US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 08 Nov 2007
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 8, 2007
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 08 Nov 2007
Review of Pakistan
Assistance is Ongoing / Review Based on Actions in Pakistan
National Interest in Working with Pakistan to Fight Terror
Pakistani Government is In Best Position to Speak About Nuclear Issues
U.S. Will Fulfill Legal Responsibilities / Importance of Relationship with Pakistani People
Legislative Requirements / Waivers / Appropriation of Aid / Reviewing Legal Requirements
Discussion with Bhutto / Need for Peaceful Political Dialogue in Democratic Societies
U.S. Will Not Harm Counterterrorism Efforts
Musharraf Pledge/Take Off Uniform / Reinstate Constitutional Rule / Path to Democracy
Anne Patterson and Embassy Staff Have Been in Contact with Pakistani Leaders
Georgian Decision to Hold Early Presidential Elections
Elections Should be Free Fair and Express the Will of the People of Georgia
Foreign Interference / Georgian Internal Affairs
Khartoum / Government of Sudan / Implementation of Comprehensive Peace Agreement
Reports of Aung San Suu Kyi Meeting With
Serious Sustained Peaceful Democratic Dialogue Needed
U.S. Participation in ASEAN Summit
Meeting With Foreign Minister Muallem / Syria's Role in
Syria-Israel Dialogue is Up to the Two Parties to Decide
Syria-Israel Dialogue Not a Substitute for Moving Forward on Israeli-Palestinian Track
Main focus of Annapolis Meeting is Moving Forward On Israel-Palestinian Track
Shootings of Protesters is
Appalling / Cannot Say with Certainty Who is Responsible
Indication of Atmosphere in Venezuela
Deputy Secretary Negroponte / Community of Democracy Meeting
12:55 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start off with. We can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: What's the status of the review of Pakistan aid?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's still ongoing, underway.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? (Inaudible) I mean, Negroponte yesterday seemed to indicate that the Administration wants aid to continue. He's urging Congress to not block it or cut it. I mean, does that seem to indicate that this review is not going to be striking any of this aid out, that the U.S. policy towards Pakistan is not going to be changing in the light of Saturday's events?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what I think he's saying, if you look at all of his testimony, is that we are going to conduct a review based on the actions in Pakistan, what are the realities on the ground and our law and our regulations. And of course, we're going to comply with our laws and regulations.
He also made the point that we have real national interests specifically in working with Pakistan, the Pakistani people and the Pakistan Government, to fight terror. We're not going to do anything that makes America less safe. I don't think anybody would disagree with that. So we're going to follow through on exactly what Secretary Rice and the President have said we're going to do. We're going to review our assistance programs to Pakistan with respect to our legal requirements and we are also going to continue to work and keep open those channels of communication with the Pakistani people. We're going to continue to work with Pakistan to fight terror. I think everybody believes that it's not only in our interest, but it's in the interest of the Pakistani people because they face as much a threat from violent extremists as we do. So we have a common interest in making sure that that fight continues.
QUESTION: Okay. And then barring any legal obligations to cut it, the U.S. does not want to cut the aid. That was my understanding of his comments.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you can look at his testimony. I think it's pretty balanced testimony and carefully thought out. We are going to go into this absolutely with an open mind with respect to what are the legal requirements and we're going to look very carefully at those, we're going to follow the letter of the law, and then we'll take decisions about what, if any, changes there are going to be in our assistance program with Pakistan.
But everybody -- I don't think you're going to find anybody that disputes the notion that while this is a very difficult situation and it's an important moment for Pakistan, that we have real national interests at stake with respect to what course Pakistan takes.
QUESTION: Has the constitutional crisis over the last week or so caused any revisiting of the question of the security of the nuclear facilities in Pakistan by the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe questions about Pakistani nuclear facilities are best put to the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: But it is a concern of the United States?
QUESTION: Well, it's a legitimate question --
MR. MCCORMACK: I agree. I'm not saying --
QUESTION: Is the U.S. concerned about this? It certainly has been in the past.
MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. I would say 99 percent of the questions asked in this briefing are legitimate questions. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I would be very interested to know what the 1 percent are --
MR. MCCORMACK: I will leave you to decide what the 1 percent may comprise. (Laughter.) But that's a question that I'm going to refer back to the Pakistani Government. They're in the best position to speak about those issues.
QUESTION: Would you agree with the description of the Deputy Secretary's testimony yesterday? Would you agree with the description of it that it was basically a case for doing nothing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Who said that?
QUESTION: I'm saying it right now.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's --
QUESTION: -- basically a case for not making any changes --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I --
QUESTION: -- for keeping the aid programs where they are?
MR. MCCORMACK: It is -- I think it was a case for we are going to fulfill our legal responsibilities with respect to what we need to do in the wake of the actions that President Musharraf has taken. It is also a statement, talking about the importance of the United States maintaining a relationship with the Pakistani people as well as furthering our national interest.
QUESTION: But it's not -- but he did this on Saturday. It's now Thursday. Are you saying that the interagency -- that this review, that the people doing the review have not yet been able to figure out if there are any legal --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are --
QUESTION: -- or statutory requirements for aid?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a State Department component to this, there's a DOD component to this, and I expect that there are probably other agencies in the U.S. Government that have equities in this review process. We are merely one part of the review process that will feed into the overall --
QUESTION: Well, the part that you can speak to, from the part that's being done in this building, have they -- have these people determined if there's anything that has to -- that is triggered legally under the law?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's still ongoing, Matt. It's still ongoing and then we're going to feed in to the overall review. I'm not going to try to dissect our particular piece of this. I don't think that that's fair. We're going to wait until the overall assessment is done and then either we will talk about it or the White House will talk about it or both of us.
QUESTION: Negroponte said that everything is covered by the appropriate waivers. That -- how do we interpret that? He said that everything that you guys have looked at so far is covered by the appropriate waivers.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this gets into the legislation and the legislative requirements. And there are various provisions in there that require waivers to be issued and that, in some cases, because of the fact that you do not yet have new legislation appropriating funds, that some of those waivers carry over. I think, actually, all of the waivers carry over as far as I know. But that gets into some real inside baseball about legislative requirements and the actions of Congress and what we're required to do. But we are still conducting this review and taking a look at what we are and may be legally required to do.
QUESTION: Do you have a timetable for the review?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a timetable, but it's something that people are working on right now.
QUESTION: Is the United States worried about violent confrontation in Pakistan? And can you be as specific as you possibly can about what the United States said to Benazir Bhutto in that regard?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I think you'll understand that we're probably not going to describe in detail our conversations with former Prime Minister Bhutto or anybody else that's involved in Pakistani political life, whether that's leaders of political parties or people who are leaders of civil society.
Suffice it to say, our message is that we are firm believers and firm supporters of the idea that there needs to be a space in any democratic society, any aspiring democratic society, or any society which may have taken a detour from constitutional rule, that there needs to be a space for open, peaceful, political dialogue. That is very important and it's very important not only for the current moment but also for the future, maintaining that principle.
That said, it's very important also in what is clearly an important moment in Pakistan's history, as well as a politically turbulent time that all responsible leaders, all responsible parties, make every effort that they possibly can to maintain an atmosphere of calm, free from violence, because if you start getting into a situation where there are large-scale outbreaks of violence, that is something that could possibly hinder Pakistan's return to the democratic pathway and constitutional rule. Nobody wants to see that. That's bad for the Pakistani people.
So there are a lot of different levels to this message, but certainly we are in contact with a spectrum of leaders, responsible leaders throughout Pakistan, emphasizing the fact that there needs to be an immediate return to constitutional rule, that Pakistan needs to get back on the pathway to democracy. In that regard, President Musharraf has apparently ordered that elections be held sometime prior to February 15th. That is a positive step. There are other actions that need to be taken. He needs to fulfill his pledge, which he apparently recommitted to today, according to news reports, to take off the military uniform, as well as there is also a need to roll back the state of emergency, reinstate constitutional rule and put Pakistan firmly back on that pathway to democracy.
By the way, President Musharraf did quite a bit between 2001 and the current period before the declaration of the state of emergency to further. He did institute important political as well as economic reform. So what we want to see for the benefit of the Pakistani people is a return to that pathway of economic and political reform expanding democracy and expanding prosperity in Pakistan for all the Pakistani people.
QUESTION: Considering that, should Benazir Bhutto abandon the rally in March that she's discussed?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- leaders in Pakistani political life are going to have to take their own decisions about what are -- what is the proper course, keeping in mind that it is absolutely essential to have open political discussion, peaceful political discussion, peaceful expression of political views. But also it is important during a sensitive time in Pakistan's history to try to maintain an atmosphere of calm in which you can have open rational dialogue and -- so that the Pakistani people are able to peacefully express themselves and their desires about a return to a constitutional and democratic rule.
QUESTION: Sean, Bhutto said on air this morning that Patterson specifically asked her not to hold a rally or strongly discouraged --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sorry, I didn't --
QUESTION: I said, Bhutto said on our air this morning in a phone interview that Patterson had asked her not to hold a rally at all. Can you confirm that? Can you elaborate on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into the details of Anne's conversation with her. But Anne, as well as other members of the Embassy staff, were in contact with the whole spectrum of responsible leaders in Pakistan. I am not going to get into our half of the conversation. Of course, others are free to describe the conversations as they wish and interpret them as they will.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) call Musharraf in coming days?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, there's no plans on the books. Of course, if she feels the need to speak with President Musharraf, then of course she will. The President spoke with him yesterday and she --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, they are. And Secretary Rice has had a number of conversations with President Musharraf in the preceding weeks.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: I have one. I have one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator Biden today became the latest (inaudible) to suggest that the U.S. should take a look at the sale of F-16s that are in the pipeline and hold them up. And one of his arguments was they're not directly tied to the war on terror. Are they on the table and does the -- do you consider the F-16 sales part of the war on terror?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to comment on any particular aspect of our aid program or our military relationship with Pakistan. The President has laid out very clearly, as has Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Negroponte, we don't want to do anything that would harm our counterterrorism efforts. But we are going to take a look at all aspects of our aid programs with Pakistan prior to the completion of that review and any decisions that we've made -- may be made. I'm not going to talk about various aspects of the review or any particular components of what might be under consideration.
QUESTION: Georgia? The Georgian President announced this morning, actually while you were speaking to the press --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
QUESTION: -- that the presidential election would be organized in January. And he also said the situation is improving on the ground, which seemed to imply that the emergency rule will be lifted soon. Do you have any reaction?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we did -- we put out a statement about this, and I can read it for everybody else's benefit who may not have seen it:
"The United States welcomes the Georgian Government's decision to hold early presidential elections and a referendum on timing of parliamentary elections. At the same time, we continue to urge the Government of Georgia to lift the state of emergency and restore all media broadcasts. These are necessary steps to restore democratic conditions for the election and the referendum. We call on all parties to maintain calm, respect the rule of law and address their differences through serious discussions to strengthen Georgia's democratic political system. These discussions should take place in the spirit of compromise and in support of Georgia's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and commitment to human rights."
QUESTION: And do you think that the conditions -- it will be enough? Don't you think it will be a bit early -- January -- or it's a good time and they will have time to prepare?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is the President -- the statement and commandment of President Saakashvili. Elections have been held and organized -- good elections have been held with shorter lead times than this. So certainly it is possible, but clearly it is not a lot of time so you're going to have to make a concerted effort to make sure that the run-up to election -- to the elections is proper; that people have a rational expectation and feel as though that they can express themselves freely -- their political views; and so that the population can make a judgment, informed judgment, about who they want to vote for. And then election day is a day in which there are free, fair and transparent elections; people can vote, people can use the ballot box free from intimidation, and that once you have the actual counting of the ballots, that that's done in a way that really reflects the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box.
QUESTION: And at the same time, the supreme court declared that some opponents are -- they accused them of spying and working for a foreign power --
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen that, Sylvie.
QUESTION: It was just before the briefing.
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that there has been a lot of discussion -- not just over the past few days, but going back for some period of time about foreign interference in Georgia's internal affairs. I don't have any particular information that would either substantiate or refute that idea. But certainly I don't think anybody wants to see anybody but the Georgian people determine what Georgia's future course will be.
QUESTION: The United States position is known that it's no peace agreement before North Korea disable nuclear facilities. Meantime, South Korean Government mentioned North Korea's disabling of nuclear facilities and peace agreement must be done at the same time. What is your comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Secretary Rice just spoke to this yesterday. You can take a look at the transcript. She got asked that exact question.
QUESTION: Were you able to look into what I asked about this morning, about Sudan and Salva Kiir and the Post story?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yes, I did -- yes, I was. I was able to track that down. Apparently, what these proposals were, they were concerning implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And Andrew, several weeks ago, made some proposals that sought to bridge differences between the government in Khartoum and the government in the South.
And what I have been told is -- and I heard this upstairs when the Secretary met with Salva Kiir -- is that Khartoum and the Government of Southern Sudan were actually able to come to some agreement regarding the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA. So -- and Salva Kiir was satisfied with those arrangements. He wants to see them implemented, obviously. And so the suggestions that Andrew had are mooted by the fact that they have already -- Khartoum and the South have actually already moved beyond those proposals.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that what the North and South agreed to, whenever that was, last weekend or whenever --
MR. MCCORMACK: It was November 2nd or 3rd.
QUESTION: -- include some of -- at least some of the suggestions that (inaudible)--
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe so. I think -- I think some of Andrew's ideas were reflected in the proposal. I don't know if they -- it was just a matter of people in different places coming up with a good idea or whether or not they (inaudible)--
QUESTION: So, basically, it's off the table now? It's no longer --
MR. MCCORMACK: No longer relevant, because they've actually moved beyond it, moved beyond the issue.
QUESTION: On Burma?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: What do you make of the announcement by Gambari, basically -- Aung San Suu Kyi will apparently be meeting with -- be allowed to meet with leaders of her own party and with a representative of the government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Seen the reports. We haven't been able to confirm it. I know that Mr. Gambari is going to be reporting back to the Security Council. We have -- our representatives or people from our government have not had a chance to either talk to him or be briefed out regarding his activities in Burma.
What needs to happen in Burma is that there needs to be a serious, sustained, peaceful democratic dialogue. That is not something that we have seen. And as part of that, Aung San Suu Kyi should be able to engage in the kinds of political activities with her party that would add to that dialogue.
As for the reports that she's going to be able to have this meeting, I can't confirm them for you at this point. But it would be a step, but hardly a sufficient step, in order to achieve that true democratic dialogue in Burma.
QUESTION: Just somewhat of a technical question. Is the United States going to be represented at the ASEAN summit in Singapore, apparently beginning November 18th? There are reports actually that ASEAN would like to see the United States represented.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Dave, and see what our representation is going to be. We've had good meetings with ASEAN representatives. Most recently, the Secretary met with them up in New York at the UN General Assembly. And I know we are exploring ways for ASEAN leaders to get together and have a discussion.
QUESTION: Syria. This may have come up at the tail end of the gaggle this morning, but this Israeli newspaper report about secret contacts with Syria in the interest of arranging a bilateral Syria-Israeli set of talks after Annapolis or on the site --
MR. MCCORMACK: Bilateral Israeli-Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the Israeli Government about that. We have --
QUESTION: But is the U.S. not approaching Syria to work on that issue at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. Secretary Rice met with Foreign Minister Muallem in Istanbul, but that was primarily to talk about -- from our point of view, to talk about Lebanon and the importance of Syria not meddling in Lebanese affairs and not interfering in the upcoming elections that will determine the next president of Lebanon. Now, we have said repeatedly that if Israel and Syria want to have a dialogue, then that is going to be up to the two parties to decide. We haven't seen any evidence at this point that Syria wants to play a positive role in the region, regardless of the issue that you're talking about -- whether it's the Palestinian-Israeli issue or Lebanon or Iraq.
Ultimately, that's going to have to be a decision for those two sides to take. But it is really important to underscore the fact that we do not believe and do not see any sort of interaction or dialogue between Syria and Israel as a substitute for moving forward on the Israeli-Palestinian track. The Annapolis meeting is going to be about the Israeli-Palestinian track. I'm sure other attendees, when we know who those attendees are going to be, will bring up other topics. But the main focus is going to be on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Syria has agreed to allow U.S. interviewers into Syria to screen Iraqi refugees?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sylvie. Jim Foley was recently in Syria and this is one of the top two items on his agenda. Let me see if we -- what his takeaway from those discussions were and let me check on any reports, public reports, that may be out there.
QUESTION: Did that issue come up with Rice and the Syrian Foreign Minister?
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't ask her about it, Matt. I'm not sure.
QUESTION: Please, any reaction to the shootings in Venezuela against students after a anti-Chavez --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It's just appalling, just appalling. We don't know who is responsible for this. The news reports and the reports that I have seen have said that there were masked gunmen who opened fire on students who were peacefully protesting. So I can't tell you exactly who is responsible for this, but it's just, you know, an appalling act and just another indication of the kind of atmosphere that you see in Venezuela. These people are just expressing themselves in a peaceful manner. They've had a view contrary to the views held by the government, but it was a peaceful protest, as far as I've been able to determine from the news reports.
QUESTION: But based on information you're getting from the Embassy, you don't know whether those were members of Chavez militia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't say with any certainty who it was.
QUESTION: Secretary Negroponte and also Jendayi Frazer are traveling in Africa next week. Do you have any --
MR. MCCORMACK: You just promoted him. He's the Deputy Secretary.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry, did I say --
MR. MCCORMACK: Deputy Secretary.
QUESTION: Sorry. (Laughter.) Two titles up. Yeah, there's an Africa trip ahead of (inaudible) Ivory Coast. Do you have any other details on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to be putting out a travel statement about the Deputy Secretary's travel. He's going to be going to, I believe, the Community of Democracies meeting and he may have some other stops as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)
DPB # 198
Released on November 8, 2007