State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 14, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
July 14, 2006
Statement on Secretary Rice's Travel to Asia at July 24-29
Secretary Rice's Recent Telephone Calls with Officials
Ambassador David Welch and NSC Representative Elliot Abrams in the
Humanitarian Aid for Palestinians
U.S. Urges Israeli Government to Show Restraint
Importance of Stable and Democratic Lebanon / Stability of
Query on Characterization of "War" in Region
Saudi Arabian Statement Condemning Cross-Border Attack Outside of
Lebanese Government Authority / Importance of Safe Return of
Soldiers to Israel
Travel Warning Issued / Status of Authorized Departure for
American Citizens in Lebanon
Innocent Populations Brought into Situation by Hezbollah and Hamas
U.S. Diplomacy with Regional Neighbors
U.S. Support for UN Secretary-General Annan Sending UN Envoy to
Possible G-8 Action / Discussion at G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg
Hamas Did Not Keep Election Promises / Political Ferment in PA
before Current Situation
U.S. Interest in Implementation of Resolution 1559
Department of State Task Force on Lebanon
Contingency Departure Planning / Personal Security Assessments /No
Reports of U.S. Casualties
Upcoming Arab League Meeting in Cairo
Manas Air Base Agreement/ Mutual Commitment to War on Terror
Query into Report from UN Assessment Team
Potential Text and Vote on UN Security Council Resolution
International Community Needs to Look at Security Situation / Arms
Reassess Ability of Transitional Institutions to Control Somali
1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one opening statement regarding upcoming travel by the Secretary and we'll put out the full statement after the briefing.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Asia July 24th through July 29th visiting Japan, China, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia and Vietnam for discussions with senior government officials on bilateral, regional and global issues of concern, including North Korea, Iraq and Iran and to participate in ASEAN-related meetings in Kuala Lumpur on July 27th and 28th. These are the Secretary's first visits to Malaysia and Vietnam and her first meeting -- and it will be her first meeting with the new Vietnamese leadership.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Anne.
QUESTION: Get an update on Lebanon and Gaza activities today, phone calls, any planned travel, visits?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let me start with the Secretary's phone calls. The -- She's had several phone calls starting after midnight eastern time here. She has spoken with Foreign Minister -- Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon. She's spoken with Secretary General Annan. She's spoken with President Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, as well as the Qatari Foreign Minister and she has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert today. So that's an update on her phone calls. David Welch and Elliott Abrams had meetings today with President Abbas and his presidential staff. They -- while they were in Ramallah, Assistant Secretary Welch signed an agreement with UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, for an additional $50 million in U.S. humanitarian aid. This is new money, not previously announced. It's, in our view, very important, to keep in mind the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people throughout this situation and this is part of the United States efforts to meet those humanitarian needs along with the European Union and others around the world.
QUESTION: When will that money be delivered and in what --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's in the bank account now.
QUESTION: And what will it go for?
MR. MCCORMACK: Humanitarian assistance. You can check with UNRWA exactly what programs they think are going to be served by this money. But they have a variety of different programs and these are all compliant with U.S. Government regulations and if need be there are any applicable waivers that have already been put in place.
QUESTION: Sean, do you have a readout on these calls What they were --
MR. MCCORMACK: Generally, they were talking about the situation in the region, talking about the importance of supporting Secretary General Annan's team who is led by Mr. Larsen. I believe that they're going to be landing today in Cairo. They're going to have discussions with the Egyptian Government officials as well as Arab League officials. There's going to be an Arab League summit, I believe in Cairo tomorrow or the day afterwards. So general support and for the UN mission as a way to help deescalate the situation. She underscored the importance of implementation, trying to help the Lebanon Government to make every effort to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which, among other things, calls for the disarmament of militias which would include Hezbollah.
She also underscored what you have heard in public before about the fact that any state that is attacked in a terrorist attack or any kind of other attack has the right to defend itself. But in this particular case we have talked with the Israeli Government about the importance of restraint, the importance of avoiding any civilian casualties or undue damage to civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and the importance of not taking actions that would ultimately undermine or undercut the Siniora Government. I think everybody understands that it is in the interest of the people of the regional as well as Israel, the long-term strategic interest of Israel, to have a stable, democratic, prosperous Lebanon on its northern border. And I think that that's -- that's really sort of a general description of the calls. Obviously there were more points that she made with -- in each of the calls, but that was the general tenor of the calls concerning Lebanon.
QUESTION: Sean, yesterday the Israeli Ambassador said that in his mind, Israel is at war. Do you consider this a war?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there are military historians and military experts who are going -- you know, they can apply whatever technical definitions there is. This is, in our view, an act of self-defense on the Israeli part. They were attacked across their border. I think it's very interesting that the Saudi Government came out with a statement just yesterday talking about the fact that this was not an act of resistance. And I'm paraphrasing here, you can check for it with the exact text, for the exact text from them. This was not an act of resistance. This was an attack across a border and it was an attack that was done outside the control and the authority of the Government of Lebanon.
So we are certainly in a state of escalated tensions in the region. Israel is acting in its self-defense. Two of its citizens -- the soldiers -- are kept hostage. Hundreds and hundreds of rockets have been raining down on Israeli population centers since the beginning of this incident. So the way out is for these rocket attacks to stop and for these two soldiers to be returned, as well as the soldier that's being held by Hamas in the Gaza.
QUESTION: And what about the Americans there -- 25,000 -- have you moved at all since authorized departure on making plans for them possibly to leave the country with State Department assistance, with DOD assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have put out a Travel Warning. It talks about the fact that last night the State Department, in response to the Embassy's request, issued an order for authorized departure. At the moment, that really has standing as an administrative order. No official Americans have left. Certainly we are doing all the appropriate planning with all the appropriate U.S. Government agencies for various contingencies that might arise. So at this point, we have cautioned citizens, American citizens, who are in Lebanon to assess their personal security situation. And it does say both for Americans as -- official Americans that are there working in the Embassy community as well as private citizens, assess your personal security situation and, as conditions permit, then you should look for opportunities to leave Lebanon. But at the moment, conditions don't permit so there has been no egress of American -- official Americans working at the embassy.
QUESTION: But those are also the conditions under which you often arrange for them to get out if they can't leave.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we are working through all the various contingencies that might arise and, in support of that, how to look at support for American citizens, whether they're in the Embassy community or outside the embassy community when conditions permit, should they want to leave, if the existing conditions, the existing context for the current situation, continues.
QUESTION: As the operations continue, it seems as if there are few ways as -- you know, not only for Americans but for humanitarian supplies, oil, and other supplies to get into the country. Are you talking to the Israelis about, I don't know, a ceasefire or something like to get more supplies into the country? Are you worried about a humanitarian crisis or an economic crisis? When you talk about supporting the Lebanon Government, is there anything you're doing in that respect?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly I think the -- I think all the countries in the region, including Israel, are attuned to the fact that they do not want to cause any harm to innocent civilians. This is a very difficult situation right now for the Lebanese people, I think. We understand that. And that's why we're doing everything we can, why the UN is doing everything it can, to deescalate the situation. The way out of this, as I said, is for the rocket attacks to stop, for these two captives to be returned. Then, if you have that situation and you have a situation where the Government of Lebanon actually controls all of its territory, you can start to get back to a more normal situation. You can actually imagine a situation where you might be able to make some progress on the implementation of 1559.
Now, at the moment, I don't have a good read on the situation of the Lebanese people. I know it certainly must be very difficult for them right now. But this underscores the reason why you have to implement 1559. And the effect is that Hezbollah has dragged the Lebanese people into this situation. Hezbollah and its benefactors are attempting to drag the Lebanese people, drag the -- and with regard to Hamas and its benefactors, drag the Palestinian people into an abyss of violence. And the region, and the rest of the world, is trying to work to prevent that. They don't want that to happen. It is not to the benefit of the Lebanese people. It's not to the benefit of the Palestinian people. It's not to the benefit of anybody in the region.
So I think the Saudi statement is a good indication of where others are in the region in terms of not letting these terrorist groups drag these populations, these innocent populations, into these kinds of situations. I think it's important when we do talk about the current situation to talk about why we're in the situation that we are right now, and that is because of the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas and their benefactors.
QUESTION: If I could follow up. You talk about implementing 1559 and you've said that the Lebanese Government does want to, but you recognize their limited capacity. Is there anything being considered to prop up in terms of support for the Lebanese Government to actually have the capability to implement that? And as you know, it's probably not something that's going to happen overnight, so do you expect these Israeli operations to continue until Hezbollah is fully disarmed? That could be a pretty long time.
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you how long the Israeli actions are continue -- I think -- going to continue. I think that that's a question for the Israeli Government. Part of what Mr. Larsen is going to be doing is in the region talking about ways that you can help the Lebanese Government implement 1559, so I think that that is going to be part of the diplomacy, part of the discussions that he has while he's in the region.
QUESTION: Sean, can you talk a little bit more about U.S. diplomacy with the Saudis, with other regional governments, to use their influence with Iran and Syria? And last night in the briefing transcript which we received, Secretary Rice did not seem to rule out the possibility of a direct talk with at least Syria on the subject. Have you heard any more on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think at the moment there are any plans for us to speak directly at any significant level with the Syrian Government. We do have an embassy there that is currently operating, but certainly since our Ambassador departed Damascus the level of contact between the U.S. Government and the Syrian Government via our embassy has really been reduced to a fairly low level.
In terms of the diplomacy ongoing in the region, we're trying to touch base with as many states in the region as we can who are -- who have an interest in seeing this situation deescalate and brought to a conclusion, a successful conclusion; that successful conclusion is stopping the attacks and have the captives return. The Saudis have been very active, the Jordanians have been very active, and the Egyptians have been very active on both of these situations, both in the Gaza as well as in Lebanon. And their efforts, which again -- which are self-generated, this is not at the U.S. prompting -- we have, as a principle, encouraged governments in the region to do what they can. But these are efforts and statements that are self-generated.
We did touch base. David did -- David Welch and Elliott Abrams did touch base with the Egyptians while they were there, the Jordanians while in Jordan, and also, they've had conversations with the Saudis as well. So we encourage these continued diplomatic efforts. I think the Arab League meeting tomorrow will be an important opportunity for these governments who are really on this side of the issue, the right side of the issue. The two governments on the wrong side of the issue, very clearly, are Iran and Syria and their terrorist subcontractors, Hamas and Hezbollah.
So really, that's the -- I think, the divide right now in the region. On one side, you have terrorist organizations in the lead, Hamas and Hezbollah, and their benefactors, Iran and Syria. And on the other side, you have states who have an interest in seeing the situation successfully resolved, getting back in both the situations where you have the opportunity for these states and populations to move in a positive direction with the Palestinians, hopefully, at some point, to get back on a footing where you have the Israelis and the Palestinians working together on a two-state solution and with Lebanon, implementation of 1559 and the applicable UN Security Council resolutions.
So that's -- I think that's how we see this right now dividing out. We encourage the efforts of those Arab governments. I think the Arab League summit, as I said before, is an important opportunity for them to make clear in public, as well as private, where they stand and on what side of the line that they stand.
QUESTION: Chuck Hagel suggested today that you all should appoint Colin Powell or James Baker or a similar figure as an envoy, send them there, do something dramatic, a U.S. -- direct U.S. intersession. Is anything like that under consideration and is there anything -- should the U.S. make some sort of next level intersession here beyond phone calls?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- a couple things. One, certainly, we have a great deal of respect for Senator Hagel and his views, but the fact is you have the national security apparatus of the United States working on this issue as well as a variety of other issues with which we are confronted around the world now. Secretary Rice has been very active working the phones, as I've talked about over the past couple days. David Welch and Elliott Abrams are -- have been in the region.
One of the things you don't want to do in a situation like this is you don't want to have various envoys' diplomatic efforts stepping on one another as they move about the region. Right now, you have a UN effort that's underway at the behest of Secretary General Annan. It has our support. It really has its origins, I think, in some conversations the Secretary had with Secretary General Annan a couple of days ago. We support those efforts and we support Mr. Larsen as well as the two other members of the team that are going to be out there in the region. So we think that that's where the center of international diplomatic effort should be. Also working with whatever bilateral efforts there might be with the governments in the region, we're going to continue to stay very plugged in to these efforts, do what we need to do, working the phones and also having our embassies on the ground contribute to a solution in any way that they feel is appropriate.
QUESTION: Can I follow on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Is there anything that's being considered over at the G-8 or within the Secretary's discussions, as such a -- like a wider kind of Quartet or Contact Group, that type of thing, to get interested leaders of the -- in the region and the international community together to see if there's something to be done to calm the tensions?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of such efforts. It's probably best to check with the folks in St. Petersburg. Right now, I'm sure that this is going to be right at the top of the agenda when the leaders get together to -- for the G-8 Summit this coming weekend. I think it's probably best to check with the folks in St. Petersburg as to what shape the conversations are taking, where they're headed.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering any travel to the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the moment. No plans.
QUESTION: Sean, one of the biggest items of contention with this whole crisis is that you've had, of course, Hezbollah up on that border for at least six or seven years, ever since the Israelis pulled out in 2000. And I guess you could say that as a compartmentalization, you've been talking with -- against the Iranians with their new program and their whole program of enrichment and there is also the blame for terrorism. Now isn't it a win-win situation because, what you've just pointed out Hezbollah has, in effect, defanged the entire government in Lebanon and wrecked the economy. And so in any case, it's a win-win for those terrorism groups and you did mention 1559. If that whole economy and infrastructure goes down, wouldn't the Lebanese then invite the Syrians back into Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's -- you know, there's a lot in that question, Joel. I think that -- look, very simply there are individuals, there are groups, there are governments in the region who want to either maintain the status quo or take the region, dial back the clock a couple of centuries and not allow every individual in that region to realize their full human potential, not put in place democratic political systems where people can thrive, people can define their own destinies, not put in place economic systems where the people have the opportunity to better their situation, better the situation of their family.
I think it's very clear the dividing lines. As I just pointed out, I think you can see very clearly countries like Syria, countries like Iran, these terrorist organizations -- Hamas, Hezbollah and others -- they don't want things to change. They want to take the people of the region back to a much darker period.
There are, however, voices in the region who don't want that and we support those voices. We support those calls for greater freedom in the region. We're going to stand up for them. We're going to defend them. And that is part of what the President talked about in his Second Inaugural. It's part of the freedom agenda, and there's been a lot of progress in the region over the past several years. I don't think it should come as any surprise that you see these kinds of groups taking these sort of provocative, extreme acts. They're trying to fight against that tide. They're trying to fight against that tide of freedom. They're trying to fight against that tide of democracy. And the United States and its friends and allies are going to stand on the side of freedom. They're going to stand on the side of democracy and greater progress in that region, and ultimately those voices will prevail.
QUESTION: But Hamas won an election. I mean, isn't that part of the problem here? You have one of these -- you're talking about these groups as a Hamas and Hezbollah are, you know -- well, ignoring the fact that you now have Hamas essentially running one of the governments elected --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's -- well, a couple things. One, first of all, Hamas wasn't created by an election. Hamas existed before. And Hamas in this election didn't run on a platform of we're going to send your 16-year-olds to go blow up Israeli 16-year-olds. They ran on a platform of we're going to deliver social services to you, we're going to deliver education to your children, we're going to deliver food and medicine to your people. Those are -- those aren't the platforms of a terrorist organization.
So they weren't running on the platform of hate, violence, and destruction. They were running on a platform of, well, we're going to serve your interests as opposed to the previous government, which had governed not in the interests of the people but governed in the interests of a small group of people. President Abbas had made a lot of attempts to change that, but unfortunately those reforms did not have enough time to take hold and to really be realized so that people can see those changes on the ground. Hamas won the election.
The international community then came together and said, okay, this was an election that was by all accounts free and that it was by all accounts a fair election. Hamas was elected. The international community said, okay, you were elected, but if you want continued assistance from the international community you're going to have to meet certain requirements. They didn't meet those requirements. And as a result, they struggled. I think that it's fair to say they were in a fairly dire situation in terms of being able to effectively govern and deliver on the promises that they had made. I think it's fair to say that there were quite a few stresses within Hamas.
Our view after the Hamas election was that if this group, if this organization, in fact did come around and embrace not only in word but in deed democratic ideals, that it did in fact recognize Israel's right to exist, that it did in fact want to be a partner for peace and negotiation with Israel, that would have been a positive outcome.
Now, there was a lot of ferment within the Palestinian political system just prior to the attack on the Israeli outposts and the abduction of Corporal Shalit. I think it is a fair assumption that these forces, these extreme forces of hate and violence in Hamas, were concerned about the direction of the political dialogue. They were concerned that members of Hamas were working with Fatah to try to find a way to in some way meet the international conditions that were laid out for them. And again, there are a lot of "what if's" in it, in the statement, but one could imagine that the -- one could see that the political environment, the political class within the Palestinian areas, was changing, it was evolving. It hadn't changed to the point where Hamas or some group of -- some part of Hamas had embraced the conditions that the international system had laid out for it, but there was ferment, there was change, there was some possible change that was afoot.
You don't have that now. You don't have that now because a small group of people decided to -- decided that they were going to try to hijack the destiny of the Palestinian people, people like Khaled Meshal, who's sitting up in Damascus under the protection of the Government of Syria. Not even living in those Palestinian areas. So again, democracy -- you know, I think really what this indicates is that it's a failure of Hamas, it's a failure of Hezbollah; it's not a failure of democracy.
QUESTION: The Israeli Ambassador to the UN today spoke and said among other things that the longer range missiles that have been hitting were made in Iran and I would wonder if you could comment on possible implications of this. Is a three-front war, you know, possible since certainly in the name of self-defense of Israel because these rockets were made in Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to spin out various scenarios. Our focus and the focus of others is trying to deescalate the situation. It's well known -- it's in our annual terrorist report -- that Iran is a material supporter of Hezbollah. Now, did they supply these -- the rockets that are actually -- some of the rockets that are actually falling on Israel? I can't confirm that for you right now. I can't turn you away from that, that idea; I just don't have the information that confirms it.
But we do know that Iran provides material support in the form of know-how, in the form of money, and in the form of material to Hezbollah. So the short answer to this question: I can't confirm that for you, but we do know that they are supporters of Hezbollah.
QUESTION: Have you given any thought to whether this -- the kidnapping of the soldier in Gaza and these kidnappings by Hezbollah was coordinated in some way either between Hezbollah and Hamas or by Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I can't confirm that for you. I think, you know, here's what you do know. You do know that the leadership of Hamas is headquartered in Damascus. You do know that Hezbollah has close links and representation, I believe, in Damascus. You do know that President Ahmadi-Nejad recently over the past several months -- I can't remember exactly when -- visited Damascus essentially for a terror summit. So you know, as for the specific linkages between -- you know, Hamas and Hezbollah and these two incidents -- these two incidences, I can't confirm that for you. But certainly, there are states like Iran -- as well as Iran who stand at the nexus of terror. And part of what our international diplomatic efforts have been all about is to try to focus a spotlight on those links, try to focus the attention of those states in the region on putting pressure on Syria and Iran, who -- to bring about the release of these two -- of these three individuals and to stop these rocket attacks on Israel. We believe that these two, Iran and Syria, do have leverage with Hamas and Hezbollah and that they should be prevailed upon by the other countries in the region to use that leverage to stop these attacks.
QUESTION: The Israeli Ambassador at the UN said today that the destruction of Hezbollah could actually help the Lebanese Government. Do you agree with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and they are responsible for rocket attacks ongoing on Israeli soil. They are also responsible for the abduction of two Israeli soldiers. Israel is engaged in acts of self-defense at the moment. Our interest is seeing the implementation of 1559 and -- ultimately, the implementation of 1559 and its provisions regarding the dismantlement of militias -- those actions have to be taken by the Government of Lebanon. We can't do it for them; others can't do it for them. So we -- that's where our support is, is behind 1559 and implementation of that and doing what we can as an international community to help the Government of Lebanon implement that resolution.
QUESTION: I want to follow up. I didn't get to -- the UN Ambassador to Israel -- again, one other comment he made was that Israel had determined that missiles were being fired from the residences of people in southern Lebanon; actually, portions of the homes were set aside for missile-launching areas. And I just wondered if you could comment on the implications of that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I think it's -- you know, I think -- you know, it's an unfortunate, pathetic tactic and tragic tactic of terrorist groups, whether it's Hamas or Hezbollah, to try to surround themselves among -- with innocent civilian populations. I don't know. I don't know if rockets are being fired from housing compounds of families. I don't know that. But we do know that it is a common tactic for these terrorists to really try to surround themselves by -- with innocent civilians.
QUESTION: There were reports yesterday that the two Israeli soldiers were going to be transported to Iran. Do you know anything further about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We talked a little bit about that -- the Israeli Government has talked in public and private about their concerns that these two captives would be moved within Lebanon and possibly outside of Lebanon. I don't have any particular information that could -- on our own that would confirm that, but it is a serious concern of the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: What do you think is their likely response if it is confirmed that they have been taken to Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, that's a what-if. We'll address that if the situation arises.
QUESTION: When was the Department task force set up and what is it up to?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me -- yesterday -- yesterday.
QUESTION: And can you describe what (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, the -- it's the typical operations of a task force, which are myriad. It is an information collection center. It's an information dissemination center. It's also a place where the building can come together. The State Department, with its various operations here in Washington, as well as in the region, can coordinate actions. It's also a place where the other government agencies can work with the State Department in order to coordinate various actions. It has representatives from all the various bureaus, relevant bureaus within the Department, including Consular Affairs. So it's also a place where we can monitor the status as best we can of the American citizen population in Lebanon.
QUESTION: Is it to the point yet where you're getting welfare and whereabout calls about Americans in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we are. We are. As a matter of fact, there is a general number right now that people can call into. Let me see if I can get that for you. Maybe we'll just have to get that for you afterwards and we'll publicize it. Don't have that -- I don't have it with me right now, but yeah, there is.
QUESTION: Can you confirm how many Americans estimated are in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a variety of different estimates. You know, right now -- oh, I do have the number. I'll get back to you. Our best estimate was -- initial estimate was 25,000. But there are a lot of people who will come in, especially during the summer season, that will come into Lebanon and they won't register with the Embassy, so that number could be higher, but our initial estimate was 25,000.
Just a second, on the -- for updated information on travel and security in Lebanon, you can also -- people can also call 1-888-407-4747 and that's within the United States. Or from overseas, area code 202/501-4444. So that is -- those are general numbers. We haven't set up a specific number for Lebanon welfare and whereabouts calls. We may do that. And if we do we'll keep you, as well as the public, updated on it.
QUESTION: So if there's an American citizen right now that can't get out and wants to get out, what's the procedure for them to try and get help? I mean, is the United States Government going to do anything as of now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, like I said, we try to -- we're in the process of planning for various contingencies that might arise. At this point, out best advice is for people to assess their security situation. Right now it is -- you know, at least is from the U.S. Government perspective there aren't any ways to get out, reliable ways to get out by air, land, or sea. Certainly the situation could be dangerous for people who make those kind of attempts, but people are going to have to assess their own personal security situation at the moment. Should conditions allow at the moment, given the existing conditions, official Americans would -- some official Americans, non-emergency personnel and family members, would leave and that we would, as part of that planning, we see how we can accommodate those American citizens who want to leave that are in the country. But again, that's the sort of contingency planning that goes on whenever you have this kind of situation.
QUESTION: There's no sign that Americans are targeted in this, but you're just concerned they may get caught up in the violence that's going on, right? What are you advising them to do, just stay home and don't answer the door?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, they're going to have to -- they're going to have to assess. Everybody has a unique situation. So they're going to have to assess what is best for their own personal security. In terms of American -- we don't have any reports for American citizens being either injured or killed. I have no indication that Americans are being specifically targeted in this regard. You know, certainly if we do have that kind of information that we believe is credible, that is something that we would include in an updated Travel Warning or a Warden Message.
QUESTION: (inaudible) non-essential staff and family members, would you would need to evacuate and also who is taking part of the task force?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me see if I can get you an update on the numbers of our embassy. It's a relatively -- it's a relatively small embassy and in terms of dependants, it's only adult dependants who are there -- no children. So we'll try to get you the numbers.
QUESTION: Just to be clear on the evacuations, you're talking that you're just doing contingency planning. There's no plans at this point for when there are safe routes out to start evacuating Americans?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's conditions permitting. It's conditions permitting. But again, this is -- whenever you have a situation like this, whether it's in the Middle East or Africa or elsewhere around the world, you do all the contingency planning, because you want to be able to have the plans in place, have the assets in place in order to meet all the contingencies. Certainly, we -- we at the State Department are always mindful of the security of our own people. We're also very mindful of the need to do everything that we can to assist American citizens who are in the country and facing difficult conditions like they are right now in Lebanon.
QUESTION: I'm just -- I'm sorry, just to be clear, I mean, is it your intention, once conditions permit, to start evacuating Americans or you're just putting plans in place, if it's necessary?
MR. MCCORMACK: Conditions -- conditions permitting, we have authorized departure. Given the current state of affairs in Lebanon, we would have non-emergency personnel as well as family members leave. And conditions permitting, we have urged American citizens to leave -- consider leaving Lebanon. But again, they have to take into account their own personal security. That's going to be a decision that they have to make themselves. But again, conditions permitting, we would encourage that.
QUESTION: And you'll help with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we are putting in place. We are looking at all possible contingencies and putting in place the planning should we need to act on those contingencies -- those contingency plans.
QUESTION: Have you made any formal requests to the U.S. military to help evacuate?
MR. MCCORMACK: Part of -- again, in situations like this, part of our contingency planning does involve working with the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Earlier today, I suppose there was some type of coordination between the Israelis and the Lebanese Government. They allowed some of the commercial Lebanese airlines to fly their planes, I assume empty, from the Beirut Airport and then they re-bombed the airport once again. Do you want or do you encourage the Israelis to be working in tandem with the -- and expand those contacts between they and the Lebanese Government at this time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, in terms of -- I mean, in essence, the Lebanese Government and the Israeli Government face a common threat, that's Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a threat to Lebanese sovereignty. It's also -- it is also, through their actions, directly challenged the Lebanese Government -- very clearly understand the threat to the Israeli Government from Hezbollah. So to the extent that they either directly or indirectly can work together to bring a de-escalation of this situation, that's positive. In the meantime, their countries in the region, the UN team is going to do what it can to deescalate the situation.
QUESTION: And also with this -- these evacuations, have you spoke in any way with the Cyprus Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure our folks on the ground have been in contact with them.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the task force?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Does your task force include DOD reps over here to do this kind of contingency planning?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Are you receiving information from other countries about any of their citizens who are in Lebanon who are, you know, non-Lebanese, non-Hezbollah, who have been casualties, killed or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Haven't -- I'm not aware of such information.
QUESTION: You only attempt to gather information on Americans in a situation like this?
MR. MCCORMACK: It will vary from case to case and country to country. There are -- you know, very often we will go to a country to ask for assistance in care or transport of our citizens. It depends on who has what presence in a given country. In this case I'm not aware of countries approaching us regarding their citizens, the welfare of their citizens. But if we did have such approaches, certainly we would do everything that we could to try to help them out. I mean, it's not always possible but we do try.
QUESTION: Has there been a large number of Americans who have come to the Embassy yet looking for ways, saying if you are getting people out, I want out, are looking for possible help?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check. I'll check for you what sort of contacts with the Embassy.
QUESTION: Do you support sending international troops to Lebanon to help the Lebanese Government implementing the 15 -- the resolution, international resolution 1559?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of such a proposal. I think that the primary interest of the Lebanese Government and the international community if you looked at 1559, is really to have the Lebanese Government itself assert that control over its entire territory.
QUESTION: What do you expect specifically to come out from the Arab League meeting Saturday in Cairo?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We'll see, Samir. But I think that what we know is it presents an opportunity for the members of the Arab League to make it clear what side of the line they stand on here and what they are going to -- what they are going to do to try to bring about a positive resolution to the current situation, to try to deescalate the tensions, to stop these rocket attacks and to have these three captives returned to their families.
QUESTION: Did you have any contact with Mr. Larsen, Terje Roed-Larsen?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I can't tell you if we've had direct contact with Mr. Larsen. That's somebody that works for Secretary General Annan. We have had contact with the UN, I've talked about, as well as with the governments with whom Mr. Larsen is going to be meeting, but I don't know if we've talked to him directly.
QUESTION: One more question. Is there any consideration now since the government in Lebanon is a pro-democracy government to provide assistance to rebuild the infrastructure that was destroyed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, prior to this there has been in the planning stages an international conference to assist Lebanon. I don't believe a meeting has been scheduled in that regard. Let's get through the current situation, then we can look -- start to look forward.
QUESTION: Is there any word about whether or not Giandomenico Pico will become involved in this situation? He was very successful previously when he was an assistant Secretary General of the UN, even working with the Iranians. Of course that was a different Iran, but still.
MR. MCCORMACK: Not aware. Not aware of any efforts that he may be making.
MR. MCCORMACK: What? (Laughter.) Are there any other questions?
QUESTION: Yes. There is minor news perhaps, but still interesting, out of Kyrgyzstan. A report that a deal has been cut to extend the basing rights. Is that true and what are the exact terms? I know it was a problem of money.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. In fact, there was a deal. Let me see who signed this. It was Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazof and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James McDougall. And what they signed today was a protocol of intentions to affirm our governments' mutual understanding. So what does that mean? That means, yes, there's a deal. And the terms of it, I think the thing that you guys are most interested in is that the United States will compensate equitably the Kyrgyz Government and Kyrgyz businesses for goods, services, and other support of U.S. operations. The United States expects to provide more than $150 million in total assistance and compensation over the next year -- all this pending approval by the Congress.
QUESTION: And the figure is now?
MR. MCCORMACK: What the figure is? Well, it's 150 million that we --
QUESTION: They were getting some funds --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, the current -- the current deal? I don't know what the current arrangements were, George. I think it was a payment for goods and services, but I don't know what the current figure is.
QUESTION: A very small figure, as I recall. But if you could --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, we can look into that for you.
QUESTION: Sean, a follow-up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Is there any statement of political support? I know the Kyrgyz Government is somewhat bedeviled there by their neighbors and I know they were hoping for some -- not just cash but also a statement of support, partnership, alliance, et cetera. Is that part of that?
MR. MCCORMACK: What we can do, Tom, is we actually have a copy of the statement here and we can make copies for folks afterwards. I would just in answer, in partial answer to your question, I would say that the part of the statement says that the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic are firmly committed to the war on terrorism and improving security of Afghanistan, Central Asia and the broader region. Stemming from this, the two countries have decided to continue their important cooperation at the Manas Coalition Air Base.
So it does talk a little bit about the relationship between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, but we'll make copies of this available for you after the briefing.
QUESTION: And one more. Have you heard anything from the UN assessment team for Darfur, whether we're getting good access or anything?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll check. We'll check. I think they were supposed to give their report -- I think it was yesterday but there's a lot of activity up at the UN so I'm not sure if that actually happened.
QUESTION: On North Korea. Sean, do you expect there to be a vote on the Japanese resolution today? Bolton hinted at it this morning.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, that is risky business, predicting when the UN Security Council might vote. Right now, just before we came into the briefing -- before I came into the briefing, they were having a meeting which they were working on text of a resolution. There were some questions about the form as well as the specific wording of the text and I haven't gotten word back from New York as to whether or not they've completed work on that text and when they might have a vote. I think that it is safe to assume that it will be in the near future, in the coming days. I don't know if it'll be today, though, but folks are working hard on it up in New York.
QUESTION: Sean, one more on the UN. Yesterday, the Council passed a statement on Somalia, which, in part, talks about easing the arms embargo in order to help beef up the transitional government. Do you think that more guns is really what's needed in the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: What we think is that there -- we need to look at the security situation in Somalia in concert with our international partners. One of the questions is the arms embargo and how does -- how that relates to the interim Transitional Federal Institutions and their ability to assert any sort of positive control over Somalian territory. So it's -- essentially, it's a topic for discussion right now among members of the international community. I'm sure it'll be a topic of discussion among the Somalia Contact Group.
QUESTION: Israel has reportedly detained an Arab professor from the University of Akron by the name of Ghazi Falah, G-h-a-z-I F-a-l-a-h. Do you have any information on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have information on the particular circumstances of the situation. Our research to date indicates that he is not a U.S. citizen. But again, there are some -- we're continuing to look into this question, but the initial research indicates he's not a U.S. citizen.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)
Released on July 14, 2006