State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 13, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 13, 2006
No-fly Zone / Darfur Peace Agreement / Addis Ababa Understandings
/ Resolution 1706
Special Envoy Natsios’ Travel and Meetings
Reports that Saudi Arabia will Support Sunnis
Iraqi Proposal for Iraqi Forces to Control Baghdad
Reports on Departure of Saudi Ambassador
White House Statement on Political Freedom in Syria
Senator Nelson’s Trip
Syrian Behavior in the region / Interference in Lebanon
Undersecretary Burns’ Meeting with Prime Minister
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, good afternoon. Who wants to kick us off?
Sue? These guys are busy. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Darfur, there are a lot of stories floating around today on Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: And apparently, Britain is pushing very hard for this -- for the no-fly zone to be implemented in Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think Prime Minister Blair talked about it as an idea. Look, I think what it does is highlights the fact that the international community is a bit frustrated that the Sudanese Government has yet to implement 1706, they have yet to fully implement all of the Addis Ababa understandings that actually get to the how do you implement UN Security Council Resolution 1706. So I think that you have from Prime Minister Blair expressing the idea that, look, if these measures which the international community has agreed to, and by the way the Sudanese Government has also agreed to, aren't implemented, then of course the international community has to consider other options, because simply the violence has to stop and the humanitarian situation needs to be addressed.
Andrew Natsios was just in Khartoum. He actually met with President Bashir on all of these topics -- implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement, implementing 1706, implementing the Addis Ababa understandings. And part of that is on the Addis Ababa understandings, it breaks it down into various phases, the light as well as the medium deployment of the troops. And right now there is an initial deployment, but they have yet to actually go out to Darfur. This is sort of logistics, logistics and command elements types.
So that's where we stand right now and I think what you heard from Prime Minister Blair, as I said, was an expression of if these other things aren't able to be implemented, then we have to start thinking of other ideas how to protect the people and how to address the humanitarian situation.
QUESTION: Did Andrew also discuss this "Plan B" that he referred to in his briefing with us recently? And does this Plan B also include air strikes and a naval blockade, which is being reported by some --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, I've seen that. Look, you know, the President is very concerned about the issue of Darfur. It's something that he is personally interested in and something that he has followed throughout his Administration in the first part as well as this part. The President's going to consider what options he thinks are necessary in order to address the grave situation, the grave situation there.
Our focus right now is on the diplomatic means and when -- just to get back to Plan B. Andrew, I think was using a figure of speech. It was not, you know, literally a Plan B, but you have to -- if you cannot make the diplomatic options work that are on the table now and they're good diplomatic options, the world has come some way in meeting -- trying to meet the Sudanese Government. If those options aren't able to be implemented, for whatever reason, you have to consider what else might be done to address the situation because quite simply the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur just is not tolerable.
QUESTION: So does this mean then that you are actually considering a forced intervention in Darfur with --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not trying to point you in that direction, Sue. What's I'm trying to do is say that we are devoting our full African focus to making the diplomacy work. If that doesn't work, of course, the President and other leaders around the world are going to have to consider what else might be done to reach the objectives that we all share.
QUESTION: But among the options -- sorry, I just want to -- among the options that you are considering, is the military option one of those --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, I'm not -- you're getting way out ahead of -- and I think those reports are getting way out ahead of where people are. But that said the President, of course, is going to do what he thinks he needs to do in order to achieve the objectives that the world shares.
QUESTION: Just to push for one more angle -- I'm sorry -- and then I'll (inaudible). If you were to have a military intervention though, wouldn't that be a problem in terms of the humanitarian workers who are on the ground? Are you concerned that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, again, way, way, way, way out there, okay? You started the sentence with "if," that's not where we are, we're focused on the diplomacy.
QUESTION: Just to -- not get ahead, but where you started, which was that Tony Blair brought up in his conversation with the President, the idea of a no-fly zone, well, there must be some notion. Is that a no-fly zone that would be sought through the United Nations, outside the United Nations?
MR. MCCORMACK: You would have to ask the White House about the contents of the conversation between the President and the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: In terms of the Natsios meeting, what -- you said what he went there to do. I mean, what did he hear back in the meeting with Bashir? He talked to (inaudible.) He didn't talk to us.
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to Andrew since he had those -- had his meetings. I think he talked a little bit -- talked to the press a little bit while he was there, so I'll have to check with him. We'll try to get for you what the results of his meetings were. He's headed off -- headed in the direction of Chad now.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: On all of those things, one, the UN resolution -- isn't there a UN resolution that already allows for a no-fly zone like, from two years ago?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's also part of -- yes, it is also part of the understandings of the ceasefire agreement, so it gets to an issue that has been out there for quite some time and it's -- you've had, sort of, ups and downs in terms of the violence in Darfur and also the concerns about the use of aircraft and helicopters and other vehicles to try to support some of these attacks.
Right now, the security situation -- I think you're seeing an uptick in the level of violence and that's a real source of concern. And I think that that is the lack of forward movement on the diplomacy right now, combined with that uptick of violence, I think is the reason why you're hearing people talk about, well, if this diplomacy is not able to move forward because of continued Sudanese intransigents, you need to think about other ideas.
QUESTION: Another question is on the International Criminal Courts about -- is ready for its first case on Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: You had the Human Rights Council saying they're going to go investigate. Are we seeing this concerted effort to really ratchet up the pressure on Sudan or do you think this is going to go --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the ICC track is just -- is moving forward on its own timetable and we, as part of the passage of the previous UN resolution you talked about, didn't stand in the way of that being the forum in which anybody who is accused of war crimes would be tried.
QUESTION: And if I can ask one quick question about Natsios, I understand the trip to Chad might be in flux, whether or not they're going to let him come since he's coming from Sudan and the two are locked in this war.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, oftentimes travel arrangements in some of these places are -- have to be fluid, I guess you could say. He had a commitment from the Chad Government to meet with him prior to his departure and we would expect that they would follow through on that commitment.
QUESTION: But you don't know where he is at the moment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Where in the world is Andrew Natsios? (Laughter.) He is working hard on the issue. I can't tell you precisely where he is right now.
QUESTION: Just to the point of clarification on his travels, you said he is moving in the direction of Chad --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- since Darfur is between Khartoum and Chad --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I didn't --
QUESTION: But you are alluding to is he's trying to get to Chad and not --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, exactly.
QUESTION: Not to go into Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. He did try to -- it was planned that he would try to travel into the northern or western parts of Darfur as part of this trip -- I don't think necessarily today -- and because of the security situation, he could not land there.
QUESTION: In the other options you are considering, is NATO involvement still considered?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, NATO is part of the support element to -- and they have offered assistance in terms of deploying the troops, offering logistical help. I'm not aware that we or anybody else have gone back to NATO in any sort of formal way to request their involvement beyond that.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on this question?
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Yeah. Yeah, go ahead. No, it's not the --
QUESTION: Is it possible that Andrew Natsios is going up to Cairo for a meeting with the Arab League or to CAR, perhaps on this trip? I heard something about that.
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, he isn't. But he has the ability to change his schedule as he sees fit to try to work the diplomacy that he needs to work. It's quite possible that he could either on this trip or at some later trip. There are concerns about some of the violence spreading into the Central African Republic. And of course, Egypt has a great interest in what happens in Sudan. They played a very positive role. We have sought to engage them and bring them in to try to work with the Sudanese Government to try to convince them to let 1706 implementation move forward and they have played a -- they played a constructive role. So it is entirely possible that he would at some point, would want to go to Cairo.
Yeah. Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Who is Andrew going to be seeing in London?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's going to see the Brits. Do we know anything -- any other parts of his schedule?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: And does he think that -- well, I suppose you don't know what he -- what Natsios in terms of his meetings with Bashir?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. Like I said, I haven't had a chance to talk to him.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Barry.
QUESTION: There was a report today of Saudi Arabia has notified the administration might financially help the Sunnis if there's a war with the Shiites. There were a couple of "ifs" in the story. I wondered if you had any such conversation with the Saudi Government.
MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- it runs counter to what the stated Saudi policy is. They believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq. They believe an Iraq for all Iraqis and to -- and our support of efforts at national reconciliation. That has been their position, remains their position because they believe that is in their national interest. And it's not done out of charity; they believe that that is the right thing for their interest and the right thing for the region. That's what they've told us in private. That's what they've conveyed to all of you and others in public as well.
So that's the tone and tenor of our conversations that's been conveyed from lower level officials up to the senior officials. As for the Vice President's Office and his meeting, you're going to have to check with those folks about exactly what the Vice President heard.
I think rather than a Sunni-Shia divide here, I would put to you that it is actually -- what the Saudis are actually concerned about, and they are concerned with respect to a threat to their national interest, is this division that we've been talking about between mainstream or moderates and extremism and those who want to use violence. And they do have real concerns, as the Iraqis do, as we do and others in the region, about Iranian meddling in Iraqi internal affairs, their support for and influence over some militias, their support for various groups and individuals who would use violence to try to cause havoc within Iraq and to try to kill innocent civilians as well as coalition forces.
So they're very concerned about that. We know that. They've talked to us about that. And it's part of the reason why we are working in close partnership with them as well as others in the region, in the GCC + 2 forum, to talk about how in common we might address this threat that we see, this threat from extremism in the region that is emanating from Iran.
QUESTION: But Iran -- the story, or this report, is cast in terms of Iran supporting Shiites -- the Shiite extremists, I guess -- and if the process of conciliation breaks down there could be a war between Sunnis and Shiites. And then the issue is: Have the Saudis told the U.S., in such circumstances, they might back the Sunnis with financial aid?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry --
QUESTION: I understand the policy --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. That's not -- to my understanding, that is not their policy. You can ask the Saudis about that. As I said, the Saudis, as with anybody else in the region, act in their national interest. And what they have said is that their national interests lie with a unified Iraq, a stable Iraq, a prosperous Iraq. And we're working with them in the International Compact for Iraq. They themselves have made efforts at reconciliation to help the reconciliation process. Of course they engage with the Sunnis. There are traditional tribal ties there that go back hundreds and hundreds of years. And they are seeking to use those ties and that influence in a positive way to help effect a national reconciliation in Iraq.
All that said, everybody understands it is going to be the Iraqis that have to come together. We all can help. Those in the neighborhood, others of us with great concerns and equities in Iraq will also seek to help out. I'd also just remind people of the fact that the Saudis hosted a conference that was aimed at starting that reconciliation process in Mecca and they brought together religious leaders there. So they are seeking to play a positive role because they believe that is in their interest.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Kind of on this. It's the Shia-Sunni thing.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Is that okay?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Iraqi National Security Advisor is indicating he may have Iraqi forces in control of Baghdad with coalition forces out on the outskirts. Would this help the reunification process or would it be a pressing of the Shia hand against the Sunnis?
MR. MCCORMACK: The military men are going to have to make judgments about the merits of this proposal that's out there. I think General Casey will take a look at it along with his top commanders. I know it was something that was raised during the President's meetings in Amman. Our best minds, military minds, are going to take a look at whether or not this is actually a proposal that has merit that should be acted on, so that's the best reaction I can give to you.
QUESTION: Sean, within the last week, this U.S. Ambassador or U.S. Ambassador from Saudi Arabia just abruptly resigned and says he's returning to Riyadh.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Now Prince Bandar had been here roughly 22, 23 years.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is this, in any way, a displeasure with the Administration policies over the Iraq theater and war?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we talked a lot -- we went round and round on this yesterday. To my knowledge, there haven't been any official announcements from the Saudi Government or the Saudi Embassy about their ambassador leaving. So I'm not going to be the first one to make any such announcements.
No, we have a very good relationship with the Saudis. We worked well with the Ambassador and we worked very closely with the leadership in Riyadh as well. So if there is a personnel change, I wouldn't look at it -- read anything more into it than just simply what people are stating in public about it.
QUESTION: The White House put out a statement today on Syria --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- which was kind of interesting, basically saying that they should release the political prisoners, which I don't think anybody doubts the validity of that, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- just wondering about the timing of this. I mean, just a couple weeks ago, we had a report saying that we should be talking to Iran and Syria. Is this considered reaching out to them in any way? I mean, it goes against that. Is this a tacit rejection of that recommendation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there is -- there were a lot of recommendations in the Iraq Study Group. People are taking them on board. It's not U.S. policy. It was just simply a restatement of a long-standing position that there is not political freedom in Syria and that it -- from time to time, it is important to re-raise the very fact that you do have people who are suffering in Syrian jails merely for speaking out and expressing their opinion because they don't have the ability to express their opinion freely in Syria and to try to affect the political direction of their own country. So it's merely a reminder of that fact.
QUESTION: I'm wondering about the timing, though, I mean, because this comes at a very sensitive point in, you know, in U.S.-Syrian relations. I'm just wondering why this was chosen as the time to put this statement out.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you can check with the folks at the White House. It's a statement that came out of there.
QUESTION: One other thing, just -- Senator Nelson held a conference call after his meeting with Assad and he said that the State Department had strongly -- or at least Ambassador -- Assistant Secretary Welch --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- had urged him not to meet with Assad. Can you elaborate on that at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: We offer -- whenever we have members of Congress or people from the Administration, associated with the Administration, who contact us about the advisability of travel to various places, we offer our best advice. Individual senators, congressmen will make their own decisions about where and when they travel and with whom they meet. We, as the State Department, should they decide to travel, try to offer services and assistance as requested. Just because we offer those services and offer that assistance doesn't mean we think it's a good idea. But those are decisions that individual congressmen or senators are going to have to make.
QUESTION: Can you explain why it wasn't a good idea for (inaudible)--
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to try to get into a dispute with Senator Nelson. He decided to go along with -- and there may well be others who have decided to go. Our view is that the Syrian Government knows fully well what it needs to do and certainly the United States is not going to pay the price for mere engagement with Syria in trading on the freedom of the people of Lebanon or looking the other way on the UN tribunal investigating the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri. Those are certainly not prices that this government is going to pay, because merely to ask the Syrian Government not to do those things which civilized states wouldn't do in the first place -- trying to undermine neighboring governments, trying to -- supporting the cause of the use of terror and violence to stop the forward progress of a reconciliation between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.
There's been lots of engagement with the Syrian Government previously from us. They've had other foreign visitors, whether that's German Foreign Minister Steinmeier or the UK's National Security Advisor or Foreign Minister Moratinos. We still haven't seen any change in Syrian behavior, any noticeable change in Syrian behavior. You still have protestors out in the streets of Beirut that -- let's just be frank -- are there at the behest of those who don't want to see that Hariri investigation proceed. They don't want to see a free, stable, democratic Lebanon free from the influence and the shackles of Syrian oppression.
So they haven't changed their behavior at all despite those entreaties to change their behavior. So at this point we don't see a lot of profit in that sort of direct engagement. They know what they have to do.
QUESTION: I mean, he has met with them now and he said that he feels that this may have -- his quote was "crack the door open."
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, if the Syrian Government wants to fundamentally change its behavior and they want to attribute it to anything in particular, then that certainly would be welcome. Their modus operandi in the past has been to use efforts to engage them to say: ah, relations are fine; there's no problem here; see, we just had a visit from -- and fill in the blank. And then maybe make some cosmetic concessions in terms of changes of behavior but nothing really that is substantive or lasting or that really gets to the core of their meddling throughout the various parts of the Middle East.
QUESTION: President Assad has said or called the United States and international community today (inaudible) interfere in the internal Lebanese affairs because the Lebanese people knows how to deal with its affairs, its internal affairs.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a highly ironic statement coming out of Damascus. They might want to start by opening an embassy and actually having diplomatic relations with their neighboring state and giving up on their aspirations to manipulate the domestic politics of Lebanon.
Anything else on this? Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Hill -- I know he's speaking in about an hour or so --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
QUESTION: And I was wondering is he still arriving in Beijing on Saturday?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's my understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. Is he not stopping by Japan on Saturday and arriving in on Sunday?
MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have some inside info? To my knowledge, he plans to travel to Beijing on Saturday. I don't know if he's going to take any side trips either before or after arriving in Beijing. We'll see. You can ask him in about an hour.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Gollust.
QUESTION: Sean, it is said that the Prime Minister of Kosovo was in the building yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Met with Nick Burns.
MR. MCCORMACK: He did.
QUESTION: Dan Fried. Could you give us a readout on what's going on Kosovo-wise?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was -- it was just touching base to talk about where the process stands, where Mr. Ahtisaari stands in his process, how Mr. Ceku sees the situation. It's really just a way of staying in close contact. We are coming to a point here where Mr. Ahtisaari is going to finish his work, make a recommendation, and the international community will be called upon to act on that recommendation. So it's just part of what I would expect you to see as a more intense diplomatic period in the coming months regarding Kosovo.
QUESTION: What's your understanding of Ahtisaari's timetable at the moment?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to ask him, but I think it's looking at early next year coming up with a recommendation. I don't know that he's -- I don't know that he has settled on an exact date, but I think earlier rather than later in the year.
QUESTION: U.S. has presented an amendment or several amendments to the draft resolution on sanctions against Iran today at the UN.
MR. MCCORMACK: We continue --
QUESTION: What kind of amendments?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to our folks up there. They continue to tweak it. The Europeans laid down a draft and they were scheduled to have a meeting at 10:30 among representatives from the P-5+1 to talk about the draft. We support it. You know, everybody is going to have little changes here and there. We've proposed some of those. And our hope is in the near future we can have a vote on this resolution. I think that it shouldn't -- there really shouldn't be much of a delay, we think, in getting to a vote. It's time. It is time to vote. If anybody needs any other evidence that the international community has to act, then the despicable conference and gathering that was held in Tehran chaired by the President of Iran, Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad, I don't know what else you need.
Talking about -- when you had that regime talking about wiping another country off the face of the map and the issue at hand in the Security Council is nuclear weapons and that regime getting its hands on nuclear weapons, I don't think there is -- there's not much more to talk about here. It is coming up on time to pass a resolution. It is coming up on time for the countries of the Security Council to take their responsibility to follow through on what they said they were going to do, to raise their hand; raise their hand yes or no, are we going to take a stand and try to do everything that we can to prevent that regime, that regime which has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the map, that regime which has denied the Holocaust to obtain nuclear weapons. And I think that's an easy call when you frame it like that. I think it's a pretty easy vote.
QUESTION: Do the Russians agree with you?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We'll see. We're working with them to bring them on board, to bring everybody on board. We'd like to see a 15-0 vote. We think that given the context and given the issue at hand, this is -- should be an easy call. There should be a 15-0 vote. We, of course, have worked extensively with all the members of the P-5+1 and also consulting with the members of the Security Council to take into account their concerns.
We understand the Russians' logic. We fairly understand it; we've talked a lot about it. I think they understand our logic. We just think that this is a compelling case and we would hope that in the near future, we'd get a vote on a good, strong resolution. We support the draft that's on the table right now with the Europeans. Of course, it -- you know, is it the resolution that we ourselves would have drafted? No, but that is the multilateral negotiating process.
QUESTION: But if you support the draft, why --
MR. MCCORMACK: Because every time -- you make small adjustments to these things, but at the core of it, we support the draft.
QUESTION: Sean, is it -- the vote this week or --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't make predictions about exactly when things get voted, but we're coming up on the time when there needs to be a vote. People need to take a stand.
QUESTION: Sean, Russia's walked out of the meeting saying they need to consult with Moscow. I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was last night?
QUESTION: Yeah. Did they explain what they still need to clarify, Sean? I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think they were -- just based on the public comments of the Russian Perm Rep, I think they were a little bit unhappy about an issue that was brought up in the Security Council. It wasn't directed at Russia. They chose to react the way that they chose to react. We -- it's time to get back on track and tend to the business of this resolution.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that's going to move forward soon?
MR. MCCORMACK: It should. It should. Yeah.
Anyone else? All right.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 201
Released on December 13, 2006