State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 9, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
June 9, 2006
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS Israeli Air Strikes in Gaza / Right of Israel to Protect Itself Referendum / Partners for Peace
IRAQ Death of Zarqawi and Timing of Recent al-Qaida Tape
CHINA Warden Messages and Threats / Embassy Looking into Threat against American Interests
BURMA Welfare of Aung San Suu Kyi / U.S. Call for Release
MIDDLE EAST Michigan Teenage Boy Travel / Contact with Family
IRAN New IAEA Report / Outstanding Questions / P-5+1 Pathway of Negotiations / Secretary Rice Discussion with Solana
UNITED NATIONS UN Deputy Secretary-General Malloch Brown's Criticism of US UN Budget and Management Reform / UN Secretary General Annan's Budget Plan
SOMALIA Transitional Government / Advances Outside of Mogadishu / Somalia Contact Group / UN Component / Transitional Federal Institutions
SUDAN Declaration of Commitment to Darfur Peace Agreement / Signatories Expressing Support
12:20 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Hey, guys. Good afternoon. How are you? It's Friday.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any opening statements so we can get right into your questions.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on these Israeli air strikes on a beach in Gaza? And do you think that it's a bit an excessive use of force?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, you know, we've seen the news reports about this. Let me just state what we have said before, that Israel has a right to defend itself. We also, at the same time, encourage Israel to take into consideration the consequences of its actions. I understand that according to news reports it was an individual who was killed in these air strikes. This is an individual that was responsible for many, many terrorist attacks who has had blood on his hands from many innocent people.
The Israeli Government, I understand, has said that the individuals targeted in these attacks were involving in ongoing planning for terrorist attacks. Beyond that, I would have to refer you to the Israeli Government for any further information about it. But I would just underscore what we have said in the past, that Israel has a right to defend itself but Israel also needs to take into consideration the consequences of its actions about -- on the general situation in the region.
QUESTION: But there were three children among them, twins who were killed.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I have seen those news reports, Sue. I am not in a position to confirm that for you.
QUESTION: And in an unrelated sort of issue, al-Qaida's al-Zawahiri has issued a tape today --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- which he's urging people to boycott the referendum.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Well, we don't think it should come as any surprise that a terrorist is advocating people turning away from peaceful means of resolving their differences. I know the intelligence community has done an assessment of the tape and they have confirmed that it is Zawahiri's voice, but I don't think it comes as any surprise that a terrorist, somebody who advocates use of violence, would urge others to turn away from peaceful means of resolving differences.
QUESTION: And does the U.S. support the referendum?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- we've talked about this a little bit in the past. The referendum is the idea of President Abbas and I think what it gets to is the underlying issue of how do the Palestinian people come to terms with their future -- what is going to be their future. Because certainly a Hamas-led government that advocates the use of terror and violence, that does not recognize the right of Israel to exist and is not a partner for peace negotiations, that's a dead end for the Palestinian people. They're not going to realize a Palestinian state. They're not going to realize a more stable, prosperous future for their own people.
There's another pathway that's advocated by President Abbas, who very simply is a partner for peace and wants the Palestinian people to be a partner for peace to resolve differences that they have with the Israeli Government through negotiations, via the negotiating table and perhaps eventually via the Roadmap.
So I think that this referendum is a way of getting at that fundamental question. That fundamental question is going to be one for the Palestinian people to answer for themselves. How they answer that question, whether it's a referendum or some other mechanism, is going to be up to the Palestinian people. So certainly we do support those among the Palestinian people, among the Palestinian leadership, which doesn't include a Hamas-led government, that is -- that are advocates for a peaceful, negotiated resolution to differences between Israelis and Palestinians and who want to be partners for peace.
QUESTION: Sean, is there a U.S. assessment of the prisoners' plans?
MR. MCCORMACK: Prisoners' plans?
QUESTION: Yeah, the -- I know we talked about it when it first sort of cropped up in the news but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I don't think -- I don't think we have any public assessment of it. I think that again this is individuals coming together to try to come up with some pathway forward. Again, it's the same question. It's an answer to the same question is how do you -- how do you resolve this question of what is going to be the future of the Palestinian people. What pathway are they going to take? Are they going to seek the pathway of peaceful negotiations, perhaps ending up with the creation of a Palestinian state? Or are they going to continue down the pathway of advocation of the use of terror, use of violence, not recognizing the right of Israel to exist, not being partners for peace, not being partner in negotiation, and ending up with the status quo or perhaps a deterioration of the status quo.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if there's been any direct communication with the Israelis in recent hours or less about those attacks.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Dave. I'm not aware of any, but I'll check for you. Tom can get an answer for you.
QUESTION: Regarding the tape, why do think that al-Qaida sent this tape out now at the death of Zarqawi? Do you think it's a way to show their strength? And also, are you expecting another tape soon capitalizing on the death of Zarqawi?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the timing, I haven't seen the full transcript of it but I'm not sure that it mentions anything about Zarqawi in it, so the timing perhaps could be coincidental. I think it refers more to the proposed Palestinian referendum.
Is al-Qaida going to try to demonstrate that it is a continuing force for violence and terror in the world, propagating an ideology of hatred? I assume that they probably will and that certainly the possibility exists that we'll hear more tapes like this.
QUESTION: Can you tell us any more about what prompted a Warden Message out of Beijing today, threats against U.S. missions in China?
MR. MCCORMACK: A little bit more. I don't think I can offer too many more details. Any time an embassy has information that it thinks the American citizens, American public, needs to know in terms of threats against Americans or U.S. interests, then we put out a Warden Message. We think that that's prudent. We think that that's good government in terms of informing the American people with -- arming them with information.
It doesn't talk about people canceling travel or leaving, but it really counsels increased awareness in certain places, I think in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. So right now the Embassy is looking further into the threat that was -- my understanding it was a generalized threat against American interests but especially in those three cities. Beyond that, I don't have any information.
QUESTION: You don't know whether it was phoned in or a message sent, nothing?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have that information.
QUESTION: Well, those are the three cities where we have consulates, I believe. So they were directly -- have you concluded they were against the mission properties?
MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is that it was against American interests, and that's the way it was phrased to me.
QUESTION: I've got the same thing, actually.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, you have something on that? Okay, sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. I think last week, or the week before even, there was a Warden Message in Tokyo and all of Japan. Is this some sort of regional threat, perhaps?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look to see if people think that there's any particular connection between these two things. At this point I don't have any information that would suggest that. But if we do have anything that we can share with you further to any connections that might exist, then we'll let you know.
QUESTION: A follow-on. Did any of the missions close down due to the threats? Do you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so.
QUESTION: A question on Myanmar. Can you confirm that Aung San Suu Kyi is being hospitalized?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't confirm it. We have seen -- we have seen those reports and we would call upon the Burmese Government to provide Aung San Suu Kyi any and all medical assistance that she might need and to do so expeditiously and to ensure her safety during any treatment. We are, of course, very concerned by these reports. And we would also reiterate our call on the regime to release her from house arrest.
QUESTION: So you don't have any confirmation?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have confirmation at this time. We have seen the reports. It's sometimes difficult to get good, solid information in Burma just because of the nature of the place, but we are quite concerned about the reports.
QUESTION: Was Consular Affairs involved at all in the case of this teenager who left Michigan and flew to the Middle East and got turned around and is now being sent home?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I know the case you're talking about and there are certain restrictions we have in terms of being able to talk about because we don't have a Privacy Act waiver. But we are always very concerned about the well-being and safety of American citizens that are traveling abroad. Any time we have a request for assistance from a family, we do our best to fulfill it. In this case, we have been in contact with the family. I think we were able to help out in this particular -- with this particular situation. Certainly we hope that this individual is soon reunited safely with her family.
QUESTION: Can you say --
MR. MCCORMACK: But I can't get into any details.
QUESTION: You can't say how you were able to help?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think. We were in contact with the family. We, of course, did everything we could to help with the situation.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Myanmar, the authorities there announced today and confirmed again today that her detention has been extended for yet again another year. Have you been in touch with the authorities to formally voice your discontent and urging for her release? And also, have you been in touch with the authorities about her medical condition? Apparently, she's in quite a grave condition.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have in the past, in public as well as private through a variety of different channels, strongly advocated for her release. Anytime there have -- there have been also in the past some instances which she required medical attention. In those instances we, of course, through a variety of different channels, public and private, urged that she receive timely, expeditious and full medical treatment to treat her condition. We're doing so in public again this time on both of those counts. In terms of private communication, I'll check to see if we have any -- have had any formal private communication on the matter.
MR. MCCORMACK: Libby.
QUESTION: Can I change subjects?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. There doesn't seem to be a lot of competition.
QUESTION: Maybe from Ann. Do you have any reaction to the fact that Iran is apparently ramped up its enrichment and conversion in the past week? When Solana was there, I guess, June the 6th, it appears that they had started more uranium conversion and more enrichment. So any reaction?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what you're referring to, I think, is some reports, news reports based on the new IAEA report. And we once again find ourselves in the position of not being able to speak in specificity about the report because it is still technically confidential among the Board of Governors members. I note that, knowing full well that it has been posted on websites around the world.
So as a representative of the U.S. Government, I'm constrained in offering any details about --
QUESTION: I already did.
MR. MCCORMACK: I've already received several. Thank you.
QUESTION: What about just that pattern, though?
MR. MCCORMACK: About -- a couple of things. We can say, in general, that the report demonstrates that Iran has made no progress in answering the IAEA's outstanding questions about its nuclear program, as well as its enrichment activities. I think it also shows that Iran continues with its enrichment-related activities.
Now in terms of the question of the timing, again, I can't get into specifics, but I would say that in the past, the Iranian regime has had a certain flair in this regard. The example I would note for you is when the Russian representatives arrived in Tehran several months ago to present their proposal for an out-of-country enrichment capability for Iran, which there would be an international consortium that would do the enrichment on Russian soil and then ship the fuel in and take the fuel back, that was the exact day that the Iranian regime chose to announce that it had completed enrichment of uranium to the 3.5 percent level. So again, they do have a certain public relations flair in this regard.
Look; what it does is it underlines the importance of the issue of the international community staying firm, standing firm with the Iranian regime in offering these two pathways. The P-5+1 has offered them a way out, offered them a way to realize a resolution to this issue through the pathway of negotiations. We've also talked about the pathway of disincentives. That leads to further isolation. So I think what the IAEA report underscores is the timeliness of the action that the P-5+1 has taken and certainly, the June 12th Board of Governors meeting this coming Monday, at which this report will be discussed, would, I would suggest, offer a timely opportunity for the Iranian regime to accept the offer of negotiations that has been proffered to it and to meet the conditions of those negotiations as well.
QUESTION: The Germans have said that the G-8 summit is basically the deadline for Iran to respond. Is that how you see it as well? I know you've said weeks, not months.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: The President reiterated that again today.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But is that something that you're working towards as a goal for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm going to stick with the President and say weeks, not months. I don't -- I'm not going to, at this point, from the podium, narrow it down any more than that.
QUESTION: The G-8 does seem logical, though, correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: The only thing I can say is, in public, from the podium, is that the P-5+1 have agreed on a timeline and that timeline is weeks, not months, for the Iranians to provide an answer.
QUESTION: Do you have a more specific timeline amongst yourselves that you're just not telling us when you say weeks, not months?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean -- because everybody in the P-5 has some days --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: You're just saying that to make us keep asking that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I enjoy the question.
QUESTION: Do the Iranians have that date?
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: Do the Iranians know it?
MR. MCCORMACK: They have an idea, yes.
QUESTION: That's pretty interesting.
MR. MCCORMACK: Dave.
QUESTION: This flair that the Iranians have been shown or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- have been shown, do you consider this bad faith at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to dig into and sort of deconstruct what their motivations might be in this. I think that there are plenty of people who can do that around town.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication, either late yesterday or today, with Solana? Any indication that he's hearing anything back from the Iranians that he's sharing with you?
MR. MCCORMACK: He has not heard an answer back from them.
QUESTION: Have you been in contact with him?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary has talked to him a couple of times since he has arrived back from Brussels, but we haven't heard back an answer.
QUESTION: A change. One member of Congress is now calling for Mark Malloch Brown to be fired because of his comments earlier this week.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have a view on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've said what I'm going to say on the matter. I think we came out -- both Ambassador Bolton and I came out with pretty strong statements about what he said.
QUESTION: But I don't think -- well, you didn't address whether you could continue to do business with him.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again -- I've said what I'm going to say about his speech.
QUESTION: And more generally, what -- how do you expect this debate on the budget to end at the end of the month? Because we know that there is a problem with the budget at the end of June, but you -- we don't know what is your proposal.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our proposal is to -- well, I think we have laid out our proposal. Ambassador Bolton has talked about the fixes that we would like -- that we, as well as many other significant donors to the UN, dues-payers to the UN, would like to see. Most essentially, we would like to see Secretary General Annan's reform plan implemented, which includes management reforms, which includes budget reforms. We think that in an effort to make the UN more effective, more streamlined, more responsive to member states' concerns, that you should implement these reforms. They're important.
And also, as stewards of the U.S. taxpayer's dollar, we think that it's good government to do these things and frankly, we have a lot of company in this regard. I think that over -- the group of countries that want to see these budget and management reforms enacted constitute over 80 percent of the UN's budget. Certainly, all states should have a say in how the UN is run. The General Assembly plays a role in that, but we certainly think that those countries that are the most significant participants, according to a number of different criteria I went through yesterday, that the extent of the U.S. involvement with the UN should have some say in how the UN arranges itself, how it's structured, and how it works.
And we have seen, over the course of the past couple of years, some cases where it hasn't worked. And we think that enacting reforms will help ensure that those kinds of things don't occur in the future. So we think it is very important and I think there is going to be probably in the coming weeks a very healthy debate on this issue. But we have been -- Secretary Rice, President Bush has been very clear on the importance of enacting these reforms and it's not only us. You talk to European nations, you talk to Japan as well as other countries around the world, you talk to some countries in the Non-Align Movement, they have an interest in seeing these reforms. So I expect that there's going to be a pretty healthy debate in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you -- a lot of countries support the reforms, but U.S. is the only one threatening to cut the funding at the end of the month. So if there is no agreement, what are you going to do?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's -- we'll deal with that, you know, we'll deal with that if we reach the point where there isn't an agreement, right now. What we're doing right now is we're going to focus on trying to get these reforms enacted. That's where our focus is going to be. And if we get to that point where, unfortunately, if reforms aren't enacted, then we'll deal with it.
QUESTION: Change of subjects? Somalia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: The Islamist militia are moving into other areas outside of Mogadishu, just north of Mogadishu. They're making advances.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And also they have been speaking to -- they started talks with the Transitional Government. I just wondered have you made any advances towards the Islamists to discuss with them how to stabilize the region? I understand that there's some discussion on policy towards Somalia and how you can proceed possibly in a more coherent way.
MR. MCCORMACK: More coherent way.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's an interesting choice of words.
QUESTION: It is isn't it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So I just wondered what your views were on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the situation on the ground, again we've talked about this before. I don't have perfect visibility into the exact situation on the ground. I understand in general that what you have described is in fact true; that there were advances outside of Mogadishu. And in terms of contacts between the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Islamic Courts, I don't have good -- a good picture into that right now. We have not -- we talked, I think yesterday or the day before about the fact that there was -- I think it was the day before -- about this open letter. We have not yet responded to it. I've said that we are reserving judgment at this point.
In terms of other activities that we are taking, there is one bit of news I do have for you. We are going to be -- we are calling for the convening of a Somalia contact group. The Somalia contact group the week of June 12th, next week, up in New York City. And the goal of this group is to promote concerted action and coordination to support the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions. So we're going to be working with other interested states, international organizations on this matter and talking about how we might coordinate our efforts in a concerted way to support those Transitional Federal Institutions.
QUESTION: And who is part of this group?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right now, I would -- I don't have a list of countries for you right now. We're still in the process of gathering up who's going to be in there. But I think -- in general speaking, certainly will be us. Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer will be up there. European countries and African countries as well and --
QUESTION: Would that be European as in the EU and the AU? Are you doing it by bloc or by individual country?
MR. MCCORMACK: The individual countries, but certainly if there are interested organizations that want to participate, I think that certainly we're open to that participation.
QUESTION: Let me just be clear. You're starting this thing, not --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: You're not --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We're calling for --
QUESTION: -- inaugurating it.
MR. MCCORMACK: -- convening it. Yes, inaugurating it, yes.
QUESTION: And is it -- describe its UN --
MR. MCCORMACK: Component?
QUESTION: Component, yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let the UN speak for themselves. But I would expect the UN would want to participate in this.
QUESTION: But it -- I assume because you're holding it in New York it had some UN component.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. I don't have the address where they're going to hold their meeting. But I would expect there will be a significant UN component to this as well.
QUESTION: I mean, whose -- under whose auspices is this thing being convened?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're convening it. The U.S. Government is convening it.
QUESTION: In concert with the UN? I mean, how -- I want to describe it correctly.
MR. MCCORMACK: I would say the U.S. is convening it. There's going to be participation from other countries and international organizations. I think the right verb is participation.
QUESTION: So what will be -- where will it be, in the UN or in the embassy --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the meeting room where they're going to be. It will be up in New York, though.
QUESTION: So would this be like the Quartet with the same sort of goal that the Quartet has in terms of, you know, pushing for the Middle East process?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to --
QUESTION: Would you be wanting to -- would this contract group be, sort of, pushing, you know, whatever process forward and maybe -- I don't know, what is it going to do?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think I outlined it for you, Anne. It's to promote concerted action and coordination to support the Transitional Federal Institutions. I'm not going to try to draw any comparisons with the Quartet or any particular group. This is (inaudible) generous, so it is unto itself. And this will be the first meeting of it, so it will be an opportunity within those parameters of coordinating efforts that might exist -- that exist and future efforts that might exist in helping the TFI.
QUESTION: So would this mean that you want to lend support to the transitional government that was formed and that was, you know, pulled together after two years or so of talks in Kenya --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that has been our position, to support the Transitional Federal Institutions.
QUESTION: Are you inviting any Somali groups such as representatives from, say, the Islamists or the other bunch?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, I don't think that we intend to invite them, but we'll keep you up to date on that. I don't -- like I said, we don't have the full invite list yet.
QUESTION: Will there be any money involved? Are you trying to also have it as a pledging conference of any kind?
MR. MCCORMACK: Details to follow.
QUESTION: Are they basically going to meet and figure out what they can do, basically?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a number of --
QUESTION: Talk about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a couple things. One, there are a lot of different countries that have an interest in Somalia. There are a number of different countries that have programs related to Somalia. So this is an opportunity for them to talk about what they are doing individually, how you might coordinate, how you might through coordination make individual programs more effective, how you might look at doing things jointly.
QUESTION: Is this going to meet on a regular basis or is this going to be --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think periodically.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any more details that you can give on that? For example, are you going to invite NGOs to come? Because they have a pretty good handle on what's going on. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm tapped out on details on this one, Sue.
QUESTION: There is just not enough.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: One last one on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: In support of the Transitional Federal Institutions, does that de facto rule out at the beginning that you would talk to this organization with the Islamists or other rival groups?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't think so.
QUESTION: And why at this point did you decide to do it? Is this because the Islamists have now moved into Mogadishu and things are hotting up, or why at this particular juncture did you decide to do it?
MR. MCCORMACK: We think it's the right time.
QUESTION: I've got a question on Darfur. Have you been informed that some of the rebel groups who did not join into the peace accord at the beginning have now expressed their support for it? Apparently, four individuals, I think, four members of the negotiating team, have now endorsed it that were not willing to do so on May 5th.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There are -- yes, I understand that just recently some members of the Sudan Liberation Movement -- this is Abdulwahid's group -- have decided to sign a declaration of commitment to the Darfur peace agreement. So you have some individuals from that group. You have also some individuals from the Justice and Equality Movement who have decided to sign the agreement. They have signed this declaration. We think that this is a wise and important move by these individuals. We hope that others will follow as well. We already have Mini Manawi* from the Sudan Liberation Movement has already signed his group up to the Darfur peace agreement.
So we think that this is -- we welcome it. We think this is important. We encourage the other remaining members of those groups to sign up. The people that signed up to this recently, they're important negotiators as well as field commanders from these groups, so these are significant individuals from these groups. And that we think that this is an important step in getting all the groups to come together to resolve the situation in Darfur and we're going to do everything that we can to help implement this agreement along with the AU and other members of the international community.
QUESTION: Have they agreed to something less than the full participation in the peace accord, though? It's kind of strange language: "signed a commitment to the peace accord" but not the same thing as signing the peace accord.
MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is what the notes that I have there: "The signatories expressed their support for the peace agreement and their determination to be bound by all of its provisions." So that sounds like a pretty strong commitment.
QUESTION: But they're not actually signing onto the peace agreement as a signatory, as a full signatory, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they said that they're going to be bound by all of its provisions. I don't know --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the technicalities of whether or not signature on that agreement flows, but I think, in effect, you do have these people signing up to abide by all of its provisions.
QUESTION: On Zarqawi.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any update from yesterday's information about the Rewards for Justice program?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I checked this morning and we don't have any submissions at this point.
QUESTION: I heard reports this morning on the radio, I think though, that said that the military is saying that there are some people who are eligible for this. You haven't heard anything like that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Check with the military. We have not had any submissions in our, I guess you could say, administrative capacity of this program.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)