State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 23, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 23, 2006
Statement on the Syrian Regime's Ongoing Crackdown on Civil Society
Call for Immediate Release of All Political Prisoners / Atmosphere of Fear
Syrian Request for the Arrest of Walid Jumblatt / Need to Comply with UN Resolutions
Syrian Accountability Act
Potential Israeli Talks with President Abbas / Good and Useful
Channel of Communication
Hamas-led Government / Demands of the International Community
Control of Security Forces / Palestinian Law
U.S. Deeply Involved in Humanitarian Assistance to the Palestinians
House Legislation on Funding for Palestine / Still in Senate
U.S. Looking at International Financial Mechanisms for
Contributions to Palestinians
Amnesty International Report Critical of U.S. / Treatment at GITMO
U.S. Working with Other Countries to Repatriate GITMO Detainees
U.S. Bearing Burden of GITMO Detainees / Some States Refuse To
Take Detainees Back
Treatment of Detainees by Contractors
Amnesty International Providing No Assistance in the Trial of
Accident Over the Aegean Between Turkish and Greek Aircraft
Urge the Greek and Turkish Governments to Work Together to Resolve
Security Guarantee Not on the Table
U.S. Involvement and Aid in Somalia / World Food Program
U.S. Working to Build Up Institutions to Form a Stable Government
Investigation Into Bombing
U.S. Expects UN Assessment Team to Be Allowed in Soon / Expect
Sudan to Fulfill Pledges
Efforts to Build Up AMIS Force in Interim
Vote for Independence / Need to Work Through Necessary Issues
Political Accommodation to a Tough Question
1:40 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. How is everybody? Good. I have one opening statement for you and then we can get into questions. This is a statement regarding Syria and the recent arrest of some Syrian reformers.
The Syrian regime's ongoing crackdown on Syrian civil society activists is a cause for great concern to the United States. The arrest of human rights lawyers Anwar al-Bunni and opposition activist Michel Kilo are merely the latest examples of Syria's blatant abuse of the rights of those who would peacefully seek to express their views. From arresting activists such as Kilo, al-Bunni, Mahmoud Mur'i, Nidal Darwish, Khalil Hussein and Suleiman al-Shummar, to putting Ali and Mohammed Abdullah, Fateh Jammous and Kamal Labwani on trial for political grounds, the Syrian Government continues to implement domestic policies which distance it from the rest of the international community. Arrests without warrant and sentences without evidence are not acceptable means of addressing political dissent.
We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Syria. As the Secretary stated on March 24th, 2006, the United States is disturbed by a clear pattern of increased repression by the Syrian Government of democracy and human rights activists. The United States deplores the atmosphere of fear being fostered by the Syrian authorities. We call upon the Government of Syria to cease its harassment of Syrians who seek to defend their rights and to bring democratic change to their country.
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Is it the Administration's view that even with a Hamas-led government that President Abbas --
MR. MCCORMACK: There was one on this, Barry, in the back. One on this in the back. Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: The Syrian Government has the Interpol, the International Police, to arrest Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt by force to bring him to military court in Syria. Do you have any --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I hadn't -- I haven't seen the details of that, but it would seem to me to be a, shall I put it, provocative move on the part of the Syrian Government. Look, I think the Syrian Government should be more focused on complying with the UN Security -- outstanding UN Security Council resolutions that are out there right now. There was one that was just passed within the past week concerning their behavior which calls upon them to come into compliance with those resolutions. They might take a first step and actually open up an embassy in Beirut, something which they have failed to do thus far and something which the Lebanese Government has asked them to do. So I think they should really concentrate on getting their own house in order before they start issuing or requesting arrest warrants for political leaders in Lebanon.
QUESTION: If you don't mind.
QUESTION: Given this statement and your previous statements there, what are the chances for a ramping up of sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act?
MR. MCCORMACK: We are always looking at where we stand with respect to the Syria Accountability Act, Peter. It's a, I think, nearly continuous exercise to see if we have our actions calibrated correctly to achieve the desired effect. I don't have any announcements today in that regard, but it's something that we're always looking at.
QUESTION: So there's no immediate plan to impose --
MR. MCCORMACK: No immediate plans that I have to share with you.
QUESTION: The U.S. is encouraging Israel to have what the White House spokesman called "serious talks" with President Abbas. There are talks going on. There were talks just this past weekend. I'm not sure I understand where the Administration thinks this could lead since there is a government, there is a Palestinian Government and of course it's being boycotted by the U.S., the Europeans and Israel. But what would be the end result of -- what is the end result the U.S. perceives in serious talks with Abbas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he is the President of the -- the elected President of the Palestinian Authority. He is a figure of moral authority and he does retain powers within the Palestinian political system. We think it's a good and useful channel of communication to retain, to keep open. Certainly we continue to have discussions with President Abbas. Foreign Minister Livni met with President Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh. I think that that was a positive development. So we think it's very useful and appropriate to keep those channels of communication open. You rightly point out that there is a -- now a Hamas-led government that does not recognize Israel's right to exist. It has not turned away from terror. It has not met the conditions laid out for it by the international community. We continue to believe in the two-state solution. We continue to believe that the roadmap is the way to get to that two-state solution. And I would point out that Prime Minister Olmert ran on a platform of a two-state solution and he believes in the roadmap.
So what we're looking for, Barry, is to keep open those channels of communication, just as we as well as others do, the Europeans do, in the hopes that at some point that a Hamas-led government actually does come around to meeting the just demands of the international community, meet those demands that the Quartet has laid out for them. So that's really the point here, Barry.
QUESTION: I got you. No one here is saying that a peace agreement could be executed by Abbas and the Israelis?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that's where the -- I don't think we're at that point, Barry.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we're --
QUESTION: There is no such point.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there is a --
QUESTION: He's not the government.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he is a political leader within the Palestinian political context.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, just about President Abbas's responsibilities? The Secretary made reference last week when you were talking about the rival militias that President Abbas should be allowed to exercise his responsibilities, which sort of left us wondering does the United States consider that the security forces are under Abbas's authority? You went to great lengths about five years ago to take them away from Yasser Arafat.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we don't think -- you know, again, we don't think any legitimate security purpose is served by having so-called security forces under the purview of a terrorist group. This is a point of contention, a point of debate under Palestinian law, with respect to whether or not those powers reside within the presidency or whether they reside within the government, in this case a Hamas-led government. I'm not going to try to get in between those different interpretations for you, Peter. I'm not an expert in Palestinian law.
But I would point out that there are existing security services which are under the purview of the president's office, those services which monitor the border crossing at -- between Egypt and the Palestinian areas. So there are some security services that are underneath, that are under the purview of President Abbas.
Like I said, I don't think that in our view we see any legitimate purpose for so-called security services being under the watchful eye of a terrorist group.
QUESTION: But just to be clear, sir, you're not an expert on Palestinian law but you certainly are an expert in the thinkings of Condoleezza Rice. When she said last week that President Abbas should exercise his responsibilities, can we assume correctly there that what she was saying is that the security forces should be consolidated and consolidated under his purview?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's President Abbas's call to make. Certainly we have stood behind the -- we stood -- we have stood behind the principle of security forces being consolidated under one command so you have unity of command. And you have a situation now where President Abbas does have some of the security forces under his control. But there are, as we have seen, a lot of guns in Gaza and what you need to have is one law and one gun.
And again, I'm not going to try to get into the finer points of Palestinian law here, but certainly as a leader that believes in a two-state solution, that believes in security, that believes in fighting terrorism, I think that on that score you look at who fits that bill: It's President Abbas.
QUESTION: You've been calling for talks with President Abbas and you call him a moral figure, a moral authority figure. What is the U.S. doing to empower him beyond talking to him and asking others to talk to him? I mean, you've said at this time you don't see an opportunity to fund his office or provide him with any additional U.S. support. So what are you doing beyond talking?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are many others who are talking to President Abbas and looking at how they might support his office. Just because the United States doesn't provide funding to his office, which is not something that we have foreclosed at this point, doesn't mean that others can't do that. And I think that if you look around, there are others that are doing that.
QUESTION: Okay. But your -- this -- your office, from this podium and the President is calling for empowering him and serious talks. So why, while others are supporting him, why is the U.S. not doing so?
MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, these are policy decisions that we take a look at on a daily basis. At this point we have not provided any funding to his office. We have provided a lot of funding for the Palestinian people, however. Just last week we saw the beginning of the delivery of $10 million in aid to the Palestinian people, humanitarian assistance. So the United States is deeply involved and it is not -- it is not for the United States to, in every case, provide funding for every particular function, so in this case there may be others that are doing that. We, ourselves, are focusing on providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, which we think is a good use of American taxpayer dollars.
QUESTION: While we're there, does the Administration still feel that the House bill which passed overwhelmingly today is unnecessary and overreaching?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think right now the situation, Barry, is you're going to have two different bills. You're going to have -- you're going to have a bill that passes the Senate. I'm not -- I don't think it's passed the Senate yet.
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's working -- it's working its way through.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have a bill that has passed the House. They're going to meet in conference. And we are going to be working with both sides, both the House as well as the Senate, on what the shape of this final bill looks like, what the shape of any potential restrictions on the flow of money from the United States to the Palestinian areas might be. Certainly the President, as Chief Executive, needs to retain certain authorities to be able to fully exercise his responsibilities as the person who implements our foreign policy. This is always a topic of discussion between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, you know, how money gets spent and what restrictions there might be in the -- on the Executive Branch.
So we're going to be working with the Hill on it, Barry. It's going to be a topic of conversation. But let me just make one final point. Nobody, whether in the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch, wants to see any money go to a terrorist organization and we're going to make sure that that doesn't happen.
QUESTION: Does the House bill impinge on that authority?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into dissecting the specific provisions of it.
QUESTION: Sean, this morning apparently the Israelis surrounded a house on the West Bank near Ramallah and arrested a wanted -- well, Hamas-leaning fugitive, wanted since 1998. He's been carted away in handcuffs, obviously. Part of the Fatah faction are in Israeli jails and you saw in the last month with explosives being brought into Gaza Strip.
Now, in the last two weeks, there's been $800,000 that miraculously showed up and business people, maybe out of Iran and elsewhere, are contributing to those monies. There's the complaint, obviously, with the Palestinian Authority that their government servants in various ministries haven't been paid. Now, if we're putting a block and maybe the Europeans as well on the monies going to all the defense and security needs of the Palestinian Authority, money is certainly coming to it. Would you propose some type of international group to go in, perhaps a function of what General Dayton has done to make certain that things don't get further out of control?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a lot in there, Joel, a lot in that question. Let me try to address what we are doing. What we are doing is working closely with our European colleagues -- they have the lead -- in looking at what financial -- international financial mechanisms might be out there to aid the Palestinian people, basically to serve as a clearinghouse and a funnel for international contributions to the Palestinian people. Thus far, there hasn't been any agreement on what that mechanism might be.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Rob Danin is going to be going to Brussels, I believe, for meetings tomorrow on just this very topic. But I don't expect those meetings to actually come out with any conclusions at this point. I think it's just going to be a working meeting to look at various ideas that are out there. As I said, the EU is in the forefront of this effort and we look forward to seeing what it is that they propose.
QUESTION: Amnesty International --
QUESTION: Can we stay on this for a second?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do we have any information -- more about the mission by David and Elliot out there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, yeah, I checked on this. I saw there was a report in an Israeli newspaper that they might be going to region. At this point neither of them has any plane tickets. On any given day, you could say that they're going to region. On this particular day, I can't say that. So we'll keep you up to date if there's any travel.
Sir, did you have one on this?
QUESTION: No. Different subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. All right. Sylvie.
QUESTION: So I was asking about the report of Amnesty International published today which is very critical of U.S. and says that, among other things, that torture is practiced in Guantanamo. Is it true?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. And certainly Amnesty International is entitled to their opinion. We see they're pretty good at press releases, I've noticed. Look, you know, we've gone over this time after time again. There's a group of European MPs that just went down to Guantanamo. There have been many, many outside organizations that have gone down to Guantanamo to look at exactly what is happening down at Guantanamo Bay and how exactly these individuals are treated. So no, nobody is being tortured at Guantanamo Bay.
But let me make one other point with respect to Amnesty International because I think it's -- I think it's relevant. In the years -- in the years of Saddam Hussein's rule, Amnesty International was at the forefront of bringing to light human rights abuses that were perpetrated by that regime -- terrible, terrible things. They do great work in that regard.
But when it came time to put Saddam Hussein on trial, which is happening right now, they're absent. They've done zero, zip, nothing to assist in those efforts. So, in terms of where they might focus some of their efforts, I would just offer the humble suggestion that they might follow through in actually assisting with or providing some support to this trial for what they acknowledge is one of the great human rights abusers of recent times.
QUESTION: Yeah, if I can follow up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: It's the second report this week which is very critical on the U.S. handling human rights and torture. In terms of public diplomacy, do you think it's -- you are projecting the right image?
MR. MCCORMACK: What we're doing, and we talked about this a little bit last week -- look, President Bush has pointed out that the United States doesn't want to be the world's jailer, that we have no desire to be the world's jailer, and that at some point in the future would we all like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down? Absolutely. But at the moment, there's dangerous people being held at -- in Guantanamo Bay. These are people that were picked up on battlefields, planning for, engaged in various acts of terrorism around the world. These are individuals who pose a threat potentially not only to American citizens but citizens from Europe as well as around the world.
So we are working with other countries around the globe to try to return these people, repatriate these people to their home countries, but in a way so that we can assure ourselves, have a reasonable expectation that they won't being maltreated or tortured and that they won't be allowed to engage in acts of terrorism or planning for acts of terrorism. So the United States is working to try to return these people. The United States is bearing this burden in keeping these people off the street. So I think we have to reframe the debate here a little bit. Look, nobody wants Guantanamo Bay opened -- to remain open in perpetuity. Nobody is saying that. But it is serving a purpose now. It is serving the purpose of keeping these individuals who pose a threat to Americans, as well as others, off the street.
QUESTION: Amnesty International gives the example of Libya and says that you sent back detainees in Libya. Do you have the assurance that in Libya they are not tortured? How can you say they are not tortured in Libya?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the particulars of that case, Sylvie. But when we do return people to their home countries, we always go through a very, very careful and detailed process. And they have to be able to assure American officials and policy makers that they believe that these individuals will not be maltreated, will not be tortured. So we go through and do that in every single case.
Oftentimes, that takes a long -- it takes a long time for them to get those assurances. The negotiations with Saudi Arabia lasted quite some time. There are some states who have refused to take back individuals. And there are states with which we had to do very in-depth negotiations to make sure that these individuals wouldn't be set free or wouldn't be allowed to engage in acts of terrorism or planning for acts of terrorism. So this is a very -- this is not a process that is done on the fly. This is a very careful process that our lawyers go through.
QUESTION: One of the charges of Amnesty is that you have been kind of contracting out a lot of the interrogations and work dealing with detainees to contractors which don't seem to be subject to the same rules and regulations in terms of torture and cruel and inhumane punishment. Can you say that all U.S. contractors are subject to the same rules and regulations and that this is not a way of getting around some of those laws against cruel and inhumane punishment?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let -- I'll go find an answer from the lawyers to give you a legal answer on that. But I will point out that there had been contractors that have actually stood trial and I believe that there's an individual that's actually been jailed as a result of some of the allegations that have been -- allegations that have been proven in the eyes of the court against him, in terms of maltreating individuals.
QUESTION: Just on this?
QUESTION: Quickly on --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Do you -- on this topic or --
QUESTION: No, on a different subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you be a bit more specific about the support you think that the Amnesty can provide for the trial of Saddam Hussein?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they have a vast database -- I guess for lack of a better term -- cataloging these human rights abuses during --
QUESTION: Evidence or something that --
MR. MCCORMACK: During the -- yeah, I mean, you know, part of this process is getting the information. And, you know, I would submit to you that Iraqi authorities are taking on a pretty big task here. And they're trying to not only put on a trial for Saddam Hussein and the key members of that regime, but in a larger sense, they're trying to come to closure with their past. And we would think that an NGO like Amnesty International would have an interest in assisting the Iraqi people, the now free Iraqi people, in that regard. So it was just a suggestion. We'll see if they follow through on it.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the incident over the Aegean Sea between the Turkish and the Greek aircrafts this morning? And secondly, if you have a comment to the fact that once more the Turkish aircrafts were inside the FIR of Athens in violation with the ICAO rules. And as a strategic partner of Turkey, do you talk to your allies to start to acting as responsible allies in NATO?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I was just looking through here what I have on this particular question. Right now we don't have all the facts. But early indications are that this would appear to be a terrible accident. I understand that one Greek pilot is missing and that one Turkish pilot has been rescued. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with both the Greek and Turkish people in this regard, as well as the families of the individuals involved. I think that the Greek and Turkish governments are in contact with respect to this incident. And certainly, we hope that they resolve any issues surrounding -- potential issues surrounding the accident, so you don't see this type of thing again.
QUESTION: Yeah. But if I have a follow-up, this is an issue that goes for many, many years. And there is the fact that once more the Turkish aircraft didn't provide flight plans and went into the FIR of Athens in violation of ICAO rules. As a member of NATO and an ally to both countries, do you talk to both of your allies to see what's going on there and to see a resolution on this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions about whether or not one aircraft was in, you know, another country's airspace or not. Those are things that need to be determined at this point. I don't have all the facts in that regard.
Look, it's a -- the Aegean is a small area and we all the know the differences that exist between Greece and Turkey on this. And so what we would like to see is that these two NATO allies work together to de-conflict, to make sure that they don't have these kinds of accidents. When you do have these kinds of accidents, you know, it's terrible. Nobody likes to see this happen. But what we would hope and what we would urge is that the two states would work together so that you don't have a repeat of this.
QUESTION: Is there a point you try to find out (inaudible).
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I mean --
QUESTION: I mean, I'm sure you don't want these to keep --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Sure, we want to learn certainly for a couple of reasons, Barry. One, just to have the facts to understand exactly what happened. And two, to potentially learn from them what happened, what might have occurred that led to these -- led to this accident so it won't happen again.
QUESTION: Could I ask you something? I might ask you if we're on -- off --
MR. MCCORMACK: Do we have anything else on this topic?
QUESTION: I wanted to know if anybody from this building calling Greece and Turkey about this matter.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody been in touch?
MR. CASEY: I know there's been contacts from our embassies. I'm not aware of anything specific about it in this building.
MR. MCCORMACK: So our embassies have been in contact with the host governments, Tom said. I'm not aware of anything that's --
QUESTION: Really, what is your advice to the two governments?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: What is your advice to --
QUESTION: The question is --
MR. MCCORMACK: My advice? Well, you know, I don't think they want my advice. I don't think -- (laughter). That's why I have a desk. (Laughter.) I don't fly airplanes. (Laughter.) I don't think my advice would be relevant.
QUESTION: Can I push this maybe where you don't want to go? The Secretary was back on the issue of a security guarantee for Iran --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- again in the interview with the Boston --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think because she --
QUESTION: -- College newspaper.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think because she was asked about it . And let me point out --
QUESTION: I know it. I saw it. She's being --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- some of the questions from the student journalists were pretty good. You might want to look into hiring them. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A good interview. They (inaudible) started a wire service.
QUESTION: Pretty good compared to what?
MR. MCCORMACK: Just pretty good.
QUESTION: Maybe the Globe can use some help. (Laughter.)
But she's been on it several times. As for -- speaking for myself, she keeps saying it hasn't come up. It's not an issue. It's not that. You haven't flatly ruled out, though, have you, in the course of negotiations there could be such an offer and the U.S. would think it's not a bad idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not on the table, Barry.
QUESTION: I know that. But are you ruling it ever out if it --
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, you know, look I have to deal with the reality as it before me. It's not on the table.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Do you want to change with maybe someone who wants to start a new subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody else want to pursue that? Okay.
QUESTION: The Ambassador to Kenya, William Bellamy, has sent apparently a letter to a newspaper in Kenya about Somalia. I wanted to see if there was a way to get the full text of that letter, if possible.
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse, me. It was from our Ambassador to Kenya --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- to whom?
QUESTION: It's to a newspaper in Kenya.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Check with the Embassy.
QUESTION: Okay. I thought that the Bureau here might have a copy of that letter or that --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't have anything for --
QUESTION: Because I assume it was cleared by --
MR. MCCORMACK: Why the particular interest in this letter?
QUESTION: Because not many people have spoken on the record about U.S. involvement in Somalia. But that's about it. And he says that the United States -- says it's true that the U.S. has encouraged a variety of groups in Somalia to oppose al-Qaida presence and reject Somali militants who shelter and protect these terrorists.
Does -- he doesn't talk specifically about any warlords. Obviously, he doesn't exclude those people or groups from the groups that the United States is supporting. I wonder if -- he also talks about aid. Do you happen to know what the current sort of aid the United States provides to Somalia and what it's being used for?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can certainly tell you one aspect of it. And one aspect of it is through the World Food Program providing aid to the Somalian people, which comes in through Somali ports and goes to people in the south. So that's certainly one aspect of it.
QUESTION: But it also provides anti-terrorist aid, as far as I understand. Is that something --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, look, we talked -- I think we talked about this a week or ten days ago or something like that, you know, at length. And what I said then is that we work with a variety of individuals as well as the federal transitional institutions to try to build up those institutions so they form the basis for some future government in Somalia, and also working with individuals to try to create a more secure, stable environment there. We do have concerns about the presence of foreign fighters in Somalia and the presence of those individuals certainly can be destabilizing. So you have to look at these two goals as mutually reinforcing: You want to build the institutions; you also want to fight the potential presence of terrorists in Somalia that might incite others to violence.
QUESTION: Hamid Karzai has called for an investigation into the bombing yesterday that killed, I think it was about 15 or 16 civilians. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that that's something that certainly our military will work with the Afghan Government on. From time to time as our forces or other forces in Afghanistan are engaging the Taliban, there have been occasions -- unfortunately and sadly -- where innocent life has been taken, but in each of these cases our military does a thorough investigation. They work very closely with Afghan authorities on those investigations so I'm not going to try to prejudge the outcome of a particular investigation.
QUESTION: Have the Afghans tried to contact us about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to check with DOD on that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the detention of a former State Department diplomat Ann Wright? She was detained at Fort McNair for distributing leaflets on an anti-administration documentary.
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: The African Union is now recommending that troops be put into Darfur within two months. Did you follow up at all on what we've heard back from the Sudanese Government and what kind of phone calls are being made to them, if there's any progress on getting their acceptance?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, did look into it and what I understand is that the Special Envoy for the Secretary General Lakhdar Brahimi and Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi are scheduled to be in Khartoum today. And one of the things that they're going to be talking about is getting this UN mission in so that they can do their assessment. I understand that they don't yet have their visas. They have made a request, but we certainly hope and expect that the assessment team would be able to travel soon. Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Annabi are also going to be talking about implementation of the Darfur peace agreement.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that briefly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I think it's been probably about two weeks, I think, since President Bush had two conversations in the space of three days with President Bashir and was trying to get an answer just on that very question. I think there is indication there that an answer might be forthcoming within a week or so, or ten days. I forgot the exact one. So far we haven't had anything and all we have is people coming in talking about sending in a mission that's going in. It doesn't seem to be going very far. The question is how long are we going to really wait before we say that there's a no from Bashir and we have to do something?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Or you have to do something?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, would we had hoped that this mission would have been in there by now? Yeah, absolutely. And we hope that we -- that they get an answer very soon. What we can do, Peter, is we can continue to encourage, to apply pressure to those decision makers in Khartoum so that they allow these visas to be issued and the assessment team can get in there. We are hopeful based on past track record that the assessment team will be able to get in. Sometimes these things take longer than we wish, sometimes a lot longer than we wish. But there is a track record of our being able to, working with other partners in the international community, to convince Khartoum to follow through on their pledges when they pledge to let this assessment team in and they pledge to pave the way for this AU mission to transition into a UN peacekeeping operation. So we expect Khartoum to fulfill their pledges.
QUESTION: Do you have a contingency plan if they say no?
MR. MCCORMACK: We believe that they will say yes, Peter, and it is just -- it is a matter of time, we believe.
QUESTION: What about parallel efforts to, while you're doing this assessment team and assessing needs for a UN peacekeeping force, just beefing up the AMIS force, putting additional troops on the ground immediately to stabilize the security. Is that part of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Through NATO -- that's part of the NATO effort, Elise. I'll check for you to see where we stand on --
QUESTION: Isn't there something about some Rwandan troops coming through?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I'll check for you. I don't have the details on it, Peter. I'll be happy to check for you where we stand on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: The question is beefing up the AMIS mission in this interim period.
QUESTION: Preliminary talks --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Try to get you something on that.
QUESTION: On Montenegro, yesterday we did not have the final results of the referendum.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you today tell us what you think about the choice for independence they did?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the -- we congratulate the people of Montenegro on both sides of the vote for acting in such a responsible manner on the historic issue -- this historic issue. The United States applauds the peaceful, democratic and transparent manner in which the referendum was carried out. And it appears that the people of Montenegro have spoken and that the referendum has passed, so what we look for now is both Serbia and Montenegro to now work through all the very complicated questions that will accompany this decision.
So you know, going through this, we believe the vote was free and fair. I think the OSCE came out and said that this met the international standards for holding a referendum, that it met the threshold previously laid -- about 55 percent, just barely, but above 55 percent. And now it is up to the leadership and the people of Serbia and Montenegro to work together to implement this decision.
QUESTION: And do you think it's a good thing, a new state in this region?
MR. MCCORMACK: It is a political accommodation to what is a -- what was a tough question for the people of the region.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)
DPB # 86
Released on May 23, 2006