State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 18, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
July 18, 2006
Efforts to Assist American Citizens Departing Lebanon
Plan to Bus American Citizens from Southern Lebanon to Evacuation
Military in support of DOS / Modes of Previous transportation /
Coalition Assistance from United Kingdom, Spain and Italy
Capacity of Ships Sent to Lebanon
Importance of Registering American Citizens in Lebanon / Pace of
Gratitude for Cypriot Assistance
Provision of Military Assets for Security of Evacuees
Discussions on Conditional Ceasefire / Support of a Democratic
Secretary's Travel to the Middle East Region
Syria and Iran Influence with Hezbollah
Previous Bilateral Discussions with Syria
UN Involvement in Lebanon Crisis Laid out in G-8 Statement
Disbandment/Disarming of Hezbollah/Participation in Political
Process/Pensions to Be Considered for Payment
Israel's Right to Defend itself
Secretary's Meeting with the Lebanese Patriarch
Secretary's Bilateral with General Guo Boxlong
Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs and Brigadier General Barbero, Deputy Director for Regional Operations of the Joint Chief of Staff
2:53 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. We have some invited guests for today's briefing. The way I'd like to structure this is we are going to have Assistant Secretary Maura Harty, who is our Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs and Brigadier General Barbero, who is a Deputy Director for Regional Operations of the Joint Chief of Staff over at the Pentagon -- that's J-3 for all of you civilians -- are going to conduct a joint briefing, answer your questions regarding what the United States Government is doing on behalf of American citizens in Lebanon who want to leave. They can give you an overview of our operations there and what our plans are and give you a little bit of an operational update.
So I'll turn it over to them. I'll come back afterwards to answer any other questions you might have not related to that topic. So Maura, General.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: It's good to see some of you again. I think I talked to some of you on Sunday. I'm really delighted to have a chance to try and answer some of your questions this afternoon.
Just to do a quick recap and give you a little bit of new news and then turn it over to the General and then we'll take your questions together. As of, I guess, close of business or dusk today in Lebanon, approximately 350 Americans have been helped out of harm's way. We have seen a gradual increase in -- or not so gradual -- actually a real ramp-up is what we will see tomorrow -- as we have since the beginning of this effort, had boats steaming in the direction of Beirut so that we can get as many people out as we could. People have traveled out by air. People have traveled out on ships. Many, many more people are anticipated to travel out tomorrow. We hope to see tomorrow a capacity that we have identified used to the maximum ability. A capacity for tomorrow as scheduled will be 240 people by air, one ship with a capacity of 800 seats, a second ship with a capacity of 1,400. I'm obviously hitting that word hard because we're going to do our very best to make sure we have that many people fill all of those billets to move on their way and out of harm's way.
We would expect and hope that the operation will then continue so the same ships that we use on Wednesday having delivered their traveler's safety to Cyprus can then turn around and do the same thing again on Thursday. In order to make those things work, over the last several days we have beefed up dramatically the number of officers we have in Cyprus, the number of officers we have in Beirut as we, in fact, realized we've needed more we will send even more in tomorrow to Beirut so that we can make sure that we can physically handle the numbers that we'll be moving through.
I think there's very little new news in what I've just said, but here is a new piece. A number of you have asked what about the people in southern Lebanon. In just before coming in here in conversation with the Ambassador, I learned that, yes, we have of course been doing what we've said we've been doing, keeping touch with Americans wherever they might be. But beginning tomorrow there will be the beginning of an operation to help bus American citizens who are desirous of traveling up from southern Lebanon so that they can be bussed right to the port and escorted on to one of the ships that is leaving.
I really need your help in urging Americans to do what I have said so very many times over the last several days and that is an American citizen has not yet registered with us Â– or I would go as far as to say, if having heard this news now that we are reaching out to people in southern Lebanon to begin to bring them forward, I would ask them to call one of the two following phone numbers: Here in the U.S. if it's a family member calling on behalf of an American citizen traveler, we would urge them to call 1-888-407-4747, so that we can be made aware of someone that perhaps we have yet to be made aware of. If they are calling from outside the United States, please call 202-501-4444 with the appropriate international code, so that we can make sure that we are communicating with people who might want to avail themselves of the opportunity to leave. I won't go into much more detail about the places where they will be gathering, but there will be two separate spots and with buses, again, taking people north with the intention of moving them right on to the port and right out on one of the ships I previously described to you.
In Cyprus, our attention is to minimize to the greatest degree possible the time people actually spend in Cyprus. We would like very much to be able to have people disembark from a boat and go either to the international airport or on one of our charter flights, which we have also arranged. Lots of different options there. Keeping in mind, of course, that some people might not, in fact, want to go to the United States. They may, in fact, choose to avail themselves of commercial air options and go somewhere else. So we will, of course, facilitate those things and we've got a lot of people on the ground waiting to help them.
I think with that as a starter, I'll turn it over to the General and then we'll take your questions.
BGEN BARBERO: Good afternoon. My name is Brigadier General Mike Barbero. I'm the Deputy Director for Regional Operations on the Joint Staff. And I'll also give you a brief overview of U.S. military operations in support of the Department of State in our joint efforts to assist Americans in Lebanon with the authorized departure from that area.
On July 16th, two CH-53 helicopters from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit inserted a survey and assessment team into the American Embassy Beirut to begin planning for the departure of American citizens from Lebanon in a secure and orderly manner. Planning has been ongoing and assets are moving into place.
The Commander of Task Force 59 Brigadier General Carl Jensen and members of his staff are operating from Akrotiri and he is serving as the unseen commander directing military assistance. Over the past two days, helicopters from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have assisted over 68 American citizens in departing Lebanon. And I said "over" because that number continues to grow as we turn these helicopters back and forth. And those helicopters, as I said, are continuing these transportation flights today.
The USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the 24th MEU have been directed to assist with the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon. There are six CH-53s working from Cyprus to Lebanon and they are able to accommodate in total about 300 passengers per day. United States transportation command is working to contract commercial sealift as another method to evacuate American citizens.
The passenger vessel Orient Queen is under contract to transport American citizens. And it is at dockside in Beirut as we speak. This vessel can accommodate approximately 700 to 900 passengers at one time. And a second ship has been contracted -- which should start tomorrow --and it can handle between 1,000 to 1,200 passengers.
These operations are taking place in a war zone. They involve passage through a strict blockade and are limited by the capacity of ports and the degraded infrastructure in Lebanon. Some U.S. Navy vessels have arrived in the area and we expect to have more than nine U.S. Navy ships assembled within the next few days, along with coalition presence of ships from the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. We appreciate the cooperation that we're receiving from our friends and allies. And with that I think we'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Could I get a little clarification about the ships? I'm a little confused. You spoke of some 740 people coming out and then another group.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: I'm sorry. Let's just go through this --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Let's just go through the numbers again.
QUESTION: All right. And what's the second ship?
BGEN BARBERO: Dusk on -- through dusk on Tuesday. That is today's Tuesday.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Approximately 350 American citizens got out. And one thing I neglected to mention and perhaps should have is that there have been other Americans who have departed over borders to Syria and we're trying to work on those numbers for you now. But some haven't needed our help. Some have simply gone their own ways and went from there.
QUESTION: And some went with the British.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Those are numbers that we've captured already. Tomorrow, we expect to see 240 people leave by air and two ships coming in as the General and I have both explained: One, the Orient Queen, capacity 800; one the Sancak Â–
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Yeah. I've got a phonetic spelling, I'm sorry to say. We can probably get that for you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: I'm sorry. I don't know that.
QUESTION: Give us the phonetic spelling.
QUESTION: But give us the numbers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: I think it is S-A-N-KAK? It's pronounced Sanjack.
QUESTION: We interrupted you -- how many will that take out?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: I've got a capacity of approximately 1,400, but I believe the General has something a little bit different.
BGEN BARBERO: Total -- that's a total. Okay, we're showing a total --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Okay. We'll get you --
BGEN BARBERO: -- both ships tomorrow about in excess of 2,000.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. First of all, can you break down for us in any way the numbers of Americans? How many believed to be dual nationals versus people that live in Lebanon versus people that could be just visiting or business? There's a lot of complaints by Americans, both of the pace of the operation that a lot of other countries have gotten their citizens out a lot sooner and that they're not being able to reach some of these numbers. And also there's a huge controversy now over the charges. Could you explain that a little bit more? What Americans will have to pay? How they'll make this payment? Are you conditioning evacuation based on signing these promissory notes and a little bit about some of your history of operations since this legislation that you've charged Americans. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: That's a couple of questions. I'll try to go through them. Keep me honest if I miss one.
On the breakdown, you know, we actually don't ask people when they register as American citizens if they are dual nationals or not, so I don't know the answer to that question.
Before hostilities began we had, I think roughly, somewhere between eight and nine thousand people who were previously registered. You will all know -- you've heard me and many others before talk about how important we think it is that you do register.
The number 25,000 is the number that the post estimates through sort of anecdotal evidence and their experience people who might, in fact, be American citizens who are living in Lebanon. But many of them, especially those who are dual nationals, well-ensconced in Lebanon, never saw any need to really establish that connection with the Embassy. So it is a fuzzy number and you have to remember of course that people simply do not -- are not required to register with us. We cannot compel somebody to register and so we take a best guess estimate at who might be out there. But we don't keep a scorecard on whether or not they are American citizens.
With respect to the pace, I have to tell you that job one for us all over the world in the Bureau of Consular Affairs as well as across the United States Government is to make sure that we take care of American citizens. One of the things we knew right away is in the very sort of first days of this event is that two of the three main roads out of Beirut were bombed to a point where they could not be used, that the third road was continuously bombed but not quite taken out of capacity, that a number of Americans did make their way overland to Syria and were in fact allowed to exit that way but that other Americans making the same journey were not in fact allowed to exit that way.
So in constant conversation with the Embassy, people with eyes and ears right there on scene, we decided that it was far more prudent to take a measure of the situation on the ground and to in fact begin to affect a sealift as a much safer alternative. And so commercial ships and our partners and friends at the Department of Defense Department were immediately -- we immediately began the process of launching both commercial and Defense Department vehicles -- assets -- to the scene so that we could begin to take people off those ships -- I mean out of harm's way and on those ships.
It's a multinational effort. Some Americans have left under the aegis of other countries. We will, as we always do, remain in constant contact with other nations. We will look for as many different ways as we can get American citizens out of harm's way just as quickly as we can. We have force protection issues. We're tremendously grateful for the efforts that the -- and General jump in if you want to -- but for the efforts that the Department of Defense is making. They will provide force protection as well as maritime safety issues. This is, as you can imagine, a very, very busy place, a very, very, busy port.
Now with respect to -- and as I said at the top of the brief, we started on Sunday, more on Monday, you will see a dramatic ramp up tomorrow. It will be done in a safe and orderly fashion. Our goal is to take care of American citizens and make sure that they are removed from harm's way, if they'd like to be, in a safe and dependable and orderly a fashion as possible. With respect to the -- I think the last of the questions that you posed to me, that is about the notion of charging for this service. The law that requires us to do that was written in 1956. We have text of it here. I won't read it to you completely, but Section 4b-2a of the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 22 USC 2671 authorizes the Secretary of State to provide for the evacuation, but on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.
Guess what? You're going to register when you get on a vehicle and leave Lebanon. We are going to need you to -- we are going to need to know who gets on those ships. We are going to need to know that everybody who says they're an American citizen is an American citizen. As part of that process, yes, we will ask you to sign that promissory note, but if there's one thing I want to leave you with today, it's that no one, no American citizen will not be boarded because they left their checkbook or their credit card home. We deal with getting people out of harm's way and later, we will deal with the bureaucracy and the requirements that the law requires us to make. I need to get people out of harm's way first and that's what we're going to do. Thanks.
QUESTION: A question on Cyprus. I know you said you're trying to minimize the time Americans will spend there. What is your estimated turnover time for people to be able to leave Cyprus? And if it has to be a night or several nights, where are people -- you know, supposed to stay?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Okay. First, a couple of things about Cyprus. We're so grateful to them. We are so grateful for the efforts of the -- Cypriots have met every helicopter and ship with sandwiches and water and juice. They're just being fantastic. Department of Defense is meeting planes as well for security reasons and for protection purposes. We really do want to minimize the time people spend on the ground because this cannot have been a very easy passage for them from wherever they lived to the moment that they arrive in Cyprus. So we will try, to the greatest extent possible, to coordinate arrival of ships with the chartered planes that we have. We don't necessarily know, until people arrive, exactly what their own option is going to be, whether they would choose instead to take a commercial flight to someplace else, but we have the fair grounds and worst case scenarios, some people will stay there. But again, the goal is to simply to keep moving people, of course, because it will, I think, be far better for them to move on, get home, get as far away and out of harm's way as possible, but also because we're going to keep doing this effort. We just want that throughput to be as efficient as it can be. So there is bottled water. There is a fair grounds that we have rented. There are some air-conditioned facilities. The Cypriot Civil Defense Force has been very helpful to us in what they have provided.
We are going to try as hard as we can though to take all of those good efforts to build a holding area and use it to the smallest degree possible. We really prefer to the very best of our abilities to allow people to continue their voyage so when they are done they are in America rather than in a midway point somewhere in between.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little more about the buses out of the south and how people who might be there or their families in the United States who are in contact with them can tell them to get on them or find out of they got on them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Sure. Yes and no. I'd like to answer the question because it gives me a chance to reiterate what I have already said. And I am sure that by tomorrow's briefing I will have much more detail about this.
What we'd like to say now is for several days we have said to everyone in the media with whom we have spoken please register, you must register; if you in Lebanon yourself cannot register and the caller is in fact from the United States and is in contact with somebody in Lebanon, we want you to do that registration for us. We have also said in the last several days we think standing in place is a safer thing to do. Okay. Until we can come up with a plan, until we can contact you and ask you to come and ask you to follow our advice and our guidance that is what we have observed.
Now, I don't have very much on it because it came to me just before I came down here today. So again, we will hopefully flesh this out for you further tomorrow and as soon as we have information. But right now, if an American, somebody in the United States is reading your story or listening to your piece and they know of somebody in southern Lebanon they are in touch with, if they have not previously registered them or if that person hasn't heard from the Embassy, here in the United States -- may I repeat the numbers? 1-888-407-4747. Call us and tell us. Outside the United States, somebody who is in a third country or perhaps even in Lebanon, call with the appropriate international dialing code 202-501-4444. Embassy Beirut and the task force here in Washington are working off the same databases, but one of the goals that we're also trying to meet is to take as much of the tracking burden as we can off of the people who are working 24/7 on the ground in Beirut so that if people call us that information will get in the system. We will work it. But please call. If you have a question, far better to call us than not.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, do you have an estimate of how many people there are, how many Americans there are, in southern Lebanon who might avail themselves of --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: You know I -- you have heard us say in the past, I think, that we think there may be approximately 5,000 Americans, registered or unregistered, in southern Lebanon. What we don't know in all candor is how many would like to leave for sure, how many have already left, which is why we're just so sincere and so desirous of people calling us and registering with us so we make sure we account for everyone that we possibly can who might want to leave.
MR. MCCORMACK: Why don't we make this the last question.
QUESTION: Is Turkey or northern Cyprus assisting you with this effort? Because I thought the name of the ship you pronounced sounds Turkish.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: I don't know if the name of the ship I pronounced is Turkish. I don't even know if --
QUESTION: It is Turkish.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: It is Turkish. I don't know if it's a Turkish flagged vessel or if that's just a name that somebody had an affinity for. We are working very, very closely -- all of our embassies in the region are flat out working a multitude of tasks to try and affect the same goal: get American citizens out of harm's way, get them home.
QUESTION: A quick question. Why do you need American fighting ships as part of this operation? Are we expecting -- is there a possibility of trouble or is there the possibility of that -- how should I say it? -- that militia will rocket people being evacuated, many of whom are Arab Americans, aren't they?
BGEN BARBERO: Well, as I said, these operations are taking place in a war zone and we've done prudent planning to take every option into consideration and to provide the commander on the scene all the assets he needs to execute this operation to get Americans safely, securely and rapidly evacuated from Lebanon. So that our intent is to provide as many -- all the assets that have been requested, and we've done that.
QUESTION: Thanks very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARTY: Thank you very much.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Sean, if no one else, would you spell the General's name, please?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, it's B-a-r b-e-r-o.
QUESTION: Brigadier General.
QUESTION: Michael, right?
QUESTION: Is he Mike or Michael?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Michael.
Okay. So round two. Anne.
QUESTION: Is the United States at odds with other potential peacemakers at this point over whether an immediate ceasefire will help the situation? We just heard the Secretary and her Egyptian counterpart appear to call for different things.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think that everybody wants the same thing, Anne. Foreign Minister Gheit talked about an end to the violence. He talked about a ceasefire. But he also listed certain conditions.
QUESTION: He said a ceasefire has to be done.
MR. MCCORMACK: He also talked about certain conditions that need to be met in order for the violence to stop. I think what he's saying, what the G-8 is saying, what we are saying is we all want to see a cessation of violence. We all want to see a ceasefire here. But you want to see a ceasefire in such a way that you don't end up back in the same situation six months from now in which you have a terrorist group that would be allowed to drag a region down into this abyss of violence once again.
So what you want to do is you want to get -- and we've talked about this before, you want to get at the root causes of the violence in the region. And everybody agrees -- has identified Hezbollah as the initiator of this violence. And you can't allow a terrorist group and their backers like this again to manipulate the region in such a way that people on both sides of the border, both in Lebanon and in Israel are put at risk and innocent civilians have lost their lives. They've lost their lives because of that action by Hezbollah.
QUESTION: Following up. If getting at the underlying causes, is that another way of saying getting rid of some of the terrorist infrastructure in southern Lebanon. And by putting off a ceasefire for now is the U.S. essentially buying time for Israel to do that?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn't describe it that way. Israel has a right to defend itself, absolutely, because any country that was attacked in the way in which Israel was attacked would act in its self-defense. What the world wants to see and what you've heard from the G-8 is they want to see an end to the violence. But you don't want to end the violence, come to a cessation of the violence, come to a ceasefire in which you have the status quo ante. That will result only in more death of innocent civilians, more terror and more instability in the region. We've seen this before. We've seen ceasefires put in place only to lead to the conditions in which terrorist groups were allowed under the cover of such ceasefires to add to their strength.
We have seen that with Hezbollah. Now that they have had an opportunity to marshal their resources over a period of time and assemble an armory. You don't want to get -- you don't want to end up in the point where you have Hezbollah and their backers be able to influence events in the region in the way that such that they have. So that's what we're talking about.
We have talked to the Israel Government about the importance of -- at all costs -- avoiding civilian casualties, using the utmost restraint. We've talked to the Israeli Government also about the need to avoid harming civilian infrastructures as well as undermining the Siniora government, because ultimately it is in the interest of the region to have a strong, stable democratic Lebanon. Israel understands that. All the countries of the region understand that. And the way that you get to that is through an end to the violence and implementation of UN Security Council 1559 in which you have disarmament of militias. You don't have terrorist groups operating outside of a democratic government. And you don't have these types of militias which could -- which are able to drag the Lebanese population into this kind of violence.
QUESTION: Sean, you just mentioned that all countries. Is there any exception with Syria and also Iran? And in her discussion upstairs with the Secretary with the Government of Egypt availing on the Egyptians to talk some sense into both the Iranians and/or the Syrians? We don't have the best of relations with either.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I think the Egyptian Government is playing a very positive role, both in trying to address the situation in Gaza as well as in Lebanon. They are quite concerned. You've heard from the Foreign Minister about the situation. They're working the diplomacy behind the scenes to try to bring about a solution to this. You have seen statements out of the Egyptian Government as well as the Saudi Government and the Jordanian Government placing the blame for the beginning of this crisis where it belongs, and that's with Hezbollah. So they are playing a constructive role.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MR. MCCORMACK: Why don't we go to Sylvie. She had her hand up first and we'll come back to you, Charlie.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the trip the Secretary is planning to make soon in the region. Lebanon and Israel said today that it would be premature for her to be there in the next few days.
MR. MCCORMACK: You heard from the Secretary she would like to travel to the region, but she's going to travel to the region at a time, and along an itinerary that she believes is helpful and useful to trying to bring about an end to the violence that is, in fact, a lasting end. You don't want to -- like I've said, I've repeated it over and over again, you don't want to be back here again. So she's going to do everything that she can and that might include travel to the region to try to help bring about that.
The G-8 statement I think is a very interesting document in that it identified the problem and that it laid out a series of steps that the international community can follow in order to bring about a lasting resolution to this situation in order to realize greater peace and stability in the region and especially along that border.
So she's going to do what she thinks is useful in that regard. And I think she gave a strong indication that she does at some point intend to travel to the region, but she's going to do that at a time when she believes it is useful to this process.
QUESTION: On the issue of Syria which we were on before that, the Syrian Vice Foreign Minister in an interview today in Damascus said that Syria admitted to us that Syria does have influence with Hezbollah and is willing to -- prepared to exercise it. But he said if we have something in our hand to offer Hezbollah. Do you have anything to offer Hezbollah as -- to give them? Would the Secretary's trip involve stopping in Syria to avail themselves of contacts?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are no plans to travel to Syria, Charlie. Look, we have an Embassy in Damascus. They have an Embassy here so there are certainly channels of communication there. But quite frankly, it is the Syrian Government, along with Iran, who are isolated on this issue. You have Syria and Iran essentially on one side of the line, everybody else on the other side. So we think that there is enough international focus right now on the role that Syria plays in supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, two terrorist groups, that they might want to consider using some of that influence that, apparently, they have admitted they have with these groups to help bring about an end to this crisis. And the way you do that is you have these groups release the Israeli soldiers that they are holding captive and you stop the raining down of rockets on Israeli territory.
And then the G-8 also talked about other steps that might be taken, including the Israeli Government ending military activities and also releasing certain Palestinian parliamentarians. So they don't -- they should not need any inducement or incentive in order to do that, Charlie, if they truly do have an interest in a more stable, peaceful Middle East. They shouldn't need anybody to encourage them to use that leverage with those terrorist groups.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: You talk about Syria having a role, but do they have a role in the -- as a bad actor, but are they part of the solution in terms of being a kind of party to these efforts going on to calm the situation? I mean, on one hand, you say they're isolated. Is there an effort underway to bring the Syrians into the fold, into -- as part of your diplomatic efforts to try and find a way out of this? I mean, what specifically do you see Syria's role as being in the diplomacy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think their role in the diplomacy would be to go down the street in Damascus to the headquarters or offices of some of these terrorist groups and talk to these individuals and put pressure on them to have their compatriots, who are holding these soldiers and who are pushing the button on these rockets, to release the soldiers and stop pushing the buttons on the rockets. So I don't think, again, that they should need many inducements to do that. There are quite a few countries in the region, neighbors of Syria and countries in the region, who are speaking with the Syrians, who are engaged in diplomacy with the Syrians to try to get them to use whatever influence they may have with these terror groups to effect some change of behavior and change in the situation.
QUESTION: But are you willing to put, kind of, more punitive measures on Syria and maybe Iran if they don't cooperate, or is this more like, "You have a positive role to play; be a responsible member of the international community and do it?"
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're separate cases, Iran and Syria. We don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. We also have in place a number of sanctions, as we do in place with Syria as well. At any given point in time, you take a look at what kinds of actions you -- what sort of measures you have in place in terms of sanctions or bans and you constantly evaluate that, but I don't have any particular information that we're looking at that right now.
QUESTION: Sean, you do have relations, as you pointed out, with Syria. Secretary Powell was there three years ago. He met with the Syrian Foreign Minister two years ago in New York. What's wrong about talking with Syria at this time? I mean, it's not like you -- like Iran, where you don't have relations; you do have relations with Syria. So what's wrong with talking to them about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Nicholas, I think, first of all, the situation has materially changed. You have -- Secretary Powell, Deputy Secretary Armitage and others, they spoke numerous times with the Syrian Government. And each time, the Syrian Government would give just a little bit, just the bare minimum in order to wiggle off the hook and get out of the international spotlight, while not really addressing the root causes. And quite frankly, the Syrian Government needs to step up, have -- look at their behavior, have a fundamental change in behavior. And so at this point, we just don't think that those kinds of -- a repeat of those kinds of discussions is useful. Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage had those discussions. You know, they were supported by the entire U.S. Government in that regard, but again, we -- ultimately, you have to make a cost benefit analysis of that kind of effort and frankly, at this point, we don't think that it would be productive or useful. Others are engaged in discussions with the Syrians, so it's not as though the Syrians aren't hearing this message and it's not as though that others with a different kind of relationship with Syria aren't trying to effect a change in Syrian behavior.
QUESTION: On this UN force, have you received any more clarity about what it might look like and also where does it fit into -- if it is to happen, where would it fit into the sequencing of a potential ceasefire?
MR. MCCORMACK: There -- it is in the G-8 document. It's something I expect that Secretary Rice is going to be speaking with Secretary Annan about as well as others speaking with Mr. Solana about how do you -- what kind of security monitoring presence might be effective in trying to bring about a solution -- help get you down the road of implementation of 1559.
Part of the problem we face is you have Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon with these rockets that are able to extend down into Israel and pose -- and, if they remain there, impose a continuing threat. We've also seen the fact that Hezbollah seems to possess much longer range rockets. Now -- and again, you have to look at exactly what the international community has to look at, what sort of arrangement would help deescalate the situation and also lead to a situation where you have implementation of 1559, which ultimately calls for the Government of Lebanon to exercise sovereignty over all of its territory. So that's the end state.
And a lot of this discussion, Libby, is really focused on how do you help them do that. I think the discussions are really in the formative stages right now. So we're going to be talking with our G-8 partners, talk with the EU, talk with the UN about their ideas and in the coming days and weeks we'll probably have more to say on it. But it's really those discussions, I think are really at the formative stage right now.
QUESTION: Just before we came out here, Prime Minister Olmert said that it was too soon to be discussing international force -- peacekeeping force, but we just heard the Egyptian Foreign Minister say that he and Secretary Rice were talking about widening that force. Have we taken the Israeli view into account?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, these discussions are really just at the stage of sharing viewpoints, coming up with various ideas about what might be potentially useful. The last thing you want to do is something that's counterproductive, makes the situation worse either in the short term or in the long term. So we have to think through this. You have to think through all the various aspects of it. It is -- we believe it's a very important idea to consider and look at how it fits into the overall diplomatic efforts. We fully supported its inclusion in the G-8 statement. As a matter of fact, we were strong supporters of it. So we think it's an interesting idea that bears examination and a lot more discussion.
QUESTION: This kind of fits into what you were talking about at the top about giving Israel some leeway here. How much of this kind of not being right for the stabilization -- the right time for the stabilization force, parties talking about this might not be the right time for Secretary Rice to travel to the region, that these diplomatic efforts need time for the ground to be prepared because Israel still needs time for these ongoing operations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would look at it more in the vein of you want the diplomatic efforts to be productive. You want them to be effective. And before the U.S. Secretary of State travels to the region, you want to make sure that the proper diplomatic groundwork has been laid, that there has been full and complete consultations among the important parties, not only in the region, but on the international scene; that there's been a full consultation with the UN.
The UN team is still out in the region. I think that we're going to want to hear what they have heard out in the region, what their discussions have yielded in the region, so you want to have a report on that. You want to have a full discussion with those other states like the G-8 states who have been involved in this. You want to talk to the EU as well. So there's a lot of diplomatic groundwork that needs to be put in place right now in order to affect a lasting solution. That's what we're looking for here. That's the bar. That's where we're setting it.
We all want a cessation of violence. Everybody would like to have a ceasefire. But what you don't want to go, what you don't want have is a situation frozen in place in which you have the status quo ante or worse. So the bar here that we in the international community are setting it's a higher bar. It's how do you bring about a lasting solution to this problem and it's a complex problem. It is a potentially important, pivotal and dangerous moment in the Middle East.
And so we are working -- we along with other members of the international community are working very hard to try to bring about a solution that is going to last and that is going to be durable, so you don't end up at some point in the future with more innocent life being lost. You don't want to end up at a point in the future in, which the region is subject to the whims of a small group of terrorists and their backers, so that's what we're working for.
QUESTION: But how much of that -- all those things, your goals and all the things that you're talking about, how much of that is contingent upon the elimination of the threat posed by Hezbollah?
MR. MCCORMACK: Ultimately, you were going to have implementation of 1559 along a political track. There's a certain dismantlement of Hezbollah that needs to take place. It's outlined in the Security Council resolution. But ultimately, you were going to deal with -- and we've talked about this with not just with respect to Hezbollah, but with respect to Hamas and other organization that espouse and use terror and that ultimately you're going to have to come to a political solution to these situations. And it's going to be largely up to the populations, whether it's the Palestinians or the Lebanese to work hard to make the tough decisions that are going to be required to build a more prosperous stable Middle East, to build a more prosperous and stable nation or state for the people in the region.
QUESTION: Israel said today that their military operation will last at least one week. Do you agree with this timeline?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we are not in the business of giving the State of Israel military advice. We have talked to them about our concerns. Those are the parameters that we have laid out in terms of exercising utmost restraint and avoiding civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, as well as anything that might undermine the Siniora government. So that's what we have talked to them about. We don't get into talking about any particular -- each particular military operation or strike that's involved. They have a right to defend themselves, but they have a right to defend themselves in the way in which any state which has been attacked has a right to defend itself. And you can only imagine the United States in a similar situation with missiles raining down across -- on the United States cities from their neighboring state. Of course, the state has a right to defend itself under those circumstances.
QUESTION: If I can follow up also?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: The Israeli Army bombed some military installation in Lebanon, so it was the Lebanese army. Do you think it's helpful or?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the particular circumstances of that event. It's the first that I've heard of it.
QUESTION: Some of the missiles and rockets that Hezbollah has reportedly coming from Iran, in fact, came from China, that China gave them to Iran some years ago. And there have been some sanctions on Chinese companies on behalf of the United States. But is the Secretary, when she goes to China and if that is still actually on the books, is she going to raise the question of Chinese companies transferring technology to Iran and other such states?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it, Nicholas. Certainly, we have talked to the Chinese Government about our proliferation concerns across a variety of different types of technologies, whether those are technologies that might go into development of nuclear weapons or chemical weapons or missile technology. That's an ongoing dialogue that we have with the Chinese. Whether or not this is a case that would cause us concern with respect to our export laws, I couldn't tell you.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, why don't we finish on this and we can get back to Iran.
QUESTION: Well, it's about the Lebanese Patriarch.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: The Secretary's meeting with him today. What is the message that she's going to be sending of him and what does she hope to hear from him?
MR. MCCORMACK: This was a meeting that was scheduled sometime ago and he's seeing other people in the United States Government as well. She met with him when she last visited Beirut. He's a very interesting figure; obviously, a figure of religious authority in Lebanon, also somebody whose views the Secretary is very interested in hearing. They had a very good meeting last time around. She looks forward to hearing his views on the situation in Lebanon to really talk about the way forward. That's really, I think, how she's going to use her time in that meeting.
QUESTION: You've talked -- you've mentioned dismantlement of Hezbollah, but is -- if Hezbollah disarms or its capacity to wage violence is greatly diminished, is there any space in the U.S. mind for it to continue to exist as a political force in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: How the Lebanese people arrange themselves politically, it is -- that is going to be up to them. But fundamentally, you have an organization that wants to have one foot in politics and one foot in terror. What the world is saying is you can't do that; you have to make the fundamental choice, if you are going to participate in a democratic political process, you have to give up terror. You have to shed past behaviors and points of view and fully participate in a democratic process, give -- as a group, as a political party, give yourself up to the -- operating within the confines of a democratic system.
What that doesn't mean is participating in a democratic system while you maintain your own separate army. That is a fundamental contradiction that needs to be resolved. That contradiction has to be resolved ultimately by the Lebanese people. The international community clearly has an interest in this because the international community, us included, wants to see a more stable, peaceful region. And so we are -- we have been, we are going to continue to do what we can to help the Government of Lebanon build up the institutions of a Lebanese Government. That's going to form the foundation of a fully free and democratic Lebanon.
QUESTION: In Lebanon, there is a substantial Christian minority and following the strife in the 90s, many of those people did leave, many settled here in the United States around Detroit. But nonetheless, they are a minority. Aside from strengthening the government, are there any religious contacts beyond the Lebanese Patriarch? And also, do those people need the help and support and protection throughout this conflict also?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of, Joel.
Yes, did you have a question on Lebanon?
QUESTION: No, on China.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll come to it. And you?
QUESTION: One more, sir.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Do you have Lebanon?
QUESTION: Yeah, a quick one on Lebanon if I may.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do Israeli air attack -- air strikes on Lebanese army positions fall into the category you mentioned of undermining the Lebanese Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie asked the same question. I don't have information on this particular --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it's been happening for several days whether you have information or not.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any particular information on the particular strike, but what the Israeli Government has said that they are doing is they are going at the root causes of what has caused this crisis. That is Hezbollah. We have talked to them about our concerns, repeated it many times over. As for these particular incidents, I don't have the information on them, I don't have the facts surrounding them. I don't know whether or not there were Hezbollah at those particular facilities. You know, we just don't have the facts on them.
QUESTION: But do you see the Lebanese army as a legitimate target?
MR. MCCORMACK: Do I see the -- we don't see the --
QUESTION: Lebanese army targets as legitimate?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to get into the practice of commenting on each particular Israeli military action. They have talked about what their concerns are, what their targets are. We have talked about our concerns in that regard. We believe the Government of Lebanon and the government of Prime Minister Siniora is a positive force. We have worked with the government of Prime Minister Siniora and we hope to continue to help to find a lasting solution to the current situation.
Anything else on Lebanon? Okay, yes, ma'am, in the back?
QUESTION: A Chinese senior military officer, General Guo is going to meet Secretary Rice later. Could you please talk about the agenda for today's meeting as well as the significance of his visit in terms of U.S.-China relation? Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: They're going to be talking about a number of different issues. This is -- really comes out of an earlier discussion that the two Presidents had back in April about building up greater understanding and a greater relationship between Chinese military institutions and U.S. institutions. So this is -- the Secretary is meeting with the General as part of that effort. I think that they're going to have a general discussion about the region, about bilateral issues, as well as global issues.
QUESTION: So Secretary Rice will not mention the spy and the military expenditure of the Chinese radical military expenditure and the spy issue to Guo face to face?
MR. MCCORMACK: As for the spy issue that you're talking about, I'm not sure exactly what that refers to. As for Chinese military spending and transparency in that regard, that has been something we have talked to the Chinese Government about quite a bit. I think it's a -- it would -- more transparency in what exactly the Chinese program is and their intentions, I think, would be a welcome step not only by -- not only welcomed by the United States, but also by states in the region. So that's part of our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese.
QUESTION: And how about the North Korean issue? Since there is report from the military that it's China which provided the Taepodong-3 missile, especially solid rocket fuel technology to North Koreans? So when Secretary Rice mentioned this particular issue to Guo Boxlong which is the number-two in the Chinese military.-
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure that they'll touch on North Korea in their discussions.
QUESTION: Yeah, I had a question about Iran, the political directors conference which was scheduled this week is --
MR. MCCORMACK: Hasn't happened yet, but they have started -- they started discussions at the expert level and I believe they were also scheduled to have a meeting within the Perm Reps, the Ambassadorial level, up in New York today, I believe. So they have not yet had the political directors get together, but they are working on the text of a resolution.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Elise.
QUESTION: A new topic on Darfur, on the donors' conference today at the EU. Can you talk a little bit about what the U.S. was pledging? I understand that it's not necessarily new money. It's from the supplemental -- the FY '06 supplemental, but the international community has said what's really needed is money to boost up the AMIS force for immediate protection of civilians both in Darfur and on the border with Chad. Can you talk about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll try to get you a little bit more information on what our donation is all about and where -- what it's intended to do.
QUESTION: Can I talk to the Mid-East for just a second?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I forgot to ask before, is the Secretary planning on meeting with Kofi Annan in person or going to the UN herself to meet with the envoys that are coming back this week?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll keep you updated on her travel schedule.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Fifteen Turkish soldiers have been killed in one week, last week by Kurdish PKK fighters in Turkey coming from northern Iraq. So there is a strong call in Turkey for a cross-border military operation to northern Iraq. Would the United States support Turkey or the Turkish military in such a case?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe that that's something that we have supported in the past. What we do support is working together, the multinational forces in Iraq, the Iraqi Government and the Turkish Government coming together to exchange information and to work together to try to address what is a terrorist threat for the Turkish people. Certainly, we have been very clear that the PKK is a terrorist organization, we view it as such, and certainly, we would view with great concern the loss of Turkish soldiers in these terrorist attacks. So what we are trying to do is to have this trilateral mechanism be more robust in trying to address this threat. It's something the Secretary has talked about with Foreign Minister Gul when he was here and also with Turkish officials when she was in Ankara.
(Ended at 3:48 p.m.)
Released on July 18, 2006