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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 25, 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 25, 2006

INDEX:

IRAN
P-5+1 Meeting in London and Chapter 7 Resolution / Upcoming
Conference Call Planned by P-5+1 Political Directors / Bilateral
Contacts / Russians / Meeting of Ministers
International Community Calls for Iran to Suspend Enrichment
Activities / IAEA Board of Governors / Secretary Rice Meeting with
ElBaradei

ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
President Abbas' Proposal to Dialogue with Hamas-led Government /
Proposed Referendum

SUDAN
UN Assessment Team / Positive Step Forward
Reports of Continued Violence / SLA Fighting / Darfur Peace
Agreement / Timetable for Expansion of Troops

CONGO
American Citizens Detained by DROC Government

ARMENIA
Departure of Ambassador John Evans / Intent to Nominate Richard
Hoagland

MISCELLANEOUS
Pan Am Flight 103 Families at Department of State / Settlement
with Government of Libya / Removal from Terrorist List

CHINA / NORTH KOREA
Assistant Secretary Chris Hill Meeting with Chinese Counterparts /
Resumption of Six-Party Talks / Sanctions on Chinese Banks and
Companies to Prevent Korean WMD Proliferation

TRANSCRIPT:

12:22 p.m. EDT


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How you guys doing? Doing all right? Excellent.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the Enron?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's right. (Laughter.) That's the only way anything here will get in the wires or the news today, is that it? There's no State Department angle to it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How about the Birmingham, Alabama, winner of American Idol?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I think that it's certainly noteworthy -- 63 million Americans voted in it last night.

I don't have any opening statements. I'll be happy to get into your serious questions now.

George.

QUESTION: I'm bereft of any kind questions, serious or otherwise.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Good. We'll move down the row here.

QUESTION: From the London conference, I'm wondering if you have indication whether Russia would go along with the Chapter 7 resolution.

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I guess I would just reiterate what I said yesterday; that all the parties of the P-5+1 discussions yesterday I believe brought with them there a new spirit to these discussions; that there was good progress. They didn't come to final closure on all the elements of this package, both on the incentive side and the disincentive side. And the next steps here are that the ministers will meet. I expect it will likely be in Europe and likely be at the end of next week. It hasn't been finally nailed down yet, but I hope to be able to talk to you more about that soon. Just prior to that -- I think next Tuesday, the P-5+1 political directors will get together in a conference call to tee up the ministers meeting, we hope later in the week. So that's where we stand now.

We're not going to pick out any particular element of the package under discussion right now. Lots of news reports on both sides of this thing. But the discussion covered both sides, incentives, disincentives, good progress on both sides, still some issues to work out. Hopefully everybody can go back to capitals, work their interagency processes and then talk to one another and work out any last -- any of these last areas where things need to be knit up. That's where we stand right now.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Mr. ElBaradei said yesterday that Iran would be ready to at least freeze its enrichment activities for a while. Is it something you think would be acceptable?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what the international community has called upon Iran to do is to suspend its enrichment activities. That is in the IAEA Board of Governors statement. It is in the UN Security Council presidential statement. Both of the -- I think the IAEA Board of Governors statement refers back to the idea of suspension as part of the Paris agreement that was reached between Iran and the EU-3 negotiating partners. So what we're -- what I think the world is looking for is for Iran to return to suspension of its enrichment-related activities.

Yes.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. encourage the national dialogue between Abbas and Hamas and what are your expectations out of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen the press reports about the dialogue that has been proposed by President Abbas and the Hamas-led government. There have been, at lower levels, I think attempts at this kind of dialogue. Look, we'll see what comes out of this. If there -- as a result of dialogue, you get to the point where Hamas and this Hamas-led government meets the conditions outlined by the international community, then I guess we might be able to look back and say, well, this was a positive development. I think at this point I can't offer any sort of comment other than the fact that if this would lead to Hamas meeting the conditions laid out by the international community that would be certainly positive. But at this point we don't have an indication that this in fact the case.

Teri.

QUESTION: Could I go back to Iran for just a moment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: If all that's left between the foreign ministers meeting is a political director's phone call, does that indicate that they are quite far along the path of having this finalized?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, they made good progress. And there will probably be more than just that one phone call. There's going to be individual phone calls along the way as well, you know, bilateral contacts. But they made good progress, made good progress. But in the words of a former Secretary of State, "nothing's done until everything's done." So while we are pleased with the progress that was made in London, you don't have a completed package yet. There are still some issues to work out and we are hopeful that we will be able to work through those issues.

QUESTION: Could you characterize them at all? Is it the incentive side, the disincentive side, a light-water reactor (laughter) side, just --

MR. MCCORMACK: Just for instance. Just throwing it out there.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I think there was progress on both sides. You know, all these things are interconnected, both on the incentive side and the disincentive side. So you have to -- you've made progress on both aspects of it. You don't have a final agreement until you have everything worked out on both sides. So I think it's safe to say on both sides there are probably a few issues to work out.

QUESTION: And would you say that the Russians and Chinese came with a constructive attitude?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there was a positive attitude certainly from the Russians, I think.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken with any of her colleagues since yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: She has not, no. Well, on this topic she has not, Charlie. She did have a talk with Foreign Minister Downer of Australia on the situation in East Timor.

QUESTION: So are we to understand that the ministerial will be the place and the time when a final deal would be reached, that that's why there'll be a meeting of the ministers, that that's where the closure will come?

MR. MCCORMACK: We certainly hope that would be the case. Certainly hope that would be the case.

Yes.

QUESTION: Are you in a position to elaborate further on what ElBaradei told Rice yesterday? He said he briefed her on what Larijani had said. Anything else to offer on that? He was a little vague, what he said.

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Did he push her to talk directly to Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: They had a good discussion. They had a good discussion. I'm not going to go into it any further.

Mr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Did you mean to leave the impression that China's attitude wasn't positive? You said --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no --

QUESTION: You volunteered that Russia was positive.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think all the various parties played a constructive role in the talks. Yeah.

Anything else? (Laughter.) Yeah, Teri's ready. Teri's going to finish my sentences now.

QUESTION: I've given you an opening, given you an opening.

MR. MCCORMACK: Ah, Lambros. Welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. How are you?

MR. MCCORMACK: It hasn't been the same without you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Everything is under control here, yes? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. I don't know, not anymore. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. I would like to know any update on the Aegean issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Any update on the Aegean issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. No.

QUESTION: You said yesterday a lot of dispute about sea lanes and territory and all those sort of things, and those are things that we would hope that over time Greece and Turkey would be able to work through. Do you know how?

MR. MCCORMACK: How would they do that?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a variety of different mechanisms that would be at their disposal, but I think certainly bilateral contact is one way to go about it.

QUESTION: Did you communicate with Athens as the Department of State (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know the embassies were in touch. I don't think we have any updates.

MR. CASEY: I don't have any updates on it.

QUESTION: Anyone from this building?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll check for you, Lambros.

QUESTION: And one more? What about any communication with the Greek opposition leader Mr. George Papandreou?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Are we done?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, this has spurred -- strange. Better get back to more questioning. Sylvie.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Palestinians, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: President Abbas is proposing to organize a referendum.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Did you see that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Saw those reports at the same time I saw the ones about the dialogue.

QUESTION: Yeah, it came rather recently. So I wanted to know if you have any comment on that, if you think it's a good idea to try to overpass the Hamas and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it, the two things are linked. Where you would have this effort at dialogue between President Abbas on one hand and then a Hamas-led government on the other to try to come to some understanding or agreement that more reflects the Palestinian Authority's past behavior in terms of being a negotiating partner for Israel and the other parties with interest in seeing disputes between the Israelis and Palestinians solved. If that doesn't work out, if within a set amount of time they aren't able to come to some agreement, then I believe the proposal goes that President Abbas would ask to put that question to a vote.

Look, we'll see. We'll see what comes of this. You know, I think that really the only way you can test the proposition is for the Palestinians to go through that process, whether it's a referendum or whether it's through national dialogue or through other -- some other peaceful means, to talk about what their -- what the future of the Palestinian people will be, whether or not the Palestinian people will realize a Palestinian state. It's going to be for them to decide. So if at some point in the future we can look back and you have an outcome where there's a Hamas government that has met the conditions of the international community, then I think you at that point say, well, yes, it was positive to have the dialogue, it was positive to have the referendum. But at this point, we can't answer those questions.

Yes. Teri.

QUESTION: Change to Sudan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Government of Sudan has not yet agreed to allow in a UN Force. I guess the UN.

QUESTION: The assessment teams.

QUESTION: -- not allowed to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let assessment team -- but the assessment team, you should check with Libby before --

QUESTION: No. Yeah, right. (Laughter.) Libby -- no, I heard the latest wire. It says they have not agreed to allow UN troops into Darfur.

MR. MCCORMACK: What they have -- this is our understanding and this was just recently breaking, so I understand you might not have seen it.

QUESTION: Okay. This is 12 -- as of 12:17.

MR. MCCORMACK: Is that the Sudanese Government has agreed to let in the UN assessment team. And the UN assessment team would work with the AU in making assessment of what would be needed to expand the current AMIS mission so that they could both help with the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as well as the Darfur peace agreement.

QUESTION: So you're considering this a step on the way to eventually getting UN troops?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's positive. Positive. Yes, a positive step forward. Yes. You have to do the assessment -- you have to have the assessment team on the ground in order, as a precondition really to have an expanded force there and eventually a UN peacekeeping force. So yes, we view this as a positive step. There are problems elsewhere in Darfur. There are reports of continued violence in Darfur where you have various members of the -- various factions of the SLA fighting with one another, those factions doing raids on villages, SLA fighting with Janjaweed. But on the positive side, you also do have some reports of the Sudanese Government engaging with the Janjaweed and trying to prevent violence and that's positive. That's part of the Darfur Peace Agreement and part of the responsibilities of the Khartoum Government. So that's one positive aspect.

We do need to -- they do need to try to get a handle on the violence. All the parties need to meet their obligations under the Darfur Peace Agreement. But the only way that you are going to really address the security situation in the immediate term is to have that expanded mission, to have that UN mission. And the decision by Khartoum to let in the assessment team is a step along that pathway.

QUESTION: Although they have specifically said that this is not a -- that this does not indicate that they are going to vote for -- going to allow the troop expansion. Why do you think they're still holding out on that when they said that would come along with the peace agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, this is -- it certainly is consistent with their past behavior where every step along the way here is something that is negotiated and pondered and sometimes requires some pushing, some suggesting, some cajoling. Certainly, we and others are prepared to do that. This particular decision to let the UN assessment team in did take some time, but -- the mission by Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Hedi was successful so we're quite pleased that the government in Khartoum has decided to make this -- take this step.

QUESTION: I've got another one. Sorry, everybody. Libby, do you have one?

QUESTION: Well, if all goes with the UN assessment team, what's the best-case scenario for a timetable of getting an expanded force in there? When could they be ready to go in?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we certainly hope that that would be something that wouldn't take so long. At this point I could only narrow it down to a matter of months. I can't say how many months at this point. But certainly there is a demonstrated need for it and we would hope that this process could move along as quickly as it possibly can.

George.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Americans who got into some trouble in Congo?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, they were -- I don't have an update from today, but I understand -- I understand what happened was that there were some individuals that were arrested by the DROC Government, that there were some allegations and concerns about what activities they might be engaged in. Among them were three American citizens. Our consular officials have been in touch with those individuals. We don't have Privacy Act waivers so I can't get into any more specifics about them -- about what happened, but we are working within appropriate bounds to do what we can to resolve any questions that might be present in the minds of the DROC Government officials.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia? Apparently, the Congress is concerned about the dismissal of this ambassador.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's -- my understanding is that he will be -- he has plans to leave post after two years. Usually the tour is three years. There has been an individual, a Mr. Hoagland, I believe. Mr. Hoagland has been -- intent to nominate yesterday.

Look, we -- all appointed officials -- me, everybody else who goes through Senate confirmations -- served at the pleasure of the President and the Secretary. And certainly Mr. -- Ambassador Evans should be congratulated for his long career and his distinguished service to our country. He has served in the State Department for, what, 35 years, Tom?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thirty-five years. Yeah.

QUESTION: So it has nothing to do with any comment on the genocide of Armenians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Sylvie, like I all said -- like I said, we all serve at the pleasure of the President.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, is it your understanding that he plans to retire?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that he plans to retire after he leaves post?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe so, but you'll have to check with him, Nicholas, about what his plans are.

QUESTION: And I suppose that you wouldn't -- since you didn't answer her -- Sylvie's question, would you be able to say whether he is leaving post because of his own decision or was he asked to leave post?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Nicholas, we all -- like I said, we all serve at the pleasure of the President and he's done a fine job for the American people over 35 years and we appreciate his service. There is somebody who has been -- at least the intent to nominate has come out and we would hope that the Senate would act in a speedy manner on that nomination, as we would -- would hope with all nominations that are coming out of the State Department and going up to the Hill.

Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, have you -- has the United States been informed of a decision by the Belarus Government to ban overflights of Belarus by American aircraft?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you, Dave. I haven't --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard of that one.

QUESTION: Bonus?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Bonus question, there we go.

QUESTION: Do you have anything -- apparently, these militias in Mogadishu are really going at it hook and tong. I was wondering if you are aware of it, any reaction at all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any updates for you from the last time we talked about that.

Yes.

QUESTION: I had a question about the Pan Am Flight 103 families. They were here in Washington yesterday. I understand they had a meeting here at the State Department. Can you give us a sense about what that meeting was about? And then also, I guess, the families are complaining that they're not getting the access at the State Department that they used to years before and so on.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of those comments. We -- people from the State Department have been in touch with various members of this group, the lawyers, sometimes individual families. They were here yesterday. They met with one of our legal councils, Jonathan Schwartz, Frank Urbancic who's the deputy in our counterterrorism office, as well as Gordon Gray, who's one of the Deputy Assistant Secretaries in the Near East Bureau. And it was really just one of these periodic meetings that we do have with the Pan Am 103 families to update them on where we stand. We did have some significant announcements just about a week -- a little over a week ago. And so it's just to answer whatever questions they may have -- update them on where the U.S. -- and update them on where the U.S. Government stands.

QUESTION: I understand that they've been trying to get in touch with the Libyans for the past week and they've made their overtures, but haven't heard back yet. Has the State Department been trying to help facilitate those contacts?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of their attempts to reach the Libyan Government. Now with respect to the agreement that they have worked out or their lawyers worked out in conjunction with the Libyan Government and working through the U.S. courts, that's something that is a -- that was an arrangement worked out by the families and their representatives and the Libyan Government. We were not party to that. We certainly support the efforts of the families. And we believe that over the years, the efforts of the families did eventually lead -- help lead towards the Libyan Government taking these decisions to turn away from terrorism.

So certainly they should be commended for their efforts. And we still mourn the loss of all those innocent lives that were lost in that flight. But again, the arrangement -- specific arrangements regarding the lawsuit and payment to the families were arrangements that were made between the families and their representatives and the Libyan Government under the aegis of U.S. court system.

QUESTION: So the State Department hasn't tried to help facilitate any contacts in the past week?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not -- in terms of the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) but the family group (inaudible) in touch with the Libyans in the past week?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you going back over the history. I mean, there's a lot of history here. But in terms of the lawsuit itself -- not the lawsuit, the agreement that was reached, that is something that was reached between the families and the Libyan Government.

QUESTION: One more --

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri.

QUESTION: -- on that, isn't it relevant to the State Department, though, that their new partner, the Government of Libya, stick by its promises and stick by its pledges even though you don't have the same leverage on them that you did when you were holding out normalization of relations? Isn't it relevant to you whether they do keep this final payment promised to the families?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, you have to -- you would have to talk to the families' representatives about what the arrangements were. Now what happened was that they received $8 million. Each of the families received $8 million payouts. But there was a final $2 million that was contingent upon the U.S. Government removing Libya from the State Sponsor of Terrorist List. But that the -- under the agreement which was reached between the families and the Libyan Government, that was -- they set deadlines in there. And their deadlines were extended several times by the Libyan Government. The U.S. Government didn't -- looking at the facts, couldn't remove them from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. So again, we weren't party to that agreement and we're not party to this. Certainly, everybody wants to see that the families receive everything that is due them under the agreement. But it's not our agreement to enforce. There are U.S. courts that could enforce those things.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that there is still money owed to the families?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a technical legal question that you would have to get an answer from the lawyers for the Libyan Government or from the families.

QUESTION: A very quick one.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have others. We have others.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. Asian issue. Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill met with his Chinese counterpart today in Beijing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I'd like to know the outcome of this meeting? Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to Chris. I -- you know, they discussed -- I know that he was going in there with the intent to talk about bilateral issues, as well as the six-party talks. On the six-party talk issue, we don't -- you know, we don't have a date. North Koreans have not yet decided to come back to the talks. And I think he's in Seoul right now and that he will be back in Washington tomorrow.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up. It is reported that the U.S. has decided to impose financial sanctions on the Chinese bank or companies which are dealing with North Korea to prevent the proliferation of WMD. Would you specify names of those Chinese bank or company?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't -- I haven't seen those news reports. I'm happy to look into it for you. There have been -- there has been over the years, discussions with the Chinese Government about the activities of some of their government agencies, as well as some of the private entities within China and those concerns centered around WMD proliferation. Now that there's -- there's a history of that. As for anything new, those things get published in the Federal Register. And as of this moment, I don't have anything new for you on that.

QUESTION: Evidently, the IAEA Board will meet again next month, several of us heard this morning. And I wondered if that has to be factored in in any way with moving ahead -- on moving ahead with the package?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, Barry, I don't -- I'm not sure how much of an effect it would have. I think that this is a process that is moving forward on its own. At the moment, I would imagine that the Board of Governors members certainly want to be apprised of anything new that the IAEA has. But in terms of putting together the package, I don't think that there's going to be -- that this is moving forward and that we're hopeful in the near future everybody can come to closure on it.

QUESTION: And they've been clear. IAEA has been quite clear about Iran's behavior. I don't know that there's anything particular new to --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We'll see what else they found.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:47 p.m.)

DPB # 88

Released on May 25, 2006

ENDS


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