US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 21, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 21, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 21, 2008
Pakistan's Signing of Peace Deal with Pro-Taliban Militants
/ Swat Valley
Deputy Secretary Negroponte's Remarks on Peace Deal / U.S. View of Deal
Visa Revocation of Government Officials
Turkish-Mediated Talks / Not a Substitute for
Syria's Role in Region
Hezbollah's Role / Wants to Have Foot in
Camp of Terror and Foot in Politics
Doha Agreement / U.S. Involvement and Role
Hezbollah's Involvement Lebanese Government / U.S. Contact
Disarmament of Hezbollah
U.S. Role and Interest in Region
Not Aware of Any Nuclear Radiation Leaks from Earthquake
12:41 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions, whoever wants to begin.
QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on the Swat Valley of - reaction to Pakistan signing a peace deal with a pro-Taliban militant?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Looked into that and, you know, look, we have –our metric for these kinds of efforts are you're looking at the results - what results does it produce. Does it produce a result where you have people who are previously unreconciled to a political process participating in that process and turning away from violence? We'll see. What we don't want to see is any sort of effort that results in the violent extremists, militants, being able to use the Swat Valley of Waziristan or the FATA for the purposes of planning and launching terrorist attacks, whether those terrorist attacks are directed at Pakistan or Afghanistan or us or others.
So we'll see. We'll reserve judgment on these things, but again, what you have to do is get the right mix of elements here. You have to have a political element, you have to have an economic element - you know, economic/reconstruction or development element and a security element. We've learned this. We as well as others have learned this lesson over time. You have to have some mixture of those things. So we'll see. We'll see. We'll see what results are produced.
QUESTION: Given past record - track records, are you encouraged, though? I mean, past deals have not led to (inaudible).
MR. MCCORMACK: They haven't, and, you know, we'll see if there's some qualitative change in the behavior of those who have thus far demonstrated themselves committed to the use of violence for some end that they define as political. Previous efforts in this regard - and I won't say similar because we'll see what the results are here, and don't want to necessarily prejudge anything - the results, as you pointed out, have not resulted in a diminution in the influence of those who are committed to the use of violence in those regions. We'll see what the effect is.
QUESTION: Sean, you know, yesterday, Deputy Secretary Negroponte really didn't sort of take a wait-and-see attitude on this. He made, you know, very manifest and repeatedly, in Q&A with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the U.S. Government did not think that this was a good idea, felt that the Pakistanis should be extremely cautious in proceeding along these lines, voiced skepticism that such an agreement would have good results and repeatedly pointed out the failure of the 2006 agreement, which the former Pakistani Government subsequently abandoned because it concluded that it didn't work.
You know, why do you go from, we really don't think this is a good idea yesterday –
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me read you - let me read you what he said. Let me read you what he said in place of your characterization of what he said. Let's go to his actual words: "I hope that they proceed cautiously and not accept an outcome that would give extremist elements the right or the ability to use the FATA area with impunity to carry out attacks on Pakistan, or to carry out attacks on Afghanistan, the United States, or the rest of the world." Sounds familiar.
QUESTION: I think I used the phrase "proceed cautiously," and that doesn't mean, go do this. That means he doesn't think this is a good idea, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think his words speak for themselves, Arshad, as opposed to your characterization. I think that what I have said is, you know, if not word-for-word, very similar and captures the spirit of what the Deputy Secretary said. So I don't see any difference between what he has said and what I have said.
QUESTION: One on the Philippines. Do you have anything on this former lawmaker who says his visa - U.S. visa was revoked because of alleged espionage?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. As is frequently the case with visas - visa law, we can't offer any particular comment on individual visa cases. If there is an individual who wants to speak to any information that we have provided them regarding the reasons for revocation of a visa, then they are free to do so. Typically, there's a general explanation if there's a visa that's revoked or denied. And in any case, whatever it is, they may also reapply for a visa.
QUESTION: Do you have anything just generally on the allegation that several members of the former government there had their visas revoked because of ties to espionage?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it falls in the same category of what I just said.
QUESTION: Sean, it's my understanding that if, in fact, a person whose visa has been revoked or rescinded or whatever comes out and speaks to it publicly, you will confirm that the action has been taken. Are you saying that ever since (inaudible) –
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the –
QUESTION: - that was in effect as of two months ago?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen any particular quote or been given a quote in this regard. It may exist. I haven't seen it. Until I'm able to confirm that somebody did, in fact, say those things, I'm going to refrain from any comment on a particular case.
QUESTION: Is that still the policy, though?
MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the Consular Affairs people. I don't delve into the deep weeds of these things.
QUESTION: The United States position towards renewing indirect talks in Istanbul between Syria and Israel guarded by the Turkish efforts and the United States can see itself playing a strong role in supporting Turkey to - Turkey's efforts to gaining credibility in the area? And if the United States can see also itself playing a role to ameliorate the Israeli radicals from causing the current Prime Minister in Israel Government to collapse or, you know, to take any measures that would weaken these peace efforts as they usually do?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm really heartened to see your deep concern for the state of Israeli politics. Look, we have stated our position that if Israel sees fit to engage in direct or indirect negotiations, then that is a decision for them to take. And certainly, the goal of comprehensive peace in the Middle East is something that we all share.
The - this is an effort that the Israeli Government has undertaken. We don't see it, and nor should it be seen, in our view, as a substitute for the Israeli-Palestinian track which, in fact, has gotten to the stage of direct negotiations. Turkey has decided to play a role. So - and again, those are decisions for these sovereign states to take.
Syria itself could, you know, begin to play a more helpful role throughout the region if it chooses to do so. It could begin by recognizing the sovereignty of Lebanon. It could begin by demarcating its border with Lebanon, including the Shebaa Farms area, so that issue can be resolved. The hold-up in that regard is Syria.
QUESTION: A follow-up question?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Staying in the region, on Lebanon, this morning, the U.S. did welcome the Doha agreement as, quote, "necessary and positive." But it does include, as one of the active players, Hezbollah. Does that involvement in any way invalidate the deal in the U.S.'s view? Is there any way to judge that Hezbollah is transitioning from a terrorist organization to one that is becoming an active political agency, sort of on the lines of Sinn Féin?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right –
QUESTION: And then in the larger sense, Sean, because this did not involve any - as far as we know - active U.S. involvement, does this look as if the U.S. is becoming a spectator on these sorts of regional issues? Or is it more positive that people in the Middle East are trying to work out these issues among themselves?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the first part of the question, Hezbollah itself has indicated - given no indication that it is prepared to renounce terror and violence and merely play a political role in Lebanese life. They now want to have it both ways, have a camp - a foot in the camp of terror and a foot in the camp of politics. They're - the sort of myth about Hezbollah as a, quote, "resistance" movement I think was put to rest by their recent actions in killing Lebanese citizens. This was - they used their arms and force of arms to kill their fellow citizens. So this sort of myth that they have tried to perpetuate there that this is somehow a resistance movement I think has really been completely destroyed by the actions over the past couple of weeks.
In terms of - you know, in terms of the United States' role and interest in the region, those are certainly served by having friends and allies and interested parties in the region advocate for support and push the spread and deepening of democracy, the spread and deepening of personal freedoms, and the spread and deepening of the ability of people to realize their full economic potential, engage in trade, engage in starting up businesses. It's something you haven't seen traditionally over the past six years as being widespread, the kinds of, you know, personal freedoms that we recognize in the United States and other places in the West.
So the engagement of, you know, friends and allies in the region on the side of democracy and greater prosperity and the deepening of freedom in the region is a positive thing. I don't think anybody, any actor that has an interest in the spread of freedom and democracy in the region would describe the U.S. interest or participation in trying to help resolve the issues in the region as lessening in any way. If anything, what you have is an expansion of - to others in taking a positive and active role in trying to spread those values throughout the region, and that's a good thing.
QUESTION: Is there any - is there anything that you can provide us on - in terms of whether the U.S. Government was talking to Fatah or to any of the other parties providing insight or friend-of the-court types of advice?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we - we stayed in touch, obviously, with friends in the Arab League to keep pace - keep abreast of the conversations as they were unfolding in Doha. But really the deal that was agreed to was fundamentally agreed to among the Lebanese political parties and brokered by the people on the ground there. Of course, we have an interest in knowing what was being discussed, and we did keep up to date. But again, that was the extent of our involvement and our role.
QUESTION: Back to the Israel-Syria talks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of the timing of this? Why did it come out now? Some have suggested that this might have been a convenient time for Prime Minister Olmert, given his political troubles, and a means of distracting from that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. You know, Libby, I can't speak to that. You might talk to one of the three or all of the three parties actually involved.
QUESTION: Just on Lebanon quickly. I see the Secretary has issued a statement since the David Welch briefing this morning, and she welcomed the agreement, obviously. I assume she plans to continue - or to deal with this government and other officials in this building. But given the fact that about a third of the government is Hezbollah members, does that place any legitimacy on Hezbollah? Because 11 out of 30 ministers is a pretty significant number, so –
MR. MCCORMACK: It doesn't –
QUESTION: I know it's a - it's not an easy issue to deal with when you have a government that you welcome and recognize, at the same time a third of it is - belongs to a terrorist organization, considered by the United States.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So, how do you do it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I suppose we'll have to take a look at the final government as it's composed and elected and seated. We have until this point dealt with this government in such a way we deal with Prime Minister Siniora. He is from a political movement that certainly shares the values that we are espousing in the region. We have not dealt with Hezbollah ministers, even though there are currently Hezbollah ministers that are part of this government –
QUESTION: Two --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, two or three.
MR. MCCORMACK: Two or three. I can't remember the exact numbers. We haven't dealt with them. I would anticipate that would be the case going forward as well. But I - we'll, again, take a look at the government and see exactly how we're going to do - deal with it. None of that should be read in any sort of way as a diminution in our support for the March 14th movement or those who are fighting for Lebanese sovereignty. I expect we will continue to deal with those people, and I expect that people from that branch of Lebanese politics will form really the foundation of this government and lead this government, although Hezbollah may participate in it.
QUESTION: Right. So you would expect that even the ministries that might be headed by a Hezbollah member to - for - in those ministries for there to be people who you can deal with?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's see what it produces. But - and I can't tell you that, you know, I honestly - I would have to check, Nicholas, to see if we've had any contact with people below the cabinet level in the ministries headed by a Hezbollah cabinet minister. I just don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Same topic. What, in practical terms, do you want to see happen next in term of - in terms of Hezbollah disarming? I mean, it seems to be, you know, a huge task.
MR. MCCORMACK: It is a huge task, and it's a huge task that is looming before the Lebanese people and this Lebanese Government. There are obligations that have been undertaken that call for the disarmament of Hezbollah. That hasn't happened to this point.
And ultimately, it is the internal political dynamics in Hezbollah - in Lebanese politics that's going to result in that disarmament. You know, it's not going to happen by force majeure from outside forces. But it's going to have to be something that's dealt with by the Lebanese people. And frankly, the possession of arms by Lebanon - by Hezbollah is a manifestation of a - the larger political conundrum in Lebanese politics that hasn't been resolved.
QUESTION: Do you think it's realistic?
MR. MCCORMACK: We've seen the --
QUESTION: Do you think it's realistic, a realistic prospect?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely it is - absolutely, it is realistic. Is it going to happen tomorrow? I doubt it's going to happen tomorrow, or the week after. But it's part and parcel of a fundamental question that the Lebanese people have to deal with. They have seen up close and personal in very real terms over the past couple of weeks the dangers of having these kinds of armed groups operating outside of the governmental control. It's costs people's lives. It costs the economy productivity. It has cost businesses, in some cases, their livelihoods. So there are real costs associated with it, and the Lebanese people at some point are going to have to come to terms with that, as, frankly, they are the only ones that are going to be able to finally resolve that issue.
QUESTION: Well, what do you - what, in practical terms, do you want to see happen next? Do you want the Arab League to put this up for open discussion? Do you want them to exert pressure? What do you want to happen?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think in - you know, in general terms, the international political system should continue to exert pressure to have - to achieve that result. But like I said, it's going to be - part of that is exerting pressure, part of that is supporting those forces within Lebanese politics who have an interest in seeing a different kind of Lebanon.
QUESTION: About China?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments about nuclear facility in --
MR. MCCORMACK: The - about which?
QUESTION: Nuclear facility.
MR. MCCORMACK: The new Korea facility?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with what you're talking about.
QUESTION: The earthquake.
QUESTION: Because of the earthquake?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Oh, whether or not there have been any radiation leaks?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't checked on this issue recently. But the last time I did, I haven't - we're not - I'm not aware of any. I don't think we've heard anything from Chinese officials in that regard. If there's any update or change in that, we're happy to try to post something for you.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the issue of negotiating with militants in Pakistan?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Among the other things the Deputy Secretary said was, "There may be some discussions going on at a tactical level in Pakistan, but it's not entirely clear whether a deal will actually be consummated with these extremist elements. But if such a deal were to be negotiated, we would be very concerned about it if it didn't deal with the issue of preventing people from using the FATA areas as a safe haven."
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: "We have real reservations about a negotiated agreement... One of the issues is that it's difficult to enforce unless you have the requisite capabilities on hand - a strong security presence."
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it correct to say that you don't have reservations, then, about the agreement that Lachlan referred to and you're just going to - you're sort of neutral and you're taking a wait-and-see attitude? Or do you still have reservations as Secretary - Deputy Secretary Negroponte suggested yesterday?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's the same. I've said the same thing that he has, Arshad. Not - you don't hear the same exact words come out of my mouth, but we've talked about the fact that these agreements have not been successful in the past and that I emphasized the fact that you have to have all the various elements working together. You can't do one in isolation of the other. So it has to be a concentrated effort involving all these different elements.
I mean, ultimately, though - I mean, you have not seen these succeed in the past. We shall see whether or not they are able to bring about a different result. Certainly, history is - indicates that unless you have all of those various elements working together, you're not going to succeed.
QUESTION: Well, from what you know about it right now, do you think that all those various elements are in place, or is that still a - yet to be seen?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm - we'll see. We'll see. We shall see.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)