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US State Dept. Middle East Digest: June 10, 2008

Bureau of Public Affairs
June 10, 2008

Middle East Digest: June 10, 2008

From the Daily Press Briefing of June 10, 2008:

QUESTION: We had Iraqi parliamentarians last week in D.C. saying it’s not transparent, they haven’t seen anything, they’re relying on leaks to the media. Can you tell us where we are with this thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. (Laughter.) Look, we’re in the midst of a negotiation. And while we say this is going to be transparent, the end product will be there for all to see. There are no secret annexes, or no secret side deals that people won’t be able to – won’t be able to see and access. The full document and all the materials, final materials will be available to everybody. However, we’re not going to negotiate in public. We’re not going to negotiate through the media, we’re not going to negotiate through various parliamentarians.

We have offered, in response to – for our side, have offered a briefing today to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from – with representatives, one each from State, DOD, and the NSC on where we are. But since we are very early on in the negotiating process, frankly, there’s not a whole lot to offer up. I can’t give you any feedback at the moment as to whether or not the Committee has taken us up on that briefing.

And I would get back to one other point as well that I had mentioned a couple days ago. This is – this really is, kind of, the only window that we have to brief the Committee at the moment, because all of these folks are going off to Baghdad to recommence negotiations. So all of this is a long way of saying that the final product will be there for all to see, will be transparent. In the meantime, we’re not going to talk about the details.

QUESTION: So if it’s so early in the process --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and you don’t want to – how do you know there aren’t going to be any secret codicils or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Because we’ve committed to that.

QUESTION: And if there were, then you – by your very – by their very nature, wouldn’t you not say anything about them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’m telling you up front we’ve made the decision that there aren’t going to be any secret codicils. So in that sense, I guess we’ve boxed ourselves in.

QUESTION: Ah, which is not a very good negotiating technique, is it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, but if it’s by mutual agreement with both sides, then that’s a positive thing.

QUESTION: So – and Satterfield said this morning --

MR. MCCORMACK: Then it’s a success; both sides agree on that.

QUESTION: Satterfield said this morning that you still think that – or he’s -- that he’s still confident it can be done by the end of July. There seem to be others who are pretty skeptical about – about that. I’m not saying that it’s going to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- go until next year or anything like that, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, David’s – Ambassador Satterfield is certainly much closer to the process than I am. I certainly have no reason to contradict what he has said. I make it a practice, typically, of not setting out dates in terms of desired endpoints for negotiations. There is a hard line, hard date at the end of the year when the Security Council mandate runs out, but --

QUESTION: That seems to be in flux too because – I mean, not the deadline, but the – there have been some indications that the Iraqis may not be as opposed to extending that mandate as they --

MR. MCCORMACK: I see – yeah, I’ve seen the news reports, but we haven’t gotten any – any sort of official, or even unofficial, indication from the Iraqis that that is their desire. Their desire is to negotiate these agreements --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- in order to get back to a quote – I guess “more normal” relationship with the international system. This is something they want to get out from under, the Chapter 7 resolutions. We understand that and that’s why we have this negotiating process.

QUESTION: But is it not correct that if, in fact, you couldn’t get a -- the SOFA done, that that is – that is an option to renew --

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, we are an optimistic people. And we believe that we can surmount any difficulties or obstacles that may be in the pathway to completing negotiations.

QUESTION: So this is not an option for the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: We think we can get it done.

QUESTION: Is it – well, you’re ruling out secret codicils and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- all this other kind of thing. Can you rule out that you’re not going to – that there won’t be a need to seek extension of the Security Council --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have heard no indication from anybody, from the Iraqi side, from our side that they don’t intend to get this done.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, on that, would it perhaps be an option to renew the Security Council resolution for some time so that all the negotiating could be left for the next administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we are focused – that’s – in answer to Matt’s question here, we’re focused on getting this done.

QUESTION: But why not leave it for the next administration? What’s the argument against that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Why not get it done now if you can?

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit more about the briefing you’ve offered up? Who is being offered as a – briefing would be today or you’ve offered it today?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we are – we offered it up for today. I think that the – Mr. Kimmitt from DOD, Mr. Maguirk from the NSC, and from the State Department, Mr. Blakeman.

QUESTION: Was that in response to Senator Biden’s letter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. There was – I think there were four signatories to the letter, but yes. And we got the letter and – I guess you could say, specifically today, the offer of -- briefing today was a specific response to that. But we have committed to doing briefings periodically for the Hill as to where we are in this process. We have already done an initial set of briefings. We have acted in good faith on that offer. Today is another – another payment in that --

QUESTION: So you’re going to brief them, what, once a month or something like that? Do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it’s going to – as the situation merits, certainly from our side, and if there’s interest on the Hill, we will, as we did today, try to accommodate that interest.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the window time? You said that they were going to be going back?

MR. MCCORMACK: They’re headed back tomorrow to --

QUESTION: Baghdad --

QUESTION: And is this the whole Committee or – you sent just a couple of the members of the Committee?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it was in response to a letter from a couple of the members of the Committee and would be for whomever would want to show up. I would expect, you know – you know, senators or staff members.

QUESTION: Is this supposed to be an open hearing?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s closed doors and (inaudible).

QUESTION: So it’s not really for whoever wants to go? We couldn’t show up Thursday.

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s true. That’s true. That’s true. If you wanted to become a member of the Senate staff, Matt, then – or vote for election, maybe you can qualify.

Yeah. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Yes. Last weekend, (inaudible) article on – it says that the Bush Administration, including UN and EU, criticized President Karzai and they weren’t satisfied with President Karzai work in Afghanistan. And the article said that the Bush Administration want to bring more power and push President Karzai to the best job, especially for the – eliminating* the warlock in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai hasn’t been successful to eliminating* warlock in Afghanistan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I gave a – I gave a long answer to a very similar question yesterday if you want to go back and look at it. But very basically, look, President Karzai has been a good leader, a great leader for the Afghan people in Afghanistan. I mean, just seven years ago, a little over six years ago, we were talking about how you were going to elect a president. There were a multiplicity of different processes that were out there. So now we’re talking about how well a government governs. The ultimate judges of how well a government does or how well a president does or the people, they are going to be the ultimate arbiters of whether or not it’s been a successful administration or not for President Karzai.

We’re working very closely with him. We think he’s dedicated to trying to help build a better Afghanistan for the Afghan people from a security standpoint, from a development standpoint, from an economic as well as political standpoint. And those things are all interlinked, all of those things. So while there has been great progress in all of those various areas, there’s still a lot of work that is – a lot of work that is left to be done by this government as well as future governments in Afghanistan. Afghanistan started from quite difficult circumstances if you look back just to 2001, extending back years and years and years. So it is not so much a task that we face today of reconstructing Afghanistan; it really is a task of constructing Afghanistan.

In terms of infrastructure, in terms of building up democratic institutions that are capable of governing well and transparently and cleanly on behalf of the Afghan people, in terms of building nationwide security forces, that are actually responsible to the leadership in Kabul, we and the Afghans and the international system have made great progress on all those fronts. But there’s still more left to be done.

QUESTION: What started this criticizing coming to Mr. Karzai? Why the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can’t – you know, I can’t speak to all the anonymous sources that are out there. You can track them down for yourselves.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Status of Forces Agreement just for one second?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: I realize that in preparing for questions like this, you have probably gone back and reviewed the existing SOFAs with the 80 or so for -- with other countries.

MR. MCCORMACK: There’s more than a hundred.

QUESTION: More than a hundred?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So you’re familiar with all of the details of all of those?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Right.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ve read every single one, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. You’ve committed them to memory?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I just want to check to make sure, are you aware of – in any of those SOFAs if any of them contained -- contained those that have lapsed, like in the Philippines, dates – specific dates for withdrawal of U.S. forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know.

QUESTION: I know there have been – my understanding, I just want to make sure this is right, is that there isn’t usually a date certain or there isn’t ever a date certain set, but it’s for U.S. troops leaving. But it is – it’s indefinite, except that either side or both can decide to --

MR. MCCORMACK: To change (inaudible?)

QUESTION: Or downgrade or completely eliminate.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah. I’ll try – we’ll try to get you an answer that covers all of the SOFAs. I – I would expect that part of the answer is each SOFA, while having a common set of roots, is probably different to meet the circumstances in each of these cases. I’ll – and also, the – another defining characteristic is the mutual nature of these things. It has to be two sides to agreeing on the SOFA, as well as agreement by both sides to change the SOFA as well.

QUESTION: Right. Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: So – well, I’ll try to see –

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re aware of the reason why I’m asking.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no. I understand. Sure.

QUESTION: Because this whole controversy over permanent presence, permanent bases --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, and I think the President on down, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, Ryan Crocker, General Petraeus have all spoken to that particular issue.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow-up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I know you already spoke about the Biden letter, but Senators Warner and Levin also – I’m not sure if you’ve seen the letter that they just sent to Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates.

MR. MCCORMACK: When did they send it? What’s the date stamped on it?

QUESTION: Yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yesterday. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So they also said – not – in addition to the whole idea about the permanent bases, that – about their concern about the Administration’s assertion that they don’t need Senate approval for ratification because it’s not an official treaty.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But they believe that, you know, even though you’re briefing them, that there are concerns about the kind of long-term consequences of the agreement are not being taken into consideration in the negotiations because they don’t need to ratify it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. What’s the question?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you – in addition to kind of consulting with them and briefing them and letting them know what’s going on, are you giving them an opportunity to kind of weigh in on what they feel needs to be in the negotiations?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sure that our folks will listen to all good advice that comes our way. But ultimately, it’s the prerogative of the Executive Branch to negotiate and finally agree to these kinds of agreements.

QUESTION: And second, if I may, you may have seen the article yesterday in The Washington Post front story that many women in Pakistan are crying now, as far as human rights are concerned because they think there are issues of women rights in Pakistan, that the woman is being now overlooked because of other world crises in Darfur and all that. Are you concerned about, as far as the human rights problems with the women in Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re concerned about – that’s women all around the globe, whether it’s in Pakistan or India or the Sudan or any place else around the world. This is an issue that the Secretary has taken particular interest in, going back a couple of years. She’s actually organized a group of women foreign ministers, government officials, as well as people in civil society that have an interest in trying to promote the empowerment of women all around the world in various political systems where they may not enjoy the same kinds of rights or roles that we see here in the United States or elsewhere.

We have – certainly, we have a ways to go ourselves. But it’s a group that has come together, that’s doing real work. They are working on actual funding – actually working on funding scholarships and they’ve been effective in working with the UN in getting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint women as special representatives, something that had not happened before. So it’s an issue of particular concern to the Secretary. I expect that she’s going to continue to speak out on these issues. As a matter of fact, coming up on the 19th, we have penciled into the calendar that the Secretary will travel up to New York and chair a meeting of the Security Council to talk about women’s issues and, specifically, violence against women and what can be done to stop that and prevent it.

The United States has the presidency of the Security Council this month. So, she has chosen to have that topic be the focus of a thematic discussion in the Security Council. So I guess that’s the short answer, Goyal, is we’re -- we are concerned about this issue globally and, in particular, the Secretary has a very real interest and is trying to do something about it.

QUESTION: Is U.S. happy – I’m sorry, is U.S. happy with the UN – UN Human Rights Council, the new council they have now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I would refer you back to my remarks of – I think it was day before yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Monday.

MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. What’s your reaction today of French President invited the President of Syria to visit Paris? Are they no longer in solidarity with your policy on Syria?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we have worked very closely with, now, two French governments on the issue of Lebanon. And we’ve gotten real results, as – in part, because of that partnership on that, and we are going to continue to work very closely with the French Government on issues related to Lebanon. I think we had a lot of – we have the same goals, essentially, and that is to see a Lebanon that is free from foreign interference, that is able to exercise sovereignty throughout the country from border to border, that is one that has a political system where you don’t have political parties that have one foot in politics and one foot in terror.

That’s – all of that – all of that said, this is perhaps a point of departure, in terms of this invitation between the two of us. We would hope that they use that opportunity to send a very strong message to Syria that they could and should play a more constructive role in the region on a variety of fronts, whether it’s Lebanon or whether that happens to deal with Iraq or whether that happens to deal with peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we would hope that they would use this occasion as an opportunity to send that very clear message. And I would expect that when Secretary Rice is in Paris that she’ll talk about this as well as other issues, as will President Bush.

QUESTION: The French argument is that Syria, by kind of not interfering in the presidential election in Lebanon kind of showed, perhaps, that it’s willing to play a more constructive role and that that premise should be, kind of, tested further. I mean, you don’t necessarily think that Syria’s kind of lack of – the fact that they allowed the presidential election to go forward is, albeit a small, but positive step that should be kind of encouraged?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look. You have – you have to go back ask yourself the question of how correct is it that a neighboring state block a presidential election going forward in a neighboring state? And then you ask yourself the question of whether or not that kind of behavior should be rewarded.

Clearly, we have a different view. The French Government, in this regard, will take is own decisions. But I fully expect that we are going to be – continue working very closely on matters related to peace in the Middle East as well as, and in particular, on Lebanon, because we really – we have the same goals.

QUESTION: No, but I’m – just on the kind of larger issue of these small steps, and you’re saying that they should necessarily be rewarded. I mean, isn’t the goal of not necessarily only Syria, but in Cuba or any other place where you’re looking for these countries to have better behavior, I mean, isn’t a small step better than no step at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Elise, you know, everybody will come to their own assessment of the situation, whether it’s in Cuba or Lebanon or Syria or elsewhere around the globe. As I said, we believe that this is a point of – a point of departure. I’m not going to make a huge – any big pronouncements about this, but simply stated, it is point of departure between the two of us. But I would underline in saying that that – that we do share the same goals with respect to Lebanon and really with respect to the Middle East writ large.

QUESTION: Another question about Paris conference. What do you think about U.S. commitment for Afghanistan and also reality* of seeing two new conference like London and Bonn conference? In your opinion, what will be the different between this coming conference in Paris and London and Bonn conference? Because people lose their confidence – their confidence and trust. They don’t -- people in Afghanistan, they are not very positive in Paris conference to be useful for Afghanistan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would just ask them to withhold judgment until they see the results of the Paris conference.

QUESTION: I mean, your commitment --

MR. MCCORMACK: The U.S., well, first of all, the – between now and from 2001 to the present day, I think we’ve committed about $26 billion in security assistance as well as construction and development aid. So it’s quite a commitment. That’s on top of –

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- that’s on top of the commitment of our forces on the ground in Afghanistan. That’s substantial. And I would expect that our pledges at the Paris conference will be quite generous. I’ll leave it to the conference and preserve the drama of the moment by not getting into the exact number, but I would expect that we, as well as others, are going to be quite generous with Afghanistan. And as I say-- as I’ve said, and more importantly, as Secretary Rice has said before, you know, we’ve learned the lesson of abandoning Afghanistan, that the world – and we – did that once, and we’re not going to repeat that mistake.

ENDS

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