US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: July 30, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
July 30, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: July 30, 2008
Secretary’s Meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister
Ongoing Negotiations / Hope for an Agreement by the End of the Year
Parties Have Made Progress / Goal and Objectives of Process
U.S. Role and Involvement in Process
Impact of Israeli Political Situation on Process
Court Decision in Chief Prosecutor’s Case Against AK Party
Decision Not to Renew Manta Agreement
Congressional Request to Withhold Reprogramming of Funds for
New York Times Report on ISI Involvement in Attacks in Afghanistan
Threat of Terrorism from Tribal Areas
Sung Kim Working on Verification Protocol
SOUTH KOREA / JAPAN
Issue of Liancourt Rocks / U.S Policy
Repatriation of Guantanamo Detainees
Extradition of Radovan Karadzic
Passport Theft / Border Security
U.S. Support for Freedom of Press and Expression
12:50 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.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the Secretary's meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it went from about - it is scheduled to go from 12:15 to 1:00, and then they were going to roll right into a trilateral meeting from about 1 to 2:30 - 1:30 -- 2:30, that's right, with the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Secretary, you know, a couple aids on each side. Nothing in terms of details for you. This is about trying to help parties adjust political discussions that they're having. We have these meetings from time to time in a trilateral format. We've done it in Jerusalem, we've done it in Berlin and we've done it in Paris. And the Secretary's objective in these meetings is to try to help them come together. Sometimes when you are one step removed from the everyday negotiations that are going on, really informed about the process, and know about the substance, you can see possible areas of convergence where the parties might come together. And that's what she does in these meetings. And the focus, again, is trying to come to an agreement by the end of this year that comprises all the final status - so-called final status issues. Making progress towards our goal, and it is still our hope that we can reach that goal. That's our direction. That's where our energy is focused, and we'll see how far we get.
QUESTION: And are there areas of possible convergence?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the - as the Secretary has described it -- we must rely on her words in the past on this -- the parties have made some progress. I can't tell you, I don't know whether or not they've closed out any one issue or any set of issues. The parties have been very good about not speaking in public about where they are in negotiations, what specific issues they happen to be addressing at a particular meeting or where they stand in terms of narrowing the gaps between them. And we have been very diligent in not commenting on that either; we think that's useful to the process. The Secretary has made this point several times over. So we're going to maintain that stance, refrain from any comment on the substance of the negotiations in terms of exactly where the parties stand.
QUESTION: Are there - are theregaps that are being narrowed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, they say that they're making the progress, the two parties are --
QUESTION: (Inaudible). Does that mean the gaps are narrowing or not? I mean - and if they're not, why would this - why would they be having this meeting today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're making progress, Matt. These issues are all interlinked. And as you know, from long history, these are complex issues. And it's a fact that making progress in one area may help you make progress on another and vice - and the reverse is true, as well. Problems in one area may impede progress in other areas.
So there is a certain rhythm to negotiations. I mean, you may get close in one area and then take a step back in another area which impedes your ability to make progress in the first area. So --
QUESTION: So someone who --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- that's a long - it's a long way of saying, Matt, they're making progress. We're not going to talk about, okay, they've ticked off issue one, this particular issue, and they're working on two, three, four, five and six.
QUESTION: Well, for someone who doesn't want to deal in hypotheticals, what you just gave us was a long list of possible hypotheticals.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So can't you be any more specific about what - about if there are, in fact, gaps that are narrowing, if the Secretary is presenting them, what can you say definitively that she's presenting them with, that she has taken a look back from where they are and is offering them some kind of bridging mechanisms to narrow gaps? Or is she not? Is she just trying to say - is she trying to salvage what has become a complete breakdown?
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you're grumpy this afternoon.
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: I thought he was in a good mood. No, look, you know, and it's great - and I appreciate the fact that people are trying to get inside the process; where are people, have you narrowed the gaps here, have you narrowed the gaps there, where are you on borders, where are you on - where are you on (inaudible) going down the list of things. We're just not going to talk about it.
QUESTION: Well, actually, I didn't mention a single one of those things.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, look - look, Matt, you got to ask your long question, I'm going to give you a long answer. (Laughter.) Look, you know, I'll repeat what I've said for the past couple days and what I said this morning. The Secretary's attitude here is that we are going to try to push the limits of this process, we're going to try to push it as far as it'll go, as far as the parties will go.
But we're also - she's also not going to be put in the position of taking a process that has some hope. The Annapolis process has hope of allowing the parties to get to a final negotiated solution to all the differences that are between them. Whether that comes in '08 or '09 or some other time, we will see. Our goal is to try to get to an agreement that will lead to a two-state solution by the end of this year.
Maybe that is just, you know, in our nature as Americans, that we're optimistic and that when we see limits, we try to push beyond them. But we're not going to try to push the limits of a process to the point where it breaks and you lose hope of a solution, because it is too important a moment in the Middle East to lose this opportunity. I think you get that sense from everybody: from the Israelis, from the Palestinians, from everybody in the region and from us.
So we're going to keep pushing. I know that my answer is maybe vague on some of the specifics and where they stand vis-à-vis one another, where they stand vis-à-vis one another on the substance of it. As the Secretary points out, the most successful negotiation the Israelis and Palestinians have ever had was in Oslo, and nobody even knew that they were negotiating until they had an agreement. Everybody knows about the process here. We try to be transparent in the fact that, yes, we're having meetings, we're having conversations, we inform you in terms of the bilats and the trilats. But we're just not going to go any further than that. That is, the Secretary hasn't done it, certainly the President hasn't done it, the parties have not done it in public, and I'm not going to.
QUESTION: What's your thoughts about the Israeli Prime Minister bowing out of the scene? Do you see this affecting the peace process at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that's a matter for Israeli domestic politics. The fact is, when you see, within much of the Israeli body politic, a movement and desire for peace - certainly, that is the view of Prime Minister Olmert and his government, including Foreign Minister Livni, who's the lead negotiator. So any matters of configuration within the context of Israeli politics are for the Israeli people and their leaders to decide.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Yeah. Sean, it doesn't seem that the main figures of the Israeli Government share the same view you're presenting here, like Olmert? Prime Minister Olmert on Monday excluded Jerusalem from any agreement. Today, Shaul Mofaz is departing Israel on his way to the U.S. He said, and I'm quoting, "At this time of change in the government, we must not reach agreements on the core issues in negotiations with the Palestinians." So what kind of hope are you talking about if the Israelis, within their government, are not agreed on reaching any agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Secretary got this question yesterday in her press conference, and she said we have been assured that the commitment of the Israeli Government, from the top down to the negotiating ranks, remains the same, that everybody is committed to the same goals that they stated in Annapolis. Those are as I have told you. We are all working towards an agreement in '08.
QUESTION: Even Minister Mofaz?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'll let Minister Mofaz and any other individual member of the Israeli Government speak for themselves. But we have been given assurances, as the Secretary said yesterday, that that is their commitment. And I think the fact that you have the negotiators here today is one indicator of that commitment. And like I said, we are going to continue to push this process along. The Secretary is committed to it. The President is committed to it. We've stated what our objectives are. We've stated what our goals are. Those are unchanged.
At the same time, we have a process here. And it's a process that has given the Palestinian people, the Israeli people, people of the region, some hope that we can succeed. Our goals remain the same. But again, at the same time, the Secretary is not going to be in the position where she irretrievably breaks a process that has hope of bringing peace to the region.
QUESTION: Would you advise the Palestinian - one more question, one follow-up. Would you advise the Palestinians to sign an agreement, even if it doesn't include all the main issues?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've stated what our goals are. I don't want to have to repeat those for you. Fundamentally, this is about the two parties coming to an agreement. We can help, we can push, we can prod, we can cajole, we can offer our good offices. But ultimately, they have to come to an agreement. Nobody can do that for them. And if they are not invested in an agreement and if they are not bringing their publics along with them to support an agreement, then it won't succeed, simple as that.
You know, we can't want peace more than the parties do. What you saw at Annapolis is that the parties have, at a fundamental level, committed to trying to achieve peace because they understand what's at stake for their people and for the region. So that is the spirit in which the people with whom we are working are negotiating and we haven't detected any deviation from that course.
QUESTION: Sean, I just want to follow up on what you just said, that the process has given the Israelis and Palestinians hope. And it obviously has and both sides have said that they're committed to the process --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and they feel that a process is better than no process and - but I think that there is a difference between being committed to trying and being concerned on the Israeli and Palestinian part that they may not be able to get it done. And is - are you and the Administration and the Secretary - I mean, obviously, you're going to keep trying towards the end of the year. But if you've made gains and you don't have a deal, I mean, isn't that progress in itself? I mean, is it an all-or-nothing thing for you guys?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Elise, I've tried to explain the nuance of this to you. And ultimately, it comes down to a matter of judgment. And that's why you - you know, that's why, you know, the Secretary and the President and other members of the foreign policy/national security team get paid the big bucks to make those kinds of judgments. Again, there's something inherent to our nature that causes us to be optimistic - it's - that causes us to try to push things as far as they can possibly go, sometimes beyond people's comfort zones. And if you want to try to crack a really tough problem, probably one of the toughest foreign policy problems that we have out there - it's existed for decades - you know, maybe the parties have to go outside their comfort zone. We'll see. And we'll see if they're ready to do that, see if they're willing to do that. We've always said it will require tough compromises on everybody's part.
So we'll test that. You know, to import - I told you this morning - import a engineering concept into foreign policy, we'll test the tolerances of the process. But the Secretary is also not going to break the process, you know, because there is real hope here. You see both sides and the region invested in this process. And it'll be a matter of working with the parties, seeing how far the process can go. We have staked out our position as - in terms of what the goal and objective of this process is. We're going to work towards that. We're going to work with the parties so that they work towards that. And along the way, we'll see. We'll make assessments. I can't make an assessment for you. We're here at the end of the July now.
QUESTION: Well, but it seems like the Israelis and Palestinians are saying publicly and to the Secretary we're committed to trying to work for a deal, we want a deal, we want the process to continue, but we honestly don't think that that's going to be possible by the end of the year, but we're going to keep trying and we're going to keep working, and if it's not this year, we're going to keep trying --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm trying to be as clear as I possibly can explaining the nuance of the process. But fundamentally, this comes down to judgment. And right now, today, the Secretary is having another in a series of meetings trying to work this process, to bring the parties together, allow them to see areas of agreement, areas of convergence. And we're going to continue to do that.
And our objectives remain the same. I've tried to give you a little insight into how we view the process and how we see this period going forward. I can't be any more definitive for you. It's not going - not a black-or-white issue. You know, and ultimately, in these kinds of situations, like I said, it comes down to judgments.
QUESTION: Sean, when you say you're going to try to push the parties to think outside the box --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think I said that.
QUESTION: Well, just to look beyond what - I can't remember the construction.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go outside your comfort zone sometimes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well --
MR. MCCORMACK: Making tough compromises.
QUESTION: Does that mean that Secretary Rice is offering her own proposals about how to do that? You always talk about finding convergence, but does that mean it's her own ways of bridging these gaps?
MR. MCCORMACK: Her - you know, her style is more to look at what it is that the parties have done, listen to them, have them talk to one another, and maybe try to tease out areas where she's hearing about possible points of convergence. You know, that's not - that doesn't mean laying the American paper on the table, saying, "Here's the solution." She views this as a process that needs to really have the origins of any solution come from the parties at hand, the Israelis and the Palestinians, like I said in answer to a previous question.
Look, fundamentally, they need to invest in this agreement. They need to buy into it. They need to buy into the solutions. They need to buy into the various compromises that are going to be necessary. Otherwise, it won't work. No amount of American or international or regional support will help them unless they have bought into it. And so that's really the idea that underpins her style of helping the process along. Fundamentally, the Israelis and the Palestinians are driving it. But we will use our good offices, and as I said, where appropriate, you know, push, prod, cajole, help out.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, they're driving the kind of day-to-day negotiations, but doesn't the Secretary see herself, or the United States, in effect, as the kind of broker that's going to help them bring it home? I mean, if they were able to do it by themselves, they would have done it already.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And that's why the United States has been the kind of "uber broker" of this process because they need some kind of third party to kind of help them bridge the differences and close the deal.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We are trying to do - we are trying to help them.
QUESTION: Well, do you see - does the Secretary see either, hopefully by the end of the year, some kind of - I don't like to say bridging proposal, but some kind of summit or some kind of meeting where you can kind of consecrate everything that's been agreed to, and she can help them bridge the differences --
MR. MCCORMACK: No --
QUESTION: -- just like presidents and secretaries of states have done --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I got you. Look, I'm not going to foreclose any, you know, diplomatic tactic that she might want to use. I don't see her, at this point, deviating from the kind of process that she has helped set up and that the parties themselves have set up. I - maybe - let me make one more stab at this. One way to think about it is, you know, she views herself as, you know, not only a steward of our national interest in terms of our foreign policy, whether it happens to be with respect to Israeli-Palestinian issues or North Korea or Iran or Afghanistan or Iraq. We - ultimately, it's the nature of our system where we pass along the responsibility and the policies to a next administration. So in that sense, we are stewards of the national interest. And she has a sense of that.
With respect to the Annapolis process, you can also say, in a way, we're stewards of that process as well. She was pivotable - pivotal to bringing about this process through a lot of hard work, a lot of other people, as well as the President, ultimately. So we - she and we as a nation have an interest in this process, and we understand that we are stewards of that process. But at the same time, were going to help, as I've tried to explain, push it along.
QUESTION: Why not have someone like David Welch or some other person - and I understand that you have, like, 90 generals up there -- but in terms of the political negotiations, some kind of United States presence that could help bridge them, help bring them together and keep moving them along? Because in a lot of stops along the way that they've been stalled, and I know that this Administration has been loathe to appoint a Mideast envoy, but a lot of people, both the Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs and everybody, have said that it might be helpful to have some kind of full-time presence that knows the issues inside and out and is, kind of, knocking those skulls to get them to -
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, there are a lot of different ways to come at this. I know that there have been envoys in the past. The Secretary has chosen to use the tactics that she has employed up and to this point. In terms of knowing the issues, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anybody - anybody with - who --
QUESTION: Well, she has other issues, too.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, who knows - no, I know she - yeah, she does, absolutely. But she's pretty well versed in this, as is David Welch, as is Jonathan Schwartz and other people who are involved in this process. So there's a lot - you know, you see a lot of the ministerial meetings and their own public schedules and so forth, and they're more high-profile. But there's an awful lot of work on a daily basis that gets done, you know -- phone calls, meetings here, in the region by David Welch, by other people in his bureau, by our Embassy in Tel Aviv, by our Consulate General in Jerusalem. So there's a lot of - and as well as embassies around the region. So there's a lot of work that gets done that you don't see, and it's just the nature of diplomacy. Nobody's hiding it from you, but it's just the, you know, the blocking and tackling that takes place to try to move the process forward.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Can you just tell us if your grounds for optimism or your grounds for hope that something is going to be done is based on more than just this abstract concept of American optimism and that, you know, we think big and we're going to push it to the limit? I mean -
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, well, look, I wouldn't --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a lot of things in this room wouldn't get done without that, Matt. But the fact of the matter is we do hear from the parties that they are making progress. So it is -- you know, it is based on something other than these - you know, the values and characters of American diplomacy.
QUESTION: Can we change the topic - the subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Do we have consensus for a new topic? Gollust? Yeah, we've beaten you into submission, my friend. All right. Who - wait, it went away. Yeah. There we go.
QUESTION: Sean, Constitutional Court in Turkey has reached a decision today -
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- on the case against the ruling party, AKP. Final decision was not to close the party. What are your comments?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would just repeat what we've said all along, that we have confidence in Turkey and confidence in the Turkish people and their democracy. We're going to continue to - the court has rendered an opinion, and we're going to continue to work with this government. We work quite well with them.
And we would also encourage Turkey to use this moment to reinvigorate its efforts with the EU. And I know that requires both sides, both the EU, to reinvigorate its efforts as well, to move forward on the basis of Turkey continuing its efforts at political and economic reform, based on Turkey's constitution and secular democracy.
Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Ecuador authority make official -
MR. MCCORMACK: How are you going to connect Turkey and Ecuador? I want to see this. All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: They make official the decision to ask the U.S. to leave Manta, and they set a deadline - November next year. Two questions: the first one is, how soon the U.S. plan to start the exit process; and the second, what's going to be the impact for the drug interdiction program in that part of continent?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I have some words hear for you. The purpose of the Forward Operating Location at Manta is to detect and interdict drug trafficking in the eastern Pacific. This Forward Operating Location proved extremely useful over the last nine years. Ecuador has promised continued close cooperation to confront the threat of drug smuggling, and we look forward to this continued cooperation.
The decision to close is a - apparently is not - not very clear. (Laughter.) I think the Turkish contingent has gotten their answer. They made a break.
To continue on Ecuador -- sorry, sir. The decision to close the forward operating location is a sovereign one by the Government of Ecuador. We note, however, that the closure will leave a serious gap in efforts by the United States and our partners to confront illegal drug trafficking throughout the region. The goal of the United States, together with our partners in the region, is to ensure that an effective monitoring and interdiction effort is maintained.
QUESTION: A follow-up. The decision leave the U.S. with few options to, you know, restart this operation. There have been some suggestion that Colombia may be a good candidate to, you know, make this operations continue in that country. I wonder if there have been any talks on this regard, especially during the last visit by Minister Santos?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into any specifics, but the problem is still there. We have a requirement to continue our focus on these operations. We're going to take a look at what other options are available.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: How can it affect the - since Ecuador, and Manta specifically was a very important geographical point for antinarcotics efforts, how much would it - would it affect, you know, the operations and, you know, all the fumigation and everything that's going on, surveillance and everything?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. I mean, clearly, we had the operation going on there because we thought it was a good location to do so.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, mission - there's still a need for the mission, so we'll look at how we accomplish the mission, perhaps in other locations or by other means.
QUESTION: I know you addressed this very briefly this morning in the gaggle, but I wonder if you can shed any light on how the Administration is going to respond to the request by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Berman and Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lowey to hold off on reprogramming the counterterrorism assistance for Pakistan to the F-16s.
As you'll recall, there is a deadline of the end of the day tomorrow to make a payment to Lockheed Martin, and as I think you also know, the Administration apparently has the right to simply reprogram the money, despite this request on their part, although if it does so, it risks antagonizing a key appropriator and the head of a major committee. So what are you going to do? Are you going to reprogram the money or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the first thing we'll do is we'll talk to the congressmen in question and try to understand their concerns, maybe try to convey to them the reasons for our decision. It's the - as you pointed out, it's the nature of our system, where Congress holds the purse strings, and so it - you know, obviously want to have a cooperative work - good working relationship, which we do with our committees and with the Congress. That said, we - this was a considered decision. We think it was the right decision to take. This was an important priority of this incoming government that it had focused on this F-16 program, but is also committed, they say, to fighting terrorism. And the argument made was that this mid-life upgrade to the F-16s will actually help - could help them in the fight against terrorism in the tribal areas.
You know, I'm no expert in this, but apparently, the upgrades, avionics, and communications and other things could help out with close air support to counterterrorism missions, those sorts of things. It's a valid, reasonable argument. Some people may disagree, but it was the considered opinion of the Executive Branch and the Administration that this was the right move, a move that certainly was supported and desired by the Pakistani Government.
All that said, I'm sure that I can't tell you what our communication has been with the Hill since we have heard these concerns, but I'm sure that our folks are going to be talking to them to see if there's any way to address their concerns.
QUESTION: So to your knowledge, there's no decision yet on whether to proceed despite their objection?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, there's no - I would put it the other way around. To my knowledge, there's no decision to - there's no need --
QUESTION: Hold off.
MR. MCCORMACK: -- to change the decision at this point, yeah. I'm not aware - I'm not aware of any --
QUESTION: So as far as you know, you're still going forward with this?
MR. MCCORMACK: -- change of course. As far as - yeah, as far as I know, we're still going forward with it, yeah.
QUESTION: On North Korea, Sung Kim is headed to Beijing today to meet with his counterparts, Chinese and North Korean counterparts. Can you talk about his objectives and goals there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. He's going to be working on the verification protocol. There's been a lot of work that was done on the verification protocol. There was a - way back, several weeks ago, at a head of delegation meeting, there was agreement on the principles of it. At the ministers' Six-Party meeting in Singapore, there was, again, a reaffirmation of the principles to move forward with a verification program, and really, an agreement on what the major pieces of it would be that the heads of delegation had agreed upon. So it's really a matter of just - of hammering out the specifics.
Now that's not necessarily a small task, but the kind of verification protocol that we're talking about is one that is recognizable to anybody who has studied these things as implemented in various other arms control agreements. But it's essential to building and maintaining confidence in the North Koreans' declaration as well as in the process as we move forward. So Sung Kim is going to try to meet with his Chinese counterparts and North Korean counterparts to move that process forward, try to get a little more clarity and start nailing down some of the details of the protocol. He is leaving, I believe, today, and should be back Saturday.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, anything on the specifics of mechanics for delisting that you were able to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I'm sorry. Let me try to dig those up for you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on South Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Please do.
QUESTION: Regarding Liancourt Rocks, yesterday, the South Korean Ambassador Lee Tae-sik met with the President, President Bush. And the Ambassador passed the concerns of the South Korean people about the recent BGN's change of the classification of Liancourt Rocks from South Korea to undesignated sovereignty. And President Bush responded by saying that he had told Secretary Rice to look into this matter. What kind of measures are you talking, discussing right now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first and foremost, I would urge everybody to consider one fact, and that is that our policy hasn't changed, even before this group of technical experts, I guess you could call them, met with regard to the map designation. I restated what our policy is, and that is for the two countries to work out what is a disputed claim. That has been our policy for many, many years.
We certainly regret that there's any misunderstanding of that, and we're trying to convey as clearly as we possibly can to the South Korean people and the Japanese people that there is no change in our policy, notwithstanding this, I guess, step these technical agencies took.
QUESTION: So that means right now, at the State Department, no measures are being discussed right now?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I get back to the core fact here, and that is that the policy hasn't changed. There's an understanding here among the Korean Government as well as the Japanese Government that this is an issue for those two governments to work out themselves.
QUESTION: Are the two presidents, President Bush and President Lee Myung-bak of Korea, going to discuss this matter when President Bush visit (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll leave it to my White House colleagues to describe the President's meetings, but, you know, given the attention that this particular issue has received in South Korea and the public, I would be surprised if it didn't come up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Questions about Guantanamo, specifically about the detainees who have been cleared for release but who are afraid to go home for fear of being tortured. Two questions: Specifically, Mr. Abdul Rasul Al-Qassem. He has been cleared for release as an alien enemy combatant to go back to Libya. If he were deemed a non-enemy combatant, like the five ethnic Chinese who were sent to Albania, would he then have more options, for example, to go to Afghanistan where his wife and child are? And then, secondly, what sort of work has the U.S. done - what measures does the U.S. have in place to find countries to take in these folks that are afraid to go back home?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. On that specific case, I have to confess, I don't know the facts of it. But we'll post an answer for you.
In - I know that Clint Williamson - Ambassador Williamson has expended a lot of hours and a lot of travel time and a lot of meeting time to try to reach an agreement with countries - either the countries that - the native countries of people in Guantanamo or third countries - to take these people back. You have to meet a couple of conditions: you know, one, we have to assure ourselves that these people are going to be treated humanely; and, two, that they're not going to walk in the front door of the jail and walk out the back for those people who are deemed to be a continuing danger not only to U.S. citizens, but anybody around the globe. It's the last thing we want is to see people repatriated and end up back on the battlefield, which we have seen before and nobody wants that.
It's a tough problem. I think we - we're - you can check with DOD, but I think the population of Guantanamo is down around 270 or something like that and, over the past couple of years, there have been several hundred people that have been either released or sent back to their home countries or to third countries. So that's a continuing process. There's a lot of energy that goes into that. But you know, oftentimes, you run into the problem of a country not being able to meet those conditions to our satisfaction or an unwillingness to take these individuals back.
QUESTION: But just to follow up then, there were two people that were returned to Libya from Guantanamo in 2006 and 2007 who were tortured and thrown back into jail. And I mean, this guy is saying he doesn't want to go back -- please don't send me back there. Does it have anything to do with him being deemed an alien enemy combatant, rather than non?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'm happy to generate an answer for you. I just don't have the facts of the case. I'm not familiar with his particular case.
QUESTION: While the business is going on, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has announced that he will not stand for a re-election in the Kadima primaries and that he will step down, once his party has selected a new leader. I realize this is a matter for internal Israeli politics.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But it does have a bearing on the Administration's efforts in its waning months to try to meet the President's goal of a full peace agreement by the end of the year. And I wonder if you think that the political uncertainty in Israel, let alone the divide between the Palestinians, Hamas and Fatah, will prompt a reassessment of the Administration's strategy here. Does it make sense to test the tolerances and push forward when you're dealing with, you know, such political ambiguity?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You can give the same answer you gave before.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. (Laughter.) Well, Matt, come up here.
QUESTION: Don't help him. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: He just - he answered that question already.
QUESTION: Do you have the announcement, actually?
QUESTION: It's already been answered.
QUESTION: We have the announcement itself?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have the announcement then? I thought you said there were reports, not -
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm just going to sit down over here. (Laughter.) You guys can - you guys can work this out.
QUESTION: You announced it, like -- like --
MR. MCCORMACK: I - you know, look, I am --
QUESTION: But this is the announcement. It's not like the TV reports of it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: He's actually saying it now.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I saw a wire story about this yesterday.
QUESTION: Then it must be true.
MR. MCCORMACK: The - as I said before, the Israelis will work out their inner politics. We're going to continue working on the basis on which we've worked. We're going to look forward to working with all responsible Israeli leaders in the government, whether it's this government or some future government. I'm just not going to comment on their politics. But there is certainly - and you can just look at the Kadima party itself, you know, just taking one example, they're committed to moving forward with the peace process. That was the whole - one of the bases of forming the party. And certainly, within Israel, there seems to be a great deal of support for finally getting to the point where you have two states living side by side in peace and security.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the Kadima party, yes. But if there are elections and - most Israelis are in favor of these negotiations but not all.
MR. MCCORMACK: Not going to touch - Israeli politics. We're going to keep moving forward. I would just point out, look, you know, the conditions will never be perfect for arriving at an agreement that brings peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If there had been that perfect moment, I'm sure that previous presidents and secretaries of state would have seized upon that opportunity and been able to bring negotiations to a definitive conclusion and we would have an Israel and we would have a Palestine by now. But the fact of the matter is that if you wait for the perfect moment to try to help bring the two parties together in a final agreement, you're going to be waiting forever, because there probably never will be a perfect moment. And you just have to deal with the political vicissitudes, whether they're in Palestinian politics or Israeli politics. And fundamentally, those two groups of people are going to have to answer their own domestic political questions, but we can continue to try to help them move forward on what is a stated desire, I believe, of most Israelis and most Palestinians.
QUESTION: I'm sorry to push this further, but the fact that -
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, why not?
QUESTION: - the Bush - (laughter). The fact that the Bush Administration had made it very clear that they want an agreement before the end of the year, and with this development taking place now, and with only six months left, don't you think that this is going to, at least, affect the negotiations in terms of logistics, preparations?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Param, I can't predict whether it will have any effect or no effect. I can't. You know, all we can do is to continue to try to move the process forward, as I have - as I've talked about and some have maligned - (laughter) - our - America's indomitable optimism and "can-do" spirit. I believe in it, I don't know if you necessarily do Matt. (Laughter.) But we're going to try to continue moving the process forward.
But ultimately, like I said, you know, it comes down to an irreducible notion of these are judgment calls and there are no easy calls in this. This is the hardest diplomatic issue that's out there and that's been out there for a long time. And we're going to do what we can to help bring peace between those two peoples.
QUESTION: I think there could be no greater demonstration of Matt's fundamental optimism than that he shows up here day after day, year after year. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: There we are. Absolutely. Touché. Well done.
QUESTION: This gentleman here has been waiting very patiently for a long time.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, there we are. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: New York Times reports that the CIA believes the ISI and other elements in the Pakistani Government have been aware of, if not involved in, many of the attacks in Afghanistan. Does the State Department share that assessment?
MR. MCCORMACK: No comment on those reports. All I can tell you is that we're working very well, as is evidenced by the President's meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister, on issues related to terrorism and fighting terrorism in - especially in those tribal areas.
Look, this as much - that - the threat from terrorism that emanates from those areas is as much a threat to the Pakistani people as it is to our troops and to Afghans and to NATO forces, and international forces in Afghanistan. They understand what's at stake.
QUESTION: Okay. The report was largely about the role of ISI and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, I don't have any comment on the news report.
QUESTION: Any reflection on the extradition overnight of Karadzic to The Hague and whether it might have any implications for the U.S. relationship with Serbia, which hasn't been super?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a very positive development, I think for Serbia first and foremost, and also a positive development for justice. He will have his opportunity to defend himself in court in The Hague.
As far as Serbia goes, it's a positive step forward and we would hope that they also take some steps to turn over the other people wanted for war crimes, including General Mladic. So we would applaud the step that the Serbian Government has taken. Certainly, it's very, very positive, and we would urge them to close out the books on this dark chapter in Serbian and European history, and also, at the same time, encourage the countries of Europe to work together with Serbia on a European horizon for that country.
QUESTION: Sean, it's a completely unrelated issue to anything, but you've repeatedly urged other countries, particularly those in the Visa Waiver Program, to be very careful about passport security.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, 30,000 British passports were stolen. Wondering if CA or EUR or anybody is doing sort of a - looking into this and see what implications that might have for people who might try to come into this country using those passports potentially.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know for a fact. I'm sure that - I'd be surprised if they weren't. I mean, passports get stolen every single day from countries around the world. You know, anybody who has worked in Consular Affairs will periodically get these notices about passports that are stolen, and then the numbers, so that people can be aware and vigilant in these cases. I don't know what other steps are being taken, but I'm sure that our people are aware of it and doing what they need to do in order to best protect our borders.
QUESTION: Yes, Nazira Karimi for Ariana Television. As you know, about the Afghan journalist from Ariana Television Network in Afghanistan, he was detained in Kabul and he was accused of insulting Afghan Government. What do you think about it? Do you have any comment? And also, in your opinion, is it not contrary to democracy and freedom of speech, not only Afghanistan but the international community, (inaudible) Afghanistan?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of the particulars of this case, but our support for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, whether it's in Afghanistan or anywhere else around the world, is well known.
QUESTION: Back on Israel. Over the weekend, Senator McCain said he supported moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Is that still something in that the State Department is ever - entertaining?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy on that matter is unchanged.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)
DPB # 135
Released on July 30, 2008