State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 29 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
September 29, 2006
U.S. Efforts Toward an International Force in Sudan / Government
No Substitute for an International Force / Need to Operate Under
Contact with the Sudanese / Visa for Andrew Natsios / 25-Mile
Arar Case / Removal to a Syria / Reasonable Expectation He Would
Not be Tortured
Understanding Reached on Better Flow of Information
Solana Readout of Larijani Meetings / Secretary Rice's Phone
Conversation with Solana
Absent a Positive, Clear Response from Iran, the UNSC Should Pose
International Consensus on What Would Trigger Sanctions
Time is Running Quite Short
Tensions Between Russia and Georgia / Bilateral Issue
Events Should be Put in Proper Context
United States a Friend of Georgia / United States a Friend of
U.S. Diplomatic Contact with Russians and Georgians
Secretary Rice/Secretary Rumsfeld's Relationship
Internal Memoranda in the White House / Blackwell Discussions with
Rice on Iraq
Secretary's Meeting Schedule in Egypt / Trip to Discuss Full
Agenda of Issues
Selection Process for New UN Secretary General / Best Person for
Ambassador Bolton's Position / Need for Up or Down Vote / Right
Person for Job
Senator Chafee's Questions on Israeli Settlements / Letter
Open Skies Negotiation / U.S. Seeks Safe, Secure International
Aid Cut / Coup a Setback for Thai Democracy / U.S. Will Not Sever
Possible Cancellation of Military Exercises
No Final Announcement on Interim Prime Minister
Secretary's Travel / Positive Discussion in the Security Council
Genuine Will by Countries in Region to Move Forward
Work with Iraqis on Core Issues of Freedom of Expression /
Different Social Compacts
Further Erosion of Ability to Express Oneself an Issue of Concern
/ Contacts with Somalis
12:35 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statement. So we can get right to your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: I'd love to start on Sudan if you don't mind.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: The UN chief in Sudan says it doesn't appear anytime soon the government will permit or agree to have UN peacekeepers. So maybe the best course of action is put the African Union force on an indefinite -- in an indefinite duty in the country.
Is it as bad as that? Is there no chance of getting a UN force in Sudan? What do you think of the idea as a substitute?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think that there is a substitute for an international force at this point, Barry. Certainly we're not going to throw in the towel on getting an international force into Sudan. Okay. It's some tough diplomacy, and the Sudanese Government is intransigent at the moment. But that doesn't -- just because it's hard doesn't mean we're going to give up, and neither should the rest of the international community. The Security Council passed a resolution clearly stating the will of the international community, and we think that it is important that an international force go into Darfur, that that AMIS force be rehatted.
Now, there is -- the AU has extended the mandate for the AMIS force until the end of the year. Certainly they deserve credit for doing that. But that is not a substitute for following through with the Security Council resolution that is now on the books. And we're going to -- Secretary Rice gave a speech on Wednesday just on this very matter. So quite clearly she is not going to give up, and it would be wrong for others to give up on it.
QUESTION: I only bring it up because Jan Brock (phonetic) I think his name is --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- you know, says the international community should instead push for the African Union's mission to be prolonged and reinforced.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is already prolonged. But again, Secretary Rice made quite clear there isn't a substitute for an international force and a more robust presence in Sudan.
QUESTION: I mean AMIS is an international force to some extent.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And if it was strengthened and enlarged and I mean you've already said that core of the international force would be an African force with African commanders, what's the difference finally? I mean, from a greatly expanded force that's called an AU force to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a lot of differences here. First, you would be operating under a UN Security Council resolution, which puts things in a different light. It makes this mandatory. As we've said before, you know, the Security Council invited the consent of the Sudanese Government in deploying this force but it's not required. So there's one difference. You are operating under a very clear international mandate by having a UN force in there.
Second of all, resources, when you have a peacekeeping force, a blue-hatted force, deployed on a UN Security Council mandated mission there are certain resources that are freed up, made more available to the force on the ground there. And there's a -- there's more of a guarantee that the funding flow will continue. Now with the current AU mission, it has been through the kind donations of the AU itself as well as others, including the United States, that that force is now in place and it continues to have what it needs to do its job, the wherewithal -- the financial wherewithal to do its job. So those are two major differences and why it's important that you have this be a blue-hatted force.
QUESTION: Referring to the Secretary's speech when she said that Sudan must choose between cooperation or confrontation. Mark Malloch Brown said that the U.S. should stop making idle threats because Khartoum doesn't think that you're going to back it up with any action. What do you plan on doing? Are you looking at a new range of sanctions and what do you think about his comments?
MR. MCCORMACK: Rather than focusing on what the U.S. or the UK or others might be doing, he might apply himself to the task at hand rather than giving speeches.
We have a very clear understanding of what is at stake here. That is why -- one of the reasons why the Secretary gave the speech she did on Wednesday, why she, along with the Danish Foreign Minister, organized the meeting -- the meeting up at the UN General Assembly. It's our belief that the way to succeed is through diplomacy but also keeping the spotlight on this issue. The United States has been out in front on this issue and we're proud of that because we think it is not only right for policy but it's the morally right thing to do. And we're going to keep talking about it and we are going to keep the international pressure on. And we think it is important that other states apply similar pressure to the Sudanese Government. That doesn't preclude quiet diplomacy. That doesn't preclude missions going to the Sudanese Government, not at all. But we don't think that the absence of an international spotlight on this issue is -- will serve the purposes that everybody shares.
I know that the UN and Mr. Malloch Brown share the same goal here. But we think we're following the right course and we're going to keep talking about it because we think it's important. And it's important that people realize what's going on and it's important that people do everything that they can in working to get the Sudanese Government to do that right thing.
QUESTION: What contact are you having with the Sudanese Government and does Andrew Natsios have any travel plans? Has the Sudanese Government granted him a visa yet? What's on his program?
MR. MCCORMACK: They haven't granted him a visa yet.
QUESTION: Have you applied?
MR. MCCORMACK: He has not been granted a visa yet. Look, Andrew's on the job already. He is working --
QUESTION: I'm sorry, can I just go back? Has he applied for a visa?
MR. MCCORMACK: He has not been granted a visa yet. Certainly we would -- I think Andrew would very much want to travel to Khartoum. We are having some difficulties now with the Sudanese Government. They've placed certain restrictions on our ability to travel outside a 25-kilometer limit, I believe. So we do have contact with the Sudanese Government. Secretary Rice met with the Sudanese Foreign Minister prior to going to the UN General Assembly, so we have contact with them.
It is equally important that others who might have some influence with the Sudanese Government also have contact with them. This is not just the United States burden to bear. We will bear more than our share of the diplomatic load here. But it is important for others to step up and match the effort of the United States. And they can choose however they want to do that, whether that's quietly and in private or more publicly or some combination of the two, but it is important that they do that.
QUESTION: Could you provide a little tick-tock on the visa issue because the Sudanese Government said that they would not allow people to travel within this radius? Could you just provide when you applied for the visa? Have they told you officially --
MR. MCCORMACK: Who, Andrew's?
QUESTION: Yeah, have they told you officially that you cannot go?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into this sort of back and forth on this kind of issue. All I can say is that he has not yet been granted a visa. He looks forward to traveling to Khartoum at the earliest possible moment.
QUESTION: Is the 25 -- the 25 miles would be from Khartoum?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that's the case, Barry, yeah. Yeah, from the capital.
QUESTION: And even though you don't want to get into his particular situation, would they try to apply it on him?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know, Barry. We don't think that it is -- that it should be in place for anybody in our mission there.
QUESTION: Oh, of course.
MR. MCCORMACK: It makes it harder for everybody to do their work. I don't know -- I can't tell you the exact origins of this. You might talk to the Sudanese, but it was a sudden change on their part.
QUESTION: Sudden change.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Sudan?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: I've kind of lost touch with the Maher Arar story out of Canada, the Syrian rendition. Is it officially a rendition? What's the latest U.S. position on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: He was -- my understanding, and this happened I think back in 2002 -- my understanding of this is that he was at the time -- U.S. officials made a determination that he posed based on the information that they had that he posed the threat, so he was removed from the United States to a country of his citizenship, Syria. That was done after there were assurances that his treatment would meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions, meaning that in the sense that he was not going to be maltreated. We had to have a reasonable expectation that he was not going to be tortured or maltreated. We were able to assure ourselves of that.
My understanding is that at the time that he was -- there was no consultation with the Canadian Government regarding his removal from the United States, and I think that that is the technical term that would be used by the folks over at DHS. You can talk to them exactly what the technical term is. Since that time we have in general talked about the issue of removal of citizens with the Canadian Government and I believe that Secretary Powell talked about -- talked with his counterpart about this issue back in 2004, Will Taft, who was then the advisor here at the State Department talked to his counterpart, and there was an understanding that there would be more communication. Although it wouldn't be required, there was an understanding. There was not a formal agreement or treating or anything of the such. So that is my understanding of where the situation stands now.
QUESTION: As far as Arar himself, is there any compensation or an apology the U.S. owes this man in the works or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information for you on that. You might talk to the folks at the Department of Homeland Security about that.
QUESTION: And as far as relations with Canada are concerned, if they didn't feel fully informed, have steps been taken to diplomatically apologize there? It sounds like you've taken steps for the future.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know if I'd characterize it as an apology, but I think that there was an understanding reached that there would be some flow of information -- there would be better flow of information in cases that might be similar to this one. And that was arrived at in a letter I believe between Mr. Taft and his counterpart -- Canadian counterpart.
QUESTION: In retrospect, once again although I know this man was a Syrian citizen, Syria is on record in the U.S. as supporting torture. Was there any decision -- any contemplation ahead of time as to that factor?
MR. MCCORMACK: All I can tell you is the people who made the decisions at the time were able to determine a couple of things or they determined a couple of things: One, that this individual posed a threat to the United States based on the information that they had; and two, that they were able to assure themselves, they had the reasonable expectation that this individual was not going to be maltreated.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask about Iran? Do you have time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The European talks again are sort of whispers or hints not backed up by any stated facts or some positive conclusions Ahmadi-Nejad, not surprisingly, is asserting again Iranians (inaudible) rights as he sees. You've been in touch I guess with Solana and all?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Where do you -- do you go anyplace from here or give it a little more time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what's going to happen now, Barry, is that at the ministerial level I think there's going to be a conversation about exactly what Mr. Solana heard. And how that met or did not meet the understandings that arrived all along the way from Vienna to Paris to New York and most recently during a P-5+1 meeting at the -- on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
I expect in the next couple of days that Mr. Solana, at the ministerial level, will convene the P-5+1 via phone call. They'll talk about what it is that Mr. Larijani said and what the next steps will be. The -- Secretary Rice did speak with Mr. Solana last night. And Nick Burns, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, also had at the political directors a P-5+1 conference call including Mr. Solana.
So people I think at this point are going through and assessing what it is that they heard from Mr. Larijani. And at this point -- and I'm going to defer making any public statements characterizing what it is that -- characterizing Mr. Solana's conversations. But I'll just put it this way, that if we -- absent a positive, clear, authoritative answer from the Iranians that they were going to meet the conditions of the international community, then we would expect the P-5+1 and the Security Council would follow through and go down the pathway of sanctions. And as I've said numerous times before, that is not our first choice. We would prefer that the Iranians open up the doorway to a negotiated solution to this. But we are fully prepared to go down that other pathway if that is where the Iranian regime wants to lead the rest of the world.
QUESTION: Of course, the Secretary said this can't go on forever. Not to prejudge what that conversation would produce, but I think it's a fair question to ask you, if the discussion at the foreign ministers' level would not only try to come to some understandings where things stand, but could it also be a format for getting some decision, reaching some consensus on when to move towards sanctions? Or will the U.S. listen, speak of course, and then digest what is said and ruminate for a little bit before? I made it two-pronged.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, a couple of things. Certainly Secretary Rice is going to listen, and there will be a conversation. But I would point out -- it's a small point but an important point -- that there already is consensus about when to move down the pathway of sanctions. So we already know what it is that -- what actions or absence of actions would trigger the P-5+1 and the Security Council going down that pathway. So there's already consensus on that that was agreed up in New York just within the past two weeks.
So Secretary Rice, of course, will listen to all of our colleagues, listen to Mr. Solana, take into account what it is that Mr. Solana heard, his impressions as well as the impressions of her colleagues. And I can't tell you if that phone call is a decisive point saying yes, we are going to go forward. We'll see. I don't want to, as you said, prejudge the outcome of the phone call.
Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Is the --
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get to you.
QUESTION: Is the deadline still early October?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to specify the exact date, but time is running quite short in that regard.
QUESTION: Can you give us any update on the talks amongst the P-5 on the sanctions?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry just asked about that. Tell me if that was a full and complete satisfactory answer, Barry.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I was drifting into something else.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Let's -- yeah, Andre.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. A different subject obviously. I'm interested in any update you can provide to us about your contacts with the Georgians and the Russians regarding -- as regard to their own bilateral relations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is a bilateral issue between Russia and Georgia. On both sides, we would just urge to -- urge them to put the events in the proper context. Whatever decisions each side may take, those will be their own decisions. We would urge just to put the events of the past couple of days in the proper context.
QUESTION: Right. But my question was about your own contacts with them. Have you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we've been in touch with them. Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect any further contacts? And what was the level of that contact and --
MR. MCCORMACK: We had diplomatic contact with both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. Frankly, I don't understand what putting in contacts means in this situation. Do you regret what's happening? What's your assessment of what's happening?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our assessment isn't important in terms of public consumption. This is an issue between Russia and Georgia and they will decide what steps they want to take. Of course, we are friends with the Russian Government; we are friends of the Georgian Government. Of course we talked to both sides, but this is something for them to resolve themselves and to also, again, put things in the proper context.
QUESTION: So you are forcing my hand here because your assessment does mean a lot because in the public eye in Russia, which is the only thing I'm interested in, in the public eye in Russia, the United States has a lot to do with what's been happening, either as a direct factor in the calculations of the Georgians.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I understand and I understand, you know, conspiracy theories and how those things take hold.
MR. MCCORMACK: Georgia is a sovereign state. The Georgian Government makes its own decisions based on the -- its assessment of what is right for Georgia and the Georgian people. We are friends of the Georgian people; we are friends of the Georgian Government. We are friends of the Russian people, and we're friends of the Russian Government. So I know, I've heard news reports of all the -- you know, various conspiracy theories involving the United States and the hidden hand of the United States. Just frankly not true. These are two sovereign states. We would encourage them to work out their differences as any two neighbors would.
QUESTION: And the one last thing, what do you think about the idea of referring this whole issue to the Security Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: We think it's an issue that is best and most properly resolved between two neighbors.
QUESTION: Switch to the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, let's go around, spread the wealth here and we'll come back to you, Barry. It's going to make you stay here a little bit longer.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: When Secretary Rice was National Security Adviser, did Secretary Rumsfeld indeed refuse to return her phone call?
QUESTION: Is this a book question? Oh, my heavens.
MR. MCCORMACK: Your guess.
QUESTION: I guess the book isn't even out yet, is it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Secretary Rice and then National Security Advisor Rice had a phone conversation every single day with Secretary Rumsfeld. At the time of her being National Security Advisor it was with Secretary Powell, National Security Advisor Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld talked every single morning that all of them were in the country together. They have actually continued that tradition and it's chaired by Steve Hadley, who's now the National Security Advisor, and Secretary Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld on the phone call. So there's no shortage of communication. They talk to each other all the time. They have a very good personal and professional working relationship that extends well beyond these two administrations.
QUESTION: So what is in the book, according to New York Times is not correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have not read the book.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that as well? Also in The New York Times article they talk about a memo that was delivered to --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a tricky way at getting at the book. It's not even out.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, what can you do? Apparently, Robert Blackwell delivered a memo to Secretary Rice. Can you tell me if she actually received that memo?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't talk about internal memoranda in the White House. But look, it's no secret people were looking at the situation in Iraq and how best to resolve the political security and other issues that were in Iraq. But ultimately the answer is the same: You can have input from a variety of different sources, civilian sources, military sources, but the President looked to his military commanders for their assessment of what was needed on the ground. You've heard this from the President. You've heard it from the White House. You've heard it from Secretary Rice before. That is a bedrock principle. You need to have that kind of command relationship and the President needs to rely on the advice of his military commanders on the ground.
So as for what input there was into that decision making, you know, I can't get into that. You talk to the commanders involved.
QUESTION: Could you confirm that there was a briefing by Mr. Blackwell to Secretary Rice on the number of troops?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, they talked about -- when Bob Blackwell was over at the White House they probably talked on a daily basis about Iraq, about all the variety of concerns regarding Iraq. That was one of the issues that Bob was working on and for a while he chaired an interagency group on Iraq, so they talked probably every single day about Iraq. And they talked about Iraq in its full context: the security issues, political issues, economic issues. As for any one particular conversation certainly we're not going to get into those kind of things.
QUESTION: One more phone call.
MR. MCCORMACK: One more left.
QUESTION: On the phone call issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: One more phone call issue, you've got.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Your answer was mostly on what I'll call the "scheduled phone calls," the daily phone calls that might take place.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was there ever a time someone might have picked up the phone and the other person didn't want to take the call?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Another phone call. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Another phone call.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Rice talk to President Saakashvili of Georgia today?
MR. MCCORMACK: There were -- we have had diplomatic contacts with the Georgian Government as well as the Russian Government on the issue that you all referred to.
QUESTION: If I can go back to the conspiracy theories --
MR. MCCORMACK: Why not?
QUESTION: -- on a different subject. There was another vote to the UN with the Security Council and although the vote was secret obviously many people up in New York think that this was the United States that voted against Mr. Ban. Have you had new discussions, meetings on the subject and are you close to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Of who --
QUESTION: -- on the next Secretary General.
MR. MCCORMACK: Who we think the next Secretary General should be?
QUESTION: Yeah. And are you any closer to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: No, I mean are you any closer to making a decision that you or perhaps --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's going to be a series of scheduled votes here. We're going to participate in those and we're going to participate in those votes on the basis of the rules that are governing those particular votes. Certainly I'm not going to talk about who we might have in mind, what candidates we think are best for the job. We're going to look for the best person for the job.
QUESTION: Do you think that these votes and straw polls will have a major impact on the final decision?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see.
QUESTION: I guess my point is, do you -- would you allow for the possibility that the person who will become Secretary General is not among those who are already candidates?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, that is impossible to tell. We will -- at some point during this process, and I can't tell you the exact date, there will be a final vote.
MR. MCCORMACK: And it will be at that point that we know who the next Secretary General will be.
QUESTION: But as far as you're concerned it's -- the race is still open. You wouldn't say -- if you haven't announced your candidacy by now you can't run. As far you're concerned it's still opened.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, what I'm saying is there will be a final vote and at that point we will know who the next Secretary General will be. You know, we're looking for the best person for the job.
QUESTION: I have a related question in some ways. Ambassador Bolton --
MR. MCCORMACK: There you go -- that's a stretch.
QUESTION: What's going to happen to Ambassador Bolton? Congress has gone out without looking at his reappointment. So from a technical point of view what happens? Could he be appointed an acting ambassador? Is that how you're going to get around it or --
MR. MCCORMACK: We still think he should have an up or down vote. That will be up to the Senate obviously. I know Chairman Lugar has talked about his various requirements for forwarding the nomination again to the floor of the Senate where John could get an up or down vote. We think John is the right person for the job. He's done a great job. It's a time of consequence up in New York. Just look at the agenda of the Security Council, look at the issue of UN management reform, so there's clearly a need for a top-notch person there and we think John Bolton is the right guy to do that. And we still believe he deserves an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. We believe he would win that vote. So it's a matter of getting him to the floor, matters of scheduling I think that will obviously be up to the Senate; that's their prerogative. It is their prerogative whether or not they have another session after the mid-term elections in November.
We would certainly hope that the Senate would take the opportunity to vote on John's nomination.
QUESTION: But if they don't, then what happens?
MR. MCCORMACK: If not, I --
QUESTION: Technically what --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're focused -- technically, you know, I'm sure that there are a variety of different options. I can't tell you if people have looked into those things because we're focused on trying to get him a vote on the floor of the Senate.
QUESTION: Have you heard of the one serving without pay?
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: For the first time yesterday, I heard of an option being serving without pay.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm sure that there are a variety of different ways around the regulations and laws -- not around them, to conform with them in creative ways. The simplest, easiest, best way to do this is to get them a vote so he can get confirmed and stay there through the rest of the Administration.
QUESTION: Do you have anymore letters questioning Bolton's position on things that we had some weeks ago that he has addressed?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not that I'm aware of. I know Secretary Rice got one from Senator Chafee. She responded to that. She also called Senator Chafee as well. But I'm not aware of any others.
QUESTION: Are you aware that the Senator's chief spokesman told us yesterday that the Secretary's response was unsatisfactory?
MR. MCCORMACK: Senator Chafee?
QUESTION: Yeah. The issue is a little different, as I understand it, from the way it's been generally reported. He has said to not be opposed to expansion of settlements provided it is part of a larger process that is an accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't heard that, Barry. If there is --
QUESTION: No, but he wrote her on the 7th, and his person said yesterday that her response was unsatisfactory.
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't heard that particular point, Barry. If there are any other questions the Senator or Senator's office has, of course the State Department is going to work to try to resolve any of those questions to the best of our ability. I hadn't heard that.
QUESTION: I only bring it up because it seems to be the hang-up. Lugar said yesterday to (Inaudible) that unless a democrat suddenly comes forward and says we're ready --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir, then that's other option.
QUESTION: -- to vote for him, it's just going to hang there forever. Well not forever, it's going to be unresolved.
MR. MCCORMACK: We will obviously do everything we can to assuage concerns to the best of our ability, answer questions to the best of our ability that any Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee might have regarding John's nomination.
QUESTION: The EU is negotiating on the air passenger data transfer today. How hopeful are you that there is going to be an agreement between the EU and U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to lay odds. We certainly hope that there is an agreement. It's an important issue not only concerning security of the travelers on those airlines, but also the free exchange and the ability of people to travel back and forth. We want to have safe, secure travel. There's also considerable financial issues related to airlines on both sides of the Atlantic on this issue. So we certainly hope that it does get resolved.
QUESTION: If it doesn't get resolved by tomorrow, which is the deadline, if airlines transmit information to the U.S. authorities, are they going to be breaking the law then?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me get an answer from our lawyers on that. That I don't know.
QUESTION: What exactly (inaudible) at this point, because somebody said that the U.S. doesn't want to consider this information law enforcement data, that it wants to consider it commercial data? Are you aware of --
MR. MCCORMACK: You're getting beyond my knowledge of the stated play of the negotiations.
QUESTION: Military assistance to Thailand, does that include canceling next years Cobra Gold exercise?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it for you. I am not sure that it does. I'm not sure that it does. There -- the law has precise restrictions and areas that are covered. Look, this does not -- the fact that there was a coup in Thailand is of deep concern to us and we've clearly stated that it is a setback for Thai democracy. We have taken certain policy steps in compliance with the law. That does not mean that we're going to break our relations with Thailand or break or sever all of the ongoing programs of cooperation, but we are going to be watching the situation in Thailand very closely, who is appointed as prime minister, that person's background, the policies that they pursue. We certainly hope that that person is somebody who has the deep interest of Thai democracy at heart and who not only abides by the principles of democracy but acts in their defense in getting Thailand back on the pathway to democracy as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: So you're planning with the Thai military right now for this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can check on that specific question for you. Yeah.
QUESTION: It appears that Thai coup leaders are ready to appoint an ex-Army chief as their prime minister. Do you have any assessment of his capability to lead the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, my understanding is there has not been a final announcement yet. So I'm -- since there is no final announcement, I'm not going to have any particular comment. But certainly we are going to look at who that person is and what they do, what they actually do. That's what's important here. Are they truly acting in a manner consistent with the principles of democracy.
I'm not going to try to read anything in particular into somebody's background, but certainly somebody with close ties to the military is going to have to at least overcome the perception that they are maintaining a close relationship with the military and maybe not acting in defense of Thai democracy and moving Thailand along as fast as it possibly could. I'm not going to make any judgments now about that. I think what's important is what that person actually does.
QUESTION: It turns out today that there will be maybe eight Arab foreign ministers in Cairo to see the Secretary, which gives it I guess possible even more serious coloration than it seemed that she was just making the circuit. Do you care to tell us what's afoot from your perspective? Or just a way of saving shoe leather and just having a come together --
MR. MCCORMACK: To save jet fuel?
QUESTION: Instead of -- yeah, that would be a good idea these days. But instead of making eight stops you make one, and you hear everybody, or is something afoot, something more than consulting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. In terms of her agenda in Egypt, her meeting schedule in Egypt, certainly there may be some additional meetings. We're not quite ready to talk about those meetings yet, Barry. But as I said yesterday, the trip will talk about the broad range of issues in the Middle East. That -- she's going into this trip with the idea that she's going to talk about the full agenda of issues that are before leaders in the region, countries in the region, the people in the region. That could range from Israeli-Palestinian issues to Lebanon, to Syria, to Iraq, to Iran. So again, we'll stay tuned on her agenda in Cairo. But you should look at this trip as an opportunity to discuss a wide array of issues.
QUESTION: I'll update that. Now is -- you know, everybody is out there saying what they'd like to see Israel do. Is this a chance to say what you'd like to see the Arabs do?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, if -- on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and this is not -- yeah, this is not the sole focus of her trip. Clearly it's an important issue. It's an important issue for us. It's an important issue for the leaders of the region. I would just point back to the event at the Security Council discussion that we had up in New York, Barry. And merely point out that we thought that that was very positive discussion. It's -- there is an opportunity here to try to turn goodwill and hope into concrete actions and I think that there is a genuine will among countries of the region to try to move forward on a number of different issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian issues. But we will see what come out of these meetings. I would put it to you that these meetings are more about consultations, taking stock of where we are.
QUESTION: Now there's a report today that the Iraqi Government is vigorously enforcing a defamation law that has led to the jailing of a number of journalists. And I wonder if that's a matter of the U.S.-Iraqi agenda?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, yeah, it is. And Iraq is a fledgling, growing democracy and they're going to work through issues related to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and such. These are core issues for a democracy. So we work with them on these issues. Ultimately, the Iraqis themselves are going to have to decide where to draw the lines regarding freedom of the press, freedom of expression. I would just point out, for example, that the U.S. draws that line in a different place than say the United Kingdom. So different countries will arrive at different social compact regarding those issues. But clearly, there has -- in any thriving, vibrant democracy, you have to have the ability to question and even criticize the government. That's important. That's important in any democratic system. So it's an issue that we're watching closely with the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Question on Somalia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Islamists have now taken over Kismayo, the port town. And they also apparently have closed one of the media networks in Kismayo. They've taken those actions. Just wondered, are you having any -- have you had any more contacts with the Islamists, and are you concerned that they're taking over more and more key areas?
MR. MCCORMACK: It is a concern. Some of their -- the behavior of some of them is a source of concern. The best way forward for Somalia is for a true national reconciliation among the various groups and tribal elements in Somalia. That's a hard process, given the current state of affairs in Somalia as well as its history. There's a lot of history there to overcome. In terms of the closing down of the media network, I haven't seen that in particular. But quite clearly any further erosion of the ability to freely express oneself in Somalia is of real concern. On your question of contacts with the Islamic courts, let me check to see if there has been any.
QUESTION: They also introduced restrictions on the use of CAT. I just wondered what your views were of that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check to see if we have a view on that.
QUESTION: I don't think it's something you necessarily support, is it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would have to check for you, Sue. It's not something that I normally check on on a daily basis.
QUESTION: Okay, it looks like we're done.
MR. MCCORMACK: That would look like to be it. That's it.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.)
DPB # 158
Released on September 29, 2006