US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Mar 24, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
March 24, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: March 24, 2008
Election of Prime Minister Gillani / Secretary Rice Looks Forward to Working with Her Counterpart
Trip Announcement / Moving the Political Process Forward
Refer to President Abbas's Office on Preconditions for Discussions with Hamas
Each Side Needs to Do More on Roadmap Obligations / Making Progress on Political Front
Secretary Rice's Words Clear That Neither Side Has Done Enough
Each of the Member-States Makes a Decision About Attendance at Arab Summit
General Has Started Investigation on Passport Records Access
Department Will Make Open and Available the Results of Investigation to Oversight Committees
No Record Kept of Entry Into Foreign Countries By State Department / Separate Function of Department of Homeland Security
Assessment of Motives Has Not Changed / Outcome of Investigation Still Pending
Inspector General Investigations Happen Typically in a Sealed Environment
Pat Kennedy Reviewing Whether Other Instances of Unauthorized Access Occurred
Passport Safeguards Are Currently in Place / Privacy Act Controlled Information
Part of Inspector General Mandate to Look into the Process and the System
State Department Will Do Everything Possible to Protect Personal Information
Employees of Contractors Go Through Same Kinds of Tests as Career Government Employees
State Department Employees Seconded to Passport Duty During Surge / Quickly Deployed to Fulfill the Mission
Status of Request For U.S. Diplomats to Go to Lhasa
Secretary Rice's Call to Foreign Minister Yang
U.S. Encourages Direct Engagement Between Chinese Government and Dalai Lama
No New Reports of Violence From Lhasa
Olympics is An Important International Sporting Event
Query on Visit of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak
Indirect Fire Incidents
Over Weekend / Reports of 4,000th Military Casualty
Secretary Rice Mourns Those Who Have Made This Ultimate Sacrifice
U.S. Statements on Taiwan Presidential Election
Meeting with King
of Kingdom of Bahrain / Broad and Deep Agenda
Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation
Declaration Needs to Be Full and Complete / Not Aware of Any New Request for Consultations
DPB # 53
11:30 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning. I don't have anything to start off with, so we can get right into your questions. Charlie, if you want to start off with something about the Red Sox, I'll be happy to talk about that for a while.
QUESTION: There was a question of why the briefing is so early today, and I said perhaps it's because the Red Sox are on TV. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m., the Red Sox begin their defense of their World Series title and begin the baseball season.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Pakistani national assembly electing a new prime minister? Is Mr. Gillani someone you feel you can deal with?
MR. MCCORMACK: This was the selection of the Pakistani political leadership and the Pakistan people. We look forward to working with Mr. Gillani and his government. I don't believe that the rest of the government has been named at this point, but Secretary Rice will look forward to working with her counterpart, as Pakistan is a good friend and ally, and we have a whole variety of mutual, overlapping interests we look forward to working with them on. Beyond that, I don't know that there's much more to add other than our congratulations to his election as prime minister.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Secretary is going to Middle East next week? Because Vice President Cheney actually announced it, so --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) She will be going. We'll put out a formal trip announcement for you in the not-too-distant future. You should look at this as part of the -- her process of working with both sides to narrow differences on the political issues that divide them, move the political process forward, as well as to work with them on Roadmap-related issues, to urge compliance with both sides -- urge compliance by both sides with their Roadmap obligations.
QUESTION: And during the weekend, the Hamas and the Fatah reached an agreement in Yemen about the path to reconciliation, and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- this agreement says that the Hamas will go back to power in exchange of Gaza. Do you think it's a good idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would refer you to President Abbas's office for any comment about the standing of this, what you have referred to as an, agreement. It is our understanding, as Vice President Cheney said after his meeting with President Abbas, that President Abbas has not changed his preconditions for any discussion with Hamas. And you can get the precise language from President Abbas's office, but very roughly, it relates to the return of -- over control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, reversing the military coup launched by Hamas; an acceptance by Hamas of all PLO agreements, including those with Israel; and as well as a few other conditions. But you should talk to President Abbas's office about that. So I would refer you to his office (inaudible) President Abbas with their views about whether or not this agreement actually has any standing. I think it's more appropriate for them to talk about it than for us to talk about it.
QUESTION: So do I have to understand you don't think it would be a good idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you have to back up a step, is what I'm saying. I think you have to talk to President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority about their views as to the standing of what you have referred to as an agreement. And again, I refer you back to what President Abbas has said in the past and what Vice President Cheney reaffirmed with him, is that he has a set of conditions that Hamas has to meet before there is any dialogue with Hamas between -- with Fatah.
QUESTION: Can we -- can I go back to the issue of the Secretary's meetings next -- you know, coming up soon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you put -- we're now a good four months into the sort of post-Annapolis period. Can you put anything in that period that (a) demonstrates that either side is meeting their Roadmap obligations and (b) that you would argue constitutes material, substantive progress toward reaching an agreement of some sort by the end of this year, as the President hopes to do?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of Roadmap obligations, I guess I would just refer back to what the Secretary herself has said on this, and that is that each side needs to do more, that they haven't done enough, and I expect that that will be a topic of her conversation when she goes out on the next trip as well as the trip after that. This is going to be something that we work with both sides in detail on.
General Fraser recently had the first trilateral meeting, I think, last - was it last week or the week before - with bringing together all the sides. I think it's fair to say that we are still in the process of getting each side to focus on what they need to do and get out of the mode of pointing the finger at the other guy and talking about what they need to do. The focus needs to be on each side examining where it stands in terms of its obligations and what it is doing to meet its own obligations and worry less about what the other guy is doing or not doing.
In terms of the political process, we - you have heard from Secretary Rice, you have heard from me, heard from others, you've heard from Foreign Minister Livni as well as President Abbas, they are making progress on the political front. But they're not going to talk about exactly where they are in the negotiations. They're not going to talk about where they have narrowed the differences and on what issues. And we think that that's prudent. It's prudent because there is a long history of political negotiations in the Middle East. And one thing that you learn is to - is that - one thing that I think everybody has learned is that to start talking about where you stand on specific issues in public prior to really reaching an agreement is not going to help you either finalize things or reach agreement on other issues. That is best done in private. There comes a point, we all hope, where they are able to talk in public about what it is that they have agreed upon and where they stand in the political process.
It's our assessment, though, in talking to both sides that they are making progress. And they both have abided by a commitment to the other side that they are not going to talk about where they stand in negotiations. They are not going to do a blow-by-blow in public. We think that's - we think that that is a wise decision at this point and, certainly, it's not for us, then, to talk about what it is that we might have heard from each side in terms of where they stand in the political process.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up on this. I mean, the Secretary, I think it was about 10 days ago, said that neither side had done nearly enough and --
MR. MCCORMACK: On the Roadmap.
QUESTION: On the Roadmap.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Yeah, and --
MR. MCCORMACK: And those were - that's what I was referring back to.
QUESTION: And I wonder if you can point to anything that either side has done on the Roadmap obligations that is positive rather than negative and if there's anything that you can point out publicly other than assertions of progress which are --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- interesting to hear. But from the point of view of what is publicly known, can you point to anything that is publicly known that suggests that there is progress, other than simply asserting that there is progress?
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess at this point, I'm going to just have to rely on assertions. And I respect the fact that you don't necessarily have to rely on my assertions and that you will continue doing your reporting on this. But we're not going to get ahead of where the parties are in terms of talking about their negotiations and where they stand on various issues.
In terms of the Roadmap, you know, Secretary Rice was pretty clear in her words. Off the top of my head, I don't think I have anything that I can offer you. That does not mean that there isn't something there. I haven't - I guess I'd have to talk to Will Fraser to see what he has found or talk to David Welch. I haven't talked to them about that recently. But I think the - regardless of what the answer is, whether there is one or two or more or a handful of things that they have accomplished, I think the Secretary's words were pretty clear that neither side has done enough, in our view.
QUESTION: Are you going to take that and post it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. If there is anything that we want to offer up in that regard, we'll go ahead and post it.
Anything else on the Middle East?
QUESTION: Sean, Saudi Arabia has decided to send its representative at the Arab League to represent Saudi Arabia at the Arab summit in Damascus. How do you view this –
MR. MCCORMACK: Each of the member-states make a decision about attendance and, if they decide to attend, at what level they wish to be represented at. Not our call.
QUESTION: Can you make - give us an update on the passport investigation, specifically whether or not you've determined exactly what the employees saw and whether or not you're going to turn the investigation over to DOJ -- at what point you might do that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, our IG has started their investigation. They will have all the resources that they need to do it. And I think that will - it will be up to the Department of Justice as to what sort of involvement they will have, if any, in this. From our point of view, this is - we want to make sure that there is an open invitation for DOJ to be involved in the process for a lot of the reasons we talked about last week. Nothing really new to report, other than the IG is doing their work.
In terms of the passport files themselves, I'm going to stand where I was last week and I'm not going to talk about somebody's passport file without their permission. We put out some general information last week about what typically is contained in a passport file. And typically, what you will find are the passport applications and the information that people provide us on those passport applications.
And I'd like to take the opportunity to note one thing, that in a couple of editorials over the weekend, I saw that they failed to note this and I tried to make a point of it last week. And that is that we are going to make open and available to all of our oversight committees the results of these investigations. So this is going to be a case where the IG does its work and they will provide that information, the results of their investigations, to the oversight committees, including Chairman Waxman's committee, should they wish to have that information. Of course, we are going to be open to answering whatever questions people on the Hill might have. And I under - we understand that, because the issue of protecting personal data is very important to us and we have in place a lot of safeguards to protect that information. If there - if, in the course of this investigation or as a result of the IG's investigation, we find any systemic changes that we need to make, we're going to go ahead and make them, because it is an absolutely top priority for us to protect that information.
QUESTION: At this point, can you confirm, though, that the only thing the employees saw were the passport applications, or can you not rule out that they saw other records?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I don't - I don't know what was in each of these files and, like I said, I'm not going to talk about what is in them. I think that's only appropriate and I think that that's what the American people would expect, that I'm not going to talk about what is in the passport application file - a passport file. But as I said, your typical file has that information that we put out last week.
Okay, yes, lots of hands, yeah. Elise.
QUESTION: More on the passports. Just one quick follow-up on that. Can you say whether typically, passport files, in addition to the application, also have when the passport was - when and where the passport was used?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that - I'll check for you, Elise, but I don't believe that that is - that is in that --
QUESTION: In that --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- that passport file, yeah, because it's not the function of that file. We don't keep a record of people entering into foreign countries. That's not part of what we would do, as far as I know.
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, to --
QUESTION: Entry into U.S. Can you check --
MR. MCCORMACK: Entry, that would - again, that's not something that we keep. That's something - that's a separate function of the Department of Homeland Security. You can ask them what records they maintain in terms of people's entry and exit into the United States, but that is not a function that we perform in terms of monitoring entry and exit to the United States.
QUESTION: And then --
MR. MCCORMACK: Now, if - you know, I will add that if the Department of Homeland Security or their - and the constituent elements have a question, for example, about somebody's passport - let's take a hypothetical situation: Somebody is at the border and they have a passport that, you know, fell in the water or went through the wash and it looks a little bit questionable, and you're - the person at the border looks at it and says, "Well, this passport doesn't look like it's in the best shape and I have some questions about it." They can refer back to the State Department and contact the State Department to work to verify that that is, in fact, a valid passport. And that, again, that's part of our role here in serving the American people and helping the Department of Homeland Security secure our borders.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, there were some revelations that one of the heads of one of the contractors were --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- one of the employees that was found breaching the files --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- is actually a well-known - that this is well-known that the head of this company is a paid advisor to the Obama campaign. So I was just wondering, at this point, do you still think this is just imprudent curiosity? Or are you widening, perhaps, that this was politically motivated in any way or do you still just think it's --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't - I don't have any change to my assessment.
MR. MCCORMACK: I would note, the second half of that sentence, whenever I talked about it, was always: We're not going to be dismissive of any other particular motives pending the outcome of an investigation. But people asked me what our initial take was based on the information that we had at the time last week, Thursday and Friday. That was our assessment then. There's nothing at this point that I am aware of that would change our assessment, but of course, we have an investigation underway that is going to look into all corners of this particular matter. And if there is anything that would change our assessment of the motivations here, then we will do everything that we can to make you aware of that.
QUESTION: Sean, I'd like to follow up on what's actually in the passport records. On January 9th, Maura Harty published in the federal record that under miscellaneous materials also possibly contained in some passport records are things like medical reports, financial reports and arrest warrants. And I'm just reading from the Federal Register here. Can you explain under what circumstances those types of materials would be in the passport records database?
MR. MCCORMACK: Be happy to get an answer for you. Standing here right now, I don't know. We provided an answer last week based on what is typically in a file. I'd be happy to follow up and provide you an answer, and to everybody here, to your question.
QUESTION: One other question on passport records database. Also in that same Federal Registry document, Maura Harty said that the access to passport records was going to be extended for routine users to other federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the NCTC, agency of the Department of Justice, foreign governments and Interpol. And these were new determinations. And I'm wondering why the State Department was willing to extend routine user access to those agencies, including foreign governments, Interpol, and which foreign governments that would be.
MR. MCCORMACK: Be happy to provide you an answer.
QUESTION: I wanted to move to Iraq.
QUESTION: Can we stay on passports for one more?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I know - you know, I asked the Secretary this morning, but things changed between when we talked to her on Friday morning and the briefing, so I want to ask again. Has the investigation turned up or are you aware of any subsequent instance - any other instances of improper unauthorized access to passport files other than the three individuals and the five instances that we're aware of now?
MR. MCCORMACK: The short answer is no, but the longer answer is the IG is conducting their own investigation. And though I - you can talk to the IG's office about the scope of their investigation, I would assume that part of what they are doing is looking into any other potential instances of unauthorized access.
QUESTION: And are they reporting to you on it or are you - is it - it's kind of, sort of, a news blackout now while they're investigating? In other words, if there were instances, you - they wouldn't tell you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there is - that's one track and, typically, the IG investigations happen sort of in a - I guess, what's the term -- sealed environment. Certainly, I don't have any interaction with them in terms of their briefing me on where they stand in their investigation. I don't know. You can talk to their office about what their typical practice is.
The other track to that is, Pat Kennedy started last week, a review of the tens of millions of files that we have, in looking at whether or not there were any other instances of unauthorized access to these flagged files. At this point, that hasn't been completed, so I can't offer you any other - any further assessment or any other update as to whether or not there were any other instances of unauthorized access to these flagged files.
QUESTION: And what about the question, which was raised last week also, which is to say the possibility for unauthorized access to non-flagged files? I mean, if the ordinary American is as important as the person with a flag on his or her file, are you not investigating whether there have been significant instances or any instances beyond the handful that you suggested last week of -- you know, of unauthorized access to just ordinary citizens' files?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Protecting and safeguarding those files is as important to us as the flagged files of the individuals that we talked about last week, that we alluded to, in the so-called high-profile personalities that might be more susceptible to people snooping around. The passport file -- my passport file, your passport file, everybody else's in this room who has a passport - there are safeguards in place. We talked about the fact that last week we're not going to discuss exactly what those are because it is harder to monitor those files, absolutely, because you don't have the flag on it. If you had a flag on every single passport file, it would become an incredibly inefficient system because you would be asking a question every single time somebody accessed a passport file, whether or not that person had a legitimate reason to access that file. That is something that is just not workable.
There are in place safeguards. And as we talked about, the other layer of protection that we have in place is people understand that this is Privacy Act controlled information that they should not be accessing it without the permission or the need to do know. That said, we have those safeguards just in case somebody engages in a practice -- it's a little bit like, you know, you tell people don't touch the hot stove, don't touch the hot stove, and then they go ahead and touch it. So we want to make sure that we have safeguards in place, which we do.
We're taking a look at what else we might do in that regard. Like I said, there are tens and tens of millions of passport files and you multiply that number of files by the times that people will access those files, for legitimate, work-related, need-to-know purposes, and you have a large number of times, a large dataset, that you're trying to deal with.
QUESTION: Can I just - my last one on this. I mean it's not clear to me from your answer whether you are, in fact, actually trying to study whether or not, regardless of the safeguards that you have in place, whether or not there are more - there may have been more unauthorized accesses to ordinary people's passports. And it's a serious question because if you don't -- you guys are trying to combat this notion that's out there in the public that, jeepers, if you're a VIP, you get a little better protection than if you're Joe Schmoe. And if you're not actually going to study, onerous and complex though it would be to go through millions of files, what is really going on with ordinary people, then it's harder for ordinary people, I think, to feel that they are as well protected. And so if you're not studying it, I don't understand why.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, talk to the IG's office to see if they - that's the scope of their investigation. Part of their mandate is to look into the process and the system, and to see if there are any systemic proposals that they have to make in terms of upgrading the system, improving what it is we can do. Like I said in the particular cases we talked about last week, the system worked; wasn't perfect. We're always looking for ways to protect personal data. And again, this is a challenge that not only we here at the State Department have at the - or that the U.S. Government has. This is something that is throughout our society. You can look in the paper, I think, every single week and find instances where people in the private sector and the public sector are working to improve the safeguards and the systems that we have in place in order to protect personal information.
So we'll wait to see the outcome of the IG's investigation. I don't believe Pat, in his effort - Pat Kennedy, in his effort - is going through and looking at every single access of a passport file going back any number of years.
QUESTION: Because it's just too hard?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, think about it. You have tens of millions, 80 - you know, 100 million passport files. And think about over the course of 10 years the number of times that people will access those passport files, and going back and trying to recreate the circumstances where you don't have the flag system. Again, I think that that is - you know, and I'll talk to Pat, but I don't believe that he is doing that. If he is, then it is an immense task that you could argue could take years to complete.
QUESTION: I mean, one could however, not do every one over a decade. One could do a month's worth. I mean, if I were you, and the reason I'm asking the question is, I mean, you asserted the other day that you had been told - and I know you were told this, it's not like you checked - a bare handful. Well, and we've seen --
MR. MCCORMACK: Of the flagged cases.
QUESTION: Of the flag cases, yeah. But we went from zero to five in the span of, you know, 12 hours, which is a handful, five. And therefore, it would surprise me if there isn't some skepticism within the building, and the people who are responsible for this, about how many unauthorized accesses there may be for the ordinary person, particularly if you're going to make the case that you take the ordinary person's privacy just as seriously as you do the VIPs or the high-profile --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we do. We do. I think that it stands to reason, and your man in the street or woman in the street would agree with the idea, that there may be some people who happen to be in the news for whatever reason, who are probably more susceptible to a wider pool of people to having their -- potentially susceptible to having their passport file looked at, just because people, just because of the nature - the human nature. We will, again, do everything that we possibly can to make sure that this personal information is protected. If there's anything that the IG comes up with in terms of suggestions for protecting the data, then certainly we will - that will be known to you as well as to the oversight committees.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Yeah. I have one. I may have missed this last week, but in the case of the two individuals that were fired, was that a decision just made by the contractor that never actually went to for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- so there was no consulting with the desk officers or any –
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Just the contractor.
QUESTION: Okay. And it was reported out afterwards to whatever the mid-level.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Okay, the other thing is there was reporting over the weekend that the supervisors may have to undergo polygraph testing by the IG's office. Is that something that you can confirm?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. The IG's office will do what it thinks is appropriate in terms of conducting the investigation and doing what they need to do to find all the facts in order to conclude an investigation in which they have confidence and in which the Department and the Secretary can have confidence and in which the oversight committees can have confidence as well as the American public.
QUESTION: Is there a concern at the Department at this point that too many contractors are being used or that they shouldn't have access to this type of information?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Anne, look, these - as we talked about last week, these contractors go through rigorous personal integrity tests, the same kind of tests that career government employees undergo. And I know that this is, I guess you could say it is, a debate in public about the use of contractors to assist with government services. And I can tell you just in my personal experience working with these people, is they are as dedicated as full-time government employees to the mission at hand. And it - they are a essential part of the - what we do here at the State Department in terms of providing services to the American people, and they are an essential part of the U.S. Government providing the kind of -- kinds of services that the American people expect their government to provide.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that -- the (inaudible) issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Without saying anything about their commitment to the issue at hand, when you had the backlog of passport applications and you needed to hire a lot of extra employees to handle passport applications, and if I remember correctly, that had to be U.S. Government employees that were -- that had some kind of specific experience with consular. Is that -- I'm a little bit fuzzy on the details, but I remember specifically that they had to already be U.S. employees handling the passport applications.
MR. MCCORMACK: Apples and oranges. The reason -- the reason why there were a number of State Department employees seconded to passport duty, producing and adjudicating passports, was we needed to -- we needed to very quickly, on a short timeline, work through the backlog of passports that we had because of the surge in applications, because of the change in the law. So Pat Kennedy looked at where is the pool -- the personnel pool that we can very quickly access, that have the proper clearances that we can train up quickly to work through this backlog. That's a short -- that's the short-term solution.
QUESTION: And it had nothing to do with the fact that these -- that you wanted specific U.S. employees to handle passport applications because of sensitive information?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, it had to do with workplace efficiencies. If you want to make sure that you can quickly do it -- and why can you quickly do it? You can quickly do it because they're already hired, they're U.S. Government employees. Some of them may have had previous consular experience in adjudicating and producing passports. That was a plus. And for those who didn't, they were the kind of people that we believed could quickly be trained up and quickly be deployed to fulfill the mission. So it had to do with workplace efficiencies, not whether or not they were USG -- the criterion wasn't, at first, whether they were USG employees or contractors. It was how do you most quickly and most efficiently and effectively do the job. And the answer came out, this segment -- there was a segment of USG employees here in the State Department that could fulfill (inaudible) mission.
QUESTION: So did you -- because of the passport backlog, did you have to hire an increased number of contractors to deal with passport applications?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check. I don't believe so. They may have -- there may have been a hiring program that was instituted because we saw a surge in the number of passports that people applied for. I'll check with Consular Affairs what, you know, what their hiring curve was in this regard. But again, the short-term answer to last summer was because we had a big backlog we had to work through. We did so effectively, I think within the span of about 12 weeks. We went from issuing 12 million passports a year to 18 million passports a year in the span of one year. So you had seconded the people that you needed in order to get the job done and we can find the statistics for you whether or not Consular Affairs did some hiring in order to meet the higher baseline that you needed.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, there we are. Yes.
QUESTION: Can we switch to Tibet, please? Can you tell us whether there's been any progress on the U.S. request from the Embassy in Beijing to have American diplomats go to Lhasa?
MR. MCCORMACK: Has not been, no.
QUESTION: It has not been?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: And has the Secretary or anyone else raised it again as opposed to just the first time last week?
MR. MCCORMACK: She did in her phone call last week with Foreign Minister Yang. Our Embassy has continued to raise it. And there may have been some other representations, but I'll let others talk about this, not here at the State Department.
QUESTION: The Secretary said this morning she wants China to engage with the Dalai Lama. Would the U.S. ever consider facilitating this -- these talks or would they play any direct role in this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that anybody has suggested that. I'm not sure that that's a role that we would properly play. I think the best way to do this is the direct engagement between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama. We have -- we along with others have encouraged that engagement, and you just heard from the Secretary this morning some of the reasons why we think that's important.
QUESTION: And what's the level of your concern at the moment about the current situation? And have there been any other high-level calls or is she planning any more calls?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not from here at the State Department. In terms of the situation, it is still quite concerning. We don't have any new reports of violence from that region in China, from Tibet, from Lhasa. I don't -- I haven't seen any other news reports either coming out of there. But the situation is still quite concerning and also concerning for -- understanding what happened looking back, not only the current situation but looking back as well.
QUESTION: Do you have any indications that the Chinese would consider a dialogue with the Dalai Lama in any of these conversations either through the Embassy or?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think you've -- certainly in public, you haven't seen any indication of that to date.
QUESTION: Do you have any cause for hope privately?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we can rely on their public comments and we talk to them about it, but I don't think you've seen anything in public about it.
QUESTION: In Iraq, the Green Zone was pounded pretty badly yesterday by rockets and mortars. Do you have any update on injuries or damage, anything like that, that you can report back to us? And also, did you have any reflection or did the Secretary have any reflection on the 4,000 death milestone of -- not milestone, but marker of American deaths?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the indirect fire incidents over the weekend, there were two individuals that were seriously injured and they're still under medical care at this point. We typically don't talk about the details of these indirect fire incidents for reasons, I think, that you can understand, other than to note whether or not there was any significant -- some significant injuries. There were two other -- two other people that were treated and then released.
In terms of the -- I have not talked to the Secretary about the reports of the 4,000th casualty, military casualty. I can only say that, you know, I know that the Secretary mourns each and every person that has made this ultimate sacrifice as well as keeping their families in her thoughts and prayers. I know that she has been there to meet some of these families, and I also know that she
makes visits to visit those who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. So she has talked in public previously about their sacrifice, that we and she honor their sacrifices and that the best way to honor the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is to succeed in Iraq and to do what we can here at the State Department to help the Iraqis build a better kind of Iraq.
QUESTION: Change of subject: Russia. Can you confirm that the Vice Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Kislyak is coming as soon as tomorrow to resume the missile defense talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. He very well may be. He usually meets with John Rood and Dan Fried about those things. I have not talked to either John or Dan about that. It wouldn't --
MR. MCCORMACK: It wouldn't surprise me, but I can't confirm it for you. I'll be happy to try to do so.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit.
QUESTION: There's been reports since we've been out here, actually, that the judges in Pakistan have been released. I was wondering if you have any sort of reaction to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven't - obviously haven't seen the news reports, but we have said previously that those are decisions for the Pakistani political system to arrive at in the context of their laws and constitution.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) potentially be destabilizing that they might get released and then reverse President Musharraf's disputed election last year?
MR. MCCORMACK: These are issues for the Pakistanis to work through.
QUESTION: On Tibet, I know the Secretary spoke a little bit earlier this morning, but there's been a lot of talk about the Olympics and whether there should be some kind of boycotting because of China's actions towards Tibet. Do you think that the U.S. is sending the wrong message to China by attending the Olympics at such a high level?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: President Bush is supposed to be attending.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. We've made our views clear on this. We believe that the Olympics is an important international sporting event. We're going to treat it as such. And we have consistently and will consistently urge China to put its best face forward, to allow expansion of basic human freedoms, whether that's the ability to report on events in China or to speak out in a peaceful manner to voice one's own opinion in China, whether or not to be able to worship as an individual sees fit.
So we will - we have done that. We'll continue to do that. And we would only counsel China that, given the fact that the Olympics is such a high-profile international sporting event, that there will be the world's attention on China for those couple of weeks in August when they host the Olympics, and that that is an important opportunity for China and that they should take up the opportunity to put their best face forward to the world.
QUESTION: Do you think that Tibetans should be allowed to attend the Olympics?
MR. MCCORMACK: Tibetans - you know, I suppose that anybody who wants to attend the Olympics who, you know, can buy a ticket or whomever, should be allowed to go the Olympics.
QUESTION: May I ask Taiwan issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you think the results of Taiwan election has defused the potential crisis that United States worries about before the election? And also, what's your expectation for the administration transferring from Ma to - President Chen to Ma in the next two months?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think you should look at the statement that the President issued this weekend and that I issued on the results of the election and the referendum.
QUESTION: Also two questions on Taiwan. The newly elected president, Mr. Ma Ying-jeou, is - said - he said that he's planning to visit Washington, D.C. and he also expressed his willingness to Mr. Stephen Young, the director of the AIT Taipei office. I'm wondering - because, you know, the rule and the policy of the United States is not allow the Taiwan's president to visit here in Washington, D.C. So I'm wondering, is there any response or what's the policy of the State Department on Mr. Ma's request.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information concerning his travel plans. You might check with his office about those.
QUESTION: Yeah, and the second issue is that President Bush expressed in his statement that the election provides a fresh opportunity for both sides to reach out. And I think lots of media and observers said that Mr. Ma may adopt a more moderate approach to deal with China. And observers also mentioned that - how does Beijing react to the future Ma Ying-jeou's administration, may result in quite different pictures and though - is there any suggestion that you may get - or the United States may express to the Beijing how to interact with the future Ma Ying-jeou's government?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that you should look at the statements that were issued over the weekend.
Yes, ma'am, in the back.
QUESTION: What is on the agenda of the Bahraini King's visit and meeting this afternoon with Secretary Rice? And do you think the sanctions against the Iranian Bahraini bank would be - would come up?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary will be prepared to talk about any actions the United States has taken with respect to safeguarding the international financial system from abuse by those who want to use it for purposes of propagating terrorism or for illicitly developing weapons.
In terms of the agenda, we have a broad and deep agenda with Bahrain, our good friend and ally in the Gulf. I would expect that we talk about regional developments, that we'll talk about developments in the Gulf. There's an agreement that is going to be signed and we'll put out a little media note about that after the briefing. So I would expect they'd touch on the whole range of U.S.-Bahrain relations as well as talking about developments more widely in the region.
QUESTION: Particularly - is it specific to any special industry?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation, peaceful nuclear energy cooperation. Like I said, we'll put out the whole note for you after the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir, way in the back there.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have two questions on North Korea.
MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The first one is: Has North Korea suggested additional bilateral talk with the U.S. after the recent Geneva meeting? And my second question is: Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea had made a secret agreement to provide technical know-how and some materials for the reactor with Syria. Do you have any comment on this report?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of - in terms of the last part of your question, we have said that the North Korean declaration needs to be full and complete. That means talking about their plutonium program, their HEU program, as well as any proliferation-related activities. I'm not aware of any request for any further consultations within the context of the six-party talks with our - between the United States and North Korea. I'll check with Chris Hill to see if there is anything, but at this point, I'm not aware of any.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:15 p.m.)