State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 27, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 27, 2006
US Congratulates Alexander Milinkevich of Belarus on Winning the
Report Iran Has Doubled its Capacity to Enrich Uranium
UN Security Council Draft Resolution on Iran
Report of Possible Terrorist Threats to Saudi Oil Facilities
China's Compliance with UN Resolution 1718
Implementation of UN Resolution 1718 by Countries in the Region
US Ambassador's Remarks Regarding Discussions with North Korea in
the Context of Six-Party Talks
Reports of Civilians Killed in a NATO Military Strike
Meetings Today with NATO Secretary General
Query on Positions to be Filled in South Korean Ministries
Meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in
Stephen Young's Comments on Taiwan
Possible Travel to Burma by UN Official Ibrahim Gambari
12:00 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon everybody. I have one brief opening statement and then we can get right into your questions. The statement concerns congratulations to the Sakharov Prize winner Alexander Milinkevich. The United States congratulates Alexander Milinkevich of Belarus on winning the prestigious Sakharov Prize from the conference of the Presidents in the European Parliament. The prize is awarded each year to celebrate freedom of thought and demonstrates Europe's recognition, which we share, of the courage of the political opposition in pursuing democracy in the hostile environment that exists in Belarus today.
The Lukshenko Regime has repeatedly demonstrated a disdain for basic human freedoms to maintain its dictatorial role. The regime continues to hold numerous prisoners of conscience who are being detained solely because they have tried to exercise their fundamental rights, and we urge their immediate release. This award shows that the indomitable human will for open political expression and freedom of speech exemplified by Andre Sakharov is alive and well in Belarus today. The United States is proud to stand with the Belarusian people.
With that, we'll take your questions. Anybody want to start?
QUESTION: There's a report from Iran that Iran has doubled its capacity to enrich Uranium using a second cascade of centrifuges injected with the necessary chemical equipment -- it's not my favorite subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Uranium hexafluoride.
QUESTION: Yeah, you're -- that's exactly right. (Laughter.) So do you know anything like that? It's supposed to be a semi-official sort of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: But they want the word out clearly, so --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen the press reports, Barry. And both on the second cascade as well as the Iranian claim that they have introduced uranium hexafluoride UF-6 into the second cascade, and that would be a step towards actually enriching uranium, which they also claim that they have done. I can't confirm those reports for you, Barry. We're obviously not on the ground there. The IAEA is there. They have inspectors that visit these facilities at Natanz, the known facilities, and they would probably be in the best position to comment on both the second cascade as well as this new development -- this potential new development of introduction of the uranium hexafluoride.
I think that this underscores -- if true, would simply underscore the fact that we need to move forward in the coming days and weeks on a strong resolution that imposes sanctions on Iran with the goal in mind that Iran would choose the pathway of negotiation in order to realize its goals and so the international community can reassure itself and be assured that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program.
QUESTION: It's Friday. We're done? Joel. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, then I'll take a question. Before I say thank you, I'll take a question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any reports from the embassy in Saudi Arabia or the consulate of any al-Qaida related concerns?
QUESTION: I have a question on Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Well, why don't we do this. We'll answer Charlie's question, then we'll come back on Iran right afterwards.
Anything else, Charlie?
QUESTION: Well, just any movements of ships or any U.S. knowledge of this increased threat, and what are you doing about it if you know about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I don't think it would surprise you that we wouldn't comment on any specifics of any counterterrorism cooperation we might have with Saudi Arabia or any other country. But I don't think it would surprise you to hear of such threats right now because I think several weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago, Ayman al-Zawahiri, number two in al-Qaida, released a videotape in which he, among other calls to action, called for terrorists to attack and target Saudi oil facilities. This would of course be a concern to the Saudi Government and there have been threats in the past against their oil facilities.
We have excellent counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia. We of course would do whatever we could if there was a request from the Saudi Government both in general terms or in specific terms for assistance in countering a terrorist threat, but I think you would understand that we wouldn't get into the specifics of that.
QUESTION: Well, let me follow up then. Is the U.S. doing anything for its own embassy personnel, consulate personnel and/or naval personnel that might be in the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There is no -- there are no Warden messages that have been issued. Our embassies in Saudi Arabia and around the world, anytime there is new information that comes in, they assess their security posture; and if they feel as though they have to make any changes or adjustments to that security posture, they go ahead and make them. In this particular case, I don't have anything to -- I'm not aware of anything new or different that they've done.
QUESTION: But are you aware of a specific threat to the Ras Tanura export terminal in Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I can't get into talking about specific -- any specific threats. I think the Saudis would probably be in a better position to talk about any specific threats that might be targeted against their facilities. But as I said, in general there have been calls by al-Qaida to attack Saudi oil facilities in the recent past. And these aren't new. I've -- you go back in the record, you can see these threats previously and we will do everything that we can if there is a request for assistance, both in general terms or specific terms to assist Saudi -- the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: Have there been any requests for assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have --
QUESTION: Regardless of what --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- we have an ongoing cooperation with the Saudi Government, but I'm not going to talk -- and I think you understand why -- about any specific requests or the specific aspects of our counterterrorism cooperation with them or any other country.
QUESTION: The reason we're asking is that, you know -- let me find the statement -- the Royal Navy has said it is deploying forces to counter a possible threat to Ras Tanura, so it's not as if this is some big, you know, secret.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. But it's not for me to talk about terrorist threats against another country. They themselves can talk about those things. And if, in fact, they have then you have the information. It's not for me to talk about it. And I can only talk in general terms about what cooperation -- the kind of cooperation, the kind of atmosphere of cooperation that we have with Saudi Arabia. But I won't talk about any specifics that we might be engaged in, especially as the reports go, might concern U.S. naval forces.
QUESTION: Yes. When is it expected that you get a feedback from the UN inspectors concerning the conformation of Iran starting the second stage of pumping UF-6 and especially that there are some BBC sources that stated that they already knew about it, the inspectors?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't speak to that. You know, the IAEA has its own procedures where inspectors filed reports, they go back to the headquarters, headquarters notifies member-states. I can't tell you how long that would take in this particular case or in general. But usually if there is a sudden development and an important development, such as this, the -- I imagine, the IAEA headquarters would be notified relatively quickly. But again, the inspectors have to satisfy themselves that they understand exactly what it is that they're seeing and be able to confirm that with, you know, scientific testing or empirical evidence.
QUESTION: Would this make it faster to reach a decision between you and the P-5+1 concerning Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it underscores the fact that we should move forward on a UN Security Council resolution that increases the diplomatic pressure on the Iranian Government to, we would hope, change its posture with regard to the idea of negotiating with the P-5+1. There's a very attractive offer out there on the table. But thus far, the Iranian regime has refused to even entertain the idea of serious negotiations. That's all they've been asked to do, suspend enrichment, suspend reprocessing related activities to realize negotiations. That -- it's a very simple proposition and I think a pretty low bar for them to get over. But thus far they have refused to do so. We hope the day will come soon that they do take up the international community on that offer. Until that day, the diplomatic pressure will continue to increase on them. It will steadily increase until that day when we do realize negotiations on this matter.
QUESTION: If Iran were doing this and the IAEA confirmed it, I wouldn't think you'd be reluctant to let it be known because of one thing, it would strengthen your hand in the UN. I'm not into mind reading, but if you haven't -- the fact that you won't confirm or say you can't -- it's up to the IAEA, it would seem to suggest that there's a good question on top of this.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not trying to dispute the reports, Barry. I think just for form and process sake, we traditionally let the IAEA talk about what its own inspectors find. I'm not trying to cast any doubt on the report, but simply to -- I'm simply saying that we are not in a position to do that. That is not our job to perform. The IAEA will do that, I'm sure, in due course.
But as for whether or not there is need for any other compelling evidence to pass a resolution, I don't think we need any. Iran's record of non-cooperation, as well as the evidence that has been accumulated thus far, in addition to the questions left unanswered, I think make a strong and irrefutable case that Iran needs to be compelled through diplomatic measures to change its behavior. And we have an agreement with the P-5+1 that if they had failed to comply with the demand of the UN Security Council, the requirement of the UN Security Council by August 31st, then they would face sanctions, and that's where -- that's the pathway we're headed down now. And we're headed down that pathway not because that's our first choice, it's not. It's not our first choice. It's not the first choice of the Security Council or the members of P-5+1. But this is the pathway that Iran is leading us down.
QUESTION: On Korea, North Korea. There was a report in The New York Times -- I think the first page this morning -- where basically they're saying that China is vigorously inspecting North Korean fruit, and it was pretty critical of China's efforts, which seems to refute some of the claims made about progress made with the Chinese, basically the Chinese aren't really doing much at all. Do you have any response to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would just say that, you know, such a news report is one small snapshot of one particular area on a particular day. Implementation of Resolution 1718 I would expect is going to be carried out at a variety of different levels and in a variety of different ways. We are very confident that the Chinese Government is going to take very seriously its responsibilities and duties to implement 1718, but there's not going to be a cookie-cutter approach as to how the resolution is implemented in each different country or even in each given location in a country. Secretary Rice said as much when we were on our trip.
So there are a lot of different ways and a lot of different levels at which this resolution is going to be implemented. We are very confident that the Chinese Government has made a fundamental decision with regard to 1718 and that it will vigorously comply with the obligations under 1718, as will other countries in the region. This is an even more acute problem for North Korea's neighbors than it is for the United States. Certainly it is of great concern to us, but it is North Korea that set off a nuclear device in the backyard of China and South Korea and Japan. So they certainly don't need any motivation from the United States to take vigorous steps to implement 1718 and we fully expect that they will.
QUESTION: It's been two weeks since 1718 was passed. Does the U.S. have a sort of assessment on how the countries in the region have sort of implemented this already?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you're seeing a variety of different actions. You have a situation where, without warning, North Korea -- or very, very little warning -- North Korea detonated a nuclear device. In very short order after that, the Security Council voted 15-0 on 1718, what is now Resolution 1718, which contains some very powerful tools and has some very important obligations laid out for the international community. It was done very quickly and you -- as you might expect, you don't just flip a switch and the next day you have full and complete implementation of 1718. Each country has to assess what it is that it is going to be doing. We, for instance, are looking at the package of sanctions that we are going to apply, and many of those have to do just with the fact that North Korea detonated a nuclear device and we are obligated under law to take certain steps.
But I believe if you just look at the news reports, you know, the public reports, Japan, South Korea, China have all taken immediate steps. And I would expect that there's going to be -- there are going to be further steps that they take.
QUESTION: And how does the U.S. plan on assessing countries' compliance with 1718?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not for us to judge. We're not judging these countries. There is a UN Sanctions Committee which is meeting, which is charged in a formal sense through a UN process with laying out the guidelines for how this resolution is going to be implemented and then making judgments about the implementation efforts of individual countries. So it's not the U.S. judging South Korea. It's not the U.S. judging China.
Our -- you know, what we view our role is as urging every country to do everything that it can to ensure that North Korea isn't able to traffic in items, technology, know-how, goods, finances that might further its weapons of mass destruction and missile programs. And we are confident, based on our conversations with countries in the region, that they're going to faithfully and fully implement 1718.
QUESTION: Sean, I don't think it's a matter of judging them. You do want to ensure that the materials and equipment do not reach North Korea. That's the bottom line, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: So do you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Or the other way around.
QUESTION: Right, right. Or come out. Are you saying you have full trust in the UN Sanctions Committee to do that? Are you going to have your own experts looking at these things?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course -- look, of course we're going to have our own assessments. Of course we'll do our own internal assessments. But those assessments are done to inform policymakers' judgments. They're not to pronounce publicly on the efforts of other UN member-states in implementing the resolution.
If we see issues arise, I'm sure that at some point down the road we'll talk in private about them to get a better understanding. But our focus, our focus right now, is on working with individual states on how we might cooperate in implementing the resolution. There was a strong, strong sense coming out of the Secretary's trip to the region that there -- that these countries wanted to cooperate in implementation because you have to -- you have to have individual states act clearly, but a big part of this in order for it to be truly effective will involve information sharing and potential cooperation in terms of action to ensure that you don't have the transit of any materials that nobody wants to see leave North Korea or have the materials go into North Korea that could somehow further their program.
So in order to be truly effective, you both have to have action by individual states but you also have to have that cooperation and perhaps collective action to ensure that the resolution is as effective as it can be in achieving its goal; that is, make sure that they can't further their programs, make sure dangerous materials or know-how aren't exported from North Korea to other dangerous states or organizations.
QUESTION: Today the U.S. Ambassador to Japan said that the U.S. would be ready to have talks one-to-one with North Korea if they return to the six-party talks. Can you confirm?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his remarks, but that's hardly news. We have said from the very beginning that in the context of the six-party talks, in the context of the six-party talks, in and around the six-party talks, we're willing to have discussions with North Korea. We're not going to negotiate with them -- with them one-on-one but of course we'll have discussions with them. Negotiations take place among the six parties. I haven't seen Ambassador Schieffer's remarks.
QUESTION: "We are happy to discuss the issues with them in bilateral ways or in a multilateral system." So it's not --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't see -- no, I don't see any contradiction. You can have a bilateral discussion in the context of the six-party talks. It doesn't mean you're negotiating bilaterally with North Korea. It means that you are having a discussion just the two parties in the context of the six-party talks and you can also have a discussion in a multilateral forum.
QUESTION: Sean, can we change the subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: On Afghanistan and the visit by the NATO Secretary General I know was at the White House this morning, there is another report today that we have carrying an Afghan provincial official as saying that at least 14 civilians were killed in the southern province of Uruzgan. Do you plan to raise the issue of alleged civilian deaths in Afghanistan with Mr. de Hoop Scheffer. Does it concern you that there have been such a spate of reports this week and does it not make your efforts there to fight back the Taliban and to win the hearts and minds of people who might otherwise be Taliban sympathizers when there are these reports?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, anytime there's innocent loss of life, it's a tragedy. There is -- the NATO forces in Afghanistan take every possible precaution that they can to avoid loss of innocent civilian life. It's a tragedy for the families. It is, I know, very difficult for the Afghan Government. It's also important to remember, too, that these NATO forces, U.S. forces for that matter, Afghan forces, are being targeted and attacked by the Taliban.
And also by the way, the Taliban is hardly discriminate in whether or not it kills innocent civilians. As a matter of fact, they target individuals who they perceive as "cooperating" with their own government and with those forces that are there in Afghanistan to protect them from the Taliban. So it is -- it is just heart-rending, whenever you see the loss of innocent life. And I can assure you any of the forces that are there in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan Government and to protect -- help protect the Afghan people take every possible precaution they can to avoid the loss of innocent life.
As for this particular case, I think it's probably most appropriate to let NATO and the NATO commanders comment on it. And you know, I'm sure the Secretary and the Secretary General will talk about Afghanistan. I don't think I'd put it quite the way it is. The Secretary will raise with them. I'm sure they're going to talk about issues related to Afghanistan. We ourselves are a NATO member. So it's not as if it is a confrontational issue for us.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) think you'd want to talk about Afghanistan, given the level of U.S. deployments there as part of the NATO mission.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure --
QUESTION: But my question was are they going to talk about -- I mean, I said raise, but even if she doesn't raise it, does she expect to talk about the civilian deaths or is that not something you think she'll talk about?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't tell you. Let's let the meeting take place. I'm sure that they'll talk about Afghanistan and they will talk about their Riga Summit as well as other NATO issues. And I can't -- you'll have to get a readout from the White House as to what they -- the President discussed with Mr. de Hoop Scheffer.
QUESTION: Who will represent the U.S. in the meeting in Morocco next Monday on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism?
MR. MCCORMACK: Under Secretary Bob Joseph, along with an American delegation will be there. Yeah, it's an important initiative.
QUESTION: And why Morocco is chosen to host this and how many countries participating in it?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have to get you some more information on that, Samir.
Yeah. Anything else?
QUESTION: One more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Korea. South Korea's intelligence chief has offered to resign following the October 9th North Korean nuclear test. I know this was raised yesterday and you said, look, this is for the South Koreans to deal with. But you have what appears to be the sort of mass turnover of South Korea's most, other than the president, you know, most -- senior most national security officials. Is that any cause for concern for you?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think these -- as I said yesterday, these are matters solely for the Korean people and the Korean Government to determine. We are quite confident in our working relationships from the top down to the bottom of the South Korean Government. And I fully expect that any programs of cooperation in our diplomatic relations will proceed unimpeded.
Okay, thanks. Oh, we got one more. Late breaker.
QUESTION: Yeah, right. But while this question was asked yesterday actually, the Steve Young's remarks in Taipei have sparked a lot of controversy in Taiwan. We know the U.S. policy, but it is how the policy was presented that seems to have caused trouble, backfire and, you know, demonstrations and protest planned in front of the AID office. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that Mr. Young presented the U.S. position any differently than it's been presented in the past.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Based on the strong reaction from Taiwan's opposition, under such circumstances, Mr. Stephen Young is -- seems to be a liability rather than an asset. So do you have any -- under such current situation, do you have any plan to recall him or anything else?
MR. MCCORMACK: no.
QUESTION: Does he still have confidence in him?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's doing a good job.
QUESTION: On Burma. There were reports that Ibrahim Gambari, the UN official, may be going back. Do you believe that that's true?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to check with his office. And certainly he's been a tireless worker on behalf of these issues, and we would expect that if he does go back there, that he would press specifically for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the others that are held by this regime, and also press for the expansion of democratic freedoms and rights for the Burmese people.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:32 p.m.)
DPB # 174
Released on October 27, 2006