State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 15, 200
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 15, 2006
Congressional Delegation in Syria / State Department
Standard Practices Regarding Congressional Delegations
Congressional Delegation in Cuba
Embargo on Cuba / Long Lasting Debate
Americans Attending Holocaust Conference in Iran
U.S. Conversations with Russia Regarding Support for Lebanon
Total U.S. Effort Toward Assistance to Lebanon / Public and
Assistance to Lebanese Military
Influence of Hezbollah in Lebanese Political System / Vocal
Hezbollah a Terrorist Organization / Creation of Iran
Services of Hezbollah / Not Accountable to the People
Ongoing Struggle Between Extremism and Moderation / More Peaceful
Upcoming Travel by the Secretary / New Strategic Context
New Political Fault Line in Middle East
Hezbollah, Hamas Have No Interest in Political Accommodation
U.S. Working with GCC+2
Tensions Between President Abbas and Hamas / Political Differences
Differences Should Be Resolved In the Context of the Palestinian
Accusations of an Assassination Attempt on Prime Minister Haniyah
Maher Arar / Terrorist Watch List
Special Representative Natsios Travel
Secretary’s Farewell Lunch with Kofi Annan / Many Shared
Recent Speech by Annan
Ambassador Bolton’s Activity
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: Can I try you on something a little maybe possibly remote? But we understand that a State Department official, at least one, accompanied Senator Nelson in his talks in Syria. And in light of the view you folks have of the -- what's the word? -- that you don't accomplish -- not much is to be accomplished by talking to Syria, was the State Department guy there just to have -- to file a report, to help Nelson around, or was the State Department particularly interested in what the Syrians had to say?
MR. MCCORMACK: Standard practice, standard practice as a matter of courtesy accompanying congressional delegations, to have people travel with them to meetings. If they want to have a meeting by themselves, they are certainly able to do that. It is really sort of grease the skids, make sure everything goes correctly; if they run into any bumps in the road, you help solve those. That is the kind of assistance that we offered to this congressional delegation, standard whenever Codels travel around the world. We encourage Codels to travel around the world. As you know with Senator Nelson -- and there are some other planned trips to Syria -- it's not -- those are not trips that we have encouraged. But again, these are members of Congress. They're elected representatives from a branch of government. They will travel where they think they need to. We can counsel them otherwise; but at the end of the day, it's their decision.
QUESTION: So ditto that kind of accompaniment at Kerry's meetings, et cetera?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it's standard.
QUESTION: It's standard.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it's standard. We're there to help offer the courtesy to these elected representatives who are traveling overseas. We are there to help. Just because we're there to help doesn't mean we endorse the fact that they're there. So there's nothing unusual in that regard.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Kirit.
QUESTION: Does that same policy apply to the congressional delegation that's heading to Cuba?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. They're down there. It's not -- I know there's one down there today -- and it's not the first one. There have been several that have gone to -- gone down to Havana over the past several years and they are there to talk about a variety of different issues. We certainly hope that they would take the opportunity while they are down there to underscore the fact that it is important that the transition that is underway in Cuba, and we all know that there is a transition underway in Cuba, that it not be a transition from one dictator to another dictator and that the Cuban people have an opportunity to realize the same sort of democratic freedoms that every other country in the hemisphere is able to enjoy.
QUESTION: Is it something that you encourage or discourage?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, they make their own decisions about traveling -- traveling down, particularly to places like this. I think that this isn't the first time you've had a Codel go down to Havana. So it's not unusual. I think it's a little bit -- I think the situation is a little bit different than going down to Havana and going down to Syria, especially where you have the issue of Syria really on the front pages and we made quite clear our position that now is not the moment to engage Syria; they have to demonstrate a change in behavior.
QUESTION: It's different with the situation in Cuba right now?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think -- look, you know, the situation with respect to Cuba and the various positions with respect to the embargo or not the embargo are well known. We understand those. So I think the situations are a little bit different.
QUESTION: But this delegation is advocating an easing of sanctions and this seemed to fly in the face of current U.S. policy. I mean, Shannon was saying earlier this week that the Bush Administration won't deal with Cuba until, you know, there's some semblance of democracy. So is this -- isn't this a problem for you? They're delivering a different message.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said in answer to Kirit's question, this divide over whether or not to have an embargo on Cuba or to lift it, it's a debate that's been going on for some time. We understand that there are some in Congress who have a very different view. As a matter of policy, we of course have an opposite view from the folks that are down there today. It's a reasonable difference. We understand the difference. But there's no change to our policy, U.S. Government policy.
QUESTION: Sean, similarly -- this isn't necessarily a congressional or senate delegation, but at that Holocaust conference in Tehran --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- there are some Americans attending. Outstanding is David Duke. Does he get some fines when he returns? And also he's embroiled with CNN and Wolf Blitzer because he appeared in the Situation Room on CNN. What's your feelings? Are there any specific guidelines, especially when some of these celebrities are going overseas and embroiling in activities you may not condone?
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, Joel, our view on that conference is well known. We talked about it.
QUESTION: Real quick one more time before -- so you don't think that the senators are in any way circumventing U.S. foreign policy by going and talking to these people?
MR. MCCORMACK: Where?
QUESTION: In Syria or in Cuba.
MR. MCCORMACK: This is our government. There are three branches of the government. They represent a branch of the government. The Executive Branch is responsible for the foreign policy of the United States. Senators and congressmen will travel overseas. We encourage them to do that to get an appreciation for what the situation is on the ground. And of course we hear back from them. That's a positive thing. We want to understand what their views are. They certainly have a role in the foreign policy process, but it is the Executive Branch that is responsible for formulating and implementing our foreign policy.
QUESTION: Can I ask you an additional question? I know we're belaboring it, but so far at least as the Syrian meetings are concerned, is the State Department person a person who's silent presence or is it an opportunity for State to make a point or two?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't tell you who's accompanying them, Barry. I don't know. Typically they're not really participants in the meeting. They may get asked a question by the congressional delegation. If they're in the meeting, of course, the person's going to answer that question. If there's an opportunity to talk about U.S. policy, I'm sure that the person in the meeting will faithfully and accurately portray to anybody in the meeting what our policies are.
QUESTION: The Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora is in Moscow today to ask for Russian support against Syria. I wanted to know if any U.S. official spoke with the Russians recently to ask them for such an intervention, such support.
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of, Sylvie. It could very well be that our Ambassador there, Bill Burns, or somebody else spoke about this matter with the Russians. I know the Secretary hasn't, and I'm not aware of any conversations that, for example, Under Secretary Nick Burns might have had with the Russians, although he is -- his conversations as of late with the Russians have focused on the negotiation of the UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: Do you plan any financial package to help rebuild the Lebanese army?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of -- oh, assisting the Lebanese army? Well, we have a variety of efforts underway to help with Lebanese reconstruction. We have had a public-private partnership that thus far I think -- I'll have to check the exact figures -- but I think on the order of a quarter billion dollars of reconstruction assistance has either been pledged or flowed to Lebanon from the United States. There are a variety of other countries I know that have also participated in that. A number of Lebanon's neighbors have come to the aid of the Lebanese people and this democratically elected government. There are plans in the future for a Lebanese -- a Lebanon donors' conference. I'm not sure that there's been a date announced for that, but that is something that's out on the horizon.
In terms of specifically assisting the Lebanese armed forces, that is something that we are looking at how we can help the Lebanese armed forces. This is -- it's important to build up that institution of this government. They are now down in the south of Lebanon. They are now fully throughout Lebanese territory for the first time in 30 years. Over a period of time their capabilities have diminished, so it is important that we as well as others do what we can to help them rebuild those capabilities, whether that's with training or equipment or other kinds of assistance.
Now, in terms of a specific number, that is something we are working with the Congress on. I can't give you a number right now. But it is part of our overall effort to help the Lebanese people rebuild their country and also part of our assistance package to help Lebanese institutions, the institutions of a democratic Lebanon, strengthen and -- to the point where they are able to effectively govern over all of their territory.
QUESTION: But would it be part of what you already decided to spend or would it be a new package that you could announce during the conference --
MR. MCCORMACK: There are some -- there are already some ongoing efforts with respect to the Lebanese armed forces. There has been $10 million that's been allocated for training, and there's some other funds or in-kind assistance that we have or -- that has either already been provided or is in the pipeline to the Lebanese army. As we get closer to the conference, Sylvie, we'll have a better breakdown of all of these -- all of the various funds and in-kind assistance that we either have provided or intend to provide to Lebanon, whether it's new money or old money. I'll have to look into that for you. I mean, this gets into the sort of budgeting magic of when money is allocated and when money is actually spent.
QUESTION: The Secretary in the interview with The Washington Post implied that the U.S. is considering to continue and raise the U.S. aid to Lebanon up to a billion dollars. Did she mean that to be within the Paris donors' conference or the U.S. alone?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think what she's looking at -- what she's talking about is total effort and talking about the total U.S. --
MR. MCCORMACK: U.S., which is we also have a public-private partnership that has been to Lebanon and talked about how they are going to be investing in Lebanon and helping the Lebanese people rebuild their country. So let's wait until we get closer to Paris. We can give you a more specific figure, but we're getting in that neighborhood. That's our goal.
QUESTION: While we're there, I wanted to ask about Hezbollah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: They've been able to get tens of thousands of people camped out in the streets in Beirut. They're not all Shiites either. I wondered if there's an appraisal here, an assessment, of whether Hezbollah is getting stronger. And by the way, coincidentally, they issued a statement just a while ago about how many people they lost in the war with Israel, the conflict with Israel. Are they stronger since that conflict, would you say?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they are not the effective security force in the south of Lebanon anymore. They have been roundly criticized both within Lebanon as well as in the region for starting a war with Israel. Now, clearly they are able to flex some political muscle in mobilizing people into the streets, but there is also vocal opposition to those protests and the other political factions have mobilized people into the street as well. So I can't tell you exactly how those demonstrations have matched up.
Look, Hezbollah has some influence within the Lebanese political system, but it is in the way in which they exercise that influence and their outward behavior and their policies we believe are unhealthy ultimately for a stable democratic Lebanon. And I think a lot of other countries in the region agree with that assessment, especially since they have such close ties with Syria and Iran and those countries undoubtedly exercise a great deal of influence over Hezbollah and how it behaves both in Lebanon as well as outside of Lebanon.
So it is -- what is -- okay, what does all this mean? Well, I think it is a demonstration that we see on our television sets of the daily struggle that is now ongoing in the Middle East between extremism and moderation or mainstream states. I define those people in the mainstream as those who want a peaceful, stable, more prosperous Middle East. The people on the other side of that divide are those who want to use violence, want to use terror, do not want a more peaceful, stable Middle East, do not want any sort of political agreement or accommodation that, for example, would resolve differences between Arabs and Israelis. These are not people who want to see a stable, peaceful Iraq. These are not people who want to see the Palestinian people have a state of their own. So what you see, that is one example of the day-to-day struggle that is now ongoing for the future of the Middle East.
QUESTION: Do any local folks, Shiites particularly, benefit? There's an interesting story in the Christian Science Monitor today suggesting that Hezbollah is really simply serving the interest of Iran, mostly serving the interest of Iran. They're not a source for local folk to derive any benefit. They're not out to help the local people. I mean, Hamas does, whatever you think of -- whatever one thinks of them.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right, right.
QUESTION: I mean, does Hezbollah serve any domestic good even with all the things you don't like about them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they are -- our view is they are a terrorist organization and they are a creation of Iran; that is just a simple fact of history. They were created with the support of Iran. The original roots of them lie outside of Lebanon. The Iranians have provided -- continued over the years to provide them lots of money, lots of assistance, and they are also engaged in a variety of other illicit activities by which they raise money.
Now, they -- we know, we've seen them do this -- they hand out cash to individual Lebanese people. They have developed -- like other similar terrorist organizations who have other kinds of efforts with the populations -- they have developed a social services network. But the question is really: Is that a stable foundation for a state or a people in which your basic services are really funded by a state sponsor of terror elsewhere who really can, at the snap of a finger, pull your country into a war with another country without your consent, without your asking it. That is not really a stable foundation for a modern state.
And so the basic question is: Is this something healthy for the people of Lebanon? I think our argument would be no because these individuals, these groups, are in no way accountable to the people to whom they are providing these goods and services. So the people have no say over what direction their country is going to go off into.
The answer to that is to really invest in the political system where these people do have a say over what the direction of their country is, what kinds of services get provided to them. I can't tell you whether or not Hezbollah is providing everything that the people of Lebanon, or even those so-called constituents of Hezbollah, want them to provide. Why? Because they don't have any control over the direction of this group.
QUESTION: Sean, in the interview with The Washington Post, Secretary Rice has said that we're going to go to the Middle East a lot next year and she talked about a new strategic context.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Can you tell us more about this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she spoke at length about that. Take a look at the transcript. The statement about a lot of travel to the Middle East I think speaks for itself. She's going to be --
QUESTION: We need sound bites.
MR. MCCORMACK: You need sound bites? All right, yeah. I expect that we're going to burn up a lot of jet fuel in the coming year traveling to the Middle East. How's that, Samir? Is that good? (Laughter.)
And in terms of a new strategic context for the Middle East, it's a little bit of -- very basically what I was talking about with Barry. And that is you have a -- in the wake of the war between Hezbollah and Israel, you have a new political fault line in the Middle East. And it's something that had been developing over time, but it has become quite stark in the months after the end to that war and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And that simply is you have those on one side of the line who want to take the Middle East in a completely different direction than really the majority of people in that region. The majority of people in that region want to be able to send their kids to school, want to be able to speak their mind and express themselves in a political arena without fear of getting a knock on the door and getting hauled off into jail. They want to be able to start small businesses, make a better life for themselves. They want to be able to have a voice in where their country is going. We've seen that. We've seen -- this is the -- these are the voices that are emanating from the region. There was an Arab -- the UNDP report about the Middle East written by some notable individuals from the Middle East that talked about this. It was a very important report.
You have on the other side of the line states like Iran, states like Syria and groups associated with them -- Hezbollah, Hamas as well as other terrorist organizations -- who have no interest in -- have no interest in political accommodation. They have no interest in peace. They have no interest in different peoples in the region with different religious backgrounds or ethnic backgrounds living in harmony with one another. They have nothing without their grievances. And they seek to impose their vision on the rest of the Middle East. They want to thwart any sort of progress on the expansion of freedoms in the Middle East. They want to thwart any common understanding among people from different backgrounds in the Middle East.
So that is the context in which we find ourselves right now. And there are states in the region -- we've been talking to many of them over the past several months in the GCC -- Gulf Cooperation Council -- + 2 arena as well as on the bilateral agendas about how we can work together to address the various issues that are out there -- Lebanon, Palestinian issue, Palestinian-Israeli issues, Iraq, how to deal with the threat from Iran and the threat that it poses not only to states in the region but beyond the borders of the region. So that's a thumbnail sketch of what she was talking about.
QUESTION: Do you have any assessment of the tension in Gaza between the Hamas and the forces of President Abbas?
MR. MCCORMACK: What the level of tension is?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know -- at the moment there seems to be a spike in that tension. There's been some violence in the Gaza between -- according to news reports, between groups associated with Hamas and groups associated with Fatah. Now, we have been in contact with President Abbas and we would encourage efforts within the Gaza to lower the tensions to -- that result in violence.
Now, there are great political differences in the Gaza. We have seen this play out over the past several months. Those differences should be resolved within the context of the Palestinian political system. I think very fundamentally, though, what you are seeing is a rise in tensions that really emanates and is the direct result of the inability of Hamas to effectively govern in the Palestinian areas. And why is that? The reason for that is the policies that they have pursued specifically with respect to any sort of participation in a peaceful negotiation with the state of Israel and renunciation of the use of terror.
They have refused to do that and, therefore, they changed the bargain with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has said you changed the bargain with the rest of the world, well, we're going to change our bargain with the Palestinian Authority. And as a direct result of that, they have failed to govern. And I think that that is really one of the root causes of some of the escalation in violence that you've seen in the Palestinian areas. But we, of course, do not want to see this sort of escalation and resort to violence get out of hand in the Palestinian areas because innocent lives will be lost.
QUESTION: You used to -- a long time ago used to talk about the need to uproot, dismantle terror groups.
MR. MCCORMACK: That still remains.
QUESTION: I mean, how is that going to happen by a peaceful declaration? I mean, doesn't it take a little force? Could it be that this is the opening of some --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Barry, the point here is you don't want innocent life lost. Now again, the differences -- it is our belief, and we supported democratic elections in the Palestinian areas, that any political differences need to be resolved peacefully and within the context of the political system. But, of course, you have to have those individuals committed to that kind of system ready to defend that kind of system. The state must defend the institutions of the state.
MR. MCCORMACK: The fact of the matter, though, is you have -- with Hamas you do have these associated groups and individuals that operate outside the state, outside the institutions of government, and there are going to be some of those people who are going to irreconcilable to any political process. They need to be dealt with. And we believe that it should be a democratic state that deals with those individuals. But how and when, the how and the when of that should be up to the Palestinians.
QUESTION: So the Secretary called President Abbas?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we've been -- at the local level. I can't tell you exactly who, but we have a Consulate in Jerusalem that serves as primary interlocutors with the Palestinians.
QUESTION: And do you have any assessment of the fact that the Prime Minister Haniyah accused President Abbas to have attempted to assassinate him. Do you have any --
MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is the problem lie in the fact that he was trying to bring $35 million -- or the press reports said $35 million -- some money back into the Palestinian areas. And I think that there was a difference between the Palestinians about whether or not he should do that.
QUESTION: But his bodyguard was killed.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this was -- my understanding of the situation was this was a clash between the Hamas bodyguards and the security forces that report to President Abbas.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have a couple more.
QUESTION: I have another one.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have more. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: A question from Canada about the case of Maher Arar. He was the Canadian that was deported from --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Anyways, since he was deported to Syria and tortured and two false confessions of terrorist activity, a Canadian federal inquiry has cleared him of any wrongdoing. Today the U.S. Ambassador to Canada confirmed that he's still on the U.S. terror watch list. Why is that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you the reasons for that. I don't know. The terror watch list is managed here by the U.S. Government. There's a lot of different inputs to it. I can tell you it's not a State Department input that has resulted in his still being on the list. I'm happy to look further into the question for you, but I can't tell you why. I don't know why.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if the U.S. Government has been in contact with the Canadian Government about his case since the federal inquiry and shared the information about his, you know, exoneration.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think there have been some exchanges. I don't have the details for you though.
Yes, Mr. Gollust.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about Andrew Natsios's discussions today in Europe? And given that time is slipping by in 2006, would he be talking about sort of plan B sorts of things with NATO and the EU?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any readout for you. He was supposed to be in Brussels -- supposed to have been in Brussels today or started his conversations in Brussels today. I don't have a readout for you. He will be back here in the States next week and I would expect the Secretary will want to schedule a meeting with him to get a readout and his sense of where things stand, what he was able to accomplish, what roadblocks are remaining, they are still significant at this point, and what is the way forward. So I think those are all conversations that we're going to be having during the coming week.
QUESTION: Could we suggest he speak to us?
MR. MCCORMACK: I certainly will.
QUESTION: And I have another question. I've been asked to write something about the Secretary's farewell lunch with Kofi Annan.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, not much other than it's happening right now and it's a private lunch with them and just a couple of aides. It's her way of bidding the Secretary General farewell and wishing him the best in his future endeavors. As she talked about recently, she will look back on her working relationship with Secretary General Annan and remember many of the good things that we and she were able to accomplish together with the Secretary General and the United Nations. She referred specifically to the Global AIDS Fund, working to bring an end to the war between Hezbollah and Israel, working on issues related to Sudan and a variety of other issues.
Now, of course, there were differences. We all know what those differences are. We have talked very plainly about them. I think Secretary General Annan has talked plainly about them. But this lunch is meant as a personal farewell to the Secretary General, and Secretary Rice will wish him well in his future endeavors.
QUESTION: You don't suppose the war in Iraq will come up. I mean, it's not that kind of a farewell lunch where you go over --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think so, Barry. You know, we've spilled a lot of ink talking --
QUESTION: I know.
MR. MCCORMACK: -- about that and differences and --
QUESTION: Well, but he brought it up recently.
MR. MCCORMACK: I know, Barry. And look, we made our views clear. He chose those words. He chose that -- to include that topic in his farewell speech. Frankly, we thought that that was a missed opportunity. That was a missed opportunity not to talk about all the positive things that we had worked on and accomplished together. Secretary Rice isn't going to dwell on the differences; we've moved beyond those.
QUESTION: John Bolton there?
MR. MCCORMACK: He is not, no. John, I think, has actually moved on from his work. Congress is --
QUESTION: He's in building though, isn't he?
MR. MCCORMACK: Congress has come to an end of session. You know, we still invite him in.
QUESTION: This is (inaudible), okay. Justice Department put out a list of -- I guess they're Serbs accused, charged with, being prosecuted for illegal immigration. You could tell me to go to Justice with it, but you folks transmitted the thing and you're the counter-terror -- one of the or the counter-terror leads.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know if any of these are suspected of war crimes? Is there any --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it for you, Barry. I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm telling you to go --
QUESTION: I can't go by names because first names vary with some prominent war criminals.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll look into for you Barry.
QUESTION: This has been a refuge of war criminals in the past. World War II.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks, Barry. Thanks, Charlie.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 203
Released on December 15, 2006