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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Feb 05, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 5, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Feb 05, 2008

INDEX:

IRAQ
Contractors in Iraq
U.S. Will Engage Iraqi Government in Discussions
Legislation / Multistage Process for Iraqis to Pass Laws
Security Contractors Ultimately Helpful to Iraqi People and Government

KENYA
Peace Corps Operations / Get Specifics from Peace Corps
Temporary Suspension of Peace Corps Kenya / Office Will Remain Open

CHAD

Ambassador and U.S. Mission Staff Operating from Airport
American Citizen Evacuations
Expect to Re-inhabit Embassy Once Security Situation Has Stabilized
High Degree of Concern for Links Between Rebels and Sudanese Government

TRANSCRIPT:

12:10 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Nothing to start off with, so we can get right to your questions - whoever has the hottest lead. Alright.

QUESTION: On Iraq, the Iraqi cabinet today approved a draft bill that would subject American - or subject foreign security contractors - I'm sorry for the late notice about this - and, you know, this morning the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States reiterated his position, their position, that they want such security contractors not merely to be held accountable but to be held accountable specifically under Iraqi law. And this is one of the main topics they're going to raise in this strategic dialogue about the future U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

So what is your view both on the movement of this - continued movement of this law in Iraq? Do you believe that it would actually - would you, if it were passed by the parliament ultimately, would you regard it as indeed stripping your contractors of immunity? And more broadly, what is your position on the question of how contractors should be - American contractors should be handled so they're not outside of a legal framework - any legal framework?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, right. This is a topic much discussed with the sovereign Iraqi Government. And where we want to arrive is at a place where both sides are comfortable in that everybody operating in Iraq follows the laws, is accountable under the law, and is able to operate in such a way that we're able to do our jobs. We need contractors to do our jobs in Iraq under the current circumstances. There may come a day in the future where we don't need the kind of security contractor assistance that we do need right now. That's our goal, and we will get there eventually.

In the meantime, however, we need to make sure that those who violate the laws or are found to have broken regulations are held to account. I would expect if the Iraqis indicate that they want to bring this up during these negotiations we're going to be having with Ambassador Crocker on the lead, it'll be a much-discussed topic and, of course, we're going to engage the Iraqi Government in a serious discussion on the topic. I can't tell you what the outcome will be. I'm not going to try to predict that.

In terms of the legislation, I'll have to take a look at it. I haven't had an opportunity to look at it. Iraq is a sovereign country. It's going to pass laws. We're going to take a look at how those laws might affect it - might affect us once they are passed. I haven't had a chance to look at this one, and I'm not - I haven't had a chance to consult with our people.

There is a multistage process for the Iraqis to pass laws. Typically, a law will - it could be generated by the Presidency Council, then to go to the Council of Representatives and go through several readings and then back to the Presidency Council, and finally to be published in the national register, at which point the law will take effect. I can't tell you exactly where in that process this particular piece of draft legislation is, but we will take a close look at it. And I'm sure that this topic of contractors, how they operate in Iraq, and how they are held to account if there is a violation of laws, will be an important topic in the months, weeks and even years ahead.

QUESTION: Can you address what in some ways, though, is the fundamental point that the Iraqi Ambassador was making, which is, they want them held accountable under Iraqi law? Is that - you just talked about accountable under law. Is that acceptable to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to - I'm not going to try to prejudge where a discussion might come. You have a status quo situation and I think the attempts of the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi Government to deal with it within the confines of their law is a recognition on their part that they want to change the status quo. And very clearly, they have expressed that desire. We'll see how that manifests itself and in which ways - in the passage of U.S. laws, through agreements, the passage of Iraqi laws. We'll see.

But it's a serious topic. We take it seriously, both the Iraqi concerns and our need at this point to use security contractors in Iraq in order to do our jobs, which ultimately is helpful to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Government in helping them build up the kinds of institutions that they're going to need for a long-term, peaceful, stable democracy.

Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you had any discussions about - in Kenya with the Peace Corps there, because they just announced that they've suspended their operations?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that's quite accurate. I believe that they are continuing their operations in Kenya. I believe that at this point, they're looking at pulling out 58 of about 140 people operating in certain areas of the country. They're going to offer these people a variety of different options. You can get the specifics from the Peace Corps, but I think they extend from being able to separate from the Peace Corps based on their service time in Kenya with the kind of, you know, positive record however they are discharged, no longer - they would no longer have any other further duties or obligations towards the Peace Corps, all the way to suspending their participation and being able to go back right into Kenya if they so like.

But the Peace Corps will have the specifics of it, but my understanding is that operation remains up and running in Kenya. It's in some of these areas where they have decided, because of the security situation, they are going to pull the people out who are working or were working in those areas and offer them a variety of different administrative options. It's my understanding that the Peace Corps intends to go back into those areas once the security situation has stabilized.

QUESTION: Sean, I literally just got off the phone with someone in Nairobi who called me - it was the same thing. And - so how many people would be left? I mean, it was presented to me that this was a suspension of the program.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's temporary. Peace Corps Kenya is temporarily suspending its program, is what these guys are saying. But they're still - you know, but they're still up and running. That's the point. They're still going to be in Kenya. They're still going to be in Kenya. Peace Corps staff will remain in Kenya and the office will remain open.

QUESTION: Right. But they are not going to be doing any work anywhere?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in those areas, 50 - there are 58 volunteers out of a total of 144. The 58 volunteers are working and living in communities in central, eastern and coastal areas of Kenya. So those are the 58 who are going to be pulled back.

QUESTION: So there's still going to be 86?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's my understanding. You can talk to the Peace Corps. I mean, they're going to be - they're responsible for talking about that.

QUESTION: But their statement that they're about to put out or just have put out or whatever, does say temporarily suspended -

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, this is what they gave me. I'll leave it to them to explain their own operation. But to my knowledge, if you still have an office that is open in Kenya, you're still working. Now, as for their description of what temporarily suspend means, whether or not it applies to those areas where the 58 people were working or not, I will leave it to them. I'm not the spokesman for the Peace Corps.

QUESTION: Understood. Understood.

MR. MCCORMACK: But they do have an open office there which, to my mind and in, I think, plain English indicates they're still working.

QUESTION: It's not like the - never mind.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any update to Chad? Do you have any update on whether the Ambassador is still there? Whether anybody's seeing what the status of the U.S. Embassy is?

MR. MCCORMACK: They have not gone back to the Embassy. They're still out at the airport operating - the Ambassador and the three other people from the U.S. mission there. The - we have, I think that last estimate about 50 people who over the period of time prior to today had been American citizens who had been evacuated at their request. They're probably - there's on the order of tens of private American citizens who are still looking to leave, and I think we'll be able to get those people out over the next couple of days. The C130s are still working and running.

In terms of the Embassy, we have not had anybody go out to the Embassy. It is - we expect to re-habitate the Embassy once the security situation has stabilized. Our folks are working, however, at this point from the airport.

QUESTION: Anything more to bolster your suspicions that the Sudanese may be involved in this rebel -

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said yesterday, we're quite concerned about that. The fact that we went into senior and high levels of both the foreign ministry as well as the presidency will tell you that we have quite a high degree of concern about these potential links between the Sudanese Government and these rebels.

QUESTION: But if - one of your previous bosses at the White House, Steve Hadley, said yesterday that there was, in fact - I mean, he wasn't - he didn't say potentially, he said that there is a - that Sudan is -

MR. MCCORMACK: Far be it from me to contradict Mr. Hadley.

All right, thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:21 p.m.)

#DPB 22

ENDS

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