State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 11, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 11, 2006
President Bush’s Briefings at the State Department on Iraq /
Department Participants in Briefings
Ongoing Iraq Review Process / State Department Participation and
Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq
Discussion of Regional Diplomacy Regarding Iraq
Discussion of PRTs in Iraq
Department of State and Department of Defense Cooperation
Situation in Northern Pakistan
Resumption of Six-Party Talks in Beijing on December 18 /
Assistant Secretary Hill’s Travel / Meetings
UN Secretary General Annan’s Speech and Remarks Regarding Iraq
War on Terrorism
Secretary Rice’s Meeting Today with UN Secretary General-Elect
Arab League Proposal for Lebanon / Secretary Rice’s Meeting with
Arab League Secretary General Moussa Last Week
Political Crisis in Lebanon / Situation on Ground / US Stands with
People of Lebanon
Secretary Rice’s Call to Prime Minister Siniora
Gulf Cooperation Council Proposal on Peaceful Nuclear Power
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Iran’s Holocaust Denial Conference
Student Protests in Iran
Status of UN Resolution on Iran
Reported Iranian Pledge of $250 Million in Direct Aid to
Palestinian Authority Hamas-Led Government
Special Envoy Natsios in Sudan / Meetings / Itinerary
Attack on Aid Convoy in Sudan
Status of US Citizen Detained in Egypt
Death of Augusto Pinochet
Secretary’s Meetings with Russian and German Foreign Ministers
12:55 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements so we can start with the questioning. Whoever would like to start.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could provide any insights into the -- on the advice that the State Department collectively and individually gave the President today about Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, today's briefings were designed to update the President on what the Department of State's efforts inside Iraq look like. Some of it had to do with staffing. Some of it had to do with our insights, our advice with respect to the current situation as well as the situation in the region. The President also had a briefing directly from some PRT -- Provincial Reconstruction Team -- leaders. Three of them were in Iraq, one of them just by serendipity happened to be here in the United States. And they ran through their observations of being on the ground in each of these provinces outside of Baghdad, ran through what their activities were with respect to their teams, the programs that they had. It was a good give and take. The President had questions throughout the entire set of briefings.
In terms of the ongoing Iraq review process, I guess you could say that today's briefings were one part of that, one input to it. We get this question about when the State Department review process will be concluded, and I guess I can only say that this is not a process where, you know, the State Department writes one paper, it gets laid down and then that's it, we're done, we're out of it. I think that the State Department review process -- the end of that will be coincident with the end of the overall review process. We're feeding into the NSC-led, National Security Council-led review process and it's an organic process where there's give and take, deputies meet, principals meet, they brief the President on occasion where they happen to be, and that there are questions back and forth. Some of those get sent back out to the agencies. We answer some of those. More papers are tasked. We write those papers. So it's much -- it's less a serial process than an ongoing participation and discussion and review.
QUESTION: Do you remember maybe -- it was about six months ago there was a report somehow, and I associate Jim Jeffrey with it, on reconstruction, programs that were moving along fine and programs that were having trouble getting on track. Is there any expectation that an update will be made public on the various issues of restoring the civilian society -- a government that can, you know, help people live a normal life?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have periodic reports to Congress which we're required under law to do. There's a lot of information collected in those. I'm not aware, Barry, of any particular plans to do a separate update on the reconstruction efforts. The Special Inspector General of Iraq does periodic --
MR. MCCORMACK: SIGR -- S-I-G-R -- does periodic reports. I understand in some of the legislation to get recently passed in this last Congress, they re-upped SIGR to continue on. I don't know if it has any particular end date. But those reports come out. They are independent of the State Department obviously. We have input to them in terms of providing information, but they're not our reports.
QUESTION: Right, thanks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: In the review -- and I'm sorry if you've already done this. In the review, did you look at whether it might be useful to speak to Iran and Syria just over Iraq directly? Did you look at that? Was that part of your discussion?
MR. MCCORMACK: There was a discussion about regional diplomacy vis-Ã -vis Iraq, yes, and the current -- some of the current efforts that are underway that we all know about that are in public. With respect to engaging Iran and Syria, there's nothing new to add to what we have already said on the topic over the past week or so.
QUESTION: Sean, who were the individuals in the room from the State Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: State Department -- Secretary Rice. Ambassador Khalilzad beamed in from Baghdad. David Satterfield, Philip Zelikow, Under Secretary Nick Burns, Under Secretary Hughes, Steve Krasner, Director our Policy Planning Staff, Brian Gunderson and myself. Brian Gunderson, our Chief of Staff.
QUESTION: On another subject?
QUESTION: Did the President ask participants in the room to look at specific elements and to do more research on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: There were a couple times where he said he wanted people to look into a couple topics.
QUESTION: What kind of topics? What are you talking about?
MR. MCCORMACK: Just -- I'm not going to get into that sort of thing. There were a couple times when the President, in response to a give and take, he asked some questions, he got some information back, and sort of at the conclusion of those discussions he asked, you know, look into that for me.
QUESTION: And what did the PRT leaders tell the President? That it was very rough on the ground and that all -- what was --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I'm not going to get into the content of --
QUESTION: It was a bit more --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- you know, government officials briefings -- briefing for the President of the United States. Although I think it is fair to say that each of these team leaders, they're in different parts of the country, gave differing assessments. Each of these -- each of the team leaders have different structures to their team, different programs that are in response to the different kinds of challenges and needs that they find in their provinces.
Just so you know, I'll run down the PRT leaders and where they're from. He heard from Stephanie Miley, who was actually in the room. She's back here in the United States briefly. And she is -- her PRT is in Salahaddin. There was Chuck Hunter from Babil, B-a-b-i-l, James Knight from Ninewa PRT and James Soriano from the Anbar PRT.
QUESTION: How many PRTs are actually functioning now in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Seven.
QUESTION: Seven? And what is the ultimate goal as far as fully functioning PRTs?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think right now we are at where we expect it to be. I think that this is one of these things where if there's a perceived need for expansion of the PRTs to other places, I expect that over time you'll probably get that. But this is our -- right now, I think the Secretary is comfortable with where we are. We have -- just so you know, I'll run down the list. We have PRTs in Ninewa, Kirkuk, which is also a regional embassy office, Salahaddin, Diala, Baghdad, Anbar and Babil which is also a regional embassy office.
QUESTION: Is the PRT in Anbar functioning up to what you were expecting?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's tough in Anbar, make no mistake about that. It's a very difficult situation. But there are brave people on the PRTs and brave Iraqis who are working to try to build up the institutions of a provincial and a local government in Anbar. Now, that's probably -- it's probably harder in Anbar than anyplace else, although we didn't ask that particular question. But just judging by -- certainly of the four we heard from, I think that they operate under the most difficult circumstances.
QUESTION: What is their task? To build the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a lot of what you want to do with -- and what I got from the PRT team leaders is they want to meet with local government officials. They want to meet with regional leaders, those with some political influence in the particular province in which they operate. They want to talk to business leaders in the province and look at how we, the United States as well as the coalition, can help them in their efforts to build up rule of law, build up infrastructure, build up governing institutions; and if there are any other particular projects that are region or provincial or local specific, they'll work on those, but that's essentially it.
How do we direct our focus, our resources, our funds, our people to the right areas to make sure and also to help -- there is a great example in Salahaddin? One of the things that Stephanie Miley talked about is making sure that when our military and our State Department work with local officials, for example, town officials. that also those projects are coordinated with -- are coordinated at the federal level with the Iraqis as well as at the provincial level. For example, if you go into a particular town and they say, infrastructure-wise, what we really need is we need to build up our sewage treatment facilities to help with our infrastructure. Well, that, of course, you want to respond to what the people on the ground think that they need, what do they need most to demonstrate that their governing structures are responding to the needs of the people.
Well, before you do that, you want to make sure that the -- either at the provincial level or the federal level, they have actually -- they are actually aware of these kinds of requests and that they are able to, over time, sustain the maintenance of those kinds of projects. For example, you don't want to start up the sewage treatment project in a local -- in a town and not -- and six months later, not be able to have the provincial or the federal people help out the town to maintain that, either with spare parts or expertise or money. So that's part of what they do.
QUESTION: But in Anbar, for example --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is the team leader able to meet with all the local leaders?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if he's able to meet with all, but I think that they have access to all of those people that would like to meet with us and that we -- that they continue to reach out to other Iraqis who reassure them that they should be part of the political process, that that is the best way forward for Iraq.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about, I mean just generally, the success of this program at this point? Have they been able to achieve the goals that they've set out for themselves? You talked about the meetings and talked about, you know, reconstruction. I mean, how successful have they been able to --
MR. MCCORMACK: The PRTs?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a relatively new program. The Secretary announced it back in 2005 and, of course, any sort of new bureaucratic effort, it takes a while to get it going. You're working out the security arrangements, making sure that they are staffed up. It takes -- you know, we work in a bureaucracy and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to actually get the people and the resources dedicated to those tasks. But we now have, since that time, since that announcement back in early 2005, we have seven PRTs standing up. We have most of all the positions filled -- I checked before I came out here, and there are 51 State Department positions among these PRTs and we have 46 of them filled. And David Satterfield reported that in the coming bid cycle, we're actually over-subscribed. We have people actually seeking out these assignments. So it is -- the word is getting out that these are good, exciting challenging assignments for people here in the Department and we're getting good people out to them.
You asked, well, have they achieved all their objectives? Well, you know, we haven't achieved all of our objectives in Iraq, but are we where we want to be? I think the Secretary is pretty pleased with where we are right now in terms of the PRTs and their function. Their effectiveness is, of course, subject to a variety of different variables, including the overall security environment and the security environment locally, the ability of the federal institution -- federal Iraqi institutions to function, and the connections between those federal institutions and provincial as well as local institutions. So we're trying to help build that up and it takes time. It takes time. But I think the Secretary is pleased with the PRT program in terms of where we are now.
QUESTION: Was there any thought in the room about the Iraqis and how they perceive PRTS and the Iraqi perception of the United States in their communities and reaching out and trying to work with them? And was there any concern about the Iraqis wanting perhaps the U.S. not to be there or not to meddle or was -- what's the, you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: Didn't hear that. We actually -- we didn't get into the larger question of, you know, Iraqi attitudes towards the American presence in Iraq as a whole. But in terms of the local and provincial officials, I think that our people on the ground have a good working relationship with them and I didn't sense any particular problems or tensions in their presentations. Of course, there's a security environment that is quite challenging and they travel with military convoys when they go out and sometimes those military convoys get attacked. So one can assume from those set of facts that there are people who don't want the PRTs there or Americans there, but I think we all know that. But the briefing that we got was that the Iraqis actually find very useful and productive their interactions with our PRT members.
QUESTION: Yes, did anybody -- without getting into specifics because you don't want to say exactly what the specifics were, did anyone raise questions of policy or programs that were not working? Did anyone say to the President X, Y, Z is being tried, is not working, we should abandon that," that kind of -- was there that kind of give and take?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think it's a pretty honest estimate. The President asked direct questions and he gets honest, direct answers. You know, I think, sure, as a whole, are there things -- efforts that we could do better? Yeah, absolutely, and part of what we're looking at is, are we devoting our resources properly and getting them to the Iraqis and the government officials in the proper way.
Anything else on Iraq?
QUESTION: Just on the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, we're going to go over and then we'll --
QUESTION: Just on the PRTs, you said the Secretary is pretty pleased overall with how this is going.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Could you name five areas where you've achieved success in the PRTs? Could you just rattle off four or five things where you think you have --
MR. MCCORMACK: What, specific programs?
QUESTION: Yes, anything specific with the PRTs as to why --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I didn't come armed with specific programs that they're working on. I could probably get you a long list of things that they are pleased with in terms of the PRT leaders.
You know, the Secretary, as she looks at this, is not looking at specific programs, whether or not one bid for a PRT program in a specific province won out over another one. That's not her job. Her job is to make sure that these PRTs are functioning in the way that they were outlined to function and that is a civilian-military relationship on the ground designed to work specifically with local and provincial officials to help build up their capacity, I think, from that -- and make sure that they -- these PRTs have the resources in order to do their job.
I think certainly from that perspective, yes, she is pleased with the way things are going. And as I mentioned, we have good people in the pipeline. This is -- these are now jobs that people in the State Department are seeking out to bid on; not because -- not just because it is -- you know, career-enhancing, but because they are actually -- they actually like the challenge. They like the challenge of being out there on the front lines and making a difference on American foreign policy.
So that's -- I guess those are the metrics by which the, you know, the Secretary, at her level, looks at these PRTs. I'll be happy to try to dig into it and see if there are some specific examples of projects that the various PRT leaders would highlight as things that they would say are accomplishments.
QUESTION: And then just one last thing. The President also said that it was important that State and Defense, you know, work closely together and coordinate. Are you satisfied with the current level of cooperation? Do you think that your working --
MR. MCCORMACK: On the PRTs?
QUESTION: No, just overall.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And on the PRTs?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. I didn't hear anything contrary. Look, anytime you have two bureaucracies working together on something, of course, there are going to be bumps in the road, but those have been smoothed out. I didn't hear any concerns from any of the PRT leaders and it did come up in terms of security, in terms of their working relationship with the military. They -- as a matter of fact, they -- in several instances, some of the PRT leaders volunteered that their working relationship with the brigade and division in their area was actually very, very good.
QUESTION: Sean, is it your opinion that the PRT model is going to continue? I mean, you know, as the Administration crafts a new way forward, can we expect that the PRTs are going to be an integral part of that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yeah. I would expect the PRT program would continue, yes.
Yeah, Joel. Just a second, Barry. Do you have something on Iraq, Joel?
QUESTION: Not specifically.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, then we'll come back to you. Barry has dibs here.
QUESTION: Ten thousand words in the New York Times today about how awful the situation is getting to be in north Pakistan. This may not be the place to pursue it very deeply, but do you have anything to say about the general view that there's a rise in terror groups of all stripes in northern Pakistan? And does this reflect, in any way, on the -- your dependence on the Pakistani leader in the war against terrorism?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of --
QUESTION: It sounds like you gave up northern Pakistan.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Well, this is one news story, Barry.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. A long one though.
MR. MCCORMACK: It was a long one. It was a long one. Did you read every word?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: But I was looking for the silver lining and I couldn't --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, first of all, it's a Pakistani program so you can talk to the Pakistani Government about whether or not they feel as though they've met their targets and their metrics and their expectations for this program. I do know it's relatively new so they're still working through it. And I think when it first came out we talked about the fact that we had been briefed up on the program and certainly it seemed as though it was a workable model. But as with most things, the true effectiveness of it comes down to its implementation and in exactly what manner it is implemented.
I think that everybody is aware of the problem of ceding territory to extremists, to terrorists, and you don't want to do that. The Pakistanis don't want to do that; that's why they came up with this program because the Federal Administrated Tribal Areas were an area that has not traditionally been under the control of the central Pakistani Government so -- and it was becoming a problem not only for the Pakistanis but also for cross-border infiltrations into Afghanistan of violent extremists who were attacking Afghans as well as coalition forces. So the Pakistani Government came up with this program as a way to integrated economic, political, civil, military program to try to address that.
I think it's too early to tell what the -- whether or not the program is succeeding and, again, I'd refer you to the Pakistanis for their assessment on whether or not it's meeting their expectations. Clearly you still do have cross-border infiltration, and I know that that is a concern for the Pakistanis and the Afghans. President Musharraf and President Karzai had some meetings a couple months ago here at the White House and they have since tried to get together themselves and talk about different ways that they can stop that infiltration. But having safe havens and areas where these extremists can operate from is a real concern for us.
QUESTION: Well, the Afghans, when they come here, they say there's been an increase in Taliban cross-border activities into their country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: It's a difficult, difficult problem.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, it is.
QUESTION: They acknowledge that it's a mess.
MR. MCCORMACK: It is. It is. And the key is you have to -- is cooperative working relationships among the Afghans, the Pakistanis, as well as coalition forces and that includes us.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I have two areas so I'll pick. I have North Korea and Lebanon.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: So first I'm going to start with the six-party talks. The Chinese announced they're going to resume on the 16th at Chris Hill's level --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the 18th.
QUESTION: The 18th.
MR. MCCORMACK: The 18th.
QUESTION: The 18th, sorry. Why are they at the -- with all due respect to Chris Hill, why at his level and what are your expectations of the round?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there hasn't been any other round of the six-party talks at any other level than Chris Hill's level.
QUESTION: There's never been one at the foreign minister level? Wasn't (inaudible) there in China last year and she was there?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
MR. MCCORMACK: At the six-party talks, no.
QUESTION: What are your expectations of the talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's -- first of all, a couple just factual elements here. I think Chris will probably leave Friday, get into Beijing Saturday, talks start on Monday, the 18th. I would expect that there are probably going to be preliminary discussions in advance of the actual formal beginning of the round. He doesn't have any particular schedule at this point, but just wanted to give you fair warning, there probably will be meetings in advance of the actual formal start of the round.
Our desire for this round is -- and I think it's a shared desire among certainly the five members of the talks -- is to build on the joint declaration from September 2005 and actually make progress in taking concrete actions and steps to implement that understanding in the joint declaration. So not going back to re-litigate what was agreed to in that joint understanding. I think it's pretty clear what was agreed to in that joint understanding, using that as the starting point and moving forward.
QUESTION: Those preliminary talks, are you foreseeing a one-on-one with the North Koreas?
MR. MCCORMACK: He don't have a schedule yet, Barry. I can't rule it out.
QUESTION: But I mean, it is a way to clear the underbrush before you get into talks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've done some of that. We have done some of that. Like I said, and I'm being totally upfront with you guys here, I don't have a list of his meetings from between the 16th and 18th. I can't rule it out, any various different configuration, but we have met with them in the past in the context of the six-party talks and it very may well happen again. I can't tell you that it won't. Don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen.
QUESTION: How about this round?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Will this meeting be a fifth round talks or six round talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: The -- there'll be six parties at the talks.
QUESTION: I know, but is the fifth round or a sixth round?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, gosh. I don't know. I'll have to--
QUESTION: Is this a new round or a continuation?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a new round. I can't tell you what number we're on. We'll look into that for you.
QUESTION: This is a little bit confusing. It's continuation with the 2005 in September --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, this is a new -- no, not a continuation. No, it's a good question because there was, I think the -- they got together in September, they came up with the joint operation, then they met again for a brief period of time in November. And I think that that was -- there was a expectation that there was going to be another meeting. There wasn't after that. This is -- I guess if your people are counting, this is a new round of talks.
QUESTION: Okay. December 18th is an interesting date. And you talked last week about the importance of having this meeting well prepared. Are they well prepared to the point where there's not going to be that much need for give and take in Beijing starting Monday, permitting them to sign something that would enable Chris to be back with his family by Christmastime?
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of when he's coming back, he may well want to be back for -- with his family for Christmastime. We'll see. In terms of the level of preparation, I don't think anything is guaranteed. All the various parties, I think, have a healthy expectation of what is expected and what they might expect to hear in general terms from all of the other members of the talks. I would expect the negotiations to be intense and I don't think anybody is going to be giving away anything at these discussions, certainly not the United States.
But there -- the operating principle here is that good faith actions will be met in turn by good faith from the other members of the talks. That's the central operating principle here. So we'll see. There's no -- there are no guarantees here, but we would hope and it is our desire to make progress in terms of parties committing at this round to concrete actions and then quickly thereafter following through on those commitments.
QUESTION: What's the idea on the duration of these talks? I mean, is it going till you have some sort of agreement and you keep going, or is it --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. Chris has flexibility in that regard.
QUESTION: Change of subject, Sean.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, wait a minute. We had one on North Korea, then we'll come back to you, Joel.
QUESTION: Has North Korea come back to the United States after Beijing talks in terms of the -- I mean, with demand from U.S. side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, have they made demands on us?
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. Has North Korea come back to the United States to answer the demand from the U.S. side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I'll have to -- I'll check for you what communication we've had with them lately on the six-party talks. They may well have communicated some information via the Chinese or other parties, which is something that they typically do.
QUESTION: Sean, Kofi Annan is delivering a speech at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And apparently he's lashed out at the Administration in particular about the Iraq war.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Calling it too much macho, too little diplomacy. And do you see this in any way as a reflection on UN Ambassador John Bolton's tenure at the UN?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: His behavior and --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. And we have an as prepared for delivery set of his remarks. I haven't seen the actual delivered version of the remarks and I'm not sure I see any sort of bombast that has been portrayed -- that these remarks have been portrayed as having been delivered by Secretary General Annan. Again, I'm working off the as prepared text. We'll see what the actual delivered text looks like.
Look, you know, there's no Secretary General of the United Nations that going to be in lockstep with the United States or any other country with regard to its policies. That's not that person's job. We worked well with Secretary General Annan on a number of different issues. There's some issues on which we disagree; that is to be expected.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Well, actually the speech was pretty verbatim to the prepared text that you mentioned. But what he said was that the United States in trying to secure -- the Bush Administration in trying to secure the country in the war on terrorism was dominating in its policy against other states, committing what he called human rights abuses. And I mean, I can't remember a Secretary General in recent history whose tenure was marked over the last four years by such harsh criticism of the United States. And do you think that this has soured the relationship between the UN Secretariat and the Bush Administration? Ambassador Bolton has had some pretty harsh remarks for the Secretary General over the last year or so.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there's going to be a new Secretary General. The Secretary of State is actually going to be meeting with him this evening for a series of discussions about what the United States -- what United States priorities are for the United Nations, what our policies are. We have a good working relationship with the Secretary General-elect -- I guess that's what we would call him. And I would expect that he is getting the same kinds of briefings and having the same -- similar kinds of meetings with other member countries of the United Nations.
As I said, are we going to see eye to eye on every single issue with Secretary Generals of the United Nations? No, probably not. With respect to Mr. Annan's remarks, he, of course, is entitled to his opinion. There have been instances that we have all seen, for example, Abu Ghraib, which had been shameful. But are these a -- are these part of a concerted policy? No. These are -- those were terrible, shameful acts by some individuals.
And in terms of how the United States has sought to protect itself and act in its own national interest and, by the way, also try to help protect and defend freedom and liberty and those countries that subscribe to that political viewpoint, of course, we have made difficult decisions and we don't expect that everybody has agreed with those decisions and people are entitled to their opinions.
But this country and this President and the Secretary of State are acting on the principle of defending liberty and spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world. That is at the core of this President's foreign policy. You can see it in the Second Inaugural. You can see it in our actions. You can see it in speeches and remarks by other members of this Administration. But that is at the core of our foreign policy.
QUESTION: The Arab League has submitted, you know, a compromise proposal for the Lebanese political conflict. Presumably, since the Secretary met with Amr Moussa last week --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Presumably, there's been some knowledge here of what's involved in that, in that plan. Do you have reaction to that? Any --
MR. MCCORMACK: They did talk a little bit about that. It was by way of the Secretary was in receive mode as opposed to send mode on that. She heard what Mr. Moussa was talking about. I'll leave it to Mr. Moussa and the Arab League to describe what it is they that they have in mind. That is not something for us really to comment on.
Fundamentally though, the difficulties in Lebanon in terms of the political crisis that is now ongoing there are for the Lebanese people to decide and Lebanese political leaders to decide. Whatever proposals might be flowing in from the outside, they all have to be decided upon as to their merit by the Lebanese political leadership. We stand firmly with Prime Minister Siniora in his government in standing against those who would, using non-democratic means and with non-democratic motivations, try to undercut Lebanese democracy. That is, we believe, what you're seeing right now.
The heart of the matter at the moment in terms of the political crisis in Lebanon is there are people, there are groups and outside states who do not want to see the UN-Iraqi tribunal go forward. And that tribunal -- the job of that tribunal is to identify and bring to justice those who are responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri. That is making some people very nervous and, as a result, you're seeing a lot of the political perturbation within the Lebanese system right now.
QUESTION: So the --
MR. MCCORMACK: And they're -- look, this is a cynical attempt to try to manipulate the Lebanese political system by those outside of Lebanon. We, of course, have no problem with peaceful expression of differing points of view within a political system, but that's not what you're seeing in Lebanon right now. And I just want to make it very clear that the United States stands firmly with the people of Lebanon as they seek to resolve their political disputes within their political system in a democratic way. We are not going to abandon the people of Lebanon for any other cause. We will not trade the freedom of one people for the freedom of another people.
QUESTION: That's clear. The Secretary spoke to Mr. Moussa last week. Is it clear that's the Arab League's position too, to stand firmly for democracy in Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- like I said --
QUESTION: For the intimidation of the Prime Minister?
MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, I'm not going to -- again, I am not going to -- you know, I can speak for the U.S. Government --
QUESTION: Well, who are those people that are trying to bring down Lebanon? You talked to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's very clear, Barry. It's the -- I think --
QUESTION: Are they members of the Arab League?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have talked about who is responsible, we believe, for this, Barry. I'm going to leave it to others to describe, to comment on, the Arab League proposal. But fundamentally, it is -- the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the Lebanese people and the Lebanese political leadership.
QUESTION: If they get the chance to be in charge of themselves.
QUESTION: Do you have any -- as a follow-up, do you have any guidance on what the Secretary -- any phone calls she might have made over the weekend to try and rescue Siniora or Ambassador Feltman, what they're doing on the ground to deal with this -- what you called a crisis?
MR. MCCORMACK: She, last week, spoke with Prime Minister Siniora last Saturday. I'm just looking down at a list of phone calls, some phone calls here. She did speak on this Saturday as well with Prime Minister Siniora on the 9th to express her support for him in the face of this political crisis.
There are a lot -- there's a lot of focus on what is happening in Lebanon, and not only from the United States but other states in the region who are -- who have an interest in seeing a stable, moderate, democratic Lebanon. I wouldn't put Syria in that category, very clearly. I think that's a bit of an understatement.
But again, this gets back to the issue that we've talked about for some time here, is that in the wake of the war started by Hezbollah with Israel you have a different political fault line that has developed in the Middle East. You have those states, those moderate Arab states who have an interest in seeing differences resolved through peaceful negotiation. You see on the other side of that line states like Iran and Syria and their terrorist subcontractors, Hamas and Hezbollah as well as others, who through use of violence, terror and extremism don't want to see the cause of democracy and freedom advanced in the Middle East. And that is a fundamental struggle that is ongoing now in the Middle East. We're seeing some of that play out in the streets of Lebanon, in Beirut.
QUESTION: This weekend the six Gulf monarchies decided to launch civil nuclear programs. Given that cannot possibly be for energy reasons, don't you think there is a risk of a nuclear race in the Gulf, in the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would have to -- I have to admit I don't have the details of what they have talked about. I, of course, saw the news stories on the proposal. But this is coming from the Gulf Cooperation Council. We have a very close working relationship and one that has actually become increasingly close over the past months as they perceive the same kind of threats to the region that everybody else has seen that I just talked about in response to the last question.
We stand for countries exercising their right to develop peaceful nuclear energy. President Bush has talked about the importance of seeking alternatives to hydrocarbon-based energy. And part -- one of those is development of nuclear power and we actually have a great interest in working with individual states who have expressed an interest in developing peaceful nuclear energy. The Government of Egypt recently, within the past few months, has expressed an interest in developing peaceful nuclear energy as they are -- they look at their demographics and infrastructure demands going out over the years and they're going to have great energy needs and they have a need for safe, reliable sources of energy and that is one of the areas that they're looking to. I presume that's what these states have an interest in.
QUESTION: Even Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, the hydrocarbon resources don't extend out infinitely and, of course, they have an interest, as do many other states, in developing this potential. I haven't -- you know, again, they've expressed an interest in it. I don't know if they're going to -- how far down the road they're going to work to develop those peaceful nuclear energy programs.
There's a great distinction here with Iran, which of course has said that's what it is doing. But the IAEA as well as others have given every indication that is not, in fact, what they are doing. What they are, in fact, doing is trying to develop a nuclear weapon using the cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program and actually, up until very recently, seeking the assistance of the IAEA to develop various nuclear-related projects in Iran. Well, their cover was blown over a period of years and we, in trying to bring this issue to attention, are now joined by many, many other nations, from the IAEA Board of Governors as well as the UN Security Council.
So it's not -- the problem is not with Iran's stated goals. Their stated goal is peaceful nuclear energy. Nobody disputes that right. But in trying to exercise that right, they have, in fact -- they are, in fact, trying to develop nuclear weapon, which abrogates their treaty commitments. That's the problem. It's Iran's behavior, not what they said that they are seeking.
QUESTION: So don't you think this announcement by the CCG could -- or GCC could be seen as a message to Iran that if you develop a nuclear program we can do it, too?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- you will have to ask the member-states of the GCC if that's what -- I'm reading it nothing more -- not trying to read anything more or less into what their actual statement is. And from what I have seen, they have an interest in developing peaceful nuclear energy. Make no mistake about it, if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon that would be one of the most -- if not the most -- destabilizing event that we have ever seen in the Middle East, which is why we are trying to make sure that that doesn't happen.
QUESTION: But you don't try to prevent the Arab countries to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, they have stated an intention to develop peaceful nuclear energy. The problem, again, is not with the desire to develop nuclear energy; it's with behavior. The problem with what -- with the Iranian regime is their behavior and the fact that they are misleading the rest of the world when they say that all they want is peaceful nuclear energy. That is not what they want.
QUESTION: Sean, also on Iran, this Holocaust conference. I believe you talked about it last week.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But it's ongoing. Just wondering where the U.S. Government stands on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Still -- you know, again, a conference designed to try to deny the fact that six million innocent people lost their lives in a brutal, despicable manner is just awful. The fact that -- coupled with the fact that this is a regime that says it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map, this is -- it should be of grave concern to everybody around the world.
QUESTION: Are we making any specific efforts through the Iran office here to sort of counter that message inside Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you and see what sort of interviews or broadcasting or other types of efforts we have.
QUESTION: That would be great.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David.
QUESTION: On Sudan.
QUESTION: Oh, on Iran. Well, on their nuclear issue, but I can come back to it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit's not going to yield though.
QUESTION: No, real quick. Just with these students who protested in Tehran the Ahmadi-Nejad speech. Does the State Department have any comment or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the news reports about their protesting. It should be an occurrence that is allowed in Iran. I don't know what's going to happen to these individuals. But I think certainly Iran is not a place where freedom of expression or freedom of speech is encouraged or really tolerated.
QUESTION: So does the State Department have any opinion as to whether this is indicative of --
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you because I don't have the specifics of what exactly happened. I've seen the news reports, but that's it.
QUESTION: A new topic. I know there were some --
MR. MCCORMACK: Wait a minute. Let --
QUESTION: On the -- Britain and France are putting forward this new draft resolution today --
MR. MCCORMACK: The which --
QUESTION: Britain and France were putting forward this new resolution, sanctions resolution on Iran. And I just wondered, has the Secretary spoken to the Russian Foreign Minister in recent days to try and encourage the Russians maybe to sign on this time?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. She had a meeting late last week with Igor Ivanov, who's the Russian National Security Advisor, but she hasn't -- she has not spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov -- I'm just looking at my list here -- I don't believe within the past week.
QUESTION: And are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: But we are encouraging them to sign on the resolution.
QUESTION: And are you optimistic that this one is finally going to go through? I mean, there's a lot of talk of it going through before the Christmas holiday break.
MR. MCCORMACK: We're getting to the point where we need a vote, we need a vote. People need to make clear, the states need to make clear, where they stand on this issue.
QUESTION: Yeah, Sudan. Andrew Natsios had meetings over the weekend. Has there been a positive response yet? I mean, the Sudanese Government seems to be kind of inching its way towards accepting.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're continuing -- we're not there yet. We're continuing to work on it. Andrew is in Sudan. His meetings continue. Beyond that, I don't have much more information. We're not there yet in terms of the implementation of the Addis Ababa understanding in support of Resolution 1706.
QUESTION: Do you know what's holding it up? I mean, where they're holding back? Is it kind of a joint choice of --
MR. MCCORMACK: It gets into a variety of a different issues that really get to what this -- the exact composition and function of one of the various elements of this force and what their role, what their mission is going to be in Sudan.
QUESTION: Is December 31st still the imputed deadline?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're still working on Plan A.
QUESTION: And you'll work into next year on Plan A?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're working on Plan A. We're working on Plan A right now. Yeah. Anything else on Sudan?
QUESTION: Yeah. Could you provide any details of who Natsios has been meeting with and who he plans to meet with? For example, has the President agreed to meet with him?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm just looking at the list. My very detailed description that I've been provided is he's met with senior government officials in Khartoum on December 10th. I can't tell you who that is, but I do know it is -- that it does not as of yet include President Bashir. I think he still has some -- he's visiting Southern Sudan today, would like to travel to Darfur tomorrow. And our hope is still that at some point before he leaves, he will be able to meet with President Bashir.
QUESTION: And do you have any comment on the attack yesterday on an aid convoy in which 30 civilians were killed in Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: We understand -- this was the attack near El Geneina?
MR. MCCORMACK: There were a number of civilian deaths and we understand that AMIS personnel investigating the crash were taken to a police station for their own protection by local authorities. It is our understanding that they have since been evacuated from the police station and were returned to El Geneina. It is just, from what we can gather in terms of the details of the attack, it's just a terrible event in which some innocent people lost their lives.
QUESTION: You said last week that he had meetings possibly with third parties in London. Do you have any more information on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Do we have anything else on that, Tom?
MR. CASEY: (Off-mike.)
MR. MCCORMACK: On London, what Andrew's is doing in London?
MR. CASEY: Meeting with British officials.
MR. MCCORMACK: And nobody else?
MR. CASEY: No. I don't have a complete schedule. I know he --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're working on it.
QUESTION: Excellent, excellent.
QUESTION: I understand he's going to be away for ten days.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: This leaves a lot of time unaccounted for.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's spending a fair bit of time in Khartoum. I don't have his schedule in -- not Khartoum -- in Sudan. I don't have his complete schedule. But traveling within Sudan chews up a lot of time. Getting there chews up a lot of time. But he's also going to -- he's going to be going on to Chad from here which, again, will take some time.
QUESTION: Can I return to the guy arrested in Egypt last week or the week before? Any more details on him? Can you reveal his identity?
MR. MCCORMACK: No changes in terms of being able to talk about who this person is. But our expectation is that he will be released and that he will be able to leave Egypt. We're working with him on that particular question. I can't tell you exactly when. But we would hope in the coming days that he --
QUESTION: He's intending to come back to the States?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I -- it will be up to him exactly where he comes back to, but --
QUESTION: But when you say released, you mean fully released, not released into your custody --
MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.
QUESTION: -- extradited? You're not --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I think that the expectation is that he would leave Egypt.
QUESTION: But when you say that, do you mean that you would take --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
QUESTION: -- you would assume control of him, or he's just going to be released full stop?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. He would be -- I don't know if that's the exact term. I think that he would leave Egypt.
QUESTION: I have another question.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: I know there were some statements over the weekend, but do you have any comments on the death of Pinochet?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's going to be up to the Chilean people to decide what his legacy is vis-Ã -vis Chile. They -- you know, when he left Chile, the Chilean people were able to start to come to terms with the period of time in which he led the coalition in -- ruling coalition in Chile. From that, they have built a quite successful state and a state that is a model for many in the hemisphere in terms of their addressing issues of social justice and free trade and freedom of expression and the strength of democratic institutions. And I think that the Chilean people should be commended for that. We, of course, have a good, close working relationship with President Bachelet and her government and we'll continue to do so. But the fundamental assessment of his legacy in Chile and for Chile is, I think, one really for the Chilean people.
QUESTION: Do you credit Pinochet with the -- laying the groundwork for the successes that have occurred since he left office?
MR. MCCORMACK: George, I think that's really -- that's going to -- that's really for the Chilean people to come to terms with in terms of their history. What we do know is that in the wake of his departure from the scene, that the Chilean people have built a very successful country.
QUESTION: I have one more thing. Apparently, Iran has pledged $250 million in direct aid to the Hamas-led government. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen the particular news reports. But it's -- if in fact true, even a pledge of that sort would be really 180 degrees opposite from where the rest of the world is going with respect to this Hamas-led government. I don't know if they'll actually follow through on those pledges. We have heard before from the Iranians when Hamas first took power great pledges about tens of millions of dollars that were going to be flowing into Hamas's coffers each and every single month. And I'm not sure that the Palestinian people ever actually saw any of that money.
QUESTION: And also Qatar has offered to pay the Palestinian school teachers.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any more details on that? I know that the Foreign Minister was here last week and the Secretary asked him. Have they come back with any further details on whether the temporary international mechanism is being used?
MR. MCCORMACK: They're -- I think they took on board our point of view on the issue, the point of view of other countries as well, and we're still talking to them about it. But I think that they -- the Foreign Minister -- the Foreign Minister is -- said that he was going to look into the matter personally.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. McCormack.
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you know if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her separate meetings last Friday with the foreign ministers of Russia and Germany discussed also the Kosovo issue and to which extent?
MR. MCCORMACK: It did not come up in the meeting with Mr. Ivanov, the National Security Advisor. It did come up with Foreign Minister Steinmeier. That was actually the topic of their dinner conversation for the most part.
QUESTION: What about Cyprus? This in connection with the EU process for recognition of Turkey to the European Union.
MR. MCCORMACK: They talked briefly about that. The Foreign Minister briefed them -- briefed the Secretary on where the EU stood in its process of discussions with --
QUESTION: Which one, the German or the Russian?
MR. MCCORMACK: The German, Germany.
QUESTION: Just to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the UN. With the Secretary General at the end of his term -- Kofi Annan, that is -- is there a general commentary on what the U.S. views as his legacy on leaving? Is there any --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we'll wait till the end of his term before we offer those comments.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)
DPB # 199
Released on December 11, 2006