US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Apr 09, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
April 9, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: April 9, 2008
Secretary Rice's Travel / Meeting of Foreign Ministers of
Gulf Cooperation Council
Discussions on Issues of Interest in the Region
Need for All States in Region to Bridge Differences Between Israelis, Palestinians
Third Iraq Neighbors Meeting
U.S. Continues to Press for the Opening of Diplomatic Missions in Baghdad
Other States Have Indicated the Naming of Ambassadors to Embassies
Need for Understanding Between Iraq and Neighbors
Major Changes in the Region Take Time
No Formal Meetings Between Iraqis and Iranians on the Schedule
Up to Individual States on How to Conduct Their Diplomatic Business
Multitude of Diplomatic Contacts Between Iraqis and Their Neighbors
Iraqi Debt Forgiveness
Security is a Legitimate Concern / States Responsible For Protecting Their People
U.S. Recognition of Macedonia
Secretary Rice Encouraging Leaders to Conclude Power Sharing Negotiations
Fully Engaged with All Countries with an Interest in Haiti
Suspension of U.S. Embassy Operations for Today
Demonstrations a Reminder There is Still Work to Do
Assistant Secretary Hill's Summary of his
Talks with the DPRK
Discussions Moved Forward / More Work to Be Done
Olympic Torch Protests / Possible Commercial Boycott
1:03 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one trip announcement for you, and then I can get right to your questions. We'll put out the paper version of this after the briefing.
Secretary Rice will travel to Bahrain to participate in an April 21st meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan and the United States. She will then go to Kuwait to participate in an expanded neighbors of Iraq ministerial on April 22nd. We look forward to some of you joining us on that trip.
With that, happy to take your questions. Okay, let's go.
QUESTION: Yeah, what's the -- on the GCC+2, what's the main topic going to be there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect they talk a lot about Iraq. They'll talk about issues of interest in the region. I'm sure that they'll talk about the status of the Israeli-Palestinian discussions. I think the Secretary will also raise the importance of Arab states supporting those discussions and supporting the Palestinian negotiators as they go through this process, a variety of other topics, I'm sure, that is on -- whatever's on people's minds as well.
QUESTION: You say, it's going to raise the importance of Arab states. Does that mean that you don't think Arab states are doing enough yet --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, no --
QUESTION: -- to support this or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not at all. We have just underlined that as an essential component of actually getting to an agreement. That was why Annapolis was so important in having all of the many, many states in the region represented at a senior level. We think that in order -- if the Israelis and Palestinians are able to bridge the differences between them, in order to get -- not only get to that point, but also get to the implementation of an agreement, you're going to need the support of all the states in the region, who, of course, have an interest in seeing the Israelis and the Palestinians bridge those differences.
QUESTION: And then in terms of the Kuwait meeting, what's your sort of (inaudible) what are you hoping for there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is the third of these Iraq neighbors meetings, and the meetings focus on the various ways in which Iraq's neighbors can participate in Iraq's development. Of course, the Iraqis are most responsible for that themselves. But how can they help on security issues, economic issues, diplomatic issues? So that has been the agenda since the first one of these meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh. It was on the agenda in Istanbul. I would expect that also we'll hear back from the various subgroups that were established. There will be one meeting in Syria in the not-too-distant future to talk about security issues. We will be represented at a working level for that meeting. I don't have a name for you yet. I would expect probably somebody from the Embassy, maybe somebody from Washington. We'll see.
QUESTION: So how frequently have these three -- there were three subcommittees, I seem to remember -- wasn't there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I can look into it. I don't -- off the top of my head, I don't have that for you.
QUESTION: Because there was a complaint initially after the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting that they were not necessarily active enough.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, well, look, this was something new. You know, this was a new initiative. So I think, understandably, that it sometimes takes a bit more time than perhaps we would like or others would like to get the wheels turning on this mechanism working, the security group and some of the various subgroups. But they have -- they have been meeting. And I think, overall, you have seen a -- as a result of our diplomatic engagement in the region, as well as the engagement of the Iraqi Government, that you have seen greater and greater Iraqi reintegration into the region. You have had several pledges by neighboring states to name ambassadors and to either open or reopen diplomatic missions in Baghdad. We continue to press on that issue. So it is -- it's a very useful mechanism, and it is a very useful process. The process indicates that this is going to take a bit of time, but it is moving in the right direction, I think.
QUESTION: Have any of the pledges been acted on, the ones to open embassies, or it's pretty much the only -- sorry, did you want --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And it's just the Saudi --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) but they've not done anything yet, have they, the Saudis?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, the -- at this point -- yeah, at -- on the Saudis, I -- you can check with them, but I don't believe they have opened anything yet. And there have been several other -- you can go back and check the records. Off the top of my head, I don't have it. But there have been several others who have indicated that they intend to name ambassadors --
QUESTION: Right. But they --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- and opening up -- open up embassies.
QUESTION: But they haven't actually done so yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to check with the (inaudible). I don't have a tally right here.
QUESTION: Who is the -- do you know who the -- who's the highest level official from an Iraqi neighbor to actually visit Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: The highest level? Well, you had the President of Iran.
QUESTION: Yeah, that would be --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: That would be one. And they have an embassy there, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah --
QUESTION: -- it seems like the Iranians are the only ones who are being attracted to --
MR. MCCORMACK: No --
QUESTION: -- this (inaudible) that you've offered --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't -- (laughter). No, look, I don't believe that is the case. Look, the -- that's --
QUESTION: Ahmadi-Nejad is the only one to have --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no, no. It -- look, that's why I pointed out to Sue that this is a process. It takes some time. There were some tensions between some of the neighboring states and the new Iraqi Government. But I think through diplomacy, through mechanisms like the neighbors conference, through our diplomatic efforts, you have seen a greater degree of understanding between Iraq and some of its -- and some of its neighboring states and states throughout the region.
Like I said, this is something that takes time. Fundamentally, this is something the Iraqis have taken on themselves. We are very happy to support them in those efforts and we do at every turn. But it -- it takes some time. But it is trending in the right direction.
QUESTION: Yeah, but is it not disappointing to you or is it not of concern to you that the only country that -- the only one of Iraq's neighbors that seems to be really making an initiative with the Iraqis is Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, they -- it's certainly the most public demonstration in terms of a high-profile visit. But there are a lot of other lower-level contacts that have gone on. I know that Iraqi ministers and even the Prime Minister has been well received in the region. And I'm sure it will take some time before some of those other visits to take place in Iraq, but I'm positive that they will. Again, it takes a little bit of time. There have been major changes in the region and certainly not the least of which have been in Iraq. And it takes some time, I think, for some of the neighboring states to adjust to those changes.
But the fact that this is the third of these Iraq neighbors meetings is an indication of the dedication of the states in the region, and our dedication to working the diplomacy in the region. And it will produce more and more results over time.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Iranians and the Syrians to be present at the foreign minister level?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I don't know. Check with them.
QUESTION: Will the Secretary -- and I have to ask this question –
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- be open to any discussions with the Iranians to do with Iraq? I mean, there have been previous opportunities which never quite bore fruit.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, I don't -- there's nothing on the schedule for them to meet. In the past, at these neighbors group meetings, there have been opportunities for them to, in a group, exchange pleasantries and to have part of a group conversation. I think that -- the first one there really wasn't. There was sort of avoidance on the part of the Iranians. But that's changed. That changed at the second meeting. They didn't have what I would describe as any substantive conversations, but there was some interaction at the, you know, at one of the sessions. I can't remember exactly which one.
But there's nothing, in terms of any formal meetings, that are scheduled.
QUESTION: So Arlen Specter today was saying that Rice -- Secretary Rice should, you know, reach out to the Iranians and drop any preconditions of, you know, the suspension of uranium.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, she gave an answer to that question to which I would refer you.
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Nicholas.
QUESTION: Sean, you say it's a process and obviously these things take time and it takes time to open an embassy in a war zone. But it's been almost a year since Sharm el-Sheikh, what is a prudent time to wait for these people to actually -- at least open an embassy, if not send an ambassador?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're not -- look, we're there. We're there in a very major way and doing important work. It's going to be up to each individual state to make these decisions for themselves in terms of how can they best protect their people, how can they most effectively conduct their diplomatic business, how can they transact that business. We have encouraged people to open up diplomatic missions in Baghdad as part of -- in conducting the normal commerce of international diplomacy. But those are going to have to be decisions for each state. We can't pressure anybody and it would be wrong for us to say you have to open it by such and thus date. They're going to have to make those own decisions.
QUESTION: But do you expect the Secretary to point out to these countries that -- as how - it's been discussed already here. The only country to, in a way, answer the U.S. call to establish relations with Iran -- or Iraq, diplomatically, is Iran. Isn't that a cause for, you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the Iraqi diplomatic list, but I don't think that's quite correct to say the only country that has established diplomatic relations with Iraq. There are -- there have been a multitude of diplomatic contacts through diplomatic channels between the Iraqis and their neighbors, as well as other states in the wider region. You can check with the Iraqis for their formal diplomatic list, with whom they have formal diplomatic relations. But there is normal diplomatic commerce that goes on every single day between Iraq and neighbor states and states throughout the wider region.
QUESTION: But there's also diplomatic contacts between the U.S. and North Korea, but you don't have relations, official relations.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's apples and oranges, Nicholas. No.
MR. MCCORMACK: I mean, that's why I said normal diplomatic commerce between traffic and interactions between the Iraqis as well as others.
QUESTION: Just one more question on this. There were great promises about 18 months or so ago in terms of debt forgiveness with Iraq. Where does that stand at the moment? Do you know, you know, who's forgiven? How much more?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen a lot. I can't give you a figure. I have seen that during that time a number of different public announcements in which you and others have reported. In terms of dollar amounts. I'll see if we can post a list for you, as accurate as we can in terms of dollar amounts, as well as who has done that.
QUESTION: But I suppose that's a process as well, similar to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, it is. It took a long time. Look, I - you know, I remember when I was over at the NSC traveling with former Secretary Baker on some of these initial travels, and there were some immediate pledges. And I remember also - I remember traveling throughout the region in the Middle East and there were - we were working on those issues then. And it has taken some period of time, some years for it to happen. But the important thing is that it is happening and that that process is moving forward.
QUESTION: Why are the Arabs so reluctant to open embassies there or to send ambassadors there? Is it mainly security, which you've kind of suggested or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. They can speak for themselves, but I'll just reflect generally. I think the most common comment that we have heard centers around security. And there have –for example, the Egyptian Ambassador lost his - you know, lost his life, I believe. So there have been some incidents in the past and security is a legitimate concern. That's why in answer to Nicholas' question. You know, we can encourage, we can, you know, counsel, we can even push and prod. But fundamentally these states are going to have to make those decisions for themselves because ultimately they're going to be responsible -- working with the Iraqis as well as others -- but fundamentally, they are going to be responsible for protecting their people.
QUESTION: Speaking of opening diplomatic missions, the Secretary in her testimony this morning said that the Department is interested in opening a consulate in Tibet. I presume that would mean in Lhasa. How - have you been in touch with the Chinese about this? How far has this planning - internal planning gone?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'll check for you, Matt. I don't know, off the top of my head.
QUESTION: I mean, how can you even think of having a consulate when you get very limited access, you get an official tour.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's how you get more access. You push to have an actual presence there.
QUESTION: Can you check-- see if - because I don't recall seeing any money being appropriated for anything like this. So maybe I - but maybe I'm missing it, so.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Matt. I don't know.
QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. McCormack, what is the U.S. position vis-à-vis to the so-called "Macedonian ethnicity and language"?
MR. MCCORMACK: I answered this yesterday. You cited back to me a quote from the estimable Tom Casey. I think you know exactly what our position is. But fundamentally, you were talking about a quote from Dan Fried, which is perfectly consistent and -- with what Tom has told you on this issue. The fact of the matter is we, as a government, recognize states. We don't recognize languages or nationalities, per se. But Dan was just pointing out, for example, we teach Macedonian at the Foreign Service Institute. But, you know, that is a practical result of the formal step that we have taken as a state to recognize Macedonia as Macedonia.
QUESTION: But what about the so-called "language and ethnicity?"
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, you have our answer on this.
QUESTION: One more question.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. You have our answer on it.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: What is the purpose of Mr. Tom Casey's statement of April 7, which is exactly the opposite?
MR. MCCORMACK: It doesn't say exactly the opposite, Lambros.
QUESTION: No truth to that rumor that the Foreign Service Institute is dropping Greek as a language -- (laughter) -- and teaching only Macedonian?
MR. MCCORMACK: You're just trying to stir the pot, Matt. (Laughter.)
Yes, Mr. Gollust.
QUESTION: Can you tell us any more about the Secretary's interactions with the Kenyan leaders, what commitments she may have gotten from them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you - we put a statement out in her name last night. Let me just check. She spoke with both President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga on Monday, the 7th. And her message was exactly what you saw in the statement, and that was to encourage them to come - bring the negotiations that are currently underway regarding power sharing and the composition of the government to a conclusion. That was going to be - that's vitally important not only for the political process, but for the, you know, practical requirements of governing.
She also spoke this morning with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He has been absolutely integral to this process of bringing the two together and coming to an agreement. And she briefed him on her calls with President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga.
QUESTION: Unrelated --
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Annan?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Annan - Annan, yeah.
QUESTION: Totally unrelated. Can you tell us about any diplomatic activity the United States has been involved in vis-à-vis Haiti, where there's a crisis brewing down there, and particularly, if there have been discussions with the Brazilians, who find themselves in sort of a crossfire down there with their --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't speak to any discussions with the Brazilians. I'm sure that at the working levels of the State Department here, that we are fully engaged with all those countries that have an interest - not only an interest in Haiti diplomatically, but also an on-the-ground interest such as the Brazilians. The topic of Haiti came up yesterday in the Secretary's meetings, the trilateral meeting specifically, in talking to the Canadian Foreign Minister.
We have - I don't know if you saw the Warden Notice or not. We suspended Embassy operations for today because of some of the violence and demonstrations that's taken place in Haiti. We fully hope and expect that, over time, those demonstrations will dissipate and we will get back to a situation where we can continue normal Embassy operations. Everybody is still in country. They - people have not left.
But there have been - I understand that the origins of the demonstration really center around some rumors of not-yet-distributed food in some warehouses that are controlled by various international organizations, not United States - not the United States. We ourselves have been very generous in terms of humanitarian aid. So it is - you know, it's a tough situation now in Haiti. But, you know, fundamentally, this is a country that has come a long way. But these demonstrations are a reminder that there's still a ways to go, and also a reminder to the international community of the importance of maintaining its commitment to Haiti, and to helping the Haitian people expand and deepen their democracy, and try to help establish some semblance of a working economy that is integrated into the rest of the - into the world economy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Turkey?
QUESTION: Yes. Mr. McCormack, on Turkey, what is your position on the well-known Article 301 of the Turkish penal code which criminalizes insulting Turkishness and state institutions? And hundreds of democratic Turkish journalists --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: -- and great writers have been executed --
MR. MCCORMACK: I got it, I got it.
QUESTION: -- based on that --
MR. MCCORMACK: I got it, I got it. We'll post an answer for you.
Yeah, yeah. Yes, sir, right in the middle there.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. I have a question about North Korea.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: A North Korean news agency KCNA quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman in North Korea, saying --
MR. MCCORMACK: Was that at his daily press conference? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: About their meeting in Singapore. It says, "Consensus was reached on the United States measure to make political compensation and the nuclear declaration essential for winding up the implementation of the agreement." Any comments about that?
And does this -- when they say "political compensation," does that mean removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure. You can ask the North Korean Government about what they meant by the statement. Chris Hill, when he was in Beijing, I think, as he was headed towards the plane, gave a short press conference, gave a little summary of his discussions in Beijing as well as his discussions in Singapore.
You know, to use his words, the discussions moved beyond where they had been in Geneva. They had made some progress. There are still elements that need to be finalized and brought together in a final declaration, which has not yet been submitted to the Chinese -- the Chinese, who are the chair of the six-party process. So there's more work to be done.
We stand ready to fulfill our commitments as the North Korean side fulfills its commitments. And by -- when I say, "we," I mean the other members of the six-party talks, other than North Korea.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, so would you disagree with the North Korean's use of the word "consensus" with regards to their meetings then?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would -- I'll let them characterize it for themselves. But I would just say, and as Chris has said, that there's more work to be done.
QUESTION: Sean, "political compensation" is a very weird term. Do you look at anything that you and the other parties might be offering, I suppose, or that's part of the '05 statement as compensation of any kind?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That's the basis of our conversations, what's in the '05 statement and then the subsequent agreements that all -- all have been made public.
Joel, welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Dalai Lama has just asked for more cultural autonomy for Tibet. And there have been protests, as you've seen -- London, Paris, San Francisco and now here in Washington. In some quarters, they're calling for a commercial boycott. Would we participate and/or endorse such an action?
MR. MCCORMACK: A commercial boycott?
QUESTION: Of China.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that there's been anybody from the U.S. Government who has contemplated that or has talked about any such idea in public, Joel.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Great.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)
DPB # 64
Released on April 9, 2008