US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: June 2, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
June 2, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: June 2, 2008
Reports on Rewards for Justice Amount Offered for Adam
Determination of Rewards for Justice Program Reward Amounts
Methods/Vehicles Used in Rewards for Justice Program
Questions About Detainees Aboard Ships Referred to Department of Defense
Violence and Problems During Elections
U.S. Calls on Macedonia to Re-run Secure Elections, Prosecute Those Responsible for Violence
NATO Summit / Discussions on Macedonia Membership in NATO / Name Issue
U.S. Working with Israeli Government on Case of Gazan Fulbright Recipient's Exit Permits
Reports of Request for U.S.
Participation in Israel-Syria Negotiations
U.S. Would Consider Formal Request from Parties Involved in Syria-Israel Negotiations
Negations Should Not Take Away from Israel-Palestinian Track
Continuing Pattern of Intimidation by ZANU-PF
Runoff Election Should Allow People to Vote Free of Intimidation
U.S. Embassy's Focus on Zimbabwean Elections
Shutdown of Radio Free Europe Kazakh
Governments Should Allow Unimpeded Media Broadcasts
U.S. Continues to Work
with South Korean Government on Beef Import Issue TURKEY
Turkey's Role in the Middle East
12:34 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. No statements to open up with, so we can get right to your questions. There being no questions, we can - (laughter).
QUESTION: We can make this a record setter.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Nina.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. This PR campaign, this joint FBI/Rewards for Justice --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- PR campaign on Adam Gadahn. Why now, and why has the reward money been increased? Does this have anything to do with these reports out of Pakistan a few months ago that he's dead?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nina, I'd have to check into the specifics for you with respect to Adam Gadahn. The reward amounts are set within the context of the Rewards for Justice program. The experts weigh in. They say - then they give advice, X amount should help yield the result that we're all looking for, and that is getting these people off the street. It has been an effective program in the past. You can - there are several notable examples where the Rewards for Justice program worked and, as a result, terrorists are off the street.
QUESTION: So have you done this kind of program before, these radio ads, handbills, posters, matchbooks? Have you used that kind of campaign before?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that they have - they have used some of those methods in the past. Basically, whatever they feel is effective in getting the word out. I remember there was one notable example. I believe it was the individual responsible for the shooting outside the CIA where there was - the person who turned him in noticed his likeness on a matchbook. So you - basically, what you're trying to do is get the word out using media and vehicles that people will use and, hopefully, respond to.
QUESTION: So what are you hoping will come out of this particular campaign at the moment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we hope, like in other cases where we have rewards out for individuals, that those rewards will help get those people off the street.
QUESTION: Reprieve released statements from a report they're planning to release that states that since --
MR. MCCORMACK: Who released the --
QUESTION: Oh, Reprieve. It's a nongovernment organization and they handle a majority of the cases at Guantanamo Bay -
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- as far as their lawyers.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So they released a report that states that since 2001, 80,000 detainees have either been held or rendered on U.S. Navy ships, 26,000 of which continue to be. And there's evidence that detainees that have been released from Guantanamo Bay - because they were innocent - they said that they had been rendered on these ships and they did spend a substantial amount of time on them. And I spoke with some officials from the Defense Department who said that they have been rendering people on these ships. And President Bush said two years ago that they stopped this practice, but apparently it's - it hasn't been stopped and they have 26,000 detainees on ships all around the world. So I don't know if you know anything about this, but if you could comment on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think - I've seen the news reports to this effect. I have also seen comments from representatives of the Department of Navy. I think they're in the best position to address these and - but the gist of their comments were that the - some basic facts were inaccurate in this report that you cite. But again, talk to the Department of Defense about --
QUESTION: I did.
MR. MCCORMACK: -- about the issue.
QUESTION: And they said that they did have - they have been rendering people to Egypt, Somalia --
MR. MCCORMACK: Then - then you have your answer from the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: But what do you think as a representative from the State Department that --
MR. MCCORMACK: As a representative of the State Department, I'd refer you to the Department of Defense about the issue.
QUESTION: Sean, would you have any comment on the elections in Macedonia? According to --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, we did - yeah, we had a chance to look into this and quite clearly there were some very serious problems. In some of the districts violence took place. And it's the responsibility for a government to provide an atmosphere where people are able to freely express themselves via the ballot box and feel assured that they wouldn't be subject to threat or intimidation. That clearly didn't happen in some of these instances.
And we would call upon the Government of Macedonia to re-run elections in those districts where people were not able to cast their ballot free from the threat of violence or intimidation, to prosecute those responsible, and in the re-running of these elections ensure that proper security forces are in place so that an election can take place in an environment where people are able to vote.
QUESTION: And so if this re-run wouldn't take place, you wouldn't accept the results of the elections?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, given the fact that we have, you know, called for a re-run, we're not going to actually make any judgments about the outcome of the current results. We'll wait to see once we have this re-running of the elections to see what the final results are.
QUESTION: Is this in any way a step back for Macedonia's NATO hopes?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there was a good discussion at the NATO summit about Macedonia as a candidate member, and there were issues, quite frankly, that centered on the name issue. We're quite confident that Macedonia will work quickly to remediate the situation, quickly and effectively I might add, and I would expect that once the name issue is resolved in the context of NATO that their membership should be able to move forward. Of course, we would expect that they would remediate effectively and quickly this current situation.
QUESTION: This remediation that you refer to, you say you are quite confident. You mean that they will act to re-run the elections in those districts?
MR. MCCORMACK: Re-run the elections, prosecute those responsible for this violence, and also when - in re-running the elections, create an atmosphere where people can vote.
QUESTION: And did they - when you're - your confidence, is that based - did they tell you we're going to do all those things?
MR. MCCORMACK: We've talked to them about - and I'll let them speak for themselves, but we believe after those contacts that they are going to take steps to remediate.
QUESTION: Who did you - sorry. Who did you talk to?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the detail.
QUESTION: Was it Fried here on --
MR. MCCORMACK: Honestly, I don't know. I don't know if it was. I suspect it was probably here in Washington and out in Macedonia.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Reeker on station now?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, he's not. No, he was - he's still awaiting a hearing, I believe.
QUESTION: Sean, change subjects?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Change of subject, too. So --
QUESTION: Just on the Fulbright matter.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: What did the Israeli - two questions, which I raised this morning. One, what did the Israeli Government say to you about what they intend to do regarding these seven people? And then secondly - well, let me just ask that and then we can --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. A two-step process. We're working now to get the exit visas, or exit permits, visas, whatever you want - however we - you want to refer to them as, to go to Jerusalem for their interview so they can be interviewed for a visa so that, you know, should they have a successful visa interview - and by law, I can't prejudge an outcome of a visa interview -- then they would be able to come to the United States to pursue their program. So we're working through that with the Israeli Government right now.
One additional fact you guys asked me this morning, when was the first time for these seven cases that we approached the Israeli Government, the answer to that is Friday - this past Friday.
Now - so clearly, on our part, there was a decision-making process on this particular issue that is not what we would have hoped it would have been. The Secretary heard about these cases, immediately and acted to have people reconsider the decision-making process here. We then went to the Israeli Government and said we want to work with you on these seven cases - very important to us.
All that said, it's not the - not to say that in the past we haven't had some issues working with the Israeli Government on these kind of educational exchange visas. There have been some issues in the past. We want to move beyond those. I think we can look at this particular set of cases as a fresh start.
QUESTION: You're saying that the first time that anyone - the Israelis came and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israelis said that these students couldn't get exit visas.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And you're saying that the State Department just took that at face value and never approached the Israelis to ask, until after the Secretary found out about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, Matt, you - look –
QUESTION: I just want to make sure.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me put it - restate it the way that I have put it. And that is: Was there a faulty decision-making process internal to the State Department in this particular case? Yes, there was. The Secretary saw it when it got to her level. She said fix it. We hope that it has been fixed and that we are working with the Israelis to get these exit permits so they - these individuals, again, can have a visa interview. That's part of the process. And I can't prejudge the outcome of a visa interview. And if they're successful, these individuals would be able to pursue their Fulbright program here in the United States as originally envisioned.
QUESTION: Well, when did it first become clear that there was a problem with these applicants?
MR. MCCORMACK: It - what do you mean?
QUESTION: When did the State Department become aware there was a problem with them getting the - getting exit visas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know, Matt. I haven't gone through - frankly, I haven't gone through and done all the tick-tock on this, and I'm not going to get into the full explication of this entire thing with you, other than to say that: Was there a faulty decision-making process here? Yeah, there was.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it seems like several days at least went by and no one --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, that -- you know, frankly, that's - you know, it's - if we have a good outcome here, which we all hope, have these people studying here under the Fulbright program -- we believe they're qualified to do so -- again, pending the visa matter, that that will have been a good outcome and that everybody will have learned a lesson here in terms of internally.
QUESTION: Who made - I mean, you know, that's a very passive --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going --
QUESTION: No, no, but it's a very passive construction: There was a faulty decision-making process here. I mean, what happened? Did the consulate not - did it not occur to them that maybe if we're going to try to - if the U.S. Government is going to try to give fellowships to people, it should try to help them get to this country. I mean - or is it --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not going to - you know, I'm not going to do the "who shot, John" here. You know, people in the State Department are trying to do their jobs. Do we, every single time we make, you know - do we have a good decision-making process? No, we don't. But a real test of management is, if there is in fact a bad process and a bad outcome, do you go back and fix it? And that's what we've done, we hope, in this --
QUESTION: Well, there's one thing I don't understand, which is the Times ran the story on Friday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Times is, I think, generally rigorous about contacting people to comment on stories.
Did they not approach you, presumably Thursday, and say, hey, we're going to run this story? These guys have gotten their notes, you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: Arshad, I would no sooner comment on my interactions with a news organization than I would --
QUESTION: No, but it just makes me wonder why you didn't try to fix this on Thursday. I mean, that would seem like a rational thing and I mean you could have saved yourself a lot of grief.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Matt - (laughter) - Matt? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I am honored. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: What happened, Arshad, is that I associated -- I heard the word "grief" and I immediately defaulted to Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think it's the resemblance. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Why didn't you - why not do something on Thursday? I mean, it's a reasonable question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is a reasonable question, Arshad. And all I can say is that we - on Friday we worked immediately to try to fix it.
QUESTION: Well, surely, you must be a little bit disappointed, though, that it did come to this, that it happened –
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: That it's clearly become a –
MR. MCCORMACK: Surely, sure. So I was disappointed, as I've already said, and I will answer questions about this sort of thing. Absolutely. But the fact of the matter is, we got back and we're working to fix it.
QUESTION: When do you expect these people to have their - sorry - their --
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have a - don't have a date for you. We're working diligently, I guess, is the best way to put it, to try to get them from Gaza so they can have the visa interview and then, if successful –
QUESTION: And they will not be --
QUESTION: So they'll go back to Gaza after the interview and then they'll need another visa to get out to potentially fly to the States?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the exact mechanics here. But basically, we'll want to make sure that everybody who has a chance for the interview and then, if successful, move on to the --
QUESTION: I think Arshad asked this, but did -- and the Israelis have told you all that they will give them the --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're working with them.
QUESTION: So not yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're continuing to work on it.
QUESTION: So, you don't -- you didn't get any assurance from the Israelis they will have the right to leave the Israeli --
MR. MCCORMACK: They know this is an important issue for us and I'm sure that they will give due consideration.
QUESTION: But presumably they can't promise they'll get an exit permit any more than you guys will promise that they're going to get a visa to the United States, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to try to speak on their behalf, but I think they know this is an important issue for us.
QUESTION: Well, you've - the story of the Fulbrights themselves, yes? I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, meaning here as Fulbright scholars.
QUESTION: That's –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, again, presuming everything works out the way we hope it does.
QUESTION: Sean, why was it characterized at first as hoping the Israelis would reverse the decision there? Did you guys not have enough information at that point? I know Friday at the podium it was, we hope the Israelis will fall off a log to do this and reverse the decision-making. So I'm assuming that there were --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, this - none of this is to say we haven't had some issues in the past. I'm here to tell you today we have - we had some of our own internal decision-making issues. But -- and let's just hope that this hits the reset button on this particular kind of issue where we can work well on both sides, the Israeli and the American side, on these issues.
QUESTION: Sean, can I - can you give me just one more, because it's kind of a process issue, but I think it's a significant process issue. I mean, it's my understanding, Sylvie mentioned on Friday morning that a Fulbrighter, a Palestinian Fulbrighter, had difficulty with the same issue last year. I don't know about that specifically, but I have been told that there have been similar problems in the past with Palestinian Fulbrighters to get - to be able to leave, you know, to get permission from the Israelis to be able to leave to take up their fellowships in the United States.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, and --
QUESTION: And I've been - it's my understanding of the Israeli process that they, at least post the Hamas takeover of Gaza, they don't approve any of these things unless they're specially asked. Now, maybe I misunderstood that, but that's how I've - it's been explained to me.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: And so the question is, and it's an American process question - given that you've had a problem with these in the past, are you going to try to set up some kind of a new system or protocol for this so that, you know, it doesn't just languish and that actually you make formal requests each time you decide to award somebody a Fulbright in Gaza so that they can actually go? Are you changing the process –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- you know, or is it going to be a sort Ethan Bronner writes a story and then we do it process? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know if there is going to be a change in the process. But I think as long as this current Secretary is Secretary of State, I think the - everybody, you know, who had put their hands on this particular issue understands the importance of these kinds of educational exchanges for the Secretary and how she views them as important in our public diplomacy and foreign policy.
QUESTION: So do they have to go through the Consulate in Jerusalem for the interview or are they - if they've somehow managed to find their way to Cairo or something in –
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Matt, I think the tradition has been for them to go to Jerusalem. I don't know in theory whether or not it is possible for them to go elsewhere. I believe that they're going to go to Jerusalem.
QUESTION: The Palestinian groups say that there are hundreds of these, something like 600 Palestinians who want to study abroad, also in Britain and Germany --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and are not allowed out. What is - you know, what does this incident say about the broader Israeli policy of not letting people leave Gaza?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, they - you know, since the Hamas has taken over Gaza in a coup, the Israelis have absolutely legitimate security issues with respect to the movement of goods and people across those borders with Gaza. Nobody is second-guessing that. And I can't speak for any other people who may desire to participate in educational exchanges and other countries who desire Gazans to participate in those exchanges. They will have to speak for their own cases. I can only speak –
MR. MCCORMACK: -- It's very difficult.
QUESTION: At least suggest that, you know, maybe the restrictions are a little bit too blanket? You know, you're saying - you're supporting that at least these Fulbrights should be let out. Well, what about the ones who want to study in Britain, for example?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll let the UK Foreign Office spokesman speak to that issue. Not for me to do so. Yeah.
QUESTION: To stay in the Middle East. The Syrian President Bashar al Asad said today that -- he was speaking about the negotiations with Israel, the peace negotiation with Israel, and he said that in a further phase of the negotiations they would need the support of U.S. as a broker. Do you think it would be - do you think that this Administration would be ready to do that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've been asked. I don't -- you know, I don't constitute a comment in the press like that being asked. If the sides and all the parties to this, you know, want the United States to participate, it's something we would consider. To my knowledge, we haven't been requested to participate in the process. As a matter of fact, the Turkish Government should be applauded for the fact that they're working to further the cause of peace in the region. We have made very clear our views that if both sides to this issue, Syria and Israel, would like to try to explore something, then they should do so. Our only admonition is that that shouldn't be as a substitute or in any way take away from the direct negotiations that are currently underway on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
QUESTION: He said that - apparently, he said that he would like U.S. in equality of superpower with very strong relation with Israel to give a kind of guarantee of the agreement.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, restate: If there's a formal request from the parties involved in this effort, then, of course, we would consider it. To my knowledge, we have not received such a request.
Yes, in the back. You've been waiting patiently, sir.
QUESTION: Yes. Can I ask something different?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, please do.
QUESTION: Africa and - I just want your comment, perhaps, on the latest developments in Zimbabwe, where yesterday afternoon two opposition leaders, one Mr. Mutambara, who is supporting Mr. Morgan Tsvangarai in this run-off, were arrested by the Zimbabwean police. No charges were laid against them. They are just locked in the cells.
And second, can you also comment on the Zimbabwean police banning two rallies in Matabeleland that were supposed to be addressed by Mr. Tsvangarai, and they told him that he can only have those rallies after the run-off, which will be useless for Mr. Tsvangarai.
MR. MCCORMACK: There is some faulty logic in that, I believe.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody who believes in democracy. Let me put it that way.
It's troubling, it's disturbing, and it's part of a continuing pattern on the part of ZANU-PF to try to intimidate those who would like to speak up with views different than those held by the government. It's another example of the intimidation that we have witnessed. And it is incumbent upon us as well as other members of the international system to apply as much possible pressure and leverage as we possibly can to see that a run-off election is executed in such a way that people can actually vote their conscience, that they can vote for the candidate of their choice, that people are able to do so in an environment free of threat and intimidation, and that candidates have an opportunity to use the media, use whatever public media they would like to use to get out their message so that people can understand the platform, the values and the person for whom they're voting.
QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have contingency plan since your Ambassador has been given a last warning that should you say anything that doesn't go well in Harare, he will be booted out of that country? Do you have contingency plans that you'll have alternative people who will be your ears and eyes on the ground?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have a whole Embassy of people who are focused either in whole or in part on issues related to this election, and we are going to continue to speak out. We're going to continue to be a voice and beacon for freedom.
QUESTION: Sean, there is a rumor that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is dead. Do you have anything confirming for us on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no information that would substantiate that.
Yes, sir, in the back.
QUESTION: The website of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service has been basically shut down in Kazakhstan. It's now going on nearly eight weeks, and we wondered if you had any comment on it and if the United States intends to intercede at all. The OSCE already has sent a letter to the Kazakh Government urging them to do what they can to get it back up. There is suspicion, of course, that the inaction means something more than it's simply down.
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't say that I'm familiar with the particulars of this case, but as a general statement, we would call upon every government to allow in broadcasts, views streamed in via websites or other medium, to flow unimpeded. There's nothing to be fearful of. It's news reporting, it's facts, it's information that is coming in. So there's no reason why any government should fear this.
QUESTION: But you're saying the State Department so far hasn't been aware of this?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm sure that there is somebody in the State Department who is aware of the issue. I can - I can't say that, personally, I am. It doesn't mean it's not important. And we'll look into it and we'll try to post a more full answer with some of the details if we can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: It looks like the South Korean Government is delaying resumption of U.S. beef imports. Do you have any response to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, we continue to work with the South Korean Government on this issue. I would just restate that American beef is safe. We have 300 million Americans who can attest to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, roughly. (Laughter.) There are some vegetarians in there.
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There you go.
QUESTION: The Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Babacan is coming to Washington tomorrow, and he will meet Secretary Rice on the 4th. What is the agenda and what is exact role of Turkey in the Middle East process?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the meeting is going to be on the 5th, so we'll get you something maybe tomorrow in terms of the agenda. Turkey can play a very important role. It's got a lot of influence. It's an important country. It has a lot of resources. And moreover, it can be a voice for - has been and can be a voice for peace in the region.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 97
Released on June 2, 2008