US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 15, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 15, 2008
Between Lebanese Government and Hezbollah
Hezbollah Continues to Pose a Challenge to Lebanon’s Future
U.S. to Do What It Can to Strengthen Lebanon and Extend Its Sovereignty
Hezbollah is a Longstanding Problem, Created By Iran / Continuing Issue
Hezbollah’s Part in Political System Must Be Resolved By Lebanese People
Possible Action By UN Security Council / No Timeline
Arab League Comprised of Strong, Committed Friends of Lebanon
Second Guessing Those Making Decisions on the Future of Democracy in Lebanon
U.S. Will Speed Up Current Assistance to Lebanese Military
President Bush’s Speech on U.S. View of Middle East / Issue of Appeasement
U.S. Always Reviewing What to Do to Combat Violent Extremists
International System is Clear, Iran Must
Meet Certain Conditions For Talks
Comments by Secretary Gates on Engagement with Iran
P-5+1 Just Received Iranian Proposal
Activities of Opposition Consistent with Government’s Past
U.S.’ Ability to Leverage Situation Limited
Earthquake / China a Rising Power in the
Focus Now On Saving Lives and Remediating Damage
Chinese Government Very Open to International Offers of Support
Play Positive Role to Convince Regime to Allow More
Flights into Rangoon is Current Avenue to Deliver Aid
Need a Widening of the Aperture by Burmese Government
U.S. Would Like Burmese People to Understand the World Cares About Them / Labeling
U.S. Has a Way to Potentially
Denuclearize the Korean Peninsula / Dealing with Threat
Previous Strategies Were Good Efforts
Kosovo is an Independent State
Information Collected by
Colombia about Possible Links between Venezuela and the FARC
U.S. Conducting Own Analysis / No Reason to Question Legitimacy of Information
11:10 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, don’t have anything to start off with. We can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: How about we go to Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Arab League, according to our reports, has brokered a deal to end the internal strife following the Siniora government’s decision to back down and rescind some of the things to which Hezbollah objected. One, do you think it was a good idea for Siniora’s government to have given in to Hezbollah’s demands? And two, what do you think about the possibility or the reports that the Arab League has gotten a deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll leave it to those directly involved in such discussions to comment about the details of any deal that has been agreed to. And by definition, a deal means that all sides have agreed to it and we’re not going to second-guess anything that the Lebanese Government has done in this matter with Hezbollah.
Look, the fact of the matter is Hezbollah continues to pose a challenge to the future of the Lebanese people in terms of realizing a broad-based, deep democracy that benefits all of the Lebanese people. You – we have seen over the past several days that Hezbollah is willing to kill Lebanese in the interest of their political agenda, which seems to have really no basis other than to try to expand their political power. It operates outside the political system in Lebanon.
And our view is, along with others, not only in the region, but around the world, is that we are going to continue to do what we can to strengthen this Lebanese Government that is democratically elected, that seeks only to govern on behalf of all the Lebanese people, to expand – extend its sovereignty over all of Lebanon, and to broaden and deepen Lebanese democracy, and to fiercely guard Lebanon’s sovereignty. It’s in – we believe in the Lebanese people’s interest, we believe it is in Lebanon’s interest. That is going to be a continuing challenge as long as you have groups like Hezbollah that are, at the very least, largely influenced, at the other end of the spectrum, controlled by parties outside of Lebanon: Iran and Syria.
So that is going to be a continuing – that is going to be a continuing challenge for the Lebanese people. It’s going to be a continuing challenge for those in the international system who have an interest in a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Lebanon. So it remains our view that we are going to stand with those democratically elected leaders who continue to fight on behalf of Lebanese democracy.
QUESTION: Why isn’t this appeasement?
MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?
QUESTION: Why isn’t this appeasement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said, this is – it is a – Hezbollah is not a creation of the past week. It’s not a creation of the past two weeks or month or six months. It’s a longstanding problem. It was created by Iran. And it is going to be a continuing issue for Lebanese democrats to deal with over the course of time. You’re not going to resolve – Lebanon is not going to resolve its myriad difficulties and idiosyncrasies of its political system in the course of a week or in one set of discussions.
So it is our task, as a friend of the Lebanese people and a friend of democracy in Lebanon and a friend of this government, to do what we can to try to reinforce the actions of this democratic government and those with a commitment to Lebanese democracy. That doesn’t include, very clearly, groups like Hezbollah who continue to operate outside the political system, all the while saying that they want to participate in it. You can’t have it both ways.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: But you – why wouldn’t you, to use your phase, second-guess anything the Lebanese Government may have done? You can still support the idea of a democratically elected government in Lebanon and object to what would be a deal with a group you consider to be terrorists and militants. I mean, President Bush said today, you know, that some seem to believe we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they’ve been wrong all along. I mean, who is he talking about, if not Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you’re mixing apples and oranges and the --
QUESTION: Well? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, you are. He is – he is not, to my knowledge, talking about internal Lebanese politics. We all know about the idiosyncrasy of Lebanese politics, where you have a group that we consider a terrorist group, Hezbollah, as part of the political system. Ultimately, as we have said before, that is going to have to be a question resolved by the Lebanese people. We’ve resolved it for ourselves. We stand on the side of democrats and those who want to have a unified central government that has – is able to exercise sovereignty and that means exercise security prerogatives throughout all of Lebanon and not have a group like Hezbollah being able to try to have one foot in politics and one foot in terror. But ultimately, those are going to have to be questions that the Lebanese people resolve for themselves. We can’t do it for them.
What we can do, through our words and through our actions, is to support those in Lebanon who are fighting for Lebanese democracy, who are fighting for the principle that there is only one state in Lebanon that will govern on behalf of all the Lebanese people. Dealing with Hezbollah is going to be a continuing challenge on how to resolve that central and fundamental contradiction in Lebanese politics not only today, but in – out -- as it extends out in the future, it’s going to have to be one for the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Government to resolve.
QUESTION: How far have you got, in discussions for some strong UN action with Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Ongoing discussions up in New York, consultations among Security Council colleagues. As always, I will not put a timeline on action by the Security Council.
QUESTION: Can you characterize the discussions, how well they’re going, and what might emerge?
MR. MCCORMACK: They’re good discussions. I’m not going to try to prefigure exactly what will be the outcome of the discussions or when we will see an outcome of the discussions. But there is a – I think there is a determination, certainly among the interlocutors that we’re working with, to do something within the Security Council on Lebanon.
QUESTION: Do you – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that there’s going to be a President’s statement for a resolution, maybe possibly a Chapter 7 or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, – we’ll see. I’m not going to try to – I’m not going to try to, from here at this point, talk about exactly what the discussions will yield in terms of action.
QUESTION: The Arab mediators, just before this briefing, announced an agreement with the Hezbollah and said that the negotiations between the government and Hezbollah are going to continue in Qatar.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Are you – aren’t you concerned that it’s – you won’t have any control on that and that Qatar is considered as more pro-Hezbollah, as many other Arab countries?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Arab – the Arab League comprises a number of very strong, committed friends of Lebanon, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. And Qatar is merely acting on behalf of the larger group. So we have every confidence that those Arab League members with whom we are in direct contact and who were on the phone call the Secretary participated in just the other day, are going to be strong advocates on behalf of this Lebanese Government which is one that stands for the Lebanese people.
QUESTION: Well, I still don’t understand why you would not construe the Lebanese Government backing down to Hezbollah’s demands as appeasement. They have given in to a group which, as you pointed out, has not hesitated to resort to force to try to get its way. And you yourself said that it is a group backed by Iran, which was clearly the primary object of the President’s comments in Israel today. So why – explain to me why you wouldn’t view this as appeasement, as giving in to a terrorist group that uses force to achieve its --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because, you know, Arshad, sitting back here in Washington in sort of the comforts of our own democracy, secure in our rights and freedoms, I don’t think it’s appropriate to start second-guessing those people who are making decisions that, literally, will determine the future of democracy in Lebanon, whether it survives to fight another day, another week, another month, and another year or not.
So I will focus my comments on supporting those people who are fighting for Lebanese democracy, fighting for Lebanese sovereignty against people and groups that will stop at nothing to try to turn back the clock, who will use whatever brutal tactics are at their disposal, killing their own fellow citizens. So for me to try to second-guess the actions of this government are tantamount to, you know, calling into question whether or not they’re acting in the best interests of the Lebanese people. I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: Can I ask one thing that’s related to this? The U.S. Government has provided military assistance to the Lebanese military or army to try to strengthen it, not least of all, versus Hezbollah. As you talk about reinforcing, strengthening your – you know, the parties that you support in Lebanon, are you giving any consideration to putting forward additional military assistance, either vehicles or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- you know, ammunition, whatever to the Lebanese army?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right -- right now, I know what is -- what we have committed to is speeding up what we had already agreed to in terms of assistance. You know, again, I'm not going -- I'll leave it to the Department of Defense to more specifically outline what that means. In the past, some examples of the kinds of things that we have given have been body armor and ammunition and those kinds of things. We've also done some training as well.
So General Dempsey was in -- was in Beirut, I believe, yesterday and he talked to the Lebanese Government about some of what they might need, what it is that we can provide. I know that we have committed at this point to speeding up delivery of those things that we had already committed to. I'm not going to foreclose the possibility of anything additional at this point, but I don't have any announcements in that regard.
QUESTION: Could you check on that for us?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I don't expect that you'll hear anything additional at this point in time. You know, like I said, I'm not going to foreclose the option.
QUESTION: A senior official said on Friday that, you know, you would probably -- you would positively take a request for more assistance.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have the Lebanese, or yesterday in his meetings, was Dempsey requested by the Lebanese to provide more assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into the details of our conversation. But again, I've said we're going to speed up what we've already committed to. And like I said, if there's anything more to it beyond that, then we'll certainly keep you informed along the way.
QUESTION: Since mid-2006, you've given about $400 million in military assistance to Lebanon according to your own figures.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How much are you set to give between now and the end of the year? Do you happen to have those figures?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can look it up for you.
QUESTION: We'll see if we can generate those numbers.
QUESTION: Yes. It seems this is a war by proxy launched by Iran and Syria against the U.S. and Iraq and Lebanon and Hamas. Are you considering any new pressures on Syria and Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're always -- we're always reviewing what it is that we might do to combat those states that -- to combat violent extremists and to address those states that support those violent extremists.
I would, you know, just -- correct me, I would take a little different tack in terms of your question. These are efforts I wouldn't say specifically directed at the United States; mainly, they're directed against the people of the region. That is -- one should not lose sight of that fact here. And that is that these efforts by Iran, you know, indirectly by Iran and Syria, are killing their brothers, their sisters, their neighbors. And I hope that is not lost in all of this discussion when we start talking about the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. and Syria, and other countries in the region.
QUESTION: Can we --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) back to Iran. Robert Gates yesterday said that U.S. should engage with Iran. Do you think he's playing on your field or does it help you?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I -- look, I didn't see the full transcript of what he said. But I -- just reading the comments I saw in the newspaper, I don't think you heard anything different from him than you would have heard -- then you have heard from Secretary Rice. That was a striking -- one -- one particular passage when he talked about engaging and engaging from a point -- from a position of leverage, I think you've heard Secretary Rice talk about the fact that diplomacy without leverage is just talking. And we're not going to engage just for the sake of talking.
And part of what we are doing vis-à-vis Iran in the region, you know, in addition to defending our interests and the interests of our friends and allies in the region, is trying to create points of leverage as well. And as Secretary Rice has said, we're fully prepared to engage with Iran. They are not, at this point, prepared to engage with us.
QUESTION: But he's acting a little bit as -- more as the Secretary of State than the Secretary of Defense. (Inaudible) you?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that that is just a silly idea to suggest. I think -- you know, he has a day job and I know -- (laughter) -- he is fully occupied with that. Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have a great relationship. They talk all the time and they -- I think certainly on these issues related to Iran, are of similar, if not one, mind.
QUESTION: On a vaguely related issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look at Iran's offer yet, which was received in Brussels?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- yeah, I know that they got it. I think the idea here is that we just received it; we, the P-5+1 just received it. So we're going to take a few days to review it and analyze it, and probably have more to say in the coming days.
QUESTION: And are you going to give them a response when you -- when the other members of the P-5+1 present proposals to Motaki?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know if the two are tied exactly. I think it depends on the timing of when the P-5+1 proposal is presented to the Iranians, so, you know, I'm not going to preclude any public comment on the Iranian proposal prior to the delivery of the P-5+1. We'll keep you informed.
QUESTION: Okay. Any idea --
MR. MCCORMACK: They maintain some tactical, diplomatic flexibility, I guess.
QUESTION: But any timetable yet on when those meetings will take place with Motaki?
MR. MCCORMACK: There -- nothing to report right now.
QUESTION: Is that because you haven't been able to fix a time yet with Motaki because he's rather busy? Or is it just because --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we're, you know, working through details.
QUESTION: Hi. Could we get back to the President's comments about appeasement --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- your general reaction to those? And isn't there a risk of the United States sending out mixed signals on its approach to Iran and other regimes?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. What do you want me to comment specifically on?
QUESTION: Well, when he said --
MR. MCCORMACK: My reaction to it? I think it's pretty clear, you know, look at the words, listen to them. I don't know that I have much more to offer in terms of analysis.
QUESTION: Well, who is he referring to as people who want to do this negotiation and who are the militants and terrorists to whom he's referring?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you can talk to the folks at the White House. Typically, they are the ones who will offer any further elaboration on the President's comments or not. In terms of violent extremists, you know, the groups are well known -- Hamas, Hezbollah. You know, you can go down the list and see the groups that are listed there as terrorist organizations; Al-Qaida, of course. In terms of the -- you know, in terms of the states, there are state sponsors of terror. But you should check with the folks at the White House if they want to offer any further elaboration on the President's speech.
QUESTION: But in terms of the United States and Iran, here there’s new incentives being offered, there’s a package from Iran being considered, but at the same time, the President, the Commander-In-Chief, is --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- saying it’s a discredited policy to talk to enemies of the United States.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think, you know, the – in terms of the President’s speech, he makes it very clear that there is, in terms of those who are friends of peace, friends of democracy in the Middle East, there’s a very clear line between those people and those on the other side -- Iran, Syria, various groups, violent extremists who will use terror and violence to try to achieve some political goals. And it is worth talking about, very clearly, how there are bright lines and highlighting those bright lines between, you know, one side of the divide in the Middle East and the other.
In terms of, you know, Iran, we have made it very clear that if they meet – we, meaning the international system, has made it very clear – if they meet certain conditions, then we are prepared to talk to them about any number of issues. But they have not done so thus far and absent – certainly, absent that, we are going to continue to defend our interest in the region and to work with our friends and allies in the region to defend theirs.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, the police have banned a rally in which Morgan Tsvangirai was going to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- launch his campaign ahead of the runoff.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that action?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is consistent with their past behavior to try to thwart the activities of the opposition parties and it does not, at this point in time, portend well for proper conditions for a free and a fair electoral runoff. Now, we have laid out what we believe the – the conditions would be in order to have a free and fair runoff election. It will be up to us, as well as, in particular, friends and neighbors of Zimbabwe in the region to keep the pressure on the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission and officials in Zimbabwe to create the atmosphere that will allow for a free and fair runoff. That means not having these kinds of incidents where those who are trying to peacefully express political views are intimidated or prevented from doing so, that there are – that international electoral observers be allowed in, that there be the ability to, via the media, express freely political views. And there are a number of other conditions we listed, but those are the basic ones.
QUESTION: Aside from urging SADC and other countries to put pressure on the government to ensure a free and fair poll, what else do you plan to do?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that’s – you know, our ability to leverage the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat limited, as you have seen over time. But we are going to use what leverage we have: speaking out in public, working the international politics. Our Ambassador is going to continue his activities on the ground there to make it clear that we support a free and fair electoral runoff, make it clear that we support the right of all Zimbabweans to speak out freely and peacefully, and to urge all sides to refrain from any violence.
I think you have seen some movement in Zimbabwe. I think that is due, in large part, to the pressure from the international system, but in particular, from the shifts that you have seen from Zimbabwe’s neighbors in terms of willingness to pressure the government to change behavior. That kind of pressure needs to continue.
QUESTION: So is the Secretary reaching out again to Zambia, Tanzania, and the other countries (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: She has – let me just see if we have – no, we don’t have – nothing – nothing right now. She did last on Friday the 9th. I would expect that in the coming days – well, not coming days, probably coming days and weeks, you’ll see her continue to work the political front, the international political front on Zimbabwe, but nothing to report right now.
QUESTION: A general question on China --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and relief efforts. Problems that China’s encountering in distributing aid and rescuing people and that kind of thing, and the infrastructure problems and the problems in the provinces. Does this cast doubt on China’s position as a world superpower, kind of very --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, China is a rising power in the international system. That doesn’t mean that in the face of the kind of natural disaster that they are confronting at the moment, that you aren’t going to have difficulties. I mean, we have encountered our own difficulties in dealing with large-scale natural disasters. So I’m not sure that I would make the linkage between, you know, China’s international status and the ability to respond. Even the most highly economically developed and prosperous countries around the globe, whether it’s the United States or others, have challenges.
I’m not prepared to offer any sort of, you know, analysis of the Chinese response at this point and there will be plenty of time in the future to do that. The focus now should be on trying to save lives and remediate any damage that may have been done there that could potentially put at risk people on the ground more than is already the case.
QUESTION: Are you encouraged generally by the behavior of the Chinese Government? Have they been relatively open in letting aid in and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’ve been very open to international offers of support. I know that we have provided some financial assistance via the International Red Cross. There are ongoing discussions about what other in-kind assistance they might need. I know that they have allowed in a – accepted in a Japanese search and rescue team. Like I said, there’s a real need there. But they’re dealing with very difficult circumstances. What was it, a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake. That’s very severe. This is also a very isolated region. It’s difficult terrain to work in as well.
QUESTION: Food aid for North Korea -- is there an agreement there yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new to report.
QUESTION: On Myanmar, the efforts of ASEAN. The Secretary General for ASEAN was here yesterday and talked at the Council on Foreign Relations about ASEAN trying to take a leadership role in providing aid. They have a foreign ministers meeting coming up next week. What do you think are the odds that ASEAN can be effective in this as a group? And then I have a couple of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- questions about -- follow-ups on Henrietta Fore.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Well, in terms of – look, every bit helps in this regard. If ASEAN, as an organization, wants to step up and play a positive role in trying to convince the regime in Burma to allow in greater flows of international assistance and, more importantly, allow in expertise, then that’s positive. But I don’t think I – nobody expects ASEAN by itself to be able to do that. But it can play an important role in trying to convince one of its members, Burma, to continue its change in course, I guess you could say, in terms of allowing in more aid and more outside expertise.
QUESTION: And he could try, but what do you think are the odds of success?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. You know, we’ll see.
QUESTION: A question –
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Henrietta Fore said yesterday – she mentioned that one of the discussions that she and the Admiral had with the regime with the government representatives they met with, was about boats and bringing aid in; that they actually told the U.S. representatives that they want aid, they requested aid and they particularly requested help distributing by boat. So one, are there any plans in reference to that at this point? And two, if the officials that Henrietta Fore and the Admiral met with requested aid, they’ve clearly said they want it, then what’s the barrier to getting it there at that point?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, after --
QUESTION: Did they (inaudible?) To Myanmar?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. At the moment, we have a – an avenue to deliver aid and those are the flights into Rangoon. I think there were five today. There are going to be more tomorrow. Look, we’ve – our estimate is that we have delivered aid that could help about 135,000 people. Now, there are current estimates that 2 -- 2.5 million people have been in some way affected by this natural disaster. So clearly, more needs to be done. We’re prepared. We have the capacity along with others to provide more assistance and to help deliver that assistance. So it’s been, unfortunately, a slow process in terms of opening up the ability to deliver some of this assistance. More of it is now funneling through NGOs and aid organizations that are on the ground, more so than before. But to really, really, really have the kind of effect that the – is needed and that the international system is prepared to provide, you need a really widening of the aperture by the Burmese Government in terms of willingness to accept inflows of expertise, as well as material.
QUESTION: But they – they say they want it, but then are these same officials blocking it or is it being blocked at a higher level?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I – I – at this point, there – like I said, in terms – think of it in terms of opening an aperture, in terms of the ability to deliver and the capacity to accept in aid, that hasn’t happened yet.
QUESTION: Can I just follow – follow that up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I just wanted to hear your latest concerns about accounting for the aid and tracking the aid and making sure that it is received by those who need it and not diverted.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, it’s a continuing – it’s always a concern, especially in – when you’re operating in this kind of environment where you have, you know, we really don’t have anybody on the ground in the affected areas. There are, however, NGOs and we – have set up, I guess, a management feedback loop there, in terms of checking with them if they are seeing the aid flow down to the affected areas. Thus far, we are hearing from them that it is flowing down to the affected areas.
Now, I can’t account for every single roll of plastic sheeting and every single crate of food assistance. But in general, we are seeing the aid flow down there and we’re hearing that via the groups that are on the ground there. I’ve seen a lot of news reports about some of it being diverted. Now, of course, we’re constantly vigilant for that kind of diversion. Our capacity to monitor the delivery of the aid is somewhat limited. But we are, as a general matter, seeing the aid flow down there. We’re going to continue to check out any reports that we hear about diversion of aid.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can we just --
MR. MCCORMACK: There – nothing at this point. I mean, certainly we have a lot of capacities that we’re willing to bring to bear. But thus far, we have not been able to fully exploit those.
QUESTION: Along with the reports of diversion, there have been some reports of – through rebranding or repackaging, so that aid that’s coming from overseas gets stamped – you know, gift of the government of Myanmar.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Government.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that that has happened to any U.S.-generated aid and would the U.S. Government have objections sufficient to stop doing so, if it did?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven’t heard of any. I’m happy to check to see if we have seen – seen anything. Again, the ability to monitor that kind of behavior is somewhat limited. But I haven't heard any reports specifically reflecting U.S. aid. And in terms of that being sufficient for us to cut back, you know, that sort of -- certainly, we would like the Burmese people to understand that not only the United States, but the outside world cares about them. But you know, that sort of repackaging, if you will, I don't think is something that would cause us at this point to cut back on the aid that we're providing.
QUESTION: Sean, does the President regard it as an unforgiveable betrayal of future generations that North Korea acquired and demonstrated its capacity to detonate a nuclear weapon during his administration?
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Arshad, the North Koreans -- the North Korean nuclear program, just based on the documents you saw in front of you here the other day, dates back into the last century, the last millennium, so it's not a new program.
We have a way, we believe, to potentially denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We believe that the policy and the strategy that we have put in place, and that we are pursuing, is the single best opportunity to achieve that goal. There were previous efforts. I don't think that you were ever going to get there. And certainly, that --
QUESTION: You don't think we're ever going to get where? I'm sorry, I didn't --
MR. MCCORMACK: We -- we don't think that you were ever going to get to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula pursuing the previous strategies. They were good efforts. They were valid efforts and given the circumstances of the time, we certainly have no criticism of their being pursued. But simply put, we didn't think that you were ever going to achieve the goal that -- of a denuclearized peninsula following those strategies. And the fact of the matter is the North Koreans could have, at any point in time, flipped the switch back and we saw evidence that they intended to pursue a different avenue as well.
So I can't account for the decisions that the North Korean Government has taken with respect to pursuing nuclear weapons. But we think we have now the right policies and strategies to mitigate against the decisions that they have taken.
QUESTION: Well, however -- the last question -- however successful or unsuccessful the prior efforts were, under the Agreed Framework they had ceased plutonium production, frozen their plants, submitted them to international inspections and not tested, which is different from actually testing and demonstrating a capability.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, the proper focus is really not on the international system or the United States. We didn’t decide for the North Korean Government to take a course of action that deprived its own people of basic humanitarian needs, and we didn't -- you know, certainly we didn't advise them to pursue a course of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Individual governments and states have to account for their own actions.
Like I said, we think we have the right strategy in order to not only denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, but bring about a completely different situation in Northeast Asia so you don't face this kind of threat. We didn't create the threat. We're dealing with the threat and we think we have the right strategy to deal with it.
QUESTION: The foreign ministers of China, Russia, and India meeting today in Russia called for a resumption of talks between Serbia and Kosovo leaders on the status of Kosovo. And I wonder if you think there's any merit to that idea.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess we have a news flash for everybody, the status of Kosovo has been resolved. It's an independent state.
QUESTION: Would you consider opening the aperture wide enough to say thank you? Sorry.
QUESTION: Any comment -- I know there has been none recently about the Pakistan missile strike? Has the United States received any formal protest about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- I've seen the news reports and probably refer you to Pakistani authorities for any information about that.
QUESTION: And just one other quick one. Any reaction to the reports that Venezuelan authorities offered Colombia --
MR. MCCORMACK: They got the attention of the front row here, let me tell you. Okay.
QUESTION: About obtaining surface-to-air missiles?
MR. MCCORMACK: Surface-to-air missiles --
QUESTION: The Venezuelan Government offering to help.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right, right. Well, this all falls in the category of information derived, or supposed to be derived from these laptops as well as other data points that the Colombian officials have been able to collect regarding the FARC and the activities of the Venezuelan Government. I think in the coming days and weeks, the Colombian Government will talk a bit more about what it is that they have found and what they have concluded through their analysis, not only of the laptop but other information that they've been able to gather about links between Venezuela and the FARC.
Certainly, the picture painted by some of the preliminary news reports that I've seen over the past few days, is disturbing, highly disturbing. It -- you know, there are serious allegations about Venezuela supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization. I mean, certainly that has deep implications for the people of the region as well as states in the region. And we'll -- I would suppose see more in the coming days and weeks from the Colombian Government about these links and more details about these links. So I guess, stay tuned.
QUESTION: But Sean, the United States hasn't done any analysis on those documents or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we have access to the information. We're conducting our own analysis. But since this is an issue that most directly affects the Colombian Government and the Colombian people and their – they – the originators of this material, they – it’s only proper that they talk about it first. I’m sure that at some point, we’ll probably have more to say about it.
QUESTION: But – but does the United States believe that the documents are legitimate, that they’re --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have no reason to question, at this point, the legitimacy of the information. And I think Interpol has recently come out with an analysis saying that they haven’t seen any tampering done with the hard drives or any of the laptops that really are, sort of, a rich source for a lot of this information. So no, I don’t think anybody’s calling into – except for Venezuela, of course, calling into question the providence of this information.
QUESTION: Can you talk about implications for the people and the states of the region? Are there implications for the United States and reevaluating state sponsorship of terror – inclusion of Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of Venezuela, look, you know, that’s your – that’s always – that’s constantly being reviewed. If there’s new information to feed into the system, then I’m sure that it will be – and it will be taken into account. I mean, this is – in terms of listing on – as a state sponsor of terror, you earn your way onto that list and there is a rigorous analysis that goes into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:50 a.m.)
Released on May 15, 2008