State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 7, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 7, 2006
Israeli PM Olmert’s Comments on the Iraq Study Group Report /
President Bush and PM Blair Press Conference / Secretary Rice is
Committed to the Two-State Solution / U.S. Support for
Secretary Participating in Iraq Policy Review / Secretary’s
Possible Travel to the Region
Qatar Payment of Palestinian Salaries / Qatari FM Meeting with
U.S. is Not Talking to Hamas / Other States’ Contacts with Hamas
Israel’s Possible Nuclear Weapons
Iraq Study Group Report is Not a Criticism of Rice’s Efforts /
Discussions With Syria and Iran / Not “Paying” Syria to Behave
Issues in the Region are Linked but Resolution is Not Quid Pro Quo
/ President’s Vision for the Region / Secretary’s Priorities
Obstacles to Solving the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
Engagement with Syria / Trips to Damascus
Civilian Nuclear Agreement Approval Movement Through Congress / U/
S Burns Travel to India
Comments on Kashmir Solution
Date for Start of Six-Party Talks
U.S. Does Not Have Nuclear Weapons on the Korean Peninsula
Travel Warning / Credible Threats
Diplomatic Immunity and Status of Forces Agreement
Update on American Detained / Charges Have Not Been Filed
IGAD Force / Neighboring States Will Not Provide Troops
EU Membership Negotiations
Departure of Ambassador Bolton
12:10 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. Who wants to start us off with questions? Anybody here in the front row?
QUESTION: Have you seen the remarks by Prime Minister Olmert that he disagrees with the Baker Commission's linkage of efforts to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw some reports in that regard, yeah.
QUESTION: Obviously -- do you have a comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that there are going to be a lot of individuals of countries, individuals, leaders who have an interest in the subjects mentioned in the Baker Commission report or the Iraq Study Group report, who are going to have comments on it. I don't have anything in particular to say about Prime Minister Olmert's comments.
QUESTION: Implicit in the Baker report was a criticism that Secretary Rice, as the head of the U.S. diplomacy, has not been pushing hard enough. She's been taking too narrow a view on bringing moderate Arab states and has not been pushing hard enough on the Israeli-Palestinian front. What's your response to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if that was an implicit criticism or something that people are trying to construct after reading the reports. Look, you heard just a few minutes ago from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair that they believe Secretary Rice has been deeply engaged and expended a lot of energy and a lot of time on this issue. A lot of it, as Prime Minister Blair said, you see in the press conferences, you see as she travels. A lot of it you don't see, it's behind the scenes.
What you want to do is you want to create the conditions whereby the Israelis and the Palestinians have the best possible opportunity to succeed in resolving all the differences between them over the negotiating table. Now, there have been some advances in that cause, there have been some setbacks in that cause over the past several years. But throughout all of those periods, both the highs and the lows, Secretary Rice has been very focused on this issue. And President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the issue back in September at the UN General Assembly when he talked about the fact that we are going to look for every opportunity, do everything that we can to try to bring the two parties together and to also get the investment in the partnership of the states in the region who have an interest in seeing a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians so that you have two states, Israel and Palestinian. And he charged Secretary Rice with that task. That was a task that she takes very seriously, that she is committed and I would expect that in the days, weeks, months and years ahead that you are going to see her devote a tremendous amount of energy and a tremendous amount of focus trying to create those conditions where you can get the two parties together, get them to the point where they're able to talk and actually able to negotiate and then do everything that we can to help them get to a solution.
But ultimately -- ultimately -- it is going to be the Israelis and the Palestinian representatives who find their way forward and find their way clear to a mutually acceptable solution. We can't impose it. Great Britain can't impose it. The EU can't impose it. Nobody can impose it. They have to come to that agreement. Now, you can, you know, encourage, cajole, pressure at key moments and key points. You can bring to bear the prestige and the national resources of various countries in the region and around the globe including the United States at key moments, but those are the judgments that Secretary Rice in consultation with President Bush are going to have to make.
So the bottom line is she has been committed to this task, devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to it and she will remain committed to this task. It is one of the things when she took the job as Secretary of State, in those conversations that she had with President Bush before she took the job, this was one of the things at the top of her list that she said that she wanted to devote her time and energy to.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to go to the Middle East soon?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we don't have any travel planed between now and the end of the year. She's back here participating in the review on Iraq policy, Iraq strategy. And as part of that you saw with the Baker-Hamilton Commission report, of course, there's going to be a discussion about the wider diplomacy and international politics in the region and what you do. So she's participating in that over the next several weeks.
I'm sure she will be traveling to the Middle East at some point early in the new year, but again, you want to go there and you want to travel there when you think you can move the process forward in some way or, if need be, if there's been a setback, to try to remediate.
But she -- the sole metric of whether or not she's engaged isn't travel. I mean, you can do a lot of different things, sort of, behind the scenes as well. She will travel there. She's going to spend a lot of time and energy on it.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Blair just said that he's going to the region soon. Does it mean that U.S. is making policy by proxy?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not at all. What you want to do -- if you're going to get to a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this is going to require a partnership among a lot of different states. It's going to require concentrated, diplomatic efforts of a lot of different states. Clearly, Prime Minister Blair is very interested in seeing what he can do. We support his efforts. States in the region want to see what they can do. We support those efforts.
We're in close consultation with -- for instance, she just spoke with -- she's had a meeting yesterday with the Foreign Minister of Qatar. And this was probably the topic on which they spent the most time, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, where it stands, how -- you know, Qatar might help, how the United States might help, how other states might help get to the point where you can actually have negotiations. We're not to that point right now. We know why and everybody understands that.
So you have to do -- the task now is to see what we can do to get to the point where you actually have a partner for negotiation on the Palestinian side and that you have the proper conditions where you can actually have the two sides talk. You have a committed Israeli partner and Prime Minister Olmert has talked about the steps that he is willing to take in order to get to that point. President Abbas is a committed partner, but we have a -- the Palestinians have a political situation in their territories now where -- that they need to resolve before we can actually have a full partner on the Palestinian side.
QUESTION: Can I follow on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Did the Qatari Foreign Minister give any assurances to Secretary Rice that the aid to the teachers will be given through the Temporary International Mechanism?
MR. MCCORMACK: She brought that up with him and he was aware of the issue and we're going to continue working with him on it. But I think he took onboard her comments. We're going -- but we're going to keep working with him on it.
QUESTION: Okay. If I could just follow up on George's question off the top.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does Prime Minister Olmert's comments kind of indicate that there will be some sort of trouble implementing the Iraq Study Group's report's recommendations on a whole, given the response from the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to -- we are going to make decisions about our national policy fundamentally based on our national interest in doing what we think is right. Of course, you're going to listen to all the various commentary that comes in from the region. There's going to be a lot of different points of view in the report. But fundamentally the President is going to make decisions based upon doing what he thinks is right.
QUESTION: Which country, (inaudible), do you think had the most influence over Hamas and that section of the Palestinians that can actually, you know, use their leverage to get this process going? Because Prime Minister Blair said that this could move pretty quickly if Hamas, you know, abided by the Quartet principles. So who is the U.S. talking to, to sort of put the most pressure on Hamas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't -- you know, I frankly can't judge for you who might have the most leverage with them.
QUESTION: Do you think we have it? I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I don't think -- no, I don't think the United States has anything that they're interested in, in terms of "bargaining" chips. I'm not sure that we have any leverage with Hamas. We don't have any interest in talking to them. They're not a -- they're a terrorist group and they have, to this point, committed to using terror and violence to try to achieve what they say are their political ends, which is a dead end, in fact, for the Palestinian people. There are a number of different states that have contact with Hamas. I -- you know, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, a number of different states have contacts with Hamas and I mentioned some of those states that are actually interested in getting to a solution. Clearly, there are states like Syria who are hosting at least one part of Hamas, and Syria is not a country at this point in time that has demonstrated any interest in trying to bring about a more stable peaceful Middle East, whether that's in Lebanon in the Palestinian territories or Iraq.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: No? We're going to stay on this topic. We'll come back to you, okay? All right.
Sylvie and then Nicholas.
QUESTION: The new Defense Secretary Robert Gates --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- said this week -- apparently became this week the first U.S. official to state publicly that Israel has the nuclear power, nuclear bomb.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is it changing the U.S. policy?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think what I would do is what we traditionally do, is refer you to the Government of Israel for any comment on that. They traditionally say that they don't confirm or deny it, that they also state that they would not be the first state in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons. And beyond that, I don't have anything to say.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the Secretary has been rather engaged in the Middle East in the peace process, as you have many times before. Does that mean that she thinks now that the criticism in the report yesterday was unfair to her and to the Administration?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well again, you know, you're -- you know, I didn't -- you're extrapolating this and saying that it was critical of --
QUESTION: Well, you don't think it's critical?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's -- what it does is it provides -- it starts from where we are now and says this is what we suggest as the way forward. I don't think it's critical. I don't think it's critical at all. I think some people are reading into it and extrapolating that it's a criticism. I don't think that nothing that in her conversations picked up was in any way intended as a criticism. You can ask the commissioners if they meant it as such. I don't think she takes it as a criticism, no. It's -- this is a commission. They got together. They came up with what they believe is the proper course forward. That's going to feed into the President's review about our Iraq strategy and certainly we'll listen, of course, to what this -- to what the commission has to say.
But at the end of the day, the President and the Secretary are going to do what they think is right in terms of getting to the solution that we all share. We all share the same objective in terms of what the report states. Everybody wants to get that. They paint a vision of a more peaceful, stable, prosperous Middle East.
We happen to believe that a key component to that is promotion of freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. That remains at the core of this President's foreign policy.
QUESTION: And just a follow-up. So when Secretary Baker says there's nothing wrong in talking to your enemies, you talk to your enemies not only to your friends, you don't think that's criticism of the policy of the Administration of not talking to --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, we -- no, and -- of course not. We have no problem talking to countries with whom we have differences. We have diplomatic relations with Syria. We don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. We haven't had them for the past 27 years. But we have offered to talk to Iran so there's no -- there's no problem -- nobody has an allergy to talking to people and governments with whom we have differences, even severe differences.
What you want to do, though, is you want to have talks, if you talk to somebody, you actually want to have the conditions created prior to those talks or around those discussions where you can get results. You know, talking for talk's sake is not going to get you anywhere. You know, not going -- you know, going into the room without a plan or with a plan to do things that you don't believe are in your national interest or in the interest of getting -- accomplishing the objectives you want to accomplish aren't useful.
So there's no hesitancy to talk, to negotiate, to engage in hard-headed, tough diplomacy. Secretary Rice has done that in the Middle East. But what you want to do is you want to make sure that you create the proper conditions where you can achieve the objectives that you want to achieve.
QUESTION: So she'll be happy to meet with the Syrian Foreign Minister when those conditions are present?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look. Syria can, at any given point, tomorrow, start to engage in constructive behavior in Lebanon, in the Palestinian areas, in Iraq. The question is, do you think that we or anybody else should be paying a price for their actually doing what the rest of the world thinks they should be doing anyway?
Do you think a price should be paid for their not trying to destabilize and undermine the Siniora Government? Do you think a price should be paid simply for them not to try to destabilize and undermine the Iraqi Government? Do you think a price should be paid for them simply not to -- for them simply to get out of the way of the possibility of a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
QUESTION: Well, can I -
QUESTION: Do you think Mr. Baker paid the Syrians a price in 1991 when he --
MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, you know, their report looks forward; we're looking forward. It's another time and another era and historians and others will make their own judgments about that.
QUESTION: Just on that whole idea of that you don't think you should pay countries to behave the -- a price, I mean, you -- I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't look at it as paying, but you are offering incentives to other countries to do things that the international community has already said through numerous UN resolutions that they should do, for instance -- North Korea and Iran, for instance. So why aren't there incentives that you can offer?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Syrians understand that if -- that they can have a different relationship with the rest of the world than they have right now. They are now headed down the exit ramp of further isolation and being -- having the only -- their only friends in the world being the Iranians and terrorist groups. They can continue down that way if they want to, but it's only going to lead to further isolation from the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Blair, others who have recently visited Syria have made clear you can have a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world; you can have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world. But you have to first demonstrate to the rest of the world that you are willing to behave in a responsible manner, to be a responsible participant in the affairs of the region. At this point, they are not.
QUESTION: Would you say, then, that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is the Secretary's number one priority, it's right at the top of her dance card? And two, are you sort of shifting in how you view resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict in terms of sorting out what's happening in Iraq? Are you now linking the two? Are you getting closer to linking the two?
MR. MCCORMACK: On the second one -- I mean, this question has come up before. You deal with these questions on their own terms and in their own right. Regardless of the situation in Iraq, trying to resolve the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis is something that we are committed to anyway. And the same goes for Lebanon and the same goes for Iraq.
Clearly it is an issue of great interest and longstanding historical concern in the region, and of course the Palestinian people have -- live in conditions that certainly could be better if they were able to actually have their own state and to be able to govern themselves. That is certainly our belief and it's the Secretary's belief.
So in the sense -- nobody is linking these things in the sense of quid pro quo. You try to resolve these issues because they are -- there is a particular interest and unique interest to the problem in resolving them. And but as a whole, they are linked in the sense that if you are able to make progress in terms of a stable government in Iraq that's able to defend itself and protect its own territory, in Lebanon if you're able to have a moderate democratically elected government there in which you can actually start to move beyond the shadow of Syrian occupation and they can start to rebuild their economy, and if you have a Palestinian state in which Palestinians are able to govern themselves and actually develop their own economy and develop their own education system and all those things that most people around the world want, that you'd have a different kind of Middle East. So in that sense, in a sort of meta-sense, they are linked. They are all part of a different kind of Middle East, which is of course something that the President has laid out a vision for in his Second Inaugural as well as in subsequent remarks.
QUESTION: But is there a greater urgency in trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict because of what's happening in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think that there is an opportunity and an opening at this point because of the particular circumstances that you have in the Middle East right now where there are the possibilities, despite where we stand right now, to actually see your way forward to a political horizon. And so I think that is the -- that is responsible for what you're picking up in terms of the energy and the focus and the desire to move forward on that front. It's because there is that opening.
QUESTION: But do you think -- I'm sorry. And is resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict the number one priority of the Secretary? Is that what she sees as being number one?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she's Secretary of State and she has to deal with the entire world, but it is -- it certainly is at the top of her list in terms of issues that she is personally engaged on and that she will -- that she will focus on. But again, that is -- she has a lot of other -- a lot of other issues that she has to deal with. There are, for example, things that are right on the front burner. You have issues related to Iraq. You have issues related to Iran. You have Sudan. You have North Korea. And then there -- you can go -- we could stand up here for another half hour and talk about all the other things that she deals with on a daily and weekly basis. But it certainly is something that has and will occupy quite a bit of her time.
QUESTION: Is there the feeling that if you don't sort this one out then, you know, basically your legacy will be slightly tarnished?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nobody is thinking in terms of legacies. The way she thinks is in terms of her service to the country and to the State Department and doing what she can in order to leave a better situation for those who follow on for her in the State Department and subsequent administrations in terms of trying to make the world safer and better, try to make and advance American interests.
QUESTION: You said you're not ready for negotiations yet, but what -- can you outline what needs to happen in terms of Israel, in terms of Abbas, in terms of Haniyah? What needs to happen --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the President and Prime Minister Blair talked a little about that at the press conference. I couldn't go into an exhaustive list, but we know there are a couple basic obstacles right now. You have the Israeli prisoner Corporal Shalit and then on the -- for the Palestinians you have a number of their legislators, political figures and others who are in Israeli jails. That's an obstacle for both sides, it would seem now.
And on the Palestinian side as well there is not a Palestinian partner. You have President Abbas but he of course controls a limited number of assets, important assets but a limited number of assets. So you need to have either a national unity government or some other political framework for the Palestinians so that the Israelis as well as others can be assured that they have a negotiating partner, and that whatever that national unity government or political framework is, it has to meet certain conditions laid out by the Quartet. And at that point, you can see a way forward to a political horizon. There'll be subsequent steps along the way and I'm sure that it won't just be, you know, an eight-lane highway unimpeded; I'm sure that there will be obstacles in the way along -- on the way to that -- to some final status negotiations. But that clearing those obstacles will at least provide you the opportunity to get to that point.
QUESTION: Any -- sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course. Yeah, that's -- but that is -- that's a continuing issue. I don't think that that is an issue right now that is an obstacle to the Palestinians and the Israelis actually sitting down together and trying to work through the issues that are before them. It's -- you know, it's -- in terms of some of the settlement activity and the outpost activity, we've talked to the Israelis about that. It's a problem. It's a problem certainly in terms of the roadmap.
Anything else on this, Middle East?
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: Syria, okay.
QUESTION: Jim Baker defends the concept of engagement by saying that he visited Damascus 15 times --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and for the first 13 or 14 times nothing was achieved, but on the last visit it was a breakthrough, which suggests that if you keep on slogging away long enough you might get results. You don't seem to want to do that, the kind of slogging that he did. So what is your response to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's -- look, it's a different era, it's a different time. It's a different Middle East. It was a different Syria. And also there's been no shortage of engagement and those trips to Damascus. There have been a number of trips to Damascus, you know, in the recent years going back to, you know, Rich Armitage, who is a pretty direct person and speaks pretty clearly, so he was able to deliver a clear message to them. And there have been a number of -- you know, there have been a number of different contacts with the Syrians. There's been no shortage of contact with them and there's been no shortage of effort on the part of us as well as others in trying to get them to change their behavior. Thus far they have demonstrated no outward or seeming desire to change that behavior.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you keep referring to these trips by former Deputy Secretary Armitage and Secretary Powell, but this was years ago. I mean, you don't think -- and I mean, I know that there are contacts through, you know, the embassy, but that is not headed by an ambassador who's entrusted with Syria's engagement on a senior level with the foreign ministry. It's by his chargÃ©, so I mean, there hasn't been much contact between the two governments in years.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the chargÃ©, the Ambassador was withdrawn I think within the past year, so I wouldn't say years. There's been high-level contact with them. There have been -- there's been high-level contact from the Europeans as well. So there's no shortage here of communication. There's no shortage of the Syrians understanding what it is that they need to do. It's not as though they don't get the message; they know what it is. It -- what it is at the moment is a failure to appreciate that message and to act upon it. They know what it is, though.
QUESTION: The Baker Commission suggests that has to be Secretary of State or the President that actually engages at that level with these countries, so what's your response to that? I mean, not below that level, but at her level.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. Well, first of all, with respect to the specific recommendations of the report, it's all going to get fed in -- fed in here. But again, to repeat, the Secretary and the President are going to do what they think is right in terms of getting to all of our shared objectives. This is really a discussion over tactics. Everybody shares the same strategic objectives here. I think if you read through the report, everybody wants the same thing. And it's -- and they have provided what they believe is the correct tactical pathway to achieve some of those objectives. The President will, of course, take a close look at it. The Secretary will, of course, take a close look at what they have to say. But at the end of the day, they are going to make judgments. They are the ones that have been trusted with these positions by the American people, and the Secretary on behalf of the President, with making these judgments and making these calls.
Yeah. I promised you -- to come back to you.
QUESTION: Colombian paramilitary forces and the negotiations, peace negotiations with the government last night, can you give me your comments in that? And do you expect the Colombian Government to reactivate the extradition orders issued by the U.S. against the leaders of these forces?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to check -- I have to admit I don't -- I'm not the -- I don't have the most up to date information on that. I'll check for you. We'll get you an answer.
QUESTION: Sean, quick, quick question -- one. There was some problem as far as U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement on the Capitol Hill was concerned among the two conference committees and Under Secretary Burns is now in India for, I believe, for consultations. So where do we stand now, where Congress is about to leave town for?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's coming down to the wire. They're finishing up on Friday in terms of their business. My understanding is the reports that you cite, notwithstanding they actually -- this effort actually is moving forward, the schedules in terms of bringing items up for vote both in the House and the Senate are unpredictable and they, of course, are the prerogatives of the leadership of both of those -- both sides of Congress. We're working closely with them. It is continuing to move forward. And as the President has said, this is a top priority for us, so we are hopeful and we continue to push to get this approved by Friday.
QUESTION: Sean, the Deputy Secretary is in India because Indian Government is maybe not accepting some of these amendments on the Hill or is there a problem from the Indian Government's side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not as far as I know. You know, I know that this is -- this can be a nerve-wracking process as you go through -- you know, go through this. But this is how democracies work. The Indian Government understands that and we're sure that they appreciate it. And he is going there to talk to them about the agreement, how to move forward on it, as well as how to move forward on the broad arc of our relationship.
QUESTION: May I have one more on another issue, please?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday, General Musharraf had said that he's willing to work out or something to do with Kashmir, that he's willing to give up Kashmir as far as some negotiations between the Indian Government and the Pakistani Government. Is there something Secretary's in touch or she's aware of what he's talking about, that Pakistan is now willing to give up Kashmir as long as there are some kind of autonomy for the Kashmiris?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. She's certainly aware of his comments. These are welcome comments and certainly, we have encouraged both the sides to come together to resolve what has been a thorn in the side of their relationship for many, many decades. Whatever the solution is, certainly, the people of the region need to have a voice in it, whatever the -- however the two sides choose to resolve it.
QUESTION: This morning, the UN Committee for Human Rights, North Korea down at the House said they had anecdotal evidence that refugees were not always happy with their relationship with the State Department. And their specific recommendation was that the State Department form a special office for dealing with -- solely with the North Korean refugee issue, particularly with China. Is that something that you would be open to?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll talk to folks about it. I hadn't had the opportunity to talk to anybody about it. Ellen Sauerbrey is deeply involved in this issue as the Assistant Secretary for PRM and also she worked closely with Chris Hill on it. And I know that she does spend a lot of time on the issue, but in terms of a special office, we'll check into it for you and see what people think.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Interfax quoted a North Korean diplomat saying there was no way the talks were going to -- six-party talks were going to resume in December. Are you yet ready to push this into the next year?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not ready to throw in the towel at this point. We still -- we would still hope that we could get some discussions, get a new round of talks going this month. But we are also not going to try to push to get something done in December if that means those talks aren't as well-prepared as they possibly can be. And if it's a matter of slipping things a few weeks, then so be it, we will. The key is to get back to the table in a timely manner and in a way in which the conditions have been created so you can make some progress.
QUESTION: ITAR-TASS also reported, quoting some North Korean sources, that North Korea apparently believes that Washington has atomic weapons --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- deployed in South Korea and they say that, you know, they won't halt their nuclear program as long as this perceived threat persists.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, this is an issue that goes all the way back to, I think, 1989 and then there have been -- there were subsequent comments in 1994 in which we affirmed that there were no U.S. nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. And I would cite for you as recently as September 19th, 2005 we signed up to the statement that says, "The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons." And that statement still stands.
QUESTION: So you think it's nonsense?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I mean, I -- this is a statement that has been reaffirmed several times over since 1989 and it still stands.
QUESTION: Thank you. This morning on North Korean high-ranking officer said North Korea simply did not accept U.S. proposal for North Korean, their nuclear standoff. What is your comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've heard back in an official way, sort of, after Chris had some discussions with his counterpart in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart, sort of what -- whether or not they were prepared to -- the date that they were prepared to come back to the talks. And I would expect that they're sort of mulling over what it is that they heard from Chris, as well as the Chinese and other delegations.
Yeah. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Philippines travel advisories that have gone out.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more thing on North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new on Chris Hill and whether he's going to wear a new hat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Whether he's going to wear a new hat?
QUESTION: Wear a new hat, like some special envoy hat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I don't know. I'll check for you on that. This question came up yesterday. I don't think it -- regardless, I don't think it day-to-day changes his job description, what he's doing.
QUESTION: But is this something that you're considering?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check. I'll check for you.
QUESTION: Yeah, if you could just tell me how credible the intelligence is about these terrorist warnings in this particular area of the Philippines?
MR. MCCORMACK: Credible enough, so that we put out a Travel Advisory. And my understanding, I read through the Travel Advisory and talked to people here -- is it talks in general about credible threats to stage attacks in public areas of which civilians might be at risk. And of course, in these kind of indiscriminate attacks if there's a possibility that American citizens could be injured, thus we put out the Travel Warning. So it's credible enough -- the reports are credible enough so that our people felt as though they need to put out this Travel Warning.
QUESTION: And what about the summit itself? Are you concerned about that, any specific threats?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing beyond what we have in the Travel Warning. Yeah.
QUESTION: The EU has come out with this assessment of the Venezuelan elections. I'm just wondering if the U.S. has been able to do so at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. I'll check.
QUESTION: Kyrgyzstan, the President thinks that American servicemen there should not have diplomatic immunity because of the death of the Kyrgyz civilian at the hands of an American soldier.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are agreements that -- the specific immunities and how American servicepeople will be treated under particular circumstances are all the subject of Status of Forces Agreement. We have them wherever our servicepeople are stationed, of course, in Kyrgyzstan as well. These are agreements that of course the State Department participates in the negotiations but it really is the Department of Defense that has the lead on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Egypt. Egypt this morning deported ten French and Belgian citizens who were arrested in that sweep, I guess, last week that also got an American national. Is there any news of the fate of the American who seems to be the only kind of Western --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We have gotten -- obtained consular access to that individual just today. The individual signed a limited Privacy Act Waiver that didn't include our being able to speak to you about the particulars of that person's detention or who that person is. Just as a general comment, we -- the people who had access to him observed that this person was being well treated or appeared to be being well treated.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea why the others have been sent back to their countries and not the American?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't. And I -- my latest information is that the Egyptian Government is continuing its investigation. But -- and we don't know. They have not yet filed charges, as I understand it.
QUESTION: Have you asked for his return?
MR. MCCORMACK: What we would expect is the investigation be completed in as expeditious a manner as possible and that this person be accorded all of their full rights under Egyptian law and that we will continue to have consular access to the individual.
QUESTION: Do (inaudible) held at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Can you say where he's being held at this point.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have that information.
QUESTION: You said it was a limited Privacy Act Waiver?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: So what can you say today that you weren't able to say the other day?
MR. MCCORMACK: Only that there's a limited Privacy Act Waiver. (Laughter.) Privacy Act Waivers you can sort of subdivide to whom information can be provided to family members, to lawyers, to Congress people to, you know, to your favorite aunt, to the public. And this one does not include to the public.
QUESTION: Can you say whether (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know it as a fact. I assume we have, but I don't know that as a fact.
QUESTION: Sean, on Somalia. The Islamists say that they are sort of less than happy with the UN's endorsement of this African peacekeeping force
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and they say that it's just going to add fuel to the fire. I wondered whether you -- were causing sort of a regional war?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, this is -- this force was authorized as a training and protection force for the Transitional Federal Institutions. Its approval takes place within the context of policy that we believe that the way forward here is for negotiations between the Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Institutions. As long as the Islamic Courts perceive that they can continue to back the Transitional Federal Institutions into a tighter and tighter and smaller and smaller corner, there of course is less and less incentive one would expect for them to actually want to negotiate. So I can understand why they may be less than happy about this. But this is a policy that is endorsed by a number of different countries in the region.
The force will be deployed under the aegis of the IGAD countries, which is the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, and it's an East African regional organization. And the resolution also clearly states that neighboring states: Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti will not deploy troops to Somalia. So it actually specifically addresses this idea that somehow this action will directly lead to some wider conflict on the -- in the Horn of Africa.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. You've already had several questions, so we'll go to this gentleman here.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. What does the United States do to support Turkey's EU membership process? As you know, the EU leaders will make a new decision about the process next week. Is there anything -- can you -- about the U.S. efforts this subject --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we --
QUESTION: -- especially I would like to ask that what is the latest U.S. position to lift (inaudible) on northern Cyprus?
MR. MCCORMACK: Ultimately all these questions, and very specifically with respect to what Turkey does or does not do in its negotiations with the EU, is going to be up to Turkey and the EU. Certainly we'll do what we can, what we think is responsible, to encourage both sides to come to agreement, but we don't think it is profitable for either side for the United States to directly interpose itself in these negotiations.
We do support Turkey's accession to the EU. There's a process for that. We encourage both sides to do everything that they possibly can to display the greatest flexibility possible in getting over what are some difficult issues that have a long basis in history. So you know, we support Turkey diplomatically. We support the idea of Turkey's accession to the EU. But ultimately it's going to have to be Turkey and the EU that come to agreement on this.
QUESTION: About isolation of northern Cyprus?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's no change in our policy on Cyprus.
QUESTION: Sorry if you already addressed this this week, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we did. Yes, we did. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Badr -- the Badr Brigade, the Badr organization. What is the U.S. position on whether or not it's involved in sectarian (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: In Iraq?
QUESTION: In Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: I would have to check with our military folks to see what their latest assessment of their particular involvement in any violence in Iraq. I simply don't have the information for you. It's not something I've checked on recently.
QUESTION: Is it something that you can get to us as a taken question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Because Hakim said today that they -- they're not involved at all.
MR. MCCORMACK: We're -- I'm happy to check for you and to post our latest assessment on that particular issue.
QUESTION: Just a minor technical question. When does John Bolton actually have to leave the UN? Is it tomorrow when the recess is over or it is when Congress is over or can he stay on until January?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's when this Congress is -- actually goes out of session as a Congress. Now, when Congress actually stops meeting -- and that particular event aren't necessarily one and the same, so there's -- I don't know. I don't know what the answer is. But technically, his ability to continue in that position ends when this Congress comes to an end.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's when they stop meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: That doesn't necessarily mean that this Congress -- that's when this Congress comes to an end. That is a -- it's a parliamentary, you know, parliamentary act that they have to perform.
QUESTION: So what constitutes --
MR. MCCORMACK: Now, when John's last day is, I haven't talked to him so I can't tell you when his last day on the job is. But knowing John, he's going to be working right up till the last moment.
QUESTION: But what constitutes a meeting? Would that just be a meeting of the committees? Is that still technically --
MR. MCCORMACK: You're going to have to ask the --
QUESTION: We just want to be able to say --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- the clerk of the House.
QUESTION: -- when he leaves.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know. I'll be happy to try to find out. You can ask him yourself when his last day will be.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas.
QUESTION: Sean, there is a new report out today by Oxford scientists that says that the infections with HIV in Libya --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) asked about this yesterday.
QUESTION: -- have occurred --
QUESTION: So was that discussed yesterday?
QUESTION: Well, it came out today. Okay, anyway, so that --
MR. MCCORMACK: You must have got an advanced copy of it. I think Gollust might have actually asked the question. (Laughter.) Very surprised by the people that don't read the transcripts, Nicholas. This has just revealed that you don't read the transcripts.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm very disappointed by that. You have to show up here more.
QUESTION: I was off, sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: The House has just passed the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and I think the State Department had been critical of it in an earlier version. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check with our guys to see what -- to see how it finally turned out.
QUESTION: Sean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Goyal, and it better be quick.
QUESTION: As far as the transfer of nuclear technologies is concerned, the A.Q. Khan of Pakistan was the source, but now after North Korea and Iran -- now six-party talks both to hell now. Where do we stand? Because now I understand A.Q. Khan is serious ill? Are we still after him to interview him, the real source of --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think everybody wants to have a full appreciation of all of his activities.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 197
Released on December 7, 2006