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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 19, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 19, 2006


Failure of Hamas Government / Hamas Should Respect Quartet
President Abbas's Call for Elections / Palestinians Must Decide
Political Future

Conviction of Medical Personnel / One Step Left in Judicial
U.S. Will Continue to Work for Release of Medical Workers
U.S. Improving Relationship with Libya

Readout of Secretary's Meeting with Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin

Status of UNSC Resolution on Iran / U.S. Seeking Vote This Week
Iran Improving Nuclear Technology Daily / Credibility of Security
Council at Stake
Iran Should Want Stable Neighbor in Iraq

Reports of Transit of Arms to Hezbollah Are of Concern
Lebanese Armed Forces and Border Security Could Improve
Syria Can Be Positive Influence in Region But Has Chosen Opposite
Syria Should Help Lebanese People, Not Manipulate Political System
Congressional Travel / Department Provision of Assistance

Nuclear Development Reversible / No U.S. Nuclear Weapons on
Update on Six-Party Talks

Final Status Talks / U.S. Working Closely with Ahtissari

Andrew Natsios's Travel, Accomplishments on Darfur


12:32 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Who wants to lead off? Barry.

QUESTION: Sure. Several things, but one would be any response or reaction to the Hamas Gaza chief saying the U.S. is trying to topple the Palestinian Government?

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MR. MCCORMACK: That sort of rhetoric is really meant as a distraction from the fact that he and his government have failed to govern and we've gone through the reasons why that is true but it fundamentally gets down to decisions that Hamas has taken with respect to its governing platform. As a result, the world decided it's going to have a different kind of relationship with a Hamas-led government. Those are -- the requirements for change are outlined in the Quartet principles. If you had a Hamas-led government that abided by and acted on those principles, then of course it very possibly could have a different relationship with the rest of the world not just the United States but the rest of the world. But they failed to do that and they find themselves in this situation right now.

Yeah, all right.

QUESTION: Still there's no -- it appears that the elections might not be as easy as some people might have hoped that they would be. Do you think -- I know you supported President Abbas in his call for elections, but do you think that is the only way to find a reasonable exit of this -- out of this crisis at the moment, elections in the Palestinian territories?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Palestinians are going to have to answer that question. There have been various attempts to form a government of national unity. President Abbas felt frustrated in those discussions. It went on for quite some time. He felt as though he had a deal agreed with Hamas. They -- according to his side of the story, reneged on that deal. So I think he's gone to plan B, which is to call for these elections. Now, ultimately whatever solution the Palestinians come up with within the confines of their laws to the current political impasse is going to be for them to decide. I can't tell you what -- how many different permutations there might be in terms of getting out of the current political situation. But fundamentally the answer to that question is going to have to come from the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Do you think that the current Hamas government still has an opportunity to prove that it can govern?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's up to the Palestinian people. Thus far I think the consensus or the majority of opinion is that they have failed to govern. I think that one indication of that is some of the unrest that you're seeing in Gaza. It's unfortunate that innocents have lost their lives as a result of Hamas being unable to provide the kind of services that it promised the citizens of Gaza. As a result, you're starting to see some unrest and turmoil on the part of the Palestinian people. Now President Abbas is working to try to address that and he has proposed a political way out. I'm not sure that Hamas is reacting positively to that. I think you've seen a spike in violence, this stirring up of some of the trouble in Gaza. But again, this is -- how this is resolved fundamentally gets back to the Palestinians resolving it for themselves.

The root of the current situation though, let's all remember, is the fact that Hamas has really failed to govern and failed to deliver on the promises that it made during the campaign to the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Did she talk to Abbas on Sunday, is that right? I thought I read a report that she had.

MR. MCCORMACK: She did, yeah. She spoke with him.

QUESTION: And do you have any readout of that call?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't -- Libby, I have to admit, I didn't talk to her about that call.



QUESTION: King Abdallah of Jordan offered to host a meeting between President Abbas and Prime Minister Haniyeh. Do you think it's a good idea? Do you support it?

MR. MCCORMACK: King Abdallah -- I hadn't seen it Sylvie. So he offered to mediate between the two?


MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it will be up for President Abbas and Mr. Haniyeh to decide whether or not King Abdallah can offer his good offices to helping the Palestinians resolve the differences between -- it's going to be up to them.

QUESTION: Could we try something else?

MR. MCCORMACK: All right.

QUESTION: I know we just heard -- we were pleased to have the Secretary's comments about the verdict in Libya. Could you read us whatever's your sort of formal guidance about it and whether it says anything about the possibility of an appeal or of the matter ultimately going to the so-called Libyan higher judicial council?

MR. MCCORMACK: There were -- as I understand it there are two other possible steps from this point on. There's another step left in the judicial process. It's the equivalent of their supreme court and then beyond that there's a review body that has the potential to look at judicial decisions and I think that this is essentially a political body. I'm not an expert in the structures of the Libyan justice system but that's how it's been explained to me, so there are possibilities for appeal and review. We would hope that that -- whatever appeals remain move through that process in an expeditious manner. It will have been eight years that these individuals have been in jail. And as you heard from the Secretary, we believe that a way should be found for these individuals to return home. That in no way diminishes our concern over the tragedy that was suffered by innocents, innocents that were infected by HIV and many of whom have lost their lives. It's a terrible, terrible tragedy and we have actually worked with others in the international community to do what we can to try to address that issue in terms of easing the humanitarian -- very real humanitarian situation there.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that you would -- the U.S. Government would continue to work for their release. Have the Libyans, and it's been publicly reported that Assistant Secretary Welch was --


QUESTION: -- there last Tuesday.


QUESTION: Over the weekend -- Friday and Saturday, yeah. Is there -- have they given you any reason to believe that they will indeed -- has the Libyan Government given you any reason to believe that there may be a possibility of clemency if it does get to this final appeal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Arshad, you're still working through a judicial process here and just going to refrain from any further comment on the matter. We -- our hope is that the appeal process is performed in an expeditious manner.

QUESTION: And how -- originally you hope more than it just be done expeditiously, you hope that it yields a different outcome.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have from -- for quite some time said that we had hoped a way could be found for them to return home.

QUESTION: How much of an impediment is this matter to the further improvement of U.S.-Libyan relations which have come a long, long way since December 2003?

MR. MCCORMACK: It is certainly a factor. But the U.S., as you point out, U.S.-Libyan relations have come a long way over the past several years and beginning with the point at which the Libyan Government decided to make that fundamental decision to give up its weapons of mass destruction and also to come to terms with the families of Pam Am 103. And they're also working to address some of the other outstanding claims from families of victims of terrorism that are alleged to have been committed by either the Libyan Government or those acting on behalf of the Libyan Government, so they have come a long way. But we -- this is -- Bulgaria is a NATO ally. Bulgaria is a close friend. We have developing relations with Libya and we would like to see this chapter close. It's been a terrible tragedy for all involved and we would hope to see this chapter close at some point for the Libyan people, also for the Bulgarian people and the individuals involved in this whole matter.

QUESTION: Would the successful resolution of this matter from your point of view help toward the exchange of ambassadors between the United States and Libya which has yet to take place or toward a visit by the Secretary to Libya which is also yet to take place?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's not one single variable that will lead to a positive decision on either of those. I think there are a lot of different things that go into that calculation.

QUESTION: But is this -- it would be a step in the right direction? Is that fair to say or without linking it --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't want to draw those sorts of linkages. I don't want to draw those sorts of linkages.

Yeah. Charles.

QUESTION: Could we get the daily report on the UN resolution in Iran, the Russians?

QUESTION: I have a follow-up --

QUESTION: More on Libya.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) interest, Charles.


QUESTION: Charlie, you had your shot.


QUESTION: Just wondering, the Secretary said that the U.S. is going to continue to work on this. I'm just wondering if there'll be any change in how the U.S. pushes for the release or there'll be any new approach or effort.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, David -- David Welch, our assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs was just there last week. And I would expect not only at the level of our diplomatic representation in Libya, but also at the assistant secretary level and where it need be at a higher level, that's going to continue. The Secretary has met from time to time with the Libyan Foreign Minister last time up in New York at the UN General Assembly so she will get involved as needed. But I would expect this is -- this is an account that is really handled by David Welch. You know, he's our action officer, but at the assistant secretary level.

QUESTION: Do you expect any further pressure to be put on Libya to expedite this in any way?

MR. MCCORMACK: We've said what we want to say about it.

Yeah, Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. A follow-up on the Bulgarian issue, Mr. McCormack. I followed carefully whatever you said. Why you are politicizing the matter which is pure criminal and legal? Is there any specific reason? Is there any U.S. involvement with this human tragedy and catastrophe?

MR. MCCORMACK: What -- I'm not sure I understand, Lambros. What --

QUESTION: I followed very carefully what you said you are (inaudible) toward the other countries in order to help those Bulgarian medicine, the Palestinian doctor be freed. It seems to me that you are trying to politicize the matter. It's pure a legal and criminal matter. But I was wondering why you do this?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, Lambros, there are two sides to this matter.


MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the explanation and what they say their involvement was on the side of the Bulgarians. The Libyans, of course, have a different story and they have their judicial process and we all know the story there and the judgment that to this point it has rendered. We have taken a look at the facts and we would hope that, as I said, that we could bring a close to this chapter. It's been a terrible, terrible tragedy for everybody involved; for the Bulgarian nurses and medics that have been in prison for nearly eight years, the families who have suffered, the innocents who have died. It's a terrible tragedy and we would hope that we could do our part to bring this chapter to a close.

QUESTION: But did you prove scientifically that they didn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Did you prove scientifically that they didn't do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to re-litigate the case up here from the podium. I think it's -- suffice it to say, there are two sides to the story.

QUESTION: And the last question, any readout on today's meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin?

MR. MCCORMACK: They actually -- they talked about a lot of different issues. Clearly, they talked about this one. They talked about Iraq. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister was in Iraq recently. The Secretary wanted to hear from him about his impressions about the political situation there and also talked to him about the -- how the Bulgarian troops that are deployed up in the north and at the Ashraf camp are doing.

They talked a lot about the Balkans, talked about -- a little bit about Kosovo, one of your favorite topics. They talked about -- a little bit about energy supplies and the importance of having multiple sources of energy supplies as well as multiple routes to get those energy supplies to Europe. Bulgaria is dependent upon Russian gas at the moment and they have contracts with Gazprom extending out for quite some time, but he did talk about the importance of looking at what are the other -- what are the alternative means of getting energy supplies to Bulgaria.

That was really it. That was really sort of --

QUESTION: The Bulgarian nurses issue, what did they say?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you heard the Secretary's public statement and I don't have anything to add to it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think Charlie had the -- more --

QUESTION: One more on this issue. Do you consider this case to be an example of meddling in the judicial process by the central government?

MR. MCCORMACK: In what regard?

QUESTION: Well, was this dictated from Tripoli or --

MR. MCCORMACK: The verdict?


MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: So in other words, it could well be just a defect in the legal system on their part?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, it's -- in any judicial proceeding, there are two sides to any story. The Bulgarians have presented their side through their legal representation. The Libyan Government has come down on a different side. The judicial process has rendered its verdicts at a number of different points along the way. As far as I know, I can't speak to any political interference in the judicial system, none that I'm aware of. I'll be happy to look into it for you. Our hope is, though, that through the judicial process, that a way could be found to get these people home.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, you don't seem to be willing to go as far as the European Commission has gone, which is to say that all the evidence suggests that these people were not the ones who infected the children, but it's because of poor hygiene. Are you not willing to say that and if you're not willing to take sides, because it would be taking sides in this case, then can you please say whether you think the trial was a fair trial?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, again, I'm not going to try to go back and re-litigate this case. I've said it before. The EU has come out with their pronouncements on it. We have said what we're going to say about it. You will find, very often, in commentary on any range of matter, whether it's legal cases or elections, you'll have different judgments rendered. We have come through with our view of the matter. We would look forward, we would hope that, again, as I said, that this matter could be resolved.

QUESTION: You think it would be more productive to not take sides?

MR. MCCORMACK: We've said what we are going to say about it. Anything else on this?

QUESTION: No, go to Iran --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. know if these nurses and the doctor continue to be exposed to torture by the Libyan authorities?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of those claims. I am aware that the individuals in jail right now face some difficult conditions and they've been in there for nearly eight years. And I think that we would join their families as well as their countrymen in hoping that they are able to return home at some point in the near future.

Now again, I don't want to -- in all of this discussion about the plight and the fate of these individuals who are in jail, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that a terrible tragedy happened in Libya. A lot of people lost their lives. There are a lot of people still grieving over the fact that they lost loved ones and we shouldn't lose sight of that.


QUESTION: New York, the UN --


QUESTION: The UN resolution. Where do the Russians stand today? A new EU draft -- are you any closer to a vote? You want to give us a time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me take on these one at a time.


MR. MCCORMACK: We're -- as you know, Secretary Rice spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. Nick Burns has been in touch with some of his political director colleagues on the matter and Alex Wolff, our Acting Perm Rep up at the United Nations, has been working intensively with his colleagues up there to try to narrow the differences.

I think we're down to a couple of issues in the resolution and we want to see a vote this week. We want to see a vote before the weekend and we think it's time. We are now in extra innings. I think we hit the ninth inning back in October, so we're now probably in about the -- I don't know; what would you say, Barry, about the 14th inning or so?

QUESTION: At least.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, at least. We're getting near the record, so it's time for a vote. And we all know the reasons. The Iranians continue in their development of a nuclear program. Every single day, they get a little bit better at mastering centrifuge technology. Every single day, they chip away at some of the problems and some of the obstacles that are in the way of -- to their developing a nuclear weapon.

You just look at the nature -- couple that with the nature of the regime that we have in place that's talked about denial of the Holocaust, that has talked about wiping Israel off the face of the map, and I don't think anybody needs any other reason to vote for this resolution. If you do need another reason, it's because the credibility of the Security Council is at stake.

We have a resolution that was passed back -- December that said if Iran did not meet certain conditions laid out by the Security Council, that were actually originally laid out by the IAEA, then they should face the sanctions resolution. We have been very patient. We have been working the multilateral diplomacy intensively to try to take into account the concerns of all of our partners in the P-5+1. We are very close, we think, to final agreement on the resolution.

Is it going to be the resolution that we would have written ourselves? No, but that's part of multilateral diplomacy and we think a vote by this Friday is the appropriate timing. It's time for a vote.


QUESTION: Which political -- which of his counterparts did Under Secretary Burns speak to? Which countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you. I don't know. He didn't mention exactly which ones.

QUESTION: Could you check? (Inaudible) if it was the Russians and the Chinese.



QUESTION: Sean, when you say that it's time for a vote, does that mean that the U.S. is going to accept anything less than unanimity? Or do you just want to put it to a vote or --

MR. MCCORMACK: We think we --

QUESTION: -- do you feel that you're close to consensus?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said, we're narrowing the differences here. We're down to just a couple issues. This should be easy. This should be a 15-0 vote. Given the facts of Iranian behavior, given the kind of threat that Iran poses to its neighbors and to the rest of the world, if it continues to perfect the technologies and the sort of techniques that are required to make a nuclear weapon to enrich uranium, that should be cause for real concern. And we should have a 15-0 vote. We would think that that would be easy. So we would hope for a Russian affirmative support in voting yes for the resolution. We are doing everything we can to make sure that this is a 15-0 vote. But I -- you know, I can't vote for other countries. They're going to have to raise their hands one way or the other.

QUESTION: But if you have a vote by Friday, you expect that they will vote yes on it?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. It's going to be up to them to decide. But we think it is time for a vote. Look, we're working to preserve unanimity here. The last time around it was a 15-0 vote. Everybody knew what they signed up for: Sanctions Resolution Chapter 7, Article 41. That's what we have on the table right now and it's important. It's important that the Iranians see that the world is sending them a very clear, strong message.

QUESTION: Sean, do you think the struggle for unanimity that's going on right now, you know, it's been about six months since the first resolution, I believe. Do you think that takes the sting out of the message to Iran, even though they're going to probably get such a weak resolution? It still has taking a long time to get unanimity.

MR. MCCORMACK: It has taken longer than we would have liked, absolutely. Grant you that. But the fact of the matter is that you will at the end of this process, we believe, have a Chapter 7 resolution. Iran will find itself in a very exclusive club. I think it will include now North Korea, Iraq. And Iraq is at some point, we hope in the near future going to get out formally from underneath those resolutions. So -- and I -- that's my off the top of my head list. So it's pretty -- it's a pretty small club of countries that are clearly outside the mainstream of behavior for the rest of the world outside the mainstream of acceptable behavior for the community of nations. And regardless of whether you have a 15-0 vote or some other vote tally and the resolution passes, it will be binding on all countries. It would be a Chapter 7 resolution. So states will be required to abide by the terms of that resolution.

QUESTION: You don't feel that -- to follow up on Libby, you don't feel that that's going to embolden the Iranians to move forward, if this is a first step in sanctions and there's supposed be more and its taken this long and it's this hard to get unanimity, what's to say to the Iranians (inaudible) we can go ahead anyway (inaudible) vote on this one?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the Iranians shouldn't take any comfort from the fact that it may have taken a few months longer than we would have hoped because the fact will remain that once a resolution passes and is a Chapter 7 resolution, they will find themselves further isolated from the rest of the world. And I'm not sure that's where the Iranian people want to see their country. I think the Iranian people don't want to see themselves isolated from the rest of the world. They want to interact with the rest of the world. They want to travel. They want to be able to talk about their culture. You want to have those sort of exchanges. We want to have more interaction with the Iranian people.

But they need to understand is if we do get to the point of passing this resolution by the weekend, that it will be have been their government that is preventing them from realizing a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world and that there are costs to that. You already see commercial enterprises making business judgments about investing in Iran and doing business with Iranian companies, just because of the risk involved. They have to make their own assessments about reputational risk, whether or not they deal with Iran in certain areas in terms of financial transactions.

We ourselves have taken certain steps to cut off the ability of some Iranian banks to use the U.S. financial system for some very basic international financial transactions. And once this resolution passes, you are going to find further restrictions on the ability of the Iranians to access and use that financial system. We think that that's right. The Iranians shouldn't be allowed to use the international trading system and the international financial system to try to develop a nuclear weapon which poses a threat to the very pillars of that system, certainly the ideology of that regime as expressed in its statements and its actions.

So again, getting back to your original question, okay, it took -- it will have taken a few more months than we would have hoped to get to a resolution. But the important part is that you will have a resolution and it will be a Chapter 7 resolution and it will be -- it will impose real costs on this regime and we hope it will also impinge upon their ability to move forward on their nuclear program.


QUESTION: Sean, the Secretary, when she talked to Mr. Lavrov or did Nick Burns, when he talked to his colleagues, say that you're going to call for a vote by the end of the week?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they understand we're getting close to the time where we need a vote. We've talked to them about the timing.


MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Should I take that as a yes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you specifically in those conversations, but we have conveyed to them our desires to move forward in the near future on a vote.

Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah, is there any concern that -- tying this to Iraq a little bit, is there any concern on the part of our government that sanctioning Iran right now at this critical juncture with U.S.-Iraq policy will cause any negative reactions on that policy, that they may -- I don't know, further destabilize Iraq after having been sanctioned on a nuclear program?


QUESTION: Is that a concern?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't tell you what the Iranian motivations might be and what the Iranian reactions -- Iranian actions will be. You know, I wouldn't put it beyond this regime and I think it would also answer questions in the mind of a lot of people about the linkage between these two things. You know, you -- I don't think the Iranians are going to put these in two neat little boxes; Iraq in one box and their nuclear program in another box.

Look, the Iranians should want a peaceful, stable, prospering Iraq. They should have -- they should want to have good, neighborly, transparent relations with Iraq. The Iraqis have asked for that. We have asked them in public to have those kind of relations. Others have asked them to do that. They should do that without respect to any other issue, but would they react in some other way? I certainly wouldn't put it past them. I don't have any specific knowledge that would indicate that they would, but I wouldn't put it past this regime.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question, though, was a very reasonable one, which -- it seems as if your answer is, "No, we are not worried about untoward consequences of an Iran resolution in terms of Iran's behavior in Iraq." In other words, "We're going forward on this regardless of what other negative consequences it might have in Iraq." Is that a fair thing to say?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Arshad, I don't know what their intentions are. I don't know what their --

QUESTION: But I'm asking about your intentions.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we don't -- as the Secretary has said, we don't think that you should pay the cost in terms of looking the other way on the Iranian nuclear program in order to work with them on some other issue, whether it's Iraq or something else. We have said that if there are concerns about any variety of issues, they can raise it in the P-5+1 if they would agree to their -- end reprocessing and enrichment activities. It's a deal that's been laid out for them, so they can make that choice.

But we're not going to look the other way on their nuclear program at the cost of something else. It is -- the introduction by Iran of a nuclear weapon into the Middle East would probably be the most single destabilizing event the Middle East has ever seen. And we don't want to see that, none of Iran's neighbors want to see that, and I don't think you're going to find -- you would be hard-pressed to find any country around the globe that wants to see that. There may be a few outliers, but the mainstream of international thought is they don't want to see that and they want to see the international community do everything it can to prevent that from happening.

Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Can we move on to Syria, please?


QUESTION: Asad is in Moscow. Russia is a big arms supplier to Syria. There's been concerns raised by Israel that some of these arms ended up in the hands of Hezbollah. Is there any reason to believe that since the ceasefire, Syria has been supplying Hezbollah?

MR. MCCORMACK: Those arms in violation of 1701?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- I don't have any specific information I can offer you, but I think there's been some reporting. I think Mr. Larsen came out with some statements talking about this a couple weeks ago about some transit of arms flowing into Hezbollah. And it's a real -- that's a real concern. It's also in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution, although I don't have any specific information I can offer you beyond these public statements saying that people are concerned about it. I know the Israeli Government has been concerned about it. Some of the Lebanese Government had been concerned about it.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up?


QUESTION: How about the border security? How concerned are you about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- that would be the main -- one of the main transit routes. The Lebanese armed forces are deployed throughout Lebanon. They don't have as robust a capability as I think they would want to see or anybody else who voted for 1701 would want to see. That's one of the reasons why we are trying to help out in terms of supplying them with equipment and training and so forth.

I think the Lebanese want to be able to control their borders better. I can't give you an assessment of -- right now, of how they're able -- what their performance is in that regard. I think there's probably room for improvement, though.



QUESTION: On the second issue, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad said from Moscow that he was ready for dialogue with the United States, but he said you want to make a dialogue, but you have to differentiate between dialogue and giving instructions. We are open for dialogue, but we will not take instructions. Do you have any reactions -- reaction on this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: They don't have to take instructions from the United States. They can merely -- I'll give you one example. They can make a -- give a positive reply to what their neighbor has asked them to do and that is to open an embassy in Beirut and that would be a signal that they have completely renounced and given up on the idea of getting back into Lebanon. So it's not -- they don't have to respond to any instructions from the United States or anything else. They can respond to a neighborly request from Lebanon in that regard. Look, the Syrians, if they haven't gotten the message yet, they can hear it again. We're not going to trade on the freedoms of the Lebanese people or anybody else to achieve our other foreign policy objectives.

The Syrians can, if they want to, play a positive role in Iraq. They could choose to play a positive role in bringing -- helping the Palestinian people come one step closer to realizing their dream of Palestine. Right now they stand in the way of that by continuing to support those groups that reject a political solution between the Israelis and the Palestinian people.

They could help the Lebanese people realize their aspirations for a more stable, prosperous Lebanon by not trying to manipulate the Lebanese political system, not helping Hezbollah sponsor marches in the street, not stand in the way of finding out who is responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri and seeing those people brought to justice. So they can do a lot of things and they don't need instructions from anybody else. They can start by beginning -- complying with the request from their neighbors and they can also work to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. So there's a lot that they can do on their own in the interest of being a positive force in the region.

Unfortunately, to date, they have chosen not to do that. They have chosen to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, tying themselves to the Iranian regime as well as these other terrorist groups. If they continue down that pathway, they're going to find themselves further isolated right now. I don't think that you're going to find too many of their brother Arab regimes that are interested in dealing with them right now, other than to tell them to change their behavior. So they find themselves really quite isolated from their friends in the region and a lot of other countries around the world.

QUESTION: Excuse me. A follow-up on President Asad has said that he's ready for a dialogue with the United States. Maybe he's ready to negotiate these issues.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure -- in all of that what there is to negotiate. Being a good neighbor to Lebanon, abiding by Security Council resolutions, being a good neighbor to Iraq, helping the Palestinian people actually achieve a state. I don't know what there is to negotiate in any of that.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: North Korea.


QUESTION: North Korea had (inaudible) is unwilling to talk between the United States and North Korea. Does the United States agree with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: They want to hold talks?

QUESTION: Yeah, they ask you proposed to hold disarmament talks between U.S. and North Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK: Disarmament talks.

QUESTION: Yes. Nuclear disarmament.

MR. MCCORMACK: Aha. Well, first of all, we don't consider, you know, although they have tested a nuclear device we consider that a reversible state of being. Second of all, the United States doesn't have nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. We have said that before. This is a backdoor way of trying to get the -- have the international community recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapon state, which we don't.

Yeah. In the back, sir.


QUESTION: But you see that there is reports in the Russian media that Syria expressed its interest in buying more Russian weapons such as MiG-29, submarines, missile systems. Will you oppose such a deal in the future? And second question on Syria, Senator Kerry arrived to Damascus today and he's due to meet with President Asad. And his visit meets with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Do you oppose this visit?

MR. MCCORMACK: On the first, I don't respond in general to proposals for weapons sales. If there's anything specific we'll take a look at it and take a look at it with respect to our laws and our regulations. But if there's something specific, you can bring it to me and we can check it out.

In terms of Senator Kerry's visit, he's not the first one to travel to Damascus. They are -- he's an elected representative. He's a senior member of the Senate. He can make his own decisions about whether or not he wants to go to Damascus. Certainly, we don't think that there's really anything to be gained by a visit to Damascus. I think the Syrians, if you look back at the past behavior, have just pocketed such visits to say all is well. We have good relations with and you can fill in the blank of the representative from that country. But again that's his decision to make. We will offer whatever courtesies we might normally extend to such a visitor in the place, helping set up meetings, attending meetings if we're asked to do so. Because we do those things doesn't necessarily mean we support the fact that he had decided to visit Damascus or anybody else at this point.

QUESTION: Kosovo. The UN administrator in Kosovo strongly suggested the Security Council to make a speedy decision on the province's future status, warning that any delay beyond January will cause tension and play into the hands of Albanian extremists. Do you agree? Any comment, Mr. McCormack.

MR. MCCORMACK: We're working closely with Mr. Ahtissari. He has laid a timetable out. I expect early in this coming year he's going to come forward with his recommendation with respect to the status of Kosovo. Beyond that, stay tuned.

QUESTION: Any answer to my pending questions regarding the arrest of U.S. citizen of Albanian origin in Vienna, Austria the other day and the new legal organization in Kosovo called Albania National Army which is creating already security problems with bravado?

MR. MCCORMACK: Tom, did we get anything on that?

MR. CASEY: (inaudible)

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Well, Mr. Gallegos will get back to you with an answer to that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have the latest on the Andrew Natsios, I mean, any readout?

MR. MCCORMACK: Where in the world is Andrew Natsios?

QUESTION: What has he accomplished and then what is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's going to be in here tomorrow for a meeting with the Secretary. I think we're going to have press coverage at the end of that meeting, so he'll be able to give a full report and after that I hope to be able to give you a more full report. He did have, I think one accomplishment that he would note -- he was able to help the first phase of the UN team get the visas into Sudan so that they can eventually deploy out to Darfur and help with -- on issues related to logistics and force planning. Beyond that, we had some conversations with President Bashir with respect to implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and then also further implementation of the Addis Ababa agreements. But we'll be able to get you a little bit more once he reports in to the Secretary tomorrow.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, he'll be here tomorrow.

Yeah, George.

QUESTION: Back on Korea. You were moderately helpful yesterday after the first round of talks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you, thank you, George.

QUESTION: The first day of talks.

QUESTION: Just moderately.

MR. MCCORMACK: Did anybody bring their brown paper bags here? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about what has transpired over the last 24 hours?

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess Chris. Chris has had a number of different meetings. I think he's had -- today in Beijing he will have met on a bilateral basis with every other head of delegation including the North Koreans. They will have had -- they had a plenary section. I don't think we can announce that they have made any breakthroughs. I think we are now at the point in this round where people are actually starting to exchange information and ideas. We've gotten beyond the formal posturing of the opening day where the North Koreans put out their maximalist position. So we hope that this round can be productive. We hope that the delegations will now get down to the hard work, roll up their sleeves and try to move beyond where we were back in September of 2005. That's the whole goal of this round.

I think -- I would hope today is the beginning of laying the groundwork to do that, George. But I certainly don't have any breakthroughs to announce.

QUESTION: Thank you.


The briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.

# # #

DPB # 205

Released on December 19, 2006


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