State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 13, 2006
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 13, 2006
Sean McCormack,Â Spokesman
July 13, 2006
Secretary Rice's Discussions with UN Secretary General Annan
David Welch and Elliot Abrams are in the Region
President's Comments on Israel's Right to Defend Itself and
Importance on Taking into Account Actions That May Weaken Lebanese
Responsibility for Situation Lies with Hezbollah
Syria and Iran Need Exercise Control Over Hezbollah so that
Soldiers are Released
Advice U.S. is Giving Israel
Resolution 1559 / Hezbollah a Challenge to Lebanese Sovereignty
Statement from Lebanese Government
Status of American Citizens in Lebanon
Loss of Innocent Life
Close Ties Between Hezbollah and Syria and Iran
Ongoing Discussions at the UN Security Council / Need to Send a
Query on U.S. Reaction to South Korea Walking Out of Talks with
Comments from Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica on Final Status of
Withholding of U.S. Aid Due to Nonperformance on Turning Over War
Congressional Concerns Over F-16 Sale
Recent Violence / Implementation of Darfur Peace Agreement / UN
Reports that Arab-Americans Are Being Barred from Entering Israel
Opening of the Baku-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline
12:23 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions.
Okay. Thanks very much. See you later. (Laughter.)
Yeah, Charlie. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Bring us up to date with what David Welch and Elliott Abrams are doing in the Middle East and who they talked to and who the Secretary has spoken with and all that stuff.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let's start with the Secretary. She is traveling with the President in Germany. She spoke this morning with Secretary General Annan. They talked about the team that Secretary General Annan is dispatching to the region. We certainly support the efforts of that team to see what they can do to lower the tensions in the region. Elliott and David are in the region on a prescheduled trip. They've traveled to Egypt. They were yesterday in Amman, Jordan, meeting with Jordanian officials. They met with the Foreign Minister there. They met with the Intelligence Chief. They met with the Chief of the Royal Court. This morning Secretary Rice and Steve Hadley also spoke with Elliott and David on a teleconference to get an assessment of what they're hearing from the region. David and Elliott have also met today with Foreign Minister Livni, met with Prime Minister Olmert and also they have a planned meeting with the Minister of Defense later on today. So that's --
QUESTION: In Jerusalem?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe they're going to be in Jerusalem, yeah.
QUESTION: They've been to Cairo as well?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That was -- I think that was the first stop on their trip. It was maybe the day before yesterday.
QUESTION: The President said this morning that while he understood Israel's right to defend itself, he voiced concern that the actions of Israel might weaken the Lebanese Government. Could you expand a little on the U.S. feelings about this and whether the targeting of Lebanese infrastructure is only going to -- and possible civilian casualties could strengthen Hezbollah and pro-Syrian forces in the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to -- I'm not going to try to gaze into a crystal ball about how this situation might unfold. We have ourselves expressed the hope that it can be resolved soon. The way -- the pathway to resolve that is that the two captives are released immediately, unconditionally and unharmed back to the Israeli Government, back to their families.
The President, I think, was very clear in talking about Israel's right to defend itself. It was a victim of an unprovoked attack, a terrorist action. The President also expressed the importance of taking into account the -- any actions that may have the effect of weakening the Siniora Government. We have talked about many times the importance of building democracy in Lebanon that is an important effort that is -- has been undertaken by the international community in assisting the Lebanese people in building up the democratic institutions of Lebanon after two decades' worth of occupation by Syria, so that's very important. That said, we do recognize Israel's right to defend itself and we would hope to have a resolution to this situation in the very near future. And as I explained the way that that can happen is that these two captives are released unconditionally.
QUESTION: Right. And that's Â– you, yesterday you made clear that that was while the Lebanese Government has influence as a interlocutor with Hezbollah, it doesn't exercise control over Hezbollah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: You've talked a lot about the need for Syria, Iran and other countries to recognize Lebanese sovereignty under 1559 and other UN resolutions. If you're not holding the Lebanese Government responsible for these actions, do you think that the Israeli actions are affront to Lebanese sovereignty?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we have made very clear that we, as well as others in the region, want to see this situation resolved. We would hope that it does not escalate. All of that said, we all understand Israeli's right to defend itself.
Look, Hezbollah -- Hezbollah is responsible for what has happened. I think Chancellor Merkel made an interesting point: You have the root causes here and then you see the consequences of it. Very oftentimes the ongoing consequences of an event are the things that get covered in the news and we see it repeatedly on cable television and in news stories. But let's remember what the root cause of this was. It was a Hezbollah attack on Israeli territory in which they killed Israeli soldiers and then are holding hostage two more.
So we have called upon the states in the region -- Syria and Iran -- to exercise the control that they do over Hezbollah to have these two individuals released unharmed. Hezbollah receives material support from Iran. This is in our annual terrorism report. Also the Syrian Government provides political as well as other kinds of support to Hezbollah. So I think that it's -- it's really time for everybody to acknowledge the fact that these two states do have some measure of control over Hezbollah. And the international community has called upon them to exercise that control, to have these two individuals released.
QUESTION: At the same time you say Israel has a right to defend itself and the Secretary of State and the President have been talking about the need for some restraint -- urging some restraint. I just wondered in practical terms what does that mean. Are there any red lines as far as the U.S. is concerned? For example, if Israel sent in tanks and troops to Lebanon would that be crossing a red line?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're not in the business of telling the state of Israel what it can or can't do. We offer as a friend our counsel. You've heard that from the Secretary of State yesterday. You heard that from the President today. So, you know, again the U.S. Government isn't in the business of drawing lines for the Government of Israel. We, as a friend, offer them advice, our perspectives.
But again, I keep coming back to it, let's remember what happened here. The Israeli people -- the Israeli Government have suffered from an attack. They have a right to defend themselves. And we have offered -- offered our advice and counsel, both in public and in private and that advice is consistent. What you hear in public is certainly what we have been talking to them about in private regarding their actions. But it's not for the United States to draw lines for the Government of Israel.
QUESTION: Sir, can you just clarify a bit of the advice that is being given to Israel?
MR. MCCORMACK: The advice, counsel -- what you see in public is really -- reflects what we say in private.
QUESTION: Sean, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said today that they information that Hezbollah intends to transfer the two soldiers to Iran. Have you seen any such information to suggest that? And that has prompted some people to suggest that if that happens it would be justified for Israel to target some of the Iranian nuclear facilities. Is that something that you would advocate?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure I see the connection between those two parts of the question. But I will say that David and Elliott did hear from the Israeli Government in their meetings that the Israeli Government was concerned that these two captives would be -- they were concerned about possible movement in Lebanon away from the areas where they were captured or even outside of Lebanon. But beyond that I'm not going to go any further.
QUESTION: Didn't share any intelligence information or anything?
MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, they did convey to David and Elliott during their meetings their concern that possibly they could be moved within Lebanon and possibly outside of Lebanon.
QUESTION: How do you see Israel's move or action of bombing Beirut airport and therefore diverting all flights to Cyprus? How do you view that? Do you see it as Israeli right to defend itself or do you see it as an escalation, or what exactly your position on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's obviously a lot of tension in the region and we're seeing a reaction from the Israeli Government to a provocation, to an attack. And you see the Israeli Government exercising its right to defend itself. As for anything further, commenting on what particular actions that they have taken, I'm not going to go beyond what the President has said.
QUESTION: You are talking and asking both sides to show restraint, but do you see this action as actually escalating or restraining or still within the strategy of what you call Israel trying to defend itself?
MR. MCCORMACK: We've said what we're going to say on it.
QUESTION: Sean, you spoke yesterday about waiting to hear what Prime Minister Siniora would say about this, and he basically said that his government had no advance knowledge of the Hezbollah attack, et cetera. Do you think that he has the -- that his government has the political authority or power to exert control over that strip of territory in southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's been an issue for some time, Dave, is Hezbollah operating outside -- this militia, this terrorist organization, operating outside the control of the government. And that's the point of 1559. So we have been -- we as well as others have been encouraging the Government of Lebanon to work through the political as well as the chain of command issues that they have with controlling all of their territory. Part of 1559 calls upon them to exercise control over all of Lebanese territory. That clearly hasn't happened to date. They don't -- the government of Prime Minister Siniora doesn't control Hezbollah and their military operations, which is exactly the point that we as well as the rest of the world have made to them, that Hezbollah is a direct challenge to Lebanese sovereignty.
It's a -- very clearly, Hezbollah is attempting to drag Lebanon and the Lebanese people into a situation which certainly is not a positive one for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. So we think it was important that President* Siniora did speak out and we would call upon he and his government to do everything that they can to see that these two individuals are released and returned back to Israel.
QUESTION: But the thrust of your comments -- reflect what the United States has been saying to Siniora in the last 24 hours?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Sir, can you just characterize then how you think the Government of Lebanon has responded to this situation?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that statement that they made disassociating themselves from this action and saying that they didn't have any advance notice of it was the right thing to do. But I think the government needs to do everything that it possibly can at this point going forward. The statement, like I said, is the right thing to do, but we would hope that they from this point on do everything that they can to see that these two individuals are released.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about American citizens in Lebanon or in Israel? Has any been injured and are you considering an authorized departure of American personnel?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's see. Let's go down the list. We do have -- in Lebanon they did issue a Warden Message which should be publicly available. I think there are approximately 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon. There are also -- part of that number is people who are traveling there on business who transit in and out. The embassy at the moment is operating normally, Charlie. There is not authorized departure. On a daily -- daily basis there are multiple times per-day basis the embassy is assessing its security posture, looking at questions like authorized departure, Charlie. But at this point we don't have any announcements in that regard.
QUESTION: Back on the government's statement yesterday, they very clearly did not condemn the attack. Were you disappointed that they didn't and does it make a difference for you whether they just disassociate themselves or actually condemn it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, it was the right thing to do. I think we would certainly hope for strong words and strong actions from the government.
QUESTION: And just one other thing. We talked about some comments that their ambassador made yesterday that you hadn't seen at the time of the briefing.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Apparently, he's been fired for those comments.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Have you received any note from -- notification from the Lebanese Government that he's being withdrawn and do you know in terms of time -- a timeline is he supposed to leave soon or anything?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if we've had any formal notification of that, Nicholas. But I have heard the same thing.
QUESTION: And do you think that was an appropriate step to --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a decision for the Lebanese Government to make.
Yeah. Okay. Anything else on this matter? Yes.
QUESTION: You have stated more than once that Israel has the right to defend itself. From your own point of view, how can this happen without targeting the civilians? Yesterday 47 were killed; today 91 injured.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we certainly mourn the loss of innocent life. And we have from the beginning of this situation counseled that the sides take every possible step to avoid the loss of innocent life and that remains our position. I think it is certainly the position of anybody who is watching this that you want to avoid loss of innocent life. At the same time, these are certainly very difficult -- this is a very difficult situation that Israel faces in defending itself. So we will continue to urge restraint in the sense of taking care to avoid loss of innocent life.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: And that is, you clearly believe that the Government of Lebanon should be doing more. But how much -- how much is this the hand of Iran and how much of this is the hand of Syria? I'm not quite clear as to -- I mean, you know, you seem to be spreading blame here. But who do you see as the prime movers behind this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly, Hezbollah. I mean, they are -- they bear responsibility for their actions. But, you know, Hezbollah essentially are terrorist subcontractors for Damascus and Tehran. Our terrorism report talks about the kinds of support that they receive from those two governments. They receive material support from Iran. So as for this -- as for this particular incident, Jonathan, I can't share with you any specific information. But I think as a matter of public record it's very clear the close ties between Tehran and Hezbollah, and Damascus and Hezbollah.
Anything else on this matter? Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Assistant Secretary Hill bring good news or bad news?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, he's coming back to Washington. I think he'll be back here later this afternoon. Thus far, the Chinese, I don't believe, have heard any positive reaction from the North Koreans. I think their mission is still ongoing, but they haven't heard anything to indicate that the North Koreans have come around to making a positive response to the rest of the world.
So I think that it's fair to say that the center of gravity of diplomatic efforts is moving away from the region and more towards New York. There are active conversations going on now at the ambassadorial level about the various resolutions that are on the table. I think it's a positive step forward that everybody was talking in terms of a resolution. As Ambassador Bolton has said, now we're talking apples and apples. It's just a matter now of talking about specific language. It's the multilateral diplomacy process of the Security Council that we're very familiar with. It takes a little bit of time, but I think everybody shares a common objective in sending a clear, strong message to North Korea and I think that in the coming days that that's what you're going to see out of the Security Council.
QUESTION: Yes, on Serbia.
MR. MCCORMACK: On Serbia, yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. May we have a readout of the talks between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on July 11th?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get something for you on that. I don't have anything available on it.
QUESTION: Since the Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica here at the State Department at the stakeout and yesterday in the National Press Club clearly stated, "Kosovo independence is out of question, Serbia will not accept and will reject independence," may we assume that the two governments are in disagreement, as it was reported extensively in the press?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that the question of Kosovo is one that's currently being considered by the international community and Mr. Ahtisaari is working hard on that question, as is Ambassador Wisner from our side. So at the moment we don't have an answer or their suggestion for what the final status of Kosovo might be. I don't have anything to announce at this point and we'll be working hard on it --
QUESTION: How Secretary Rice reacted to Mr. Kostunica's proposal that "substantial autonomy for Kosovo is a compromise solution"? It was said by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica here at the National Press Club.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll try to get something for you on that, Lambros.
QUESTION: And the last one. How Dr. Rice -- why Dr. Rice refused to certify Belgrade's complaints resulting in the withholding $7 million U.S. aid to Serbia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that has to do with nonperformance on turning over war criminals to The Hague. I think that's pretty clear. It's been no secret that although the Serbian Government has hinted at the fact that they were going to provide information that would lead to these individuals going to The Hague or actually turn these individuals over to The Hague, that hasn't happened yet. As a result, it's very clear that the U.S. Government can't certify their compliance with their international obligations in that regard and, as a result, less aid.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Late breakers. Here we go.
QUESTION: To go back to North Korea for one second.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The North Koreans apparently walked out of some talks with the South Koreans. Do you have any comment? Do you want them to go back to those talks? Anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's certainly consistent with their behavior over the past several months. Look, we have always encouraged dialogue between the North and the South. They have an active program of dialogue. But again, it's another example of North Korea rejecting the entreaties of their neighbors to engage in constructive behavior and I think that is -- it's fair to say that that pathway will only lead to further and further isolation. They seem to sort of revel in their status as a state and a society that is isolated from the rest of the world, and while we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation there, this is a pathway that the Government of North Korea is leading itself as well as the North Korean people down.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on South Korea cutting off its bilateral food aid to North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that's a decision for the Government of South Korea to make.
QUESTION: On the Pakistani F-16 sale. Do you have any -- there was a hearing apparently canceled today on that. Do you have any comment on lawmakers' concerns that they weren't consulted adequately on the sale and that the sale might lead to proliferation, especially with China?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of consultations, there have been extensive consultations with the Hill on this matter. It's not a new -- this isn't a new topic. As a matter of fact, the consultations have been going on for 14 months, I think, is the right period of time.
If staff members or members of Congress have concerns about the sale, we are certainly ready to provide more briefings on that, have more discussions with it. They have a say in this and we will be working -- we have been and we will continue to be working closely in -- on our consultations with the Hill on the proposed sale.
QUESTION: Any proliferation concerns, especially China?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the proliferation concerns and other types of concerns, those were taken into consideration in forwarding this proposal to the Hill. We think that this is the right proposal for Pakistan. We believe it's the right proposal for our bilateral relationship as well. And I think that our proposal, this proposal, takes into account not only those bilateral concerns but also regional concerns.
QUESTION: Do you feel confident that it's going to go through?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we're going to work closely with the Hill on it. We certainly hope it does.
QUESTION: On Darfur. The UN envoy for Sudan yesterday in Khartoum voiced a lot of concern that there's an escalation in violence, that in addition to continued killing by the Janjaweed that now there's a lot of rebel-on-rebel violence and that the government is supporting one of -- the rebel faction of Minni Manawi, who signed this Darfur Peace Agreement. Could you talk about U.S. efforts to get the President of Sudan to allow the UN force and the beef-up of the AMIS forces?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're continuing to engage with the Sudanese Government on this. All parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement have responsibilities with regard to its implementation. We are concerned about these incidents of violence in north Darfur and we are talking to the Government of Sudan as well as other interested parties about that and calling upon all the parties to live up to their obligations, which means drawing back from the use of violence and then also the Government of Sudan taking steps to address the Janjaweed issue in terms of disarmament. We think that this underscores the importance of all the parties working towards rapid implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, as well as the transition from the AMIS peacekeeping mission to a UN peacekeeping mission.
I think that -- I'll have to check for you, but I think it's actually today that the UN assessment team was scheduled to deliver their report to the UN about what was needed. The next step beyond that would actually be states actually starting to make contributions or commitments to that peacekeeping force. So the process is moving forward. Would we like to see it move forward more quickly? Yes, we would. The President and the Secretary of State and former Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick have been watching this issue closely for the past period of time. And we would like to see it move forward more quickly.
It's a tragic situation that is still ongoing in Darfur, so we're going to do everything that we can to try move it forward. But we are only one voice and only one part of the international community, so we do need the cooperation of other members of the international community, as well as the goodwill of all their signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement to see that it's implemented, not only both in the letter but in the spirit of it.
QUESTION: As you know, Deputy Secretary Zoellick went out there and spent a lot of time helping to negotiate this peace agreement, yet it seems as if implementation of it has been slow. And despite the government's signing of it, it's, as you say, it's still not moving along. What can the United States do to put pressure on the government? Are unilateral or more multilateral sanctions outside the UN if you can't get them being considered? And what about China's refusal to sign onto tougher measures against Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what we're trying to focus on now is actually working the diplomacy to get the agreement implemented. This is, you know, our experience is that the implementation of these kinds of agreements, both with the rebel groups involved but also the Government of Sudan, requires constant attention. And that's something that we certainly have been paying to the problem and constant reinforcement with the Government of Sudan that it needs to move forward with implementation.
So that's what we have been doing, Elise. That's what we can do. Our experience in the past is that, at the end of the day that continued attention and pressure, not only from us but from others, does work in getting the agreements implemented and getting them to move forward. Sometimes that progress is incremental and hard to see. But that's what's required in this case. This is an incredibly tough and complex situation with a lot of different moving parts. So I think it's a testament to our commitment to trying to resolve the problem that we actually do have an agreement to implement here. So we are committed to its implementation. We're committed to working through a variety of international as well as bilateral channels to see that it is implemented.
QUESTION: A follow-up from yesterday. Do you have anything on Israel banning the entry of Arab Americans into the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I looked into that. And we do have some information for you. Excuse me.
Here's the first thing -- the first thing to say is that we are aware that some American citizens have been having difficulties reentering the West Bank. We have not received official notification of any change in Israeli policy concerning the admission of residents using temporary visas and we have raised this issue with the Government of Israel and are working to resolve the problems, any problems American citizens have been having. Now it's -- it is a situation that we have talked about in public before on our Consular Information Sheet. So it's, I guess, the bottom line is that the U.S. Government is working on behalf of its citizens to resolve any difficulties that they may be having.
QUESTION: Have you had discussions with any American groups about this problem?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check in terms of what sort of outreach we've had. You know, typically we do on these kinds of issues, but on this particular one, I'll have to get back to you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Were you given any reasons why they were not allowed to enter?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, really, this is all that I have on the issue. I'm happy to look into it a little bit further for you if you have more questions on it.
MR. MCCORMACK: One more, you already had four.
QUESTION: Short, very short. But I was absent three days and it turned into thirty-nine. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You can have twelve.
QUESTION: Anything to say about today's inauguration of Baku-Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey?
MR. MCCORMACK: About the opening of the pipeline in Turkey?
QUESTION: Yeah, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's a good thing for the people of Turkey, a good thing for the people in the region and it's a good thing for the people of the world in terms of having multiple sources of energy supply and energy delivery in a cost-effective way.
QUESTION: What about the U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we're very pleased -- very pleased with the opening of the pipeline.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:54 p.m.)
* Correction Â– Prime Minister Siniora
Released on July 13, 2006