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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Jan 08, 2008


Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 8, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: January 8, 2008

INDEX:

KENYA

Need to Find a Mutually Acceptable Political Solution
President Kufuor Arrives in Kenya Tomorrow

TURKEY

Readout of Secretary Rice's Meeting with President Gul / Iran as Topic
Turkey is an Important Transit Point from Asia to Europe of Hydrocarbons

IRAN

An Open Option to Raise Incident in Strait of Hormuz Through the Swiss Channel

DEPARTMENT

Foreign Service Association Survey / Perception of Secretary Rice's Performance
Varying Opinions of Foreign Service Officer
DOS Funding Going Back FY '05, '06, '07 Has Steadily Gone Up
Secretary Rice's Efforts / Transformational Diplomacy
Secretary Powell's Record
Secretary Rice Will Testify in February On Plans and Vision for the Foreign Service

TRANSCRIPT:

12:53 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start off with. We can get right to your questions -- whoever wants to.

QUESTION: I got nothing.

QUESTION: I got very little. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that'll trump nothing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Kenyan Government has named ministers and this has sparked new protests. Any comment on that? Would you have preferred that they held off?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's disappointing. Disappointing -- the choice to do that. You know, that said, this is done. They need to find a way to open up channels of communication so that they can come to a mutually acceptable political solution to get themselves out of this political crisis and really make sure that in ending that political crisis you end the violence. There's been really just a sad amount of loss of life here, needless loss of life.

And these two leaders need to come together to find a way to bridge the differences between them. I understand these go back a ways. But they -- for the good of their country, for the good of their people, they need to find a way to surmount those differences. Today's step, especially on the eve of President Kufuor arriving in Kenya, it's disappointing. That doesn't mean that they can't find a solution here and that we are not going to in any way diminish our efforts to help them find a solution, help them to come together. And I'm sure that President Kufuor will try to do the same.

QUESTION: Did Assistant Secretary Frazer encourage President Kibaki not to name a cabinet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know what her discussions with him might have been. You know, I don't know. If she had the opportunity, I'm sure she would have expressed the same -- similar kinds of sentiments that I'm expressing right now, although perhaps in advance of something. But I don't know if she spoke with him about it.

QUESTION: And just one other one. Can you give us any kind of a readout on the Secretary's meeting with President Gul this morning? Did it touch on -- in particular, did the topic of Iran cutting off natural gas supplies to Turkey come up? And lastly, does the Iranian decision to cut off natural gas supplies to Turkey disturb you in any way, concern you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, first of all, I did check on this particular question whether or not the Iran oil and gas issue came up in their meeting, it did not. On the agenda for us to talk about, although I'm not sure it came up during the Secretary's meeting, was to talk about diversification of supply as well as delivery routes for hydrocarbons. You know, Turkey is an important transit point from Asia to Europe of those hydrocarbons and they're going to play a key role in that. I'm not sure if that will come up during the White House meetings, but it was something that we were prepared to discuss.

As for the Iranian specific action, it has more to do with Iran and Turkey. But certainly, you know, that sort of use of those commodities as a political tool is a real warning sign to the nature of this regime, a real warning sign to others about the nature of this regime and their willingness to do those sorts of things. Now, I saw some quotes from the Iranians saying that this was due to some technical difficulty or some sort of malfunction. I don't know. I can't speak to that. But those -- when you add that kind of behavior into the other kinds of behaviors that we have seen from this Iranian regime, I think it paints the kind of picture of a regime that is not reliable, that is certainly opaque in its decision-making process and is not interested in playing a positive role in the region or on the global stage.

QUESTION: So for you, it's just another argument for more pipelines and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that particular action leads you to that discussion directly, but I think speaking very generally about the issue of transiting those hydrocarbon assets from Asia to other markets in Europe or elsewhere, it does -- it is an important argument in talking about diversification of supply as well as diversification of supply routes, which Turkey is very much involved in.

QUESTION: Just on Iran, has there been any contact yet or will there be any with the Iranians about the incident in the Strait of Hormuz?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing -- nothing as of yet. We'll let you know if we do pass along any sort of diplomatic protest.

QUESTION: You're planning on --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll let you know if there's anything.

QUESTION: Well -- maybe you have something more to say about this today?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't expect that we'll have anything more to say about it today.

QUESTION: Yesterday you gave us the impression that you thought it was unlikely that you would raise this --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's an open option. It's an open option. You know, we can use this channel of communication for a lot of different things.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, this channel of communication, you meant --

MR. MCCORMACK: Swiss channel.

QUESTION: The Swiss channel

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: This morning you spoke briefly about the Foreign Service Association survey. If you could just say why you think there was such a small number of people who said that Secretary Rice was working strongly on their behalf?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know exactly why, but -- and I haven't looked into the details of this particular survey. But in the past, these have not been scientific polling that has been done with strict sample size and done on a random basis. It is really self-selecting. You have a questionnaire or any mail that's sent out and people will self-select whether or not they want to reply to a question of, well, do you think you have enough resources to do your job?

Well, look, for example, you talk to folks in the military, you ask a brigade of soldiers, raise their hand and say, well, do you think the food in the mess is really what you'd like to see? Oh, yeah, you'll get a handful of people who raise their hand and say, no, I want better food. Well, of course, that's just -- it's the nature of organizations. You're going to have people who say, well, yeah, of course we want more. So I can't tell you that this was a scientific survey. You can talk to those who did it and they can talk about methodologies, et cetera. And it is an interesting point; I researched this a little bit. If you look at State Department funding going back to FY '05, '06 and '07, it's steadily gone up: FY '05, $8.2 billion; FY '06, $8.92 billion; '07, $8.99 billion.

So you see despite a very difficult budgetary environment in which you are seeing a lot of other cabinet agencies' funding actually reduce, State Department funding is actually going up, and that is due to the efforts of Secretary Rice fighting on behalf of the State Department for the resources that she thinks this Department needs to do its job. Now, that isn't to say she is just going to go out there and say the only answer is more money. She wants to make sure that money is spent effectively. She wants to make sure that she is a good steward of the taxpayers' dollars. That's why she's done things like global repositioning, making sure that our diplomatic structures are oriented such that we have our assets where our most important diplomatic challenges exist, whether that's in Iraq or Afghanistan or in places like India and China where before she came into office you actually had as many people in the political section in Germany -- and I don't want to pick on Germany, it's a close friend and ally -- but as many people in the political section in our Embassy in Germany as you did in India, in New Delhi, a country of a billion people. Well, clearly, there's something wrong. There's a mismatch of assets with interests there.

So she has gone through a process where she is trying to reposition the State Department globally. She's also made it very clear that we are going to back up the interests of our foreign policy and national security with State Department assets. And great examples of that are her backing up the requests of Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq for more people and to get more people out in the field working directly with the military.

So that's -- those are just a couple of examples of how she is working to change the Department and she is working very well with the Foreign Service. If you look at the regional assistant secretaryships, five of the six are currently held by Foreign Service officers. She reaches down to desk officers oftentimes before her trips and gets briefings directly from desk officers, you know, without respect to rank. She wants to hear from the people who are doing the job.

And she gets out in the building; you guys don't see it, but she gets out in the building quite a bit visiting bureaus, talking to people about their real concerns. And when problems come up, she tries to address them. Recently, there was issues -- there were issues related to healthcare counseling, mental healthcare counseling for people coming back from Iraq. She got on that issue and she wants to make sure that the people have what they need to do their jobs.

And I think on the whole you have a group of people here at the State Department who joined the Foreign Service, joined the State Department, to make a difference, to make a difference in policy, to make a difference in the world. And I think that if you go around the building you will find people who will tell you that they are very much involved in the foreign policymaking process. She has put the State Department, working very closely with President Bush and the White House and certainly, where there is consent and agreement, put the State Department at the center of U.S. foreign policy formulation and execution.

Of course, there are a lot of different inputs throughout the government to that process but I think those who are deeply concerned with and involved in the policymaking process will say that they find it very gratifying to be at the center of that process. And that's the reason why most of us joined the Foreign Service and the State Department.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, you said this morning back at the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know, and -- you know, and you brought it up and you're right, Matt. I'm not trying to make invidious comparisons here with previous Secretaries of State. I think historians will tell you that there is a -- there's a certain rhythm and pattern to the State Department and its role in the policymaking process. Sometimes, it has been very much involved in that policymaking process. Other times, it has been less involved.

And I'm not trying to make invidious comparisons, but I am trying to make a positive statement about the fact that this State Department, under the leadership of Secretary Rice, is very much at the center of foreign policymaking.

QUESTION: You mentioned the money. To be fair to the survey, it may not be scientific. It may be, I don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I didn't check -- I didn't check into it. I'm just commenting on past surveys.

QUESTION: You said that the budget went up from 8.92 to 8.99 in the last --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it's - we're under a continuing resolution, but I talked to Pat Kennedy. He gave me these numbers.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you know, isn't the concern not that the money is going up, but that it's not going up enough to compensate for the increased demands that have been put on the Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Matt, you know, you will find managers here who, you know, live in the reality of the current budgetary environment and who are able to creatively get more out of their people, get more out of the resources they have, work smarter, and that's just a reality whether you're in the public sector or the private sector.

But you work within the system, you work within an Executive Branch that has certain budgetary constraints, you work with a Congress that has certain interests. They have a vote here in what resources you get. But despite all of those obstacles, and these are real obstacles in terms of the allocation of budgetary resources, the environment is much, much different over the past few years than it was previously, that you have an increase in State Department funding.

And look, you know, being a manager and being a leader is oftentimes very much about setting priorities -- saying, these are our priorities. And sometimes, some things may not be funded or emphasized to the extent that some like. That's fine. That's an honest argument. And she encourages those honest arguments, but ultimately, she's the one responsible for making these decisions and the trend line is up in terms of resources.

And -- you know, and if people don't -- you know, don't see that and don't see how hard the Secretary is fighting on their behalf, you know, maybe that's the fault of people like me and others throughout the building who should communicate these things with people. But sort of -- complaints within the government, whether it's the State Department or elsewhere, about not having money is not something that's new.

QUESTION: Right, but the -- what underlies, I think -- the complaint that underlies the poll numbers is that compared with her immediate predecessor who was also dealing with a period of profound budget constraints, government-wide, that there is a perception, at least, that she has not been as actively involved with the leadership on the Hill as Secretary Powell was. You hear this all the time. You hear not only that, but you hear the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know, but -- you know --

QUESTION: -- anger that it was, in fact, Secretary Gates who came out first, what, a month ago saying that more money needed to be given to, you know, the conduct -- to the State Department and to diplomatic efforts.

MR. MCCORMACK: He was talking about a specific set of programs under DOD authority. And let me tell you, obviously Secretary Gates made his own speech and he speaks on behalf of himself. But you don't think Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates didn't talk about that and hadn't talked about this issue for quite some time?

QUESTION: I'm not suggesting that they didn't.

MR. MCCORMACK: I know, I know.

QUESTION: I'm just telling you what the perception is that people think is behind why these numbers --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know. And look, you know -- and again, I'm not going to get into invidious comparisons, who is better at what and all the rest. Secretary Powell was also -- he had a big focus on IT, IT infrastructure and the State Department's IT infrastructure was woefully behind the times. And it required a massive investment and you don't necessarily need to make that sort of massive investment every single budget cycle.

The State Department personnel; there was a deficit in terms of the ability to hire people. They needed to make a big investment in getting those levels back up to where they should be. That's a matter of making sure that you have the appropriate resources and Colin Powell should be given a lot of credit for the resources that he got for this Department. Secretary Rice would be the first one to do that.

But I think it's really wrong to say, well, you know, Secretary Rice is not -- you know, fighting on behalf of the Foreign Service, not doing enough. Well, you know, part of what she is doing is making sure that the investments we have made are maintained, that you don't have to go back to a, sort of, feast or famine budget cycle where, you know, the State Department is funded at such low levels for years upon years and then all of a sudden, 10 years later, you know, after 10 years of that, you have to make massive investments and go beg and plead to the Congress for huge increases in budgets. She didn't want that. That's not -- that's not how you do responsible management. So she wants to maintain, but she also wants to build, change and evolve and adapt to the current environment and also, focus the State Department on the priorities that she thinks are important.

So Colin Powell should absolutely be given a lot of credit for getting the State Department back up to where it should have been after a long period of not being funded at levels that it should have been funded at. And other people can talk about why that was. That's not important to the discussion.

Look, you know, I can't control everybody's perception and, you know, maybe this Secretary does a lot of things that people don't necessarily see. She doesn't really talk about them a lot. I see them. You know, I'm in the room when she talks about: I need to call -- you know, these 15 senators and congressmen to talk about our budget. That's before she even goes up and testifies. So there's a lot of the stuff that people don't see. And you know, I wish they could, but this Secretary is an agent of change within this Department, wants to make sure that it is funded the way it should be and that it is playing the role that it was designed originally to play in the policy formation process.

And I think we can all be proud of that. People today working in this Department can be proud of the fact that the policy and execution of U.S. foreign policy is really centered here in the State Department. They should be proud of that and I think a lot of people are.

QUESTION: Okay. She's an agent of change; you haven't been watching too much primary coverage?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Touché.

QUESTION: Can I just -- just one more on this unless someone else want -- do you want to --

QUESTION: Yeah, sort of to follow up on the -- you're talking about the levels of hiring and all that. I think about a month ago, HR said that at least 10 percent of posts worldwide beginning this summer will not be filled. Is that an indication that there's not enough money to hire enough people or -- because you're saying that the budget levels are (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that had a lot -- that had a lot to do with what they referred to as the training float and that there -- nobody was going to be cutting corners and there was -- just because of the types of jobs that you need to fill with extended language training, extended regional training, that was going to require more people actually being out of frontline jobs and in training, so --

QUESTION: This should not be taken into account? I mean, there always will be people in training.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. And she is going to take -- and she is taking a look at what we need to do in terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of the budget she has, she can do this with the budget she has?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we're in the budgetary cycle now. She's going to be testifying in February before the committees and she'll have an opportunity to talk about her plans and her vision for the Foreign Service. You know, this is -- she gave a speech at the beginning of her tenure in Georgetown about transformational diplomacy and how she intended to change the Department. That is not something that stopped with the speech; it's ongoing. And I would expect at some point that she's probably going to report back and talk about what's been accomplished as well as what her vision for the future is at the State Department. You know, that makes a difference in the here and now.

But you know, as a responsible manager, you also have to make sure that you're planning for the future, you're a steward of this institution, and she wants to make sure that she hands over to whomever her successor might be an institution that is well positioned to deal with the challenges of diplomacy in the 21st century.

QUESTION: Well, beyond the money and the resources and fighting for the Foreign Service --

MR. MCCORMACK: And the State Department. Not just the Foreign Service. I mean, the State Department is more than just the Foreign Service.

QUESTION: Well, what do you make of the significant numbers of people in the poll who say that they have policy disagreements with the Administration, that they won't volunteer to serve in Iraq and that's one reason that they're opposed to the idea of directed assignments to war zones. I mean, a huge number of people.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, people are free to disagree. They can disagree. They can agree. They can support. They can not support. But one thing this Secretary and the management of this -- in this building expects, when you show up to work you do your job. And if you have a problem of conscience then you have a decision to make. And everybody faces that choice if they have those kind of differences that are so severe that would cause them to have to come to that crossroads. But that's going to be up to their -- up to them.

But the fact of the matter is when we signed up for these jobs, we signed up to support the policies of the American Government. And if people have a problem with that, they know what they can do. And in terms of directed assignments, the Secretary reserves the right; it's still an option that's on the table. And she is committed to making sure that the resources of this Department are backing up the policies and the policy priorities of this Department.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is it troubling that the figures or the numbers -- that those poll numbers are what they are?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this -- you know, look, this is --

QUESTION: Does it surprise you?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not -- as far as I know, it's not a scientific survey and a scientific survey sample, and people self-select when they do these things. You know, it's a town hall meeting with people who will -- you know, may very well be completely supportive of what the Secretary is saying and they don't feel the need to stand up and go to a microphone. Other people feel differently. And that's their right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) communications that come through the dissent channel, when you said if people have a -- don't agree with the policies, they know what they can do, you didn't specify that. I think you were implying they can resign or leave or, you know, jump off the ship.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: But there's also a dissent channel which is a formal way where people can actually air contrasting views. A number of people did that at the time of -- you know, ahead of the Iraq war. Does she read those?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that she has read some of them, some dissent channel messages. The procedure is they come to the Director of Policy Planning, interestingly enough, and it's that person that is designated bureaucratically with responding to or taking some action as -- on those dissent channel messages. And I know of at least a couple of circumstances in which she has read them, yeah. I don't know that she reads every one, but I think that she certainly does read some, yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, just I'm curious. You probably don't have an answer right now, but Policy Planning Director -- this is usually always an outside person, an academic or someone outside the Department. How is this person best qualified to read those messages and convey them to the Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not new to this. That's the way that it's set up.

QUESTION: Oh, no. I understand, but that's why I said that you probably wouldn't sort of have a --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, these are --

QUESTION: There are no thoughts of changing that, as far you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think so. Look, these are smart, sentient beings.

QUESTION: I know, but it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: I mean, this isn't rocket science. I mean, look, you get in a cable, I mean, for example, oftentimes people -- these are Ph.D.s or people with long experience in government. It's not like they just got yanked off the street with, you know, no awareness of how the State Department works. So these are serious people in these jobs. So they're fully qualified and capable to deal with this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)

DPB #5
Released on January 8, 2008

ENDS

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