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Near East Daily Press Briefing

Near East Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 23, 2008

INDEX:

TRANSCRIPT:

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10:40 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. I will put out a longer statement concerning the human rights situation in Iran, but I think it is safe to observe that the situation has continued to deteriorate. The latest example of that is the closure on December 21st of the Center for Defense of Human Rights, which was the center that is sponsored by and run by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. But I have a longer statement that we will put out after the briefing for you on that. And with that, I would be pleased to take your questions.

Des.

QUESTION: Do you have any reading on what’s going on in Guinea and how the government feels (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Well, we’re trying to – the short answer is we’re trying to get a solid read exactly on what the political situation is there. I would start off by expressing our condolences on the passing of President Lansana Conte. Right now, the situation appears fluid. There are a lot of reports about the military moving in staging a coup. There are other reports that the government is still in charge. Our people on the ground report that the situation in Conakry is relatively peaceful, but again it remains a fluid situation.

We’ve put out a Warden Message which I can make available to you afterwards. It’s also publicly available on the website of the Embassy. But what we want to see is the transition to a more democratic governing structure for the people of Guinea. We are prepared to work with them on that. But at the moment, we need to be able to get a better handle on exactly what the political situation is. Suffice it to say, we want it to trend and move immediately into a process that leads to a transition to democratic – more democratic governance in Guinea.

Sir.

QUESTION: Yes. A number of Georgian officials said in the last couple of days that Tbilisi and Washington work on a new – my understanding is a framework agreement. So far, we haven’t heard anything from the U.S. Government. Do you have anything to say on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: A new frame –

QUESTION: Framework agreement.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check –

QUESTION: A bilateral –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check into it for you. Is this like a bilateral investment treaty or something else or –

QUESTION: No, no, no. I think just –

MR. MCCORMACK: Is it a political framework agreement?

QUESTION: – political cooperation, security, economic, like –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: – all spheres.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we obviously have very close cooperation with Georgia on a number of different fronts, whether that’s political, economic or on security. I’ll check with you to see whether or not that is going to be memorialized in some more formal way. We already have a number of formal mechanisms that bind our two countries together.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Staying on Georgia, do you have any reaction to the conclusion of the Russian investigation stating that Georgia committed genocide in South Ossetia?

MR. MCCORMACK: I had not seen those reports, but –

QUESTION: It’s a new investigation. It was published today, a Russian investigation.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. You know, please excuse me if I’m a little bit doubtful about not only the process which led to that conclusion, but also the conclusion.

QUESTION: You are doubtful the Georgian committed –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that didn’t happen.

QUESTION: It didn’t happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: But you think they could have committed some crimes, even if it’s not genocide?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have people that are – have been and continue to look at the situation in South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia in the wake of the military actions that were taken there. That’s an ongoing look. And it doesn’t matter from our perspective who would be responsible for anything – any potential crimes that were committed. We’re just interested in seeing that anybody who committed any crimes would be held to account. I don’t have a read for you as to what, if anything, our people have found at this point. But we will continue to look at it and we’ll try to update you along the way as to what we find.

QUESTION: So – but when will it be – will it be published?

MR. MCCORMACK: It will – I’m not sure that it’s something that’s will be published in public. Like I said, we’ll try to commit to informing you along the way. The timing depends on the facts and their ability to gather facts and draw some conclusions in which they have confidence from those facts.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Gollust. You’re set? No.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything to say – apparently, the Government of Iraq is moving to expel the MEK, close that famous Camp Ashraf

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. intervened or have –

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that we’re talking to the Government of Iraq. This is part of the process of handover responsibilities that was – has been taking place for quite some time. But also, it’s also now memorialized and enshrined in the recent agreements that we’ve signed with the Iraqi Government.

We wanted to ensure that rights are protected, that any individuals, whether they are in Camp Ashraf or elsewhere, that their rights are protected whether they remain in Iraq or they end up elsewhere. So that is our general concern.

As for the disposition of these particular individuals, it’s probably, at this point, too early for me to offer any particular comment as to where they might end up. But our – we will continue to monitor the situation and take a look at it with respect to those general principles that I’ve outlined.

QUESTION: Would you oppose – I think the Iraqis’ idea would be to send them back to Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: This is an ongoing process right now. I don’t think the end of the story has been written. You know, ultimately, Iraq is a sovereign country and they have a large degree of say over what happens with respect to the people in their territory. I say “large degree of say,” because there are also international standards and conventions that one would want to make sure that the Iraqis as well as any country around the world abided by. But this is an ongoing story that the conclusion of which has not yet been written.

Sir.

QUESTION: Amid the anticipation and momentum that the camp in Guantanamo will be closed or otherwise dealt with, China seems to have been stepping up its calls for those 17 Uighur detainees and they again repeated their opposition to any country taking them. Where do you come down on that, and is there – are you hearing from the Chinese directly about these – this demand again?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know the – when is the last time we have heard from the Chinese. It could be very recently. I just don’t know. We understand their point of view. We don’t believe that, at this point, that it would be prudent to try to repatriate these individuals who are in Guantanamo to China. I don’t think that that is an option at this point.

We have been working quite diligently to try to close down Guantanamo over a course of years. This isn’t something that has just happened. And we have made a lot of progress towards either, you know, releasing individuals or repatriating them to their country of origin or to third countries where we can be assured of a couple of things: one, that they will not be mistreated in any way; and two, that they won’t pose a further threat to the United States or any other country. And there have been periodic news releases and announcements about that. You’ve seen that they come out from the Department of Defense.

So I don’t – with respect to the Uighurs, I don’t have anything new to report. I have noticed recently some news reports specifically coming out of Europe that are quite encouraging with respect to a – I guess you can say a new attitude on the part of some of the European countries in the EU. And I think Portugal and Foreign Minister Luis Amado should be praised for what they have done, sort of blazing a trail for new European attitudes in this regard. For a lot of years, we’ve – I guess you can say we’ve taken some criticism from Europe regarding Guantanamo and the issues of detainees, and it’s great to see now that some of these European countries are now stepping up to a shared responsibility, what they understand as a shared responsibility.

This didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen without a lot of work, a lot of consistent, tough, diplomatic work by Secretary Rice as well as John Bellinger and a lot of other people in this building to really bring around those attitudes. And that’s gratifying. But beyond that, I think it is a positive thing that you see these European states now stepping up to that shared challenge because they understand that many of these people in Guantanamo pose as much a challenge to their populations as they do to the United States.

QUESTION: You cite Portugal. What other countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ve seen a number of statements out of Germany recently. And you know, I think that I’ve seen some news reporting tying this to the change in administration. You know, I can’t speak to motivations on the part of Germany or any other country, but I would say that this change in attitude, again, hasn’t come about overnight, and really is the result of just an awful lot of hard work by Secretary Rice and John Bellinger, as well as a whole lot of other people in this government.

QUESTION: Back to the Uighurs just briefly.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: China’s – how will you square for China the circle between the fact that these 17 belong to a group that you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: – you know, that the State Department itself has labeled as a terrorist organization. That’s the – that will be sort of your boilerplate line.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, you know, look, in all of these cases we have to make determinations with respect to the – whether individuals pose a continuing threat to the United States or other populations, innocent people. We don’t – the last thing in the world that we want is for somebody to be let out of Guantanamo and then cause innocent lives to be lost. That’s the last thing we want.

We also have to ensure our – assure ourselves that if people are transferred out of Guantanamo, under whatever status, that they are not going to be mistreated in any way, shape, or form. So we have to satisfy ourselves of those general conditions. I don’t want to go any further into it than that, but other than to say that, at this point, we don’t believe that it would be the right thing to do to transfer these individuals back to China.

Yeah, let’s move around here. Gollust, you have another one?

QUESTION: Yeah. In Albania, the parliament passed a measure yesterday that – to the effect of cleansing the government and civil service rolls of people connect with the –

MR. MCCORMACK: So-called Lustration law.

QUESTION: Yes. And the OSCE had some comments. Do you also?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, we have some concerns about the way that this process has unfolded. And we have spoken directly with the Albanian Government about those concerns. President – Secretary Dan Fried spoke with the Albanian President[1] about our concerns. So we’ll see how this – how this process unfolds, but it’s one that we’re watching very closely. We have engaged the Albanian Government on the issue.

It’s important in any democracy that the government govern in such a way that all people are able to participate in the future of that country. And I know that Albania is still coming to terms with its history, but in doing that, it needs to make sure that it doesn’t exclude people from daily life in Albania.

Sir.

QUESTION: Yes. On North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you give me the updated information on the discussion between U.S. and North Korea on just complicating – there’s a food aid delivery?

MR. MCCORMACK: The food aid delivery.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Good. You were – you guys had some questions yesterday. I looked into where we stand on that. We sent a fact-finding mission. They are back. And again, the nature of this mission was to find the facts and to try to see how implementation of our commitments to provide half a million metric tons of food aid were going.

Thus far, we have delivered about 128,000 metric tons or so, give or take, under that program. And we’re still trying to work through some issues that we saw on the ground. Our humanitarian program will continue. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a shipment of about 21,000 metric tons of food aid that will be – is scheduled for delivery in the not-too-distant future and will be distributed in North Korea.

So we want to try to make this work. And we are distributing this aid through the – we have distributed this aid through the World Food Program as well as some U.S. NGOs. And we’re working through some issues that we have, and that includes the availability of some Korean-speaking individuals that can work in the WFP portion of the food distribution program.

So we’re working to – you know, we’re working very hard to make this program work. Our humanitarian efforts continue, but we want to make sure as a government that the American tax dollars that provide this humanitarian aid ultimately are being put to good use. And that means that the people on the ground who need that food aid are going to get it. And part of that is making sure that we have a distribution system in which we have confidence.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: On North Korea, do you have any schedule on the North – on the U.S. and North Korea bilateral meeting very soon?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. I don’t have any schedule. I don’t know what, if any, contacts we have scheduled for the near future. You’ve heard from Secretary Rice, you’ve heard from me that we continue to work on this process, but the obstacle now for moving the Six-Party process forward is the reluctance of North Korea to sign up to a verification protocol. Once that is done, I’m sure that the process can move forward.

Sir.

QUESTION: Yes. What about the – has that the sixth shipment of the food aid already went to the North Korea now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know if I have exactly how many shipments –

QUESTION: But this time is the sixth.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s see here. We have – I don’t know how – exactly how many. All I have down here is what I’ve told you, things expressed in terms of the next shipment.

To date, a 140 – we’ve provided 140 – I’m sorry, 143 metric tons of food aid at this point. But I don’t – and the 21,000 metric tons will arrive at the end of this month, so in the not-too-distant future. I don’t know how many total shipments we have had thus far.

QUESTION: Sean, I’m not sure it matters, but you said 128,000 metric tons first time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. And that’s why I corrected it.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So it’s 100 –

MR. MCCORMACK: To 143. Yeah.

QUESTION: 143.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that was –

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That was my mistake. So the number should be 143. The 21,000 is correct, as well as the half-million – overall half-million figure.

QUESTION: Got it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, yes. No, let’s go ahead. There’s plenty – we’ve got plenty of time.

QUESTION: So I’m not sure is that – do you have any agreement about the Korean-speaking workers?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we’re still working on that.

QUESTION: Still working on it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Still working on that, yeah. It is worth noting that having those Korean speakers both as part of the WFP program, as well as within the NGO – U.S. NGO distribution system was part of our agreement with North Korea.

Sir.

QUESTION: Somalia? Pirates? Looks like there is a new twist in this saga of the high-jacked Ukrainian Vessel, MV Faina. There are numerous press reports stating a certain U.S. businesswoman, a CEO of the private security company Select Armor, whose name is Ballarin, I believe, is trying to negotiate with the pirates. The owner of the vessel, of the MV Faina, published an open letter to U.S. Ambassador in Kyiv yesterday, asking U.S. Government to interfere, because they say that her efforts basically undermine the process of trying to release the vessel. Anything on that? Where are you – what are you going to do in this situation? Have you seen this letter?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not – yeah, I’m not aware of these particular efforts.

QUESTION: Is she somehow representing the U.S. Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Well, are you going to do anything about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure that it’s within our purview to do anything about it. I’m sure we’ll take a look at it. I’m not aware of the reports that you refer to.

Sir.

QUESTION: There’s a report that the U.S. is asking South Korea to send troops to Afghanistan. Is that – is that true?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have made no such request at this point. We very much appreciate the contributions that South Korea has made around the globe, whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, to assisting these countries get on the pathway to democracy, and part of that is helping to provide a secure environment where that can happen. But at this point, we haven’t made any such request.

Zain? Waiting for a thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.)

(The briefing was concluded at 10:59 a.m.)

ENDS

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