State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 21, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 21, 2006
Update on Six-Party Talks
Financial Issues and Nuclear Talks to Remain Separate
Working Group to Meet Again in January in New York
Talks Were Well Prepared / U.S. Hopes This Round of Talks Produce
Counterfeit Issues Must be Addressed by U.S. Laws
UNSC Vote on Sanctions / U.S. Pushing For Vote
U.S. Seeking Some Changes to Resolution
Civil Nuclear Deal Signals New Chapter in U.S.-India Relations
Work Remains on Negotiating Agreement Before Complete
India’s Behavior and Responsibility on Nuclear Issues Not
Comparable to Iran
Condolences to People of Turkmenistan on Death of President /
Turkmen People Must Contemplate Future
U.S. Will Work With Interim Administration
U.S. Supports Basic Liberties, Freedoms, Democracy
Process of Naming New Ambassador Ongoing
Violence in Darfur of Concern
U.S. Working to Get AU UN Force in Darfur
Importance of Darfur Peace Agreement
U.S. Supports Religious Freedom in Iraq
NATO Will Not Shrink From Fight Against Taliban
2:45 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. You've already heard from the Secretary this afternoon, so I'm here to take whatever other questions you might have. Who wants to start? Charlie, you have to be quick on the trigger today.
QUESTION: Oh, I thought you said to follow up on the Secretary unless George is going to do -- George, do you have North Korea?
QUESTION: I want to follow up on the Secretary, too. Can you provide any more detail on --
QUESTION: I want to follow up on the Secretary. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead, George.
QUESTION: Can you help us --
MR. MCCORMACK: Should have talked to Libby and asked her to get more follow-ups in.
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Not much more to report. You've heard -- you've all heard from Chris Hill in Beijing. There should be a transcript out. They are into the talks. They are in to the bilateral sessions. We -- they're still working hard at it. Tomorrow is the last scheduled day of discussions. It's going to be up to them whether or not they extend that. Chris has that flexibility in terms of working with people on the ground.
You heard the Secretary on the issue of the North Koreans wanting to link the six-party -- progress on the six-party talks and moving forward from the September 2005 joint statement and the so-called financial issues, the Banco Delta Asia issue. As you heard her say, we view these as separate issues. We have talked to the North Koreans about it. We have addressed it in the way that they have asked it to be addressed in this working group. The working group will likely meet again in January in New York. Hasn't been scheduled yet.
So that's really the state of play as for where we stand now.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the other subject the Secretary addressed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On the UN resolution on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yep.
QUESTION: The Secretary pointedly didn't say that a vote would happen this week, or even this year for that matter. So the question --
MR. MCCORMACK: We are still shooting for a vote tomorrow, Charlie.
QUESTION: Still shooting for a vote?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yep.
QUESTION: And you think the Russians are on board? She indicated --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the --
QUESTION: I'll let you characterize it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they made an agreement a long time ago to support a sanctions resolution if Iran did not meet the conditions that were laid out for it by the Security Council. that is -- the Iranians have not met those conditions. In fact, they've been quite defiant in their tone and their actions since August 31st, so it is time to pass a sanctions resolution. We would hope that they could vote for the sanctions resolution that we now have up at the Security Council.
QUESTION: Sean, she said had heard from them. She said -- she used the word "heard" that they want to sanction Iran for their defiance. Does that mean she heard that from Lavrov this week or is she just talking about in general that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Russians have said that they support a resolution and she was referring to the fact that they have agreed to a sanctions resolution as part of this diplomatic process. We don't have any specific commitments at this point as to which way they'll vote.
QUESTION: She said the resolution that U.S. is seeking some changes. What kind of changes?
MR. MCCORMACK: Various tweaks to these resolutions even though it is in blue, which for -- in non-UN-speak means that it has been presented to all the Council for its consideration. The typical procedure there is that it is -- goes into blue and then it's voted at least 24 hours later. During that period of time, other members of the Security Council other than those who have proposed the resolution can make changes to it, propose changes to it. Some of those changes might be accepted. Others may not be.
We have made some suggestions to the Europeans for a couple of changes on the resolution that they put into blue yesterday. I think that the Europeans have taken a couple of those changes and we're certainly pleased by that, and we would hope now that all the other members of the Council who have thus far not been willing to schedule a vote for this resolution would be able to vote for the resolution that we have now before us.
QUESTION: Do these changes relate to travel restrictions?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so. There were some changes yesterday during the course of yesterday that related to the travel restrictions.
QUESTION: Removing them or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it modified -- you can -- I think it's either in a publicly available document or one that is easily obtainable. I don't have it with me right now. It doesn't eliminate travel restrictions, but it changes the language and changes the requirements for member states in terms of what they do in tracking and reporting individuals and/or allowing individuals into their country.
QUESTION: Have there been any last-minute consultations on this this morning or between Burns and the Secretary?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nick Burns has talked to some of his political director counterparts. Secretary Rice spoke with Foreign Secretary Beckett this morning as well. Those are the only consultations other than up in New York itself that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: One other thing on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said before that the Russians haven't indicated which way they're going to vote.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Have they indicated they won't abstain? That is, that they won't vote no; that is, they'll either abstain or vote for it? Have they given you that indication?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that we have that degree of assurance. We would hope, Charlie, that they would either support the resolution with a yes vote or, at the very minimum, not stand in the way of it being passed. Regardless, it would be binding on Russia as well as all other member-states since it is a Chapter 7 resolution.
QUESTION: Sean, as far as these resolutions are concerned on Iran and other issues, the United Nations will have a new Secretary General. You think he will -- he's from South Korea. You think this will make any differences in the future or how do you see his leadership?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that it will make any difference. The Secretary General -- the new Secretary General is very familiar with issues concerning nonproliferation. He spent a lot of time and is expert on issues related to North Korea and their nuclear program, so he's well-versed in that. And I don't -- I haven't heard his particular views on Iran or this particular resolution, but again, it's -- at this stage, it is an issue for the member-states of the Security Council to decide.
QUESTION: Can I ask one quick question on North Korea? I understand the specifics are difficult, but from the Hill transcript today, he seemed fairly optimistic in the morning. By the evening, he'd had enough. A very difficult day, we hope -- his Japanese counterparts as well.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Can you just elaborate on how they went or --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's sort of the -- that's the rhythm of these things. You have -- at one moment things look optimistic, you think you are going to be able to make some real progress, then three hours later things don't look so bright. Three hours after that, things pick up again a little bit. We've -- that's sort of the rhythm to these negotiations. We're hoping that we end up on a high point and actually come to some form of agreement that, in a concrete way, will change the situation on the ground as we see it.
The round is not over yet. It's also a case where you have to have -- you have a set of discussions. The differences might come to the fore and delegations go back to capitals for instructions.
QUESTION: So tomorrow, will things take a different turn or it'll be a clean slate or -- MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. It's one of these cases where delegations will go back to capitals and say this is what has happened, this is what's been requested of us, this is what we think we should do. That's, I think, where we find ourselves right now. I know the Chinese are working very hard to -- in a constructive way, to try to move the process along in a way that everybody can sign up to a document that really changes things on the ground.
QUESTION: Are you ready to take the talks into next week if you have to?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's going to be a call Chris has to make. At this point, I don't think he has changed his travel plans, but we'll see.
QUESTION: Back to Iran for a second.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Before the talks started, you emphasized the importance of having them well-prepared so you pretty much knew --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- what to expect once the talks started. And it doesn't seem like that is happening. We're talking about the positive attitude of the North Koreans in the discussions in Beijing and it doesn't seem like they're carrying out their end of the bargain as you understood it to be. What do you say to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I mean, just because something is -- there's a difference between well-prepared and having something signed, sealed and delivered. And we never expected that in that period prior to the actual beginning of this round of talks that we're going to everything signed, sealed and delivered. But you would -- you wanted to get to a point where: (a) all the parties had an understanding of a starting point for discussions; (b) where everybody hoped those discussions to end up in terms of a goal and; (c) some rational expectation that you could get from A to B. And that doesn't guarantee that you are going to get from A to B. And I think we all expected that there were going to be tough negotiations that would -- that's what we found. We certainly hope this round is able to produce something. We have urged all the parties to work as hard as they can to see that the round does produce something. But we think the talks were well prepared, but that doesn't obviate the need for rolling up your sleeves and really going at it hammer and tong, trying to come to a negotiated solution.
QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up on this. The Secretary made very clear her desire for the financial issues and the nuclear talks to be separate. That can be the U.S. position, but if the North Koreans continue to insist that the two are linked as Ambassador Hill made transparently clear, you really can't make any progress, it would seem, on North Korea unless you can find some way to mollify them on the sanctions.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. They could also change their position. So in our view and I think there's some support for this, the issues are not linked because it gets down to a fundamental issue of illicit behavior. You know, can states take actions to protect, for example, the integrity of their own currency? We certainly believe that to be true. I don't think you'll find many other states quibbling with that. Certainly not states that have an interest in protecting their currency or seeing that that their territorial waters or their territory is not used for transit of illicit goods or drugs or trafficking in people or any of those other types of things.
So it comes down to that sort of fundamental issue: Are you going to look the other way when a country is engaged in illicit activity? We say according to our laws and regulations, no, you can't do that. We're willing to talk to the North Koreans and try to get more details as they understand them. We're willing to listen to that and willing to share information with them. But there comes a point in -- an irreducible point of, well, there's a problem of illicit behavior and we have to address that in certain ways. We have laws and regulations by which we have to abide.
QUESTION: Which is more important to the U.S. Government, having a North Korea that is not a nuclear power or a nuclear state, or having a North Korea that does not counterfeit?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I don't think -- I mean, we don't look at it those ways. I mean, they're both -- they're both very important goals. And certainly for us the issue of Korea's illicit behavior counterfeiting and engaging in other illicit activities as it relates directly to us in this particular case, the same could be -- the same could hold true for other countries.
Everybody shares the goal of having a denuclearized peninsula, not only the countries -- the five countries -- excluding North Korea – in the six-party talks, but other countries in the region. So everybody shares that goal. And we don't think that you should have to trade off one for another, look the other way on illicit behavior to perhaps maybe achieve something along the other track. We think that keeping our focus, keeping -- sticking to principle in the course of the six-party talks negotiations will ultimately, we hope, yield a result. If it -- if it does not, then of course we have to reassess that particular diplomatic track.
I would also point out, too, that North Korea still remains under UN sanctions, Chapter 7 sanctions, Security Council Resolution 1718. And countries continue to implement that Security Council resolution and you're not finding any sort of wavering in terms of countries saying, well, we have to put aside implementation of that Security Council resolution while we're in these talks. That still remains in effect because there are still concerns about North Korea's behavior that led to that Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: It would seem as if the Bush Administration in making the designation that it did on September 15, 2005, that BDA was a primary money-laundering concern. That you have essentially, you know, added a factor to your negotiations with the North Koreans on the nuclear matter because they want to make it that way, and that you are essentially saying because this is something you can't compromise on, they have to -- you have to enforce your laws and they have to respect that, that you are almost placing a higher priority on those matters than on the other.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, you can't -- the basic point is yes, you have a diplomatic track and you want to put as much energy as you possibly can into making that succeed. People also have an obligation to enforce our laws, and when they get to the point where they have the information and they are convinced that their information is accurate and correct, they have an obligation to act on that. And that's what the people in the Treasury Department did with our support here in the State Department.
QUESTION: But haven't the North Koreans been counterfeiting for years?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a matter of meeting the requirements under the law. I mean, this is -- you may have suspicions that somebody is engaged in illicit activity, but actually to act under the law -- and this is a new section of the law under the Patriot Act -- you were able to -- you are able to act because you have the information, you're able to gather it and you have an obligation to act, in fact, when you have that information. So it's a matter of collecting all the evidence.
The United States or other countries may have suspicions about North Korean activity or the activity of other states engaged in illicit behavior, but they may remain just that -- they may remain just suspicions -- until you actually are able to collect the hard facts and obligations that meet the threshold test of the law.
QUESTION: Sean, back to the -- how well the talks were being prepared and your -- not requirement but desire to have them well-prepared. It seems to me exactly this issue, the financial issue, would have been one of those things to have some understanding about fundamentally before going into the talks. Do you know if the matter was raised by the North Koreans in the preparation? Because now all the -- we're losing time talking about financial issues when you can negotiate nuclear stuff.
MR. MCCORMACK: We did talk about it and this was the mechanism that it was agreed to. We made very clear that through this mechanism we would seek to address the issue. But we also made clear in those preparatory discussions that the fundamental issue at stake here was illicit behavior. So you know, there was -- I think there was a healthy and full understanding on both sides of what this mechanism was and how it would work.
QUESTION: Sean, as far as this agreement signed by the President on the 18th at the White House between U.S. and India civil nuclear --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- at least first of all, credit goes to Dr. Condoleezza Rice, of course, and Secretary -- Under Secretary Nicholas Burns and also Ambassador Mulford came all the way from Delhi to Washington to witness the agreement. My question is --
MR. MCCORMACK: You might throw the President some credit in there, too.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Of course. But I'm talking about these people back and forth really worked hard day and night without their -- my question is here that now from here how this agreement will help in -- other than India it will help India as far as energy need is concerned. As far as the relations between the U.S. and India, you think this will -- the relation will be increased or it will be on the boost or what? How this will help?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it opens up quite obvious possibilities in the nuclear energy sector. But it is also certainly symbolic of a new chapter in U.S.-Indian relations. I think it certainly signifies a qualitative change in our relationship that has been building for quite some time, but there were certain obstacles for it to actually proceed to the next stage. And one of these was this issue of India's nuclear program and how it related to the rest of the world on that -- with regard to that issue, and then other issues.
So yes, we think that it is quite important. It was a quite important moment in U.S.-Indian relations and there's more to do to broaden and deepen the relationship. And I think you'll probably see more activity in that regard from the Secretary as well as others in the Administration in the months ahead. There's still work to do, mind you, in terms of negotiating some of the agreements, 123 agreement, and then India also has to negotiate a separate agreement with the IAEA, and then the Nuclear Suppliers Group has to act. So there are some other things related to this issue that have to happen before it's really completed, but I think it also -- you know, the act, the demonstration of trust and confidence and willing to bargain on this issue certainly opens the door to a different kind of relationship.
QUESTION: Sean, just to follow that, as the global community deals with Iranian nuclear program, which the President of Iran -- or dictator of Iran, I would call -- he keeps saying all the time that why Iran should not allow because India and Pakistan has both all these weapons or intend to. Since India voted with the U.S. or with the Western allies against Iran's nuclear program, so what answer do you have for Iran's President on this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: On which issue?
QUESTION: What message you have for President of Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: On which issue?
QUESTION: As far as that he said why he's not allowed to have, and India and Pakistan are the ones that they have it.
MR. MCCORMACK: What, the same kind of agreement that we have with India? I think it's self-evident. I mean, I think there's just no comparison in terms of Indian behavior and responsibility with respect to its nuclear program and what the Iranians are doing. It's an easy answer.
Let's go over here. Dave Gollust.
QUESTION: Sean, could you reflect on the passing of the Turkmen President and perhaps your hopes for that country after his years of unique rule?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly our condolences go out to the people of Turkmenistan. This is a real period of a real moment of change for them. They have lost a leader and we offer our condolences to them.
Turkmenistan and its people now have to look to the future and what that future is going to be. They will have to decide that for themselves. There will be an interim administration and we will certainly work with them. And as the Turkmen people contemplate what the future holds for them, the United States, and I'm sure other countries, will be there with them to work with them, to assist them in ways that are appropriate and that both the Turkmen people and those other governments can agree to.
QUESTION: Some other countries, I believe in Europe, have sort of placed holds on some assets that may have belonged to the President. Is there any effort here to sort of trace those holdings --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Dave. I'm not aware of it, but it could well be the case. I'm no aware of it.
QUESTION: To prevent diversion.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll check for you.
QUESTION: How do you plan to work with them on the succession? What kind of initiative could you take?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this has just happened. There will be an interim administration, I'm sure. I think that they have named an individual to take over day-to-day affairs of their government. We'll see. We’ll see how this unfolds in the days, weeks and months ahead. It is certainly a sudden change for Turkmenistan and the Turkmen people and I think they have to come to grips with that change and what their future will be.
QUESTION: You didn't mention democracy as the possible goal.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's -- I think it goes without saying that, of course, we support the aspirations of all people to those basic liberties and freedoms that we hold dear: freedom of expression; freedom to participate without fear of persecution in the political process; freedom to worship; and other fundamental freedoms. We believe more fundamentally that those should be part of every country around the globe's future.
QUESTION: Do you think that the interim administration after a long period of an absence of democracy should look to hold elections and give people a chance to express their views politically? Would you like to see that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. First of all, we have to make an assessment of exactly what course this administration is going to chart. But absolutely, that should remain the goal for all people around the world, all people who have not experienced the freedom to choose who will govern them. I think that certainly that is ultimately the goal that we would have for any people, any nation around the world.
QUESTION: Do you see any risk of instability in Turkmenistan?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any sort of assessment of that for you, Sylvie. I don't know. I don't know what sort of ferment might exist within Turkmenistan or within the Turkmen political culture. I don't have any assessment of that.
QUESTION: Can I ask two real quick things on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: I heard your earlier comments about them. One, you know, you said the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Beckett and that Nick Burns had talked to some of his political director of conference. Do you know which ones he spoke to?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't.
QUESTION: Okay. And then second thing, the Secretary upstairs made reference to some changes being made to the current draft, even though it's in so-called blue. And I heard you say that the United States had requested some changes to the European draft.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When she made that remark was she referring to those change that you have requested or the changes you have requested and that others are requesting?
MR. MCCORMACK: I just assume that others have asked for changes to the draft. I can't tell you as a matter of fact that they have. We did -- we went back to them and asked them for some changes related to the financial assets issue. Previously, we had agreed to some changes that the Europeans had suggested with respect to the travel ban. So those are sort of -- a couple of the larger issues that were out there. As for any other changes, others may have asked for some.
QUESTION: A quick question on Saudi Arabia. Any developments to have a successor ambassador here in Washington? Any candidates emerging?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've certainly seen news reports in that regard. There's a whole choreographed process for a country to approach another country with respect to naming a new ambassador. There are several steps in that process. We don't ever comment on that process until another country actually names in public who their nominee will be.
QUESTION: Any word on candidates perhaps?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to talk about the process.
QUESTION: Have they requested -- without reference to whom they might have requested, have they requested agrement for anyone?
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't talk about where we are in the process. It's a black box. It's an input and an output; you'll see the output.
QUESTION: Why is it that way, just out of curiosity?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- there are a lot of different reasons that, you know, I'm not going to go into from the podium.
QUESTION: Sudan. The Government of Sudan has launched an offensive in Darfur just the day the UN envoy arrived in Khartoum. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have specific information on the offensive that you mentioned, Sylvie. But there's been a lot of violence and there's been an upsurge in the level of violence in Darfur and that's of grave concern to us as well as others around the globe. We are working very hard, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, to try to move this process forward to get peacekeepers -- not peacekeepers -- to get an AU UN force into Darfur. We have not -- the international community has not been successful in that regard as of yet.
We have seen an increasing intensity of the international participation and focus on this issue and that's good and we welcome that. So we hope that with that concerted diplomatic effort we can impress upon the Government of Sudan the importance of implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and most importantly and immediately, implementing the Addis Ababa understandings that relate to implementation of Resolution 1706.
QUESTION: There have been reports today saying that U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad may be meeting the Secretary General of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, the Sheikh Harith al-Dari, in Amman where he is.
MR. MCCORMACK: I did an initial check on that and thus far turned up no information to support that. But we'll look into it further for you.
QUESTION: I have a question about Iraq's Christian minority over Christmas. The head of the Chaldean Christian minority has asked people to be very aware not to celebrate Christmas too publicly. Are you concerned for their safety? Do you have any comments on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen that particular report. But I think it goes without saying that we support the right to worship as you please in any country around the world including in Iraq. Previously, Iraqis have lived together. You've had the Chaldean community living together with Shiite and Shiite communities with Sunni communities as well as other religious identities living in Iraq. And certainly it would be a really negative development if people weren't able to worship as they see they need to and want to.
QUESTION: Sean, since yesterday, and you pointed out some of the problems with Syria, they're now threatening to close the Lebanese border if an international court begins an examination of the political assassinations in Lebanon. And also they want to stop monitoring the Iraqi border and just yesterday evening ABC network news in their early evening just showed a videotape of the recent assault on the U.S. embassy. Do we deserve to talk to the Syrians or we're just flatly not going to? They are seeing all this --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we've -- right, well, we've talked a lot about this in the past couple weeks and don't really have anything new to add to it.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the arrest of journalist from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Kazakhstan?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen those reports; check into it for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sean, Afghanistan. As far as war on terrorism is concerned -- the global war against terrorism started from Afghanistan. Today's Washington Post is talking about what really I have been saying for the last whole year and also Afghanistani President Mr. Karzai also said that there is a mini-Taliban state in Pakistan and also it has been confirmed by Director of DNI Mr. Negroponte. So where do we stand now as we enter the new year in the face of war on terrorism as the Talibans are coming back in Afghanistan and they are taking the government of President Karzai?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a continuing concern, clearly. We saw the Taliban go after the progress that had been made in southern Afghanistan and we saw some pretty tough military engagements in which NATO forces, including those from Canada, engaged. And there's been a cost in terms of lives. But NATO is not going to shrink from that fight and we have been working with President Musharraf as well as President Karzai to try to get at that issue that you referred to of not allowing safe havens along that Afghan-Pakistan border. It's a tough problem. Some of those tribal areas haven't really formally been governed by the Government of Pakistan or any government for quite some time. So it's a tough issue to get at. Pakistan has proposed an approach. I think it's a little bit early to say -- make a judgment on whether or not it's going to work. But President Musharraf certainly is keenly aware of the issue and the problem. That's why he came up with his proposal. But it's still a real issue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:12 p.m.)
DPB # 207
Released on December 21, 2006