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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 26, 2006

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 26, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 26, 2006

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Statement on Secretary Rice's Travel to Pakistan and Russia
Educational Exchange Programs / Query into Possible Letter from
Senator Clinton
International Small Arms Conference Participation

IRAN
Situation Update / Possible Meeting between Solana and Iranian
Representatives / Iran and Iraq Encouraged to Have Good Relations

SOMALIA
U.S. Will Continue Humanitarian Aid / Support Transitional Federal
Institutions / Work With International Community to Fight
Terrorism
Don't Have Full Picture of Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) / Looking
to UIC Leadership to Meet the Standards of the International
Community / Will Not Work with Persons on the Terrorist Watch List
/ U.S. Has Not Responded to Letters or Had Formal Meetings with
UIC

NORTH KOREA
U.S. Does Not Use Food as a Weapon / Reason for Suspension of Food
Aid via World Food Program / Possible Agenda for Six-Party Talks
Possible Travel of Venezuelan President Chavez to North Korea
Discussions with Members of Six-Party Talks / Contacts by Chris
Hill / U.S. Has Urged North Korea Not to Test Missiles

SUDAN
Status of UN Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) Operations / All Parties
Urged to Fully Implement Darfur Peace Agreement / AU-UN Assessment
Team to Brief Security Council This Week

IRAQ
Plan for Detainee Amnesty / Topic of Discussion for Iraqi
Political Leadership / Reconciliation is a Political Process /
U.S. to Have Continuing Discussions with Iraqi Government on the
Subject

ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Call for Immediate Release of Israeli Officer / Urge Both Sides to
Exercise Restraint and to Avoid Escalation of Violence /
High-Level Contacts on the Matter

TURKEY
Secretary Rice Meeting with Foreign Minister Next Week


TRANSCRIPT:

12:40 p.m. EDT


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one statement for you and then we can get right into your questions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Pakistan and Russia beginning today, ending June 30th. The Secretary will travel to Islamabad, where she will follow up on the wide-ranging areas of cooperation established during President Bush's trip to Pakistan earlier this year. She will meet with President Musharraf and other Pakistani officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues and express the United States' strong support of Pakistan as a partner in many areas, including the war on terror.

Secretary Rice will also travel to Moscow for the Group of 8 G-8 ministerial meeting. The foreign ministers' discussions are part of the preparations for the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, which will focus on cooperation in the areas of energy security, infectious diseases and education. While in Moscow, the Secretary will hold a number of bilateral discussions with Russian officials.

With that --

QUESTION: Considering its proximity, is Afghanistan part of this? In other words, will she -- could she be meeting with Afghan leaders in Pakistan or do something? Because the Afghan situation is a little bit in ferment.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Barry, in terms of -- this is the trip announcement I have for you. If there are any other stops, we'll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you want me to go to something else or does someone have a question on --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's up to you.

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back then.

QUESTION: You sort of had a target of the foreign ministers meeting would be a nice time to get Iran's response in hand. There have been mixed remarks from Iran; they're looking at it but then again, then they threaten to use oil as a weapon. Any -- over the weekend has any new calculus developed as to when you might -- you think you might be hearing from Iran, or is it pretty much the way it was?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right now nothing to update you on, Barry. We haven't heard back from them. We're still in the realm of weeks in terms of what was agreed upon by the ministers back in Vienna at the beginning of June, so we are hopeful that they will take the opportunity presented to them. But we haven't heard back yet and we're going to wait to hear back from them via Mr. Solana because there have been a lot of statements coming out of --

QUESTION: The statement about using oil as a weapon, is that old hat? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we've heard that before, Barry. We just hope that -- we would encourage them to take the opportunity that's been presented to them by the international community.

Teri.

QUESTION: Last week there was some talk that Solana was planning another trip to Tehran to talk to the Iranians. Were you aware of that? Has he discussed anything like that with you?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there's a possibility that he would have a meeting this week, but I'm not sure that any of the details have been finalized on that, Teri.

QUESTION: And do you know which side is requesting that meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't. You can check with his office.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to Mr. Solana in recent days and is she expecting him to carry a message from the P-5+1?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sue. I believe she has in the past several days, but let me check for you exactly when.

QUESTION: You know the other day -- not you, but from the podium it was said that, you know, if Iran has any questions, if it had trouble understanding what's not a very complicated proposition, there was a channel; there's the Solana, their nuclear negotiator. Is there any indication from her talks with -- conversations with Solana that Iran has questions to ask? Is there any expectation that there's something about the package they're mulling and need to know more about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're considering it. At least they say they're considering it as we haven't heard back from them yet. In terms of any questions, certainly Mr. Solana is available to them to respond to any questions that they may have. And like I said, in terms of the conversation I'll let you know. I think there was a conversation in the past few days.

Yeah -- Elise.

QUESTION: President Ahmadi-Nejad announced that he'll be taking a trip to Iraq shortly. Do you have any position on this? Do you think that's a good idea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Hadn't seen that, but we encourage good, neighborly, transparent relations between Iraq and Iran. By dint of geography they are with one another and we encourage them to have good, transparent, neighborly relations. We've previously expressed and the Iraqis themselves have expressed some concern about Iranian activities in Iraq. It will be up to Iraqi authorities whether or not they, in fact, bring that up with President Ahmadi-Nejad if, in fact, he does travel to Baghdad.

Sue.

QUESTION: On Somalia, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was appointed the new head of the Islamic Courts and I just wondered whether the U.S. planned to have any contact with them. And this fellow is named as a -- he's on a UN list of al-Qaida associates. Do you have his --

MR. MCCORMACK: He is on several lists, I believe, as well as a list that we maintain as well. Look, the Islamic Courts has said that they support an agreement between the UIC and the Transitional Federal Institutions in Somalia. They said that they had reached some agreement in Khartoum.

As for the United States and other members of the international community, the Somalia Contact Group, we have three primary objectives here with respect to our Somalia policy. One, we want to continue to aid the humanitarian relief works that are ongoing in Somalia via the World Food Program as well as other NGOs. We are interested in -- and when I say we, the international community are interested in seeing support for the Transitional Federal Institutions, building those institutions that might one day form the basis for a better day for Somalia. This is a country that has been bereft of national institutions since the early 1990s.

And lastly, we are going to work with individuals, groups and partners in the international community to fight terrorism. You don't want to see Somalia become a safe haven for terrorists. Now, we do have -- we do have some concerns about al-Qaida operatives in Somalia and certainly we are going to work with others in the international community. We have an active East Africa counterterrorism initiative as well as individuals and groups that are interested in building those institutions and fighting terrorism.

The UIC itself comprises a number of different individuals, a number of different factions that are clan-based. There are a lot of cross-cutting relationships there between the factions and the clans, and frankly we don't have a full picture of all of those relationships and we don't have a full picture of exactly what is the relative balance of power, the relative influence of various individuals or groups within the UIC. We are going to be -- what we want to do is get a better picture of exactly where this group is headed, who actually has the weight of influence within this group in terms of where it intends to take the UIC.

We're going to look to the collective leadership of this group to demonstrate its commitment to meeting the call of the international community to work on those three areas that I just mentioned -- humanitarian, fighting terrorism and building up the Transitional Federal Institutions -- and we'll see. If they want to have partners in the international community, if they want to work with the U.S., if they want to work with the other members of the international community, we'll see if they meet those standards.

QUESTION: While you may not have a very good picture overall of the entire group, I mean, you have a very good picture of who this guy Aweys is.

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course we've --

QUESTION: Is this someone with whom you could deal with?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, absolutely not. Of course. This is somebody who is on a terrorist watch list and that's not something -- we don't -- we don't sacrifice that principle just to try to facilitate some immediate political desires. That's just not the way we work.

If this group as a whole -- and again, we would look to the collective leadership of it -- has an interest in meeting the demands of the international community -- not the demands, the conditions met -- laid out by the international community, then we'll see. But I think it's -- I think the onus would be upon them to see if they -- if that collective leadership does meet those conditions to see if they -- and it'll be based on that kind of determination whether or not the international community can work with this group.

QUESTION: So just to make sure that I understand this, the fact that Aweys is the head of this group does not close the door to you having discussions at a later stage once you've determined who all these other players are?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Again, we're going to try to get a better picture of exactly what the relative weight of influence is within this group of various individuals and various factions. I can't tell you that we have a clear picture of that at this point. I mean, as you know, we don't have an embassy in Mogadishu and it is -- the picture is still somewhat murky at this point as to the inner workings of this group.

QUESTION: Well, but the fact that they would appoint this guy who is listed by the UN and the U.S. and many countries as having links to terrorism, are you concerned that that's sending a signal as to what their intentions are in terms of dealing with the West with some of your concerns as far as terrorism? I mean, you say you'll look to their actions, but this is very definitive action in terms of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, there are a lot of shifting sands here in terms of the leadership and the composition of this group. Again, I'm not trying to -- you know, I'm not trying to make excuses for somebody who is on a terrorist watch list and certainly we -- of course, we're not going to work with somebody like that and of course we would be troubled if this is an indicator of the direction that this group would go in. But again, let's wait to -- let's see what the collective leadership of this group actually does in terms of meeting those conditions.

QUESTION: One more on this. In recent weeks they've sent you a couple of letters saying that they want a dialogue. Have you been in touch with any people of this group or are you waiting until you get this fuller picture in terms of the different parts before you engage with them?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't believe we've responded to the letters.

MR. CASEY: No, not that I'm aware of.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we haven't responded to the letters.

QUESTION: Have you met (inaudible)? There are reports that U.S. diplomats met with members --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know. I saw those. I saw those reports and, based on those reports, actually sought to clarify exactly what they were based on. As near as I can tell, there was a sort of -- in a hotel lobby, sort of an exchange of pleasantries is how it's been described to me. It was not a formal meeting. It was not an arranged meeting. It was a chance encounter. So that's the best way I can describe it is --

QUESTION: Between whom?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there was somebody from our embassy who was at the hotel for another meeting. She was -- for another --

QUESTION: High-level?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not a high-level person. And they were -- just happened to -- had crossed paths with these individuals. But it wasn't -- it wasn't a meeting that was set up in advance. It was a chance encounter.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. think that someone like Mr. Aweys should be arrested and investigated? For example, could he be a candidate for Guantanamo Bay, for example?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check to see in terms of the legal status of being on this watch list and what that means for us.

QUESTION: Say, for example, he were to go to an international conference, a reconciliation conference. Would he be on a list?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check, Sue. I'll see exactly what the legal answer to that question is.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we try Korea a little bit? Japan prepared to use any weapon including food -- the U.S. doesn't use food as a weapon. I wonder if you have any opinions on that. I wonder if that's the kind of ploy or tack that the U.S. might employ. And Lugar, Senator Lugar and other prominent senators say talk directly to North Korea. It keeps coming up as if that's the formula for getting things done. You go around the table and they meet, but do you think there's a point in one-on-one talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's take the first of your questions. In terms of humanitarian assistance around the world, it is a general -- a matter of general policy we don't believe in using food as a weapon. We have been very generous in providing food to the North Korean people. Recently, that food assistance, which was delivered through the World Food Program, was reduced and it was halted because we were not able to confirm, to our satisfaction, that that food aid was getting to the people for which it was intended. Now, the World Food Program has started up again, a more limited food distribution program. They were willing to work on an arrangement with the North Korean officials that they felt comfortable with. We ourselves have not provided food aid to that renewed program.

In terms of the talks, it's -- you know, Barry, this is the same story. They can come back to the six-party talks at any time. We encourage them to, and within the context of the six-party talks, as outlined by the September 19th joint statement, there is a possibility to talk about a number of different issues and in fact, within that context of the six-party talks, we have talked with the North Korean representatives.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) those configurations, one-on-one, two-on-one, one-on-three --

MR. MCCORMACK: There have been a variety of different configurations, Barry.

QUESTION: Even mix and matches --

MR. MCCORMACK: A variety of different configurations, which you point out Barry, yeah.

Joel.

QUESTION: Yes, Sean. A question about Sudan.

QUESTION: On North Korea still --

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll come back to Sudan.

QUESTION: On Friday, Hugo Chavez announced that he was going to take a trip to Pyongyang with the intention of coming to some bilateral agreement on technology. Do you have any response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure what it is that he would hope to get from the North Koreans. Certainly, if that involved the transfer of military technologies, just given North Korea's track record, certainly, that would be a concern. But before giving a more precise answer, I'd want to get more information on exactly what his stated intention in traveling to North Korea was.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: President Bush said this morning that the Chinese sent a message to North Korea within the past week and apparently, North Korean officials have been visiting China in recent days. Can you expand on what this message is? Is it -- you know, a kind of joint message from your partners in the six-party talks to North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've been -- we have been talking with our -- the other four parties in the six-party talks quite a bit over the past months and certainly since the last round of the six-party talks. Chris Hill has been in contact recently with his counterparts from South Korea, as well as from Japan, to again send that message to the North Korean Government to return to the talks.

As for this particular message, I don't have any details for you on it, but suffice it to say, we have been in contact with the other four members of the six-party talks to encourage North Korea to go back to those talks.

QUESTION: Beyond the kind of warning or message not to test this missile and return to the six-party talks, has the Chinese or any other of your partners in the six-party talks laid out for North Korea what the consequences would be if they do, in fact, test?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you can check with those governments.

QUESTION: Well, what about this -- what about Chris Hill or anybody from this --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have and we've talked about this before, sent the message to the North Koreans urging them not to conduct a missile test.

QUESTION: But are they -- do you think that the North Koreans are clear exactly what would happen if they do?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they have a good understanding that going down that pathway is down -- going down the pathway of further isolation for North Korea. Yeah, I think they understand that.

Joel, on Sudan.

QUESTION: Yes, on Sudan. Apparently, a rebel leader, Suleiman Jamous, has allegedly been flown around or ferried around on a UN helicopter throughout the Darfur region, perhaps even over to Chad as well. And the Khartoum Government now has shut down much of the UN mission in much of Darfur and the only thing that they'll allow to continue is the World Food Program and UNICEF. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You are correct, in that the UN operations with the World Food Program and UNICEF do continue. We understand that the UN mission in Sudan, UNMIS -- officials from UNMIS have already been in contact with senior levels of the Sudanese Government to resolve this matter. We urge all parties to quickly resolve the issue so that the process towards peace, democracy, reconciliation, and reconstruction in Darfur can continue without delay. We, the UN Security Council, the AU, the EU all urge complete and speedy implementation of the Darfur peace agreement, so we hope that any questions surrounding this incident can be resolved between the Government of Sudan and UNMIS.

QUESTION: There is still no response from the government in Khartoum on a UN force to take over from or supplement an African Union force. Are you sort of losing hope that the Khartoum Government might come forward and accept such a force?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We believe that it is in their interest to have this force in there. It is part of -- it is something that they said they will do if there were a peace agreement signed in Darfur. There has been a peace agreement signed in Darfur. We, as well as others, are urging full implementation of that agreement and I know that a UN assessment team was in Khartoum. I have to be frank with you; I don't have a readout of -- or the results of that mission, but certainly, that is a prerequisite to a full UN mission going in there. And we can give you an update, Sue. We can post something for you, giving an exact status report of where the UN and Sudan stands with respect to deployment of that UN peacekeeping force.

Yeah.

QUESTION: In the meantime, there have been many reports that the government has made no effort to disarm the Janjaweed and even if some appear to be disarmed, that they're kind of changing their uniform or -- you know, taking another shape or form, but still committing crimes against the people of Darfur. What are your discussions with the government in Khartoum about holding up their end of the bargain, and disarming the Janjaweed?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't have a detailed list of the conversations, but I do know we have been in touch with them, urging them to implement this agreement in full. Part of that is, as you mentioned, taking actions with respect to these militias. The different parties have different responsibilities in this agreement. The SLM has responsibilities, as well as others who have signed up to the agreement. So we have been working with all the parties to see that it is implemented.

I was just looking at my notes here, Sue, on your question. The joint AU-UN assessment team to Darfur is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the findings of their assessment early this week, so the first half of this week. We'll keep you up to date on that.

QUESTION: You haven't received anything privately yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's the only note that I have here so far. We'll check to see. If there's anything more we can share, we'll be happy to.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: On Eritrea. Has the State Department imposed reciprocal restrictions on trained diplomats traveling here in light of restrictions they impose on foreigners?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you. Don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, this question of amnesty in Iraq came up again and as far as I read, it looks largely like the same discussion that we had here a couple of weeks ago, in which you said that you had both heard comments and been reassured, I believe, by the Iraqi Government that they would not give amnesty to insurgents who had killed or attacked coalition or Iraqi troops. Is that correct or do you know anything new on this amnesty question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you just -- I don't have anything new. There is -- I'll just cite you from the actual proposal itself: "Issuance of amnesty on detainees who are not involved in terrorist crimes and acts, war crimes, and crimes against humanity." So again, I think that that lays out pretty clearly what they're talking about. I expect that within the Iraqi Government, this is going to be an evolving process, that this is going to be a subject and topic of discussion among the Iraqi political leadership.

The point here is to try to bring those into the political process who have previously been on the outside of it. There are going to be some -- terrorists, former regime elements, those people who are irreconcilable to any political process and you have to deal with them in a certain way. You have to deal with them militarily. The Iraqis, supported by the coalition forces, are doing just that.

So you know, again, this is -- the reconciliation process ultimately is going to be, at its heart, a political process. And the Iraqis themselves are going to have to come to terms with what will be the elements of that political process. Prime Minister Maliki has given everybody a framework and it has been well received, I think, by most accounts, by Iraqis. So I expect those discussions will continue. This is really a starting point for those public discussions. We, of course, will be in touch with them, but Prime Minister Maliki made very clear that in this reconciliation process, there isn't going to be any distinction made between Iraqis and others in terms of those who were affected by the violence.

QUESTION: So the State Department is comfortable with this plan, as far as what you know about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's not our plan, okay? But we think that this framework, this proposal has been well-received by the Iraqis and we are going to continue working with them, but ultimately, at the end of the day, in the final analysis, this is going to have to be something that the Iraqis agree upon and are comfortable with among themselves. Certainly, we are going to be talking to the Iraqi Government as this process moves forward.

Jonathan.

QUESTION: Are you going to tell us what you're going to be talking to the Iraqi Government about precisely, in that have you already made your views known about giving an amnesty to an entity who is involved in the bloodshed of U.S. troops, for example?

MR. MCCORMACK: Jonathan, I'm not going to get into precisely what our discussions are. Those are discussions between two sovereign governments. But Prime Minister Maliki made very clear in his proposal who this would apply to, an amnesty or a pardon would apply to, and who it wouldn't. And I think the words speak for themselves.

QUESTION: You can't tell us whether you have already made representations making clear your concerns if there was going to be --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we're going to have continuing discussions, I believe, is the best way to put it, with them on the matter.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the growing tensions in the Gaza strip area, particularly following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier? And also, the Israelis have said that reprisals could include a reinvasion of Gaza. I'd wondered what the U.S. response was.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, what we would -- we would urge the immediate release of this IDF soldier who was -- who was taken in an incident that we condemn. And what we would urge is that all sides exercise restraint and avoid steps which further escalate the situation. As we have said all along, it is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority government to stop all acts of violence.

For our part, we have been in touch with a number of different interested parties in the region to try to resolve the situation. Secretary Rice has over the weekend spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Livni. She spoke with President Abbas. Our ambassadors in Egypt and Israel have been in contact with government officials. Our Consul General in Jerusalem, Jake Wallace, has been in touch with President Abbas's office on the matter. So there are a lot of different parties working to resolve the issue, but bottom line, we call upon this individual to be released immediately.

QUESTION: And what's your view of Israel's threat to reinvade Gaza if it's not --

MR. MCCORMACK: I would just reiterate what I said before: We urge both sides to exercise restraint and avoid steps which further escalate the situation.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: Can you expand on the conversations that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Livni and President Abbas? I mean, obviously to exercise restraint, but particularly on the Palestinian side did she put any pressure on President Abbas to use his influence to help get -- secure the release of this soldier?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't characterize it as pressure. I think President Abbas wants to see this individual released and certainly the Secretary reinforced that idea as well.

Okay, anything else on this? Okay, we'll go back to Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Anything to say about the upcoming meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul July 5th?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's next week.

QUESTION: Next week.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's awfully early to be asking. She looks forward to meeting with him.

QUESTION: In order to have the very comprehensive story, it's a very important visit. Last week a Serbian delegation hit full concentration here at the Department of State with U.S. senior officials. May we have the full list of the participants and a readout of their discussions since this delegation, Mr. McCormack, is going to participate in the upcoming crucial talks July 10th on the final status of Kosovo?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, we'll have to get you an answer on that. I have to admit I don't -- I'm not familiar with those conversations.

QUESTION: One more?

MR. MCCORMACK: One more.

QUESTION: Yes. According to a bunch of reports, Turkish --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's just because I'm not going to be here the rest of the week, you get three questions.

QUESTION: Okay. The last time I will show up. (Laughter.)

According to a bunch of reports, Turkish Cypriot daily newspaper Afrika wrote that the Turkish generals in Cyprus did not deny that they carried out bomb attacks against its offices and journalists in Nicosia. The journalist (inaudible) with the bombs (inaudible) remained unanswered by the official of the army under the auspices of General Yasar Buyukanit, who would love to corrupt the political power in Turkey. Do you have anything on this incident against the freedom of the press and specifically the Turkish Cypriot press in the occupied territory of Cyprus by the Turkish army?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to admit I'm not familiar with the incident. If we have anything that we can offer you on that, we'll provide it to you.

QUESTION: But it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Could you please look into that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We will certainly. Mr. Casey will look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Syria. Apparently, President Assad says that he recently met with an American delegation that may have been headed by somebody from the Administration. Are you aware of any high-ranking American delegation --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hadn't heard that. Check into it for you.

Elise.

QUESTION: Senator Hillary Clinton sent a letter to Secretary Rice about this -- she heard about this program for Saudi Arabia offering scholarships for Saudis to study aviation in the United States and asked her to look into the program. Do you have any details on the program itself or have you responded to her letter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any details on the program. We get lots of correspondence from the Hill. We try to answer it as best we can. I can't speak to the specifics of this question. Certainly we encourage educational exchanges. Saudi students study in the United States. We believe that that's beneficial, as we do with all educational exchange programs. It builds up mutual trust and understanding.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Why can't you address the specific question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Because I don't have the facts here.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I'm talking about taking the question about whether there is such a program for Saudi students.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'd be happy to. I just don't have the facts.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, given the fact that so many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals and the whole idea that they would be studying aviation in the United States is of concern in this particular letter and it seems others in the Hill. So if you could --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, let's operate on the basis of facts and let's not -- let's not operate on the basis of sort of -- well, let's just get the facts related to this thing, okay? And then we will try to get an answer. I'm not going to try to lead -- I think it's not a productive endeavor to kind of go down this pathway not based on the facts and try to whip people up.

QUESTION: So you'll take the question?

MR. MCCORMACK: If we have anything on it, then if it's in our domain to answer then certainly we will endeavor to do so. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, in New York City, not at the UN, there is an international small arms control conference that's going to open, I believe, today. And are you sending a representative and are you putting any type of recommendations in or seeing what comes from this conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe we will have representatives there at the conference. I don't know who it's going to be, Joel. We can try to find out for you whatever -- you know, whatever positions we're going to take at it. Certainly that will be a matter of public record.

QUESTION: Can I assume too, aside from rifles and guns and such, it may also include the components of these IEDs, these improvised explosive devices that have been used both in Iraq and elsewhere, Afghanistan, which is now critical?

MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, I'll look into it for you.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: One more on Somalia. The Islamists say that they plan to stone to death five rapists in the -- this is following a ruling in the Sharia courts. I just wondered whether such actions spark fears by the U.S. that it's becoming a sort of a Taliban-like state.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's -- here again, Sue, let's -- you know, I want to operate off the basis of facts. I don't know that, in fact, to be true. And you know, if -- well, okay, like I said, I don't know, in fact, it is true. So let's get the facts here and then if -- based on that, we'll provide you an answer.

Yes.

QUESTION: Same area, Ethiopia. Last week, General Abizaid visited Ethiopia and met with the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Do you have any account of meetings and plus, did they discuss about Somalia situation? I know there is a military buildup on -- between Ethiopia and Somalia's border.

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any information on those conversations.

QUESTION: And I have another follow-up with Ethiopia as well. Sorry. Next week, there is going to be -- as you know, this week the World Cup event takes place in Germany and there's another mini -- small Ethiopian soccer takes place in Los Angeles, California and it only is -- in this event, there's business groups and visitors are trying to come from Ethiopia to take advantage on AGOA events. Do you have any policy on those folks that come to United States in term of -- because they were not able to get any visas from Addis Ababa of your embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. I would assume that the standard visa policy would apply in these cases.

Okay, great. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)

DPB # 106

Released on June 26, 2006

ENDS


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