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U.S. Daily Press Briefing

U.S. Daily Press Briefing

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. Very energetic crowd –

QUESTION: Three-day –

MR. MCCORMACK: – this morning. Three-day weekend, I guess. Well, for some of us. I just – I have one media note to start off with, and we’ll put this out in paper form after the briefing.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will travel October 17th through the 19th to represent the United States at the Forum for the Future in Abu Dhabi in place of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Deputy Secretary will meet with regional and G8 counterparts and engage with civil society leaders at the 5th annual Forum for the Future hosted by the United Arab Emirates and co-chaired by Japan as G8 President.

The United States remains a strong supporter of the Forum for the Future, which serves as an important platform to strengthen the partnership between governments and civil society of the Broader Middle East and North Africa and to promote democratic reforms and respect for fundamental human rights.

QUESTION: Is there any bigger reason why the Secretary is not going?

MR. MCCORMACK: She decided to stay back. This is quite clearly an important period of time in the global economy and she decided it was the right thing for her to stay back in Washington, should she be needed, and to pitch in, help out with any of the international aspects of this. You saw her just this past weekend over at the White House when the President hosted the finance ministers over at the White House for discussions.

QUESTION: But other than appearing there, we’ve been – some of us have been asking you pretty much every day about her involvement in this and whether she’s talking to foreign ministers. And the answer has come back, no, every single time that she’s not. So did something change in the calculus that she thinks that now she needs to get more involved? I mean, obviously, Friday --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she’s been involved – no. She has been involved in intra-governmental discussions about this. And while I would say that the issue has perhaps come up in some of her phone calls about other topics – not about the ones from last week which you asked me about specifically – the topic has come up in several instances in – during phone calls on other topics. But she thought because of where we are, and this is, in fact, a truly global effort, that it was a good time for her to stay back, and the Deputy Secretary graciously agreed to go to the Forum for the Future, which is an important gathering.

And I would – and furthermore, I would expect that she will be back in the Middle East in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Do you – so does this mean that she’s going to start taking a more active role than she had been before?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I would expect you to see her play the same kind of role she has played before. You know, occasionally it will emerge in public, as it did when she was over at the White House. But I would expect her to play a supporting role; I guess that’s the way to put it. Quite clearly, the White House and the Department of the Treasury and other agencies that we all know, mentioned in the news, are going to be in the – remain in the lead. She will be there in a supporting role.

QUESTION: So has the President asked the Secretary to become more personally involved? Is this a direct result of a request from him or from Paulson?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, this is just – this is something that she thought it was wise to do. Obviously, the Secretary of the Treasury and the President agreed that it was a good idea, but you know, again, it was her call to stay back here.

Yeah.

QUESTION: In a question slightly related, do you have – are you close to an agreement on SOFA with Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: How is that related?

QUESTION: It’s the region.

QUESTION: Regional.

QUESTION: The region, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: The region, okay, I get it. Coming at it from the other side? Look, Sylvie, until everything is done, nothing is done. And everything isn’t done yet, so I don’t have any announcements for you on that.

QUESTION: Well, could you speak about the report –

MR. MCCORMACK: Work continues.

QUESTION: – in The Washington Post that says that the Administration is kind of looking at other options –

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: – because it’s possible –

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We’re continuing to focus on the SOFA.

QUESTION: So you’re not looking at an expanded UN Security Council resolution yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I said no, I’m not going to comment on the report. Then I said we are going to continue working on the SOFA, which is, in fact, the case.

QUESTION: There was actually a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday out of Baghdad that there – that the negotiators were actually going to put forward a draft agreement this week. So are you on that end of the spectrum, or are you on the other end of the spectrum, which is putting it off until after the Secretary –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m on the – I’m right in the middle of the spectrum, which says that we are continuing to work on the SOFA.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Samir.

QUESTION: How do you characterize Iran’s role? Like Larijani last week was telling the speaker of the Iraqi parliament that this agreement will be dangerous for Iraq and for the region.

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn’t see the – I didn’t see those comments. I’ve seen, from time to time, news reports about an unhelpful role that Iran might be playing in this. I can’t confirm those reports for you. To the extent that that is their view, I think that they’re probably, you know, uncomfortable with an Iraqi Government that is, every single day, taking greater and greater responsibility for its own future. Look, when you get to the point of agreement on a SOFA, that will be an agreement between two sovereign states and it will have been worked out in that vein and, certainly, with the respect that comes along with this kind of negotiation.

QUESTION: Sean, I’m sorry, we just want to clarify something. You say you’ve seen news reports about Iran’s unhelpful role?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that your – you’ve seen news reports that say Iran is playing an unhelpful role, or you’ve seen news reports about Iran speaking out about this, which you believe is unhealthy?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I would say news reports about Iran’s unhelpful role.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have any information about this 20-year-old college student that’s been picked up on the border of Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not much. Our Embassy in Islamabad and our Consulate in Peshawar have contacted Pakistani authorities in response to these news reports. But beyond that, I don’t have any information. We’re still following up on the news reports.

QUESTION: Have you got anyone seeking access to him traveling out there or –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that – what we’re trying to do is establish the facts, and once we get the facts, we’ll decide on a course of action. Of course, if there were any American citizen that were – that was being detained by Pakistani authorities, we would seek access to that person.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you fully satisfied that Russia has abided by its ceasefire obligations and pulled out of the security regions as pronounced? And you may have a little map to show us –

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, sure. Would you like to see a map?

QUESTION: I’d like to see a map, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Would you mind if I just ask a quick question before you get to the map –

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: – about Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the family of this alleged college student from Florida?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any families that we’ve been in touch with.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. Sorry, Sue.

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll – look, as this story develops, we’ll certainly try to keep you updated on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And on the broader issue of detained Americans, have you heard anything back from the Syrians yet about how they handled the case of these two journalists that you’re aware of?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of anything new.

Okay. Are we to Georgia?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: We are to Georgia – to Georgia. Okay. All right. Let me give you what I know here. In terms of the area around Abkhazia here, it would appear that the initial judgment is that the Russian troops have met their obligations under the September 8th ceasefire agreement. Now of course, there is the outstanding issue of the August 12th ceasefire agreement, which gets to the numbers of Russian troops in this area. And specifically, the Georgian authorities have some questions about both geographic presence as well as the military presence up in the upper Kodori Gorge region.

If we can go to South Ossetia – now, there are still some outstanding questions here with respect to the September 8th ceasefire in a couple of respects. One, there’s a security outpost here that the OSCE is going to visit. There are some questions as to which side of the administrative border it is on. And then also, Georgian officials have some serious questions about this area here, the Akhal-Gori region. And previously, there were not Russian – I understand that there were not Russian troop presence in this area on the other side of the South Ossetia border. So the – there are still – very basically, still serious concerns on the part of Georgia as well as concerns by – on the part of the OSCE on the one specific outpost that we talked about.

So to review, the two various aspects of this: geographically, there are a couple – there are some open questions. And numerically, and I think this is probably the most important outstanding issue, the Russians say that they are going to draw down to 7,600 troops. Now the August ceasefire says that Russia has to go back to its pre-August 6th deployments in terms of numbers. That would total about 3,000 total: 500 in South Ossetia and 2,500 in Abkhazia.

So there are still open questions in terms of numbers, total numbers, and some open questions about geography, the placement of those troops. So – and these are going to be issues that are taken up in Geneva. Dan Fried is going to represent the United States at these discussions that are going to take place in – on – beginning on October 15th about the political situation in Georgia. These were discussions that were envisioned under the September 8th ceasefire agreement. And so I would expect that the issues of geography that we’ve talked about, as well as issues of overall numbers that we talked about, are going to be front and center during those October 15th discussions.

QUESTION: Have you resolved who’s going to be attending the Geneva meeting? There were some discussions over –

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: – whether there would be an official, sort of, South Ossetian and Abkhazian delegation with some misgivings on the U.S. side in particular.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sue. I know Dan is going to represent us. Let me – I’ll look into that question for you. We’ll post an answer for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And have you contacted the Russians directly to voice your concerns prior to this October 15 meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we’ve had a regular dialogue with them. I don’t know if we have talked to them within the past couple days about what I’ve just mentioned here today. I know the EU and the OSCE have, and certainly the Georgians have voiced these concerns in public.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, the Syrian President has issued the decree today establishing a Syrian embassy in Beirut. How do you view this step?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s a positive step. The Syrian Government has previously said that it was going to establish diplomatic ties and exchange ambassadors, set up an embassy. That’s a positive step. It is a positive step towards Syria recognizing its full responsibilities in terms of implementing Security Council resolutions and other international agreements.

Now, there are other aspects of this, and that is – that includes fully defining a border between Syria and Lebanon. So there’s still outstanding work to be done. And also, behavior beyond just setting up these embassies and establishing diplomatic relations also matters.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the purpose of the Secretary’s meeting today with the Lebanese Finance Minister, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he is in town for the World Bank/IMF meetings, and he’s also a former ambassador to Washington from Lebanon and a close advisor to Prime Minister Siniora. So it’s a good opportunity to talk about not only economics, but politics. And the Secretary will talk to him about the Lebanese economic reform plan. She’ll also talk to him about the political situation in the region, as well as in Lebanon.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the meeting between Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. officials that’s taking place this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing.

QUESTION: A readout?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing for you on that. No.

QUESTION: Do you have any update for us since your announcement on Saturday whether the North Koreans have, in fact, taken any steps to reverse the reversal concretely?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I understand that the IAEA has resumed its work. It has started to reapply seals. I guess, simply put, the North Koreans have started the reversal of their reversal, so they’re getting back to that baseline where they were very close to meeting their obligations under the second phase that we’re in, in terms of disablement. So they’re – they haven’t completed those steps. They have begun a reversal of their reversal, however. Our monitors are on the ground. And I didn’t check this morning to see if they actually were engaged in activities, but I believe that they are free to do so.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on this trilateral meeting that Ambassador Burns is attending?

QUESTION: That’s what she just asked.

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s –

QUESTION: Sorry (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We’ll try to get you an answer on that.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: In Zimbabwe –

MR. MCCORMACK: Zimbabwe –

QUESTION: – the talks started again and the ex-President Mbeki is there to help find an agreement. Do you think it’s – there is hope that –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we hope is that you get back to implementation of the agreement that was struck between the MDC and President Mugabe in terms of power-sharing. President Mugabe apparently overstepped the bounds of that agreement in claiming several ministries that were not part of the power-sharing agreement that was brokered. So what we would like to see is the implementation of that original agreement get back on track. And of course, any implementation solution has to be one that is acceptable through the MDC and Mr. Tsvangirai.

QUESTION: And do you trust Mr. Mugabe to implement it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. That was always – that’s always been the open question. And I think if you remember back to when this first – there was an announcement about the agreement being brokered that we welcomed the agreement, but we also held out final judgment until it was actually implemented. In this case, the devil is in the details and the devil is in the details of the implementation of it. We now see a real bump in the road in terms of the implementation, and we’ll see how that is resolved.

Yeah.

QUESTION: David Ignatius on Sunday – I think was Sunday – had a column on the Iran interests section.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t think it was on the Iran interests section.

QUESTION: Well, he mentioned that mid-November you were going to announce an Iran interests section. What are your plans on the interests section? Are you looking for space, office space? Are you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Still an interesting idea, as the Secretary has said. I don’t have any announcements for you at this point, but still an interesting idea. We’re always looking for ways to reach out to the Iranian people and to talk about areas where we think we have a shared interest and have the American people have access to the culture, the literature and the art and other aspects of Iranian society. And we would like the Iranian people to have access to those things, as well, from American culture.

Now, there are a lot of different ways to do that. We have mentioned an interests section as one possible way to do that. If you look down to Cuba, we have an interests section in Havana. We think we have found that very useful in a number of different regards, including reaching out to the Cuban people. Now, it’s – you’re somewhat limited in your ability to do that because every step of the way, the Cuban Government fights that. But you are able, in some respects, to get through. So I guess I would just end where I began it. It’s still an interesting idea, but I don’t have any announcements for you.

QUESTION: The Iranian Government – are they open to the idea? Do you have signs that they are?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, nothing more for you on that.

QUESTION: Did you officially requested the Iranian Government –

MR. MCCORMACK: That – Sylvie, nothing more for you on that, beyond it’s an interesting idea. It’s still an interesting idea.

QUESTION: Because you have found the Swiss – you’re a little irritated by the Swiss of late in terms of the deals that they’ve been cutting with the Iranians in terms of energy sector. Would that be a fair assumption, as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we have publically stated our concerns about a number of different countries entertaining possible energy deals with the Iranian Government and we’ve talked to them about that. We’ve mentioned it in public and certainly we convey any concerns we have in private. Any of those concerns that we relay in private, the tone and the content of those are going to remain private.

Okay, I’m waiting for a thank you.

QUESTION: Israel?

MR. MCCORMACK: No? Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the agreement within Kadima to form a government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I honestly had not seen that. As a general statement, these are all questions for the Israeli domestic political system to work out.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it could have a great impact on the negotiations.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you have a – you have, in the current government leaders of Kadima who have been tasked with forming a new government, a commitment to try to move the peace process forward. That’s a – that’s been a central tenet of the – of that party’s platform. And if you listen to all the important leaders of that party and members – other members of the current government coalition, they’ve, to varying degrees, supported that platform in moving the process forward. So we’ll see – we’ll see what government emerges and we are, of course, prepared to work with whatever government – Israeli government emerges.

Yeah.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea. Do you have any idea –

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that last one, sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just with a couple months left in office, is there kind of – the framework of some sort of agreement that Secretary Rice has talked about, has something like that started to formulate that you could put in place before the end of the Administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll take our cues from the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators. You know, what progress is made will be dependent on the state of their discussions and how far they are able to proceed. Obviously, we will encourage them where we can, be a sounding board for each side to the best of our ability, be an honest broker in these discussions. But it’s fundamentally about their coming together. Now, so we mentioned the Israeli domestic political situation that has consumed quite a bit of the energy of the Israeli leadership as of late, although Foreign Minister Livni did make a point of having a meeting with her counterpart, which was very positive and sent a good message to the Palestinians.

So once you do get an Israeli Government that is fully up and running and ready to actively push forward on that front, we’ll see where those discussions lead. But we stand ready to do what we can to help the process along.

QUESTION: So there’s nothing really formulated at this point right now? I mean, there’s nothing –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the –

QUESTION: – nothing there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Israelis and Palestinians have both made quite a bit of progress on a lot of the issues. Now, they’ve kept that progress quiet in terms of the details, which, as you’ve heard from us, is a positive thing. Trying to negotiate something like this in public is not a tactic that is going to work. And it is an indication of their seriousness in trying to reach a deal that they have kept those discussions quiet. So there has been progress that has been made and we’ll see, once you have a resumption of full and active discussions, where those lead.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary already spoke today about the whole – to the Palestinian Investment Forum –

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: – and talked about the need to increase, you know, investment in the Palestinian Authority. And what the Palestinians say is, this is all good but one of the biggest impediments to really developing the Palestinian economy are the continued roadblocks and checkpoints that are stopping the, you know, free flow of goods and services across the Palestinian territory. I mean, don’t you think, other than encouraging Palestinian investment, creating a climate where the goods can flow a little bit more freely – shouldn’t the Israelis be working on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have been working with the Israelis on that, and the Palestinians. General Fraser, who has now moved on to be Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, was deeply involved in his, I guess, collateral duties as Roadmap monitor. And I– he got farther than anybody has ever gotten, in terms of trying to have each side speak in concrete terms about things like checkpoints and roadblocks, and to not just focus on, you know, gross numbers – 15 checkpoints or 15 roadblocks have been removed – but what is the actual effect, the economic effect, the effect on Palestinians’ daily lives, and the security effect for the Israelis of removing a given checkpoint or roadblock.

So I think if you speak to both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, they welcomed his role, welcomed his approach which will be continued in trying to get to the issues, the root issues, which are exactly what you identified: What’s the real impact on daily life –

QUESTION: Well –

MR. MCCORMACK: – of these given issues? But – and it’s a start. This was a start. So we are quite focused on that.

But there are a lot of different pieces to this puzzle. You know, you can’t just do them serially. You have to do them across – simultaneously across a number of fronts, whether that’s encouraging political developments, encouraging development of Palestinian institutions, working with the Israelis to remove checkpoints and roadblocks, working with the Israelis on their other obligations. They have to do these things simultaneously.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Any idea when the Six Parties are going to meet to formalize these set of verification procedures?

MR. MCCORMACK: We hope in the near future. We don’t yet have a date. I think Ambassador Kim talked about a week to ten days when we were up here on Saturday. But the Chinese will announce that formally.

QUESTION: And that would not be at ministerial level?

MR. MCCORMACK: There would be a head of delegation.

QUESTION: Head of delegation.

MR. MCCORMACK: Head of delegation.

QUESTION: And any idea when a Six-Party ministerial meeting will be held?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing scheduled at this point.

QUESTION: So that would take place after this meeting in, say, ten days?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, presuming that there would be one, yes.

QUESTION: Because previously, there had been plans for a Six-Party ministerial –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I’m not really in a – I don’t– you know, don’t take it that way. I’m just saying –

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: – that there is not one that has been scheduled at this point. We’re – let’s, one step at a time. Let’s get to the head of delegation meeting. Let’s formalize the agreement that has been reached among the six.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ENDS

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