US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Jan 07, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
January 7, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: January 7, 2008
Incident in Strait of
Hormuz / Need for Iran To Refrain from Provocative Actions
U.S. Confrontation of Negative Iranian Behavior in Iraq, Elsewhere
U.S. Efforts To Get Reasonable Iranians To Play a Positive Role in Iran's Future
Decision Making Processes of the Iranians / Opaque
A/S Frazer's Travel to Kenya / To Discuss a Way Out of
Need for a Homegrown Solution that Diffuses Political Crisis
Importance for Exchange and Communication
Secretary's Phone Conversations / A/S Frazer's Meetings
U.S. Congratulations on Successful Presidential Election
Reports of ICRC Concerns About U.S. Detention Facilities in
U.S. Takes Communications from ICRC Seriously
U.S. Working Well with Mexican Government on Counter Narcotics
Government of Poland's Concerns with Missile Defense Plan
Minister of Defense's Visit to U.S.
Plan to Address Both Current and Future Threats
Query on Warden Message
Ongoing Investigation into Benazir Bhutto's Death
12:53 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have anything to start off with so we can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more to say about the Iran incident?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not much more. I think you've heard the same message from DOD and the White House and from us. Specifically, we would urge Iran to refrain from any provocative actions that could lead to dangerous incidents in the future. The Department of Defense can provide you the details of this particular incident. The bottom line is our ship, after the incident occurred, moved along safely and continued on its mission. There are a number of military as well as commercial vessels that have legitimate passage through the Strait of Hormuz, we believe that should continue. And it's important to have that legitimate commerce continue through the Strait of Hormuz and through the Persian Gulf.
QUESTION: This morning you used some really hard language, although you said it was not with -- you were careful to say not with specific reference to this incident.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I noticed it didn't quite turn up that way in the stories but --
QUESTION: Well, I noticed.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: But this notion of confronting Iran wherever you can or wherever it threatens your interests or those of your allies, does the incident make you feel that that's even more important?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, it didn't begin with this incident. We've talked about this well into the past. And I -- specifically about a year ago or so when the President talked about our strategy in Iraq he made it very clear that we're going to confront Iran's negative behavior in Iraq, for example. We made it very clear we were going to confront Iran's behavior in the international financial system as they try to use that international financial system for illicit purposes. This is, you know, again, part of what we're trying to do is make sure that the Iranians don't have an easy pathway to engage in behaviors that are either illicit or antithetical to the interests of the region or the United States.
And the idea behind this is that we are trying to get the reasonables, those reasonable people within the Iranian decision-making structure, to make a different set of calculations to play a positive role in Iraq's future, to play a positive role in the Middle East and to play a positive role on the global stage. The United States and our allies would like nothing better than to see Iran take its rightful place on the world stage, but the Iranian people are being held back by a regime that is now only further isolating Iran from the rest of the world.
So the bottom line is, yes, we are going to confront Iran's behavior where it threatens us, where it threatens our allies, where it threatens the integrity of the international systems that have been set up to facilitate international commerce and finance.
QUESTION: Have there been any communications with the Iranians on this incident?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware. I think they usually tune into briefings and read your news stories, so I think they got the message.
QUESTION: Sean, the Iranians apparently said it was an ordinary act. That's something you're disagreeing with obviously?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the Department of Defense is characterizing the incident as -- well, they can provide the details to you. I think from what I know of it -- and you can talk to the Department of Defense about it -- this is not something that our vessels encounter on a daily basis, so I'm not sure whether it was ordinary. But check with the Department of Defense about that.
QUESTION: What are you reading into the timing and motivation?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't acribe any particular motivation to this. Again, the decision-making processes within the Iranian Government and various parts of the Iranian Government are opaque -- they're opaque to us, they're opaque I think to virtually every other outsider, so I can't tell you what might be motivating them in this --
QUESTION: So you're not tying this to Bush's visit at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I wouldn't draw any particular connection. But then again, it's very difficult to see into what goes into their thought processes and their decision making. It's not as if that is an open and transparent process that they have undergoing.
QUESTION: And can you say it was in the tanker lines or north of the tanker lines?
MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to DOD. They can give you the specifics on it.
QUESTION: I'm sorry because I walked in late, were you quibbling with the way your comments this morning were characterized?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no.
QUESTION: What was --
MR. MCCORMACK: Friendly banter, friendly banter.
QUESTION: So not a statement of policy? I'm sorry, I think you said -- I just walked in and you said something about this not the way it was characterized.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, Arshad referred to some of the comments that I made about confronting Iranian behavior, but noted that I had specifically said it wasn't with respect to this particular incident.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. MCCORMACK: And I said, well, that didn't necessarily come out in all the news stories that way, not pointing to any particular news story. I would characterize the entire exchange -- correct me if I'm wrong, Arshad -- as friendly banter.
QUESTION: I'm deeply hurt and I'm --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: It was entirely friendly banter.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sean, as far as Iranian behavior is concerned this incident and presidential and Secretary's trip in the Middle East, the world economy, the global economy has been affected from this incident and also as far as oil prices are going up around the globe, including here in the U.S., what do you think when President and the Secretary are in the area, are they going to discuss as far as --
MR. MCCORMACK: A comment on your question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: This is the major issues --
MR. MCCORMACK: It was a signal, Goyal, that you could make your question shorter. Lights come down, question ends.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think this will be the major issue of the discussion as far as the world economy, oil prices and the Middle East conflict?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Goyal, you can find somebody else other than me to talk about commodity prices. I'm not going to do it.
QUESTION: Jendayi Frazer was in Kenya -- She's supposed to defuse the crisis between the two party --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no, no. The political leaders in Kenya are supposed to defuse the crisis. What she is there trying to do, speaking with each side, she had meetings with both major political leaders over the weekend and either -- I think she met with them today or she will meet again with them tomorrow.
The idea here is to talk to them, talk to them about a way that they might find to get out of this political crisis. The whole idea here is that this needs to be a made-in-Kenya solution. Now, we can help. Others can help. Outsiders can help. Sometimes it offers a way out if you have somebody who is talking to each side and might offer suggestions to them. But fundamentally, they need to agree on a solution. And we want to try to communicate -- open up a lane of communications that they themselves can exploit and come to some sort of political accommodation that defuses the crisis and, importantly, ensures that there is not further loss of life in Kenya.
These political leaders owe it to the Kenyan people and they owe it to the political leaders that have come before them, various other people who have worked to help build up Kenyan democracy, to find a solution. And that has been our message from the very beginning of this and I think they're hearing it pretty consistently also from others on the outside as well.
QUESTION: Do you think the Kenyans have been cheated by --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the comments. You know, look, I haven't talked to Jendayi, but my sense was that what she was trying to convey was the idea that somehow the current circumstances in Kenya's political system are not worthy of Kenya's history and the Kenyan people. We have talked to -- you know, aside from that, we have talked about irregularities in the voting process and those need to be looked at and they need to be addressed. But I -- again, just my reading of it, I haven't spoken to her -- she was talking about the fact that these leaders need to come together, that the current situation was just not worthy of the Kenyan people. They voted in an election for leaders to try to move the country forward and that's not what happened.
QUESTION: Yeah, but when you are supposed to talk with both parties to try to find a common ground, do you think it's diplomatic to say that they are being cheated by one of the parties?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, sometimes diplomacy is about telling it like it is. You know, it's not always about polite words in the conditional tense. You know, sometimes you have to speak in simple -- but yeah, it's true -- yes, it's true. I try to practice that sometimes.
So look, you know, again, I haven't had a chance to see her, but she's doing a great job out there. I know Secretary Rice thinks she's doing a great job out there and our hope is that her presence, as well as the presence of others who might be interested in lending their good offices to finding a resolution, can help the Kenyans find a solution and find a way out.
QUESTION: Sean, two things. Do you know -- well, first, do you have any reaction or any comment to make about the apparent overture from the President to the -- to Mr. Odinga inviting him to the State House to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, it sounds like it's the beginnings of trying to open up a channel of communication. Now I'm not on the ground there, so I can't tell you what lies behind this on either side, but it's important that they talk and that there be an exchange and a communication there.
QUESTION: And do you know if she plans to stay through -- at least until tomorrow? I guess --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, she is.
QUESTION: -- John Kufuor is --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- going to be --
MR. MCCORMACK: She does plan to stay through tomorrow. I don't know if she's going to leave tomorrow or stay through tomorrow and leave Wednesday, but yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) report?
MR. MCCORMACK: I expect she probably will. Yeah, I think there's a natural thing here where she wants to at least be able to brief him on what she has been doing and fill him in on what -- on her efforts.
QUESTION: And before Kirit goes to another -- one thing. Just -- the Secretary, has she had any -- other than speaking with --
MR. MCCORMACK: You got the signal.
QUESTION: I thought I was being pretty brief. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's pretty quick on the turnover right there.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any contact with anyone other than Jendayi in the last day or over the weekend --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't --
QUESTION: -- on Kenya? Has she dealt with the Brits?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. We don't always have the list of her phone calls with the Brits. She just picks up the phone and does that. But I don't have a list of anybody else, but I know she -- over the course of the weekend, she spoke with Jendayi, she said, about four or five times.
QUESTION: Could you give us an update on who she's met with so far, Jendayi, and who she plans to meet before she leaves the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: Other than just the most general description, she's met with both Mr. -- President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga. I don't have any other list. She's going to do some press out there, so she can probably talk about it a little bit.
QUESTION: Will she meet with both sides again before leaving the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: I expect she will, yeah.
QUESTION: And is there any security update in terms of Peace Corps people who were evacuated?
MR. MCCORMACK: There have been some people who have been moved. I'm not sure evacuated, but they've been moved.
QUESTION: Moved out of the country, so I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is there any more of that activity?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, there's no authorized departure, no.
QUESTION: Another subject, sir. Do you have any statement ready about the presidential elections in Georgia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we will have -- I'll have a formal paper statement that is -- will be out later. It's going through the clearance process. But I'll give you the gist of it.
We would like to congratulate the people of Georgia on an election that was conducted largely in accordance with international standards, as judged by the OSCE. They had a mission on the ground there, so they should be congratulated on that. The OSC -- that same mission did identify some problems, which we would urge the Government of Georgia to address. But on the whole, it's the assessment of that mission that it was a good election that reflected the will of the Georgian people.
But we'll have a more complete, formal written statement for you later this afternoon.
Goyal, no, you've already had yours.
QUESTION: Sean, in a New York Times story today about the detention facility in -- the U.S.-run detention facility in Afghanistan at Bagram --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- it says that the International Red Cross last summer complained to the United States about --
MR. MCCORMACK: See you, guys.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) prisoners being held incommunicado for weeks, sometimes months, in a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells at Bagram.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And it also says that the prisoners were kept from its inspectors and sometimes subjected to cruel treatment, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The timing is hard to establish because I don't know when those -- this report of that complaint -- what it refers to exactly in terms of time. But one: has the U.S. Government taken any steps to try to address those complaints? Would you dispute that this report that some prisoners were, in fact, held incommunicado for weeks and months? And lastly, how does this square with the President's September '06 announcement with regard to Guantanamo Bay and I think his statement at the time that there were no more -- after the movement of a number of detainees to Guantanamo Bay that there were no other people in sort of in undisclosed, incommunicado detention?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, the Department of Defense is really the right address to answer these -- all of your specific questions.
In general terms, we don't comment on communications with the ICRC. It's done privately. Those communications are kept confidential. And I know that we always take very seriously communications from the ICRC and the Department of Defense is usually the lead agency in addressing any of the specific concerns expressed by the ICRC.
QUESTION: Did the ICRC -- I mean, they have come here and, in fact, they've had meetings here --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- on the Guantanamo issue. And you know, did they raise these concerns with the State Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know. I'll ask. I'll see if there's an answer we can provide you.
QUESTION: Okay. And if they did, if you can try to address that specific --
MR. MCCORMACK: Those specific -- yeah.
QUESTION: -- about people being held incommunicado for weeks and months.
MR. MCCORMACK: If we can. If we can, I will do so. Yeah.
Yes, sir, in the middle.
QUESTION: Sean, this weekend, the Attorney General of Mexico has (inaudible) a report saying that there is information that narcotraffickers are going to kidnap political figures in Mexico and also political candidates. My question is, since you say months ago that Mexico is working fine against drug traffic and the situation in Mexico is becoming worse and worse, something like Colombia a few years ago, what's the real assessment of the State Department on the fight on drugs in Mexico with all this bad news and you guys are saying everything is fine?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't always said everything was fine. I --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that -- I don't remember exactly the exchange, but what I imagine it would have been was that we were working very well with the Mexican Government on this issue. Now, I will leave it to the Government of Mexico to describe the state of affairs within their own country. It is a quite serious problem, as they had identified and President Calderon had identified. He took it very seriously. It's not something that was -- that happened overnight. This is something that had been building up over time. So he takes it quite seriously in addressing it. We take it quite seriously in addressing it. We will do what we can within the confines of our discussions and agreements with the Government of Mexico to assist them.
But fundamentally, you should ask the Government of Mexico for their assessment of the state of affairs within Mexico.
QUESTION: Sean, is there concern in the Administration that the new Polish Government may be fixing to pull out of the anti-missile agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw that and I know the Polish Minister of Defense is going to be here for discussions in January. And we're still confident that we're going to be able to reach an agreement. This is in both of our interests. It's in the interest of Poland. It's in the interest of the United States. It's in the interest of other European countries. I saw the comments from the Polish Foreign Minister and we are going to negotiate and talk about this issue in good faith, try to address all of the Government of Poland's concerns and that's the process that is ongoing now, as evidenced by the fact that you have the Defense Minister who's going to be here later this month.
QUESTION: Probably the most interesting thing he said, I thought, was that -- essentially was a viewpoint that undercuts what is your central justification for those installations, which is -- he said, "We don't feel particularly threatened by Iran." Doesn't that suggest to you that they're really not -- that with the change of government there is much less interest in this?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's designed to protect against future threats as well as from current threats from Iran. You don't know what you don't know about Iranian missile capabilities, but certainly they are working towards long-range missile capability. We all know that. We've seen the tests. The Iranian Government has trumpeted the fact that they are working on that.
So this is designed to address both current as well as future threats and I don't think that there's really any dispute about the kind of future threat that we face from Iran if it continues on the current pathway.
QUESTION: U.S. Embassy in Bogota put out a Warden message over the weekend, I think, warning about unspecified threats against commercial aircraft in Colombia. Do you have any information about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. Haven't seen it. We'll see if we can get you something.
QUESTION: Sean -- thanks. I just need your --
MR. MCCORMACK: Do we need to turn off the lights? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes, sir. I just need your comments, sir. How do you feel, or the Secretary, from the yesterday's 60 Minute interview with --
MR. MCCORMACK: Roger Clemens?
QUESTION: -- Musharraf? What? No, what he said, Sean, was really many Pakistanis find very strange, even here, that he blames Benazir Bhutto for the murder and also, he said that she was lucky enough to come alive to her car.
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, look, you know, President Musharraf gave his interview. I think that there is an ongoing investigation as to who is responsible for Benazir Bhutto's death. And I look forward to the results of that investigation and bringing to justice those responsible.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.)
Released on January 7, 2008