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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Feb 20, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 20, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: February 20, 2008

INDEX:
RUSSIA

Reports of Visa Denial for Kenneth Roth to Travel to Moscow
Pathway to Democracy Can Only Benefit From a Free, Open, Peaceful Airing of Views

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Israelis and Palestinians Made a Commitment to Reach a Negotiated Solution to Issues
Focus Should Be On Trying to Make the Political Process Work
Clear from U.S. Discussions with Both Parties Progress Is Being Made
Kosovo is Unique, Not a Precedent for Any Situation Around the World
Situation in Kosovo Different / Had Run Its Course in Terms of Finding a Negotiated Political Solution
Process Ongoing Between the Israelis and Palestinians
Issue on the Building of New Housing / U.S. Seeking a Clarification From the Israeli Government
Possible Travel By Secretary Rice to Middle East / Secretary to Get a Sense Of Where Negotiations Stand and How to Push Them Forward

PAKISTAN

Ambassador Anne Patterson in Touch with a Variety of People in Pakistani Political Process
U.S. Hopes to Work with Whatever Government Emerges as Result of Election
U.S. Encourages All Moderate Political Parties to Work Together
Parties Have Common Vision and Common Enemy
Hope Election Will Get Pakistanis Back on Course Whereby the People Have Confidence in The Government
U.S. Supportive of Working With and On Behalf of Pakistani People
How the Pakistanis Arrange Themselves Politically Is For Them to Decide in the Context of Their Constitution and Laws

CYPRUS

People in Cyprus Are Going to Have to Make a Decision About Who Leads Them in the Future
Let the Process Play Out in Full / Still a Ways to Go in Terms of Political Process

AFRICA

AFRICOM / To Be Led By Department of Defense and General Ward / Issue Addressed by President Bush
State Department Working with Department of Defense to Ensure a Good Civilian Military Integrated Effort in Headquarters Element of AFRICOM

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Shoot Down of Defective Satellite / Concerns By Chinese / Not Aware of Anything Via Diplomatic Channels

KOSOVO

Issue of a U.S. Diplomatic Bureau in Kosovo / State Department Going Through Process In Contacting Congress on Issue of a U.S. Embassy in Pristina
Pat Kennedy Sent Letter Up to the Hill


TRANSCRIPT:

12:19 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have anything to start off with, so we can go right into your questions. Okay. Good. Done. (Laughter.) I’ll take it.

Yeah. Over here in the front.

QUESTION: The head of a New York based human rights group, Mr. Kenneth Roth, has been denied a visa to travel to Moscow and he is accusing them of bureaucratic harassment. Do you have any comment on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the news reports. And I don’t have any information beyond that which is contained in these news reports. If true, just a general comment that it’s rather unfortunate that this had occurred. Part of democracy, part of a developing democracy, part of a thriving democracy is to allow views to be aired in public, even when those views may be critical of the government or the prevailing policies. My understanding is that the intention was to go and talk about a report that the Russian Government may have perceived as being critical of the Russian Government and its policies. So the bottom line is, if in fact true – and I have no reason to doubt that the reports are true – it’s a very unfortunate incident and that Russia and any country that aspires to the pathway to democracy can only benefit from a free, open, peaceful airing of views regardless of whether they’re supportive of the government and its policies or whether it’s critical of the government and its policies.

QUESTION: The Palestinians.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie.

QUESTION: In the Palestinian territories they are thinking about imitating the example of Kosovo and declaring their independence unilaterally.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: What do you think about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we think is that at Annapolis the parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, made a commitment to a political process of trying to reach a negotiated solution to the issues that divide them by the end of this year. We think that everyone’s focus, the Israelis, the Palestinians, our focus, other interested parties in the international system, should be on trying to make that process work and helping the Palestinians and the Israelis come to a negotiated solution. That’s the way we believe the process should work. We believe that is the appropriate outcome here that – and that is where people’s energy should be focused.

QUESTION: But don’t you think that these kind of comments reflects frustration because of the lack of progress in the Annapolis process?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I didn’t see who the comments were attributable to.

QUESTION: Abed Rabo.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know – again, you’re going to have a lot of different comments in this process for a variety of different reasons. I can’t – you know, I can’t tell you exactly what the motivations were for making those comments. But the focus of all responsible individuals involved in this process should be on making it work. And, you know, I’m sure from time to time we’re going to hear comments from the Israeli side, from the Palestinian side, from others that may serve as a distraction to the main event. And the main event is making that process work and devoting all possible energy and focus to making that political process that will result in a negotiated settlement work.

QUESTION: But is it really working? The General – the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, today said that the Annapolis process is collapsing. He says it's – there is no progress at all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, seeing as it is the Israelis and the Palestinians that are negotiating, I think they're probably in the best position to actually comment on exactly what kind of progress that they have made. We have talked to them, and it's clear from our discussions with them that they are making progress. Do they have a lot of tough issues to resolve ahead of them? Absolutely. But they are making progress. And the negotiators have also abided by a commitment that they have made to one another to talk between themselves and negotiate between themselves and try not to do that in public and in the media. That is an admirable pledge and certainly not one that we are going to do anything to discourage, and certainly we're not going to do anything to abrogate the pledge that they have made to – with each other.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Why is it again that the Kosovars are allowed to get – declare independence after nine years and the Palestinians, after how many decades, cannot?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, you know, our position for a variety of different reasons, and I'm not going to bore you with the history of the conflict in the Balkans, is one that Kosovo is sui generis, it is unique. It is not a precedent for any other situation around the world, whether that's in, you know, Abkhazia or South Ossetia or in the Middle East or anywhere else around the globe.

The Israelis and the Palestinians have been trying for some time in the confines of a political process to try to work something out and come to an accommodation, a solution. The international community has spoken to that as well. We believe that there is hope in that process. It has not run its course. The situation in Kosovo had run its course in terms of trying to find a solution, a negotiated political solution. We believe that there still is the possibility of a negotiated settlement. We witnessed the evident – the effort that we put into the Annapolis process and that we are now putting into that process to help it work. So they are different situations.

QUESTION: You know, yes okay, that's your position. But, you know, as you've heard from – he's not here today, but as you've heard repeatedly, you know, that's not the – you know, that is not the position that other countries take – the Russians, the Greeks, perhaps less adamantly. And why is that the course for the Palestinians runs on for decades and the course for the Kosovars is less than a decade?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, without boring you with the details and the history of each of these situations, they are different. They are unique in their own respects. And we'll deal with them as unique, and based on the individual facts and histories surrounding each of them, deal with them in the regard that they are different and unique. There is an ongoing process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we believe we can help them make that process work.

QUESTION: Did you – I asked Tom this morning at the gaggle about these new houses, new Israeli settlements.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you –

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a – there have been a number of these different news reports and they're – what tends to happen is they tend to all get kluged together. They are separate and different and –

QUESTION: Kluged? Is that a diplomatic term?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, put together. Melded. Melded together into – welded together, melded together.

We have sought clarification from the Israeli Government on these issues at a variety of different levels and we’re going to continue to engage with them on these issues should they continue to arise in the future. I know the President spoke with Prime Minister Olmert about these issues when he visited Jerusalem earlier this year and it’s our view that it’s important for both sides to refrain from any actions that could prejudice the outcome of the negotiations that are now ongoing. And Jerusalem is one of those issues that will be dealt with in the context of these negotiations. I think everybody understands that and has agreed upon it. You know, the how and the when as part of these negotiations is going to be up to the two parties to decide for themselves.

QUESTION: And when you say you’ve sought clarification, this is on this latest thing or just in general?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there have been a couple of stories that have come out – a few stories that have come out in recent weeks and we have talked recently to the Israeli Government about those stories.

QUESTION: Do you know when that last –

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. I’ll see if I can nail that down for you, Matt.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, yes, I’m going to go to Pakistan, but can I ask just quickly in that previous context, what are the Secretary’s immediate plans in terms of the process in the Middle East? Not necessarily travel, but her involvement in the negotiations.

MR. MCCORMACK: What is –

QUESTION: Palestinians, Israelis.

MR. MCCORMACK: What is her –

QUESTION: Her immediate plans, the Secretary’s immediate plans, and whether she plans to get involved anytime soon again.

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect she’ll probably go back towards the beginning of March, go back to the region.

QUESTION: What – to what objective?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been making progress.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: They’ve been negotiating.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: To sit down with them, each side, face to face, talk to them, how they see the negotiations, where they stand, what are the outstanding issues, what are the issues that they are currently working on, how do they see bridging any gaps on the current issues and how they see the process playing out over the horizon. And, you know, where possible, to help them come together, if that’s possible, but to really get a sense of where the negotiations stand at this point and how we might push them forward. It’s also in advance of the President’s travel, probably, you know, for the 60th anniversary coming up in – I think it’s May. I wouldn’t rule out also that she would make another trip after the beginning of March.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, the President has now spoken a bit more about the elections. Can you update us on your contacts with either the current opposition groups and the government?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have a final list for you but I think Anne Patterson, our Ambassador in Pakistan, has been in touch with a whole variety of people in the Pakistani political process, including the representatives from the two main opposition parties, at least the two parties that at first blush would have appeared to have won the largest number of seats in parliament. I – you know, and again, I don’t have a complete list of the people with whom she has spoken, but I know that at least with those two parties she has had some contact.

QUESTION: And now that moderate parties have won the election, do you still find it necessary – do you think that President Musharraf is still the indispensable moderate that was there before? His argument was always that, you know, he should be there because the extremists might take over or win there an election now, and that hasn’t happened. So what exactly is, do you think, his role in the future when there will be a clearly a moderate government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he’s the President of Pakistan and I would expect that we are going to work with him and whatever – and that we would hope to work with whatever government emerges as a result of this election. And you know, I can’t predict for you who will comprise that government, who will be the prime minister, who will be the minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs. That’s for the Pakistanis to decide, and we’re certainly not in any way, shape or form going to try to decide for them. That is their decision.

We would encourage all the moderate political parties and those with a similar or shared vision of a Pakistan that is on the course to greater democratization, broadened democratization, deeper democratization, greater prosperity, to work together. They have a common strategic vision. They also have a common enemy. And that common enemy are violent extremists, terrorists, who seek to undermine the progress that Pakistan has made in the past six years – past seven years.

Now recently, we’ve talked a lot about the fact that we believe that they have deviated from the course of greater democratization. We hope that this election now gets them back on a course whereby the Pakistani people have confidence in a government that is – that they have elected, that will serve their interests, that will broaden and deepen political reforms, that will broaden and deepen economic reforms. Because ultimately that is the bulwark against the encroachment of violent extremists into Pakistani society and having any sort of influence over the direction of Pakistan. You have to deal with – it’s our belief you have to deal with those terror cells, those violent extremists, who intend to do harm to civilian populations, whether it’s our people or anybody else, sometimes through use of force with security forces. And we work with the Pakistani Government in that regard.

But more importantly, we are fully supportive of working with and on behalf of the Pakistani people where we can to see that they – their country is more democratic, more free and more prosperous in the future.

QUESTION: Just one last one. You obviously know that there have been calls for the president’s resignation and all that. But before the coup in ’99, the position of the president of Pakistan did not exist. The prime minister was, in fact, the head of government and head of the state. And President Musharraf changed the rules to assume that position. Do you have an opinion about whether such a post is necessary in Pakistani Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: How the Pakistanis arrange themselves politically, what powers they endow certain offices with, whether it’s the prime minister’s office or the president’s office or any other office, is going to be up – it’s going to be for them to decide in the context of their constitution and their laws. I can’t tell you the ins and outs of the Pakistani political system, what is possible, what is not possible, based on the numbers of seats in parliament and how they’re apportioned to the various political parties. You’ll have to talk to somebody else about that. But fundamentally, those are questions that the Pakistanis are going to have to decide for themselves.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: I have a question on Cyprus. I don’t know – do you have a reaction to the elections in Cyprus?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think this was a first step in a multistage electoral process. The people of Cyprus are going to have to make a decision about who leads them in the future, who is their – who are their elected officials that set the policies for that country. I’m not going to try to insert us in that political process, though.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the fact that the president has been defeated and the two candidates left for the second round are both favorable to an opening to the Turkish Cypriots, do you think it’s good?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, the fact of the matter is you still have a sitting president. You are going to have – it would appear you are going to have a new president of Cyprus. Let’s let that process play out in full. Let’s let that person take office and set whatever changes or not to policy in this regard and then we’ll deal with those facts. But there’s still a ways to go in terms of this political process playing out.

Dr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Same subject, kind of. Armenia held an election this week.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And I was wondering if you could now or later post a reaction to (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Why don’t we post an answer for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On the President’s trip to Africa, just a question on AFRICOM. Obviously this – it’s an issue for the Defense Department as well and it’s –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: – a sensitive issue for the Africans, but is there –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I guess a State Department update on where you hope the debate to be at this point right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re –

QUESTION: Where do you hope the debate is? And I guess in discussing this with your counterparts in Africa?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s a process that is, at its core, going to be led by the Department of Defense and General Ward who’s been designated as the new commander of AFRICOM. And I can only base my reaction on the transcripts that I see and President Bush has addressed this quite clearly. He had a conversation with President Kufuor about it. And we’re going to be working with interested states and nations in Africa about where the AFRICOM office or offices are placed. The President made it quite clear that we’re not interested in building bases in Africa. We think that this is a positive development in terms of our relationship with Africa and fundamentally, it is about working with and supporting African states as they deal with a variety of different security issues on the continent of Africa.

So it is not meant to try to impose something from the top on Africa; it is more – it is all about working with Africa, African states, and African institutions to support them in dealing with a variety of different issues that we all know exist on the continent and working to try to find solutions to those issues.

QUESTION: What’s the difference between an office and a base?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll let the folks talk about –

QUESTION: Are you talking about an office that would be staffed only by civilian – only by State Department people or there would be military people there, too? Because I – you know, base doesn’t necessarily – I don’t think, but maybe I’m wrong – doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to have a huge runway with aircraft carriers and –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll –

QUESTION: – stationed at a port and that kind of thing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll let the Department of Defense talk about this and I don’t want to get in trouble, but I would just, you know, offer a thought. And that is that there’s a real distinction between, say headquarter – the headquarters element and between operational elements. Now those two things are obviously connected, but you don’t necessarily have to have them physically co-located in order to have an effective organization, so – but let me – I’ll let the Department of Defense talk about an issue that is fundamentally theirs in greater detail.

Now we are going to be involved in AFRICOM. I think we’ve – from the ground floor, we have been working with the Department of Defense to ensure that there is a good civilian military integrated effort in that headquarters element of AFRICOM.

QUESTION: Sticking with the Department of Defense?

MR. MCCORMACK: For 200, Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any expressions of concern, other than from China, about the satellite shootdown?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of anything we’ve gotten in over the transom from diplomatic channels. I’ve seen some comments in public, I think, from the Chinese and I think maybe the Russians, but –

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of anything that’s come in via diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: You haven’t heard anything from the Canadians?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven’t, no. No.

QUESTION: Sean, since the recognition of Kosovo, do we have a nascent diplomatic bureau in Kosovo? Do we have a chargé? Do you know how that’s working?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have an office. We have an office in Pristina. And there was a – this is part of the some of the formalities of our dealing with a new state and rearranging our institutions to deal with a new state. So we’re going through a process now in which we’re in contact with Congress to turn that office that is in Pristina into an embassy. So there are some mechanical aspects, bureaucratic aspects, to this that we’re working through now.

QUESTION: Is there a chargé now?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you got me on the protocol here. I’m not sure if we’d call them yet a chargé. Previously, he was referred to as a head – the head of the office in Pristina. So I’m not sure. I think we’re probably in this in-between period and I’m not sure exactly what the protocol is and I don’t want to go on and get myself or anybody else in trouble by using the wrong protocol terms.

QUESTION: Following up on that, what role does Congress have, then, in turning the office into an embassy? Is that a funding thing or what do you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, let me try to get more information for you. I know it’s something that Pat Kennedy has sent a letter up to the Hill about, but I’m not sure exactly what is required. Happy to – if you guys are interested, I’m happy to have somebody talk to you a little bit more about what does the State Department do in terms of recognizing a new state, what are the mechanics, what are the formalities of it. Happy to do that.

QUESTION: How soon do you expect to name – how soon do you expect the United States to name an ambassador to Kosovo?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll have to nominate somebody and then he’ll have to go through – that person will have to go through the nomination process. I would expect that that is tracking along with all the other things we’re doing in terms of moving from an office to an embassy. We’re working away on it. I can’t tell you exactly where we are in that process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:41 p.m.)

DPB # 31

Released on February 20, 2008

ENDS

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