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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Mar 10, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 10, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: March 10, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Secretary's Statement on International Women's Day
International Women of Courage Awards

ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS

Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister Livni / General Fraser's Travel
Israel's Announcement to Build Homes in West Bank and East Jerusalem
Need for Political Solution / Roadmap Implementation Process
Hamas a Terrorist Organization Trying to Derail Political Process
Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary Welch's Discussions in Egypt
Terrorist Shooter Being Declared Martyr in Some Newspapers
Iran and Hezbollah's Role in Rocket Attacks
State Department Blog Question on U.S. Engagement with Hamas
Vice-President's Trip

SPAIN

National Election Results

COLOMBIA / ECUADOR

Reaction to Diplomatic Solution
Links between FARC and other States and Individuals

KENYA

Reports of Displacement of Thousands of People

PAKISTAN

Opposition Calling for Restoration of Supreme Court Justices that were Removed

TRANSCRIPT:

(1:06 p.m. EDT)

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start off with other than to note -- we will have out this afternoon -- a statement by Secretary Rice on International Women's Day. I would commend it to you as well as today's event at which she spoke at the International Women of Courage Awards. We will have on Wednesday here at the State Department -- we'll put out a Media Note on this as well -- a roundtable on women's justice. And just last Thursday, she attended in Brussels -- that's where we were, Brussels -- an event on women's empowerment. This is one of a series that she has co-sponsored with others as well. And for those of you who didn't hear her answer to a very interesting question at the end of the press conference, I would commend that transcript to you as well.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: What is the purpose of the Secretary's meeting and then dinner with Foreign Minister Livni today?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's to continue their discussion on the political process and the roadmap process. This is a rolling, ongoing conversation not only with the Israeli side but with the Palestinian side as well. It's to cover all the topics that we've been talking about, really, since the Annapolis conference, and it's just a way to push forward the Annapolis process.

In anticipation of all of your questions, I would expect she would probably also talk about the Israeli announcement of construction of, I think, 750 homes in some of the settlement areas. President Bush spoke to that today. I know that Secretary Rice has had a conversation with Defense Minister Barak about that issue. I expect that she'll probably also discuss it with Foreign Minister Livni. You heard the President's views on this. We believe that both sides have obligations under the roadmap process; they need to adhere to them.

General Fraser is going to be -- is out in the region now. He's going to be meeting with both sides and then in a trilateral meeting on Thursday. And this is an opportunity for both sides to talk about what they are doing to fulfill the roadmap obligations. It is important that we don't get kind of a finger-pointing exercise and each side talking about what the other side is not doing. We'd prefer instead that they talk about what they're doing, and then we can bring them together on Thursday and try to surface any issues that may be out there.

Now, the announcement that we saw from the Israeli Government -- is it helpful to the process? No, it's not helpful to the process. But what we need to keep focused on -- it's essential that we keep focused on -- is moving forward the political process as well as moving forward that roadmap implementation process. These -- if we are able to make progress on both of these areas and maintain our focus on these areas, in particular on the political process, then we are going to find ourselves in the future where these kinds of issues aren't issues anymore, these kinds of questions aren't issues anymore, because you will have had a defined agreement to which both sides are a party that address these kinds of issues. In the meantime, we would ask both sides not to engage in any kinds of activities that would prejudice the outcome of negotiations.

So they'll talk about that, but they're going to talk about the whole range of issues concerning the political process as well as the roadmap process. So you know, although I've spent a lot of time talking about the question of the day, I expect that that's probably going to be a relatively brief portion of their conversation because the real -- I talked to the Secretary about this, and her focus is on let's keep this process moving forward, because if you move the process forward and you're ultimately successful, you're not going to be in a situation where these kinds of questions arise and cause turbulence within both of the political systems.

QUESTION: To what extent will the meeting follow - discuss the possibility of a deal with Hamas or some kind of an arrangement for a ceasefire or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that it will come up at all. It's - I was asked this morning about this and we're not party to any sort of discussions involving Hamas. Is it positive that there aren't rockets landing in Israel? Absolutely. But there shouldn't be in the first place. It's a terrorist organization that's trying to derail the political process. They have not had the courage to make the decisions necessary to meet the conditions of the international community. So their response instead of a political one is to lash out with violence and terror. And you are going to continue to be in that kind of situation absent a political solution, which is, again, why we need to keep our focus on finding a political solution so that groups like Hamas and other terrorist organizations won't have the opportunity to pull the thread and cause disruptions or turbulence within the region.

QUESTION: Hamas made a corollary statement to the one that Olmert gave last week, saying, you know, we'll respond - essentially, we'll respond to calm with calm. I know you dislike the terms "truce" and "ceasefire," but does having both of those statements now constitute an unofficial truce or ceasefire?

MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the parties who issued the statements.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it affects you all as well. I mean, it's not - you're not --

MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, we like to see, along with everybody else in the region and around the world, rockets not being fired into Israel and innocent people not being caught in the crossfire, absolutely. I don't think anybody can argue with that. As for anything pertaining to the statements issued by Hamas or the Israeli Government, you can talk to both of them.

QUESTION: You said you are not party to these talks, but what was David Welch doing in Cairo last week and where is he now?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's here today and primarily what he was doing was having meetings on the margins of the Arab League Foreign Ministers conference in Cairo to talk about a whole panoply of issues from Lebanon all through to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So that's really what he was doing.

QUESTION: He didn't have any talks with the Egyptians about the situation in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure he talked to them about the situation in Gaza. Secretary Rice talked to them about the situation in Gaza. And the focus of those discussions is: How do you continue to get humanitarian aid into the Gaza? And we had some success in that regard, in that there were some aid convoys that transited from Israel into the Gaza. And there was also a discussion of: How do you regularize operations once again at the Rafah crossing? But again, this is something on which the Egyptians are taking the lead as well as providing security along that Philadelphi strip, that corridor, so you don't see the kind of smuggling through the tunnels and otherwise that we've seen in the past.

QUESTION: So, indirectly, you are part of these talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: You guys -- look, you guys -- you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) together.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know I appreciate these sorts of attempts to try to draw us into stories about the United States in some way indirectly dealing with Hamas. Ain't true. Not involved in any way, shape or form.

QUESTION: You don't send messages or warnings via the Egyptians to Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, where is this coming from? I'm not sure where this is coming from. I appreciate the attempt, but it's just - it's not happening. Like I have said, like Secretary Rice has said, do you want to not see rockets fall into Israel? Absolutely. Do you want to have a situation where innocent civilians are not caught in the crossfire? Absolutely. But you have heard repeatedly our views. Hamas is a terrorist organization. We don't deal with terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Could we go back a little bit to the settlements. When did the Secretary talk with Barak about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: She spoke with him - had a conversation with him yesterday, as well as today.

QUESTION: Simply stated, what was her message to him? This is not helpful?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't talk to her about the contents of her conversation.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the characterization in Palestinian newspapers over the weekend including, I believe, the Fatah house organ of the suicide shooter the other day as being a martyr?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the comments. We made our views quite clear in terms of -- you heard from both Secretary Rice and the President the night that that happened. This was a depraved act. It was an act of terror and there was absolutely nothing, no political cause, nothing that would justify such an act.

QUESTION: Sean, last week the Israelis have made a greater kind of connection between the buildup in Gaza and Iran and Hezbollah, saying that a lot of these weapons and the training to use them likely came from Iran and/or Hezbollah and what's your assessment of that situation? Do you think that Iran and Hezbollah are acting more in coordination with Hamas on these attacks with long-range rockets, Katyusha rockets?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. The short answer is I don't have an assessment for you right now. I guess we'd -- I'd have to talk to our intel folks to see what we know and what we could say publicly about what we know in terms of very specific supplying of weapons or training or that sort of thing.

Quite clearly, there are outside connections between people in Gaza and people outside of the Gaza. At the very least, we know that there are rejectionist groups, including Hamas leadership, who are resident in Syria. And we all know about the links between Syria and Iran. Now, I can't draw -- I can't connect those dots for you. I don't have that information.

QUESTION: Well, those connections have always kind of -- we've always known about those types of connections. But in kind of recent weeks and with these long-range Katyusha rockets coming from Gaza since the kind of collapse of the border, the Israelis are saying that Iran and Hezbollah are stepping up their involvement. And do you expect this to be an issue that the Secretary discusses with Foreign Minister Livni?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, Elise, I can't draw a line from A to B for you. Let me see (a) what it is that we know about these kinds of accusations or -- yeah, these kinds of accusations, and what we can say about it in public. I'm not in a position really to substantiate or to refute those. But if we can provide anything in public to you on that, I'd be happy to do so. But let me look into it.

QUESTION: Just back to the settlements for a second. You said that she's focused on the longer-term process and the negotiations.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, not to the exclusion of roadmap obligations, obviously not, and these kinds of -- these kinds of issues. The point is that if you get to a political settlement, these kinds of issues cease to become issues.

QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask, don't you think that these kinds of things make it more difficult politically for President Abbas to negotiate?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, like I said, these kinds of announcements aren't helpful. And look, both sides have their domestic politics, and I'll let others to speak to their domestic politics. You have seen over the course of the past couple of weeks real challenges to the leaders on both sides, both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, that absent a focus and dedication to the process would have derailed it. You've seen -- you saw an attack in Jerusalem, you saw an attack in Dimona, you've seen rockets fall into Israel. You have seen President Abbas reaffirm his commitment and his participation in the political process.

So again, there are challenges on both sides to their domestic politics. And there are groups like Hamas; there are rejectionist groups who don't want to see this move forward. And you can bet that they are going to continue to make attempts to try to derail the political process. That is why it is all the more important that you keep the focus, you keep the energy behind trying to move the political process forward as well as moving forward with the roadmap obligations. Both of those things, working together, are going to be mutually reinforcing in getting to the kind of solution that both sides have committed themselves to and that we have committed to helping them reach.

Nina.

QUESTION: Sean, on Dipnote, the question of the week is actually: Should the U.S. engage Hamas in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Can you explain why this is up for discussion within the State Department since you very firmly have said that Hamas is considered a terrorist organization and you won't (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's not -- again, it's not a question of policy. This is our official blog. It's not -- it's meant to generate conversation among people.

QUESTION: Are you taking notes of what people within the Department are saying? Taking note of what people are saying within the Department on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: We always take a look. I personally always look at the blog. I'm the one who started it. So, you know, we always take a look at what the comments are. But it doesn't -- that doesn't mean that it's going to change the policy. The policy is what it is.

QUESTION: What's the purpose then, Sean, to have that? What's the -- there must be a reason for this question to be up there versus another question. So what are you taking out of the whole thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't write this particular question, but again, it's meant to generate -- I mean, you guys here are asking me in a public forum these kinds of questions. This is just another form of a public forum.

QUESTION: So is it meant to just sort of solidify and confirm your policy that you should not talk to Hamas? Are you expecting the parties to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a --

QUESTION: -- I haven't looked at it recently.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, the whole idea behind the blog is to try to build a community of people who are interested in reading about and discussing and providing their inputs to -- on matters of foreign policy. It's an attempt to let -- and this question isn't indicative of it -- but it's an attempt to let people on the outside who may not have any interaction with the State Department, who don't have the opportunity to travel with the Secretary of State, to get a little bit of an insight to what we do at the State Department and why we do it.

We're also interested in hearing the views of people outside, both positive and negative. There's -- if you look at the blog, there's criticism of the State Department, there's criticism of U.S. policy there. There's also statements of support. There are people who are asking questions. It's, to my mind, a critical way in the 21st century of interacting with publics and communicating with publics and hearing what they have to say, not just broadcasting out but also hearing what they have to say.

I mean, we put -- I mean, to your question, Nina, we've put all sorts of questions up there previously talking about Cuba policy and all sorts of other things. It's not a statement of policy; it's just something that the questions tend to be very topical and to generate discussion. There are a lot of people with a lot of different views, a lot of people that don't share our views with regard to terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: What's your take on the results --

QUESTION: Is this a new subject?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we just stay on this for one minute?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: What if you get this overwhelming response that the American public thinks that Hamas should be engaged in the peace process? Are you taking the temperature, or what?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. You know, Elise, I think you understand the purpose of the blog. There are some instances where you want to understand what's going on out in the public. It doesn't mean you're doing a poll or taking a survey and you're changing the policy. Certainly, in this case, there's -- you know, our policy is policy. It's not going to change. There are legal as well as policy and moral requirements for doing what we do.

QUESTION: I mean, why -- why even raise the question? Why generate a question about a matter on which there are legal, moral and policy reasons that you are not going to change the policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Why do you ask me questions about Hamas and the U.S. involvement in Hamas? It's a topical question that people are discussing. You know, I -- there's certainly -- certainly, there is nothing about -- nothing wrong with and -- you know, asking a question and having people give their views.

QUESTION: I ask you questions to find out if the policy is changing, but you've just told me that the policy is not changing but you still ask the question on your website, which doesn't -- which still doesn't quite make sense to me.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- maybe you don't understand the nature of blogs, but it's not a matter of a statement of policy.

Charles.

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I -- is it the same -- sorry, (inaudible) question. Are you -- is it the same subject?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the Vice President's trip to the Middle East and what he's going to be discussing in Israel and the West Bank, and how it plays into the Secretary's recent trip there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the President just talked about this in the Oval Office. I talked a little bit about it at the gaggle this morning. And his office certainly can go into any of the details about what he's going to be stopping -- discussing at specific stops. But I think just as a general statement, it is indicative of our intense involvement, our intense diplomatic involvement in the region on a variety of issues, whether that's Iraq or helping the Israelis and the Palestinians bring about a political solution to differences between them.

QUESTION: So what is your take on the results of the elections in Spain, especially in light of the terrorist attacks that took place two days before the elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is another example of democracy in motion and democracy at work. The Spanish people have spoken and we look forward to the - working with the new government once it is formed. I understand that the government hasn't yet been formed.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the resolution to the dispute between Colombia and Ecuador?

MR. MCCORMACK: From last week?

QUESTION: From last week, from Friday, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is certainly positive. We were looking for there to - them to arrive at a diplomatic solution. I understand that the OAS was involved as well. It's an example of countries working together to resolve questions diplomatically and using some of the political institutions of the hemisphere, the OAS to help them bring about a solution.

Now that that is –the immediate issue is behind both sides, I think it does - there are continuing questions about states allowing the FARC, a terrorist organization, to operate in the border areas with Colombia. And it's not just - the issue, you could say, is a more generic one of allowing terrorist organizations to operate in these less well-governed areas along border regions where they're able to transit back and forth that may not be subject to the same kinds of security as well as governmental control.

And I expect that that's probably going to be a continuing discussion as the Colombian Government and others are able to look at the contents of the laptop which they say they have discovered and to really trace back some of those links between the FARC and states and individuals in the region.

QUESTION: Would you care to specify the states in question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen a lot of news - I'm not in a position to comment about any sort of forensic work or any sort of intelligence work that they're doing as a result of this raid. I've seen news reports about links between the FARC and Venezuela and FARC and Ecuador, varying degrees of relationships, but I'm not in a position at this point to talk about those.

QUESTION: Any high-level Colombian-U.S. talks on that regard planned in the next - in the recent - in the coming days?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the Secretarial level.

QUESTION: No? Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts about what we discussed earlier about the displacement of tens of thousands of people in Kenya?

MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into that and we asked our embassy about it and they have seen the news reports and they're working to investigate it, but they didn't have anything further for me on it.

QUESTION: Does - as you're well aware, the - two of the primary opposition politicians in Pakistan have come to a common position on the restoration of the Supreme Court justices who were removed by President Musharraf last year. The U.S. Government has been very careful not to call for the restoration of the Supreme Court justices even though the manner in which they were removed and subsequently replaced does not appear to have adhered to in the Pakistani constitution. What do you think about the opposition politicians now calling for this, given that you haven't called for it? Do you oppose this? Do you think they should not be restored?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's –it is - it's completely their prerogative to put forward a political initiative. I think they are on the pathway to forming a government now and are likely discussing the platform for that government. And that isn't - those decisions, what's in the platform and who's in the government and what sort of power-sharing arrangements there are within the Pakistani political system, entirely up to the Pakistanis within the confines of their law - their laws and their constitutions.

QUESTION: Well, but clearly, you do not - you have not wanted to call for the restoration of the justices and I think the unstated reason has been the fear that they would then declare President Musharraf's selection to be illegal and therefore potentially remove him from his current office. So given that you've had a view on this matter, you know, are you not reaching out to the opposition politicians to say, "Well, we actually don't think you should do this and here's why," or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Look, those are entirely their decisions to make. And our stated and unstated reason concerning this has entirely to do with the fact that this is Pakistani democracy and these are Pakistani laws and the Pakistani constitution and we're not in the business of interpreting their laws or their constitution for them. Any of the actions that they take within their political system and any of the outcomes of those actions are going to be generated entirely by Pakistanis, not by us.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, following on that, though, I mean, given that an independent judiciary is a pillar of U.S. democracy and it --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.

QUESTION: Would you not think it's a good idea to have an independent judiciary, however it is erected or resurrected in Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, there are two sides - if you're in Pakistan, there are two sides to that question that you have. As a general matter, an independent judiciary that upholds the application of the rule of law? Absolutely. But again, you will get within the Pakistani political system, as I have read about it in the newspapers, a dispute as to the interpretation of Pakistani laws and the Pakistani constitutions. We --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'm not -- and I'm not here to be a lawyer for either side. That's not my job. My job is to talk about what U.S. policies are and, you know, it is our view that these are issues that need to be handled solely by the Pakistanis, needed to be - they need to be decided on only by the Pakistanis. You know, we don't have a vote in this nor should we. We are prepared to work with the government as it goes forward on issues of mutual concern and certainly, we are going to continue to pursue our national interests with respect to Pakistan and it's no secret that those involve, in large part, working on fighting the war on terror.

In our view, however, their success in fighting extremists, violent extremists and terrorists, whether they're in Pakistan or the border regions along the Pakistan and Afghanistan border, is furthered by having a stable, prosperous, more democratic Pakistan and one that is back on the pathway to democracy, one in which the people have confidence in their government that is working for them and one in which they have confidence in the institutions of Pakistan, including the judiciary.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:31 p.m.)

DPB # 43
Released on March 10, 2008

ENDS

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