US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 27, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 27, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 27, 2008
Human Rights Dialogue
Reports by Human Rights Groups of Harassment
Issues Related to Tibet / Dialogue with Dalai Lama
Crimes Against American Citizens / Results of Cases
Importance of Broadening and Deepening Democracy
President Bush’s Visit / Issues Raised
Possibility of Reaching Agreement on Palestinian State by End of Year
International Compact with Iraq Conference / Debt
Secretary’s Message at Conference / Possible Bilateral Talks
Relationship with Arab Neighbors
U.S. Military Presence / Governing Agreements / Ongoing Discussions
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Visit
IAEA Report / Iranians
Status of New Incentives Package
Peace Talks / Implementation of Comprehensive Peace Agreement
Assistant Secretary Hill’s Meeting with Kim Kye Gwan
Violence and Hezbollah’s Role /
U.S. Participation in President’s Inauguration
Death of FARC Leader
Hostages Should be Released Immediately / U.S. Continues to Work for Their Release
12:17 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t have anything to start off with. I can get right into your questions.
Yeah. Over there.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on China. Human rights groups are complaining that they’re being harassed ahead of the U.S.-China human rights dialogue. I’m just curious to see whether you had any reaction or any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our concern about the state of human rights in China has been longstanding. It’s the very reason why we have a human rights dialogue that the Secretary was able to work with the Chinese to restart after a hiatus of several years. So it’s a demonstration of our commitment to the issue of human rights and trying to broaden and deepen the rights for the Chinese people in China.
We take these reports seriously, and we’re going to look into them. I can’t comment on the specific substance of each and every one of these reports right now, but we do look into them. And based on the facts as we are able to collect them, I’m sure that they will be part of the human rights dialogue that we have coming up.
QUESTION: Hi. Penny Starr with CNSNews. I was here on May 20th and asked about the Travel Alert that was issued, posted on the State Department’s website in April –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and is still current as of today --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- worrying about violence in the border states –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and “dozens of Americans kidnapped or murdered in 2007” and you were kind enough to answer or post an answer --
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and also direct me to the Non-Natural Death Cases Abroad for Mexico report which I went over and I appreciate your help on that. Now, I wanted to ask, if I may, a follow-up question about what the State Department information has on the murder – homicide cases, in particular, as far as arrests, prosecutions and/or convictions. In other words, what is the State Department doing to ensure that justice is served for these Americans abroad that were – that are in that report listed as homicide –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: – which was 128 between 2005 and 2007.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, it’s a significant number. And certainly, we do follow up on these cases. I’ll see if we have statistics on the results of any cases that were brought as a result of charges against individuals who committed crimes against American citizens.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go back on China, please --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- one second? Tom – Sean, thank you. Some Tibetan leaders are saying that because of other events around the globe, including the earthquake in China and all of that, their issue has been under the carpet or nobody is talking about it. What -- do you have knowledge as far as the Tibetan issues are concerned and is there – and by the human rights, they have problems by the Chinese, as far as Tibet is concerned and their issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you might be surprised to learn, Goyal, that just because something isn’t in the headlines doesn’t mean we ignore it. We work on issues of human rights. We work on the issues related to Tibet on a regular and consistent basis, if not every single day. The Chinese Government has committed to restarting a dialogue with the envoys of the Dalai Lama and that is quite promising. We urge the Chinese Government to follow through on their commitment and add energy and dedication to that dialogue to try to find a resolution. We believe, as we have said, that the Dalai Lama is part of this solution and we would encourage a serious, substantive, results-oriented dialogue.
QUESTION: Any update on U.S. contacts with Michel Suleiman in Lebanon, you know, over the weekend -- but has the Secretary done so? Has anybody been in to see him, anything?
MR. MCCORMACK: She has not called him. Let me post an answer for you, see if we can get that for you, if our Chargé has been in to see him.
QUESTION: On Egypt, they extended the state of emergency for another two years.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: What does it say about the state of human rights there --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it’s --
QUESTION: -- and efforts to promote democracy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it’s disappointing that they did decide to extend the state of emergency. This is a campaign promise by President Mubarak that he was going to repeal the state of emergency. In its place, they had been working on a new law, a counterterrorism law. That law seems to be stuck in the parliament and we would urge the Egyptian Government to pass that law so there is no need for a state of emergency and urge them to pass a law, that while protecting the Egyptian people, which is an important function of any government, it also allows the ability of people to freely express themselves in public and in private, even if those views are contrary or inconsistent with the policies of the government.
QUESTION: Still on Egypt, kind of a general questions about U.S.-Egypt relations. There’s been a lot in the Arab press at the moment, particularly Al Quds carried a lead editorial about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Egypt. And can you talk about that at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I’m not sure what it’s based on. You had – you just had the President of the United States meeting with the president of Egypt. You have Secretary Rice, who works very closely with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit on a whole range of issues, whether that’s Lebanon or the Israeli-Palestinian issue or Iraq. I know that the Egyptian Government is going to be hosting a meeting on Iraq. That’s something that we have encouraged them to do. So I’m not sure where this is –
QUESTION: Well --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- where this is coming from, if this is just sort of the natural cycle of headline writers, you know, you’re up, you’re down, we have to choose which one it is today. I’m not quite sure.
QUESTION: I think it’s more opinions coming out of the region that Egypt is capable of developing its own democracy, they don’t need any more pressure from Washington. You saw Mubarak boycotting Bush’s speech recently.
MR. MCCORMACK: So they’re unhappy about us not pressuring them or too much pressure on them?
QUESTION: Too much pressure.
MR. MCCORMACK: Too much pressure.
QUESTION: They’ll do it themselves.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well – and we agree that they can do it themselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to speak out about the importance of broadening and deepening democracy. And I think it’s only natural; sometimes, you have, you know, a friend in a firm yet friendly way saying, “You need to move forward on these various issues.” Sometimes people say, “Well, we can do it ourselves,” and it sort of gets people’s back up and they start feeling – you know, they want to be independent, they want to do it themselves.
Absolutely, we fully agree that the only way that the Egyptian political system is going to evolve and to broaden and deepen democracy within the context of that political system is for the Egyptians to do it themselves. We can’t impose it and we don’t want to impose it. But we are going to continue to encourage, to push, to prod, to cajole, because we think it’s important.
QUESTION: One last thing. We did an interview with Gamal Mubarak over the weekend, broadcast last night, and he said he was very, very pessimistic about the prospect of a Palestinian state by the end of the year. He’s becoming less and less optimistic about this. Any reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I haven’t seen the interviews so I can’t speak to exactly what he said. All I can say is that without trying and without dedicating all of one’s effort to try to help the Israelis and the Palestinians reach an agreement, then you probably aren’t if people – if all you do is talk about how things – how something isn’t going to happen, it probably won’t. So we encourage everybody to focus on what is possible. And we still believe that an agreement by the end of the year is possible. You’ve heard that from the President of the United States, Secretary Rice, and everybody on down.
QUESTION: And isn’t it damaging when high-profile figures like this come out and say this publicly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, everybody will account for their own words. As I said, I hadn’t seen the full text of the interview, so I’m not going to try to comment specifically about it.
QUESTION: I can’t remember if this came up at the time, but did the Secretary take up the Ayman Nour case while – when she was in Egypt on this last visit?
MR. MCCORMACK: On the President’s visit? I don’t know that it would be for her to carry those issues. You can talk to the White House about the President raising those issues. I know the last time she was in Egypt, she did on her own trip.
QUESTION: But she makes a point of saying she raises it with them every time she meets with them, so --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, but again, she was just part of the President’s trip. So the President was – it was the President’s meeting. You can talk to the White House about what he raised as part of his agenda.
QUESTION: What are your expectations for the International Compact with Iraq conference in Stockholm on Thursday?
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s a way to move forward on a variety of different fronts regarding Iraq’s economic relations with the rest of the world. That’s really a centerpiece of this -- the international compact. The heart of the bargain is that Iraq will take certain steps in terms of laws it passes and the way it governs. And in return, it will receive the benefits of a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world, whether that’s in debt relief or debt alleviation or trade and investment. So I think you’re going to see a lot of discussion about that. Again, it focuses a lot on the economic aspects of Iraq’s internal development as well as Iraq’s economic relationships with the outside world.
QUESTION: Do you expect any more debt relief to be announced there?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll see. We’ll see.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to see, say, the Iranian Foreign Minister for substantive talks while there or the Syrian --
MR. MCCORMACK: We – she’ll have, probably, a series of other side – meetings on the side in terms of bilateral text, but I don’t -- talks -- but I don’t expect either of those to be on her agenda.
QUESTION: You know, there have been quite a few of these international meetings on Iraq and quite frankly, very little happens at them. I mean, there’s often very little debt relief offered, there are promises, promises, promises by governments to open up embassies, nothing happens. Would you think this is going to be different this time? Are you anticipating anything coming out of it or is this another international powwow?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I know it’s difficult sometimes to write the stories or the headlines out of these international meetings. And sometimes, the pace of international diplomacy might move more slowly than you might wish.
But Iraq, if you think back on it, think back to the first series of these meetings, all the way back in Egypt. And Iraq is at a fundamentally different point now in terms of its relationships with Arab states in the region. Now, again, there are not as many Arab embassies opened up or Arab ambassadors appointed to Iraq as we or the Iraqis would like to see, and vice versa. The Iraqis have an obligation as well to appoint ambassadors to these Arab states.
But I’ll give you one data point that I think highlights the fact that there is a, now, fundamentally and – fundamentally changing relationship between Iraq and its Arab neighbors. I think two years ago, you couldn’t have even imagined Iraq being invited to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting. This last time around, just when the Secretary was in Kuwait, they attended at the invitation of the Gulf Cooperation Council. So it was the GCC plus Egypt and Jordan and Iraq. And they’re going to be attending all of those meetings in the future.
That signals, to me, a different kind of relationship and growing bonds between this Iraqi Government and the rest of the Arab world. It moves sometimes at a slow pace, but it moves in its own way and according to the diplomacy of the region. We continue to push the sides and to keep the dialogue open, but things are moving forward.
QUESTION: What about with the Saudis? That doesn’t seem to be going --
MR. MCCORMACK: No --
QUESTION: But, I mean, they’ve made promises, but they don’t – they haven’t opened an embassy. I don’t think they’ve offered all their debt forgiveness and they haven’t followed through with it all.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, these things – again, would we like to see things probably progress a bit faster, as would the Iraqis and others? Yes, I’m sure. But again, they are – you have – going to these meetings, and some of it is just the atmosphere and the tone, you have to be there to hear the interventions, to hear the speeches.
I think if you look at some of the public statements by the Saudi Foreign Minister, compare two years ago to the present date regarding Iraq, I think you’ll see – you’ll read in those statements a completely different tone, and that’s important. That’s important. We have encouraged Iraq to find its place among its neighbors and its Arab identity. And you start to see the – Iraq’s fellow Arab states reaching out to Iraq as well. Again, it moves at a certain pace and we continue to push all sides to move things forward.
QUESTION: So will that be the Secretary’s message: Let’s move this positive time forward and have something substantive?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, we’re always looking for substantial achievements, whether it’s in the area of debt relief or embassies opening or ambassadors being appointed or meetings being held. I forgot to mention, I think, they committed to having the next Iraq neighbors conference in --
MR. MCCORMACK: In Baghdad. Again, you couldn’t even imagine that two years ago for a variety of different reasons, all the way from security to the diplomacy in the region. So again, it moves.
QUESTION: Since things have moved, could the future of U.S. troops in Iraq be a subject for discussion at this conference, since you see things moving forward in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure that that will be – you know, people want to talk about the security situation. But I think the President, who’s addressed that issue, and it’s something that we talk to the Iraqis about frequently.
QUESTION: Have you told them your idea of a timetable for leaving?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the White House and the President has addressed those issues, you know, plenty of times on the record.
QUESTION: But what do you tell the Iraqis?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think you can look at the transcript – what the – the transcripts that are out there, what is said in public --
QUESTION: You tell them the same thing?
MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?
QUESTION: You tell them the same thing that you said publicly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: On Burma?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sean, UN Secretary General was in Burma and it seems like that he has opened some doors for international aid and plus maybe some political prisoners. Do you have any idea what -- if the Secretary was briefed or if you have any more information on his visits?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think they did actually talk yesterday a bit about Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Burma. And I understand as a result of that visit there is a bit more opening up which is positive, but a lot more is needed. Clearly, that country has suffered a natural disaster. You don’t want to compound that disaster through miscalculation in Rangoon.
QUESTION: Do you think now the U.S. – U.S. and other experts will be allowed to enter the country?
MR. MCCORMACK: No news beyond those who have already traveled into Burma.
QUESTION: Go back to Iraq just for a second. Forgive me if I’ve missed this in the last week or two, but have you offered any update on the status-of-forces agreement negotiations in the wider – whatever the larger agreement is that – whatever you’re calling that these days -- where that stands and if you have a completion date?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think there are discussions. I mean, there are a lot of different pieces to this. You have the strategic framework agreement, you have a status-of-forces agreement, and then you have different elements of both of those things.
MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t tell you which piece is ongoing now. This is sort of a serial thing where they’ll have a set of discussions, people will go back – you know, go back to capitals, think about what it was said – you know, what was said and then move the issue forward. I can’t tell you specifically what the timetable is. But these agreements are meant to be a substitute for the current Security Council resolutions. I mean, this is something that the Iraqis have said that they want to do and we’re working to – on the economic, political, military aspects of these.
QUESTION: Wasn’t there, though, a hope to get a substantial part of it out of the way before June?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can’t tell you. I think you’re – anytime you start setting public dates for negotiations like this, I think you’re asking for trouble. I don’t know if anybody has or not, but I try not to do it. Again, there’s an idea that you have a roll over of Security Council resolution or not that is supposed to occur in the fall time, I think sometime in September. So that’s obviously a decision point for people. But up until that point, I’m not going to try to set any other dates.
QUESTION: Can I have a reaction to the IAEA report?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the report – it really speaks for itself more than anything that I could say. It refers to the fact that the Iranians are willfully trying to – willfully withholding information about their activities related to potential weaponization. There are a number of different questions out there about the military’s involvement in this nuclear program, about Iran’s efforts to fabricate hemispheres of uranium. And I’m not sure, other than for a weapon, why you would do that. You know, perhaps there are physicists out there who could answer differently.
But anyway, there’s a whole long list of questions that the IAEA has. They develop these questions based on information we, as well as others, provided them. And we felt it was important, as members of the IAEA, to provide that information. But nonetheless, the IAEA and their experts took a look at this information, deemed that it was important information, and they – based on that, they were going to present to the Iranian Government a series of questions. I think they even presented to them or showed them some of the documents.
And thus far, the Iranians have been willfully non-cooperative. And you can read that in the report. It’s disturbing. And we’ll see what diplomatic next steps will play* from this.
QUESTION: So what’s the status of the new incentives package?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think Mr. Solana is still working with the Iranians to set a date and a time where he and his team can present them with a refreshed incentives package.
QUESTION: This report, will it have any impact on the content of this package?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. The package is set.
QUESTION: I assume Secretary Rice will speak to Mr. Solana about this package in Stockholm?
MR. MCCORMACK: I – searching my memory here, I don’t think that they have a meeting scheduled.
MR. MCCORMACK: She’s talked about it with the members of the P-5+1. She just had some time to talk to Foreign Secretary Miliband about it as well, but the package is – is pretty well set.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on these – the talks – peace talks in Sudan? Apparently, they collapsed today because one group of rebels didn’t come out? Did you --
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that there has been – yeah, there’s been – there have been some tensions in Abyei and this is one of the final elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that has yet to be implemented. And we are engaged with both sides on this issue. Rich Williamson, our Special Envoy, has been engaged on – with both of the parties on this issue. And it’s our hope that, either on their own or with some encouragement from us or others, the two sides can come together once again and come to an agreement on how to implement a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in this important region.
QUESTION: But you – you don’t have anything new about what – about the fact that the rebels didn’t come to the (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I’m aware of that. I know – I am aware of that and that’s why I said it’s our hope that -- either on their own accord with our encouragement or the encouragement of others, that they will come together.
Yeah? Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more to say on North Korea? Were you able to talk to Ambassador Hill at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn’t speak with him. But I see that he managed to find some TV cameras in Beijing, not surprising. And he gave a brief readout of his meeting with Kim Kye Gwan. To correct the record, I was not aware that he had already met with Kim Kye Gwan when I spoke to you at the gaggle. The information flow at the State Department never ceases to amaze me. And – but I think that his description of his meetings really is the best – the best way to take a look at where we are right now.
QUESTION: I might be a latecomer on this, sorry. I apologize in advance. But can you give us the presence of State Department in the president of Lebanon’s inauguration ceremony? And are you worried that Hezbollah is making a case of not giving up arms in this sort of fragile (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check for you on the first part of your question. In terms of Hezbollah, I think one thing that has been revealed is that they are willing to kill their fellow citizens. This idea that they are somehow defending Lebanon against some external threat, I think, has been completely torn away by the events of the past couple weeks, in which they took up arms against their fellow citizens. And I think that that is a real eye opening event for a lot of people in Lebanon. And from the “politics” of Lebanon, it makes it much more difficult for Hezbollah.
Again, fundamentally, they need to make a choice between participation in politics and acting as what we refer to as a terrorist group. And the issue of Hezbollah’s arms is one that is going to be – need to be solved by the Lebanese people and in the context of Lebanese politics.
There are Security Council resolutions addressing the issue. But fundamentally, when the rubber hits the road, it needs to be a Lebanese solution.
QUESTION: On Lebanon as well. I mean, you know, the Iranian – the Syrian foreign ministers were there attending the inauguration, the French, the Italians, everybody was there. And the representation from the U.S. was just a congressional delegation. Why did the Secretary of State not think it was important to go there? I mean, is this a sign that your role and influence in Lebanon has really been dealt a blow by – by the deal that was struck between the government and Hezbollah?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: One more quick, Sean. This issue has come many times, but in the last week in the U.S. Congress, it was criticized that U.S. policy not to deal – or make any deals with the terrorists, but as far as the new government in Pakistan there is a deal with the terrorists. So how the U.S. foreign policy and also the diplomacy you think will fix – or put into this (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, I think – you know, myself, Deputy Secretary Negroponte, I think Tom last --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- week all talked about this. There were plenty of words and I think --
QUESTION: Do you support the deal or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: There were plenty of words about that, Goyal. And you know what they are. Anything else? Anybody else? Way in the back --
QUESTION: Yes, Colombia. On Colombia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction on the death of Tiro Fijo, the leader of the FARC?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ve heard from the Colombian Government that they have asserted that he has died. I can’t independently confirm that for you. But I have no reason to – I have no information that would refute those claims. Look, it’s a – it is another potential turning point for the FARC, and they can either turn once again to violence, kidnapping, narcotrafficking, or they can try to work on behalf of the Colombian people and lay down their arms.
And they have a choice to make. They have a choice to make. I know that this is yet another in a series of setbacks that the FARC has encountered over the past years – years and months. Clearly, it’s in – in that regard, they are faced with some serious challenges and they have some serious choices to make.
QUESTION: Now, what could – you know, what will be the fate of the three Americans? You know, is there any hope that there’s not any change on the part of the guerilla -- and, you know, biggest question is like --
MR. MCCORMACK: Regarding the hostages, including the American hostages, they should be released immediately and returned to their families. And we continue to be concerned about and work for their release.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to what Jimmy Carter said yesterday in an interview? Apparently, he said that Israel had between 120 and 150 nuclear warheads, if I’m remembering the number right. And I think American presidents don’t normally talk about that number. Would you have any reaction to his --
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn’t – didn’t see his interview.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:44 p.m.)
Released on May 27, 2008