State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 17, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
July 17, 2006
US Efforts in Assisting Americans Departing Lebanon / Numbers of
Americans Leaving / Ongoing and Future U.S. Plans / European
Efforts / U.S. Working with Governments of Israel and Lebanon on
Safe Departure of Americans
Travel of Secretary Rice / Secretary's Diplomacy in the Region /
United Nations Actions / International Security Monitors / UN
Security Council Resolution 1559
U.S. Support for Siniora Government
Right of Israel to Defend Itself
Role of Syria and Iran in Current Crisis / U.S. Diplomacy with
Syria, Other Countries in the Region
Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
Six Party talks / G8 statement / UN Security Council actions
P5+1, Security Council actions
Donors' Conference on Darfur / Attendance by Assistant Secretary
Sale of F-16s to Taiwan
1:04 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Afternoon, everybody. Hi. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: Well, why don't we spend a little time on the evacuation situation.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. MCCORMACK: I mean, as much time as you want to spend, Barry.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, some numbers will help. Today, apparently soon, there will be a major effort to get Americans out. How many Americans do we think are in Lebanon? How many do we think want to get out -- if you can answer this -- and how many do you think we could get out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let me go down where we are right now. We have to date 64 Americans that we have assisted to leave Lebanon. The majority of those people have been private citizens who have expressed a desire to leave Lebanon. Some small number of those have been official Americans working at the embassy, non-emergency personnel who have been moved out of Lebanon. They have exited via a helicopter air bridge that has been put in place that started operating yesterday.
What's happening, Barry, is that on the flights yesterday and today we have actually added people to the Embassy staff to assist in helping to move people out who want to leave. So that's where we stand right now. I would expect --
QUESTION: Excuse me. Were all of those folks helicoptered out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or just the last bunch?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. They are --
QUESTION: The full 67 or whatever the number.
MR. MCCORMACK: 64.
MR. MCCORMACK: To date, 64.
MR. MCCORMACK: So yesterday and today 64 people total, 64 American citizens. We hope -- so we're now in the process. We have started the process moving people out in groups of tens. What we hope in the very near future is to start moving people out in groups of hundreds. So really to expand the operation, so we're moving from tens of people leaving at a time to hundreds of people leaving at a time.
Part of that effort will be via the air bridge, but the other part of that effort will be via vessels that come in, seaborne ships that come in to help that take people out. I expect that to happen in the near future. So we're working with commercial shipping and we're also working with Department of Defense assets. We're building up the assets in the region so that we can operate on a scale of moving thousands of people. Now part of -- there is an estimated 25,000 people in Lebanon. That's our estimate.
QUESTION: U.S. citizens?
MR. MCCORMACK: U.S. citizens in Lebanon. We have -- I can get the figure for you here -- actually 15 -- just over 15,000 people who are actually registered with the Embassy. So our estimate of the total number of American citizens is 25,000. That's our best estimate. The number of people who have actually registered with the Embassy is about 15,000; 3,000 of that 15,000 are new registrants. They have registered since the beginning of this crisis. So that's the total number of people that we're dealing with, the magnitude of people, the scale Â– the numbers that we're dealing with. How many people wanted to actually leave, Barry? I think that our operating assumptions, our planning assumptions are on the order of thousands.
But you don't actually know how many people are going to want to leave until you actually start the larger scale operations, which, again, should happen in the near future. There are a wide variety of estimates that we are able to draw on from similar situations, Barry, that go anywhere from 10 percent on up to the number of total people in the country who want to leave.
We have received calls from people who do want to leave. We have received calls from people who wanted to register but said that they were going to stay in Lebanon. So there's going to be a mix. But in order to accommodate all the people who we believe will want to leave, I think we are trying to put in place the assets as well as the infrastructure that would be able to handle thousands of people.
QUESTION: And that's air and sea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Air and sea.
QUESTION: The roads being -- to Syria, two of the three roads are apparently unusable?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the exact numbers, but our people on the ground made the judgment that it was not safe to do that. We are, again, operating on the scale of potentially thousands of people who want to leave. I know that there have been governments who have been operating on a scale of tens or hundreds of people who have left. They have left via bus. So they're operating on a different scale than we are or, say, the Canadians or the Australians are operating under.
So what we want to have is we want to have a safe, orderly, timely method to get people out who want to leave. So that -- our folks on the ground made the decision that leaving via land in this sort of organized effort, not just ones and twos, people getting out on their own, wasn't the way to go. It wasn't the safe way to go, Barry.
QUESTION: What's your plan to get people from wherever the gathering points are to the boat to get out of there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a lot of people working now on where exactly the rally points might be. Obviously I'm not going to talk about those from the podium because there is a security issue involved here. But what we have done in the latest message going out from the Embassy to our citizens in Beirut and in Lebanon is to say get your travel gear in order, make sure your bags are ready to go, make sure you have your travel documents ready to go, so that when we do start into this phase, which we hope is in the near future of moving hundreds of people at a time, that people are ready to go, that they're ready to go to assembly areas and then board whatever means of transportation we have ready for those particular people ready to go.
QUESTION: Do you expect those to be buses, basically, to transport people to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to get into that level of detail. But in terms of getting out of Lebanon, from Lebanon out to Cyprus, which is our staging area for people to move onwards, would be either by air or by sea.
QUESTION: Some Americans have pointed to the fact that a lot of European countries have already gotten their citizens out and in fact are also helping with the extraction of a couple dozen Americans that needed to get out right away. Could you talk about why there was not -- that this is taking longer for the United States? Is it because the sheer amount of people or that your assets are taking a longer time to get there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said, I know that for the most part the vast majority of those countries that you're talking about, you're talking about a convoy of several buses who are moving out. Clearly we can't operate on that scale. We need to operate on a larger scale. And there are other countries, I know, who are looking into ships, vessels coming in and having their citizens use that as the main way to get out.
We've been working closely with a number of different governments. We've been in touch with the Canadian Government, the Australian Government, the UK Government, the French Government as well. So we're trying to help one another out in terms of our assessment of the security situation, also for those cases that might be higher priority.
What do we mean by higher priority? Those people who have medical conditions that need urgent attention, elderly people who may not be able to get around as well as others or who have medical conditions, unaccompanied minors who may not have the wherewithal to stay in Beirut or Lebanon on their own for several more days. So those are the people that we're prioritizing first and we want to work to get everybody out who wants to get out. That's our job and that's what we're working on.
QUESTION: What's the coordination with the Israeli Government, if any, on getting the Americans out safely, given the ongoing operations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, clearly, there has to be some liaison with the Israeli Government, as well as the Lebanese Government. I don't have any details for you, but we are in close contact because it is important. We want to have a safe, orderly, and timely movement of people. Those are our priorities. And what we have been putting in place are the assets, the infrastructure, and a plan in order to do that.
QUESTION: Still on the same general subject, but I just wondered if you could tell us anything about the Secretary of State's travel plans, the suggestion that she might visit the region from President --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, sure. She's returning on Air Force One with the President today from the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. She is going to be back here in the office. She's going to have some meetings this afternoon with her team to discuss the ongoing situation as well as State Department efforts to help American citizens who do want to leave. She will be briefed up on those issues.
What we want to do, Jonathan, is to get a sense from the UN team, which is going to be returning to New York in the second half -- latter half of this week, to get a sense from them what it is that they have heard or what ideas are people in the region coalescing around in order to address the immediate crisis, this immediate -- and the immediate causes of the violence. She does intend to travel to the region. We don't have a time for that yet. We don't have an itinerary for that yet. We're going to keep you up to date as best we can. But she does want to have a sense, from the UN mission, what it is that they're hearing, what it is that they've accomplished.
Her goal, in traveling to the region, would be to try to further the diplomacy that would lay the groundwork for a lasting cessation of violence. What you don't want to do is you don't want to be back in the same position three weeks from now, three months from now, six months from now where a group of extremists, terrorists and their backers can drag the region into a crisis, who can drag the region into -- or try to drag the region into an abyss of violence. So there is a framework for doing that that is called UN Security Council Resolution 1559. In the case of the Israelis and the Palestinians, it's a roadmap.
So the question now is: How do you deal with the immediate situation, the immediate violence that is ongoing along Israel's northern border with Lebanon? The G-8 statement that was put out by the leaders of the G-8 is really, if you will, an action plan. It lays out a roadmap to try to address these various issues. And what needs to happen is that these extremist groups need to stop firing missiles into Israel, they need to return the captives, and then there are a series of other steps that are outlined by the G-8 statement. And so, it does provide a way forward.
I think if you look through it, it's really an extraordinary document in that this was not a document that was originally planned to be put together by the leaders of the G-8. This was the leaders of the G-8 coming out with, really, what is an extraordinary statement about the root causes of the situation in the Middle East, as well as a way forward.
QUESTION: One of the ideas already floating from both Kofi Annan and from Tony Blair is for some kind of peacekeeping force to be sent to the region under the UN. What is the U.S. position on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our position is what is stated in the G-8 document, that we along with the other members of the G-8 are prepared to examine a security monitoring presence in the south of Lebanon. Again, that gets to this issue of not wanting to be back in the same situation three months from now or six months from now. So you have to have a lasting cessation of the violence and really a change from status quo ante. Nobody wants to go -- well, I won't say nobody. Perhaps Hezbollah and some of their backers want to go back to status quo ante, but I don't think that there's anybody, any responsible parties in the region or certainly among those countries with an interest in the region, including the members of the G-8, who want to see a return to status quo ante.
What we want to do is we want to see an enhanced security situation, an enhanced situation from a stabilization perspective. And that is what we are going to be working toward. That's what I think you have the G-8 working toward in their statement. That is what the UN team is out doing now in the region, looking for those kinds of ideas, seeing what sort of support there is in the region in terms of ideas and their sequencing.
So we're going to hear back from them up in New York, I think the latter half of the week. There's going to be a Security Council discussion of that, I believe, that we'll follow. That's the initial planning now. And then at some point in the future -- we'll keep you up to date -- the Secretary intends to travel to the region.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-up, you said what Hezbollah might want but others in the region don't. What do the Israelis want and what do you want vis-Ã -vis what the Israelis want? You've said you want rockets to stop from Hezbollah. You want the prisoners returned. Do you want the Israelis to stop firing too, stop their ground operations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, Charlie, I would refer you back to the G-8 document, if you look at it. It talks about the way forward. We have made it very clear that we believe Israel has a right to defend itself. Any state that was attacked in the manner in which Israel was attacked would act to defend itself. We have talked to the Israelis as well as others about the need in defending itself to exercise the greatest possible restraint in terms of avoiding any civilian casualties, avoiding damage to the civilian infrastructure, as well as avoiding any steps that might undermine the Siniora government.
I think that everybody agrees, and the Israeli Government agrees as well, that a stable, democratic, prosperous Lebanon is in the interest of the Lebanese people, it's in the interest of the Israeli people, it's in the interest of the region. And we believe that finding a way to deescalate the tensions in the current crisis and then getting back into implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls for the dismantlement of militias, which calls for the Lebanese Government to exercise control over all of its territory, is really the way forward to achieve that ultimate goal which everybody agrees upon.
QUESTION: When you talk about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Everybody except for the extremists and their backers.
QUESTION: When you talk about deescalating tensions, is it your view because you are clearly not calling for a ceasefire at this point and you say that you want to have a stabilization, is it the U.S. position that the Israeli operations should continue to further demobilize Hezbollah before you can even talk about a ceasefire and some of these other ideas that are floating around?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're not in a position of dictating to the Israeli Government what it is -- what steps they might or should take in defense of their country, in defense of their own population. What we have said is that -- you've heard it -- is our calls for restraint with regard to certain areas, with regard to avoiding civilian casualties, with respect to not damaging civilian infrastructure and taking steps that would undermine the Siniora government.
What we want -- everybody wants to see a cessation of violence but nobody wants to see a cessation of violence done in such a way that you end up back where we are today at some point in the future. I think there is a sense among the international community that, yes, we do want to resolve this crisis, but we want to resolve this crisis in such a way that you get at the root causes of what led to it. And what led to it is a terrorist organization, an extremist group, operating within the territory of a sovereign state, attacking another sovereign state. That is what has led us to this point and the Group of 8 industrial nations all agree on that and I think you will find support for that point of view among states in the region as well. We've had strong statements from the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia condemning the actions of Hezbollah.
So what we want to do is we do want to see a cessation of violence but we want to see a cessation of violence in such a way that the world doesn't end up back in the same position in which we find ourselves right now.
QUESTION: When you talk about -- just one more, sorry. When you talk about strengthening the Siniora government and not taking steps to undermine that, what does that mean practically beyond statements of support? Can you speak in practical terms about how you can support the Siniora government and do you see the restraint that you're calling for here in terms of not damaging civilian infrastructure?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, you've heard it from Secretary Rice when she has talked about the fact she's not going to comment on every aspect of Israel's operations, every possible operation, every possible attack. We have spoken to them as you would a friend, as you would from one sovereign state to another, in terms of offering our guidance, our counsel. I'm not going to go beyond that. But what we --
QUESTION: -- whether you feel they're following the guidance?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, again, Secretary Rice has talked about this. Other officials have talked about it. It's just not the way friends talk to one another, sovereign states talk to one another, both in public and in private. We have talked to them about what we would urge them to do and what we would urge them to consider in the defense of their state, in the defense of their territory, in the defense of their citizens.
Just put yourself in the position of whether the United States or any other sovereign state was, on a daily basis, attacked by missiles just fired from across its border. I think that people have to step back and put themselves in the same situation in which the Israeli people and the Israeli Government find itself. So any sovereign state, any state attacked in the manner in which Israel was attacked, would take steps to defend itself. The world has spoken out about that. The world has also spoken out about its concern for the innocent Lebanese as well as Israeli populations that have been affected by this violence. But we again support Israel's right to defend itself.
QUESTION: Sean, what about the Siniora government, the Siniora government, practical steps?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Just the other question about what kind of practical steps you're taking beyond statements of support to support the Siniora government.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know we as well as others are engaged in diplomatic efforts to find a way out of this current crisis. I think that at this point that is the most useful and most effective thing that the world can do is to help bring an end to this crisis in such a way and in a manner that we don't end up in the same place again.
MR. MCCORMACK: Janine's been patient here.
QUESTION: Two things. How does the U.S. interpret international security monitoring presence, first of all? And second of all, there are reports that the U.S. is encouraging the Israelis to take out Nasrallah. What is the U.S. position on whether or not Israel should kill him?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this would fall in the same category as Elise's question here. We don't comment on specific Israeli actions. Certainly we support Israel's right to defend itself and we have talked about the conditions under which we believe they should do that.
As for the first part of your question, the security monitoring presence, this is an idea that I think is going to be talked about, discussed, both up at the UN but also in capitals. So we want to hear back from the UN assessment team that is traveling in the region about what combination of a security monitoring presence, combined with Lebanese armed forces, might provide a more secure, stable atmosphere certainly in that part of Lebanon which would allow us to actually move down the road of 1559.
QUESTION: Is it something different than an international force? You know, sometimes -- look, the U.S. has always objected to an international force there, so the wording seems quite deliberate. I'm just clarifying what it is.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it is a concept that the G-8 and others, us included, found attractive. But you have to move from concept to practical implementation and there are many, many different questions that go into that. Those are questions, I think, that are going to be discussed starting now both up at the UN as well as in the region to see if this is part of a more lasting solution.
QUESTION: I wanted to go back to the evacuation plan. I'm wondering why is it taking us so long. France and Saudi Arabia have already moved to get their citizens out. I'm also wondering whether Americans will have to travel to Beirut. There are thousands of Americans trapped in southern Beirut. There's one American citizen from Michigan who is in critical condition in a hospital there. Are these people expected to get to Beirut in order to leave or is there any contingency being made to actually get people out of southern Beirut? These are American citizens there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, we're concerned with each and every American citizen. That's our job. And the Embassy is putting in place plans so that anybody who wants to leave will be able to leave. It's a difficult operating environment, absolutely. But again, we have -- I just want to point out -- we have started moving people. We have started moving people out. Now, it's a question of scale. We are now in the process of moving out via the air bridge tens of people at a time; 64 people in the past few days have left Lebanon. In the very near future I would expect that we are going to move to a scale of operation of moving hundreds of people out at a time.
So we are operating on a scale of operations and planning that is really different than most other countries. There are other countries that have to account for similar numbers of citizens. I would point to the Canadians as well as the Australians as in that same group. So we're working together. I expect in the very near future that we are going to be operating on a different kind of scale than we are right now.
QUESTION: But those people in southern Lebanon -- I'm sorry if I misspoke earlier -- the ones near the Israeli border, do they have to make that dangerous journey to Beirut in order to get out?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's what -- our embassy is working on all of those questions of rally points, how do you get people who are not proximate to the U.S. Embassy safely to places where they could leave. So those are questions that the security team that landed there yesterday is working on. I think for understandable reasons, we're not going to get into how exactly we handle that because there are operational security concerns. But we are concerned with dealing with all American citizens who want to leave. That's our job. That's our job working with the Department of Defense, as well as other parts of the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: Sean, follow-up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you received any specific assurances from the Lebanese or the Israelis as to safety, you know, far from the blockades -- Israeli blockades or anything like that? And also why the Americans are actually being charged for their travels?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We are working with the Israeli Government as well as the Government of Lebanon to see that there is safe passage for all of our citizens who want to leave. That is a big part of what we are doing here. We have already had some people leave. So we're working on ensuring that those want to leave can leave.
In terms of people paying, what people get charged is a commercial rate to leave. It's just not in the law, not in the Congressional authorizations where the State Department has the funds to pay for these people. That is not just the case with Lebanon. If you go back in history, go back decades, it's the case where people pay the U.S. Government what the going commercial rate is for transport out. People who don't have the means to pay right then and there, they'll sign the promissory note, saying that they promise to pay back the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: Do you know what it's going to be at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. We'll try to look into those things for you.
QUESTION: Never mind. I lost the train of --
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. We'll come back. Samir.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the international security monitors?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: The Security Council was expected on the 22nd or the 27th to consider renewing the UNIFIL mandate. Are you thinking of changing the mandate of the UNIFIL or is it something like give a new assignment to the NATO operation, like to help the Lebanese Army?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think, again, Samir, I think it is premature to talk in specific terms about one particular element over another. Certainly we're aware of the UNIFIL presence there and what role they might play. But again, this is -- we are really at the point of beginning discussions about this idea, so I wouldn't point to one particular group over another at this point.
QUESTION: Everybody is blaming Syria and Iran that it's -- for support of Hezbollah behind what they did, you know. Are you doing anything toward Iran and Syria? Are you putting any new pressure like --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we don't have --
QUESTION: -- to punish them for that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have diplomatic relations with Iran and our relations with Syria, as of late, has not been the best. So I think what they've been hearing from the world, as well as other states in the region is, do what you can to bring an end to this crisis. Very clearly, there are ties between Iran and Hezbollah. Syria and Hezbollah as well as Hamas. So the sort of cries pleading ignorance from Syria and Iran about what is going on in the region or pleading that they don't have any influence with either of these two groups, frankly rings hollow.
What you have, in effect, Samir, is a situation where you have two states, Syria and Iran, combined with some terrorist organizations who are on one side of the line, who are seeking to stop the progress that is being made in the Middle East, those who want greater freedom and democracy and a better way of life. And you have all the other states who, to varying degrees, are working to bring greater freedom, greater democracy, and greater prosperity to the region. And I think what you're seeing right now is those states in the region mobilizing to say, "We don't want these few -- small group of people, this relatively small group of states to disproportionately influence the direction of this region." I think it's very interesting, what you have seen coming from Saudi Arabia, coming from Jordan, and coming from Egypt on this matter.
QUESTION: So the root cause of this problem is Iran and Syria more than Hezbollah?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, you could argue, Samir, that the root causes of this problem are much deeper than that. But certainly, the present-day manifestations of these problems are terrorism and extremism of the form we see in Hamas and Hezbollah supported by states like Syria and Iran. Now Jonathan, you mentioned that Syria and Iran weren't mentioned in the G-8 statement. Here's what was mentioned.
"These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict. Extremists must immediately halt their attacks."
Now, the phrase, "those that support them" is commonly understood by the members of the G-8 to mean Syria and Iran. They weren't named in here, but that's who -- what is meant by that phrase.
QUESTION: Sean -- and I know we've gone through this before -- but you said you are working with the Israeli and Lebanese Governments to try to ensure safe passage for Americans. But can you then say that you expect that the Lebanese Government could control the Hezbollah guerillas entirely if the Lebanese Government gave you an assurance that nothing would happen? You believe that that would be the case?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, Hezbollah has a disproportionate amount of control over certain areas of Lebanon, in the south especially. It is, no doubt, a dangerous operating environment and there are certain risks involved in any movement in and out of Lebanon at this point. Because the fact of the matter is nobody controls Hezbollah, except for the leadership of Hezbollah and maybe those states that have influence with Hezbollah, so --
QUESTION: So why would only getting a Lebanese guarantee help you enough?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you also have an operating environment where the Israeli Government is exercising a fair degree of control, but I don't know what the suggestion is, that we somehow work with Hezbollah to --
QUESTION: You're working -- no, but you said you were working with the Israeli and Lebanese Governments --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to try to get their assurances, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: That wouldn't really help if you're going through Hezbollah -- I mean, it wouldn't help control that if the Hezbollah individuals --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, our security team is on the ground. They landed yesterday. And a big part of their job is to implement the planning that is already in place and then modify those plans in such a way that you have the safest, most orderly egress possible for American citizens, so they take into account what is the current situation on the ground with respect to Hezbollah and the space that they may control or have some influence over and try to map out those pathways which would allow for the safest passage of American citizens.
QUESTION: Has there been any hesitation from either of those governments to give you those assurances?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: So they've been given that -- part of it's been solidified?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's -- I can't tell you whether or not people have a blanket assurance, but certainly, in the cases that we have been working with them on, we have been able to move in and out.
QUESTION: Following up on that and another question, is the U.S. concerned at all about threats from Hezbollah to Americans who are trying to evacuate? And not that the Lebanese Government and not coordinating with the Lebanese Government -- are you concerned with Hezbollah? And secondly, an unrelated question, American diplomats in Damascus -- I know we don't have an ambassador. Can you give us an idea of what kind of contact, if any, the remaining diplomats have with Syrian officials in -- on -- whether a daily basis, weekly basis, or not at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: They do have some contact with the Syrian Government. It's not a high-level contact. It's really not that substantive a contact, Charlie. In terms of the threat posed by Hezbollah in Lebanon to American citizens, it is an environment where we have to, I think, on a daily basis, assess the risks to our diplomats and to our citizens there. I think clearly, you've seen over the past several days a qualitative change in the overall threat environment -- I'm not speaking specifically about American citizens, but you've seen it has become a much more dangerous operating environment.
I think it is a healthy assumption to make that you have to account for that threat from Hezbollah anytime you are planning these kinds of operations, getting fairly large numbers of people out in a safe and orderly manner. So you do have to account for that threat, Charlie, yes.
QUESTION: This morning, President Bush was overheard saying that Syria was possibly the key to this, that if they got Hezbollah to stop doing what they were doing, the whole thing would be over. So under that -- you know, sort of under that theory, why wouldn't the U.S. engage the Syrian Government at a higher level than just what you talked about before --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they are --
QUESTION: -- on a non-substantive level.
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a lot of other governments that have a much greater degree of influence over the Syrian Government than we necessarily do. Our problems with the Syrian Government and their actions, their support for terror throughout the region, the nature of that regime and the way that it treats its people is something that goes back quite some time. So we are working with other members of the international community to try to bring pressure to bear on those parties who might have influence with Hezbollah and Hamas to bring about a resolution to the situation.
So we are not operating alone in this regard and we're doing what we can, but we have, certainly over the past couple of years, had a very difficult relationship with Syria. But the difficulties in that relationship are really based upon the fact that Syria has continued in a variety of different ways to support terror. They have, through those actions, been able to at various times cause problems in Iraq and at various times cause problems in the Palestinian areas as well as serving as a transshipment point for arms flowing into Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Palestinian groups in Lebanon. So it's a regime that has a long history of support for terror and we admittedly have a very difficult relationship with a state that is on the state sponsor of terror list.
QUESTION: On the Arab League, there seems to be a split between one side -- group of countries that were hesitant to criticize Hezbollah, but there certainly seems to be a growing number of countries that are becoming more critical of Hezbollah. How do you read what happened at the Arab League over the weekend?
MR. MCCORMACK: As I was pointing out to Samir, I think that it is a new and different development in the region where you have these states who are speaking out against a terrorist group that has provoked a response from the Israeli Government and as a result dragged the region down into violence. I think it's a very interesting development. I think it's an important development. The statement from Saudi Arabia immediately after this strike from Hezbollah was, I think, a very interesting and important development.
QUESTION: Do you think that these countries that are becoming more critical of Hezbollah and Syrian -- are more fearing Iranian influence in the region? Do you think that's why they're ready to start speaking out about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that they look at the fact that you have a relatively small group of people in an organization that really is beholden only to a small group of people in certain governments, and they look at what that group of people has been able to do in terms of causing violence and instability in the region, and I think that they are concerned. They have to live in this -- they have to live in their neighborhood. Certainly we have great interest and great friendships in the neighborhood so it really -- it causes a great deal of concern for us, not only for those relationships but also for our citizens in the region. So I think it's a common concern, a shared concern, looking at exactly what happened. What are the root causes of this? And I think they are quite concerned.
QUESTION: I have just one more. The Marronite Patriarch is here in Washington. He's meeting with various officials in Washington. I know he's asked for a meeting with Secretary Rice. Does the Secretary expect to meet with him? She's met with him several times.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check her schedule.
QUESTION: Tomorrow you have the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: What do you expect to come out of it and will you focus on the situation in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I expect it to be an important topic of discussion between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Gheit. It is the initial session of this strategic dialogue so it is going to cover a wide variety of issues, Samir, the ones that you would expect to come up: U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations, the situation between Israel and the Palestinian areas; certainly this current crisis is going to be high up on the agenda as well.
QUESTION: Israeli officials have said that they would continue this military campaign until they take away Hezbollah's power to attack Israel and you seem to be saying that the U.S. Government only wants a cessation of violence if that means we're not back where we started, meaning that Hezbollah would not be able to continue to attack Israel. My question is that in all the years of Israel occupying southern Lebanon, they've never been able to take away -- they've never been able to militarily take away the power of militants to attack Israel. It hasn't succeeded during an entire occupation and in fact turned popular support against Israel and in favor of groups like Hezbollah. So what are we -- what I'm wondering is is this military campaign really going to be useful in the long run as far as, you know, taking out -- or do you have hopes that what Israel is doing now will really take away Hezbollah's ability?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess I would just point out that you have a qualitatively different situation in that never before did you have a mechanism like UN Security Council Resolution 1559 in which the Security Council has spoken with the force of international law in saying that Lebanon, the international community, states in the neighborhood, have to take certain actions. So ultimately you are going to -- I mean, this gets to the root cause of the problem in Lebanon. Ultimately you're going to have to find a political solution to the existing situation in Lebanon, and that situation is you have a terrorist organization, an extremist group, a militia, operating outside of the control of the government. You have to resolve that. You can't have a stable, prosperous, forward-looking democracy with armed groups operating outside of the control of the government, so you have to address that situation.
So while we are looking for -- we as well as others -- are looking to address the immediate situation, the immediate violence you have along the Lebanese-Israeli border, you want to do that in such a way so that you're not right back where you started. And the way you do that is you look at what the G-8 has said. It talks about return of Israeli soldiers, it talks about an end of shelling to Israeli territory, and it talks about an end to Israeli military operations and the withdrawal of forces from Gaza and the release of Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians. And then you get into talking about how do you support, for example, the Lebanese Government in asserting control over its territory and dealing with this fundamental question of this organization, this militia, operating outside the control of the state which has right now dragged the Lebanese people into the current situation.
So the situation that you talked about before and the situation you're talking about now I think are fundamentally different. You have a fundamentally different alignment of international interests and those interests are expressed through the Security Council resolution that I talked about as well as others. So you do have a way forward here. You do have a way, an agreed upon -- an internationally agreed upon way forward to deal with the root causes of this problem. So we want to get to the place where you can focus on those issues, and that's what we as well as others are trying to do right now.
QUESTION: You talk about a political solution. Is there concern on the part of the U.S. that the Israeli strikes will actually work against -- you know, by sort of attacking Lebanon, the Lebanese people will turn towards Hezbollah rather than their own government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we've talked about the fact -- we've talked about that we have urged Israel restraint in certain areas in its defense of itself. One of those ways is not taking steps or actions that would undermine the Siniora government. So that is certainly something that we have talked to the Israelis about, other have talked to the Israelis about, and I think they have certainly taken that point.
QUESTION: You said earlier that the Secretary does intend to go to the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: I did say that, yes.
QUESTION: Since she cannot speak to Hezbollah, she cannot speak to Hamas, she cannot speak to the Syrians, she cannot speak to the Iranians, that leaves only Israel and, what, and Lebanon? She cannot go to Lebanon is there is no ceasefire and you don't call ceasefire. So what is she going to do there?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to keep you up to date on her itinerary and the timing of her travel, Sylvie.
We're going to involve you in the planning process, Sylvie. (Laughter.) You seem to have some thoughts.
QUESTION: Bearing in mind what you say that you're not going to tell us what you are urging or telling the Israeli Government, there is --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think our public and private messages -- and the Secretary has talked about this. She's been on the phone with Prime Minister Olmert as well as Foreign Minister Livni. The public and private messages are really largely the same. Yes, there is sort of more detailed conversations and different aspects of those conversations we don't get into, but the public and private messages are really the same.
QUESTION: For example, have you said to Israel don't under any circumstance bomb Hezbollah camps in Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that that conversation has been had.
QUESTION: Sean, obviously the G-8 agenda is changed or -- and pushed to the side, and what you mentioned in this list that you just gave a few moments ago, the bullets what has to be done. But every time there is diplomacy, there then gets into this whole discussion on what is the specific order. And even though the G-8 has concluded is it possible to keep everybody with that consensus and Mssrs. Putin and Lavrov were saying two different things and Putin looked grim, especially with the cancellation of the WTO agreement. And the other difficulty is there have been some longstanding commercial agreements between the Russians and the Iranians. Is that in any way discussion between the White House and Secretary Rice?
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, in terms of an update on what happened in St. Petersburg, I think you'd probably be better to check with the White House folks in terms of the course of those discussions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) my question. Syria has let fleeing Americans into Syria, open its borders to Americans and waived its visa process. Does it get any credit for that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know, at least the reports that I have gotten, I wouldn't necessarily put it that way. There were some Americans, sort of ones and twos that have made their way to the Syrian border since the beginning of this crisis. Some, I understand have been able to make their way through. Others have met with great difficulty in getting across that border. So there have really been conflicting reports about that and I think that there have been a variety of different postures taken by the Syrian Government in terms of letting the American citizens through Syria.
QUESTION: So the answer is no?
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: So the answer is no.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have talked about the potential dangers of overland travel, Charlie, as well as I think there are uncertainties with respect to whether or not American citizens could actually cross into Syria.
QUESTION: I have a North Korea question, so I will wait until all this is done.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Sylvie, do you?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll go to North Korea and then Iran.
QUESTION: In terms of the (inaudible) resolution that was voted on Saturday, does this give any new legal rights to any nation to go in the high seas and inspect a ship or seize anything coming out of North Korea to another country -- let's say Iran or Syria -- or going the other way. Does this expand the legal power of the community participating in the PSI or any other accord to prevent an arms buildup both in North Korea and (inaudible) and in the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of PSI, PSI operates on the basis of using existing national laws, exercising the full potential of those national laws in order to address nonproliferation concerns. So I'll check for you Elaine, but I'm not sure that PSI actually gets to operating on the high seas. There's a set of laws and international practices that really govern behavior on the high seas outside of territorial waters. In terms of this resolution, what it does is it demands certain things from the North Korean Government. It demands that they return to the six-party talks and not engage in certain types of behavior. It also requires member-states of the UN to tighten up existing obligations. There are already a lot of obligations on the books that require states not to facilitate, not to further the weapons of mass destruction or missile programs of certain countries, North Korea being among them. So we'll try to get a specific answer to this very specific question for you about whether or not the resolution -- this particular resolution affects behavior on the high seas outside of territorial waters.
QUESTION: Can I follow p that with if a country such as Iran or Syria got caught receiving something from North Korea, what would be the consequences? What could be done?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there have been examples of this in the past. A lot of it depends on the circumstances. You say "got caught" receiving these goods. Look, other than having a presence in those countries who I assume would be non-cooperative in trying to stem the flow of this WMD or missile technology, that presumes that these items know-how or funding is somehow caught in other countries. Countries have an interest in stopping these things. There are a variety of different actions that can be taken. I think that they would be largely governed by national laws and what the state is able to do. There are a number of different examples -- if you go back over the years, the recent years, with respect to seizure of goods, seizure of items. You can go down the list, I think most notably, looking at the stop of the shipment of materials that was supposedly going to Libya that then led to a series of events, the end result of which is Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program. You have examples of the Australian Government seizing illicit North Korean goods and seizing the ship and then taking it out into Australian waters and actually sinking it. So there are a variety of different possibilities here, but I think most of them would be governed in the conditions you're talking about by national laws.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Iran, last week, the P-5+1 decided to go back to the Security Council and there was a meeting of the political directors which was scheduled this week. Do you have any news on that and when it will be -- when do you plan to present a resolution to the Security Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: The actual discussions on a resolution have already begun up in New York. As for when Under Secretary Burns will go to New York for the political directors meeting, I'll try to get it for you. He's actually on his way back with the Secretary and the President now from St. Petersburg. But what it does -- if you look back over the past week or so, you really have seen an extraordinary set of actions in the international community coming together, in many cases led by U.S. diplomacy to address some serious threats.
You have -- let's look back at it -- you have, last week, foreign ministers from the P-5+1 coming together and sending the case of Iran to the Security Council, agreeing that they are going to formulate a binding resolution that requires Iran to cooperate with the international community and meet certain conditions, come to the negotiating table, certainly addressing one of the most significant threats to peace and security on the international scene today.
You have the Security Council coming together to pass a very strong resolution demanding North Korea to take certain steps to come back to the negotiating table and not engage in certain types of behavior, the first resolution of any kind out of the Security Council dealing with North Korea since 1993. When we tried to do something similar back in 1998, the Security Council produced what amounted to a press release on the matter. And you have now, out of the G-8, this important statement coming -- dealing with an international crisis that came upon us relatively quickly.
So I think what this demonstrates is the agile, focused, diplomatic effort that we have ongoing in the world right now and the ability of this foreign policy and national security team to address a number of challenges not only as they come up, but to formulate answers to the challenges that face us and to bring people together to follow us in responding to those challenges. I would point to the example of Iran in that regard.
So we are with the advent of the six-party talks, which was the initiative of this President; we are in a fundamentally different and better position to deal with what admittedly is a very difficult North Korean regime that is engaged in troubling behavior. You have, as a result of this President and this Secretary of State, now, the P-5+1 mechanism to deal with the threat from Iran. You have this G-8 statement which Secretary Rice, along with the President and the other leaders, played a very important role in crafting. So I think this is an example of the important role that the United States is now playing, using its diplomacy to address, on behalf of the American people as well as freedom-loving people around the world, the threats that face us.
QUESTION: Sean, change of subject, please.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Tomorrow, there's a Brussels meeting with Khartoum versus the EU over UN troops for Darfur. And simultaneously, there are Ugandan peace talks in Juba and are you, in any way, just observing or are you taking part in either of those talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll check for you, Joel.
Sylvie and then Elise.
QUESTION: This is specifically about the Donors Conference tomorrow. What specifically will the U.S. be pledging not only in terms of funding, but in terms of any type of enhanced political support to get the Khartoum government to allow a transition to a UN peacekeeping force? The AU has said that they won't stay beyond the September 30 end of the mandate unless Khartoum signs on to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, a couple things. In terms of our particular donation, we're going to have to wait until the actual conference comes about. But Jendayi Frazier, who is our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, is going to be attending the EU-sponsored donors meeting. And in answer to a question you had last week, we did, on July 14th, get the joint report of the UN-AU assessment mission on Darfur and we are now in the process of working with Security Council experts on the text of the Security Council resolution on peacekeeping in Darfur, so we're moving forward as a result of receiving that report up in New York as well as in Brussels at the Donors Conference.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. is going to sell Taiwan 66 F-16?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen those news reports, Sylvie, but if there were such a request that did come in -- I can't confirm that there has been such a request -- that we would consider any sale of any such items in the context of our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act, our export control laws and consultation with Congress.
QUESTION: You cannot confirm?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: On the Indonesia earthquake and tsunami, do you have any reports on American casualties or if we're going to provide any assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't, no. I don't have any reports of American casualties and certainly, we stand ready to assist the Indonesian Government if we have a request from them.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)
Released on July 17, 2006