State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 26, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 26, 2006
South Korean Intelligence Estimates of North Korean Plutonium
Alleged Smuggling of Materials Related to Nuclear Weapons Program
U.S. Concerns About Illicit Activities
Glenn Amendment / Issue of Applicable Sanctions
Issue of South Korea's Implementation of Resolution / Core Aspects
Important for UN Member States to Work Together
Query on Positions to be Filled in South Korean Ministries
UN Security Council Draft Resolution on Iran / Strong Chapter 7,
Article 41 Resolution
Russian Perspective / P-5+1 Discussions / Pathway to Sanctions /
Increased Diplomatic Pressure on Iran / Iran Should Change
Russian Agreement to Construct Bushehr Reactors / Point of
Discussion for P-5+1
Proposals by Bush Administration on Civilian Nuclear Programs /
Idea of Fuel Assurances
Proliferation Concerns Discussed with ElBaradei
European Draft of Resolution / Comments of Russian Foreign
Shared Goal of Draft Resolution / Russian Concerns
Ongoing Violence in Somalia / Ethiopian Forces / Meetings of A/S
Somalia Contact Group / Looking at How to Address Regional
Countries in Region Should Play a Positive Role / Tensions Between
Ethiopia and Eritrea
Query on Dismissal of Serbian Claims on New Constitution
No Change in U.S. Approach to Kosovo Status Process / Martti
Meeting of NATO Secretary General at White House / Discussions on
Press Allegations / Issue of Terrorism / Bangladeshi Domestic
NATO Combat Operations in Region / Rules of Engagement
12:42 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: Well, if I can remind myself what this is. You know, South Korea now estimates North Korea has enough plutonium to make as many as seven nuclear bombs, according to a defense ministry report. It sounds pretty ominous. What do you think?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have our own intelligence estimates that are publicly available. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you exactly what those are, Barry, but these things are available out on the CIA website and also in the Congressional Record. I don't have anything to add to what -- to those estimates.
QUESTION: Is this out of line with --
MR. MCCORMACK: You can check. You can check, Barry.
QUESTION: Sean, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has said some really pessimistic things about the current state of the draft resolution on Iran. How do you respond to him?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, here's where we stand right now. We have a draft resolution that has been circulated among the P-5 countries. We've worked very closely with the so-called P-3, the UK and France, on this draft. We fully support it. We expect that there are probably going to be changes along the way. That is just the nature of multilateral negotiations and these UN Security Council resolutions. So I think there's another meeting either involving perm reps or experts today. They're going to continue the discussions. I expect these are going to continue for several days.
At a point where you have agreement among the P-5, you're going to have wider circulation of the resolution among all the members of the Security Council. There's going to be another process whereby everybody has comments on it, they get instructions from capitals, and then we're going to have a vote. And when that vote arrives, we believe that we are going to have a good, strong Chapter 7, Article 41 resolution that imposes sanctions on Iran for failure to comply with previous Security Council resolutions.
Now, we know that the Russians have some concerns about the tactics and concerns about applying too much pressure too quickly on the Iranians. We certainly understand their point of view. They have -- there's a certain logic that goes along with that and they have clearly expressed that to us as well as others. But the fact of the matter is they have -- the Russian Government along with the other members of the P-5+1 have agreed to this diplomatic way forward, this process that we see unfolding right now. This was agreed to in meetings going from London to Vienna to Paris, then up in New York several meetings involving the ministers themselves.
So we expect that there is going to be some negotiating. These are tough issues. These are serious issues so I would expect that you're going to see countries taking it seriously. You're going to see ministers comment on it. But at the end of the day, we are going to get a resolution. We're confident we're going to get a resolution that does what the previous resolution said it would do and that is impose sanctions on Iran for its failure to comply. And this resolution will send a strong, clear message to Iran that it has to change its behavior. There is always another pathway that is available to the Iranian regime but, unfortunately, they are taking us down the pathway of sanctions and we believe that that is where we're going to end up once this process unfolds.
QUESTION: Do you want them to stop work on Bushehr?
MR. MCCORMACK: We believe that this is an issue for the Russians, Bushehr. This work has been ongoing for some time. In the context of this discussion about the Security Council resolution, we believe that this is not going to be an obstacle to getting a resolution. I can't tell you what that final -- what the final language might look at that deals either specifically or in general with projects like Bushehr, but we believe that this is something that we can work on, something we can work with.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss during the weekend the Russians' opposition to various aspects of the resolution, what the logic of various tactics as you call it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Did this come up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. She had these discussions. She talked about -- she talked mainly about North Korea and a variety of other issues when she stopped off in Moscow. She had meetings not only with President Putin but his entire national security council. She had dinner with them. It was actually the birthday of several of the members of the security council. So they had the ability to have a wide-ranging discussion about a variety of issues.
She met Sergei Lavrov. She met with Defense Secretary Ivanov. So she met with all the national security team. They talked about Iran. We have a pretty good understanding of where the Russian Government is on the issue of Iran and specifically on the issue of a sanctions resolution. And we believe that we're going to -- we are going to get to the point through the process of multilateral negotiations within the Security Council where we have a good, strong resolution that is passed by the Security Council.
QUESTION: A good strong resolution with teeth where you have sort of graduated sanctions or -- I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: The whole idea and logic of this strategy has been that we gradually increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran over a period of time while maintaining the unity of this core group, the P-5+1, which was assembled through the hard work and diplomacy of Secretary Rice beginning a year and a half ago. And the idea has been that we want to get a change in Iran's behavior. We acknowledge their right under the NPT to have a civilian nuclear program, but we, the world, the United States included, wants them to be able to exercise that right in a way that gives objective guarantees to the rest of the world that they're not going to try to use that program to develop a nuclear weapon, which is what we and others believe they're trying to do right now.
So we have gone through this process over the course of the past year and a half. You can really chart it back to the Secretary's first trip to Europe after taking over as Secretary of State. So we have had a lot of discussions about this process and specifically where various countries stand about the strategy as well as the tactics. So I think we have a full appreciation for where Russia is. We respect and take into account their concerns. But the net result I think at the end of this process that we are watching unfold now and I think it's going to unfold over the coming days and weeks, so we're going to get a Chapter 7, Article 41 resolution and that it's a good -- it'll be a good, strong resolution.
QUESTION: With Bushehr as the exception?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we don't think that that's going to be an obstacle to getting a resolution. I'm not going to try to comment right now on what the final outcome is and how specifically it might be dealt with in the context of a resolution. But we don't think it's going to be an obstacle to getting a resolution.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Sean, when you say this is an issue for the Russians, does that mean you're basically ceding to the Russians --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
QUESTION: -- that they can do whatever they -- you're not going to place restrictions on what they do?
MR. MCCORMACK: No -- it's -- when I said this an issue for the Russians, this is an issue that the Russians have raised. It's a concern for them. Of course, if it is a concern for them and it's something -- that is something that they want to raise, of course we're going to listen to what they have to say, as are the other members of the P-5+1. But we don't think it's mutually exclusive in terms of dealing with that particular discrete issue in the context of this resolution and getting a good strong resolution that sends the message that we intend to send to the Iranians.
QUESTION: And do you want the Russians not to provide fuel, even under their current agreement to take it back?
MR. MCCORMACK: As it stands right now, they have an agreement to construct the Bushehr reactors and to provide fuel with fuel take-back provisions. We'll see. I don't think the contract is actually -- the contract actually calls for them to deliver any fuel before I think this coming spring. So it's not really -- it's not an immediate issue that needs to be -- that you need to have a answer to -- a final answer to in the next several days or few weeks. But I would expect that this is -- would be a point of discussion among the P-5+1 as well as the Security Council as a whole. And we'll see what the outcome is. But as I said, we don't think it would be an obstacle to getting a good strong resolution.
QUESTION: Russia and Kazakhstan announced they are going to open --
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
QUESTION: Yes. It's -- well, it's linked.
MR. MCCORMACK: She's getting there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Give her time. She's getting there.
QUESTION: They are going to open an enrichment facility for countries like Iran or other countries which to buy some uranium for civilian uses. So do you think it's a good thing that they are going to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen this specific proposal, I have to tell you.
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah -- no, and I certainly don't dispute that there is an announcement. I haven't seen this -- the announcement or the specifics of it. But in general, President Bush has actually made some proposals in this regard whereby countries who want to develop civilian nuclear power, and we think it is important given the geopolitics of energy, that it is important that countries look at civilian nuclear power as an alternative to providing energy for growing populations, growing economies. And we have talked about the idea of fuel assurances. So the idea is that you have development of civilian nuclear power and you can assure those countries have an interest in that, that they will be able to get the fuel to power these reactors.
Now to address some of the proliferation concerns, what we have talked about and this -- we've talked about this with Director General ElBaradei, as well as other countries around the world. Bob Joseph is -- Under Secretary Bob Joseph is deeply involved in this program. Taking out of the equation the fuel cycle, because that's where you run into trouble in terms of questions arising whether or not a country's civilian nuclear program is in fact truly just a civilian nuclear program. So the idea is that you would in some form, and there are various ideas about how you do this, assure countries that they will be able to get fuel.
There is, to my knowledge, no shortage of nuclear fuel right now in the world for civilian nuclear power plants. Now, of course, if you expand the number there's going to be greater demand and you might have the need for more fuel. So we are talking to countries about how exactly you do that. You don't necessarily need every country to engage in reprocessing or enriching uranium. But along with that would come an obligation on those countries or groups of countries or consortiums that do provide fuel that they -- other countries that have a civilian program will have access to that fuel at a price where they can have a rationale expectation of what that will be. So that's sort of a long answer to generally how we view the topic. But we'll look into it and see if we have any particular comment on this.
QUESTION: Okay, because they say that they will be able to provide uranium, enriched uranium as soon as 2007. So I wanted to know if the timing is good for --
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll look into this specifically. And when you say enriched uranium, it's also important to note that there is a big difference between enriched uranium and the enrichment level that is required for civilian nuclear power plants and what's needed for a nuclear weapon. It's a big difference there.
QUESTION: Sean, just to clarify, perhaps I didn't hear earlier, but are you working off the U.S. draft resolution or the European draft resolution in the Security Council?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there is a draft I think that the Europeans have put forward.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have been working with them from the very beginning on that and we fully support that draft. We look forward to its adoption. I understand that there will probably be changes along the way, but we fully support this draft.
QUESTION: Because there was a draft that you had put forward, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure that there are lots of drafts. That everybody had their own draft and various elements in it. But this is a draft that the Europeans have put forward and like I said, we have fully supported that effort from the very beginning.
QUESTION: The reported comments of Minister Lavrov suggested that he felt that the draft being circulated somehow represented an abrogation of a prior agreement among the world powers. Has that sentiment been expressed to us by the Russians?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware -- not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: And just to clarify your remarks of a few moments ago where you said that the Russians had in fact clearly expressed to the United States the logic behind their objections that, as you put it, too much pressure might be placed on Iranians --
MR. MCCORMACK: Too much pressure too quickly, right.
QUESTION: Yeah. What is the logic of that objection? I don't -- in the case of North Korea, the placing of too much pressure on that regime too soon is buttressed by fears that the regime might collapse. What is the logic behind the fear of placing too much pressure too soon on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let them explain their position. But, look, you can all share the same objective. We all have the same objective here and you can -- different countries will have different approaches in terms of the diplomatic tactics that you use to achieve the shared goal, the shared end. They have talked about their -- some of their hesitations or reservations in the past, and we've talked openly with them about it both in public and private. You've heard this before.
But at the end of the day, we all know that we do have an agreement on moving forward on this pathway, going down the pathway of gradually escalating the diplomatic pressure, the stage we're at right now, a Chapter 7, Article 41, resolution. We're going to -- I'm sure there's going to be negotiating over what the specifics are in that resolution and certainly discussion about what might follow next. We would hope the next step would be that the Iranian regime would see clear that there is a united international front, the diplomatic pressure is going to increase on them, it will be inexorable if they continue down this current pathway, and that they'll see their way clear to finding a way to accept the negotiation option.
QUESTION: Is the fear that they'll withdraw from the NPT if too much pressure is put on them too soon? I just don't understand the logic that you have referred to.
MR. MCCORMACK: You've -- again, James, I think they're probably in the best position to explain their point of view. I think that they have talked about that as one of their concerns, their concerns about inspectors being allowed to continually be present in Iran. So they can better explain it, but those are some of the concerns that they've talked about.
Let's -- we'll move it around. We'll come back to you guys. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Russian already said that the Bushehr facility will be ready for next November, November 2007. My question is what's your position regarding excluding this specific case from the new resolution?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that was a little bit of what --
QUESTION: Some of --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- the folks in the front row here were asking about. And the answer is the same. We believe that we are going to be able to deal with this issue in the context of a resolution. There's going to be a lot of discussion about it, but we don't think it will be an obstacle to getting a good, strong resolution that we can fully support.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: It's on Somalia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Anything else in Iran?
QUESTION: It's something related.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Better than Somalia.
QUESTION: A South Korean newspaper said on Tuesday that the Chinese police has arrested a pair of ethnic Koreans --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- for trying to sell about 1 kilogram of uranium.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I --
QUESTION: Are you informed of such an arrest or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the news reports and I checked into it, and I can't find anything that substantiates the news report you cite. We will, of course, look into it. Very clearly, any instance of individuals trying to smuggle out material related to a nuclear weapons program, especially something like highly enriched uranium, would be of great concern to us and would be something that would be in contravention of Security Council Resolution 1718. China has pledged that they are going to take vigorous steps to enforce 1718, and we believe them. I think that they are already beginning to act in that regard.
QUESTION: But the --
MR. MCCORMACK: But this particular report I can't -- I have not to this point been able to substantiate.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on --
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, we're on North Korea.
QUESTION: Congress received a report yesterday on the counterfeiting of U.S. dollars with specific reference to North Korean Government and they're called supernotes. Do you think this report will have an even more of a negative impact on getting North Korea to return to the negotiations?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to tell you the truth, I haven't seen the report. We'll look into it for you. So I can't comment on the specifics in a report that I haven't seen. But we very clearly have been quite concerned about North Korea's illicit activities including counterfeiting of U.S. currency, and the United States is going to continue to take actions it deems appropriate to protect itself in this regard to protect its currency. And this is a very basic of function of government, protecting its own currency. And I think that any state around the world would take steps to do so.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, to what extent do you think that the supernotes have a role in the North Korean economy?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the expertise to comment on that. The folks in Treasury might be able to comment on that.
Yeah. Anything else on North Korea? Nicholas?
QUESTION: The Secretary mentioned the Glenn Amendment yesterday in her speech.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Pretty much all sanctions there could be have already been imposed on North Korea, and obviously there were some that were lifted back in 2000 related with their missile activities. Did she have anything specific in mind that the Administration is looking into?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right now we're taking a look -- the lawyers and the proliferation experts are taking a look at what the applicable sanctions might be, what is the possible universe. She mentioned the Glenn Amendment, which is actually -- there is a trigger in there any time you have a non-nuclear weapon state conducting a nuclear test, these sanctions are triggered. So I would expect in the coming period of time -- I don't have a specific date for you -- we're going to be putting out in a more formal way what those sanctions are. But as I said, the Glenn Amendment, those are basically automatic.
QUESTION: But if the Glenn Amendment was used in '98 when India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. Do you expect some of those sanctions to be similar to those?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, Nicholas, I couldn't comment. We'll try to have a little fuller explanation once we have the whole package together.
Anything else on North Korea? James?
QUESTION: The South Korean Unification Minister announced certain measures today that appear to be in line with those demanded in 1718. What is your view of those measures and what does it say about the commitment of the South Koreans to enforcement of that resolution?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it demonstrates that South Korea, like other members of the United Nations, are going to take this resolution very seriously and implementation of this resolution very seriously. That was certainly our take-away from the Secretary's trip to South Korea and her discussions.
Now each individual state in the way they implement this resolution is probably going to look a little bit different because each state will have a different kind of relationship with North Korea, and it will have different sets of national laws and it will -- each state will probably have its separate prism and how it views implementation of the resolution. But what's important is that you see a seriousness of effort on the part of individual UN member-states in implementing this resolution and that in implementing it they take a look at the core aspects of that resolution and faithfully implement the resolution.
And another important part is that you see cooperation among member-states of the UN, especially cooperation of states in that region. That's going to be very, very important because North Korea has demonstrated that it is quite deft at getting around the various national restrictions that are already in place, so it's going to be very important that member-states work closely together. That was part of the conversation that the Secretary started when she was on her trip. Bob Joseph had some follow-up meetings in each of the stops along the way -- in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow -- and those conversations are going to continue.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this quickly, Sean?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: That same minister yesterday announced he was going to resign, as did the Defense Minister of South Korea. The Foreign Minister will have to step down because of his new position at the UN. Are you concerned that perhaps -- I don't know how long it will take them to replace these ministers, but are you concerned that sort of a vacuum at this time is not a good idea to have, having to deal with North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those are matters for the South Korean Government and the South Korean people to decide. It's a matter of essentially internal domestic politics as to who fills those positions and the timing of when those positions are filled.
But we also have to remember too that there's a very experienced and strong cadre of people, professionals at the ministries, who will continue working on these issues as well. But this is a serious and high-profile enough issue that I would expect that it will have the full attention of the highest levels of the Korean Government.
QUESTION: Not at the Deputy Secretary level. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: There you go.
QUESTION: Tensions are rising in Somalia with the apparent abduction today of three Somali lawmakers and the Islamists say that they took these lawmakers because they wanted to protect them from Ethiopian forces. I just wondered, are you nervous that this is going to erupt into a sort of a full-scale sort of regional war between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia? And do you still back the transitional government in Somalia, which seems to be further weakened?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The answer to the last is yes. We are watching the situation in Somalia and, as you rightly point out, the region quite closely. Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer was recently in the region. She actually had some meetings of the Somalia Contact Group and with leaders in the region to talk about how to address the various tensions that seem to be building up not only within Somalia but also in the region involving Ethiopia and Eritrea.
So we would call upon all the interested parties, including those in the region, Somalia's neighbors, to try to take a constructive approach to getting Somalia back on its feet. This is a country that has been ravaged by violence and civil conflict for decades and it's a sad story, so we would hope that countries in the region would try to play a positive role, if there are -- take steps to reduce the existing tensions as -- and to not take any steps that would aggravate what is already a very tough, sad situation.
QUESTION: Did Jendayi Frazer meet with the Islamists? Because the Ambassador had -- from Kenya had met recently with the Islamists. Did she meet with them?
And also, when you say you would like to play a positive role, can one infer that you think that Ethiopia and Eritrea are playing -- currently playing a negative role with one side supporting the Islamists and the other side supporting the government?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not trying to -- I'm not making a value judgment at this point. But what we -- and I understand the various tensions there. There are tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea even removing Somalia from the equation. When you add Somalia into the equation, each of Ethiopia and Eritrea's various perceived equities with the various groups in Somalia, then it becomes very complex, a complex situation and one that is -- could be quite tense.
So in talking about the -- each side -- all the parties taking a constructive role, that's what I'm talking about, and not to escalate -- not to escalate the tensions and not to add to the violence that is already ongoing in Somalia and that has been ongoing for quite some time.
On your first question, let me check on what the latest information is and we'll post an answer for you.
QUESTION: So when was she there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the dates. We'll post an answer for you guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: There are various initiatives to ease the situation. One is a proposal for an African Union presence in Somalia and there's also a mediation effort led by Sudan. Do you have any thoughts on either one of these?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into those for you, George. We'll get you an answer.
Okay. Anything else on Somalia? Okay, let's go to the back of the room and we'll come back up front.
QUESTION: On Kosovo. According to a bunch of reports, Mr. McCormack, the U.S. Government yesterday dismissed Serbian claims that the referendum of October 27th and 28th in Serbia on the new constitution could restore the loss of sovereignty over Kosovo. Ambassador Frank Wisner said, "Kosovo is a Kosovo matter, an international matter. It is not a matter of Serbian sovereignty." May we have your comments since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have an answer for you. There's no change in the U.S. approach to the Kosovo status process. We continue to support UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari's efforts to arrive at an outcome that will enhance regional stability and protect the rights of all Kosovo's communities. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the outcome of the process while the UN-led negotiations are underway.
We urge both parties to be realistic about the range of likely outcomes and to understand they will need to make many compromises before this process concludes. As the Contact Group foreign minister said in September, the outcome of the status process must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo. Ministers also reaffirmed that every effort should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in 2006.
QUESTION: But your Ambassador is saying exactly the opposite, that Kosovo is not a matter of Serbian territory or sovereignty.
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a statement of our policy.
QUESTION: And one more question. The NATO Secretary General is going to meet tomorrow President Bush at the White House in order to discuss inter alia how the U.S. is going to spread democracy and freedom in the Balkans, which already exists anyway. Do you know if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be present at the meeting and if Dr. Rice is planning to see him separately in order to discuss the same matter?
MR. MCCORMACK: I expect that she will be present at the meeting between President Bush and the NATO Secretary General. As for a separate meeting, check the public schedule. I think she probably will be. I would expect that they will have conversations about a lot of different issues, including the Balkans, Afghanistan as well as other issues of common concern.
QUESTION: On Cyprus?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe that Ambassador Wisner was misquoted?
MR. MCCORMACK: I -- you know, I can't say, Arshad. I can't say. All I can say is this is a statement of our policy and our position.
QUESTION: On Cyprus. According to a yesterday dispatch from AFP news agency, the Cyprus government described as 'shocking' a report by a U.S.-based groups of "defense and foreign affairs" based in Virginia, saying inter alia that some Greek Cypriots, Mr. McCormack, who were captured during the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus in 1974 were used as guinea pigs in biochemical laboratories in Turkey. I am wondering if you have anything on that at all, if you could say anything on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen such a report.
QUESTION: Can you take this question?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll certainly look into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you. On sales to Taiwan, the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan Stephen Young held a press conference in Taipei yesterday and delivered the message that Taiwan needs to pass the USD $18 billion arms budget in this fall's legislative session. We know the U.S. has urged Taiwan to pass this budget for years. Why all of a sudden does the U.S. feel the urgency to give Taiwan a deadline? Any new decision being made?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you the particular reason for the timing of Mr. Young's remarks, only that it is, as you noted, a reiteration of what we have urged those authorities to do over a period of time. I can't speak to the timing of his remarks though.
QUESTION: And does --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to move on. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sean, this is Golam Arshad of the Bangladesh Journalist. A question on Bangladesh. It is a very grim situation now with the talk between the two major parties being stalled forever and they have vowed to go into the street to decide the fate of their issues concerning issues. There is, according to this, the present government's course looks very grim, even worse. The Prime Minister's son -- now, these are all press reports -- have stashed over billions of dollars with his cronies. Senior ministers and members of parliament, including the top government officials are involved in the Prime Minister's office in scamming millions of dollars. Jemaah Islamiya, the right-wing, Islamic based party, is involved or -- these are again press allegations -- in supporting the banned JMB and they have been proven to support their Sheikh Abdul Rahman, (inaudible) in the past. They are now in jail.
Under this backdrop, Sean, is the State Department worried that if this money somehow ends up in wrong hands, it may even change the texture of Bangladesh being a moderate Muslim democratic state to an almost failed Islamic radical state sitting next to India, the largest democracy, where India and Pakistan is now squaring off peacefully. We are now in the hinge of another militancy brewing up on the southern shores of the Bay of Bengal. So, Sean, I would leave this to you for your comment. And if you can comment right away, that's fine. If not, could you please take this question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, there's a lot -- there's a lot in there and there's -- you're making a quite a few -- quite a few leaps of logic that I'm not sure I can follow you -- follow down that pathway with you. I can only restate a few general principles. The questions of domestic politics and how the domestic politics of Bangladesh are arranged are a matter for the Bangladeshi people to decide. Very clearly, good governance is a bedrock principle of any democracy. I can't speak to these specific press allegations. I have nothing before me that would necessarily substantiate them. Again, a matter for the Bangladeshi people to resolve themselves.
As for the issue of terrorism, Bangladesh has recently -- and I would say over the past months going back a year or two -- has experienced terrorism. And we certainly stand with any government that is in a fight against terrorism. It's a serious issue. I know it's a serious issue for the Bangladeshi Government. But again, how they do -- how they engage in that fight within the context of their democratic laws and the context of their constitution is one for them to decide.
QUESTION: According to a Nigeria newspaper, the State Department sent a letter to President Obasanjo to express concern about the political situation in the country. Can you confirm that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, didn't happen.
MR. MCCORMACK: Didn't happen. Asked about it. Said flat untrue.
QUESTION: We are running a story today quoting local Afghan leaders as saying that at least 50 and in some cases estimates of 60 civilians were killed in a NATO bombardment in southern Afghanistan earlier this week on Tuesday. The sources include people who have visited some of the wounded in the hospital. And they say that the majority of the civilians killed were women and children. Does it not make your effort to pacify Afghanistan and to push back the Taliban much harder if there are such incidents where significant numbers of civilians get killed?
MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, I can't vouch for the accuracy of that report. You know, I don't know. I think the NATO commanders on the ground would be in the best position to address the veracity of that report.
In a variety of places around the world where international forces are engaged in combat operations, there have been instances where there have been losses of civilian life. Every time that happens, it is investigated; and if there is a intent to harm civilians, those responsible are held to account. I don't -- off the top of my head, I can't recall any incidents where in fact there has been a finding of actual intent to harm civilians.
It is a tragedy when innocent life is lost in any of these kinds of conflicts, whether it's in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. And I can tell you that U.S. forces take every possible precaution, erring on the side of safety any time a question arises where innocent life may be lost as a result of military combat operations. Now, I would suspect that NATO and NATO forces have those same kind of rules of engagement, but the NATO force commanders are probably in a better position to precisely describe to the extent they can their rules of engagement and the steps that they take to protect innocent life in the execution of combat operations.
QUESTION: The European Parliament today named the Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich winner of 2006 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll probably have a statement for you on that.
QUESTION: I'm sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)
DPB # 173
Released on October 26, 2006