State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 23, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 23, 2006
Secretary Rice's Meeting with ElBaradei / Discussions on North
Korea and UN Security Council Resolution1718 / General Discussion
on Iran and Possible Sanctions
Readout of Secretary's Meeting with Netherlands Foreign Minister
Working with Security Council Members of P-3
More Formal Discussions on Iran at UN Security Council
Issue of Commitment by Russia and China
IAEA Inspectors Remain in Iran
U.S. Continues to Call on Iran to Suspend all Enrichment and
Reprocessing-Related Activities / Iran Pressing Ahead with their
Iran is a Negative Influence in Region / Iran on Other Side of the
Line from Rest of Region
Most Significant State Sponsor of Terror in the World
Concern regarding Iranian Regime's Behavior
Status of Possible UN Security Council Resolution on Sanctions
Regime Going Down Negative Pathway
Discussions at UN Security Council on Resolution
Senator Lugar's Remarks on Direct Bilateral Talks / U.S. on Proper
UN Security Council and Other Five-Parties of Six-Party Talks
September 19th Framework Agreement / U.S. Has No Intention to
Invade or Attack
The U.S. Hopes that North Korea Will Return to Six-Party Talks
Secretary Rice Plans to Talk with Secretary General Annan /
Sudanese Government's Intent to Expel UN Representative Pronck /
Need for an International Force
Chinese Discussions with Sudanese / Natsios Efforts in Region /
Working Through All Channels Available
Query on Oliver North's Op-Eds on Nicaragua
Alberto Fernandez's Comments on Al-Jazeera
Healthy and Vigorous Debate Exists in US on Iraq Policy
Secretary Rice's Focus on Getting the Job Done and Succeeding
Referendum to Expand Canal
1:02 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start off?
QUESTION: Anything on the Secretary's meeting with ElBaradei?
MR. MCCORMACK: She -- they talked about a few different topics, talked a little bit about North Korea, talked about Iran, talked about the issue of fuel assurances. We have very similar views in terms of international fuel supply guarantees. The President has made a bunch of proposals in that regard. Mr. ElBaradei has some thoughts on it, so they covered that.
On North Korea they talked really about the issue of implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718. The Secretary filled him in on her conversations from her recent trip last week to northeast Asia and the reception she got -- a very positive one -- from other countries about how to work together to implement 1718.
On Iran, they had a general discussion where we stand right now, and UN member countries' efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution that would impose some sanctions on Iran. So that was really sort of the tone and tenor of their conversation.
QUESTION: Where do we stand right now on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of Iran, we are working with the Security Council members, the so called P-3, the English and the French, on a Security Council resolution. We don't have, yet, a full text of a resolution. I think that there's fairly widespread agreement on what the elements of that resolution will be, sort of working out, now, talk to the P-5 about a resolution. I think that will probably happen over the next couple of days. Once you do that, you expand the circle out even further and start working with the other members of the Security Council. And then we will have a broader discussion on that matter, which I would expect will take a little bit of time.
QUESTION: On the P-5 discussions, you -- we talked last week and a little bit I think the week before about that there were discussions among the P-5. So is it because you just have so many other issues right now with North Korea and other things on the docket, or are you still at loggerheads in terms of narrowing down what kind of sanctions would go into this resolution?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think there's -- among the P-3, we, the French and the British, think that there's agreement -- widespread agreement, although not total agreement, on the elements of a resolution as well as how this resolution might relate to further diplomatic efforts. And we have also been consulting with the Chinese as well as the Russians on this all along, although, the core conversations have been among the P-3.
So there have been a lot of other things on the Security Council docket. The North Korea resolution, yes, I think did push off a bit more formal discussions on Iran, although those have now been taking place. And I would expect that this is going to be one of the top items on the Security Council calendar for the next several weeks.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that Russia and China are on board for some kind of resolution which would call for sanctions against Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that was their commitment. That was their previous commitment. There's nothing -- there haven't been any new discussions in that regard. The Secretary obviously talked a little bit about this on her stop in Moscow, but there's nothing new in terms of that commitment. There was a commitment -- we all know the history of that -- so we're going to be pushing forward on a Chapter 7 resolution coming up here in the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Sean, diplomats in Vienna are now saying about the time of the meeting this morning that Iran had expanded its nuclear program by hooking up a second centrifuge. Did that come up in the meeting with ElBaradei and does that affect the U.S. position at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to -- no, I wasn't in this particular meeting so I don't -- I can't give you a full readout. We'll check to see if that issue was touched upon.
In terms of what's going on on the ground in Iran, the IAEA has the eyes on what's happening there. They do have inspectors that continue to be there. I can't tell you whether or not they have expanded from the 164-centrifuge cascade to something larger, but that has been our concern all along is that the Iranians are, it seems inexorably at this point, moving forward on expanding the number of centrifuges in these cascades and then linking those cascades up so that at some point in the future you will have industrial-scale production. You don't want that. You don't want that for a lot of different reasons. One, you don't want them to get good at enrichment and mastering the techniques and the know-how of enrichment. It's more -- this is science and art, and you acquire that knowledge through experience.
And you also don't want them to expand to industrial-scale production, because that would be -- that would be something that would be quite alarming for the rest of the world because that means that you are able to start to produce, or at least have the capability to produce, large amounts of highly enriched uranium, which leads you to the building blocks for a nuclear weapon.
So our position on this matter is clear. The Secretary has reiterated that. We call upon Iran to suspend all their enrichment and reprocessing related activities. That is the position not only of the United States but of the P-5+1 as well, and the Security Council.
QUESTION: Any other signs of Iranian developments since the August 31st resolution and are they pressing ahead as --
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, they are pressing ahead with their program. I can't offer you specifics as to, you know, how often they are running, spinning their centrifuges, how much gas they're introducing into them or whether or not they're expanding them. I don't have the details for you on that. But we do believe they are moving forward on their program.
QUESTION: The Iranians this weekend made several statements and including President Ahmadi-Nejad today, but this weekend the Foreign Minister said that if the international community would sanction, we will take appropriate measures.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: How do you assess the risk for the sanctions to give way to an influence, negative influence of Iran in Middle East, in Iraq, in the Palestinian territories --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're already --
QUESTION: Like on --
MR. MCCORMACK: They are already doing that. They're already doing that. They already are a negative influence in the region. I think the rest of the world and especially Iran's neighbors would very much like for Iran to play a positive role in the region. Iran as a country and as a culture has a lot to offer, has a lot to offer the rest of the world, has a lot to offer the rest of the region.
But the situation you have now, given Iranian behavior and under the current leadership, you have Iran really on the other side of the line from where the rest of the region is heading. The rest of the region is heading towards greater openness, greater freedoms, greater democracy, looking for solutions to avoid conflict, to work out differences through dialogue. Whereas, you have the Iranian regime which is just headed the other way. They're the sponsors of Hezbollah, which started a war in the region. They are clearly playing an unhelpful role in Iraq. The Iraqi Government has talked to them about that. They are probably the most significant state sponsors of terror in the world and they are now working to develop a nuclear weapon, which if they accomplish that would be probably one of the single most destabilizing events that we have ever seen in the Middle East.
So Iran already is playing, unfortunately, a negative role in the region and Iran's neighbors, more than anybody else, are concerned about that and have spoken out about it.
QUESTION: But this is a real threat so it could be worse. That's what they are saying. It could be even worse.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, I don't think that that argues in favor of not doing anything with respect to their nuclear program. As I said, it could get worse, absolutely. It could get a heck of a lot worse if you have a nuclear-armed Iran in the heart of the Middle East. Think about that. And Iran's neighbors have been thinking about that and they are alarmed at the prospect. The rest of the world, the international community is alarmed by that prospect. That's why you had -- that's why you had a Security Council resolution that was passed that called upon them to suspend all their enrichment and reprocessing- related activities. And you've also had others who looked at what happened when Hezbollah started a war in the Middle East and were quite concerned about that fact, quite concerned about the fact that a terrorist group sponsored by Iran could drag the entire region down into conflict. That got people's attention.
And I think that in terms of Iranian behavior, there is a lot of concern over a variety of things. I haven't even mentioned human rights and the just terrible record that this regime has on human rights and the way it treats its own people. So there's a lot to be concerned about concerning this regime's behavior. And certainly looking the other way because they might do -- they might lash out in some other way is certainly not how we're going to respond. And I don't think you're going to see the rest of the world turn a blind eye, because that is just -- once you start going down that pathway that is a pathway that just leads to a very, very negative place.
QUESTION: Sean, just a few moments ago you acknowledged that the activity on North Korea at the Security Council had probably pushed back action on Iran somewhat. And then you stated that you expected the subject of Iran to dominate at the UN Security Council for, as you put it, the next several weeks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Next few weeks, yeah.
QUESTION: So should we not expect a resolution to be adopted in the next several -- in the next few -- before three weeks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're looking for a resolution as soon as we can get one. We think it would be certainly positive if we get a resolution this week. Is that likely? That's not likely just because, as I have said before, we will witness the sine curve of hope and despair which is the negotiating process in the Security Council over resolutions, and there are strong feelings on this. This is just passage of a resolution, putting Iran under sanctions, puts Iran in a pretty exclusive club, not a very positive exclusive club but an exclusive club nonetheless. And people have views about that. But there's an agreement that we are going down this pathway, and the reason why we're going down this pathway is because this is the pathway that Iran has opened up for the rest of the world. There's a very positive offer that was put down before them. And all they were asked to do -- all they were asked to do was to suspend their enrichment-related activities in order to negotiate. They weren't being asked to subscribe or sign onto a particular outcome of negotiations. All they were asked to do was to suspend their enrichment-related activity so that they could get into negotiations and talk about a very attractive package that was laid out before them. And within the confines of that discussion you could raise a lot of different topics and we would be at the table talking to them about that.
So that -- you know, an entirely, I would put to you, reasonable offer put to the Iranian regime. One in which they could realize the benefits that they say that they want to realize from a peaceful nuclear regime, while giving the international community some objective assurances and reassuring it that they're not developing a nuclear weapon. But instead they have chosen another pathway, and we're fully prepared to go down that diplomatic pathway, which leads to sanctions.
QUESTION: You said there's fairly widespread agreement on what should be in the resolution.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: The last we had heard from you was that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Among the P-3.
QUESTION: Among the P-3, okay. Can you tell us any more than you did, I guess about ten days ago, when you told us that Nick Burns had in his videoconference with his counterparts succeeded in short of whittling down the large -- the two-page menu into a subset. Where are we at in that process now would you say?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have -- we have in mind what might -- what the components of that resolution might be, what the specific areas of sanction might be and all the various other language that goes around it. It's not put down on paper yet. I don't have -- I'm not going to offer any specifics at this point because that's part of the negotiating process. You don't -- we try not to negotiate the specifics of these resolutions too much in public. It inevitably happens. I know you're disappointed. Why not, right?
QUESTION: You never know. You might try it, since the other one is taking so much longer.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that that might not make the process easier, it might extend it out a bit.
QUESTION: Can I ask simply whether there is agreement that this round of sanctions should target Iran's WMD program? Is that agreed upon?
MR. MCCORMACK: James, I'm not going to talk about the specifics, but that is our initial focus. As the Secretary has made clear, we don't -- you don't start off with the most Draconian sanctions, because the idea here is you want Iran and the Iranian regime to change its behavior. And you also don't want to hurt the Iranian people. They are -- they are the, if you will, biggest losers out of all this because you have a regime that's taking them down this negative pathway whereas they could be realizing greater benefits through greater exchanges and openness with the rest of the world.
QUESTION: If we can stay on the nuclear subject. Senator Lugar yesterday said that the United States will -- eventually will have to have direct bilateral talks with North Korea. He said that it's going to happen, and it should happen sooner rather than later. So do you have --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- again, we have, you know, in this building great respect for Senator Lugar. He is an experienced wise voice on foreign policy. But there is this myth out there that somehow we don't talk with the North Koreans directly. We have on many occasions within the context of the six-party talks. But -- and we're willing to do that again. The Secretary has made that clear. Within the context of the six-party talks we are absolutely willing to talk to the North Koreans. Chris Hill has done it previously. He is ready to do it again. He's ready to have dinner with them again. He's ready to sit down with them again in the context of the six-party talks.
But the idea that you deal with North Korea in a strictly bilateral sense is one that's been tried and unfortunately has failed. And you -- we are now in a position where North Korea, when it persists in bad behavior in the vain of launching missiles, conducting a nuclear test. It's no longer -- it's not a U.S.-North Korea issue. This is now an issue where you have the Security Council and the other five parties of six-party talks united in putting pressure on North Korea to get them to change their behavior.
If you had just bilateral discussions -- imagine if we were just in a bilateral arrangement right now. On the playing field you would have North Korea and the United States. Everybody else on the sidelines saying, you got to make a deal. You got to make a deal. U.S. -- you got to accede to the North Korean demands. That's you know, you're not going to win too many hands of poker that way, I'll tell you that. You now have everybody else in the game. And it is now the other five parties of the six-party talks allayed speaking with one voice towards North Korea, saying change your behavior and if you don't change your behavior, if you persist in the negative behaviors that you have demonstrated, there are going to consequences. There are going to be diplomatic consequences to that. And it is going to become increasingly uncomfortable for the North Korean regime in terms of the sanctions that are applied to it. So again I think we -- this is no doubt a very, very difficult issue. But we believe that we are on the proper course.
QUESTION: Sorry. I think what Senator Lugar meant was that maybe the North Koreans need to be reassured that the U.S. doesn't want to overthrow their regime to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Secretary Rice has been asked this question many times. The President has been asked this question many times.
QUESTION: But one to one.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have -- again, we were sitting across the table from them. We signed on to the September 19th Framework Agreement. We have told them repeatedly the words of the President of the United States standing in South Korea, saying we have no intention to invade or attack you. And we have provided those assurances repeatedly. Secretary Powell has, Secretary Rice has reiterated those assurances.
So, you know, I don't know what more you need than the word of the President of the United States on that score. And in terms of other issues regarding the peninsula, those are outlined very clearly in the September 19th Framework Agreement. If you look at it, it talks about addressing the current state of play on the Korean Peninsula where you have a suspension of hostilities via a treaty but formalizing that. So there are a lot of different ways to get at the stated North Koreans concerns. And you have to just wonder if, in fact, these sorts of concerns that they continue to throw out and say that the United States and the six-parties -- other members of the six-party talks haven't met those, whether or not those are just excuses for not dealing with the core issues. And we'll see. We'll see what their true intentions are here. We hope that that they would see it clear to come back to the six-party talks and to engage in a constructive manner.
QUESTION: Sean, has Secretary Rice managed to reach Secretary General Annan yet on Darfur. And what would be the point of that conversation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she talked a little bit about this in the camera spray upstairs earlier. To my knowledge she has not. I think she's been in meetings pretty much straight up until the time I came out here. But she -- I think this afternoon she hopes to get in touch with Secretary General Annan to talk about the situation, talking about Sudan's expressed intent to throw out Mr. Pronck from Sudan. But we -- she has said that we believe that is unfortunate in the extreme.
So she's going to talk to him about what we might do to continue to try to get this regime to comply with the demands of the Security Council resolution and to work to get that international force in there, which is going to be -- which is really key to trying to address the current situation on the ground. It's -- it is a just terrible situation right now, where you have loss of innocent life. And there are areas where NGOs, where international organizations just can't get to so there are people that are at risk in those areas. And this is something that is -- the Secretary is very concerned about and works on even while she is on the road dealing with other issues. She brought this issue up in China, talking with her Chinese counterpart about the need to get something done on Sudan.
QUESTION: Does she have new ideas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the new ideas are to get the Sudanese Government to agree to allowing that international force, that UN blue-helmeted force which, for a lot of different reasons that we've talked about here previously, is -- we believe and the rest of the world believes -- the optimal solution.
QUESTION: There's been some commentary that the expulsion order was a bit of political theater because he was due to leave -- expected to leave, you know, at the end of Annan's term anyway.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So what do you view as the seriousness of --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it is -- I think we have to get a better handle on it. Whether or no it is related to or is a matter of political theater, I couldn't subscribe to that view. We think that it's important that the UN has continued high level access in Sudan. And as we've said, we believe that this order, if carried out, would be very, very unfortunate.
QUESTION: Did the Chinese tell her anything that, well, that is helping --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the sense we get is the Chinese do want to -- do understand the importance of getting an international force in there. And I think that they do have some influence with this regime. And they are not the only ones. I wouldn't put it solely on the Chinese. There are other states as well, some of the Arab states we are hoping, can talk to the Sudanese regime and explain to them clearly what the intent of this international force is and what the intent -- and address some of their concerns. They have stated that they have some concerns about what the mission of this force might be and the extent of their activity. So we are trying through a number of different channels. Andrew Natsios was there as well on our behalf. So we're trying a number of different channels to try to change the minds of this regime and let that international force in.
QUESTION: Did you get a readout of his trip? Has he briefed the Secretary of his conversations?
MR. MCCORMACK: He has not -- he is scheduled to sit down with her, I think either this afternoon or tomorrow, to give her a direct readout.
QUESTION: Sean, with regard to the Sudanese, 15 Sudanese soldiers were arrested near Juba. That's down in the south. So when there is a will, there is a way. Now, did the UN, did we, have to push for that, those arrests? But that's probably in conjunction with the North-South agreement versus Darfur. And yesterday, 60 Minutes ran a show with John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group which is based in Brussels, Belgium.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And as of October 12th, they are calling this whole crisis a major UN peacekeeping force directly a three-year failure with inaction. And this whole exposÃ© last night with Scott Pelley and 60 Minutes pointed out the fragility of doing something to end this crisis immediately. Is there any further follow-up with other international groups to put pressure on the Sudanese Government at Khartoum?
MR. MCCORMACK: I just talked about a few of those, Joel. Certainly that's not an exhaustive list. European governments are concerned about this, you know, playing a role. As I said, the Chinese, other members of the Security Council, Arab governments, the Arab League; So we are working, working through all channels that we know that we have available, Joel.
QUESTION: Have you seen the television commercial on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Anything else? No? We got more. Kirit.
QUESTION: Oliver North has written a few op-eds recently quite critical of the State Department on policy in Nicaragua. I just wondered if you had any sort of response to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: He's a private citizen and he is free to express his views and travel where he likes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the remarks made by Mr. Alberto -- Alberto Fernandez and how does the State Department and you feel about the -- what he said?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think he himself addressed it. He originally told his colleagues that he had been misquoted. He went back and looked at the transcript and he realized at that point that he had misspoke. He put out a statement apologizing for his remarks. He also made it clear that those remarks do not represent his personal views and they certainly don't represent the views of the State Department. So as far as we're concerned, the matter is closed.
QUESTION: Did he get in trouble?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Did he get in trouble?
MR. MCCORMACK: What do you mean by "get in trouble"?
QUESTION: Was he rebuked by his superiors for this?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's still in his job.
QUESTION: That's not what I asked you.
MR. MCCORMACK: He's still in his job.
QUESTION: Can I have a readout of the meeting of the Secretary with the Foreign Minister of Netherlands Bernard Bot?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, they met for about half an hour. They talked about a lot of different things. They talked about Afghanistan and they talked about the situation on the ground there. They talked about the importance of the NATO mission and what the NATO mission is accomplishing there. The Dutch have some people down in Uruzgan Province. Talked about the importance of that NATO mission succeeding and our shared belief that it will, and that it is engaging the Taliban now in some tough fighting but also we believe that that NATO mission will -- has been performing very, very well and that that mission will succeed. They've talked -- they talked about just the generate state of the transatlantic alliance and how really we have been able over the past years to put that transatlantic relationship to work. Afghanistan is one example of that.
They talked about -- talked a little bit about the military commissions, U.S. plans to implement that legislation, and a little bit about the upcoming NATO summit in Riga. I think that's pretty much it.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the referendum in Panama on expanding the Canal?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that they are -- that there is a referendum that is underway. I think it's a multibillion dollar referendum to expand the canal. Our view is that this is a decision for the Panamanian people to make.
QUESTION: Did the Panama Canal treaties come into play at all with respect to this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, George. I haven't seen anything from the lawyers on that but I'll check into it.
QUESTION: Regarding the Fernandez comments, despite the apology, it does sort of raise the question of whether there could be a public opinion benefit of maybe having a more open discussion of some of the mistakes there. And I just wonder if that -- what your response might be to that question.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that there is a very healthy and vigorous debate in this country and elsewhere about Iraq and all the various elements of Iraq policy from, you know, dating from now back to 2003. The President and Secretary Rice and other high level officials have talked about their views about what we've done there, what has worked, what hasn't worked. And all along the way, learning from those instances where initiatives might not have worked and ensuring that you make changes so that they do work in the future. So I think there is, you know, I think there's pretty vigorous debate, you know, just looking at your front pages, looking at your airwaves, looking at the internet. I think that there's no shortage of discussion about the issue.
QUESTION: And you think there has been sufficient acknowledgement by the U.S. Government of any mistakes they may have made in the -- in policy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you know, I think the -- certainly the attitude of Secretary Rice is that if you think something is not working the way it should, this goes for Iraq or any other place around the world, her interest is in identifying the problem and finding a solution and implementing the solution and making it work. And as she has said before to many of you here, there are going to be a lot of people writing a lot of dissertations when she goes back to Stanford about all the "mistakes" that have been made concerning Iraq. She will supervise many of those dissertations. But her focus and her attitude is if there -- if you need to correct your policies, if you need to modify programs, figure out how to do it and get it done,and focus on getting the job done and succeeding. And that's -- I think that's a fair summation of her attitude.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary received assurances that there is a slot available to her at Stanford after she leaves this job?
MR. MCCORMACK: She is on leave -- she is on leave from Stanford.
QUESTION: And so she'll go back --
MR. MCCORMACK: She retains her -- I don't know technically how you'd refer to it, but she still is a tenured professor at Stanford University on the leave of absence. George Shultz, I think had a similar sort of arrangement when he was Secretary of State. He was gone for eight years.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)
DPB # 171
Released on October 23, 2006