US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 6, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 6, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 6, 2008
House to Announce Additional Assistance for Cyclone Victims
Status of DART Team / In Bangkok, Ready to Go
While There May be Differences with the Regime, This is a Humanitarian Issue
First Lady’s Statement / U.S. Views on Political Situation in Burma Well Known
U.S. Has Been Outspoken on Political, Human Rights Issues
Moving Forward on Constitutional Referendum During this Crisis Raises Questions
U.S. Russia Nuclear Agreement / Upcoming Statement
Channel of Communication Between U.S. and Iran for
Discussions on Iraq Issues
Iran Actively Working to Provide Assistance to Militias in Iraq
P-5+1 Discussions / Delivery of Incentives to Iran
Former Under Secretary Burns’ Interview on NPR / All Options on the Table
Reports of U.S. Dollars Going to Iran Via Russian Entities / U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal
Status of Civilian Nuclear Deal / Issue of Indian Politics / Burns Involvement
Differences Among Parties in Delta / Existing Mechanisms to
Reports that Former President Carter May Intervene
Reports that Robert Vesco Has Died
Provocative Steps by the Russian
Government / Abkhazia / Not Helpful
Secretary’s Meeting with Head of Parliament / Strong U.S.-Georgia Relations
Sung Kim’s Travel to
Pyongyang / Part of Ongoing Dialogue
Formal Way Declaration will be Submitted / Process Not as Important as Substance
Deputy Secretary will Not Travel to Pyongyang
Administration’s Support for the Steps Congress is Considering Regarding the ANC
Any Investigations into
Prime Minister Olmert Purely a Matter for Israel
Abbas, Olmert Meeting / Very Good / Touched on Core Issues
Status of Maoists on U.S. Terrorism List / No Change
12:40 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything to start off with by way of statements, so we can get right to your questions, whoever may have them.
Nobody? (Laughter.) Nina.
QUESTION: You were talking this morning – it wasn’t very clear – about whether getting the DART team in was conditional on giving more monetary aid. Can you explain that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we actually have an announcement out of the White House just right about now, I think, talking about some additional assistance that we’re going to be providing, and they’ll have some of the details on it. So there is a direct linkage there. When you have people on the ground, you are better able to assess exactly what the needs are and what our capabilities might be, so it increases efficiencies.
At this point, we have the DART team, and I got a little bit more information. They’re actually in Bangkok right now. There was a question about exactly where they were. So they’re in Bangkok ready to go. The issue is visas. We have applied for visas with the Burmese Government and have yet to receive permission for our disaster relief people to travel in there.
QUESTION: How confident are you that they will grant these visas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t know, don’t know. Certainly, we are – you heard from the President just this morning. We are ready to help. We are able to help, we believe. And we just need the signal from the Burmese Government that help and assistance for the Burmese people is welcome. While there may be differences with the regime, this is a humanitarian issue. Clearly, there is a substantial humanitarian need here. You have thousands and thousands of people who have been killed by this, many times more than that who have been affected by it, so there’s a great need and we’re ready to help along with the rest of the international system.
QUESTION: If the junta won’t let the team in, would you still provide financial aid?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we are. We are.
QUESTION: Do you see this disaster and your response to it as a way somehow to influence Myanmar’s political situation?
MR. MCCORMACK: I -- we certainly don’t look at it this way. There’s a political component only in that the regime is talking about moving forward with a constitutional referendum except in those places that have been affected by this natural disaster. But that’s the only political connection and that’s not our political connection.
QUESTION: If that’s the case, Sean, then why do you think the First Lady spent so much time yesterday in her statement talking about the politics of the matter and very, very little on aid except for to ask them to allow the team in?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure what – you know – I saw her --
QUESTION: You may have been on the plane.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I saw her – I saw her statement. I’m not sure what you’re – what you’re getting at, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, the beginning of it, maybe five minutes or so --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or maybe five to ten minutes was about – was about the aid situation, but then the – but then most of the rest of it, before it got into personal things, was --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- was about the political situation in Burma.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, look, we can also talk about the political situation in Burma, absolutely. Our views are well-known on that and we can get into a long discussion about it. That doesn’t affect the fact that we want to try to help provide some humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: Well, I think what some people are asking is that, is this the time, really, while the government is trying to deal with this crisis, to start criticizing the government about its politics? And do you think that that would alienate the government even further from accepting international help?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the criticism of the government and its policies isn’t new and --
QUESTION: Right. But is this – is this like pouring salt on a wound kind of thing right now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, they have tens of thousands of their citizens who have been killed by a natural disaster, many more who have been affected by it. Regardless of political differences, we are prepared to help, as are other countries around the globe prepared to help Burma. Certainly, as we are, in a case of great humanitarian need, absolutely ready to look beyond any political differences because we want to help the people of Burma, certainly, we would expect that the regime would be willing to do the same. This isn’t about politics. This is about trying to help people.
QUESTION: Well, if I might? But it’s not about politics, but you’re injecting politics into the equation by reminding them – I mean, of your political differences. If you’re truly willing to move beyond politics, then why don’t you, you know, see if you can get the aid in? And then, you know, as in other countries where you’ve been able to use aid as – not – you’re not using it as a political tool, but it does help you in the relationship with the country. For instance, with Iran or Cuba, when there were natural disasters there, I don’t remember you kind of injecting this political tone into your statements about the country there.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Elise, I can’t – you know, I can’t account for going back all of the various statements and people’s assessment and perceptions of them. But the fact of the matter is we’re not the issue here. The Burmese people are the issue. And as I said, they’re – yeah, there is an issue of political differences with Burma and the regime and the human rights abuses. We’ve talked about those. We’ll continue to talk about those. You know, because – just because there is a great humanitarian need here doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about those things. I just mentioned the constitutional referendum which is going forward. We have serious concerns about the fact of this particular constitutional referendum and moving forward with one during this kind of natural disaster, certainly raises a lot of questions. But that’s not the central focus of what we’re talking about. We’re not going to stop talking about the political situation there just because there is this great need, but we are going to focus on what we can do to respond. It is now up to the Burmese regime to decide whether or not it wants to accept the hand that has been offered them in terms of humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: One of the other things the First Lady said yesterday was that the government media had failed to warn the Burmese people adequately about the cyclone as it was approaching. Is that the State Department’s view as well or is that – or is that where that information came from?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have no reason to offer any different opinion on that. I just don’t – I don’t have the information. I --
QUESTION: Do you – okay, but presumably, she’s not listening to or watching Burmese radio and television, so that information, most likely, I would assume, I don’t know, but it would have come from the Embassy?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know, Matt. Check with – you know, check with the White House. Okay, anything else on this? Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a question on the U.S.-Russia nuclear agreement. I know the – how the framework of how the deal would work, but could you describe some of the hurdles to the deal and the limitations?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’re going to be putting out a statement here in the not-too-distant future, so I think it’d probably address some of those issues for you.
QUESTION: Changing the subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Regarding U.S.-Iran meeting yesterday –
MR. MCCORMACK: The what?
QUESTION: -- yesterday. Talking about Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Did they inform you in advance that they are not coming to talk? Did they inform you?
MR. MCCORMACK: What, the Iranian Government –
QUESTION: Yes. Did they inform you?
MR. MCCORMACK: -- that they’re not – they’re not doing what – I don’t – I’m sorry, I don’t understand. There was no scheduled meeting.
QUESTION: The talk between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iraq, what is right now going on --
MR. MCCORMACK: There’s, at the moment, it’s – there’s a channel of communication to discuss issues related to Iraq’s security that is open and is available to both sides. I’ve seen statements from the Iranian Government, saying that they don’t wish to engage that channel while the governments of Iraq and the United States are actively working to disarm militias that are operating outside the rule of law in Iraq. And I’m not sure exactly what the Iranian complaint is with those actions. We do know that they are actively working to provide assistance to those militias, whether it’s arms or training or other kinds of assistance. So I don’t know – I don’t know what their problem is, whether or not it’s the Government of Iraq that is being effective in dealing with some of these militias and special groups or what their concerns may be. But it’s a – that channel of communication is one that is available and could be used by either side, should they see fit.
QUESTION: Also on the subject of Iran, have you had a chance to review the decision taken on Friday by the major powers? You know, capitals are looking at the agreement that was drawn up and working out how to proceed. Have you decided who is going to deliver the incentives and –
MR. MCCORMACK: I think they’re still working on that at a working level. I don’t know if Dan Fried has had any follow-up conversations, yet, but that would be the level it would happen at.
QUESTION: But is Javier Solana going to deliver it, as far as you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: Those are things that have yet to be settled, Sue.
QUESTION: Because the French say it’s going to happen within a couple of days, probably and some other officials – U.S. officials have been saying it’s going to happen very soon.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, they’re still talking about some of the details of it.
QUESTION: And then your very own Nicholas Burns this morning was on NPR and said – talking about Iran and saying that, you know, this really needs to be resolved diplomatically and suggesting that it would be nice if you could all, you know, sit down and talk about these issues to avert -- you know, at all costs to avert a military action.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: I just wondered.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I didn’t hear the interview. Nick is a private citizen at this point, you know, well-respected and well known person here, obviously. You know, I’m not – not having seen his entire statement, I’m not sure exactly what difference there might be between what, you know, our policy is and what he said. It doesn’t sound like there’s really much at all if we want to try to resolve any differences diplomatically. But the President has made clear and the Secretary has made clear all options remain on the table.
QUESTION: But apparently there’s a meeting over at the Pentagon today to discuss Iran and how to proceed.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go over and talk to folks at the Pentagon, then. Okay.
QUESTION: Nicholas Burns no longer providing his advice here? I thought he’s still providing advice here.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know. I’m sure he still talks to people in the building. It’s not as though he has fallen off the face of the earth. I mean, he’s a well-known, respected member of the -- former member of the State Department and the Foreign Service.
QUESTION: Is he still working on the India deal? Is that just dead or is moving forward?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure right now. In terms of India -- that -- the issue is with Indian politics and the Indian Government working on their end to try to resolve any issues they may have. I’m not sure how active Nick is involved in that process as it’s really a matter for Indian domestic politics.
QUESTION: A Nigerian rebel group has said that President Carter has accepted their invitation to mediate between them and the Nigerian Government.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Have you heard of this? Do you have any reaction to it? And has anybody spoken to President Carter before?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. There’s – I’ve seen the press reports. I, again, couldn’t confirm the accuracy of those news reports for you. But there are mechanisms to deal with some legitimate political grievances among groups in the Niger River Delta. Obviously, we’ve seen some of the effects of those political differences with kidnappings and violence and nobody sees – wants to see that take place. Like I said, there are mechanisms that are existing to deal with those political differences and we support those mechanisms and we believe the Nigerian Government should also avail itself of those mechanisms.
QUESTION: So you seem to believe that President Carter’s efforts would not be one of those mechanisms you would --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I can’t -- you know, I’ve seen press reports. I can’t offer any substantiation for the accuracy of them.
QUESTION: Are you saying that -- not to pick a fight with President Carter or anything --
QUESTION: No, (inaudible).
QUESTION: But are you saying that these mechanisms to deal with the problem there should be -- that should be the established kind of formula for dealing with these issues, and not outside mediation such as President Carter?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We’ve seen news reports that I can’t substantiate for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: But we -- what we do know is that there are existing mechanisms to deal with political differences and some of the accompanying issues that have come along with those political differences.
QUESTION: Oh, that’s a new one. Have you gotten any word from the Cubans or any other way that Robert Vesco has died -- this American fugitive that --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Have we heard anything? No, I don’t think we have any --
QUESTION: There were some reports over the weekend.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I saw the news reports. I don’t --
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess we don’t have anything.
QUESTION: Could you -- if you get anything, could you post it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Can you comment on a statement attributed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov five days ago? He says, “The Georgian leadership has been directly and in secret gathering a huge number offensive armament.” And today, Anne Applebaum says in The Washington Post that Abkhazia could become the starting point of a larger war.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes?
QUESTION: How serious is -- well, the Secretary is meeting with the Georgian head of parliament today.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The speaker of the parliament, yes.
QUESTION: Is that in reference to the escalation of hostilities in that area?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’re -- the Russian Government has taken some provocative steps with respect to Georgia, and specifically with respect to Abkhazia. They are -- they are part of a mechanism designed to deal with differences between the population and populations in Abkhazia and the Georgian Government. Some of the steps that they have taken recently over the past -- really, over the past couple of weeks, have not been helpful to that situation. And we’ve actually asked them to take a look at those, withdraw some of the comments, and reconsider some of the actions that they have taken.
Today’s meeting is a -- you should view it in the same vein as the Secretary’s meeting with the Georgian Foreign Minister just, I think, last week. And that is to talk about U.S.-Georgian relations, restate our commitment to strong U.S.-Georgian relations, restate our unswerving commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity as well as the ability of the Georgian Government to exercise sovereignty over all of Georgian territory. Nobody wants to see an escalation, a so-called escalation of tensions between Georgia and Russia. But I think that if you look back certainly at the most recent history here, you see really a pattern of Russian provocative actions towards Georgia, and specifically on the issue of Abkhazia.
QUESTION: Do you happen to have any more details about Sung Kim’s trip to Pyongyang?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not much more. He is going to be leaving -- either is going to be or has left already to travel to Pyongyang. I expect he’ll have some meetings there on Thursday and he will probably be back in the United States over the weekend or Monday. But I expect just one day of meetings. He’ll be traveling over land both going in and coming out.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect that this is the trip where he’ll be able to take documents out of the country to come back and start verifying --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, this -- it’s part of --
QUESTION: Is this the --
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s part of the ongoing dialogue with respect to North Korea’s declaration. We’ll see what it is that North Korea decides to do regarding their declaration. They have yet to hand over the declaration to the Chinese Government, which is the chair of the six-party process. That will be the formal way any declaration is handed over. And we'll see what the result of Sung Kim's discussions with the North Korean Government are on their declaration.
QUESTION: But just in terms of, kind of, mechanics of how this is going to go, are they supposed to hand over the declaration first to the Chinese and then you start the process of getting the documents to verify it? Or is it possible that --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, the exact form of all of this isn't particularly important, in terms of, you know, what step, in terms of any supporting information or any other information that North Korea wants to provide as part of their declaration. How exactly they do that is not the most important issue. The most important issue is the substance of a declaration, when and if we do get that. I mean, the other members of the six-party talks will take a look at it, evaluate it, analyze it, and judge it and, based on that judgment, see whether or not the process can move forward.
QUESTION: Is it possible that John Negroponte might visit Pyongyang? I'm sorry if you covered all this in the gaggle.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, he won't.
QUESTION: Definitely not?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: State Department reaction to Congress removing the stigma surrounding the ANC. They're working on it today.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand that there are different tracks here. There's efforts and there's -- there's a Senate side to this, there's a House side to this. It's something that we have been working with the Congress on and we're supportive of the steps that the Congress is considering. There are still some steps that have to be taken up on the Hill and they're going to have to work out how to reconcile, you know, if they choose to do so, the different vehicles for addressing this issue.
QUESTION: Is the State Department involved in any of the investigation of U.S. dollars going to the Iran nuclear program through the Russian institutes?
MR. MCCORMACK: New issue on me. I'll check it out and see if we have anything to say on it.
QUESTION: Because that was the argument that lawmakers on the Hill used last week, saying that they -- when asking the President not to push a U.S.-Russia nuclear deal through before the Administration deals with this issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll see if there's anything that we've turned up in response to those questions.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Sean, are you worried about the negotiation between the Palestinians and Israelis after the investigation with Prime Minister Olmert?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary talked about this yesterday. And she said that the -- and any investigations are purely a matter for Israeli officials and it's purely a domestic matter in Israel. We're continuing to focus on our efforts with respect to the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I would note that, just yesterday, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas had a very good meeting in which they touched on all of the core issues that are between them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, here.
QUESTION: According to the Times on Saturday, Nancy Powell met with Prachanda in Nepal. And the question is: Will the Communist Party, Maoist be removed from the terrorist list? Because they won the elections and are rewriting the constitution. So what will their status be?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't think there's any change -- there's no change in their status.
QUESTION: So they're still listed as terrorists?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a particular listing, and I don't have in front of me exactly what it is. But there's not -- at this point, there's no change in their status.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 80
Released on May 6, 2008