US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 16 Nov 2007
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 16, 2007
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 16 Nov 2007
Record Number of Student Visas Issued
U.S. Contact with Former Prime Minister Bhutto
Possible Power Sharing Deal / Need for Moderate Forces to Work Together
Decisions Involving Pakistan's Future in Hands of Pakistani People
Department Meetings with Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger
EU Troika Proposals
UNDP's Supply of High-Tech Border Monitoring Equipment
U.S. Looking into What Went Into Granting of Licenses
Financial Working Group Meeting
Obligations of Six-Party Members
Secretary Rice's Calls Regarding Annapolis Conference
Process to Fill Open Jobs / Directed Assignments / Volunteers
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one brief note here for you at the beginning. We'll put out the full Media Note on this. I don't know if you knew this, but this was National Education Week, November 12th through the 16th, and you're wondering what is the State Department part of this.
Well, as a matter of fact, we have issued a record number of visas to students to study in the United States, exceeding pre-9/11 levels. During fiscal year 2007, the Department issued more than 651,000 student and exchange visitor visas, 10 percent more than last year and 90,000 more than were issued in fiscal year 2001.
With that, I'll be happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: I understand that the Deputy Secretary has spoken with Mrs. Bhutto.
MR. MCCORMACK: He did. He did this morning, this morning after I spoke with all of you at the gaggle. He had a phone conversation with her. He reiterated many of the same points that you've heard me talk about here in public, the importance of moderate forces working together in Pakistan for a better future for Pakistan, and also to get Pakistan back on the pathway to constitutional and democratic rule. He wanted to hear from her a little bit how she viewed the political situation in Pakistan. That's part of what he is trying to get a sense of in some of his meetings that he had today. He met with the Embassy staff, Ambassador Patterson as well as her team there, met with at least one foreign ambassador to get a sense of his read on the situation there, also met with the -- President Musharraf's national security advisor, then he had the phone call with former Prime Minister Bhutto.
QUESTION: Do you know about how long it was?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I can check for you.
QUESTION: And where -- is she -- she was in Lahore again?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure. I think she was -- she -- I'm not sure where she was --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a phone call and not a meeting in person? They were in different places?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, they were in different places. My understanding was, at least as of this morning -- and I don't track her whereabouts, but she was in Lahore, possibly heading to Islamabad. Part of the reason, too, for the phone call is, in some ways, given the current environment, it's just a little bit easier to have a phone call. You don't -- with excuses to all of you, you don't have a media circus outside and you can actually have probably a more relaxed conversation that way. It was not, to my knowledge, affected by her ability to move, that she has been released from house arrest.
QUESTION: Okay. And just the last thing, I just want to make sure that I'm up to date on the U.S. contacts with her. The last time was the Consul General in Lahore?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, yes.
QUESTION: And then before that, Patterson, Anne Patterson, had seen her.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: But Mrs. Bhutto has not gotten -- the Secretary hasn't spoken to her?
MR. MCCORMACK: She has not. She has not.
QUESTION: And no one else, so that we can say that this is -- his call is the highest level contact since the state of emergency, to your knowledge?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, yes.
QUESTION: So the national security advisor is Tariq Aziz -- not the one we know very well, of course?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's -- yes, that's right.
QUESTION: And Tariq Aziz was also in London to try to broker a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Bhutto. So does this mean that Negroponte is still trying to resurrect a power-sharing deal? Would you rule it out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what I would say is that that would be up to the two parties involved, President Musharraf and Prime Minister -- former Prime Minister Bhutto whether or not they come to some political accommodation. Now, we know that prior to the imposition of the state of emergency they had come to some tentative agreement about how to move forward with a political deal that could have resulted in her becoming prime minister and President Musharraf remaining as president.
We have been very upfront and very clear that we have encouraged moderate forces within the Pakistani political system, which would include former Prime Minister Bhutto, to work together for the kind of Pakistan that President Musharraf had envisioned for Pakistan prior to the state of emergency, and in fact had done a lot to try to achieve. Our hope is for Pakistan and for the Pakistani people that Pakistan can resume that course.
In order to do that, it's our assessment that those moderate forces within Pakistani political society are going to need to work together, not only to get to -- get back to that point where you have constitutional democratic rule, but for the day after, and the day after that.
QUESTION: Was there any -- in the decision to speak to former Prime Minister Bhutto, was there any thought about doing so partly as a signal to Musharraf that of the importance that the United States attaches to allowing opposition politicians to speak, do what they need to do, have outside contacts and so on?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure if that entered into the Deputy's calculation, but I think regardless of whether that was a calculation going in -- and I don't know, I haven't talked to him about that -- it does send a very clear message that we intend to talk to and continue our contacts with members of the Pakistanis' political leadership and political civil society. We think it's vitally important that there be a free exchange of information, that those channels of communication remain open. And more importantly, that they have open, free channels of communication with one another. That is really what you're -- what we're trying to encourage here.
We, of course, need to be able to communicate with those individuals to get our point of view across and to urge and to counsel. But ultimately, what's the most important is that they all talk with one another and work together on behalf of the Pakistani people.
QUESTION: And one other question. Can you -- I expect you can't but can you give us any information on who else the Deputy Secretary may meet during his visit, and in particular whether he is likely to have any meetings with members of the senior military leadership other than President Musharraf?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a full list for you. The itinerary is evolving. I expect that, as a rule, he will be able to meet with whomever he would like to meet. We have received no indication from the Pakistani Government or anybody in Pakistan that we won't be able to meet with whomever we want to meet. I would expect he's going to meet with President Musharraf. I would expect that he's going to have other meetings tomorrow as well. We'll keep you up to date on those, just as -- in response to Matt's question, it's one of the things I intended to raise with you, that he had called former Prime Minister Bhutto. We're going to try to be proactive as we can in filling you in on what his meetings are. I would expect, although -- and I don't want to make promises on behalf of the Deputy Secretary, but I would expect that towards the end of his visit in Pakistan he's going to find some way to communicate with the media about his meetings and what he heard and what he said while he was in Pakistan. So you'll have, I believe from him directly, his views, his impressions, what he said. And we're also going to try to keep you informed on with whom he met.
QUESTION: And can you address whether you would expect him to meet with senior military leaders other than President Musharraf?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. That would fall in the category of we'll keep you up to date on his meetings. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A telephone call instead of a face-to-face meeting, or possibly in addition to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that it would probably only be the phone call.
QUESTION: What about the meeting with the national security advisor? What can you tell us about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a real detailed read on it, but I would expect the Deputy Secretary reiterated all the points that you have heard from us in public regarding lifting the state of emergency, reinstituting the kind of political freedoms that existed prior to the state of emergency, getting Pakistan back on the right course, setting a specific date for those elections, making sure the run-up to those elections is prepared such that people have access to independent media so that they can get their views across, so the independent media can report on circumstances in Pakistan, and that President Musharraf take off the uniform.
QUESTION: Is this the first time that a U.S. official has met with the national security advisor there?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I believe -- I'm sure Anne Patterson has met with him in the past, and I believe the Deputy Secretary during his last trip met with the national security advisor.
Anything else on Pakistan?
QUESTION: There's been some criticism in Pakistan that the U.S. is interfering in Pakistani domestic politics. How would you respond to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- we have tried very hard to stay out of Pakistani domestic politics. Now, I will say that we have expressed our views, which we believe are consistent with our national interests, and we have expressed our views in the vein of friendship and in the vein of counsel to a good friend. So if people consider that interference in Pakistani politics, I don't know that there's much that I can do to try to combat those kinds of concerns.
But I can assure you that our firm view, and we say this in public and private, that whatever decisions Pakistan makes regarding its future, whatever decisions Pakistan's leaders make regarding Pakistan's future course, those are going to be for the Pakistani people to make and the Pakistani people alone.
QUESTION: On Kosovo, Mr. McCormack.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: EU Representative in troika for Kosovo is Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger of Germany.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: During the last two days, he had a series of meetings here at the State Department. May we have a readout?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Lambros, I don't have a full readout for you. But I can -- what I can tell you is we did have a good set of meetings with him. I talked to Dan Fried a little bit about this. Talked a little bit about the -- Ambassador Ischinger's -- the EU troika proposals about how this process will unfold and their discussions in their negotiations, so we got an update on those. He had some thoughts about some proposals that might be made about how this process might unfold, thought that those were very interesting, and he is going to test-run those to see what sort of reception they get.
We have been very clear about what our position is. President Bush has outlined that. You can go back and check the record. It is unchanged. And the EU troika understands and they fully appreciate it, but I -- there's really no substantial difference of opinion at all.
QUESTION: Did he meet with Secretary Rice, too?
MR. MCCORMACK: He did not, no.
QUESTION: And one related question. Mr. McCormack, very high, reliable sources in Washington on November 13th said that the independence of Kosovo is going to affect negatively the unity of the European Community politically and on the ground. Some DOS officials were present, too. I'm wondering (inaudible) many, many times, the independence of Kosovo?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as for any assessment about the effect of Kosovo on the internal politics of the EU, I think that's probably a question better put to a member of the EU, something which we are not. We're working very closely with the EU and I think that there is -- there is really a shared vision about where this issue needs to head between the United States and Europe. There may be some internal politics within the EU that the membership has to work and they're going to work that. That's not -- not our issue. They are going to have those discussions. But I think there really is a commonality of view of where this -- in where this should go.
QUESTION: And the last one -- and the last one, by the grace of God, the so-called Prime Minister of Kosovo Agim Ceku stated yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, "Kosovo alone will declare independence." Any comment, since his statement is identical with your own desire to this effect?
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, you know what our policy position is. I don't think I need to restate it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Sean, you said that Ambassador Ischinger had presented some interesting proposals and he was going to test-run those.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: You discussed those, sort of. They've been publicly reported in the last couple days, this status neutral idea for an agreement where you don't actually decide whether Kosovo is independent or part of Serbia and you just try to find a way for the two countries to deal with -- or the two entities to deal with one another. You said he's going to test-run those.
Presumably, to do that, he needs to have -- since the United States is a member of the troika -- Ambassador Wisner is there -- you guys have to sign off on it, the Europeans have to sign off on it, and even more importantly, the Russians have to sign off on it -- or Moscow, not the Russian negotiator of it. So in saying he's going to test-run these, is it your understanding that he now has a sort of green light from Washington, Brussels and Moscow to float these ideas to the two sides?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would only say from our perspective that his proposals, as he described them to us in their full detail, are fully consistent with our policy that we have outlined and that President Bush has stated and Secretary Rice has stated. So from our perspective, his ideas are absolutely consistent with our policy.
QUESTION: And you have no problem, therefore, with his putting them forward?
MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.
QUESTION: But you don't know whether the Russians have yet --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. That, I don't know.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Syrian story from this morning with UNDP?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: I've got a few very specific questions I wanted to ask you. Firstly, is the State Department aware of the provision of high-tech computer and surveillance equipment, including equipment manufactured by Cisco systems, to the Syrian Government by the UN Development Program?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I looked into your question and I got a couple things back when I looked into it. First of all, with respect to Syria and the UNDP and these particular kind of border upgrade, custom upgrade programs, we have put in place certain caveats with our funding to the UN that our money should not be used for these programs. Now understand that money is fungible when you're talking about the kind of support that you provide to the UN, but we did -- we have put in place, to the extent we are able, the most stringent safeguards we can to see that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not spent on these kinds of programs.
Now with respect to the specific question about the licensing, this is something we have to look into. We have to take a look at -- look back not only at our records to see what licensing requests were made and what decisions were made about provision of equipment to Syria via this UNDP program; we're also going to talk to the UNDP about that. So the -- at this point, we do not have a complete picture of exactly what events led to this equipment going to Syria, but it's something that we're looking at, something that we're looking at closely.
QUESTION: So you can't say at this point whether the State Department was aware at all of this or not this license being granted in 2006?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think looking back, it -- at least the preliminary look right now, and this may change over time, is that there was -- that there was a licensing request, that there was some license granted. Now what we want to do is understand the circumstances under which the license was granted, want to -- from both sides, both from the regulatory side here at the State Department and all the procedures, as well as from the UNDP side.
QUESTION: And more generally, does Secretary Rice believe the Syrian Government should receive millions of dollars worth of this kind of equipment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven't asked her specifically about this issue. Now as a general matter, the United States Government is working very closely with a number of different countries around the world in order to upgrade their customs and border-monitoring capabilities. It's an important development in fighting the war on terror.
Now when you're talking specifically about Syria and this kind of equipment, it raises some questions. And because these questions have been raised, we're taking -- we're going back and taking a look to see exactly what steps were followed on our side in granting licenses and on the UNDP side, what steps were followed in terms of requesting those licenses.
QUESTION: I don't know the details of this, but I was under the impression that it was one of -- it was U.S. -- that the United States wanted Syria to improve its -- particularly its border control with Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: We do, we do. The question becomes how exactly do they do that and does the United States provide, via a licensing approval, you know, the -- you know, non-sensitive technologies, but --
QUESTION: Is that what this was supposed to be, sensitive technology?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I didn't say -- it's not -- technology that requires a license, so however you want to describe that, whether or not the United States should be in the business of approving those kinds of licenses before -- and use in Syria.
QUESTION: Well, it just seems a bit unusual that you would be beating the Syrians over the head, telling them that they've got to stop -- you know, that they've got to enforce their border rules, particularly as it relates to insurgents going in and out of Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And at the same time, not allowing them the equipment that they might need to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not saying that at this point, Matt. What we want to do is we want to understand what happened.
QUESTION: Well, I guess --
MR. MCCORMACK: We also -- but you also -- while very often we encourage buy America, that is not necessarily the case for every country around the world, and therefore you have these licensing requirements. So there are a lot of different ways to monitor a border. You can do it with a mixture of personnel and technology, and that mixture is going to depend on the capabilities of the country in question, the kind of access they have to the required technologies. Every solution does not necessarily require a high-tech solution -- every problem does not necessarily require a high-tech solution.
QUESTION: Okay. But I guess -- what are you looking into, whether the licenses were granted at all or whether they should have been?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, looking into what went into the licensing --
QUESTION: The licensing --
MR. MCCORMACK: The licenses (inaudible) granted.
QUESTION: So the licenses were granted?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, they were, yes.
QUESTION: And there may be some problem with that? Maybe they shouldn't have been? Is that the question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I don't -- I don't know. We're looking into what went into granting the licenses.
No, you've already had a bunch. No, Lambros, you already had some.
QUESTION: On the meeting that's happening today with -- between the U.S. and North Koreans in New York, is this a meeting that's taking place within the context of the six-party talks or is this something separate from that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's -- this is the financial working group meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: This is something that was established -- it's within -- it's associated with the six-party talks in that part of -- part of having North Korea have a different kind of relationship eventually with the rest of the world, you have to address a lot of the financial issues. It originally came about because of the Banco Delta Asia issue and a way of communicating to North Korea what the various requirements were for them in order to -- in order for them (a) to resolve the Banco Delta Asia issue and (b) how to have a more normal relationship with the international financial system, what the requirements were for that. They have some work to do in that regard, so these briefings are a way of conveying to them that kind of information.
QUESTION: And so whatever is on the agenda at this meeting, is that something that will come up subsequently in the next six-party meetings or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if it will or not.
QUESTION: And do you know what the agenda specifically is for this meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Check with Treasury. They're leading the delegation.
QUESTION: Can you expect a declaration from North Korea anytime in the near future?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect in the coming weeks, consistent with the understanding that the undertakings they committed to would be completed by the end of the year. We as well as the other four members of the six-party talks have obligations as well, and I would expect that as North Korea fulfills its obligations the United States and the other members of the talks are going to be fulfilling their obligations.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary make any calls to Middle East leaders? I heard yesterday that she called Abbas. And is there any chance or is there enough time for her to visit, to make another visit to the Middle East before the Annapolis meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't anticipate that she is going to be going on any foreign travel between now and Annapolis. And she -- on any given day, she's doing a lot of different phone calls regarding the Annapolis conference, both in the run-up to it as well as what comes after Annapolis. But suffice it to say she is in close contact with all the major players involved in the -- in preparing for the Annapolis conference.
QUESTION: Did she --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into a detailed list of all her phone calls on this.
QUESTION: Well, can you tell us generally what she is saying in these calls? Is she saying looks like it's going to be around this date?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
QUESTION: She's not -- she's not --
MR. MCCORMACK: She's not issuing invitations, if that's --
QUESTION: Well, I'm just a little concerned because mine seems to have gotten lost somewhere.
MR. MCCORMACK: It's in the mail, Matt. Don't worry, it'll get to you.
QUESTION: So should we expect sometime soon, though, that we'll have those and we'll know about the invitations?
MR. MCCORMACK: As soon as we are prepared to make known in a formal way the dates for the conference, we will let you know. That day is not today.
QUESTION: And the parties know the date of the event or are you going to give them a short-notice invitation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, I think that once the invitations are issued, I would expect that most, if not all, of the invitees will reply, yes, we're coming. I think they'll be able to get here.
QUESTION: On North Korea. According to the United States Government sources, a large delegation consisting of State Department and USAID officials and also U.S.-based NGO representatives visited North Korea late last month and discussed food aid (inaudible) and monitoring procedure. So do you think the problem of monitoring procedures is good enough for the United States to resume food aid to North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think there was such a delegation. We can provide you the details of it. I just don't -- I don't have it handy for you. I did -- back a month ago, I was all briefed up on the issue and could have given you the details. Unfortunately, memory faults -- the memory is faltering now. So we'll get you something.
QUESTION: On North Korea too, was there any discussion in the meetings with the Prime Minister today that you know of related to the abductees issue and the connection to the six-party talks and possible agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Check over with the White House. We didn't have any separate meetings with the Prime Minister here.
QUESTION: Can you give us insight into the cable the Secretary is planning to send very soon about directed assignments?
MR. MCCORMACK: In the fullness of time, Matt, we will be ready to talk about what we hope is a completed process whereby all the open --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hopes to talk about in the cable or are you not wanting to be that specific?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Well, where we stand in the process is worth talking about now. Is -- we believe that we will have very soon completed the process by which the open jobs in Iraq that we've all been talking about over the past couple weeks, these 48 jobs, will have been filled by volunteers. We're dotting some i's, crossing some t's. That's very positive and it is testament to the willingness of the Foreign Service and the State Department to step up to a challenge. The Secretary challenged this building to send good people, qualified people, to fill those jobs in Iraq. And the response has been very good and very positive.
So while that is not final yet, like I said we're still working out some details, I would expect that early next week we'll probably have more to say about that. And I would expect the Secretary would probably communicate in some way with the State Department employees and members of the Foreign Service about that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect not. I would expect not. And it is worth noting as well that it looks very likely that these jobs will be filled by volunteers, but the Secretary reserves the right now and in the future to direct assignments, if need be.
QUESTION: You're talking about volunteers -- a couple of weeks ago when this first started, there were 43, I think the number was, positions that were open, that had not been filled by volunteers.
MR. MCCORMACK: Forty-eight.
QUESTION: Forty-eight. And then 200-and-something notices went out to people who qualified.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, prime candidates, yeah.
QUESTION: So these volunteers that have come up since then, are those people who received the notices?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's what -- I'll get you -- once we finish this whole process, we'll get you these numbers, what number or what percentage of the jobs were filled by people who are identified as prime candidates.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. MCCORMACK: What percentage of those 200 actually ended up filling the 48 jobs and what percentage --
QUESTION: So when you're talking --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- came from outside that candidate pool?
QUESTION: When you refer to volunteers, you're talking about people outside that candidate pool?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. They can -- they can --
QUESTION: People who accepted the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- assignment in response to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you could have been identified as a prime candidate and decided to volunteer, because at that point, you weren't -- those individuals weren't directed into an assignment. They were informed that they would be prime candidates, given their skill sets, given their backgrounds, given their professional history for filling a specific job that was open in Iraq.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right.