nour is speaking out, saying that she has no confidence that the United States is prepared to do anything specific to the Egyptian Government to make sure that this case is rectified or that the U.S. isn't committed to pushing these democratic reforms. What is your response to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't even know where to begin with that. Just as a point of departure, Secretary Rice went to Cairo, Egypt and gave a signature speech about the importance of the spread of freedom and democracy in Egypt. You have heard numerous statements from us concerning the spread of freedom and democracy in Egypt and, every single
-- on any given day, we're engaged on that issue with the Egyptian Government.
And like I said yesterday, we believe that we have seen -- witnessed the beginnings of a fundamental reorientation of Egyptian politics. You have, now, the provision for multi-candidate presidential elections and there have been, also, other positive developments. But how these things get worked out, ultimately, whatever solutions that are arrived at are going to have to be arrived at by the Egyptian people. The United States can't do this for the Egyptian people or for the Egyptian Government. What we can do is we can use our good offices to encourage, to try to channel efforts in the right direction. But ultimately, decisions about what Egyptian democracy looks like are going to have to be made by the Egyptian people, including people like Mr. Nour and his wife.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, can't you show your displeasure in other ways, like withholding funds and certain things? If you chose to do that? Wouldn't that send a signal to the Egyptians?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Yes, the U.S. Government could do that. And you know, our position right now is that we believe that the funding levels and where those funds go are appropriate. As you heard me say yesterday and you heard David Welch say as well, that we derive some benefits from those aid packages. But also the Egyptian Government has to realize that there's three branches of government here and the Legislative Branch has a say in how U.S. taxpayer funds get spent and where they get spent. So we're working with the Congress. We made clear what our views are, but Congress has a vote in this. And we'll see how it turns out.
QUESTION: You did yesterday make clear that you were targeting your criticism at the government, not the judiciary. But can you explain for us the logic of that to, you know, the common man and including me? It looks like, you know, a judge makes a decision and you don't think it's just, therefore, there's a criticism there. What is about what the government's doing?
MR. MCCORMACK: It really is about the nature of the case and whether or not -- it's incumbent upon, in my very cursory understanding of their legal system, that the Egyptian Government brings this case before the courts. So our concerns and these are longstanding
-- you can go back and look at it, back to the origins of the case -- our concerns were whether or not there really is a case there that the Egyptian Government -- what is really the basis for the case, is it really solid? And so that's what I was talking about.
QUESTION: The original reason for the case is something that you disagree with. A judge didn't throw it out. I don't understand how you're distinguishing between the judiciary's role and the government's. Yes, it was wrong for the government, you say, to bring it. Surely, therefore, it was also wrong for the judiciary not to throw it out.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to comment on a judge's or a court's decision in a system in which it is designed to have the courts be completely separate. So as a result, what we did is we talked about the government's role in this.
QUESTION: You spoke about Sharm el-Sheikh earlier. There will be a meeting between the Foreign Minister of Israel and President Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh. And I wanted to know if it's a meeting the U.S. pushed Israel to have or if it's --
MR. MCCORMACK: They make their decisions on their own about what meetings they have. Would we view that as positive? Sure, absolutely. I don't think you could argue that it would be a negative thing to have the Foreign Minister and President Abbas meet. President Abbas still believes in a two state solution via the roadmap and negotiation. That is in contradistinction to the Hamas-led government. So a meeting between President Abbas and the Israeli Foreign Minister, sure, that's positive.
QUESTION: What do you think they will get out of this meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it is positive to maintain those channels of communication at the very least.
QUESTION: Change of subject? The President of Kyrgyzstan has asked the U.S. to pay $200 million to keep our air base there. Are we going to pay it? If we don't pay it, where are we going to go? What are we going to tell them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There are ongoing negotiations between the U.S. Government and the Government of Kyrgyzstan about the use of Manas Air Base. I'm certainly not going to try to preview what our negotiating position might be, especially as it involves U.S. taxpayer dollars. So I'm just going to let those negotiations play out. I would only add that we are entering these discussions in good faith and we want to certainly try to address some of the legitimate concerns of the Government of Kyrgyzstan. But as to particular amounts that might get paid or for what reasons -- rent or other things might get paid, I'm not going to get into that right now.
QUESTION: I should have asked this at the beginning when I was talking about Cuba. In the buildup to the report, it's a time when people who don't like the policy come out and criticize it. So I wonder if you could, you know, give the defense of the U.S. policy toward Cuba. But in particular, the criticism is this idea of trying to isolate Cuba hasn't worked, the Castro government hasn't fallen. Why not engage with them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this comes -- first of all, there's a matter of principle and the United States stands for the principle of expanding freedom and democracy around the globe and especially in our hemisphere. This is -- and you look back at the decades of behavior of Fidel Castro and his regime and it's completely opposite from the expanding freedom and democracy around the world and for the Cuban people.
As a matter of fact, the Cuban people have been routinely oppressed. Those who have sought to speak out against the regime have been brutally put down. Certainly, I don't think anybody could argue that the Cuban regime passes Natan Sharansky's town square test. That is where if you wanted to speak out, go out to the town square and criticize or say something nasty about the government or the leaders of the government that you'd be free to do so and wouldn't have to worry about physical harm to your person. Well, that certainly isn't the case in Cuba.
And as for -- so I think our policy is certainly one based on principle and solidarity with the Cuban people. There have also been increasing concerns over the past couple of years on the part of European governments and other governments around the world about the direction of the Castro regime. So I think that this more of a time when the international community is scrutinizing the behavior of the Castro regime. And certainly now is not the time to change principled U.S. policy.
QUESTION: On the principle issue, those complaints that you have could be addressed or said against other countries with whom you do engage. China obviously comes to mind. And even in the past, when you were at complete odds with a country like the Soviet Union, you know, there was contact on certain levels to work on some things. Why does the principle sort of affect the policy in a different way, depending on Cuba?
MR. MCCORMACK: Saul, our policy on Cuba, as you know, is longstanding. There are a lot of reasons for it. You can look back in history. We could spend hours here talking about it. But you know, frankly, I think it's just easier to go back and look at what we've said in the past about it.
QUESTION: On Iran, are you aware or is the Department aware of published reports stating that the Iranian parliament this week passed a measure that would require non-Muslims to wear badges that identify them as such?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen the news reports. These have, I think, recycled over time. There is -- as I understand it, there is a -- some law currently in the parliament, the exact nature of which is unclear, so I'm not going to try to delve into giving a definitive comment or a detailed comment about something about which I don't have all the facts.
That said, if you did have such an occurrence, whether it was in Iran or elsewhere, it would certainly be despicable.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up for a second on it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that it's been something that, to your understanding, has been recycled over time. How long has the Department been following it or did you just become aware of these reports today for the first time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen various news -- similar news reports and I can't give you the exact dates, you know months ago, and they seem to be coming up again, based on the progression of -- well, I guess, for lack of a better term -- law through the Iranian parliament. The exact nature of that law is a little bit unclear and the exact motivations behind that are a little unclear. So I can't offer, like I said, a detailed comment about it.
QUESTION: Two more questions, if I might. What is the -- what kinds of means does the Department have at its disposal for verifying the passage of laws in the Iranian parliament?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we have access to open source material and we also talk frequently with other countries who have diplomatic representation in Iran.
QUESTION: And is there an effort underway right now to ascertain more about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And why would it be despicable, if it were true?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it has clear echoes, James, of Germany in the -- under Hitler, so I think that that's pretty clear. But again, you know, I don't want to delve too deeply into that because we don't have the facts.
QUESTION: Do you have an update for us on Nick Burns and his travel schedule next week?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. He's going to be in London on Tuesday.
QUESTION: Tuesday, not Wednesday?
MR. MCCORMACK: Tuesday. I believe Tuesday.
QUESTION: Some reports say Wednesday.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, guys. Are we going to do this again? Oh, jeez.
QUESTION: Well, Tuesday on our side --
QUESTION: Early next week. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, next week. Early next week.
Here's what I know. Here's what I know. The Secretary is going to be going up Sunday to Boston. She's going to be delivering a commencement address Monday morning in Boston at Boston College. Under Secretary Burns will be part of that trip. He's a native of the area as well as BC being his own alma mater. Right, Tom? Yes, yes. You have to get on this stuff.
MR. CASEY: I forgot the bio.
MR. MCCORMACK: And then the last I heard, it was his intention to depart from there to go to London, so I would expect for meetings on Tuesday. Now, if there is any updates -- update to the timing of this meeting, I'll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: On China. There have been calls for China to join the Group of 8 and I want to know if the United States welcomes or supports China to become a member of the Group of 8. If it does, does United States support China to become a full member or just member like Russia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not sure where the calls are coming from. I'll look into it for you. I haven't seen any calls for China to be part of the G-8, but we'll look for them and if such do exist, then we'll certainly try to give you a response to your question.
QUESTION: But does U.S. support China to become a member?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I have to look in -- I want to first assess the basis for your question, whether or not there are these calls out there. I haven't seen them. They may exist.
Yes. We have a couple more back here?
QUESTION: Well, the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. has said that the -- you know, the diversion of troops from Afghanistan to Iraq has -- "is hurting Afghanistan" and that it's allowed the Taliban insurgents and their al-Qaida allies to regroup there. And I'm wondering what your reaction -- what our response is to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there has been some redeployment of U.S. forces but you have also at the same time had an increase, large increase, in the number of NATO forces there. They have taken over responsibility for a number of UN -- U.S. forces in some of the southern provinces.
Now, there has been quite a bit of violence in this springtime in Afghanistan, especially in those southern provinces. It's something that, frankly, we expected. In the springtime, it is traditionally the time for -- to launch offensives and it appears that the Taliban and others have chosen this time to do so.
You've had very sharp, aggressive engagements between NATO forces and some of these Taliban forces. I think the very fact that you have a much larger presence in some of those southern provinces by NATO forces has led to some of these engagements. The very fact that they're now out in areas where they might not have been previously and engaging some of these forces, you're seeing an up tick in the level of violence -- that combined with the spring offensives is, I think, one explanation for what you're seeing in Afghanistan now.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Taiwan. With the annual World Health Assembly is going to be held next week. Is the U.S. position to support Taiwan's participation in World Health Organization still the same this year?
And the second, Taiwan just released its first national security paper. Any reaction to that paper?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have to get back to you on both of those questions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
_______________ *Note: Convention Against Torture
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)