State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 2, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 2, 2005
Statement on Arrest of Opposition Leaders and Recent Violence
Query on U.S. View of Government
Need for Political Differences to be Resolved Peacefully and
Reports that Iran Intends to Resume Uranium Conversion at Isfahan
/ IAEA Report / Referral to UN Security Council / Need to
Cooperate IAEA and Return to Negotiations with EU-3 / Comments by
U.S. Concern that Iran not have Access to Nuclear Technology or
Know-How / On- Going Discussions with EU-3 and Russia
Iran's Support for Terrorism
Reports of Iran Recalling Some Overseas Ambassadors / Query on
Effect on Diplomatic Efforts
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Meeting with Israeli Defense
Recent Violence / Obligations Parties Have Under the Roadmap
Timeline to Replace General Ward
U.S. View of Terrorist Groups Possibly Participating in
Reports that CIA is Running Secret Prisons for Terrorist Suspects
/ Query on Effect on U.S. Public Diplomacy Efforts and Image of
U.S. Policy on Treatment of Detainees at Guantanamo
Recent Terrorism in India
Support for Insurgency / Role as Transit Point for Foreign
Imprisonment of Five Bulgarian and One Palestinian Medic / U.S.
Coordination with European Union and United Kingdom
Reports that Opposition Leader Sanjar Umarov has been Jailed
Issue of F-16s and How and When Pakistan will Move Forward with
U.S. Policy / Democracy / Hemispheric Concerns
12:46 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: I do have an opening statement. We will post this for you later. This is regarding Ethiopia and the arrest of opposition leaders. It is a statement from me.
We call on all parties to immediately show restraint to step back from the current environment of heightened political tension and call on the Ethiopian Government to establish an independent commission to investigate today's public demonstration and those of June 8th, in which dozens of demonstrators were killed.
We deplore the use of violence and deliberate attempts to provoke violence in a misguided attempt to resolve political differences. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives as a result of this senseless violence. We call on the Ethiopian Government to release all political detainees, including the many opposition supporters arrested in recent weeks. Senior opposition leaders arrested today should be treated humanely, and if charged, assured of a just and timely trial before an impartial court of law.
We call on the opposition to refrain from inciting civil disobedience during this time of heightened tension, while the ability to protest peacefully is a legitimate right in a democracy, violent demonstrations pose a substantial threat to public safety and do nothing to advance democracy. The United States believes that the best way forward for Ethiopia is through full participation of all political groups in the democratic process, including for elected members of the opposition to take their seats in parliament and to assume the administration of the city of Addis Ababa.
And with that, I'd be pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: Do you think civil disobedience is bad under all circumstances?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. What we are trying to get at here, George, is the idea that there are cynical, deliberate attempts to provoke violence, provoke a violent reaction from the other side and that is what -- the heart of what we're commenting on. Peaceful demonstrations to -- in an effort to show opposition to a law, a political outcome are certainly acceptable. Free expression is the bedrock of any democracy, but deliberate and cynical attempts to provoke violence and violent reactions and the use of violence to resolve political differences, which need to be resolved in a peaceful manner, is what we're trying to get at with this statement.
Do you have anything else, George?
QUESTION: Today --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I was going to see if George -- do you have any follow up, George?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: There (inaudible) problems in Ethiopia and the capital but on the border with Eritrea. Do you have any concerns that both sides are moving troops and tanks to the border?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would call on both sides to adhere to the agreement that they reach, which resolve their longstanding conflict. Again, we stand on the principle that any political differences that may exist or that may arise between Ethiopia and Eritrea need to be resolved in a peaceful manner and through dialogue.
QUESTION: So that's generally -- that's fair on the overall policy. But any sort of military trends that you've seen over the last few weeks that they are actually mobilizing troops, tanks to the border?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any specific information for you on that Saul.
Anything else on this? Okay. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: About Iran, sir. There are news reports today, you know, mentioning that Iran announcing officially that they will go back to their nuclear programs whatever are the results and the consequences. Any comment today?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen some news reports that -- from anonymous foreign diplomats that Iran intends to resume uranium conversion at its Isfahan plant. I think if true, this is yet another step that takes Iran in the wrong direction and serves only to further isolate Iran from the international community. What Iran should be focused on is working with the IAEA to resolve the long list of questions that the IAEA and the international community have concerning their nuclear program.
I think we have spoken out many times and the international community has spoken quite clearly, and most recently in the Board of Governors vote, to refer the issue of Iran's failure to comply with their international obligations to the Security Council. Now that referral takes the form of an IAEA report. We know that there's going to be an IAEA report that gets sent to the Security Council. What is contained in that report, in terms of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, as well as where they stand with their negotiations in the EU-3, are going to be quite important, I think, for the Security Council and the international community, the IAEA Board of Governors in determining what next steps there are with regard to Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. These are serious issues and really it is incumbent upon Iran now to answer the questions. And if true, acts like resuming uranium conversion are things that take Iran in the wrong direction. So again, I will withhold any sort of final comment on this, as I said, I'd seen the news reports but it's based on an anonymous sourcing.
QUESTION: Are you referring -- you've seen reports of Iran withdrawing people, experienced --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. I'll come back to that, Barry.
MR. MCCORMACK: If others have questions no this particular point.
QUESTION: But here in Washington, so far you've never seen any -- what the Iranian moved so far to let you think that the issue can be resolved in different manner, peacefully through dialogue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we are on a track to resolve any differences through diplomatic means. I think we have made that very clear. Secretary Rice, personally, has devoted a great deal of time and attention to this issue. Under Secretary Burns, along with Under Secretary Joseph, are our two point people on this issue, working with the IAEA, working with the EU-3 to resolve this through diplomatic means.
And we have, I think, achieved some important steps forward on the diplomatic front. If you look back at the IAEA Board of Governors, the most recent IAEA Board of Governors vote, you had a significant number of countries voting affirmatively to send -- to refer this issue to the Security Council, via a report from the IAEA. The only country that voted with Iran on this issue, voting against the resolution was Venezuela. So Iran finds itself more and more isolated on this issue. And certainly we have called for them to cooperate with the IAEA and to return to serious negotiations with the EU-3 so this can be resolved through diplomatic means.
Did you have one, Saul?
QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible) on this. Did the general idea of there being a long list of questions that are outstanding, were you at all surprised by the tone of El Baradei's remarks yesterday in this country? He's basically saying, you know, while there's progress, while there's cooperation and despite their rhetoric, we do have those things, we should, you know, let the investigation go forward and then he says, we don't need to go to escalated measures yet. It seems to, sort of, be reining in any move to report Iran to the Security Council. Did you feel that? Do you feel you're being tugged back by him?
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw his remarks, Saul, and I don't get that sense. I get the sense that he, as well as other members of the Board of Governors are interested in devoting quite a bit of energy to the diplomatic process, to try to resolve these issues through diplomatic means, through the IAEA, through negotiations with the EU-3.
It's no secret that, you know, our belief, based on Iran's track record of not cooperating with the IAEA and its trying to slow walk negotiations with the EU-3, that it is entirely possible that the matter could be referred to the Security Council. We've certainly been clear about that. But we are working patiently. We are working in a focused manner with members -- fellow members of the IAEA Board of Governors and with the EU-3 on this matter. We have made progress on the diplomatic front. But, you know, what needs to happen is there needs to be Iranian cooperation. There shouldn't be any partial credit here, half measures of cooperation are not what is needed from Iran. What Iran needs to do is they need to cooperate in full with the IAEA. They need to return to the negotiating table in a serious manner with the EU-3 and that's what we're calling on.
QUESTION: Well, on that -- can I follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: On that note, I mean to go to the issue of the ambassadors and how Iran announced that it was going to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it announced that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, one second. Is there anything else on the nuclear issue before we jump to the ambassadors? Did you have a follow up, Saul?
QUESTION: Well, if I recall correctly, after the meeting Lavrov, the Secretary in one of her news conferences said that what she got from the Russians was that they were prepared to explore ideas about how to, you know, get the Iranians to comply. Now, is one of those ideas, as is being reported, that Russia would actually have a joint venture on Russian soil with Iran and this would kind of be a substitute for the Bushehr project? Is that an idea that you would welcome?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have talked about -- and the Secretary has talked about this quite a bit -- our particular concern with respect to the Iranian nuclear program. And that particular concern is that they not -- that Iran, because of their past behavior in terms of misleading the IAEA and the rest of the world about their nuclear program, that they not have access to the technology and the know-how to do reprocessing or enrichment on their soil because that is one of the crucial pathways to being able to build a nuclear weapon. So that is a very particular concern, though not exclusive concern that we have. We have pointed to the deal that Russia negotiated with Iran as a positive step forward in addressing not only our concerns but the rest of the world's concerns that Iran not have access to that technology and that know-how on Iranian soil.
We have had continuing discussions with the EU-3 and also with Russia on how to approach the issue of Iran having access to those conversion technologies and know-how, as well as the enrichment and reprocessing technology and know-how. Those discussions, I think, are ongoing. I expect that they're going to continue up through and including the IAEA Board of Governors meeting.
But what needs to happen is you actually need to -- in order to discuss these issues with Iran, you need to have a negotiating partner. And the EU-3 currently doesn't have a negotiating partner because Iran won't return to the talks with the EU-3. If Iran returns to the talks -- negotiations with the EU-3, in a serious manner, I'm sure that there will -- there's a potential for a productive discussion to again -- to try to resolve this issue through diplomatic means.
You know, I'm certainly not in a position to preview any discussions we've had with the EU-3 at this point, but a prerequisite for any negotiations would be for Iran to return to those negotiations. They haven't chosen -- they have chosen not to do so up until this point.
QUESTION: Sean, on Iran. It's not the only nuclear -- can you confirm, according to the reports, that Iran is also supporting terrorism in Iraq and also al-Qaida -- financing al-Qaida's investing in many countries, including recent statement that wipe out Israel from the world map?
MR. MCCORMACK: On the last of those, we've commented several times. I don't have anything new to offer. You've heard from the Secretary on that as well.
In terms of Iran's support for terrorism, we issue an annual report and Iran is, according to our assessment, a state sponsor of terror -- an active state sponsor of terror -- which is destabilizing to the region and also destabilizing behavior beyond that. Of course, we call upon Iran to end its support for terror and join the rest of the world in fighting terrorism as opposed to supporting it.
QUESTION: Can we go to the ambassador question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Is there anything else on this subject?
QUESTION: Just one question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Tony Blair again saying that the military option isn't even under consideration. I just wonder, wouldn't it be helpful if the U.S. said something similar if it was a way of getting Iran sort of back into the negotiations somehow?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't necessarily make that a prerequisite for Iran getting back into the negotiations. They can certainly choose to do that on their own and they should. On this question, the Secretary had an interview with the BBC and I don't have anything to add beyond what she said at that point on the matter.
QUESTION: Okay. So Iran recalled some of their ambassadors today. They did a big reshuffle of their diplomacy, especially two ambassadors in Paris and London who were assigned by the former president, reformer. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports of this. At this point, I don't have anything -- any particular read on that action beyond the fact that it's a reshuffling of overseas representatives. We'll see, based on Iran's actions and what they have their diplomatic representatives do around the world, what kind of regime this is. We have several data points now as to what the truth face of the regime of President Ahmadi-Nejad is about in terms of its world view, its policies. We saw that at his speech at the UN. We saw that at his recent remarks in which he called for wiping Israel off the face of the map.
I think that we're -- through these remarks, starting to see the true face and the true values of this particular regime. We'll see if this action has any -- is a deeper indication of the intent and the policies of the regime. But at this point, I can't ascribe any particular motive to it beyond the fact they're reshuffling their ambassadors.
QUESTION: Sean, can I follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Some of the ambassadors that they've announced that they're going to recall include the ambassador to the United Nations who is seen more as a moderate and has been instrumental in the negotiations on the nuclear front, the ambassador to London and Geneva also seen as moderate and West-leaning. Are you afraid -- you talk about that you've made some diplomatic progress -- it was with these diplomats and are you including others, of course, but these were involved -- and are you concerned that these moves might actually hinder the diplomatic traffic you're trying to go along?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we'll see what Iran -- who they replace these ambassadors with and what they ask them to do, what actions they take. Certainly, it would not be a positive step if Iran, through its appointments and what it asks those ambassadors to do, further isolates itself from the rest of the world. I don't think that's good for the Iranian people and I don't think that's good for the rest of the world, given Iran's destabilizing behavior on several different fronts. So we would, again, encourage them to engage in a responsible manner with the EU-3 and the IAEA, stop its support of terrorism, stop oppressing their own people, and we'll see what Iran does.
QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Okay, the Minister of Defense is here today and he's meeting with the Secretary in a couple of hours. He was in Egypt last week and talked about corridors and transfer of people and other things to Gaza. What is her message going to be at this point? We have the Wolfensohn report and she commented on it last week in Canada, but things aren't going well. I don't know that there's any other way to say that. In terms of the violence and the responses and the response to the response, so the optimism seems to have faded a bit.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she's going to have an opportunity to meet with the Defense Minister to talk about a variety of different issues, talk about regional issues, talk about ways that the Israelis and the Palestinians can coordinate their efforts to advance the cause of peace in the wake of Israel's historic withdrawal from Gaza. There are a number of different elements that you pointed out -- the issue on the crossings.
With the assistance of and the active intervention of Mr. Wolfensohn, and actually I think they have made progress on that issue. It's not done yet. We talked a little bit about that yesterday -- where there are still issues to work out. But these are, you know, these are difficult issues but they're important issues. They're important issues for the future economic viability of the Gaza and also to building on what most agreed was a successful withdrawal from the Gaza.
In terms of the violence, we've talked about that. We have talked about the importance of the Palestinian Authority acting to stop violence, to stop terror, to dismantle terrorist organizations. It's an obligation they have under the roadmap. On the Israeli side, they have obligations as well and part of them involve, under the roadmap, easing the daily plight of the Palestinian people. Part of that involves talking about crossings and checkpoints and those sorts of things.
But also we will underline, as we have in public and private, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but in taking steps and actions to defend itself, Israel must keep in mind the overall objective that all share and that is to building two states that live side by side in peace and security. So I'm sure that that will also part of the discussion this afternoon.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) recently that leads you to question that commitment of Israel -- two states living side by side in peace?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. No.
QUESTION: So why are you saying that you will emphasize this today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you brought up the issue of the recent violence in the region, obviously that will be a topic. What we encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to do is to work together to build up the mutual trust on issues related to addressing terrorism, on issues related to things like the crossings, so that's positive. We encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together. Sometimes, that involves General Ward working with both sides. Sometimes, that involves Mr. Wolfensohn working with both sides. Sometimes, that involves the intervention of Assistant Secretary Welch and even the Secretary.
But we encourage -- the way that you are going to make -- the way that you are going to make progress is to encourage those contacts and their working together. We saw good progress during the Gaza withdrawal and we would encourage a continuation of those kinds of contacts. So that will also be part of the conversation I think this afternoon.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: You mentioned General Ward --
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back, George.
QUESTION: Are you any nearer announcing who will replace him? I don't know when that decision was sort of due to come up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check and see what the timetable for that is. We are coming up on the end of General Ward's tour and we think -- I think everybody agrees that it's important that we have somebody to fill that function, partly through the mandate that he went in with and partly through his personal efforts. He was able to win the trust of both sides. We think that's an important function to continue and we'll try to keep you up to date on who that next person might be.
Saul. On this subject? We'll come back to you, George.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can the United States gave Israel about the election process in the Palestinian territories. Their concern is that Hamas could get into the government and perhaps there's a perception that the United States is not leaning hard enough on Abbas for him to put conditions on who can run. Are there any conditions that you're insisting on with Abbas that you can tell the Israelis about?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we have done, Saul, and you've heard us talk about this before is we can make very clear our position with regard to terrorist groups. You referred to some Palestinian factions, including Hamas. Those are listed as terrorist groups. We continue to treat them as terrorist groups. There's no change in that policy.
What we have told the Palestinians is that they themselves need to resolve the fundamental contradiction that is in front of them. And that is, on one hand, the same groups -- Hamas and others -- say they want to participate in a democratic political process.
On the other hand, they also want to reserve the right to commit terrorist acts and to maintain, you know, maintain their arms. You can't have it both ways. You need to resolve those fundamental contradictions and it is up to the Palestinians to find a way to resolve those fundamental contradictions.
You can't have armed militias operating outside of the rule of law. That is currently the case and for -- the Palestinian Authority understands that, President Abbas understands that. And let's not forget, a big reason for that is for the safety and protection of the Palestinian people. You know, we saw, just a little bit more than a month ago, Hamas members mishandling explosives in public and as a result, many, many innocent Palestinians lost their lives. That's what you get when you have armed militias operating outside the rule of law. That's one aspect of it.
So we have made that clear to the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli Government also understands that and that issue was also addressed by the Quartet. The Quartet, when we were up for the UN General Assembly came out with a very strong statement outlining just that position.
QUESTION: So beyond that general argument, which that you say the Palestinian leader understands, is there anything that you can lay out for him in terms of negative consequences regarding, maybe your -- the aid from the U.S. or relations with the U.S. if he doesn't move ahead of the elections on this and allows them to go ahead where these armed groups can still have --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't want to presume a certain outcome of the Palestinian elections, who the Palestinians ultimately decide who will participate in those elections. So talking about various punitive measures, I think at this point, is premature. I think that presumes a certain outcome to the elections.
QUESTION: Different topic.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Gedda.
QUESTION: There's a Kosovo Contact meeting tonight. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I will try to get you something for you.
QUESTION: I mean it'll be very interesting if you could provide at least a guest list of who will come.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Be happy to look into it and provide you with what information we have.
QUESTION: This afternoon?
MR. MCCORMACK: This afternoon. You got it.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Another subject. Yes.
QUESTION: The Washington Post reported this morning on CIA running a ring of so-called black prison sites. Does Secretary Rice think that that's one of the best ways to proceed in the global war on terror? And what effect does this report have on Under Secretary Hughes' ability to reach out and look for support in the global war on terror?
MR. MCCORMACK: I read those same news reports and I think the reports discussed the CIA. I am certainly not in a position to confirm anything in those news reports and I think those questions about those particular news reports are best addressed to the CIA or the DNI.
QUESTION: New topic or is there something --
MR. MCCORMACK: I have a feeling others want to ask questions about this. Yeah. Why don't we go over here and I'll come back to you.
QUESTION: In those reports, though, they mention Eastern European democracies and, you know, with that in mind, how damaging could news like that be to U.S. foreign policy? I mean, the news is out there now so --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Again, any questions on this topic, I'm going to refer you over to the CIA.
QUESTION: I think one thing we're interested in is the public diplomacy, the image of the United States involving such reports. We saw what can happen when reports cause a reaction over the desecration of the Koran.
The question originally was about Karen Hughes. Karen Hughes said that there were task forces around the world in embassies when the reports would come out then, the U.S. embassies would be proactive. They would get their message out. What are you doing to preserve the image of the United States amid this report? Does everyone in their embassy say, "Sorry, it's a CIA issue, you have to go talk to them?"
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that the general issue -- and again, I can't comment on the particular news report that you're referring to -- the general issue before us in the war on terror is how do we deal with individuals who are committed to violence, who are committed to the use of terror and killing innocent civilians, people who do not recognize any set of international standards or any set of international rules or any set of commonly accepted behaviors.
We, of course, as a signatory of the Geneva Convention, as well as others, need to -- since 9/11 searched for ways to apply those rules to a group of individuals who don't play by any rules. And, you know, these are tough issues. These are difficult issues and we have ongoing discussions on a variety of different fronts with countries around the world about these issues because the threat from terrorism and individuals who are committed to use of terror is a common threat to democracies and peace-loving nations around the world, including the United States.
Our view with regard to detainees at Guantanamo Bay is clear. Our policy is to treat all detainees in accordance with international obligations and the principles of the Geneva Convention. And detainees are provided with proper shelter, clothing, three meals per day that meet cultural dietary requirements, and medical care. Each detainee is also allowed to exercise his religious beliefs and those requesting them have been issued prayer beads, rugs and copies of the Koran. And we always strive for transparency in our operation at Guantanamo to the extent possible in the light of security and operational requirements. We have a continuous ICRC -- International Committee of the Red Cross -- presence at Guantanamo Bay. There have been numerous journalists who have visited Guantanamo Bay. Numerous foreign diplomats have also visited Guantanamo Bay. So you know, certainly, we understand that this is a difficult issue.
Our effort is to try to explain in as clear a manner what it is that we do at Guantanamo Bay, how we treat terrorist enemy combatants. And in those cases, like Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers are accused of mistreating detainees, that those allegations are thoroughly, quickly and transparently investigated. We have seen the military deal with a number of these cases in which those who have been found guilty of offenses, mistreatment of detainees, have been punished. And that is what we can do in terms of trying to explain the general issue, but also how our attempts to address the issue.
QUESTION: Well, why can't you talk more about the allegations of secret camps?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again --
QUESTION: I mean, you talk about the openness at Gitmo, but you don't want to talk about other allegations which are out there and which affect people around the world in Arab and Muslim countries that you're trying to convince you're doing the right thing there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, I know the news reports. I've read them myself. And in terms of what was reported, it refers to the CIA, the intelligence community, and I'd refer all questions on that matter to the intelligence community.
QUESTION: Understood. But reports like this that are out there -- true, untrue -- can only make Karen Hughes' job that much harder. How does she deal with that then?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that those -- what I was trying to answer Saul's question in talking about the issue that we face. The issue that we face, again, is how to deal with a group of people, with individuals who are committed to killing innocents, who follow no set of rules. How do we as a country of laws, how do we as a country that stands by its international obligations, how do we deal with it, with that problem? And you know, we've had lots of discussions, from here at the State Department, at the White House, at Department of Defense and Department of Justice and elsewhere outlining how we have -- our attempts to deal with that issue.
And what we can do, what Karen can do, what I can do, what others can do, is to try to explain the issue before us, before the world, and talk about how we -- the solutions that we have come up with at this point to deal with this problem. It's a tough problem.
QUESTION: You talk about transparency, and now, you know, we've just heard from Rumsfeld that you're not going to allow this UN team to speak to prisoners in Guantanamo. That doesn't look very transparent, does it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess appearances can be deceiving. I just talked a lot about who we have had visiting Guantanamo as well as who is there on a continuous basis. The decision that you talk about was announced by the Department of Defense but it was a government-wide decision and supported by the inter-agency.
The fact of the matter is, is that there is a continuous monitoring presence by the ICRC at Guantanamo Bay. They work very closely with the people running the facility at Guantanamo Bay to address any issues and concerns that may come up. We've had numerous foreign diplomats visit Guantanamo Bay as well. We have had many journalists travel down to Guantanamo Bay. So it is a place where we have made very real attempts, and I think very serious attempts, to open it up to the outside world.
Now, the Department of Defense can talk a little bit more and in more detail about the various restrictions that they -- and the reasons for the restrictions that they have for -- at Guantanamo. But the fact is there have been numerous visitors down there and there is a continuous presence down there.
QUESTION: The transparency applies only -- the transparency applies only to some detainees. The Red Cross does not have access to all detainees. Would you concede that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, what I can talk about, George, are the people being held at Guantanamo Bay.
QUESTION: Sean, the matter is not just for CIA -- the allegation of these secret prisons -- because the State Department is the go-between with foreign governments and you comment all the time on Gitmo issues and conversations that you have with foreign governments on that. So how can you refer everything to the CIA? And if this isn't true, wouldn't it be easy and quick for you to say it's not true?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have anything to add on the issue.
QUESTION: Well, it's not just a CIA issue.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have anything else for you on the issue.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) we'll come back to you, Saul.
QUESTION: Back to the rules and sort of these are people who have broken rules and how to deal with them. I mean, would you say that having secret prisons, which probably would break most -- most of the international community's sort of view of what -- of treating prisoners would be a wrong -- a wrong thing to do to have secret prisons with -- even if they have broken rules. In other words, it would be America breaking the international community's own idea of what convention is about the treatment of prisoners.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this is a way of getting back at The Washington Post story today and I don't have anything else to add.
QUESTION: Can you explain it probably from a different point of view, that the United States is not alone anyway? There are agreements with those countries to operate on their soil and having to run a prison or a facility like that for whoever is -- I mean, could you comment from the -- probably the international cooperation angle probably, this is the result of the war on terror, you know, and the cooperation on the international front?
MR. MCCORMACK: Good try. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) specific thing on the State Department's reaction. The story came out late for most of us, but during daylight hours in Asia and Muslim countries in Asia. Were the public diplomacy task forces mobilized? Was there any order sent out to, okay, we've got this out, this is obviously going to be big news; it's not good, true or false, for our image; here's how you deal with it?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have had a number of efforts certainly over the past several weeks, and even extending beyond that to open up a discussion and have a discussion with the rest of the world, various publics around the world, about the issues related to detainees. And at this point, Saul, I don't have any particular information to guide you to on this news report, but it is a topic that we do try to provide our posts abroad the best possible information that we can so they can engage in a conversation on the matter.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: This is a kind of old story that seems to be resurrecting itself about the United Arab Emirates and how the President, the late President, Sheikh Zayed, extended this proposal to offer Saddam Hussein exile and there were some reports that the Arab League kind of, you know, rejected it but that Saddam was willing to accept it and it was just because the Arab League rejected it that it didn't go forward.
Did the United States know about this proposal at the time and, if so, what were your thoughts on the matter? Did you take it seriously? Was it considered in this building?
MR. MCCORMACK: It was before my time here. I'll be happy to --
QUESTION: Well, you were at the National Security Council and dealing with foreign policy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Got me. (Laughter.) I'll check into it for you and see if there's any -- I'll look back at the records, see if there was any comment at the time and if there is, you know, if there is any other comment we can provide you at this time about the story.
QUESTION: Do you -- there was a lot of talk at the time about Saddam Hussein perhaps going into exile and averting the war. Do you regret that he didn't take any of these proposals seriously and perhaps avoid the bloodshed that took place in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think this is ground that has been well covered.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal.
QUESTION: Sean, let's talk about terrorism in India. I'm going to question you on two letters from our readers. But anyway the first one is another bomb this morning and killing many people in Kashmir during the oath of the new Chief Minister of the Indian state of Kashmir. And scores of people were killed by three bombs in New Delhi just days before and then a week ago another bomb killing dozens in Kashmir. Victims are Hindu worshippers.
So what's going on fighting this terrorism that this reader is writing that over 50,000 people have been killed in India since 1994 by the terrorism and supported by -- across the border from Pakistan is still continuing and we're talking about fighting against terrorism but terrorism still goes on in this part of the world?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, unfortunately, Goyal, terrorism doesn't know any borders. It doesn't respect any religion. We mourn the loss of life in India, just as we mourn the loss of life in Indonesia, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in England, in Spain, in the United States. So terrorism certainly is not limited to one country; it's a global scourge that we work closely with India as well as other governments to fight.
QUESTION: Another just on --
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's move it around, Goyal. We've got a lot of question right here.
QUESTION: This is on Syria. I apologize for it being lengthy, but I've submitted a lot of questions on Syria in the past few days and not been able to get answers, so I was hoping I could get them today. Secretary Rice has frequently said that Syria has allowed foreign fighters to come through the airport at Damascus and that is, so far, been their most specific evidence that's been presented to the world as to Syria's support for the insurgents. And I'm wondering can you give us more specifics about it, like how many people and can you definitively say that more foreign fighters come through Syria than any other port of entry?
I mean, recent research has shown that 50 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq are actually Saudi Arabian -- are believed to be Saudi Arabian and that the large number of foreign fighters in Iraq are actually Algerian. So I'm wondering, you know, the real accusation against Syria on this point is that it's a transit point, that it's a point of transit. And I'm wondering what specifics can you tell us about why the Secretary is so convinced that Syria could stop these foreign fighters from coming in and that so many are coming in, more than any other place?
MR. MCCORMACK: There was a lot in that question. In terms of the nationalities of suicide bombers, as with several aspects of your question, the military is probably in the best position to provide some specific statistics. But the -- we have talked about Syria as a transit point. They have, obviously a long border with Iraq that has longstanding smuggling routes and it is the belief of our military commanders as well as the Iraqi Government that there is a quite serious problem with foreign fighters coming in to Iraq via Syria in order to kill Iraqis. And in terms of the relative problem of controlling the borders and foreign fighters coming in across various borders, our military commanders on the ground as well as the Iraqis have identified the Syrian border as the biggest problem, their greatest concern.
So that is why we have been -- we and the Iraqis -- the Iraqis themselves have spoken out on this -- have been insistent that Syria control that border. And I think the fact that Syria, immediately after their troop withdrawal, was able to, in a very effective and quick manner, able to completely close down the border with Lebanon, that they certainly have the capability to better control the border with Syria -- with Iraq. So they have a proven capability to be able to control their borders. We can only, given the fact that there is still a continuing flow of foreign fighters coming over that border into Iraq, we can only assume that the Syrian Government is choosing not to control that border.
QUESTION: Now, obviously the Syrians say that they don't have all the training necessary, the equipment necessary and also even the cooperation from the Iraqis and Americans necessary that needs -- that they need in order to close the border, and they cite, you know, last year the British sent a delegation to the Syrian border. They even asked for the names of Syrian officials that could be sent to training and they organized for night-vision goggles and stuff. Now, that proposal was put on hold, hasn't gone forward.
And the other issue is that in September there was this conference in Amman where the Iraqis were -- went to speak with border officials from their neighbors and do this technical cooperation at that time, and the Syrians were originally invited and the invitation was rescinded, I understand, from the, you know, personal intervention of Rumsfeld and possibly even the Secretary.
So I'm wondering if you really want that kind of -- can the Syrians do it by themselves or, you know, don't you think they might need to have some cooperation? Or is the idea that the Syrians should be doing it by themselves and there's no need to communicate at all with the Iraqis or with the Americans on the ground, whereas in other countries there is that need?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there have been -- this didn't just pop up in the last couple of months. There have been repeated and numerous high-level attempts to engage the Syrian Government on this issue. Secretary Powell has spent a lot of time on this issue. Assistant Secretary Burns spent a lot of time on this issue. Deputy Secretary Armitage spent a lot of time with this issue -- on this issue. Yet they have failed to act.
And I don't think that this is really a matter of, you know, working with a particular set of border guards or even a particular agency within the Syrian Government. The problem is a lack of will on the part of the Syrian Government to take action. That's the issue. And we have had high-level, very high-level engagement on this issue. Yet time after the time, the Syrian Government, in the face of repeated requests, not only from the United States Government but from the Iraq Government to act, has failed to do so.
So that's -- so I know the Syrian Government would very much like to turn this into somebody else's problem, but the fact of the matter is it is the Syrian Government, through their failure to act, that has gotten themselves in this position and finds themselves isolated on this issue.
QUESTION: Do you know if it was the Iraqis or the Americans who didn't want the Syrians to come to that conference?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have particulars on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) visiting and meeting with the President, British press reporting things like he will be explaining to the President -- (inaudible) quoting the British media here -- how Americans are too intolerant towards Islam. Could you comment --
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the visit to the White House, you're going to have to -- I'd refer you over to the White House.
QUESTION: Well, what was your take on this foreign personality, like explaining to the President what Islam is about? Does the White House --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the White House can answer your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Libya and the case of the Bulgarian nurses? Are U.S. officials in any way involved in working with the Libyan Government to come up with a plan for helping the nurses and does that involve the government in some way getting rid of the death penalty?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our view on this, Saul, the right outcome here is for the Libyan Government to release immediately the five Bulgarian and one Palestinian medics -- five Bulgarian medics and one Palestinian that are part of this case. We're concerned about both their prosecution and their treatment since being incarcerated. And our belief is that there is no evidence to suggest that the medical personnel conspired to intentionally infect children with HIV. This is a tragic story. It involves the infection of over 400 children and we -- at the highest levels of the State Department have been involved in this issue.
Assistant Secretary Welch when he visited Tripoli repeated in private what I have said here, urged the Libyan Government, and pressed them to release these individuals. Secretary Rice most recently in September in her meeting with the Libyan Foreign Minister repeated the same request. So this is -- it's a topic that we work -- that we have been working with the Libyans. We have been working with the EU and also with the Bulgarians. I know that when she met recently with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister that she also talked about this issue.
QUESTION: But does that work with the Libyans in any way involve getting to some kind of deal, maybe even a face-saving deal whereby they can avoid the death penalty or maybe pay compensation to victims and be released?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well --
QUESTION: Was there any deal making going on or is it just that's our position, we think they should be released immediately?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would say, you know, Saul, that we are working very closely with the EU. We are working very closely with the Bulgarians, as well as the Libyans. And I know that the EU is taking a lead in developing a humanitarian assistance plan for the infected children and their families. And we are coordinating closely with not only the Bulgarians and the EU, but also the UK on this issue. So I think at this point we are in a position to provide a diplomatic support in this effort and I think the EU is really on the lead in terms of any potential humanitarian package.
QUESTION: Well, what about talks on the release of the Bulgarians or is it all about humanitarian assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, from our part, we have been -- we have urged the Libyans to release these individuals. As for any potential assistance -- assistance package, it's an issue that the EU is working on.
Yes, we're going to move around.
QUESTION: Do you know whether the U.S. is considering a reported request by the Saudi Government to release Saddam Hussein's half brother from U.S. custody?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of such a request. We'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: I just have one more follow up on Syria. If controlling the border is such -- is so important, it's obviously, you know, key to saving American lives and Iraqi lives, why is it being left to the Syrians to do this who are clearly untrustworthy? I mean, if you go to the border, you'll see that it's largely unprotected on the Iraqi and American side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Iraqis and multinational forces have devoted significant resources to try to prevent influx of foreign fighters across that border. But as the Secretary pointed out, these -- you know, these people aren't just sneaking across the border, they're coming in through the international airport in that -- Syria's capital. So we think, you know, again, the Iraqis and multinational forces certainly are making concerted efforts to prevent that inflow of foreign fighters. You point out that this inflow of foreign fighters -- has killed a number of Iraqis. I don't have specific statistics on this, but I think that looking back over the past -- over the past year certainly many more innocent Iraqis have died than multinational forces. So the effect of this Syrian inaction to control their border is -- the effect of that is innocent Iraqis are dying, as well as the effects on our forces as well.
QUESTION: Would you guys be willing to go public with the number of people you think are coming through that airport? I mean, you clearly have some evidence because this claim is repeated over and over again. Can we get some more specifics?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll try to get you some specifics. Anything that we can share in public I'd be happy to provide.
Yes, sir. Waiting patiently.
QUESTION: Okay. I'm sorry I was late. (Inaudible) in Ethiopia. As you may know, more than 50 people have been killed -- journalists are in jail and opposition party members. All of them are in jail. And then 1,000 people have been killed. Are you going to review the relationship between Ethiopia (inaudible) the region and the U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we --
MR. MCCORMACK: At the beginning of the briefing I had a statement about the recent outbreak of violence in Ethiopia and part of our diplomatic engagement with the Ethiopian Government is to call upon them to release those who -- the party leaders, the opposition party leaders who were arrested on November 1st.
Another part of our dialogue is to urge both sides to refrain from violence or attempts to provoke a violent reaction from the other side, those, you know, what we see are cynical attempts in order to provoke a violent reaction from the other side. That is not the way to resolve what are political differences. Political differences in a democratic system need to be resolved through political dialogue. And certainly, we have -- we talked earlier about the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. We absolutely support that as a bedrock principle of any democratic system.
QUESTION: Follow up on that -- (inaudible) so many reports the U.S. have been saying this region (inaudible) a progressive African leader. Are you still abide by that statement? Do you think this government has a progressive African regime?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have been working with this government in order to move the democratic process forward. As part of that effort, we have urged them to release political opposition leaders, to allow peaceful demonstrations and to refrain from violence to resolve political differences. We believe that those behaviors, certainly, are indicative -- follow through on those behaviors are indicative of a country that is moving along the pathway to democracy. Certainly, the recent violence is a cause for serious concern. Our ambassador on the ground has been deeply engaged with the -- both the opposition as well as the Ethiopian Government. We have had officials from Washington travel to Ethiopia. We have a Deputy Assistant Secretary recently travel to the region. Under Secretary Burns has been involved in this issue. So we are encouraging the Ethiopian Government to engage in certain types of behaviors that I've outlined and as a way to indicate that they are continuing to progress along the pathway to democracy.
QUESTION: Sean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's move around. George.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment regarding the jailing of a leading Uzbek opposition leader Sanjar Umarov?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We have -- I've seen the news reports and the reports coming from his family and his lawyers about mistreatment by the Uzbek authorities. The very fact of these reports is deeply troubling. I am not in a position, nor we as the U.S. Government, are in a position to confirm those reports. We have gone in at the level of ambassador to the Uzbekistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find out the facts, to get the ground truth on this issue. We're going to continue to press it and, you know, certainly the fact of other sort of violent, repressive behaviors on the part of the Uzbek Government in the form of the Andijan incident gives us greater pause when we hear this kind of report, which we do take seriously. So we're following up on it. Don't have all the facts on it yet.
QUESTION: Sean, quick question. Earlier, we had a briefing on the humanitarian assistance and earthquake in Pakistan. It's sad, of course, over 70,000 may have killed so far in the earthquake and help is reaching very little to the victims. The question is here, according to many reports and also a letter to us that when we need millions of dollars to help the victims of earthquake, why do Pakistan need 72 F-16s and where and how are they going to pay for it? It's from the earthquake aid or from where? These are reports and letters to us from our readers and including many of the reports. So where do we stand as far as aid to the victims and F-16s, which will cost $5 to 6 billion dollars? And now, Pakistan is seeking $5 billion for this earthquake.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the issue of F-16s, the decision to -- whether to move forward and in what way to move forward is going to be one from the Pakistani Government to make.
QUESTION: Thank you. It's about Venezuela. President Bush said the United States did not object to South America nation build a nuclear reactor, and specific with Venezuela. My question is has the policy towards Venezuela changed, is steering to other direction, specifically because of the Summit of America?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy with regard to Venezuela has been perfectly consistent over time. We have talked about -- the United States can work with democratic governments of a variety of different orientations, whether those be described as center-right or center-left or, you know, right down the middle. We're certainly prepared to work with any democratic government in the hemisphere.
What gives us pause is, as we have talked about in the past, when governments do not govern in a democratic manner. We've talked about our concerns with respect to President Chavez. We have also expressed, in the past, various concerns about Venezuela's behavior in the hemisphere. So, you know, we look forward to a good Summit of the Americas in Argentina and to having a productive discussion with other leaders in the region about ways to promote democracy, to promote good governance, and to promote the expansion of free and fair trade, which we believe addresses the very issues of common concern to everybody in the hemisphere, is how to lift up those who are living in very difficult circumstances.
QUESTION: So do you see this Summit of America like a reduction of tension between Venezuela and United States? Is it opportunity to approach policies?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, like I said, we are willing to work with all democratically elected governments. We have an Embassy in Caracas. We have an ambassador there. We have diplomatic engagement with the Venezuelan Government on a daily basis. You know, again, our concern becomes when the governments that are democratically elected do not govern democratically or use democratic means for non-democratic ends.
QUESTION: Do you refer to that to specifically to Hugo Chavez? He's no government democratically in Venezuela.
MR. MCCORMACK: We've talked about this many times in the past.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
DPB # 187
Released on November 2, 2005