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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 14, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 14, 2006


Quartet Envoys Meeting / Cairo / Principles Level Meeting During

Schedule of A/S Welch, Elliott Abrams / Meeting in Jordan

Possible New Government of Palestine / Hamas' Failure to Govern

Prime Minister Blair's Speech on the Middle East / UK Foreign

Iran's Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons
Iranian Plans to Install Thousands of Centrifuges
Iranian Plans to Expand Enrichment Capacity
On-going Conversations at UN on Resolution / Secretary's Travel
Chapter 7 Resolution / Economic-related Issues / Use of Force

Secretary's Discussions with the Iraq Study Group
Iran and Syria's Role in Iraq / Iraqi People Have Asked Them to
Play Positive Role
Secretary's Thinking on the State Department's Role in Iraq /
Informal Group
Possible Talks with Iran and Syria / U.S. Pursuing Proper Policy
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Has No Immediate Plans to Leave

Syria's Isolation / Syria's Role in the Future of the Region

Hezbollah's Ability to Start a War
Hezbollah Acting with Implicit Go-ahead from Iran and Syria

U.S. Definition of Minorities / U.S. Relationship with Greece

No Date for Return to Six Party Talks / Preparations On-going
New York Channel Not a Negotiating Channel

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12:05 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, guys. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start off? Barry, do you want to start off?

QUESTION: Yeah, I'd love to, because we've been trying to get an answer to this all morning.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh no. Really?

QUESTION: Yeah, most people like to have you make the announcements if there's an announcement here. Our Cairo bureau is pretty convinced that officials from Washington, the EU, the U.S., Russia are meeting in Cairo tomorrow to discuss Mid East peace, especially, you know, the Blair formula. And they heard that --

MR. MCCORMACK: The Blair formula?

QUESTION: -- Mr. Welch is going to be there. The Blair suggestion.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is what is commonly known as a Quartet envoys meeting.

QUESTION: I never heard that.

MR. MCCORMACK: A long-scheduled -- yes.


MR. MCCORMACK: An envoys -- David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. He will be in Cairo -- I think the meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.


MR. MCCORMACK: So he'll be there with his other Quartet representatives. So there will be the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN.

QUESTION: His level?

MR. MCCORMACK: His level, assistant secretary level. They're going to -- this was something that was previously scheduled. As a matter of fact, up at the -- around -- on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September there was a principals level Quartet meeting at Secretary Rice's level and Secretary General Annan, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Mr. Solana. And they agreed that it would be a good idea for the envoys periodically to get together to take stock of where we are, take stock of the situation. A lot of developments, a lot of different things going on in the Middle East. Thought this would -- we all thought this was an appropriate time for the envoys to get together. I think -- I can't tell you exactly when the meeting was scheduled. I think it was a couple of weeks ago.

QUESTION: Was it scheduled before the election?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe so. I believe so, yeah.

QUESTION: And does this auger a change in U.S. policy which has been somewhat independent of demands or suggestions from Europeans, Arab governments and all, to give Israel a bit of a shove?

MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy hasn't changed, Barry.

QUESTION: Sean, this is a follow-on.


QUESTION: Will Elliott Abrams be going with David?

MR. MCCORMACK: David and Elliott are going to meet up in Amman, I think -- what's today, Tuesday? So probably Thursday. And again, they're going to take the opportunity to meet with representatives I think from the Jordanian Government, take stock of where we are. There are a lot of different ways to keep yourself updated on what's going on in the region. One of them is to travel there, and that's what David and Elliott are going to be doing there.

QUESTION: Any other stops besides Jordan?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: Any other stops for the two of them besides Jordan?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, just Jordan. Then back here.

QUESTION: No Israel?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not that I know of.

QUESTION: This is the way it is?


QUESTION: Sean, there are information that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will participate in the Quartet meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of that. You can check with the folks in the region. I can tell you it's a Quartet envoys level meeting. David will probably take the opportunity to meet with officials from the Egyptian Government as well as others who might happen to be in Cairo at the time as well.

QUESTION: Who is David going to be meeting with in Jordan?

MR. MCCORMACK: In Jordan? I don't know. I can check for you.

QUESTION: Is there anything special happening in Jordan? I mean, is there anything in the offing?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is all part of our diplomacy, staying engaged in the region, doing what we can here and there to try to make sure that if the Palestinians do produce a government that meets the standards of the Quartet statement, then you do have a political horizon that you can potentially move forward. But we're again leaping several steps down the line here.

QUESTION: So are you doing all the ground work in the hope and anticipation that the Hamas government will fall and change hands (inaudible) to be a more palatable partner for you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a lot of I think subjective judgments in that particular statement. Look, this is all part of staying on top of what is happening in the region, meeting with states, representatives from states who have an interest in seeing differences being bridged across the negotiating table as opposed to through use of terror and violence.

In terms of the Hamas government they, by their own omission, by their own statements they have said that they are going to stand aside for a different kind of government to take office. Now we'll see if that actually happens. And I think that that is a statement that reflects the obvious fact that they have failed in their attempt to govern. They have failed to deliver on behalf of the Palestinian people, and it's really by their own policies that they have failed. The international community rightly took a look at their platform, their government platform, their policies and said we're not going to have the same kind of relationship that we had with the previous Palestinian Authority that met certain conditions for our engagement with them. And it's a simple reflection of the reality that because of their policies they have failed.


QUESTION: Did you interpret Tony Blair's speech yesterday as breaking any new ground in terms of what the United States should be doing with either the Israeli-Palestinian track or Syria and Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I thought it was a very good speech. Prime Minister Blair is obviously a leading voice with respect to international politics, in particular on the Middle East. I think, at least from my understanding of the British Government's views about the Middle East, it was a reflection of those views, one that we have -- most of which I think we have heard before. I'll leave it to other political analysts to decide whether or not it was something new and different, but I didn't hear anything that was a particularly new policy statement there.

QUESTION: But did the Administration agree with Mr. Blair and with lots of people like him that there's a link between the Palestinian issue and the Iraq issue? To go further, that if the Palestinian issue were resolved the situation in Iraq would be much improved?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, a couple of things, Barry. I read the speech as one saying that trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a very important -- would be very important for the people of the region as well as people around the globe. It's a -- it is something that is obviously a great source of concern to people in the region, Israelis and Arabs alike.

The other thing that I took away from the speech was a reflection of something that we have also said, that there is a very clear dividing line in the Middle East and the world should take note it has an interest in this dividing line. On one side, you have states like Iran and their proxies like Hamas, Hezbollah and other extremist groups, who through a variety of different means seek to spread terror throughout the Middle East and around the globe, seek to derail any efforts at negotiated solutions to political differences and also seek the tools -- seek to wield the tools of extremism, in the case of Iran, seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, and that quite clearly there is a different -- there's -- that doesn't have to be the pathway that Iran or any of these other groups and organizations follow. There's a much more hopeful pathway to follow. And we, through our offer of potential engagement with the Iranian Government, have a similar view in that it doesn't have to go to the way of confrontation and isolation. We don't want that. That's not our first choice. But that is right now the pathway that the Iranian regime is taking the Iranian people as well as those associated with that regime. That's the pathway they're taking them down.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: There was an emphasis on their engaging with Iran and Syria. I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, you know, I -- it was a -- as I read it, it was a speech about the UK's foreign policy. And the UK has a different kind of relationship with Iran certainly. I mean, you're starting off from different places. We have a different history with Iran. And we have offered to engage them. They have to meet certain conditions for that engagement, but we have offered that sort of engagement. We share the concerns about terrorism as well as the treatment of the Iranian people by this regime. So in broad strokes, do we have to have a -- do we have to have diplomatic confrontation with the Iranian Government? Do the Iranian people have to suffer further isolation from the rest of the world? No. No.

QUESTION: But you don't see a gulf developing between, say, your allies with John Howard, saying, you know, it wouldn't be bad to talk? Tony Blair clearly going along that direction and, yet, you're still saying Iran will first have to suspend its uranium enrichment before there's any chance at talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don't -- you know, I've seen some news reporting on it that sort of picks up this particular thread of, you know, a gulf developing between the U.S. and UK. And I just -- just read the speech. I frankly don't see it. You know, if there's some particular lines in there that people want to point me to, you know, we can have a discussion about it, but I just don't see it.

QUESTION: And on that issue, I mean, the Secretary gave evidence yesterday to the Iraq Study Group and was she specifically asked about talks with Tehran and Syria.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know that was a discussion between the Secretary and the Iraq Study Group, not a discussion between the State Department and the State Department press corps.

QUESTION: Sean, Syria has said that it's ready for dialogue with the United States to achieve security and stability in the region.


QUESTION: What's your answer?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we've heard that before, haven't we? Look, the Syrian Government, when they're feeling the heat and feeling the pressure, as they are right now, they come up with these sorts of statements. They know full well what it is that they have to do. We have made it clear to them. A recent envoy from the British Government made it clear to them. Others have made it clear to them. They have isolated themselves through their own behavior.

Certainly it would be welcome news if the Syrian Government decided to play a positive role in the future of the region. Whether that's with respect to Iraq or the Palestinian people realizing a different kind of future, that would be welcome. You know, instead they continue with practices like providing shelter and housing to Palestinian rejectionist groups. The leader of Hamas is headquartered in Damascus, as are the headquarters of other Palestinian rejectionist groups. This is not -- these are not the actions of a country that wants to play a positive role in the region, the rhetoric notwithstanding.


QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering at all whether more engagement with Syria and Iran could help matters? I mean, is that under consideration? Is she sitting with her advisors saying -- I know you don't talk about internal discussions, but is she thinking, well, maybe it would help to open up talks with Syria and Iran at least a little bit more than we are now for regional issues and for Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, we have channels of communications with Syria. They just --

QUESTION: But more importantly --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have an embassy there. You know, talking isn't a policy. You know, you -- certainly, you know, talking and discussion is a mechanism to achieve your policy goals. There are fora in which we sit -- there's at least one forum where we sit with Syria and Iran as well as other states to talk about at least one regional issue, Iraq. So there's no -- we have diplomatic relations with Syria. We have obviously a much different kind of relationship with Iran. Everybody knows the history there. But there are channels of communication there.

So if Iran and Syria want to play a positive role in Iraq, they can certainly do so. And you know, most importantly the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Government have asked them to play a positive role, yet, you know, I don't think we've seen much change in behavior from either. I think you can check with the Iraqis, but I think they'll tell you that they haven't seen much of a change in behavior from either.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Talking is not a policy. Is not talking a policy then?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, we do have -- if you look very clearly at Iran and Syria, our policies are quite clear. If you want to go down the list on Syria* , whether it's on the nuclear issue or the human rights issue or the terrorism issue, it's very clear where we stand. We have an offer on the table to talk to the Iranians. They can realize a different sort of relationship with -- potentially with the United States and with the rest of the world. Instead of going down the pathway of isolation, you go down the pathway of greater engagement. But that's not what they have chosen.

You know, I just read press reports today about the fact that President Ahmadi-Nejad was talking about increasing the number of centrifuges in their nuclear program. Well, that should be a cold jolt to the rest of the world when you start hearing -- a cold jolt, sorry, I didn't speak very clearly, enunciate. That should be a cold jolt to the rest of the world. When they -- when you have the president of Iran talking about the fact that their program is to go to industrial scale, thousands and thousands of centrifuges, that is not something the rest of the world wants to see. Because what that leads to is an Iranian nuclear weapon, which would be an incredibly destabilizing event in the course of the Middle East history.

So we do have very clear policies. With respect to Syria, we have made it clear to them that if they want to have a different kind of relationship with us and the rest of the world, they know what they have to do.

QUESTION: Aren't you worried though that there's the perception out there that the U.S. -- you know, critics can easily say the U.S. won't talk to Iran, the U.S. won't talk to Syria, and that only fuels that sort of sentiment in that region that the U.S. is, you know, refusing to engage in talks and that they can use that against the U.S.? And so for that reason alone, it might make sense to, you know, make an overture that's a little bit, you know, a little bit more clear perhaps publicly that the U.S. is reaching out to these two countries to solve a problem rather than just saying, well, we do have channels here. But it doesn't seem like people are picking up on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, no matter what you do, there's always going to be critics. You know, there are always going to be somebody that has another idea or a better idea for you. But you know, policy makers have to act on the best information that they have available to them. They have to act on principle and they have to make -- act on their assessment of what they think will further our policy objectives, whether or not we can better achieve our policy objectives through various diplomatic tactics, whether it's talking to people or, you know, not engaging them at the moment. Those are all decisions that policy makers have to take. We believe at this point that we are engaged in the proper course with respect to Syria and Iran on all the various issues that are before us.

I would just point out that in the wake of Lebanon, you have actually both Syria and Iran being much more isolated -- we talked about the region -- much more isolated from other states in the region. I think other states in the region were shocked by the fact that you had a group like Hezbollah, in our mind it's a terrorist group, that was able to start a war with another state and that people -- while they are -- nobody is drawing hard lines between Tehran and Hezbollah, there is certainly a lot of suspicions about the fact that Hezbollah was at least if not acting at the behest of at least with the implicit go-ahead from Tehran and Damascus. And that was quite disturbing to leaders in the region, quite disturbing to the United States.

And again, it points out that there is a very clear line that has developed here in the Middle East. Those on one side who have an interest through -- interest in resolving differences via the negotiating table, via dialogue, via engagement, via negotiations and those who don't, those who want to use the tools of suicide bombers and IEDs and violence to achieve some sort of political advantage. So I think it really -- it's not the United States that's isolated in that regard, I would argue that it's actually Syria and Iran that's isolated.


QUESTION: There's a new IAEA report out today in which they're saying that Iran is pushing ahead with its enrichment of uranium and is running a UF6. I just wondered whether you had any comment on this new report.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the report. I know that there's been a lot of news reporting about the fact that the Iranians are proceeding ahead with new cascades, with introducing UF6 into those cascades. You know, I'll let the IAEA talk about their own reports. It's not for me to talk about them. But just -- I would again point you back to the statements of the Iranian President in which he said this is our intention: Our intention is to install tens of thousands of centrifuges to get industrial-scale production to produce highly enriched uranium. Now they say the production of uranium is for their peaceful nuclear program. Well, excuse us if we base it on past Iranium behavior, we don't buy that. And the fact is it's not just the United States that doesn't buy that, it's the IAEA Board of Governors as well as the UN Security Council that doesn't buy that. And it's a source of grave concern.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the Russians and the Chinese about this? And do you think that --

MR. MCCORMACK: About this report?

QUESTION: About this report, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any particular conversations. We have ongoing conversations on the fact of the resolution that we're working on. Up in New York John Bolton I know had some meetings yesterday. Nick Burns today had a phone call with the P-5+1, his counterparts among the political directors. I would expect that it's a topic of conversation when the Secretary travels to APEC. She's going to have meetings with her Chinese counterpart, her Russian counterpart as well as others. And I expect the President will probably have -- this will be part of his discussions as well with his leader counterparts.

QUESTION: So do you think that this report will give you, for want of a better word, ammunition to push forward with a resolution for strict sanctions?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think all it does is underline -- underscore the fact that we need a resolution in order to send a strong message to the Iranians they need to change their behavior. They haven't changed it yet, despite the fact that they have gotten a message from the Security Council that they must change their behavior. Now they're -- we believe and others believe that there must be costs to that failure to abide by the demands of the international community. It is a member of the United Nations and the resolution that was passed, 1696, was binding upon them. They have flouted that demand for compliance with the resolution and the terms of the resolution and there should be a cost to that. Now this is starting to become also a question of the credibility of the Security Council of whether or not it can follow through in enforcing its own resolutions.

We want -- we're trying very hard, doing everything we can, to have the Security Council function as it was envisioned to function, and we believe it's important that we do so. We have an agreement among the P-5, the P-5+1, that the next step in this process would be a Security Council resolution with sanctions in it. That's what we're working towards. We believe, despite all these ups and downs, that we will ultimately get a resolution.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Ambassador Jeffrey said yesterday on his news conference that you are working on the resolution on Chapter 7. My question is, are you working on Chapter 7 -- the resolution -- you want to have a resolution on Chapter 7 or without Chapter 7, just a resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it would be Chapter -- Article 41 of Chapter 7, which deals specifically with economic-related issues.

QUESTION: But in Chapter 7, Article 41, it's mentioned also if the whole thing doesn't work the using of force is --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have said that that is -- we are seeking to resolve this through diplomatic means, although the President never takes any option off the table. Very clearly we are trying to get --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- diplomacy to work.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On Greece. First of all, have a nice trip to Vietnam. As I understand, you are going to Vietnam today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we are.

QUESTION: Have a nice trip.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you very much. Are you coming with us?

QUESTION: Excuse me?

MR. MCCORMACK: Are you coming with us?

QUESTION: I would love to ? (inaudible) to Air Force One with reporters to go? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, we're not -- sorry, to disappoint you, we're not going to be on Air Force One.

QUESTION: No, no, that's all right.

MR. MCCORMACK: A smaller plane. A smaller plane.

QUESTION: Just express my desire, nothing else.


QUESTION: Any answer to my yesterday's pending question regarding minorities in Greece? Did you get a chance, Mr. McCormack, to read prior fully the controversial statement by Thomas Countryman?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I have to -- I'm going to be honest with you here, I didn't myself read it closely but others have.


MR. MCCORMACK: And they have provided me with a response to your question. And that is that the U.S. definition of minorities is different from the definition used by Greece and some other European states. We discussed this issue as part of a broad dialogue with our Greek friends, including Minister Bakoyannis, who had an excellent visit with the U.S. -- here to the U.S. in late September. We believe Greece has a strong record of integrating migrant workers, and the U.S. and Greece will continue working together to pursue our common interests in the region and beyond.

And I would just add as a footnote to all of that, that our relationship with Greece has never been better.

QUESTION: Does any minority in any country, including the U.S., has the right for self-determination?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think I've given you an answer to your question.




QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the internal meetings the Secretary had yesterday here on Iraq and what sort of the objective was? Is there a review going on within the Department about policy? I know there's one in the Defense Department going on.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. She's been doing -- like I said, she's been doing a lot of thinking over the past month and a half, two months about Iraq; certainly as it relates specifically to the State Department and more broadly. But the primary focus is on the State Department's role in Iraq and are we pursuing the proper policies, are we seeking the right objectives, you know, are we using the right means to achieve those objectives, following the right strategies and right tactics. So this is something she's been doing, leading an informal group here in the State Department the past month and a half or so. And as you point out, the Department of Defense is engaged in a similar kind of exercise as are other agencies, I believe. So this is a continuing conversation here in the Department as well as over at the White House. They're getting together and starting to talk a little bit about what their findings are and what their thinking is.

Now, as for any sort of formal, you know, formal policy reviews, I'll leave it to my White House colleagues to describe how they view these efforts. But it is, from our perspective here in the State Department, yeah, it is -- it's a review of, you know, are we doing the right things? Are we doing everything that we possibly can? Are we doing the right things?

QUESTION: Are you able to be more specific on sort of what areas she's looking at? I mean, the PRTs are obviously a big State Department initiative.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I think it -- I don't want to get into any more detail at this point, but she's looking at it both in broad terms and specific terms.

QUESTION: Sorry, on the specifics, I mean, I know you don't want to get into detail, but it seems that you already answered the question about, you know, when people suggest you should talk to Iran and Syria, you've answered that question already and you just -- and the decision is no. In other words, that is something that's not moveable, that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Wow, how did you --

QUESTION: Because of what you said earlier. Because clearly you think you've been pursuing the right policies and therefore if that question came up, you've clearly answered it and decided that you are not going to talk to Iran and Syria. What I'm trying to get at --


QUESTION: -- is there any conceivable way you would sit down with Iran and Syria without the nuclear issue sort of overshadowing those talks, in other words, focusing on Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, I answered the question yesterday, answered the question today. You know, I don't have anything to add. You're asking me to make this sort of, you know, unchangeable statements about now and forever more and into the future, will you not talk to Iran and Syria. Look, we believe we're -- we believe we're pursuing the proper policy course at this point.

QUESTION: Is the idea for this all to come together when the Iraq Study Group reports in December, which they are likely to? Is the idea to have the Defense Department and the State Department be ready with their own reevaluation and have all these ideas come together for a policy change or just at least change of course?


QUESTION: And it seems like everything is sort of gathering towards that moment.

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't -- you know, I wouldn't necessarily link it to the Iraq Study Group. This is almost a continuous process, but I think it has been more intensive over the past month and a half. Look, when the Secretary thinks that there are some important conclusions, if there are some important conclusions that come out of her thinking and the thinking here at the State Department, of course we'll try to share those in public. But right now I don't have anything that I would share in public.

QUESTION: One more. Do you still expect the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq to be around for a while or --

MR. MCCORMACK: He has -- like I said when this came up before, he has no immediate plans to leave and he's doing a great job there. He's actually, you know, certainly part of this conversation. He's in town now. The Secretary has talked to him and he's certainly part of this process as well and I would expect that he would be for some time.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: On North Korea, is there anything new and has a date been set for the bilateral talks, for any bilateral talks, and do you have the date of the six-party talks in Beijing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new on a date for the six-party talks. In terms of our preparations for the talks, those are ongoing. I expect that this is going to be another topic at the top of the list of the Secretary when she's in Vietnam. She's going to have a chance to meet also with her Japanese counterpart as well as her South Korean counterpart, so they're going to talk about preparations for the six-party talks as well as implementation of 1718.

And you had another question in there?

QUESTION: It was -- are there any bilateral talks planned?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's -- again, we get back to the old New York channel thing, but that is a mechanism that's used to pass information, exchange information. It's not a negotiating channel.

QUESTION: So there's nothing special planned during APEC?


QUESTION: Do you have anything about this Chinese submarine incident?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. The guys over at DOD, I think, have been talking about it quite a bit.

QUESTION: So they're going to be the lead on that? I mean, are you going to talk to the Chinese or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think -- you know, we don't own any aircraft carriers here. You know, if there's a role for the State Department, then you know, then there is. I'm not aware of one in this regard.

QUESTION: One more thing. May I?


QUESTION: Okay. The Albanian chief of intelligence service, CHIS, is in Washington for seven days for talks. Along with the CIA day of visit, I was told that he met also with the Secretary of State. I'm wondering what was the reason.

MR. MCCORMACK: With who?

QUESTION: With the chief of the Albanian secret service.

MR. MCCORMACK: Who at the State Department?

QUESTION: Secretary of State.

MR. MCCORMACK: Secretary Rice?



QUESTION: No? Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:36 p.m.)

DPB # 184

Released on November 14, 2006


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