State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 15, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
August 15, 2006
Pakistan and India National Independence Anniversary Celebrations
Investigations into Recent U.K. – U.S. Terrorist Plot
Charity Groups Serving as Fronts for Terrorist Organizations
Children Victims of Bombings and Violence in Sri Lanka
U.S. Continues to Work with Others Toward a Ceasefire / Concerned
about the Violence
Readout of the Secretary Rice's Meeting with Israeli Vice Premier
Secretary Rice's Telephone Calls
Status of International Peacekeeping Force / Planning and Timing
UNSC Resolution is a Set Back for Hezbollah, and Its Patrons in
Tehran & Damascus
French General's Comments on Timing of International Force
Lebanese Must Find Political Solutions to Resolve Internal
Militias / State within a State
Query on Assistant Secretary Welch's Plans for a Team at the UN /
Assistant Secretary Hillen's Assistance
Response to President Assad's Comments on Hezbollah and Israel /
Syrian Government is not a Party in Settlement of the Current
Syria Will Find Itself Isolated from Most Countries / UNSC
Resolution on Lebanon
Syria Hasn't Established Formal Diplomatic Relations with Lebanon
Prime Minister Koizumi's Visit to Yasukuni Shrine
Fidel Castro's Health
Venezuelan President Chavez Meeting with Fidel Castro
Reported Interdiction at Sea of Cuban Migrants
12:37 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. No opening statements. So we can get right into your questions.
Looks like Goyal, do you want to lead us off?
QUESTION: Yes, Sean. India and Pakistan celebrated their independence days this week -- yesterday and today.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: One, if there was any message from the Secretary? And second, does it bother anyone, Sean, anybody in the U.S. Government -- now it's not me saying but the whole world, all the newspapers, media, commentators, WTOP, CNN -- that it's all the terrorists are leading – all the stories -- to Pakistan. Does it bother anybody in the U.S. Government what's occurring -- why don't we – now the time has come to put more pressure on the leadership there to do more to bring those terrorists to justice?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Goyal, I know that there's a lot of commentary about the origins of this plot that will be known over time. As the investigation continues, I'm not going to get into the details of it. There are people who are looking at it right now, and those are the competent authorities to address the origins and the links back wherever they may lead, whether that's in Pakistan or elsewhere.
As for the national days of India and Pakistan, certainly our congratulations and best wishes go out both to India as well as Pakistan.
QUESTION: And second, dozens of children died in Sri Lanka from the bombings and UNICEF's saying that children are the victims in Sri Lanka, and it's time now to do more as far as food aid and aiding the children in every way we can.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well sadly, Goyal, the victims of terror and violence are very often children, the innocents. And we have been working with those who have been deeply involved with the Sri Lanka issue trying to get back to a ceasefire. You need to get back to a ceasefire before you can actually turn and make progress and come to some final settlement.
So we have been quite alarmed by the upsurge in violence in Sri Lanka, and we are doing what we can to help get back to a state of a ceasefire.
QUESTION: Can you give us a breakout on the meeting Secretary Rice had with Shimon Perez? And specifically do you have any information on when international troops will be going into southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the meeting, they covered the range of issues. They talked about the situation with Lebanon. They talked about Israeli-Palestinian issues. They talked about the wider region, sort of the road ahead, if you will, in the wake of a cessation of the violence between Israel and Hezbollah. Those are the basic outlines of it, Charlie.
In terms of the troops, what we would hope is that on as expedited a basis as possible, we can have that force generated and deployed. This should not be a business as usual kind of force generation in deployment. I think everybody understands that. Secretary General Annan, Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy, certainly we understand that this force needs to be generated on an urgent basis and it needs to be deployed as quickly as possible.
I know there are a variety of countries, including the French, who are working as hard as they can to look at the logistics needed to get a force deployed. You have to put in place the assets, you have to put in place the logistics so that that force can be deployed. A number of states have come forward again in private discussions saying that they are interested in contributing to such a force. I would expect that later this week, you're going to see a more formal process at the UN in public, talking about the generation of the force and who might contribute to it. But this -- and Secretary Rice spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy on just this matter as well as others and both agreed that it is very important that this force get generated as quickly as possible and get deployed as quickly as possible. So nobody is operating on a business as usual model here on this force, Charlie.
QUESTION: Can you provide details on U.S. involvement in the meetings at the UN later this week on trying to build up a new UN force? When do you realistically think that this sort of beefed-up UNIFIL could be on the ground? What's your plan here?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we ourselves are not going to be actually deploying as part of this force. We are part of the planning of this. We do have experience in the logistics and deployment planning for these kinds of forces. There are military planners that have a lot of experience working with the UN, their peacekeeping office which is the center of gravity in the UN for these activities. So we -- our planners are working with the UN to help them answer all those kinds of questions, what sort of logistical requirements, looking at the capabilities of the various countries who have suggested that they want to contribute to the force and racking that up against what is actually needed, what they think is needed. So we're deeply involved in that aspect of it.
As for the timing of it, Sue, our answer is quickly as possible. I don't have a timeline for you. Everybody understands the importance of this force being deployed on as urgent a basis as we possibly can.
QUESTION: But maybe you could -- could you say whether it is weeks or months or what is it? Because it if were months --
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly not. Certainly, you know, at the beginning of deployment of the force, certainly not months. I don't think that's acceptable to anybody.
QUESTION: Have you said anything about the Iranian President's latest barrage?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure I've seen it. What is the latest? They seem to come on a fairly regular basis.
QUESTION: Well, Hezbollah has, "hoisted the banner of victory over Israel and toppled U.S.-led plans for the Middle East." It gets even more colorful later on.
MR. MCCORMACK: Why am I not surprised that he might say something like that? I think it simply ignores the facts. The facts are that once this resolution is implemented, it is a strategic setback for Hezbollah, its patrons in Tehran and as well as in Damascus. You will not have Hezbollah armed running around in southern Lebanon free to threaten Israel immediately on its northern border. They won't have the ability to fortify themselves as they have over the past six years.
You have in place, with the UN resolution, an arms embargo that would not -- that calls upon states not to try to resupply Hezbollah. At the end of the day once this resolution, in particular as well as Resolution 1559 are implemented, you have a situation where the Lebanese Government, the democratically elected government, is strengthened. So I'm not sure exactly what lens he is viewing the world through but certainly it's not surprising that he comes out and says things like that.
QUESTION: Syria's President Assad also praises Hezbollah for resisting Israeli forces and says that its victory in the war with Israel, you know, has destroyed U.S. plans to reshape the Middle East. I just wondered whether you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, not so surprising that you might have something like that coming from President Assad. But just let's take a look at where he finds himself. He finds himself in Syria out of Lebanon, a place which Syria had used to basically sort of take the riches and the bounty of the Lebanese people over a period of 20 years, abuse the Lebanese people over 20 years. So they're out of Lebanon.
Syria's also not party to the settlement. That is a strategic difference from the last time this happened 10 years ago in 1996. So what you have is a -- the parties to the settlement are the democratically elected Government of Lebanon and a democratic Israel. Now, there are a lot of challenges, absolutely, in implementing these resolutions. We all know that. That is our work to do. It is our work as well as the Lebanese Government's work to do as well as the Israeli Government to do. Syria doesn't have a role to play in that other than not to try to ship arms, either their own to Hezbollah, or to serve as a transit point for Iran.
So I think that actually Syria finds itself, as a result of this resolution and as a result of its implementation, Syria will find itself quite isolated from the rest of the states in the region, except for perhaps their close friends and allies, the Iranians. So I would imagine that Syria at the moment is feeling rather uncomfortable about where it stands in the region and this sort of bluster notwithstanding.
QUESTION: But the President also said that the Government in -- that there were some forces in Lebanon that were against Syria that were seen as now being with the United States and Israel. And are you concerned that because Lebanon in an effort to end this in a way that will disarm Hezbollah that Syria will present a renewed threat to the democratic Government of Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that Syria, since it was forced out of Lebanon by the international community, has never given up its designs on Lebanon. Let's remember that Syria still has not established formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon. If you go looking for the Syrian Embassy in Beirut, you won't find one. And you won't find one there because the Syrian Government -- my read of that -- is that the Syrian Government still hasn't given up on its aspirations for Lebanon. Now, the international community has spoken quite clearly on that. There are numerous Security Council resolutions out there speaking to it and -- that forced Syria out of Lebanon which in and of itself was a strategic setback for Syria. So, you know, again, this sort of bluster notwithstanding, I think the Syrian Government finds itself much more isolated than -- right now than when it either one month ago or three years ago.
QUESTION: Also, President Assad compared the situation today to the May 17th agreement of 1983 when Syria was isolated and he fought the U.S.-Lebanon-Israel agenda and led the Lebanese to abrogate May 17th agreement. And he's saying that Hezbollah won militarily now and he's going to win the political battle. What's your reaction to this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think a couple of things, Samir. One, in terms of the level of degradation of Hezbollah forces inflicted on it by the Israeli forces, I can't speak to that. Quite clearly, they are going to be in a strategically different situation. They're not able to sit in their fortifications along the northern border with Israel. At least that's what this UN Security Council Resolution envisions, and that's what the Lebanese armed forces as well as international forces are supposed to enforce. So but I think it is fair to say that Hezbollah has suffered losses. I can't quantify those losses for you. I think others would be in a better position to do that.
Now as for the politics of Lebanon, those are for the Lebanese people to decide. But I think that when people start taking a look around, they take a look at what has happened in Lebanon. And then once the emotions subside a bit, they remember how did we find ourselves in this situation, how did we find that our houses may be destroyed or our villages or -- and our lives disrupted. Well the reason why that happened is because you had an entity called Hezbollah allowed to do whatever it wanted to in southern Lebanon, and what it did was it dragged the Lebanese people into the kind of violence that we have seen over the past month. And I think at the end of the day, people will realize that.
And so as for the politics, the Lebanese people will make their own decisions. But the international community is quite clear that the terrorists groups like Hezbollah need to make a choice. You can't have one foot in the camp of terror and one foot in the camp of politics. The Lebanese people need to resolve that fundamental contradiction. It will be up to them how they resolve that contradiction, but it does need to be resolved.
QUESTION: My second one, there's an article in the Armed Forces Journal by a colonel his name is Ralph Peters talking about a new map for the Middle East divided by ethnic and religion boundaries.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is this what the Secretary has in mind regarding the new Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly not, Samir. I've seen this map. I've seen other such maps. These are generated by private individuals. Certainly we have been very forthright and plainspoken in talking about the territorial integrity of Turkey and the territorial integrity of Iraq. We are working very hard for a new Middle East that is a free democratic Middle East where people can realize a better way of life, a more prosperous, better educated way of life. This is not the call generated by the United States. This is a call that comes from the Middle East itself, from the people of the Middle East.
Just look back to the report issued by the UNDP just several years ago in which thinkers and scholars from the Middle East took a hard look at where the people of the Middle East and the states of the Middle East stood, and what they found was that economically this was a region that had stalled long ago. In terms of its education system, it had fallen far behind the rest of the world in terms of textbooks printed, in terms of scientific innovation, in terms of basic research. And as a result, there was a call that came out from the Middle East saying we want to be part of the global economic expansion. We want to be part of knowledge-based economies. We want greater freedom and democracy. That's how you get to those things. You have to be able to think at work and think at home. And the United States and other states responded to that call and we are going to respond to that call. President Bush put down the commitment of the United States in answering that call many times over, but certainly in his second Inaugural Address. So our vision for the Middle East is a vision that is coming from the Middle East itself and that is for a more free, democratic and prosperous Middle East.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the troops for a second?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The French General in charge of UNIFIL was quoted in a French newspaper today saying that it could take up to a year to beef up the forces in southern Lebanon. Is that something the French have told the U.S., maybe in a conversation this morning?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those remarks, so I don't know exactly what forces he's talking about.
QUESTION: You just said it could take up to a year to fully beef up to the 15,000.
MR. MCCORMACK: Libby, I haven't seen his remarks. I'd like to take a look at the full context of those remarks. But let me -- what we're talking about here is deployment and deploying. Certainly, we -- Sue asked about, well, is months acceptable. Nobody believes that deploying the force in months is acceptable. This needs to be done on a much more urgent basis than that. In terms of how long it takes for this force to get in place, we'll see. Again, I said that this can't be a business as usual kind of operation. And the resolution lays out very quickly -- very clearly what the process is. While the UN force is -- the international force -- is deploying and the Lebanese armed forces are deploying to the south, the Israeli forces are withdrawing. That's done in parallel. So there is some balance to it. You don't have five guys in a jeep on the international force side deploying and then you have a, you know, a battalion of Israeli forces withdrawing. That's not how it works. There has to be a rough balance there because otherwise you just create the same sort of imbalance, the same sort of vacuum that we want to avoid by -- that we try to address with the creation of the international force.
QUESTION: At what point do you think the 15,000 Lebanese will be in place?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, I don't have the timetable for you --
QUESTION: Because even -- I mean, as you said, there has to be a balance here as to say 1,000 Israelis are pulling out then --
MR. MCCORMACK: You don't want to create a vacuum. You know --
QUESTION: Would that be when 1,000 more Lebanese landed or would you have to couple that with, say, another hundred?
MR. MCCORMACK: There has to be some rough balance there. The resolution uses the words "in parallel." And that's the idea. That's the idea behind it. And that gets to the fundamental idea of not creating a vacuum like we talked about over the past couple of weeks. You can't replace something with nothing. So that is the idea. I don't have the timelines for you, Sue. I know people are working on the logistics and how you do that. And you also have to be very careful and very detailed in your planning in terms of how you hand over pieces of territory from one military entity to another. That's a very complex, complicated process that needs to be -- that is real detail-oriented work, and that is something that we are going to also try to help out with, as you want to avoid any sort of confusion. I mean, these are moments that even for handover territory when you're talking about within the U.S. Armed Forces from one command to another command, has to be done very carefully.
QUESTION: So who is monitoring all of this with this sort of delicate balance that you're talking about at the moment? Is UNIFIL your current sort of monitor to make sure that it's even at the moment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they are in place. I don't think -- I can't tell you what the Israeli plans are for their forces. You'll have to talk to the Israelis. I think that they are in place. They have by all reports, I think, and by all accounts abided by the terms of the Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: I just wondered who was the sort of arbiter here. Is there a joint force between the Lebanese and the Israelis somehow? Are they working together --
MR. MCCORMACK: The UN and Secretary General are very deeply involved in this question and certainly we're watching it closely as well as others.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Kirit.
QUESTION: About this -- the parallel withdrawal and deployment, when it comes to replacing let's say 1,000 Israeli troops, are we equating the Lebanese forces with the international force? I mean do we equate them as equal forces?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, these are things that are going to be -- that are being worked out. I get your question. Are you replacing the same sort of robust combat power that the Israelis might have in exiting with something else, Lebanese armed forces and international forces?
QUESTION: And also would the international forces be the same as the Lebanese forces? I mean, is there a disparity there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, again, this is what the planners are working on right now, sort of what are the capabilities of the Lebanese armed forces, and how does that match up with the capabilities of the international force. And so those are all the things that people are looking at right now. This is not just, you know, sort of open package, just add water and, you know, you have a solution with an international force ready to go. You have to very carefully -- you have to carefully construct these things and you have to plan your deployment carefully. As we were talking about, this also has to match up with handover of territory and it has to be linked up with the Israeli plans for withdrawal. So there are a lot of moving pieces to this. The UN is deeply involved in it. We are playing a role in it. Certainly, the French -- we're playing a role from the planning standpoint. The French are deeply involved in it and I think very quickly, you will start to see more states get involved in it as well.
QUESTION: David Welch mentioned that there will be an interagency team going up to the UN tomorrow and John Hillen has already been up there. Can you tell us more about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it for you, Teri. I know John has gone up there several times to help out. He's an expert in this field. We have a number of people who know a lot about these things not only here in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs at the State Department but also elsewhere in the Government. So I'll talk to David and find out exactly what he had in mind. But we have been -- there's been regular rotations of people going up there and there are planners actually up there, U.S. military planners, actually associated with the UN who are sort of a liaison group.
QUESTION: Sean, this morning apparently Hezbollah has shelled the territory of southern Lebanon below the Litani River.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And yesterday President Bush here and Condoleezza Rice, as well as yourself, here in this press briefing, have mentioned that Hezbollah has a choice.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Hezbollah is not the Lebanese Government, they're not the housing authority and they're not the Lebanese army. So why are you insisting they have a choice and they're not following any of your recommendations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we're saying is the Lebanese people have a choice. They have to decide their own politics. And ultimately with this kind of issue where you have a state within a state -- that's a phrase that's been used a lot -- you have militias operating outside the control of the central government, there's a, you know, sometimes -- oftentimes a use of force element. We have to deal with them through use of force. We've seen that.
But ultimately you have to arrive at a political solution because the root causes of the generation of these kinds of militias operating outside the control of the central government, it's political. And you need to resolve those root political disputes or frictions or tensions within society. And the way that you do that -- in our view -- is through peaceful democratic dialogue not through use of force at the -- or at the point of a gun.
So those are the issues that the Lebanese people need to deal with. And we in the international community are standing right there with them. The United States is a friend of Lebanon and we want to help them work through these issues. But ultimately at the end of the day, they're going to have to come up with a Lebanese solution to this issue. The international community is there to help. They've given them the outlines of what a solution might look like. But the details of how that's accomplished are for the Lebanese people to decide.
QUESTION: Another subject. New subject. Sean, these terrorists are spending billions of dollars to kill millions of people around the globe and they're getting money somewhere. According to the reports, many Muslim charities raising funds in the name of many charities but most of the funds are going to fund terrorists around the globe. Is this issue has ever come up with the Secretary among these diplomats she meets, diplomats here in the State Department, like world leaders, especially Muslim Arab leaders, because those are the ones who are giving millions of dollars to these charities?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, the Secretary talks about issues of terrorist financing, yes. And we all know early on the issues related to some charities. But I'm not going to paint all charities with a broad brush here. There are certain organizations that have served as fronts, either witting or unwittingly, for terrorist organizations. And we have a lot of great people at the Department of Treasury as well as elsewhere in the U.S. Government that watch those things very carefully. And where they find violations of U.S. law, we act. There are a number of different Executive Orders under which the President can act. There are U.S. laws under which the President can act. Some of the more robust of those Executive Orders and laws came about after September 11th. So it is a very important function.
You have to fight the war on terror on a lot of different fronts. And one of them is cutting off the lifeblood of these terrorist organizations, which is the financing.
QUESTION: Sean, can you just take two quick questions on Japan?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi made a controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. How do you estimate the effects on peace and stability in East Asia? And also what is your hope on a succeeding prime minister's approach on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are going to be decisions that Japanese politicians and Japanese prime ministers are going to have to make for themselves.
As for the question of the effect on the region, we would hope -- we understand that there are regional tensions that spring from some of the history there. And we think that it is important for the countries of the region to face up to that history and to deal with those differences. We know that there are tensions between, for example on this particular issue, Japan and China and Japan and South Korea. We understand from where those tensions arise. But we think it is important that the countries of the region, Japan, China, South Korea as well as others look to the future and to try to build good constructive, neighborly transparent relations. There are always going to be frictions but it is important that they work through those frictions in a respectful manner. And that the countries of the region concern themselves less with the rights or wrongs of the past and focus on the future in building a better and more peaceful stable region.
QUESTION: Oh, and what about the prime minister, on the succeeding prime minister --
MR. MCCORMACK: I answered that first. It's up to Japanese politicians and prime ministers to make those decisions for themselves.
QUESTION: Okay. All right, thank you.
QUESTION: A couple of questions on Cuba. First of all, do you have any updates on Fidel Castro's health and what do you think of these pictures with him with President Chavez and --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any updates on the health. You know, look, I know President Chavez has made it a point to try to develop a very close relationship with Fidel Castro. That is his decision. I'm not sure that that's something that really burnishes his democratic credentials, but that's his decision to make.
QUESTION: One other question. There's some reports that about 40 Cuban migrants that tried to reach the United States were interdicted at sea and -- including a 12-year-old child with diabetes taken to Guantanamo Bay and -- are continuing to being held there. Can you confirm that? Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says he's been pushing the State Department for an update on their case and to see what the holdup is.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that those are issues that are more appropriate for the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. They deal with these kinds of issues.
QUESTION: Well, wouldn't the State Department be involved if they were applying for asylum?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't talk about asylum requests. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded 1:05 p.m.)
DPB # 137
Released on August 15, 2006