State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 1, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
November 1, 2006
Discussion of Range of Issues Within the Context of Six-Party
September 2005 Joint Statement and North Korea's Commitment
Resumption of Six-Party Talks and Possible Dates
U.S. Seeks Verifiable Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula
Under Secretary Joseph and Assistant Secretary Hill Travel Plans
Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718
Turkey and EU Membership
Secretary Rice's Meeting with NATO Secretary General
Secretary Rice's Conference Call with P5+1 Ministers
Under Secretary Burns' Discussions with Political Director
Status of UN Security Council Draft Resolution on Iran
Under Secretary Sheeran as US Candidate for Head of UN World Food
Conviction and Sentencing of Mr. Talaat Sadat
US-Egyptian Bilateral Relations
White House Statement on Evidence of Plans to Destabilize the
Democratically-Elected Government of Lebanon
Secretary Rice's Interview with Lebanon Broadcasting Corp
Implementation of UN Resolution 1701
Violence in Sri Lanka
Assistant Secretary Welch's Travel to Region
Reports of Israeli Operations into Gaza Strip
Possible Upcoming Meeting of Quartet
China's Relations with African States
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements. Ready for your questions. Who wants to go first?
QUESTION: Let me try on North Korea for a change.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: There's a statement out that they're going back to the talks --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- to unfreeze frozen bank assets. Of course this is the Macau financials primarily. Do they get a shot at that, do you think?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, here's what we've committed to, Barry. We have committed, in the context of the six-party talks, coming up with a mechanism -- could be a working group, could take some other form -- to address these issues with the North Korean Government. They have an interest in addressing these issues. But the best way to really deal with this issue is to get at the root causes, which are North Korea's illicit behavior.
What we did was simply provide information to a bank in Macau. They took -- the steps they took were on their own, their decision to make in terms of freezing these accounts. So it's not the United States that has frozen these accounts. And we, of course, have certain legal responsibilities in terms of protecting our currency and providing information to those who might need it in order to take those steps that they deem appropriate, and we have a responsibility to protect our currency. But we will seek to address the issue in the context of the six-party talks.
QUESTION: Sean, are you committing to a mechanism to address it? Did Secretary Hill or any other U.S. officials convey to the North Koreans any ideas on how you would address it or how you might resolve this?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: And can you conceive of its resolution absent the North Koreans ceasing what you regard as violations of our law?
MR. MCCORMACK: Arshad, that's a question for discussions not only within the U.S. government but also should we get to the six-party talks, that sort of mechanism. So, again, that's -- you know, it's a hypothetical question at this point. Like I said, the best way to get at it is stopping the behavior which causes people to freeze accounts. And by the way, it's not the United States who froze the accounts.
QUESTION: But I don't understand how you could address it or reach an agreement or deal with them unless they stop what you say is breaking U.S. law.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. That's why we have a mechanism to discuss these things to address them.
QUESTION: And has the U.S. Government itself come to a consensus position on how to deal with this issue or is that still being discussed internally?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think if there is any internal discussions on the matter, it would be guided by U.S. laws and regulations. And I don't have the ins and outs of what those regulations are, but there are very clear laws and regulations here. And if we do get to the point of having the six-party talks and discussing this issue, perhaps those ideas might be further refined. But at this point I don't have anything for you.
QUESTION: One last one on this. Yesterday I asked you whether the North Koreans had reaffirmed their commitment to the September 2005 agreement, and you said you didn't know, that you hadn't asked Ambassador Hill about that. Do you now know? Did they reaffirm --
MR. MCCORMACK: They haven't walked away from it.
QUESTION: But you don't know if they explicitly said, yeah, we're still with this? In other words, an absence of walking away is not the same as --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let them speak for themselves. But they haven't walked away from it, so our -- we would be operating under the idea that they still would abide by it and it is still operative for them. And I think, you know, one hint would be the fact that they are going back to the six-party talks. We're all talking about the fact that we're going to be operating on that basis and using that as a starting point, I think is an indication of their thinking but I will let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: And you --
QUESTION: Can I just ask you if you've got anything further on the date for the talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing. Nothing yet, Barry.
QUESTION: Where you were yesterday. But people are all over the general area of sometime this year.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sometime this year. Before the end of the year.
QUESTION: What about these teams that -- you know, the groups of people that Bush talked about that are going to go over and work on enforcing sanctions? Have you come any closer to determining who will lead it and --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're working on the modalities of that and we'll probably have more to say on that in the near future. Nothing for you right now.
QUESTION: Some analysts are saying that this weakens your hand in terms of ensuring that sanctions are properly imposed against North Korea, the fact that they seem to be more conciliatory (inaudible) coming back to talks. What's your view on that?
And secondly --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) but what is the logic behind that? I mean, what -- I mean, other than the assertion of that, which is interesting on its face, what is the logic that underpins that?
QUESTION: I'm just asking you what your view is of it, not of the logic of it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, it would be interesting to understand it so I could try to address it in detail. But so the idea is that somehow North Korea saying it's going to return to the six-party talks is --
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, might weaken the --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- sort of strategically weakens the position of the other five parties, members of the five-party. Well, gosh almighty, I -- you know, I don't even know where to begin with that. Look, everybody has a shared objective here in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. And we believe and the other four members of the six-party talks certainly believe that diplomacy and this specific mechanism of the six-party talks is the single best way to achieve that goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and also to try to deal with some of the other attendant issues that go along with the situation in that region. It's a -- it certainly has an ancillary benefit that we have seen in the wake of the North Korean missile test as well as a nuclear blast test. It is a -- already serves as an informal coordination mechanism where immediately after that explosion was announced, you had the foreign ministers from those -- those five parties on the phone talking about how they were going to respond to this.
So there are many, many different benefits to this particular mechanism and forum. But most importantly, we think that if you're going to achieve a diplomatic solution of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, this is the way to do it. You're going to have those countries that have the most diplomatic leverage, and by the way the most interest in finding a solution, there around the table. And we have already seen the power of this idea, this grouping, which was a driving force behind the passage UN Security Council Resolution 1718. So again, not understanding the logic of that particular argument, I think that that idea is just (inaudible).
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of the travel plans of Bob Joseph and also Chris Hill? They're on the way back, right? Did you discuss that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to -- we're going to have more on all the who, the when and the where in the near future.
QUESTION: Sean, can you, just for the sake of our colleagues in Asia who are obsessed by these matters, can you confirm that Hill is on his way back?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's very kind of you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, it just -- you know, it can help everybody sometimes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Can you tell us that -- is Hill indeed on his way back?
MR. MCCORMACK: He is. He is on his way back. Yeah, I --
QUESTION: To Washington, yes?
MR. MCCORMACK: To Washington. I think he'll be back here sometime today, maybe in the afternoon.
QUESTION: And Bob Joseph, if I'm not mistaken, was supposed to go to Moscow after Morocco, but I don't think he did that.
MR. MCCORMACK: He's on his way back here.
QUESTION: Here? From Morocco?
MR. MCCORMACK: From Morocco. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you for that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And I hope you all wrote stories about his effort at combating nuclear terrorism. It's a worthy, worthy effort.
QUESTION: After trick-or-treating I wrote that story.
MR. MCCORMACK: Excellent. I did hear it on WTOP this morning.
QUESTION: I had a question actually about -- do you want to do North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's a lot of comity here in the press area.
QUESTION: I just -- some analysts, Sean, have suggested, you know, China's role --
MR. MCCORMACK: Not the same analysts that have been talking to Sue, are they?
QUESTION: Well, maybe, I don't know. I don't know who's talking to Reuters. But some have suggested that China might now -- now that they've gotten North Korea back to the table might now have reason to back off enforcing UN sanctions and other economic pressures. Are you worried about that at all that China now has reason to step back and say okay, we've gotten them back to the table --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have gotten no indication from the Chinese that that is their attitude, their stance. Part of the mission that will be going out there in the near future will be to not only talk about the -- creating the conditions for an effective next round of the six-party talks but also to talk about continuing implementation of Security Council Resolution 1718 and really to follow up at a more technical level as well on the Secretary's discussions during her trip about how best to coordinate implementation of this resolution.
So I've seen no indication at this point that China or any other country, any other of North Korea's neighbors, are in any way backing off implementation of 1718. And we made it quite clear yesterday and with the Chinese and with North Korea that we were going to proceed with implementation of 1718.
QUESTION: Sean, can you confirm that the progress, movement toward an agreement on the nuclear issue, is possible even if these financial issues are not resolved? In other words --
MR. MCCORMACK: We would certainly hope so.
MR. MCCORMACK: We would certainly hope so.
QUESTION: South Korean Foreign Minister, the future UN Secretary General, has said today or asked the United States and Japan to be ready to normalize their relations with North Korea. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, the general topic is something that is embedded in the September 19th joint statement. It talks about addressing issues of the armistice to wit, you know, the United States is a party to that. I think there are three parties to it: North Korea, China and the United States. So again, these -- all of these issues are wrapped up and are -- can potentially be addressed within the confines of the six-party talks.
But the most immediate issue, and the issue at the top of everybody's agenda, is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And our hope is that when you get into this next round of talks that you actually have some concrete progress using the September 19th statement as a starting point so we don't have talks for talk sake or some sort of talk shop, that this is a round that actually gets to taking some concrete steps toward that goal.
And that's one of the reasons why we want to take a little bit of time to prepare these talks. There are six members of these talks, a lot of complicated issues, some of them very technical. And what you want to do is you want to make sure that these talks certainly with the five are well prepared and well coordinated. You know, this is really in a way sort of three-dimensional chess, making sure that for any given move that you have to account for a reaction against -- a reaction to that. So that's why we're taking a little bit of time to make sure these talks are well prepared.
QUESTION: There was a report in Tokyo that the North Korea would admit involvement of some group in counterfeiting but not the government itself. And U.S. has been saying that the North Korean Government is responsible for counterfeiting. So is U.S. -- can U.S. can accept that the North Korea saying that this is done by somebody in North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: This should -- if that is in fact the case, then I am sure that it will be raised during the discussions at the next round of the six-party talks. But before that time, I'm not going to get into a discussion of what might be acceptable, what we believe, what we don't believe. The bottom line is that North Korea should not be engaged in illicit activities, which includes counterfeiting U.S. currency.
QUESTION: On Cyprus, Mr. McCormack.
MR. MCCORMACK: You're not in your typical seat. You're way back there.
QUESTION: Because I just came to the last --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's okay, you can sit anywhere you like.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Except for Barry's chair. You can't sit in Barry's chair. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul stated yesterday, "Some countries and leaders are trying to block Turkey enter to the European Union by using the Cyprus issue." Without giving names, I am wondering, Mr. McCormack, if the U.S. is among those countries.
MR. MCCORMACK: Of blocking Turkey's access to the EU?
QUESTION: Correct. That's my question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're not a -- first of all, we're not a member of the EU. And second, we have publicly stated our support for Turkey's beginning of accession talks with the EU and proceeding along the pathway that has been laid out. They have a work plan that has been agreed upon between the EU and Turkey, and our hope is that the two sides would progress down that work plan. And you know, again, we don't have a vote. You know, we're not a member.
QUESTION: Any readout from last Friday's meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer?
MR. MCCORMACK: I did talk a little bit about this at the time. They talked about a lot of different issues. They talked about NATO's mission in Afghanistan. They talked about the Balkans. They talked about issues related to Russia and Georgia. They talked about the Riga -- the upcoming Riga summit. So that's a general take on what they discussed.
QUESTION: Did they discuss specifically Kosovo issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: They just touched upon it in broad strokes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit.
QUESTION: On Iran, the Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov was quoted yesterday saying that Russia believes Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. And I'm just wondering -- this kind of strikes at the heart of the reason for asking for Iranian suspension in the first place. I was wondering, first of all, if we've heard this from the Russians before; and second, if you think this is just posturing or if this is actually the Russian position.
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen the -- I haven't seen that particular quote. Secretary Rice yesterday had a conversation with the P-5+1 ministers. They had a conference call to talk about the way forward, getting a resolution. Our common understanding -- and we haven't heard anything that would cause us to doubt this understanding -- is that the next step is a Security Council resolution, a Chapter 7, Article 41 resolution. So -- and nothing in the phone call yesterday gave us pause in that regard. Nick Burns has followed up, has already followed up with his political director colleagues on this issue. John Bolton is doing the same up in New York.
So while there are still negotiations that will need to be had concerning the specific contents of the resolution, the process is moving forward. We hope that it will move forward with some speed. We think it's important that we all come together and act with a sense of urgency so that the Iranians and the rest of the world sees that when the Security Council says something, lays down conditions, makes demands and requires a state -- a member-state -- to do something, and if they don't do it that there are consequences for that. And so the further and further away you get from that, the more questions it might -- it could potentially leave in the minds of the state in question, in this case Iran.
So we would hope that the P-5+1, as well as the whole Security Council when we get to that point, can move forward and come up with a good, strong resolution.
QUESTION: Have you heard this from the Russians before at all or is this the first time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I hadn't -- I haven't seen the quote. I haven't seen the quote. But again, we haven't heard anything from the Russians, or any other member of the P-5+1 for that matter, that gives us pause regarding whether or not there was a deal and there is, in fact, an understanding on the table.
QUESTION: While we're up in New York, can you deal with (inaudible) with Josette Shiner seeking the World Food slot?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. It's --
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on Iran? Can I ask one --
QUESTION: Sean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we have more on Iran before we move to Josette. Okay, who wants to go?
QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Sergey Lavrov --
QUESTION: That's what I was going to ask.
QUESTION: Sergey Lavrov actually says he -- that Moscow cannot support the current resolution as it stands. So has Russia --
MR. MCCORMACK: All that means to me is that they have some changes to the draft that's on the table. That's certainly understandable. Like I said, we're, I'm sure, over the coming period of time, going to go through the sine curve of hope and despair.
QUESTION: But there was some good back and forth between the Secretary and Lavrov on the call yesterday?
MR. MCCORMACK: They always have a good discussion. The Secretary always enjoys speaking with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: But did he voice those concerns on the phone call?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wasn't on the phone call, so I can't tell you exactly what the content of it was.
QUESTION: You haven't heard?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm, you know, having a Claude Rains moment here, shocked that, you know, a member of the Security Council wants to make changes to a draft resolution. I don't think that should come as any surprise to anybody. So we're going to work through this, but we're confident at the end of the day, after all of these ups and downs and news reports about various people wanting to make various changes, that we are going to get a good, strong resolution that does what the Security Council originally outlined back in July.
QUESTION: Don't you see a certain amount of inconsistency in the successive statements that Russian officials make? How do you follow the bouncing ball? You may not have an answer to this, but I'm not sure what their position is. Do you?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think -- you know, I think we have a pretty clear -- clear idea, Barry. Yeah, yeah. Look, we've talked about this before. They have --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) they will support a resolution to punish Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there's an understanding that all the ministers have that this is how the process would play out; that if Iran did not comply with the demands -- the requirements of the Security Council, the next step is a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution. We all -- everybody understands that that's the deal. That's been the arrangement.
The other side to it was that if Iran actually did take us up, the P-5+1, on the offer to negotiate, and the terms of that would be that they would suspend enrichment related and reprocessing related activities, that we would be at the table and we would be engaged in those negotiations as a full partner. Well, Iran didn't take us up on that offer and, hence, we are going down this pathway, not because it's our first choice but because that's what -- that's where the Iranians are leading all the rest of us.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect any vote on a resolution before the end of the year?
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie was asking Thanksgiving the other day, so the odds are now pushing it out. Look, we hope that this --
QUESTION: What about by Christmas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Really. You know, our -- look, I am not going to get into predicting specific dates, but our hope is that this moves forward as quickly as possible. There is no reason why it shouldn't even though these issues are issues of grave concern, I know, to the Security Council. We should be able to get a resolution here if everybody puts their minds to it and applies the energy to the task that really is dictated by the gravity of the situation.
Yeah, anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Just one quickie. You said that Burns had followed up -- Under Secretary Burns had followed up with his P-5+1 counterparts. When did that happen? Was that this morning?
MR. MCCORMACK: Today. Yeah. It was -- yeah, it was this morning.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know exactly when, but yeah, this morning.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Shiner?
MR. MCCORMACK: We can go back to the Shiner question.
QUESTION: I'm not sure of the issues. No, they -- she wants the job. Another American is a candidate --
MR. MCCORMACK: And we want her to have the job.
QUESTION: What about the other American who's --
MR. MCCORMACK: Tony Banbury?
QUESTION: -- does the program in Asia? Yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think he has put himself forward as an independent candidate. Usually the way this happens for these kinds of jobs is that a state will back one candidate. And our candidate for the job, as the Secretary has said, and she has made phone calls in support of Josette's candidacy, is Josette Shereen Shiner. And we think she's the right person for the job. It's not our decision. Secretary General Annan as well as I think head of the World Food Organization has a say in this. So it's out of our hands as to who gets selected, but we very strongly support her candidacy. Tony's a very capable person, a very capable person. He actually was a colleague of mine over at the NSC over at the White House previously before he took this job as, I think, Asia -- Director for Asia in the World Food Program. But the United States Government is backing Josette for the job.
QUESTION: Is there anything peculiar about funding brochures and such or is that part of the support process?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, this is very typical in the world of the UN and these kind of UN types of jobs. I think you will find that nominees, candidates for these jobs, will go around and do courtesy calls with every country that they possibly can, a variety of different people, and very often, very often times, more often than not, they'll leave a brochure because essentially it makes the case of this person's qualifications. We have done this before. It's certainly regular practice with us. And it's certainly standard practice within the confines of this UN process.
QUESTION: I asked you yesterday about whether the State Department had any reaction to the sentencing of former Egyptian President Sadat's nephew to a year in jail for insulting the military. Did you get anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I do have something for you on that. We are extremely concerned by the Egyptian Government's conviction and sentencing to imprisonment of Mr. Sadat by a criminal tribunal for expressing his opinions. The keystone of a democratic society is the right to free speech, including the right to criticize one's government, and that extends to its military. Our concerns about issues pertaining to free speech and to the rule of law are well known certainly in Egypt as well as elsewhere around the world.
QUESTION: Have you made any representations to the Egyptian Government about this either here or in Cairo?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe we have talked to the Egyptian Government about it. I can't tell you exactly where. In other words --
QUESTION: About this specific case?
MR. MCCORMACK: About the specific case, yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Elise.
QUESTION: On Lebanon.
QUESTION: Can we stay on --
MR. MCCORMACK: On this? Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. Does it change anything in the relations you have with the Egyptian Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have spoken out before about certain steps that the Egyptian Government or Egyptian courts have taken previously. We've talked about, for example, the case of Ayman Nour as well as others who were detained in the process of expressing their right to free speech in the course of parliamentary as well as presidential elections. So we've talked about this before.
We -- and the Egyptian Government understands where we stand on these things, and we will continue to talk about them because it is important. But at the end of the day, it's the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people that are going to have to agree upon the changes and the political accommodations that govern their daily political life. We can speak out very firmly about cases like this one and others, and we will continue to do so. But the Egyptians and the Egyptian people are going to have to make decisions about what changes they might make in their political structure, their legal structures, their -- and the laws that govern all of these.
QUESTION: So it won't have any have any impact on the assistance you give to Egypt?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I don't believe so. I haven't heard anybody talking about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Elise.
QUESTION: On Lebanon.
MR. MCCORMACK: On Lebanon, yeah.
QUESTION: There's a couple of things going on. The White House put out a very strong statement --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Saw that.
QUESTION: -- talking about -- warning Iran and Syria not to make efforts to topple the government and talked about indications and evidence that this is happening. Could you talk a little bit about what this evidence is that they're -- that they are trying to topple the government and if this is a result of the meetings that the Secretary had this week with some of the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, actually, and I'll try to talk about it as much as I possibly can. But I think you'll understand that there are certain strictures on that just because we gather and collect information in a lot of different ways. But first I would point out Secretary Rice actually herself talked about this during a Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation interview she had with May Chidiak, the victim of terror and the victim of an assassination attempt in Lebanon, so you go back and check the transcript on that. And John Bolton has also talked about this.
There's a limited amount that I can say about this. Suffice it to say we do have real concerns. You saw from the White House statement it's a pretty direct statement and it's a pretty stark statement. But we believe it's merited based on what have seen going on in the region. You have had a couple of data -- public data points for you, though.
You had a recent speech by Nasrallah, I think within the past day or so, demanding the Siniora government take certain steps or Nasrallah and his compatriots would see that it falls.
You had President Lahoud talk about taking steps to block the formation of a criminal tribunal that would bring to justice those who might be accused of participating or being responsible for former Prime Minister Hariri's death. It certainly gives the appearance of trying to obstruct justice.
So -- and you look at the various connections that are here. Quite clearly, Hezbollah has its patrons in Damascus and certainly in Tehran. This is an organization that has shown that it has very few boundaries concerning what it will do and what it won't do. The most recent example is the fact that it started a war in the region, started -- you know, this group started a war with a sovereign state.
So it would seem that the benefactors of this group will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. And what they don't want to see -- what they don't want to see -- is a stable, peaceful, democratic Lebanon because that is antithetical to their point of view and antithetical to how they want to see the region develop.
It is -- the conflict that Hezbollah started was tragic in that so many innocent lives were lost. But it did provide a clarifying moment in the Middle East. And very clearly you can see on one side -- one side of the line you have Hezbollah, groups like Hamas and their sponsors in Damascus and Tehran, who want to take the region in a completely different direction than the great majority of people in that region would seem to want to take it. And that is towards greater freedom, greater prosperity and more peace. These are groups that don't want to see, for example, peace between Israelis and Palestinians. These are groups that don't want to see issues between Lebanon and Israel resolved over the long term.
So that's -- that is one of the reasons why we put out the statement today and why Secretary Rice has talked about it because we want to make it absolutely clear that the United States stands firmly with the government of Prime Minister Siniora, a government who has -- which has worked very hard to, under difficult circumstances, coming out, emerging from the shadow of 20 years of Syrian occupation, to try to do its best to lay the foundations for a democratic, peaceful, secure Lebanon, which is in the interest of the Lebanese people and everybody in the region.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: What can you do to prevent the collapse of a Siniora government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, ultimately, what we can do is try to as best we can support Prime Minister Siniora politically, diplomatically, you know, economically. This is the elected Government -- Government of Lebanon. All that said, we don't, you know, we're not going to -- we're not going to interfere in Lebanon's domestic politics. What we don't want to see is others interfering in Lebanon's domestic politics. And I'm afraid that's -- that is our fear. You know, our fear is that you have a group like Hezbollah, which very clearly derives much support not only from Damascus but from Tehran, and you also have other forces within Lebanon allied with these external -- external patrons.
So the concern is from us as well as others is that you will see once again an attempt to turn back the clock and have the -- yank away from the Lebanese people what they have fought so hard for, and that is the right to determine their own political future. And we don't want to -- we don't want to see the clock turn back to the days when Syria occupied Lebanon or even to a state of being where you have outside governments essentially pulling the strings in Lebanon and dictating what happens.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I think address is whether you have seen evidence of either Syria or Iran either helping to rearm or facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that falls into the category of we -- you know, we collect a lot of information that I can't talk about. Just suffice it to say it's something that would be of grave concern to us as well as others in that it would be a clear violation and transgression of Security Council Resolution 1701.
QUESTION: Well, Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council and then told reporters afterwards that there is evidence that they were smuggling arms.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let Mr. Larsen speak to it.
QUESTION: Is that your --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to talk about information that we may have.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Same subject?
QUESTION: A follow-up on this.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You can't do anything to stop Syria and Iran from interfering in the Lebanese internal affairs?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, one of the things you can do is to ensure that they know the world is watching and that the world will not stand for that kind of -- a renewal of that kind of behavior. And one thing I'm sure that they would like is to operate below the radar screen so that people aren't aware of these things. And one of the reasons why the Secretary made the statements that she did, why the White House put out this statement, is we want to make it clear that we are concerned about these things and also we, as well as others, are watching very closely.
QUESTION: Tony Blair sent an envoy, I think Monday, to Syria.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Was there any collaboration with the United States on that visit perhaps to apply pressure? I know, you know, reports suggest that they were talking about Iraq, but was there any pressure applied by the British on this issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: We -- I'll let the British Government speak to Mr. Shinewald's trip, but we certainly know about the trip. We know the message he was sending to the Syrian Government.
QUESTION: When you say that the world will be watching, but what else can you do? What -- I mean, to be watching is maybe not enough to prevent it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again Sylvie, we will do everything that we can. Part of the effort is to shine a spotlight on these efforts and to support those who want to preserve a free, stable, democratic Lebanon.
QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up on what you just said, you said we know the message sent to the Syrian Government. Does that mean specifically to what the White House statement suggested today or just any --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to let the Brits speak for themselves on this. Okay?
QUESTION: What did Jumblatt provide -- sort of information about this mounting evidence of Syria and Iranian interference? Is that one of the reasons why the White House decided to release a statement because of the Secretary's discussions with Jumblatt? Did he provide more information or --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I haven't talked to the Secretary about her meeting with Mr. Jumblatt. I do know that they did talk about the situation in Lebanon, but I can't give you a specific answer, Sue, and I can't draw a cause-and-effect relation between the meeting and that. But again, go back and look at what the Secretary said in her interview with May Chidiac.
QUESTION: On Sri Lanka. There is renewed violence. The Sri Lankan Air Force has bombed Tamil Tiger targets, and I wonder if this is for the State Department an unwelcome escalation in the conflict after the peace talks fell apart in Geneva?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me see if I can get more information for you on that matter. We'll try to post an answer for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any consideration to provide the Lebanese army with weapons or any assistance?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, part of the whole implementation of 1701 is to help train up and help equip the Lebanese army. Now we, ourselves, committed to -- I can't remember the figure right now. I think it's on the order of $10 million for training. That doesn't mean U.S. soldiers going there to train them but just training outside of Lebanon. And others have stepped up in that regard. I can't provide the details for you, but there -- that is a component of implementation of 1701 because you want to get to a state eventually where you have the Lebanese army fully functioning and fully able to control all of its territory and meet the requirements of 1701. They can't do that right now, so UNIFIL is there. But that's part of the goal, part of the long-term plan.
QUESTION: Another one. Did Assistant Secretary Welch travel to the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, he is there now. I don't know have a full itinerary of his stops, but I think he's going to -- he's in Israel now. I think he'll probably make a stop in Jordan as well, maybe a couple of other stops in the region. It's a pretty quick trip, should be back in the office, you know, maybe Friday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Israel and Palestinian issues, yeah.
QUESTION: Is he negotiating anything in particular or discussing anything in particular?
MR. MCCORMACK: Just following up on the Secretary's trip out there. And we have a lot of efforts ongoing to try to see what we can do to help out President Abbas and his security forces, obviously talk to the Israelis about their thoughts of the current situation.
QUESTION: Sean, could I follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are reports that Israeli forces have launched what appears to be the heaviest raid into the Gaza Strip since this phase of that began in June, killing five militants. Do you have any particular comment on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the press reports about this particular operation. What we say about this is that, again, there have been continuing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory. Israel has a right to defend itself. The Palestinians have an obligation to stop terror attacks and do what they can to dismantle those terrorist networks. Obviously, that becomes much more difficult in that you have a terrorist group that is the -- comprises the Palestinian Authority, but you do have President Abbas and his security forces, and I know that they take this issue very seriously. Certainly the Israelis also have certain obligations. We know what those are.
We would just ask that the responsible parties on both sides would keep in mind that there is a, we hope, a political horizon here and that you're going to resolve differences that exist via the negotiating table. And there are people who believe that. Certainly the Israelis -- the Israeli Government does and President Abbas we know believes that. So we would just ask them to keep that in mind as they take whatever actions they deem necessary, consistent with their obligations as well as to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Implicit in that is there some idea of restraint on both sides?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we just -- you know, we would urge them to keep their eye on what is what we hope for, a political horizon at some point down the road.
QUESTION: Sean, a Jordanian Government source says -- said today that a meeting of ministers from the Quartet is being planned to -- for early December in Jordan, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also expected to attend this meeting to discuss the possibility of reviving the Middle East peace process.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll keep you updated on the Secretary's travel plans as they evolve. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Charlie. Yes.
QUESTION: I have one on China.
QUESTION: Okay. Mine, too.
QUESTION: Oh. China has a conference later this week with various African states. And I just wondered what your view is of China's growing influence in Africa and, in particular, in states such as Zimbabwe and various other states.
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, that was your question, too? Okay.
China for some time has been quite active in Africa. And they of course have a right to have relations with any country that they choose, including in Africa. We would -- we will just ask that China, as it emerges more and more onto the global stage and takes what former Deputy Secretary Zoellick has now then famously said, "take a stakeholder role" in global affairs, that they would -- that they would play a positive role in the economic as well as political development of Africa.
Africa has made great strides over the past years. We certainly have tried to do our part to help Africa deal with the various difficulties that it faces, scourges of disease as well as underdevelopment. But you now see a different kind of Africa emerging and we hope that China, as well as others, want to play a positive role in that new emerging Africa.
QUESTION: Do you think that China plays a politic -- positive role in Sudan?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that just judging by our conversations with the Chinese -- and again, they can speak for themselves on this matter -- I think that they have -- that their views on this issue, specifically with respect to Security Council resolutions and implementation of those resolutions and dealing with the crisis in Darfur, has really evolved over time and our sense is, take it quite seriously the need to address the situation in Darfur and address it in -- with some urgency.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss Darfur at all yesterday in her conversation with the P-5+1?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think it -- no, I don't think it came up. It was more on Iran. It centered on Iran.
QUESTION: And are you in discussions with the Arab League as well currently on Sudan and --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have -- we have -- I can't tell you right today whether or not we've had conversations with them. But one of the things that came out of the Secretary's meetings up at the UN General Assembly concerning Sudan, and also followed up during her trip to the Middle East and specifically in Egypt, was we needed and we need to engage much more with the Arab League and Arab countries on this issue. They have -- they certainly have channels of communication into Sudan and that regime as well. So we have had -- made some attempts to step up our diplomacy with the Arab League and individual Arab states.
QUESTION: And do you think that China will actually use this opportunity in this conference to put more pressure on Sudan to take action in Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: We would ask any state, including China, to do whatever they can.
QUESTION: Well, but how do you specifically ask them in advance of this conference to do so?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you, Elise, whether or not we have, you know, suggested that they use this conference for that opportunity. But I think they themselves have arrived at the conclusion that it's a matter that needs to be dealt with urgently.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)
Released on November 1, 2006