State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 20, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 20, 2006
Six Party Talks / Hill Meetings / Good Exchange / Consensus to
Treasury Delegation’s Meetings with DPRK / Useful Discussions /
Possible Future Meeting in New York on Illicit Activities
U.S. Briefing of U.S. Laws on Illicit Financial Activities
UN Waiting for Ahtisaari Recommendation / Political Future of
Events on the Ground / Fighting
U.S. Working with the EU to Forestall Additional Violence / Tense
U.S. Does Not Want Conflict in Somalia to Spread Throughout Region
Zawahiri Statement / Al-Qaida and Terrorists Have No Political
Agenda for Region
Violent Jihadists View the Spread of Democracy and Freedom as
Hamas Participation in Elections / Armed Struggle Versus
Multiple Problems in Iraq / Sectarian Violence / Former Baathists
/ Al Qaida
U.S. Dealing with Those Interested in Greater Freedoms in Syria
Possible Update on Investigation Into Attack on U.S. Embassy
Visitors to Damascus / Senators Kerry and Dodd Travel
Message to Syria / Syria’s Need to Play a Positive Role in Region
Syrian Government’s Aspirations to Control Lebanon
Discussions with the Israelis About Releasing Tax Revenues to
Secretary’s Meeting with Special Representative Natsios /
Way Forward / Further Actions
Status of UN Resolution on Iran / No Reason to Not Have Vote
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: Do you want to tell us all that you can about the six-party talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Six-party talks. Chris talked a little bit with the press there in Beijing. After his meetings, he had a number of bilateral meetings: North Koreans, Chinese, Japanese. He characterized them as good, useful discussions, starting to talk to about practical things, how can we move this process forward. He talked about how -- there is a consensus to keep the discussions going until Friday at the least, take an assessment at that point, how much longer, if at all, they want to continue with this particular round. So bottom line, useful talks, good exchange of information, have extended the time for the talks until Friday. So positive, but we can't yet conclude whether or not or what this round of talks is going to produce.
QUESTION: The chief Japanese negotiator came away saying that there was still a wide gap at the very basic level. Do you have any idea what that's supposed to mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the Japanese Delegation about their assessment of the talks. I'm not trying to tell you that we're near to an agreement at this point. I think we're still at this stage of exchanging information, working through the issues, trying to -- I think all the delegations are trying to assess what all the other delegations' bottom lines are in terms of this round what we can get to, what is possible -- not to say that they're still aren't differences.
QUESTION: Sean, Chris Hill said that they were discussing actual developments on the ground. Can you shed any light on what kinds of things that might involve?
MR. MCCORMACK: This gets into what the various proposals are, how do you start the denuclearization process. We have consistently said that we're not going to talk about what the proposals are. I'm not going to jump into that right now.
QUESTION: Any update on the financial aspects?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Treasury delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary from Treasury is a state treasury team that talked to the North Koreans. I think they had their second meeting today. I think everybody -- they agreed the discussions were held in a positive atmosphere. It was a useful discussion. No more discussions planned in Beijing. I think the Treasury -- the folks that were -- that flew in from the United States are going to be flying back to Washington probably tomorrow. The idea is that there will be perhaps some follow-up conversations in the month of January likely to take place in New York. But at the root of this and I think this is a message that were able to convey to the North Koreans at those discussions where the root cause needs to be dealt with and the root cause of this are the illicit activities. That's what triggered the actions on the part of the United States as well as a reaction from the Banco Delta Asia.
QUESTION: Did you hear anything? Did U.S. negotiators hear anything that suggested that the North Koreans are willing to deal with the root cause of this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think this was a first. This is a first get together. It was really starting at the most basic level of exchange of information. I think that our delegation thought that that was useful, thought it was a good exchange of information, but I couldn't tell you at this point that there is a commitment to deal with the roots of the activity. I'm not sure that the North Korean side would actually use that term to describe their activities. But again, it was a good first initial discussion.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, the Chinese have said that they might prefer for the financial issue to be separate from the six-party talks. Would the U.S. prefer to separate those two?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have already -- you know, we have always said that the two issues are separate. There is a certain relationship therein that the root causes of it get back to North Korea's illicit behavior. This initial round of discussions took place within the context of the six-party round, but the next round of discussions, I imagine, could take place in New York as well. So again, we view it as somewhat separate.
QUESTION: Was the decision to limit those discussions just today, I think, a U.S. decision or was that something -- that it was planned, that they were only supposed to have this initial --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think this was going to be a short round of discussions.
QUESTION: Why do you keep (inaudible) this idea these that are initial talks? The U.S. and North Korean officials have had lengthy discussions on this very topic months ago, so it's not as though we're going back to square one.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've briefed them on U.S. laws and regulations.
QUESTION: So this is more extensive than --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's more detailed, getting into a more detailed discussion of what the root causes of the problem were from our perspective.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, so the U.S. would prefer to deal with this outside the context of the six-party talks as a separate issue in New York rather than dealing with it in the framework --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not saying that you won't have discussions of this matter related to the six-party talks. The origin of this discussion between North Korea and the United States is in the six-party talks. I'm not going to try to draw any hard lines at this point.
QUESTION: Let me turn to that one. As far as I can tell and how -- there's not much you can tell from being in Washington because it's going on there, the North Koreans consider the issue central. And when you -- and when this was announced there would be talks, they were carefully arranged so that they'd be parallel in the same city. Treasury; fair enough, they're experts. But it looked like you were meeting them halfway and making it part of the six-party process, although it's a somewhat separate discussion.
But now, if they're going to meet in New York maybe, it looks like you're -- the U.S. is widening the gap between this issue and the other issues involved. Is it that -- is that unfair to say?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure --
QUESTION: Aren't you making them separate?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure I get the point here.
QUESTION: Well, North Korea put a lot of weight on the fiscal dispute, on the draft dispute.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right, right.
QUESTION: And then you guys said, "We'll talk about it."
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: "And we'll talk in the same city at the same time."
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But that's over, there's no agreement? And now you'll talk about it maybe not in the same city, maybe not at the same time as the six-party, so it strikes me you're separating it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said --
QUESTION: Or is that too much?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think you're reading way too much into this, Barry. The -- we said in the context of the six-party talks that we would address the financial issue, it's an issue that's important to the North Koreans.
MR. MCCORMACK: How and when we continue those efforts, I think it's going to be up to the United States and the North Korean delegation. They decided that they would -- it would be useful to continue discussions, perhaps, in New York in January. We don't know when the next round of discussions of the six-party talks will be once this round comes to a conclusion. So if they're -- again, any progress made on the financial issue, then that would be good. If we can get to addressing the root causes of the behavior, the illicit behavior by the North Koreans then that certainly would be positive. But I'm certainly not saying that we're at that stage right now.
QUESTION: On Kosovo.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Nicholas Burns stated, "We have long taken the position that now being seven years since the war ended in Kosovo in 1999 and it's time to give the people of Kosovo a certain sense of their future." I'm wondering, Mr. McCormack, like what sense since the Albanian minority in Serbia is enjoying excellent life like so many other minorities, (inaudible) including the United States.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is -- Lambros you know all the history here. This is wrapped up --
QUESTION: The sense --
MR. MCCORMACK: This is wrapped up in Security Council resolutions so there's a long history here. Let's not go through it all. We have in place a process now that is agreed upon. Mr. Ahtisaari is working with all the parties concerned coming up with a recommendation. We'll hear that recommendation in the near future, within the next few months. And then it will be up to the Security Council to act. It will be up to the parties in the region to react to that proposal. So let's wait until he comes through with his proposal. We'll see what it is. You'll hear from us what we think about it and regardless of what the proposal is you can be assured it will give the people of the region a better idea of what the future is, the political future and how the various groups within that region might relate to one another.
QUESTION: One more question on this issue, Mr. McCormack. Your government is arguing, according to those in this building, that Kosovo is a unique case and that any solution imposed by the UN where it cannot be replicated elsewhere such as for the Greek minority in Northern Epirus and the Albania occupation, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kurdish minority southeast Turkey, et cetera, et cetera. I'm wondering why don't U.S., UN, England and NATO are creating such a bad precedent in Kosovo.
MR. MCCORMACK: Each of these -- each of the circumstances that you -- the particular cases that you walked through there have unique circumstances and they should be dealt with based on all of those unique circumstances: the historical, social and everything else. So we don't draw a linkage among any of these.
QUESTION: Have you considered any case by case separately or -- if you're going to create a precedent and then what's going to happen to --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, that's very -- we don't think, for example, Kosovo is creating a precedent for any of those other cases; that's the exact point.
QUESTION: How you regard this to (inaudible) community?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Somalia. It seems that the offenses that had been, you know, pre-announced by the Islamists has started and a lot of heavy fighting around Baidoa. I don't know if you have any information on that and if you have any comment on the presence of a senior European Commission official in Mogadishu for talks with Hassan Aweys.
MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the offensive and the fighting, I've seen the press report. We don't have independent confirmation of that. I can't tell you exactly what the situation is on the ground there. We, of course, are interested in what is happening and trying to get the best information that we can to determine what's happening on the ground. Can't tell you right now.
In terms of the EU and their efforts, you'll talk to the EU. I can't tell you what the travel schedule is for the commissioners. But we are working very closely with the Europeans to try to forestall any more violence from going on in Somalia than we have seen over the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, the situation is very tense. We're doing what we can to work with partners in the region as well as with the Europeans to see what we can do, but it's a tense situation right now.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Ethiopians about what's happening from their side?
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, at the working level of diplomacy, but in terms of high-level contact, I'm not aware of any recent contacts that we've had.
QUESTION: What are you telling the Ethiopians?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're telling the Ethiopians that -- the same thing that we're telling everybody else in the region, and that is that we don't want to see the conflict in Somalia spread to the region. We don't want it to be seen -- to be used cynically as a way to get at differences that exist elsewhere in the region. We don't want to see a proxy fight in Somalia.
So basically, what we're trying to do is calm down the situation. We want to see all the parties in the region try to work together to bring a better future to Somalia. And so it's the same message. The message that we're sending to the Ethiopians is the same one we're sending everybody else.
QUESTION: I don't know where -- can I go to another subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I don't know if this caught your eye, but there is a statement being -- on al-Jazeera, the deputy leader of al-Qaida. It's kind of one of these enigmatic statements on the face of it, saying, the U.S., if it's trying to withdraw from Iraq, is negotiating with the wrong parties. The inference seems to be you ought to be talking to us. Have you seen that statement? Do you make any sense out of it? Do you know what they're trying to say and what do you think of it?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's no negotiating with al-Qaida and terrorists. We've seen the kind of acts that they are capable of. We've seen that they really don't have a political agenda for the region, a vision for the region that means greater freedom, greater prosperity for the region. It's an interesting statement. I've seen parts of it and basically, what Zawahiri admits is that elections and democracy are the biggest threat to violent jihadism, whether it's in Iraq or whether it's in the Palestinian areas.
And it's a quite interesting statement. It is confirmation, in essence, of what we have been saying for quite some time, that the terrorists, the violent jihadists, view the spread of freedom and democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom to choose who will lead governments throughout the region as the single greatest threat to their existence, to their activities. So from that standpoint, I find it an interesting statement.
Some of the reaction from Hamas has actually been kind of interesting as well. Some of the various spokesmen from Hamas have really twisted themselves in knots over this particular statement because they, on one hand, want to say that, no, we are in favor of armed struggle, the use of violence. And then on the other hand, they're saying, yes, we did participate in elections. But they say that they only participated in elections so that they could continue in the armed struggle.
Well, that's not, in fact, what they told the Palestinian people during the elections. They ran on a platform during the elections of providing goods and services and better, less corrupt leadership for the Palestinian people. But now, what they're saying in response to Ayman al-Zawahiri is, no, in fact, we are committed to armed struggle. It gets to the central contradiction that we've been talking about within the Palestinian political system. They can't have one foot in the camp of terror and one foot in the camp of politics. You need to choose.
QUESTION: Hamas apart, doesn't this statement seem to verify the longstanding Bush Administration position that al-Qaida is the problem or at least one of the main problems in Iraq? Because they're saying you got to talk to us to find a way out of this problem.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're -- in terms of the security situation, there are multiple problems in Iraq. You have the sectarian violence which the Iraqi Government really needs to deal with. They are the ones that need to resolve those sectarian tensions. You have to get to the root political causes of those sectarian differences. You also have the insurgents, these people -- former Baathists, others of criminal elements, who are just irreconcilable to a political process, need to be dealt with militarily or through the use of security forces. Then you also have the terrorist al-Qaida, then again, another group that is completely irreconcilable to a political process and they need to be dealt with as they're being dealt with now through the security forces, on the multinational security forces, the Iraqi security forces and addressed on a variety of fronts. There's no negotiating with terrorists.
QUESTION: A Time magazine report out that says that the Bush Administration is supporting anti-Asad groups both in Washington and in Europe and in Syria. I was just wondering how much of it that you can comment on that report and answer, just quite frankly, is the U.S. trying to destabilize the Asad government in Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're doing with those interested in greater freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to choose leaders in Syria that we're dealing with -- that we're doing elsewhere in the region. It's no different from any other programs that we have all throughout the rest of the world and especially in the Middle East promoting those civil society groups who have an interest in greater freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
QUESTION: There's a legal question too, just -- if you can respond to that. I don't know how much you can say about -- that some believe on the Hill and within the Administration that this is a covert action and it should be briefing congressmen about it. I don't know if you have any comment on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Any activities the State Department are involved in are overt. They are funded through our Middle East initiatives and they're for all to see. There are public reports on these things. We talk to the Congress about them. That's the State Department's role.
QUESTION: If I could just -- one last one, Syria?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: If you had any update on the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, still continue to receive the support from the Syrians about this and if we've had any intelligence passed onto us?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not aware. I'll -- aware of any updates to that. I'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Staying in the Middle East. There's -- we have a report saying that Israel is considering handing over some of the Palestinian tax revenues that the Israeli Government collects to President Abbas, but they would want a guarantee is that it would not, however, get to Hamas. One, do you have any reason to believe that they are considering doing this? And two, do you think this would be a good thing?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have in the past had discussions with the Israeli Government as have others on the outside talking to the Israelis about seeing what they can do to release some of these tax revenues in such a way that they met the Quartet principles of not providing assistance to a Hamas-led government, if it doesn't agree with the conditions laid out by the international community. The decision to do that or not to do that rests with the Israeli Government. We have talked to them about possibly doing that. We have talked about the possibility of supporting President Abbas in terms of his efforts to exercise some control over the Palestinian areas as -- in his role as President in terms of supporting the security services and in the confines of his powers providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. I don't have any further information of where the Israeli Government stands on doing that or not doing that.
QUESTION: But you've talked about -- over a long period of time --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we have.
QUESTION: Has there been any particular recent conversation about this or --
MR. MCCORMACK: There could be at lower levels. I'm not aware of anything the Secretary has done recently on that.
QUESTION: Sean, today both Senator Kerry and Dodd have met in Damascus with President Asad. Now are you happy with that? Are you sending a message to both senators or possibly a White House message?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: And a week ago, of course, Secretary Rice said you won't talk to either the Syrians and/or to the Iranians.
MR. MCCORMACK: As we've said before, Joel, I've gotten this question about various visitors to Damascus, whether they're foreign visitors or U.S. senators or U.S. congressmen, it is their decision to take. In terms of Senators Kerry and Dodd, we of course, extend the courtesy that you might expect we would to senior members of the Senate, helping them out and set up meetings that they want to have. It doesn't mean that we support the fact that they are there or having these discussions. That's their decision. They are not passing any messages or serving envoys for the -- or serving as envoys for the Administration.
QUESTION: I wonder what would you comment on the former Secretary of State General Powell about what he said last weekend, that the United States should open a dialogue with Syria, that Syria has established with Iraq a diplomatic relationship and if they both -- if Iraq established that relationship, why -- he can't see how the United States shouldn't -- why shouldn't the United States have better dialogue with Syria.
Also, what would your response be to people who see that the United States is actually isolating itself from the dialogue that has been taking place with the Syrian Government? President Bashar al-Asad just came back to Damascus from his meeting with President -- the Russian President Putin. Many European leaders have visited Syria. What would you respond to these people who say that the United States might be shooting itself in the foot by excluding itself from the dialogue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what you're doing is you're leaving off the second half of the sentence there and that is that all those leaders who are going to Syria from your -- they're all telling them the same thing: Engage in constructive positive behavior in the region; stop trying to manipulate the political process in Lebanon; stop trying to interfere with the UN tribunal investigating the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri; play a positive role in Iraq; stop supporting those rejectionist -- Palestinian rejectionist groups which stand in the way of the Palestinian people realizing a better future for themselves.
That's the message that they're being sent. Not that all is well, not that we support what you're doing. I know that this is a typical tactic of the Syrian regime to say whenever a visitor appears on their doorstep, to say, "See, everything's fine. We have visitors coming into Syria. All is well. We have a normal relationship with the outside world." Well, let me tell you, nothing can be further from the truth. I don't think that you've seen any recent visitors from the Arab world going to Damascus and if you have, what -- they have been sending that same message to the Syrian Government: Stop being -- stop your complicity with the Iranian Government in trying to destabilize other countries in the region, whether it's Lebanon or Iraq.
Now certainly, it is -- I will say that it was positive that the Syrian Government has acted to establish diplomatic relations with Iraq. That is positive. But again, that is merely a half-step forward. They need to engage -- they need to establish good, transparent, neighborly relations not only with Iraq, but with all the rest of the countries in the region. They need to open up an embassy in Lebanon. Why is it that Syria hasn't opened up an embassy in Lebanon? The Lebanese Government and the Lebanese people have asked them to do that.
Well, I think the answer to that really gets to the heart of the matter, is that the Syrian Government has not given up its aspirations to control Lebanon, whether that's overtly or covertly. So I would take issue with the characterization that it is, in fact, anybody else but the Syrian Government that finds itself isolated.
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I think there was a meeting between the Secretary and Mr. Hadley and the U.S. envoy to Darfur. Is there anything, you know, came out from this meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there was -- the Secretary talked a little bit about the meeting upstairs with Andrew Natsios. Mr. Hadley was not over here. There were some other policymakers from the State Department. Mr. Natsios gave a trip report, what he was able to accomplish on this trip. It was designed as an in-house meeting to talk about what is the way forward, how do we make the current diplomatic efforts that are on the table right now work, Resolution 1706, how to implement the Addis Ababa accords and then also to do a little bit of thinking about if those diplomatic efforts aren't able to succeed and we are not able to achieve the objectives that globally we share and that is to end the violence and the suffering in Darfur. Then you have to think about how -- what further actions that as an international community we might take. And so there was a little bit of brainstorming about that as well.
QUESTION: Any updates on the Iran resolution?
MR. MCCORMACK: Updates on the Iran resolution. The permanent representatives or their designated representatives are meeting up I think right now in New York. We are, we believe, getting much closer to a resolution. There's no reason why we can't have a vote tomorrow. We don't think that there's anything that should stand in the way of having a vote tomorrow, so we'll see.
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We believe there's no reason there shouldn't be a vote tomorrow. Secretary Rice had a conversation with Foreign Secretary Beckett this morning to talk about ways to close some of the remaining gaps. So we'll see. I'm not making any firm predictions, but there's no reason why we can't have a vote. But there's no reason why we can't put a resolution in the blue today and have a vote tomorrow.
QUESTION: We asked you on Monday about the Rice-Lavrov call. Do you hesitate to say there had been any progress and has that since moved forward? Is that the progress we've seen or (inaudible?)
MR. MCCORMACK: There was -- certainly during that phone call, they didn't close all the gaps. It's an iterative process I think those sort of contacts to really make clear at that political level of what our concerns are, what the concerns of the other members of the P-5+1 are to hear back from the Russians where they stand. Those are useful. Those conversations start to filter down into the working level. So in a sense, yes, it contributed I think to the narrowing of differences. I would caution that we're not there yet. We don't have final agreement on a resolution. So we think it's -- we think that is within reach. We hope that everybody can work together to get this resolution done and get a vote we would hope as early as tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)