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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 1, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 1, 2006

INDEX:

ISRAEL/LEBANON
Elements for a Durable Solution / Diplomatic Efforts
Troop Contributions for International Force
Israeli Cessation of Ariel Bombardments / Humanitarian Corridor
U.S. Discussions with Israel / Civilian Casualties
Responsibility Lies with Hezbollah
Need for People to Bridge Differences / Play a Positive Role in
Region
U.S. Relationship with Lebanese Government
Query on Whether Assistant Secretary Welch Still in Region

IRAN
Reports that Iran will Continue Nuclear Program
Iranian People's Aspirations for Democracy

CUBA
Reports that Fidel Castro is Seriously Ill
U.S. Policy Toward Cuba
U.S. Interests Section Monitoring Events
U.S. Efforts to Encourage Democratization / CAFC Report

NORTH KOREA
Query on Three Possible Defectors
Query on Possibility of Sanctions
Reports of Travel Ban

SYRIA/ISRAEL/LEBANON
Syrian Military Put on High Alert / Query on the Possibility of
Conflict Escalating

IRAQ
Basra Children's Hospital / Inspector General Report

TURKEY/IRAQ
PKK Presence in Northern Iraq / On-Going Discussions


TRANSCRIPT:

12:48 p.m. EDT


MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? I don't have any opening statements so we can get right into your questions.

QUESTION: Well, let's catch up on --

QUESTION: You don't want to wish Mr. Castro a speedy recovery? I'm shocked.

MR. MCCORMACK: There's always (inaudible). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right. En espanol. No. Sean, could you give us the U.S.'s latest assessment of the likelihood of an international peacekeeping force being approved by the UN Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, what we're working on is the same thing Secretary Rice talked about yesterday. And that is we are working on three different sections of a comprehensive solution. We're working for an urgent end to the hostilities, combined with a political -- lasting political solution which that lasting cessation of hostilities would support. In short, you don't want to end up back in the same place three months from now where you are right now, where you have a terrorist group that can drag the entire region and the rest of the world into this kind of conflict.

We also want to have some sort of international force that might support the Lebanese armed forces taking control over all of Lebanese territory. So these are the essential elements, Barry. We're working very closely with our friends and allies, in particular with the French, on these elements and how these elements fit together, what kind of sequencing there might be, Barry. And exactly what are the details. So I think Secretary Rice has come back from the region with the elements of what would be a durable solution and we are still looking for an action in the Security Council in the -- this week in the coming days. So that's where our focus is right now.

Secretary Rice is very much engaged in this. She's been consulting very closely with her advisors back here at the Department. Under Secretary Nick Burns has been in contact with some of his counterparts, including his French counterpart, Assistant Secretary Welch also working very hard on this.

QUESTION: But you want a resolution to encompass all three objectives.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That's right, Barry. We think that all these -- that these objectives have to be mutually reinforcing. Again, what we've been saying from the very beginning on this: You don't want to have a solution where you merely leave the parties in place only to have this same type of situation where Hezbollah provokes an attack and provokes this kind of violence six months down the road. That's not where we want to be.

We absolutely do want to have a cessation of the hostilities, but one that will be durable and one that will be lasting. We all mourn the loss of innocent life here, Barry. It is -- it's a terrible -- it's a terrible, terrible thing. But that loss of innocent life came about because Hezbollah launched an unprovoked attack on Israel, killed two of their citizens and captured two others. Their rockets have continued to rein down on Israel. And that is just a solution that is unacceptable. That is a situation that is unacceptable and the entire region and the rest of the world has made that clear.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Is Secretary Rice going to New York to try to see this through? And will she be going to New York for a foreign ministers meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: We can't tell you when to pack your bags yet, Barry. So we're going to -- we'll keep you up to date on her travel schedule. But we are looking for action in the Security Council in the coming days.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems that the Secretary laid out her vision in Jerusalem. The French and the Lebanese also have their version of where the things go. It seems as if there seems to be a major kind of difference between the U.S. and the French and the Lebanese in terms of when the ceasefire would kick in. The Lebanese, the French, most of the international community believes that you can't put an international force on the ground to be caught in the crossfire between Israelis and Hezbollah. What you really need is -- if you don't call it a ceasefire, you call it a cessation of hostilities, so that some of these political agreements can pave the way for the force to come in and actually -- that would actually be a peace to keep, so to speak. Could you speak about the differences on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would say that there is widespread agreement on the elements on what needs to be done, the major pieces. You talked about a lasting and durable political solution. And the heart of that is really the Lebanese Government asserting control over all of its territory, being a true democratic state in which you don't have a terrorist group that is operating outside the control of the central government that can drag the Lebanese people and the Lebanese state into this kind of conflict. So that's one element.

We also have the element of ending hostilities, a cessation of those hostilities and that's an important part, how you do that and how that comes about. That's important.

And then also what sort of role does the international force play in all of this. So we are working on all those elements. Everybody agrees I think on essentially those elements. What we're working with -- we're working with the French. We're also working with the Lebanese obviously and a number of other friends and allies around the world. I think the United Kingdom is playing a very important role here.

So we're working through those issues that you referred to of sequencing and timing, how all these elements fit together. And I think that we are making good progress. I think the Secretary came out of the -- came back to the United States from her trip to the Middle East with quite a bit of momentum. She did come back with these elements, these major elements in place and the framework for a plan.

And we believe that we are going to be able to have some action in the Security Council in the coming days, hopefully this week, that will start to set in place these -- that will memorialize, encapsulate in a form of a resolution, these elements, which will also help other states potentially contribute to an international force.

So we're working urgently on these matters, working very well and very closely with our friends and allies, in particular with the French on this.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Two things on that. First of all, many nations are very reluctant to contribute troops until there's a cessation of hostilities and you're asking the Lebanese Government, even though this is their responsibility, you're asking them to do a lot of things, to deploy the army, to work towards disarming Hezbollah. And they're also saying that we can't do any of these things until there's a cessation of hostilities, and that's the one thing that the United States is not calling for. If all of the countries are willing to commit to certain responsibilities if there's a cessation of hostilities, why isn't that something that the U.S. can go for?

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course we want a cessation of hostilities. Of course.

QUESTION: But I mean before all these other political things.

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, Elise, we are working -- we're -- there are a number of different ideas out there that are all -- that have coalesced around these major elements. And I think we are starting to see some real progress on the diplomatic front behind the scenes. A lot of this will involve quiet diplomacy. You may not see it every day either from the podium or in the news headlines, but sometimes that's the way that diplomacy has to work; it has to be done quietly, behind the scenes, working out arrangements, having good, open discussions about ideas, a full airing of ideas, looking at it from every angle.

That doesn't mean that people aren't working on this urgently. They are. And as I said, we look forward to some action in the Security Council, hopefully this week.

Teri.

QUESTION: The EU -- the Finnish Foreign Minister, who is head of the EU, has come out and said that it would be mostly European countries making up the force. Is he ahead on this or is that what you also foresee?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this will be -- this is going to be a question of what individual states want to do. I don't foresee the United States contributing troops to such a force. Secretary Rice has talked about that before.

There are a number of different possibilities as to who might contribute, who might take the lead. Those are discussions that are ongoing. I think every -- individual country's with these kind of capabilities are going to have to take stock of their own situation and what role, if any, they want to play. Certainly it will be important for countries to contribute to this kind of force because the whole idea here is to have an international force support a Lebanese army. Over the long-term this force isn't a substitute for the Lebanese army, but they're going to need some help in that interim period because they are not a robust force that at this point could alone take control over their entire territory. They have not been able to do that. We are looking forward to the day when the Lebanese Government and those Lebanese armed forces for the first time in decades can exercise control over all of Lebanese territory. But they're going to require some help from the international community to accomplish that goal, and that's what we're working on.

QUESTION: And it's too early for you to say that you think European countries will make up at least the bulk of the forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, Teri, I can't say what the percentages might be.

QUESTION: Sean, can we go to Cuba?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else -- we'll come to you as soon as we're done with this, George.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it your view, Sean, that there should be a political agreement between the two sides before any deployment of an international force?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the point Elise was getting to.

QUESTION: Okay. So you're still working on this one?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're still working on all these various elements, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: And how they fit together obviously sequence and how you do things is always an important question in bringing about an end to hostilities, making sure that it's done in the right way, making sure that it's done in a way that supports a lasting political solution, which will ultimately be the core of making sure that this -- that you don't end up back here in the same situation six months from now.

QUESTION: All right. And is it your view that Israel kept its word and that the 48-hour cease-fire that they announced over the weekend actually they fulfilled all these -- the sort of self-imposed rules?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what they said, you can go back and look at the original statement. It was a cessation of aerial bombardments with the -- with certain caveats that would allow for them going after groups or individuals who are planning to or threatening to attack Israel and the answer to that is yes. The other thing that they have done is they have opened up a humanitarian -- that 24-hour humanitarian corridor. They have certainly kept to that. Now understandably, it's a very difficult situation for aid groups to work in. We have asked for an extension of that humanitarian corridor. The policy now, I believe, is that individuals wanting to travel north would -- are able to do so. What the humanitarian corridor allowed was north to south travel and that would allow aid to come in. We have asked for an extension of that.

QUESTION: Just one last thing. The Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he does not envision a ceasefire any time soon. Do such comments help in your work up in New York at this point trying to get a resolution as soon as this week?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're again working urgently on bringing in a lasting durable solution to this crisis. That's what we're working towards.

QUESTION: Just one more on that particular issue. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister's office leaked and said officially and unofficially that it had told the Secretary that they need four -- they need to 10 to 14 more days for their military campaign. Can you discuss whether they're giving you timelines that they need and whether you're giving them any kind of okays in terms of timelines or are you pushing for that -- for instance, are you pushing for them to end their military campaign?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, what we're pushing for is to come up with a workable plan that can be implemented, that can be implemented at the earliest possible moment that, again, meets the criteria we have been talking about for the past two weeks. That is why Secretary Rice went out to the region. We believe that she's come back with some strong momentum in that regard, having these major elements in place that most -- that have shared -- that have widespread support and agreement. Now in terms of discussions between the Secretary and Prime Minister Olmert, I'm not going to talk about it.

QUESTION: Well -- and he said it publicly. I mean, are they calling the shots here as to when this is going to end?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to talk about -- I am not going to talk about their private discussions, Elise. Look, we don't provide the Israeli military advice on conducting its operations. We do talk in general terms about the fact that it is absolutely essential, absolutely essential to avoid civilian casualties. It's very, very important. Also, it is essential that they don't take actions that undermine the Lebanese Government and its infrastructure. Now look, this is very tough stuff. We understand that and we along with others are working very hard to try to come about and find that lasting durable solution. But you're also -- people -- the Israelis are also engaged against Hezbollah, a group of people that will hide among civilians, hide among families, hide among children, launch -- and launch missiles, trying to kill other innocent civilians across the border. Those are the kind of people that we're dealing with. And so while this is a determined, ruthless enemy, we have on every possible occasion counseled the Israeli Government to take the greatest possible care to avoid civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Do you think they've done so?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to make any judgment on any particular operation.

QUESTION: If you've given them advice, and not passing judgment on whether they're listening to that advice, doesn't it make you feel like, you know, it may not be much use to keep saying avoid civilian casualties?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, we've -- the Israeli Government, we believe, has taken on board and internalized what we've said. I'm not trying to minimize the tragedy of civilian casualties. I don't think any feeling person can. But we also have to understand who started this situation, who is responsible for those deaths. The individuals responsible for those deaths are Hezbollah. They started -- they started this in an unprovoked attack across a recognized border into a sovereign state. They continued to fire rockets onto innocent civilians in Israel.

Now the Israeli Government, there have been a couple of very notable and well-covered news stories about the loss of innocent civilian life, and we mourn that innocent life. Secretary Rice has talked about that. And the Israeli Government is looking into the circumstances that surrounded that loss of life. We have every confidence as a responsible democracy that they will fully investigate in a transparent manner any and all of those incidents. And if there was any wrongdoing in those incidents, we are confident again, as a democracy, that those responsible for any wrongdoing will be held to account.

There's no such holding to account a terrorist organization who continues to plan and perpetrate acts of terror. So what the United States is doing is, while Israel takes steps to defend itself, we are counseling it in the strongest possible terms to avoid loss of innocent life. And we are also working very hard, as Secretary Rice's recent trip demonstrates, to work with the international community to bring about a lasting, durable solution to the current situation.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up on that one.

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to -- I'm going to -- I'm going move -- you've already had two.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, is it possible to move from who started the conflict? On every occasion you remind us that Hezbollah started the conflict. We know that. But is it possible to move beyond this point on practical solution? We're entering today the 20th day of the conflict. Seven hundred and fifty dead Lebanese dead according to the health minister, 50 Israelis. What is it that can be done more to convince the people in the Arab world and to stop the more isolation of this Administration of using these word: We are concerned. We want Israel to show restraint. I don't know what -- do you worry that these words have no meanings anymore? We want urgent to stop -- cessation of hostilities, etc. I mean nobody believes you, to be honest, when you stand here and you talk to address -- because on the ground you're contradicting the statements that -- how can you show concern to the civilian lives --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- you know what I think, you know, again, I don't know if this is -- if that's a question or a political advertisement.

QUESTION: No, it's not a political -- I'm just saying to you what's the feeling in the Arab world.

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. I think if you look at the reaction from Arab states to what Hezbollah did, there was condemnation of what they did.

QUESTION: Initially.

MR. MCCORMACK: There was condemnation of what they did. I think that, again, what people should be concerned about is focusing on what they can do to bring greater understanding between peoples and see what they can do to try to bridge differences, to try to look beyond ingrained prejudices and to try to focus on what can be done to promote greater freedom, greater democracy and greater understanding in the region. That is what we're doing. That is where -- that is where our focuses are. People can -- look, people can spend hours, days, years, and even lifetimes looking back on past grievances, and that's going to get them nowhere. That will get them the status quo. That will get them more deprivation, more misery and more violence.

So in answer to your question, what I would do is I would urge people to do what they can to take a positive role instead of pointing fingers all the time and maybe trying to step back and look at the broader view of the transition of the Middle East and what they can do to play a positive role in that transition from a Middle East that has over the past 60 years known a lack of democracy, a lack of prosperity and a lack of education, and focus on a Middle East that has greater prospects for its young people, greater prospects for families today who just want to send their kids to school and to maybe realize better opportunities for themselves and for their families. That's where I think that people's focus should be.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the other question, please.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Barry.

QUESTION: -- significant contacts with foreign officials on, you know, their hopes for a UN action?

MR. MCCORMACK: She has --

QUESTION: Has talked to any --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not yet. Not any other foreign phone calls to update you on, Barry. She's been doing a lot of phone calls here in-house and with the White House with Mr. Hadley. She also had dinner with the President last night.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about her meeting yesterday with the President?

MR. MCCORMACK: She did have a meeting with the President. I don't have any readout for you on the contents of their discussions.

Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, after the Qana attack, I know Prime Minister Siniora sort of came out and said that there were no more discussions until there was a ceasefire. The Secretary told us yesterday that she talked to Siniora and also that Ambassador Feltman was going to present, you know, I think a U.S. plan to him yesterday. But has the relationship changed at all in light of this attack? Do you feel like you still have negotiating power with the Lebanese? Do you feel like you still have a good relationship or has this actually moved to the UN and the U.S. will deal with the Lebanese in that sort of broader framework rather than a one-on-one?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think -- no, we are absolutely dealing with the Lebanese Government one-on-one. As you mentioned, Secretary Rice has spoken repeatedly with Prime Minister Siniora over the course of the past couple weeks. So it's a very difficult, stressful time for Prime Minister Siniora and his government. Absolutely we understand that. But what we and others in the international community are doing, we're trying to work on behalf of that elected Lebanese Government so that they can fulfill the promise of the Cedar Revolution, so that they can meet the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 as well as other UN Security Council resolutions. We want to do everything that we can to help them realize a stable, prosperous, peaceful Lebanon.

QUESTION: But if --

MR. MCCORMACK: We were on that course.

QUESTION: But if you're working to try to help --

MR. MCCORMACK: But we were -- we were on that course up until Hezbollah launched this attack. I think it's no coincidence that there was actually over the past months some progress in that regard, some positive political movement within Lebanon, then you have Hezbollah launching this kind of attack.

So that -- look, we want nothing more than to see the Lebanese Government be able to exercise its sovereignty over all of its territory and to have the Lebanese armed forces play an important role in that and for the first time in decades be able to play that role.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to my earlier point that you say that -- the conversations with Israel about being careful aside, the Israeli Government is making a pointed effort out in the press and in their public statements to make it look as if the United States is just giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want and that pretty much that the United States is just -- that Israel can do whatever it wants and the United States just doesn't -- is letting -- has complete carte blanche. Can you address this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, you can have your own interpretations of our statements and the Israeli statements --

QUESTION: It's not just my interpretations. It's everyone in the world's interpretation.

MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, like I said, you can have your own interpretation.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Welch still in the Middle East or he is back?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's back here.

QUESTION: He's back.

MR. MCCORMACK: He's back here.

Yeah, Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, it's no accident that the greater "axis of evil," Iran today has come out and said they were continuing advancing enrichment --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's just -- we'll come back to Cuba right after you, George.

QUESTION: Repeating, Government of Iran has said that they'll continue advancing enrichment and they will defy the world community. Do you have any comment regarding that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, we've talked about this numerous times over the past days, Joel. They have a choice to make and they have some time to make it until the end of the month here.

QUESTION: Fidel Castro apparently is suffering a serious illness. What is your response?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports, George. I can't comment on the nature of the illness or the extent of it. Look, clearly Fidel Castro's incapacitation or death would be a significant event for the Cuban people. For our part, we have for quite some time had a Commission for a Transition to a Free Cuba that, in the event that Cuba does make a transition, start to make a transition to a democracy, the United States and the American people will do everything that we can to stand by the Cuban people in their aspirations for democracy. But at this point I don't have really much more to add.

QUESTION: Well, could you talk about meetings going on here, contacts with other governments, contacts with the Venezuelan Government, for example?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any contacts with the Venezuelan Government. I'm sure people are talking about it, George, internally here but I don't have anything in particular to share with you.

Okay. Yes, in the middle here.

QUESTION: His little brother Raul apparently is in charge at the moment.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Many people think that he, indeed if Fidel goes, that Raul would be the leader at least for a while. What's your thoughts about Raul? He'd be significantly different than Fidel?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that's sort of -- that's getting down the road. It's not a situation that we're dealing with right now.

Look, we have made clear our policy with respect to Cuba stands. We fully support a democratic, free, prosperous Cuba in which the Cuban people have the opportunity to, through the ballot box, choose who to lead them, not have their leaders imposed upon them.

QUESTION: Do you think anyone but Fidel will be -- would be an improvement and improve prospects --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, our policy is to do what we can to support an eventual democratic, free Cuba.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Would you consider softening the embargo within Raul's rule?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Would the U.S. consider a softening the embargo in a Cuba with Raul Castro?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's no change in our policy and you're talking about a hypothetical situation.

Lambros.

QUESTION: On the Middle East?

QUESTION: On Cuba?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Cuba. Oh. Do you have a Cube question?

QUESTION: On the Middle East.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Well, we're going to have to --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) other questions here. Yeah. Okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Cuba. Is there any special thing that you are doing at the interests section concerning this? Is there any special alert or are you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that -- not that I'm aware. But they -- as usual, they are monitoring events.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) hopes for a democratic Cuba, does the U.S. take the position that it's up to Cubans to decide what kind of government to have and that if they want a transition, if Castro wants a transition to his brother, it's a Cuban decision to make?

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, we believe that the Cuban people aspire and thirst for democracy and that given the choice that they would choose a democratic government, that they would choose the option of being able to choose their own leaders.

QUESTION: Is there any way the U.S. can help them make that kind of choice?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've -- you know, you had just a couple of weeks ago, Barry, Caleb McCarry talked about -- talked about the compact with the Cuban people as well as our Commission for a Transition to a Free Cuba. We have fact sheets that are out there that really outline what it is that we are doing and that we are prepared to do.

QUESTION: No, I meant also of course economic things. Are there things that the U.S. can do to encourage an evolution in Cuba toward a democratic society?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's exactly what Caleb's report outlined. It was a pretty extensive report so.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Libby.

QUESTION: Beyond the Interest Section question she had, is the Department doing anything special to monitor the situation, you know, putting people specifically on the task of trying to figure out what's going on down there beyond what's usually done?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The people who usually do these things, who work on Cuba policy and monitor events in Cuba, are doing those things. We don't have a task force up and running at this point.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: The Cuban Task Force Report talks about putting monitors on the ground or advisors on the ground within two weeks after a transition. Have those people been put on any further notice at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so. I'll check. I'll check, but I don't believe so at this point.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, on the Middle East. According to a bunch of press reports, France and Cyprus entered into a joint military cooperation agreement to boost the French role in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, using the air force base in Cyprus. I'm wondering, Mr. McCormack, how that affects your effort toward the deployment of multinational force including troops from France and Turkey, which occupies a part of the Republic of Cyprus since 1974 by invasion and occupation. Can you tell us what talks Secretary Rice had with the French, Turkish, Israeli and Cypriot foreign ministers about this last development? I mean, the French-Cypriot Defense Cooperation Agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that she's had any discussions about it. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the North Korean three defectors coming to the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: North Korean defectors?

MR. MCCORMACK: North Korean defectors?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. That's -- we do not. We have not discussed such matters.

Yeah.

QUESTION: How about to the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I don't know if you answered this one yesterday or not. But, you know, Bashar Asad has called on the army to be on high alert. What's your take on that? Do you think that the region's going towards escalation or do you think it's just rhetoric, et cetera?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, my insight to the decision-making processes of the Syrian regime is somewhat limited. The -- we do know that the Israeli Government has publicly stated it has no desire to expand the current conflict.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: On North Korea again, reports are that the U.S. are planning to impose -- re-impose sanctions on North Korea. Do you have any update on that situation or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have in place some defensive measures and we're always looking at what other things we might do in terms of preventing the outflow of weapons of mass destruction technology, the inflow of items that may help the North Korean programs in that regard. Also we've taken steps to protect our own currencies. The most recent UN Security Council resolution talks about the responsibilities of member-states in that regard, but I don't have any particular update for you at this point.

QUESTION: Nothing on travel bans or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I checked into that, and there is no change in our policy. There is no travel ban. So I'm not sure where those reports emanated from but there's no change in our policy.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iraq, please. The Basra Children's Hospital cost overruns are about double what the original estimate was. Is there anything imminent to turn this over to the Corps of Engineers and take it away from Bechtel?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there actually have been -- there actually have been some decisions taken in that regard. I believe the original cost estimate was for about $50 million and because for a number of different factors having to do with security, having to do with additional work on the land that was given by the Iraqi Government for the hospital and another -- and attendant administrative cost increases, the decision was taken to turn over responsibility for completion of the hospital, to which we are dedicated, to the Army Corps of Engineers. About $45 million has been reprogrammed from various existing funds for that regard, and there's also a possibility of another $22 million pledge from the Spanish Government. So those are positive developments in the sense of seeing this important project completed. We believe that there's a need for it. The Iraqi Government continues to believe that there's a need for it. And I think that once this hospital is constructed that it will save the lives of many children in that part of Iraq and possibly throughout Iraq.

QUESTION: Did USAID kind of botch its estimate, though? It sounds like you're attributing a lot of these cost overruns to just administrative unforeseen things, and it seemed a little more --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know that there's an Inspector General report out on this, and I'm not going to get into what that report says. I know AID has some thoughts on that, and they have addressed some of those allegations in -- on their own putting up some information on the Inspector General's website. They've asked that that information be included and I think it has been.

QUESTION: On Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: On Iraq.

QUESTION: Yes. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan once again proposed that it would be appropriate for NATO to fight PKK members which have found shelter in northern Iraq. Do you agree?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what the Iraqi Government has committed to is working very closely with the Turkish Government to see that those kinds of terrorist attacks against the Turkish people cannot be launched from Iraqi territory. I think there's been some good discussions recently in that regard and I would anticipate that there's more of those good discussions with the common purpose of not seeing those kind of attacks allowed to be perpetrated from Iraqi territory.

QUESTION: But Massoud Barzani stated that the Kurds would consider any possible Turkish intervention in northern Iraq as an attack to their soil, threatening that, "If any country attacks Kurdistan, we will defend ourselves." Any comment since U.S. involved into Iraq by thousands of troops.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that's what people are talking about right now. What people are talking about is how working together to solve the problem so you don't have the Turkish Government talking about launching attacks into Iraq. That's -- everybody wants to find a solution to the problem.

QUESTION: One on Iran, if I may?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) yesterday that many Iranians were demonstrating in Washington, D.C. for freedom, democracy, and human rights. But unfortunately, those Iranians were supporters of the return to the power of the son of the late Shah Reza Pahlavi, who is in our area, ready to grab the so-called imperial throne by all means of matters against democracy, freedom and human rights like his father. What is the U.S. position vis-Ã -vis to such a development since even Henry Kissinger who openly supports the return of the Reza Pahlavi to Iran, according to Washington Post.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our position is well known and longstanding. You can go back and look at presidential statements on this. We support the Iranian people and their aspirations for more democracy in Iran.

QUESTION: What about such developments about the --

MR. MCCORMACK: We think that given the opportunity, the Iranian people would be able to freely choose their elected leaders. That is not currently the case. Iran -- the Iranian people's aspirations for a true, free democracy are stymied by the rule of some -- of an unelected few who really run things in Iran.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Great.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

DPB # 128

Released on August 1, 2006

ENDS


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