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Near East Daily Press Briefing

Near East Daily Press Briefing

MR. MCCORMACK: I have one opening statement for you regarding travel.

At the invitation of Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico October 22nd and 23rd. While in Mexico, the Secretary will discuss a broad range of bilateral and international issues of mutual interest, including U.S.-Mexico cooperation in combating criminal groups under the Merida Initiative and joint cooperation to improve North American competitiveness.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Is she expected to have discussions about anything else related to Latin America when she’s down there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like what?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Like Venezuela, Bolivia?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I expect – yeah, I’m sure they’ll talk about hemispheric issues, regional issues, global issues, you know, bilateral issues, sure.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Financial crisis?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sure that will be a topic of discussion and the response -- the global response to a global financial crisis.

QUESTION: And can I just ask about the venue? Did she have a big hankering to go to see Puerto Vallarta or is this just where the Mexicans decided this --

MR. MCCORMACK: This was mutually convenient given all the travel schedules. Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the Secretary’s calls on the SOFA?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I can give you a list. I don’t know if I can provide much by way of content of the calls, but she reached out – there’s a division of labor within the administration. So she reached out to the chair and ranking members of her committees and then there -- some other calls that were divided up. So she did speak with Senators Biden and Lugar. She spoke with Representative Ros-Lehtinen. She reached out to Chairman Berman, who I understand was on foreign travel and their schedules didn’t mesh up in terms of calls, so I think we reached out to staff in that regard, and she also spoke with Senator Obama.

Secretary Gates spoke with Senator McCain because Senator McCain is the ranking minority member on Secretary Gates’ oversight committee, so that explains that division of labor. And I would expect that there would be other calls as we proceed through this process. I think there’s a briefing over at the White House for some staff members today on this.

QUESTION: And all of those were yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: They were yesterday afternoon, yeah, after – after my briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. And then -- so what did she tell them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well --

QUESTION: This is a good agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Talked about the text of the agreement and --

QUESTION: She used that word?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know if she used that word. That’s my word.

QUESTION: Did she talk about the draft text?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sticking with text. In like the word text. And she also talked about the process, where we stand in the process. The process is ongoing. The Iraqis are considering the text. We are talking to the Iraqis. No news to announce in that regard. The process continues.

QUESTION: Is the Administration sharing the specific language of the actual text with the Hill?

MR. MCCORMACK: I – well, in these phone calls, there wasn’t discussion of specific language. It was a general briefing on the Secretary’s calls. In terms of the briefings over at the White House today, you can talk to my White House counterparts as to exactly what was included in those briefings.

QUESTION: Is she making the case to them that this is a – that this text is a good text and this is what the Administration supports?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t think she would be making the phone calls if it weren’t the text that we supported. So yeah, it was calls in support of this text, explaining to these members of Congress what the text – you know, generally, what was in the text and the thinking behind it and again, where we are in the process.

QUESTION: And has she had any other call? Yesterday, you had mentioned that she had spoken to some of the Iraqis on --

MR. MCCORMACK: She did. We put – we should have put out a list for you of – did we put out the --

QUESTION: Has she made any more of these calls? Do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: No other calls, no. It’s – she called the Presidency Council, the five members of the Presidency Council the other day. Yeah.

QUESTION: So the U.S. side has nothing to add to this text, so it’s not free to go through the Iraqi system?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it’s fair to say right now the Iraqis are considering the text in their process. They have their own process that they’re working through in terms of what committees and what groups of people need to take a look at it.

QUESTION: So there’s nothing else for the U.S. to add on it? They’re – you’re satisfied?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, you know, the Secretary – in an answer to Matt’s question, the Secretary is making calls in support of -- you know, she wouldn’t have made the calls to the Hill yesterday if she didn’t support the text.

QUESTION: The – you can go ahead, Sue.

QUESTION: Okay. I should really know this, but should – does Congress have to agree to the text before it can go through? Do they have to give it their blessing or is it just – if they don’t agree with it, then they’ll somehow block it? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, my understanding, and you can check with the White House on this, is this is not – it’s not a treaty, so it doesn’t require congressional approval. And I think if you look back on the history of SOFA agreements, they are not traditionally things that have required congressional approval. Of course, since this is a -- you know, foreign policy, national security issues are issues of concern to all branches of government. And importantly, in this case to the Legislative and the Executive Branches, there is a briefing process that’s going on.

QUESTION: There’s been some – a lot of concern expressed from the Hill – certain people on the Hill that they were not consulted before the Administration signed off on this text and that they – were they? Were --

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to the White House about – in terms of the legislative strategy on this. We obviously are participating in it, but --

QUESTION: Well, but the State Department played a major – I mean, you had the lead – the lead negotiator for the U.S. side is a State Department official, correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s a negotiating team, which is an interagency negotiating team, of which we are a part.

QUESTION: And isn’t Satterfield the leader of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: But in terms of the interaction with the Hill, that’s something the White House has the lead on.

QUESTION: The legislative affairs office here didn’t --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we participate, absolutely. And I think Matt Reynolds was probably over at the briefings today. But again, we don’t have the lead on that aspect of it.

QUESTION: So complaints that – complaints from Congress, from members of Congress that they were not adequately – or that they think that they were not adequately briefed before this should be directed to the White House, not the State Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we – the Administration as a whole, and you know, we act as a whole, have done those things that we think are appropriate to the timing of the process and the content of the process.

QUESTION: But the complaints should be directed to the White House, and not to the State Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ve – you know, again, I’ve said what I’m going to say on the matter.

QUESTION: Sean, about the call to Senator Obama, and I understand the Pentagon has said that Defense Secretary Gates spoke to Senator McCain. What was the kind of reason for these calls? Was it, you know, one of them is going to be the next president and we want you to know this is the kind of text that we’re looking at, trying to convince them that it won’t tie their hands, things like that? I mean, what was the purpose for the call? Obviously, both of them are on either committee but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- she didn’t call all the members.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, look, there are two things at work here. There’s courtesy and protocol and standard practice with respect to speaking with ranking and minority members of committees that have oversight jurisdiction on cabinet agencies that are involved in the process; hence, the list of calls that you had. And then there’s also a practical aspect to it. Senator Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee and obviously is an important political figure in the United States, you know, because of that. So it’s – and as you said, one of Senator McCain or Senator Obama are going to be president come January, and so just in terms of the courtesy and protocol aspects of this and the practical aspects of this, we thought it was appropriate to make those calls. And Senator Obama is on the oversight committee for the State Department, so the decision was made it was appropriate for Secretary Rice to call him.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you say whether in any of the – or after any of the conversations that Secretary Rice has had with members of the committees, whether she feels there’s a need to change anything in the agreement, any of the wording or anything that she told them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have a text; the Iraqis are considering it. And if Secretary Rice didn’t support the text that was currently being considered, she wouldn’t have made the calls.

QUESTION: No, but – I understand that she agrees with what --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll let members of Congress provide their own reaction to the phone calls and everything that they’ve heard.

QUESTION: Sean, your construction is a bit – I don’t understand your construction. If Secretary Rice didn’t agree – can’t you just say that she supports it? Can’t you just put it in a positive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, sure. She supports the text, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Did she get any idea from the Iraqis in her phone call how soon they might be able to get their side of this --

MR. MCCORMACK: All I can tell you – all I can tell you is that it is an ongoing process.

QUESTION: What – I mean, obviously, you know, you wanted this done yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You wanted it done in July and it didn’t happen.

MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh. So?

QUESTION: So do you have any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t put timetables on these things, Matt. Obviously, people would like to get this done as soon as possible. I am – I have resisted up until this point, and at this late date I’m not going to change the policy of predicting when exactly it will be done.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: You called Senator Biden, you called McCain, you called --

MR. MCCORMACK: Chairman Biden, I guess I should have said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Did you also call Governor Palin?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. She – if you hadn’t noticed, she’s a governor, not a senator or congressman.

QUESTION: She’s a vice presidential candidate.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: She also has extensive foreign affairs experience. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I explained to you the reasoning behind the phone calls.

QUESTION: Anything that has to do with Russia, you would have called her?

Can we move on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: -- to something else. North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Is there anything new?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We did get an update. What I am told is, first, on the reactor, that the North Koreans have, in their efforts, reversed all their reversals in the reactor, all the seals are back on, the surveillance equipment is back reinstalled, and the equipment that had been removed is back where it had been.

QUESTION: So --

MR. MCCORMACK: In addition to that, they have moved – removed more rods from the reactor. So on the reactor, they have actually gone beyond where they were prior to their reversing the disablement steps.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Now, on the reprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities, they have not yet gotten to that baseline where they were before. Still work to be done there, but progress on it.

QUESTION: Okay. So, and this is – these are – this information is coming from the Americans who are on the ground there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: And so you’re satisfied that they are really doing what they said that they would?

MR. MCCORMACK: Thus far, yes, yes.

QUESTION: And what about the verification protocol?

MR. MCCORMACK: The?

QUESTION: The verification protocol? Did they present it? Did you get --

MR. MCCORMACK: The next step is the scheduling and then convening of a heads of delegation meeting. We expect that that will take place. The Chinese, as chair of the Six-Party process, have not yet announced the date for that, so I’m not going to get out ahead of them. But we expect that that will happen in the coming period of time.

QUESTION: So it will be presented there?

MR. MCCORMACK: What, the verification?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: What we expect is that this will be affirmed, including in writing, by the Six-Party process – the agreement that was reached between the United States and North Korea, the United States acting on behalf of the other members of the Six-Party Talks as the chair of the verification working group.

QUESTION: Understanding your reluctance to give timetables on something, do you have any idea when the – I mean, are you hopeful that that meeting can happen within a week or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll just – the coming period of time, Matt. Again, I don’t want to get out ahead of the Chinese. But you know, again, there are specific dates that are being discussed.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: So it’s not a question of --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s not theoretical. There are actually dates that are being discussed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not yet fully agreed upon and therefore not yet announced, but still being discussed.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Just when you said that, actually, additional fuel rods have been removed from the reactor, have they been able to set any type of timeline when they expect the fuel rods to be completed at this point since they’ve started to remove additional --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have a timeline for you. The information I have is that 60 percent of their reactor rods have been removed. So, 60 percent of the reactor rods have been removed.

QUESTION: I just wanted to kind of drive the nail in the coffin of something that came up yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Okay.

QUESTION: This report that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Always welcome.

QUESTION: -- the Secretary – yeah, that’s – I’ve been told it’s not true, but I just want to have you on the record saying that it’s not true, that the Secretary wrote a letter to Khaled Meshaal of Hamas. You saw this report?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. Not true.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not true. Has there been any contact between the United States and Hamas in the last --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: -- I don’t know, ever?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Russia? Can you confirm that there is going to be a meeting between U.S. and Russian officials on the missile shields, the anti-missile shields?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll – I know we have ongoing consultations with them on it. Let me check to see if there is a specific meeting that’s scheduled. I’m not aware of one, Sylvie, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t --

QUESTION: Apparently, there’s one --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- there isn’t one.

QUESTION: -- before the end of the month.

MR. MCCORMACK: There well could be. Let me check for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Yes, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: On the Visa Waiver Program, any prospectives for Romania joining it? How are the negotiations going on?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the Visa Waiver Program, I think there’s going to be a ceremony --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- over at the White House soon involving the President making certain announcements, and I’m not going to get out ahead of the President.

QUESTION: Okay. After that, though, can you or someone let us know about what your consultations have been with the Greeks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, once the – once it’s done.

MR. MCCORMACK: When – absolutely, we’ll have somebody do that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: One more North Korea question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I heard this – I heard that the Government of North Korea has ordered that their embassy officials around the world not to go outside from their embassy. Have you heard that information?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t heard that. There are, of course, certain restrictions within the United States with respect to the movement of North Korean representatives to the UN outside of New York City, but I’m not aware of anything beyond that. And any instructions from North Korea to their own officials would – any explanation of that would have to be offered by the North Koreans.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ENDS

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