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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 20 Nov 2007

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 20, 2007

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 20 Nov 2007



Annapolis Conference / Individual Invitees
Beginning of Negotiation Process / Parties Continue to Converge on Document
Conference Planning
Rolling Process of Invitations / Cable
Diplomatic Security and Secret Service Working with State and Local Officials
Official Delegation and Representatives Attending
Secretary's Calls / Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni, President Abbas
Conference Will Present Opportunity to Discuss Comprehensive Peace


U.S. Agreeable to Iraqi Suggestion of Meeting via Crocker and Counterparts
Cannot Give Definitive Analysis of Reasons for Decline in Violence
U.S. Military Has Made it Difficult for Iranian Elements / Militias to Operate
U.S Will Keep Channel of Communication Open
Release of Security Detainees / Iran's Relationship with World In Hands of Iranian Regime
U.S. Will Sit Down with Iranians in Context of P5+1 if Uranium Enrichment Suspended


MNFI and DoD Handling AP Photographer


U.S. Position Unchanged / Endpoint Defined as Kosovo Independence
Have Been in Contact with Ambassador Ischinger / Troika Initiative Is Underway


Process of Change in Saudi Arabia Will Take Place Over Time
Importance for All Citizens in Region to Participate in Formulation of Laws
U.S. Will Not Dictate Social Norms to Countries
Saudi Arabia Must Make These Decisions Themselves


Strikes in France


U.S. Has Made Efforts to Have Boundary Demarcation Commission Meet
Some Willingness by Ethiopian Government / Some Reticence on Eritrean Side


12:36 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start off with, so we --

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, all right, groan, groan, groan, so we can get right into your questions.

QUESTION: President Abbas has said that he's received his formal invitation --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- and that -- from President Bush.

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no reason to dispute that account. Look, there's -- I hope in the not-too-distant future that we will be able to go through all of the list of invitees for you. I'm not going to go through and do individual invitees. As I said, I think it was yesterday, we -- that individual invitees are probably going to talk about their invitation and their desire to accept said invitation before we get around to it.

My hope and desire is that we can talk to you, in the not-too-distant future, about not only the list of invitees, but the date as well as the agenda for the Annapolis conference. I anticipate there's going to be a day that we -- all the participants are going to be at Annapolis and there are probably going to be some events the day before and the day after. Delegations are probably going to get in even earlier than that and I would anticipate that there's going to be work left to be done in the run-up to Annapolis.

As you all have seen over the course of the years, very often, when you get closer to an event such as Annapolis, that focuses people's attention and it becomes very real what the parties are sitting down not only to do at the event -- in this case, Annapolis -- but also what they intend to do afterwards. And as a result, the discussions, the negotiations go from yard by yard progress to foot by foot progress to inch by inch progress. So we're working through those issues, but the parties still continue to converge not only on the document, but also on their understandings about what happens after Annapolis, which is, in my view, even more important than this document.

The document is significant, but it really -- you should look at Annapolis really as almost a beginning of something new, as opposed to an end point in and of itself. But it is -- it's an important event and the parties are working hard in the run-up to it, we're working hard in the run-up to it, as well as others.

QUESTION: Should you say that both sides are close to getting a document, even though it's not apparently important anymore?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I didn't say it wasn't important. It is important, but let's also focus on what else is going to be happening as a result of Annapolis and that is the beginning of a negotiation process. That's what we all hope and --

QUESTION: But are they (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: They -- I would say they are converging. They are converging on an agreement about a document.


QUESTION: This morning, Dana Perino announced that you would be -- announce the date and the invitations to it.

MR. MCCORMACK: I appreciate (inaudible) announcing that my -- (inaudible) going to announce --

QUESTION: So obviously, you don't do it, so is there a problem?

MR. MCCORMACK: The day is not over.

QUESTION: Do you have a problem organizing this conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: The day is not over yet.

QUESTION: Well, the appearance that you give is not of something going smoothly.


QUESTION: Yeah. You don't --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm pretty -- I think I'm giving the appearance of something going smoothly here. Look, Sylvie, this is coming together. The conference is coming together. The preparations for the conference are coming together. We are confident that we will get to Annapolis in good shape. The parties will get to Annapolis in good shape prepared to accomplish whatever it is that they've set out for themselves.

We -- our preparations are going according to schedule. This is unfolding as we had expected. Sorry that it is not meeting your expectations. We'll try to meet those expectations in the coming days. But I can assure you that there's a lot of hard work going into this. It is unfolding as we had hoped. We certainly expected that there was going to be hard work and that as we got closer to Annapolis the work wasn't necessarily going to get any easier as the issues become more acute.

But we're confident that we're going to be able to help the two parties come together not only on an understanding of the confidence-building measures that they're going to be working on but the document as well as what happens the day after Annapolis.

QUESTION: I don't know if I missed this at the very beginning, but did you -- can you say whether -- whether or not the invitations have actually gone to the invitees or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: All the formal invitations have not yet been issued.

QUESTION: Okay. So there was not a question of simultaneity in sending the cable out? Some people might have gotten them? Some embassies or consulates might have gotten them before others or might get them before others?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, just the -- you know, given the logistics of working across the time zones that we're working across, I think you can expect that different invitees will get their invitation at different times. But it's all going to happen within a fairly restricted period of time. But the cable that have --

QUESTION: Has gone out?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- has not yet gone out. Has not yet gone out. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry for being pedantic here, but you said not all your -- not all the invitations have gone -- have some invitations gone out, then? I mean, are you doing this on a sort of a two-tier basis, that you're phoning some people, some people will get an emissary from --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's going to be -- let me just describe it as this. It's a rolling process. It's a rolling process.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, because of all this mystery, I'm almost losing interest in this thing already. But --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh my goodness, stop the presses. We're calling it off. Nicholas Kralev is no longer interested in peace in the Middle East. Let's talk about something else. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But my question is -- and I wouldn't ask this normally, but I'm sort of (inaudible). In terms of logistics, clearly, there will be a lot of people going to Annapolis. The movement from here to Annapolis and back -- are you confident that the citizenry of the Washington, D.C., area will be not inconvenienced on their way to work or back or traffic and all that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I certainly can't promise that. And it's a good point. Our folks -- Diplomatic Security along with the Secret Service and all the people working on the arrangements for Annapolis -- have been working very closely with state and local officials on the planning for this conference. And I have to say they've been great -- folks at the state and local level as well as folks out at the Naval Academy. So people are really pitching in. They're putting their shoulder to the wheel.

I'm sure that there are probably going to be some disruptions here. Just when you have this number of people descending on one place in a restricted period of time, there are probably going to be some disruptions, but we're doing everything we can to make sure that any disruptions are minimal. And we certainly appreciate the hospitality that we are being shown and I'm sure that will be shown to all of our guests.

QUESTION: Do you have a rough idea of how many delegates there might be, if everyone accepts and everyone sends a --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I haven't seen a final number, Matt, but it's going to be north of a hundred. You know, that's including your principal representative as well as those people that --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- are at the heart of the official delegations, yeah. It'll be north of a hundred. I can't tell you exactly right now how much more than a hundred, but more than a hundred --

QUESTION: And that --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- individuals. A hundred individuals, yeah.

Yeah, Joel.

QUESTION: How important is the media coverage? In other words, to public opinion throughout that region in the Middle East and for the people that can attend, are you going to have videoconferencing so that they can maybe ask questions, as well as the government, into --

MR. MCCORMACK: You mean from the media?

QUESTION: No, not necessarily from the media. In other words, have it available so that some of the attendees, some of the key players, maybe even some of the non-profits and others can maybe ask questions and get information to you and back and forth.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure we have those sort of linkups for, you know, the kind of people-to-people exchanges. But you and your colleagues here in the media will certainly be able to ask plenty of questions. And we're making every effort we possibly can to make sure that the media is able to cover the events, so they can do their job.


QUESTION: Sean, who has the Secretary phoned today with respect to Annapolis?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have that list. I know that she's been on the phone with both sides, both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I don't have a full list for you, though.

QUESTION: Would that be Tzipi Livni or Olmert?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sue.



QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Did you ever finish counting the number of pages?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the cable? Well, that was a draft cable. So there is, I think, 11 pages, but that's not the -- that's not necessarily the final length of the cable as it will go out.

QUESTION: So there are changes in the cable?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's just a matter -- (laughter) --

QUESTION: You might want the font bigger?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the definition of scraping the bottom of the barrel, I think.

QUESTION: Well, this is what -- I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know. I know. I know.

QUESTION: In the absence of offering any real information, this is what we're --

MR. MCCORMACK: It will be forthcoming. It will be forthcoming.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Charles.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a question about her phone calls. You may not have a complete list, but do you have any list at all? I mean, can you tell us anybody with specificity that she has talked to in the last 24 hours?

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, I do -- I do have here. We have -- today is Tuesday, November 20th, yeah. She has spoken with Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and President Abbas.

Anything else on the Middle East? Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Syria said today that if the Golan issue is not on the agenda, they will not attend.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't believe they received a formal invitation at this point for them -- not expecting back a reply quite yet. But the focus here is on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Now, there will be at the conference itself at the Annapolis conference, there will be an opportunity for delegations to discuss a comprehensive peace between the Arab states and Israel. And at that point in time, various delegations can bring up a variety of different issues. But again, we're going to be issuing formal invitations in the not too distant future and then invitees will reply as they will.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Sean, to scrape the bottom of the barrel, is there some -- is this technically hosted -- is this conference hosted by President Bush or Secretary Rice because when he announced it, he said this was hosted by Secretary Rice. But we've now learned he will possibly have a large role in this, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I expect that he will. I don't know. Protocol-wise, I'm not sure exactly how it works out, but this is President Bush's policy. Certainly, Secretary Rice would be there for the entire duration of the proceedings at Annapolis. But clearly the President's in charge.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Do you have any details on talks between the Iranian and U.S. ambassadors in Baghdad?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Here's what I understand, that the Iraqis approached both sides with a suggestion that it would be the appropriate time to get together once again, via that channel that is open between Ambassador Crocker and his counterpart. We said yes, that we would agree to that. We have communicated to the Iranian Government that we are agreeable to that. We have not yet received back a reply either directly or via the Iraqis. As we said, we are open to using this channel as a way of talking directly about important issues concerning security in Iraq. We don't yet have a date. And as soon as I am aware of a date, I'll try to convey that to you guys.

QUESTION: U.S. commanders have been saying that Iran -- there seem to be less attacks that can be linked to Iran.


QUESTION: So do you see this as an indication that your contacts and your diplomatic efforts have been effective?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure that we have a thorough and definitive analysis of all the reasons why you're seeing a reduction in the levels of violence, not only that violence emanating from al-Qaida and any sort of affiliate organizations, but among the Jaish al-Mahdi as well as other Shia militias who were responsible for quite a bit of violence in and around Baghdad and some of the areas in the south.

So I can't tell you. I can't give you a definitive analysis. I think people have some suspicions and those suspicions usually rest on a variety of different factors, but I think it is worth noting that our military, through its efforts, has made it much more difficult for these kinds of Iranian elements or -- and for these militias to operate. So I can't attribute it and draw a line back to a single particular reason, but you know, we've said that we are going to keep open this channel of communication. We're not going to keep scheduling meetings and going to meetings if we don't think there's a reason to do so. Clearly, we think that there is some value and some worth in keeping this channel open and continuing to be open to having these meetings. We'll see what -- over time, what the result is.

QUESTION: But your initial impression is not that it's more of the work of the U.S. military than (inaudible)

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I just -- I think it's worth noting that. Again, I'm not trying to weight any given factor at this point. I think in talking to folks in our building -- and again, you should check with the military as well to see what their assessment is, but talking to the folks in our building, their sort of back in the envelope estimate here is that it's a variety of different factors and I can't attribute a particular weight to any one of those.

QUESTION: There was also the release in -- at the beginning of the month of some Iranian prisoners.


QUESTION: Does it mean that the U.S.-Iranian relations are kind of starting to thaw, to -- is it -- is there a beginning of progress?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, changing -- changing the terms of Iran's relationship with the rest of the world is clearly in the hands of the Iranian leadership. They are the ones responsible for a number of different Iranian behaviors that are outside the bounds of acceptable international behavior and that's defined by the Security Council, the IAEA Board of Governors as well as others.

In terms of the prisoner release, I think there was an assessment that was done by a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee in Iraq about these security detainees. It was assessed that they no longer had either intelligence value or posed a continuing threat to U.S. or Iraqi forces or the population there and therefore, they were released. I wouldn't look at it as anything more or less than that.

QUESTION: So you don't make any link between --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn't necessarily do that. Look, you know, we have made it very clear that we will sit down anywhere, anytime, anyplace with the Iranians in the context of the P-5+1 if they agree to suspend their uranium enrichment operations. That offer is still on the table and as Secretary Rice has said many times, it's not really a question of why we won't talk to the Iranians; it's why the Iranians won't talk to us.


QUESTION: Yeah, just to clear up ambiguity. I heard the beginning of the briefing in which you said -- when asked about the reports that President Abbas had received an -- a formal invitation from President Bush, you said, "I would not dispute that."


QUESTION: And subsequently, when you were asked, can we say some of the invitations have gone out, you said not all the invitations have yet gone out. Can you just say some of them have gone out regardless of what the form has been?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'd say that there is a rolling process of the invitations being issued.

QUESTION: But if we write, "Some of them are going out," we will be correct? Some have gone out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's say we'll piece the pieces -- put the pieces together here. We have not -- I'm not disputing the fact that President Abbas, in saying that he has an invitation, has received an invitation and I'm not going -- and I'm saying that some of the invitations -- there's a rolling invitation process and that not all of the invitations have gone out.

QUESTION: Okay. So the humble wire guy can't have a humble quote just saying --

QUESTION: Some have gone out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Give me a break. I'm doing what I can -- I'm doing what I can for you here.

QUESTION: Okay, okay, okay.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. MCCORMACK: Hey, it's more painful for me than for you.

QUESTION: Sean, Pakistan. U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson has met with an opposition leader --


QUESTION: -- Rehman. Now we may not consider him an Islamic terrorist leader, but apparently, Musharraf government does or on the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware what -- the meeting you're referring to, Joel.

Yeah, Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, Mr. McCormack, according to reports, at least five European countries including Greece and Romania fear independence for Kosovo would encourage separatist strains in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe. Russia is still strongly against it while the U.S. backs the move. Do you (inaudible) those fears? Are you taking them into consideration, too?

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, you know what our position is. It's not -- it's unchanged here. We have been in contact with Ambassador Ischinger, who is -- has a troika initiative underway. We'll see if that initiative gains any traction. But we have already defined what the end point is in our view.

QUESTION: According to the same report, EU foreign minister yesterday have asked Kosovo's Albanians not to rush into any unilateral declaration of independence following Saturday's elections in which 50 percent, as you know, Mr. McCormack, of Kosovars did not participate, considering Hashim Thaci as a U.S. puppet. Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think that we have echoed those sentiments. But that doesn't -- that doesn't mean that our policy has changed. We still believe the end point is Kosovo independence.

QUESTION: What's that? That Hashim Thaci is a U.S. puppet or the EU position that they shouldn't rush into --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, the EU position.


QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the case of the AP photographer in Iraq who may be charged with espionage?

QUESTION: MNFI and DOD are handling that.


QUESTION: Can we return to the case of the Saudi rape victim and her punishment?


QUESTION: Are you going to exert any pressure on the Saudi Government that this constitutes some kind of human rights violation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is within -- it is within their ability to take a look at this sentence and to make changes in it. I'm sure that, however, rests entirely in their hands. We have expressed our astonishment at such a sentence. I think that when you look at the crime and the fact that now the victim is punished, I think that causes a fair degree of surprise and astonishment. But it is within the power of the Saudi Government to take a look at the verdict and change it.

QUESTION: Why won't the United States go further and condemn this outright?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we've said -- we've talked about it yesterday, we talked about it today. As we said, it's within their power to change the verdict.

QUESTION: Sean, do you link that case to sort of the broader issue of reforms in Saudi Arabia which you've been pushing for in the past several years, not only in Saudi Arabia but in the whole region, in Egypt and other countries? You've talked about democracy. This is more about human rights, I suppose. But do you link these -- this case to the broader issue of the reforms in the Kingdom at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: The process of change in Saudi Arabia is one that's going to take place over time. And we have talked about the importance of changes within the -- changes in the ability of all citizens of the region, including Saudi Arabia, to participate in the formulation of the laws, the direction that the Kingdom will take, the direction that countries in the region are going to take.

Once you have that, once you have the able for all the citizens to participate and have a say in that, then they are going to have to really navigate the various issues that are before them. And they're going to have make some -- make decisions about very basic societal issues and what their norms are. It's going to vary from country to country. So we're not going to try to dictate social norms to various countries.

We think it's essential that every individual enjoy basic universal rights that we believe every person on the planet should enjoy, and those include freedom of expression, freedom to choose freely one's leaders. The Saudi Government has committed itself to a pathway of reform, as have other states in the region. That pathway of reform is going to -- each of those states is going to go down that pathway at its own pace, though.

QUESTION: Is your comment about this particular case, though, driven by a desire not to offend Saudi Arabia as a close ally, particularly on the eve of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's -- no, that's not it at all. Look, you have a situation that I think most individuals, for example in our country, just don't understand. We don't understand how something like this could happen. That said, these kinds of decisions are going to have to be decisions that the people of that country, in this case Saudi Arabia, are going to have to take for themselves. We can express our views about that, but ultimately it's going to be up to the individual countries to decide whether or not they are going to take into account the views from the outside world.

QUESTION: When you say, Sean, we have expressed our astonishment, does that -- is that just from you from the podium or has a representation been made to the Saudi Government that --

MR. MCCORMACK: I am not aware of any direct contact with the Saudis on this issue.


QUESTION: The French strikes -- I know this is an internal matter for the French Government, but have you given any special advisories to the U.S. Embassy in Paris or any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any. I'm not aware of any. Usually, these sort of advisories to American citizens are generated in a separate channel. We don't have really a view into it other than just before it goes out. I'm not aware of anything that's gone out.

QUESTION: Any updates on the P-5+1 next round meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. Nothing new on that.


QUESTION: You know, the escalation of tensions in recent weeks amongst -- between Eritrea and Ethiopia -- what's the United States doing to try and encourage them to resolve their disputes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of what we're doing in the near term here recently. I know that we have made efforts to have the boundary demarcation commission meet. We have tried to get that back up and running through meetings in London as well as contacts directly with each government. I think the Ethiopian Government has expressed some willingness to do that. There's been some reticence on the Eritrean side. I'm not aware, however, Sue, of what we have done in recent weeks. I'm happy to check for you, though.

QUESTION: Okay. Has Jendayi Frazer made any special, you know -- is she going any time soon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she was just recently in the region. I know she broke off from the Deputy Secretary. I'm not sure where she traveled to after she was with him in Mali and some other places in West Africa.


QUESTION: Thank you.


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