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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 16 2005

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 16, 2005


Upholding the Constitution and Defending the American People

Muslim Brotherhood Reconsidering the Peace Treaty with Israel /
Democracy in the Region

Remarks by President Ahmadi-Nejad Reportedly Misunderstood
Iran's Support of Terrorism / Welcoming Hamas to Tehran /

Extension of UN IIC Mandate and Expansion of Mandate

HAMAS Showing in Elections
Hamas Participation in Government Contradictory to Democratic
U.S. Assistance in Democratic Process

Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza in Brussels Regarding
Discussions by Deputy Assistant Secretary re PKK in Europe

Implementing Rafah Accord / Missed Deadline / Moving Forward to
Solve Issues


12:35 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. It seems like the motivation level among the press corps for the briefing seems to be pretty low this afternoon. I want it recorded that we did actually come out here when we said we would.

Okay. I don't have any opening statements so we'll jump right into your questions.

(No response.)


MR. MCCORMACK: You've been nominated.

QUESTION: I've been nominated. Do you have anything on this story of the NSA apparently has been given some -- was given some special powers after 9/11 to track people's phone calls and generally spy on people, I suppose would be the way of expressing it? Do you have any comment on that all because it's a fairly unpopular move in Europe and in other places and it's raised some questions on people's rights, privacy rights in particular.

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MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Scott McClellan over at the White House talked about this a little bit and Secretary Rice did this morning on some of the morning shows. I don't have anything more to offer really than they did on this matter. The story involves intelligence operations or alleged intelligence operations. That is, as you know, is not something that I can comment on from this podium. We wouldn't want to, inasmuch as intelligence operations are sensitive operations and by speaking about them in public you might undermine their effectiveness. We can't do that in public.

The Secretary, in her remarks on this subject, underlined the fact that the President took an Oath of Office to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. That's what he does. We, in our actions, abide by the Constitution, our laws, and people who work for the U.S. Government aren't asked to break the laws. The President also has responsibility to defend the American people and that has been one of his primary focuses since 9/11, since the threat came home to American shores of terrorists plotting overseas to kill innocent American civilians.

QUESTION: Has the State Department made any requests to use these special powers abroad?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't have any further comment on the story.


QUESTION: In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is -- well, had quite a success during the elections and now they are following the path of Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad and they want to -- they said recently that they want to reconsider the peace treaty with Israel and it should be the object of a referendum. Do you have any comment on that, any doubt?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, there are a number of independent candidates that won seats in the past Egyptian parliament -- the recent parliamentary election in Egypt. In terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, that was a proud moment for the Egyptian people. It was a proud moment in the long history of Egypt. And there was worldwide and near universal acclaim for the bold step that President Sadat took in signing that peace agreement.

We encourage the building up of the relationship between Egypt and Israel. They have diplomatic relations. They do have a political dialogue. We encourage the expansion of that political dialogue. That's the direction we think the relationship should head.

QUESTION: If I can follow up.


QUESTION: Okay. I understand what you mean, but don't you think that in encouraging the spread of democracy in the Middle East there is danger of -- the risk of some movement appearing and not following this -- the path you would like them to follow?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We think that ultimately, if given the choice, that people throughout the region, no matter what country they live in, given the choice between a life of uncertainty, threat of violence, limited prospects for greater prosperity, and the alternative of greater freedoms, greater freedom of expression, the prospect of realizing a better way of life not only for themselves but for their children, and doing so in an atmosphere of stability and security, we think people are going to choose the latter.

And certainly there will be those who call for greater isolation, walking back the advances that have been made in the region in terms of bringing greater understanding, greater peace, greater stability to that region. We do believe that given the choice, that people will choose, vote for, advocate for greater stability, greater peace, greater prosperity and greater freedom.


QUESTION: I know you've talked about this a lot, but now the Iranians are saying that President Ahmadi-Nejad's comments on the Holocaust have been misunderstood.



MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Seeing that he chose to repeat them twice, I'm not sure how much stock I would put in that explanation. Perhaps they are reacting to the fact that his comments, not only his recent comments but his comments going back to his speech before the UN, have been universally criticized and condemned. So maybe they are reacting a little bit to the international pressure.

Again, all these remarks do is destroy any shred of trust that the international community might have had in the Iranian regime in terms of their intentions. I think that certainly it speaks volumes about the recent steps within the Board of Governors, for example. I think that comments like these only reinforce the new decision of the Board of Governors to find Iran in noncompliance with their IAEA obligations.

So again, I think that they probably realized that they are only further isolating themselves from the rest of the international community. And this is probably a feeble attempt to stop digging the diplomatic hole in which they find themselves.


QUESTION: Sean, yesterday as well as today, you're talking about Iran going in the wrong direction. And at the same time that you're speaking, a day ago, the head of Hamas has been officially welcomed in Tehran. Do you find that troubling? And you keep mentioning the fact that there are the Palestinian elections coming up January 25th. Do you think that is meddling by both Hamas and the Iranians in that respect?

MR. MCCORMACK: While we have previously expressed our dismay and concern that Iran is the world's number one state sponsor of terrorism, we don't think anybody should find it surprising that the providers of assistance to Hezbollah would also seek to welcome a terrorist group like Hamas to their capital. The world has spoken out against support for terrorism and this is something that the Iranian regime needs to change, stop its support for terror.


QUESTION: Yesterday the UN Security Council voted to extend the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri but didn't agree to Lebanon's request to immediately broaden the probe and establish an international tribunal. Are you satisfied with this resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're satisfied with the step the Security Council took, which was a unanimous -- in a unanimous vote to extend the commission's mandate to June 15, 2006; as part of this rollover request, that the commission report every three months to the Security Council or at any other point that it sees fit to report to the Security Council before that three-month period. The measure also authorizes the commission to extend technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in cases of terrorist attacks perpetrated in Lebanon since October 1st, 2004.

This -- the number of these cases is 16 assassinations, attempted murders and bombings, including a car-bomb killing earlier this week of Gibran Tueni. It also requested the Secretary General present recommendations to expand the mandate of the commission to include investigations of those other attacks.

So we came out prior to this vote in full support of the Lebanese Government request that the commission expand its mandate to include these other acts of terror, these assassinations, these killings.

The Security Council, at this point, decided to take the step of having the commission offer assistance to the Lebanese Government and then they reserved on the question of actually fully expanding the commission's mandate and asked the commission to make a recommendation to Secretary General Annan on that matter. I expect that this is going to be a question that comes up again. We look forward to hearing what the commission has to say about the expansion of that mandate.

I think that regardless of what step the Council took yesterday in this vote, that everybody shares the desire to get to the bottom of who is responsible not only for the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri but who is responsible for these other killings in Lebanon. Clearly, there's a pattern. Clearly, there are individuals, groups, who are interested in disrupting Lebanon's progress towards a more stable, peaceful, democratic future in the wake of the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

QUESTION: A follow-up? But Syria is satisfied with this resolution, too, and especially with China and Russia and Algeria positions in the UN Security Council. And Lebanon, too, they consider the resolution a setback for Prime Minister Siniora and his government and satisfied Hezbollah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think the Syrian Government should take any comfort in yesterday's action. Yesterday's action keeps the spotlight on Syria. It keeps the spotlight on Syria's failure to fully cooperate with this investigation. And if the Syrian Government or others think that the world is certainly -- is going to simply turn away from this investigation and forget about getting to the bottom of who is responsible for murder of Prime Minister Hariri, they're mistaken.

Secretary Rice went up to New York at the end of October and voted for Resolution 1636. I think that that is a signal of not only the commitment of the United States but the commitment of the other countries represented at that Council meeting by their foreign ministers to get to the bottom of this investigation and to find out who is responsible and to hold those responsible to account.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Sean, I think it was yesterday that there was municipal elections on the West Bank in which Hamas, which had already done pretty well in Gaza, had a surprisingly strong showing. I was wondering: (a) if you have any reaction; and (b) are there any plans to provide any assistance to the Palestinian Authority for the upcoming elections so that they can get out the message better and counter what seems to be now a growing electoral threat from Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what the other political parties in the Palestinian political class decide to do in terms of campaigning, in terms of their platform and how they disseminate their message to the Palestinian people, that's going to be up to them.

In terms of the election results, I don't have any particular comments on them, other than to say our position with respect to Hamas is unchanged. We classify it as a terrorist organization. We don't have any dealings with members of Hamas.

QUESTION: But are you not -- I mean, already that you've put a lot of money into this press center in Ramallah, for one thing. Are you interested in helping, advising, providing material support to the Palestinian Authority to get out its message there so that they can sort of compete better against Hamas in the election?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're not helping any particular political party in those efforts. What we're doing is trying to assist the Palestinian Authority, which answers to the Palestinian people, better communicate with the Palestinian people. We'll see what the results of the upcoming elections are. I'm not going to try to predict what they might be. I would only say that in terms of the past performance of those who have campaigned on a platform of peace and security and working out differences with Israel through negotiations, those people have succeeded. We'll see what view the Palestinian people take of the people currently running for election, whether those be in municipal elections or parliamentary elections.

Yes. Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: According to reports, Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza, last Friday during his visit to Brussels, said to the European Commission's enlargement community one day after the financial support was postponed upon the Cyprus government objection, "Do not make Cyprus an issue." I am wondering, what does he mean since the Republic of Cyprus is an issue of Turkish invasion and occupation; correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to Matt about any remarks he might have made, but we'll check on that for you.

QUESTION: And one follow-up. And also, Mr. Bryza said that EU must produce or come up with solution to the Cyprus problem "smart and attractive" for Turkey to open the ports. One of the reasonable formulas, he explained, is the opening of the ports simultaneously by both parties, serving however the Turkish invasion and occupation force in the island. May we have his formula in writing in order to evaluate it or at least a copy of his very interesting remarks in Europe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, we'll check into it for you.


QUESTION: The parties seem to be getting behind on the timetable for implementing the Rafah accord. They missed a deadline this week. And I wondered if there is any U.S. intervention to try to push them along.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have been actively engaged with both sides on the implementation of the accord that they signed. I expect that they will -- although they did miss the deadline yesterday -- that they would meet the deadline of next week. That is their intention. That is what they've informed us, that they intend to meet that deadline next week.

We're disappointed that they missed this deadline. They did miss -- they did meet the initial deadline of opening up the Rafah crossing. That is encouraging. But what is positive is that they continue to talk and work together in solving whatever issues there are between the two of them. These are highly technical things. They require a high degree of coordination between the two sides. So we encourage them to roll up their sleeves and work out any issues that remain between them and work to implement this part of the agreement as quickly as possible -- we would hope next week -- and that they meet the other deadlines, work to meet the other deadlines that are in the agreement.

QUESTION: That was a -- this was a project of the Secretary, of course. Has she been involved in any of this --

MR. MCCORMACK: She's been kept up to date by her staff on the issue.

You had two already.

QUESTION: I have one on PKK. Okay. During the same visit in Brussels, Mr. Bryza said that the EU must conduct a more effective fight against PKK (inaudible) militants must be arrested and sent to justice, PKK bases of support in Europe must collapse immediately. The interesting point is that Deputy Assistant Secretary was saying that when, at the same time, the FBI Director Robert Mueller was in Ankara discussing the PKK issue with the Turkish officials. I am wondering if Mr. Bryza meant also Greece and Cyprus in the general context of Europe.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I think they consider themselves part of Europe. I haven't talked to them about these remarks. We classify the PKK as a terrorist organization. We work closely with Turkish officials to address their concerns about cross-border support for the PKK coming from Iraq. We work very closely with them on that issue and of course we work closely with all our friends and allies in working to cut off the financing and any support there may be for terrorist organizations that target our friends and allies.

QUESTION: But it is very well known that more than 5,000 PKK accomplice fighters, as you said, are stationed in northern Iraq and actually in full cooperation with Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani's forces helped to stabilize PKK group and (inaudible) earlier during the war. That's why I am wondering why you are looking for nonexistent PKK militants in Europe since they're already in northern Iraq under the control of the U.S. and British invasion and occupation forces.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I've already answered your question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB # 214


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