State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 27, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 27, 2006
Bilateral Relationship / Recent Agreements
U.S. Concern for Military Buildup
Search for Alternative Sources of Gas / Gas Contracts
Prime Minister Olmert ’s Comments on Peace and Two-State Solution
Challenges to Ceasefire
Secretary ’s Travel to the Region / Forum for the Future
U.S. Works to Encourage Forces of Stability and Moderation to Help
Resolve Conflicts in Region
Query on Syrian and Iranian Efforts to Quell Insurgency
Iraq Study Group / Internal Government Review
Possibilities for Bilateral Talks with Iran and Syria
President Talabani ’s Visit to Iran
UK Minister of Defense ’s Comments on Troop Withdrawal from Iraq
Possible Italian and Polish Troop Withdrawal from Iraq
Capability of Iraqi Forces / Level of Violence / Not a Civil War
National Reconciliation Plan
Status of UN Resolution
Basis for Recent Warden Messages
Working to Prevent Wider Instability in the Area
Presidential Election / Bilateral Relations
Assistant Secretary Hill ’s Meetings
Congressional Passage of U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement
12:37 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: I have one. Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: You weren't quick enough on the trigger. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Sean, are we worried or is the Secretary worried about the expansion -- military expansion by China especially now the signing of the nuclear and defense treaties with Pakistan? And also some experts are saying China may become the future of Soviet -- threat like Soviet Union to the U.S.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we encourage development of bilateral relations between Pakistan and its neighbors. Look, you know, China and Pakistan have a long history of relations. As for any sort of nuclear angle on this, I'm not aware of anything new that was announced or is allowed for by these agreements other than what was already grandfathered in by the Nuclear Suppliers Group so I don't think there's anything new on that front.
We would ask that China play a constructive role in the international community. China is a growing power on the world stage, is developing economically, diplomatically, politically and militarily. Former Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick has asked that China be a responsible stakeholder in the international system. So that is our encouragement and our desire for China. China's going to be an important power on the international scene for some time to come. And we would hope that as it develops and as it defines its future role on the international stage that it plays a constructive role.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow. In the past, Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Dr. Rice and many other experts also had a concern about military expansion by the Chinese around the globe.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So where do we stand today -- a threat to the U.S. security or other allies?
MR. MCCORMACK: The way it was put is we are concerned about their military build up. We believe that it is outsized for their stated regional issues that they need to take on or they need to address. The main issue that we have had is an issue of lack of transparency in that build up. We have encouraged over time more military-to-military relations between the U.S. and China so that we become more familiar with one another, so that we know -- we understand better how each other operates, what our objectives are, what our strategies are, what our tactics are so there are no misunderstandings. And that is something that is slowly developing. There was recently a joint search and rescue mission exercise between U.S. forces and Chinese forces, so that's positive development. These are things that are going to take some time, again as China starts to define itself differently on the world stage.
QUESTION: Could you comment on the report -- from a Georgia newspaper that says that U.S. Ambassador to Georgia has warned against a long-term contract for natural gas with Iran. Have you heard this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen those comments. I'm happy to look into it for you.
QUESTION: Anything generally on that contract between Georgia and Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any specific contracts. I know that the Georgian Government has been seeking alternative sources of gas. They've had some commercial disagreements with Gazprom, with Russia, over the price of natural gas flowing into Georgia. I believe they're still in discussions, or at least as of last week they were still in discussions to work out what the price of that gas would be. As a contingency, I know that the Georgian Government had put in place other contracts anticipating that this sort of thing might happen with Gazprom. I'm not aware of the specifics of it, whether those contracts are with Iran or with others.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's speech today and his extending of an olive branch?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think this combined with the announcement of a ceasefire are certainly welcomed developments, potentially promising. Prime Minister Olmert I think has -- through this speech and through his remarks demonstrated that he is truly interested in the dialogue that would lead to a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. He has offered up a political horizon to the Palestinians to negotiate in good faith. That's certainly promising.
But again, before you get to that point, there are obstacles. There are obstacles that need to be overcome. We all know what those are. He in his remarks tried to address one of those: the return of Corporal Shalit. We have called for the return of Corporal Shalit. Ultimately if there's a follow through on the proposal that Prime Minister Olmert has talked about in terms of releasing Palestinian prisoners that is something the Israelis and the Palestinians would have to work out. But I think as a more general statement, we are -- we do find it promising that he has talked about the political horizon that exists out there, and we ourselves have done what we can to help each of the parties think about and work through the various obstacles that are out there that are in the way of resuming a political horizon so that you can resolve any differences that you may have through dialogue and not through the use of violence.
QUESTION: Within a couple of hours of his speech, as I'm sure you're aware, there were rocket attacks into Israel despite the ceasefire that has been declared and responsibility was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades which at least in theory fall underneath Fatah. You know, can you elaborate a little bit on the obstacles that you see? Presumably they would include the Hamas-led government and the continuation of violence.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I can't speak to the current command-and-control relationship between al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and what other political entities. I know that that has been conventional wisdom. I can't speak to that. I don't know that.
As for the various obstacles out there, one of them certainly is a Hamas-led government that has not met the Quartet conditions for realizing a political dialogue that eventually leads to a two-state solution. Therefore, Hamas is an obstacle to the Palestinian people realizing -- potentially realizing their own state.
Another obstacle are the -- those rejectionist groups who would use violence to try to derail any sort of hopeful development, sort of potentially hopeful developments. There are always going to be those, those extremists, a small group of people who want to use violence to try to stymie any efforts to bring the parties together. They have their own reasons for doing those things, none of which make any sense to most people on the outside world.
So in terms of the ceasefire, we would hope that there won't be challenges to it. But I think that, as you mentioned just now, there probably will be challenges to it, and it is up to the Palestinian security forces to stop those kinds of attacks, to make sure that this doesn't happen, and that the -- both parties do everything that they can to live up to the conditions of the ceasefire agreement that the two side reached together.
QUESTION: Can I ask you just two quick things. You don't hold President Abbas in any way, then, responsible for the continuation of violence or for the failure to prevent it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, you're talking about a command-and-control relationship that I don't know it exists. And you know, there are all sorts of claims of responsibility, so I can't speak to that. We have been working with President Abbas to beef up the security forces under his control. We believe that if we are going to overcome some of those obstacles that I had talked about, that a robust professional disciplined Palestinian security force is going to be an important part of that.
Now we -- in terms of Hamas, we don't work with them. They're a terrorist organization. And any sort of forces that would fall under their control, we don't work with. But there are certain groups of forces that fall under the control of President Abbas. Now those -- I understand from news reports that there are -- that some of those forces have deployed to the north of Gaza. That is the first time that they have -- they would have been deployed to the north of Gaza since the Israelis withdrew. That is certainly -- well, that would be a very positive development. We would hope that those forces would act to prevent any such rocket attacks. This is, you know, the ceasefire is still very fresh. We hope that those security forces, as they get in place, would stop any such rocket attacks or any terrorist attacks that might be emanating from Gaza.
The hope is that if you can get this ceasefire to work which applies only to Gaza that you could potentially expand that to the West Bank at some point, but you have to make this ceasefire work before you can even get to that point -- even think about getting to that point.
QUESTION: The Secretary is going to the Middle East this week.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Can you give us some details on the agenda there? What is she doing exactly?
QUESTION: Beyond the statement that you released this morning and if you could elaborate on the other meetings she's going to have.
MR. MCCORMACK: A couple things. One, first of all, as the trip was originally envisaged, the centerpiece of it was going to be the Forum for the Future and that certainly remains a very important component. Jordan and Russia are co-chairing this year's meeting. And I think it is very heartening to see now that we have a dialogue on building democratic institutions in the Middle East, on expanding freedom of expression and other freedoms in the Middle East, now that you have parties not only from Europe but in the Middle East that are invested now in that process.
I remember just back a few years ago where there was even -- there was hesitancy to even attend this meeting or who was going to host it. Now you have next year's -- you have the next meetings' co-chairs already lined up. And that's very encouraging. That says something about some of the positive ferment that is ongoing in the Middle East. There are positive changes in the Middle East. You see that in terms of the franchise to vote in many places. In some places now, women are able to vote, they're able to run for elective office. You have in many places the beginnings of a free participatory democracy and that's very encouraging. These are initial steps.
So I think that this year's meeting of the Forum for the Future really does mark an institutionalization of this dialogue of these efforts. I don't think you're going to see a turning back. This is something that is going to continue. So she's going to be participating in those meetings at the Forum for the Future.
Now, the President, since we first talked about going to the Dead Sea for the Forum for the Future, the President announced that he was going to be meeting with Prime Minister Maliki. So she's going to be accompanying the President down to Amman to meet with Prime Minister Maliki. I think that the President will also see King Abdullah of Jordan as well while they're in Amman, so she'll be accompanying him for those meetings.
We may have additions to the schedule. We'll see. That is always the possibility on the Secretary's travel and especially when she's traveling to the Middle East.
In terms of other meetings, we are just talking about bilateral meetings. I don't have a full list of those for you. I realize that those who are going to be accompanying the Secretary meeting up with her in Jordan are going to be leaving tomorrow. We'll try to get you a little better idea of some of those meetings, but I would also caution that while we're on the ground that we may have others that are laid on the schedule.
QUESTION: The two that interest me the most, I suspect Sylvie too, are whether or not she would hope to meet President Abbas or Prime Minister Olmert or Foreign Minister Livni regardless of where those meetings --
QUESTION: Or all together.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Like I said, we'll keep you -- nothing on the schedule as it stands. We'll try to keep you up to date if there are other meetings or there are any of stops along the way.
QUESTION: There's a rumor, and I characterize it as nothing more than that -- it surfaces every month or so -- that she might go to Libya. Can you put a stake through the heart of that rumor?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are no plans on this trip to go to Libya.
QUESTION: And do you think a meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas could be possible soon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Soon? A meeting between -- well, look, that's going to be up to the two of them ultimately. They have met in the past. And as for when they might meet again, that's going to be up to them. You want to -- if they do at some point in the future get together, you want to make sure that that is a well-prepared, productive meeting and that the two leaders have some real issues that they might be able to hammer out or make progress on. But in terms of a judgment about that moment, when that moment is, that will be up to the Israelis and the Palestinians.
QUESTION: And will Prime Minister Olmert participate in the Forum for the Future?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe the Prime Minister is, no. No.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: Anything for the GCC+2 with Secretary Rice in Jordan on Thursday?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll -- like I said, we'll keep you up to date other than the meetings that I've talked about.
Okay, yeah, right here in the middle.
QUESTION: Anything (inaudible) regarding Iran and Syria helping to solving the insurgency problem in Iraq? Are you seeing any new development? Have you any new comment on it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen anything new, any real qualitative changes. I know that the Syrian Foreign Minister traveled to Iraq. But beyond that, I haven't seen anything. Nothing I can comment on. No.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) New York Times story this morning saying that the Iraq Study Group is leaning toward a recommendation that the United States reengage more significantly with Syria and Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: I assume -- so I'm asking you has your position on that changed at all, in other words that you're not willing to talk to Iran except in the circumstances already described regarding its nuclear program?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, a couple of things. There is a, you know, an interest in news stories speculating on what the Iraq Study Group might decide it recommends on before it has actually met. I don't know. We'll see what -- let's give them the time to sort through what it is that they want to include in their report and what they don't want to include. The President has talked about the fact that we'll see their report and their ideas in due course and take a good solid look at them.
Meanwhile, internally here we do have our own U.S. Government reviews that are ongoing. The State Department has contributed to those. Secretary Rice has done a lot of thinking about this issue over the past couple of months. She's feeding her ideas and the ideas that we've generated here at the State Department into that process. So I would -- and that is being run by the White House folks over at the White House because you have a number of different agencies that are feeding into it.
So we'll see what the Iraq Study Group comes up with. We'll see what the results of our internal review are. Before that point, I'm not going to try to prejudge either the outcome of a congressionally mandated and supported working group, the Baker-Hamilton Study Group, or what the U.S. Government is going to come up with. But in terms of our ability to meet with Iran and Syria and to communicate with them, there are various fora, as I've pointed out in the past, where we have sat in the same room with them on Iraq. I would expect that at some point the compact process, in the course of the compact process, there are going to be other meetings in which we will all be sitting in the same room together. With Syria and Iran clearly we have a different kind of diplomatic relationship with each of them: With Iran we don't have one; with Syria we do have one, we can communicate with them.
Ultimately though, neither Syria nor Iran should need any sort of incentive to try to play a positive, transparent role in Iraq's development. It should be in their interest to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous Iraq on their borders. There certainly are concerns, as stated by the Iraqi Government, about the role of Syria and Iran, both active as well as passive, in actions that have contributed to the violence in Iraq. You would think that -- and again, this is -- these are Iraqi citizens, fellow Muslims, that are being killed in the course of this, in the course of this violence. And you would think that fellow Muslim states would have an interest in seeing an Iraq that starts to see the level of violence diminish and to see greater stability and prosperity in that country. They shouldn't need any sort of incentive from the outside to do that, to play that kind of positive role.
QUESTION: Without asking you to comment on a report that hasn't yet been issued though, is it still your position that you -- that the U.S. Government, for now at least, intends only to deal with Iran in the context of the nuclear issue and the conditions that have been described, giving up reprocessing and uranium enrichment activities, or the multilateral gatherings through the compact or whatever that may or may not happen? But in other words, I want to just establish that your policy remains the same now, that you have no intention of engaging with them outside the kinds of circumstances that you've described, in other words --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, you're trying to get into a backdoor way of saying, well, what are you -- what do -- prejudge the outcome of Baker-Hamilton or the --
QUESTION: No, I'm not. I'm asking what the policy is now. I'm asking what the policy is.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know what the policy is. We have tried to -- we have talked about the fact that you have on the nuclear front -- there's an offer on the table there. In terms of Iraq, there is the Iraq compact mechanism. In the past, there has been the possibility of a channel between Zal Khalilzad and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad. That's certainly a mechanism that, should we choose to avail ourselves of it, that is possible. So there are a lot of different ways to communicate with Iran, a lot of different ways to communicate with Syria, but at the moment I'm not going to try to prejudge what the outcome of either the Baker-Hamilton group work is or of the U.S. Government internal view.
QUESTION: But you don't have any plans to activate -- I mean, you don't have any plans to go down that path right now, activating, for example, the Khalilzad --
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, if we should choose to avail ourselves of it, it's a channel that's open. Well, it's a channel that's available. I wouldn't say open. That's the wrong word.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Talabani is going to visit Iran. Do you have any reaction about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me? President Talabani is --
QUESTION: He's going to visit to Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: To Iran. Well, it's what states do -- neighboring states do when you have the exchange of visitors, high-level visitors. Prime Minister Maliki has visited Iran as well. Again, you'll have to ask the Iraqis about what message President Talabani is going to be bringing with him to talk to the Iranians about. I would assume that part of it deals with Iran playing a positive role in Iraq as opposed to the role that it is playing now.
QUESTION: Sean, Jordan's King Abdullah has --
QUESTION: Sorry. Can I just follow up on that before we get to another subject, if possible?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Just that the Iraq Compact Group, there are no -- there's no situation whereby you would have a bilateral, is there, with Iran or Syria and Iran Compact Group? You talk to Iran or Syria directly.
MR. MCCORMACK: We haven't done it in the past. I'm not going to -- you know, again, this is a way of getting at, you know, what is Baker-Hamilton going to propose, what are the findings of the Iraq Study Group of the U.S. Government internal review going to be? As I said, you know, we have this international fora. We sit with them in international fora. I can't tell you what configuration those different fora might take, what the membership might be, for example, in the Iraq Compact Group. So again, there are a number of different possibilities in terms of the configuration of -- configurations of the Iraq Compact Group. But at the moment, we have not had any bilateral contact with Iran or Syria in those groups.
QUESTION: But it's possible that you could have?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know -- (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just want to follow up on the idea. I mean, outside of the Baker-Hamilton Group, I mean, there is a growing chorus of congressmen, foreign policy, former Secretaries of State.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. It's great to be on the outside, you know. It's great to be in a think tank, you know.
QUESTION: Well, members of Congress aren't --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) All right. You know, I look forward to that day in one --
QUESTION: Well, when you're a congressman, maybe you can --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, maybe you know, if I can join a think tank if somebody would actually have me in a think tank.
QUESTION: I'm sure they will, Sean.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: There's a growing chorus of voices that say that not only in Iraq, but you also have, you know, what's going on in Lebanon, you have the Palestinian issue and that Iran and Syria are forces in the region that have significant influence that need to be dealt with as part of your -- a more comprehensive approach to the region. I mean, what is your opinion on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, we are working with forces for moderation and forces that are interested in resolving differences peacefully via a negotiating table. I think that the Secretary has sat down with in the past somebody asked about the GCC+2. It's a Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt and Jordan to talk about these issues, talk about Israeli-Palestinian issues, to talk about Iran, to talk about Iraq, to talk about Lebanon. At the moment, Syria and Iran have not been forces for stability or moderation in the region. So you know, while -- you know, I have obviously read all the news reports and op-eds and speeches and everything else that's coming out about talk to Iran, talk to Iran. You know, as I've said before, as others have said before, talking isn't a policy. You know, you have to actually want to have a rational expectation that you can achieve something and that you have the conditions set for making progress in whenever you engage in that kind of discussion.
We have laid out a proposal, for example, on the nuclear front where we believe that the conditions would be right to sit down with Iran in the context of the P-5+1, if they met, if they stopped all their enrichment related and reprocessing related activities. So it's not a matter of -- it's not a matter of "talking." I mean, there are possibilities to do that. We have talked about the fact that in the P-5+1, sure, other issues can be raised. The focus is -- is the nuclear issue but you can -- all the parties can raise various other issues. For example, human rights concerns about the way Iran treats its people, about its support for terrorism. Maybe they would have issues that they would want to raise vis-Ã -vis the United States or others in the P-5+1. That certainly is a possibility. So the possibility of talk exists. But we have laid out the conditions in the very specific case on the nuclear portfolio what needs to happen in order to realize that. And so you know, you can't -- you know, talk for talk's sake is not going to get anybody anywhere. It's not going to solve any of the problems that people are talking about.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) we don't have that rational expectation now and you said to do that you would have to rational expectation that something would change, and that rational expectation you simply don't have now. You don't have a sense --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I was using the example of the nuclear portfolio. And certainly on that front you haven't seen any willingness at this point for Iran to cooperate, hence, the road that we're going down with the Security Council and working on the sanctions resolution. I don't think that in any of the public statements from Iran that you have seen any willingness at this point to change its behavior across a variety of different fronts.
QUESTION: Including Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Haven't seen any change in behavior on that front, no.
QUESTION: Britain has announced plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2007. Do you have any comment about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think that's exactly what the Minister of Defense said. He said that -- he talked about the fact that, conditions permitting, that there could possibly be a drawdown in terms of the level of British troops. He -- but he talked about the fact that that was within the conditions on the ground permitting. So I don't think that he was sending a hard drawdown time and certainly didn't talk about any hard numbers. But that's going to be a decision for them to make. It's going to be a decision for the UK's political leaders in consultations with their military people to make.
QUESTION: Poland and Italy apparently also are removing their troops, Italy soon and Poland also within the next year.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, those are going to be individual decisions that those countries have to make. They -- I'm certain that they are consulting with the Iraqi Government on this. You know, the Iraqi forces are getting more capable over time. They're getting larger numbers of them. But, you know, we can't make a decision for the UK or Italy or Poland about their troop levels. We certainly honor the sacrifices that each of those countries have made and their participation in the current efforts right now in Iraq is very important. In terms of what the future holds, you know, we've talked about what the conditions might be in the future. We, of course, ourselves don't want to have the current level of troops forever. But the President has said that we are committed to the Iraqi Government, to the Iraqi people and that our troop levels are going to be determined by what the commanders say, and the commanders are going to take a look at what the conditions on the ground are.
QUESTION: But it's sounding more and more like the timetable is a little bit -- in Britain, maybe you're saying that they haven't set a hard, fast idea, but I mean, they're talking about within the next year and there's a lot of pressure now for some very specific ideas about when troops will come home.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, when you're talking about the UK, they're going to make their own decisions about that. Their political leadership, in consultation with their military people, are going to make those decisions. I was just pointing out that the Minister of Defense comments were actually a little bit less definitive than you portrayed in your question.
QUESTION: What makes you say that the Iraqi forces are getting more capable?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: What makes you say that the Iraqi forces are getting more capable?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you talk to our military folks and you -- I mean, it only stands to reason that they participate in more operations with our people, that they -- and as they are deployed into troubled areas they do get more capable. That is the way that all military forces operate. They train and they're actually involved in military operations; you become more capable over time.
QUESTION: The reason I ask is that it seems as if the violence gets worse, and I think that is backed up by the statistics on the number of deaths last week -- obviously there was, I think, the worst single day level of casualties from a series of incidents, and so it was just not clear -- I mean, I suppose it's possible they're getting more capable and the insurgents are getting even more active and therefore it's outstripping the capability of the Iraqi forces, but it just wasn't clear to me based on what metric one could say the Iraqi forces are more capable now --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you're talking --
QUESTION: -- that the violence has gone up.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you're also talking about -- and for a more definitive view of the violence and where it is, you should talk to the military folks, the Iraqis and our guys in Baghdad. But my understanding is a lot of this, a lot of the violence that you're talking about, is actually occurring in Baghdad. Now, we all know that Baghdad is very important in terms of addressing the issues of stability and violence in Iraq. There are many areas in Iraq where the violence is lower, that the situation is much, much better. You go up to the north and it's a much different situation than you see in Baghdad.
So you know, again, I'm not going to try to undersell the difficulties and the challenges and the violence that's ongoing in Iraq. We can see that. We can see it on your television screens. There is another reality in Iraq as well outside of Baghdad. There are troubled areas outside of Baghdad. But it is not -- it is a -- it is not precisely the picture you see on your TV screens every single night.
QUESTION: But there have (inaudible) that the State Department has carried out which is feeding into that White House review.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And can you tell us what stage that is at? Has it been completed essentially as far as you're concerned here and now it's a decision for the White House to --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's not -- it's not a sort of serial thing like that. The Secretary has participated in meetings over at the White House. Our folks have been talking to folks at the White House as well as over at DOD and the CIA and other -- all the other parts of the U.S. Government that are participating in this. So I'll let the White House talk about where they think they are in the process. We're feeding into this, but it's not like you just put down a piece of paper on the table and that's it, that people don't have any other questions. So it's a little bit more organic I think than that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Libby.
QUESTION: As far as --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we have -- Joel, we'll get back to you. That's right. You've been preempted.
QUESTION: As far as conditions on the ground, Kofi Annan said today that Iraq was almost there, talking about a civil war, close to a civil war. What's your reaction to that? Do you agree? Are you concerned about civil war?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're concerned about the level of sectarian violence and other types of violence that are ongoing in Iraq. I know that there's been a lot of talk about Iraq and civil war, especially today. It's not our view and more importantly it's not the view of Prime Minister Maliki. And I think that he would be in the best position to judge such things that are occurring on the ground in Iraq rather than us sitting here in New York or Washington.
So, you know, again it is the -- some of the violence you see it is terrible. When -- and you realize that each of those people that lose their lives have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children, and that is a terrible thing to watch. But there are Iraqis, many, many Iraqis, who want to see a better day for their country and who are working on behalf of their country to see that better day. You see a lot of them in the Iraqi Government. You see -- you saw those millions of people who voted for this Iraqi Government or some Iraqi Government in the hopes that they would see a brighter future.
We are convinced that someday that will come about. These are very difficult times right now. We all know what the obstacles are, but we believe that ultimately the Iraqi people will prevail. Everybody wants a more stable environment where they can send their kids to school and they can actually realize some better future for themselves, some better horizon for themselves and for their country. So we are committed to working with them so that they can realize that better future one day.
QUESTION: Can you say why you don't believe that Iraq is in a civil war? I mean just to go back to Arshad's question on metrics, I mean by what standard are you saying that this isn't a civil war because by all accounts of historians and how the modern day civil war has been defined, I mean Iraq in terms of the number of deaths and the number of groups that are fighting each other would indicate that Iraq has been in some type of low-level civil war for many, many months.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again --
QUESTION: I mean, are you comparing it to the American Civil War? Because that's obviously a very different metric.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, there are other -- you know, look, you can -- you talk to the folks who know these things, who study these things, who study history and they look at examples from the Mai Lai insurgency to the American Civil War to other kinds of insurgencies and violent conflicts and the judgment is that that is not what we're -- that we are not seeing in Iraq right now a civil war. And as I pointed out, that is not the judgment of Prime Minister Maliki; it's not the judgment of our government. I know that various people are turning out various statistics and saying that, you know, a certain level of violence means that you're in a civil war. We just don't believe -- we don't believe that that -- the situation on the ground in Iraq is something that you could use the term civil war to describe.
QUESTION: Just one more. Over the weekend when there was so much violence, especially in Sadr City, there were a lot of reports about how the Mahdi Army and militias were the ones actually providing services and trying to recover victims and those type of things in fact that the government was not. And I mean you've spoken about the need to crack down on militias, but is there any way to kind of work with the militias to help provide security and safety in the country because there are some people, many people in Iraq that are saying that it's in fact these militias, the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigades that are actually providing them with their security right now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, you talked about the Mahdi Army and the other groups. There are a plethora of these militias. And you talked about the Mahdi Army in particular, I don't think that that is a monolithic entity. In terms of the plan for dealing with militias, the Prime Minister Maliki and his government are working on a national reconciliation plan because ultimately you have to address the issue in all of its various aspects, economic, political and as well as other aspects if you're going to finally bring all the elements of Iraqi society together. So they are working on that issue, on a plan to address the issue of militias as well as other issues.
Ultimately, how that gets sorted out and how they deal with it is going to be up to the Iraqis. We -- you can't impose a plan on them. You can't sort of waive a wand and say here's the plan and it's going to work. If it's going to work, then it has to be the Iraqis that develop it and the Iraqis that actually deal with the issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Because King Abdullah of Jordan is hosting this, he's just come out with an ominous warning talking, as you just have, about regional instability, greater violence not just in Iraq but also greater Lebanon, Palestinian areas and of course Israel. Would you be opposed to bringing in outside forces, meaning Arab armies and police, for instance from Egypt, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other locations, rather than wait a length of time to train the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, in other words bring existing forces in from elsewhere?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure anybody's talking about that plan, Joel. I think the -- everybody's focus is on getting the Iraqi forces both greater in number and more importantly greater in their capabilities.
QUESTION: If I could follow-up on that question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yes. We'll get back to you.
QUESTION: King Abdullah actually said that the conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Lebanon were more urgent than Iraq. Would you have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they -- I think for the people on the ground, the Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Iraqis, these are all urgent issues that need to be addressed. We are dealing with them each in their own right. They are unique. Each of these is unique. The particular circumstances in Iraq are very different than you will find in the Palestinian areas, and those are very different than you will find in the Lebanese -- in Lebanon. One threat, however, that runs through all of these is that you have on one side of the line states that are interested in finding a -- finding political solutions and are forces for moderation in the region; on the other side of the line you have states like Iran and Syria and the various associated groups with them -- Hezbollah, Hamas and other rejectionist groups -- who are interested in promoting instability and promoting instability through the use of violence and derailing any efforts that are favored by the majority of people in the region to find a peaceful resolution to the various conflicts that exist in each of those areas.
So our role in this is to do what we can in each of those areas to try to find -- help the people involved come up with solutions that will promote greater stability, greater peace, greater prosperity and generally just a better way of life for people in all of those areas. We're doing that by working very closely with other -- with Arab states in the region who have an interest in that. You have Jordan, you have Egypt, you have Saudi Arabia as well as other states that have an interest in seeing a more peaceful region where differences are resolved via negotiating table, via diplomacy, rather than through the use of car bombs and suicide bombers. Sadly, there are states that don't have that interest at heart. So we are in each of those various cases doing what we can to promote those -- encourage those forces of stability and moderation.
QUESTION: So you don't agree that King Abdullah, when he says that making progress on the Israeli-Palestinian problem would withdraw some fuel to these extremist --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we are dealing with each of these issues in their own right. As I said, the one common thread that runs throughout this are that there are forces for extremism in the region who are interested in promoting instability; there are others who want to see a more stable, peaceful region and we're working with them.
QUESTION: Are you considering any new tactics or strategies to weaken Syria and Iran from their offensive on these three problems?
MR. MCCORMACK: Any new strategy or tactics?
QUESTION: I mean, Syria and Iran are progressing, you know. It means they are (inaudible) on Lebanon, Iraq, with the Palestinians, and The Washington Post had an editorial yesterday said they are igniting these wars against the U.S. in these areas.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I'm not sure I would characterize it as against the U.S. Unfortunately, the victims of this violence and extremism in the region are the people who live there, are Muslims and Christians and Jews and Arab neighbors. They're the victims. They're the victims of the violence promoted by Iran and Syria and the various associated groups.
As I pointed out, in a very interesting way they actually find themselves much more isolated from all of their neighbors in the region right now than they did not, you know, nine months ago, a year ago.
So what we are doing, our strategy is to work with those states in the region who have an interest in promoting peace and moderation and prosperity and to work on each of the various issue areas in their own right -- Iraq, Lebanon as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
QUESTION: And what is the update on the sanction resolution at the UN?
MR. MCCORMACK: The --
QUESTION: The update on the talks to produce a resolution against Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Still working on it. Still working on it. We went past Charlie's Thanksgiving date. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I change subjects?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Go ahead and change the subject.
QUESTION: On Somalia, the Somali Islamists say that two letters that describe the possibility of suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia and that led to the State Department's decision to issue its warning are fakes. They say that whoever wrote the letters or put them up couldn't even get the letterhead right. Do you believe that the letters are fakes or may have been fakes?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you, Arshad. I don't know. But talking to our security folks about this, what they tell me is that they had multiple sources of information that went into these warden messages that went out, so they didn't rely on just one source of information.
QUESTION: On Somalia?
QUESTION: On -- yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, Dave.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you check on whether --
QUESTION: This group put out a statement today saying that a UN resolution the United States intends to introduce later this week apparently will authorize a regional security force to help the Transitional Authority in Somalia. They say that this scheme would upset the entire region. Is their premise correct? I mean, what are the U.S. plans vis-Ã -vis the United Nations in Somalia, if any?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check on you --
MR. CASEY: I addressed that on Wednesday.
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
MR. CASEY: We addressed that at the last briefing.
MR. MCCORMACK: Casey talked about it.
QUESTION: Can you check, Sean, on whether -- I believe -- I fully understand that there were multiple sources that went into those Warden messages, but can you check on whether you have come to the conclusion that those letters may have been fake?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll see what the security guys can tell me about it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie.
QUESTION: If I can go back to Dave's question. We spoke last week about this regional force, but this is the International Crisis Group criticizing the position of U.S. and saying that this deployment of a regional force would trigger a war, a regional war.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, it must be nice to be in a think tank on the outside. Look, we're -- yeah, we are actually working very closely with the -- a number of other states that have an interest in trying to address the multitude of challenges that face Somalia. And nobody wants to see any of this spread into wider instability in the region. I think that there are probably some in the region who would like to try to use the situation in Somalia to try to promote greater instability in the region, in the Horn of Africa. We're working with a number of different states with the Somalia Contact Group on a number of different strategies to try to see that that doesn't happen. And part of that involves strengthening the Transitional Federal Institutions in Somalia, which admittedly are at the moment not very strong.
So we have an interest in seeing greater stability in the Horn of Africa. We do have a strategy. We are working with other interested states as well as neighbors, neighbors in the region. And you know, with due deference to their opinion, we believe we're pursuing the right strategy.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: You got it.
QUESTION: On Ecuador. Mr. Correa seems poised to win the election from yesterday. He's been having a lot of anti-U.S. rhetoric lately, called President Bush dimwitted, said that he planned on ending military cooperation in the war on drugs. How do you think a win by Mr. Correa would affect your goals in the region? He's also been tied very closely to President Chavez and is eyeing some of the nationalization of natural resources in the country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, a couple things. One, although I know the polls indicate that he has a substantial lead, they have not yet certified the results of the election so for form's sake I'm not going to comment on a final outcome of the election, although it would appear that in Ecuador that it's been a pretty transparent, free and fair electoral process. So the people of Ecuador should be congratulated on that.
In terms of the next Ecuadorian government, we will -- we're ready to work with them. The course of U.S.-Ecuadorian relations, as the course of any bilateral relationship the United States will have, will depend on -- will be dependent on the policies that those -- that the government pursues and how that -- whether or not those policies are consonant with our goals. Certainly we want to see the people of Ecuador prosper. We want to see their democracy strengthened. We want to see them be important voices in the region, in the hemisphere. To the extent that we can work together towards those goals will be dependent on the policies that the government pursues. We all -- our policy is well known. It's been out there. It is centered on promotion of democracy in democratic institutions, promotion of greater prosperity through free trade and through the combination of those two things, addressing the issues of social justice that are talked about in the region. You want to see with greater trade and greater prosperity, you want to see that the benefits of those things actually get out to all the people. And the way that those things get out to all the people are through good governance and full participation in a country's democracy. So that's our platform.
We're ready to work with, you know, any democratic region -- government in the region. We, you know, I'll cite the example of Bolivia. The -- President Morales has -- when he was first elected, talked about how, or at least in the campaign, talked about how he was going to do certain things and that there was going to be an anti-U.S. tinge to the policies that his government has pursued. And the reality is that while we don't agree on everything, that we have found ways to work together with Bolivia and the Bolivian Government. So we are open to working with duly elected governments in the region that govern democratically regardless of where they come from along the political spectrum.
QUESTION: But these kind of -- this pledges of socialism and going back to nationalization of natural resources, things like that, doesn't concern you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, in terms of the particular economic -- socio-economic policies that a country pursues, that is going to be up to that government in consultation with the other elected officials of that country's government and the voters of that government. Again, we're not going to dictate to them what their policies might be. Certainly we would expect that all countries regardless of where they come from in their political orientation would respect valid international legal contracts. There have been over the course of the decades, both in this hemisphere as well as elsewhere, examples of nationalization that have occurred. You can point to a lot of examples where it hasn't necessarily worked out that well for a lot of different reasons. You can point to some examples where it has worked out. But however the process unfolds, we would expect that countries would respect international legal norms in settling whatever international commercial disputes might arise from their policies.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the election in Bahrain?
MR. MCCORMACK: As I understand it, the election results aren't yet final. So I'm going to withhold any comment on it right now.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Let's move it to the back, you guys haven't had -- yes, sir.
QUESTION: The Australian Government has now released its Cole inquiry or the Cole inquiry into the AWB, the worst violator of the Oil-for-Food program. Any reaction to that response, particularly given calls by some politicians and farmers here that there should be congressional inquiries and that the U.S. Government has put its diplomatic relations with Australia ahead of the interests of U.S. farmers?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to admit, I'm not familiar with that particular connection, U.S. farmers with the AWB inquiry. But no, this is something that is a matter for the Australian political system to deal with. The inquiry has been going on for some time. I understand it's been exhaustive. And as for judging the results of the inquiry, it's going to be up to the Australian people and the Australian Government. And as for the other connection, I'm not sure. I'm not aware of that connection.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: With Chris Hill in Beijing, does he plan to meet with North Korean delegate Kim Gye Gwan who is reportedly arriving tomorrow? And if so, what is the purpose of the meeting? What are they going to talk about?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, Chris is in Beijing to help prepare for the six-party talks. Again, we've talked a lot about making this round an effective round that produces real concrete results building on the September 19, 2005 joint statement. So that's the starting point -- want to move forward from there. The consultations that he is having right now in Beijing are focused on making that round useful and actually harvesting some results out of this round. Now he's going to be meeting while in Beijing with his Japanese counterpart, his Chinese counterpart, and his South Korean counterpart. As to whether or not he has any other meetings, it's certainly an open possibility and we'll try to keep you up to date on that. We have in the past -- he has in the past had these kind of preparatory meetings in which he has met with his North Korean counterpart again in the context of the six-party talks. So we'll -- it's certainly a possibility we'll keep you up to date on whether or not he actually has that meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: He has meetings scheduled over the next couple days.
Yeah. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: According to the Chinese Government, the President Bush and Chinese President Hu had a phone call -- phone conversation today. So did they discuss on the North Korean issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would have to defer to my colleagues at the White House to give you a readout of President Bush's phone call.
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal.
QUESTION: Question on U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Recently, U.S. Senate cleared the way for India to get the U.S. nuclear technology. Now there are some hurdles because the House and Senate bills are there and conferee are going to settle next month, I believe. Indian governments are saying that at this moment, they are concerned about those amendments because it's not originally signed between Prime Minister Singh and President Bush at the White House on July 18th. My question is if Secretary is pushing or making some calls on the Hill before those conferees and if she had spoken to anybody in India, with the Indian officials on this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you if she's had any recent phone calls with folks up on the Hill concerning the India Civil Nuclear Agreement. We -- it is one of our top priorities hopefully in this lame duck session that is coming up to get it passed. As for amendments -- look, we live in the -- you know, Congress has a say in passing this agreement. That's the way our system -- that's the way our system works. We would hope and we would encourage the Congress not to change the -- make changes to the legislation that would materially affect our ability to implement the agreement. You know, that said, Congress is going to have its say. So we're going to work closely with them both at the member level as well as at the staff level on addressing the various concerns that Capitol Hill has about this agreement, but they have a say in this. But we hope to be able to faithfully implement our agreement and our understanding surrounding that agreement.
QUESTION: Are there some things that you're worried about in the legislation -- in the version --
MR. MCCORMACK: There are -- again, there --
QUESTION: -- urging Congress to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing in particular that I would point out to you. But there are a number of specific amendments and particular concerns that various senators and congressmen and staff members have raised with us and we're trying to address each of those in such a way that we can implement this deal.
QUESTION: Should there be penalties, for instance, if India doesn't cooperate with the U.S. enough on Iran? Is that something that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, we're -- I don't want to comment on any particular amendment that, you know, may or may not come up.
All right, great. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)